Loughton House, Moneygall, County Offaly

Sat May 25th 2019, Loughton, Moneygall, Birr, Co Offaly

Opening dates in 2021: May 11-16, 18-23, 25-30, June 1-6, 8-13, 15-20, 22-27, 29-30, Aug 1, 3-8, 10- 22, 11am-3.30pm.

contact: Michael Lyons 089 431 9150

Fee: adult €5, OAP/student €4, child €3 (under 12 free), family (2 adults & 2 children over 12) € 15.

www.loughtonhouse.com

We drove up a long tree-lined avenue to Loughton House. Stephen rang from the car on our way and spoke to Michael Lyons, who was out chopping wood, so told us that Andrew would be at the house to meet us.

This would have been the front of the house in 1777, as it has the bow in the centre. This is the side which we saw first as we drove up, the North facing side.

Loughton House was built on the site of a previous house, in 1777. When we arrived, we wondered why there were two front doors. I think Andrew Vance, who greeted us, explained, but we were so busy introducing ourselves and immediately got along so well, that I forget what he told me about the two doors. That’s a question for next time!

single storey addition with crisp limestone pilasters, and pediments on console brackets over the doors.

According to the website, alterations were made to the house in 1835 by James and George Pain. I don’t know who the architect of the 1777 house is, but originally the house faced north, with a shallow full-height half hexagon bow in the centre.

I would consider this to be the back of the house since we went out of the door in the single-storey addition, above, after our tour, to see the garden, but is officially the front, the South facing side. The windows have pediments with console brackets on the ground and first floors. The three storeys are over a concealed basement.

Mark Bence-Jones describes the house in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses:

“Of elegant and restrained late-Georgian character, the main front consisting of two wide and shallow three sided bows of three bays each, with a two bay centre between them. Single storey wing of two bays, adorned with pilasters. Pediments and entablatures on console brackets over ground floor and first floor windows. Parapeted roof. Very handsome Georgian stables.” [1]

The 1777 house was built for Major Thomas Pepper. Thomas, born around 1735, of Ballygarth, Julianstown, Co Meath, son of Lambert Pepper and Jane Otway, was Major in the 14th Light Dragoons. The Peppers acquired Ballygarth Castle (now a ruin) and lands in County Meath after the Restoration of Charles II to the British throne in 1660, for their loyalty to the Stuart monarchy. [2] Thomas Pepper married Mary Ryder, daughter of John Ryder, the Archbishop of Tuam, County Roscommon. The 14th Light Dragoons was originally called James Dormer’s Dragoons, and were raised in the south of England in 1715 in response to the Jacobite Rebellion. They were sent to Ireland in 1717. In 1747 they were renamed the 14th Regiment of Dragoons, and became the Light Dragoons in 1776 [3]. Loughton House passed to their son Thomas Ryder Pepper (1760-1828), who in 1792 married Anne Bloomfield, daughter of John Benjamin Bloomfield and Charlotte Anne Waller, of Newport, County Tipperary. The Bloomfield family had originally settled at Eyrecourt, County Galway.

When Thomas Ryder Pepper died, the house passed to his brother-in-law, Benjamin Bloomfield, 1st Baron Bloomfield (1815) of Oakhampton and Redwood (1768-1846). Redwood House in County Tipperary no longer exists. Oakhampton, also in Tipperary, still stands. He was Lieutenant General in the British Army and fought the rebels in 1798 at Vinegar Hill, County Wexford. He rose in the ranks to become Keeper of the Privy Purse for King George IV. This was a particularly difficult job – we came across King George IV before at several houses listed in the Revenue Section 482 Property list. The king enjoyed a romance with Elizabeth Conyngham of Slane Castle, and relished the good life: food, drink and beauty in the form not only of women but in architecture, with the help of John Nash. He was therefore rather a Big Spender. Naturally, therefore, he came to resent Benjamin Bloomfield and his efforts to tighten the purse strings.

We have already seen that several houses underwent alterations in expectation of a visit from King George IV in 1821. In Charleville, County Wicklow, a new floor was installed at great expense. Here in Loughton, a bedroom was done up for the King. Unfortunately, the King never made it to Loughton.

It was later that Bloomfield hired James and George Richard Pain to renovate Loughton House, in 1835.

James and George were sons of James Pain, an English builder and surveyor. Their Grandfather William Pain was the author of a series of builder’s pattern books, so they had architecture in the blood. According to the Dictionary of Irish Architects, James and his younger brother George Richard were both pupils of John Nash, one of the foremost British architects of his day responsible for the design of many important areas of London including Marble Arch, Regent Street and Buckingham Palace. He was architect to the prolific lover of architecture the Prince Regent, later King George IV. When Nash designed Lough Cutra Castle in County Galway for Charles Vereker in 1811, he recommended that the two brothers should be placed in charge of the work, so it was at this time that they came to Ireland. Lough Cutra is an amazing looking castle privately owned which is available for self-catering rental. [4] James Pain settled in Limerick and George in Cork, but they worked together on a large number of buildings – churches (both Catholic and Protestant), country houses, court houses, gaols and bridges – almost all of them in the south and west of Ireland. [5] In 1823 James Pain was appointed architect to the Board of First Fruits for Munster, responsible for all the churches and glebe houses in the province.

