Off its Head



Located on the north-east corner of the Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary, this is Scully’s Cross – or at least what remains of it. Dating from 1867, the rusticated base of the structure contains a mausoleum to the wealthy Roman Catholic Scully family: above the entrance is a plaque carved with their name in Irish Ó Scolaidhe. A stepped pyramid then leads up to the base of the cross proper, its shaft, each side of which is carved with a series of biblical scenes, rising some 20 feet high. The top of the cross – ringed in the early Irish Christian style – can be found scattered on the ground around the mausoleum, having fallen when the monument was struck by lightning in 1976. 

A Gem


Writing about Summergrove, County Laois almost half a century ago (Irish Georgian Society Bulletin XVI, October 1973), the late Maurice Craig declared, ‘Of all the houses which are neither ‘big houses’ nor farmhouses, Summer Grove has always seemed to me one of the most attractive, nor has a wider acquaintance with its rivals caused me to modify that opinion.’  While he admitted that ‘the elements of the facade: gibbsian doorway with side lights, venetian window, diocletian window, platband, stone cornice, hipped roof and symmetrical chimneys, are common to a great many mid-eighteenth century houses of about this size, as is the pediment over the breakfront in the centre,’ nevertheless, Maurice was seduced by the building’s irresistible charm. In part, he explained, this derives from ‘the mildly archaic flavour of its rather steep roof with its barely perceptible sprocketing, the interior decoration suggests a date some time around 1760 or even a little later. The Venetian and Diocletian windows go on so long in the provinces that they provide no reliable indication of dates. From the massive triple keystone of the front door projects an elaborate and splendid wrought-iron lamp-bracket, such as would be noteworthy even in Dublin, but in the country is of the very highest rarity. Before leaving the facade we should note the unusually small stones of which it is built, which from a distance seem hardly larger than bricks, and very nearly as regular.’ Thereafter, Maurice noted in his Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size (1976), ‘the main interest in Summer Grove lies in the ingenuity of the planning. In the back half of the house three storeys are fitted into the same height as two on the entrance-front. It is surprising that this method of ‘mezzanine’ planning was not more widely used in country houses, since it results in a small number of high-ceilinged rooms and a rather larger number of low-ceilinged ones, a most desirable result not so easily achieved by conventional planning.’ Among the rere elevation’s most distinctive features are the pair of Venetian windows, one at either end of the top floor.







A date stone discovered some 20 years ago suggests that Summergrove was finished in 1766 but work on the house probably started much earlier. The original owner was one Thomas Sabatier whose Huguenot forebear – likely grandfather – François Sabatier had fled France in the aftermath of the 1685 Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. In 1707, he was listed as living in Mountmellick, a prosperous town just a couple of miles east of Summergrove. Like many other Huguenot families who settled here, the Sabatiers must have flourished, since in 1736, within one or two generations of arrival in this country, they were able to acquire tracts of land in the neighbourhood and embark on building a fine country house. The architect responsible is unknown: the Knight of Glin proposed Henry Pentland, but there is little evidence to support this name, or any other. Regardless, it would appear the costs involved in the building’s construction were greater than had been anticipated because in February 1774 Summergrove was advertised to let for such Term of Years as may be agreed’, the building described as ‘large and commodious, and fit for the immediate Reception of a Gentleman of Fortune,’ the interior being ‘well finished and stucco’d, with every other Necessary, such as Italian, Kilkenny and other Marble Chimney Pieces, Grates, etc.’ Nevertheless, the family remained in possession, if not always in residence, of Summergrove. Thomas Sabatier died in 1784 and was succeeded by his son John who, in turn, died in 1792, followed by two further generations likewise called John. Following the death of the last of these in 1859, the house changed hands for the first time, being acquired by Jonathan Pim, whose Quaker ancestors had settled in Mountmellick at the end of the 17th century. By the beginning of the 19th century the Pims were involved in brewing and other business enterprises, while Jonathan Pim was acting as agent for the Summergrove estate. Having taken over the property, he had little time to enjoy possession, since he died in 1864, being succeeded by his son William, who lived in the house until 1902. Having no children, he left Summergrove to his sister who in turn passed it to her son, William Anthony Robinson who, with his wife lived there until the 1950s when, once more, the house was offered for sale. Thereafter it passed through different owners, not all of whom occupied the building, before being bought 30 years ago by the present owner.







