Living Very Handsomely


‘1699. My father when he maryed (sic) my mother set up house-keeping at Stradbally and the year after he marryed he built the Big house that is the Hall, Big Staircase, and Big Parlour. My G-Fr. Pole gave him all the timber and 500 deal Boards to build it. He then planted a good many ditches and trees, made the south hedge of ye avenue, enclosed ye kitchen garden and the new orchard, and set the hedges round ‘em. He kept race horses which my G-Fr. Pole did not like and he gave him £100 on condition he wo’d never keep any more which he never strictly observed.
My eldest sister was born at Ballyfin, my sister Betty and I at Stradbally.
1703. My father’s circumstances were so bad that it was thought best he sho’d go into the Army and he therefore borrowed £300 from William Doxy of Rahinahole with which he purchased a Capts Commission in … Regiment. In 1704 he brook up the house and let Stradbally to Major Lyons and he was sent out of peque by the Late Duke of Ormond (now James Butler) (because he wo’d not vote for him in Parlmt) to Spain with recruits, and thereby also got one vote out of the way…’




1714. ‘[My father] left London and came over to Ireland to his new post and now by his long absence from his own home, and liveing in a manner as an exile in a parsimonious way, and by lands encreasing in value and leases falling and thereby his estate riteing, he was left in considerable circumstances, and so resolved to repair and refit his mansion House of Stradbally, in order to bring home his familly and spend his days at home, and so the latter end of 1714, he began to improve Stradbally, he made ye avenue that is, planted the trees, he built the Bridges going to it, added the Drawing-room to the big house next to the Big parlour, he winscoted the second floor entirely, floored the garret, built the Back stairs to the big house, built and finished the road to the Big house, made the big stairs, winscoted and floored the little Parlour and finished in a plain way the second floor of the little house, built a Brew house, walled the garden at the N:E: end of the house, also the Partarre, he laid out the new kitchen garden and planted it all with the choicest fruits, and planted the orchard at the N:W: side of the garden, he did all this and a good dail more in about 18 months time, and in April 1716 he came over to York to bring us over…’





From the time my Father came from England he lived very handsomely, more so than anyone in this county except my Uncle Pole, he kept his coach and chariot and six mares and four servants in Livery besides his Butler, and other outservants, as steward, gardner, etc., he kept a very plentifull house and table, his allowance was, 12 beefs a year, 40 muttons, 26 barrels of wheat for bread, 60 barrels of Mault, 2 hogsheads of wine, pork, veal, lambs, Wilde and tame fouls, and all other things in proportion. He continued in this method, and never encreased or decreased, when there was the least company, his table was never covered with less than 5 & 6 but very often with more, he used to have variety of white wines, the Poor never went away empty from his door, for both F: and M: were exceedingly charitable.
My father was ever doing some improvement or other, for Stradbally, when he came to it in 1716 was but a rough uncouth place.’

Extracts from the Autobiography of Pole Cosby (1703-1766) originally published in the Journal of the Co Kildare Archæological Society and Surrounding Districts, Vol V, 1906-1908.
Photographs show the stableyard at Stradbally, County Laois as designed for Robert Cosby by Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon in 1866-67.

At the End of the Day


Evening Light at Drummin, County Kildare. The core of the house dates from the mid-18th century when it was built by the Rev. William Grattan. At that time the west facade, seen here, was the entrance front, the door being located where the arched window is now in the middle of the breakfront. At some point in the 19th century, lower wings were added on either side that to the left (north) side becoming the new entrance.

