Russborough House, Blessington, County Wicklow

The Albert Beit Foundation, Blessington, Co. Wicklow

contact: Eric Blachford Tel: Tel: 045-865239

enc@russborough.ie

Open dates in 2021 but check due to Covid 19 restrictions: Mar 1- Dec 25, 10am-5pm.

Fee: adult €12, OAP/student €9, child €6.

taken in June 2012 on a visit with my friends Tara and Jeremy and their daughters.
photo by Jeremy Hylton.

In his A Guide to Irish Country Houses, Mark Bence-Jones calls Russborough House “arguably the most beautiful house in Ireland.” [1] We are lucky that Russborough House is open to the public, thanks to the Beit Foundation. Sir Alfred and Lady Clementine Beit left the property to the state in 1978, to be cared for by a Trust established for the purpose. The Irish Aesthete Robert O’Byrne tells us about the Beits: “The couple had no immediate connection with Ireland, although Lady Beit’s maternal grandmother had been raised in this country and being a Mitford, she was first cousin of the Hon Desmond Guinness’s mother.” [2]

Russborough House was built for Joseph Leeson in 1741 when he inherited a fortune from his father and purchased land owned by John Graydon, and it was designed by Richard Castle. Leeson went to great expense creating the grounds for the building of his house: “Leeson’s development of the garden terraces was extravagant. The house gained its fine prominence from sitting on an embankment created by the opening of the lakes and ponds, all reputedly costing some £30,000.” [3]

photograph by Jeremy Hylton.

We came across Richard Castle (c.1690-1751) (or Cassels, as his name is sometimes spelled) in Powerscourt in County Wicklow. The Dictionary of Irish Architects tells us that, oddly, he was born David Riccardo, and it is not known when or why he changed his name. [4]

Castle originally trained as an engineer. He worked in London, where he was influenced by Lord Burlington. Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington and 4th Earl of Cork, is credited with bringing the Palladian style of architecture to Britain and Ireland, after Grand Tours to Europe. [5] Palladian architecture is a style derived from the designs of the Venetian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). Palladio’s work was strongly based on the symmetry, perspective, and values of the formal classical temple architecture of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Castle came to the attention of Sir Gustavus Hume of County Fermanagh, who invited Castle to Ireland in 1728 to build him a home on the shores of Lough Erne, Castle Hume, which unfortunately no longer exists. [6] Castle was an contemporary of Edward Lovett Pearce, and early in his career in Dublin worked with him on the Houses of Parliament in Dublin. Both Lovett Pearce and Castle favoured the Palladian style, and when Lovett Pearce died at the tragically young age of 34, in 1733, Castle took over all of Lovett Pearce’s commissions.

The Dictionary of Irish Architects gives us a flavour of what Castle was like as a person:

According to the short biography in Anthologia Hibernica for October 1793, Castle was a man of integrity, of amiable though somewhat eccentric manners, kept poor by his improvidence and long afflicted by gout resulting from intemperance and late hours. The same source states that he often pulled down those of his works which were not to his liking, ‘and whenever he came to inspect them … required the attendance of all the artificers who followed him in a long train’.

Castle began work on Powerscourt House in County Wicklow in 1730, finishing in 1741. He also began work on Westport House in County Mayo in 1730. He worked on Carton House, in County Kildare, which is now an upmarket hotel, from 1739-1744. In Dublin City he built Tyrone House for Marcus Beresford, Earl of Tyrone (we came across him at Curraghmore in County Waterford) (which now houses the Department of Education) [7]. He designed and built the hunting lodge called Belvedere in County Westmeath around 1740, and began to work on Russborough House around 1742. He was still working on Russborough House when he died suddenly, while at Carton House, in 1751, while writing a letter to a carpenter employed at Leinster House (begun in 1745 for James FitzGerald, the 20th Earl of Kildare, the house was at initially called Kildare House, and now houses the government in Dublin). Desmond FitzGerald, the Knight of Glin, wrote about Richard Castle and his work, and attributes another section 482 property to him which I have yet to visit, Strokestown House in County Roscommon. FitzGerald attributes many more buildings to Castle. [8]

Joseph Leeson (1711-1783) was the grandson of Hugh Leeson, who came to Ireland from England as a military officer in 1680, and settled in Dublin as a successful brewer. Hugh married Rebecca, daughter of Dublin Alderman Richard Tighe. Joseph inherited the brewing fortune from his father, another Joseph, who had married the daughter, Alice, of a Dublin Alderman and Sheriff, Andrew Brice. Young Joseph Leeson entered politics and from 1743 sat in the House of Commons. By this time, he had already married, been widowed by his first wife, Cecelia Leigh, remarried, to Anne Preston (daughter of Nathaniel Preston, ancestor of the owners of a house we have visited, Swainstown in County Meath – which was built later than the start date of Russborough, in 1750, and which Richard Castle may also have designed), and inherited his fortune from his brewer father, and started building Russborough House. He was raised to the peerage first as Baron Russborough in 1756, and as Earl of Milltown in 1763.

photo taken by Jeremy Hylton, showing the extent of the centre block with the curving Doric colonnades and two-storey seven bay wings. Beyond the wings on either side of the central block, one can see the arches with cupolas. The full stretch contains kitchen and stable wings.

