The Past in Need of a Future

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While claims are made of 12th century origins, in its present form Lackeen Castle, County Tipperary is an example of the later Irish tower house. These defensive dwellings were built from the 15th to early 17th centuries, and it would appear that Lackeen was constructed for Brian Ua Cinneide Fionn, chieftain of Ormond, who died in 1588. Cinneide is the Irish word for ‘Helmeted Head’, it being said that the Ua Cinneides were the first people in this country to wear helmets when going into battle against the Vikings. The name was later anglicised to Kennedy and the family remains widespread in this part of north Tipperary. Although Brian Ua Cinneide Fionn’s son Donnchadh further fortified the castle, in 1653 it surrendered to English forces. Nevertheless his descendants regained possession of the property and were in occupation in the 18th century. Lackeen is of particular interest since it forms part of a group of buildings constructed within a bawn wall, considerable parts of which also survive. The tower house is of four storeys, and contains the remains of several chimneypieces as well as two flights of stairs, initially a straight run to the first floor, and then a spiral staircase to the upper levels concluding in a large open space which was once roofed and would have held the main living chambers.

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As mentioned, the original owners of Lackeen had regained possession of the site by the 18th century. In 1735 John O’Kennedy who was then undertaking work on the tower house discovered an ancient manuscript hidden inside one of its walls. Known as the Stowe Missal the work was written in Latin in the late eighth or early ninth century but in the mid-11th century had been annotated and some additional pages written in Irish. By that date the manuscript seems to have come into the safe keeping of a monastery at nearby Lorrha where it would have remained until the dissolution of such establishments in the mid-16th century; most likely the manuscript was then concealed for safekeeping at Lackeen Castle. Following its rediscovery the missal entered the collection of the Irish antiquarian Charles O’Conor, the O’Conor Don. In 1798 his grandson, a Roman Catholic priest also called Charles O’Conor, was invited to become chaplain to the first Marchioness of Buckingham, and to organize and translate a collection of historic material kept at her husband’s house, Stowe in Buckinghamshire. On moving to England, the younger O’Conor brought with him fifty-nine of his grandfather’s manuscripts including the missal found at Lackeen. Along with the others, this remained at Stowe until the entire collection was sold to the fourth Earl of Ashburnham in 1849: in turn his son sold all the manuscripts to the British government which returned Irish-related material to this country. The Stowe missal is now in the possession of the Royal Irish Academy.

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Adjacent to Lackeen Castle and on the edge of the bawn wall is a group of domestic buildings which look to be from the 17th and early 18th centuries: it would seem at least some of this cluster was erected in the aftermath of 1660 when peace, for a time, returned to Ireland. The most striking, and most intact, of the group is a two-storey, five-bay farmhouse, one-room deep, with a single living space on either side of the entrance hall. The latter is interesting because on coming through the front door one faces a pair of panelled doors, that to the left leading to the staircase (now in part collapsed) that to the right being a cupboard. This decorative flourish, together with simple plasterwork on the ceilings of the ground floor rooms suggest aspirations towards gentry status on the part of the earliest occupants, and make Lackeen House all the more important since such buildings are now relatively rare. In the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, the building’s association with the adjacent tower house is described as being ‘of great importance and illustrates the development of this site for domestic use over several centuries.’ Photographs taken only a few years ago show the house unoccupied but still in reasonable condition. Unfortunately such is no longer the case: there are holes in the roof where slates have slipped, resultant water ingress has led to partial ceiling collapse, a portion of the stairs has given way and the signs are that Lackeen House will soon be just an empty shell. This is a s0-called ‘Protected Structure’ but once again the term is meaningless as no protection is being offered to the house. Time is running out fast here: unless an intervention occurs soon a nationally important collection of historic buildings is set to be lose one of its key elements.

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Levels of History

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The staircase in Ashbrook, County Derry, one of the oldest continuously occupied houses in this part of the country. The land on which it sits was granted to General Thomas Ash by Elizabeth I in the 1590s as a reward for his aid in quashing the O’Neill Rebellion during the Nine Years War and the family (later Beresford-Ash) has remained there ever since. The rear section of Ashbrook is a 17th century house but in the 1760s a new section was added to the front providing ground floor rooms with higher ceilings than had hitherto been the case. As a result, upper floor levels had to be altered resulting in the present arrangement, seen below, whereby a single flight of stairs leads from a top-lit gallery to bedrooms at the front of the house.

