Something of a Mystery


The history of Coolrain, County Laois is something of a mystery. The main block looks to be early-to-mid 18th century, of two storeys over raised basement and five bays with a central breakfront. The latter features a fine cut-limestone Gibbsian doorcase approached by a short flight of steps and flanked by sidelights, with a Venetian window directly above on the first floor. On either side of the main block, and seeming to be slightly later in date, are fine carriage arches, that to the right (south-east) further extending to a small stable yard. But the carriage arches are just that and no more: there is nothing behind them and the entrances are blocked up (if indeed they were ever open). It would appear their main, perhaps only, function was to extend the house façade and thereby give an impression of greater grandeur to anyone arriving there. Who designed and/or built Coolrain (and when) is unknown, but all indications are that the original owner was a member of the landed gentry with aspirations to climb the social ladder.






At some date after its construction, Coolrain was enlarged by an extension to the rear but only on the left (north-west) side. The gable ends of the older section of the building indicate it was originally just one room deep, with the central portion extended back to accommodate a staircase hall lit by another Venetian window on the return. This window was subsequently blocked up, although one wonders why this was necessary since the extension does not intrude on its space. Aforementioned extension had a kitchen in the basement and a dining room immediately above, and looks to have been added towards the end of the 18th century. The gardens behind presumably ran down to the river Tonet not far away, but to the west of the house and yard are the remains of a little rectangular folly, presumably a tea room (since it has a small basement where the servants could prepare refreshments) from which there would have been a charming view of Coolrain.






In his 1837 Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, Samuel Lewis lists Coolrain (then spelt ‘Cooleraine’) as being occupied by one T. Palmer. There were a number of Palmers living in Laois at the time, not least at Cuffsborough some eight miles to the south where the house has a similar doorcase (albeit set into a grander façade). Lewis notes that there were extensive flour and oatmeal mills in the adjacent village of Coolrain, so it may be that the occupants of the big house were involved in such a commercial enterprise. Later it was the residence of the Campion family who farmed the surrounding land until the death in 1921 of the last member to live there. Coolrain seems to have fallen into ruin subsequently, being too big and too hard to maintain for the average farmer. More recently some work was initiated on the outbuildings, but this appears to have been abandoned, and the house now stands in the middle of a field, the mystery of its origins and early history becoming ever-harder to discern.

Showing What Can be Done



Gloster, County Offaly has featured here before (see Spectacle as Drama, August 31st 2015) not least thanks to the exemplary and ongoing restoration programme being carried out there by the present owners. Their latest initiative has involved the very striking eye-catcher folly situated on high ground to the east of the house. Above are a couple of photographs showing how this looked until recently.



The Gloster folly is believed to date from the 1720s, making its construction some twenty years earlier than that of the better-known Conolly Folly in County Kildare. As with the main house here, the design is attributed to Sir Edward Lovett Pearce: his aunt had married Menhop Lloyd, owner of the Gloster estate and it was their son Trevor (first cousin of Pearce) who remodelled Gloster following his inheritance of the place. Rising some twenty feet high, the folly consists of a triumphal arch, flanked by obelisks on substantial plinths. Last year the whole site was cleared of vegetation before both the folly and its wing walls underwent full restoration, thereby ensuring its long-term survival and providing another example of what can be achieved in preserving our architectural heritage. Bravo to all concerned.


A Swift Exit


Jonathan Swift, Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin and author of sundry celebrated works including Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal, is associated with Fortgranite, a County Wicklow house, the contents of which are being sold tomorrow. The Swift family’s rise in fortune originated with an earlier cleric, the Rev Thomas Swift who in 1566 became vicar of St Andrew’s church in Canterbury, Kent and subsequently married the heiress daughter of the Bishop of Bath and Wells, Thomas Godwin. The latter was recalled in the first name of the Rev Thomas’ eldest great-grandson, Godwin Swift, a lawyer who after 1660 served as Attorney General to the Viceroy the Duke of Ormonde, and was duly rewarded for his service with an estate in County Kilkenny, Swifte’s Heath. One of Godwin Swift’s younger brothers, Jonathan, also moved to Ireland but died within a year, aged only 27. He left a pregnant wife who seven months later gave birth to a son, also called Jonathan, the future dean. He benefitted from the support of his uncle Godwin (who incidentally had fifteen sons and four daughters by four wives), and then from the latter’s son Willoughby (Jonathan Swift’s cousin) who paid for his education and secured employment as secretary with Sir William Temple. His later clerical and literary careers are well known. What has any of this to do with Rockgranite? In 1711, Godwin Swift’s grandson Thomas Swift married Frances Dennis, heiress of a timber merchant from Kinsale, County Cork: the couple had two sons, the Rev. Meade Swift-Dennis and John Swift-Dennis. In 1782, these two men were joint beneficiaries of the substantial estate left by their late uncle, James Dennis, former Chief Baron of the Exchequer and first (and last) Lord Tracton. The only condition was that they adopt the arms and name of Dennis. They duly did so, the Rev. Meade Dennis subsequently acquiring the Fortgranite estate which was left to his son Thomas Stratford Dennis. As the latter’s middle name indicates, he was related to the Stratford family, his grandmother being a daughter of the first Earl of Aldborough, a name that has been discussed here more than once (see in particular Splendours and Follies, September 30th 2013, A Thundering Disgrace, January 13th 2014 and A Thundering Disgrace No More?, February 27th 2017).






