Monday’s post about the former house at Clonalis, County Roscommon included a photograph of the building when still intact. That image showed much of the facade covered in ivy, but another, and clearer, picture has now been found which shows the same view with much less vegetation. What’s especially interesting is that above each of the windows and niches on ground and first floors there was a carved stone mask. Thankfully, some of these were salvaged and are now kept in the new Clonalis but they are a curious feature. The only other example of this kind of external decoration that comes to mind are the masks above the windows on the central section of the entrance front at Gloster, County Offaly, which also dates from the early 18th century. Does anyone know of other instances?
Clonalis, County Roscommon must be one of the best-known country houses in Ireland, thanks to its long links with the O’Conors, and specifically with the head of that family, known as the O’Conor Don. In the posthumously published The O’Conors of Connaught: An Historical Memoir (1891), the antiquarian John O’Donovan declared ‘No family in Ireland claims greater antiquity, and no family in Europe, royal or noble, can trace its descent through so many generations of legitimate ancestors.’ The line of their forebears can be followed back to pre-Christian Ireland, and from the 5th century onwards they frequently acted as King of Connacht. Such was the case with Conchobar mac Tadg who ruled during the third quarter of the 10th century and from whom the name O’Conor derives. His descendant Toirdhealbhach Mór Ua Conchobhair (anglicized as Turlough Mór O’Conor) became High King of Ireland around 1120, as did his son Ruaidrí mac Tairrdelbach Ua Conchobair (Rory O’Conor) who was the last man to hold this title before the Anglo-Norman invasion. Following his abdication, he retired to Cong Abbey, County Mayo and remained there until his death. Incidentally, his father Tairrdelbach was responsible for commissioning what is today known as the Cross of Cong, which was originally held in Tuam Cathedral. Members of the O’Conor family continued to act as Kings of Connacht until the late 15th century. Following the 16th century Reformation, the they remained Roman Catholic and, in due course, were loyal to the Stuart cause, with the result that by 1700 they had been stripped of almost all their former land holdings and left near-penniless. In the mid-17th century Daniel O’Conor Don and his wife Anne succeeded in retaining some 440 acres at Clonalis on the western side of the river Suck and their direct descendants remained there until 1820 when the last of them, Alexander O’Conor Don, died unmarried; it appears he spent much of his time at Clonalis living in a modest cottage since his brother, from whom he inherited the place, had left life-use of the house to his widow. Highly – and expensively – litigious, Alexander O’Conor’s various forays into the courts seem to have depleted what funds and lands were then held. Finally in 1820 a distant kinsman, Owen O’Conor was able to secure the estate and the title of O’Conor Don. It is from him that the present owners of Clonalis are descended.
We know little of what the original house at Clonalis looked like: a photograph (see below) shows the appearance of its façade. From this it is apparent the building’s central block was of two storeys over raised basement, and seven bays. There were three-bay wings on either side, each of one storey over basement. Thereafter much becomes a matter of conjecture, but looking inside what remains, the impression is that the first part of the house to be constructed was probably the front portion which stood just one room deep. Such gable-ended ‘long houses’ appear to have been common among old families who wanted to live in reasonable comfort but had limited financial means: the oldest part of Glin Castle, County Limerick is very similar. At some date, perhaps in the second half of the 18th century, an additional series of rooms was added behind the original block and this now backed onto the adjacent yard (which still stands). A central corridor runs like a spine down the centre of the building, separating old and new sections. The wings were added either then or later and presumably in part or whole acted as servants’ quarters. All this work may have been undertaken around the time that Dominick O’Conor Don (elder brother of the litigious Alexander) married Catherine Kelly, co-heiress with her sister to their father’s estate. The money she brought to the union could have paid for the additions to the house, and help to explain why, following her husband’s death, she was left use of it for the rest of her life (she died 19 years after him in 1814).
