Places to visit in Dublin: Ardgillan Castle, Balbriggan, County Dublin

Ardgillan Castle, Balbriggan, Dublin

https://ardgillancastle.ie

Ardgillan Castle, Balbriggan, February 2022.

You approach Ardgillan Castle from the back, coming from the car park, facing down to the amazing vista of Dublin bay.

The approach to Ardgillan Castle with the view of Dublin Bay, February 2022.
The view of Dublin Bay from the front of Ardgillan Castle, March 2020.

The website tells us:

In 1658, the “Down Survey” records that Ardgillan was owned by a wine merchant, Robert Usher of Tallaght, Dublin and by 1737, the property had been acquired by the Reverend Robert Taylor, one of the Headfort Taylors [of Headfort House, County Meath – of which later part became a school and part kept as a residence, and the east wing was advertised for sale in November 2019. The Dining Hall has particularly fine stucco work by Scottish born architect Robert Adam (1728-1792), one of the family from which the term “Adamesque” takes its name], whose grand-father had collaborated with Sir William Petty on the mid 17th century “Down Survey of Ireland”. 

Ardgillan remained the family home of the Taylors (later changed to Taylour) for more than two hundred years up until 1962 when the estate was sold to Heinrich Potts of Westphalia, Germany. In 1982, Dublin County Council purchased Ardgillan Demesne and it is now managed by Ardgillan Castle Ltd. under the auspices of Fingal County Council. “

Originally named “Prospect House”, built on Mount Prospect (you can see why it was so called, with such a view!), the central section was built in 1738 by Robert Taylor, with the west and east wings added in the late 1800s. 

Ardgillan Castle, Balbriggan, County Dublin with the Dublin and Drogheda Railway 1844, photograph courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.

Mark Bence-Jones writes in his  A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):

p. 9. [Taylour, sub. Headfort, M/PB]. A C18 house consisting of a 2 storey bow-fronted centre with single-storey overlapping wings, mildly castellated either towards the end of C18 or early C19. The central bow has been made into a round tower by raising it a storey and giving it a skyline of Irish battlements; the main roof parapet has been crenellated and the windows given hood mouldings. Over each of the windows was thrown, literally speaking, a Gothic cloak of battlements and pointed arches; below which the original facade, with its quoins and rectangular sash windows, shows in all its Classical nakedness. Battlemented ranges and an octagon tower were added on the other side of the house.” [1]

Ardgillan Castle, Balbriggan, February 2022.
IMG_2005
Ardgillan Castle, June 2020.

The website informs us:

Initially the site was heavily wooded, the name Ardgillan being derived from the Irish “Ard Choill” meaning High Wood. It was cleared out by service soldiers and itinerant workers in return for one penny a day, sleeping accommodation and one meal. 

The house consists of two storeys over a basement which extends out under the lawns on the southern side of the building. When occupied, the ground and first floors were the living accommodations while the west and east wings were servants’ quarters and estate offices. The basement comprised of the service floor, the kitchen and stores.

IMG_2002
The back of Ardgillan Castle, Dublin, June 2020.

Robert was the son of Thomas, the 1st Baronet of Headfort House in Kells. Robert (1689-1744), a younger son, joined the clergy and according to the Ardgillan website, was a recluse and spent his time writing sermons. He became Dean of Clonfert, County Galway. He died unmarried and the estate passed to his brother Thomas Taylour, the 2nd Baronet of Kells, County Meath. His sister Salisbury married a Bishop of Clonfert and secondly, Brigadier General James Crofts, son of James Scott the Duke of Monmouth, an illegitimate son of King Charles II!

The 2nd Baronet married Sarah Graham of Platten, County Meath. Their son Thomas was MP for Kells, County Meath, and was created 1st Earl of Bective, of Bective Castle, Co. Meath. He wedded, in 1754, Jane, eldest daughter of the Rt Hon Hercules Langford Rowley, from Summerhill, County Kilkenny. Their younger son, Henry Edward Taylour (1768-1852) joined the clergy and he and his wife, Marianne St. Leger from Doneraile in County Cork, settled at Ardgillan.

By the front door, a bell pull, I think.

We returned to Ardgillan in February 2022 and were able to see inside the castle.

Entrance Hall of Ardgillan, with shop and visitor’s desk. There are lovely plasterwork scrolls of foliage along the inside of the arches and a gothic arches pattern around the ceiling which matches the glass door and window arch. The ceiling and wall arch contain flanking rounded pillars. The fine ceiling rose is of acanthus leaves.
The Drawing Room of Ardgillan Castle.
I’m amused by the fact that the family could stop any train on the line for their personal use!

