Thin Light

A pool of winter light spills on the attic floor of Bovagh, County Derry. Dating from c.1740 the house was originally built as a residence for the land agent of the Beresford family who had a large estate in this part of the country. In the last century it was occupied by the Hezlets. Restoration work on the building was undertaken in recent years.

Accommodating the Dead

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The remains of the old church at Ballykelly, County Derry, a building which suffered from successive assaults – it is known to have been badly damaged in both the 1640s and the 1690s – but continued to be used for religious services until 1795 when a new church was built not far away. Internally its most significant remaining feature is the sandstone semicircular arch presumably added in 1719 when the church was extended by the addition of a chancel. More peculiarly in 1848 the south wall of the church was taken down to accommodate one end of a large neo-classical mausoleum dedicated to the Cather family, with its oversized anthemion acroteria at each corner. Unfortunately this monument’s poor condition suggests it could soon go the same way as the adjacent ruined church.

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Hanging On

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In mid-December 1761 outside Lifford Gaol, County Donegal John MacNaghten was hanged not once but twice. A month earlier he had killed a young woman to whom he claimed to be married. More than twenty years earlier MacNaghten had inherited an estate at Benvarden, County Antrim with an annual income of some £600, but his addiction to gambling meant he was obliged to sell or mortgage the greater part of the property. Circumstances improved following marriage to Sophie Daniel, daughter of the Dean of Down who brought with her an impressive dowry. Unfortunately MacNaghten soon resumed his old ways and by 1756 had accumulated such significant debts that a warrant was issued for his arrest. Around this time his wife died in childbirth, leaving him penniless once more. In a further attempt to improve his fortune he managed to be appointed to the lucrative post of tax collector for Coleraine but then gambled away £800 of the state’s money: his estate was now sequestered and by 1760 he was without recourse to funds. An old family friend, Andrew Knox who lived at Prehen, County Derry took pity of MacNaghten and offered him support. Knox had a fifteen-year old daughter Mary Anne who was already in line to inherit £6,000 and possibly much more should her elder brother not have any children. MacNaghten and Mary Anne Knox developed some kind of romantic relationship and even seem to have gone through a form of marriage ceremony before her father discovered what was taking place and forbade further contact between the two. He was in the process of travelling with his daughter to Dublin in November 1761 when their carriage was intercepted by MacNaghten, intent on carrying off the young girl. In an exchange of gunfire, Mary Anne was accidentally and fatally wounded. It did not take long before MacNaghten was arrested, tried at Lifford Courthouse and sentenced to death for her murder. When the day came for him to be hanged, the rope broke and so he had to be strung up a second time. Forever after he has been remembered as Half-Hanged MacNaghten.

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Originally from Scotland, the Knox family settled in Ireland during the 17th century, the first of them to come here being an Anglican clergyman Andrew Knox who in 1610 was appointed Bishop of Raphoe, County Donegal. In 1738 his great-grandson, the aforementioned Andrew Knox, father of the unfortunate Mary Anne and long-time MP for Donegal in the Irish Parliament, married Honoria Tomkins, heiress to the Prehen estate. The following decade the couple built themselves a new residence here overlooking the river Foyle and some two miles upstream from the city of Derry. The house’s design is attributed to Michael Priestley, about whom relatively little is known except that he was responsible for a number of buildings in north-west Ulster. Incidentally, among his other commissions was Lifford Courthouse and Gaol, outside which John MacNaghten was twice-hanged: a curious architectural link with Prehen, although probably of little interest to the condemned man. Built of rubble with ashlar dressings, the house has two storeys over basement and is of four bays, the centre two being slightly advanced and featuring a handsome sandstone Gibbsian doorcase and at the top a pediment with the Knox coat of arms. The interior is equally fine for the period, beginning with a substantial flagged entrance hall off which open a series of reception rooms to left and right while symmetrical doors to the rear give access to a main and service stairs respectively. A similar arrangement pertains on the first floor where the central space to the front of the building is taken up by a substantial gallery with coved ceiling.

