Bloomville, County Offaly is a particularly charming late 18th century gentleman farmer’s residence, of two storeys and five bays with a somewhat anachronistic Gibbsian door at its centre. The original block is just one room deep but a three-bay extension to the rear provides additional accommodation, as do single storey wings on either side: that to the east contains a drawing room with generous bow window and conical roof.
Twenty years ago this week, the contents of Lissadell, County Sligo were offered for sale at auction. The importance of accumulated house contents is insufficiently appreciated in this country. Often spanning hundreds of years of occupation by the same family, they represent changes in taste, and in affluence, not just of a particular property’s owners, but of the entire country. They inform our knowledge of Ireland’s history through both good times and bad, and provide enlightenment about how our forebears, of whatever status, lived. Accordingly, their dispersal represents the dissipation of knowledge, leaving us all less well-informed and thereby poorer. In the case of Lissadell, the house, and its predecessor, had been home to generations of the same family, among whom was the revolutionary politician Constance Markievicz. Her association with the building, along with that of many other distinguished figures in Irish history, led to a widespread public campaign for the property and surrounding estate to be bought by the state. As has been so often the case, before and since, this did not happen, and accordingly Lissadell’s contents were auctioned. One of the key losses from this event was a collection of furniture specifically commissioned by an earlier owner, Sir Robert Gore-Booth, for the house. Dating from the 1830s, these pieces were representative of taste in Ireland at the time and were believed to have been made by the Dublin firm of Williams & Gibton. Until the auction, Lissadell was the only house in Ireland to retain its original furniture by this company, so the dispersal was much to be regretted. The items’ importance can be gauged by the fact that most of the lots exceeded their estimates: a rosewood writing table, for example, which was expected to make €8,000-€10,000, fetched €19,000. In the dining room, a set of 17 mahogany chairs (€12,000-€18,000) fetched €22,000 and the dining table itself (€30,000-€50,000) went for €65,000. Forced to bid against other potential purchasers, Lissadell’s new private owners managed to acquire some pieces, such as a pair of handsome mahogany Grecian-style bookcases clearly inspired by the work of Thomas Hope and, again in the dining room, a sturdy mahogany sideboard. But many of the contents, first installed some 170 years earlier, now left for good and not just the Williams & Gibton furniture. There were, for example, a number of fine 17th century Italian baroque paintings, many in spectacular gilt frames, which had been acquired for the rooms by Sir Robert Gore-Booth. And then there were all the miscellaneous objects that build up in any house over generations, from sets of copper jelly moulds to discarded furnishings such as old curtains. These, as much as the more valuable pieces, are what inform the history of a building, and when they are gone, part of that history disappears forever.
In Ireland, it has long been apparent that if the remaining number of historic houses and contents are to survive, then a coherent strategy to secure their future needs to be considered. The first attempt to devise such a strategy occurred back in 1985 when a body called the Irish Historic Properties Commission, established three years earlier, produced a report written by the late Kevin B Nolan and Lewis Clohessy and called Safeguarding Historic Houses. This clearly stated that ‘our heritage historic properties cannot be preserved without the active and consistent support of the Irish Government.’ Eight years later, in 1993 the Irish Georgian Society and another body since gone, Irish Heritage Properties, held a conference on the future of the Irish country house, subsequently publishing a report on its proceedings. This makes for melancholy reading, since so many of the problems then highlighted remain to the present day, not least the want of sufficient support from central and local government. Ten years later again, Professor Terence Dooley of Maynooth University, at the request of the Irish Georgian Society and the Dept of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, produced a report, A Future for Irish Historic Houses? A Study of Fifty Houses. A year later, the same government department invited Indecon International Consultants to produce an Examination of the Issue of Trust-type Organisations to Manage Heritage Properties in Ireland. Most recently, in 2015 the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in collaboration with Irish Historic Houses Association after extensive consultation with a wide variety of interested parties and stakeholders, issued an Action Plan for the Sustainable Future of the Irish Historic House in Private Ownership, a document which was duly approved by the Irish cabinet and appeared in 2016. In other words, no one can complain that the challenges facing the Irish country house and the retention of its contents have been insufficiently examined and analysed. Produced over a period of almost 40 years, these and other documents have constantly made the same point: that houses in private ownership, if they are to have a viable future and hold onto their original furnishings, need assistance from central and local government, the kind of assistance that is available in other European countries but has consistently failed to materialise to any adequate extent in Ireland.
