Russborough House, Blessington, County Wicklow

The Albert Beit Foundation, Blessington, Co. Wicklow

contact: Eric Blachford Tel: Tel: 045-865239

enc@russborough.ie

Open dates in 2021 but check due to Covid 19 restrictions: Mar 1- Dec 25, 10am-5pm.

Fee: adult €12, OAP/student €9, child €6.

taken in June 2012 on a visit with my friends Tara and Jeremy and their daughters.
photo by Jeremy Hylton.

In his A Guide to Irish Country Houses, Mark Bence-Jones calls Russborough House “arguably the most beautiful house in Ireland.” [1] We are lucky that Russborough House is open to the public, thanks to the Beit Foundation. Sir Alfred and Lady Clementine Beit left the property to the state in 1978, to be cared for by a Trust established for the purpose. The Irish Aesthete Robert O’Byrne tells us about the Beits: “The couple had no immediate connection with Ireland, although Lady Beit’s maternal grandmother had been raised in this country and being a Mitford, she was first cousin of the Hon Desmond Guinness’s mother.” [2]

Russborough House was built for Joseph Leeson in 1741 when he inherited a fortune from his father and purchased land owned by John Graydon, and it was designed by Richard Castle. Leeson went to great expense creating the grounds for the building of his house: “Leeson’s development of the garden terraces was extravagant. The house gained its fine prominence from sitting on an embankment created by the opening of the lakes and ponds, all reputedly costing some £30,000.” [3]

photograph by Jeremy Hylton.

We came across Richard Castle (c.1690-1751) (or Cassels, as his name is sometimes spelled) in Powerscourt in County Wicklow. The Dictionary of Irish Architects tells us that, oddly, he was born David Riccardo, and it is not known when or why he changed his name. [4]

Castle originally trained as an engineer. He worked in London, where he was influenced by Lord Burlington. Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington and 4th Earl of Cork, is credited with bringing the Palladian style of architecture to Britain and Ireland, after Grand Tours to Europe. [5] Palladian architecture is a style derived from the designs of the Venetian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). Palladio’s work was strongly based on the symmetry, perspective, and values of the formal classical temple architecture of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

Castle came to the attention of Sir Gustavus Hume of County Fermanagh, who invited Castle to Ireland in 1728 to build him a home on the shores of Lough Erne, Castle Hume, which unfortunately no longer exists. [6] Castle was an contemporary of Edward Lovett Pearce, and early in his career in Dublin worked with him on the Houses of Parliament in Dublin. Both Lovett Pearce and Castle favoured the Palladian style, and when Lovett Pearce died at the tragically young age of 34, in 1733, Castle took over all of Lovett Pearce’s commissions.

The Dictionary of Irish Architects gives us a flavour of what Castle was like as a person:

According to the short biography in Anthologia Hibernica for October 1793, Castle was a man of integrity, of amiable though somewhat eccentric manners, kept poor by his improvidence and long afflicted by gout resulting from intemperance and late hours. The same source states that he often pulled down those of his works which were not to his liking, ‘and whenever he came to inspect them … required the attendance of all the artificers who followed him in a long train’.

Castle began work on Powerscourt House in County Wicklow in 1730, finishing in 1741. He also began work on Westport House in County Mayo in 1730. He worked on Carton House, in County Kildare, which is now an upmarket hotel, from 1739-1744. In Dublin City he built Tyrone House for Marcus Beresford, Earl of Tyrone (we came across him at Curraghmore in County Waterford) (which now houses the Department of Education) [7]. He designed and built the hunting lodge called Belvedere in County Westmeath around 1740, and began to work on Russborough House around 1742. He was still working on Russborough House when he died suddenly, while at Carton House, in 1751, while writing a letter to a carpenter employed at Leinster House (begun in 1745 for James FitzGerald, the 20th Earl of Kildare, the house was at initially called Kildare House, and now houses the government in Dublin). Desmond FitzGerald, the Knight of Glin, wrote about Richard Castle and his work, and attributes another section 482 property to him which I have yet to visit, Strokestown House in County Roscommon. FitzGerald attributes many more buildings to Castle. [8]

Joseph Leeson (1711-1783) was the grandson of Hugh Leeson, who came to Ireland from England as a military officer in 1680, and settled in Dublin as a successful brewer. Hugh married Rebecca, daughter of Dublin Alderman Richard Tighe. Joseph inherited the brewing fortune from his father, another Joseph, who had married the daughter, Alice, of a Dublin Alderman and Sheriff, Andrew Brice. Young Joseph Leeson entered politics and from 1743 sat in the House of Commons. By this time, he had already married, been widowed by his first wife, Cecelia Leigh, remarried, to Anne Preston (daughter of Nathaniel Preston, ancestor of the owners of a house we have visited, Swainstown in County Meath – which was built later than the start date of Russborough, in 1750, and which Richard Castle may also have designed), and inherited his fortune from his brewer father, and started building Russborough House. He was raised to the peerage first as Baron Russborough in 1756, and as Earl of Milltown in 1763.

photo taken by Jeremy Hylton, showing the extent of the centre block with the curving Doric colonnades and two-storey seven bay wings. Beyond the wings on either side of the central block, one can see the arches with cupolas. The full stretch contains kitchen and stable wings.

The entrance front of Russborough stretches for over 700 feet, reputedly the longest house in Ireland, consisting of a seven bay centre block of two storeys over a basement, joined by curving Doric colonnades to wings of two storeys and seven bays which are themselves linked to further outbuildings by walls with rusticated arches surmounted by cupolas. In this structure, Russborough is rather like Powerscourt nearby in Wicklow, and like Powerscourt, it is approached from the side.

Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, showing wing to the right of the house.
photograph taken in May 2018 – the weather makes a different to the look of the house! The roofline is topped with urns on the parapet.
The lions at the foot of the entrance steps carry the heraldic shield of the Milltowns, which must have been put in place after 1763 when Joseph Leeson was promoted to be Earl of Milltown. Photo by Jeremy Hylton.

The residential part of the house is quite small, and is entirely housed in the central block. Of seven bays across, it houses three rooms along its front. It is made of local granite from Golden Hill quarry rather than the more expensive Portland stone often imported from Britain. In Sean O’Reilly’s discussion of the house in his Irish Houses and Gardens (from Country Life), he explains the styles used on the facade of the house:

the different functions of the building’s elements are appropriately distinguished though Castle’s frank, if unsubtle, use of the orders: Corinthian for the residence, Doric for the colonnades, Ionic for the advancing wings, and a robust astylar threatment for the ranges beyond.” [9]

the “rusticated” arch that gives entrance to a courtyard, and is topped by a cupola. Rustication – the use of stone blocks with recessed joints and often with rough or specially treated faces; a treatment generally confined to the basement or lower part of a building [10].

The main central block has a pediment on four Corinthian columns, with swags between the capitals of the columns. Above the entrance door is a semi-circular fanlight window.

Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, of pediment on four Corinthian columns.
photograph by Jeremy Hylton of central block.
Wing in foreground, with Ionic pilasters, and urns on the parapet.
photograph by Jeremy Hylton, wing on left.

The wings have a central breakfront of three bays with Ionic pilasters. Within the colonnades are niches with Classical statues.

colonnade with niches containing Classical statues, photograph by Jeremy Hylton.

The garden front of the centre block has a few urns on the parapet, and a pair of Corinthian columns with an entablature framing a window-style door in the lower storey which opens onto broad balustraded stone steps down to the garden.

Inside, we see Castle’s difference from Edward Lovett Pearce, in his fondness for the Baroque, which is described in wikipedia:

“The Baroque style used contrast, movement, exuberant detail, deep colour, grandeur and surprise to achieve a sense of awe. The style began at the start of the 17th century in Rome, then spread rapidly to France, northern Italy, Spain and Portugal, then to Austria, southern Germany and Russia…excess of ornamentation…The classical repertoire is crowded, dense, overlapping, loaded, in order to provoke shock effects.”

The Baroque effect is most obvious in the wonderful plasterwork. The plasterwork may be by the Francini brothers – it is not definite who carried it out but the Francini brothers certainly seem to have had a hand in some of the beautiful stucco work.

entrance hall of Russborough House.
entrance hall of Russborough House with chimneypiece is of black Kilkenny marble, above it hangs a striking painting by Oudry of Indian Blackbuck with Pointers and Still Life, dated 1745

In his book, Big Irish Houses, Terence Reeves-Smyth describes the entrance hall:

Ascending the broad flight of granite steps guarded by a pair of carved lions, the visitor enters the front hall – a well-proportioned room with a floor of polished oak and an ornate but severe compartmental ceiling with Doric frieze quite similar to the one Castle deigned for Leinster House. The monumental chimneypiece is of black Kilkenny marble, much favoured by Castle for entrance halls, while above it hangs a striking painting by Oudry of Indian Blackbuck with Pointers and Still Life, dated 1745.” [11]

The principal reception rooms lead from one to the other around the central block: the saloon, drawing-room, dining-room, tapestry room and the grand staircase. They retain their original doorcases with carved architraves of West Indian mahogany, marble chimneypieces and floors of inlaid parquetry.

The house took ten years to complete, and development of the house followed Leeson’s trips to Europe, where he bought items to populate his house. In 1744 and in 1751 he travelled to Rome and purchased extensive Roman materials, as well as many artworks. He had his portrait painted by Pompeo Batoni, and was aided in his purchases by dealers including an Irishman named Robert Wood. A book details his collection, as well as later owners of Russborough, Russborough: A Great Irish House, its Families and Collections by William Laffan and Kevin V Mulligan.

Richard Castle died while the house was still being built, and the work was taken over by his associate, Francis Bindon.

The Saloon, Russborough House 2018, Rubens painting over fireplace, large picture on back wall is Cain and Abel.

The Saloon occupies the three central bays of the north front of the house. It has a coved ceiling with rococo plasterwork incorporating flowers, garlands, swags and putti bearing emblems of the Seasons and the Elements, which on stylistic grounds can be attributed to the Francini brothers of Italy. [Rococo is the asymmetrical freely-modelled style of decoration originating in France and popular in Ireland from about 1750 to 1775. Craig, Maurice and Knight of Glin, Ireland Observed, A Handbook to the Buildings and Antiquities. Mercier Press, Dublin and Cork, 1970].  Terence Reeves-Smyth describes the room:

The walls are covered with a crimson cut Genoese velvet dating from around 1840 – an ideal background for paintings which include many pictures from the Beit collection. The room also has Louis XVI furniture in Gobelins tapestry signed by Pluvinet, a pair of Japanese lacquer cabinets from Harewood House and a chimney-piece identical to one at Uppark in Sussex, which must be the work of Thomas Carter (the younger) of London.

“A striking feature of the room is the inlaid sprung mahogany floor with a central star in satinwood. This was covered with a green baize drugget when the house was occupied by rebels during the 1798 rebellion. The potential of the drugget for making four fine flags was considered but rejected, lest “their brogues might ruin his Lordship’s floor.” The rebels, in fact, did virtually no damage to the house during their stay, although the government forces who occupied the building afterwards were considerably less sympathetic. It is said that the troops only left in 1801 after a furious Lord Milltown challenged Lord Tyrawley to a duel “with blunderbusses and slugs in a sawpit.” [11]

Next to the Saloon is the music room with another wonderful rococo ceiling, and then the library, which was formerly the dining room, both have ceilings probably by the Francini brothers. There aren’t records to tell us who created the stucco work of the house, and stylistically different parts of the house have been done by different hands.

