Late last January it was reported that a structural engineer was unable to gain access to the Market House in Castleblayney, County Monaghan, following the collapse of an internal load-bearing wall. The building was declared a public safety risk, a safety cordon erected to prevent access, and then the roof removed in order to avoid further collapse. Occupying a prominent site in the centre of the town, the core of the market house dates from c.1790 when constructed by the 11th Lord Blayney to encourage the local linen trade. In 1856 the building was extended with the addition of a courthouse, the principal front which faces down West Street topped by a polygonal cupola with copper dome.
The property of Monaghan County Council, until the start of the present century Castleblayney Market House was used by the Court Services and also served as the town Library. However, failure to maintain the property meant that in 2003 the local authority had to condemn the market house as unsafe: it has stood empty and steadily more dilapidated ever since, so the collapse of an internal wall earlier this year should come as no surprise. A key building in Castleblayney, the market house is – naturally – listed by the county council, its owners, for protection. That protection does not seem to be forthcoming.
The sad remains of Hope Castle, County Monaghan. Built on the edge of Castleblayney, the house – like the town – owes its existence to the Blayney family who settled here at the start of the 17th century. Initially they lived in a castle built by Sir Edward Blayney, created first Baron Blayney in 1721 but at the end of the 18th century his descendant, the 11th Lord Blayney commissioned a new house designed by Dublin-born Robert Woodgate who for several years had worked in London for Sir John Soane. In 1853 the 12th Lord Blayney sold the estate to the rich Henry Thomas Hope; he enlarged and remodelled the building in what has been called ‘a frivolous kind of Italianate classicism.’ Occupied by Queen Victoria’s son the Duke of Connaught for several years at the start of the last century when he served Commander of the Forces in Ireland, Hope Castle was sold in 1928 and served as a military barracks and then a county hospital before being occupied until the mid-1970s by Franciscan nuns. It was then acquired by the local county council, which leased it to an hotelier who was permitted to strip out all of Woodgate’s interiors. In 2010 the building was badly damaged by arsonists and has remained in a sorry state ever since.
Opened in 1902, Fortview National School in Clones, County Monaghan was designed by Thomas Elliott from adjacent County Fermanagh. By now almost seventy, Elliott had a long career behind him during which he was responsible for many Orange Halls and Presbyterian churches in West Ulster. The severity of these buildings is reflected in the Clones school, which looks more like a place of worship than a place of education, and can scarcely have inspired the minds of young children arriving for classes.
Constructed of craggy limestone Fortview National School’s austere façade is only slightly relieved by a tower on one side and a gabled porch on the other. A testimony to its solid construction is the fact that the building ceased to be in use ten years ago, but still stands strong. Nevertheless, a shame that it now serves no purpose since water ingress is beginning to be evident, and if left untreated this will lead to long-term damage.
The old market house in Ballybay, County Monaghan. It was built in 1848 to replace an earlier building serving the same purpose which stood on another site but found to be in poor condition and demolished. Markets were held on the ground floor under the arches, while the space upstairs was used for a variety of purposes: a schoolhouse, a courthouse, a library and an assembly room for dances and concerts. Designed by William Walker, last year the building was offered for sale: now the old market house stands sadly neglected with the threat that it could yet go the same way as its predecessor.
The glebe house at Killeevan, County Monaghan: the church where its occupant would have taken services stands close by. The core of clerical residence is believed to date from c.1800and the handsome bow certainly suggests an early 19th century date. It was described by Samuel Lewis in 1837 as a ‘neat building’ but sadly that is no longer the case, despite the structure being listed for protection.
The former Wallace’s Mills at Kilcran, County Monaghan. Dating from c.1790 this substantial range of stone buildings offers evidence of the country’s industrial past. The long range to the left operated as a corn mill while that to the right was a scutch mill, driven by water and used in the manufacture of linen to remove impurities from flax fibre through by means of rotating wooden blades. Seemingly it was customary to have the two manufacturing processes – for food and fabric – operating from adjacent premises. Located down a quiet side road, what use now for these substantial properties?
Handsome doorcases such as this testify to the prosperity of Clones, County Monaghan in the 18th century when it became a market town benefitting from the growth of the linen industry. A series of large properties were built around The Diamond, a triangular open area to the immediate south of the monastery said to have been founded here in the early sixth century by St Tigernach and while some have been refaced, and others demolished, enough survive to give an idea of how Clones might have looked prior to suffering the same, more recent decline as so many other regional urban centres in Ireland.
