The Little Sister


The ruins of Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire, Wales are justifiably famous, but less well known is what remains of her little sister, also called Tintern Abbey, in County Wexford. This foundation was often called Tintern de Voto, owing to the fact that it was established as the result of a vow taken by William Marshal, first Earl of Pembroke. Seemingly while sailing to Ireland in 1200, his ship was caught in a violent storm and he promised to establish a monastery close to the spot where he landed. The vessel came into Bannow Bay and here the abbey was duly built, and endowed with 3,500 hectares of land. Marshal was already patron of the Cistercian Tintern Abbey in Wales (which was duly known as Tintern Major), and so monks from that house were brought to this country to set up the new monastery, which soon grew into one of Ireland’s most important religious settlements, successive abbots sitting as peers in the Irish parliament until the mid-15th century and enjoying considerable prestige. 




Cistercian monks remained in residence at Tintern Abbey until 1539 when, on instructions from the English government, the entire property, valued at over £93, was seized and granted first to Sir James Croft, future Lord Deputy of Ireland, and then in 1557 leased to the Staffordshire-born soldier Sir Anthony Colclough; 18 years later he received ownership of the former abbey, which he had already converted into a domestic residence (although it had been attacked and burnt by the Irish in 1562). Although the building was subject to attack during the Confederate Wars of the 1640s, Colclough’s descendants remained on the site, albeit often through complicated lines of inheritance, until 1959 when the last member of the family to live there, Lucy Biddulph-Colclough, handed over what remained of the property to the Irish state. 





Placed in the care of the Office of Public Works in 1963, it was almost twenty years later before restoration began on Tintern Abbey, an enterprise that involved returning the site to its monastic origins. One must lament that this approach was taken, since the place had been a rare surviving example in Ireland of a religious building converted to secular, domestic use; had a different approach been taken during the restoration, today it would offer a fascinating opportunity to explore that aspect of post-Reformation history. Little evidence now remains of the Colcloughs’ centuries’ long occupation of the property, although of course it can be detected in the layout of the surrounding landscape. But the building itself is almost clinically clean and largely devoid of personal character. A short walk away from the main complex is a little late-mediaeval single cell chapel, known as a Capella-ante-portas, built to serve the needs of the local lay population who were not permitted within the precincts of the abbey. It contains a number of Colclough funerary monuments, including a large stone plaque mounted on the south wall commemorating the original Sir Anthony. Here, rather than within the monastery, can be found a better sense of the former secular ownership of Tintern Abbey.

 

The Cause of Jealousy



As mentioned a few days ago, in the mid-18th century the first Earl of Belvedere quarreled with his brother George Rochfort and so built the ‘Jealous Wall’, a sham folly that obscured the view of the younger man’s house further south on Lough Ennell. Here is the property in question, Tudenham Park, which, like Belvedere itself, is believed to have been designed by Richard Castle. However, whereas Belvedere is really a villa, this is a proper country house, of three storeys over basement with bowed projections on either side and a seven-bay entrance front, its plainness relieved by the pedimented tripartite Doric doorcase with round-headed niche above and then a circular bracketed niched below the parapet. Occupied by successive families until the early 20th century, Tudenham Park then became a hospital and was in military ownership until the 1950s when unroofed and left a shell. Some 15 or so years ago, plans were hatched to rescue the building and restore it to use but these came to nothing, so it remains the ruin seen in these pictures.


Jealous Minds



The most famous folly in Ireland, this is the Jealous Wall at Belvedere, County Westmeath. Some 180 feet long, this theatrical sham ruin was constructed around 1760 by Robert Rochfort, first Earl of Belvedere. Intended to look like the remains of an ancient castle, the three-storey wall incorporates a series of stepped towers, some of which have arched Gothic windows and, at the centre of the ground floor, a three-bay loggia. Seemingly it was built in order to block the view from Belvedere south towards Tudenham Park, a house further along Lough Ennell which had been erected some years before by the earl’s younger brother, George Rochfort. The siblings subsequently quarreled, hence the wall was put up here.


