Ballymurrin, Kilbride, County Wicklow

contact: Philip Geoghegan.  086-1734560

www.ballymurrinquakerfarmstead.eu

Opening dates in 2020 but check due to Covid: May 1-3, 5-10, 12-17, 19-24, 26-31, Aug 1-2, 4-9, 11-23, 25-30, Sept 1-6, 2pm-6pm, Guided Tours 2pm and 4pm

Fee: adult/OAP/student €5, child free under 16 years but must be supervised.

Philip coming out to greet us.

Stephen and I drove to Ballymurrin House on Saturday 27th July 2019. We were looking forward to it as we had seen the house on “Home of the Year” on RTE, and I particularly love its style, and we knew it was originally a Quaker farmhouse. Stephen is a Quaker so it is special for him, to see part of the history of Quakers in Ireland. I emailed Philip beforehand, to let him know that we were coming. I knew that the current owners are not Quakers, but the website describes the Quaker history of the house.

Philip was friendly and delighted to welcome a Quaker. The house was built in around 1668, and was formerly a pair of houses, according to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. [1] On the Ballymurrin website, the part of the building with the pink painted exterior is identified as the farmhouse, and the white end is the coach house and forge. The pink part of the house was originally two dwellings: a five bay main house, and a dower house of two bays. We did not get to see inside the Dower House, which is now called Box Tree Cottage in honour of a tree in its garden, but you can see pictures on the Ballymurrin website. The buildings form a U shape around a yard, although the buildings to the right hand side when facing the house have not yet been renovated, although they have been stabilised. These would have been the stables. On the left hand side of the U is what was formerly the milking parlour. [2]

The former milking parlour. We did not get to visit inside as it was being used for guests, as it is converted for self-catering.

At the time of the English Civil War (1642–1651), many “dissenting” Christian groups formed, including the Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, as it is also known. The founder of the Quakers, George Fox (1624-1691), was dissatisfied with the teachings of the Church of England and of the other nonconformist, or dissenting, groups. He sought a more pure faith. Wikipedia tells us that in 1652 Fox had a vision on Pendle Hill in Lancashire, England, in which he believed that “the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered,” and after this, Fox travelled around England, the Netherlands and Barbados preaching and teaching with the aim of converting new adherents to his faith. He found many other “seekers” who also felt the churches had become bogged down with traditions, rituals and power politics, and together they tried to live out the Christian message more simply. [3] and [4]

The Quakers spread to Ireland very early after George Fox started the Society in England in 1652: the first recorded Friends Meetings for Worship in Ireland were held in 1654 at the home of William Edmundson in Lurgan, Co. Armagh [4]. As Ballymurrin Farmstead was built from around 1668, some of the first Quakers in Ireland settled in this area in Wicklow. Turtle Bunbury writes that William Edmundson served in Cromwell’s army during the Civil War (and thus fought against those loyal to King Charles I) and settled in Ireland in 1652, and that by 1656 Quaker ideals were making a negative impact on the morale of the Cromwellian army – so much so that Cromwell purged the army of Quakers. This would explain why Quakers settled so early in Ireland – they had been in Cromwell’s army in Ireland. [5] It may seem odd that Quakers were in the army, but it was only during Charles II’s reign that they embraced pacifism.

The Quakers chose a beautiful area to settle in Wicklow, with a view of rolling hills. The house itself is tucked into a hillside so that the hill behind shelters the house.

A Quaker settlement was also established in the late 17th century in Ballitore, County Kildare, by two Quakers, John Bancroft and Abel Strette, who began farming in the area, and Ballitore is still known as the Quaker Village. A Quaker School was founded in Ballitore by Abraham Shackleton (1697–1771) in 1726. Stephen and I visited Ballitore the following month, in August 2019.

Before we began our tour, Philip brought us through the house to the kitchen for a refreshment as it was a particularly hot day. We drank water with fresh mint and sat at the big kitchen table, joining his wife Delphine.

