After Monday’s post about the Damer House, here is the medieval castle inside the walls of which that building stands. Roscrea Castle, County Tipperary originally dates from 1213 when King John ordered that a defensive structure be erected here as part of the Norman conquest of the Irish midlands. Work did not begin on the site for a few more decades, until the reign of Henry III, perhaps because the land had been owned by the Bishop of Killaloe who threatened to excommunicate those responsible for the castle (the bishop was duly pacified with the offer of other land). While first made of wood, the stone castle, with motte and bailey, was of stone. In 1315 the building was granted to the powerful Butler family who held it until the early 18th century when the property was sold by the Duke of Ormonde to the Royal Hospital Kilmainham; that institution in turn sold it on to John Damer, responsible for commissioning the house that still stands in the middle of the grounds. As for the castle itself, once moated with the river Bunnow running along one side, it comprises a 40-metre wide courtyard with three-quarter round towers on the south-east and south-west sides and, to the north, the main building, a gatehouse 27 metres high which was built by the Butlers in the 15th century. When the Irish Aesthete lived here 40 years ago, the property, although a dominant presence in the town, was largely in ruins and certainly not accessible without risk to life and limb: it has since been extensively restored and is now open to visitors who can marvel at the groin vaulted ceiling of the former great hall.
This month marks two anniversaries, one of which is that the Irish Aesthete now turns eleven, having made his first appearance on the internet in September 2012. But the month also commemorates an older anniversary: the fortieth anniversary of the Irish Aesthete’s first job, as resident curator of the Damer House in Roscrea, County Tipperary.* The house has a complex history, made more so by the fact that it was constructed within the walls of a 13th century castle around which grew the town of Roscrea. As its name indicates, the building was commissioned by a member of the Damer family, the first of whom Joseph Damer, moved from Dorset to Ireland and here grew wealthy as a banker and moneylender. Having no heirs, he left his money to a nephew, John Damer, who in 1722 bought Roscrea from the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham (that institution had, in turn, bought the town from the Butler family in 1703).
There may have been an older residence on or near the site of the present Damer House which, despite often being called ‘Queen Anne’ in style, likely dates from the 1730s (in other words, during the reign of George II). Of three storeys over basement and with unusually tall narrow windows spread across nine bays, the pre-Palladian house’s finest internal feature is a carved pine staircase, in style not dissimilar to that of the slightly later Cashel Palace. Of course, provincial architecture was often out of step with the latest fashion, which would help to explain the building’s somewhat outdated style. In addition, by the time it was built, wealthy families had largely given up living in regional towns, preferring to reside on their country estates. That would appear to have been the case with the Damers who around the same time as the Damer House was being built, also embarked on the construction of another residence, Damer Court, which stood on land they owned to the west of Tipperary town; although nothing remains of this building – by the mid-19th century it was described as ‘a shell of a building’ – but a townland in the area is called Damerville. As for the Damer House, it does not appear to have served as a residence for the family but was rented out to a succession of tenants for much of the 18th century. In 1798 the house was leased as a barracks and then the whole site sold to the British military in 1858. At the start of the last century the Damer House became ‘Mr. French’s Academy’, a school for boys, reverting to a barracks for the National Army during the Civil War, then being used as a sanatorium, before once again in 1932 serving as a school until 1956, then a library. By 1970 it was empty and unused, and the local authority, Tipperary County Council, announced plans to demolish the house and replace it with an amenity centre comprising a swimming pool, car park, playground and civic centre (it had been nurturing this scheme since as far back as 1957). The council’s chairman wanted the demolition to go ahead, declaring that ‘as long as it stands it reminds the Irish people of their enslavement to British rule,’ and dismissing objectors to the scheme as ‘a crowd of local cranks.’ In fact, most of the so-called ‘crowd’ were members of the Old Roscrea Society and in December 1970 this organisation was offered help by the Irish Georgian Society in the campaign to save the Damer House.
