The former National School in Ardlow, County Cavan. A single-storey, three-bay building, it carries a plaque on the exterior advising date of construction was 1897. As is usually the case, the interior features two large rooms, one for boys, the other for girls, and the remains of a wall to the rear indicate the yard behind was likewise divided. Now empty and losing slates from the roof, so liable to fall into ruin before too long.
In November 2011, former Labour TD Willie Penrose announced his intention to resign as a Minister of State as a result of the then-government’s decision to close Columb Barracks in Mullingar, County Westmeath the following year. At the time, the buildings were occupied by some 170 troops who were subsequently moved to the barracks in Athlone. Eight years have since passed without proper use being found for the premises.
Standing in the centre of Mullingar town and occupying some 26 acres of land, the main complex in Columb Barracks are over 200 years old, having been constructed in 1814, and first occupied in 1819, when it was called Wellington Barracks (the name was changed in 1922 in memory of Patrick Columb, a member of the National Army who had been killed in the town not long before). Designed to accommodate 1,000 soldiers, the barracks is U-shaped with a large parade ground at its centre. The three-storey blocks with roughcast rendered walls and cut limestone door- and window cases in each section of the building. The ranges are largely unaltered other than the unfortunate and universal insertion of uPVC windows at some relatively recent date and, on the southern range, openings being widened, apparently in 1980 when someone in authority decided to give them the all the flair of a provincial hotel, complete with porticos supported by spindly Corinthian columns. Even more unfortunate is a serious loss on the west side of the complex. Old photographs show that the centre of this featured a three-bay breakfront, its rusticated ground floor incorporating an arch above which was a tripartite window and, on the top level, a Diocletian window below a pediment. The entire section was swept away in 1966 to create a miserable-looking, single-storey concrete brick gateway marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Easter 1916 Rising. Incidentally, the early photographs (from the French collection in the National Library of Ireland) also show how much better maintained the entire site used to be. Outside the main complex lie a range of other buildings, some in stone (including a chapel dating from 1855), others in brick, constructed over the course of the 19th century to provide facilities for the troops then in residence.
A year ago, thejournal.ie reported that during the previous three years the state had spent over €113,000 paying a private security firm responsible for looking after Columb Barracks in Mullingar. As today’s photographs show, there has been considerable damage to the site, some of the buildings have been badly vandalised while others are suffering from neglect, ultimately adding to the cost of their refurbishment. Almost 20 voluntary organisations – the likes of the local boxing and cycling clubs, a youth café, a men’s shed group and so forth – occupy portions of various premises, presumably on short-term leases and, it would seem, with little security of tenure. But even with their presence, the greater part of the barracks has been allowed to remain in limbo for the past eight years. When the state first embarked on closing down military bases around the country more than two decades ago, it sold a number of them to developers and private organisations. Indeed, some years ago Columb Barracks was placed on the market for sale, but then withdrawn following the establishment by government in September 2018 of a new organization called the Land Development Agency (LDA), the purpose of which is supposed to be the provision of affordable housing. Responsibility for the barracks lay with the Department of Defence, but this now appears to have been transferred to the LDA. A year ago the Department of Housing advised (in finest bureaucratic language) that the LDA was ‘carrying out a technical due diligence process on the Columb Barracks site to determine the development constraints and opportunities, which will take a number of months. Once this process is complete the LDA will determine a delivery strategy for the site.’ The following May then-Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy wrote in response to an enquiry from another TD that the LDA was in the process of advancing agreements with various state bodies in relation to a number of sites including Columb Barracks and furthermore ‘it should be noted that the LDA has commenced preparatory Professional work on each of the eight sites listed above and that the transfer process will not impact the ultimate delivery on those lands. The LDA performs a due diligence process on all sites, which includes an assessment of alternative use potential and development capacity and constraints.’ At the moment on its website (https://lda.ie) the LDA lists the current status of Columb Barracks as ‘Development feasibility study underway.’
