Conservation Bessmount Park, Co. Monaghan

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In celebrating National Heritage Week 2022, the Irish Georgian Society is reflecting on projects it has assisted over the last 20 years through its Conservation Grants Programme. Funded through IGS London and IGS Inc (USA), over €1.6m has been awarded during this time.

Day 7: Bessmount Park, Co. Monaghan

A nineteenth-century mansion in the heart of the Irish countryside—in this case Co. Monaghan—with its pyramid roof, and patterned surfaces, there is nothing ordinary about Bessmount Park. Somewhere within this Ruskinian riot of pinnacles, gables, polychrome brick and coloured stonework, lies the original Bessmount, a plain and unremarkable country house of the early eighteenth century. Around 1868, the Henderson family decided that it was time to spend money on home improvements. The name of the architect they employed is not known for certain; John McCurdy, responsible for the nearby Monaghan Lunatic Asylum, (now St. Davnet’s Hospital), has been suggested, but it was probably the Belfast architect W. J. Barre who took on Bessmount, with a relish equal to his Albert Memorial in Belfast—another great exercise in Gothic Revival. Barre’s re-imagining of Bessmount is eclectic in outlook and nternational in flavour. A brief description of the exterior, with its proliferating voussoirs, mullions, crockets, diapers and gargoyles, would task a lexicon of architecture. On either side of the Romanesque entrance, stone roundels contain sculpted portraits of Mr. and Mrs. Henderson, whose fortunes sprang from brewing beer and whose cheerful countenances greet visitors as they ascend the steps to the front door. A study in colours, textures and geometries, the windows and brick arcades are serried in ranks of three, five and seven. There is symmetry here, but it is an idiosyncratic, irregular, poetic symmetry. An octagonal oriel window springs from the corner of a three-storey gable, the tip of which is embellished with a polychrome brick pattern. The main tower is adorned with a roof that would look at home on a French chateau. A large music room adjoins the main house. The side of the house is as heavily ornamented as the front. No surface, that could be adorned with boss, roundel, crest or knob, is left plain. While the windows in the oriel turret have straight lintels, others are crowned with trefoils and arches. The patterns on the roof are equally varied, with triangular and rounded slates alternating with plain rectangular slates. The presence of monkeys, bats and owls in the carved capitals of the entrance pilasters is reminiscent of the Shea brothers, whose carvings on the Kildare Street Club and Oxford Museum are similarly spirited, although this work at Bessmount is attributed to the equally talented Fitzpatrick brothers of Belfast.

IGS Grants — 2001: external rendering and brickwork repairs; 2004: rainwater goods repairs; 2020: external repairs to Music Room

Pictures & text by Peter Murray from his exhibition ‘Saving Graces’ (2021)

The work of the Irish Georgian Society is supported through the Heritage Council’s ‘Heritage Capacity Fund 2022’.

Heritage Week