Hanging On

FullSizeRender
In mid-December 1761 outside Lifford Gaol, County Donegal John MacNaghten was hanged not once but twice. A month earlier he had killed a young woman to whom he claimed to be married. More than twenty years earlier MacNaghten had inherited an estate at Benvarden, County Antrim with an annual income of some £600, but his addiction to gambling meant he was obliged to sell or mortgage the greater part of the property. Circumstances improved following marriage to Sophie Daniel, daughter of the Dean of Down who brought with her an impressive dowry. Unfortunately MacNaghten soon resumed his old ways and by 1756 had accumulated such significant debts that a warrant was issued for his arrest. Around this time his wife died in childbirth, leaving him penniless once more. In a further attempt to improve his fortune he managed to be appointed to the lucrative post of tax collector for Coleraine but then gambled away £800 of the state’s money: his estate was now sequestered and by 1760 he was without recourse to funds. An old family friend, Andrew Knox who lived at Prehen, County Derry took pity of MacNaghten and offered him support. Knox had a fifteen-year old daughter Mary Anne who was already in line to inherit £6,000 and possibly much more should her elder brother not have any children. MacNaghten and Mary Anne Knox developed some kind of romantic relationship and even seem to have gone through a form of marriage ceremony before her father discovered what was taking place and forbade further contact between the two. He was in the process of travelling with his daughter to Dublin in November 1761 when their carriage was intercepted by MacNaghten, intent on carrying off the young girl. In an exchange of gunfire, Mary Anne was accidentally and fatally wounded. It did not take long before MacNaghten was arrested, tried at Lifford Courthouse and sentenced to death for her murder. When the day came for him to be hanged, the rope broke and so he had to be strung up a second time. Forever after he has been remembered as Half-Hanged MacNaghten.

IMG_4181
IMG_4189
IMG_4408
Originally from Scotland, the Knox family settled in Ireland during the 17th century, the first of them to come here being an Anglican clergyman Andrew Knox who in 1610 was appointed Bishop of Raphoe, County Donegal. In 1738 his great-grandson, the aforementioned Andrew Knox, father of the unfortunate Mary Anne and long-time MP for Donegal in the Irish Parliament, married Honoria Tomkins, heiress to the Prehen estate. The following decade the couple built themselves a new residence here overlooking the river Foyle and some two miles upstream from the city of Derry. The house’s design is attributed to Michael Priestley, about whom relatively little is known except that he was responsible for a number of buildings in north-west Ulster. Incidentally, among his other commissions was Lifford Courthouse and Gaol, outside which John MacNaghten was twice-hanged: a curious architectural link with Prehen, although probably of little interest to the condemned man. Built of rubble with ashlar dressings, the house has two storeys over basement and is of four bays, the centre two being slightly advanced and featuring a handsome sandstone Gibbsian doorcase and at the top a pediment with the Knox coat of arms. The interior is equally fine for the period, beginning with a substantial flagged entrance hall off which open a series of reception rooms to left and right while symmetrical doors to the rear give access to a main and service stairs respectively. A similar arrangement pertains on the first floor where the central space to the front of the building is taken up by a substantial gallery with coved ceiling.

IMG_4204
IMG_4219
IMG_4389
The Knoxes remained at Prehen until the outbreak of the First World War when, for reasons that need to be explained, the estate was seized by the British government. Back in the mid-19th century Colonel George Knox married a Swiss girl, Rose Virgine Grimm and in turn one of their daughters Virginia was married to the German scholar and former student of Nietzsche Dr Ludwig von Scheffler of Weimar. Their son, Georg Carl Otto Ludwig von Scheffler became Adjutant to the Commander of the Cadet Corps Governor of the Royal Pages in the Prussian Army and was raised to the rank of baron by the Kaiser. On the death of his maternal grandfather George Knox in 1910, he inherited Prehen and assumed the additional surname of Knox. The Baron stayed at Prehen until August 1914 when war was declared between Britain and Germany. Initially placed under house arrest, he escaped and returned to Germany. In his absence, however, Prehen and its lands were confiscated by the government as enemy property. Following the conclusion of hostilities, the estate was liquidated at public auction under the terms of the 1916 Trading with the Enemy Amendment Act: Baron von Scheffler Knox only returned to see Prehen in the 1950s accompanied by his son, Johann Von Scheffler Prehen Knox who only died five years ago.

IMG_4266
IMG_4256
FullSizeRender 2
By the early 1970s Prehen was in poor condition. Requisitioned during the Second World War for troop accommodation, the house had been internally subdivided, a secondary door inserted into one of the main entrance’s sidelights, and there were large holes in the roof. On the verge of complete dereliction the property was then bought by Julian Peck and his American-born wife Carola: the couple had previously restored Rathbeale, County Dublin. Julian Peck had a family link with the place, his mother being author Winifred Peck (née Knox), one of a remarkable band of siblings whose other members included Monsignor Ronald Knox, Roman Catholic priest and detective story writer, Alfred ‘Dilly’ Knox, who worked as a code breaker during both the First and Second World Wars (he was employed at Bletchley Park until his death in 1943), the Church of England clergyman Wilfred Knox, and the poet and editor of Punch Edmund Knox (whose daughter was the novelist Penelope Fitzgerald). The Pecks rescued Prehen, bringing the house back to life and filling it with animation. Several of the rooms have had their walls painted, those in the entrance hall being covered with frescoes by Alec Cobbe. Meanwhile the dining room was decorated by Carola Peck in a style that blends Pompeii with Puvis de Chavannes. Julian Peck lived in the house  until his death in 2001, followed by his wife in 2014. Their surviving son Colin sadly died last August, thereby ending a long connection between the Knoxes and Prehen. However the house survives as a testament to this remarkable family, and to the curious history of Half-Hanged MacNaghten.

IMG_4288

Studying the Classics

IMG_4561
Often overlooked by visitors to Cork’s Crawford Art Gallery is the institution’s remarkable collection of classical sculpture casts. Derived from those in the Vatican, the casts were made on the instructions of Pope Pius VII and under the supervision of Antonio Canova. They were originally presented to Britain’s Prince Regent (the future George IV) but he having no desire for them, the casts languished until William Hare, Lord Ennismore (later first Earl of Listowel), then President of the Cork Society of Arts persuaded the Prince to have the collection shipped to Ireland where they duly arrived in 1818. Initially displayed inside a converted theatre on Patrick Street, the casts subsequently passed into the care of the Cork School of Art and thus came to reside in what is now the Crawford Gallery. Above, the Belvedere Torso can be seen through the form of the Lancellotti Discobolus. The latter also figures below, sighted beyond the Borghese Gladiator and the Apollo Belvedere.

