A Result of Rationalisation


Ballyglunin, County Galway is a small village some six and a half miles south of Tuam. It would probably be unknown outside the immediate locale but for the fact that the little railway station here featured in John Ford’s 1952 film The Quiet Man. The station first opened with a single track in 1860 before being enlarged and improved in 1903 by the Great Southern and Western Railway which added a single storey residence, waiting room, office and lavatories, and a lamp room. As part of a rationalization of the national rail network, Ballyglunin station closed in 1967. There had been talk of it reopening as a stop on the proposed Western Railway Corridor. However, this project appears to have stalled and in the meantime the building has been falling into disrepair. Five years ago residents in the area established the Ballyglunin Community Development Charity, with the intention of restoring the old station in order to preserve this part of Ireland’s heritage. Last week, the same group launched a crowd funding scheme to raise sufficient funds for the building’s roof which is now in danger of collapse.





Ireland’s railway history dates back to 1834 when a line opened between Dublin and Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire). The driving force behind this venture was William Dargan, who would ultimately be responsible for constructing more than 800 miles of railway around the country, not least the Great Southern and Western Railway which linked Dublin to Cork. Other lines gradually followed, as did the creation of companies intended to serve them. At its peak the railway network in Ireland ran to some 3,500 miles: today it is less than half that figure. As in Britain, during the 1950s increasing private motor car ownership and greater use of lorries as a means of transporting goods led to a drop of both passenger and freight business on the railways. The different companies had been merged in the mid-1920s to form Great Southern Railways and twenty years later this in turn amalgamated with the Dublin United Transport Company to create Córas Iompair Éireann. A report published in 1957 recommended there be greater co-ordination between road and rail services and that more than half the latter’s system, and three-quarters of its stations and halts be closed. Much of this came to pass over the course of the next decade.




Today’s photographs are not of Ballyglunin station but of another stop once serviced by the Great Southern & Western Railway, at Laffansbridge, County Tipperary. Like Ballyglunin, it dates back to the 1860s and remained in use for a century before being closed as part of the rationalization programme. More recently the adjacent site has been used as a quarry. Since then the group of buildings, incorporating ticket hall and reception rooms together with station master’s residence and separate goods shed, has fallen into its present pathetic condition: the structures are, of course, listed for preservation. Outside the world of railway enthusiasts (otherwise humorously known as ferroequinologists), there appears to be little interest in or concern for the safeguarding of this aspect of our collective heritage. The campaigners in Ballyglunin, County Galway deserve to be applauded for their efforts. As once was William Dargan, in their own field they may yet come to be seen as trailblazers.

For more information on the campaign to save Ballyglunin Railway Station and to offer your support, see: http://ballyglunin.com/

Imperilled


A scrolled pediment over the main entrance to Millbrook, County Laois carries the date 1885, the year this house was built as a residence for the agent of the de Vesci estate. Its architect was William Chambers (no relation of the 18th century architect of the same name), who just four years later would design Britain’s first purpose-built mosque in Woking, Surrey. Broken windows, lost slates and encroaching vegetation all indicate that Millbrook is now in an imperilled condition.

Closed for Business


A rare survivor in an Irish country town: an 18th century shopfront in Fethard, County Tipperary. Dating from c.1770, it features handsome fluted columns with Corinthian capitals on either side of the main windows at the centre of which is the shop entrance with double doors. A separate entrance to the right provides access to the upper storeys. Sadly the building is now disused and being permitted to fall into irreparable disrepair, a great loss to the architectural heritage of the town, and indeed the country.

Unrealised Potential


In the mid-1830s, Charles Denham Jephson, who a few years later would be made a baronet and assume the additional surname of Norreys, decided to improve the family seat of Mallow Castle, County Cork. In fact, the original castle – a fortified mansion dating from the 1590s – had been abandoned by the end of the 17
th century when the Jephsons converted a stable block to the immediate north into a residence. It was to this building that Jephson turned his attention, with some help from the English architect Edward Blore who during the same period was designing Crom Castle, County Fermanagh: certainly in 1837 Blore proposed the addition of a tower to the house at Mallow. However, it seems likely that despite looking for advice elsewhere Jephson mostly acted as his own architect, using the opportunity to evoke the era when his forebear Sir Thomas Norreys had first settled in the area. Described by Mark Bence-Jones as ‘a remarkably convincing reproduction of vernacular late C16 or early C17 architecture; with none of the pretentious “Baronial” or “Elizabethan” features which most early-Victorians could not resist,’ Mallow Castle’s garden front is a long, two-storied block relieved by a succession of projecting gable bays and mullioned windows, above which rises the tower proposed by Blore. In the mid-1950s, a later Jephson added an entrance front to the immediate right of this building, the stone for which had been cut in the 1830s but not used, thereby completing the scheme. 