The interiors of Summergrove are quite as engaging as the house’s external appearance. To cite Maurice Craig again, ‘The small square entrance-hall has a Doric entablature over the door and window cases, a flowing rococo centrepiece to the ceiling and, on the inner wall, three elegant arches under a single wide arch, the three doors separated by fluted corinthian pilasters. The right-hand door gives directly on to the staircase, while the middle one is dummy, a device which recalls the entrance to the centre of the Long Gallery at Castletown. On the staircase side the same three doors are under a pediment with ornament a good deal less fruity than that on the hall side, but in the same free-flowing rococo vein. The right-hand room on the ground floor has a coved cornice and ceiling decorated in the Robert West manner with sprays, roses, bunches of grapes and pheasants.’ (Loath as one is to correct Maurice, the inner wall’s middle door is not a dummy, but now serves to provide access to the staircase beyond. Furthermore, the ground floor room with ceiling decorated in the style of Robert West is to the left – not the right – of the entrance.) The rococo plasterwork in Summergrove’s reception rooms varies in quality, that in the entrance hall being charming but somewhat perfunctory, while that in the dining room is of altogether finer quality and clearly by a superior hand. On the other side of the entrance hall, what is now a drawing room has a plain ceiling. The original drawing room – now a bedroom – can be found on the first floor, directly above the dining room has another fine rococo ceiling although this one lacks the latter’s coved frame. And, as the advertisement of 1774 noted, there are some fine chimneypieces, although a couple of these were taken out of the house prior to it being acquired by the present owner, who deserves credit for having found satisfactory replacements. Indeed, he merits praise for having undertaken such a meticulous restoration of Summergrove over the past three decades, so that today this glorious building glows, a burnished gem in Ireland’s Midlands and an example of what can be achieved with sufficient dedication and patience. 

 

Traces of Former Glory

As its name indicates, the County Longford village of Abbeylara (‘Mainistir Leathrátha’, meaning ‘Abbey of the half – or small – fort’) grew up around a religious house. In this instance, a monastery is supposed to have been founded here in the fifth century by St Patrick, who then appointed St Guasacht as its first abbot. Guasacht, who also acted as Bishop of the short-lived diocese of Granard, just a few miles away, was the son of Maelchu, the man under whom Patrick worked as a slave when a youth in Ireland. Following Patrick’s return to this country, it is said that Maelchu preferred to lock himself into his home and set fire to it – perishing in the flames – rather than encounter his former slave. His son Guasacht, on the other hand, did so and was duly converted to the Christian faith.





The present remains of a monastery at Abbeylara can be traced back to 1205 when the Anglo-Norman knight Richard Tuite invited a group of Cistercian monks to settle there. Tuite, who had come to Ireland as one of Richard de Clare’s supporters, was granted large swathes of land in this part of the country and in 1199 had built one of the largest motte and baileys in Ireland. A daughter house of St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin, the Abbeylara monastery was likewise dedicated to the Virgin. When Tuite, by then Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, died in 1210, he was buried here. A century later, in 1315, Edward Bruce – brother of Scotland’s Robert Bruce – who arrived in Ireland with his army earlier that year, having first burnt nearby Granard, seized control of the Abbeylara monastery and spent the winter there. The monks returned following his departure but the establishment’s decline appears to have begun soon after: in both 1410 and 1435 the Papacy permitted funds to be raised for the buildings’ repair through the sale of Indulgences.





From the start of the 15th century until its eventual closure, the monastery at Abbeylara had come under the control of a powerful local family, the O’Farrells, as testified by the fact that successive members of this family were appointed its abbot. The last of them to do so, Richard O’Farrell, surrendered the abbey with its lands and possessions to Henry VIII in 1539: in return, he was appointed Bishop of Ardagh. At the time of its dissolution, the Abbeylara house held over 5,500 acres of land but the buildings were falling into ruins. Today little remains other than the former abbey church’s great central tower, and the adjacent north and south walls: high on the latter can be seen a badly weathered figure which may be a Sheela-na-gig. A Church of Ireland church which once occupied part of the surrounding graveyard has long since been demolished. 

