The recent death of the conscientiously eccentric 7th Marquess of Bath serves as a reminder that for a long time his family, the Thynnes, owned a large estate in County Monaghan, including the east side of Carrickmacross. Evidence of their former presence can be found in the town, such as here on what is now called St Joseph’s Terrace but was originally known as Weymouth Cottages (Viscount Weymouth being one of the Thynnes’ titles). Single storied, with dormer attics, they are made from the local limestone with curious, intermittent insertions of sandstone. Beneath the bargeboard and above each entrance is a small plaque featuring a marquess’s coronet and the letter B (for Bath) as well as the date 1870 to advise when the buildings were constructed.
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Given their association with the terrible years of famine in the 1840s, workhouses in Ireland have few admirers. Yet it is often not realised that they followed a model already introduced in Wales and England where 350 such premises were constructed in the mid-1830s. George Wilkinson was responsible for the design of some of these buildings and following the introduction of legislation in 1838 Ireland’s Poor Law Commissioners appointed him their architect, requesting he devise plans for 130 workhouses here. There is a certain generic quality to Wilkinson’s work, reliant on an interpretation of the Tudor domestic idiom which gives the resultant properties a gentle appearance at odds with their purpose. But they are often handsome, sturdily-constructed buildings and, where still standing, have proven capable of adaption for alternative use. Such is the case in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan where the main block of the old workhouse – completed in 1842 at a cost of £5,000 (plus £977 for fittings) – was restored in 2002 and now provides premises for a variety of local social and educational groups.