The only remaining evidence of Ashfort, County Roscommon: its entrance gates, beyond which it is best not to venture. The estate formerly belonged to the Waldron family whose residence stood on raised ground behind the trees to the right. It was long-since demolished, and the lodge here is now used to house animal feed. Sic transit…
In 1739 an Anglican clergyman called William Henry wrote a descriptive account of the area around Ulster’s Upper Lough Erne in which he mentioned that a river (which he calls ‘of Ballyhaise’ but which is now known as the Annalee) ‘ murmurs by Rathkenny, the seat of the Clements’ family. Here the river is beautified by an elegant house, improvements and large plantations on the southern shore, and on its northern bank by extensive gardens and terraces.’ It appears that Daniel Clements, originally from Warwickshire, came to Ireland in the 1640s as a soldier and by 1657 was in possession of the estate of almost 2,000 acres at Rathkenny, County Cavan which remained in the possession of his descendants (whose name in the 19th century became Lucas-Clements) until sold just a few years ago. His son Robert succeeded to the property in 1680 and remained there until his own death in 1722. One of Robert’s sons was Nathaniel, of whom mention has been made here before (see A Man of Taste and Influence, August 3rd 2015).
The Clements family would seem to have built a house for themselves on the south bank of the river which bisected their property. Nothing is known of the appearance or character of this building since it was demolished, likely around the late 1820s when work began on a new residence. This neo-classical block was designed by William Farrell who was the architect for a number of other such places in the vicinity. A sunken lawn to the immediate east appears to indicate where was the previous house but directly across the river is a survivor from the earlier property: a terraced walled garden. Today this is approached by a narrow concrete bridge but presumably something more elegant once offered access, since the garden itself is rather splendid. Cut limestone walls support banks on either side of limestone gate piers: paths to the immediate left and right lead to enclosing red brick walls which, on the river frontage, conclude in tall piers topped with urns. A gate to the east leads beyond the wall to the remains of a small pavilion built on the water’s edge; only one wall of this remains with a gothic arched window at its centre. One has a sense of what this little building must have been like since at the top and centre of the main terraces (supported by a sequence of low brick walls) is a summer house. Flanked by quadrant walls it is in the gothick style, constructed of brick with stone quoins, a battlemented parapet and arched windows on each side of the door. Inside is a single high-ceilinged room which once had further windows, since blocked up, and a chimneypiece which has gone. To the rear of the building there is access to another room below: one imagines this was used by servants looking after the needs of those upstairs.
Relatively little is known of the history of the walled garden at Rathkenny: Lucas-Clements lore proposed that it dated to 1695, which means construction soon after Robert Clements returned from England (he had been attainted by James II’s parliament in 1689 and fled to England) and around the time he became high sheriff of County Cavan. Nothing like it survives in this part of the country, but evidently at one point it was not the only such terraced garden. In 1739 the aforementioned Rev. Henry wrote of Ballyhaise, some nine miles to the west, ‘‘This seat, for beauty and magnificence, may vie with any in Ireland. There is an ascent to it by several terraces from the river, which are adorned with ponds, jets d’eau, fruit and flowers.’ Designed for Colonel Brockhill Newburgh, probably in the third decade of the 18th century, and attributed to Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, the main house at Ballyhaise is of red brick with cut stone dressings: with later additions the building survives although the river-fronting terraced gardens are long gone (for more on Ballyhaise, see Made to Last For Ever, March 9th 2015). Then barely three miles to the east of Rathkenny is Bellamont Forest (La Belle au Bois Dormant, January 21st 2013), another red-brick and stone house almost certainly designed by Pearce, and then a few miles further north again are the remains of the former early 18th century stables at Dartrey, County Monaghan (Now Unstable, October 1st 2014), once more employing the same materials. One has the impression that even if the same architect was not involved in all these neighbouring estates, the same spirit was at work, and the same influences and tastes being shared. More research remains to be done in this area but meanwhile the terraced gardens at Rathkenny are a rare survivor from the early Georgian period. Thankfully the property’s new owner appreciates their significance and is ensuring that they will continue to offer us an insight into early 18th century horticultural design.