The Importance of Trust



After last Monday’s report on the present unhappy state of the Iveagh Markets (see A Preposterous State of Affairs « The Irish Aesthete), here are some images of another initiative undertaken in the late 19th/early 20th centuries by Edward Guinness, first Earl of Iveagh. The Iveagh Trust buildings comprise a series of eight four-storey blocks north of St Patrick’s Cathedral, an area of Dublin which until then had been a warren of lanes and alleys, judged to be ‘centuries deep in filth.’ All this was swept away in the early 1890s for the construction of new housing for some 250 families, designed by Joseph & Smithem in red brick with terracotta used for details such as date stones. Subsequently in 1913, Guinness commissioned the Iveagh Play Centre on Bull Alley Street, designed by McDonnell & Reid, once again in red brick but with extensive use of Portland stone in what might be described as a Queen Anne-inspired idiom. Built at a cost of £38,000, by 1915 the school was attended by 900 children. However, declining attendances and mounting costs eventually led to its closure and in 1976 the building was sold to the Dublin Vocational Educational Committee; today it houses Liberties College which offers further education courses to people in the area.

Welcome to My World


As regular visitors to this site will know, in September the Irish Aesthete celebrated its tenth anniversary. To mark this occasion, at the end of the week, an exhibition of photographs taken over the past decade will open at the Irish Architectural Archive on Merrion Square, Dublin.





The Irish Aesthete: Ten Years in the Making will feature a wide selection of images, from country houses to cottages, from industrial buildings to ancient monasteries, from garden follies to graveyards. Some of these properties are in excellent repair, some in need of attention and some – inevitably – have joined Ireland’s already extensive list of ruins. All are part of the country’s architectural heritage and all are worthy of the attention they have received here.





Since 2012 the Irish Aesthete has taken more than 50,000 photographs (all with a mobile phone: we like to travel light). In the weeks ahead, a complete set of these is going to be given to the Irish Architectural Archive, a national institution and invaluable resource for anyone interested in Irish architecture and its history. Knowledge is only of value if it is shared. Providing the IAA with these images means anyone else interested in the country’s built heritage will have an opportunity to examine them and, one hopes, find something useful among the Irish Aesthete’s pictures . Should any reader here be in Dublin over the coming weeks, do pay the IAA a visit (there’s no admission charge). This isn’t the end of the collection; the idea is that it can continue growing as more photographs are taken. The Irish Aesthete has a future, as well as a past.

The Irish Aesthete: Ten Years in the Making can be seen at the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin 2 from December 2nd until December 22nd, Monday to Friday, 10 am to 5 pm. See https://iarc.ie for further information
This exhibition has been generously sponsored by Sonbrook. 

 

 

A Chequered History



Few country houses in Ireland have had such a chequered history in recent decades – and yet somehow survived – as Middleton Park, County Westmeath. The present building dates from the mid-19th century, replacing an earlier residence which had previously belonged to the Berry family. When in 1846 James Middleton Berry inherited from his uncle James Gibbons another estate in the same county, Ballynegall (see Ballynegall « The Irish Aesthete) he sold his original property to George Augustus Boyd. Born in 1817, he was the only son of Abraham Boyd and Jane Mackay, both of whom been married before, she to George Rochfort, second Earl of Belvedere. Since he inherited a considerable portion of the former Belvedere estates through his mother,  in 1867 George Augustus Boyd legally changed his surname to Rochfort-Boyd. With his wife Sarah Jane Woods, he had at least seven children, their eldest daughter Edith in due course marrying Sir Thomas Chapman, who lived at South Hill, County Westmeath (see What Might Have Been « The Irish Aesthete). In due course, that marriage ended badly owing to Sir Thomas embarking on an affair with his own children’s governess: he and she went on to have a family of their own, one of whom was T.E. Lawrence, otherwise known as Lawrence of Arabia.
To go back to George Augustus Rochfort-Boyd, just to complicate matters further, a year after he died in 1877, his heir legally reversed the two surname order, being called Rochfort Hamilton Boyd-Rochfort. All three of his sons had distinguished careers in the British army, the eldest Captain George Boyd-Rochfort being awarded the Victoria Cross in 1915 and the youngest, Captain Sir Cecil Charles Boyd-Rochfort being one of the most successful horse trainers of the mid-20th century. Following the death of the eldest brother in 1940 Middleton Park had been inherited by the middle sibling, Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Boyd-Rochfort, who in 1957 decided to sell the property – and so began its decades-long woes.





