Former Greatness

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Like almost every urban settlement in Ireland, the origins of Trim, County Meath seem to depend on an early saint, in this case Lommán (or Loman) who is believed to have been involved with a monastery here in the late 5th/early 6th century. But the town really owes its importance to the Anglo-Norman knight Hugh de Lacy, granted the Lordship of Meath by Henry II in 1172. De Lacy was responsible for initiating construction of the immense castle that still dominates the skyline in this part of the country, but not far away are other striking ruins that receive far less attention. These are the remains of Newtown Trim, established in 1206 by Simon de Rochfort who fourteen years earlier had become Bishop of Meath. Until then the diocesan seat had been in Clonard but after the abbey thehre was attacked and destroyed by the Irish in 1200 de Rochfort took advantage of the situation to have the see transferred to Trim.

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Located about half a mile from Trim and on the other side of the river Boyne, Newtown centred on a priory of Canons Regular, its church dedicated to SS Peter and Paul effectively acting as a cathedral. Little enough of this remains, but sufficient to indicate its immensity: this was one of the largest such buildings in mediaeval Ireland, and vaulted in stone which was not always the case. The greater part of the remaining area is the chancel leading towards a now-lost east window: some on either side do survive. At the western end of the choir section lay the nave but this has also disappeared. Of the ancillary buildings, only small portions of the chapter house and refectory (the latter immediately above the river bank) still stand but the distances between these ruins provide an excellent sense of how important was this religious house. The scale of the site is made all the more apparent by the remains of a parish church to the immediate east, its walls dwarfed by those of the adjacent priory. Inside the little church is a well-preserved limestone altar tomb of 1586 commemorating Sir Lucas Dillon and his wife Jane Bathe who lie on the top while around the sides are family coats of arms and a scene showing a family group, presumably the Dillons.

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A little to the south-east lie a second set of ruins, those of the former Hospital Priory of St John the Baptist which, like the Augustinian priory, was founded by Simon de Rochfort. Some of the surviving walls, not least those to the west, have a defensive character, suggesting the need for protection from attack, a not-unusual occurrence in Ireland during the upheavals of the later Middle Ages. The long church, without aisles, concludes at the east end in three lancet windows but there is little other extant decoration. The living quarters here are in somewhat better condition than in the other religious house, as in the post-Reformation era St John’s was granted to Robert Dillon, an attorney general to the crown and then passed to the Ashe family who made some alterations for domestic use. In other words, like Bective Abbey a few miles away, it was converted for secular purposes. Whereas visitors tend to be drawn to Trim Castle and its attendant attractions, Newtown Trim is comparatively little known. As a result, it retains the kind of romantic appeal that many other ruins have lost. This is especially apparent on a winter afternoon when the sun sinks behind these remains, but not before bathing the stone in a roseate glow.

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Shrouded in Mystery

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As has been noted here more than once, sometimes even the largest houses in this country can have elusive histories. Such is the case with Kilmanahan Castle, County Waterford. Despite the scale of the property and a prominent location perched high over the river Suir, not to mention its evident age, there appears to be relatively little information available about the place. At its core is an mediaeval castle erected by the FitzGeralds, perhaps the round tower on the south-east of the site: there are a number of similarly circular castles in this part of the country, not least at Moorstown with which Kilmanahan would be linked by family connections. In 1586 the land on which it stood was acquired (as part of a parcel of some 11,500 acres) by Sir Edward Fitton whose father had come to this country and risen to be Lord President of Connaught and Vice-Treasurer of Ireland. However Fitton seems to have over-extended himself and this may explain why in the early years of the 17th century Kilmanahan was bought by Sir James Gough, whose family were wealthy merchants in Waterford city. It next changed hands in 1678 when granted to Godfrey Greene, son of another English-born planter. A Captain in the what was called the King’s Irish Protestant Army, Godfrey had remained loyal to the crown during the Cromwellian interregnum and thus benefitted from the return of the monarchy in 1660. Among the other properties he acquired was the aforementioned Moorstown Castle a few miles away in County Tipperary.

