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.
Two country houses, both in County Meath and both now hotels. Today, Dunboyne Castle which dates from the mid-1760s and in its present form was designed by Drogheda architect George Darley for the widowed Sarah Hamilton. Although only 15 or so years later than Bellinter (see the previous post), Dunboyne Castle’s interiors are quite different, rococo having usurped baroque as the preferred style of decoration. The plasterwork of the ground floor saloon’s ceiling is reminiscent of work from the same period at Dowth Hall which was also designed by Darley (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2012/12/24/netterville-netterville-where-have-you-been) and which has been attributed to Robert West.
On 17th June 1765 John Wesley, founder of the Methodist denomination, wrote in his journal, ‘At seven I preached in the Market-house at Kilfinane [County Limerick]. Well nigh all the town, Irish, English and Germans, Protestants and Papists, presently gathered together. At first, most of the Papists stood aloof; and so did several of the genteeler people: but by degrees they drew in, and mixed with the congregation.’ Wesley returned to Kilfinane on several later occasions, each time preaching in the market house, of which these are now the sorry remains. Dating from c.1760 and of cut sandstone with three broad arches on its façade, the market house was described as ‘a large and commodious building’ by Samuel Lewis in 1837, having just been repaired the previous year. Having remained in use until the last century, how regrettable to see what was a part of the town’s history, and prosperity, for more than 250 years allowed to fall into such a shabby state.
Located in the north-west corner of County Westmeath, this is Wilson’s Hospital, a secondary school which in 2011 celebrated its 250th anniversary. The school’s founder was one Andrew Wilson who, the year before his death in 1725, made a will stipulating that if there were no direct male heirs to his estate, then this should be transferred to the Church of Ireland for the establishment of a hospital for elderly Protestant men and a school for impoverished Protestant boys. After a few decades had passed and no male heir had appeared (and a family dispute over the will resolved), work began on the building, its design sometimes attributed to the little-known Dublin architect Henry Pentland. From the front Wilson’s Hospital looks like a Palladian country house, since to the rear of the main block (shown here) are quadrants leading to two-storey wings. And the façade features a two-storey-over-basement limestone breakfront, the three centre bays stepped forward and with fine Venetian windows on the extreme first-floor windows. The institutional nature of the place is indicated by the clock tower visible above the roofline, and, immediately behind the front, by an arcaded, three-storey courtyard that recalls that of the earlier Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, albeit on a smaller scale. Elderly Protestant men are no longer accommodated here, but boys (and for the past 50 years, also girls) continue to be educated at Wilson’s Hospital.
The three-storey, octagonal dovecote at Mosstown, County Longford. Believed to date from the mid-18th century, it once stood inside the walled garden of Mosstown, an estate that for a long period belonged to the Newcomen baronets. At some date in the 17th century they built Mosstown, a long house of at least 11 bays and two-storeys with dormered attics and double gables. It passed into other hands in the 19th century but was still occupied until the 1930s, after which the property stood empty until regrettably demolished in 1962. Now sharing a field with a number of horses, this dovecote is one of the few remaining buildings to recall the estate’s existence. The two upper levels, with blind round-headed openings on the first floor and blind oculi on the second, had an interior housing pigeons but the ground floor is a single open space with handsome domed brick ceiling.
The limestone portico of Loughcrew, County Meath re-erected, at least in part. This singularly unlucky house was thrice burnt within a century and twice re-constructed. But after the third fire the building was demolished and Greek Ionic portico lay in pieces on the surrounding ground until partially reassembled a few years ago. Loughcrew was a neo-classical house designed by Charles Robert Cockerell in the early 1820s for the Naper family. It was always an exceptionally severe looking building, and as has been noted, recalled a courthouse rather than a residence. Even its architect judged the finished work ‘very plain, too bald’, whereas what remains of the portico is wonderfully evocative and might almost serve as a symbol for all the other ruined country houses in Ireland.
