Then & Now


‘A little before dinner I got to Castle Ward. Lord Bangor received me with great cordiality, brought me into his room, and signed the address with great willingness. He also asked me to dine and stay all night. This was the greater compliment as his house was full of company and not quite finished…There was an elegant dinner, stewed trout at the head, chine of the beef at the foot, soup in the middle, a little pie in the middle of each side, and four trifling things in the corners, just as you saw at Mr Adderley’s. This is the style of all the dinners I have seen, and the second course of nine dishes made out much in the same way. The cloth was taken away, and then the fruit – a pine-apple (not good), a small plate of peaches, grapes and figs, (but a few) and the rest pears and apples. No plates or knives given about. We were served in queenware.
Our epergne, candlesticks, service of china, variety of fruit, substantial and well-dressed dinners and dining-room far exceed anything that I have seen since I came abroad, and so it is spoken of, for Miss Murray assured me in the most serious manner that both Sir Patrick and Fortescue had often declared that they never had anywhere in their lives met with so much entertainment, with a more convenient house, or more elegant living than at Castle Caldwell.’
Sir James Caldwell, writing to his wife, Monday, 12th October, 1772





‘August 11th, 1776. Reached Castle Caldwell at night, where Sir James Caldwell received me with a politeness and cordiality that will make me long remember it with pleasure…Nothing can be more beautiful than the approach to Castle Caldwell; the promontories of thick wood which shoot into Lough Erne, under the shade of a great ridge of mountains, have the finest effect imaginable; as soon as you are through the gates, turn to the left, about 200 yards to the edge of the hill, where the whole domain lies beneath the point of view. It is a promontory three miles long, projecting into the lake, a beautiful assemblage of wood and lawn, one end a thick shade, the other grass, scattered with trees and finished with wood…the house, almost obscured among the trees, seems a fit retreat from every care and anxiety of the world; a little beyond it the lawn, which is in front, shews its lively green among the deeper shades and over the neck of land, which joins it to the promontory of wood called Ross a goul, the lake seems to form a beautiful wood-locked bason, stretching its silver surface behind the stems of the single trees; beyond the whole, the mountainy rocks of Turaw give a magnificent finishing…Take my leave of Castle Caldwell, and with colours flying and his band of music playing, go on board his six-oared barge for Inniskilling; the heavens were favourable, and a clear sky and bright sun gave me the beauties of the lake in all their splendour.’
From Arthur Young’s Tour of Ireland 1776-1779





‘I travelled four hundred miles de suite without going to an inn. Amongst those who were most desirous of my calling upon them was Sir James Caldwell, of Castle Caldwell, on Lough Erne. One anecdote will give some idea of his character. The Marquis of Lansdowne, then Earl of Shelburne, being in Ireland, and intending to call on Sir James, he, with an hospitality truly Irish, thought of nothing night or day but how to devise some amusement to entertain his noble guest, and came home to breakfast one morning with prodigious eagerness to communicate a new idea to Lady  Caldwell. This was to summon together the hundred labourers he employed, and choose fifty that would best represent New Zealand savages, in order that he might form two fleets of boats on the Lough, one to represent Captain Cook and his men, the other a New Zealand chief at the head of his party in  canoes, and consulted her how it would be possible to get them dressed in an appropriate manner in time for Lord Shelburne’s arrival. Lady C, who had much more prudence than Sir James, reminded him that he had 200 acres of hay down, and the preparations he mentioned would occupy so much time that the whole would now stand a chance of being spoiled. All remonstrances were in vain. Tailors were pressed into his service from the surrounding country to vamp up, as well as time would permit, the crews of men and fleets. The prediction was fulfilled: the hay was spoiled, and what hurt Sir James much more, he received a letter from Lord S. to put off his coming till  his return from Kilkenny, and that uncertain.’
From The Autobiography of Arthur Young (published 1898)


Today’s photographs show the now-scant remains of Castle Caldwell, County Fermanagh. 