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The Greenes remained at Kilmanahan until the mid-19th century. Moorstown was left by Godfrey Greene to his eldest son, Kilmanahan being left to a younger son Rodolphus, as also happened in the next generation (it appears the marriages of Rodolphus’ first two sons displeased their father). The last of the line to spend his lifetime at Kilmanahan was Lieutenant-Colonel Nuttall Greene, born in 1769 and only dying in 1847. It would appear that he and his wife Charlotte Ann Parsons were responsible for greatly extending the castle to the north and west, thereby over-extending themselves with the result that in the aftermath of the Great Famine, Kilmanahan was sold through the Encumbered Estates Court (by a twist of fate, the other branch at Moorstown also lost their estate during the same period). It probably also didn’t help that the couple had a very large number of children, five sons and nine daughters, for whom provision would have had to be made. In any case, although inherited by their heir William Greene the place was sold in 1852; its purchaser resold Kilmanahan just three years later to Thomas Wright Watson who, like several previous owners, had been born in England. By the start of the last century, Kilmanahan had changed hands again, passing into the ownership of the Hely-Hutchinsons, Earls of Donoughmore whose main estate, Knocklofty lay to the immediate south on the other side of the Suir. The Donoughmores sold up and left Ireland more than thirty years ago.

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Kilmanahan manifests evidence of having been developed over several distinct periods. The earliest section, as already mentioned, seems to be in the castle in the south-east corner. To the east of this is what looks to have been a projecting three-storey gate house which was then linked to the castle, also subsequently extended in the other direction; the latter portion’s window openings suggest this development took place in the late 16th or early 17th centuries, when the building was occupied by the Fittons and Goughs. The next major building development looks to have happened in the 18th century when a seven-bay, two-storey block was constructed to the immediate north of the old castle. This then became the main entrance front and would have contained the main reception rooms, with a corresponding wing incorporating central canted bow erected west directly above the river. The latter was in turn further extended south with the addition of a slightly smaller service wing, linking to a taller, single-bay block that terminated the river facade. The result of these additions was the creation of a large internal courtyard, accessed through an arch on the south side: inside can be seen the remains of a handsome classical stable block centred on a pedimented, breakfront coach house. At some later date, perhaps during the time of Nuttall and Charlotte Greene, the entire structure was given a gothic carapace, with the addition of abundant castellations, Tudor hood mouldings over the (otherwise classical sash) windows, an elaborate arched moulding over the principal entrance and so forth. The north-east corner of the entrance front was then made into a round tower, to match that already to the south-east (the original castle). A door at the north-western corner carries the Donoughmore coat of arms and the date 1909, indicating this was when the family took over the place, but images in the National Library of Ireland’s Lawrence Photograph Collection show the work of gothicisation had taken place by then. And as can be seen here, there are further, extensive outbuildings lying to the immediate south, further evidence this was once the centre of a substantial estate. Today, although some planting has been done in the surrounding parkland, Kilmanahan Castle is in poor condition. Since the building is heavily boarded up, investigation of its interior (and the possibility of better understanding the building’s evolution) is not possible. The site’s architectural history retains many secrets, especially when seen – as on the occasion of a recent visit – in winter fog. The weather conspired to shroud Kilmanahan Castle still further in mystery.

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Awaiting Conversion

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The former Church of Ireland church at Odagh, County Kilkenny. Dating from 1796 and built with assistance from the Board of First Fruits, it remained in use for services until the late 1950s and was unroofed some thirty-five years ago. In 2012 permission was granted for conversion of the church into a two-bedroom domestic dwelling and evidently some work then took place on the site. It is now on the market.

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In a Commanding Position

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Some readers might not be aware that the Wellesley family, of which the most famous line is that descended from the first Duke of Wellington, used to spell their name Wesley. More importantly, their original name was Colley: in 1728, on inheriting the estates of Dangan and Mornington in County Meath from a cousin called Garret Wesley, Richard Colley legally adopted the latter’s surname. The grandfather of the Iron Duke, Richard Wesley was eventually created first Baron of Mornington (his son, called Garret Wesley in memory of the man who had bequeathed them his estates, would become first Earl of Mornington in 1760). All this is by way of explaining an oft-mentioned but rarely understood link between the Duke of Wellington and Carbury Castle, County Kildare. …