As the picture above shows, until the late 1860s Bessmount, County Monaghan was a fairly standard, medium-sized country house, of two storeys over basement and with a five-bay façade onto which the box-like porch had been added. With a Wyatt window on the first floor being the only feature of interest, it looks to be of indeterminate date, both 1722 and 1807 having been proposed as when originally constructed. Either or indeed any time in between are possible, since the building gives the appearance of being solid but unimaginative in its design. In the 18th century the land on which it stands belonged to a branch of the Montgomery family and in 1758 an eldest daughter, Mary Montgomery married Alexander Nixon of the now-demolished Nixon Hall, County Fermanagh. The couple’s second son, Alexander Nixon Montgomery, inherited Bessmount where he lived until his death in 1837.
Although Alexander Nixon Montgomery and his wife Eliza (nee Stanley) had no less than nine children, Bessmount was sold a few years after his death. The purchaser was John Hatchell, a wealthy Monaghan brewer who a few years later married Elizabeth Anne Speer from nearby Glaslough. Their daughter Frances Maria in turn married William Henderson whose own family were associated with the linen industry and it would seem that the couple, having sufficient funds from their forebears’ respective businesses, decided to recast Bessmount, transforming what had been a rather staid residence into something completely different.
Despite its extraordinary appearance, and relatively late date, we do not know who was the architect responsible for Bessmount’s makeover. Two names have been suggested, one being the Newry-born William Barre who worked mostly in the Ulster region and whose Danesfort House in Belfast has a very similar entrance tower. But Barre died in 1867 (that is, before work began at Bessmount) so the other architect proposed is John McCurdy, then working nearby on Monaghan’s District Lunatic Asylum (now St Davnet’s Hospital), the largest such institution in the country. Whether one of these gentlemen or another party, whoever received the commission clearly had a field day with the project, no doubt encouraged by his clients whose carved portraits can be seen in medallions on either side of the entrance porch (Mrs Henderson being tricked out to look like Queen Elizabeth I: perhaps a play on the house’s name?). Bessmount metamorphosed from a dull Georgian block into an extravagance of Ruskinian Gothic, thanks to the use of certain devices such as bands of yellow and red brick especially in the aforementioned tower (which originally served the practical purpose of holding the house’s water tanks). Asymmetry rules across the intentionally stepped façade, so that the eye is constantly moving from one feature to the next, whether the large gable featuring crests of the Hatchell and Henderson families, the trefoil-headed canted bay window that lights the drawing room or the first-floor oriel turret on the opposite side of the house. Meanwhile the south-facing garden front is enlivened by a Gothic conservatory raised on arcades, while to the immediate north a short link leads to the only major extension to the property, a large ‘music room’ that both inside and out resembles a Victorian village hall.
The interiors of Bessmount are not as remarkable as the exterior, perhaps because funds – and imagination – ran low. To a considerable extent they retain their pre-refurbishment appearance, albeit here and there tricked out in gothic finery. The majority of chimney pieces, for example, were in the original house, but their interiors now lined with pretty Minton tiles. Really the fun is on the outside, not least the porch where whoever received the commission to carve the capitals (the late Jeremy Williams proposed the Fitzpatrick brothers of Belfast) didn’t hold back. The ornamentation is lavish in the extreme, a bestiary of animal life ranging from bats and monkeys to frogs and rabbits, many of them peeking out of the undergrowth to pull a face as though determined to ruin a staid animal kingdom portrait. It is all rather droll, conveying the impression that the earnest intentions behind Ruskin’s advocacy of the Gothic mode are here being guyed. Fortunately the opportunity to relish this architectural humour remains since Bessmount still stands intact and in good order. The property changed hands in the last century when it once more became a Montgomery house, as is the case to the present. The owners are well aware of the building’s importance and have undertaken repair work where feasible. A cheering note with which to approach the year’s end.
Bowelk, County Monaghan is one of a number of houses built by the Jackson family, members of which developed the linen industry in this part of the country from the last quarter of the 18th century onwards. The business’s prosperity allowed them to buy land and construct residences such as this one which according to surviving evidence in the house dates from the 1850s. Bowelk has been carefully restored in recent years by new owners keen to preserve features such as the main doorcase with its elliptical fanlight and side lights filled with ornamental leadwork. Not yet restored but still intact is a thunderbox tucked into one corner of the adjacent walled garden, the door of which retains its decorative fretwork.