Rising from the Dead

Anyone driving south-east from Durrow, County Laois on the N77 cannot fail to notice a striking ruin on a rise just outside the town. This is Knockatrina, yet another Irish house with unclear origins. The land here was owned by the Flower family, created Viscounts Ashbrook in 1751, whose main residence was nearby at Castle Durrow. The fifth Lord Ashbrook had three sons, the youngest of whom, Lt-Colonel Robert Flower is known to have been living in Knockatrina by the late 1860s following his marriage to Gertrude Hamilton: with no expectations of inheriting the main property, this would have been as much as he could expect to receive. And as the youngest of the family, he had to earn his living which he proved admirably capable of doing since he had a strong interest in engineering. He was responsible for a number of inventions, including a handloom for the unskilled and a latch-hook needle for faster weaving: these devices would be put to use by his neighbour the fifth Viscount de Vesci who in 1904 opened a carpet factory in Abbeyleix. Two years later Robert Flower became eighth Viscount Ashbrook, neither of his elder brothers having had male heirs (in 1877 the sixth Lord Ashbrook had divorced his wife Emily on the grounds of adultery with a Captain Hugh Sydney Baillie). As a result he came into possession of Castle Durrow but by that time the family finances were in poor condition and three years after his death in 1919 the ninth viscount was obliged to sell Castle Durrow.






Knockatrina was inherited by the eighth Lord Ashbrook’s eldest daughter the Hon Frances Mary Flower who in 1893 married Henry White, the younger son of a neighbour. As early as 1908 she and her husband were in trouble for failure to pay debts yet somehow they managed to hang on. Following her husband’s death in 1923, Frances White continued to farm and train horses, despite being declared bankrupt in 1928. It was only in 1946 that she finally moved out of Knockatrina and into a nursing home in Kilkenny where she died the following year aged eighty.
Knockatrina meanwhile had been bought by Mary Mooney who acted as housekeeper and companion to another local woman, Amy Mercier (Mary Mooney would be the beneficiary of the latter’s will). It seems Ms Mooney acquired Knockatrina as an investment rather than a residence since in 1958 her agent, a farmer in the vicinity, arranged to have the house stripped of all removable fittings and unroofed (this was the period when any such building with a roof was liable to domestic rates, hence many of them had the slates removed). Left a shell, Knockatrina quickly deteriorated and the land on which the remains stand was subsequently sold.






As is so often the case, no records appear to exist offering information about when Knockatrina was built or who might have been its architect. It has been proposed that Robert Flower was responsible for the house’s construction but this seems unlikely, not least because by the time he moved there the family was already burdened by debt. More importantly, on the basis of design it looks to belong to the group of medium-sized country houses including Rathwade, Wykeham and Mount Leinster Lodge. There were all in nearby County Carlow and built during the 1830s to the designs of the prolific (and – like the Flowers – permanently indebted) Daniel Robertson in a loosely Tudor Gothic style. If Knockatrina belongs to the same group, and indeed was designed or inspired by the same architect, this means it would have been erected during the lifetime of the fourth Viscount Ashbrook, whose first wife Deborah Friend was a considerable heiress. Given its proximity to Castle Durrow, Knockatrina would then have served as either a dower house or an agent’s residence. However neither would have been required by the late 1860s, so handing it on to a younger son made sense. Inevitably given that the house has been unroofed for almost sixty years almost nothing of the interior survives (other than some tiles on the entrance hall floor). Fortunately, as can be seen in the photographs above, the present owner does not wish for the building to fall into further disrepair. On the contrary, he is keen to undertake a programme of restoration over the coming years and return Knockatrina to residential use. All being well it won’t be long before the view from the N77 offers passers-by not a ruin but once again a fully functioning house.

Playing to the Gallery


The extraordinary first-floor gallery at Crom Castle, County Fermanagh. Designed by Edward Blore, the present house dates from the mid-1830s to replace an earlier castle destroyed by fire: ironically sections of this one suffered the same fate soon after completion and had to be reconstructed. The core of the castle is given over to an inner hall that features a bifurcating staircase composed of wood and plaster and in late-Perpendicular style. It rises to the generous gallery screened by a run of arches at either end, the whole lit by an immense octagonal roof lantern.

Architectural Whimsy


Seen beneath a thunderous sky and across its parkland, the façade of Swainstown, County Meath. This idiosyncratic house dates from c.1750 and was built for Nathaniel Preston whose elder brother John during the same period was building Bellinter, some ten miles away, to the designs of Richard Castle: accordingly the latter may have had a hand in Swainstown. The house follows the classic Palladian model, the main block being of two storeys with wings on either side linked by quadrants. But thereafter an element of whimsical caprice is apparent, beginning with the limestone window lintels and a front doorcase which is exaggeratedly tall and narrow, and finished with a segmental pediment. Swainstown continues to be occupied by Nathaniel Preston’s descendants.

