Kilshannig House, Rathcormac, County Cork

contact: Hugo Merry Tel: 025-36124

Open dates in 2021 (but check due to Covid restrictions): May 1-31, June 1-30, July 1-31, National Heritage Week, Aug 14-22, 8.30am- 2.30pm.

Fee: adult €10, child/student €8.50, group discount by arrangements.

Stephen and I visited Kilshannig House in Rathcormac, County Cork, in August 2020, during Heritage Week. Kilshannig is most notable for its wonderful stucco work.

I rang Mr. Merry in advance, and he was away but told me his housekeeper could show us around. Stephen and I were spending a few days on holidays with our friends Denise and Ivan, and Denise decided to join us to come to see the house. I was excited to show someone what it is like to visit the section 482 houses. In most cases, like this day visiting Kilshannig, we are going to see someone’s private home. It is not like visiting a place normally open to the public, like Fota House or Doneraile Court, two houses which Stephen and I also visited while in Cork, which are now owned and run by Irish Heritage Trust and the OPW (Office of Public Works) respectively. [1] I always feel that I am an inconvenience, requesting a visit someone’s home. I must remind myself that it is visitors like me and you who ensure that the section 482 revenue scheme continues. I envy owners of these beautiful homes, but maintaining a Big House is almost a career choice. In fact owners often express their belief that they are the caretaker of a small part of Ireland’s built heritage. In this case, Mr. Merry runs an equine stud, and it is the success of that which enables him to maintain the upkeep of his home. He has also converted an extension into self-catering accommodation [2].

The house, as you can see from the photograph of the entire sweep, is Palladian [3]. It was built in 1765-66 for Abraham Devonsher, an MP and a Cork banker. The date 1766 is written on a “hopper” and probably commemorates the completion of the house.

Cast-iron rainwater goods having ornate hoppers, dated 1766, with gambolling lion and winged cherub head, square-profile down pipe and moulded joints.” [see 9]

It was designed by Davis Ducart [or Duckart], whose Irish career began in the 1760s and continued until his death in about 1785. The Dictionary of Irish Architects tells us:

According to William Brownlow, writing to the Earl of Abercorn in 1768, he ‘dropped into this Kingdom from the clouds, no one knows how, or what brought him to it.’ [4]

The Irish Historic Houses website tells us that Ducart worked as a canal and mining engineer as well as an architect. With engineering skill, he was committed to good design and craftsmanship. The Dictionary of Irish Architects tells us of criticism of his work, however:

An attack on him in the Freeman’s Journal for 3-4 February 1773 states that he had given up architecture by this time: ‘Our French architect … never could bring any thing to perfection he put his hands to; he made some of his first (and, alas! his last) experiments as an architect, at the cost of the public and many private gentlemen, in the country and city of Cork, the latter of which bears a large monument of his insipid, uncooth taste in the art of designing; he was actually ignorant of the common rules and proportions of architecture; eternally committing mistakes and blunders, and confounding and contradicting his own directions, until he himself saw the folly of such proceedings, and (not without certain admonitions) quitted the profession he had no sort of claim to.’

I do not know enough about architecture to contradict the writer in the Freeman’s Journal but the Irish Historic Houses website claims: “Ducart was arguably the most accomplished architect working in Ireland between the death of Richard Cassels and arrival of James Gandon.” [5] In an article in Country Life, Judith Hill suggests that criticism was motivated by professional jealousy of a foreigner. [6]

Other works associated with Ducart are the Mayoralty or Mansion House, Cork (1765-1773); Lota Lodge in County Cork (1765); Castletown Cox in County Kilkenny (1767); Brockley House, Laois (1768); Custom House of Limerick (1769) which now houses the Hunt Museum; Castlehyde House, County Cork; Drishane Castle, County Cork (which is also a section 482 property, not to be confused with Drishane House – about which I will be writing shortly). [see 4]

The cherrypicker out front mars the photograph, but Anne the housekeeper explained that work was being done in the house. The front door is approached by a flight of limestone steps.

The house consists of a central block of two storeys over basement (with a mezzanine level), with wings either side that are described by Mark Bence-Jones as “L” shaped but to me they look U shaped, almost like a pair of crab claws. [7] Curved walls close in either wing into courtyards. Frank Keohane describes it in The Buildings of Ireland: Cork, City and County:

At Kilshannig, Ducart developed his own interpretation of the ubiquitous Irish Palladian country-house plan, which he also used with modification at Castletown Cox, Co Kilkenny, and The Island, Co Cork (demolished). Eschewing the Pearse-Castle tradition, Duckart’s central block is flanked by inward turned L-shaped (rather than rectangular) wings which project forward to form a cour d’honneur. Curved screen walls connect the inward-facing ends of the wings back to the house and enclose kitchen and stable courts. The principal North front, looking across the park to Devonsher’s parliamentary borough of Rathcormac, comprises a neat central corps de logis flanked by six-bay blind arcades, representing the back ranges of the courts, which terminate in domed pavilions. The plan has been likened to that of Vanbrugh’s Castle Howard, Yorkshire.” [8]

The view from the front, overlooking Rathcormac.

Keohane suggests that Davis Ducart was probably assisted by Thomas Roberts of Waterford. The front of the house is of red brick with limestone quoins, and the centre block is seven bays across with a single-storey three bay Doric frontispiece which the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage tells us is of cut sandstone. [9] The frontispiece has Doric style pilasters, and the door and window openings have fluted scroll keystones with plinths that look like they should hold something, in circular niches. The pilasters support an entablature which the National Inventory describes: “with alternating bucrania and fruit and flowers metopes and triglyphs.” The metopes are the squares with the pictures of “bucrania” (cow or ox skulls, commonly used in Classical architecture, they represent ancient Greek and Roman ceremonies of sacrifice) and fruit and flowers, and the triglyphs are the three little pillars between each square picture (wikipedia describes: “In classical architecture, a metope (μετόπη) is a rectangular architectural element that fills the space between two triglyphs in a Doric frieze, which is a decorative band of alternating triglyphs and metopes above the architrave of a building of the Doric order.“) [10]

Above this stone frontispiece is an empty niche which Bence-Jones tells us contained, in a photograph taken in approximately 1940, a statue or relief of a warrior or god.

