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The vision of the Irish Georgian Society is to conserve, protect and foster a keen interest and a respect for Ireland’s architectural heritage and decorative arts. These aims are achieved through its scholarly and conservation education programmes, through its support of conservation projects and planning issues, and vitally, through its members and their activities.

Exhibition - 'Dublin Fragments: The Pearson Collection', 6 to 31 July 2020

03.07.2020

Posted by IGS

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Dublin Fragments: The Pearson Collection
6 to 31 July 2020

Open Monday to Friday, 10.00am to 5.00pm
City Assembly House, 58 South William Street, Dublin 2
#DublinFragments

This Spring the Irish Georgian Society are delighted to present Dublin Fragments: The Pearson Collection curated by artist Peter Pearson.

This exhibition of architectural fragments and installations presents a dazzling display of Dublin craftsmanship. Today, most significant buildings are protected, thus it is (or should be) impossible to salvage such artefacts as these rescued since the sixties from demolished buildings.

Seen here out of their natural settings, this display of fanlight and plasterwork, architrave and woodwork, cast and wrought iron only accentuates their intrinsic beauty. The creativity of those talented craftsmen show mementos of a time and people long gone. Much has been written about whole streets razed, mostly between 1960 and 1990, and there are many fascinating photographs of what has been lost. Here too are items from public buildings: one of the iron cramps from the Custom House which caused so much damage to its stonework; a plasterwork acorn from the Four Courts rescued before the 1920 fire; City Hall plasterwork; and there’s a decorative toilet from Dublin castle!

When does a few items become a collection? When there are several examples of the same type of railing head, you have the basis of a collection. The speed of demolition in Dublin city and county in the 1980s made it possible to acquire these objects, but they did not simply fall out of the sky! Attempts were first made through the Planning process to prevent such destruction. Often being unsuccessful, this led to the hour of demolition - if one was lucky enough to know when it might happen. In general, nobody wanted to save anything and developers were keen to clear a site speedily. Some of the bigger elements were recycled - slates from two houses went for the re-roofing of Drimnagh Castle; joists, floorboards, doors and mouldings were always useful. Rescuing ironwork balconies or plasterwork required time, tools, dexterity, help from like-minded friends, and transport. Much was moved on the back of motorbikes; cars were willingly lent for larger items. Plasterwork had to be detached, sometimes using a hatchet, whilst balancing on makeshift scaffolds made out of old wardrobes and joists.

The black filth of demolition, dust in the eyes, splinters and sharp nails were all routine hazards, not to mention the lifting of very heavy stones and timbers! Lastly, space was needed to store everything – usually in basements or outside sheds.

This form of collecting fragments from a wide range of Dublin’s built heritage can be regarded as a sort of archaeology of the 18th and 19th centuries, except these items never got the chance to be buried. On another level, like some archaeological artefacts, these exhibits are artistic pieces in their own right illustrating aspects of the building of this city and reflect the social history of those times.

The collection has been displayed publicly on several occasions since 1991: at the Guinness Hop Store; Dublin Castle; Collins Barracks [IGS]; Cork [IGS} and Bonhams Dublin.

Much of this collection was professionally photographed in 2003 by the Irish Georgian Society. Each item was described and its provenance noted.

Peter Pearson Dublin, February 2020


Artist’s biography

Peter Pearson is an artist and writer who has always been attracted to the physical heritage of his native Dublin. He has had a lifelong interest in documenting and protecting the architectural and natural heritage of Ireland and his paintings reflect this. In his work there are recurring themes of decay and destruction alongside celebration of architecture and building – but there is a certain ambiguity in the beauty of a decaying Georgian house – its mellow brickwork, its shattered fanlight and its mangled railings.

This exhibition is complemented by a selling exhibition of Peter Pearson’s paintings of Dublin scenes. A commission from these paintings will go toward supporting the Irish Georgian Society’s conservation and education programmes.

The Irish Georgian Society gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the following donors and supporters for the Dublin Fragments exhibition: IGS London, John Barber DL and John Nolan, Camilla and Dermot McAleese, Susannah McAleese and Sara Moorhead.

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IGS statement on Programme for Government

29.06.2020

Posted by IGS

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Design for the entrance front of Leinster House by Richard Castle (Image courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive)

The Irish Georgian Society congratulates Darragh O'Brien TD on his appointment as Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and wishes him every success in delivering the Built Heritage objectives of the new Programme for Government.

