Sunday, August 17, 2014

A visit to Kenmare, 17th May, 2014

A visit to Kenmare, 17th May, 2014

It's not surprising that Kenmare was voted among the top 20 towns in the world for retirement by the US magazine Fortune. Cork Chapter members had a taste of what it has to offer on 17th May, from fine food and history to impressive buildings in a magnificent region.

In a sublime setting overlooking gardens and views of Kenmare Bay, the Park Hotel was our first stop for a well-deserved coffee break. While we sipped our coffee with delicious home made-scones, Mr. Rory O'Sullivan, General Manager, gave us an insightful talk on the history of the hotel, early tourism in Ireland and the important contribution, in this regard, that the Great Southern and Western Railway Company made. The Park Hotel was built in 1897 by the Great Southern and Western Railway Company to a design by James Franklin Fuller, in the Tudor Revival style. The limestone ashlar facade is finely embellished with details, such as cut stone chimney stacks, copings, sills and finials. The interior, which follows this high standard of design, is much enhanced by antique furnishings and some fine Dutch paintings, the latter collected by its owner, Mr. Francis Brennan (one of the renowned brothers). In earlier days the hotel provided accommodation to passengers en-route to Parknasilla, 17 miles away.

The Park Hotel's proximity to the town enabled a pleasant stroll to meet our guide, Donal Slater. Having given us a 'potted history', Donal led us on a stroll through some of Kenmare's most interesting sights.

The town is part of the lands granted to William Petty by Cromwell in 1657, as payment for the Down Survey. In his song, Jimmy MacCarthy refers to it as 'Neidín' and this was its name until 1775 when the First Marquis of Lansdowne created the attractive “X” shaped layout, that we see today, and renamed the town Kenmare. Henry Street was named in honour of the 3rd Marquis, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice (1780-1863), who oversaw a number of major stages in the development of Kenmare. Our Chairman, Kevin Hurley, was quick to acknowledge our committee member, Catherine Fitzmaurice, as a direct descendant of the Fitzmaurice family!

Donal's account gave a colourful overview of how the town developed. It had been a bustling hive of industry during the 19th century with, for example, herring fishing, quarrying, iron works and its own butter market. The effects of the Great Famine of 1845 were devastating throughout Ireland. Donal gave a vivid insight of Kenmare's sad history at this time, as we learnt that dead bodies were removed from the streets in the early hours before the town opened for business.

The Old Market House was designed in the classical style by Sir Charles Barry for the 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne. The nearby Emmet Place, formerly known as Pound Lane due to the location of cattle pound, features attractive one and a half story houses with painted timber bargeboards on the gabled half dormers. On the far side of 'The Green' is the Holy Cross Church, designed by Charles Hansom in the 1860s. Unfortunately, due to its current restoration programme, we were unable to view its interior. Fr. John O'Sullivan was responsible for the building and Donal revealed that folklore suggests he placed a cock on top of the spire to crow over the office of the landlord's agent in the square who refused him a site for the church. Hansom also designed the nearby convent of the Sisters of Poor Clare. The order is credited with starting the lace making industry that become world-renowned in the late 19th, early 20th century. Donal led us away from the busy streets to the intriguing Cromwell's Bridge, built of mud and stone, with its steep arch, that seems impossible to cross! The bridge had nothing to do with Cromwell, and is believed to have been built in the 11th century as a crossing for the local monks to Lady's Well. There were many more snippets of history, however, too numerous to mention here.

Lunch was at Dromquinna Boathouse Bistro, run by John Brennan. Our group have become well acquainted with each other over the years, and this was evident in the fun and conversation that took place while we enjoyed the delicious fare. We were well set up for the next leg of our journey.

Arriving at Dromore Castle was a breathtaking experience. This neo-gothic style castle was built in the early nineteenth century, by Sir Thomas Deane for Rev. Denis Mahony, and is two storeys over a basement. The entrance front is dominated by a machicolated round tower, turret and porch tower. John McCormick is said to have performed here in the great Hall. The impressive gatehouse was designed by Benjamin Woodward.