Prize Winning



This weekend, it is announced that the latest recipient of the Historic Houses of Ireland/O’Flynn Group Heritage Prize is Clonalis, County Roscommon. Today home to the 27th generation of the O’Conor family since their forebear was the last High King of Ireland in the 12th century, the present house at Clonalis dates from the late 1870s but occupies a site associated with the O’Conors for hundreds of years, and is filled with historic material linking them with significant events in this country. The library, for example, contains over 7,000 volumes and is one of the finest such collections in Ireland.
The Historic Houses of Ireland/O’Flynn Group Heritage Prize is an initiative devised by the Irish Aesthete to acknowledge the importance of our privately-owned heritage properties and to recognise the invaluable work by their owners. For this reason, the prize is being presented in association with Historic Houses of Ireland, a charity established in 2008 to promote the immediate and long-term future of the country’s privately owned historic properties. All HHI members are owners of such buildings and they understand better than anyone the sector’s particular problems, especially over the past year. Worth €5,000 and adjudicated by a small group of assessors, the prize is generously sponsored by the O’Flynn Group has already shown itself keenly aware of the importance of providing a viable future for historic buildings, as can be seen in the company’s own redevelopment of the early 19th century former barracks site in Ballincollig, County Cork. The Irish Aesthete congratulates Clonalis and its owners on being very worthy recipients of the prize. 


Quite Mad


Loughgall, County Armagh is an exceptionally handsome and well-preserved village, laid out in the 18th century by the Cope family, who were resident landlords. It comprises one long street lined on either side with residences other than at one point where an extraordinary set of gates and gate houses announce entry to the Cope estate. The family had come to this part of the country in 1611, after land here was either granted by the crown or purchased by Sir Anthony Cope of Oxfordshire. He passed the property onto one of his younger sons, also called Anthony but the latter then sold part of the estate called Drumilly to a brother, Richard Cope, so that there were two branches of the same family living adjacent to each other. Drumilly was an exceptionally long house, its facade running to 228 feet, and comprised a central, two storey-over-basement block linked to similarly scaled pavilions by lower, six-bay wings; when Maria Edgeworth visited in 1844, she thought it ‘one of the most beautiful places I think I ever saw.’ Not long afterwards, a vast conservatory with curved front was added to the entrance. In the middle of the last century, the house and land came into the ownership of the Ministry of Agriculture and Drumilly was used as a grain store, with the result that it fell into disrepair. A contents auction was held in 1960 and six years later, the building was demolished; the Belfast MP Roy Bradford described this as ‘a Philistine Act of the most heinous irresponsibility embarking on a reckless course of artistic nihilism.’ Today nothing remains of the place, meaning only Loughgall survives to represent the former presence of the Copes in the area. 





It is difficult, if not impossible, to miss the entrance to the Loughgall estate. The architect responsible is unknown, although the design has been attributed to William Murray who had spent many years working with Francis Johnston and succeeded as architect at the Board of Works. Over a period of 15 years, Murray was involved in the construction of nine district lunatic asylums and indeed, there is something a little mad about the Loughgall entrance. Set back from the road, it begins with sweeping, semi-circular stone balustrades sitting on top of polygonal rubble walling and topped with stocky urns. This is duly terminated by pairs of square piers on either side of the actual entrance, their form alternating prismatic and vermiculated bands before concluding in fleur-de-lys from which emerge fire-breathing dragons. The wrought-iron wicket and double-carriage gates are signed and dated ‘R.Marshall, Caledon 1842’ and above the latter once rose an overthrow at the centre of which hung a lantern; seemingly this was hit by a lorry in the 1960s and not restored. Beyond the gates are a pair of identical lodges, equally fanciful and looking like miniature Jacobethan mansions.  In fact, these L-shaped buildings are single-storey and only held two rooms: it didn’t help that so much space was given up to the porch supported by a tapering pier. Constructed of more polygonal rubble, the two most prominent walls have oriel windows below fanciful gables featuring a series of steps topped by finials: the apex finials originally had carved animals but these have since gone. Inside each gable can be seen the Cope quarterings and the motto ‘Equo adeste animo.’ All this work was undertaken by Arthur Cope in the years immediately prior to his death at the age of 30 in 1844, when the estate was inherited by a cousin, Robert Wright Cope Doolan, who duly changed his surname to Cope. 





