On the Market


A further example of urban decay in Ireland: the Market House in Portarlington, County Laois. Standing in the centre of a square from which radiate four roads, the building dates from the early years of the 18th century and reflects the town’s prosperity at the time. Readers outside Ireland may be startled to know that for several decades this significant monument to Portarlington’s past operated as a garage where cars were serviced and repaired; for Irish readers, the information will come as no surprise, since it is typical of how we are inclined to treat our architectural heritage. Last July the local authority came to an arrangement with the owners of the market house, taking it over on a long lease. The intention, presumably, is to restore the building and put it to more sympathetic use. But much more needs to be done if such a project is to realise its full potential. At the moment, there are several substantial properties around the surrounding square in various stages of neglect and decay, most critically Arlington House, a five-bay, three storey 18th century house currently vacant (and with a long-time empty lot beside it), also the former Church of Ireland church, and adjacent to that a former cinema dating from the 1940s. Much of the square’s space is given over to car parking, and near-constant traffic discourages pedestrians from exploring the site. If this square and market house were elsewhere in Europe, their full potential would be exploited as a centrepiece for urban renewal and as a means of encouraging visitors to Portarlington. Let’s wait to see what the county council now does with the building and what is for now a bleak and desolate setting…
Incidentally, the Irish branch of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) is now running a Maintenance Week with plenty of advice and help for owners of historic properties. Find out more through the organisation’s twitter account (@SPABIreland) or Instagram page (@spabireland). 


A Boarded Up Boarding School


The town of Portarlington, which straddles the border between Counties Laois and Offaly, dates from the mid-1660s when founded by Henry Bennet. An ardent supporter of Charles II, he was rewarded by the king with large grants of land in this part of Ireland, and sought to make the most of this gift by establishing a new settlement. Since he had been created Baron Arlington in 1665 (and made Earl of Arlington the following decade), he decided to call the town Port-Arlington, hence its name. The original English colony was not a success but at the start of the 1690s, a number of Huguenot families, religious refugees from France, came to Portarlingon and thereafter the town flourished. Dating from 1697, Arlington House, on French Church Street, was one of the first buildings to be erected by a Huguenot settler, Daniel Le Grand Chevalier Seigneur du Petit Bosc who lived here until his death in 1737. He was responsible for the rear section of the house, to which a new front with pedimented façade and first-floor Diocletian window was added in the mid-18th century. It later became a boarding school, one of the pupils who attended there being Edward Carson. In more recent years, despite its history and importance to the town, Arlington House has stood empty and allowed to fall into the present state of near-total ruin. It is, naturally, listed by the local authority for protection.