On the Market


A further example of urban decay in Ireland: the Market House in Portarlington, County Laois. Standing in the centre of a square from which radiate four roads, the building dates from the early years of the 18th century and reflects the town’s prosperity at the time. Readers outside Ireland may be startled to know that for several decades this significant monument to Portarlington’s past operated as a garage where cars were serviced and repaired; for Irish readers, the information will come as no surprise, since it is typical of how we are inclined to treat our architectural heritage. Last July the local authority came to an arrangement with the owners of the market house, taking it over on a long lease. The intention, presumably, is to restore the building and put it to more sympathetic use. But much more needs to be done if such a project is to realise its full potential. At the moment, there are several substantial properties around the surrounding square in various stages of neglect and decay, most critically Arlington House, a five-bay, three storey 18th century house currently vacant (and with a long-time empty lot beside it), also the former Church of Ireland church, and adjacent to that a former cinema dating from the 1940s. Much of the square’s space is given over to car parking, and near-constant traffic discourages pedestrians from exploring the site. If this square and market house were elsewhere in Europe, their full potential would be exploited as a centrepiece for urban renewal and as a means of encouraging visitors to Portarlington. Let’s wait to see what the county council now does with the building and what is for now a bleak and desolate setting…
Incidentally, the Irish branch of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) is now running a Maintenance Week with plenty of advice and help for owners of historic properties. Find out more through the organisation’s twitter account (@SPABIreland) or Instagram page (@spabireland). 


Blowing in the Wind I


Last January, the Irish Times reported that a land parcel of 800 acres in County Tipperary was being offered for sale as a single lot with an asking price of €11 million. According to the article, ‘a wide range of investors and land speculators are expected to express their interest in the sale.’ The reason for that interest, and the figure this parcel was expected to make, arises from the fact that the site contains two substantial clusters of wind turbines (18 and 12 respectively), with a third now underway and expected to active in two years’ time. The turbines were originally developed by a mining company which, between 1999 and 2015 extracted zinc and lead from the ground. Long before the mine closed, in 2009 the company embarked on developing the first group of wind turbines, the second commissioned in 2013. The operation of this business is managed by another body, a Canadian-based global fund called Brookfield Renewable Partners, which in 2016 struck a ten-year deal with Facebook to provide its energy needs: the latest cluster of wind turbines here will generate power for Facebook’s  data centre campus in Clonee, Co Meath, and its new European headquarters in Ballsbridge, Dublin.





Killoran House stands less than a mile from the Lisheen wind farms. For many hundreds of years the land here belonged to members of the Campy or Campie family, the first of whom was a soldier Solomon Camby, originally from Norfolk it seems, whose name is mentioned in reports of the Battle of Marston Moor (July 1644) when Parliamentary forces defeated the Royalist army. He was then a member of the cavalry regiment that came to be known as the Ironsides; Camby was part of what was called the ‘Maiden Troop’ headed by Captain Robert Swallow and drawn from Norwich. Subsequently in 1649 he came to Ireland as part of the New Model Army and was involved in crushing opposition here; he appears to have been in County Mayo in 1653 when English troops attempted to burn down Ballintubber Abbey. Like many other soldiers, he was rewarded for his services in land, and this was confirmed by the post-Restoration English government in 1667 when Major Solomon Camby was granted over 1,700 acres in the barony of Lower Ormond, County Tipperary and some 90 acres in the barony of Forth, County Wexford. One may assume that the original Solomon Camby was a staunch Protestant, but in the 18th century one of his descendants married a member of the Lalor family, who had always remained Roman Catholic. By the time Solomon Lalor Cambie inherited the former Lalor estate at Killoran in the following century he must also have been a Catholic (since he was educated by the Jesuits at Clongowes Wood College). His land holding ran to almost 1,600 acres and it was probably for this reason that he decided to build a new residence for himself.