The Pains Gothicized and castellated Dromoland Castle in County Clare at some time from 1819-1838, now a luxury hotel. [6] They took their Gothicizing skills then to Mitchelstown Castle in 1823-25, but that is now a ruin. In 1825 they also worked on Convamore (Ballyhooly) Castle but that too is now a ruin. They also probably worked on Quinville in County Clare and also Curragh Chase in County Limerick (now derelict after a fire in 1941), Blackrock Castle in County Cork (now a science centre, museum and observatory which you can visit [7]), they did some work for Adare Manor in County Limerick (also now a luxury hotel), Clarina Park in Limerick (also, unfortunately, demolished, but you can get a taste of what it must have been like from its gate lodge), Fort William in County Waterford, probably they designed the Gothicization and castellation of Ash Hill Towers in County Limerick (also a section 482 property!), alterations and castellation of Knoppogue Castle, County Clare (you can also visit and stay, or attend a medieval style banquet), Aughrane Castle mansion in County Galway (demolished – Bagots used to own it, I don’t know if we are related!), a castellated tower on Glenwilliam Castle, County Limerick and more.

The Pain brothers reoriented Loughton House to face south, and the main doorcase was put to the east end, the Loughton House website tells us. In his Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster. Counties of Kildare, Laois and Offaly, Andrew Tierney tells us that this oblique approach of typical of James Pain. [8]

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage claims that Loughton House is probably the Pain’s finest Classical work [9]. The exterior is relatively plain, with limestone window dressings with keystones. The north facing side is the original house, whereas the south facing side, of eight bays instead of the seven in the north side, is by the Pain brothers. The windows on this side have moulded cement detailing: architrave, cornice and consoles, and pediments. We saw more of the Pains’ work inside, in the Drawing and Dining Rooms which date from their renovation, and the wonderful curved stone cantilevered staircase.

The current owners, who acquired the house in 2016, are both medical doctors, as was the previous owner, Dr. James Reilly, who was also a former Minister for Health in the Irish government. When we visited, the house exuded a comfortable quirky chic, with marble busts on pillars in the front hall and a touch of whimsy, with a stag’s head draped in a fur at the bottom of the sweeping cantilevered staircase. 

The Loughton House website tells us:

“The house has very fine detailing – traces of the late eighteenth-century decoration can be seen in the house as well as early nineteenth-century changes in internal layout.

“The ground floor is laid out with bright and generously proportioned formal reception rooms with magnificent decorative cornicing and ceilings, ornate plaster work and large original period fireplaces. The original wood floors remain throughout and the grand sash bay windows permit torrents of light into the house. Most notable are the wood-carved shutters and door panels in the original Billiard room.” [10]

Loughton passed to Bloomfield’s son, John Arthur Douglas Bloomfield (1802-1879). He succeeded as 2nd Baron Bloomfield on his father’s death. He was a diplomat and travelled widely, was envoy to St. Petersburg and Ambassador to Austria. He was appointed Privy Counsellor on 17 December 1860. He was created 1st Baron Bloomfield of Ciamhaltha, Co. Tipperary on 7 August 1871. In 1834 his father had a hunting lodge built, Ciamhaltha House, County Tipperary, so the new title referred to this house [11]. He and his wife Georgiana Liddell had no son and the titles ended with his death. Georgina served as a Maid of Honour to Queen Victoria between 1841-45. Upon Georgiana’s marriage to Baron Bloomfield in 1845, when Georgiana left her position in the house of the Queen, Victoria gave her a cutting from a vine, which still grows at Loughton House today. Georgiana wrote the book Reminiscences of Court and Diplomatic Life, published 1883. It sounds fascinating!

The house passed to the Baron’s sister, Georgina, and her husband, Henry Trench, of Cangort Park, County Offaly (still standing, privately owned). The Landed Estates website tells us that in the 1870s, Henry Trench owned 4,707 acres in county Tipperary, 2,113 acres in county Offaly, 1,926 acres in county Limerick, 1,581 acres in county Galway, 704 acres in county Clare and 432 acres in county Roscommon. [12]

When James Reilly sold Loughton House, he unfortunately sold its contents, including an archive of family papers. Michael Parsons of The Irish Times wrote of the auction:

Lot 2066, The Loughton Papers circa 1749-1960 – an archive of documents including correspondence, diaries, journals, sketch books and recipe books created by the various families who had lived at Loughton House – sold for €12,000 (above the estimate of €5,000-€8,000).

Sheppard’s said the buyer was Galway businessman Pat McDonagh, founder and managing director of the Supermac’s fast-food chain and owner of the Barack Obama Plaza – a services area on the M8 motorway just outside the village of Moneygall built following the visit of the US president.”

Fortunately, the article continues to reassure the readers that the documents will be properly preserved and accessible:

“In a statement issued via the auction house, Mr McDonagh described the archive “part of a tapestry of history” and that his “first priority” was its “preservation for historians, the community and the country”.

“The statement said: “Mr McDonagh commended Offaly County Council for their interest in working with Supermac’s for the preservation of the papers” which will be digitised, and that “historians owe a debt of gratitude to the owners of Loughton House, Dr James Reilly and his wife Dorothy”.

“Mr McDonagh “confirmed also that the visitor centre at the Barack Obama Plaza will host a Loughton House section, where extracts from the archive will be displayed on a rolling basis.” He said the plaza would work to ensure that the heritage of the house was not lost to the community, adding that he would encourage local and expert input to ensuring that the archive would be educational, appropriate and accessible.” [13]

The wood carved panels shutters and door panels in the billiards room, now a dining room, were decorated by one of the Trenches, Dora. The form of decoration, with details rendered by a hot poker, is exquisitely done. The portrait of the artist, Dora, hangs next to the doors. Dora was Henry Trench’s son Benjamin Bloomfield Trench’s wife, Dora Agnes Caroline Turnor. Dora Trench died in 1899, after a brief illness. Benjamin and Dora had two daughters, Sheelagh Georgiana Bertha and Theodora Caroline. [14]

Dora illustrated the doors with crests and intricate patterns, and all of the doors from the room are decorated, along with the shutters. I was delighted when Stephen asked if I could take a photograph of the door – I didn’t like to ask, knowing that most section 482 houses forbid indoor photography. Andrew’s assent typified his warm welcome. You can see photographs of the room, called Dora’s Room, on the Loughton website, along with photographs of the other reception rooms, the Library, Dining and Drawing Rooms. “Dora’s Room” contains a long table and chairs, and an intricately carved fireplace.

