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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.

​Cork City Heritage Plan (2021-25)

21.04.2020

Posted by IGS

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St. Fin Barre's Cathedral (William Murphy)

The Irish Georgian Society submission for the proposed new Cork City Council Heritage Plan 2021-2025 highlighted the following opportunities to promote the city’s architectural heritage:

  • Newly published and forthcoming publications on the built heritage of Cork City provide important new sources of information. The Heritage Plan could use these resources to generate greater awareness of the importance and the need for the conservation of Cork’s historic building stock. Of particular note in this regard are ‘Buildings of Ireland - Cork City and County’ (Yale, 2020) and the pending Cork city themed volume of ‘Irish Architectural & Decorative Studies, the Journal of the Irish Georgian Society
  • Cork City has experienced a huge level of development in recent years which should present an opportunity to promote investment in its rich stock of historic buildings. In championing the city's architectural heritage, the Heritage Plan should seek to promote urban regeneration through events such as the "Unlocking Upstairs" event held in 2019 and through the promotion of the Living City Initiative.
  • The recent expansion of the boundaries of Cork City presents new opportunities but also challenges for its built heritage, especially as the city grows. Blarney is one such area which is now facing pressure from development and where a sensitive and informed approach to any new building works is essential. The Irish Georgian Society has proposed that the Heritage Plan seek to highlight the town's built heritage through initiatives such as the Heritage Council's Town Centre Health Check scheme. Special seminars on the town's built heritage could also be considered, possibly based on those the Irish Georgian Society has delivered for Westport in association with Mayo County Council.

The public consultation for the Cork City Heritage Plan remains open until 30 April on www.corkcity.ie

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Lost Ireland - William Derham

15.04.2020

Posted by IGS

The following article is taken from the 2016 edition of the Irish Georgian Society Review, our annual members' magazine.

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Mount Tilly, Buncrana, Co. Donegal. This delightful terrace likely began life as one large house built about 1717 when the town of Buncrana was first laid out. The Dutch-style gables would have been a common sight in places like Dublin at the time. One interesting feature of note is the outside stone stair leading to the first floor. Sadly, both building and stair appear to have been demolished in the 1930s.

The images on the following pages are just a tiny sample of some 500 that fill the pages of Lost Ireland: 1860–1960, the book which I was asked to put together by a small London Publisher, Hyde Park Editions, early in 2014. As the title suggests, the vast majority of the buildings and structures featured no longer exist. A few exceptions were made such as Carstown House in Co. Louth or Carrigglas Manor in Co. Longford, in an effort to focus some attention on them while hope of their salvation is still possible, but by and large this is a book chronicling destruction. The very fact of their ruin and decline is illustrative of the history to which these structures have formed the backdrop – the people who lived and worked in them; the events that unfolded in or about them; the narratives and stories that describe their eventual loss.

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Weaver’s Hall, The Coombe, Dublin City. Weaver’s Hall was built for the weaver’s guild in 1745 and survived until 1968, when it was demolished. The first floor contained the actual hall where the members of the guild would have met. It was a large handsome room, with much fine detail executed in carved wood, including the overmantle. It was once hung with a tapestry by John Van Beaver, which was sold to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. (Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive)

Where the actual structures are no longer around to be investigated themselves, old photographs like these are sometimes the only evidence of the one-time existence of a particular edifice. They are often the only means we have of reading them, that is, of interpreting their physical form, their construction, their symbolism, and working out what all of that says about the times that they witnessed – our past. It is hoped that, from this point of view, the published images prove intriguing and interesting to those who choose to open the pages and engage with them, even if sometimes indulging a little in nostalgia.

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Palace Anne, Ballineen, Co. Cork. Palace Anne was built c. 1714 for one Arthur Bernard. It was constructed of imported red brick and featured Dutch-inspired gables – three over the main block and one over each of the two small pavilion wings either side. At one point it also boasted suitably impressive panelled interiors too. After it was sold in the mid nineteenth century the house fell into disrepair, as shown here. One of the wings was converted for use as a residence and all but that converted wing was demolished in the late 1950s. It survives today in a derelict condition. (Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive)

The book attempts to give a representative spread of Irish architecture in all its varied, disappeared forms: quite literally from the field gate to the “big house”; and from Donegal to Kerry. The book is divided up by province, and then alphabetically by county, and a concerted effort was made to present an even geographic spread. An effort was also made to balance the sometimes better- known images of Georgian Dublin and of particular stately homes, with images of places that haven’t had so much limelight. With that in mind, there are some omissions. Dublin and Antrim for instance, could each have been many pages longer.