There were, it appears, always problems with the old building, not least its proximity to the river Suck, which meant that it suffered from damp, especially in winter months when this part of the land was prone to flooding. In 1847, following the death of his father Charles Owen O’Conor inherited the estate at the age of nine; he had been barely two when his mother died. His own health seems to have been delicate, and he spent a number of periods abroad until his marriage in 1868. Four years later, after having four sons, his wife Georgiana Perry died. This series of deaths appear to have been associated with the location of the old house, unhealthily close to the river, and this encouraged Charles Owen O’Conor to think of building an alternative residence on his land. In 1878, a year before his second marriage, he commissioned a design from English architect Frederick Pepys Cockerell and work soon began on a second house, located on a site on higher ground and some further distance away from the Suck. This high-Victorian Italianate building is notable for being one of the first concrete houses constructed in Ireland. Upon its completion, the O’Conors moved from their old home to the new, with the inevitable consequence that the former gradually slid into disuse and disrepair. Fortunately the present O’Conor house, with its many important archives and items telling the story not just of one family but of Ireland, is today wonderfully well-maintained and well-worth a visit.
The former Castle Strange in County Roscommon derived its name from a family who held this land in the late Middle Ages, called L’Estrange. There seems some confusion about whether they were of Norman origin, or whether this was an Anglicised version of an old Irish name. In Edward MacLysaght’s Surnames of Ireland (1969) the author proposes that the L’Estranges in County Westmeath had originally been called Mac Conchoigcriche, meaning border hound. Was this also true of the family of the same name in Roscommon? In any case, by the second half of the 17th century the L’Estranges, like so many other old families, had been driven out of their territory, the land in this instance passing into the hands of one Thomas Mitchell, a Scottish soldier sent to Ireland by General Monck in 1659 and seven years appointed by then-Lord Lieutenant James Butler, Duke of Ormonde, to serve as Cornet to a troop of horse under the command of Captain Nicholas Mahon. Mitchell subsequently settled in this part of the country and married, producing a large family, generations of which would live at Castle Strange. In the 19th century, successive members served in the British army, John Wray Mitchell rising to the rank of Major-General, while his son Edward became a Colonel. But further information about them, and their home, is not easy to find.
The first two photographs shown here show what remains of Castle Strange today: little other than sections of the two gable ends with portions of their chimney stacks. Seemingly built in the 1830s (after the estate was inherited General Mitchell’s father, another Edward), there appears to be nothing on record about its appearance when still intact and occupied, nor how it came to be in its present state (should anyone have such material, do please share). Meanwhile, the nearby yard to the east is in much better condition, in that at least the outer walls and sections of the roof remain in place. This very large, U-shaped block is constructed of limestone ashlar and, older images indicate, features a carved coat of arms above the central carriage arch, now impossible to see due to the thickness of ivy covering the building. The scale of this development indicates the affluence of the Mitchell family at the time, as do further ranges of farm buildings to one side. The other building of architectural interest is the now-derelict east lodge, again thought to date from the early 1830s and an exercise in romantic Gothic, with arched windows on either side of a central two-bay canted projection with a door on one side. Like so much else on this site, information about the building is scarce, making it another instance where a place’s history has been almost entirely obliterated. All very strange.
Reference was made last Monday to Charles Strickland who for many years in the mid-19th century acted for land agent to the Dillon family in Ireland, not least at Loughglynn, County Roscommon where Strickland lived during the course of his career. He was particularly concerned for the welfare of tenants on the estate for which he held responsibility, not just during the years of the Great Famine, but in its aftermath. Therefore in 1854 he persuaded his employer to provide the necessary funds to erect a new national school opposite the entrance to Loughglynn; this opened to both boys and girls in February 1856. It is a handsome, sturdy building, like the main house faced in limestone, of eight bays and with an entrance in the pedimented porch. At some date it was adapted into a hall, but has since been abandoned and fallen into as pitiful a state as the main house with which it was once connected.
As is well known, many Irish country houses would have been lost forever in the last century had they not been purchased and maintained by members of Roman Catholic religious orders. Often these buildings had to be converted or adapted for their new use and, as a rule, the work was sensitively done, or at least carried out in such a way that any alterations were reversible. Occasionally, however, a more aggressive and unsympathetic approach was taken, as can be seen Loughglynn, County Roscommon. The land on which the house stands had been acquired in somewhat questionable circumstances by a branch of the old Anglo-Norman Dillon family, which had hitherto been based in County Westmeath. In 1622 Theobald Dillon was created first Viscount Dillon of Costello-Gallen and following his death two years later a younger son, Lucas Dillon appears to have settled in Loughglynn with his wife, occupying an old castle that stood on the site. Eventually his descendant, another Theobald, became seventh Viscount Dillon, after the senior branch failed. The Dillons remained owners, although not always occupiers, of the property until the end of the 19th century.