There is a mezzanine level, which is unusual in such a house, and we can see that the windows at this level are squeezed between ground and first floor levels. The Irish Historic Houses website tells us that the house has four formal fronts. Unfortunately we did not walk around the house so I did not photograph the other fronts. The basement windows are semicircular, which is apparently characteristic for Ducart.

photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage [9].
the basement windows, “charmingly glazed with cobweb-like astragals,” as Casey and Rowan describe them. Photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

The wings have five arched windows each and Keohane tells us that the wings are actually low two-storey buildings. The copper domes and timber cupolas have been reinstated by the present owners.

On the back facade the arcades have plain Tuscan pilasters supporting a deep entablature with small blind roundels above each arch.

Photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage – you can see that this was taken before the domes were reinstated.

Anne the housekeeper welcomed us and brought us into the impressive Baroque hall.

Front Hall. Excuse the dirty floor, from ongoing repair work.

Keohane writes that the plasterwork in Kilshannig is by two different people with distinctive styles. He writes: “The accomplished decoration to the Saloon and Library ceilings is the work of the Swiss-Italian Filippo Lafranchini, here combining emphatic late Baroque modelling with the refinement of small-scale ornament of a Rococo character. The remaining decoration, which is vigorously naturalistic and in places ungainly, is by an unknown, and presumably Irish, hand.” For more on the Lafranchini brothers, see the Irish Aesthete’s entry about them. [11]

The stuccadore of the wonderful Rococo plasterwork in the hall is therefore unknown. Our guide, Anne, pointed out that the birds, that reminded me of birds at Colganstown by Robert West of Dublin, stick out too far and that the heads have a tendency to be knocked off. The ceiling is deeply coved, and features acanthus leaves, flower and fruit-filled baskets and garlands with draped ribbons.

The floor of the front hall is of Portland stone with black insets. The walls have Corinthian columns and the corners of the ceiling decoration are curved.

The hall has a beautiful Portland stone fireplace with a mask flanked by garlands, and two male Grecian bearded Herms (“a tapering pedestal supporting a bust, or merging into a sculpted figure, used ornamentally, particularly at the sides of chimneypieces. Roughly similar to a term.’) [3]. Herm refers to Hermes, the Greek god.

Here we see one of the birds who has had its head broken off.

The entrance hall leads to a three bay saloon, with dining room on one side and library on the other. To one side of the front hall is a corridor leading to the wonderfully curving staircase. The stone floor and stuccowork continue into the corridor, which has panelled walls.

The circular cantilevered Portland stone staircase rises two full rotations to the first floor. The domed ceiling has more stuccowork. There’s also a lovely circular pattern with geometrical black and grey shapes on the floor below the stairs.

You can see the mezzanine level in this photograph, and the Portland stone cantilevered stairs.

The doll house is an architectural model of Kilshannig! It even has electricity! It was made for the young girl of the house, Sophie.

Amusingly, the Kilshannig doll house is more advanced than the actual house, as the attic has been converted! The actual attic of Kilshanning House has not been converted. As the owner charmingly told me: “The two [bedrooms] in the dolls’ house are poetic license to give the owner of the dolls’ house the opportunity to decorate and fit it out bedrooms.”

Denise, duly masked for Covid, in the hallway at the bottom of the staircase.

We entered the library first. The current owner’s father, Commander Merry, and his wife, bought the house. With his DIY skills, the Commander installed the library shelves, acquired from a Big House built in the same period as Kilshannig. The room has another spectacular ceiling, which is deeply coved. The centre features a rondel with Diana and Apollo, and the corners have oval plaques depicting the Seasons. The cove features female portrait busts, eagles, standing putti and garlands. Christine Casey has noted the likeness of the cove to that formerly in the Gallery at Northumberland House in London, which was decorated by Pietro N. Lafranchini, perhaps in collaboration with his brother Filippo.

The rondel in the centre of the library ceiling featuring Diana and Apollo.
The female heads in rondels in the library are believed to portray members of the Devonsher family [10].

The doors have been stripped back to their original timber.

The next room is the Saloon, or Salon. It has a particularly splendid ceiling, also by Filippo Lafranchini, “combining emphatic late Baroque modelling with the refinement of small-scale ornament of a Rococo character” (Keohane):

“Joseph McDonnell has established that the figurative work is derived from an engraving of 1717 of a now lost ceiling painting by Antoine Coypel, the Assembly of the Gods, at the Palais-Royale in Paris. The centre depicts Bacchus and Araidne, with Pan and a sleeping Silenus, reclining on almost imperceptible clouds. The lavishly intricate border consists of six cartouches framing plaques depicting the Four Elements – Water (a dolphin), Air (an eagle), Earth (a lion), and Fire (a Phoenix) as well as Justice and Liberty. These are linked by a sinuous frame populated by charming putti with dangling legs. The corners feature trophies dedicated to Architecture, Painting, Music and Sculpture.” [12]

“The centre depicts Bacchus and Araidne, with Pan and a sleeping Silenus, reclining on almost imperceptible clouds.”
Justice, blindfolded. The Art of painting is represented in the right corner. Other corners represent architecture, music and sculpture.
Here we see architecture represented in the corner trophy.
The lion on in the left rondel, symbolising Earth, and the eagle on the right, symbolising Air. The other of the four Elements are represented, by a dolphin for Water and a Phoenix for Fire. I love the way the legs and feet of the putti and especially Ariadne stick out from the ceiling.

The final room we were shown was the dining room. Keohane writes that the stuccowork is by a different hand than the Lafranchini brothers. “The deep cove has four large oval cartouches of naturalistic foliage with masks depicting Bacchus, Ceres, Flora and Diana, the last framed by trophies of the chase and a rather insipid fox.” [13]

I believe the figure at the bottom, next to the rather sadly draped hanging game, is the “insipid” fox.
The head of Bacchus, encircled by grapes.