In 1971 the local council agreed not to demolish the Damer House. On the other hand, it did nothing to preserve the building and in November 1973, on learning that restoration would cost in the region of £40,000, the authority decided to go ahead with demolition after all. The Irish Georgian Society once more intervened, this time proposing it take on a lease for the building and assume responsibility for its restoration, now budgeted at £80,000 over five years. In February 1974 the council agreed to this arrangement and the Society took on the house for a period of 99 years at an annual rent of one shilling. The restoration of the Damer House was to be its contribution to European Architectural Heritage Year 1975. Work on the project began in mid-August 1974 and was overseen by the late Brian Molloy. The place was in terrible condition, debris and rubbish throughout, the basement full of water, every window broken, the staircase shrouded and boxed in. While professionals worked on repairing the roof, the workforce included a dozen architectural students from Dublin and members of the Old Roscrea Society. Volunteers were advised to turn up at the site ‘in old clothes, bringing brushes, buckets and handy tools.’ Work proceeded slowly and was dependent on enough funds being raised for the purpose, some £5,400 being spent on repairs in 1974 and at least the same again the following year. In 1976 £8,000 was required to repair the staircase, including the replacement of missing balustrades and the removal of sixteen pounds in weight of paint from the carved frieze. By June 1977 £22,000 had been spent on the Damer House which was now deemed ready to admit visitors and host exhibitions. Thereafter, while refurbishment continued on both the Damer House and its slightly later annexe, the venue was regularly used for events such as touring exhibitions organised by the Arts Council. In 1980 some of the most influential members of the Old Roscrea Society, notably local teacher George Cunningham, decided to form a new organisation, the Roscrea Heritage Society which later that year organised a large show in the Damer House. Exhibits relevant to the town’s history were lent by both the National Museum and the National Gallery. With aid from a number of public bodies, the house’s annexe was next restored for use as a heritage centre; the first of its kind in Ireland, this opened to the public in 1983 and shortly afterwards won a special award from the adjudicators of European Museum of the Year. In the autumn of 1983, control of the Damer House was handed over to the Roscrea Heritage Society (and that was when the Irish Aesthete arrived to take up residence in the place). Now under the authority of the Office of Public Works, the Damer House – which was recently subject to further restoration of the exterior stonework and windows – is open to the public, along with the surrounding castle and adjacent gardens. Once scheduled for demolition, the Damer House is today regarded as a major architectural and tourist asset for the midlands region of Ireland.
After the rather sad spectacle of the O’Callaghan Mausoleum shown here last week (see Shabby Treatment « The Irish Aesthete) here is another building associated with the same family: a former shooting lodge at Glengarra, County Tipperary. It was constructed for Cornelius O’Callaghan, first Viscount Lismore, who also commissioned the now-demolished Shanbally Castle, completed in 1819. Since the latter was designed by John Nash, it is often proposed that this architect was also responsible for the Tudoresque lodge, which presumably dates from around the same period: in 1837 Samuel Lewis noted that ‘his Lordship has lately erected a lodge, a structure of much beauty in the glen of the Galtees.’ In the late 1930s, the building was leased to the Irish Youth Hostel Association An Óige who used it as accommodation for visitors until 2012. It then sat empty for several years and suffered the inevitable vandalism but in 2015 a local group, the Burncourt Community Council, undertook to rescue the lodge and restore it as an amenity for the area. It now serves as location for a variety of activities.
The O’Callaghan Mausoleum, located in the Shanrahan graveyard outside Clogheen, County Tipperary. This was erected in 1742 to commemorate Cornelius O’Callaghan, member of an ancient Irish family who had converted to the Established church and thereafter enjoyed a successful career as a lawyer and Member of Parliament for the Borough of Fethard in the same county. The barrel-vaulted interior of this rather plain gable-ended building contains a fine monument to O’Callaghan, ancestor of the Viscount Lismore who in 1810 would commission John Nash to design Shanbally Castle nearby. (Alas, the castle was shamefully demolished in the late 1950s, the remains being blown up in 1960 so that the cut stone could be used for road building). Occupying much of the end wall, this monument was carved by the Dublin sculptor David Sheehan and depicts the deceased above a Latin inscription and beneath a pediment that supports reclining putti on either side of an urn. Unfortunately the mausoleum now acts as little more than a garden shed for lawn mowers and the other equipment: hardly the most respectful way to treat this historic building, or the man it commemorates.
