The town of Portarlington, which straddles the border between Counties Laois and Offaly, dates from the mid-1660s when founded by Henry Bennet. An ardent supporter of Charles II, he was rewarded by the king with large grants of land in this part of Ireland, and sought to make the most of this gift by establishing a new settlement. Since he had been created Baron Arlington in 1665 (and made Earl of Arlington the following decade), he decided to call the town Port-Arlington, hence its name. The original English colony was not a success but at the start of the 1690s, a number of Huguenot families, religious refugees from France, came to Portarlingon and thereafter the town flourished. Dating from 1697, Arlington House, on French Church Street, was one of the first buildings to be erected by a Huguenot settler, Daniel Le Grand Chevalier Seigneur du Petit Bosc who lived here until his death in 1737. He was responsible for the rear section of the house, to which a new front with pedimented façade and first-floor Diocletian window was added in the mid-18th century. It later became a boarding school, one of the pupils who attended there being Edward Carson. In more recent years, despite its history and importance to the town, Arlington House has stood empty and allowed to fall into the present state of near-total ruin. It is, naturally, listed by the local authority for protection.
A midsummer visit to the cathedral in Ardfert, County Kerry took place on what in Ireland is known as a ‘soft day.’; In other words, it was teeming with rain, which made the experience hard going. A village of some 750 persons, there is some discussion about what are the origins of the name Ardfert. It could mean a place on an eminence, or perhaps Ardfert derives from ‘Ard Ert’, meaning the high place of Ert or Erc, since a 5th century saint called Erc supposedly made this the seat of a bishopric, hard to imagine today in such a small spot. But the size of the cathedral remains testify to Ardfert’s former importance, as do the nearby substantial ruins of the former Franciscan friary (see An Incomplete Story, https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/11/13/ardfert).
One of Ireland’s most famous saints, Brendan is said to have founded a monastery in Ardfert in the 6th century. Believed to have been born about six miles south of here, at the age of 26 Brendan was ordained a priest by the aforementioned Saint Erc. As well as Ardfert, he established monasteries in a number of other locations but most famously his restless spirit is said to have led him, accompanied by 16 followers, across the Atlantic Ocean to the ‘Isle of the Blessed’ (what is today North America): the earliest known account of this epic journey was written around the year 900. Hence the saint is known as Brendan the Voyager. More information on his life and travels can be found in a piece written here four years ago (see The Traveller’s Rest, https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/12/14/clonfert).
Although the present cathedral at Ardfert was begun in the 11th century, the greater part of it dates from the 13th century, with battlements added to the exterior walls two centuries later again. An important surviving feature is the doorway at the west end of the building: it is a fine example of Hiberno-Romanesque decoration, with outward pointing chevrons around the doorcase flanked on either side by paired blind arches in the same style. Similar features can be found in what remains of Temple-na-hoe, a small church to the immediate north-west of the cathedral. Those battlements added in the 15th century indicate how turbulent were the times, and so it remained for almost 200 years. During the Desmond Rebellions of the 1570s and ‘80s, the building was attacked and severely damaged, but appears still to have been used for services. However, in 1641 during the Confederate Wars, the cathedral was gutted by fire and temporarily abandoned. Some thirty years later, the south transept was restored and used by the Church of Ireland congregation for services until 1871 when a new church was built in the village. Ardfert cathedral is now under the care of the Office of Public Works, with the south transept used as a visitor centre and display area for some items found on the site. It also provides welcome shelter on a soft day…
The roofless remains of Woods Mill, County Offaly, so named because when described in the 1840s it was operated by one Thomas Woods. Dating from the late 18th/early 19th century, a time when increasing numbers of these commercial complexes were being constructed throughout the country, the building is of five storeys and six storeys. It operated as both a flour mill (water-powered thanks to the adjacent Little Brosna river) and a kiln. Converted to a saw mill at the end of the 19th century, it now stands empty, another mute witness to our increasingly lost industrial heritage.
Like many Irish houses, Castle Bernard, County Cork has a long and complex architectural history, some aspects of which are still not clear. The place takes its name from the Bernard family, the first of whom – christened Francis like many of his successors – came here during the Plantation of Munster in the late 16th century. He acquired lands which had formerly been owned by the O’Mahonys and was centred around a great square tower house called Castle Mahon to the immediate south of the river Bandon. This became the Bernards’ residence, its name at some date changed to Castler Bernard, until c.1715, Francis Bernard, great-grandson of the original settler, and Solicitor-General of Ireland, Prime Serjeant and Judge of the Court of Common Pleas initiated work on a new building, seemingly to the designs of John Coltsman of Cork. This involved adding wings to the old tower house, the whole encased in brick with Corinthian pilasters and other ornamentations in Portland stone. A decade later the surrounding demesne was transformed into a formal garden with terraces, cascades, jets d’eau and statuary. This arrangement lasted until the end of the 18th century when Castle Bernard underwent a further transformation.