IMG_4549

Opportunity Knocks

FullSizeRender 6
Opportunism and those who practise it are not, as a rule, judged very favorably. Yet there are times when our verdict on opportunists can be inaccurate or imperceptive. Much of Georgian Dublin is a manifestation of opportunism at work: the result of a handful of perspicacious developers – another now-detested term – recognising an opportunity and responding to it. This was certainly the case with the first Luke Gardiner who piecemeal built up landholdings on the northside of the city and there created new streets and terraces to meet growing demand for residential property. Gardiner’s first venture in this arena, and the basis of his future success, was the development from the late 1720s onward of Henrietta Street.

IMG_2420
IMG_2480
IMG_2425
IMG_2460
Luke Gardiner was a man of modest origins, far removed at the start of his professional life from the wealth he would come to enjoy. Much the same could be said of his protégé Nathaniel Clements who, although enjoying somewhat less humble beginnings, was the youngest of five sons and very much expected to make his own way. This he did, like Gardiner, by building houses and then selling them on: the parallels between the past and the present can sometimes be discomfiting. Henrietta Street was also Clements’ first venture into property development, as he took on several sites from Gardiner. One of these was number 4 (originally 5) Henrietta Street which he completed around 1740-41 and sold to George Stone, then Bishop of Ferns. Stone occupied the building but did not finish paying for it, until 1747 when he was appointed Archbishop of Armagh and, in turn, opportunistically moved into a still-grander residence on the street before selling No.4. Its second owner was John Maxwell, MP for County Cavan who nine years later would be created first Lord Farnham. Of Scottish ancestry, Maxwell was the descendant of three generations of clerical opportunists: the Farnham estate in County Cavan had originally been purchased by his grandfather, the Anglican Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh. When John Maxwell acquired No.4 Henrietta Street, it came with a plot of land to the immediate east, perhaps serving as a garden. In 1754 Maxwell’s only daughter married another MP, Owen Wynne of Sligo, likewise the descendant of opportunists, although in this instance they had been army men. Around the time of his marriage the plot next to No.4 passed into Wynne’s hands and a house was built here. Today it is No.3 Henrietta Street.

IMG_2400
IMG_2413
IMG_2407
FullSizeRender 1
There are unanswered questions remaining about the history of 3 Henrietta Street, not least who was responsible for its design. The house is sometimes attributed to Nathaniel Clements because like its neighbour – which he almost certainly did build – there is a semi-circular bow at the back of the building. On the other hand, by the time of No.3’s construction, Clements had moved on to other projects and, more critically, he and Maxwell were political opponents, so it seems unlikely his assistance would have been sought here. Perhaps when Wynne embarked on the enterprise he decided to copy some features of his father-in-law’s adjacent residence. The interior shows alterations believed to date from 1830. Originally the entrance hall – like other houses on this side of the street – would have been of two storeys with the stairs visibly rising to the first floor. In the 19th century this staircase was taken out and a smaller one inserted, divided by a wall from the front of the house with the new entrance hall made just one storey high. But the first floor reception rooms retain much of their original decoration, the pair to the front of the room having a deep frieze with strapwork and festoons, while below the walls are sectioned by plaster panelling. To the rear at this level is a wonderful room with rococo stuccowork in the coved ceiling which extends into the bow, and gives the space a more intimate character than any of the others possess.

FullSizeRender 4
IMG_2357
IMG_2362
IMG_2380
As already mentioned, in the 19th century 3 Henrietta Street, like almost all other houses in the vicinity, underwent changes both of design and usage. The advent of the King’s Inns at the top of the street, and the gradual departure of private owners in the aftermath of the 1800 Act of Union meant many of the buildings came to be used as solicitors’ offices: in the decades leading up to his death in 1885 some three-quarters of the street were bought by the lawyer Tristram Kennedy and let to other members of his profession. However, his property portfolio was subsequently acquired by another – altogether less attractive – opportunist, former Dublin Lord Mayor Joseph Meade. Seeing a chance to get a good return on his investment, notoriously he converted most of the houses into tenements. The original interior spaces were divided to fit in more rooms for entire families to occupy and valuable items such as chimney pieces were stripped out and sold off. This was the fate of 3 Henrietta Street for a large portion of the last century, and evidence of its decline, as much as of its glory, can still be seen in the building. But the house is now on the market, and awaits a new owner who can offer it a viable future. What will happen next? As has been the case here over the past two and a half centuries, opportunity knocks – and 3 Henrietta Street once more awaits the advent of an opportunist.

FullSizeRender 5

A Vision Realised

IMG_3614
The second half of the 19th century witnessed a frenzy of church building in Ireland. In Cobh, County Cork for example, the construction of a vast new cathedral designed by Edward Pugin and George Ashlin began in 1867. That building, like the majority of others, was commissioned by the Roman Catholic church intent in the aftermath of penal reform to make its mark across the country. By contrast the Anglican Church of Ireland, which until around 1830 had engaged in a similar ferment of church building, primarily (although not exclusively) funded by the Board of First Fruits, was now in retreat. The Irish Church Act of 1869 (it came into force two years later) broke a long-standing link between the Anglican church and the state, and repealed legislation requiring all citizens to pay tithes to the Church of Ireland. As a result, the Church of Ireland’s ability to engage in construction or even restoration of property severely contracted. All the more interesting therefore to see that not far from Cobh and during the same decade as work on its cathedral began a similarly ambitious project was initiated by the Irish Anglican community: the rebuilding of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral in the centre of Cork city. The site on which it stands is believed to have been a place of worship since a monastery was founded here in the seventh century and named after the local patron saint Fionnbarr (meaning ‘fair headed’). The city of Cork grew up around this religious settlement and in turn the monastic church became the city’s cathedral. This mediaeval structure was damaged during the Siege of Cork in 1690 and largely replaced in the following century: the most important extant feature of that much earlier building is the Dean’s Gate: now inserted into the southern boundary of the Cathedral grounds’ wall it was originally an archway in the west portico of the bell tower.