Philip and Delphine are both architects. I love their style, which respects the history and original architecture of the home. The house preserves the traditional cottage air with its thick limewashed stone walls, window alcoves, and exposed wooden beams and lintels. I love the old farmhouse doors. Philip led us into the house via a room which has display boards explaining the history of the house and the Quakers, which we had time to study later. Philip and Delphine purchased the property over twenty-five years ago and have done much renovation work. Philip explained that the setting, with its square courtyard, reminded him of the type of farm houses which he loved in Jersey, the Channel Island, where he had previously worked.

In this explanation board, created by Philip Geoghegan, you can see the farmhouse, with the three-sided courtyard, in the aerial photograph. The third side, the stables, have not been converted.

To begin the tour, Philip brought us out first to see the remains of a cottage out behind the house, built in the 1600’s.

The cottage has been stabilised, but not roofed. The walls were fixed painstakingly to maintain their integrity and heritage. Originally covered in ivy, this was cleared and the floor also levelled.

See the wooden lintel over the door.

Ballymurrin, or “Ballymooranbeg” (Ballymurrin Lower) is identified on the Down Survey Map, made by Sir William Petty for Oliver Cromwell in 1654, and it listed as belonging to Sir William Parsons, who lived in Milltown, Rathnew. [6] William Parsons, the 1st Baronet of Bellamont, was a Lord Justice of Ireland and served as Surveyor General of Ireland. In this position he was able to discern faulty titles for land and appropriate this land for himself. [7] There were Quaker families in Dunganstown and Kilmacow, County Wicklow.

Information panel in the cottage, created by Philip Geoghegan.

Philip has done much research to establish who lived in Ballymurrin. In this 1760 map pictured above, Ballymurrin is identified, and a Quaker Burial place in Kilbride. There is also a Quaker meeting house in Ballykean. Quakers do not have church “services” or masses, they have “meetings,” which are mostly silent.

The Eves family from Leicestershire settled on land also owned by William Parsons. In 1667 Anne Eves married Ambrose Judd, who had moved from Suffolk in England to Ireland in 1651, and their first child, Robert, was born in Ballymurrin in 1668. This couple built up Ballymurrin and had a large family. In 1687 their first child, Robert, died and was buried in the “Friends burying place” just a small walk from the farmhouse, a graveyard that is still there today.

In the marriage register pictured below, of 1680, a Mark Eves (related to Anne) signs as a witness, along with William Bate of Ballymurrin. William Bate, Philip has determined, was born in Stepney St Dunstans East End of London in 1635. He was a carpenter, and he and his wife Anne and five children lived in Ballymurrin for ten years. He probably built most of the buildings at Ballymurrin. He was put in Wicklow Gaol, at the Black Castle, along with twelve other Quakers, for attending a meeting in 1671. The Quakers left England hoping to escape persecution but they were still persecuted in Ireland, for dissenting from the official Church.

Due to persecutions and after his imprisonment, in 1681 William and Mary Bate[s] and their children left Wicklow and helped to set up a township in Newton Creek, West Jersey, in land set aside for Irish Quakers by William Penn, who had that year founded Pennsylvania. William Bates became a senior administrator in the West Jersey government and was buried in 1700 in the Newton Quaker Burial Ground.

Based on the registered births, Philip has calculated that there were about 150 Quakers in County Wicklow between 1661 and 1700. A Meeting House was established in Wicklow Town for monthly meetings at Thomas Trafford’s house in 1669. In details published on Ballymurrin’s website, we see that Thomas Trafford was committed to prison in 1680 for opening his shop (a drapers) on Christmas day! Many Quakers do not celebrate Christmas, since it is every day that Jesus is in their heart.

Inside I was delighted to see the original animal trough inside the cottage:

Animal trough: the Quakers would have kept cows, sheep and pigs, hens, ducks and geese. They grew barley, wheat, oats and vegetables and fruit.

If you look closely you can see a division in the floor. This would have been a wall, dividing the living quarters from the animal quarters. You can see the original door lintel. The fourth wall has been levelled, as you can see in the next picture, from the back of the cottage:

We were curious about the round column at one end of the cottage, while the other is a square column. Philip doesn’t know why there is the rounded column or what it signifies, but it is very impressive, considering it stands there since the 1600s! There are similar rounded gate posts by the stables.