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The Rockford Files

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The handsome coachhouse entrance in the stableblock at Rockford, County Tipperary. This is part of a late 18th century complex originally built by the Kingsley family which subsequently passed by marriage to a branch of the Wolfes of County Kildare. In the second half of the 19th century, the latter built a new residence for themselves nearby and perhaps at that time these buildings were given their present appearance, including a series of pointed niches with brick surrounds that flank all the doors.

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Lip Service 

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As is still remembered, legislation collectively known as the Penal Laws meant that for much of the 18th century Roman Catholics under the authority of the British government found it hard to practice or express their faith publicly. It is worth pointing out that these laws were as much an affliction in England, Wales and Scotland as they were in Ireland, but the numbers of Catholics here were proportionately far greater than in those other countries. only in the late 1700s/early 1800s was the legislation gradually relaxed, ultimately leading up to the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829 which created full emancipation for members of this faith. But even prior to that date, Catholics had begun to embark on the construction of what at the time were always called chapels, buildings in which they could gather to hold their services. The great age of Catholic church building came in the post-emancipation era, which makes these early buildings all the more precious since relatively few of them still survive. They tended to be simple in form and design, not least because the costs involved in putting them up were borne by the local population, few of whom would have been wealthy. Weekly collections among the faithful led to the creation of a fund which was then used to pay for construction costs: Thackeray’s account of visiting various chapels during his tour of Ireland in 1842 make plain that the majority of those in attendance were the poorest of the poor.

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St Brigid’s in Portumna, County Galway dates from 1825, and was therefore constructed a few years before full Catholic Emancipation had been achieved. A basic T-plan in form, it has a three-bay nave leading up to a pair of wide single-bay transepts, this simple design being a reflection of the limited resources then available. In 1858 a three-bay wide and one-bay deep porch was added to the west end, rising two storeys before being topped by a square-plan tower drum. It may be around this time that the exterior of St Brigid’s received its neo-gothic ornamentation such as the crenellated parapets and towers, and corner buttresses, thereby dressing up the original structure. In this form it remained in use for the next century. However in the late 1950s a new St Brigid’s was built on the adjacent former market square, using stone from the Portumna Castle which had been built in the 1860s and gutted by fire in 1922: evidently the local community felt their old church was no longer good enough for services. The now redundant church was converted into a sports hall, and served as such for some time before being deemed unfit for that purpose also. Since then it would appear the building (transferred into private ownership) and an adjacent abandoned convent, has sat empty, a prey to the elements and to vandalism.

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How, one wonders, might the generation which contributed often very tiny sums of money judge what has become of St Brigid’s church in our own age? Would they consider the shillings and pence they could scarcely have afforded to hand over well-spent on a building which their descendants seem willing to leave fall into dereliction? Would they be satisfied that this is how their legacy, the hard-earned – and hard-paid for – right to free and open expression of faith, should be treated in such a fashion? Asking these questions is not intended to offend or to criticise the burghers of Portumna. The present circumstances of St Brigid’s are by no means unique: they are replicated in towns right across the country and are symptomatic of a greater problem.  Like so many other historic properties in Ireland, this one is listed by the local county council as being a ‘protected structure’ but one wonders what protection it is being offered. According to information provided by the Citizens Information Board, ‘A protected structure is a structure that a planning authority considers to be of special interest from an architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical point of view. If you are the owner or occupier of a protected structure, you are legally obliged to prevent it becoming endangered, whether through damage or neglect.’ That legal obligation is meant to be enforced by the relevant local authority: there is no evidence of enforcement here but again that is hardly unusual. Last week, after two months’ negotiation between political parties, this country finally got a new government. When the various ministerial portfolios were announced, there was no reference to anyone being responsible for the department of heritage: apparently it comes under the remit of the Minister for Regional Development, Rural Affairs, Arts & the Gaeltacht but is of so little consequence that the name wasn’t even judged worthy of inclusion in this long-winded title. Too often the excuse offered for neglect of the country’s architectural heritage is that it represents the interests or legacy of alien others: this is the explanation customarily proffered to explain the wasteful abandonment of our country houses, for example. Nothing could more truly be representative of the national narrative than St Brigid’s, raised by and for the local population to serve their needs and to express their beliefs. Its neglect, like the title of new government ministries and the manner in which legislation regarding protected structures fails to be enforced, accurately express Ireland’s attitude towards our heritage: we may pay lip service to the visible evidence of our past but really we don’t care what becomes of it.

