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.
Celebrating the Irish Country House Garden
Posted by IGS
During 2021 and 2022 the Irish Georgian Society is celebrating the Irish Country House Garden with two exhibitions in the City Assembly House that will explore four hundred years of Irish gardens and designed landscapes. The first of these exhibitions, Stepping Through the Gate: Inside Ireland's Walled Gardens, will run from September 2021, while the second, In Harmony with Nature: The Irish Country House Garden, will run from May 2022.
Stepping Through the Gate: Inside Ireland's Walled Gardens (September 2021)
Open Tuesday - Saturday, 10am - 5pm. Last admission 4:30pm.
Walled gardens have a long history going back millennia having often simultaneously served not just as places to grow fruit and vegetables, but also areas of privacy and of protection from intemperate weather conditions.
This exhibition will feature forty specially commissioned paintings of Walled Gardens by four distinguished artists: Lesley Fennell, Andrea Jameson, Maria Levinge and Alison Rosse.
All four artists are active gardeners and are people who understand plants. Alison Rosse and her husband inherited responsibility for one of Ireland’s finest demesnes at Birr Castle which includes superlative walled gardens laid out by his late parents. Lesley Fennell can take credit for creating a truly lovely garden at Burtown, County Kildare. Together with her two sisters, at Tourin, County Waterford, Andrea Jameson ensures that the walled garden remains as productive as ever, while Maria Levinge, having moved house a few years ago, embarked on establishing a new garden in County Wexford.
Paintings in the exhibition will be available for purchase. A catalogue can be purchased from the IGS bookshop.
In Harmony with Nature: The Irish Country House Garden (May 2022)
While the changing landscape of the Irish countryside has been extensively examined in recent decades, the evolution of gardens attached to country houses remains under-investigated.
This exhibition will explore the history of the Irish Country House Garden using paintings, engravings and photographs as well as film and other media creating an exciting, engaging and informative experience.
It will open c.1600 with sites around castles and fortified houses such as those at Lismore, County Waterford and Portumna, County Galway, and it will end with two great island gardens created just before the First World War: Garnish, County Kerry and Lambay, County Dublin.
The exhibition will consider what makes our gardens different from those found in other countries. What plants were favoured during which eras? Who were the most significant plantsmen and women? What role did owners play in laying out a garden? Who were the most important gardeners? What new species were introduced to Ireland, especially in the 19th century.
Dates may change subject to government guidelines.
To coincide with these exhibitions the Irish Georgian Society is publishing a book to be edited by Professor Finola O’Kane-Crimmins with contributions from leading experts in the field. In addition, a television documentary looking at the history of the Irish country house garden is being produced in association with RTE and the OPW, while a conference is planned for the autumn.
Over the course of the year, a series of online interviews will be available with Robert O'Byrne, curator of both exhibitions, talking with people who are passionate about Irish gardens. The first series of talks started in January and features interviews with the four artists whose work features in the Walled Gardens exhibition. These will be re-issued in May and followed by a series of interviews with leading Irish gardeners.
The Irish Georgian Society is most grateful to Susan Burke and her late husband Coley who were the inspiration for these exhibitions and who provided generous funding to bring them to fruition. We also wish to thank the Apollo Foundation, Northern Trust Corporation, Beth Dater, Sheila O’Malley Fuchs, Hindman Auctions, Fred and Kay Krehbiel, Jay & Silvia Krehbiel, Frank Saul, John & Nonie Sullivan, Robert & Gloria Turner, and The Heritage Council.
The first time we visited Mourne Park House, November 1992, the recently widowed Julie Ann Anley whisked us off on a whistlestop tour. “It’s great!” she laughed. “No one ever bothers us here because the house isn’t architecturally important.” This was no tourist attraction. The country house as time capsule may have emerged as a phenonomen in the Eighties when Derbyshire’s Calke Abbey came to the public’s attention, but it certainly was applicable to an extreme at MPH in the wilds of County Down. While the Treasury saved Calke, sadly no knight in shining armour would come to MPH’s rescue.