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Bellevue, Delgany, Co. Wicklow. This elaborate ceiling once covered the private chapel at Bellevue House. The house was quite a plain structure, built in 1754 for the banking family of La Touche. The chapel was added in 1803 to the design of Richard Morrison. The house fell into disrepair in the first part of the twentieth century an was demolished in the 1950s. (Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive)

An introductory essay sets out, in broad strokes, a brief account of Ireland’s built heritage and of the circumstances that led to so much of its destruction. It is intended as a first step for those who are inexpert, and perhaps just curious. The photographs however speak for themselves and will hopefully be useful to readers of all ranges of interest and levels of knowledge.

Lost Ireland, 1860-1960 (Hyde Park Editions, 2016) by William Derham can be purchased from the IGS bookshop.

William Derham is a curator at Dublin Castle and is a graduate of architecture from the Dublin Institute of Technology and holds a postgraduate degree in Building Repair & Conservation from Trinity College Dublin. He was joint editor, with Dr. Myles Campbell, of The Chapel Royal, Dublin Castle: An Architectural History (Dublin, 2015).

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Dear, Faithful, Loyal And Generous, A Tribute To Jeremy Williams by Dr Nicola Gordon Bowe

10.04.2020

Posted by IGS

The following is part of a fond tribute penned by the late Dr Nicola Gordon Bowefor Jeremy Williams who died on Christmas Eve 2015, which was reproduced in the 2016 edition of the Irish Georgian Society Review. Talented, idiosyncratic, and mourned, his friends and admirers contributed to a memoir Jeremy Williams: One of a Kind (2020) to remember a singular man and the Irish Architectural Archive on Merrion Square mounted an exhibition of his work, the drawings from that show can be viewed online on the IARC website, and which we've shared below.

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The Casino at Marino (Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive)

What a wonderful tribute to Jeremy that so many of the friends, colleagues and clients garnered on his continual peregrinations throughout Ireland, Scotland, England, Europe and beyond should have assembled in memory of a dear, faithful, loyal and generous friend. We all know Jeremy would go anywhere for a good party, and it is our great loss that he isn’t here to enjoy this one. Like you, I still can’t believe that Jeremy really has gone, suddenly and unexpectedly, leaving the life he relished so fully, and that we shan’t see his ubiquitously welcome face, hear his excitedly crescendo-ing voice, helpless laughter, and enjoy his familiar company again. But perhaps it’s fitting that, if he had to leave us, it was after a pre-Christmas supper with old friends, and on the doorstep of the book-lined Victorian house overlooking the 18th century graveyard of St. Catherine’s in the Liberties; the house which a legacy from his grandmother had enabled him to acquire years ago as his eyrie and architectural office.

I first met him at an arcane Trinity Arts Society lecture, organized by George Wynne Willson, on ‘Op- Gothic Architecture’. Architecture was Jeremy’s greatest love, the result of lifelong explorations, first on a bike as a student; then on a scooter; by Eurorail and in a succession of cars which came after the pea-green one he inherited from his grandmother, replete with a silver lamé eiderdown in the back - into which he would burrow on overnight trips. An open gate (as they mostly were then) leading up to a classic house of the middle or larger size or, even better, a castle served as an invitation to investigate what lay at the end of the drive. As many of you know, not only was he great fun on such explorations, but also a brilliantly informed guide. I remember him, en route to the Laois Hunt Ball, hoisting the front wheels of his car up onto a rockery, to give his passengers a headlight-illuminated introduction to the ground floor plasterwork of a house whose occupants had already left for the Ball – when suddenly suspicious Gardai arrived! Others remember him reversing erratically to look at a house he’d missed, quite oblivious of the queue of cars behind him frantically doing likewise!

