A Very Sumptuous Establishment


A PhD thesis presented by Michael Ahern in 2003 (and subsequently published) explores the history of the Society of Friends, otherwise known as Quakers, in County Tipperary from the mid-17th to early 20th centuries. In the text, Dr Ahern notes how, ‘One of the most remarkable achievements of this persecuted minority, consisting of farmers, tradesmen and small business people, was the manner in which they triumphed over adversity and, in the course of time, became successful and prosperous members of the middle class. Participation in the affairs of their own Society provided a sound training which enabled members to cope with the business procedures of the secular world. Although the administrative meetings of the Society generally related to religious concerns, a large proportion of their activities was strictly practical in content and created an environment which cultivated business and administrative expertise.’ During the second half of the 18th century, one of the businesses in which they came to have a powerful presence was milling. Certain urban centres likewise became centres for this activity, among them Clonmel, County Tipperary.’ Legislation passed by the Irish parliament in 1757 offered financial incentives for the land carriage of corn to Dublin; for every five hundred-weight of flour brought to market, a premium of three pence per mile (excluding the first 10 miles) was paid. The result was an explosion in both the production of wheat and corn, and the establishment of mills, especially in areas like Clonmel, which benefitted from fast-moving water (in this case, the river Suir). Anner Mill, the first such Quaker operation, was opened here in 1771 by John Grubb, whose family would become synonymous with the industry. Many more followed, so that in 1797 when legislation was proposed to abolish financial incentives, the business was sufficiently well-established as to be in no need of subsidy: ‘The principal millers in the neighbourhood of Clonmell,’ declared John FitzGibbon, Lord Clare, ‘a part of the kingdom from which there is a considerable influx of corn to the city, do not complain of the bill; on the contrary many have declared that they will not suffer any loss from it.’






Of English origin, the Sparrow family had settled in Ireland in the mid-17th century and soon converted to the Quaker faith. They were based in the Wexford region where one of them, Samuel Sparrow, participated in the 1798 Rebellion and then fled to the United States, were he remained for the rest of his life. Long before then, at some date during the first decades of the 18th century, Richard Sparrow moved from Wexford to Clonmel where he established himself as a baker. His son, Simmons Sparrow, was more ambitious and, like many other members of his church, became involved in the area’s burgeoning milling industry. In 1778 he opened a large mill on the north side of Suir Island, which looked across to Clonmel’s quays and which could take advantage of the river’s fast-moving water. This building continued in operation until 1801 when it was destroyed by fire; eight years later the site was sold by the Sparrows to another Quaker, Thomas Hughes. In the meantime, Simmons Sparrow opened another mill to the immediate west of the town at Toberaheena while for a period in the mid-1790s his son Richard leased another two mills still further west along the Suir. Following Simmons Sparrow’s death the business was continued by Richard but he seems to have lived beyond his means and eventually lost everything, dying in Clapham, outside London in 1814 after which his estate in Tipperary was auctioned to pay the deceased’s debts.





In 1798, the American Quaker preacher and abolitionist William Savery visited this country and noted with dismay that ‘Friends in Ireland seemed to live like princes of the earth, more than in any country I have seen – their gardens, horses, carriages, and various conveniences, with the abundance of their tables, appeared to me to call for much more gratitude and humility, than in some instances, it is feared is the case’. While in Clonmel, where he stayed with the successful miller (and Quaker) Sarah Grubb, Savery visited the home of Richard Sparrow, judging it to be ‘a very sumptuous establishment indeed, which I did not omit to tell him was quite too much so’, his stables being fit for a nobleman. The house in question was Oaklands, seen in today’s photographs. Little information exists about the building, the fine entrance to which was shown here last Saturday. Of three storeys over basement, it has four bays, with a central breakfront accommodating two and a plain limestone portico supported by paired Doric columns, behind which was a doorcase with fan- and substantial sidelights. The garden front featured a substantial canted bow and a flight of cast-iron steps giving access to one of the reception rooms. This was one of four such spaces on the ground floor of the ‘sumptuous’ interior, of which little now remains. Following Richard Sparrow’s financial collapse, Oaklands passed to the Rialls, another Quaker family involved in banking. However, within a few years their own fortunes suffered a setback when the bank, like many other such private establishments in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, failed and was forced to close in 1820 (its premises, for a long time part of the Clonmel Arms Hotel, have stood vacant and awaiting redevelopment for some time). In due course they were followed by Colonel Pownoll Phipps, a fascinating character who – for reasons too complicated to explain here – had as a teenage boy found himself stranded with is siblings, but without their parents, in Revolutionary France, and had then gone on to serve in the British army in India under the future Duke of Wellington; he died at Oaklands in 1858 and the estate was, at least for a while, owned by his eldest son. It then passed through a succession of different hands, and was still occupied, but in poor condition, fifteen years ago, later standing empty. The inevitable consequence of this was that the house attracted the attention of vandals and finally was gutted by fire in October 2017, leaving it in the state seen today.

