Unrealised Potential


In the mid-1830s, Charles Denham Jephson, who a few years later would be made a baronet and assume the additional surname of Norreys, decided to improve the family seat of Mallow Castle, County Cork. In fact, the original castle – a fortified mansion dating from the 1590s – had been abandoned by the end of the 17
th century when the Jephsons converted a stable block to the immediate north into a residence. It was to this building that Jephson turned his attention, with some help from the English architect Edward Blore who during the same period was designing Crom Castle, County Fermanagh: certainly in 1837 Blore proposed the addition of a tower to the house at Mallow. However, it seems likely that despite looking for advice elsewhere Jephson mostly acted as his own architect, using the opportunity to evoke the era when his forebear Sir Thomas Norreys had first settled in the area. Described by Mark Bence-Jones as ‘a remarkably convincing reproduction of vernacular late C16 or early C17 architecture; with none of the pretentious “Baronial” or “Elizabethan” features which most early-Victorians could not resist,’ Mallow Castle’s garden front is a long, two-storied block relieved by a succession of projecting gable bays and mullioned windows, above which rises the tower proposed by Blore. In the mid-1950s, a later Jephson added an entrance front to the immediate right of this building, the stone for which had been cut in the 1830s but not used, thereby completing the scheme. 





The Jephsons remained at Mallow until 1984 when the property was sold to an American couple who after twenty years’ ownership put the place on the market. In late 2010 it was announced that Cork County Council had bought the castle and surrounding thirty acres for
€1.7 million. This was rightly regarded as something of a coup, since when the property had first been offered for sale in 2005, the asking price had been €7.5 million. So the local authority had done well to secure this important part of its architectural heritage, located in the centre of the town. Since then a further sum in the region of €400,000 has been spent on repair of existing landscaping, the installation of new external lighting, and repair of garden structures.  At the time of the initial purchase, one local councillor declared that ‘if properly developed and managed, the castle would be more than capable of paying for itself – and the potential spin-off benefits could transform Mallow.’ Note the use of the conditional ‘if’. here…





Cork County Council has declared that the work carried out in grounds of Mallow Castle is the first part of a three-phase development programme for the site and in February it was announced that a
masterplan tender brief for the property is currently being prepared. In the meantime, that conditional ‘if’ must remain in place. On a recent weekend visit to Mallow Castle, a group of French tourists looked somewhat stunned as they entered the site to discover it heavily littered and the house firmly shut. In fact it is somewhat surprising that they managed to find their way to the place, since what is supposed to be a major tourist attraction appears un-signposted, with access located up a minor lane. But evidently local carousers know the spot well, and have no problem entering it even when the gates are closed: hence the abundant litter.
As the owner of any historic property could advise Cork County Council, looking after such a house is perforce a time-consuming and expensive business – but not looking after it will ultimately prove to be even more time-consuming and expensive. The installation of better security around the site would help deter unwanted visitors, and their litter (sundry notices advise the presence of CCTV, but there is precious little evidence of it). A few bins would not go amiss either. Furthermore it seems that the house has sat empty and unoccupied since being purchased by the council. An obvious way to discourage nocturnal trespassers would be to have people living onsite: get a tenant, or better yet several, into the house. This would be beneficial for the building which at present is visibly suffering from neglect (thereby increasing the cost of its eventual refurbishment, a cost to be borne – as ever – by the nation’s tax payers). Shutters are closed and curtains drawn across windows, the frames of which are rotting (leaving them more vulnerable to being broken and illegal access being gained to the building). Doors are likewise in poor condition and in at least one place roof tiles have slipped. What, one wonders, must be the state of the interior? What sort of example is Cork County Council setting to other owners of historic buildings by displaying so little interest in the welfare of one under its care? Can it really expect anybody else to act as guardian of our heritage when it manifestly fails to do so? Houses need to be occupied and used, otherwise they risk falling into decline. Such is the case here: what’s required now is more of the flair and imagination displayed by the authority when it made the decision to acquire the property. Reports and action plans can wait: a house cannot.
At the time of that purchase, another local politician announced, ‘This is a very significant development in unlocking the future potential of Mallow Castle as a tourism and heritage resource for all the people of Cork.’ For the moment that potential remains unrealised.

