Another splendid stableyard, this one directly behind the main house at Ballindoolin, County Kildare. Dating from c.1810 when constructed for the Bors, a family of Dutch extraction, the land to the rear rises up, meaning the yard must be approached via a flight of granite steps. Directly ahead is the yard bell sitting atop a pediment, with three arched openings below. That to the left leads to the second yard, for agricultural use, that in the middle is a coach house and that to the right, created to achieve symmetry, reveals a modest entrance behind the double doors. Limestone ashlar is used for window, door and arch openings while the rest of the yard buildings are of limestone rubble visible through the flaking render.
As was mentioned last Monday (see A Rich Man’s Extravagance « The Irish Aesthete), Margaret Henry, wife of the man who had commissioned Kylemore Castle, County Galway, died in 1874 while the family was travelling in Egypt. Her body was brought back to Ireland and three years after her death, work began on a commemorative church in the grounds of the estate. The architect responsible was James Franklin Fuller, who chose to design a 14th century English cathedral in miniature, the exterior of dressed rubble limestone relieved with crisp limestone ashlar for the fenestration and porch as well as such details as the angels which conceal dripstones at the base of the steeply pitched roof.
Inside the building, the three-bay nave rises to an elaborate vaulted ceiling supported by piers featuring differently-coloured Irish marbles. At the west end of the chancel, below a hexafoil rose window over two triple lights, the space is occupied by a sandstone sedilia, delicately carved with flowers and foliage. Finished in 1881, and restored in the 1990s, the Kylemore chapel is unquestionably one of Fuller’s finest works and well worth a visit.
Born in County Down in 1766, at the age of 17 Alexander Henry emigrated to America where he established himself as a merchant in Philadelphia. Some years later, his nephew, also called Alexander Henry in turn moved to Philadelphia where he joined his uncle’s business, but then came back across the Atlantic to settle in England in 1804. The following year, in partnership with his elder brother Samuel, he set up a company in Manchester, A & S Henry & Co Ltd, that specialised in the marketing and distribution of cotton. The business was enormously successful, opening branch offices in Bradford, Belfast, Leeds, Huddersfield and Glasgow to act as collecting stations for textile products of all kinds; in consequence, the founding family soon became very wealthy, allowing its members to buy country houses and become Members of Parliament, as Alexander Henry duly did, representing South Lancashire.
Mitchell Henry was born in 1826, second son of Alexander Henry, who some years earlier had married Elizabeth Brush, like him a native of County Down. Mitchell Henry trained to be a doctor, becoming a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and senior consultant at the Middlesex Hospital, London by the age of 30. However, following his father’s death in 1858, he ceased practising medicine, instead seeking election as an MP. Before then, he had married Margaret Vaughan whose family, once again, came from County Down; the couple would have nine children. Prior to that, and during their honeymoon, they travelled to the west of Ireland and were much taken with the scenery of Connemara. In consequence, after coming into his considerable inheritance, and following the Great Famine when large swathes of the country were offered for sale, Henry was able to buy Kylemore Lodge and some 13,000 acres of land in the west of Ireland from the impoverished Blake family. Here, from 1864 onwards, he embarked on building a new residence. At that date, this part of the country was exceptionally remote. The architect, and keen self-publicist, James Franklin Fuller, who designed the church at Kylemore (built in memory of Margaret Henry, following her unexpected death in 1874), remembered that to get there ‘was no easy matter. The train landed me at Westport the first day, the next meant posting to Leenane, the third was devoted to castle and church, while the fourth dropped me at Westport in time for the night mail; practically it “spoiled” a week.’ Constructing a large castle was something of an act of folly, since it involved considerable amounts of earthworks to clear the chosen site, as well as moving a road to the opposite side of Lake Pollacappul. As if that didn’t involve sufficient expense, instead of using local stone, the client insisted the building be cased in granite from Dalkey, County Dublin, sent by ship from one side of the country to the other. The main architect to work on this job was Galway-based Samuel Ussher Roberts, a great-grandson of the 18th century Waterford architect John Roberts. His design consists, as Mark Bence-Jones noted, of ‘romantic groupings of battlemented and machiolated towers and turrets’, the facade broken up by large and regular groupings of mullioned windows and oriels.’ The castle benefits enormously from its setting, with the mountains rising immediately to the rear and the lake, in which it is often seen reflected, directly in front. The interiors, beginning with the dark-panelled entrance hall, are harder to judge not least because they have been altered by subsequent owners and in addition were damaged by a fire in 1959. Their appearance, however, lacks the Gothic character of the exterior, and instead displays standard mid-Victorian style. The main reception rooms are large and high-ceilinged, with a variety of marbles employed for the chimney pieces, the finest of these being in the drawing room. The staircase hall leads to a first-floor gallery around which were grouped the main bedrooms. There is little here to set the space apart from any other country house of the period. In addition to the main castle, Mitchell Henry was responsible for commissioning the development of an eight-acre walled garden to supply him with all necessary fruit and vegetables: this has been restored in recent years.