The Wily Foxes





The Fox family of County Longford were of ancient origin, their name being Ó Sionnaigh before it was anglicized. In the 11th century Tadhg O Catharnaigh (Kearney) was Chief of Teffia in Co. Meath and as a result of his wiliness came to be known as ‘An Sionnach’ – The Fox. His descendants kept the title, and eventually gained control of the Barony of Kilcoursey, County Offaly, the head of the family continuing to be known as The Fox. Among these descendants was one Patrick Fox, who appears to have been based in Dublin in the late 16th century when he worked closely with English government forces and as a result managed to secure lands in what is now County Longford which had hitherto belonged to the O’Farrells. On his death in 1618 he passed the estate to his eldest son Nathaniel, then aged 30, who built a house there, seemingly incorporating parts of the old O’Farrell castle of Rathreagh. This residence was called Foxhall.
Close to the house at Foxhall, Sir Nathaniel Fox erected a small church, now roofless and in poor condition, the south wall of which is dominated by his tomb (he died in 1634). This wonderful monument takes the form of a limestone altar tomb on which can be seen the reclining figure of Sir Nathaniel, garbed as a knight in full armour lying on his side: the head, right hand and left leg of the effigy are long gone, so that just the truncated torso and thigh remain. An orb and skull can be seen at his feet while what remains of his right arm rests on a tasselled cushion. On either side of the effigy are paired Ionic pilasters supporting an arch on which rest sphinxes. Winged putti can be seen within the arch above which is an entablature with obelisks and elaborate scrollwork. A panel above Sir Nathaniel contains the Fox coat of arms, and below two shields is a Latin inscription which translates as follows: ‘Here lies Nathaniel Fox, of Rathreagh, founder of this church, eldest son and heir of Patrick Fox of Moyvore in Co. Westmeath, who had as wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Walter Hussey of Moyhussey Knight. By whom he had 8 sons and 5 daughters, of whom 8 sons and 3 daughters survived. Patrick, son of the aforesaid Nath., sole heir, had as wife, Barbara, daughter of Lord Patrick Plunkett, Baron of Dunsany. The same Nath. and Elizabeth, lived for 25 years as man and wife, and he died at Rathreagh,2nd of Feb. A.D. 1634, aged 46.’ The entrance to the church at the west end is through a fine cut-limestone classical doorcase with a plaque noting that the building was enlarged and restored in 1772. Presumably this work was undertaken by Francis Fox of Foxhall who in 1759 married Mary Edgeworth of Edgeworthstown, linking the two families. This connection was further strengthened in 1824 when their grandson, Major Barry Fox married Mary Edgeworth’s great-niece Sophia, half-sister of writer Maris Edgeworth.





