From The Tuam Herald of Saturday, September 4th 1920: ‘A correspondent gives some interesting but sad details of the malicious burning of Tyrone House [County Galway]. It was in the late Georgian style and the finest house in Ireland. The ceilings were all painted by Italian masters and were regular works of art. The mantle pieces were all of rare Italian marble and very costly. In the hall was a fine full sized marble statue of Baron St George the founder of that once great family. It was the work of an Italian artist. The head was broken off the night of the raid deliberately it must be said. All the ceilings are now ruined and the mantle pieces also, and the entire structure an empty shell and ruin. There was no grounds for the report that the military or police intended or were to occupy the house, and agrarian motives are believed to have inspired and instigated this most foul and reprehensible act of purely wanton destruction. Of late years the place was freely allowed to be used by pleasure parties who came out from Loughrea and other places to have a dance which cost them nothing and to enjoy themselves, and who were never prevented from having their pleasure and a dance on the spacious floor of the dining room, and they can now no longer do so, and where in olden days the finest balls in the Co. Galway took place.’
This month marks the sad centenary of the burning of Tyrone House. For further information on the building and its former owners, the St George family, see https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/09/18/tyrone-house/ or watch on the Irish Aesthete’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=irish+aesthete
The Taylour family has appeared here before, in connection with Headfort, County Meath (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/02/22/a-unique-legacy). Dating from the 1760s, that house was built for Thomas Taylor, first Earl of Bective (incidentally, it was his son, the first Marquess of Headfort who assumed the new surname of Taylour). One of Lord Bective’s younger sons was the Hon Robert Taylor (b.1760) who in 1783 entered the British army as a cornet in the 5th Dragoons. Thereafter his rise through the ranks was steady and by 1796, having spent time in Flanders and Germany during the French Revolutionary Wars, he was a Colonel. He was here during the Irish Rebellion of 1798 when promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General and serving as second-in-command to General Lake at the Battle of Ballinamuck in September of that year when the French General and his forces were defeated, thus marking the end of the rising. Taylor continued his career in the army for two more decades, finally being brevetted a full general in 1819. Around this time, or soon after, he acquired a small estate in his native Meath called Dowdstown.
Situated not far from the Hill of Tara, the name Dowdstown presumably derives from the Dowdall family which came to own this property in the 16th century; previously it had been a grange for the Cistercian St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin. At the end of the 17th century it came to be owned by the Rochforts. When General Taylor bought the place, there may have been some kind of dwelling there already, but surviving drawings in the Irish Architectural Archive by James Shiel dated 1820 and 1834 show that improvements were carried out on the site during this period for its new owner (the archive also holds unexecuted drawings for Dowdstown by Birmingham architect Joseph Bateman from 1831). Parts of this building probably survive in the two-storey block to the north of the present main house at Dowdstown, but the residence was likely to have been quite modest. In his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) Samuel Lewis notes that ‘the Hon. Gen. Taylor has a seat in the cottage style in a demesne of about 590 acres, of which about 240 are plantations.’ These extensive plantations of trees, long since cut down, gave rise to a notion that General Taylor had been a participant at the Battle of Waterloo and then laid out his grounds to imitate how different regiments were placed on that occasion, with taller trees represented officers. In fact, the roll call of participants at Waterloo does not include Taylor’s name, and as a general he would have been a prominent figure on that occasion. Nor is it mentioned in any of his obituary notices, an extraordinary omission had he been present.
A bachelor, General Taylor died in April 1839, leaving Dowdstown to a nephew, Thomas Edward Taylour whose branch of the family lived at Ardgillan Castle (originally called Prospect House) in County Dublin. It appears that when his mother died twenty years later, Thomas and his younger brother Richard Chambre Hayes Taylor who had inherited Ardgillan swapped properties. Accordingly the Dowdstown estate now passed into the possession of Richard Taylor who, like his uncle before him, was a professional soldier, having entered the British army in 1835 at the age of 16. He subsequently saw service in India on a couple of occasions (being there during the Indian Mutiny of 1857 and involved in the Capture of Lucknow), and took part in the Crimean War. Like his uncle he eventually rose to the rank of General and was knighted two years before his death in 1904.