In 1794 the Cork architect Michael Shanahan, best-known work commissioned in Ulster by his patron Frederick Hervey, Earl-Bishop of Derry, prepared designs for a new house at Castle Bernard. (For more on Shanahan and the Earl-Bishop, see It’s Downhill All the Way, October 28th 2013 and Let the Door be Instantly Open, For There is Much Wealth Within, March 31st 2014). This involved pulling down the additions to the original tower house, and instead erecting a structure to its immediate east, a linking corridor running between the two. In 1800 another Corkman, William Deane, prepared estimates of £522.4s.4d. for work in finishing the house. In both instances, the client was Francis Bernard who from 1793 gradually scaled the hierarchy of the peerage until 1800 when created first Earl of Bandon. The house he commissioned was classical in style, of two storeys over basement and with a nine-bay entrance front. The garden front was similar but broken by a substantial full-height bow occupying the three centre bays. Just fifteen years later, Lord Bandon undertook further work, this time by an unknown architect, in order to give it the – largely superficial – appearance of a gothic castle, and thereby provide better links both to the old tower house and to the Bernard family’s ancient pedigree. While the garden front experienced little other than the insertion of gothic tracery in its windows, battlements and turrets were added to the façade, and the Bernard coat of arms carved in stone above the main entrance. No great changes were made to the interior, which despite the gothic fenestration otherwise retained its classical decoration. On the ground floor, an entrance hall with Ionic pilasters and columns gave access to a wide corridor which ran like a spine down the centre of the house. Among the reception rooms, the most notable was an oval drawing room overlooking the garden: one sees in its design the abiding influence of the Earl-Bishop on Shanahan.
The Bernard family remained in residence at Castle Bernard until June 1921 when the 70-year old fourth earl and his wife were woken in the early hours of the morning by a group of IRA members and ordered out of the house, which was then set on fire. Lord Bandon was then taken into captivity by the men and held for the next three weeks, constantly moved from house to house before being released at the gates of the now-ruined Castle Bernard after three weeks: during this time he had lost a stone in weight and never recovered from the experience, dying less than three years later. He and his wife had no children, so the title passed to a first cousin twice-removed, Air Chief Marshal Percy Bernard, widely known as ‘Paddy’ Bandon. But he inherited not a lot else and so, although some compensation was received by the family, Castle Bernard was not rebuilt (the fifth earl constructed a modest bungalow behind the ruin). Since he in turn had no son, the earldom became extinct. Although his descendants still live on the estate, the land in front of Castle Bernard is now a golf course.
Two adjacent ecclesiastical ruins at Taghadoe, County Kildare, that to the left being a truncated round tower. A monastic site us believed to have been established here in the 6th century, its foundation attributed to a Saint Tua. From this evolved the Irish name Teach Tua (House of Tua) which eventually became anglicised as Taghadoe. The tower is all that remains of that religious settlement; rising some 20 metres, it has lost the original conical top.
The adjacent church is presumably on the site of an older structure, of which there are no visible remains. It was built in 1831, likely as part of the church rebuilding programme undertaken by the Church of Ireland’s Board of First Fruits. This must have suffered from a severe shortage of parishioners as it closed for services after just forty years and now stands a roofless shell. The building’s distinctive feature are the four octagonal towers, one at each corner. These lean out at a slight angle, as though in imitation of the older round tower which does likewise.
About half way on the train journey between Dublin and Cork, passengers will see a vast ruin close to the line: this is Loughmoe Castle, County Tipperary former seat of the Purcell family. The Purcells were of Norman origin, their name derived from the word Pourcel, meaning Piglet and indicating they were once swineherds. Their circumstances improved when members of the family moved to Ireland in the late 12th century and settled in Counties Tipperary and Kilkenny. At the start of the 13th century Hugh Purcell married a daughter of Theobald FitzWalter, Chief Butler of Ireland and founder of the powerful Butler clan. As part of the marriage agreement, the Purcells were granted territory around Loughmore/Loughmoe, which thereafter became their principal residence. The name Loughmoe derives from the Irish ‘Luach Mhagh’ meaning Field of the Reward. This refers to a legend that Purcell won both his bride and estate by meeting a challenge to rid the area of wild beasts. Whatever the truth, this was the start of a powerful and enduring alliance. In 1328 James Butler, first Earl of Ormonde created his kinsman Richard Purcell Baron of Loughmoe: since the title was not granted by the crown it had no official status but was used by successive generations of the family until the last male heir Colonel Nicholas Purcell died in 1722.
