In Search of Fresh Purpose


As an area of both study and preservation, the relative neglect of ancillary buildings on Irish country estates has been mentioned here before. While the main house may be – scrutinised, the surrounding structures which did so much to sustain it – is often overlooked. Take the substantial range of buildings shown here today, which lie adjacent to Coolure, County Westmeath. Despite their scale and evident quality of finish, they pass unremarked in Casey and Rowan’s 1993 volume on the Buildings of North Leinster. This is not an unusual circumstance but one that deserves rectification: at the moment if we often know too little about who was responsible for designing and constructing many Irish country houses, we know even less about the origins of their outbuildings.
At least some of those at Coolure must date from the same period as when work began on the house proper c.1785 following the marriage of Captain (later Admiral) Thomas Pakenham to Louisa Staples. It was extended in the 1820s, probably to accommodate their substantial family, and the yards may have been proportionately increased in size then also. Finally a number of buildings, not least a vast and now roofless two-storey barn, were erected in the 1850s, thereby completing the ensemble.





Changing circumstances along with improved technology, the break-up of large estates, better methods of agriculture, alternative means of transport: all have played their part in making country house outbuildings mostly redundant. Who now needs lines of stables (one set occupied by horses required for riding and carriages, one for animals used about the farm) and coach houses, or piggeries and dovecotes? But the buildings once deemed essential for these purposes, and many others beside, still stand, testament to how rural Ireland operated for centuries. The ranges at Coolure are especially fine, and a credit to the family responsible for their erection. Some have been converted to residential use, and some adapted as storage space or to provide temporary shelter for livestock. But what – to pick a single example from many – can now be done with a hen house, its interior specifically designed to contain rows of niches in which eggs could be laid (and from which they were then conveniently collected)? Buildings such as these demonstrate how an estate with sufficient resources would become an almost self-contained world, producing the foodstuffs required by those living there. Surviving account books from the 18th and 19th centuries reveal just how little needed to be bought, other than wine and spirits (beer could be brewed on site), tobacco and a handful of other luxuries. The fields yielded up their harvest to be stored in barns, livestock provided meat, ponds held fish, walled gardens and orchards were filled with fruit and vegetables. No wonder the outbuildings at Coolure are so substantial: they played a critical role in ensuring the estate functioned smoothly.





Deprived of their purpose, buildings such as those at Coolure can slip into decline, although they are perforce so sturdy that frequently they survive longer than the house they were intended to support. Built of rubble and cut limestone, and with slate roofs, these ranges are carefully planned to perform their task with maximum efficiency. Now that job is no longer required, the question needs to be asked: can a fresh purpose be found for them? In recent years an annual series of grants to encourage the preservation of traditional farm buildings has been provided by the Department of Agriculture through GLAS (Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme) and administered by the Heritage Council. This is intended ‘to ensure that traditional farm buildings and other related structures that contribute to the character of the landscape, and are of significant heritage value, are conserved for active agricultural use.’ Although admirable, the scheme suffers from two drawbacks when it comes to outbuildings such as those at Coolure. Firstly the grants offered, while obviously much appreciated, are not enormous: between €4,000 and €25,000. Secondly, according to the Heritage Council, ‘the key conservation principle of minimum intervention should apply, that is, carrying out a repair to fix what is wrong but not setting out to do too much work. Works which are, in the opinion of the Heritage Council, restoration works, are very unlikely to be supported with grant aid.’ So outbuildings that need to be restored in order that they can find a new function would seem not to qualify. Perhaps another scheme might be established for this purpose? Fine, well-designed and solidly constructed buildings like those at Coolure merit help in finding a new lease of life.

Architectural Whimsy


Seen beneath a thunderous sky and across its parkland, the façade of Swainstown, County Meath. This idiosyncratic house dates from c.1750 and was built for Nathaniel Preston whose elder brother John during the same period was building Bellinter, some ten miles away, to the designs of Richard Castle: accordingly the latter may have had a hand in Swainstown. The house follows the classic Palladian model, the main block being of two storeys with wings on either side linked by quadrants. But thereafter an element of whimsical caprice is apparent, beginning with the limestone window lintels and a front doorcase which is exaggeratedly tall and narrow, and finished with a segmental pediment. Swainstown continues to be occupied by Nathaniel Preston’s descendants.

