Moone Abbey House and Tower, Moone, County Kildare

Moone Abbey House.

contact: Jennifer Matuschka. Tel: 087-6900138

Listed Opening Dates in 2021 but check due to Covid 19 restrictions: May 1-30, Aug 14-22, Sept 1-30, 12 noon- 4pm.

Fee: adult €8, OAP/student/child €4.

We visited Moone Abbey House on Saturday May 11th, 2019.

We had a 3pm appointment with the owner, Jennifer Matuschka. We visited Charleville House in Wicklow earlier in the day. Moone Abbey is at the far end of Kildare, approximately an hour away from Charleville. We arrived nearly an hour early, however, having given ourselves plenty of driving time in case we got lost on the way.

This gave us time to see the Abbey itself. The Abbey predates the house by centuries, so the house is named after the Abbey that was on its lands. Access from the road to the Abbey is a narrow gap in the stone wall. The Abbey contains the impressive Moone Cross, one of the two tallest Celtic Crosses in Ireland, and certainly the tallest that either Stephen or I had ever seen (we think – certainly none made such an impression, since we were able to stand right next to it). The Abbey is a ruin but a roof has been constructed to protect the cross, which originally stood outside the Abbey.

The High Cross of Moone Abbey, looking inside the Abbey from the front.
inside the Abbey.
back of the Abbey.

According to the Irish Historic Houses website [1]:

Behind the mid-18th century Palladian house are the remains of Moone Abbey, a monastery originally founded in the 6th century by St. Columkille and rebuilt almost 700 years later. The abbey contains the splendid High Cross of Moone, rediscovered amidst the ruins during the nineteenth century, while the house’s mediaeval predecessor stands a little way off; a ‘Ten Pound’ tower house in remarkably fine condition.

Stephen and the south side of the cross

A panel describes the finding of the cross – and in fact there is a second cross displayed in parts, behind where Stephen stands in the photo above.

The panel says:

The two remarkable High Crosses displayed here – one complete except for its cap, and the other surviving only in fragments – were probably both carved in the ninth century, and are the earliest surviving testimony to the existence of an early Christian monastery on this site. Yet its old Irish name, Moen or Moin Cholm-cille, the “walled enclosure” or “bog” of St. Colmcille, better known as Columba, suggests that the abbey may have been founded by the great Celtic churchman who lived in the sixth century. His connection with the site is supported by a twelfth century literary source, and a nearby well dedicated to him was a popular place of annual pilgrimage until the last century. The O’Flanagan family certainly provided hereditary abbots during the eleventh century but, by 1225, the archbishop of Dublin was in a position to give the monastery’s lands and mill to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

The Franciscans were said to have had a house in Moone, and this church with its long rectangular shape so typical of Irish medieval friary architecture, may well have been built by them, possibly around 1300, but abandoned when the English king Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1536-40. Outside, to the south-east, there was once a four-story tower in which the friars may have lived, but it was demolished in the early 1800’s, along with a Lady Chapel adjoining the north-east wall of the church.

Before 1850 a mason in search of good building stones discovered the base and head of the tall cross “deeply buried under a heap of fallen masonry” where the tower had once stood, and these were mounted together by the fourth Duke of Leinster and Mr Yeates, the then owner of the adjoining mansion. One Michael O’Shaughnessy later discovered a shaft portion which then lay loose around the churchyard for years until it was inserted between the other two parts in 1893, with assistance from the Kildare Achaeological Society. this helped to raise the height to over seven metres, and thereby made Moone of the two tallest High Crosses in Ireland.

The granite for the cross must originally have been brought from some miles away, and the slightly differing hues of the stones has led to doubts as to whether all three parts belong together, but no evidence to the contrary was found when the cross was temporarily dismantled in 1994, before being brought inside and displayed here in 1996.

Further panels explain the carvings on the cross.

This picture explains the south side of the cross, from top to bottom:

human figure
human figure
human figure turned to left
angel
heart-shaped feature (enclosing human head?)
roaring lion
long eared animal sniffing the ground
Saints Paul and Anthony breaking bread in the desert – the hermit saints, seated on their high backed chairs in the middle of the desert, break the bread which the rather plump raven above them had brought for their nourishment.
The Temptation of (probably) St. Anthony the Hermit. A central figure, probably St. Anthony, tempted by the devil who, half human and half animal, appears in the guise of a goat and cock.
Six headed monster. There is a head at each end of this six-legged monster, from whose twin body-spirals four fabulous animals uncoil themselves, two with their heads in profile and the other pair with a head seen from above. The significance of this curious beast is uncertain (apocalyptic?).

The Temptation of St. Anthony, Anthony in the middle with a goat on one side and cock on the other, representing the devil. Below is the six-headed monster.

The Twelve Apostles. I had an apostle like this made of old bog turf – it was my mother’s, a gift from me or my sister, I’m not sure.
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my Moone Abbey Apostle. I never realised until I saw the cross at Moone that this statue’s design was based on the Cross of Moone. Statue is made by Owen Crafts, Ballyshannon, Ireland.