Since purchasing this exquisite building in the 1990s, Kevin O'Callaghan has invested copious resources with equal amounts of T.L.C into the remarkable restoration project. His relaxed attitude with regard to the monumental task of preserving the building, one of Kerry's most important historical gems, is truly admirable. Skillful decorative painting is everywhere to be seen, from the woodgraining of the faux coffered hall ceiling to its faux marbled fireplace. Timber work such as doors, shutters and the grand staircase have been restored to their original oak woodgrained finish. The interior and exterior walls of the enormous porch have had their trompe l'oeil ashlar stone effect meticulously repainted. The gardens and out-buildings are similarly extensive and a
work-in-progress of similar scale.

Our visit spotlighted Kenmare as not only an attractive tourist destination, but as a residents' paradise for the wealthy down through the years. It was a top residential and retirement spot long before Fortune conducted its survey, although as our excursion showed, there is no need to wait until retirement to enjoy the many treats in store at Kenmare.

The committee would like to thank the Brennan brothers for their excellent hospitality, Donal Slater for his enthusiastic and educational tour and Kevin O'Callaghan for his generosity of time and for allowing us the freedom to explore Dromore Castle and its splendid grounds.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

March 2014 Lecture at Fota House 

On Sunday 30th March 2014, members of the Cork chapter of the Irish Georgian Society were treated to an enchanting lecture by art historian Patricia Butler. The lecture was based on a forthcoming publication, Wicklow through the Artist’s Eye, which was written and researched by Patricia and her co-author Mary Davies and is due to be published by Wordwell in the Spring.

The fully illustrated lecture provided an informative interpretation of historical maps, drawings and paintings from Co. Wicklow. Examples of engravings by George Petrie to Romantic landscapes by painters such as George Barret, William Ashford and Thomas Roberts were decoded by Patricia. Imparting her passion for gardening, she shed light on the designed landscapes of Capability Brown that dismissed the earlier classical styles imported from the continent by exponents of the Grand Tour. Examples of the above are lavishly illustrated in the forthcoming book.

Fota House was an apt venue for the lecture. It was designed by east Cork architect Richard Morrison and his son William Vitruvius who were also responsible for the magnificent transformation of Kilruddery into a Tudor revival mansion at Bray and the remodeling of Shelton Abbey into a Gothic revival fantasy at Arklow in the 1820s. Both of these were highlighted in the lecture. The backdrop of Fota's 19th century Irish Romantic landscapes (described as the most significant collection of its type outside the National Gallery of Ireland) further enhanced the ambience of the event. The Dargle Powerscourt Ireland by James Arthur O'Connor (1792 – 1841), is a perfect example of one such landscape.

Patricia’s lecture acknowledged the splendid landscape of County Wicklow. Taken as a microcosm of the Irish landscape, it was a reminder of the link between this landscape, the people that created it and its importance as part of our heritage. With the pylons' issue looming, publications such as Wicklow through the Artist’s Eye give prominence to the concerns of bodies, such as the Irish Georgian Society, that criticise such structures for their negative impact on the landscape that forms an integral part of the setting of much of our distinguished architectural heritage. We look forward with anticipation to its publication.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Christmas 2013 Chapter Event A VISIT to the ST. Luke’s Area, Cork


There is always something appealing about spending time out and about in Cork on a Saturday morning and this was especially so with the anticipation of Christmas hanging in the air on the 7th December 2013.  As Georgians gathered at Montenotte House, on the north eastern slopes of the city for our chapter event, Cork City, dressed in a pale wintry sunshine, looked the picture of peace and calm as it lay spread out beneath us.  However,  we could only briefly linger outdoors, as the purpose of our meeting was to view the interiors of some  of Cork’s delightful built heritage nearby.