Kylemore Castle was not Mitchell Henry’s only residence: he also owned a large property in London, Stratheden House. Originally designed in the early 1770s by Sir William Chambers, it was bought by Henry in 1863 and transformed into a vast Italianate villa by architect T. H. Wyatt before being filled with the owner’s objects d’art which included an antique bust of Agrippa and The Pompeian Mother, a statue by Giosuè Meli’s depicting a woman and child fleeing from the eruption of Vesuvius: this was displayed in its own Pompeian-style temple within the house. Much of the furniture was modern Italian replicas of originals in the Vatican and the Pitti Palace and among the most remarkable rooms was a library with ebonized woodwork and gold mouldings, green silkhung walls, and an ornate ceiling and frieze in Venetian cinquecento style, embellished with portraits of philosophers and poets. Alas, the extravagance of building and maintaining two such enormous and expensive houses, as well as draining bogland and improving conditions in Connemara, proved to be Henry’s undoing. From being very rich, he became rather poor; at the time of his death in 1910, he had only a few hundred pounds. Ten years earlier, Strathedan House and its contents were sold, and the building soon after pulled down, replaced by a block of apartments. Then in 1903 Kylemore Castle was also sold, to William Montagu, ninth Duke of Manchester and his wife, the American heiress Helena Zimmerman. The duke was a notorious spendthrift, as he proceeded to demonstrate in County Galway where he transformed much of the interior of his new property, taking out large quantities of stained glass from the main staircase window and much Connemara marble from a number of the rooms. Despite the considerable wealth of his wife’s family, he managed to run up an impressive number of debts: by 1918, 66 petitions of bankruptcy had been filed against him in the English courts. Two years later, Kylemore Castle was sold once more, this time to Benedictine nuns from Ypres, Belgian. Now called Kylemore Abbey, the order remains there to the present day. After running a girls’ boarding school on the site for many years, they have now turned it into one of the most successful tourist attractions in this part of Ireland.
Stepping Through the Gate: Inside Ireland’s Walled Gardens, an exhibition curated by the Irish Aesthete and featuring more than fifty specially-commissioned paintings by artists Lesley Fennell, Andrea Jameson, Maria Levinge and Alison Rosse has now opened at Kylemore Abbey where it can be seen until the end of April.
‘A little before dinner I got to Castle Ward. Lord Bangor received me with great cordiality, brought me into his room, and signed the address with great willingness. He also asked me to dine and stay all night. This was the greater compliment as his house was full of company and not quite finished…There was an elegant dinner, stewed trout at the head, chine of the beef at the foot, soup in the middle, a little pie in the middle of each side, and four trifling things in the corners, just as you saw at Mr Adderley’s. This is the style of all the dinners I have seen, and the second course of nine dishes made out much in the same way. The cloth was taken away, and then the fruit – a pine-apple (not good), a small plate of peaches, grapes and figs, (but a few) and the rest pears and apples. No plates or knives given about. We were served in queenware.
Our epergne, candlesticks, service of china, variety of fruit, substantial and well-dressed dinners and dining-room far exceed anything that I have seen since I came abroad, and so it is spoken of, for Miss Murray assured me in the most serious manner that both Sir Patrick and Fortescue had often declared that they never had anywhere in their lives met with so much entertainment, with a more convenient house, or more elegant living than at Castle Caldwell.’