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Adorned with All Graces and Perfections

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In the parish church of Tamlaght Finlagan, Ballykelly, County Derry is this monument to Mrs Jane Hamilton (nee Beresford) who died in 1716. By an unknown sculptor, the work is not so much based on as directly copied from Grinling Gibbons’ monument to Mary Beaufoy in Westminster Abbey who died eleven years earlier. The latter’s tomb was originally surmounted by an urn and garlands of flowers but these were removed in the late 18th century: they remain in place in the Tamlaght Finlagan monument. The most notable difference between the two pieces lies in the poses taken by mourning putti on either side of the main figure. One of those attending Mrs Hamilton is shown below (note also the elegant heels on the deceased’s shoes). In the accompanying tablet, she is described as not only ‘adorned with all Graces and Perfections of mind & Body,’ but then ‘crown’d them all with exemplary Piety & Virtue.’ Who could ask for more?

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Down with Mrs Delany

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In June 1743 Mary Pendarves (née Granville) married as her second husband the Anglican clergyman Dr Patrick Delany who a year later was made Dean of Down. As a result, although the couple’s main residence was at Delville on the outskirts of Dublin, they often spent time in the Dean’s diocese there occupying a house not far from Downpatrick with the distinctive name of Mount Panther. Much embellished after its acquisition by the future first Earl Annesley in 1770, for two centuries Mount Panther was judged one of the finest properties in County Down with especially fine plasterwork in the ballroom and drawing rooms. It survived until the 1960s but is now a ruin. However, a few souvenirs of Mount Panther have been incorporated into a house in neighbouring County Antrim including these curved doorcases and doors which were a feature of the staircase hall. Also rescued from Mount Panther were the neo-classical plasterwork wall decorations which incorporate a variety of motifs including the head of a big cat, although it looks more like that of a lion than a panther.

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An Architectural Conundrum

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In Three Homes, a memoir published in 1938, playwright and author Lennox Robinson, together with his siblings Tom and Nora, recalled their childhood in late 19th century County Cork. Robinson was born in Douglas, now a dormitory suburb of Cork city but then still a separate village lying a few miles to the south-east. The youngest child of a stockbroker-turned-clergyman, he was born in a since-demolished property called Westgrove but often visited his aunt Eleanor, who had married a wealthy brewer, John Frazer Crichton, in Donnybrook House which still stands. This the Robinsons in their recollections describe as being ‘lowbuilt, old and charmingly planned, rooms open one into the other on the ground floor a bedroom opened off the dining room, the drawing room on the opposite side of the hall had its back drawing room and the same plan was repeated in the bedrooms upstairs.’ More than a century later, although the condition of the building has somewhat deteriorated, the layout remains unchanged.

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The origins of Donnybrook House are unclear. We know that by the mid-18th century the land on which it stands had come into the ownership of the Davies family as the Rev Boyle Davies, Dean of Cloyne died there in 1763. He was the son of another of those ambitious Anglican clerics so common to the era, in this case the Rev Rowland Davies whose father of the same name had come to Ireland from Herefordshire probably in the 1640s: Rowland Davies was born in Cork in 1649. He entered Trinity College Dublin in 1665 and initially seemed destined for a career in medicine before switching to the church. After taking orders in 1671 he held several minor offices and then became Dean of Cloyne in 1679. An ardent supporter of the Anglican faith (in 1716 he published a treatise called A truly Catholick and Old Religion, shewing that the Established Church in Ireland is more truly a member of the Catholick Church than the Church of Rome), he participated in the Battle of the Boyne, and the Sieges of both Limerick and Cork before returning to his pastoral duties. In 1707 he became Precentor of Cork and three years later Dean of the same diocese. He died in 1721. Rowland Davies may have been responsible for the purchase of Donnybrook’s land. On the other hand, he is known to have been a tenant of the Blarney estate, where two of his sons were born, until it was sold in 1702 to Lord Chief Justice Sir Richard Pyne for £3,000. It is said that the winged cherub heads seen above the arched ground floor windows of Donnybrook’s wings came from Blarney. Furthermore Rowland Davies built himself a house called Dawstown on part of what had formerly been McCarthy land north of Blarney. Here he died and here one branch of his descendants continued in occupation until the early 19th century. One wonders therefore whether the Donnybrook estate might have been bought by the Dean for his son, or whether Boyle Davies himself bought it. Curiously a year after the latter’s death his widow Mary, whose maiden name was Travers, leased the place to one Boyle Travers, who was a cousin of both her and her late husband (the reason for their shared first name is that they were both descendants of Elizabeth Boyle whose father Richard Boyle had become Archbishop of Tuam in 1638).

