Currently undergoing restoration, this is Cangort Park, County Offaly. Dating from 1807 when designed by Richard Morrison for William Trench (a younger brother of the first Lord Ashtown), the house is more substantial than the initial impression of a three-bay, two-storey villa might suggest. The eastern elevation reveals just how substantial is the building, its centre occupied by a three-bay segmental bow flanked by single bay windows set inside shallow relieving arches. Meanwhile, the ground floor rear is dominated by two equally grandiose tripartite windows. Returning to the facade – which, like the rest of the house is faced in lined-and-ruled plaster – much of this is given over to an impressively over-scaled main entrance, set within a recessed arched porch and approached by a flight of stone steps. Over the door is a rectangular plaster panel depicting putti riding a dolphin, a curious detail for a house located about as far away from the sea as is possible in Ireland.
Last week, the Irish Times carried a feature on how an old mill complex at Kilmainham, Dublin was to be restored and given new life as a ‘major tourist attraction.’ (see The former Dublin mill set to become the city’s next major tourist attraction – The Irish Times). There is always an element of surprise about such articles, as though the existence of such a site would be unknown to readers, and so information about it would come as a revelation. In fact, Kilmainham Mill, which in its present form dates from c.1800 but may have been the site of much older buildings serving the same purpose, has been in and out of the news for many years. The mill ceased to function in 2000 and three years later a development company called Charona Ltd applied for permission to convert the place into 48 one, two and three-bedroom apartments in a mixture of new and refurbished buildings. When Dublin City Council approved the scheme, the decision was appealed by a number of local residents and the director of Kilmainham Gaol to the planning authority, An Bord Pleanála. The latter body gave its assent to the developers’ proposals in February 2005, subject to some modifications, but then nothing happened, the economic recession came and the buildings, subject to the inevitable assaults by vandals, were left to fall into dereliction. Finally and following a long campaign by the aforementioned local residents, in December 2018, the site was purchased by the Dublin City Council, and in March 2021, the Irish Times carried a lengthy article announcing that building work would soon commence on the mill buildings: the authority’s project manager declaring that the restoration would be “a game changer in terms of visitor attractions.’ Presumably in another couple of years, the same newspaper will carry another piece announcing the mill’s imminent refurbishment as a major tourist attraction, especially since last week’s article noted that Dublin City Council did not at present have the funds required to carry out the job and would need to turn to central government for assistance. The price tag for this work? Presently estimated to be between €25 million and €30 million.
An admirable website run by Mills and Millers of Ireland (www.millsofireland.org) lists more than thirty mill sites across the country which are at present open to the public. One of these is Fancroft Mill which literally straddles Counties Tipperary and Offaly since the Little Brosna river, which runs right through the property, marks the dividing line between the two counties. The present complex was constructed over a number of different periods but originally dated back to the late 18th century when owned by the Pims, a Quaker family from Mountmellick, County Laois. The mill was re-equipped and enlarged from 1883 onwards, with further extensions added later. It remained in use well into the second half of the 19th century, but then fell into disrepair until the place was bought by the present owners, Marcus and Irene Sweeney.
Beginning in 2006, the Sweeneys embarked on an extensive and thorough restoration of the Fancroft Mill complex. The stone work was cleaned, conserved and repaired, 90 new sash windows installed, the four-storey bay re-roofed and ogee details over the doors enhanced. Internally, repairs to floors and the installation of new stairs permitted safe access to virtually all areas for visitors on guided tours. The water wheel, still for more than 60 years, revolved once more in 2009 and the following year a set of new mill stones was installed, permitting milling capability to be restored for domestic purposes: more recently, a generator was installed and contributes to the household heating system. A tea room and lecture/performance space have also been created inside the complex, a section of the space set aside to house the archives of Mills and Millers of Ireland. Acknowledgement of the work undertaken here was made in 2017 when the Irish Georgian Society awarded the Sweeneys with a Conservation Awards; two years later, Fancroft Mill won the Norman Campion Award Best Museum/Industrial Heritage Site presented by the Industrial Heritage Association of Ireland. Dublin City Council should have a word with the plucky owners of this property. They have shown what can be achieved without a series of headlines in the Irish Times – and for considerably less than €25-€30 million.
