The Old Rectory, Killedmond, Borris, Co Carlow

contact: Mary White

Tel: 087-2707189

www.blackstairsecotrails@gmail.com

Open dates in 2020 [check due to Covid 19 restrictions]: July 1-31, Aug 1-31, 9am-1pm

Fee: adult €10, OAP/student €6, child free

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five bay two storey Tudor-Gothic Revival house with three dormer windows, and a loggia

 

This is such a pretty house, a “cottage ornée,” a little like a gingerbread house! According to the Irish Historic Houses website, the Old Rectory in Killedmond, near Borris in County Carlow, is:

“a mid-19th century house in a restrained Tudor-Revival style, which looks out over the valley of the River Barrow to the Blackstairs Mountains beyond. Designed by the architect Frederick Darley for the Kavanagh family of nearby Mount Leinster Lodge, the house is an accomplished and dramatic arrangement that uses gables, dormer windows, bargeboards and finials to produce a symmetrical five-bay façade. The three central bays on the ground floor are recessed behind a glazed loggia, flanked by the end bays, which break forward and terminate in wide gables.” [1] [2]

I arranged with Mary White to visit in the first week that the Covid 19 lockdown lifted. Mary and her husband Robert run a business, the Blackstairs Eco Centre, from their home, as can be seen on the lovely wooden sign outside their gates. They have four sweet “shepherds huts” for overnight stays, and hold tree trail walks and wild food courses on the property. [3]

In the article in the Irish Times which first prompted me to embark on the project of visiting Section 482 houses, there was a picture of Mary swimming in her own lake. That to me looked like heaven. We had a few minutes to wander in the gardens around the house before we met Mary so I was delighted to find and photograph the small lake, which is fed by mountain streams. It lies in front of the house.

 

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One can walk all around the lake, and cross the stream on one of the several small granite bridges.

We were greeted warmly by Mary. We walked around the gardens before entering the house.

Mary and her husband moved into the property about forty years ago, and have done massive amounts of work on the garden (and on the house). On the left, when facing the house, through a lovely old arch, is a fruit garden.

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On the right hand side, facing the house, toward the front of the property, is a vegetable growing area complete with a wonderful large polytunnel.

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I envied the White’s long, productive asparagus patch

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the greenhouse, with a herb garden to one side

I have an allotment so Mary and I bonded swapping notes on our vegetable production.  Their production is all organic and they even use a “vegan” manure! I had to think hard to picture what that must be – no animals involved of course!

The trees near the vegetable growing area can be identified by the time they were planted. In forty years, the Whites have built up an interesting tale in their trees. One was a wedding present. One was planted when their daughter was born. Another is the “election tree” when Mary was elected to be a Green TD in government.

Beyond the vegetable garden, the shepherds huts sit dotted carefully around a lawn, each positioned in such a way that their windows don’t look into another hut so each is supremely peaceful and private.

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The website describes the huts:

“The Shepherds Huts are centrally heated and very cozy with a double bed in each – suitable for two. Each Hut has three windows including a half door to look out onto a completely natural wooded area set beneath the Blackstairs Mountains. All you will hear is the soft cooing of wood pigeons!”

We peered into one, which was prepared to receive guests at the weekend, and it looked lovely. You can see photographs of the interior of the huts on the website. [see 3] It is a short distance to the barn, which is also a protected historic structure but which has been fully adapted for use as a kitchen, toilets, sitting room and demonstration area for wild food preparation. It has been carefully refurbished maintaining historic structure, with recycled materials, natural wooden furniture, cedar doors and ecological heating and electricity, which also provide the house.

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wildflower meadow next to barn
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inside the barn: the kitchen and demonstration area, with large tables for gatherings including hen parties, which can be fully catered. The kitchen can be used by those renting the shepherds huts, as well as the relaxation and reading areas.
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inside the barn
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upstairs in the barn, a place for visitors to relax

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The Barn is separated from the house by a cobble courtyard. The guests also have use of an outdoor eating and barbeque area:

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I had to stop to have a go on the swing, hanging from a large beech tree.

