Thursday, 7 November 2013

Knockdrin Castle, Co. Westmeath

The lakeland county of Westmeath is situated in Ireland's midlands. A varied landscape, scattered with bogland and lakeland, the county is well-populated with historic country houses. Possibly the best known are the stunning Belvedere House and Tullynally Castle. Less well-known is Knockdrin Castle, situated just outside the town of Mullingar. Knockdrin is yet another great Irish house to date from the early nineteenth century. The castle was built by the 6th Baronet Levinge. The Levinges had come to Ireland during the Williamite Wars of the 1690s, and were rewarded for the efforts by being granted lands at High Park, which the 6th Baronet would rename 'Knockdrin'. The area which corresponded to High Park had been originally in the possession of the Tuites, a Catholic family with Anglo-Norman lineage. 

Like many great landowners at the time, Sir Richard was undoubtedly taken by the thirst for all things Gothic that was sweeping through the Irish countryside in the early nineteenth century. Levinge initially selected the respected architect, Sir Richard Morrison to design his new castle. Morrison we are told completed two designs, neither of which were accepted however. Levigne then turned to Dublin architect and builder James Shiel. Shiel acquired some notoriety for the work he carried out on Lord Longford's castle at nearby Tullynally. Shiel's designs were of course carried out in the Gothic style, containing all the usual Gothic architectural accouterments. Shiel may have re-worked part of an existing eighteenth century house, although records are inconclusive to prove this. The Levinges continued to live at the castle until the 1940s. During the war the castle was commandeered by the Irish Army. After the war Knoickdrin was purchased by a German family, the von Prondzynskis, who continue to own it to this day. 

The central building may originally have been an eighteenth century house reworked in the Gothic style by Shiel. 

The gate lodge was a later addition, added in 1860. 

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Castleboro House, Castleboro, Co. Wexford

Not far from the villages of Clonroche and Rathnure stands what was once one of Ireland's great country houses: Castleboro. Now little more than an abandoned, derelict shell, it symbolized the wealth and prosperity of Ireland's landed classes in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Its burning and subsequent abandonment in the early twentieth century in turn were, however, signs of the difficulties that many landed families would face from then on. Castleboro presently sits in a precarious position; abandoned and open to the elements, a fate shared by unfortunately far too many great Irish houses. 

Castleboro traces its history to the 1780s when a local landed family, the Carews, erected a considerably large Classical house. They had been land owners in counties Wexford and Waterford by this stage for over a century. Improvements were made to it c. 1819, but was ravaged by fire in 1839. By then Casteboro was the principle possession of Robert Carew, 1st Baron Carew. The Oxford educated Carew was a long serving MP for Wexford, serving also as lord lieutenant of County Wexford. Carew choose the architect, Daniel Robertson to complete his renovated house. Robertson had worked extensively in both England and Ireland, and had completed a number of houses in Ireland's south east when he was commissioned by Carew. The new house would be Palladian in style, partly incorporating the remains of the previous Castleboro House.  

The image above shows the characteristically Palladian style of Robertson's house. The central block contained elements of the burned house, but was enlarged, and given its Palladian appearence by the addition of the two storey wings on either side. The outstanding element of the central block was the Ionic porte cocheré. This portico (porch) allowed horse-drawn carriages to pass through so as the passengers would be protected from the weather when alighting. 

One of the greenhouses located at Castleboro. 

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Bessborough House (now Kildalton College), Fiddown, Co. Kilkenny

While many of us who come from the south-east of Ireland will no doubt be familiar with this week's featured country house, we probably know it by its modern name: Kildalton College. As I child I remember going on a school tour to Kildalton, an agricultural college run by Teagesc, the Irish agriculture and food authority. If my memory serves me correctly our visit focused little on the house's long and illustrious history, but was concerned more with matters agricultural! Thus for many years I presumed the house had always been referred to as Kildaton. In more recent times I learned a little more about it and its history, coming to learn that when it was conceived it was given the name of Bessborough House. Named after the earls of Bessborough, the house dates from the 1740s, although much altered in the twentieth century. The family for whom Bessborough House was built, the Ponsonbys, were an aristocratic family of English decent. The peerage 'earl of Bessborough' was created in 1739 (previously the family's senior title was 'Viscount Duncannon' and 'Baron Bessborough') for Brabazon Ponsonby. The first earl had previously served as M.P. for Newtownards in Co. Down and later for Co. Kildare and had recently married Sarah Margetson of Bishopscourt Hall near Nass, Co. Kildare when building began on his new home.