In 1863 he married Lady Jane Hay, a daughter of the eighth Marquess of Tweeddale, and it was no doubt as a result of this union that the ‘cottage style’ property he had inherited at Dowdstown was deemed insufficient. One of the period’s most popular architectural practices, Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon, was requested to enlarge the place, possibly with the assistance of another Ulster architect Samuel Patrick Close who worked with the firm on many occasions. As today’s pictures show, Dowdstown might be described as offering something for everyone, since it displays a fantastical array of styles both inside and out. The south-facing façade, for example, is somewhat French in flavour, thanks to a turreted corner with conical slate roof and a large central bow projection. The west-facing entrance front on the other hand, looks more Jacobethan in inspiration, with a four-storey belvedere-topped tower to the immediate left of the main door which has a heavily ornamented porch. The interiors are equally eclectic but the most heavily decorated areas are the drawing room and adjacent staircase hall, each visible to the other thanks to a screen of coloured glass between them, the whole divided into sections by heavy banded pilasters with richly carved capitals; they imitate those in stone on the porch.
It’s open to question how much time the Taylors ever spent living at Dowdstown. For a number of years in the 1880s the General was Governor of the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and seems to have settled in England following his retirement, dying in Surrey in 1904. Dowdstown seems to have been rented out for long periods before finally being sold in 1926 to a religious order, the Columban Fathers who initially used it as their own residence before finding other purposes for the building. Since such is no longer the case, the order is now offering Dowdstown for sale.
The complex history of Montalto, County Down was discussed here two months ago (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/11/25/montalto). The building’s various alterations, additions and eliminations are reflected in its interior, although in recent years this has enjoyed comprehensive refurbishment. It will be remembered that in the late 1830s M0ntalto’s then-owner, David Stewart Ker decided to enlarge his house not by building up but down, excavating what may already have been a somewhat raised basement to create a new ground floor. The entrance hall, with its screen of Doric columns providing access to the Imperial staircase, dates from this period.
As an ambitious politician and major landowner in this part of the country, David Stewart Ker felt driven further to increase the size of his residence and in the 1850s he added a two-storey ballroom wing to the west of the existing house, together with a new service area to the north. These, together with a number of other portions of Montalto, were demolished in the 1950s, thereby almost halving the size of the place. Further parts to the rear were also taken down following a serious fire in 1985. As a result, Montalto was now a more compact and manageable building, but lacked any really substantial reception rooms on the ground floor. The most important space is upstairs, directly over the entrance and known as the Lady’s Sitting Room; dating from the 1760s, the plasterwork on the walls and ceiling here has been attributed to Dublin stuccodore Robert West. It might be thought that because of the room’s location, it originally served as the entrance hall. However, an account of Montalto 1802 refers to a ‘parlour’ the ceiling of which was ‘ornamented with various figures &c. in stucco’ which sounds like the Lady’s Sitting Room. Research in recent years suggests that the house was reoriented in the early decades of the 19th century and that the original front was to the south west. If this were the case, it explains why there is a long gallery-like passage on this side of the house, once the entrance hall.
Montalto’s present owners bought the property in 1994 and for some years they lived in it with their family. However, over a decade ago they moved out of the building and began to consider what alternative uses it might serve. Working with conservation architect John O’Connell they have gradually restored not just the main house but many other parts of the estate, which is now open to the public. Now used for weddings and other functions, Montalto has been very thoroughly refurbished in a more considered and sensitive fashion than is often the case with such properties. The gallery-like passage on the first-floor, for example, has been re-made into an attractive sitting room, as has its equivalent directly below where the walls are decorated with Chinese papers from de Gournay. Montalto today works hard for its upkeep but still retains much of the character and atmosphere of an Irish country house.
The text below originally appeared here in 2015. Tomorrow at Sotheby’s in London many of the items in the accompanying photographs will be offered for sale; thankfully not all, since some key pieces such as the 1770s sofas, the Axminster carpet from c.1820-30 and 19th century beds with their original hangings have been offered on loan to the state for public display. Nevertheless, the contents of another historic Irish house are being broken up because there is little or no official support for owners of such properties struggling to survive and eventually they are left with no option but to sell.