Writing of Foxhall in July 1797, Maria Edgeworth noted that ‘The house is partly an old castle, and the place quite out of order, run to ruin during [Mr Fox’s] two year absence with his regiment of Militia, besides it rained the whole time we were there and the prospect is bounded by black bogs.’ The Mr Fox to whom she here refers was the aforementioned Francis Fox, Colonel of the Longford Militia. One must presume that the condition of the house improved as three years later Maria Edgeworth again wrote to one of her siblings, ‘We – that is my father, Mrs E, Charlotte and Maria are just returned from Foxhall where we have been dining and making merry with excellent raisin wine and walking and seeing the monument and statue recumbent of that valiant knight Sir Nat Fox who has a one foot upon a globe and the other upon a skull.’ Her host Francis Fox had in 1787 married Lady Anne Maxwell, daughter of the first Earl of Farnham. This may be of relevance when one looks at the photograph of Foxhall (the last below), as there are strong similarities between the house and Farnham, the latter remodelled and enlarged from 1802 onwards for the second Lord Farnham (Lady Anne’s brother) to the designs of Francis Johnston (this is even allowing for major alterations made to Farnham in 1961). Both buildings are were of three-storeys and with a three-bay breakfront, the respective owner’s coat of arms being featured in the pediment above. Farnham was certainly larger, suggesting that Francis Fox having found his house, in Maria Edgeworth’s words, ‘run to ruin’ decided to undertake a major refurbishment and to emulate his brother-in-law’s residence. We shall likely never know because the house no longer stands. The last of the male Foxes to live here, Richard Maxwell Fox, died in 1885 and having no living sons the estate was inherited by his eldest daughter Adeline. It would appear neither she nor her two sisters married, and that they preferred to live in England. The greater part of the Fox land having already been sold, the house and demesne went the same way in the 1920s, and the former was eventually demolished by the Land Commission in 1946. The yard buildings, which stood directly behind the house, still survive to give some idea of what the place must once have been like.





Please note: In Ireland, as in so much of the world, a great many buildings are closed to the public at present. On the other hand, locations that are in decay or ruin, and open to the elements are often accessible. As a result, this site is likely to feature many such properties over the coming weeks. The Irish Aesthete apologises, but promises to keep the tone as upbeat and cheerful as possible. 

On a Ridge



What remains of the old church in Dromore (from the Irish for a high ridge), County Tyrone. Perched above the village, the ruins may incorporate a medieval place of worship, which was reportedly burnt in 1641 during the Confederate Wars. The church was then rebuilt in 1694 and remained in use until the early 1840s when a new one was erected on another site. The surviving outer walls are surrounded by old gravestones.


This Beautiful Pile


‘Immediately approaching Navan, the river [Boyne] makes a bold sweep round the foot of the hill, from which rise up the ruins of Athlumney Castle, the dilapidated towers and tall gables of which shoot above the trees that surround the commanding eminence on which it is placed, while glimpses of its broad, stone-sashed and picturesque windows, of the style of the end of the sixteenth century, are caught through the openings in the plantation which surrounds the height on which it stands. This beautiful pile consists of a large square keep, with stone arched floors and passages rising into a tower, from which a noble view can be obtained on a clear day; and a more modern castellated mansion, with square stone-mullioned windows, tall chimneys and several gables in the side walls.’




‘Of the history of the castle of Athlumney and its adjoining church, there is little known with certainty; but, standing on the left bank of the Boyne, opposite this point, we cannot help recalling the story of the heroism of its last lord, Sir Launcelot Dowdall, who, hearing of the issue of the battle of the Boyne and the fate of the monarch to whose religion and politics his family had been so long attached, and fearing the approach of the victorious English army, declared on the news reaching him, that the Prince of Orange should never rest under his ancestral roof. The threat was carried into execution. Dowdall set fire to his castle at nightfall and, crossing the Boyne, sat down upon its opposite bank, from whence, as tradition reports, he beheld the last timber in his noble mansion blazing and flickering in the calm summer’s night, then crash amidst the smouldering ruins; and when its final eructation of smoke and flame was given forth, and the pale light of morning was stealing over that scene of desolation, with an aching and despairing heart he turned from the once happy scene of his youth and manhood, and, flying to the continent, shortly after his royal master, never returned to this country. All that remained of this castle and estate were forfeited in 1700. Many a gallant Irish soldier lost his life, and many a noble Irish gentleman forfeited his broad lands that day. We wish their cause had been a better one, and the monarch for whom they bled more worthy such an honour.’




‘Tradition gives us another, but by no means so probable story about Athlumney Castle, which refers to an earlier date. It is said that two sisters occupied the ancient castles of Athlumney and Blackcastle, which latter was situated on the opposite bank of the river; and the heroine of the latter, jealous of her rival in Athlumney, took the following means of being revenged…’




‘…She made her enter into an agreement, that to prevent their mansions falling into the hands of Cromwell and his soldiers, they should set fire to them at the same moment, as soon as the news of his approach reached them, and that a fire being lighted upon one was to be the signal for the conflagration of the other. In the mean time, the wily mistress of Blackcastle had a quantity of dry brush-wood placed on one of the towers of the castle which, upon a certain night, she lighted; and the inhabitants of Athlumney perceiving the appointed signal, set fire to their mansion and burned it to the ground. In the morning the deception was manifest. Athlumney was a mass of blackened, smoking ruins; while Blackcastle still reared its proud form above the woods, and still afforded shelter to its haughty mistress.’