Above, the west face: Adam and Eve being tempted by the snake, Adam about to sacrifice his son Isaac (with the ram in the thicket nearby which the Lord tells him to offer instead of his son), and below, Daniel in the lions’ den (he is saved by an angel). You can see the North side in this picture also, just about. This is Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, to the side of Adam and Eve. King Nebuchadnezzar had thrown them in the furnace for refusing to worship a golden image he had set up, but they did not burn. I used to know a song about this, that I was taught along with my classmates in Australia by Mrs. Firth. It went “Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, lived in Judah a long time ago, they had funny names and they lived far away but they knew what was right and they knew what to say. This is a story that you ought to know about Shadrach, what kind of name is that? Meshach, who had a name like that? Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego-ooooh!” Below them on the cross is the Flight into Egypt of Mary and Jesus on the donkey and Joseph alongside, as they’d been warned of the Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod. The final picture, on bottom, is the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.

The west face of the cross: Jesus, with an animal above, and below, two human heads each in the claws of two serpents.

We were still early when we drove up to the house. Someone passed by in jodphurs and said Jenny, the owner, would be out to us in a minute.

Jenny greeted us warmly. She told us first about the impressive tower. It is a “ten pound tower” – landowners were paid ten pounds in the 1400s to build a fortified tower for protection of the inhabitants to defend from Irish marauders: in this area, the O’Tooles were the marauders. (In Irish Castles and Historic Houses by Brendan O’Neill, he writes “In the early fifteenth century, government subsidies were offered to those able to construct castles or towers in the counties of Dublin, Kildare, Louth and Meath, but these “ten-pound” castles were fairly basic.”). 

The Irish Historic Houses website adds: “In return for building a defensive castle or tower, 20’ long, 16’ wide and at least 40’ high, dimensions that were smaller than those of a typical Irish tower house, landowners received a subsidy of £10 to help defray their expenses, perhaps the earliest instance of that much-loved Irish institution, the building grant.”

The website also states that “the monastery was duly suppressed and dissolved in the sixteenth century, and its lands ultimately passed to the Jacobite O’Dempsey family who lived in the nearby tower house.”

The Jacobites were supporters of King James II. However, when James II fled from Ireland to France, and William of Orange was crowned king, Jacobites in Ireland lost their land. The estate was granted to a Cromwellian soldier, Thomas Ashe, who was buried in the nearby Rath of Moone. The Irish Aesthete writes in his blog entry on 30th Sept 2019 that Thomas Ashe was a Dublin alderman, who died in 1741. [2]

The property was subsequently leased for 999 years to Samuel Yates (or Yeats, the spellings have been used interchangeably), who built the current house in about 1750. Yates, according to the Irish Aesthete, was from Colganstown, in County Dublin, another property listed in Section 482! Colganstown is said to have been designed by Nathanial Clements, so Moone Abbey House may also have been designed by Clements although it is not known. Robert O’Byrne the Irish Aesthete also mentions the Dublin-based architect John Ensor as the possible architect of Moone Abbey House.

Yates’s new house consisted of a central block, five bays wide and two of storeys over a basement, with wings on either side joined to the central block by curved walls. The stretch of the house, with the wings, make it “Palladian” style. Originally there was a single bay central breakfront surmounted by a pediment with a Diocletian window (a Diocletian or thermal window, according to Maurice Craig and Desmond Guinness in Ireland Observed, A Handbook to the Buildings and Antiquities, is a large semi-circular window with two vertical mullions dividing it into three. This styles derives from Roman baths!) [3]  After a fire in around 1800, the central block was rebuilt and given an extra storey, and the Diocletian window seems to have disappeared.

the curved two storey wall, concealing a courtyard, that join the wings of the house to the main house.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage Buildings of Ireland website describes the frontal aspect of the house [4]:

The ‘modern’ house is a fine example of a pseudo Palladian structure that is composed of a central residential block, linked by curved walls or wings to attendant ‘outbuildings’ and at Moone this arrangement has been little altered since first constructed. The house is composed of graceful Classical proportions and is without superfluous detailing – the porch to centre of the main (south-east) front, the bow to the rear (north-west), the curved walls and Dutch-style gables are all subtle features that enliven the composition. Furthermore, the regular distribution of openings adds a rhythmic quality to the piece. The house retains an early aspect and early materials, including fenestration and a slate roof...

There is a bay in the back which we didn’t see but one can see it in pictures on the National Inventory website. The wings of the house are two storey two bay blocks with Dutch gables.

Inside, Jenny pointed out to us that the house itself is surprisingly narrow from front to back, just one room “deep” plus the front hallway. The two wings are attached by concave walls which front courtyards rather than more rooms, so they make the house look bigger than it actually is. One of these attached wings has been used for stables in the past and is now to be renovated for accommodation, while the other is a guest-house.

a statue in a niche in the concave wall between a wing and the main house
The second curved wall that is between house and the wing, and the two storey, two bay wing, with its Dutch gable. This is now a guest house. Beyond lie the farm buildings.

The single storey projecting porch was added later in the 19th century.

The Irish Historic Houses website goes on to expand on the previous occupiers of the house:

Members of the Yates family were no strangers to drama. One was piked to death by the Ballytore rebels in 1798, suspected of alerting the authorities to their activities. Another was prosecuted for abusing his position as High Sheriff to seduce a young woman from Castledermot, while the 1800s fire was allegedly the result of a family feud that got out of hand. Eventually, their unconventional behaviour took its toll on the family finances and in the 1840s they were forced to sell under the Encumbered Estates Act after a tenure of almost a hundred years.

