Plundered

Another ruined castle, this one in County Tyrone. Believed to date from the mid-14th century, Harry Avery’s Castle is named after the Gaelic chief in this area Henry Aimhréidh O’Neill who died in 1392. As can be seen, not a lot of it remains, other than a pair of D-front towers. Captured by the English forces in 1609, the site was subsequently plundered for stone, which explains why so little remains today.

A Fine Moral System


From Vol. III of Ireland: Its Scenery, Character, etc. by Mr and Mrs Samuel Hall (1843):
‘In the county Tyrone, and within a distance of little more than three miles from Strabane, is to be found one of the most interesting establishments it has ever been our good fortune to visit in any country. We have inspected manufactories of much greater extent than the “Sion Mills” but have never witnessed with greater gratification the practical and efficient working of a fine moral system…’





‘The mills are situated on the river Mourne, which rushes along with a rapid and continued current, and is about one of the best water powers in Great Britain, the supply being not only large but constant. About eighty-horse power is now employed to drive eight thousand spindles; yet but a small portion of the water is necessary for the purpose. Instead of the hot furnace, long chimneys, and dense smoke, rendering still more unhealthy the necessarily close atmosphere of manufactories devoted exclusively to the spinning of flax and tow into linen yarn, there is a clean, handsome, well-ventilated building, where nearly seven hundred of a peasantry, which, before the establishment of this manufactory, were starving and idle—not from choice but necessity—are now constantly employed; and the air is as pure and as fresh as on the borders of the wildest prairie, or the boldest coast…’





‘The bare fact of such a population being taught industrious habits, and receiving full remuneration for their time and labour, is a blessing; but not the only one enjoyed by this favoured peasantry: agricultural labour is not neglected, because five out of the seven hundred are women and girls—creatures who, but for the spirit and enterprise of the Messrs. Herdman, (to whom, and the Mulhollands of Belfast, Tyrone is indebted for this establishment) would be found cowering over the embers of their turf fires, or begging along the waysides for morsels of food. But this system of social order and social industry is not, as we have said, the only advantage enjoyed at Sion Mills. Cottages, of simple construction, but sound and comfortable, have been built for the workmen and their families; a school is established, and to the Sunday-school the Messrs. Herdman themselves attend, taking the greatest interest in educational progress of their workpeople, and distributing motives to improvement, lavishly and judiciously. Nor are they behind London in the idea, that “the people” may derive benefit from the introduction of more refined tastes into the business of every-day life. The traveller’s ear is refreshed, if he pass along during the long evenings of winter, or the bright cheerful ones of summer, by the music of a full band; and instead of the saddened hearts and saddened features he has been led to suppose inseparable from the crowded factory, he hears a chorus of cheerful voices, or the echoes of dancing feet.’


Herdmans Flax Spinning Mill, Sion Mills, County Tyrone. Opened 1835, closed 2004, gutted by arsonists 2016. 

 

On the Defensive


All conquering powers need to guard against not only internal rebellion but also attack from an external force. So it was that over several centuries the British authorities remained on the alert for the possibility of Ireland being invaded by a rival power.  This being an island, the invaders would initially be seaborne but their means of assault changed as methods of warfare became more sophisticated and potentially more lethal. Once ocean-going ships capable of carrying cannon were developed, coastal defences had to adapt as earlier methods of resistance threatened to be ineffective. Hence the construction of Charles Fort outside Kinsale, County Cork.





Located at the mouth of the river Bandon, Kinsale harbour is virtually landlocked, providing good shelter and anchorage to sea vessels. When Philip III of Spain sent an expeditionary force here in 1601 to support the indigenous army then fighting the English crown, it disembarked at Kinsale. So too did James II, accompanied by a contingent of French troops, in 1689. Understandably Kinsale was seen by the governing authorities as a vulnerable point of entry, and therefore in need of defence. Already in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Kinsale, the pentagonal James Fort had been erected to the south of the port, but well before the end of the century this was judged insufficient. The development of another and bigger fortification began on the opposite side of the harbour. This is Charles Fort, named after Charles II.





There seems to be a degree of uncertainty over who was responsible for the design of Charles Fort. Stylistically it derives from the system of fortifications developed by the Marquis de Vauban (1633-1707), a French soldier and military engineer who among much other work in the course of a busy life oversaw the building of some thirty-seven new fortresses and fortified harbours in his native country. Vauban’s star-shaped fortifications featuring a sequence of acute angles allowed defendants of a building better to see and repulse any assault, as well as to withstand cannon fire. This design was much emulated from the second half of the 17th century onward and accordingly served as inspiration for Charles Fort. Built between 1678 and 1683, the fort was planned as a pentagonal star but the completed structure is simpler and lacks adequate landward bastions (it can also be overlooked from higher ground, which proved a serious drawback during the Williamite Wars). Nevertheless it is one of the largest and most impressive fortifications ever erected here, with massive seaward bastions and ramparts featuring gun platforms and embrasures, glacis (a bank sloping down from the building which leaves potential attackers exposed) and a citadel. The interior of the fort runs to some twenty acres, much of which is filled with the remains of military accommodation.