From the gates, the drive runs straight, lined by limes and first dropping before rising sharply to Loughgall Manor. Designed by Dublin architect Frederick A Butler, this was built in the mid-1870s for Francis Robert Cope. After the flair of the entrance, the house is something of a disappointment, a relatively modest, two-storey Tudor revival block with only an irregular west-facing gabled facade providing any visual interest. Old photographs suggest that originally the building was not painted white but instead left with the cut stone exposed. At present, the bleak forecourt, devoid of grass or any planting, only adds to the disappointment. A gabled porch is fronted in sandstone and the hoodmoulded arch concludes in a pair of heads, one of which may represent the house’s then-owner (but if so, who is the woman, since he was unmarried at the time). The house and estate at Loughgall remained in private ownership until 1947 when it was sold by Field-Marshall Sir Gerald Templer, a descendant of the Copes. It was then bought, like Drumilly, by the Ministry of Agriculture, although in this instance the buildings were not demolished but are used as office space by a division of that body. 

A Labour of Love


Running to some 62 acres, Powerscourt, County Wicklow is unquestionably Ireland’s most famous – and most photographed – country house garden, but what can be seen here today is of relatively recent origin. The building around which it was created has origins in a medieval tower house constructed by the de la Poers, whence derives the site’s name. In the 1730s, this structure was encased in a large Palladian house designed for Richard Wingfield, first Viscount Powerscourt by the architect Richard Castle. But the surrounding landscape remained largely unadorned, the ground behind the building dropping down to a large, irregular stretch of water called Juggy’s Pond, beyond which the vista was closed by the distant Sugarloaf Mountain. Only in the 19th century did the scene begin to change, initially thanks to the sixth Viscount who in 1843 employed architect and landscape designer Daniel Robertson to produce plans that would divide the sloping ground into a series of Italianate terraces, supposedly inspired by those at the Villa Butera (now Trabia) in Sicily. In a book about the estate that he published in 1907, the seventh viscount remembered being brought from his schoolroom one October morning to lay the first stone of this scheme. He also recalled how Robertson, who was forever in debt, would periodically have to hide in one of Powerscourt’s domes when the Sheriff’s officers came to arrest him. As for the gardens, Robertson, who found himself better able to work after sufficient quantities of alcohol had been consumed, in consequence suffered from gout. As a result, he ‘used to be wheeled out on the Terrace in a wheelbarrow, with a bottle of sherry, and as long as that lasted he was able to design and direct the workmen, but when the sherry was finished, he collapsed and was incapable of working till the drunken fit evaporated.’ However, in 1844 the sixth viscount, who had travelled to Italy to buy vases and sculptures for the intended garden, died of consumption before reaching home. Work on the site stopped during his young heir’s minority and it was not until the latter had reached adulthood in 1858 and assumed responsibility for the estate that the garden once more began to receive attention. 





By the time the seventh Viscount Powerscourt started taking an active interest in the gardens of his country house, Daniel Robertson had died. However, the estate’s owner took a keen interest in finishing the incomplete job, visiting a number of key sites in Europe, such as the gardens at Versailles as well as those around the Schönbrunn Palace outside Vienna and the Schwetzingen Palace near Mannheim. He also consulted a number of landscape gardeners such as James Howe and William Brodrick Thomas. The second of these was also employed by Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace and Sandringham in Norfolk. In the end, however, it was largely Lord Powerscourt himself and his Scottish head gardener, Alexander Robertson (no relation of the previously mentioned Daniel) who drew up their own scheme. Robertson, described by his employer as a very clever man with ‘more taste than any man of his class that I ever saw’ died in 1860 but by then the main outlines of the project had been agreed, and work started, not least on creating the terraces, on which it seems 100 men laboured for ten years. Lord Powerscourt reported that one of the difficulties faced was that because the ground had once been part of a glacier moraine, water kept coming to the surface of the ground and threatening to wash away the work; Robertson proposed thatbefore anything else was done, holes be dug at the back of each terrace so that the water inside, on coming to the surface ‘should fall down through the holes into the next stratum and disappear. This was done and we had no more trouble.’ Similar feats of engineering had to be undertaken to transform what had hitherto been Juggy’s Pond into the basin seen today: inspired by Bernini’s Triton Fountain in Rome, it has a central jet which can reach 100 feet. Another key feature added during this period is the Perron, a terrace situated part of the way down the central walk to the basin, designed by the English architect and astronomer Francis Penrose. This was intended to offer a viewing platform to what lies beyond, but also to break the monotony of the descent. The Perron has elaborate geometric mosaic paving, finished in 1875 and made from different coloured pebbles collected on the nearby beach at Bray. Meanwhile, Lord Powerscourt had continued to add to the collection of statuary and urns begun by his father, buying old pieces and commissioning new ones: the pair of figures representing Victory and Fame were made for him in 1866 by Hugo Hagen in Berlin: the same sculptor was also responsible for the pegasi down by the basin’s edge.