The purchasers were the O’Carroll family, who themselves sold out to the Bolands in 1910 while the estate was bought by a member of the princely German family of Hohenlohe in 1960 and their descendants still live at Moone today. Nearby is the famous castellated flour mill of the Shackleton family, ancestors of Sir Ernest the polar explorer, while the whole complex is approached from Moone village through a pair of splendid piers that originally formed one of the entrances to Belan, the long demolished great house of the famous collector, connoisseur and patron, Lord Aldborough.

After a brief tour of the house, Jenny then brought us out to the garden, including the walled garden. She then allowed us to climb up into the tower, at our own risk! We were thrilled to be allowed such access. It’s amazing to climb the original stairs in such a tower.

inside the Tower House
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ceiling slates, a corbelled roof of overlapping slates. There is such a corbelled roof also inside Newgrange.
a fireplace in an upstairs room in the tower, and window.

The tower has been converted into a pigeon loft. The book Did you know…? 100 Quirky Facts about County Offaly by Amanda Pedlow (published by Offaly County Council, Nov 2013) contains an entry on pigeon houses. They were used to raise pigeons for food. Several tiers of small nest-holes are placed high above the ground to make it more difficult for rodents to kill the young pigeons. Nest holes are square shaped but in the tower in Offaly and perhaps the one in Moone, inside the walls the holes turn at a right angle to make an L shape. Inside this dark space the pigeons raise their young, called “squabs.” These were a valuable source of food. The birds were considered to be domestic fowl rather than wild game and belonged to the neighbouring house. The presence of a pigeon house was evidence of the high status of the owners.

the pigeon boxes built into the tower.

I was able to take aerial photos from the top, of the house and its surroundings.

From the front of the house, and top of the tower,  we could see a beautiful single-span cast-iron footbridge over the Buggawn, or Griese, River. We headed down to see it after climbing the tower.

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The house is beautifully situated near the river, with a lovely view toward another stone bridge in the other direction.

view from the river back toward the house and tower. The Abbey lies behind the house.

The house is a working farm, and Jenny and her husband, whose parents bought the house in 1960, also hosts bed and breakfast guests. The guesthouse is advertised on the airbnb website [5]. I’d love to return and stay!

[1]  http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Moone%20Abbey

[2] https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/09/30/moone-abbey/

[3] Maurice Craig and Desmond Guinness Knight of Glin, Ireland Observed, A Handbook to the Buildings and Antiquities.Mercier Press, Dublin and Cork, 1970.

[4] http://www.buildingsofireland.ie/niah/search.jsp?type=record&county=kd&regno=11903614

[5] https://www.airbnb.ie/rooms/11415715?guests=1&adults=1&sl_alternate_dates_exclusion=true&source_impression_id=p3_1559472574_rN9y32sa2JklBBRL 

Covid-19 lockdown, 20km limits, and places to visit in Dublin

I have a bigger project than this section 482 houses blog. It helps, when writing about big houses, to know what is out there. So I have studied Mark Bence-Jones’s 1988 publication in great detail, A Guide to Irish Country Houses, and have conducted research with the help of the internet.

For my own interest, and I am sure many of my readers will appreciate, I am compiling a list of all of the “big house” accommodation across Ireland – finding out places to stay for when Stephen and I go on holidays, especially when we go to see the section 482 houses!

I am also discovering what other houses are open to the public. There are plenty to see which are not privately owned or part of the section 482 scheme. In fact many of the larger houses are either owned by the state, or have been converted into hotels.

This Monday, 8th June 2020, Ireland moves to the next phase of the government’s Covid-19 prevention plan, and we are allowed to travel 20km from our home, or to places within our county. Big houses won’t be open for visits, but some will be opening their gardens – already my friend Gary has been to the gardens of Ardgillan Castle for a walk. Stephen and I went there before lockdown, meeting Stephen’s cousin Nessa for a walk. The castle was closed, but we were blown away by the amazing view from the garden, and walked down to the sea.

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Ardgillan Castle, Balbriggan, County Dublin, and its view
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Nessa at the sea on our visit to Ardgillan Castle
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Ardgillan Castle
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Ardgillan Castle


Here is my list of houses/castles to visit in Dublin. Some are on section 482 so are private houses with very limited visting times; others are state-owned and are open most days – though not during Covid-19 restriction lockdown – they might be open from June 29th but check websites. Some have gardens which are open to the public now for a wander.

  1. Airfield, Dundrum, Dublin https://www.airfield.ie
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Airfield House

2. Ardgillan Castle, Balbriggan https://ardgillancastle.ie

3. Ashtown Castle, Phoenix Park, Dublin http://phoenixpark.ie/what-to-see/

4. Belvedere House, 6 Great Denmark Street, Dublin  https://www.oreillytheatre.com/belvedere-house.html

Open House, Belvedere House, Belvedere College, Dublin
Belvedere House

5. Cabinteely House [formerly Clare Hill, or Marlfield], Cabinteely, Dublin https://www.dlrcoco.ie/en/heritage/heritage

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Cabinteely House

6. Casino Marino, Clontarf, Dublin http://casinomarino.ie

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Casino at Marino, Dublin

7. Charlemount House, Parnell Square, Dublin – Hugh Lane gallery https://www.hughlane.ie

Charlemount House. Photograph from flickr constant commons, National Library of Ireland.