Killoran House dates from around 1850, and is a typical solid gentleman’s residence of the period, with an extensive yard to one side of the building. The three-bay, two storey entrance front is curious because the centre bay entrance projection has its door around one side. The front, on the other hand, is taken up by a large and elaborate fanlight window; inside, the space directly above acts as an additional room off the landing, accessed via a pair of shuttered doors. Otherwise the interior is, again, typical of the time although the cantilevered staircase is lighter than usually the case for the mid-19th century. Currently on the market, the house is in a very poor state of repair, and looks to have been left empty for quite some time. Many of the windows are broken and slates missing from the roof. As a consequence, large quantities of rain water have entered the building and some upper floors have collapsed. Almost all the interior fittings like chimney pieces have been removed. Surrounded as it is by wind turbines, and with more due to be added to their number shortly, Killoran House’s prospects do not look cheering. The property is, naturally, included on the local authority’s list of protected structures.


Apologies to anyone who looked at this earlier when the text was missing…

A Good Barracking



And today’s example of wasted public resources comes courtesy of Longford County Council. Dating from 1815, the former cavalry barracks in Longford town are believed to have been designed by John Behan, a measurer and architect (and timber merchant) employed by the Board of Works on such military properties. Historically, this is the most important area in the town, since it is where the dominant family, the O’Farrells built a castle (the last parts of which were demolished in the early 1970s: a shopping centre can now be found there instead). In the 17th century, Francis Aungier converted at least part of the site into a manor house with surrounding gardens, building a market house and square immediately adjacent. In 1774 his descendant sold the property to the British authorities for development as a military barracks. Post-Independence, these were occupied by the Irish army until 2009. Three years later, the buildings on some 5.1 hectares were bought by the county council for €450,000, since when the cavalry barracks has sat empty. A number of smaller ancillary blocks to the rear are used by local groups and there’s a large open field running down to the river Camlin. The same questions arise: why do local authorities purchase these places and then leave them unused for so long, meaning that whenever an eventual use is found, the relevant costs are higher? And what sort of example does this set to other owners of historic properties when the county council fails to take adequate care of an important building it owns? Only question always has the same answer. Who’ll eventually have to foot the bill? Answer: the Irish taxpayer.



Taken to Court



One of the most perfect neo-classical buildings in Ireland: the Courthouse in Carlow town. Constructed of local granite, the courthouse was designed in 1830 by William Vitruvius Morrison and in part funded by the Bruen family who lived not far away at Oak Park (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/10/03/oak-park-2) and who employed the same architect to design their own house. The building stands in the centre of a wide platform approached by two flights of steps. Its pedimented facade featuring a recessed entrance behind eight giant Ionic columns was inspired by the Temple of Illisus in Athens, believed to date from the mid-5th century BC, but destroyed by the Turks in the late 18th century and known only from the work of James Stuart and Nicholas Revett who had recorded the temple a few years before it was lost. The same fate seemed to threaten Carlow’s courthouse towards the end of the last century after it had fallen into a poor state of repair, but thankfully a full restoration was undertaken and it continues to serve its original purpose and to grace the town of Carlow.

Another World


Powerscourt, 1925

Frank Browne, better known as Fr Browne, was without doubt the finest photographer working in Ireland during the middle decades of the last century. Taking some 42,000 pictures, all of which he carefully catalogued before his death in 1960, he left behind an astonishingly rich record of daily life throughout the country over that period. Even more remarkably, photography began, and remained, an extra-curricular hobby because Frank Browne was first and foremost a Jesuit priest. His activities as a photographer had to be fitted in – and sometimes set aside – as and when was required by his superiors in the order. This makes his achievement in the medium all the more impressive. It is clear that he could have made a comfortable living from his work, but chose not to do so. All financial compensation he received for his work, and during certain busy periods the amounts were substantial, he was not permitted to retain: the money was immediately forwarded to the Provincial Treasurer of the Jesuit order. Among the payments he received were those for a series of images of Ireland’s country houses, commissioned by the Irish Tatler & Sketch. Published monthly, the photographs were accompanied by Browne’s own texts, in which he discussed the building in question and its history. It says a great deal about the man’s character that he managed to gain the trust of so many owners, who allowed him access to their properties, which were then still private and not open to the public. The pictures he took on these occasions are a fantastic but hitherto insufficiently explored resource, since they show interiors of many houses either since lost or radically altered. What’s particularly interesting is to look at how such buildings, still occupied by their original families, were then furnished as it is indicative of decorative taste at the time, often little altered from the 19th century. The pictures also provide viewers with a wistful awareness of what has been lost, usually sold at auction and frequently taken out of the country. Some of these images are included in a newly-published book, Wandering Wicklow with Father Browne, and they are shown here.