Russborough House 2018, the music room. The last portrait to the right on the wall is Lord Conolly of Castletown House. The Russborough House website tells us: “When the Beits’ art collection was stolen, Sir Alfred had many copies of the paintings made. This room showcases the replicas of the oil paintings that were infamously stolen in the 1970s and 1980s. The originals of these paintings were gifted to the National Gallery of Ireland in the 1980s for safekeeping, where they can now be seen.
Visitors can learn more about the robberies at Russborough and how most of the paintings were recovered. The exhibition also includes Sir Alfred in an interview with broadcasting legend Gay Byrne, talking about the pictures and furniture contained in the house.
the ebullient rococo ceiling in the Music Room, probably the work of the Francini brothers.
The Library, Russborough House 2018
Russborough House 2018 Lady Beit’s grandmother, Mabell, Countess of Airlie, by John Lavery.

Reeves-Smyth writes that:

The coffered and richly decorated barrel-vaulted ceiling of the tapestry room, to the south of the music room, is by a less experienced artist, though the room is no less impressive than the others and contains an English state bed made in London in 1795 and two Soho tapestries of Moghul subjects by Vanderbank.

The Tapestry Room, Russborough House 2018
The Tapestry Room, Russborough House 2018

The Russborough website states:

Infused with a restless energy the plasterwork of the adjacent drawing-room spills onto the walls, where fantastic plaster frames surround the four oval marine scenes by Vernet representing morning, noon, evening and night. Although part of the patrimony of the house, these pictures were sold in 1926 and only after a determined search were recovered 43 years later by Sir Alfred Beit. [12]

Stucco specially designed to frame the oval Joseph Vernet paintings. Carrera marble fireplace.
The Drawing Room, 2018, small painting next to the fireplace of the Beits by Derek Hill
unusual timepiece clock from time of Louis XVIth

Reeves-Smyth continues his evocative description:

Beyond lies the boudoir, a charming little panelled apartment with a Bossi chimney-piece dating around 1780. From here visitors pass into the tapestry-hung corridor leading to the pavilion, formerly the bachelor’s quarters. The dining-room, formerly the library, on the opposite side of the hall has a monumental Irish chimney-piece of mottled grey Sicilian marble. The walls are ornamented both by paintings from the Beit collection and two magnificent Louis XIV tapestries.” [11]

The dining room, with a monumental Irish chimneypiece of mottle grey Sicilian marble. The walls are ornamented with two magnificent Louis XIV tapestries.

Reeves-Smyth goes on to say that “No one who visits Russborough is likely to forget the staircase with its extraordinary riot of exuberant plasterwork; there is nothing quite like it anywhere else in the British Isles.

In later years the decorator Mr. Sibthorpe is reported to have remarked that it represented “the ravings of a maniac,” adding that he was “afraid the madman was Irish.”

Nobody knows who did the wonderful stuccowork in the staircase hall. The stairs are of mahogany.

Sean O’Reilly tells us that the Knight of Glin pointed out that Castle “cribbed the idea of the balustraded upper landing lit by a lantern window at Russborough from Pearce’s superb Palladian villa of Bellamont Forest, Co Cavan, built circa 1730 for his uncle Lord Justice Coote (and recently immaculately restored by the designer John Coote from Australia)”. Sadly since this was written, John Coote has died. I did not take a photograph of the upper landing, but you can see it on the Russborough website or better yet, during a visit to the house. The rooms off the this top-lit lobby would have been the bedrooms.

Joseph the 1st Earl of Milltown died in 1783, and his bachelor son Joseph succeeded to the peerages and to Russborough. The first Earl’s third wife and widow, Elizabeth French, lived on to a very great age until 1842. When the 2nd Earl of Milltown died in 1801, his brother Brice succeeded to Russborough and to the title to become the 3rd Earl of Milltown. The 1st Earl’s children married very well: Mary, his daughter by his first wife Cecelia Leigh married John Bourke, the 2nd Earl of Mayo; his daughter Frances Arabella by his third wife married Marcus de la Poer Beresford, son of John the 1st Marquess of Waterford (of Curraghmore House, which we visited, another section 482 property); his daughter Cecelia married Colonel David la Touche, son of David La Touche of Marley Park in Dublin.

Russborough remained in the possession of the Earls of Milltown until after the 6th Earl’s decease – the 5th, 6th and 7th Earls of Milltown were all sons of the 4th Earl of Milltown. The 6th Earl’s widow, the former Lady Geraldine Stanhope, lived on at Russborough until 1914. The family collection of pictures in the house was given by Lady Geraldine to the National Gallery of Ireland, in 1902 (the Milltown wing was thus created in the National Gallery). [13] On the death of Lady Milltown in 1914, it passed to a nephew, Sir Edmund Turton (the son of the 4th Earl’s daughter Cecelia), who rarely stayed there, as he lived in Yorkshire and was an MP in the British Parliament. After Turton’s death in 1928, his widow sold the house to Captain Denis Bowes Daly (of the Dalys of Dunsandle, County Galway – now a ruin) in 1931.

Alfred Beit, heir to a fortune made in gold and diamond mining by his uncle in South Africa, saw Russborough in an article in Country Life in 1837.  He was so impressed that he had the dining room chimneypiece copied for a chimney in his library in his home in Kensington Palace Gardens in London. [see 13] In 1952 he bought Russborough from Captain Daly to house his art collection and in 1976 established the Alfred Beit Foundation to manage the property. The foundation opened the historic mansion and its collections to the Irish public in 1978.

Sir Alfred died in 1994 but Lady Beit remained in residence until her death in 2005. [14] The Beits donated their art collection the National Gallery of Ireland in 1986, and a wing was dedicated to the Beits.

Russborough House is now a destination for all the family. Inside, rooms have been filled with information about the Beits, their life and times. They entertained many famous friends, travelled the world, and collected music, photographs and films, all now on display.

various visitors and friends of the Beits.

The Russborough website tells us: “In 1939 Sir Alfred joined the Royal Air Force. In this room, extracts can be heard from some of the many romantic letters that Sir Alfred Beit wrote to his wife during the Second World War.”

Russborough House 2018

“The exhibition includes a short film that starts in 2D and then moves to the third dimension. We display 3D images taken by Sir Alfred on his world travels in the 1920s and 1930s.

“This private auditorium is arguably one of the most interesting rooms in the house, and was created by Sir Alfred himself when he bought Russborough so that he could share his adventures with friends and enjoy movies on the silver screen. 

“Visitors can also sit and watch fascinating footage from around the world in the glamorous 1920s at the touch of a button.”

Outside near the former riding arena, hedges have been shaped into a maze.

photo by Jeremy Hylton, 2012.
photo by Jeremy Hylton, 2012, the former riding arena.
woods at Russborough House 2018
woods at Russborough House 2018
“Thank you for visiting Russborough House. ” Classical gate at the eastern entrance to Russborough, built in 1745 to designs by Richard Castle.

[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] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/05/11/of-russborough-and-its-predicament/

[3] p. 85. O’Reilly, Sean. Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of Country Life. Aurum Press Ltd, London, 1998.

[4] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/347/CASTLE,+RICHARD

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Boyle,_3rd_Earl_of_Burlington

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Cassels

[7] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/50010221/tyrone-house-department-of-education-marlborough-street-dublin-1-dublin-city

[8] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/347/CASTLE,+RICHARD#tab_works

[9] p. 85. O’Reilly, Sean. Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of Country Life. Aurum Press Ltd, London, 1998.

[10] https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/04/18/architectural-definitions/

[11] Reeves-Smyth, Terence. Big Irish Houses. Appletree Press Ltd, The Old Potato Station, 14 Howard Street South, Belfast BT7 1AP. 2009

[12] http://www.russborough.ie/

Note that the website has changed since I first wrote the blog and some quotations from the website are no longer on the site.

[13] p. 147. Montgomery-Massingberd, Hugh and Christopher Simon Sykes. Great Houses of Ireland. Laurence King Publishing, 1999.

[14] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Wicklow%20Landowners?updated-max=2018-01-05T08:13:00Z&max-results=20&start=8&by-date=false

Leixlip Castle, County Kildare: Desmond Guinness’s jewelbox of treasures

contact: Penelope Guinness Tel: 01-6244430

Open dates in 2021 (but check due to Covid-19 restrictions): Feb 1-5, 8-12, Mar 1-5, 8-12, May 11-14, 17-23, June 14-18, 21-27, Aug 14- 22, Sept 6-12, 9am-1pm.

Fee: adult €8, OAP/student/child €4, concessions no charge for school groups.

I am publishing my Leixlip Castle blog this week to honour Desmond Guinness who died last month. The Irish Aesthete Robert O’Byrne published a thoughtful tribute on his website. [1]

It was a beautiful sunny day on Saturday June 15th 2019 when we headed to Leixlip Castle. It is just outside of Leixlip, not far from Dublin on the N4, though confusing to find when one drives into Leixlip – don’t get it confused with the Manor! Keep going through the town and you’ll see it on your left as you are heading to veer right – so don’t veer right but turn left instead. You cannot see it in advance so I’m sure one could cause an accident if a car follows close behind!

A note on the gate listed tour times – I think they were every hour at quarter past the hour, on open days. We made it in time for the 11:15 tour. We were early, so had time to walk around the grounds. This is the place so far where I most want to live! It is so beautiful, especially the garden.

We passed a gate lodge on the way in – impressive itself!

the gate lodge
view of an interesting looking building toward the back of the gate lodge

Not sure where to park, I parked outside the gate lodge. We then walked up toward the house, along a cobbled driveway with wildflower meadow alongside and gorgeous sylvan landscape.

We approached the castle: impressive with a rounded tower immediately in view and castellated wall, with gothic mullioned windows, approached by a sweeping lawn:

The oldest part of the castle, the round tower, was built in 1172 – there is a stone noting that date [2] – by Adam de Hereford, an Anglo-Norman knight. A lovely coincidence is that when I looked up Adam de Hereford on Wikipedia, I have discovered that amongst the land bestowed by Strongbow on de Hereford, was “half the vill of Aghaboe.” My Grandfather purchased the house and farm at Aghaboe, which contains the Abbey of Aghaboe in County Laois! Unfortunately the Land Commission placed a compulLsory purchase order on the land when my Grandfather, John Baggot, died in 1977. Our family was left the house and about ten acres. The family sold the remaining land and house in 1985, much to my disappointment.

Aghaboe Abbey, County Laois, 2018, founded by St. Canice in the 6th century.
the house at Aghaboe, also from our 2018 trip. It has been restored by its current owner.
the house at Aghaboe, 1981.