The earliest section of Loughmoe Castle is a tower house on the south side of the site, dating from either the 15th or 16th century. Of five storeys, it has curved corners and, on the ground floor, a typical vaulted chamber measuring 37 by 29 feet. At some point in the late 16th or early 17th century, the family greatly expanded the building to the north, creating an immense fortified manor house. The middle section rises four storeys, but that at the far end matches the original tower house by rising five storeys. The main difference between the two portions is that the newer has mullioned windows of eight, six or twelve panels, ensuring the interiors enjoyed much more light. A number of chimney pieces survive within the castle from this period, one of them bearing the arms of the Purcells and Butlers, further evidence of their close links.
The Purcells were still in residence at Loughmoe Castle in the 17th century, but problems arose owing during two great periods of civil disturbance. In the Confederate Wars James Purcell, whose wife Elizabeth was sister of James Butler, first Duke of Ormonde, supported the Roman Catholic cause, with consequences when this side lost. Matters were made worse by his death in 1652, leaving a widow and young son fighting to hold onto the family’s hereditary lands. Following the restoration of Charles II in 1660, and the appointment of the Duke of Ormonde as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland the following year, the Purcells’ circumstances improved. Nicholas’ son James seems to have lived quietly at Loughmoe until the onset of the Williamite Wars when he supported the Catholic James II from the moment the king arrived in Ireland in May 1689. James Purcell fought at the Battles of the Boyne and Aughrim, and was a signatory of the Treaty of Limerick. Following the defeat of the Jacobite cause, he did not follow the example of others and flee to France but remained in Ireland, living on at Loughmoe where he appears to have retained his property; in 1705 he was one of the limited number of Roman Catholics permitted to carry firearms. He died in 1722, predeceased by his only son, after which Loughmoe passed to one of his daughters, married to a member of the White family; they were the last link of the Purcells with the castle.
The church at Dunfierth, County Kildare dates from c.1500 and is associated with the de Bermingham family which at the time was still the dominant family in this part of the country. In 1548 a tomb to Walter de Bermingham was built inside the church, and this featured a number of fine carvings.
In 1815 the de Berminghams had long since gone from the area, and the Hamilton family constructed a vaulted mausoleum inside the former chancel of Dunfierth church. This incorporated a number of carvings from the older tomb, such as a Crucifixion scene, and bands of ‘keeners’ on either side of the structure. Inside the rear wall features the carving of an armoured knight, only really visible if the natural light is sufficiently good. There are other fine pieces of work elsewhere on the site, such as this window on the south wall.
It is difficult to visualize today, but the mediaeval friary in the centre of Ennis, County Clare originally stood on an island at a point where the river Fergus divided. The exact date of its establishment is uncertain, but the Franciscan order is believed to have been invited to open a new house here towards the middle of the 13th century: Donnchadh Ó Briain, King of Thomond is often credited with being responsible for this shortly before his death in 1242. Thereafter the friary and its grounds became the preferred burial place for generations of O’Briens and MacNamaras, the two ruling families in this part of the country. Frequently in reparation for their misdeeds over the next three centuries they gave the friars, who had little source of income, many gifts such as vestments, chalices, stained glass and books.
The advantages of having rich and generous patrons can be seen throughout what remains of Ennis Friary. As the community expanded, so the building work continued. In 1314, for example, Maccon Caech MacNamara added a sacristy and refectory to the site. And a the start of the 15th century, the handsome cloister – only sections of which survive – was constructed along with the south transept: the belfry tower dates from around 1475.
Ennis Friary contains many fine limestone carvings, mostly dating from the 15th and early 16th centuries. One of these depicts St Francis, founder of the Franciscan order, with his stigmata on display. Another shows the Virgin and Child, and a third is an affecting image of Ecce Homo, the words uttered by Pontius Pilate in St John’s Gospel when Christ, having been scourged and crowned with thorns, was presented to a hostile crowd. One of the most interesting features in the building is a series of carved panels with scenes from Christ’s Passion dating from a late-15th century tomb erected by the MacMahon family and recycled in the 1840s for a monument to the Creagh family. Unfortunately this has been placed behind glass and spotlit – making it almost impossible to photograph. A copy of the tomb stands on the site of the original in the former chancel.