Killruddery, 1947

Killruddery, County Wicklow is today one of Ireland’s most popular and visited country houses, enjoying the benefits of being located on the edge of Dublin. It has been home to successive generations of the Brabazon family, Earls of Meath, since the early 17th century. The core of the building dates from that period, but heavily encased in a number of later additions, the most substantial being made by father and son architects Richard and William Vitruvius Morrison during the 1820s when they greatly enlarged the house and transformed its exterior to resemble an immense Tudor mansion, further alterations being made some forty years later when William Slater added a Dutch gable and Oriel window to the south front. A decade earlier, the present conservatory was constructed, replacing an earlier one that was part of the Morrisons’ contribution. Browne’s photographs were taken in 1947 when all of this was still in place. But just a few years later, extensive dry rot was discovered in parts of the building and the fourteenth Earl of Meath took the decision that demolition was the only option. Accordingly, in the early 1950s the entire entrance front on the north side was pulled down and the remainder remodelled by Claud Phillimore. At least a third of the house was lost including the double-height entrance hall seen here, along with an equally monumental dining room and other spaces. Browne’s pictures provide an invaluable record of how Killruddery appeared before these revolutionary changes were instigated.





Shelton Abbey, 1947

The Howard family came from the village of Shelton in Nottinghamshire, and remembered this when they chose to name their Irish house Shelton Abbey. The original building here is thought to have been constructed for Ralph Howard, first Viscount Wicklow, in the mid-1750s, its design attributed to English architect Matthew Brettingham. In 1819 Howard’s grandson, William-Forward Howard, 4th Earl of Wicklow invited the Morrisons père et fils to remodel the building so that it might resemble ‘an Abbey erected in the fourteenth century, and…formed into a baronial residence shortly after the Reformation’ although the architects complained the result was less perfect than they might have wished since the owner wished to retain as much as possible of the original fabric. Some of the interiors, such as the library and dining room, retained their classical decoration but others, not least the main drawing room, were made over in Tudor Gothic style with wonderful fan vaulted ceilings. During the 1740s the first Ralph Howard had undertaken a Grand Tour during which he was painted by Pompeo Batoni and acquired a number of old master works and antiquities. Subsequent further generations of the family married well and added to Shelton Abbey’s contents so that by the time the eighth, and last, Earl of Wicklow inherited the place it was filled with treasures. Unfortunately, his bank balance was less well stocked and in 1947 he decided to open his home as an hotel. Just before this happened, Browne was invited to photograph the building, the first such job he undertook for Irish Tatler & Sketch. His pictures therefore show Shelton Abbey when still a private property. Sadly, the earl’s scheme was not a success  – it was perhaps too early for the allure of a country house hotel to be appreciated – and in 1950 he made the decision to sell the estate. A sale of the contents duly followed and took an astonishing 13 days, an indication of how impressive they were, with dealers coming from England and the United States to snatch up many bargains. Today Shelton Abbey is an open prison and its interiors, bereft of their former contents, have suffered from indifferent maintenance. This gives Browne’s pictures a particular poignancy, not least one showing Mr Virtue, the house’s long-serving butler, looking apprehensively out the front door as he awaits the arrival of paying guests.


Humewood, 1947

Wandering Wicklow with Father Browne is published by Messenger Publications (www.messenger.ie) and now available in all good bookshops.

 

Two in One II


Inside its own courtyard and therefore well set back from Main Street in Celbridge, County Kildare, this is Kildrought House. Dating from c.1720, it was built by Robert Baillie, a tapestry maker who also acted as land agent for William Conolly of nearby Castletown, the design attributed to Thomas Burgh. The house has had a complex history, serving not just as a private residence (which is now the case) but also from 1782 as an academy and then in 1830 as a cholera hospital. The building was restored thirty years ago by the present owner and offers an excellent example of how to preserve the best features of our towns, an example too rarely followed.

