The village of Villierstown, County Waterford was established in the 1740s by John Villiers, first Earl Grandison who wished to have a settlement for weavers and other personnel working in the linen industry he was then establishing in the area. The industry has long-since gone, but two monuments still stand in the centre of the village recalling later members of the family. In front of the church (constructed by Lord Grandison in 1748) is a High Cross erected by Henry Villiers-Stuart in memory of his parents, Henry, Baron Stuart de Decies and his Austrian-born wife Pauline. Due to doubts over the validity of their marriage, following Lord Stuart de Decies’ death in 1874 the title was not inherited by the next generation. To the immediate west is a second monument, this one a public fountain in rock-faced limestone ashlar; it was erected in 1910 by the younger Henry’s children in memory of their mother Mary who had died three years earlier.
The thatched lodge at Derrymore, County Armagh featured here some time ago (see The Most Elegant Summer Lodge « The Irish Aesthete). That building dates from the mid-1770s, making it at least 30 years older than another fanciful cottage orné, this one in County Tipperary. Popularly known as the Swiss Cottage, the later example was constructed c.1810 for Richard Butler, 10th Baron Caher (created Earl of Glengall 1816). Member of a branch of the Butler family which had been dominant in this part of the country for hundreds of years, his own forebears had been settled at Cahir Castle since the 14th century. They remained there until c.1770 when a new residence, Cahir House (now an hotel) was built. Richard Butler was never expected to inherit the title and associated estate. However, following the death in June 1788 of the 8th baron, a distant relative, without heirs – and then the death of Richard Butler’s own father a month later – at the age of just 12 he came into considerable wealth. At the time, he was living in poverty in France, but then returned to Ireland, where he was accommodated by the eccentric widow Arabella Jeffereyes of Blarney Castle. There was method behind Mrs Jeffereyes kindness: within a few years, she had arranged the marriage of her daughter Emilia (then aged just 16) to the wealthy Lord Caher. Soon afterwards the couple returned to live at Cahir House where, according to Dorothea Herbert, they threw ‘a most flaming Fête Champêtre’ during which the young Lady Caher ‘danced an Irish jig in her stockings to the music of an old piper. We had a superb supper in the three largest rooms, all crowded as full as they could hold and we did not get home till eight o’clock next morning and so slept all the next day.’
The tone set by the party they had thrown after their return to Cahir House, the Butlers appear to have led an exceedingly merry life, dividing their time between County Tipperary and London where, following the implementation of the Act of Union, Lord Caher served as an Irish representative peer in the Westminster House of Lords. It may have been there that he made the acquaintance of architect John Nash, who would be responsible for designing a number of buildings in Cahir, including St Paul’s church (Figures of Mystery « The Irish Aesthete) and the adjacent Erasmus Smith School (Well Schooled « The Irish Aesthete) as well as the sadly-demolished Shanbally Castle just a few miles away. Accordingly, the Swiss Cottage is attributed to Nash, not least because of its resemblance to similar picturesque buildings he designed during the same period at Blaise Hamlet on the outskirts of Bristol. The cottage was sketched in 1814, indicating its completion by that date, and two years later was mentioned in an account of local races: ‘the tout ensemble of the Cottage affording a display of rural decoration not easy to be equalled in this country for chasteness of character and richness of fancy.’ Perched above the river Suir and just two kilometres south of Cahir, the cottage was never intended to be a permanent residence, but rather somewhere to visit, perhaps for a meal, perhaps an overnight stay in good weather. Built to a T-plan and of two storeys over basement, the cottage has rustic timber verandas around most of its exterior and a thatched roof. French windows open onto the surrounding grounds and there are a number of balconies on the first floor: much of the exterior is covered in wooden lattice trellising. The overall effect is exceedingly charming.