What remains of The Grange, County Limerick. Dating from the second half of the 18th century, it was described by William Wilson in 1786 as ‘the beautiful and well improved seat of Standish O’Grady.’ The property remained with the O’Gradys until that branch of the family died out in 1861 after which it passed to the Crokers, to whom they were related by marriage. But Captain Edward Croker likewise had no heirs and The Grange was inherited by his two sisters. The house was still intact in the 1940s but thereafter began to deteriorate and is now just a shell. The 19th century entrance gates give an idea how this beautiful and well improved seat must once have looked.
A fortnight ago the BBC reported that the Department of Agriculture in Northern Ireland had spent almost £400,000 maintaining an equestrian centre in County Fermanagh that it stopped using four years ago. ‘The Necarne Estate in Irvinestown has been lying empty since equine courses were moved to Enniskillen. In 2012, the department said Necarne had become surplus to its requirements. But it had signed a 25-year lease for £500,000 that runs until 2023 without an early opt-out clause.’ At the centre of this property, which runs to 228 acres, are the remains of a residence called Castle Irvine.
Castle Irvine, sometimes known as Necarne Castle, was originally built around 1618-19 by a Scottish settler called Gerard Lowther: given the uneasy times, the four-storey rectangular building was defensive in appearance, with walls seventeen feet thick and two towers to the rear. The castle and surrounding lands were subsequently acquired by another Scottish settler Christopher Irvine whose descendants remained there until the last century. In 1788 Major Gorges Irvine married the Meath-born heiress Elizabeth D’Arcy, after which the family was known as D’Arcy-Irvine. Thanks to this injection of money, the castle underwent a major overhaul in the first half of the 1830s, the architect responsible being John Benjamin Keane, former assistant to Sir Richard Morrison. Perhaps for this reason the appearance of Castle Irvine bears some similarities to that of Borris, County Carlow which had been revamped some years earlier by Morrison in the same Tudor-Gothic idiom. A new range was added in front of the old castle, of five bays with an arcaded central porch and octagonal turrets at the corners. Further towers and crenellations were scattered liberally elsewhere, so that the whole building became an elaborate gothic fantasy. However, again like Borris, while the exterior of Castle Irvine was in one style, the interiors adopted another, being strictly classical. The entrance hall, for example, was flanked by red scagliola columms with Corinthian columns (once more the entrance hall of Borris is called to mind).
In 1922 Major Charles Cockburn D’Arcy-Irvine gave up living at Castle Irvine: his son Captain Charles William D’Arcy-Irvine had been killed in the Dardanelles seven years earlier. In 1925 a Captain Richard Outram Hermon from Sussex bought the castle and estate and lived there with his own family until the outbreak of the Second World War. During the subsequent period it was used as a military hospital by British and American forces but thereafter Castle Irvine was never occupied. Following Captain Hermon’s death in 1976 the estate was put up for sale and bought first by a local entrepreneur who had developed several other hotels in the Fermanagh region. However, in 1987 Castle Irvine was acquired by the local District Council for about £300,000, after which the same authority spent some £4 million developing equestrian facilities on the site including a 300-seat indoor arena, 80 stables, 16 bedrooms, two dressage arenas, and courses for cross-country, point-to-point and steeplechase. Ultimately this ambitious project came to a premature end, although it continues to cost the NI Department of Agriculture money every year. Throughout this time no funds were spent on the old castle, which despite being a listed building in the care of the council, has deteriorated to the point where it is now just a shell: as one of the authority’s officials told the BBC, ‘Unfortunately a use for the castle has not been found and it would take a very serious amount of money to put it back together.’ It is hard to imagine who might now want to spend such money for what has become a large and derelict white elephant.
