When John Dawson, first Earl of Portarlington commissioned designs for a residence from architect James Gandon in 1790, he already lived in a fine house. This was Dawson Court, presumably built earlier in the 18th century by his grandfather Ephraim Dawson following the latter’s marriage to Ann Preston, heiress to an estate at Emo, County Laois. Since no pictures or descriptions exist, we know very little about that building, other than it was called Dawson Court and stood somewhere in the vicinity of the present, Gandon-designed Emo Court. The only surviving parts of the building are a pair of carved limestone chimney pieces, one of which remains in a former bedroom on the first floor. The other, once protected by a since-demolished passageway, now sits exposed against a wall to the immediate west of the house.
Abbey Leix, County Laois
‘I must return to give you an account of Lady De Vesci’s. I am quite in love with her and with their state of living. It is entirely without form, everybody doing as they please, and always a vast number of people in the house. Lady Knapton, his mother, lives with them, and seems no restraint upon anybody, she is so good-humoured. We were about six or seven ladies and as many gentlemen, divided into different parties about the room, some working, some reading, some playing cards, and the room being large and very full, it had a most comfortable appearance. It opens into the library on one side and the dining-room on the other. As it rained most of the time I was there I did not see much of the grounds, but the park is not laid out, as they have employed all their time and money in making a comfortable house first, which I think the most sensible plan. Lady De Vesci was very loth to let us go so soon, but Mr. Dawson had business at home that prevented our staying longer. However, we go again into their neighbourhood the end of next week, as Sir Robert and Lady Staples have been very pressing with their invitations, and insisted upon our naming the time, which we accordingly did, and Lady De Vesci begs we will come to her again after that, to meet Lord and Lady Tyrone, so you see we have enough to do; besides we have a ball to go to on Wednesday next, which a distant neighbour has invited us to, and when all this is over we meditate a trip to Dublin, to buy some things we have occasion for.’
From Lady Caroline Dawson to Lady Louisa Stuart, September 1778.
Carton, County Kildare
‘At last we have left Dublin, and are arrived at this place, which I find more agreeable than I expected, though I don’t think I should like to stay long; but for a couple of days it will do very well, as there is a good deal to see. I can’t say much for the entertainment within, as the Duchess is not more agreeable in her own house than she was in mine ; however, I am not sure but what I should grow to have some liking, or at least esteem, for her, as I am convinced she is perfectly good and well meaning. The Duke seems very fond of her, and being stupid himself, does not, I daresay, find out that she has any deficiency of understanding. Lady Charlotte [FitzGerald, sister of the Duke of Leinster], who is really sensible, seems to do what she pleases with them both. You will be surprised when I tell you there are at present four generations in the house, the Duchess having her mother and grandmother paying her a visit, which, with her children, makes up four, and the great-grandmother is a very good-looking woman, not older than most people’s mothers, and the Duchess’s mother, Lady St. George, one would take to be fifteen. I must describe her to you, because she is so remarkable. She has a very pretty little figure, with a face not handsome, but well enough, and her dress in the afternoon is a polonaise trimmed with gauze ; upon recollection, I am telling you wrong, for it is a Circassian, all over loops and tassels (like the one Mrs. Stuart brought from Paris last year), and a little black Henri Quatre hat upon her head, with her hair dressed up to it behind. In a morning she wears an orange-coloured habit embroidered, or rather embossed, with gold, and a great rich gold stuff waistcoat, with broad laced ruffles, and a little white beaver hat with a bunch of white feathers upon the top, and a black stock, so that she looks the finest French figure you ever saw. Everything seems to go on in great state here. The Duchess appears in a sack and hoop and diamonds in an afternoon, French horns playing at every meal, and such quantities of plate, etc., that one would imagine oneself in a palace; and there are servants without end.’
From Lady Caroline Dawson to Lady Louisa Stuart, October 1778.