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Carbury Castle stands at the top of a hill believed to have been at the heart of an ancient territory known as Cairbre Uí Chiardha, associated with a sept of the Uí Néill clan, Lords of Carbury first mentioned in the Annals of the Four Masters. From this clan was supposed to have been descended Niall of the Nine Hostages, a fourth century king. The name Carbury derives from Cairbre (or Coirpre), one of Niall’s sons. However the origins of the castle lie with the Norman Meiler Fitzhenry who constructed a motte on the site. The land then passed into the possession of the de Berminghams. During the confused wars of the 15th century Castle Carbury, as it was then called, was attacked and plundered on several occasions, passing in and out of diverse hands. By then titular ownership lay with the Prestons: in the second half of the 14th century, Robert Preston, first Baron Gormanston had married Margaret, daughter and heiress of Walter de Bermingham, Lord of Carbury.

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In the early part of the reign of Elizabeth I, the lands of Carbury were bestowed by the crown on Henry Colley, an English soldier who rose to become an Irish Privy Counsellor and was invested as a Knight in 1574. He was succeeded by his son, another Henry who made an advantageous marriage to Anne, eldest daughter of Adam Loftus, the great Archbishop of Dublin who also acted as Lord Chancellor of Ireland and first Provost of Trinity College Dublin, which he was instrumental in founding. Several more generations of Colleys followed, until another Henry inherited Carbury in the late 17th century: it was his younger son Richard who, on inheriting estates in County Meath changed his surname to Wesley. Richard’s elder brother, yet another Henry Colley, only had one child, a daughter Mary who married Arthur Pomeroy, created first Viscount Pomeroy in 1791. It was during this couple’s lifetime that Carbury Castle was abandoned, since in the 1760s the Pomeroys built themselves a new residence nearby, the Palladian Newberry Hall.

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What remains today of Carbury Castle is primarily a late 16th/early 17th century fortified manor house, presumably erected on much earlier foundations. Its most striking feature are the tall chimney stacks but inside the building one also finds the remnants of the stone window mullions and large fireplaces. The internal floors have almost gone, as have room divisions so it is difficult to gain any sense of the original layout. No doubt soil levels have altered over the centuries, making such an assessment even harder but since the site naturally slopes quite steeply it is likely there were more storeys on one side of the building than on the other, one portion holding a barrel-vaulted cellar. A little further down the hill lies an ancient graveyard, with the remains of a chapel’s west gable, and the Colley mausoleum which looks to be of early 18th century origin. It is not hard to see why a castle was built and maintained here, since it commands views of the surrounding flat Kildare countryside for many miles around, ensuring the occupants were well warned of any threat of attack. Today the scale and location of Carbury Castle ensure that even as a ruin it still exudes authority.

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A Fortress of God

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The massive form of Quin Friary, County Clare is due to the fact that when the Franciscan order came here in 1433 it settled inside the ruins of an Anglo-Norman castle. This had been built around 1280 by Thomas de Clare, Lord of Thomond with a square courtyard and cylindrical towers at each corner. However, just six years later the building was attacked by the indigenous Irish who, in the words of a contemporary, left it a ‘hideous blackened cave.’ So it remained until the arrival of the Franciscans who adapted the ruins for their own purpose and remained there for just over a century until the suppression of all such religious houses by Henry VIII.

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A Vanishing Narrative

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As many readers will be aware, right across Ireland can be seen the remains of hundreds, possibly thousands, of former fine residences dating from the seventeenth century onwards. Even in ruin their scale makes them prominent marks on the landscape, testaments to our country’s history, witnesses to an order which once prevailed but has now passed. Because of the societal and economic imbalance they represented, many of today’s citizens understandably do not mourn their passing. Nevertheless they are part of the national narrative. We ought at least to know their stories, so that they can better inform our own. Unfortunately their mute condition today often means we know little or nothing of each building’s distinctive tale, of how they came into being and then fell into decline. Once this information was familiar, if only to those who occupied the property, or worked on the estate. Now it has frequently been forgotten and another property’s unique character becomes part of the generic ‘Big House’ story. This seems to be the case with Nettleville, County Cork, yet another ruin about which relatively little information is available.

