The entrance to Derrynane, County Kerry, ancestral home to Daniel O’Connell. It is interesting to read in Emer Crooke’s recently-published book on how country houses fared during the first decades after Independence* that when O’Connell’s descendants first offered the property to the state in 1945, this was declined. A letter from the Department of Finance written in October of that year argued that ‘in view of the uncertainty as to the purchase price, the capital expenditure involved in putting the house to rights and the large recurring expenditure entailed in maintenance the minister does not favour state acquisition.’ Responsibility for Derrynane was shortly after taken on by a private trust but it soon ran into difficulty and began appealing to the government for funds. When these were not forthcoming, the house was placed on the market but in 1963, after no buyer had been found, the state took on Derrynane which has ever since been managed by the Office of Public Works.
The garden front of Garron Tower, County Antrim. Built at a cost of £4,000 over several years from 1848 onwards, the house sits on a plateau high above the sea and with views, on a clear day, across to Scotland. Intended as a summer residence, Garron Tower’s architect is thought to have been Lewis Vulliamy, his client being Frances Anne, Marchioness of Londonderry who had inherited land here from her mother, the second Countess of Antrim. It has been suggested that her intention was to own a property superior to Glenarm Castle, inherited by her aunt, which stands a few miles further south. Garron Tower’s austere exterior is not aided by the use of black basalt, but the original interiors were said to be luxurious. The property was little used after Lady Londonderry’s death and by the end of the 19th century was rented for use as a hotel. It was badly damaged by fire in 1914, the house was converted into a school in 1950 and now exudes a grimly institutional air.
One of James Gandon’s designs for the façade of Emo Court, County Laois. In the 1780s the architect was employed by enlightened patron John Dawson, first Earl of Portarlington to come up with plans for a new house on his country estate. This is one of Gandon’s proposals, and interesting to compare with Emo Court as eventually built. The process was devilled with setbacks, beginning with the Lord Portarlington’s unexpected death in 1798, by which time only the shell of the house had been constructed. It took more than sixty years, and the involvement of a number of other architects, before work on the building was finally completed. As a result and reflecting changes in taste, various alterations, external and internal, were made to the original scheme. Many of Gandon’s original drawings, plus those of his successors, are currently on display in the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin. Below is one of the Gandon proposals for the garden front, and a photograph of the same prospect today.
The Catholic Committee (sometimes called the Catholic Convention) was a body set up in 1757 to campaign for the repeal of the Penal Laws, and greater religious and political freedom for members of the Roman Catholic church. One of its founders was the antiquarian Charles O’Conor who lived in County Roscommon, and it is likely that as a result of his involvement other men in the same part of the country became involved with the committee. Hugh O’Beirne was among this number, a merchant based in Carrick-on-Shannon, County Leitrim who eventually became sufficiently affluent that he was able to acquire several thousand acres of land and build himself a residence at Jamestown, County Leitrim. In late 1792 Theobald Wolfe Tone, then Assistant Secretary of the Catholic Committee, encountered Hugh O’Beirne at a gathering in Dublin and wrote, ‘Met “Met Mr. O’Beirne of Co Leitrim, a sensible man. . . says the common people are up in high spirits and anxious for the event. Bravo! Better to have the peasantry of one county than twenty members of Parliament.’
Hugh O’Beirne took the Oath of Allegiance to the United Irishmen but does not seem to have been penalized for his association with the society in the aftermath of 1798: in the years before his death in 1813, he was a Justice of the Peace for Roscommon. He was succeeded by his son Francis, likewise a J.P. and also Deputy Lieutenant for County Leitrim. In 1843 he enlarged the small Catholic chapel built by his father for the people of Jamestown; behind this Francis also erected a school and schoolmaster’s house. On his death in 1854, the estate – which at its height ran to over 7,500 acres in County Leitrim (and almost another 250 in neighbouring Roscommon) – passed to his son Hugh. His children seem to have been the last of the O’Beirnes to have lived in Jamestown, one son, likewise called Hugh, entered the British Diplomatic Service and along with Lord Kitchener drowned when the vessel they were on, HMS Hampshire, was sunk by a German U-boat off the Orkney coast in June 1916.
