Slane Castle, County Meath

contact: Jemma Smith
Tel: 041-9884477
Open in 2022: Jan 16, 23, 30Feb 6, 13, 20, 27, Mar 5-6, 12-13, 19-20, 26-27, April 2-3, 9- 10, 16-18, 23-24, 30, May 1-2, 6-8, 13-15, 20-23, June 3, 6, 10, 17, 24, July 1, 7-8, 14-15, 22, 28, 31, Aug 1, 4-5, 11-21, 25-26, 28, Sept 4,18, 25, Jan- Apr, and June 10am-4pm, May, Fri-Sat, 10am-4pm, Sunday, 12 noon 4pm, July, Thurs-Sat, 10am- 4pm, Sunday, 12 noon-4pm, Aug, Mon-Sat, 10am-4pm, Sunday, 12 noon-4pm, Sept, Sunday, 12 noon-4pm

Fee: adult €14, OAP/student €12.50, child €7.50, concession family ticket (2 adults and 2 children €39, additional adults €1, additional children €6

Today (Saturday 27th April 2019) my husband Stephen and I made our first official blog trip.  We started in the “ancient east,” going to Slane Castle in County Meath. 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]

The view of Slane Castle from just inside the gate, driving in.
coming closer to the Castle.

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.

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 1703. The Conynghams of Slane Castle are descendants of the Conynghams of Mountcharles, County Donegal. The Conynghams lived in Donegal possibly as early as 1660, when Albert Conyngham purchased land there. [2] The first Conyngham to move to Ireland was Alexander (1610-1660), from Scotland, who joined the clergy and was appointed in 1611 to be the first Protestant minister of Enver and Killymard, County Donegal. [3] He was appointed to the Deanery of Raphoe in Donegal in 1630. His son Albert lived at Mountcharles. It was Albert’s son Henry (1664-1705), a military man who also served as MP for County Donegal, who moved to Slane Castle. 

The view over the beautiful River Boyne.

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. [4]

The Conynghams 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 was taken from the Flemings in 1641, when William Fleming, the 14th Baron Slane, 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. [5] Many estates that had been confiscated by Cromwell’s parliament were restored when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660.

The Flemings had their land confiscated again 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. In 1703, Henry Conyngham purchased the estate of Slane.

Stephen in front of the Castle.

The Building of Slane Castle

In 1785 the castle was remodelled 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 (1733-1796). 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, nephew of William Burton Conyngham, Henry (1766-1832), who later became the 1st Marquess Conyngham. 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.

The intertwined “C” is the symbol of the Conyngham family.

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!

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 Conyngham (d. 1705) fought first in James II’s army, but then persuaded his regiment to transfer their loyalty to William III. Henry’s son Henry (1705-1781) inherited the Slane estate. Henry 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 [see 3]. 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.  

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 [6]. 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.’” [7]

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.

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

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.
Lovely picture of Phil Lynnott of Thin Lizzy carrying a child at Slane.
Memorabilia from music events: I think the guitar was signed by Phil Lynott (it was signed, anyway).

However, there was a disasterous fire in the castle in 1991 and the 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.

Newspaper clippings about the fire, in the entry to pub and restaurant.
A bit of history, on the walls going to the dining area.

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 [8].

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.

The stables, designed by Capability Brown, now a whiskey distillery.

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.” [9]

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! [10]







“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.”





Irish Historic Homes

Blarney House & Gardens, Blarney, Co. Cork

contact: C. Colthurst

Tel 021-4385252

Open dates in 2022: June 1-Aug 31, Mon-Sat, National Heritage Week, Aug 13-21, 10am-2pm
Fee: adult €10, OAP/student €7, concession joint with castle

Blarney House, County Cork, June 2022.

We timed our visit to County Cork to be able to have a tour of the impressive Scottish Baronial Blarney House, replete with turrets, finials, stepped gables and dormer windows.

built of the light blue hammer-dressed limestone of the demesne, with Glasgow stone dressings to doors, and window opes, gables, etc.; the slates are green Cumberland.”

It was designed by John Lanyon of the Belfast architectural firm Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon. It was built in 1874 for Sir George Conway Colthurst (abt. 1824-1878), 5th Baronet and his wife, Louisa, whose family owned Blarney Castle, so that his family could live on their Blarney estate, but away from the castle, which was a tourist destination, much as it is today. He married Louisa Jane Jefferyes in 1846. The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us that Sir George Colthurst was a neighbour, from Ardrum near Inniscarra in County Cork. He was also her second cousin.

The Jeffereyes (or Jefferyes) family previously occupied a house which was attached to Blarney Castle. In 1820, the same year in which Louisa was born, this house was destroyed by fire (see my entry about Blarney Castle). Instead of rebuilding, George Jeffereyes and his family moved to Inishera House in West Cork. [1]

The view of Blarney House from the top of Blarney Castle.

George Colthurst was a man of considerable property with another large estate at Ballyvourney near the border with County Kerry, along with Lucan House in County Dublin (now the home of the Italian ambassador to Ireland). He inherited Blarney on his father-in-law’s death in 1862. [2] He and Louisa lived in Ardrum House, which has since been demolished, before moving to the new house in Blarney, nearly thirty years after they married. [3] Randall MacDonnell tells us in his The Lost Houses of Ireland: A chronicle of great houses and the families who lived in them that the mirrors and fireplaces, as well as the neoclassical porch, came from Ardrum House. [4]

The pillared porch was taken from George Colthurst’s former house, Ardrum House, which no longer exists.
There are some interesting carvings on the facade of the house – a horse, and a few crests. A black colt is on the Colthurst crest. Inside the portico is lovely carved drapery above the door.
Stephen liked the sculpture inside this window.

The family motto Justem ac Tenacem (Just and Persevering) and the quartered Colthurst and Jefferyes Arms are set in the entrance façade of the house.

The limestone walls are “snecked” which means that it has a mixture of roughly squared stones of different sizes (and lumpishness) and some of the walls have carved sandstone stringcourses. The windows are also surrounded by carved sandstone.

The Archiseek website quotes The Architect, August 21, 1875:

This new mansion has just been completed for Sir George C. J. Colthurst, Bart., it is built of the light blue hammer-dressed limestone of the demesne, with Glasgow stone dressings to doors, and window opes, gables, &c.; the slates are green Cumberland (a combination that produces a very pleasing effect). The new building is situated within about three hundred yards of the historical old “Blarney Castle,” and from the oriel window in our illustration the celebrated ” Kissing Stone ” can be seen. The principal entrance is as shown on the north-east, and leads, by a wide flight of Portland stone steps, through the vestibule to the staircase hall (which is central and lit from the top); off this hall are grouped dining-room, drawing-room, morning-room, library, billiard-room, own room, etc. The next floor contains the principal bed-rooms and dressing-rooms, boudoirs, etc., which are entered off a handsome arcaded gallery, with timber roof supported on walnut pilasters; on the top floor are bedrooms for the family, female servants, etc. The kitchen and household offices and men-servants’ bed-rooms are on the basement floor, which is all above ground. The Castle is in the Scottish Baronial style, and designed with a view to defense if necessary.

The works have been carried out by the Messrs. Dixon, of Belfast, builders, under the superintendence of, and from the designs by, Mr. John Lanyon, F.R.I.B.A., Dublin and Belfast.” [5]

I wonder why George and Jane decided to hire John Lanyon to design their new house, since the company in which he worked, Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon, was based in Belfast, and most of the houses the company designed are in the north of Ireland, including Castle Leslie in County Monaghan (another section 482 property which we visited, see my entry)? John joined his father Charles Lanyon (1813-1889) and William Henry Lynn (1829-1915) in the architectural firm. Blarney House looks very similar in style to Belfast Castle, also designed by Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon.

Belfast Castle, photograph by Aidan Monaghan 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool [6]
Blarney House, June 2022.
Blarney House, June 2022.
The National Inventory continues: “single-storey wing to side (west) terminating in corner turret and full-height corner turret to north-east.”
West facade of Blarney House.

The Lanyons were Freemasons, so perhaps the Colthurst family were also part of that Society. Another possibility is that George Colthurst met John Lanyon due to a common interest in railways. After his father retired, John Lanyon, who also worked as an engineer, worked on railways in the north. [7] The railway was important for bringing tourists to Blarney, as we can see from the old tourism posters on display in the cafe in the stable courtyard, advertising the London Midland and Scottish Railway, British Railways and Great Southern Rhys railway. George Colthurst probably made sure that the railway travelled to Blarney so that it could bring tourists to the destination his wife’s family had created. The Dublin to Cork Great Southern and Western Railway reached Cork in 1856, and Blarney was a stop along the way. The Muskerry railway line, built in 1880, which he financially supported, ran through the George Colthurst’s Ardrum estate and travelled to Blarney. [8] John Lanyon was not involved in the southern railways, but perhaps Colthurst met with him when he was interested in the railways.

Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside Blarney House. We paused in the front hall, with its timbered ceiling of polished pine beams, on a flight of stone steps, next to a Colthurst and Jefferyes family tree, to learn more about the family and the house. A chair in the hall also features a white colt, the symbol of the Colthurst family, and was made for the wedding of George Colthurst and Jane Jefferyes.

George and Jane had a son, and they gave him the second name of St. John, following the tradition of the Jefferyes family. George St. John Colthurst the 6th Baronet married Edith Jane Thomasine Morris from Dunkathel house, County Cork. He was in the military and served as Aide-de-Camp to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. His son George Oliver the 7th Baronet succeeded to the estates. He fought in the First World War and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. He died at the age of 68, unmarried. His brother then inherited the estate and title. Richard St. John Jefferyes Colthurst (1887-1955), 8th Bt, also fought in the First World War. He married twice and his heir was son of his second wife.

The house and castle still belong to the Colthurst family. It was empty for some years until Richard Colthurst 9th Baronet and his wife, Janet Georgina Wilson-Wright from Coolcarrigan, County Kildare (also a section 482 property, see my entry) moved in, replumbed, rewired and redecorated it, and in the process, saved the building. Their son the 10th Baronet now lives in the house with his family. We did not meet the Colthursts unfortunately, and a guide led the tour.

The National Inventory describes the entrance: “Square-headed door opening with double-leaf timber panelled door opening to flight of sandstone steps and set within sandstone diastyle portico comprising Composite columns, architrave, frieze and dentilated cornice.” [9] A fine arched sandstone window with Corinthian pilasters and keystone and corbelled architrave with a crest on top, sits above the portico.

The chandelier in the front hall is of Waterford crystal and it was made for the house, as were the carpets, which mirror the keyhole motif in the doors. In the staircase hall, with its Jacobean style oak staircase, our guide pointed to a console table at the foot of the stairs, which has a mirror underneath for ladies to be able to check their hems before entering the reception rooms, to make sure their ankles weren’t accidentally revealed!

The stairs lead up through two storeys to a barrel-vaulted coffered ceiling, framing a large skylight. The heavy wooden staircase was made in Scotland, and features the baronetcy symbol of a hand, and also the Colthurst symbol of a horse and a crest.

A silk embroidery of the castle with its attached Gothic mansion which burnt down was stitched by the Jeffereyes women.

The rainwater hopper sits below a stone dog-style gargoyle.

The library to the left of the stair hall was originally the dining room, as we can see by the Carrera marble fireplace which features Ceres, Goddess of Agriculture and grain. One side of the room has a servants’ entrance and the other end has a dumb waiter, a mini elevator to bring dishes up from the kitchen. The guide pointed out a rent table, a round table with drawers into which tenants could put their rent, and the table could be rotated on its base. I learned that a safe was built in underneath the table top! The land agent would have collected rent twice a year. The Gothic bookcases came from the house in Ardrum. A library chair opens up into steps for climbing the shelves!

The double doors to the drawing room are fireproof and soundproof. The drawing room is painted Regency style duckegg blue. The mirror in the room is from Ardrum. A writing bureau from 1710 is the oldest piece in the house. There are many portraits of members of the family including miniatures, which would have been a gift before a wedding to a future spouse, to show all the members of the new family being acquired! These miniatures feature the La Touche family.

The father of George Colthurst the 5th Baronet of Ardrum, Nicholas, was just seven years old when his father, also named Nicholas, died in 1795. Nicholas the 3rd Baronet Colthurst married Emily La Touche, daughter of David La Touche and Elizabeth Marlay. As I mentioned in my entry about Blarney Castle, Louisa Jeffereyes was also a descendant of a daughter of David La Touche and Elizabeth Marlay, Anne La Touche, who married Louisa’s grandfather, George Charles Jeffereyes (1761-1841).

Nicholas Conway Colthurst (1789-1829) the 4th Baronet married Elizabeth Vesey, daughter of Colonel George Vesey of Lucan House in County Dublin, which is how Lucan House came into the ownership of the Colthurst family. The portrait of Nicholas the 4th Baronet would have come from Ardrum House.

I love the corner turret and its round wrought-iron finial, and the tantalising exterior staircase.
On top of the full height corner turret is a very fancy weather vane. The carved stringcourse to the turret has a floral motif alternating with armorial shield shapes and engraved date reading 1874.

What is now the dining room was the billiard room. It has a plain wooden floor and a slimmer door which was designed, our guide told us, to keep women, with their large crinoline skirts, out! The fireplace, like the one in the entrance hall, is of Portland stone, not marble, indicating that it was originally a less formal room than the drawing room or original dining room. Suitable to a male environment, it has nautical imagery in the fireplace, and acorns, which are a military symbol also, indicating the oak from which ships were made. A portrait of William of Orange shows that the Colthursts took William’s side in the war between the future King William and James II.

The east facade of the house has a full height canted bay and above the window is very decorative tiara-like carving.

Upstairs the upper landings open on three sides through rounded arcades with Corinthian pilasters, and the bedrooms are off the arcaded gallery. [10] The Adam Revival friezes and late eighteenth century Neoclassical chimneypieces reputedly came from Ardrum. [11] We did not get to see the back of the house from the outside as the gardens behind are private, but there is a lake behind the house.

I was disappointed also to discover that the walled garden is private, after a television show was made called “Blarney: a year on the estate.” I felt sure that the gardens featured in the television show would be open to the public!

[1] see the timeline in James Lyttelton’s Blarney Castle, An Irish Towerhouse.



[4] p. 30. MacDonnell, Randal. The Lost Houses of Ireland. A chronicle of great houses and the families who lived in them. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. London, 2002.

[5] Archiseek:





[10] 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.

