Irish Georgian Society

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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.

IGS submission on James Joyce's House of The Dead, Usher's Island

25.11.2019

Posted by IGS

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Re. Planning application for no. 15, Usher's Island, Dublin 8 (protected structure)

Ref. 4300/19

This planning application proposes to change the use of an eighteenth-century house of national heritage and cultural importance from a visitor centre to a hostel with spaces for 56 no. beds and a café at basement level, for associated demolition and construction works, and for the provision of new mechanical services.

No. 15 Usher’s Island is described in The Buildings of Ireland – Dublin (Casey, 2005, pp.671-2) as follows:

No. 15 looks c. 1800 but is evidently a house of c. 1775 built for a grain merchant, Joshua Pim. A standard three-bay house of four storeys over a basement and two-room plan with simple Neoclassical interior detail. It is celebrated as the setting of Joyce’s short story The Dead, and in the 1890s it was home to Joyce’s grand-aunts. Recently restored.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage identifies the building as ‘James Joyce House of The Dead’ ( Reg No 50080346) and describes it as being of National interest. It adds the following appraisal:

… It was used in 1987 by John Huston as the set for the film version. Its proportions and decorative doorcase are typical of Dublin Georgian townhouses. Together with numbers 12 and 14 it contributes positively to the historic character of the south quays, occupying a prominent position which closes the vista from Blackhall Place and the James Joyce Bridge. It has been recently restored, and its top storey reinstated.

The Irish Georgian Society wishes to raise the following concerns it has about the development proposals.

Insufficient information provided

As a protected structure of National interest, it would have been expected that comprehensive details of all the proposed works would have been provided with the planning application. While it is noted that the Impact Assessment identifies issues that could be considered during the planning process, the Irish Georgian Society is of the view that these should have been resolved at an earlier stage. Of particular concern is the need to fully resolve the following:

  • fire safety requirements
  • development of services layouts and installation of a series of “bulky service equipment”
  • designs for an external steel stairway and platform lift
  • details of works to the granite steps
  • treatment of chimneypieces etc
  • alterations to internal doors
  • details for the proposed basement cultural space/retail & coffee shop. In the absence of any proposed kitchen facilities, its viability is unclear.

Loss of integrity

Proposals for physical interventions and substantial additions to protected structures can be weighed up against and justified by the benefits of the intended end use of the building. In this case, the applicants propose to create new openings to the rear of the house at ground, first and second floor levels resulting in the loss of historic fabric and character, and to construct a new extension over four storeys. The Irish Georgian Society is of the view that the proposed intensive use of the house as a 56-bed hostel does not provide sufficient justification for the extent of these significant interventions.

Incremental damage

No. 15 Usher’s Island was built nearly 250 years ago and was not designed or constructed for intensive daily use. The Irish Georgian Society is of the view that the heavy foot fall that would arise from the building’s development as a 56-bed hostel would have an incrementally detrimental impact on its historic fabric. This would be contrary to the best interests of the protected structure and would be contrary to good conservation practices.

Development Plan

No. 15 Usher’s Island is designated as a protected structure (ref. 8198) in the Dublin City Development Plan (2016-22). The Plan contains the following provisions regarding the use of heritage buildings:

Identifying suitable and viable uses for certain heritage buildings can be a challenge and since an appropriately occupied building is the best way to ensure its protection, the development plan should reflect this and facilitate such appropriate uses, where these support the over-arching conservation objective [emphasis added]. (p. 182)

Changes of use of protected structures, which will have no detrimental impact on the special interest [emphasis added] and are compatible with their future long-term conservation, will be promoted (CHC2, p. 186).

The Irish Georgian Society is of the view that the proposed intensive use of No. 15 Ushers Island as a 56-bed hostel would not comprise an appropriate use for this building of national heritage and cultural importance and furthermore that it would have a detrimental impact on its special interest. On these grounds we recommend that permission be refused.

Yours sincerely

Donough Cahill

Executive Director IGS

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Financial Assistance for Architectural Heritage in 2020

18.11.2019

Posted by IGS

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The Department and local authorities recently announced their funding schemes for 2020.

In the context of a particular building, especially one on the Record of Protected Structures, the best advice for the owner may be to contact the Conservation Officer in their Local Authority. They will be able to advise on the various types of funding available to assist with the building.

Built Heritage Investment Scheme and Historic Structures Fund 2020

The Built Heritage Investment Scheme and the Historic Structures Fund will operate again in 2020 with total funding of up to €4.3 million.

