The Lonely Passion of Augusta Magan


In Umma-More, a wonderful history of his family published in 1983, the late William Magan writes of one forebear, the eccentric Augusta Magan who in 1880 at the age of 55 became ‘the sole, unencumbered and unfettered owner of virtually all the ancient Magan estates and wealth – twenty thousand acres of some of the best land in the world, valuable houses, parts of Dublin, treasures and riches.’ Alas, over the next twenty-five years until her death in 1905, the unmarried Augusta managed to squander away the greater part of her inheritance: according to William Magan, ‘She lacked drive, energy and will-power to a marked degree. She was devoid of managerial capability. She grossly mismanaged the estates. When she died they were found to be in a dreadful state of neglect. Her houses, likewise, were a shambles.’ By way of confirmation of the last observation, he quotes an official report into the condition of one such property: ‘Every passage and every room to which access could be gained was packed with parcels and packages of all descriptions. Piled on top of the furniture, underneath furniture, piled on the floors, were packages, deed boxes etc., on top of one another. The litter on the main stairs and vestibule was almost knee deep. It took the valuers three whole days to clear the deceased’s bedroom alone of papers and rubbish which had been allowed to accumulate there. Every apartment in the mansion was in the same condition. The most astonishing discovery was that amongst this accumulation were found money and securities for money, jewellery, and valuables of all description. Bank notes for small and large amounts were found adhering to old newspaper wrappers, or thrown carelessly aside in wastepaper baskets. Sovereigns and coins of lesser value were picked up on the floors of the several rooms, or were lying about in tea cups and kitchen utensils and in the most unlikely places…’ 





Augusta Magan’s peculiar behaviour is often attributed to unrequited love. It appears that as a young woman, she had met Captain Richard Bernard, of Castle Bernard, County Offaly (now known as Kinnitty Castle), and conceived a passion for him. Her feelings, it appears, were not reciprocated since Captain Bernard, three years after returning from the Crimean War, in 1859 married a widow, Ellen Georgiana Handcock; he died in 1877, three years before Augusta Magan came into her great inheritance. Family legend had it that his death was due to an accident while he was participating in a race but given that Bernard, by then a colonel, was 55 at the time this seems unlikely. He was duly buried in his local churchyard, inside the family mausoleum, a four-sided pyramid in the grounds of St Finnian’s church, Kinnitty: dating from c.1830, this building is supposed to have been designed by a member of the Bernard family who some time earlier had visited Egypt. However, the colonel must have died in another part of the country, since at one stage prior to burial, his body was wheeled along the platform of Mullingar station and, according to William Magan, the trolley bearing the deceased’s corpse was afterwards acquired by Augusta Magan who kept it in her room for the rest of her life. As he wrote in Umma-More, it is curious that ‘she should have been so deeply affected emotionally as to have felt unable for the rest of her life to be parted from so unusual, hideous, cumbersome, and useless a piece of furniture as that railway station barrow’. She also possessed a small portrait of Colonel Bernard, likewise discovered after her death. 





What has any of the above to do with today’s pictures? They show the grounds of Corke Lodge, County Dublin which were once part of Augusta Magan’s inheritance (her grandmother, Hannah Tilson, had been a great heiress whose family owned considerable estates both in this part of the country and elsewhere, and whose home was the long-since demolished Eagle Hill in Killiney). Commissioned by either Hannah Tilson Magan or her son William Henry, the present house dates from the second decade of the 19th century but, as so often, incorporates an older structure. Its design is attributed to Dublin architect William Farrell who was responsible for Conearl, a large neo-classical house built for the Magans in County Offaly but destroyed by fire only a few decades later. A church at Crinken, close to Corke Lodge, was also designed by Farrell. Augusta Magan seems to have spent little time here, preferring to become a recluse in another family property, Killyon, in County Westmeath. At the beginning of the last century, it was acquired by Sir Stanley Cochrane and today is owned by his great-nephew, architect Alfred Cochrane. He has been responsible for creating the gardens shown here, and for interspersing through them granite stonework which once formed part of Glendalough House, County Wicklow, a vast Tudor-Gothic mansion dating from the 1830s, the greater part of which was demolished half a century ago. Their presence not only enlivens a visit to the grounds of Corke Lodge, but – as souvenirs of a lost world – seem to recall the lonely passion of Augusta Magan.