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The Knoxes remained at Prehen until the outbreak of the First World War when, for reasons that need to be explained, the estate was seized by the British government. Back in the mid-19th century Colonel George Knox married a Swiss girl, Rose Virgine Grimm and in turn one of their daughters Virginia was married to the German scholar and former student of Nietzsche Dr Ludwig von Scheffler of Weimar. Their son, Georg Carl Otto Ludwig von Scheffler became Adjutant to the Commander of the Cadet Corps Governor of the Royal Pages in the Prussian Army and was raised to the rank of baron by the Kaiser. On the death of his maternal grandfather George Knox in 1910, he inherited Prehen and assumed the additional surname of Knox. The Baron stayed at Prehen until August 1914 when war was declared between Britain and Germany. Initially placed under house arrest, he escaped and returned to Germany. In his absence, however, Prehen and its lands were confiscated by the government as enemy property. Following the conclusion of hostilities, the estate was liquidated at public auction under the terms of the 1916 Trading with the Enemy Amendment Act: Baron von Scheffler Knox only returned to see Prehen in the 1950s accompanied by his son, Johann Von Scheffler Prehen Knox who only died five years ago.

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By the early 1970s Prehen was in poor condition. Requisitioned during the Second World War for troop accommodation, the house had been internally subdivided, a secondary door inserted into one of the main entrance’s sidelights, and there were large holes in the roof. On the verge of complete dereliction the property was then bought by Julian Peck and his American-born wife Carola: the couple had previously restored Rathbeale, County Dublin. Julian Peck had a family link with the place, his mother being author Winifred Peck (née Knox), one of a remarkable band of siblings whose other members included Monsignor Ronald Knox, Roman Catholic priest and detective story writer, Alfred ‘Dilly’ Knox, who worked as a code breaker during both the First and Second World Wars (he was employed at Bletchley Park until his death in 1943), the Church of England clergyman Wilfred Knox, and the poet and editor of Punch Edmund Knox (whose daughter was the novelist Penelope Fitzgerald). The Pecks rescued Prehen, bringing the house back to life and filling it with animation. Several of the rooms have had their walls painted, those in the entrance hall being covered with frescoes by Alec Cobbe. Meanwhile the dining room was decorated by Carola Peck in a style that blends Pompeii with Puvis de Chavannes. Julian Peck lived in the house  until his death in 2001, followed by his wife in 2014. Their surviving son Colin sadly died last August, thereby ending a long connection between the Knoxes and Prehen. However the house survives as a testament to this remarkable family, and to the curious history of Half-Hanged MacNaghten.

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Levels of History

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The staircase in Ashbrook, County Derry, one of the oldest continuously occupied houses in this part of the country. The land on which it sits was granted to General Thomas Ash by Elizabeth I in the 1590s as a reward for his aid in quashing the O’Neill Rebellion during the Nine Years War and the family (later Beresford-Ash) has remained there ever since. The rear section of Ashbrook is a 17th century house but in the 1760s a new section was added to the front providing ground floor rooms with higher ceilings than had hitherto been the case. As a result, upper floor levels had to be altered resulting in the present arrangement, seen below, whereby a single flight of stairs leads from a top-lit gallery to bedrooms at the front of the house.

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Adorned with All Graces and Perfections

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In the parish church of Tamlaght Finlagan, Ballykelly, County Derry is this monument to Mrs Jane Hamilton (nee Beresford) who died in 1716. By an unknown sculptor, the work is not so much based on as directly copied from Grinling Gibbons’ monument to Mary Beaufoy in Westminster Abbey who died eleven years earlier. The latter’s tomb was originally surmounted by an urn and garlands of flowers but these were removed in the late 18th century: they remain in place in the Tamlaght Finlagan monument. The most notable difference between the two pieces lies in the poses taken by mourning putti on either side of the main figure. One of those attending Mrs Hamilton is shown below (note also the elegant heels on the deceased’s shoes). In the accompanying tablet, she is described as not only ‘adorned with all Graces and Perfections of mind & Body,’ but then ‘crown’d them all with exemplary Piety & Virtue.’ Who could ask for more?