An Underutilised Resource


Designed by Richard Castle c.1740, Belvedere, County Westmeath is an exquisite villa overlooking Lough Ennell built for Robert Rochfort, later created first Earl of Belvedere. The Rochfort family had lived in Ireland since the 13th century, their primary residence being Gaulston, some five miles south-east of Belvedere. The house there, also designed by Richard Castle, was badly damaged after being burnt in 1920 during the War of Independence and later demolished. However, from around 1743 Robert Rochfort made Belvedere his main home after he had become estranged from his second wife, the Hon Mary Molesworth, who he accused of having an affair with one of his younger brothers, Arthur Rochfort. Famously, Mary Molesworth was thereafter kept a prisoner at Gaulston, never permitted to leave or to see anyone for thirty years until after her husband’s death in 1774; only once did the couple encounter each other again, by accident, and after that occasion a servant was required to walk in front of Mary Molesworth ringing a bell in order to warn Rochfort that she might be in the vicinity. Meanwhile, he pursued his younger brother for financial recompense under the legislation covering Criminal Conversation (as adultery was then known). Unable to pay, Arthur Rochfort fled the country but on his return was incarcerated in Dublin’s debtors’ prison where he died. 





Floating serene above the lake, Belvedere seems a world away from this unhappy tale. A two-storey block with semi-circular bow ends with a five-bay front, the centre three bays slightly recessed and those on either side having a Venetian window on the ground floor and a Diocletian window above. Initially the building was just one room deep but at the end of the 18th century a wing was added to the rear. The two most important reception spaces, drawing room and dining room, are at either end, with smaller rooms next to the entrance hall, behind which runs a corridor incorporating a narrow staircase leading up to four bedrooms, the service quarters being in a sunken basement. The great joy of the interior is the delicate rococo plasterwork in which putti and classical figures, surrounded by trailing garlands, shells and volutes, seem to be in the process of emerging from the ceilings. The stuccodore responsible is unknown, but the work, dating from around 1760, has been attributed to Barthelemij Cramillion. 





Following the first earl’s death in 1774, Belvedere – and indeed Gaulston – was inherited by his son George Augustus Rochfort, second Earl of Belvedere. However, when he died in 1714, he had no direct heir and so the titles became extinct and the settled estate was inherited by his sister Jane and then, after her death, by her grandson Brinsley Butler, fourth Earl of Lanesborough. He rarely visited Belvedere and on his death in 1847 it passed to a cousin, Charles Brinsley Marlay, a wealthy bachelor who invited Ninian Niven to devise plans for the walled garden and who was also responsible for laying out a series of terraces between the house and lake. On his death in 1912, the estate was inherited by Charles Howard-Bury, a noted mountaineer, explorer and botanist. Howard-Bury had been born and raised in Charleville Castle, County Offaly but seemingly had such an unhappy childhood there that he preferred to live in Belvedere and when he died in 1963, he left the place to his long-time companion, a former actor called Rex Beaumont, who would be the last private owner of the estate. In 1980, Beaumont announced his plans to leave the place and held a sale of the contents, jointly organised by Hamilton & Hamilton and Christie’s; quite a few of the lots had originally come from Charleville Castle, meaning collections from two different houses were thereby dispersed. In 1982 Beaumont sold the house and surrounding parkland to the local authority, which has managed the place ever since. While much money was spent on restoring Belvedere at the time, 40 years have now passed and the house is looking tired and in need of attention, little having changed there since its acquisition by the county council. The surrounding demesne is extremely popular with local families and much frequented, but Belvedere itself appears an under-utilised resource; at the moment, only a handful of the rooms are even open to the public, with much of it closed up. It’s time fresh consideration, and attention, was given to one of Ireland’s most charming 18th century villas. 

Crazy Wonderful


Two doorcases in the entrance hall of Bellinter, County Meath, a house dating from c.1750 and designed by Richard Castle for John Preston. The two doors to the front of the room have the heaving lugging typical of this period but then atop a rectangular panel have caps studded with clusters of guttae. Meanwhile, the doorcase to the rear of the space has clearly been altered, probably in the early 19th century, but must always have concluded at a lower point in order to accommodate the plaster armory above. It’s all rather daft and completely wonderful.

A Grand Gateway


One of a number of gateways providing access to the four-acre walled garden at Barmeath Castle, County Louth. A map dating from the mid-1770s and drawn up by the surveyor Charles Frizell shows this area of the demesne to be a shrubbery with no evidence of enclosure, indicating the walled garden, like so many others, was only created in the late 18th or early 19th centuries. Unusually, all the walls are lined in brick, whereas, as a rule, it was only the south-facing wall that received this treatment since brick retains the heat longer than does stone. The entrances are also distinguished by being given rather grand, pedimented, breakfront gateways. The walled garden here has been restored in recent years and is now open to the public. Readers with no interest in matters horticultural should be warned that the Irish Aesthete is at present curating an exhibition devoted to the history of the Irish country house garden (opening at the Irish Georgian Society’s headquarters, the City Assembly House in Dublin on May 19th) and therefore this subject is likely to feature heavily in the coming weeks.