Brabazon's marriage to the wealthy Sarah Margetson may have spurred him onto commissioning his new home near the small village of Fiddown. The architect he favoured for his project was Francis Bindon (d. 1765). Though more well-known as a portrait painter, Bindon's architectural portfolio was not insignificant; his most famous work being Russborough House, Co. Wicklow. Ponsonby's new home was designed in the Classical style: a four storey nine bay central building flanked on either side by extending wings; a common addition to many Palladian houses. The porch seen in the image above was an addition from the late nineteenth century.

Bessborough House continued to be one of the family homes into the twentieth century. In 1923 the house was burnt and severely damaged. A thorough and complete reconstruction, faithful to the original designs, took place and was completed by 1929. However, the Ponsonbys were never again to reside at Bessborough, having relocated to Stansted Park near Chichester in England. Bessborough was house was in turn purchased in 1940 by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a male Catholic religious who established a novitiate there. It continued to be used for this purpose until the late 1960s. In 1971 it was bought by Teagesc who established an agricultural college there.

Lord and Lady Bessborough 

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Moydrum Castle, Athlone, Co. Westmeath

A town of some 20,000 people, Athlone is best-known for being at the geographical centre of Ireland. An historic town enlarged by the Anglo-Normans in the twelfth century, it boasts a number of sites worthy of a visit. Not far from the town is a site not normally on visitors' 'to see' list: Moydrum Castle. While not as ancient as the town's Norman castle, Moydrum nonetheless has an interesting history, connected primarily with the Handcock family. Like a great many of Irish landowning families, the Handcocks came to Ireland in the seventeenth century, in the wake of the Cromwellian conquest. Although  one of the leading landowners in the midlands, they remained without a title, or peerage, until 1812, when William Handcock was created 1st Baron Castlemaine. An MP for Westmeath, this title, we are told, was granted largely as a result of his support for the passing of the Act of Union in 1801, in which the Irish parliament in Dublin was dissolved. William had already married favourably, being wed to Florinda Trench, daughter of the 1st earl of Clancarthy. 

The castle seen in the picture above was largely the work of an early nineteenth century refurbishment of an already existing house. The original house was erected c. 1750, and was most probably a typical Irish country house incorporating elements of the Classical style. As architectural tastes began to change in the early nineteenth century the house was given a Gothic appearance, changing it from a 'house' to a 'castle. This was done so around 1812, under the supervision of Sir Richard Morrison. Morrison obtained an impressive reputation for 'gothicising' houses, one of the most famous examples being Shelton Abbey in Co. Wicklow, which I featured on the blog some months back. From the images one can easily see how the the existing house was given its Gothic appearance; the turrets on the four corners, the off-centred tower with its great Gothic window, and the crenelations, all giving  it  the 'castle' feeling.

The castle remained in the hands of the Handcock family into the twentieth century. Like many country houses Moydrum was caught up in the atrocities committed during the Civil War. In 1921 the house was burned by the local IRA brigade and rendered uninhabitable. The family subsequently relocated to England with the house being left in the ruinous state that one can see today. An interesting aside is that the house was used on the cover of the U2 album The Unforgettable Fire in 1982 and has subsequently become a popular destination for the band's many fans! 

Friday, 5 July 2013

Castlewellan Castle, Castlewellan, Co. Down

Located some thirty or so miles south of Belfast, the historic town of Castlewellan (in Irish Caisleán Uidihilín- Uidililín's castle) sits in the shadows of the famous Mourne Mountains. The town owes much of its history to Annesley family. Of English decent the family established themselves in the area in the  1740s, purchasing a standing castle from the Magennis family. Presumably they used the castle as their principle dwelling place until the mid-nineteenth century century, when the present castle was erected. In the meantime the family had made considerable improvements to Castlewellan, erecting two noble squares at opposite ends of the town. In 1789, Francis Charles was created first Earl Annesley. The castle we see today was built for the fourth earl, William Richard. The earl, who also served as an MP for an English constituency, ordered work to commence for his new castle in the early 1850s. He selected the Scot William Burn as architect. In Ireland Burn had been well-known for the magnificent Muckross House in Killarney, Co. Kerry but had an impressive reputation as was of the leading proponents of the Scots Baronial style, a style which he went on to employ at Castlewellan.

