Office of Public Works properties: County Kilkenny, Leinster

Kilkenny:

1. Dunmore Cave, County Kilkenny – site currently closed

2. Jerpoint Abbey, County Kilkenny

3. Kells Priory, County Kilkenny

4. Kilkenny Castle, County Kilkenny

5. St. Mary’s Church, Gowran, County Kilkenny – site currently closed

1. Dunmore Cave, Mothel, Ballyfoyle, Castlecomer Road, County Kilkenny:

General information: 056 776 7726, dunmorecaves@opw.ie

https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/dunmore-cave/

From the OPW website:

Dunmore Cave, not far from Kilkenny town, is a series of limestone chambers formed over millions of years. It contains some of the most impressive calcite formations found in any Irish underground structure.

The cave has been known for many centuries and is first mentioned in the ninth-century Triads of Ireland, where it is referred to as one of the ‘darkest places in Ireland’. The most gruesome reference, however, comes from the Annals of the Four Masters, which tells how the Viking leader Guthfrith of Ivar massacred a thousand people there in AD 928. Archaeological investigation has not reliably confirmed that such a massacre took place, but finds within the cave – including human remains – do indicate Viking activity.

Dunmore is now a show cave, with guided tours that will take you deep into the earth – and even deeper into the past.

2. Jerpoint Abbey, Thomastown, County Kilkenny.

Jerpoint Abbey, May 2016.

General information: 056 772 4623, jerpointabbey@opw.ie

https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/jerpoint-abbey/

From the OPW website:

Founded in the 12th century, Jerpoint Abbey is one of the best examples of a medieval Cistercian Abbey in Ireland. The architectural styles within the church, constructed in the late twelfth century, reflect the transition from Romanesque to Gothic architecture. The tower and cloister date to the fifteenth century.

Jerpoint is renowned for its detailed stone sculptures found throughout the monastery. Dating from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries these include mensa [table] tombs from the O’Tunney school, an exquisite incised depiction of two 13th century knights, the decorated cloister arcades along with other effigies and memorials. 

Children can explore the abbey with a treasure hunt available in the nearby visitor centre. Search the abbey to discover saints, patrons, knights, exotic animals and mythological creatures.

A small but informative visitor centre houses an excellent exhibition.

3. Kells Priory, Kells, County Kilkenny:

General information: 056 772 4623, jerpointabbey@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

Kells Priory owes its foundation to the Anglo-Norman consolidation of Leinster. Founded by Geoffrey FitzRobert, a household knight and trusted companion of William Marshal the priory was one element of Geoffrey’s establishment of the medieval town of Kells. 

Although founded in c. 1193 extensive remains exist today which include a nave, chancel, lady chapel, cloister and associated builds plus the remains of the priory’s infirmary, workshop, kitchen, bread oven and mill. The existence of the medieval defences, surrounding the entire precinct, underline the military aspect of the site and inspired the priory’s local name, the ‘Seven Castles of Kells’.

4. Kilkenny Castle, County Kilkenny:

Kilkenny Castle, photograph by macmillan media 2016 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. It sits on the banks of the River Nore. [1]

General information: 056 770 4100, kilkennycastleinfo@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

Built in the twelfth century, Kilkenny Castle was the principal seat of the Butlers, earls, marquesses and dukes of Ormond for almost 600 years. Under the powerful Butler family, Kilkenny grew into a thriving and vibrant city. Its lively atmosphere can still be felt today.

The castle, set in extensive parkland, was remodelled in Victorian times. It was formally taken over by the Irish State in 1969 and since then has undergone ambitious restoration works. It now welcomes thousands of visitors a year.

Kilkenny Castle, photograph by unknown 2014 for Failte Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 1]

Kilkenny Castle has been standing for over eight hundred years, dominating Kilkenny City and the South East of Ireland. Originally built in the 13th century by William Marshall, 4th Earl of Pembroke, as a symbol of Norman control, Kilkenny Castle came to symbolise the fortunes of the powerful Butlers of Ormonde for over six hundred years. [2]

In 1967 James Arthur Norman Butler (1893-1971), 6th Marquess and 24th Earl of Ormonde sold the Castle to the Kilkenny Castle Restoration Committee for £50. Two years later it went into state ownership.

William Marshall (about 1146-1219) was married to the daughter of “Strongbow” Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke. With the marriage, he gained land and eventually, the title, Earl of Pembroke. The daughter of Strongbow, Isabel, inherited the title of 4th Countess of Pembroke “suo jure” i.e. herself (her brother, who died a minor, was the 3rd Earl). Hence William Marshall became the 4th Earl through his wife, but then then was created the 1st Earl of Pembroke himself ten years after their marriage. They seem to have settled in Ireland and created place for themselves, beginning with setting up the town of New Ross and then restoring Kilkenny town and castle – a castle had pre-dated them, according to the Kilkenny Castle website. It tells us that the present-day castle is based on the stone fortress that Marshall designed, comprising an irregular rectangular fortress with a drum-shaped tower at each corner. Three of these towers survive to this day.

Kilkenny Castle, photograph by Mark Wesley 2016 for Failte Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 1]
Kilkenny Castle, photograph by Finn Richards, 2015 for Failte Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 1]

By 1200, Kilkenny was the capital of Norman Leinster and New Ross was its principal port. The Marshalls also founded the Cistercian abbeys at Tintern in County Wexford and Duiske in Graiguenamanagh, County Kilkenny, as well as the castles at Ferns and Enniscorthy. He died and was buried in England. [3]

In 1317, the de Clare family sold the Kilkenny castle to Hugh Despenser. The Despensers were absentee landlords. In 1391 the Despensers sold the castle to James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormond, 9th Chief Butler of Ireland (1360–1405). The first Butler to come to Ireland was Theobald Walter Le Botiller or Butler, 1st Baron Butler, 1st Chief Butler of Ireland (1165–1206). He was called “Le Botiller” because he received the monopoly of the taxes on wines being imported into Ireland (which The Peerage website tells us was eventually purchased back by the Crown from the Marquess of Ormonde for £216,000 in 1811.)

The Butlers were an important family in Ireland. They fought for the king in France and Scotland, and held positions of power, including Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the monarch’s representative in Ireland.

The castle now forms a “u” shape, because in the time of Oliver Cromwell’s invasion, the fourth wall fell.[4] After the Restoration of 1660, there was a major rebuilding of the old castle. In 1826, another remodelling of the castle began. In 1935, the Butler family held a great auction, selling all of the castle’s furnishings.

Kilkenny Castle, photograph by unknown 2014 for Failte Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 1]

Thomas Butler the 7th Earl of Ormond (d. 1515) lacked a male heir, and on his death, the Earldom was contested between Sir Piers Butler and his grandchildren led by Sir Thomas Boleyn. Thomas was favoured by King Henry VIII when Henry married his daughter Anne Boleyn. Piers Butler (1467-1539) was a descendant of the 3rd Earl of Ormond. Piers relinquished the claim to the title Earl of Ormond to Boleyn and was created Earl of Ossory by Henry VIII. The lands of the 7th Earl were divided between both parties. After a rapid escalation of disputes with rural Fitzgeralds and Boleyns, Piers regained his position and was recognised Earl of Ormond in February 1538.

The Crown hoped Piers would improve the Crown’s grip over southern Ireland. Piers the 8th Earl of Ormond gained much from Crown, including suppressed monasteries. He married Margaret Fitzgerald, daughter of Gerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, in marriage arranged for the purpose of ending the long-standing rivalry between the two families. They lived in Kilkenny Castle and greatly improved it. Margaret urged Piers to bring over skilled weavers from Flanders and she helped establish industries for the production of carpets, tapestries and cloth. Margaret and her husband commissioned significant additions to the castles of Granagh and Ormond. They also rebuilt Gowran Castle, which had been originally constructed in 1385 by James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormond.

Kilkenny Castle, photograph by Roselinde Bon 2016 for Failte Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 1]

The 10th Earl of Ormond, “Black Tom,” had no direct heir so the Earldom passed to his nephew, Walter, a son of Sir John Butler of Kilcash. Unlike his uncle, who had been raised at Court and thus reared a Protestant, Walter the 11th Earl of Ormond was a Catholic. See my entry about the Ormond Castle at Carrick-on-Suir for more on “Black Tom.” https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/06/26/opw-sites-in-munster-clare-limerick-and-tipperary/

Walter Butler’s claim to the family estates was blocked by James I. The latter orchestrated the marriage of Black Tom’s daughter and heiress Elizabeth to a Scottish favourite Richard Preston, Baron Dingwall. The King gave Preston the title Earl of Desmond (after the Fitzgeralds lost the title, due to their Desmond Rebellion, and awarded his wife most of the Ormond estate, thus depriving Walter of his inheritance. Walter refused to submit and was imprisoned for eight years in the Fleet, London. He was released 1625. Walter’s nine-year-old grandson, James, became the heir to the titles but not the estates.

James Butler (1610-88) 12th Earl of Ormond (later 1st Duke of Ormond) was the eldest son of Thomas Butler, Viscount Thurles, and his wife Elizabeth Poyntz. Following his father’s death in 1619, 9-year-old James became direct heir to the Ormond titles. He was made a royal ward and was educated at Lambeth Palace under the tutelage of George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury.

In order to reunite the Ormond title with the estates, plans were made for a marriage between James and the daughter of the Prestons, Elizabeth, to resolve the inheritance issue. In 1629 James married his cousin Elizabeth Preston and reunited the Ormond estates.

James Butler 1st Duke of Ormond painted by John Michael Wright (1617-1694), and in centre, Elizabeth Poyntz (1588-1673), mother of the 1st Duke of Ormond, painted by John Michael Wright, and Elizabeth Preston (1615-1684), wife of the 1st Duke of Ormond, with her son Thomas, who became the 6th Earl of Ossory.

James succeeded to the Ormond titles in 1633 on the death of his grandfather, Walter Butler, 11th Earl of Ormond.

The website tells us: “A staunch royalist, Ormond was appointed commander-in-chief of the army in Ireland in 1641. He served his first term of three as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1648 to 1650.  Following the defeat of the royalists in Ireland, Ormond went to exile and spent most of the years 1649 to 1660 abroad, moving about Europe with the exiled court of Charles II. After the restoration of the monarchy in England, Ormond was rewarded with a dukedom and several high offices by a grateful king. Though he enjoyed the king’s favour, Ormond had enemies at court and as a result of the machinations of the Cabal, which included powerful figures such as the Earl of Shaftesbury, he was dismissed from his post as Lord Lieutenant in 1669. When he was raised to a dukedom in the English peerage in 1682, Ormond left Ireland to reside in England. During his last term as Lord Lieutenant (1677-85), he played a major role in the planning and founding of the Royal Hospital for old soldiers at Kilmainham, near Dublin. The last decade of his life was marked by tragedy: all three of his sons and his wife died during that time. He died at his residence at Kingston Lacy in Dorset was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Note that the “Cabal” was the term used to refer to the clique around the king. The term comes from an acronym of their names, Sir Thomas Clifford 1st Baron Clifford, Henry Benet 1st Earl of Arlington, George Villiers 2nd Duke of Buckingham, Anthony Ashley Cooper, Lord Ashley 1st Earl of Shaftesbury and John Maitland, 1st Duke and 2nd Earl of Lauderdale.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20181014_151119.jpeg
James Butler 1st Duke of Ormond, Viceroy 1703-1707 and 1710-1713. Artist: Sir Peter Lely (1618-1680). He is wearing robes of the Order of the Garter and holds the wand of office of Lord Steward of the Household in his right hand.

The 1st Duke of Ormond carried out improvements to the castle. Mark Bence-Jones describes:

The Great Duke transformed the castle from a medieval fortress into a pleasant country house, rather like the chateau or schloss of contemporary European princeling; with high-pitched roofs and cupolas surmounted by vanes and gilded ducal coronets on the old round towers. Outworks gave place to gardens with terraces, a “waterhouse” a fountain probably carved by William de Keyser, and statues copied from those in Charles II’s Privy Gardens. The Duchess seems to have been the prime mover in the work, in which William (afterwards Sir William) Robinson, Surveyor-General and architect of the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, was probably involved, supervising the construction of the Presence Chamber 1679. Robinson is also believed to have designed the magnificent entrance gateway of Portland and Caen stone with a pediment, Corinthian pilasters and swags which the second Duke erected on the street front of the castle ca 1709. Not much else was done to the castle in C18, for the Ormondes suffered a period of eclipse following the attainder and exile of the 2nd Duke, who became a Jacobite after the accession of George I.” [5]

Kilkenny Castle, photograph by unknown 2014 for Failte Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 1] The National Inventory describes: Random rubble stone walls with sections of limestone ashlar construction (including to breakfront having full-height Corinthian pilasters flanking round-headed recessed niches with sills, moulded surrounds having keystones, decorative frieze having swags, moulded course, modillion cornice, and blocking course with moulded surround to pediment having modillions), and limestone ashlar dressings including battlemented parapets (some having inscribed details) on corbel tables. The classical frontispiece was designed for James Butler, Second Duke of Ormonde possibly to designs prepared by Sir William Robinson. 

You can take an online tour of the castle on the website https://kilkennycastle.ie/about/explore-the-castle-new/

Photograph courtesy of Kilkenny Castle website, Entrance Hall.