Loughglynn has undergone a number of changes since first built. It has been proposed that Richard Castle was the house’s architect; after all, he did receive other commissions in County Roscommon, including Strokestown, Frenchpark and, possibly, Mount Talbot (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/08/03/mount-talbot/). On the other hand, the date of 1715 is sometimes given for Loughglynn’s construction; if this were the case, it cannot have been designed by Castle as he only came to Ireland in the late 1720s. Stylistically, the house is not dissimilar to other work by the same architect such as Hazelwood, County Sligo (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/12/03/hazelwood/) so he may well have been responsible, but at a somewhat later date. Dressed in limestone ashlar, the centre block was larger than what can be seen today, of two storeys over basement with a dormered attic storey on the high-pitched roof. The ten-bay entrance front had the three centre bays and those at either end breaking forward while on the garden side, there were canted bows on either side of the three-bay centre. On the east side, a single storey quadrant leads to a two-storey wing which forms part of the stable courtyard beyond (curiously, there is no equivalent wing on the other side of the house). So the building stood for a century until 1838 when Dublin architect James Bolger was requested to add another storey to the top of the building, sitting above the original cornice. A fire in 1896 left Loughglynn seriously damaged, and soon afterwards the Dillons sold house and estate. In 1904 the new owners, an order of nuns called the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, embarked on an extensive programme of repairs to the damaged property. This involved taking off the top storey of the building, and making the outer bays on either side single-storey. It may also have been at this time that the west wing, if it existed, was demolished, thereby explaining the lop-sided appearance of the house today.
During the 19th century the Dillons had little direct association with Loughglynn, preferring to live in England on their estate, Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire. Therefore a succession of land agents occupied the house in Ireland and looked after the Dillons’ estates. One of them, Charles Strickland (whose nephew Walter Strickland would serve as Registrar of the National Gallery of Ireland and publish the two-volume Dictionary of Irish Artists in 1913) is remembered for his generous support of the local people during the years of the Great Famine. On his employer’s land in County Mayo, he also established Charlestown, which is named after Strickland. It was during his successor’s time as agent that Loughglynn suffered its catastrophic fire, and that the Dillons decided to sell house and surrounding land. In 1899 the former, along with 100 acres of surrounding demesne land, was bought by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Elphin; in 1903 he handed over the property to the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, and it was soon afterwards that restoration work was undertaken on the house. The nuns here ran a school teaching various skills such as lace-making and domestic science, as well as establishing a dairy farm from which cheese was made on the premises. In 1960, during a time when admission to religious orders was at its height, the Franciscan Missionaries needed more space and so constructed a large block between the main house and the east wing. It cannot be claimed that this addition is a thing of beauty, or is in harmony with the older buildings. On the contrary, the 1960s development is ill-conceived and inconsiderate. Perhaps wisely the name of the architect responsible is unknown. The entrance front is now dominated by a pitched roofed former chapel, the centre part of which holds what remains of a window. Meanwhile, to the rear, the impression is given that some old-fashioned vision of a space craft has been ignominiously dumped on the site. Within a few decades, like many other religious orders the Franciscan Missionaries found their numbers in decline and before the end of the last century they were using the buildings as a nursing home, not least for their own elderly residents. Finally, in 2003 the place was sold to a development company which, it seems, had ambitious plans for an hotel, golf resort and so forth. By the time the economic recession had begun towards the end of the decade, little had happened and some years later Loughglynn changed hands again. Meanwhile the house suffered extensive vandalism, with the removal or destruction of almost everything it contained, including lead from the roof. As these photographs show, easy access is no longer possible, but other than the exterior walls there’s little left of the building to preserve. Another of Ireland’s historic houses left to fall into ruin.