We definitely want to return to stay in one of the huts, and to walk the Celtic tree trail. The property has an example of each of the 21 trees native to Ireland. The sculpture of an ogham stone, by sculptor Martin Lyttle [4], has the cut line lettering representing each type of native Irish tree. As part of the Tree Trail we will get to see the sixteen minute film that has been made about the trees on the property.

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Ogham is the earliest form of writing in Ireland and dates to the fourth century A.D. The alphabet is made up of a series of strokes along or across a line. The letters each relate, also, to a species of tree. The letters were carved on standing stones often as a memorial to a person, using the edge of the stone as a central line. The letters are read from the bottom up. [5]

We noticed the electric car charger near the barn when wandering the gardens:

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I was also thrilled to see a solar panel array in a field:

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Mary and her husband cultivated a rose garden, surrounded by a small canal, forming a “parterre” or patterned garden.

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canal by rose garden. See the granite bridges, and the barn in the background

In the rose garden, we admired the sculpture of Dionysus, sculpted by her friend in college, Alice Greene, and presented to Mary as a birthday gift. [6]

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The property contains wooded area with walking trails, which we didn’t explore as it was rainy and we were heading to my cousin’s house nearby for lunch!

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According to the Irish Historic Houses website:

“Two other fronts are virtually identical, with the exception of a half-octagonal bay window on the Eastern side, while the vertically paired windows, culminating in a series of matching gables, create an illusion of symmetry that is greatly enhanced by a profusion of plants and creepers on the walls. Their openings all have simple chamfered granite dressings while the sash windows retain their heavy mullions and delicate marginal glazing bars.” [note: “chamfered” means an edge between two faces, usually at a 45 degree angle.] [2]

The Whites carried out extensive repairs on the house over the years. The wooden bargeboards and finials were rotting and had to be repaired. The house was completely reroofed with expensive blue Bangor slates. The windows have thirty six panes, and when windows were repaired the original glass was retained. Mary pointed out where someone has scratched their name onto the window pane – there was a tradition of scratching names into glass in the past, and Mary dates this scratch to about 1905. It reads “W. Pennyfeather” and “Nicholas Pennyfeather.” Nicholas was rector of the parish from 1900 and lived in the house. I have come across several occasions of scratching names on window panes in my reading, and saw a short film that refers to the tradition, “Words on a Window Pane,” by Mary McGuckian, made in 1994, an adaptation of a play by W.B. Yeats about Dublin spiritualists visited by the ghosts of Jonathan Swift and the two women associated with him, Vanessa (Esther Vanhomrigh) and Stella (Esther Johnson).

There is a more unusual scratched illustration on the glass in a bedroom upstairs. Someone has used a diamond to carve the profile of a girl into the window, but has written “Sidney is a very ugly girl”! The girl in the portrait is not ugly though! I suspect some sister came along to mar the effect, out of jealousy, or maybe Sidney herself was feeling extremely fed-up and self-deprecating one day.

We walked back around to the front of the house, past the herbaceous border, to have a tour inside.

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the herbaceous border
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the herbaceous border and to the left of the photograph, the “flower tower” or Echium plant

The Irish Historic Houses (IHH) website mentions the “loggia” at the front of the house. This is a conservatory-like structure, a Victorian sort of folly. Wikipedia describes a loggia as a covered exterior gallery or corridor, where the outer wall is open to the elements and is usually supported by a series of columns or arches. This one does not have a wall open to the elements but as described, it is not meant for an entrance but as an out-of-door sitting room. A loggia differs from a veranda in that it is more architectural in form and is part of the main edifice of the house.

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According to the IHH website, the loggia is supported by cast-iron brackets on slender granite columns while the upper level of the central section is treated as an attic storey with tall, gabled dormer windows in the steeply sloping roof. The loggia, Mary told us, is wonderfully warm, and a lovely place to sit.