IMG_3589 IMG_3622
IMG_3566
Only a couple of photographs taken shortly before its demolition give an idea of the appearance of Cork’s 18th century cathedral. Other than retaining the ancient tower at the west end, it looks to have been not unlike places of worship erected elsewhere in Ireland during the same era, such as the Anglican cathedrals then built in Cashel, County Tipperary and Waterford city. Commentators today, perhaps dazzled by its successor, tend to be unfairly disparaging about the old St Fin Barre’s since it probably had ample architectural merit, given some of the cultural pedigree of the bishops involved. Richard Caulfield’s Annals of St Fin Barre’s published in 1871 gathered together all source material on the building’s history and reported that in November 1733 ‘Whereas it appears to the Dean and Chapter that the Cathedral is in very bad repair, and in great danger of falling, & that an application be made to the Bishop by the Dean, Archdeacon, and Oeconomus [the bursar], that his Lordship would be pleased to give his advice about pulling down and re-building same Cathedral…and that the Dean, &c., should indemnify the Bishop.’ In September of the following year ‘The Cathedral was ordered to be taken down, the Oeconomus to employ workmen, and the Bishop to be requested to direct such a plan as he may think proper.’ Soon afterwards Robert Clayton was appointed bishop of the diocese and it was during his term, and that of his successor, that the new cathedral was built. Clayton, who would later have troubles over his religious beliefs (at the time of his death in 1758 he was facing charges of heresy having publicly espoused the doctrines of Arianism), was a man of considerable taste: his splendid Dublin townhouse on the south side of St Stephen’s Green was designed for him in the mid-1730s by Richard Castle (it is now part of Iveagh House). One therefore imagines that the cathedral works over which he presided in Cork would have displayed equal taste, even if in this instance we do not know who was the architect responsible. Yet work on the new St Fin Barre’s proceeded slowly, in part due to shortage of funds. In March 1737, for example, it was noted ‘The Dean and Archdeacon to wait on the Bishop to represent the state of the Cathedral, that all their money has been expended, and to seek his Lordship’s advice’ and later that same year, ‘The Dean and Chapter, not having sufficient means to finish the Cathedral, make a lease to John Supple of the great and small tytles of the Oeconomy of the Cathedral, for four years, at a yearly rent of £108 15s.; and as it would greatly retard the finishing of the Church if the Dean and Chapter were to wait till the rents became payable, &c., John Supple has advanced the four years’ rent in the whole sum of £435.’ Ultimately it appears the job had still not been finished by the time Clayton moved on to the diocese of Clogher in 1745, his place being taken by a local cleric, Jemmett Browne. He was likewise interested in architecture, reconfiguring his family house outside the city at Riverstown where the Ticinese sibling stuccodores Paolo and Filippo Lafranchini are credited with decorating the interior. A photograph of the chancel arch of 18th century St Fin Barre’s shows its walls to have been covered in elaborate rococo plasterwork on either side of a large Venetian window and this has been attributed by Joseph McDonnell to the same Lafranchini brothers. All of which suggests that the cathedral must have had a rather fine interior.

IMG_3557
IMG_3440
IMG_3450
Time passes and tastes change, and the following century it was again resolved to demolish St Fin Barre’s. One suspects that this decision, officially taken in 1862, was due to the arrival that same year of a new bishop, John Gregg, appointed to the position on the recommendation of his admirer and then Lord Lieutenant, the seventh Earl of Carlisle. Evidently keen to leave a mark on his diocese, the strong-minded Gregg declared that the building he had inherited ought to be taken down and replaced with ‘a structure more worthy of the name, Cork Cathedral.’ One suspects the existing St Fin Barre’s was rather too secular in style to suit the Gregg’s brand of evangelical Christianity. Accordingly an international competition was held for an architect to design a new cathedral. This attracted sixty-eight entrants, William Burges being declared the winner, even though – as some of the losers pointed out – his proposal excluded from the prescribed budget of £15,000 the monies needed to build towers, spire and sculpture. The eventual cost would climb to more than £100,000 (on the other hand, reverting back to the Roman Catholic cathedral in Cobh, its original construction budget of £25,000 overran to a final total of £235,000). Moreover Burges declared himself ‘unconcerned’ over any difference between intended and ultimate cost of building his vision. In the future, he informed Bishop Gregg, ‘the elements of time and cost being forgotten, the result only will be looked at. The great questions will then be, first, is this work beautiful and, secondly, have those to whom it was entrusted, done it with all their heart and all their ability.’ These sentiments were not perhaps altogether appreciated by the people of Cork who, in the aftermath of the Church of Ireland’s disestablishment, had to find the funds for St Fin Barre’s. But Burges’ background explains his own indifference to budgetary matters: born in London in 1827, he inherited a fortune from his engineer father and therefore never had to worry about earning a living. After years of travel and working in the offices of both Edward Blore and Matthew Digby Wyatt, he set up his own practice in 1856. Thereafter despite providing designs for various competitions he was aged thirty-five before he finally won his first major commission: St Fin Barre’s. His proposal involved the total demolition of the building then on the site, including the mediaeval west tower, because Burges was an architectural ideologue whose preferred style – Early French Gothic – trumped all others: ‘I was brought up in the thirteenth century belief,’ he once wrote, ‘and in that belief I intend to die.’ No qualms here about clearing away anything that might impede the execution of his vision.

IMG_3471
IMG_3476
IMG_3533
Both Burges and Bishop Gregg died before work on St Fin Barre’s had been completed, the former in 1881, the latter three years earlier but since he was succeeded in the diocese by his son Robert Gregg, the work continued seamlessly. Thus the cathedral as we see it today is essentially the expression of these two men’s aesthetic and religious beliefs: Burges’ intentions are understood but the importance of Gregg in the development of St Fin Barre’s has been less discussed. It is not difficult to understand why this should be the case, as Burges – who in today’s parlance might be reckoned a control freak – was responsible for the design of every part of the building: nothing was permitted to escape his attention and approval. He drew the designs for all of St Fin Barre’s sculptures inside and out, for the majority of its seventy-four stained glass windows, the mosaic pavement in the chancel, the pulpit, altar and bishop’s throne. An indication of his personal commitment was Burges’ gift of the Resurrection Angel made of copper covered in gold leaf that crowns the sanctuary roof at the east end. Given how elaborate the decorative scheme is, and the increasing demands of his work schedule elsewhere notably with the third Marquess of Bute in Cardiff, no wonder Burges died at the age of 53. Although the cathedral is relatively small (it was intended to hold a congregation of 700 souls, no more than the average for a London parish), it is smothered in embellishment. The exterior is built of Cork limestone, the interior of Bath stone and the walls are lined with red Cork marble. As was the case with mediaeval cathedrals, internally and externally St Fin Barre’s is intended to be ‘read’ by the faithful as the building narrates the story of Christianity. For example, the west rose window illustrates the story of creation according to the book of Genesis, while the windows on either side of the nave feature tales from the Old Testament. Those in the ambulatory deal with the life of Christ. While the cathedral was consecrated in 1870, its decorative work in accordance with Burges’ intentions was only finished in the mid-1930s. In this respect, it bears similarities with the slow construction of such buildings in the Middle Ages, and indeed with that of its 18th century predecessor. Today St Fin Barre’s is rightly admired as one of the finest and most complete expressions of Gothic Revival architecture in these islands. It also represents a final flourish on the part of the Anglican church in Ireland before the onset of a long decline.

