Powerscourt Townhouse, 59 South William Street, Dublin 2

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Contact: Mary Larkin

Tel: 01-6717000

www.powerscourtcentre.com

Open in 2020: All year except New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Christmas Day, St. Stephen’s Day & Bank Holidays, Mon-Sat, 10am-6pm, Thurs, 10am-8pm, Sundays, 12 noon-6pm

Fee: Free

 

This house was built for the 3rd Viscount Powerscourt, Richard Wingfield (1730-1788), in 1771, as his city residence. He already owned the Wicklow estate and grand house of Powerscourt in Enniskerry. I came across the Wingfield family first on my big house travels last year, when Stephen and I visited Salterbridge House in Cappoquin, County Waterford, which is owned by Philip and Susan Wingfield (Philip is the descendent of the 3rd Viscount Powerscourt, by seven generations! [1]).

Kevin O’Connor writes in his Irish Historic Houses that “The palazzo was originally laid out around an open square. This has now been fitted (and covered) in to provide a centre specialising as a grand emporium for crafts, antiques, shopping and restaurants.”

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I am writing this blog during the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020! I started to take pictures of Powerscourt townhouse last December, when it was in its full glory inside with Christmas decorations, knowing that it is listed in section 482. Today I will write about the history of this house and share my photographs, although I have not yet contacted Mary Larkin, who must manage the Townhouse Centre. Last week before the lockdown, when most of Ireland and the world were already self-isolating and most shops were closed, Stephen and I walked into town. It was a wonderful photographic opportunity as the streets were nearly empty.

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The French Connection entrance side is opposite the Westbury Mall.

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The grander side is opposite from Grogans, and next to the old Assembly House which is now the headquarters of the Irish Georgian Society. The walkway by Grogans leads down to the wonderful Victorian George’s Arcade buildings.

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South City Markets, by Lockwood & Mawson, 1878-81.

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Above, by the wall of our favourite pub, Grogans, is the picture of the James Malton engraving (1795) of the neo-Palladian Powerscourt Townhouse. This sign tells us that the house was begun in 1771 and completed in 1774 and cost £8000. It was designed by Robert Mack, who was an amateur architect and stonemason, for Richard Wingfield, 3rd Viscount Powerscourt.  The west front of the house. Malton tells us, is faced with native stone from the Wicklow estate, with ornament of the more expensive Portland stone, from England. Inside the mansion are elegant rooms, and in the Dining Room and Drawing room are slabs of the lava from Mount Vesuvius, mounted in gilt frames and placed as Pier tables between the windows. The staircase is mahogany, with richly carved balusters.

 

The house is historically and architecturally one of the most important pre-Union mansions of the Irish nobility. The Wingfields, Viscount Powerscourt and his wife Lady Amelia Stratford (daughter of John, Earl of Aldborough), would have stayed in their townhouse during the “Season,” when Parliament sat, which was in the nearby College Green in what is now a Bank of Ireland, and they would have attended the many balls and banquets held during the Season.

 

Richard was the younger son of the 1st Viscount Powerscourt, and he inherited the title after his older brother, Edward, died. He was educated in Trinity College, Dublin, and the Middle Temple in London. He served in the Irish House of Commons for Wicklow County from 1761-1764. In 1764 he became 3rd Viscount after the death of his brother, and assumed his seat in the Irish House of Lords.

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Archiseek tells us that it was Richard Cassells (or Castle) who designed the building. [2] Architectural historian Christine Casey describes it as  reminiscent of Richard Castle’s country-house practice, although she writes that it was designed by Robert Mack. The arch to the left of the house was a gateway leading to the kitchen and other offices and there is a similar gateway on the right, which led to the stables.

 

The house has four storey over basement frontage to South William Street, with “stunted and unequal niched quadrants” (see this in the photograph above, between the main block of the house, and the gateway) and pedimented rusticated arches. [3][4] According to Christine Casey, the nine bay façade is faced with granite and has an advanced and pedimented centrepiece crowned by a solid attic storey with enormous volutes like that of Palladio’s Villa Malcontenta [4]. This was the observatory. The ground floor has round-headed windows, while the piano nobile has alternating triangular and “segment-headed” pediments [“Piano nobile” is Italian for “noble floor” or “noble level”, also sometimes referred to by the corresponding French term, bel étage, and is the principal floor of a large house. This floor contains the principal reception and bedrooms of the house]. There is a Venetian window and tripartite window over the doorcase [Wikipedia defines the Venetian window: “the Venetian window consists of an arched central arched light symmetrically flanked by two shorter sidelights. Each sidelight is flanked by two columns or pilasters and topped by a small entablature”].