Fortgranite is a house originally dating from c.1730, although sections of the basement suggest that there might already have been a tower house on the site, a not-unusual circumstance. The house was built for one George Pendred, whose family may have been Cornish in origin. He married an heiress Cordelia Saunders, daughter of lawyer and politician Morley Saunders, who c.1716 built a splendid house in County Wicklow, Saunders Grove (burnt 1923). As elsewhere in this take, the son of George and Cordelia Pendred changed his surname to Saunders in order to benefit from a family legacy, and was called Morley Pendred Saunders. His daughter Delia married the Rev. Meade Swift (later Dennis) and in turn their eldest son Thomas Stratford Dennis married his cousin Katherine Saunders. Thus two generations of one family benefitted from marrying two generations of another. In turn Fortgranite appears to have gone through two remodellings in the 19th century, the first c.1810-15 following the marriage of Thomas Dennis to Katherine Saunders, the second undertaken by the couple’s eldest son Meade Dennis in the early 1870s, the last occasion when such enterprises were made before the onset of the Land Wars and consequent decline of Big House estates in the following decade. As a result of these two refurbishments, Fortgranite shows little evidence of its earlier manifestations, displaying the gravitas typical of a high-Victorian country house. Still, until recently the interior was filled with evidence of former eras, and of the diverse families who had both inherited the place and, through marriage and other connections, bequeathed items to it. All either now gone, or about to do so following tomorrow’s contents sale. With them are dispersed the collective links to Patrick Swift, to the Earls of Aldborough, to timber merchants of Cork and Anglican clergy of Westmeath, to an entire history of Ireland’s gentry. All scattered, never to be brought together again.



For further information on tomorrow’s sale at Fortgranite, County Wicklow, see https://fonsiemealy.ie

Dirty Money


In the 1830s, William Drummond Delap of Monasterboice House, County Louth was paid £1,933 by the British government. The reason: he was being compensated for the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean colonies. Mr Delap, it transpires, had owned 96 slaves on two plantations in Jamaica. Slavery there, and on the other islands in the area, had been abolished in 1833, but such was the level of complaint about loss of revenue from former owners, not least those like Mr Delap who lived on the opposite side of the Atlantic, that four years later parliament passed the Slave Compensation Act, resulting in some £20 million being paid out.
Little work has been done in Ireland on the benefits enjoyed during the 17th and 18th centuries by some country house estate owners who were involved in plantations, although twelve years ago History Ireland published a highly informative article by Nini Rodgers on the subject of Irish links to the slave trade (see: https://www.historyireland.com/18th-19th-century-history/the-irish-and-the-atlantic-slave-trade). In England, and indeed in France too, much more research has been undertaken on the matter, not least at University College London’s Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership, where archival examination has discovered who were the beneficiaries: it has, for example, documented which country houses owe their existence, in part or whole, to money that came through slavery in the Caribbean. In 2013, the centre created a database of the individuals who were paid compensation when slavery was finally abolished, and it includes some 170 names of people in Ireland, not least William Dunlop Delap. His brother Colonel James Bogle Delap, a friend of George IV, received £4,960. Among the others, some are well-known, such as two members of the banking La Touche family (£6,865 between them) and Howe Peter Browne, second Marquess of Sligo (£5,425). However, by far the largest beneficiary was one Charles McGarel of Larne, County Antrim whose claim for 2,777 slaves on twelve different plantations led to his receiving no less than £135,076. (To explore the documentation relating to Ireland, see: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/search).