The website tells us that there has been an entrance hall here at least since the 17th century rebuilding of the castle. The north doorway through the massive curtain wall was remodelled on two occasions in the 19th century. The black and white stone floor is laid with Kilkenny Black Marble and local sandstone, laid in the 19th century.

Photograph courtesy of Kilkenny Castle website, The Grand Staircase.

This 19th century mahogany staircase was designed and made by the local firm of Furniss & Son, Kilkenny and leads to the Tapestry Room and first floor. The use of mahogany in domestic furniture, which is so synonymous with the Grand House, is virtually unknown before the 18th century. Most of the wood imported came from the Jamaican Plantations which were cleared in order to plant sugar cane and cotton. During the 19th century this staircase was hung with several beautiful tapestries from the Decius Mus suite, some of which are now housed in the Tapestry Room.

The Tapestry Room in the North Tower shows how the medieval castle was transformed in the 17th century to become a magnificent baroque ducal palace. This room was called the Great Chamber in the 17th century and the walls were decorated with embossed and gilded leather hangings on the walls; a fragment of a late 17th/ early 18th century leather has been hung beside the door to give an impression of how rich the room must have been. In the 18th century, they were replaced by a set of tapestries.

Tapestry Room, in the North Tower. There are two tapestries from the “Decius” suite in the Tapestry room: The obsequies of Decius Mus. The Story of ‘Decius Mus’ is a heroic tale of a Roman Consul who foretold his own death at the Battle of Veseris (Vesuvius) in the Latin War (340BC). The tapestries are attributed to the workshop of Jan Raes, after designs by Sir Peter Paul Rubens. The ‘Decius’ suite had been in the ownership of the Ormonde family for over 300 years and was displayed in several of their residences before being acquired by OPW for display in Kilkenny Castle. Tapestries were an important feature of the interior decoration of large houses in Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries and helped provide interior interest, warmth, and colour. You can read more about these tapestries on the Kilkenny Castle website.
Tapestry Room, in the North Tower: Desius Mus and Manlius Torquatus leave to fight the Latins.
The 12 foot thick walls of the Tapestry Room in the North Tower.

The ground floor also contains the State Dining Room. The website tells us that this was the formal dining room in the 1860’s. Historic evidence shows that this room was hung in the late 19th century with a red flock paper when it was a billiard room. The strong blue on the walls echoes the colour in the original 19th century-stained glass windows and provides a backdrop for the Langrishe family portraits, which originated in Knocktopher Abbey, Kilkenny, and are now in the care of the State. Most large estate houses would have had both a formal and informal Dining Room. The collection of silverware contains some pieces from the original 18th century collection, purchased by Walter Butler, the 18th Earl after his marriage to the wealthy heiress Anna Maria Price Clarke.

Photograph courtesy of Kilkenny Castle website, The State Dining Room.

From the website: “Today the first floor space is occupied by three rooms: Anteroom, Library and Drawing Room, as it was in the 19th century. The processional lay out of the rooms, each opening into the next is characteristic of the Baroque style of the 17th century and was know as an ‘enfilade’ suite of rooms. Baroque protocol dictated that visitors of lower rank than their host would be escorted by servants down the enfilade to the nearest room that their status allowed. In the 16th and 17th century the State Rooms were situated on this floor. 17th century history records that it was in these state apartments that James Butler 1st Duke of Ormonde received the Papal Nuncio Giovanni Battista Rinuccini during the Irish Confederate Wars of that century. An Anteroom was a small room used as a waiting room, that leads into a larger and more important room. The Anteroom and the room below,  today the Serving Room, were constructed in the area where an earlier stone staircase was situated.” The anteroom features a reproduction poplin wallpaper and bronze figurines in niches.

The Ante Room.

The anteroom leads to the library. “The interior decoration is a faithful recreation of the furnishing style of the mid to late 19th century. Thanks to a salvaged fabric remnant found behind a skirting board, it was possible to commission the French silk poplin on the walls in its original pattern and colour from the firm of Prelle in Lyons in France. The claret silk damask curtains are also based on the originals were made in Ireland. One of the nine massive curtain pelmets is original and an Irish firm of Master Gilders faithfully reproduced matching gilt reproductions. The bookcases were also reproduced based on one original bookcase acquired by the OPW in the 1980s, this original with its 19th century glass stands in the right end corner of the library. The matching pair of pier mirrors over the mantelpieces was conserved and re gilded.”

The Library. Photograph courtesy of Kilkenny Castle website.

The Drawing Room is typically the room in a house where guests and visitors are entertained. Drawing rooms were previously known as ‘withdrawing rooms’ or ‘withdrawing chambers’ which originated in sixteenth century.

The fabrics in this room are vintage glazed and block printed English and French chintzes and have been chosen to recreate the style of the rooms as they appeared in the 19th century family photographs. The Drawing Room picture hang reflects the Edward Ledwich description in his 1789 “Antiquities of Ireland!” when this room was the Presence Chamber or Alcove.

The Drawing Room, courtesy of Kilkenny Castle website.

The 1st Duke of Ormond had three sons: Thomas (1634-1680), 6th Earl of Ossory; Richard (1639-1686), 1st and last Earl of Arran; and John (1634-1677), 1st and last Earl of Gowran. He had two daughters, Elizabeth (1640-1665) and Mary (1646-1710). Mary married William Cavendish, 1st Duke of Devonshire and Elizabeth, the 2nd Earl of Chesterfield.

Thomas Butler (1634-1682) 6th Earl of Ossory was the father of the 2nd Duke of Ormond. Thomas was a soldier and Naval Commander, known as ‘Gallant Ossory’. Born at Kilkenny Castle in 1634, his childhood was spent at Kilkenny until he went with his father and brother Richard to England in 1647. They then went to France, where he was educated at Caen and Paris at Monsieur de Camps’ Academy. In Holland he married Amelia of Nassau, daughter of Lodewyk van Nassau, Heer van Beverweerd, a natural son of Prince Maurice of Nassau. He was a witness when James, Duke of York (later King James II) secretly married Anne Hyde in 1660.

Thomas enjoyed the favour and support of both King Charles II and his queen. Because of his wife’s Dutch connections he was frequently sent on royal missions to Holland. In 1670 he conducted William of Orange to England. John Evelyn, the diarist, was a close friend and referred to him as ‘a good natured, generous and perfectly obliging friend’. He died suddenly in 1680, possibly from food poisoning, at Arlington House in London. He was buried in Westminster Abbey

Top left: James Butler 2nd Duke of Ormonde (1665-1745), Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, son of Thomas Butler, Earl of Ossory. First married Anne Hyde and then Mary Somerset; below him, Mary Somerset (1665-1733), daughter of the Duke of Beaufort. In middle, Thomas Butler (1634-1680), Earl of Ossory, second son of the Duke and Duchess of Ormond and father of 2nd Duke of Ormonde. Mary Somerset’s father top right, Henry Somerset (1629-1700), 1st Duke of Beaufort; below Anne Hyde (1669-1685), the 2nd Duke’s first wife, daughter of Lawrence Hyde, 1st Earl of Rochester, artist: William Wissing (1656-87).

James Butler (1665-1745) 2nd Duke of Ormonde [the final ‘e’ was added to the name around this time] was the eldest surviving son of Thomas Butler 6th Earl of Ossory. Following his father’s death in 1680, James became the heir to his grandfather, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond, whom he succeeded in 1688.

Following his involvement in a Jacobite rising, a Bill of Attainder was passed against the 2nd Duke of Ormonde. His English and Scottish honours and his English estates were seized. Ormonde fled to France. He lived out his life in exile, and died at Avignon in France. Despite this, he was buried in 1746 in Westminster Abbey.

James the 2nd Duke had no son, so the title passed to his brother Charles Butler (1671-1758). He was enabled by an Act of Parliament in 1721 to recover his brother’s forfeited estates, but the dukedom ended with him. He was, however, also the 14th Earl of Ormonde and this title continued. He had no children, however, so the title passed to a cousin.

Christopher Butler (d. 1758?), Catholic archbishop of Cashel and Emly, son of Walter Butler of Garryricken and brother of Colonel Thomas Butler of Kilcash, portrait by James Latham (1696-1747); Charles Butler (1671-1758) 2nd Earl of Arran, youngest son of Thomas Butler Earl of Ossory and brother of the 2nd Duke of Ormonde; Colonel Thomas Butler of Kilcash (d. 1738) by James Latham. He was the son of Walter Butler and Garryricken and Mary Plunket. He inherited Kilcash from his grandfather Richard, youngest brother of the Duke of Ormond. His wife was Margaret Burke. Portrait attributed to Hans Hysing (1678-1753).

Richard Butler (d. 1701) of Kilcash, County Tipperary was a younger brother of James the 1st Duke of Ormond. There is a castle ruin still in Kilcash, under the protection of the Office of Public Works but not open to the public. His son was Walter Butler of Garryricken (1633-1700). Pictured above are this Walter’s sons Christopher (the Catholic Archbishop) and Thomas (d. 1738).

Walter’s son Thomas (d. 1738) inherited Kilcash from his grandfather Richard Butler (d. 1701) of Kilcash. A Colonel of a Regiment of Foot in the army of King James II, Walter married Margaret Bourke, daughter of William, 7th Earl of Clanricarde, and widow of 5th Viscount Iveagh. It was their son John (d. 1766) who succeeded to the Ormonde titles as 15th Earl of Ormonde in 1758. 

The 15th Earl had no children so the title then passed to a cousin, Walter Butler (1703-1783), another of the Garryricken branch, who also became the 9th Earl of Ossory. He took up residence at Kilkenny Castle. Walter, a Catholic, was unable to exercise a political role. He undertook the restoration of the Castle, decorating some of the rooms with simple late eighteenth century plasterwork, and also built the stable block across the road from the Castle, today the Design Centre and National Craft Centre (also a Section 482 property). He also built the Dower House, now a hotel called Butler House.

He married Eleanor Morres (1711-1793), the daughter of Nicholas Morres of Seapark Court, Co. Dublin, and of Lateragh, Co. Tipperary. After Walter’s death in 1783, she moved  into the Dower House.

Their son John (1740-1795) became known as “Jack of the Castle” and was the 17th Earl. Jack’s sister Susannah married Thomas Kavanagh of Borris House in County Carlow (see my entry about Borris House). Jack married Anne Wandesford, pictured below.

John Wandesford (1725-1784), Earl of Wandesford, father of Anne; below, Susan Frances Elizabeth (Anne) Wandesford (1754-1830), Countess of Ormonde, wife of 17th Earl of Ormonde and mother of 18th Earl, Artist: Hugh Douglas Hamilton (1739-1808); Landscape with Waterfall from the Italian school of 18th century and below, Before the Hunt. To right, Gilbert Clarke (d. 1725), by Sir Godffrey Kneller (1646-1723) and below, possibly Susanna nee Boun, wife of Gilbert Clarke.

Their son Walter (1770-1820) became the 18th Earl and 1st Marquess of Ormonde. He had no sons so his brother James Wandesford Butler (1777-1838) inherited the title of 19th Earl. He became one of the largest landowners in Ireland with an estate worth more than £20,000 a year. He was recreated 1st Marquess of Ormonde in 1825 and officiated as Chief Butler of Ireland at the Coronation of George IV. He married Grace Louisa Staples in 1807, they had ten children.

The Chinese Withdrawing Room. On the walls are remnants of hand painted Chinese wallpaper original to the room with monochrome infill carried out by the studio of David Skinner. This delicate paper was probably ordered as part of the redecorations done to the castle by the 18th Earl, Walter Butler. During the 19th century ladies withdrew here from the dining room leaving the men to enjoy their port and cigars after dinner, as was the social convention.
The Chinese Withdrawing Room. A tulipiére is an ornate vessel in which to grow tulips. They are typically constructed to accommodate one bulb per spout with a larger common water reservoir base. It is usually made of hand crafted pottery, classically delftware. This tulipiére was hand-made in Delft in 2009 as a one off.

James Wandesford Butler the 19th Earl and 1st Marquess undertook more renovations. Mark Bence-Jones describes:

Ca. 1826, the Kilkenny architect, William Robertson, when walking in the castle courtyard with the Lady Ormonde of the day, noticed that a main wall was out of true and consequently unsafe. One suspects it may have been wishful thinking on his part, for it landed him the commission to rebuild the castle, which he did so thoroughly that virtually nothing remains from before his time except for the three old towers, the outer walls and – fortunately – the 2nd Duke’s gateway. Apart from the latter, the exterior of the castle became uncompromisingly C19 feudal; all the 1st Duke’s charming features being swept away. Robertson also replaced one of two missing sides of the courtyard with a new wing containing an immense picture gallery; the original gallery, on the top floor of the principal range, having been divided into bedrooms. Robertson left the interior of the castle extremely dull, with plain or monotonously ribbed ceilings and unvarying Louis Quinze style chimneypieces.

William Robertson also designed a Section 482 property which I have yet to visit, Lismacue in County Tipperary.