Two in One I


Caught in a (very) momentary lull in traffic, this is Jasmine Lodge, located at the northern end of Main Street in Celbridge, County Kildare. The house is thought to date from c.1750 when built by Charles Davis, then acting as land agent for the Conolly family of nearby Castletown. Its most distinctive feature is the floating pediment at the top of the building, inset with a small Diocletian window. The present doorcase with its wide fanlight and sidelights was, it seems, installed around 1800 while the decorative iron archway was reportedly made using material salvaged from Dublin’s General Post Office after the 1916 Rising.

Disregarded


A week ago, this site explored the old house at Clonalis, County Roscommon and explained why in the last quarter of the 19th century it was abandoned for another residence elsewhere on the property. The branch of the ancient O’Conor family who still live here moved to Clonalis exactly 200 years ago, in 1820; prior to that they had been living elsewhere in the county. As mentioned, by the early 1700s the great O’Conors had been brought low, a consequence of their support over previous decades for the Roman Catholic and Jacobite causes, and the harsh penalties duly imposed on them. The head of this branch, Denis O’Conor, was known as ‘The Heir to Nothing’ as all his ancestral lands had been taken from him; supposedly he advised his own children never to be impudent to the poor because, ‘I was the son of a gentleman but you are the sons of a ploughman.’ In 1720, aided by his uncle, Counsellor Terence McDonagh he won a case in the Dublin courts that restored him a portion – 500 acres – of his patrimony. According to family tradition, he was so poor that he had to walk to the capital barefoot. On this parcel of land at Ballinagare, he built a new house for himself; until then, he had been living in a mud hut in County Sligo. This house became a home for Denis O’Conor’s extended family, including his mother-in-law, Countess Isabella O’Rorke who had been a Maid of Honour at the court of the exiled James II in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and his maternal uncle, Thadeus O’Rorke, former Chaplain to Prince Eugene of Savoy but by then the fugitive Catholic Bishop of Killala. The house also became a centre for anyone who espoused the old Gaelic culture, not least the period’s most famous bard and harpist Turlough Carolan who composed airs in honour of Denis O’Conor, his wife Maire, and their son Charles. A harp used by Carolan is still kept at Clonalis, along with the chalice of Bishop Thadeus O’Rorke his pectoral cross, liturgical vestments and an Episcopal ring presented to him by Prince Eugene.





Charles O’Conor was born in 1710, ten years before his father Denis won the court case and was able to move the family to Ballinagare. Having already been educated by a Franciscan friar through the medium of Irish and Latin, in adolescence he was taught by his uncle, Thadeus O’Rorke, before spending time in Dublin where he was taught mathematics, science and French by another Catholic clergyman. In 1731, he married Catherine O’Fagan who brought sufficient fortune with her to allow the couple establish their own household and here he devoted his time to the study of Ireland’s ancient history and culture, paying particular attention to all available original sources, aided by his fluency in both Irish and Latin. He also read all the leading contemporary writers in English and French. Throughout his life he collected, and annotated, Irish manuscripts and in 1753 published the work for which he remains best-remembered, Dissertations on the Antient History of Ireland which, thanks to its rigorous scholarship brought him widespread acclaim, not least from Samuel Johnson who after reading the book wrote to its author, ‘I have long wished that the Irish literature were cultivated. Ireland is known by tradition to have been once the seat of piety and learning; and surely it would be very acceptable to all those who are curious either in the original of nations, or the affinities of languages, to be further informed of the revolution of a people so ancient, and once so illustrious.’
Like his forebears, he remained a devout Roman Catholic, which at the time had its drawbacks. Conscious of the disadvantages suffered at the time by fellow-members of the same faith, along with historian John Curry, in 1757 he was one of the founders of the Catholic Committee, an organization campaigning for the repeal of the Penal Laws. He experienced the hazards of this legislation in 1777 when one of his younger brothers, Hugh O’Conor, conformed to the Established Church and filed a bill in chancery ‘for obtaining possession of the lands of Belanagare as its first protestant discoverer.’ Long litigation followed, ending only after the threat was seen off by the payment of a large financial settlement.






