The Properest House



After Monday’s post about Maynooth Castle, here is another property formerly belonging to the FitzGerald family, and – if not still in their hands – at least in better condition. Kilkea Castle, County Kildare. The original building was erected in 1181 by Walter de Riddlesford but before long passed through marriage to Maurice FitzGerald, third Baron Offaly. While his successors never lived there full-time, Kilkea Castle was consistently maintained: in 1545 the Lord Deputy Anthony St Leger described it as being ‘the properest house and the goodliest lordship the King hath in all this realme.’ Following Maynooth Castle being irreparably damaged in 1642, Kilkea Castle became the FitzGeralds’ main residence until the late 1730s when they transferred to Carton. The building was thereafter let to tenants for the next century before being extensively remodelled by William Deane Butler for the third Duke of Leinster; what one sees today incorporates that Victorian work. Since being sold by the FitzGeralds in the 1960s, Kilkea Castle has been an hotel. 


The Largest and Richest Earl’s House in Ireland


‘Maynooth Castle was the original residence of the Kildare family. The manor of Maynooth in 1176 was granted by Strongbow to Maurice Fitz-Gerald, who erected the castle for protection against the incursions of the natives. His son Gerald, first Baron of Offaly, obtained from John, Lord of Ireland, son of Henry II, a new grant of sundry lordships. Thomas, second Earl, was married to a daughter of the Red Earl of Ulster, and sister to Ellen, the wife of Robert Bruce, King of Scotland. During the latter half of the fourteenth century, Maynooth was one of the border fortresses of the Pale, or English possessions, in the defence of which Maurice, fourth Earl of Kildare, distinguished himself. John, the sixth Earl, enlarged the castle (1426) and it was then said to be “the largest and richest earl’s house in Ireland”.’
From an article on Carton in The Journal of Horticulture and Cottage Gardener, Vol.22, May 16, 1872. 





‘In March 1535 the new Earl of Kildare had with him 120 horse, 240 gallowglasses and 500 kerns. Leaving Maynooth Castle strongly fortified in the hands of his foster brother and confidante Christopher Pareses, he went into Offaly to raise additional adherents for the summer campaign. Skeffington [Sir William Skeffington, then Lord Deputy of Ireland] invested Maynooth Castle of the 14th March, and on the 23rd Parese, consenting to betray his trust, permitted the outer defences to be taken without resistance, after which the keep was carried by assault. A park of heavy artillery, brought up to the siege by the English, and for which the Anglo-Irish were quite unprepared, had no small effect in compelling such a speedy surrender of a place the Earl of Kildare regarded as almost impregnable. Of the garrison, twenty-five were beheaded and one hanged, as it was thought dangerous to spare skilled soldiers. “Great and rich was the spoile, such store of beddes, so many goodly hangings, so rich a wardrobe, such brave furniture, as truly it was accounted, for household stuffe and utensils, one of the richest earl his houses under the crown of England.” Pareses, to increase the estimation in which his treachery should be regarded, dwelt on the trust and confidence bestowed on him; and Stanihurst tells us how his treachery was rewarded; “The Deputy gave his officers to deliver Parese the sum of money that was promised, and after to choppe off his head”.’
From an account of the Rebellion of Silken Thomas and the Siege of Maynooth given in A Compendium of Irish Biography by Alfred Webb, Dublin, 1878.





‘On the 7th January, 1642 a party of Catholics seized and pillaged Maynooth Castle, carrying off the furniture and the library, which was of great value; all the stock, including thirty-nine English cows and oxen, thirty horses worth £270, household goods worth at least £200, and corn and hay worth £300; they also deprived him of rents amounting to at least £600 a year. The castle was soon retaken, but in 1646 was occupied by a detachment sent for that purpose by the Catholic general, Preston [Thomas Preston, first Viscount Tara], when he was advancing against Dublin, and on his retreat it was dismantled, and has never since been inhabited.’
From The Earls of Kildare and Their Ancestors from 1057 to 1773 by the Marquis of Kildare (future fourth Duke of Leinster), Dublin, 1858.

