Inside a walled enclosure overlooking the plains of County Kildare, the church of Oughterard (from the Irish Uachtar Árd, meaning ‘a high place’) is thought to have been originally established in the sixth or seventh centuries, although the present buildings are of later date. What remains of what must once have been a substantial religious settlement are a truncated round tower and a barrel-vaulted chancel with a 14th century three-light window at the east end. Much of the nave has been lost, but on the south wall is the burial site of Arthur Guinness, founder of a certain well-known Irish business. The reason he was entombed here: his maternal grandfather William Read was a tenant farmer in this part of the country (and, it is sometimes said, Arthur Guinness was born in his mother’s family house when she returned there for the event).
‘Whilst there is scarcely an old castle, abbey or ruin of any pretensions throughout the length and breadth of Green Erin, since the introduction of cheap literature, that has not been over and over described till we have naturally began to tire of their repetition, is it not strange that none of these popular writers have as yet attempted a description of the many remnants of antiquity abounding in Clonmore in the County of Carlow, particularly its venerable castle? From Ben-Hadir to Ben-Urris, from Donaghadee to Dingle, there is scarcely a place whose particular beauties have not at some time been duly chronicled; guide books in variety too, have been given to the public of Antrim and Cork, of Wicklow and Kerry, and every picturesque locality round our island; yet amongst them all, poor Clonmore – but a few hours drive (only thirty-five Irish miles) from the metropolis – has been completely unheeded and neglected. None of the Penny Journals published by Folds or Coldwell, Hardy, or Gunn and Cameron have even mentioned its name! Grose, in his Antiquities of Ireland, published in 1791-3, has given two neat views of the castle, which the Author of these pages is happy to say he has a few copies of; but then Dr. Ledwich, who furnished the descriptive portion of that work, on account of Grose’s premature death, has dismissed the subject in a few lines. Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary and Ryan’s History of the County Carlow, both of their accounts of the castle and its antiquities are meagre enough, and incorrect in some particulars, which I intend to point out as I proceed; and, with the exception of these three publications, no recent writer that I could come at has ever favoured us with even a single line on the subject.’
From The Antiquities and History of Cluain-Mor-Maedhoc, Now Clonmore by John MacCall (1862)
Clonmore Castle: The spacious piece of antiquity of this place is situate near Hacketstown, and in the barony of Rathvilly. In shape it is square; one hundred and seventy feet by the same. The castle has towers at each angle, and is surrounded by a fosse, of about twenty feet in depth. The walls are five feet thick; and the narrow, stone-cased windows were obviously furnished with iron bars. One of the side walls has disappeared, but the other three are in good preservation and, if unassailed by the Gothic hands of man, will probably resist the tooth of Time for ages to come. The demolished wall, was no doubt removed in order to procure ingress to two or three cabins and their appurtenances, which classically ornament the interior. Indeed, I have been credibly informed, that part of the window-cases now serve the very ignoble purpose of forming part of the materials of some pig-sties! But such desecration of ancient works of art, by the unthinking and ignorant, is not at all an uncommon circumstance in this country.’
From The History And Antiquities Of The County Of Carlow by John Ryan (1833)
‘Cromwell’s army landed in Dublin in August 1649 and in 1650 the Cromwellian colonels, Hewson and Reynolds, captured the castle and ordered it to be slighted so as to make it indefensible, reducing the castle to the ruins that may be seen today. The fortress was both strong and large, square in plan, with high curtain walls defended with a tower at each corner. Although the Parliamentarians destroyed the gatehouse, extensive ruins indicating various halls and chambers remain. The northeast tower, known as the Six Windows, is still well preserved complete with a gargoyle known as “the pooka’s head.” Patrick Wall was granted the castle of Ballynekill (Clonmore) following the restoration of Charles II, together with 69 acres and 1 rood. In 1697, following the Williamite Settlement, what remained of the castle passed into the hands of Ralph Howard of Dublin. He was created Baron Clonmore in 1776, elevated to Viscount Wicklow in 1785, and his son Robert was made Earl of Wicklow in 1793. Clonmore was still in the hands of the Howard family in 1823, but then, around 1900, it passed to the Stopford family, Earls of Courtown.’
From The Byrnes and the O’Byrnes, Vol. II by Daniel Byrne-Rothwell (2010)
Welcome to Ireland’s equivalent of the Taj Mahal, and the smallest chapel in Europe (also reputedly the second-smallest in the world), located in the centre of Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim. Designed by architect William Hague and completed in 1879, the chapel was commissioned by local businessman Edward Costello to commemorate his wife Mary Josephine who had died two years earlier at the age of 47. Erected on the site of a former Methodist chapel and faced with ashlar limestone, the building measures 12 feet wide by 16 feet long. Crests on either side of the entrance contain the letters EMC and the Costello coat of arms with the motto ‘Ne te quaesiveris extra’ (Do not look outside for yourself). Lined in Bath stone, the interior has a carved marble altar behind which are stained glass windows by Mayer of Munich. Sunk into the floor and on either side of tiles bearing symbols of the Passion of Christ, are two large sheets of glass: through that on the left can be seen the coffin of Mrs Costello, while her husband’s remains lie to the right.