Sir James Caldwell, writing to his wife, Monday, 12th October, 1772
‘August 11th, 1776. Reached Castle Caldwell at night, where Sir James Caldwell received me with a politeness and cordiality that will make me long remember it with pleasure…Nothing can be more beautiful than the approach to Castle Caldwell; the promontories of thick wood which shoot into Lough Erne, under the shade of a great ridge of mountains, have the finest effect imaginable; as soon as you are through the gates, turn to the left, about 200 yards to the edge of the hill, where the whole domain lies beneath the point of view. It is a promontory three miles long, projecting into the lake, a beautiful assemblage of wood and lawn, one end a thick shade, the other grass, scattered with trees and finished with wood…the house, almost obscured among the trees, seems a fit retreat from every care and anxiety of the world; a little beyond it the lawn, which is in front, shews its lively green among the deeper shades and over the neck of land, which joins it to the promontory of wood called Ross a goul, the lake seems to form a beautiful wood-locked bason, stretching its silver surface behind the stems of the single trees; beyond the whole, the mountainy rocks of Turaw give a magnificent finishing…Take my leave of Castle Caldwell, and with colours flying and his band of music playing, go on board his six-oared barge for Inniskilling; the heavens were favourable, and a clear sky and bright sun gave me the beauties of the lake in all their splendour.’
From Arthur Young’s Tour of Ireland 1776-1779.
‘I travelled four hundred miles de suite without going to an inn. Amongst those who were most desirous of my calling upon them was Sir James Caldwell, of Castle Caldwell, on Lough Erne. One anecdote will give some idea of his character. The Marquis of Lansdowne, then Earl of Shelburne, being in Ireland, and intending to call on Sir James, he, with an hospitality truly Irish, thought of nothing night or day but how to devise some amusement to entertain his noble guest, and came home to breakfast one morning with prodigious eagerness to communicate a new idea to Lady Caldwell. This was to summon together the hundred labourers he employed, and choose fifty that would best represent New Zealand savages, in order that he might form two fleets of boats on the Lough, one to represent Captain Cook and his men, the other a New Zealand chief at the head of his party in canoes, and consulted her how it would be possible to get them dressed in an appropriate manner in time for Lord Shelburne’s arrival. Lady C, who had much more prudence than Sir James, reminded him that he had 200 acres of hay down, and the preparations he mentioned would occupy so much time that the whole would now stand a chance of being spoiled. All remonstrances were in vain. Tailors were pressed into his service from the surrounding country to vamp up, as well as time would permit, the crews of men and fleets. The prediction was fulfilled: the hay was spoiled, and what hurt Sir James much more, he received a letter from Lord S. to put off his coming till his return from Kilkenny, and that uncertain.’
From The Autobiography of Arthur Young (published 1898)
This weekend, it is announced that the latest recipient of the Historic Houses of Ireland/O’Flynn Group Heritage Prize is Clonalis, County Roscommon. Today home to the 27th generation of the O’Conor family since their forebear was the last High King of Ireland in the 12th century, the present house at Clonalis dates from the late 1870s but occupies a site associated with the O’Conors for hundreds of years, and is filled with historic material linking them with significant events in this country. The library, for example, contains over 7,000 volumes and is one of the finest such collections in Ireland.
The Historic Houses of Ireland/O’Flynn Group Heritage Prize is an initiative devised by the Irish Aesthete to acknowledge the importance of our privately-owned heritage properties and to recognise the invaluable work by their owners. For this reason, the prize is being presented in association with Historic Houses of Ireland, a charity established in 2008 to promote the immediate and long-term future of the country’s privately owned historic properties. All HHI members are owners of such buildings and they understand better than anyone the sector’s particular problems, especially over the past year. Worth €5,000 and adjudicated by a small group of assessors, the prize is generously sponsored by the O’Flynn Group has already shown itself keenly aware of the importance of providing a viable future for historic buildings, as can be seen in the company’s own redevelopment of the early 19th century former barracks site in Ballincollig, County Cork. The Irish Aesthete congratulates Clonalis and its owners on being very worthy recipients of the prize.
