Riverstown House, Riverstown, Glanmire, Co. Cork

contact: Denis/Rita Dooley

Tel: 021-4821205

Open dates in 2022: May 5-Sept 10, Thurs, Fri, Sat, National Heritage Week Aug 13-21, 2pm-6pm
Fee: adult €10, OAP €7, student €5

Riverstown House, June 2022. The back facade of the house; the entrance door is on the opposite side. The roof has a round-headed bellcote.
Riverstown County Cork, 1970, National Library archives. [1] The portico over the door has been since removed. Note that the image is mirror-image reversedsee my photograph above.
Riverstown House, June 2022

Riverstown is famous for its stucco work. It contains important plasterwork with high-relief figurative stucco in panels on the ceiling and walls of the dining room, by Paolo and Filipo Lafranchini. The brothers also worked in Carton House in County Kildare (see my entry for places to stay in County Kildare https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/04/27/places-to-visit-and-to-stay-leinster-kildare-kilkenny-laois/) and in Kilshannig in County Cork (see my entry https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/12/10/kilshannig-house-rathcormac-county-cork/).

The Swiss-Italian stuccadores were brought to Ireland from England in 1738 by Robert Fitzgerald (1675-1744) 19th Earl of Kildare, who built both Leinster House in Dublin (first known as Kildare House until his son was raised to be Earl of Leinster) and Carton House.

Stucco work carried out by Lafranchini brothers in 1739 in Carton House, now a hotel.
Plasterwork by the Lafranchini brothers in Kilshannig, County Cork.

Going back to its origins, the estate of Riverstown was purchased by Edward Browne (b. 1676), Mayor of Cork. He married Judith, the heiress daughter of Warham Jemmett (b. 1637), who lived in County Cork. The present house possibly dates from the mid 1730s, Frank Keohane tells us in Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County. [2] A hopper with the date 1753 probably records alterations, when the gable end at one side was replaced by full-height canted bays.

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

“…The house consists of a double gable-ended block of two storeys over a basement which is concealed on the entrance front, but which forms an extra storey on the garden front, where the ground falls away steeply; and a three-storey one bay tower-like addition at one end, which has two bows on its side elevation. The main block has a four bay entrance front, with a doorway flanked by narrow windows not centrally placed.” [3]

Due to the deep slope upon which the house is built, one side is of three storeys, or two storeys over basement.
The grounds of Riverstown also contain an old ice house.

The tower-like third storey on part of the house was possibly added by architect Henry Hill around 1830, Keohane tells us. Henry Hill was an architect who worked in Cork, perhaps initially with George Richard Pain, and later with William Henry Hill and Arthur Hill.

Riverstown House, June 2022.

As Riverstown and its plasterwork was described in 1750 in Smith’s History of County Cork, it must have been created before this, perhaps when Browne’s son Jemmet Browne was elevated to the position of Bishop of Cork in 1745. He later became Archbishop of Tuam.

Reverend Jemmett Browne gave rise to a long line of clerics. He married Alice Waterhouse, daughter of Reverend Thomas Waterhouse. His son Edward (1726-1777) became Archbishop of Cork and Ross, and a younger son, Thomas, also joined the clergy. Edward named his heir Jemmett (1753-1797) also, and he also joined the clergy. He married Frances Blennerhassett of Ballyseede, County Kerry (now a hotel and also a section 482 property that I have yet to visit!). If the tower part of the house was built in 1830 it would have been for this Jemmett Browne’s heir, another Jemmett (1787-1850).

A portrait of Alice Waterhouse, wife of Bishop Jemmett Browne.

In Beauties of Ireland (vol. 2, p. 375, published 1826), James Norris Brewer writes that: “the river of Glanmire runs through the gardens banked with serpentine canals which are well stocked with carp, tench, etc. A pleasant park stocked with deer, comes close to the garden walls. The grounds of this very respectable seat about in aged timber and the whole demesne wears an air of dignified seclusion.”

Jemmett Browne’s interest in fine stucco work was probably influenced by fellow clerics Bishop George Berkeley, Samuel “Premium” Madden and Bishop Robert Clayton. Samuel Madden recommended, in his Reflections and Resolutions Proper to the Gentlemen of Ireland that stucco is substituted for wainscot. [4] Bishop Clayton owned what is now called Iveagh House on St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin (see my entry, https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/09/23/open-house-culture-night-and-heritage-week-dublin-visits/ ).

The stucco work is so important that the Office of Public Works feared it would be lost, as the house was standing empty in the 1950s before being purchased by John Dooley, father of the current owner, in around 1965. Under the direction of Raymond McGrath of the Office of Public Words, with advice from Dr. C. P. Curran, the authority on Irish decorative plasterwork, moulds were taken in 1955-6. The moulds are now displayed prominently in the home of Ireland’s President, Áras an Uachtaráin. (see my entry on the Áras in the entry on Office of Public Works properties in Dublin, https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/01/21/office-of-public-works-properties-dublin/ )

Riverstown, 1975, photograph from Dublin City Library and Archive. (see[1])
The Lafranchini hallway in Áras an Uachtaráin, with the moulds taken of the stucco work in Riverstown.

Shortly after John Dooley purchased the property, the members of the Irish Georgian Society decided to help to restore the plasterwork.

The book published on the 50th anniversary of the Irish Georgian Society, by Robert O’Byrne, has part of a chapter on Riverstown and the Irish Georgian Society’s role in restoration of the Lafranchini plasterwork in the 1960s.

