Conservation James Lawder monument, Kilmore, Co. Roscommon

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Monument to James Lawder (c 1710-1779) of Kilmore, Co. Roscommon.

Monument to James Lawder (c 1710-1779)
Monument to James Lawder (c 1710-1779) [photo Mary Timoney]

Located in the townland of Kilmore, close to the west bank of the river Shannon, just south west of Drumsna, Kilmore House, (also known also as Aghaward in later years, and now known as Clogher Lodge), is said to have been built around 1630 for the Rev. Edward King, Bishop of Elphin. It is a long, low, two-storey house, with four bays and a narrow round-headed door with narrow sidelights. While there may be an earlier house incorporated into the present structure, it has more the appearance of a house of the early eighteenth century, and may have been built for James Lawder, Sheriff of Co. Leitrim, who around 1709 married Deboragh Doherty of Kilmore. Doherty was the grand-daughter of Catherine Goldsmith, the eldest sister of playwright Oliver Goldsmith. The Lawders had four children; James, Jane, Sidney and Mary. The eldest, James, who was born in 1709, married Jane Contarine, daughter of the Rev. Thomas Contarine. In turn they had a daughter, Mary, who married Dr. Arthur Auchmuty. and it was through him that Kilmore House descended for generations in the Auchmuty family.

Across the road from Kilmore House stands Kilmore Church, a small building with castellated tower and a picturesque Gothick swept entrance. Inside the church there is an elaborate tomb to the James Lawder who married Jane Contarine. A branch of the family lived nearby, at Lowfield House, and it was at Lowfield that this James Lawder was murdered, during a burglary, in January 1779. According to the inscription on his tomb he was seventy years of age. The incident was recorded in the newspapers of the day:

On the morning of the 7th inst. [ Jan 1779] about the hour of two o’clock, a number of villains, with their faces blackened, and shirts over their clothes, broke into the house of James Lawder, Esq: of Kilmore, in the county of Roscommon, armed with guns, pistols, and other weapons, and immediately rushed into his bed chamber, and did then and there commit a most barbarous and inhuman murder on said Mr Lawder, by discharging a gun or pistol, or both, loaded with slugs or large shot into his left breast, of which he soon after expired. They robbed the house of cash to the amount of between four and five hundred pounds; among which were five five-guinea pieces, and two four-pound pieces. They also carried off with them a gun, and two pistols; one of which was mounted with silver, the other an old militia pistol. [The Gentleman’s and London Magazine: Or Monthly Chronologer, January 1779]

Monument to James Lawder (c 1710-1779) detail
[photo credit Mary Timoney]

Not long after Lawder’s death, his widow Jane commissioned a large memorial, to be erected in Kilmore Church. She later moved to Dublin, where she died in 1791. Sculpted with skill, and full of originality and character, the Lawder monument survives today in Kilmore Church, and while it has not been vandalised, it is in a parlous state, as the church has lain disused for several decades. The monument was likely sculpted in 1780, and is of high artistic quality. Standing over three metres high, it is built mainly of white Carrara marble, set against a black marble obelisk shape, and consists of a base with a lengthy inscription, beneath which is a cartouche with cherub, and over which is a sculpted bas-relief panel depicting the death of Lawder. The whole ensemble is topped by a large funerary urn. Given the scale and quality of the monument, an attribution to a leading sculptor is apt. The sculptor John van Nost the Younger has been suggested and while this is likely correct, van Nost died in 1780 and so this must have been one of the last works to have emerged from his studio. Another possibility is the Neo-Classical sculptor John Bacon, who had a busy sculpture practice in London, and supplied monuments to Ireland. A memorial commemorating James Dennis of Tracton Abbey, carved by Bacon in 1789, is now in the Crawford Art Gallery. In Calcutta there is a memorial to James Achilles Kirkpatrick, also carved by Bacon, which bears comparison with the Lawder memorial, particularly in terms of the inscription. However, the animated puckish expressions on the faces of the intruders in the Kilmore Church monument suggest van Nost, who also carved statues of Justice and Fortitude for the gateway of Dublin Castle. His lively portrait of Jonathan Swift bears comparison with the Lawder monument which combines Neo-Classical elegance with Netherlandish personality.

Monument to James Lawder (c 1710-1779) detail 2
[photo credit Mary Timoney]

This monument is therefore significant within the context of Ireland’s cultural heritage. The sculptural output of van Nost the Younger was not considerable, and for a piece as good as this to have survived for almost two and a half centuries is remarkable. It would be a significant loss if this work were to be damaged or destroyed.