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After the Earl-Bishop

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The fondness of Frederick Augustus Hervey, Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol for building projects has been discussed here more than once, and attention paid to that on which he embarked around 1787/88 at Ballyscullion (see Let the Door be Instantly Open, For There is Much Wealth Within…, March 31st 2014). Within ten years of the Earl-Bishop’s death in 1803 the property here had already fallen into decay, with significant portions of its structure removed for re-use elsewhere. The estate was inherited by a kinsman, the Rev. Sir Henry Hervey Bruce and in 1840 Charles Lanyon designed a handsome new residence for his son, Admiral Sir Henry Bruce (who at the age of 13 had fought at the Battle of Trafalgar and went on to command the British fleet in the Pacific). Above and below are views of the garden front, entirely stuccoed except for the sandstone Doric columns flanking the tripartite window providing access to the drawing room: these are in the same material and style as the entrance porch on the other side of the house. Ballyscullion Park remained in the possession of the Bruce family until sold in 1938 to the Hon. Sir Harry Mulholland, first Speaker of the Northern Ireland Parliament at Stormont: it is now cared for by Sir Harry’s grandson Richard and his wife Rosalind.

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Big House, Little House

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A little house in the yard of the big house at Bovagh, County Derry. This thunderbox* is rather unusual, since not only does it contain two compartments with a dividing wall between them, but each chamber held a pair of adjacent seats, thereby allowing dual occupation (and as can be seen above, a communal chute dropped waste into the same hole). Below is a photograph showing the view enjoyed by users through the thunderbox’s gothic windows.
Dating from the mid-18th century Bovagh was originally a Beresford house, most likely built as an agent’s residence. It will be one of the properties discussed by Daniel Calley next Tuesday evening, 19th April in his talk ‘John Beresford “the king of Ireland” and some Beresford Family Houses’ at the RSAI, 63 Merrion Square, Dublin. For more information, see https://www.igs.ie/events/detail/john-beresford-the-king-of-ireland-and-some-beresford-family-houses.

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*For those unfamiliar with the term, a thunderbox is an outdoor latrine once commonly found in country house yards.

Let the Door be Instantly Open, For There is Much Wealth Within…

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Some attention has already been paid here to the eccentricities of Frederick Augustus Hervey, Bishop of Derry and Earl of Bristol, specifically the house he constructed at Downhill, County Derry (see It’s Downhill All the Way, October 28th 2013). Today the focus is on his other great building project in Ireland, one which attracted more attention at the time but is now largely forgotten, at Ballyscullion in the same county where work began around 1787/88 (that is, more than a decade after Downhill). As with the first house the architect credited for being responsible was Cork-born Michael Shanahan. He appears to have come to Hervey’s attention when, prior to his transference to Derry, he was serving as Bishop of Cloyne. Although Shanahan seemingly had trained as a stonecutter, he possessed a facility for drawing (he would teach this to the bishop’s son) and an interest in architecture. Hence he was taken up by Hervey and indeed taken to Italy in 1770-72 where time was spent in the Veneto, and specifically in Vicenza in May 1771. This is important because a key influence on Ballyscullion’s distinctive design is Palladio’s Villa La Rotonda (in turn derived from the Pantheon in Rome): one must assume it was seen by Hervey and Shanahan while they were in the area. A second influence, and one closer to home, is Belle Isle on Lake Windermere, Cumbria which was designed in 1774 by another self-taught architect, John Plaw. This is a circular building capped by a segmental dome and fronted by a full-height pedimented portico, all features shared with Ballyscullion. Since Plaw was based in London (and designed Belle Isle for a wealthy city merchant Thomas English) it is probable that Hervey and Shanahan would have seen his plans for the house even if they did not visit it.
Ballyscullion was never fully completed, and in its unfinished state was only intermittently occupied before being demolished a decade after the bishop’s death in 1803. Therefore imagination is required to grasp how it must have looked (aided by familiarity with Ickworth, Suffolk, the last of the bishop’s building schemes begun in 1795 and following a similar ground plan to that of Ballyscullion). However, the house was so curious in form and scale that many visitors were drawn there during its brief period of existence, and some of them left a record of what they found. A few of these now follow.