In 1957 Middleton Park was bought by a German family who, a few years later, in turn sold the place on. In the mid-1970s the house and some 380 acres were acquired by the Fermanagh-born trainer and gambler Barney Curley who, in 1984 decided to dispose of Middleton Park not by the usual means of either auction or private sale, but instead through running a lottery: at the time, Ireland’s property market was extremely depressed and it seemed unlikely Curley would realise much for the place. Tickets were offered at £200 each and, according to a television report of the time, almost 9,000 of these were sold, meaning the vendor would have made around £1.8 million since his expenses were minimal, especially as the event garnered international attention. However, in the aftermath, Curley was prosecuted for promoting an illegal lottery, and sentenced to three months in prison: on appeal, he was given the benefit of the Probation Act, with no conviction recorded provided he contributed £5,000 to a local charity. In July 1992 Middleton Park was on the market once more, this time realising just £300,000 at auction, although at least in part that price was due to the fact that the amount of land around the building was now much less than had previously been the case. In 1999 it was sold to a couple for something less than £500,000 but less than two years later was once more available to purchase, along with just 12 acres, this time for £1.7 million. After a period of neglect, restoration work was undertaken on the building which opened as an hotel, specialising in weddings, in 2007; seven years later, this was sold as a going concern to a UK based private equity firm for around €1m. In 2016, that business closed and soon enough Middleton Park was being offered for sale – yet again. It then sat empty for three years before being bought by the most recent owners who once again had to embark on substantial renovations due to the building’s neglect. 





Middleton Park was designed by the London-born architect George Papworth who had moved to Ireland in 1806 when aged 25. His talent soon attracted aristocratic clients such as Jenico Preston, 12th Viscount Gormanston, for whom he supervised the renovations of Gormanston Castle, County Meath, and Ulick de Burgh, 14th Earl (and future first Marquis) of Clanricarde for whom he undertook similar work at Portumna Castle, County Galway. But he also designed a number of Roman Catholic churches, such as that for the Carmelite order on Whitefriars Street, Dublin, as well as being involved in work on the city’s Pro-Cathedral; another one of his projects was King’s, not Heuston, Bridge over the river Liffey. Middleton Park, dating from c.1850, was a relatively late work, since he died in 1855, and – at least on the exterior – a somewhat anachronistic one, since the design clearly owes much to Francis Johnston’s Ballynegall, which dates from 1808 and to which the Middleton Park estate’s previous owner had moved. In both cases, the building is of six bays and two storeys over basement, the two centre bays delineated by a single-storey Greek Ionic portico. And, as also once at Ballynegall, one side of the block concludes in a substantial conservatory designed by Richard Turner; at Middleton Park, the other side continues in a long, single-storey office range. However, the interiors of the two houses are quite different, not least because the entire centre portion of Middleton Park is given over to a vast, full-height staircase hall, the double-return stairs with scrolling cast-iron balustrade leading up to an impressive first-floor gallery, the whole lit by a vast lantern. Nothing else in the building could hope to match this tour-de-force, and the main reception rooms accordingly are of more modest – and comfortable – proportions, although during its various times as an hotel, a number of substantial function spaces were added to the office range side of the building. That Middleton Park has survived, given such a chequered history, is very fortunate and one must hope that the house’s future is more stable than has been its past. 