Three years after becoming an earl, Richard Butler died and was succeeded by his only son, also called Richard. Despite marrying an heiress, he would find expenditure exceeded income, particularly after 1839 when he embarked on the restoration of Cahir Castle, and the rebuilding of much of the town of Cahir. In the aftermath of the Great Famine, it transpired that Lord Glengall’s debts amounted to a prodigious £300,000, the situation not helped by a lawsuit over their inheritance between Lady Glengall and her sister. The earl was duly declared bankrupt in 1849 and everything offered for sale, although some of the estate was subsequently recovered by his elder daughter, Lady Margaret Charteris. Somehow, the Swiss Cottage survived, although by the mid-1980s it was in poor condition, sitting empty and a prey to vandals. Before the building became a complete ruin, the local community bought it in 1985 with the aid of a £10,000 grant from the Irish Georgian Society. Work then began on salvaging the Swiss Cottage and the greater part of the funds for this project came, via the IGS, from the American Port Royal Foundation and its President Mrs Christian Aall (the foundation had already donated money towards the cottage’s purchase). Restoration work took three years to complete, overseen by architect Austin Dunphy assisted by John Redmill, with much of the labour provided under a government youth training scheme. New tree trunk posts were put up to support the shingled roof that surrounds the cottage at first floor level, later internal partitions removed and new wiring and plumbing installed. The building was re-thatched, and early 19th century wallpapers, not least a set in the salon by Joseph Dufour of Paris depicting Les Rives du Bosphore, scrupulously restored by David Skinner. Irish couturier Sybil Connolly was given responsibility for overseeing the interior decoration and arranged for a set of grotto chairs to be made for the ground floor rooms. Work on the Swiss Cottage was completed in September 1989 and the building has since been open to the public under the management of the Office of Public Works.
A fine carved limestone doorcase, formerly one of the entrances to the now-shut Imperial Hotel in Castlebar, County Mayo. Occupying one side of the town’s Mall and tracing its origins as a hostelry back to 1795, the Imperial (formerly Daly’s) Hotel was also the site where the National Land League was founded almost 143 years ago, on August 16th 1879. The building closed for business in 2009 and two years later was bought by Mayo County Council, which has since produced various ‘masterplans’ for the premises but not embarked on any of them, instead leaving this important building to deteriorate. It should be noted that in the same area of Castlebar, the council also owns the former post office and the former barracks, both of which have similarly suffered years of neglect as a consequence of a failure to implement a much-heralded programme of urban renewal. Once again, it is hard to see why any private owner of an historic property in Ireland should embark on restoration when such a poor example is provided by the relevant local authority.
Previous entries here over the years have looked at old mill complexes around the country. Ireland never experienced the same industrial revolution as occurred in our nearest neighbour, not least because we never enjoyed the same mineral wealth. However, from the mid-18th century onwards, large-scale mills began to be constructed right around the island, designed to take advantage of the power of our many waterways rather in the way that wind power is now being harnessed here to generate electricity. Many of these complexes were used for grain milling, especially in the south-east where large amounts of wheat and other such crops were grown, but mills were also used for textile spinning, and it was not uncommon for the buildings to serve both purposes, albeit at different periods during their working life. For the vast majority of them, that life has long since come to an end, and they stand empty, often roofless and falling into ruin. Such is the case with the former mill at Quartertown, County Cork.
Dating from c.1810 (the golden age for mills, during the Napoleonic Wars when Ireland’s crops were especially sought), Quartertown Mill may have had its origins back in the 13th century. The present complex is thought to have been built by Major Henry Croker, a younger son of the family whose main seat was Ballynagarde, County Limerick: possession of the land at Quartertown came through his wife Harriet Dillon. Operated by a millstream flowing from a tributary of the river Blackwater, the flour mill and attendant property passed through a couple of hands before coming into the possession of siblings John and Robert Webb in 1853. The industrial buildings suffered a major fire in 1864 but were reconstructed by Robert Webb and resumed activity, employing up to 120 people and remaining in use until the mill finally closed in 1957. But in the previous century, it had obviously been extremely successful, since in 1870 Robert Webb was able to enlarge and improve his nearby home, Quartertown House.
