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.

Building the Exhibition: 'Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland'


Posted by IGS


Curator Ruth Kenny looking at the completed exhibition

The Irish Georgian Society’s move to the City Assembly House in 2010, and their complete renovation of the building brought with it an exciting and unprecedented opportunity to recreate a seminal moment in the history of Irish art; the introduction of large-scale public art exhibitions. Celebrating the building’s original incarnation as the first purpose-built public art gallery in Britain and Ireland, an exhibition was planned which that would reassemble some of its the gallery’s earliest exhibits in the octagonal exhibition room in which they were first displayed (now known as the Knight of Glin Exhibition Room).


Exhibition curator Ruth Kenny with paper conservator Pat McBride (National Gallery of Ireland) examining the collection of Samuel Dixon prints before installation

In our efforts to recreate the first exhibitions that took place in this space, we were following in the footsteps of a pioneering group of painters, sculptors and architects who came together in 1764 to establish the ‘Society of Artists in Ireland’; the first organization of its kind for Irish artists. Previously grouped with cutlers and stationers under the ‘Guild of St. Luke’, this was a bold statement of intent on the part of the Society’s twelve founder members, who sought to raise their own status and promote fine art production in the country. Inspired by the success of the Society of Artists in London, founded four years previously, the Society placed an advertisement in the popular circular Faulkner's Journal in February 1764, calling for contributions to an ‘Annual Exhibition’, which, it was hoped would "excite emulation” amongst themselves and “bring forth latent merit to public view”.


The Knight of Glin Exhibition Room during exhibition installation

The annual exhibition they established in 1765 was only the first of a run of twelve exhibitions, nine of which took place in South William Street between 1765 and 1780. During these years, its domed, octagonal chamber effectively defined the centre of the Irish art world and, as a focal point for Dublin’s artistic and social world, it attracted nearly every contemporary Irish artist of note, including Thomas Roberts, Jonathan Fisher, William Ashford, James Forrester, Robert Hunter, Robert Healy and Hugh Douglas Hamilton. It also caught the attention of Dublin’s great and good, as the issue of 100 silver subscriber’s tokens attests. The profound success of the Society’s endeavours was marked year-on-year by the ever-increasing number of exhibits,; swelling from 85 in the first show to 223 in 1777.


Irish Art Handlers installing paintings on the walls of the exhibition room

After several years’ research and with the help of generous loans from private collectors and national institutions, including the National Gallery of Ireland, the National Library of Ireland, Ulster Museum, RIA, RDS, the Irish Architectural Archive, Irish Heritage Trust, UCD and the Castletown Foundation, our exhibition contained a significant number of works that we knew had been displayed in the octagonal room during the original run of Society of Artist’s shows. These were mixed with other representative pieces, by exhibiting Society of Artists’ members, which, hung floor to ceiling in the eighteenth-century style, allowed us to mirror the appearance of the original exhibitions as closely as possible. We were particularly glad to welcome back to the room works such as Robert Carver’s impressive Landscape with Classical Ruins from the 1766 exhibition, Thomas Robert’s beautiful Frost Piece from the 1769 exhibition, Henry Brooke’s The Continence of Scipio, a large and striking history painting displayed in the 1772 exhibition, and Patrick Cunningham’s engaging marble bust of Jonathan Swift, a version of which was included in the 1776 exhibition, amongst many others.

By lauding the pioneering spirit of the Society of Artists’ exhibitions, we also aimed to provide an insight into the fascinating range of artistic production taking place in Ireland at this time. As the original exhibition catalogues reveal, late eighteenth-century Dublin was a hive of creativity, with landscape artists working alongside portraitists, history painters, sculptors, printers and draughtsmen in an astonishing range of media, including oil paint, pastel, marble, wood, glass, wax and hair. Our exhibition compromised 92 works in total from 22 lenders and represented many of these different artistic practices.

The exhibition was accompanied by a beautifully illustrated catalogue that, which included entries on each work, and essays examining the history of the Society of Artists, early reviews of the shows and the fascinating chronology of the building. This publication offered further occasion to revisit and evaluate these stimulating years; assessing Ireland’s first introduction to exhibition culture and the significant contribution it made to an increasingly self-confident national school of Irish art. Alongside a specially commissioned film which documented the making of the show, the catalogue will stand as a lasting memory of this unique, once-in-a lifetime exhibition.