It was in the dining room under Bacchus that we stopped to consider how odd it was that a Quaker, as Abraham Devonsher was, had such an elaborate ceilings created in his home. Indeed, he was expelled from the Quaker community before he had the house built, in 1756, for “conformity to the world.” This was because he entered politics that year and became an MP for Rathcormac. [14] My husband Stephen, a Quaker, tells me that in order to serve as an MP, Devonsher would have had to swear an oath, and Quakers do not believe in swearing oaths – they believe that their word suffices (George Fox said: “My yea is my yea and my nay is my nay.”). The borough was very small – in 1783 it had only seven electors. Devonsher won his seat by appealing directly to the electors, unseating the Barrys who had traditionally held the seat. He entertained grandly in order to woo the electors. He also served as High Sheriff for County Cork in 1762. The Devonsher family had settled in Cork as merchants in the mid seventeenth century. [15] The article in Country Life tells us that toward the end of his life the sociable Abraham Devonsher “lives a recluse life with a Harlot.” He led a rather rakish life, apparently, and he died childless in 1783 – or at least left no legitimate heirs – and left the estate to a grand-nephew, John Newenham, of Maryborough, County Cork (now a hotel) who then assumed the name Devonsher.

John had a son, John (1763-1801), who inherited the house and passed it to his son, Abraham Newenham Devonsher. He ran into financial difficulties, and at some date before 1837, sold the estate to Edward Roche (1771-1855). [16] Edward Roche used it as a winter residence, and lived the rest of the year in his other estate, Trabolgan, as did his son, Edmond Burke Roche, who was raised to the peerage as 1st Baron Fermoy in 1856. He was also an MP and served as Lord Lieutenant for County Cork 1856-1874. According to the Landed estates database, at the time of the Griffith Valuation, James Kelly occupied Kilshanning. The Griffith valuation was carried out between 1848 and 1864 to determine liability to pay the Poor rate (for the support of the poor and destitute within each Poor Law Union). The 1st Baron Fermoy’s sister, Frances Maria, married James Michael Kelly, another MP (for Limerick), of Cahircon, County Clare, and James Kelly was their son. According to the Landed Estates Database, in 1943 the Irish Tourist Association Survey mentioned that it was the home of the McVeigh family. Mark Bence-Jones adds that other owners were the Myles family, and Mr and Mrs Paul Rose. The property had a succession of owners until it was purchased in 1960 by Commander Douglas Merry and his wife.

When they purchased it, the cupolas had disappeared and one wing was ruinous and the rest in poor condition. Commander Merry set about restoring the house. His son Hugo has continued the work, partly with help from the Irish Georgian Society [17]. This work included repairing a sagging saloon ceiling, and restoring the pavilions and cupolas, recladding them in copper. The entire main house, arcades and both courtyards have been completely restored and re-roofed. One wing is used for self-catering and events, and the other contains stables. There are fourteen bedrooms in the wing, and six in the main house, Anne told us.

We did not explore the outside, and did not get to see inside the pavilions or wings. That will have to wait for another visit!

[1] https://fotahouse.com/

http://doneraileestate.ie/

[2] http://thecourtyardkilshannig.com/

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

[4] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/1660#tab_biography

[5] https://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Kilshannig

[6] Hill, Judith. “Pot-Walloping Palladianism.” Country Life, June 15, 2016.

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

[8] p. 465. Keohane, Frank. The Buildings of Ireland: Cork, City and County. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

[9] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/20904408/kilshannig-house-kilshannig-upper-co-cork

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

[11] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/05/18/exuberance/

[12] p. 466. Keohane, Frank. The Buildings of Ireland: Cork, City and County. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

[13] Ibid.

[14] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Cork%20Landowners?updated-max=2018-07-21T07:33:00%2B01:00&max-results=20&start=8&by-date=false

[15] Keohane writes that Abraham Devonsher’s parents are Thomas Devonsher and Sarah Webber. The website The Peerage says his mother was Sarah Morris. https://www.thepeerage.com/p30600.htm#i305998

See also the article in Country Life from June 15 2016, by Judith Hill, that is linked to the Kilshannig courtyard website. Hill says Abraham Devonsher’s father was named Jonas, and that his family began to acquire the land at Kilshannig from the 1670s.

Keohane says that John Newenham was Abraham’s nephew, the Peerage website has John as the great nephew: Abraham’s brother Jonas had a daughter Sarah who married Richard Newenham, and it was their son, John Newenham, who inherited Kilshannig.

The home of the Newenhams, Maryborough, is now a hotel:

https://www.maryborough.com/index.html

[16] http://landedestates.nuigalway.ie/LandedEstates/jsp/estate-show.jsp?id=2764

[17] https://www.igs.ie/conservation/project/kilshannig


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

Curraghmore, Portlaw, County Waterford

Contact: Vanessa Behal, 051 387101
Open dates listed in 2021 [check if open or closed due to Covid-19]: May, June, July, Aug, Sept, Thurs – Sun, and Bank Holidays, National Heritage Week, Aug 14-22,10am-4pm.

Fee: adult/OAP/student, house/garden/shell house tour €20, house €15, garden & shell house €12, garden €7, child under12 years free.

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It was difficult to find Curraghmore House despite obtaining directions when we rang the house. That difficulty is good in a way, as the house is secluded and safer for the owners. We drove two kilometres up a stony track; without the reassuring directions, we would not have believed we were on the right road. When we turned in to the estate, we weren’t sure we had the right entrance, since we went past old buildings and stables. Surely this was not the general entrance for those visiting the gardens, which are open to the public? There was barely any signage, and there was meant to be a cafe open. When we parked and looked around, however, we discovered that we were indeed in the right place! It’s just not very touristy! We found the bathrooms and the cafe in the courtyard.

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entering Curraghmore, via servants’ quarters either side of courtyard. Approaching the courtyard front of the house, where the “original Castle is encased in a spectacular Victorian mansion” with flanking Georgian ranges housing servants, stables, etc. [1]

I didn’t take as many photos as I should have, so here are a few from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, of the range that fronts the house: [2]

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Servants’ quarters in the courtyard, photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
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This is the view looking back the way we drove in, with our backs to the house, and the buildings of the courtyard on either side. Photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
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Arch through which we went, in order to explore the gardens, and also through which one goes to see the rest of the outside of the house.

