Kilfane Glen & Waterfall, Kilfane, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny

contact: Susan Mosse Tel: 056-7727105

www.kilfane.com

Open: July & Aug, 11am -6pm

Fee: adult €7, OAP/student €6.50, child €6, family €20.

Some section 482 properties are “garden only.” I have marked these in the listings on my home page. In the listings it is not always obvious whether the house or just the gardens are open according to the Section 482 rules, so I contacted the Business Taxes Policy & Legislation Division of Revenue, who clarified for me which properties are garden only. Kilfane is one of the properties which is genuinely “garden only.”

The yellow house next to the gardens looks gorgeous but it is a private residence. It is not the main house at Kilfane. The main house was built in 1798 for the Power family (it may have been added on to a previously existing house, owned by the Bushe family, who owned the land before the Powers married into it [1]) and has a three storey five bay centre block with three bay wings, which are single-storey at the front and two storey at the back. This house is located a distance from Kilfane Glen and Waterfall, and we did not see it. For more on the life in that big house, see the chapter on Kilfane in Mark Bence Jones, Life in an Irish Country House. Constable, London (1996), and for more on the old main house at Kilfane, see Robert O’Byrne’s entry about it on his Irish Aesthete website. [2]

Kilfane House (built 1798), County Kilkenny, photograph taken from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

The house which we saw at Kilfane was originally a worker’s cottage or woodsman’s house. built around 1850, probably incorporating fabric of earlier ranges. It was altered to become a dwelling in 1830, probably incorporating fabric of earlier ranges, for Thomas Seigne, who was the land agent for Kilfane. [3] Susan Mosse tells me that according to Jeremy Williams, it was designed by an architect who then emigrated to the US and went on to design the heating system in Washington DC. The White House was designed by a Kilkenny man, James Hoban, in 1792, so he may well have known the designer of the heating system for his building, if he was a fellow Irishman from Kilkenny! The design of Hoban’s White House was greatly influenced by that of Leinster House, designed by Richard Castle in 1750 for the Duke of Leinster.

The former woodsman’s house at Kilfane.

There is plenty to see, however, in the grounds of Kilfane.

We drove through the woods to reach the car park for Kilfane Glen and Waterfall. The current owners have opened the gardens to the public and restored the key attraction, a romantic glen, waterfall, and cottage ornée in the style of Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon, a country-style cottage where she used to play at being a regular person. There is more to the gardens, however, than the glen. The glen, as Robert O’Byrne describes it, is on the edge of the estate: “there existed an area of woodland where the land dropped away to reveal a rock face thirty feet high descending to an open vale dramatically strewn with boulders.” The Powers added a mile-long canal leading to the glen, which spills down as a waterfall. A thatched cottage ornée was added – Robert O’Byrne tells us that advocates of the Picturesque argued that such landscapes needed a humanising focus in the same way as the paintings which had inspired them. There had to be a central point to which the eye was drawn. [4]

Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon at Versailles.
Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon at Versailles.

We followed the map, provided on paper from the entrance kiosk, and reproduced on a large canvas next to the kiosk. We entered the oak wood, next to a frog pond.

The entrance kiosk and frog pond, at the entrance to the oak wood.

The gardens themselves are an example of a romantic era garden, and date from the 1790s. The gardens embody the theory of the Picturesque. Robert O’Byrne tells us that “the picturesque is associated with painting (it derives from the Italian term ‘pittoresco’ meaning ‘in the manner of a painter’). It was thus used by a key figure in the evolution of the concept William Gilpin who in his 1768 Essay on Prints defined picturesque as being ‘expressive of that peculiar kind of beauty, which is agreeable in a picture.’ Essentially the picturesque as proposed by Gilpin and others offers an aesthetic experience between the extremes of the sublime (which induces an emotion akin to terror [as theorized by Edmond Burke, whom we came across at Annaghmore in County Sligo]) and the beautiful which relies on symmetry and a calm-inducing order. The inspiration for landscapes that might be classified as picturesque came from artists of the previous century, most notably Claude Lorrain and Gaspard Poussin. In Ireland one of the most perfect expressions of this kind of landscape design can be found at Kilfane, County Kilkenny where theories of the picturesque were put into practice with enchanting results.

Robert O’Byrne writes: “we do not know the precise date for the site’s creation or indeed who was responsible for its design (perhaps the Powers themselves, since the main house contained a famed library and they were likely to be familiar with the theories of Gilpin, along with those of other proponents of the picturesque such as Sir Uvedale Price and Richard Payne Knight).” Susan Mosse, current owner of the gardens and woodsman’s cottage, adds that “in the Royal Society of Antiquaries photos, the drawings specifically refer to MRS POWER, and I believe she must be included as the gardening force in Kilfane. She is known to have helped various others in their gardens (Grattan, et al).” [note that Harriet Bushe’s mother was Mary Grattan.]. The website adds that Sir John’s twin brother Richard, founder of the Kilkenny Theatre, also had a hand in the garden.

The Kilfane website adds to this description: “Under the influence of Rousseau and the Romantic movement, a trend had begun in the final days of the 18th century for the improvement of parks, demesnes and gardens in a new style: more rugged and wild, expressionistic landscapes became the preferred mode, away from the earlier arcadian, pastoral, sublime fashions of the early 18th century. The use of water (cascades and waterfalls) for most dramatic effect, the exploitation of more savage and withdrawn places (ravines and valleys), and the introduction of architectural caprices (caves and grottoes), combined to create and heighten a series of picturesque scenes which might embody the perfect Romantic attitude and transport the soul in a sweet and tender melancholy.

Throughout the garden are pieces of art.

Art Rut by B. Woodward.
Entry to the gardens from the woodlands, “Sue’s gate.”
The view through Sue’s Gate, looking back into the oak woods.
The orchard. The grass is mown into large circles with the path up the middle.
A view of the house from the garden.

The orchard has a border called the Blue Border, with a lovely collection of flowers.

The Blue Border.
Archway in the Blue Border, leading further into the garden.

We entered into the next garden (the entire garden is divided into sections like rooms), that contains the lily pond.

Beyond the lily pond is the “moon garden.”

This normally has water flowing inside it.

Next to the moon garden is a grassed, hedged “room” that looked rather like an archery lawn.

Beyond the formal gardens is a fern walk, leading down to the “faeries’ gate.”

The fern walk leading to the faeries’ gate.
The Faeries’ Gate! It is a wavy mirror like one in a funfair, which made us look like tubby elves ourselves!
At the other end of the fern walk is a piece, simply called “Ball.”

By the faeries’ gate, we entered more luscious woodland. This included spots tantalizingly named “hell” and “heaven.” We didn’t work out which was which, though there was a path that looked as if it was made of moss-covered bones, so I decided that this must be “hell.”

The moss-covered fallen trees that look like bones.

We then passed by the Insect Meadow with its swinging seat, and the top of a decorative Ionic column on the ground.

From here we went toward the stone steps, which lead toward the glen.

At the bottom of the steps is “Mr. Butler’s Bridge.”

There are two ways then to reach the cottage and waterfall – we chose to take the longer Cliff Walk. I’m glad we did, as we approached the glen from above, which gave us lovely views of the cottage. To get down to the glen, we had to climb down a spiral staircase!

A view of the waterfall from the Cliff Walk.
A view of the cottage from the Cliff Walk.

Robert O’Byrne tells us more about the garden, and about the enormous amount of work the current owners have put into the property: “Gradually the whole place fell into decay, the cottage becoming a ruin, the grassy lawn and surrounding paths overgrown, the woodlands surrendered to laurel and rhododendron (with consequent loss of more delicate ground cover) and the waterfall dried up as the canal was breached and broken. Such might have remained the case to the present but for the discovery and rescue of this delightful spot by its present owners who more than twenty years ago embarked on a complete restoration of the place. Thanks to their admirable diligence the grounds today look much as they did when first created over two centuries ago.”

The cliff with the waterfall is over thirty feet high.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage describes the cottage, which has been called Potter’s Cottage: “Detached two-bay single-storey cottage orné with dormer attic, c.1800, with single-bay single-storey recess to right. Restored, 1989. Hipped roof (hipped to dormer attic windows) with reed thatch in English style having rope work to ridge, rendered chimney stack, and overhanging eaves (on timber post to recess).” [5]

We headed back to the house and picnic area, and noticed a tree house in the garden. All together, it makes for a lovely day out. I envy those who live nearby, who can visit such beauty often!

[1] Kilfane passed through the marriage of Harriet Bushe to John Power (1771-1844), later 1st Bt Power of Kilfane, from the Bushe family to the Power family. Robert O’Byrne tells us: “The land here had originally belonged to the Cantwells, prior to the family being banished to Connaught in the 17th century. It then passed into the ownership of Colonel John Bushe who was granted Kilfane in 1670, and his descendants remained on the estate for most of the following century. In the late 1700s, John Power married Harriet Bushe whose brother Henry Amias Bushe then lived at Kilfane. Power was the son of a County Tipperary landowner who had served with the British army in India where he had been aide-de-camp to Clive during the Battle of Plassey. Eventually he took a lease in perpetuity on Kilfane from his brother-in-law, and carried out many improvements on the estate.”

[2] https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/09/12/beyond-the-green-baize-door/

[3] https://theirishaesthete.com/2021/03/24/get-it-fresh/

[4] https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/11/11/when-nature-imitates-art/

[5] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/12402845/kilfane-house-kilfane-demesne-kilfane-kilkenny

Newpark House and Demesne, Newpark, Ballymote, Co. Sligo

contact: Christopher & Dorothy-Ellen Kitchin

Tel: 087-3706869, 087-2894550

Listed Open Dates in 2021 but check in advance: March 1-5, 8-12, 15-19, 22-26, May 10-16, 24-27, 31, June 1-17, Aug 14-22, Sept 7-8, 9am-1pm

Fee: adult €7, OAP/student/group €5 

We visited Newpark House during Heritage Week, when we went on holidays to Sligo. We were delighted to discover that the owner, Christopher, is a cousin of Durcan O’Hara, with whom we were staying at Annaghmore in nearby Collooney.

Burke’s A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Ireland tells us that Newpark was built for Robert King Duke (1770-1836), Justice of the Peace and Deputy Governor of Sligo, but the Historic Houses of Ireland website points out that he was only a boy of ten in 1780 when the house was built, so it was probably built for his father Robert (1732-1792). The Duke family descends from John Duke, who came to Sligo at the time of Oliver Cromwell and was granted land in Sligo in 1662. One can still see traces of their presence in the decorative plasterwork in the house. [1]

In 1910, the In 1910, the Duke family left Newpark, and it was purchased by Richard O’Hara, a younger son from nearby Annaghmore and Coopershill.

The house may have been designed by John Roberts of Waterford, who also may have designed Enniscoe in County Mayo, another house we visited during Heritage Week [2].

The house has a main rectangular block of three bays and two storeys, with a basement and dormer attic, built in 1780. The house was extended in the 1870s and lost some of its original features, but the original staircase remains.

A two-bay two-storey over basement wing was added around 1920.

The house is lime rendered with a tripartite entrance: a round-headed door-case flanked by narrow rectangular sidelights. There is another door in the front in the newer section of the house.