It is worth pointing out – again – that legislation has existed on the Irish statute books for many decades which is supposed to ensure that valuable paintings, furniture and so forth remain in this country. The Documents and Pictures (Regulation of Export) Act dates from 1945 and was, in theory at least, supplemented by the National Cultural Institutions Act of 1997. The idea behind these pieces of legislation is that before any item over a certain fairly low value can leave the country, the parties responsible are required to seek permission from government-appointed authorities (until July 2015 usually one of the main national cultural institutions.*) However, there is no known instance where such an export licence has been refused; auction houses have long understood that this is a mere paper-filling formality. Tomorrow’s sale, for example, also includes a mahogany dining table attributed to Mack, Williams and Gibton and dated c.1815. It was listed in an inventory made of the contents of Carton, County Kildare in 1818 and has remained in the house until now when, after 200 years, it will be offered for sale tomorrow.
Vendors vend, buyers buy, auctioneers auction. Across millennia collections have been assembled and dispersed. There are no villains here, no one deserves to be castigated for acting in an untoward fashion. But there is, as has been the case for too long, evidence of clear neglect on the part of the Irish state towards what becomes of our patrimony, and an obvious want of concern over how this has been steadily whittled down, year by year, house by house. One must ask what is the function of legislation observed in name only? Surely the purpose of enacting the laws mentioned above was to ensure that a reasonable effort would be made to retain valuable works of art and collections in Ireland? That is currently not the case. A general election takes place here in a few weeks’ time: readers might like to ask any candidates they encounter for an opinion on the national heritage and what might be done to retain whatever is still here. Otherwise expect more sales.
Despite the many advances made in Irish architectural history over recent decades, some areas remain in need of further investigation. Among the most obvious of these is the question of attribution. There are significant houses across the country yet to be assigned to any architect, and others which need to have their accreditations reassessed. In the latter category are those properties given accreditations by the late Knight of Glin in the early 1960s when he was engaged on his uncompleted thesis on the subject of Irish Palladianism. At the time there was far less information available on or interest in architectural history than is now the case, and therefore the Knight was to a large extent dependent on instinct when allocating various houses to different architects, about whom little or nothing was known. Often he had to rely on his eye rather than on documentation, and as he admitted towards the end of his life, mistakes were made. To date insufficient effort has been made to correct these and as a result attributions made half a century ago still stand. An obvious opportunity for correction occurred with the appearance of the relevant volume in the Royal Irish Academy’s Art and Architecture of Ireland series published earlier this year, but the editors failed to avail of this opportunity. A reassessment of the Knight’s attributions still awaits requiring someone able to combine scholarship with connoisseurship. Until such time, in particular the output of gentlemen architects like Francis Bindon (whose name has appeared here on more than one occasion) will remain unclear. On the other hand, thanks to another book published in 2015 we are now in a much better position to assess the oeuvre of another talented 18th century amateur, Nathaniel Clements.
In 1754 John Carteret Pilkington published the third and final volume of his late mother Letitia’s celebrated memoirs in which he described Nathaniel Clements as being ‘a certain great man in Ireland, whose place of abode is not remote from Phoenix Park…whose acquirements have justly raised him from obscurity to opulence [and] whose extensive plans in building have excited an universal admiration of his taste in architecture.’ As Clements’ new biographer Anthony Malcomson noted, it was perhaps something of an exaggeration to claim he had raised himself from ‘obscurity’ but as a fifth son he would have been expected to make his own way in the world, especially since his father died when he was only seventeen. That father, Robert Clements had inherited an estate in County Cavan but in 1707 had secured the important, and lucrative, post of Teller to the Irish Exchequer. This job passed to his eldest son Theophilus who badly bungled his own financial affairs as was discovered when he died in 1728. Nevertheless, both the family and Nathaniel Clements were by this time sufficiently well connected for the Tellership of the Exchequer to pass to him, a job he held for the next twenty-seven years during which time, as Pilkington commented, he made himself exceedingly rich. His substantial income was boosted by money received from non-residents in receipt of an Irish pension for whom he acted as agent for decades (Malcolmson estimates that by the mid-1740s his annual income from this job alone was £1,500). He also held numerous other offices, all of which brought in additional funds. Much of this was used to acquire land, the most reliable form of investment in a period when banks failed regularly (as did that established by Clements and a couple of partners in 1759). By the end of his life he had bought up some 85,000 acres spread across three counties and producing an income of around £6,000 each year.