The dining room is the piece de resistance, with intricately carved oak panelling by Italian brothers Guardocici dated 1889 featuring Taylor Family crest. It also features a real stuffed bear!

The door to the dining room is carved with the family crest and detailed pattern.
The door frame features a head, and lion heads, which are continued in the wall panelling and the large cabinet.
The carved wall panelling in the dining room at Ardgillan Castle, by Italian brothers Guardocici dated 1889 featuring Taylor Family crest.
The matching cabinet in the dining room at Ardgillan Castle.

The fireplace in the dining room is also intricately carved.

The house passed to Thomas Edward Taylor (d. 1883).

It was his son, Edward Richard Taylor (1863-1938), who employed the Italian woodcarvers. He also had the library shelves installed by the Dublin firm Pim Brothers Ltd.

Edward Richard had no children so was succeeded by his brother Captain Basil Taylour’s son, Basil Richard Henry Osgood Taylour. He sold Ardgillan.

The next room is the lovely library.

The library of Ardgillan Castle.
We entered the library through a jib door of pretend books.
I couldn’t resist putting on the armour.
Stephen in The Butler’s Pantry at Ardgillan Castle.

The stairs to the upper storey are modest for such a house. Upstairs there are artists’ studios – how lucky they are, to have such a wonderful setting for their work!

The staircase of Ardgillan Castle – modest for such a house.

The website tells us:

Ardgillan park is unique among Dublin’s regional parks for the magnificent views it enjoys of the coastline. A panorama, taking in Rockabill Lighthouse, Colt Church, Shenick and Lambay Islands may be seen, including Sliabh Foy, the highest of the Cooley Mountains, and of course the Mourne Mountains can be seen sweeping down to the sea.

The park area is the property of Fingal County Council and was opened to the public as a regional park in June 1985. Preliminary works were carried out prior to the opening in order to transform what had been an arable farm, into a public park. Five miles of footpaths were provided throughout the demesne, some by opening old avenues, while others were newly constructed. They now provide a system of varied and interesting woodland, walks and vantage points from which to enjoy breath-taking views of the sea, the coastline and surrounding countryside. A signposted cycle route through the park since June 2009 means that cyclists can share the miles of walking paths with pedestrians.

The Walled Garden was originally a Victorian-styled kitchen garden that used to supply the fruit, vegetables and cut ower requirements to the house. It is 1 hectare (2.27 acres) in size, and is subdivided by free standing walls into five separate compartments. The walled garden was replanted in 1992 and through the 1990’s, with each section given a different theme.

The walled garden at Ardgillan, February 2022.
The website tells us: “The Vegetable Potager demonstrates the variety of vegetables that can be grown in shaped beds to create an attractive display. The Fruit Garden The Fruit Garden includes raspberries, red, white and black currants, gooseberries and fan-trained stone fruit on the walls. A collection of 30 old Irish varieties of apples, espalier-trained on wires, were planted in the year 2000. Varieties include: Scarlet Crofton (1500), Ballyfatten (1802) and Allen’s Everlasting (1864).”

The Victorian Conservatory was originally built in 1880 at Seamount, Malahide, the home of the Jameson family, who became famous for their whiskey all over the world. It was built by a Scottish glasshouse builder McKenzie & Moncur Engineering, and is reputed to be a replica of a glasshouse built at Balmoral in Scotland, the Scottish home of the British Royal Family. The conservatory was donated to Fingal County Council by the present owner of Seamount, the Treacy family and was re-located to the Ardgillan Rose Garden in the mid-1990s by park staff.

The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (DAHG) approached Fingal County Council in early 2014 to participate in a pilot project to develop and enhance skill sets in built heritage conservation, under the Traditional Building Skills Training Scheme 2014. The glass house/ conservatory at Ardgillan was selected as part of this project. The glass house has been completely dismantled because it had decayed to such an extent that it was structurally unstable. All parts removed as part of this process are in safe storage. This work is the first stage of a major restoration project being undertaken by the Councils own Direct Labour Crew in the Operations Department supervised by David Curley along with Fingal County Council Architects so that the glasshouse can be re-erected in the garden and can again act as a wonderful backdrop to the rose garden. This is a complex and difficult piece of work which is currently on going and we are hopeful to have the glasshouse back to its former glory as a centrepiece of the visitor offering in Ardgillan Demesne in the near future.

[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.

Killineer House, Drogheda, County Louth

contact: Charles & Eithne Carroll
Tel: 086-2323783
www.killineerhouse.ie
Open in 2022: Feb 1-20, May 1-15, June 1-10, Aug 10-24, 9am-1pm
Fee: adult/OAP/child/student, house: €4, garden €6

Stephen and I visited Killineer on Saturday June 9th, one of our first houses to visit once Covid restrictions eased. I like the drive up along the M1 motorway, over the Mary McAleese bridge. The house has entrance gates.

