Conservation Russborough House

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Historical background

Russborough House in Co. Wicklow is one of the finest Palladian houses in Ireland and one of its best-preserved eighteenth century buildings. It was built 1741-1748 to the designs of Richard Castle for Joseph Leeson who became the First Earl of Milltown and a great art collector. In 1931 the house was sold to Captain Denis Daly and then in 1951 to Sir Alfred Beit who famously brought the Beit art collection to the house. The Alfred Beit Foundation have owned and managed the house since it was established by Sir Alfred and Lady Clementine Beit in 1976.

The ornamental urns which surmount the parapet are of significance to the house as they add particularly grand detail to the overall Palladian character. There are 76 urns in total with five different designs possibly reflecting the use of a number of different workshops in their production. Largely composed of oolitic (Bath) limestone and Portland stone from England, the urns underwent at least two campaigns of repair and restoration in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, though unfortunately these attempts at solidification were made inappropriately with Portland and Roman cement. Due to water ingress from these alterations and the corrosion of the original iron fixing pins, by 2004 the urns were in very poor condition, at times posing a danger to passersby below. A survey was undertaken to determine a course of action and in 2005 a Pilot Trial of restoration for six urns along the main house and East wing was begun. Having been in such poor condition as to warrant their removal to storage, the Pilot Trial urns were restored with the help of a donation of €10,000 from the Irish Georgian Society.

Brief description of project

Old cement repairs were raked out and re-pointed in Eco Mortar and number 12 repair mortar, while corroded iron pins and steel dowels were also removed. Further work involved reattaching urn finials and necks with lime mortar, carving and assembling missing elements, creating parapet fixings, non-abrasive cleaning, and applying lime shelter coats. This was an extensive and time-consuming project which restored the Pilot urns to the parapet and which better informed Phases I and II of the urn reparations programme. 

Architectural description

This mansion consists of seven bays of two storeys over a basement. Doric collonades attach the main house to two pavilions which are also linked to outbuildings by rusticated walls. The house of dressed granite is fronted by a pedimented entryway with three-quarter Doric columns and is topped by a hipped roof. The pavilions and colonnades possess a parapet with ornamental urns. Sash windows of six-over-six configuration are to the principal storey, while those of three-over-three are to the first floor. Baroque and Rococo plasterwork fills the house as do other fine details such as marble chimneypieces. The house exists within a large and beautiful demesne which is entered to the right of the house through a triumphal arch.