After a recent discussion of the colourful Thomas Steele and the fate of his former home (see Honest Tom « The Irish Aesthete), it is now worth turning attention to a significant, but insufficiently recalled, figure in late 18th century Ireland, Dr Thomas Hussey. Born in 1746, owing to restrictions imposed by the era’s Penal legislation, Hussey was sent to study at the Irish College in Salamanca, after which he joined the Trappist order. However, his obvious intelligence led him to become well-known at the court in Madrid and in due course, now ordained a priest, he was appointed chaplain to the Spanish Embassy in London. There he became acquainted with many of the leading political and intellectual figures of the period, not least Edmund Burke who became a close friend. In 1779, his diplomatic skills led him to be sent by George III’s government on a secret diplomatic mission to Madrid in order to break the Franco-Spanish Alliance in the context of the American War of Independence. Although the effort was unsuccessful, Hussey’s reputation did not suffer any ill effects and he continued to be consulted by the English authorities. Meanwhile, in due course his intellectual abilities were also recognised in 1792 when he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. Subsequently, the government sent him on a further mission, attempting to placate disaffected Irish soldiers and militia in Ireland. However, when he heard what they had to say, Hussey adopted their cause, which was not what had been expected. He then played a role in establishing the Irish seminary at Maynooth and became its first president in 1795. Two years later he was appointed Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, holding that position until his death in 1803.
This is Prospect Lodge (above), the house in which Thomas Hussey lived during his years as Bishop of the diocese. On a prominent site in what would once have been open countryside overlooking the city, the building is believed to date from c.1780. Of five-bays and two-storeys, it has a two-bay two-storey section with half-dormer attic to south-east, and two-bay single-storey wing to south-east. Prospect Lodge is notable for being slate-hung on all elevations and, as part of Waterford’s historic architecture, is worthy of preservation even without its associations with Thomas Hussey. Yet at the present it is being left to fall into decay.
Elsewhere in the south-east of Ireland, this house can be found in Carrick-on-Suir, County Waterford. Dating from c.1760, it is of four-bays and three-storeys over basement, the rear yard dropping down to the quays on the north side of the town. While the building lacks the historical associations of Prospect Lodge, it is similarly slate-hung and therefore represents an important part of Carrick-on-Suir’s heritage. Yet, also like Prospect Lodge, it sits empty and neglected, left to fall into dereliction instead of enhancing the streetscape while realising its potential as a home. Two houses, one fate: and there are thousands more such properties all over Ireland going the same way.
‘It was in the hall of this Castle, then his principal residence, that James, first Duke and twelfth Earl of Ormond, received, as he sat at dinner, on 23d October 1641, intelligence of the great rebellion, in which he so eminently distinguished himself as Commander of the Royal Army. Since that period, none of the Ormond family have resided in Carrick-Castle, which is, however, maintained in good repair, and occupied by a private gentleman, who has evinced excellent taste in the alterations which he has made in the building without impairing the character of its architecture. It stands upon the banks of the river Suir, and near the town of Carrick-on-Suir. This castle was built in the year 1309, by Edmond le Boteler, or Butler, whose son was created Earl of Ormond in 1328. By him it was granted, in 1336, together with its demesnes, to the Franciscan monks of the Abbey of Carrick-on-Suir. But these venerable personages, who probably attached more value to the lands than to the fortress, appear to have permitted it to fall into decay, since we find that, in 1445, Sir Edmund Butler purchased the premises from the Monks, and rebuilt the Castle and Bridge.’
From Picturesque Views of the Antiquities of Ireland, 1830
‘Prior to starting to Waterford, let us not fail to view the fine old castle of the Ormonds, built in 1309, and still remaining in the family. The antique bridge, from the right bank of the river, just above the weir, presents all that is fantastically eccentric in architecture, the ivied house in the centre imparting to it an air of pleasing novelty. The parish chapel is said to have been built by the Ormonds, and the tower attached to the modern building bears proof of high antiquity. We hope tradition speaks “no scandal against Queen Elizabeth,” as the guide points out the grave of Thomas Butler, the putative natural son of her maiden Majesty.’