Lord Powerscourt never stopped adding new features to the grounds of Powerscourt, which extend much further than is indicated here. It is said that he did so because for a long time he and his wife had no children, and he did not want to leave anything for his somewhat disreputable younger brother Lewis Wingfield (and then, after 16 years of marriage, Lady Powerscourt had five children in succession).  After he died in 1904, the family struggled to maintain the estate and eventually, in 1961 it was sold to the Slazenger family, which owns it still although, as is well known, the house was tragically gutted by fire in 1974. But the gardens remain much as they were during the seventh viscount’s time and draw large numbers of visitors. The pictures shown today were taken on a rare occasion when the grounds were entirely empty, allowing the Irish Aesthete to have the place to himself. In style, they are intended as a homage to those taken by Eugene Atget a century ago in the Parc de Saint-Cloud outside Paris. 

Greater than Buckingham Palace


In the second volume of his magisterial life of W.B. Yeats, Roy Foster records a visit made by the poet to Markree Castle, County Sligo in late summer 1929. The house was then owned by Bryan Cooper, sometime poet and playwright, and for the previous six years a T.D. in Dáil Éireann. According to Foster, the visit was not altogether a success. Peter Cooper, one of his host’s sons, remembered it as ‘a great nuisance…he was deposited by his long-suffering wife, with instructions not to let him go out in the wet grass in his slippers, and she then disappeared off to Galway with the children.’ Bryan Cooper’s daughter Ursula was, it appears, equally not impressed when Yeats read her a poem he had just written. On the other hand, Bryan Cooper’s wife Lillian was delighted to hear from the poet that he had ‘realised the ambition of my life…as we have always looked on the Coopers and Markree Castle as greater than the Royal Family and Buckingham Palace.’ 





The first of the Coopers to live in Ireland is said to have been an English soldier who married the famous Máire Rua O’Brien after her second husband Conor O’Brien of Leamaneh Castle, County Clare was killed in 1651. Eight years later, Charles II granted Cooper land in County Sligo which had previously belonged to the McDonagh clan; it was based around a fort guarding a pass on the river Unsin, and this remains the site of Markree Castle. At some point in the 18th century, a classical house was constructed here, of three storeys with a five-bay entrance front (with three-bay breakfront) and the garden side with a single bay on either side of a curved bow. However, in 1802 Joshua Cooper commissioned Francis Johnston to transform the building into a castle. At that time Markree was also greatly enlarged, what had been the main facade extended to more than twice its original length and centred on a curved and battlemented tower; this now become – as it remains – the garden front. The entrance was now moved to an adjacent side, to which Johnston added a porch, while elsewhere an office wing was constructed, joined to the rest by a canted link. Further changes were made by Joshua Cooper’s nephew and heir, Edward Joshua Cooper, a keen astronomer who built an observatory in the demesne. Inside the castle, London architect Joseph Gwilt transformed the office wing into a private gothic chapel. Gwilt was also responsible for redecorating the interiors of the rooms overlooking the garden, in what Mark Bence-Jones described as ‘an ornate Louis Quatorze style; with much gilding and well-fed putti in high relief supporting cartouches and trailing swags of flowers and fruits.’ (These spaces are now used as dining rooms). In the mid-1860s, the next generation to live here, Colonel Edward Henry Cooper, initiated further changes, this time employing James Maitland Wardrop who gave the exterior its present heavily fortified appearance. The entrance was moved once more with the construction of a vast porte – cochère (with billiard room directly above). Inside, a baronial stone staircase leads up to the reception rooms and here a second Imperial staircase in oak, lit by a great arched window filled with heraldic stained glass with portraits of members of the Cooper family and monarchs, leads to a top-lit gallery off which open the main bedrooms. Francis Johnston’s former entrance was turned into a long gallery divided by pairs of marble Ionic columns.





