From Bishops to Bullocks


In a report compiled for the Ordnance Survey in February 1836, Lt. I.I Wilkinson observed that in Raphoe, County Donegal, ‘The bishop’s palace stands on the eastern side of the town, in a pleasant demesne containing groves, serpentine walks, plantations and every other variety to please the human mind. A little distance to the north east of the palace is the residence of the dean, in the midst of an enclosed demesne full of groves and plantations with grand fields all beautifully round. Both places indicate as if Heaven itself had designed the place and situations for the use of the pious servants of the Lord.’ A year later in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, Samuel Lewis wrote of Raphoe, ‘The Episcopal palace, formerly a strong castle, is about a quarter of a mile from the town: it is a handsome and spacious castellated building, pleasantly situated in tastefully disposed grounds…The deanery-house, which is also the glebe-house of the parish, was built in 1739, at an expense of £1680, and has been subsequently enlarged and improved from their own funds by various successive incumbents ; it is pleasantly situated about a mile from the town.’ Of these two buildings, the deanery – otherwise known as Oakfield – still stands and was discussed here a few weeks ago (see Et in Arcadia…, June 26th 2017). The former bishop’s palace, on the other hand, has enjoyed less good fortune.





A date stone on the building advises that Raphoe Palace was begun in May 1636 and finished in August the following year. It was constructed at the behest of the then-Bishop of the diocese, John Leslie. Born in Aberdeenshire in 1571, Leslie spent two decades in Spain before returning to Britain where he became a favourite of James I who made him a privy councillor of Scotland. In 1628 he was appointed Bishop of the Isles, and five years later translated to Raphoe where he found much of the Episcopal lands in lay hands but succeeded in regaining them. Bishop Leslie’s combative nature became more apparent and more necessary after 1641 with the onset of the eleven-year Confederate Wars. Leslie was a staunch royalist, and battled against both the Irish and Cromwell’s Parliamentary army, for this reason becoming known as the ‘Fighting Bishop.’ Despite ultimately being on the losing side, he was permitted to remain in situ during the Commonwealth period. When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, Leslie – then aged 90 – is said to have rode from Chester to London in order to pay homage to the king. As a reward for his unstinting loyalty, Charles in return recommended the bishop to the Irish House of Commons which voted him a gift of £2,000. By now transferred to the see of Clogher, he used this money which he used to buy the Glaslough estate in County Monaghan. His descendants live there still because at the age of sixty-seven the bishop finally married, his bride being Catherine Cunningham, teenage daughter of the Dean of Raphoe: the couple had five children. Bishop Leslie died in 1671, aged 100.





Writing in The Architecture of Ireland (1982) Maurice Craig notes the debt owed by Raphoe Palace to Rathfarnham Castle, built on the outskirts of Dublin half a century earlier (see A Whiter Shade of Pale, August 26th 2013). The latter had likewise been built by an Anglican cleric, Adam Loftus, Archbishop of Dublin, and had similarly been intended to withstand assault: as Craig points out in both instances the main block has four flanking spear-shaped towers which provided the occupants with a defensive advantage in the event of attack. This indeed is what happened during the Confederacy Wars, and the building was later plundered by the troops of James II in 1688. The palace as seen today is taller than would originally have been the case: it has been proposed that originally the palace was two storeys over basement, the additional floors being added in the 18th century. But the dimensions of the building remain as they were in Leslie’s day, the central portion being a square measuring forty-six feet each way, and the interiors of the towers being each 12 and a half feet square: the walls throughout are four feet thick. The palace’s architectural history in the post-Leslie period is unclear, although it remained in use as an Episcopal residence for a considerable time. Restoration works are known to have been carried out after John Pooley was appointed Bishop of Raphoe in 1702, and more alterations took place at a later date, the window openings being enlarged to admit additional light. The east front features a fine stone Gibbsian door with coats of arms inserted into the walls of the towers on either side. An attack during the 1798 Rebellion led to further renovations and the last bishop to live here, William Bissett, carried out improvements including the castellations and bartizans around the top floor. Following his death in 1834, the bishopric of Raphoe was amalgamated with that of Derry and the old palace put up for sale. In 1838 it was gutted by fire, and has remained a ruin ever since. Today the ‘pleasant demesne’ noted by Wilkinson has been turned over to pasture, and at its centre bullocks rather than bishops now occupy the palace.