Two storey addition to the house.
The round-headed doorcase with side windows and fanlight.
Eaved roof rests on corbels, i.e. blocks projecting from the walls supporting the roof.
The Kitchens have recently received a grant to fix their gabled windows, which are on both sides of the house, and have decorative wooden bargeboards.
Gabled windows with decorative bargeboards, seen here above the later two storey addition.

The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us that architect and writer Jeremy Williams observed of Newtown: “What strikes one is the harmony of the whole ensemble. Entrance gates and lodge, lime avenue, house, carriage-house, farm yard and partly walled demesne are all proportionate to each other and reveal the unpretentious lifestyle of a typical west of Ireland squireen, a rare survival today.” 

The gate lodge is available for hired accommodation. [3]

The entrance gates to Newpark.
My photograph of the picturesque gate lodge of Newpark – I did not realise it is much bigger than it looks from the side facing the driveway. You can see the lower storey in my photograph below.
Photograph taken from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, since I did not like to walk around the gate lodge, unsure if it had residents! In this photograph you can see the lovely arched window at the front.
The gate lodge is much larger than it looks from the photographs I took, since I did not walk around it. This photograph taken from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage shows that the side of the lodge away from the driveway has another storey, lower than that facing the driveway. This extension was built in about 1960 onto the original c. 1840 cottage. [4]
Entrance drive to Newpark.

Robert Duke (1732-1792) of Newtown married Lucinda Parke, daughter of William Parke of Dunally, County Sligo. The Parkes of Dunally were a branch of the Parkes who owned Parkes Castle in County Leitrim, which we also visited during Heritage Week.

Parkes Castle, County Leitrim, built in the early seventeenth century by Captain Robert Parke on the foundations on an old O’Rourke castle built by Brian O’Rourke, Prince of Breffne.

Robert King Duke (1770-1836) also married a Parke from Dunally, Anne. Newpark passed down through the family and it must have been his great-grandson, Roger Philip Duke (1874-1944), who sold Newpark.

Richard Edward O’Hara (1863-1948) who purchased Newpark in 1913 was the son of Charles William Cooper (1817-1898) of Coopershill, who took the name O’Hara when he inherited Annaghmore from his uncle, Charles King O’Hara (1784-1860) (the “King” may have been from Charles King O’Hara’s mother’s mother, whose maiden name was King). Charles William Cooper O’Hara married Anne Charlotte Streatfield, a wealthy heiress, and they lived in Annaghmore. They had many children, one of whom, Richard Edward O’Hara (1863-1948), purchased Newpark. He moved to Queensland, Australia, where he farmed, and married Ethel Fisken in 1911. They returned to live in Ireland and he purchased Newpark.

They had a daughter, Sheela, who married Finlay Kitchin, grandfather of the current owner, Christopher. Christopher’s parents moved out of Newpark only a few years ago to a house built on the property, yielding the house to their son and his wife, Dorothy-Ellen. Our week took a serendipitous turn when we learned that Dorothy-Ellen is the daughter of Mary White of The Old Rectory, Killedmond in Carlow, where we were going to be staying later that week! [5]

Dorothy and Christopher had arranged for a special event for Heritage Week, so Stephen and I purchased tickets for this: a nature talk and walk by Michael Bell of Naturelearn [6]. Christopher told us that the house would be open to visitors during the event.

Dorothy-Ellen in front of her home.
The gardens in front of the house.

Christopher greeted us and was kind enough to take time from his busy preparations for the Heritage Week event to give us a tour of the house. He pointed out that the geometrical plan is most unusual, and reminded the architectural historian Maurice Craig of a swastika, with four principal rooms of unequal size arranged around a small central hall. Another Section 482 property, Oakfield Park in County Donegal, also has this arrangement.

Front hall of Newpark, with “cobweb” fanlight.
The front hall of Newpark, with lovely plasterwork on ceiling: a decorative cornice and central ceiling rose feature.
The plasterwork on the front hall ceiling, of acanthus leaves and floral swags and a geometrical design.
Isaac Nicholson, b. 1840, a Kitchin ancestor.

The drawing room also has fine stucco work, with garlands and flowers and urns.

Above the fireplace the frieze of plasterwork has a shield with the arms of the Duke family, a chevron between three terns. The frieze also features the crest of the Dukes, a sword plunged in a plume of nine ostrich feathers. Robert O’Byrne points out that there is a cornet with plumes rising from it, and that this may represent the coat of arms of Lucinda Parke, wife of Robert Duke. [7]

The crest of the Dukes features in the cornice frieze, a sword plunged in a plume of nine ostrich feathers.

The other main reception room is the dining room.

Dorothy-Ellen took us downstairs to show us the basement, and the room in which she is creating a museum of the old things from the house.

All the heating is supplied by this passat boiler which Dorothy-Ellen showed us.

Dorothy and Christopher have converted their barns into a beautiful event space which they call the Juniper Barn. [8] They run it according to eco-conscious principals very like those of Dorothy-Ellen’s mother, a former Green party TD. We headed over to the barns to attend the nature talk.

The names of Christopher and Dorothy-Ellen’s children are carved in the swing.
I asked Christopher about the “S” shapes on the barns – they are part of the construction of the barn.
Barn with bellcote.
The beautiful interior of the barn, which is available for hire.
I was very impressed by the hanging plume pampas grass decorations, created by Dorothy-Ellen.

I was even impressed by the “decor” of the bathroom in the outbuildings, and especially like the stirrup incorporated into the chain of the cistern.

The animals and skulls brought by Michael Bell, including a huge vertebrae, and a dolphin skull.
A “death’s head” hawkmoth with what looks like a skull on its head. Michael Bell set up a moth catcher, and showed us the typical types of moths of the area.
Michael and his daughter brought us down to the lake to see what wildlife we could find. We saw different types of dragonflies, and he told us about the lonely swan, whose mate had died. I hope it won’t be lonely for long!

We then headed back to see the gardens around the house, including the herb garden and walled garden.

The herb garden, created by Christopher’s parents.
The walled garden contains a polytunnel.

[1] http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Newpark

[2] http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Newpark and see my entry about Enniscoe, County Mayo, https://irishhistorichouses.com/2021/11/25/enniscoe-house-gardens-castlehill-ballina-co-mayo/

[3] https://www.juniperbarn.ie/accommodation

[4] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/32403317/newpark-house-newpark-sligo

[5] https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/07/16/the-old-rectory-killedmond-borris-co-carlow/

[6] https://www.naturelearn.com

[7] https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/01/30/frieze-it/

[8] https://www.juniperbarn.ie/venue

An exhibition in the Irish Georgian Society

High Summer, Burtown House and Gardens, County Kildare, oil on canvas, by Lesley Fennell.

Today an exhibition opened in the City Assemby House in South William Street in Dublin, the home of the Irish Georgian Society, of paintings of walled gardens of Ireland. The exhibition coincides with a television documentary about walled gardens airing this Sunday on RTE. There will also be a conference in May 2022 about the Irish country house garden, along with another exhibition, and a book edited by Finola O’Kane-Crimmins on the same subject.

https://www.igs.ie/updates/article/igs-year-of-the-country-house-garden

Burtown Gardens, which I visited this summer with Stephen and our friend Gary – the house is listed in Section 482 so we’ll be visiting it again at some point. It is the home of the artist Lesley Fennell.

The exhibition features the work of four artists, all owners of big houses: Lesley Fennell of Burtown, County Kildare; Andrea Jameson of Tourin, County Waterford; Alison Rosse of Birr Castle, County Offaly; and Maria Levinge of Clohamon, County Wexford. All of the houses but the last are on the Section 482 listing this year.

Many walled gardens are pictured, and I was delighted to recognise some.

Enniscoe, County Mayo, by Maria Levinge. Oil on board. We visited Enniscoe this year and had a wonderful tour with owner Susan Kellett, who brought history to life as if she had been present, such as when she told us of the 1798 visit of French soldiers to the house.
Maria Levinge’s painting captures the pink Enniscoe House in the background of her painting.
The walled garden of Enniscoe House, which contains a museum. As the house is also on the Section 482 list, I’ll be writing about it soon.

I will be invigilating the exhibition on Wednesday 29th September 10:00 – 1:30, along with some other dates, and was there today. The launch was last night, and I was delighted that some of the artists dropped in today while I was there.

Robert O’Byrne curated the exhibition and introduced the invigilators to the work. During the year the Georgian Society ran a programme of interviews with the artists, by Robert O’Byrne, and these are available to watch at the exhibition.

My photographs, taken on my phone rather than with my Canon camera, do not do justice to the paintings.

The Formal Gardens, Birr Castle, by Alison Rosse.

We visited Birr Castle in 2019 and I took the same view as that painted above!

The Formal Gardens were designed by Anne, Countess of Rosse, on her marriage in 1935, in the form of a monastic cloister, complete with windows, cut into the hornbeam hedge.

According to the small catalogue, which is available for purchase, there are about 8,000 walled gardens in Ireland! The exhibition features about thirty different walled gardens, some public and some private.

Lissadell, County Sligo, by Maria Levinge. Oil on board. We drove right up to the gates of Lissadell last month but unfortunately it is not open to the public this year due to Covid, so we will have to visit another time!

Many Section 482 houses featured in this blog have walled gardens. Most recently, I wrote about Killineer in County Louth, which is not in this exhibition. Barmeath, also in Louth, and Cappoquin in County Waterford, are included, as well as Lodge Park and Larchill in Kildare, both of which are listed in Section 482 and which I have yet to visit.

I like this one by Maria Levinge of the garden at IMMA, the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, as it also pictures the relatively newly built apartments in the background, which I often pass on my way to the Memorial Gardens.

I think Robert Wilson-Wright was digging the pond featured in Lesley Fennell’s painting of Coolcarrigan, on the day that we visited!

The Pond at Coolcarrigan, County Kildare, by Lesley Fennell. Oil on canvas.
Coolcarrigan, County Kildare, September 2019.

I didn’t realise that the splendid greenhouse at Woodstock, County Kilkenny, which we visited last month, is not the original Turner-built one, but a reproduction of it.

The greenhouse at Woodstock, County Kilkenny.
The Turner conservatory at Woodstock, County Kilkenny by Lesley Fennell. Oil on canvas.

I particularly liked the painting that Andrea Jameson did of herself struggling to paint “en pleine aire” in the wind in her garden in Tourin.

Andrea Jameson painting in her garden at Tourin, self-portrait. Oil on canvas.

The painters paint their own gardens, and each others’. Gardens featured which are open to the public include Lismore Castle in Waterford, Altamont in Carlow, Kilmacurragh in County Wicklow, Heywood in County Laois (my father remembers seeing the fire which burnt down the house!), Doneraile in County Cork, and Russborough, which I didn’t know has a walled garden.

Adamnan Lodge, Birr, County Offaly by Alison Rosse. Oil on board.
Red Geranium, Greenhouse, Tourin, by Andrea Jameson. Oil on canvas.

Some of the gardens are in Northern Ireland, such as at Glenarm and Crom Castle.

Stephen and I have been lucky enough to visit many walled gardens in our explorations of Section 482 properties, and have many more still to visit. We toured rather extensively around Ireland during Heritage Week this year and I have lots to write that I hope to publish soon!