Following Monday’s piece on Mount Talbot, County Roscommon, here is the church where the Talbot family used to worship, and in the grounds of which they were buried. The building dates from 1766 and like the nearby house must originally have been classical in form, as indicated by the great three-stage tower at the west end which has a large niche on the lowest level. It would appear that at some date in the 19th century, perhaps when work was being undertaken at the main house, the church was similarly Gothicised, since the east end was given a tripartite window with pointed arches and the three windows along the south wall were similarly altered. Having closed for services in the 1960s, the building fell into ruin but a number of years ago restoration work began on the site, including the installation of a new roof. This job now seems to have stalled and soon church and house may look much like each other.
It was the late Nuala O’Faolain who, almost 25 years ago, told me the unhappy story of Marianne Talbot, a story Nuala later incorporated into her 2001 novel, My Dream of You. The tale can be summarized as follows: in January 1845 John Talbot-Crosbie, a younger son of the Rev John Talbot-Crosbie of Ardfert Abbey, County Kerry, married Marianne McCausland. A year later the couple’s only child, a daughter also called Marianne, was born. In May 1851 John Talbot-Crosbie’s uncle William Talbot died, and left his nephew an estate in County Roscommon called Mount Talbot. However, the will stated that John was only to enjoy lifetime occupancy and full ownership rested on his having a male heir. A year later, John, who by royal licence had now dropped Crosbie from his surname, claimed to have discovered his wife Marianne with a groom called Mullen in the latter’s room, the door to which was locked; curiously the couple’s little daughter was also in the room. However, immediately separated from her child, the following day Marianne Talbot was brought by the local rector to Dublin and there kept in confinement. It is said that Mullen followed Marianne to the city and tried to see her there, but was not allowed to do so. Some time later she was declared insane, taken to England and placed in a lunatic asylum where she is believed to have spent the rest of her life. Meanwhile, her husband initiated divorce proceedings against Marianne on the grounds of adultery and although his application was granted, it was repeatedly challenged by Marianne’s family, the case going all the way to the House of Lords where the couple’s divorce was confirmed in July 1856. As can be imagined, the matter attracted considerable public attention, and it was widely believed that John Talbot, knowing his wife was unlikely to have any further children and certainly not a boy, had fabricated her adultery with the groom so as to allow a divorce. Having succeeded in this ambition, he was able to marry again – in October 1858 – and a year later his second wife, Gertrude Caroline Bayley, had a son. Divine justice then intervened: John Talbot died a fortnight after the birth.
The Talbots were a family long settled in Ireland, the first of them being Richard de Talbot who around 1185 was granted land in Malahide where his descendants lived in a castle until 1973. Another branch was based in Templeogue, County Dublin until, in the aftermath of the Cromwellian Wars, Sir Henry Talbot had his lands seized and was transplanted to County Roscommon. Restored to his original lands in the aftermath of the Restoration, all seemed well until Sir Henry’s son James took up the cause of James II and was killed at the Battle of Aughrim in 1691. Once again, the family lost its property in the Dublin region, but somehow managed to hold onto the Roscommon estate, which eventually passed to James Talbot’s nephew Henry. In the 1730s he embarked on building the core of what remains today of the house at Mount Talbot. The design of this has been attributed to that prolific architect of the period, Richard Castle. Certainly, the building as originally constructed conformed to the Castle’s Palladian model, the main block being flanked by wings set at an angle of 45 degrees and linked to them by curved open arcades with a series of urns along the parapets. So far, so standard but then around 1820 the era’s Tudor Gothic craze hit Mount Talbot’s then owner, the aforementioned William Talbot (the terms of whose will would later be the cause of so much unhappiness). The consequences were startling.
