Sat May 25th 2019, Loughton, Moneygall, Birr, Co Offaly
Opening dates in 2021: May 11-16, 18-23, 25-30, June 1-6, 8-13, 15-20, 22-27, 29-30, Aug 1, 3-8, 10- 22, 11am-3.30pm.
contact: Michael Lyons 089 431 9150
Fee: adult €5, OAP/student €4, child €3 (under 12 free), family (2 adults & 2 children over 12) € 15.
We drove up a long tree-lined avenue to Loughton House. Stephen rang from the car on our way and spoke to Michael Lyons, who was out chopping wood, so told us that Andrew would be at the house to meet us.
Loughton House was built on the site of a previous house, in 1777. When we arrived, we wondered why there were two front doors. I think Andrew Vance, who greeted us, explained, but we were so busy introducing ourselves and immediately got along so well, that I forget what he told me about the two doors. That’s a question for next time!
According to the website, alterations were made to the house in 1835 by James and George Pain. I don’t know who the architect of the 1777 house is, but originally the house faced north, with a shallow full-height half hexagon bow in the centre.
Mark Bence-Jones describes the house in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses:
“Of elegant and restrained late-Georgian character, the main front consisting of two wide and shallow three sided bows of three bays each, with a two bay centre between them. Single storey wing of two bays, adorned with pilasters. Pediments and entablatures on console brackets over ground floor and first floor windows. Parapeted roof. Very handsome Georgian stables.” 
The 1777 house was built for Major Thomas Pepper. Thomas, born around 1735, of Ballygarth, Julianstown, Co Meath, son of Lambert Pepper and Jane Otway, was Major in the 14th Light Dragoons. The Peppers acquired Ballygarth Castle (now a ruin) and lands in County Meath after the Restoration of Charles II to the British throne in 1660, for their loyalty to the Stuart monarchy.  Thomas Pepper married Mary Ryder, daughter of John Ryder, the Archbishop of Tuam, County Roscommon. The 14th Light Dragoons was originally called James Dormer’s Dragoons, and were raised in the south of England in 1715 in response to the Jacobite Rebellion. They were sent to Ireland in 1717. In 1747 they were renamed the 14th Regiment of Dragoons, and became the Light Dragoons in 1776 . Loughton House passed to their son Thomas Ryder Pepper (1760-1828), who in 1792 married Anne Bloomfield, daughter of John Benjamin Bloomfield and Charlotte Anne Waller, of Newport, County Tipperary. The Bloomfield family had originally settled at Eyrecourt, County Galway.
When Thomas Ryder Pepper died, the house passed to his brother-in-law, Benjamin Bloomfield, 1st Baron Bloomfield (1815) of Oakhampton and Redwood (1768-1846). Redwood House in County Tipperary no longer exists. Oakhampton, also in Tipperary, still stands. He was Lieutenant General in the British Army and fought the rebels in 1798 at Vinegar Hill, County Wexford. He rose in the ranks to become Keeper of the Privy Purse for King George IV. This was a particularly difficult job – we came across King George IV before at several houses listed in the Revenue Section 482 Property list. The king enjoyed a romance with Elizabeth Conyngham of Slane Castle, and relished the good life: food, drink and beauty in the form not only of women but in architecture, with the help of John Nash. He was therefore rather a Big Spender. Naturally, therefore, he came to resent Benjamin Bloomfield and his efforts to tighten the purse strings.
We have already seen that several houses underwent alterations in expectation of a visit from King George IV in 1821. In Charleville, County Wicklow, a new floor was installed at great expense. Here in Loughton, a bedroom was done up for the King. Unfortunately, the King never made it to Loughton.
It was later that Bloomfield hired James and George Richard Pain to renovate Loughton House, in 1835.