Kilkenny Castle, photograph by Chris Hill 2014 for Failte Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 1] The National inventory describes the newer wing: Renovated, 1858-62, with eight-bay two-storey range to north-east reconstructed having canted oriel windows to first floor, and pair of single-bay single-stage corner turrets on octagonal plans
Kilkenny Castle, photograph by me in May 2018.
The Chinese Bedroom is connected to the blue bedroom by double doors [these are on the second floor]. This bedroom is decorated with a modern reproduction of a hand painted Chinese wallpaper, part of the Chinoiserie theme of the room. The wallpaper was based on a design from Lissan House in County Tyrone, owned by the Staples family, Grace Louisa Staples became Marchioness of Ormonde when she married James Butler, 19th Earl, 1st Marquess of Ormonde in 1807.

The 1st Marquess died in Dublin in 1838 and was succeeded by his eldest son John Butler (1808-1854), 2nd Marquess, 20th Earl of Ormonde, Earl of Ossory and Viscount Thurles, Baron Ormonde of Lanthony, Chief Butler of Ireland (see his portrait below).

John Butler (1808-1854), 2nd Marquess of the 3rd creation, 20th Earl of Ormonde, Earl of Ossory and Viscount Thurles, Baron Ormonde of Lanthony, Chief Butler of Ireland. He died while bathing; Frances Jane Paget in middle (1817-1903), with her son James, Earl of Ossory. She was the daughter of General E. Paget and niece of Field Marshal Henry William Paget, 1st Marquis of Anglesey, and wife of 2nd Marquess of Ormonde. Following the death of her husband, she managed the Ormonde estates and continued the rebuilding of Kilkenny Castle.  On top of the three,  over her father and uncle, is France Jane Paget again, with her dog. Below is her father General the Honourable Edward Paget (1775-1849), soldier and Governor of Ceylon. He was second in command under the Duke of Wellington in the Napoleonic Wards. He lost his right arm in Spain. Below him is Field Marshall Henry William Paget (1768-1854), 1st Marquis of Anglesey, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, brother of Edward, above.

John the 2nd Marquess travelled extensively. His journals (now in National Library of Ireland) record his many journeys across  Europe to Italy and Sicily. He published an account of his travels, Autumn in Sicily, and he also wrote an account of the life of St. Canice. He married Frances Jane Paget in 1843. He continued the work of rebuilding Kilkenny castle that was started by his father. His journals show him to have a deep interest in art, and there are careful descriptions of several of the great galleries in Italy to be found in his writing. Although he continued to write in his journals during the years 1847 to 1850, no mention of the Irish famine is made. He died while bathing in the sea near Loftus hall on Hook Head, Co. Wexford. A marble tomb was erected in his memory in St. Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny.

The son of the 2nd Marquess, James Edward William Theobald Butler became the 3rd Marquess in 1854. It was during his time that changes were made to the rather plain picture gallery block created by William Robertson. Robertston’s Picture Gallery, in keeping with his work on the rest of the castle, was in a Castellated Baronial style. Initially the gallery was built with a flat roof that had begun to cause problems shortly after its completion. The distinguished architectural firm of Deane and Woodward was called in during the 1860s to make changes to the overall design of the Picture Gallery block, and other corrections to Robertson’s work. These changes included the insertions of four oriels in the west wall and the blocking up of the eight windows, while another oriel added to the east wall.

The Moorish Staircase: Created by the architects Woodward & Deane to allow better access to the Picture Gallery and provide another staircase in this awkwardly shaped building. It is a rising half-turn stairs around a sky-lit well. Charles Harrison (1835-1903), the stone carver, is credited with the carved naturalistic foliage and small animals which adorn the stairs.

The magnificent Picture Gallery is situated in the east wing of Kilkenny Castle.This stunning space dates from the 19th century and was built primarily to house the Butler Family’s fine collection of paintings.

From the website: “… The entire ceiling was hand painted by John Hungerford Pollen (1820-1902), then Professor of Fine Arts at Newman College, Dublin, using a combination of motifs ranging from the quasi-medieval to the pre-Raphaelite, with interlace, gilded animal and bird heads on the cross beam.

The Marble Fireplace is made of Carrara marble and was designed by J. H. Pollen also in a quasi-medieval style. It was supplied by the firm of Ballyntyne of Dorset Street, Dublin. Foliage carving attributed to Charles Harrison covers the chimneypiece and a frieze beneath is decorated with seven panels, showing the family coat of arms and significant episodes from the family’s long history. Starting on the left, the first panel shows the buying the castle by the first Earl of Ormond in 1391 from the Despenser family – money changing hands is shown. The second panel depicts Theobald Fitzwalter acting as Chief Butler to the newly crowned King of England highlighting their ancient royal privilege and upon which their surname of Butler is based. On the third panel, you see King Richard the Second acting as godfather for one of the infants of the Butler family in 1391. The centrepiece is the family crest which can also be seen over the arch and gateway, with the family motto “comme je trouve”- “as I find”, as well as the heraldic shield guarded, the falcon, the griffin (a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle) and the ducal coronet. In the fifth panel, the 1st Duke of Ormond can be seen entering the Irish House of Lords still bearing his sword. Indeed, he refused to hand his weapon over as were the protocols in case it was used inside during an argument; this became known as The Act of Defiance. The sixth panel next to this symbolizes the charity of the Butler family showing Lady Ormonde giving alms to the poor. Finally, the sixth and last panel portrays the First Duke of Ormond’s triumphant return to Dublin from exile on the Restoration of Charles the Second in 1662, when he also established the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham and founded the Phoenix Park.”

From the Poole photographic collection, National Library of Ireland. Royal visitors to the Picture Gallery of Kilkenny Castle: the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary with James Butler the 3rd Marquess of Ormond and his wife Elizabeth Grosvenor, also Two other Ormondes (likely the Marquess’ daughter & brother), Marshal & Lady Roberts (Frederick Roberts & Nora Bews), 4th Viscount & Viscountess De Vesci (John Vesey & Evelyn Charteris), Lady Eva Dugdale (later Lady of the Bedchamber), Earl of Ava (Hamilton-Temple-Blackwood d.1900), Sir Charles Leopold Cust (baronet), Sir Francis De Winton, Mr J. T Seigne JP (officer of Ormonde’s estate – we came across him when we visited Kilfane, as he lived in the house there), and “Mr Moncrieffe” 

The 3rd Marquess’s brother James Arthur Wellington Foley Butler (1849-1943) became 4th Marquess (and 22nd Earl) of Ormonde in 1919. He was educated at Harrow and joined the army becoming a lieutenant in the 1st Life Guards. He was state steward to the Earl of Carnarvon when Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1887 he married Ellen Stager, daughter of American General Anson Stager.

The Nursery. Boys were usually sent away to boarding school in England at a young age. The Butlers traditionally sent their sons to Harrow. Girls however generally received less formal education at home including sewing, drawing, etiquette and instruction on running a household. 

As I mentioned earlier, it was James Arthur Norman Butler (1893-1971), 6th Marquess and 24th Earl of Ormonde, youngest son of James Arthur, 4th Marquess of Ormonde, who in 1967 sold the Castle.

Mark Bence-Jones tells us that the interior was largely redecorated and wood-carvings in the manner of Grinling Gibbons were introduced into some of the family rooms in the South Tower after the castle suffered damage 1922 during the Civil War, when, having been occupied by one side, it was attacked and captured by the other; the Earl of Ossory (afterwards 9th Marquess) and his wife being in residence at the time. In 1935 the Ormondes ceased to live in the castle, which for the next thirty years stood empty and deteriorating. It is now a wonderful place to visit, and has fifty acres of rolling parkland, a terraced rose garden, playground, tearoom and man-made lake, for visitors to enjoy.

5. St. Mary’s Church, Gowran, County Kilkenny:

General information: 056 772 6894, breda.lynch@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

This church was built in the late thirteenth century as a collegiate church and was served by a college – clerics who lived in a community but did not submit to the rule of a monastery. 

The church was patronised by the Butler family and many early family members are commemorated here with elaborate medieval tombs. The impressive ruins were decorated by the Gowran Master whose stone carvings are immortalised in the poetry of Nobel Laureate Séamus Heaney. 

The once medieval church was later partly reconstructed in the early 19th century and functioned as a Church of Ireland church until the 1970’s when it was gifted to the State as a National Monument. Today the restored part of the church preserves a collection of monuments dating from the 5th to the 20th centuries.

[1] https://www.irelandscontentpool.com

[2] https://kilkennycastle.ie/about/explore-the-castle-new/

[3] https://kilkennycastle.ie/about/characters-of-kilkenny-castle/

[4] http://www.stevenroyedwards.com/kilkennycastle-timeline.html

[5] p. 167. 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.

Office of Public Works properties: Leinster: Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Wexford, Wicklow

Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow are the counties that make up the Leinster region.

I have noticed that an inordinate amount of OPW sites are closed ever since Covid restrictions, if not even before that (as in Emo, which seems to be perpetually closed) [these sites are marked in orange here]. I must write to our Minister for Culture and Heritage to complain.

Laois:

1. Emo Court, County Laois – house closed at present

2. Heywood Gardens, County Laois

Longford:

3. Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre, County Longford

Louth:

4. Carlingford Castle, County Louth

5. Old Mellifont Abbey, County Louth – closed at present

Meath:

6. Battle of the Boyne site, Oldbridge House, County Meath

7. Hill of Tara, County Meath

8. Loughcrew Cairns, County Meath – guides on site from June 16th 2022

9. Newgrange, County Meath

10. Trim Castle, County Meath

Offaly:

11. Clonmacnoise, County Offaly

Westmeath:

12. Fore Abbey in County Westmeath

Wexford:

13. Ballyhack Castle, County Wexford – closed at present

14. Ferns Castle, County Wexford – closed at present

15. John F. Kennedy Arboretum, County Wexford

16. Tintern Abbey, County Wexford

Wicklow:

17. Dwyer McAllister Cottage, County Wicklow – closed at present

18. Glendalough, County Wicklow

19. National Botanic Gardens Kilmacurragh, County Wicklow

Laois:

1. Emo Court, County Laois:

Emo, County Laois, June 2021. Unfortunately the stone lions which flank the front steps, carved by Richard Carter of Cork in 1854, were in boxes on the day we visited. [1]

General enquiries: 057 862 6573, emocourt@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/emo-court/:

Emo Court is a quintessential neo-classical mansion, set in the midst of the ancient Slieve Bloom Mountains. The famous architect James Gandon, fresh from his work on the Custom House and the Four Courts in Dublin, set to work on Emo Court in 1790. However, the building that stands now was not completed until some 70 years later [with work by Lewis Vulliamy, a fashionable London architect, who had worked on the Dorchester Hotel in London and Arthur & John Williamson, from Dublin, and later, William Caldbeck].

The estate was home to the earls of Portarlington until the War of Independence forced them to abandon Ireland for good. The Jesuits moved in some years later [1920] and, as the Novitiate of the Irish Province, the mansion played host to some 500 of the order’s trainees.

Major Cholmeley-Harrison took over Emo Court in the 1960s and fully restored it [to designs by Sir Albert Richardson]. He opened the beautiful gardens and parkland to the public before finally presenting the entire estate to the people of Ireland in 1994.

You can now enjoy a tour of the house before relaxing in its charming tearoom. The gardens are a model of neo-classical landscape design, with formal lawns, a lake and woodland walks just waiting to be explored.” [2]

The entrance front has seven bay centre with a giant pedimented Ionic portico. Andrew Tierney tells us that the portico was changed in 1822 from Gandon’s Doric order to a pedimented tetrastyle Ionic portico by the Dublin architects Arthur and John Williamson. [see 1]
The view from the front of the house. The 3rd Earl of Portarlington planted the long avenue of Wellingtonia trees.

Mark Bence-Jones tells us that the 1st Earl of Portarlington was interested in architecture and was instrumental in bringing James Gandon to Ireland, in order to build the new Custom House. The name Emo is an Italianised version of the original Irish name of the estate, Imoe. [3]

The Emo Court website tells us of the history:

John Dawson, 1st Earl of Portarlington [1744-1798] commissioned the building of Emo Court in 1790 although the house was not finally completed until 1870, eighty years later. Emo Court is one of only a few private country houses designed by the architect James Gandon. Others were Abbeyville, north Co. Dublin for Sir James Beresford [or is it John Beresford (1738-1805)? later famous for being the home of politician Charles Haughey] and Sandymount Park, Dublin for William Ashford. In addition, Gandon built himself a house at Canonbrook, Lucan, Co. Dublin.” [4]

Many of Gandon’s original drawings, plus those of his successors, are currently on display in the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin. [5] The Emo Court website continues:

James Gandon was born in London of Huguenot descent. He studied classics, mathematics and drawing, attending evening classes at Shipley’s Academy in London. At the age of fifteen, James was apprenticed to the architect Sir William Chambers and about eight years later, set up in business on his own. His first connection with Ireland was in 1769 when he won the second prize of £60 in a competition to design the Royal Exchange in Dublin, now the City Hall. He was invited to build in St Petersburg, Russia, by Princess Dashkov, and offered an official post with military rank. However, he chose instead to accept an offer from Sir John Beresford and John Dawson, Lord Carlow, later 1st Earl of Portarlington, to come to Dublin to build a new Custom House. This was begun in 1781. The following year, Gandon was commissioned to make extensions to the Parliament House, originally designed by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce. Here he added a Corinthian portico as entrance to the Lords’ Chamber. After the Act of Union in 1801, the building became the Bank of Ireland. In 1785, Gandon was commissioned to design the new Four Courts. The third of his great Dublin buildings was the King’s Inns, begun in 1795. His few private houses were designed for patrons and friends.” [see 4]

The website continues: “In the early 18th century, Ephraim Dawson [1683-1746], a wealth banker, after whom Dawson Street in Dublin is named, purchased the land of the Emo Estate and other estates in the Queen’s County (Co. Laois). He married Anne Preston, heiress to the Emo Park Estate and fixed his residence in a house known as Dawson Court, which was in close proximity to the present Emo Court. His grandson, John Dawson, was created 1st Earl of Portarlington in 1785. Three years later, he married Lady Caroline Stuart, daughter of the [3rd] Earl of Bute, who was later Prime Minister of England. John Dawson commissioned Gandon to design Emo Court in 1790.

