Bleak House


As is well known, many Irish country houses would have been lost forever in the last century had they not been purchased and maintained by members of Roman Catholic religious orders. Often these buildings had to be converted or adapted for their new use and, as a rule, the work was sensitively done, or at least carried out in such a way that any alterations were reversible. Occasionally, however, a more aggressive and unsympathetic approach was taken, as can be seen Loughglynn, County Roscommon. The land on which the house stands had been acquired in somewhat questionable circumstances by a branch of the old Anglo-Norman Dillon family, which had hitherto been based in County Westmeath. In 1622 Theobald Dillon was created first Viscount Dillon of Costello-Gallen and following his death two years later a younger son, Lucas Dillon appears to have settled in Loughglynn with his wife, occupying an old castle that stood on the site. Eventually his descendant, another Theobald, became seventh Viscount Dillon, after the senior branch failed. The Dillons remained owners, although not always occupiers, of the property until the end of the 19th century.





Loughglynn has undergone a number of changes since first built. It has been proposed that Richard Castle was the house’s architect; after all, he did receive other commissions in County Roscommon, including Strokestown, Frenchpark and, possibly, Mount Talbot (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/08/03/mount-talbot/). On the other hand, the date of 1715 is sometimes given for Loughglynn’s construction; if this were the case, it cannot have been designed by Castle as he only came to Ireland in the late 1720s. Stylistically, the house is not dissimilar to other work by the same architect such as Hazelwood, County Sligo (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/12/03/hazelwood/) so he may well have been responsible, but at a somewhat later date. Dressed in limestone ashlar, the centre block was larger than what can be seen today, of two storeys over basement with a dormered attic storey on the high-pitched roof. The ten-bay entrance front had the three centre bays and those at either end breaking forward while on the garden side, there were canted bows on either side of the three-bay centre. On the east side, a single storey quadrant leads to a two-storey wing which forms part of the stable courtyard beyond (curiously, there is no equivalent wing on the other side of the house). So the building stood for a century until 1838 when Dublin architect James Bolger was requested to add another storey to the top of the building, sitting above the original cornice. A fire in 1896 left Loughglynn seriously damaged, and soon afterwards the Dillons sold house and estate. In 1904 the new owners, an order of nuns called the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, embarked on an extensive programme of repairs to the damaged property. This involved taking off the top storey of the building, and making the outer bays on either side single-storey. It may also have been at this time that the west wing, if it existed, was demolished, thereby explaining the lop-sided appearance of the house today.





During the 19th century the Dillons had little direct association with Loughglynn, preferring to live in England on their estate, Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire. Therefore a succession of land agents occupied the house in Ireland and looked after the Dillons’ estates. One of them, Charles Strickland (whose nephew Walter Strickland would serve as Registrar of the National Gallery of Ireland and publish the two-volume Dictionary of Irish Artists in 1913) is remembered for his generous support of the local people during the years of the Great Famine. On his employer’s land in County Mayo, he also established Charlestown, which is named after Strickland. It was during his successor’s time as agent that Loughglynn suffered its catastrophic fire, and that the Dillons decided to sell house and surrounding land. In 1899 the former, along with 100 acres of surrounding demesne land, was bought by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Elphin; in 1903 he handed over the property to the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, and it was soon afterwards that restoration work was undertaken on the house. The nuns here ran a school teaching various skills such as lace-making and domestic science, as well as establishing a dairy farm from which cheese was made on the premises. In 1960, during a time when admission to religious orders was at its height, the Franciscan Missionaries needed more space and so constructed a large block between the main house and the east wing. It cannot be claimed that this addition is a thing of beauty, or is in harmony with the older buildings. On the contrary, the 1960s development is ill-conceived and inconsiderate. Perhaps wisely the name of the architect responsible is unknown. The entrance front is now dominated by a pitched roofed former chapel, the centre part of which holds what remains of a window. Meanwhile, to the rear, the impression is given that some old-fashioned vision of a space craft has been ignominiously dumped on the site. Within a few decades, like many other religious orders the Franciscan Missionaries found their numbers in decline and before the end of the last century they were using the buildings as a nursing home, not least for their own elderly residents. Finally, in 2003 the place was sold to a development company which, it seems, had ambitious plans for an hotel, golf resort and so forth. By the time the economic recession had begun towards the end of the decade, little had happened and some years later Loughglynn changed hands again. Meanwhile the house suffered extensive vandalism, with the removal or destruction of almost everything it contained, including lead from the roof. As these photographs show, easy access is no longer possible, but other than the exterior walls there’s little left of the building to preserve. Another of Ireland’s historic houses left to fall into ruin.