The Built Heritage Investment Scheme 2020 (BHIS) is for the repair and conservation of structures that are protected under the Planning and Development Acts. This Scheme aims to support a significant number of labour-intensive, small-scale conservation projects across the country and to support the employment of skilled and experienced conservation professionals, craftspeople and tradespersons in the repair of the historic built environment. The Department is piloting a ‘micro’ grant scheme within the 2020 BHIS for works of routine maintenance and minor repairs which, if successful, will operate on a national basis at a future time.

The fund is administered through the local authorities. The allocation for 2020 is up to €2.5 million.

Built Heritage Investment Scheme 2020 Circular

The Historic Structures Fund 2020 (HSF) is for conservation works to heritage structures, in both private and public ownership.

The primary focus of the Historic Structures Fund is on conservation and enhancement of historic structures and buildings for the benefit of communities and the public.

The fund is generally administered through the local authorities. The allocation for 2020 is up to €1.8 million.

Historic Structures Fund 2020 Circular

Historic Structures Fund 2020 – Appendix I – Form A (Applicant)

Any enquiries about funding under these schemes must be directed to the relevant local authority (Conservation Officer or other person in the local authority dealing with the schemes).

(Images: Beaulieu Garden Pavilion, Co. Meath and the O'Brien Column, Co. Clare - both recipients of funding through the BHIS)

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Castle Coole Study Day

14.11.2019

Posted by IGS

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The IGS held a very special study day in Castle Coole, Co. Fermanagh on 12th November which explored the rich architectural heritage, decorative interiors and designed landscape of Ireland’s finest eighteenth-century neo-classical house. Held in partnership with the National Trust, the study day featured a host of leading scholars including as keynote speaker John Martin Robinson, author of the Yale University Press monograph on James Wyatt, Christopher Monkhouse, former curator of European Decorative Arts at the Art Institute of Chicago, and Dr Edward McParland, Fellow emeritus of Trinity College Dublin.

We also wish to thank the speakers who presented papers on the day, all of whom are leading figures in their fields and generously shared their knowledge with us. Castle Coole has been home to the Lowry Corry family since the late seventeenth century and continues to be the home of Lord and Lady Belmore. The Society is most grateful for their enthusiasm and support without which the study day simply would not have happened. Finally we wish to thank the National Trust for opening Castle Coole especially and its staff members in County Fermanagh who were hugely supportive in ensuring the seamless running of the event.

Castle Coole Study Day Speakers and Chairs (left to right): Dr Patricia McCarthy, Dr John Martin Robinson; Terence Reeve-Smyth, Primrose Wilson, Christopher Monkhouse; Lady Belmore, Lord Belmore, David Skinner, Emmeline Henderson, Donough Cahill, Frances Bailey, Dr William Roulston.

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Heritage Angels Awards NI: Lifetime Achievement Award for Primrose Wilson OBE

07.11.2019

Posted by IGS

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The third Heritage Angel Awards Northern Ireland were celebrated at a ceremony at the Market Place Theatre, Armagh on 29 October. The winner of the Lifetime Achivement Award was Primrose Wilson OBE, founding Chairman of the Follies Trust; Vice-Chairman and member of the Board of the Irish Georgian Foundation for a number of years; President of Ulster Architectural Heritage and Director of the Ulster Historic Churches Trust.

Primrose has initiated many successful projects on the island of Ireland, including the Heritage at Risk Register, European Heritage Open Days, the Home & Dry Programme and the IGS & UAH Cross Border Summer School. Primrose was acknowledged "for [her] enduring commitment, passion and drive to enhance and protect our built environment; and [she] particularly champions cross-border initiatives between heritage groups to strengthen relationships and the impact achieved by working together."

Primrose was presented with her award by BBC NI presenter Marie Louise Muir.

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Early Irish Georgians: A Summer at Camelot

28.10.2019

Posted by IGS

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As a young university student Mariga’s invitation and persuasive charm were impossible to resist – Ireland needs you - were Mariga’s words, so in June 1968 I arrived in Dublin with the instruction to catch the 67 from Batchelors Quay.

Desmond and Mariga had recently moved the Irish Georgian Society from Leixlip to Castletown and with it the Guinness’s Camelot and the two houses were metamorphized as if under a single roof and the lives and home of Desmond and Mariga and the activities of the IGS had become completely intertwined. In the acquisition of Castletown Desmond and Mariga had made significant financial sacrifices, a huge commitment of time, energy and effort and were now faced with the mammoth task of raising funds for its running and restoration. Mariga had a crusading spirit and the extortionary vital talent to inspire and awaken, in all she met, an enthusiasm for the then unappreciated world of Irish architecture. She seemed to transform life itself into theatre and each day was as a new creation. There was an endless flow of people staying and leaving and returning and to varying degrees supporting their mission - relations, historians with varying interests, artists, musicians, pop stars, ‘the Americans,’ so many friends (and some foes whom they hoped to convert to their cause), and people whom one recognised but was uncertain who they were! People were thus persuaded to join in the magical and, at times, rather theatrical mission that they were pursuing.

