Festive decorations on a chimneypiece in Read’s Cutlers of Parliament Street, Dublin. This building, the rear portion of which dates back to the 17th century (the well-known street frontage is from 1760) holds the city’s only intact 18th century retail premises. Over the past few years, the property’s owner has embarked on an extensive and very welcome restoration, overseen by Kelly & Cogan Architects. Their collective efforts were recently recognised when Read’s was presented with the Diaphoros Prize by the Georgian Group in London. More about this building in due course but for now, the Irish Aesthete wishes all friends and followers a very Happy Christmas.
The extraordinary first-floor gallery at Crom Castle, County Fermanagh. Designed by Edward Blore, the present house dates from the mid-1830s to replace an earlier castle destroyed by fire: ironically sections of this one suffered the same fate soon after completion and had to be reconstructed. The core of the castle is given over to an inner hall that features a bifurcating staircase composed of wood and plaster and in late-Perpendicular style. It rises to the generous gallery screened by a run of arches at either end, the whole lit by an immense octagonal roof lantern.
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
The County Kildare institution long known as Maynooth Seminary was established by act of the Irish Parliament in June 1795 as The Royal College of St Patrick to provide ‘for the better education of persons professing the popish or Roman Catholic religion.’ Curiously it would be eighty years before building work began on the college’s present chapel. In the early 1850s the English champion of the Gothic Revival and convert to Catholicism Augustus Welby Pugin had produced designs for the quadrangle called St Mary’s Square. His plans included a chapel but owing to Pugin’s death in 1852 and a shortage of funds, this part of the project was not initiated. Only in October 1875 was the foundation stone laid, the architect now being J.J. McCarthy, often popularly described as ‘the Irish Pugin.’ By 1880 expenditure on the work had reached £26,242 and when McCarthy died two years later just the basic structure had been completed: a report issued in the middle of the 1880s appealed for financial aid so that the ‘useless empty shell’ could be finished as ‘a splendid, fully furnished collegiate chapel’. In 1887 seven Catholic architects were invited to tender for the job of designing the interior, William Hague being selected. The building was consecrated and opened for worship by Cardinal Michael Logue in June 1891 but still the work went on. Hague designed the tower and spire in 1895 but, as with his predecessors, he did not live to see the work here reach conclusion; rising 273 feet, it is the tallest such built structure in Leinster. Inside, the Lady Chapel at the east end was decorated and furnished by architect G.C. Ashlin in 1908–11; Ashlin was also responsible for the alabaster high altar and reredos.
At 222 feet, Maynooth is the longest church choir in the world and certainly the most elaborately decorated in Ireland. Every surface carries ornament, all sharing the same theme of ‘Laus Deo’ (Praise God). The marble mosaic floor, for example, carries lines inspired by Psalms 112 and 46 opening with the line ‘Laudate pueri Dominum’ (Praise the Lord, young men). The use of the fleur-de-lis on the floor is intended to evoke not just the Trinity (in the same way that the shamrock is supposed to do) but also the links between Ireland and France during the worst times of the Penal era. Meanwhile the ceiling is covered in canvas featuring a vast heavenly procession of figures leading up to the main altar, predominantly angels and saints, many of the latter being associated with Ireland and the early Christian church here. Each figure is enclosed within a medallion again bearing lines from sacred texts. The design was by the English religious artist and decorator Nathaniel Westlake but the work executed by a little-known artist based in Dublin called Robert Mannix. The walls above the choir stalls are life-size representations of the Stations of the Cross: like the ceiling they are in oil on canvas, and were designed and supplied by Westlake.
More colour is provided in the interior by stained glass installed in the 1890s and for which three companies were responsible: that owned by the aforementioned Westlake; Cox, Buckley & Sons; and the Munich-based firm of Mayer & Co, which was then much patronized by Catholic and Anglican churches alike throughout Ireland. The glass in the chapel nave is devoted to representing scenes from the life of Christ while at the west end of the building a large rose window inspired by that in the Cathedral of Notre Dame at Reims is devoted to celebrating Christ the King surrounded by sundry saints, apostles and evangelists. In the main body of the chapel, the space between the top of the choir stalls and the bottom of the windows is filled with a string course of Caen stone carved with animals and birds to demonstrate that even members of the animal kingdom sing the praises of their creator. The corbels at this level represent angels presenting various instruments used in church services by clerics, the two closest to the high altar holding a mitre and crozier (as used by bishops). Finally there are the stalls, all 454 of them carved in oak by a Dublin firm, Connollys of Dominick Street. The finial in the back row of each section supports the figure of a saint while those on the lower levels represent a different plant or tree, again to demonstrate the variety of divine creation. Whatever one’s faith, or even if one has none, the decorative scheme of Maynooth College Chapel cannot fail to impress. It has a rigour and entirety of both vision and execution rarely found in Irish Catholic churches. Furthermore the interior has escaped despoliation by either unnecessary post-Vatican II reordering or by the imposition of some later cleric’s ill-judged aesthetic notions (cf. the so-called ‘renovations’ of the cathedrals in both Killarney and Monaghan). As a result it remains not just the largest chapel in Ireland but also one of the country’s finest Roman Catholic buildings.
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.