The last time we visited the house, April 2003, it was teeming with members of the public rummaging over the soon to be dispersed contents. Everything was beginning to unravel. Beige auction labels dangled like insipid baubles from Christmas past, hanging on everything including the kitchen sink. A striped marquee consumed the courtyard while the building itself was crumbling at the edges. The auction was the outcome of a long and bitter family feud which erupted following the death of Nicholas Needham Fergus Philip Gore Anley in 1992, dragging through the courts until the opening days of 2003. On 14th February, without much filial or inter sibling love, it was finally settled.
“It’s something which all our family very much care about,” Marion Scarlett Needham Russell, Julie Ann’s younger daughter with the looks of a young Liza Minnelli, told us back in 1994. “We’ve always known that this house and its land were non negotiable and it was something we would do everything to keep,” agreed her older sister Debonaire Norah Needham Horsman or ‘Bonnie’.
But by the end of the decade, the close of last century, this harmony of outlook had floundered following much brouhaha over how the estate should be run. Events reached a dramatic climax when Marion removed what she considered to be her fair share of the contents from the house in a midnight flit. Her refusal to reveal the whereabouts of these “chattels” as the courts would archaically call them resulted in Marion spending a week at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Five years of arduous legal wrangling costing hundreds of thousands of pounds only concluded when it was finally agreed that she could keep her share and her brother and sister would auction off their two thirds of the contents.
MPH was the seat of the Earls of Kilmorey (pronounced “Kilmurray”). What is it about the upper classes and their delight in orthographic nuances? Althorp is “Althrup”; Beauchamp is “Beecham”; Beaulieu is “Bewley”; Belvoir is “Beaver”; Blakley is “Blakely”; Calke is “Cock”; Coke is “Cook”; Londonderry is “Londondry”; Monson is “Munson”; St John of Fawsley is “Sinjin of Fawsley”. One gets the idea. The Kilmorey family can trace its roots to the Elizabethan soldier, Nicholas Bagenal, founder of Newry. The 4th Earl of Kilmorey died in 1982. Before his death the family inheritance was rearranged because he had no sons, allowing his English nephew and heir, Major Patrick Needham, subsequently 5th Earl of Kilmorey, to waive his right of succession to MPH in exchange for assets of equal value. And so the title returned to England where Charles I had created the original viscountcy in 1625.
This compromise allowed the 4th Earl’s widow Lady Norah and her two daughters to continue living in the house. Patrick’s son, the 6th Earl, is better known as Richard Needham, a former Northern Ireland Office Minister. He’s now the Deputy Chairman of a vacuum cleaning company and declines to use his Anglo Irish title. However his son styles himself Viscount Newry and Mourne. Nicholas, the son of the 4th Earl’s elder daughter, married Julie Ann Wilson at the start of the Sixties and together they had moved into the stables at Mourne Park. He had inherited the estate minus the title in 1984.
Julie Ann may have modestly described the house as being architecturally unimportant and it doesn’t boast the baronial battlements of Ballyedmond Castle or share the symmetrical severity of Seaforde House, to take two other South Down seats. But it is a rare example of a substantially Edwardian country house in a county where Georgian and Victorian are the norm. MPH oozes charm with its long low elevations hewn of local granite and its lavish use of green paint (Farrow + Ball’s Folly Green?) on bargeboards and garden furniture, window frames and porches, and the endless array of French doors. Much of the interior decoration dates from the early 20th century lending the house a magical nostalgic air. And the setting is second to none. Looming behind the house and stables are the craggy slopes of Knockcree Mountain rising 130 metres above oak and beech woodlands. A Victorian visitor, William Russell, waxed lyrical on Mourne Park. “The scene… from the front entrance is indeed very fine. Before you, in the precincts of the mansion, is a lake. Beyond this lake, the demesne stretches away with a gently rising slope, which hides the intervening land, till one can fancy that the sea waves lap the lawns of the park.”
