Fragmentary Evidence


Beginning in the early 1970s, every summer social geographer Kevin Corrigan Kearns visited Ireland for research purposes, spending considerable amounts of time in Dublin. In 1983 he published a book Georgian Dublin: Ireland’s Imperilled Architectural Heritage in which he wrote that with each trip to the city, ‘I could not help but witness the insidious forces which seemed to conspire against the vulnerable Georgian streetscapes. Every year there was grim new testimony to neglect, decay and destruction. Once-intact Georgian vistas of unsurpassed beauty were savaged by demolition and unsympathetic architectural infill. Inexplicably, there existed no effective opposition to this wilful and wanton assault on Dublin’s unique urban core. Indeed, I sensed that Dubliners somehow accepting this alarming degenerative process as a sort of natural occurrence – ostensibly, all in the name of progress and prosperity. Were Dubliners insensitive to this loss or merely impotent to exert any control over the destiny of their elegant city? Was there no philosophy of stewardship on the part of officialdom and citizenry to preserve this imperilled treasure for future generations?… While much destruction has incontestably resulted from deliberate unabashed rape of the cityscape, a wealth of Georgiana has conspicuously been despoiled and lost from simple benign neglect on the part of owners and occupiers, both public and private. The fragile state of Georgian Dublin today cannot be attributed to the actions of any single group. A myriad of forces has for generations militated against the welfare and survival of the Georgian city.’






Although he had suggested a ‘myriad of forces’ was responsible for the havoc wreaked on Ireland’s historic capital during the 1870s and ‘80s, Kevin Corrigan Kearns had no doubt who were the principal villains: ‘It would not be an exaggeration to state that the redevelopment of Dublin has essentially been left to the whims and dictates of private developers and speculators. For the past twenty years, amid an unconstrained environment for development, they have been allowed to use the inner city, in the words of one irate writer to the Irish Times, as a “gambling ground for their own ambitions of wealth and power”. During this free-wheeling period of urban growth, the government assumed a modest role in redevelopment. Indeed, while the Civil Service and other public bodies taken up almost three-quarters of Dublin’s total office space, the vast bulk of this accommodation is rented from private development companies.
By the late ‘sixties, the appellation “developer” had become synonymous with “despoiler” in the public psyche. The tide of destruction that scarred the central city evoked accusations of “rape”, “pillage” and “prostitution” of the urban environment. The developers’ appetite for reconstruction and profit seemed rapacious as they increasingly cast hungry eyes towards the Georgian terraces. Motivated by hard economics which demanded maximum floor space for minimal investment, no Georgian house, regardless of its historic or artistic merit, was sacrosanct.’






Kevin Corrigan Kearns was by no means the only person watching the destruction of Dublin’s historic core with dismay; artist and author Peter Pearson was likewise appalled by what was taking place in his native city. Rather than observe, he began to intervene by rescuing items from buildings that were being demo
lished or cleared out, and gradually built up a huge collection of architectural salvage. Today that collection acts as a record of decades’ long barbarianism. Pearson’s accumulated items include everything from fragments of 18th century plasterwork to 19th century decorative iron railings, from carved Portland stone capitals to ornamental door knockers. Among the features they share is that all came from properties in the capital, and all were deemed expendable and of no value: nobody operating in an official capacity thought it worthwhile to preserve a record of what was being torn down. Instead, this work was left to a passionate individual who recognised what neither the state nor Dublin County Council did: that the rampant and ill-conceived razing of the city centre would lead to a collective loss of memory unless something was saved. Without Pearson’s diligent enterprise, it would all have disappeared, a handful of old black and white photographs being the only souvenir.
Today it is less likely that buildings constructed in earlier centuries will be knocked down – although this can still occur, not least because of an inadequate listing of properties that merit protection (such as those which are currently at risk on the corner of Nassau and Kildare Streets. Dating from c.1820, astonishingly they are unlisted by Dublin City Council, thereby allowing the owner to apply for their demolition and replacement with an office development). And even buildings which are listed for preservation frequently suffer from unauthorised work on the site, as anyone who has ventured onto Capel Street and its neighbours in recent years can testify: large skips are heaped with the remains of gutted interiors. Across the capital, developers continue to be permitted set the pace for what is and isn’t built or preserved. Both central and local authorities continue to adopt a largely laissez-faire, hands-off approach to what is kept within the historic core. There is no national collection of the kind created over several decades by Peter Pearson. To see what he saved is both wonderful and tragic. Anyone involved in planning and urban development should be under an obligation to spend ample time looking through what was rescued in order that the same mistakes are not repeated. Otherwise the record of losses will continue to grow.