[11] p. 269, Keohane, Frank. The Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

Open House, Culture Night and Heritage Week Dublin Visits

For the day that’s in it (it’s Culture Night 2022 today): this entry is not perfect but I want to publish it, and will improve it over time…

1. 9/9A Aungier Street, Dublin (Open House 2014)

2. Belvedere House, Dublin (Open House 2015)

3. Blackhall Place (formerly Blue Coat School) Dublin (Open House 2019)

4. City Assembly Hall, Dublin (Culture Night 2012)

5. Department of Trade and Commerce (2019)

6. Freemason’s Hall (Culture Night 2010)

7. Georgian Townhouse, 25 Eustace Street (2011)

8. 10 Henrietta Street, Dublin (2011)

9. 12 Henrietta Street, Dublin (2019)

10. 14 Henrietta Street, Dublin (July 2013 Heritage Week)

11. Iveagh House, Dublin (Department of Foreign Affairs) (Open House 2014)

12. Iveagh Trust flat, Iveagh Trust, Patrick Street, Dublin (Open House 2014)

13. Mansion House, Dublin (2015)

14. Marsh’s Library, Dublin (Heritage Week 2013)

15. 10 Mill Street, Dublin (2017)

16. 13 North Great Georges Street, Dublin (Open House 2012)

17. Pigeonhouse (2021)

18. Rates Office, Dublin (Open House 2013)

19. Royal Academy Dublin (2013)

20. Royal College of Physicians, Dublin (Heritage Week 2013)

21. Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin (2011)

22. St. Mary’s Abbey, Dublin (Culture Night 2012)

23. Tailor’s Guild Hall, Dublin (Heritage Week 2013)

24. Trinity Innovation Centre, former Bank, Foster Place, Dublin (Open House 2013)

1. 9/9A Aungier Street, Dublin (Open House 2014)

No. 9/9a Aungier Street, Dublin

When remedial works were undertaken the age of this building was discovered. It was first realised it was older than thought when planners appraising development changes noticed the way the fireplace sticks so far out into the room.

No. 9/9a Aungier Street, Dublin, 350 years old, what it probably looked like on outside, see lower second picture.
No. 9/9a Aungier Street, Dublin, 350 years old.
No. 9/9a Aungier Street, Dublin, 350 years old.
No. 9/9a Aungier Street, Dublin
No. 9/9a Aungier Street, Dublin, 350 years old, exposing flooring method, with original pine floor support.
No. 9/9a Aungier Street, Dublin, 350 years old, not original woodwork, probably later, decorative.
No. 9/9a Aungier Street, Dublin, 350 years old
No. 9/9a Aungier Street, Dublin, 350 years old, original walls and beams inside niche.
No. 9/9a Aungier Street, Dublin, 350 years old – layers of wallpaper.
No. 9/9a Aungier Street, Dublin, 350 years old. It was first realised it was older than thought when planners appraising development changes noticed the way the fireplace sticks so far out into the room.
No. 9/9a Aungier Street, Dublin, 350 years old, marks made by builders to let them know which beam fits into which joint, of the Baltic pine flooring, see the “v” carved into beam and joint.
No. 9/9a Aungier Street, Dublin, 350 years old.
No. 9/9a Aungier Street, Dublin, 350 years old, original fireplace.
No. 9/9a Aungier Street, Dublin, 350 years old.

2. Belvedere House, 6 Great Denmark Street, Dublin (Open House 2015):

Open House 2015, Belvedere House, Belvedere College, Dublin

We went into three rooms upstairs, up the beautiful staircase. We weren’t allowed photograph on the tour, unfortunately, in the Apollo Room, Venus Room and Jupiter Room.

Belvedere House is a detached symmetrical five-bay four-storey Georgian townhouse over exposed basement, completed 1786, designed by Robert West who, in addition to being a stuccodore was also an architect and property developer, for George Augustus Rochfort, 2nd Earl of Belvedere. The house was built for £24,000 on what would have been rural green fields with a view of the Custom House, the bay and distant mountains. It is alleged that the house is haunted by Mary Molesworth, the first lady of Belvedere, mother to George Rochfort – we came across her at Belvedere in County Westmeath.

Rochfort was the son of the cruel Robert Rochfort, 1st Earl of Belvedere, who kept his wife under lock and key in the countryside after he believed she had an affair with his brother. Some believe that she was the inspiration for Charlotte Bronte’s “madwoman in the attic.” Robert Rochfort had the summer lodge, Belvedere, built in County Westmeath, now open to the public, which also has fine plasterwork. Robert O’Byrne writes that it was the 1st Earl who bought the property on Great Denmark Street. At first his son attempted to sell the property, but then he finished having the house built. Robert O’Byrne also tells us that it is similar to 86 St Stephen’s Green (Newman House, now housing the Museum of Literature of Ireland (MOLI), which was begun in 1765, and which is also attributed to Robert West.

North Great Georges Street itself was originally laid out in 1774 as a driveway leading to Belvedere House.

In 1841 the house was bought by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) to accommodate their growing boys school which had started life ten years previously around the corner on Hardwicke Street, now known as Belvedere College.

One of the more outstanding features of the house is the stucco-work of Adamesque style popularised by Robert and James Adam. This can be seen in the ornamental surrounds, wherein pictures are framed in plaster rather than oil.

Dublin stuccodore and designer Michael Stapleton (1740-1801) was responsible for this work and further examples of his craftsmanship include the ceiling in the exam hall in Trinity College as well as some of the plasterwork in Powerscourt House in South William Street in Dublin and the Aras an Uachtarain in Phoenix Park.

Open House, Belvedere House, Belvedere College, Dublin.

It seems odd that a house designed by Robert West, however, would have plasterwork by Michael Stapleton. Robert O’Byrne elucidates this for us:

“In 1967 C.P. Curran’s  Dublin Decorative Plasterwork of the 17th and 18th centuries noted in the collection of drawings left by stuccodore Michael Stapleton several items directly relating to the design of ceilings in Belvedere House. Accordingly, this work was assigned to Stapleton. However, the fact that West was responsible for designing the house complicates matters, and the consensus now appears to be that both he and Stapleton had a hand in the plasterwork. Conor Lucey (in The Stapleton Collection, 2007) suggests that Stapleton may have been apprenticed to, or trained with, West and the fact that he was named the sole executor of the latter’s will in 1790 indicates the two men were close. The source material for the stucco work is diverse, that in the stair hall deriving in part from a plate in Robert Adam’s Works in Architecture, but the first-floor rooms feature a wider range of inspiration, much of it from France and Italy.”

Open House 2015, Belvedere House, Belvedere College, Dublin – excuse the shakey camera – I need to visit again!

We were given a leaflet, which tells us:

The ground floor rooms were intended for everyday and business use and therefore are minimally ornamented. However when one ascends they will encounter Stapleton’s stucco-work that depicts scenes from Greek and Roman mythology. On the half-landing the Bacchanalia is celebrated. The left panel depicts Bacchus with his thyrsis and staff, the right panel is Ceres with her cornucopia. The central oval shows Cupid being demoted by the three Graces. The arched window is ornamented with symbols of the authority of ancient Rome. The tall pilasters on each side have the Green anthemion (honeysuckle) motifs.

At the top of the stairs the panel between the two doors on the right show Juno seated on a cloud with her peacock. The panel on the centre wall is Aurora in her chariot pulled by winged horses. Under this plaque “The New Bride” from an ancient marble popular in 18th century Rome. All the five doors have the same over-door: Silenus, the tutor of Bacchus. On the ceiling, Eros is depicted gazing at Psyche as she sleeps. Next is an Apollo head with winged lions and lastly, Cupid with a flower.

The door immediately to the right of the stairs leads to the Apollo Room, named after the featured frieze of Apollo the music-maker holding court with attendent putti playing a variety of instruments. The adjoining Diana Room depicts Diana, patron of the chase, in a chariot drawn by stags. The design is taken directly from Pergolesi, however, Stapleton added the outer circle of flowers.

Finally the Venus Room’s flanking panels have lunettes representing astronomy, architecture and sculpture. Notice the beautiful over-doors in all three rooms, each with the head of the principle subject.”

Notice that Venus was taken down by the Jesuits as she was nude, and it is supposedly in the National Gallery.

3. Blackhall Place (formerly Blue Coat School) Dublin, 2019.

Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019. A taller tower was initially planned.

Archiseek tells us that the first Blue Coat School or King’s Hospital was erected in Oxmantown Green between 1669-1673. It was officially named the Hospital and Free School of King Charles II. Orphans were nominated to attend the school by the Alderman or the parish, with funding coming from voluntary donations and from ground rent of St. Stephen’s Green. This building was demolished to make way for the new building, pictured above. The current building was started in 1773. Ivory resigned in disgust before it was finished, due to lack of funds, and only a stub was built instead of his tower, and the stub was removed in 1894 and a dome constructed.

The description of the tour tells us:

The last of Dublin’s Palladian public buildings, the granite and Portland stone Blue Coat School replaced earlier premises, which had been established by King Charles I in 1671 to care for the sons of impoverished citizens. Construction began in 1773 to designs by Thomas Ivory, however funding issues led to a reduced building programme and Ivory’s departure. In 1894, a copper-clad cupola designed by Robert Stirling was added. Today, the building is home to the Law Society of Ireland, which has taken great care to retain many fine interior features.

Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.

The building now houses the Law Society. It was built as a traditional country house composition with a central block, two wings and connecting passages. The wings have decorations intended to mirror the central tower.

Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Stephen Trotter, Judge of the Prerogative Court, by Peter Scheemakers (1691-1781), brought from Duleek, County Louth.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.

The interior contains plasterwork by Charles Thorpe and carvings by Simon Vierpyl.

Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
back of Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
back of Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Collins Barracks, behind Blue Coat School/Blackhall Place, 2019.
Collins Barracks behind Blackhall Place, 2019.
Back of Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
back of Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
Side of Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
side of Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
side of Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
side of Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.
side of Blackhall Place, Dublin, or The Blue Coat School, by Thomas Ivory, 2019.

4. City Assembly Hall, Dublin (2012 Culture Night)

The Octagon Room of the City Assembly Hall, Dublin, in September 2012, after renovation by the Irish Georgian Society.
2012: City Assembly Hall, Dublin.
2012: City Assembly Hall, Dublin.
2012: City Assembly Hall, Dublin.
2012: City Assembly Hall, Dublin.
City Assembly Rooms lantern light and balcony September 2021.
2012: inside the octagon room in the City Assembly Hall, Dublin.
2012: City Assembly Hall, Dublin.
Upper room in City Assembly Hall, Dublin, September 2021.

5. Department of Industry and Commerce, Kildare Street (Open House 2019)

Department of Industry and Commerce, Open House 2019: The tall round-headed window passes up through the floors to a keystone of representing Eire, with “jazzy” interstitial panels.
The carved lintel of the doorway represents the celtic god Lugh releasing aeroplanes into the air!

The architect was J. R. Boyd Barrett, who won a competition to built it in 1936. It has a stripped Classical design with an Art Deco entrance bay addition. The external relief sculptures are by Gabriel Hayes. The tall round-headed window passes up through the floors to a keystone of representing Eire, with “jazzy” interstitial panels [Archiseek]. On the Schoolhouse Lane side the keystone represents Brendan the Navigator. The main entrance has a heavy cast bronze gates, and the carved lintel of the doorway represents the celtic god Lugh releasing aeroplanes into the air!

On the Schoolhouse Lane side the keystone represents Brendan the Navigator.
Department of Industry and Commerce, Open House 2019.
Department of Trade and Commerce, Open House 2019.
Department of Trade and Commerce, Open House 2019. The relief carvings here represent stylised images of industry and commerce.

The interiors were also designed by Boyd Barrett and everything from the ashtrays, fireplaces and door handles were specially designed. The interiors feature polished woods and metals and patterned linoleum floors, and the ceilings are deeply coffered.

Department of Trade and Commerce, Open House 2019. The interiors were also designed by Boyd Barrett and everything from the ashtrays, fireplaces and door handles were specially designed.
Department of Trade and Commerce, Open House 2019.
Department of Trade and Commerce, Open House 2019.

6. Freemason’s Hall, Molesworth Street (Dublin 2010)

Freemason’s Hall, Molesworth Street, Dublin, 2022.

The Freemason’s Hall was built on the site of the townhouse of their first Grand Master, the Earl of Rosse. The building was completed in 1866, designed by Edward Holmes of Birmingham. The architect used three orders on the facade: Doric (lower), Ionic (centre) and Corinthian (upper). The pediment contains the Masonic square and compass.

The inside is an exuberant smorgasbord of themes. The Royal Arch Chapter Room has an Egyptian theme. The Prince Mason’s Chapter Room is Gothic Tudor. The Knights Templar Room is designed as a medieval chapel.

The Irish Builder 1877 described the interior: The main hall “is larger than St. Patrick’s Hall in Dublin Castle…Along each side are six pillars with Corinthian capitals, and there are two of the same style at each end. These are painted to represent white enamel. The capitals are gilt, the pedestals and lower part of the wall are painted a rich chocolate colour; between the pillars the wall spaces are painted a light dun colour, each space being formed into a large panel by a matted gilt moulding with a deep margin of grey. The pillars support a richly designed and gilt entablature. From this spring five semi-circular arches on each side. These arches contain a series of ten cartoons, illustrative of the building of Solomon’s Temple. The ceiling is intersected by beams, which divide it into five panels, and is painted blue, and studded with gold stars. The intersecting beams, together with the architrave and cornice, are cream colour and white, relieved with gold. The predominating colour in the painting of the hall is blue, in order to meet Masonic requirements, that colour being associated with the lower ranks of the order, and the hall being used for general meetings; but other tints are introduced in sufficient abundance. The cartoons have been painted in sepia by Mr. Edward Gibson, Great Russell Street, London, son of Mr. James Gibson of Mary Street, Dublin, by whom the entire of the rest of the hall was designed and finished...”

Freemason’s Hall, Molesworth Street, Dublin, 2022.
Freemason’s Hall, Molesworth Street, Dublin, 2022.

7. Georgian Townhouse, 25 Eustace Street (2011)

Open House 2011, 25 Eustace Street.
Open House 2011, 25 Eustace Street.
Open House 2011, 25 Eustace Street.
Open House 2011, 25 Eustace Street.
Open House 2011, 25 Eustace Street.
Open House 2011, 25 Eustace Street.
Open House 2011, 25 Eustace Street.

8. 10 Henrietta Street, (Blessington House), Dublin (2011)

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Henrietta Crofts, Duchess of Bolton (1682-1730) as shepherdess, by James Maubert. Henrietta Street was named in her honour. Vicereine 1717-1720. She was the daughter of James Crofts (Scott), 1st and last Duke of Monmouth, illegitimate son of King Charles II. She married Charles Paulet, 2nd Duke of Bolton.