The Society welcomes the commitments made in the Programme for Government to Ireland’s built heritage though fulfilling these effectively will require the provision of necessary funding and other resources. Of note is the support pledged for conservation grants programmes, for the roles of Heritage Officers and the objective to appoint Conservation & Repurposing Officers in each county. It is hoped that the goal of devising an apprenticeship programme for traditional building skills will be prioritised and that plans to expand the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage will build on the excellent work done over the last two decades. The IGS is also encouraged by the document’s goal to publish and implement a new heritage policy through Heritage Ireland 2030.

Read the full statement here.

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The Irish Country House and the Art of John Nankivell​: Strokestown House, Co. Roscommon

24.06.2020

Posted by IGS

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Strokestown House, Co. Roscommon

Here is a side of Strokestown rarely seen, a house so well known since its acquisition in 1979, and familiar now largely as the centre for the commemoration of the Great Irish Famine, with a national museum to the tragedy housed in the outbuildings. A lopsided, creeper-draped bow, filled with big light-giving windows, it represents the elegant terminal wall of a Regency drawing room, an appendage made as part of the alterations to the house in 1819. Strokestown is the first great Palladian house west of the Shannon, where even by 1832 ‘none other approaches near it, whether in extent of demesne or grandeur of mansion’, and yet even with the rare survival of its archive the building history has been poorly documented. It is usually dated to about 1730, and attributed to Richard Castle for Thomas Mahon, although family tradition has always insisted, improbably, that its construction began in 1696, the date carved on a stone preserved at the house that most likely belongs to a predecessor.

The family origins in Roscommon can be traced well before this date to Captain Nicholas Mahon, an officer distinguished for his devoted loyalty to Charles I and Charles II through the Civil Wars, who for that loyalty was granted Strokestown as a royal deer park, with a great estate in Roscommon besides. Thomas Mahon was his grandson and serving as an MP for Roscommon from 1739-1763, became in Parliament ‘father of the house’ so that it naturally befitted his position and dynastic ambitions to build a classical house to rival those of his parliamentary peers. Ensuring such grandiose architecture did not languish in these remote wetlands of Connaught, this vast improvable bog was fully exploited by Mahon and his heirs, their estate eventually prospering and increasing over time to some 30,000 acres, the great house a constant at its centre, set with a benign authority in its rarefied demesne, fixed on the stupendous ringstrasse-rivalling, tree-lined Main Street, its other-worldliness mediated by an arched Gothic gateway.

In 1800, in return for supporting the Union, Thomas’s son Maurice Mahon was granted a peerage, created 1st Baron Hartland. His son Thomas, succeeding as 2nd Baron, immediately began remodelling the house, employing the architect John Lynn who had recently helped complete Nash’s Rockingham, to attempt to give this lumbering Palladian mansion some of the same Regency grace. By adding the shallow bow-ended drawing room Strokestown instantly became à la mode but the remodelled entrance front - given a beaming fanlit doorcase under a tetrastyle Ionic portico - was altogether less successful. As part of the process the heavy, pedimented Palladian frontispiece on the first floor was removed (reused now as a two-dimensional garden temple), and the newly stuccoed façade was broken up instead by a row of tall panelled pilasters overlaid on series of stringcourses, under a thinly moulded cornice and crowning balustraded parapet in stone, the cornice lacking enough emphasis for its purpose; the acroterian blocks above the pilasters and the panels carved with strigillation flanking the plain central die - which all appear a little to indistinctly - are features that are especially reminiscent of Soane, whose work was presumably known to the English-born Lynn.

When his lunatic brother, the 3rd Baron died in 1845, the Hartland title became extinct, and Strokestown passed to a cousin, Major Denis Mahon but the earnest programme of evictions carried out on his behalf on the estate soon cost him his life when he was murdered in November 1847 at the height of the Great Famine. Succeeded by his daughter Grace and her husband Henry Packenham, who assumed the name Mahon, their granddaughter Olive Hales-Pakenham-Mahon was the last of the family to live there, selling it in 1979 to Westland Garage, just before her death in 1981.

The above text, written by Kevin V. Mulligan, is from the catalogue that accompanied the 2018 exhibition 'Vain Transitory Splendours': The Irish Country House and the Art of John Nankivell, and it can be purchased online from the IGS bookshop.

You can purchase some of John Nankivell's drawings from the IGS bookshop.

