From Paper to Stone


In 1718 Thomas Willcox left Exeter in Devon, and together with his wife Elizabeth, moved to the American colonies. The couple, who had nine children, settled in the Concord Township of Delaware County, Pennsylvania. Here Willcox and a business partner established a paper mill in 1726, the Ivy Mills, today judged to be the second oldest such industry in the United States. It flourished over the coming decades, receiving the first order for paper used in the production of colonial currency: after 1775 the mill’s output was almost entirely devoted to producing paper for such purposes. When the American Revolution began, the Ivy Mill provided paper for currency printed first by the Continental and then the United States governments (Thomas Willcox was a friend of Benjamin Franklin). Interestingly, the Willcox family was always Roman Catholic and are believed to be the oldest members of that faith in Pennsylvania. They established a Mission chapel at the mill in 1730 and provided support for Jesuit priests travelling through this part of the country. The Ivy Mills remained in operation until 1866.





Arthur Valentine Willcox was born in February 1865, a great, great-grandson of Thomas Willcox. He was responsible for building the house seen here: Lisnabrucka, County Galway, which sits above a Connemara lake of the same name. A Philadelphia banker, Willcox was evidently a keen fisherman since in 1910 he invited Dublin architect Laurence McDonnell to design him a new lodge here. McDonnell, who early in his career had worked for both Thomas Newenham Deane and John Franklin Fuller, was responsible for designing the ‘Irish Village’ constructed at Chicago’s World Fair in 1892 before going on to enjoy a flourishing practice closer to home: he seems to have been responsible for quite a number of new buildings on Dublin’s Grafton Street. In 1908 he had undertaken extensive alterations to Ballynahinch Castle, which is only a few miles from Lisnabrucka, and this may explain why Willcox then in turn used the same architect for his own fishing lodge. The surrounding grounds were extensively landscaped during the same period: an article carried by Irish Gardening in January 1917 describes how ‘year by year the process of turning the bare slopes of the hill into wood and garden proceeds. The view from the house across the lake to Ben Lettery is probably unsurpassed by any other…’





Writing of Irish sporting lodges in Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies (Vol.VII, 2004), Patrick Boew noted that such buildings were intended ‘to accommodate a party of friends rather than a family for which a permanent residence might be designed.’ Furthermore its interior decoration ‘reflected the fact that field sports tended to be the preserve, though not the exclusive property, of men. The internal decoration of a lodge was utilitarian and sufficiently sturdy to withstand the heavy wear expected from occupants kitted for outdoor life.’ Such is the case with Lisnabrucka, which as was often the case, has a long facade (of nine bays) and appears to be of one storey with dormer windows inserted into the mansard roof. In fact, the building is more substantial, the sloping site allowing for another, lower storey on the side facing the lake, and upstairs a long corridor off which open a considerable number of bedrooms, although these – as Bowe again notes was customarily the case – are all rather small and narrow. The focus is on the main floor’s reception rooms, in particular a large entrance hall off which open the dining room, drawing room and study, along with sundry service spaces, not least a big kitchen (those sportsmen had substantial appetites). The plain rendered exterior is relieved by a series of concrete columns with Ionic capitals, the whole centred on a door with Tuscan columns supporting a pediment. Lisnabrucka was built at a time when radical social and political change seemed unlikely, but within a decade Ireland would be a fundamentally different country making the construction, or even survival, of such places highly unlikely. This one endured and over the past century, both inside and out has changed very little. As a result it can be deemed a rare surviving example of the Edwardian sporting lodge.

Amid Low-Lying Fields


Today Athenry, County Galway is best known for featuring in a lachrymose ballad usually sung by performers somewhat worse for alcohol. However, the town was of significance from the Middle Ages onwards, as evidenced by large sections of the mediaeval walls that still survive, and a number of important buildings in the centre, not least a castle dating from c.1235. Originally guarding the crossing point over the river Clarin, it consists of a keep and the remains of a separating banqueting hall all enclosed within their own defences. The town subsequently developed around this castle, constructed by the Anglo-Norman knight Meyler de Bermingham whose descendants would become Barons Athenry and Earls of Louth. De Bermingham was also responsible for the other significant mediaeval remains in Athenry, the nearby Dominican Priory.




