Over the past few decades, visitors to Russborough, County Wicklow have become familiar with the house’s drawing room being painted with honey-toned walls and plasterwork picked out in white. However, research in recent years has shown that this scheme only dates from the mid-20th century and that before then the room was decorated in an altogether more florid manner. Surviving photographs from the 19th century, as well as paint analysis, reveals that originally, while the walls were coloured a soft white, their stuccowork was part-gilded and part-coppered, in a fashion unlike anything else found in Ireland or Britain. Commissioned by Joseph Leeson, first Earl of Milltown and designed by Richard Castle, the leading country house architect of the period, Russborough dates from the mid-18th century and many of its contents were collected by Leeson while he undertook two Grand Tours, both including time spent in Rome. There he encountered French artist Claude-Joseph Vernet and from him commissioned a series of eight landscape paintings to hang in the drawing room. These were gradually dispersed so that by the time Sir Alfred Beit bought the property, none remained. In 1968, he bought back four oval pictures and reinstated them in the empty stucco cartouches. More recently, four other landscape paintings, either by Vernet or his pupil Charles Francois Grenier de Lacroix (also known as Vernet Lacroix) were acquired by the Apollo Foundation and lent to Russborough, so that the drawing room, as known to Joseph Leeson, could be recreated. Following many months of work, it opened to the public earlier this week and is a revelation of 18th century decorative taste in Ireland.
‘It was in the hall of this Castle, then his principal residence, that James, first Duke and twelfth Earl of Ormond, received, as he sat at dinner, on 23d October 1641, intelligence of the great rebellion, in which he so eminently distinguished himself as Commander of the Royal Army. Since that period, none of the Ormond family have resided in Carrick-Castle, which is, however, maintained in good repair, and occupied by a private gentleman, who has evinced excellent taste in the alterations which he has made in the building without impairing the character of its architecture. It stands upon the banks of the river Suir, and near the town of Carrick-on-Suir. This castle was built in the year 1309, by Edmond le Boteler, or Butler, whose son was created Earl of Ormond in 1328. By him it was granted, in 1336, together with its demesnes, to the Franciscan monks of the Abbey of Carrick-on-Suir. But these venerable personages, who probably attached more value to the lands than to the fortress, appear to have permitted it to fall into decay, since we find that, in 1445, Sir Edmund Butler purchased the premises from the Monks, and rebuilt the Castle and Bridge.’
From Picturesque Views of the Antiquities of Ireland, 1830
‘Prior to starting to Waterford, let us not fail to view the fine old castle of the Ormonds, built in 1309, and still remaining in the family. The antique bridge, from the right bank of the river, just above the weir, presents all that is fantastically eccentric in architecture, the ivied house in the centre imparting to it an air of pleasing novelty. The parish chapel is said to have been built by the Ormonds, and the tower attached to the modern building bears proof of high antiquity. We hope tradition speaks “no scandal against Queen Elizabeth,” as the guide points out the grave of Thomas Butler, the putative natural son of her maiden Majesty.’
From The Tourist’s Illustrated Hand-Book for Ireland, 1859
‘I chanced that day to be at Carrick, and I walked to see the old castle. It is beautifully situated in a secluded lawn overhanging the Suir, at a distance of a few hundred yards from the eastern end of the town. I could not ascertain the date of the older, or castellated part of the edifice: the more modern part was erected by Thomas Butler, Earl of Ormond, in 1565, which date is displayed on the wall of the hall; on which, likewise, there is a rude fresco representing Queen Elizabeth, with the initials E.R. On the opposite wall there is another fresco of the founder, who is said by the tradition of the castle to have found favour as a lover of that princess. The tradition found its way into France, and the family of Lord Galmoye is stated, in a French genealogical work, to descend from her Majesty and her Irish admirer…The curious old mansion founded by “Black Tom Butler” is still habitable. Its front presents a long row of gables in the fashion of Elizabethan manor-houses, with a large Oriel window over the porch. Its large deserted chambers are just as spectral personages might regularly honour with their visits. I accordingly asked if the house was haunted, and was told by the person who showed it, that in the days of the Ormonds, a ghost had been constantly there – a utilitarian ghost, apparently; for he used to officiate as volunteer shoeblack, and to discharge other duties of domestic labour.