Standing Tall



While the two lodges designed by George Fowler Jones for Castle Oliver, County Limerick are today derelict, the main house itself is in fine condition, having been extensively restored in recent years. Jones was not yet aged 30 when he received this commission, the reason being that his clients – the Misses Mary Isabella and Elizabeth Oliver Gascoigne – had already employed him to design some almshouses near their Yorkshire estate, Parlington Hall. When therefore in the mid-1840s the sisters decided to build a new house at Castle Oliver, the old one having fallen into disrepair, Jones was the obvious candidate for the job. Constructed of local pink sandstone, the house’s Scottish baronial character may be due to Jones having been born in Inverness. The resolutely asymmetrical exterior is notable for its many stepped gables and corbelled oriels.


Restoration Glory



The conservatory at Kilshane, County Tipperary. The house dates from the 1820s when designed for the Lowe family by John Hargrave, a son of the successful Cork-based architect Abraham Hargrave. The curvilinear conservatory, thought to be the most ambitious of its kind to survive in Ireland, was added around 1860; while very much in the style of Richard Turner, it cannot with certainty be ascribed to him. Along with the house, it was restored by the present owners at the start of the present century.


Escaping the Wreckers’ Ball


In 1961, the April-June issue of the Irish Georgian Society’s Bulletin advised readers that a house in County Carlow called Browne’s Hill ‘is to be demolished if a buyer does not come forward within the next month. Situated in a large park with fine timber, Browne’s Hill is in first-rate structural repair and would make a lovely, easily run family home. Although it is on top of a hill with panoramic views, it is not remote, the town of Carlow being only 1 ½ miles away, and Dublin 50 miles.
The house was built in 1763 by an architect named Peters for Robert Browne, in whose family it remained until recently. The three reception rooms have rich plaster ceilings and the original mantlepieces, the front hall is paved with black and white squares, and the kitchen (with Aga) is on the ground floor. The grand staircase leads up to ten bedrooms of various sizes, he principal one being octagonal with windows facing in three directions. There are two bathrooms, three lavatories, oil fired central heating and E.S.B. main electricity.
The courtyard comprises 15 stables, garages, loose boxes, dairy and groom’s house with excellent living accommodation, approximately 5,000 square feet of lofting, all in good condition. For permission to view, apply to – William Mulhall, Auctioneer and Valuer, 60 Dublin St., Carlow.
Price £2,500 with five acres.
A further 68 acres is available, if required, £7,000.’





Browne’s Hill was occupied by successive generations of the same family until 1951 when William Browne-Clayton offered the house for sale with 700 acres. Two years later an English syndicate purchased the estate, along with another nearby, the 1,500 acre Oak Park. These purchases were not well-received locally, farmers in the area believing the land ought to have been divided up among them by the Land Commission. Eventually in 1961 the syndicate, faced with growing hostility, negotiated a deal with the commission, whereby the estate underwent division and the house with its immediate five acres were put on the market with an asking price of £2,500. It was at this point that the Irish Georgian Society placed a notice in its bulletin warning supporters that unless a sympathetic buyer could be found – and soon – the house would be demolished. This news understandably caused alarm among those who were fighting to ensure the survival of the country’s steadily diminishing architectural heritage. Among them was author Anita Leslie, then dividing her time between her own family home, Castle Leslie in County Monaghan, and Oranmore Castle, County Galway, a property she had bought with her husband Bill King. Anita Leslie was also battling to save Dalyston, an important mid-18th century house that had just been sold to a County Longford firm that specialized in stripping old buildings of all saleable assets. Seeing Dalyston unroofed and gradually picked bare, she was determined the same fate should not befall Browne’s Hill and embarked on a campaign to save the property. For a time, she thought it might perhaps be bought by one of her friends, such as the wealthy Simone, Baronne de Bastard who had just spent huge sums restoring the 17th century château de Hautefort in the Dordogne, but it seems Mme de Bastard did not care to purchase a house in the Irish countryside.