Montenotte House, home to the Cope Foundation, was the first building on our itinerary that morning and Mary Byrne, administrator at Cope, warmly welcomed us to the Foundation’s imposing neo-classical mansion, known as Montenotte House. Members gathered together in the colonnaded, top-lit, double-height, rectangular hall space, to greet friends, chat and partake of the festive fare on offer. And refreshed, the group was free to explore the first floor rooms via the magnificent marble staircase. Members took time to linger on the colonnaded balcony to admire the exquisite symmetry of the house’s Italianate features. Mary Byrne kindly traced the history of the house from its original early Victorian ownership through to the present day owners who relatively recently, undertook substantial conservation and restoration of the house. 

Next on our itinerary, was  the lovely finely proportioned three-bay late Georgian building, Fitzgerald House, Summerhill North, headquarters to Cork’s Chamber of Commerce. Apart from admiring the wrought-iron entrance screen, ionic door-case, and decorative fanlight, there was also the opportunity to enjoy the exclusive views of  Kent Railway Station from the ground and first floor windows of this beautifully restored house.   Dr Alicia St Leger captivated her audience with an excellent talk on the Fitzgeralds, the last family to live in the house.  Seamus Fitzgerald, the late head of the family, died in 1972.   But Seamus Fitzgerald still lives on in the house:  A fine bronze bust of Seamus, sculpted by Seamus Murphy and on loan from the Fitzgerald family, resides in the entrance hall.   The recent, sympathetic and quality restoration by its current owners, Cork Chamber, ensures a new lease of life for this venerable house for many decades to come.

A short walk up hill brought us to the former Church of Ireland church, St Luke’s. The church is a well-known local landmark with its elegant steeple that towers over the streetscape. This iconic Italianate Romanesque church, together with its many fine details, including rose windows and decorative colonettes, were admired by all. The remarkable history of the Hill family of Cork architects, was imparted by the historian and author, Dagmar Ó Riain Raedel to a rapt audience. The present structure, designed by William Henry Hill, was the third church to stand on the site. It was consecrated on the 8th February, 1889 and it was the first church built by the Church of Ireland after the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland Act of 1869.  Sadly, St Luke’s was deconsecrated in 2003 and it now serves as a cultural centre. It is owned by Cork City Council.

Lastly, The Ambassador Hotel, Military Hill, beckoned hungry Georgians to Christmas Lunch.  The Ambassador, also designed by William Henry Hill, is a long brick building with attractive colonial style verandas that allowed former residents (patients of the ‘Home for Protestant Incurables’) to take the air on this elevated site.  Happily, all those present on that December morning, were in fine form as we celebrated the coming of Christmas and the close of the Cork chapter’s tenth anniversary year. 
Special thanks to all our hosts and to the chapter for planning and arranging a most enjoyable end of year event.  As a token of our regard for the magnificent work undertaken over the past decade, by our highly esteemed chapter chairman, Kevin Hurley, the occasion was marked with a presentation to Kevin.




Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Visit to Kinsale by the Cork Chapter of the Irish Georgian Society

Despite heavy rain on the previous day, the sun actually shone for most of the Cork Chapter’s outing to Kinsale on 19th October 2013.

The group gathered first at St. John the Baptist Church, courtesy of Fr. Robert Young, P.P.  This neo-Classical church was built in 1832 on the site of an earlier small chapel.  It owes its existence to Fr. Justin McNamara, parish priest of Kinsale, whose travels to Italy influenced his architectural taste.  He is commemorated in the church in a striking memorial by his friend John Hogan, the renowned sculptor.  The church is an elegant and beautifully crafted building, with outstanding plasterwork, attractive woodwork, galleries, memorials, all lit by tall clear glass windows.  The organ predates the church, being built in London in 1809 by Hugh Russell & Son and is still in regular use after a recent restoration.  Members enjoyed examining the details of this well cared for church, which was being prepared for a wedding later that day.

