Larchill, Kilcock, Co. Kildare W23 Y44P

Michael De Las Casas, Tel: 087-2213038

Open dates in 2023: May 1-26, 29-31 June 1-9, 12-16, 20-23, 27-30, Aug 12-20, 10am-2pm
Fee: adult/OAP/student €8, child €4 under 4 years free, group rates €6

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:

Wilton Castle, Bree, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford Y21 V9P9 (and a trip to Johnstown Castle)

contact: Sean Windsor
(Tourist Accommodation Facility)
Tel: 053-9247738
Open for accommodation: all year

Wilton Castle.

We treated ourselves to a stay in Wilton Castle in November in 2021. Having been gutted in a fire in 1923, it stood as a dramatic ruin until the Windsors purchased and began to refurbish it into luxurious accommodation. The current restoration was completed in 2014. So far just half of it has been rebuilt, the rest has been stabilised but remains empty and without a roof. The work which has been done by the Windsors is incredible – it seems to have been rebuilt to a very high standard. I’m not sure if they intend to continue to rebuild the rest of the castle.

Wilton Castle was designed for Harry Alcock (1792-1840) by Daniel Robertson (d. 1849) in 1836-38, subsuming parts of an earlier castle and house.

The area was previously known as Clogh na Kayer (The Castle of the Sheep). Herbert Hore writes in History of the Town and County of Wexford that an ancient Castle of Cloghnakayer was built in the fourteenth century. The De Dene family owned the land until 1354, when an only daughter married Philip Furlong whose descendant, Sir Fulke Furlong, knight, of Horetown, built a castle around 1410. 

The land then passed to the Butlers of Mountgarret. Edward Butler, Baron of Kayer (eldest son of Pierce, second son of Richard 1st Viscount Mountgarret) rebuilt and restored the ancient Castle, and added a mansion house to it in 1599. [1]

The view from our suite.

Edward Butler’s son, Pierce, inherited. Pierce Butler was a Catholic and a supporter of the monarchy and his land was confiscated by the Cromwellian parliament in 1655 and granted to a Cromwellian soldier, Captain Robert Thornhill. Captain Robert’s son sold the estate in 1695 to William Alcock (d. 1705) of Downpatrick, County Down. [2]

Herbert Hore tells us that William Alcock rebuilt the castle, and called it Wilton. It was this castle that was subsumed in Daniel Robertson’s design for Harry Alcock. Herbert Hore writes that “the late Colonel Alcock [Harry, (1821-93)] told me that some of the walls of the ancient Castle of the Butlers are incorporated in the present building.”

Robert O’Byrne writes: “William Alcock built a new residence for himself on the site of an old castle, and this was occupied by his descendants for several generations. A handsome classical doorcase of granite with segmental pediment above fluted pilasters survives on the façade of the former steward’s house at Wilton to indicate the appearance of the original Alcock house, dismissed by Martin Doyle in his 1868 book on the county as being ‘in the dull style of William and Mary.’ ” [3]

A handsome classical doorcase of granite with segmental pediment above fluted pilasters survives on the façade of the former steward’s house at Wilton to indicate the appearance of the original Alcock house.”
The former steward’s house, in the stable yard below Wilton Castle.

A daughter of William and his wife Jane nee Bamber of Bamber Hall of Lancaster, England, married Patrick Lattin and was the mother of the famous Jack Lattin of Morristown Lattin, County Kildare, who danced himself to death!

The estate passed to William Alcock’s son, another William Alcock (1681-1739), then to his son, Col. William Alcock (d. 1779) (Colonel in the Waterford Militia). He married Mary Loftus of Loftus Hall, County Wexford, daughter of Nicholas Loftus, 1st Viscount Loftus of Ely and his wife Anne Ponsonby, daughter of William Ponsonby, 1st Viscount Duncannon.

Loftus Hall, the home of Mary Loftus, wife of William Alcock (d. 1779). Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

Wilton then passed to his son, Henry Alcock (d. 1811). Henry Alcock married Elizabeth Katherine Ussher, daughter of Beverly Ussher of Kilmeadon, County Waterford, who was a long term MP for County Waterford. Henry Alcock also served as an MP for Waterford. Elizabeth Katherine’s sister Mary also married an MP, John Congreve of Mount Congreve in Waterford (which has beautiful gardens open to the public, although temporarily closed – I wonder if the house is to be opened also?).

