Spot the Difference


A mural above the drawing room chimney piece of Mount Ievers Court, County Clare showing the house and its surrounding parkland. Mount Ievers was built between 1733 and 1737 for Henry Ievers to the design of John Rothery who seems to have been a local architect and who died before the building’s completion. Depicting the north facade of the house, the mural is usually considered to have been painted not long after work finished and to be an accurate record of Mount Ievers. Yet a quick look at images of the building then and now shows one crucial difference. In the picture, the entrance is shown as accessed via a horseshoe staircase, whereas today, as can be seen below,  a double-flight of stone steps runs directly up to the door. So did the painting show what was intended but not executed, or what was constructed but subsequently altered?
(For more on Mount Ievers, see A Place of Magic, December 16th 2013).


A Place of Magic

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The earliest recorded mention of the County Clare village Sixmilebridge is in the 1681 journal of the English antiquary Thomas Dinely. As its name indicates, Sixmilebridge is located approximately six miles from Thomondgate in Limerick and is the site of a bridge erected over the O’Garney river in 1610 by Donough O’Brien, fourth Earl of Thomond.
Of particular interest in Dinely’s account of this part of the country is his reference to a castle ‘belonging to Henry Ivers, Esq, well scituate and capable of very considerable improvement, a draught whereof I took on the other side of this leaf…The gentleman, owner hereof, came over (a young man, clerk to one Mr Fowles, a Barrister), since the King’s Restoration, and hath in this time by his Industry, acquired one Thousand pounds a year. The first and chiefest of his rise was occasioned by being concerned in the Revenue as Clerk to the King’s Commissioners for settling the Quit Rents, and afterwards became their Deputy receiver, is now in commission one of his Ma’ties Justice of the Peace, not worth less than sixteen hundred pounds a year.’
Dinely is not altogether accurate since Henry Ivers had actually come to Ireland prior to the Restoration of 1660, being one of the beneficiaries of Cromwell’s sweep across the country. Quit rent was a tax imposed on new settlers granted land by the government and clearly whoever was responsible for its collection could do well, as indeed Ivers did. (By the time of his death in October 1691 he had acquired some 12,000 acres, of which almost half was deemed to be ‘profitable.’) But the great merit of Dinely’s work is that, as he wrote, he included a ‘draught’ or drawing of the old castle owned by Ivers and showing it to be a typical tall tower house of the kind built throughout Ireland in the 16th and early 17th centuries. A massive stone chimney piece in the south hall of the castle’s replacement, presumed to have been salvaged when the latter was demolished, carries the date 1648, which would have made its construction very late for such a building.

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When Henry Ivers died, he left his estate to a second son, the eldest having been disinherited for marrying without his father’s approval, perhaps to a Roman Catholic. John Ievers (as the family now began to spell its name) was Colonel-in-Chief of the Clare Militia Dragoons and an MP for sixteen years. When he died in 1731, his heir – another Henry – clearly decided Dinely had been right half a century before that the old castle was ‘capable of very considerable improvement’ since he knocked it down and built a new house on the site, ever after called Mount Ievers.
We are in the rare position of knowing a great deal about the origins of the house, since the accounts for its construction survive. Mount Ievers was designed by the architect John Rothery (with his son Isaac assuming responsibility for the project after Rothery senior’s death in 1736) and work began in 1733 with completion four years later.
During this time masons working on site were paid five shillings a week, and general labourers five pence. In an average week 11 of the former and 48 of the latter were employed, with the labourers receiving not just their wages but also food and clothes including shoes and supplies of coarse linen woven at Mount Ievers. The house cost £1,478 pounds, seven shillings and nine pence to build, but Henry Ievers noted sundry other expenses incurred such as two horses he had given the architect valued at £15, as well as two mules (£4 and twelve shillings) and 3,000 laths (£1 and ten shillings). Slates priced at nine shillings six pence per thousand came from Broadford ten miles away, while the oak roof timbers, thirty-four tons in weight, came from Portumna; they were brought by boat to Killaloe and then hauled twenty miles overland to the site.

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Writing about Mount Ievers in Country Life in November 1962, Mark Girouard proposed its design derived from that of Chevening in Kent, a house attributed to Inigo Jones and featured in the second volume of Colen Campbell’s Vitruvius Brittanicus (1717). Certainly there are many similarities between the two buildings and as Girouard pointed out, ‘an unusual feature shared by both houses, which makes it unlikely that the relation is a coincidence, is the stone cornice with pulvinated frieze below the eaves.’ Of course Mount Ievers was rather anachronistic by the time it was built, but that somehow adds to the place’s charm, as do the two fronts, that to the north faced in brick, that to the south in cut limestone, both of them of seven bays, three storeys over raised basement and with entrances approached by flights of steps. A detail missing from the accounts of the house is the source for the bricks; it is customarily proposed that they came from Holland, a Dutch mill owner who lived near Sixmilebridge shipping rape seed oil to his native country and the vessels on their return bringing bricks to act as ballast. Today after almost three centuries they have mellowed to a soft pink hue lightly dusted with lichen. The west and east sides of the house are rendered with very few windows other than those at either end of corridors running along the centre of each floor.
The tall narrow windows with their thick glazing bars (some of them restored in the last century having been earlier replaced by larger panes of glass), add to the impression of height as does a curious feature of the design whereby each storey is several inches narrower than that below, something almost undetectable to the eye until it is pointed out. The walls are very thick, between four and five feet, and so the entirety of the basement is a series of vaulted chambers needed to support this immense weight.

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The interior of Mount Ievers is relatively simple, with most of the rooms retaining their original plaster panelling, elaborate cornices and panelled doors set in doorcases eight and half feet high. The north entrance hall, which takes up about a third of the ground floor includes a wonderful carved staircase, barley-sugar and fluted balusters alternating. This in turn leads to a very substantial first-floor hall off which open the main bedrooms. On the top floor is a long vaulted gallery, intended to provide a space in which ladies could walk on wet days or to serve as a ballroom, or possibly both. There are some very attractive chimneypieces in the ground floor rooms but these date from the second half of the 18th century and were installed around 1850.
In fact, these small changes made at that time were really the only significant ones the house has experienced. The Ievers family, although initially wealthy and powerful, gradually became neither, and it was a want of funds and of the need to impress that led their house to remain largely unaltered. A mural painted over the mantel in the drawing room not long after the house was completed shows the north front exactly as it is today, and while much of the surrounding formal gardens shown have disappeared other elements like the two brick sentry boxes at the end of the garden remain.
Mount Ievers is a place of quite haunting loveliness, a house that captures the hearts of everyone who has ever visited. ‘Magic is an overworked word,’ commented Mark Girouard, ‘but there is undoubtedly a magic about Mount Ievers. It is a mysterious house, shut away among woods with no outlet to the outer world.’ Similarly Maurice Craig, although observing that the house’s interior ‘is very grand but very, very inconvenient’ had to acknowledge ‘But for the pleasure of living in such a house one would endure much.’ Mount Ievers remains in the hands of the same family for whom it was first built. This adds to its exceptional character and so one hopes that long may an Ievers continue to be in residence.

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