The skeleton of a former parish church at Rathbarry, County Cork. It dates from 1825 when constructed at a cost of £1,900, of which £1,000 was provided by John Evans-Freke, sixth Baron Carbury who lived in nearby Castle Freke: the family mausoleum is immediately south of the church. The building is more elaborate than most such structures erected at the time with help from the Board of First Fruits, the three-storey buttressed tower finished with a slender pinnacle in each corner, and the main entrance on the west front being via a projecting narthex. Inside the chancel and below the east window are the surviving portions of late-19th century mosaic work provided by the ninth baron and his wife. The church ceased to be used for services in 1927, just over a century after it had been finished.
After last Monday’s post about the house on Fota Island, County Cork, it is worth noting that the immediate demesne, including one of Ireland’s most important late 19th/early 20th century arboretums, also survives and can be visited. To the rear of the main building lie a series of walled gardens which have been well-maintained by the Office of Public Works and at the top of these the Irish Heritage Trust has restored a series of greenhouses now filled with plants. In consequence, the site provides an opportunity to explore an Irish country house in its original setting, something not always possible.
Some readers may be familiar with the history of Richard Barry, seventh and penultimate Earl of Barrymore. He was almost the end of the line of a family which could trace its ancestry back to participation in the Norman Conquest of England (1066) and then the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in Ireland (1169 onwards): their name derives from Barry in Glamorganshire, Wales where their forebear had been granted lands by William the Conqueror. In this country, they acquired substantial territories in what is now East Cork, and remained prominent there for many centuries, being created first Baron Barry (c.1261), then Viscount Buttevant (1541) and finally Earl of Barrymore (1628).
One generation of Barrys duly followed another until the advent of the seventh earl (born 1769) who inherited his title and estates at the age of three, following the death of his father. His mother would die when he was eleven, and it was perhaps this absence of parental authority which led to Lord Barrymore acquiring such a notorious reputation for dissipation as an adult, known as the Rake of Rakes or Hellgate. On the other hand, his siblings were as bad. His only sister Caroline was called ‘Billingsgate’ because she swore like a fishwife (London’s Billingsgate was home to the city’s fishmarket) and of his two brothers, Henry, the last earl was called ‘Cripplegate’ because he had a clubfoot, and Augustus, called ‘Newgate’ because, despite being an Anglican clergyman, he was a compulsive gambler (Newgate being the debtors’ prison in London). The seventh earl also liked to gamble, as well as being addicted to boxing, racing and acting (he built his own theatre in Berkshire at a cost of £60,000). Eventually, his debts grew so great that he was forced to sell most of the family’s property in Ireland; he is said to have squandered some £300,000 during his lifetime. This came to an abrupt end in 1793 when, as a Captain in the Royal Berkshire Militia, he was escorting some French prisoners to a camp and his rifle accidentally went off, wounding him so badly that he was dead within the hour: he was still aged only 24.
What has all this to do with the pictures shown here? This is Fota, County Cork, built on an island which had long been part of the Barrys’ lands and had somehow not been sold due the excesses of the seventh earl. In the early 19th century, it passed into the ownership of John Smith-Barry who, while illegitimate, was a descendant of the fourth earl of Barrymore and sought – unsuccessfully – to have the title recreated for him after the eighth earl’s death in 1823. The transformation of Fota, it has been suggested, can be connected with Smith-Barry’s efforts to be raised to the peerage. Hitherto the house had been a modest 18th century hunting lodge, probably used by the Barrys’ agents, since the family were not resident in Ireland. But in the mid-1820s, the building was greatly enlarged by father-and-son team Richard and William Vitruvius Morrison. They proposed two schemes, one of which was for Fota’s transformation into a Tudorbethan mansion, not unlike schemes on which the pair had already embarked at Killruddery, County Wicklow and Glenarm, County Antrim, with an entrance tower indebted to that at Burghley House. This idea was rejected in favour of a neo-classical design, the original five-bay building widened with an extra bay on either side and then further lengthened by the addition of two projecting pedimented wings to create a shallow courtyard, the whole centred on a single-storey limestone Doric portico. Bows were added to the garden front, one of these accommodating the drawing room, while the extensions at either end of the facade hold the dining room and library. The exterior is rendered with limestone dressings, which adds to the impression of crisp severity. A long two-storey extension to the north-west contains the service wing; in the 1870s, the front of his was hidden by a conservatory (later converted into a long gallery) leading to a billiard room.