The Jephsons remained at Mallow until 1984 when the property was sold to an American couple who after twenty years’ ownership put the place on the market. In late 2010 it was announced that Cork County Council had bought the castle and surrounding thirty acres for
€1.7 million. This was rightly regarded as something of a coup, since when the property had first been offered for sale in 2005, the asking price had been €7.5 million. So the local authority had done well to secure this important part of its architectural heritage, located in the centre of the town. Since then a further sum in the region of €400,000 has been spent on repair of existing landscaping, the installation of new external lighting, and repair of garden structures.  At the time of the initial purchase, one local councillor declared that ‘if properly developed and managed, the castle would be more than capable of paying for itself – and the potential spin-off benefits could transform Mallow.’ Note the use of the conditional ‘if’. here…





Cork County Council has declared that the work carried out in grounds of Mallow Castle is the first part of a three-phase development programme for the site and in February it was announced that a
masterplan tender brief for the property is currently being prepared. In the meantime, that conditional ‘if’ must remain in place. On a recent weekend visit to Mallow Castle, a group of French tourists looked somewhat stunned as they entered the site to discover it heavily littered and the house firmly shut. In fact it is somewhat surprising that they managed to find their way to the place, since what is supposed to be a major tourist attraction appears un-signposted, with access located up a minor lane. But evidently local carousers know the spot well, and have no problem entering it even when the gates are closed: hence the abundant litter.
As the owner of any historic property could advise Cork County Council, looking after such a house is perforce a time-consuming and expensive business – but not looking after it will ultimately prove to be even more time-consuming and expensive. The installation of better security around the site would help deter unwanted visitors, and their litter (sundry notices advise the presence of CCTV, but there is precious little evidence of it). A few bins would not go amiss either. Furthermore it seems that the house has sat empty and unoccupied since being purchased by the council. An obvious way to discourage nocturnal trespassers would be to have people living onsite: get a tenant, or better yet several, into the house. This would be beneficial for the building which at present is visibly suffering from neglect (thereby increasing the cost of its eventual refurbishment, a cost to be borne – as ever – by the nation’s tax payers). Shutters are closed and curtains drawn across windows, the frames of which are rotting (leaving them more vulnerable to being broken and illegal access being gained to the building). Doors are likewise in poor condition and in at least one place roof tiles have slipped. What, one wonders, must be the state of the interior? What sort of example is Cork County Council setting to other owners of historic buildings by displaying so little interest in the welfare of one under its care? Can it really expect anybody else to act as guardian of our heritage when it manifestly fails to do so? Houses need to be occupied and used, otherwise they risk falling into decline. Such is the case here: what’s required now is more of the flair and imagination displayed by the authority when it made the decision to acquire the property. Reports and action plans can wait: a house cannot.
At the time of that purchase, another local politician announced, ‘This is a very significant development in unlocking the future potential of Mallow Castle as a tourism and heritage resource for all the people of Cork.’ For the moment that potential remains unrealised.

Save Cork City


Two years ago, Dublin City Council decided to construct a new flood defence wall along the coast of Clontarf to the immediate north of the city. When local residents objected to the proposal – and decried the use of disfiguring poured concrete – initially the council responded that
‘it cannot change the height of the wall, which will be one metre tall over footpath level at its highest point, because of the conditions set down by the Office of Public Works to prevent flooding.’ Having first yielded ground on the materials being used, more recently the council has agreed to lower a long stretch of the wall so that views of Dublin Bay are no longer obscured. Officialdom in Ireland is always reluctant to alter its plans and tends to come up with all sorts of reasons why a plan cannot be changed. However, the Clontarf sea wall saga, and other similar incidents in the past , show that if opposition is sufficiently vocal then nothing is ever set in stone – or indeed in concrete.



At the moment, a scheme to prevent flooding in Cork city is being advocated by the Office of Public Works that would fundamentally alter the appearance of the historic quays and destroy much of heritage found therein. The ‘Lower Lee Cork City Flood Relief Scheme’ seeks to find a solution to what in some respects is an irresolvable problem: the habitual flooding of Cork, the centre of which is an island subject to the ebb and flow of tides. As in Venice, nature will take precedence over man-made interventions, no matter how well-intentioned these may be. The present proposal for Cork would not sort out the problem of the Lee’s rise and fall (only a tidal barrier could do that) and furthermore will permanently mutilate the 200-year old limestone quays: as at Clontarf, erecting high banks of concrete appears to be judged the only possible approach. Rightly concerned at the projected destruction to their environment local residents have objected to the scheme and through a voluntary organisation called Save Cork City they are campaigning for a more considered and sensitive approach to be taken to the question of how best to deal with the issue of floods in the city. They deserve support. Officialdom can be persuaded to change what in this instance looks to be a cack-handed strategy, but only if it faces sufficient and sustained opposition.