Now just a shell, Quartertown House was originally built in the last quarter of the 18th century, presumably by the Crokers. As mentioned, in 1870 Robert Webb embarked on a major overhaul of the building, choosing as his architect a fellow Corkman, Richard Rolt Brash whose long list of projects – whether a block of villas in Cork City’s Sunday’s Well, a town hall in Bandon, a Roman Catholic church in Buttevant or a flax spinning mill in Douglas – demonstrates a preparedness to provide whatever the client wanted. In Webb’s case, an Italianate villa was required, and duly delivered. The old house, which can be seen below (being to the left) was altogether more modest and smaller, of just five bays and stands behind what can now be seen. Of two storeys over basement, Quartertown House has a rendered, east-facing facade of seven bays with channelled rustication on the ground floor where the round-headed windows are set within square-headed recesses while those on the floor above are square-headed, the whole beneath a heavy modillion cornice. The entrance at the centre (there is a pedimented doorcase buried within the rampant foliage) is marked by an Ionic portico, with a tripartite window above; the south elevation has a canted bay on the basement and ground floor. At some date in the last century, the house was acquired by a Catholic religious order which remained in occupation until the 1970s. However, it then seems to have been abandoned and left to fall into the present sad condition, the roof caved in, the interiors destroyed. Just a hollow shell, there is little to show of the Webb wealth that once paid for the building’s creation.
Next weekend marks the centenary of the destruction of Mitchelstown Castle, County Cork, the biggest country house burnt in Ireland during the War of Independence/Civil War. Designed by siblings James and George Pain, the castle was built in the 1820s for George King, third Earl of Kingston who demolished the previous Palladian house on the site; Lord Kingston specifically required that it be bigger than any other such property in the country. Alas, less than 100 years later it was looted and destroyed, and the site then cleared: a milk-processing plant now stands on the site. To commemorate the events of 1922, Doomed Inheritance, a conference on the destruction of Mitchelstown Castle and other such buildings during that troubled period of Irish history will be held in Mitchelstown, at which the Irish Aesthete will be giving a paper ‘The Ruined Big House: Perception and Reality.’ Further information on the conference can be found here: Doomed Inheritance History Conference Tickets, Fri 12 Aug 2022 at 19:00 | Eventbrite
The main entrance to the Colebrooke estate in County Fermanagh is marked by a triumphal arch, the central section high and wide enough to accommodate carriages, with pedestrian entrances on either side, the parts divided by Tuscan pilasters. The arch was part of a substantial improvement to the property carried out c.1820 by Sir Henry Brooke who employed Dublin-born architect William Farrell for the job. Farrell was also responsible for the adjacent lodge, of three bays and with a substantial central bow. In recent years, the lodge has been restored and is now available to rent through the Irish Landmark Trust.
Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats.
Photographs of the Casino at Marino, Dublin, designed by Sir William Chambers for James Caulfield, Earl of Charlemont.
Tucked down a minor road north of Drogheda, this is St Nicholas’s church, Ballymakenny, County Louth. It was designed by Thomas Cooley for his patron, Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh, whose country residence, Rokeby Hall, stands a few miles further still further north. Cooley died in 1784 before the work was executed and therefore the job passed to the young architect Francis Johnston, then just on the onset of his career. This charming little rural church is 18th century Irish Gothic at its best, a simple design with the tower at the west end flanked by modest vestries and then the main body of the building being a long, plain hall. The most notable feature of the exterior is above the entrance, the archiepiscopal insignia and Robinson’s arms in beautifully crisp limestone (just look at those ribbons ending in tassels). In recent years, the church has been used by a local Baptist group, although it is a pity that much of the glass on the north side (where the latticed windows are actually blind) has been broken and not repaired.