One of the Dominican order’s most important houses in Ireland, Athenry Priory of SS. Peter and Paul was founded by Meyler de Bermingham in 1241 when he purchased the land on which it stands for 160 marks and then provided the same amount for the construction of the church, as well as providing some of his men to help with the work: he would be buried inside its walls following his death in 1252. Many of his descendants were likewise interred here. Other local families, both Anglo-Norman and Gaelic assisted in the development of the site: Felim O’Conor built the refectory, Eugene O’Heyne the dormitory, Cornelius O’Kelly the chapter house, and others the cloister, infirmary, guesthouse and so forth: almost nothing of these domestic buildings survives. Alterations were made over successive generations. In the late 13th/early 14th century for example, rebuilding work took place on the west gable of the church, to which an aisle and transept were added on the north side. In the fourteenth century William de Burgh (forebear of the Earls and Marquesses of Clanricarde, with whom the priory would later be associated) left money to enlarge the church, adding some 20 feet to the choir, and building a new entrance at its west end (now largely lost after a handball alley was built on the exterior of the building in the last century). Meanwhile in 1408 Joanna de Ruffur left funds to construct a new east window. A fire destroyed much of the priory in 1423, after which indulgences were granted by Popes Martin V and Eugene IV to shoe who contributed to the buildings’ repair. During this period, a crossing tower was erected in the church, with a number of windows being replaced or blocked, and the aisle arcade being reduced.




In the 16th century, Athenry Priory initially escaped the dissolution that befell other such religious establishments. In a letter dated July 1541 Anthony St Leger, Lord Deputy of Irleand advised Henry VIII that as the priory ‘is situated amongst the Irishry … our saide sovereign lord shoulde have lyttle or no profit.’ However, the head of the priory Adam de Coppynger and his fellow friars agreed to abandon their religious habits and dress in secular clothing. In 1568 Elizabeth I directed that the Earl of Clanricarde could preserve the friary for a burial place but nine years later the priory and 30 acres of land in Athenry (plus more elsewhere) was granted to the town of Athenry: around the same time both town and priory were sacked by members of the Earl of Clanricarde’s family. Towards the end of the century the Dominicans reoccupied the priory but it suffered when the whole town was burnt in 1597. Still the Dominicans lingered on in the area, until the early 1650s when English soldiers wrecked the priory. Later the domestic buildings were largely demolished, and an army barracks built in their place. This remained in use until 1850. A late 18th century image shows the church without roof but the central tower still standing: it collapsed in 1845. Relatively little change has since occurred.




Despite quantities of damage inflicted on it over the centuries, the interior of the priory church retains much of interest. Of particular note are two large monuments in the choir. That tucked into the south-east corner was a mausoleum for the de Burgh family, who it will be remembered were permitted by Elizabeth I to use the building as a burial site. The monument in its present form dates from 1835 when repaired by Ulick de Burgh, first Marquess of Clanricarde. The upper portion (which looks as though designed to have something further on top of it) carries a peer’s coronet and the family coat of arms with its motto: Un Roy, Un Foy, Une Loy. A considerable portion of the choir is then taken up with a monumental tomb to Lady Matilda Bermingham, youngest daughter of the last Lord Athenry (also first, and last, Earl of Louth), who died in 1788 at the age of 20. Of cut limestone, the tomb was decorated with an abundance of Coade figures and stone panels, one of which bears the date 1791, and an urn which features the deceased’s profile. As an instance of contemporary misinformation, one frequently reads online that this tomb was badly damaged by Oliver Cromwell’s troops in search of treasure: since Lady Matilda Bermingham died over 130 years after these troops were in Ireland this seems somewhat improbable, and yet still the story circulates in the internet. The truth is more prosaic. In October 2002 vandals broke into the church, breached the tomb’s walls and pulled out the coffin: who needs to import despoilers when they can be found at home? It was reported at the time that repairs were being carried out on the monument, but these do not appear to have been very extensive and much of the Coade stone ornamentation has been forever lost.

‘A Tall, Unlovely Block’


‘It was in the sixteenth century that Robert Martin, one of the long and powerful line of High Sheriffs and Mayors of Galway, became possessed of a large amount of land in West Galway, and in 1590 Ross was his country place. From this point the Martins began slowly to assimilate West Galway; Ross, Dangan, Birch Hall, and Ballinahinch, marked their progress, until Ballinahinch, youngest and greatest of the family strongholds, had gathered to itself nearly 200,000 acres of Connemara. It fell, tragically, from the hand of its last owner, Mary Martin, Princess of Connemara, in the time of the Famine, and that page of Martin history is closed in Galway, though the descendants of her grandfather, ‘Humanity Dick ‘ (for ever to be had in honourable remembrance as the author of ‘Martin’s Act for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’), have kept alive the old name of Ballinahinch, and have opened a new and notable record for themselves in Canada…’