Though sometimes misunderstood they believed that an independent Ireland should have the self-confidence to preserve all its history. On their stage, that embraced a wider Ireland, a variety of forces would blend and set new agendas to pursue. This evolved into a national movement in the revealing and understanding of Ireland’s material culture and would be pursued by them with passion, an infectiousness enjoyment and humour that few could resist. This was the world into which I was swept. When I arrived Leixlip and Castletown where filled to overflowing as Castletown had been let, at very short notice, to an American summer camp. The Americans had taken over the basement and the top floor so Castletown could provide few bedrooms for the ever-changing cast.

Desmond and Mariga at lunches and dinners, entertained an endless stream of guests, it seemed that Desmond had invited some Mariga others while several had invited themselves as neither host or hostess were quite certain who they were. Among the many I recall, that summer, were, Mike Jaggar, (called always by Mariga, ‘Mr Yaggar’), Marianne Faithfull, Garech Browne, Nicki Browne, Tiger Cowley, Anne Crookshank, Grey Gowrie, David and Katherine Nall-Cain, Hugh and Maureen Charlton, Paddy Rossemore whose photographs filled the IGS Bulletins, Max Mosley, Bryan Moyne, Ivor and Marie Underwood, Desmond Leslie, Julian and Carola Peck, Henry McIlhenny, Charlotte Bielenberg, the enchanting Phillis Du Pont Mills who was to marry James Wyeth, Pakenhams (about whom Mariga was apt to remark that they had sadly left Ireland ‘for reasons of literature’), Brenda Weir, a cook of eighteenth century dishes – who took fright and left. An Indian Maharaja with whom Mariga was planning her tour in India, Father Murphy, many ‘Mr and Mrs Things’ sometimes with an informative tag such as the captain of a visiting Scandinavian ship who Mariga introduced as ‘Captain of the Barque Starfish’, Ambassadors a plenty, and Dublin developers if they dared come, Pearl Mesta, Jack Lynch, Rose Saul Zalles who gave money to purchase the folly, while Richard Wood, who was staying in the flat in the yard, sometimes came in after dinner. If people where ‘difficult’ they might be requested to put on a hat from the dressing up trunk in the hall.

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All this was a front to an enormous amount of hard work being undertaken on a shoe string, in promoting and direct action for the IGS causes, and in both the running and the ongoing restoration of Castletown. By showing what could be achieved Castletown acted as a model to inspire other house owners not to give up. Though Castletown was open to the general public, for five shillings, on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, it was never closed to visitors and groups. Doreen Morehead had come from the Wexford Opera to oversee the running of the house and the IGS, later Patricia Mc Sweeney supported Desmond and Leixlip, while the wonderful Lena Boylan liaised with the government and politicians, compiled the archives, researched the history of Castletown and stocked and ran the shop.

Visitors where given guided tours by whomever was staying, augmented by supporters (called ‘Georgeenians’ by Mariga), who needed little enticement to come and be rewarded by a picnic arranged by Mariga or Philippa Garner and tea with scones by the ‘Irish Country Women’. Guides were not scheduled but seemingly just appeared and the quality of tour depended much on the individual’s creative imagination. The advantage of young guides was that through their enthusiasm they distracted from the emptiness of the rooms and awakened an interest in the mission of the IGS. Having explained to one group of visitors how the bare walled saloon had previously been hung with green silk at the end of my tour I was approached by a couple who offered to donate new green silk. Guides that summer included Brian Molloy, William Garner, Jeremy Williams, Philip Edwards, David Roche, George Wynn-Wilson, David Synnott, John Stewart, Rose Mary Craig, Rosaleen Chambre, Carol McGroarty (married to Sam Frazier at Castletown) and occasionally Andrew Healy and Alfred Cockrane. Saturday afternoon was particularly popular for supporters to come from Dublin and many would stay for supper and possibly attend an evening performance. These often-included Willie and Anne Dillon (custodians of Taylors Hall), John Gilmartin, Pierce Synnott, LG Gillespie, Mary Finn, Roxanne Morehead and sometimes very late in the night ‘Jack the poacher’, who lived in a cottage in the woods, would call and be fed and ‘refreshed’!