Loughgall, County Armagh is an exceptionally handsome and well-preserved village, laid out in the 18th century by the Cope family, who were resident landlords. It comprises one long street lined on either side with residences other than at one point where an extraordinary set of gates and gate houses announce entry to the Cope estate. The family had come to this part of the country in 1611, after land here was either granted by the crown or purchased by Sir Anthony Cope of Oxfordshire. He passed the property onto one of his younger sons, also called Anthony but the latter then sold part of the estate called Drumilly to a brother, Richard Cope, so that there were two branches of the same family living adjacent to each other. Drumilly was an exceptionally long house, its facade running to 228 feet, and comprised a central, two storey-over-basement block linked to similarly scaled pavilions by lower, six-bay wings; when Maria Edgeworth visited in 1844, she thought it ‘one of the most beautiful places I think I ever saw.’ Not long afterwards, a vast conservatory with curved front was added to the entrance. In the middle of the last century, the house and land came into the ownership of the Ministry of Agriculture and Drumilly was used as a grain store, with the result that it fell into disrepair. A contents auction was held in 1960 and six years later, the building was demolished; the Belfast MP Roy Bradford described this as ‘a Philistine Act of the most heinous irresponsibility embarking on a reckless course of artistic nihilism.’ Today nothing remains of the place, meaning only Loughgall survives to represent the former presence of the Copes in the area.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to miss the entrance to the Loughgall estate. The architect responsible is unknown, although the design has been attributed to William Murray who had spent many years working with Francis Johnston and succeeded as architect at the Board of Works. Over a period of 15 years, Murray was involved in the construction of nine district lunatic asylums and indeed, there is something a little mad about the Loughgall entrance. Set back from the road, it begins with sweeping, semi-circular stone balustrades sitting on top of polygonal rubble walling and topped with stocky urns. This is duly terminated by pairs of square piers on either side of the actual entrance, their form alternating prismatic and vermiculated bands before concluding in fleur-de-lys from which emerge fire-breathing dragons. The wrought-iron wicket and double-carriage gates are signed and dated ‘R.Marshall, Caledon 1842’ and above the latter once rose an overthrow at the centre of which hung a lantern; seemingly this was hit by a lorry in the 1960s and not restored. Beyond the gates are a pair of identical lodges, equally fanciful and looking like miniature Jacobethan mansions. In fact, these L-shaped buildings are single-storey and only held two rooms: it didn’t help that so much space was given up to the porch supported by a tapering pier. Constructed of more polygonal rubble, the two most prominent walls have oriel windows below fanciful gables featuring a series of steps topped by finials: the apex finials originally had carved animals but these have since gone. Inside each gable can be seen the Cope quarterings and the motto ‘Equo adeste animo.’ All this work was undertaken by Arthur Cope in the years immediately prior to his death at the age of 30 in 1844, when the estate was inherited by a cousin, Robert Wright Cope Doolan, who duly changed his surname to Cope.
From the gates, the drive runs straight, lined by limes and first dropping before rising sharply to Loughgall Manor. Designed by Dublin architect Frederick A Butler, this was built in the mid-1870s for Francis Robert Cope. After the flair of the entrance, the house is something of a disappointment, a relatively modest, two-storey Tudor revival block with only an irregular west-facing gabled facade providing any visual interest. Old photographs suggest that originally the building was not painted white but instead left with the cut stone exposed. At present, the bleak forecourt, devoid of grass or any planting, only adds to the disappointment. A gabled porch is fronted in sandstone and the hoodmoulded arch concludes in a pair of heads, one of which may represent the house’s then-owner (but if so, who is the woman, since he was unmarried at the time). The house and estate at Loughgall remained in private ownership until 1947 when it was sold by Field-Marshall Sir Gerald Templer, a descendant of the Copes. It was then bought, like Drumilly, by the Ministry of Agriculture, although in this instance the buildings were not demolished but are used as office space by a division of that body.
