After Monday’s post about the Damer House, here is the medieval castle inside the walls of which that building stands. Roscrea Castle, County Tipperary originally dates from 1213 when King John ordered that a defensive structure be erected here as part of the Norman conquest of the Irish midlands. Work did not begin on the site for a few more decades, until the reign of Henry III, perhaps because the land had been owned by the Bishop of Killaloe who threatened to excommunicate those responsible for the castle (the bishop was duly pacified with the offer of other land). While first made of wood, the stone castle, with motte and bailey, was of stone. In 1315 the building was granted to the powerful Butler family who held it until the early 18th century when the property was sold by the Duke of Ormonde to the Royal Hospital Kilmainham; that institution in turn sold it on to John Damer, responsible for commissioning the house that still stands in the middle of the grounds. As for the castle itself, once moated with the river Bunnow running along one side, it comprises a 40-metre wide courtyard with three-quarter round towers on the south-east and south-west sides and, to the north, the main building, a gatehouse 27 metres high which was built by the Butlers in the 15th century. When the Irish Aesthete lived here 40 years ago, the property, although a dominant presence in the town, was largely in ruins and certainly not accessible without risk to life and limb: it has since been extensively restored and is now open to visitors who can marvel at the groin vaulted ceiling of the former great hall.
This country is so replete with ruins that sometimes they are treated quite casually. This is the case with what survives of a late 15th century Franciscan friary in Roscrea, County Tipperary, designated a National Monument. Access to the present, early 19th century Roman Catholic church is gained via the base of the 60-foot former bell tower, under which cars now drive.
Founded by Maolrouny O’Carroll and his wife Bibiana in 1477, the friary lasted barely 100 years before being closed down as part of that era’s general suppression of religious houses. Today the most substantial surviving portions are the bell tower (onto which various fragments from the site have been cemented), the north wall of the church and the latter’s east window, although this is largely blocked by the gable end of a house built right against it.
‘There are probably more derelict buildings in Ireland than in any other country of Western Europe,’ opens a television report on the rescue of Damer House in Roscrea, County Tipperary (see: https://www.rte.ie/archives/2017/1122/922043-damer-house-gets-new-life). That statement was made in 1977 and is probably just as applicable today, as can be seen by the condition of this house, in the townland or Irby on the outskirts of Roscrea.
The building looks to be early-to-mid 19th century and constructed as a residence for an affluent tenant farmer. It was designed like a miniature gentleman’s house, with a number of reception rooms on the ground floor and bedrooms upstairs, all inside sturdy walls. These still survive but the interior has been almost entirely lost and the roof is on the verge of going. Although capable of restoration and reuse, the place will likely only decline further: after all, Ireland has a reputation to maintain as the country with more derelict buildings than anywhere else in Europe…
The western gable of old St Cronan’s church in Roscrea, County Tipperary. Cronan was a seventh century monk who founded a religious house, originally a short distance from Roscrea but in too remote a spot for pilgrims to find. So the monastery was re-established here and flourished for many years: the eighth century Book of Dimma, an illuminated set of the gospels now in the collection of Trinity College Dublin, was written here. Post-reformation the monastic site was used by the Church of Ireland until the early 19th century when the old church was demolished and replaced by the present building incorporating much stone from its predecessor. But the 12th century Romanesque gable was retained and for the past 200 years has served as an entrance to the churchyard.
In the centre of Roscrea, County Tipperary stands Damer House, a superb residence built by John Damer at some date not long after 1722 when he purchased the town and surrounding lands. One of the building’s most important features is its carved pine staircase, a wonderful example of early 18th century Irish craftsmanship.