IMG_3423
The photograph above is a detail of a half-scale plaster model of a sculpture above the rose window on the inside of St Fin Barre’s. Depicting an architect at work, it is believed to represent William Burges.

Forgotten Virtuosi

IMG_7050
The stuccowork found in Irish houses is rightly renowned for its exceptional combination of vivacity and virtuosity. Yet the attention given to this field of design has focussed primarily on practitioners in the 18th century, with little notice paid to those who came later. It is curious that this should be the case: in the decades between the 1800 Act of Union and the onset of the Great Famine in the mid-1840s several waves of house building occurred across the country, and many of these properties were elaborately decorated. By this date plasterwork was no longer created ‘free-hand’ on site but instead frequently made elsewhere in sections and then installed under supervision. But who were the people who carried out this work? While we often know who was responsible for the architecture, the names of firms and craftsmen who created the interiors seen today seem to be unknown, or at least not to have excited scholarly interest. The three houses featured today demonstrate that more could be done to honour and celebrate these virtuosi who did so much to enhance the properties on which they were employed.

IMG_7036
IMG_7034
IMG_7039
Although a much older property existed on this site, Borris House, County Carlow was comprehensively redesigned for the McMorrough Kavanaghs in the second decade of the 19th century by Sir Richard Morrison (see An Arthurian Legend, November 4th 2013). In terms of decoration, the finest room in the building is the one seen first by visitors: the entrance hall. We believe Morrison was responsible for every element of the design here, ceiling plasterwork, scagliola columns, doorcases and chimney piece. Although the room is almost square it appears to be a circular space due to a radiating ceiling and the carefully proportioned screen of paired columns forming a ring around the perimeter wall. On the ceiling eight beams emanate from a central coffered section to meet florid plaster embellishment that includes festoons of fruit, flowers and leaves resting on masked heads, sheaves of wheat and the crescent moon, and a sequence of immense eagles, their heads thrusting into space beyond outstretched wings. The capitals on top of the columns display equal creativity, as they do not correspond to any of the classical orders but are of Morrison’s own design, incorporating a band of lion heads. The skill involved in carrying out this programme of work is outstanding – but who did Morrison employ to transform his ideas on paper into a three-dimensional reality?

FullSizeRender 8
IMG_1446
FullSizeRender 9
Emo Court, County Laois has been discussed here on a couple of recent occasions (see Seen in the Round, February 1st last and Of Changes in Taste, March 14th last). Designed in the 1790s by James Gandon, the house’s interiors were only gradually completed over the next seventy years. One of the first spaces to be completed was the dining room, decorated in the early 1830s under the supervision of London architect Lewis Vulliamy. It is likely that Gandon would have proposed a spare, neo-classical scheme here but Vulliamy came up with something altogether more sumptuous, especially on the ceiling which has been divided into a series of sections centred on a rectangle containing a highly elaborate rose (looking more like a chrysanthemum) from which a chandelier would have been suspended. On either side thick bands running the length of the ceiling are filled with ribboned hexagons from which overflow vine leaves and bunches of grapes: this same motif is used again on the perimeter of the ceiling. Meanwhile a pair of demi-lunes immediately above and below the chandelier rose contain an eagle standing on a rippling band of ribbon, its wings stretching beyond crown of oakleaves encircling the bird. Closer again to the edge bare-breasted maidens are flanked by spirals of foliageputti stand on either side of ornamental urns and pairs of doves flutter within floral coronets. Extravagantly absurd and yet executed with such assurance and aplomb somehow the whole scheme comes together. Who deserves the credit for this feat?

IMG_0946
IMG_0962 IMG_0943
Ballyfin, County Laois (see The Fair Place, July 21st 2014) has been superlatively restored in recent years and now functions as an hotel that sets a standard for all others in this country and beyond. Ballyfin was designed for the Coote family in the early 1820s by Sir Richard Morrison, on this occasion partnered by his son William Vitruvius. The entire house is an exercise in opulent splendour of the kind John Nash was then creating for George IV at Buckingham Palace. Nowhere is this more manifest than the saloon which at either end has screens of green scagliola columns beneath rich Corinthian capitals. These lead the eye up to the coved ceiling over which once more ornament has been incited to run riot. Here panels contain figures of bare-breasted maidens surrounded by scrolled foliage so similar to those found on the dining room ceiling at Emo Court that both must have been executed by the same craftsmen. Likewise in the corners of the saloon ceiling in Ballyfin are pairs of putti, in this instance jointly supporting a lyre. The bordered runs of vine leaves and grapes seen at Emo are here replaced by long garlands of flowers but the spirit and style are consistent between the two houses. The most striking difference can be found on the Ballyfin’s ceiling entablature where snarling lions (or perhaps leopards) face each other separated by a crowned mask. It’s both deft and daft, and above all thrilling to realise craftsmanship of this calibre was available to patrons in 19th century Ireland. Time surely to celebrate the persons responsible, and to ensure their names and contribution to our heritage no longer remain unknown.

IMG_0765

Of Changes in Taste

IMG_7746
Those of us blessed – or perhaps afflicted – with an aesthetic cast of mind are inclined to believe that in matters of taste absolutes exist, and that our own judgement is invariably sound. Yet even a cursory scan of cultural history reveals that taste and its manifestations change from one era to another and are dependent on many factors, not all of them aesthetic. Our own judgement is thereby revealed to be, if not fallible, certainly more subjective than we might imagine to be the case: we are the products of our age, and so is the environment we create around us. The evolution of the interiors at Emo Court, County Laois offer evidence of the ever-changing subjectivity of taste. The history of the house’s gradual construction was summarised a few weeks ago (see In the Round, February 1st 2016) but this can be seen by an exploration of its rooms. The building was commissioned in 1790 by John Dawson, first Earl of Portarlington, his architect being James Gandon who had already designed the neo-classical church at nearby Coolbanagher for the same discerning patron. Emo Court’s entrance front is perhaps the truest expression of Gandon’s intentions, a severe seven-bay facade, the three central bays stepped forward to feature a giant pedimented Ionic portico featuring the family coat of arms. The end pavilions, likewise brought forward, appear to be single-storey, their upper sections featuring Coade stone panels featuring on one side the Arts and on the other a pastoral scene. Relatively little of the rest of the house was finished before Lord Portarlington died in 1798 leaving a widow and young children, after which the project went into abeyance for several decades.