John Colgan has complied a chronology of Leixlip, 1200-1499. [3] According to this, the grant from King John to Adam de Hereford is given in 1202. A website called “Curious Ireland” claims that soon after the castle was built, it was used as a hunting base by King John when he was Lord of Ireland in 1185. [4]

this is the side which Mark Bence-Jones refers to as facing the river, with pointed windows that have Gothic astragals (a term used loosely to denote the glazing bars in the window)

According to Mark Bence-Jones in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses, it later belonged to the Crown [more on this later], and was then granted in 1569 to Sir Nicholas Whyte, Master of the Rolls [again, we shall learn more about these details later]. In 1731, it was sold by John Whyte to Rt Hon William Conolly, nephew and heir of Speaker Conolly, the builder of nearby Castletown. William Conolly left Leixlip for Castletown after his aunt’s death in 1752, but it remained in the Conolly family until 1914, being let to a succession of tenants. Bence-Jones writes that remodelling of the castle appears to date from when William Conolly lived in it, and also perhaps slightly later, during the tenancy of Primate Stone, which was from 1752 onwards. The wing which forms a projection on the entrance front, balancing the old round tower, was more or less rebuilt at this period, and has a regular three storey four bay front towards the river. The windows on this projection are pointed and have Gothic astragals (a term used loosely to denote the glazing bars in the window). Similar windows, Bence-Jones adds, “were pierced in the thick old wall of the entrance front, and were glazed with diamond panes, in a delightful Batty Langley manner.” [5]

Beyond the round tower in the other direction there are steps leading up to a small terrace:

Walking around a little further, we see more of the house, with multiple roof levels, and a squat round ivy-covered one storey crenellated wall:

We can see more little windows, set into the round tower, another gothic arched window, and a round window also.

Walking further around, the back part of the jumble of a building leads to an archway built into the building:

The other side of the cobbled driveway leads to outbuildings with a path down to farmbuildings. Ahead of us, was a doorway in the wall, leading to the gardens.

According to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage Buildings of Ireland website, the castle was completed in 1837. I find it hard to correlate the descriptions of the castle with the castle itself: the inventory describes:

Detached four-bay two-storey over part-raised basement rubble stone house, completed 1837, incorporating fabric of earlier castle, dated 1172, and subsequent reconstructions with two-bay two-storey advanced end bay to left (north-east), four-bay three-storey side elevation to north-east and single-bay three-storey corner tower to west on a circular plan having battlemented parapet.Set back from road in own extensive landscaped grounds. [6]

The Castle overlooks the River Liffey:

Leixlip Castle has been owned by Desmond Guinness, the founder of the Irish Georgian Society in 1958. The Georgian Society is dedicated to the conservation and research into eighteenth century Irish art and architecture. His wife Penny joined us in the front hall, before Jenny took us on a tour of the house. The tour guide, Jenny, a young Philipino woman who was hired to take care of Desmond’s parents, and has been with the family for seventeen years and at the time we visited, took care of Desmond. Before entering the house, however, we had to find where to enter!

There’s a front door to the front of the castle but moss growing on the steps indicated to me that that door is not used. We went around to the side, to the terrace. The door is small – the handle very low, so I imagined Sleepy, Doc or Grumpy opening the door! Jenny explained that the floor had to be raised and that they just cut the door to make it fit.

Jenny had us sign the book and started to tell us about the castle, when another couple arrived and joined us for the tour. There is an accompanying brochure written by Desmond Guinness about the house and its contents. Jenny told us we are allowed to take photos! I began eagerly to snap away, as well as to take notes.

History of Leixlip Castle

The pamphlet explains that the Irish name for Leixlip, Leim an Bhradain, means “leap of the salmon,” and that the name derives from the Danish Lax-Hlaup, as the village was first established by the Vikings.

The pamphlet says that the castle was built just after 1192, so this must be the part built on to the earlier 1172 tower. It was built where the Rye Water and the River Liffey meet.

From 1300, a family called Pypard lived in Leixlip. Sources online state that in 1302 Ralph Pypard “surrendered all his castles etc to the Crown, and in consequence Richard de Kakeputz, who was constable of Leixlip, was ordered to deliver it up to the king. [7] “Curious Ireland” adds that in 1316 the castle withstood a four day siege by Edward Bruce’s army. 

According to the leaflet written by Desmond Guinness, the Pypards occupied Leixlip until King Henry VII granted Leixlip to Gerald Fitzgerald 8th Earl of Kildare, upon his marriage to Dame Elizabeth Saint John, between 1485-1509. Known as “Garret the Great” (Gearóid Mór) or “The Great Earl”, he was Ireland’s premier peer. He served as Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1477 to 1494, and from 1496 onwards. His power was so great that he was called “the uncrowned King of Ireland”. A legend, retold by Nuala O’Faoláin, says that Fitzgerald was skilled in the black arts, and could shapeshift. However, he would never let his wife see him take on other forms, much to her chagrin. After much pleading, he yielded to her, and turned himself into a goldfinchbefore her very eyes. A sparrowhawk flew into the room, seized the “goldfinch”, and he was never seen again. [8]

Due to the rebellion of Silken Thomas Fitzgerald, 10th Earl of Kildare, in 1534, Leixlip Castle was taken back by the Crown. In 1569 the Manor and Castle were granted to Sir Nicholas Whyte, Master of the Rolls, and the house remained in the family for nearly 200 years.

An article in The Journal of County Kildare, based on notes on Leixlip principally taken from a pamphlet called “Leixlip Castle,” written by the late Very Rev. James Canon O’Rourke, in 1885 (when Parish Priest of Maynooth), states: 

In 1538 the Manor and Castle of Leixlip were surrendered by Matthew King, of Dublin, on which John Alen, the Chancellor, obtained a lease of them for twenty-one years; in 1561 they passed to William Vernon, gent., for a like period; and in 1569 they were granted to Sir Nicholas Whyte, Master of the  Rolls, in whose family they remained till about the beginning  of the eighteenth century.” [9]


Reverend O’Rourke continues: “Sir Nicholas Whyte’s successor at Leixlip was his fourth son, Charles, who had served in Spain, and in 1689 was Governor of the County Kildare; he died about the year 1697, was buried at Leixlip, and was succeeded by his son John, from whom, I believe, the Conollys of Castletown purchased Leixlip, which remains at present in the possession of that family.”

William James Conolly (died 1754), nephew, heir and namesake of Speaker (of the Irish House of Commons) William Conolly (1662-1729) of Castletown, County Kildare, purchased Leixlip Castle in 1731 and it remained the property of the family until 1914. It was frequently let during this period. Desmond Guinness purchased Castletown House in 1967 to preserve it from destruction, nearly ten years after purchasing Leixlip Castle!

The oval portrait is of Lady Anne Conolly (born Wentworth, daugher of Thomas Wentworth 1st Earl of Strafford), who lived in Leixlip Castle until the death of her husband’s aunt, the widow (Katherine Conyngham, daughter of General Sir Albert Conyngham of Mountcharles, County Donegal – ancestors of the Conynghams of Slane Castle) of parliament speaker William Conolly of Castletown House. Lady Anne’s husband, another William Conolly, inherited Castletown in 1752.
Jenny told us that this portrait is of Thomas Conolly. He was the son and heir of William James Conolly (d.1754) of Castletown House, by his wife Lady Anne Wentworth.. Thomas Conolly married Lady Louisa Lennox, a daughter of Charles Lennox, the 2nd Duke of Richmond. Thomas Connolly was an member of Parliament of Ireland.

Mark Bence-Jones mentions two of the tenants of Leixlip Castle during this period: in the eighteenth century, Primate George Stone, Archbishop of Armagh, “the most powerful man in Ireland in his day,” and 4th Viscount (afterwards 1st Marquess) George Townshend (1724-1807), when he was Viceroy.

O’Rourke tells us:

“Lewis, in his “ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland,” speaking of Leixlip Castle, says: — “ This venerable mansion was the favourite retreat of several of the viceroys, of whom Lord Townsend usually spent the summer here; it is at present (1837) the residence of the Hon. George Cavendish, by whom it has been modernized and greatly improved.”… 

George Cavendish (1766-1849), of Waterpark, County Cork, added “unobtrusive” battlements, according to Mark Bence-Jones. O’Rourke continues:

“In the autumn of 1856, John Michael Henry, Baron de Robeck, then a tenant of the Castle, was drowned in the Liffey during a great flood. He was High Sheriff for the County Kildare in 1834, for the County Dublin in 1838, and for the County Wicklow in 1839. His remains were deposited in the vault in the Maynooth Church tower.”… “In 1878 Captain the Honourable Cornwallis Maude, son and heir to the Earl of Montalt, took up his residence in the Castle after his marriage in this year. When the Boer war broke out, he volunteered for service, and was numbered with the dead after the disastrous Majuba Hill affair on the 27th February, 1881. The present resident in the Castle is William Mooney, Esq., j.p., who so kindly admitted the members of the County Kildare Archaeological Society into his demesne to visit the Salmon Leap, and showed them over the old Castle in 1896.”

In 1914, John de La Poer Beresford, 5th Baron Decies, Chief Press Censor, purchased the property and added the kitchen wing. Bence-Jones tells us that he replaced some of the Georgian-Gothic windows with Tudor-style mullions, and panelled one or two rooms in oak. Unable to sell it in 1923, the castle was let to more tenants, and for a while served as residence for the French ambassador. In 1945 the castle was sold to William Kavanagh (see [4], and when I googled him, I found, interestingly, a painting for auction by Whytes in 2004 of the Salmon Weir, Leixlip, and it was owned by William Kavanagh, “Rathgar, a well known specialist in the work of O’Connor in the 1920s to 1940s” ). Finally, Desmond Guinness purchased the castle in 1958. His ancestor Richard Guinness had a brewery in Leixlip in the mid eighteenth century, before Richard’s son, Arthur, founded the Guinness brewery in Dublin!

The pamphlet we obtained in the hallway states that an electric dam was built in1947, completely submerging the salmon leap.

Jenny had us sign the Guest Book and then began to tell us of the contents of the grand hallway in which we stood.

The Castle Interior

Desmond Guinness’s pamphlet describes the contents also. The black Kilkenny marble mantel was originally made for Ardgillan Castle, Balbriggan, County Dublin, in 1744. The coat of arms featured over the fireplace belongs to the Gorges family of Ratoath, County Meath. The tapestry to the right of the fireplace was made in Florence in around 1730 and a manufactory by the name of Bennini, and it has the Medici arms, with the balls. When Stephen and I travelled to Florence for a holiday, we saw these balls on many buildings.

Medici coat of arms, from the Museo Bardini in Florence, my favourite, or second to the Victoria and Albert, museum in the world!

To the right of the side door hangs a mirror from Clonfert Palace, County Galway (palace of the Church of Ireland bishops of Clonfert, unfortunately a ruin since 1950).

The dolls house is believed to have originated in County Cork:

The wooden-headed antlers are probably of German origin and come from Powerscourt, County Wicklow. The tapestry is seventeenth century and depicts Theodotus offering the head of Pompey to Caesar. [10]

The dining room, with Bavarian tapestry.

Desmond Guinness states that the dining room chairs are eighteenth century “Irish Chippendale,” and were purchased at the Malahide Castle sale in 1976, as were the two black side tables.

The tapestries, in the “Chinese taste,” were woven in Bavaria in around 1750. The picture over the fireplace is an early view of Leixlip Castle of unknown origin. The ornate frame came originally from the eighteenth century house that was replaced by the present Dromoland Castle in County Clare. There is also a picture of the Holy Family by Cambiasi, the leaflet tells us.

The picture over the fireplace is an early view of Leixlip Castle of unknown origin. The ornate frame came originally from the eighteenth century house that was replaced by the present Dromoland Castle in County Clare.