Mark Bence-Jones describes Curraghmore in A Guide to Irish Country Houses, as a medieval tower with a large three storey house behind it. The house is seven bays wide (see garden front) and seven bays deep. [1]

We explored the buildings flanking the courtyard, and found the entrance to the gardens, through an arch, with an honesty box, in which we duly deposited our fee. We had missed the earlier house tour so had a couple of hours to wait for the next tour. We wandered out into the gardens. The gardens are amazing, in their formal arrangement, for such an empty place.

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When one enters the garden through the arch, one walks along the side of the house to the garden front, which originally held the front door of the house. Originally visitors would drive up to the house through the courtyard and then the horse and carriage would go through the arch to the garden front, to enter through the front door facing the gardens.
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Back of the castle, with windows now where there was the original door for guest entrance.
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The house is seven bays wide and seven bays deep.
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There were horrible scary statues flanking a path – we learned later that they were bought by the fourth Marquis of Waterford in the World Fair in Paris.

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I’ll write more about the gardens later, as we learned more about them on the tour.

We gave ourselves forty-five minutes to get our lunch, and we were hungry after a good stroll. We had home-baked soda bread and salad with smoked salmon, Americano coffee and fresh coffee cake – delicious!

We gathered with others for a tour. The tour guide was excellent – a woman from the nearby town of Portlaw. She told us that the gardens only opened to the public a few years ago, when the more private father of the current (ninth) Marquis died.

I commented to the tour guide before the tour that it was sad to see the place in such a state (of dilapidation). She looked baffled, and once I entered the house, I understood why. The outside may look unkempt and run-down, but once you go inside, all that is forgotten. Splendour!!

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As usual, we were not permitted to take photographs inside, unfortunately. You can see some on the website [3]. There is also a new book out, July 2019, it looks terrific! [4] More on the interior later – first I will tell you of the history of the house.

According to the website:

Curraghmore House in Waterford is the historic home of the 9th Marquis of Waterford. His ancestors (the de la Poers) came to Ireland from Normandy after a 100-year stopover in Wales around 1170, or, about 320 years before Columbus ‘discovered’ the New World.

Some 2,500 acres of formal gardens, woodland and grazing fields make this the largest private demesne in Ireland and one of the finest places to visit in Ireland….This tour takes in some of the finest neo-classical rooms in Ireland which feature the magnificent plaster work of James Wyatt and grisaille panels by Peter de Gree.” 
[We came across a link to the De La Poer family, also called Le Poer or Power, in Salterbridge, and will meet them again in Powerscourt in Wicklow and Dublin.]
Curraghmore, meaning great bog, is the last of 4 castles built by the de la Poer family after their arrival in Ireland in 1167. The Castle walls are about 12 feet thick and within one, a tight spiral stairway connects the lower ground floor with the roof above. Of the many curious and interesting features of Curraghmore, the most  striking is the courtyard front of the house, where the original Castle is encased in a spectacular Victorian mansion with flanking Georgian ranges.

Note on spelling of Marquis/Marquess: on the Curraghmore website “Marquis” is used, but in other references, I find “Marquess.” According to google:

marquess is “a member of the British peerage ranking below a duke and above an earl.” … A marquis is the French name for a nobleman whose rank was equivalent to a German margrave. They both referred to a ruler of border or frontier territories; in fact, the oldest sense of the English word mark is “a boundary land.”

I shall therefore use “marquess” and “marquis” interchangeably. If quoting – I’ll use the spelling used by the source. I prefer “marquis”,  as “marquess” sounds female to me, although it refers to a male! Therefore although Marquess is correct, I’ll follow the website and use sometimes use Marquis in this blog entry.

Mark Bence-Jones writes that:

The tower survives from the old castle of the Le Poers or Powers; the house was in existence in 1654, but was rebuilt 1700 and subsequently enlarged and remodelled; it extends round three sides of a small inner court, which is closed on 4th side by the tower. The 1700 rebuilding was carried out by James Power, 3rd and last Earl of Tyrone of first creation, whose daughter and heiress, Lady Catherine Power, married Sir Marcus Beresford…The 1st Beresford Earl of Tyrone remodelled the interior of the old tower and probably had work done on the house as well…The tower and the house were both refaced mid-C19. The house has a pediment in the garden front; and, like the tower, a balustraded roof parapet. The tower has three tiers of pilasters framing the main entrance doorway and the triple windows in the two storeys above it, and is surmounted by St. Hubert’s Stag, the family crest of the Le Poers. [1]

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St. Hubert’s Stag on top. The crown below is the coronet of a Marquess.

POWER AND MONEY AND MARRIAGE: Don’t be put off by the complications of Titles!

I shall intervene here to give a summary of the rank of titles, as I’m learning them through my research on houses. They rank as follows, from lowest to highest:

Baron –  female version: Baroness

Viscount – Viscountess

Earl – ? what’s the female version?

Marquess (Marquis) – Marchioness

Duke – Duchess

The estate was owned by the le Poer family for over 500 years, during which time the family gained the titles Baron la Poer (1535), and Viscount Decies and Earl of Tyrone (1673, “second creation”, which means the line of the first Earls of Tyrone died out or the title was taken from them – in this case the previous Earl of Tyrone, Hugh O’Neill, rose up against the British throne during the Nine Years War and fled from Ireland when arrest was imminent, so lost his title). Sir Piers Power (or Le Poer) of Curraghmore, who came into his title in 1483, cemented the family’s influence with a strategic marriage to the House of Fitzgerald. His first wife, Katherine, was a daughter of Sir Gerald Fitzgerald, Lord of the Decies. His second wife was another Fitzgerald of the House of Kildare.