The largest apartments are in the upper storey. There is a noble drawing room about sixty feet long, which contains two decorated chimneys. Whatever be the worth of the Galmoye tradition, old “Tom Butler” as the guide familiarly called him, was anxious to record his devotion to Elizabeth; and this he has done by the frequent repetition of her Majesty’s initials and arms in the quaint stucco ornaments of the ceiling.’
From Ireland and her Agitators by W.J. O’Neill, 1867.
The name of Newcastle, County Longford would seem to indicate that the present house, or an earlier one on or near this site, replaced a more ancient building. The earliest information on the place seems to be from 1680 when the lands of its demesne, formerly part of the O’Farrell territory, are recorded as being purchased by Robert Choppyne (or Choppin) who built here ‘a fayre house and a wooden bridge.’ By this date, he had already become High Sheriff of Longford three years earlier and would go on to represent County Longford in the Irish House of Commons in 1692 before dying a year or two later. The Newcastle property was left to his nephew Anthony Sheppard who continued to acquire more land in the area, but not so fortunate when it came to continuing his line: he and his wife had four sons who died young and one who survived to adulthood, only to predecease his father. And while the estate was left to Sheppard’s daughter Mary, who had married Arthur St. Leger, Viscount Doneraille, she also died without heirs not long after. So Newcastle passed to Anthony Sheppard’s widowed sister, Frances Harman (her late husband, Sir Wentworth Harman, had died in 1714 when ‘coming in a dark night from Chapel-Izod, his coach overturning, tumbled down a precipice, and he dies in consequence of the wounds and bruises he received’). For many years, the estate was managed by her younger son, the Rev Cutts Harman, who appeared here some months ago with regard to Castlecor (see A Worthy Recipient « The Irish Aesthete). Once again, the direct line failed and so, on the death of the Rev Harman, Castlecor passed to his nephew, Laurence Harman Parsons, on condition that the latter adopt his uncle’s surname: accordingly, he became Laurence Parsons Harman. He would also, in due course, be created Baron Oxmantown, then Viscount Oxmantown and finally first Earl of Rosse in 1806. His only surviving child was a daughter, Frances, who married Robert King, first Viscount Lorton, of Rockingham, County Roscommon. Their younger son, Laurence Harman King-Harman inherited both the Newcastle and Rockingham estates; on his death in 1875 the two were divided, with Newcastle passing to a younger son, Colonel Wentworth King-Harman. The estate reached its largest extent during this period, running to some 38,616 acres and described in 1900 as ‘a master-piece of smooth and intricate organisation, with walled gardens and glasshouses, its dairy, its laundry, its carpenters, masons and handymen of all estate crafts, the home farm, the gamekeepers and retrievers kennels, its saw-mill and paint shop and deer park for the provision of venison. The place is self-supporting to a much greater degree than most country houses in England.’
The core of Newcastle could date from the late 17th century when Robert Choppyne built his ‘fayre house’ here. However, there is no visible evidence of this building, at least on the exterior where the main facade suggests a classic house from the early-to-mid 18th century of seven bays and two storeys (with perhaps the third added later). Around 1785, soon after Laurence Harman Parsons had inherited the estate, enlargements were made with the construction of slightly projecting wings, single-storey to the east and two-storey to the west. Further alterations took place in the mid-19th century when Newcastle passed into the possession of Laurence Harman King-Harman; the Dutch-style gable over the centre bay probably dates from this period, along with the entrance porch containing a family coat of arms. Internally, the building has undergone many alterations also, so that it is now not easy to detect what is from any particular period. However, there are striking – and now highly coloured – neo-classical Adamesque ceilings in the former drawing and dining rooms, the former featuring a large oval set in a rectangular frame, in which corner panels depict musical instruments. The dining room ceiling is centred on a diamond pattern decorated with urns and scrolling foliage. There is also some extant neo-classical plasterwork on the main staircase.