James and George were sons of James Pain, an English builder and surveyor. Their Grandfather William Pain was the author of a series of builder’s pattern books, so they had architecture in the blood. According to the Dictionary of Irish Architects, James and his younger brother George Richard were both pupils of John Nash, one of the foremost British architects of his day responsible for the design of many important areas of London including Marble Arch, Regent Street and Buckingham Palace. He was architect to the prolific lover of architecture the Prince Regent, later King George IV. When Nash designed Lough Cutra Castle in County Galway for Charles Vereker in 1811, he recommended that the two brothers should be placed in charge of the work, so it was at this time that they came to Ireland. Lough Cutra is an amazing looking castle privately owned which is available for self-catering rental.  James Pain settled in Limerick and George in Cork, but they worked together on a large number of buildings – churches (both Catholic and Protestant), country houses, court houses, gaols and bridges – almost all of them in the south and west of Ireland.  In 1823 James Pain was appointed architect to the Board of First Fruits for Munster, responsible for all the churches and glebe houses in the province.
The Pains Gothicized and castellated Dromoland Castle in County Clare at some time from 1819-1838, now a luxury hotel.  They took their Gothicizing skills then to Mitchelstown Castle in 1823-25, but that is now a ruin. In 1825 they also worked on Convamore (Ballyhooly) Castle but that too is now a ruin. They also probably worked on Quinville in County Clare and also Curragh Chase in County Limerick (now derelict after a fire in 1941), Blackrock Castle in County Cork (now a science centre, museum and observatory which you can visit ), they did some work for Adare Manor in County Limerick (also now a luxury hotel), Clarina Park in Limerick (also, unfortunately, demolished, but you can get a taste of what it must have been like from its gate lodge), Fort William in County Waterford, probably they designed the Gothicization and castellation of Ash Hill Towers in County Limerick (also a section 482 property!), alterations and castellation of Knoppogue Castle, County Clare (you can also visit and stay, or attend a medieval style banquet), Aughrane Castle mansion in County Galway (demolished – Bagots used to own it, I don’t know if we are related!), a castellated tower on Glenwilliam Castle, County Limerick and more.
The Pain brothers reoriented Loughton House to face south, and the main doorcase was put to the east end, the Loughton House website tells us. In his Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster. Counties of Kildare, Laois and Offaly, Andrew Tierney tells us that this oblique approach of typical of James Pain. 
The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage claims that Loughton House is probably the Pain’s finest Classical work . The exterior is relatively plain, with limestone window dressings with keystones. The north facing side is the original house, whereas the south facing side, of eight bays instead of the seven in the north side, is by the Pain brothers. The windows on this side have moulded cement detailing: architrave, cornice and consoles, and pediments. We saw more of the Pains’ work inside, in the Drawing and Dining Rooms which date from their renovation, and the wonderful curved stone cantilevered staircase.
The current owners, who acquired the house in 2016, are both medical doctors, as was the previous owner, Dr. James Reilly, who was also a former Minister for Health in the Irish government. When we visited, the house exuded a comfortable quirky chic, with marble busts on pillars in the front hall and a touch of whimsy, with a stag’s head draped in a fur at the bottom of the sweeping cantilevered staircase.
The Loughton House website tells us:
“The house has very fine detailing – traces of the late eighteenth-century decoration can be seen in the house as well as early nineteenth-century changes in internal layout.
“The ground floor is laid out with bright and generously proportioned formal reception rooms with magnificent decorative cornicing and ceilings, ornate plaster work and large original period fireplaces. The original wood floors remain throughout and the grand sash bay windows permit torrents of light into the house. Most notable are the wood-carved shutters and door panels in the original Billiard room.” 
Loughton passed to Bloomfield’s son, John Arthur Douglas Bloomfield (1802-1879). He succeeded as 2nd Baron Bloomfield on his father’s death. He was a diplomat and travelled widely, was envoy to St. Petersburg and Ambassador to Austria. He was appointed Privy Counsellor on 17 December 1860. He was created 1st Baron Bloomfield of Ciamhaltha, Co. Tipperary on 7 August 1871. In 1834 his father had a hunting lodge built, Ciamhaltha House, County Tipperary, so the new title referred to this house . He and his wife Georgiana Liddell had no son and the titles ended with his death. Georgina served as a Maid of Honour to Queen Victoria between 1841-45. Upon Georgiana’s marriage to Baron Bloomfield in 1845, when Georgiana left her position in the house of the Queen, Victoria gave her a cutting from a vine, which still grows at Loughton House today. Georgiana wrote the book Reminiscences of Court and Diplomatic Life, published 1883. It sounds fascinating!