The genesis of the current building dates back to at least 1818 when the 12th Viscount Kilmorey employed Thaddeus Gallier of County Louth to build the central block. It replaced an earlier house on the site. An architect or ‘journeyman builder’, he had already completed Anaverna at Ravensdale a decade earlier. Baron McClelland commissioned that five bay two storey house near Dundalk in 1807. It’s now the des res of the Lenox-Conynghams. Too grand for a glebe, too modest for a mansion, the middling size house, tall, light and handsome, stands proud in its sylvan setting overlooking a meadow. A glazed porch under the semicircular fanlight partially obscures the double entrance doors in the middle of the three bay breakfront. Otherwise, Thaddeus Gallagher’s façade remains untouched. Relieving arches over upstairs windows introduce a motif he was to later employ at MPH. At Anaverna he proved himself to be a designer of considerable sophistication. His was no vainglorious provincial hand. Thaddeus Gallagher’s son James, who recorded in his autobiography that his father worked at MPH for nine months in 1818, emigrated to New Orleans where he carried on the dynastic tradition of designing fine architecture. His grandson, James Gallier Junior, was a third generation architect and his 1857 New Orleans townhouse is now the Gallier House Museum.
The first of multiple incarnations of MPH, Thomas Gallagher’s design was a typical late Georgian two storey country house with Wyatt windows on either side of a doorway similar to Anaverna’s. Next a third storey was added and then some time after 1859 a new two storey front of the same height was plonked in front of the existing house, so that the rooms in the newer block have much higher ceilings that those behind. The replacement façade is three bays wide like the original front but in place of the Wyatt arrangement are twin windows set in shallow recesses rising through both storeys with relieving arches over them. It is the combination of these paired windows and gentle arches, like brows over the eyes of the building, which lends the garden front such a memorable look. In the central breakfront the bottom of the shallow recess floats over the entrance door which is treated as another window, flanked on either side by a window of similar shape and size. A low parapet over a slender cornice partially conceals the hipped roof which wraps round the roof lantern over the staircase. Five attic bedrooms are tucked under the eaves with windows overlooking the roof lantern, unseen from the outside world.
Contemporaneous improvements were made to the estate itself. In the 1840s the 2nd Earl – the Kilmoreys had climbed a rung or two up the aristocratic ladder when his father the 12th Viscount was made an earl for his services to the development of Newry – commissioned a ‘famine wall’. This was a method used at the height of the Irish Famine by many Big House families to create work and keep locals from starving. The cheaply constructed three metre high granite walls also benefitted the estate. The 2nd Earl built Tullyframe Gate Lodge, the third of four gatelodges, at this time. Whitewater Gate Lodge was built in the 1830s and Ballymaglogh Gate Lodge in the 1850s.
But it was the alterations of the 3rd and 4th Earls which gave MPH its Edwardian air. “It’s not fit for a gentleman to live in!” raged the 3rd Earl upon his inheritance. His gentrifications began in 1892 when he added rectangular ground floor bay windows to the garden front and continued up until 1904 when he built a single storey peninsular wing perpendicular to the back of the house. Long Room Passage leads to Lady Kilmorey’s Sitting Room and onwards to the dual aspect Long Room (four pairs of French doors face four sash windows) with its hammerbeam roof, the latter finished in time for his son’s 21st birthday celebrations. The 3rd Earl completed the estate buildings in the 1890s with Green Gate Lodge, a two storey house finished in the same granite as MPH.
A century or more of each generation making their mark on MPH has produced a fascinating interior full of surprising variations in floor levels and ceiling heights and room sizes. The main block is arranged like three parallel slices of a square cake, each different in essence. The oldest three storey slice at the back of the house has low ceilings and small windows, some retaining their Georgian glazing bars. A row of rooms overlooking the stables is accessed off the Long Corridor on the ground floor, the Rosie Passage on the first floor, and the Servants’ Passage on the second floor. The middle slice contains the Hall, Inner Hall, Staircase Hall and Blue Room, opening off each other like first class railway carriages. The first floor bedrooms in the front and middle slice are clustered together off two lobbies except for the Best Bedroom which appropriately takes pride of place in the middle of the garden front and is the only one to be accessed directly off the landing of the Staircase Hall. The ground floor of the newest slice contains the enfilade of reception rooms: the Dining Room (Farrow + Ball’s Calke Green?), the Ante Room and the Drawing Room where Sir Malcolm Sargent had once played the piano. A low two storey kitchen and nursery wing parallel to the Long Room wing links with the stables to create a courtyard to the rear of the house. Room naming at MPH clearly follows the Ronseal approach (“It does what it says on the tin”).