My trusty little car leaving Killineer after our visit.
The gate lodge, also built in 1836. It has the same Majolica style medallion as on the farm buildings behind the house.

The house is a Regency house, that is, of the Classical style built shortly after the period in England when George IV was Prince Regent (1811-1820, when King George III was ill). Like many Regency houses, it has a stucco facade and columns framing the front door, with a Doric single-storey portico.

The house was built for a local businessman, George Harpur, who made his fortune in trade, dealing in salt and timber. He would have availed of the nearby port to bring in his salt, and timber from Canada. Salt was used to preserve meats and was a precious commodity. Harper married Louisa Ball in 1835, daughter of George Ball (1755-1842) of Ballsgrove, County Louth, and his wife Sarah Webber. 

Ballsgrove, County Louth, built in 1734, photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

Killineer house was completed in 1836. The front, of two storeys, has six bays on top and a Doric single-storey portico flanked by two bays on either side. The corners have double-height pilasters. The house has a basement and the back is of three storeys. The sides are of three bays, with entablatures over the ground floor windows.

Side of the house, with the original French door, and the farm buildings in the background.

Harpur surrounded the house with seventeen acres of garden, creating terraces and a lake which on the site of an earlier rough pond. A house already stood on the property, the remains of which are in the walled garden behind the current house.

The remains of the previous house built at Killineer, now in use as a tool shed. One can still see remains of the panelled walls and dentil cornice inside. [1]

The earlier house, now located in the walled garden behind the house, may have been built by George Pentland (1770-1834), who owned the property before Harpur, before he moved to Blackhall in 1815, which was begun in approximately 1790 by a fellow solicitor, Philip Pendleton. [2] Before that, the land was owned by Thomas Taylour of Headfort House, County Meath.

Black Hall, County Louth. Picture from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. Casey and Rowan (1993) suggest that the house is in a ‘style greatly reminiscent of Francis Johnston.’ 
Headfort House, County Meath, photograph by A.E. Henson, from Country Life, volume LXXIX, published 21/03/1936The house was built in the early 1770s by Irish architect George Semple with the interiors designed by Robert Adam. [3]

The Harpurs had no children and the house was sold, probably after George Harpur died in 1888. Unfortunately, any record of the plans for the house or garden have been lost, so neither the architect nor the creator of the garden has been identified.

The house passed through several owners until the present family, including Robert Ussher, and the Montgomery family of Beaulieu, County Louth. Richard Thomas Montgomery (1813-1890) of Beaulieu had a son, Richard Johnston Montgomery, who lived in Killineer house when he was High Sheriff of County Louth in 1910. Perhaps he lived at Killineer until he inherited Beaulieu. He married Maud Helena Collingwood Robinson of Rokeby Hall, another Section 482 property in Louth. 

Beaulieu, County Louth [see my blog entry].
Rokeby, County Louth [see my blog entry].

James Carroll, ancestor of the current owner, purchased the house in 1938. He was the grandson of Patrick James Carroll, a tobacco manufacturer from Dundalk. James’s daughter Grace lived in Killineer all of her life and never married. She died in 1999, and the house passed to her cousin, the current owner. 

According to her obituary in the Irish Times, Grace became involved with the Order of Malta, of which her father had been president. She was the first woman in this country to be appointed Dame Grand Cross of Honour and Devotion, Sovereign Military Hospitaller, Order of Malta. This was in recognition of her work and fundraising for those with disabilities in Drogheda. She was instrumental in helping fund The Village, a training centre for those with special needs, built in the former Presentation Convent. [4]

She maintained the gardens laid out by George Harpur, and they were featured in Country Life in 1998. We enjoyed a wander in the lovely gardens after the owner Charles Carroll gave us a tour inside.

The view of the gardens from the front of the house.

The house has an impressive octagonal entry hall, with niches and busts on plinths. It has four doors that look as if they lead off the hall, but two are only for symmetry and do not open. The house itself has a classical layout of four rooms plus the hall on the ground floor, a basement, and the bedrooms above. It has an “imperial” staircase – a staircase which bifurcates into two. A lovely stained glass window of browns, blues and yellows, made by Edward Lowe  of Dublin who also did the windows in Collon’s Church of Ireland, has the Carroll coat of arms in the middle. [5] Below the stairs, in a door, is another stained glass window, with a knight with a lion, which might also have been installed by the Carrolls.

The back of the house, with the stained glass window that lights the stairs.