Outside observers often note with surprise that in Ireland there is no equivalent of the National Trust which operates on the other side of the Irish Sea and in Northern Ireland. An attempt was made to create such an equivalent with the establishment of the Irish Heritage Trust in 2006. The IHT was largely the brainchild of the Irish Georgian Society’s current president Sir David Davies. The original purpose of this organisation was that it would, like the National Trust, acquire for public access significant heritage properties deemed to be at risk and for which the State did not want to assume direct responsibility. This would ensure that the houses and their contents would remain intact and preserved for future generations. At the time of its establishment and in recognition of the potential significance of IHT’s work, the government of the time earmarked €35 million for the organisation over the duration of the National Development Plan 2007-2013. Accordingly the IHT entered into discussions with the owners of a number of properties judged to be most suitable for such an arrangement. At all times the relevant government department – for Environment, Heritage and Local Government as well as the Department of Finance – was briefed on developments at Anne’s Grove and in 2008 all relevant parties agreed the IHT would assume responsibility for its first estate thanks to an endowment fund of €5 million (drawn from its National Development Plan funding) and associated tax credits. Then in December 2008, the department’s minister wrote to the IHT advising that due to changing circumstances it would not be possible to provide the necessary support. The IHT has since successfully reinvented itself, but the fact remains that there is still no equivalent of the National Trust in Ireland, and historic properties, along with their contents, continue to be lost because of want of state support for their survival. Today’s photographs show the empty interiors of Howth Castle, sold in 2019 after being occupied for more than 800 years by the same family. The house’s remaining contents were dispersed at public auction two years ago in September 2021. Unless there is a change in state policy towards these properties, and towards the histories they contain, more such sales will occur in the years ahead. And we will continue to be the poorer.
In 1598, at the age of 18 Lettice FitzGerald married Sir Robert Digby, a Warwickshire landowner. Born in 1580, Lettice was the only child of Gerald FitzGerald, eldest son of the 11th Earl of Kildare. However, her father died around the time of her birth, leaving her, she would claim, as heir general to the great FitzGerald estates. Her cousin, who had become 14th Earl of Kildare, begged to differ and so in 1602 Lettice and her husband embarked on a long and costly law suit – the Jacobean equivalent of Jarndyce v Jarndyce – in pursuit of her entitlements. During the course of a legal battle that lasted almost two decades, they were able to prove that the will of Lettice’s grandfather had been fraudulently altered after his death in order to disinherit her, but still the fight continued. Eventually, in 1619 King James I, while rejecting Lettice’s claim to be the 11th Earl’s heir general, granted her and her heirs the manor of Geashill, comprising some 30,000 acres in King’s County (now Offaly), thereby partitioning the FitzGerald patrimony. The following year, the king recognised Lettice as Baroness Offaly for life, on the understanding that after her death the title would revert to the Earls of Kildare.
At the centre of the Geashill estate lay a castle, originally erected in the late 12th or early 13th century by Maurice FitzGerald, second Baron Offaly. For a considerable period during the Middle Ages, this property had been in the hands of the O’Dempsey clan, but was back under the control of the FitzGeralds by the time Lettice was born. It is here that she chose to live following the death of her husband, Sir Robert Digby, in 1618 and the confirmation by the crown of her right to the estate soon afterwards. By then in her early 60s, Lettice was in residence at Geashill Castle at the onset of the Confederate Wars in 1641 and that found herself besieged by the O’Dempseys, to whom she was related. They offered her and her family safe passage if the castle was surrendered, otherwise it would be burnt down. In the face of this threat, she replied ‘Being free from offending His Majesty, or doing wrong to any of you, I will live and die innocently, and will do my best to defend my own, leaving the issue to God.’ The siege was eventually lifted, but renewed the following spring when the attackers arrived with a make-shift cannon: it exploded at the first shot, as did a second attempt using the same device. Meanwhile, as Terry Clain notes in the Dictionary of Irish Biography, Lettice ‘affected an aristocratic sang-froid in the face of imminent peril.’ Eventually, in October 1642 she was persuaded by allies to leave the property and subsequently retired to live on her late husband’s property in Warwickshire, where she died in 1658. Geashill Castle and the surrounding estate was inherited by her grandson, the second Baron Digby (her eldest son having predeceased her), whose heirs continued to own the property until the last century.