William Drummond Delap was a descendant of Hugh Dunlop who around 1600 moved from Ayrshire in Scotland to Sligo where he was involved in the wine trade. His son Robert moved to County Donegal, which is where successive generations of the family lived, their surname becoming corrupted to Delap. Robert Delap, born in 1754, graduated from Trinity College Dublin and was admitted to the Middle Temple before being called to the Irish bar in 1778. Two years before he had married Mary Ann Bogle, daughter of James Bogle of Castlefin, County Donegal. It was Mary Ann’s family, likewise of Scottish origin, which had plantation interests in Jamaica: the UCL Legacies of British Slave-ownership site lists 21 persons of that name. Evidently she acquired a substantial stake in these properties following her marriage: Robert Delap died at sea while returning from the Caribbean in 1782, leaving a widow with several young children including William Drummond who was then barely two years old. In 1805 he married Catherine, eldest daughter of William Foster, Bishop of Clogher and brother of John Foster, last Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. In 1811 John Foster described his niece’s husband as ‘a good man of business resident in London where he acted as a merchant and has a West India property of his own to look after.’ Around 1830 he decided to move to Co Louth, where many of his wife’s family owned land, and there he bought various parcels to create an estate of more than 1,200 acres on which he either built, or more likely enlarged, Monasterboice House. He also laid out elaborate terraced gardens and planted many specimen trees. On a rise south-west of the house he erected a folly, called Drummond Tower after his maternal grandmother who had helped to raise him after his father’s early death. In 1861 he resumed by licence the family’s original surname of Dunlop.





Not much appears to be known about the history of Monasterboice House, now a ruinous building. At its core looks to be a typical late-mediaeval tower house, which as was so often the case has been subject to various structural alterations but is still clearly distinct rising on the northern section of the site. To the south is what appears to be a late 18th/early 19th century residence, of two storeys over basement, three bays with the centre one in the form of a substantial bow. The ground floor of this has glazed doors that once opened onto the terraced gardens and is flanked by Wyatt windows typical of the period. The house’s principal entrance lies on the west side, and was formerly approached by a long avenue. Perhaps to harmonise with the old tower house, this section was gothicised in the Tudoresque manner with arched windows and a large porte-cochere in front of a castellated porch. The back of the house opens to two large yards beyond which was the walled garden. It looks as though the building was developed in three sections, first the tower house, then the villa and finally a Tudor-Gothic expansion. In Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, he writes of Monasterboice House that ‘a spacious mansion is now being erected by the proprietor.’ Lewis’ work came out in 1837, just as compensation was being paid to former plantation owners, such as William Drummond Delap/Dunlop. A suspicion forms that the money he then received was used to improve his country residence. Future generations did not enjoy it for long: his son and heir Robert Foster Dunlop married a cousin, the Hon Anna Skeffington but the couple had no son and their daughters do not seem to have occupied the place. At the start of the last century, the estate built up by William Drummond Delap was divided up and while the Louth Archaeological and History Society Journal reported in 1945 that the house was ‘in a fair state of preservation’ that is certainly no longer the case.

Eventual Salvation


The entrance to Derrynane, County Kerry, ancestral home to Daniel O’Connell. It is interesting to read in Emer Crooke’s recently-published book on how country houses fared during the first decades after Independence* that when O’Connell’s descendants first offered the property to the state in 1945, this was declined. A letter from the Department of Finance written in October of that year argued that ‘in view of the uncertainty as to the purchase price, the capital expenditure involved in putting the house to rights and the large recurring expenditure entailed in maintenance the minister does not favour state acquisition.’ Responsibility for Derrynane was shortly after taken on by a private trust but it soon ran into difficulty and began appealing to the government for funds. When these were not forthcoming, the house was placed on the market but in 1963, after no buyer had been found, the state took on Derrynane which has ever since been managed by the Office of Public Works.


*White Elephants: The Country House and the State in Independent Ireland, 1922-73 by Emer Crooke (University College Dublin Press)

Institutionalised




The garden front of Garron Tower, County Antrim. Built at a cost of £4,000 over several years from 1848 onwards, the house sits on a plateau high above the sea and with views, on a clear day, across to Scotland. Intended as a summer residence, Garron Tower’s architect is thought to have been Lewis Vulliamy, his client being Frances Anne, Marchioness of Londonderry who had inherited land here from her mother, the second Countess of Antrim. It has been suggested that her intention was to own a property superior to Glenarm Castle, inherited by her aunt, which stands a few miles further south. Garron Tower’s austere exterior is not aided by the use of black basalt, but the original interiors were said to be luxurious. The property was little used after Lady Londonderry’s death and by the end of the 19th century was rented for use as a hotel. It was badly damaged by fire in 1914, the house was converted into a school in 1950 and now exudes a grimly institutional air.


Theory and Practice



One of James Gandon’s designs for the façade of Emo Court, County Laois. In the 1780s the architect was employed by enlightened patron John Dawson, first Earl of Portarlington to come up with plans for a new house on his country estate. This is one of Gandon’s proposals, and interesting to compare with Emo Court as eventually built. The process was devilled with setbacks, beginning with the Lord Portarlington’s unexpected death in 1798, by which time only the shell of the house had been constructed. It took more than sixty years, and the involvement of a number of other architects, before work on the building was finally completed. As a result and reflecting changes in taste, various alterations, external and internal, were made to the original scheme. Many of Gandon’s original drawings, plus those of his successors, are currently on display in the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin. Below is one of the Gandon proposals for the garden front, and a photograph of the same prospect today.


