In a graveyard high above Swinford, County Mayo is this mausoleum where members of the Brabazon family were formerly interred. The Brabazons had come to the area in the first half of the 17th century and were later responsible for developing the town, close to which they built a fine house, Brabazon House, which survived until 1980 when pulled down by the local Health Board. Also gone is St Mary’s, the Church of Ireland where they once worshipped, so this mausoleum, seemingly ‘repaired’ in 1828 by Sir William Brabazon, who was then MP for the area (and who died 12 years later after choking on a chicken bone), is the last remaining evidence of the family’s presence in the area. However, the Brabazons do not have the place to themselves: on top of the mausoleum is a large marble column topped with a cross, which commemorates one Patrick Corley who died in 1875 at the age of 60, while on another side of the mausoleum is a plaque dedicated to successive generations of the O’Donnel family who lived some five miles south at Fahyness (now Faheens).
Summerhill, County Meath has featured here before (see My Name is Ozymandias « The Irish Aesthete) and is well-known as one of Ireland’s great lost country houses. But its namesake in County Mayo is probably less familiar to readers, although its striking remains are hard to miss when travelling through that part of the island. This second Summerhill was built and occupied by a branch of the Palmer family, which has also featured here (see Lackin’ a Roof « The Irish Aesthete). According to Burke’s Landed Gentry of 1846, ‘This family, long settled in Co Mayo, derives from a common ancestor with the Palmers of Palmerstown and Rush House, and is presumed to have been originally from Kent.’ By the second half of the 18th century, the Palmers owned a number of estates in north Mayo, Summerhill being one of them.
Summerhill may have been built by Thomas Palmer, who died in 1757, or perhaps by his son, also called Thomas (as were successive generations of this branch of the family), meaning it was likely constructed around the mid-18th century. In 1798 the property was let to one John Bourke who, in August, following the landing nearby of a French force under General Humbert, organised to have the house secured. This proved a wise precaution as a number of other such properties in the area, including Castlereagh, seat of Arthur Knox, and Castle Lacken, owned by Sir John Palmer, were attacked and pillaged by a mob. Bourke’s home found itself under siege by the same band until a French officer based in Killala, Col Armand Charost, despatched a number of his troops, as was later reported, ‘to Summerhill to appease the mob, and another party of men to Castlereagh to save what remained of the provisions and liquors. The appearance of the emissaries ended the siege at Mr. Bourke’s house; but the Castlereagh party, which consisted entirely of natives, could think of no better expedient for preserving the spirits from the thirsty bandits that coveted them than by concealing as much as they could in their own stomachs. The consequence was that they returned to Killala uproariously drunk. As for Castle Lacken, it was completely gutted, and the occupant and his large family were driven out to seek shelter as best they could find it.’ Within a few years of these events, the Palmers were back in residence at Summerhill, and recorded as living there by Samuel Lewis in 1837 and also by Burke in his 1846 guide to landed gentry. However, in the second half of the 19th century, the property was sold to the McCormack family, who remained there until c.1929 when what remained of the estate, running to some 296 acres, was broken up by the Land Commission and the house subsequently abandoned.
In his 1978 Guide to Irish Country Houses, Mark Bence-Jones noted certain stylistic similarities between Summerhill and Summergrove, County Laois (see A Gem « The Irish Aesthete). Both houses are of five bays and two storeys over raised basement, with the central pedimented breakfront single bay featuring a doorcase reached by a flight of steps and flanked by sidelights below a first-floor Venetian window. Summerhill’s facade has an oculus within the pediment, whereas Summergrove has a Diocletian window, but certainly the two buildings share many features. However, whereas the latter still stands and is in good condition, the latter is now a roofless shell: photographs from just a few decades ago show the majority of slates still in place, but the house is now open to the elements. When Bence-Jones visited, the interiors were still reasonably intact: he included a photograph of ceiling stuccowork, describing it as ‘in a simple and somewhat primitive rococo, complete with the odd rather amateurishly-moulded bird.’ All now gone, as can be seen, and inside the house nothing left but bits of timber and plaster.
Further to Monday’s post about Castle Gore, here is the property’s surviving ice house, located north-west of the now-ruined building and immediately above the river Deel. Prior to the invention of the refrigerator, ice houses were a common feature of country estates, ice being gathered during the winter months and then stored within such sites, usually sunken with an interior lined in brick, in order to preserve the ice for use during summer months. Although the roof is badly overgrown, this example – which probably dates from the late 18th century when Castle Gore was built – preserves much of its original form.