At the Close of Day


Evening at Ballymaloe, County Cork. The oldest part of the building is a mid-fifteenth century tower house constructed by the FitzGeralds of Imokilly: this was enlarged in 1602 by Sir John FitzEdmund FitzGerald. The property was later briefly occupied by William Penn when he was sent to manage his father’s estates in the area, after which it was owned by the first Earl of Orrery. The house was much enlarged on two occasions in the 18th century to assume its present appearance. It also regularly changed hands over several hundred years until being bought by the Allen family who since 1964 have run the place as a restaurant and country house hotel.

A Truly Magnificent Structure

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Although only portions remain, enough of St Thomas’ Priory in Ballybeg, County Cork survives to give an idea of how important this religious house once was. Founded by Philip de Barry for the Canons Regular of St Augustine in 1229, the buildings included a church measuring 166 feet in length and 26 feet in width: today only the towering western end with its pair of lancet windows still stands. This fortified section dates from the late 14th/15th centuries, together with a similar tower further west (used for accommodation) and testifies to the uncertain state of the country during this period, when even ecclesiastical property was not safe from attack. In Monasticon Hibernicum, published in 1786, Mervyn Archdall wrote of Ballybeg Priory, ‘the traces of the foundation, with a high tower a considerable way to the south-west, prove it to have been a truly magnificent structure.’

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Another Sibling

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Following a recent note on two remarkably similar staircases, one in County Tipperary, the other in County Westmeath (see The Missing Twin, December 28th 2016), here is a third which has featured here before but is worth showing again as it might be deemed to belong to the same family. The stairs belong to the Red House, Youghal, County Cork, built in the first decade of the 18th century for the wealthy Uniacke family: the design has been attributed to a Dutch architect called Leuventhen. Whereas the other two examples have balusters fluted in the upper section and with barley-sugar twists in the lower, here these designs alternate. But otherwise the work has much in common, not least the Corinthian columns on each return and, on the gallery, a richly worked apron. There is more work to be done…

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A Vanishing Narrative

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As many readers will be aware, right across Ireland can be seen the remains of hundreds, possibly thousands, of former fine residences dating from the seventeenth century onwards. Even in ruin their scale makes them prominent marks on the landscape, testaments to our country’s history, witnesses to an order which once prevailed but has now passed. Because of the societal and economic imbalance they represented, many of today’s citizens understandably do not mourn their passing. Nevertheless they are part of the national narrative. We ought at least to know their stories, so that they can better inform our own. Unfortunately their mute condition today often means we know little or nothing of each building’s distinctive tale, of how they came into being and then fell into decline. Once this information was familiar, if only to those who occupied the property, or worked on the estate. Now it has frequently been forgotten and another property’s unique character becomes part of the generic ‘Big House’ story. This seems to be the case with Nettleville, County Cork, yet another ruin about which relatively little information is available.

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Around 1630 John Nettles moved here from Herefordshire around 1630: inevitably he is described in Burke’s Landed Gentry of 1871 as springing from ‘an ancient English family’ (perish the thought that anyone’s background might not disappear into the foggiest mists of time). Evidently he flourished here since in 1666 he was confirmed by Charles II in a grant of land of 1,258 acres in Counties Waterford and Cork, although his residence was in the latter at Tourin, later to pass into the ownership of the Musgrave family. It was his second son, Robert Nettles, who came to live on an estate where the remains of Nettleville can now be found. On the failure of this line of the family, the Cork property passed back to the main branch, and in the second half of the 18th century was inherited by Captain Robert Nettles. Ambrose Leet’s 1814 Directory lists Nettleville as occupied by the Rev Bazil Orpin, who had married one of the Nettles daughters. However, his tenure was only temporary. Although Captain Nettles and his wife had five sons, four of them died young either through accidents or in warfare (one, Ensign William Nettles being killed at the Battle of Waterloo). That left a single heir, Richard Nevill-Nettles who on the death of his father in 1828 inherited Nettleville. He in turn was succeeded by his only son Robert Nettles, listed in the 1870s as owning 1,684 acres in County Cork. Seemingly Nettleville was still occupied by the Nettles family at the start of the last century but thereafter there does not appear to be further mention of them, leading to the supposition that they died out. Interestingly in September 1919 the Irish Builder mentions Cork architect Bartholomew O’Flynn being employed at Nettleville to carry out alterations and additions, so evidently someone was still living there.