Kevin V. Mulligan is an independent architectural historian.

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Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland: The Society of Artists's Exhibitions Recreated: George Mullins

22.06.2020

Posted by IGS

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Landscape with Bathers, George Mullins, oil on canvas (Irish Heritage Trust)

George Mullins (1756-c.1786) was a pupil of James Mannin in the Dublin Society Drawing School of Landscape and Ornament around 1756, George Mullins was first employed in the Wyse manufactory in Waterford, painting the lids of tins and snuffboxes. After returning to Dublin, he married the proprietress of an alehouse in Temple bar and lived there for some years. During which time, he submitted three landscapes to the first Society of Artists' Exhibition in 1765 and continued to exhibit landscapes with them up until 1769. In 1768 he was employed by Lord Charlemont to complete four Italian-style landscapes for his home in Marino. He traveled to London in 1770 and exhibited with the Royal Academy until 1775.

To mark the second anniversary of our exhibition 'Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland: The Society of Artists's Exhibitions Recreated', which opened at the City Assembly House in June 2018, we have been sharing some the works of the artists whose works were assembled in the original exhibitions (1765-80).

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The Irish Country House and the Art of John Nankivell​: Gaybrook, Mullingar, County Westmeath

18.06.2020

Posted by IGS

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Gaybrook, Mullingar, County Westmeath

Partly windowless with a telling sag in the main roof, Gaybrook is here represented in the 1970s on the eve of its execution. It was then in the ‘last throes of its decay, its falling interiors highly dangerous to explore, and very dark’, the big forlorn block set over its wilding, but still ‘ravishing’ sunken Victorian formal garden - the lawns thick and lank, the pink and white roses turning feral as they scrambled up the tall yews that marked the steps that once gracefully descended to neat parterres. All of this a world away from the smart house occupied until 1960, its chicly presented rooms and well-tended garden photographed in the 1950s displaying a sort of grand formality that seemed a little too pretentious for its quaint rustic name, which in fact originated with a different, much earlier, house.

As a demesne, Gaybrook emerged in the eighteenth century out of Redmondstown, the forfeited lands of Edmund D’Arcy that were granted to John Gay in 1666, and it was perhaps he who built the first house here. It was still referred to as Redmondstown as late as 1743, when another John Gay was living here. According to his son, Nicholas, he was ‘a generous and hospitable man, but improvident’. By 1772, indebtedness brought Gaybrook (then described as being ‘now and for several years past in the possession of, and held and occupied by…John Gay’) into the court of chancery when the house, gardens and its ‘sundry parks’ (which were intriguingly called ‘the Ark’) were offered to the highest bidder for three years. The estate remained impaired however, and by 1784, Nicholas Gay, described as a person a ‘very high sense of honour…extremely tenacious about being in debt’ considering it ‘highly derogatory to the character of a gentleman’, decided to sell it.

A newspaper advertisement described the 450 acre demesne in considerable detail, ‘270 of which are within one fence; the home in the centre…. the house, though not a modern one, is convenient, and, with small expense might be made much more so, as there is an additional building of two rooms, roofed and glazed, but not finished within’. More significantly perhaps, it also suggested that to ‘a person disposed to build there is a most eligible situation in the midst of a lawn, of above fifty acres, from which may be seen the Curragh, the Wicklow Mountains, the lake…’ The property was eventually purchased by Ralph Smyth (descended from the branch that also established the Smythes of Barbavilla) and he soon proceeded to plan a new house, on a new site. Although its architect is not recorded, one possibility is the amateur architect Rev. Daniel Beaufort, the rural clerical polymath, rector of Navan, interested in architecture, map-making and agriculture who helped found the Royal Irish Academy. Beaufort was a frequent visitor to Gaybook, and seems to have assisted and advised the Smyths, even to the extent of collecting their rents. He had evidently been consulted about choosing a site for the new house, which he noted in his diary in 1786. Beaufort was an accomplished draftsman, though his designs are a little stiff and his ideas, rooted in mid-Georgian Palladianism, were somewhat old-fashioned.