Sir William Robinson, then Surveyor-General in Ireland, is said to have played a role in the development of Charles Fort, but so too it seems did Roger Boyle, Earl of Orrery – a polymath who was both soldier and playwright, gentleman-architect and engineer – and James Archer, a Roman Catholic architect and engineer who managed to survive several changes of regime. Internally, the majority of the buildings are later than the fortifications. The limestone pedimented gateway, for example, was put in place in 1759 (incorporating older fabric) and may have been designed by Thomas Roberts who was then employed in erecting new buildings inside the fort. One of the houses on site, first occupied by Governor Walander, dates from 1710 and also features a neo-classical pedimented doorcase. Other blocks are from different periods in the 18th century. The passage of time and a long period of neglect in the last century mean that today it is difficult to tell what dates from when. Charles Fort remained in use by the British armed forces until their departure in the aftermath of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921. The following year the site was set alight by anti-treaty forces and badly damaged. Charles Fort thereafter fell into ruin until the early 1970s when it was declared a national monument and partially restored: in this condition it has been open to the public ever since.

 

A Result of Rationalisation


Ballyglunin, County Galway is a small village some six and a half miles south of Tuam. It would probably be unknown outside the immediate locale but for the fact that the little railway station here featured in John Ford’s 1952 film The Quiet Man. The station first opened with a single track in 1860 before being enlarged and improved in 1903 by the Great Southern and Western Railway which added a single storey residence, waiting room, office and lavatories, and a lamp room. As part of a rationalization of the national rail network, Ballyglunin station closed in 1967. There had been talk of it reopening as a stop on the proposed Western Railway Corridor. However, this project appears to have stalled and in the meantime the building has been falling into disrepair. Five years ago residents in the area established the Ballyglunin Community Development Charity, with the intention of restoring the old station in order to preserve this part of Ireland’s heritage. Last week, the same group launched a crowd funding scheme to raise sufficient funds for the building’s roof which is now in danger of collapse.





Ireland’s railway history dates back to 1834 when a line opened between Dublin and Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire). The driving force behind this venture was William Dargan, who would ultimately be responsible for constructing more than 800 miles of railway around the country, not least the Great Southern and Western Railway which linked Dublin to Cork. Other lines gradually followed, as did the creation of companies intended to serve them. At its peak the railway network in Ireland ran to some 3,500 miles: today it is less than half that figure. As in Britain, during the 1950s increasing private motor car ownership and greater use of lorries as a means of transporting goods led to a drop of both passenger and freight business on the railways. The different companies had been merged in the mid-1920s to form Great Southern Railways and twenty years later this in turn amalgamated with the Dublin United Transport Company to create Córas Iompair Éireann. A report published in 1957 recommended there be greater co-ordination between road and rail services and that more than half the latter’s system, and three-quarters of its stations and halts be closed. Much of this came to pass over the course of the next decade.




Today’s photographs are not of Ballyglunin station but of another stop once serviced by the Great Southern & Western Railway, at Laffansbridge, County Tipperary. Like Ballyglunin, it dates back to the 1860s and remained in use for a century before being closed as part of the rationalization programme. More recently the adjacent site has been used as a quarry. Since then the group of buildings, incorporating ticket hall and reception rooms together with station master’s residence and separate goods shed, has fallen into its present pathetic condition: the structures are, of course, listed for preservation. Outside the world of railway enthusiasts (otherwise humorously known as ferroequinologists), there appears to be little interest in or concern for the safeguarding of this aspect of our collective heritage. The campaigners in Ballyglunin, County Galway deserve to be applauded for their efforts. As once was William Dargan, in their own field they may yet come to be seen as trailblazers.