As we read the pamphlet we can see Desmond Guinness’s love of antiques and history, which brought us the great treasure that is the Georgian Society. His generosity spills from the house, in the way he let us photograph, and he teaches us patiently through his leaflet.

Our tour guide, Jenny. She has been with the Guinness’s for 17 years. The cook has been with them for 30! They must be good employers. One can see the thickness of the walls by looking at the windows. The model of the obelisk at Stillorgan, County Dublin, on the table behind – a typically Irish hunt table, according to Desmond Guinness. The obelisk is a memorial designed in 1727 by Edward Lovett Pearce for his kinswoman Lady Allen, commissioned by Lord Joshua Allen, 2nd Viscount of Stillorgan (for more on Lovett Pearce, see my entry for Altidore Castle).

We next entered the Library.

The pamphlet states that the plasterwork in the Library dates from the mid 18th Century. An Irish library cabinet stands between the windows. These windows, and the bookcases, are modern and were installed by the present owner, who also devised the print room decoration on the walls. The prints are laid out in a way similar to those of the Print Room in Castletown House, which were done by the Lennox sisters.

Print Room in Castletown House County Kildare. Desmond and his first wife, Mariga, purchased Castletown House in 1967 to preserve it from destruction. On his website in his recent entry about Desmond Guinness, Robert O’Byrne the Irish Aesthete tells us: “Today Castletown is owned by the Irish State and is rightly lauded as a splendid example of Irish design and craftsmanship. But if it had not been for Desmond’s brave initiative, and then the restoration work that he and Mariga oversaw on the house – helped by the many volunteers they inspired – Castletown would now be nothing more than a handful of old black and white photographs.”

The prints in Leixlip Castle were put up by Nicola Windgate-Saul in 1976. The engravings, according to the pamphlet, relate to the decoration in the Galerie des Glaces in Versailles, executed in 1755 by Jean Baptiste Masse, based on the seventeeth century paintings of Charles le Brun (gardener to Louis XIV I believe – see my entry on Curraghmore).

The gilt mirror over the mantel was originally in a bedroom (Lady Kildare’s, Jenny told us) at Castletown, as well as the golden plasterwork, and was made in Dublin by the firm of Francis and John Booker in the mid-18th century.

We could not identify the origin of the death mask:

A card next to the death mask, however, identified the stuffed animal below the table, a mongoose:

There are a lot of mongooses (mongeese?) in Grenada in the West Indies, I remember. They supposedly harbour rabies. One rarely sees one, however. We did have an injured one come into our garden in Grenada, which we discovered due to our dog Minky barking madly from the safety of the patio. The poor mongoose, like the one above, died. Mongoose can kill snakes and snails. I need one for my allotment!

the chandelier is nineteenth century Venetian. It reminds me of the chandeliers in Castletown:

18th-century Murano Venetian coloured and plain glass 24-light chandeliers, decorated with flower heads and moulded finials, one of three in the Long Gallery of Castletown. It is believed that Lady Louisa ordered them from Venice between 1775 and 1778.

A delightful detail in the library are the model cast iron stoves:

model cast iron stoves.

We moved from the library into the Drawing Room.

The painting over the mantelpiece is Carton, County Kildare, by Thomas Roberts. Stephen liked the globes on the mantelpiece.
Carton, County Kildare by Thomas Roberts

The pamphlet tells of the treat in the Drawing Room: the large 18th century Dolls House that originally came from Newbridge House. It was given to Desmond’s daughter Marina when she was ten years old (his children’s mother is his first wife, Mariga).

a room inside the dolls house
another dolls house room
another room in the dolls’ house

The little plates in the dolls’ house are decorated with the initials “JG” for Desmond’s granddaughter Jasmine Guinness, now a model in London. The building blocks beside the dolls’ house were for the boys.

There are also drawings of the six Mitford sisters by William Acton. These sisters are the mother and aunts of Desmond Guinness.

The one on the top left is Nancy Mitford the writer. Diana Mitford, below her, is Desmond Guinness’s mother: she left his father, Bryan Walter Guinness, in order to be with Robert Mosley, the Nazi, and Hitler was the best man at their wedding, five years after she had married Bryan Guinness. Next to Nancy on top is Unity Mitford, a friend of Hitler, and below her, Deborah, who married Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire, who inherited Lismore Castle in Waterford, a real fairytale-looking castle with gardens which are open to the public.

Another picture by William Acton is of Desmond’s mother in law, Teresa Jungman, Penny’s mother – it seems an amazing coincidence that he drew both of their parents!. Desmond married Penny Cuthbertson in 1984 (thirty years after he had married his first wife, Princess Henriette Marie-Gabrielle von Urach – a member of the royal house of Wurtemburg, Germany – known as Mariga). When Jenny came to the house seventeen years ago, Teresa and her sister lived with the Guinness’s, and the sister was 99 years old!
Beneath the portrait above, under the cabinet with the deer, is a cabinet made in Killarney around 1880, which is inlaid with Irish views of ruined abbeys and round towers, and Irish wolfhounds, harps and shamrocks. Stephen gave me a box very similar for our “wooden” wedding anniversary! These Killarney items were popularised by Queen Victoria when she visited Killarney.

We were lucky to be shown the “secret door”:

Jenny opens the secret door

It led to a surprising outdoor area, which features mosaics on the walls!

and a blocked up arched doorway:

On the way to the grand staircase we passed another painting of Desmond’s mother – one she was not so fond of, as you can imagine, as it’s a bit risque. It highlights the blue of her eyes, however, which are inherited by her son.

a photograph of Desmond Guinness and his children Marina and Patrick

The woodwork of the staircase dates from the early 18th century or late 17th. The window is twentieth century and probably replaces a Venetian window, Guinness tells us in the pamphlet, in an attempt to make the interior look earlier than it is.

Mark Bence-Jones tells us that the staircase, of wood with pear-shaped balusters, appears to date from the early eighteenth century, and rises “impressively” in a separate hall behind the entrance hall.

This (below) is just something that Desmond saw at a party that tickled his fancy, I believe:

Under the turn of the stairs: the portrait is, I believe, of Desmond’s great great grandfather, the 12th Earl of Buchan, Henry David Erskine (1783-1857).

The carved wooden heads “supporting” the upstairs landing came from a shop front in Dawson Street, Dublin, where they were unrecognisable due to many layers of paint. They may be the work, Guinness tells us, of Edward Smyth who carved the Riverine heads on the facade of the Custom House in Dublin, besides much of the sculptural ornament on public buildings in Dublin.

The tapestry was woven in Brussels in the seventeenth century and depicts Caesar in a green toga, making the crossing to Brindisium, protected on the way by the goddess Fortuna, who hovers aloft. It was a present to Desmond from his mother, who brought it from France (somehow!).

a print of the 17th century tapestry
The painting is a portrait by William Hogarth of the 1st Earl of Charlemont, James Caulfield (1728-1799) aged 13, with his mother, Elizabeth Bernard (portrait painted in 1741).
This wonderful chair is not mentioned in Desmond’s notes but Jenny told us is a copy of a Venetian chair. It sits under a French tapestry representing Plenty, Autumnm, Earth or Harvest.

Next we went upstairs. There are 14 bedrooms, all still used when there are enough guests.

This was unusually situated at the top of the stairs. It had been stolen from the lower yard, then repurchased at an auction, and so was brought indoors!
The upstairs hallway.

The first room we entered is the “Yellow room” or the “plate room.” Notice that the plates are complemented with matching candles!

The next room, the Blue Room, is one of the largest:

some sort of odd communication device on the wall
An old picture, above, of Leixlip Castle with the boat house and church – with a bit of artistic license
Jenny’s reaction to this painting was priceless. I asked her if she knows who it is or who it is by (I was thinking of that film, “Big Eyes” about painter Margaret Keane). Jenny exclaimed “What’s that doing there! How did that get there! Someone must have moved it!” She explained that it is normally on the wall in the bed alcove. Stephen suggested that someone must have found it too creepy to sleep beside! Jenny tried to remember who had stayed in the room most recently!

The next room is NOT called the “pink room,” Jenny told us. I think it’s the Chinese or Oriental room.

I believe Marina cut and pasted the prints in this hallway:

The next room is called the Chapel, so named, I believe, for the IHS above the doorway.

Jenny points out a model of the Casino in Marino
I love these curtains

The next bedroom was the grandest, and is called King John’s bedroom as the story is that he slept there. There is a painted Venus on the ceiling.

I love the enormous wardrobe with funny leonine feet with too many toes, and the still used copper bath.

Jenny told us of the time Mick Jagger and his then-wife Jerry Hall stayed in this room, and she had her photograph taken in the bath. The picture somehow got out to magazines, and a copy of the picture was kept behind the shutters, but has disappeared!

Our last room, the Tower Room, is not usually one shown to guests, I think, because it’s not always kept tidy, but Jenny found us such enthusiastic guests, along with the other couple, that we were privileged with a view of the room and even the toilet off it.

I loved these pictures, in the hall on the way to the stairs up to the attic
a framed map on the wall, featuring some structures with which Desmond Guinness was associated, including the Obelisk, also called the Conolly Folly, one of the structures which the Irish Georgian Society campaigned to have protected and restored – as well as the Hindu-Gothic gate at Dromana (see my Dromana entry), and Carton House, which Desmond and his wife Mariga rented when they returned to live in Ireland in 1955.
the Tower Room. Mark Bence-Jones tells us that the walls have been decorated with panels of an early nineteenth century paper by Dufour, Vues d’Italie.
an odd figure in the carpet
Stephen in the Tower Room, outside the bathroom, admiring the painting.
the bathroom off the Tower Room. The bath is even smaller than ours, I think!
I loved the decoration on the bathroom walls. I think it was done by Desmond Guinness’s father, if I heard correctly.
I love the way the pipe is incorporated to be a palm tree!
the stairs down from the tower room
Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington.

We explored outside before we had our indoor tour.

Across the cobbled driveway from the castle, outbuildings with a path down to farmbuildings. 
the gate to the garden. For more on this gate, see the Irish Aesthete’s blog [11]. He tells us that Desmond Guinness says these were originally part of the Dublin city reservoir or basin developed in 1721-22 adjacent to where his family later developed the well-known brewery. When the basin was filled in during the 1970s, Desmond acquired the gates.

This is the vision that met our eyes when we went through the gateway, a living arcadia:

the swimming pool is within the castellated walls in the garden
the swimming pool, covered
I asked Penny about this portico and statue. She said the portico stone was found, and they thought it looked like it came from a temple. I believe it was found in Summerhill, County Wicklow. The statue is a copy of a work by Canova. [12]

By the side of the conservatory, there is another gate, down to the farm buildings and stable, by a cottage, where Jenny and her family live.

According to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, this is “rubble stone outbuilding with half-dormer attic, c.1830.” [13]
According to the National Inventory of Historic Architecture, this is: “Detached single-bay single-storey over raised base gable-fronted rubble stone dovecote, c.1780. [14]
The National Inventory tells us that this is: Attached eight-bay single-storey lean-to rubble stone outbuilding, c.1800, with four-bay single-storey lean-to lower advanced bay to right (south-west) and series of segmental-headed integral carriageways to left. Renovated, c.1950, with some integral carriageways remodelled. [15].
to the side of the castle, beyond the seat, you can see the archway, which we saw from the other side in a photograph in the beginning of this entry.