The fireplace in Dora’s Room can be seen on the Loughton website. It is, Andrew Tierney tells us in his Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster, Tudor Revival, of 1862. The male caryatid figure on the right is the original, Andrew thinks, whereas the figure on the left is a copy. It’s strange how such fireplaces are carved in wood and manage to survive the fire they contain. Andrew said it throws out great heat. It has a second flue behind, from which the fire can draw its oxygen, rather than drawing from the warmed air inside the room.

The Loughton website tells us that the Trenches remained in residence until 1973 when the property was passed to the Atkinson family.

Major Anthony Guy Atkinson (b. 1909) inherited Loughton in 1970 from his cousins Thora and Sheelah Trench (Dora’s daughters). Henry Trench, Georgina Bloomfield’s husband, had a sister, Anne Margaret Trench. She married Guy Caddell Atkinson. They inherited Cangort Park in County Tipperary and Major Anthony Guy Atkinson was a descendant of Anne Margaret Trench. [15] He made Loughton over to his son, Guy Nevill Atkinson (b. 1950), who sold it in 2001.

From Dora’s Room we came upon the hallway with the sweeping floating stone cantilever staircase. This was originally the entrance hall, before James Pain added the staircase and moved the entrance to the east end.

Andrew drew our attention to an old tall clock with barometer. It was from Lissadell House, and, appropriately, was made by a man named Yates – not the poet Yeats who frequented the house, note the different spelling, but in a nice touch, the picture hanging beside it was of the poet. Incidentally, one of the Trench family, a sister of Benjamin Bloomfield Trench who inherited Loughton, Louisa Charlotte, married Colonel James Gore-Booth, of the Lissadell family. The owners have taken their time to populate the house appropriately, with respect for its history and a dash of humour.

I was most enamoured with the next room, the library, with its floor to ceiling built in bookshelves. It retains original wallpaper, worn but still in situ.

“This is where we sit in the evenings, with a glass of wine,” Andrew told us. I could just see myself there too, in the well-worn couches, facing the fireplace. You can also see this room on the website, with its comfy leather armchairs. The Equine pictures are appropriate as Andrew is Master of the local Hunt!

In the Drawing Room, a formal room with sofas, carpets and lovely salmon pink walls, gorgeous cabinets, piano and ornate gilt overmantel mirror, Andrew pointed out another treasure: the fire insurance plaque from a building. The various insurance companies had their own firetrucks and teams, and they only put out fires of the buildings insured by them. Unfortunate neighbours burned down. I was excited to see the plaque as I had seen one on the Patriot Inn in Kilmainham, one of the few remaining, and learned about them in a lecture in Warrenmount in Dublin.

We then entered the second dining room (if we consider Dora’s Room, the former Billiards room, to be a dining room also, as it is currently furnished), a larger room than the first. This dining room also has a clever fireplace, this one of steel, with secret cabinets at the sides to keep the plates and dishes hot. It also had vents, and further vents built into the walls of the room, to control temperature and air flow.

A painting above the door is by Sarah, Lady Langham, an artist, who has also applied her creative skills to the house, and who manages the day-to-day operation of the house. She has made curtains and even the wallpaper of The King’s Bedroom. On our way to the back staircase we ran into Sarah herself, as I was photographing the chain that was used to pull the coal to the upper floors.

The final rooms we viewed are Sarah’s piece de resistance, “the King’s Suite,” which comprises two rooms – the room where George IV was meant to sleep, and a room next to it also furnished with a bed, which might have been his dressing room or a parlour.

Sarah created the wallpaper. It features a crest of a unicorn and a lion around the top – and a stag that is pictured in the recurring motifs below. She also made the magnificant curtains and pelmet.

The fireplace is interesting. It is made of limestone, which contains fossils of tubular sea creatures:

This, along with other rooms, is available for guest accommodation.

There is a stable complex to one side of the house. Andrew brought us out to show us the function room, which was originally a coal shed. It’s huge, and would be wonderful for parties, and is available for hire. The garden outside it, which would also be available for the functions, is romantic and beautiful, with a pond and stone walls.

Then we sat at a table outside and Andrew brought us coffees – such a lovely touch!

Michael joined us briefly and shared with us a photograph he had found in the national archives in England, of a group gathered at what is now the back of the house.

Andrew then urged us to wander in the gardens. We walked over to what looks like a Norman keep. It is Ballinlough Castle (not to be confused with Ballinlough Castle of County Westmeath), which dates back to the early seventeeth century, and belonged to the O’Carroll family. I climbed nearly all the way to the top (at my own peril!)!

We then found our way to the walled garden. Michael told us he hopes to restore the glasshouse.

I’d love such a large growing space, with space for fruit trees and sheltering walls. I have had my own allotment for seven years!

The vine, above, which was taken from a cutting from a vine belonging to Queen Victoria and given to her lady-in-waiting, Georgiana Liddell, when she married Baron Bloomfield.

I’d love to stay in the cottage, which is also available to rent.

[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] http://www.patrickcomerford.com/search/label/castles?updated-max=2017-03-10T11:30:00Z&max-results=20&start=79&by-date=false

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/14th_King%27s_Hussars

[4] http://www.loughcutra.com/

[5] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/2640/PAIN-JAMES

[6] https://www.dromoland.ie/

[7] https://www.bco.ie

[8] p. 472. Tierney, Andrew. Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster. The Counties of Kildare, Laois and Offaly. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2019.