Fancroft Mill is open at certain times to the public. For information, please see: Fancroft Mill
As seen today, Fermoy, County Cork owes its existence to John Anderson, an ambitious Scotsman who settled in Ireland as a merchant in the early 1780s. Before the end of the decade, he had established a national mail-coach service and Fermoy, with its bridge over the river Blackwater, became a stop on the route between Cork and Dublin. Then in 1791 he bought the town from the Boyle family and began to develop it with such success that in less than 20 years Fermoy’s population had grown from a few hundred to 4,300. One of the reasons for this is that in 1797 the British government decided to establish a major military base here, with Anderson providing the sites for two large barracks on the north side of the river. The first of these, the east, was constructed 1801-6, its western equivalent begun in 1809; the buildings, dominated by large central squares, accommodated thousands of troops and were designed by local architect Abraham Hargrave. Following the departure of British troops in 1922, the barracks were burnt and all the buildings demolished. Today only parts of the outer walls and the arched gateways survive: the grounds to the east are now used by the GAA and that to the west by the local rugby club.
Text here…On the banks of the river Fergus in Ennis, County Clare stands a stone known as Steele’s Rock. On this, supposedly, in the early 19th century sat a man called Thomas Steele who used it as a vantage point from which to gaze on a nearby house called Abbeyfield (today a garda station, see: In need of TLC « The Irish Aesthete). Therein lived a young lady, Miss Crowe, with whom Steele was much in love but his passion was not reciprocated and, it seems, she never even troubled to notice her putative suitor. This tale is only one of many told about Thomas Steele, certainly one of the more colourful characters living in Ireland at the time. Born in 1788 to a gentry family, he had been raised by his uncle and namesake at Cullane, a house built just a few years before his birth and beautifully sited on the western shore of Lough Cullaunyheeda: following his uncle’s death in 1821 he inherited the property. Most country gentlemen would have settled down to enjoy their estate, but Thomas Steele was never wont to behave like most country gentlemen. A classical scholar of note, throughout his life he was inclined to become involved in a variety of different projects. In 1825, for example, having undertaken experiments with underwater diving apparatus, he patented ‘Steele’s improved diving-bell.’ and around the same time became a partner in the Vigo Bay Co., which was trying to recover gold and silver bullion from Spanish ships sunk in Vigo Bay in 1702. A complete failure, the company was wound up somewhat acrimoniously in 1826, but this didn’t deter him: an associate of the English diving siblings John and Charles Deane, in 1836 Steele used their new diving helmet to explore the wreck of the Intrinsic soon after he had sunk off the County Clare coast. Interested in developing equipment to provide underwater illumination, four years later he dived with the Deanes to look at the wreck of Henry VIII’s great ship, the Mary Rose, off Portsmouth. But prior to these enterprises, in 1823, he had decided to go to Spain and join rebels fighting against the absolutist monarch Ferdinand VII. Accordingly, he mortgaged the house and land at Cullane for some £10,000, using the funds raised to buy arms and shipping these to Spain. Once there, he joined the Legion Estrenjera of the rebel army, distinguishing himself in the battle of the Trocadero and the defence of Cadiz. Following the liberals’ defeat, he returned to Ireland and published an account of what he had witnessed,, Notes on the war in Spain (1824).
