Commodious Offices

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The upper yard of Crocknacrieve, County Fermanagh, described in 1833 as being ‘the seat and fee farm of John Johnston, Esq., and comprehends a nice new built house on the summit of a noble elevation, standing above a demesne of about 100 Irish plantation acres, beautifully dressed and planted.’ The following year, an ordinance survey report called Crocknacrieve ‘a neat and handsome building of modern architecture…It was built and the demesne laid out in 1817…The offices, which are attached to the house are very commodious.’ As they remain to the present day.

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A White Elephant

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A fortnight ago the BBC reported that the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland had spent almost £400,000 maintaining an equestrian centre in County Fermanagh that it stopped using four years ago. ‘The Necarne Estate in Irvinestown has been lying empty since equine courses were moved  to Enniskillen. In 2012, the department said Necarne had become surplus to its requirements. But it had signed a 25-year lease for £500,000 that runs until 2023 without an early opt-out clause.’ At the centre of this property, which runs to 228 acres, are the remains of a residence called Castle Irvine.

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Castle Irvine, sometimes known as Necarne Castle, was originally built around 1618-19 by a Scottish settler called Gerard Lowther: given the uneasy times, the four-storey rectangular building was defensive in appearance, with walls seventeen feet thick and two towers to the rear. The castle and surrounding lands were subsequently acquired by another Scottish settler Christopher Irvine whose descendants remained there until the last century. In 1788 Major Gorges Irvine married the Meath-born heiress Elizabeth D’Arcy, after which the family was known as D’Arcy-Irvine. Thanks to this injection of money, the castle underwent a major overhaul in the first half of the 1830s, the architect responsible being John Benjamin Keane, former assistant to Sir Richard Morrison. Perhaps for this reason the appearance of Castle Irvine bears some similarities to that of Borris, County Carlow which had been revamped some years earlier by Morrison in the same Tudor-Gothic idiom. A new range was added in front of the old castle, of five bays with an arcaded central porch and octagonal turrets at the corners. Further towers and crenellations were scattered liberally elsewhere, so that the whole building became an elaborate gothic fantasy. However, again like Borris, while the exterior of Castle Irvine was in one style, the interiors adopted another, being strictly classical. The entrance hall, for example, was flanked by red scagliola columms with Corinthian columns (once more the entrance hall of Borris is called to mind).

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In 1922 Major Charles Cockburn D’Arcy-Irvine gave up living at Castle Irvine: his son Captain Charles William D’Arcy-Irvine had been killed in the Dardanelles seven years earlier. In 1925 a Captain Richard Outram Hermon from Sussex bought the castle and estate and lived there with his own family until the outbreak of the Second World War. During the subsequent period it was used as a military hospital by British and American forces but thereafter Castle Irvine was never occupied. Following Captain Hermon’s death in 1976 the estate was put up for sale and bought first by a local entrepreneur who had developed several other hotels in the Fermanagh region. However, in 1987 Castle Irvine was acquired by the local District Council for about £300,000, after which the same authority spent some £4 million developing equestrian facilities on the site including a 300-seat indoor arena, 80 stables, 16 bedrooms, two dressage arenas, and courses for cross-country, point-to-point and steeplechase. Ultimately this ambitious project came to a premature end, although it continues to cost the NI Department of Agriculture money every year. Throughout this time no funds were spent on the old castle, which despite being a listed building in the care of the council, has deteriorated to the point where it is now just a shell: as one of the authority’s officials told the BBC, ‘Unfortunately a use for the castle has not been found and it would take a very serious amount of money to put it back together.’ It is hard to imagine who might now want to spend such money for what has become a large and derelict white elephant.

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A Light Touch

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The double return Imperial staircase in Crom Castle, County Fermanagh. The house was designed in the mid-1830s by Edward Blore, a protégé of Sir Walter Scott who specialised in Gothic Revival architecture. Here a mixture of timber and plaster was employed to create a feather-light sequence of soaring arcades in the late Perpendicular style leading up to an octagonal lantern.

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Into Recess

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One of the two niches on either side of a door in the oval saloon at Castle Coole, County Fermanagh. Designed 1789-96 by James Wyatt for the first Earl of Belmore the building’s heating system has been discussed here before (see It’s All in the Detail, August 10th 2013). This is one of a pair of cast-iron stoves topped with urns made to a design by Wyatt in order to provide warmth for the room which, owing to its shape and the disposition of doors and windows, does not have a fireplace. It is flanked by two of the dozen scagliola pilasters by the Italian craftsman Domenico Bartoli with plaster decoration inside the upper section of the recess being made by on-site by workmen sent over from England.

It’s All in the Detail

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One of four large urns placed in niches on the first-floor inner landing at Castle Coole, County Fermanagh; two of them (including that shown here) double as stoves, Irish winters being pretty chilly. Although this does not feature, certain architectural details of Castle Coole and a number of other houses in this country are discussed in a recent essay by Calder Loth, Senior Architectural Historian for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and Member of the Institute of Classical Classical Architecture & Art‘s Advisory Council. Calder was one of the group of ICAA members who toured Ireland last May and who I had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions. You can find his very informative and beautifully-illustrated piece at: http://blog.classicist.org/?p=6620

That’s Coole

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Two details of the plasterwork in the dining room at Castle Coole, County Fermanagh. Constructed between 1789 and 1796 for Armar Lowry-Corry, first Earl of Belmore the house is considered to be architect James Wyatt’s Neoclassical masterpiece. For the decoration he used his usual team of London craftsmen including stuccadore James Rose who sent five of his regular plasterers to do the job. John Martin Robinson in his recently published monograph on Wyatt quotes a contemporary report that the workers were unhappy in Fermanagh, finding it ‘an unhealthy place, that most of them are ill and there is not lodging for them but in damp rooms.’ None of this discontent is reflected in the graceful plasterwork, with each room given a distinctive frieze pattern.

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P.S. Apologies to anyone who was trying to nominate me for the Irish Blog Awards (see Number One from last Thursday, July 25th) and had problems because I gave the wrong email address: this has now been corrected , so please forgive my incompetence and try again. And thanks to all who have already nominated me.