After Gandon died in 1823, to be buried in Drumcondra churchyard, the 2nd Earl of Portarlington, also John Dawson, engaged Lewis Vulliamy, a fashionable London architect, who had worked on the Dorchester Hotel in London and A. & J. Williamson, Dublin architects, to finish the house. In the period, 1824-36, the dining room and garden front portico with giant Ionic columns were built, but on the death of the 2nd Earl in 1845, the house still remained unfinished. It was not until 1860 that the 3rd Earl, Henry Ruben John Dawson [or Dawson-Damer, the son of the 2nd Earl’s brother Henry Dawson-Damer, who had the name Damer added to his name after the family of his grandmother, Mary Damer, who married William Henry Dawson, 1st Viscount Carlow] commissioned William Caldbeck, a Dublin architect, and Thomas Connolly, his contractor, to finish the double height rotunda, drawing room and library.” [see 4] Caldbeck also added a detached bachelor wing, joined to the main block by a curving corridor.

Emo Court, Photograph by Liam Murphy 2016 for Fáilte Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool [6]. The windows in the single bay pavilions are pedimented and set in relieving arches.

Although it was not built during Gandon’s time, most of the house is as it was designed by Gandon, wiht some additions or changes. Mark Bence-Jones describes the house:

Of two storeys over a basement, the sides of the house being surmounted by attics so as to form end towers or pavilions on each of the two principal fronts. The entrance front has seven bay centre with a giant pedimented Ionic portico; the end pavilions being of a single storey, with a pedimented window in an arched recess, behind a blind attic with a panel containing a Coade stone relief of putti; on one side representing the Arts, on the other, a pastoral scene. The roof parapet in the centre, on either side of the portico, is balustraded. The side elevation, which is of three storeys including the attic, is of one bay on either side of a curved central bow.” [see 3]

The end pavilions are a single storey with a blind attic with a panel containing a Coade stone relief of putti; on one side representing the Arts, on the other, a pastoral scene. In the photograph is the Arts side, with an Irish harp and two figures unfurling the plans for the house. [see 1]
The Coade stone relief of putti in a pastoral scene, representing Agriculture.
The side and garden front of the house. The side elevation, which is of three storeys including the attic, is of one bay on either side of a curved central bow.
I love the way these balusters go droopy-bellied to match the angle of the stairs!

Bence-Jones continues: “The house was not completed when the 1st Earl died on campaign during 1798 rebellion; 2nd Earl, who was very short of money, did not do any more to it until 1834-36, when he employed the fashionable English architect, Lewis Vulliamy; who completed the garden front, giving it its portico of four giant Ionic columns with a straight balustraded entablature, and also worked on the interior, being assisted by Dublin architects named Williamson. It was not until ca 1860, in the time of 3rd Earl – after the house had come near to being sold up by the Encumbered Estates Court – that the great rotunda, its copper dome rising from behind the garden front portico and also prominent on the entrance front, was completed; the architect this time being William Caldbeck, of Dublin, who completed the other unfinished parts of the house and added a detached bachelor wing, joined to the main block by a curving corridor.” [see 3]

Photograph from the National Library of Ireland, around 1900-1920, showing the garden front of the house. The 2nd Earl of Portarlington engaged Lewis Vulliamy (who designed the portico) and A. & J. Williamson, Dublin architects (who did the interior), to finish the house. In the period 1824-36 the dining room and garden front portico with giant Ionic columns were built, but on the death of the 2nd Earl in 1845, the house still remained unfinished. The rotunda was only finished in 1860.
The garden front of Emo with its pillared portico by Lewis Vulliamy.
Pillared portico by Lewis Vulliamy.
The garden front portico, probably part of the 1850s work by William Caldbeck, has portico and entablature of grey limestone and doorcase and window surrounds of yellow sandstone. This is set against a cement render. [see 1]
Under the portico in the garden facing facade is a Coade stone frieze of a Dionysian procession. [see 1]

The website continues: “Emo court remained the seat of the Earls of Portarlington until 1920, when the house and its vast demesne of over 4500 ha, (11,150 acres), was sold to the Irish Land Commission. After the Phoenix Park in Dublin, Emo Court was the largest enclosed estate in Ireland. The house remained empty until 1930 when 150 ha., including the garden, pleasure grounds, woodland and lake were sold to the Society of Jesus for a novitiate. The Jesuits made several structural changes to the building to suit their purposes, including the conversion of the rotunda and library as a chapel. The distinguished Jesuit photographer, Fr Frank Browne lived at Emo Court from 1930-57. [7] A notable novitiate was the Irish author, Benedict Kiely.

The Jesuits remained at Emo until 1969 and the property was eventually sold to Major Cholmeley Dering Cholmeley-Harrison. He embarked upon a long and enlightened restoration, commissioning the London architectural firm of Sir Albert Richardson & Partners to effect the restoration.

In 1994, President Mary Robinson officially received Emo Court & Parklands from Major Cholmeley-Harrison on behalf of the Nation.” [see 4]

Unfortunately Emo Park house has been closed to the public for renovation for several years, and was closed on the day we visited in July 2021. I am looking forward to seeing the interior, which from photographs and descriptions I have seen, look spectacular. From the outside we gain little appreciation of the splendid copper dome.

In the meantime, you can read more about Emo and see photographs of its interiors on the wonderful blog of the Irish Aesthete Robert O’Byrne. [8]

There are beautiful grounds to explore, however, on a day out at Emo, including picturesquely placed sculptures, an arboretum, lake, and walled garden. Here is a link to a beautiful short film by poet Pat Boran, about the statues at Emo Park, County Laois. https://bit.ly/35uXPO1

The walled garden at Emo Court.
The walled garden at Emo Court.

2. Heywood Gardens, Ballinakill, County Laois:

Heywood Gardens by Edwin Lutyens, photograph by Chris Hill 2014 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

General enquiries: 086 810 7916, emocourt@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/heywood-gardens/:

The entrancing eighteenth-century landscape at Heywood Gardens, near Ballinakill, County Laois, consists of gardens, lakes, woodland and some exciting architectural features. The park is set into a sweeping hillside. The vista to the south-east takes in seven counties.

The architect Sir Edwin Lutyens designed the formal gardens [around 1906], which are the centrepiece of the property. It is likely that renowned designer Gertrude Jekyll landscaped them.

The gardens are composed of elements linked by a terrace that originally ran along the front of the house. (Sadly, the house is no more.) One of the site’s most unusual features is a sunken garden containing an elongated pool, at whose centre stands a grand fountain.

The Heywood experience starts beside the Gate Lodge. Information panels and signage will guide you around the magical Lutyens gardens and the surrounding romantic landscape.

The gardens at Heywood were created by Michael Frederick Trench (1746-1836), at his home, Heywood House, a house which was unfortunately burnt down in 1950 (my father as a young boy was at a musical concert nearby and saw the house burning!). Heywood House was built around 1789, and was captured before it burned down in photographs in Country Life, volume XLV in 1919. The article tells us that after Michael Frederick Trench built the house in the 1770s, he landscaped the area between his house and the village of Ballinakill, moving hills, digging lakes (he made three artificial lakes), planting trees and placing follies. The house was named after his mother-in-law, Mary Heywood (daughter of a Drogheda merchant). He was an amateur architect, and designed the parish church of Swords, as well as an addition to the Rotunda in Dublin. [9] The garden, set within a 250 acre demesne, is, Andrew Tierney claims, the best of its kind in Ireland: a blend of the Arcadian and the Picturesque, above which Edwin Lutyens later erected his walled terraces and enclosures. [10] One of the follies is a window from nearby Aghaboe Abbey (my grandfather had owned this property until the land was bought by compulsory purchase by the Land Commission in 1977).

Looking over the lake towards the exterior of Heywood House, photograph by A.E. Henson, not used, from archive for Country Life, volume XLV, 1919.
The dining room at Heywood House, ceiling probably by Michael Stapleton, photograph by A.E. Henson, from Country Life, volume XLV, 1919.

Heywood House was inherited by the Domvile family in the mid 19th century (Michael Frederick’s daughter Helena married Comptom Pocklington Domvile, 1st Baronet Domvile, of Templeogue and Santry, Dublin), and later enlarged by Lt-Col William Hutchison-Poë, 1st Baronet Hutchison-Poë, in 1875, who had married Helena’s granddaughter Mary Adelaide Domvile. It was then bought by the Salesian Fathers in 1923. It was transferred to State ownership in November 1993 from the Salesian Fathers.

It was only in around 1906 that Lutyens added to the gardens. Sean O’Reilly describes his addition:

Lutyens worked on the gardens from about 1906. He complemented the strong architectural framework with an informal planting style, following the same combination of structure and nature developed at Lambay and made popular with his associate – and Country Life author – Gertrude Jekyll. Laying out the garden in a series of terraces and stepped passageways exploding east and west from the falling southern terraces of the house itself, the architect shaped these spaces with a bewildering variety of retaining walls – vertical and battered, stepped and sheer – screen walls – straight and curved, large and dwarf – columns, steps and architectural artifacts.” [11]

Tierney describes the garden: The gardens stretch from the principal gates for almost a kilometer and a half, incorporating a sequence of three adjoining lakes and a fourth, further east, and areas of rolling parkland skirted by woodlands. Trench named each part of his garden after Alpine scenery. Trench’s Gothic follies include the Abbeyleix gate, an arrangement of octagonal towers joined by a Tudor-arched gateway. The Trench coat of arms is visible to the right of the gateway arch. From this gate the winding drive opens to Trench’s valley. Nearby, marking a split in the road, is the Spire, a shaft raised in memory of Trench’s friend Andrew Caldwell. Further along is a sham castle. High up behind that isa bridge, and a ruin, on the other side, with the Aghaboe windows. Up the pathway is the Gothic Greenhouse, a brick construction with five lancets with hood mouldings. On the east side of the lake is a grotto or bath house. On the east side of the demesne is the Trench mausoleum. [see 10]

The Lutyens garden descends to a sunken garden, with terraced borders leading down to a pool surrounded by bronze tortoises perched on stone balls. On the east side of the pond Luytens created a Pavilion with Portland stone dressings, terracotta tiled roof and saucer-domed interior, containing two Corinthian capitals rescued by Trench from the Parliament House in Dublin, which he was involved in remodelling. The north wall had busts of philosphers in oval niches, now replaced by urns.

The north wall of the pleached alley at Heywood House. Photograph by A.E. Henson,Published originally Country Life 04/01/1919.

For more on the gardens, see the blog of the Irish Aesthete, Robert O’Byrne. [12]

Longford:

3. Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre, Kenagh, County Longford:

Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre, Co. Longford, photograph by Chris Hill 2018 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre, Co. Longford, photograph by Chris Hill 2018 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

General enquiries: 043 332 2386, corlea@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/corlea-trackway-visitor-centre/:

Hidden away in the boglands of Longford, not far from Kenagh village, is an inspiring relic of prehistory: a togher – an Iron Age road – built in 148 BC. Known locally as the Danes’ Road, it is the largest of its kind to have been uncovered in Europe. 

Historians agree that it was part of a routeway of great importance. It may have been a section of a ceremonial highway connecting the Hill of Uisneach, the ritual centre of Ireland, and the royal site of Rathcroghan.

The trackway was built from heavy planks of oak, which sank into the peat after a short time. This made it unusable, of course, but also ensured it remained perfectly preserved in the bog for the next two millennia.

Inside the interpretive centre, an 18-metre stretch of the ancient wooden structure is on permanent display in a hall specially designed to preserve it. Don’t miss this amazing remnant of our ancient past.

Corlea Trackway Visitor Centre, Co. Longford, photograph by Christ Hill 2018 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Wooden block wheel excavated in Doogarymore, County Roscommon, now in the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin. From around 400BC. It may be the type of wheel that was used on the ancient roads!
Information board from the National of Ireland Kildare Street.

Louth:

4. Carlingford Castle, County Louth:

Carlingford Castle, also known as King John’s Castle (not to be confused with the one in Limerick), County Louth, photograph by Brenda Harris 2021 for Fáilte Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/carlingford-castle/:

Carlingford lies in the shade of Slieve Foye, a mountain that in legend takes its form from the body of the sleeping giant Finn MacCumhaill. The castle dominates the town and overlooks the lough harbour. It was a vital point of defence for the area for centuries.

Carlingford Castle was built around 1190, most likely by the Norman baron Hugh de Lacy. By this time Hugh’s family had grown powerful enough to make King John of England uneasy. John forced them into rebellion and seized their property in 1210. He reputedly stayed in his new castle himself. It is still known as King John’s Castle.