Sir Piers’s son and heir, Richard, further strengthened the power of the family by marrying a daughter of the 8th Earl of Ormond. The rival families of Butler and Fitzgerald, into both of which the Le Poers had married, effectively ran the country at this time when English influence in Ireland had been in decline for several decades. [5]

In 1538 Richard was succeeded by his eldest son, Piers. After Piers’s premature death in 1545, he was succeeded as 3rd Baron by his younger brother, John “Mor” Power. In 1576, Henry Sidney, the Lord Deputy of Ireland and father of the poet Philip Sidney, stayed with John Mor at Curraghmore. He wrote:

“The night after I departed from Waterford I lodged at Curraghmore, the house that the Lord Power is baron of. The Poerne country is one of the best ordered countries in the English Pale, through the suppression of coyne and livery. The people are both willing and able to bear any reasonable subsidy towards the finding and entertaining of soldiers and civil ministers of the laws; and the lord of the country, though possessing far less territory than his neighbour (ie: Sir James Fitzgerald of the Decies, John Mor’s cousin) lives in show far more honourably and plentifully than he or any other in that province.”

nli curraghmore house waterford
photograph from flickr commons, National Library of Ireland.

Turtle Bunbury writes of the Le Poer family history in his blog. I wonder if I can turn my blog into a way of learning Irish history, through Irish houses? I will continue to quote Mr. Bunbury’s blog here, so I can try to see connections between various house owners as I continue my travels around the country.
WHO TO SUPPORT? CATHOLIC OR PROTESTANT? JAMES II OR WILLIAM III?

It was a common practice at the time for the aristocracy to send their sons to the English Court. It was a way to curry favour and contacts, and for the King to secure the loyalty of the aristocracy and their Protestant faith. 

John Mor died in 1592 and was succeeded by his son Richard, 4th Baron Le Poer. King James I ordered Richard to send his grandson and heir, John, (John’s father had already died) to England for his education, in order to convert John to Protestantism. John lived with a Protestant Archbishop in Lambeth. However, John didn’t maintain his Protestant faith. Furthermore, he later suffered from mental illness.

Julian Walton, in a talk I attended in Dromana House in Waterford (another section 482 house about which I will be writing later), told us about a powerful woman, Kinbrough Pypho. She is named after a Saxon saint, Kinbrough. Her unfortunate  daughter Ruth was married to John Power of the “disordered wits” [the 5th Baron]. In 1642, Kinbrough Pypho wrote for to the Lord Justices of Ireland for protection, explaining that Lord Le Poer had “these past twelve years been visited with impediments” which had “disabled him from intermeddling with his own estate.” As a result, when Oliver Cromwell arrived in Ireland, he issued a writ on 20th September 1649 decreeing that Lord Power and his family be “taken into his special protection.”

Despite his mental illness, John and Ruth had a son Richard, who succeeded as the 6th Baron. In 1672 King Charles II made Richard the 1st Earl of Tyrone, and elevated Richard’s son John to the peerage as Viscount Decies. Turtle Bunbury writes that Richard the 1st Earl of Tyrone sat on Charles II’s Privy Council from 1667-1679. However, Richard was forced to resign when somebody implicated him in the “Popish Plot.” The “Popish Plot” was caused by fear and panic. There never was a plot, but many people assumed to be sympathetic to Catholicism were accused of treason. In 1681, Richard Power was brought before the House of Commons and charged with high treason. He was imprisoned. He was released in 1684.

James II came to the throne after the death of his brother Charles II, and he installed Richard in the Irish Privy Council.

When William and Mary came to the throne, taking it from Mary’s father James II, Richard was again charged with high treason, this time for supporting James II, and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and died there, in 1690. He was succeeded by his son 25-year-old son John.

John married his first cousin, the orphaned heiress Catherine Fitzgerald. They were married as children, in order for John to marry Catherine’s wealth. However, Catherine managed to have the marriage declared null and void, so that she could marry her true love, in March 1676, Edward Villiers, son and heir of George, 4th Viscount Grandison [I will write more on this in my entry on Dromana].

John died aged just 28 and was succeeded by his brother James. James, the 3rd Earl of Tyrone, married Anne Rickard, eldest daughter and co-heir of Andrew Rickard of Dangan Spidoge, County Kilkenny. He had fought with the Jacobites (supporters of James II), but when William III came to the throne, the 3rd Earl of Tyrone claimed that he had only supported James II because his father had forced him to (this is the father who died in the Tower of London for supporting James II). In 1697 James Le Poer received a Pardon under the Great Seal and he served as Governor of Waterford from 1697 until his death in 1704.

DEVELOPING THE CASTLE
In 1700 the 3rd Earl, James, commissioned the construction of the present house at Curraghmore on the site of the original castle.

In 1704 the male line of the la Poers became extinct as James had no sons. Catherine de la Poer, the sole child of her parents, could not officially inherit the property at the time. Fortunately, the property was kept for her and she was married at the age of fourteen to Marcus Beresford, in 1717. This ensured that the house stayed in her family, as Marcus joined her to live in Curraghmore.

This marriage was foretold. The guide told us the story:

“One night in 1693 when Nichola, Lady Beresford, was staying in Gill Hall, her schoolday friend, John Power, Earl of Tyrone, with whom she had made a pact that whoever died first should appear to the other to prove that there was an afterlife, appeared by her bedside and told her that he was dead, and that there was indeed an after-life. To convince her that he was a genuine apparition and not just a figment of her dreams, he made various prophecies, all of which came true: noteably that she would have a son who would marry his niece, the heiress of Curraghmore and that she would die on her 47th birthday. He also touched her wrist, which made the flesh and sinews shrink, so that for the rest of her life she wore a black ribbon to hide the place.” [5]

The predictions came true! Lady Nichola did indeed die on her 47th birthday, and her son Marcus married John’s niece, Catherine Power. Sir Marcus Beresford of Coleraine (born 1694) was already a Baron by descent in his family. When he married Catherine, he became Viscount Tyrone. Proud of her De La Poer background, when her husband Baron Beresford died, Catherine, now titled the Dowager Countess of Tyrone, requested the title of Baroness La Poer.

The entry via the servants’ quarters, which I thought odd, has indeed always been the approach to the house. Catherine had the houses in the forecourt built for her servants in 1740s or 50s. She cared for the well-being of her tenants and workers, and by having their houses built flanking the entrance courtyard, perhaps hoped to influence other landlords and employers.