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When one walks up the balustraded granite steps leading to the front door, through the hall and past the mahogany staircase, one enters what was the courtyard of the house.

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The garden front is of seven bays rather than nine, and has a broader three-bay advanced centrepiece.

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Inside just past the entrance hall, we can still mount the staircase and see the wonderful plasterwork by stuccodores James McCullagh assisted by Michael Reynolds.

 

The decoration on the upper walls consists of panels decorated with arabesque work interspersed with urns, acanthus scrolls [4], palms and portrait medallions. I haven’t discovered who is pictured in the portraits! Neither Christine Casey nor the Irish Aesthete tell us in their descriptions.

 

The mahogany staircase rises in three flights to the first floor. The balusters are probably the most elaborately carved in Ireland, and the handrail ends in a large volute or “monkey’s tail” at the base of the stairs (see photograph below). The woodwork carving is by Ignatius McDonagh. I need to go back to take a better picture of the balustrade. We saw an even larger “monkey tail” volute end of a staircase in Barmeath, more like a dragon’s tail than a monkey, it was so large!

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see the “monkey tail” wooden volute at end of stairway

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Ionic pilasters frame two windows high up in the east wall – we can see one in the photograph above. The lower walls are “rusticated in timber to resemble stone,” Casey tells us. I didn’t notice this! I would have assumed that the brickwork was of stone, not of timber.

 

The Wingfield family descended from Robert, Lord Wingfield of Wingfield Castle in England, near Suffolk. The first member of the family who came from England was Sir Richard Wingfield, who came under the patronage of his uncle, Sir William Fitzwilliam, the Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1561 to 1588. In 1609 King James I granted Richard Wingfield, in reward for his services to the Crown, the lands of Powerscourt in County Wicklow. Richard was a military adventurer, and fought against the Irish, and advanced to the office of Marshal of Ireland. In May 1608 he marched into Ulster during “O’Doherty’s Rebellion” against Sir Cahir O’Doherty, and killed him and dispersed O’Doherty’s followers. For this, he was granted Powerscourt Estate, in 1609. [5]

 

In 1618 James I raised Richard to the Peerage as Viscount Powerscourt, Baron Wingfield. The family motto is “Fidelite est de Dieu,” faithfulness is from God.

 

Richard the 3rd Viscount Powerscourt succeeded to the title in 1764. He was not a direct descendant of the 1st Viscount Powerscourt. Richard the 1st Viscount had no children, so the peerage ended with the death of the 1st Viscount. The Powerscourt estate in Wicklow passed to his cousin, Sir Edward Wingfield, a distinguished soldier under the Earl of Essex (Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex), and a person of great influence in Ireland. [6] Essex came to Ireland to quell a rebellion that became the Nine Years’ War. Sir Edward Wingfield married Anne, the daughter of Edward, 3rd Baron Cromwell (descendent of Henry VIII’s Thomas Cromwell). [7]  It was this Edward Wingfield’s grandson Folliot (son of Richard Wingfield), who inherited the Powerscourt estates, for whom the Viscountcy was revived, the “second creation,” in 1665. [8]

 

However, once again the peerage expired as Folliot also had no offspring. Powerscourt Estate passed to his cousin, Edward Wingfield. Edward’s son Richard (1697-1751) of Powerscourt, MP for Boyle, was elevated to the peerage in 1743, by the titles of Baron Wingfield and Viscount Powerscourt (3rd Creation).

 

This Richard Wingfield was now the 1st Viscount (3rd creation). He married, first, Anne Usher, daughter of Christopher Usher of Usher’s Quay, but they had no children. He married secondly Dorothy, daughter of Hercules Rowley of Summerville, County Meath. Their son, Edward, became the 2nd Viscount. When he died in 1764, Richard, his brother, became 3rd Viscount. Seven years after inheriting the title, Richard 3rd Viscount began the building of Powerscourt Townhouse.