All the ground and first floor rooms were open during the auction preview weekend. We began the tour that we’d gone on a decade earlier, only with a printed rather than personal guide and without the troop of 13 Persian cats that had followed us around the first time round. “Come on, get out now!” Julie Ann had bellowed as she shut the door of each room. “Otherwise you could be locked in for a year or two! It’s not as if the cats even catch mice; they just watch them race by.” Now people were talking in mellow hushed murmurs as if at a wake, respectfully leafing through issues of The Connoisseur in the Estate Office, thoughtfully gazing at caricature prints in the Rosie Passage.
The Hall, dressed like a long gallery with paintings hung on pale painted (Farrow + Ball’s Wimborne White?) panelled walls, is the first in a processional series of spaces which culminates in the Staircase Hall, MPH’s most exciting interior moment. The staircase was extended between 1919 and 1921 to stretch out in the direction of the new entrance while the original flight accessed through an archway into the Inner Hall was retained. Above, more archways and apertures afford tantalising glimpses of corridors filled with shadowy ghosts. MPH, a Mary Celeste in granite.
Close to the new entrance, Lord Kilmorey’s Study has an air of formality in contrast to the intimacy of Lady Kilmorey’s Sitting Room tucked away in the far corner of the house. A seven metre long oak bookcase, used as a temporary display cabinet for the preview (sold for £3,000), and a chesterfield sofa (sold for £800) completed the butch mood of the good Lord’s space. On the other hand, the feminity of Lady Kilmorey’s Sitting Room was enhanced by the delicate double arched overmantle (sold for £1,000) and the 17th century Chinoiserie cabinet on a carved giltwood stand (sold for £11,000) similar to those in the State Drawing Room of 11 Downing Street. Outside, a life size marble garden statue of Ulysses and His Dog by Lawrence MacDonald sold for £110,000. HOK auction staff were making last minute notes on a pile of books in the middle of the kitchen floor. The house no longer felt private.
The main reception rooms were quintessentially Edwardian. Chintz sofas and family portraits mixed comfortably with period pieces. Shabby chic, to use another Eighties cliché, sprung to mind. Decades of decadence had descended into decay, where once the Ascendancy and the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) had whiled away halcyon days. In the Billiard Room (or Morning Room), a corner timber and brick chimneypiece defiantly declared this room to have been decorated in the early 20th century. Paint (Farrow + Ball’s Calke Green?) was peeling, curtains were crumbling. An air of faded grandeur pervaded the Long Room. Triumphal flags now in tatters and coloured wall lamps dulled by the passage of time poignantly hinted at past glories and forgotten parties. A suite of oak bookcases had been supplied by John McArevey of Newry to fit between the rows of window openings. One pair sold for £3,000. The kitchen had lost the lived in look that we remembered. It was neater now with rows of copper jelly moulds and tin pots arranged museum-like along the painted pine dressers. The rows of ceiling hooks for hanging game had gone. High up on the wall above, the clock had stopped.
The principal bedrooms – Avenue Bedroom, Corner Room, Caroline’s Room, Best Bedroom, His Lordship’s Bedroom, Her Ladyship’s Bedroom – contained plain sturdy furniture. A mahogany breakfront wardrobe and matching half tester or four poster bed dominated each room, accompanied by a matching desk and pair of pot cabinets. On average the wardrobes sold for £3,000; the beds, £5,000. The bedrooms looked slightly sparse. Perhaps they had been fuller in happier times. Minor bedrooms – Captain’s Room, Chinese Room, Knockcree Room, Garden Room – and servants’ rooms had brass beds (the one on the Housekeeper’s Room sold for £70), lower ceilings, less dramatic views, and were full of clutter. Not for much longer.
“People say it’s as if time stood still in the house,” Philip Anley told us on the opening day of the auction. “That’s a tribute to mum,” he added, acknowledging Julie Ann’s efforts to maintain MPH while working full time as a teacher. Sales had taken place at Mourne Park before. Shortly before his death, Nicholas had sold more than half the original 800 hectare estate to Mourne Park Golf Club (since renamed Kilkeel Golf Club), allowing it to extend from a nine hole to an 18 hole course. A decade before he had bought out the interest of his aunt, Lady Hyacinth, which allowed her family to remove various heirlooms in lieu of any stake in the house itself. The inheritance of the title and estate had already split in 1960. However this sale was different. It was “the end of an era” according to Philip.
