Whim in All His Improvements


On August 25th 1732, the future Mrs Delany (then the merrily widowed Mrs Pendarves) embarked on a journey from Navan, County Meath to Cootehill, County Cavan. She wrote in her journal, ‘travelled through bad roads and a dull, uninhabited country, till we came to Cabaragh, Mr Prat’s house, an old castle modernized, and made very pretty: the master of it is a virtuoso, and discovers whim in all his improvements. The house stands on the side of a high hill; has some tall old trees about it; the gardens are small but neat; there are two little terrace walks, and down in a hollow is a little commodious lodge where Mr Prat lived whilst his house was repairing. But the thing that most pleased me, was a rivulet that tumbles down from rocks in a little glen, full of shrub-wood and trees; here a fine spring joisns the river, of the sweetest water in the world.’





The ‘Mr Prat’ to whom Mrs Pendarves refers was Mervyn Pratt, a sometime Member of the Irish Parliament representing County Cavan. His father, Joseph Pratt, had been one of two brothers who moved from Leicestershire to Ireland in the mid-17th century, both of them settling in County Meath. However, Joseph made an advantageous marriage to Elizabeth, only daughter and heiress of Col. Thomas Cooch (or Couch) who owned estates in Counties Donegal and Cavan. When he died in 1699, he left his property in the latter county to his grandson Mervyn Pratt, then aged 12. The heir duly settled on his inheritance and married Elizabeth, daughter of a neighbour, the Hon. Thomas Coote of Bellamont, County Cavan. At Cabra (spelled ‘Cabaragh’ by Mrs Pendarves), the couple’s home was an old castle, built at the start of the 17th century by Gerald Fleming (who had in turn been granted territory previously held by a branch of the O’Reilly family). This was the building which was ‘modernized and made very pretty.’





Today the castle at Cabra is just one of a number of buildings constructed or improved by Mervyn Pratt. A walk through the site today leads first to his former stable block (see first set of pictures), popularly known as the Barracks. A long, two-storey gabled block the east side features a series of lunettes resting on a string-course; most of these have been blocked up but two are open as part of doorcases into the building. Nothing remains of the interior. To the west and on higher ground are the remains of the extended old castle, primarily consisting of two four-storey towers, that to the south likely the original Fleming residence. Again, almost nothing survives of the interior, but somehow in the newer block there remains intact one plastered niche, as well as evidence of an adjacent cantilevered staircase. From this high spot, the land begins to drop and, past a typical domed and recessed icehouse, the path leads down to a lake beside which stands what’s left of the ‘little commodious lodge’ where Mervyn Pratt lived while the castle was being restored and enlarged. It has been proposed by Kevin Mulligan that this building (as well as the stables) were designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce and originally featured a broad pedimented façade inspired, via the work of Lord Burlington, by Palladio’s Villa Valmarana at Vigardolo. As elsewhere, not a lot remains and indeed at least half of the building no longer stands; the central portion has lost its pediment and, given a flat, utilitarian roof, is now used as a store shed. But at least here, enough does survive for the original concept to be apparent.





The Pratts remained in possession, but perhaps not in residence at Cabra for the rest of the 18th century; in his Statistical Survey of the County of Cavan (1802) Sir Charles Coote while enthusiastic about the improvements undertaken by Mervyn Pratt and his successors in the local town of Kingscourt, was much less engaged with the demesne and buildings at Cabra. ‘The ruins of the old castle,’ he wrote, ‘which was the family mansion, are contiguous to the house, but quite too near to have any pleasing effect, which such pieces of antiquity afford in the landscape.’ Sir Charles was far more enthusiastic about the landscape and house at nearby Cormy (‘very beautiful, and formed with great judgement and true economy’) owned by Henry Foster who was then undertaking to transform a standard Georgian house into a romantic Gothic castle. However, before this work was finished, Cormy was sold to Colonel Joseph Pratt who abandoned the old family old home and renamed the new one Cabra Castle. This remained in the ownership of his descendants until 1964 and has since been used as an hotel. Meanwhile the older Cabra estate fell into neglect until acquired by the national Forest and Wildlife Service in 1959. Today it is run by Coillte (the state forestry body) and open to the public as Dún a Rí forest park.

With Panoramic Views


Looking rather like a lighthouse after the tide has (considerably) receded, this is the Tower (or Pillar, or Spire) of Lloyd, County Meath. A plaque on the building reads ‘This pillar was designed by Henry Aaron Baker Esq. architect, was executed by Mr. Joseph Beck stone cutter, Mr. Owen Mc Cabe head mason, Mr. Bartle Reilly overseer Anno 1791’. One hundred feet high and with 164 steps to its summit, the cut limestone tower was commissioned by Thomas Taylour, first Earl of Bective, perhaps in memory of his father. But the octagonal lantern at the top served as a signalling station during times of unrest and a viewing platform from which could be seen much of the surrounding landscape. The name of the site incidentally derives from a Colonel Thomas Lloyd who during the Williamite Wars encamped on the hill here with a number of soldiers.