At some date, perhaps as early as the 17th century, the Digbys built a new house to the immediate east of the old castle, part of which was most likely incorporated into the structure, where material from the abandoned building was probably also reused. The house appears to have been substantial but somewhat plain, of seven bays and two storeys, with a series of service extensions and yards further to the east. The south front had short projecting wings on either side of the central three bays creating a shallow forecourt. In 1860, Dublin architect James Rawson Carroll remodelled the house, adding a porch on the south side, a canted bay window on the ground floor of the north side and cambered arches over the windows on the west. The Digbys chose to live on their English estate, Sherborne Castle in Dorset, so the house at Geashill was occupied by a succession of agents who looked after the family’s Irish property; in the opening decades of the last century, the agent was Reginald Digby, a cousin of Lord Digby. In 1922, Mr Digby needed to go to London for an operation, but was unwilling to leave Geashill Castle unattended, aware that the place would be vulnerable to assault, this being at the height of the Civil War. However, eventually he was required to leave and on August 19th 1922, the building was attacked and burnt. Like other house owners whose property suffered in this way, the Digbys applied for compensation from the courts but because nobody was resident in Geashill Castle at the time, it was argued that the family was entitled to only minimal funding. In consequence, the house was not rebuilt but left as a ruin. Under the terms of the Wyndham Act of 1903, most of the ancient estate had already been sold to tenants and in 1926 the Land Commission took over the demesne, thereby ending a link with this part of the country that stretched back not just to plucky Lettice Digby in the 17th century but as far as the O’Dempseys in the 14th century.
Anyone who travels about Ireland cannot fail to notice the sheer number of vacant buildings which have been left to fall into dereliction and which are intermittently the subject of attention on this site. Sadly, such is the case with today’s property, Kilheffernan Cottage, County Tipperary.
This is a curious building in three parts and the challenge for anyone looking at the place is working out dates of construction for each member of the trio. To the left (westerly) is a two storey, three bay house with two deep windows, six over six panes, on the ground floor and a blank wall between them; marks on the exterior render suggest that there was once a door here providing access to the house. The building to the right (east) now has a steeply pitched corrugated iron roof but, it is proposed in buildingsofireland.ie, was originally thatched. Four pretty glazed doors with decorative overlights open to a large single room which, in turn, leads into the little link building, an entrance hall with coved ceiling and glazed porch to the front. As for the largest of the buildings, the ground floor contains two reception rooms as well as a kitchen and ancillary rooms to the rear. The most notable feature is the wooden spiral staircase that snakes up to the first floor bedrooms and bathrooms. Unfortunately, having been neglected for a long period, slates have been lost from the roof and the interior has suffered severe damage from water ingress; regrettably, all the chimneypieces have also been removed. There is a range of outbuildings to the rear of the property.
Tracing the history of Kilheffernan Cottage is something of a challenge. At least some of it must date from the 18th century. According to landedestates.ie, a Thomas Ryan, whose family had been resident in the area since the early 1700s, was proprietor of the place in 1814. Samuel Lewis likewise lists T. Ryan as being there in 1837 and by the time of Griffith’s Valuation a couple of decades later, Patrick Fennelly held the house – valued at £10 and 13 shillings – from Thomas Ryan. In 1922 the historian Maurice O’Connell, a descendant of Daniel O’Connell, was born at Kilheffernan Cottage where his parents were then living. In 2005, the year of Maurice O’Connell’s death, the place was offered for sale with 15 acres. Since then, it would appear to have sat empty and allowed to fall into its present condition. Inevitably, the house is included on the local authority’s list of protected structures.
Ireland’s Decade of Centenaries, marking the country’s ten years of transformation 1913-23 is now drawing to a close, but there are still opportunities for analysis and reflection about what happened during that period. On Saturday, October 7th the Irish Aesthete will be participating in County Tipperary’s annual Dromineer Nenagh Literary Festival (celebrating its own 20th anniversary), in conversation with poet Vona Groarke about some of the great houses which were burnt in the early 1920s, many of them never rebuilt and lost forever. One such was Ardfert, County Kerry, set on fire in August 1922. The photographs above show the building before and after the conflagration, while those below are images of the interior, including the panelled hall with its classical grisaille figures, and the splendid main staircase, all lost in that fire, after which the house was pulled down so that nothing survives as a memory of its existence.