The Carrolls are an ancient Irish family that can be traced back to the Carrolls of Oriel. Oriel was an area of Ireland. Donogh O’Carroll, King of Oriel, died in 1168 AD and the Carrolls of Oriel are his descendants. Patrick Carroll of Culcredan, County Louth, was born in 1600. The Carrolls of Killineer branch off from the main line of “the O’Carroll Oriel” after this Patrick Carroll. [6] [7]

We entered the dining room first and sat down under a portrait of Grace to hear a little about the history of the house. The windows are French doors, and the room is panelled. It originally had a ceiling with a seascape of Neptune, but unfortunately the house was left empty for two years before the Carrolls purchased it and the ceiling was ruined. The ceiling now features a “very attractive bold circle of plasterwork in the centre of the ceiling,” as Mark Bence-Jones describes it. [8]

The plasterwork in the house is impressive. There are about five layers of cornice patterns around the ceiling in the study, such as ovals and egg-and-dart, and the rooms have wood-like plaster panelled walls. The rooms are decorated in a French empire style of gilt and a deep rose colour. Charles pointed out that some of the plasterwork over the doors may have been added later, as it is a little too ornate and does not quite fit with the rest of the plasterwork. 

The fourth room on the ground floor has been divided in two, probably after the house was built. The pattern around the ceiling continues in both rooms, and features griffons and centaurs and is coloured wine red, pale blue and pink. An unusual sculpted ceiling depicts the figure of Justice, doves, and a figure with a lyre. 

A summer-house in the garden is designed to mirror the architecture of the house, and was probably also built by George Harpur.

It has windows and French doors on each side, and inside, it has plaster coving and niches.

The reeded doorcases with corner blocks carved with rosettes match the doorcases inside the main house.

The wrought iron bridge onto an island in the man-made lake is also contemporary with the house. [9]

Stretching from the house, the garden is terraced. It leads down through a canopy to a laurel maze and lawn laid out in an astragal pattern, to the lake, where a swan was guarding a nest. The lakes, created by George Harpur, are lined with a special yellow clay, which is very fine and hard, so it holds in the water particularly well. Yellow clay is impermeable and can be used to prevent damp in houses.

The astragal shaped lawn.
Woodland walk, below the lake, and the wild garden nearby.
Eighteenth century gates which were originally located on an estate belonging to the Jocelyn family, Earls of Roden.
The lily pond.

Behind the house lies the walled garden from the original house at Killineer. It is still in active use today producing fruits and vegetables. It has a glasshouse in which apricot, peach and nectarine trees grow, and an apiary that houses bees who pollinate the plants. 

Entrance to the walled garden.

The attractive farm buildings are off-limits to visitors due to dangerous farm machinery.

The lush gardens were a treat after months of lockdown in Dublin. They were so peaceful, such an oasis from the everyday bustle. They remind us to stop, linger, and appreciate.

[1] https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/06/13/in-the-good-old-summertime/

Robert O’Byrne notes that: A century earlier the land here had been granted by the local corporation on a 999-year lease to Sir Thomas Taylor, whose family lived at Headfort, County Meath. It then passed to the Pentlands whose main residence was to the immediate east at Blackhall. At some date in the 18th century a house was built on the property: it appears on early maps but little now remains other than one room which still retains sections of plaster panelling. Located to the rear of the walled garden, this space now serves as a toolshed. 

[2] See https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/13902207/black-hall-co-louth 

and the Killineer House & Gardens website.

It’s interesting that George Pentland’s son, George Henry Pentland (1800-1882), married Sophia Mabella Montgomery, of Beaulieu, since after George Harpur died, Killineer was owned by one of the Montgomery family from Beaulieu.

See:

http://www.termonfeckinhistory.ie/pentlands_of_blackhall_34.html 

George Henry Pentland (1800-1882) married twice, once to Rebecca Brabazon and secondly to Sophia Mabella Montgomery, daughter of Rev. Alexander and Margaret Johnston. George Henry Pentland lived at Black Hall, Co Louth, as did his father George Pentland (1770-1834).  

[3] https://www.countrylifeimages.co.uk/Image.aspx?id=e3bd0c95-193a-4aad-8e06-f9d2165c4e5b&rd=2|headfort||1|20|18|150 

[4] https://www.irishtimes.com/news/grand-generous-lady-of-the-old-school-1.252377 

[5] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/building-of-the-month/collon-church-collon-church-street-collon-td-collon-county-louth/

The church was erected thanks to the Foster family of Collon, County Louth and of Glyde Court, whom we came across in their association with Cabra Castle in County Cavan.

[6] http://www.carrolloforiel.com/the-ocarroll-oriel/

[7] http://www.thepeerage.com/p36339.htm#i363390

[8] 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] https://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Killineer%20House