 

An information board inside the house quotes the “Article of Agreement” between Lord Powerscourt and the stonemason Robert Mack:

 

Two shillings for each foot of the moulded window stooles and cornice over the windows, two shillings and eight pence for the Balusters under the windows… three shillings and three pence for the great cornice over the upper storey. Three shillings for each foot of flagging in the Great Hall to be of Portland Stone, and black squares or dolles, one shilling and six pence for each yard of flagging in the kitchen and cellars of mountmellick or black flagges.”

 

This information board also tells us that the original setting of the house would have been a garden to the rear of the house, laid out in formal lawns with box hedging and gravel walks.

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The attic storey originally contained an observatory, from which one could see Dublin Bay. The ground floor contained the grand dining room, the parlour, and Lord Powerscourt’s private rooms. Ascending to the first floor up the magnificent staircase, one entered the rooms for entertaining: the ballroom and drawing room.

 

No expense was spared in furnishing the house. As well as the rococo plasterwork on the stairs there was neo-Classical work by stuccodore Michael Stapleton. According to the information board (pictured below), much of the more sober neo-Classical work was cast using moulds, no longer created freehand the way the rococo plasterwork was done. The neo-Classical work was called the Adams style and in Powerscourt Townhouse, was created between 1778-1780. Stapleton’s work could have been seen in the Dining Room, Ballroom, Drawing room and Dome Room.

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You can see the entrance hall to one side of my picture, through the door. I didn’t take a proper picture of the entrance hall as it is now occupied by a flower shop and is always busy!

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You can just about see the “trompe l’oeil” floor in the entrance hall in the photo above, made up of black Kilkenny marble, grey and white limestone.

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I didn’t visit the areas in which you can see the neo-Classical work – I shall have to go again once the Covid-19 lockdown is over! So please do check for an update to this entry in a few weeks (or months, depending on when this lockdown ends!). The ceiling in a room now occupied by The Town Bride, which was the original music room, and the ballroom, now occupied by the Powerscourt Gallery, contain Stapleton’s work.

 

The townhouse website tells us that Richard Wingfield was known as the “French Earl” because he made the Grand Tour in Europe and returned wearing the latest Parisian fashions. He died in 1788 and was laid out in state for two days in his townhouse, where the public were admitted to view him! His son Richard inherited the title and estates.

 

After the house was sold by the Powerscourt family the gardens were built over between 1807 and 1815, when the house became the home of the Government Stamp Office. After the Act of Union, when the Irish Parliament was abolished and Ireland was ruled by Parliament in England, many Dublin mansions were sold. In July 1897 Richard 4th Lord Powerscourt petitioned Parliament to be allowed to sell his house to the Commissioner of Stamp Duties. The house was described as black from “floating films of soot” produced by the city’s coal fires. I can remember when Trinity was blackened by soot also before smoky coal was banned from Dublin, and extensive cleaning took place.

 

Several alterations were made to make the house suitable for its new purpose. This work was carried out by Francis Johnston, architect of the Board of Works, who designed the General Post Office on O’Connell Street. He designed additional buildings to form the courtyard of brown brick in Powerscourt townhouse, which served as offices. This consisted of three ranges of three storeys with sash windows. He also designed the clock tower and bell on Clarendon Street.

 

In 1835, the Government sold the property to Messrs Ferrier Pollock wholesale drapers, who occupied it for more than one hundred years. It was used as a warehouse. I’m sure the workers in the warehouse enjoyed going up and down the grand staircase!

 

In 1981 the buildings were converted into a shopping centre, by architect James Toomey, for Power Securities. The courtyard was glazed over to make a roof.

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Despite the very helpful information boards, I find it impossible to imagine what the original house looked like. I took pictures walking around the outside of the shopping centre.

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There’s an art deco feel to the curved middle projection on the upper storey at the side.
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Perhaps the detailing to the sides – the inset pillars and medallions – of this side entrance to the shopping centre are by Francis Johnston (who trained under Thomas Cooley, creator of Rokeby Hall, also on Section 482).

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Powerscourt Townhouse was one of my haunts when I first moved to Dublin in 1986 (after leaving Dublin, where I was born, in 1969, at eight months old). I loved the antique stores with their small silver treasures and I bought an old pocket watch mounted on a strap and wore it as a watch for years. My sister, our friend Kerry and I would go to Hanky Pancakes at the back of the town centre, downstairs, for lemon and sugar coated thin pancakes, watching them cook on the large round griddle, being smoothed with a brush like that used to clean a windshield. For years, it was my favourite place in Dublin. Pictured below is the pianist, an old friend of Stephen’s, Maurice Culligan. My husband bought my engagement ring in one of the antique shops!