As June 1961 drew to a close, the fate of Browne’s Hill seemed sealed: it was destined to be demolished since the best purchase offer had come from the same company that had stripped and unroofed Dalyston. But then the Land Commission, in a rare gesture of sympathy, advised the Irish Georgian Society that it would allow a further six months’ grace before a decision over the house’s future was made. Anita Leslie battled on, helped by another stalwart of the society, Eoin ‘The Pope’ O’Mahony (he had been nicknamed ‘The Pope’ while still a schoolboy after declaring his ambition in life was to hold this title). A wonderfully eccentric character, one-time barrister, orator, genealogist and supporter of many lost causes, in this instance O’Mahony announced that he had persuaded a Fellow of St Catherine’s College, Cambridge to back a scheme whereby Browne’s Hill would be bought for 2,000 guineas, to be used as a student hostel. Extensive correspondence survives between Anita Leslie, Eoin O’Mahony, and Desmond and Mariga Guinness of the Irish Georgian Society as all of them – sometimes at cross-purposes – sought the best means of securing Browne’s Hill’s long-term future, each of them, and others besides, hounding the local auctioneer William Mulhall for information about possible rival bids for the place. On July 10th, Anita Leslie wrote somewhat histrionically to the Guinnesses, ‘I feel like Atlas holding up the last Georgian houses in Ireland on drooping shoulders & slender purse.’ If necessary, and as a last resort, she was prepared to pay the £2,500 required for Browne’s Hill, thinking it could either be let to a tenant or else run as a guesthouse. Finally, despairing that demolition awaited without her intercession and without telling her husband of the decision, she sent the auctioneer a cheque for the deposit. The cheque was promptly returned: it transpired that another offer for the property had been made – and not by any firm with demolition in mind. Instead, Browne’s Hill was bought by a local travel agent Frank Tully and his wife Patty. They subsequently moved into Browne’s Hill, which remained a family home until Mr Tully died in November 2018. Last month Browne’s Hill came on the market for only the second time since it was built more than 250 years ago.


The original entrance gates to the Browne’s Hill estate, which took the form of a splendid triumphal arch, were sold during this period and bought by University College Dublin, which in 1962 purchased the Lyons estate in County Kildare to run as a research farm. The gates can still be seen there at the entrance to the now-private house at Lyons.

Very Plain, Too Bald


The limestone portico of Loughcrew, County Meath re-erected, at least in part. This singularly unlucky house was thrice burnt within a century and twice re-constructed. But after the third fire the building was demolished and Greek Ionic portico lay in pieces on the surrounding ground until partially reassembled a few years ago. Loughcrew was a neo-classical house designed by Charles Robert Cockerell in the early 1820s for the Naper family. It was always an exceptionally severe looking building, and as has been noted, recalled a courthouse rather than a residence. Even its architect judged the finished work ‘very plain, too bald’, whereas what remains of the portico is wonderfully evocative and might almost serve as a symbol for all the other ruined country houses in Ireland.

A Melancholy Centenary



Not all anniversaries are necessarily cause for celebration. Today marks the centenary of the burning of Mount Shannon, County Limerick, one among the first wave of Irish country houses to be burnt during the War of Independence, followed by many more over the course of the Civil War. Dating from the mid-18th century, Mount Shannon was originally built for the Oliver family but by 1765 it had been acquired by John FitzGibbon, who had converted from Roman Catholicism to the Established Church in order to practice law. This move ultimately also converted him into a wealthy man, so understandably the same profession was also followed by his son, another John FitzGibbon, who became known as ‘Black Jack’ for his hostility to the faith of his forebears and his advocacy of the 1800 Act of Union. Prior to that event, he served as last Lord Chancellor of Ireland and was rewarded with a peerage, becoming Earl of Clare in 1795. While he improved Mount Shannon and the surrounding demesne, it was his son the second earl who did most work on the place, not least by enhancing the façade with the addition of its great Ionic portico, designed by architect Lewis William Wyatt. Thanks to a pension secured by his father, he was also able to fill the interior with furniture and works of art collected during his travels in Europe, and from time spent in India as Governor of Mumbai (then called Bombay). Having no children, when he died in 1851 both title and estate passed to a younger brother.