There was a memorable evening performance of ‘Smock Alley’ at Castletown attended by the delegates to an International History Conference at Trinity. A few days earlier at a picnic with Mariga, a guest mentioned they had been at a country wedding where there were so many guests they were reduced to drinking from ‘eggcups and saucers.’ At the end of the performance Mariga was thanked for hosting the historians and responded in her drawling voice that as they had visited Carton and Castletown, they should now visit Leixlip. When several coaches of unplanned guests arrived, there were insufficient glasses and guests had to drinking from ‘egg cups and saucers.’ Mick Jagger insisted on taking the tour of Leixlip by candle light and Marianne’s mother Baroness Erisso, was awakened in terror as a procession of candle holding historians passing through her bedroom!

Shortly after I arrived, I visited Russborough with a party of Americans and Jeremy Williams. Alfred Beit took us through the pictures and gave us drinks in the saloon. I was talking with one of the Beit’s guests who was smoking a cigarette and as he gestured forward to discard the ash in a gilded bronze shell, his arm was unceremoniously pushed to the side with the hiss ‘Girolamo Campagna’! Castletown was rather less curated and the furniture seemed to continually being moved and repositioned. To augment the furnishings Desmond had acquired from Lord Carew, furniture was being bought, given, lent, begged and borrowed and some went away only to reappear a few weeks later. Things were lent by Lady Pamela Paulet, Miss Rose Marquess, Gerald Kenyon, Mrs Browne-Clayton, and Sir Standish O’Grady Roche lent some notable Irish Georgian furniture including a wonderful set of dining chairs together with family portraits many of which were hung on the walls of the timber staircase. The stairs were the route to the top floor dormitories of the American students who systematically burnt cigarettes through the sitter’s eyes. The Headfort seat furniture arrived and placed in the saloon and one morning we carried in and assembled a gilt canopied bed Mariga had brought from London. A marble statue of George III came from the Bank of Ireland and with great difficulty was manhandled up the front steps but once inside sinister cracking suggested the weight was too much for the floor so it was hastily withdrawn and left to languished in the stable yard. Mrs De La Hunt, who with her sister were house keepers, gave a large bed with a rococo headboard which furnished a top floor bedroom. Brian Molloy cleaning under a bath found a crested Sevres chamber pot. Further gaps were filled with flowers from cutting beds Mariga had created and supplemented with her signature branches of leaves interspersed with homemade crepe flowers - these gave life to rooms and when strategically placed hid and distracted from the worst of the distressed walls.

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In the early hours of one morning I was awakened by the sound of a lorry on the gravel outside - to my surprised I found men not come to take away but to deliver a suite of French furniture from Kenwood for the green boudoir. The boudoir was virtually inaccessible having been taken over by Mrs Panther who lived at Carton and spent her days needle in hand repairing a very distressed Aubusson carpet. As she worked above her Philippa and later Barbara Carr were uncovering and restoring the painted ceiling. At Desmond’s initiative Barbara went on to restore the murals at Lyons and re-exposed the anatomies of naked females. When not active with needle Mrs Panther conducted seances and had apparently made contact with someone who had been murdered and buried in the garden to the west of the house.

Following the performances of ‘Smock Alley’ Dominic Roche brought to Castletown his adaption of the melodrama ‘Sweeney Todd’ and soon after Desmond purchased the rights to his script and ‘The Castletown Players’ were formed. We had a round of trying out parts with Desmond, of course, having the star role as Dr Aminibad Lupin, the actor Gareth Williams directed and played Sweeney Todd, stunning Ann Whitsett in the unlikely roll of Mrs Lovett, Terence Hall as ‘Captain of the Barque Starfish’ and destined for the razors edge. Patrick Rolleston, who had set up a pottery at Castletown, as Jarvis Williams, I as Tobias Ragg, with Philippa over seeing costumes and Doreen Morehead playing the piano. After a week of rehearsal in the Batchelor Wing and beautiful bills printed, we were set; tickets available at a guinea from Brown Thomas or Switzers (I was amused that when the play was recast the following year, without Desmond, the tickets were priced at ten shillings). The opening night on Saturday 3rd August had its inevitable hiccups, I received from Terence the opening line ‘Ah Tobias what is your name’ to which I had the presence of mind to responds ‘Ragg sir - Tobias Ragg’! After a cool opening reception, we went from strength to strength by keeping the audience waiting as long as possible before the performance so that they would consume larger amounts of fortified claret cup. Brian Molloy shouted increasingly risqué comments, the audience were encouraging to jeer and throw vegetable matter at the villains, though on particularly raucous nights the vegetables, jeering and Brian’s interventions were rather directed at the heroin.

