Despite being built as a private residence, there’s something distinctly institutional about Muckross House, County Kerry; this impression not helped, obviously by the expanses of bleak gravel in front of the building. Replacing an earlier house, the present Jacobethan-style one dates from 1839-43 when designed by Scottish architect William Burn for Colonel Herbert. It was here that the Herberts famously entertained Queen Victoria in 1861 during her visit to Killarney, and seemingly the cost of the royal stay (for which the house was lavishly redecorated) together with declining income from their estates, led the family to bankruptcy; in 1899 Arthur Guinness, Lord Ardilaun bought Muckross for his wife Olivia whose mother had been a Herbert. Then, the property was sold to an American William Bowers Bourn who in turn presented it to his daughter Maud on the occasion of her marriage to Arthur Vincent. But following her early death, in 1932 Bourn and Vincent decided to present the house and surrounding 11,000 acres to the Irish nation and it has remained in public ownership ever since. Standing on the terrace and looking west towards Muckross Lake, it is easy to understand why the house was built here, even if harder to understand why it was built in quite such an unforgiving style.
‘Probably there is not in the kingdom a demesne so entirely lovely as that of Muckross, the property of W.H. Herbert Esq., one of the members for the county. And now let us visit the renowned “Abbey”; it is in the demesne and close to the old entrance from the main road. It was built for Franciscan monks, according to Archdall, in 1440; but the Annals of the Four Masters give its date a century earlier: both, however, ascribe its foundation to one of the MacCarthys, Princes of Desmond. It was several times repaired, and once subsequently to the Reformation…’
‘…The cloister, which consists of twenty-two arches, ten of them semi-circular, and twelve pointed, is the best preserved portion of the Abbey. In the centre grows a magnificent yew-tree, which covers, as a roof, the whole area; its circumference is thirteen feet and its height in proportion. It is more than probably that this tree is coeval with the Abbey; that it was planted by the hands of the monks who built the sacred edifice three centuries ago…’
‘…The building consists of two principal parts – the convent and the church The church is about one hundred feet in length, and twenty-four in breadth; the steeple, which stands between the nave and the chancel, rests on four high and slender pointed arches. The dormitories, the kitchen, the refectory, the cellars, the infirmary and other chambers are still in a state of comparative preservation; the upper rooms are unroofed.’
The former Roman Catholic church at Derrycunnihy, County Kerry dates from the last quarter of the 19th century and is thought to have been built on the instructions of local landowner Valentine Browne, fourth Earl of Kenmare whose family, despite their large estates, had always remained Catholic. Located close to Ladies View and offering panoramic prospects over the surrounding countryside, the church is almost set into the rocky surroundings, its relatively plain design distinguished only by the polygonal apse. Seemingly it was damaged by fire in the 1950s and then abandoned for services the following decade after which it fell into disrepair. However, the state has now begun restoration work on the property, which is home to a number of protected species including Lesser Horseshoe Bats and Barn Owls.
‘The police station which lay on our road, and at which we stopped, was a new, neat, spacious building. At a short distance, it looked like a little strong castle; and the natives may probably look upon it as a fort Uri in miniature, to keep them in awe. It lay at the highest part of the mountain, just where the road again begins to descend. All round was a wilderness, and reminded me of the military stations so picturesquely situated in the wild regions of the Austrian frontier. The house contained eight men of the constabulary force, as it is called, and which is a military-armed police, now extended over the whole of Ireland, for the prevention of crime, the discovery and apprehension of criminals, the protection of property, and the preservation of the peace…The sergeant who had command of this station informed me that their district comprised the desolate mountains far and wide, but that there were only 220 inhabitants in it. Eight armed policement for 220 inhabitants – a large proportion in sooth!’
From Travels in Ireland by Johann Georg Kohl, published in 1844.
The former Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks at Derrycunnihy, County Kerry, a building seemingly burnt out over a century ago during the War of Independence and standing in ruin ever since.
A 19th century greenhouse in the gardens of Muckross House, County Kerry. The estate was owned by the Herbert family for several hundred years until indebtedness required its sale in 1899 when bought by Lord Ardilaun (whose wife was related to the former owners). The reason for the Herberts’ financial problems is often said to have been the expense incurred in entertaining Queen Victoria when she stayed with them for a few days in 1861, but this rather seems to be an instance of seeking a scapegoat. Long before Victoria thought of coming to the area, the family had demolished their previous residence and built a large new one, plus spent lavishly on their gardens, including the provision of many greenhouses such as this one, so the suspicion arises that even without a royal visit they would have eventually come a cropper.