Hardly At All Altered



Galtrim, County Meath was described by Samuel Lewis in 1837 as being ‘a handsome residence in a well-planted demesne.’ By this date the building was some 35 years in existence, having been constructed c.1802 for the Rev. Thomas Vesey Dawson who was then the local rector.  He was a member of the Dawson family, later Earls of Dartrey, who were responsible for developing the Dawson’s Grove estate in County Monaghan (for more on the Dawsons, see A Shining Distinction on Earth, 15th September 2014). Clearly the Rev. Vesey Dawson inherited an interest in architecture, since he invited Francis Johnston to design Gatrim. But there was an additional reason for the commission: during the previous decade Johnston had been employed by Blayney Townley Balfour on the design of Townley Hall, County Louth. The Rev Vesey Dawson’s wife Anne Maria was Townley Balfour’s sister (not his daughter, as is often stated) and was in her own right a talented architectural amateur who is believed to have had an input into Townley Hall (see Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté, 10th June 2013) . And in 1806 Johnston would be hired by the Vesey Dawson’s to make alterations and additions to another of their properties, Loughgilly House (now derelict). Thus Galtrim is likely as much to reflect the taste of Mrs Vesey Dawson as her husband.




In Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size, Maurice Craig described Galtrim as ‘probably the best of Francis Johnston’s smaller houses’ and drew attention to features of its design shared with a couple of other properties, Kilcarty close by in County Meath (by Thomas Ivory and from the 1770s) and Emsworth, County Dublin (by James Gandon, in the mid-1790s). Galtrim is a late-Palladian villa, with a central block of two storeys over basement and single storey wings. The four-bay entrance front is focussed on the tripartite Doric frame that incorporates both door and hall windows. The outer windows of the main block and those in the wings are set within shallow relieving arches. Meanwhile the dominant feature of the garden front is the generous central bow of the drawing room: Casey and Rowan suggest this was originally intended to be thatched ‘to give the house the picturesque cottage orne effect then in vogue during the Regency period. It is flanked by substantial tripartite windows lighting the dining room and morning room respectively. The bow theme is echoed by various features internally, in both the aforementioned morning room and in the staircase hall, and at the east side of the entrance hall. Rightly Casey and Rowan call the result both simple and sophisticated: ‘a meeting of vernacular farmhouse classicism with the suave neo-classicism associated with James Gandon. When Craig wrote of Galtrim in 1976 he noted that the house had been ‘hardly at all altered.’ By then it was occupied by the late Eileen, Countess of Mount Charles who lived there until shortly before her death last November and throughout this period took exemplary care of the place. Now the house is on the market. Time to pray that whoever buys it will respect the building’s distinguished architectural pedigree and ensure that Galtrim continues to be hardly at all altered.’


A View to Die For


The memorial shown here is situated
on rising ground at Brittas, County Meath and is inscribed as follows:Beneath this Monument Are interred the remains of Thomas BLIGH, Lieutenant General of his Majesty’s  forces. General of horse at the battles of Dettinggen, Val, Fontenoy and Melle. And the commander in chief of British Troops at Cherburg, Who after spending many years In the service of his country with unwearied application Retired to a private life Therein to prepare his old age For a change to a better state And to enjoy with unspeakable comfort The hopes of a happy immortality. Born A.D. 1695 Died Aug. the 17th, 1775 Aged 80 years.’ To one side of the monument are planted a series of trees ranked in the same formation as were the general’s troops during one of his campaigns. To the other the land drops away to offer a view of the house where he retired to enjoy the aforementioned private life and to prepare for ‘a happy immortality.’

Unravelling the Mysteries


Described over a century ago as the finest early Georgian house in this part of the country, Florence Court, County Fermanagh epitomizes the challenges facing anyone who tries to understand the evolution of the Irish architecture. In particular, it raises the two key questions that come up time and again in this field? When was it built? And who was responsible for the design? In the case of Florence Court, the answer to the first question appears to be that the building was developed over a period of time and to the second that a number of parties were involved. But, as will be made apparent, precise dates and names remain maddeningly elusive.





