Office of Public Works properties County Cork, Munster

Munster’s counties are Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford.

I have noticed that an inordinate amount of OPW sites are closed ever since Covid restrictions, if not even before that (as in Emo, which seems to be perpetually closed).

Cork:

1. Annes Grove, County Cork

2. Barryscourt Castle, County Cork – currently closed (June 2022)

3. Charles Fort, County Cork

4. Desmond Castle, Kinsale, County Cork – currently closed

5. Doneraile Court, County Cork – house currently closed

6. Fota House, Arboretum and Gardens, County Cork

7. Ilnacullin, Garanish Island, County Cork

Cork:

1. Annes Grove, Castletownroche, County Cork:

Annes Grove, County Cork, 1981 from Dublin City Library and Archives. [1]

Tel: 022 26145, annesgrove@eircom.net

https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/annes-grove-gardens/

This is due to be open soon by the OPW. It does not have a website yet. In December 2015 Annes Grove House and Garden were donated to the state by the Annesley family.

Nestled into an eighteenth century ornamental glen, adjacent to the River Awbeg, the demesne of Annes Grove in north County Cork is the setting for the most exquisite Robinsonian-style gardens in Ireland….

The Gardens at Annes Grove were largely the creation of Richard Grove Annesley in the first half of the twentieth century.” [2]

Annes Grove, County Cork, 1981 from Dublin City Library and Archives. [see 1]

The estate was previously known as Ballyhimmock, and it was acquired by William Grove around 1626.

In 1792 it was inherited by Arthur Grove Annesley (1774-1849) from an aunt by marriage, heiress to the Grove family, after which it was renamed by merging the two family names. [3] Arthur Grove Annesley’s uncle Francis Charles Annesley, 1st Earl Annesley of Castlewellan, County Down, married Mary Grove who inherited the estate from her father.

At the centre of the garden is a restored Gothic style summerhouse. The main house is of Queen Anne design, from the 18th century. Pergolas, a lily pond, Victorian stone fernery, a woodland walk and river garden, a rockery and wild water garden create an atmospheric setting.

From “In Harmony with Nature, The Irish Country House Garden 1600-1900” in the Irish Georgian Society, July 2022, curated by Robert O’Byrne.

2. Barryscourt Castle, County Cork:

Barryscourt Castle by Julia Delio, flickr constant commons, August 2009.

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/barryscourt-castle/:

Barryscourt Castle was the seat of the great Anglo-Norman Barry family and is one of the finest examples of a restored Irish Tower House. Dating from between 1392 and 1420, the Castle has an outer bawn wall and largely intact corner towers. The ground floor of the Tower House contains a dungeon into which prisoners were dropped via the ‘drop-hole’ located on the second floor.

The Barrys supported the Fitzgeralds of Desmond during the Irish rebellions of the late sixteenth century. To prevent it being captured by Sir Walter Raleigh and his army, the Barrys [David Barry, 5th Viscount Barry (1550-1617)] partially destroyed the Castle.

During the Irish Confederate War of the seventeenth century Barryscourt Castle was once again successfully attacked.  Cannon balls lodged in the wall above the Castle entrance bear witness to this conflict. The last head of the Barry family was Lord David Barry.

Barryscourt Castle has been extensively restored. The Main Hall and Great Hall have been completed and fittings and furnishings reinstated. Within the Castle grounds, the herb and knot garden and the charming orchard have been restored to their original sixteenth century design.

After David Barry’s death in 1617 the family made Castlelyons their principal seat (now a ruin). The castle was restored by the OPW and the Barryscourt Trust between 1987-1993, with reproduction furniture made by Victor Chinnery. [4]

An article in the Irish Examiner by Padraig Hoare published 22nd May 2021 tells us that the site is closed and will be for some time:

A reopening date must be established for one of East Cork’s most historic landmarks after languishing in the midst of safety works for five years.

That is according to Cork East TD Séan Sherlock, who said Barryscourt Castle in Carrigtwohill has to be a priority for the Government body in charge of the facility, the Office of Public Works (OPW).

History enthusiasts and families alike were disappointed in the summer of 2020, when it emerged that Barryscourt Castle would remain closed for another 18 months.

The latest update from the OPW given in response to a parliamentary question from Mr Sherlock suggests it may be even longer than the date anticipated a year ago.

The Department of Public Expenditure said restrictions associated with the Covid-19 pandemic “has disrupted the good progress” of works being done to make the facility safe.

It is not possible at this time to give a precise date for reopening to the public,” the department said.

3. Charles Fort, Summer Cove, Kinsale, County Cork:

The Soldiers Quarters, the Hospital ward, the Lighthouse (by Robert Reading) and Magazine of the 17th Century Charles Fort, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Munster, Ireland. Photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, photograph by Cahir Davitt, 2016, for Failte Ireland. [5]

General Enquiries: 021 477 2263, charlesfort@opw.ie

https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/charles-fort-national-monument/

From the OPW website:

As one of the country’s largest military installations, Charles Fort has been part of some of the most momentous events of Irish history. During the Williamite Wars, for example, it withstood a 13-day siege before it fell. Later, in the Civil War of the early 1920s, anti-Treaty forces on the retreat burned it out.

Charles Fort is a massive star-shaped structure of the late seventeenth century, well preserved despite its history. William Robinson, architect of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, Dublin, is credited with designing it. Its dimensions are awe-inspiring – some of the outer defences are 16 metres high.

The view from the ramparts looking out over Kinsale Harbour is spectacular.