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The Davies/Travers/Boyle family synopsis above helps to explain why it is not easy to work out the origins of Donnybrook House. Douglas emerged as an urban settlement from the early 18th century onwards thanks to the development here of mills associated with the textile and weaving industries which produced linen sailcloth. Tellingly the first such to open was Donnybrook Mills in 1726 (it was also one of the very last to close in the 20th century). A large pond which stood in front of the house (it can be seen in the watercolour above which dates from the first half of the 19th century) is now dried out. However formerly it served as catchment for a millrace that twenty feet below drove the millwheel. The site on which Donnybrook House stands is therefore at the top of a slope, the ground dropping sharply to the immediate north of the building. A substantial basement beneath the main rooms could be the earliest part of the fabric, dating back to before the arrival of the Davieses; in other words, as was so often the case, a newer residence was created incorporating parts of an older one. It has been proposed that a McCarthy castle stood here, thereby establishing another link with Blarney.
As one sees it today, the central block of the house, facing east, is of five bays and features a fine carved limestone doorcase with pretty fanlight above. The building initially looks single storey but this is not the case: a mid-18th century staircase directly beyond the front door leads to a first floor, the only evidence of which on the outside of the building is a solitary dormer window likely dating from the late 19th century and lighting the upper landing. The two slightly projecting tower ‘wings’ are believed to have been added in the early 1800s. They served both to increase accommodation and to give the house a more ancient, picturesque appearance (hence the gothic arched windows). As can be seen in that early watercolour, like the rest of the exterior the towers were originally rendered but subsequently covered in weather slates. Various additions were also made to the rear of the building over the course of two centuries, including a rather fine Edwardian bathroom that opens off the staircase return.

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Donnybrook House’s original setting has long since gone: the surrounding gardens no longer exist, nor do any mills that once operated in the vicinity. Likewise most of the other historic houses and villas once dotting the landscape in this part of the country are gone: today almost the entire area is given over to housing estates. As is apparent, the building at present needs some attention. The roof of the south tower (that to the left of the entrance) has collapsed, bringing down the floors inside and making this part of the building unsafe. Meanwhile the north tower is suffering from water ingress and risks becoming similarly hazardous. This damage is not visible from the exterior because blind gothic windows on the upper level were designed to conceal the pitched roofs. On the other hand, the central section of the property appears to be in relatively good condition although rather damp, and has continued to be used and occupied. Internally some of the original 18th and early 19th century wooden joinery, including wainscot panelling, has survived, as have a number of the old sash windows. The spirit of the house invoked by Lennox Robinson and his siblings can still be felt.
Here is a building waiting to be rescued from what too often has been the fate of such properties in Ireland: ruin and disappearance. Wonderfully the present owner is keen to restore Donnybrook House and bring it back to residential use. Rescue and refurbishment is still feasible and must be encouraged. Donnybrook House is an important and rare testament to Cork’s architectural and industrial history. Its preservation merits everyone’s support.

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With special thanks to Ciara O’Flynn, Built Heritage Conservation Consultant/Buildings Archaeologist, for generously sharing her research into Donnybrook House.

 

Respected and Lamented by All Who Knew Him

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In the rarely opened south transept of Cloyne Cathedral, County Cork the end wall is dominated by this splendid early 18th century monument to members of the Longfield family, the first listed John Longfield having acquired a nearby estate and named it Castle Mary, perhaps in honour of his heiress wife, Mary Hawnby of Mallow. Successive generations are listed, the first (and last) Viscount Longueville being the grandson of John and Mary Longfield: note how the word ‘respected’ had to be tucked into the available space. On Lord Longueville’s his death without an heir, Castle Mary was inherited by a cousin, Colonel Mountifort Longfield. The house was burnt by the IRA in 1920, so this is now the best-preserved memorial to the family.

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After the Earl-Bishop

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The fondness of Frederick Augustus Hervey, Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol for building projects has been discussed here more than once, and attention paid to that on which he embarked around 1787/88 at Ballyscullion (see Let the Door be Instantly Open, For There is Much Wealth Within…, March 31st 2014). Within ten years of the Earl-Bishop’s death in 1803 the property here had already fallen into decay, with significant portions of its structure removed for re-use elsewhere. The estate was inherited by a kinsman, the Rev. Sir Henry Hervey Bruce and in 1840 Charles Lanyon designed a handsome new residence for his son, Admiral Sir Henry Bruce (who at the age of 13 had fought at the Battle of Trafalgar and went on to command the British fleet in the Pacific). Above and below are views of the garden front, entirely stuccoed except for the sandstone Doric columns flanking the tripartite window providing access to the drawing room: these are in the same material and style as the entrance porch on the other side of the house. Ballyscullion Park remained in the possession of the Bruce family until sold in 1938 to the Hon. Sir Harry Mulholland, first Speaker of the Northern Ireland Parliament at Stormont: it is now cared for by Sir Harry’s grandson Richard and his wife Rosalind.