Kilshannig House, Rathcormac, County Cork

contact: Hugo Merry Tel: 025-36124

Open dates in 2021 (but check due to Covid restrictions): May 1-31, June 1-30, July 1-31, National Heritage Week, Aug 14-22, 8.30am- 2.30pm.

Fee: adult €10, child/student €8.50, group discount by arrangements.

Stephen and I visited Kilshannig House in Rathcormac, County Cork, in August 2020, during Heritage Week. Kilshannig is most notable for its wonderful stucco work.

I rang Mr. Merry in advance, and he was away but told me his housekeeper could show us around. Stephen and I were spending a few days on holidays with our friends Denise and Ivan, and Denise decided to join us to come to see the house. I was excited to show someone what it is like to visit the section 482 houses. In most cases, like this day visiting Kilshannig, we are going to see someone’s private home. It is not like visiting a place normally open to the public, like Fota House or Doneraile Court, two houses which Stephen and I also visited while in Cork, which are now owned and run by Irish Heritage Trust and the OPW (Office of Public Works) respectively. [1] I always feel that I am an inconvenience, requesting a visit someone’s home. I must remind myself that it is visitors like me and you who ensure that the section 482 revenue scheme continues. I envy owners of these beautiful homes, but maintaining a Big House is almost a career choice. In fact owners often express their belief that they are the caretaker of a small part of Ireland’s built heritage. In this case, Mr. Merry runs an equine stud, and it is the success of that which enables him to maintain the upkeep of his home. He has also converted an extension into self-catering accommodation [2].

The house, as you can see from the photograph of the entire sweep, is Palladian [3]. It was built in 1765-66 for Abraham Devonsher, an MP and a Cork banker. The date 1766 is written on a “hopper” and probably commemorates the completion of the house.

Cast-iron rainwater goods having ornate hoppers, dated 1766, with gambolling lion and winged cherub head, square-profile down pipe and moulded joints.” [see 9]

It was designed by Davis Ducart [or Duckart], whose Irish career began in the 1760s and continued until his death in about 1785. The Dictionary of Irish Architects tells us:

According to William Brownlow, writing to the Earl of Abercorn in 1768, he ‘dropped into this Kingdom from the clouds, no one knows how, or what brought him to it.’ [4]

The Irish Historic Houses website tells us that Ducart worked as a canal and mining engineer as well as an architect. With engineering skill, he was committed to good design and craftsmanship. The Dictionary of Irish Architects tells us of criticism of his work, however:

An attack on him in the Freeman’s Journal for 3-4 February 1773 states that he had given up architecture by this time: ‘Our French architect … never could bring any thing to perfection he put his hands to; he made some of his first (and, alas! his last) experiments as an architect, at the cost of the public and many private gentlemen, in the country and city of Cork, the latter of which bears a large monument of his insipid, uncooth taste in the art of designing; he was actually ignorant of the common rules and proportions of architecture; eternally committing mistakes and blunders, and confounding and contradicting his own directions, until he himself saw the folly of such proceedings, and (not without certain admonitions) quitted the profession he had no sort of claim to.’

I do not know enough about architecture to contradict the writer in the Freeman’s Journal but the Irish Historic Houses website claims: “Ducart was arguably the most accomplished architect working in Ireland between the death of Richard Cassels and arrival of James Gandon.” [5] In an article in Country Life, Judith Hill suggests that criticism was motivated by professional jealousy of a foreigner. [6]

Other works associated with Ducart are the Mayoralty or Mansion House, Cork (1765-1773); Lota Lodge in County Cork (1765); Castletown Cox in County Kilkenny (1767); Brockley House, Laois (1768); Custom House of Limerick (1769) which now houses the Hunt Museum; Castlehyde House, County Cork; Drishane Castle, County Cork (which is also a section 482 property, not to be confused with Drishane House – about which I will be writing shortly). [see 4]

The cherrypicker out front mars the photograph, but Anne the housekeeper explained that work was being done in the house. The front door is approached by a flight of limestone steps.

The house consists of a central block of two storeys over basement (with a mezzanine level), with wings either side that are described by Mark Bence-Jones as “L” shaped but to me they look U shaped, almost like a pair of crab claws. [7] Curved walls close in either wing into courtyards. Frank Keohane describes it in The Buildings of Ireland: Cork, City and County:

At Kilshannig, Ducart developed his own interpretation of the ubiquitous Irish Palladian country-house plan, which he also used with modification at Castletown Cox, Co Kilkenny, and The Island, Co Cork (demolished). Eschewing the Pearse-Castle tradition, Duckart’s central block is flanked by inward turned L-shaped (rather than rectangular) wings which project forward to form a cour d’honneur. Curved screen walls connect the inward-facing ends of the wings back to the house and enclose kitchen and stable courts. The principal North front, looking across the park to Devonsher’s parliamentary borough of Rathcormac, comprises a neat central corps de logis flanked by six-bay blind arcades, representing the back ranges of the courts, which terminate in domed pavilions. The plan has been likened to that of Vanbrugh’s Castle Howard, Yorkshire.” [8]

The view from the front, overlooking Rathcormac.

Keohane suggests that Davis Ducart was probably assisted by Thomas Roberts of Waterford. The front of the house is of red brick with limestone quoins, and the centre block is seven bays across with a single-storey three bay Doric frontispiece which the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage tells us is of cut sandstone. [9] The frontispiece has Doric style pilasters, and the door and window openings have fluted scroll keystones with plinths that look like they should hold something, in circular niches. The pilasters support an entablature which the National Inventory describes: “with alternating bucrania and fruit and flowers metopes and triglyphs.” The metopes are the squares with the pictures of “bucrania” (cow or ox skulls, commonly used in Classical architecture, they represent ancient Greek and Roman ceremonies of sacrifice) and fruit and flowers, and the triglyphs are the three little pillars between each square picture (wikipedia describes: “In classical architecture, a metope (μετόπη) is a rectangular architectural element that fills the space between two triglyphs in a Doric frieze, which is a decorative band of alternating triglyphs and metopes above the architrave of a building of the Doric order.“) [10]

Above this stone frontispiece is an empty niche which Bence-Jones tells us contained, in a photograph taken in approximately 1940, a statue or relief of a warrior or god.

There is a mezzanine level, which is unusual in such a house, and we can see that the windows at this level are squeezed between ground and first floor levels. The Irish Historic Houses website tells us that the house has four formal fronts. Unfortunately we did not walk around the house so I did not photograph the other fronts. The basement windows are semicircular, which is apparently characteristic for Ducart.

photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage [9].
the basement windows, “charmingly glazed with cobweb-like astragals,” as Casey and Rowan describe them. Photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

The wings have five arched windows each and Keohane tells us that the wings are actually low two-storey buildings. The copper domes and timber cupolas have been reinstated by the present owners.

On the back facade the arcades have plain Tuscan pilasters supporting a deep entablature with small blind roundels above each arch.

Photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage – you can see that this was taken before the domes were reinstated.

Anne the housekeeper welcomed us and brought us into the impressive Baroque hall.

Front Hall. Excuse the dirty floor, from ongoing repair work.

Keohane writes that the plasterwork in Kilshannig is by two different people with distinctive styles. He writes: “The accomplished decoration to the Saloon and Library ceilings is the work of the Swiss-Italian Filippo Lafranchini, here combining emphatic late Baroque modelling with the refinement of small-scale ornament of a Rococo character. The remaining decoration, which is vigorously naturalistic and in places ungainly, is by an unknown, and presumably Irish, hand.” For more on the Lafranchini brothers, see the Irish Aesthete’s entry about them. [11]

The stuccadore of the wonderful Rococo plasterwork in the hall is therefore unknown. Our guide, Anne, pointed out that the birds, that reminded me of birds at Colganstown by Robert West of Dublin, stick out too far and that the heads have a tendency to be knocked off. The ceiling is deeply coved, and features acanthus leaves, flower and fruit-filled baskets and garlands with draped ribbons.

The floor of the front hall is of Portland stone with black insets. The walls have Corinthian columns and the corners of the ceiling decoration are curved.

The hall has a beautiful Portland stone fireplace with a mask flanked by garlands, and two male Grecian bearded Herms (“a tapering pedestal supporting a bust, or merging into a sculpted figure, used ornamentally, particularly at the sides of chimneypieces. Roughly similar to a term.’) [3]. Herm refers to Hermes, the Greek god.

Here we see one of the birds who has had its head broken off.

The entrance hall leads to a three bay saloon, with dining room on one side and library on the other. To one side of the front hall is a corridor leading to the wonderfully curving staircase. The stone floor and stuccowork continue into the corridor, which has panelled walls.

The circular cantilevered Portland stone staircase rises two full rotations to the first floor. The domed ceiling has more stuccowork. There’s also a lovely circular pattern with geometrical black and grey shapes on the floor below the stairs.

You can see the mezzanine level in this photograph, and the Portland stone cantilevered stairs.

The doll house is an architectural model of Kilshannig! It even has electricity! It was made for the young girl of the house, Sophie.

Amusingly, the Kilshannig doll house is more advanced than the actual house, as the attic has been converted! The actual attic of Kilshanning House has not been converted. As the owner charmingly told me: “The two [bedrooms] in the dolls’ house are poetic license to give the owner of the dolls’ house the opportunity to decorate and fit it out bedrooms.”

Denise, duly masked for Covid, in the hallway at the bottom of the staircase.

We entered the library first. The current owner’s father, Commander Merry, and his wife, bought the house. With his DIY skills, the Commander installed the library shelves, acquired from a Big House built in the same period as Kilshannig. The room has another spectacular ceiling, which is deeply coved. The centre features a rondel with Diana and Apollo, and the corners have oval plaques depicting the Seasons. The cove features female portrait busts, eagles, standing putti and garlands. Christine Casey has noted the likeness of the cove to that formerly in the Gallery at Northumberland House in London, which was decorated by Pietro N. Lafranchini, perhaps in collaboration with his brother Filippo.

The rondel in the centre of the library ceiling featuring Diana and Apollo.
The female heads in rondels in the library are believed to portray members of the Devonsher family [10].

The doors have been stripped back to their original timber.

The next room is the Saloon, or Salon. It has a particularly splendid ceiling, also by Filippo Lafranchini, “combining emphatic late Baroque modelling with the refinement of small-scale ornament of a Rococo character” (Keohane):

“Joseph McDonnell has established that the figurative work is derived from an engraving of 1717 of a now lost ceiling painting by Antoine Coypel, the Assembly of the Gods, at the Palais-Royale in Paris. The centre depicts Bacchus and Araidne, with Pan and a sleeping Silenus, reclining on almost imperceptible clouds. The lavishly intricate border consists of six cartouches framing plaques depicting the Four Elements – Water (a dolphin), Air (an eagle), Earth (a lion), and Fire (a Phoenix) as well as Justice and Liberty. These are linked by a sinuous frame populated by charming putti with dangling legs. The corners feature trophies dedicated to Architecture, Painting, Music and Sculpture.” [12]

“The centre depicts Bacchus and Araidne, with Pan and a sleeping Silenus, reclining on almost imperceptible clouds.”
Justice, blindfolded. The Art of painting is represented in the right corner. Other corners represent architecture, music and sculpture.
Here we see architecture represented in the corner trophy.
The lion on in the left rondel, symbolising Earth, and the eagle on the right, symbolising Air. The other of the four Elements are represented, by a dolphin for Water and a Phoenix for Fire. I love the way the legs and feet of the putti and especially Ariadne stick out from the ceiling.