[9] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/14946003/laughton-house-ballinlough-cl-by-cullenwaine-ed-moneygall-co-offaly

[10] https://loughtonhouse.com/

[11] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/22403202/ciamaltha-house-garraunbeg-tipperary-north

[12] http://landedestates.nuigalway.ie/LandedEstates/jsp/estate-show.jsp?id=2352

Redwood was inherited by Henry Trench’s son William Thomas Trench (1843-1911).

[13] https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/fine-art-antiques/owner-of-supermac-s-buys-loughton-house-archive-1.2818308

[14] http://www.thepeerage.com

[15] https://landedfamilies.blogspot.com/search/label/Ireland?updated-max=2017-02-19T16:18:00Z&max-results=20&start=23&by-date=false Atkinson of Cangort and Ashley Park

Charleville, County Wicklow

Tatiane Baquiega
Tel: 01-6624455

Open dates in 2021 but check due to Covid-19 restrictions: Feb 1-5, 8-12, 15-19, 22-26, May 4-28, 31 June 1-4, 8, Aug 14-22, Mon-Fri, 1pm-5pm, Sat & Sun, 9am-1pm.

Fee: house/garden €6 

This was the least personal of our tours to date, when we went on Saturday May 18th 2019, as there was no sign of the owners, the Rohan family, living in the grand reception rooms, although apparently it is their family home. Ken and Brenda Rohan purchased the house in 1981. A visit to a house that is no longer owned by descendents of the early occupiers resonates less history, although in this case one must admit the current owners are probably no less invested than if their ancestors had occupied it for centuries, as they have maintained it to a high standard, and have carried out sensitive restoration to both house and garden. Dublin architect John O’Connell oversaw work on the interiors.

We are told in Great Irish Houses that the demesne is intact, with the original estate walls and entrance gates surviving. [1]

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Charleville, made of Wicklow granite, faced in ashlar. According to wikipedia, ashlar is “finely dressed stone, either an individual stone that was worked until squared or the structure built from it. Ashlar is the finest stone masonry unit, generally rectangular cuboid, mentioned by Vitruvius as opus isodomum, or less frequently trapezoidal.” A stone string-course divides upper from lower windows.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage website tells us that Charleville is a detached nine bay two storey Palladian style mansion, built in 1797 to designs by Whitmore Davis, an architect originally from County Antrim, who was then based in Dublin [2]. He also built another Section 482 house, Harristown House in County Kildare [3]. The house has a three-storey pedimented breakfront, the pediment is carried on four Ionic columns at the second and third storey level of the house, the ground floor level of the breakfront being “rusticated” as if it were a basement. [4] The windows on the ground floor level in the breakfront are arched. The Buildings of Ireland website claims that the breakfront facade is inspired by Lucan House in County Dublin, which is indeed very similar. Lucan House was designed by its owner, Agmondisham Vesey, consulting with architect William Chambers, a British architect who also designed the wonderful Casino at Marino in Dublin, as well as Charlemont House in Dublin (now the Hugh Lane Municipal Art Gallery) and the Examination Hall and Chapel in Trinity College Dublin.

Casino at Marino in Dublin, designed by William Chambers who helped to design Lucan House, which has similar breakfront to that of Charleville.

It was hard to find, as we were directed to the back entrance, and the gps gave us directions to a different entrance. However the person to whom I’d spoken, from Rohan Holdings, specified where to go. We found someone waiting to let us in. He was very friendly and when I stated my name, for him to write down along with licence plate of car, for security, he asked was I related to the Baggots of Abbeyleix! Indeed, I am the daughter of a Baggot of Abbeyleix! And are they related to the Clara Baggots, he asked? Yes indeed, they are my cousins! So that was a great welcome! He opened the gates for us and said he would see us on the way out, and he directed us down the driveway, toward visitor parking.

the side with its Wyatt window in the Morning Room overlooking the stretch of lawn.

Our tour guide came outside to meet us and invited us into the house. We entered a large impressive entry room. The guide told us that George IV was due to visit the house, but never came, as he was “inebriated.” After visiting Slane Castle, we knew all about George IV’s visit, and why he did not get to Charleville – he was too busy with his mistress in Slane Castle! The marquentry wooden flooring (applying pieces of veneer to a structure to form decorative patterns, designs or pictures) in the front hall was installed at great expense in preparation for his visit to the house. It’s still in excellent condition.

The well-informed guide told us about the previous owners and shared details about the furniture and paintings. The house is perfectly suitably decorated, sumptuous and beautiful. The main reception rooms lead off the entrance hall and run the length of the facade. The house was built for Charles Stanley Monck (1754-1802), after his former house on the property was destroyed by fire in 1792. He succeeded his Uncle Henry Monck to the estate when his uncle died in 1787. Henry Monck had inherited from his father, Charles Monck (1678-1752). Charles Monck, a barrister who lived on St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, came into the property of Charleville through his marriage in 1705 to Agneta Hitchcock, the daughter and heiress of Major Walter Hitchcock. [5]

Although Henry Monck had no son to inherit his estate, he had a daughter, Elizabeth, who married George le Poer Beresford, Marquess of Waterford, of Curraghmore. Charles Stanley Monck was the son of Henry’s brother Thomas Monck (1723-1772), and Judith Mason (1733-1814). He married Anne Quin in 1784, daughter of Dr. Henry Quin and Anne Monck (she was a daughter of Charles Monck and Agneta Hitchcock so was a first cousin). He rebuilt the house in the same year that he was raised to the peerage as Baron Monck of Ballytrammon, County Wexford. He was MP for Gorey, County Wexford, 1790-1798. In 1801, as a reward for voting for the Union of Britian and Ireland, he was awarded a Viscountcy.