The Soldiers Quarters, and Magazine of the 17th Century Charles Fort, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Munster, Ireland. Photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, photograph by Cahir Davitt, 2016, for Failte Ireland. [see 5]
The seaward Devils Bastion and lighthouse of the 17th Century Charles Fort, with Kinsale boatyard in the background, Kinsale, Co. Cork, Munster, Ireland; Photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, photograph by Cahir Davitt, 2016, for Failte Ireland. [see 5]

4. Desmond Castle (also known as the French Prison), Kinsale, County Cork:

Desmond Castle Kinsale 1941, photograph from Dublin City Library archives. [see 1]

General Enquiries: 021 477 4855, desmondcastle@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/desmond-castle-kinsale/:

Desmond Castle in Kinsale dates from around 1500. It is a classic urban tower house, consisting of a three-storey keep with storehouses to the rear.

Maurice Bacach Fitzgerald, the earl of Desmond, originally built the castle as the customs house for the town. [I think this must be the 9th Earl of Desmond – JWB] It served as a prison in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Because it usually held French inmates, as well as Spaniards, Portuguese, Dutch and Americans, it became known locally as the French Prison and carries that name to this day. The building was co-opted as an ordnance store during the momentous Battle of Kinsale (1601) and served as a workhouse during the Great Famine.

Desmond Castle certainly had a colourful history and this continued into the twentieth century. In the early 1900s it was used as a venue to host local Gaelic League meetings. Finally, in the 1930s, a thriving undertaking business operated from within the National Monument.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage tells us:

Freestanding three-bay three-storey tower house, commenced c.1500, abutting earthen terrace to rear. Attached cell blocks and exercise yards to rear (north-west) and platform to side (north-east). Historically used as magazine (1600-1601), as prison for foreign prisoners (1601-1790) and as borough jail (1791-1846). Restored in 1938 currently in use as museum.

5. Doneraile Court, County Cork:

Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020.
Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020. Tooled limestone porch with deep entablature, Ionic pilasters and columns, a heavy balustraded parpapet and swan neck doorcase. Oval heraldic motif to centre of parapet has curvilinear, foliate and wreath-swag decorative surround. Frank Keohane tells us that the porch is probably designed by G. R. Pain, added in the 1820s.

General enquiries: 046 942 3175, donerailecourt@opw.ie

https://doneraileestate.ie/

From the website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/doneraile-wildlife-park/:

Doneraile Court towers majestically over the glorious Doneraile Park, a 160-hectare landscaped parkland and wildlife estate.

The house was built by the St Leger family around 1645 on the site of a ruined castle. By the time it was refurbished in the mid-eighteenth century it had become an outstanding example of Georgian architecture. Its associations range from links to the famous St Leger Stakes in horse racing and literature, with famous Irish writers such as Elizabeth Bowen. [A horse race took place in 1742 in which Edmund Burke and Cornelius O’Callaghan met a bet as to whose horse could cover the distance fastest between the church steeples of Buttevant and Doneraile. This gave rise to the term “steeplechasing.”]

Thirteen generations of the St Leger family lived at Doneraile over three centuries. The family had some extraordinary members. For example, Elizabeth St Leger made history when she became the first woman Freemason in the world in 1712.

Elizabeth (1695-1772) was the daughter of Arthur, 1st Viscount Doneraile. He was an active Freemason and sometimes hosted lodge meetings at his home. The story has it that Elizabeth fell asleep in the library, and woke to hear a secret Masonic ceremony taking place. When the Freemasons discovered that she had heard their secret, she had to be sworn in as a member in order to protect their privacy! She remained a member, as can be seen wearing Masonic symbols in portraits. She married Colonel Richard Aldworth, High Sheriff of County Cork.

The fine parklands are designed in the naturalistic style of the famous Capability Brown. They include many beautiful water features, plus a parterre walled garden and gardeners’ cottages. There are numerous pathways and graded walks. Lucky visitors might just spot some of the red deer, fallow deer, sika deer and Kerry cattle that live on the estate.” [6]

The house remained in the hands of the St. Leger family until 1969. Following decades of care by the Irish Georgian Society, it passed to the OPW in 1994.

Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020.
Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020.
Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020.
Doneraile Court, County Cork, August 2020.

From the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage:

“Detached three-storey over half basement country house, built c. 1730, containing fabric of earlier house, built c. 1645. Possibly also incorporating fabric of medieval castle. Extended 1805, conservatory added 1825, extended 1869, and also incorporating other nineteenth-century additions.”

The 1730s work on the house was carried out for Arthur St. Leger, 2nd Viscount Doneraile (1694-1734). Mark Bence-Jones suggests that it was the work of architect Isaac Rothery, but Frank Keohane suggests it could have been Benjamin Crawley. [7] The bow-ended block on the left of the garden front was added 1756-58, payment was made for this to architect Thomas Roberts.

National Inventory Appraisal: “The artist who created the ornate plaster work to the interior is unknown, but was clearly highly skilled. Doneraile Park is associated with Edmund Spenser the poet, who refers to the River Awbeg which flows through the park as the ‘gentle mulla’. The lands were bought by William St Ledger from the Spensers [William St. Leger (1586-1642), Privy Counsellor, Lord President of Munster, 1627, MP for Cork County, 1634, who was appointed, in that year, Sergeant-Major-General in the Army, employed to fight against the rebels in Ireland – JWB].

The timber panelled room to the interior is original to the earliest incarnation of the house. It is thought that it was here that Elizabeth St Ledger [1695-1772] was initiated as one of only three female members of freemasons in history after eavesdropping on a meeting. Added to this association with important historical characters, Doneraile Court represents more than three hundred years of construction and alteration, with different architectural features representing each phase.”