Another area of investment in which Clements engaged was housing, beginning with his participation in the development of Dublin’s Henrietta Street. The man behind this project, and others on the northern banks of the Liffey, was Luke Gardiner to whom Clements was related by marriage. Named after Henrietta, Duchess of Bolton, an old friend of Gardiner, whose husband acted as Ireland’s Lord Lieutenant in 1717-20, the street was from the start intended to be the capital’s premier address, its two sides lined with houses of princely splendor. As so often the case throughout 18th century Dublin, the exterior of the buildings, mostly standard red-brick and occupying sites of varying proportions, gave – and continue to give – insufficient notice of what lay behind the facades. Clements was responsible for constructing a number of houses on the street, beginning with Number 8 which was finished around 1733 and let to Colonel (later General) Richard St George. Three or four others then followed before he moved to Sackville (now O’Connell) Street, the initial development of which was likewise overseen by Gardiner. Here Clements built several more properties including a family residence that came to be known as Leitrim House. But having become ranger of the Phoenix Park in 1750 (having previously acted as deputy-ranger) he embarked on building himself a smart and substantial new villa. The Ranger’s Lodge was a five-bay, two-storey over full-height basement house on either side of which quadrants connected to L-shaped single-storey wings. Clements and his socially-ambitious wife hosted opulent parties on the premises intended to impress their contemporaries and to cement the couple’s place in Ireland’s hierarchy. In June 1760 for example, it was reported that the Clementses ‘gave an elegant entertainment to several of the nobility and gentry at his lodge in the Phoenix Park, which was illuminated in the most brilliant manner.’ Five years after Nathaniel Clements’ death in 1777, his son Robert sold the lodge to the government which then converted – and subsequently – enlarged the building for use as a Viceregal residence. Today the same property is known as Áras an Uachtaráin and occupied by the President of Ireland.
Nathaniel Clements’ engagement in speculative building, together with his reputation as an arbiter of taste, led to several buildings being attributed to him by the Knight of Glin. These included Brookelawn and Colganstown, County Dublin; Williamstown and Newberry Hall, County Kildare; and Beauparc and Belview, County Meath. All can be dated to c.1750-65, and all share certain stylistic similarities, not least reliance on Palladianism which by that date was fast falling from fashion. While respecting the Knight’s notion of Clements as an architect, and one responsible for the houses listed above, Maurice Craig in Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size (1976) proposes that he was ‘eclectic’ not least because ‘he picked and chose his elements from pattern-books and combined them so that they compose well enough together: but they do not interact on one another.’ However, given his many other professional and financial interests, it must now be accepted that Clements was not an architect as we would understand the term. Rather he was an influence, or as Malcomson proposes, ‘a role model’, someone to turn to for advice. Furthermore, the design of his Ranger’s Lodge provided the prototype for a new generation of villa-farms that were not grand country houses but residences at the centre of working estates. All this is applicable to a house which has long been ascribed to Nathaniel Clements because it was built for his eldest son and heir Robert who in 1795 was created first Earl of Leitrim. Killadoon, County Kildare, shown in the pictures here today, surely ought to have been designed by Nathaniel Clements but even Mark Bence-Jones in his 1978 Guide to Irish Country Houses argued that ‘apart from having the “pattern-book” tripartite doorway with a fanlight, a baseless pediment and engaged columns which he seems to have favoured, it lacks the characteristics of the houses known to be by him or convincingly attributed to him.’ In fact, as Malcomson shows, Nathaniel and Robert Clements had a troubled relationship and he proposes that the older man’s input into the house’s design ‘must have been limited.’ The need for a thorough re-examination of 18th century architectural attribution remains.
*In July 2015 An Taisce took a successful case in the High Court against the state delegating responsibility for the granting of export licenses to cultural institutions such as the National Gallery of Ireland. However, this does not appear to have made any difference to such licenses being granted.
Captain Nicholas Pollard was one of the many adventurous Englishmen who came to Ireland in the latter part of the 16th century and was rewarded by the government with a grant of land. Originally from Devon, Pollard arrived here as part of the Earl of Essex’s ill-fated expedition in 1599, but whereas his commander returned home in ignominy, Pollard remained and received land and the castle at Mayne in County Westmeath. His heir, also called Nicholas, settled slightly further to the east where he built a new castle and founded a town, which he duly named Castlepollard. His son Walter carried out further improvements in the area, having received from Charles II a patent for holding fairs and a weekly market in the new town. Walter’s son, another Walter, although he had served in Charles II’s army and was attached to the Stuart cause, nevertheless supported William III and in the aftermath of the Battle of the Boyne became a Member of Parliament, as well as being charged to raise supplies for the crown in Westmeath for a number of years. He died in 1718 and having been predeceased by his only son, the estate passed to his daughter Letitia who in 1696 had married Major Charles Hampson; the latter duly took his wife’s family name, Successive generations of Pollards then followed, none of whom made much of an impression outside the immediate locale, although in the 19th century some of them enjoyed respectable army careers. The family remained in residence until after the death of the last male heir, Francis Edward Romulus Pollard-Urquhart in 1915: two decades later the house and 110 acres were sold to a Roman Catholic religious order, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.