A Gardener’s Legacy


This week marks the first anniversary of the death of architect and garden designer Angela Jupe at her home at Bellefield, County Offaly, where the Irish Aesthete had paid a visit just a few weeks before that unhappy event. After graduating from university, she worked for a number of architectural firms before heading up a design team at the Industrial Development Agency (IDA). But by the mid-1980s she had established her own practice and begun to follow her personal passion for gardening. She created two businesses, the Traditional Gardening Company which specialised in garden design and construction, and the Garden Furnishing Company, a retail outlet. 





As the name of her garden design business indicates, Angela Jupe loved old-fashioned gardens: an obituary in the Irish Times quoted her observation that ‘Some modern landscape architecture feeds only the eyes and forgets that we have noses for scent and hands for touch…Not only is there too much hard landscaping but it leads to plants that grow into a little circle requiring no pruning, care or attention.’ The first country garden she created for herself was at Fancroft Millhouse, County Tipperary which had stood empty and neglected for 12 years before she bought it in 1997 and embarked on a thorough restoration, not just of the grounds but also the house and outbuildings. Then in  2004 she took on a fresh challenge, moving to Bellefield, where the stables and walled garden had stood unused for the previous three decades.





Bellefield is a charming small gentleman’s residence dating from the first years of the 19th century. A keen believer in conservation and architectural salvage, Angela Jupe filled the house with decorative items brought from other buildings, as she also did when restoring the stableyard to the rear. And in the two-acre walled garden, which again benefitted from her attention and experience, she constructed both a charming little onion-domed folly and a large glasshouse from various pieces of salvage. The garden itself, formerly completely overgrown, displays her various passions, not least for snowdrops, of which there are more than 300 different varieties, one of the largest such collections in Ireland. In addition, there is an abundance of old French roses, rare daffodils, Chinese peonies and old fruit trees. Following her unexpected death, it emerged that she had left the Bellefield, the house and its garden, to the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland (RHSI) of which she had been a long-standing supporter and board member. The process of transfer of ownership is still ongoing, but the RHSI is currently maintaining the site and hopes to open it to the public next year.

An Idea of Good Taste, and Even Refinement


‘Clifden is situated at the head of one of the most picturesque of the many bays of Connemara. It is about four miles from the ocean, but vessels of large tonnage can be brought up within a short distance of the town. The town is protected from the westerly gales by a range of lofty hills. It has been laid out in broad streets, and with some degree of regularity. It is favourably situated for drainage, and has from its situations various other local advantages.
It is mainly to the late John D’Arcy, Esq., of Clifden Castle, that Clifden is indebted for its existence. By granting liberal leases, frequently upon lives renewable forever on payment of small fines, that gentleman induced individuals to lay out their money in buildings of a decent class to such an extent as to form a town. The place now contains nearly 250 dwelling-houses, among which are several tolerable shops. There are also two inns, a large catholic chapel, a protestant church, a dispensary, a corn-store and several flour-mills. Antecedent to the famine, there was a growing export grain trade from this place; and as much as a thousand tons of oats have been shipped here in one year. From the mode in which Clifden was originally let, the amount of rental to its proprietor in no degree represents the value of the town. It produces, under existing leases, little more than £200 per annum. This, however, may be regarded in the light of a ground rent, and the whole of it under every state of circumstances is necessarily well secured.’ 






‘The D’Arcys of Clifden, who have been referred to as the proprietors of this town, are one of the most ancient and honourable families in Ireland. As their name indicates, they are of Norman extraction. There are said to be more peerages in abeyance in this family, than in any other in the empire. They boast of two baronies in abeyance, of a third forfeited, of three others extinct, and of an earldom, that of Holdernesse, which also expired by want of direct descendants. The first D’Arcy who settled in Ireland, came to the country in 1330. James D’Arcy was Vice-President in the time of Queen Elizabeth, and his son was one of the most distinguished members of the Catholic Convention in Ireland, in 1641. The original lands of the D’Arcys were lost by forfeiture; this, their latest wild possession, was obtained, it is stated, by a female of the family, as a reward of an act of generous heroism in protecting the lives of some English soldiers.’ 