While the Newcastle estate may have run to more than 38,000 acres in the 1880s, by the time Colonel Wentworth King-Harman died in 1919, various land acts meant that it had shrunk to less than 1,000 acres. His son, Major Alexander King-Harman, sold more land to the Department of Lands in 1934, leaving just the demesne thereafter. Following the major’s death in 1949, Newcastle was inherited by a cousin, Captain Robert Douglas King-Harman, who two years later sold the house and surrounding land for £11,000 to a religious order, the Missionary Sisters of the Holy Rosary. The house was used as a retirement home for nuns and also as a boarding school, but the Missionary Sisters remained for less than two decades, leaving in 1968, after which Newcastle changed hands on a number of occasions and was run as an hotel. Although it is not open to the public at the moment, the property’s current owner, a Hong Kong businessman, applied to the local authority last August for planning permission to create a holiday park on the surrounding land, incorporating 99 mobile homes, together with ‘an area for touring pitches and casual camping spaces’, a reception hut, a playground and separate grass play area. The adjacent woodland accommodates a Centre Parcs holiday resort which also intends to expand its facilities.
Dowth Hall, County Meath was first discussed here in December 2012, when the house and surrounding land were offered for sale. Now, more than a decade later, the place has come back on the market. Below is the original text, along with fresh photographs of Dowth Hall taken in recent weeks.
Located midway between Slane and Drogheda, and immediately north of the river Boyne, Dowth is today known as the site of one of a number of important Neolithic passage tombs in County Meath, others in its immediate vicinity including Newgrange and Knowth. But Dowth deserves to be renowned also for an important mid-18th century house. Dowth Hall dates from c.1760 and was built for John, Viscount Netterville (1744-1826). His family, of Anglo-Norman origin, had been settled in the area since at least the 12th century: in 1217 Luke Netterville was selected to be Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. That religious streak remained with them and come the 16th century Reformation, the Nettervilles remained determinedly Roman Catholic. For this adherence some of them suffered greatly; when Drogheda fell to Oliver Cromwell in September 1649 the Jesuit priest Robert Netterville was captured and tortured, subsequently dying of the injuries sustained. Nevertheless, the Nettervilles survived, and even acquired a viscountcy. They also held onto their estates, one of a number of families – the Plunketts of Killeen Castle and the Prestons of Gormanston spring to mind – who retained both their religious faith and their lands, thereby disproving the idea that all Catholics automatically suffered displacement during the Penal era.
The sixth Viscount was only aged six on the death of his father, the latter dismissed by Mrs Delaney as ‘A fop and a fool, but a lord with a tolerable estate, who always wears fine clothes’ and otherwise only notable for having been indicted the year before his son’s birth for the murder of a valet (he was afterwards honourably acquitted by the House of Lords). The young Lord Netterville was raised by his widowed mother and spent much time in Dublin where the family owned a fine house at 29 Upper Sackville (now O’Connell) Street. The old castle in Dowth seems to have fallen into ruin and so, a few years after coming of age, Viscount Netterville undertook to construct a new house on his Meath estate. As is so often the case, information about the architect responsible for Dowth Hall is scanty. The common supposition is that the building was designed by George Darley (1730-1817), who had been employed for this purpose by Lord Netterville in Dublin where he was also the architect of a number of other houses. And indeed, from the exterior Dowth Hall, rusticated limestone ground floor and tall ashlar first floor with windows alternately topped by triangular and segmental pediments, looks like an Italianate town palazzo transported into the Irish countryside; not least thanks to its plain sides, the house seems more attuned to the streets of Milan than to the rich pasturelands of Meath.
The real delight of Dowth lies in its extravagantly decorated interiors, where a master stuccadore has been allowed free hand. The drawing room (originally dining room) is especially fanciful with rococo scrolls and tendrils covering wall panels and the ceiling’s central light fitting suspended from the claws of an eagle around which flutter smaller birds. None of the other ground floor rooms quite match this boldness but they all contain superlative plaster ornamentation, with looped garlands being a notable feature of the library. Again, the person responsible for this work is unknown, but on the basis of comparative similarities with contemporary stuccowork at 86 St Stephen’s Green in Dublin (on which George Darley is supposed to have worked) Dowth Hall’s decoration is usually attributed to Robert West (died 1790). Although not as extensive, there is even a certain amount of plasterwork decoration in the main bedrooms on the first floor, which is most unusual. And the house still retains its original chimneypieces (that in the entrance hall even has its Georgian basket grate), along with fine panelled doors and other elements from the property’s original construction. This makes it of enormous importance, since many other similar buildings underwent refurbishment and modernisation in the 19th century during which they lost older features.