The bow ends on the front facade were built when improvements were made by the Hayes St. Leger 2nd Viscount of the second creation (1755-1819), between 1804-1808. At this time a new kitchen was added to the back of the house along with a now-lost Gothic conservatory.

The Hall was remodelled in the 1820s, when it was extended into the new porch. It has a screen of paired Ionic pillars, a frieze decorated with rosettes and an acanthus ceiling rose.

Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses:

“…On the other side of the house, a wing containing a new dining room was added 1869 by 4th Viscount Doneraile of the later creation. At the back of the hall is an oval late-Georgian staircase hall in which a staircase with slender wooden balusters rises gracefully to the top of the house beneath of ceiling of Adamesque plasterwork. To  the right of the staircase hall is one of the rooms of the original house, with a corner fireplace and fielded panelling; it was possibly in here that, ca 1713, Elizabeth St Leger was initiated as one of the only three women Freemasons in history, after she had been caught spying on a Lodge meeting held by her father. Behind this room was the vast and splendid dining room of 1869 which formerly had an immense mahogany sideboard in a mirrored alcove confronting a full-length portrait of the 4th Viscount with his favourite hunter. He was one of the greatest Victorian hunting men; ironically, he died of rabies through being bitten by a pet fox.  The three drawing rooms on the other side of the house are early C19 in character and probably date from the reconstruction after the fire; they have simple but elegant friezes, overdoors with volutes and windows going right down to the floor.  The long connection of the St Legers with Doneraile ended when Mary, Viscountess Doneraile died 1975. The garden, which boasts of a Lime Walk and a long “fishpond” or canal surviving from the original C18 layout, is now maintained by the Dept of Lands; as is the park, in which there is still a herd of red deer. The house, after standing empty for several years and becoming almost derelict, is in the process of being restored by the Irish Georgian Society, with a view to finding someone who would be willing to take it on. The 1869 dining room wing has been demolished.” [8]

From the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage: “Floating elliptical winder staircase with curved newel post and turned timber banisters. Timber treads with carved timber panels to side. Decorative render roses under stair. Ornate Adam-style ceiling with central ceiling rose and decorative fluted surround to stair ceiling.”

The staircase hall is lit by a tall round-arched window above an elliptical window.
The ceiling of Adamesque plasterwork, over the elliptical floating staircase (ie. Neoclassical interior design like the work of Scottish architect William Adams and his sons, most famous of whom are Robert and James).
Memorial to Lady Elizabeth St Leger, Viscountess Doneraile (d. 1761), in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, wife of Hayes St Leger, 4th Viscount Doneraile (1702-1767), daughter of Joseph Dean, Lord Chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer and of Margaret Boyle, daughter of Roger Boyle of Castlemartyr in County Cork.
The landscape of Doneraile is laid out in “Capability” Brown style, which is characterized by a natural flowing appearance rather than more formally patterned gardens.

6. Fota Arboretum and Gardens, Carrigtwohill, County Cork

General enquiries: (021) 481 5543 https://fotahouse.com/

fota.arboretum@opw.ie

From the OPW website: https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/fota-arboretum-and-gardens/

Fota House was designed by 19th century architects Richard and William Morrison. From the beautifully proportioned rooms with exquisite plasterwork, to the preserved service wing and kitchens, Fota House offers visitors an intimate look at how life was lived in the past, for the cooks, butlers, footmen and maids who supported the lavish lifestyle of the gentry. Our painting collection is considered to be one of the finest collections of landscape painting outside the National Gallery of Ireland and includes works by William Ashford PRHA, Robert Carver, Jonathan Fisher and Thomas Roberts.” [9]

Front porch of Fota House. Fluted baseless Green Doric columns support a weighty entablature in which wreaths alternate wiht the Barry crest in the metopes.

Mark Bence-Jones writes in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses:

(Smith-Barry (now Villiers)/IFR) After Barry’s Court had been abandoned by the Barrymores, a hunting box was built on the nearby Fota Island, in Cork Harbour, by Hon John Smith-Barry [1725-1784], a younger son of 4th Earl of Barrymore, to whom Fota and some of the other Barrymore estates were given 1714. This house, of three storeys and seven bays, was greatly enlarged ca 1820 by John Smith-Barry [d.1837, grandson of his earlier namesake] to the design of Sir Richard Morrison, so that it became a wide-spreading Regency mansion of stucco with stone dressings. The original house, given a single-storey Doric portico with fluted columns and acroteria beneath a pedimented Wyatt window, remained the centre of the composition; flanked by two storey projecting wings with pedimented ends on the entrance front and curved bows on the garden front. A long two storey service range was added at one side. In 1856, a billiard room wing, in the same style as the Morrison wings but of one storey only, was added on the entrance front, projecting from the end of the service range. The space between this and the main building was filled in ca 1900 by Arthur Smith-Barry, 1st (and last) Lord Barrymore of a new creation [(1843-1925), grandson of John Smith-Barry], with a single-storey range containing a long gallery.” [10]

Frank Keohane tells us that the later John Smith-Barry settled here after his marriage to Eliza Courtenay of Ballyedmond, Midleton, County Cork. He was illegitimate, so perhaps he built the home to establish his reputation. [11] Smith-Barry hired John and William Vitruvius Morrison to enlarge the hunting lodge which had been built by his grandfather. He also built sea walls around the island and re-routed the public road to form a deer park and carriage drives around the shore.

Fota House facing onto the Pleasure Garden, photo by George Munday, 2014, Ireland’s Content Pool. [12]
Arthur Hugh Smith-Barry (1843-1925), 1st Baron Barrymore.