IMG_1455
IMG_1433
FullSizeRender 3
IMG_1425
The next burst of activity occurred during the period 1824-36 when the wastrel second Earl of Portarlingon commissioned English architect Lewis Vulliamy to draw up designs for Emo Court. Born in 1791 and apprenticed to Robert Smirke before establishing his own practice, Vulliamy is summarised in one biographical notice as being an ‘eclectic designer’ who was ‘competent in any style required of him.’ Buildings designed by him range from the since-demolished Italian Renaissance Dorchester House, London to Jacobethan Westonbirt House in Gloucestershire. Vulliamy oversaw the completion of the garden front with its own giant Ionic portico and, indoors he initiated work on the rotunda and completed the dining room. The latter’s most notable feature is the ceiling plasterwork, richly ornate in the style preferred during the late Georgian period and almost certainly not what Gandon would have had in mind for this space (or any other within the building). This is even more the case with the next stage of work at Emo which only occurred following the second earl’s death in 1845. He left the estate, and considerable debts, to a nephew, the third earl who was only in a position to embark on a fresh programme of decoration in 1860. The architect now employed was Dubliner William Caldbeck who designed what is now the library (but was originally a drawing room) with its neo-rococo ceiling and extraordinary Carrara marble chimneypiece that features putti frolicking amongst grapevines, and the salon (formerly a library/ballroom) which has screens of green marble Ionic columns at either end. During this period the walls of the drawing room were hung with damask silk, and those of the entrance hall with embossed leather. We move further and further from the neo-classical concept of James Gandon and his patron.

FullSizeRender 7
FullSizeRender 4
FullSizeRender 6
FullSizeRender 5
In 1920 Emo Court and its surrounding demesne were sold to the Land Commission, not an organisation ever renowned for its taste. The land was broken up and the house sat empty and stripped of all contents until 1930 when, with the immediate parkland and lake, it was sold to the Jesuit Order for use as a novitiate. One of the residents during the following decades was Fr Francis Browne, the well-known photographer who would record the interior of so many remaining Irish country houses. During their time there, the Jesuits made a number of changes to the interior of Emo Court. The rotunda and adjacent drawing room, for example, were adapted for use as a chapel. This necessitated the removal of the mahogany double doors between the two spaces, together with two of the Corinthian Siena marble pilasters immediately inside the former and the chimneypiece in the latter. Part of the rotunda’s inlaid floor was also taken out to accommodate an altar in what was now a chapel sanctuary (the drawing room holding the congregation). Likewise the salon was altered to act as a refectory, the end screens including the green marble columns being taken out, along with its chimneypiece. Meanwhile the drawing room became a conference room.

IMG_1573
IMG_1579
IMG_1587
IMG_1603
Owing to a decrease in their numbers, the Jesuits left Emo Court in 1969 and the house was soon afterwards bought by Major Cholmeley Dering Cholmeley-Harrison who had already restored one property in this country, Woodstown, County Waterford (which famously he rented to Jacqueline Kennedy and her family in the summer of 1967). Major Cholmeley-Harrison employed the London firm of Sir Albert Richardson & Partners to oversee Emo’s restoration, and it was discovered most of the elements removed by the previous occupants had not been destroyed but stored and could therefore be reinstated. Thus The warped mahogany doors were flattened with weights and braces to return to their original form before being once more hung, while the demolished wall of the rotunda was rebuilt and the floor re-inlaid. The drawing-room got back its neo-rococo chimney piece and became a library and the Jesuit’s refectory was similarly given back its chimneypiece, screens and marble columns. In the entrance hall, coves to either side were were painted by Geoffrey Ghin in trompe l’oeil to Gandon’s unexecuted design for stuccowork here. In 1994 Major Cholmeley-Harrison presented Emo Court and its land to the Irish state, remaining in residence there until his death eight years ago. Today Emo is an accumulation of different eras’ taste, not least that of only four decades ago. The present decoration of the main reception rooms – the hessian-covered walls in the dining and drawing rooms, the acid green paint covering both walls and ceiling in the salon – are reflections of another period’s taste. Were Emo Court to be restored today, it is inconceivable such materials or colours would be employed. No doubt some visitors, and perhaps some employees of the Office of Public Works which is now responsible for the property, must yearn to instigate a programme of redecoration which would include an assiduous investigation of original paint shades and finishes so that these could be reinstated. The craze for historically ‘accurate’ decoration is a reflection of our own age and as likely to be superseded as have many others before. What makes Emo Court so interesting is precisely the building’s ability to incorporate so many shifts in taste without giving first place to any one of them. Instead they must perforce co-exist. There’s a lesson here for all of us blessed or cursed with an aesthetic cast of mind.

FullSizeRender 2With thanks to the Office of Public Works for permission to photograph the interiors of Emo Court. The house reopens to the public on March 24th.

Head In the Clouds

IMG_2587
In his Preface to Dublin Decorative Plasterwork of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1967) C.P. Curran argues that any study of the subject must concern itself primarily with the latter period: ‘This is so for two reasons. The Dublin stuccodores’ craft reached a singular perfection in that century and notwithstanding the loss their work has suffered and still undergoes in the vicissitudes of the city’s growth, examples of its various excellence are still abundant and are accessible for study.’ Today’s examples, all now in Dublin Castle, admirably illustrate this point.