The history of Markree Castle for much of the last century was one of seemingly irreversible decline, personified by the fact that in 1988 it was used for the filming of a television series based on J.G. Farrell’s novel Troubles, and that same year its staircase hall featured on the cover of Vanishing Country Houses of Ireland. Until the last quarter of the 19th century, the castle had stood at the centre of an estate running to more than 42,000 acres, but most of this was sold by Bryan Cooper under the new land acts after he inherited the property from his grandfather in 1902. He then spent much of his time in Dublin, especially in later years so that Markree became only occupied during the summer months. When Bryan Cooper died in 1930, his eldest son Edward Francis Patrick Cooper was left the place; he and his family lived there until 1952 when it became impossible for them to maintain such a large house. As a result, many of the original contents were auctioned, and the Coopers moved into the old service wing, leaving the rest of the building empty. In the early 1980s, Markree was passed to the next generation but the eldest son, Edward, did not wish to live in the house, and eventually it was taken over by his younger brother Charles who had trained in hotel management and therefore decided to turn the castle, by now in very bad condition, into an hotel. He and his wife Mary embarked on a programme of restoration and ran the business until 2014 when, wishing to retire, they put Markree Castle on the market. The following year it was bought by the Corscadden family who already owned a number of other hotels located in historic properties and, after further refurbishment, the castle has been open to guests ever since.

Charmingly Quirky


In The Beauties of Ireland (1826), James Norris Brewer explains the name of Busherstown, County Offaly as follows: ‘Busherstown, the seat of the Minchin family, was originally called Bouchardstown, and formerly belonged to the de Mariscos. Bouchard de Marisco, from whom the name of this place is derived, left a daughter and heir, who married O’Carroll, of Clonlisk and Couloge…’ The accuracy of this tale might be open to question, since it seems hard to find any de Marisco with the first name Bouchard. There certainly were members of the family prominent in this part of the country, not least Geoffrey de Marisco, an ally of King John who in the first half of the 13th century was Justiciar of Ireland on several occasions: through his wife, Eva de Bermingham, he came to hold large swathes of land in this part of the country. 





Whatever the origins of its name, Busherstown appears to have originated as a tower house perhaps in the 16th century when it was held by the O’Carrolls: the space now serving as a dining room in the centre of the western side of the building was probably the tower house. For their part in the Confederate Wars of the 1640s, the O’Carrolls forfeited the property and in 1669 it was granted by the English government to Charles Minchin, a soldier who had risen to the rank of Colonel in the Parliamentary army. Shortly before his death in 1681, Colonel Minchin bought a second property not far away, Ballinakill Castle, County Tipperary which had also begun as a tower house, this time built by the Butlers. The Minchins sold Ballinakill in 1760 and it is now a ruin, but they remained at Busherstown until 1973. 





As mentioned, Busherstown appears to have originated as a tower house and at some date in the 18th century, perhaps following a fire in 1764, a new residence was added to the south end of the older building. This plain, three-bay, two-storey extension is clearly visible, the centre breakfront presumably once serving as an entrance; the room behind is much smaller than those on either side, indicating it was a hallway giving access to reception rooms. In the early 19th century, when the property was owned by George Minchin, further alterations to the property were made, not least the addition of a castellated entrance front, which was now moved to the west side. This features a round tower with hood mouldings at one end, and a bow-ended square tower at the other, the latter containing a porch through which one enters the building. Internally, little effort was made to continue the facade’s pseudo-Gothic decoration. What had probably been a dining room in the 18th century house was turned into a large hall, with the room behind it (formerly the entrance hall) becoming an ante chamber for the drawing room beyond. Behind this space is a curious wedge, thinner at the west than the east end, into which was inserted a staircase leading to bedrooms upstairs; a further extension beyond to the west leads gives access to a splendid stableyard. The quirky, provincial character of Busherstown means the house possesses an exceptional charm, helped by the mature and well-planted parkland in which it sits. After being sold by Richard Minchin in 1973, the property was owned by the Rudd family until they in turn disposed of Busherstown in 2011 after which it sat empty for some years until being bought more recently by the present owner who is gradually, and sympathetically, restoring the house.

Awaiting New Purpose



Dating from c.1800, here is an exceptionally handsome stableyard at Ballykilcavan, County Laois. The land here was bought by Oliver Walsh in 1639 and through 13 generations has belonged to his descendants, in various incarnations, ever since. Some years ago, the present owner cleverly converted the adjacent farmyard into a  brewery, using barley grown on the land and water from the estate’s well, to make a number of fine beers. No doubt in due course a new purpose will be similarly found for the stableyard buildings.