In 1598, at the age of 18 Lettice FitzGerald married Sir Robert Digby, a Warwickshire landowner. Born in 1580, Lettice was the only child of Gerald FitzGerald, eldest son of the 11th Earl of Kildare. However, her father died around the time of her birth, leaving her, she would claim, as heir general to the great FitzGerald estates. Her cousin, who had become 14th Earl of Kildare, begged to differ and so in 1602 Lettice and her husband embarked on a long and costly law suit – the Jacobean equivalent of Jarndyce v Jarndyce – in pursuit of her entitlements. During the course of a legal battle that lasted almost two decades, they were able to prove that the will of Lettice’s grandfather had been fraudulently altered after his death in order to disinherit her, but still the fight continued. Eventually, in 1619 King James I, while rejecting Lettice’s claim to be the 11th Earl’s heir general, granted her and her heirs the manor of Geashill, comprising some 30,000 acres in King’s County (now Offaly), thereby partitioning the FitzGerald patrimony. The following year, the king recognised Lettice as Baroness Offaly for life, on the understanding that after her death the title would revert to the Earls of Kildare.
At the centre of the Geashill estate lay a castle, originally erected in the late 12th or early 13th century by Maurice FitzGerald, second Baron Offaly. For a considerable period during the Middle Ages, this property had been in the hands of the O’Dempsey clan, but was back under the control of the FitzGeralds by the time Lettice was born. It is here that she chose to live following the death of her husband, Sir Robert Digby, in 1618 and the confirmation by the crown of her right to the estate soon afterwards. By then in her early 60s, Lettice was in residence at Geashill Castle at the onset of the Confederate Wars in 1641 and that found herself besieged by the O’Dempseys, to whom she was related. They offered her and her family safe passage if the castle was surrendered, otherwise it would be burnt down. In the face of this threat, she replied ‘Being free from offending His Majesty, or doing wrong to any of you, I will live and die innocently, and will do my best to defend my own, leaving the issue to God.’ The siege was eventually lifted, but renewed the following spring when the attackers arrived with a make-shift cannon: it exploded at the first shot, as did a second attempt using the same device. Meanwhile, as Terry Clain notes in the Dictionary of Irish Biography, Lettice ‘affected an aristocratic sang-froid in the face of imminent peril.’ Eventually, in October 1642 she was persuaded by allies to leave the property and subsequently retired to live on her late husband’s property in Warwickshire, where she died in 1658. Geashill Castle and the surrounding estate was inherited by her grandson, the second Baron Digby (her eldest son having predeceased her), whose heirs continued to own the property until the last century.
At some date, perhaps as early as the 17th century, the Digbys built a new house to the immediate east of the old castle, part of which was most likely incorporated into the structure, where material from the abandoned building was probably also reused. The house appears to have been substantial but somewhat plain, of seven bays and two storeys, with a series of service extensions and yards further to the east. The south front had short projecting wings on either side of the central three bays creating a shallow forecourt. In 1860, Dublin architect James Rawson Carroll remodelled the house, adding a porch on the south side, a canted bay window on the ground floor of the north side and cambered arches over the windows on the west. The Digbys chose to live on their English estate, Sherborne Castle in Dorset, so the house at Geashill was occupied by a succession of agents who looked after the family’s Irish property; in the opening decades of the last century, the agent was Reginald Digby, a cousin of Lord Digby. In 1922, Mr Digby needed to go to London for an operation, but was unwilling to leave Geashill Castle unattended, aware that the place would be vulnerable to assault, this being at the height of the Civil War. However, eventually he was required to leave and on August 19th 1922, the building was attacked and burnt. Like other house owners whose property suffered in this way, the Digbys applied for compensation from the courts but because nobody was resident in Geashill Castle at the time, it was argued that the family was entitled to only minimal funding. In consequence, the house was not rebuilt but left as a ruin. Under the terms of the Wyndham Act of 1903, most of the ancient estate had already been sold to tenants and in 1926 the Land Commission took over the demesne, thereby ending a link with this part of the country that stretched back not just to plucky Lettice Digby in the 17th century but as far as the O’Dempseys in the 14th century.