The house was designed by Frederick Darley (1798-1872), whose father was also an architect and builder. Frederick Darley built many buildings in Trinity College Dublin, as well as many civic and church buildings (including Lorum church, nearby [7]). He built New Square in Trinity, where my husband Stephen lived for a year! His father served as Alderman in Dublin and as Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1808-09. His mother Elizabeth Guinness was the eldest daughter of Arthur Guinness (1725-1803), founder of the Guinness brewery, of Beaumont House, Drumcondra (now the Beaumont Convalescent Home behind Beaumont Hospital). In 1843 Frederick Darley Junior was the Ecclesiastical Commission architect for the Church of Ireland diocese of Dublin. He was a pupil of Francis Johnston, and lived on Lower Fitzwilliam Street in Dublin. [8]

The house a hunting lodge for the Kavanagh family who owned nearby Mount Leinster Lodge. I haven’t been able to find out more about James Kavanagh who owned the house. In Victorian times the house became the rectory for nearby Killedmond Church but was sold in the early twentieth century. Subsequently it passed through a succession of different families. Mary told us that a former owner was a Captain Temple Bayliss, who was a Captain in the Royal Navy, with his wife Patricia and daughter, Philippa, both of whom are accomplished artists. [8]

The historic houses website tells us that the interior is largely original, with good joinery, chimneypieces and plasterwork, and stained glass panels in the original front door. I took a photograph of the beautiful stained glass in the door:

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The front hall is floored with beautiful tiles original to the house:

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The rooms are a nice size with high ceilings and the sitting room with a bay window, and plaster ceiling decoration in the form of a border with decorative rondelles. The chimneypieces are indeed lovely and as Mary pointed out, they have the traditional white for the drawing room and black for the dining room. I had never heard of that before!

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The bay window of the Drawing room

The current owners have two lovely studies, with built-in bookcases and a display of books that Stephen and I admired – Mary and her husband are also book-lovers, and I admired a lovely bound set of Virginia Woolf essays.

The flagstones in the back hallway are also original, and had to be lifted to install geothermal heating.

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Mary makes great use of her larder, which was a place formerly used for storing milk and butter, the flagstones keep it cool. Large saucepans hang from original hooks in the ceiling, ready for making jams and chutneys from the garden produce.
I like the style of the kitchen with repurposed cupboards discarded from a local school, and an old Aga cooker. Mary told us that the Aga company contacted her as they keep records of where they installed their cookers, and hers is rather rare. The feature that distinguishes it from less rare versions is, wonderfully, a “full stop” at the end of the warning on its lower door: “Keep tightly closed.”

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We got on so well with Mary and had so much to talk about that our tour lasted for two hours! I look forward to a return visit.

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[1] http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Killedmond

[2] architectural definitions

[3] https://www.blackstairsecotrails.ie/

[4] https://lithicworks.com/

The fact that Martin Lyttle’s sculpture stands on the property is perfect, as Martin’s family lived in the Old Rectory for seven years before Mary White acquired it!

[5] http://www.megalithicireland.com/Ogham%20Stones%20Page%201.htm

[6] https://www.dralicegreene.com/phdi/p1.nsf/supppages/greene?opendocument&part=7

[7] Record of Protected Structures, County Carlow

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Darley_(architect)

[9] https://philippabayliss.art/

Huntington Castle, County Carlow

In the past, in August 2016, I visited Huntington Castle in Clonegal, County Carlow.

Contact person: Alexander Durdin Robertson, tel 086 0282266

Open in 2020: Feb 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 22-23, 29, Mar 1, Apr 11-13, May 1-31, June 1-30, July 1-31, Aug 1-31, Sept 1-30, Oct 3-4, 10-11, 17-18, 24-31, Dec 5-6, 12-13, 19-20, 11am-5pm

[1]

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It’s magical! And note that you can stay at this castle – see their website!