Florence Court was built for the Cole family, the first of whom, Sir William Cole was a professional soldier who arrived in Ireland in 1601 and having acquired large tracts of land in Fermanagh, based himself in Enniskillen Castle. Successive generations of Coles prospered and by the early 18th century it was clear a proper country estate was required, especially as John Cole – who appears to have been responsible for initiating the construction of Florence Court – served as a member of parliament for the area. The house’s name derives from that of the same John Cole’s wife, a Cornish heiress called Florence Wrey. Their son, also John Cole, was raised to the peerage in 1760 as Lord Mountflorence, and in turn his elder son William Willoughby Cole was created first Viscount Enniskillen in 1776 and finally Earl of Enniskillen in 1789. The house remained in the family’s ownership until 1953 when it passed into the care of the National Trust. Two years later a fire badly damaged the property, which was subsequently restored. It is possible that material relating to the building’s evolution was lost on that occasion, since no documentation on the subject survives. Hence when it comes to dates and architects, conjecture must take the place of knowledge.





An anonymous manuscript dating from 1718 makes reference to a ‘very costly and sumptuous building’ which John Cole was then building at Florence Court. However, it is not known how much of this work was accomplished before his death in 1726. His son, the future Lord Mountflorence is likely to have been responsible for overseeing the construction of the present central block. A demesne map drawn up the year after his death in 1767 includes an elevation of the house’s façade which on the top floor had a large framed oculus window on the top floor. This feature is frequently found in buildings designed by Richard Castle, giving rise to speculation that he was responsible for Florence Court. It is possible such was the case, since in the late 1720s Castle was drawing up designs for Castle Hume on the other side of Enniskillen  (for more on this, see A Glimpse of the Past, August 22nd 2016).
Furthermore, in discussions of the house’s evolution it has been noted that Castle subsequently went on to design Hazlewood, County Sligo the owner of which, Owen Wynne, was associated with John Cole in the development of a road between Enniskillen and Sligo. At least some of the interiors of the main house do look to be early 18
th century (the ground floor library is a particularly curious room, featuring stylistic elements from a number of different periods). But here, as was so often the case, aspiration exceeded income and the Florence Court of c.1730 was internally a relatively plain affair.





In August 1758 Mrs Delany met the future first Earl of Enniskillen freshly returned from a Grand Tour and observed ‘Mr Cole ((£5,000 a year and just come from abroad), a pretty, well-behaved young man’. While his annual income is likely to have exaggerated, nevertheless the Coles did come into sufficient funds to embark on a further programme of work at Florence Court. Some of this seems to have derived from a legacy following the death without direct heirs of Sir Arthur Cole, Lord Ranelagh but more likely the greater part of the money was received thanks to the periodic sale of two seats in the House of Commons for the borough of Enniskillen which the Coles then controlled: each of these could have raised as much as £1,500-£2,000 at each election. Whatever the source, fresh supplies of money meant first the interiors of the main reception rooms, the staircase and the first-floor ‘Venetian Room’ and then at a slightly later date single storey wings concluding in pavilions were added on either side of the house. On the basis of similarities with Castletown Cox, County Kilkenny and Kilshannig, County Cork these external additions have long been attributed to the architect and engineer Davis Ducart; once again, no documentary evidence exists to tie him directly to the work so one must depend on informed guesswork. The façade was presumably altered at the same time: note how the top-floor oculus shown in the 1767 drawing has gone, replaced by a pedimented niche that complements those immediately below. The alterations it has undergone means that as an object of study Florence Court is simultaneously fascinating and frustrating. It tantalizes with hints but never reveals the whole story. Perhaps one day more information will turn up but for the present speculation and surmise must suffice.

Laid Out with Great Taste


Pastoral scene with country house as backdrop: Ardbraccan, County Meath. The central block dates from the 1770s when it was constructed for the then-Bishop of Meath, Henry Maxwell. Visiting the place two centuries ago, the English agronomist and politician John Christian Curwen wrote that Ardbraccan ‘is a modern edifice, erected by the former Bishop on a plan of the late Dr Beaufort; which unites much internal comfort with great external beauty and simple elegance, well designed and appropriated for the residence of so considerable a dignitary of the church. The grounds are laid out with great taste, and the luxuriant growth of the trees and shrubs affords incontestable evidence of the fertility of the soil.’



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.