The architect chosen to oversee Mount Talbot’s transformation was a local man, Richard Richards, of whom relatively little is known although he did design a number of churches. This was certainly his most important commission and he clearly wanted to make an impression. What presumably had been a symmetrical classical house was given a great square keep at one end of the façade and a smaller polygonal turret at the other; between them the entrance to the building was now flanked by similar turrets. The centre of the garden front received a three-storey projecting block with arched Gothic windows and pinnacles at the corners of the roofline, all of which was castellated. One more turret rose above all the others in the middle of the building. Further work undertaken in the early 1880s when a new entrance front approached by a grand stone staircase was added in the north-east corner of the house. Yet while the main block was dressed up to look like a castle, the arcades and wings retained their original classical appearance, an altogether bizarre juxtaposition of styles. It was not to last long. William John Talbot, the heir born to John Talbot just two weeks before his death, in due course came of age and into his inheritance when he embarked on the additional work mentioned above. Known as Johnnie, in 1897 he married a wealthy heiress, Julia Molyneux, only child of Sir Capel Molyneux of Castle Dillon, County Armagh, meaning the couple were exceedingly wealthy. All was well until the onset of the War of Independence and its aftermath, the Civil War. During the first of these, British troops were garrisoned in the house and grounds of Mount Talbot, the Talbots seemingly living during this period at Castle Dillon. Following the signing of the Treaty, they returned to Mount Talbot but in early April 1922, a group of armed Republicans arrived at the house and assaulted the now-elderly Johnnie Talbot, giving the couple 24 hours to leave the place or face worse. The next day the Talbots departed, never to return, he to go into a nursing home in Dublin, his wife to the Shelbourne Hotel, where she died that night, supposedly from shock brought on by the attack at Mount Talbot. Johnnie Talbot died the following year in London. Meanwhile, as the Civil War continued, Free State troops occupied Mount Talbot which in July 1922 was attacked by Anti-Treaty forces who placed a mine under the main entrance and other bombs around the building, causing considerable damage. The Talbots had no children, and following his death, the estate was broken up by the Land Commission and the house, along with its contents, sold. All that remains today is a stump of the central block and one of the wings. No trace survives of the other wing, nor of either linking arcade. After all that John Talbot had done to ensure Mount Talbot remained in his family, and all the suffering he had caused to his first wife Marianne, this was the end result.
From Galignani’s Messenger 1819: ‘Athlone, Nov.2. Mr Henry St. George, who lived at Ballydangan, dined on Sunday last with his brother Sir Richard, in the Wood at Mount Equity, where were some other friends. On leaving his brother’s, the Steward saw him out of the gates, locked the last one, and had not proceeded more than a few yards when he heard a shot, and a loud scream followed. The night was so uncommonly light he easily discovered that Mr. Henry St. George was dismounted near the gate; he ran quickly and found him almost lifeless, lying over a man who was in a fainting fit; then hastened to a near cabin, and sent off for St Richard, who, with another Gentleman, came up, but only to see him expire without uttering a word.’
In 1650 Captain Theophilus Sandford, who came from the town of Audenshaw, a few miles east of Manchester, sailed from Liverpool to Ireland at the head of 80 horsemen, and joined the English army then suppressing the Irish uprising. Following the end of hostilities, Captain Sandford was rewarded for his services with a large grant of land, formerly held by the O’Conor family, in County Roscommon. To this he added further lands by purchase, as did his heir Henry Sandford in the aftermath of the Williamite wars. The Sandfords were based in Castlerea where on the edge of the town they erected a substantial house in the early 18th century, of seven bays and three storeys over basement. The centre block of this building was seriously damaged by fire in 1895 and replaced by a single storey, prefabricated house linking what survived of the two wings. Following the departure of the family from the area in the aftermath of the First World War, and the division of their former estate by the Land Commission, Castlerea House was demolished and nothing now remains of the property.
Through marriage and a seat in parliament the Sandfords rose to become respectable members of the Landed Gentry and, in 1800, Henry Sandford was rewarded with the title Baron Mount Sandford. Having no children, he was succeeded by his nephew, another Henry Sandford who in June 1828 at the age of only 23 met an unfortunate end. He and some friends stopped in Windsor on their way to Ascot for the races and observed a drunken brawl taking place on the street. Lord Mount Sandford was attacked by one of the brawlers who knocked him down and then kicked him in the head; he died from his injuries nine days later. An elderly uncle then inherited but he had no children, so eventually the estate was jointly inherited by the first baron’s two daughters, one of whom married a Pakenham (and her eldest son Henry married Grace Mahon, heiress to another Roscommon estate, Strokestown). The other sister Mary married William Robert Wills who also had an estate, Willsgrove, not far from Castlerea but the couple and their children lived in the old Sandford home and changed their name to Wills-Sandford. Their great-grandson Thomas George Wills-Sandford was the last of the family to occupy Castlerea House, while his younger brother Edward lived a few miles west of the town in the property seen here today, Cashlieve.
