Killeen with Kindness

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A watercolour of Killeen Castle, County Meath, painted by Lady Emma Frances Plunkett (1826-1866), daughter of the ninth Earl of Fingall. The Plunketts are of Norman origin and established themselves in this part of Ireland at the end of the 14th century. The Earls of Fingall were notable for remaining Roman Catholic throughout the Penal era, unlike their neighbouring cousins, the Lords Dunsany who converted to Anglicanism. The picture is significant because it shows Killeen prior to extensive changes made to the structure from 1841 onwards by Lady Emma’s father, in other words it must have been painted while she was still an adolescent. At the age of 24 she married William Ince Anderton, member of an old Lancashire recusant family and together they embarked on the construction of a new chapel on his estate at Euxton Hall to the designs of Edward Welby Pugin; following Lady Emma’s death in 1866, a large stained glass window was installed in the chapel which shows her kneeling at the foot of the cross.
Killeen remained in the ownership of the Plunkett family until it was sold by the twelth and last Earl of Fingall in 1951. Thirty years later, after changing hands a couple of times more, the castle was gutted in an arson attack. It then stood ruinous until the estate was bought in 1997 by a development company which undertook to restore the building as centrepiece of a luxury hotel and spa. The rest of the same organisation’s scheme, including the inevitable championship golf course and series of commuter houses went ahead but of course the castle’s restoration stalled: when I visited some years ago, the roof had been repaired and concrete floors installed but little further work undertaken. Below is another watercolour by Lady Emma Plunkett, this one showing Dunsany Castle which happily remains intact and in the ownership of its original family. Both pictures, and three more by the same amateur artist, are included in an exhibition opening next week in Dublin’s Gorry Gallery (see www.gorrygallery.ie).

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