As he travelled the length and breadth of this country, which he knew inside out, he recorded in his wonderfully assured spidery drawings the exteriors and interiors of buildings – some threatened, others re-imagined by him with the fine rococo plasterwork ceilings he rescued and successfully re-installed with the help of stuccodore Tommy Leydon. A devotee of the Irish Georgian Society, his concern about the ubiquitous threat to Victorian buildings in Ireland, led to the formation of the Irish Victorian Society in 1974 as an informed conservation pressure group.

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Saloon of Russborough, Co. Wicklow (Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive)

His many clients valued his unique ability to seamlessly incorporate the old with the new. For them he matched his inspired references to historic architecture with the workmanship of his team of builders and artist/ craftspeople, using carefully chosen materials, salvaged and new. For the extent of his work, witness the sheer quantity of job files, which are to be housed along with their attendant drawings and his impressive architectural library in the Irish Architectural Archive. On his ceaseless expeditions at home and abroad, in search of architecture and the music he loved to see and hear performed, he would establish temporary roosts, making often unexpected connections from his wide reading and first-hand knowledge, contributing ever-creative - but guileless - gossip, entertaining and relishing the company of those he met. Travels to India, Morocco, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Egypt with friends opened new horizons beyond his beloved Belgium, Germany and France. As long as Jeremy had his overnight bag, his sketchbook, pencils and pens, his radio, and current reading matter or writing material, he was in his element. Like Montaigne, his thoughts seemed to go to sleep unless they and he wandered.

His magically romantic drawings were published in books which reflect his unique knowledge and sketching skills: in 1989, Renagh Holohan’s The Irish Chateaux; in search of the Descendants of the Wild Geese, for Lilliput Press; in his privately printed illustrated record of a grand weekend Shooting Party at the Chateau du Fayel in 1994; and the same year, in his invaluable county-by- county Companion Guide to Architecture in Ireland 1837-1921 for Michael Adams’ Irish Academic Press. In the introduction, the eminent architectural historian Mark Girouard acknowledged Jeremy’s gift, notable in the best gazetteers, of “providing compulsive browsing” while “making the buildings which he describes seem desirable” by illuminating “them with a few deft phrases”, bringing them to life with engagingly idiosyncratic references to the people who built them and lived in them. Nearly four years ago, his carefully selected retrospective of 160 Watercolours and Drawings mounted at Damien Matthews’ majestic salerooms in Dublin’s Capel Street emulated the desire Jeremy shared with the late Knight of Glin - to see Joseph Leeson’s vision “of an Italian palace by a German architect embellished by Swiss stuccodores and Irish craftsmen” re-instated in their original settings in the seven principal interiors of Russborough. The exhibition featured other original re-constructions of richly stucco’d interiors, lost staircases, what he deemed Dublin’s “ten most beautiful reception rooms”, Gothick follies, neo-Palladian fantasies, rustic retreats, and sections illustrating the creative “Spell of Steel” and the “Lure of Resin”. The works on show concluded with homages to the work of his sculptor friend and craftsman/builder colleague, David Durdin Robertson at Huntington, Kilshannig and Clonmannon, and to Tommy Leydon’s skillfully transplanted stucco ceilings.

Let us hope that Jeremy is orchestrating celestial picnics amongst Arcadian follies, regaling his beloved mother, and admired fellow free-spirits such as Mariga Guinness, Jelena de Belder, Christel Boorman and Aggie Bernelle with fantasies loosely drawn from life on earth.

Jeremy Williams: One of a Kind

Jeremy Williams: One of a Kind, edited by Dermot Scott and published by Lilliput Press (2020) is available from the IGS Bookshop.

Nicola Gordon Bowe (1948 – 2018) was an art historian, author and educator.

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From Warden’s House to Myrtle Grove, Co. Cork

09.04.2020

Posted by IGS

The following article is taken from the 2017 edition of the Irish Georgian Society Review, our annual members' magazine.

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Entrance of Myrtle Grove, Youghal, Co. Cork (Image courtesy of Failte Ireland)

In an article in The Irish Times of 2 April 2011, “How do you fix a broken town?”, Carl O’Brien described setbacks experienced by the seaside town of Youghal in recent decades. O’Brien attributed much of this decline to planning decisions, enabling supermarkets to be built on the periphery. O’Brien looked back over Youghal’s history, to the 15th century, when it was one of the important port in Ireland, rivalling Bristol in wealth and trading activity. Youghal’s decline has also been chronicled by local history teacher Michael Twomey, in Town Out of Time, a film highlighting the seemingly fatalistic attitude of its fortunes.