Standing on the outskirts of Castlepollard, the Pollards’ former residence is called Kinturk House. The core of the building is believed to date from c.1760 when it would have replaced an older castle either here or on an adjacent site. This work was undertaken because in 1763 the estate’s then-owner William Pollard married Isabella, daughter and heiress of John Morres. However, one must assume her inheritance was not enormous since Kinturk was only room deep. This changed in the 1820s when the house was enlarged and remodeled for its next resident, William Dutton Pollard by architect Charles Robert Cockerell, who had come to Ireland to work on another commission for the Naper family at Loughcrew. Cockerell doubled the depth of Kinturk and gave the garden front of the building a more imposing presence by increasing the number of bays (from five to seven) with a central breakfront. He also added a single-storey Ionic porch to the façade, and single storey extensions at either end. Inside, the most notable feature is the cantilevered Portland stone staircase with brass banisters but at least one of the ground floor reception rooms retains pretty rococo plasterwork from the 1760s.
Within a few years of buying Kinturk House, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart embarked on a substantial building programme in the grounds, where they erected, among other structures, a chapel linked to the old residence by a corridor and a free-standing three-storey block intended to serve as a 120-bed Mother and Baby Home. All the new buildings, constructed between 1938-41 was designed in a starkly brutalist style by Dublin architect Thomas Joseph Cullen, who throughout a long career worked extensively for the Catholic church. The cost of this project was some £76,000, much of the money coming from the Hospital Sweepstakes Fund. Called St Peter’s, the home operated for 35 years and like other similar establishments elsewhere in the country – some of them also operated by the same religious order – has in recent years rightly been subjected to public scrutiny, not least because of the horrific conditions in which many young women and their new-born infants were required to live. Following the closure of the home, in 1971 the site was sold to the Midland Health Board, and then, like so many other buildings across the country, became the responsibility of the Health Service Executive (HSE). Kinturk/St Peter’s thereafter provided residential care for the disabled until its closure was announced in 2014, shortly before a highly condemnatory inspection report on the facility was issued by the Health Information and Quality Authority. Today, two detached bungalows provide accommodation for ten residents. The rest of the site sits empty and neglected, the various properties visibly falling into disrepair. The original Kinturk House, of evident architectural merit, is closed up and increasingly dilapidated. This is, unfortunately, yet another instance of a state authority failing to look after the buildings supposed to be in its care and leaving it in poor health. As always, ultimately the citizens of Ireland (who own the place) will be the losers.
Few houses in Ulster have as complex a history of building, alteration and demolition as Montalto, County Down. There was likely some kind of residence on the site in the 17th century when this part of the country was still under the control of the McCartan family. However, at some point around 1650 it was either bought by or granted to George Rawdon who had moved from Yorkshire to Ireland twenty years before to manage another estate in County Antrim. Until 1775 the Rawdons’ principal abode was at Moira elsewhere in County Down; Montalto would therefore have been a secondary property. It was the settler’s great-grandson, John Rawdon, created first Earl of Moira in 1761 who decided to move to Montalto and erect the core of the house still seen today. Quite what was there before he took this decision is unclear, as is the precise date of the house’s construction; in their recently published guide to the Buildings of South County Down, Philip Smith suggests work on Montalto may have begun in the second half of the 1750s, soon after the future Lord Moira had finished erecting a splendid town house on Usher’s Island in Dublin. (Later used by the Mendicity Institution, Moira House was demolished in the 1950s, with only the gateposts into the building’s forecourt surviving.) A couple of pictures from the 1790s (one of them depicting a battle in 1798 which took place in nearby Ballynahinch) show Montalto to have a somewhat disordered exterior, suggesting that work undertaken there in the previous years had been sporadic, and based around an earlier structure. The landscape in which the house sits, not least a fish-shaped lake in front of the east-facing entrance, was also undertaken during the same period.