The house was a tall, rather lumbering mass, three-storeys high on a raised basement, and though well-proportioned with refined interiors, eternally its restrained astylar classicism bordered on the dull, its deep plan – extending to five-bays contributing a bulky prominence likely to have been lessened, and certainly less blunt, had it been composed with symmetrical wings. The entrance front had three bays, the central bay advanced, to which an unusual semi-circular porch was added in the early-nineteenth century, ringed with Tuscan columns that heightened the architectural interest. On the garden front, shown here, its neo-classicism was expressed in the central bow, an elegant three-bay projection extending the full height, and in the Wyatt windows which flanked it on the ground floor. A long service wing was added in the 1830s by Robert Smyth, who succeeded his elder brother Ralph in 1827 and in 1830 married Frances Alexander, daughter of Nathaniel, Bishop of Meath. This was balanced somewhat by a conservatory on the opposite side, which had already been removed by the 1950s. Today, only the fading ghost of the terrace suggests there was ever a house here.

The above text, written by Kevin V. Mulligan, is from the catalogue that accompanied the 2018 exhibition 'Vain Transitory Splendours': The Irish Country House and the Art of John Nankivell, and it can be purchased online from the IGS bookshop.

You can purchase some of John Nankivell's drawings from the IGS bookshop.

Kevin V. Mulligan is an independent architectural historian.

Read more

The Irish Country House and the Art of John Nankivell​: Kinturk, Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath

11.06.2020

Posted by IGS

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Kinturk, Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath

Drab in its garb of modern pebbledash and out-scaled by bulky, non-descript institutional buildings in car parks, the long plain garden front of Kinturk stands poised on its grassy terraces, looking somewhat inured to its setting. It represents a large nineteenth-century addition to the Georgian house of the Pollard family, whose long association earned them the right to name the adjoining village. The Pollards trace their descent in Ireland to Captain Nicholas Pollard who, participating in the Earl of Essex’s campaign during the Nine Years War, was rewarded with lands in Westmeath. His son built a castle at Rathyoung, in evidence by 1659 when it is shown in the townland of ‘Kilturk & Rathyong’. After early marriage alliances with important local dynasties, the family were quickly assimilated and before the end of the century, their property erected into a manor and renamed Castlepollard, Walter Pollard set the family roots even deeper when he rebuilt the mediaeval parish church in 1679, placing the family vault in the south transept.

By the eighteenth century a new house had been built at Kinturk, immediately south of the village with a large demesne spreading away to the south east. The entrance front, facing north west, represents the Georgian building inherited by William Dutton Pollard on the death of his elder half-brother Dillon in 1803. Most likely built by their father William around the time of his marriage in 1763, it is a tall, rather conventional, three-storey block of five-bays, with a simple tripartite plan, just one room deep and retaining some attractive rococo plasterwork. In 1821 William Dutton Pollard engaged the London architect Charles Robert Cockerell to remodel and extend the house, Cockerell having been brought to Ireland by James Lenox Naper to design a new house at Loughcrew. Cockerell, whose pursuit and methodical study of the antiquities in Greece and Asia Minor between 1810 and 1817 helped to expand knowledge of Greek architecture and brought a new rigour to neo-classicism, added an assured tetrastyle Ionic portico to the entrance front, neatly integrated with the existing rhythm of the window openings. His choice of Greek Ionic capitals on unfluted columns, also used on a larger scale at this time at Loughcrew and at the Hanover Chapel in London, is interesting given that after reviewing Naper’s completing house, and unhappily considering it ‘sadly plain’, vowed to ‘never again use the Athenian order except in small scale’. Cockerell also extended the façade with short, single-storey wings, set back slightly on either side and decorated with a niche. These helped to integrate the seven-bay, wide-eaved block built across the rear to form the new garden front with its advancing big-windowed central frontispiece. Inside, this provided a suite of three grand rooms with restrained neo-classical decoration, accessed by an impressive toplit stair hall at the heart of the plan, which with a spinal corridor rather seamlessly united the two phases of building.

Three of William Dutton Pollards grandsons – Walter, Francis and Montague - inherited Castlepollard in succession between 1892 and 1915. Montague succeeded just a week after the death of his eldest son, William, killed in action in India but outlived him by just a few months, dying in August that year. Castlepollard then passed to his second son Arthur, who sold the house in 1934 to the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary who operated a mother-and-child home here until 1971 when the property was acquired by the Midlands Health Board.

The above text, written by Kevin V. Mulligan, is from the catalogue that accompanied the 2018 exhibition 'Vain Transitory Splendours': The Irish Country House and the Art of John Nankivell, and it can be purchased online from the IGS bookshop.

You can purchase some of John Nankivell's drawings from the IGS bookshop.

Kevin V. Mulligan is an independent architectural historian.

Read more