What an amazing home!

[1] https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/08/24/a-pioneer/

[2] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/11804045/leixlip-castle-leixlip-demesne-leixlip-co-kildare

[3] http://www.kildare.ie/ehistory/index.php/leixlip-chronology-1200-1499-ad/

[4] http://curiousireland.ie/leixlip-castle-leixlip-co-kildare-1172/

[5] p. 183. 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.

[6] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/11804045/leixlip-castle-leixlip-demesne-leixlip-co-kildare

[7] A “Pipard” also built the castle near Aghaboe, according to Wickipedia, but that castle is now gone. I wonder is this the same family as “Pypard”?

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_FitzGerald,_8th_Earl_of_Kildare

[9] This source continues:

“Sir Nicholas Whyte, Knt., was the son of James Whyte, of King’s Meadows, in the County Waterford. He was in 1564 Recorder of Waterford; in 1569 he was appointed Seneschal of the County of Wexford and Constable of the Castle of Wexford; and in 1572 he was made Master of the Rolls — an office which he held till his death on the 20th March, 1593. In 1569 he was granted the lands of St. Catherine’s, on the opposite bank of the Liffey, in the County Dublin, and in the following year he obtained a grant of the Manor of Leixlip, two castles, a water-mill, a salmon-weir, two fishing-places, called the Salmon Leap, on the river Analiffey, Priortown Meade, and other demesne lands of the manor, 6d. rent for licence to have a right  of way from Confey to Leixlip, the right of pasture on the great  common of Moncronock, and rents out of several townlands, to hold for ever in capite by the service of a fortieth part of a  knight’s fee, at a rent of £36 13s. 4d.Irish (or 1227 10s.sterling)….”


[10] https://www.discoverireland.ie/kildare/leixlip-castle

[11] https://theirishaesthete.com/2012/10/24/heavens-gate/

[12] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/11804055/leixlip-castle-leixlip-demesne-leixlip-co-kildare

[13] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/11804048/leixlip-castle-leixlip-demesne-leixlip-co-kildare

[14] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/11804058/leixlip-castle-leixlip-demesne-leixlip-co-kildare

[15] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/11804060/leixlip-castle-leixlip-demesne-leixlip-co-kildare

[16] And to finish off, if you have had the mammoth attention-span to get through this all in one go (and even if you have not!), we’ll end with a Ghost Story by Charles Robert Maturin (a favourite writer of Oscar Wilde’s):

http://www.ricorso.net/rx/library/authors/classic/Maturin_CR/Leixlip.htm

Bibliographical note: First published in The Literary Souvenir; or, Cabinet of Poetry and Romance (London: Hurst & Robinson 1825); rep. in The Grimoire and Other Supernatural Stories, collected by Montague Summers (Fortune Press 1936), pp.23-27.
Source: The Literary Souvenir, or Cabinet of Poetry and Romance (1825), at “The Literary Gothic Website” [online] – supplied by Dr. Dick Collins (Inchigeela, Co. Cork, Ireland) [accessed 30.11.2007.]

THE INCIDENTS of the following tale are not merely founded on fact, they are facts themselves, which occurred at no very distant period in my own family. The marriage of the parties, their sudden and mysterious separation, and their total alienation from each other until the last period of their mortal existence, are all facts. I cannot vouch for the truth of the supernatural solution given to all these mysteries; but I must still consider the story as a fine specimen of Gothic horrors, and can never forget the impression it made on me when I heard it related for the first time among many other thrilling traditions of the same description.

C.R.M.

The tranquillity of the Catholics of Ireland during the disturbed periods of 1715 and 1745, was most commendable, and somewhat extraordinary; to enter into an analysis of their probable motives, is not at all the object of the writer of this tale, as it is pleasanter to state the fact of their honour, than at this distance of time to assign dubious and unsatisfactory reasons for it. Many of them, however, showed a kind of secret disgust at the existing state of affairs, by quitting their family residences and wandering about like persons who were uncertain of their homes, or possibly expecting better from some near and fortunate contingency.


Among the rest was a Jacobite Baronet, who, sick of his uncongenial situation in a Whig neighbourhood, in the north – where he heard of nothing but the heroic defence of Londonderry; the barbarities of the French generals; and the resistless exhortations of the godly Mr Walker, a Presbyterian clergyman, to whom the citizens gave the title of ‘Evangelist’; – quitted his paternal residence, and about the year 1720 hired the Castle of Leixlip for three years (it was then the property of the Connollys, who let it to triennial tenants); and removed thither with his family, which consisted of three daughters – their mother having long been dead.


The Castle of Leixlip, at that period, possessed a character of romantic beauty and feudal grandeur, such as few buildings in Ireland can claim, and which is now, alas, totally effaced by the destruction of its noble woods; on the destroyers of which the writer would wish ‘a minstrel’s malison were said’. – Leixlip, though about seven miles from Dublin, has all the sequestered and picturesque character that imagination could ascribe to a landscape a hundred miles from, not only the metropolis but an inhabited town. After driving a dull mile (an Irish mile) [1] in passing from Lucan to Leixlip, the road – hedged up on one side of the high wall that bounds the demesne of the Veseys, and on the other by low enclosures, over whose rugged tops you have no view at all – at once opens on Leixlip Bridge, at almost a right angle, and displays a luxury of landscape on which the eye that has seen it even in childhood dwells with delighted recollection. – Leixlip Bridge, a rude but solid structure, projects from a high bank of the Liffey, and slopes rapidly to the opposite side, which there lies remarkably low. To the right the plantations of the Vesey’s demesne – no longer obscured by walls – almost mingle their dark woods in its stream, with the opposite ones of Marshfield and St Catherine’s. The river is scarcely visible, overshadowed as it is by the deep, rich and bending foliage of the trees. To the left it bursts out in all the brilliancy of light, washes the garden steps of the houses of Leixlip, wanders round the low walls of its churchyard, plays, with the pleasure-boat moored under the arches on which the summer-house of the Castle is raised, and then loses itself among the rich woods that once skirted those grounds to its very brink. The contrast on the other side, with the luxuriant walks, scattered shrubberies, temples seated on pinnacles, and thickets that conceal from you the sight of the river until you are on its banks, that mark the character of the grounds which are now the property of Colonel Marly, is peculiarly striking.


Visible above the highest roofs of the town, though a quarter of a mile distant from them, are the ruins of Confy Castle, a right good old predatory tower of the stirring times when blood was shed like water; and as you pass the bridge you catch a glimpse of the waterfall (or salmon-leap, as it is called) on whose noon-day lustre, or moon-light beauty, probably the rough livers of that age when Confy Castle was ‘a tower of strength’, never glanced an eye or cast a thought, as they clattered in their harness over Leixlip Bridge, or waded through the stream before that convenience was in existence.


Whether the solitude in which he lived contributed to tranquillize Sir Redmond Blaney’s feelings, or whether they had begun to rust from want of collision with those of others, it is impossible to say, but certain it is, that the good Baronet began gradually to lose his tenacity in political matters; and except when a Jacobite friend came to dine with him, and drink with many a significant ‘nod and beck and smile’, the King over the water – or the parish-priest (good man) spoke of the hopes of better times, and the final success of the right cause, and the old religion – or a Jacobite servant was heard in the solitude of the large mansion whistling ‘Charlie is my darling’, to which Sir Redmond involuntarily responded in a deep bass voice, somewhat the worse for wear, and marked with more emphasis than good discretion – except, as I have said, on such occasions, the Baronet’s politics, like his life, seemed passing away without notice or effort. Domestic calamities, too, pressed sorely on the old gentleman: of his three daughters the youngest, Jane, had disappeared in so extraordinary a manner in her childhood, that though it is but a wild, remote family tradition, I cannot help relating it:-


The girl was of uncommon beauty and intelligence, and was suffered to wander about the neighbourhood of the castle with the daughter of a servant, who was also called Jane, as a nom de caresse. One evening Jane Blaney and her young companion went far and deep into the woods; their absence created no uneasiness at the time, as these excursions were by no means unusual, till her playfellow returned home alone and weeping, at a very late hour. Her account was, that, in passing through a lane at some distance from the castle, an old woman, in the Fingallian dress (a red petticoat and a long green jacket), suddenly started out of a thicket, and took Jane Blaney by the arm: she had in her hand two rushes, one of which she threw over her shoulder, and giving the other to the child, motioned to her to do the same. Her young companion, terrified at what she saw, was running away, when Jane Blaney called after her – ‘Good-bye, good-bye, it is a long time before you will see me again.’ The girl said they then disappeared, and she found her way home as she could. An indefatigable search was immediately commenced – woods were traversed, thickets were explored, ponds were drained – all in vain. The pursuit and the hope were at length given up. Ten years afterwards, the housekeeper of Sir Redmond, having remembered that she left the key of a closet where sweetmeats were kept, on the kitchen table, returned to fetch it. As she approached the door, she heard a childish voice murmuring – ‘Cold – cold – cold how long it is since I have felt a fire!’ – She advanced, and saw, to her amazement, Jane Blaney, shrunk to half her usual size, and covered with rags, crouching over the embers of the fire. The housekeeper flew in terror from the spot, and roused the servants, but the vision had fled. The child was reported to have been seen several times afterwards, as diminutive in form, as though she had not grown an inch since she was ten years of age, and always crouching over a fire, whether in the turret-room or kitchen, complaining of cold and hunger, and apparently covered with rags. Her existence is still said to be protracted under these dismal circumstances, so unlike those of Lucy Gray in Wordsworth’s beautiful ballad:

Yet some will say, that to this day
She is a living child –
That they have met sweet Lucy Gray
Upon the lonely wild;
O’er rough and smooth she trips along,
And never looks behind;
And hums a solitary song
That whistles in the wind.

The fate of the eldest daughter was more melancholy, though less extraordinary; she was addressed by a gentleman of competent fortune and unexceptionable character: he was a Catholic, moreover; and Sir Redmond Blaney signed the marriage articles, in full satisfaction of the security of his daughter’s soul, as well as of her jointure. The marriage was celebrated at the Castle of Leixlip; and, after the bride and bridegroom had retired, the guests still remained drinking to their future happiness, when suddenly, to the great alarm of Sir Redmond and his friends, loud and piercing cries were heard to issue from the part of the castle in which the bridal chamber was situated.


Some of the more courageous hurried up stairs; it was too late – the wretched bridegroom had burst, on that fatal night, into a sudden and most horrible paroxysm of insanity. The mangled form of the unfortunate and expiring lady bore attestation to the mortal virulence with which the disease had operated on the wretched husband, who died a victim to it himself after the involuntary murder of his bride. The bodies were interred, as soon as decency would permit, and the story hushed up.


Sir Redmond’s hopes of Jane’s recovery were diminishing every day, though he still continued to listen to every wild tale told by the domestics; and all his care was supposed to be now directed towards his only surviving daughter. Anne, living in solitude, and partaking only of the very limited education of Irish females of that period, was left very much to the servants, among whom she increased her taste for superstitious and supernatural horrors, to a degree that had a most disastrous effect on her future life.