Huntington Castle stands in the valley of the River Derry, a tributary of the River Slaney, on the borders of Counties Carlow and Wexford, near the village of Clonegal. Built in 1625, it is the ancient seat of the Esmonde family, and is presently lived in by the Durdin-Robertsons. It passed into the Durdin family from the Esmonde family by marriage in the nineteenth century, so actually still belongs to the original family. It was built as a garrison on the strategically important Dublin-Wexford route, on the site of a 14th century stronghold and abbey, to protect a pass in the Blackstairs Mountains. After fifty years, the soldiers moved out and the family began to convert it into a family home. [2]

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A History of the house and its residents

The castle website tells us that the Esmondes (note that I have found the name spelled as both ‘Esmond’ and ‘Edmonde’) moved to Ireland in 1192 and were involved in building other castles such as Duncannon Fort in Waterford and Johnstown Castle in Wexford. Laurence Esmonde was a convert to Anglicanism and served in the armies of British Queen Elizabeth I and then James I . He fought in the Dutch Wars against Spain, and later, in 1599, he commanded 150 foot soldiers in the Nine Years War, the battle led by an Irish alliance led mainly by Hugh O’Neill and Tyrconnell (Hugh Roe O’Donnell) against the British rule in Ireland. In reward for his services,  he was raised to the peerage in 1622 as Baron of Limerick (I was confused about this, but there is a Limerick, or Limbrick, in County Wexford, according to wikipedia, and it is now called Killinierin), and it seems that a few years after receiving this honour he built the core of the present Huntington Castle: a three-storey fortified tower house, which forms the front facing down the avenue, according to Mark Bence-Jones in A Guide to Irish Country Houses. [3]

 

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Huntington Castle, Clonegal, County Carlow, the view when one enters the courtyard from the avenue. There is an irregular two storey range with castellated battlements and a curved bow and battlemented gable, and the earlier building, the fortress, rises above them.

This original tower-house is made of rough-hewn granite. The first alterations and additions to that core were made around 1680 by the grandson of Laurence, also a Sir Laurence Esmonde. In her discussion of marriage in Making Ireland English, Jane Ohlmeyer writes that for the Irish, legitimacy of children didn’t determine inheritance, and so attitudes toward marriage, including cohabitation and desertion, were very different than in England. She writes that the first Baron Esmonde behaved in a way reminiscent of medieval Gaelic practices when he repudiated his first wife and remarried without a formal divorce. Laurence met Ailish, the sister of Morrough O’Flaherty (note that Turtle Bunbury tells us that she was a granddaughter of the pirate queen Grace O’Malley!) on one of his expeditions to Ulster, and married her. However, after the birth of their son, Thomas, she returned to her family, fearing that her son would be raised as a Protestant. Esmonde went on to marry Elizabeth Butler, a granddaughter of the ninth earl of Ormond (daughter of Walter Butler, and she was already twice widowed). He had no children by his second marriage and despite acknowledging Thomas to be his son, he did not admit that his first marriage was lawful and consequently had no official heir and his title Baron of Limerick became extinct after his death. Although his son did not inherit his title, he did inherit his property. [4] Baron Esmonde governed the fort of Duncannon from 1606-1646 when he died after a siege of the fort by General Preston of the Confederates, who considered Esmonde a defender of the Parliamentarians (i.e. Oliver Cromwell’s men, the “roundheads”). [5]

Thomas Esmonde did not inherit his father’s title but was himself awarded a Baronetcy, and became Baronet Esmonde in 1629. It was the 2nd Baronet, Laurence, who made the first additions to Huntington Castle around 1680, and who named it “Huntington” after the Esmonde’s “ancestral pile” in England [6]. A wing was constructed by the latter’s grandson (yet another Sir Laurence, 4th Baronet) around forty years later in 1720. The castle, as you can see, is very higgeldy piggedly, reflecting the history of its additions.