For further information about this event and others in the Dromineer Nenagh Literary Festival, please see: Left without a Handkerchief – dnlf
Follies of all varieties have featured here in the past, but one genre is especially interesting: the building designed to look older than was actually the case. In Ireland, some of the earliest examples of this style, in the form of faux-antique rusticated buildings, can be found at Tollymore Park, County Down (see Do the Wright Thing « The Irish Aesthete), the design of, or at least inspiration for, which came from Thomas Wright who visited the estate in September 1746. Wright is also credited with being responsible for the Rustic Arch at Belvedere, County Westmeath (see Very Mannered « The Irish Aesthete) which dates from around the same period as he was in this country. But the fashion for such structures lingered long after his departure, as is demonstrated by the gatelodge at Bracklyn, County Westmeath (see Refined Rusticity « The Irish Aesthete) where a shield above the bellcote arch bears the date 1821, although the building may have been constructed earlier. Nevertheless, it provides evidence that rusticity achieved nationwide popularity, with one fine example being found in County Laois.
The grotto at Ballyfin, County Laois probably dates from the third quarter of the 18th century, when the estate belonged to William Pole who lived there with his wife, Lady Sarah Moore. The couple were responsible for laying out the demesne in the newly-fashionable arcadian manner, not least by the addition of a large, man-made lake, close to which the grotto can be found. And like the lake, this structure was intended to look as though designed by nature, rather than a clever piece of artifice. The grotto lies below a mound on top of which once stood a long-since lost summer house, a suitable destination for a stroll from the main house. And while the latter would have demonstrated the civilised character of its owners, the grotto was, in parallel, intended to display their romantic sensibilities, influenced by Rousseau-esque notions of the noble savage. A roughly circular space in front of the little building is centred on a small pond, fed by a stream that trickles over stones down one side of the mound. The grotto occupies a generous portion of the circle, and takes the form of a primitive temple, with the substantial portico supported by large vertical boulders imitating columns, complete with uncut capitals. Beyond the portico are three openings, the middle one providing an entrance to the interior, one large room, the floor inlaid with pebbles around another circular pool. Above this rises the vaulted ceiling, a rustic version of that found in the Pantheon in Rome complete with central opening. In this instance, however, the view is not of open sky but of another giant stone seemingly hovering in space (although in fact it is supported by a number of other boulders not visible while inside the chamber). As already noted, the grotto at Ballyfin was envisaged to look as though nobody had been involved in its construction but instead had just happened, like a cave. But also highly popular during the same period were another kind of artificial building: the sham ruin.
The same romantic sensibility that led to the construction of Ballyfin’s grotto was also responsible for inspiring the ‘ruin’ seen at Killua Castle, County Westmeath. The castle is itself a sham, since when originally constructed by Sir Benjamin Chapman around 1784 this was a strictly classical house. It was Sir Benjamin’s brother and heir, Sir Thomas Chapman, who , after inheriting the estate in 1810 set about transforming the building into the castle seen today. However, perhaps he was inspired by work already undertaken within the demesne by his sibling. In 1800 Sir Benjamin had acquired some of the stonework from the medieval Franciscan friary at Multyfarnham, elsewhere in the same county, and used this to create a charming ‘ruin’ visible from the garden front of the house and occupying a mound overlooking the lake he had created some years earlier. He was by no means the only, or even the first, estate owner to recycle materials from another, older site. In the demesne at Heywood, County Laois Michael Frederick Trench had built an artificial ruined abbey, incorporating fine traceried windows said to be 15th century and to have been brought from the former Dominican friary at Aghaboe, some twelve miles away. The sham ruin at Killua is not intended to look like the remains of an old religious establishment (Sir Benjamin simultaneously employed other stonework to ‘embellish’ the old St. Lua’s Church, lying to the south-east of the demesne), but instead to suggest these were the surviving sections of an old castle or fortified residence. It comprises a two-storey, octagonal tower on octagonal plan with an adjacent wall constructed to look like the remains of a gable end of a building. Like the grotto at Ballyfin, it served no practical purpose other than to delight the eye and to provide a destination when residents of the main house and their guests undertook a walk. Thankfully in recent years both these follies have been restored by their respective owners so that they can continue to do the same today.