‘Through a line of Jaspers, Nicholases and Roberts, the story of Ross moved prosperously on from Robert of Elizabeth’s times, untouched even by the hand of Cromwell, unshaken even when the gates of Galway, twelve miles away, opened at length to Ireton. Beyond the town of Galway, the Cromwellian did not set his foot; Connemara was a dark and barren country, and the Martins, Roman Catholic and Royalists to the core, as were all the other Tribes of Galway, held the key of the road. From that conflict Ross emerged, minus most of its possessions in Galway town and suburbs; after the Restoration they were restored by the Decree of Charles II, but remained nevertheless in the hands of those to whom they had been apportioned as spoil. The many links that had bound Ross to Galway Town seem thence forward to have been severed; during the eighteenth century the life of its owners was that of their surroundings, peaceful for the most part, and intricately bound up with that of their tenants. They were still Roman Catholic and Jacobite – a kinsman of Dangan was an agent for Charles Edward – and each generation provided several priests for its Church. With my great-grandfather, Nicholas, came the change of creed; he became a Protestant in order to marry a Protestant neighbour, Miss Elizabeth O’Hara, of Lenaboy; where an affair of the heart was concerned, he was not the man to stick at what he perhaps considered to be a trifle. It is said that at the end of his long life his early training asserted itself, and drew him again towards the Church of his fathers; it is certainly probable that he died, as he was born, a son of Rome. But the die had been cast. His six children were born and bred Protestants. Strong in all ways, they were strong Protestants, and Low Church, according to the fashion of their time, yet they lived in an entirely Roman Catholic district without religious friction of any kind…’




‘It was during the life of Nicholas, my great-grand-father, that Ross House was burned down; with much loss, it is believed, of plate and pictures; it had a tower, and stood beautifully on a point in the lake. He replaced it by the present house, built about the year 1777, whose architecture is not aesthetically to his credit; it is a tall, unlovely block, of great solidity, with kitchen premises half underground, and the whole surrounded by a wide and deep area. It suggests the idea of defence, which was probably not absent from the builder’s mind, yet the Rebellion of twenty years later did not put it to the test. In the great storm of 1839, still known as ” The Big Wind,” my grandfather gathered the whole household into the kitchen for safety, and, looking up at its heavily-vaulted ceiling, said that if Ross fell, not a house in Ireland would stand that night. Many fell, but Ross House stood the assault, even though the lawn was white with the spray borne in from the Atlantic, six miles away. It has at least two fine rooms, a lofty well-staircase, with balusters of mahogany, taken out of a wreck, and it takes all day the sun into its heart, looking west and south, with tall windows, over lake and mountain. It is said that a man is never in love till he is in love with a plain woman, and in spite of draughts, of exhausting flights of stairs, of chimneys that are the despair of sweeps, it has held the affection of five generations of Martins…’




‘Life at Ross was of the traditional Irish kind, with many retainers at low wages, which works out as a costly establishment with nothing to show for it. A sheep a week and a cow a month were supplied by the farm, and assimilated by the household; it seemed as if with the farm produce, the abundance of dairy cows, the packed turf house, the fallen timber ready to be cut up, the fruitful garden, the game and the trout, there should have been affluence. But after all these followed the Saturday night labour bill, and the fact remains, as many Irish landlords can testify, that these free fruits of the earth are heavily paid for, that convenience is mistaken for economy, and that farming is, for the average gentleman, more of an occupation than an income.’


Extracts from Violet Martin’s essay The Martins of Ross published posthumously in 1917. 

Important Remains

In Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size (1976) Kiltullagh, County Galway was described by the late Maurice Craig as having formerly been very handsome, thanks to its ‘gigantic paneled chimney-stacks and (as can still be traced) a very steep roof…To judge by the provision of pistol-loops it must have been built early in the 18th century or even earlier…Even in its present state it can be seen to be a building of quality. The pistol-loops commanding the entrance are conspicuous.’ Likewise, the reference to Kiltullagh in Vanishing Country Houses of Ireland (1988) noted that it was an ‘important, late seventeenth-century or early eighteenth-century, two-storey house. The very high chimney-stacks have sunk panels, and there are pistol-loops in the basement which is most unusual for a house of this period. The house which is now a ruin is a most impressive example of an early virtually undefended house and should be preserved from further depredation.’