Built at the considerable sum of just over £18,000 the castle was completed by 1859. Essentially a large four storey rectangular shaped tower house, the family motto virtutis amore (from the love of valour) is proudly displayed over the castle's main entrance. It remained in the hands of the Annesley's until the 1960s, when it passed to the Northern Irish Department of Agriculture. In 1973 it was badly damaged by a terrorist bomb while in the following year it was purchased by a Christian organisation who turned it into a retreat and conference centre. It continues to act as such to this day.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Rossmore Castle, Co. Monaghan

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that a good number of the featured houses and castles no longer exist. Some have been demolished, some burned deliberately, while others have simply been victims of neglect. So when finding a country house that you did not know had existed there is always that initial sense of awe and excitement, tinged with a little sadness. This unfortunately was the case with this week's featured entry, Rossmore Castle. To be honest I was completely unfamiliar with it, and came across it by chance when looking for images of the more well-known Castle Leslie. It was a pleasant surprise though. The beautiful castle was situated on the outskirts of Monaghan Town. The castle seen below was built in two stages, and both date from the nineteenth century. Rossmore was built for Warner Westenra (1765-1842), the second baron Rossmore. The Westerna's, whose lineage was Dutch, had inherited the title upon the death of the first baron, Robert Cunninghame (d. 1801). The house continued as the principle residence of the Westernas until the 1950s, when dry rot eventually forced the family to relocate to another property within the grounds. The house was ultimately doomed, being demolished in 1974. 

Lord Rossmore commissioned William Vitruvius Morrison to erect a new home. Morrison might be familiar to readers of this blog, having designed both Glenarm Castle and Templemore Abbey. Work commenced in 1829, with Tudor Gothic the chosen style. Much of this earliest house can be seen on the  left of the picture above, in the form of the large square turreted tower and adjoining wing. Significant additions were made in the 1850s, this time in the Scots baronial style, making it one of the largest country houses in the lakeland counties. 

While the quality of this image is not perfect it really does illustrate the size of the castle well. It also shows more clearly the two buiulding stages, with the ealrier Tudor style house on the left, and the Scots baronial wing to the right. 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Lough Eske Castle, Co. Donegal

Now renowned as a luxury hotel, the Lough Eske estate has a long and rich history stretching back centuries. The present castle and estate traces its heritage to the early seventeenth century and the Plantation of Ulster. The area had long been a stronghold of the O'Donnell family, one of the leading aristocratic Gaelic Irish families. In the wake of the defeat of the Gaelic Irish at the Battle of Kinsale, and the subsequent Flight of the Earls in 1607, the area was settled by a large numbers of Scots settlers, who were given large swathes of land. One of these families was the Knox family, who built a large house there, probably in the 1620s. Through marriage the estate and house passed into the Brooke family in the early eighteenth century. The Brooke's replaced the Jacobean mansion in the 1750s with a new house, which was in turn replaced in the later nineteenth century by the present Lough Eske Castle. 

In 1859 Thomas Brooke commissioned Fitzgibbon Louch (1826-1911) to design his new home. Louch, who originally hailed from Co. Tipperary, was at this time relatively unknown, but subsequently went on to design the impressive Magee College at nearby Derry. Louch's design was essentially Elizabethan with elements of Tudor, a fanciful design influenced heavily by the Romantic movement. Most fanciful was the tower, reminiscent of a medieval tower house or castle, with its turrets and crenelations. Its steep pitched roof and tall chimney stacks were more Elizabethan or Tudor than medieval, as were the large bay windows.

In 1894 the castle and estate were sold to General George White. In 1930 the castle was reinvented as a hotel, a relatively short lived incarnation which lasted only until 1939, when it was disastrously destroyed by fire.The ruined house then remained derelict until 2007, when it was restored. It now functions as a luxury five star hotel.

A view of Lough Eske 

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Swiss Cottage, Cahir, Co. Tipperary

Up to now the majority of houses and castles featured in this blog have been reasonably conventional. Most have been nineteenth century neo-Gothic, with the the occasional Elizabethan and Jacobean example thrown in for good measure. Today, however, I thought to include something a little more fanciful, in the form of Swiss Cottage. Perched along the banks of the River Suir, the cottage is situated on the outskirts of the small town of Cahir. Well-known for its large medieval castle, Cahir owes much of its history to the Butler family, the barons Cahir. 