For Fine Dining



One of Ireland’s lesser known mediaeval monuments: the 15th century Desmond Banqueting Hall in Newcastle West, County Limerick. Built on the remains of an earlier structure (the remains of lancet windows on the south wall suggest it may once have served as a chapel), the hall sits above a vaulted lower chamber. The building was part of a castle complex developed here by the FitzGerald family, Earls of Desmond who remained in occupation until the end of the 16th century. The castle then passed into the possession of the Courtenays, later Earls of Devon, but was badly damaged during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s and likely not occupied thereafter (an adjacent house, occupied by the Courtenays’ agent, was burnt in 1922 during the Civil War). The Banqueting Hall was restored some years ago when an oak screen and musicians’ gallery were installed, along with a hooded limestone chimneypiece.


Back in Business


After being closed for several years, the Ormond Castle in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary reopened to the public last weekend. The building is notable for being the best-preserved unfortified 16th century house in the country, although it benefitted from the protection of a twin-towered 15th century castle to the immediate rear. The later section dates from the 1560s when it was built for Thomas, tenth Earl of Ormond who had been raised in the English court and was related to Elizabeth I through her mother, Anne Boleyn. On his return to Ireland, Lord Ormond imported the manor house style with which he had become familiar during his youth. The most immediately striking feature of the latest renovation programme is that the exterior of the Tudor building has been rendered, as was originally the case.

Plundered

Another ruined castle, this one in County Tyrone. Believed to date from the mid-14th century, Harry Avery’s Castle is named after the Gaelic chief in this area Henry Aimhréidh O’Neill who died in 1392. As can be seen, not a lot of it remains, other than a pair of D-front towers. Captured by the English forces in 1609, the site was subsequently plundered for stone, which explains why so little remains today.

Surrendering to the Elements


Buried in the midst of woodland in north-west County Cork, Lohort Castle has had a turbulent past and, by the look of the place today, is experiencing a none-too secure present. As so often in Ireland, the building’s origins are uncertain. It has been proposed that a castle was constructed here in the late 12th centuries on the instructions of Prince (future King) John, but more likely it was one of the innumerable tower houses that appeared on the Irish landscape in the 15th and 16th centuries. As such it would have been built for the MacCarthys who were then the dominant family in the region. At the time, the castle would have been at the centre of a larger site with other buildings surrounded by an enclosing wall. In plan and form it is typical of the Irish tower house, being rectangular and rising five storeys to a machiolated parapet, with only one small point of access on the ground floor. The building’s most striking feature is its curved external walls, which while unusual are not unique. An engraving from the early 1740s shows it looking much as is still the case today, albeit surrounded by a moat (drained in 1876) and protected by star-shaped Vaubanesque outerworks. The only obvious differences are the stepped gable on the east side of the roof and the chimney stacks: these were added towards the end of the 19th century. 





In the late 1630s Lohort Castle passed out of the hands of the MacCarthys and came into the possession of Sir Philip Perceval, an English adventurer who acquired an extensive estate in Ireland. With the onset of rebellion in 1641 Perceval garrisoned the castle with 150 soldiers but it still fell to the native Irish who remained in occupation until 1650 when besieged by Sir Hardress Waller and his troops. It was written that Waller ‘by the Help of Cannon reduced it in four days’ but there is no evidence of such damage on the exterior walls (which are ten feet thick at the base) so perhaps the threat of cannon fire was enough to encourage surrender. Lohort was duly returned to the Percevals and remained in their hands for several centuries. It was Sir Philip’s grandson, John Perceval, created first Earl of Egmont in 1733, who paid most attention to the building. Formal classical gardens with long straight vistas were laid out in the surrounding grounds while alterations were made inside the main building including the provision of a library and an armoury holding sufficient weapons to equip men. In 1740 the builder John Hickey was hired by Lord Egmont to carry out this work but he miscalculated the costs and the following year was imprisoned for debt. Following the first earl’s death, his son seems to have lost interest in Lohort which was thereafter occupied by an agent.





In the late 19th century, Lohort again changed ownership, being bought by the O’Briens: Sir Timothy O’Brien was a cricketer famous for his short-temper. It was presumably during their tenure that further alterations were made to the original building in the mid-1870s. The need for additional guest accommodation was resolved by an unknown architect designing a large twin-towered gate house at the end of an avenue directly in front of the castle. As well as providing more bedrooms, this building added further drama to the site. The O’Briens were still in ownership when the gatehouse and castle were burnt by the IRA in July 1921 during the War of Independence. However, both were sufficiently sturdy to survive and, after some restoration work, to be habitable once more. This no longer looks to be the case. About a decade ago Lohort was offered for sale, and finally found a buyer at the end of 2011. Either before or after that date some rather aggressive work appears to have been undertaken on the buildings (and to an adjacent stableyard) but then halted. As a result, they are now suffering badly, the gatehouse especially being in pitiful condition. What an English army could not achieve four centuries ago, neglect in our own time may yet accomplish. 