Among the numerous menials of the Castle, there was one withered crone, who had been nurse to the late Lady Blaney’s mother, and whose memory was a complete Thesaurus terrorum. The mysterious fate of Jane first encouraged her sister to listen to the wild tales of this hag, who avouched, that at one time she saw the fugitive standing before the portrait of her late mother in one of the apartments of the Castle, and muttering to herself – ‘Woe’s me, woe’s me! how little my mother thought her wee Jane would ever come to be what she is!’ But as Anne grew older she began more ‘seriously to incline’ to the hag’s promises that she could show her her future bridegroom, on the performance of certain ceremonies, which she at first revolted from as horrible and impious; but, finally, at the repeated instigation of the old woman, consented to act a part in. The period fixed upon for the performance of these unhallowed rites, was now approaching – it was near the 31st of October – the eventful night, when such ceremonies were, and still are supposed, in the North of Ireland, to be most potent in their effects. All day long the Crone took care to lower the mind of the young lady to the proper key of submissive and trembling credulity, by every horrible story she could relate; and she told them with frightful and supernatural energy. This woman was called Collogue by the family, a name equivalent to Gossip in England, or Cummer in Scotland (though her real name was Bridget Dease); and she verified the name, by the exercise of an unwearied loquacity, an indefatigable memory, and a rage for communicating, and inflicting terror, that spared no victim in the household, from the groom, whom she sent shivering to his rug, [2] to the Lady of the Castle, over whom she felt she held unbounded sway.
The 31st of October arrived – the Castle was perfectly quiet before eleven o’clock; half an hour afterwards, the Collogue and Anne Blaney were seen gliding along a passage that led to what is called King John’s Tower, where it is said that monarch received the homage of the Irish princes as Lord of Ireland and which was, at all events, the most ancient part of the structure. [3]


The Collogue opened a small door with a key which she had secreted, about her, and urged the young lady to hurry on. Anne advanced to the postern, and stood there irresolute and trembling like a timid swimmer on the bank of an unknown stream. It was a dark autumnal evening; a heavy wind sighed among the woods of the Castle, and bowed the branches of the lower trees almost to the waves of the Liffey, which, swelled by recent rains, struggled and roared amid the stones that obstructed its channel. The steep descent from the Castle lay before her, with its dark avenue of elms; a few lights still burned in the little village of Leixlip – but from the lateness of the hour it was probable they would soon be extinguished.
The lady lingered – ‘And must I go alone?’ said she, foreseeing that the terrors of her fearful journey could be aggravated by her more fearful purpose.
‘Ye must, or al

l will be spoiled,’ said the hag, shading the miserable light, that did not extend its influence above six inches on the path of the victim. ‘Ye must go alone – and I will watch for you here, dear, till you come back, and then see what will come to you at twelve o’clock.
The unfortunate girl paused. ‘Oh! Collogue, Collogue, if you would but come with me. Oh! Collogue, come with me, if it be but to the bottom of the castlehill.’


‘If I went with you, dear, we should never reach the top of it alive again, for there are them near that would tear us both in pieces.’


‘Oh! Collogue, Collogue – let me turn back then, and go to my own room – I have advanced too far, and I have done too much.’


‘And that’s what you have, dear, and so you must go further, and do more still, unless, when you return to your own room, you would see the likeness of some one instead of a handsome young bridegroom.’


The young lady looked about her for a moment, terror and wild hope trembling at her heart – then, with a sudden impulse of supernatural courage, she darted like a bird from the terrace of the Castle, the fluttering of her white garments was seen for a few moments, and then the hag who had been shading the flickering light with her hand, bolted the postern, and, placing the candle before a glazed loophole, sat down on a stone seat in the recess of the tower, to watch the event of the spell. It was an hour before the young lady returned; when her face was as pale, and her eyes as fixed, as those of a dead body, but she held in her grasp a dripping garment, a proof that her errand had been performed. She flung it into her companion’s hands, and then stood, panting and gazing wildly about her as if she knew not where she was. The hag herself grew terrified at the insane and breathless state of her victim, and hurried her to her chamber; but here the preparations for the terrible ceremonies of the night were the first objects that struck her, and, shivering at the sight, she covered her eyes with her hands, and stood immovably fixed in the middle of the room.
It needed all the hag’s persuasions (aided even by mysterious menaces), combined with the returning faculties and reviving curiosity of the poor girl, to prevail on her to go through the remaining business of the night. At length she said, as if in desperation, ‘I will go through with it: but be in the next room; and if what I dread should happen, I will ring my father’s little silver bell which I have secured for the night – and as you have a soul to be saved, Collogue, come to me at its first sound.’


The hag promised, gave her last instructions with eager and jealous minuteness, and then retired to her own room, which was adjacent to that of the young lady. Her candle had burned out, but she stirred up the embers of her turf fire, and sat, nodding over them, and smoothing the pallet from time to time, but resolved not to lie down while there was a chance of a sound from the lady’s room, for which she herself, withered as her feelings were, waited with a mingled feeling of anxiety and terror.


It was now long past midnight, and all was silent as the grave throughout the Castle. The hag dozed over the embers till her head touched her knees, then started up as the sound of the bell seemed to tinkle in her ears, then dozed again, and again started as the bell appeared to tinkle more distinctly – suddenly she was roused, not by the bell, but by the most piercing and horrible cries from the neighbouring chamber. The Cologue, aghast for the first time, at the possible consequences of the mischief she might have occasioned, hastened to the room. Anne was in convulsions, and the hag was compelled reluctantly to call up the housekeeper (removing meanwhile the implements of the ceremony), and assist in applying all the specifics known at that day, burnt feathers, etc., to restore her. When they had at length succeeded, the housekeeper was dismissed, the door was bolted, and the Collogue was left alone with Anne; the subject of their conference might have been guessed at, but was not known until many years afterwards; but Anne that night held in her hand, in the shape of a weapon with the use of which neither of them was acquainted, an evidence that her chamber had been visited by a being of no earthly form.


This evidence the hag importuned her to destroy, or to remove: but she persisted with fatal tenacity in keeping it. She locked it up, however, immediately, and seemed to think she had acquired a right, since she had grappled so fearfully with the mysteries of futurity, to know all the secrets of which that weapon might yet lead to the disclosure. But from that night it was observed that her character, her manner, and even her countenance, became altered. She grew stern and solitary, shrunk at the sight of her former associates, and imperatively forbade the slightest allusion to the circumstances which had occasioned this mysterious change.


It was a few days subsequent to this event that Anne, who after dinner had left the Chaplain reading the life of St Francis Xavier to Sir Redmond, and retired to her own room to work, and, perhaps, to muse, was surprised to hear the bell at the outer gate ring loudy and repeatedly – a sound she had never heard since her first residence in the Castle; for the few guests who resorted there came, and departed as noiselessly as humble visitors at the house of a great man generally do. Straightway there rode up the avenue of elms, which we have already mentioned, a stately gentleman, followed by four servants, all mounted, the two former having pistols in their holsters, and the two latter carrying saddle-bags before them: though it was the first week in November, the dinner hour being one o’clock, Anne had light enough to notice all these circumstances. The arrival of the stranger seemed to cause much, though not unwelcome tumult in the Castle; orders were loudly and hastily given for the accommodation of the servants and horses – steps were heard traversing the numerous passages for a full hour – then all was still; and it was said that Sir Redmond had locked with his own hand the door of the room where he and the stranger sat, and desired that no one should dare to approach it. About two hours afterwards, a female servant came with orders from her master, to have a plentiful supper ready by eight o’clock, at which he desired the presence of his daughter. The family establishment was on a handsome scale for an Irish house, and Anne had only to descend to the kitchen to order the roasted chickens to be well strewed with brown sugar according to the unrefined fashion of the day, to inspect the mixing of the bowl of sago with its allowance of a bottle of port wine and a large handful of the richest spices, and to order particularly that the pease pudding should have a huge lump of cold salt butter stuck in its centre; and then, her household cares being over, to retire to her room and array herself in a robe of white damask for the occasion.


At eight o’clock she was summoned to the supper-room. She came in, according to the fashion of the times, with the first dish; but as she passed through the ante-room, where the servants were holding lights and bearing the dishes, her sleeve was twitched, and the ghastly face of the Collogue pushed close to hers; while she muttered ‘Did not I say he would come for you, dear?’ Anne’s blood ran cold, but she advanced, saluted her father and the stranger with two low and distinct reverences, and then took her place at the table. Her feelings of awe and perhaps terror at the whisper of her associate, were not diminished by the appearance of the stranger; there was a singular and mute solemnity in his manner during the meal. He ate nothing. Sir Redmond appeared constrained, gloomy and thoughtful. At length, starting, he said (without naming the stranger’s name), ‘You will drink my daughter’s health?’ The stranger intimated his willingness to have that honour, but absently filled his glass with water; Anne put a few drops of wine into hers, and bowed towards him. At that moment, for the first time since they had met, she beheld his face – it was pale as that of a corpse. The deadly whiteness of his cheeks and lips, the hollow and distant sound of his voice, and the strange lustre of his large dark moveless eyes, strongly fixed on her, made her pause and even tremble as she raised the glass to her lips; she set it down, and then with another silent reverence retired to her chamber.


There she found Bridget Dease, busy in collecting the turf that burned on the hearth, for there was no grate in the apartment. ‘Why are you here?’ she said, impatiently.


The hag turned on her, with a ghastly grin of congratulation, ‘Did not I tell you that he would come for you?’


‘I believe he has,’ said the unfortunate girl, sinking into the huge wicker chair by her bedside; ‘for never did I see mortal with such a look.’
‘But is not he a fine stately gentleman?’ pursued the hag.


‘He looks as if he were not of this world,’ said Anne.


‘Of this world, or of the next,’ said the hag, raising her bony fore-finger, ‘mark my words – so sure as the – (here she repeated some of the horrible formularies of the 31st of October) – so sure he will be your bridegroom.’
‘Then I shall be the bride of a corpse,’ said Anne; ‘for he I saw tonight is no living man.’


A fortnight elapsed, and whether Anne became reconciled to the features she had thought so ghastly, by the discovery that they were the handsomest she had ever beheld – and that the voice, whose sound at first was so strange and unearthly, was subdued into a tone of plaintive softness when addressing her or whether it is impossible for two young persons with unoccupied hearts to meet in the country, and meet often, to gaze silently on the same stream, wander under the same trees, and listen together to the wind that waves the branches, without experiencing an assimilation of feeling rapidly succeeding an assimilation of taste; – or whether it was from all these causes combined, but in less than a month Anne heard the declaration of the stranger’s passion with many a blush, though without a sigh. He now avowed his name and rank. He stated himself to be a Scottish Baronet, of the name of Sir Richard Maxwell; family misfortunes had driven him from his country, and forever precluded the possibility of his return: he had transferred his property to Ireland, and purposed to fix his residence there for life. Such was his statement. The courtship of those days was brief and simple. Anne became the wife of Sir Richard, and, I believe, they resided with her father till his death, when they removed to their estate in the North. There they remained for several years, in tranquility and happiness, and had a numerous family. Sir Richard’s conduct was marked by but two peculiarities: he not only shunned the intercourse, but the sight of any of his countrymen, and, if he happened to hear that a Scotsman had arrived in the neighbouring town, he shut himself up till assured of the stranger’s departure. The other was his custom of retiring to his own chamber, and remaining invisible to his family on the anniversary of the 31st of October. The lady, who had her own associations connected with that period, only questioned him once on the subject of this seclusion, and was then solemnly and even sternly enjoined never to repeat her inquiry. Matters stood thus, somewhat mysteriously, but not unhappily, when on a sudden, without any cause assigned or assignable, Sir Richard and Lady Maxwell parted, and never more met in this world, nor was she ever permitted to see one of her children to her dying hour. He continued to live at the family mansion and she fixed her residence with a distant relative in a remote part of the country. So total was the disunion, that the name of either was never heard to pass the other’s lips, from the moment of separation until that of dissolution.