Stephen and Philip speculate on the rounded column to the left, in the barbeque area next to the old cottage.

Next we headed back to the house, and entered the door leading into the forge. You can see the fireplace, with some equipment, in the background, and I took a picture looking upward into the fireplace.

The beehive chimney in the Forge sits on a tree trunk built into stone walls and is a timber frame filled with woven hazel twigs and covered with clay and cow dung inside and plaster outside. It is, Philip points out, a remarkable structure from the 17th century and, even more remarkable, remains intact.

There are more information boards which Philip has made.

Ambrose was “convinced of the blessed truth” in 1672, i.e. became a Quaker.  “Convincement” is when a person realizes that he or she wants to join the Quakers (“Convincement” and officially becoming a Quaker don’t necessarily happen at the same time. Nowadays a person attends Quaker meetings for years before applying for membership). The next information board tells us that Ambrose Judd had to pay for his Quaker faith, with hay and barley, wheat and oats. These were “forcibly recovered,” taken as tithes to be paid to the established church, the Church of Ireland. Catholics also had to pay these tithes. Quakers refused to pay the tithes, so a “tithemonger” took the goods, and refusing to pay tithes would be a reason that Quakers were put in gaol.

In 1689 King James II granted toleration to the Quakers, which means that they no longer had to pay the tithes to the Church of England/Ireland.

Here is another part of the forge:

In the Timeline for Ballymurrin which Philip compiled, we can see that in 1754, Susanna Ashton, born Eves, a widow, marries Joseph Pim from Nurney, County Kildare, who moves to Ballymurrin. He dies in 1764 and is buried in Ballymurrin Burial Ground. His son may have built nearby Woodville House, in Kilbride, County Wicklow (built around 1780). [8]

Above the exhibition room is a loft, which still has its original roofing timbers. The forge below would have kept the bedrooms above warm.

In 1855 Ballymurrin Upper, 163 acres was sold by Joseph Pim through the Emcumbered Estates Court. The Encumbered Estates Act was passed in 1849 to facilitate the sale of Irish estates whose owners could not meet their financial obligations due to losses during the Famine. Ballymurrin Lower was sold in 1874 or 1891, this time by Lydia Pim, through the Landed Estates Court, which had taken over from the Encumbered Estates Court. Ballymurrin and Woodville were bought by the Catholic Byrne family: Edward, Bernard and Mary, according to Philip’s research.

According to Philip’s records, Mary Byrne dies in 1926 and after this, the O’Sullivans live in Ballymurrin. Alterations were made to the house, dated 1927 and 1935.

In 1990, David and Mary Strawbridge moved in to the house and initiated restoration of the main house. In 1994, Delphine and Philip Geoghegan purchased and extended restoration of the house over a twenty year period. In 1995, they re-roofed the agricultural building on the left of the main house, which incorporated a dwelling, two buildings for agriculture, a forge and a cart shed with loft above. This part of the house now includes the exhibition space, a studio and bedrooms upstairs.

We moved on into the next room then, which would have been the living area of the original house.

The living area of the original house.

This contains another huge fireplace. This is called an “inglenook” fireplace. It had been boarded up for perhaps two hundred years!

Next to this is the kitchen, which would have been a later addition to the Quaker house. Its size indicates a good standard of living. The beams of the ceiling are original but the secondary joists were replaced in 1927. The stairs appear to be a later addition as the beam supporting the ceiling joists was cut to make head room for ascending the stairs. Originally the upper level was probably accessed by a steep ladder. You can see a huge oak beam spanning across the kitchen fireplace, which is original.

Kitchen, with yet another huge fireplace, with the airbnb guest inside!

Inside the fireplace is a special feature which Philip and Delphine discovered during their renovations, unique as far as they know to this house for this time period: a bread oven.

The bread oven. I love its wooden door, which you can see at the right hand side of the photograph.
The stone floor of the fireplace is from a local quarry, and has fossils of wormy creatures.