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Maurice Culligan playing piano in Powerscourt Townhouse
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my engagement ring, purchased in Powerscourt Townhouse

[1] I traced the genealogy of the owner of Salterbridge, Philip Wingfield. I traced him back to the owners of Powerscourt Townhouse. Richard 4th Viscount Powerscourt (1762-1809) has a son, Reverend Edward Wingfield (his third son) (b. 1792). He marries Louise Joan Jocelyn (by the way, he is not the only Wingfield who marries into the Jocelyn family, the Earls of Roden). They have a son, Captain Edward Ffolliott Wingfield (1823-1865). He marries Frances Emily Rice-Trevor, and they have a son, Edward Rhys Wingfield (1848-1901). He marries Edith Caroline Wood, and they have a son, Captain Cecil John Talbot Rhys Wingfiend. He marries Violet Nita, Lady Paulett, and they have a son, Major Edward William Rhys Wingfield. It is he who buys Salterbridge, along with his wife, Norah Jellicoe. They are the parents of Philip Wingfield.

[2] http://archiseek.com/2010/1774-powerscourt-house-south-william-street-dublin/

[3] Casey, Christine. The Buildings of Ireland: Dublin. The City within the Grand and Royal Canals and the Circular Road with the Phoenix Park. Founding editors: Nikolaus Pevsner and Alistair Rowan. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2005.

[4] architectural definitions

pediment: “Originally the low-pitched triangular gable of the roof of a Classical temple, and of the roof of a portico; used as an ornamental feature, generally in the centre of a facade, without any structural purpose.”

portico: “an open porch consisting of a pediment or entablature carried on columns.”

entablature: “a horizontal member, properly consisting of an architrave, frieze and cornice, supported on columns, or on a wall, with or without columns or pilasters.”

architrave: “strictly speaking, the lowest member of the Classical entablature; used loosely to denote the moulded frame of a door or window opening.”

frieze: “strictly speaking, the middle part of an entablature in Classical architecture; used also to denote a band of ornament running round a room immediately below the ceiling.”

cornice: “strictly speaking, the crowning or upper projecting part of the Classical entablature; used to denote any projecting moulding along the top of a building, and in the angle between the walls and the ceiling of a room.”

pilasters: “a flat pillar projecting from a wall, usually with a capital of one of the principal Orders of architecture.”

volute: “a scroll derived from the scroll in the Ionic capital.”

Ionic Order: “the second Order of Classical architecture.”

Acanthus – decoration based on the leaf of the acanthus plant, which forms part of the Corinthian capital

[5]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Wingfield,_1st_Viscount_Powerscourt_(first_creation)

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

I did further research in Burke’s Peerage to discover the exact relationship of these cousins.

https://ukga.org/cgi-bin/browse.cgi?action=ViewRec&DB=33&bookID=227&page=bp189401283

Lewis Wingfield of Southampton married a Ms. Noon. He had a son Richard who married Christiana Fitzwilliam, and a son George. Richard the 1st Viscount who moved to Ireland is the son of Richard and Christiana. Edward Wingfield, who inherited Powerscourt Estate from Richard 1st Viscount, was the grandson of George (son of Lewis of Southampton), son of Richard Wingfield of Robertstown, County Limerick, who married Honora O’Brien, daughter of Tadh O’Brien (second son of Muragh O’Brien, 1st Lord Inchiquin).

[7] There was much intermarrying between the Cromwells and the Wingfields at this time! 1st Viscount Richard Wingfield, of the first creation, married Frances Rugge (or Repps), daughter of William Rugge (or Repps) and Thomasine Townshend, who was the widow of Edward Cromwell, 3rd Baron Cromwell. Frances Rugge and Edward Cromwell had two daughters, Frances and Anne. Frances Cromwell married Sir John Wingfield of Tickencote, Rutland, and Anne Cromwell married Sir Edward Wingfield of Carnew, County Wicklow. Anne and Edward’s grandson Folliott became the 1st Viscount Powerscourt of the 2ndcreation.