Open House, 2011, 10 Henrietta Street

The Archiseek website tells us:

It was built circa 1730 by Luke Gardiner [1690-1755] as his own residence. The design of the original building has been attributed to Sir Edward Lovett Pearce. The building is a three storey, eight bay over basement house with a Venetian window between the second and third bays at first floor level. Two major interiors of the 1730’s survive, the upper part of the original main stair hall and a rear room on the ground floor. The first floor reception rooms were embellished with Rococo plasterwork circa 1760. Luke Gardiner was succeeded on his death in 1755 by his son, the Right Honourable Charles Gardiner PC, MP, Surveyor General of Customs and Ranger of the Phoenix Park [The original house was extended to the west c.1755 by Charles Gardiner]. Following his death in 1769, his son, the right honourable Luke Gardiner MP succeeded. He was created Baron Mountjoy in 1779, Viscount in 1795 and killed in the Battle of New Ross, County Wexford in 1798. He was succeeded by his son Charles John Gardiner, Second Viscount Mountjoy, created Earl of Blessington in 1816. 

The Earl died in 1829 without male heirs and the house was leased to a succession of lawyers becoming the Queen’s Inn Chambers in the late 19th century. It was acquired in the early 20th century by the French Order of Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul to provide relief to distressed females. The work of the order continues today and the building is actively used for a variety of community and social services projects. 

The 2001 Europa Nostra Restoration Fund Grant generously contributed to the restoration of the decayed decorative Rococo ceiling on the first floor. The restoration works were also co-funded by a grant from Dublin City Council. 

Open House, 2011, 10 Henrietta Street
Open House, 2011, 10 Henrietta Street

From The Irish Builder, July 15 1893:

This magnificent mansion was erected about the year 1725, by the Rt. Hon. Luke Gardiner, grandfather of the 1st Viscount Mountjoy, ancestor of the Earl of Blesinton, and may be described as the Manor House of Henrietta-street. The reception-rooms are seven in number, and the cornices and ceilings are finished in a rich and antique style. 

The ball-room is a noble apartment; the architraves of the doors and windows are adorned with fluted Corinthian columns sur mounted by pediments. The drawing-room, to the left of the ante-room on the first floor, possesses a beautifully carved oak cornice, the effect of which is peculiarly striking. The front staircase is spacious and lofty; the walls are panelled, and the ceiling is handsomely ornamented. The principal dining room, looking into the garden, is square, with fine stuccoed ceiling, and walls in square panels stuccoed, the squares broken off at the angles by curves. The architraves of the parlour doors are as rich as carving could make them. There is a mock key-stone or block of wood that for elegant and elaborate carving in relief cannot be surpassed. The stuccoed ceilings are in panels with enriched fillets, quite palatial, and only in the ball room are seen arabesques in the centre. The window of the ball-room, which is over the porte-cochère, has three opes, the centre ope being arched, and this is the only architectural adornment externally. Mountjoy House had originally a fine porte-cochère, or covered carriage entry, arched with cut stone, on the park side, next to the present King’s Inns buildings.” [1]

Open House, 2011, 10 Henrietta Street
Open House, 2011, 10 Henrietta Street
Open House, 2011, 10 Henrietta Street
Open House, 2011, 10 Henrietta Street
Open House, 2011, 10 Henrietta Street. What looks like stucco work in this room is actually papier mache.

Robert O’Byrne tells us about the use of papier-mache instead of plaster for some decorative work. He tells us:

When the house was first built, it featured a double-height entrance containing stairs leading to the first-floor. However, some years after the death of Luke Gardiner in 1755 his son Charles reordered this space to create a single-storey entrance hall, behind which a new staircase hall was instated. Probably around the same time a number of rooms were given new ceilings in the rococo manner. These decorations are important because in the majority of cases they are made not of plaster but papier-mâché. The use of this medium is unusual but not unique – a number of other examples survive elsewhere in the city and in Carton, County Kildare – but it seems strange to find it here. One of the attractions of papier-mâché was its relative cheapness (relative to stuccowork, that is) but the Gardiners were certainly affluent to afford anything they wished. On the other hand, its great merit is easier (and cleaner) installation than plaster, so perhaps this is why papier-mâché was preferred for the redecoration of existing rooms. 

It was not used, on the other hand, for the saloon, or ballroom (now used as a chapel), which in its present form looks to have been either added or extended at the time when Charles Gardiner was re-fashioning other spaces in the house.” [2]

Open House, 2011, Henrietta St, window by Harry Clarke

9. 12 Henrietta Street, Dublin – private, sometimes open during Open House Dublin

12 Henrietta Street, Open House October 2019.

12 Henrietta Street was first occupied by Sir Gustavus Hume (1677-1731), MP, privy councillor and courtier to King George I. He was the third son of the prominent Ulster-Scot Sir John Hume of Castle Hume (2nd Baronet), County Fermanagh and of Sidney, daughter and co-heiress of James Hamilton of Manor Hamilton, County Leitrim and became 3rd Baronet of Castle Hume (now demolished) when his father died as his two elder brothers predeceased their father. Castle Hume was architect Richard Castle’s first known commission in Ireland. It was pulled down in the 1830s and the materials reused to build Ely Lodge nearby.

view from window of 12 Henrietta Street, Dublin, 2019.
12 Henrietta Street, Open House October 2019.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage tells us it is:

Terraced three-bay three-storey house over exposed basement, built c.1730, by Luke Gardiner as pair with No. 11, heavily remodelled c.1780…This house was built as a pair with No. 11, possibly to the designs of Edward Lovett Pearce. It was initially leased to Henry Boyle, Speaker of the House of Commons. Later, the house was leased to the 2nd Earl of Shannon in 1780, and subsequently gutted with the removal of a floor to provide a truly grand piano nobile. The building retains most of the interior detailing from that remodelling including stucco decoration by Charles Thorp, with remnants from the earlier scheme. The house has been undergoing a painstaking programme of conservation works and forms an important part of what has been described as ‘Dublin’s Street of Palaces’ while the ongoing conservation work will contribute to the improving fortunes of this remarkable streetscape. Laid out by Luke Gardiner in the 1720s, Henrietta Street is a short cul-de-sac containing the finest early Georgian houses in the city. It was named after Henrietta Crofts, the third wife of Charles Paulet, 2nd Duke of Bolton and Lord Lieutenant in 1717-21, the street developed in a piecemeal fashion and set the trends of scale and design in domestic architecture.”

12 Henrietta Street, Open House October 2019.
12 Henrietta Street, Open House October 2019.
12 Henrietta Street, Open House October 2019.
12 Henrietta Street, Dublin, 2019.
12 Henrietta Street, Open House October 2019.
12 Henrietta Street, Dublin, 2019.
12 Henrietta Street, Open House October 2019.
12 Henrietta Street, Dublin, 2019.
12 Henrietta Street, Open House October 2019.
12 Henrietta Street, Open House October 2019.
12 Henrietta Street, Open House October 2019.
12 Henrietta Street, Open House October 2019.
12 Henrietta Street, Open House October 2019.
12 Henrietta Street, Dublin, 2019.
12 Henrietta Street, Dublin, 2019.

10. 14 Henrietta Street, Dublin (July 2013 Heritage Week)

14 Henrietta Street, Dublin, July 2013.
14 Henrietta Street, Dublin, July 2013.
14 Henrietta Street, Dublin, July 2013.
14 Henrietta Street, Dublin, July 2013.
14 Henrietta Street, Dublin, July 2013.
14 Henrietta Street, Dublin, July 2013.
14 Henrietta Street, Dublin, July 2013.
14 Henrietta Street, Dublin, July 2013.
14 Henrietta Street, Dublin, July 2013.

11. Iveagh House (80 and 81 St. Stephen’s Green) – Department of Foreign Affairs (Open House 2014)

Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, October 2014. Portland stone facade (1866) by James Franklin Fuller (1835-1924) disguises an early eighteenth century townhouse by Richard Castle (d. 1751) for Robert Clayton (1695-1758), Bishop of Cork and Ross. The original house, three windows wide, is on the left of the portico.
Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, the original owner, Robert Clayton (1695-1758), Bishop of Cork and Ross.

The Archiseek website tells us:

Iveagh House is now the Department of Foreign Affairs as it was donated to the Irish State by the Guinness family in 1939. Originally two houses, nos 80/81 St Stephen’s Green, no 80 was originally designed by Richard Cassels [also spelled “Castle”] in 1736. After both houses were bought by Benjamin Guinness in 1862, he acted as his own architect and produced the current house. 

“The Dublin Builder, February 1 1866: ‘In this number we give a sketch of the town mansion of Mr. Benjamin Lee Guinness, M.P , now in course of erection in Stephen’s Green, South, the grounds of which run down to those of the Winter Garden. As an illustration so very quiet and unpretending a front is less remarkable as a work of architectural importance than from the interest which the name of that well-known and respected owner gives it, and from whose own designs it is said to have been built. The interior of the mansion promises to be of a very important and costly character, and to this we hope to have the pleasure of returning on a future occasion when it is more fully advanced. The works, we believe, have been carried out by the Messrs. Murphy of St. Patrick’s Cathedral notoriety, under Mr. Guinness’s own immediate directions, without the intervention of any professional architect.’ “

Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, October 2014.

The building was donated to the Irish government by Benjamin Guinness’s grandson Rupert, the 2nd Earl of Iveagh, in 1939 and was renamed Iveagh House.

Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, October 2014.
Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green
Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green
Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, October 2014. Painting by De Chirico.
Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, October 2014.
Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, October 2014.
Iveagh Gardens, the part kept by the Guinness’s as part of Iveagh House
Mahogany doorframe and door, Iveagh House, Stephen’s Green. The architect took advantage of the tax on mahogany not imposed in Ireland
The Sleeping Faun, bought by the Guinness’s, for almost the same price as the house! Donated by the Guinnesses along with the house to the state.
Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, medieval wooden carving, picturing Homer’s Illiad scenes.
Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green
Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, “Modesty.”
Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, original fireplace.
Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, originally the study.
Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, originally the study. Medieval wood carvings of scenes from Homer’s Illiad, and crest of Lord Iveagh who donated the house to the state. Original fireplace.
Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, The Music Room.
The Music room ceiling, in Iveagh House.
Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green
Iveagh House, St Stephen’s Green, probably originally the room of the Lady of the house
Iveagh House ballroom
Iveagh House ballroom.
Original curtains and seats in ballroom in Iveagh House.
Iveagh House ballroom.
Fireplace built for ballroom in Iveagh House to host a Royal visit to the Guinness’s, the room was built specially to have the guests, for £30,000. JFK was hosted at a reception here and had his picture taken in front of the fireplace, and his daughter Caroline Kennedy had her picture taken there years later.
Ballroom stucco in Iveagh House, made from moulds but then finished by hand to make look like fully hand-done.
Minstrals’ gallery in Iveagh House ballroom, made of the new at the time material, aluminium.
Ceiling of Iveagh house ballroom, in Wedgewood blue.

12. Iveagh Trust Apartment, Iveagh Buildings (Open House 2014)

Iveagh Trust flat, Iveagh Trust buildings on Patrick Street, Dublin 8.

The Iveagh Trust buildings were commissioned by the Earl of Iveagh in 1901. The architects were Joseph and Smithem, London architects. The centrepiece of the buildings, built to house people who lived in the slums about St. Patrick’s cathdral, was the Iveagh Baths.

Iveagh Trust flat, Iveagh Trust buildings on Patrick Street, Dublin 8.
Iveagh Trust flat, Iveagh Trust buildings on Patrick Street, Dublin 8.
The range, in Iveagh Trust flat, Iveagh Trust buildings on Patrick Street, Dublin 8.
Iveagh Trust flat, Iveagh Trust buildings on Patrick Street, Dublin 8.
Iveagh Trust flat, Iveagh Trust buildings on Patrick Street, Dublin 8.
Iveagh Trust flat, Iveagh Trust buildings on Patrick Street, Dublin 8.
Iveagh Trust flat, Iveagh Trust buildings on Patrick Street, Dublin 8.
Iveagh Trust flat, Iveagh Trust buildings on Patrick Street, Dublin 8. Child of Prague and St. Christopher in the alcove.
Iveagh Trust flat, Iveagh Trust buildings on Patrick Street, Dublin 8.
Iveagh Trust flat, Iveagh Trust buildings on Patrick Street, Dublin 8. Religion was more dominant in peoples’ lives in those days than it is generally in Irish people today!
Iveagh Trust flat, Iveagh Trust buildings on Patrick Street, Dublin 8.
Iveagh Trust flat, Iveagh Trust buildings on Patrick Street, Dublin 8, picture of Nelly and her family.
Iveagh Trust flat, Iveagh Trust buildings on Patrick Street, Dublin 8.

13. Mansion House, Dawson Street, Dublin – private, home of the Mayor of Dublin (Open House 2015)

Mansion House, Dublin 2015. Originally there were statues along the parapet, which was later balustraded.

The Buildings of Ireland website featured the Mansion House as one of its Buildings of the Month, and tells us that The Mansion House, Dawson Street, is the oldest freestanding house in the city and the only surviving mayoral residence in Ireland.

The Mansion House owes its origins to Joshua Dawson (1660-1725), a member of the Guild of Merchants and at the time the second-wealthiest man in Ireland, who in 1705 purchased a tract of poor marshy ground east of the medieval core of Dublin and within two years had laid out a new street which he named Dawson Street. Work on a suitable townhouse began in 1710 and it is clear that the house was intended as the centrepiece of the new street.

The house, a rare example of a Queen Anne-style house, was substantially refronted in 1851 when the original brick finish was plastered, the windows were given robust classical frames, and the parapet was remodelled about a central pediment carrying the Coat of Arms of the City. The elaborate cast-iron canopy (1886) was designed by Daniel J. Freeman (1856/7-1902), City Architect (fl. 1879-93).

Mansion House, March 2015.
The Drawing Room, Mansion House, March 2015. It contains portraits of Earl Whitworth, the Earls of Hardwicke and Westmoreland, John Foster the last Speaker of the House of Commons and Alderman Alexander [3].

The death of Queen Anne in 1714 abruptly disrupted Dawson’s ambitious plans. Fearing that her successor would not be so favoured towards him, Dawson agreed on the 18th of May, 1715, to sell the house to Dublin Corporation at a cost of £3,500 in addition to a yearly ground rent of forty shillings and a loaf of double-refined sugar weighing six pounds due each Christmas. As a condition of the sale, Dawson agreed to build an additional room which could be used for civic receptions: the now-famous Oak Room. 

The Oak Room was the venue of the annual City Ball throughout the eighteenth century. On such occasions the Lord Mayor dispensed generous hospitality, aided in no small part by a yearly grant of twenty thousand oysters from the civic oyster beds. The Oak Room continues to play a central role in the life of the Mansion House today. [4] It contains portraits of Charles II, George II, Duke of Cumberland and the Duke of Richmond.

The Oak room contains crests for all of the Mayors.
Mayor John Gormley’s crest – the mayors pick symbols that they feel are suitable to represent them.
I don’t know what this means for Mayor Moyers!
Mansion House, March 2015. The “Sheriff’s Room” with portraits of the Duke of Northumberland, Lord Townshend, John Duke of Bedford and Aldermen Sankey, Thorpe and Manders. [3]
Mansion House, March 2015.