In the words of Herbert Jackson Stops’ introduction to the 1920s sales catalogue of Stowe: “It is with a feeling of profound regret that the auctioneer pens the opening lines of a sales catalogue which may destroy for ever the glories of the house, and disperse to the four winds of heaven its wonderful collections, leaving only memories of the spacious past.” A rare level of disarming honesty compared to recent excuses for flogging the family silver. Try, “We are delighted that others will have the chance to enjoy objects which it has given him so much pleasure to discover…” Or, “In this sale which has been carefully selected so as not to damage the overall integrity of the collection…” Alternatively, “In order to allow for reinvestment which will underpin the long term future of the estate, the trustees have carefully selected a number of pieces to be sold at Christie’s this summer…”
The raven haired Sara Kenny from HOK Fine Art (she would later set up on her own launching Sara Kenny Fine Art in 2005) conducted the auction raising a total of £1.3 million. Prices were high with dealers bidding against collectors against locals. “My dad worked on the estate so we want some sort of keepsake,” we overheard. It seemed everyone wanted their piece of MPH. Auction excitement reached fever pitch on the last day when lot 1391 came up. It was the ‘Red Book of Shavington, in the County of Salop, a seat of The Right Honble [sic] Lord Viscount Kilmorey’. For those who don’t know, Red Books were the invention of Humphry Repton, a pioneer in the field of landscape architecture. He created or transformed over 200 English estates. His mantra was natural beauty enhanced by art. His practice was to complete a Red Book for each client.
The Shavington Red Book was a slim volume encased in red leather containing his proposals for “Improvements” outlined in neat copperplate handwriting and illustrated with maps, plans, drawings and watercolours. Several bidders appreciated its exquisite beauty and historical importance. In the end it went under the hammer for £41,000. The 3rd Earl of Kilmorey had sold Shavington, the family seat in Shropshire, in 1881 to pay for debts his father had accrued. He crammed much of the furniture into MPH. Shavington items auctioned included two early 19th century pieces by Gillows of Lancaster which each sold for £11,000: the Corner Bedroom wardrobe and the architect’s desk from the Library.
Mourne Park estate may not have benefitted from the romantic touch of Humphry Repton but its rugged character, derived from the granite face of Knockcree, remains mostly unchanged from sepia tinted 19th century landscape photographs. The same can’t be said for the interior of the granite faced house. “I’ll always remember the day you visited Mourne Park,” Julie Ann had said, strolling up the old drive, “as the day the boathouse collapsed.” And sure enough, the gable ended half timbered boathouse, which had stood there for centuries, not so much collapsed as gently slipped into the lake like a maiden aunt taking a dip in the water. After a few ripples, it disappeared. Forever.
And so 11 years later, masterpieces and miscellany, a record of Edwardian living in its original setting, is gone, just like the boathouse. It was a sad ending for the collection that formed the soul of one of Ulster’s Big Houses. Sad for the family and for the people of Newry and Mourne whose toil allowed the family to amass a fortune in very fine things. In the middle of the (now) 57 hectare estate still stands the house itself, stripped of its contents, naked as the classical statues that once graced the lawns around the lake, awaiting its fate.
Much Ballyhoo! That was then and this is now. Following the auction, Marion placed MPH on the market. “Life is taking us in a different direction,” she said wistfully. “We’re spending more and more time abroad. So it’s made a bit of a nonsense us being here. Em, so a very difficult decision. But we’ve decided to put the estate on the market. I’m sure the moment that I leave is going to be difficult. But having made the decision, you just have to go with it, really.” Its £10 million boom time price guide soon slumped to £6.5 million then £3.5 million but there were still no takers. Marion clung on, admirably restoring the house and beginning to add suitable furniture. Impressively she uncovered and restored an extensive lost Edwardian rock garden. “It was so exciting,” she enthused, “A bit like an archaeological dig. Every day a bit more would emerge.” A happy ending of sorts, but this is MPH, forever permeated by Ibsenesque melancholy.