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And so to Nettleville, which in the national register of buildings is listed as being built c.1800, although one suspects this is speculative since what survives of the building makes it difficult to discover any specific design features that would allow more precise dating. The south-facing front of the house, now completely immersed in vegetation, is of two storeys over basement but since the site slopes the rear – which looks down to a point where the river Lee loops around on itself – is of three storeys. On this side, to the east of the house is a single-storey extension with narrow arched niches but there does not seem ever to have been its equivalent to the west. While in the main built of dressed sandstone, the house’s windows feature cut limestone sills and red brick voussoirs; no doubt the whole exterior was originally rendered to give a uniformity of appearance.
A short distance to the south-east lies a large yard, the greater part of which is in better condition than the house it was created to serve. Centred on a fine arched gateway, its pediment extended to accommodate a bell, the yard effectively divides into upper and lower sections, assisted once more by the sloping site. Handsomely constructed, and still, at least in part, serviceable, it demonstrates this was once a thriving estate. Now, however, Nettleville is just another ruin on the Irish landscape and its voice in our historical narrative grows weaker as the old buildings grow closer and closer to complete disappearance.

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Well Guarded

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A miniature castle built as a lodge beside one of the gates providing access to the Annes Grove estate in County Cork. The building was designed by Benjamin Woodward in 1853 and contains just a handful of rooms inside the walls, one of which carries the coat of arms of Richard Grove Annesley who gave Woodward the commission. Having fallen into disrepair, the lodge was restored some twenty years ago and can now be rented for short stays through the services of the Irish Landmark Trust.

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Lost History

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All across Ireland there are buildings about which little is now known, their histories somehow mislaid between the date they ceased to serve their purpose and the present. Sometimes snippets of a story evolves into a legend which, like a version of Chinese Whispers, bears little relation to the original truth. But on other occasions, the history disappears altogether, as though presaging the fate of the building itself. Kilcrea, County Cork has been mentioned here before, both in relation to the former Franciscan friary (Lo Arthur Leary, November 2nd 2015) and the nearby former McCarthy tower house (With Panoramic Views, June 11th 2016), both of which date from the 1460s and have reasonably well-chronicled histories. However there is a third building in the same area about which little appears to be known, even though it is of more recent construction. This is Kilcrea House, a view of which is shown above (the tower house can be seen in the background on the extreme right of the photograph).

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A little information about Kildrea House can be gleaned from that always helpful website http://www.landedestates.ie. In 1750 Charles Smith’s The ancient and present state of the county and city of Cork reported that Kilcrea, formerly the seat of the Earls of Clancarty, had been purchased by Captain Hedges from the Trustees of the Hollow Blade Company. In 1786 William Wilson’s The Post-Chaise Companion noted the ruins of the friary and castle, near to which was a house called Snugborough, the residence of a Mr. Keeffe. By the time of Griffith’s Valuation in the 1850s Robert Gibbons was given as the occupier of Kilcrea House. He held the building (valued at £20) as part of a parcel of land leased by John Hawkes. Yet strangely in March 1851, and again in July 1853, the estate of William Edward Ellis at Kilcrea, including the house and 422 acres, was advertised for sale. It would seem the Hawkes family acquired this, and further land, since by the 1870s the estate of John Devonsher Hawkes of Kilcrea is given as amounting to 2,029 acres.

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Of course this information, while helpful, tells us nothing about Kilcrea House itself, when it was built and by whom. The place is now a shell, but this decline would appear to have occurred only relatively recently. While the floors have given way and most plaster come off walls, there are still traces of the wooden window frames and joists. Of two storeys over basement, the house looks north towards the tower house and the breakfront on this side has tumbled down. Constructed of rubble and brick, it has arched ground floor windows of cut limestone, also seen in the single-storey bows on the east and west sides of the building: it would appear these bows were added at a later date. The east side has a short flight of stone steps which gave access to the house while the south and west fronts retain traces of the slates with which they were once covered. Stylistically the house would seem to date from the late 18th century (with subsequent additions) but it is now so far deteriorated that conjecture must be to the fore. It seems strange that despite its size and prominent location there appears to be little knowledge of Kilcrea. Another example of lost history. Below is a view of the house from the nearby tower house.

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