Following his father’s death in 1793, the second Earl of Moira (later first Marquess of Hastings), a distinguished soldier who participated in the American War of Independence and later served as Governor-General of India, inherited estates in England from his mother and therefore sold his Irish property. Montalto was bought in 1802 by a young man called David Ker whose family lived elsewhere in the county. He appears to have undertaken some alterations to the building; a contemporary description notes that he had ‘much improved the house by putting in larger windows, painting, &, &.’ More than thirty years later, Ker’s son, also called David, decided to enlarge the building. The obvious way to do this would have been to add an additional storey above those already standing. In this instance, however, the owner decided to do down rather than up. In other words, the basement was excavated to create what is now Montalto’s ground floor; something similar had been done by his father in the 1820s at the Kers’ other residence in Portavo. The considerable feat of engineering was most likely due to the involvement of a Newtownards builder/architect called Charles Campbell whose son died in 1849 ‘in consequence of a fall which he received from a scaffold whilst pinning a wall at Montalto House.’ In the 1850s David Ker made further additions by adding a two-storey ballroom extension to the rear (west) of the house, along with a new service section. The Kers sold the estate in 1910 to Arthur Vesey Meade, fifth Earl of Clanwilliam, his wife refusing to live in his family home, Gill Hall on the grounds that it was haunted.
In 1950 Lord Clanwilliam attempted to sell Montalto but was unable to find a buyer. Three years later, his son the sixth earl demolished the ballroom and mid-19th century service wing: the outline of the former can be seen delineated by a new beech hedge on the lawns behind the house. In 1979 the house and what remained of the estate was sold to a business consortium but six years later a fire further extensively damaged the building and led to further demolition, so that Montalto today is less than half the size it was a century ago. Nevertheless, it remains a substantial house and, since being acquired by the present owners in the mid-1990s, has been thoroughly restored and opened to the public for weddings and other events. And, as can be seen, the demesne has also received much attention. The house’s interior will be discussed here at a later date.
When John Dawson, first Earl of Portarlington commissioned designs for a residence from architect James Gandon in 1790, he already lived in a fine house. This was Dawson Court, presumably built earlier in the 18th century by his grandfather Ephraim Dawson following the latter’s marriage to Ann Preston, heiress to an estate at Emo, County Laois. Since no pictures or descriptions exist, we know very little about that building, other than it was called Dawson Court and stood somewhere in the vicinity of the present, Gandon-designed Emo Court. The only surviving parts of the building are a pair of carved limestone chimney pieces, one of which remains in a former bedroom on the first floor. The other, once protected by a since-demolished passageway, now sits exposed against a wall to the immediate west of the house.
The façade of Slane Castle, County Meath. This dates from c.1785 for William Burton Conyngham who four years earlier had inherited the estate from a childless uncle. In 1773 and 1775 the latter had asked English architect James Wyatt to come up with designs to replace an old house on the site but nothing came of these. Only after Burton Conyngham came into possession of the place were Wyatt’s proposals realised (James Gandon having previously been consulted). Writing in 1820 Francis Johnston (who later worked on the house’s interiors), Wyatt visited Slane in 1785 ‘for that purpose.’ If this is so, it was the only time he actually came to Ireland, despite having many clients here.