The Jacobites fired on the castle in 1689; William of Orange is said to have accommodated his wounded soldiers there following the Battle of the Boyne.

Carlingford Lough Heritage Trust provides excellent guided tours of this historic Castle from March to October.

By 1778 the building was ruinous. The task of repair and preservation was begun by the Henry Paget the 1st Marquess of Anglesey in the later nineteenth century (he served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1848, and as Master General of the Ordinance), and has been continued by the OPW. [13]

Carlingford Castle Co Louth NLI by Robert French, Lawrence Photograph Collection.
Henry Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey (1768-1854), Viceroy in 1828 and 1830.

5. Old Mellifont Abbey, Tullyallen, Drogheda, County Louth:

Old Mellifont Abbey, photograph by Eilish Tierney, 2020 for Fáilte Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Mellifont Abbey from National Library of Ireland Lawrence photograph collection, flickr constant commons.

General enquiries: 041 982 6459, mellifontabbey@opw.ie. Mellifont means “fountain of honey.”

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/old-mellifont-abbey/:

Mellifont Abbey was the first Cistercian monastery in Ireland. St Malachy of Armagh created it in 1142 with the help of a small number of monks sent by St Bernard from Clairvaux [and with the aid of Donough O’Carroll, King of Oriel – see 14]. The monks did not take well to Ireland and soon returned to France, but the abbey was completed anyway and duly consecrated with great pomp.

It has several extraordinary architectural features, the foremost of which is the two-storey octagonal lavabo [the monk’s washroom]

The monks at Mellifont hosted a critical synod in 1152. The abbey was central to the history of later centuries, too, even though it was in private hands by then. The Treaty of Mellifont, which ended the Nine Years War, was signed here in 1603, and William of Orange used the abbey as his headquarters during the momentous Battle of the Boyne.

Mellifont Abbey ruins, the octagonal lavabo, built in around 1200, photograph by Brian Harte, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

The ruins contain the medieval gatehouse, parish church, chapter house and lavabo. The octagonal lavabo was designed as a freestanding structure of two storeys, with an octagonal cistern to supply the water located at the upper level over the wash room. Wash basins were arranged around a central pier, now gone, which supported the weight of the water above. [14] The entire monastery was surrounded by a defensive wall. After the dissolution of the monasteries, Mellifont was acquired in 1540 by William Brabazon (died 1552), Vice Treasurer of Ireland, and passed later to Edward Moore (Brabazon’s wife Elizabeth Clifford remarried three times after Brabazon’s death, and one of her husbands was Edward Moore), who established a fortified house within the ruins around 1560. His descendents (Viscounts of Drogheda) lived there until 1727 (until the time of Edward Moore, 5th Earl of Drogheda), after which the house, like the abbey, fell into disrepair.

Garret Moore, 1st Viscount of Drogheda, hosted the negotiations which led to the Treaty of Mellifont in 1603.

Mellifont Abbey ruins, photograph by Chris Hill, 2014 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

Meath:

6. Battle of the Boyne site and visitor centre, Oldbridge House, County Meath.

Oldbridge House, County Meath, October 2019.

General Enquiries: 041 980 9950, battleoftheboyne@opw.ie

The Battle of the Boyne museum is housed in Oldbridge Hall, which is built on the site where the Battle of the Boyne took place.

From the website:

Oldbridge House was built in the 1740’s by either John Coddington or his nephew Dixie Coddington. [John Coddington purchased the land in 1724 from Henry Moore the 4th Earl of Drogheda.]

It is believed to have been designed by George Darley, a local mason architect who also designed the renovated Dunboyne Castle, Dowth House and The Tholsel in Drogheda, Co. Louth.

To the left of the house there is a cobble stone stable yard with fine cut stable block. This originally contained coach houses, stables, tack and feed rooms.

To the right of the house is a small enclosed courtyard which contains the former butler’s house which is not open to the public.” [15]

Oldbridge House was purchased by the state in 2000, and renovation began.

Oldbridge House is a three storey house with a plain ashlar frontage of seven bays, with the centre three widely spaced and set somewhat advanced from the rest of the facade. Quadrant walls link the house to its park, with rusticated doors. The house is of two dates. Originally, in around 1750 it was a three bay, three storey block with low single-storey wings, and in around 1832, two floors were added to each wing, said to be by Frederick Darley. Similarity to nearby Dowth Hall suggests the involvement of the earlier and related George Darley in the original design. [16] It has a centrally located tripartite doorcase with pilasters surmounted by a closed pediment, which holds a canonball from the fields of the Battle of the Boyne. It has a string course between ground and first floors and sill course to first floor, and three central windows on first floor with stone architraves. [17]

Oldbridge House, County Meath, October 2019. The inset canonball was recovered from the field from the Battle of the Boyne.

An ancestor of Stephen’s, Elizabeth Coddington (1774-1857), grew up in Oldbridge House! She married Edward Winder (1775-1829). The son of John Coddington who purchased the land predeceased his father so John’s nephew, Dixie (1725-1794), son of his brother Nicholas, inherited. Dixie in turn had no sons, so the estate passed to his brother Henry. Dixie is also associated with Tankardstown House, a section 482 property. Henry Coddington (1734-1816) was father to Stephen’s ancestor Elizabeth. Henry was a barrister, and served as MP for Dunleer, County Louth, and he married Elizabeth Blacker from Ratheskar, County Louth.

Battle of the Boyne painted by Jan Wyck, in the National Gallery of Ireland. The point of view is that of the Williamites who were based on high ground north of the River Boyne, looking southwards towards Donore Hill where James II and his troops were based.

The Battle of the Boyne was just one of several battles that took place in Ireland when the rule of King James II was challenged by his son-in-law, a Dutch Protestant Prince, William of Orange. James II was Catholic, and he attempted to introduce freedom of religion, but this threatened families who had made gains under the reformed Protestant church. When James’s wife gave birth to a male heir in 1688, many feared a permanent return to Catholic monarchy and government. In November 1688, seven English lords invited William of Orange to challenge the monarchy of James II. William landed in England at the head of an army and King James feld to France and then to Ireland. William followed him over to Ireland in June 1690.

On 1 July 1690 (Old Style), King William III clashed with his father-in-law, King James II, on the River Boyne at Oldbridge, County Meath. 

Both kings commanded their armies in person. There were 36,000 men on the Williamite side and 25,000 on the Jacobite side. It was the largest number of troops ever deployed on an Irish battlefield. English, Scottish, Dutch, Danes and Huguenots (French Protestants) made up William’s army (Williamites), while James’ men (Jacobites) were mainly Irish Catholics, reinforced by 6,500 French troops sent by King Louis XIV. At stake were the British throne, French Dominance in Europe and religious power in Ireland.

William’s camp was on the north side of the river. James’s was on the south side with the two armies facing each other. William’s battle plan was to trap the Jacobite army in a pincer movement. He sent 10,000 men towards Slane which drew the bulk of the Jacobities upstream in response. With 1,300 Jacobites posted in Drogheda, only 6,000 were left at Oldbridge to confront 26,000 Williamites. All the fighting took place on the south side of the river, as the vastly outnumbered Jacobites defended their position against the advancing Williamites. William himself crossed at Drybridge with 3,500 mounted troops.

The pincer movement failed. King James’s army retreated across the River Nanny at Duleek and regrouped west of the Shannon to carry on the war.

Approximately 1,500 soldiers were killed at the Boyne.” [15]

After winning the battle, William gained control of Dublin and the east of Ireland. However, the war continued until the Battle of Aughrim in July 1691, which led to the surrender at Limerick the following autumn. The surrender terms promised limited guarantees to Irish Catholics and allowed the soldiers to return home or to go to France. The Irish Parliament however then enacted the Penal Laws, which ran contrary to the treaty of Limerick and which William first resisted, as he had no wish to offend his European Catholic allies.

Many phrases can be traced back to the Battle of the Boyne, such as those written on the wall in the museum.
Oldbridge, County Meath, October 2019.

The gardens of Oldbridge House have been resotred, with an unusual sunken octagonal garden, peach house, orchard and herbaceous borders, with a tearoom in the old stable block. Throughout the year outdoor theatre, workshops and events such a cavalry displays and musket demonstrations help to recreate a sense of what it might have been like on that day in July 1690.

Oldbridge, County Meath, October 2019.

7. Loughcrew Cairns, Corstown, Oldcastle, County Meath:

Loughcrew cairns, photograph by Macmillan media, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

general enquiries: 087 052 4975, info@heritageireland.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/loughcrew-cairns/:

The Loughcrew cairns, also known as the Hills of the Witch, are a group of Neolithic passage tombs near Oldcastle in County Meath. Spread over four undulating peaks, the tombs are of great antiquity, dating to 3000 BC. 

Cairn T is one of the largest tombs in the complex. Inside it lies a cruciform chamber, a corbelled roof and some of the most beautiful examples of Neolithic art in Ireland. The cairn is aligned to sunrise at the spring and autumn equinoxes and at these times people gather there to greet the first rays of the sun.

Loughcrew cairns, photograph by Macmillan media, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Carved stone from Loughcrew, in the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.

8. Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre, Newgrange and Knowth, County Meath.

Newgrange, seen from the top of another nearby tumulus, Dowth. Newgrange is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and dates to some 5,000 years ago…Photograph by Dave Walsh, 2004 for Tourism Ireland. [see 6]

General Information: 041 988 0300, brunaboinne@opw.ie

From the website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/bru-na-boinne-visitor-centre-newgrange-and-knowth/:

The World Heritage Site of Brú na Bóinne is Ireland’s richest archaeological landscape and is situated within a bend in the River Boyne. Brú na Bóinne is famous for the spectacular prehistoric passage tombs of Knowth, Newgrange and Dowth which were built circa 3200BC. These ceremonial structures are among the most important Neolithic sites in the world and contain the largest collection of megalithic art in Western Europe.

Newgrange, County Meath, December 2013.
Newgrange, County Meath, December 2013.
Newgrange, Co Meath, Ireland, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2018 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Newgrange, Co Meath , Ireland, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2018 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Winter Solstice, Newgrange, Co Meath , Ireland, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2018 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

37. Hill of Tara, Navan, County Meath:

Hill of Tara, County Meath, photograph by macmillan media 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Diorama of Tara in the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin, 2022. Key: 2. Rath/Fort of the Kings, a hilltop enclosure; 3: Royal Seat, a barrow; 4. Cormac’s House, a ringfort; 5. Stone of Destiny, Liah Fail, a standing stone; 6. Mound of the Hostages, a passage tomb; 7. Rath of the Synods, an enclosure; 8. Banqueting Hall, a linear earthwork.

General information: 046 902 5903, hilloftara@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

The Hill of Tara has been important since the late Stone Age, when a passage tomb was built there. However, the site became truly significant in the Iron Age (600 BC to 400 AD) and into the Early Christian Period when it rose to supreme prominence – as the seat of the high kings of Ireland. All old Irish roads lead to this critical site.

St Patrick himself went there in the fifth century. As Christianity achieved dominance over the following centuries, Tara’s importance became symbolic. Its halls and palaces have now disappeared and only earthworks remain. 

There are still remarkable sights to be seen, however. Just one example is the Lia Fáil – the great coronation stone and one of the four legendary treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann – which stands proudly on the monument known as An Forradh.

Guided tours of the site will help you understand the regal history of this exceptional place and imagine its former splendour.

Article about the 1956 excavation of the portal tomb passage grave on the Mound of the Hostages, in the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street.
Information boards from the exhibition in the National Gallery of Ireland Kildare Street, January 2022.
Information boards from the exhibition in the National Gallery of Ireland Kildare Street, January 2022.
Items excavated at Tara, in the National Museum of Ireland Kildare Street.
Information boards from the exhibition in the National Gallery of Ireland Kildare Street, January 2022.
Information boards from the exhibition in the National Gallery of Ireland Kildare Street, January 2022.
Information boards from the exhibition in the National Gallery of Ireland Kildare Street, January 2022.

9. Trim Castle, County Meath:

Trim Castle and the River Boyne, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Trim Castle and the River Boyne, photograph by macmillan media, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

General information: 046 943 8619, trimcastle@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/trim-castle/:

Few places in Ireland contain more medieval buildings than the heritage town of Trim. Trim Castle is foremost among those buildings.

In fact, the castle is the largest Anglo-Norman fortification in Ireland. Hugh de Lacy and his successors took 30 years to build it.

The central fortification is a monumental three-storey keep. This massive 20-sided tower, which is cruciform in shape, was all but impregnable in its day. It was protected by a ditch, curtain wall and water-filled moat.

Modern walkways now allow you to look down over the interior of the keep – a chance to appreciate the sheer size and thickness of the mighty castle walls.

The castle is often called King John’s Castle although when he visited the town he preferred to stay in his tent on the other side of the river. Richard II visited Trim in 1399 and left Prince Hal later Henry V as a prisoner in the castle.” I never knew we had such a link to King Henry V and Shakespeare’s play, Henry IV!