We performed at the Robertstown Festival - but without the home-based support – and to obtain an audience we performed at no charge to an audience not primed with fortified claret cup. As a reaction to the quality of the production there was much genuine jeering and hissing, the out of tune grand piano lost its legs and collapsed and to our mortification the audience, to a man, walked out! We were more successful at Lough Rynn where we were part of the house opening celebrations. Following an afternoon of Georgian cricket against the Northern Ireland National Trust and Marcus and Joanne Clements ‘generous hospitality’ the obscenities being shouted at us where such to cause offence to the Clements neighbours and the ‘men of the cloth’ and of little assistance to Marcus and Joanna’s acceptance in the depths of County Leitrim.

There were other events at Castletown including an IGS fundraising ball, and an international fashion show with models led by the spell binding Honor Blackman strutting the complete circuit of the ground floor enfilade. The ‘Georgeenians’ were for the evening to be dressed in the brown and gold Cliveden livery belonging to Humphry Wakefield who was in the process of moving from Lough Cutra and his things were to be stored in the Castletown stables. On the day of the fashion show the stables were still empty, eventually contact was made with Humphry who had been assured that the week before two lorry loads of his possessions had been left in the Castletown stables. After more frantic telephoning and obtaining a description of the house to which the delivery had been made it was apparent that they were at Donacumper. Fortunately, the Du Pont Bredins had become good friends and, though rather surprised, allowed me to rummage in their stables and retrieve the livery. Everyone had been allocated a role and ‘Mr Yagger’ was responsible for collecting flowers and I learnt had been mortified when helping him, I had addressed him as ‘flower child’. The ‘Georgeenians’ looked splendid in the brown and gold livery and perhaps something of the splendour of Cliveden was revived. But the most tantalisingly dressed was Anne Whitsett, bare footed, her golden hair hanging loose she wore as a sarong ‘Mrs Lovett’s’ black shawl and a stringed single lemon. We learnt the following morning that the evening had been an even greater success as Desmond reported hayloft canoodling between the ‘Georgeenians’ and the American summer school.

We went to the Horse Show, the Antiques Fair, where ‘Mr Yagger’ bought a bath, and one evening I accompanied Desmond and Mariga to a dinner given for the International Bar Association and for this an enormous marquee was erected along the rear of Castletown and may be for the first time Castletown was spectacularly flood lit. On another glorious evening William McAlpine appeared, unannounced, on his way to Stradbally and parked his steam organ and period caravan in front of Castletown. The house had been let for a ‘debs’ dance but unperturbed Bill opened the valves and off went the steam organ and, as it got dark, the‘Georgeenians’, with young villagers from Celbridge and Leixlip danced and were in due course joined by many of the debs and their black tied delights. On this warm summer evening a magical time was being had, but much to the mortification of the deb’s mother, who had a band playing to an empty ball room. Negotiations took place and Bill was persuaded to reduce the volume and the ball goers to return to the house - but many slipped back to be part of that enchanted night.

For this dance I had painted a little room at the end of the stable colonnade so that it could serve as a nightclub. Mariga and I went to the Celbridge Workhouse for paint, on leaving Mariga engaged her car’s reverse instead of first gear and with some force hit a car that had drawn up behind – unperturbed she opened her window and with her mischievous smile, called to the other startled driver ‘I’m alright are you’ and not waiting for a response drove off! The colonnade room was painted midnight blue and garlanded with the crepe flowers which were a signature of Mariga’s rooms. Shortly after the artist Roland Pym arrived from Biddesden and was to spend a few days over painting my (un prepared) blue walls with a mural. This began as a fluidly sketched Whistleresque outline with portrait medallions of Desmond and Mariga, based on those of the Francini brothers in the staircase hall, and picturesque views of Castletown, Leixlip and the folly. As the days turned into weeks the mural became increasingly detailed with the addition of ever more features, highly detailed people, birds, butterflies and animals. Before he thought of starting on the ceiling Roland was given an air ticket to London, and a ‘celebration’ dinner was held to bid him farewell. The following morning Roland was left at the airport but later in the day Roland returned - as he had been so upset at leaving and knew how much everyone would be missing him! A new flight was booked and Roland was this time seen through the departure gate. He went on to paint the ‘Cannaletoesque’ murals for the saloon at Woburn.