The entrance front of Russborough stretches for over 700 feet, reputedly the longest house in Ireland, consisting of a seven bay centre block of two storeys over a basement, joined by curving Doric colonnades to wings of two storeys and seven bays which are themselves linked to further outbuildings by walls with rusticated arches surmounted by cupolas. In this structure, Russborough is rather like Powerscourt nearby in Wicklow, and like Powerscourt, it is approached from the side.

Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, showing wing to the right of the house.
photograph taken in May 2018 – the weather makes a different to the look of the house! The roofline is topped with urns on the parapet.
The lions at the foot of the entrance steps carry the heraldic shield of the Milltowns, which must have been put in place after 1763 when Joseph Leeson was promoted to be Earl of Milltown. Photo by Jeremy Hylton.

The residential part of the house is quite small, and is entirely housed in the central block. Of seven bays across, it houses three rooms along its front. It is made of local granite from Golden Hill quarry rather than the more expensive Portland stone often imported from Britain. In Sean O’Reilly’s discussion of the house in his Irish Houses and Gardens (from Country Life), he explains the styles used on the facade of the house:

the different functions of the building’s elements are appropriately distinguished though Castle’s frank, if unsubtle, use of the orders: Corinthian for the residence, Doric for the colonnades, Ionic for the advancing wings, and a robust astylar threatment for the ranges beyond.” [9]

the “rusticated” arch that gives entrance to a courtyard, and is topped by a cupola. Rustication – the use of stone blocks with recessed joints and often with rough or specially treated faces; a treatment generally confined to the basement or lower part of a building [10].

The main central block has a pediment on four Corinthian columns, with swags between the capitals of the columns. Above the entrance door is a semi-circular fanlight window.

Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, of pediment on four Corinthian columns.
photograph by Jeremy Hylton of central block.
Wing in foreground, with Ionic pilasters, and urns on the parapet.
photograph by Jeremy Hylton, wing on left.

The wings have a central breakfront of three bays with Ionic pilasters. Within the colonnades are niches with Classical statues.

colonnade with niches containing Classical statues, photograph by Jeremy Hylton.

The garden front of the centre block has a few urns on the parapet, and a pair of Corinthian columns with an entablature framing a window-style door in the lower storey which opens onto broad balustraded stone steps down to the garden.

Inside, we see Castle’s difference from Edward Lovett Pearce, in his fondness for the Baroque, which is described in wikipedia:

“The Baroque style used contrast, movement, exuberant detail, deep colour, grandeur and surprise to achieve a sense of awe. The style began at the start of the 17th century in Rome, then spread rapidly to France, northern Italy, Spain and Portugal, then to Austria, southern Germany and Russia…excess of ornamentation…The classical repertoire is crowded, dense, overlapping, loaded, in order to provoke shock effects.”

The Baroque effect is most obvious in the wonderful plasterwork. The plasterwork may be by the Francini brothers – it is not definite who carried it out but the Francini brothers certainly seem to have had a hand in some of the beautiful stucco work.

entrance hall of Russborough House.
entrance hall of Russborough House with chimneypiece is of black Kilkenny marble, above it hangs a striking painting by Oudry of Indian Blackbuck with Pointers and Still Life, dated 1745

In his book, Big Irish Houses, Terence Reeves-Smyth describes the entrance hall:

Ascending the broad flight of granite steps guarded by a pair of carved lions, the visitor enters the front hall – a well-proportioned room with a floor of polished oak and an ornate but severe compartmental ceiling with Doric frieze quite similar to the one Castle deigned for Leinster House. The monumental chimneypiece is of black Kilkenny marble, much favoured by Castle for entrance halls, while above it hangs a striking painting by Oudry of Indian Blackbuck with Pointers and Still Life, dated 1745.” [11]

The principal reception rooms lead from one to the other around the central block: the saloon, drawing-room, dining-room, tapestry room and the grand staircase. They retain their original doorcases with carved architraves of West Indian mahogany, marble chimneypieces and floors of inlaid parquetry.

The house took ten years to complete, and development of the house followed Leeson’s trips to Europe, where he bought items to populate his house. In 1744 and in 1751 he travelled to Rome and purchased extensive Roman materials, as well as many artworks. He had his portrait painted by Pompeo Batoni, and was aided in his purchases by dealers including an Irishman named Robert Wood. A book details his collection, as well as later owners of Russborough, Russborough: A Great Irish House, its Families and Collections by William Laffan and Kevin V Mulligan.