The house shown in today’s photographs, Tinny Park, County Roscommon, was until recently owned by a branch of the same family. It is believed to date from around the mid-19th century and is a typical gentleman farmer’s residence, complete with handsome yard to the rear. Of two storeys over basement with a central door approached via a short flight of stone steps, the interior conforms to the usual country house plan, albeit on a small scale: double doors to the rear of the two main reception rooms lead to smaller spaces, and the entrance hall is largely taken up by a staircase. Unoccupied for the previous ten years, Tinny Park was offered for sale for the first time in the summer of 2016, the price on just over six acres was a modest €250,000. It duly sold and, evidently, refurbishment work began, not all of it advantageous: old photographs show the exterior covered in render, all of which has been stripped away. This work now looks to have stalled and when visited last winter the house wore a forsaken appearance. One can only hope that restoration has since resumed (and that in due course the exterior will be correctly re-rendered).
O’er ruined fences the grape-vines shield
The woods come back to the mowing field;
The orchard tree has grown one copse
Of new wood and old where the woodpecker chops;
The footpath down to the well is healed.
The whippoorwill is coming to shout
And hush and cluck and flutter about:
I hear him begin far enough away
Full many a time to say his say
Before he arrives to say it out.
They are tireless folk, but slow and sad—
Though two, close-keeping, are lass and lad,—
With none among them that ever sings,
And yet, in view of how many things,
As sweet companions as might be had.
Ghost House by Robert Frost.
Crossdrum Lower, County Meath – one of the houses featured in The Irish Aesthete: Ruins of Ireland (Cico Books), now available to order from your favourite local bookshop or online from Amazon…
Details of a frieze below the cornice in the drawing room of Newpark, County Sligo. The main part of the present house dates from the last quarter of the 18th century when it was built for the Duke family, which had originally settled in this part of the country in the early 1660s. Much of the decoration of the frieze is in typical late-rococo style, garlands of flowers and leaves scrolling across the surface, intermittently interrupted by urns. But references to the family occur, such as the shield featuring a chevron and three birds, and on another section a coronet from which rise three ostrich plumes. The coronet may be a pun on the Duke family name, but more likely represents the coat of arms of Lucinda Parke, wife of Robert Duke who was responsible for the construction of Newpark.
As already mentioned, June 1921 was a particularly bad month for country house burnings in north-west County Cork. One of those then lost was Rye Court, seat of the Tonson Rye family: the Ryes were originally living in Cork city (where one of their number was mayor in 1667 and 1668) but had moved to Ryecourt before the end of the 17th century. There they built a fine house and, at some date in the second half of the 18th century changed their name to Tonson Rye as a result of marriage into another family. Ryecourt looked south over a fine parkland, many trees of which still survive but the building was gutted by fire in 1921 and subsequently demolished (a small house was built inside the adjacent walled garden). Immediately behind the old house stood a courtyard with offices to east and west, and with gates and railings closing its north side: all these survive, albeit in poor condition, as can be seen here.
During Ireland’s War of Independence, more country houses were burnt in County Cork than in any other part of the country. June 1921 saw a particularly extensive outbreak of arson attacks on such properties in the north-west of the county, one such house being Warren’s Grove. As its name indicates, this belonged to the Warren family whose main residence a few miles away bore the equally imaginative name of Warren’s Court. More is known about the history of the latter than of Warren’s Grove, which seems to date from the early 19th century. In 1837 Samuel Lewis listed the property as belonging to John Borlase Warren, a younger brother of Sir Augustus Warren, third baronet. Following Sir Augustus’ death in 1863 without a direct heir, Warren’s Court – and the baronetcy – was inherited by the now-Sir John Borlase and, following his own death less than eight months later, his eldest son, another Sir Augustus. Accordingly Warren’s Grove became a secondary residence for the family. It was burnt by the IRA in mid-June 1921, along with Warren’s Court (and another Warren property in the same part of the world, Crookstown House). Warren’s Court was subsequently demolished, but the shell of Warren’s Grove still stands, the outbuildings in a courtyard to the rear of the house having been converted of late into holiday accommodation.