IMG_8509
IMG_8505
IMG_2583
Demolished in the early 1950s owing to the value of the land on which it stood, Mespil House now tends to be remembered as the home of artist Sarah Purser. But the man responsible for its construction is just as worthy of notice, having enjoyed a distinguished career across diverse fields.
Born in Cork in 1698, after studying first at Trinity College Dublin and then at the University of Leiden, Edward Barry became a doctor like his father before him. Initially he practised in his native city, there writing his first book, A Treatise on a Consumption of the Lungs, published in 1726. In addition to his medical work, he found time to become a member of the Irish Parliament, representing Charleville from 1745 to 1761. By the time his political career began, he had already moved to Dublin, and here produced his principal medical work, On Digestion in 1759. A decade earlier he had been elected President of the College of Physicians and in 1754 he was appointed Regius Professor of Physic at Trinity College Dublin. But he was as interested in the arts as the sciences, and on good terms with many of the notable writers of his day. In 1736 he reported to John Boyle, Earl of Orrery (and future Earl of Cork) about their mutual friend Dean Swift, ‘I’m concerned to hear that Swift is confin’d by some Disorder; I hope nothing but a bilous cholic, which a few Satyrical evacuations will remove.‘ At the age of 63 Barry decided to move his practice to London but there is some question over whether he did as well there as had been the case in Ireland. According to Boswell, Samuel Johnson once remarked of Barry, ‘He was a man who had acquired a high reputation in Dublin, came over to England and brought his reputation with him, but had not great success.’ Created a baronet in 1775, he died the following year but not before producing a final book running to almost 500 pages: Observations, Historical, Critical and Medical on the Wines of the Ancients, and the Analogy between them and Modern Wines. This was the remarkable man responsible for building Mespil House in 1751.

IMG_2545
IMG_2535
FullSizeRender
Returning to Curran’s Preface, the author comments that ‘The diversity and excellence achieved by the middle of the eighteenth century is unquestionably due to outside stimulus. In the arts, no more than in nature, there can be no Declaration of Independence, since to be isolated is to be sterile and an organism is strong only in so far as it can assimilate.’ One of the outside stimuli from which indigenous stuccodores assimilated ideas during this period was Barthelemy Cramillion, whose origins and training remain unknown, although it has been suggested he was French Huguenot or Walloon by birth. He first appears in Ireland in August 1775 when employed by Dr Mosse to decorate the chapel of the new Lying-In Hospital, now known as the Rotunda: the contract bound him to complete the work within thirteen months. In December 1757 he was again engaged to execute the chapel altarpiece within six months. His total bill, finally settled in 1760, came to £585, nine shillings and ninepence. He left Ireland a year or two later but then returned in 1772 and in the Dublin Journal advertised his services to ‘Any Nobleman or Gentleman inclined to employ him.’ Two ceilings removed from Mespil House before its demolition and now installed in Dublin Castle (top and bottom series of pictures) have been credited to Cramillion by Joseph McDonnell in Irish Eighteenth-Century Stuccowork and its European Sources (1991). On the other hand, Timothy Mowl and Brian Earnshaw in their 1999 book An Insular Rococo question that attribution, noting that Mespil House dates from 1751, four years before Cramillion appears working on the Rotunda chapel. They also believe the ceilings ‘appear to be the work of two different plasterers,’ noting technical differences in the moulding of figures and in compositional layout. Unless additional documents turn up, most likely we will never know for certain who was responsible. The top group is centred around a medallion depicting Minerva Introducing the Arts to Hibernia, while that below shows Apollo as Sun God emerging to scatter the clouds. Incidentally, a third ceiling from Mespil House is now in Áras an Uachtaráin.

IMG_2600
IMG_2593
IMG_2607
Similar uncertainty hangs over the authorship of another ceiling now in Dublin Castle (shown in the middle group of photographs above) but taken from another, long-since demolished building. Tracton House once occupied a site at 40 St Stephen’s Green, on the corner with Merrion Row. A bank stands there today and Tracton House was pulled down in 1912 to facilitate the commercial premises’ development. The lost building dated from the mid-1740s when the MP, surveyor and director-general of fortifications Arthur Jones-Nevill acquired the site to build himself a fine town residence. In 1765 it passed into the hands of James Dennis who fourteen years later was raised to the peerage as Baron Tracton and from him the property acquired the name by which it was thereafter known. The building subsequently underwent modifications according to changes of ownership and use but one portion remained unaltered: a first-floor back drawing room. This kept intact its decoration as installed at the time of Jones-Nevill. When the whole place was pulled down coincidentally the National Museum was keen to acquire a good example of the Georgian domestic interior and so the room was carefully removed and reinstated in Kildare Street where it stayed for another three decades until once more taken down: it moved to its present location in the 1960s. The main focus of the Tracton House room is its ceiling on which (as J.B. Maguire has discussed in a fascinating article published in the 2012-13 volume of the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland) are inscribed two dates: 1746 and 1752. Might it be that the ceiling, the central lozenge of which shows Apollo Musagates opulently lounging in the clouds, a lyre resting on one knee, was decorated in two stages? Could the outer compartments featuring diverse trophies of the arts associated with this god have been created before or after the Apollo, hence the two dates? As with the Mespil House ceilings, it seems unlikely we will ever be able to come up with absolute answers. But in the meantime, a visit to these rooms in Dublin Castle is encouraged, especially as it provides an opportunity to put your head in the clouds and there join the company of classical deities.

FullSizeRender 2

A Unique Legacy

IMG_1744
Few houses better exemplify the maxim of initial appearances being deceptive than Headfort, County Meath. An immense, austere block – the limestone facade including wings runs to more than five hundred feet – in 1789 it was described by then-Lord Lieutenant the Duke of Rutland as ‘a long range of tasteless building’ and three years later George Hardinge said it was ‘more like a college or an infirmary’ than a private residence. Headfort was built for the descendants of Thomas Taylor who came to Ireland in the middle of the 17th century in the company of his school contemporary Sir William Petty. By 1660 Taylor had secured 21,000 acres of land in Cavan and Meath, and settled outside Kells. No trace remains of the original house constructed by the family, but from the middle of the 18th century onwards plans were under way to build a new country seat suitable for their advancement in the Irish peerage: already a baronet, the third Sir Thomas Taylor, who inherited the estate in 1757, would be created Baron Headfort in 1760, Viscount Headfort two years later and Earl of Bective in 1766. His son, in turn, would become first Marquess of Headfort in 1800.

IMG_1775
IMG_1908
IMG_1897
The first architect consulted about designs for a new house was Richard Castle, a favourite for such commissions among Irish landowners during the period. However in this instance his proposals of 1750 failed to win the approval of the second Taylor baronet; an extant portfolio is marked: ‘Mr Castle’s plan and a damn bad one.’ John Ensor and another anonymous architect also drew up proposals for a similarly Palladian-style building but these too were spurned. The Taylors were not as wealthy as some of their contemporaries and funds to spend on the building were limited. Presumably this is why although still more designs were commissioned in 1765 from fashionable neo-classical architect William Chambers those were similarly rejected. In any case, by that date work had already started on a sober, and accordingly economical scheme which, on the basis of a 1760 plan inscribed GS, is attributed to George Semple, a Dublin-based builder and self-taught architect. Whoever was responsible, the house’s exterior would not have required much architectural skill in its composition. Of three storeys and 11 bays, the near-identical front and rear elevations of grey Ardbraccan limestone are largely unrelieved other than by pedimented doorcases.