8. Colganstown, Newcastle, Co Dublin – section 482 [1] Colganstown House, Hazelhatch Road, Newcastle, County Dublin

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Colganstown, Newcastle, County Dublin

9. Dalkey Castle, Dublin – heritage centre https://www.dalkeycastle.com

Believe it or not, I did my Leaving Certificate examinations in this building!! I was extremely lucky and I loved it and the great atmosphere helped me to get the points/grades I wanted!

Dalkey Castle in Dalkey in the suburbs of south Dublin, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2014, from Tourism Ireland. [2]

10. Drimnagh Castle, Dublin https://www.drimnaghcastle.org

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party in Drimnagh Castle

11. Dublin Castle, Dublin https://www.dublincastle.ie

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part of Dublin Castle, including Royal Chapel

12. Fahanmura, Foxrock, Dublin 18 – section 482 [1]

13. Farm Complex, Toberburr Road, Killeek, St Margaret’s, Co. Dublin – section 482 [1]

14. Farmleigh, Phoenix Park, Dublin http://farmleigh.ie

Farmleigh
Farmleigh, Phoenix Park

15. Fern Hill, Stepaside, Dublin – gardens open to public https://www.dlrcoco.ie/en/parks-outdoors/fernhill-park-and-gardens

16. Georgian House Museum, 29 Lower Fitzwilliam Street, Merrion Square, Dublin 2 http://www.numbertwentynine.ie

17. Geragh, Sandycove Point, Sandycove, Co. Dublin – section 482 [1]

18. 14 Henrietta Street, Dublin – tenement museum https://14henriettastreet.ie

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from 2013 visit to 14 Henrietta Street

19. Knocknagin House, Delvin Bridge, Balbriggan, Co. Dublin – section 482 [1]

20. Lambay Castle, Lambay Island, Rush, Dublin  p. – island open to public, groups of 12 https://www.lambayisland.ie

Lambay Castle, Lambay Island. Photograph from Country Life, volume XXXI, 1912. [3] The north court of Lambay Castle. The medieval castle was remodelled by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1905.
Lambay Castle, Lambay Island. Photograph from Country Life. The east court of Lambay Castle.
Lambay Castle, Lambay Island. Photograph from Country Life. The castle and west forecourt of Lambay Castle.

21. Lissen Hall, Lissenhall Demesne, Swords, Dublin – open by appointment http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Lissen%20Hall

22. Malahide Castle, Malahide, County Dublin https://www.malahidecastleandgardens.ie

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Malahide Castle
The Great Hall, Malahide Castle. Photographed for Country Life magazine in October 1946 by Westley, Future Publishing Ltd.

23. Marlay House, Co Dublin https://www.dlrcoco.ie/en/heritage/heritage

24. Martello Tower, Portrane – section 482 [1]

24. Meander, Westminister Road, Foxrock, Dublin 18 – section 482 [1]

25. Newbridge House, Donabate, Co Dublin https://www.newbridgehouseandfarm.com

26. Newman House, St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin – MOLI, open to public https://moli.ie

27. 11 North Great George’s Street, Dublin – section 482 [1]

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interior of 11 North Great Georges Street, Dublin

28. 81 North King Street, Dublin – section 482 [1]

29. Old Glebe, Main Street, Newcastle, Co. Dublin – section 482 [1] The Old Glebe, Newcastle-Lyons, County Dublin

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Old Glebe, Newcastle

30. Pearse Museum and St. Enda’s Park, formerly Hermitage, and formerly called Fields of Odin), Rathfarnham, Dublin http://pearsemuseum.ie

31. Powerscourt Townhouse, Dublin 2 – section 482 Powerscourt Townhouse, 59 South William Street, Dublin 2

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Powerscourt Townhouse

32. Primrose Hill, Very Top of Primrose Lane, Lucan, Co. Dublin – section 482 [1]

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Primrose Hill

33. Rathfarnham Castle, Dublin http://rathfarnhamcastle.ie

34. St. George’s, St. George’s Avenue, Killiney, Co. Dublin – section 482 [1]

35. 10 South Frederick Street, Dublin – section 482 [1]

36. Swords Castle, Dublin  https://swordscastle.events

37. Tibradden House, Mutton Lane, Rathfarnham, Dublin 16 – section 482 [1]

[1] 2020 list update

[2] https://www.irelandscontentpool.com/en/media-assets/media/100792

[3] https://www.countrylifeimages.co.uk/Image.aspx?id=e18a45dd-8693-4d92-826a-84092b97d935&rd=1|3df3b2a9-1248-4719-bd66-091149000a8a||9|20|492|150 

Colganstown House, Hazelhatch Road, Newcastle, County Dublin

Contact: Lynne Savage Jones

Tel: 087-2206222

Check opening dates with owner due to the Covid-19 restrictions.

Listed Open dates in 2021: Apr 12-18, May 6-28, June 10-12, Aug 14-27, Nov 1-13, weekdays 2pm-6pm, weekends 9am-1pm.