Portlaw, County Waterford and its association with the Malcolmson family have been mentioned here before (see: A Shell, June 28th 2017). The Malcolmsons were of Scottish Presbyterian origin but in the mid-18th century one branch became members of the Quaker community. A son of this line, David Malcolmson, settled in Clonmel, County Tipperary where from 1793 onwards he became involved in the corn milling industry and enjoyed such success that when Richard Lalor Shiel visited the town in 1828 he could write ‘Malcolmson’s Mill is I believe the finest in Ireland. Here half the harvest of the adjoining counties as well as Tipperary is powdered.’ By that date the family, fearful that the Corn Laws (restrictions on the import of grain which favoured domestic production) were to be revoked by parliament, had moved into another business in another part of the country. In 1825 Malcolmson took a 999-year lease on a house called Mayfield and the adjacent 16 acres from a local landlord, John Medlycott. A small corn mill, damaged by fire, stood on the site and this was redeveloped as a vast, six-storey cotton mill, building a canal to utilize the power of the adjacent river Clodiagh. The enterprise required large numbers of employees and as a result the little village of Portlaw expanded rapidly. Around the time the Malcolmsons began work on the mill, it comprised less than 400 residents living in 71 houses: by 1841 the population of Portlaw had grown to 3,647 souls occupying 458 houses, most of the latter built by the Malcolmsons as part of a planned urban settlement. The family lived on the edge of the town and directly above the mill in Mayfield.
The core of Mayfield was a classical house dating from c.1740 and it was here the Malcolmsons initially lived. However, in 1849 Joseph Malcolmson, who had assumed responsibility for the business, employed architect William Tinsley to enlarge the building. Like his client, Tinsley originally came from Clonmel and had built up a substantial practice in the area, so he was an obvious choice. However, by the time Joseph Malcolmson decided on a further expansion of Mayfield, Tinsley was no longer available: in 1851 he had emigrated with his family to the United States where he enjoyed an equally successful career before dying in Cincinnati in 1885. So in 1857 Malcolmson instead employed John Skipton Mulvany who specialized in a loosely-Italianate style architecture and who was responsible for giving the house its present appearance. Mulvany added many of Mayfield’s most striking features, not least a three-storey tower that served as an entrance on the house’s eastern front. This rises considerably higher than the rest of the three-storey over basement building which is of seven bays: the tower accordingly provided views both down to the factory and over to the village, allowing the Malcolmsons a paternalistic prospect of their workers. Mulvany was also responsible for the single-storey over basement wings on either side of the main block: that to the south served as a conservatory, that to the north held a pair of reception rooms. However the family were not to enjoy this splendor for long, the cotton factory which generated their wealth being ruined in the aftermath of the American Civil War (the Malcolmsons had extended credit to the losing side).
In the last quarter of the 19th century the Portlaw factory was adapted for spinning but this enterprise didn’t last long and it was only in the early 1930s that a new purpose was found for the complex when it was acquired to act as a tannery by the Irish Leathers Group. Mayfield, which had for a period been occupied by members of the de la Poer Beresford family of nearby Curraghmore, now became an office premises for the new enterprise, and remained as such for the next half century. The tannery closed in the 1980s, and as a result Mayfield no longer had any purpose, although to the end of that decade a proposal was put forward to convert both factory and house into a retirement home. The scheme never took off and for the past thirty-odd years Mayfield has stood empty, falling into its present state of dereliction. As can be seen, little of the original mid-Victorian interiors remains other than fragments of plasterwork and rotting timbers. The exterior of the building has proven more sturdy, and retains the same appearance found in old photographs. But it is difficult to know what sort of future, if any, Mayfield might have. There is an old Irish expression Ní bhíonn cuimhne ar an arán a hitear, commonly translated as ‘Eaten bread is soon forgotten.’ Portlaw as seen today owes its existence to the enterprise and initiative of the Malcolmsons: what a shame that so little has been done to acknowledge their contribution to the area.
The entrance front of Tullynisk, County Offaly. Dating from the early 19th century and replacing an older property on the site, the house is a mixture of the classical and gothic, the former evident in the doorcase with its Ionic columns, the latter in the window directly above. The combination of the two is as unselfconsciously assured as the sheep grazing in the immediate vicinity.