Extracts from The Beauties of the Boyne, and its Tributary, The Blackwater by Sir William Wilde (1850)

Gambling on its Future

The name is Burghéis a dá mhíle of which Two Mile Borris in County Tipperary is so called because located two Irish miles from the town of Thurles (an Irish mile, a measure commonly in use until the 19th century, was just over a quarter longer than its English equivalent). A common place name in Ireland, Borris (Buirgheas) is thought to derive from the Norman for burgage or borough. This tower house, which probably dates from the 16th century, now sits in the middle of a farmyard behind a local guesthouse.
Its future could be open to question because bizarrely, in 2011 the local authority (and indeed An Bord Pleanála, the national planning authority) granted permission for construction in Two Mile Borris of ‘The Tipperary Venue’. This scheme was intended to feature a casino, a racecourse, a 500-roomed hotel, an 18-hole golf course, a greyhound track, a 15,000-seater entertainment venue, and parking for 6,000 cars. Other features included a sprint track, an all-weather floodlit track, an equestrian centre, a replica of the White House (originally designed by James Hoban, who was born in neighbouring County Kilkenny) parking space of 6,000 cars. The project faltered due to a decline in the economy, but also because the proposed casino did not conform to Ireland’s current gambling legislation. But at least part of it may yet be constructed: two years ago Tipperary Co Council agreed to extend the duration time applicable to the planning permission until March 2023.

All that’s Left


Another roofless church, this one in County Galway where the village of Shanaglish derives its name from the Irish ‘Sean Eaglais’ meaning ‘old church’. This is the building in question, at a spot called Beagh. It appears there was already a church here in the ninth century, and that this was subject to attack by marauding Vikings. Then in 1441 the Franciscan order established a friary which survived until the 1580s. The building was used, and extended, by the Church of Ireland in the 17th century at least until 1685 when the parish of Beagh was amalgamated with another nearby. This is all that remains today on the site.

A Plain Edifice



The roofless remains of the former Church of Ireland church in Glanworth, County Cork. It is said to have been built on the site, and perhaps incorporates portions of, a mediaeval parish church which had fallen into ruins by the mid-1690s. In the Saturday Magazine of October 10th 1840 it was described as ‘a plain edifice, with low tower and spire.’ Surrounded by increasingly dilapidated tombs, the building is 18th century with the tower at the west end added later.


Looking Golden


An arched entrance into what was once the Castlepark estate in Golden, County Tipperary. The main house here, demolished several decades ago, dated from the late 18th century when built for Richard Creaghe; the main block was of three bays and two storeys over raised basement. Alterations were carried out to the building in the years prior to the Great Famine to the designs of local architect William Tinsley. However, in the aftermath of the famine, Castlepark was sold through the Encumbered Estates Court and bought by William Scully who renamed it Mantle Hill. A new residence, built some thirty years ago, now stands close to the site of the original house. This entrance is one of two, the other, a typical 1840s set of gates with adjacent lodge lies to the south and looks to have been one of Tinsley’s contributions. However, the west arch looks to be older. MIght it have been associated with Golden Castle, the ruins of which stand not far away on an island in the river Suir to the south-east?

Two Empty Shells


Geoffrey Keating (in Irish Seathrún Céitinn) is thought to have been born c.1569 in County Tipperary; for a long time Burgess was believed his birthplace, but more recently an argument has been advanced for Moorstown Castle, a tower house then occupied by the Keating family. In 1603 he sailed for France where he attended the recently-founded Irish College in Bordeaux. On finishing his studies and being an ordained priest, he returned to Ireland where he took up clerical duties in a parish near Cahir. Over the next twenty years he wrote his major work, completed around 1634, Foras Feasa ar Éirinn (The Foundation of Knowledge on Ireland, commonly known as The History of Ireland). Written in Irish, this traced the evolution of Keating’s native country from the creation of the world until the arrival of the Anglo-Normans (who were among the author’s own forebears). The manuscript, of which the first version was only published in English in 1723 (and the full text in Irish only at the start of the last century) drew on a wide variety of sources, some of which no longer exist and others of which can be deemed pseudo-historical. Much of the content is therefore open to revision. However, as Bernadette Cunningham wrote in 2001, during a time of enormous social upheaval and political unrest, ‘Keating’s portrayal of Ireland as an ancient and worthy kingdom had enormous attractions for his contemporaries. It told the story of the kingdom of Ireland at a time when the idea of an Irish kingdom mattered a great deal to contemporaries. In consequence, though it may tell us relatively little about early Irish history that cannot be gleaned from other sources, it reveals a great deal about Keating’s own seventeenth-century world.’