A couple of years after returning from Spain, Thomas Steele found another cause with which to become involved: Catholic Emancipation. Which is not to suggest he planned to become a Roman Catholic: he had previously written a letter to the elderly Pope Pius VII urging him to convert to Protestantism. But after meeting Daniel O’Connell, Steele had become an ardent supporter of the latter’s Catholic Association and was soon appointed its Vice-President of the Association. Although he never converted from the Established church, on his land at Cullane he erected an outdoor altar, so that mass could be said there any time O’Connell visited: the ‘altar’ was actually a dolmen cap stone that had previously stood at what was believed to be the dead centre of Ireland near Birr, County Offaly: it has since been returned to its original site). In 1828 Steele seconded O’Connell’s nomination for election in County Clare and was with him with the Catholic Relief Bill of 1829 passed. Strongly supportive of his hero’s repudiation of physical violence and despite being called the ‘Head Pacificator’, Steele was a noted duellist who that same year fought an inconclusive duel with William Smith O’Brien over what he believed to be a personal slight from the latter. More importantly, his total belief in O’Connell, and his personal disregard for money, led him to be popularly known as ‘Honest Tom’. Once Catholic Emancipation had been achieved, he continued to give his support to the next great cause: the repeal of the 1800 Act of Union. Following the government’s prohibition of the Clontarf monster meeting in October 1843, Steele was tried on conspiracy charges and imprisoned with O’Connell in Richmond jail. So closely was he allied with O’Connell that he never recovered from the latter’s death in May 1847 and the following April, suffering from depression and facing financial ruin, he jumped off Waterloo Bridge in London. Although rescued from the water, he never received and died in June 1848. His body returned to Ireland, he was buried in Glasnevin cemetery, Dublin, beside O’Connell’s tomb.
A date stone at Cullane is market 1799, but the house is thought to date from the early 1780s. Of two storeys over basement, the three-bay facade has a central breakfront with fan-lit doorcase on the ground floor and tripartite window above; between the two there used to be a carved stone bearing the Steele coat of arms, but this has been removed. On the eastern side, and overlooking the lake, the house is of three storeys, with a great central bow and tripartite windows to left and right of the ground floor. No interior decoration survives. Since Miss Crowe of Ennis refused to acknowledge or return his ardour, Thomas Steele had never married, and after his death the Cullane estate was inherited by a niece, Maria Wogan, married to Charles FitzGerald Studdert of Newmarket House. Their descendants continued to live there until 1954 when the place was sold to the Land Commission and the house left to fall into its present state of ruin, a sad end for what had once been the home of one of Daniel O’Connell’s most ardent supporters.
The origin and histories of some old Irish houses are veiled in mystery, and likely to remain so, since so much information about our architectural heritage has been lost. One such property is a place called Rath House in Co Waterford. The word rath appears very often in this country’s place names. It derives from the Irish Ráth, which means a circular enclosure or ring fort, suggesting this was the site of an ancient settlement. In this instance, there does not appear to be any obvious evidence of such a development, but – like the want of historical detail about the building – this is by no means an uncommon circumstance.
It would appear that the earliest known reference to Rath House dates from 1851 when it was recorded as being leased from the Duke of Devonshire (the celebrated Batchelor Duke) by one John Carroll; at the time, it had a value of £16. But of course, the building could be much earlier than that, or might have been constructed on the site of an earlier residence, as was so often the case. It subsequently passed through a number of different hands, for some time in the last century being occupied by two unmarried Jacob sisters, members of the well-known Waterford Quaker family (responsible, among other things, for running the eponymous biscuit factory). More recently, it was home to another bachelor who died in 2021, hence the place is now being offered for sale.
Rath House is of unusual design, a long, single-storey, six bay cottage with two-storey projecting gable-ended wings on either side. It may be that the central section was the original farmhouse, and the wings were added in the 19th century, perhaps around the time that John Carroll received his lease from the Devonshire estate. Constructed of rubble stone beneath a render, considerable effort was made, both on the exterior and interior, to present the house as more than just another tenant farmer’s residence. A short flight of cut-stone steps leads up to the fan-lit principle entrance, but note how the windows are not all evenly spaced, with a significant that on the furthest left somewhat further away from the two-storey wing than is its equivalent on the right-hand side. Inside, the house is effectively one room deep, a passageway running along the end wall and leading to staircases at either end. In the central section, the room to the right of the entrance hall, lit by three windows, served as the drawing room, that to the left as the dining room. The kitchen lay beyond the latter on the ground floor with two bedrooms above; the same layout can be found in the corresponding wing at the other end of the building. In front of the house, a series of terraces descended to the roadway, and to the left of this was a walled enclosure, presumably a garden where fruit and vegetables were once cultivated. With its demonstrable ambitions towards gentility, Rath House is a fascinating property, albeit now in rather poor condition. One must hope that the next owner will bring this place back to life – and also discover more about its hidden history.
