Castle Howard, Avoca, County Wicklow

contact: Mark Sinnott Tel: 087-2987601

Opening dates in 2020 but check due to Covid: Jan 13-15, Feb 3-7, Mar 2-4, 23-25, June 8-13, 20, 22-27, July 6-12, 20-23, Aug 14-23, Sept 7-12, 26, Oct 5-7, 12-14, 9am-1pm

Fee: adult €8.50, OAP/student €6.50, child €5

photograph taken from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage [1].

Wicklow is full of stunning gems of houses, unfortunately nearly all are private [2]. We are lucky to be able to visit Castle Howard as it is on the revenue 482 list. Stephen and I went to Castle Howard on Saturday September 14th 2019. Don’t be confused with the Castle Howard in the UK, setting for the original filmed version of Brideshead Revisited (the one with Jeremy Irons, not the excellent more recent version starring Ben Whishaw).

I rang the house beforehand and made a time for our visit in order to have a tour. We had a lovely drive out to Wicklow, and rang when we reached the gates. Someone drove up in a tractor to open them for us.

We drove past a lovely gate lodge, and through some gorgeous scenery.

The property has a small lake and boathouse.
There’s a bronze deer standing under the tree.

We crossed a small stone bridge to reach the castle. This bridge used to be topped by a lion, the symbol of the Howard family. Unfortunately the lion stands no longer.

One cannot see the whole house as one drives up, and it becomes even more impressive as it is when one walks around it

We parked, and knocked on the front door, which was picturesque in its Gothic pointed arched stone setting, with roses growing over the top of the door. The medieval-style studded door with ancient looking pull handle and Georgian door knocker is in the castellated two storey wing.

Studded door with “reeded” or fluted stone surrounds, which has a matching fanlight above.
“ogee” shaped doorway and window over door. The other windows are “flat headed” with gothic traceries and “drip moulding” (see [1] and [3]).
I also loved the boot scraper, with ends like turreted castles.

The house was built around the fabric of an earlier house in 1811 for Lieutenant Colonel Robert Howard to the design of Richard Morrison. It is designed to combine two archaic styles: a castle and an abbey [4]. The section in the photographs above is the abbey-like section of the house: Bence-Jones describes it as a two-storey wing ending in a gable with pinnacles and a Perpendicular window. A gable is a peaked end wall, often triangular, at the end of a double pitched roof, or sometimes just refers to an end wall.

When you walk back and around the house, the “castle” part of the house is revealed.

The “castle” side of the house has two turreted towers, and two bows. There is a conservatory at the south-east side. The building is finished with render with stone dressing.

conservatory on the south-east side of the house.

There were visitors leaving as we were coming, so the tour guide was kept busy! Mark Sinnott is not the owner, but works on the estate. The estate has an Equestrian centre and the house occasionally hosts shooting, and our tour guide helps with that. He has been working there for eighteen years, so knows the house and estate intimately.

The house is currently owned by Ivor Fitzpatrick, a prominent Dublin solicitor and property developer, and his wife, Susan Stapleton.

The earlier house on the site was called Cronebane Lodge, and belonged to the director of the Avoca Copper Mines. [5] The mines had their own coinage: one can find halfpenny coins stating “payable at Cronebeg Lodge or in Dublin” for sale on the internet! The coins picture St. Patrick in his Bishop’s Mitre on one side and a shield on the other. The Associated Irish Mine Company was founded in 1787 by Abraham Mills, William Roe, Thomas Weaver, Thomas Smith, Charles Caldwell and Brabazon Noble and its head office at 184, Great Britain Street, Dublin. It existed until 1798. [6]

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Howard purchased the house in 1811 and had it extended and Gothicized by Richard Morrison.

Richard Morrison (b. 1767) studied under William Gandon. He became an architect and often collaborated with his son, William Vitruvius Morrison.

Among Richard Morrison’s public works were alterations to the cathedral at Cashel, the court-house and gaol at Galway, court-houses in Carlow, Clonmel, Roscommon, Wexford and elsewhere, and St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. He built or altered very many mansions of the nobility and gentry in Ireland, and was knighted by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1841. [7]

He and his son also designed renovations for Killruddery House, near Bray in County Wicklow, which is another section 482 house; Ballyfin House in County Laois (now a five star hotel); and Fota, in County Cork, which Stephen and I visited this year (October 2020). Richard Morrison also designed Knockdrin Castle, just north of Mullingar in County Westmeath, and the Gothic fantasy 1819 remodeling of Shelton Abbey, Arklow, County Wicklow. [8]

Shelton Abbey in County Wicklow, remodelled by Richard Morrison in 1819. Photo from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. It is now an open prison, sold by the 8th Earl of Wicklow, William Howard, to the Irish state in 1951.

Shelton Abbey was owned for nearly three hundred years by the Howard family, the Earls of Wicklow, into which Robert Howard was born. The Lieutenant Colonel was the youngest son of the 3rd Earl of Wicklow, William Forward Howard (he took the surname Forward when he inherited his mother’s family estates in Donegal). There is a wonderful pyramid mausoleum of the Howard family in Old Kilbride Cemetery in Arklow, County Wicklow, built in 1785.

A mausoleum erected by Ralph Howard (1726-86), first Viscount Wicklow of Shelton Abbey, attributed to Simon Vierpyl (c.1725-1810) of Dublin and London. Photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

In the front hall, our guide Mark told us the history of the house. He explained that the front hall had been renovated by previous owners and the ceiling lowered so it is less impressive than the original entry hall would have been.