The name of St Olav’s church in Waterford testifies to the city’s Viking origins: Olaf II was a Norweigan king killed at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030, and canonised in 1164. The original church here, likely made of wood, is supposed to have been constructed around 1050, long before Olav became a saint, so it must have been named after him at a later date, perhaps when the stone structure was built. The latter had fallen into ruin by the early 17th century and only an arched doorcase survives at the west end of the present church, which occupies the same site but was erected in the 1730s on the instructions of the then-Bishop of Waterford, Thomas Milles: its design has been attributed to William Halfpenny who, during the same period, produced designs for the Bishop’s Palace and Christ Church Cathedral, neither of which were executed (see: The Finest 18th century Ecclesiastical Building in Ireland « The Irish Aesthete). St Olav’s remained a place of worship until 1970 and today serves as a community centre.
Ireland’s Decade of Centenaries, marking the country’s ten years of transformation 1913-23 is now drawing to a close, but there are still opportunities for analysis and reflection about what happened during that period. On Saturday, October 7th the Irish Aesthete will be participating in County Tipperary’s annual Dromineer Nenagh Literary Festival (celebrating its own 20th anniversary), in conversation with poet Vona Groarke about some of the great houses which were burnt in the early 1920s, many of them never rebuilt and lost forever. One such was Ardfert, County Kerry, set on fire in August 1922. The photographs above show the building before and after the conflagration, while those below are images of the interior, including the panelled hall with its classical grisaille figures, and the splendid main staircase, all lost in that fire, after which the house was pulled down so that nothing survives as a memory of its existence.
For further information about this event and others in the Dromineer Nenagh Literary Festival, please see: Left without a Handkerchief – dnlf
After Monday’s post about the Damer House, here is the medieval castle inside the walls of which that building stands. Roscrea Castle, County Tipperary originally dates from 1213 when King John ordered that a defensive structure be erected here as part of the Norman conquest of the Irish midlands. Work did not begin on the site for a few more decades, until the reign of Henry III, perhaps because the land had been owned by the Bishop of Killaloe who threatened to excommunicate those responsible for the castle (the bishop was duly pacified with the offer of other land). While first made of wood, the stone castle, with motte and bailey, was of stone. In 1315 the building was granted to the powerful Butler family who held it until the early 18th century when the property was sold by the Duke of Ormonde to the Royal Hospital Kilmainham; that institution in turn sold it on to John Damer, responsible for commissioning the house that still stands in the middle of the grounds. As for the castle itself, once moated with the river Bunnow running along one side, it comprises a 40-metre wide courtyard with three-quarter round towers on the south-east and south-west sides and, to the north, the main building, a gatehouse 27 metres high which was built by the Butlers in the 15th century. When the Irish Aesthete lived here 40 years ago, the property, although a dominant presence in the town, was largely in ruins and certainly not accessible without risk to life and limb: it has since been extensively restored and is now open to visitors who can marvel at the groin vaulted ceiling of the former great hall.
This month marks two anniversaries, one of which is that the Irish Aesthete now turns eleven, having made his first appearance on the internet in September 2012. But the month also commemorates an older anniversary: the fortieth anniversary of the Irish Aesthete’s first job, as resident curator of the Damer House in Roscrea, County Tipperary.* The house has a complex history, made more so by the fact that it was constructed within the walls of a 13th century castle around which grew the town of Roscrea. As its name indicates, the building was commissioned by a member of the Damer family, the first of whom Joseph Damer, moved from Dorset to Ireland and here grew wealthy as a banker and moneylender. Having no heirs, he left his money to a nephew, John Damer, who in 1722 bought Roscrea from the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham (that institution had, in turn, bought the town from the Butler family in 1703).
There may have been an older residence on or near the site of the present Damer House which, despite often being called ‘Queen Anne’ in style, likely dates from the 1730s (in other words, during the reign of George II). Of three storeys over basement and with unusually tall narrow windows spread across nine bays, the pre-Palladian house’s finest internal feature is a carved pine staircase, in style not dissimilar to that of the slightly later Cashel Palace. Of course, provincial architecture was often out of step with the latest fashion, which would help to explain the building’s somewhat outdated style. In addition, by the time it was built, wealthy families had largely given up living in regional towns, preferring to reside on their country estates. That would appear to have been the case with the Damers who around the same time as the Damer House was being built, also embarked on the construction of another residence, Damer Court, which stood on land they owned to the west of Tipperary town; although nothing remains of this building – by the mid-19th century it was described as ‘a shell of a building’ – but a townland in the area is called Damerville. As for the Damer House, it does not appear to have served as a residence for the family but was rented out to a succession of tenants for much of the 18th century. In 1798 the house was leased as a barracks and then the whole site sold to the British military in 1858. At the start of the last century the Damer House became ‘Mr. French’s Academy’, a school for boys, reverting to a barracks for the National Army during the Civil War, then being used as a sanatorium, before once again in 1932 serving as a school until 1956, then a library. By 1970 it was empty and unused, and the local authority, Tipperary County Council, announced plans to demolish the house and replace it with an amenity centre comprising a swimming pool, car park, playground and civic centre (it had been nurturing this scheme since as far back as 1957). The council’s chairman wanted the demolition to go ahead, declaring that ‘as long as it stands it reminds the Irish people of their enslavement to British rule,’ and dismissing objectors to the scheme as ‘a crowd of local cranks.’ In fact, most of the so-called ‘crowd’ were members of the Old Roscrea Society and in December 1970 this organisation was offered help by the Irish Georgian Society in the campaign to save the Damer House.