Dublin Fragments: The Pearson Collection is on show in the Irish Georgian Society, City Assembly House, 58 South William Street, Dublin 2 until March 22nd, and includes a selling exhibition of paintings and collages of the city by Peter Pearson.

Dancing on the Ceiling


As David Skinner explains in his 2014 monograph on Wallpaper in Ireland, in the early 19th century some French manufacturers began to produce narrative papers, each one different and intended to be hung in sequence so as to tell a story. These ‘papiers-peints paysages’ as they were called, became popular throughour Europe and North America, and a number of them were hung in Irish houses. One particular monochrome set, telling the ancient myth of Cupid and Psyche was first created in 1816 by Joseph Dufour of Paris, based on a series of pictures specially produced by two neo-classical artists of the time, Louis Lafitte and Merry-Joseph Blondel. At least three Cupid and Psyche sets could once be found here but two of the houses where they were installed, Kinlough, County Leitrim and Piltown, County Louth, are now ruins (for the latter, see https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/03/13/pourquoi-me-reveiller). The third set remains in situ in the library/ballroom of Stradbally Hall, County Laois where in the 1860s it was placed not on the walls but rather unusually in sequence around the outer perimeter of the ceiling.

School’s Out (Again)



The former National School in Ardlow, County Cavan. A single-storey, three-bay building, it carries a plaque on the exterior advising date of construction was 1897. As is usually the case, the interior features two large rooms, one for boys, the other for girls, and the remains of a wall to the rear indicate the yard behind was likewise divided. Now empty and losing slates from the roof, so liable to fall into ruin before too long.


New Owner Wanted


Kilcormac is a village in County Offaly which at the last census (2016) had a population of 935 persons (the figure was 973 in 1991). The most prominent building on its main, indeed only really significant, street is that shown here: an eight-bay convent built in 1885, probably to the design of William Henry Byrne who specialized in such commissions, for the Sisters of Mercy. Members of the order remained in residence here until two years ago, when the last nuns left and the premises, together with an acre of land to the rear, were put on the market. This is a story that can be told in almost every town and village across the country, where the decline in clerical numbers has made the maintenance of what is almost invariably the most substantial property in the vicinity unsustainable. Often the buildings then sit neglected for years, the only attention they receive from vandals and arsonists. Let’s hope this one, a handsome solid structure with nice brick detailing around the windows and attractive use of the quatrefoil motif, finds a new owner soon.

In Need of Attention



Castle Farm, County Longford, a handsome early 19th century residence that is believed to have been built on the site of, and may incorporate elements of, a late-medieval tower house originally belonging to the O’Farrell family. The Journal of the Royal Geological Society of Ireland 1862-64 noted that ‘the old castle of Ardanragh has been partially converted into a house, and is tenanted by Mr. Shaw, an educated and intelligent man, who farms the adjacent ground.’ A fine building in need of some attention.


Suffering Neglect


As has been discussed here before, Townley Hall, County Louth is one of Ireland’s most perfect neo-classical buildings (see: https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/06/10/la-tout-nest-quordre-et-beaute). The house was designed in the mid-1790s by Francis Johnston, who until then had been employed primarily by Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh, often to complete commissions left unfinished following the early death of Thomas Cooley in 1784. Townley Hall is his first independent piece of work although here again the client’s involvement was critical since it is known that Blayney Townley Balfour, who owned the property, and his sister Anna Maria were intimately involved in every stage of the design.