Swiss Cottage was built in the early 1810s by Richard Butler, the tenth baron Cahir and soon to be earl of Glengall (1816). Butler employed the talents of the eminent English architect, John Nash. When commissioned, Nash was already highly sought after, having been appointed the architect to the regent, George, Prince of Wales in 1806. Nash undertook monumental commissions such as Regent's Street and Regent's Park in London. For Butler to secure Nash's services was, therefore a major coup. Building on the cottage commenced in 1810, and took around four years to complete. The house was not designed to be lived in, but rather as somewhere to entertain family and guests. In that sense it can be described as a cottage ornée. These type cottages, which exuded an overt rustic quality, had become popular in the late eighteenth century. The largest and possibly most well-known is Marie-Antoinette's Hemeau de la Reine at Versailles, near Paris. 

The cottage's deliberately asymmetrical look and the curvature of lines was designed to make it appear at one with nature. The balconies and verandas included exposed tree trunks, all included to add authenticity and oneness with its surrounds. Inside the cottage was fitted out suitably for the purpose it was built, with a music room and various entertaining rooms, all highly decorated in a rustic style. 

A view of the River Suir with the cottage visible in the distance 

Thursday, 30 May 2013

New Facebook page

Just to let everyone know that I've now set up a new Facebook page. The address is The page is now in the format of a business/organisation page but will have all same notification features and image galleries as before. By' liking' the page you should receive daily updates of new blog entries. As always your support is greatly received. Don't forgot that I'm extremely greatful for comments and feedback on any of the entries. Also if you feel that you would like me feature a particular building or site please let me know and I'll do my best! 

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Strancally Castle, Co. Waterford

Located a few miles downstream from the towns of Lismore and Cappoquin, Strancally Castle sits picturesquely overlooking the glorious River Blackwater. The west Waterford landscape is adorned with many great houses, and Strancally sits comfortably amongst its contemporaries. The current castle is nineteenth century, but the estate is the site of a much older castle, dating from the Norman period. The castle is believed to have built by the Norman-Welsh invader, Raymond Fitzgerald in the twelfth century. This castle was certainly inhabited into the seventeenth century, and possibly later. By the nineteenth century Strancally had come into the hands of the Keily family. 

Like so many of the castle and houses featured on the blog thus far, Strancally can be described as a neo-Gothic style house. Built as a dwelling house, and with no serious defensive structures, the castle was erected c. 1830 by John Keily (?1765-1843). Keily had briefly served as MP for Clonmel 1819-20 but had not been returned in the 1820 election. He chose the Pain brothers, George and Richard to design his home. The house contained the usual neo-Gothic architectural accompaniments, bearing a striking similarity with Dromoland Castle, which the Pain brothers also designed. Keily not only owned the castle but also a sizeable estate, amounting to some 5,000 acres. Strancally remained in the hands of the Keily family until 1856, when it was sold to the Whitelock Lloyd family. The house is now privately owned by the Buckley-Allen family. 

Above one can see the River Blackwater with the remains of the original medieval castle to the right. Legend has it that the castle contained a famous 'murdering hole' in one of its bedrooms. This sinister device came in the form of a concealed trapdoor, which when opened would propel the victim directly to river beneath! 

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Glenarm Castle, Co. Antrim

Glenarm is situated on the stunningly picturesque Antrim Coast. Famed for its rugged beauty and coastline the county of Antrim is located on the island's far northeastern reaches. On a clear day the coast of Scotland is visible. And it is to the Scotland that this part of the country owes much of its history and heritage, Antrim having been heavily populated with Scots settlers from the late sixteenth century onwards. However, the connection with Scotland had long predated this migration; since the thirteenth century Glenarm had been home to the MacEoin Bissets, a land owning family whom had come to Ulster from Scotland. In the sixteenth century it came into the hands of another Scots family, the McDonnells. In 1636 the McDonnells rebuilt an already existing medieval castle. Unfortunately for them though the renovated castle was sacked in 1642 by an invading Scots force. The family then returned to Dunluce Castle, dubbed Ulster's 'lost town', where they remained until the mid-eighteenth century, returning eventually to Glenarm. 