The key to reviving the fortunes of Youghal lies in the fabric of the town itself, in its fascinating history and extraordinary architectural heritage. The term “steeped in history” is apt here. As a once-thriving seaport, Youghal has a rich past, peopled with individuals such as the Earls of Desmond, Sir Walter Raleigh and Richard Boyle. From early Viking origins, it grew into a settler community, inhabited by relative newcomers, who gradually assimilated into Irish life while also retaining a separate identity.

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Myrtle Grove chimneypiece depicting Faith, Hope and Charity

A century before the ill-fated rebellion, under a charter granted by Gerald’s ancestor, Thomas Fitzgerald, 8th Earl of Desmond, Richard Benet restored St. Mary’s Abbey in Youghal and founded a college of choristers. The Abbey was already a venerable building in Benet’s time; the original roof beams survive and have been dated to the late 12th century. Referred to in 1464 as “Our Lady’s College of Yoghill”, it was mentioned thirty 30 years later in a papal bull as the “university of the city of Youghal”. Apart from the monastery schools, this was the earliest college of higher education in Ireland, pre-dating Trinity College in Dublin by over a century. Benet also built himself a mortuary chapel in St. Mary’s, in which he and his wife Ellis Barry are interred.

Today, ‘“The College’”, a large square three-storey Georgian house, with circular towers at the corners, is located immediately to the south of St. Mary’s Abbey. Extensively remodelled, little remains of its original structure. The Warden’s House, on the other hand, is very old, and is generally accepted as the Tudor house located immediately to the north of the abbey. It has been known since the nineteenth 19th century as ‘“Myrtle Grove’”. Both College and Warden’s House are mentioned in old accounts of Youghal, and appear almost interchangeable, so it is possible that Myrtle Grove pre-dates the building of the College and, for a time, served both purposes. Later in the sixteenth 16th century—--following this theory—--the new College was completed and choristers and fellows moved to the new building, leaving Myrtle Grove for the exclusive use of the Warden. It was later the townhouse of the Earl of Desmond, for use when he was in Youghal. In 1579, during the Desmond Rebellion, the Earl was reduced to destroying his own property. Myrtle Grove appears to have been escaped serious damage. After the suppression of the Rebellion, Walter Raleigh, who had served in the army, was granted over 40,000 acres of the Earl of Desmond’s land, including properties in Lismore and Youghal. In 1602, Richard Boyle purchased Raleigh’s estates in Ireland, including the College in Youghal, from Sir George Carew Lord President of Munster, who had been granted them by James I. Another version of this land transfer has Raleigh selling his property directly to Boyle. In 1617, when Raleigh was leading an expedition to America, Boyle, perhaps feeling guilty about having got the better side of the deal, helped fit out his ships for the voyage. Because one of his captains attacked a Spanish settlement on the Orinoco, on his return to England Raleigh was tried for treason, and shortly afterwards beheaded, outside the Tower of London. This left Boyle free to create an agricultural, banking and business empire, bringing infrastructural development to Munster, and founding the towns of Bandon and Clonakilty. The future Earl of Cork immediately set to work, carrying out extensive renovations at Lismore Castle and Youghal, in many cases finishing work that Raleigh had begun during his brief tenure.

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Detail of hermaphrodite from Myrtle Grove's oak chimneypiece

Myrtle Grove is therefore a key architectural element in the complex, bounded by the town walls, that includes St. Mary’s Abbey, the College and various gate-houses and stables. The town wall that bounds Myrtle Grove is around thirty 30 feet high, and very solid, and it was this that enabled the house to be built unfortified, with large windows—--unusual for the time in Ireland. Three gables dominate the front façade, and a roof ridge runs parallel with the spine of the house, surmounted by five tall chimneystacks. Three of these chimneys rise from the apexes of gables to the rear, with one more at each end of the house. The stack at the north end is particularly massive, representing the oldest part of the house. The windows on the front, facing east, were enlarged at some point; the originals would probably have had stone mullions, as at Carrick-on-Suir. At Myrtle Grove, the principal rooms are on the first floor, and have the largest windows. The present windows in the house, frames and glass, date mainly from the eighteenth 18th and early-19th nineteenth century. All are Georgian in style; those at the rear are hinged, while the front windows lack the counterweights needed for sliding sashes, perhaps because the thick walls prevented weight boxes being built. A stone porch protects the front door and also supports a large bay window above: another bay window allows light into the first floor room on the south side. Raleigh referred fondly to his “Oriel window” at Youghal, and a similar window can be found over the front door of his childhood home, Hayes Barton in Devon.