The final room we were shown was the dining room. Keohane writes that the stuccowork is by a different hand than the Lafranchini brothers. “The deep cove has four large oval cartouches of naturalistic foliage with masks depicting Bacchus, Ceres, Flora and Diana, the last framed by trophies of the chase and a rather insipid fox.” [13]

I believe the figure at the bottom, next to the rather sadly draped hanging game, is the “insipid” fox.
The head of Bacchus, encircled by grapes.

It was in the dining room under Bacchus that we stopped to consider how odd it was that a Quaker, as Abraham Devonsher was, had such an elaborate ceilings created in his home. Indeed, he was expelled from the Quaker community before he had the house built, in 1756, for “conformity to the world.” This was because he entered politics that year and became an MP for Rathcormac. [14] My husband Stephen, a Quaker, tells me that in order to serve as an MP, Devonsher would have had to swear an oath, and Quakers do not believe in swearing oaths – they believe that their word suffices (George Fox said: “My yea is my yea and my nay is my nay.”). The borough was very small – in 1783 it had only seven electors. Devonsher won his seat by appealing directly to the electors, unseating the Barrys who had traditionally held the seat. He entertained grandly in order to woo the electors. He also served as High Sheriff for County Cork in 1762. The Devonsher family had settled in Cork as merchants in the mid seventeenth century. [15] The article in Country Life tells us that toward the end of his life the sociable Abraham Devonsher “lives a recluse life with a Harlot.” He led a rather rakish life, apparently, and he died childless in 1783 – or at least left no legitimate heirs – and left the estate to a grand-nephew, John Newenham, of Maryborough, County Cork (now a hotel) who then assumed the name Devonsher.

John had a son, John (1763-1801), who inherited the house and passed it to his son, Abraham Newenham Devonsher. He ran into financial difficulties, and at some date before 1837, sold the estate to Edward Roche (1771-1855). [16] Edward Roche used it as a winter residence, and lived the rest of the year in his other estate, Trabolgan, as did his son, Edmond Burke Roche, who was raised to the peerage as 1st Baron Fermoy in 1856. He was also an MP and served as Lord Lieutenant for County Cork 1856-1874. According to the Landed estates database, at the time of the Griffith Valuation, James Kelly occupied Kilshanning. The Griffith valuation was carried out between 1848 and 1864 to determine liability to pay the Poor rate (for the support of the poor and destitute within each Poor Law Union). The 1st Baron Fermoy’s sister, Frances Maria, married James Michael Kelly, another MP (for Limerick), of Cahircon, County Clare, and James Kelly was their son. According to the Landed Estates Database, in 1943 the Irish Tourist Association Survey mentioned that it was the home of the McVeigh family. Mark Bence-Jones adds that other owners were the Myles family, and Mr and Mrs Paul Rose. The property had a succession of owners until it was purchased in 1960 by Commander Douglas Merry and his wife.

When they purchased it, the cupolas had disappeared and one wing was ruinous and the rest in poor condition. Commander Merry set about restoring the house. His son Hugo has continued the work, partly with help from the Irish Georgian Society [17]. This work included repairing a sagging saloon ceiling, and restoring the pavilions and cupolas, recladding them in copper. The entire main house, arcades and both courtyards have been completely restored and re-roofed. One wing is used for self-catering and events, and the other contains stables. There are fourteen bedrooms in the wing, and six in the main house, Anne told us.

We did not explore the outside, and did not get to see inside the pavilions or wings. That will have to wait for another visit!

[1] https://fotahouse.com/

http://doneraileestate.ie/

[2] http://thecourtyardkilshannig.com/

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

[4] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/1660#tab_biography

[5] https://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Kilshannig

[6] Hill, Judith. “Pot-Walloping Palladianism.” Country Life, June 15, 2016.

[7] 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.

[8] p. 465. Keohane, Frank. The Buildings of Ireland: Cork, City and County. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

[9] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/20904408/kilshannig-house-kilshannig-upper-co-cork

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

[11] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/05/18/exuberance/

[12] p. 466. Keohane, Frank. The Buildings of Ireland: Cork, City and County. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

[13] Ibid.

[14] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Cork%20Landowners?updated-max=2018-07-21T07:33:00%2B01:00&max-results=20&start=8&by-date=false

[15] Keohane writes that Abraham Devonsher’s parents are Thomas Devonsher and Sarah Webber. The website The Peerage says his mother was Sarah Morris. https://www.thepeerage.com/p30600.htm#i305998

See also the article in Country Life from June 15 2016, by Judith Hill, that is linked to the Kilshannig courtyard website. Hill says Abraham Devonsher’s father was named Jonas, and that his family began to acquire the land at Kilshannig from the 1670s.

Keohane says that John Newenham was Abraham’s nephew, the Peerage website has John as the great nephew: Abraham’s brother Jonas had a daughter Sarah who married Richard Newenham, and it was their son, John Newenham, who inherited Kilshannig.

The home of the Newenhams, Maryborough, is now a hotel:

https://www.maryborough.com/index.html

[16] http://landedestates.nuigalway.ie/LandedEstates/jsp/estate-show.jsp?id=2764

[17] https://www.igs.ie/conservation/project/kilshannig


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 Caulfeild (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.’

 

Rokeby Hall, Grangebellew, County Louth

Rokeby Hall, Grangebellew, Co Louth

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contact: Jean Young

Tel: 086-8644228

www.rokeby.ie

Opening dates in 2021 but check due to Covid-19 restrictions: May 1-31, Mon-Sat, Aug 14-22, Sept 1-30, Mon-Sat, 10am-2pm

Fee: adult/OAP €7, child/student €5

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Stephen and I visited Rokeby Hall in County Louth on Saturday September 7th, 2019. I texted ahead to alert Jean to our visit. We were lucky to have another beautifully sunny day!

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We entered the gates and drove up the impressive drive, through lovely fields.

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I paused as we approached the house to take a photograph of the observatory, and of the field near the house with the grazing cattle.

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There is an excellent website for Rokeby Hall which I read in advance so knew a little bit of information. [1]

“Rokeby Hall is a country house in the Neoclassical style built for Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh.

Initially designed by Thomas Cooley and built c. 1785 by renowned Irish architect Francis Johnston, Rokeby is an elegant building with beautiful exterior and interior detailing which remains largely unchanged to this day.

The house is a testament to the architects and the skilled craftsmen of the Georgian era and is today considered to be one of the most significant historic country houses remaining in Co. Louth.”

Francis Johnston (1760-1829) is best known for building the General Post Office in Dublin, and is the son of another architect, William Johnston. Francis is from Armagh and first practised his architecture there, and then lived in Drogheda from 1786 before moving to Dublin about 1793. It was the archbishop of Armagh, Richard Robinson, who sent Johnston to Dublin to train under Thomas Cooley, having already worked with Cooley to design buildings.

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Thomas Cooley, who worked first as a carpenter then draughtsman in an architectural office, came from England to Ireland in 1768 when he won a competition to design a new Royal Exchange in Dublin, which is now the City Hall on Dame Street. He built several public buildings in Dublin in the neoclassical style. Together with James Gandon (1743–1823), Cooley was part of a small school of architects influenced by Sir William Chambers (1723–1796). Cooley died in 1784. He worked closely with the Archbishop Richard Robinson and designed many buildings in Armagh, including the Archbishop’s Palace (now the Town Hall) and the library. He also designed the Four Courts in Dublin.

Cooley designed Rokeby Hall, and it fell to Francis Johnston to finish the project after Cooley’s death. Johnston continued to work with Archbishop Robinson, for whom he went on to build the Armagh Observatory and Armagh Courthouse, and other buildings in Armagh (I think that the observatory in Rokeby was built for the current owner, but I’m sure the Archbishop would have been delighted had he known, since he had the one in Armagh built in 1790 [2]!). Jean Young, the owner of Rokeby, recommended that we also visit another house in Louth designed and built by Francis Johnston, Townley Hall.

He designed more buildings, including the beautiful Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle, and he converted Parliament House in College Green in Dublin into the Bank of Ireland. He also designed Charleville Forest Castle in Tullamore, County Offaly, and probably designed a house I hope to visit when I get the chance, that is on Section 482, Turbotstown in County Westmeath. He also helped in the 2nd Earl of Longford to convert Tullynally House into Tullynally Castle [see my blog entry], completing that work in 1803.

Jean greeted us and invited us inside. We paused in the capacious front hall to look at a portrait while she told us about the man responsible for having the house built, Archbishop Richard Robinson. Robinson named the building after his family home in Yorkshire, England, Rokeby Park.

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The columns reminded me of “scagliola” [3] but are actually painted.

The website tells us about Richard Robinson:

After coming to Ireland as chaplain to the Duke of Dorset in 1751, he eventually rose through the ranks of the church before becoming Archbishop of Armagh in 1765. Prior to Robinson’s appointment, most Archbishops had spent little time in Armagh which in 1759 had been described as ‘an ugly, scattered town’. Primate Robinson is credited with much of Armagh’s transformation to the beautiful Georgian city it is today. His many contributions to the city include the Armagh Robinson Library, the Armagh Observatory, the Gaol, the Armagh Infirmary and the Archbishop’s Palace, Chapel and Palace Stables.

He was created the 1st Baron Rokeby in 1777, choosing the title “Rokeby” as his elder brother Sir Thomas Robinson had by then sold the family estate of Rokeby Park. He purchased land at Marlay in Co. Louth from the Earl of Darby to create a new “Rokeby” estate. On his death, his titles passed to a cousin but he left the Rokeby estate in Louth to the son of his sister Grace. The Reverend John Freind changed his name to his maternal surname “Robinson” and moved from England to Rokeby Hall in 1794.”

Lord Rokeby’s coat of arms on the decorative Neoclassical pediment, which stands on Ionic pilasters.

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I was surprised to hear that an archbishop was made a Baron, but Jean assured me that this was quite common.

Jean has studied the history of her home, completing a Masters degree in Maynooth, so we thoroughly enjoyed our discussion and she was able to explain the history of ownership of the house as well as architectural details. It is the details of the house which are special.

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I also asked why Robinson lived here in Rokeby rather than in Armagh, since he was archbishop of Armagh. Jean explained that archbishops had much work to do in Dublin, including taking their place in Parliament, so it was suitable to live in a premises between Dublin and Armagh. The Irish Aesthete Robert O’Byrne has a delightful entry that tells us more about this Archbishop of Armagh, who, according to O’Byrne, “behaved more like a continental prince-bishop.” He extravagantly travelled in a carriage with six horses, attended by three footmen behind. [4]

In Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size, Maurice Craig writes (p. 152):

The north (entrance) front of the house built for Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh, in the years following 1785, probably by Thomas Cooley (1740-84) and certainly with the participation of Francis Johnston (1760-1829). Both in elevation and in plan it is related to Lucan House, and in plan also to Mount Kennedy. James Wyatt, Michael Stapleton, Richard Johnston and even Sir William Chambers are involved in a complex tale which may never be fully unravelled. Rokeby is more remarkable for the beauty of its detail than for its overall impression…”

The most noteable feature of the house, for me, is the round hallway upstairs, and the second one above that in what seems to be the nursery and children’s area – which we saw after a tour of the first floor rooms.