‘Many a time I walked for three or four hours without meeting even one human being. Here and there a stately mansion, around it the gate lodge of the serf, the winding avenue, the spreading oaks, and the green fields in which no man was visible. Landlordism, the willing instrument of British rule, had wrought this desolation. I renewed my resolve to do my share in bringing about the change that must come sooner or later.’
Dan Breen, My Fight for Irish Freedom (1924)
‘“I’ll bloody well settle that: six big houses and castles of their friends, the Imperialists, will go up for this. I don’t know what GHQ will do – but I don’t give a damn.” We selected six houses and castles from the half-inch map, then sent off the order.’
Ernie O’Malley quoting Liam Lynch in On Another Man’s Wound (1936)
‘Castles, mansions and residences were sent up in flames by the IRA immediately after the British fire gangs had razed the homes of Irish Republicans. Our people were suffering in this competition of terror, but the British Loyalists were paying dearly, the demesne walls were tumbling and the British ascendancy was being destroyed. Our only fear was that, as time went on, there would be no more Loyalist’s homes to destroy, for we intended to go on to the bitter end. If the Republicans of West Cork were to be homeless and without shelter, then so too would be the British supporters. ‘
Tom Barry, Guerilla Days in Ireland (1949)
Photographs show Deel Castle, County Mayo, formerly owned by the Gore family, Earls of Arran, and burnt by the IRA in September 1921.
Ballinafad, County Mayo is a house in three parts, each with its own story. The first of these concerns the Blake family, one of the Tribes of Galway. In 1618/19 Marcus Blake, a younger son of a branch settled at Ballyglunin, County Galway, received grants of land in this part of the country. During the upheavals of the mid-17th century, possession of this property appeared uncertain, but in 1681 Marcus Blake’s grandson was re-granted the land by patent by Charles II, and it would thereafter remain with his descendants for more than 200 years. As attested by a date plaque on the rear of the building, the core of the present house was only constructed in 1827, but there may have been an earlier residence here. The same plaque carries the initials of both Maurice Blake and his wife Anne, an heiress whose money no doubt helped cover the costs of construction. The property was of two storeys over raised and rusticated basement, with five bays and, above the roof parapet, all the chimneys grouped into one stack, thought to be the longest of any such house in Ireland. The most striking feature of the facade is the entrance porch, flanked by flights of steps. Maurice Blake’s grandson, Colonel Maurice Moore (brother of the writer George Moore), whose mother had grown up at Ballinafad, wrote that the porch owed its inspiration to ‘an imperfect memory of one he had seen in Italy.’ Like the Moores, the Blakes were Roman Catholic, and this helps to explain why, in 1908, the youngest son of Maurice and Anne Blake, Llewellyn Blake – who had been made a Papal Count two years earlier – presented the house and estate to the Society of African Missions: seemingly, he believed that such a gesture would ensure the atonement of earlier generations of his family for whatever sins they may have committed. Of course, in the eyes of some Blake relations – not least his nephew George Moore – handing over such a valuable property to a religious order (instead of bequeathing it to them) was a kind of sin.
When Llewellyn Blake died in 1916, he left £1,500 to have services held in churches for the salvation of the souls of his late wife, mother, father, brothers and sisters. £500 was bequeathed to the Sisters of Charity to assist in their foreign missions for the propagation of the Roman Catholic faith, after which the rest of his estate – valued at some £61,500 – was divided into no less than 15 partes, six of which were to go to the College of the Sacred Heart, as Ballinafad was now known: the rest was split between sundry other religious houses and organisations. Members of the extended family, including the Moore brothers, made efforts to have their claims to the estate recognised but with little success. At Ballinafad, the house served as a seminary for the Society of African Missions but then also became a secondary boarding school for boys. This meant the building had to be enlarged, with a new three-bay wing added to one side of the house in 1931, and another on the other side in 1948. On the exterior, both these are of similar style to the original residence and therefore do not disrupt but merely extend the facade (the interiors, on the other hand, reflect the era of their construction, not least because they were intended for uses such as refectory and dormitory). Further expansion to the rear in the mid-1950s and early 1960s was more overtly utilitarian and reflects the expectations of the mid-20th century that the Roman Catholic church would remain a dominant force in Ireland. However, such notions soon proved illusory and in 1975 the African Missionaries announced their intention to close the school and offer the place for sale. Ballinafad, along with 470 acres, was then bought by a livestock business called Balla Mart which ran an agricultural college here until 1989. The house then sat empty until 2000 when offered for sale with 400 acres for £2.5 million, or £500,000 for the buildings alone. A couple of years later, when Ireland appeared awash with money and development schemes rampant, it was announced that Ballinafad was to be turned into a five-star hotel, but the economic crash occurred before such a scheme was realised. Accordingly, in 2010 the buildings at Ballinafad were once more offered for sale, with a price tag of €499,000, but there were no takers and the property continued to deteriorate.