Photographed by Francis Edmund Currey in the 1840’s, shortly before their demolition, the south -west range at Lismore had gabled roofs facing towards the courtyard, with chimneystacks rising from the apexes. While not as massive as those at Myrtle Grove, the gables and chimneys are nonetheless closely comparable. This gable-fronted style, common in domestic Tudor buildings, was also found in colleges such as Exeter, Christchurch and Oriel, as recorded in David Loggan’s Oxonia Illustrata of 1675. However, there are few images or engravings of Myrtle Grove from these times. In 1680 Thomas Dineley made a crude drawing of Youghal that was later included in the book of his travels, published in the mid-nineteenth 19th century. This engraving shows Myrtle Grove, identifiable by three large chimneystacks and three gables. In front is another, lower, building, with four gables. To the left stands an ecclesiastical building or church, with a lower building alongside— - two very tall chimneystacks suggest it might be a refectory. In front is a battlemented gatehouse, while the whole ensemble is surrounded by fortified walls. As was often the case in those times, this engraving may be partly based on observation and partly on written accounts. Lismore also has a yew walk, as does Myrtle Grove. This link between Lismore and Myrtle Grove certainly dates back to the Raleigh-Boyle era, but may pre-date it, to a time when both the Castle and the College and Warden’s House at Youghal were ecclesiastical residences.

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Detail of piper from Myrtle Grove's oak chimneypiece

In plans of Myrtle Grove, drawn by architect W.C.. C. Ryder in 1893, the main upstairs room, with its oak panelling and carved chimneypiece, is marked “The Oak Room”. Possibly modelled on the “Great Oak Room” of the Red Lodge in Bristol, created in the late- 1570’s by merchant John Young, the room at Myrtle Grove is dominated by an elaborate oak chimneypiece, extending from floor to ceiling, containing carved representations of Faith, Hope and Charity, along with ‘Sheelagh-na-Gig’-like figures. While most of the chimneypiece is in the ‘Elizabethan Exeter’ style, the figure carving is very individual and appears to be by the one, perhaps local, hand. The flanking hermaphrodite figures, bearing pineapples, suggest a connection with Raleigh. Several rooms at Myrtle Grove are wainscoted in dark oak panels, said to have been salvaged from monasteries suppressed during the Reformation. Behind one section was discovered, in the nineteenth 19th century, a cache of books hidden at an unknown date. The books included a Biblical compendium, printed at Mantua in 1479, and Peter Comestor’s 1483 Historia Scolastica.

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Edith Blake watercolours in Myrtle Grove

While Myrtle Grove has had many owners and occupiers over the centuries, the present owners, the Murrays, are descendants of Lawrence Parsons, who in 1616 leased Myrtle Grove from Richard Boyle. In 1661, Parsons’s grandson leased the house to Robert Hedges, whose son sold it to John Atkin, who in turn bequeathed it to his grandson John Hayman. When Walter Atkin Hayman died in 1816, it went to Joseph Wakefield Pim, and in 1874 was purchased by John Pope Hennessy. Twenty years later Sir Henry Blake bought Myrtle Grove and commissioned architect W. C. Ryder to survey the house. Conveyancing took years to complete, due to the complicated title and many owners. Dating the architecture is equally complicated: the house is essentially fifteenth 15th or sixteenth 16th century; the Oak Room with its large chimneypiece probably dates from Raleigh’s time, while the windows were probably enlarged in the seventeenth 17th century. The rooms were probably panelled in the post-Reformation period. The present windows date from the eighteenth 18th and nineteenth 19th centuries. The staircase may follow the general pattern of the original, but was certainly reconfigured in the nineteenth 19th century, at a time when outbuildings and a small courtyard were added at the north end of the house.