The story of Castle Ward, County Down is well-known. Wonderfully sited on a rise above Strangford Lough the house dates from the mid-1760s when an older residence was replaced by something more à la mode. The problem was that Bernard Ward and his wife Lady Anne (née Bligh) had very different ideas about what they wanted. Mr Ward (created Baron Bangor in 1770, and then Viscount Bangor in 1781) preferred the classical style, whereas his wife fancied Gothick. As Mrs Delany wrote around this time, ‘Mr Ward is building a fine house, but the scene about is so uncommonly fine it is a pity it should not be judiciously laid out. He wants taste, and Lady Anne is so whimsical that I doubt her judgment. If they do not do too much they can’t spoil the place, for it hath every advantage from nature that can be desired.’ Ultimately a compromise was reached whereby Mr Ward had his way on the entrance front, and Lady Anne hers on the side overlooking Strangford Lough. Internally the same division was agreed so that the ground floor rooms are quaintly split between the two decorative styles. The architect responsible for organising this curious arrangement is unknown, although it has been proposed that, like the stone used for the exterior, he came from Bath or else Bristol (the names of both James Bridges and Thomas Paty have been mentioned). Nevertheless the arrangement was not enough to hold the Ward marriage together and soon after Castle Ward was finished Lady Anne, who complained of being bullied, decamped first to Dublin and later to Bath where she died in 1789, eight years after her husband.
It may be that the Wards’ differences extended beyond just architecture. In an article published in 2000, Professor Sean Connolly discussed the relationship that existed between Lady Anne and an older woman, Letitia Bushe. Born in County Kilkenny in the first decade of the 18th century, Letty Bushe was a gentlewoman of modest means whose life was spent either in rented rooms in Dublin or staying with friends in the country. A talented amateur watercolourist, she was also known for the brilliance of her conversation (as well as her good looks before these were marred by smallpox). Among her closest friends was the aforementioned Mrs Delany who, when still Mrs Pendarves and visiting Dublin in November 1731 wrote to her sister, ‘I eloped for an hour or two to make a visit to a young lady who is just recovered of the small-pox. I think I never saw a prettier creature than she was before that malicious distemper seized her – a gay, good-humoured, innocent girl, without the least conceit of her beauty; her father has been dead about six months, a worthless man that has left a very uncertain fortune; she paints delightfully.’ The two women remained friends and regular correspondents until Letty Bushe’s death in 1757. But for a period she had a closer and much more intense relationship with Lady Anne. It appears they met in 1739, when the latter was just twenty-one and Miss Bushe in her mid-thirties. On July 31st 1740 she wrote to her younger friend, ‘This Day twelvemonth was the Day I first stay’d with you, the night of which you may remember pass’d very oddly. I cannot forget how I pity’d you, & how by that soft road you led me on to love you. I feared many things for you, & my compasion by degrees rose into esteem.’ Later again she would write of ‘two whole years of thoughts, tenderness, stuff and nonsense’. All of which indicates this was more than just a standard friendship.
Professor Connolly chronicles the relationship’s ups and downs, in part caused by Lady Anne’s regular visits to England where her father, John Bligh, first Earl of Darnley, had extensive estates. Letty Bushe suffered agonies in her absence. In the spring of 1740 Lady Anne crossed the Irish Sea, and by August of that year Miss Bushe was confessing, ‘About the time you left Ireland, I hardly slept at nights, and such a wizened pale old hag I grew.’ This appears not to have been an exaggeration because Mrs Ann Preston, with whom Letty Bushe was then staying in County Meath, in turn wrote to Lady Anne, ‘What has your Ladyship said to poor Miss Bushe? For since your last letter she has neither eat, drank, slept or spoke one chearfull sentence. In short she is so very unlike herself that I scarce know her. I beg you will say something to her to raise her spirits.’ The following month Miss Bushe wrote to her inamorata, ‘You make some of the sweetest moments of my life in reflection, & were it not for bitter absence I think you wou’d do so in reality. Tho I live & eat & sleep & laugh, yet I am often surprized at my self, well knowing I seldom am without your Idea, & the cruel sence of being separated from you.’ So it went on for several years, even after the marriage of Lady Anne in September 1742 to Robert Hawkins Magill of Gill Hall, County Down (he died less than three years later). We can only guess at the tone and content of Lady Anne’s letters because it appears that at some date she made off with her side of the correspondence and destroyed it. But she preserved the letters received from Letty Bushe and they provide both an insight into their relationship and a possible explanation for the failure of her marriage to Mr Ward. Despite the couple having three sons and four daughters prior to her departure for Dublin, it was perhaps more than just his architectural judgement she found disagreeable.
One of Ireland’s lesser known mediaeval monuments: the 15th century Desmond Banqueting Hall in Newcastle West, County Limerick. Built on the remains of an earlier structure (the remains of lancet windows on the south wall suggest it may once have served as a chapel), the hall sits above a vaulted lower chamber. The building was part of a castle complex developed here by the FitzGerald family, Earls of Desmond who remained in occupation until the end of the 16th century. The castle then passed into the possession of the Courtenays, later Earls of Devon, but was badly damaged during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s and likely not occupied thereafter (an adjacent house, occupied by the Courtenays’ agent, was burnt in 1922 during the Civil War). The Banqueting Hall was restored some years ago when an oak screen and musicians’ gallery were installed, along with a hooded limestone chimneypiece.