A Last Hurrah




This week marks the 150 Anniversary of the consecration of Holy Trinity in Westport, County Mayo, thought to be the last church to be built prior to the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871, and therefore acting as a last hurrah of the old ecclesiastical order in this country. Designed by Thomas Newenham Deane and constructed on a site provided by the third Marquess of Sligo, the building replaced a late 18th century church (now ruinous) elsewhere on the estate. The work is thought to have cost more than £80,000, this high price explained by the exceptional craftsmanship evident throughout, not least the elaborate carvings around all doors and windows on the exterior; these were the work of one William Ridge, about whom it appears little else is known. The interior is just as generously decorated with stained glass provided by Alexander Gibbs and Company of London, the windows frames in mosaic supplied by another London firm, Clayton and Bell. But the most notable feature of the interior are the inlaid murals covering large areas of the walls. Mostly representing scenes from the Gospels (including a depiction of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper over the west door), these are made from white marble with traced designs outlined in dark cement; the backgrounds are of gold leaf. These murals were made for the church by Samuel Poole of M.T. Bayne and Company of Westminster.



A Resting Place for Kings



The chapel which forms a centrepiece of Mitchelstown College, County Cork. Despite its name, this was never an educational establishment, but a group of almshouses occupying the north side of King’s Square and built between 1771-87 under the terms of the will of James King, fourth Baron Kingston, who died ten years before work began on the site. Designed and built by John Morrison, there were originally 24 houses but some of these were later sub-divided so that today there are 31. The chapel originally had a cupola, but this was soon replaced by the tower which can still be seen today: the original 18th century interior was entirely replaced in 1876. Directly beneath is the crypt of the King family where the remains of the 11th Earl of Kingston were recently placed.


Son’s Love Built Me



Helen’s Tower, here I stand,
Dominant over sea and land.
Son’s love built me, and I hold
Mother’s love in letter’d gold.
Love is in and out of time,
I am mortal stone and lime.
Would my granite girth were strong
As either love, to last as long
I should wear my crown entire
To and thro’ the Doomsday fire,
And be found of angel eyes
In earth’s recurring Paradise.

Helen’s Tower
, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson




A granddaughter of playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, in 1825 18-year old Helen Sheridan married the Hon Price Blackwood who, although a third son, would become fourth Baron Dufferin and Claneboye owing to the deaths of his two older brothers. The groom’s parents opposed the match, having hoped for a better, more wealthy bride than the beautiful but impoverished Helen Sheridan whose father had died when she was ten, leaving behind a widow and three daughters who lived in a grace-and-favour apartment in Hampton Court Palace. The Blackwoods had one child, a son called Frederick, and lived in London until he inherited the family title and estate in Ireland in 1839. Two years later, Price Dufferine died, having been accidentally prescribed an overdose of morphine by a pharmacist. Like her mother before her, Lady Dufferin was now left a widow, her only son Frederick then aged 15. The two remained close for the next 26 years, until her own death in 1867. Long before then, in 1848 the young Lord Dufferin had embarked on the construction of a tower on his estate at Clandeboye, near Bangor, County Down. Designed by Scottish architect William Burn, unsurprisingly the building is in the baronial style, of four storeys leading up to a flat, turreted roof that offers superlative views of the surrounding countryside. A porch at the base which provides access to the tower carries a date stone with the year 1850, along with a coronet and two opposed Ds with an ampersand between them, representing the Dufferin title. However, despite carrying this date, the building does not appear to have been finished, until the early 1860s when it was fitted with an interior stone spiral staircase giving access to the upper floors and roof. A room on the second floor has a coffered ceiling, the panels of which are painted with circular inscriptions enclosing coronets and crests. Above this is the oak-panelled library with a ribbed groin vaulted ceiling, the centre of which concludes in a pendant. When completed, the building was named Helen’s Tower, in honour of Lord Dufferin’s mother, who was herself a talented writer and poet. As a result, her son invited a number of the most famous poets of the period – among them Tennyson and Browning – to write verses about Helen Dufferin and her tower: many of these were then engraved on metal plates which can still be seen on the walls of the library. 