Trim Castle and the River Boyne, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2006 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

Patrick Comerford gives an excellent history of Trim Castle in his blog. [18] The castle stands within a three acre bailey, surrounded by a defensive perimeter wall. The curtain wall of the castle is fortified by a series of semicircular open-back towers. There were two entrances to Trim Castle, one, beside the car park, is flanked by a gatehouse, and the second is a barbican gate and tower. [19]

We visited in May 2022, after visiting St. Mary’s Abbey (also called Talbot’s Castle) – more on that soon. We were late entering so the entry to inside the castle was closed, unfortunately – we shall have to visit again!

Trim Castle, May 2022.
The view of Trim Castle from St. Mary’s Abbey, over the Boyne River, May 2022.
Trim Castle and the River Boyne, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Trim Castle, Co. Meath, 1938, photograph from National Library of Ireland, flickr constant commons.
The entrance to Trim Castle, May 2022.
The information board tells us that the Trim Gate was built around 1180, on the site of an earlier timber gatehouse. A forward tower or pier would have received a bridge over the moat. The gatehouse was rebuilt early in the 13th century when the passageway was vaulted. The vaulted floor housed the lifting mechanism for the portcullis and above this were the porters’ lodgings. The chambers to the north side of the passage were added to provide guard accommodation with a prison below.
The other side of the gate through which we entered.
The Keep, Trim Castle, May 2022.
Inside the walls of Trim Castle, with a view of St. Mary’s Abbey house and the remaining tower of St. Mary’s Abbey.

The information board tells us that in 1182 when Hugh de Lacy was granted the Liberty of Meath, he occupied this site bounded by the River Boyne to the north and marshy ground to the south. By 1175 his original wooden fortification had been replaced by this unusual keep, later surrounded by curtain walls with a simple gate to the north and a bridge across the moat. The south curtain wall with its D shaped buildings was completed by 1200, when new siege tactics forced a change in the design of castles. Later, the forebuildings and plinth were built, protecting the entrance and base of the keep.

Sometime before 1180, Hugh de Lacy replaced the timber palisade fence enclosing the keep with a stone enclosure. The fore-court enclosed stables and stores and protected the stairway and door to the keep. The new entrance was on the north side of the enclosure and had a drawbridge over the deepened ditch.

With the development of the curtain walls, the inner enclosure became obsolete.

The ditch was filled and three defensive towers – two survive – were built on its site. The drawbridge was replaced by a stone causeway leading to an arched gate and entrance stairway. A reception hall was built to accommodate visitors before they entered the Keep.

As the town and approach roads developed, the barbican gate provided a new entrance from the south. After the siege of 1224, the north curtain walls, towers and Trim gate required major repairs. During a period of prosperity in the second half of the 13th century, the great hall and solar were constructed on the site of the north curtain wall and tower. Trim and its abbeys and the Cathedral and borough of Newtown developed in the security of the castle.

The Boyne was used for transport of goods to the river gate. Stores, workshops and kitchens were built in the castle yard.

Though the castle buildings were often adapted to suit changing military and domestic needs, much of the fabric of Trim Castle has remained unchanged since the height of Anglo-Norman power in Ireland.

The Keep, Trim Castle, May 2022.
The area that was the Great Hall, Trim Castle, May 2022.

The information board tells us that courts, parliaments, feasts and all issues relating to the management of the Lordship were discussed at meetings in the Great Hall. After 1250, the great public rooms in the Keep were considered unsuitable for such gatherings, so this hall was built, lit by large windows with a view of the harbour and the Abbey of St. Mary’s across the river. The hall had a high seat at the west end, with kitchens and undercroft cellars to the east. Ornate oak columns rising from stone bases supported the great span of the roof.

The hall was heated from a central hearth and vented by a lantern-like louvre in the roof.

I’m not sure what this is, at Trim Castle.
See the “scratches” or marks on the ceiling of this vaulted space – we see similar marks in the basement of St. Mary’s Abbey house.
I think this is the River Gate, at Trim Castle.
The information board tells us that the River Gate allowed for the delivery os stores from boats on the river. The gate was made in the curtain wall to the east of the Great Hall. Short stretches of canal allowed boats to bring supplies to teh castle to avoid the many weirs and protruding rocks on the river. A section of the canal was cut below the riverside curtain wall. Inside the River Gate, a passage was cut through the bedrock to the door of the cellar of the Great Hall. Boats could be moored in the wide harbour with its pier and stairway to the apartments in the Solar.
The Barbican Gate, Trim Castle.
Inside the Barbican Gate, Trim Castle.

Early in the 13th century the weirs were completed on the Boyne, allowing the moat to be flooded, and the Leper River was channelled along the south curtain wall. A new gate was constructed guarding the southern approaches to the castle. This gatehouse, of a rare design, was built as a single cylindrical tower with a “barbican,” defences of a forward tower adn bridge. An elaborate system of lifting bridges, gates and overhead traps gave the garrison great control over those entering the castle. The arrangement of plunging loops demonstrates the builders’ knowledge of the military requirements of defending archers.

By the middle of the 13th century, the design of castle gates was further developed and a twin tower gatehouse with a passage between the two towers became standard.

Offaly:

10. Clonmacnoise, County Offaly:

Clonmacnoise, May 2018.

General information: 090 9674195, clonmacnoise@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/clonmacnoise/:

St Ciarán founded his monastery on the banks of the River Shannon in the 6th Century. The monastery flourished and became a great seat of learning, a University of its time with students from all over Europe.

The ruins include a Cathedral, two round Towers, three high crosses, nine Churches and over 700 Early Christian graveslabs.

The original high crosses, including the magnificent 10th century Cross of the Scriptures area on display in a purpose built visitor centre adjacent the monastic enclosure.

An audiovisual presentation will give you an insight into the history of this hallowed space.

Clonmacnoise, May 2018. O’Rourke’s Tower. The Annals of the Four Masters record that it was completed in 1124 under the patronage of Toirrdelbach O Conchobhair, King of Connacht. In 1135 its top was struck off by lightning. The eight square headed windos at the top belong to a late medieval arrangement.
Clonmacnoise, May 2018.
Clonmacnoise, May 2018.
Clonmacnoise, May 2018.
Clonmacnoise, May 2018. Temple Finghin, a twelfth century church with integrated round tower.
Clonmacnoise, May 2018.

Westmeath:

11. Fore Abbey in County Westmeath:

Fore Abbey, County Westmeath, August 2021.

“Fore” comes from the Irish “fobhar” meaning well or spring.

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/fore-abbey/:

In a tranquil valley in the village of Fore, about a 30-minute drive from Mullingar in County Westmeath, you can visit the spot where St Feichin founded a Christian monastery in the seventh century AD.

It is believed that, before Feichin’s death, 300 monks lived in the community. Among the remains on the site is a church built around AD 900. There are also the 18 Fore crosses, which are spread out over 10 kilometres on roadways and in fields.

Seven particular features of the site – the so-called ‘Seven Wonders of Fore’ – have acquired legendary status. They include: the monastery built on a bog; the mill without a race (the saint is said to have thrust his crozier into the ground and caused water to flow); and the lintel stone raised by St Feichin’s prayers.

St Feichin’s Way, a looped walk around the site, provides an excellent base from which to explore these fabled places.

The Benedictine Priory was founded around 1180 by Hugh de Lacy, the first Viceroy of Ireland. Before this there was a monastery in Fore, founded by Feichin in the seventh century. The Benedictines had a link with France and its first monks came from France. The Priory sufffered plundering attacks so needed defensive towers and fortification. It was built around a Cloister or courtyard.

The cloister is remarkably well-preserved.

The “columbarium” mentioned in the diagram is a house for keeping pigeons – we saw one previously at Moone Abbey tower, and there is one at Fore.

The Columbarium or Pigeon house at Fore.

The monastery founded at Fore in the seventh century by St Feichin, a Sligo-born holy man who travelled widely in Ireland, was large and prosperous but was superceded by Fore Abbey, the nearby Benedictive abbey founded by the Norman deLacys. The remaining building of St Feichins is the church, which was built in the tenth century. A new chancel was added around 1200, and the arch leading to this was re-erected in 1934. The east window was inserted in the 15th century.

St Feichin’s Church, with Fore Abbey in background on far left.
St. Feichin’s Church, built in the 10th century with later additions.

The Anchorite’s Cell is a small tower with attached chapel. The tower had two storeys and on the top floor lived a number of Anchorites, or hermits. The chapel has a vault below, the crypt of the Nugent family of nearby Castle Delvin and Clonyn Castle, Earls of Westmeath. Delvin, or Castletown-Delvin, was granted by Hugh de Lacy to his son-in-law Gilbert de Nugent. The 1st Earl of Westmeath was Richard Nugent (1583-1642). His father was Christopher Nugent, 5th Baron Delvin.

The Anchorite’s Cell.
Front of the Anchorite Cell Chapel with the Nugent coat of arms.

County Wexford:

12. Ballyhack Castle, Arthurstown, County Wexford

Ballyhack Castle, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

General enquiries: 051 398 468, breda.lynch@opw.ie

from the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/ballyhack-castle/:

Ballyhack Castle commands an imperious position on a steep-sided valley overlooking Waterford Estuary. It is thought that the Knights Hospitallers of St John, one of the two mighty military orders founded at the time of the Crusades, built this sturdy tower house around 1450.

The tower is five stories tall and the walls survive complete to the wall walk. Built into the north-east wall of the second floor is a small chapel complete with a piscina, aumbry and altar. The entrance to the castle is protected externally by a machicolation and internally by a murder hole – that is, an opening through which defenders could throw rocks or pour boiling water, hot sand or boiling oil, on anyone foolish enough to attack.

Currently on display at Ballyhack Castle are assorted items of replica armour relating to the Crusades and the Normans –  guaranteed to ignite the imagination!

Ballyhack Castle, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

13. Ferns Castle, County Wexford:

Ferns Castle, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

General information: 053 9366411, fernscastle@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/ferns-castle/:

Before the coming of the Normans, Ferns was the political base of Diarmait Mac Murchada, king of Leinster. William, Earl Marshall built the castle around 1200. Since then it has had many owners, of diverse political and military colours.

Originally, the castle formed a square, with large corner towers. Only half of the castle now stands, although what remains is most impressive. The most complete tower contains a beautiful circular chapel, several original fireplaces and a vaulted basement. There is a magnificent view from the top.

There is an extraordinary artefact to be seen in the visitor centre. The Ferns Tapestry showcases the pre-Norman history of the town via the thousand-year-old art of crewel wool embroidery. Stitched by members of the local community, the 15-metre-long tapestry comprises 25 panels of remarkable accomplishment and beauty.

Ferns Castle, photograph by Chris Hill, 2014 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

14. John F. Kennedy Arboretum, County Wexford:

General Information: 046 9423490, jfkarboretum@opw.ie

When John F. Kennedy died, a number of Irish-American societies expressed the wish to establish a tribute to him in Ireland. The Irish government suggested a national arboretum, and secured 192 acres surrounding Ballysop House, just six kilometres from the Kennedy ancestral home at Dunganstown, County Wexford. The arborterum is planted in two interwoven botanical circuits: one of broadleaves and the other of conifers. The Arboretum was formally opened on 29th May 1968.

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/the-john-f-kennedy-arboretum/:

Dedicated to the memory of John F. Kennedy, whose great-grandfather, Patrick, was born in the nearby village of Dunganstown, this arboretum near New Ross, County Wexford, contains a plant collection of presidential proportions.

It covers a massive 252 hectares on the summit and southern slopes of Slieve Coillte and contains 4,500 types of trees and shrubs from all temperate regions of the world. There are 200 forest plots grouped by continent. Of special note is an ericaceous garden with 500 different rhododendrons and many varieties of azalea and heather, dwarf conifers and climbing plants.

The lake is perhaps the most picturesque part of the arboretum and is a haven for waterfowl. There are amazing panoramic views from the summit of the hill, 271 metres above sea level. A visitor centre houses engaging exhibitions on JFK and on the Arboretum itself.

Along the northern perimeter of the site are some 200 forest plots. Each covers an area of one acre and comprises a single species of forestry tree. These provide information on the performance of different types of plantation species in the Irish climate.

Through the garden are a number of trails, and a miniature train runs during the summer, and there is a cafe.

15. Tintern Abbey, County Wexford:

Tintern Abbey, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

General information: 051 562650, tinternabbey@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/tintern-abbey/:

This Cistercian monastery was founded c. 1200 by William, Earl Marshal on lands held through his marriage to the Irish heiress, Isabella de Clare [daughter of Strongbow]. This abbey, founded as a daughter-house of Tintern Major in Wales is often referred to as Tintern de Voto.

The nave, chancel, tower, chapel and cloister still stand. In the 16th century the old abbey was granted to the Colclough family [Anthony Colclough (d. 1584) was a soldier and the land was granted to him after the dissolution of the monasteries] and soon after the church was partly converted into living quarters and further adapted over the centuries. The Colcloughs occupied the abbey from the sixteenth century until the mid-twentieth.”

The Colclough (pronounced Coakley) family lived there until 1958, when it was presented to the state by Lucy Biddulph-Colclough. Anthony’s son Thomas married Martha Loftus, daughter of Adam Loftus, Lord Archbishop of Dublin, who built Rathfarnham Castle in Dublin. Their son Adam Colclough became 1st Baronet of Tintern Abbey, County Wexford. The 3rd Baronet had no heir so the title expired and the lands passed to his sister Margaret. She married firstly, in 1673, Robert Leigh, of Rosegarland, who thereupon assumed the surname of Colclough; and secondly, in 1696, John Pigott, of Kilfinney, County Limerick, who also assumed the surname of Colclough. She was succeeded by a relative, Caesar Colclough (1696-1766), eldest son of Dudley Colclough, of Duffrey Hall. The property passed through generations until it was donated to the state.