Eight years ago, in 2014 a young Australian called Bede Tannock bought Ballinafad, standing on eight acres for €80,000. Compared with earlier prices sought, the sum seems small but the task faced by the property’s new owner was enormous. By this time, Ballinafad ran to 70,000 square feet of floor space with 110 rooms and 340 windows, all of which was in perilous condition, with widespread water ingress and evidence of considerable vandalism. The interiors were largely uninhabitable and even today, parts of the house await attention but the quantity – and quality – of restoration work undertaken since 2014 is remarkable, especially given the owner’s limited funds. Parts of the building have been used for weddings and corporate events, and for providing guest accommodation. Work continues even though a couple of years ago, Ballinafad was placed on the market. It can only be a matter of time before the fourth chapter in its story begins to be written with, one hopes, the same spirit of optimism and courage that has pervaded the place for the past eight years.
Crumbling is not an instant’s Act
A fundamental pause
Are organized Decays —
An Elemental Rust —
This week marks the 150 Anniversary of the consecration of Holy Trinity in Westport, County Mayo, thought to be the last church to be built prior to the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871, and therefore acting as a last hurrah of the old ecclesiastical order in this country. Designed by Thomas Newenham Deane and constructed on a site provided by the third Marquess of Sligo, the building replaced a late 18th century church (now ruinous) elsewhere on the estate. The work is thought to have cost more than £80,000, this high price explained by the exceptional craftsmanship evident throughout, not least the elaborate carvings around all doors and windows on the exterior; these were the work of one William Ridge, about whom it appears little else is known. The interior is just as generously decorated with stained glass provided by Alexander Gibbs and Company of London, the windows frames in mosaic supplied by another London firm, Clayton and Bell. But the most notable feature of the interior are the inlaid murals covering large areas of the walls. Mostly representing scenes from the Gospels (including a depiction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper over the west door), these are made from white marble with traced designs outlined in dark cement; the backgrounds are of gold leaf. These murals were made for the church by Samuel Poole of M.T. Bayne and Company of Westminster.
In December 1661 Roger Palmer was created Baron Limerick and Earl of Castlemaine by Charles II. Palmer’s elevation to the peerage was thanks to his wife – from whom he was by this date already estranged – Barbara Villiers, the king’s maîtresse-en-titre. She had already given birth to one child and over the next dozen years would go on to have another six, none of them by her husband (an indication of their paternity is that they were all given the surname FitzRoy, although the last of them – also called Barbara – is widely thought to have been the result of an affair between her mother and John Churchill, future Duke of Marlborough). Palmer was quiet and studious, devoted to both the Stuart cause and to his Roman Catholic faith; as a result of the latter, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London on several occasions. Beautiful, wilful, promiscuous, Barbara Villiers was temperamentally unsuited to be his wife: before the marriage, Palmer’s father had warned the groom that she would make him one of the most miserable men in the world. The prediction proved correct. Her infidelity – and not just with the king – was widely known and being granted an earldom only had the effect of making Palmer the most famous cuckold of the era; it is notable that he never took his seat in the Irish House of Lords (although he was happy to use the title). Barbara Villiers would go on to be created Duchess of Cleveland in her own right, and to receive many presents from the crown, not least the great Tudor palace of Nonsuch, which she arranged to have pulled down, so that the materials could be sold to pay her gambling debts. She also persuaded Charles II to grant her Dublin’s Phoenix Park, but the Lord Lieutenant of the time, James Butler, Duke of Ormond – with whom she had a long-standing feud – successfully ensured that the land did not pass into her hands.
Why was Roger Palmer given Irish, rather than English, titles? Both his family and that of Barbara Villiers had links with this country. On the latter’s side, the connection began with Sir Edward Villiers, born in Leicestershire and the elder half-brother of the early 17th century’s best-known royal favourite, George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. In 1625, James I appointed Edward Villiers as Lord President of Munster: this may have come about because Villiers’ wife Barbara St John was a niece of the Tudor adventurer Oliver St John, who had previously held the same office (he also became Lord Deputy of Ireland), and who in 1620 was created Viscount Grandison of Limerick. Since he had no male heir, it was arranged that William Villiers, eldest son of his niece Barbara (wife of Edward Villiers), should inherit the title. The notorious Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland, was William Villiers’ daughter. In due course, a member of the Villiers family inter-married with the FitzGeralds of County Waterford: their descendants live still at Dromana, County Waterford.