Who hears of Helen’s Tower, may dream perchance
How the Greek Beauty from the Scaean Gate
Gazed on old friends unanimous in hate,
Death-doom’d because of her fair countenance.
Hearts would leap otherwise, at thy advance,
Lady, to whom this Tower is consecrate!
Like hers, thy face once made all eyes elate,
Yet, unlike hers, was bless’d by every glance.
The Tower of Hate is outworn, far and strange:
A transitory shame of long ago,
It dies into the sand from which it sprang;
But thine, Love’s rock-built Tower, shall fear no change:
God’s self laid stable earth’s foundations so,
When all the morning-stars together sang.

Helen’s Tower, by Robert Browning. 



Helen’s Tower is now managed by the Irish Landmark Trust and offered for short-term lets, see: Helen’s Tower | Self Catering Accommodation in Bangor, Co Down (irishlandmark.com)

Making a Comeback



Sometimes confused with Coolamber Manor in adjacent County Longford, this is Coolamber House, County Westmeath, a building which has undergone various additions and subtractions over the centuries. There may have been an old castle on the site originally, incorporated into the present late-Georgian house constructed in the early 19th century for Robert Blackall, a major in the East India Company. It may have been his son, Samuel Blackall, who carried out alterations to the interior, installing the staircase seen here. He died without heirs and Coolamber subsequently became owned by a branch of the O’Reilly family, one of whom Captain Percy O’Reilly, was member of the Irish polo team that won a silver medal at the 1908 Summer Olympics. In 1947 Prince Ernst Heinrich of Saxony (a son of the last King of Saxony) and his second wife, former actress Virginia Dulon, bought the house and surrounding land and lived there until their respective deaths in 1971 and 2002. The present owners bought the place eight years ago and have gradually been restoring Coolamber as a family home, a wonderful but too-rare instance of such a property making a comeback to its original use.


Pretty as a Picture


The thatched lodge at Derrymore, County Armagh featured here some time ago (see The Most Elegant Summer Lodge « The Irish Aesthete). That building dates from the mid-1770s, making it at least 30 years older than another fanciful cottage orné, this one in County Tipperary. Popularly known as the Swiss Cottage, the later example was constructed c.1810 for Richard Butler, 10th Baron Caher (created Earl of Glengall 1816). Member of a branch of the Butler family which had been dominant in this part of the country for hundreds of years, his own forebears had been settled at Cahir Castle since the 14th century. They remained there until c.1770 when a new residence, Cahir House (now an hotel) was built. Richard Butler was never expected to inherit the title and associated estate. However, following the death in June 1788 of the 8th baron, a distant relative, without heirs – and then the death of Richard Butler’s own father a month later – at the age of just 12 he came into considerable wealth. At the time, he was living in poverty in France, but then returned to Ireland, where he was accommodated by the eccentric widow Arabella Jeffereyes of Blarney Castle. There was method behind Mrs Jeffereyes kindness: within a few years, she had arranged the marriage of her daughter Emilia (then aged just 16) to the wealthy Lord Caher. Soon afterwards the couple returned to live at Cahir House where, according to Dorothea Herbert, they threw ‘a most flaming Fête Champêtre’ during which the young Lady Caher ‘danced an Irish jig in her stockings to the music of an old piper. We had a superb supper in the three largest rooms, all crowded as full as they could hold and we did not get home till eight o’clock next morning and so slept all the next day.’ 





The tone set by the party they had thrown after their return to Cahir House, the Butlers appear to have led an exceedingly merry life, dividing their time between County Tipperary and London where, following the implementation of the Act of Union, Lord Caher served as an Irish representative peer in the Westminster House of Lords. It may have been there that he made the acquaintance of architect John Nash, who would be responsible for designing a number of buildings in Cahir, including St Paul’s church (Figures of Mystery « The Irish Aesthete) and the adjacent Erasmus Smith School (Well Schooled « The Irish Aesthete) as well as the sadly-demolished Shanbally Castle just a few miles away. Accordingly, the Swiss Cottage is attributed to Nash, not least because of its resemblance to similar picturesque buildings he designed during the same period at Blaise Hamlet on the outskirts of Bristol. The cottage was sketched in 1814, indicating its completion by that date, and two years later was mentioned in an account of local races: ‘the tout ensemble of the Cottage affording a display of rural decoration not easy to be equalled in this country for chasteness of character and richness of fancy.’ Perched above the river Suir and just two kilometres south of Cahir, the cottage was never intended to be a permanent residence, but rather somewhere to visit, perhaps for a meal, perhaps an overnight stay in good weather. Built to a T-plan and of two storeys over basement, the cottage has rustic timber verandas around most of its exterior and a thatched roof. French windows open onto the surrounding grounds and there are a number of balconies on the first floor: much of the exterior is covered in wooden lattice trellising. The overall effect is exceedingly charming. 