From The Tourist’s Illustrated Hand-Book for Ireland, 1859
‘I chanced that day to be at Carrick, and I walked to see the old castle. It is beautifully situated in a secluded lawn overhanging the Suir, at a distance of a few hundred yards from the eastern end of the town. I could not ascertain the date of the older, or castellated part of the edifice: the more modern part was erected by Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond, in 1565, which date is displayed on the wall of the hall; on which, likewise, there is a rude fresco representing Queen Elizabeth, with the initials E.R. On the opposite wall there is another fresco of the founder, who is said by the tradition of the castle to have found favour as a lover of that princess. The tradition found its way into France, and the family of Lord Galmoye is stated, in a French genealogical work, to descend from her Majesty and her Irish admirer…The curious old mansion founded by “Black Tom Butler” is still habitable. Its front presents a long row of gables in the fashion of Elizabethan manor-houses, with a large Oriel window over the porch. Its large deserted chambers are just as spectral personages might regularly honour with their visits. I accordingly asked if the house was haunted, and was told by the person who showed it, that in the days of the Ormonds, a ghost had been constantly there – a utilitarian ghost, apparently; for he used to officiate as volunteer shoeblack, and to discharge other duties of domestic labour.
The largest apartments are in the upper storey. There is a noble drawing room about sixty feet long, which contains two decorated chimneys. Whatever be the worth of the Galmoye tradition, old “Tom Butler” as the guide familiarly called him, was anxious to record his devotion to Elizabeth; and this he has done by the frequent repetition of her Majesty’s initials and arms in the quaint stucco ornaments of the ceiling.’
From Ireland and her Agitators by W.J. O’Neill, 1867.
The Tower House appears on this site regularly, often under the guise, or at least the name, of a castle. However, tower houses are distinct from, and appeared later than, castles which were introduced into Ireland by the Anglo-Normans in the 12th and 13th century and are substantial defensive structures, fortified keeps on raised ground within a walled enclosure. According to archaeologist Colm Donnelly, tower houses should be regarded as a species within the castle genus. While they were often erected inside a protective bawn wall, the typical tower house was a less complex building than the Norman castle, being, as its name implies, a tall, single tower. In this respect, the structures bear similarity to what are known as Peel Towers in northern England and the Scottish borders, and which date from much the same period.
The origins of the Irish tower house date back to 1429. In that year, a statute issued by Henry VI, King of England (and ostensibly Lord of Ireland) declared, ‘It is agreed and asserted that every liege man of our Lord, the King of the said Counties, who chooses to build a Castle or Tower House sufficiently embattled or fortified, wither the next ten years to wit 20 feet in length, 16 feet in width and 40 feet in height or more, that the commons of the said Counties shall pay to the said person, to build the said Castle or Tower ten pounds by way of subsidy.’ The ‘said Counties’ to which this document refers covered the area taking in parts of what are now Meath, Louth and Kildare in which English authority still held sway and which was known as the Pale. And the intent behind the statute was to ensure better protection of that area from incursion by those who lived outside its perimeter. It is often proposed that this piece of legislation, with its financial incentive, did much to encourage the popularity of tower houses within the boundaries of the Pale. However, soon enough they also began to appear elsewhere throughout the country, their construction popular among both descendants of the Anglo-Norman families and members of the Gaelic nobility. They continued to be built for some 200 years and it was only in the first half of the 17th century that they were superseded by fortified houses. It has been estimated that between 1400 and 1650 in the region of 3,000 tower houses were constructed. Many of them survive to the present day, in various states of repair.