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In August 1799 the Rev William Bisset, then Rector of Loughgall, Co Armagh (and later Bishop of Raphoe, County Donegal) travelled along the Ulster coast with his brother George. He kept a journal of the trip from which the following is taken:
‘Aug. 13_ at 7 O’Clock in the morning We left a very indifferent Inn, and sending our Baggage by the direct road to Coleraine, turned out of our way to gratify a curiosity which the name and character of Lord Bristol excited, to see his House at Ballyscullion. I was not disappointed for I expected something singular, and assuredly I found it_ the Singularity however did not please me_ his Lordship has put himself to great expence to produce a
very bad Effect_ at a distance One cannot imagine what extraordinary thing it is that stands so staringly in the Landscape_ a large black Dome raised high in the Air, without anything that seems proportioned or connected with it; no Trees, or dressed ground of any sort_ A gigantic Mass presents itself upon the naked Plain, and though I was so far prepared as to be actually going to see a large house, and one too that I expected would be in some respect or other singular, yet it did not occur to me that the Object I had in view long before I reached the Village of Ballaghy about a mile distant from it, could be the Mansion we were looking for_ such however it was; and upon a nearer approach we perceived it to be a large round house with a small Corinthian Portico, and surrounded by fluted Pilasters of the same Order_ Above these is a Frieze and Cornice, and upon the whole a high Attic Story with another Cornice bearing a ponderous Roof; every part of which is not only visible, contrary to the general Taste in Architecture, but is so strikingly conspicuous that I found it difficult to turn my Attention to anything else…
…I must observe however that the Plan of this House is not completed_ it is intended to connect it by a Colonnade with other buildings, and probably it will be less disagreeable to the Sight, when relieved in that manner_ The Hall appeared to me to be small, but I did not measure it, and as it is at present filled with Casts of the Laocoon, Centaurs, &c the dimensions may be more considerable than they now appear_ I could not mistake in observing that the Staircase is dark, and from the Figure of the house which is nearly circular, the fantastic Shape of the Rooms, at least of many of them may be supposed, and could not well be avoided_ The Eating room is a handsome one, and the Drawing room corresponding throughout, and the Pictures though not of the first Masters are such as one should like to have_ I am told there are no Originals, but the Person who shewed the house not having a Catalogue I could not make a memorandum of particulars_ Many of them were very pleasing to me_there is a beautiful Portrait of the present unfortunate Pope, a Death of Wolfe, the Departure of Regulus, and indeed a great number if not of the best and highest Character, certainly of sufficient merit to captivate an unskilful Person_ The Whole Taste of the Furniture is vicious; one should imagine it had been chosen by the Neapolitan Lady whose Portrait you are shewn, and who is said to have been a Favourite of his Lordship. Nothing can be more gawdy and effeminate, nothing less suitable to a Bishop, or agreeable to a manly taste_ the Library is almost without Books, a fault which cannot be remedied, as there are no places made to receive them_upon the whole I must confess, I am led to form as low an Opinion of the noble Owners proficiency in matters He seems to have devoted himself to, as his public conduct obliges me to form of his Character in those higher points to which his Rank and Profession have in vain demanded his Attention…’

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Ballyscullion capital

Not long afterwards a more sympathetically-inclined Anglican clergyman visited Ballyscullion. This is taken from the Rev. George Vaughan Sampson’s Statistical Survey of The County of Londonderry published in 1802:
‘The house of Ballyscullion is so uncommon as to plan, that even the following imperfect sketch may be desirable to lovers of architecture.
The ground plan is an oval, whose greatest diameter is 94 feet, the shorter is 84 feet; around the building are disposed 20 fluted Corinthian pilasters of two feet nine inches in diameter; the intermediate spaces are faced with stone, quarried in the neighbouring mountains, in colour resembling the Portland stone. On the frieze are the following lines in gold letters, which encircle the house.
”Hic viridi in campo, templum de marmore ponam,
Propter aquam, tardis ingens ubi flexibus errat
Bannius, et tenui praetexit arundine ripas.”
Of these lines, the literal translation is: “Here is a verdant plain; I will place a temple of marble beside the waters, where the vast Bann strays in sluggish windings, and clothes his banks with tender reed.”
…The northern face presents a stately portico, supported by six pillars, similar to the pilasters as to order and dimension. On the frieze of the portico the following Greek verses are inscribed in large gold letters…”Immediately open ye doors, for much wealth is within, and, with that wealth, fresh-springing benevolence.”
Over a neat entablature is raised an attic storey, 12 feet in height; the building is crowned by a dome, in which is an elegant sky-light. The hall is in measurement 24 by 22½ feet, ornamented by admirable statues of the Apollo Belvedere, and the Vatican Mercury; the busts of Cicero, Demosthenes, Seneca and Pericles, of fine statuary marble, are placed in niches. The great stair-case is constructed geometrically, in the centre of the house; it is of cut stone, carrying with it a back stair-case, occasionally communicating; these form a kind of double spiral and both are lighted from above. A number of busts and statues are placed in niches, along the stairs and lobbies.
The drawing and dining-rooms are on the first floor; each of these is a segment of an ellipse, 36 feet long, 24 feet wide and 18 feet high: both rooms are ornamented with fine paintings. The library is 70 by 22½ feet. The upper rooms are sleeping chambers, each being the section of an ellipse.
From a small room on either side of the hall, a coridore (sic) is extended, which coridores are intended to conduct towards two large galleries, one for the paintings of the Italian, the other for those of the Flemish school: these galleries are to be 82 feet by 25.
Two large squares of offices, each 110 feet, are to be ranged in front of the galleries. All these are to be faced with cut stone, from the quarries near Dungiven. When completed, the line of building in front will extend nearly 350 feet.’