There are reasons why Dowth Hall has survived almost unaltered since first built 250 years ago. The sixth Viscount Netterville, somewhat eccentric, fell into dispute with the local priest and was banned from the chapel on his own land; in retaliation, he built a ‘tea house’ on top of the Neolithic tomb from which he claimed to follow religious services through a telescope. But then he seems to have given up living at Dowth and moved back to Dublin. He never married and on dying at the age of 82 left a will with no less than nine codicils. One of these insisted that the Dowth estate go to whoever inherited the title, but it took eight years and a lot of litigation for the rightful heir, a distant cousin, to establish his claim. He did so at considerable cost and so, despite marrying an heiress, was obliged to offer Dowth for sale; the last Lord Netterville, another remote cousin, again died without heirs in 1882 and the title became extinct. Meanwhile Dowth was finally bought from the Chancery Court in 1850 by Richard Gradwell, younger son of a wealthy Catholic family from Lancashire. His heirs continued to live in the house for a century, but then sold up in the early 1950s when the place again changed hands. It did so one more time around twenty years later when acquired by two local bachelor farmers who moved into Dowth Hall. Following their respective deaths (the second at the start of last year), a local newspaper reported that the siblings had gone to Drogheda ‘every Saturday night, would attend the Fatima novena at 7.30pm then would walk over West Street to see what was going on, although they never took a drink or went to pubs.’ Now Dowth Hall is for sale, and there must be concern that it finds a sympathetic new owner because the house is in need of serious attention. It comes with some 420 acres of agricultural land, which means a sale is assured but that could be to the building’s disadvantage: it might fall into further desuetude if the farm alone was of interest to a purchaser. Too many instances of this have occurred in the past and it must not be allowed to happen here. One feels there ought to be some kind of vetting process to ensure prospective buyers demonstrate sufficient appreciation of the house. Only somebody with the same vision and flair as the sixth Lord Netterville should be permitted to acquire Dowth Hall.
‘The new church in this city is a very beautiful one, the body of it is in the same stile exactly as that of Belfast already described; the total length 170 feet, the breadth 58. The length of’the body of the church 92, the height 40, breadth between the pillars 26. The isle (which I do not remember at Belfast) is 58 by 45.
A room on one side the steeple space for the bishop’s court, 24 by 18; on the other side a room of the same size for the vestry, and 28 feet square left for a steeple when their funds will permit. The whole is light and beautiful, it was built by subscription and there is a fine organ bespoke at London.’
Description of Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford from Arthur Young’s A Tour in Ireland, 1776-1779.
There has been a Christian place of worship on the site of Christ Church Cathedral since the 11th century and famously in 1170 this was the venue for the marriage of Strongbow (Richard de Clare, second Earl of Pembroke) and Aoife, daughter of Dermot MacMurrough. In 1210, the original building was replaced by a new cathedral which survived until the 18th century when the city’s corporation expressed a desire to erect a modern structure. However, the bishop of the time, Richard Chevenix, was reluctant to allow the old cathedral’s destruction so, according to local legend, it was arranged that one morning, as he walked past the building, a quantity of rubble and dust would be dropped from the roof onto his path, thereby encouraging him to agree with the corporation’s proposal. The first plans for a new cathedral were drawn up in 1739 by William Halfpenny (to whom the design of the original hunting lodge at Castlecor, County Longford is also attributed, see: A Worthy Recipient « The Irish Aesthete) but these were not carried out. In 1773 Dublin architect Thornas Ivory was asked to report on the condition of the cathedral and recommended that it be rebuilt. Nevertheless, he did not get the commission, this going instead to a local man, John Roberts.