It is difficult to date the origins of Cashlieve which may have begun in the 19th century as a hunting lodge. However, the building was most likely enlarged following Edward Wills-Sandford’s marriage to Amy Guinness in 1889; the couple would have two daughters. The manner in which the entrance is wedged in a canted bay between the main block and a long wing, seems to suggest the latter was added to an earlier structure. Inside a handsome hallway contains the main staircase lit by a glazed dome and doors to the main reception rooms on one side; the single storey canted bays in both dining and drawing room in this portion of the building appear to be later additions and between them is a little vestibule which was clearly the original entrance before the whole site was turned around. Speculation about, and research into, Cashlieve’s history will need to occur soon, because it looks set to meet the same fate as Castlerea House before long. As was the case there, the surrounding lands were sold by the Land Commission and the property then seems to have been owned by a number of different persons. It has now stood empty for a number of years and much of what can be taken from a house – such as chimneypieces – has been taken, in a rather cack-handed fashion. Another house, one suspects, soon destined to be known only through old photographs.
The Catholic Committee (sometimes called the Catholic Convention) was a body set up in 1757 to campaign for the repeal of the Penal Laws, and greater religious and political freedom for members of the Roman Catholic church. One of its founders was the antiquarian Charles O’Conor who lived in County Roscommon, and it is likely that as a result of his involvement other men in the same part of the country became involved with the committee. Hugh O’Beirne was among this number, a merchant based in Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim who eventually became sufficiently affluent that he was able to acquire several thousand acres of land and build himself a residence at Jamestown, County Leitrim. In late 1792 Theobald Wolfe Tone, then Assistant Secretary of the Catholic Committee, encountered Hugh O’Beirne at a gathering in Dublin and wrote, ‘Met “Met Mr. O’Beirne of Co Leitrim, a sensible man. . . says the common people are up in high spirits and anxious for the event. Bravo! Better to have the peasantry of one county than twenty members of Parliament.’
Hugh O’Beirne took the Oath of Allegiance to the United Irishmen but does not seem to have been penalized for his association with the society in the aftermath of 1798: in the years before his death in 1813, he was a Justice of the Peace for Roscommon. He was succeeded by his son Francis, likewise a J.P. and also Deputy Lieutenant for County Leitrim. In 1843 he enlarged the small Catholic chapel built by his father for the people of Jamestown; behind this Francis also erected a school and schoolmaster’s house. On his death in 1854, the estate – which at its height ran to over 7,500 acres in County Leitrim (and almost another 250 in neighbouring Roscommon) – passed to his son Hugh. His children seem to have been the last of the O’Beirnes to have lived in Jamestown, one son, likewise called Hugh, entered the British Diplomatic Service and along with Lord Kitchener drowned when the vessel they were on, HMS Hampshire, was sunk by a German U-boat off the Orkney coast in June 1916.
The house shown in today’s photographs, Tinny Park, County Roscommon, was until recently owned by a branch of the same family. It is believed to date from around the mid-19th century and is a typical gentleman farmer’s residence, complete with handsome yard to the rear. Of two storeys over basement with a central door approached via a short flight of stone steps, the interior conforms to the usual country house plan, albeit on a small scale: double doors to the rear of the two main reception rooms lead to smaller spaces, and the entrance hall is largely taken up by a staircase. Unoccupied for the previous ten years, Tinny Park was offered for sale for the first time in the summer of 2016, the price on just over six acres was a modest €250,000. It duly sold and, evidently, refurbishment work began, not all of it advantageous: old photographs show the exterior covered in render, all of which has been stripped away. This work now looks to have stalled and when visited last winter the house wore a forsaken appearance. One can only hope that restoration has since resumed (and that in due course the exterior will be correctly re-rendered).