As well as having Charleville rebuilt, he had a terrace of houses built in Upper Merrion Street in Dublin, according to wikipedia. Number 22 of this terrace was known as “Monck House,” and number 24 was Mornington House (where some say the Duke of Wellington was born) – the terrace is better known today for housing the Merrion Hotel.

side view of Charleville

The large entry hall has fluted Ionic columns, a ceiling with coving and central rosette plasterwork, an impressive fireplace and several doors. It is full of portraits, including, over the fireplace, a painting of the family of Lord Gort. The double-door leading to the staircase hall is topped with a decorative archway, and the passageway between the front hall and the staircase hall is vaulted.

Leading off the hallway were large double doors, “elevator style” (see Salterbridge), the guide pointed out that they are not hinged, and are held in place by the top and bottom instead, swinging on a small bolt from frame into door on top and bottom. They are extremely sturdy, smooth and effective.

The tour is limited to the outer and inner entrance halls, the morning, drawing and dining rooms.

Charles Stanley did not have long to enjoy his house as he died just a few years later in 1802. He was succeeded by his son Henry Stanley Monck (1785-1848), 2nd Viscount Monck, who was also given the title the Earl of Rathdowne. It was this Henry who made the alterations to the house in preparation for the visit of George IV in 1821.

Mark Bence Jones in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses tells us that the Grecian Revival plasterwork is probably designed by Richard Morrison. There are also floor length Wyatt windows to the side of the house, similar to ones added to Carton in Kildare in 1817 by Richard Morrison.

The staircase hall contains a cantilevered Portland stone staircase and a balustrade of brass banisters. Hanging prominently over the stairs is a huge portrait of George IV’s visit to Ireland, picturing the people saying goodbye to him at the quay of Dun Laoghaire. He stands tall and slim in the middle. The painter flatters the King who in reality was overweight. The other faces were all painted by the artist from life, as each went to pose for him in his studio. The scene never took place, our guide told us, as George IV was too drunk to stand on the quays as pictured!

The sitting room has a barrel-vaulted ceiling and the decorative plasterwork features musical instruments, gardening implements and sheaves of corn. Desmond Guinness pointed out that the plasterwork installed at Powerscourt for the royal visit is similar to decoration found at Charleville. [6] The dining room’s centrepiece of shamrock and foliage is probably earlier than 1820 but the acanthus frieze may have been added. The impressive gilt pelmets were purchased in the sale of the contents after fire destroyed the house at neighbouring Powerscourt. The drawing room also has impressive ceilings. It is furnished beautifully and has magnificent curtains framing views. The trellis-pattern rose-pink and red carpet was woven specially for the room, and the wallpaper replicates a found fragment. In their attention to detail, the Rohans had the wallpaper replicated by Cowtan of London.

The Library and Morning Room sit behind the front reception rooms. The regency plasterwork in Greek-Revival style contains laurel and vine leaves.

An Irish Times article sums up the continuation of the Monck family in Charleville:

“As Henry had no living sons (but 11 daughters), when he died in 1848, the Earldom went with him. His brother became 3rd Viscount for a year until his own death in 1849, and his son, Charles, became 4th Viscount for almost the remainder of the century, until 1894. Charles married his cousin—one of Henry’s 11 daughters who had lost out on their inheritance because of their gender. He was Governor General of Canada from 1861 – 1868. The last Monck to live at Charleville was Charles’ son, Henry, 5th Viscount who died in 1927. As he was pre-deceased by his two sons and his only brother, he was the last Viscount Monck. There are extensive files in the National Library for the Monck family.” [7]

Charles the 4th Viscount entertained Prime Minister Gladstone at some point in Charleville and Gladstone planted a tree near the house to mark the occasion. Later Charles fell out with Gladstone over Home Rule in 1886 as Charles maintained the strongly Unionist views of his family.

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I didn’t note which tree Gladstone planted – perhaps it is one of these near the ostrich!

Henry the 5th Viscount’s widow Edith continued to live in Charleville after his death. She died in 1929. The house was then purchased by Donald Davies. He established one of his “shirt dress” manufacturing bases in the stables.

Davies and his family lived in the house for forty years. His only daughter, Lucy, married the Earl of Snowdon, the photographer son of Anne, Countess of Rosse of Birr Castle.

According to the article in the Irish Times:

“before the Rohan family became owners, the place was popular for film settings. An American couple called Hawthorne were the previous owners, and filled it in summertime with orphaned children. Before the Hawthornes, it was owned by Donald Davies, famous for his handwoven, fine wool clothes, who had his workshops in the courtyard to the back of the house.”

The gardens are also beautiful. I believe they are open to the public at certain times of the year. [8]

The article goes on to mention the gardens:

“And then there are the gardens….It was wet and lovely, along the hedged walks and bowers, by the Latinate barbeque terrace where a lime tree was in fruit, in the rose garden, and orchard. Old flowers clustered in bursts of colour – lupins and peony roses, forget-me-not and hydrangea, wisteria covering a wall.

we were lucky to visit when the wisteria was in bloom.

One steps out of the house and goes around one side, by the courtyard and stables, through that courtyard to the tennis courts. One passes along the tennis court to reach the central part of the garden.

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the exit at the side of the house
we passed this beautiful house – I am not sure when it was built, maybe at the time of the conversion of the stables by Donald Davis – on the way to the courtyard.
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walking by the tennis courts, by the beautiful topiary.
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the central lawn, with a pond that forms the centre of the Radial Garden.

Many elements of the original garden have been conserved, including the fan-shaped walled garden and the walk of yews.

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heading in to the conservatory there are plaques commemorating previous gardeners
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The conservatory, which is in the form of a temple, looking out at the rows of milk-bottle shaped yews.