Lost Forever


The history of Tyrone House, County Galway and its sad fall from grace was discussed here a few weeks ago (see A High House on High Ground, September 18th 2017). Above is an image of the building included in the fifth and final volume of the The Georgian Society Records of Eighteenth Century Domestic Architecture and Decoration published in 1913, showing it still intact. One of the house’s most striking features was the entrance hall, dominated by a mid-18th century white marble life-size statue of St. George Ussher St. George, Baron Saint George. This survived until Tyrone House was attacked in August 1920 when the statue was smashed to pieces: as a result, the photograph below is the only record of the work.
Copies of my new book, Tyrone House and the St George Family: The Story of an Anglo-Irish Family are now available from the Irish Georgian Society bookshop. For more information, please see https://shop.igs.ie/collections/books

Fit for Purpose?


Buildings frequently appear on this site with the information that they are ‘listed for protection.’ This is a fine phrase, but what does it mean in practice? The Citizens Information Board provides a helpful guide, as follows:
‘A protected structure is a structure that a planning authority considers to be of special interest from an architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical point of view. If you are the owner or occupier of a protected structure, you are legally obliged to prevent it becoming endangered, whether through damage or neglect. This document describes the protection given to these structures under Part IV of the Planning and Development Act 2000.
A structure must be listed on the planning authority’s Record of Protected Structures (RPS) to qualify for protected status under the Act. Each planning authority is obliged to keep a RPS as part of its development plan. The RPS must include every structure in the planning authority’s area which it considers to be of special interest. Inclusion of these structures in the RPS means that their importance is recognised, they are legally protected from harm and all future changes to the structure are controlled and managed through the development control process (for example, planning permission) or by issuing a declaration under Section 57 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.
If a structure is included in the RPS, the protection extends to the interior of the structure; to the land in its curtilage; and to any other structures on that land and their interiors. Curtilage means the land and outbuildings immediately surrounding a structure which is (or was) used for the purposes of the structure. This obligation also applies to all fixtures and features forming part of the interior and exterior of the protected structure or any structure on the grounds attached to it. If there is an urgent need for repairs to a protected structure, a grant may be available under the Structures at Risk Fund.’





‘Owners or occupiers of protected structures are legally required to make sure that the structure does not become endangered through neglect, decay, damage or harm. Generally, if a structure is kept in habitable condition and regular maintenance is carried out (such as cleaning out gutters, repairing missing slates, repainting external timberwork) it should not become endangered.
If a protected structure is endangered, the planning authority can serve a notice on the owner or occupier, requiring them to carry out any work that it considers necessary to protect the structure. The work must be done within 8 weeks of the date of the notice. The planning authority can also service a notice to require the ‘restoration of character’ of the protected structure. This could include removing, changing or replacing any parts of the structure specified in the notice.
Owners or occupiers can make written representations to the planning authority about the terms of the notice. They may request more time or financial help to comply with the notice. In many cases, they may be eligible for a conservation grant. The planning authority will take these representations into account when making their final decision. Owners and occupiers can appeal against the notice to the District Court within 2 weeks of their last response from the planning authority, if they are still not satisfied.
If a notice to prevent a structure from becoming endangered has been ignored, the planning authority can take enforcement action. In the case of endangerment or restoration of character notices, the planning authority can carry out the work itself and recover the costs of the work from the owner or the occupier. In exceptional cases, the planning authority may buy the protected structure from the owner, either by compulsory purchase or by agreement. This would only be done if the planning authority considered it the only way to save a protected structure.
Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, there are penalties for owners or occupiers of protected structures who endanger the structure or who fail to carry out work that has been ordered by the planning authority. If they are found guilty, they could be liable for fines of up to €12.7 million and/or a term of imprisonment of up to 2 years.’