There is a beautiful curved brass-banistered spiral stairway, which is pictured in a book of photographs (simply called Photographs) by Paddy Rossmore, edited by the Irish Aesthete Robert O’Byrne, published this year by Lilliput Press and reviewed in January in the Irish Times. [9]

photograph by Paddy Rossmore from Photographs, taken from Irish Times article. “In 1811 Col Robert Howard purchased a house then called Cronebane Lodge, romantically perched above the Meeting of the Waters, a spot made famous thanks to a poem written by Thomas Moore four years before. Its location, combined with the desire to build a residence evoking an ancient past, encouraged Col Howard to commission a design from architect Richard Morrison that would appear part-castle and part-abbey. The interiors owe much to the English Perpendicular style, not least the splendid staircase. Lit by a large arched Gothic window, the cantilevered Portland stone steps with brass banisters spiral up to the first floor below a plasterwork ceiling replete with coats of arms featuring families associated with the Howards. Although no longer with descendants of the original owners, Castle Howard remains in private hands and in excellent condition.” [9] The “English Perpendicular” style is, according to wikipedia, a style of Gothic architecture developed in England in the 14th to 17th century.

The library has terrific plasterwork on the ceiling, especially in the round towers – very intricate work. The round towers form little rooms off the main room. We only saw one storey so didn’t get to see the tower room sections on the upper floors. Impressive antlers adorned one wall, of the Giant Irish Elk. Most antlers found in Ireland are about 11,000 years old! These “elk” were not unique to Ireland; they lived across Eurasia all the way into China. The most recent remains discovered date back 7,700 years, and were found in Siberia. They are called “Irish” as they are most commonly found in Ireland, preserved in bogs. They are not near relations of “elk” found today, such as moose, and are more properly called deer. Irish Elk are the largest species of deer that ever lived. The antlers in Castle Howard were attached to a skull. Not all sets of antlers found are attached to a skull, as Giant Elk, just like deer today, shed their horns regularly, and regrew them during mating season. [10]

As the Lieutenant Colonel and his wife Letitia Deborah Brooke had no children, the house passed to a nephew, Richard Brooke, the son of Letitia Deborah’s brother, Henry Brooke, who was created the 1st Baronet Brooke of Colebrook, County Fermanagh, in 1822. Richard took the surname Howard-Brooke in 1835. His son and heir was also a Lieutenant Colonel, Robert Howard-Brooke (1840-1902). He had no children and I don’t know who lived in the house after him.

In the records of children in Duchas.ie [11], Winnie Doyle writes in 1928 that there is an underground tunnel from the kitchen to the garden. She also writes that a Mr.Lefroy lived in Castle Howard after Colonel Brooks Howard and after someone named Miss Johnson, and later, a Darcy Sloane. Lt.-Col. Robert Howard-Brooke, heir to aforementioned Richard Howard-Brooke married Florence Elizabeth Johnston of Kinlough House, Co Leitrim, so Miss Johnston may have been a sister of hers. A Sophia Johnston is listed in the 1901 and 1911 censuses, but as just a “visitor.”

Perhaps these are the tunnels that Winnie was writing about, leading from the basement of the house.

Scouring the internet I found in County Offaly archives that Langlois Massy Lefroy and his wife Sheelah, who was a Trench of the family who lived in Loughton, the subject of last week’s blog, purchased Castle Howard! Langlois Massy Lefroy purchased Castle Howard in 1924, the Loughton archives tells us, when he was “flush with the capital which his wife’s marriage settlement brought him.” He sold it in 1954 when he inherited Carriglas Manor (he was a descendent of Tom Lefroy, a suitor of Jane Austen, who lived in Carriglas Manor, County Longford). When he died his wife Sheelagh moved back to Loughton to live with her unmarried sister Thora. [12].

The gardens too are impressive. They slope down on one side to the river.

A straight path leads through formal gardens including a maze and an orchard, alongside a tall wall which appeared to lead into woodland and to a walled garden – it was rainy so we didn’t explore as much as I might have liked. At the end of this path are stables and outbuildings. To one side of the path is a clock tower folly and a bricked terraced area and small temple area with a water fountain – it is extremely romantic. The house itself backs onto a large tree filled lawn.

The clock tower garden folly.

A wall extends from the folly tower, to frame a courtyard on the far side of the wall from the house. On the house side of the wall is a picturesque pond area.

The picturesque pond on the house-side of the wall.

The tower folly:

Inside the folly. Unfortunately we could not go up the stairs!

The picture below is the courtyard on the further side of the wall, away from the house:

The barbeque style courtyard opens onto a shooting, or archery, stretch of lawn:

Beyond the folly is the path alongside the formal gardens and orchard.

A small temple like structure, topped by a pair of fantastical dragons.

Below, is the inside of what I am calling the temple:

There is also a Laburnum grove, which would be magnificent when in flower. There is a painting in the house of the grove in full bloom.

Around the stables and outbuildings at the end of the path we found some lovely statues!

And there is an interesting stone face on the stable building:

heading back to the house.

[1] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/16403502/castle-howard-castlehoward-county-wicklow

[2] I would like to share with you some examples of the houses in Wicklow listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. There are so many lovely ones I have written a separate entry! https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/11/12/historic-houses-in-county-wicklow-listed-in-the-national-inventory-of-architectural-heritage/

[3] https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/04/18/architectural-definitions/

[4] Mark Bence-Jones  A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.

[5]
http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_family/hist_family_howard_wicklow.html

[6] https://en.numista.com/catalogue/pieces141563.html

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Morrison_(architect)

[8] See the Dictionary of Irish Architects for more of Richard Morrison’s work.

https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/3600/MORRISON-RICHARD(SIR)#tab_works

[9] https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/portraits-of-the-irish-big-house-from-castle-howard-to-luttrellstown-1.4140611

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_elk

[11] https://www.duchas.ie/en/src?q=castle+howard

[12] https://www.offalyarchives.com/index.php/wicklow

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