For more information on the campaign to save Ballyglunin Railway Station and to offer your support, see: http://ballyglunin.com/

Crisis and Decline


Robin Bury’s recently-published Buried Lives: The Protestants of Southern Ireland is, appropriately enough, something of a curate’s egg. However, the book provides a valuable account of the decline in Protestantism within this country, as testified by the numbers of people identifying themselves as such here. According to the 1911 census, there were some 327,000 Protestants living in the 26 counties, accounting for approximately ten per cent of the population: this figure excluded members of the British army stationed in Irish garrisons. A century later, the 2011 census indicated there were 137,000 Irish Protestants, accounting for three per cent of the population. Then as now the spread was uneven. The late R.B. McDowell’s Crisis and Decline: The Fate of the Southern Unionists (1997) reveals that at the start of the last century about a third of the total Protestant population in the 26 counties lived in Dublin and the adjacent counties of Wicklow and Kildare. In the prosperous south Dublin suburbs running from Rathmines/Rathgar out to Dalkey, over sixty per cent of the residents were Protestant. On the other hand, the further south and west one travelled, the fewer Protestants were to be found: in Munster they totalled six per cent of the population, in Connacht under four per cent. Inevitably as numbers started to drop from 1920s onwards, it was in these areas that church attendance, and subsequent closure, was most immediate and widespread.





St John’s in Ballymoe, County Galway is a typical example of the churches being constructed during the opening decades of the 19
th century with support from the Board of First Fruits which in this instance provided a donation of £900. It dates from 1832 when already that organisation’s funds were in decline, not least thanks to the onset of the ‘Tithe War’ two years before which led to the majority of the Roman Catholic citizenry refusing to provide support for a minority faith, the Church of Ireland. 
Built of cut limestone, St John’s has a four-bay nave and at the west end a three-stage bell tower which also accommodates the main entrance. The style is a customary loose interpretation of Gothic with pointed arch windows in some of which remain the original metal lattice work. The interior looks always to have been plain, an open hall leading to the altar table at the east end beyond which is a modest vestry. Although capable of accommodating around 200 people, the typical attendance was only one fifth that number.
Ballymoe features in a curious publication which appeared five years before the present church was built: the three-volume Dialogues on Prophecy written by a wealthy English evangelical Henry Drummond. Concerned at imminent legislation repealing the last hindrances to Roman Catholics playing a full role in public life, Drummond cited the tale of one Mary Anne Burke, a niece of the Catholic Bishop of Elphin who in 1827, having heard talks given in Ballymoe by the local rector sought to join the Church of Ireland only to find herself locked into a room with shuttered windows by relatives anxious she not convert. There she was held for four weeks, some of the time without food, in the expectation that she would recant. Instead she fled, first to Castlerea and then to Boyle, County Roscommon where, claiming the Catholic priest in Ballymoe had beaten her, she sought the protection of the local magistrates, ‘that she may be allowed to exercise the rights of conscience, and become a member of the Protestant Communion, which she believes to be alone agreeable to the Word of God.’ What became of Mary Anne Burke thereafter Mr Drummond does not relate.




The number of converts such as Mary Anne Burke being insufficient, a general decline in Protestant attendance led to St John’s being closed for worship over half a century ago, and as can be seen the church is now in a semi-ruinous condition. One curious feature to the rear of the surrounding graveyard is a table tomb with recumbent figure on top in full mediaeval armour. This is not, however, a remnant from the Middle Ages but an example of 19th century romanticism. The tomb celebrates a member of the Bagot family, whose name is recalled in Dublin by Baggot Street (where their property, Bagotrath Castle once stood). Settled in Ireland since the 13th century, the Bagots came to hold land in the Midland counties of Laois and Offaly. In 1775 one of their number, Captain John Lloyd Bagot (who had been A.D.C. to Lord Cornwallis during the American War of Independence) married the heiress Catherine Anne Cuffe and the couple’s descendants thereafter owned an estate in the Ballymoe area. There seems to be some confusion whether the table tomb commemorates Captain Bagot’s son, Thomas Neville Bagot (died 1863) or his grandson John Lloyd Neville Bagot (died 1890) and to complicate matters further the local Record of Protected Structures proposes a date of c.1830 for its erection. Whatever the truth, it appears the intention was to note the ancient pedigree of the Bagots. Despite their efforts, they have since departed the area, and the church in which they once worshipped, like so many others of its kind, has fallen into desuetude. An outcome Henry Drummond’s Dialogues on Prophecy did not predict.

Last Vestiges


The granite portico of Oaklands, County Wexford. This late Georgian house is associated with the Tyndall family, the last of whom died in 1957: soon afterwards Oaklands was gutted by fire and pulled down. This is all that remains to indicate its appearance, although large blocks of cut stone litter the surrounding area. A bungalow has been built on the site.

A Tale of Two Towers


Lining the northern banks of the river Suir in County Tipperary are a series of tower houses built in the 15th and 16th centuries. That above is Dove Hill (or Duff Hill), originally built on land under the control of the O’Mores. In 1542 it was garrisoned by Sir Thomas Butler of Cahir, but a century later was noted in the Civil Survey as being ‘a small castle wanting repaire’. The description remains apposite. A few miles to the west stands Poulakerry, another building once associated with the Butlers. Unlike Dove Hill, it has been restored and is now occupied.