[8] Wikipedia has a different genealogy from Lord Belmont’s blog. Folliott Wingfield, 1st Vt of 2nd creation (1642-1717), according to Wikipedia, is the son of Richard Wingfield and Elizabeth Folliott, rather than the son of Anne Cromwell and Edward Wingfield of Carnew, County Wicklow, as the Lord Belmont blog claims. Burke’s Peerage however, agrees that Folliott Wingfield, 1st Vt 2nd Creation is not the son of Edward Wingfield of Carnew.

According to Burke’s Peerage, Edward Wingfield of Carnew, who married Anne Cromwell, and who inherits Powerscourt Estate, dies in 1638. They have six sons:

I. Richard is his heir;

II. Francis

III. Lewis, of Scurmore, Co Sligo, who married Sidney, daughter of Paul Gore, 1st Bart of Manor Gore, and they have three sons: Edward*, Lewis and Thomas. This Edward inherits Powerscourt Estate.

IV. Anthony, of London

V.  Edward, of Newcastle, Co Wickow, d. 1706

Richard (d. 1644 or 1645), the heir, married Elizabeth Folliott, and is succeeded by his son Folliott Wingfield, who becomes 1st Vt, 2nd Creation. When he dies, the peerage ends again. However, his first cousin, Edward* inherits Powerscourt. Edward Wingfield Esq, of Powerscourt, Barrister-at-Law, marries first Eleanor Gore, daughter of Arthur Gore of Newtown Gore, County Mayo, and by her has a son, Richard. Richard inherited Powerscourt, became an MP and was elevated to the peerage in 1743, and became (1st) Viscount Powerscourt of the 3rd creation.

 

Slane Castle, County Meath

Contact: Pamela Ryan. Tel: 041-9884477

Open in 2020: Jan 4-5, 11-12, 18-19, 25-26, Feb 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 22-23, 29, Mar 1, 7-8, 14-15, 21-22, 28-29, 12.15pm-4pm, April 1-30, May 1-31, June 1-30, July 1-31, Aug 1-31, Sept 1-30, Oct 1-31, 11.15am-5.15pm, Nov 1, 7-8, 14-15, 21-22, 28-29, Dec 5-6, 12-13, 19-20, 26-27, 12.15pm-4pm

Fee: adult €12, €14 from Feb, OAP/student €10.80, €11from Feb, child €7.20

Today (Saturday 27th April 2019) we made our first official blog trip, my husband Stephen and I.  We started in the “ancient east,” going to Slane Castle. The land around the Boyne River is beautiful, rolling and fertile. It took almost exactly one hour to drive from our home in Dublin, taking the M1 which I find easier than the M2 through the city’s north side, with which I’m less familiar. Our timing was perfect, we arrived at 2:10pm, in time for the 2:15 tour – there are tours every hour on the quarter hour. [1]

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The view of Slane Castle from just inside the gate, driving in
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coming closer to the Castle
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the view over the beautiful River Boyne

The castle is three storeys over basement, in the Gothic Revival style. There is a bow on the back side of the castle, facing the river, and the basement serves as the ground floor on this side due to the steep slope down to the River Boyne. The bow forms a round tower, but you cannot see it as you approach the castle as the river is behind.

The Building of Slane Castle

Our tour guide was a young very pleasant man named Matthew, who seemed very knowledgeable about the castle and its history and the history of the Conyngham family, who have owned the castle since it was built in 1785 for the second Lord Conyngham, to the design of James Wyatt (1746 – 1813). Wyatt also designed another house on the section 482 list this year, Curraghmore in County Waterford, and a house not on the list, unfortunately, as I would love to see inside, Abbeyleix House (incidentally, my father grew up in Abbeyleix and we used to enjoy the gardens which used to be open and which were reknowned for the bluebells. Also, coincidentally, according to wikipedia, Wyatt spent six years in Italy, 1762–68, in company with Richard Bagot of Staffordshire, who was Secretary to the Earl of Northampton’s embassy to the Venetian Republic. My family is rumoured to be descended from the Staffordshire Bagots, although I have not found the connection!). Our guide told us that the castle was reconstructed and enlarged by William Burton Conyngham. It was built on the foundations of a medieval castle of the Fleming family, replacing an earlier house. William Burton Conyngham was a classicist and the front hall features Greek columns and key patterns on the walls and many marble Greek sculptures, including a sculpture of King George IV of England, donated by the king himself. William Burton Conyngham argued with his architects, Matthew told us, so ended up having three architects for his castle: James Gandon, James Wyatt and Francis Johnston. According to Mark Bence-Jones in A Guide to Irish Country Houses, Francis Johnston completed the house for the the second Lord Conygham’s son, although our guide told us the 2nd Lord Conyngham never married and the castle was inherited by his nephew. It was this nephew, who later became the 1st Marquess Conyngham, who completed the building. Other architects were consulted at various times, including James Gandon, who most famously designed the Custom House and the Four Courts in Dublin, and Emo Court in County Laois. Francis Johnston designed the General Post Office in Dublin, and Townley Hall, a grand house in County Louth. Another architect consulted was a favourite of King George IV, the English Thomas Hopper.