Richard Castle died while the house was still being built, and the work was taken over by his associate, Francis Bindon.

The Saloon, Russborough House 2018, Rubens painting over fireplace, large picture on back wall is Cain and Abel.

The Saloon occupies the three central bays of the north front of the house. It has a coved ceiling with rococo plasterwork incorporating flowers, garlands, swags and putti bearing emblems of the Seasons and the Elements, which on stylistic grounds can be attributed to the Francini brothers of Italy. [Rococo is the asymmetrical freely-modelled style of decoration originating in France and popular in Ireland from about 1750 to 1775. Craig, Maurice and Knight of Glin, Ireland Observed, A Handbook to the Buildings and Antiquities. Mercier Press, Dublin and Cork, 1970].  Terence Reeves-Smyth describes the room:

The walls are covered with a crimson cut Genoese velvet dating from around 1840 – an ideal background for paintings which include many pictures from the Beit collection. The room also has Louis XVI furniture in Gobelins tapestry signed by Pluvinet, a pair of Japanese lacquer cabinets from Harewood House and a chimney-piece identical to one at Uppark in Sussex, which must be the work of Thomas Carter (the younger) of London.

“A striking feature of the room is the inlaid sprung mahogany floor with a central star in satinwood. This was covered with a green baize drugget when the house was occupied by rebels during the 1798 rebellion. The potential of the drugget for making four fine flags was considered but rejected, lest “their brogues might ruin his Lordship’s floor.” The rebels, in fact, did virtually no damage to the house during their stay, although the government forces who occupied the building afterwards were considerably less sympathetic. It is said that the troops only left in 1801 after a furious Lord Milltown challenged Lord Tyrawley to a duel “with blunderbusses and slugs in a sawpit.” [11]

Next to the Saloon is the music room with another wonderful rococo ceiling, and then the library, which was formerly the dining room, both have ceilings probably by the Francini brothers. There aren’t records to tell us who created the stucco work of the house, and stylistically different parts of the house have been done by different hands.

Russborough House 2018, the music room. The last portrait to the right on the wall is Lord Conolly of Castletown House. The Russborough House website tells us: “When the Beits’ art collection was stolen, Sir Alfred had many copies of the paintings made. This room showcases the replicas of the oil paintings that were infamously stolen in the 1970s and 1980s. The originals of these paintings were gifted to the National Gallery of Ireland in the 1980s for safekeeping, where they can now be seen.
Visitors can learn more about the robberies at Russborough and how most of the paintings were recovered. The exhibition also includes Sir Alfred in an interview with broadcasting legend Gay Byrne, talking about the pictures and furniture contained in the house.
the ebullient rococo ceiling in the Music Room, probably the work of the Francini brothers.
The Library, Russborough House 2018
Russborough House 2018 Lady Beit’s grandmother, Mabell, Countess of Airlie, by John Lavery.

Reeves-Smyth writes that:

The coffered and richly decorated barrel-vaulted ceiling of the tapestry room, to the south of the music room, is by a less experienced artist, though the room is no less impressive than the others and contains an English state bed made in London in 1795 and two Soho tapestries of Moghul subjects by Vanderbank.

The Tapestry Room, Russborough House 2018
The Tapestry Room, Russborough House 2018

The Russborough website states:

Infused with a restless energy the plasterwork of the adjacent drawing-room spills onto the walls, where fantastic plaster frames surround the four oval marine scenes by Vernet representing morning, noon, evening and night. Although part of the patrimony of the house, these pictures were sold in 1926 and only after a determined search were recovered 43 years later by Sir Alfred Beit. [12]

Stucco specially designed to frame the oval Joseph Vernet paintings. Carrera marble fireplace.
The Drawing Room, 2018, small painting next to the fireplace of the Beits by Derek Hill
unusual timepiece clock from time of Louis XVIth

Reeves-Smyth continues his evocative description:

Beyond lies the boudoir, a charming little panelled apartment with a Bossi chimney-piece dating around 1780. From here visitors pass into the tapestry-hung corridor leading to the pavilion, formerly the bachelor’s quarters. The dining-room, formerly the library, on the opposite side of the hall has a monumental Irish chimney-piece of mottled grey Sicilian marble. The walls are ornamented both by paintings from the Beit collection and two magnificent Louis XIV tapestries.” [11]

The dining room, with a monumental Irish chimneypiece of mottle grey Sicilian marble. The walls are ornamented with two magnificent Louis XIV tapestries.

Reeves-Smyth goes on to say that “No one who visits Russborough is likely to forget the staircase with its extraordinary riot of exuberant plasterwork; there is nothing quite like it anywhere else in the British Isles.

In later years the decorator Mr. Sibthorpe is reported to have remarked that it represented “the ravings of a maniac,” adding that he was “afraid the madman was Irish.”