In 1750 the family resettled at Glenarm, Dunluce having been effectively abandoned. The shell of the standing ruin at Glenarm was used as the base for a new Palladian mansion. Like many other existing houses in Ireland, Glenarm was affected by the growth of the Romantic movement, with substantial changes being made to its appearance in the early nineteenth century. While some houses were remodeled as neo-Gothic style castles, a few took on the appearance of Jacobean mansions. This was the case at Glenarm, where the house was given flanking towers, crenelations, and a Jacobean style porch.

Above is an image of the gatelodge, or barbican as it was commonly known. The lodge was built as part of the renovations of the early nineteenth century, erected in 1826 by the countess of Antrim. The McDonnells were granted the title 'earl of Antrim' in 1620 by James I. Although receiving favour, the family were looked upon with some suspicion, especially in the tumultuous seventeenth century, as they had had remained Catholic, resisting efforts to conform to Protestantism. The title is still in use to this day, Alexander McDonnell being the fourteenth earl of Antrim. The castle is now a major centre for tourism and culture, with many events promoting cultural ties with Scotland.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Clifden Castle, Co. Galway

The picturesque town of Clifden is a popular destination for visitors. Dubbed the 'capital of Connemara', Clifden is a town of some 3,000 people. Its history, however, is not as venerable as one might expect, founded only in the early nineteenth century. The town was the brainchild of local landowner, John D'Arcy. The D'Arcy family originally hailed from the parish of Athenry, Co. Galway but prospered thanks to to the 1652 Act of Settlement, when they received a sizable amount of land in Connemara. While the D'Arcy's family seat was at Kiltullagh House, Athenry, to crown his new town, John decided to erect a suitable and fitting home for himself. This became known as Clifden Castle. Construction commenced c. 1815, in the Gothic Revival style, so popular in that century. However, because it was one the earlier Gothic Revival houses, it differed considerably from what followed throughout the later 1800s. Clifden Castle was more fanciful in appearance, and did little to genuinely imitate the castles of the medieval period. In reality it had more in common with the late eighteenth century Strawberry Hill Gotick than it did with many of its successors. It was nonetheless adorned with a series of turrets, flanking towers, crenelations, and pointed windows. 

The D'Arcy estate and the town of Clifden flourished originally. When the Famine broke out in 1845 the town possessed two noble churches, up to 200 houses, a courthouse, and a number of other civic buildings. The town's prosperity had much to do with the construction of a thriving harbour. However, this initial prosperity was not long lived, and tragedy struck with onset of the Famine. The estate's population suffered mortalities and a high rate of emigration. Rental incomes subsequently plumated, resulting ultimately in the D'Arcy's bankruptcy. In 1850 the estate was bought by the Eyre's, an English family, who originated in Somerset. The Eyre's were not resident landlords, and only infrequently occupied the castle. Upon the death of John Joseph Eyre in 1894, the castle and the estate were placed in trust. The castle subsequently fell into a state of disrepair. 

The image shows the castle in the early stages of dereliction. The castle is now roofless and abandoned but the outer walls are still in place. The estate was subsequently broken up by the Irish Land Commission in the 1930s, when its land was sold in smaller lots to local farmers. 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Waterford Castle, the Island, Waterford

A castle has stood on this site since the medieval period. The owners, the Fitzgeralds were a Norman aristocratic family, and had arrived in Ireland as part of the Norman conquest of the twelfth century. A small Norman style keep was built on the island, but this was abandoned by the sixteenth century. It seems it remained in a state dereliction until the nineteenth century, when the castle we now have today took its form. The then owner, John Fitzgerald, carried out the initial restoration in 1849, which was enhanced in the 1870s and 90s by Gerald Purcell-Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald employed the English architect W.H. Romaine-Walker (1854-1940) to oversee the restoration. 

The image above shows the castle as it essentially looks today. The wings to the east and west of the central section were added as part of the nineteenth century restoration. The central section contained the remaining traces of the original Norman keep, which were harmoniously adapted with the new designs. The 'new' castle did not have a polished stone exterior like many of the neo-Gothic buildings erected in the period, but rather an unrefined stone finish, giving it more of a 'medieval' feeling than many of its contemporaries enjoyed. Battlements, crenelations, and even gargoyles were included to add 'authenticity'. 