In June 2013, Marion and her family returned from holidays to find fire engines lining the driveway. More than 80 firefighters were tackling an inferno which had engulfed the main block. The roof, where the fire had started, had collapsed – molten history. Fire Service Area Commander John Allen said, “Our priorities were, one, to prevent the fire from spreading to the adjoining wings of the building and, two, to save as many of the artefacts in the building as we could. Not only the artefacts in terms of history and legacy, but also, this is a family home where children live. Our intent was also to save their items which were of sentimental value.”
Mourne Park House: the place with the endless postscript. The irrepressible Marion Scarlett Needham Russell has plans to transform the house into a 126 bedroom hotel and spa. Since 2000, Irish architects Mullarkey Pedersen have been working up a vision to convert and extend the house and its outbuildings. The châtelaine confirms, “Since the fire, we have done everything we can to preserve the structure of the building: removing, storing and shoring up where necessary. We’re absolutely committed to seeing the restoration of Mourne Park once again and have open minds as to how this would be achieved. The rebuild is currently on hold until the right person or group comes forward to claim the opportunity.” Is a northern Castle Leslie in the making?
Christopher Monkhouse, a leading historian of the decorative arts who held positions in several major American museums, was involved with the Irish Georgian Society for more than half a century. Arguably the crowning event of his busy and varied career, the exhibition Ireland Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690-1840, held at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2015, triumphantly put the visual arts of eighteenth-century Ireland onto the ‘world stage’.
Born in Portland, Maine, in 1947, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and early alumnus (1966) of the Attingham Summer School, Christopher’s earliest passion was for the architectural heritage of his native New England. His first publication was a 1969 pamphlet for the Bostonian Society on the eighteenth-century Faneuil Hall market, then under threat.
By this date Christopher was already visiting Ireland regularly – he first came in 1966 – in time specifically to study the eighteenth-century hotels on the Grand Canal, as part of his research for a thesis at the Courtauld Institute supervised by Nikolaus Pevsner. This interest in Ireland’s contribution to hotel architecture, inevitably led him into the circle of Desmond and Mariga Guinness and the early Irish Georgian Society, and friends made at Leixlip – the late Rolf Loeber for example – would go on to contribute in one way or another to the 2015 show.
Back in London when working at the Victoria and Albert Museum he met and formed a lasting friendship with Desmond FitzGerald, Knight of Glin, which would bear fruit spectacularly many decades later.
From the V&A Christopher returned home to the United States where he would work for the rest of his career, serving for some fifteen years as curator of decorative arts at the Museum of Art, at the Rhode Island School of Design. As comfortable in the fields of European and American decorative arts, he also moved easily between the study of furniture and architectural history, with his exhibitions at RISD including Buildings on Paper: Rhode Island Architectural Drawings, 1825-1945 (1982) and American Furniture in Pendleton House (1986).
After serving as the founding curator of the Heinz Architectural Center, where he was instrumental in forming its important collection of architectural drawings, and subsequently at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, in 1995 he was appointed curator in the department of architecture, design, decorative arts and sculpture at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and finally, in 2007, Eloise W. Martin curator and chair of the department of European decorative arts at the Art Institute of Chicago. Among major acquisitions which he made for Chicago was the remarkable cabinet that Horace Walpole designed for his friend Thomas Brand based on his own at Strawberry Hill.
The Knight of Glin and Christopher stayed in touch over the years and often when they met would discuss the possibility of an exhibition on Irish art. Christopher’s move to Chicago with its strong Irish connections inspired him to put this long-held aspiration into action and an immediate catalyst – a good omen – for the show was the discovery of the signature of the Dublin cabinetmaker John Kirkhoffer on a bookcase of 1732 in the Art Institute’s own collection.
Without doubt one of Christopher’s best early decisions – as he would frequently acknowledge – was to hire Leslie Fitzpatrick (also ex-V&A) as his assistant curator. Together they travelled thousands of miles in Ireland researching houses and landscapes, looking at objects and visiting archives. They also crisscrossed the United States and loans were drawn from collections all over North America. In total the research for the exhibition took more than six years. Some four hundred objects were included, paintings, prints, furniture, bookbindings, silver, glass, ceramics, textiles, miniatures and musical instruments, with not just all the great Irish artists represented but also masterpieces by European artists – David, Hogarth, Claude, Hobbema – that had once graced Irish collections.