Bence-Jones writes of the forecourt approach to the house:

[The house] stands at the head of a vast forecourt, a feature which seems to belong more to France, or elsewhere on the Continent… having no counterpart in Ireland, and only one or two in Britain… It is by the Waterford architect John Roberts, and is a magnificent piece of architecture; the long stable ranges on either side being dominated by tremendous pedimented archways with blocked columns and pilasters. There are rusticated arches and window surrounds, pedimented niches with statues, doorways with entablatures; all in beautifully crisp stonework. The ends of the two ranges facing the front are pedimented and joined by a long railing with a gate in the centre.


We were lucky to be able to wander around.

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There were some interesting looking machines in sheds. Perhaps some of this machinery is for grain, or some could be for the wool trade. Turtle Bunbury writes of the wool trade in the 18th century and of the involvement by the de la Poer family in Curraghmore. [6]

Other buildings were stables, or had been occupied as accommodation in the past, and some were used for storage.

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amazing vaulted ceilings for stables!
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The buildings above are behind the stables of the courtyard.

There must have been a whiskey distillery at one stage:

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the Butler’s house, the first house in the courtyard nearest the main house. The Butler lived in the main house until he married, when he then was given the house in the courtyard. There was a Butler in the house until just two years ago, and he lived here until he retired.
household staff of Curraghmore House, Portlaw, Co. Waterford, ca.1905, National Library of Ireland
Household staff of Curraghmore, around 1905, courtesy of National Library of Ireland.

The Guide told us a wonderful story of the stag on top of the house. It has a cross on its head, and is called a St. Hubert’s Stag. This was the crest of the family of Catherine de la Poer. They were Catholic. To marry Marcus Beresford, she had to convert to Protestantism. She kept the cross of her crest. The Beresford crest is in a sculpture on the front entrance, or back, of the house: a dragon with an arrow through the neck. The broken off part of the spear is in the dragon’s mouth.

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dragon from the Beresford crest

The IRA came to set fire to the house at one point. They came through the courtyard at night. The moon was full, and the stag and cross cast a shadow. Seeing the cross, the rebels believed the occupants were Catholic and decided not to set fire to the house. The story illustrates that the rebels must not have been from the local area, as locals would have known that the family had converted to Protestantism centuries ago. It is lucky the invaders did not approach from the other side of the house!

When I was researching Blackhall Castle in County Kildare, I came across more information about St. Hubert’s Stag. The stag with the crucifix between its antlers that tops Curraghmore is in fact related to Saint Eustachius, a Roman centurion of the first century who converted to Christianity when he saw a miraculous stag with a crucifix between its antlers. This saint, Eustace, was probably the Patron Saint of the Le Poers since their family crest is the St. Eustace (otherwise called St. Hubert’s) stag. I did not realise that St. Eustace is also the patron saint of Newbridge College in Kildare, where my father attended school and where for some time in the 1980s and 90s my family attended mass!

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see the St. Eustace stag in the Newbridge College crest

I read in Irish Houses and Gardens, from the archives of Country Life by Sean O’Reilly, [Aurum Press, London: 1998, paperback edition 2008] that the St. Hubert Stag at Curraghmore was executed by Queen Victoria’s favourite sculptor, Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm. He was also responsible for the “haunting” representation in the family chapel at Clonegam of the first wife, who died in childbirth, of the 5th Marquess.

Someone asked about the sculptures in the niches in the courtyard. They too were purchased at the World Fair Exhibition in Paris. Why are there only some in niches – are the others destroyed or stolen? That in itself was quite a story! A visitor said they could have the sculptures cleaned up, by sending them to England for restoration. The Marquess at the time agreed, but said only take every second one, to leave some in place, and when those are back, we’ll send the remaining ones. Just as well he did this, since the helper scuppered and statues were never returned.

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Since bad weather threatened, as you can see from my photographs, the tour guide took us out to the Shell House in the garden first. This was created by Lady Catherine. A friend of Jonathan Swift, Mrs. Mary Delany, started a trend for grottoes, which progressed to shell houses. Catherine had the house specially built, and she went to the docks nearby to ask the sailors to collect shells for her from all over the world, who obliged since their wages were paid by the Marquess. She then spent two hundred and sixty one days (it says this in a scroll that the marble sculpture holds in her hand) lining the structure with the shells (and some coral). The statue in the house is of Catherine herself, made of marble, by the younger John van Nost (he did many other sculptures and statues in Dublin, following in his father’s footsteps).

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the Shell Grotto
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inside the shell grotto, statue by John van Nost of Catherine Le Poer Beresford.
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Catherine also adorned the interior of Curraghmore with frescoes by the Dutch painter van der Hagen, and laid out the garden with canals, cascades, terraces and statues, which were swept away in the next century in the reaction against formality in the garden. In the nineteenth century, the formal layout was reinstated. [7]

THE INTERIOR OF THE HOUSE

The entrance hall, which is in the old tower, has a barrel vaulted ceiling covered with plasterwork rosettes in circular compartments which dates from 1750, as it was one of the rooms redecorated by Marcus Beresford and his wife Catherine. He also redecorated the room above, now the billiard room, which has a tremendously impressive coved ceiling probably by the Francini brothers, according to Mark Bence-Jones. The ceiling is decorated with foliage, flowers, busts and ribbons in rectangular and curvilinear compartments. The chimneypiece, which has a white decorative  overmantel with a “broken” pediment (i.e. split into two with the top of the triangular pediment lopped off to make room for a decoration in between) and putti cherubs, is probably by John Houghton, German architect Richard Castle’s carver. Bence-Jones describes that the inner end of the room is a recess in the thickness of the old castle wall with a screen of fluted Corinthian columns. There is a similar recess in the hall below, in which a straight flight of stairs leads up to the level of the principal rooms of the house.

According to the Wikipedia article on the Marquesses of Waterford [8], Lord Tyrone ie. Marcus Beresford, was succeeded by his fourth but eldest surviving son, the second Earl, George Beresford (1734-1800), who also inherited the title Baron La Poer from his mother in 1769. [By the way, he married Elizabeth Monck, only daughter and heiress of Henry Monck (1725-1787) of Charleville, another house on the Section 482 list which we will be visiting.]  In 1786 he was created Baron Tyrone. Three years later he was made Marquess of Waterford in the Peerage of Ireland. He was therefore the 1st Marquess of Waterford. The titles descended in the direct line until the death of his grandson, the third Marquess, in 1859.