The extension of the property continued well into the nineteenth century and included the Round Room completed in just six weeks in 1821 for the reception of King George IV. Designed by John Semple (d.1840) in the “exotic” style, an apparent nod to the monarch’s Hindu-Gothic Brighton Pavilion, it was remodelled 1892 by J. G. Ashlin, and was the venue for the first sitting of Dáil Éireann in January 1919.

The improvement of the Mansion House continued into the early twentieth century when, in anticipation of a royal visit by Queen Victoria, new ceilings were installed in the entrance hall and drawing room to designs by Charles James McCarthy (c.1857-1947), City Architect (fl. 1893-1921). The stained glass window over the principal staircase dates from the same period and carries the signature of Joshua Clarke and Sons of North Frederick Street. The Dublin City coat-of-arms again features as the centrepiece in a frame including the shields of the four provinces of Ireland and the names of prominent supporters of Home Rule. Topped and tailed by a Garland of Peace and a Cornucopia of Prosperity, the window is today known as “The Peace Window”. 

14. Marsh’s Library, Dublin (2013)

Marsh’s Library 1975, photograph from National Library and Archives.[5]

Marsh’s Library was built in 1701, designed by William Robinson who was surveyor general from 1670-1700, and who also designed the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. The Library was set up as the first public library in Ireland, by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh (1638-1713).

Narcissus Marsh, Provost of Trinity ca. 1690, then Archbishop of Dublin.
Entrance to Marsh’s library.

The interior of the library remains unchanged from when it was set up. It is no longer a public library, unfortunately, as the books are too delicate for general handling, but one can request to look up books in the catalogue, and it operates as a sort of museum open to the public for a fee. It contains dark oak bookcases topped with lettered gables and a mitre. The library contains the original reading cages – a reader would be locked in so that he or she could not steal the books.

Marsh’s Library, Feb 26, 2012
Marsh’s Library librarians. The first Librarian, Elias Bouhereau, was a Huguenot refugee from France.
Garden of Marsh’s library, Heritage Week tour 2013.
Garden of Marsh’s library, Heritage Week tour 2013.
Garden of Marsh’s library, Heritage Week tour 2013.
Garden of Marsh’s Library, Heritage week tour 2013.

15. 10 Mill Street, Dublin (Open House 2017)

10 Mill Street in October 2010 before renovations.

10 Mill Street was built in the 1720s by the Brabazon family, Earls of Meath. In the early 19th century it was converted into a school by the Christian Brothers and later used by several charitable groups. It was remodelled in 1894 by architect George P. Beater as a Methodist mission house and school. [Archiseek]

10 Mill Street in October 2010 before renovations.

After renovations:

10 Mill Street after renovations.
10 Mill Street after renovations.
Inside 10 Mill Street, Dublin 8. Original panelling, paint only partially stripped.
Inside 10 Mill Street, Dublin 8. Panelling restored.
Inside 10 Mill Street, Dublin 8. Fireplace left in situ.
Inside 10 Mill Street, Dublin 8. Old piece of banisters.
Inside 10 Mill Street, Dublin 8. Panelling made to look like the original. Staircase suspended from ceiling.
Inside 10 Mill Street, Dublin 8.

14. Pigeonhouse Power Station and hotel (2021)

The old Pigeonhouse Hotel.
The old Pigeonhouse Power Station.

15. Rates Office, formerly Newcomen Bank, Dublin (2013)

Rates Office, formerly Newcomen Bank, photograph by Robert French, Lawrence Collection National Library of Ireland, flickr constant commons.

Built in 1781 by Thomas Ivory. The original building was half the size, and Ivory’s half was built in mirror image with a portico built to link the two halves. [archiseek]

In 1722 Simon (or William?) Gleadowe (d. 21 August 1807) married into the Newcomen family of Carriglass House in County Longford and took their name. He started the Newcomen Bank. He was knighted to become 1st Baronet Newcomen in 1781 and elected to the Irish Parliament. He voted for the Act of Union and his wife Charlotte was rewarded with a Peerage to become Viscountess Newcomen. Their son inherited her title and became Thomas Gleadowe-Newcomen, 2nd Viscount Newcomen (1776-1825), and he also inherited the Newcomen Bank. The bank had a series of failures and closed in 1825, and Thomas shot himself and died in his office. After his death the title became extinct.

The Open House description tells us:

“An elegant block in Portland stone, the building stands at the corner of Cork Hill and Castle Street, doubled in length on Cork Hill by an 1862 addition. Ivory’s original plan comprised three rooms with a large stair hall, with the site’s irregular boundaries concealed by the use of oval rooms. The interior has been recently renovated and retains fine decoration, with highlights including the larger first-floor oval room and the highly decorated ceiling over the stair hall.”

City Hall, opposite the Rates Office.
Doorway in Rates Office shows the thickness of the wall, and the oval shape of the room.

16. Royal Irish Academy Dublin (2013)

17. Royal College of Physicians, Dublin (2013)

Royal College of Physicians, Heritage Week 2013.

Designed by William George Murray who also designed the Hibernian Bank. It was built in 1861 to replace the College of Physicians previous premises which had burned down at this location. The facade eroded and was completely replaced 100 years later in 1960. A description in the 1862 Irish Builder describes it:

Entering from the portico, the outer hall or vestibule leads by a spacious flight of five steps to the inner hall, in which the main staircase is placed. On the right and left of this hall are the entrances to the council and examination rooms, registrar’s apartments, back stairs, reading room etc. The college hall is at the rere of the building, and is entered from the first landing of the main staircase, which here divides into a double flight, returning to the right and left.

This noble apartment, 58 feet by 30 feet and 30 feet high… is divided into five bays in length and three in breadth by Corinthian pilasters elevated on a panelled daedo, and surmounted by the ordinary frieze and cornice from which springs a quadrant coved ceiling with semi-circular arches over each bay groined into it. This hall is lighted by five lofty windows at the rere, and also three circular dome-lights in the ceiling…

The room with the ceremonial mace also contained glass cases with memorabilia and diary of Napoleon from his days on St. Helena, as his physician was an Irishman. He gave his physician his toothbrush and diary as a memorial, telling him the diary would make him rich! He chose this physician on hearing him talk. The physician agreed to be the doctor but said he would not spy for the British. They became friends. He had to bleed Napoleon several times as Napoleon fell ill, and the lancet used is also in the glass case.

Royal College of Physicians, Heritage Week 2013. Casey, p. 482: “The stair hall is an impressive double-height space with a coved and traceried ceiling and central lantern. Fine cast-iron lamp standards and balustrade to the stair. Corinthian pilaster order to the upper walls, beneath which are extraordinary shallow pilaster strips with odd bases which must surely be a C20 intervention. At the head of the stairs on the first-floor landing paired Corinthian columns flank the balustrade and a central [483] door to the library, a plain five-bay room which fills the entire street frontage, originally contrived as a separate library and museum.”
Ceiling of Royal College of Physicians, Heritage Week 2013.
Patrick Dun’s Library, Royal College of Physicians, Kildare St, Dublin – celebrating its 300th year in 2013!
Patrick Dun’s Library, Royal College of Physicians, Kildare St, Dublin, Heritage Week 2013.
Patrick Dun’s Library, Royal College of Physicians, Kildare St, Dublin, Heritage Week 2013.

18. Royal College of Surgeons, Dublin (Open House 2011)

William Dease sculpture, one of the founders of the Royal College of Surgeons, Open House, 2011, Royal College of Surgeons.

The Royal College of Surgeons was built in two phases, first by architect Edward Parke, who built what is now the last three bays on the south side and five bays deep on York Street. This was subsumed later by architect William Murray, who added four bays to the north and moved the pediment to the new centre of the building, on St. Stephen’s Green. The facade has large round-headed windows separated by freestanding columns. The pediment has the royal arms, and is topped with three statues: Athena (goddess of Wisdom and War), Asclepius (god of Medicine) and Hygiea (Goddess of Health), all by John Smyth [Archiseek]. It has a rusticated basement storey.

The interior, as listed in Lewis’s guide in 1837, contains a large board room, a library, an apartment for general meetings, an examination hall, several committee rooms and offices, lecture theatres and three museums, two of which have galleries.

There is a top-lit gallery with Adamesque plasterwork.

Open House, 2011, Royal College of Surgeons.

Open House, 2011, Royal College of Surgeons.
Open House, 2011, Royal College of Surgeons.
Open House, 2011, Royal College of Surgeons.
Open House, 2011, Royal College of Surgeons.
Open House, 2011, Royal College of Surgeons.
Open House, 2011, Royal College of Surgeons.
Open House, 2011, Royal College of Surgeons.
Open House, 2011, Royal College of Surgeons.

Open House, 2011, Royal College of Surgeons.
My father looks at the fireplace, 2011, Royal College of Surgeons.
Open House, 2011, Royal College of Surgeons.

19. St. Mary’s Abbey, Dublin (Culture Night 2012)

The Archiseek website tells us that in the early 1880s, seven feet below street level, under a bakery, the chapter house of St. Mary’s Abbey was discovered. St. Mary’s Abbey was a Cistercian Abbey founded by the Benedictine monks in 1139. It was dissolved in 1530 and fell into disrepair and its existence is reflected in the street names surrouding it: Mary Street and Abbey Street. The Chapter House is the only part remaining, and was built in 1190! [6]

The Chapter House of St Mary’s Abbey, which was built in 1190.

It was in the Chapter House, which could be rented out, that at a meeting of the Privy Council in 1534, “Silken Thomas” FitzGerald objected to the King, who had imprisoned his father. Thomas thought his father had been executed.

20. Tailor’s Guild Hall, Dublin (Culture Night 2013)

Tailor’s Guild Hall, 2013

Tailor’s Hall was built in 1706 and is the only Guild Hall from the medieval guilds still in existence in Dublin. It is two storeys over basement and the hall inside is lit by tall round-headed windows on both sides, and has two floors of smaller rooms. It is now the headquarters for An Taisce. It was originally the meeting hall for the Guild of Merchant Tailors, from 1706-1841.

It was used in 1792 as the meeting place for the Catholic Committee during their campaign against Penal Law, and for this the building earned the nickname of “Back Lane Parliament.” Later still, it was used as a meeting place for the United Irishmen around 1798.

From Christine Casey, The Buildings of Ireland: Dublin, 2005, p. 367:
1703-1707, Richard Mills overseer. The Tailors’ Guild Hall is a tall shallow red brick building with a steep roof and dormer windows, a large gabled chimneystack and stair compartment projecting from the rear or N. wall. The entrance front is the long S elevation, reached by a stone arch and forecourt from Back Lane. In the 18th century the Hall was concealed behind houses on High Street and Back Lane and preceded only by the narrow arched pathway and a basement area. This unusual sequestered position is explained by the fact that the site was formerly occupied by a Jesuit chapel and college, endowed in 1629 by the Countess of Kildare. Seized by the Crown in 1630, it was subsequently repossessed by Lord and Lady Kildare and returned to the Jesuits who remained here for an unknown period prior to 1706…Tailors’ Hall is substantially early 18C. However, curiosities in the design and [p.368] structure suggest that it may incorporate something of the fabric of the 17C chapel.

The most striking feature of the facade is its asymmetry. Four tall narrow round-headed windows lighting the assembly hall fill almost two-thirds of the facade. To their right the facade is of two storeys and three bays with the entrance on the left next to the hall framed by an elegant rusticated limestone door surround of 1770. The basic arrangement reflects a pragmatic medieval-based system of hall and upper chamber, common in London livery halls of the late C17… A granite base-mould divides the brick masonry of the principal floor from the basement walling, which is largely of Calp with a band of brick forming the slightly cambered heads of the basement windows.”

Tailor’s Guild Hall, Heritage Week 2013. Twisted barley bannisters, hand carved, turned on lathe.
Casey, p. 368: “the finest feature of the interior is the staircase, which is an elaborate open-well type with a low moulded handrail, barley sugar banisters and later square newels.”
Tailor’s Guild Hall, Heritage Week 2013: p. 368, Casey: “an elegant double-height brightly lit hall with a fine early C18 Ionic reredos at the W end bearing the name of guild masters, a handsome marble chimneypiece…and at the east end a bowed draught lobby with a curious Gothic pelmet and above it a Late Georgian Neoclassical wrought-iron balcony reached from the room above the entrance hall.”
Tailor’s Guild Hall, Heritage Week 2013.

21. Trinity Innovation Centre, former Bank, Foster Place, Dublin (2013)

Innovation Centre of Trinity, Foster Place.

Before the formation of AIB (Allied Irish Bank), this was known as the Royal Bank. A Neo-Classical porch was added by George Papworth in 1850. The banking hall was added by Charles Geoghegan in 1859 at the rear of the building. It has a coffered barrel vaulted space top-lit and supported by cast iron Corinthian columns. The building has a double-height entrance hall. The bank closed in 2002 and the building is now owned by Trinity College Dublin.

Innovation Centre of Trinity, Foster Place.

The description of the day’s event tells us:

“Behind a neat stucco facade (with a neo-classical porch added by George Papworth circa 1850) and a double-height entrance hall, the interior includes what has been described as Dublin’s finest Victorian banking hall. A curving mahogany counter wraps most of the floor area, previously as a barrier between the bank clerks and customers. The space is in excellent condition, lit from above by a coffered and glazed barrel vault, supported by elegant cast-iron columns. For those who love pattern and ornament, the friezes and the plasterwork on the columns and their capitals will be particularly enjoyable.”

Open House 2013, Innovation Centre in Trinity College Dublin.





[5] National Library and Archives digital repository.


Blarney Castle & Rock Close, Blarney, Co. Cork

contact: C. Colthurst

Tel: 021-4385252

Open dates in 2022: all year except Christmas Eve & Christmas Day, Jan-Feb, Nov-Dec, 9am-4pm,
Mar-Oct, 9am-5pm.
Fee: adult €18, OAP/student €15, child €10, family and season passes.

Blarney Castle, County Cork, June 2022.

We visited Blarney Castle on a trip to Cork in June 2022, choosing to visit on a date when we could also visit Blarney House – see my entry (on its way!).