Mariga created theatrical settings and one moody Irish cinematic funerial morning with low dense mist swirling a group of Americans came to visit Leixlip. Through the mist one could just make out, on the forecourt, the Limerick hearse in which lay a body covered by a purple pall, with protruded black boots, brass hand and the head covered by a large feathered hat. The Americans came and after a brief tour left leaving Mariga bewildered, as having gone to so much trouble, no one had chosen to notice her hearsed corpse!

On the frequent picnics we went in search of clusters of beaches that might suggest the remains of a demesne and some little-known house possibly demanding attention. The underlying purpose was to discover, photograph and record what existed or remained of a country house and if possible, ensure its survival. This was before the inventories of Maurice Craig and William Garner or the later gazetteer of Mark Bence-Jones and there was so much still to be discovered. Avenues were gone up with varying rewards and eventually a picnic would be laid out in front of some roofless or deserted house and might in time result in direct IGS action or encourage, a likeminded person, to purchase and save a similar house. On one of these adventures the picnic and vin rose, were already laid out when out of the ‘deserted’ house stepped the rather incredulous owner.

It may have been that such picnic was a precursor to another in 1970 when on the morning, following the leaving party at Furness given for Doreen Morehead (who was being succeeded at Castletown by Amanda Douglas), I accompanied Brian Molloy and Kevin and Christa Byrne to take over Roundwood which had stood empty and neglected for several years. Brian had given up his Trinity law studies, was to become the ‘major-domo’ of the IGS, and was now owner of Roundwood. On arrival we removed the boards covering the ground floor windows and then in the sun on the front steps enjoyed a picnic lunch, after which Christa served coffee. Brian was surprised for he had understood that there was no running water, Christa explained that she had made, the by now finished coffee, from the bottled water in the car. Brian went ashen as this was Holy Water his mother had sent to bless the house and ensure the exorcising of the spirits of any lingering protestant squireen. The Byrnes went on to take over and restore the IGS’s Longfield.

Desmond and Mariga were as pied pipers, their zeal was infectious and Mariga’s showmanship had a mesmerising influence on people and scooped up support and supporters in a manner that made people feel honoured to be asked to help. If she came upon a building of interest Mariga would stop and if possible, look for someone to give her further information. Once I was driving along a country lane in Co.Leix and facing me at a T junction was a two story five bay farm house with the farmer standing outside. I asked him directions and admired his house. The farmer very proudly explained that it was an unaltered mid - eighteenth century house distinguished by having retained its original windows and glazing bars, he explained that he knew this because Mrs Guinness, having noticed his house, had knocked on the door to share with him her admiration of his home. Today thanks to Mariga this remains a rare unaltered house of its type and makes one realise how many other buildings across Ireland were saved by Mariga having gone out of her way to instil a sense of pride in a building’s owner.

I was with a party of ‘Georgeenians’ at the viewing of an auction at Cabra Castle Co. Cavan. In the library sat Eoin ‘Pope’ O’Mahony and as Rosaleen Chambre had brought a picnic lunch we asked him to join us. ‘The Pope’ reluctantly declined explaining he had arrived before the doors opened and had headed for the library, selected all the interesting books put them in a pile and was sitting on them and to join us for lunch would reveal his treasures! Brian Molloy bought a floral chintz covered sofa which, when the cover was later removed revealed a handsome William IV mahogany sofa, this together with his other possessions he left to the IGS. Cabra was being sold by Mervyn Sheppard, with whom I fifteen years later was to established the Heritage of Malaysia Trust and also to assist him with the recovery of Thomas Carlton’s ‘swagger’ portrait of Sir Audley Mervyn a Speaker of the Irish Parliament. Following the sale, the portrait remained on loan at Cabra but had passed into wrong hands and Mervyn after many years eventually managed to it buy back to gift it to the Irish State. However, the portrait was declined by the State and later acquired by Fred and Kay Krehbiel and today hangs at Ballyfin.

One afternoon I was introduced to an attractive Belgian girl, and she was again at Mr and Mrs Murphy’s Celbridge bar where we often went when the last of the day visitors had departed. I was keen to go on as Grey Gowrie had invited me to see Castlemartin which he had recently inherited and as someone in the party had an open sports car this was my transport opportunity. Somehow six of us managed to hang on to the car and off we sped to see Humphry Wakefield’s redecoration of the house in readiness for ‘Mr Yaggers’ return to Ireland. Possibly staying here was to ensure that his baby would not again be locked in a tower bedroom and nanny disappear with the key. In New York six years later, a fellow dinner party guest said ‘We have met before ‘, it was Anne the girl I had last seen at Mr and Mrs Murphy’s and who is now my wife.