The gardens of Corke Lodge are open to the public, 9am to 1pm, Tuesdays to Saturdays, until September 8th. For more information, see Corke Lodge — Alfred Cochrane

Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,





Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.





O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats.
Photographs of the Casino at Marino, Dublin, designed by Sir William Chambers for James Caulfield, Earl of Charlemont. 

Ending Shortly




A reminder to all friends and followers: if you have not yet had an opportunity to see the two exhibitions In Harmony with Nature: The Irish Country House Garden and Stepping through the Gate: Inside Ireland’s Walled Gardens – both curated by the Irish Aesthete – only one week remains to do so. Currently open at the Irish Georgian Society, City Assembly House, South William Street, Dublin – and with free admission – both shows will close next Friday, July 29th. Catch them while you still can…



Gross Negligence



Four terraced houses in the centre of Dublin indicate the inadequacies of central and local government when it comes to protecting Ireland’s architectural heritage. Aungier Street dates from the mid-17th century when developed by Francis Aungier, first Earl of Longford, who created what was then the city’s finest and – at 70 feet – widest thoroughfare, much of it lined with splendid mansions. Some of these survive behind later facades, and the four in question, Nos.22-25, include one built in the 18th century for Sir Anthony King, Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1778-79; he leased the property to the sculptor John van Nost who had a stoneyard here. These houses have been allowed to stand empty and falling ever further into dereliction for many years: a planning notice on one of them for conversion of the premises into an hotel is dated October 2018. It needs to be reiterated that ample legislation exists to ensure that such neglect of the historic fabric of this and any other urban centre does not exist; that the relevant authorities continue to ignore that legislation and allow such decay serves as a gross indictment of their competence. 


In Harmony with Nature


‘Ireland is far more favoured by latitude than Britain, is healthier and has a much milder climate, so that snow rarely lasts for more than three days. Hay is never cut in summer for winter use nor are stables built for their beasts. No reptile is found there nor could a serpent survive; for although serpents have often been brought from Britain, as soon as the ship approaches land they are affected by the scent of the air and quickly perish…The island abounds in milk and honey, nor does it lack vines, fish, and birds.’
The Venerable Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed c.731 A.D.
‘The Irish climate is favourable to many plants which, though neglected, do better in Ireland than the countries from which they are imported.’
Dr Peter Lombard, De Regno Hiberniae Commentarius, 1600. 





Across the centuries, observers have remarked on the kindly character of the Irish climate. While conditions vary somewhat from east to west, and from north to south, this island does not, as a rule, suffer from extremes of temperature: despite being on the same latitude as Newfoundland in Canada, our winters are generally mild (only dropping a few degrees below 0 °C) and our summers cool (even at their highest they seldom exceed 25 °C). Although winds are plentiful, they are rarely extreme and rainfall is abundant: the eastern half of the country averages 750-1,000 mm of rain per annum, that to the west 1,000-1,400 mm. These circumstances are further aided by the character of Irish soil, much of it rich and fertile. We enjoy a temperate climate perfect for the cultivation of a wide diversity of plants. And yet the cultivation of those plants and the creation of gardens in which to enjoy them, came relatively late to Ireland. 





During the last century, in the aftermath of the First World War and the War of Independence, many Irish country house gardens were lost. The breaking up of the great estates, together with increased taxation and rising labour costs, combined to make the maintenance of these sites unfeasible for owners. Just as many country houses fell into dilapidation and ruin, so too did their surrounding demesnes and gardens. But it was not entirely a story of loss. From the late 19th century onwards, a number of Irish houses and estates had been taken over by Catholic religious orders, for use as schools, seminaries and so forth. Often the new owners sought to maintain the grounds of their property, thereby ensuring the survival of their predecessors’ work. Furthermore, in the early 1990s, growing public awareness and appreciation of our historic sites led to the establishment of a Great Gardens of Ireland Restoration Programme. Grant-aided by the European Regional Development Fund and with a £4 million allocation, this scheme oversaw the restoration of some 24 gardens throughout the country.
Despite straitened circumstances, throughout the 20th century some country house owners continued to maintain their gardens and, in addition, a number of spectacular  new ones were created. Across the millennia, gardening has been a passion exerting authority over some property owners and from which, as a rule, they never wish to be released. Happily, this remains the case in Ireland. And while, in the past, that passion might have been largely private, to be shared only with family and friends, today more and more of our finest gardens are open to the public, permitting all of us to revel in their outstanding qualities.