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Stephen in front of the Castle
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the intertwined “C” is the symbol of the Conyngham family

 

The Flemings of Slane

The Conynghams bought the land in Slane after it was confiscated from the Flemings. In 1175, Richard Le Fleming built a castle at the western end of Slane hill and, three generations later, Simon Fleming was created Baron of Slane. [2] The Flemings had their land confiscated as Christopher, 17th Baron Slane (1669-1726), backed James II in his battles against William of Orange. He served in the Irish Parliament of King James II in 1689, and as colonel in James’s army in Ireland 1689-91, fighting in both the Battle of the Boyne and in Aughrim, where he was taken prisoner by William’s forces. Released, he emigrated and fought in the French and Portuguese armies, as did many of James II’s followers who were attainted and lost their estates, as they needed to be able to earn a living. He was later reconciled with Queen Anne of England (daughter of James II) and returned to Ireland, to live in Anticur, County Antrim.

Before moving to Slane, the Conynghams came from Donegal, and before that, they came from Scotland. They did not acquire Slane directly after it was confiscated from the Flemings – Terry Trench of the Slane History and Archaeology Society writes that the estate changed hands, at least on paper, seven times between 1641 and 1703. The estate had been taken from the Flemings before Christopher’s time, in 1641, when William Fleming, the 14th Baron, joined the Catholic Irish forces in rebellion against the British. He remained loyal to the king, but objected to the laws that the British parliament passed to make the Irish parliament subservient to the British parliament. The estate was restored to William’s son Randall under the Act of Settlement and Distribution of Charles II’s reign, by decree dated 27th March 1663. [3] Many estates that had been confiscated by Cromwell’s parliament were restored when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660.

The Conynghams of Slane

The Conyngham motto, Over Fork Over, recounts the way Duncan hid from Macbeth (familiar to us from Shakespeare). Matthew told us that Duncan hid in straw in a barn, having it forked over him. After that, he managed to defeat Macbeth and to become king. So the Conynghams are descendants of a Scottish king!

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the Conyngham coat of arms, with its motto, Over Fork Over

Alexander Conyngham moved from Scotland to Ireland when he was appointed in 1611 to be the first Protestant minister to Enver and Killymardin the diocese of Raphoe, County Donegal. He was appointed dean of Raphoe in 1631. He settled at Mount Charles, an estate he leased from John Murray, earl of Annandale, the owner of ‘a vast estate’ in Scotland. Conyngham subsequently acquired the Mount Charles property through his marriage to the earl’s grand-neice, Marian, daughter of John Murray of Broughton, in Scotland (see [3]). Alexander’s grandson Henry purchased the land in Slane in 1703. Brigadier Henry Conyngham’s father Albert had fought with William III’s troops in the Battle of the Boyne, against Fleming and James II’s troops. Albert married Mary, daughter of the Right Reverend Robert Leslie, Bishop of Raphoe – this Bishop is the ancestor of the Leslie family of Castle Leslie in County Monaghan, another property on the Section 482 list that I will be visiting. Albert was killed by Irish Royalist rebels, and succeeded by his only surviving son, Henry. Henry Conyngham built himself a residence, Conyngham Hall, on the foundations of an older castle formerly belonging to the Flemings.

Henry fought first in James II’s army, but then persuaded his regiment to transfer their loyalty to William III. Henry’s son William inherited the Slane estate. William became an Member of the Irish Parliament and was raised to the peerage in 1753 to the title of Baron Conyngham of Mount Charles, and later became Viscount and eventually, Earl. He died without a son so the Barony passed to his nephew, Francis Pierpoint Burton (his sister Mary had married Francis Burton). On inheriting the title and estate, Francis took the name Conyngham [4]. He married Elizabeth, the daughter of amateur architect Nathaniel Clements, whose work we will see later in other houses on the section 482 list of heritage properties. For himself, Nathaniel Clements built what is now the Áras an Uachtaráin, the residence of our President, Michael D. Higgins, in Phoenix Park in Dublin.  It was Francis Conyngham who continued the building of Slane Castle which his uncle William had begun.