The estate then passed to his son, William Congreve Alcock (1771-1812). William competed in the general election of 1807 against John Colclough of Tintern Abbey (son of Vesey Colclough, MP for County Wexford). Unfortunately they decided to settle a dispute by a duel, and William shot and killed John. John had been engaged to a sister of William’s. William was tried for murder but acquitted. He never got over the incident however and it affected his mental health and he died five years later. [4] Thus Wilton Castle passed to his brother, Harry Alcock (1792-1840).

In 1818 Harry Alcock married Margaret Elinor Savage, daughter of James Savage of Kilgibbon, County Wexford (this house is now a ruin). He then engaged Daniel Robertson in 1837 to renovate Wilton House, which became Wilton Castle. The newer house was built in front of the older Wilton House.

The older Wilton House, covered in weather-slating, is visible at the back of Wilton Castle.

The details of Daniel Robertson’s training are not known. He struggled with bankruptcy for a large part of his life and moved from working in Oxford in England to Ireland, at the urging of his father-in-law. The Dictionary of Irish Architects tells us:

From the early 1830s he did no further work in Britain but received a series of commissions in Ireland, mainly for country house work in the south eastern counties. Most of these houses or additions were in the Tudor style, which, he asserted in a letter to a client, Henry Faulkner, of Castletown, Co. Carlow, was ‘still so new and so little understood in Ireland’. For some of them he used Martin Day as his executant architect. In spite of his success in attracting commissions, when he was working at Powerscourt in the early 1840s he was, in the words of Lord Powerscourt, ‘always in debt and…used to hide in the domes of the roof of the house’ to escape the Sheriff’s officers who pursued him. By then he was crippled with gout and in an advanced state of alcoholism; at Powerscourt he ‘used to be wheeled out on the terrace in a wheelbarrow with a bottle of sherry, and as long as that lasted he was able to design and direct the workmen, but when the sherry was finished he collapsed and was incapable of working till the drunken fit had evaporated.’ In at least two instances – at Powerscourt and at Lisnavagh – he lived on the premises while work was in progress, and it seems that from the 1830s until the year of his death his wife and family never settled for any time in Ireland… Robertson was overseeing the completion of Lisnavagh, Co. Carlow, where he had been living intermittently since the start of building in 1846, when he fell seriously ill in the spring of 1849” and died in September of that year. [5]

Ballydarton House, County Carlow, also designed by Daniel Robertson, in 1830. Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
Dunleckney Manor, County Carlow, by Daniel Robertson, 1835. Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

Daniel Robertson also designed the nearby Johnstown Castle in County Wexford. We visited Johnstown Castle also but unfortunately it was closed the only day we were in Wexford, as they were taking down Hallowe’en decorations from a special event! Such a pity we weren’t able to see the inside of the castle yet, but we shall certainly visit again.

Johnstown Castle is described in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage: “the construction in a blue-green rubble stone offset by glimmering Mount Leinster granite dressings not only demonstrating good quality workmanship, but also producing a sober two-tone palette.” [6] Wilton Castle also has Mount Leinster granite dressings. It was covered however in white lime plaster – which has been reinstated on the renovated part of the castle.

The lakeside facade of Johnstown Castle, County Wexford, built 1836-72 for Hamilton Knox Grogan Morgan (1808-54), MP, also by Daniel Robertson – it has remarkable similarities to Wilton Castle. It envelops a seventeenth-century house (perhaps by Thomas Hopper) [7] remodelled (1810-4) by James Pain (1779-1877) of Limerick.
Johnstown Castle overlooks a beautiful lake.

Harry’s daughter Henrietta married William Russell Farmar who also had a house built by Daniel Robertson: Bloomfield in County Wexford.

Bloomfield, a country house erected for William Russell Farmar JP (1802-71) to a design by Daniel Robertson. Photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

Another daughter, Sarah, married Thomas John Fetherston, 5th Baronet, of Ardagh, County Longford (the house is now in use as training college, St. Brigid’s Training College, by the Sisters of Mercy).

Harry’s son, another Harry Alcock (1821-93), inherited Wilton Castle and the estate. He served as High Sheriff of Wexford in 1846 and was Lt-Col. of the Wexford Militia.  He continued the building work, which finished in 1844, adding the large square four storey tower with its elaborate balconies. He also improved the surrounding estate. He increased the plantation of trees and implemented a programme of road construction, fence building and draining of land which was carried out as Famine relief work. [8]

Wilton Castle, when designed by Daniel Robertson, consisted of a three-storey main block and two-storey wing, all dominated by a tall square tower at one end and a tall polygonal tower and turret at the other, and it is heavily machicolated and battlemented. It is the two storey wing which has been renovated for accommodation.