After last week’s tale of improvements at Brandondale, County Kilkenny (see A Good News Story « The Irish Aesthete), here is another cheering story of a young couple taking on a historic country property. As seen here, Edmondstown, County Roscommon is a large Victorian house dating from the 1860s. It was built to replace an earlier residence of the same name which lay a short distance away to the north-east. What the earlier Edmondstown looked like is unknown: William Wilson’s The Post-Chaise Companion or Travellers Directory through Ireland, published in 1786, simply refers to it as ‘the fine seat of Mr. Costello’. The earliest Ordnance Survey Map, produced just over half a century later, shows the house, range of outbuildings and adjacent walled garden: some ruinous sections of these still remain. Of Cambro-Norman origin and originally called de Angulo or Nangle, the Costello family had been living in this part of the country since at least the 16th century, but their main residence was at Castlemore, some five miles south-west of Edmondstown. However, by the late 18th century they had moved to the latter property and in the mid-19th century it was occupied by Thomas Strickland, agent to Viscount Dillon of Loughglynn (see Bleak House « The Irish Aesthete). After passing through successive hands, Castlemore was demolished in the 1960s and only some of the farm buildings still remain.
In the early 19th century, Edmondstown belonged to one Charles Edmund Costello who married as his second wife Dorcas Maria Daniell. Six months before Charles Costello’s death in June 1832, the couple had a son, Arthur Robert Gorges Costello, who would become a captain in the 7th Dragoon Guards and serve as a Justice of the Peace. In 1862 he offered for sale through the Landed Estates’ Court about 1,100 acres in the baronies of Gallen and Costello, County Mayo as well as some 1,050 acres in the parish of St Johns, Barony of Athlone, County Roscommon. It is worth pointing out that even after these sales he still owned 7,513 acres in County Mayo and 1,038 acres in County Roscommon. It may be that the sales of some of his estate provided the funds for Captain Costello to embark on building the new Edmondstown in 1864. Local legend has it that he undertook this project to impress his wife (or prospective wife) but she failed to be charmed and left him. A charming story, but in fact he never married and died in January 1891 at the age of 59. He was buried in the grounds of the former Dominican Priory of Urlaur, founded by his forbears in the 15th century, where the tombstone was inscribed ‘Arthur Robert Gorges Costello, last Dynast and Baron De Angulo.’ It appears that in the years prior to his death, Captain Costello had sold much of the estate to his tenants, the house, having been expected to cost £4,000-£5,000, having eventually required more than twice that sum to finish. And the year after he died, the building with surrounding demesne was bought by the Roman Catholic diocese of Achonry in 1892 for use as a diocesan college. However, a few years later, that institution moved into the nearby town of Ballaghaderreen and for a period Edmondstown sat empty. Then in 1911 the then-Bishop of Achonry Patrick Morrisroe occupied the building, as did his successors for the next century. In 2011 Edmondstown and surrounding 29 acres were offered for sale, the explanation being that the place ‘does not meet contemporary day-to-day living needs, does not provide suitable office space for the administration of the diocese and is isolated.’ Six years later it found new owners, a young couple who with their children live there now.
Edmondstown was designed by Dublin architect John McCurdy who had a distinguished career, one of his earliest works being the plan and internal arrangements of the Museum building at Trinity College Dublin (where he was official architect for some thirty years until his death in 1855), although he tends to be best-remembered for designing the Shelbourne Hotel on Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green. Constructed just a couple of years after Edmondstown, that building is altogether more restrained than Captain Costello’s new residence, a High Victorian interpretation of 15th century Italian Gothic. Of four bays and three storeys, despite appearances to the contrary, Edmondstown conforms to the standard country house model, this fact disguised by the multiplicity of towers and turrets, pinnacles and finials that adorn an exterior of snecked rubble limestone banded with red brick. Inset on the facade are a series of stone plaques, one of them above the entrance porch, attesting to the pedigree of the Costellos. Inside, the conformity is more apparent in the arrangement of reception rooms to left and right of the hall, which is separated from the staircase by a pine and glass screen, this inserted after the building had come into the hands of the Catholic church. According to the late Jeremy Williams, this intervention was the work of church decorator Joshua Clarke (father of the more famous stained glass designer Harry Clarke), who was presumably also responsible not just for the screen with its art nouveau glass, but also for the wall and ceiling decoration of the entrance hall and the more elaborate scheme of the coved ceiling above the staircase which features frescoes of the four evangelists. All this might have been lost, as was the case with so many other such properties, were it not for the energy and enthusiasm of the present owners who relish the opportunity to live at Edmondstown and share the place with visitors. We are all the beneficiaries of their commitment to the house. Would that there were still more of their kind throughout the country today.