We have all heard that kissing the Blarney stone gives us the “gift of the gab,” but where did the story come from? Randal MacDonnell, in his book, The Lost Houses of Ireland, tells us that Queen Elizabeth I said of Cormac mac Diarmada MacCarthy (1552-1616), Lord of Muskerry, ‘This is all Blarney; what he says he never means!’ so the term was used as far back as Elizabethan times. The Blarney Stone, set high in the castle under the battlements, was said to have been a gift to the MacCarthy family after sending 5,000 soldiers to help Robert the Bruce (who died in 1329) in battle. It was reputedly the stone that gushed water after Moses struck it, or else it is said to be part of the Stone of Scone, on which the Kings of Scotland were inaugurated. It is also said to be the pillow that Jacob slept upon when he dreamed of angels ascending a ladder to heaven, that was brought from the Holy Land after the Crusades. Frank Keohane tells us bluntly in his description of Blarney Castle in Buildings of Ireland, Cork City and County (published 2020) that it is in fact the lintel to the central machicolation on the south side!

An Irish person can be reluctant to visit Blarney castle, thinking it “stage Irish” with its tradition of kissing the Blarney stone but it is really well worth a visit, including queueing to get to the top of the castle (to kiss the stone, which you can of course skip!), because along the way you can see the interior five storeys of the castle with its many rooms and corridors. Each year around 550,000 tourists visit Blarney Castle.

It is also worth visiting just to wander the seventy acres of gardens, which are beautiful. There’s a coffee shop in the stable yard.

Map of the extensive estate and gardens.
The Stables and Coach Yard have a coffee shop.
This sign board tells us that the castle we see today is the third structure that was erected on the site. In the tenth century there was a wooden hunting lodge. Around 1210 this was replaced by a stone structure, which was demolished for the foundations of the third, current, castle, built by Cormac MacCarthy in 1446.

The castle we see today is the third structure that was erected on the site. In the tenth century there was a wooden hunting lodge. Around 1210 this was replaced by a stone structure, which was demolished for the foundations of the third, current, castle, built by Cormac Laidir (‘the strong’) MacCarthy in 1446. To put it into chronological perspective, this is around the same time that Richard III deposed King Edward V and nearly fifty years before Christopher Columbus “discovered” the “New world” in 1492 (see the terrific chronology outlined in James Lyttelton’s Blarney Castle, An Irish Towerhouse). He built a slender self-contained four storey tower house, which is now called the northwest tower.

The MacCarthy clan had vast estates, and were recognised as Kings of Munster by the lesser Irish chiefs, the sign boards at Blarney tell us. They trace their ancestry back to a chieftain who was converted to Christianity by St. Patrick. Cormac MacCarthy built Cormac’s Chapel on the Rock of Cashel, 1127-1134, before the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169.

The second, larger, five storey tower was built in the early to mid 16th century.

In 1628 King Charles I created Cormac (Charles) MacCarthy (1564-1640/41) Viscount Muskerry. His father was the 16th Lord of Muskerry – the family gained the title from the English crown in 1353 – and his mother was Mary Butler, daughter of the 1st Baron Caher (of second creation), Theobald, of Cahir Castle in County Tipperary. Viscount Muskerry inherited Blarney in 1616 and undertook alterations, perhaps adding the tall machicolated parapets, and enlarging windows, fitting them with hooded twin and triple light mullioned windows. He married Margaret O’Brien, a daughter of the 4th Earl of Thomond, and secondly, Ellen, widow of Donall MacCarthy Reagh, and daughter of David, seventh Viscount Fermoy. [1]

Viscount Muskerry died in 1640/41, passing the title 2nd Viscount to his son Donnchadh (or Donough). Donough MacCarthy based himself in Macroom, County Cork, and Dublin. Donough and his father were Members of Parliament and sat in the House of Lords in Dublin. He was loyal to the crown in 1641 during the rebellion but afterwards supported the Catholics who sought to be able to keep their lands. The Duke of Ormond sought negotiation between the Confederate Catholics and the crown, and 2nd Viscount Muskerry played an active role in these negotiations. [2] Negotiations were complicated because the lines of disagreement were unclear and as time progressed and more negotiators became involved, goals changed. For some, it was about Catholics being able to own land, for others, to be able to practice their religion freely. Factions fought amongst themselves.

Donough MacCarthy (1594-1665), 2nd Viscount Muskerry and 1st Earl Clancarty, Painted portrait (oil on canvas) at the Hunt Museum, Limerick, Accession number HCP 004. The portrait is part of the original collection donated by antiquarian John Durell Hunt and wife Gertrude Hunt. Other sources suggest it is Donough MacCarthy the 4th Earl Clancarty. I will have to check this!

Further complications arose as Parliament in England was unhappy with the reign of Charles I. Viscount Muskerry was firmly Royalist, along with his brother-in-law the Duke of Ormond. It was at this time that Donough MacCarthy the 2nd Viscount married Eleanor Butler, twin sister of the 1st Duke of Ormond. In 1649, Lord Broghill (Roger Boyle, later created 1st Earl of Orrery) persuaded the towns of Cork, Youghal, Bandon, and Kinsale to declare for Parliament. The division was no longer between Catholics and English rule, but between Royalists and Parliament supporters.

Blarney Castle was taken by Cromwell’s army under Lord Broghill in 1646 and again in 1649 by Oliver Cromwell. The inhabitants and defenders fled via the passageways below the castle and escaped.

It is said that the inhabitants of the castle escaped Cromwell’s army by these routes under the castle.

The 2nd Viscount became the 1st Earl of Clancarty in 1658, raised to the title by the exiled son of King Charles I, who in 1660 became King Charles II. MacCarthy’s property was restored to him by the King.

Charles 3rd Viscount died in the same year as his father (1665), having joined first the French army when in exile from Ireland, and later, the regiment of the Duke of York (who later became King James II). It was therefore his son, Charles James MacCarthy, who became 2nd Earl of Clancarty. The 2nd Earl’s mother was Margaret de Burgh, or Bourke, daughter of the 1st Marquess Clanricarde. The 2nd Earl died in the following year, so the 1st Earl’s second son, Callaghan (1635-1676) became 3rd Earl of Clancarty in 1666. Callaghan converted to Protestantism. He married Elizabeth FitzGerald, daughter of the 16th Earl of Kildare. His younger brother, Justin, was given the title of Viscount Mountcashel.

Jane Ohlmeyer writes of the MacCarthys of Muskerry in her book Making Ireland English:

p. 108: “[the MacCarthys of Muskerry] The family thus enjoyed a formidable range of kinship ties that included the Butlers, of Ormond and Cahir, and the houses of Thomond, Fermoy, Buttevant, Courcy of Kinsale and Kerry. Like Viscount Roche, Muskerry enjoyed a close friendship with the earl of Cork and stood as godfather to one of his youngest children. …Blarney Castle..was the family’s principal residence…. They also resided at Macroom castle in mid-Cork…Though Muskerry retained the traditional customs associated with Gaelic lordship, he also acted as an anglicizing speculator, loaning money and securing lands through mortgages, and as an improving landlord who encouraged English settlers to his estates and especially his main town of Macroom, in mid-Cork.” [see 1]

We saw many means of defense illustrated on our tour of Cahir Castle recently during Heritage Week 2022, and many of these were utilised at Blarney. [see my entry on Cahir Castle in ] One can see the heavy machicolation, a series of openings in the floor of projecting parapets in castles and tower-houses through which offensive or injurious substances can be dropped on the enemy below.

See the machicolation at the top of Blarney Castle.

The castle rises formidably from the bedrock of solid limestone. Its height gives a view all around for defense.

The castle is built on a bedrock of solid limestone.
Ground level openings.
The ground level entrance we see was a gatehouse that defended the tower. Below the castle is a labyrinth of underground passages and chambers. One chamber may have been used as a prison. Another housed a well.

A bawn surrounded the tower house: a defensive area of about eight acres surrounded by a wall. Animals and people took shelter within the bawn in times of danger. The castle was self-sufficient and the bawn would have been a hive of activity with tanners, blacksmiths, masons, woodcutters, carpenters, livestock keepers, horses, cows, pigs, poultry, butchers, cooks, gardeners and attendants. Part of the bawn wall remains.

View of the bawn wall from the castle.
Defense measures include an Oubliette for unwanted guests, and a murder hole if you gain entry to the tower house.
The tower house rising from the limestone bedrock.
The impressively intact casement oriel window we can see here was the Earl of Clancarty’s bedchamber, probably added in 1616 when Cormac (Charles) MacCarthy (1564-1640/41) Viscount Muskerry inherited and undertook major alterations. Further up, there is a two-light window, which was not made to be glazed so is therefore very old.

Blarney was a typical tower house with four or five storeys, with one or two main chambers and some smaller rooms on each floor. A vaulted stone ceiling served to keep the thin tower structurally sound by tying the walls together and also acted as a firebreak. Blarney was constructed as two towers, one built later (by about 100 years) than the other. At the bottom the walls are about 18 feet thick. When it was first built it would have been covered in plaster and whitewashed to protect it from rainy weather.

The MacCarthys retained Blarney Castle until forced to leave it in the years following the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. They were Jacobites, supporters of King James II, and not supporters of King William III, who was crowned King of England, along with his wife Mary, James II’s daughter, in 1689. Mark Bence-Jones tells us that the castle was fortified by Donogh MacCarthy (c. 1668-1734), 4th Earl of Clancarty, who fought for James II in the Williamite War. [3]

The Dictionary of Irish Biography tells us that Donogh MacCarthy the 4th Earl held the office of Lord of the Bedchamber to King James II in Ireland in 1689. MacCarthy fought in the Siege of Cork in 1690, where he was captured, and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He escaped and fled to France in May 1694. In 1698 he secretly returned to England but was betrayed by his brother-in-law, Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland, and was again imprisoned in the Tower. The Dictionary tells us that Lady Russell obtained a pardon for him, on condition he stayed permanently abroad. Lady Rachel Russell, nee Wriothesley, had previously petitioned unsuccessfully for the freedom of her husband, William Lord Russell, who had been arrested as part of the Rye House Plot to kill King Charles II and his brother James.

In exile in France in 1707, Donogh MacCarthy was Lord of the Bedchamber to the titular King James III (so called by the Jacobites who continued to support the Stuarts for the monarchy after William III and Mary had taken the throne). [4] This means he would have known John Baggot of County Cork and Baggotstown, County Limerick, whom I hope was an ancestor of mine (I haven’t been able to trace my family tree back that far). John Baggot married Eleanor Gould, daughter of Ignatius Gould, and fought at the Battle of Aughrim, where he lost an eye. The exiled monarchy recognised his sacrifice and in gratitude, made him groom of the bedchamber to the titular King James III in France also. Those that left Ireland at this time were called the Wild Geese. His son John Baggot subsequently fought in the French army and the other son, Ignatius, in the Spanish army.

There is a terrific summary in plaques in the ground in Limerick city around the Treaty of Limerick stone, on which the Treaty of Limerick was signed in 1691, that tells of the series of battles fought between the troops supporting King James II and the troops supporting King William. One plaque tells us:

Sept 1690 King William returned to England leaving Baron de Ginkel in charge. Cork and Kinsale surrendered to William’s army. Sarsfield rejects Ginkel’s offer of peace. More French help arrives in Limerick as well as a new French leader, the Marquis St. Ruth. Avoiding Limerick, Ginkel attacked Athlone, which guarded the main route into Connaght. 30th June 1691, Athlone surrendered. St. Ruth withdrew to Aughrim. 12th July 1691 The Battle of Aughrim. The bloodiest battle ever fought on Irish soil. The Jacobites were heading for victory when St. Ruth was killed by a cannonball. Without leadership the resistance collapsed and by nightfall, the Williamites had won, with heavy losses on both sides. Most of the Jacobites withdrew to Limerick.

Plaques in the ground of Limerick City around the Treaty of Limerick Stone, about the War of two Kings.
There are many additions to the castle as well as the main keep. This round tower was part of a Gothic mansion built on to the side of the castle by James Jefferyes in 1739.

After the MacCarthys were forced to leave Blarney Castle, it was occupied by the Hollow Sword Blade Company from London. The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us that this company was a forerunner of the disastrously speculative South Sea Company that was attempting to break the Bank of England’s monopoly over Government loans. [5] The Landed Estates database tells us:

The Hollow Sword Blades Company was set up in England in 1691 to make sword blades. In 1703 the company purchased some of the Irish estates forfeited under the Williamite settlement in counties Mayo, Sligo, Galway, and Roscommon. They also bought the forfeited estates of the Earl of Clancarty in counties Cork and Kerry and of Sir Patrick Trant in counties Kerry, Limerick, Kildare, Dublin, King and Queen’s counties (Offaly and Laois). Further lands in counties Limerick, Tipperary, Cork and other counties, formerly the estate of James II were also purchased, also part of the estate of Lord Cahir in county Tipperary. In June 1703 the company bought a large estate in county Cork, confiscated from a number of attainted persons and other lands in counties Waterford and Clare. However within about 10 years the company had sold most of its Irish estates. Francis Edwards, a London merchant, was one of the main purchasers.” [6]

In 1702 the castle was sold to Sir Richard Pyne, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, who sold it the following year, in 1703, to the Governor of Cork, Sir James Jeffereyes (alternatively spelled “Jefferyes”). Richard Pyne also purchased land at Ballyvolane in County Cork, another section 482 property which we have yet to visit!

In 1739 James Jeffereyes built a four storey Gothic style mansion on to the side of the castle, which he called “The Court,” demolishing a former house the MacCarthys had added to the castle. Frank Keohane tells us that the architect may have been Christopher Myers, who had previously rebuilt Glenarm Castle in County Antrim. We can see glimpses of its appearance from the round towers and ruins to one side of the castle, which are the remnants of this grand mansion. The Jefferyes family also laid out a landscape garden at Blarney known as Rock Close, with great stones arranged to look as though they had been put there in prehistoric times. There is a stone over the “wishing steps” inscribed “G. Jefferyes 1759” which commemorates the date of birth of James Jefferyes’s heir. It was a popular tourist destination as early as the 1770s.

Pictures of the Gothic house that was built on the side of the castle, on a noticeboard at Blarney.
Ruins of “the Court,” the Gothic house added to the side of the castle by the Jeffereyes. You can see the plaster decoration of a horse over the door. This must have been put up by later owners of the castle as the horse, or colt, is a symbol of the Colthurst family.

We joined the queue to go up the tower. The ground floor is a large vaulted space. We saw the same sort of vaulting in Oranmore Castle in County Galway, which we visited later that week during Heritage Week 2022.

Ground floor of the Castle, a vaulted space.

This room would have been the cellar chamber when first built, and would have had a wooden floor above, supported by still-present stone supports in the walls. The room on the upper wooden floor was the Great Hall. Originally, an information board tells us, the lower storey probably housed servants or junior members of the household. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it had become a wine cellar, as evidenced by some brick-lined shelves.

Ground floor of Blarney Castle.

We can see the arched vaulted ceiling from the ground floor, with indentations left from wickerwork mats that were used, on which the bed of mortar for the roof was set. We saw similar indentations at Trim Castle and the nearby house of St. Mary’s Abbey in Trim, in the basement [see ]. The walls would have been covered in tapestries, which were put on the floor at some stage, becoming carpets. The arched ceiling tied the walls of the tower together.