Christopher’s belief in the ‘Irish exhibition’, as it became known, was total, and, for a very mild-mannered man, he could certainly fight his corner, seeing off attempts to scale back his, it must be said, enormously ambitious, plans when the recession hit museum finances. When it counted most, he enjoyed the unwavering and immensely generous support of some great friends of Ireland – and the Art Institute – in Chicago who were as determined as he that the exhibition should take place.
The exhibition finally opened to the public on St Patrick’s day 2015, after a gala dinner for more than four hundred guests. Very appropriately it was dedicated to the memory of the Knight of Glin, who was represented at the launch by Olda and their daughters. Anyone in Chicago that day will recall how Irish art seemed to take over the entire city with blanket advertising on the city’s buses and the show’s banners running the length of Michigan Avenue. Perhaps not all of those partying on the streets that day – as the Chicago River flowed green – were drawn there to celebrate Thomas Roberts’s exquisite landscapes or Mrs Delany’s flower collages, but it seemed to us that they were; the Irish Georgian aesthetic had found its moment.
A week later a major conference on the Irish visual, landscape and decorative arts was convened at the Art Institute, in association with the Irish Georgian Society, with distinguished speakers including Stella Tillyard and Prof. Finola O’Kane and indeed with the actor Julian Sands talking about his passion for Irish silver. That evening in the gothic grandeur of Chicago’s University Club – in a happy collaborative event organised by Christopher’s great friend Michael Kerrigan – a volume of Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies was launched, published to coincide with the exhibition and featuring research derived from it. In all these festivities the ever courteous, slightly diffident – and permanently bow-tied – figure of Christopher Monkhouse was to the fore.
In total the exhibition attracted one hundred and seventy thousand visitors and its run had to be extended to meet the demand. Sadly, no serious interest was expressed by our national cultural institutions in bringing the show to Ireland.
As the genesis of the exhibition rather indicates, Christopher had a talent for friendship, and nurtured an international network of like-minded scholars, collectors, art dealers and historians in settings such as the notably convivial Club of Odd Volumes on Beacon Hill in Boston. He was actively involved with many conservation societies including Historic New England, Maine Historical Society, and the (American) Walpole Society and just a year or two ago was delighted to be elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in London.
Extremely generous with his time, Christopher was always quick to help with any request from the Irish Georgian Society. During the course of the 2015 exhibition when he and Leslie were hard pressed by dozens of daily demands on their time, Christopher came to Dublin to give the key note address at an IGS conference held in Dublin Castle on art and the Irish country house. Straight off the overnight flight, he spoke eloquently and without notes for almost an hour to a hugely appreciative audience. In November 2019 he travelled to Ireland, for the last time, to speak on James Wyatt’s famous hall chairs, at a study day organised by the IGS at Castle Coole.
For all his travels, Maine remained home. Having long kept a summer home in the historic coastal town of Machiasport, he retired from the Art Institute to a beautiful former sea-captain’s house in Brunswick which was filled with the fruits of decades of his own collecting – Americana, architectural drawings and ephemera. It is sad indeed that the many retirement projects he had planned will not now be completed.
Obituaries elsewhere have, quite rightly, emphasised the many other cultural fields, often distinctly unfashionable, about which Christopher felt passionately – the architecture of Newport, Rhode Island, for example, or the poetry of Longfellow – but Ireland is fortunate indeed that, many years ago and really quite fortuitously, he came here to explore the overlooked typology of canal hotels and, thanks to the example of the two Desmonds, was inspired by our architectural heritage and visual culture to organise an exhibition that is unlikely to be repeated in its scope, scale or the breadth of its vision.
Irish Georgian Society Conservation Grants Programme 2021
Posted by IGS
2020 IGS conservation grant pledges clockwise from top left: Bessmount Park, Monaghan, Co. Monaghan; Coastguard Cottages, Lambay Island, Co. Dublin; Kylemore Abbey Church, Co. Galway; and Pyramid Mausolea, Maudlins, Co. Kildare.
The Irish Georgian Society, through the support of its members in IGS London, is inviting applications for its 2021 Conservation Grants Programme which is open to support buildings of significant architectural merit. Funding totalling €30,000 is available with priority given to older buildings on the basis of rarity and potential fragility relating to age.