The third Earl of Clare did not benefit from a government pension such as that enjoyed by his late brother, nor did he lead as charmed a life; in 1854 his son and heir, 25-year old Viscount FitzGibbon, was reported missing, presumed dead, after leading his troop of Royal Irish Huzzars at the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War. His body was never recovered. So, when the third earl in turn died a decade later, Mount Shannon passed to the youngest of his three daughters, Lady Louisa FitzGibbon who likewise suffered various misfortunes: her first husband died, as did her son, and then her second husband – a Sicilian marchese – proved to be as just as impoverished as was she. Already in debt, the onset of the Land Wars finished off her prospects and in 1888 Lady Louisa’s creditors forced a sale of Mount Shannon and its contents. The house had two more owners before its eventual destruction, the first being Thomas Nevins, who had been born in Mayo but made a fortune in the United States as a tram and railway contractor. He lived at Mount Shannon for less than a decade because in 1902, exactly a century after the first Earl of Shannon had died following a fall from a horse, Mr Nevins suffered the same fate. His wife followed him a few years later, and Mount Shannon was back on the market. Most of the land was divided up between local farmers and in 1915 the house and immediate surroundings were bought for £1,000 by one David O’Hannigan, who already owned a fine property some thirty miles to the south, Kilbolane House, County Cork (since demolished). However, he was unable to enjoy his new home for very long because on the night of June 14th 1920 Mount Shannon was set on fire by a local band of the IRA, leaving the building completely gutted; it is believed flames from the blazing site could be seen in Limerick city more than five miles away. What remains of the house has stood a ruin ever since. Over the next three years, there will be many more such centenaries to recall.


You can see and hear more about Mount Shannon on the Irish Aesthete’s new YouTube channel:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcrlzLgMnNA
and
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRPj6b6KCss

And a longer history of the house was published here in January 2014: https://theirishaesthete.com/2014/01/20/a-spectacular-fall-from-grace

Look to the Stars



Internationally acclaimed for his work, the astronomer William Edward Wilson was born in 1851 in Belfast, where his grandfather, also called William, had made a fortune in the shipping business. As a result, William senior bought each of his four sons an estate, that given to William junior’s father, John Wilson, being Daramona, County Westmeath. The younger William, not enjoying good health as a child, was educated at home but when he was 19 the opportunity arose to join an expedition travelling to Algeria to witness a total solar eclipse. This inspired his interest in astronomy and in due course he acquired his first telescope. When aged thirty, he constructed his own observatory at Daramona, on a site immediately adjacent to the house. Here he worked for the rest of his life, until his early death in 1908. Among the scientific breakthroughs with which he is credited are the production of the first photo-electric measurements of the brightness of stars and the first accurate determination of the temperature of the solar photosphere. He was also responsible for making a series of outstanding celestial photographs. As a result of his work, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1896 and awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Trinity College Dublin in 1901.





Daramona is a mid-19th century, three-bay, two-storey Italianate villa probably built by John Wilson soon after the birth of his son, the future astronomer. There was an older house immediately behind the present one, but it has long since been demolished; it is suggested that the somewhat over-scaled limestone Doric entrance porch was recycled from the previous building. The doorcase behind has a particularly wide fanlight and sidelights. The interior is typical of the period, the most interesting space being the very substantial library, the largest room on the ground floor, which has timber panelled walls and, above the chimneypiece, a panel bearing the family coat of arms. Immediately behind the house, on the site of the earlier house, are two long service wings. Wilson’s two-storey observatory, completed around 1892 and originally domed, stands left of the rear of the house. Beyond it is a curtain wall topped with a balustrade and incorporating a pedimented doorcase leading providing access to the rear avenue.





Not long after Edward Wilson’s death in 1908, his widow and children moved first to County Cavan and then, following the outbreak of troubles in the 1920s, to England. His telescope was offered to the University of London where it remained until 1974; it is now in Liverpool’s Merseyside County Museum. Much of his original instrumentation when to Trinity College Dublin. Meanwhile, Daramona was sold to another family who lived in and maintained the property until it was put on the market in 2000. House and land were then bought by a local building firm which applied to construct 38 houses on the site. Thanks to a campaign by scientists in Ireland and around the world, this application was refused by the county council which in due course conferred protected structure status on the main building, ancillary outhouses, demesne wall and gates. Since then it would appear nothing has been done, so that today Daramona is fast falling into decay and – once more – taking with it part of the national history. Looking for a solution to this problem? One might as well follow William Wilson’s example, and look to the stars.