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Stephen ate a quick lunch in the central garden

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walking around the Radial Garden

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a fountain and pond hidden delightfully amongst the beech hedges in the Radial Garden

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in the radial garden

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the milk-bottle shaped Irish yews, in the Yew Walk

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nobody mentioned the ostrich! (statue)

Beyond the formal gardens is the aboretum with a comprehensive collection of trees.

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I like the way the vine trails along the chain

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We liked the sundial especially, which in itself as a pillar was the dial in a way, though there was a proper sundial on the top also, on the sides of the pillar, on two sides.

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is that the time?

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We also loved the beech walk, with its twisting intertwined branches, some held up by strings or rods to maintain a walkway below.

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[1] Great Irish Houses. Forwards by Desmond FitzGerald, Knight of Glin; The Hon Desmond Guinness; photography by Trevor Hart. Image Publications Ltd, Dublin, 2008.

[2] http://buildingsofireland.ie/niah/search.jsp?type=record&county=WI&regno=16400713

[3] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/1412#tab_biography

[4] see Achitectural definitions

[5] Charles Monck married and came into Charleville. Charles’s sister Rebecca married John Foster and had a daugther who married Bishop George Berkeley, the famous philosopher! My husband Stephen is also distantly related to the Monck family as his third great aunt, Jane Alicia Winder, married William Charles Monck Mason.

Jane Winder

Charles’s older brother, George (1675-1752) married Mary Molesworth and had a daughter, Sarah, who married Robert Mason, and they were parents of Henry Monck Mason who was the father of William Charles Monck Mason.

[6] p. 257. Montgomery-Massingberd, Hugh and Christopher Simon Sykes. Great Houses of Ireland. Laurence King Publishing, London, 1999.

[7] https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/charleville-estate-is-a-place-apart-1.309616

[8] https://visitwicklow.ie/private-gardens/#

Slane Castle, County Meath

Contact: Alex Conyngham
Tel: 041-9884477

www.slanecastle.ie

Open dates in 2021 but check due to Covid restrictions: April 19-29, May 2-20, 23-27, 31, June 1-3, 7-10, Aug 14-22, Sept 29-30, Oct 1-2, 4-7, Sundays 12 noon-5pm, Monday – Saturday 11am-3pm 

Fee: adult €14, OAP/student €12.50, child €8.40 

Today (Saturday 27th April 2019) we made our first official blog trip, my husband Stephen and I.  We started in the “ancient east,” going to Slane Castle. The land around the Boyne River is beautiful, rolling and fertile. It took almost exactly one hour to drive from our home in Dublin, taking the M1 which I find easier than the M2 through the city’s north side, with which I’m less familiar. Our timing was perfect, we arrived at 2:10pm, in time for the 2:15 tour – there are tours every hour on the quarter hour. [1]

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The view of Slane Castle from just inside the gate, driving in.
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coming closer to the Castle.
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The view over the beautiful River Boyne.

The castle is three storeys over basement, in the Gothic Revival style. There is a bow on the back side of the castle, facing the river, and the basement serves as the ground floor on this side due to the steep slope down to the River Boyne. The bow forms a round tower, but you cannot see it as you approach the castle as the river is behind.

The Building of Slane Castle

Our tour guide was a young very pleasant man named Matthew, who seemed very knowledgeable about the castle and its history and the history of the Conyngham family, who have owned the castle since it was built in 1785 for the second Lord Conyngham, to the design of James Wyatt (1746 – 1813). Wyatt also designed another house on the section 482 list this year, Curraghmore in County Waterford, and a house not on the list, unfortunately, as I would love to see inside, Abbeyleix House (incidentally, my father grew up in Abbeyleix and we used to enjoy the gardens which used to be open and which were reknowned for the bluebells. Also, coincidentally, according to wikipedia, Wyatt spent six years in Italy, 1762–68, in company with Richard Bagot of Staffordshire, who was Secretary to the Earl of Northampton’s embassy to the Venetian Republic. My family is rumoured to be descended from the Staffordshire Bagots, although I have not found the connection!). Our guide told us that the castle was reconstructed and enlarged by William Burton Conyngham. It was built on the foundations of a medieval castle of the Fleming family, replacing an earlier house. William Burton Conyngham was a classicist and the front hall features Greek columns and key patterns on the walls and many marble Greek sculptures, including a sculpture of King George IV of England, donated by the king himself. William Burton Conyngham argued with his architects, Matthew told us, so ended up having three architects for his castle: James Gandon, James Wyatt and Francis Johnston. According to Mark Bence-Jones in A Guide to Irish Country Houses, Francis Johnston completed the house for the the second Lord Conygham’s son, although our guide told us the 2nd Lord Conyngham never married and the castle was inherited by his nephew. It was this nephew, who later became the 1st Marquess Conyngham, who completed the building. Other architects were consulted at various times, including James Gandon, who most famously designed the Custom House and the Four Courts in Dublin, and Emo Court in County Laois. Francis Johnston designed the General Post Office in Dublin, and Townley Hall, a grand house in County Louth. Another architect consulted was a favourite of King George IV, the English Thomas Hopper.

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Stephen in front of the Castle.
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The intertwined “C” is the symbol of the Conyngham family.

The Flemings of Slane

The Conynghams bought the land in Slane after it was confiscated from the Flemings. In 1175, Richard Le Fleming built a castle at the western end of Slane hill and, three generations later, Simon Fleming was created Baron of Slane. [2] The Flemings had their land confiscated as Christopher, 17th Baron Slane (1669-1726), backed James II in his battles against William of Orange. He served in the Irish Parliament of King James II in 1689, and as colonel in James’s army in Ireland 1689-91, fighting in both the Battle of the Boyne and in Aughrim, where he was taken prisoner by William’s forces. Released, he emigrated and fought in the French and Portuguese armies, as did many of James II’s followers who were attainted and lost their estates, as they needed to be able to earn a living. He was later reconciled with Queen Anne of England (daughter of James II) and returned to Ireland, to live in Anticur, County Antrim.

