A Light Touch

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The double return Imperial staircase in Crom Castle, County Fermanagh. The house was designed in the mid-1830s by Edward Blore, a protégé of Sir Walter Scott who specialised in Gothic Revival architecture. Here a mixture of timber and plaster was employed to create a feather-light sequence of soaring arcades in the late Perpendicular style leading up to an octagonal lantern.

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Lost History

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All across Ireland there are buildings about which little is now known, their histories somehow mislaid between the date they ceased to serve their purpose and the present. Sometimes snippets of a story evolves into a legend which, like a version of Chinese Whispers, bears little relation to the original truth. But on other occasions, the history disappears altogether, as though presaging the fate of the building itself. Kilcrea, County Cork has been mentioned here before, both in relation to the former Franciscan friary (Lo Arthur Leary, November 2nd 2015) and the nearby former McCarthy tower house (With Panoramic Views, June 11th 2016), both of which date from the 1460s and have reasonably well-chronicled histories. However there is a third building in the same area about which little appears to be known, even though it is of more recent construction. This is Kilcrea House, a view of which is shown above (the tower house can be seen in the background on the extreme right of the photograph).

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A little information about Kildrea House can be gleaned from that always helpful website http://www.landedestates.ie. In 1750 Charles Smith’s The ancient and present state of the county and city of Cork reported that Kilcrea, formerly the seat of the Earls of Clancarty, had been purchased by Captain Hedges from the Trustees of the Hollow Blade Company. In 1786 William Wilson’s The Post-Chaise Companion noted the ruins of the friary and castle, near to which was a house called Snugborough, the residence of a Mr. Keeffe. By the time of Griffith’s Valuation in the 1850s Robert Gibbons was given as the occupier of Kilcrea House. He held the building (valued at £20) as part of a parcel of land leased by John Hawkes. Yet strangely in March 1851, and again in July 1853, the estate of William Edward Ellis at Kilcrea, including the house and 422 acres, was advertised for sale. It would seem the Hawkes family acquired this, and further land, since by the 1870s the estate of John Devonsher Hawkes of Kilcrea is given as amounting to 2,029 acres.

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Of course this information, while helpful, tells us nothing about Kilcrea House itself, when it was built and by whom. The place is now a shell, but this decline would appear to have occurred only relatively recently. While the floors have given way and most plaster come off walls, there are still traces of the wooden window frames and joists. Of two storeys over basement, the house looks north towards the tower house and the breakfront on this side has tumbled down. Constructed of rubble and brick, it has arched ground floor windows of cut limestone, also seen in the single-storey bows on the east and west sides of the building: it would appear these bows were added at a later date. The east side has a short flight of stone steps which gave access to the house while the south and west fronts retain traces of the slates with which they were once covered. Stylistically the house would seem to date from the late 18th century (with subsequent additions) but it is now so far deteriorated that conjecture must be to the fore. It seems strange that despite its size and prominent location there appears to be little knowledge of Kilcrea. Another example of lost history. Below is a view of the house from the nearby tower house.

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A Conundrum

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Like most country houses, Shankill Castle, County Kilkenny has a range of outbuildings close to the main residence. The latter dates from c.1825, its neo-gothic design attributed to local architect William Robertson. The other structures, composed of cut limestone with granite for windows and doorcases, share stylistic similarities and can therefore be presumed by Robertson also. Some of them are used as studios and gallery space by the property’s present owners, but what to do with the others? Expensive to maintain, they no longer appear to have an apparent purpose. This is the conundrum facing everyone today responsible for such buildings.

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A Family Home

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Seen from the shore of Lough Derravaragh: Coolure, County Westmeath. The house dates from c.1785 following the marriage of Captain (later Admiral) Thomas Pakenham to Louisa Staples. The couple immediately embarked on building their new home and when Lady Louisa Conolly, who had brought up the motherless Louisa Staples (her husband’s niece) at Castletown, County Kildare came to visit, she wrote, ‘The Coolure House is in vast forwardness, and a sweet pretty thing it will be. Tom Pakenham and Louisa seem equally engaged about it, though in different lines. He minds the farm only, and leaves the house, plantation and gardening entirely to her. But both agree in loving the place and wishing to spend their lives there.’ As indeed they duly did, further extending the house in the early 1820s presumably to accommodate their substantial family (Louisa Pakenham had fifteen children). The building’s finest external feature is the tripartite cut limestone Doric doorcase, with sidelights and spoked fanlight beneath a pediment.