The present legislation concerning protection of listed structures reads well on paper, but how does it perform in practice? The question is pertinent when considering the case of the building shown here today. This is the so-called Penn Castle in Shanagarry, County Cork. The core of the building may be a 15th century tower house built by a branch of the Power family. However in the mid-17th century it passed into the possession of Admiral Sir William Penn whose son, also called William, spent time here in the late 1660s prior to moving to North America where he established what would eventually become the State of Pennsylvania. Penn Castle underwent modifications over the following centuries before in more recent times being acquired by the potter Stephen Pearce. He embarked on an ambitious programme intended to extend the building and create a visitor centre adjacent to his business. Unfortunately in 2008 that business went into receivership and it appears the building has ever since stood empty, incomplete and falling into dereliction.
Penn Castle is listed as a protected structure by Cork County Council, yet it is difficult to see what the authority has done to ensure its protection. To some extent one can sympathise with the council’s predicament. Like equivalents across the state, it has many – often more pressing – claims on time, staff and financial resources to intervene in such situations, of which there are many (the case of Vernon Mount, gutted last year by arsonists, springs to mind). Since 2011 the government has provided assistance through a Structures at Risk Fund (although even this was temporarily suspended in 2014). In theory the fund ought to help. However, in the present year the total amount available – to cover the entire country – is €824,000. Grants may not exceed 80 per cent of project costs and the maximum amount available to any one project is €30,000 (a surprising number of these grants in 2017 have been made to churches). In so far as it is possible to understand, it is up to the owner of a building to apply to the relevant local authority for financial assistance. But what about instances – of which there are a large number – where no assistance is sought? Or where – as was frequently the case during the recent recession – a building falls into limbo owing to the owner’s business failing? Or where, as has also sometimes been seen to happen, the owner would rather the property fell into ruin than be maintained? On those occasions, the relevant local authority is supposed to intervene, but rarely does so. The costs involved in intervention are too high to make it feasible, and there are insufficient trained staff to take charge of such an endeavour. An impression is given that the current legislation on ‘protected structures’ is laudable but unenforceable. On the one hand local authorities are expected to take care of buildings listed for preservation in their area of responsibility, while on the other they possess neither adequate funds nor manpower to do so. Accordingly it must be asked, is the Planning and Development Act 2000 with regard to Protected Structures fit for purpose? And if not, ought it to be revisited and revised so as to ensure better safeguards are put in place for the country’s built heritage? Otherwise it looks like the disparity between theory and practice will continue to grow and properties such as Penn Castle, despite their ‘protected status’, will remain at risk from irreparable neglect.

 

Truly Majestic


An overmantel in oak and pine attributed to the Dublin carver John Houghton and dated 1750/51: it appears he was paid £12 for his work. The piece was originally made to sit above the chimneypiece in the great Presence Chamber, one of a suite of State Apartments created in Dublin Castle around this time. The Presence Chamber was destroyed in a fire which broke out in the building in January 1941 and is now known only from photographs: the overmantel survived because at some date in the late 19th/early 20th century it had been moved to another location. The carving depicts Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius accepting homage from a group of Parthians following the conquest of their country in A.D.166. It is clearly intended to be an allegory for the government of Ireland by William Stanhope, first Earl of Harrington who had been appointed Lord Lieutenant in 1746. Following the initiative of his predecessor (and cousin), Philip Stanhope, fourth Earl of Chesterfield, Harrington continued the job of overhauling the old state rooms in the castle, in 1749 requesting from the Lords of the Treasury the substantial sum of £6,991.13.6 for this purpose. Both the overmantle and the portrait of Harrington (below) by James Worsdale are included in a fascinating exhibition Making Majesty currently at Dublin Castle. It is accompanied by an extremely informative (and readable) catalogue of the same name, edited by the show’s organizers Myles Campbell and William Derham.

Home to the Waltons


The façade of Walton Court, County Cork. Overlooking Oysterhaven harbor, the house is believed to occupy the site of an earlier tower house constructed by the Roche family. In 1643 land in this area was acquired by Captain Swithin Walton, and it was his descendant Thomas Walton who built Walton Court: on a stone in the pediment are his initials and the date 1776. In the 19th century the property passed by marriage to another local family, the Roberts: it now provides accommodation and food to paying guests. The land in front of Walton Court descends to the water and then looks across the estuary to Newborough House which has recently been restored.

Autumn Hues

A moment when the Virginia Creeper perfectly matches the colour of the door: the façade of Ardbraccan, County Meath. Dating from the late 1760s the building has a complex history, since Henry Maxwell, Bishop of Meath commissioned designs from three architects: James Wyatt, Thomas Cooley and Daniel Beaufort, the last of these also being a local Anglican clergyman. In the end the façade reflects elements of all their proposals, although it is closest to that of Wyatt.