In Harmony with Nature:: The Irish Country House Garden 1600-1900 is now open at the Irish Georgian Society’s headquarters, the City Assembly House, South William Street, Dublin and will continue to the end of July. For further information, please see In Harmony with Nature, the Irish Country House Garden 1600-1900 | Irish Georgian Society (igs.ie)


 

Drumcondra Urns



In a small garden to the rear of Drumcondra House (now part of Dublin City University) can be found three much-weathered stone urns. Originally they stood on the parapet of the building’s south-facing front, thought to have been designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce: the east-facing Baroque facade of the same property has long been attributed to Florentine architect Alessandro Galilei (see An Italian in Ireland « The Irish Aesthete). Photographs of Drumcondra House from the late 19th/early 20th centuries, when it as All Hallows College (a training centre for Roman Catholic priests) show the urns still in situ, one in the centre and one at either end. At some date they were taken down, probably because of their condition but it is still possible to see their pedestals on top of the building.


A Light Hand



Home since 1870 to the Royal Irish Academy of Music, No.36 Westland Row, Dublin was originally  built by Nicholas Tench in 1771 and nine years later leased to Sir Samuel Bradstreet, lawyer and politician: it is thought that the house’s decorative scheme dates from around this time. The neoclassical plasterwork in the main reception rooms is very fine and has been tentatively attributed by Conor Lucey to stuccodore Michael Stapleton, drawing on designs made by Thomas Penrose, architect and Inspector of Civil Buildings for the Board of Works: Penrose also acted as agent for the English architect James Wyatt who had many clients in Ireland. These photographs show some of the plasterwork in a ground floor room adjacent to the entrance hall, and include a series of grisaille medallions with classical figures painted by an unknown hand.


No Longer Triumphal



A former entrance to the Rathfarnham Castle estate in County Dublin. Constructed of granite and taking the form of a triumphal arch, the building’s design according to James Howley (in his 1993 book The Follies and Garden Buildings of Ireland) was inspired by the Porta Portese in Rome: both share a number of features including engaged Doric columns, square recessed panels above niches, and a balustraded top above the arch. One obvious difference is that inside the Rathfarnham entrance can be found a keystone made from Coade stone and representing a hirsute Roman God. When Howley was writing, the architect responsible for this work was unknown, but more recently in his Gazetter to the Gate Lodges of Leinster (2016) J.A.K. Dean has proposed Francis Johnston, the design based on James Wyatt’s entrance to Canterbury Quad, Christ Church College, Oxford: Dean points out that Johnston’s early patron, Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh, was a graduate of Christ Church and had provided the funds for the rebuilding of Canterbury Quad. Alas, despite such a distinguished pedigree, today the Rathfarnham arch languishes neglected on a tiny strip of land, surrounded by housing estates and intermittently subjected to vandalism. It deserves better than this: why might it not be moved into the grounds of Rathfarnham Castle, which would provide a safer home than is the case at present.


Palmed Off



The Palm House at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin, Dublin. Sixty-five feet high, 80 feet wide and 100 feet long, and originally costing £800, the building dates from 1884 when prefabricated from wood and wrought-iron in Paisley, Scotland by the firm of James Boyd & Son. Shipped to Ireland in pieces, the palm house was then assembled on site to replace an earlier structure which had been almost universally condemned for its ugliness. The new version met with a more positive response from the public and lasted until the mid-1990s when a high wind blew in large sections of glass: it was then discovered that much of the building was in a dangerous condition. Following extensive restoration, the Palm House reopened to the public in 2004.