John Roberts was born in Waterford in either 1712 or 1714, son of architect and builder Thomas Roberts whose own father, also called Thomas and described as ‘a Welshman of property and beauty’ had settled in the city in 1680. It is believed that as a young man, John Roberts spent some time in London, although nothing is known of what he did there and to whom, if anyone, he was apprenticed. Returning to Waterford around 1744, he fell in love, and eloped, with Mary Susannagh Sautelle, daughter of a well-to-do Huguenot family who did not approve of the relationship; as a result, she was disinherited and the couple’s first couple of years were difficult (they were, on the other hand, very happy together and went on to have 22 children, of which eight survived to adulthood). In 1746 the aforementioned Bishop Richard Chenevix, who knew both the Roberts and Sautelle families, gave the young architect his first great opportunity, inviting him to complete the episcopal palace, originally designed by Richard Castle but left unfinished at the time of the latter’s death. Thereafter, other commissions followed, although not all of them can be confirmed. Among those outside Waterford city which have been attributed to Roberts are the great forecourt at Curraghmore (see Now Available « The Irish Aesthete) and Cappoquin (see Risen from the Ashes « The Irish Aesthete), both in County Waterford, as well as Tyrone House, County Galway (see A High House on High Ground « The Irish Aesthete) and Moore Hall, County Mayo (see When Moore is Less « The Irish Aesthete). Within and in the immediate vicinity of Waterford city, Roberts – who took a long lease on the old bishop’s palace beside the cathedral – designed several other buildings such as the Assembly Rooms and Playhouse (1783), a new Leper Hospital (1785, now an apartment complex), Newtown House (1786, now Newtown School) and a private residence for William Morris (1795, today the Chamber of Commerce). Famously, 20 years after designing Christ Church, in 1793 he was commissioned to design a second cathedral in Waterford: dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity, this was the first Roman Catholic cathedral built in Ireland since the Reformation. The commission also proved to be the death of Roberts. Accustomed to rising daily at 6am, one morning he mistakenly got up at three and, going to inspect work at the cathedral, he found the place empty: sitting down, he fell asleep and as a result caught a serious chill that resulted in his demise in May 1796 at the age of 84. Popularly known as ‘Honest John Roberts’, it was later written that ‘to all in his employment he was especially kind and thoughtful, He was in the habit of paying half the wages to the wives on Saturday rnorn:ing, that they might purchase to advantage at the early market and he always gave to each the exact money and thus to some extent prevented a visit to the publichouse for change.’ He was also the founder of a remarkable dynasty, two of his sons being the artists Thomas Roberts and Thomas Sautelle Roberts, a grandson being Abraham Roberts, a general in the East India Company, and the latter’s son being Field Marshall Frederick Roberts, first Earl Roberts.
On January 17th 1774 the committee of Christ Church Cathedral met to consider the best method of either taking down and reconstructing or repairing the building. The members agreed that ‘the plain plan omitting the rustik work laid before the committee by Mr. John Roberts for re-building the cathedral appears to be the most eligible of any as yet produced to us. Estimate 23,704- 5s-6d. The old steeple to be taken down and the bells placed in the French church.’ (Evidently Roberts’ original design suggested a degree of rustication on the exterior of the cathedral, its exclusion being most likely on the grounds of cost). Work soon began and most of it was completed by 1779 at a cost of £5,397, somewhat higher than the original estimate, and even as late as 1783 subscriptions were still being raised for the steeple. Built using as much stone as was possible from its demolished predecessor, the new Christ Church’s design is much indebted to the churches of James Gibbs which Roberts would have seen during his time in London as a young man. Here, for example, as in the case of St Martin-in-the-Fields, the limestone spire rises at the west end of the building, directly behind the portico, graduating from a square base in three stages up to the octagonal steeple; much of the detailing here is indebted to Gibbs’s spire for St Mary le Strand. Unlike the portico of St Martin-in-the-Fields with its six great Corinthian columns, that of Christ Church has just four of the Doric order, thereby making less of an impact than might otherwise be the case, but the side elevations and arrangement of windows clearly borrows from the London church. So too does the interior, even after being considerably re-ordered in the late 19th century. Entering through the west end portico, the visitor first steps into an open ante-chapel, separated from the main body of the cathedral by a screen supporting the organ; in this space, some funerary monuments salvaged from the old cathedral were installed (including a rather fine one to the brothers Nicholas and John FitzGerald by John van Nost). Beyond the screen, the nave, 80 feet long, is separated from the aisles by a splendid line of Corinthian columns supporting the barrel-vaulted ceiling. The checkerboard floor of white marble and black limestone is original, as is the reredos at the east end with its pedestalled Corinthian columns and pilasters on either side of a centre panel with sunburst. The reredos was once topped by a line of urns, but these have since gone, along with other elements of Roberts’s scheme. We know how the interior once looked thanks to a print published in 1806. This shows that the nave was lined on either side by galleries resting on rusticated pedestals supporting the Corinthian columns; at ground level, there were the customary box pews. The ceiling decoration was somewhat different to that seen today, owing to a fire in October 1815, ‘occasioned by the neglect of some persons who were employed to attend a stove placed in the organ loft, for the purpose of airing it.’ Not only were the organ and surrounding woodwork destroyed but the ceiling so badly damaged that it had to be redecorated, but the result is unquestionably splendid. In 1889-91, the architect Thomas Drew carried out extensive alterations to the interior, including the galleries’ removal, new choir fittings, pulpit, lectern, the addition of architraves & mullions to windows, and the closing up of lower windows (the absence of galleries rendering these redundant). In addition, the rusticated column pedestals were taken away and replaced with others of red Cork marble and carved Caen stone. So this is what we see today: a somewhat bastardised version of John Roberts’s design but still one beautiful enough to merit Mark Girouard’s 1992 description of Christ Church Cathedral as ‘the finest 18th century ecclesiastical building in Ireland.’