Nobody knows who did the wonderful stuccowork in the staircase hall. The stairs are of mahogany.

Sean O’Reilly tells us that the Knight of Glin pointed out that Castle “cribbed the idea of the balustraded upper landing lit by a lantern window at Russborough from Pearce’s superb Palladian villa of Bellamont Forest, Co Cavan, built circa 1730 for his uncle Lord Justice Coote (and recently immaculately restored by the designer John Coote from Australia)”. Sadly since this was written, John Coote has died. I did not take a photograph of the upper landing, but you can see it on the Russborough website or better yet, during a visit to the house. The rooms off the this top-lit lobby would have been the bedrooms.

Joseph the 1st Earl of Milltown died in 1783, and his bachelor son Joseph succeeded to the peerages and to Russborough. The first Earl’s third wife and widow, Elizabeth French, lived on to a very great age until 1842. When the 2nd Earl of Milltown died in 1801, his brother Brice succeeded to Russborough and to the title to become the 3rd Earl of Milltown. The 1st Earl’s children married very well: Mary, his daughter by his first wife Cecelia Leigh married John Bourke, the 2nd Earl of Mayo; his daughter Frances Arabella by his third wife married Marcus de la Poer Beresford, son of John the 1st Marquess of Waterford (of Curraghmore House, which we visited, another section 482 property); his daughter Cecelia married Colonel David la Touche, son of David La Touche of Marley Park in Dublin.

Russborough remained in the possession of the Earls of Milltown until after the 6th Earl’s decease – the 5th, 6th and 7th Earls of Milltown were all sons of the 4th Earl of Milltown. The 6th Earl’s widow, the former Lady Geraldine Stanhope, lived on at Russborough until 1914. The family collection of pictures in the house was given by Lady Geraldine to the National Gallery of Ireland, in 1902 (the Milltown wing was thus created in the National Gallery). [13] On the death of Lady Milltown in 1914, it passed to a nephew, Sir Edmund Turton (the son of the 4th Earl’s daughter Cecelia), who rarely stayed there, as he lived in Yorkshire and was an MP in the British Parliament. After Turton’s death in 1928, his widow sold the house to Captain Denis Bowes Daly (of the Dalys of Dunsandle, County Galway – now a ruin) in 1931.

Alfred Beit, heir to a fortune made in gold and diamond mining by his uncle in South Africa, saw Russborough in an article in Country Life in 1837.  He was so impressed that he had the dining room chimneypiece copied for a chimney in his library in his home in Kensington Palace Gardens in London. [see 13] In 1952 he bought Russborough from Captain Daly to house his art collection and in 1976 established the Alfred Beit Foundation to manage the property. The foundation opened the historic mansion and its collections to the Irish public in 1978.

Sir Alfred died in 1994 but Lady Beit remained in residence until her death in 2005. [14] The Beits donated their art collection the National Gallery of Ireland in 1986, and a wing was dedicated to the Beits.

Russborough House is now a destination for all the family. Inside, rooms have been filled with information about the Beits, their life and times. They entertained many famous friends, travelled the world, and collected music, photographs and films, all now on display.

various visitors and friends of the Beits.

The Russborough website tells us: “In 1939 Sir Alfred joined the Royal Air Force. In this room, extracts can be heard from some of the many romantic letters that Sir Alfred Beit wrote to his wife during the Second World War.”

Russborough House 2018

“The exhibition includes a short film that starts in 2D and then moves to the third dimension. We display 3D images taken by Sir Alfred on his world travels in the 1920s and 1930s.

“This private auditorium is arguably one of the most interesting rooms in the house, and was created by Sir Alfred himself when he bought Russborough so that he could share his adventures with friends and enjoy movies on the silver screen. 

“Visitors can also sit and watch fascinating footage from around the world in the glamorous 1920s at the touch of a button.”

Outside near the former riding arena, hedges have been shaped into a maze.

photo by Jeremy Hylton, 2012.
photo by Jeremy Hylton, 2012, the former riding arena.
woods at Russborough House 2018
woods at Russborough House 2018
“Thank you for visiting Russborough House. ” Classical gate at the eastern entrance to Russborough, built in 1745 to designs by Richard Castle.

[1] 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.

[2] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/05/11/of-russborough-and-its-predicament/

[3] p. 85. O’Reilly, Sean. Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of Country Life. Aurum Press Ltd, London, 1998.

[4] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/347/CASTLE,+RICHARD

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Boyle,_3rd_Earl_of_Burlington

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Cassels

[7] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/50010221/tyrone-house-department-of-education-marlborough-street-dublin-1-dublin-city

[8] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/347/CASTLE,+RICHARD#tab_works

[9] p. 85. O’Reilly, Sean. Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of Country Life. Aurum Press Ltd, London, 1998.