Lost Forever


The history of Tyrone House, County Galway and its sad fall from grace was discussed here a few weeks ago (see A High House on High Ground, September 18th 2017). Above is an image of the building included in the fifth and final volume of the The Georgian Society Records of Eighteenth Century Domestic Architecture and Decoration published in 1913, showing it still intact. One of the house’s most striking features was the entrance hall, dominated by a mid-18th century white marble life-size statue of St. George Ussher St. George, Baron Saint George. This survived until Tyrone House was attacked in August 1920 when the statue was smashed to pieces: as a result, the photograph below is the only record of the work.
Copies of my new book, Tyrone House and the St George Family: The Story of an Anglo-Irish Family are now available from the Irish Georgian Society bookshop. For more information, please see https://shop.igs.ie/collections/books

Fit for Purpose?


Buildings frequently appear on this site with the information that they are ‘listed for protection.’ This is a fine phrase, but what does it mean in practice? The Citizens Information Board provides a helpful guide, as follows:
‘A protected structure is a structure that a planning authority considers to be of special interest from an architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical point of view. If you are the owner or occupier of a protected structure, you are legally obliged to prevent it becoming endangered, whether through damage or neglect. This document describes the protection given to these structures under Part IV of the Planning and Development Act 2000.
A structure must be listed on the planning authority’s Record of Protected Structures (RPS) to qualify for protected status under the Act. Each planning authority is obliged to keep a RPS as part of its development plan. The RPS must include every structure in the planning authority’s area which it considers to be of special interest. Inclusion of these structures in the RPS means that their importance is recognised, they are legally protected from harm and all future changes to the structure are controlled and managed through the development control process (for example, planning permission) or by issuing a declaration under Section 57 of the Planning and Development Act 2000.
If a structure is included in the RPS, the protection extends to the interior of the structure; to the land in its curtilage; and to any other structures on that land and their interiors. Curtilage means the land and outbuildings immediately surrounding a structure which is (or was) used for the purposes of the structure. This obligation also applies to all fixtures and features forming part of the interior and exterior of the protected structure or any structure on the grounds attached to it. If there is an urgent need for repairs to a protected structure, a grant may be available under the Structures at Risk Fund.’





‘Owners or occupiers of protected structures are legally required to make sure that the structure does not become endangered through neglect, decay, damage or harm. Generally, if a structure is kept in habitable condition and regular maintenance is carried out (such as cleaning out gutters, repairing missing slates, repainting external timberwork) it should not become endangered.
If a protected structure is endangered, the planning authority can serve a notice on the owner or occupier, requiring them to carry out any work that it considers necessary to protect the structure. The work must be done within 8 weeks of the date of the notice. The planning authority can also service a notice to require the ‘restoration of character’ of the protected structure. This could include removing, changing or replacing any parts of the structure specified in the notice.
Owners or occupiers can make written representations to the planning authority about the terms of the notice. They may request more time or financial help to comply with the notice. In many cases, they may be eligible for a conservation grant. The planning authority will take these representations into account when making their final decision. Owners and occupiers can appeal against the notice to the District Court within 2 weeks of their last response from the planning authority, if they are still not satisfied.
If a notice to prevent a structure from becoming endangered has been ignored, the planning authority can take enforcement action. In the case of endangerment or restoration of character notices, the planning authority can carry out the work itself and recover the costs of the work from the owner or the occupier. In exceptional cases, the planning authority may buy the protected structure from the owner, either by compulsory purchase or by agreement. This would only be done if the planning authority considered it the only way to save a protected structure.
Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, there are penalties for owners or occupiers of protected structures who endanger the structure or who fail to carry out work that has been ordered by the planning authority. If they are found guilty, they could be liable for fines of up to €12.7 million and/or a term of imprisonment of up to 2 years.’