Bence-Jones continues:“The exterior simplicity of Fota is a foil to the splendours within; for the interior has that richness which Sir Richard Morrison and his son, William Vitruvius, were so well able to create. The hall, which runs the entire length of the front of the original house, is divided by screens of paired Ionic columns with yellow scagliola.” The long gallery was designed by William H. Hill.

Fota House, County Cork, August 2020. The hall, which runs the entire length of the front of the original house, is divided by screens of paired Ionic columns with yellow scagliola. The floor is paved with Portland stone with inset iron grilles that served the old central-heating system. The entablatures of plasterwork have the repeating pattern of wreaths and Smith-Barry crests the same as on the porch.
The central compartment of ceiling plasterwork has heavy swagged laurel garlands and lyres.
The ceiling rose in the long hall, with oak leaf wreath entwined with snakes.

To the right of the long hall are the Drawing Room and Library. The Drawing Room is entered via a small ante-room.

The ante-room at Fota.
The ante-room at Fota, with stencilwork by Sibthorpe & Son of Dublin.

The Drawing Room Ceiling has deep borders with floral wreaths containing doves, alternating with lozenges of bay leaf containing Apollonian trophies of musical and hunting instruments. The drawing room and ante-room ceilings were added to in the 1890s with stencilwork and gilding by Sibthorpe & Son of Dublin.

The Drawing Room, Fota.
The Drawing Room, Fota. The fireplaces throughout Fota are of Neoclassical statuary marble, with Ionic columns and friezes enriched with wreaths and garlands.
The Drawing Room, Fota. The ceiling of the drawing room, which entends into one of the bows on the garden front, has a surrounding of foliage, birds and trophies in high relief, similar to that in the library, and late C19 stencilled decoration and panels of pictorial paper in the centre.
The Drawing Room, Fota.
The ceiling of the drawing room, which entends into one of the bows on the garden front, has a surrounding of foliage, birds and trophies in high relief, similar to that in the library, and late C19 stencilled decoration and panels of pictorial paper in the centre.
The Drawing Room, Fota.
The library, Fota.

To the left of the hall is the Dining Room. It has a screen of grey scagliola Corinthian columns at the sideboard end, and rich plasterwork with a ceiling border of vines on a trellis ground and a frieze of bucrania draped with garlands.

There are elaborate plasterwork ceilings in the library and dining room, which are in the Morrison wings, at either end of the hall; the dining room has a screen of grey marble Corinthian columns.
The chimneypiece in the dining room is garlanded with vines and flowers.

Also on display in the main reception rooms is a fine collection of art work described as the most significant of its type outside the National Gallery of Ireland.  Masterpieces of the eighteenth-century Irish Landscape School include works by William Ashford (1746-1824); George Barret (1730-84); Robert Carver (c.1730-91); and Thomas Roberts (1748-78).  Nineteenth-century art is represented by Daniel Maclise (1806-70); Erskine Nicol (1825-1904); and James Arthur O’Connor (1792-1841).  An entire room is dedicated to Irish watercolours and features the work of Mildred Anne Butler (1858-1941); Hugh Douglas Hamilton (c.1740-1808); and George Petrie (1790-1866).” [13]

At the back of the house is the study, which extends into one of the bows. It has a simple frieze of wreaths.

The Study, Fota.

Bence-Jones continues: “A doorway opposite the entrance door leads into the staircase hall, which is of modest size, being the staircase hall of the original house; but it has been greatly enriched with plasterwork. The ceiling is domed, with wreaths on the pendentives and eagles in the lunettes; there is a frieze of wreaths and at the head of the stairs two fluted Tower of Winds columns frame an enchanting vista to a second and smaller staircase, leading up to the top storey.” The stairs are of cantilevered Portland stone, with brass balusters and a mahogany handrail.

The staircase hall, which is of modest size, being the staircase hall of the original house; but it has been greatly enriched with plasterwork. The ceiling is domed, with wreaths on the pendentives and eagles in the lunettes; there is a frieze of wreaths and at the head of the stairs two fluted Tower of Winds columns frame an enchanting vista to a second and smaller staircase, leading up to the top storey. 

At the top of the stairs is a small recess, leading up to the secondary stair, with a pair of shell-headed niches, a Greek-key border and a pair of Tower of the Winds columns. A cross-corridor gives access to the bedrooms, the differing levels resulting in various little lobbies and landings.

The principal bedroom suite is placed over the Dining Room and communicates directly with nurseries in the service wing. The suite contains a boudoir with barrel-vaulted ceiling and a half-dome decorated with doves trailing garlands. Plaster drapery fills the lunette to the vault with a little top-lit skylight at the apex of the dome with amber and blue coloured glazing.

The Boudoir.
The Boudoir.
The Boudoir.

Fota passed to John Smith-Barry’s great-granddaughter Mrs Dorothy Bell (1894-1975), the last of the clan to live on the Barry estates. It was sold to University College Cork and in 1983, Richard Wood took a lease of the house and restored it with John O’Connell as architect, to display his collection of Irish art to the public. It was then sold and the pictures removed, and in 1991 the house and arboretum passed to the Fota Trust and in 1999 extensive conservation work was carried out under the direction of John Cahill of the Office of Public Works. [14]

The Nursery.
The servant’s bedroom.
The game store larder.
The Kitchen.
The back stairs in Fota.