In the 1890’s, the Blakes carried out improvements, including digging away ground at the rear, and shortening the chimneystacks—while tall today, they were even taller before 1895. The Blakes also set up a museum of Asian art, in a former brewery at the rear of the house, while the entrance hall at Myrtle Grove was embellished with a dazzling array of botanical watercolours painted by Edith Blake , painted while she was in the West Indies and in Asia. Downstairs, in the library, is a marble bust of Lady Blake, carved in 1862 by the celebrated Florentine sculptor Pio Fedi (1815-1892) when she was just eighteen years old.

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Cmdr. Bernard and Rosemary Arbuthnot c. 1940

One of the Osborne family of Newtown Anner in Co. Tipperary, Edith had eloped with an RIC inspector named Henry Blake, much to her parents’ disapproval. The marriage was a success, however, and Blake’s subsequent career as a colonial administrator brought them to Newfoundland, the West Indies and Asia. After he had served as governor of Jamaica, the Bahamas, Hong Kong and Ceylon—, with Edith taking an active role in improving health and education facilities wherever they were stationed—the couple retired to Myrtle Grove, where they lived until the 1920’s. Their tombs are side by side, close to the house, in a small grove of trees, just outside the town walls. Their daughter Olive married Jack Arbuthnot, army officer and ADC to her father. Jack was also a talented artist, and in 1916 sketched portraits of Roger Casement, whilst the latter was imprisoned in the Tower of London on charges of treason. Olive and Jack had six children, four sons and two daughters. Their son Bernard served as a naval officer in the Second World War and later founded a fishermans’ cooperative in Youghal, and was a keen member of the local lifeboat crew. Bernard’s youngest sister Patricia, who spent some of her childhood at Youghal, married the radical journalist Claud Cockburn and herself was a talented writer and artist. Her time at Youghal is recorded in the autobiographical, Figure of Eight, while her shell pictures, made in the eighteenth-century manner with shells collected from the seashore, are fine and delicate works of art. Myrtle Grove survives into the twenty-first century under the stewardship of Bernard’s daughter Shirley Murray, her son Simon, and by her daughter Iona, who lives in the house.

While Myrtle Grove is a private family residence, in Youghal there is much to enthral visitors bent in search of Irish history and the legacies of remarkable men and women. Town walls, college, almshouses and friaries—all can be found within a short distance of the Clock Tower, a venerable structure that straddles the town’s main street, as it has done for centuries, where in old times prisoners languished before being hanged, and nowadays tour guides bring the town’s vibrant history to life.

Peter Murray is the former Director of the Crawford Art Gallery, Co. Cork

Myrtle Grove was a recipient of grant aid through the Society's Conservation Grants Programme in 2018.

All images above are copyright to their owners and should not be reproduced without permission.

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Building Project Highlight: O'Brien Column, Liscannor, Co. Clare

08.04.2020

Posted by IGS

Since 2014, the Irish Georgian Society has run an annual Conservation Grants Programme, through the financial support of the Irish Georgian Society London. The grants programme provides financial support for works to structures of significant architectural merit. Structures of all periods are eligible but priority will be given to older buildings on the basis of rarity and potential fragility relating to age. The scheme is announced annually in February/March of each calendar year.

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The Follies Trust applied to the IGS Conservation Grants Programme in 2017 to assist them in conserving a handsome fluted Doric column designed by J.Petty Esq. C.E. and built of Liscannor limestone; it is about 70 feet high with an urn on the top. Originally the plan was to place a statue of Cornelius on the top but for some reason this was replaced by an urn.

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The Follies Trust became aware that the urn was listing to one side when they undertook the conservation of the nearby Relievers’ well at Ardnacraa in 2014. The Column was on private property but the Trust agreed to become involved after commissioning a drone survey from Sean Brady showing the extent of the problem. The iron straps on the capital below the urn had rusted and caused the joints in the stonework to open. This was allowing water ingress and caused discoloration of the stone shaft and some deflection of the column.