The house passed to the Baron’s sister, Georgina, and her husband, Henry Trench, of Cangort Park, County Offaly (still standing, privately owned). The Landed Estates website tells us that in the 1870s, Henry Trench owned 4,707 acres in county Tipperary, 2,113 acres in county Offaly, 1,926 acres in county Limerick, 1,581 acres in county Galway, 704 acres in county Clare and 432 acres in county Roscommon. 
When James Reilly sold Loughton House, he unfortunately sold its contents, including an archive of family papers. Michael Parsons of The Irish Times wrote of the auction:
“Lot 2066, The Loughton Papers circa 1749-1960 – an archive of documents including correspondence, diaries, journals, sketch books and recipe books created by the various families who had lived at Loughton House – sold for €12,000 (above the estimate of €5,000-€8,000).“
“Sheppard’s said the buyer was Galway businessman Pat McDonagh, founder and managing director of the Supermac’s fast-food chain and owner of the Barack Obama Plaza – a services area on the M8 motorway just outside the village of Moneygall built following the visit of the US president.”
Fortunately, the article continues to reassure the readers that the documents will be properly preserved and accessible:
“In a statement issued via the auction house, Mr McDonagh described the archive “part of a tapestry of history” and that his “first priority” was its “preservation for historians, the community and the country”.
“The statement said: “Mr McDonagh commended Offaly County Council for their interest in working with Supermac’s for the preservation of the papers” which will be digitised, and that “historians owe a debt of gratitude to the owners of Loughton House, Dr James Reilly and his wife Dorothy”.
“Mr McDonagh “confirmed also that the visitor centre at the Barack Obama Plaza will host a Loughton House section, where extracts from the archive will be displayed on a rolling basis.” He said the plaza would work to ensure that the heritage of the house was not lost to the community, adding that he would encourage local and expert input to ensuring that the archive would be educational, appropriate and accessible.” 
The wood carved panels shutters and door panels in the billiards room, now a dining room, were decorated by one of the Trenches, Dora. The form of decoration, with details rendered by a hot poker, is exquisitely done. The portrait of the artist, Dora, hangs next to the doors. Dora was Henry Trench’s son Benjamin Bloomfield Trench’s wife, Dora Agnes Caroline Turnor. Dora Trench died in 1899, after a brief illness. Benjamin and Dora had two daughters, Sheelagh Georgiana Bertha and Theodora Caroline. 
Dora illustrated the doors with crests and intricate patterns, and all of the doors from the room are decorated, along with the shutters. I was delighted when Stephen asked if I could take a photograph of the door – I didn’t like to ask, knowing that most section 482 houses forbid indoor photography. Andrew’s assent typified his warm welcome. You can see photographs of the room, called Dora’s Room, on the Loughton website, along with photographs of the other reception rooms, the Library, Dining and Drawing Rooms. “Dora’s Room” contains a long table and chairs, and an intricately carved fireplace.
The fireplace in Dora’s Room can be seen on the Loughton website. It is, Andrew Tierney tells us in his Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster, Tudor Revival, of 1862. The male caryatid figure on the right is the original, Andrew thinks, whereas the figure on the left is a copy. It’s strange how such fireplaces are carved in wood and manage to survive the fire they contain. Andrew said it throws out great heat. It has a second flue behind, from which the fire can draw its oxygen, rather than drawing from the warmed air inside the room.
The Loughton website tells us that the Trenches remained in residence until 1973 when the property was passed to the Atkinson family.
Major Anthony Guy Atkinson (b. 1909) inherited Loughton in 1970 from his cousins Thora and Sheelah Trench (Dora’s daughters). Henry Trench, Georgina Bloomfield’s husband, had a sister, Anne Margaret Trench. She married Guy Caddell Atkinson. They inherited Cangort Park in County Tipperary and Major Anthony Guy Atkinson was a descendant of Anne Margaret Trench.  He made Loughton over to his son, Guy Nevill Atkinson (b. 1950), who sold it in 2001.