Waterford Castle sits peacefully on Little Island. The island measures just over 400 acres, and is located on the River Suir, less than five kilometers downstream from the city's bustling quays. The island remained in the hands of the Fitzgeralds for centuries, until the twentieth century, when it was bought by a family from Rhodesia, the Igos in 1958. They transformed the island into a horticultural centre, erecting large glass houses, growing flowers and crops. The island then became a dairy farm before eventually being turned into a luxury hotel in 1987. Much of the island is now in use as an eighteen hole golf course. 

The Fitzgerald family at the castle's main entrance 

The image above shows a small steamboat transporting the family to the island. In more recent years a car ferry now brings residents and golfers across the channel. 

Monday, 29 April 2013

Dromoland Castle, Co.Clare

A castle has stood on the site near Dromoland since the fifteenth century. Dromoland was traditionally the seat of the O'Brien family, a powerful Gaelic Irish family, who had retained status and wealth at the time of the Protestant Reformation by confirming to the state sponsored Church of Ireland. The family was granted the title 'Baron Inchiquin'; in return they vowed to renounce their Gaelic Irish titles and culture, and pledge allegiance to the Crown. The present castle at Dromoland dates from the early nineteenth century, the brainchild of Edward O'Brien, Lord Inchiquin. Inchiquin chose the English brothers, George and Richard Pain as architects. The Pains had already erected the magnificent castle neo-Gothic castle at Mitchelstown, and at Dromoland Inchiquin sought the increasingly popular Gothic for his new home. 

Building on the castle was completed c. 1835. It was mostly completed in local cut limestone, adorned with crenelations, corbles, and gothicised chimney stacks, while a tudor style porch was added at the front. Before the erection of the new castle, the O'Brien's principle home was at nearby Leamanagh Castle. Leamanagh contained a monumental entrance, dating from the seventeenth century. In 1907 Lord Inchiquin had part of this removed an re-erected at Dromoland. This  memorial highlighted the O'Brien family's links with Brian Boru, the one time ancient 'high king' of Ireland. When the sixteenth Lord Inchiquin sold the property in 1962, the castle was subsequently redeveloped as a luxury castle and golf complex. Significant additions were made, but in a sympathetic and harmonious way. The castle's opulence and prestige has attracted celebrities and politicians from all over the world. 

The castle viewed from across the lake 

Friday, 26 April 2013

New Facebook page launched

I've recently started a Facebook page. The address is
The page's aim is to bring together the three blogs that I currently compile. The page will bring you news of new posts on all three blogs. It would be wonderful if you could check it out and maybe 'like' it or even add as a friend. Feel free to comment on entries and pictures; feed back and discussion is always appreciated. 

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Mount Juliet, Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny

One of Ireland's truly great country houses, Mount Juliet sits proudly along the meandering banks of the River Nore, in the south-eastern county of Kilkenny. Now internationally renowned for its golf course and luxury hotel, the house and estate was once owned by James, duke of York (later James II), eventually becoming home to the earls of Carrick, relations of the Butler earls of Ormonde, in the 1750s. The first earl of Carrick, Somerset Hamilton Butler (1718-74) orignally settled there in the 1750s. In 1745 he had married Lady Juliana Boyle, daughter of the first earl of Shannon, Henry Boyle. Upon taking up residence at their estate, the couple lived at nearby Ballylinch Castle. Butler decided, however, a more fitting home was needed, and work commenced on a new house on the opposite bank of the River Nore, sometime in the early 1760s. 

Construction on the new house was completed c.1770, and was named in honour of Butler's wife, commonly known as Juliet. The house occupies a prominent raised site overlooking the River Nore, lending to an overall sense of impressiveness. The house exhibits aspects of the Classical style but was quite distinct from the popular Classical houses erected at the same time; its pitched roof and high chimneys almost harping back to an earlier architectural era. 

The view above shows the close proximity of the house to the river. In the background is visible the bridge erected by the first earl in 1762. The bridge allowed the earl and his wife easy access from Ballylinch House to their new home on the opposite side of the river. The estate now provides the setting for a championship golf course of international renown, having hosted the World Golf Championship in 2002 and 2004, as well as the Irish Open for many years.