The website continues: “Conservation works have included special measures to protect the local bat colonies. The abbey is set in a special area of conservation and is surrounded by woodland within which are walking trails. Not to be missed is the restored Colclough Walled Garden situated within the old estate.

Tintern Abbey, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2017 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Tintern Abbey, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2017 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Tintern Abbey, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Colclough Walled garden, Tintern Abbey, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2017 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

Following the donation of Tintern Abbey to the Irish State in 1959 the walled garden was abandoned to nature and became overgrown.  The gradual restoration of the walled garden by a team of volunteers began in 2010 and the 1830s layout shown on the Ordnance Survey was reinstated. The restored garden, which opened to the public in 2012, is divided into two sections: the Ornamental Garden and the Kitchen Garden. 

Garden at Tintern Abbey, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2017 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]
Tintern Abbey, photograph by Celtic Routes, 2019 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

Wicklow:

16. Dwyer McAllister Cottage, County Wicklow:

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/dwyer-mcallister-cottage/:

This thatched and whitewashed cottage nestles in the shade of Keadeen Mountain off the Donard to Rathdangan road in County Wicklow.

Today, it seems like an unlikely site of conflict. However, in the winter of 1799 it was a different story. It was from this cottage that the famed rebel Michael Dwyer fought the encircling British. One of Dwyer’s compatriots, Samuel McAllister, drew fire upon himself and was killed. This allowed Dwyer to make good his escape over the snow-covered mountains.

The cottage was later destroyed by fire and lay in ruins for almost 150 years. It was restored to its original form in the twentieth century. Now, it contains various items of the period – both those that characterised everyday life, such a roasting spit and a churn, and those that only appeared in the throes of combat, such as deadly pikes.

17. Glendalough, County Wicklow:

Glendalough, County Wicklow, July 2017.

General information: 0404 45352, george.mcclafferty@opw.ie

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/glendalough-visitor-centre/:

In a stunning glaciated valley in County Wicklow, in the sixth century, one of Ireland’s most revered saints founded a monastery. The foundation of St Kevin at Glendalough became one of the most famous religious centres in Europe.

The remains of this ‘Monastic City’, which are dotted across the glen, include a superb round tower, numerous medieval stone churches and some decorated crosses. Of particular note is St Kevin’s Bed, a small man-made cave in the cliff face above the Upper Lake. It is said that St Kevin lived and prayed there, but it may actually be a prehistoric burial place that far predates him.

Gilt wooden statue dating from the 15th or 16th century, found at Lugduff, County Wicklow, in a ruined building near the upper lake at Glendalough. It is a carved statue of yew wood and depicts an unknown figure, probably a saint; now in the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.
Information board from National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street.
Silver penny of Sitric Rex Dublin, found at Sevenchurches or Camaderry, Glendalough County Wicklow. It represents the earliest Irish coinage, showing Sitric, King of Dublin, and was minted in AD995. It is now in the National Museum of Ireland, Kildare Street, Dublin.
Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, photograph by Chris Hill 2018 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 6]

18. National Botanic Gardens Kilmacurragh, County Wicklow:

General Information: 0404 48844, botanicgardens@opw.ie

Kilmacurragh House was home to seven generations of the Acton family. It was built in 1697 by Thomas Acton, whose father came to Ireland as part of Oliver Cromwell’s army, for which he was granted the lands surrounding the ruined abbey of St. Mochorog. The five bay Queen Anne house is thought to be the work of Sir William Robinson, who is better known today for his work at Marsh’s Library in Dublin, the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin Castle and Charles Fort, Kinsale, County Kerry. [20]

Kilmacurragh House, photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural History.

From the OPW website https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/national-botanic-gardens-kilmacurragh/:

There was a monastery at Kilmacurragh, in this tranquil corner of County Wicklow, in the seventh century, and a religious foundation remained right up until the dissolution of the monasteries. After Cromwell invaded the land passed to the Acton family.

By the time the estate came to Thomas Acton in 1854, an unprecedented period of botanical and geographical exploration was afoot. In collaboration with the curators of the National Botanic Gardens, Acton built a new and pioneering garden.

In 1996, a 21-hectare portion of the old demesne officially became part of the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland. The following ten years were spent giving the estate’s rare and beautiful plants a new lease of life.

Kilmacurragh is now part of the National Botanic Gardens, providing a complementary collection of plants to its parent garden at Glasnevin. Arrive in spring to witness the transformation of the walks, as fallen rhododendron blossoms form a stunning magenta carpet.

and

The Gardens lies within an estate developed extensively during the nineteeth century by Thomas Acton in conjunction with David Moore and his son Sir Frederick Moore, Curators of the National Botanic Gardens at that time. It was a period of great botanical and geographical explorations with numerous plant species from around the world being introduced to Ireland for the first time. The different soil and climatic conditions at Kilmacurragh resulted in many of these specimens succeeding there while struggling or failing at Glasnevin. Kilmacurragh is particularly famous for its conifer and rhododendron collections.” [21]

Thomas Acton’s son William married Jane Parsons of Birr Castle. Their son Thomas Acton inherited, then his son Lt Col William and then his son Thomas (1826-1908). Along with his sister Janet, he had a passion for collecting plants. They travelled to the Americas and Asia in search of plants, and established one of the finest arboreta in Ireland, and formed a friendship with David Moore, curator of the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin. Thomas died unmarried in 1908 and Kilmacurragh was inhierted by his nephew, Captain Charles Annesley Acton, who had been born in Peshawar. However, he was killed fighting in World War I as was his brother Reginald. Thus in eight years, three consecutive owners of Kilmacurragh had died, inflicting death duties amounting to 120% of the value of the property. The Actons were forced to sell the estate. The house fell into ruin and the arboretum became overgrown. The state acquired Kilmacurragh in 1996 and have restored the arboretum, making it part of the National Botanic Gardens.

[1] p. 336. Tierney, Andrew. The Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster: Kildare, Laois and Offaly. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2019.

[2] https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/emo-court/

[3] p. 119. Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988, Constable and Company Ltd, London.

[4] https://emocourt.ie/history/

For information on Gandon’s house in Lucan, see https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/11201034/canonbrook-house-lucan-newlands-road-lucan-and-pettycanon-lucan-dublin

Canonbrook, Lucan: “Detached multiple-bay two-storey over basement house, c.1800, on an L-plan. A handsome, substantial rural Georgian house which, though altered, retains its imposing form and feel, and is situated in mature grounds. Historically important as the former home of James Gandon.” Gandon is also said to have designed Primrose Hill House in Lucan, which is a section 482 property.

[5] https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/02/27/emo-court/

[6] https://www.irelandscontentpool.com/en/media-assets/media/81101

[7] http://www.fatherbrowne.com

[8] https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/03/14/of-changes-in-taste/

and https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/02/01/seen-in-the-round/

For photographs of the stuccowork, see https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/03/21/forgotten-virtuosi/

[9] p. 96. Sadleir, Thomas U. and Page L. Dickinson. Georgian Mansions in Ireland with some account of the evolution af Georgian Architecture and Decoration. Dublin University Press, 1915. 

[10] p. 356. Tierney, Andrew. The Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster: Kildare, Laois and Offaly. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2019.

[11] p. 61. O’Reilly, Sean. Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of  Country Life. Aurum Press Ltd, London, 1998. 

[12] https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/08/27/heywood/

and https://theirishaesthete.com/2014/05/12/to-smooth-the-lawn-to-decorate-the-dale/

[13] p. 175, Casey, Christine and Alistair Rowan. The Buildings of Ireland: North Leinster: the counties of Longford, Louth, Meath and Westmeath. Penguin Books, London, 1993.

[14] p. 387, Casey, Christine and Alistair Rowan. The Buildings of Ireland: North Leinster: the counties of Longford, Louth, Meath and Westmeath. Penguin Books, London, 1993.

and see also my entry on Killineer, County Louth.

[15] https://battleoftheboyne.ie/battle-beyond/

[16] p. 446-7. Tierney, Andrew. The Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster: Kildare, Laois and Offaly. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2019.

[17] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/14402016/oldbridge-house-oldbridge-sheephouse-co-meath

[18] http://www.patrickcomerford.com/2016/10/trim-castle-is-strong-symbol-in-stone.html

[19] p. 511, Casey, Christine and Alistair Rowan. The Buildings of Ireland: North Leinster: the counties of Longford, Louth, Meath and Westmeath. Penguin Books, London, 1993.

[20] p. 160. Living Legacies: Ireland’s National Historic Properties in the Care of the OPW. Government Publications, Dublin 2, 2018.

[21] https://botanicgardens.ie/kilmacurragh/

Wilton Castle, Bree, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford (and a trip to Johnstown Castle)

contact: Sean Windsor
(Tourist Accommodation Facility)
Tel: 053-9247738
www.wiltoncastleireland.com
Open: all year

Wilton Castle.

We treated ourselves to a stay in Wilton Castle in November in 2021. Having been gutted in a fire in 1923, it stood as a dramatic ruin until the Windsors purchased and began to refurbish it into luxurious accommodation. The current restoration was completed in 2014. So far just half of it has been rebuilt, the rest has been stabilised but remains empty and without a roof. The work which has been done by the Windsors is incredible – it seems to have been rebuilt to a very high standard. I’m not sure if they intend to continue to rebuild the rest of the castle.

Wilton Castle was designed for Harry Alcock (1792-1840) by Daniel Robertson (d. 1849) in 1836-38, subsuming parts of an earlier castle and house.

The area was previously known as Clogh na Kayer (The Castle of the Sheep). Herbert Hore writes in History of the Town and County of Wexford that an ancient Castle of Cloghnakayer was built in the fourteenth century. The De Dene family owned the land until 1354, when an only daughter married Philip Furlong whose descendant, Sir Fulke Furlong, knight, of Horetown, built a castle around 1410. 

The land then passed to the Butlers of Mountgarret. Edward Butler, Baron of Kayer (eldest son of Pierce, second son of Richard 1st Viscount Mountgarret) rebuilt and restored the ancient Castle, and added a mansion house to it in 1599. [1]

The view from our suite.

Edward Butler’s son, Pierce, inherited. Pierce Butler was a Catholic and a supporter of the monarchy and his land was confiscated by the Cromwellian parliament in 1655 and granted to a Cromwellian soldier, Captain Robert Thornhill. Captain Robert’s son sold the estate in 1695 to William Alcock (d. 1705) of Downpatrick, County Down. [2]

Herbert Hore tells us that William Alcock rebuilt the castle, and called it Wilton. It was this castle that was subsumed in Daniel Robertson’s design for Harry Alcock. Herbert Hore writes that “the late Colonel Alcock [Harry, (1821-93)] told me that some of the walls of the ancient Castle of the Butlers are incorporated in the present building.”

Robert O’Byrne writes: “William Alcock built a new residence for himself on the site of an old castle, and this was occupied by his descendants for several generations. A handsome classical doorcase of granite with segmental pediment above fluted pilasters survives on the façade of the former steward’s house at Wilton to indicate the appearance of the original Alcock house, dismissed by Martin Doyle in his 1868 book on the county as being ‘in the dull style of William and Mary.’ ” [3]

A handsome classical doorcase of granite with segmental pediment above fluted pilasters survives on the façade of the former steward’s house at Wilton to indicate the appearance of the original Alcock house.”
The former steward’s house, in the stable yard below Wilton Castle.

A daughter of William and his wife Jane nee Bamber of Bamber Hall of Lancaster, England, married Patrick Lattin and was the mother of the famous Jack Lattin of Morristown Lattin, County Kildare, who danced himself to death!

The estate passed to William Alcock’s son, another William Alcock (1681-1739), then to his son, Col. William Alcock (d. 1779) (Colonel in the Waterford Militia). He married Mary Loftus of Loftus Hall, County Wexford, daughter of Nicholas Loftus, 1st Viscount Loftus of Ely and his wife Anne Ponsonby, daughter of William Ponsonby, 1st Viscount Duncannon.

Loftus Hall, the home of Mary Loftus, wife of William Alcock (d. 1779). Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

Wilton then passed to his son, Henry Alcock (d. 1811). Henry Alcock married Elizabeth Katherine Ussher, daughter of Beverly Ussher of Kilmeadon, County Waterford, who was a long term MP for County Waterford. Henry Alcock also served as an MP for Waterford. Elizabeth Katherine’s sister Mary also married an MP, John Congreve of Mount Congreve in Waterford (which has beautiful gardens open to the public, although temporarily closed – I wonder if the house is to be opened also?).

The estate then passed to his son, William Congreve Alcock (1771-1812). William competed in the general election of 1807 against John Colclough of Tintern Abbey (son of Vesey Colclough, MP for County Wexford). Unfortunately they decided to settle a dispute by a duel, and William shot and killed John. John had been engaged to a sister of William’s. William was tried for murder but acquitted. He never got over the incident however and it affected his mental health and he died five years later. [4] Thus Wilton Castle passed to his brother, Harry Alcock (1792-1840).