The origin of the Palmers’ association with Ireland is less clear. It would appear that around the middle of the 17th century, one Thomas Palmer, son of a Norfolk landowner, came to this country and when he died without issue, his brother Roger inherited the deceased sibling’s property here. A grant of land in County Mayo to this Roger Palmer was confirmed by the crown in 1684 (two years earlier, his name had been included in an address of loyalty to Charles II from the nobility and gentry of the same county). Successive generations, usually with the same name of Roger, followed and in 1777 one of these was granted a baronetcy. Sir Roger, as he now became, had some 25 years earlier married Eleanore Ambrose, daughter of a wealthy Dublin brewer. Miss Ambrose was a Roman Catholic whose good looks and ready wit had previously caught the attention of Lord Chesterfield while he was serving as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. On one occasion, he informed George II that he had found only one ‘dangerous papist’ in the country – Eleanor Ambrose – since ‘the brightness of her eyes and the charms of her conversations are indeed perilous.’ At a ball in Dublin Castle to mark the birthday of William III, Miss Ambrose appeared wearing orange lilies on her bodice. Lord Chesterfield wrote her the following lines:
‘Tell me Ambrose, where’s the jest
Of wearing orange on thy breast,
When underneath that bosom shows
The whiteness of the rebel rose?’
The Palmer baronetcy continued until the death without heirs of Sir Roger Palmer, fifth baronet, in 1910. By that date, through a series of judicious marriages, the family owned some 115,000 acres in Ireland, Wales and England.
When Roger Palmer was created a baronet in 1777, it was as Sir Roger Palmer of Castle Lackin. This was an estate in County Mayo, some miles north of Killala, the same land the grant of 1684 had confirmed as belonging to his ancestor. It would appear that around the same time Sir Roger received his baronetcy, he embarked on building a fine residence, looking out towards the Atlantic Ocean and known as Castle Lackin. This was a long, two-storey house, its rather plain exterior distinguished by with a wide curved bow at one end and a sequence of yards, some of them surrounded with battlemented walls and accessed through a pair of castellated gate piers. It is difficult to know how much time the Palmers ever spent in this beautiful but remote spot, since they also had a number of properties in which to live, not least Kenure Park on the outskirts of Dublin, Cefn Park in North Wales and Glen Island in Berkshire. Early in the 19th century, the house was occupied by James Cuffe, first Lord Tyrawley, and subsequently by his daughter and son-in-law, Jane and Charles Knox. In 1841, it was leased to Edward Knox and valued at £58. However, by 1911 – a year after the last baronet’s death – the house was listed as vacant, and in 1916 the former Palmer estate in Mayo was sold to the Congested Districts’ Board. Within a couple of decades, the house here had become derelict, and that remains the case.
For more information on the Palmer estates in County Mayo, readers are encouraged to see The Impact of the Great Famine on Sir William Palmer’s estates in Mayo, 1840-49 by David Byrne (2021).
Known locally as the Lacken Gazebo, this wonderful folly sits on high ground above the north coast of County Mayo, offering spectacular views over the Atlantic Ocean. Looking like a bastard child of the Conolly Folly, County Kildare, the building similarly features a series of arches and is crowned by a number of obelisks. Constructed of rubble stone, the building is thought to date from the closing decade of the 18th century when it would have been one of the demesne improvements carried out by Sir John Roger Palmer whose residence, Castle Lacken – now a ruin – stood on ground immediately below.
The mellow charm of Newport House, County Mayo, a property dating from several periods of the 18th century. Overlooking the Newport river, the house was built in the late 18th century by the O’Donnells, descendants of Hugh O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell. In 1780, Neale O’Donnell, having conformed to the Established Church, was created a baronet and soon afterwards acquired property that had previously belonged to the Medlicott family. Here he constructed the present residence, possibly incorporating an earlier building; it was extended to the west (left-hand side), likely by the second baronet, in the first quarter of the 19th century. In 1889 Sir George O’Donnell died without male heirs and the property was then inherited by his niece Millicent. However, her only son, also called George, was killed at Ypres in 1915. Newport House then passed through a couple of hands before becoming a successful hotel. although that business currently appears closed.