Little is known about Keating’s life, or even when and where he died. With regard to the latter, a plaque above the doorcase of a mortuary chapel at Tubrid, County Tipperary carries the following inscription in Latin: ‘Orate Pro Aiabs P. Eugenu: Duhy Vic de Tybrud: et D: Doct Galf: Keating huis Sacelli Fundatoru: necno et pro oibs alusta sacerd. quam laicis quoru corpa in eod: jacet sa A Dom 1644.’ (Pray for the souls of Father Eugenius Duhy, Vicar of Tybrud, and of Geoffrey Keating, D.D., Founders of this Chapel ; and also for all others, both Priests and Laics whose bodies lie in the same chapel. In the year of our Lord 1644.) Accordingly, we know he was dead by this time but the exact date and death remain a mystery. Now roofless and in one corner of a substantial graveyard, the chapel still thanks to the Roman Catholic priest and historian Patrick Power who in the early years of the last century championed the memory of Keating, and arranged to have steel rods inserted into the building to ensure its walls did not collapse.




To the immediate north of the chapel at Tubrid stand the remains of another building, St John’s a former Church of Ireland church thought to have been built on the site of an older place of worship: he buttressed walls of the nave suggest these might even have been retained from the earlier building. Turrets with conical caps stand at each corner of the main body of the church, while the tower has four capped octagonal towers. Many sources (such as http://www.buildingsofireland.ie) give a date of 1819-20 for the church’s construction, meaning it comes from the period when the Board of First Fruits was at its most active. However, the Representative Church Body Library (in effect the archives for the Church of Ireland) holds a number of drawings of the building signed by James Pain and dated 1835: these show exterior and interior ground plans and elevations. In 1823 Pain had been appointed architect to the Board of First Fruits for Munster (responsible for all churches and glebe houses in the province) and he continued to work for the board and its successor, the Ecclesiastical Commission, until at least 1843. Therefore one may assume the church was designed by his office and is later than the date usually given. (It is not listed in David Lee’s 2005 monograph on the architect, but on the other hand the author advises that not all churches attributable to Pain are listed in the relevant appendix and recommends consultation of the RCB Library archives). Drawings of the same church also survive from the office of Welland & Gillespie, architects to the Ecclesiastical Commission from 1860 until the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland ten years later, but whether these plans were executed or not is unclear. St John’s, Tubrid ceased to be used for services in 1919 and, like its older neighbor, now stands a roofless shell.

There is Good Limestone



From Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837)
‘BEAGH or ST. ANNE’S, a parish, in the barony of KILTARTAN, county of GALWAY, and province of CONNAUGHT, containing, with part of the post-town of Gort, 5343 inhabitants. This parish is situated on the confines of the county of Clare, and on the road from Galway and Loughrea to Ennis. A monastery of the third order of Franciscans was founded here about the year 1441, but by whom is unknown: in an inquisition of the 28th of Elizabeth it is denominated a cell or chapel, and its possessions appear to have consisted of half a quarter of land, with its appurtenances and tithes, which had been long under concealment. The parish comprises 12,331 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act, and there is some bog; agriculture is improved, and there is good limestone.’






From Fahey, J., D.D., V.G. The History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Kilmacduagh (1893)
‘On the island of Lough Cutra lake there are also some interesting ruins- a church and castle amongst others, on the history of which no light has yet been cast. We find, from an “Inquisition” taken before John Crofton, Esq., at Athenry, on the 1st of October 1584, that Richard, second Earl of Clanricarde, was then seized of “Beagh and 4 qrts of land, and the ruined castle of Lough Cutra, with an island in the Loug aforesaid.” It may be desirable to add that the Beagh referred to is the old ruined church on the Gort river, about two miles east of town, which had been long previously the parish church of Beagh. There can be little doubt that the lands referred to were its confiscated property.’