In the last room of the tour, now the family sitting room, there is a wonderful old original cupboard, which contains more Quaker history, which Philip calls the “Minutes cupboard,” as it may have held the minutes of meetings. This cupboard is original to the house, as are the window shutters and doors.

A facsimile of the the front page of a book, History Rise and Progress of the People called Quakers in Ireland, from the year 1653 to 1700.

Before the visitors arrived, Stephen was able to have detailed discussion with Philip about the Quakers, and Philip showed us documents he had transcribed which Stephen admired, especially because he himself has been attempting to copy old documents, and has found them sometimes impossible to decipher. He asked if he could send a copy of a document to Philip to see if he is able to help in deciphering! Since our visit, Philip has indeed aided Stephen in his transcription. Philip prepared the information boards for a 350 year celebration of the Quakers which took place in the farmhouse. He has also prepared a booklet for visiting schoolchildren.

Another event the Geoghagans hosted, which you can see on the website, was a visit by the Bates family of America, descendants of the Quaker Bates who moved to Pennsylvania.

We were delighted not only to see the beautiful house, but to meet this wonderful couple!

After we left the house we visited the nearby Quaker graveyard.

Although about 140 people are buried in this Quaker burial ground, there are only four headstones. This is because in 1671 the Quakers stopped using headstones, perhaps they did not like the overly ornate headstones becoming popular at the time, as these did not convey their belief about the equality of all people. However, by 1850 this restraint was dropped, and the four headstones memorialise members of the Pim family. The Pim family transferred ownership of the Burial ground to the Quakers in 1812.

[1] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/16403107/ballymurrin-house-ballymurrin-lower-kilbride-co-wicklow

[2] https://www.ballymurrinquakerfarmstead.eu/index.html

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quakers

[4] https://quakers-in-ireland.ie/history/background/

[5] p. 75. Bunbury, Turtle and Art Kavanagh. The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Kildare. Published by Irish Family Names, 11 Emerald Cottages, Grand Canal St, Dublin 4 and Market Square, Bunclody, Co Wexford, Ireland. 2004.

[6] Information taken from information boards created by Philip Geoghegan:

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_William_Parsons,_1st_Baronet_of_Bellamont

Nora Robertson writes about him in her book, The Crowned Harp. Memories of the Last Years of the Crown in Ireland. published by Allen Figgis & Co. Ltd., Dublin, 1960.

[8] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/16403106/woodville-house-ballymurrin-lower-kilbride-co-wicklow

[9] I examined the census to see if I can work out more about who lived in Ballymurrin farm, but it is confusing as I don’t know what other habitations exist in the area of “Ballymurrin Lower” and “Ballymurrin Upper” and the numbering system seems to change from 1901 to 1911, as well, perhaps, as the specification between which habitations are “upper” and which “lower,” unless the families moved about quite a bit, which is possible. I don’t know whether all the habitations listed are actually part of the current Ballymurrin farmstead. I have made charts but it is all guesswork.

Philip Geoghegan mentions Mary, Bernard and Edward Byrne purchasing Ballymurrin, but looking at the census, ownership appears to be more complicated.

The 1911 census has a Mary Byrne as head of household, single and Catholic, in house “1.2” in Ballymurrin Lower. The 1901 census has Bernard Byrne and his sister Mary in house 6 in Ballymurrin lower, along with servants who include Laurence Farrell and two youger Farrells who are probably his sons, as well as Peter Penrose, Julia Bull and Patrick Murry. It looks like the numbering system changed from 1901 to 1911 as I doubt the occupants moved between the dwellings.

In 1911 in house 1.1 there is Mary Farrell, head of household, and her sons John, Laurence and James, and daughter Mary – all also Catholic. These are probably the Farrells listed as servants to the Byrnes in 1901.