The Earls of Shannon are a branch of the Boyle family, descendants of Richard Boyle, the Great Earl of Cork. The title dates back to 1756 when Lord Cork’s great-grandson Henry Boyle, after a remarkably successful political career which saw him sit on the Irish privy council, serve as chancellor of the exchequer and Speaker of the Irish House of Commons for almost 23 years, was created the first Earl of Shannon. During that period and in the years prior to his death in 1764, he also found time to carry out many other duties, not least looking after the Irish estates of his cousin Richard Boyle, the architect Earl of Burlington, as well as his own property in Castlemartyr, County Cork.
For much of the Middle Ages, Castlemartyr was under the authority of the powerful FitzGerald family, who in 1420 were made governors, or seneschals, of Imokilly (a historic barony that covers a substantial area including Youghal, Cloyne and Midleton). Some twenty years later, Maurice FitzGerald chose to settle in Castlemartyr and erected a substantial tower here. Inevitably, such a prominent building was attacked on more than one occasion, being captured by Sir Henry Sidney in 1569 and again in 1581 by the 10th Earl of Ormond who is said to have hanged the mother of the castle’s owner,John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, from its walls. Although the building was restored and considered extended in the 17th century, further assaults occurred: it was burnt by Lord Inchiquin in 1645, plundered in 1688 and then stormed and burnt by Williamite forces two years later. Not surprisingly, the castle, or what remained of it, was thereafter abandoned and left to fall into a picturesque ruin. At some point in the early 18th century, the future first earl – whose family had been given the property in 1665 – embarked on construction of a new house to the immediate west of the old one, but little information exists about when this work started and what form it took. Further additions and alterations followed over the next two centuries, so that today Castlemartyr is long and low, the centre of the facade marked by a two-storey pedimented limestone portico with Tuscan columns, much the most satisfactory feature of the building. The entrance front likewise shows evidence of regular modifications being made, with a four-bay centre block, a nine-bay wing to the east centred on a bow, and a recessed four-bay block to the west; the loggia here replaced a conservatory in the early 1900s. The demesne was also extensively developed by the first earl and then his heir, the latter described by Arthur Young in 1776 as ‘one of the most distinguished improvers in Ireland.’ The grounds had been extensively planted with trees, some of which survive still, as does the ‘river’ which was created by diverting the Womanagh river to run through a channel cut west of its natural bed.
In 1907 Castlemartyr was sold to the Arnott family, but was then acquired by another owner just a decade later, and in 1929 was bought by members of a Roman Catholic religious order, which used the house as a boarding school. This closed in 2004 and since then, further substantial additions have been made to the site which now operates as an hotel. Taken during the last decades of the 19th century, today’s photographs show the property as it looked when still owned by the Boyles. In the first group, the conservatory still occupies a site on the east side of the garden front, since it was only replaced by a balustraded loggia during the Arnotts’ short tenure. The pictures therefore provide an insight into the house’s appearance and character prior to the place changing hands and purpose several times over the past 115 years.
Four terraced houses in the centre of Dublin indicate the inadequacies of central and local government when it comes to protecting Ireland’s architectural heritage. Aungier Street dates from the mid-17th century when developed by Francis Aungier, first Earl of Longford, who created what was then the city’s finest and – at 70 feet – widest thoroughfare, much of it lined with splendid mansions. Some of these survive behind later facades, and the four in question, Nos.22-25, include one built in the 18th century for Sir Anthony King, Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1778-79; he leased the property to the sculptor John van Nost who had a stoneyard here. These houses have been allowed to stand empty and falling ever further into dereliction for many years: a planning notice on one of them for conversion of the premises into an hotel is dated October 2018. It needs to be reiterated that ample legislation exists to ensure that such neglect of the historic fabric of this and any other urban centre does not exist; that the relevant authorities continue to ignore that legislation and allow such decay serves as a gross indictment of their competence.