One of the house's drawing rooms

Monday, 15 April 2013

Myrtle Grove, Youghal, Co. Cork

The seaside town of Youghal (in Irish 'Eochaill', meaning 'yew wood') is situated on Cork's eastern reaches, flanking the border with Waterford. The town has a long illustrious and history, with Vikings. Normans, and English all taking advantage of its strategic setting at the mouth of the River Blackwater. In the sixteenth century, the Catholic led Desmond Rebellion in Munster was defeated by forces loyal to Elizabeth I. In the wake of the victory, New English settlers were introduced to large parts of Munster. Youghal and the surrounding areas was one such area to see an influx of new settlers. One of these was an English adventurer, Sir Walter Raleigh, who received some 40,000 acres in the area.  Raleigh held a number of properties in east Munster, including for a time, Lismore Castle. However, it was at Youghal that he left his greatest mark, where he resided whilst serving as the town's mayor in the 1580s at a fine Elizabethan style house known as Myrtle Grove. In the twentieth century the house was home to Sir Henry Arthur Blake, the one time Governor-General of Hong Kong.

The house at Myrtle Grove is said to date from the 1550s, and predates Raleigh's taking up of residence by some thirty or so years. The house is a detached six bay gabbled, three storey building  and is one of the very few examples of an unfortified Tudor house in Ireland. One of the main characteristics of Tudor architecture was the use of steep gables and tall chimneys, both features evident in the image below. 

View of the rear showing the steep gables and prominent tall chimneys 

Reception room

A number of myths have sprung up due to Raleigh's association with Myrtle Grove. One of the most well-known is that which says the first potatoes in Ireland were planted there, Raleigh having planted them upon his return from the New World. Another popular tale recalls a servant of Raleighs dousing him with water, mistaking the never before seen tobacco smoke for a fire! There is said, however, to be some truth in the legend that Myrtle Grove was where the Elizabethan poet, Edmund Spenser first penned the poem 'the Faerie Quuene'. Spenser had acquired land as part of the Munster Plantation, and was a close friend of Raleighs. 

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Templemore Abbey, Co. Tipperary

Templemore Abbey is another of Ireland's lost architectural treasures. This extensive neo-Gothic mansion was destroyed by revolutionary forces during the Irish War of Independence in 1921. The abbey, or priory as it was sometimes known, had been in the hands of a local land owning family, the Cardens. The family originated in the English county of Cheshire but came to Ireland in the wake of the Cromwellian settlement in the seventeenth century. In 1787 the family was raised to the baronnetcy, with the senior male enjoying the title 'sir' from then on. The house seen in the image below dates from the 1860s, and was built on the site of a previous house erected c. 1820. The new house combined aspects of the Elizabethan style with the increasingly popular neo-Gothic, and was complete with battlements, turrets, and pinnacles, all for purely decorative purposes. 

During the War of Independence (1919-21), north county Tipperary was a hotbed of republican activity. In response to this government forces commandeered private properties where troops would be stationed. This was the case with Templemore Abbey where B Company of the Auxiliaries were based from 1920. The Auxiliaries were more commonly known as the 'Black and Tans', due to the colours on their uniform, and came to be especially despised by some locals due to a number of alleged atrocities. When the Auxiliaries departed the Abbey in May 1921, the local brigade of the IRA received orders from the central command, allegedly coming from Michael Collins, to burn the house so as it could not be used in the event of British forces returning in the future. The burning of the house was undoubtedly also a symbolic act of vengeance against the Cardens, themselves a large local land owning family. The house was subsequently raised to the ground; nothing remains save the gate lodge and a partially intact stable block.  

The angle of the image above shows the true extent of the scale of the house, which was said to have comprised some sixty rooms. 

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Bantry House, Bantry, Co. Cork

Of all great Irish country houses, Bantry House surely enjoys one of the most idyllic locations, overlooking the glorious Bantry Bay, surrounded on each side by the rugged Caha Mountains. The house there is in the possession of the Shelswell-White family, the descendants of the earls of Bantry. The present house is largely a nineteenth century construction, but with a significant central section dating from the early eighteenth century. Construction on the house commenced in 1710 by the original owners, the Hutchinson family. The house, originally known as Blackrock, was a detached five bay two storey house, and was a noble Classical structure, displaying strong elements of the Queen Anne style. This structure forms the central part of the house we see today. 

