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


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.


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.


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.


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.

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


Posted by IGS

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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

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In praise of the decorative ‘Irish’ lobby - Patricia McCarthy


Posted by IGS

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


Russborough, Co.Wicklow

It might seem surprising that even as short an essay as this might be devoted to such a mundane space. Lobbies are, after all, generally small spaces that connect with rooms or apartments, through which we pass when visiting country houses, often without a second glance. In our eagerness to see the more ‘important’ rooms, these spaces are sometimes not given the attention they deserve. However, it should be stated at the outset that this is not about just any lobby: it is about a particularly Irish architectural feature that can be found in a number of Irish houses, not always in the country. It can be defined as a lobby that is usually located on the first floor; is not a landing, is self-contained, usually top- lit (often via an opening in the ceiling by a lantern in the floor above), and from which access is gained to bedrooms and other rooms. It could be called a vestibule or even an ante-room. The late John Cornforth, architectural editor of Country Life, described it as ‘one of the happiest features in Irish country houses, and Maurice Craig mentions ‘these architecturally-treated upstairs central lobbies’. They come in different shapes - rectangular, octagonal, square, round, oval; they can be large or small, but they are often highly decorative spaces. It is interesting to look at some of them.


Bellamont Forest, Co Cavan


Bedroom lobby at Bellamont Forest, Co Cavan (courtesy of Ganly Walters)

First used at Bellamont Forest, Co. Cavan (c.1728) by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, this form of lobby was taken up by his successor Richard Castle at Hazelwood, Co. Sligo (1731), Russborough (1741), Bellinter, Co. Meath (c.1750), in unexecuted plans for Headfort, Co. Meath (c. 1750) and in an early plan for Castle Coole, Co. Fermanagh (c. 1730). There is one at Edermine, Co. Wexford (c. 1839), and at Mount Henry, Co. Laois, and probably in many other houses. A visitor to Hazelwood shortly after it was built described the ‘Octagon Lobby, from each side of which a door opens into a Bed Chamber. This Octagon is Illuminated by a large Lanthorn in the Roof in the midst of the Octagon is a Well, with a Ballastrade around, which gives Light to the Stairs’. At Castle Coole, the lobby is a spacious rectangular room, two storeys high and lit by an oval skylight. It is interesting to note that this house, with this distinctively Irish feature, was designed by the English architect, James Wyatt in 1790.


William Ashford (1746-1824) Mount Kennedy, Co Wicklow, 1785; oil on canvas. (Yale Centre for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection)

The same architect drew up plans for Mount Kennedy, Co. Wicklow in the 1770s, which were modified in the 1780s when the house was finally being built under the supervision of Thomas Cooley. While it is on a Cooley plan of 1781, whose was the original idea of the spacious octagonal lobby with its circular lantern? At Vernon Mount, Co. Cork (now, sadly, lost), seven doors leading off the lobby were painted as trompe l’oeil niches in monochrome with statues and urns, by the Cork artist Nathaniel Grogan, and the lobby itself surrounded by eight Corinthian columns.


Lobby of Vernon Mount with Nathaniel Grogan painted door panels (Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive)

At Bellinter there is a dramatic entrance opening from the staircase to the lobby - a semi-circular arch, supported by two entablatures each, in turn supported by two Corinthian columns and pilasters. Compared to other lobbies, the layers of architectural detail here tend to be heavy and overstated. Russborough’s spacious lobby is lit by an elegantly-decorated oval lantern: the Ionic columns at each end of it were a later insertion to stabilise the roof. The only description to hand of this lobby being used is an account by Lady Louisa Conolly, in which she refers to the space as a ‘saloon’ at Bellamont Forest, when Lord Colooney, the only son of the earl of Bellamont, died in 1786. His body was laid out ‘in the saloon in the attic story for three days...the Saloon, which is supported by pillars and lighted by a cupola, and hung with black cloth; as also the cupola which was lighted with tapers and constantly attended by upper servants, appointed to succeed each other night and day.’ This room, however, is the spacious rectangular first-floor lobby, where doors to the bedrooms and to the staircases are located, quite similar to Russborough. A screen of columns at each end of the space supports the oval lantern that is enriched with decorative plasterwork.


Thomas Penrose, Lobby to the Bed Chambers at Lucan for Ag. Vesey, April 1776. (Courtesy of National Library of Ireland, AD1593, Lucan House Collection)

Thomas Penrose’s drawing for Lucan House in Dublin demonstrates how attractive these lobbies can be. Also in Dublin, the approach to the lobby in the Provost’s House at Trinity College (begun 1759) is a theatrical experience - from the first landing of the octagonal main staircase, the Corinthian order of the lobby can be seen, as can the wrought-iron balustrade by Timothy Turner around the opening in the floor above, the Ionic order on that (second) floor and finally, the lantern itself with its decoration of carved floral wreaths. As the highest of the architectural orders, the Corinthian indicates the importance of the first floor; and the visitors’ arrival at the Saloon, the most important room in the house. The architect of the house is unknown, but it is attributed to either John Smyth or Henry Keene. Apart from its use for the Bellamont wake, the purpose of these spaces is so far unknown. For visitors they were simply a means of getting from one space to another. At Trinity College when Provost Francis Andrews entertained, the lobby was an integral part of the processional route. But in most houses it must have been seen only by overnight visitors. Nonetheless, these interesting spaces are worth our attention, if only to wonder why so much money was spent in creating and decorating them if their only purpose was to provide light. But perhaps that was the point of them.

Life in the Country House in Georgian Ireland (Yale University Press, 2016) by Patricia McCarthy can be purchased from the IGS bookshop (shop.igs.ie) as hardback or paperback.