Lady Maxwell survived Sir Richard forty years, living to the great age of ninety-six; and, according to a promise, previously given, disclosed to a descendent with whom she had lived, the following extraordinary circumstances.


She said that on the night of the 31st of October, about seventy-five years before, at the instigation of her ill-advising attendant, she had washed one of her garments in a place where four streams met, and peformed other unhallowed ceremonies under the direction of the Collogue, in the expectation that her future husband would appear to her in her chamber at twelve o’clock that night. The critical moment arrived, but with it no lover-like form. A vision of indescribable horror approached her bed, and flinging at her an iron weapon of a shape and construction unknown to her, bade her ‘recognize her future husband by that.’ The terrors of this visit soon deprived her of her senses; but on her recovery, she persisted, as has been said, in keeping the fearful pledge of the reality of the vision, which, on examination, appeared to be incrusted with blood. It remained concealed in the inmost drawer of her cabinet till the morning of the separation. On that morning, Sir Richard Maxwell rose before daylight to join a hunting party – he wanted a knife for some accidental purpose, and, missing his own, called to Lady Maxwell, who was still in bed, to lend him one. The lady, who was half asleep, answered, that in such a drawer of her cabinet he would find one. He went, however, to another, and the next moment she was fully awakened by seeing her husband present the terrible weapon to her throat, and threaten her with instant death unless she disclosed how she came by it. She supplicated for life, and then, in an agony of horror and contrition, told the tale of that eventful night. He gazed at her for a moment with a countenance which rage, hatred, and despair converted, as she avowed, into a living likeness of the demon-visage she had once beheld (so singularly was the fated resemblance fulfilled), and then exclaiming, ‘You won me by the devil’s aid, but you shall not keep me long,’ left her – to meet no more in this world. Her husband’s secret was not unknown to the lady, though the means by which she became possessed of it were wholly unwarrantable. Her curiosity had been strongly excited by her husband’s aversion to his countrymen, and it was so – stimulated by the arrival of a Scottish gentleman in the neighbourhood some time before, who professed himself formerly acquainted with Sir Richard, and spoke mysteriously of the causes that drove him from his country – that she contrived to procure an interview with him under a feigned name, and obtained from him the knowledge of circumstances which embittered her after-life to its latest hour. His story was this:


Sir Richard Maxwell was at deadly feud with a younger brother; a family feast was proposed to reconcile them, and as the use of knives and forks was then unknown in the Highlands, the company met armed with their dirks for the purpose of carving. They drank deeply; the feast, instead of harmonizing, began to inflame their spirits; the topics of old strife were renewed; hands, that at first touched their weapons in defiance, drew them at last in fury, and in the fray, Sir Richard mortally wounded his brother. His life was with difficulty saved from the vengeance of the clan, and he was hurried towards the seacoast, near which the house stood, and concealed there till a vessel could be procured to convey him to Ireland. He embarked on the night of the 31st of October, and while he was traversing the deck in unutterable agony of spirit, his hand accidentally touched the dirk which he had unconsciously worn ever since the fatal night. He drew it, and, praying ‘that the guilt of his brother’s blood might be as far from his soul, as he could fling that weapon from his body,’ sent it with all his strength into the air. This instrument he found secreted in the lady’s cabinet, and whether he really believed her to have become possessed of it by supernatural means, or whether he feared his wife was a secret witness of his crime, has not been ascertained, but the result was what I have stated.


The separation took place on the discovery: – for the rest,

I know not how the truth may be,
I tell the Tale as ’twas told to me.

1. An Irish mile – a distance of undetermined length. In the West of Ireland, any distance up to about sixty kilometres may be expressed as ‘about a mile or so.’
2. His rug – the horse-rug under which he sleeps.
3. King John – king of England 1199-1216. Was Lord of Ireland for a brief period; having mortally insulted the Irish chieftains, he was hastily withdrawn by his father, the great Henry II (1154-1189). This is why he was called ‘John Lackland.’

 

Powerscourt House & Gardens, Enniskerry, County Wicklow

Powerscourt Estate, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow

contact: Sarah Slazenger

Tel: 01-2046000

www.powerscourt.ie

Section 482 listed open dates in 2021, but check due to Covid restrictions: All year, closed Christmas day and St Stephens day, 9.30am-5.30pm, ballroom and garden rooms Sun, 9.30am-1.30pm

Fee: Mar-Oct, adult €11.50, OAP €9, student €8.50, child €5, family ticket €26, Nov-Dec adult €8.50, OAP €7.50, student €7, child €4, family ticket 2 adults + 3 children €18, children under 5 free

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10th December 2009, my Dad and Stephen, when we went to Powerscourt to celebrate my birthday.
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Triton Lake. The winged horses form part of the family coat of arms and were made by Professor Hugo Hagen in Berlin in 1869.

I haven’t revisited Powerscourt Estate this year but I have been there many times, and as the lockdown continues for Covid 19, I will write another entry from previous visits and research. I want to write about Powerscourt in continuation of our Wingfield run!

I have hardly any pictures of the house, as it used to be that one went to the estate to see the gardens, since the house was gutted by fire in November, 1974, and remained closed for many years. Since then, it has been gradually renovated. Nowadays inside is a shopping mecca and lovely Avoca cafe, with a growing exhibition about Powerscourt estate itself. My family has been visiting Powerscourt estate since I was a child. The ultimate in romantic, with terraces, groves of trees, stone sculptures, nooks, the mossy labyrinth in the Japanese gardens, the “secret” boat house with its view onto the surface of the lake, and the Versailles-like Neptune fountain, the memory of its purple and grey dampness havs been an aesthetic touchstone for me when I have lived in hot, dry, bright,  Perth and California.

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powerscourt-lake by Jane Flanagan
view of Triton Lake from the boathouse. Photograph by Jane Flanagan.

The estate is named after previous owners of the land, the Powers, or Le Poers. The site was a strategic military position for the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century, and by 1300 the Le Poers had built a castle there. In 1609 the land was granted to Richard Wingfield, Marshall of Ireland. Richard Wingfield appealed to James I for the land in order to secure the district from the incursions of native Irish lords and the families who had previously occupied the land, such as the O’Tooles. [1]

The later Richard Wingfield, who became Viscount Powerscourt of the 3rd Creation, incorporated some of the old building in a new residence he had built in 1728. According to Sean O’Reilly in Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of Country Life, the 1974 fire exposed the fabric of the history of the house. He writes:

“The original structure consisted of a low range incorporated in the two bays to the left of the entrance. This appears to have been a long, two-storey, rectangular block, raised to a third storey in later development, and retaining, in one corner, a cross-shaped angle-loop. The vaulted room on the ground floor in this range survived into later remodellings. This earliest block, which dates from no later than the fifteenth century, was extended by a connecting block now incorporated in the garden front and, finally, by a third rectangular range fronted by the two bays on the right of the entrance, creating a U-plan.” [2]

powerscourt 2 flickr commons by Francesco Severi July 14 2013
The front centre block of Powerscourt, taken from flickr commons (photograph by Francesco Severi July 14 2013).

In 1961 the estate was sold by the 9th Viscount, Mervyn Patrick Wingfield, to Mr. Ralph Slazenger, and the Slazenger family still own it. [3] Coincidentally, my Dad used to play tennis with one of the Slazengers, who must have been a daughter of Ralph, when she was a girl. The same family owned Durrow Abbey near Tullamore in County Offaly (which they purchased in 1950, but it now belongs to the OPW). [4][5]

The Wicklow house built for Richard Wingfield, who was a Member of Parliament and whose descendent had Powerscourt Townhouse in Dublin built, was designed by Richard Castle (or Cassels), who had worked with Edward Lovett Pearce. Both Lovett Pearce and Cassels favoured the Palladian style, and Cassels took over all of Lovett Pearce’s commissions after his untimely death aged just 34. Cassels worked on Carton, designed Russborough House (another section 482 house which I will write about) and Leinster House. Powerscourt consists of a three storey centre block (see photograph above) joined by single-storey links to two storey wings, in the Palladian style. Borrowing from Mark Bence Jones’s description in his Irish Country Houses, the centre block has nine bays [6] and the entrance front is made of granite. There is a five bay breakfront in the centre of the middle block front facade, with a pediment of six Ionic pilasters (Ionic pillars have scrolls) standing on the bottom storey, which is, according to Bence-Jones, treated as a basement, and rusticated (rustication is the use of stone blocks with recessed joints and often with rough or specially treated faces, which is generally confined to the basement or lower part of a building). [6] One can see a good photograph of the front facade pediment, and the attic level above it, which ends in long scrolls, on the website of the National Inventory of Buildings [7]:

photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, Buildings of Ireland. The pediment contains the arms of Richard Wingfield and his wife Dorothy Rowley.

Bence-Jones continues in his description: between the pilasters on the breakfront are “rondels” containing busts of Roman emperors. The four bay links as well as the central block have balustraded parapets. The wings have four bays, “and the facade is prolonged beyond them by quadrant walls, each interrupted by a pedimented Doric arch and ending in an obelisk carrying an eagle, the Wingfield crest” (see the photograph below). [8]

This photograph shows the entire front facade of Powerscourt, including the centre block, the two four bay wings, and the quadrant walls beyond each wing that prolong the length of the front, and end in an obelisk on either end topped by an eagle. The quadrant walls contain an arch. photo from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
the garden front, photo from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

The garden front, pictured above, has seven bays between two bows on either end, and the bows are topped with copper domes. One side has a two storey wing. The garden  slopes down to a lake in a magnificent series of terraces. Powerscourt was built with sixty-eight rooms!

garden front of Powerscourt flickr commons by Francesco Severi July 14 2013
garden front of Powerscourt, from flickr commons (photograph by Francesco Severi July 14 2013). The fountain in this lake is based on the fountain in the Piazza Barberini in Rome and completes the splendid vista from the house down to the lake.
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Stephen and my Dad, Desmond, 2009
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the view down the terraces to the lake, Sugarloaf Mountain in the background.
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me and Stephen, 2009.
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Italian terrace, created by Daniel Robertson around 1842.

From 1842 onwards, the 6th Viscount of Powerscourt employed Daniel Robertson of Kilkenny to improve the gardens. Robertson created Italian gardens on the terraces, with broad steps and inlaid pavement, balustrades and statues. In the fountain below the “perron” of the main terrace, Mark Bence-Jones tells us, there is a pair of bronze figures of Eolus, “which came from the Palais Royale in Paris, having been sold by Prince Napolean 1872 to the 7th Viscount [Mervyn Edward Wingfield], who completed the garden.” [8]

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bronze figure of Eolus, from Palais Royale in Paris, sold by Prince Napoleon 1872 to 7th Viscount, Mervyn Edward Wingfield.