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This is the landing at the top of the staircase. It opens into many bedrooms, a bathroom, another small landing, and one door is purely decorative, to keep symmetry. Note the detailing of the windows, over every second door, which let in light to the hall – all original.

Jean and Jeff had to furnish the house entirely, as unfortunately it was empty when they purchased it and needed repairs. They have done so beautifully.

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These bedrooms contain their original chimneypieces. The Irish Aesthete writes that the upstairs chimneypieces are original to the house but that the downstairs ones are not and were installed later, along with some downstairs doors.

The Youngs have also restored the garden to its former splendour:

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they have done much work, such as planting this formal garden.

Above the round hall at the top of the stairs, is another round hallway, you can see why I found it so surprising and delightful.

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One doesn’t expect such detail in an upper level. The rooms leading off on this level were of various sizes, some quite large.

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The room, although in the attic, contains as much attention to detail as the reception rooms, with curving door and window frames. Outside is the parapet of the house, so the windows have to be set back to allow in maximum light. The Youngs still have work to do to restore the cupola roof. You can see the wear and tear of use on the original stone stairs:

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The Irish Aesthete discusses Rokeby in his blog:

 “The house’s severe limestone façade hides a more inviting interior, of three storeys over basement, since Rokeby contains a particularly generous attic concealed behind the parapet, centred on a circular room lit by glazed dome. A similar circular landing on the first floor provides access to the main bedrooms.

“Descendants of the Robinson family remained in possession, although not necessarily in occupation, of Rokeby until the middle of the last century. Thereafter the property passed through a variety of hands often with unfortunate consequences. When the present owners bought the place in 1995, for example, the library had been stripped of its bookcases and divided in two with one half used as a kitchen. Over the past twenty years, a process of reclamation has taken place, driven by the correct balance of enthusiasm, commitment and ongoing research into the house’s history. Most recently the present owners have impeccably restored Rokeby’s mid-19th century conservatory.” [5]

In the article from the Irish Times which originally inspired me to start visiting houses and to write this blog, “Open season: Grand Irish homes that welcome visitors – and get a tax break,” published Sat, Apr 13, 2019, Mary Leland writes that Jean and Jeff worked on the house for ten years, commuting back and forth to California to working in the software industry, before finally moving over in 2006. The tax break enabled them to restore the Richard Turner conservatory. [6]

 

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The complete restoration of this structure took about two years, 2012-2014. The restored conservatory received 1st prize of the Ellison Award for Meath An Taisce in 2014.  A fascinating full description of the restoration is on the Rokeby Hall website. There’s also discussion of the restoration of the Armorial window and the attics.

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Jean noticed my puzzlement at the crescent dips in the glass at the top of the window, as you can see in the picture above. Her explanation shows just how authentic the restoration work was: in the 1850s, the size of panes of glass was  limited. Therefore glass was laid out in layers. The curved edge ensured that rainwater would move to the middle of the glass before dripping down, thus protecting the window frames.

The archbishop left the house upon his death in 1794 to his sister Grace’s son. Grace Robinson had married the Dean of Canterbury, William Freind. Her son, the Reverend Archdeacon John Friend subsequently changed his surname to Robinson. Reverend John did not stay long in Ireland, however. When his father-in-law, Captain James Spencer of Rathangan House, County Kildare, was killed by rebels during the 1798 rebellion, he fled. Despite no longer living there, Reverend John Robinson was created 1st Baronet of Rokeby Hall in 1819.

The house was subsequently let to tenants, including Viscount Thomas Southwell; Count Jerome de Salis (leased from 29 April 1822 – he had been appointed High Sheriff of Armagh in 1810 – see [7]); and Henry Coddington, Esq (1734-1816). This is the same Henry Coddington whose daughter Elizabeth married Edward Winder (1775-1829), one of my husband Stephen’s ancestors! Henry himself probably did not live in Rokeby, but probably leased the land to farm, as he lived in Oldbridge nearby. The house was left to deteriorate. Robert O’Byrne quotes James Brewer’s The Beauties of Ireland published in 1826, who wrote that the house “is now, we believe, in the hands of a farmer, and the chief apartments are let furnished to casual inmates.”

It was only after the death of John Robinson in 1832 that his son, Richard, returned to Rokeby in 1840. Richard, 2nd Baronet (1787-1847) had married, in 1813, the Lady Eleanor Helena Moore, daughter of Stephen, 2nd Earl Mount Cashell. He died in 1847 and was succeeded by his eldest son Sir John Stephen Robinson. Sir John and his wife were responsible for two significant additions to Rokeby Hall – the Turner conservatory, added in the 1850s, and the armorial window in the main stair hall showing the Robinson family history.

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Sir John, 3rd Baronet (1816-95), JP DL, High Sheriff of County Louth, 1849, married, in 1841, Sarah, only daughter of Anthony Denny, of Barham Wood, Hertfordshire, and granddaughter of Lord Collingwood, Admiral in the Royal Navy who served alongside Lord Nelson in the Napoleonic Wars. Due to his fame, Sarah’s eldest sons took the name Collingwood. [8]

The Rokeby Hall website continues the history of the Rokeby inhabitants:

Sir John died in 1895 and the estate passed to his son Sir Gerald [William Collingwood] Robinson (4th bart.) who died in 1903. The 5th baronet was Sir John’s younger brother Richard Harcourt Robinson. After his death in 1910 the estate eventually passed to Sir Gerald’s sister Maud who had earlier married Richard Montgomery, the owner of Beaulieu House in Co. Louth. 

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With the Robinsons no longer in residence, the estate was gradually broken up. The house and demesne lands were sold to the Clinton family in 1912. The remaining estate lands were also broken up and sold and the Robinson collection of furniture, art and books were eventually auctioned in 1943. The Clinton family remained at Rokeby until about 1950. Since then the ownership of the house has changed a number of times. The current owners purchased the house in 1995.”

After the tour of the house, Stephen and I went out to explore the gardens.

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[1] www.rokeby.ie

[2] https://armagh.space/heritage/

[3] Wikipedia defines scagliola: Scagliola (from the Italian scaglia, meaning “chips”) is a technique for producing stucco columns, sculptures and other architectural elements that resemble inlays in marble and semi-precious stones. The Scagliola technique came into fashion in 17th-century Tuscany as an effective substitute for costly marble inlays, the pietra dura works created for the Medici family in Florence.

Scagliola is a composite substance made from selenite, glue and natural pigments, imitating marble and other hard stones. The material may be veined with colours and applied to a core, or desired pattern may be carved into a previously prepared scagliola matrix. The pattern’s indentations are then filled with the coloured, plaster-like scagliola composite, and then polished with flax oil for brightness, and wax for protection. The combination of materials and technique provides a complex texture, and richness of colour not available in natural veined marbles.

architectural definitions

[4] https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/02/04/building-on-a-prelates-ambition/

[5] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/09/21/take-three/

[6] https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/open-season-grand-irish-homes-that-welcome-visitors-and-get-a-tax-break-1.3855641

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerome,_4th_Count_de_Salis-Soglio

Jerome de Salis was born in Italy and inherited the title, Count de Salis, a Count of the Holy Roman Empire. He lived in England from the 1790s. He married three times – had one child by each of his first two wives, then after the first two wives’ deaths, married in 1810, Henrietta (or Harriet) Foster, daughter of Right Reverend William Foster, who was chaplain to the Irish House of Commons (1780–89), and then at different times, Bishop of Cork and Ross; Kilmore; and of Clogher. They had a further nine children.

[8] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Louth%20Landowners

Altidore Castle, Kilpeddar, Greystones, County Wicklow

Contact: Philip Emmet. Tel: 087-7601369

Listed Open dates in 2021 but check beforehand due to Covid 19 restrictions: Mar 10-30, May 1-31 June 1-3, 1pm-5pm, Aug 14-22, 2pm-6pm

Fee: adult /OAP/ student €5, child over 10 years €5.

Altidore Castle, a seven bay, two storey over basement house.
Beautiful wrought iron gates at the entrance to the farm, and square panelled pillars.

Stephen and I visited Altidore Castle on a grey Saturday, June 1st 2019. I contacted Philip Emmet beforehand and he suggested we come at 3pm for a tour of the house. Philip Emmet is a descendent of the family of the Irish rebel Robert Emmet, who was hung for treason in 1803. We arrived early and Philip’s wife Vicky suggested we look around the gardens until the other couple who were coming for the tour arrived. We had spied a pond to our left on our way up the long driveway, and there were stone steps up from the driveway across from the front of the house to a large rectangle of a lawn, edged by huge rhododendrons, so we headed off to explore.

We only had about fifteen minutes, so after looking at the lawn above, we went down toward the pond and the gardens directly outside the house. We found a lovely sunken garden with two lions guarding it, containing a “wishing well.”

steps down to the sunken garden
Lions flank the steps to the sunken garden.
Stephen at the wishing well. I could not make out what was on the top of the well.
The well has Corinthian columns and a crest on top with two heads, and a cast iron embellishment.

We walked around the back, I was conscious that we could look in the windows and not wanting to disturb or pry, I carefully kept my back to the windows and gazed at the impressive view of the wide valley below. What a view!

We headed back to the front of the house then. It is a most odd-looking home. It’s quite small but has imposing castellations. This must be why it is called a “toy fort” (by Mark Bence-Jones) or a “toy castle” (National Inventory of Historic Architecture).

Mark Bence-Jones describes it in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses [1]:

A charming late-Georgian “toy fort,” with four octagonal corner turrets; of two storeys on the entrance side and three on the other sides, where the ground falls away. Despite the battlements on the turrets, the house is more Classical than Gothic; it is symmetrical and has a central Venetian window over a pillared porch.

The Venetian (tripartite) window over a single-storey pillared porch.
The back of the house is three storeys whereas the front is two, due to the slope of the ground. The basement forms the ground floor in the back.

The house was built for General Thomas Pearce around 1730. It may have been designed by his nephew, Edward Lovett Pearce. General Thomas Pearce (ca. 1670-1739) was a British Army officer, a privy councillor and member of Parliament. He was appointed to Ireland in 1715, ultimately becoming General of His Majesty’s Forces in Ireland. He represented Limerick in Parliament from 1727 until his death. He married Mary daughter of William Hewes of Wrexham, and they had three sons and two daughters. His daughter Anne married her first cousin, Edward Lovett Pearce. [2]

Edward Lovett Pearce was a young Irish architect, born in 1699. He favoured the Palladian style of architecture and studied initially under his cousin the English Baroque architect John Vanbrugh. Lovett Pearce is best known for his work on Castletown House and the Irish Houses of Parliament, which later became the Bank of Ireland on College Green in Dublin. In Italy he met the Florentine architect Alessandro Galilei who was making plans for Castletown. Pearce seems to have taken over the work on Castletown based on Galilei’s plans.