Three years after becoming an earl, Richard Butler died and was succeeded by his only son, also called Richard. Despite marrying an heiress, he would find expenditure exceeded income, particularly after 1839 when he embarked on the restoration of Cahir Castle, and the rebuilding of much of the town of Cahir. In the aftermath of the Great Famine, it transpired that Lord Glengall’s debts amounted to a prodigious £300,000, the situation not helped by a lawsuit over their inheritance between Lady Glengall and her sister. The earl was duly declared bankrupt in 1849 and everything offered for sale, although some of the estate was subsequently recovered by his elder daughter, Lady Margaret Charteris. Somehow, the Swiss Cottage survived, although by the mid-1980s it was in poor condition, sitting empty and a prey to vandals. Before the building became a complete ruin, the local community bought it in 1985 with the aid of a £10,000 grant from the Irish Georgian Society. Work then began on salvaging the Swiss Cottage and the greater part of the funds for this project came, via the IGS, from the American Port Royal Foundation and its President Mrs Christian Aall (the foundation had already donated money towards the cottage’s purchase). Restoration work took three years to complete, overseen by architect Austin Dunphy assisted by John Redmill, with much of the labour provided under a government youth training scheme. New tree trunk posts were put up to support the shingled roof that surrounds the cottage at first floor level, later internal partitions removed and new wiring and plumbing installed. The building was re-thatched, and early 19th century wallpapers, not least a set in the salon by Joseph Dufour of Paris depicting Les Rives du Bosphore, scrupulously restored by David Skinner. Irish couturier Sybil Connolly was given responsibility for overseeing the interior decoration and arranged for a set of grotto chairs to be made for the ground floor rooms. Work on the Swiss Cottage was completed in September 1989 and the building has since been open to the public under the management of the Office of Public Works. 

Not So Imperial


A fine carved limestone doorcase, formerly one of the entrances to the now-shut Imperial Hotel in Castlebar, County Mayo. Occupying one side of the town’s Mall and tracing its origins as a hostelry back to 1795, the Imperial (formerly Daly’s) Hotel was also the site where the National Land League was founded almost 143 years ago, on August 16th 1879. The building closed for business in 2009 and two years later was bought by Mayo County Council, which has since produced various ‘masterplans’ for the premises but not embarked on any of them, instead leaving this important building to deteriorate. It should be noted that in the same area of Castlebar, the council also owns the former post office and the former barracks, both of which have similarly suffered years of neglect as a consequence of a failure to implement a much-heralded programme of urban renewal. Once again, it is hard to see why any private owner of an historic property in Ireland should embark on restoration when such a poor example is provided by the relevant local authority.

Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,





Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.





O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats.
Photographs of the Casino at Marino, Dublin, designed by Sir William Chambers for James Caulfield, Earl of Charlemont. 

A Different Sensibility



After Monday’s post about Castlemartyr, readers might be interested in seeing some old photographs of the house’s interior when it was still owned and occupied by the Boyles, Earls of Shannon. The pictures date from the late 19th/early 20th century, and were taken by Nellie Thompson, wife of the sixth earl. The two above show the saloon as it was then decorated, filled with a vast quantity of furniture including a grand piano and a billiard table. The two below reflect the family’s travels overseas and what they had collected: prior to inheriting his title and estate in 1890, for example, the sixth earl had been living in Canada where he served as a Mountie. What most immediately strikes any viewer of these images is how dark and cluttered were the rooms, how filled with furnishings and fabrics, all competing and contrasting with each other. An insight into a different aesthetic sensibility from that of our own age.