The garden work was continued by F.C. Penrose when Daniel Robertson died in 1849  while working on the gardens at Lisvanagh, County Carlow. Apparently Robertson was often the worse for wear during his work, as he was fond of the sherry. He took to directing from a wheelbarrow, as he had gout and difficulty walking – maybe not just due to the gout! The 7th Lord Powerscourt sought to create gardens similar to those he had seen in the Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna and at the Palace of Versailles. His task took twenty years, completed in 1880.

There are many more elements of the garden to explore, such as the Japanese gardens, the pet cemetery, the pepperpot tower, and the walled gardens. I only recently discovered the pepperpot tower! When I visited the gardens with my parents, we must have always been too tired as a family, after exploring the rest, to walk up from the Japanese gardens to the pepperpot tower!

powerscourt-fountainby Jane Flanagan
The dolphin pond, with fountain brought from Paris by the 7th Viscount (photograph by Jane Flanagan)
The Pepper Pot Tower. Photograph from Tourism Ireland, photographer unknown. [9]
powerscourt-walledgarden by Jane Flanagan
the walled garden (photograph by Jane Flanagan)

I have always loved the Japanese gardens, which remind me of the Japanese tea gardens in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. I have a lovely memory of having a cup of tea and a fortune cookie in San Francisco’s Japanese gardens, and the cookie contained the fortune I’d seen photographed earlier that day in a large photograph on display in a museum: “You will have many interesting and artistic people to your home.” It seemed too much to me at the time to be a coincidence – and it would be, I thought, at the age of about twenty, a dream come true. I sellotaped the fortune onto a small bookshelf on my desk, hoping it would come true. And indeed it has!

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our friends Helen and Grace playing at the Japanese gardens in Powerscourt, in June 2012. The Japanese gardens were created by the 8th Viscount Powerscourt, Mervyn Wingfield, and his wife, in 1908.
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part of my favourite part of the garden, the Grotto. The Grotto is one of the oldest parts of the garden, and is next to the Japanese gardens. It was created in 1740 by the 1st Viscount, and is made of fossilized sphagnum moss, taken from the banks of the nearby river Dargle.
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Bence-Jones writes of an incident about Powerscourt Waterfall, which is further out on the estate:

“the waterfall, the highest in the British Isles, which, when George IV came to Powerscourt 1821, was dammed up in order that the monarch might have an even more exciting spectacle; the idea being to open the sluice while the Royal party watched from a specially-constructed bridge. The King took too long over his dinner and never got to the waterfall, which was fortunate; for when eventually the water was released, the bridge was swept away.”

Powerscourt Waterfall with Larry, May 2008
Powerscourt Waterfall. There is a separate entrance now to the waterfall than there is to the rest of the estate.

The collection of statues, and the wrought iron gates, are beautiful.

Bamberg Gate in the Walled Garden, with its “vista” view of columns. Photograph by John Slazenger, 2014, from Tourism Ireland. [9]

The Irish Aesthete tells us that the Bamberg Gate:

“was originally constructed in Vienna in 1770 and installed in Bamberg Cathedral, Northern Bavaria. Probably in the late 1820s, when all Baroque additions were stripped from the building, the gate was removed and sold: around 1870 Mervyn Wingfield, 7th Viscount Powerscourt bought it from a London dealer and placed it in the present position. On the opposite side of the walled garden is the so-called Chorus Gate, the design supposedly based on a 17th century original (although this has not been found) and likewise purchased in London. Its intricate ironwork features myriad winged seraphim blowing trumpets. Both gates have recently been cleaned and re-gilded.” [10]

The National Inventory has two good pictures of the interior of the house, which is gradually being restored since the 1974 fire:

photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, Buildings of Ireland. I cannot recall seeing this room. Is it because the house is now so full with everything going on, that I didn’t notice the decorative pillars and ceilng? That is quite possible! The columns and arches lead me to believe that this was the saloon, comparing it to archival photographs from before the fire, as seen in Sean O’Reilly’s book.

The interior of Powerscourt before the fire was magnificently sumptuous and slightly crazy! Fortunately photographs exist, and some are in the National Library archives:

powerscourt nli ref L_ROY_00401
the entrance hall of Powerscourt before the fire. Photograph from the National Library archives, on flickr commons.

I have never seen shells on a ceiling decoration such as these, although I know the famous letter writer Mary Delaney made similar decoration on a fireplace as well as filling an outdoor shell house, similar to the one at Curraghmore. The Wingfields must have prided themselves on their military connection, with their display of armour and guns, and their hunting prowess, with all the deer head and antler trophies and the skin rugs. There is even an antler chandelier, which Sean O’Reilly tells us is called an Austrian “Lusterweiblen.” Some of the antlers were made of papier-mache! O’Reilly published other old photographs of the interior in Irish Houses and Gardens, including of the saloon, which he explains is more in the Roman Renaissance than Palladian style, which is reflected somewhat in the rest of the house. (see [1])

I wrote about the history of the Wingfield family briefly in my entry for Powerscourt Townhouse. [11] As I noted there, the title of Viscount Powerscourt did not descend directly from the 1st Viscount, and the Richard Wingfield who had the house at Powerscourt built much as we now know it was the 1st Viscount of the 3rd creation of the title. He married, first, Anne Usher, daughter of Christopher Usher of Usher’s Quay, but they had no children. He married secondly Dorothy, daughter of Hercules Rowley of Summerville, County Meath. Their son, Edward, became the 2nd Viscount. When he died in 1764, Richard, his brother, became 3rd Viscount. Seven years after inheriting the title, Richard 3rd Viscount began the building of Powerscourt Townhouse, so that he had a grand Palladian home in Dublin for residing and entertaining, when not living in his estate in Wicklow. He married Amelia Stratford, daughter of John Stratford, the 1st Earl of Aldborough. For the rest of the Wingfield successors, see [12] and also the Powerscourt website.

The house was occupied by the Slazenger family in 1974 when the fire broke out on the top floor, leaving the main building completely destroyed. They had purchased the house complete with all of its contents. Fortunately, nobody was injured. The house was left abandoned for twenty years, but they opened the gardens to the public. In 1996 the family started the renovation process with a new roof and restoration of the windows. [13] (Surely not) coincidentally, Ralph Slazenger’s daughter Wendy (Ann Pauline) Slazenger married Mervyn Niall Wingfield, the 10th Viscount Powerscourt, in 1962. They divorced, however, the same year as the fire, in 1974.

Christies held a sale of the rescued contents of Powerscourt in 1984. Many of the belongings were purchased by Ken Rohan, owner of nearby Charleville House. When I visited Charleville, another section 482 house, the tour guide pointed out the grand decorative curtain pelments purchased in the Powerscourt sale.

Finally, there is a Bagot connection to the Wingfields, albeit indirectly, and I haven’t found any connection (yet!) of my family with this Irish Bagot family. Christopher Neville Bagot (1821-1877) married Alice Emily Verner. When Christopher died, he left a large estate. His son was born less than nine months after he married, and his brother contested the will, claiming that the son, William Hugh Neville Bagot (1875-1960) was not really Christopher Bagot’s son. Alice Emily and her son won the trial to the extent that her son inherited Christopher’s money, but Christopher’s brother inherited the land. Alice Emily came from a well-connected family. Her mother was a Pakenham. Her grandmother was Harriet Wingfield (1801-1877), a daughter of Edward Wingfield (1772-1859), who was the son of Richard Wingfield, 3rd Viscount Powerscourt – the one who built Powerscourt Townhouse!

[1] O’Reilly, Sean. Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of Country Life. Arurum Press Limited, London, published 1998, paperback edition 2008.

[2] p. 111, O’Reilly, Sean.

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

[4] A Bagot married into the Herbert family, who owned Durrow Abbey before the Slazenger family. John Bagot married Mary Herbert, daughter of the 2nd Baronet of Durrow Abbey in 1728.

[5] For more on the ownership of Durrow Abbey, see the Irish Aesthete: https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/04/23/in-limbo-2/

[6] architectural definitions

[7] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/16400717/powerscourt-house-powerscourt-demesne-enniskerry-co-wicklow

[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.irelandscontentpool.com/en/media-assets/media/68565

https://www.irelandscontentpool.com/en/media-assets/media/132165

[10] https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/09/13/another-perspective/

[11] Powerscourt Townhouse, 59 South William Street, Dublin 2

[12] For the continuation of the Wingfield line who lived in Powerscourt, I refer to Burke’s Peerage, and to the website of Timothy William Ferres, otherwise known as Lord Belmont:

http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Wicklow%20Landowners

The Wingfields married well. The 3rd Viscount’s son inherited the title and estate: Richard Wingfield, 4th Viscount (1762-1809).

He married firstly, in 1789, Catherine, second daughter of John Meade, 1st Earl of Clanwilliam, by whom he had his successor, Richard.

RICHARD, 5th Viscount (1790-1823), married Frances Theodosia, eldest daughter of Robert Jocelyn, 2nd Earl of Roden, and their son, Richard, became his successor.

RICHARD, 6th Viscount (1815-44), who married, in 1836, his cousin, the Lady Elizabeth Frances Charlotte Jocelyn, daughter of Robert Jocelyn, 3rd Earl of Roden. He was succeeded by his son, Mervyn Edward Wingfield.

MERVYN EDWARD, 7th Viscount (1836-1904), KP, Privy Counsellor, who wedded, in 1864, the Lady Julia Coke, daughter of Thomas William Coke, 2nd Earl of Leicester (of the seventh creation!). According to Turtle Bunbury [14], Mervyn published two books: “Wingfield Memorials” (1894) and “A History of Powerscourt” (1903). He was elected president of the Royal Dublin Society and was also a member of the Royal Irish Academy of Science. He was made a Knight of the Order of St. Patrick in 1871. He was later appointed to the Privy Council of Ireland, acting as one of the Lord Justices of Ireland in 1902.

Mervyn Edward and Julia’s son, Mervyn Wingfield (1880-1947), become the 8th Viscount and succeeded to Powerscourt. The 8th Viscount was the last Lord-Lieutenant of County Wicklow, from 1910 until 1922. After Irish Independence, he was elected by W.T. Cosgrave to serve as a Senator in 1921. His son, Mervyn Patrick Wingfield (1905–73) became the 9th Viscount.

The 9th Viscount followed in the family’s military tradition and served in WWII and was captured and became a prisoner of war. According to wikipedia [15], he suffered from shell shock. His wife and children moved to Bermuda during the war and returned to Powerscourt afterwards but their marriage fell apart, and Mervyn Patrick sold Powerscourt.

According to Turtle Bunbury, Richard Wingfield 1st Viscount had a daughter, Isabella, who in 1722 married Sir Henry King, MP for Boyle and Roscommon, who built King House in County Roscommon, another section 482 property.

Turtle Bunbury also tells us that the 6th Viscount Powerscourt purchased Luggala, also in County Wicklow, in 1840, from the “financially challenged” La Touche family. We will come across the La Touch family when I write about Harristown, another Section 482 property.

[13] http://www.britainirelandcastles.com/Ireland/County-Wicklow/Powerscourt-House.html

[14] http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_family/hist_family_powerscourt.html

[15] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mervyn_Patrick_Wingfield,_9th_Viscount_Powerscourt