Worth Emulating


Eighteen years ago this week, the contents of Lissadell, County Sligo were sold at auction by Christie’s. The house was once family home to Constance Gore-Booth (otherwise known as Countess Markievicz), a key participants in the Easter Rising, the first woman to be elected to the Westminster Parliament (although she declined to take her seat there), and subsequently the first woman in the world to hold a cabinet position, an intimate of W.B. Yeats and many other notable figures in Ireland’s cultural revolution at the start of the last century. Understandably, therefore, news that both the building and its contents were to be sold met with widespread dismay, and hopes were expressed that the state might intervene to save this part of the national heritage. However, as so often before and since, no such intervention occurred and the sale took place. Thankfully, the new owners of the Lissadell estate succeeded in buying back at least some of the items offered at auction, and they remain in the house, but much was lost, unlikely ever to return. 







Lissadell is a large and somewhat austere building, designed by the architect Francis Goodwin in 1831 for Sir Robert Gore-Booth, whose family had lived in the area since the early 17th century. There had been an earlier residence closer to the Atlantic shoreline, but this was demolished when the new house was built. Lissadell’s pared-back Greek-Revival style reflects not just its owner’s taste, but also his budget: he may well have preferred something more opulent but lacked the necessary funds. When Goodwin published Domestic Architecture (1833-4) he featured Lissadell and noted that the house ‘has been erected for less than the estimate, by a considerable sum.’ In a footnote to the text, he observed how, ‘in altering the original designs, with a view of reducing the expense to a comparatively moderate sum, considering the extent and accommodation of the building, the author has been much indebted to the judicious hints of Sir R. G. Booth himself.’ In other words, the client told his architect to cut back on costs. Of two storeys over basement, Lissadell’s exterior is constructed in crisp Ballysadare limestone, with each side of the house different, although both those facing east and west have projecting bays at either end. What might be described as the garden front has a three-bay full-height bow, topped with a parapet that rises above those on either side, while the entrance front is notable for a towering three bay projection that serves as a porte-cochère. The interior of the building is decorated in what might be described as an early example of minimalism, beginning with the double-height entrance hall with Doric columns on the ground floor and Ionic columns above, accessed via an Imperial staircase in Kilkenny marble. A similarly substantial, apse-ended and top-lit gallery likewise exudes a sense of severe grandiosity,  with Doric pilasters on one side and Ionic columns on the other. Sir Robert’s desire to save money where possible led him to introduce what was then something of a technological innovation: gas lighting. A local report from the 1830s recorded that this saved the house’s owner £60 or £70 annually. Seven of these lacquered brass gasoliers made for Lissadell were almost lost when the 2003 sale took place, but thanks to legal action taken by An Taisce (which argued the items were furniture and fittings integral to the building) they remain in situ, together with the gallery’s George III chamber organ which was also originally due to be auctioned. 







One of the key losses from Lissadell at the time of the November 2003 sale was the collection of furniture specifically commissioned by Sir Robert for his new residence. Dating from the 1830s, these pieces were representative of taste in Ireland at the time and were believed to have been made by the successful Dublin firm of Williams & Gibton. Until the auction, Lissadell was the only house in Ireland to retain its original furniture by this company, so their dispersal was much to be regretted. Their 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. Bidding against other potential purchasers, Lissadell’s new owners managed to buy 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 tell the history of a building, and when they are gone, part of that history disappears forever. Thankfully, since acquiring Lissadell, the present owners have undertaken a huge amount of work, not only to restore the house but also to reinstate its distinctive character. They have done so using their own financial resources, and despite setbacks that might have deterred anyone else. In 2008, for example, Sligo County Council embarked on a court case over public rights of way across the estate, a case which the local authority ultimately lost but only after spending millions of euro from the public purse. There is, of course, more to be done but Lissadell today is a model of private enterprise in the field of Ireland’s cultural heritage, one that one must hope some of the country’s more wealthy citizens might care to emulate. 