The castle and estate passed to Francis’s son Henry. Henry served as politician and moved quickly up the ranks of the peerage and was Lord Steward of the Royal household  between 1821-30.

In 1821 King George IV spent time in the Castle with his lover, the wife of Conyngham, Elizabeth Denison. In return the king made Conyngham a Marquess [5]. One of the rooms of the castle, the Smoking Room, has two cartoons from the period mocking the King and his consort Elizabeth, drawing them as overweight. In one, she aids her son when he has to move from the Castle of Windsor where he was Royal Chamberlain. It was he who announced to Victoria that she was Queen, upon death of the previous monarch. He was let go from his position when he tried to move his lover into his rooms in Windsor. His mother came to fetch him, with several wheelbarrows, the story goes, and she took all the furniture from his rooms. Somehow she brought a grand piano back from Windsor to Slane Castle where it sat in a specially made arbor for music in the Smoking room, until it was destroyed by a fire in Slane Castle in the 1990’s. One of the Punch style cartoons is of Elizabeth with a wheelbarrow fetching her son from Windsor. I can’t quite remember the other – it had King George IV and herself in a carriage. The Irish were very annoyed that when he came to Ireland he spent his entire time at Slane Castle!

The Irish Aesthete writes of the visit:

“Neither the king nor his inamorata were in the first flush of youth, and both were equally corpulent. These circumstances however did nothing to dampen their ardour. As was written of them at the time, ‘Tis pleasant at seasons to see how they sit/ First cracking their nuts, and then cracking their wit/ Then quaffing their claret – then mingling their lips/ Or tickling the fat about each other’s hips.’ And according to one contemporary observer, Lady Conyngham ‘lived exclusively with him during the whole time he was in Ireland at the Phoenix Park. When he went to Slane, she received him dressed out as for a drawing-room; he saluted her, and they then retired alone to her apartments.’” [6]

Our tour started with a video of Charles Conyngham, now known as Lord Mount Charles, telling of his childhood in the Castle, growing up in a very old-world upper class manner.  He did not join his parents at the dining table until he was twelve years old, dining until then in the Nursery. His nurse, Margaret Browne, came to the Castle at 16 years old, and he held her in such regard that he named his bar after her. We had lunch in the bar after the tour. The food was delicious! Stephen had bread with buttery mushrooms and creme fraiche, and I had Thia carrot lentil soup. With good strong Americanos our meal came to €24 with tip, the same price for entry for two adults to the Castle Tour.

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the menu in Browne’s Bar, which gives an explanation of the name, telling of the housekeeper
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the music theme of Browne’s Bar is reflected in the gramophone horn lampshade
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me in Browne’s Bar
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entrance to the bar and Gandon Restaurant
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outer entrance to the bar and Gandon Restaurant

But, back to our tour! Lord Mount Charles described how he started out, when he had to take over the Castle, with a restaurant, which is now the Gandon Restaurant. To further fund the Castle maintenance, Lord Mount Charles started concerts at the venue, beginning with Thin Lizzy in 1981. To seal the deal, the next show was the Rolling Stones! With such august imprimateur, the Castle’s concerts became world-famous and featured many top performers including David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Queen.

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album covers of musical performers at the Castle, in the bar: Van Morrison, Santana, Bruce Springstein, Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, Chris Rea, Bob Dylan, U2 and Bon Jovi
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lovely picture of Phil Lynnott of Thin Lizzy carrying a child at Slane
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memorabilia from music events: I think the guitar was signed by Phil Lynott (it was signed, anyway)

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However, there was a disasterous fire in the castle and roof and one third of the castle was destroyed.The magnificent library with its intricate ceiling and impressive wooden chandelier was saved by two firemen fighting the fire from within the room, battling for nine hours. The smoke was so thick that one couldn’t see the ceiling. I think they deserve a plaque in the room to recognise their effort! Meanwhile the family saved as many priceless historic paintings and antiques as they could, including a huge portrait of King George IV that is now hanging again in the library, by cutting it from its giant gilt frame then taking the frame apart into four pieces in order to get it out through the doors. Lord Mount Charles now suffers with his lungs, probably partially as a result of long exposure to the flames and smoke. It took ten years to reconstruct the castle, but it has been done excellently so traces of the fire barely remain.