‘One of the State’s most exclusive boarding schools for girls is to close because the congregation which owns it has insufficient nuns to keep it open.
Our Lady’s secondary school, Clermont, in Rathnew, Co Wicklow, is scheduled to close by June 2004, although final arrangements are subject to negotiation with parents.
The owners, the small Christian Education congregation, has not had a single entrant since 1973. In a statement yesterday it said: “There is no religious personnel for the management or trusteeship of this boarding school into the future.”
The order came to Ireland following an invitation from the former Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Charles McQuaid, in 1956. He wanted the order to provide places for children of Catholic parents who had been sending their daughters to boarding schools in Britain.’
Irish Times, February 2nd 2001
‘A drop in the number of nuns entering the Benedictine Order has forced the prestigious Kylemore Abbey School in Connemara, Co Galway to shut its doors.
After operating for 84 years as a boarding school, Mother Abbess Magdalena FitzGibbon OSB said the decline in vocations to the order had necessitated the closure of the secondary school.
“In common with other orders, many of our sisters have reached retirement age and with no new entrants, we no longer have the personnel necessary for the management and trusteeship of the school. We very much regret having to make this decision but having looked at the options, we are left with no alternative,” she said.
In a letter to parents, staff, the Department of Education and Science and local primary schools, Mother FitzGibbon said it was with great sadness that the trustees decided to close the school in August 2010.
The Benedictine community at the Abbey has now fallen to around 14 nuns.’
Irish Examiner, 6th February 2006
‘A long running tradition of education will come to an end in February when the Sisters of Mercy closes its convent on The Shannon [Enniscorthy]. The six remaining nuns resident in the building beside St. Senan’s will be dispersed to other accommodation in February, it was confirmed to parishioners at the weekend.
‘There is a sadness,’ admitted Sister Elizabeth Breen, who was a member of the full time staff at Coláiste Bríde until she retired in 2002. ‘We have very good memories of the town and the people.’
The order was first called in during 1858 to provide primary education, especially for the poor of Enniscorthy. They eventually moved out of primary schooling to provide a secondary school and they leave a legacy to the town in the form of Coláiste Bride, across the road from the soon to be closed convent.
‘The Mercy order made a massive contribution,’ mused Tom Sheridan, principal at Coláiste Bríde, which still often referred to in Enniscorthy by its nickname of ‘The Mercy’. It is eight years since there was a member of the order on the staff, since Sister Elizabeth Breen retired in 2002, though she has occasionally worked there since in a part-time capacity. Just last week she was back on the campus running religious retreats for first year students.’
Irish Independent, 23rd November 2010
‘It was in the hall of this Castle, then his principal residence, that James, first Duke and twelfth Earl of Ormond, received, as he sat at dinner, on 23d October 1641, intelligence of the great rebellion, in which he so eminently distinguished himself as Commander of the Royal Army. Since that period, none of the Ormond family have resided in Carrick-Castle, which is, however, maintained in good repair, and occupied by a private gentleman, who has evinced excellent taste in the alterations which he has made in the building without impairing the character of its architecture. It stands upon the banks of the river Suir, and near the town of Carrick-on-Suir. This castle was built in the year 1309, by Edmond le Boteler, or Butler, whose son was created Earl of Ormond in 1328. By him it was granted, in 1336, together with its demesnes, to the Franciscan monks of the Abbey of Carrick-on-Suir. But these venerable personages, who probably attached more value to the lands than to the fortress, appear to have permitted it to fall into decay, since we find that, in 1445, Sir Edmund Butler purchased the premises from the Monks, and rebuilt the Castle and Bridge.’