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the bow was probably added by the descendent Manning Durdin-Robertson.

Brendan O’Neill tells us in his book Irish Castles and Historic Houses that the property was inherited by Alexander Durdin in 1849, whose grand-uncle had married the two daughters and co-heirs of Sir John Esmonde, third Baronet, as his two successive wives. This is how the house passed from Esmondes to Durdins.

According to the Irish Historic Houses website, the Durdin family were long established in County Cork, where they had acquired the estates of William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania) [2]. In 1880, Helen, the Durdin heiress who inherited the castle, married Herbert Robertson, Baron Strathloch (a Scots feudal barony) and MP for a London borough. Together they made a number of late Victorian additions at the rear of the castle while their professional architect son, Manning Durdin-Robertson, an early devotee of concrete, carried out yet further alterations in the 1920s.

Manning Durdin-Robertson married Nora Kathleen Parsons, from Birr Castle. She wrote The Crowned Harp. Memories of the Last Years of the Crown in Ireland, an important memorial of the last years of English rule in Ireland [7]. I ordered a copy of the book from my local library! It’s a lovely book and an enjoyable rather “chatty” read. She writes a bit about her heritage, which you can see in my entry on another section 482 castle, Birr Castle. She tells us about life at the time, which seems to have been very sociable! She writes a great description of social rank:

The hierarchy of Irish social order was not defined, it did not need to be, it was deeply implicit. In England the nobility were fewer and markedly more important than over here and they were seated in the mansions considered appropriate….
The top social rows were then too well-known and accepted to be written down but, because a new generation may be interested and amused, I will have a shot at defining an order so unreal and preposterous as to be like theatricals in fancy dress. Although breeding was essential it still had to be buttressed by money.

Row A: peers who were Lord or Deputy Lieutenants, High Sheriffs and Knights of St. Patrick. If married adequately their entrenchment was secure and their sons joined the Guards, the 10th Hussars or the R.N. [Royal Navy, I assume]
Row B: Other peers with smaller seats, ditto baronets, solvent country gentry and young sons of Row A, (sons Green Jackets, Highland regiments, certain cavalry, gunners and R.N.).
Row A used them for marrying their younger children.
Row C: Less solvent country gentry, who could only allow their sons about £100 a year. These joined the Irish Regiments which were cheap; or transferred to the Indian army. They were recognised and respected by A and B and belonged to the Kildare Street Club.
Row D: Loyal professional people, gentlemen professional farmers, trade, large retail or small wholesale, they could often afford more expensive Regiments than Row C managed. Such rarely cohabited with Rows A and B but formed useful cannon fodder at Protestant Bazaars and could, if they were really liked, achieve Kildare Street.

Absurd and irritating as it may seem today, this social hierarchy dominated our acceptances.

I had the benefit of always meeting a social cross section by playing a good deal of match tennis…. The top Rows rarely joined clubs and their play suffered….There were perhaps a dozen (also very loyal) Roman Catholic families who qualified for the first two Rows; many more, equally loyal but less distinguished, moved freely with the last two.

Amongst these “Row A” Roman Catholics were the Kenmares, living in a long gracious house at Killarney. Like Bantry House, in an equally lovely situation.

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We were not allowed to take photos inside, except for in the basement, but you can see some pictures on the official website [1] and also on the wonderful blog of the Irish Aesthete [8].

There were wonderful old treasures in the house including armour chest protections in the hallway along the stairs, which was one of the first things to catch my attention as we entered. We went up a narrow stairway linked as Bence-Jones describes “with wainscot or half-timbered studding.”

There are some noteable structures inside the building, as Robert O’Byrne notes. “The drawing room has 18th century classical plaster panelled walls beneath a 19th century Perpendicular-Gothic ceiling. Some passages on the ground floor retain their original oak panelling, a number of bedrooms above being panelled in painted pine. The dining room has an immense granite chimneypiece bearing the date 1625, while those in other rooms are clearly from a century later.” [8]

Another drawing room is hung with tapestry, which would have kept the residents a bit warmer in winter. There are beautiful stuccoed ceilings, which you can see on the website.