Visiting the Shrine



Readers from outside Ireland may not be familiar with Patrick Pearse, one of the key figures in the Easter Rising of 1916, the aftermath of which led to the War of Independence. Born in Dublin in 1879, from an early age Pearse was an ardent advocate for Irish freedom, and arising from this he became what might be described as a cultural nationalist, believing that the Irish language, its preservation and promulgation, were an integral part of ensuring this country’s identity. Although he qualified as a barrister, he soon found a more natural outlet for his beliefs in education, recognising – as had the Jesuit order before him – that the best way to spread his ideas was in the classroom. He also thought the existing education system, imported from England, extremely damaging for the development of the young, calling it ‘the murder machine.’ So, in 1908 he bought an 18th century property called Cullenswood House for £370. Located in the Dublin suburb of Ranelagh, Pearse wrote of the property, ‘It is a pleasant thing to be houses in one of the noble old Georgian mansions of Dublin, with an old garden full of fruit-trees under out windows and a hedgerow of old elms, sycamores and beeches as the distant boundary of our playing field.’ Here he now opened a bi-lingual secondary school for boys, St Enda’s (Scoil Éanna) which, despite his lack of business and managerial acumen, flourished. So much so that after two years, he decided the time had come to move to larger premises and to this end in 1910 he bought another Georgian building further removed from the city and surrounded by more land. This was the Hermitage in Rathfarnham. 





The Hermitage dates from the last quarter of the 18th century when it was built as a country retreat by Dublin dentist Edward Hudson. Dr Hudson has featured here before, since he was also responsible for developing the core of what is now Glenville Park, County Cork (see A Life’s Work in Ireland « The Irish Aesthete). Evidently, although his profession was then in its infancy, dentistry paid well because this particular practitioner had a house in the centre of Dublin as well. In April 1786 he bought from Thomas Conolly of Castletown, County Kildare a piece of land in Rathfarnham hitherto known as the Fields of Odin. Dr Hudson’s romantically-tinged antiquarian interests, fashionable at the time, are reflected in a number of follies he erected in the landscaped grounds of the house, including a rusticated Druid’s Cave and a Gothic watchtower. There is, however, nothing romantic about the house itself, which was designed – by an unknown architect – in the severest neo-classical style and all encased in crisp granite. Of three storeys over basement, the facade is dominated by four giant tetrastyle Doric columns supporting a portico, and approached by a flight of steps. There is absolutely no extraneous detailing permitted, everything is kept to a minimum. Inside the house, none of the main block’s reception rooms is especially large, and once again the decoration is austere with little surface ornament anywhere other than a pair of plaster pilasters topped by urns in what was formerly the study. The varying style of chimneypieces throughout the house reflect the fact that it changed hands on a number of occasions in the 19th century. There are larger spaces to the rear of the building, including a dormitory which appears to have been added soon after the Hermitage was acquired by Pearse and may have been designed by part-time architect Joseph Holloway. A corridor to one side of this room, via a flight of steps, to the biggest space in the house, used while it was a school as a study hall. When this was constructed is unclear: a single-storey extension to one side of the house, it looks as though originally serving as a ballroom, but surprisingly – given the significance of the property in Irish history – information on the architectural  evolution of the Hermitage appears relatively scant. 





As previously mentioned, in 1910 Pearse moved to the Hermitage, now renamed, like its predecessor, St Enda’s. Here he lived with members of his family, not least his younger brother William, a rather under-appreciated sculptor. Unfortunately, the new St Enda’s did not emulate the success of the earlier school, being too far from the city centre for many day pupils, while not enough boys were registered as boarders. In addition, Pearse decided to turn Cullenswood House, his previous premises, into an equivalent girls’ school, called St Ita’s; this only lasted a couple of years before closing in 1912. As a result of its founder’s idealism outstripping his practical skills, St Enda’s thereafter constantly teetered on the brink of financial disaster. It did not help that during this period, Pearse became increasingly involved with the Irish Republican Brotherhood, leaving him less time with managing the school. Somehow, it continued until the Easter Rising – in which a large number of former pupils participated – after which, and following the execution of both Patrick and William Pearse, St Enda’s closed. However, later that year it reopened back in Cullenswood House and then, thanks to financial support particularly from the United States, returned to Rathfarnham in 1919, with the building subsequently bought on behalf of the Pearse brothers’ mother, Margaret. After her death in 1932, the school continued to operate for another three years but then closed for good, although Mrs Pearse’s daughter, also called Margaret, remained living on the site until her death in 1968 when the building and grounds were bequeathed to the state. Open to the public, today St Enda’s is a shrine to the memory of Patrick Pearse.