Bence-Jones writes: In mid-C19, James Hugh Smith-Barry laid out formal gardens behind the house, with lawns and hedges, wrought-iron gates and rusticated piers, a temple and an orangery. He also began to plant the arboretum, which has since become world-famous. The planting was continued for more than a century after his death by his son, [Arthur Hugh Smith-Barry (1843-1925)] Lord Barrymore [1st Baron Barrymore], and by Lord Barrymore’s son-in-law and daughter, Major [William Bertram] and Hon Mrs [Dorothy] Bell; in the mild climate of Fota many rare and tender species flourish. The demesne of Fota extends over the entire island, which is skirted by the road and railway from Cork to Cobh; there are impressive Classical entrance gates by Morrison similar to those at Ballyfin, Co Laois and Killruddery, Co Wicklow. On the point of the island is an early C19 castellated turret, by John Hargrave of Cork. Fota was sold 1975 to University College Cork.” 

The OPW website tells us:

The arboretum and gardens on Fota Island, just 16 kilometres from Cork city centre, are an essential destination for any one of a horticultural bent.

The arboretum extends over 11 hectares and contains one of the finest collections of rare, tender trees and shrubs grown outdoors in Europe. The unique conditions at Fota – its warm soil and sheltered location – enable many excellent examples of exotics from the southern hemisphere to flourish.

The gardens include such stunning features as the ornamental pond, formal pleasure gardens, orangery and sun temple. James Hugh Smith-Barry laid them out in the first half of the nineteenth century. Fota House, the Smith-Barrys’ ancestral home, still stands. The house, arboretum and gardens share the island with a hotel and golf resort and a wildlife park. [15]

7. Ilnacullin, Garanish Island, Glengarriff, Bantry, County Cork:

https://garinishisland.ie/plan-a-visit/

Italian garden, Garnish Island, Glengarriff, Beara, Co. Cork, Photograph by Chris Hill 2014, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 5]

general enquiries: (027) 63040

garanishisland@opw.ie

Ilnacullin is an island in the coastal harbour at Glengariff in Bantry Bay. It has an almost sub-tropical climate with mild winters and high levels of rainfall and humidity. These conditions favour the growth of exotic plants. The gardens were set out in the Arts and Crafts style and contain Italianate pavilions and follies, framed against a backdrop of beautiful views.

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/ilnacullin-garinish-island/:

Ilnacullin is an island garden of diminutive size and rare beauty. Nestled in the sheltered coastal harbour at Glengarriff in Bantry Bay, the gardens display a wealth of unique horticultural and architectural gems. Bryce House is a fitting memorial to the visionary creators of this unique place. 

The gardens of Ilnacullin owe their existence to the early twentieth-century creative partnership of John Annan and Violet Bryce, the island’s owners, and Harold Peto, an architect and garden designer. The area enjoys a mild and humid micro-climate that makes for spectacular and flourishing plant life all year round.

Small ferry boats and 60-seater waterbuses take visitors to Ilnacullin regularly. The short crossing usually includes an extra treat – a visit to the nearby seal colony and an opportunity to glimpse majestic sea eagles.

The Island was bequeathed to the Irish people by the Bryce’s son, Roland, in 1953 and is cared for by the OPW. Bryce House contains material from the Bryces’s lives, including John Annan Bryce’s collection of Burmese statues, Chinese ceramics, Japanese woodblock prints, metal works and rare exotic objects. There are also Old Master drawings by Salvator Rosa, Mauro Antonio Tesi and Giambattista Tiepolo. Over the years the Bryces hosted prominent cultural figures such as George (AE) Russell, George Bernard Shaw and Agatha Christie. [16] You can see a tour of the house and gardens on the website.

From “In Harmony with Nature, The Irish Country House Garden 1600-1900” in the Irish Georgian Society, July 2022, curated by Robert O’Byrne.
From “In Harmony with Nature, The Irish Country House Garden 1600-1900” in the Irish Georgian Society, July 2022, curated by Robert O’Byrne.

[1] https://repository.dri.ie/

[2] p. 12, Living Legacies: Ireland’s National Historic Properties in the care of the OPW, Government Publications, Dublin, 2018.

[3] p. 310, Keohane, Frank. The Buildings of Ireland. Cork City and County. Yale University Press: New Haven and London. 2020.

[4] p. 261, Keohane, Frank. Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

[5] https://www.irelandscontentpool.com/en

[6] See also https://doneraileestate.ie

[7] p. 377. Keohane, Frank. Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

Another work Keohane identifies as being by Benjamin Crawley is Castle Bernard, now a ruin in County Cork:

Castle Bernard, County Cork, photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

[8] p. 105. 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.

[9] fotahouse.com

[10] p. 127. 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.

[11] p. 412. Keohane, Frank. Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

[12] https://www.irelandscontentpool.com/en/media-assets/media/44873

[13] http://www.buildingsofireland.ie/PlacesToSee/Cork/

[14] p. 412. Keohane, Frank. Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

[15] https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/fota-arboretum-and-gardens/

[16]https://garinishisland.ie/the-house-and-gardens/

Dromana House, Cappoquin, Co. Waterford

contact: Barbara Grubb
Tel: 086-8186305
www.dromanahouse.com
Open in 2022: June 1-12, 14-19, 21-26, 28-30, July 1-3, 5-10, 12-17, 19-24, 26-31, Aug 13- 21, 2pm-6pm

Fee: adult/OAP/student, house and garden €15, house €10, garden €6, child under 12 free, groups of 100 or more house/garden €12, garden €5, house €9

On Sunday 5th May 2019, Stephen and I attended a day of talks in Dromana House on “Pursuit of the Heiress.” This is an apt topic for Dromana since the property passed down to the current generation via an heiress, Katherine FitzGerald (1660-1725). In fact, you could say that even in this generation the property was passed down through an heiress, or through the female line, as Barbara Grubb is the daughter of James Villiers-Stuart, descendent of the FitzGeralds of the Decies who originally built the house. “The Decies” is the county of Waterford west of the River Mahon.