Before moving to Slane, the Conynghams came from Donegal, and before that, they came from Scotland. They did not acquire Slane directly after it was confiscated from the Flemings – Terry Trench of the Slane History and Archaeology Society writes that the estate changed hands, at least on paper, seven times between 1641 and 1703. The estate had been taken from the Flemings before Christopher’s time, in 1641, when William Fleming, the 14th Baron, joined the Catholic Irish forces in rebellion against the British. He remained loyal to the king, but objected to the laws that the British parliament passed to make the Irish parliament subservient to the British parliament. The estate was restored to William’s son Randall under the Act of Settlement and Distribution of Charles II’s reign, by decree dated 27th March 1663. [3] Many estates that had been confiscated by Cromwell’s parliament were restored when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660.

The Conynghams of Slane

The Conyngham motto, Over Fork Over, recounts the way Duncan hid from Macbeth (familiar to us from Shakespeare). Matthew told us that Duncan hid in straw in a barn, having it forked over him. After that, he managed to defeat Macbeth and to become king. So the Conynghams are descendants of a Scottish king!

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The Conyngham coat of arms, with its motto, Over Fork Over.

Alexander Conyngham moved from Scotland to Ireland when he was appointed in 1611 to be the first Protestant minister to Enver and Killymardin the diocese of Raphoe, County Donegal. He was appointed dean of Raphoe in 1631. He settled at Mount Charles, an estate he leased from John Murray, earl of Annandale, the owner of ‘a vast estate’ in Scotland. Conyngham subsequently acquired the Mount Charles property through his marriage to the earl’s grand-neice, Marian, daughter of John Murray of Broughton, in Scotland (see [3]). Alexander’s grandson Henry purchased the land in Slane in 1703. Brigadier Henry Conyngham’s father Albert had fought with William III’s troops in the Battle of the Boyne, against Fleming and James II’s troops. Albert married Mary, daughter of the Right Reverend Robert Leslie, Bishop of Raphoe – this Bishop is the ancestor of the Leslie family of Castle Leslie in County Monaghan, another property on the Section 482 list that I will be visiting. Albert was killed by Irish Royalist rebels, and succeeded by his only surviving son, Henry. Henry Conyngham built himself a residence, Conyngham Hall, on the foundations of an older castle formerly belonging to the Flemings.

Henry fought first in James II’s army, but then persuaded his regiment to transfer their loyalty to William III. Henry’s son William inherited the Slane estate. William became an Member of the Irish Parliament and was raised to the peerage in 1753 to the title of Baron Conyngham of Mount Charles, and later became Viscount and eventually, Earl. He died without a son so the Barony passed to his nephew, Francis Pierpoint Burton (his sister Mary had married Francis Burton). On inheriting the title and estate, Francis took the name Conyngham [4]. He married Elizabeth, the daughter of amateur architect Nathaniel Clements, whose work we will see later in other houses on the section 482 list of heritage properties. For himself, Nathaniel Clements built what is now the Áras an Uachtaráin, the residence of our President, Michael D. Higgins, in Phoenix Park in Dublin.  It was Francis Conyngham who continued the building of Slane Castle which his uncle William had begun.

The castle and estate passed to Francis’s son Henry. Henry served as politician and moved quickly up the ranks of the peerage and was Lord Steward of the Royal household  between 1821-30.

In 1821 King George IV spent time in the Castle with his lover, the wife of Conyngham, Elizabeth Denison. In return the king made Conyngham a Marquess [5]. One of the rooms of the castle, the Smoking Room, has two cartoons from the period mocking the King and his consort Elizabeth, drawing them as overweight. In one, she aids her son when he has to move from the Castle of Windsor where he was Royal Chamberlain. It was he who announced to Victoria that she was Queen, upon death of the previous monarch. He was let go from his position when he tried to move his lover into his rooms in Windsor. His mother came to fetch him, with several wheelbarrows, the story goes, and she took all the furniture from his rooms. Somehow she brought a grand piano back from Windsor to Slane Castle where it sat in a specially made arbor for music in the Smoking room, until it was destroyed by a fire in Slane Castle in the 1990’s. One of the Punch style cartoons is of Elizabeth with a wheelbarrow fetching her son from Windsor. I can’t quite remember the other – it had King George IV and herself in a carriage. The Irish were very annoyed that when he came to Ireland he spent his entire time at Slane Castle!

The Irish Aesthete writes of the visit:

“Neither the king nor his inamorata were in the first flush of youth, and both were equally corpulent. These circumstances however did nothing to dampen their ardour. As was written of them at the time, ‘Tis pleasant at seasons to see how they sit/ First cracking their nuts, and then cracking their wit/ Then quaffing their claret – then mingling their lips/ Or tickling the fat about each other’s hips.’ And according to one contemporary observer, Lady Conyngham ‘lived exclusively with him during the whole time he was in Ireland at the Phoenix Park. When he went to Slane, she received him dressed out as for a drawing-room; he saluted her, and they then retired alone to her apartments.’” [6]

Our tour started with a video of Charles Conyngham, now known as Lord Mount Charles, telling of his childhood in the Castle, growing up in a very old-world upper class manner.  He did not join his parents at the dining table until he was twelve years old, dining until then in the Nursery. His nurse, Margaret Browne, came to the Castle at 16 years old, and he held her in such regard that he named his bar after her. We had lunch in the bar after the tour. The food was delicious! Stephen had bread with buttery mushrooms and creme fraiche, and I had Thia carrot lentil soup. With good strong Americanos our meal came to €24 with tip, the same price for entry for two adults to the Castle Tour.

