The slate-hung exterior of Drishane, County Cork. Facing due south out to sea (hence the protective slates), the house was built c.1780 for Thomas Somerville and has remained home to successive generations of the same family – including author Edith Somerville – ever since. Drishane will feature in the latest series of Lords & Ladles (in which the Irish Aesthete intermittently has a walk-on – or rather sit down – role) beginning on RTE One television this Sunday, June 10th.
Dromdiah, County Cork featured here almost three years ago (see The Age of Austerity, September 7th 2015). Dating from the early 1830s, the house adheres so severely to the Greek Revival style that it might have been designed by the likes of Schinkel or von Klenze. That seems to have been its downfall, since the building was prone to damp – and a high, exposed position also left it exposed to winds. Ultimately Dromdiah was unroofed around 1944 and permitted to fall into ruin. However, the property has recently been sold and there are ambitious plans to restore it as a private residence. Already large amounts of clearance on the site have taken place, as can be seen in these pictures showing an oeil-de-boeuf window – previously impossible to see in the undergrowth – set into the basement wall of the south wing.
‘When Hubert and I were children and after we grew up, we lived at Temple Alice. Temple Alice had been built by Mummie’s ancestor, before he inherited his title and estates. He built the house for his bride, and he gave it her name. Now, the title extinct and the estates entirely dissipated, Temple Alice, after several generations as a dower house, came to Mummie when her mother died. Papa farmed the miserably few hundred acres that remained of the property. Mummie loved gardening. On fine days she would work in the woodland garden, taking the gardener away from his proper duties among the vegetables. On wet days, she spent hours of time in the endless, heatless, tumbling-down greenhouses, which had once sheltered peaches and nectarines and stephanotis. One vine survived – she knew how to prune it and thin its grapes, muscatels. Papa loved them.’
From Good Behaviour by Molly Keane (1981)
When Molly Keane’s novel Good Behaviour was adapted for television in 1983, Coolmore, County Cork – shown in today’s photographs – served as the fictional Temple Alice. A castle was first built here in the 12th century by the Anglo-Norman de Cogans after they had settled in this part of the country. In the 1650s the land on which the castle stood passed into the ownership of William Hodder who lived in the building. Subsequently it came into the possession of John Newenham, who may have bought the estate or inherited it as his wife Jane was a member of the Hodder family. The Newenhams are also of Norman origin: an ancestor John Newenham de Newenham, was one of the commissioners who carried out the Domesday survey for William the Conqueror in the 1080s. John Newenham settled in Cork in the 17th century, serving as Sheriff of Cork in 1665 and Mayor of the city six years later. After acquiring Coolmore, he seems to have demolished the old castle and replaced it with a more comfortable house. An extant estate map dated 1760 shows this to have been of five bays and two storeys over dormered attic. On either side, long service blocks ran forward to create a substantial forecourt. The next couple of generations prospered after making judicious family connections. John and Jane Newenham’s son Thomas married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Blackhall, one-time Lord Mayor of Dublin, after whom Blackhall Place in the capital is named. In turn their son William married Dorothea, daughter and heiress of Edward Worth, a physician, politician and bibliophile: in 1733 his library was bequeathed to Dr Steevens’ Hospital, where it remains to the present day. The next generation also married well (and twice) which meant that there were ample funds in the 1780s for the old building at Coolmore to be demolished and replaced by the present, larger house of six bays with a two-bay breakfront, and of three storeys over raised basement, the whole centred on a pedimented doorcase flanked by Doric columns and with the family arms carved into the tympanum.
One of William and Dorothea Newenham’s younger children was the 18th century politician Sir Edward Newenham, remembered today for his ardent support of the American colonists. As a result of the latter he came into contact and had extensive correspondence with Benjamin Franklin, the Marquis de la Fayette and Washington. The last of these Newenham especially admired, calling him ‘the Greatest ornament of this century.’ Likewise Washington wrote ‘To stand well in the estimation of good men, & honest patriots, whether of this or that clime, or of this or that political way of thinking, has ever been a favorite wish of mine; & to have obtained, by such pursuits as duty to my Country; & the rights of mankind rendered indispensably necessary, the plaudit of Sir Edwd Newenham, will not be among my smallest felicities.’ Despite aspirations to do so, the two men never met (although one of Newenham’s sons-in-law did stay with Washington at his country estate, Mount Vernon, Virginia in 1786) but the Irishman commemorated the American at his own residence, Belcamp on the outskirts of Dublin. Here he not only had a room containing busts of, among others, Washington and la Fayette but in the grounds of the house he raised a monument to Washington. Dating from 1778 and believed to be the earliest such tribute to the general (and the only one erected in his lifetime), it is a two-storey square tower with crenellations bearing the following, now-lost inscription: ‘Oh, ill-fated Britain! The folly of Lexington and Concord will rend asunder and forever disjoin America from thy empire.’ Belcamp and its Washington monument are themselves today in as perilous condition as was the link between America and Britain: the house and grounds have been extensively vandalized in recent years, thereby imperiling this critical association between the respective campaigns for independent government on either side of the Atlantic. As for Coolmore, County Cork – the estate where Sir Edward was raised – ironically the year after Good Behaviour was filmed there, the Newenhams, unable to manage the building any longer, sold its contents and moved into a smaller property elsewhere on their land. It has sat empty for the past thirty years and today an old television series offers the best opportunity to appreciate how the house once looked.