‘The Clifden estate comprises, in addition to the town, the mansion and demesne of Clifden Castle, numerous islands in the bays and on the coast, and a large extent of territory on the peninsula, on which a reference to the map will show the reader that the town of Clifden stands. Clifden Castle itself is about two miles westward from the town. It stands at the head of a little bay of its own, protected by a semicircle of hills from the winds and storms which sometimes devastate the coast. There are plantations of twenty or thirty years’ growth about the house, which also minister to its protection. The edifice itself is a castellated villa. There is nothing about it which is at all magnificent; but its appearance from all points affords an idea of good taste, and even of refinement. The views from Clifden Castle extend to the ocean, over an expanse of bay, studded with rocky islands, and protected both upon the north and south by a long projecting range of headland. The aspect is wild and varied, and to the lover of marine scenery most striking. The shores are bold and rocky, though not generally lofty. Happy would it be were they more generally visited!’


Text from The Encumbered Estates of Ireland by W.T.H., 1850.
Dating from 1815, as mentioned above, Clifden Castle was built by John D’Arcy who a few years earlier had founded the nearby town of the same name: the architect responsible is unknown. In the aftermath of the Great Famine, his son was obliged to sell house and estate, its new owners – the Eyre family from Bath – buying both for £21, 245. They remained in possession of the place until 1917 when it was controversially sold to a local butcher. A few years later the castle and adjacent land was acquired by a cooperative and in the mid-1930s the building was stripped of all saleable materials and left the ruin still seen today. 

 

A Confident Mixture of Styles



The Coote family has been mentioned here on several occasions. The first of them to settle in Ireland was Charles Coote, an ambitious soldier who arrived here around 1600 and gradually acquired estates, predominantly in the midlands, before being killed at Trim, County Meath in June 1642 during the Confederate Wars. One of his sons, Chidley Coote, born in 1608, participated in the same wars, rising to the rank of colonel. Unlike his father, he survived those turbulent times and in 1666 was granted some 3,000 acres near Kilmallock, County Limerick by Charles II. There he occupied a property called Castle Coote, which was eventually demolished in the mid-18th century, presumably around the time a new house – called Ash Hill – was built. His heir, another Chidley Coote, rather than the army, chose to become a  Church of Ireland clergyman instead, although one of his sons, General Sir Eyre Coote served as a soldier in India for many years. The same was true of one of his nephews, another General Sir Eyre Coote, although the latter’s career ended in disgrace in 1816 after it was discovered that the previous November, he had visited Christ’s Hospital school in Sussex and offered some boys there money if they allowed him to flog them. He then asked them to flog him in turn before providing payment. When this was discovered, General Coote was charged with indecent conduct, although acquitted after making a donation of £1,000 to the school. However, a subsequent investigation by a number of his fellow generals, concluded that Coote was eccentric rather than mad. Nevertheless, his behaviour was deemed unworthy of an officer and a gentleman, and in consequence, he was removed from his regiment and dismissed from the army. Coote’s eccentricity, it was claimed, arose from the effects of the climate on his brain while he served as Governor of Jamaica between 1805 and 1808. Incidentally, it has been claimed that while living on the island, he had an affair with a slave, and that the direct descendant of that relationship was another distinguished soldier and politician, the late General Colin Powell. 




To return to the Cootes of Kilmallock, the last of them to live on the Kilmallock estate was yet another Chidley Coote. Curiously, following his death in 1799, the property passed not to one of his sons (he had four by his second marriage) but instead to a cousin, Eyre Evans, whose great-aunt Jane Evans had been Coote’s grandmother: the Evans family was based at Miltown Castle, County Cork. In the early 1830s, Eyre Evans was responsible for transforming the garden front of the house at Ash Hill, of which more below. However, in 1858, in the aftermath of the Great Famine when much land changed hands, part of the estate was sold to one Thomas Weldon. More of the estate was sold by the Evans family in 1880 to Thomas Weldon’s son, John Henry. Following the latter’s death in 1907, the house came to be occupied by his wife’s nephew, Captain Paul Lindsay: in 1946 he sold it to the present owner’s family.
As seen today, Ash Hill reflects the tastes of its different owners, beginning with the Coote family. Seen through imposing limestone gate posts, the entrance front looks onto a wide forecourt, flanked by long, two-storey stable blocks that date from around the second quarter of the 18th century, making them earlier than the main house, believed to date from 1781. Its eleven-bay facade is centred on a single-bay pediment holding a doorcase with wide fanlight and sidelights below a Venetian window. Further along the building are two further doorcases with fanlight and sidelights, although one of these has since been turned into a window. As already mentioned, some 50 years later, further alterations and additions were made to the garden front of the building and they were quite startling. As Samuel Lewis explained in 1837, ‘a large castellated mansion now in progress of erection in the ancient baronial style, consisting of a centre flanked by lofty circular towers and two extensive wings, of which one on the west is connected with a noble gateway leading to the offices, which occupy the sides of a quadrangular area; the whole is of hewn limestone…’ The architect responsible for this work is thought to have been Charles Anderson who had an extensive practice in this part of the country until 1849 when he emigrated to the United States and there enjoyed a successful career until his death 20 years later. As a result of these changes, the house’s name was changed to Ash Hill Towers.