Johnston was invited to design not just Townley Hall itself but also a number of ancillary buildings, including a new stableyard. His plans for this survive and are dated between 1799 (work being initiated on the site in May of that year) and 1804. The intention was to build around a rectangular courtyard with coach house and grainstore topped by a cupola on the north side, and stables coming forward to its immediate east and west. The south side was to be taken up by screen wall with arched entrance. Sadly this scheme was never realized, possibly for financial reasons (like many other house builders before and since, Blayney Townley Balfour discovered the initial budget was insufficient). Instead, while the northern range was constructed, it lacked the proposed cupola, and only the western range of stables were finished; a terrace of single-storey cottages runs along the eastern side of the site. Likewise the south wall with entrance arch was left unbuilt, and even a modified plan for railings with piers went unrealized. A drawing of the plan survives a penciled note reading ‘not built yet – 1837 FTB’, those initials standing for Lady Florence Townley Balfour (daughter of the first Earl of Enniskillen) who had married Blayney Townley Balfour in 1797.






As is well known, Townley Hall was sold by the heirs of the Townley Balfour family in the 1950s and, having been owned for a short period of time by Trinity College Dublin, was sold again with the Land Commission taking the greater part of the surrounding estate. Many of the ancillary buildings are no longer part of Townley Hall, including the former stableyard. Almost every other part of the former estate has been restored and brought into use, but sadly this element, which is, it seems, independently owned, has languished in neglect for a number of years, and is now in poor repair. Even if not as originally intended by Johnston, the yard remains associated with what is widely judged to be his masterpiece, and accordingly deserves a better fate.

Bridge over Untroubled Waters


A reminder of a family that once had a powerful presence in County Laois: the early 19th century, five-arched stone bridge across the river Nore at Watercastle. As the inscription advises, it was built (or more correctly rebuilt) in 1808 by Sir Robert Staples who lived not far away in a house called Dunmore. Sir Robert married three times, his third wife being the Hon Jane Vesey, sister of the first Viscount de Vesci who lived not far away at Abbey Leix: the Staples’ and de Vescis are regularly mentioned in the correspondence of Caroline, Countess of Portarlington. Both her former home, Emo Court and that of the de Vescis still stand, but Dunmore is gone. Built in the early 18th century and of three storeys with projecting two storey wings, it was unroofed in the last century and allowed to fall into ruin before being eventually demolished.

Gambling on its Future

The name is Burghéis a dá mhíle of which Two Mile Borris in County Tipperary is so called because located two Irish miles from the town of Thurles (an Irish mile, a measure commonly in use until the 19th century, was just over a quarter longer than its English equivalent). A common place name in Ireland, Borris (Buirgheas) is thought to derive from the Norman for burgage or borough. This tower house, which probably dates from the 16th century, now sits in the middle of a farmyard behind a local guesthouse.
Its future could be open to question because bizarrely, in 2011 the local authority (and indeed An Bord Pleanála, the national planning authority) granted permission for construction in Two Mile Borris of ‘The Tipperary Venue’. This scheme was intended to feature a casino, a racecourse, a 500-roomed hotel, an 18-hole golf course, a greyhound track, a 15,000-seater entertainment venue, and parking for 6,000 cars. Other features included a sprint track, an all-weather floodlit track, an equestrian centre, a replica of the White House (originally designed by James Hoban, who was born in neighbouring County Kilkenny) parking space of 6,000 cars. The project faltered due to a decline in the economy, but also because the proposed casino did not conform to Ireland’s current gambling legislation. But at least part of it may yet be constructed: two years ago Tipperary Co Council agreed to extend the duration time applicable to the planning permission until March 2023.

Something for Everyone



The Taylour family has appeared here before, in connection with Headfort, County Meath (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/02/22/a-unique-legacy). Dating from the 1760s, that house was built for Thomas Taylor, first Earl of Bective (incidentally, it was his son, the first Marquess of Headfort who assumed the new surname of Taylour). One of Lord Bective’s younger sons was the Hon Robert Taylor (b.1760) who in 1783 entered the British army as a cornet in the 5th Dragoons. Thereafter his rise through the ranks was steady and by 1796, having spent time in Flanders and Germany during the French Revolutionary Wars, he was a Colonel. He was here during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 when promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General and serving as second-in-command to General Lake at the Battle of Ballinamuck in September of that year when the French General and his forces were defeated, thus marking the end of the rising. Taylor continued his career in the army for two more decades, finally being brevetted a full general in 1819. Around this time, or soon after, he acquired a small estate in his native Meath called Dowdstown.