In 1971 the local council agreed not to demolish the Damer House. On the other hand, it did nothing to preserve the building and in November 1973, on learning that restoration would cost in the region of £40,000, the authority decided to go ahead with demolition after all. The Irish Georgian Society once more intervened, this time proposing it take on a lease for the building and assume responsibility for its restoration, now budgeted at £80,000 over five years. In February 1974 the council agreed to this arrangement and the Society took on the house for a period of 99 years at an annual rent of one shilling. The restoration of the Damer House was to be its contribution to European Architectural Heritage Year 1975. Work on the project began in mid-August 1974 and was overseen by the late Brian Molloy. The place was in terrible condition, debris and rubbish throughout, the basement full of water, every window broken, the staircase shrouded and boxed in. While professionals worked on repairing the roof, the workforce included a dozen architectural students from Dublin and members of the Old Roscrea Society. Volunteers were advised to turn up at the site ‘in old clothes, bringing brushes, buckets and handy tools.’ Work proceeded slowly and was dependent on enough funds being raised for the purpose, some £5,400 being spent on repairs in 1974 and at least the same again the following year. In 1976 £8,000 was required to repair the staircase, including the replacement of missing balustrades and the removal of sixteen pounds in weight of paint from the carved frieze. By June 1977 £22,000 had been spent on the Damer House which was now deemed ready to admit visitors and host exhibitions. Thereafter, while refurbishment continued on both the Damer House and its slightly later annexe, the venue was regularly used for events such as touring exhibitions organised by the Arts Council. In 1980 some of the most influential members of the Old Roscrea Society, notably local teacher George Cunningham, decided to form a new organisation, the Roscrea Heritage Society which later that year organised a large show in the Damer House. Exhibits relevant to the town’s history were lent by both the National Museum and the National Gallery. With aid from a number of public bodies, the house’s annexe was next restored for use as a heritage centre; the first of its kind in Ireland, this opened to the public in 1983 and shortly afterwards won a special award from the adjudicators of European Museum of the Year. In the autumn of 1983, control of the Damer House was handed over to the Roscrea Heritage Society (and that was when the Irish Aesthete arrived to take up residence in the place). Now under the authority of the Office of Public Works, the Damer House – which was recently subject to further restoration of the exterior stonework and windows – is open to the public, along with the surrounding castle and adjacent gardens. Once scheduled for demolition, the Damer House is today regarded as a major architectural and tourist asset for the midlands region of Ireland.
It is likely that most visitors to the Francis Bacon Studio in Dublin’s Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery are so busy looking at what can be seen on the walls and behind glass screens that they rarely, if ever, glance upwards. Yet in one of the spaces there survives a rococo ceiling installed when this was part of the Earl of Charlemont’s library wing in his townhouse, designed by William Chambers and constructed in the 1760s. The greater part of that section of the original building was lost in 1931-33 when then-City Architect Horace O’Rourke converted the house into an art gallery but somehow this one ceiling, featuring interwoven garlands of leaves tied with trailing ribbon and a testament to the skill of an unknown stuccodore, has survived.
In a graveyard high above Swinford, County Mayo is this mausoleum where members of the Brabazon family were formerly interred. The Brabazons had come to the area in the first half of the 17th century and were later responsible for developing the town, close to which they built a fine house, Brabazon House, which survived until 1980 when pulled down by the local Health Board. Also gone is St Mary’s, the Church of Ireland where they once worshipped, so this mausoleum, seemingly ‘repaired’ in 1828 by Sir William Brabazon, who was then MP for the area (and who died 12 years later after choking on a chicken bone), is the last remaining evidence of the family’s presence in the area. However, the Brabazons do not have the place to themselves: on top of the mausoleum is a large marble column topped with a cross, which commemorates one Patrick Corley who died in 1875 at the age of 60, while on another side of the mausoleum is a plaque dedicated to successive generations of the O’Donnel family who lived some five miles south at Fahyness (now Faheens).