The Irish Aesthete: Ten Years in the Making can be seen at the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin 2 from December 2nd until December 22nd, Monday to Friday, 10 am to 5 pm. Please see https://iarc.ie for further information.
This exhibition has been generously sponsored by Sonbrook.
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!
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
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.
Home since 1870 to the Royal Irish Academy of Music, No.36 Westland Row, Dublin was originally built by Nicholas Tench in 1771 and nine years later leased to Sir Samuel Bradstreet, lawyer and politician: it is thought that the house’s decorative scheme dates from around this time. The neoclassical plasterwork in the main reception rooms is very fine and has been tentatively attributed by Conor Lucey to stuccodore Michael Stapleton, drawing on designs made by Thomas Penrose, architect and Inspector of Civil Buildings for the Board of Works: Penrose also acted as agent for the English architect James Wyatt who had many clients in Ireland. These photographs show some of the plasterwork in a ground floor room adjacent to the entrance hall, and include a series of grisaille medallions with classical figures painted by an unknown hand.
Like so many others, the Burges (originally Burches) family appear to have arrived in this country in the mid-17th century, having for several previous generations been clergymen in England. And again, as was frequently the case, judicious connections through marriage aided their rise to wealth. Two brothers, David and Joseph, the elder of which was Rector of St Mark’s church in Dublin, moved to Armagh and in 1716 the younger married Elizabeth Lloyd whose father Ynyr was Deputy Secretary of the East India Company and owned land in East Ham, now a suburb of London. One of their sons, another Ynyr, also held an important post in the East India Company as Secretary & Paymaster of Seamen’s Wages, further improving their fortune. The family history in the 18th and early 19th century is complex as various lines failed to produce a male heir and therefore property was inherited by nephews or cousins who sometimes had to change their surnames as a condition of succeeding to estates. However, by the mid-19th century John Ynyr Burges, married to Lady Caroline Clements, a daughter of the second Earl of Leitrim, is listed in gentry directories as being of East Ham and Thorpe Hall, both in Essex, and of Parkanaur, County Tyrone. The land on which the last of these stands was originally held by the O’Donnelly family until they were displaced in the early 1600s and the property granted by James I to Sir Toby Caulfeild. His family remained in possession, until the Parkanaur estate was sold in 1771 by James Caulfeild, first Earl of Charlemont by Ynyr Burges. He appears to have rarely visited the place but some time after his death in 1793 a two-storey gabled cottage called Edenfield was built on the land for use as an occasional residence for the family.