From Picturesque Views of the Antiquities of Ireland, 1830
‘Prior to starting to Waterford, let us not fail to view the fine old castle of the Ormonds, built in 1309, and still remaining in the family. The antique bridge, from the right bank of the river, just above the weir, presents all that is fantastically eccentric in architecture, the ivied house in the centre imparting to it an air of pleasing novelty. The parish chapel is said to have been built by the Ormonds, and the tower attached to the modern building bears proof of high antiquity. We hope tradition speaks “no scandal against Queen Elizabeth,” as the guide points out the grave of Thomas Butler, the putative natural son of her maiden Majesty.’
From The Tourist’s Illustrated Hand-Book for Ireland, 1859
‘I chanced that day to be at Carrick, and I walked to see the old castle. It is beautifully situated in a secluded lawn overhanging the Suir, at a distance of a few hundred yards from the eastern end of the town. I could not ascertain the date of the older, or castellated part of the edifice: the more modern part was erected by Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond, in 1565, which date is displayed on the wall of the hall; on which, likewise, there is a rude fresco representing Queen Elizabeth, with the initials E.R. On the opposite wall there is another fresco of the founder, who is said by the tradition of the castle to have found favour as a lover of that princess. The tradition found its way into France, and the family of Lord Galmoye is stated, in a French genealogical work, to descend from her Majesty and her Irish admirer…The curious old mansion founded by “Black Tom Butler” is still habitable. Its front presents a long row of gables in the fashion of Elizabethan manor-houses, with a large Oriel window over the porch. Its large deserted chambers are just as spectral personages might regularly honour with their visits. I accordingly asked if the house was haunted, and was told by the person who showed it, that in the days of the Ormonds, a ghost had been constantly there – a utilitarian ghost, apparently; for he used to officiate as volunteer shoeblack, and to discharge other duties of domestic labour.
The largest apartments are in the upper storey. There is a noble drawing room about sixty feet long, which contains two decorated chimneys. Whatever be the worth of the Galmoye tradition, old “Tom Butler” as the guide familiarly called him, was anxious to record his devotion to Elizabeth; and this he has done by the frequent repetition of her Majesty’s initials and arms in the quaint stucco ornaments of the ceiling.’
From Ireland and her Agitators by W.J. O’Neill, 1867.
The garden front of Ballyvolane, County Cork. Dating back to 1728, the original house was constructed for Sir Richard Pyne, a former Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, of seven bays and three storeys. Almost 150 years later, in 1872 George Pyne, who had recently acquired the estate, commissioned local architect and antiquarian Richard Rolt Brash to remodel the building to give it the present Italianate appearance, as well as remove the top floor. The original gardens at Ballyvolane were laid out in the early 19th century, but much of what can be seen today is due to the work of the Green family who bought the place 70 years ago in 1953. Next Friday, June 30th I shall be giving a talk at Ballyvolane on Ireland’s country house gardens, with cocktails beforehand and dinner after. For more information about this event, please see: Robert O’Byrne aka The Irish Aesthete ‘Irish Country House Gardens’ Talk and Dinner (ballyvolanehouse.ie)
A modest village in County Laois, Aghaboe (from the Irish Achadh Bhó, meaning ‘field of cows’), has been briefly mentioned here before (see Happily Disposed in the Most Elegant Taste « The Irish Aesthete) in relation to Heywood, some 12 miles away, where a pair of mediaeval windows have been incorporated into an 18th century folly. But Aghaboe itself deserves attention, since it was once the site of an important early Christian monastery, adjacent to which is now a restored early 18th century house along with other buildings of interest.