Saved for the Nation


Some readers may be familiar with the history of Richard Barry, seventh and penultimate Earl of Barrymore. He was almost the end of the line of a family which could trace its ancestry back to participation in the Norman Conquest of England (1066) and then the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in Ireland (1169 onwards): their name derives from Barry in Glamorganshire, Wales where their forebear had been granted lands by William the Conqueror. In this country, they acquired substantial territories in what is now East Cork, and remained prominent there for many centuries, being created first Baron Barry (c.1261), then Viscount Buttevant (1541) and finally Earl of Barrymore (1628). 





One generation of Barrys duly followed another until the advent of the seventh earl (born 1769) who inherited his title and estates at the age of three, following the death of his father. His mother would die when he was eleven, and it was perhaps this absence of parental authority which led to Lord Barrymore acquiring such a notorious reputation for dissipation as an adult, known as the Rake of Rakes or Hellgate. On the other hand, his siblings were as bad. His only sister Caroline was called ‘Billingsgate’ because she swore like a fishwife (London’s Billingsgate was home to the city’s fishmarket) and of his two brothers, Henry, the last earl was called ‘Cripplegate’ because he had a clubfoot, and Augustus, called ‘Newgate’ because, despite being an Anglican clergyman, he was a compulsive gambler (Newgate being the debtors’ prison in London). The seventh earl also liked to gamble, as well as being addicted to boxing, racing and acting (he built his own theatre in Berkshire at a cost of £60,000). Eventually, his debts grew so great that he was forced to sell most of the family’s property in Ireland; he is said to have squandered some £300,000 during his lifetime. This came to an abrupt end in 1793 when, as a Captain in the Royal Berkshire Militia, he was escorting some French prisoners to a camp and his rifle accidentally went off, wounding him so badly that he was dead within the hour: he was still aged only 24. 





What has all this to do with the pictures shown here? This is Fota, County Cork, built on an island which had long been part of the Barrys’ lands and had somehow not been sold due the excesses of the seventh earl. In the early 19th century, it passed into the ownership of John Smith-Barry who, while illegitimate, was a descendant of the fourth earl of Barrymore and sought – unsuccessfully – to have the title recreated for him after the eighth earl’s death in 1823. The transformation of Fota, it has been suggested, can be connected with Smith-Barry’s efforts to be raised to the peerage. Hitherto the house had been a modest 18th century hunting lodge, probably used by the Barrys’ agents, since the family were not resident in Ireland. But in the mid-1820s, the building was greatly enlarged by father-and-son team Richard and William Vitruvius Morrison. They proposed two schemes, one of which was for Fota’s transformation into a Tudorbethan mansion, not unlike schemes on which the pair had already embarked at Killruddery, County Wicklow and Glenarm, County Antrim, with an entrance tower indebted to that at Burghley House. This idea was rejected in favour of a neo-classical design, the original five-bay building widened with an extra bay on either side and then further lengthened by the addition of two projecting pedimented wings to create a shallow courtyard, the whole centred on a single-storey limestone Doric portico. Bows were added to the garden front, one of these accommodating the drawing room, while the extensions at either end of the facade hold the dining room and library. The exterior is rendered with limestone dressings, which adds to the impression of crisp severity. A long two-storey extension to the north-west contains the service wing; in the 1870s, the front of his was hidden by a conservatory (later converted into a long gallery) leading to a billiard room. 





The first interior encountered at Fota – the entrance hall – is also the most successful. Running the length of the original house on the site and concluding at either end with small lobbies, it is divided into three spaces by screens of paired Ionic scagliola columns supporting entablatures decorated with plasterwork with a repeated pattern of wreaths and the Smith-Barry crest; the floor is covered in Portland stone. The abiding impression is of cool composure and absolute assurance in the handling of what could have been just a long, low corridor. In their decoration, the main reception rooms bear strong similarities with those of the contemporaneous Ballyfin, County Laois, both being indebted to the work of Percier and Fontaine: the ceilings in the drawing room (and its anteroom) were painted and stencilled in the 1890s by the Dublin firm of Sibthorpe & Son. The dining room has a screen of grey scagliola columns at the sideboard end of the space and, once again, rich ceiling plasterwork featuring trellises intertwined with vines. Although sparsely furnished in places, Fota, today in the care of the Irish Heritage Trust, looks so well that it is easy to forget that just a few decades ago the house’s future looked in serious jeopardy, following the death of the last of the Smith-Barrys and the estate’s subsequent sale and resale. The history of a period when it seemed Fota might be left to fall into disrepair is too complex – and perhaps still too recent – to be told here. That it has survived is thanks to a small number of determined individuals (not least plucky Richard Wood) who courageously undertook to go to battle for the place. Too many other such Irish houses, in similar perilous positions, have been at risk – and indeed continue to be so. Let us rejoice, therefore, over this sheep, which might have been lost but has been found and brought back into the fold. 

