There is no Frigate like a Book

There is no Frigate like a Book
To take us Lands away,





Nor any Coursers like a Page
Of prancing Poetry –
This Traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of Toll





How frugal is the Chariot
That bears the Human soul.


There is no Frigate like a Book, by Emily Dickinson 
Photographs of the wonderful Armagh Robinson Library, founded by Archbishop Richard Robinson in 1771. 

A Boarded Up Boarding School


The town of Portarlington, which straddles the border between Counties Laois and Offaly, dates from the mid-1660s when founded by Henry Bennet. An ardent supporter of Charles II, he was rewarded by the king with large grants of land in this part of Ireland, and sought to make the most of this gift by establishing a new settlement. Since he had been created Baron Arlington in 1665 (and made Earl of Arlington the following decade), he decided to call the town Port-Arlington, hence its name. The original English colony was not a success but at the start of the 1690s, a number of Huguenot families, religious refugees from France, came to Portarlingon and thereafter the town flourished. Dating from 1697, Arlington House, on French Church Street, was one of the first buildings to be erected by a Huguenot settler, Daniel Le Grand Chevalier Seigneur du Petit Bosc who lived here until his death in 1737. He was responsible for the rear section of the house, to which a new front with pedimented façade and first-floor Diocletian window was added in the mid-18th century. It later became a boarding school, one of the pupils who attended there being Edward Carson. In more recent years, despite its history and importance to the town, Arlington House has stood empty and allowed to fall into the present state of near-total ruin. It is, naturally, listed by the local authority for protection.

Not Long for This World



Rathangan, County Kildare was once a prosperous market town and according to Samuel Lewis in the early 1830s, some 2911 people lived in the area (in the 2016 census, that figure was 2,611). Evidence of its former affluence can be seen in the many handsome houses dating from the late 18th and early 19th centuries that line Main Street and Bridge Street. However, as is the case with so many towns around the country, while Rathangan’s outskirts are now ringed with new housing estates, much of the old centre has been allowed to fall into decay. One of the most visible victims of this neglect is the town’s largest and most prominent house, Rathangan Lodge.



The central block of Rathangan Lodge probably dates from c.1800 and is of five bays and three storeys over basement, the whole centred on doorcase with wide fanlight and sidelights. The sides of the building were hung with slates for additional insulation. It has been proposed that the house was originally built as a hunting lodge for the Duke of Leinster (who at the time owned much of the land around here) but more likely the first owner was a successful merchant. At some subsequent date, perhaps around 1840. seven-bay, two-storey wings were added on either side, each of them having a central entrance. The building appears to have been occupied, or at least used, until relatively recently but has now been permitted to fall into serious decay. It is of course listed for protection in the current Kildare County Development Plan, but none seems to be forthcoming. The neighbouring house, of slightly later date, has clinging to its gates a planning application from 2005, but no work looks to have been untaken here and the building is likewise now in near-derelict condition.


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.

Something of a Mystery


The history of Coolrain, County Laois is something of a mystery. The main block looks to be early-to-mid 18th century, of two storeys over raised basement and five bays with a central breakfront. The latter features a fine cut-limestone Gibbsian doorcase approached by a short flight of steps and flanked by sidelights, with a Venetian window directly above on the first floor. On either side of the main block, and seeming to be slightly later in date, are fine carriage arches, that to the right (south-east) further extending to a small stable yard. But the carriage arches are just that and no more: there is nothing behind them and the entrances are blocked up (if indeed they were ever open). It would appear their main, perhaps only, function was to extend the house façade and thereby give an impression of greater grandeur to anyone arriving there. Who designed and/or built Coolrain (and when) is unknown, but all indications are that the original owner was a member of the landed gentry with aspirations to climb the social ladder.






At some date after its construction, Coolrain was enlarged by an extension to the rear but only on the left (north-west) side. The gable ends of the older section of the building indicate it was originally just one room deep, with the central portion extended back to accommodate a staircase hall lit by another Venetian window on the return. This window was subsequently blocked up, although one wonders why this was necessary since the extension does not intrude on its space. Aforementioned extension had a kitchen in the basement and a dining room immediately above, and looks to have been added towards the end of the 18th century. The gardens behind presumably ran down to the river Tonet not far away, but to the west of the house and yard are the remains of a little rectangular folly, presumably a tea room (since it has a small basement where the servants could prepare refreshments) from which there would have been a charming view of Coolrain.






In his 1837 Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, Samuel Lewis lists Coolrain (then spelt ‘Cooleraine’) as being occupied by one T. Palmer. There were a number of Palmers living in Laois at the time, not least at Cuffsborough some eight miles to the south where the house has a similar doorcase (albeit set into a grander façade). Lewis notes that there were extensive flour and oatmeal mills in the adjacent village of Coolrain, so it may be that the occupants of the big house were involved in such a commercial enterprise. Later it was the residence of the Campion family who farmed the surrounding land until the death in 1921 of the last member to live there. Coolrain seems to have fallen into ruin subsequently, being too big and too hard to maintain for the average farmer. More recently some work was initiated on the outbuildings, but this appears to have been abandoned, and the house now stands in the middle of a field, the mystery of its origins and early history becoming ever-harder to discern.

A Heroine’s Anniversary


Five years ago, the Irish Aesthete featured a tribute to the late Mariga Guinness, co-founder of the Irish Georgian Society; for anyone not familiar with her history, please see: https://theirishaesthete.com/2014/05/05/marvellous-mariga. Today is the thirtieth anniversary of Mariga’s death at the horribly early age of 56, and so it is opportune to remember her again and to celebrate all that she did for her adopted country of Ireland. An inspiration to so many people during her lifetime, she deserves to be recalled and celebrated as a pioneer in the still-ongoing battle to save our architectural heritage.