From Dora’s Room we came upon the hallway with the sweeping floating stone cantilever staircase. This was originally the entrance hall, before James Pain added the staircase and moved the entrance to the east end.
Andrew drew our attention to an old tall clock with barometer. It was from Lissadell House, and, appropriately, was made by a man named Yates – not the poet Yeats who frequented the house, note the different spelling, but in a nice touch, the picture hanging beside it was of the poet. Incidentally, one of the Trench family, a sister of Benjamin Bloomfield Trench who inherited Loughton, Louisa Charlotte, married Colonel James Gore-Booth, of the Lissadell family. The owners have taken their time to populate the house appropriately, with respect for its history and a dash of humour.
I was most enamoured with the next room, the library, with its floor to ceiling built in bookshelves. It retains original wallpaper, worn but still in situ.
“This is where we sit in the evenings, with a glass of wine,” Andrew told us. I could just see myself there too, in the well-worn couches, facing the fireplace. You can also see this room on the website, with its comfy leather armchairs. The Equine pictures are appropriate as Andrew is Master of the local Hunt!
In the Drawing Room, a formal room with sofas, carpets and lovely salmon pink walls, gorgeous cabinets, piano and ornate gilt overmantel mirror, Andrew pointed out another treasure: the fire insurance plaque from a building. The various insurance companies had their own firetrucks and teams, and they only put out fires of the buildings insured by them. Unfortunate neighbours burned down. I was excited to see the plaque as I had seen one on the Patriot Inn in Kilmainham, one of the few remaining, and learned about them in a lecture in Warrenmount in Dublin.
We then entered the second dining room (if we consider Dora’s Room, the former Billiards room, to be a dining room also, as it is currently furnished), a larger room than the first. This dining room also has a clever fireplace, this one of steel, with secret cabinets at the sides to keep the plates and dishes hot. It also had vents, and further vents built into the walls of the room, to control temperature and air flow.
A painting above the door is by Sarah, Lady Langham, an artist, who has also applied her creative skills to the house, and who manages the day-to-day operation of the house. She has made curtains and even the wallpaper of The King’s Bedroom. On our way to the back staircase we ran into Sarah herself, as I was photographing the chain that was used to pull the coal to the upper floors.
The final rooms we viewed are Sarah’s piece de resistance, “the King’s Suite,” which comprises two rooms – the room where George IV was meant to sleep, and a room next to it also furnished with a bed, which might have been his dressing room or a parlour.
Sarah created the wallpaper. It features a crest of a unicorn and a lion around the top – and a stag that is pictured in the recurring motifs below. She also made the magnificant curtains and pelmet.
The fireplace is interesting. It is made of limestone, which contains fossils of tubular sea creatures:
This, along with other rooms, is available for guest accommodation.
There is a stable complex to one side of the house. Andrew brought us out to show us the function room, which was originally a coal shed. It’s huge, and would be wonderful for parties, and is available for hire. The garden outside it, which would also be available for the functions, is romantic and beautiful, with a pond and stone walls.
Then we sat at a table outside and Andrew brought us coffees – such a lovely touch!
Michael joined us briefly and shared with us a photograph he had found in the national archives in England, of a group gathered at what is now the back of the house.
Andrew then urged us to wander in the gardens. We walked over to what looks like a Norman keep. It is Ballinlough Castle (not to be confused with Ballinlough Castle of County Westmeath), which dates back to the early seventeeth century, and belonged to the O’Carroll family. I climbed nearly all the way to the top (at my own peril!)!
We then found our way to the walled garden. Michael told us he hopes to restore the glasshouse.
I’d love such a large growing space, with space for fruit trees and sheltering walls. I have had my own allotment for seven years!
I’d love to stay in the cottage, which is also available to rent.
 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.
 p. 472. Tierney, Andrew. Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster. The Counties of Kildare, Laois and Offaly. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2019.
Redwood was inherited by Henry Trench’s son William Thomas Trench (1843-1911).