The architect Thomas Duff has been discussed here before with regard to Narrow Water Castle, County Down (Narrow Water Castle « The Irish Aesthete). Born in Newry in 1792, we know little of his background and education but 21 years later he is mentioned as executant architect of St Mary’s church in his hometown. In 1822 he advertised in the Belfast press to advise ‘such gentlemen as intend building, that he purposes to furnish plans of every description, in the Grecian, Roman and Gothic styles of architecture, with estimates and such written instructions as are requisite for the execution of each design.’ He also reassured readers that he would superintend the work. Soon enough commissions followed, beginning with Belfast’s Fisherwick Presbyterian church, a large classical building dominated by its Ionic portico. Duff was soon in demand among other denominations, and in 1825 he designed the Roman Catholic cathedral in Newry, described in 1841 by Thackeray (otherwise highly dismissive of the ‘Papist’ faith) as a fine building which did the architect credit: the cathedral, incidentally, is in the Perpendicular Gothic manner, reflecting Duff’s versatility and his ability to adapt to the wishes of clients. This was demonstrated in 1830 when, together with his then-partner Thomas Jackson, he designed the first museum built in Ireland by voluntary subscription for the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society in the Greek Revival style, with a portico exactly copied from the octagon tower of Adronicus in Athens. A few years later, he was responsible for designing the Tudoresque Narrow Water Castle. And so it went on with a huge amount of work for religious, domestic and commercial properties right up to the time of his death in 1848 at the relatively young age of 56. However, during the previous decade he had been employed by John Ynyr Burges to transform Edenfield, the cottage at Parkanaur, into a substantial mansion.
Around 1820 Edenfield cottage was enlarged thanks to the addition of a new wing. However, it was only in the following decade that the house assumed its present appearance and proportions, following the employment of Thomas Duff: the original three-bay, two-storey building can still be detected behind the entrance porch. But the entire structure was refronted by Duff, also responsible for designing a very substantial west wing which holds many of the main reception rooms, as well as two neighbouring yards behind the main block. The architect was given a strict budget of £5,000 and a plaque located above the archway leading to the stableyard declared ‘This house and offices were built by John Ynyr and Lady Caroline Burges without placing any debt upon the property A.D. 1870.’ Renamed Parkanaur, the building’s make-over made it look to be an Elizabethan manor house, one that would not be out of place in the Cotswolds. There are further gabled bays, their corners delineated by slender polygonal towers, an abundance of stone finials, tall chimneys, hood mouldings over the windows, as well as the obligatory Oriel window. Inside the decorative flourishes continue, not least in the Great Hall which is lit by three large Perpendicular windows and has a minstrel’s gallery above an arched screen. Elsewhere, other than in the ceiling decoration, the Tudor borrowings are less explicit, and both the gallery and inner hall contain exceedingly fine Jacobean carved chimneypieces, presumably brought here from some house in England; that in the gallery is dated 1641. Parkanaur remained in the possession of the same family until 1955 when sold by Major Ynyr Alfred Burges, after which the house stood empty for three years until bought by Thomas Doran. Originally from this part of Ireland, as a young man he had emigrated to the United States and there worked as a truck driver until unable to do so owing to ill-health. He subsequently started a business, the Cheerful Greetings Card Company, which involved people throughout America selling its products door to door: this was so successful that it made Doran a multi-millionaire (he eventually sold the company in 1966 for in the region of UD$10 million). Doran was a friend of a Presbyterian minister, the Rev Gerry Eakins who wished to establish a residential centre for disabled young adults, and so he bought Parkanaur and presented it to be used for this purpose. Opened in 1960 as the Thomas Doran Training Centre and now called Parkanaur College, the buildings continue to be used for this purpose.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the first appearance of a book that might be said to have initiated modern interest in the Irish country house. Of course, there had been other publications on the subject before, not least the fifth volume of the original Georgian Societies records of 1913, and Sadleir and Dickinson’s Georgian Mansions in Ireland, produced two years later (see Glimpses into a Vanished World « The Irish Aesthete and Enriched with Treasures « The Irish Aesthete). And in the interim, other writers like Mark Girouard and the Knight of Glin had visited various houses around the country, the results of these explorations duly appearing in publications such as Country Life. But Irish Houses & Castles was different because it attempted to give an overview of the country’s historic domestic properties, and in doing so allowed the reader to draw conclusions about what made Ireland’s country houses different from those found elsewhere. The book was jointly authored by Desmond Guinness and William Ryan, the former bringing to the work all the experience and knowledge – and indeed social connections – he had gathered since establishing the Irish Georgian Society with his first wife Mariga 13 years earlier. Indeed, one of the purposes of Irish Houses & Castles was to raise funds for the society, which would receive all royalties from sales. Indicative of the appetite for such publications is the fact that the first American edition of 2,000 copies sold out within a month: over the next decade a further 75,000 more copies were published. The funds raised proved invaluable, since at the time the IGS was in the throes of rescuing Castletown, County Kildare. ‘If ever a book saved a house,’ Desmond later remarked, ‘ours saved Castletown, where weekly wages somehow had to be paid, and restoration work continue.’