Stalled?


The Catholic Committee (sometimes called the Catholic Convention) was a body set up in 1757 to campaign for the repeal of the Penal Laws, and greater religious and political freedom for members of the Roman Catholic church. One of its founders was the antiquarian Charles O’Conor who lived in County Roscommon, and it is likely that as a result of his involvement other men in the same part of the country became involved with the committee. Hugh O’Beirne was among this number, a merchant based in Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim who eventually became sufficiently affluent that he was able to acquire several thousand acres of land and build himself a residence at Jamestown, County Leitrim. In late 1792 Theobald Wolfe Tone, then Assistant Secretary of the Catholic Committee, encountered Hugh O’Beirne at a gathering in Dublin and wrote, ‘Met “Met Mr. O’Beirne of Co Leitrim, a sensible man. . . says the common people are up in high spirits and anxious for the event. Bravo! Better to have the peasantry of one county than twenty members of Parliament.’





Hugh O’Beirne took the Oath of Allegiance to the United Irishmen but does not seem to have been penalized for his association with the society in the aftermath of 1798: in the years before his death in 1813, he was a Justice of the Peace for Roscommon. He was succeeded by his son Francis, likewise a J.P. and also Deputy Lieutenant for County Leitrim. In 1843 he enlarged the small Catholic chapel built by his father for the people of Jamestown; behind this Francis also erected a school and schoolmaster’s house. On his death in 1854, the estate – which at its height ran to over 7,500 acres in County Leitrim (and almost another 250 in neighbouring Roscommon) – passed to his son Hugh. His children seem to have been the last of the O’Beirnes to have lived in Jamestown, one son, likewise called Hugh, entered the British Diplomatic Service and along with Lord Kitchener drowned when the vessel they were on, HMS Hampshire, was sunk by a German U-boat off the Orkney coast in June 1916.





The house shown in today’s photographs, Tinny Park, County Roscommon, was until recently owned by a branch of the same family. It is believed to date from around the mid-19th century and is a typical gentleman farmer’s residence, complete with handsome yard to the rear. Of two storeys over basement with a central door approached via a short flight of stone steps, the interior conforms to the usual country house plan, albeit on a small scale: double doors to the rear of the two main reception rooms lead to smaller spaces, and the entrance hall is largely taken up by a staircase. Unoccupied for the previous ten years, Tinny Park was offered for sale for the first time in the summer of 2016, the price on just over six acres was a modest €250,000. It duly sold and, evidently, refurbishment work began, not all of it advantageous: old photographs show the exterior covered in render, all of which has been stripped away. This work now looks to have stalled and when visited last winter the house wore a forsaken appearance. One can only hope that restoration has since resumed (and that in due course the exterior will be correctly re-rendered).


Ghost House


I dwell in a lonely house I know
That vanished many a summer ago,
And left no trace but the cellar walls,
And a cellar in which the daylight falls
And the purple-stemmed wild raspberries grow.

O’er ruined fences the grape-vines shield
The woods come back to the mowing field;
The orchard tree has grown one copse
Of new wood and old where the woodpecker chops;
The footpath down to the well is healed.




I dwell with a strangely aching heart
In that vanished abode there far apart
On that disused and forgotten road
That has no dust-bath now for the toad.
Night comes; the black bats tumble and dart;

The whippoorwill is coming to shout
And hush and cluck and flutter about:
I hear him begin far enough away
Full many a time to say his say
Before he arrives to say it out.




It is under the small, dim, summer star.
I know not who these mute folk are
Who share the unlit place with me—
Those stones out under the low-limbed tree
Doubtless bear names that the mosses mar.

They are tireless folk, but slow and sad—
Though two, close-keeping, are lass and lad,—
With none among them that ever sings,
And yet, in view of how many things,
As sweet companions as might be had.


Ghost House by Robert Frost. 
Crossdrum Lower, County Meath – one of the houses featured in The Irish Aesthete: Ruins of Ireland (Cico Books), now available to order from your favourite local bookshop or online from Amazon…

Frieze It



Details of a frieze below the cornice in the drawing room of Newpark, County Sligo. The main part of the present house dates from the last quarter of the 18th century when it was built for the Duke family, which had originally settled in this part of the country in the early 1660s. Much of the decoration of the frieze is in typical late-rococo style, garlands of flowers and leaves scrolling across the surface, intermittently interrupted by urns. But references to the family occur, such as the shield featuring a chevron and three birds, and on another section a coronet from which rise three ostrich plumes. The coronet may be a pun on the Duke family name, but more likely represents the coat of arms of Lucinda Parke, wife of Robert Duke who was responsible for the construction of Newpark.