After the last post about Talbot’s Inch, County Kilkenny, here is another instance of the philanthropy displayed by Ellen, Dowager Countess of Desart: Aut Even Hospital. It dates from 1915 when built as a private hospital (today one of the oldest in Ireland) and follows the style of such facilities typical at the time, having a central two-storey administrative block from which radiate four single storey wings. The architect on this occasion was Albert Murray, then in his mid-60s and more conventional than William Alphonsus Scott who had designed the houses at Talbot’s Inch (it has been suggested that Scott’s drinking habits – W.B. Yeats referred to him as a ‘drunken genius’ – may explain why he did not receive this commission). However, there are some handsome touches, not least the exaggeratedly large entrance arch, within which are a pair of doors, the elaborately carved lower panels coming from the Kilkenny Woodworkers’ Company which had been founded by Lady Desart’s brother-in-law, Captain the Hon Otway Cuffe: a plaque in the entrance hall dedicates the building to his memory. Today, the cottage hospital, now owned by a private group, is engulfed by extensions dating from the 1980s and showing no sympathy for the original block. On the contrary, this looks poorly maintained and, as so often with our architectural heritage, one must fear for its preservation.
The model village of Talbot’s Inch stands above the river Nore to the immediate north of Kilkenny city. The extraordinary development was devised and created by Ellen, dowager Countess of Desart (née Bischoffsheim) who, having failed in efforts to retain possession of her late husband’s home (the now-demolished Desart Court) in 1907 built a new house for herself here called Aut Even (from the Irish áit aoibhinn meaning ‘beautiful place’). The architect responsible was William Alphonsus Scott, his work much inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement, and one suspects especially that of Voysey. Lady Desart had already employed him to design the 26 houses that comprise Talbot’s Inch, intended to house workers from the Greenvale Woollen Mills and the Kilkenny Woodworkers’ Company, both located across the Nore; in this, she was inspired by her brother-in-law, the Hon Captain Otway Cuffe, President of the local branch of the Gaelic League. Occupying two sides of a communal green and comprising either semi-detached pairs or short terraces, none of the buildings is identical but they share many characteristics, such as dormer attic windows set in steeply pitched sprocketed roofs, the use of decorative brickwork panels and chevron-detailed chimneystacks. Not far away – see below – is Tigh-na-Cairde (now called Oak Lodge) also by Scott and completed in 1907 for the Woollen Mills manager. Although there have been a few interventions on the site (and there is currently a planning application for more houses to be constructed at one end of the green), Talbot’s Inch survives reasonably intact, a monument to Ellen Desart’s philanthropy: she would later go on to become a Senator in the first Seanad Éireann, (the first Jewish person to do so) and would also succeed Captain Cuffe as president of the Kilkenny branch of the Gaelic League.