Back in January 2017, the Irish Aesthete wrote about an abandoned property called Brandondale in County Kilkenny as follows: ‘The house dates from c.1800 when it was built by Peter Burtchaell whose family had come to Ireland in the middle of the 17th century. The Burchaells were involved in the linen industry which then thrived in this part of Ireland, and also seem to have acted as agents for the Agars, Lords Clifden, large landowners whose seat was Gowran Castle in the same county. Peter Burchaell married the heiress Catherine Rothe and her fortune duly passed into the family which would have provided the necessary money for building a house like Brandondale. In his Handbook for Ireland (1844) James Fraser wrote that the property, ‘occupying a fine site on the northern acclivities of Brandon hill, commands the town, the prolonged and lovely windings of the Barrow, the picturesque country on either side of its banks, and the whole of the Mount Leinster and Black Stairs range of mountains.’ The architecture of the house was that of a two-storey Regency villa, old photographs showing it distinguished by a covered veranda wrapping around the canted bow at the south-eastern end of the building which had views down to the river.’
‘The last of the Burtchaell line to live at Brandondale was Richard, who occupied the place until his death in 1903. He and his wife Sarah had no children and she remained on the property for the next twenty-nine years, struggling to make ends meet by taking in paying guests. After her death the house and remaining fifty acres were sold to the Belgian Baron Kervyn de Lettenhove who first resided there and then rented out the place before he in turn sold it. In the 1980s Brandondale was bought by an Englishman Walter Dominy who moved in with his family and established a printing business. After this failed, in 1993 Mr Dominy left a suicide note in his car while travelling on the Rosslare to Fishguard ferry: fifteen years later an English tabloid newspaper found him living in France. But meanwhile Brandondale changed hands yet again and at some point was subject to a spectacularly poor refurbishment which saw the Regency veranda removed and all the old fenestration replaced with uPVC. In recent years it was taken into receivership and offered for sale on 25 acres for just €150,000, an indication of the building’s atrocious condition (and also of a Compulsory Purchase Order from the local council on part of the land). The place has apparently been sold once more but still sits empty and deteriorating: it can only be a matter of time before Brandondale’s condition is judged so bad that, despite being listed for preservation, demolition is ordered. After which, no doubt, an application will be lodged for houses to be built on the land. A fait accompli.’ (A Fait Accompli « The Irish Aesthete)
That was then, this is now. Happily, the Irish Aesthete’s gloomy predictions of what would happen to Brandondale have proven incorrect. In fact, far from being demolished, the house was subsequently bought by a young couple who are gradually restoring the place as their time and funds allow, and who intend to live in the building as soon as possible. The salvation of Brandondale, rather like that of Cangort Park, County Offaly (see A Work in Progress « The Irish Aesthete) indicates that none of our architectural heritage is beyond salvation and that there are citizens here willing to take on the challenge of bringing such properties back to life. A good news story and one that deserves applause and support.