On a Clear Day



The so-called Fleming’s Folly in County Cavan. Many fanciful stories have been spread about this little building, such as that it was constructed by local landowner Captain James Fleming so that he could see his son’s ship returning from America. More likely it is an early 19th century folly, of the kind then being constructed across the country: the building is shown on an Ordnance Survey map of 1836. Made from stone quarried locally, it is of two storeys and has the remains of a large chimney on the groundfloor; this suggests the folly served as a destination for walks by the Flemings and their guests. The building stands at the top of a hill above the village of Ballinagh and by climbing an intramural staircase it was possible in clear weather to see three of Ireland’s provinces: Ulster, Leinster and Connaught.


At a Crossroads


Encircled by yew trees, here is the Temple of Mercury in the grounds of Dromoland Castle, County Clare. The building dates from the early 18th century, and appears on an estate map of c.1740 which shows it to have been of a elaborate formal layout that included avenues and terraces, as well as vistas of which this would have formed part, since it stands at the crossing of two straight paths. The temple features eight Doric columns supporting a timber dome covered in lead atop which perches a bronze statue of Mercury.

Deep in the Woods


Buried in woodland managed by Coillte, the national forestry commission, this gazebo was once part of the parkland of Emo Court, County Laois. As James Howley noted in his book on The Follies and Garden Buildings of Ireland (1993), the structure bears similarities to the William Kent-designed Worcester Lodge on the Badminton estate in England. It dates from 1746, whereas the Emo Court gazebo is slightly later, believed to be c.1760. The rusticated base takes the form of a triumphal arch, with extensions on either side, one of which would have held a service room and the other a staircase. The latter provided access to the octagonal first floor, its cut-limestone exterior featuring alternating windows and arched niches with oculi above them all. Here presumably meals were taken on occasion and views across the demesne appreciated. The dome crowning the building has long since been lost, and some of the stonework looks in perilous condition.

Showing What Can be Done



Gloster, County Offaly has featured here before (see Spectacle as Drama, August 31st 2015) not least thanks to the exemplary and ongoing restoration programme being carried out there by the present owners. Their latest initiative has involved the very striking eye-catcher folly situated on high ground to the east of the house. Above are a couple of photographs showing how this looked until recently.



The Gloster folly is believed to date from the 1720s, making its construction some twenty years earlier than that of the better-known Conolly Folly in County Kildare. As with the main house here, the design is attributed to Sir Edward Lovett Pearce: his aunt had married Menhop Lloyd, owner of the Gloster estate and it was their son Trevor (first cousin of Pearce) who remodelled Gloster following his inheritance of the place. Rising some twenty feet high, the folly consists of a triumphal arch, flanked by obelisks on substantial plinths. Last year the whole site was cleared of vegetation before both the folly and its wing walls underwent full restoration, thereby ensuring its long-term survival and providing another example of what can be achieved in preserving our architectural heritage. Bravo to all concerned.


A Commemoration



With superlative views across Dundalk Harbour towards the Cooley and Mourne Mountains, this is Moonveigh Tower, a 19th century folly erected by Sir Patrick Bellew. Member of an Angl0-Norman family which despite the Penal Laws managed to retain both the Roman Catholic faith and lands of its forbears, Sir Patrick was among the first Catholics elected to Parliament after Emancipation in 1829. In 1832 he stood aside to let his younger brother Richard Montesquieu Bellew take the seat but was returned in 1835 and again two years later. It was to mark the latter occasion that the tower, on the site of an old windmill, was constructed, a spiral staircase inside climbing up to offer a wonderful outlook from the top. A plaque above the now-cemented doorcase declares ‘This tower was erected to commemorate the election to parliament in January 1837 of Sir Patrick Bellew Bart and Richard M. Bellew Esq. As members for this County. It was commenced in the year of the Coronation of Her Majesty, Queen Victoria whom God long preserve.’


Hard to Miss


The Browne-Clayton Column stands on a rise in the middle of the Wexford countryside. Modelled on Pompey’s Pillar, erected by the Emperor Diocletian in Alexandria, Egypt in 297, the column climbs 94 feet to a fine Corinthian capital, the whole constructed of Mount Leinster granite. It was built on the instructions of General Robert Browne-Clayton in memory of Sir Ralph Abercrombie, his commanding officer in Egypt during the Napoleonic Wars: Sir Ralph was killed at Alexandria in 1801. The folly is notable for being the only such column with an internal spiral staircase allowing remarkable views of the surrounding countryside from the top. In 1994 it was struck by lightning and the top section so badly damaged that collapse seemed inevitable. Ten years later, following the establishment of a charitable trust devoted to its restoration and financial aid from a number of sources, work ensuring the column’s future was complete and it remains solid to the present day.

Romantic Views


The ruins of old Crom Castle, County Fermanagh. Located on the shore of Upper Lough Erne, this was built in 1610 by Scottish settler Michael Balfour: nine years later it was described by Nicholas Pynnar as ‘a house set of lime and stone’ situated inside ‘a bawn of lime and stone being 60 feet square, 12 feet high with two flankers.’ In 1655 Crom was acquired by the Crichton family who lived here until 1764 when the building was gutted by fire. Following the construction of the present Crom Castle elsewhere on the estate in the 1830s, this ruin was embellished by the addition of long walls concluding in circular flankers on either side of the main block. During the following decade the Crichton Tower, a folly on little Gad Island (seen below) was likewise built as a romantic eye-catcher.