Castletown, County Kildare
‘On Saturday they asked if I should like going to Castletown, Mr. Conolly’s, and upon my answering in the affirmative we set out in the coach and six with all due state. I was very much entertained, as it is a very pretty place, though a flat (which you will not credit, I suppose) ; but there’s very fine wood, a fine river, and views of mountains from every part of it, so the flatness does not strike one so much, and I never saw any place kept so neat and nice. They first carried me to the cottage, for you must know it is quite the fashion in Ireland to have a cottage neatly fitted up with Tunbridge ware, and to drink tea in it during the summer. We then went to the house, which is the largest I ever was in, and reckoned the finest in this kingdom. It has been done up entirely by Lady Louisa, and with a very good taste ; but what struck me most was a gallery, I daresay 150 feet long, furnished in the most delightful manner with fine glasses, books, musical instruments, billiard table, in short, everything that you can think of is in that room, and though so large, is so well filled, that it is the warmest, most comfortable-looking place I ever saw ; and they tell me they live in it quite in winter, for the servants can bring in dinner or supper at one end, without anybody hearing it at the other, in short, I never saw anything so delightful, and I am sure you would have been in raptures. Lady Charlotte [FitzGerald] is so fond of it that she would have me go into every hole and corner of that great house, and then made me walk all over the shrubbery, so that by the time we had finished I was compleatly tired.’
From Lady Caroline Dawson to Lady Louisa Stuart, October 1778
Next Sunday afternoon, I shall be speaking at Emo Court, County Laois on Lady Caroline Dawson and her visits to country houses around Ireland. For further information, please see: http://emocourt.ie/event/robert-obyrne-lady-caroline-dawson-an-18th-century-country-house-guest
St Mary’s Cathedral in Killarney, County Kerry was originally designed by Augustus Welby Pugin in 1840, its form a homage both to Ardfert Cathedral, elsewhere in the same county and Salisbury Cathedral. Work paused during the years of the Great Famine, but the building was finished in 1855 under the supervision of James Joseph McCarthy. The cathedral’s superlative mid-19th century Gothic interior survived intact until 1973, when then-Bishop Eamonn Casey commissioned what was called a ‘re-ordering.’ This involved throwing out almost all the decorative features and gutting the space back to bare stone walls. Such an act of desecration, which occurred in other Roman Catholic churches throughout Ireland, was supposedly undertaken in order to comply with new liturgical procedure, but oddly enough the same brutal approach was not undertaken in other countries, where churches were allowed to retain their historical interiors. It deserves to be exposed for what it was: the philistinism of a vainglorious prelate.
Until recently, Doneraile Court, County Cork had an unhappy recent past and what threatened to be an equally unhappy future. One of the earliest non-fortified houses in Ireland, the core of the present building was constructed in the 1720s to the design of Isaac Rothery for Arthur St Leger, first Viscount Doneraile. His great-grandfather Sir Anthony St Leger, who came from Kent, had been sent to Ireland in 1537 by Henry VIII and in 1540 was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland. The family gradually acquired land in this country, and in 1636 Sir William St. L:eger, Knight, Lord President of Munster bought what is now Doneraile from its previous owners the Synans for ‘the sum of Three hundred pounds sterling current money of and in England in hand payed to us.’ Until Doneraile Court was built, they lived in an old castle on the opposite side of the river Awbeg. The house has a seven-bay, three-storey facade of cut stone with curved end bows added at a later date in the 18th century. Further additions were made in the following century, including a three-bay porch to the front and a vast dining room of 1869 (demolished during restoration work just over a century later). The interior contains an early 18th century panelled room and an oval late-18th century staircase hall with Adamesque plasterwork on its ceiling.
The last Lord Doneraile to live in the house was the seventh Viscount who had been born and lived in New Zealand before inheriting the title and estate in 1941. He and his wife had no children and following his death in 1957 she remained alone in Doneraile Court. Then in 1968 a 47-year old Californian truck driver called Richard St John St Leger arrived in Ireland with his family and claimed to be the Doneraile heir. An application was lodged with the British House of Lords for his claim to be recognised. While this process was underway and despite objections from the estate’s Trustees, the family moved into the house, initially living with the widowed Lady Doneraile although she later settled in a cottage on the estate. Around the same time the Trustees had reached agreement with the Land Commission for the purchase of Doneraile Court and its lands for £56,800. Richard St Leger meanwhile began refurbishment work on the house with the intention of opening it to the public. The Irish Georgian Society offered support and sent a large number of volunteers to help prior to an opening ceremony planned for July 1969 when the American Ambassador to Ireland would officially open the house. However, just a matter of days beforehand, the Trustees gained an injunction in the High Court against the public opening of Doneraile Court on the grounds that the house’s floors were unsafe. They then proceeded to sell its entire contents to a consortium of antique dealers. Soon afterwards the Land Commission completed the purchase of the estate. His claim to the title never proven, Richard St Leger moved out of the house and later returned to the United States.
