The concept of ‘rural Ireland’ and its preservation are much touted, especially by those who live in the countryside and believe their traditional way of life should be given more attention. In practice however little has been done to ensure the traditional appearance of rural Ireland is preserved. Across the country old houses are abandoned, their replacements – often built on sites immediately adjacent to an abandoned property – looking no different from those found in Britain or the United States. This cottage in County Meath, although habitable until recently, has now been left to fall into ruin.
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.
Over two years ago, this site carried an extensive report on the perilous condition of Carstown Manor, County Louth (see A Lamentable Waste, January 26th 2015). Carstown is of enormous significance because in its present form the building dates from the early 17th century and is accordingly a Jacobean manor: there are almost no such properties extant in Ireland. A pair of carved limestone plaques, one at the centre of a massive chimney piece in what would have been the main reception room, the other directly above the entrance door carry the same details, namely the date 1612, a coat of arms combining those of two families, and the initials OP and KH. The latter stand for Oliver Plunkett and his wife Katherine Hussey, both members of prominent local dynasties. The plaques may be presumed to indicate either the couple’s marriage or the date on which they completed work of some kind here. It has long been proposed that the core of Carstown is a late 15th/early 16th century tower house occupying what are today the two eastern bays of the house. However, in 2011 archaeology graduate Michael Corcoran published a paper suggesting that Carstown had begun as a late-mediaeval gabled house. If so, he wrote, ‘it would not only make this rural dwelling unique within the north Pale region, but would place it within a site-type that is vastly under represented in the Irish countryside and under-appreciated in Irish academia.’
Carstown was maintained and occupied until relatively recently but over the past two decades the house has fallen into serious disrepair, despite being listed for protection and the subject of four separate national monument records. Members of County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society have long been campaigning to ensure the building’s future: it has been the subject of repeated attacks by vandals and the greater part of the lead had been stripped from the roof, leaving the interiors vulnerable to the elements. Finally the society’s efforts ensured emergency repairs were carried out in 2016 by Louth County Council. Further critical work to the building by the council, as well as a structural survey part-funded by the Irish Georgian Society, was due to have begun next Monday. However last Sunday the house was set on fire and has effectively been left a shell.
Is this news disappointing? Yes. Is it surprising? No. Carstown Manor, like a great many historic properties across the country, has been allowed to slide into ruin because those in positions of authority have failed to act with sufficient force and speed. Unless enforced, legislation designed to protect our heritage is worthless: owners can simply neglect their legal responsibilities without fear of being brought to justice. So it has proven in this case, and a great many others: Carstown is just the latest in a long and melancholy list of lost buildings. What happened here was unnecessary and avoidable. The national patrimony continues to diminish and we are all left the poorer. County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society intends to hold a meeting as intended next week when they can see how best to preserve what is left at Carstown, not least those two plaques. Their voluntary work is to be applauded. What a shame it is not better emulated by those in a position to do more for our heritage, both in County Louth and throughout the rest of the state.
‘For some days past I have been sending all sorts of household goods and stores for Mount Panther, and propose leaving this on Tuesday next. D.D. [Dean Delany] is finishing alterations in his garden and giving directions for what is to be done in his absence. I am preserving, pickling, and papering and giving directions to my maids; and I have just spruced up a little apartment for you, come when you please.’
Mrs Delany writing to her brother Bernard Granville, 15th July 1750.
‘I know my dearest sister wishes to hear if I am safe at my journey’s end: thank God we are! We arrived a little fatigued last night: but a good night’s rest has refreshed us, and we are both very well. We had intended staying some days with Mrs Forde in our neighbourhood, not thinking we would find our habitation so fit for our reception as it is; but as there were so many things to settle, which could not very well be done with D.D. and my directing them, we thought it best to rest here [Mount Panther]…You who have had the experience of such affairs, can figure to yourself my present bustle – trunks, hampers, unpacking, hay flying all over the house; everybody scrambling for their things, asking a thousand questions such as “Where is this to be put?” “What shall we do for such and such a thing?” However, the hurry is pretty well over, the dust subsides, the clamours cease and I am hurried away to dress. I am really surprised at Smith’s [the Delany’s housekeeper] thorough cleverness in going through her work. She has got everything almost in as much order as if she had been here a week.’
Mrs Delany to her sister Anne Dewes, 21st July 1750.
‘And now to tell you a little of Mount Panther. To begin then: last Sunday dined at Downpatrick (after church). Mr and Mrs and Miss Leonargan, Mr Brereton, curate at Down, Mr Trotter, agent to Mr Southwell, dined with us; went to church again at 4 o’clock, went home at 5, two hours on the road, and visits to Lady Anne Annesley and Mrs Bayley and their husbands made half an hour; tired, supped, talked over the company of the day: went to bed before eleven; up next morn early, routed about the house, found many repairs wanting; sent for smith, carpenter and cowper [old spelling of cooper, repairer of barrels and casks]; catching showers; peeped now and then into the garden – excellent gooseberries, currants, potatoes, and all the garden stuff: fine salmon, lobster, trout, crabs, every day at the door…’
Mrs Delany to her sister Anne Dewes, 28th July 1750.