Saviour Sought



Fruit Hill, Co Wexford recently featured here (see https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/03/07/a-labour-of-love), a sensitively restored house believed to date from the second quarter of the 18th century and notable for being U-shaped with two wings projecting behind the one-room-deep residence with only a narrow passage between them. A similar house stands, just about, in neighbouring County Carlow and is called Mount Pleasant. Mark Bence-Jones’ Guide to Irish Country Houses includes four properties of the same name, but this is none of them. Indeed, little documentation exists about the Carlow house and some of it is erroneous.





Mount Pleasant was built and occupied by the Garrett family. The first of them, James Garrett was the son of a Captain John Garrett, one of five brothers who came to Ireland in the 17th century around the time of the Cromwellian Wars and, like many others, was rewarded for his efforts with a grant of land in County Laois. James Garrett on the other hand settled in Carlow around 1700 when in his mid-20s. He may have been responsible for building a house called Janeville, or it could have been his son whose tomb in the local church refers to ‘the charitable Thomas Garrett of Janeville deceased, Aug.31st, 1759, aged 48 years.’ The same church also contains a monument to another Garrett, the inscription of which runs as follows: ‘Here lie deposited in humble hope of a joyful resurrection the mortal remains of James Garrett, late of Mountpleasant, Esq. – Vain would prove an attempt at panegyric; since no eulogy could do justice to his merits. Reader, wouldst thou be had in everlasting remembrance? Endeavour to emulate his virtues. He departed this life July the 17th, 1818. Aged 72 years.’ Because James Garrett might have been the son of Thomas Garrett, it has often been assumed that the latter’s house, Janeville, was renamed Mount Pleasant by the former, and that they lived in the same property. In fact, this is not the case as Janeville and Mount Pleasant – which is seen in today’s pictures – are different houses, albeit in the same part of the county.





Some four miles apart, Janeville and Mount Pleasant were both once Garrett houses and dated from the early years of the 18th century, but while the first of these is still intact, the second, as can be seen, has fallen into ruin. Stylistically they share similarities, both having five bay facades centred on a granite doorcase with sidelights. Both are also of three storeys, although only two are visible from the front of Janeville which as a delightful Venetian window on the first floor above the entrance. The attic windows can be seen on the double-gabled side elevations. Mount Pleasant, on the other hand, features attic windows on its façade, with a tiny Diocletian window in the centre. And the rear of the building is like that of Fruit Hill, County Wexford, with wings creating a U-shaped house. At Mount Pleasant, the centre of the back evidently had a Gothic arched window, now blocked and the entire west wing was, at some unknown date, allowed to fall into dereliction, the owners only occupying the eastern side of the building. It was sold a couple of years ago, but no work has been done on the property and so the decline continues. However, as Fruit Hill shows, no house is ever beyond redemption; perhaps this one may yet find a saviour.


A Labour of Love



When the present owners bought Fruit Hill, County Wexford some 25 years ago, the house was a roofless shell, having been allowed to fall into dereliction for much of the last century. Long associated with the Glascott family and believed to date from the second quarter of the 18th century, the building is wonderfully idiosyncratic in appearance, from the façade’s pediment containing a Venetian window and flanked by dormer windows, to the ground floor where the fenestration was lowered on one side (the drawing room) but not the other (dining room). The gable-ended main block, its upper portion still carrying evidence of having been weather-slated, is only one room deep but extended at the rear by two wings to form a U-shaped house. The owners have not so much restored Fruit Hill as brought it back from near-death, a task few others would have been sufficiently brave to take on, since little more than the walls – and not even all of those – remained on the site. Their work here is an admirable labour of love and testimony to the fact that no building should be deemed beyond rescue.


Future Uncertain



The stable block on the former estate of Doory Hall, County Longford. The lands here were granted by Charles II to the Jessop family, said to have moved to this country from Derbyshire. The long-forgotten 19th century writer and novelist George H Jessop (who wrote the libretto for Charles Villiers Stanford’s 1896 comic opera Shamus O’Brien) was born here, together with his sister, poet and story writer Mary Kathleen Jessop Another branch of the same family owned an estate in the same county, Mount Jessop but like Doory Hall this long ago went to ruin.



The main house at Doory Hall, now just a shell, is thought to have been designed in the 1820s by John Hargrave, a son of the successful Cork architect Abraham Hargrave; the younger man was responsible for designing a number of buildings, including churches and glebe houses, in County Longford. The stable block is also attributed to him, but could be earlier; the 1820s house replaced an earlier one on the site, so perhaps this is a residue of the previous development? Whatever the past history, at the moment its future does not look promising.