The present legislation concerning protection of listed structures reads well on paper, but how does it perform in practice? The question is pertinent when considering the case of the building shown here today. This is the so-called Penn Castle in Shanagarry, County Cork. The core of the building may be a 15th century tower house built by a branch of the Power family. However in the mid-17th century it passed into the possession of Admiral Sir William Penn whose son, also called William, spent time here in the late 1660s prior to moving to North America where he established what would eventually become the State of Pennsylvania. Penn Castle underwent modifications over the following centuries before in more recent times being acquired by the potter Stephen Pearce. He embarked on an ambitious programme intended to extend the building and create a visitor centre adjacent to his business. Unfortunately in 2008 that business went into receivership and it appears the building has ever since stood empty, incomplete and falling into dereliction.
Penn Castle is listed as a protected structure by Cork County Council, yet it is difficult to see what the authority has done to ensure its protection. To some extent one can sympathise with the council’s predicament. Like equivalents across the state, it has many – often more pressing – claims on time, staff and financial resources to intervene in such situations, of which there are many (the case of Vernon Mount, gutted last year by arsonists, springs to mind). Since 2011 the government has provided assistance through a Structures at Risk Fund (although even this was temporarily suspended in 2014). In theory the fund ought to help. However, in the present year the total amount available – to cover the entire country – is €824,000. Grants may not exceed 80 per cent of project costs and the maximum amount available to any one project is €30,000 (a surprising number of these grants in 2017 have been made to churches). In so far as it is possible to understand, it is up to the owner of a building to apply to the relevant local authority for financial assistance. But what about instances – of which there are a large number – where no assistance is sought? Or where – as was frequently the case during the recent recession – a building falls into limbo owing to the owner’s business failing? Or where, as has also sometimes been seen to happen, the owner would rather the property fell into ruin than be maintained? On those occasions, the relevant local authority is supposed to intervene, but rarely does so. The costs involved in intervention are too high to make it feasible, and there are insufficient trained staff to take charge of such an endeavour. An impression is given that the current legislation on ‘protected structures’ is laudable but unenforceable. On the one hand local authorities are expected to take care of buildings listed for preservation in their area of responsibility, while on the other they possess neither adequate funds nor manpower to do so. Accordingly it must be asked, is the Planning and Development Act 2000 with regard to Protected Structures fit for purpose? And if not, ought it to be revisited and revised so as to ensure better safeguards are put in place for the country’s built heritage? Otherwise it looks like the disparity between theory and practice will continue to grow and properties such as Penn Castle, despite their ‘protected status’, will remain at risk from irreparable neglect.

 

Autumn Hues

A moment when the Virginia Creeper perfectly matches the colour of the door: the façade of Ardbraccan, County Meath. Dating from the late 1760s the building has a complex history, since Henry Maxwell, Bishop of Meath commissioned designs from three architects: James Wyatt, Thomas Cooley and Daniel Beaufort, the last of these also being a local Anglican clergyman. In the end the façade reflects elements of all their proposals, although it is closest to that of Wyatt.

Many Repairs Wanting

‘For some days past I have been sending all sorts of household goods and stores for Mount Panther, and propose leaving this on Tuesday next. D.D. [Dean Delany] is finishing alterations in his garden and giving directions for what is to be done in his absence. I am preserving, pickling, and papering and giving directions to my maids; and I have just spruced up a little apartment for you, come when you please.’
Mrs Delany writing to her brother Bernard Granville, 15th July 1750.





‘I know my dearest sister wishes to hear if I am safe at my journey’s end: thank God we are! We arrived a little fatigued last night: but a good night’s rest has refreshed us, and we are both very well. We had intended staying some days with Mrs Forde in our neighbourhood, not thinking we would find our habitation so fit for our reception as it is; but as there were so many things to settle, which could not very well be done with D.D. and my directing them, we thought it best to rest here [Mount Panther]…You who have had the experience of such affairs, can figure to yourself my present bustle – trunks, hampers, unpacking, hay flying all over the house; everybody scrambling for their things, asking a thousand questions such as “Where is this to be put?” “What shall we do for such and such a thing?” However, the hurry is pretty well over, the dust subsides, the clamours cease and I am hurried away to dress. I am really surprised at Smith’s [the Delany’s housekeeper] thorough cleverness in going through her work. She has got everything almost in as much order as if she had been here a week.’
Mrs Delany to her sister Anne Dewes, 21st July 1750.





‘And now to tell you a little of Mount Panther. To begin then: last Sunday dined at Downpatrick (after church). Mr and Mrs and Miss Leonargan, Mr Brereton, curate at Down, Mr Trotter, agent to Mr Southwell, dined with us; went to church again at 4 o’clock, went home at 5, two hours on the road, and visits to Lady Anne Annesley and Mrs Bayley and their husbands made half an hour; tired, supped, talked over the company of the day: went to bed before eleven; up next morn early, routed about the house, found many repairs wanting; sent for smith, carpenter and cowper [old spelling of cooper, repairer of barrels and casks]; catching showers; peeped now and then into the garden – excellent gooseberries, currants, potatoes, and all the garden stuff: fine salmon, lobster, trout, crabs, every day at the door…’
Mrs Delany to her sister Anne Dewes, 28th July 1750.


Mount Panther, County Down