Seen in the grounds of St Mary’s, Killarney, County Kerry: the tombstone of William Wadd who, as the carving explains, acted as Surgeon Extraordinary to George IV. Wadd is remembered for being one of the first doctors to advocate a sensible approach to diet, in 1810 publishing his Cursory Remarks on Corpulence which explored the history and causes of obesity, concluding that it was due to ‘an over-indulgence at the table’ (such as that practiced by his royal patient). The work went through four editions, the last appearing in 1829, the year of its author’s death: Wadd had come to Ireland on holiday and was killed instantaneously outside Killarney after leaping from a runaway carriage. Hence his interment at St Mary’s.
St Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney, County Kerry was originally designed by Augustus Welby Pugin in 1840, its form a homage both to Ardfert Cathedral, elsewhere in the same county and Salisbury Cathedral. Work paused during the years of the Great Famine, but the building was finished in 1855 under the supervision of James Joseph McCarthy. The cathedral’s superlative mid-19th century Gothic interior survived intact until 1973, when then-Bishop Eamonn Casey commissioned what was called a ‘re-ordering.’ This involved throwing out almost all the decorative features and gutting the space back to bare stone walls. Such an act of desecration, which occurred in other Roman Catholic churches throughout Ireland, was supposedly undertaken in order to comply with new liturgical procedure, but oddly enough the same brutal approach was not undertaken in other countries, where churches were allowed to retain their historical interiors. It deserves to be exposed for what it was: the philistinism of a vainglorious prelate.
The façade of Churchtown, County Kerry. This house replaced nearby Castle Corr (see last Wednesday) as a residence for the McGillycuddy family, and may have been built in part using stone from that now-ruined building. In 1717 Dennis McGillycuddy married Anne Blennerhassett and Churchtown subsequently passed into the possession of her family, remaining with them until the second half of the 19th century when bought by forebears of the present owners (who now offer it as a holiday let). Believed to date from 1740, building is slate-fronted on its southern side and this was also the case with the now-rendered, five-bay façade, plain other than the cut limestone doorcase.
With a backdrop of the McGillycuddy Reeks, evening light shines on what remains of Castle Corr (Cáisleán an Chórraig, the castle of the Marsh), County Kerry. This tower house was built in the middle of the 15th century by the McGillycuddys and, despite the family remaining Roman Catholic and backing James II in the Williamite Wars, they managed to retain the property. Badly damaged during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s, the building was subsequently restored and continued to serve as a residence until the mid-18th century when nearby Churchtown was built. It is said that the latter’s basement storey was constructed of stone taken from Castle Corr, which has long lost its southern side. What survives today stands somewhat incongruously in the middle of a golf course.
A midsummer visit to the cathedral in Ardfert, County Kerry took place on what in Ireland is known as a ‘soft day.’; In other words, it was teeming with rain, which made the experience hard going. A village of some 750 persons, there is some discussion about what are the origins of the name Ardfert. It could mean a place on an eminence, or perhaps Ardfert derives from ‘Ard Ert’, meaning the high place of Ert or Erc, since a 5th century saint called Erc supposedly made this the seat of a bishopric, hard to imagine today in such a small spot. But the size of the cathedral remains testify to Ardfert’s former importance, as do the nearby substantial ruins of the former Franciscan friary (see An Incomplete Story, https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/11/13/ardfert).
One of Ireland’s most famous saints, Brendan is said to have founded a monastery in Ardfert in the 6th century. Believed to have been born about six miles south of here, at the age of 26 Brendan was ordained a priest by the aforementioned Saint Erc. As well as Ardfert, he established monasteries in a number of other locations but most famously his restless spirit is said to have led him, accompanied by 16 followers, across the Atlantic Ocean to the ‘Isle of the Blessed’ (what is today North America): the earliest known account of this epic journey was written around the year 900. Hence the saint is known as Brendan the Voyager. More information on his life and travels can be found in a piece written here four years ago (see The Traveller’s Rest, https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/12/14/clonfert).
Although the present cathedral at Ardfert was begun in the 11th century, the greater part of it dates from the 13th century, with battlements added to the exterior walls two centuries later again. An important surviving feature is the doorway at the west end of the building: it is a fine example of Hiberno-Romanesque decoration, with outward pointing chevrons around the doorcase flanked on either side by paired blind arches in the same style. Similar features can be found in what remains of Temple-na-hoe, a small church to the immediate north-west of the cathedral. Those battlements added in the 15th century indicate how turbulent were the times, and so it remained for almost 200 years. During the Desmond Rebellions of the 1570s and ‘80s, the building was attacked and severely damaged, but appears still to have been used for services. However, in 1641 during the Confederate Wars, the cathedral was gutted by fire and temporarily abandoned. Some thirty years later, the south transept was restored and used by the Church of Ireland congregation for services until 1871 when a new church was built in the village. Ardfert cathedral is now under the care of the Office of Public Works, with the south transept used as a visitor centre and display area for some items found on the site. It also provides welcome shelter on a soft day…