Running to some 62 acres, Powerscourt, County Wicklow is unquestionably Ireland’s most famous – and most photographed – country house garden, but what can be seen here today is of relatively recent origin. The building around which it was created has origins in a medieval tower house constructed by the de la Poers, whence derives the site’s name. In the 1730s, this structure was encased in a large Palladian house designed for Richard Wingfield, first Viscount Powerscourt by the architect Richard Castle. But the surrounding landscape remained largely unadorned, the ground behind the building dropping down to a large, irregular stretch of water called Juggy’s Pond, beyond which the vista was closed by the distant Sugarloaf Mountain. Only in the 19th century did the scene begin to change, initially thanks to the sixth Viscount who in 1843 employed architect and landscape designer Daniel Robertson to produce plans that would divide the sloping ground into a series of Italianate terraces, supposedly inspired by those at the Villa Butera (now Trabia) in Sicily. In a book about the estate that he published in 1907, the seventh viscount remembered being brought from his schoolroom one October morning to lay the first stone of this scheme. He also recalled how Robertson, who was forever in debt, would periodically have to hide in one of Powerscourt’s domes when the Sheriff’s officers came to arrest him. As for the gardens, Robertson, who found himself better able to work after sufficient quantities of alcohol had been consumed, in consequence suffered from gout. As a result, he ‘used to be wheeled out on the Terrace in a wheelbarrow, with a bottle of sherry, and as long as that lasted he was able to design and direct the workmen, but when the sherry was finished, he collapsed and was incapable of working till the drunken fit evaporated.’ However, in 1844 the sixth viscount, who had travelled to Italy to buy vases and sculptures for the intended garden, died of consumption before reaching home. Work on the site stopped during his young heir’s minority and it was not until the latter had reached adulthood in 1858 and assumed responsibility for the estate that the garden once more began to receive attention.
By the time the seventh Viscount Powerscourt started taking an active interest in the gardens of his country house, Daniel Robertson had died. However, the estate’s owner took a keen interest in finishing the incomplete job, visiting a number of key sites in Europe, such as the gardens at Versailles as well as those around the Schönbrunn Palace outside Vienna and the Schwetzingen Palace near Mannheim. He also consulted a number of landscape gardeners such as James Howe and William Brodrick Thomas. The second of these was also employed by Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace and Sandringham in Norfolk. In the end, however, it was largely Lord Powerscourt himself and his Scottish head gardener, Alexander Robertson (no relation of the previously mentioned Daniel) who drew up their own scheme. Robertson, described by his employer as a very clever man with ‘more taste than any man of his class that I ever saw’ died in 1860 but by then the main outlines of the project had been agreed, and work started, not least on creating the terraces, on which it seems 100 men laboured for ten years. Lord Powerscourt reported that one of the difficulties faced was that because the ground had once been part of a glacier moraine, water kept coming to the surface of the ground and threatening to wash away the work; Robertson proposed thatbefore anything else was done, holes be dug at the back of each terrace so that the water inside, on coming to the surface ‘should fall down through the holes into the next stratum and disappear. This was done and we had no more trouble.’ Similar feats of engineering had to be undertaken to transform what had hitherto been Juggy’s Pond into the basin seen today: inspired by Bernini’s Triton Fountain in Rome, it has a central jet which can reach 100 feet. Another key feature added during this period is the Perron, a terrace situated part of the way down the central walk to the basin, designed by the English architect and astronomer Francis Penrose. This was intended to offer a viewing platform to what lies beyond, but also to break the monotony of the descent. The Perron has elaborate geometric mosaic paving, finished in 1875 and made from different coloured pebbles collected on the nearby beach at Bray. Meanwhile, Lord Powerscourt had continued to add to the collection of statuary and urns begun by his father, buying old pieces and commissioning new ones: the pair of figures representing Victory and Fame were made for him in 1866 by Hugo Hagen in Berlin: the same sculptor was also responsible for the pegasi down by the basin’s edge.