The Doneraile estate now passed into State ownership as part of the Office of Public Works’ Department of Forestry and Fisheries. But while care was lavished on the parkland in preparation of being opened to the public, the same was not true for the house which rapidly started to show evidence of neglect and deterioration. Windows were broken by vandals, plasterwork in the hall began to fall off the walls and the 19th century conservatory collapsed. In May 1976 it was announced that Doneraile Court was to be leased to the Irish Georgian Society rent-free on condition that the organisation undertook to restore the building. Gradually the house’s dereliction was brought under control. By the end of 1978 the Irish Georgian Society had spent £25,000 on structural repairs and that figure would climb steadily higher; in 1983 the organization estimated it had spent some £40,000 on the house. The amount would have been much higher but for the fact that much of the work had been undertaken by volunteers. In June 1984 the park at Doneraile was opened to the public but a lot more still needed to be accomplished before the house could follow the demesne’s lead and admit visitors. In 1990 a tearoom began operating in the house’s old kitchen, and in April 1992 the ground floor of Doneraile Court opened with a variety of exhibitions on show, including photographs of restoration work from the very start. Two years later, with the greater part of the restoration work completed at a cost of £500,000, the Irish Georgian Society was at last able to hand the house back to the Office of Public Works. For the next 25 years, the building remained closed and shuttered. Finally, last month it re-opened to the public and for once the wait has been worthwhile. As today’s pictures show, Doneraile Court now looks better than it has for more than half a century, the ground floor rooms impeccably refurbished and decorated. Here is a triumphant demonstration that an historic building, no matter how long neglected, can be brought back to peak condition. What has occurred here can, with sufficient ambition and imagination, also happen elsewhere. Congratulations are merited to all involved in this enterprise, which is ongoing as there are plans to open the first floor in due course. Doneraile Court’s unhappy past has been expunged, and the house can now look forward to an optimistic future.
Next Sunday at 3pm I shall be giving a talk at Doneraile Court on a number of houses elsewhere in County Cork which have not enjoyed its good fortune. For further information, please see: http://doneraileestate.ie/event/robert-obyrne-the-irish-aesthete-in-county-cork/
After last Monday’s piece on the newer portion of Glenmaroon, County Dublin, it is worth drawing attention to one other feature of the house. Some seven years after acquiring and extending the property, in 1911 Ernest Guinness further added to it by building one of the first private swimming pools in Ireland. Designed, like the adjoining house, by Laurence Aloysius McDonnell (together with his partner in the firm, ALexander Reid), the addition which had a smoking room above, cost £5,000. The pool still survives with its original tiled interior, the curved end of windows above the deep end evocative of a bridge on one of the ocean-going yachts on which Guinness so loved to sail.
Glenmaroon, to the immediate west of Dublin’s Phoenix Park, was discussed here a couple of months ago (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/05/27/glenmaroon). Or at least, part of Glenmaroon was discussed since this is a property in two parts, separated by a public road, and linked by a bridge across the latter. Around 1903 Ernest Guinness bought the original house, built some forty years before by retailer Gilbert Burns. The building’s new owner was the second son of Edward Guinness, created first Earl of Iveagh in 1919. Born in 1876, Ernest Guinness attended Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, leaving university with a degree in engineering. While his two brothers participated in the Boer War, he was sent to Dublin where he trained as a brewer before becoming assistant managing director at Guinness’s in 1902 and vice-chairman in 1913. His professional life was spent at the brewery in St James’s Gate where he always wore around his waist an enormous bunch of keys to the company’s safes. According to his great-nephew, the Hon Desmond Guinness, Ernest ‘was the only one of the family in his generation who really knew the brewery well. He understood and cared about every valve and every pipe, much more so than any of his brothers.’ Ernest Guinness loved machinery. One of the first men of his generation to acquire a motor car, he was later one of the oldest to be issued a British pilot’s licence and came to own four aeroplanes, the only person in Ireland to do so. When the autogyro, a precursor of the helicopter, was manufactured in 1923, he bought one and kept it in his garage. In his fifties he bought a three-engine biplane flying boat to carry family and friends between England and the west of Ireland. There was widespread press coverage of the first occasion on which he made the trip, in September 1928, since it was broken by an overnight stay in Kingston (now Dún Laoghaire) Harbour. Two years earlier at the Vickers’ Supermarine Aviation Works Ernest had supervised the construction of a three-engined monoplane with a wing span of 92 feet. Described as ‘an air yacht’ in addition to the cockpits, this had accommodation for six passengers including a saloon and several cabins equipped with electric lighting and a ventilation system. He was also a passionate sailor, owning a number of superlative vessels, the best known being the Fântome II on which he travelled around the world with his family in 1923-24. Even with boats, his interest was most often of a mechanical bent. On one occasion he ordered a yacht from the firm of Camper and Nicholsons but then requested that the vessel be cut in half to insert a 12-foot section in the middle with a diesel engine. When it was pointed out that this procedure would be more expensive than the simple purchase of an intact new boat, he retorted, ‘Never mind the money. That is how I want it done.’