Understandably, given its size and location, there has been considerable disquiet in Mullingar about the continuing neglect of Columb Barracks. A local body has been set up, Columb Barracks Restoration & Regeneration Committee (https://columbbarracks.ie) to champion the restoration and refurbishment of the site. It proposes that the former barracks could be transformed into a ‘vibrant community-owned and operated centre, providing education and other community services, based on renewable energy, zero waste and other environmentally sustainable and economically viable activities and practices; and capable of being an agent for the spreading of these practices and ideas, and for the transformation of Mullingar into a twenty-first century transition town.’ As well as the existing voluntary bodies using parts of the place, the committee suggests there could also be both short- and long-term accommodation, a museum, more sports facilities, a concert/theatre space, artists’ workshops, food markets and so forth. Not all of these ideas will necessarily come to fruition, but there are enough of them to give the barracks a real and viable future. Eventually something will be made of the site, but in the meantime eight years have passed during which these buildings, part of the country’s architectural heritage, have been allowed to deteriorate, with the inevitable result that whatever decisions are eventually made about intended purpose, these will cost more to implement because the site will require greater work. In Ireland the wheels of officialdom in Ireland can turn so slowly that they appear not to be moving at all. But surely, before the buildings here fall into further disrepair and suffer further vandalism, the time has come for the relevant state authorities to call a halt to ‘due diligence process’ and ‘assessment of alternative use potential and development capacity and constraints’. After eight years, there can be little left to discuss and analyse and consider and assess. Surely now is the moment instead to initiate action and bring Columb Barracks back into purposeful use?
Kilcormac is a village in County Offaly which at the last census (2016) had a population of 935 persons (the figure was 973 in 1991). The most prominent building on its main, indeed only really significant, street is that shown here: an eight-bay convent built in 1885, probably to the design of William Henry Byrne who specialized in such commissions, for the Sisters of Mercy. Members of the order remained in residence here until two years ago, when the last nuns left and the premises, together with an acre of land to the rear, were put on the market. This is a story that can be told in almost every town and village across the country, where the decline in clerical numbers has made the maintenance of what is almost invariably the most substantial property in the vicinity unsustainable. Often the buildings then sit neglected for years, the only attention they receive from vandals and arsonists. Let’s hope this one, a handsome solid structure with nice brick detailing around the windows and attractive use of the quatrefoil motif, finds a new owner soon.
Castle Farm, County Longford, a handsome early 19th century residence that is believed to have been built on the site of, and may incorporate elements of, a late-medieval tower house originally belonging to the O’Farrell family. The Journal of the Royal Geological Society of Ireland 1862-64 noted that ‘the old castle of Ardanragh has been partially converted into a house, and is tenanted by Mr. Shaw, an educated and intelligent man, who farms the adjacent ground.’ A fine building in need of some attention.
As has been discussed here before, Townley Hall, County Louth is one of Ireland’s most perfect neo-classical buildings (see: https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/06/10/la-tout-nest-quordre-et-beaute). The house was designed in the mid-1790s by Francis Johnston, who until then had been employed primarily by Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh, often to complete commissions left unfinished following the early death of Thomas Cooley in 1784. Townley Hall is his first independent piece of work although here again the client’s involvement was critical since it is known that Blayney Townley Balfour, who owned the property, and his sister Anna Maria were intimately involved in every stage of the design.
Johnston was invited to design not just Townley Hall itself but also a number of ancillary buildings, including a new stableyard. His plans for this survive and are dated between 1799 (work being initiated on the site in May of that year) and 1804. The intention was to build around a rectangular courtyard with coach house and grainstore topped by a cupola on the north side, and stables coming forward to its immediate east and west. The south side was to be taken up by screen wall with arched entrance. Sadly this scheme was never realized, possibly for financial reasons (like many other house builders before and since, Blayney Townley Balfour discovered the initial budget was insufficient). Instead, while the northern range was constructed, it lacked the proposed cupola, and only the western range of stables were finished; a terrace of single-storey cottages runs along the eastern side of the site. Likewise the south wall with entrance arch was left unbuilt, and even a modified plan for railings with piers went unrealized. A drawing of the plan survives a penciled note reading ‘not built yet – 1837 FTB’, those initials standing for Lady Florence Townley Balfour (daughter of the first Earl of Enniskillen) who had married Blayney Townley Balfour in 1797.
As is well known, Townley Hall was sold by the heirs of the Townley Balfour family in the 1950s and, having been owned for a short period of time by Trinity College Dublin, was sold again with the Land Commission taking the greater part of the surrounding estate. Many of the ancillary buildings are no longer part of Townley Hall, including the former stableyard. Almost every other part of the former estate has been restored and brought into use, but sadly this element, which is, it seems, independently owned, has languished in neglect for a number of years, and is now in poor repair. Even if not as originally intended by Johnston, the yard remains associated with what is widely judged to be his masterpiece, and accordingly deserves a better fate.
The roofless remains of the former Church of Ireland church in Glanworth, County Cork. It is said to have been built on the site, and perhaps incorporates portions of, a mediaeval parish church which had fallen into ruins by the mid-1690s. In the Saturday Magazine of October 10th 1840 it was described as ‘a plain edifice, with low tower and spire.’ Surrounded by increasingly dilapidated tombs, the building is 18th century with the tower at the west end added later.