An Easy Charm

A couple of chimney pieces in Renvyle House, County Galway. For centuries this property belonged to the Blake family but in 1917 it was sold to the surgeon and writer Oliver St John Gogarty. However, because he served as a Free State senator, not only was Gogarty kidnapped by anti-Treaty supporters in January 1923 but the following month Renvyle House was burnt down. Five years later, it was rebuilt to the designs of Dublin architect Ralph Henry Byrne who enjoyed a hugely successful practice, not least thanks to many commissions from the Roman Catholic church. His work at Renvyle House is in what would have been, by that date, a somewhat anachronistic Arts and Crafts but in its use of natural materials and simple forms the interior displays considerable charm. Even before being rebuilt, Renvyle House had for many decades operated as an hotel, and continues to do so today. 

A Place of Strength


‘The present town of Cahir owes its rise to the late Earl of Glengall, and has been enlarged and greatly improved by the present earl. Cahir, however, is of remote antiquity, and it appears that a castle was built here prior to the year 1142 by Connor, King of Thomond; and in the reign of John, Geoffry de Camoell founded an abbey of which there are still some remains. The manor was one of those belonging to the Butler family, and in the reign of Elizabeth the castle was besieged by the Earl of Essex, with the whole of his army, when the garrison, encouraged by the hostilities then waged by the Earl of Desmond, held out for ten days, but was compelled to surrender. In 1647, this fortress was invested by Lord Inchiquin, and, notwithstanding its great strength, surrendered in a few hours after some of its outworks had been gained by the assailants.
Cahir Castle, the extensive old seat of the Butlers, is in the town. It is in good preservation and occupying the summit of an isolated rock, which rises over the left bank of the Suir, is a highly interesting and picturesque object.’
From A Handbook for Travellers in Ireland by James Fraser, 1844. 





‘The chief historical events connected with the castle were the sieges of it by the Earl of Essex, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and by Lord Inchiquin, in that of Charles I. The readers of English history are familiar with the unhappy expedition of Essex to Ireland, which was greatly promoted by his powerful enemies at court, as certain to end unfortunately, and thus as certainly to break his influence with the queen. Former viceroys and commanders in Ireland had suffered disaster upon disaster; and by the Battle of the Blackwater, in 1598, the English forces were reduced to the lowest ebb. Essex landed with an army of more than 20,000 men, the largest force, according to the Four Masters, sent to Ireland by the English since the invasion of Strongbow. But Essex was no more successful than his predecessors. His orders were, in the first place, to reduce the rebels in Ulster, and to put strong garrisons into their forts; but, instead of this, he marched into Munster and laid siege to Cahir Castle. He invested it with 7,000 foot and 1,200 horse; but the Earl of Desmond and Redmond Burk came to its relief, and Essex found himself unable to reduce it till he had sent to Waterford for heavy ordnance. On the tenth day of the siege, being the 20th of May, 1599, the castle was surrendered to the Earl of Essex and the Queen. But the surrender of the castle was of no real advantage. He made, indeed, capture of the rebels’ cattle in those parts, and drove the rebels themselves into the woods and mountains; but, as fast as he retired again towards Dublin, these rebels came out from their retreats and followed on his track, harassing his rear, so that his return was rather like a rout than the march of a conqueror. The disasters which befell him on this journey completed his ruin.’
From Ruined Abbeys and Castles of Great Britain and Ireland by William Howitt, 1864. 