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 Swift Exit


Jonathan Swift, Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin and author of sundry celebrated works including Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal, is associated with Fortgranite, a County Wicklow house, the contents of which are being sold tomorrow. The Swift family’s rise in fortune originated with an earlier cleric, the Rev Thomas Swift who in 1566 became vicar of St Andrew’s church in Canterbury, Kent and subsequently married the heiress daughter of the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Thomas Godwin. The latter was recalled in the first name of the Rev Thomas’ eldest great-grandson, Godwin Swift, a lawyer who after 1660 served as Attorney General to the Viceroy the Duke of Ormonde, and was duly rewarded for his service with an estate in County Kilkenny, Swifte’s Heath. One of Godwin Swift’s younger brothers, Jonathan, also moved to Ireland but died within a year, aged only 27. He left a pregnant wife who seven months later gave birth to a son, also called Jonathan, the future dean. He benefitted from the support of his uncle Godwin (who incidentally had fifteen sons and four daughters by four wives), and then from the latter’s son Willoughby (Jonathan Swift’s cousin) who paid for his education and secured employment as secretary with Sir William Temple. His later clerical and literary careers are well known. What has any of this to do with Rockgranite? In 1711, Godwin Swift’s grandson Thomas Swift married Frances Dennis, heiress of a timber merchant from Kinsale, County Cork: the couple had two sons, the Rev. Meade Swift-Dennis and John Swift-Dennis. In 1782, these two men were joint beneficiaries of the substantial estate left by their late uncle, James Dennis, former Chief Baron of the Exchequer and first (and last) Lord Tracton. The only condition was that they adopt the arms and name of Dennis. They duly did so, the Rev. Meade Dennis subsequently acquiring the Fortgranite estate which was left to his son Thomas Stratford Dennis. As the latter’s middle name indicates, he was related to the Stratford family, his grandmother being a daughter of the first Earl of Aldborough, a name that has been discussed here more than once (see in particular Splendours and Follies, September 30th 2013, A Thundering Disgrace, January 13th 2014 and A Thundering Disgrace No More?, February 27th 2017).






Fortgranite is a house originally dating from c.1730, although sections of the basement suggest that there might already have been a tower house on the site, a not-unusual circumstance. The house was built for one George Pendred, whose family may have been Cornish in origin. He married an heiress Cordelia Saunders, daughter of lawyer and politician Morley Saunders, who c.1716 built a splendid house in County Wicklow, Saunders Grove (burnt 1923). As elsewhere in this take, the son of George and Cordelia Pendred changed his surname to Saunders in order to benefit from a family legacy, and was called Morley Pendred Saunders. His daughter Delia married the Rev. Meade Swift (later Dennis) and in turn their eldest son Thomas Stratford Dennis married his cousin Katherine Saunders. Thus two generations of one family benefitted from marrying two generations of another. In turn Fortgranite appears to have gone through two remodellings in the 19th century, the first c.1810-15 following the marriage of Thomas Dennis to Katherine Saunders, the second undertaken by the couple’s eldest son Meade Dennis in the early 1870s, the last occasion when such enterprises were made before the onset of the Land Wars and consequent decline of Big House estates in the following decade. As a result of these two refurbishments, Fortgranite shows little evidence of its earlier manifestations, displaying the gravitas typical of a high-Victorian country house. Still, until recently the interior was filled with evidence of former eras, and of the diverse families who had both inherited the place and, through marriage and other connections, bequeathed items to it. All either now gone, or about to do so following tomorrow’s contents sale. With them are dispersed the collective links to Patrick Swift, to the Earls of Aldborough, to timber merchants of Cork and Anglican clergy of Westmeath, to an entire history of Ireland’s gentry. All scattered, never to be brought together again.



For further information on tomorrow’s sale at Fortgranite, County Wicklow, see https://fonsiemealy.ie

Overlooked III

Tucked behind trees and shrubs in the Phoenix Park, and therefore often overlooked, this is Rose Cottage. Traditionally occupied by the Head Deer Keeper, the picturesque, octagonal building dates from c.1800 before being remodelled around 1830 when presumably the veranda was added. It was during the latter period that Decimus Burton was responsible for carrying out various improvements in the park and designing many of the lodges at its gates, so most likely he was responsible for the work here too. The cottage was occupied up to a few years ago, but now appears empty and in need of some attention (those gutters won’t clear themselves…)

Overlooked II



Another often overlooked building in central Dublin: the Printing House in Trinity College. It was designed in 1734 by Richard Castle to conclude an allée at the other end of which was the Anatomy House built in 1711 to a design by Thomas Burgh (and long-since demolished). The building’s most notable feature is its pedimented Doric portico with rusticated façade behind, all of Portland stone, which suggests this is a classical temple rather than a more mundane printing house. Nevertheless it was here that the first book in Ireland entirely in Greek (an edition of Plato’s Dialogues) was produced, followed by many other works. A plaque in Latin above the doorway indicates the building is dedicated to the Anglican clergyman John Sterne, Bishop of Clogher, who in 1726 provided £1,000 for its construction; on his death in 1745 he left his considerable collection of manuscripts to the college library. At the moment, this part of the campus is rather a mess owing to building work, not least student accommodation on a site to be called Printing House Square: when this finishes, one hopes due attention will be paid to the building whence the development derives its name.