Fee: adult/OAP €10, student/child free.

I contacted Mr. Savage Jones beforehand and we went to visit Colganstown on the last day that it as open in 2019! It was a rainy day, unfortunately, but I cannot complain as we have been so lucky with the weather on our visits.

The entrance gates have the visiting times displayed.

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Colganstown House, with rendered walls and stone quoins.

In his A Guide to Irish Country Houses, Mark Bence-Jones describes Colganstown as Palladian. [1] It is not immediately apparent, but the house, the centre block, is attached to two “wings,” which appear to be separate but are connected by flanking walls. The walls are unusual as they come from the back rather than from the front of the house, and are just the height of one storey. The house is attributed to the amateur architect Nathaniel Clements, who also built the Aras an Uachtarain (the House of the President [of Ireland], previously the Viceregal Lodge – although Nathaniel Clements built it for himself, as he was the Chief Ranger of Phoenix Park at the time). The Aras has been much added to, however, since the time when it was Clements’s residence.

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Central block main house, and wing on the left hand side of the house, with flanking wall in between containing an arch.

The centre block is of two storeys over a basement, and the wings are of two storeys with three bays. The Palladian-style sweep is further prolonged, Bence-Jones describes, by gated walls joining the pavilions [wings] to the gable-ends of farm buildings, which run from the back to form the sides of yards on either side of the back of the house.

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The main block of the house with the right hand side wing or pavilion, with joining wall.
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In this photograph, you can see how the wing house is joined to the outbuilding by “gated walls joining the pavilions to the gable-ends of farm buildings,” as Bence-Jones writes.

Colganstown was built in the 1760s for the Yates, or Yeates, family, who also owned Moone Abbey in County Kildare, another section 482 property, which you can also read about on this blog [2]. The centre of the main block breaks forward slightly,and has a Diocletian window above a tripartite fanlighted and pedimented doorway [3]. Bence-Jones writes that the glazing of the fanlight is delightfully original! The Diocletian window, the semi-circular one above the doorway, divided by vertical mullions, is derived from Roman baths, according to Maurice Craig and the Knight of Glin, Desmond Fitzgerald in their Ireland Observed, A Handbook to the Buildings and Antiquities (Mercier Press, Dublin and Cork, 1970) .

The house was in poor condition when Howard and his wife Lynn purchased it in 1992. They moved into the basement of the house while they refurbished. The wings were not habitable. Slates were gone from the rooves of the wings, so the buildings had to be re-roofed. Since the roof had gone, the walls were in extremely bad condition, and so far the current owners have renovated just one of the two wings.

Howard took us through the house to the airy new kitchen, which he had added to the house. The original kitchen would have been in the basement. He added a “bridge” from the bow at the back of the house, a glass-topped walkway which forms a sort of orangerie, across the courtyard from the basement below, to a lovely conservatory style room, with large windows. You can just see the roof of this addition in one of my photographs. The owners chose the materials and style of the addition carefully to complement the house. In the photograph below one can see the way the basements have windows and let in the light. You can also see how at the front and back there is a wall about a metre from the basement, so the earth doesn’t cover the walls of the basement.

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Sitting in this comfortable room, I didn’t recognise it to be a kitchen until Howard mentioned it, because everything is hidden in cupboards and panelling. There are comfortable seats beyond the island, where we sat to discuss the history of the house.

I had printed out my notes about the house, for Stephen to read aloud in the car while I drove, and I showed my notes to Howard so he could see the information that I’d gathered so far.

The basement of the house is at water level, and when they moved in, water had to be pumped out of the basement. Originally there had been drains coming out from the basement but the conduits had collapsed, so the current owners installed electric pumps. There’s a wonderful tunnel from the basement level near the back of the house, which goes to one of the wings from the basement kitchen, and would have been for the servants. I didn’t get a great picture of it, but you can see it from the “bridge” orangerie in this photograph (excuse the reflections on the glass window):

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In Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size, Maurice Craig notes that not a lot is known about the date of building, or original ownership, of Colganstown. He writes that: “It appears to have been built by a family variously spelt as Yates or Yeats, who had a house in Sackville Street (now O’Connell St) in the 1760s and also Moone House in Co. Kildare.” It was great to be able to tell Howard that we had visited Moone Abbey House earlier this year.

It seems that Samuel Yates (1681-1765) built the house at Moone Abbey. [4] If Colganstown was built in the 1760s it may have been built for Samuel’s son, Thomas Yates (1726-1815). He is believed to be buried with his parents in a church in Newcastle. He sold Colganstown in 1780.

Howard told us that Yates had business interests in Dominic Street in Dublin, and this could explain how the Yates came to have a beautiful ceiling by Robert West in their drawing room in Colganstown, as West would have been a neighbour in Dominic Street. According to the Dictionary of Irish Architects, Robert West was admitted as a member of the Plasterers’ Guild in 1752, and died in 1790. He is associated with one of the most spectacular pieces of stuccowork in Ireland, the hall of the house which he built as a speculation at No. 20 Lower Dominick Street. [5]

The stuccowork of birds in the drawing room is famed as a story is told about a raucous party where dinner guest shot at the birds. Bence-Jones writes: “The interior contains some excellent rococo plasterwork in the manner of Robert West; there is a Chinese dragon over the staircase window and many birds in high relief, some of which have unfortunately had their heads shot off at one time or another as after-dinner sport.” Howard showed us the mark in the ceiling but pointed out that the story is probably a fable – there is not much damage to the birds but the corner does get damp, and the dampness might have caused the damage!

In Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size, Maurice Craig writes about who might have been the architect of the house:

The Knight of Glin has made a good case for regarding it as part of the oeuvre of Nathaniel Clements, a politician and banker turned architect, who was born in 1705. He was a political associate of the great Luke Gardiner of Henrietta Street, who speaks of him as an “architect” as early at 1744. One thing is certain: that Colganstown belongs with Clements’s own house Woodville, with his other house (later transformed as the Viceregal Lodge), with Williamstown, Co. Kildare, with Newberry Hall, with Belview, and probably also with Lodge Park, Straffan. It is impossible yet to say where it belongs in the series, but the character of its internal decoration, admirable stucco decoration in the style of Robert West, suggests a date in the 1760’s. [6]

Craig calls Colganstown a “hobby” farm, as it is small and near the city in Dublin. A gentleman, however, he points out, can look out his windows without seeing the farmyards, since the farm building are built to the sides. The acreage has been reduced, however, to just 25, and the surrounds are farmed by a neighbour, which means the beauty of the driveway through the fields has been retained (although the driveway had to be reworked and a separate drive made for the farmer and his heavy equipment, which had taken its toll on the original driveway). The original farm reached all the way to the canal. A previous owner of the house, Andrews, was involved with the canals.

The area has long been inhabited, as one can see from the building behind the house – see the photograph below.

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This house, now a ruin, was owned by Thomas Arthur, a politician from the “Patriot Parliament,” who was killed in the Battle of the Boyne. The Patriot Parliament was one in Ireland called by James II during the 1689-1691 war in Ireland, and held only one session, from 7 May 1689 to 20 July 1689. Arthur, therefore, would have been loyal to James II, and therefore fought against William III, who had been invited to be king of England (and Scotland and Ireland).

Colganstown was also previously occupied in the early to mid 1900’s by the Blackrock Christian Brothers, Howard told us, and by a Scottish family named Harrison.

He then took us on a tour of the house. I was eager to see the stuccowork, especially the dragon mentioned by Bence-Jones! I didn’t take photographs of the drawing room birds, but took out the camera to photograph the rococo work in the stairwell.

The library has wood panelling and shelves taken in the 1960s from a building in Mountjoy Square. There is more stuccowork on the ceiling, a frieze with birds, and even a nest with chicks.

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You can see how the stairs are built into the bow at the back of the house.

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the dragon is disappointingly small – you can see it in this photograph in the middle, over the window. Maurice Craig describes it: “over the staircase window, presides a splendidly animated Chinese dragon, scaly wings outstretched, and his tail piercing the egg-and-dart moulding at the base of the cornice to emerge and recurve again, stabbing the plasterwork.”
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In 2010 a pipe burst, which was very destructive but fortunately the stuccowork was unharmed. The owners had to get new flooring – they managed to salvage parts and to buy salvaged wood from other houses. In rebuilding, Howard told us, he discovered that the walls are packed, in between the lathe and plaster, with dry moss and bracken, acting as insulation!

Craig writes of the interior of the house:

The small square hall is groin-vaulted with delicate plaster enrichment: the doors are of beautiful pale mahogany. The staircase-hall ceiling has, in its wandering Rococo design, elongated versions of the cornucopia so frequently seen in Dublin bookbindings of the 1760s… Elsewhere the birds of the West school are ubiquitous in high relief, with baskets of fruit and flowers.

The bow continues upstairs with lovely curved walls and the bedrooms are a nice size. The main block forms a perfectly sized house on its own. The front room upstairs was once a chapel when the Brothers lived in the house, and that room is unusual with the Diocletian window. It is a lovely comfortable house, and with its proximity to Dublin, I envy its owners! They have made a lovely home.

[1] 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.

[2] Moone Abbey House and Tower, Moone, County Kildare

[3] architectural definitions

[4] https://www.myheritage.com/site-family-tree-56401591/yates

[5] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/5581/west-robert%2A

[6] A footnote in Craig’s book follows: see Knight of Glin in Apollo, October 1966 p. 314-321. – Fitzgerald thinks Newberry (Carbury, Co. Kildare) and Colganstown are by Clements, which Maurice Craig has begun to doubt. Craig also references the Knight of Glin’s “less sober” article in the Irish Georgian Society Bulletin V, 1962.

11 North Great George’s Street, Dublin 1

contact: John Aboud 087 798 3099

number11dublin.ie

Listed Opening dates in 2021, but check due to Covid 19 restrictions: March 8-13, May 10-15, June 7-12, July 5-10, Aug 2-7, 14-22, Sept 6-12, Oct 4-9, Nov 8-11,15-18, 1pm-5 pm.
Fee: adult €7, students/OAP €3, children under 12 free.

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Photograph from National Inventory of Architectural History Buildings of Ireland website.
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Photograph from National Inventory of Architectural History Buildings of Ireland website.