The original abbey at Aghaboe was established in the 6th century by St Canice, who was interred here and around whose tomb would grow a substantial monastic settlement. In the 8th century, one of the abbots was St Fergal (otherwise Virgilius), mathematician and astronomer who would later move first to France and then to Austria where he became Abbot of St Peter’s Abbey in Salzburg. Nothing from this period in the monastery’s history survives due to repeated assaults on the place. The abbey was attacked and plundered by the Vikings in 913 before being rebuilt in 1052 with the relics of St Canice enshrined here. It was burned again in 1116 and rebuilt in 1189. In 1234 an Augustinian priory was established on the site (a Norman motte and bailey had already been constructed nearby). However, both the priory and a town which had grown up around it were burnt in 1346 by Diarmaid Mac Giollaphádraig, St Canice’s shrine being destroyed in the process. In 1382 Finghan MacGillapatrick, Lord of Upper Ossory established a Dominican friary here and this survived until its suppression in 1540. What remains at Aghaboe are traces of the Dominican church, a long, barn-like building without aisles typical of the mendicant preaching orders, with one transept at the south-west end. There is a fine window at the east end of the nave and an ogee-headed piscina nearby on the south wall. In the transept, the east wall features a tall arched niche and there are also a couple of smaller aumbries. A watercolour by Daniel Grose dated 1792 depicts an elaborately carved doorcase on the south side but this has since disappeared. A few other traces of the church’s former decoration survive on the exterior of the Church of Ireland church lying behind the ruin: this dates from 1818 although the curious tower here – the lower portion square-shaped, the upper an awkwardly-placed octagon – may be a survivor from the Middle Ages, along with the three much-weathered heads over the west door.
Just a few hundred yards south-east of the ruined and present churches, and overlooking both, stands Aghaboe House, a curiously double-fronted residence. The south facade, thought to date from c.1730, is of seven bays and two storeys, with a fine limestone pedimented doorcase. The north side is some 40 years later and is of five bays, centred on fan-lit doorway below a Venetian window above which a pediment breaks the shallow roofline. Internally, the house – which may incorporate elements of an older residence – is similarly divided into two parts, suggesting it was originally one room deep, with the larger rooms to the north, not least the double-height staircase hall with benefits from the Venetian window on the upper floor. Recently offered for sale, Aghaboe House was in a semi-ruinous condition when bought almost 40 years ago in 1984 by its present owner who has since gradually restored the building, along with others on the site, including another two-storey block diagonally to the immediate east. This might once have had a match on the western side; if so, it has long since disappeared. For much of the last quarter of the 18th century, Aghaboe House was home to the historian and Church of Ireland clergyman Rev Edward Ledwich (author of the text accompanying Francis Grose’s Antiquities of Ireland, published 1791-95) which suggests it could have served as a glebe house until a new one was built in 1820. The enlargement of the main house might even have been undertaken by Ledwich while he was in residence, since he and his wife had at least four daughters and four sons. Along with its neighbours, Aghaboe House contributes to an assemblage of buildings covering some 1,500 years of Irish history.
For more information about Aghaboe House and its sale, see: Aghaboe House, Aghaboe, Ballacolla, Co. Laois – Property.ie
Caught in the rain, this is Ballyannan Castle, a semi-fortified house built c.1650 for St John Brodrick, an English soldier who had arrived in Ireland almost a decade earlier as a captain of foot. By deft political footwork, he survived the turmoils of the rest of the century, only dying in 1711 at the age of 84 and leaving behind several sons, one of whom became the first Viscount Midleton. While the Brodrick family survives, Ballyannan did not do so, abandoned by the mid-18th century and already ruinous in 1786. The house is notable for its circular corner towers above which rise exceptionally tall chimneys. Ballyannan was once surrounded by extensive and elaborate pleasure gardens, described in 1743 as containing ‘all the irregular beauties that charm the fancy and delight the senses,’ but little now remains in fields given over to agricultural use, other than a small brick summerhouse (alas, heavy rain discouraged a visit to this. Another time…)