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newspaper clippings about the fire, in the entry to pub and restaurant

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a bit of history, on the walls going to the dining area

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We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, as usual with these properties. There is a picture of the ornate roof in the library on the wonderful blog of the Irish Aesthete [7].

Mark Bence-Jones describes the room in his 1988 book (published before the fire, but this room remained intact!), A Guide to Irish Country Houses:

“…the great circular ballroom or library which rises through two storeys of the round tower and is undoubtedly the finest Gothic Revival room in Ireland; with a ceiling of Gothic plasterwork so delicate and elaborate that it looks like filigree. Yet this, too, is basically a Classical room; the Gothic ceiling is, in fact, a dome; the deep apses on either side of the fireplace are such as one finds in many of Wyatt’s Classical interiors, except that the arches leading into them are pointed; they are decorated with plasterwork that can be recognised as a very slightly Gothicized version of the familiar Adam and Wyatt fan pattern.”

Of the tales on the tour, I especially enjoyed the story of the funeral of a soldier’s leg. Apparently it was quite the custom to have funerals for body parts – his leg had to be amputated on the field of battle and the soldier brought it back to be buried with a full-scale military funeral. It must have been to do with the fact that a person’s body is to be resurrected on the Last Day, so it’s good to know where all the parts are! Cremation used to be forbidden in the Catholic church, as somehow it would be too difficult for God to put the ashes back together – never mind a disintegrated body!

There is an adjoining distillery in what used to be the stables, and a tour of that can be purchased in combination if desired. Lord Charles’s mother bred horses before the stables were converted. The stables were designed by Capability Brown.

According to the Irish Aesthete:

“Henry Conyngham, grandson of General Henry Conyngham who purchased the property, around 1770 invited Capability Brown around 1770 to produce a design both for the landscaping of the parkland at Slane, and also for a new stable block. In the collection of the Irish Architectural Archive in Dublin a drawing survives of Brown’s proposal for the latter. It is not unlike the finished building, but more elaborate than what we see today.” [8]

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the stables, designed by Capability Brown, now a whiskey distillery
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I noticed this on the wall on the lower level outside the Castle – I don’t know its origin or age

I found a blog by the Irish Aesthete on a portrait now in Slane, of Lady Elizabeth wife of the first Marqess’s daughter, Lady Maria Conyngham. Reportedly Lady Elizabeth looked very like her daughter – which one would not guess from the unflattering cartoons of her! [9]

 

[1] https://www.slanecastle.ie/tours/castle-tours/

[2] https://www.culturenorthernireland.org/article/1323/the-flemings-barons-of-slane

[3] http://slanehistoryandarchaeologysociety.com/index.php/famous-people/13-the-flemings-and-the-conynghams

[4] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Meath%20Landowners?updated-max=2018-06-15T13:05:00%2B01:00&max-results=20&start=7&by-date=false

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Conyngham,_Marchioness_Conyngham

“She probably became his [George IV’s] lover in 1819, when he was Prince Regent, but finally supplanted her predecessor, Isabella Seymour-Conway, Marchioness of Hertford, after he became king in 1820. He became besotted with her, constantly “kissing her hand with a look of most devoted submission.” While his wife Caroline of Brunswick was on trial in 1820 as part of efforts to divorce her, the king could not be seen with Lady Conyngham and was consequently “bored and lonely.” During his coronation, George was constantly seen “nodding and winking” at her.
“Lady Conyngham’s liaison with the king benefited her family. Her husband was raised to the rank of a marquess in the Peerage of the United Kingdom and sworn to the Privy Council, in the coronation honours of 1821. He was also given several other offices, including Lord Steward of the Household and the lieutenancy of Windsor Castle. Her second son was made Master of the Robes and First Groom of the Chamber.”

[6] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/10/12/when-royalty-comes-to-call/

[7] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/10/24/vaulting-ambition/

[8] https://theirishaesthete.com/2014/10/27/after-the-horses-have-bolted/

[9] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/03/21/ireland-crossroads-of-art-and-design-vi/

Irish Historic Homes