Situated not far from the Hill of Tara, the name Dowdstown presumably derives from the Dowdall family which came to own this property in the 16th century; previously it had been a grange for the Cistercian St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin. At the end of the 17th century it came to be owned by the Rochforts. When General Taylor bought the place, there may have been some kind of dwelling there already, but surviving drawings in the Irish Architectural Archive by James Shiel dated 1820 and 1834 show that improvements were carried out on the site during this period for its new owner (the archive also holds unexecuted drawings for Dowdstown by Birmingham architect Joseph Bateman from 1831). Parts of this building probably survive in the two-storey block to the north of the present main house at Dowdstown, but the residence was likely to have been quite modest. In his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) Samuel Lewis notes that ‘the Hon. Gen. Taylor has a seat in the cottage style in a demesne of about 590 acres, of which about 240 are plantations.’ These extensive plantations of trees, long since cut down, gave rise to a notion that General Taylor had been a participant at the Battle of Waterloo and then laid out his grounds to imitate how different regiments were placed on that occasion, with taller trees represented officers. In fact, the roll call of participants at Waterloo does not include Taylor’s name, and as a general he would have been a prominent figure on that occasion. Nor is it mentioned in any of his obituary notices, an extraordinary omission had he been present.





A bachelor, General Taylor died in April 1839, leaving Dowdstown to a nephew, Thomas Edward Taylour whose branch of the family lived at Ardgillan Castle (originally called Prospect House) in County Dublin. It appears that when his mother died twenty years later, Thomas and his younger brother Richard Chambre Hayes Taylor who had inherited Ardgillan swapped properties. Accordingly the Dowdstown estate now passed into the possession of Richard Taylor who, like his uncle before him, was a professional soldier, having entered the British army in 1835 at the age of 16. He subsequently saw service in India on a couple of occasions (being there during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and involved in the Capture of Lucknow), and took part in the Crimean War. Like his uncle he eventually rose to the rank of General and was knighted two years before his death in 1904.
In 1863 he married Lady Jane Hay, a daughter of the eighth Marquess of Tweeddale, and it was no doubt as a result of this union that the ‘cottage style’ property he had inherited at Dowdstown was deemed insufficient. One of the period’s most popular architectural practices, Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon, was requested to enlarge the place, possibly with the assistance of another Ulster architect Samuel Patrick Close who worked with the firm on many occasions. As today’s pictures show, Dowdstown might be described as offering something for everyone, since it displays a fantastical array of styles both inside and out. The south-facing façade, for example, is somewhat French in flavour, thanks to a turreted corner with conical slate roof and a large central bow projection. The west-facing entrance front on the other hand, looks more Jacobethan in inspiration, with a four-storey belvedere-topped tower to the immediate left of the main door which has a heavily ornamented porch. The interiors are equally eclectic but the most heavily decorated areas are the drawing room and adjacent staircase hall, each visible to the other thanks to a screen of coloured glass between them, the whole divided into sections by heavy banded pilasters with richly carved capitals; they imitate those in stone on the porch.
It’s open to question how much time the Taylors ever spent living at Dowdstown. For a number of years in the 1880s the General was Governor of the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and seems to have settled in England following his retirement, dying in Surrey in 1904. Dowdstown seems to have been rented out for long periods before finally being sold in 1926 to a religious order, the Columban Fathers who initially used it as their own residence before finding other purposes for the building. Since such is no longer the case, the order is now offering Dowdstown for sale.


A Plain Edifice



The roofless remains of the former Church of Ireland church in Glanworth, County Cork. It is said to have been built on the site, and perhaps incorporates portions of, a mediaeval parish church which had fallen into ruins by the mid-1690s. In the Saturday Magazine of October 10th 1840 it was described as ‘a plain edifice, with low tower and spire.’ Surrounded by increasingly dilapidated tombs, the building is 18th century with the tower at the west end added later.