An Overlooked Curiosity

Staying in Carlow town, across the river Barrow from what remains of the Norman castle is this curious building, likely little noticed on what is now a busy traffic junction. It was erected by one Rowan McCombe in 1867 by one Rowan McCombe, Superintendent of the Barrow Navigation Company, a town councillor and an amateur poet rather in the style of Scotland’s William McGonagall. Many websites also propose that McCombe was responsible for Carlow’s Celtic Cross memorial to the United Irishmen who were killed during an attack on Carlow in May 1798; however, since this was erected to mark the centenary of that event, and he had died in 1877, this seems unlikely. The building shown here was intended to house a printing office as well as provide a home for its owner, but later became an RIC barracks and is now divided into flats. A curious feature are the series of carved stone grotesque masks placed above the upper windows and down the three-storey tower. The latter also incorporates a substantial stone plaque which appears to represent Hercules wrestling with the Nemean Lion and which stylistically looks out of place with the rest of the building: perhaps it came from somewhere else?

Seeking Fresh Purpose

A little classical gem: a lodge at the entrance to St Patrick’s College, Carlow. The English-born architect Thomas Alfred Cobden, who designed the main buildings on the site (and who for a couple of decades received an astonishing number of commissions in this part of the country), is thought to have been also responsible for the lodge which dates from around 1820. It has a beautifully austere facade, the pedimented portico supported by a pair of Doric columns, these features made of the local granite. The interior has an entrance hall and two rooms, but alas at the moment is empty and – inevitably – falling into neglect: surely some use can be found for the place?

Taken to Court

One of the most perfect neo-classical buildings in Ireland: the Courthouse in Carlow town. Constructed of local granite, the courthouse was designed in 1830 by William Vitruvius Morrison and in part funded by the Bruen family who lived not far away at Oak Park (see and who employed the same architect to design their own house. The building stands in the centre of a wide platform approached by two flights of steps. Its pedimented facade featuring a recessed entrance behind eight giant Ionic columns was inspired by the Temple of Illisus in Athens, believed to date from the mid-5th century BC, but destroyed by the Turks in the late 18th century and known only from the work of James Stuart and Nicholas Revett who had recorded the temple a few years before it was lost. The same fate seemed to threaten Carlow’s courthouse towards the end of the last century after it had fallen into a poor state of repair, but thankfully a full restoration was undertaken and it continues to serve its original purpose and to grace the town of Carlow.