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In October 1807, four years after Hervey’s death, the restless Rector of Navan, County Meath, the Rev. Daniel Beaufort made a tour of the north of the country (one wonders, did none of the period’s Anglican clergymen ever think to stay put in their parishes?). He was accompanied by his wife Mary and their youngest daughter Louisa. The latter was the first woman to be made an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy and here is her account of the family’s visit to Ballyscullion:
‘2 miles brought us to Balaghy a tolerable village, church repairing, it has good spire, some very nice houses with flower gardens & shrubs before them. In the middle of the town was a very high pole, on the top of which was a board painted blue & orange, one person said it was a weather cock, another a free masons sign.
Here we turned off to Ballyscullen, whose ruin’d magnificence shew at once the taste & Madness of Ld. Bristol – it is circular in the Corinthian stile, built of well color’d free stone – brought from Ballinascreen, the pediment of the Portico white Marble veined with pale grey on which Ld Bs & the See Arms were carved in Italy, the Collumnes seem too slender for their height – the staircase is very light & handsome, all the work seems to have been uncomly well executed, as much of the handsome stucco, still remains tho’ all the windows have been taken out & sold, as were the floors, doors & every thing that could be got at, it is expected that Ld O’Neal will buy the staircase – the rooms were numerous shapes very pretty & well contrived – the lead from the roof has been sold, so that in a few years the weather will compleat what Avarice has so well begun.
The house was built on a gentle eminence which forms a small peninsula in Lough Beg, the view from it extensive & rendered pleasing by Church Island & It might have been made a very fine place, by plantings, the small groves that are there seem to grow extremely well.’

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As has been mentioned before, the Earl-Bishop spent his last years in Italy where he died in July 1803; taken ill on the way to Albano he could only find sanctuary in the outhouse of a peasant who refused to admit a heretic into his cottage. An equally degrading fate awaited his great house at Ballyscullion. Along with the rest of his Irish property, this was left to yet another Anglican clergyman, the Rev. Henry Hervey Bruce whose great-grandfather had been the first Earl of Bristol. In 1786 his rich kinsman settled on him a yearly income of £400 and the incumbency of Tamlaghtfinlagan, County Derry. In addition Hervey Bruce became the Bishop’s steward at Downhill, assuming responsibility for both managed the estate and the diocese during the older man’s increasingly long absences from Ireland.
On coming into his inheritance, Hervey Bruce (who was created a baronet in 1804) removed the greater part of Ballyscullion’s contents to Downhill where he preferred to live. Ballyscullion was left to moulder: Louisa Beaufort’s observations reveal that even by 1807 it had begun to fall into decay. What could be sold out of the building was offered to buyers: the great staircase caught the attention of Lord O’Neill and went to Shane’s Castle where regrettably it too was lost in the great conflagration there in 1816 (see Fascination Frantic in a Ruin that’s Romantic, February 17th last).
But not everything perished. For example, Ballyscullion’s portico with its four towering Corinthian columns was bought by Dr. Nathaniel Alexander, then-Church of Ireland Bishop of Down and Connor and presented by him to the rebuilt St. George’s Church in High Street, Belfast; supposedly the stones were first brought by horse and cart to Lough Neagh and from there travelled by the first cargo barge to make the journey to Belfast on the new Lagan Canal. Photographs of the facade of St George’s, incorporating the Ballyscullion portico, can be seen above.
For his own residence in Portglenone, Dr Alexander bought other items from Ballyscullion including chimneypieces and a pair of scagliola columns with corresponding pilasters (curiously this house has since become a Roman Catholic Cistercian monastery). Other pieces of Ballyscullion were acquired by diverse house owners and remain in some of these properties to the present time (see various pictures above). But within ten years Hervey’s great building was largely gone and today almost nothing remains other than the outline of the main block’s foundations and the partial walls of one of the galleries, all of it surrounded by thick woodland.
There is still a house on the Ballyscullion estate: in 1840 Sir Charles Lanyon designed a handsome new residence – see below – for Admiral Sir Henry Bruce (a younger son of the Rev. Sir Henry Hervey Bruce) who at the age of 13 had fought at the Battle of Trafalgar and went on to command the British fleet in the Pacific. Ballyscullion Park remained in the possession of the Bruce family into the last century before being sold in 1938 to the Hon. Sir Harry Mulholland, first Speaker of the Northern Ireland Parliament at Stormont. Sir Harry’s grandson Richard and his wife Rosalind live in the house today and maintain the property with every respect and appreciation for its distinguished and colourful history. The Bishop’s Ballyscullion may have gone but its memory is duly cherished.