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The IGS Conservation Grants Committee was pleased that The Follies Trust was working with the recently formed Friends of the O’Brien Column under the chairmanship of Dr David Fleming. They recognised that raising funds for a structure such as a column which has no regenerative possibilities was not easy and wanted to support them. The Trust and Friends of the O’Brien Column raised funds totaling €62,000 from the Irish Georgian Society and other sources. The works, which began in May, were completed in August, and undertaken by Eoin Madigan, a local stonemason and fellow of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

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The Cliffs of Moher & The O'Brien Legacy, available from the IGS Bookshop

To mark the successful completion of the project and to thank those who contributed, a special book was published by the Follies Trust containing essays about the history and the conservation of the column. Titled ‘The Cliffs of Moher & The O’Brien Legacy it was launched by Cllr Pat Burke, Deputy Mayor of Clare, at the Cliffs of Moher Visitor Centre. The book is selling well and is available from the IGS Bookshop, and the column is attracting a lot of interest – 1.5 million people visit the Cliffs annually. The Society can be proud that it assisted this excellent project to conserve an iconic structure in County Clare.

Learn more about the specifics of the O'Brien Column building project on the IGS website.

Primrose Wilson is President of Ulster Architectural Heritage, a founding member of The Follies Trust and sits on the IGS Conservation Grants Committee.

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Newbridge House: Restrained Elegance - Alec Cobbe

02.04.2020

Posted by IGS

The following article is taken from the 2017 edition of the Irish Georgian Society Review, our annual members' magazine.

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Corinthian doorcase to the Drawing Room, Newbridge, c. 1764 (Photo by Alexey Moskvin)

Described by a Beresford relation as “clever and agreeable & the most gifted of all [her] Sisters”, Lady Betty Cobbe, rather than her husband Thomas, has been credited in family tradition as the eye and mind behind the furnishing and beautification of Newbridge House during the 1750s and 60s. She and her husband had been given the house on their marriage in 1755, newly rebuilt to the designs of James Gibbs by Thomas’s father, Charles, Archbishop of Dublin.

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Irish School, 18th century, Lady Betty in a costume evocative of Mary Queen of Scots, miniature, Cobbe Collection

Notwithstanding, Lady Betty, the youngest of the six daughters of Marcus, Earl of Tyrone, leaves an almost invisible footprint in the extensive Cobbe papers. An account book given her in 1756 by her father- in-law, the Archbishop, she kept up for a dozen pages or so before she handed it to her husband. Those few pages, a couple of letters concerning property or financial matters and inscriptions of her name in a number of her books, are all that survive of her handwriting.

From Thomas there is much more. There are a diary, a commonplace book and letters from which to form an idea of his character. It is thanks to his detailed accounts for the periods 1756–65 and 1783–1810, and, above all, the high survival rate of their pictures, furniture and chattels at Newbridge, that the taste of the couple becomes manifest. In the accounts we see them enlivening the somewhat sober character of the Archbishop’s house with ornamental urns and eagles to the exterior, and stuccowork, paintings, porcelain, silver and furniture within.

That Lady Betty was a strong character can be seen in the large Beresford family group painted by John Astley at Curraghmore, where she takes centre stage amongst the nine adult children arranged around their parents. We know that, like her husband, she was musical and would possess at least two harpsichords, a spinet and a forte piano by the Saxon maker Ferdinand Weber, who established himself in Dublin in 1749. Did she commission the painting by Zoffany of her eldest brother,George, 1st Marquess of Waterford, in the Cobbe Collection, or did he present it to her? Was she the real inspiration behind her husband’s collection of Dutch and Italian Old Masters, for which they added to Newbridge in 1764 a large drawing room that served as a picture gallery? The room was added to the old house, entered through a grand Corinthian doorcase in a vestibule with niches for sculpture on either side.

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Carved and gilt pier glass with platforms for porcelain, attributed to James Robinson, c. 1760, Cobbe Collection

Their great room, with exuberant stuccowork by Richard Williams, was hung exclusively with Old Masters, including works by Hobbema, Ruysdael, Gaspar Dughet and Van de Velde. An unusually large Dutch interior masterpiece by the obscure Johannes Voorhout, sold in Paris in 1764 a few months prior to the completion of the room, is notable; from the same Paris auction came a particularly fine Italianate landscape by Abraham Begeyn. While Dutch pictures predominated, Italian masters included a fine Guercino, St. John the Baptist, and a Venetian rendition of Bernardo Strozzi’s Concert. In these purchases the couple were assisted by the Archbishop’s private secretary, Matthew Pilkington, vicar of the estate village of Donabate and author of the Gentleman’s and Connoisseur’s Dictionary of Painters published in 1770, the first work of its kind in the English language. There was a campaign of carved and gilt Dublin- made frames, some in livery types, and others individually conceived, though not as elaborately showy as some documented Irish frames of this period.