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National Policy on Architecture Public Consultation


Posted by IGS


The IGS has welcomed a public consultation process by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht for a new National Policy on Architecture. In its submission the Society recommended a series of objectives relating to the financial and regulatory environments, and to communities and education. It noted a particular urgency for financial assistance to be given to all local authorities to appoint conservation officers to be champions, at a local level, to both implement architectural heritage policy and to promote good design and quality in new architecture in historic cities, towns, and villages. The Society has also called for greater architectural and conservation expertise to be provided in the planning process, both at local authority level and on Bord Pleanala, and for the adoption of a review of Part IV (conservation) of the Planning Act which contains recommendations that are very badly needed in order to make the legislation work more effectively.

Download the IGS submission here.

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COVID-19 Update for Irish Georgian Society


Posted by IGS

Due to the latest information from the HSE and the nationwide lockdown with COVID-19, the Irish Georgian Society has made the following decisions in relation to their events and programmes. This post will be updated on an ongoing basis.

Last Updated: 6 May 2020

City Assembly House

  • The building and IGS offices are closed until June, dates TBC. Staff will be working remotely.
  • 'Dublin Fragments: The Pearson Collection' is now closed until further notice.
  • Any queries in relation to events booked or future bookings, please email cityassemblyhouse@igs.ie

Membership Events

All the events listed below have been postponed taking guidance from the HSE. The Irish Georgian Society will be reviewing the situation on COVID-19 in the coming months and will keep all those concerned updated with events postponed and future events planned.

Conservation Education

IGS Bookshop

  • Due to the developing situation with COVID-19, the bookshop is now closed.
  • We are still accepting orders online at shop.igs.ie - these will be posted once a week until circumstances change. Please allow at least 1-2 weeks for delivery.

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RE: Submission on Planning permission for development at a site at No.'s 47, 48 and 49 Kildare Street


Posted by IGS

In January the IGS welcomed a decision by Dublin City Council to comprehensively refuse permission for the demolition of a terrace of Georgian houses constituting the Kildare Street Hotel. This decision was appealed by the applicants to An Bord Pleanala on which the IGS has made a robust submission calling for the application to be refused once again. Read submission below...


An Bord Pleanala

64 Marlborough Street

Dublin 1


4 March 2020

Re: Planning permission for development at a site at No.'s 47, 48 and 49 Kildare Street and No.'s 1 and 2 Nassau Street, Dublin 2 comprising the demolition of nos. 47, 48 and 49 Kildare Street and No. 1 Nassau Street and demolition of the modern twentieth century fourth storey to No. 2 Nassau Street.

Case reference: PL29S.306595

Dublin City Council reference: 4414/19

Dear Sir or Madam,

The Irish Georgian Society wishes comment on the appeal submitted to An Bord Pleanala by Ternary Limited regarding the proposed redevelopment of nos. 47, 48 and 49 Kildare Street, Dublin 2.

Kildare Street lies on the route of the former Coote Lane which was widened and renamed following the commencement of Kildare House in 1745. Over subsequent decades it emerged as one of the most desirable addresses in Dublin with the Georgian Society Records (1912, vol. IV, p. 83) noting the survival at that time of ‘several’ Georgian houses. Sadly many of these have since been lost including those on Kildare Place at the southern end of the street which prompted the foundation of the Irish Georgian Society by Desmond Guinness in 1958. The current refurbishment of long derelict buildings across the road from this site is welcomed and demonstrates the viability of restoring and reusing traditionally built buildings that have deteriorated over time.

Kildare Street remains one of Dublin’s premier thoroughfares and, in addition to Dáil Eireann, is home to multiple national institutions whose buildings contribute greatly to its distinctive character. Regrettably the evolution of the street has not always been successful with a considerable number of fine Georgian houses replaced during the second half of the twentieth century by monotonous new office blocks that contribute little of interest to the streetscape.

The Irish Georgian Society is strongly of the view that the current proposal to demolish the series of Georgian houses that today constitutes a part of the Kildare Street Hotel will similarly denude the character of the street and further erode the historic building stock of Georgian Dublin. The Society contests the purported justification for these works as set out in the Conservation Assessment Report (p. 37) and refutes the suggestion that cumulative changes to the building and inappropriate maintenance of their fabric provide reason for their demolition.

The Irish Georgian Society also wishes to highlight the following provisions of the Dublin City Development Plan:

Section 11.1.1 of the Development Plan states that “built heritage contributes significantly to the city’s identity, to the collective memory of its communities and the richness and diversity of its urban fabric.”

Policy CHC1 of the Development Plan is “to seek the preservation of the built heritage of the city that makes a positive contribution to the character, appearance and quality of local streetscapes and the sustainable development of the city”.

Section 16.10.17 of the Development Plan concerns the ‘Retention and Re-Use of Older Buildings of Significance which are Not Protected’ and states that “the re-use of older buildings of significance is a central element in the conservation of the built heritage of the city” and that “in assessing applications to demolish older buildings which are not protected, the planning authority will actively seek the retention and re-use of buildings / structures of historic, architectural, cultural, artistic and/or local interest or buildings which make a positive contribution to the character and identity of streetscapes.”


Dublin’s heritage of Georgian buildings is intrinsic to its identity and its preservation has long been accepted as a staple of good planning and conservation practice. The current proposal to demolish those Georgian houses forming part of the Kildare Street Hotel runs contrary to this and would see the irreversible loss of part of the city’s built heritage. As per the provisions of Section 16.10.17 of the Development Plan, the retention and re-use of these historic buildings should be championed by Dublin City Council to ensure they continue to form part of our national heritage.

The Irish Georgian Society is of the view that the buildings proposed for demolition make an important contribution to the character of Kildare Street, that the applicants have provided no justification for their replacement, and so recommends that this planning application be refused.

Yours sincerely,

Donough Cahill

Executive Director, IGS

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