Pearce was also commissioned by his uncle-in-law Thomas Coote (Coote married Edward Lovett Pearce’s aunt Anne Lovett – she was Thomas Coote’s third wife) to build Bellamont House in Cootehill, County Cavan (around 1730). He also designed two houses on Henrietta Street in Dublin, including number 9, for his cousin Mrs. Thomas Carter, and he designed Summerhill, County Meath. He died of an abscess at the young age of 34 in his home The Grove in Stillorgan, Dublin, and is buried in St. Mary’s Graveyard, now a closed graveyard in Donnybrook, which I was lucky enough to see in a tour a couple of years ago.

Archway from the sunken garden to the back of the house.

We followed the other couple in through the porch to meet Philip Emmet, who welcomed us. We stepped into a large, high ceilinged hall, hung with impressive tapestries. These, Philip told us, were copies of tapestries which Louis XIV may have had. There was a set of tapestries with an Oriental tone, meant to be from China but with a mish-mash of European features, Indian and Chinese elements, with a pagoda in the background and picturing the Empress and Emperor in separate tapestries, sitting under tented pavilions tended by their servants and courtiers. One of the tapestries is in the drawing room, along with some other intricate mounted tapestries, as it couldn’t fit in the hall.

The inside of the front hall and staircase is odd as the windows don’t look as if they fit the plans, or else the staircase has been moved. Philip does not know a lot about the background of the house. The Irish Historic Houses website states that Altidore was enlarged and modified for a subsequent owner, Major Henry Brownrigg. [3] We did not go upstairs, but Mark Bence-Jones tells us that the staircase is “of stout but elegant joinery with a scrolled end to its balusters.”

By 1773 the house was owned by Reverend William Blachford, Librarian of Marsh’s Library in Dublin. Philip has a portrait of Reverend Blachford’s daughter Mary Tighe, a poet who was famous in her time and was grouped with the Romantic writers Byron and the revolutionary Mary Wollestonecraft. The poet John Keats admired her work. I must borrow her book, Psyche or the Legend of Love from the library! Mary, nee Blachford, had a severely religious upbringing. William Blachford died in 1773 leaving his wife Theodosia (daughter of William Tighe of Rossana, County Wicklow), a son John and daughter Mary. Theodosia converted to Methodism, founded by John Wesley, [4] and was involved in many charitable works including supporting the Leeson Street Magdalen Asylum for unmarried mothers, and the Female Orphan House on Prussia Street in Dublin. Mary married, at the young age of 21, her cousin Henry Tighe, who served as an MP in the Irish Parliament representing Inistioge, County Kilkenny. She lived her final months as an invalid in her brother-in-law William Tighe’s estate, Woodstock in County Kilkenny (the house is now a ruin but the gardens are open to the public), where she died of tuberculosis at the age of 37. A marble statue of her carved by Tuscan Lorenzo Bartolini, commissioned by her son after her death, stood in the hall of Woodstock before the house was burnt in 1922. However, there is another life-size sculpture of her by English sculptor John Flaxman in her mausoleum in the graveyard attached to the former Augustinian priory in Inistioge, County Kilkenny. [5]

Woodstock, County Kilkenny, where Mary Tighe spent her final years.

Reverend Blachford’s son John inherited Altidore and lived there with his wife Mary Anne, daughter of Henry Grattan MP, from nearby Tinnehinch [6].

There was another fascinating portrait in one of the beautifully decorated rooms, this time of an Indian military man, who was a servant of an ancestor of Philip’s wife. This ancestor, named Dennehy, worked in India under Queen Victoria, and introduced Victoria to Indian servants – and through him she met her beloved Indian servant, about whom, and their relationship, there was a movie a few years ago, “Victoria and Abdul”! Philip’s wife was in Osbourne, Victoria’s home on the Isle of Wight, and noticed that there is a series of these pictures, matching her own, of Queen Victoria’s other Indian servants. Stephen and I also loved the tv series about young Victoria.

The most fascinating piece of furniture in the house was Lord Cornwallis’s travelling trunk from his time in the War of Independence in America. When he lost the War of Independence he surrendered the trunk to Washington. It is suitable that the family of someone who would have supported the rebel colonists – i.e. Robert Emmet – ended up with the trunk! It’s like a chest of drawers, and has wonderful compartments – one holds his shaving bowl, another is a board which can be pulled out to be a desk surface, another has cubbies for his toiletries. In a bottom drawer is a discreet commode!

Before the Emmets purchased the house in 1944, the Dopping-Hempenstals owned the house, from 1834 – 1918. They owned extensive lands in County Wicklow. They rarely lived in Altidore and instead, leased it out. At one stage it housed a tuberculosis sanatorium. According to the Irish Historic Houses website, Altidore changed hands many times over the next decades and was owned by two different banks on separate occasions. Finally, in 1945, James Albert Garland Emmet (who went by “Garland”) purchased the house on three hundred acres from Percy Burton, a bachelor. The Emmets carried out extensive restoration and created a large new garden, centred on a pair of canals from the early 18th century garden layout. These are the bodies of water we saw on the way in. The present owners, Philip (grandson of Garland Emmet) and his wife Vicky, have farmed the estate organically for nearly 20 years.

One of the “canals.”

We moved from the drawing rooms to the dining room. The walls are adorned with fine medallions of Classical figures in stucco relief. They were uncovered when the walls were being redone, under layers of paint and wallpaper! The Irish Aesthete writes about them, and has beautiful photographs on his website:

“One of the past year’s most fascinating personal discoveries was the dining room at Altidore Castle, County Wicklow …. Much of the interior decoration dates from that period [ca. 1730], including the dining room’s panelling. In the last quarter of the 18th century, however, additional ornamentation was added with the introduction of oval and circular plaster medallions featuring female classical deities and graces: this would have been around the period that Altidore was owned by Rev William Blachford … During the same period the interiors of nearby Mount Kennedy – designed by James Wyatt in 1772 but only built under the supervision of Thomas Cooley the following decade – was being decorated by the celebrated stuccadore Michael Stapleton. The medallions are not unlike those seen in Lucan House, County Dublin where Stapleton also worked: might he have had a hand in the plasterwork at Altidore?” [7]

Michael Stapleton (1747-1801) was a famous Irish stuccodore, known as the “Dublin Adam,” referring to the Scottish architect and interior designer Robert Adam (1728-1792), who worked in the neo-Classical style of plasterwork characterised by its delicacy and use of motifs copied from recently discovered paintings at Pompeii and Herculaneum, along with James Wyatt. [8] 

side view of the house

Philip told us that his ancestors, the Emmets, had to leave Ireland after Robert and his brother Thomas Addis Emmet rebelled. Thomas Addis Emmet moved to the United States. Thomas Addis Emmet (1764-1827) was a lawyer and politician, from a wealthy Anglo-Irish Protestant family, and fought to end discrimination against Catholics and Protestant Dissenters such as Presbyterians. He acted as a legal advisor for the Society of United Irishmen. He tried to find a peaceful way of introducting a non-sectarian democracy to Ireland. However, the United Irishmen were declared illegal, so efforts for a peaceful Catholic emancipation were abandoned. Instead, the United Irishmen sought  independence from Britain by armed rebellion. Thomas Addis Emmet advocated waiting until the French had arrived for the rebellion, but Edward Fitzgerald (1763-1798) was more impatient and decided to go ahead with the rebellion in 1798. British intelligence infiltrated the United Irishmen and arrested most of the leaders, including Thomas Addis Emmet, on the eve of their rebellion on March 12, 1798. On his release in 1802 he went to Brussels, where he was visited by his brother Robert in October that year, who informed of the preparations for a fresh rising in Ireland in conjunction with French aid. However, at that stage France and Britain were briefly at peace, and the Emmets’ pleas for help were turned down by Napoleon.

Thomas received news of the failure of Robert Emmet’s rising in July 1803 in Paris. Robert was hung for treason in front of St. Catherine’s Church in Thomas Street in Dublin on September 20th 1803. Thomas Addis then emigrated to the United States and joined the New York bar where he had lucrative practice.

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Memorial in front of St. Catherine’s church, Thomas Street, Dublin
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plaque in front of St. Catherine’s church, Thomas Street, Dublin

In the United States the Emmet descendents went into, amongst other occupations, banking, and became wealthy. Philip’s great great grandfather did the European tour and became an art and object collector.

Thomas Addis Emmet’s grandson, also named Thomas Addis Emmet, visited Ireland in 1880. He hoped to move to Ireland but unfortunately he was not allowed by the government to live in Ireland, although he was a gynaecologist by profession, because it was thought that, like his ancestors, he may harbour rebellious tendencies. He requested that he be buried in Ireland so he could “rest in the land from which my family came.” Dr Emmet was interred according to his wishes, in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, in 1922. His grave marker was designed by the father and brother of the revolutionary Padraig  Pearse (they also sculpted the statues adorning St. Augustine and St. John church on Thomas Street).

It was the son of this Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet, James Garland Emmet, who returned to Ireland and purchased Altidore Castle in 1944. He set up his home as the base the Irish branch of the Emmet family and gathered objects for a collection of Emmet memorabilia. Altidore still hosts an Emmet Museum. Fascinated, Stephen lingered in the museum room and traded stories with Philip. There are lovely miniatures of the Emmet family, and a sketch of Emmet done from his time in court, by – oh, who was it? Someone famous! [9] They also have Robert Emmet’s college books, with his sketches of uniforms – he was a good artist! He was thrown out of Trinity for being a revolutionary. The house also has some artifacts from Thomas Addis Emmet, and also Robert Emmet’s final letter from prison – written not to his fiance, Sarah Curran, as Stephen and I had believed, but to a politician, to urge him to excuse himself for not anticipating the rebellion. Robert Emmet was reknown for his secrecy.

We wandered back out to the ponds, which are divided into three, and are part of a canal running down the mountain. We found the old walled garden – not in use currently – and looked around the farm and the beautiful old farm buildings.

Above the arch is a half-circle oculus.

[1] Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses published by Constable and Company Limited, London, 1988, previously published by Burke’s Peerage Ltd as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses, vol. 1 Ireland, 1978.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Pearce_(British_Army_officer)

[3] https://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Altidore%20Castle

[4] Mary Delany (1700-1788) whose letters are published, was Godmother to a musician in the Wesley family, and explains how the Methodist Wesleys were cousins of Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington – who is honoured in the Wellington obelisk in the Phoenix Park.

[5] https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/05/13/of-wonderous-beauty-did-the-vision-seem/

The Irish Aesthete also notes: A new biography of Mary Tighe by Miranda O’Connell has been published by the Somerville Press.

[6] Tinnehinch was presented to Grattan, according to Mark Bence-Jones, in gratitude for  the part he played in obtaining freedom from British control in 1782. The house has been destroyed by fire but one storey of the ruin still stands and has been made into a feature of the garden of the present house, which is in the former stables.

[7] https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/01/02/getting-thoroughly-plastered/

[8] Other work by Michael Stapleton can be seen in Marlay House in Dublin, several houses in North Great George’s Street including Belvedere House, Powerscourt Townhouse, 59 South William Street, Dublin 2 and in Trinity College Dublin, especially in the Exam Hall and the Chapel. Note that Stapleton was the executor of Robert West’s will, and may have trained with Robert West. We came across Robert West’s characteristic stucco work in Colganstown.