FullSizeRender
IMG_1778
IMG_1837
But if the house’s exterior lacks ornament, its interior was intended to present a different image. Between 1771 and 1775, Lord Bective requested Scottish-born architect Robert Adam to produce decorative schemes for a suite of rooms in the newly completed Headfort. Adam, who never visited this country, duly came up with designs for the entrance and staircase halls, as well for as a series of three adjacent spaces on the garden front culminating in a double-height saloon that was known as the ‘Eating Parlor.’ Even if not all his proposals were fully implemented, the interiors are of immense importance as the only extant examples of Adam’s work in Ireland. Once more due to shortage of funds, a simplified version of the suggested decoration was executed in the entrance and staircase halls. But the architect’s original drawings survive and indicate that other elements of the scheme were carried through, not least in the Eating Parlor, where the only major modification saw the architect’s recommended barrel-vaulted ceiling instead being coved. Created by reconfiguring the house’s layout to merge two rooms on both ground and first floors, the Eating Parlor is lit by a line of tall windows between which stand the original marble-topped console tables and pier glasses. Facing these are a pair of carved white marble chimneypieces with circular overmantles holding classical compositions by the Italian artist Antonio Zucchi, who worked with Adam on a number of other occasions; further Zucchi work is found elsewhere in the room, including a ceiling centrepiece. The rest of the walls are covered with panels intended to contain Taylour family portraits, and a number of matching doorcases. The adjacent, somewhat smaller, saloon is similarly decorated but the third room in the suite, the Chinese Drawing Room, has since lost the landscape wallpaper from which derived its name.

IMG_1710
IMG_1754
IMG_1726
Inevitably with the passage of time, the fabric of Headfort began to deteriorate; problems of damp coming into the building were a particular problem. It didn’t help that since 1949 the house has served as a preparatory school, with inevitable wear and tear on its fabric. Due to the significance of the Adam interiors, in 2004 the World Monuments Fund placed the house on its list of 100 Most Endangered Sites. Thereafter the Headfort Trust, thanks to funding from the WMF, Ireland’s Heritage Council and relevant state departments, initiated a programme of essential work including repairs to the roof, chimney stacks and gutter piping. Internally the trust embarked on a conservation and research project that revealed the original Adam decorative scheme. Nowhere was this more the case than in the Eating Parlor which underwent complete refurbishment thanks to aid from the Irish Georgian Society which in 2008 made the room the beneficiary of its 50th anniversary fundraising efforts. For a long time the Eating Parlor had been painted a shade of blue more usually found in hospital wards. However analysis of the walls revealed they had first been decorated using a variety of mid- to dark shades of verdigris, a scheme which tallied with the Adam drawings. The same colours were also used in the staircase hall, while those of the Saloon are softer, with an abundance there of pink and pale blue. When initially finished, and furnished, the effect must have been quite startling and highly novel, and even today, depleted of their contents and put to alternative use, these rooms can still confound the popular notion of how a chaste neo-classical interior should look. Today, when no other examples of Adam’s work can be seen on this island, it is a unique legacy.

IMG_1763

Hilton Hospitality

FullSizeRender 2
A thesis waits to be written on the links between country house construction in Ireland and the history of the national economy.* There have been waves of building here and these were often aligned with agricultural prices: the better the annual return, the more likely houses would be erected, reconstructed or enlarged. Contrarily in lean times the amount of such work tailed off. In its present incarnation Hilton Park, County Monaghan exemplifies this phenomenon, since the house was last overhauled in the early 1870s, sufficiently after the Great Famine for the country’s agriculture to have recovered and not long before the onset of the following decade’s Land Wars which, coupled with the arrival of cheap grain and meat from the other side of the Atlantic, saw land values, and therefore estate owners’ incomes, precipitously decline towards the end of the 19th century. The land on which the house stands was purchased in 1734 by the Rev. Samuel Madden, the origins of whose family appear to lie in descent from a branch of the ancient O Madaidhin or O’Madden clan. A forebear is believed to have fled the tribal lands and become based in Oxfordshire in the 15th century where the phonetics of his name suggested O’Mudgeoin, which to English ears sounded like Mudwyn. The first proven ancestor is John Mudwyn, one of whose sons Thomas Mudwyn settled in this country and changed his name to Madden (as did his brother Robert in England)  Thomas served as Comptroller of the Household to Sir Thomas Wentworth, later first Earl of Strafford during his time as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and the Rev Samuel Madden was his great-grandson. This gentleman was commonly known as ‘Premium’ Madden, derived both from a provision in his will providing for premiums for Irish-made goods to the Dublin Society and from having been the founder of the ‘Madden Premium’ in Trinity College, Dublin (first given in 1718). Author of a play Themistocles, the Lover of his Country: a Tragedy (1729), he also wrote a work of speculative, and satiric, fiction called Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (1733). Dedicated to Frederick, Prince of Wales, to whom Madden had been tutor, the book was suppressed Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole a fortnight after its publication. More influential was Madden’s Reflections and Resolutions Proper for the Gentlemen of Ireland which appeared in 1731 and embodied many of the aspirations behind the formation of the Dublin (later the Royal Dublin) Society which his brother, the Rev John Madden, co-founded the same year. No wonder Dr Johnson declared ‘His was a name which Ireland ought to honour.’