Desmond gave great energy to the role of the IGS as a learned society and he organised several conferences including one to assist the Tourist Board in the creation of visitor attractions, this was for the owners of historic houses that were, or might be, open to the public. While it was Mariga’s genius that sparked the movement and membership swelled as a direct result of her passionate advocacy in the changing of the perceptions and attitudes against the tide of demolition of Dublin’s distinguished built heritage. Hers was a fight against the ‘defence of destructive forces’ and 50 Mountjoy Square was a critical symbol of the plight of North inner Dublin and the fight to save, from destruction, the remains of Luke Gardiner’s estate. The IGS struggle and eventual accommodation with Leinster Estates led to the formation Mountjoy Square Estates with Kevin Nolan as Chairman. Following the developers failed attempt to destroy No 50 and it’s legally enforced shoring, Mariga restored it as the IGS Architectural Library. On entering the house on the half landing, in front of a window without glass, was a plant held in the lower half of a more than life size plaster cast of a classical male nude whose bottom, was an irresistible target for the stone throwing boys of North inner Dublin. On the ground floor lived Richard and Chris (de Burgh) Davidson, on the second floor David Synnott where the rooms had been re-painted six times before Mariga had achieved the correct tone of green. On the top floor Mariga had a flat and here, often over lunch, held meetings to organise the strategy against ill-considered redevelopment in central Dublin. I recall one such lunch with the indefatigable Kevin Nolan when the three of us for several hours worked on a strategy and written statement opposing proposed redevelopment of Hume Street.

To prevent wholesale redevelopment of Mountjoy Square supporters had bought other houses. These included the John Molloy’s at No 47, which to draw attention on the plight of the square, had been the first Dublin house ever to be opened to the public, Carol McGroarty (Frazier) at No 43, while in North Great Georges Street, in addition to Harrold Clark, houses (or rather the then tenements) were bought by Willie Dillon, David Synnott (a staircase with Kauffmanesque roundels), Brian Molloy and later Desiree Short at No 38. This initiative prevented developers from buying up large groups of houses and so saved the street. Sadly, the IGS had failed to prevent the demolition of No 25 but Jeremy Williams and Brian Molloy salvaged from the ruins a series of decorative plaster plaques by Michael Stapelton which they awarded to other ‘Georgeenians’ who proudly displayed these trophies in green velvet lined box frames.

It was this sense of mission and singlemindedness of purpose, defending central Dublin, that Mariga was later to apply, against powerful economic forces, to safeguard and change the perception of Spitalfields. The seeds she sowed there were to lead to the formation of the influential Spitalfields Trust. Today the survival of this very significant historic area of London is another testimony to Mariga’s efforts and foresight.

We had mounted an exhibition of photographs on the architecture of Leixlip at Robertstown, Leixlip, Castletown and towards the end of August Mariga and I were at the New Library at Trinity to arrange an exhibition on Irish Architecture. The task proved virtually impossible as the gallery walls were solid and incapable of taking pins and there was apparently no alternative hanging provision, after seemingly hours of struggle, we had somehow managed to affix a number of the photographic boards when, much to our relief reinforcements arrived. In this posse were, Christopher Gibbs, David Mlinaric, Mark Palmer, Jane Ormsby-Gore and maybe Penny Cuthbertson. This ‘committee of taste’ decided our struggle was unsatisfactory and the boards were taken down and after some time, with no boards on the walls, it was felt that sustenance was required and we went for a long evening at Lincolns Inn. It was with some trepidation I went to the opening of the exhibition to find that Mariga must have summoned the Leprechauns and every one of the 247 images was perfectly arranged. The exhibition was the greatest success and recruited many new members for the IGS.

I now have little recollection of ‘long days of what in reality have must have been tireless hard work in the name of Castletown and the IGS’ but only the smiling magical spirit of a summer at ‘Camelot’. The following year I was in America and not able to accept Desmond’s invitation to assist him with ‘Great Irish House’. I later won a scholarship to Penn and was scooped up by the broader IGS circle including Reeves and Sally Wetherill, the amazing Gloria Etting and Henry McIlhenny, who at some distraction to my studies, introduced me to the ‘Philadelphia Main Line’ and included me at dinners, in the company of Impressionists, at 1 Rittenhouse Square. I went on to New York where an early assignment was preparation of a conservation strategy for the then still virgin centre of New York’s Staten Island. Here were a Castletown and Dongan Hills, which research revealed to have been part of the country estate of Thomas Dongan, Governor of the Province of New York (1683-88) who had named his New York property after his Irish estate at Celbridge. I was chuffed to impart my discovery to Desmond at one of our lunches when he visited New York.