Flowers on the pews indicated that a wedding had been held recently in St. Multose Church, the next place that the group visited.  Canon David Williams provided an excellent tour of this beautiful building, providing not only fascinating historical facts, but also commenting on the practical challenges of caring for a structure of this age.  Parts of the church date to the 12th century and it has been much altered over the centuries. Cork Chapter members were fascinated by the many details in the church, particularly the fine 20th century stained glass.  One window was erected in memory of members of the Dorman family and of Lennox Robinson, author and director of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.

It was then time for the Walkabout, led by Dr. Alicia St. Leger, which brought the group through part of the higher ground in Kinsale.  The first stop was at the historic Market House, dating to the 17th century and later used as a courthouse.  It is now a museum.  Then all climbed up to view the former St. Joseph’s Convent of Mercy building.  The convent was founded in 1844 and the order was encouraged to come to Kinsale by Mrs. Burke, the sister of Fr. McNamara who built St. John the Baptist Church.  The convent educated generations of children and also had an important lace making school. The large, prominent building is now undergoing restoration.

A walk along the Ramparts brought the group to view the Southwell Gift Houses, a charming group of small buildings dating to 1682.  The almshouses owe their origin to Sir Robert Southwell of Kinsale and were originally designed for eight needy people.  There was provision also for an infirmary for the sole use of the Southwell family.  The houses were restored in the 1960s and still provide accommodation for the elderly.

It was a short walk to the Municipal Hall and Bowling Green.  The hall was originally the Assembly Rooms and the area was a focus for leisure entertainments in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The building was burned in 1922 and subsequently rebuilt.  This part of Kinsale provides stunning views over the harbour and it was interesting to look down on the many leisure craft that have largely replaced the busy fishing fleet of previous centuries.

Following a well-earned and delicious lunch at Acton’s Hotel, the group re-assembled at Charles Fort.  There the guide, William, provided an authoritative and most interesting tour of the late 17th century star-shaped fort.  Designed by William Robinson, the fort is one of the largest military installations in the country.  The fort’s walls were breached by the forces of King William III in 1690, following a siege.  Although the fort was burned during the Irish Civil War, some of the buildings have been restored.  The guide brought history to life, explaining the role of the different buildings, the lives of those men and women who were based there and how the fort fits into an international context.  All in all, it was a fascinating visit, helped too by the sunshine and the wonderful views from the fort itself.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Grand Tour Exhibition at the Boole Library Cork by Artist Geraldine O'Riordan

Exhibition Opening at the Boole Library, University College Cork on Thursday, 3rd October, 2013

On a wet autumnal evening, members and friends assembled for an exhibition in celebration of ten years of the Cork Chapter in the splendid surroundings of the Boole Library.  Aptly named A Grand Tour, the paintings by artist Geraldine O'Riordan depict cameo views of some of the finest buildings visited in the past ten years.  Geraldine's idea was to create a body of work that would epitomise a cross section of these superb outings organised by herself and her committee colleagues, Kevin Hurley (Chairman), Dr. Alicia St. Leger, Catherine FitzMaurice, Edmund Corrigan and Maura Currivan.  Some are included in Viewing a Morrison which was purchased by the Cork Chapter as a gift for the new Irish Georgian Society headquarters at the City Assembly House, South William Street, Dublin.

The opening speaker at the exhibition was Peter Murray, Director of the Crawford Gallery, Cork.  Peter underlined the importance of this strand of our heritage suggesting that the paintings had an "important narrative" and were "personal and painterly expressions of our Georgian heritage".

The exhibition runs through December 20th, 2013 and images of the paintings may be viewed on

A Visit to the Historic Roscrea Area

Members were warmly welcomed at Gloster House by Tom and Mary Alexander.  Tom gave us a talk about the history of the house before leading us on a fascinating tour.  It was thought to have been constructed in the early 1700s when it became the seat of the Lloyd family who remained in ownership until 1958.  The house was acquired by the Salesian nuns who held it until 1991 after which it fell into disrepair for a number of years until it was purchased by the Alexanders in 2001.