Dr Ruth Kenny is an independent art historian and curator.

Purchase the exhibition catalogue Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland: The Society of Artists's Exhibitions Recreated online.

This article is taken from the 2018 edition of the Irish Georgian Society Review, our annual members' magazine.

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Call for documentary watercolours (1750 to 1900)


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Harbor before Fortified Town, Marseille, 1760–1850, possibly by William Marlow. Art Institute of Chicago (CC0 1.0) The curious vessel on the right is a common dredger barge.

A vast heritage of documentary images, the long unrecognised and unseen gift to us from our 18th and 19th Century forbears, exists in the global watercolour collection. Importantly, the period covered (1750-1900) includes the end of the agrarian era in the West and the whole of the first Industrial Revolution.

Created in colour by professionals as well as amateurs (the latter deplorably underestimated), with each image normally located and dated, for all its unevenness these watercolours constitute an astonishingly well-observed and faithful visual record.

This record is also unique and irreplaceable. It provides us today with accurate, reliable and frequently essential information for the conservation and restoration of our natural and man-made environments.

The Watercolour World, a registered charity, brings together on a single geographically-indexed website, ( www.watercolourworld.org) public and private documentary watercolour collections from around the world. Collating and indexing these images and making them available to view by the public is a profoundly important advance in our visual access to our past.

This resource remains very widely distributed and largely hidden in public and private collections. All of such collections, from the largest to the smallest, are of importance and value to The Watercolour World project. If you own documentary watercolours painted between 1750 and 1900, or wish to connect us with any public or private owner who does, in the first instance please contact: enquiries@watercolourworld.org. We can help with the digitisation of all collections, small and large.

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€2.95 nationwide delivery on all online IGS bookshop purchases!


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Thanks to An Post supporting independent booksellers throughout the COVID crisis, our customers can now avail of a €2.95 postal rate for posting book parcels (up to 10kg) nationwide within Ireland, throughout the lockdown period - bringing our books to your homes!

You can now avail of this special rate by placing an order on shop.igs.ie (offer applicable for orders sent to Irish addresses only).

Thank you for your continued support and to everyone who has made a purchase online for the past number of weeks! We will be posting out orders once a week, provided we have the item in stock.

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The Loss of a Georgian Gem: Vernon Mount, Co. Cork


Posted by IGS

A once great house from an epoch that resonated with the stirrings of national self-determination in America and France, and with a hidden but rich cultural history spanning three continents, was engulfed in flames in July [2016]. Visible over a sizeable part of Cork City, the fire itself drew thousands of onlookers – the historic Vernon Mount burned on its steep escarpment overlooking Cork.


Vernon Mount, c. 1910 (Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive)

Many people compared the impact of the fire on the community to the inferno which destroyed the old Cork Opera House in December 1955. There was shock and outrage that such a calamity had been visited on such a well-known and loved landmark, by an act of wanton vandalism.

The vast numbers who observed its demise were a far cry from the packed attendance at the initial public meeting held on a November evening in a local church hall in Douglas village seven years previously. There, the first germ of the idea of restoring the grand old house came to life as part of the creation of a park that would connect suburbs and city on the former city landfill that faces Vernon Mount.

At that meeting, the ad-hoc organising committee had prepared a presentation, and invited guest speakers from both City and County Councils. This co- operative approach was to become a feature of the campaign, and the meeting unanimously approved the proposal for a renovated Vernon Mount connected to the new park. The meeting was just the first of many such public engagements with the local community and quickly drew a wider audience both online and off.


Minerva casting away the spears of war’, formerly mounted on the ceiling of the drawing room, painted by Cork artist Nathaniel Grogan (1740-1807) - now lost. (Image taken by IGS in 2008)

Early in the process, the group – now named the Grange Frankfield Partnership (GFP) – developed its strategy to include three key and interlinked components; an extended park to incorporate open space lands on the escarpment to the south of the capped city landfill and located in Cork County, the creation of a cycleway/walkway route linking both land units and necessitating the construction of a ‘green bridge’ over the separating N40 motorway, and the jewel in the crown – the incorporation in the extended park of Vernon Mount House as an iconic feature of outstanding heritage and cultural value.