The book published on the 50th anniversary of the Irish Georgian Society has part of a chapter on Riverstown and the Irish Georgian Society’s role in restoration of the Lafranchini plasterwork in the 1960s. By this time, John Dooley had purchased Riverstown, after it has been standing empty. At the time, Dooley had not yet moved in, and the dining room was not preserved to the standard the Georgian Society would have liked. The book has a photograph of potatoes being stored in the dining room.

Photograph from Irish Georgian Society, by Robert O’Byrne. The photograph was published in the Cork Examiner in February 1965. We don’t know of course how temporary this storage was.

The entrance hall of Riverstown is also impressive, and the members of the Georgian Society also helped to clean the plasterwork in this room. The walls curve, and the room has an elegant Neoclassical Doric frieze and shapely Corinthian columns.

Mark Bence-Jones decribes: “The hall, though of modest proportions, is made elegant and interesting by columns, a plasterwork frieze and a curved inner wall, in which there is a doorcase giving directly onto an enclosed staircase of good joinery. To the left of the hall, in the three storey addition, are two bow-ended drawing rooms back to back. Straight ahead, in the middle of the garden front, is the dining room, the chief glory of Riverstown.”

The rounded entrance hall has a Neoclassical Doric frieze, thin columns and marble busts and statue.

The Lafranchini work in the dining room derives from Maffei’s edition of Agostini’s Gemme Antiche Figurate (1707-09). Frank Keohane notes that the Maffei’s engravings were also used for the decoration of the Apollo Room in 85 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, also by the Lafranchini brothers.

The ceiling at Riverstown: winged figure of Father Time, rescuing Truth from the assaults of Discord and Envy, taken from the allegorical painting by Nicholas Poussin which he painted on the ceiling in France for Cardinal Richelieu in 1641 and now hangs in the Louvre, Paris.

The dining room in Riverstown, August 2022. Marcus Curtius on horseback over fireplace, next to Aeneas carrying Anchises on his shoulders, then Liberty and Ceres.
The Apollo Room, 85 St. Stephen’s Green, also by Lafranchini brothers, using Maffei’s engravings, executed in 1740.
The ceiling at Riverstown: winged figure of Father Time, rescuing Truth from the assaults of Discord and Envy, taken from the allegorical painting by Nicholas Poussin which he painted on the ceiling in France for Cardinal Richelieu in 1641 and now hangs in the Louvre, Paris.
Corner of the ceiling at Riverstown.

C. P. Curran tells us that the history of the Lafranchini brothers is obscure, but they “represent one of the successive waves of stuccodores who from quite early periods swarmed over Europe from fertile hives in the valleys of either side of the Swiss Italian Alps….They worked in some unascertained way side by side with local guildsmen and introduced new motifs and methods. Their repertory of ornament was abundant and they excelled in figure work.” [4] They executed their work in Carton in 1739, Curran tells us, and in 85 St. Stephen’s Green in 1740.

Marcus Curtius on horseback over fireplace, next to Aeneas carrying Anchises on his shoulders, then Liberty and Ceres.
Marcus Curtius, personifying heroic virtue. Denis told us that it was he who uncovered the buildings in the top left hand corner of this panel, and that they surprised Desmond Guinness who was helping to clean the pictures, as he did not realise they were there!
Aeneas, carrying Anchises on his shoulders and vase enclosing his household gods. It is an allegory of filial piety.
The figure of Liberty, or Grammar.
Fides Publica, Fortuna, Cincinnatus and Roma Aeterna, in the dining room at Riverstown.
Fides Publica.
Cincinnatus, or Achilles.
The figure of Rome.
Even the stucco work around the mirror is splendid.

The work by the members of the Irish Georgian Society on the dining room in Riverstown was complete by the end of 1965. John Dooley continued the restoration of the rest of the house, and it is now kept in beautiful condition by his son Denis and wife Rita, with many treasures collected by the Dooleys. A 1970 Irish Georgian Society Bulletin, Robert O’Byrne tells us, reported further improvements made by the Dooleys. It tells us that one of the house’s two late-eighteenth century drawing rooms adjoining the dining room:

has been given a new dado, architraves, chimney-piece, overdoors and overmantel. These have been collected by John Lenehan of Kanturk, who rescued them from houses in Dublin that were being demolished and inserted them at Riverstown.”

An old illustrated manuscript about the Brownes of Riverstown was presented by Mrs Trippe of Tangiers. The Browne family, Denis told us, mostly went to South Africa.
Beautiful carved doorframes, and a splendid Waterford crystal chandelier in the Green Drawing Room.

The two drawing rooms do indeed have splendid over mantel and overdoors. The drawing room has been hung with green silk wall covering. The Dooleys have shown fine taste for the decoration and maintenance of the rooms and I suspect John Dooley knew what he was doing when he purchased and thus saved the house.

A fine wooden staircase brings us upstairs to a spacious lobby containing a Ladies’ conversation chair.

A bedroom upstairs has canted windows.
Denis told us that the four-poster bed came from Lissadell, so perhaps W.B. Yeats slept in it!

The owners’ bedroom has an extraordinary carved marble mantel.

The Dooleys have a garden centre, which is situated behind the house. They maintain the gardens with its rolling lawns beautifully. The Glanmire river passes by the bottom of the garden.

An old bridge at the end of the property passes over the Glanmire River.

[1] https://repository.dri.ie/catalog
[2] p. 556, Keohane, Frank. Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

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

[4] Curran, C.P. Riverstown House Glanmire, County Cork and the Francini. A leaflet given to us by Denis Dooley.