The origin and histories of some old Irish houses are veiled in mystery, and likely to remain so, since so much information about our architectural heritage has been lost. One such property is a place called Rath House in Co Waterford. The word rath appears very often in this country’s place names. It derives from the Irish Ráth, which means a circular enclosure or ring fort, suggesting this was the site of an ancient settlement. In this instance, there does not appear to be any obvious evidence of such a development, but – like the want of historical detail about the building – this is by no means an uncommon circumstance.
It would appear that the earliest known reference to Rath House dates from 1851 when it was recorded as being leased from the Duke of Devonshire (the celebrated Batchelor Duke) by one John Carroll; at the time, it had a value of £16. But of course, the building could be much earlier than that, or might have been constructed on the site of an earlier residence, as was so often the case. It subsequently passed through a number of different hands, for some time in the last century being occupied by two unmarried Jacob sisters, members of the well-known Waterford Quaker family (responsible, among other things, for running the eponymous biscuit factory). More recently, it was home to another bachelor who died in 2021, hence the place is now being offered for sale.
Rath House is of unusual design, a long, single-storey, six bay cottage with two-storey projecting gable-ended wings on either side. It may be that the central section was the original farmhouse, and the wings were added in the 19th century, perhaps around the time that John Carroll received his lease from the Devonshire estate. Constructed of rubble stone beneath a render, considerable effort was made, both on the exterior and interior, to present the house as more than just another tenant farmer’s residence. A short flight of cut-stone steps leads up to the fan-lit principle entrance, but note how the windows are not all evenly spaced, with a significant that on the furthest left somewhat further away from the two-storey wing than is its equivalent on the right-hand side. Inside, the house is effectively one room deep, a passageway running along the end wall and leading to staircases at either end. In the central section, the room to the right of the entrance hall, lit by three windows, served as the drawing room, that to the left as the dining room. The kitchen lay beyond the latter on the ground floor with two bedrooms above; the same layout can be found in the corresponding wing at the other end of the building. In front of the house, a series of terraces descended to the roadway, and to the left of this was a walled enclosure, presumably a garden where fruit and vegetables were once cultivated. With its demonstrable ambitions towards gentility, Rath House is a fascinating property, albeit now in rather poor condition. One must hope that the next owner will bring this place back to life – and also discover more about its hidden history.