We didn’t have a tour of the house on the day of the conference, so we returned during Heritage Week in 2020.

Parts of the house date back to the 1400s, and fortifications on the grounds date back even further. Its situation perched above the Blackwater River gives it stunning views.

the view of the Blackwater River from Dromana. During lunch at the 2019 conference we sat in the sun and chatted, and watched the Blackwater River recede. Later in the afternoon, it filled the banks again.

The house was once larger and grander than what we see today. Unfortunately, part of the house was demolished in the 1960s as upkeep and rates were too expensive (it shares the fate of Lisnavagh in County Carlow and Killruddery in County Wicklow). It retains part of the older elements, however, and remains a relatively large, comfortable home. The garden is impressive and the sun brought out its beauty – we were lucky with the weather.

This poster board prepared for the 800th anniversary of Dromana shows a photograph of the house as it was before the demolition of a large part of it.

The lectures in 2019 took place in what used to be the old kitchen. On my way in, I admired the cloakroom hallway with its old floor tiles, long mirror and row of hooks for hats and coats. I learned the following year that this mirror used to be in the Ballroom, which has been demolished. The mirror now lies on its side but originally stood vertically, so the room would have been an impressive height.

History of Dromana and the Fitzgeralds

First, a little background about the house. From the website:

Dromana House is a true gem, perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the strikingly beautiful, unspoilt river Blackwater. It is surrounded by a 600 acre privately owned estate with numerous woodland and garden walks. Several interesting historic follies are also to be seen throughout the grounds including an ancient outer fortification, boathouse and slipway down to the river. This period property has been lovingly maintained by its owners whose family have lived on this location since 1200, the present owner being the 26th generation.” [1]

From the 13thcentury onwards the property was the seat of the FitzGeralds, Lords of the Decies, a junior branch of the Earls of Desmond. Information boards in the old kitchen, created with the help of University College Cork, describe the history of the estate. In 1215 King John of England granted a charter to the Norman knight Thomas fitz Anthony, giving him custody of the present-day counties of Waterford and Cork. Through the marriage of his daughter the estates came into the possession of the FitzGeralds – the first instance of the property passing through the female line. The earliest fortifications of Dromana date from this period.

The title of Lord the Decies split from the Earl of Desmond title when James FitzGerald the 6th Earl of Desmond (who died in 1462) granted the land of the Decies to his younger son Sir Gerald Mor FitzGerald, whose descendants have lived in Dromana ever since. The tower-house which forms the core of today’s Dromana was built at this time.

One can see the oldest part of the house from a balcony which overlooks the river, or from the gardens below.

We wandered up an overgrown path in the garden looking for the “lost garden” and found ourselves on the steep slopes by mistake – but fortuitously, from here we could see the oldest parts of the house – see below also, which is a continuation of the wall in the photograph above. See also the balcony, above; below are two photographs taken from the balcony.
view from the slopes below, looking up toward the balcony.
View looking down toward the slopes, from the balcony – you can see the bow in the wall. There was originally a floor above this, also bowed.
The view from the balcony looking the other direction. You can see an extremely old Gothic style window with hood moulding. The tower house structure part of the house was built in the time of Gerald Mor FitzGerald around 1462.

The Earls of Desmond asserted their claim to the Decies until the Battle of Affane in 1565, in which the Earl of Desmond’s army [that of the 14th Earl of Desmond, I think] was overthrown. In January 1569 Queen Elizabeth granted Sir Maurice FitzGerald of Decies (great-grandson of Gerald Mor FitzGerald) letters patent creating him Baron of Dromana and Viscount Decies. His titles became extinct, however, when he died three years later without a male heir.

Katherine Fitzgerald of the Decies, granddaughter of Gerald Mor FitzGerald, married her cousin Thomas, who in 1529 became the 11th Earl of Desmond (the information panel below says he was the 12th Earl but I think he was the 11th). He died in 1534 but she survived him for 70 years, dying in 1604 at the age of 140 years. She lived as a widow, as the Countess of Desmond, in Inchiquin Castle in East Cork. She died supposedly from falling out of a cherry tree, having allegedly worn out three natural sets of teeth. The current owners have planted a cherry tree in her honour. They have a bookcase supposedly made from the cherry tree from which she fell!

I found this information about Katherine FitzGerald in St. Mary’s Collegiate Church in Youghal, County Cork!

The website states:

“The castle of Dromana was attacked and damaged in the wars of the 1640s and 50s, though its base can still be identified from the river, and indeed is still inhabited. In about 1700, instead of rebuilding the castle, two new ranges were built at right angles to one another along the courtyard walls. Both were simple gable-ended two storey structures, possibly just intended for occasional occupation, their only decoration being a robust, pedimented block-and-start door case in the manner of James Gibbs.” This door was moved when part of the house was demolished and is still the front door.

The “robust, pedimented block-and-start door case in the manner of James Gibbs” was moved and is still the front door.

Julian Walton, one of the speakers at the “Pursuit of the Heiress” conference in 2019, has gained access to the archives at Curraghmore and is eliciting many interesting facts and details. This was great preparation for our visit to Curraghmore House the next day! [2] He told us of the heiress Katherine FitzGerald.

Stephen in the garden in 2020.