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

[11] Reeves-Smyth, Terence. Big Irish Houses. Appletree Press Ltd, The Old Potato Station, 14 Howard Street South, Belfast BT7 1AP. 2009

[12] http://www.russborough.ie/

Note that the website has changed since I first wrote the blog and some quotations from the website are no longer on the site.

[13] p. 147. Montgomery-Massingberd, Hugh and Christopher Simon Sykes. Great Houses of Ireland. Laurence King Publishing, 1999.

[14] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Wicklow%20Landowners?updated-max=2018-01-05T08:13:00Z&max-results=20&start=8&by-date=false

Powerscourt House & Gardens, Enniskerry, County Wicklow

Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow

contact: Sarah Slazenger

Tel: 01-2046000

www.powerscourt.ie

Section 482 listed open dates in 2021, but check due to Covid restrictions: All year, closed Christmas day and St Stephens day, 9.30am-5.30pm, ballroom and garden rooms Sun, 9.30am-1.30pm

Fee: Mar-Oct, adult €11.50, OAP €9, student €8.50, child €5, family ticket €26, Nov-Dec adult €8.50, OAP €7.50, student €7, child €4, family ticket 2 adults + 3 children €18, children under 5 free

DSC_1230.JPG
10th December 2009, my Dad and Stephen, when we went to Powerscourt to celebrate my birthday.
DSC_1234.JPG
Triton Lake. The winged horses form part of the family coat of arms and were made by Professor Hugo Hagen in Berlin in 1869.

I haven’t revisited Powerscourt Estate this year but I have been there many times, and as the lockdown continues for Covid 19, I will write another entry from previous visits and research. I want to write about Powerscourt in continuation of our Wingfield run!

I have hardly any pictures of the house, as it used to be that one went to the estate to see the gardens, since the house was gutted by fire in November, 1974, and remained closed for many years. Since then, it has been gradually renovated. Nowadays inside is a shopping mecca and lovely Avoca cafe, with a growing exhibition about Powerscourt estate itself. My family has been visiting Powerscourt estate since I was a child. The ultimate in romantic, with terraces, groves of trees, stone sculptures, nooks, the mossy labyrinth in the Japanese gardens, the “secret” boat house with its view onto the surface of the lake, and the Versailles-like Neptune fountain, the memory of its purple and grey dampness havs been an aesthetic touchstone for me when I have lived in hot, dry, bright,  Perth and California.

DSC_1235.JPG
powerscourt-lake by Jane Flanagan
view of Triton Lake from the boathouse. Photograph by Jane Flanagan.

The estate is named after previous owners of the land, the Powers, or Le Poers. The site was a strategic military position for the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century, and by 1300 the Le Poers had built a castle there. In 1609 the land was granted to Richard Wingfield, Marshall of Ireland. Richard Wingfield appealed to James I for the land in order to secure the district from the incursions of native Irish lords and the families who had previously occupied the land, such as the O’Tooles. [1]

The later Richard Wingfield, who became Viscount Powerscourt of the 3rd Creation, incorporated some of the old building in a new residence he had built in 1728. According to Sean O’Reilly in Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of Country Life, the 1974 fire exposed the fabric of the history of the house. He writes:

“The original structure consisted of a low range incorporated in the two bays to the left of the entrance. This appears to have been a long, two-storey, rectangular block, raised to a third storey in later development, and retaining, in one corner, a cross-shaped angle-loop. The vaulted room on the ground floor in this range survived into later remodellings. This earliest block, which dates from no later than the fifteenth century, was extended by a connecting block now incorporated in the garden front and, finally, by a third rectangular range fronted by the two bays on the right of the entrance, creating a U-plan.” [2]

powerscourt 2 flickr commons by Francesco Severi July 14 2013
The front centre block of Powerscourt, taken from flickr commons (photograph by Francesco Severi July 14 2013).

In 1961 the estate was sold by the 9th Viscount, Mervyn Patrick Wingfield, to Mr. Ralph Slazenger, and the Slazenger family still own it. [3] Coincidentally, my Dad used to play tennis with one of the Slazengers, who must have been a daughter of Ralph, when she was a girl. The same family owned Durrow Abbey near Tullamore in County Offaly (which they purchased in 1950, but it now belongs to the OPW). [4][5]