Within a year, after plenty of groundwork and lobbying, the group met the then Cork County Manager, Martin Riordan. After an initially cautious reception, discussion warmed to the point where he was complimenting a well-constructed strategy.The meeting ended with a commitment to help the endeavour in whatever way he could.

This success in drawing support from the Council was to result in the extension of the park planning study on the city landfill to the adjacent County lands, thereby producing a physically integrated plan and in the process dramatically changing the context and setting of Vernon Mount.


Vernon Mount (Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive)

That leap forward led to the design of the proposed cycleway/walkway, including over-bridge, and the acquisition of land at the southern entry point. In addition, significant publicly funded restorative works commenced on the roof of Vernon Mount House, the structure having become endangered by deterioration and weathering. Central to the success of the project was the early appearance of a benefactor, whose generous support funded the design and printing of initial flyers, attractive display panels, professional PR assistance, and the creation of an informative and attractive website (www.vernonmountpark.ie).

The Vernon Mount Lecture Series, enthusiastically supported by Douglas Library, was a key part of engaging the public in the initiative and has been an unqualified success. It maintained a permanent focus on the house, maintaining public interest and support for conservation of this singular building. GFP in recent times was on the crest of a wave as a result of a deeper engagement with the Irish Georgian Society. Through GFP’s website, contact had also been made by the custodians of Mount Vernon, George Washington’s ancestral home in Virginia, USA, and a commitment elicited to help our efforts in Cork.


Lobby of Vernon Mount (Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive)

The key barrier to restoring Vernon Mount was the intractable difficulty of engaging meaningfully, if at all, with the owners of the house. Their indifference impeded not only a sustainable future for the house, but also an adequate regime of maintenance and security as it lurched from one crisis to another.

A most disturbing sign of the continuing threat to the house came shortly after the roof was repaired in 2012, when youths entered and accessed the roof itself. Although apprehended by the Gardai the threat remained as the sealed windows and doors became a constant target for vandals. GFP was painfully aware that time was not on its side as it ramped up its efforts to gather sufficient support to convince the public authorities that unless drastic measures were taken to protect and preserve the house, it would not survive. We made strenuous efforts to bring other organisations in to help with this shared ambition.


Drone footage of Vernon Mount after fire, July 2016, courtesy of Evan Kelly Visuals)

The enigma remains as to what might have been. Faced with the usual panoply of threats that endanger many protected heritage buildings, namely the:

- incapacity or indifference on the part of owners
- reluctance of planning authorities to become too financially or legally embroiled
- uncertainty of State involvement
- limited resources of conservation NGO’s and semi-states
- erratic popular interest and support for conservation
It will require a monumental and persistent effort to succeed.

Ironically none of these factors hindered GFP’s progress, as focussed action won friends and influenced people and organisations. Sincerity and persistence of effort were rewarded by generous help, support and advice from all quarters. In the end, it wasn’t lack of money that undid our efforts, rather the indifference of the owners to its legal obligations to safeguard the house, an exceptional failure by the local authority when alerted to the impending disaster, and society’s apparent ambivalence to ongoing vandalism.

All is not lost, however, and both GFP and IGS believe a diamond still exists in the ashes – the graceful, curvilinear shell of the house must be saved. It should continue to stand as a monumental vestige of a once great house of an epoch whose revolutionary history resonates in the centenary year of our national commemoration.

Thank you to Tony Foy and Brendan Kelleher of the Grange Frankfield Partnership for co-writing this article. This article is taken from the 2016 edition of the Irish Georgian Society Review, our annual members' magazine.

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A Generous Donation - William Laffan


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A longstanding member has donated a collection of Irish miniatures to the Society which first went on display at Castletown in 2016. The selected group featured here focuses on the Boyle family, Earls of Shannon and on members of the FitzGerald family of Carton – notably an oversized posthumous portrait of Lord Edward by Horace Hone.


Lady Emily Mary Lennox, wife of the 1st Duke of Leinster, by Gustavus Hamilton, in a carved wooden frame


Lord St. George FitzGerald – son of William Robert FitzGerald, 2nd Duke, as a child, on gilt metal and verre eglomise frame (Irish School circa 1790)

Castletown, home to Lord Edward’s aunt Louisa, is, of course, a most appropriate home and the tragic decline of the FitzGerald’s fortunes is poignantly foreshadowed in depictions of the young brothers Desmond (killed accidentally in the First World War) and Maurice (the 6th Duke) who died in a psychiatric institution a few years later. Paul Caffrey who has written a book on the subject notes: ‘few historic family collections of miniatures have survived in Ireland making this a truly remarkable collection of national importance’.