It looks like a nice little community, with tailor, postmen, shoemaker and dressmaker along with farmers and agricultural labourers, although they may be on the edge of poverty with the dwelling places only classed as type 0, with perishable materials in 1901, but nearly all of the habitations are improved by 1911. Furthermore, by 1911 all but one of the homes are owned by their inhabitants. The families are extended and many are related by marriage. The main families in 1901 are Byrne, Farrell, Arthur, Smyth (or Smith), Douglas, Meade, Redmond (Byrne daughter married a Redmond), Carly (or Carty). Additionally, owners include Colonel Ellis and Mary Cullen. In 1911 the main familes are Byrne, Farrell, Arthur, Smith, Douglas, Meade (daughter married a Farrell), Murray, Lawless and Doyle, as well as owners Michael Kavanagh and Mrs Stampher. All of the inhabitants are Catholic.

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

Historic houses in County Wicklow listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage

I would like to share with you some examples of the houses in Wicklow listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (photographs are all taken from the National Inventory):

i. Avondale, open to the public. Built in 1779, designs may have been by James Wyatt. It was the home of Charles Stewart Parnell, the Nationalist leader in Ireland.

ii. Avonmore

Avonmore House, built around 1830.

iii. Ballyarthur

Ballyarthur, built in 1680.

iv. Ballycurry

Ballycurry House, built in 1807 to designs by Francis Johnston.

v. Ballykeane

Ballykeane, built around 1780.

vi. Ballymoney

Ballymoney, built around 1800.

vii. Ballynure House

Ballynure House, built around 1800.

viii. Baltiboys

Baltiboys, built around 1840.

ix. Carnew Castle

Carnew Castle, built in the late sixteenth century, re-roofed and remodernised ca. 1817 by 4th Earl Fitzwilliam whose Irish seat, Coolattin, is nearby.

x. Castle Kevin

Castle Kevin, built in 1813.

xi. Clonmannon House (Old)

Clonmannon House (Old), built around 1700.

xii. Cronroe, now Bel Air Hotel

https://www.belairhotelequestrian.com/hotel/

Cronroe, now Bel Air Hotel, built in 1890.

xiii. Donard House

Donard House, built in 1813-14 to the designs of William Vierpyl.

xiv. Fortgranite

Fortgranite, built around 1730.

xv. Glanmore Castle

Glanmore Castle, built around 1804, to designs by Francis Johnston.

xvi. Glenart Castle, was a hotel, now private again, built around 1820.

xvii. Grangecon Parks

Grangecon Parks, built around 1820.

xviii. Hollybrook House

Hollybrook House, built in 1835 incorporating an earlier house, to designs by William Vitruvius Morrison.

xix. Humewood Castle

Humewood Castle, built 1867-70 to designs by William White.

xx. Mount John

Mount John, built around 1800.

xxi. Rathsallagh, now a hotel

https://www.rathsallagh.com/

Rathsallagh, built as stables around 1750, converted to a house in 1798.

xxii. Rosanna House

Rosanna House, built around 1720.

xxiii. Roundwood

Roundwood, built around 1800, remodelled later in the nineteenth century.

xxiv. Slaney Park House

Slaney Park House, built around 1810, reduced by one storey after a fire in 1946.

xxv. Tinakilly House, now a small hotel

Tinakilly House (now a hotel), built around 1876 to designs by James Franklin Fuller.

xxvi. Tinode House (you can visit June Blake’s garden www.juneblake.ie )

Tinode, built in 1864 to designs by W.F. Caldbeck, partly demolished in a fire in 1922 and restored in 1973.

xxvii. Tulfarris – now a hotel https://www.tulfarrishotel.com/

Tulfarris – now a hotel, built in 1760, porch from around 1860.

xxviii. Woodbrook, now a golf course

Woodbrook, now a golf course, built around 1840.

xxix. Woodstock House, now Druid’s Glen Golf Course and hotel

Druid’s Glen hotel, formerly called Woodstock, built around 1770.

