Loughton House, Moneygall, County Offaly

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

Opening dates in 2020: June 9-13, 16-20, 23-27, July 1-4, 7-11, 14-18, 21-25, 28-31, Aug 4-9, 11-30, 11am-4pm.

contact: Michael Lyons and Andrew Vance, 089 431 9150

Fee: adult €5, child €3, OAP/student €4, family ticket €15

www.loughtonhouse.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Loughton House website tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[10] https://loughtonhouse.com/

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moone Abbey House and Tower, Moone, County Kildare

 

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Moone Abbey House

contact: Jenifer Matuschka. Tel: 087-6900138

Listed Opening Dates in 2020 but check due to Covid 19 restrictions: May 1-31, Aug 15-23, Sept 1-30, 12 noon-4pm

Fee: adult €6, OAP/student/child €3

 

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

We had a 3pm appointment with the owner, Jenifer 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.

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

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inside the Abbey

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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a statue in a niche in the concave wall between a wing and the main house

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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.

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inside the Tower House

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Stephen climbs the stairs in the tower

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the ceiling has been carefully made of overlapping slates

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ceiling slates, a corbelled roof. There is such a corbelled roof also inside Newgrange.

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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.

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the pigeon boxes built into the tower

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

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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.

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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