Maurice FitzGerald, 6th Duke of Leinster, by Miss Annie Howard (1888) on gilt metal frame

The Irish Georgian Society has had a long relationship with Castletown and the OPW and Castletown Foundation who run it, and, over many years has lent important paintings and furniture to the house. Many of these were catalogued in the fine volume Castletown, Decorative Arts (OPW, 2011) which rather highlighted the absence of miniatures in the otherwise comprehensive showcasing of Irish fine and applied arts. This gap has been comprehensively filled with this donation which includes works by the finest Irish artists working in miniature such as Nathaniel Hone and Henry Kirchoffer. Sincere thanks are to the Irish donor, who wishes to remain anonymous.

William Laffan is an independent art historian, editor and curator.

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

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The Irish Georgian Society and Castletown


Posted by IGS


The Red Drawing Room, 2018 (Photo by Paul Tierney, The Office of Public Works)

On 23 June 2018, Castletown celebrated 50 years since it was officially opened to the public by Erskine Childers, the then Minister for Tourism, in June 1968. This year’s event was organised by the three bodies who have orchestrated the restoration during this period— – the Irish Georgian Society, the Castletown Foundation and the Office of Public Works. The event was held to acknowledge the involvement, much of it voluntary, of so many people during the past five decades. The trials and fun of the early days of clearing and restoration were outlined by Professor Roy Foster in his June address to the guests in the Long Gallery, but in particular he stressed the long and critical involvement of the Irish Georgian Society in securing a viable future for the house.

Today Castletown is of course State- owned and has, since 1994, been expertly conserved and developed as a cultural and tourist attraction by the OPW who run the house, aided by the Castletown Foundation in an advisory capacity.

With the passage of time and the advent of other projects, it is easy to forget that Castletown is the greatest success story of the Irish Georgian Society to date. The significance of the house and the scale of the project captured public attention in the late 1960s and gave the Society publicity and a definitive following, both in Ireland and abroad.

In The Irish Georgian Society: a Celebration (2008) Robert O’Byrne has chronicled the Society’s role in and heroic struggle to saving the house from 1967 when on its 10th anniversary in 1967, when it moved its headquarters from Leixlip Castle to Castletown. After Desmond Guinness had purchased Castletown and 166 acres, the house and its immediate surroundings were held by the Castletown House Co. Ltd., then by the Castletown Trust, and finally in 1979 by the Castletown Foundation, which achieved its own charitable status. Until the Society moved back to Leixlip Castle in 1983, Castletown was its principal focus, and even after that date the Society’s fortunes were inextricably linked in the public mind with that of the house.


Castletown features in the earliest issues of the Bulletin: in 1962 there was a notice regarding the opening of the house, described as “one of the most fascinating houses in Ireland”, in August by the Conolly–Carew family, described as ‘one of the most fascinating houses in Ireland’; entry was 2/6d in aid of parish funds .The first issues of the Bulletin in 1958 featured the Conolly Folly on their covers, and throughout the 1960s, the publication frequently pictured engraved images of either the folly, the sphinx gate piers, or the Print Room photographed by Lucinda Lambton - indicating that the importance and fate of Castletown was firmly on the Society’s agenda. The first actual involvement in either Castletown, or indeed the first active conservation project for the Society, was the 1962-5 restoration of the Conolly Folly, then owned by Lord Brocket. The formula for future campaigns was immediately set: – a fund raising event lead by Mariga and Desmond, a public appeal with lists of subscribers, and ultimately contributions from Board Failte (now Failte Ireland) and a government Amenity Grants Scheme. When, in 1968, the Society bought the folly for £1,000, the funds came from Rose Saul Zalles, thus commencing the long American involvement in the saving of Castletown.

From 1967, many editions of the Bulletin chronicle the enormous task involved in readying the house for opening and the slow process of restoration. There was a palpable sense of excitement in the challenge that lay ahead, perhaps more so than in any other project subsequently undertaken. As well as the lists of repairs needed to make the house safe and usable, the restoration of the kitchens, the Boudoir painted surfaces, the cleaning of the Hall overmantel landscape, the painting by Roland Pym of murals, and the presentation of the rooms were described. From the very beginning the success of Castletown relied on volunteers, and the Society was careful to acknowledge and thank all those who came to clean the rooms and guide visitors. Clearly this was a lot of fun and in later years Ann Crookshank recalled the satisfaction she had in rolling slices of fresh white bread down the delicate walls of the Print Room in order to remove layers of grime.