George had the principal rooms of the house redecorated to the design of James Wyatt in the 1780s. Perhaps this was when the van der Hagen paintings were lost! We will see more of his work later, in a house not on section 482 in 2019, but often on the list, Beaulieu.  At the same time he probably built the present staircase hall, which had been an open inner court, and carried out other structural alterations.

As Bence-Jones describes it, the principle rooms of the house lie on three sides of the great staircase hall, which has Wyatt decoration and a stair with a light and simple balustrade rising in a sweeping curve. Our tour paused here for the guide to point out the various portraits of the generations of Marquesses, and to tell stories about each.

Bence-Jones writes that the finest of the Wyatt interiors are the dining room and the Blue drawing room, two of the most beautiful late eighteenth rooms in Ireland, he claims.

The dining room has delicate plasterwork on the ceiling,  incorporating rondels attributed to Antonio Zucchi (1726-1795, an Italian painter and printmaker of the Neoclassic period) or his wife Angelica Kauffman (a Swiss Neoclassical painter who had a successful career in London and Rome). The walls have grissaille panels by Peter de Gree, which are imitations of bas-reliefs, so are painted to look as if they are sculpture. de Gree was born in Antwerp, Holland [9]. In Antwerp he met David de la Touche of Marlay, Rathfarnham, Dublin, who was on a grand tour. The first works of de Gree in Ireland were for David de la Touche for his house in St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin. [10] The Blue Drawing Room has a ceiling incorporating roundels by deGree and semi-circular panels attributed to Zucchi.

A story is told that a woman’s son was hung, and she cursed the magistrate, the Marquess, by walking nine times around the courtyard of Curraghmore and cursing the family, wishing that the Marquess would have a painful death. It seems that her curse had some effect, as tragedy haunted the family. As mentioned previously, it was the fourth son who inherited the property and titles of Marcus Beresford, all other sons having died.

The obituary of the 8th Marquis of Waterford gives more details on the curse, which was described to us by our guide, with the help of the portraits:

The 8th Marquis of Waterford, who has died aged 81, was an Irish peer and a noted player in the Duke of Edinburgh’s polo team.

That Lord Waterford reached the age he did might have surprised the superstitious, for some believed his family to be the object of a particularly malevolent curse. He himself inherited the title at only a year old, when his father, the 7th Marquis, died aged 33 in a shooting accident in the gun room at the family seat, Curraghmore, in Co Waterford.

The 3rd Marquis broke his neck in a fall in the hunting field in 1859; the 5th shot himself in 1895, worn down by years of suffering from injuries caused by a hunting accident which had left him crippled; and the 6th Marquis, having narrowly escaped being killed by a lion while big game hunting in Africa, drowned in a river on his estate in 1911 when he was 36.” [11]

The lion, along with some pals, stand in the front hallway in a museum style diorama!

The obituary gives us an introduction to the stories of the various descendants of the 1st Marquess, George Beresford. Let’s now look at the rest of the line of Marquesses.

Lady Waterford in her specially designed invalid carriage 1896
Lady Blanche Waterford, wife of the 5th Marquess, John Henry, in her specially designed invalid carriage 1896, courtesy of National Library of Ireland

MARQUESSES OF WATERFORD

I am aided here by the wonderfully informative website of Timothy Ferres. [12]
George, 1st Marquess of Waterford, was succeeded by his eldest son, Henry, 2nd Marquess (1772-1826), who wedded, in 1805, Susanna, only daughter and heiress of George Carpenter, 2nd Earl of Tyrconnell. Henry, who was a Knight of St Patrick, a Privy Counsellor in Ireland, Governor of County Waterford, and Colonel of the Waterford Militia, was succeeded by his eldest son, Henry, 3rd Marquess.

In an interview with Patrick Freyne, the current Marquess, whom the townspeople call “Tyrone,” explained that it was the third Marquess, Henry who originated the phrase “painting the town red” while on a wild night in Miltown Mowbray in 1837: he literally painted the town red! [13]

I wonder was this the Marquis who, as a boy in Eton, was expelled, and took with him the “whipping bench,” which looks like a pew, from the school. It remains in the house, in the staircase hall! We can only hope that it meant than no more boys in Eton were whipped.

In 1842, the third Marquess of Waterford married Louisa Stuart, daughter of the 1st Baron Stuart de Rothesay, and settled in Curraghmore House. It was he who broke his neck in a fall while hunting. His wife Louisa laid out the garden. She had been raised in France and modelled the gardens on those at Versailles.

When Henry died he was succeed by his younger brother, John (1814-1866), who became the 4th Marquess. It was this Marquess who bought the scarey statues in the garden. The tour guide told us that perhaps the choice of statue reflected the Marquis’s personality. She referred back to this on the tour. The Earl became more religious and more forboding as he aged. John married Christiana Leslie, daughter of Charles Powell Leslie II of Castle Leslie (we will learn more about the Leslies in my write ups for Castle Leslie and Corravahan House in County Cavan). John entered the ministry and served as Prebendary of St Patrick’s Cathedral, under his uncle, Lord John. He forbade his wife from horseriding, which she had adored. When he died, the sons were notified. Before they went to visit the body, when they arrived home they went straight to the stables. They took a horse and brought it inside the house, and up the grand staircase, right into their mother’s bedroom, where she was still in bed. It was her favourite horse! They “gave her her freedom.” She got onto the horse and rode it back down the staircase – one can still see a crack in the granite steps where the horse kicked one on the way down – and out the door and off into the countryside!

The oldest of these sons, John Henry de La Poer Beresford (1844-1895), became 5th Marquess, and also a Member of Parliament and Lord Lieutenant of Waterford. Wikipedia tells us that W. S. Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan fame refers to John Henry in his opera “Patience” as “reckless and rollicky” in Colonel Calverley’s song “If You Want A Receipt For That Popular Mystery”!