The Wicklow house built for Richard Wingfield, who was a Member of Parliament and whose descendent had Powerscourt Townhouse in Dublin built, was designed by Richard Castle (or Cassels), who had worked with Edward Lovett Pearce. Both Lovett Pearce and Cassels favoured the Palladian style, and Cassels took over all of Lovett Pearce’s commissions after his untimely death aged just 34. Cassels worked on Carton, designed Russborough House (another section 482 house which I will write about) and Leinster House. Powerscourt consists of a three storey centre block (see photograph above) joined by single-storey links to two storey wings, in the Palladian style. Borrowing from Mark Bence Jones’s description in his Irish Country Houses, the centre block has nine bays [6] and the entrance front is made of granite. There is a five bay breakfront in the centre of the middle block front facade, with a pediment of six Ionic pilasters (Ionic pillars have scrolls) standing on the bottom storey, which is, according to Bence-Jones, treated as a basement, and rusticated (rustication is the use of stone blocks with recessed joints and often with rough or specially treated faces, which is generally confined to the basement or lower part of a building). [6] One can see a good photograph of the front facade pediment, and the attic level above it, which ends in long scrolls, on the website of the National Inventory of Buildings [7]:

photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, Buildings of Ireland. The pediment contains the arms of Richard Wingfield and his wife Dorothy Rowley.

Bence-Jones continues in his description: between the pilasters on the breakfront are “rondels” containing busts of Roman emperors. The four bay links as well as the central block have balustraded parapets. The wings have four bays, “and the facade is prolonged beyond them by quadrant walls, each interrupted by a pedimented Doric arch and ending in an obelisk carrying an eagle, the Wingfield crest” (see the photograph below). [8]

This photograph shows the entire front facade of Powerscourt, including the centre block, the two four bay wings, and the quadrant walls beyond each wing that prolong the length of the front, and end in an obelisk on either end topped by an eagle. The quadrant walls contain an arch. photo from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
the garden front, photo from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

The garden front, pictured above, has seven bays between two bows on either end, and the bows are topped with copper domes. One side has a two storey wing. The garden  slopes down to a lake in a magnificent series of terraces. Powerscourt was built with sixty-eight rooms!

garden front of Powerscourt flickr commons by Francesco Severi July 14 2013
garden front of Powerscourt, from flickr commons (photograph by Francesco Severi July 14 2013). The fountain in this lake is based on the fountain in the Piazza Barberini in Rome and completes the splendid vista from the house down to the lake.
DSC_1231.JPG
Stephen and my Dad, Desmond, 2009
DSC_1225.JPG
the view down the terraces to the lake, Sugarloaf Mountain in the background.
DSC_1223.JPG
me and Stephen, 2009.
DSC_1228.JPG
Italian terrace, created by Daniel Robertson around 1842.

From 1842 onwards, the 6th Viscount of Powerscourt employed Daniel Robertson of Kilkenny to improve the gardens. Robertson created Italian gardens on the terraces, with broad steps and inlaid pavement, balustrades and statues. In the fountain below the “perron” of the main terrace, Mark Bence-Jones tells us, there is a pair of bronze figures of Eolus, “which came from the Palais Royale in Paris, having been sold by Prince Napolean 1872 to the 7th Viscount [Mervyn Edward Wingfield], who completed the garden.” [8]

DSC_1229.JPG
bronze figure of Eolus, from Palais Royale in Paris, sold by Prince Napoleon 1872 to 7th Viscount, Mervyn Edward Wingfield.

The garden work was continued by F.C. Penrose when Daniel Robertson died in 1849  while working on the gardens at Lisvanagh, County Carlow. Apparently Robertson was often the worse for wear during his work, as he was fond of the sherry. He took to directing from a wheelbarrow, as he had gout and difficulty walking – maybe not just due to the gout! The 7th Lord Powerscourt sought to create gardens similar to those he had seen in the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna and at the Palace of Versailles. His task took twenty years, completed in 1880.

There are many more elements of the garden to explore, such as the Japanese gardens, the pet cemetery, the pepperpot tower, and the walled gardens. I only recently discovered the pepperpot tower! When I visited the gardens with my parents, we must have always been too tired as a family, after exploring the rest, to walk up from the Japanese gardens to the pepperpot tower!

powerscourt-fountainby Jane Flanagan
The dolphin pond, with fountain brought from Paris by the 7th Viscount (photograph by Jane Flanagan)
The Pepper Pot Tower. Photograph from Tourism Ireland, photographer unknown. [9]
powerscourt-walledgarden by Jane Flanagan
the walled garden (photograph by Jane Flanagan)

I have always loved the Japanese gardens, which remind me of the Japanese tea gardens in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I have a lovely memory of having a cup of tea and a fortune cookie in San Francisco’s Japanese gardens, and the cookie contained the fortune I’d seen photographed earlier that day in a large photograph on display in a museum: “You will have many interesting and artistic people to your home.” It seemed too much to me at the time to be a coincidence – and it would be, I thought, at the age of about twenty, a dream come true. I sellotaped the fortune onto a small bookshelf on my desk, hoping it would come true. And indeed it has!