Lord Powerscourt never stopped adding new features to the grounds of Powerscourt, which extend much further than is indicated here. It is said that he did so because for a long time he and his wife had no children, and he did not want to leave anything for his somewhat disreputable younger brother Lewis Wingfield (and then, after 16 years of marriage, Lady Powerscourt had five children in succession). After he died in 1904, the family struggled to maintain the estate and eventually, in 1961 it was sold to the Slazenger family, which owns it still although, as is well known, the house was tragically gutted by fire in 1974. But the gardens remain much as they were during the seventh viscount’s time and draw large numbers of visitors. The pictures shown today were taken on a rare occasion when the grounds were entirely empty, allowing the Irish Aesthete to have the place to himself. In style, they are intended as a homage to those taken by Eugene Atget a century ago in the Parc de Saint-Cloud outside Paris.
In The Beauties of Ireland (1826), James Norris Brewer explains the name of Busherstown, County Offaly as follows: ‘Busherstown, the seat of the Minchin family, was originally called Bouchardstown, and formerly belonged to the de Mariscos. Bouchard de Marisco, from whom the name of this place is derived, left a daughter and heir, who married O’Carroll, of Clonlisk and Couloge…’ The accuracy of this tale might be open to question, since it seems hard to find any de Marisco with the first name Bouchard. There certainly were members of the family prominent in this part of the country, not least Geoffrey de Marisco, an ally of King John who in the first half of the 13th century was Justiciar of Ireland on several occasions: through his wife, Eva de Bermingham, he came to hold large swathes of land in this part of the country.
Whatever the origins of its name, Busherstown appears to have originated as a tower house perhaps in the 16th century when it was held by the O’Carrolls: the space now serving as a dining room in the centre of the western side of the building was probably the tower house. For their part in the Confederate Wars of the 1640s, the O’Carrolls forfeited the property and in 1669 it was granted by the English government to Charles Minchin, a soldier who had risen to the rank of Colonel in the Parliamentary army. Shortly before his death in 1681, Colonel Minchin bought a second property not far away, Ballinakill Castle, County Tipperary which had also begun as a tower house, this time built by the Butlers. The Minchins sold Ballinakill in 1760 and it is now a ruin, but they remained at Busherstown until 1973.
As mentioned, Busherstown appears to have originated as a tower house and at some date in the 18th century, perhaps following a fire in 1764, a new residence was added to the south end of the older building. This plain, three-bay, two-storey extension is clearly visible, the centre breakfront presumably once serving as an entrance; the room behind is much smaller than those on either side, indicating it was a hallway giving access to reception rooms. In the early 19th century, when the property was owned by George Minchin, further alterations to the property were made, not least the addition of a castellated entrance front, which was now moved to the west side. This features a round tower with hood mouldings at one end, and a bow-ended square tower at the other, the latter containing a porch through which one enters the building. Internally, little effort was made to continue the facade’s pseudo-Gothic decoration. What had probably been a dining room in the 18th century house was turned into a large hall, with the room behind it (formerly the entrance hall) becoming an ante chamber for the drawing room beyond. Behind this space is a curious wedge, thinner at the west than the east end, into which was inserted a staircase leading to bedrooms upstairs; a further extension beyond to the west leads gives access to a splendid stableyard. The quirky, provincial character of Busherstown means the house possesses an exceptional charm, helped by the mature and well-planted parkland in which it sits. After being sold by Richard Minchin in 1973, the property was owned by the Rudd family until they in turn disposed of Busherstown in 2011 after which it sat empty for some years until being bought more recently by the present owner who is gradually, and sympathetically, restoring the house.
Eighteen years ago this week, the contents of Lissadell, County Sligo were sold at auction by Christie’s. The house was once family home to Constance Gore-Booth (otherwise known as Countess Markievicz), a key participants in the Easter Rising, the first woman to be elected to the Westminster Parliament (although she declined to take her seat there), and subsequently the first woman in the world to hold a cabinet position, an intimate of W.B. Yeats and many other notable figures in Ireland’s cultural revolution at the start of the last century. Understandably, therefore, news that both the building and its contents were to be sold met with widespread dismay, and hopes were expressed that the state might intervene to save this part of the national heritage. However, as so often before and since, no such intervention occurred and the sale took place. Thankfully, the new owners of the Lissadell estate succeeded in buying back at least some of the items offered at auction, and they remain in the house, but much was lost, unlikely ever to return.