The first interior encountered at Fota – the entrance hall – is also the most successful. Running the length of the original house on the site and concluding at either end with small lobbies, it is divided into three spaces by screens of paired Ionic scagliola columns supporting entablatures decorated with plasterwork with a repeated pattern of wreaths and the Smith-Barry crest; the floor is covered in Portland stone. The abiding impression is of cool composure and absolute assurance in the handling of what could have been just a long, low corridor. In their decoration, the main reception rooms bear strong similarities with those of the contemporaneous Ballyfin, County Laois, both being indebted to the work of Percier and Fontaine: the ceilings in the drawing room (and its anteroom) were painted and stencilled in the 1890s by the Dublin firm of Sibthorpe & Son. The dining room has a screen of grey scagliola columns at the sideboard end of the space and, once again, rich ceiling plasterwork featuring trellises intertwined with vines. Although sparsely furnished in places, Fota, today in the care of the Irish Heritage Trust, looks so well that it is easy to forget that just a few decades ago the house’s future looked in serious jeopardy, following the death of the last of the Smith-Barrys and the estate’s subsequent sale and resale. The history of a period when it seemed Fota might be left to fall into disrepair is too complex – and perhaps still too recent – to be told here. That it has survived is thanks to a small number of determined individuals (not least plucky Richard Wood) who courageously undertook to go to battle for the place. Too many other such Irish houses, in similar perilous positions, have been at risk – and indeed continue to be so. Let us rejoice, therefore, over this sheep, which might have been lost but has been found and brought back into the fold.
The very grand entrance into what appears to have been the yard attached to an adjacent house in the little village of Rostellan, County Cork. Seemingly dating from the mid-19th century, the high rubble stone walls are broken up by limestone ashlar pilasters and framed rectangular panels, while the centre is dominated by a large carriage entrance set into a Grecian-Revival arch. It all seems rather more substantial than would be expected on such a site: perhaps originally constructed for the nearby – but now lost – Rostellan Castle? (See Final Traces « The Irish Aesthete). During the spring/summer months, the yard operates as a local coffee and chocolate shop.
Rostellan Castle, County Cork is one of Ireland’s great lost houses, demolished less than 80 years ago and obliterated so completely that most visitors to the site would have no idea a substantial residence stood here for several centuries. The original building here is thought to have been constructed by a branch of the FitzGerald family; certainly by the mid-1560s the land it occupied had passed into the possession of Edmund FitzJohn FitzGerald, hereditary Dean of Cloyne. Knighted in 1602, he had a daughter Ellen who married Dermot O’Brien, fifth Baron Inchiquin and their eldest son, Murrough O’Brien, sixth Baron and first Earl of Inchiquin, would eventually come to own Rostellan. Remembered as Murchadh na dTóiteán (‘Murrough of the conflagrations’), he became notorious during the Confederate Wars from 1641 onwards for burning the houses, livestock and lands of his opponents, first the Catholic forces and then the Cromwellian army. In 1650 he left Ireland and moved to France where he joined the royal court in exile (and converted to Catholicism), returning to his country three years after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 and thereafter living quietly on estates which had been restored to him by royal act. Although O’Brien’s family had historically been associated with County Clare, where he owned land, his preference in later years was to live at Rostellan, and this remained the case for subsequent generations until the mid-19th century.
Following his death in 1674, the first earl’s estates, including Rostellan, were inherited by his eldest son William O’Brien who had not converted to Catholicism but remained loyal to the Protestant faith. A military man, he had lost an eye in 1660 when he and his father were captured by Algerian corsairs in 1660; 14 years later, he . became Governor of Tangier and Captain General of the King’s Forces there. Back in Ireland, in 1688 he declared his support for William of Orange, but then failed in an effort to raise troops in County Cork to oppose James II. In the aftermath of the Williamite Wars, William III appointed him Governor of Jamaica, where he died of disease in 1692. His heir, the third earl, also William O’Brien seems to have lived a quieter life, spending much of his time at Rostellan where he carried out various improvements, not least walling and damming the surrounding land to stop tidal incursions, since Rostellan sits on a promontory overlooking Lower Cork Harbour; in 1701 he advised Queen Anne that at considerable expense he had ‘prevented the tide from overflowing a parcel of land adjoining to his house at Rostellan, which would be an advantage to the harbour of Cork for small vessels and boats, if a quay was made there, and desiring her Majesty to grant to him and his heirs the said ground, containing about 150 acres.’ In 1710 it was noted that the earl ‘is now att Rostellan…as buesie as ever, building &c; there neaver will be an end. God help him…’ He died in 1719, and was succeeded by his eldest son, yet another William O’Brien, who, in 1720, founded the Water Club of Cork Harbour in 1720; among other offices, he also served as Governor of Clare for more than 30 years and was a Member of the Privy Council of Ireland from 1753. Although he spent much time in England, the fourth earl carried out extensive works on the dwelling house at Rostellan, perhaps incorporating the older building although this is unclear. Legend has it that he built the house on or near the site of an old graveyard, ordering that the tombstones be levelled, according to another version, thrown into the sea. In any case, a woman whose only son was buried there duly laid a curse on him, saying no son would succeed thereafter and that the family line would die out. Indeed, the fourth earl and his wife had four sons, but they all predeceased him and when he died in 1777, Rostellan was inherited by a nephew, Murrough O’Brien, created first Marquess of Thomond in 1800. He in turn had no male heir, so the estate once more passed to a nephew, who had four daughters but no son. Rostellan and the O’Brien lands accordingly passed to a brother, the third and last marquess who, despite being married three times, had no children. And so, on his death in 1855, the curse made over a century earlier came to pass, the line died out and Rostellan was sold. Over the following decades, the property changed hands on a number of occasions, finally being leased in 1930 to Cloyne China Clay Company. who mined clay there for export. That continued for decade, after which the house stood empty until demolished by the Irish Army Corps of Engineers in 1944.