Visiting the Shrine



Readers from outside Ireland may not be familiar with Patrick Pearse, one of the key figures in the Easter Rising of 1916, the aftermath of which led to the War of Independence. Born in Dublin in 1879, from an early age Pearse was an ardent advocate for Irish freedom, and arising from this he became what might be described as a cultural nationalist, believing that the Irish language, its preservation and promulgation, were an integral part of ensuring this country’s identity. Although he qualified as a barrister, he soon found a more natural outlet for his beliefs in education, recognising – as had the Jesuit order before him – that the best way to spread his ideas was in the classroom. He also thought the existing education system, imported from England, extremely damaging for the development of the young, calling it ‘the murder machine.’ So, in 1908 he bought an 18th century property called Cullenswood House for £370. Located in the Dublin suburb of Ranelagh, Pearse wrote of the property, ‘It is a pleasant thing to be houses in one of the noble old Georgian mansions of Dublin, with an old garden full of fruit-trees under out windows and a hedgerow of old elms, sycamores and beeches as the distant boundary of our playing field.’ Here he now opened a bi-lingual secondary school for boys, St Enda’s (Scoil Éanna) which, despite his lack of business and managerial acumen, flourished. So much so that after two years, he decided the time had come to move to larger premises and to this end in 1910 he bought another Georgian building further removed from the city and surrounded by more land. This was the Hermitage in Rathfarnham. 





The Hermitage dates from the last quarter of the 18th century when it was built as a country retreat by Dublin dentist Edward Hudson. Dr Hudson has featured here before, since he was also responsible for developing the core of what is now Glenville Park, County Cork (see A Life’s Work in Ireland « The Irish Aesthete). Evidently, although his profession was then in its infancy, dentistry paid well because this particular practitioner had a house in the centre of Dublin as well. In April 1786 he bought from Thomas Conolly of Castletown, County Kildare a piece of land in Rathfarnham hitherto known as the Fields of Odin. Dr Hudson’s romantically-tinged antiquarian interests, fashionable at the time, are reflected in a number of follies he erected in the landscaped grounds of the house, including a rusticated Druid’s Cave and a Gothic watchtower. There is, however, nothing romantic about the house itself, which was designed – by an unknown architect – in the severest neo-classical style and all encased in crisp granite. Of three storeys over basement, the facade is dominated by four giant tetrastyle Doric columns supporting a portico, and approached by a flight of steps. There is absolutely no extraneous detailing permitted, everything is kept to a minimum. Inside the house, none of the main block’s reception rooms is especially large, and once again the decoration is austere with little surface ornament anywhere other than a pair of plaster pilasters topped by urns in what was formerly the study. The varying style of chimneypieces throughout the house reflect the fact that it changed hands on a number of occasions in the 19th century. There are larger spaces to the rear of the building, including a dormitory which appears to have been added soon after the Hermitage was acquired by Pearse and may have been designed by part-time architect Joseph Holloway. A corridor to one side of this room, via a flight of steps, to the biggest space in the house, used while it was a school as a study hall. When this was constructed is unclear: a single-storey extension to one side of the house, it looks as though originally serving as a ballroom, but surprisingly – given the significance of the property in Irish history – information on the architectural  evolution of the Hermitage appears relatively scant. 





As previously mentioned, in 1910 Pearse moved to the Hermitage, now renamed, like its predecessor, St Enda’s. Here he lived with members of his family, not least his younger brother William, a rather under-appreciated sculptor. Unfortunately, the new St Enda’s did not emulate the success of the earlier school, being too far from the city centre for many day pupils, while not enough boys were registered as boarders. In addition, Pearse decided to turn Cullenswood House, his previous premises, into an equivalent girls’ school, called St Ita’s; this only lasted a couple of years before closing in 1912. As a result of its founder’s idealism outstripping his practical skills, St Enda’s thereafter constantly teetered on the brink of financial disaster. It did not help that during this period, Pearse became increasingly involved with the Irish Republican Brotherhood, leaving him less time with managing the school. Somehow, it continued until the Easter Rising – in which a large number of former pupils participated – after which, and following the execution of both Patrick and William Pearse, St Enda’s closed. However, later that year it reopened back in Cullenswood House and then, thanks to financial support particularly from the United States, returned to Rathfarnham in 1919, with the building subsequently bought on behalf of the Pearse brothers’ mother, Margaret. After her death in 1932, the school continued to operate for another three years but then closed for good, although Mrs Pearse’s daughter, also called Margaret, remained living on the site until her death in 1968 when the building and grounds were bequeathed to the state. Open to the public, today St Enda’s is a shrine to the memory of Patrick Pearse.