In 1818 Harry Alcock married Margaret Elinor Savage, daughter of James Savage of Kilgibbon, County Wexford (this house is now a ruin). He then engaged Daniel Robertson in 1837 to renovate Wilton House, which became Wilton Castle. The newer house was built in front of the older Wilton House.

The older Wilton House, covered in weather-slating, is visible at the back of Wilton Castle.

The details of Daniel Robertson’s training are not known. He struggled with bankruptcy for a large part of his life and moved from working in Oxford in England to Ireland, at the urging of his father-in-law. The Dictionary of Irish Architects tells us:

From the early 1830s he did no further work in Britain but received a series of commissions in Ireland, mainly for country house work in the south eastern counties. Most of these houses or additions were in the Tudor style, which, he asserted in a letter to a client, Henry Faulkner, of Castletown, Co. Carlow, was ‘still so new and so little understood in Ireland’. For some of them he used Martin Day as his executant architect. In spite of his success in attracting commissions, when he was working at Powerscourt in the early 1840s he was, in the words of Lord Powerscourt, ‘always in debt and…used to hide in the domes of the roof of the house’ to escape the Sheriff’s officers who pursued him. By then he was crippled with gout and in an advanced state of alcoholism; at Powerscourt he ‘used to be wheeled out on the terrace in a wheelbarrow with a bottle of sherry, and as long as that lasted he was able to design and direct the workmen, but when the sherry was finished he collapsed and was incapable of working till the drunken fit had evaporated.’ In at least two instances – at Powerscourt and at Lisnavagh – he lived on the premises while work was in progress, and it seems that from the 1830s until the year of his death his wife and family never settled for any time in Ireland… Robertson was overseeing the completion of Lisnavagh, Co. Carlow, where he had been living intermittently since the start of building in 1846, when he fell seriously ill in the spring of 1849” and died in September of that year. [5]

Ballydarton House, County Carlow, also designed by Daniel Robertson, in 1830. Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
Dunleckney Manor, County Carlow, by Daniel Robertson, 1835. Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

Daniel Robertson also designed the nearby Johnstown Castle in County Wexford. We visited Johnstown Castle also but unfortunately it was closed the only day we were in Wexford, as they were taking down Hallowe’en decorations from a special event! Such a pity we weren’t able to see the inside of the castle yet, but we shall certainly visit again.

Johnstown Castle is described in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage: “the construction in a blue-green rubble stone offset by glimmering Mount Leinster granite dressings not only demonstrating good quality workmanship, but also producing a sober two-tone palette.” [6] Wilton Castle also has Mount Leinster granite dressings. It was covered however in white lime plaster – which has been reinstated on the renovated part of the castle.

The lakeside facade of Johnstown Castle, County Wexford, built 1836-72 for Hamilton Knox Grogan Morgan (1808-54), MP, also by Daniel Robertson – it has remarkable similarities to Wilton Castle. It envelops a seventeenth-century house (perhaps by Thomas Hopper) [7] remodelled (1810-4) by James Pain (1779-1877) of Limerick.
Johnstown Castle overlooks a beautiful lake.

Harry’s daughter Henrietta married William Russell Farmar who also had a house built by Daniel Robertson: Bloomfield in County Wexford.

Bloomfield, a country house erected for William Russell Farmar JP (1802-71) to a design by Daniel Robertson. Photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

Another daughter, Sarah, married Thomas John Fetherston, 5th Baronet, of Ardagh, County Longford (the house is now in use as training college, St. Brigid’s Training College, by the Sisters of Mercy).

Harry’s son, another Harry Alcock (1821-93), inherited Wilton Castle and the estate. He served as High Sheriff of Wexford in 1846 and was Lt-Col. of the Wexford Militia.  He continued the building work, which finished in 1844, adding the large square four storey tower with its elaborate balconies. He also improved the surrounding estate. He increased the plantation of trees and implemented a programme of road construction, fence building and draining of land which was carried out as Famine relief work. [8]

Wilton Castle, when designed by Daniel Robertson, consisted of a three-storey main block and two-storey wing, all dominated by a tall square tower at one end and a tall polygonal tower and turret at the other, and it is heavily machicolated and battlemented. It is the two storey wing which has been renovated for accommodation.

The tall square tower is at one end of Wilton Castle, on the three storey section.

Harry Alcock died unmarried in 1893 and the estate (some 7,000 acres in the 1870s) passed to his nephew, Philip Clayton Alcock (1861-1949), son of Harry’s brother Philip Savage Alcock (1828-86) of Park House on the Wilton estate and his wife Katherine Annette Browne-Clayton of Carrickbyrne Lodge in County Wexford. Philip Clayton Alcock was a Captain in the Gloucestershire Regiment, and in 1900 High Sheriff of Wexford, but by 1922 he felt it was too dangerous to remain at Wilton and moved to England. In 1923 his fears about his Irish property were justified when Wilton Castle was burned by arsonists. [9]

A contemporary account in the Irish Times, 7 March 1923 tells us about the burning: “Wilton Castle, the residence of Captain P.C. Alcock, about three miles from Enniscorthy, was burned by armed men on Monday night. Nothing remains of the beautiful building but smoke-begrimed, roofless walls, broken windows, and a heap of smouldering debris. The Castle was occupied by a caretaker – Mr. James Stynes – the owner, with his wife and family, having gone to England about a year ago. Shortly after 9 o’clock on Monday night the caretaker was at the Steward’s residence…when he was approached by armed men, who demanded the keys to the Castle. When he asked why they wanted the keys, one of the armed men said: “We have come to burn the place. We are sorry”. The raiders told the caretaker that he could remove his personal belongings from the part of the Castle that he occupied, but they would not allow him to remove the furniture. Fearing that the Castle might be burned, however, Captain Alcock had removed the most valuable portion of his furniture some weeks ago, but a good many rooms were left furnished. When the caretaker had removed his property he was ordered back to the Steward’s house. Soon the noise of breaking glass was heard. It appears that the armed men broke all the windows on the ground floor, and having sprinkled the floors with petrol, set them alight. They did not hurry over their work of destruction, and they did not leave the Castle until near 12 o’clock, when the building was enveloped in flames. About thirty men took part in the raid. After the raiders left, the caretaker and Steward, with what help they could procure, tried to extinguish the flames, but their effort was hopeless”. [10]

Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage of Wilton Castle before renovation.
The tall polygonal tower and telescoping turret at the other end of Wilton Castle, on the two storey section of the castle, which has been renovated and faced in a creamy white lime plaster to distinguish it from the section which remains a ruin.

Wilton Castle was built on a moated platform surrounded by parapet walls and sham fortifications.

The moated area, in front of the castle.
One of the little fortification towers along the moat in front of the castle.
Area in front of the castle, with another of the fortification towers and the moated area (not filled with water) lies on the far side of the low wall.
The windows of Wilton Castle are arched and paired and have hood mouldings; the roof has crenellations.
The side of Wilton Castle. Note the fine stone chimneys. The octagonal turret on the south west corner of Wilton Castle is built entirely of Mount Leinster granite and contains 182 cubic ft of stone or approx 13.5 ton in weight. [11]

In the three storey section of the castle, there is a beautiful carved doorcase, and an oriel window over it with delicate stone tracery and crenellations on top of the windowframe. Mark Bence-Jones defines an oriel window as “a large projecting window in Gothic, Tudor, Gothic-Revival and Tudor-Revival architecture; sometimes rising through two or more storeys, sometimes in an upper storey only and carried on corbelling.” [12] There is a similar oriel window at Johnstown Castle, which is only one storey high.

The beautifully carved Tudor-style doorcase at Wilton Castle.
The carved doorcase and oriel window of Wilton Castle.

At Wilton Castle there are double sets of sidelight windows either side of the doorcase, with arched carved window frames.

The Oriel window at Johnstown Castle, similar to that at Wilton Castle though the one at Wilton Castle is double-height.

I was most excited to discover that we could explore the ruined part of the castle as it has been stabilised securely. It was wonderful to explore the detail.

The tower of the ruined part of Wilton Castle. It has wonderful balconies on heavy stone corbels with Gothic tracery windows.
The oriel window and doorcase as seen from inside Wilton Castle.

We kept discovering more. Pictures from the front of the castle do not do it justice. The land drops down behind the castle to the River Boro, to reveal beautiful pastoral views from the back windows of the castle.

The view over the river from inside the ruin of Wilton Castle.
The River Boro running along the back of Wilton Castle.
There are lots of stone corbels.
The spiral staircase inside the round tower at the back of the castle which joins the older Wilton House to the rest of the Castle.
The view from the interior spiral staircase inside the ruin, of the river side of the castle and down toward the steward’s house.

One can walk down to the river and more of the detail of the castle is revealed from behind. We found a warren of tunnels to one side on a level below the castle.

The tunnel from the castle level down to the farmyard.
In this photograph you can see the side of the castle, and the path below. The river lies below that.
The tunnels to the side of Wilton Castle, at the lower level.

The tunnels provided quick access for servants to different parts of the castle, stable yard and grounds. There were cellars for wine and storage areas for food. Cast iron grilles let natural light and air into the tunnels. [13]

The entrances to the tunnels are in this stone wall.
Entrances to the tunnels, in the stone wall.
The riverside facade of Wilton Castle. The three storey section in the back – which is part of the older Alcock house – is covered in weather-slating tiles. The round tower contains the spiral staircase which I climbed inside the ruin.
It was only when we explored around the river side of Wilton Castle that we realised the extent of its size and the beauty of its surroundings.
The older section of Wilton Castle, formerly Wilton House.
From the path along the river side of the castle, one can climb back up these stairs, to discover a picnic area!
The picnic area.
From the picnic area, you can see the full height of the square tower.
More wonderful balconies and tracery windows in the square tower, seen from the river side.

After the fire, the Alcocks were unable to rebuild as the house had not been insured. The lands were redistributed by the Irish Lands Commission, and the castle and land was purchased by local farmer, Sean Windsor.

When we arrived we were welcomed and brought inside the renovated section of the castle. It opens into a nicely tiled hallway.

The accommodation consists of four suites, one of which has a large entertaining space. Two suites are upstairs and two downstairs, with the large one being downstairs. Our accommodation was upstairs.

The upstairs hallway.

Our accommodation was a suite, with sitting room, fully stocked kitchen, bathroom with walk-in shower, and bedroom. The sitting room and bedroom have beautiful wallpaper.

Our bedroom had a lovely Chinese style wallpaper.

Our bathroom was in the round tower of the castle!

While our suite had a walk-in shower, the suite in the floor below has a bath.

Our host showed us the larger suite downstairs that has room for a party. The double doors in the room open up to the view of the river below, onto a fine sweep of steps.

The double doors from the entertainment suite.
The larger entertainment suite.

The accommodation is more pricey than we can usually afford but for a romantic getaway it is hard to beat! It’s very quiet. There seemed to be one other suite occupied when we were there, but we never saw or heard the inhabitants. The Windsors live in a house next door. We chose to have breakfast provided, which was brought to us on a tray in the morning. We used the kitchen facilities one evening to make our dinner, and the next night, ordered a delivery from nearby Enniscorthy, which was delivered to the castle!

[1] p.560-561, Hore, Herbert. History of the Town and County of Wexford, Volume 6, ed. Philip Hore, pub. 1901-1911. Reference from http://butlerancestryireland.blogspot.com/2012/11/butlers-co-wexford-ch1-richard-1stviscount-mountgarrett.html

There is also an excellent history of the early days of the area on the Bree Heritage website, https://breeheritage.com/2015/02/27/the-early-history-of-wilton-castle-bree-co-wexford/

[2] https://landedfamilies.blogspot.com/search/label/Wexford

[3] https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/05/21/wilton-castle/

[4] For more on this, see the chapter in The Wexford Gentry by Art Kavanagh and Rory Murphy. Published by Irish Family Names, Bunclody, Co Wexford, Ireland, 1994.

[5] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/4570/ROBERTSON%2C+DANIEL#tab_biography

[6] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/15704226/johnstown-castle-johnstown-fo-by-co-wexford

[7] https://www.archiseek.com/2014/johnstown-castle-county-wexford/

[8] p. 130, Hicks, David. Irish Country Houses: A Chronicle of Change. The Collins Press, Cork, 2012.

[9] https://landedfamilies.blogspot.com/search/label/Wexford

[10] https://www.archiseek.com/2015/1838-wilton-castle-co-wexford/

[11] Note taken from the Wilton Castle facebook page, where you can see the progress of restoration that took place. https://www.facebook.com/WiltonCastleIreland

[12] 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.

[13] p. 130, Hicks, David. Irish Country Houses: A Chronicle of Change. The Collins Press, Cork, 2012.

Here are more photographs from our visit to Johnstown Castle, also designed by Daniel Robertson.

The clock tower side of Johnstown Castle.
The front entrance of Johnstown Castle – clock tower side on the right.
Inside the front arch of Johnstown Castle.
The front entrance of Johnstown Castle.
Spectacular doorway arch to one side of Johnstown Castle.
The doorway arch at Johnstown Castle features a border of carved stone heads.
Carved stone heads at Johnstown Castle.
Window surround detail and tracery at Johnstown Castle.
A workman at Johnstown Castle.