The walls of the general ground floor rooms of the original house were hung with Cobbe family portraits, many also fitted with livery frames, to which Lady Betty added two oil portraits of herself and introduced, as well as the Zoffany of brother George, portraits of her two other brothers, John and William, by Robert Hunter and Hugh Douglas Hamilton respectively, together with miniatures of their wives. Now it is Thomas who is near-invisible— two tiny miniatures and a small-size oval gouache in gouty middle age are his only surviving likenesses.

The ordinary rooms on the piano nobile were also provided with ornamental plaster by “Williams the stucco man”, who was so much employed at Newbridge that he actually got married there to the Cobbe children’s nurse. In 1761, one of the rooms was hung with Chinese painted paper panels linked with a treillage of cut-out bamboo and fitted out as ‘ye Ark’, or Cabinet of Curiosities. For this, Lady Betty’s initial purchases had been not- insignificant sums laid out on exotic shells—perhaps unsurprising, given that in the years preceding her marriage, she had doubtless assisted her mother, the Countess of Tyrone, with the shell house at Curraghmore.

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A plate and cutlery handles from the Cobbe Worcester service, c. 1763, Cobbe (Photo by Alexey Moskvin)

In 1758, during a sojourn in London, the couple had bought quantities of porcelain, both Chinese and English Bow and Derby. Exceptionally large Chinese pots decorated in rouge de fer, have Thomas’s initials fired into the inside of the lids, so were probably a special commission. On their journeys to Bath they stopped over in Worcester, visiting the newly established porcelain works and commissioning one of the largest Worcester dessert and dinner services on record, complete with matching porcelain handles fitted to Irish cutlery. Some of the many rococo carved gilt looking glasses they had made, were fitted with little platforms to display porcelain. China figures and vases were also placed on gilt wall brackets, one incorporating a figure of Apollo and a swan (doubly appropriate since the Cobbe heraldic devices are swans). This must have originally had a pair with the figure of winged Victory, since an original pair survive at Felbrigg; they are attributed to the London sculptor John Cheere, and therefore the Cobbes probably bought theirs during the 1758 visit to the capital.

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Wall bracket with figure of Apollo, attributed to John Cheere, plaster, 1758, with a replica of its pair moulded from Felbrigg Hall, Cobbe (Photo by Alexey Moskvin)

In his approach to the works at Newbridge, it is clear that Thomas had inherited some of the reticent characteristics of his father, who commissioned one of the greatest architects of the era to build a relatively modest villa, having rejected an initial palatial proposal on the scale of Leinster House. Their expansion of the house to some extent palatialised it inside, but again, although this resulted in one of the grander interiors in Ireland, the furniture they commissioned for it, and elsewhere throughout the house, was restrained. While the collection of pictures was extensive and contained fine works, it was by no means extravagant by the standards of the age. Nothing in Newbridge has the flamboyance of the Milltowns at Russborough. With her ancient Norman and Irish lineage, his of three centuries of solid Hampshire squirearchy, and no shortage of cash, they chose to eschew over- ostentation. We will never be quite sure, though, whose was the dominant taste of the two.

Thomas and Lady Betty were to suffer acute financial reversals towards the end of the century due to mismanagement of his estates. Despite these, or perhaps because of them, what they created at Newbridge survives largely intact, having escaped the dangers of 19th- century wealth and ‘improvements’. This is strikingly illustrated by a comment in Frances Power Cobbe’s autobiography of 1894: “So far was Newbridge from a Castle Rackrent that though much in it of the furniture and decorations belonged to the previous century, everything was kept in perfect order and repair”.

Alec Cobbe divides his time between Newbridge House, where he grew up, and Hatchlands Park in Surrey, combining his conservation activities with the design of historic interiors and practice as an artist.

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