IMG_2165
IMG_1962
IMG_4109
FullSizeRender 3
As mentioned above, in 1734 Samuel Madden bought some 4,000 acres of what subsequently became the Hilton estate. This had been land originally owned by the MacMahons but acquired through purchase in the 17th century first by Sir William Temple, Provost of Trinity College Dublin and then after his death by the Forth family. It was sold by them to Samuel Madden who bought it for his third son, John Madden. He married Anne Cope of Loughgall in 1752 and planted the oak wood on the estate which is called Cope’s Wood, which indicates they were then living a house dating from early 17th century, almost certainly built by either Sir William Temple or the Forths. The townland on which the property stands was called Killshanless but the estate was now named Maddenton and here a house was erected in the 1770s or 1780s, perhaps incorporating elements of the earlier building, of seven bays and two storeys with tall brick chimney stacks. It survived until 1803 when the greater part of it was accidentally destroyed by fire; tradition has it that the conflagration began after a servant set down a bucket of hot coals on the floor but it may be that during those troubled times the house was attacked and ransacked before being set alight. Whatever the cause, the disaster was compounded by the fact that then-owner Colonel Samuel Madden of the Monaghan Militia was a ne’er-do-well gambler who ran through the family money and had to face his creditors two years before he died in 1814. The estate itself was only preserved thanks to the prudence of the Colonel’s father-in-law, the Rev Charles Dudley Ryder who kept the greater part of his own fortune to pass on to his grandson. But in the immediate aftermath of the fire, the family moved into what had been the servants’ quarters in the upper stableyard. Rebuilding may have begun around 1815 when Ryder died, or not until the early 1830s, with the focus being on the rooms at the south side of the house which looked down to the lake: the dining room and a bedroom immediately above retain their decoration from this period. The finished house, the design of which is assigned to James Jones of Dundalk and the appearance of which can still be seen in old family photographs, had a long eastern facade of two storeys over basement and eleven bays. The centre five of these projected slightly, a flight of stone steps leading to the rather meanly proportioned entrance door. All this work and more (a new nursery wing to the north) was undertaken by Colonel John Madden of the Monaghan Militia who was able to benefit from his wise maternal grandfather’s inheritance and was as industrious as some of his forebears: he became a noted breeder of Shorthorn cattle and hackney horses, and built the Ride, a colonnade for exercising horses on wet days under his study window. A keen sailor and member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, he won a race around Ireland and sailed to the Mediterranean, bringing back from Naples a chimney piece now found in the drawing room. He also built a villa at Sandycove, Dublin and it was there he died in 1844. (He is also shown in third place in his yacht Ganymede in the inaugural races held in 1828 at Kingstown, now Dun Laoghaire, in a well-known print of the event held in honour of then-Lord Lieutenant Henry Paget, first Marquess of Anglesey.)

 

IMG_2043
IMG_2046
IMG_2055
IMG_2051
Colonel Madden’s heir, another John, was not yet eight when his father died and was duly made a Ward of Court. Throughout his life John Madden held strong views not always shared by others of his class and background. As a young man he joined Isaac Butt’s Home Rule Party but failed to get elected in any of the elections he fought. In addition, in 1869 he was dismissed as a Deputy Lieutenant and Justice of the Peace for County Monaghan owing to letters he had written to the Secretary of State and for using ‘language of studied insult to the government of the Queen’. (The Countess of Dartrey who lived elsewhere in the county described him at the time as ‘a semi-madman, who stood as a Tory Home Ruler for Monaghan in 1868, and wrote such outrageous letters that he was struck off the list of JPs.’)
More interestingly from our perspective, this John Madden carried out a sequence of improvements and allterations on his estate, beginning at age 19 with the sinking of a 135-foot well ‘under my own engineering superintendence as I had studied mining’ from which Hilton still draws its water: two years later he erected a bell tower of some 70 feet. In the aftermath of his abortive political ambitions, he engaged the gardener and landscape architect Ninian Niven, former curator of the National Botanic Gardens, to remodel Hilton’s parkland and lay out the Parterre formed by excavating the ground around the house’s basement. Soon afterwards Madden embarked on a transformation of the house, initially consulting Sir Charles Lanyon but eventually settling for William Hague who today is primarily known for his work on public buildings, in particular Roman Catholic churches (he designed or altered between forty and fifty across the country). Cost may have been a factor in his selection, but also the fact that Hague was more likely to take direction from his client than would the established Lanyon. Hague’s intervention is immediately apparent on the exterior of the building, around which the ground was excavated some eight feet to create a new ground floor in what had hitherto been the basement. Access to the house was no longer gained at the top of a flight of steps, so to ensure protection against the era’s growing agrarian unrest a steel front door and shutters were installed. Meanwhile the facade, now fronted in sandstone and with a rusticated ground floor, was given a vast porte cochêre with a line of Italianate Ionic columns and pilasters beneath a pediment carrying the Madden coat of arms carved in Portland stone. The first floor pedimented windows have the long proportions of the late Georgian period but plate glass of the Victorian, while those above retain their sashes. Around the corner on the south side plans were drawn up for a central pavilion with an octagonal drawing room and matching wings but these were not carried out, a blessing according to the late Jeremy Williams since the outcome ‘would have given the house the semblance of a vast hotel to overwhelm the lake below.’

FullSizeRender 4
IMG_2124 IMG_2108
IMG_2126
Internally, Hilton Park looks much as it did when Madden and Hague had finished their work on the building around 1878. The front door gives access to a hall with encaustic tiles and barrel vaulted ceiling: on either side a former coachman’s and housekeeper’s room became a study and smoking room respectively. Double doors open to the stair hall in carved oak which climbs to the first floor reception rooms (the oak was worked by John Armstrong, estate carpenter at Parkanaur, County Tyrone, seat of John Madden’s kin the Burges family, who was loaned for the purpose). On the upper section of the west wall are a pair of heraldic stained glass windows made by Mayer & Co of London: between them is a niche holding a bust of ‘Premium’ Madden. At the top of the stairs a door to the immediate left opens into what had been a vast double drawing room: for reasons of practicality (and heat conservation) this was divided in two in the last century when the central timber archway was filled in. The northern section has a heavily carved Victorian chimney piece, the southern contains that brought back from Naples by the earlier John Madden. A boudoir to the north completes this run of reception rooms, ample enough to host a ball. Meanwhile at the centre of the south side of the house is the dining room which did not undergo refurbishment in the 1870s and therefore remains as designed by Jones forty years earlier; vaguely gothic in intent, it has sprung vaulting featuring oaks and ropes initiated from foliate corbels in each corner, but a classical black marble chimney piece (the rope motif was said to be in honour of Horatio Nelson with whom Colonel John Madden’s father-in-law Admiral William Wolseley was friendly and had sailed). Also still retaining their original décor are the bedrooms above, the walls of one still covered in a pretty blue floral paper hung in the 1830s. Although much has changed in the intervening period, Hilton Park still remains in the hands of the Madden, the ninth generation now responsible for its future. Open to the public for weddings, weekend guests and houseparties (see hiltonpark.ie) it wonderfully exudes much of its original atmosphere, although one suspects that were earlier occupants to return they would be amazed by how much warmer and more comfortable is the house than used to be the case (and how much better the cooking today than it traditionally was in such places). All being well, the Maddens will continue to reside there offering Hilton hospitality for at least another nine generations.

IMG_4123
*Of course if anyone knows of such a thesis, please let me know.