The Alexander family are to be complimented on their wonderful restoration work which they have carried out since 2001.  So much caught the eye including the double height entrance hall, the elaborate plaster panelling, the re-instatement of the second staircase and the vaulted corridors on the first floor.  Tom pointed out the arch flanked by two obelisks in the grounds of the house considered to be the work of Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, a relation of the Lloyd family.

Our next visit was to Marcus and Irene Sweeney at Fancroft Mill and Gardens. We were greeted with refreshments on our arrival.  Marcus then gave us a fascinating lecture followed by a tour of the building and a demonstration of the mill's production capability.  The Pim family who were quaker millers commenced the construction of the mill in the 1780s.  At various stages in its history sections were added.  Milling ceased by the mid 1940s though the building was used as a grain storage facility until the early 1900s.

Marcus and Irene commenced the extensive conservation in 2006.  A set of new mill stones were installed in 2010 and the mill is now capable of producing brown flour, white flour and semolina.  In addition a generator contributes to the domestic heating system of their own house which stands next to the mill.

Irene took us on a tour of the wonderful gardens at Fancroft which were created in the 1990s by the previous owner, Angela Jupe.  The gardens cover 1.5 hectares and include herbaceous borders, woodland, fruit paddocks and a kitchen garden as well as garden summer houses.

Members headed off to the Cistercian Abbey of Mount St Joseph for a hearty lunch.  The property was originally known as the Mount Heaton Demesne and had been at one stage the home of Richard Heaton, an English Clergyman and botanist.  Arthur J. Moore, MP, of Mooresfort House purchased the house for the order in 1878.  He was a devout and committed Catholic landlord who became a Papal Count.

Following lunch we were taken on a very interesting tour of the church and library.

Our last visit of the day was to Damer House which was built for the Damer family in the early 1700s inside the walled courtyard of a thirteenth century Butler castle.  The house was originally intended to be their family residence but they only lived in it for a brief period.  In the 1960s the building fell into disrepair and was scheduled for demolition.  The Old Roscrea Society and the Irish Georgian Society fought vehemently to save it and were fortunately successful.  Members enjoyed a most interesting tour of the house and castle.

Castletown House, Leixlip Castle and Furness House

The Cork Chapter is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year (2013) and to honour the occasion, a celebratory visit was made to County Kildare.  Travelling by coach, members enjoyed a splendid – if long – day!

The first visit was to Castletown House, near Celbridge, which is both the earliest and finest Palladian house in the country.  It was built between 1722 and 1729 for William Connolly, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, and was designed by Italian architect Alessandro Galilei.  The house was saved for future generations through the personal intervention of Desmond Guinness.  Members enjoyed lunch at the house, before being taken on a very informative tour of the building.  The Irish Georgian Society has had a long association with Castletown and Cork Chapter members admired the magnificence of a building that was so nearly lost to the nation.  It is now managed by the Office of Public Works in conjunction with the Castletown Foundation.

The next stop was Leixlip Castle, home of Desmond and Penny Guinness who provided the group with a warm welcome, delicious refreshments and a fascinating tour of the castle.  The original Anglo-Norman castle was built on a rock at the confluence of the rivers Liffey and Rye and dates to 1171.  It has been altered over the centuries and was acquired by Desmond Guinness in 1958.  Members of the group greatly appreciated the hospitality shown by Desmond Guinness who has contributed so much to the Irish Georgian Society over his lifetime.

The final visit of the day was to Furness House, home of Patrick Guinness, president of the Irish Georgian Society.  He and his wife Louise made Cork Chapter members very welcome and provided an informative and entertaining tour of this attractive 18th century Palladian building.  It was a fitting end to a day that was steeped in historical significance for the Cork Chapter of the Irish Georgian Society.

This tenth anniversary visit to Kildare was the brainchild of Kevin Hurley and was organized by him and Maura Currivan, to whom thanks are given.