See the remnants of the wickerwork on the vaulted ceiling, and an impressive fireplace remains in what would have been the Great Hall.

Next to the Great Hall was the Earl’s bedroom.

From here we have a good view of the remnants of the Gothic house remnants:

Remnants of the Gothic styled house which had been built onto the castle.

We climbed a stone spiral staircase inside the tower to see the upper chambers. As usual in tower houses, the narrow spiral staircase was built partly for defense.

We next reached the “Young Ladies’ Bedroom.” The noticeboard tells us that three daughters of Cormac Teige MacCarthy (d. 1583), 14th Lord, grew up here.

The room above the Great Hall in the tower would have been the family room.

Remaining plasterwork on the wall in the family room.
One end of the Family Room has a large fireplace, and the Banqueting Hall was on the storey above. The floor of the Banqueting Hall no longer exists, but you can see the fireplace of this room on the right hand side of the photograph.
Continuing our climb up to the top of Blarney Castle, looking down.

The floors of the banqueting hall, above the family room, and the chapel which would have been on the floor above the banqueting hall, are gone, so when you reach the top of the castle, you can look down inside.

Looking down from the battlements at what would have been the chapel (with the arched windows) and the Banqueting Hall below.

In the Chapel, mass would have been said in Latin, and the chaplain acted as tutor to the children also. The builder of Blarney Castle, Cormac Laidir MacCarthy, was a generous patron of the church and he built five churches, including Kilcrea Abbey where he was buried, which became the traditional burial place for the lords of Blarney.

I love how well-preserved the stone door and window frames remain.

The information boards tell us that feasting was part of the way of life at the time and a meal was combined with a night’s entertainment as part of the social life of the Castle. A series of courses would be served, with fish eggs, fowl and roast meat, all highly spiced to keep them fresh. Alcohol served included mead, beer, wine and whiskey. The high ranks sat near the Lord at the top of the table “above the salt” and others sat “below the salt.” As the meal progressed the Chieftain’s Bard would play his harp and sing songs celebrating the prowess of the MacCarthy clan.

The bell-tower, midway along the top of the eastern battlements. The north pilaster supporting the arch is built on top of a chimneystack that served the fireplaces in the Great Hall and the Banqueting Hall.

The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us that in former times visitors were lowered over the parapet to kiss ‘The Stone’ while gripped firmly by the ankles. The process has become easier and safer today though one still has to lean very far back to kiss the stone, head dangling downward. It has been a popular tourist destination since the days of Queen Victoria. The keep and Blarney stone remains, “despite the osculatory attrition of the eponymous stone by thousands of tourists every year” as Burke’s Peerage tells us with verve! (107th Edition (2003) page 865)

Photograph dated around 1897, National Library of Ireland Creative Commons on flickr.
photo by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool.
Winston Churchill at Blarney Stone, 1912.
Photograph from National Library of Ireland Creative Commons.

One can see from the window embrasures how thick the castle walls are. There are passageways within the walls.

Passageways within the thick walls of the castle.

Some passageways lead to ancilliary rooms, sometimes to a garderobe or “bathroom.”

James St. John Jeffereyes (1734-1780) inherited Blarney estate at the age of six. St. John Jeffereyes was an “improving” landlord who sought to aid the welfare of his tenants and maximise profits from his estates. He took an interest in the linen trade developing in County Cork, which processed locally grown flax into linen. St. John Jeffereyes created a village near Blarney Castle in 1765 with a linen mill, bleach mill, weavers’ cottages and a bleach green. The River Martin powered the mills. The rise of cotton, however, proved the downfall of the production of linen. In 1824, Martin Mahon moved his woollen manufacturing business to a former cotton mill in Blarney, to develop Blarney Woollen Mills. James St. John also, with three other landed gentlemen, established the Tonson Warren bank in Cork city (1768). It was a prominent institution in Cork until its failure in 1784, after Jeffereyes’s death.

James St. John Jeffereyes first married Elizabeth Cosby (1721-1788). We came across her when we visited Stradbally in County Laois, which is still owned by the Cosby family. Her father was William Cosby (1690-1736), who was Governor of New York. She had been previously married to Augustus Fitzroy, 2nd Duke of Grafton, who died in 1741. James St. John and Elizabeth’s daughter Lucia served as Maid of Honour to Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III.

James St. John Jeffereyes married secondly Arabella Fitzgibbon, sister of the 1st Earl of Clare, John Fitzgibbon (1748-1802) (who, by the way, married the daughter of Richard Chapell Whaley, who had the house on St. Stephen’s Green built which now houses the Museum of Literature Ireland (MOLI) – see my entry for MOLI on He was the Lord Chancellor of Ireland who forced the Act of Union through parliament). With Arabella, James had a son and heir, George Jeffereyes (1768-1841).

James’s son George Jeffereyes (1768-1841) married Anne, daughter of the Right Hon. David la Touche of Marlay, the richest man in Ireland and head of the banking dynasty. George’s sisters also married well: Marianne married George Frederick Nugent, 7th Earl of Westmeath; Albinia married Colonel Stephen Francis William Fremantle; and Emilia married Richard Butler, 1st Earl of Glengall.

The Court was destroyed by fire in 1820. Instead of rebuilding, George Jeffereyes and his family moved to Inishera House in West Cork. [7] George and Anne’s son St. John Jeffereyes (1798-1862) inherited Blarney. He had a son, also St. John, who lived in Paris and died in 1898. The estate passed to St. John’s sister Louisa, who married George Colthurst (1824-1878), 5th Baronet Colthurst, of Ardum, Co. Cork. He was a man of property, with another large estate at Ballyvourney near the border with County Kerry, along with Lucan House in County Dublin (currently the Italian ambassador’s residence in Ireland). Blarney remains in the hands of the Colthurst family. Blarney House was built for Louisa and George Colthurst, in 1874.

Blarney House, built for George Colthurst (1824-1878), 5th Baronet Colthurst and his wife Louisa Jeffereyes in 1874, as seen from the top of Blarney Castle.

George Colthurst’s maternal grandmother was Emily La Touche, daughter of David La Touche and Elizabeth Marlay, and paternal grandmother was Emily La Touche’s sister Harriet. Their sister Anne had married George Charles Jeffereyes, Louisa’s grandmother, so Louisa and George were second cousins.

Randall MacDonald tells us in his book The Lost Houses of Ireland. A chronicle of great houses and the families who lived in them:

p. 29 “The Colthursts had arrived in Ireland from Yorkshire towards the end of Elizabeth I’s reign and settled in Cork. Christopher Colthurst was murdered by the rebels in 1641 near Macroom in County Cork. By the 1730s, they were High Sheriffs of County Cork, and in 1744 John Colthurst, who had married the daughter of the 1st Earl of Kerry, Lady Charlotte Fitzmaurice, was created a baronet. It would be uncharitable to suggest that it was his father-in-law’s influence that procured him this advancement. He was Member of Parliament for Doneraile from 1751 (and afterwards for Youghal and Castle Martyr). His son Sir John Colthurst, the 2nd Baronet, was killed in a duel with Dominick Trant in 1787 and the title passed to his brother (MP for Johnstown, Co Longford and then for Castle Martyr until 1795), who married Harriet, daughter of the Right Hon. David la Touche. Sir Nicholas Colthurst, the 4th Baronet, was the MP for the city of Cork from 1812-1829.

It was his son, Sir George Colthurst, the 5th Baronet, who married Louisa Jefferyes of Blarney Castle in 1846.” [8]

The 9th Baronet Colthurst, Richard La Touche Colthurst (1928-2003) married Janet Georgina Wilson Wright, from Coolcarrigan in County Kildare, another section 482 property [ ]. Their son is the current owner of Blarney Castle and House.

We headed for the coffee shop after our perusal of the Castle. In the yard they have beautiful barrell vaulted wagons, and in the cafe, lovely old travel advertisements.

Individual stables have been made into “snugs” for snacks.

The seventy acres of gardens offer various landscapes. The bawn contains a Poison Garden, or medicinal garden, where various medicinal plants are grown, including poisons such as wolfsbane, ricin, mandrake, opium and cannabis.

The bawn wall and poison garden.

The Rock Close is the garden that was developed by the Jefferyes in the 1750s and echoes Ireland’s ancient past with giant rock formations and hints of Druidic culture. Water running through adds to the beauty, with a lovely waterfall.

We were impressed by the bamboo maze.

My favourite area is the Fern Garden, which feels prehistoric and is extremely picturesque, with raised wooden walkways. We headed to Blarney House, which will be my next entry!

The Fern Garden, which includes lovely wooden walkways.

[1] p. 108. Ohlmeyer, Jane. Making Ireland English: The Irish Aristocracy in the 17th Century.

[2] See Ó Siochrú, Micheál’s entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography:

[3] 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.

[4] G.E. Cokayne; with Vicary Gibbs, H.A. Doubleday, Geoffrey H. White, Duncan Warrand and Lord Howard de Walden, editors, The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant, new ed., 13 volumes in 14 (1910-1959; reprint in 6 volumes, Gloucester, U.K.: Alan Sutton Publishing, 2000), volume III, page 216. Quoted on the website The See also



[7] see the timeline in James Lyttelton’s Blarney Castle, An Irish Towerhouse.

[8] MacDonnell, Randal. The Lost Houses of Ireland. A chronicle of great houses and the families who lived in them. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. London, 2002.

St. Mary’s Abbey, High Street, Trim, Co. Meath

contact: Peter Higgins

Tel: 087-2057176

Open dates in 2022: Jan 24-28, 31, Feb 1-4, 28, Mar 1-4, 7-11, May 7-22, June 27-30, July 1, 4-8,
Aug 13-22, Sept 27-30, 2pm-6pm
Fee: adult €5, OAP/student/child €2

St. Mary’s Abbey overlooks Trim, impressively tall. The ruin of the Abbey, the “yellow steeple,” looks deceptively like part of the building although it is not. The yellow steeple is the ruin of the abbey bell tower, named for the yellow colour reflected by the stonework in the setting sun.
Trim Castle, built around 1175 by Hugh de Lacy, across the River Boyne from St. Mary’s Abbey.

St. Mary’s Abbey house is one of the oldest properties on the Section 482 list. Now a private home, the building was probably initially part of an Augustinian Abbey, situated across the River Boyne from Trim Castle. We visited Trim Castle after seeing the Abbey, and learned that in 1182 when Hugh de Lacy was granted the Liberty of Meath, he occupied this site at Trim Castle. See my entry about Trim Castle.

Hugh de Lacy (born before 1135, died 1186) was an Anglo-Norman who came to Ireland with King Henry II’s troops. He was created Lord Justice and fought to establish English authority. He was also put in charge of Dublin Castle so was a sort of first Viceroy of Ireland. As well as having Trim Castle built, he built a ring of castles around Dublin to secure the land. Other castles reputedly built by Hugh de Lacy in Meath are Dunsany, which is also a Section 482 property, and Killeen Castle, both of which were held by the Cusack family on behalf of the de Lacys.

St. Mary’s Abbey was established in the twelfth century, and is said to be on the site of a church established by St. Patrick, the fifth century missionary in Ireland. The church was destroyed in 1172 by the local Irishman Conor O’Loughlinn [1], and rebuilt by Hugh de Lacy, so the still standing steeple may have been built around the same time as Trim’s Castle Keep, or as the author of Trim: Its Ecclesiastical Ruins, Its Castle, Etc writes, the steeple was probably built after a fire in 1368.

The gardens of St. Mary’s Abbey go down to the River Boyne.
The River Boyne runs through the village of Trim.
The Yellow Steeple, 40 metres (130 ft) tall (seven storeys), a remnant of St. Mary’s Abbey, established in the twelfth century. The most elaborate part of the remaining tower of St. Mary’s Abbey is the belfry window, described in Casey and Rowan’s The Buildings of Ireland: North Leinster as “a generous pointed opening with two pointed lights bisecting at the centre by a cross-mullion, with a flowerlet formed in the tracery pattern above.” [2]
It’s incredible how well-built the steeple is, one wall still in immaculate condition.
One can even go inside the steeple tower remains, through its doorway with Gothic arches surmounting the lintel.
This looks like remnants of a staircase in the steeple tower.
Remains of the St. Mary’s Abbey tower.
The tower is unusual, I would think, for an Abbey. It looks more like a tower-house, as it has large windows.

The building listed on Revenue Section 482 is now called St. Mary’s Abbey, after the abbey of which it was probably a part. It is also called Talbot’s Castle as it was said to have been built, Mark Bence-Jones tells us, by Sir John Talbot (c. 1384-1453), 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, for his own occupation when he was Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, although as I will explain, I do not think that this was the case. [3] The National Inventory dates the building to the incredibly early date of 1415, which would coincide with the idea that it may have been built by John Talbot. The Abbey itself existed before this, so Talbot may have taken part of the abbey to be his home. His crest adorns the wall of a tower part of the house. However, I think it is unlikely that Talbot ever lived here.

St. Mary’s Abbey, a fifteenth century tower house, still has the Talbot crest. Probably due to the presence of the coat of arms, it is said to have been built by Sir John Talbot (c. 1384-1453), 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, when he was Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, but this may not be the case. As well as the Talbot crest, with accompanying dogs, the tower has a plaque noting that William Rowan Hamilton, noted mathematician, attended the school that had been housed in the St. Mary’s Abbey building.

The Abbey was burned in 1368. Shortly after the fire, the abbey erected a statue of the Virgin Mary that became famous for its miracles of healing, and so became a place of pilgrimage. It seems unlikely that Talbot lived in the Abbey at this time, therefore. It was still an Abbey at the time of John Talbot, in 1415. Perhaps his coat of arms marks his financial support of the Abbey, thus giving him the blessings and prayers of the Abbey.

St. Mary’s Abbey, a fifteenth century tower house, still has the Talbot crest, and is also called Talbot’s Castle.
The house looks much smaller, when one approaches, than it appears from Trim Castle, dominating the hill above the river bank. It is just one room deep.
The front door is in a Gothic arch, up stone steps, with matching arched window.

The Abbey was dissolved at the time of King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. The author of Trim: Its Ecclesiastical Ruins, Its Castle, Etc tells us that on 15 May 1542 agents of Henry VIII forced Geoffrey Dardis, St. Mary’s last abbot, to sign his own expulsion, and the abbey’s lands were granted to Sir Anthony St. Leger (b. circa 1496, d. 1559), who in 1540 was Lord Deputy of Ireland. (see [1]).

It seems to me that it would have been after the dissolution of the abbey that the abbey building was converted into a secular residence.