Lord Waterford eloped with Florence Grosvenor Rowley, wife of John Vivian, an English Liberal politician, and married her on 9 August 1872. I don’t know what happened to her, but less than two years later he married secondly, Lady Blanche Somerset, daughter of Henry Somerset, 8th Duke of Beaufort, on 21 July 1874. The second Lady Waterford suffered from a severe illness which left her an invalid. She had a special carriage designed to carry her around the estate at Curraghmore.

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January 10, 1902, Group shot of guests at a Fancy Dress Ball held at Curraghmore House, Portlaw, Co. Waterford, courtesy of National Library of Ireland

Sadly, John Henry killed himself when he was 51, leaving his son Henry to be 6th Marquess (1875-1911).

Henry the 6th Marquess served in the military. He married Beatrix Frances Petty-Fitzmaurice. He died tragically in a drowning  accident on the estate aged only 36.

His son John Charles became the 7th Marquess (1901-34). He too  died young. He served as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Regiment of Horse Guards but died at age 33 in a shooting accident in the gun room at Curraghmore. He married Juliet Mary Lindsay. Their son John Hubert (1933-2015) thus became 8th Marquess at the age of just one year old.

John Hubert served as a lieutenant in the Royal Horse Guards’ Supplementary Reserve and was a skilled horseman. From 1960 to 1985, he was captain of the All-Ireland Polo Club, and he was a member of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Windsor Park team. After retiring from the Army, John Hubert, Lord Waterford, returned to Curraghmore and became director of a number of enterprises to provide local employment, among them the Munster Chipboard company, Waterford Properties (a hotel group) and, later, Kenmare Resources, an Irish oil and gas exploration company. He was a founder patron of the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera.

In 1957 he married Lady Caroline Olein Geraldine Wyndham-Quin, daughter of the 6th Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl, of Adare Manor in County Limerick. The 8th Marquess and his wife Caroline carried out restoration of the Library and Yellow Drawing Room. Lord Waterford devoted much of his time to maintaining and improving the Curraghmore estate, with its 2,500 acres of farmland and 1,000 acres of woodland.

He was succeeded by his son, Henry de La Pore Beresford (b. 1958), the current Marquess. He and his wife now live in the House and have opened it up for visitors. His son is also a polo professional, and is known as Richard Le Poer.

The website tells us, as did the Guide, of the current family:

The present day de la Poer Beresfords are country people by tradition. Farming, hunting, breeding  horses and an active social calendar continues as it did centuries ago. Weekly game-shooting parties are held every season (Nov. through Feb.) and in spring, calves, foals and lambs can be seen in abundance on Curraghmore’s verdant fields. Polo is still played on the estate in summer. Throughout Ireland’s turbulent history, this family have never been ‘absentee landlords’ and they still provide diverse employment for a number of local people. Change comes slowly to Curraghmore – table linen, cutlery and dishes from the early nineteenth century are still in use.

the Hunt, Curraghmore House
The Hunt, January 11, 1902, courtesy of National Library of Ireland
Otter Hunt, Curraghmore
According to the National Library, this is an Otter Hunt! At Curraghmore, May 14, 1901

It is not all fun and games at the house, as in the pictures above!  The guide told us a bit about the lives of the servants. In the 1901 census, she told us, not one servant was Irish. This would be because the maidservants were brought by their mistresses, who mostly came from England. The house still doesn’t have central heating, and tradition has it that the fireplace in the front hall can only be lit by the Marquis, and until it is lit, no other fires can be lit. The maids had to work in the cold if he decided to have a lie-in!

THE GARDENS AND OUTBUILDINGS

Behind the houses and stables on one side, were more buildings, probably more accommodation for the workers, as well as more stables, riding areas and workplaces such as a forge. I guessed that one building had been a school but we later learned that the school for the workers’ children was in a different location, behind a the gate lodge by the entrance gate (nearly 2 km away, I think).

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the Forge – see the bellows in the corner of the room.

According to the website:

After Wyatt’s Georgian developments, work at Curraghmore in the  nineteenth century concentrated on the gardens and the Victorian refacing to the front of the house.

Formal parterre, tiered lawns, lake, arboretum and kitchen gardens  were all developed during this time and survive to today. At this time some of Ireland’s most remarkable surviving trees were planted in the estate’s arboretum. Today these trees frame miles of beautiful river walks  (A Sitka Spruce overlooking King John’s Bridge is one of the tallest trees in Ireland).

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The Lake was designed by James Wyatt

And here is a photograph of King John’s Bridge, a 13th-century bridge built in anticipation of a visit from King John (he never came):

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Built in 1205, this stone-arched structure, spanning the Clodagh River, is the oldest bridge in Ireland.
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And last but not least, Curraghmore is now the venue for the latest music festival, Alltogethernow. There’s a stag’s head made by a pair of Native American artists, of wooden boughs that were gathered on the estate. It was constructed for the festival last year but still stands, ready for this year (2019)! Some of my friends will be at the festival. The house will be railed off for the event.

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[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://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/22900816/curraghmore-house-curraghmore-co-waterford

[3] http://curraghmorehouse.ie/

[4] https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/07/03/now-available/

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

Turtle Bunbury on his website writes of the history of the family:

“On his death on 2nd August 1521, Sir Piers was succeeded as head of the family by his eldest son, Sir Richard Power, later 1st Baron le Poer and Coroghmore…. In 1526, five years after his father’s death, Sir Richard married Lady Katherine Butler, a daughter of Piers, 8th Earl of Ormonde, and aunt of ‘Black Tom’ Butler, Queen Elizabeth’s childhood sweetheart. The marriage occurred at a fortuitous time for Power family fortunes. English influence in Ireland had been in decline for several decades and the rival Houses of Butler and Fitzgerald effectively ran the country. The Powers of Curraghmore were intimately connected, by marriage, with both.”

[5] Mark Bence-Jones describes it in his book, 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.

[6] http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_family/hist_family_delapoer.html

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

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marquess_of_Waterford

[9] https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/11/23/to-a-de-gree/

[10] https://www.libraryireland.com/irishartists/peter-de-gree.php

[11] https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/obituary-the-irish-peer-who-outlived-curse-30998942.html

[12] from http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Waterford%20Landowners

[13] https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/oh-lord-next-generation-takes-the-keys-to-waterford-county-1.2191959