I visited 11 North Great George’s Street in 2012 during Open House, run by the Irish Architectural Foundation. I went with my husband Stephen and my Dad, Desmond. There is a video of the day on the website and I am excited to see myself in it! [1]

We loved this house! It’s wonderfully decorated and we had a tour with owner John Aboud who is himself an architect, I believe. The decor is very quirky and full of character. I loved the plaster decoration on the walls, “John Soane’s Museum” style. Like Peter Pearson, the occupant has rescued parts of old houses which are being discarded. How I’d love to come across such a skip!

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According to the Buildings of Ireland website, this house was one of the first to be built on North Great George’s Street, a street of stepped terraces built after 1768 as a result of commercial leases granted on the avenue leading to the Mount Eccles Estate and in response to the expansion of the Gardiner Estate [2]. The houses were built as townhouses for the gentry.

The street has its own North Great George’s Street Preservation Society, which has an excellent website with a history of the street written by Conor Lucey. [3] The Preservation Society began in 1979, according to its website, by a group of resident house-owners who had become concerned about the fate of the street, which had survived almost alone amid the surrounding dereliction of North Central Dublin. The Association was formed more recently to represent the views and interests of the many long-term residents in the street.

Sir John Eccles was Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1710. He owned an extensive private estate, which contained the area which is now North Great George’s Street. Unfortunately his mansion has gone and the site where it stood is now occupied by a small two-storey building situated between the present numbers 43 and 46 North Great George’s Street.

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Conor Lucey tells us that Mount Eccles is clearly visible on John Rocque’s map of Dublin published in 1756, but it is labelled with the name of Nicholas Archdall Esq. Nicholas Archdall had purchased the lease for the Mount Eccles estate for 999 years, beginning 1st August 1749.

Nicholas Archdall was MP for County Fermanagh. His son, Edward Archdall, became a property developer. He built numbers 19 and 20 North Great George’s Street in the late 1780s. Nicholas Archdall’s widow Sarah (nee Spurling) petitioned the Irish Parliament in 1766 for permission to grant long leases on premises on her property. She may have been inspired by the new Gardiner estate and Gardiner’s Row. Permission was granted, and the advertisement read:

To be Let in Lots for Building, the Lands of Mount Eccles, in Great Britain-street, opposite Marlborough-street, joining Palace-row and Cavendish-street, containing seven Acres, which for Situation, Air and Prospect, cannot be exceeded by any in or about Dublin, subject to no Manner of Tax, Hearth Money excepted. For further Particulars, enquire of Mrs. Archdale, at Mount Eccles, where a Plan of the whole may be seen.

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Lucey tells us that the leases for North Great George’s Street contain no covenants or specifications regarding the form of the house, except for the provision of an eight foot wide ‘area’ intended to be ‘in the front of the houses which is to be built on the said ground over and above the flagged passage which is to be 6 ft and 6 in wide’. Other developments, such as Merrion Square and Fitzwilliam square, had much more detailed specifications for the houses to be built.

Lucey describes the typical layout of the houses on the street:

“By far the most common plan type is the ‘two room’ plan, composed of an axially- aligned entrance hall and stair hall, and flanked by front and rear parlours, the latter typically serving as the formal dining room. The principal staircase, customarily of timber open-string construction, is situated at the back of the house and rises from the ground floor – by way of the piano nobile or ‘drawing room storey’ – to the ‘attic’ or bedroom storey, with admittance to the ‘garret’ alone acquired by a smaller, subordinate stair. A distinctive decorative feature of the garret storey stair is the ‘Chinese Chippendale’ balustrade, popular from mid-century and exemplified by surviving examples at Nos.4, 11, 36 and 50.”

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Chinese Chippendale balustrade on the way to the garret, with the owner’s display of masks.

According to the website for Number 11 North Great George’s Street, number 11 was completed in 1774 and was one of the first houses built in the newly laid out North Great George’s Street. It was then a very fashionable street. Other properties on the street were leased to Emilia, Dowager Viscountess Powerscourt (the widow of Richard Wingfield, 3rd Viscount Powerscourt, who built Powerscourt Townhouse in Dublin – see my entry on Powerscourt Townhouse) and Valentine Browne, 1st Earl of Kenmare.

The Act of Union of 1800, however, meant that there was no longer a Parliament in Dublin and many gentry left Ireland. The house’s website states:

“Despite the drain from the city of power and money after the Act of Union in 1800, North Great George’s Street managed to hold onto some grandees till the very end of the 19th Century. In the case of no. 11, these included in 1821 a George Whitford, High Sheriff of Dublin, who was knighted in that year by George IV at the Mansion House. No doubt to celebrate his new status, he had the front doorcase re-modelled to accommodate a large new fanlight, and also had the Salon joinery replaced in the fashionable neo-classical style.”

The No.11 website tells us more about former inhabitants.

Dr. Charles Orpen lived in the house in the 1830s. He played a significant part in the development of sign language, and in the education of deaf children, founding Ireland’s first school for deaf children, in 1816, in Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street). It became The Claremont Institution for the Deaf and Dumb when it moved to a large demesne called Claremont in Glasnevin. Dr. Orpen worked at the Workhouse at the House of Industry in Dublin, where he noticed that there were 21 deaf children. He took one of the children, Thomas Collins, home to educate him, and based on his learnings about the conditions of being deaf, he gave several popular lectures in the Rotunda, which led to a public interest in the condition and of education of deaf and dumb children. [4]

Another former inhabitant of number 11 in the 1850s was a barrister named Patrick Blake. He had Nationalist leanings, and the no.11 website tells us that it is believed that Michael Davitt, one of the leaders of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Land League, was hidden in the house for some time before his arrest and imprisonment in 1870. By this time, and for the rest of the century, the domestic quarters of the house had retreated to the top two floors, and the rest of the house was given over to office space for barristers and land agents.