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The menu in Browne’s Bar, which gives an explanation of the name, telling of the housekeeper.
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The music theme of Browne’s Bar is reflected in the gramophone horn lampshade.
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Me in Browne’s Bar.
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Entrance to the bar and Gandon Restaurant.
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Outer entrance to the bar and Gandon Restaurant.

But, back to our tour! Lord Mount Charles described how he started out, when he had to take over the Castle, with a restaurant, which is now the Gandon Restaurant. To further fund the Castle maintenance, Lord Mount Charles started concerts at the venue, beginning with Thin Lizzy in 1981. To seal the deal, the next show was the Rolling Stones! With such august imprimateur, the Castle’s concerts became world-famous and featured many top performers including David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Queen.

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Album covers of musical performers at the Castle, in the bar: Van Morrison, Santana, Bruce Springstein, Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, Chris Rea, Bob Dylan, U2 and Bon Jovi.
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Lovely picture of Phil Lynnott of Thin Lizzy carrying a child at Slane.
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Memorabilia from music events: I think the guitar was signed by Phil Lynott (it was signed, anyway).
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However, there was a disasterous fire in the castle and roof and one third of the castle was destroyed.The magnificent library with its intricate ceiling and impressive wooden chandelier was saved by two firemen fighting the fire from within the room, battling for nine hours. The smoke was so thick that one couldn’t see the ceiling. I think they deserve a plaque in the room to recognise their effort! Meanwhile the family saved as many priceless historic paintings and antiques as they could, including a huge portrait of King George IV that is now hanging again in the library, by cutting it from its giant gilt frame then taking the frame apart into four pieces in order to get it out through the doors. Lord Mount Charles now suffers with his lungs, probably partially as a result of long exposure to the flames and smoke. It took ten years to reconstruct the castle, but it has been done excellently so traces of the fire barely remain.

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newspaper clippings about the fire, in the entry to pub and restaurant
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a bit of history, on the walls going to the dining area
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We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, as usual with these properties. There is a picture of the ornate roof in the library on the wonderful blog of the Irish Aesthete [7].

Mark Bence-Jones describes the room in his 1988 book (published before the fire, but this room remained intact!), A Guide to Irish Country Houses:

“…the great circular ballroom or library which rises through two storeys of the round tower and is undoubtedly the finest Gothic Revival room in Ireland; with a ceiling of Gothic plasterwork so delicate and elaborate that it looks like filigree. Yet this, too, is basically a Classical room; the Gothic ceiling is, in fact, a dome; the deep apses on either side of the fireplace are such as one finds in many of Wyatt’s Classical interiors, except that the arches leading into them are pointed; they are decorated with plasterwork that can be recognised as a very slightly Gothicized version of the familiar Adam and Wyatt fan pattern.”

Of the tales on the tour, I especially enjoyed the story of the funeral of a soldier’s leg. Apparently it was quite the custom to have funerals for body parts – his leg had to be amputated on the field of battle and the soldier brought it back to be buried with a full-scale military funeral. It must have been to do with the fact that a person’s body is to be resurrected on the Last Day, so it’s good to know where all the parts are! Cremation used to be forbidden in the Catholic church, as somehow it would be too difficult for God to put the ashes back together – never mind a disintegrated body!

There is an adjoining distillery in what used to be the stables, and a tour of that can be purchased in combination if desired. Lord Charles’s mother bred horses before the stables were converted. The stables were designed by Capability Brown.

According to the Irish Aesthete:

“Henry Conyngham, grandson of General Henry Conyngham who purchased the property, around 1770 invited Capability Brown around 1770 to produce a design both for the landscaping of the parkland at Slane, and also for a new stable block. In the collection of the Irish Architectural Archive in Dublin a drawing survives of Brown’s proposal for the latter. It is not unlike the finished building, but more elaborate than what we see today.” [8]

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the stables, designed by Capability Brown, now a whiskey distillery
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I noticed this on the wall on the lower level outside the Castle – I don’t know its origin or age

I found a blog by the Irish Aesthete on a portrait now in Slane, of Lady Elizabeth wife of the first Marqess’s daughter, Lady Maria Conyngham. Reportedly Lady Elizabeth looked very like her daughter – which one would not guess from the unflattering cartoons of her! [9]

[1] https://www.slanecastle.ie/tours/castle-tours/

[2] https://www.culturenorthernireland.org/article/1323/the-flemings-barons-of-slane

[3] http://slanehistoryandarchaeologysociety.com/index.php/famous-people/13-the-flemings-and-the-conynghams

[4] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Meath%20Landowners?updated-max=2018-06-15T13:05:00%2B01:00&max-results=20&start=7&by-date=false

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Conyngham,_Marchioness_Conyngham

“She probably became his [George IV’s] lover in 1819, when he was Prince Regent, but finally supplanted her predecessor, Isabella Seymour-Conway, Marchioness of Hertford, after he became king in 1820. He became besotted with her, constantly “kissing her hand with a look of most devoted submission.” While his wife Caroline of Brunswick was on trial in 1820 as part of efforts to divorce her, the king could not be seen with Lady Conyngham and was consequently “bored and lonely.” During his coronation, George was constantly seen “nodding and winking” at her.
“Lady Conyngham’s liaison with the king benefited her family. Her husband was raised to the rank of a marquess in the Peerage of the United Kingdom and sworn to the Privy Council, in the coronation honours of 1821. He was also given several other offices, including Lord Steward of the Household and the lieutenancy of Windsor Castle. Her second son was made Master of the Robes and First Groom of the Chamber.”

[6] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/10/12/when-royalty-comes-to-call/

[7] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/10/24/vaulting-ambition/

[8] https://theirishaesthete.com/2014/10/27/after-the-horses-have-bolted/

[9] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/03/21/ireland-crossroads-of-art-and-design-vi/

Irish Historic Homes