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Examination Hall, Trinity College Dublin.

[9] Perhaps the artist was John Comerford, who sketched Robert Emmet during his trial, and a miniature has been made from the sketch. The miniature is now in the National Gallery.

Moone Abbey House and Tower, Moone, County Kildare

Moone Abbey House.

contact: Jennifer Matuschka. Tel: 087-6900138

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

Fee: adult €8, OAP/student/child €4.

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

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

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

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

According to the Irish Historic Houses website [1]:

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

Stephen and the south side of the cross

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

The panel says:

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

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

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

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

Further panels explain the carvings on the cross.

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

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

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

The Twelve Apostles. I had an apostle like this made of old bog turf – it was my mother’s, a gift from me or my sister, I’m not sure.
IMG_1141
my Moone Abbey Apostle. I never realised until I saw the cross at Moone that this statue’s design was based on the Cross of Moone. Statue is made by Owen Crafts, Ballyshannon, Ireland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the pigeon boxes built into the tower.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coolcarrigan House and Gardens, Coill Dubh, Naas, County Kildare

Listed Opening Dates in 2021, but check first due to Covid 19 restrictions: Feb 1-5, 8-12, Mar 8-12, April 19-23, May 10-14, 17-21, Aug 4-10, 14-29, Sept 4-10, 9am-1pm

Fee: adult €8, OAP/student €5, child free

Contact: Robert Wilson-Wright 086 258 0439

http://coolcarrigan.ie/

On Sept 21st 2019, my husband Stephen and I visited Coolcarrigan House & Gardens, Coolcarrigan, Coill Dubh, Naas, Co Kildare. I rang Mr. Wilson-Wright that morning, leaving a message on his answering machine to say we’d be visiting during the open hours that day, hoping it would be alright since we hadn’t actually spoken to him in advance.

entrance gates taken from inside the property – note the lovely tops on the piers.

On the gates and there was a note welcoming visits, so we headed up the long driveway.

We reached the house, and parked.

Mark Bence-Jones describes the house in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses as a two storey nineteenth century house of three bays. According to Bence-Jones, there is a parapet along the entrance front, and a bracket cornice under the roof at the sides and a projecting porch, though I can’t see that the porch, if he means the front door, projects [1].

We were lucky to have another sunny day!

There was a note on the door with two mobile phone numbers to ring. Robert Wilson-Wright answered, and said he’d be out to meet us in a few minutes. On either side of the central block of the house, curved screen walls, ending in tall piers, project outwards and disguise the fact that the house has been considerably enlarged at the rear. The piers are topped with what look like pineapple representations, and the walls contain niches.

To our left, when we stood in front of the house, stretched a beautiful vista of a lawn with curved urns on pillars in the distance.

The Irish Historic Houses website states that the house is in the Georgian style, and was built in the 1830s by Robert Mackay Wilson on a large estate, to the designs of an unknown architect. It must have been a bit later, however, if Timothy Ferres is correct, and Robert Mackay Wilson was only born in 1829. [2] The Irish Historic Houses website continues “The façade has hooded mouldings over the upper windows and a simple parapet, while the central bay is emphasised by a pair of pilasters and a typical late Georgian door-case with a fanlight and sidelights.” [3]

Mr. Wilson-Wright greeted us warmly. He brought us inside. The house has a lovely big hall, and the main reception rooms are off the hall. Robert gave us a brief history of the house and his ancestors. He is the sixth generation of the family to live in the house!

Mr. Wilson-Wright took us back to Robert Mackay Wilson’s father: William Wilson, a shipping magnate in Belfast, had four sons, and he bought each of them a house. These houses were Coolcarrigan in Kildare, Currygrane in Longford, Dunardagh in Dublin and Daramona House in Westmeath. The current Robert has made recordings about his family history,  which I found online [4].

The oldest son of the four, John, inherited Daramona House in County Westmeath from his father, and was High Sheriff for Counties Westmeath and Longford. Thejournal.ie explains what High Sheriffs were in Ireland: [5]

The concept of a sheriff is a pre-Norman one and its continued existence in Ireland is a remnant of English law.

The word itself comes from the words shire and reeve, where reeve is old English for an agent of the king and shire is an administration subdivision.

Originally comprising of a single ‘high sheriff’ with many ‘under-sheriffs’, they were responsible for the enforcement of court judgements.

Changes in the 19th century took the enforcement of these judgements away from the high sheriff and into the hands of the under-sheriffs who then, in turn, handed over the responsibility to bailiffs.

After independence, the Court Officers Act of 1926 led to the high sheriff being abolished and the transfer of under-sheriff functions to county registrars as each under-sheriff post became vacant.

John’s son William Edward Wilson became a famous astronomer. According to the website of the Northern Ireland Amateur Astronomy Association, William E. Wilsons’s father had a great influence on him, “a man of intellectual capacity who is 1885 published Thoughts on Science, Theology and Ethics.”  The Irish Aesthete writes of Daramona House and William Edward Wilson and tells us that it was a trip to Algeria to see a total solar eclipse that led to his interest in astronomy, and that he set up an observatory next to his house. [6]

The second brother was George Orr Wilson who was given Dunardagh, Blackrock, County Dublin. This house was taken over by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in 1939. [7]

The third, and youngest, of the brothers was James Wilson, who was given Currygrane in County Longford. This house is now demolished – it was burnt down in 1922 when James’s son, James Mackay Wilson, a noted antiquarian, was in residence [8]. Another  son of James Wilson was Field Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson [more on him later].

The Mackay name of Robert Mackay Wilson is from his mother, Rebecca Dupre Mackay. Robert was given Coolcarrigan by his father. In 1858 Robert Mackay Wilson married Elizabeth, daughter of Murray Suffern of Belfast. He became High Sheriff of Kildare in 1887. Coolcarrigan passed to Robert Mackay Wilson’s only surviving child, Jane Georgina Wilson (1860-1926), in 1914. Jane Georgina married Sir Almroth Wright (1861-1947), in 1889. Almroth Wright was the son of the Reverend Charles Henry Hamilton Wright and his wife Ebba Johanna, daughter of Nils Wilhelm Almroth (Director of the Royal Mint in Stockholm and a Knight of the Northern Star of Sweden). Mark Bence-Jones describes Sir Almroth Wright as an eminent pathologist, author, and originator of the system of Anti-typhoid innoculation.

A stained glass window in the stairwell of Coolcarrigan contains the family crests.

Current owner Robert showed us portraits of some of the prominent family members, including Almroth Wright. Wright worked on the development of vaccinations, and discovered the cure for typhoid. He also warned that antibiotics would eventually lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria. A far-sighted man!

The playwright George Bernard Shaw was his close friend and “Sir Colenso Ridgeon” in his play The Doctor’s Dilemma is based upon Sir Almroth. I haven’t read this play! While Sir Almroth studied medicine in Trinity College Dublin, he simultaneously studied modern literature and won a gold medal in modern languages and literature! (I studied pharmacy in Trinity, and subsequently took a degree in English and Philosophy in Trinity – I didn’t do them at the same time!).

In 1902 Wright started a research department at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London. He developed a system of anti-typhoid fever inoculation and persuaded the armed forces to innoculate the troops in France during World War I. He remained in St. Mary’s, with a break during World War II, until his retirement in 1946. Alexander Fleming also worked and did research in St. Mary’s Hospital, and discovered penicillin. It must have been after the discovery of this antibiotic that Wright realised that bacteria can develop immunity to antibiotics.

Working in England, the Wrights must not have resided much in Coolcarrigan. In researching Almroth Wright I discovered that a biography has been written about him: The Plato of Praed Street: the Life and Times of Almroth Wright by Michael Dunhill, published in 2000. Wright worked in the University of Sydney, Australia, as Professor of Physiology, from 1889-1892. [9] Before that, not sure if he wanted to pursue medicine, he studied in the Inns of Court in London, reading Jurisprudence and International Law! (and here I am, pharmacist and philosopher, researching history! Some of us just can’t settle down it seems…)

Unfortunately Wright was not a fan of women’s suffrage, and thought women’s brains did not equip them for social and political issues. His arguments were most fully expounded in his book The Unexpurgated Case Against Woman Suffrage (1913). His friend Bernard Shaw strongly disagreed with him, though never dissuaded him from his view.

Sir Almroth’s first son died young, so his second son, Leonard Almroth Wilson-Wright, inherited Coolcarrigan. He also served as High Sheriff for County Kildare. He married Florence, eldest daughter of James Ivory, Justice of the Peace, of Brewlands, Glenisla, Forfarshire.

Leonard did not remain in Coolcarrigan for long. He fled from Ireland in fear of being shot by the IRA. The IRA took over the house for a week. His cousin, the grandson of William Wilson whom I mentioned earlier, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, a Unionist, had been shot by the IRA in London in 1922. [there is more on Leonard and on the Field Marshall in Robert’s recordings footnoted below]

Leonard and Florence had one son, John Michael (Jock) Wilson-Wright, who married in 1953 Sheila Gwendolyn Yate, only daughter of Col. Henry Patrick Blosse-Lynch of Partry, Claremorris, County Mayo. Jock moved back to Coolcarrigan when he inherited in 1972. Jock and Sheila had three children, including Robert, the current owner.

According to the online description of his recordings, over time, Robert and his father have added some arable land to their property and have bought back some of the peat bog which had been taken under the Emergency Powers Act. Now the property is more viable as a business than it was previously, he explained to us.

Stephen asked Robert how his family fared during the famine, wondering whether they  had tenants. Robert explained to us that much of the land is bog, and that theirs was not a “big house.” This makes me curious as to how one defines a “big house.” According to Robert’s use, it must mean that a big house is a landlord’s.

The side of the house, pictured above. Robert told us that a bath had to be brought to the upper floor via a window, which means the conservatory below it must have been built later than that although he wasn’t sure when. Bence-Jones writes that the main block is flanked by two 2 storey blocks at the back, and that these are joined to the back of the main block by lower ranges, enclosing a courtyard which is prolonged beyond them by walls, and enclosed at the opposite end to the house by an outbuilding.

side of the house, showing wall at back joining the outbuilding.
view of the house from a different side.

We headed out to the gardens. Robert explained that in the 1970s the garden was hit by a windstorm and many trees fell. Major replanting took place with the help of Sir Harold Hillier, an eminent English plantsman, so it now contains a collection of rare and unusual trees and shrubs in 15 acres of  garden and arboretum which experts travel from all over the world to see. The website details the plants through the seasons, with its constant display of colour. The greenhouse (see photo below) was restored.

We were accompanied on our walk around the grounds by a lovely dog:

Paths have been created which enables wonderful wandering. We spent at least an hour walking around.

A walled garden contains an orchard:

The corners of the walled garden have impressive towers:

This tree below reminds me of the paperbark trees in Western Australia.

Sculptures and garden furniture are studded romantically around the gardens:

I could make out the artist’s name carved in to the leg of one of the rabbits, Kinsella.

Stephen particularly liked this statue, of what we assumed to be a Cavalier – we’re fond of the Cavalier soldiers of Charles II, with their flamboyant outfits.