An Underutilised Resource


Designed by Richard Castle c.1740, Belvedere, County Westmeath is an exquisite villa overlooking Lough Ennell built for Robert Rochfort, later created first Earl of Belvedere. The Rochfort family had lived in Ireland since the 13th century, their primary residence being Gaulston, some five miles south-east of Belvedere. The house there, also designed by Richard Castle, was badly damaged after being burnt in 1920 during the War of Independence and later demolished. However, from around 1743 Robert Rochfort made Belvedere his main home after he had become estranged from his second wife, the Hon Mary Molesworth, who he accused of having an affair with one of his younger brothers, Arthur Rochfort. Famously, Mary Molesworth was thereafter kept a prisoner at Gaulston, never permitted to leave or to see anyone for thirty years until after her husband’s death in 1774; only once did the couple encounter each other again, by accident, and after that occasion a servant was required to walk in front of Mary Molesworth ringing a bell in order to warn Rochfort that she might be in the vicinity. Meanwhile, he pursued his younger brother for financial recompense under the legislation covering Criminal Conversation (as adultery was then known). Unable to pay, Arthur Rochfort fled the country but on his return was incarcerated in Dublin’s debtors’ prison where he died. 





Floating serene above the lake, Belvedere seems a world away from this unhappy tale. A two-storey block with semi-circular bow ends with a five-bay front, the centre three bays slightly recessed and those on either side having a Venetian window on the ground floor and a Diocletian window above. Initially the building was just one room deep but at the end of the 18th century a wing was added to the rear. The two most important reception spaces, drawing room and dining room, are at either end, with smaller rooms next to the entrance hall, behind which runs a corridor incorporating a narrow staircase leading up to four bedrooms, the service quarters being in a sunken basement. The great joy of the interior is the delicate rococo plasterwork in which putti and classical figures, surrounded by trailing garlands, shells and volutes, seem to be in the process of emerging from the ceilings. The stuccodore responsible is unknown, but the work, dating from around 1760, has been attributed to Barthelemij Cramillion. 





Following the first earl’s death in 1774, Belvedere – and indeed Gaulston – was inherited by his son George Augustus Rochfort, second Earl of Belvedere. However, when he died in 1714, he had no direct heir and so the titles became extinct and the settled estate was inherited by his sister Jane and then, after her death, by her grandson Brinsley Butler, fourth Earl of Lanesborough. He rarely visited Belvedere and on his death in 1847 it passed to a cousin, Charles Brinsley Marlay, a wealthy bachelor who invited Ninian Niven to devise plans for the walled garden and who was also responsible for laying out a series of terraces between the house and lake. On his death in 1912, the estate was inherited by Charles Howard-Bury, a noted mountaineer, explorer and botanist. Howard-Bury had been born and raised in Charleville Castle, County Offaly but seemingly had such an unhappy childhood there that he preferred to live in Belvedere and when he died in 1963, he left the place to his long-time companion, a former actor called Rex Beaumont, who would be the last private owner of the estate. In 1980, Beaumont announced his plans to leave the place and held a sale of the contents, jointly organised by Hamilton & Hamilton and Christie’s; quite a few of the lots had originally come from Charleville Castle, meaning collections from two different houses were thereby dispersed. In 1982 Beaumont sold the house and surrounding parkland to the local authority, which has managed the place ever since. While much money was spent on restoring Belvedere at the time, 40 years have now passed and the house is looking tired and in need of attention, little having changed there since its acquisition by the county council. The surrounding demesne is extremely popular with local families and much frequented, but Belvedere itself appears an under-utilised resource; at the moment, only a handful of the rooms are even open to the public, with much of it closed up. It’s time fresh consideration, and attention, was given to one of Ireland’s most charming 18th century villas.