Lissadell is a large and somewhat austere building, designed by the architect Francis Goodwin in 1831 for Sir Robert Gore-Booth, whose family had lived in the area since the early 17th century. There had been an earlier residence closer to the Atlantic shoreline, but this was demolished when the new house was built. Lissadell’s pared-back Greek-Revival style reflects not just its owner’s taste, but also his budget: he may well have preferred something more opulent but lacked the necessary funds. When Goodwin published Domestic Architecture (1833-4) he featured Lissadell and noted that the house ‘has been erected for less than the estimate, by a considerable sum.’ In a footnote to the text, he observed how, ‘in altering the original designs, with a view of reducing the expense to a comparatively moderate sum, considering the extent and accommodation of the building, the author has been much indebted to the judicious hints of Sir R. G. Booth himself.’ In other words, the client told his architect to cut back on costs. Of two storeys over basement, Lissadell’s exterior is constructed in crisp Ballysadare limestone, with each side of the house different, although both those facing east and west have projecting bays at either end. What might be described as the garden front has a three-bay full-height bow, topped with a parapet that rises above those on either side, while the entrance front is notable for a towering three bay projection that serves as a porte-cochère. The interior of the building is decorated in what might be described as an early example of minimalism, beginning with the double-height entrance hall with Doric columns on the ground floor and Ionic columns above, accessed via an Imperial staircase in Kilkenny marble. A similarly substantial, apse-ended and top-lit gallery likewise exudes a sense of severe grandiosity, with Doric pilasters on one side and Ionic columns on the other. Sir Robert’s desire to save money where possible led him to introduce what was then something of a technological innovation: gas lighting. A local report from the 1830s recorded that this saved the house’s owner £60 or £70 annually. Seven of these lacquered brass gasoliers made for Lissadell were almost lost when the 2003 sale took place, but thanks to legal action taken by An Taisce (which argued the items were furniture and fittings integral to the building) they remain in situ, together with the gallery’s George III chamber organ which was also originally due to be auctioned.
One of the key losses from Lissadell at the time of the November 2003 sale was the collection of furniture specifically commissioned by Sir Robert for his new residence. Dating from the 1830s, these pieces were representative of taste in Ireland at the time and were believed to have been made by the successful Dublin firm of Williams & Gibton. Until the auction, Lissadell was the only house in Ireland to retain its original furniture by this company, so their dispersal was much to be regretted. Their importance can be gauged by the fact that most of the lots exceeded their estimates: a rosewood writing table, for example, which was expected to make €8,000-€10,000, fetched €19,000. In the dining room, a set of 17 mahogany chairs (€12,000-€18,000) fetched €22,000 and the dining table itself (€30,000-€50,000) went for €65,000. Bidding against other potential purchasers, Lissadell’s new owners managed to buy some pieces, such as a pair of handsome mahogany Grecian-style bookcases clearly inspired by the work of Thomas Hope and, again in the dining room, a sturdy mahogany sideboard. But many of the contents, first installed some 170 years earlier, now left for good and not just the Williams & Gibton furniture. There were, for example, a number of fine 17th century Italian baroque paintings, many in spectacular gilt frames, which had been acquired for the rooms by Sir Robert Gore-Booth. And then there were all the miscellaneous objects that build up in any house over generations, from sets of copper jelly moulds to discarded furnishings such as old curtains. These, as much as the more valuable pieces, are what tell the history of a building, and when they are gone, part of that history disappears forever. Thankfully, since acquiring Lissadell, the present owners have undertaken a huge amount of work, not only to restore the house but also to reinstate its distinctive character. They have done so using their own financial resources, and despite setbacks that might have deterred anyone else. In 2008, for example, Sligo County Council embarked on a court case over public rights of way across the estate, a case which the local authority ultimately lost but only after spending millions of euro from the public purse. There is, of course, more to be done but Lissadell today is a model of private enterprise in the field of Ireland’s cultural heritage, one that one must hope some of the country’s more wealthy citizens might care to emulate.