Stephen spotted this fascinating bird skull on the ground.

Robert and his wife are creating an Arboretum.

Within the demesne is romantic small Hiberno-Romanesque Revival Church of Ireland church, consecrated in 1885 by Archbishop Lord Plunkett, with a Round Tower and a High Cross. Its design derives from the 12th century Temple Finghin at Clonmacnoise on the River Shannon in County Offaly. There is still a service once a month in the church, and it can be booked for weddings and ceremonies. The interior, which unfortunately we did not get to see, has frescoes in Gaelic script, specially chosen by Dr. Douglas Hyde, first President of Ireland and a close family friend of the Wilson-Wrights. We tried to make out the pictures on the stained glass windows, dedicated to various members of the family, which are in the Celtic Revival style. This tiny complex, surrounded by trees and a dry moat, can be seen from the house and avenue. There’s also a small graveyard.

detail of the high cross in the small church yard.

You can see more about the church with information and photographs of the windows on the Coolcarrigan website.

[1] 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.

[2] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Kildare%20Landowners?updated-max=2018-04-07T08:56:00%2B01:00&max-results=20&start=7&by-date=false

[3] http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Coolcarrigan

[4] https://www.irishlifeandlore.com/product/robert-wilson-wright-b-1956/

[5] https://www.thejournal.ie/explainer-irelands-sheriffs-541570-Aug2012/

[6] https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/05/11/daramona/

[7] for more on Dunardagh House, see https://www.youwho.ie/dunardagh.html

[8] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/13400910/currygrane-house-currygrane-county-longford

[9] https://jramc.bmj.com/content/jramc/88/6/250.full.pdf

Tourin House & Gardens, Cappoquin, County Waterford

contact: Kristin Jameson
Tel: 086-8113841
listed website: www.tourin.ie  [1]
Listed open dates in 2021, but check due to Covid restrictions: April 1-Sept 30, Tue-Sat, National Heritage Week Aug 14-22, 1pm-5pm
Fee: house/garden: adult €6, OAP/student €3, child free.

Tourin House.

On Saturday 4th May last year (2019), after visiting Salterbridge, we crossed the Blackwater over an impressive bridge, to visit Tourin House, the house of the other Musgrave brother. As I mentioned in my entry for Salterbridge, Richard Musgrave of Wortley, Yorkshire, settled in Ireland. He had two sons. The elder, Richard, acquired land from the Earl of Cork and built Salterbridge House in about 1750. The younger, Christopher, settled in Tourin. The website states that Richard Musgrave purchased Tourin in 1780 – he was Christopher’s son.

The house we visited is not the house which Christopher lived in. That house still exists, and is known as Tourin Castle and it is part of the estate. This is a tower house that dates from 1450, according to the National Inventory of Architectural History. [2] Before the Musgraves, the land was owned by the Roches, and then the Nettles. The Roches lived in the towerbuilding (the Landed Estates database mentions a “Sir John Roch of Tourin”). They added a later house built at right angles on to the fortress in the 1600’s, where people who worked on the estate later lived, and today it is still occupied by people who work on the estate! The tower itself is unoccupied, and uninhabitable, I believe. John Nettles, originally from Hereford, settled in county Waterford in the mid 17th century. He was granted land in counties Cork and Waterford by patent dated 1666. The Nettles lived at Tourin and Mahallagh, county Waterford and at Beare Forest and Nettleville, county Cork. [3] John Nettles was High Sheriff of County Waterford in 1670. His heir, also named John Nettles, became a Major in the army and was also High Sheriff of County Waterford (1690-1). His son and heir, John Nettles of Tourin, Mahallagh (or Mahillagh) and Beare Forest, Co Cork, passed the properties to his son, John Ryves Nettles, who sold Tourin and Beare Foreste in around 1780. [4]

Tourin Castle.
Tourin Castle.
The house built in the 1600s, onto Tourin Castle.
The view of Tourin Castle from Tourin House.

Tourin Castle is part of the farmyard complex, which we visited after the house.

History of the Musgraves

According to the website of Timothy Ferres [5], Christopher Musgrave, the younger son of Richard Musgrave originally of Yorkshire who moved to Ireland, settled at Tourin and married Susannah, daughter of James Usher, of Ballintaylor. He was succeeded at his decease by his eldest son, Richard Musgrave (1746-1818), who was created a Baronet in 1782. He was Collector of Excise in the port of Dublin, MP for Lismore and sheriff of County Waterford, in 1778. As a political writer, he collected large amounts of information and evidence relating to the 1798 uprising, and published his findings in 1801 as Memoirs of the different rebellions in Ireland from the arrival of the English, with particular detail of that which broke out the 23rd of May, 1798; the history of the conspiracy which preceded it, and the characters of the principal actors in it. Although the work was detailed, Musgrave’s conclusions were sectarian and polemical. [6] He was fiercely anti-Catholic.

He married Deborah, daughter of Sir Henry Cavendish (who was also an MP in the Irish parliament for Lismore), but had no children, so the title devolved to his brother, Christopher Frederick Musgrave (1738-1826), 2nd Baronet, who married, in 1781, Jane, daughter of John Beere, of Ballyboy, County Tipperary. His son by Jane, Richard (1790-1859) was the heir.

The heir, Richard, 3rd Baronet, married Frances, daughter of the Most Rev. William Newcome Lord Archbishop of Armagh. It was Richard the 3rd Baronet who built the new house, Tourin House, in 1840. He also served as a Member of Parliament for County Waterford. His son Richard 4th Baronet, then his son Richard 5th Baronet, inherited. The 5th Baronet had no sons, so his elder daughter, Joan Moira Maud Jameson (née Musgrave) inherited the Tourin estate and her descendants live at Tourin today.

Tourin House

According to the website:

Tourin House is an Italianate style villa with classical proportions, Tourin House was finished in 1841. Tourin is a lived in House where one of the family welcomes groups and will give tours of the House and Garden.

The Musgraves moved from Tourin Castle to their new house built on higher ground. Mark Bence-Jones describes the new house as a square two storey house with an eaved roof on an unusually deep and elaborately moulded bracket cornice, which is echoed by a wide string-course. The entrance front, as you can see in my photograph, has three bays between two end bays, each of which has a one storey projection with a door and pilasters. The four bay garden front has triple windows in both storeys of outer bays, and a single-storey curved bow in the centre (see my photograph below). [7]

The back of Tourin House, with single-storey bow and triple windows at either end, both top and bottom storey.

The Irish Aesthete writes:

when the Musgraves gave up living in the old tower house and its additions at Tourin, County Waterford, they moved into a new residence on higher ground. Dating from the early 1840s the house’s rendered exterior, its design sometimes attributed to local architect Abraham Denny, is relieved by wonderfully crisp limestone used for window and door cases, quoins, pilasters, cornice and stringcourse. [8]

The eldest daughter (Joan Maura Maud) of the fifth Baronet Musgrave inherited Tourin and married Thomas Ormsby Jameson (of the Jameson whiskey family) in 1920. Their son Shane Jameson inherited, and married Didi Wiborg, a Norwegian. Their three daughters then inherited, and now own, the estate.

Ancestor of the current owners of Tourin: John Jameson (1740-1823) who founded the Jameson Distillery at Bow Street, Smithfield. Painting by Henry Raeburn, around 1820, in the National Gallery of Ireland.

We were privileged to meet two of the sisters: Kirsten and Tara. The third, Andrea, an artist, was giving an art class. We were greeted at the door, after we rang the bell, by Rose. She used to live in the gatehouse, and works in the gardens. She gave us an introduction to the house and took our photo in the front hall, and showed us photos of the house as it was before some additions, done, I think, by the current residents’ mother, Didi, who also chose the paint colours for the walls, which are maintained, and planted many of the trees in the garden.

Splendid bifurcating staircase of oak in the front hall.

In the sitting room  we came across one of the sisters, Tara. She was vacuuming. They were in the process of trying to fix one of the curtains, as a fixture had come loose from the wall. To rehang the curtain, the entire pelmet must be taken down – it gives one an idea of how much effort is required to maintain a heritage house. We had a lovely chat about the area. We explained that it’s our first time in the area, and she gave us several recommendations, including Foley’s on the Mall in Lismore, where we consequently decided to go for dinner!

I was disappointed not to be shown the upstairs of Tourin House. The owners were so kind, however. We met Kirsten in the hall and she told us of an art exhibition they’d had in the house, where several artists, including her sister Andrea, had two years to produce a piece in the garden, which were then exhibited in the house. The next exhibition of the group will be in Birr Castle.

We then headed out to the gardens, and to the enormous walled garden. The gardens were laid out at the beginning of the 20th century by Richard Musgrave, with the help of his friend, the Cork brewer Richard Beamish [5]. We were accompanied by an affectionate Red Setter. We learned later that one of the sisters breeds and shows Irish setters, and we met more in their kennels. They are lovely natured dogs.

According to the website:

“A long formal Broad Walk leads from the House to the pleasure grounds and beyond there to the walled garden, which belonged originally to the tower house. Successive generations of the Musgrave and Jameson family (Joan Jameson married Tommy Ormsby Jameson in 1920) have left their mark on the garden. The present owners’ mother, Norwegian born Didi Jameson, was a keen plants woman and the fine collection of trees and shrubs that she planted has now reached maturity.

The Broad Walk leads to the more informal path of the pleasure garden past a colourful array of plants, shrubs and a rock garden to the walled garden, which has supplied the family with fruit and vegetables for generations. Today the Walled Garden is a mix of ornamental and productive planting and is at its best and most colourful in midsummer.

The gardens at Tourin cover over 15 acres including the main garden, walled garden, and extended broad-leaved woodland walks, which lead to the banks of the Blackwater river and Tourin Quay.”

the Rock Garden.

Near the entrance to the walled garden are some farm buildings, one of which holds Andrea’s art studio.

by the entrance to the walled garden, wisteria.
the walled garden, with beautiful irises of many varieties.

At the end of the walled garden we went through a gate and wandered into a breathtaking copse of bluebells.

After the copse of bluebells, we ran into Kirsten out gardening. The sisters maintain the garden, which is often open to the public. She recommended that we walk to the river. We headed back out but her directions were not exact, and we took three wrong paths before heading back onto one we had already traversed! We met a woman walking her dog and she confirmed that we were on the correct path. She was the mother of the man who now lives in the old house next to the tower.

We had been only metres from the river already but had trekked left rather than going over a small hillock to the river! Corrected, we found the Quay of the Blackwater, and indeed it was worth it!

[1] www.tourin.ie 

[2] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/22902916/tourin-castle-tourin-demesne-co-waterford

[3] http://landedestates.nuigalway.ie/LandedEstates/jsp/estate-show.jsp?id=2841

[4] Burke, John. A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland. 

[5] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Waterford%20Landowners

[6] https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/manuscriptsandspecialcollections/learning/biographies/sirrichardmusgrave,1stbaronet(c1755-1818).aspx

[7] 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.

and architectural definitions

[8] https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/06/18/to-new/

The Irish Aesthete’s “to new” title makes sense when we see his previous entry, “From Old,” which discusses the tower: https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/06/15/tourin/