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 2020 but check due to Covid 19 restrictions: Jan 1-Dec 22, Jan-Feb private visits only, Mar April Oct Nov & Dec, 10am-5pm, May June July & Aug 10am 6pm

Fee: adult €12, OAP/student €9, child €6, family rate €30

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

Charleville, County Wicklow

contact: Mark Sinnott

Tel: 087-2987601

Open dates in 2020 but check due to Covid-19 restrictions: 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

This was the least personal of our tours to date, when we went on Saturday May 18th 2019, as there was no sign of the owners, the Rohan family, living in the grand reception rooms, although apparently it is their family home. Ken and Brenda Rohan purchased the house in 1981. A visit to a house that is no longer owned by descendents of the early occupiers resonates less history, although in this case one must admit the current owners are probably no less invested than if their ancestors had occupied it for centuries, as they have maintained it to a high standard, and have carried out sensitive restoration to both house and garden. Dublin architect John O’Connell oversaw work on the interiors.

We are told in Great Irish Houses that the demesne is intact, with the original estate walls and entrance gates surviving. [1]

DSC_0654
Charleville, made of Wicklow granite, faced in ashlar. According to wikipedia, ashlar is “finely dressed stone, either an individual stone that was worked until squared or the structure built from it. Ashlar is the finest stone masonry unit, generally rectangular cuboid, mentioned by Vitruvius as opus isodomum, or less frequently trapezoidal.” A stone string-course divides upper from lower windows.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage website tells us that Charleville is a detached nine bay two storey Palladian style mansion, built in 1797 to designs by Whitmore Davis, an architect originally from County Antrim, who was then based in Dublin [2]. He also built another Section 482 house, Harristown House in County Kildare [3]. The house has a three-storey pedimented breakfront, the pediment is carried on four Ionic columns at the second and third storey level of the house, the ground floor level of the breakfront being “rusticated” as if it were a basement. [4] The windows on the ground floor level in the breakfront are arched. The Buildings of Ireland website claims that the breakfront facade is inspired by Lucan House in County Dublin, which is indeed very similar. Lucan House was designed by its owner, Agmondisham Vesey, consulting with architect William Chambers, a British architect who also designed the wonderful Casino at Marino in Dublin, as well as Charlemont House in Dublin (now the Hugh Lane Municipal Art Gallery) and the Examination Hall and Chapel in Trinity College Dublin.

Casino at Marino in Dublin, designed by William Chambers who helped to design Lucan House, which has similar breakfront to that of Charleville.

It was hard to find, as we were directed to the back entrance, and the gps gave us directions to a different entrance. However the person to whom I’d spoken, from Rohan Holdings, specified where to go. We found someone waiting to let us in. He was very friendly and when I stated my name, for him to write down along with licence plate of car, for security, he asked was I related to the Baggots of Abbeyleix! Indeed, I am the daughter of a Baggot of Abbeyleix! And are they related to the Clara Baggots, he asked? Yes indeed, they are my cousins! So that was a great welcome! He opened the gates for us and said he would see us on the way out, and he directed us down the driveway, toward visitor parking.

the side with its Wyatt window in the Morning Room overlooking the stretch of lawn.

Our tour guide came outside to meet us and invited us into the house. We entered a large impressive entry room. The guide told us that George IV was due to visit the house, but never came, as he was “inebriated.” After visiting Slane Castle, we knew all about George IV’s visit, and why he did not get to Charleville – he was too busy with his mistress in Slane Castle! The marquentry wooden flooring (applying pieces of veneer to a structure to form decorative patterns, designs or pictures) in the front hall was installed at great expense in preparation for his visit to the house. It’s still in excellent condition.

The well-informed guide told us about the previous owners and shared details about the furniture and paintings. The house is perfectly suitably decorated, sumptuous and beautiful. The main reception rooms lead off the entrance hall and run the length of the facade. The house was built for Charles Stanley Monck (1754-1802), after his former house on the property was destroyed by fire in 1792. He succeeded his Uncle Henry Monck to the estate when his uncle died in 1787. Henry Monck had inherited from his father, Charles Monck (1678-1752). Charles Monck, a barrister who lived on St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, came into the property of Charleville through his marriage in 1705 to Agneta Hitchcock, the daughter and heiress of Major Walter Hitchcock. [5]

Although Henry Monck had no son to inherit his estate, he had a daughter, Elizabeth, who married George le Poer Beresford, Marquess of Waterford, of Curraghmore. Charles Stanley Monck was the son of Henry’s brother Thomas Monck (1723-1772), and Judith Mason (1733-1814). He married Anne Quin in 1784, daughter of Dr. Henry Quin and Anne Monck (she was a daughter of Charles Monck and Agneta Hitchcock so was a first cousin). He rebuilt the house in the same year that he was raised to the peerage as Baron Monck of Ballytrammon, County Wexford. He was MP for Gorey, County Wexford, 1790-1798. In 1801, as a reward for voting for the Union of Britian and Ireland, he was awarded a Viscountcy.