A Fair House

Florence Court, County Fermanagh was discussed here a couple of weeks ago (see Unravelling the Mysteries, May 15th 2017). Prior to moving to that part of the country, the Cole family lived further north-east on the island of Enniskillen. The castle there is believed to have been originally built in the early 15th century by Hugh Maguire but this, together with surrounding lands was granted in 1607 to Sir William Cole. A few years later a report stated that there was ‘a fair house begun upon the foundations of the old castle with other convenient houses for store and munition.’ The portion shown here, called the Watergate, likely dates from that period. After the Coles moved to Florence Court the castle became a military barracks; today it houses a museum.

Unrealised Potential


In the mid-1830s, Charles Denham Jephson, who a few years later would be made a baronet and assume the additional surname of Norreys, decided to improve the family seat of Mallow Castle, County Cork. In fact, the original castle – a fortified mansion dating from the 1590s – had been abandoned by the end of the 17
th century when the Jephsons converted a stable block to the immediate north into a residence. It was to this building that Jephson turned his attention, with some help from the English architect Edward Blore who during the same period was designing Crom Castle, County Fermanagh: certainly in 1837 Blore proposed the addition of a tower to the house at Mallow. However, it seems likely that despite looking for advice elsewhere Jephson mostly acted as his own architect, using the opportunity to evoke the era when his forebear Sir Thomas Norreys had first settled in the area. Described by Mark Bence-Jones as ‘a remarkably convincing reproduction of vernacular late C16 or early C17 architecture; with none of the pretentious “Baronial” or “Elizabethan” features which most early-Victorians could not resist,’ Mallow Castle’s garden front is a long, two-storied block relieved by a succession of projecting gable bays and mullioned windows, above which rises the tower proposed by Blore. In the mid-1950s, a later Jephson added an entrance front to the immediate right of this building, the stone for which had been cut in the 1830s but not used, thereby completing the scheme. 





The Jephsons remained at Mallow until 1984 when the property was sold to an American couple who after twenty years’ ownership put the place on the market. In late 2010 it was announced that Cork County Council had bought the castle and surrounding thirty acres for
€1.7 million. This was rightly regarded as something of a coup, since when the property had first been offered for sale in 2005, the asking price had been €7.5 million. So the local authority had done well to secure this important part of its architectural heritage, located in the centre of the town. Since then a further sum in the region of €400,000 has been spent on repair of existing landscaping, the installation of new external lighting, and repair of garden structures.  At the time of the initial purchase, one local councillor declared that ‘if properly developed and managed, the castle would be more than capable of paying for itself – and the potential spin-off benefits could transform Mallow.’ Note the use of the conditional ‘if’. here…





Cork County Council has declared that the work carried out in grounds of Mallow Castle is the first part of a three-phase development programme for the site and in February it was announced that a
masterplan tender brief for the property is currently being prepared. In the meantime, that conditional ‘if’ must remain in place. On a recent weekend visit to Mallow Castle, a group of French tourists looked somewhat stunned as they entered the site to discover it heavily littered and the house firmly shut. In fact it is somewhat surprising that they managed to find their way to the place, since what is supposed to be a major tourist attraction appears un-signposted, with access located up a minor lane. But evidently local carousers know the spot well, and have no problem entering it even when the gates are closed: hence the abundant litter.
As the owner of any historic property could advise Cork County Council, looking after such a house is perforce a time-consuming and expensive business – but not looking after it will ultimately prove to be even more time-consuming and expensive. The installation of better security around the site would help deter unwanted visitors, and their litter (sundry notices advise the presence of CCTV, but there is precious little evidence of it). A few bins would not go amiss either. Furthermore it seems that the house has sat empty and unoccupied since being purchased by the council. An obvious way to discourage nocturnal trespassers would be to have people living onsite: get a tenant, or better yet several, into the house. This would be beneficial for the building which at present is visibly suffering from neglect (thereby increasing the cost of its eventual refurbishment, a cost to be borne – as ever – by the nation’s tax payers). Shutters are closed and curtains drawn across windows, the frames of which are rotting (leaving them more vulnerable to being broken and illegal access being gained to the building). Doors are likewise in poor condition and in at least one place roof tiles have slipped. What, one wonders, must be the state of the interior? What sort of example is Cork County Council setting to other owners of historic buildings by displaying so little interest in the welfare of one under its care? Can it really expect anybody else to act as guardian of our heritage when it manifestly fails to do so? Houses need to be occupied and used, otherwise they risk falling into decline. Such is the case here: what’s required now is more of the flair and imagination displayed by the authority when it made the decision to acquire the property. Reports and action plans can wait: a house cannot.
At the time of that purchase, another local politician announced, ‘This is a very significant development in unlocking the future potential of Mallow Castle as a tourism and heritage resource for all the people of Cork.’ For the moment that potential remains unrealised.