In 1903 Ernest Guinness married Cloe (Marie Clothilde) Russell, only daughter of Sir Charles Russell, 4th Bt. Her mother was the granddaughter of the fourth Duke of Richmond, making Cloe a direct descendant of Charles II and his French mistress Louise de Kérouaille. The couple had three daughters, Aileen Sibell (b.1904), Maureen Constance (1907) and Oonagh (1910) who would later be known collectively as the Golden Guinness Girls. The had a large house in central London at 17 Grosvenor Place (now occupied by the Irish Embassy) and also a house outside the capital, Holmbury in Surrey (chosen for its proximity to an airfield) in which a system of concealed loudspeakers piped music into every room. But owing to his involvement with the family brewery, Ernest was perceived as being domiciled in Ireland, which explains his purchase of Glenmaroon, from where he daily walked to his office in the Guinness brewery. Initially he lived in the house built for Gilbert Burns, but following his marriage he decided to build a new residence, on the other side of the road. The architect chosen for this task was Dubliner Laurence Aloysius McDonnell. Born around 1858, McDonnell trained with John Joseph O’Callaghan, a devotee of the Gothic revival, before spending time in the offices of Thomas Newenham Deane and John Franklin Fuller and then setting up his own practice in 1886. One of his earliest and most advantageous commissions came from Lady Aberdeen, wife of the former (and future) Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. She and her committee chose McDonnell to design an ‘Irish Industrial Village’ for the Chicago World Fair in 1892. Among his other better-known works are Ballynahinch Castle, County Galway and the Iveagh Play Centre building on Dublin’s Bull Alley Street, the second of these in partnership with Alexander Reid. Glenmaroon was earlier than either of these buildings and seems to have been built in the style of an English Home Counties mansion to please Mrs Guinness, homesick for her own country.
Ernest Guinness’s granddaughter Neelia Plunket later described Glenmaroon as ‘A fascinating but hideous house. Fascinating, because each time we go there, there is some new electrical device or mechanical gadget that makes an organ play, panels in the wall open or something unusual happens.’ This is a reference to one of her grandfather’s odder installations: in one of the main reception rooms stood a coal scuttle with a small button which, when pushed, caused an automatic pipe organ to rise up and begin playing Cherry Ripe, a popular song of the period. As mentioned, in order to link the two buildings, he also organised to have a bridge built above the public road, so that members of the family could cross without having to step outdoors (the present bridge is a later replacement). Seemingly his three daughters watched the drama of the Easter Rising unfold while looking down to Dublin from this bridge. Stylistically, McDonnell’s building is quite different from the earlier house, the loosely neo-Tudor exterior being clad in ashlar limestone on the ground floor, and then brick and wood above. Passing under the porte cochère, internally the most striking room is the entrance hall, panelled in oak and plaster with an elaborate chimneypiece at either end and, facing the doorway, a double-storey oak flying staircase, lit by a vast window filled with art nouveau glass. The main reception rooms off this area are less striking and decorated in an Adam-revival style. Glenmaroon remained in the possession of the Guinness family until Ernest’s death in 1949, after which the entire property passed to the Irish state as part-payment of death duties. The entire complex was later acquired by a religious order, the Daughters of Charity and adapted as a centre for the care of people with intellectual disability. Four years ago, it was placed on the market and since then some essential conservation work has been undertaken on the building. Its long-term future remains to be seen.
The little church at Clonagam, County Waterford sits on high ground almost directly north of Curraghmore, with superlative views from the graveyard down to the house and gardens. The present building dates from 1741 when on the instructions of Marcus Beresford, Earl of Tyrone and his heiress wife Catherine de la Poer it replaced an older building on the site. Although there were subsequent alterations, essentially this is still the same structure, taking the form of a simple Roman barn, the rendered entrance front relieved only by a cut-stone Gibbsian doorcase and diagonal stepped buttresses on either corner topped with crocketed pinnacles. Round-headed windows on either side and on the east front were probably of clear glass originally but now contain some stained glass panels. Otherwise there is nothing to distinguish the church from many others throughout the country. The real interest lies inside, where generations of the de la Poer Beresford family are remembered.