In 1982 Mervyn (Mubin) Sheppard of Cabra, (where I had attended the auction fifteen years earlier), John Skrine of Buttlerstown and I founded ‘The Heritage of Malaysia Trust’ which we modelled on the IGS - as an ‘all singing all dancing conservation body’ aimed at the saving of the Malaysian Peninsula’s rich architectural heritage. We prepared and petitioned for the adoption of conservation legislation for areas, the listing of buildings, organised conservation courses and took over buildings to save them and demonstrate best practice etc. It evolved into one of the most successful organisations of its type in Asia - and was itself to be copied in other Asian countries. An initial task was the identification and recording of buildings for listing, and in this we were encouraged by the Knight, who had great affection for Malaysia having been at the University of Malaya, taught in Penang and written an article ‘Oriental Palladianism’ for The New Straits Times.

When in 1819 Stamford Raffle’s established Singapore, he took with him an East India Company architect to lay out the settlement and design many of the public buildings and churches. This was George Coleman from Drogheda, who the Knight discovered, had trained with James Gandon. Many of Colman’s Singapore buildings had either been destroyed during the war or demolished without trace. However, in 1981 I had been in Venice with Desmond and the antiquarian book expert and IGS member David Alexander who later sent me ‘Rhapsody in Light’. This turned out to be the only known existing copy limited pre-war photographic essay of buildings in Singapore including many of Colman’s lost buildings. It formed an invaluable foundation for the ongoing research on Coleman and Singapore. David Alexanders’ gift was subsequently reproduced in facsimile and was for several years available in the bookshops of Singapore.

Desmond and Mariga were people of great kindness and generosity of spirit and their influence has spread far and wide and here in Asia is just one of the many tentacles directly inspired by them. I am much indebted to them and have nothing but admiration and gratitude for the huge work of national importance having been taken up and completed by their effort, sheer hard work and financial sacrifices. Mariga was particular focused on what she wanted to achieve and with her drawling voice and mischievous smile, she took on a variety of persona that enabled her through soft, and often disconcerting coercion, to achieve her objectives. She was a person with acute visual sensibility’s and recognised the beauty and broader significance of Irelands built heritage that she saw as part of a wider European culture in which Ireland, with her help, should share and take pride.

Peter Verity

(An edited version of this can be found in the 2019 edition of the Irish Georgian Society Review.)

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IGS Conservation and Original Drawing Awards

10.10.2019

Posted by IGS

The winners of the 2019 IGS Conservation and Original Drawing Awards were announced by Livia Hurley in a ceremony at the City Assembly House last night. The awards were presented to the winners by IGS Chairman Michael Wall.

WINNER: 3 Henrietta Street, Dublin
Architect: Kelly & Cogan Architects / Client: Ian Lumley / Client & Contractor: Patrick Wigglesworth

Pictured (L-R): Pat Wigglesworth, IGS Chairman Michael Wall, James Kelly and Ian Lumley

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Winner: 3 Henrietta Street, Dublin (2)


HIGHLY COMMENDED: Tubbrid Castle, County Kilkenny
Architect: Bluett O’Donoghue Architects / Client: John Campion / Contractor: Murphy Brothers
Pictured: Cormac O’Sullivan (Project architect), Michael Wall and owners the Campions

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COMMENDED: Boyce’s Almhouses, Tallow, Co. Waterford
Architect: Aughey O’Flaherty Architects / Client: Waterford City & County Council / Contractor: LeeTherm Construction
Pictured: Michael Wall and Aughey O'Flaherty Architects team

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MARY BRYAN PRIZE FOR CONSERVATION: Swiss Cottage, Co. Leitrim
Architect: Buckley Partnership Architects / Client: Niamh Patten / Contractor: Vincent Beirne
Pictured: Michael Wall with project architect Adrian Buckley and client Niamh Patten

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ORIGINAL DRAWING: Mark Stephens for his original drawing of the elevation of a thatched cottage, Adare, Co. Limerick
Pictured: Micheal Wall and Mark Stephens

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The jury is made up of:

David Griffin RETIRED DIRECTOR, THE IRISH ARCHITECTURAL ARCHIVE

Livia Hurley DESIGN FELLOW IN ARCHITECTURE, UCD

Frank McCloskey ARCHITECT AND FORMER DIRECTOR, RSUA

Frank McDonald AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST

Dr Edward McParland ARCHITECTURAL HISTORIAN, FTCD (EMERITUS)

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Pictured: David Griffin, Edward McParland, Livia Hurley, Frank McDonald and Frank McCloskey

Sponsored by the Ronan Real Estate Group

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