As anyone who has watched Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls will be aware, the city above the river Foyle has had a tumultuous history in recent decades. However, as the television series demonstrated, despite multiple and often appalling tragedies, both Derry and her people have survived with their distinctive character intact. The core of the city is defined by her walls, built 1613-19 by the Honorable The Irish Society, a consortium of London livery companies given responsibility for this part of the country by the English government in the aftermath of the Nine Years War; hence the name Londonderry. Although besieged on a number of occasions, most notably in 1689, Derry’s walls were never breached nor were they demolished, as tended to be the case throughout Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries when such defences were deemed no longer necessary. As a result, Derry is the only intact walled urban settlement in Ireland. The walls run approximately one mile in circumference and, depending on the terrain beyond, vary between 12 and 26 feet in height. Today in state care, a walkway runs along the walls which project out at eight points for bastions, platforms on which cannons were placed: that shown immediately above is one of a pair made in 1642, this one provided by London’s Fishmongers’ Company and nicknamed Roaring Meg.
Derry enjoyed great prosperity during the 18th and 19th centuries. The port flourished, and the city also became one of the centres for industry, particularly shirt making; at its height some 18,000 people – predominantly women – were employed in this sector. Evidence of the city’s wealth throughout the period can be seen in the many houses then built, many of which survive. The two above are 19 and 20 Magazine Street, so named because the former stands on the site of what was once a gunpowder store, or magazine. The house dates from c.1840 and is of five bays and three storeys, although the ground floor breaks with the upper levels by being of only four bays, with the doorcase off-centre. Since the street slopes, the latter is approached by a short flight of stone steps, and is set inside a shallow arch, the door flanked by Ionic columns and pilasters and below a wide fanlight, its glazing bars taking the form of arrows. The house’s immediate neighbour, No.20, although smaller (just two bays) was evidently built at the same time.
The houses on Magazine Street look to be in good condition, but the same cannot be said for a number of properties on Pump Street, which runs just below St Columb’s Cathedral; the street’s name derives from the town water pump once located here. A substantial stretch of the side, Nos. 10-14 is taken up by a three-storey, seven bay building of red brick. It dates from 1780 when opened as the King’s Arms, or County, Hotel but in 184o the building was purchased on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishop and eight years later became the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy, remaining in this order’s hands until some 15 years ago when sold. Along with its immediate neighbour No.16 (also once part of the convent complex) it now stands empty and looks to be in poor condition. The doorcase is similar to that at 19 Magazine Street, approached by a flight of steps, with the space usually reserved for side lights filled with wood panelling, although in this case the order used for the door is Doric rather than Ionic. A second, plainer door to the right marks what would have been the hotel’s carriage entrance. Other buildings along Pump Street look similarly vulnerable to dilapidation, not least 26-28 which greet all visitors leaving the grounds of St Columb’s Cathedral.
‘The Belfast Bank of 1853 is one of Charles Lanyon’s most confident Renaissance Designs, high and massy like a Genoese palazzo, only three windows wide and three storeys high but big in scale with a rusticated central archway surmounted by a Corinthian aedicule so large that it erupts into the attic window of the floor above, like Gibbs’s pediment at King’s College, Cambridge.’ (from The Buildings of Ireland: North West Ulster by Alistair Rowan, 1979). Shipquay Street is one of Derry’s most important thoroughfares, providing access into the walled city from the banks of the Foyle. The former Belfast Bank stands immediately inside the gates and is likely to be one of the first buildings seen by anyone entering Derry. The Foyle Civic Trust’s Living City Project reported it vacant in 2005 and 15 years later nothing seems to have changed.
Derry is a city with an enviably rich architectural heritage, but one which of late appears to have been badly neglected. In the Diamond, for example, which stands at the centre of the city, is the now-shuttered Austin’s, which until its sudden closure in March 2016 could claim to be the world’s oldest department store. The building on the site, an example of Edwardian baroque at its most exuberant, now looks in poor repair, and despite a restoration application being lodged in April 2017, nothing seems to have happened here. A similar tale can be told across the historic core with many buildings standing empty and in poor condition. But Derry Girls has shown the resilience of the city, and at the start of a new decade one must hope that the years ahead will bring fresh opportunities for improvement to conditions here. Below are photographs of either side of Bishop’s Gate, a triumphal arch erected in 1789 to commemorate the centenary of the city’s siege. Designed by Dublin-based architect Henry Aaron Baker and faced with ashlar Dungiven sandstone, it features panels containing martial trophies and, in the keystones, faces of river gods: that facing outwards represents the Foyle, the inwards the Boyne. Anyone familiar with the Custom House in Dublin will recognise these, as in both instances they were carved by Edward Smyth.