A stretch of the Dublin quays on the south side of the river Liffey known as Usher’s Island takes its name from what was once a prominent family in the fields of both commerce and religion. The Ushers/Usshers liked to believe they were descended from Gilbert de Neville, admiral of William the Conqueror’s fleet in 1066. Whatever their origins, in the 14th century John le Uscher was made Constable of Dublin Castle by Edward I, held the office for several years, and was reappointed to the same position by Edward II (who seems to have been his friend or patron, the original appointment having been given “at the instance of King Edward’s son”). Although he returned to his native Yorkshire on retirement, a presumed grandson Arland Ussher (born c. 1420) settled in Dublin, where he became one of the city’s leading merchants; in 1461, he was bailiff of Dublin and, in 1469, mayor. It was from two sons of his second marriage, John and Christopher Ussher that later Irish Usshers were descended. In the late 16th century, John Ussher built a fine residence for himself called Bridgefoot House: where this once stood is now called Bridgefoot Street, while its former riverside gardens are today covered by the buildings of Usher’s Island and Usher’s Quay. It was on this property that the very first book printed in the Gaelic language, containing an alphabet and Christian catechism, was produced. Its title page contains the following information: ‘Printed in Irish in the town of the Ford of the Hurdles, at the cost of Master John Ussher, alderman, at the head of the Bridge, the 20th day of June 1571.” John Usher’s son, Sir William Usher, paid for the publication of the first New Testament printed in the Irish language; this appeared in 1602. Given their strong adherence to the Protestant faith, it is not surprising the family produced several distinguished Anglican clerics, notably Henry Ussher (c. 1550–1613), one of the founders of Trinity College Dublin and, from 1595, Archbishop of Armagh. One of his nephews, James Ussher (1581–1656), held the same position from 1625 onward. Archbishop James Ussher’s scrupulous study of the Bible and early history led him to write the Annales veteris testamenti, a prima mundi origine deducti (‘Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world’), which first appeared in 1650, together with its continuation, Annalium pars posterior published four years later. Famously his research allowed him to calculate the moment of Earth’s creation: around 6pm on 22 October 4004 BC.
As was so often the case, with the passage of time the Usshers distanced themselves from trade and became increasingly gentrified, acquiring land in different parts of the country, and forming advantageous familial alliances. For example, in 1695 a grandson of Sir William Ussher of Dublin, also called William, married Lettice, daughter and co heiress of Sir Henry Waddington; as a result, part of the Waddington estates in county Galway passed into the possession of the Ussher family. Meanwhile, another of Sir William’s grandsons, Beverley Ussher moved south to County Waterford where he made two successive marriages to heiresses, one being a daughter of Sir Percy Smyth of Ballynatray and the other a daughter of Sir Richard Osborne of Ballintaylor. As a result, a branch of the family settled in the south east of the country, where they built up estates and properties in which to live. Cappagh was one of those houses, constructed during the first decade of the 19th century by Beverley Ussher’s great-grandson Richard Ussher. However, in 1875 the old house was abandoned by Richard’s son, Richard John Ussher in favour of a newer residence on higher grounds and with better views across the surrounding landscape. This building was designed by James Otway and Robert Watt, architects and railway engineers who were also responsible for the line that linked Dungarvan to Mallow, County Cork. A keen fossil hunter, Richard John Ussher was seemingly the first person to discover the remains of a mammoth and a saber-tooth cat in Ireland, as well as that of a Great Auk (the last of these excavated in the sand dunes of Tramore, Co. Waterford). He also developed a passionate interest in ornithology and was a keen collector of bird’s eggs. With co-author Robert Warren, the results of his extensive research were published in 1906 as The Birds of Ireland. However, just a few decades later, the Usshers sold what remained of the Cappagh estate to the family of the present owners.
As can be seen in these photographs, old Cappagh is a most curious building, one that suggests a disparity between ambition and income. The front of the house forms the southern portion of a courtyard. At either end of the façade, the building rises two storeys but then, after just one bay, it becomes single storey and turns into a long, narrow villa. Evidently the Usshers embarked on its construction intending the central portion to be of the same dimensions as those at either end, but then – presumably for economic reasons – this project was abandoned and a more modest scheme accepted. Seemingly its builder, the elder Richard Ussher, participated in the Napoleonic Wars and perhaps on returning from these he realized that he needed to re-evaluate the project. Whatever the explanation, it makes for an unusual frontage. The rear of the building is almost as odd, since a high wall soon cuts off the house – centred on a bow which contains its main staircase – from the rest of the courtyard. The latter features all the usual elements found in proximity to a country house, stables, storerooms, staff accommodation and so forth. Inside old Cappagh, the main entrance leads to a hall at the rear of which climbs the aforementioned principle staircase, with reception rooms to left and right; a number of bedrooms upstairs are accessed either by the main staircase or by other flights of steps at either end of the building. Given its unfinished state, it is easy to understand why the Usshers chose to move to another site and start again in the 1870s, leaving the old house to be used for various purposes. It has stood empty for many years and while the present owners of the property resolutely do their best to maintain the site, inevitably the condition of old Cappagh has deteriorated.