Close to the shores of Lough Conn and from there looking not unlike a ‘cottage’ constructed for the Vanderbilts in Newport, Long Island, this is Errew Grange, County Mayo designed in the early 1870s by James Franklin Fuller for Granville Knox following the latter’s marriage to heiress Ellen Farrer. Unfortunately Mrs Knox’s resources proved not to be limitless and by the mid-1880s her husband was declared bankrupt: he and his family are believed to have emigrated to Nova Scotia and the newly-completed Errew Grange – otherwise known as ‘Knox’s Folly’ – was seized by bailiffs. After which the building had a somewhat chequered career, serving on several occasions as an hotel (in which capacity it might almost have been the model for the fictional Majestic in J.G. Farrell’s 1970 novel Troubles) and for a short period as a convent school. In 1949 Errew Grange was gutted by fire and the shell thereafter stood empty until some years ago the property was converted into what were intended to be luxury apartments: this scheme appears to have failed since it now stands empty and rather desolate.
All across Ireland there are buildings about which little is now known, their histories somehow mislaid between the date they ceased to serve their purpose and the present. Sometimes snippets of a story evolves into a legend which, like a version of Chinese Whispers, bears little relation to the original truth. But on other occasions, the history disappears altogether, as though presaging the fate of the building itself. Kilcrea, County Cork has been mentioned here before, both in relation to the former Franciscan friary (Lo Arthur Leary, November 2nd 2015) and the nearby former McCarthy tower house (With Panoramic Views, June 11th 2016), both of which date from the 1460s and have reasonably well-chronicled histories. However there is a third building in the same area about which little appears to be known, even though it is of more recent construction. This is Kilcrea House, a view of which is shown above (the tower house can be seen in the background on the extreme right of the photograph).
A little information about Kildrea House can be gleaned from that always helpful website http://www.landedestates.ie. In 1750 Charles Smith’s The ancient and present state of the county and city of Cork reported that Kilcrea, formerly the seat of the Earls of Clancarty, had been purchased by Captain Hedges from the Trustees of the Hollow Blade Company. In 1786 William Wilson’s The Post-Chaise Companion noted the ruins of the friary and castle, near to which was a house called Snugborough, the residence of a Mr. Keeffe. By the time of Griffith’s Valuation in the 1850s Robert Gibbons was given as the occupier of Kilcrea House. He held the building (valued at £20) as part of a parcel of land leased by John Hawkes. Yet strangely in March 1851, and again in July 1853, the estate of William Edward Ellis at Kilcrea, including the house and 422 acres, was advertised for sale. It would seem the Hawkes family acquired this, and further land, since by the 1870s the estate of John Devonsher Hawkes of Kilcrea is given as amounting to 2,029 acres.
Of course this information, while helpful, tells us nothing about Kilcrea House itself, when it was built and by whom. The place is now a shell, but this decline would appear to have occurred only relatively recently. While the floors have given way and most plaster come off walls, there are still traces of the wooden window frames and joists. Of two storeys over basement, the house looks north towards the tower house and the breakfront on this side has tumbled down. Constructed of rubble and brick, it has arched ground floor windows of cut limestone, also seen in the single-storey bows on the east and west sides of the building: it would appear these bows were added at a later date. The east side has a short flight of stone steps which gave access to the house while the south and west fronts retain traces of the slates with which they were once covered. Stylistically the house would seem to date from the late 18th century (with subsequent additions) but it is now so far deteriorated that conjecture must be to the fore. It seems strange that despite its size and prominent location there appears to be little knowledge of Kilcrea. Another example of lost history. Below is a view of the house from the nearby tower house.
Like most country houses, Shankill Castle, County Kilkenny has a range of outbuildings close to the main residence. The latter dates from c.1825, its neo-gothic design attributed to local architect William Robertson. The other structures, composed of cut limestone with granite for windows and doorcases, share stylistic similarities and can therefore be presumed by Robertson also. Some of them are used as studios and gallery space by the property’s present owners, but what to do with the others? Expensive to maintain, they no longer appear to have an apparent purpose. This is the conundrum facing everyone today responsible for such buildings.