The tall square tower is at one end of Wilton Castle, on the three storey section.

Harry Alcock died unmarried in 1893 and the estate (some 7,000 acres in the 1870s) passed to his nephew, Philip Clayton Alcock (1861-1949), son of Harry’s brother Philip Savage Alcock (1828-86) of Park House on the Wilton estate and his wife Katherine Annette Browne-Clayton of Carrickbyrne Lodge in County Wexford. Philip Clayton Alcock was a Captain in the Gloucestershire Regiment, and in 1900 High Sheriff of Wexford, but by 1922 he felt it was too dangerous to remain at Wilton and moved to England. In 1923 his fears about his Irish property were justified when Wilton Castle was burned by arsonists. [9]

A contemporary account in the Irish Times, 7 March 1923 tells us about the burning: “Wilton Castle, the residence of Captain P.C. Alcock, about three miles from Enniscorthy, was burned by armed men on Monday night. Nothing remains of the beautiful building but smoke-begrimed, roofless walls, broken windows, and a heap of smouldering debris. The Castle was occupied by a caretaker – Mr. James Stynes – the owner, with his wife and family, having gone to England about a year ago. Shortly after 9 o’clock on Monday night the caretaker was at the Steward’s residence…when he was approached by armed men, who demanded the keys to the Castle. When he asked why they wanted the keys, one of the armed men said: “We have come to burn the place. We are sorry”. The raiders told the caretaker that he could remove his personal belongings from the part of the Castle that he occupied, but they would not allow him to remove the furniture. Fearing that the Castle might be burned, however, Captain Alcock had removed the most valuable portion of his furniture some weeks ago, but a good many rooms were left furnished. When the caretaker had removed his property he was ordered back to the Steward’s house. Soon the noise of breaking glass was heard. It appears that the armed men broke all the windows on the ground floor, and having sprinkled the floors with petrol, set them alight. They did not hurry over their work of destruction, and they did not leave the Castle until near 12 o’clock, when the building was enveloped in flames. About thirty men took part in the raid. After the raiders left, the caretaker and Steward, with what help they could procure, tried to extinguish the flames, but their effort was hopeless”. [10]

Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage of Wilton Castle before renovation.
The tall polygonal tower and telescoping turret at the other end of Wilton Castle, on the two storey section of the castle, which has been renovated and faced in a creamy white lime plaster to distinguish it from the section which remains a ruin.

Wilton Castle was built on a moated platform surrounded by parapet walls and sham fortifications.

The moated area, in front of the castle.
One of the little fortification towers along the moat in front of the castle.
Area in front of the castle, with another of the fortification towers and the moated area (not filled with water) lies on the far side of the low wall.
The windows of Wilton Castle are arched and paired and have hood mouldings; the roof has crenellations.
The side of Wilton Castle. Note the fine stone chimneys. The octagonal turret on the south west corner of Wilton Castle is built entirely of Mount Leinster granite and contains 182 cubic ft of stone or approx 13.5 ton in weight. [11]

In the three storey section of the castle, there is a beautiful carved doorcase, and an oriel window over it with delicate stone tracery and crenellations on top of the windowframe. Mark Bence-Jones defines an oriel window as “a large projecting window in Gothic, Tudor, Gothic-Revival and Tudor-Revival architecture; sometimes rising through two or more storeys, sometimes in an upper storey only and carried on corbelling.” [12] There is a similar oriel window at Johnstown Castle, which is only one storey high.

The beautifully carved Tudor-style doorcase at Wilton Castle.
The carved doorcase and oriel window of Wilton Castle.

At Wilton Castle there are double sets of sidelight windows either side of the doorcase, with arched carved window frames.

The Oriel window at Johnstown Castle, similar to that at Wilton Castle though the one at Wilton Castle is double-height.

I was most excited to discover that we could explore the ruined part of the castle as it has been stabilised securely. It was wonderful to explore the detail.

The tower of the ruined part of Wilton Castle. It has wonderful balconies on heavy stone corbels with Gothic tracery windows.
The oriel window and doorcase as seen from inside Wilton Castle.