The turret with the Talbot arms, which is of two storeys over a basement (although today it looks three storey), is distinct from the rest of the range, Christine Casey and Alistair Rowan point out in their Buildings of Ireland: North Leinster book. (see [2]) They write that: “The punched limestone rubble and big square embrasures still visible in the basement are similar to the Yellow Steeple and support and early to mid-C15 date.”

The entrance vestibule has panelled walls and ceiling and pretty decorative swags draped from bucranium, or rams heads, above the wall panelling.

The stucco work would not have been part of the abbey, as bucrania, ox’s skulls, allude to the ancient Greek and Roman ceremonies of sacrifice, and sacrificial cattle were decorated with garlands of fruit and flowers or decorative ropes with tassels.

Many of the interior doors are arched.

From the vestibule one enters the Gothic maroon coloured dining room, which leads into the drawing room, which is thought to have been the refectory of the abbey. Mark Bence-Jones tells us that the building incorporated part of the Abbey cloister, which forms a vaulted recess on one side of the drawing room.

The dining room has a fireplace that looks like Connemara marble, and the swags again adorn the walls over the wood panelling.

The Drawing Room in what may have been the Refectory of the Abbey. A vaulted recess on one side may have been a cloister of the Abbey.

The drawing room has what Casey and Rowan call a “remarkable and very rare medieval survival, an oriel window or gallery opening off the room in the southeast corner, roofed over by two bays of quadripartite vaulting, springing from octagonal shafts, all of punched grey limestone.”

Rowan and Casey continue: “One has only to look at the refectory building at Newtown Trim to recognize that this is the characteristic position of the reader’s desk or gallery from which scripture was read while the monks ate their meals.”

There’s also a wonderful fireplace that looks very old.

In 1617 King James I granted the churches, rectories and chapels of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Trim to Thomas Ashe of Trim. A website about the Ashe family tells us that Sir Thomas Ashe, of St. John‘s and of Drumsill (now Ashfield Hall), in the county of Cavan, was knighted at Dublin Castle by Sir George Carew, Lord Deputy, on St. James’s day, 25 July 1603, on the occasion of the coronation of James I. [4]

Little seems to be known about the building until it became a school. Mark Bence-Jones tells us that the property was given gables in C17, by which time it has become a “Latin school.” Casey and Rowan write that in the opening years of the eighteenth century the Diocesan School of Meath, which was being run by Dean Jonathan Swift’s curate at Laracor, was without fixed accommodation.

In 1716 Jonathan Swift’s friend “Stella” (her read name was Esther Johnson) bought “St Mary’s Abbey” from John Blakely and the following year she either sold it or gave it to Swift, and it then became the Diocesan School. Peter has copies of the deeds framed. Swift sold it after another year.

The land Deed signed by Esther Johnson, Jonathan Swift’s friend “Stella.”

Casey and Rowan tell us that after the building had become the Diocesan School in the eighteenth century, a report of the Commission for Irish Education of 1827 described it as “a very old building forming part of the quadrangle of St Mary’s Abbey.” Famous past pupils include Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) and William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865), Irish mathematician, astronomer, and physicist.

Peter showed us some metal bars outside an upstairs window which he suggested may have been supports for William Rowan Hamilton to mount a telescope.

Bence-Jones tells us that the Georgian Gothic windows and the long two-storey wing was added in the early nineteenth century, but I don’t think this is correct since that is the part that houses what seems to have been the Abbey refectory. He may mean that this wing was converted at that time into a drawing room, as described by Rowan and Hamilton.

The school closed down and the building was bought by the last schoolteacher, Rev James Hamilton. He was the uncle of William Rowan Hamilton. [5] The Dictionary of Irish Biography describes Reverend James Hamilton: “James Hamilton was a classicist with some knowledge of oriental languages; he recognised his nephew’s precocious talent and fed him an extraordinary diet of the classics, Hebrew, and a wide range of oriental and modern languages. He was quite a taskmaster, albeit a kindly and supportive one, and his nephew responded positively.” [6]

It was occupied as a private house by him and his descendants until 1909, when it was bought by Archibald Montgomery, who carried out various improvements and panelled the principal rooms. Montgomery was a Dublin lawyer and Sheriff of Dublin.

Casey and Rowan tell us that Archibald Montgomery added an attic storey with yellow-brick gables to the west end, and retained a mish-mash of pointed eighteenth century sash windows and Gothic-French windows throughout the rest of the building.

The lobby upstairs has lovely trefoil style windows. Casey and Rowan write that there are angel shield bearers in some window spandrels upstairs, and that they were probably found and reused in the 1909 reconstruction.

The attic storey with pointed gables was added in 1909.
The hopper on the left has the date 1909, to indicate that it is the addition, while the one on the right has the date 1425 on it.
There are angel shield bearers in some window spandrels upstairs, and that they were probably found and reused in the 1909 reconstruction.

In the basement Peter pointed out a feature of the ceiling which would indicate its age. There are what look like scratches, which would be the remains of wickerwork ceiling.

Scratches on ceiling show where an ancient wickerwork ceiling used to be.

We saw the same scratches on a ceiling in Trim Castle:

Similar markings on ceiling in part of Trim Castle.

Montgomery died in 1942 and everything in the house was sold. The house was purchased in 1951 by an engineer from Manchester, John O’Leary. He was also a big game hunter, and won the bronze medal in the 1924 Olympics in Paris for shooting. He and his wife had no children. They left all the contents in the house. Peter Higgins moved in as Caretaker, and later had the opportunity to buy the property.

The gardens tier down to the river, and the house has wonderful views of Trim Castle and the River Boyne.

[1] Trim: Its Ecclesiastical Ruins, Its Castle, Etc. : Together with a Collection of Documents Not Hitherto Published, and Notes of Trim and Its Environs for Past Two Centuries. Jan 1886 · Printed at the Office of the Irish Builder.

[2] Casey, Christine and Alistair Rowan. The Buildings of Ireland, North Leinster. The Counties of Longford, Louth, Meath and Westmeath. Penguin Books, London, 1993.

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


[5] I found more about Reverend James Hamilton’s family on


Larchill, Kilcock, Co. Kildare

Michael De Las Casas, Tel: 087-2213038

Open dates in 2022: May 1-20, 23-31, June 1-10, 14-17, 21-24, 28-30, Aug 13-21, 27-28, 10am-
Fee: adult/OAP/student €8, child €4, concession for groups

Larchill house, May 2022.

We visited Larchill on a glorious sunny day in May 2022. The house has an excellent website explaining the fact that it is a ‘Ferme Ornée’ or Ornamental Farm and is the only surviving, near complete, garden of its type in Europe. It was created between 1740 and 1780.

The Ferme Ornée gardens of the mid 18th century were an expression in landscape gardening of the Romantic Movement. The National Inventory tells us that the house, ornamental farm yards and follies were built by Robert Watson, but it could have been for the previous owners, the Prentice family, a Quaker merchant family who lived in Dublin and at nearby Phepotstown and who owned the land of Larchill. According to the National Inventory, the farm yard was built around 1820, later than the house, which was built around 1790. [1] [2]

Robert Prentice leased Phepotstown in 1708 to grow flax for the production of linen and it seems that at this time he started to develop the land as a ‘Ferme Ornée.’ [3]

It was the current owners, Michael and Louisa de las Casas, who discovered the significance of the property, which had become overgrown and fallen into disrepair, due to a visit by garden historian Paddy Bowe, who was the first to realise that Larchill was a Ferme Ornée and an important ‘lost’ garden.

The website tells us about the idea of an ornamental farm:

Emulating Arcadia, a pastoral paradise was created to reflect Man’s harmony with the perfection of nature. As is the case at Larchill, a working farm with decorative buildings (often containing specimen breeds of farm animal) was situated in landscaped parkland ornamented with follies, grottos and statuary. Tree lined avenues, flowing water, lakes, areas of light and shade and beautiful framed views combined to create an inspirational experience enabling Man’s spirit to rejoice at the wonder of nature.

As in the example of Woburn Farm, a circuit path leads around the property, leading to temples and statues. It’s a beautiful walk around the lake and fields, with a carefully mown trail. We were lucky with the weather!

The owners continue the tradition of keeping specimen breeds with the long-horn cow, peacocks and quail. They used to be kept busy with tourists and children with an adventure area and collection of rare breeds of farmyard animal, but they no longer gear it toward such an audience.

The website continues: “At this time in Versailles, Marie Antoinette enjoyed extravagant pastoral pageants, housed specimen cattle in highly decorated barns, while she herself is said to have dressed as a milk maid complete with porcelain milk churns. Freed from the restrictions of the 17th century formal garden, the Ferme Ornée represented the first move towards the fully fledged landscape parkland designs of Capability Browne.

Marie Antoinette’s rural idyll in Versailles, l’Hameau.

I recently visited the exhibition of “In Harmony with Nature: The Irish Country House Garden 1600-1900” at the Irish Georgian Society, curated by Robert O’Byrne. He describes the Romantic movement and landscape design of Capability Brown:

The Larchill website continues: “The Prentice family had trading connections throughout Europe and would have been aware of the new fashion in garden design: in particular the famous gardens of Leasowes and Woburn Farm in England.  In Ireland the Prentice’s townhouse was adjacent to the home of Dean Swift in Dublin where he had developed his orchard and garden, ‘Naboth’s Vineyard.’  Dean Swift and his great friend Mrs Delaney (known today for her exquisite floral collages) were most closely associated in Ireland with knowledge of the new movement in garden design. Larchill was only 10 miles from Dangan Castle [now a ruin], often visited by Mrs Delaney, where from 1730 an extravagant 600 acres of land was embellished with a 26 acre lake, temples, statuary, obelisks and grottos by Richard Wellesley, Earl of Mornington and Grandfather of the Duke of Wellington [I think this was Richard Wesley (c.1690-1758), first Baron of Mornington. He was born Richard Colley but took the name Wesley when he inherited Dangan from his cousin Garret Wesley. [4] Mrs Delaney writes that he had a complete man-of-war ship on his lake!]. This is entirely contemporary with the Prentice’s period of garden development on their estate.

Robert O’Byrne writes of Larchill in his blog and tells us more about the beginnings of the movement for “ornamental farms”:

Despite its French name, the concept of the ferme ornée is of English origin and is usually attributed to the garden designer and writer Stephen Switzer.* [*Incidentally, Stephen Switzer was no relation to the Irish Switzers: whereas his family could long be traced to residency in Hampshire, the Switzers who settled in this country in the early 18th century had come from Germany to escape religious persecution.] His 1715 book The Nobleman, Gentleman, and Gardener’s Recreation criticized the overly elaborate formal gardens derived from French and Dutch examples, and proposed laying out grounds that were attractive but also functional: ‘By mixing the useful and profitable parts of Gard’ning with the Pleasurable in the Interior Parts of my Designs and Paddocks, obscure enclosures, etc. in the outward, My Designs are thereby vastly enlarg’d and both Profit and Pleasure may be agreeably mix’d together.’ In other words, working farms could be transformed into visually delightful places. One of the earliest examples of the ferme ornée was laid out by Philip Southgate who owned the 150-acre Woburn Farm, Surrey on which work began in 1727. ‘All my design at first,’ wrote Southgate, ‘was to have a garden on the middle high ground and a walk all round my farm, for convenience as well as pleasure.’ The fashion for such designs gradually spread across Europe as part of the adoption of natural English gardens: perhaps the most famous example of the ferme ornée is the decorative model farm called the Hameau de la Reine created for Marie Antoinette at Versailles in the mid-1780s. The most complete extant example of this garden type in Europe is believed to be at Larchill, County Kildare.” [5]

A walk through the woods.

The Larchill website continues: “Thus there were many sources of reference for the Prentice family as they created their own pastoral paradise before falling on hard times and bankruptcy due to failure in their trading enterprises [around 1760]. The Ferme Ornée gardens were, as a result, leased separately from Phepotstown House and became known as Larchill after a boundary of Larch trees was planted around the farm and garden in the early 1800’s.

The Watsons leased the property in 1790 and the farm manager’s house was upgraded with additions at this time (around 1780). (see [3])

The website Meath History Hub gives us more information about the inhabitants of Larchill:

Richard Prentice, a haberdasher from The Coombe in Dublin occupied Larch Hill in the late eighteenth century. He may have established a Ferme Ornée at Larchhill and constructed the follies although they are generally dated to later. Mr. Prentice was declared bankrupt in 1790, owing ten thousand pounds to a Mr John Smith in Galway.

In 1790 the lease at Phepotstown was taken over by Thomas Watson. The Watson family were a Quaker family from Baltracey, Edenderrry. The house at Larch Hill may have been constructed at this time. Thomas died in 1822. His brother, Samuel Eves Watson [1785-1835], took a lease on Larchill when he married Margo Doyle in 1811. In 1820, Samuel E. Watson inherited half the estate of his uncle, Samuel Russell, in Hodgestown, Timahoe. This brought together four estates with a total area of 1,627 acres. When he died in 1836 his grandson, Samuel Neale [or was Samuel Neale his nephew, son of his sister Anna Watson?], got the estate but he had to take the name Watson in order to inherit. In 1837 Larch Hill, Kilmore, Kilcock was the residence of S.E. Watson. Its grounds were embellished with grottoes and temples. Samuel Neale Watson, as he was now known, married Susanna Davis in 1840 and lived mainly in Dublin. Samuel Neale Watson died in 1883. Seamus Cullen has researched the history of the Watson family.” [6]

The property is mainly notable for its follies, but the house is lovely too, an old Quaker farmhouse.

The yard is connected to the house.

The back of the house overlooks the farmyard.
Even some of the farmyard buildings have Gothic arched windows.
The National Inventory describes the farm buildings: “Farmyard complex, c.1820, comprising a southern and a northern courtyard, both to the north of the main house. The southern courtyard comprises three, roughly dressed rubble stone ranges, with pitched slate roofs, pointed openings having some cast-iron diamond paned windows…Northern courtyard comprises three roughly dressed rubble stone ranges, with pitched slate roofs and square-headed openings. Diamond and pointed openings to northern range. Pair of rubble stone round piers to site.” [2]
There is a specially built “owlery.”

We heard the distinctive cry of a peacock and one strutted in the yard. Guinea fowl ran around in a large gang, alerting owner Michael to our visit.

The beautiful flock of guinea fowl, who are great at alerting someone of a visitor!

He greeted us outside the barns, and brought us through the house. The house was built around 1780, and entering the back door, one can see the age – one senses it in the walls in the back hallway, which are not as smooth and straight as in a modern house, and they seem to sit more firmly in the ground. The ceilings are also higher.

Although a farmhouse, it has lovely coving in the drawing room, a ceiling rose and marble fireplace.

Coving in drawing room.
A fanlight in the entrance hall mirrors the fanlight over the front door.
A lovely arched and shuttered window lights the stairs.

