The concept of ‘rural Ireland’ and its preservation are much touted, especially by those who live in the countryside and believe their traditional way of life should be given more attention. In practice however little has been done to ensure the traditional appearance of rural Ireland is preserved. Across the country old houses are abandoned, their replacements – often built on sites immediately adjacent to an abandoned property – looking no different from those found in Britain or the United States. This cottage in County Meath, although habitable until recently, has now been left to fall into ruin.
Seen beneath a thunderous sky and across its parkland, the façade of Swainstown, County Meath. This idiosyncratic house dates from c.1750 and was built for Nathaniel Preston whose elder brother John during the same period was building Bellinter, some ten miles away, to the designs of Richard Castle: accordingly the latter may have had a hand in Swainstown. The house follows the classic Palladian model, the main block being of two storeys with wings on either side linked by quadrants. But thereafter an element of whimsical caprice is apparent, beginning with the limestone window lintels and a front doorcase which is exaggeratedly tall and narrow, and finished with a segmental pediment. Swainstown continues to be occupied by Nathaniel Preston’s descendants.
The entrance to Annesbrook, County Meath. The design of the main house with its towering Ionic portico and gothick dining chamber in the north wing is sometimes attributed to Francis Johnston (see When Royalty Comes to Call, October 12th 2015). Perhaps he was also responsible for this building which might also have been constructed in anticipation of a visit by George IV in 1821. With the character of a miniature castle, it holds just two rooms, a kitchen/living area on one side of the arch and a sleeping chamber on the other.
A moment when the Virginia Creeper perfectly matches the colour of the door: the façade of Ardbraccan, County Meath. Dating from the late 1760s the building has a complex history, since Henry Maxwell, Bishop of Meath commissioned designs from three architects: James Wyatt, Thomas Cooley and Daniel Beaufort, the last of these also being a local Anglican clergyman. In the end the façade reflects elements of all their proposals, although it is closest to that of Wyatt.
The pointed gable entrance front of a former national school in Ballinlough, County Meath. Dating from around 1850, the neo-gothic building still retains many of its original features, not least the separate entrances for boys and girls. Unlike many such school houses which have been abandoned or demolished, it is now in use as a community centre.
Galtrim, County Meath was described by Samuel Lewis in 1837 as being ‘a handsome residence in a well-planted demesne.’ By this date the building was some 35 years in existence, having been constructed c.1802 for the Rev. Thomas Vesey Dawson who was then the local rector. He was a member of the Dawson family, later Earls of Dartrey, who were responsible for developing the Dawson’s Grove estate in County Monaghan (for more on the Dawsons, see A Shining Distinction on Earth, 15th September 2014). Clearly the Rev. Vesey Dawson inherited an interest in architecture, since he invited Francis Johnston to design Gatrim. But there was an additional reason for the commission: during the previous decade Johnston had been employed by Blayney Townley Balfour on the design of Townley Hall, County Louth. The Rev Vesey Dawson’s wife Anne Maria was Townley Balfour’s sister (not his daughter, as is often stated) and was in her own right a talented architectural amateur who is believed to have had an input into Townley Hall (see Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté, 10th June 2013) . And in 1806 Johnston would be hired by the Vesey Dawson’s to make alterations and additions to another of their properties, Loughgilly House (now derelict). Thus Galtrim is likely as much to reflect the taste of Mrs Vesey Dawson as her husband.
In Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size, Maurice Craig described Galtrim as ‘probably the best of Francis Johnston’s smaller houses’ and drew attention to features of its design shared with a couple of other properties, Kilcarty close by in County Meath (by Thomas Ivory and from the 1770s) and Emsworth, County Dublin (by James Gandon, in the mid-1790s). Galtrim is a late-Palladian villa, with a central block of two storeys over basement and single storey wings. The four-bay entrance front is focussed on the tripartite Doric frame that incorporates both door and hall windows. The outer windows of the main block and those in the wings are set within shallow relieving arches. Meanwhile the dominant feature of the garden front is the generous central bow of the drawing room: Casey and Rowan suggest this was originally intended to be thatched ‘to give the house the picturesque cottage orne effect then in vogue during the Regency period. It is flanked by substantial tripartite windows lighting the dining room and morning room respectively. The bow theme is echoed by various features internally, in both the aforementioned morning room and in the staircase hall, and at the east side of the entrance hall. Rightly Casey and Rowan call the result both simple and sophisticated: ‘a meeting of vernacular farmhouse classicism with the suave neo-classicism associated with James Gandon. When Craig wrote of Galtrim in 1976 he noted that the house had been ‘hardly at all altered.’ By then it was occupied by the late Eileen, Countess of Mount Charles who lived there until shortly before her death last November and throughout this period took exemplary care of the place. Now the house is on the market. Time to pray that whoever buys it will respect the building’s distinguished architectural pedigree and ensure that Galtrim continues to be hardly at all altered.’