Irish Houses & Castles featured 39 of the most important remaining historic homes in the country, at least a dozen of which have since either been destroyed or else changed hands with the loss of the original contents. In this way, the book is now an historic record but at the time of publication, it provided valuable information on what was a largely unknown subject, not least thanks to the two authors’ introduction which, after discussing the architectural evolution of Irish houses, moved on to examine the paintings and furniture that had been made for them, and even the gardens, gatehouses and follies that ornamented their surrounding estates. As with the books published earlier in the century, an important although often overlooked feature of Irish Houses & Castles is that it offers an insight into how such properties were decorated at the time, frequently in a style quite unlike that today. For example, there is a photograph of the entrance hall at Abbey Leix, County Laois. Today this has been restored to ensure that the eye is immediately caught by its architectural qualities, but 50 years ago the hall still looked much as it probably did in the late Victorian/Edwardian era: acting as an informal meeting space/sitting room it contained chintz-covered sofas on either side of the chimneypiece, an abundance of side tables and bibelots, and a tall folding screen in front of the front door in order to minimise draughts. The writer is old enough to remember many such house entrance halls decorated in the same fashion, but today they have cleared of clutter and tend to be much more sparsely furnished. And of course, many of the original contents of Abbey Leix, accumulated by successive generations, were dispersed when the house was sold in the mid-1990s; again, one remembers that occasion, typical of the time with the marquee outside the house, the surrounding fields filled with cars and the excitement of eventual prices far exceeding estimates (£700 paid for a selection of old copper pans and jelly moulds expected to go for no more than £120). Now the photographs featured in Irish Houses & Castles have become an invaluable source of information about how the place used to look.
The pictures shown here today, all taken from Irish Houses & Castles, demonstrate how vulnerable these properties remain, and how little protection they still have. The dispersal of Abbey Leix’s original contents in the mid-1990s has already been mentioned. To go through the others, one begins with Belvedere, County Westmeath. Today the house is in the care of the local authority which does an admirable job in maintaining the place. But the contents, which included many items originally from Charleville Castle, County Offaly, were all sold in September 1980. Since it appeared in Irish Houses & Castles, Castletown Cox, County Kilkenny has changed hands on a number of occasions, and the same is also true of Bellamont Forest, County Cavan: in both instances the present owners are American. Meanwhile Malahide Castle: two years after Irish Houses & Castles appeared the 7th Lord Talbot de Malahide died suddenly and the property was inherited by his sister Rose, who offered the castle and its contents to the Irish state in lieu of death duties. The offer was declined and as a result, in 1976 a public auction was held with many important items leaving the country. Ironically, the state – which had bought the castle and surrounding 268 acres – found itself bidding against international dealers and collectors in order to buy some pieces so the building would not be entirely denuded. An expensive and unnecessary act of national folly. Meanwhile elsewhere in County Dublin Rathbeale, which had been restored and furnished by Julian and Carola Peck was subsequently sold, the couple moving to County Derry where they restored another important 18th century house, Prehen; alas, since the deaths of the couple and their surviving son, that house and its contents are likewise at risk (see Hanging On « The Irish Aesthete). Luttrellstown Castle, which had been given by Ernest Guinness to his daughter Aileen on the occasion of her first marriage in 1927 (see Temps Perdu « The Irish Aesthete). She had extensively refurbished the house in the 1950s, the work overseen by decorator Felix Habord. Once more, it was sold in 1983 and the fabulous contents again dispersed thanks to an auction lasting several days. Finally, and most tragically, one turns to Powerscourt, County Wicklow which, having been acquired from the Wingfields by the Slazenger family was thoroughly restored and then, just as this work was completed, the building was gutted by fire in November 1974, an irreparable loss to the country’s architectural heritage. If for the photographs and account of Powerscourt alone, this is what makes Irish Houses & Castles such an important document.