Kiltullagh belonged to a branch of the d’Arcy family, one of the Tribes of Galway, the mercantile clans that ran the city during the Middle Ages. Like other members of the same milieu, from the early 16th century onwards they gradually acquired parcels of land in the countryside and gradually metamorphosed into gentry, although this process was not without setbacks. The lawyer Patrick d’Arcy was a key figure on the Roman Catholic side during the Confederate Wars of 1641-52, in the former year writing his Argument which insisted that ‘no parliament but an Irish one can properly legislate for Ireland’ and later helping to draw up a Constitution for the Confederacy. In the aftermath of that side’s defeat, he lost his lands but the greater part of these were restored to his heir James d’Arcy: the family owned over 18,750 acres – divided between Kiltullagh and an estate to the west around Clifden – but all this was lost in the aftermath of the Great Famine when the property was sold by the Encumbered Estates Court. (The last of the family to own the property, Hyacinth d’Arcy, subsequently became a Church of Ireland clergyman). In the meantime, one of the more interesting members was another Patrick d’Arcy, born in 1725 and at the age of fourteen sent to Paris to be raised by an uncle who was a banker there. An eminent soldier and scientist, he was created a French count and a member of the Académie Royale des Sciences, dying of cholera in 1779, two years after marrying his niece Jane d’Arcy.




As so often, we know almost nothing about Kiltullagh’s history. It was clearly a substantial house and stood at the centre of a large estate, but the architect responsible for the building’s design is a mystery. Kiltullagh appears to have been occupied by the d’Arcys until the second decade of the 19th century when the then-head of the family, John d’Arcy, following the death of his first wife, moved west where he founded the town of Clifden and outside it built a new residence, Clifden Castle (now also a ruin). Thereafter the house was rented to tenants and at some date gutted by fire. As with Clifden, the entire property was sold through the Encumbered Estates Court in 1850, being bought for £6,000 by Pierce Joyce. Kiltullagh was never rebuilt and stood a ruin. The former stable yard has been converted into a residence and some years ago work was undertaken on the main building to secure what remained. However, this enterprise appears to have halted and since then the interior has remained filled with scaffolding.

Down on the Farm


The sadly dilapidated farmyard at Garbally Court, County Galway. The main house and yards were built by Richard Le Poer Trench, second Earl of Clancarty around 1819: thanks to his diplomatic skills at the Congress of Vienna a few years earlier, he had also been created Marquess of Heusden in the peerage of The Netherlands. Lord Clancarty’s architect for Garbally was the London-based Thomas Cundy senior: this was his only significant Irish commission. The Le Poer Trenches remained here until 1922 when the estate was sold to the Roman Catholic diocese of Clonfert for £6,750. Ever since then it has served as a boy’s secondary school.


Making a Connection


Some time ago the European Commission designated 2018 as European Year of Cultural Heritage. According to the commission’s website, ‘Heritage is our cultural identity, values and traditions that we have inherited from previous generations, live with today, and pass on to future generations. It includes buildings, monuments, historical and archaeological sites, museum objects, our customs, sports, language, music, dance, folklore, crafts and skills, and natural heritage, such as landscapes, wildlife habitats and biodiversity.’
In this country, the Heritage Council has been charged with coordinating and promoting the year’s programme. The council has chosen as a theme for Ireland ‘Make a Connection’ intended ‘to deepen the connection between people and heritage, and build a legacy of increased public engagement.’ Engagement is critical, particularly with regard to our historic buildings. Since 2016 the Heritage Council has run an ‘Adopt a Monument’ scheme but the take-up has been relatively small: just seven projects were added last year. All over Ireland there are many sites which have fallen into neglect and dereliction. Frequently they can be found in the centre of towns such as the two shown today, both of which are in County Galway and have featured here before. Above is St John’s, the former Church of Ireland church in Ballymoe: dating from 1832 it has been remorselessly vandalised. The same is true of the building below, St Brigid’s, the original Roman Catholic church in Portumna, built in 1825. When a new church was constructed in the 1950s, this property served for a time as a sports hall but has now been abandoned and suffered accordingly.
There are many buildings such as these standing empty and forlorn. If the European Year of Cultural Heritage is to have any long-term impact, a concerted effort must be made to engage local people’s interest in and concern for the architectural legacy of their own area. The coming twelve months offer an opportunity which may not occur again. Making a Connection can make a difference.


The Irish Aesthete wishes friends and followers a Happy New Year. Thank you all for your continued interest and support in 2017 and may you prosper in 2018.

Lost Forever


The history of Tyrone House, County Galway and its sad fall from grace was discussed here a few weeks ago (see A High House on High Ground, September 18th 2017). Above is an image of the building included in the fifth and final volume of the The Georgian Society Records of Eighteenth Century Domestic Architecture and Decoration published in 1913, showing it still intact. One of the house’s most striking features was the entrance hall, dominated by a mid-18th century white marble life-size statue of St. George Ussher St. George, Baron Saint George. This survived until Tyrone House was attacked in August 1920 when the statue was smashed to pieces: as a result, the photograph below is the only record of the work.
Copies of my new book, Tyrone House and the St George Family: The Story of an Anglo-Irish Family are now available from the Irish Georgian Society bookshop. For more information, please see https://shop.igs.ie/collections/books