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Around 1630 John Nettles moved here from Herefordshire around 1630: inevitably he is described in Burke’s Landed Gentry of 1871 as springing from ‘an ancient English family’ (perish the thought that anyone’s background might not disappear into the foggiest mists of time). Evidently he flourished here since in 1666 he was confirmed by Charles II in a grant of land of 1,258 acres in Counties Waterford and Cork, although his residence was in the latter at Tourin, later to pass into the ownership of the Musgrave family. It was his second son, Robert Nettles, who came to live on an estate where the remains of Nettleville can now be found. On the failure of this line of the family, the Cork property passed back to the main branch, and in the second half of the 18th century was inherited by Captain Robert Nettles. Ambrose Leet’s 1814 Directory lists Nettleville as occupied by the Rev Bazil Orpin, who had married one of the Nettles daughters. However, his tenure was only temporary. Although Captain Nettles and his wife had five sons, four of them died young either through accidents or in warfare (one, Ensign William Nettles being killed at the Battle of Waterloo). That left a single heir, Richard Nevill-Nettles who on the death of his father in 1828 inherited Nettleville. He in turn was succeeded by his only son Robert Nettles, listed in the 1870s as owning 1,684 acres in County Cork. Seemingly Nettleville was still occupied by the Nettles family at the start of the last century but thereafter there does not appear to be further mention of them, leading to the supposition that they died out. Interestingly in September 1919 the Irish Builder mentions Cork architect Bartholomew O’Flynn being employed at Nettleville to carry out alterations and additions, so evidently someone was still living there.

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And so to Nettleville, which in the national register of buildings is listed as being built c.1800, although one suspects this is speculative since what survives of the building makes it difficult to discover any specific design features that would allow more precise dating. The south-facing front of the house, now completely immersed in vegetation, is of two storeys over basement but since the site slopes the rear – which looks down to a point where the river Lee loops around on itself – is of three storeys. On this side, to the east of the house is a single-storey extension with narrow arched niches but there does not seem ever to have been its equivalent to the west. While in the main built of dressed sandstone, the house’s windows feature cut limestone sills and red brick voussoirs; no doubt the whole exterior was originally rendered to give a uniformity of appearance.
A short distance to the south-east lies a large yard, the greater part of which is in better condition than the house it was created to serve. Centred on a fine arched gateway, its pediment extended to accommodate a bell, the yard effectively divides into upper and lower sections, assisted once more by the sloping site. Handsomely constructed, and still, at least in part, serviceable, it demonstrates this was once a thriving estate. Now, however, Nettleville is just another ruin on the Irish landscape and its voice in our historical narrative grows weaker as the old buildings grow closer and closer to complete disappearance.

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Majestic in its Ruins

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How the earth darkens! not a day-beam cheers
Its pensive look, or gilds the evening sky;
While through the gloom, from other worlds appears
No smile to bid the gathering shadows die.
All is so sadly still! The cooling breeze
That from yon mountains their mild freshness bears,
Now breathes not, – floating through the blossomed trees,
To fan the sable garb which nature wears…

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I gaze where Jerpoint’s venerable pile,
Majestic in its ruins, o’er me lowers:
The worm now crawls through each untrodden aisle,
And the bat hides within its time-worn towers.
It was not thus, when in the olden time,
The holy inmates of yon broken wall
Lived free from woes which spring from care or crime,
Those shackles which the grosser world enthrall…

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I mark the venerable Abbot stand
Beneath the shadow of his church’s towers,
Grasping the wicket in his trembling hand,
Reverting to past scenes of happier hours,
And dwelling on the many years gone by
Since first his young lips breath’d his earliest prayer,
To lisp of Him who lives beyond the sky,
And nurse the hope he might behold him there…

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No more the banners o’er their ramparts wave,
Or lead their chieftains onwards to the fight,
Where die the vanquish’d, or exult the brave,
For victory – basking in its worshipp’d light.
Gone are the heroes of the days of yore;
Their enemies, like them, have felt decay;
The Chiefs of Ossory, and Leix O’More,
Are mingled in the dust with common clay…Line

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Extracted from Lines Written at Jerpoint Abbey by Samuel Carter Hall (1823).