Two of Clonagam church’s most prominent monuments are located at the east end of the building, that on the north wall carrying the following inscription: To the Memory of Marcus Beresford, Earl, and Viscount of Tyrone, Baron Beresford, and Baronet who departed this life on the 4th of April 1763 in the 69th year of his Age, and of Catherine, Baroness Le Poer in Fee, his Countess, Daughter and Heiress to James Power, Earl of Tyrone, Viscount Decies, and Baron Le Poer, who dyed in the 68th year of her Age on the 16th of July 1769 this Monument is Erected by their Son, George de la Poer Beresford, Marquis of Waterford, in Testimony of his Duty, Gratitude and Affection. In front of a polished limestone pyramid, the white marble monument features portrait busts of the couple, similar to those seen in Imperial Roman tombs, their deaths mourned by a pair of disconsolate putti. Unfortunately the sculptor responsible for the work is not known, unlike the monument on the opposite wall which recalls Florence Grosvenor Rowley, who in August 1872 married John Henry de la Poer Beresford, fifth Marquess of Waterford: the following April she died in childbirth. Set into the wall of the church and dramatically lit by a concealed window, the sculpture shows both the deceased marchioness as though asleep and cradling her baby, who also did not survive. This work was created by the Viennese-born Vienna-born Joseph Edgar Boehm, who had settled in London in the early 1860s, exhibiting at the Royal Academy (where he was elected a member in 1782) and becoming the favourite sculptor of Queen Victoria who awarded him a knighthood. Boehm was also responsible for the St Hubert stag that sits atop the façade of the main house at Curraghmore.
The body of the church at Clonagam is dominated by two lifesize recumbent figures, that on the north side representing Henry de la Poer Beresford, third Marquess of Waterford who was killed in a hunting accident in March 1859. In polished granite, it shows the deceased clad in his robes as a Knight of the Order of St Patrick. Since the third marquess and his wife Louisa had no children, the title and Curraghmore estate were inherited by his brother, John de la Poer Beresford. Before becoming the fourth Marquess, he had served as a Church of Ireland clergyman and so the white marble monument shows him in clerical robes; he died just six years after his elder brother. Several other members of the family also became clergymen, and one of them is similarly commemorated in the church: the Most Rev. John George de la Poer Beresford, a younger son of the first marquess. He briefly served as Archbishop of Dublin before becoming Archbishop of Armagh in 1822, holding the position for the next forty years. In Armagh, he was responsible for undertaking the restoration of the ancient cathedral of St Patrick, then in a perilous state of disrepair. There he was buried, but the monument on the south wall of Clonagam church was erected in his memory by the wives of the third and fourth marquesses. Incidentally, he was succeeded as Archbishop of Armagh by a cousin, Marcus Gervais Beresford. Finally, one other curious sculpture deserves attention. This is a semi-recumbent male figure looking to date from the late 17th century, his right hand resting on a knee (from which a stocking has untidily slipped) his left supporting his head as he leans backwards. His present position is on a shelf inside the church’s marble baroque chimney piece, but this appears not to be the original setting. Elsewhere in the building a number of wall plaques were repositioned after the Church of Ireland church in Carrick-on-Suir, their original home, closed its doors in the early 1980s. Presumably this figure was moved here at the same time and tucked inside the chimney piece. Who he represents is unclear but one of the plaques commemorates John Power, second Earl of Tyrone who died in 1693 at the age of 29: might he be the reclining figure? Whatever the answer, like the others inside the church – and indeed in the graveyard outside – he awaits the Day of Judgement.
Patrick Hennessy’s 1957 portrait of Elizabeth Bowen presides over a room dedicated to her memory in Doneraile Court, County Cork (her own home, nearby Bowen’s Court, was irresponsibly demolished in 1961). After being closed to the public for the past 25 years, Doneraile Court has once more been taken in hand by the Office of Public Works and officially reopens today. The decoration and furnishing of the ground floor rooms displays terrific flair, with a wonderful mixture of items, some in state ownership, others on loan from private collections, all blended together with aplomb. Having woken from its quarter-century slumber, Doneraile Court proves to be the sleeping beauty of Irish country houses: visits are strongly urged.
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.