Descendants of the Fitzgeralds in Dromana

In 1673 the young heiress of Dromana, another Katherine Fitzgerald, was married against her will by her guardian Richard Le Poer, the 6th Baron of Curraghmore, to his son John. She was the only child of Sir John FitzGerald, Lord of Dromana and Decies and heir to Dromana. Her mother was Katherine Le Poer, daughter of John Le Poer 5th Baron of Curraghmore. Her mother’s brother, the 6th Baron of Curraghmore, wanted to unite the Curraghmore and Dromana estates. Both parties were underage – she was 12 and John Le Poer was only eight! Three years later Katherine escaped and married a cavalry officer named Edward Villiers (son of 4th Viscount Grandison). The courts upheld her second marriage and her first husband had to return her estate of Dromana and renounce the title of Viscount Decies. Her second husband’s father was a cousin to Barbara Villiers, mistress to King Charles II, and Barbara intervened on behalf of her cousin. When her second husband’s father, the 4th Viscount Grandison died in 1700, she was granted, in lieu of her now deceased husband, the title of Viscountess Grandison. She lived in Dromana until her death in 1725. 

History of the Development of the House, and the Villiers-Stuarts

The son of Edward Villiers and Katherine Fitzgerald, John Villiers, c.1684 – 1766, became the 5th Viscount Grandison, and later, the 1st Earl Grandison. He repaired the house in the 1730s after it was partly destroyed in the political turmoil of the 1600s. Our guide, Barbara, told us that he was an enterprising landlord: in the 1740s he brought weaving from Lurgan, County Armagh, to start the linen industry in the area, and he built the village of Villierstown for the workers. He also planted 52,000 trees.

The 1st Earl of Grandison’s sons predeceased him so the estate passed to his daughter, Elizabeth. She married Alan John Mason, an MP for County Waterford and a merchant, and on her father’s death she was created 1st Countess Grandison and and 1st Viscountess Villiers. [3] Their son became the 2nd Earl of Grandison and added the surname Villiers to become George Mason-Villiers. In 1780, he added a larger new house in front of the old one, adding an impressive staircase and ballroom. Of his building work, Mark Bence-Jones describes the back of the new block forming a third side of a courtyard with two older ranges, and a low office range forming the fourth side. The Gibbsian doorway was hidden from sight in the courtyard. [4]

A panel about the architectural evolution of Dromana states: “The second Earl Grandison, George Mason-Villiers, added on a larger new house, commencing in about 1780, directly in front of the longer 1700s range. The principal façade was of two storey and nine bays, quite plain, with a parapet and a rather curious segmental-headed armorial doorcase. The river façade contained a shallow double-height bow and was actually an extension of the smaller 1700s range. Together these three buildings faithfully followed the line of the original bawn or courtyard. There was a spacious hall with a grand staircase, and a large circular ballroom.”

In this old picture you can see the house with the bows.

George Mason-Villiers too had only a daughter as an heir: Gertrude Amelia Mason-Villiers (1778-1809). In 1800, she married Lord Henry Stuart (1777-1809), third son of the 1st Marquess of Bute, of the Isle of Bute in Scotland. Henry Stuart’s grandmother was the famous writer Lady Mary Wortley-Montagu, who wrote about her experiences of travelling in Ottoman Istanbul.

Gertrude and Henry were succeeded in 1809 by their son, Henry, when he was just six years old. Henry added “Villiers” to his name in 1822, becoming Villiers-Stuart. The architect Martin Day was hired first in 1822 by trustees of Lady Gertrude – Henry didn’t come of age until 1824. Martin Day came from a family of architects in County Wexford. He designed several Church of Ireland churches for the Board of First Fruits and the Irish Ecclesiastical Commissioners between 1822-1849. In the 1820s, Day worked on the interiors of Dromana. He assisted Daniel Robertson at Johnstown Castle (now open to the public) and Castleboro House in County Wexford in the 1840s, and around the same time did more work for Henry Villiers-Stuart, adding parapets, pediments and mouldings to the windows, and an elaborate surround to the entrance doorway which incorporated the family arms. [5] He also fitted out a suite of very grand reception rooms and a massive imperial staircase.

Henry served as MP for Waterford 1826-1830 and for Banbury, Oxfordshire, England in 1830-1. He also served as Colonel in the Waterford Militia. He was admitted to the Irish Privy Council in 1837, and was created, in 1839, Baron Stuart de Decies, a title that recalled his long family connection with the region. Henry Villiers-Stuart was Lord-Lieutenant of County Waterford, 1831-74.

The Dromana website tells us that Henry Villiers-Stuart was “a Protestant aristocrat and large landowner with radical views. As a young man he defeated the Waterford establishment in the famous 1826 election to give Daniel O’Connell and the Catholic Emancipation movement their first Member of Parliament.” Daniel O’Connell signed documents in Dromana House, and the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 was drawn up at Dromana.

In 1826 Henry Villiers-Stuart married Theresia Pauline Ott. When they returned from their honeymoon, the tenants of Villierstown constructed an elaborate papier-mache archway gate for them to drive through. Martin Day may have had a hand in the original gateway, and later drew up plans to create a more permanent structure, which Stephen and I visited later in the day.

The Hindu-Gothic Bridge, over the River Finisk.
Dromana Hindu gothic gate ca. 1870 photographers Frederick Holland Mares, James Simonton stereo pairs photographic collection nli, flickr constant commons.

The Bridge is now on a public road. One used to need a ticket to enter through the gate. When King Edward VII arrived at the gate in a pony and trap, on his way to Lismore, he had no pass, so was turned away! The Gate was restored by the Irish Georgian Society in the 1960s and again by the local city council in 1990. [6] The “bishop” like structures either side of the top of the central part have been replaced by fibreglass “bishops,” as the original copper ones are too heavy, and one of the originals now sits in the garden of Dromana.