‘It is a high house, standing on high ground; without a tree, bush or offices in sight, nothing can be more uncompromising than it looks from this road. We soon after approach two bridges over different rivers, which rise after a subterranean course…the old gentleman [Christopher French St George] built the house and an excellent one it is – finished it in the best manner – with painted ceilings to all the lower rooms, and to the hall, which is large and handsome – he furnished it in the best style of those days – of about twenty years back, lived in it and enjoyed it, and 9 or 10 years ago resigned it to his son, who soon after married Lady Harriet St. Lawrence, and they have lived happily and have seldom left it, never for any length of time – they have six little girls – and they appear very happy – Mr St. George an excellent country gentleman, improving his estate, fond of hunting, shooting and all country sports…’
From the Journal of Mary Beaufort, September 1808
‘In the afternoon Tilly Redington and I drove over to Tyrone House. A bigger and much grander edition of Ross – a great square cut-stone house of three stories, with an area – perfectly empty – and such ceilings, architraves, teak doors and chimney-pieces as one sees in old houses in Dublin. It is on a long promontory by the sea and there rioted three or four generations of St. Georges – living with country-women, occasionally marrying them, all illegitimate four times over. No so long ago eight of these awful half-peasant families roosted together in that lovely house, and fought, and barricaded and drank, till the police had to intervene – about 150 years ago a very grand Lady Harriet St Lawrence married a St. George, and lived there, and was so corroded with pride that she would not allow her daughters to associate with the Galway people. She lived to see them marry two men in the yard. Yesterday as we left an old Miss St. George, daughter of the last owner, was at the door in a donkey trap-she lives near, in a bit of the castle, and since her people died she will not go into Tyrone House, or into the enormous yard, or the beautiful old garden. She was a strange mixture of distinction and commonness, like her breeding, and it was very sad to see her at the door of that great house – If we dare to write up that subject!’
From a letter written by Violet Martin to Edith Oliver, March 18th 1912
‘A correspondent has sent some interesting but sad details of the malicious burning of Tyrone House…It was in the late Georgian style and the finest house in Ireland. The ceilings were all painted by Italian masters and were regular works of art. The mantle pieces were all of rare Italian marble and very costly. In the hall was a fine full sized marble statue of Baron St George the founder of that once great family. It was the work of an Italian artist. The head was broken off the night of the raid deliberately it must be said. All the ceilings are now ruined and the mantle pieces also, and the entire structure an empty shell and ruin. There was no grounds for the report that the military or police intended or were to occupy the house, and agrarian motives are believed to have inspired and instigated this most foul and reprehensible act of purely wanton destruction. Of late years the place was freely allowed to be used by pleasure parties who came out from Loughrea and other places to have a dance which cost them nothing and to enjoy themselves, and who were never prevented from having their pleasure and a dance on the spacious floor of the dining room, and they can now no longer do so, and where in olden days the finest balls in the Co. Galway took place.’
From the Tuam Herald, September 4th 1920.
I shall be speaking of Tyrone House, County Galway and the St George family next Friday, September 22nd at 12 midday during the 2017 Irish Antique Dealers Association Fair in the RDS, Dublin. For more information, please see: http://www.iada.ie/antique-fairs
The extraordinary Shrigley Monument, County Down. This stands close to the site of what was once a vast mill and village developed by entrepreneur John Martin. In 1870 the local people decided to acknowledge Martin’s contribution to the area’s prosperity by erecting a monument in his honour. Following a public competition, the prize for its design was won by the young Belfast-born architect Timothy Hevey. Erected in 1871, the monument has a square base, originally with a drinking fountain at the centre and with a lamp on each corner. An octagonal arcade climbs up to a square tower supported by flying buttresses which used to feature a clock. The latter has long since gone, along with greater part of the formerly adjacent factory and the Victorian village. And the monument is in parlous condition, testament to truth of the Irish adage Eaten Bread is Soon Forgotten.
The remains of Balfour Castle, County Fermanagh. In 1618/19 the surveyor Captain Nicholas Pynnar noted that the Scottish settler James Balfour, first Lord Glenawley had ‘laid the foundation of a bawne of lime and stone 70 ft square, of which the two sides are raised 15 ft high. There is also a castle of the same length, of which the one half is built two stories high and is to be three stories and a half high.’ Because of Balfour’s origins, the castle was built very much in the Scottish style of a fortified house, necessary because it was damaged during both the Confederacy Wars of the 1640s and the Williamite wars later in the same century. However, it remained occupied until 1803 until destroyed by arson, the person responsible believed to have been a member of the Maguire clan which had once owned all the land in this part of the country. Balfour Castle has remained a ruin ever since and now looks over a graveyard on one side and a housing estate on the other.