We kept discovering more. Pictures from the front of the castle do not do it justice. The land drops down behind the castle to the River Boro, to reveal beautiful pastoral views from the back windows of the castle.

The view over the river from inside the ruin of Wilton Castle.
The River Boro running along the back of Wilton Castle.
There are lots of stone corbels.
The spiral staircase inside the round tower at the back of the castle which joins the older Wilton House to the rest of the Castle.
The view from the interior spiral staircase inside the ruin, of the river side of the castle and down toward the steward’s house.

One can walk down to the river and more of the detail of the castle is revealed from behind. We found a warren of tunnels to one side on a level below the castle.

The tunnel from the castle level down to the farmyard.
In this photograph you can see the side of the castle, and the path below. The river lies below that.
The tunnels to the side of Wilton Castle, at the lower level.

The tunnels provided quick access for servants to different parts of the castle, stable yard and grounds. There were cellars for wine and storage areas for food. Cast iron grilles let natural light and air into the tunnels. [13]

The entrances to the tunnels are in this stone wall.
Entrances to the tunnels, in the stone wall.
The riverside facade of Wilton Castle. The three storey section in the back – which is part of the older Alcock house – is covered in weather-slating tiles. The round tower contains the spiral staircase which I climbed inside the ruin.
It was only when we explored around the river side of Wilton Castle that we realised the extent of its size and the beauty of its surroundings.
The older section of Wilton Castle, formerly Wilton House.
From the path along the river side of the castle, one can climb back up these stairs, to discover a picnic area!
The picnic area.
From the picnic area, you can see the full height of the square tower.
More wonderful balconies and tracery windows in the square tower, seen from the river side.

After the fire, the Alcocks were unable to rebuild as the house had not been insured. The lands were redistributed by the Irish Lands Commission, and the castle and land was purchased by local farmer, Sean Windsor.

When we arrived we were welcomed and brought inside the renovated section of the castle. It opens into a nicely tiled hallway.

The accommodation consists of four suites, one of which has a large entertaining space. Two suites are upstairs and two downstairs, with the large one being downstairs. Our accommodation was upstairs.

The upstairs hallway.

Our accommodation was a suite, with sitting room, fully stocked kitchen, bathroom with walk-in shower, and bedroom. The sitting room and bedroom have beautiful wallpaper.

Our bedroom had a lovely Chinese style wallpaper.

Our bathroom was in the round tower of the castle!

While our suite had a walk-in shower, the suite in the floor below has a bath.

Our host showed us the larger suite downstairs that has room for a party. The double doors in the room open up to the view of the river below, onto a fine sweep of steps.

The double doors from the entertainment suite.
The larger entertainment suite.

The accommodation is more pricey than we can usually afford but for a romantic getaway it is hard to beat! It’s very quiet. There seemed to be one other suite occupied when we were there, but we never saw or heard the inhabitants. The Windsors live in a house next door. We chose to have breakfast provided, which was brought to us on a tray in the morning. We used the kitchen facilities one evening to make our dinner, and the next night, ordered a delivery from nearby Enniscorthy, which was delivered to the castle!

[1] p.560-561, Hore, Herbert. History of the Town and County of Wexford, Volume 6, ed. Philip Hore, pub. 1901-1911. Reference from

There is also an excellent history of the early days of the area on the Bree Heritage website,



[4] For more on this, see the chapter in The Wexford Gentry by Art Kavanagh and Rory Murphy. Published by Irish Family Names, Bunclody, Co Wexford, Ireland, 1994.




[8] p. 130, Hicks, David. Irish Country Houses: A Chronicle of Change. The Collins Press, Cork, 2012.



[11] Note taken from the Wilton Castle facebook page, where you can see the progress of restoration that took place.

[12] 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.

[13] p. 130, Hicks, David. Irish Country Houses: A Chronicle of Change. The Collins Press, Cork, 2012.

Here are more photographs from our visit to Johnstown Castle, also designed by Daniel Robertson.

The clock tower side of Johnstown Castle.
The front entrance of Johnstown Castle – clock tower side on the right.
Inside the front arch of Johnstown Castle.
The front entrance of Johnstown Castle.
Spectacular doorway arch to one side of Johnstown Castle.
The doorway arch at Johnstown Castle features a border of carved stone heads.
Carved stone heads at Johnstown Castle.
Window surround detail and tracery at Johnstown Castle.
A workman at Johnstown Castle.