O’Neill adds that Huntington was one of the first country houses in Ireland to have electricity, and in order to satisfy local interest a light was kept burning on the front lawn so that the curious could come up and inspect it.

I loved the light and plant filled conservatory area, with a childlike drawing on one wall. The glass ceiling is draped in grape vines.

We were allowed to take photos in the basement, which used to house dungeons, and now holds the “Temple of Isis.” It also contains a well, which was the reason the castle was situated on this spot. In the 1970s two of the four children of Manning Durdin-Robertson, the writer and mystic Olivia Durdin-Robertson, who was a friend of W.B. Yeats and A.E. Moore, and her brother Laurence (nicknamed Derry), and his wife Bobby, converted the undercroft into a temple to the Egyptian Goddess Isis, founding a new religion. In 1976 the temple became the foundation centre for the Fellowship of Isis [9]. I love the notion of a religion that celebrates the earthy aspects of womanhood, and I purchased a copy of Olivia Durdin-Robertson’s book in the coffee shop. The religion takes symbols from Egyptian religion, as you can see in my photos of this marvellous space:

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our tour guide
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there is a well here

Turtle Bunbury has a video of the Fellowship of Isis on his website [6]! You can get a flavour of what their rituals were like initially. Perhaps they are similar today. The religion celebrates the Divine Feminine.

After a tour of the castle, we then went to the back garden. According to its website,

The Gardens were mainly laid out in the 1680’s by the Esmondes. They feature impressive formal plantings and layouts including the Italian style ‘Parterre’ or formal gardens, as well the French lime Avenue (planted in 1680). The world famous yew walk is a significant feature which is thought to date to over 500 years old and should not be missed.

Later plantings resulted in Huntington gaining a number of Champion trees including more than ten National Champions. The gardens also feature early water features such as stew ponds and an ornamental lake as well as plenty to see in the greenhouse and lots of unusual and exotic plants and shrubs.

The Irish Aesthete also discusses this garden in another blog entry [10]. He tells us that the yew walk, which stretches 130 yards, dates from the time of the Franciscan friary in the Middle Ages! The “stew ponds” would have held fish that could be caught for dinner.

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500 year old yew walk

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After the garden, we needed a rest in the Cafe.

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I loved the arrangement of plates on the walls of the cafe!

I was also thrilled by the hens who roamed the yard and even tried to enter the cafe:

There is space next to the cafe that can be rented out for events:

A few plants were for sale in the yard. A shop off the cafe sells local made craft, pottery, and books. The stables and farmyard buildings are kept in good condition and buzzed with with the business of upkeep of the house and gardens.

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what is this tall flower?

[1] https://www.huntingtoncastle.com/

[2] The website http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Huntington%20Castle says it was built on the site of a 14th century stronghold and abbey, whereas the Irish Aesthete says it was built on the site of a 13th century Franciscan monastery.

[3]  Bence-Jones, Mark. 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.

[4] p. 171, Ohlmeyer, Jane. Making Ireland English. The Irish Aristocracy in the Seventeenth Century. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2012. See also pages 43, 273, 444 and 451.

[5] Dunlop, Robert. ‘Edmonde, Laurence.’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition volume 18, accessed February 2020. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Esmonde,_Laurence_(DNB00)

[6] http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_houses/hist_hse_huntington.html

[7] Robertson, Nora. The Crowned Harp. Memories of the Last Years of the Crown in Ireland. published by Allen Figgis & Co. Ltd., Dublin, 1960.

[8] https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/01/23/huntington/

[9] http://www.fellowshipofisis.com/

[10] https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/11/14/light-and-shade/

Irish Historic Homes