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For more information on Ballyscullion Park, see: http://www.ballyscullionpark.com

In a Gentleman’s Park

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In the early 18th century Joshua Dawson, MP for County Wicklow and Secretary for Ireland during the reign of Queen Anne, laid out the street in Dublin that still bears his name and there built himself a residence which subsequently became the Mansion House. Around the same time he also had a new property constructed at Castle Dawson, the County Derry estate acquired by his grandfather Thomas Dawson in the 1630s.
This house was subsequently demolished by Joshua’s son Arthur who in the mid-1760s built another, called Moyola Park, the garden front of which can be seen here. The building has been subject to several alterations: the block to the left, for example, was only added in the 1920s. But more importantly, the three-sided bows at either end, as well as the plate-glass windows, are 19th century additions. At that point the staircase was moved from the centre of the single bay pedimented breakfront overlooking the gardens garden to elsewhere in the house. One wonders if the original stairs might have been incorporated within some kind of bow, since an arch of cut stone in the middle of the bay differs somewhat in colour from that on either side. Moyola Park has remained in the hands of its original builder’s family although passing through the female line so that the occupants are now called Chichester-Clark; the late James Chichester-Clark, who served as Northern Ireland Prime Minister until his resignation in March 1971, was subsequently created Baron Moyola.

The Irish Aesthete Recommends VII

Derry Walls

This year Derry has been celebrating its title as inaugural UK City of Culture with a wide programme of events. One might wish that the programme of events had paid more attention to Derry’s architectural heritage: it is the only remaining completely walled city in Ireland, those walls (seen in an old photograph above) dating from the second decade of the 17th century. Thankfully also this year a truly excellent guide to the place’s buildings has been published: City of Derry: An Historical Gazetteer to the Buildings of Londonderry written by Daniel Calley and published by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society.
The book runs alphabetically through all of Derry, street by street, discoursing on each site, its history and architectural merits – or lack of same. One always appreciates an author who is unafraid to express a well-informed opinion. For example, of 34-40 Shipquay Street (one of the principal thoroughfares in the old city, lined with 18th and 19th century houses), he writes, ‘The round-headed rythym on the ground floor is utterly destroyed by the crass left-hand shopfront which replaced two-bays; definitely a homage to philistinism with its fascia signage and recessed expanse of plate-glass which is known in the retail industry as a deep-throat.’
Calley gives praise where it is due, and Derry is blessed that despite decades of disruption and the best efforts of urban despoilers so much of the city remains to delight. Replete with colour photographs this is an admirable book to take if visiting Derry, not just during its tenure as a City of Culture, but at any time. Below is a view of the former Bishop’s Palace, the core of which probably dates from the mid-18th century although its appearance was much altered in the first decades of the 19th. ‘Since 1945,’ Calley explains, ‘the building has served as a Masonic Hall whose custodianship has, despite the bst efforts of bombers bent on informal reordering, been on the whole well intentioned.’

Derry Palace

City of Derry: An Historical Gazetteer to the Buildings of Londonderry by Daniel Calley can be purchased from the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society: http://uahs.org.uk/shop/