In the early 17th century, an English merchant, Gregory Hickman, settled in County Clare and acquired land in an area south of Ennis called Barntick. All seemed well until the outbreak of the Confederate Wars in the early 1640s when he found himself displaced. A deposition made by Hickman in 1642 states that he ‘was robbed of property worth £3,672. It consisted of cattle, sheep, horses, wool, furniture, and of the following farms held under leases for terms of years. Barntick, Cragforna, Drumcaran, Cragnanelly, Termon of Killinaboy, and Inchiquin.’ Hickman also lost the tithes of the parish of Dromcliff, and of debts owed to him by a large number of individuals. He went on to complain that goods belonging to him were ‘carried off by Conor O’Brien of Ballymacooda and by Richard and Mannagh O’Grady. Eighteen packs of his wool were taken away by Laurence Rice, and by another merchant, both of Ennis. Poultry, a side saddle, and furniture, were swept off by Boetius Clancy, by Shevane ny Hehir, wife of Loughlin Reagh O’Hehir of Cahermacon, by James McEncroe of Skagh-vic-Encro; Conor O’Brien of Leamaneh, aided by Mauria Roe his wife, by Melaghlan Oge O’Cashey, and by Conor O’Flanagan possessed themselves of fourteen English hogs and four hundred sheep his property. He states that his servant, Thomas Bacon, was murdered, and that another of his servants, named Joe Preston, was murdered at Clare, by Teige Lynch.’ Poor Mr Hickman then found himself directed hither and thither about the county, at one stage being directed by Murrough O’Brien, Baron Inchiquin ‘to proceed on board the ship “Dragon” to Kinsale, and to bring thence a quantity of tobacco, there lying useless, which he was to sell in the Shannon, and pay over the proceeds to the Baron to help to sustain his army.’ That expedition ended badly and he subsequently found himself stuck in Clonderalaw Castle while it was under siege. Eventually he managed to reach safety and to regain control of the lands at Barntick, passing these on to his eldest son Thomas who in 1661 built a new house for the family, commemorating this event with a date stone carrying the year and his initials, T.H. This date stone can now be seen – upside-down – acting as the door lintel for a building in the yard behind the main house.
Thomas Moland’s Survey of County Clare (1703) states that Barntick had on it ‘a good house, stable, barn and other out houses’. By that date, Thomas Hickman had been succeeded by his own eldest son, also called Thomas, and when the latter died in 1719, Barntick passed to the last of the family to live there, Colonel Robert Hickman, who represented Clare in the Irish House of Commons from 1745 until his death. The colonel’s estate ran to almost 3,000 acres, and he also held other property elsewhere in the county. All of this, however, was heavily mortgaged, so that when he died without an immediate heir in 1757, the entire Hickman lands were sold, Barntick being bought by George Peacocke, who already owned another substantial property, Grange, County Limerick. On his death in 1773, he was succeeded by his son Joseph, a Justice of the Peace and one time High Sheriff of Clare. In 1802, having supported the Act of Union, he was created a baronet and when he died ten years later, the estate was divided between his two sons Sir Nathaniel Peacocke, and the Reverend William Peacocke. But evidently this division was not successful, as by the 1820s the estate was put up for sale by the Court of Chancery. Barntick next belonged to Sir David Roche, an M.P. for Limerick, 1832-1844, who was created a Baronet in 1838. However, in 1855 the house, along with 238 acres, was recorded as being leased to John Lyons and later his family bought the property: his descendants live there still.
Barntick is thought to be the oldest continuously inhabited house in County Clare. The building is a deep square, the east-facing rendered facade of three storeys and three bays, its carved limestone entrance doorcase approached by a shallow flight of six stone steps. Inside, the front half of the house is divided into three almost equal spaces, comprising a hall with drawing room and dining room on either side. To the rear, a handsome staircase, lit by a single tall window on the return, leads to the bedroom floor. Here the space is divided by a thick central wall running north to south and with a barrel-vaulted ceiling, indicating the house’s early date of construction. The stairs then climb to the top of the building where the entire front is given over to a single room, at present in poor condition. Fortunately, the present generation of the family to own this house appreciates its importance and has begun to carry out essential structural repairs as funds become available. His work is to be thoroughly commended and it has to be hoped that all possible support will be provided by the relevant authorities, both local and national. Barntick is such a special place, and such a rare surviving example of domestic architecture from the post-Restoration period in Ireland, that its preservation ought to be regarded as a matter of considerable importance.
Avondale, County Wicklow is now irrevocably associated with its late-19th century owner, Charles Stewart Parnell – and anyone who visits the place cannot escape seeing his image across the house and grounds. Less well-known, however, and certainly not as well remembered, is the man who was responsible both for building the house and developing the estate that Parnell was eventually to inherit: Samuel Hayes. The latter was one of those extraordinary polymaths produced in the 18th century, acting among other roles as a lawyer, politician, amateur architect and antiquarian, and ardent dendrologist. In addition, during a relatively short life (he was only 52 when he died), Hayes served as sheriff and joint governor of County Wicklow, was a colonel in the Wicklow Foresters and subsequently lieutenant-colonel in the Wicklow militia in addition to being a governor of the Foundling Hospital and Workhouse and a commissioner of stamps. And, it is worth mentioning, he was a member of the Royal Irish Academy’s committee of antiquities and in 1792 became a member of the Dublin Society committee responsible for choosing a suitable spot on which to establish a Botanic Garden (eventually, the site in Glasnevin on the outskirts of Dublin was selected).