Ennis Friary, like other such establishments, was suppressed in the 16th century but seemingly members of the Franciscan order continued in residence until at least 1570, thereafter being obliged to remain secretly in Ennis. In the early 17th century, Donough O’Brien, fourth Earl of Thomond handed over the site to the Church of Ireland, and services began to be held in the old church. Other parts of the site were used for legal proceedings, the former sacristy becoming a courtroom. The Church of Ireland remained here until 1871 when a new church elsewhere in the town opened and within a couple of decades the friar’s church had lost its roof. It was returned to the Franciscan order in 1969 but is now managed by the Office of Public Works which ten years ago embarked on a somewhat controversial programme of restoration when the decision was taken to re-roof the main body of the church and, as mentioned, to place the MacMahon/Creagh Tomb behind glass.
The remains of Ardclinis church, County Antrim, believed to have been founded in the early Christian period by St MacNissi, or perhaps St MacKenna: the present ruins are from the later Middle Ages. A crozier, called the Bachil McKenna, used to be set into the building and was used by local people for the taking of oaths and detection of false statements. However, it was subsequently acquired by a local farmer called Galvin. He and his successors, when not employing the crozier as a hook in the family home, would dip it into water being given to sick cows: in the early 1960s it was acquired by the National Museum of Ireland. In front of the ruins is a blackthorn ‘Rag Tree.’ Traditionally rags, belonging to someone sick or with a particular problem, are tied to a tree in the belief that this will resolve the issue.
‘One summer night, when there was peace, a score of Puritan troopers, under the pious Sir Frederick Hamilton, broke through the door of the Abbey of White Friars at Sligo. As the door fell with a crash they saw a little knot of friars gathered about the altar, their white habits glimmering in the steady light of the holy candles. All the monks were kneeling except the abbot, who stood upon the altar steps with a great brass crucifix in his hand. “Shoot them!” cried Sir Frederick Hamilton, but nobody stirred, for all were new converts, and feared the candles and the crucifix. For a little while all were silent, and then five troopers, who were the bodyguard of Sir Frederick Hamilton, lifted their muskets, and shot down five of the friars.’
From The Curse of the Fires and of the Shadows (1897) by W.B. Yeats.
Sir Frederick Hamilton was born in Scotland in the late 16th century, youngest surviving son of Claud Hamilton, first Lord Paisley. As youngest son, he was obliged to make his own way and, like so many of his fellow countrymen, saw opportunities in Ireland. Here in 1620 he married Sidney Vaughan whose father, Sir John Vaughan, was a member of the Privy Council for Ireland and Governor of Londonderry (responsible for commanding the garrison and fortifications of Derry, and of nearby Culmore Fort). Two years later he received a grant of land in County Leitrim, he and his wife gradually building up a holding of some 18,000 acres, much of which had been seized from the O’Rourke family, against whom thereafter he remained almost constantly at war. At the centre of his land, he established a town next to an existing settlement called Clooneen (from the Irish Cluainín Uí Ruairc, meaning O’Rourke’s small meadow). This was given the name Manorhamilton and here in 1634 he built a large fortified house. Come the outbreak of the Confederate Wars in the 1640s Hamilton, who during the previous decade had spent time in the Swedish army, once more found himself under attack from the O’Rourkes. In July 1642, in retaliation for their latest assault, he sacked Sligo and burnt much of the town, including the abbey (an event described above by W.B. Yeats). In 1643, after Manorhamilton was unsuccessfully attacked again, he hanged 58 of his opponents from a scaffold erected outside the castle. Ultimately in 1647 he was forced to return to Scotland, having lost hold of the land he had taken in Ireland. He died soon afterwards in Edinburgh.
Manorhamilton Castle, County Leitrim is one of six late 16th/early 17th century fortified houses considered as a group by Maurice Craig (in The Architecture of Ireland, 1982). The others are Rathfarnham Castle (A Whiter Shade of Pale, August 26th 2013), Kanturk Castle (An Abandoned Project, December 7th 2015), Portumna Castle (Jacobean Sophistication, August 2nd 2017), Raphoe Palace (From Bishops to Bullocks, July 24th 2017) and Burncourt (Burnt Out, July 4th 2016). All six display an awareness of Renaissance architecture while displaying defensive features such as a flanking tower at each corner. Manorhamilton Castle is the least well-preserved of these properties, and it had one of the shortest lifespans. As mentioned, it was built by Frederick Hamilton in 1634, soon after his return from fighting in Germany with the Swedish army of Gustavus Adolphus (one of Hamilton’s sons was named Gustavus and he would later become first Viscount Boyne). Five years after Hamilton had retired to Scotland and died, his mansion at Manorhamilton was attacked and burnt by the army of Ulick Burke, fifth Earl of Clanricarde, Roman Catholic leader of the Royalist army in Ireland. Badly damaged, Manorhamilton Castle never recovered and soon fell into ruin.