‘During the troubles which followed on the rebellion of 1641, Cahir Castle was taken for the Parliament, by surrender, in the beginning of August 1647 by Lord Inchiquin; and it was again taken in February 1650 by Cromwell himself, the garrison receiving honourable conditions. The reputation which the castle had at this period as a place of strength will appear from the account of its surrender as given in the manuscripts of Mr Cliffe, secretary to General Ireton, published by Borlase. After observing that Cromwell did not deem it prudent to attempt the taking of Clonmel till towards summer, he adds that he “drew his army before a very considerable castle called Cahir Castle, not very far from Clonmel, a place then possessed by one Captain Mathews, who was but a little before married to the Lady Cahir, and had in it a considerable number of men to defend it; the general drew his men before it, and for the better terror in the business brought some cannon with him likewise, there being a great report of the strength of the place, and a story told the general, that the Earl of Essex in Queen Elizabeth’s time, lay seven or eight weeks before it and could not take it. He was notwithstanding then resolved to attempt the taking of it, and in order thereunto, sent them this thundering summons:-
“Sir – Having brought my army and my cannon near this place, according to my usual manner in summoning places, I thought fit to offer you terms honourable for soldiers, that you may march away with your baggage, arms and colours, free from injuries or violence; but if I be, notwithstanding, necessitated to bend my cannon upon you, you must expect what is usual in such cases. To avoid blood, this is offered to you by,
Your Servant,
O. Cromwell”
Notwithstanding the strength of the place, and the unseasonableness of the time of the year, this summons struck such a terror in the garrison, that the same day the governor, Captain Mathews, immediately came to the general and agreed to the surrender.’
From The Irish Penny Journal, Volume 1, No.33, February 1841. 

The Largest and Richest Earl’s House in Ireland


‘Maynooth Castle was the original residence of the Kildare family. The manor of Maynooth in 1176 was granted by Strongbow to Maurice Fitz-Gerald, who erected the castle for protection against the incursions of the natives. His son Gerald, first Baron of Offaly, obtained from John, Lord of Ireland, son of Henry II, a new grant of sundry lordships. Thomas, second Earl, was married to a daughter of the Red Earl of Ulster, and sister to Ellen, the wife of Robert Bruce, King of Scotland. During the latter half of the fourteenth century, Maynooth was one of the border fortresses of the Pale, or English possessions, in the defence of which Maurice, fourth Earl of Kildare, distinguished himself. John, the sixth Earl, enlarged the castle (1426) and it was then said to be “the largest and richest earl’s house in Ireland”.’
From an article on Carton in The Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener, Vol.22, May 16, 1872. 





‘In March 1535 the new Earl of Kildare had with him 120 horse, 240 gallowglasses and 500 kerns. Leaving Maynooth Castle strongly fortified in the hands of his foster brother and confidante Christopher Pareses, he went into Offaly to raise additional adherents for the summer campaign. Skeffington [Sir William Skeffington, then Lord Deputy of Ireland] invested Maynooth Castle of the 14th March, and on the 23rd Parese, consenting to betray his trust, permitted the outer defences to be taken without resistance, after which the keep was carried by assault. A park of heavy artillery, brought up to the siege by the English, and for which the Anglo-Irish were quite unprepared, had no small effect in compelling such a speedy surrender of a place the Earl of Kildare regarded as almost impregnable. Of the garrison, twenty-five were beheaded and one hanged, as it was thought dangerous to spare skilled soldiers. “Great and rich was the spoile, such store of beddes, so many goodly hangings, so rich a wardrobe, such brave furniture, as truly it was accounted, for household stuffe and utensils, one of the richest earl his houses under the crown of England.” Pareses, to increase the estimation in which his treachery should be regarded, dwelt on the trust and confidence bestowed on him; and Stanihurst tells us how his treachery was rewarded; “The Deputy gave his officers to deliver Parese the sum of money that was promised, and after to choppe off his head”.’
From an account of the Rebellion of Silken Thomas and the Siege of Maynooth given in A Compendium of Irish Biography by Alfred Webb, Dublin, 1878.





‘On the 7th January, 1642 a party of Catholics seized and pillaged Maynooth Castle, carrying off the furniture and the library, which was of great value; all the stock, including thirty-nine English cows and oxen, thirty horses worth £270, household goods worth at least £200, and corn and hay worth £300; they also deprived him of rents amounting to at least £600 a year. The castle was soon retaken, but in 1646 was occupied by a detachment sent for that purpose by the Catholic general, Preston [Thomas Preston, first Viscount Tara], when he was advancing against Dublin, and on his retreat it was dismantled, and has never since been inhabited.’
From The Earls of Kildare and Their Ancestors from 1057 to 1773 by the Marquis of Kildare (future fourth Duke of Leinster), Dublin, 1858.