No two tower houses are identical but customarily they were square or rectangular in shape, running to four or five storeys in height and with a single arched doorcase on the ground floor providing the only point of access. A number survive in County Tipperary which, unusually, are circular; one of these at Moorstown was shown here three years ago (see In the Round « The Irish Aesthete). Here is another, Ballynahow which is exceptionally well-preserved. It is believed to date from the early 16th century when erected by a branch of the Purcells, a family closely allied to the powerful Butlers, and whose main base was at Loughmoe (see A Former Family Seat « The Irish Aesthete): the latter incorporates a more typical tower house into a later fortified house. Ballynahow, on the other hand, is free-standing and, as already mentioned, cylindrical in shape. Thereafter much of its design and layout follows the typical pattern, with a large vaulted ground floor reached by an arched door on the east side (with a murder hole strategically placed above) and only narrow slits in the walls at this low level to provide light to the interior while not leaving those inside exposed or visible to attack. Larger window openings can be found on the upper floors, along with substantial chimneypieces as these were the main residential quarters for the occupants. They were reached thanks to a stone spiral staircase climbing around the immediate inside of the building. Four machiolations are evenly spaced along the roofline; the tower house would originally have been finished with a conical dome. It appears that as late as the 1840s the lower floors of Ballynahow were still in residential use and this may help to explain why it is in such good condition.
Lisronagh, County Tipperary is today not so much a village as a hamlet, but this was not always the case. According to Samuel Lewis, in 1837 it had a population of 981, whereas in the census of 2016, the number of inhabitants had fallen to 184. The latter figure is even a fraction of what it had been in the Middle Ages: surviving documentation from 1333 show Lisronagh’s population likely exceeded 400. At that time, the land here was held by Lady Elizabeth de Burgh, daughter of a descendant of William de Burgh, the Anglo-Norman knight who in the late 12th century had acquired vast estates in this part of the country. William de Burgh is thought to have built some kind of fortified structure at Lisronagh, probably of wood, but this was probably later replaced by a stone castle. That building is not what is seen on the site today, since the earlier structure appears to have been destroyed in the 15th century by Edmond Butler, eighth Baron Dunboyne and Seneschal of Tipperary.
Lisronagh Castle, or what remains of it, is a 16th century tower house. A document dated 1530 in the collection of the National Library of Ireland shows the grant by one Richard Howet to Piers Butler, Earl of Ossory (later eighth Earl of Ormond) ‘of the tenement of the castle of Lisronagh.’ The present building may have been built thereafter, and remained the property of the Butler family at least into the latter part of the 17th century. When and how it fell into disrepair does not appear known. A large opening close to the base of the east wall (which faces the adjacent road) suggests this was the original entrance, although that is around the corner on the north side. High above the arched doorcase are corbels that would once have supported the now-lost machiolation; also largely gone are the window stones, presumably removed at some date. Internally, the tower house follows the usual pattern with a large, vaulted chamber of the ground floor. A flight of stairs to the immediate right of the entrance leads to the floors above, one of which retains a fireplace but otherwise little of the interior decoration survives.
Immediately north of Lisronagh Castle is an abandoned church. Dedicated to St John the Baptist, it dates from 1831 when constructed with the aid of funds from the Board of First Fruits, and on the site of a Medieval building (presumably serving the 400-plus populace recorded as having been here in the 1330s). The church very much conforms to the Board of First Fruits typology, having a three-bay nave with access at the west end beneath a two-stage bell tower. The entrance features a handsome stone carved Tudor arch but otherwise there is little decoration and certainly nothing inside, which has been given over to vegetation (as has the eastern end of the church). Services ceased here a century ago, in 1923, and the building subsequently became roofless and open to the elements. So there they now stand, side by side, two historic properties, both abandoned, both replete with memories of the past.
The remains of the 15th century church at Cloughprior, County Tipperary. Its name derives from the fact that in the 12th century the land on which the building stands came into the possession of the Augustinian Priory of St John the Baptist some ten miles south at Tyone, on the outskirts of Nenagh. It subsequently became a parish church but then fell into ruin, although the surrounding graveyard has consistently remained a place of burial. Of note here is a separate, walled section set aside for members of the Waller family who for some 20o years lived close by at Prior Park, a house dating from the 1770s. One of those more recently interred was 26-year old Edward de Warenne Waller, killed in a terrorist bomb attack in Bali in 2002.
Unlikely to last much longer: a ruined tower house in County Tipperary known as Knigh Castle. The north-west portion of this four-storey building survives best, but much of the other walls has tumbled down, exposing the interior with its barrel-vaulted roof on the first floor. Despite occupying a prominent position on high ground beside a crossroads, little is known of Knigh Castle, and soon it threatens to become no more than a memory.