In 1765 Richard White purchased the house from the Hutchinsons. The Whites had up to then lived at nearby Whiddy Island. They had strong ties with Limerick, and had initially prospered as a merchant family. Better known as 'Councillor White', Richard was a well-known local politician. His son Richard received the title 'Baron Bantry' in 1797, and was subsequently made the first earl of Bantry in 1817. Upon the death of the childless fourth earl, William Henry, in 1891, the title became extinct. 

The above image shows the house in its current form. The house was transformed in the nineteenth century, with additions being made to the east and west of the original eighteenth century structure, as well as to the south, giving it a t-shape appearance. The bow wings, in the centre of the picture above, adorned by the balustrade were added in 1820, while the south extension, facing the sea to the right, was an even later addition, from 1845.

The view of the house towards Bantry Bay. To the right is the decorative stable block added in 1845.

In 1796 Bantry Bay was the scene of an event of international importance, when a French revolutionary force, led by General Hoche attempted to land in the bay. Their goal was to the creation of a revolutionary Irish state, along the lines of revolutionary France. This expeditionary force was made up some fifty ships and thousands of men. The attempted invasion was doomed, however, due to bad weather, and not a single ship landed successfully.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Gurteen le Poer, Gurteen, Co. Waterford

This large Elizabethan style house at Gurteen sits picturesquely along the banks of the River Suir. Although situated within the boundary of Co. Waterford, the house straddles the boarder with Co.Tipperary, and the small village of Kilsheelan. The present house, which much resembles a castle, dates from 1866, but the history of Gurteen extends back centuries to the arrival of the Normans in the 1100s. The house owes it history to a Norman family, the Powers, who by the seventeenth century held the titles of Viscount Power and earl of Tyrone. These titles, however, became extinct in 1742. The castle remained in the hands of the de la Poers until 1988, when it was bought by the internationally renowned Austrian artist, Gottfried Helnwein.

The house was designed in the Elizabethan Revival style, combining elements of Gothic. It was built by Edmond de la Poer, with construction commencing in 1863.  The architect chosen was Samuel Ussher Roberts, who went on design the castle at Kylemore, Co. Galway, and a number of buildings at nearby Portlaw, Co. Waterford. The house took three years to complete, at a cost of £10,000. Some time after de la Poer received the title of 'count'. This was not a royal peerage but rather a papal title, and was granted to him by Pope Pius X.

The monumental gardens 

Mrs de la Poer and child 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Kylemore Abbey, Co.Galway

Kylemore Abbey sits picturesquely on the shores of Pollacapall Lake in the heart of scenic Connemara. Kylemore, now occupied by Benedictine nuns, started life not as an abbey, but rather as a castle. The castle was the brainchild of local MP, Mitchel Henry. Henry had come to Ireland sometime in the 1860s, and fell in love with Connemara's rugged beauty. Enjoying considerable wealth, he had a varied career in medicine and business; one of his endeavors was setting up the Manchester Evening News in 1868. Construction commenced on the castle in 1864 to the designs of Samuel Ussher Roberts. Upon the death of his wife in 1875, Henry spent less and less time in Kylemore; the castle was eventually sold on to the ninth duke of Manchester in 1903. The castle came in to the hands of its present owners, the Benedictine nuns, in 1920. 

The castle was an irregular plan country house, largely Gothic in design. The architect, Ussher Roberts had experience working with Gothic houses having designed the similarly magnificent Gurteen le Poer, in Co. Waterford in 1862. Additions were made to Kylemore by the duke of Manchester, and more significantly by the Benedictine nuns, who added a  two block dormitory extension to the rear sometime after 1920. The nuns had previously resided in Ypres, Belgium, but had fled with the destruction of the city during the Great War. The Benedictines of Ypres had been an Irish community, set up in the wake of Reformation in Ireland, and founded in Brussels in 1598. The nuns at Kylemore ran an renowned international boarding school until its closure in 2010. 

One of the abbey's treasures is the nineteenth-century neo-Gothic chapel. The chapel owes its erection not to the nuns, as one might expect, but rather to Mitchell Henry. The chapel was built as a family mausoleum upon the death of his wife in 1875. The chapel, located on the lake shore, one mile from the castle, resembles a miniature cathedral both in appearance and form, and is considered one of the finest examples of the Gothic Revival in Ireland. Mitchell Henry, who had largely retired from residing at Kylemore after his tragedy, was interred there with his wife upon his death in 1910. 

The chapel interior