Following the death of his father Denis in 1749, Charles O’Conor moved to the house at Ballinagare and lived there until 1760 when he handed over the property to his eldest son (another Denis). Then he, moved to a smaller residence which he built and called the Hermitage. The latter still stands, albeit in somewhat precarious condition, but the former has fallen into ruin; this likely occurred after 1820 when Charles O’Conor’s grandson, Owen, moved to Clonalis. What remains are the façade and portions of the walls behind; these are believed to incorporate masonry taken from a late-medieval tower house constructed by an earlier generation of O’Conors. Faced in cut limestone, the entrance front is relatively modest, of three bays and one storey over raised basement, with a single storey extension to one side; a pediment incorporating a single arched window rises above the entablature. Dating from the 1720s, the house was intentionally given this diminutive appearance so as not to draw too much attention to its owners but it must have extended in both depth and possibly width to the rear since the number of occupants – members of the O’Conor family and their servants – is known to have been substantial. The entire interior has gone, as has the back wall, making it impossible to judge how the building looked when still occupied. The same is not true of Charles O’Conor’s second residence, the Hermitage which, as mentioned, still stands This modest house, just one room deep, is of two storeys and three bays, with an extension to the rear accommodating the staircase return. An adjacent yard would have held stables and coach house as well as rooms for the servants. Inside, it is still possible to see some of the decoration in both dining and drawing rooms, and entrance hall but the stairs are now too precarious to risk ascent to the first floor. The house was occupied until at least the middle of the last century, but a bungalow was subsequently constructed immediately in front, since when the older building has been used as a storage space, the ground floor windows enlarged to allow vehicular access. Its future must be considered precarious. Charles O’Conor was one of Ireland’s foremost scholars in the 18th century, and through his writings did much to preserve and disseminate evidence of this country’s ancient, and then-imperiled, culture. Almost thirty years ago, Seamus Deane described O’Conor as ‘one of the disregarded but very important figures of Irish history.’ The neglect of the buildings associated with him demonstrates little has changed in the interim.

Love is In and Out of Time


Another month, another loss: this time of the extraordinary Lindy Dufferin, for over half a century chatelaine of Clandeboye, County Down where she will be buried today. Born in 1941, Lindy seemed always to have lived at breakneck speed. A newspaper notice this week has commented that she might have been the lead character in a novel. But despite being constantly on the move, there were a few constants in her life. One was Clandeboye, the house and estate she was bequeathed by her husband Sheridan on his death in 1988. Thanks to her grit, initiative and flair she turned the place into a flourishing business (one of her greatest successes was Clandeboye Estate Yoghurt, established in 2007) and an important centre for environmental conservation. Thanks to her efforts, she ensured the estate’s future and preserved the house with its remarkable contents. Just as important was her own painting; as a teenager she had studied with Duncan Grant and she remained committed to the practice for the rest of her life; on visits to Clandeboye, one always had to look at, and comment on, her latest work. Regardless of what else was happening or where she was, Lindy made time for painting, always trying new approaches and techniques, never flagging in a determination to find the visual equivalent of her own distinctive voice. To my mind, her best work are the small landscapes, not least pictures of the cattle at Clandeboye (responsible for producing the milk that made all that delicious yoghurt). And friendship was the third constant, aided by insatiable curiosity about everyone else (chronically deaf, she habitually quizzed friends about their private lives in a very loud voice). It was always a joy to stay at comfortable, spoiling Clandeboye, although she could be an imperious hostess: I remember on one occasion being ordered to remain in the library while she showed visitors around the house, ‘otherwise darling you’ll only correct me when I say something wrong.’ The confinement was eased by well-stocked bookshelves and an equally well-stocked drinks table. Now she is gone and one is left with memories, not least of a riotous New Year’s Eve dinner held at the top of Helen’s Tower. A folly erected on the estate in the mid-19th century by the first Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, the tower was commemorated in a poem by Alfred Tennyson, which includes the line ‘Love is in and out of time.’ It seems an appropriate way to recall Lindy.

Serena Belinda Rosemary Guinness, Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, March 25, 1941-October 26 2020

Another Souvenir



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?