The Irish Georgian Society’s Conservation Grants Programme is generously funded by IGS London. Over the last seven years, the Society has supported over thirty significant conservation projects from around the country, that have included works to country houses and castles, thatched cottages and historic townhouses, architectural follies, and churches.
Re: Nos 29 & 30 Fitzwilliam Street Lower / Nos 61 & 62 Mount Street Upper Dublin 2.
Dear Sir, Madam,
This planning application proposes the change of use from museum to residential of the ESB’s Georgian House Museum at No. 29 Fitzwilliam Street Lower.
The Irish Georgian Society wishes to object to this proposal as it would result in the sad and significant loss of a museum of Dublin home life for the period 1790 to 1820 which for over 25 years had a stated aim “to make accessible the social, decorative, cultural, and political history of the Georgian capital” (www.numbertwentynine.ie).
In considering this proposal, the Irish Georgian Society notes that it supports the principle of reinstating residential uses for Dublin’s Georgian buildings stock and the provision in the Dublin City Development Plan “to maintain and enhance these areas as active residential streets and squares during the day and at night-time” (Land Use Objective Z8). Furthermore, it is noted that the Society supported the report ‘The Future of the South Georgian Core’ (2013) which encouraged the use of the area’s historic buildings for residential purposes.
Notwithstanding this, the Irish Georgian Society strongly believes that the Georgian House Museum at No. 29 Fitzwilliam Street provides an important public purpose which outweighs any benefit that may arise from its conversion to apartment use. It is noted that the Museum is identified in the Dublin City Development Plan as one of the city’s Main Cultural Attractions (Fig 18, pg. 206) placing it within the “cultural cluster in the environs of Merrion Square” (11.2.2 Achievements, p. 202).
It is contended by the Irish Georgian Society that the change of use from museum to residential of one of the city’s “main cultural attractions” would be contrary to the following stated policies of the Dublin City Development Plan:
CHC24: To ensure the continued development of Dublin as a culturally vibrant, creative and diverse city with a broad range of cultural activities provided throughout the city, underpinned by quality cultural infrastructure.
CHC29: Dublin City Council will see insofar as possible to protect the cultural and artistic use of buildings in established cultural quarters.
Since the opening of the Georgian House Museum in 1991, the ESB has successfully managed the venue in association with the National Museum of Ireland, an achievement both institutions are to be commended for. In considering this partnership, Policy CHC33 of the Dublin City Development Plan should be noted. This states that it is a policy of the Council:
To support the national cultural institutions and facilitate the provision of fit-for purpose, sustainable cultural infrastructure such as museums, libraries, theatres, exhibition spaces, cinemas, and music venues in the city centre, suitable for all ages and accessible to all living, working or visiting the city and which reflect the role of Dublin as the capital city.
To this end, the Irish Georgian Society urges Dublin City Council to proactively engage with the ESB and the National Museum of Ireland to ensure the future of the Georgian House Museum, a venue that fits the criteria in the aforementioned policy.
Prof. Christine Casey noted that "the city house was an occasion for the display of wealth and status, of presenting and doing justice to one's place in society" (The Eighteenth-Century Dublin Town House, 2010). While there are excellent museums elsewhere in Dublin, none of these explore the original function of the grand red-brick terraced houses that line its squares and streets and which are such a distinct feature of the city. With other Georgian cities such as Edinburgh and Bath presenting this important part of their histories through dedicated townhouse museums, it would be to the detriment of Dublin if its residents and visitors were no longer able to have a similar experience.
The Irish Georgian Society is of the view that the change of use of the Georgian House Museum to residential purposes would see the loss of an important cultural and educational venue that tells an essential part of Dublin’s history. As such, it would appear contrary to the stated policies of the Dublin City Development Plan and so we would urge that permission be refused.
For 2021 the annual spring Conserving your Dublin Period House, presented in partnership with Dublin City Council, goes online.
Enrol on this twelve week talks programme to gain expert advice on the care and conservation of your period house. The talks will be of particular interest to owners of houses listed as Protected Structures or located within Architectural Conservation Areas. These talks will also benefit building professionals and practitioners and are approved for CPD by the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, Engineers Ireland, the Irish Planning Institute and the Heritage Contractors.