The involvement of Irish families in the Caribbean slave trade was discussed here some weeks ago when considering Monasterboice House, County Louth (see Dirty Money, March 11th 2019). The same source of revenue appears to have played a part in funding extensive work in the early 19th century at Kilwaughter Castle, County Antrim. The original house here is believed to date from 1622, a fortified dwelling built by Sir Patrick Agnew who around that time had purchased the land on which it stands from Sir Randall MacDonnell, first Earl of Antrim. Successive generations lived here until William Agnew died in 1776, leaving the property to his grandson Edward Jones, then still a boy, with the proviso that the latter take the surname Agnew. He was a younger son of Valentine Jones, who was extensively involved in slave trading in the West Indies, as was his eldest son (another Valentine) who lived in the Caribbean for some 33 years and, two years before Edward inherited Kilwaughter, was elected a member of the House of Assembly in Barbados. Unfortunately the next generation of Valentine Jones disgraced the family by misappropriating funds and colouring rum to give it the appearance of age: in 1809 he was found guilty of fraud and peculation, and sentenced to three years in Newgate Prison.
Edward Jones Agnew was only a child when he inherited Kilwaughter, and for the next 12 years the estate was administered by agents while he attended Harrow and then Trinity College Dublin. It was only in the late 1780s that he came to County Antrim and took responsibility for Kilwaughter, accompanied by his younger sister Margaret. Seemingly they arrived to find the house almost entirely stripped of its contents: ‘there was not so much as a tablecloth, or a spoon or a knife or fork for them to take their dinner with.’ By this date the old building was neglected, and out-of-date, so its young proprietor decided to embark on a an extensive programme of refurbishment and enlargement. The architect chosen for this task was John Nash, who from 1801 onwards was engaged in designing Killymoon Castle, County Antrim for the Stewart family, cousins of the Agnews. Beginning in 1806, Nash transformed Kilwaugher into an elaborate castle, adding a vast wing to the immediate east of the original fortified house. The focal point of his design is a castellated tower in the south-east corner, its sandstone window sills carved with elaborate abstract decorations. From here, a range of reception rooms ran northwards to a narrower but taller polygonal tower, with views over the parkland towards a newly created lake covering more than five acres. While his land holdings were substantial and could have borne much of the expense involved (Killymoon Castle is supposed to have cost £80,000), might Edward Jones Agnew have benefitted from the estate of his slave-trading father Valentine Jones who died in 1805, just a year before work began at Kilwaughter? The enquiry seems not unreasonable to make.
The later history of Kilwaughter is not especially happy. Edward Jones Agnew never married (nor did his sister Margaret with whom he lived) but had several children with the daughter of a tenant farmer: she and other members of her family were later sent to Baltimore, Maryland with the promise of an annual stipend. When Agnew died in 1834, the estate was inherited by his illegitimate son William who, together with his sister, were then cared for by their aunt Margaret. However, following her death and William Agnew becoming an adult, he moved to Paris and spent most of the next 40 years there, dying unmarried in 1891 and, it seems, leaving sundry debts for the payment of which a mortgage of £30,000 had to be raised. A niece, Mary Maria Augusta Simon (daughter of his sister) next inherited the estate but by this time she was married to an Italian count Ugo Balzani, and living between his family home near Bologna and Oxford. For some thirty years Kilwaughter was rented to John Galt Smith, an Irish linen exporter and distant relative of the Agnews, and his socially ambitious American wife Bessie who modernised the building and entertained extensively; he died in 1899 but she remained there until 1922 before returning to her native country. By now, the castle was surrounded by very little land and when the Second World War broke out it was seized by the government as ‘alien’ property (the Balzani family being Italian and therefore deemed to be enemies of the state). For a period it was occupied by American troops but then stood empty before being sold by the Northern Irish government to a Belfast scrap metal company which stripped off the lead, thereby leading to the roof giving way. What remained was handed back to the Balzani family, and understandably they decided to sell the property: this finally occurred in 1982. Since then efforts have been made to ensure the security of the building, and ideally its restoration: some of the walls are literally in need of support. The present owners, and a number of local people are valiantly battling to save Kilwaughter from total ruin (a task not helped by the presence of lime quarries in the immediate vicinity). As these photographs make plain, those involved in the project face a substantial challenge and deserve all possible assistance.
Much of the information here came from a most interesting article, The Agnews of Kilwaughter by Jacqueline Haugseng-Agnew in Familia: Ulster Genealogical Review, No.32, 2016.
For more on Kilwaughter Castle and work being undertaken to secure its future, please see https://www.kilwaughtercastle.com