How the Mighty have Fallen



South-east and to the rear of Kilkea Castle, County Kildare are the remains of a 13th century church, once associated – as was the main building – with the FitzGeralds, Earls of Kildare (and later Dukes of Leinster). Only the east gable and the remains of a chapel to the north survive, along with fragments of monuments to this once-mighty family. Inserted into a wall, for example, is a carving of a chained and collared animal, which might be a dog or perhaps a monkey which featured on the FitzGerald arms. Aforementioned arms can also be found on another stone. Kilkea Castle is today an hotel.


Questions, Questions



After Monday’s post about Quartertown House, County Cork and its links to a nearby mill, here is the decidedly quirky exterior of Millbrook, County Kildare. The house was built in the 1770s by John Greene and, as the name indicates, stood adjacent to a mill and millrace off the river Griese: the mill which stood in a yard immediately behind the building was, alas, demolished in the last century. The facade of Millbrook suggests the house is of two storeys-over-basement, but in fact there is a third, attic floor, only visible when one goes around to the south side as the building is taller at the back than at the front. Note how the millrace flows immediately past the house, a most unusual arrangement (is there any other example in Ireland?) but apparently successful since there is no problem with damp inside. Also, the front section of the house is taken up by a large, two-storey bow, but there is no equivalent at the opposite end which has a flat wall. And then, returning to the facade, the window arrangement is also peculiar, the four to the right being equally spaced apart, but that to the left disposed some distance from the others. All of which begs the question; might Millbrook originally have been a four-bay building, one room deep, much enlarged by John Greene when he took on the property in the 1770s? 

The State of the Place



A recent post here about the neglect of historic buildings in Drogheda, County Louth attracted quite a lot of comment (see: Where The Streets Have No Shame « The Irish Aesthete) but its miserable condition is by no means unique. Everywhere one travels in Ireland, the same circumstances prevail, the core of cities, towns and villages suffering the same shameful neglect, buildings left boarded up (in the midst of a universally acknowledged housing shortage), sites covered in rubbish and graffiti, potential homes and businesses allowed to fall into ruin. This is Kilcock, County Kildare – but it could be anywhere because it represents everywhere. 

For the Sake of Symmetry



Another splendid stableyard, this one directly behind the main house at Ballindoolin, County Kildare. Dating from c.1810 when constructed for the Bors, a family of Dutch extraction, the land to the rear rises up, meaning the yard must be approached via a flight of granite steps. Directly ahead is the yard bell sitting atop a pediment, with three arched openings below. That to the left leads to the second yard, for agricultural use, that in the middle is a coach house and that to the right, created to achieve symmetry, reveals a modest entrance behind the double doors. Limestone ashlar is used for window, door and arch openings while the rest of the yard buildings are of limestone rubble visible through the flaking render. 


A Romantic Hideaway



The story is often told that Martinstown, County Kildare was built so as to provide Augustus Frederick FitzGerald, third Duke of Leinster, with a discreet location in which to meet his mistress. Curiously, the name of the duke’s inamorata is never mentioned, nor any further information given about the nature of the affair. Biographical information primarily focuses on his early support for Catholic Emancipation, his loyalty to the Whig party (traditional in the FitzGerald family) as well as his long and close involvement with Freemasonry:  he was Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Ireland for 61 years until his death in 1874. In 1818 he married Lady Charlotte Augusta Stanhope, a daughter of the third Earl of Harrington, with whom he had four children. If there were any marital indiscretions, they do not seem ever to have become known in the public realm. 