Not all anniversaries are necessarily cause for celebration. Today marks the centenary of the burning of Mount Shannon, County Limerick, one among the first wave of Irish country houses to be burnt during the War of Independence, followed by many more over the course of the Civil War. Dating from the mid-18th century, Mount Shannon was originally built for the Oliver family but by 1765 it had been acquired by John FitzGibbon, who had converted from Roman Catholicism to the Established Church in order to practice law. This move ultimately also converted him into a wealthy man, so understandably the same profession was also followed by his son, another John FitzGibbon, who became known as ‘Black Jack’ for his hostility to the faith of his forebears and his advocacy of the 1800 Act of Union. Prior to that event, he served as last Lord Chancellor of Ireland and was rewarded with a peerage, becoming Earl of Clare in 1795. While he improved Mount Shannon and the surrounding demesne, it was his son the second earl who did most work on the place, not least by enhancing the façade with the addition of its great Ionic portico, designed by architect Lewis William Wyatt. Thanks to a pension secured by his father, he was also able to fill the interior with furniture and works of art collected during his travels in Europe, and from time spent in India as Governor of Mumbai (then called Bombay). Having no children, when he died in 1851 both title and estate passed to a younger brother.
The third Earl of Clare did not benefit from a government pension such as that enjoyed by his late brother, nor did he lead as charmed a life; in 1854 his son and heir, 25-year old Viscount FitzGibbon, was reported missing, presumed dead, after leading his troop of Royal Irish Huzzars at the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. His body was never recovered. So, when the third earl in turn died a decade later, Mount Shannon passed to the youngest of his three daughters, Lady Louisa FitzGibbon who likewise suffered various misfortunes: her first husband died, as did her son, and then her second husband – a Sicilian marchese – proved to be as just as impoverished as was she. Already in debt, the onset of the Land Wars finished off her prospects and in 1888 Lady Louisa’s creditors forced a sale of Mount Shannon and its contents. The house had two more owners before its eventual destruction, the first being Thomas Nevins, who had been born in Mayo but made a fortune in the United States as a tram and railway contractor. He lived at Mount Shannon for less than a decade because in 1902, exactly a century after the first Earl of Shannon had died following a fall from a horse, Mr Nevins suffered the same fate. His wife followed him a few years later, and Mount Shannon was back on the market. Most of the land was divided up between local farmers and in 1915 the house and immediate surroundings were bought for £1,000 by one David O’Hannigan, who already owned a fine property some thirty miles to the south, Kilbolane House, County Cork (since demolished). However, he was unable to enjoy his new home for very long because on the night of June 14th 1920 Mount Shannon was set on fire by a local band of the IRA, leaving the building completely gutted; it is believed flames from the blazing site could be seen in Limerick city more than five miles away. What remains of the house has stood a ruin ever since. Over the next three years, there will be many more such centenaries to recall.
You can see and hear more about Mount Shannon on the Irish Aesthete’s new YouTube channel:
And a longer history of the house was published here in January 2014: https://theirishaesthete.com/2014/01/20/a-spectacular-fall-from-grace
South Hill, County Westmeath is a house of five bays and three-storeys over basement, believed to date from c.1810 and perhaps designed by Dublin architect William Farrell. The building’s most notable feature is a long, single-storey limestone pavilion attached to the facade and centred on a pilastered porch with wide fanlight. Constructed for a branch of the Tighe family, South Hill was then inherited by the Chapmans of Killua Castle, a few miles away; in 1870 Thomas Chapman became owner of the estate, following the death of an older brother. Chapman, who would later become Sir Thomas, seventh and last baronet, had four daughters with his wife, an ardent evangelical Christian. The couple hired a governess for the children, Sarah Lawrence and in 1885 she became pregnant, giving birth to a son. Chapman was the father, and when his wife discovered this, he left the family home and moved with Sarah Lawrence to Wales, where a second son, Thomas Edward, was born; having settled in Oxford, the couple would have several further sons. They and their four half-sisters appear never to have met each other.
Sir Thomas Chapman never returned to Ireland, although he continued to receive an annuity from the estate. His second son, who would become famous as Lawrence of Arabia, was aware of his Irish ancestry and of the fact that his father had lived in South Hill; in later years he considered acquiring land in the area, but this didn’t happen before his early death. Eventually the property was sold to an order of nuns and became an educational establishment. Today South Hill is surrounded by institutional buildings of outstanding architectural mediocrity.
The doorcase of a house standing on the north side of The Square in Durrow, County Laois. It is one of a number of properties developed here in the late 18th century by the Flower family, Viscounts Ashbrook, the entrance to whose estate lies to the immediate west of the terrace, adjacent to the Church of Ireland church. This house, of five bays and three storeys, has the finest doorcase, with carved limestone pilasters and entablature below the fanlight. Another in the same group can be seen below with its contrasting Gibbsian doorcase approached via charming wrought iron railings.