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As the wealthy left the city centre for houses in the suburbs, in 1910 a Mr. Kelly bought the house and turned it into a tenement. The No.11 website tells us that unlike many houses, the landlord lived on the premises and so the house survived many of the ravages that other houses suffered at this time. Between the 1930s and 1970s every room in the house was used as a family flat.

By the early 1980s the historic centre of Dublin had been all but abandoned. The house was largely derelict with a roof that was on the point of collapse. The website tells us that a great deal of the house was saturated and pigeons inhabited the upper floors. Despite this, the last tenant, Mrs. Margaret Howard, who had moved into the house in 1921, struggled to maintain an old fashioned gentility in her tenement rooms.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage Buildings of Ireland website describes number 11 as a terraced three-bay four-storey house over exposed basement. It’s made of handmade red bricks and granite window sills. The website describes:

“Round-headed door opening with painted stone Doric doorcase. Original ten-panelled painted timber door flanked by engaged Doric columns on stone plinth blocks supporting deep cornice, and replacement peacock fanlight with moulded surrounds and scrolled keystone.”

The website also mentions the original plaster walls and ceiling, as well as original timber joinery and flooring. The ceilings seemed overly colourful, but the owner assured us that this is how such a ceiling would have looked originally.

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The Buildings of Ireland website describes:

“Upper floors having large amounts of surviving late Rococo plasterwork with projecting birds, acanthus leaves and flower-baskets to rear rooms. First floor saloon having ceiling with flower vases, acanthus pendants and cartouches. Neo-classical over-doors and friezes with urns and festoons. Lugged architraves throughout and moulded joinery [“lugged” is a moulded frame with horizontal projections at the top, according to wikipedia]. Imposing fluted Doric architraves to round-headed windows at each half-landing. Chinese Chippendale stair to garret floor.” [5]

The Rococo plasterwork, the number 11 website tells us, “must be amongst the very last flings of the renowned Robert West School of Rococo plasterwork.” We came across Robert West plasterwork also in Colganstown [6].

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The home owner is a collector, not only of architectural pieces and masks, but of dolls:

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Some of the architectural pieces are from, I believe, a church that was demolished, St. Peter’s Church on Aungier Street. These banisters might have been altar rails:

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The back garden is beautifully tranquil with an Oriental vibe, with a pond and a temple at the back with more architectural pieces and sculptures.

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In its appraisal the National Inventory website states:

“Largely dilapidated by the early 1980s, it was carefully conserved by the owner and is now a residence and venue for weddings and other events. The surviving early plasterwork is a fine example of the traditional ‘Dublin school’ Rococo style and its juxtaposition with the Neo-classical embodies the stylistic developments of the late eighteenth century. The oversailing lintel of c.1820 is one of few on the street and the restored light posts add a further element of interest in the public realm of the street. The retention of timber sash windows and of the granite and iron work to the entrance and basement enhances the architectural heritage quality of this house and of the street in general.”

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The website for number 11 has a link to airbnb accommodation available in the house.

At the top of North Great George’s Street, on Denmark Street, is Belvedere House, now part of Belvedere College, a boys’ secondary school. I visited this on another Open Day. Its splendid stucco work is of the Neoclassical or “Adam” style popular in Dublin in mid 1770s to 1800, designed by Michael Stapleton. Conor Lucey writes:

“The neoclassical style is also well represented by Belvedere House. Built for George Augustus Rochfort, 2nd Earl of Belvedere, and completed by 1786, it is one of the finest city mansions built during the latter part of the century. The interiors of this house represent a text-book model of how Irish stuccodors invented freely within the Adamesque idiom, deriving their decorative vocabulary from architectural treatises, builder’s manuals and pattern books.”

Open House, Belvedere House, Belvedere College, Dublin
Open House, Belvedere House, Belvedere College, Dublin, 2015.
Open House, Belvedere House, Belvedere College, Dublin
Belvedere House, 2015. The architect was Robert West. 86 St. Stephen’s Green has also been attributed to Robert West, which now houses MoLI, the new Museum of Literature of Ireland. The stucco work in no. 11 North Great George’s Street is of the Robert West school.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=10&v=C3RdULJddO0&feature=emb_logo

[2] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/50010998/north-great-georges-street-dublin-dublin-city

[3] https://northgreatgeorgesstreet.ie/

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claremont_Institution

[5] According to Craig, Maurice and Knight of Glin, Ireland Observed, A Handbook to the Buildings and Antiquities. Mercier Press, Dublin and Cork, 1970, Rococo is the asymmetrical freely-modelled style of decoration originating in France and popular in Ireland from about 1750 to 1775. See also Architectural Definitions:

architectural definitions

[6] Colganstown House, Hazelhatch Road, Newcastle, County Dublin