The Larchill website continues, about the early 1800s: “It was after this time that the local Watson family leased Larchill and the famous connection was made, to this day, between Robert Watson, Master of the Carlow and Island Hounds and the Fox’s Earth folly. Although the Fox’s Earth would certainly predate the Watson’s tenure at Larchill [he died in 1908], and the fact that Robert Watson was only a distant relative of the Watsons at Larchill, still it is believed that the Fox’s Earth was constructed in response to Robert Watson’s guilt at having killed one too many foxes and his fear of punishment in reincarnation as a fox.

The Larchill website the National Inventory tell us that according to folklore the Fox’s Earth was created by Mr Robert Watson, a famous Master of Hounds in the 18th Century who feared punishment through re-incarnation as a fox, having killed one too many foxes during his hunting career. References I have found refer to the 19th century Robert Watson who was master of the hunt. [7] I’m not sure if there was an 18th Century Robert Watson to whom the Larchill website refers. Robert Watson (1821-1908) of the Hunt lived at Ballydarton, County Carlow. [8] Maybe he influenced his Watson relatives who lived at Larchill to ensure that the odd structure would act as a “fox’s earth” in case he was reincarnated as a fox! Whatever the case, it makes a great story! Ideas of reincarnation were, the Larchill website tells us, being explored at this time through the Romantic movement as established Christian doctrine came into question. It is feasible that there was every intention to create a Fox’s refuge with the design of this folly.

The “Fox’s Earth” folly.

The “Fox’s Earth” folly structure, the website tells us, comprises an artificial grassed mound within which is a vaulted inner chamber with gothic windows and entrance. A circular rustic temple surmounts the mound. Externally it is reminiscent of an ice house.

Leading away, on either side from the vaulted interior, are tunnels disappearing  into the mound. These ‘escape’ tunnels seem to corroborate the story of this being a “Fox’s Earth”, a refuge and escape route for a fox pursued by the hunt.

The National Inventory calls it a Mausoleum: “Mausoleum and folly, built c.1820. Comprising three-bay single-storey dressed limestone façade set into artificial mount, with rustic temple set on the mount. Pointed arch openings to three-bay façade. Rubble stone walls to site, with circular profile piers. Circular profile temple, comprising six columns, capped with dome. Rubble stone bridge to the site.” [9]

Another possibility that Michael told us is that the temple is a Temple of Venus. Inside its tunnels are in the shape of a woman’s reproductive system, with a womb and fallopian tubes. It could have been a sort of temple to fertility.

The Larchill website continues: “Although described in the notes to the 1836 Ordnance Survey as ‘the most fashionable garden in all of Ireland’ over the decades knowledge of the Larchill Ferme Ornée faded. The parkland returned to farmland, the lake was drained and the formal garden was lost and used to graze sheep. Although the follies became semi derelict and obscured by undergrowth and trees, the mystery and beauty of Larchill was still recognised. Folklore stories of hauntings and the ‘strange’ nature of Larchill ensured its continued notoriety.

The Meath History Hub tells us: “The Barry family resided at Larchhill from the 1880s until 1993.  Christopher and Maria Barry donated the Stations of the Cross to Moynalvey church. Christopher died before 1911 leaving Maria a widow.” (see [6])

In 1994 the de Las Casas family acquired Larchill. Four years of restoration followed with the aid of a grant from the Great Gardens of Ireland Restoration Program and a FAS Community Employment Project.

In recognition of the quality and sensitivity of the restoration program Larchill Arcadian Garden has been awarded the 1988 National Henry Ford Conservation Award, the 1999 ESB Community Environment Award and the 2002 European Union Environmental Heritage Award.

We then went outside to explore. Michael gave us a map to follow around the grounds. First he showed us the ingenious mechanism in the ornamental gate:

The gate has a pivot with two notches and it swings from one to the other.
A similar gate leads to the front field.
A beautiful horse greeted us at the edge of the field, sharing the field with a lovely horned cow.

Before we walked the circumference of the field and lake, Michael showed us to the walled garden behind the house. On the way we passed a statue of Flora:

Statue of “Flora.”
This little building seems to be an old fashioned latrine!
Looking back from the walled garden to the house and ornamental dairy.
The Ornamental Dairy. The National Inventory tells us: “Ornamental dairy to south elevation of walled garden, c.1810, comprising of arcaded elevation, with pair of columns supporting arched openings. Stained glass windows set in pointed arch openings to interior.” [10]

The ornamental dairy used to have Dutch tiles but unfortunately a previous owner removed them! Ornamental dairies were common in ornamental farms, and were places where products of the dairy could be sampled if not actually made there.

Stained glass windows in the ornamental dairy.
Stained glass windows in the ornamental dairy.
The walled garden, Larchill.

At the north west corner of the restored Walled Garden the Shell Tower is a three storey, battlemented tower with single arched Gothic windows.

The National Inventory describes the tower: “Three-stage circular-plan castellated tower, built c.1820, set in south-west corner of walled garden. Roughly dressed rubble limestone walls, with flight of stone steps leading to first floor level. Pointed arch openings. Remains of ornamental shell work to interior.” [10]

The tower, called a “Cockle Tower,” is decorated with shells, but unfortunately it needs to be stabilised before one could safely enter. I did manage to see the inside of the shell tower by looking through a window. We saw a shell house in Curraghmore in County Waterford, and Mary Delany is famous for her shell work. There is also one nearby at Carton Estate.

The website tells us that in the case of the Larchill Shell Tower, where lower rooms are decorated with shells laid in geometric patterns, the shells appear to be mostly native varieties, many are cockles with some exotic exceptions such as conches – perhaps sourced via the trading connections of  the 18th century Prentice family who created the Ferme Ornée at Larchill.

Inside the cockle tower.
The Cockle Tower also has some stained glass windows.
18th century statue of Meleager, which is now preserved from the elements in the Walled Garden. He used to stand in the lake.
Meleager, hero of  the epic Greek mythological tale of the Calydonian boar hunt. Meleager is always represented with his hunting dog and the head of the slain boar as he is here. Michael pointed out an interesting fact about his statue, the original of which is in the Vatican in Rome. In Rome the boar is on the right side of Meleager, but in this copy, the boar is on the left, so it shows that the copy must have been done from an etching, which is in reverse.
These twisty branches are amazing and beautiful. I wonder what plant it is?
Distinctive piggery buildings, west of the walled garden, with battlements, steps and arched windows. At one time, these housed rare breeds of pigs, goats and fowl.
The animals had their own castle!

After we explored the walled garden, we set off to see the follies dotted around the lake. On the lake itself are two follies: the Gibraltar and the round temple. A previous owner had drained the lake but the current owners reinstated it, as water is an essential element of an ornamental farm, creating a romantic landscape. We learned a charming new word: marl clay lines the bottom of the lake. To prepare the clay before the lake was filled with water, the land underwent the process of “puddling.” This is letting sheep loose on the clay to walk it into the ground.

The lake, with the house in the background. A previous owner had drained the lake but the current owners reinstated it.
A ha-ha runs between two fields. One can see the island temple and Gibraltar in the background.
The Ha-Ha. The ha-ha contains the remnants of an elongated fish pond forming the ditch. (see [3])
The remnants of an elongated fish pond forming the ditch of the ha-ha.

The ditch of the ha-ha contained a fish pond, and this flowed to an eel pond. Fish farming would have been a lucrative practice.

The “Gibraltar” in the lake.

Gibraltar: This is a castellated miniature fort with circular gun-holes and five battlemented towers situated on one of two islands within the lake. It would have been constructed just shortly before, or at the same time as, the  famous defense by the British of their garrison on Gibraltar against the Spanish during the  ‘Great Siege’ of 1779 to 1783. The siege, which lasted nearly three and half years through starvation and repeated onslaughts by the Spanish, was impressive news at the time and must have motivated the naming of the fortress as Gibraltar.

There is a similar “Gibraltar” tower in Heathfield Park Estate in East Sussex. In 1791 Francis Newbery bought Bailey Park, an estate in East Sussex, which he renamed the Heathfield Park Estate. One of his first projects was to create a memorial to the former owner of the estate, George Augustus Eliot, who had been Governor at Gibraltar during the lengthy ‘Great Siege’ by the Spanish and French of 1779-1783. In 1787 Eliot was created Lord Heathfield of Gibraltar in recognition of his service to his country, and his death in 1790 had been marked by long eulogies in the press. The tower was later sketched by Turner as part of his commission to provide illustrations for Cooke’s Views in Sussex. [11]

However the fortress at Larchill was much more a source of pleasure and entertainment, the Larchill website tells us, with stories of mock battles across the lake.

Gibraltar folly.
Gibraltar folly.

There are more follies that one comes across as one walks around the estate.

The Feuille; the website tells us: “This is a circular mound planted with a spiral of beech trees to the side of the lake. It would appear to have been a practical and ornamental use for the soil excavated to create the lake itself. Feuillé is an appropriate name as the word ‘folly’ is an archaic English term for a lush and overgrown area of bushes and trees and was likely to have derived from the French ‘la feuillé’ meaning leaf.”
The Boat House, Larchill, built c.1830, comprising of single-arch bridge to water side elevation, and with rubble stone walls and wrought-iron gate to rear.
The Boat House.
The Boat House.
The Boat House, Larchill.
The National Inventory tells us this is a “Rustic temple, built c.1820, comprising six of rendered columns set on a hexagonal plan, supporting a rubble stone dome. Flanked by rendered walls with circular-profile terminating piers. Stone seats to walls.”
Rustic temple set in a lake, built c.1820, comprising columns set on a circular-plan, with rendered boundary walls having circular openings. [12]

The website tells us about the Lake Temple: it “is a circular island building in the lake to the west of Gibraltar. The outer wall has decorative recesses and the internal circle of columns surrounds a well-like central core.

There is evidence that the  columns may have originally been partially roofed so as to direct rainwater into the well itself. It is possible that the design was intended to emulate the plunge pool baths of Ancient Rome, such as the famous pool at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli.”

There used to be a causeway out to the island temple. Another theory is that the well and round temple could have been part of a sham Druidic temple. Tim Gatehouse writes of a Grand Lodge of Irish Druids in the 1790s, whose summer activities included visits to members’ estates. (see [3])

A modern reproduction, this statue of the god Bacchus stands in the lake at the site of an original 18th century statue of Meleager, which is now preserved from the elements in the Walled Garden. The statue of Meleager was well-situated near the Gibraltar folly as the HMS Meleager was a frigate that fought in Admiral Nelson’s fleet. (see[3])
Chinese prayer statue and lantern.

It was lovely to wander around Larchill on such a sunny day. The owners have done us a great service to resurrect the beauty of an ornamental farm.



[3] Gatehouse, Tim. “Larchill: a rediscovered Irish garden and its Australian cousin,” Australian Garden History, Vol. 29, No. 1 (July 2017), pp. 15-20.





[8] The Watsons of Kilconnor, County Carlow, 1650 – present by Peter J F Coutts and Alan Watson




[12] Lake Temple:

Our holiday in County Cork

I still have to write about our visit to County Cork this year. We stayed in two airbnbs, one closer to Dublin, so that it was not too long a drive, and the second near Bantry, in order to see Bantry House. We stopped overnight in County Tipperary on the way home, in Thurles, to break up the long drive home.

On our first day, we visited Blarney House and Blarney Castle, both Section 482 properties.

Blarney Castle, County Cork.
Blarney House, County Cork.

The next day we drove down to our Bantry airbnb. Bantry House wasn’t open that day, as they had an event, so instead, Stephen and I went for lunch to Liss Ard estate, in order to see the Sky Garden by James Turrell. Then we went to see Castletownshend, I made an appointment to see the castle. It is wonderful, full of historical items and still in the same family who built it. I wrote about both these properties in my “accommodation page.”

The next day we visited the wonderful Bantry House. It is like a museum, so full of wonderful decor! I will be writing about all these properties soon.

Bantry House, Cork.

On our last day, we visited Riverstown to see the Lafranchini brothers’ stuccowork.

Riverstown, County Cork.

We stopped in Tipperary to visit Cahir Castle which is amazing and has a great exhibition about its history. Then we went on to see the Swiss Cottage – I wrote about these in my entry on Office of Public Works sites in County Tipperary.

Heritage Week 2022

We had a terrific and successful Heritage Week, visiting every province in Ireland! We headed from home to County Limerick to stay in the lovely Ash Hill in Kilmallock, which is on the Section 482 list so I’ll be writing about it.

Ash Hill, County Limerick.

The next day (Saturday) we visited Beechwood in County Tipperary, which was built as a glebe house for the local Church of Ireland vicar, and then headed to The Turret in Ballingarry, County Limerick, an unusual building which may be built upon ancient Knights Templar or Knights Hospitaller foundations.

The Turret, County Limerick.

Donal, the owner, also brought us to see the nearby impressive ruin of a de Lacy castle. The next day we visited Glenville in County Limerick, an old Massey property which is being beautifully restored, and then headed to see Mount Trenchard outside Foynes.

Glenville, County Limerick.
Mount Trenchard, County Limerick.

On our way, we took a detour to a heritage site, the Desmond castle in Newcastle West.

Desmond Castle, Newcastle West, County Limerick.

On Monday we left our lovely Ash Hill, and headed to our airbnb in County Roscommon. We stopped in County Galway to visit two section 482 properties, Oranmore Castle and Claregalway Castle, both are restored tower houses.

Oranmore Castle, County Galway.
Claregalway Castle, County Galway.

We were very impressed by Claregalway Castle and its wonderful decor. We spent the next day at Strokestown, in the excellent famine museum.

Strokestown Park, County Roscommon.

We were disappointed to find that the repairs to the house are still in progress and that it is not yet safe for visitors. However, as we looked around the outside of the Palladian house, we ran into Aodain, one of the staff there, and he kindly invited us to the following day’s Heritage Week event, which I had not seen advertised when I was studying the Heritage Week events – a tour of the unique darkroom of Strokestown. So we returned the next day and were able to see a few rooms inside the house. It’s a section 482 property so I’ll be writing about it soon.

On Thursday we moved from our accommodation in Roscommon to stay with Nicola and Durcan at Annaghmore in County Sligo. On the way we stopped in Boyle in County Roscommon to visit King House, now an excellent museum with information about the King family, and also the Connaught Rangers who later occupied the building.

The dining room in King House, County Roscommon.

On Friday we visited Lissadell in County Sligo, and had a tour of the house, and visited the exhibitions about Constance Markievicz and WB Yeats, as well as the Alpine Garden.

Lissadell, County Sligo.

On Saturday we drove to our last airbnb accommodation, in County Fermanagh, stopping at Manorhamilton Castle on the way which was meant to be open for Heritage Week and was scheduled to be open that day, but we were informed in the cafe on the site that it was not open that day. Grrr!

Manorhamilton Castle, County Leitrim.