An estate map of Martinstown dated February 1833 and signed by one W. Clutterbuck, depicts an altogether more modest dwelling house than what can be seen on the site today, little more than a farmhouse (now the kitchen wing). At the time, the property belonged to Robert Borrowes (otherwise Burrows) whose family had moved to Ireland in the late 16th/early 17th century from Devonshire. Robert Borrowes was a younger son of Sir Kildare Dixon Borrowes, fifth baronet, of Barretstown Castle. That house passed to Robert’s older brother, while he was given the nearby Gilltown estate. Martinstown, therefore, was never a primary residence but rather a secondary farm which, according to Clutterbuck’s map, had been heavily planted with trees over the previous 15 years. However, a second extant drawing made in 1840 shows a building much closer in style to that which stands on the site today. The main, two-storey garden front is asymmetrical, heavily ornamented with a series of pinnacled gable-ends, cusped bargeboards and twisted, Tudoresque chimney stacks. Its design has been attributed to English architect Decimus Burton, best-known in this country for his work on the gate lodges of Dublin’s Phoenix Park. Martinstown is altogether more fanciful than those buildings, a late flowering of the Georgian Gothick cottage orné, likely developed as a shooting lodge rather than a venue for romantic ducal rendezvous. 





The main entrance porch on the narrow north-west side of Martinstown has a half-timbered room above it which seems to be one of a number of later additions to the building. The walls of the house’s entrance hall show one of the most recent of such alterations: covered in murals representing an idealised landscape, they were an early commission received by artist Jane Willoughby. From here, visitors enter the central stair hall, decorated in a delightful Tudoresque manner. The west side of the room features a triple-arched arcade with open-work spandrels and a rosette cornice. Doors at either end of this open into the dining room and what is now a study.
As befits a cottage orné, the majority of rooms are cosy with low ceilings. An exception to this is the double-height drawing room with coved ceiling, added to the house in the 1870s when Martinstown was let to members of the British army then in residence just a few miles away on the Curragh: its scale is substantially larger than any other space in the building: the upper part of the walls here were painted with garlands of leaves and ribbons by another artist, Phillipa Bayliss.
Today available to rent for weddings and other events, during the last century Martinstown passed through several hands, the most notorious being those of Austrian-born Otto Skorzeny, a former Lieutenant-Colonel in the German Waffen-SS during the Second World War. Skorzeny and his wife, who were then living in Spain, visited Ireland for the first time in 1957 and two years later, they bought Martinstown and 168 acres of land from its then-owner Major Richard Turner, for £7,500. However, although they initially paid regular visits to the property, the couple were never able to secure residents’ visas from the Irish government and spent little time here after 1963, selling the place in 1971. Today the property acts as both a family home to the present owners, and as a popular venue for weddings: somewhere romantic for couples to marry rather than meet for illicit trysts. 


Just Plain Cross



More High Crosses, these ones found in the graveyard of St John’s church in Ballymore Eustace, County Kildare. The first stands to the immediate north of the early 19th century church. Standing 3.4 metres high, it is composed of three elements: head, shaft and pyramidal base. Rather than the usual elaborate carving customary on these crosses, it is relatively plain, perhaps because carved from unyielding granite. The only decoration of note can be seen on the west face which features a central boss with rounded moulding within a solid ring. Possibly dating from the 10th century, the cross’s two arms carry an inscription noting that it was re-erected on the present site by Ambrose Wall in 1689; he would be killed the following year during the Siege of Limerick. What remains of a second cross can be found south of the church; all that survives here is the tapered shaft and, deep in the vegetation, another pyramidal base. 

What’s Left




What’s left of Blackhall Castle, County Kildare. A typical late-medieval tower house of four storeys, it was built by the Eustace family who controlled much of this part of the country between the 13th and early 17th centuries. The building survived intact until February 1999 when, in the aftermath of a storm, the entire east front collapsed, bringing down much of the south and north walls. Today the exposed west wall provides an interesting spectacle, offering a display of how the different levels were arranged, from a vaulted chamber on the ground floor up to a well-lit living space with large fireplace at the very top of the building, access provided by a spiral staircase in the south-west corner. A sheila-na-gig once set higher into the castle has been moved into a wall space at eye level.



Utterly charming



An excellent example of good vernacular architecture in the village of Carbury, County Kildare. Dating from c.1800, it is a typical, five-bay, two-storey  domestic dwelling, the modest door (that discreet fanlight tucked above) and windows representing a lack of pretension, as do the outbuildings immediately behind. But then, at some later date, perhaps not much later, a single bay extension was added to one side, taking the form of a semi-circle in order to follow the line of the road as it curves around. Utterly charming.