Captain Nicholas Pollard was one of the many adventurous Englishmen who came to Ireland in the latter part of the 16th century and was rewarded by the government with a grant of land. Originally from Devon, Pollard arrived here as part of the Earl of Essex’s ill-fated expedition in 1599, but whereas his commander returned home in ignominy, Pollard remained and received land and the castle at Mayne in County Westmeath. His heir, also called Nicholas, settled slightly further to the east where he built a new castle and founded a town, which he duly named Castlepollard. His son Walter carried out further improvements in the area, having received from Charles II a patent for holding fairs and a weekly market in the new town. Walter’s son, another Walter, although he had served in Charles II’s army and was attached to the Stuart cause, nevertheless supported William III and in the aftermath of the Battle of the Boyne became a Member of Parliament, as well as being charged to raise supplies for the crown in Westmeath for a number of years. He died in 1718 and having been predeceased by his only son, the estate passed to his daughter Letitia who in 1696 had married Major Charles Hampson; the latter duly took his wife’s family name, Successive generations of Pollards then followed, none of whom made much of an impression outside the immediate locale, although in the 19th century some of them enjoyed respectable army careers. The family remained in residence until after the death of the last male heir, Francis Edward Romulus Pollard-Urquhart in 1915: two decades later the house and 110 acres were sold to a Roman Catholic religious order, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
Standing on the outskirts of Castlepollard, the Pollards’ former residence is called Kinturk House. The core of the building is believed to date from c.1760 when it would have replaced an older castle either here or on an adjacent site. This work was undertaken because in 1763 the estate’s then-owner William Pollard married Isabella, daughter and heiress of John Morres. However, one must assume her inheritance was not enormous since Kinturk was only room deep. This changed in the 1820s when the house was enlarged and remodeled for its next resident, William Dutton Pollard by architect Charles Robert Cockerell, who had come to Ireland to work on another commission for the Naper family at Loughcrew. Cockerell doubled the depth of Kinturk and gave the garden front of the building a more imposing presence by increasing the number of bays (from five to seven) with a central breakfront. He also added a single-storey Ionic porch to the façade, and single storey extensions at either end. Inside, the most notable feature is the cantilevered Portland stone staircase with brass banisters but at least one of the ground floor reception rooms retains pretty rococo plasterwork from the 1760s.
Within a few years of buying Kinturk House, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart embarked on a substantial building programme in the grounds, where they erected, among other structures, a chapel linked to the old residence by a corridor and a free-standing three-storey block intended to serve as a 120-bed Mother and Baby Home. All the new buildings, constructed between 1938-41 was designed in a starkly brutalist style by Dublin architect Thomas Joseph Cullen, who throughout a long career worked extensively for the Catholic church. The cost of this project was some £76,000, much of the money coming from the Hospital Sweepstakes Fund. Called St Peter’s, the home operated for 35 years and like other similar establishments elsewhere in the country – some of them also operated by the same religious order – has in recent years rightly been subjected to public scrutiny, not least because of the horrific conditions in which many young women and their new-born infants were required to live. Following the closure of the home, in 1971 the site was sold to the Midland Health Board, and then, like so many other buildings across the country, became the responsibility of the Health Service Executive (HSE). Kinturk/St Peter’s thereafter provided residential care for the disabled until its closure was announced in 2014, shortly before a highly condemnatory inspection report on the facility was issued by the Health Information and Quality Authority. Today, two detached bungalows provide accommodation for ten residents. The rest of the site sits empty and neglected, the various properties visibly falling into disrepair. The original Kinturk House, of evident architectural merit, is closed up and increasingly dilapidated. This is, unfortunately, yet another instance of a state authority failing to look after the buildings supposed to be in its care and leaving it in poor health. As always, ultimately the citizens of Ireland (who own the place) will be the losers.
The ivy-smothered ruins of Bruree Castle, County Limerick. It has been claimed this was originally built by the Knights Templar in the 12th century, but more probably the ‘castle’ is a 15th century tower house erected by the de Lacys, a family of Norman origin which had settled in the area. The building was badly damaged by English forces during the first Desmond Rebellion (1569-73), which seemingly was when its upper storey was lost. How long it will survive is open to conjecture, since sections of the masonry have fallen off in recent years. Sadly, the adjacent, now-disused, Church of Ireland church is likewise in a perilous condition.
Marooned in a lake of tarmacadam and looking rather bleak, this is the former National School in Esker, County Galway. Solidly built of limestone and designed in a loosely-Tudoresque fashion, it would have contained little more than two large rooms, one for teaching boys, the other for girls. A well-carved plaque over the entrance carries the date 1858, which was two years after the Board of Works had taken over responsibility for the design of such buildings from the architectural department of the National Education Board. Above the date is an heraldic crest featuring a running stag, presumably part of the coat of arms of the local landowner?