As well as having Charleville rebuilt, he had a terrace of houses built in Upper Merrion Street in Dublin, according to wikipedia. Number 22 of this terrace was known as “Monck House,” and number 24 was Mornington House (where some say the Duke of Wellington was born) – the terrace is better known today for housing the Merrion Hotel.

side view of Charleville

The large entry hall has fluted Ionic columns, a ceiling with coving and central rosette plasterwork, an impressive fireplace and several doors. It is full of portraits, including, over the fireplace, a painting of the family of Lord Gort. The double-door leading to the staircase hall is topped with a decorative archway, and the passageway between the front hall and the staircase hall is vaulted.

Leading off the hallway were large double doors, “elevator style” (see Salterbridge), the guide pointed out that they are not hinged, and are held in place by the top and bottom instead, swinging on a small bolt from frame into door on top and bottom. They are extremely sturdy, smooth and effective.

The tour is limited to the outer and inner entrance halls, the morning, drawing and dining rooms.

Charles Stanley did not have long to enjoy his house as he died just a few years later in 1802. He was succeeded by his son Henry Stanley Monck (1785-1848), 2nd Viscount Monck, who was also given the title the Earl of Rathdowne. It was this Henry who made the alterations to the house in preparation for the visit of George IV in 1821.

Mark Bence Jones in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses tells us that the Grecian Revival plasterwork is probably designed by Richard Morrison. There are also floor length Wyatt windows to the side of the house, similar to ones added to Carton in Kildare in 1817 by Richard Morrison.

The staircase hall contains a cantilevered Portland stone staircase and a balustrade of brass banisters. Hanging prominently over the stairs is a huge portrait of George IV’s visit to Ireland, picturing the people saying goodbye to him at the quay of Dun Laoghaire. He stands tall and slim in the middle. The painter flatters the King who in reality was overweight. The other faces were all painted by the artist from life, as each went to pose for him in his studio. The scene never took place, our guide told us, as George IV was too drunk to stand on the quays as pictured!

The sitting room has a barrel-vaulted ceiling and the decorative plasterwork features musical instruments, gardening implements and sheaves of corn. Desmond Guinness pointed out that the plasterwork installed at Powerscourt for the royal visit is similar to decoration found at Charleville. [6] The dining room’s centrepiece of shamrock and foliage is probably earlier than 1820 but the acanthus frieze may have been added. The impressive gilt pelmets were purchased in the sale of the contents after fire destroyed the house at neighbouring Powerscourt. The drawing room also has impressive ceilings. It is furnished beautifully and has magnificent curtains framing views. The trellis-pattern rose-pink and red carpet was woven specially for the room, and the wallpaper replicates a found fragment. In their attention to detail, the Rohans had the wallpaper replicated by Cowtan of London.

The Library and Morning Room sit behind the front reception rooms. The regency plasterwork in Greek-Revival style contains laurel and vine leaves.

An Irish Times article sums up the continuation of the Monck family in Charleville:

“As Henry had no living sons (but 11 daughters), when he died in 1848, the Earldom went with him. His brother became 3rd Viscount for a year until his own death in 1849, and his son, Charles, became 4th Viscount for almost the remainder of the century, until 1894. Charles married his cousin—one of Henry’s 11 daughters who had lost out on their inheritance because of their gender. He was Governor General of Canada from 1861 – 1868. The last Monck to live at Charleville was Charles’ son, Henry, 5th Viscount who died in 1927. As he was pre-deceased by his two sons and his only brother, he was the last Viscount Monck. There are extensive files in the National Library for the Monck family.” [7]

Charles the 4th Viscount entertained Prime Minister Gladstone at some point in Charleville and Gladstone planted a tree near the house to mark the occasion. Later Charles fell out with Gladstone over Home Rule in 1886 as Charles maintained the strongly Unionist views of his family.