Realising the limited appeal of even a house as great as Castletown, the Society was keen that the house become a vital part of cultural life in Ireland and be available to everyone from the very beginning. The Bulletins list all manner of performances held in the house, including those by the Chieftains, Siobhan McKenna, the Dublin Shakespeare Society, the Dublin Baroque Players and the Festival of Music in Great Irish Houses. In addition there were ‘musical picnics’, lectures, a planning conference and the well- publicised hunt balls, ensuring which ensured that the house came to life. Exhibitions relating to the decorative arts widened the appeal: in 1970 Patricia Cockburn’s shell pictures were shown; and in 1971, as part of Rosc, Patrick Hickey organised the Irish Delft display, which drew 1,000 visitors between October and December.

Furnishing Castletown was a primary objective for the Society. Desmond had of course bought the core of the original contents from the Conolly-Carews both before and at the 1966 auction, and these remained on loan until the late 1980s, when they were bought by the Castletown Foundation. These original items gave an authenticity to the displays, particularly in the Red Drawing Room— but with sixteen or more rooms open to the public, the overall impression was of an empty house. In 1968, Desmond wrote in the Bulletin about the difficulty of opening the house, how its character was bound to change and how “books propped open by old fashioned spectacles....help dispel the rusty atmosphere of the museum”. Lists of items that were required included leather bound books (“not necessarily readable”), items that came from Castletown, Irish ‘Chippendale’ furniture, silver and glass, maps and architectural drawings. These appeals were successful, and in this way, not only did the rooms regain some of their former appearance, but significant Irish and Continental pieces were introduced to the collection, including such as the Headfort suite and the Lucca Bed. While most of these were not original to the house, many of these items were fine examples of Irish furniture of the 18th or 19th centuries and in some cases very similar to items recorded in the early inventories. These gifts became part of the impetus to set up a charitable trust;, and hence the Castletown Foundation was established, as an educational trust, with an emphasis on the fine arts, to take over ownership and administration of the house, and continue the programme of restoration.

The purchase of the Lucca Bbed for £3,500 in 1971 from Geoffrey Bennison by the newly founded Dallas Chapter for £3,500, is indicative of the importance of the fourteen American chapters of the Society to the Castletown cause. The chapters in London, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, New York and Massachusetts in particular raised money, repatriated original items and gave other crucial gifts to the house. In addition, charitable foundations (for example, the John Brady Foundation, the Patrick and Aimee Butler Foundation, and the Lehmann Foundations), as well as scores of individuals, generously gave funds and items to the cause. The long list of those who donated generous gifts and loans has in recent years been recorded on donor boards in the east ground floor axial corridor at Castletown.

Over the years, as the Society developed, other campaigns dominated its agenda, but even after the office moved back to Leixlip Castle in 1983, the commitment to Castletown continued with events like the 25th Anniversary Silver Ball held in the house in aid of the restoration of the Green Drawing Room, which was also funded by the Chicago Chapter. This project was followed in 1989 by a major restoration of the Long Gallery, once again funded by the Chicago Chapter. During the lean years, when the house was owned and run by the Castletown Foundation, its income was derived from door receipts and the rents from six flats and the restaurant. This was not sufficient to maintain the building, and funds raised in America and the UK through the chapters were vital in keeping the house open. Just as important were the funds raised by the chapters (in particular the London Chapter) to help secure the original contents which that the Castletown Foundation had succeeded in purchasing from Desmond Guinness by 1988.

Perhaps the greatest continuing legacy for the Society at Castletown are its important furnishings, which are displayed in the house. Most of these were conditional gifts made through the Society to the house, where they continue to embellish and educate. What better way for the Society to continue its involvement in one of the great Irish conservation success stories?

Christopher Moore was a member of the Castletown Foundation 2000-2018, and Chairman 2013-18, and is now is a Patron of the Foundation.

This article is taken from the 2018 edition of the Irish Georgian Society Review, our annual members' magazine.

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