DSC_0952
our friends Helen and Grace playing at the Japanese gardens in Powerscourt, in June 2012. The Japanese gardens were created by the 8th Viscount Powerscourt, Mervyn Wingfield, and his wife, in 1908.
DSC_0951
part of my favourite part of the garden, the Grotto. The Grotto is one of the oldest parts of the garden, and is next to the Japanese gardens. It was created in 1740 by the 1st Viscount, and is made of fossilized sphagnum moss, taken from the banks of the nearby river Dargle.
DSC_1224.JPG

Bence-Jones writes of an incident about Powerscourt Waterfall, which is further out on the estate:

“the waterfall, the highest in the British Isles, which, when George IV came to Powerscourt 1821, was dammed up in order that the monarch might have an even more exciting spectacle; the idea being to open the sluice while the Royal party watched from a specially-constructed bridge. The King took too long over his dinner and never got to the waterfall, which was fortunate; for when eventually the water was released, the bridge was swept away.”

Powerscourt Waterfall with Larry, May 2008
Powerscourt Waterfall. There is a separate entrance now to the waterfall than there is to the rest of the estate.

The collection of statues, and the wrought iron gates, are beautiful.

Bamberg Gate in the Walled Garden, with its “vista” view of columns. Photograph by John Slazenger, 2014, from Tourism Ireland. [9]

The Irish Aesthete tells us that the Bamberg Gate:

“was originally constructed in Vienna in 1770 and installed in Bamberg Cathedral, Northern Bavaria. Probably in the late 1820s, when all Baroque additions were stripped from the building, the gate was removed and sold: around 1870 Mervyn Wingfield, 7th Viscount Powerscourt bought it from a London dealer and placed it in the present position. On the opposite side of the walled garden is the so-called Chorus Gate, the design supposedly based on a 17th century original (although this has not been found) and likewise purchased in London. Its intricate ironwork features myriad winged seraphim blowing trumpets. Both gates have recently been cleaned and re-gilded.” [10]

The National Inventory has two good pictures of the interior of the house, which is gradually being restored since the 1974 fire:

photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, Buildings of Ireland. I cannot recall seeing this room. Is it because the house is now so full with everything going on, that I didn’t notice the decorative pillars and ceilng? That is quite possible! The columns and arches lead me to believe that this was the saloon, comparing it to archival photographs from before the fire, as seen in Sean O’Reilly’s book.

The interior of Powerscourt before the fire was magnificently sumptuous and slightly crazy! Fortunately photographs exist, and some are in the National Library archives:

powerscourt nli ref L_ROY_00401
the entrance hall of Powerscourt before the fire. Photograph from the National Library archives, on flickr commons.

I have never seen shells on a ceiling decoration such as these, although I know the famous letter writer Mary Delaney made similar decoration on a fireplace as well as filling an outdoor shell house, similar to the one at Curraghmore. The Wingfields must have prided themselves on their military connection, with their display of armour and guns, and their hunting prowess, with all the deer head and antler trophies and the skin rugs. There is even an antler chandelier, which Sean O’Reilly tells us is called an Austrian “Lusterweiblen.” Some of the antlers were made of papier-mache! O’Reilly published other old photographs of the interior in Irish Houses and Gardens, including of the saloon, which he explains is more in the Roman Renaissance than Palladian style, which is reflected somewhat in the rest of the house. (see [1])

I wrote about the history of the Wingfield family briefly in my entry for Powerscourt Townhouse. [11] As I noted there, the title of Viscount Powerscourt did not descend directly from the 1st Viscount, and the Richard Wingfield who had the house at Powerscourt built much as we now know it was the 1st Viscount of the 3rd creation of the title. He married, first, Anne Usher, daughter of Christopher Usher of Usher’s Quay, but they had no children. He married secondly Dorothy, daughter of Hercules Rowley of Summerville, County Meath. Their son, Edward, became the 2nd Viscount. When he died in 1764, Richard, his brother, became 3rd Viscount. Seven years after inheriting the title, Richard 3rd Viscount began the building of Powerscourt Townhouse, so that he had a grand Palladian home in Dublin for residing and entertaining, when not living in his estate in Wicklow. He married Amelia Stratford, daughter of John Stratford, the 1st Earl of Aldborough. For the rest of the Wingfield successors, see [12] and also the Powerscourt website.

The house was occupied by the Slazenger family in 1974 when the fire broke out on the top floor, leaving the main building completely destroyed. They had purchased the house complete with all of its contents. Fortunately, nobody was injured. The house was left abandoned for twenty years, but they opened the gardens to the public. In 1996 the family started the renovation process with a new roof and restoration of the windows. [13] (Surely not) coincidentally, Ralph Slazenger’s daughter Wendy (Ann Pauline) Slazenger married Mervyn Niall Wingfield, the 10th Viscount Powerscourt, in 1962. They divorced, however, the same year as the fire, in 1974.

Christies held a sale of the rescued contents of Powerscourt in 1984. Many of the belongings were purchased by Ken Rohan, owner of nearby Charleville House. When I visited Charleville, another section 482 house, the tour guide pointed out the grand decorative curtain pelments purchased in the Powerscourt sale.