Taking advantage in a respite of hostilities between Britain and France thanks to the Peace of Amiens, in September 1802 a Cork Quaker merchant called Cooper Penrose travelled to Paris where he sat for Jacques-Louis David. The artist had written beforehand, ‘Mr Penrose can have complete trust in me, I will paint his portrait for him for two hundred gold louis. I will represent him in a manner worthy of both of us. This picture will be a monument that will testify to Ireland the virtues of a good father and the talents of the painter who will have rendered them…’ Penrose subsequently brought the picture back to his native city where until around 1947 it hung in the family house, Woodhill (since demolished). Turning up with Wildenstein & Co. in New York in 1953, it was acquired by the Putnam Foundation and is now one of the glories of the Timken Museum of Art, San Diego, California. Another emigrant destined never to return to these shores…
Without question the most significant domestic dwelling in the village of Killeagh, County Cork – and accordingly, the most neglected. This five-bay, two-storey house dates from c.1770 and, at least on the exterior, still retains many of its original features. But for how much longer? Planting trees and adding street furniture cannot disguise the fact that this is a building at risk of being permanently lost in the near future.
A thousand years ago the O’Mahonys were a powerful sept occupying a swathe of territory running from where now stands Cork city to the south-west of the region. However, following the Norman invasion in the second half of the 12th century the O’Mahonys were gradually pushed ever closer to the region’s Atlantic extremities, ultimately settling on the peninsulas that jut into the ocean. Here, according to the medieval Annals of Inisfallen, they built themselves a fortified settlement in a place now known as Dunlough Castle. It is easy to understand why the location was chosen. To the east lies a lake, Dun Lough which would have provided fish for the building’s occupants. To north and south the land rises making it possible to anticipate any potential attack, since those responsible would have been visible on the horizon. Meanwhile immediately to the west are cliffs dropping precipitately to the Atlantic. As Peter Somerville-Large, who formerly lived in this area, wrote more than thirty years ago: ‘To an invading army, the cliff edge, the defensive wall, the lake and the sternly inaccessible approach would have made the castle appear impregnable.’
In this sheltered spot Donagh na Aimrice O’Mahoney (Donagh the Migratory) erected a castle on what is believed to have been the site of an Iron Age fort. What we see here today, however, are the remains of a 15th century development. This gives Dunlough its popular alternative name of Three Castles since the structure comprises three fortified towers joined by a wall some twenty feet high and almost 1,000 feet long running from cliff face to lakeshore. All three towers are rectangular and of three storeys, the most substantial being that furthest to the west. Rising almost fifty feet and over fifty square feet inside, the building would have served as residence for the owners. It has entrances on both the ground and first floors, the latter presumably accessed by means of a ladder, to provide additional protection for occupants in the event of an attack. Internally the first floor was of wood and is therefore long gone but the second floor, of stone, survives: the space above would have been used for dining and large gatherings. The roof of towers from this period was typically of wood and so no longer extant.
The middle tower at Dunlough was probably used for storage and that closest to the lake provided ingress to the whole site. The construction technique used throughout was dry stone masonry, unusual for the period when wet mortar and sand were used in building; dry stone masonry had been common at an earlier date meaning Dunlough was somewhat anachronistic, the reason perhaps being its remote location. The stone used – indigenous schist-slate rock – was quarried from local pits. The nature of its construction left the building vulnerable to decay, since it appears Dunlough was never subject to serious attack. The O’Mahonys remained there until the 1620s when their lands were confiscated: the last occupants are believed to have been members of the O’Donohue family, all of whom apparently died by murder or suicide: according to legend a drop of blood falls every day in the tower closest to the lake. Whether true or not – the building today looks clear of all bloodstains – the story adds to Dunlough’s inherently romantic character.