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I didn’t note which tree Gladstone planted – perhaps it is one of these near the ostrich!

Henry the 5th Viscount’s widow Edith continued to live in Charleville after his death. She died in 1929. The house was then purchased by Donald Davies. He established one of his “shirt dress” manufacturing bases in the stables.

Davies and his family lived in the house for forty years. His only daughter, Lucy, married the Earl of Snowdon, the photographer son of Anne, Countess of Rosse of Birr Castle.

According to the article in the Irish Times:

“before the Rohan family became owners, the place was popular for film settings. An American couple called Hawthorne were the previous owners, and filled it in summertime with orphaned children. Before the Hawthornes, it was owned by Donald Davies, famous for his handwoven, fine wool clothes, who had his workshops in the courtyard to the back of the house.”

The gardens are also beautiful. I believe they are open to the public at certain times of the year. [8]

The article goes on to mention the gardens:

“And then there are the gardens….It was wet and lovely, along the hedged walks and bowers, by the Latinate barbeque terrace where a lime tree was in fruit, in the rose garden, and orchard. Old flowers clustered in bursts of colour – lupins and peony roses, forget-me-not and hydrangea, wisteria covering a wall.

we were lucky to visit when the wisteria was in bloom.

One steps out of the house and goes around one side, by the courtyard and stables, through that courtyard to the tennis courts. One passes along the tennis court to reach the central part of the garden.

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the exit at the side of the house
we passed this beautiful house – I am not sure when it was built, maybe at the time of the conversion of the stables by Donald Davis – on the way to the courtyard.
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walking by the tennis courts, by the beautiful topiary
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the central lawn, with a pond that forms the centre of the Radial Garden

Many elements of the original garden have been conserved, including the fan-shaped walled garden and the walk of yews.

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heading in to the conservatory there are plaques commemorating previous gardeners
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The conservatory, which is in the form of a temple, looking out at the rows of milk-bottle shaped yews.

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Stephen ate a quick lunch in the central garden

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walking around the Radial Garden

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a fountain and pond hidden delightfully amongst the beech hedges in the Radial Garden

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in the radial garden

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the milk-bottle shaped Irish yews, in the Yew Walk

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nobody mentioned the ostrich! (statue)

Beyond the formal gardens is the aboretum with a comprehensive collection of trees.

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I like the way the vine trails along the chain

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We liked the sundial especially, which in itself as a pillar was the dial in a way, though there was a proper sundial on the top also, on the sides of the pillar, on two sides.

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is that the time?

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We also loved the beech walk, with its twisting intertwined branches, some held up by strings or rods to maintain a walkway below.

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[1] Great Irish Houses. Forwards by Desmond FitzGerald, Knight of Glin; The Hon Desmond Guinness; photography by Trevor Hart. Image Publications Ltd, Dublin, 2008.

[2] http://buildingsofireland.ie/niah/search.jsp?type=record&county=WI&regno=16400713

[3] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/1412#tab_biography

[4] see Achitectural definitions

[5] Charles Monck married and came into Charleville. Charles’s sister Rebecca married John Foster and had a daugther who married Bishop George Berkeley, the famous philosopher! My husband Stephen is also distantly related to the Monck family as his third great aunt, Jane Alicia Winder, married William Charles Monck Mason.

Jane Winder

Charles’s older brother, George (1675-1752) married Mary Molesworth and had a daughter, Sarah, who married Robert Mason, and they were parents of Henry Monck Mason who was the father of William Charles Monck Mason.

[6] p. 257. Montgomery-Massingberd, Hugh and Christopher Simon Sykes. Great Houses of Ireland. Laurence King Publishing, London, 1999.

[7] https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/charleville-estate-is-a-place-apart-1.309616

[8] https://visitwicklow.ie/private-gardens/#