For more information on the Save Cork City campaign, see: http://savecorkcity.org/
The Irish Georgian Society has submitted an intelligent and articulate response to the proposed Lower Lee Cork City Flood Relief Scheme which can be found at: http://www.igs.ie/updates

A Lot Done, More to Do


‘A lot done, more to do’ was the slogan used by an Irish political party in a general election fifteen years ago. It might also apply to the study of this country’s architectural history about which the more we learn, the more we realise how little we know. There are certain areas in which a considerable amount of research has been undertaken, but many others where next to nothing has yet been done. With regard to the latter, investigation into the design and character of ancillary buildings on country estates is a subject that has hitherto not been explored in any depth. Yet these structures – the stable- and farmyards and so forth – were as important to the successful management of an estate as was the large house at its centre. Today there is much interest in what took place beyond the green baize door inside a country house, so that the lives of domestic servants and the quarters they occupied are given increasing notice. However, their outdoor equivalents – those who lived and worked in ancillary buildings – do not seem to attract much attention. Nor do the buildings themselves, even though they were often as well designed, constructed and finished as the big house they were there to sustain. Indeed they are often so sturdy that in instances where the country house has either fallen or been pulled down, the outbuildings remain. Such is the case at Donore, County Westmeath.





For hundreds of years Donore was occupied by a branch of the Nugent family the first of whom, Hugh de Nugent, came to Ireland in the 12th century and received lands in Westmeath. In the fifteenth century one of his descendants, James Nugent, married the heiress Elizabeth Holywood and it appears that through her inheritance the lands of Donore passed to the couple’s heirs. In the 17th century, the Nugents of Donore fought with their Irish compatriots in the Confederate Wars and were duly indicted, yet somehow despite consistently remaining Roman Catholic they managed to retain their property. In fact, by judicious marriages they improved their circumstances. In the 18th century, for example, James Nugent, first baronet, married Catherine King, elder daughter and co-heiress of Robert King of Drewstown, County Meath: that house was discussed here last week. And so it continued into the middle of the last century when, shortly before her death in November 1957 the widowed Aileen, Lady Nugent sold the estate to the Franciscan order which had re-settled nearby on land gifted to the friars by the Nugents. According to the present head of the family, the price paid for this transaction was £20,000. Apparently Lady Nugent had insisted as a condition of the sale that the house would be preserved. However this was not to be. The Franciscans subsequently sold on the greater part of the estate to the Land Commission, Donore was duly condemned, and pulled down. Today a bungalow occupies the site.





There seem to be no photographic records of Donore other than an aerial image of the site, located on rising ground to the south of Lough Derravaragh. However, according to the family it bore striking similarities in design to Oakley Park in Celbridge, County Kildare. Now called St Raphael’s and owned by the St John of God religious order, Oakley Park dates from 1724 and is believed to have been designed by Thomas Burgh. Of three storeys over basement, it has a seven-bay façade with a three-bay breakfront centred on the groundfloor doorcase incorporating a segmental pediment. The similarities between this property and Donore are interesting, because the latter is generally considered to have been built at the end of the 18
th century, and to have been of little consequence. In his guide to Irish country houses, Mark Bence-Jones summarily dismissed Donore as ‘A plain 3 storey Georgian block,’ and the place does not merit even a mention in Casey and Rowan’s guide to the buildings of North Leinster.
Yet if it dated from the 1720s and shared stylistic traits with Oakley Park, then this would explain the appearance of a once-grand yard still standing to the east. Although now in pitiful condition, it is still possible to see how magnificent this complex must once have been. Employing crisply defined limestone, the southern entrance takes the form of a simplified but rugged triumphal arch, which is then topped by an hexagonal tower at least twice the height of the arch. Inside the yard, the northern side is focused on an equally immense three-bay pedimented breakfront coachhouse, while to the west is another arched entrance, the upper portion of which is occupied by a dovecote. Throughout the complex, the sophistication of both design and execution is remarkable. Bold and confident, its appearance suggests the now-lost house must have possessed the same traits and that, contrary to received wisdom, Donore was built at least half a century earlier than the date of 1790, which is usually given for its construction. If this is the case then its loss, and the lack of a decent photographic record, are all the more tragic. We are nowhere near fully understanding Ireland’s architectural history. A lot done, more to do.

 

Suffered by Neglect to Fall into Ruin



A stone on the central archway of the former barracks in Ballyshannon, County Donegal carries the date 1700 but the person responsible for the building’s design remains unclear. Rolf Loeber proposes William Robinson who until that year acted as Surveyor General in Ireland. However, Alistair Rowan and others have put forward the name of Thomas Burgh who succeeded to that position in 1700. Either way the property is, as Donegal County Council’s own Area Plan states ‘of national importance’ and therefore its present condition of neglect must be regretted. In 1760 an official report drawn up on the state of barracks around the country noted that this one ‘hath been suffered by Neglect to fall into Ruin, insomuch, that excepting the outside Walls of the Building, the Whole will require and entire Repair.’ Over two and a half centuries later, little seems to have changed.