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Opportunity Knocks

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Opportunism and those who practise it are not, as a rule, judged very favorably. Yet there are times when our verdict on opportunists can be inaccurate or imperceptive. Much of Georgian Dublin is a manifestation of opportunism at work: the result of a handful of perspicacious developers – another now-detested term – recognising an opportunity and responding to it. This was certainly the case with the first Luke Gardiner who piecemeal built up landholdings on the northside of the city and there created new streets and terraces to meet growing demand for residential property. Gardiner’s first venture in this arena, and the basis of his future success, was the development from the late 1720s onward of Henrietta Street.

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Luke Gardiner was a man of modest origins, far removed at the start of his professional life from the wealth he would come to enjoy. Much the same could be said of his protégé Nathaniel Clements who, although enjoying somewhat less humble beginnings, was the youngest of five sons and very much expected to make his own way. This he did, like Gardiner, by building houses and then selling them on: the parallels between the past and the present can sometimes be discomfiting. Henrietta Street was also Clements’ first venture into property development, as he took on several sites from Gardiner. One of these was number 4 (originally 5) Henrietta Street which he completed around 1740-41 and sold to George Stone, then Bishop of Ferns. Stone occupied the building but did not finish paying for it, until 1747 when he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh and, in turn, opportunistically moved into a still-grander residence on the street before selling No.4. Its second owner was John Maxwell, MP for County Cavan who nine years later would be created first Lord Farnham. Of Scottish ancestry, Maxwell was the descendant of three generations of clerical opportunists: the Farnham estate in County Cavan had originally been purchased by his grandfather, the Anglican Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh. When John Maxwell acquired No.4 Henrietta Street, it came with a plot of land to the immediate east, perhaps serving as a garden. In 1754 Maxwell’s only daughter married another MP, Owen Wynne of Sligo, likewise the descendant of opportunists, although in this instance they had been army men. Around the time of his marriage the plot next to No.4 passed into Wynne’s hands and a house was built here. Today it is No.3 Henrietta Street.

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There are unanswered questions remaining about the history of 3 Henrietta Street, not least who was responsible for its design. The house is sometimes attributed to Nathaniel Clements because like its neighbour – which he almost certainly did build – there is a semi-circular bow at the back of the building. On the other hand, by the time of No.3’s construction, Clements had moved on to other projects and, more critically, he and Maxwell were political opponents, so it seems unlikely his assistance would have been sought here. Perhaps when Wynne embarked on the enterprise he decided to copy some features of his father-in-law’s adjacent residence. The interior shows alterations believed to date from 1830. Originally the entrance hall – like other houses on this side of the street – would have been of two storeys with the stairs visibly rising to the first floor. In the 19th century this staircase was taken out and a smaller one inserted, divided by a wall from the front of the house with the new entrance hall made just one storey high. But the first floor reception rooms retain much of their original decoration, the pair to the front of the room having a deep frieze with strapwork and festoons, while below the walls are sectioned by plaster panelling. To the rear at this level is a wonderful room with rococo stuccowork in the coved ceiling which extends into the bow, and gives the space a more intimate character than any of the others possess.

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As already mentioned, in the 19th century 3 Henrietta Street, like almost all other houses in the vicinity, underwent changes both of design and usage. The advent of the King’s Inns at the top of the street, and the gradual departure of private owners in the aftermath of the 1800 Act of Union meant many of the buildings came to be used as solicitors’ offices: in the decades leading up to his death in 1885 some three-quarters of the street were bought by the lawyer Tristram Kennedy and let to other members of his profession. However, his property portfolio was subsequently acquired by another – altogether less attractive – opportunist, former Dublin Lord Mayor Joseph Meade. Seeing a chance to get a good return on his investment, notoriously he converted most of the houses into tenements. The original interior spaces were divided to fit in more rooms for entire families to occupy and valuable items such as chimney pieces were stripped out and sold off. This was the fate of 3 Henrietta Street for a large portion of the last century, and evidence of its decline, as much as of its glory, can still be seen in the building. But the house is now on the market, and awaits a new owner who can offer it a viable future. What will happen next? As has been the case here over the past two and a half centuries, opportunity knocks – and 3 Henrietta Street once more awaits the advent of an opportunist.

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