Samuel Hayes was born in 1743, the son of John Hayes who lived on a 4,500 acre estate in Wicklow called Hayesville: after inheriting the place following his father’s death, he changed the name to Avondale, since the river Avonmore runs through the grounds. As well as its associations with Parnell, Avondale is renowned for the outstanding collection of trees found throughout the grounds, the origin of which is due to Hayes. In 1768 he was awarded a gold medal by the (Royal) Dublin Society – of which he would be an active member over several decades, sitting on its committee of agriculture – for the planting of 2,550 beech trees on his estate. Thereafter, he continued to cultivate a wide variety of trees and in 1794, the year before his death, he published A practical treatise on planting and the management of woods and coppices. Based on a lifetime’s experience – Hayes noted that while he drew on the knowledge of other men, the work primarily reflected ‘my own experience, founded on considerable practice’ – this was the first-such work produced in Ireland . As its title indicates, the book was intended to be a practical guide for other landowners who wished to follow his example, and offered advice on how best to plant and manage trees, not least for the production of timber. It included seventeen engravings executed by Dublin artist William Esdall, although the originals may have been drawn by Hayes who, in addition to all his other skills, was a talented draughtsman. Even during his lifetime, the improvements carried out at Avondale had received widespread acknowledgement. Writing in The Post-Chaise Companion or Traveller’s Directory through Ireland (published 1786), William Wilson noted, that the estate ‘may justly claim the traveller’s attention, both from its fine natural situation, and the great pains and cxpense the owner has been at to dress and improve it to the perfection it has now attained. It is proudly situated on the banks of the Avonmore, which name, signifying “The great winding dream,” corresponds most happily with its character; the banks continually forming the finest waving lines, either covered with close coppice wood, or with scattered oak and ash of considerable growth ; the ground, in some places, smooth meadow or pasturc, and, in others, rising into romantic cliffs and craggy precipices. The domain of Avondale enjoys this diversity of scenery in the highest perfection.’
Hayes’s interest in architecture has already been mentioned. An amateur practitioner, he sat on the committee responsible for the extension of the Irish House of Commons, for which drawings were prepared in 1786 by James Gandon: Hayes wrote to the latter, declaring that ‘Except the windows, the building is finished exactly after my first sketch…a design as much as possible in the manner of Sir William Piers[sic] and Mr Burgh, a kinsman of mine and of the Speaker’s, who were both concerned in the façade to College-green, and for which reason among others, I wished to have the western front as much as possible in the same style.’ How much of the eventual design can be attributed to Hayes is open to speculation, but he was certainly responsible for the market house still seen in the centre of Monaghan town and commissioned in 1792 by General Robert Cuninghame, future first Lord Rossmore. Hayes is also thought to have had a hand in the house at Avondale, which dates from 1779 and for which he is believed to have commissioned designs from James Wyatt. Certainly, many elements of the house are in the Wyatt style, not least the insertion of Coade panels into what is otherwise a severe, rendered exterior, the rear of which is similarly relieved by a substantial full-length bow. Inside, the entrance hall, its decoration a whimsical mix of the classical and Gothick, is double-height, with a gallery on the first-floor providing light onto a bedroom passage. Many of the other reception rooms appear to have undergone later alteration but the dining room has elaborate neo-classical plasterwork in the Wyatt style. When Hayes died in 1795 he left no direct heir and therefore bequeathed the Avondale estate to a cousin, Sir John Parnell, with a stipulation that it should subsequently pass to a younger son. In due course Avondale was inherited by the youngest of Sir John’s children, William who changed his surname to Parnell-Hayes; in due course, one of his grandsons, Charles Stewart Parnell, came to own the estate. In 1904, some years after his death, Avondale was purchased by the state and became a forestry school. Today, the place is owned and managed by Coillte, the state-owned commercial forestry company, with the house open to the public.