A number of descriptions of Ash Hill in the first decades of the last century survive, giving the impression there was insufficient money to maintain the place. Writing in 1908, Eileen Weldon observed that while the house was big and impressive, it was also rather bare, and that the food on offer was meagre: ‘All we were offered for supper was six slices of toast for five of us and some cold bread. There was tea and butter, but not a sign of anything else. Father had smuggled in a cake from downtown and hidden it in the sideboard so we didn’t fare so badly.’ As for the interiors, ‘The ceilings and fireplaces are beautiful, but oh so dirty. I long to get to work with soap and water, a broom, etc.’ During the early 1920s, the house suffered badly, being occupied by different groups of soldiers on three occasions, none of them treating the place well. Another Weldon family member who called into Ash Hill in 1932 remembered ‘It was unoccupied and badly in need of repair. It was all furnished – about 30 rooms (not one bathroom) but the hand carved marble fireplaces were all bashed and broken – the ancestral pictures had been used for target practice…the lovely books of the library strewn underfoot.’ Seemingly Captain Lindsay offered Ash Hill ‘as a convent or monastery but there were no takers because of its condition.’ Finally, as noted, it was sold in 1946. Subsequently, some of Anderson’s more fanciful decorative flourishes were removed from the garden front, not least the two tall castellated towers and a chapel extension to one side. Internally, other changes had to be made, including the construction of a new main staircase, large parts of its predecessor having been destroyed. What does survive is a series of wonderful ceilings, the majority of them on the first floor which evidently once held the main reception rooms. Two of them look as though they might have been designed by James Wyatt/Thomas Penrose. However,   it does not appear man either produced these specific designs. Similarly, the execution is of an exceptionally high standard – those oval medallions holding classical figures – but the stuccodore responsible is unknown. The nearest comparison is the ceiling in the entrance hall at Glin Castle, elsewhere in County Limerick, which dates from the same period. The Ash Hill work has blessedly undergone restoration work in recent years to ensure future survival. Meanwhile, in striking contrast to these neo-classical designs, an adjacent room overlooking the garden holds a really splendid Perpendicular Gothic ceiling, smothered in ribs of fan vaulting. It is this confident mixing of styles within the same building, so typical of the late 18th/early 19th centuries, so anathema to purists, that makes Ash Hill and its history so fascinating to explore. 


Of the Highest Standard



Townley Hall, County Louth is an Irish country house which has featured here more than once before (see Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté* « The Irish Aesthete). Without doubt, one of the most perfectly designed buildings in Ireland, it was the result of a happy collaboration between architect Francis Johnston and his client Blayney Townley Balfour – and also, crucially, the latter’s sister Anna Maria Townley Balfour whose involvement in the project has until recently been insufficiently understood and appreciated. The result was a masterpiece of neo-classical architecture, a work of impeccable refinement and flawless taste, with the staircase hall at the centre of the house being one of the masterpieces of late 18th century European architecture. Like all such properties in Ireland, Townley Hall has faced challenges, its future at times uncertain, but the present custodians of the building – the School of Philosophy and Economic Science – have carried out much work on site to ensure the survival of this most-important building in our national heritage. And it has now produced a sumptuous book celebrating the glories of the house and its place in the architectural pantheon, to which the Irish Aesthete has contributed several chapters. The standards of the publication are every bit as high as those of Townley Hall, making this a book of interest to anyone possessed of an aesthetic sensibility.



You can also watch me discuss Townley Hall in a short film made for the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art last summer, which is available to view at Townley Hall, Ireland | ICAA Travel Revisited – YouTube