Surviving photographs of Rostellan Castle show a three-storey house with a five-bay entrance front and three-sided bows at each corner. In the 19th century, a Gothic porch was added to the facade and to one side of the house a long, single-storey extension containing a Gothic-style chapel, ending in a squat round tower. All of this, as mentioned, has been entirely swept away, the area now occupied by pitches for a local GAA club. But along the shoreline are traces of the work undertaken by the fourth earl and his successors, not least a causeway with battlemented parapets and, at one point, the remains of a prow-like battery terrace, dating from 1727. Here were formerly set a number of canon, used for starting boat races (the earl having founded the Cork Water Club). Elsewhere along the same shoreline can be seen a rather stock Doric column with vermiculated plinth; originally this supported a lead statue by John van Nost the Younger of Admiral Edward Hawke. And further along are what survives of a battlemented round tower built as a tea house by the first marquess and named after the famous actress Sarah Siddons who he entertained there during one of her visits to Ireland. All in poor condition, these are all that remain of Rostellan Castle and its demesne; soon, like the house itself, they will disappear and with them the last memory of this place.
Long in ruins, this is Christ Church, otherwise Magourney parish church in Coachford, County Cork. In 1750 Charles Smith called it ‘new’ suggesting the building had likely been constructed in the first half of the 18th century. Thanks to funds provided by the ever-helpful Board of First Fruits, in 1818/19 it was extensively refurbished and the tower raised to its present level with blind lunettes and oculi; the little flanking pavilions, one of which held the vestry, the other a staircase, date from the same period. Just a few decades later, however, the parish embarked on building another new church, and this one was deconsecrated in the late 1850s.
What remains of St Anne’s church in Mallow, County Cork. It was built probably in the early 18th century to replace a predecessor which had been much damaged during the Williamite Wars but only lasted around 100 years before being in turn superseded by a newer building erected to the immediate west and designed by the Pain brothers. Now surrounded by decaying tombstones, the church retains a wonderfully slender belltower through which access was gained to the interior, the south side of which is distinguished by five large round-headed windows.
Located on a rocky outcrop, Ballinacarriga Castle, County Cork is a particularly fine example of the Irish tower house, thought to have been constructed during the 16th century. Some of the battlements remain, along with square bartizans on the south-east and north-west corners. The building was originally surrounded by a bawn wall with a round flanker tower in each corner, but only a small stretch of the former and a portion of one of the latter remain. The tower house, on the other hand, has survived remarkably well. Seemingly on the third floor, which would have served as the main hall, there are elaborate carvings depicting the Instruments of the Passion, the Crucifixion and panels of decorative leaves, while a window bears the initials of Randal Muirhily and Catherine O’Cullane and the year 1585. During the penal era, this room was used for Catholic worship but now, as with so many such sites, is inaccessible to the public.
Tucked away down a grassy boreen stands the now-abandoned church of St Helen, Moviddy, County Cork (closed for services 1961, unroofed 1968). The surrounding graveyard contains this early 18th century mausoleum (also now without a roof) constructed by the Bailey family who were then living close by in Castlemore Castle. Inside the little building, the south wall is dominated by a large memorial carrying the following inscription: ‘This monument erected at the cost of Mrs Anne Bayly widow of John Bayly of Castlemore Esquire to preserve his memory, who died the 15th of June Anno Christi, 1719. He was a gent who had the true interest of his country at heart. At the revolution he served in person in the wars of Ireland, till the kingdom was reduced to peace and quietness. Quitting the war he returned to his wife and children and shewed himself as good a husband as indulgent a father as he was a true subject being honored with a commission of the peace. He always administered justice so uprightly that he never blemished his commission and dyed lamented by all good men who did know him.’
The remains of a former estate at Clogher in County Cork. In 1837 Samuel Lewis describes the property as belonging to one ‘G. Bond Low, Esq.’ but provides no further details. The house itself, now a ruin, dates from the early 19th century and is of three stories and five bays. A sense of its character is provided by what survives: a pair of handsome limestone gate posts, beside one of which is a derelict lodge. Not far inside the entrance is a very fine yard, typical of the kind then being erected across the country and, despite neglect, still so sturdy that it begs for restoration: the perfect setting for a number of courtyard dwellings, should someone with sufficient imagination (and funds) be prepared to take on the task.