Pauline Ott has been married before, and her husband was thought to have died in the army. However, he later reappeared. Her marriage to Henry Villiers-Stuart was thus rendered invalid, and her children illegitimate. She and Henry had a son, Henry Windsor Villiers-Stuart and a daughter Pauline. Pauline married into the Wheeler-Cuffe family of Lyrath, County Kilkenny (now a hotel). Their son was unable to inherit the title of Baron Stuart of the Decies and the peerage expired with his father’s death in 1874. [7]

Despite becoming illegitimate, the son, Henry Windsor Villiers-Stuart (1827-1895) [the name Windsor came from his father’s maternal family], did very well for himself. He served first in the Austrian then the British Army, then went to university. He was ordained in the Church of England but later resigned Holy Orders in order to pursue a political career. He became MP for County Waterford from 1873-85, Vice Lord-Lieutenant of County Waterford, 1871-73, and High Sheriff of County Waterford in 1889. In 1865 he married Mary, second daughter of the Venerable Ambrose Power, Archdeacon of Lismore. He travelled extensively and wrote books, studied hieroglyphics, and did pioneering work in Egypt. He brought many artefacts back from Egypt, which have since been dispersed.

Henry Windsor Villiers-Stuart (1827 – 1895) travelled extensively and wrote books, studied hieroglyphics, and did pioneering work in Egypt. He was a British soldier, clergyman, politician, Egyptologist, and author.
In the old kitchen, which houses the information boards, there was a museum case of fascinating artefacts, many from Egypt from Henry Windsor Villiers-Stuart’s travels.

His eldest son, Henry Charles Windsor Villiers-Stuart (1867-1908), who served as High Sheriff of County Waterford, 1898, espoused, in 1895, Grace Frances, only daughter of John Adam Richard Newman of Dromore, County Cork. Their heir, Ion Henry Fitzgerald Villiers-Stuart (1900-48), wedded, in 1928, Elspeth Richardson, and was succeeded by his only son, James Henry Villiers-Stuart (b. 1928), of Dromana, who married, in 1952, Emily Constance Lanfear and had two daughters, Caroline and Barbara, one of whom was our tour guide and who now lives in the house. [8]

The website states that: “by the 1960s Dromana had become something of a white elephant. The estate was sold and subdivided, and the house bought by a cousin, Fitzgerald Villiers-Stuart [a grandson of Henry Windsor Villiers-Stuart], who demolished the 1780s block in 1966 and reduced it to more manageable proportions.”

“James Villiers-Stuart was able to repurchase the house in 1995 he and his wife Emily moved into Dromana and began restoring the house and garden. Now a widow, Emily still lives there, along with her daughter and family.”

Back to the Conference

Barbara, heir to the house, and her husband Nicholas, attended the “Pursuit of the Heiress” conference. Nicholas gave us an impromptu lecture of sorts about how forces merged to make the upkeep of the big houses in Ireland almost impossible, with the high rates charged by the government, and the decline of salmon fishing, etc. 

We had more lectures after lunch. First up was “The Abduction of Mary Pike,” by Dr. Kieran Groeger, which interested Stephen as she too was a Quaker. [9] The last lecture was by Dr Dagmar Ó Riain-Raedel, on her research on Irish exiles to the Austrian army. [10] This was fascinating. I have much to study, to learn the history of the Habsburg empire.

Afterwards we had tea on the lawn, then Nicholas gave us an almost running tour of the garden – we had to be quick to keep up with him as he bound ahead describing the plants. The website states that “the steeply sloping riverbanks are covered with oak woods and the important mid-eighteenth century garden layout, with its follies, the Rock House and the Bastion, is currently being restored.” There are over thirty acres of garden and woodland, including looped walks.

When we visited in 2020, we had more time to explore the garden. We were given a map when we arrived. The current owners are enthusiastic gardeners and do nearly all the work themselves.

From the Conference in 2019, a view of the gardens.
The sweep of lawn in front of the house.
Looking toward the gas house wood.

We headed down to see the Bastion and Rock House.

Inside the Bastion.
The Bastion.
I had Stephen stand by the wall of the Bastion to show how tall it is!

Next we went to see the Rock House, further along the path.

It has graffiti that is 150 years old!

In 2015 there were celebrations of the 800th anniversary of the house [11].

You can see photographs taken inside the house on the Dromana website, where you can also see self-catering accommodation that is available.

[1] www.dromanahouse.com

[2] https://dromanahouse.com/2019/03/20/the-drawbacks-and-dangers-of-heiress-hunting/

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

[4] p. 108. 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.

[5] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/1424/DAY-MARTIN#tab_biography

[6] https://theirishaesthete.com/2014/09/27/bridging-cultures/

[7] See Robert O’Byrne’s recent blog entry: There is a memorial in front of the church (constructed by Lord Grandison in 1748): a High Cross erected by Henry Villiers-Stuart in memory of his parents, Henry, Baron Stuart de Decies and his Austrian-born wife Pauline. To the immediate west is a second monument, this one a public fountain in rock-faced limestone ashlar; it was erected in 1910 by the younger Henry’s children in memory of their mother Mary who had died three years earlier. https://theirishaesthete.com/2022/08/20/20689/ Robert O’Byrne tells us that the village of Villierstown, County Waterford was established in the 1740s by John Villiers, first Earl Grandison who wished to have a settlement for weavers and other personnel working in the linen industry he was then establishing in the area.

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

[9] https://dromanahouse.com/2019/03/20/the-abduction-of-mary-pike-and-that-fateful-night-in-vernon-mount-cork/

[10] https://dromanahouse.com/2019/03/20/the-irish-wild-geese-in-search-of-fortune-in-the-habsburg-empire/

[11] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/07/01/an-octocentenary/