Finally, there is a Bagot connection to the Wingfields, albeit indirectly, and I haven’t found any connection (yet!) of my family with this Irish Bagot family. Christopher Neville Bagot (1821-1877) married Alice Emily Verner. When Christopher died, he left a large estate. His son was born less than nine months after he married, and his brother contested the will, claiming that the son, William Hugh Neville Bagot (1875-1960) was not really Christopher Bagot’s son. Alice Emily and her son won the trial to the extent that her son inherited Christopher’s money, but Christopher’s brother inherited the land. Alice Emily came from a well-connected family. Her mother was a Pakenham. Her grandmother was Harriet Wingfield (1801-1877), a daughter of Edward Wingfield (1772-1859), who was the son of Richard Wingfield, 3rd Viscount Powerscourt – the one who built Powerscourt Townhouse!

[1] O’Reilly, Sean. Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of Country Life. Arurum Press Limited, London, published 1998, paperback edition 2008.

[2] p. 111, O’Reilly, Sean.

[3] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Wicklow%20Landowners

[4] A Bagot married into the Herbert family, who owned Durrow Abbey before the Slazenger family. John Bagot married Mary Herbert, daughter of the 2nd Baronet of Durrow Abbey in 1728.

[5] For more on the ownership of Durrow Abbey, see the Irish Aesthete: https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/04/23/in-limbo-2/

[6] architectural definitions

[7] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/16400717/powerscourt-house-powerscourt-demesne-enniskerry-co-wicklow

[8] 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.

[9] https://www.irelandscontentpool.com/en/media-assets/media/68565

https://www.irelandscontentpool.com/en/media-assets/media/132165

[10] https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/09/13/another-perspective/

[11] Powerscourt Townhouse, 59 South William Street, Dublin 2

[12] For the continuation of the Wingfield line who lived in Powerscourt, I refer to Burke’s Peerage, and to the website of Timothy William Ferres, otherwise known as Lord Belmont:

http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Wicklow%20Landowners

The Wingfields married well. The 3rd Viscount’s son inherited the title and estate: Richard Wingfield, 4th Viscount (1762-1809).

He married firstly, in 1789, Catherine, second daughter of John Meade, 1st Earl of Clanwilliam, by whom he had his successor, Richard.

RICHARD, 5th Viscount (1790-1823), married Frances Theodosia, eldest daughter of Robert Jocelyn, 2nd Earl of Roden, and their son, Richard, became his successor.

RICHARD, 6th Viscount (1815-44), who married, in 1836, his cousin, the Lady Elizabeth Frances Charlotte Jocelyn, daughter of Robert Jocelyn, 3rd Earl of Roden. He was succeeded by his son, Mervyn Edward Wingfield.

MERVYN EDWARD, 7th Viscount (1836-1904), KP, Privy Counsellor, who wedded, in 1864, the Lady Julia Coke, daughter of Thomas William Coke, 2nd Earl of Leicester (of the seventh creation!). According to Turtle Bunbury [14], Mervyn published two books: “Wingfield Memorials” (1894) and “A History of Powerscourt” (1903). He was elected president of the Royal Dublin Society and was also a member of the Royal Irish Academy of Science. He was made a Knight of the Order of St. Patrick in 1871. He was later appointed to the Privy Council of Ireland, acting as one of the Lord Justices of Ireland in 1902.

Mervyn Edward and Julia’s son, Mervyn Wingfield (1880-1947), become the 8th Viscount and succeeded to Powerscourt. The 8th Viscount was the last Lord-Lieutenant of County Wicklow, from 1910 until 1922. After Irish Independence, he was elected by W.T. Cosgrave to serve as a Senator in 1921. His son, Mervyn Patrick Wingfield (1905–73) became the 9th Viscount.

The 9th Viscount followed in the family’s military tradition and served in WWII and was captured and became a prisoner of war. According to wikipedia [15], he suffered from shell shock. His wife and children moved to Bermuda during the war and returned to Powerscourt afterwards but their marriage fell apart, and Mervyn Patrick sold Powerscourt.

According to Turtle Bunbury, Richard Wingfield 1st Viscount had a daughter, Isabella, who in 1722 married Sir Henry King, MP for Boyle and Roscommon, who built King House in County Roscommon, another section 482 property.

Turtle Bunbury also tells us that the 6th Viscount Powerscourt purchased Luggala, also in County Wicklow, in 1840, from the “financially challenged” La Touche family. We will come across the La Touch family when I write about Harristown, another Section 482 property.

[13] http://www.britainirelandcastles.com/Ireland/County-Wicklow/Powerscourt-House.html

[14] http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_family/hist_family_powerscourt.html

[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mervyn_Patrick_Wingfield,_9th_Viscount_Powerscourt