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Rolling Back the Years

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This week the Irish Aesthete marks its fourth anniversary. It is remarkable that an initiative started almost on a whim has continued for such a long period, and looks set to carry on doing so. The need to find ‘fresh’ (albeit old) material for this thrice-weekly site has encouraged me to take greater interest in, and investigation of, this country’s architectural heritage, providing opportunities to return to old favourites as well as abundant chances to explore other sites hitherto overlooked, at least by myself. There continues to be no shortage of places to visit, photograph (with mixed results) and write about. Sometimes the outcome is a feeling of despondency, but just as often one comes away elated, thrilled to learn there are people across Ireland who care passionately for the preservation of our country’s tangible history and are actively ensuring it has a viable, vibrant future. Such is the case with the house shown today.

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Rush Hill, County Roscommon featured not long after the Irish Aesthete began (see The Folks Who Live at Rush Hill, November 12th 2012) and after an absence of almost four years was recently revisited. Listed as one of the four ‘gentlemen’s seats’ in the area in Samuel Lewis’s 1837 Topographical Dictionary of Ireland it is the only one remaining. The core of the house dates from c.1700 and until almost the end of the 19th century it was the residence for successive generations of the same family of tenant farmers. A fire which broke out not long after it was taken on by another family resulted in a programme of rebuilding and augmentation, as can be seen by the ground floor bay windows. But much of the building would look familiar to earlier occupants, especially after the under the care of its present owners. Rush Hill’s renewal has been a gradual process, one by no means complete. It was fascinating to see how much more had been accomplished over the past four years, and to hear of intended work during the years to come. Thanks to such care the house looks as though it will continue to serve as a ‘gentleman’s seat’ long into the future.

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The Irish Aesthete rather too often focusses on ruins, so it is a delight to feature a building which, prior to being taken on by the present owners, seemed destined to go the way of so many others in this country. One looks forward to reporting more such stories; please feel free to get in touch if you know of any. This site is always looking for further material, and welcomes your thoughts, comments and – provided politely phrased – criticisms and corrections. There are many plans for the year ahead, including expansion into other areas and media. In the meantime, please continue to follow the Irish Aesthete not just here but also on Facebook (TheIrishAesthete) Twitter (@IrishAesthete) and Instagram (the.irish.aesthete). And thank you as always to friends and followers for your kind words and encouragement, these are very much appreciated.

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Restoration Drama

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The entrance hall of Moyglare, County Kildare. The estate of which it was originally part was bought in 1737 by John Arabin, a Huguenot from Dublin City: he paid £10,729 8s 8d for the property. It is believed that his son Henry Arabin built the core of the present house around 1764 but some changes were made in the early 1820s. In more recent times Moyglare underwent further modifications when it served as an hotel but a few years ago the house passed into new ownership and has since undergone a programme of sensitive restoration, returning it to use as a family home. I shall be speaking of this building, along with a number of others, next Friday, September 23rd at 1pm in a free talk called ‘Restoration Drama: Bringing Irish Houses Back to Life’ at the Royal Dublin Society, Dublin as part of this year’s Irish Antique Dealers’ Fair. For more information, see http://www.iada.ie/antique-fairs.

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An Unexpected Detail

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The now-roofless church in Kilnaboy, County Clare is similar to many others in the region, dating from the 11th century with subsequent additions such as the late-mediaeval east window (seen above). One unexpected feature of the building can be found over a door on the south side: a Sheela na gig. For those unfamiliar with these figures, of which around 100-odd exist in Ireland, they are believed to be fertility symbols which first appeared in this country during the 12th century, perhaps introduced by Anglo-Norman settlers.

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