Monday, April 27, 2009

re: Win a painting of your house

Exhibiting artist and Irish Georgian Society member Geraldine O'Riordan will paint a picture of the house of the lucky winner of an Irish Georgian Society raffle taking place this year to raise funds for the society. The draw will be held at the IGS annual Christmas party in December. Be sure to take a look at Geraldine's blog for some examples of her artwork. Tickets are available at IGS outings and also by emailing

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

Members of the Cork Chapter of the Irish Georgian Society visited Killinardrish and enjoyed a showing of the film 'The Last September' based on the novel by Elizabeth Bowen.

The central character, Lois, is a lively 19 year old living in Danielstown, Co Cork, the Georgian home of her uncle, Sir Richard Naylor and his wife Lady Myra. The film is set in 1920s when Irish Nationalists and the British Army were at loggerheads and assasinations and disturbances were occuring within close proximity of the house. In spite of this, the family are more preoccupied with tennis parties and dances than worrying that the unrest might be about to dramatically change their lives.

An English Army Captain Gerald Colthurst falls for Lois yet he is frowned upon as a soldier from Surrey of seemingly limited means, the Naylors being more concerned that relationships should be for money rather than love. However, Lois is drawn to a childhood friend and nationalist rebel, Peter who is in hiding in a nearby ruin. Lois is caught between the Anglo Irish world of her relatives and the Irish world that she is growing up in.

The film itself doesn't pass judgment on either side in this conflict. Instead it presents the complicated world around Lois during the 1920s and leaves it up to the viewers to form an opinion.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Vernon Mount Douglas Cork (Press Release 2007)


Historic Cork villa selected for World Monuments Fund’s 100 Most Endangered Sites
Watch List 2008

Date: 7th June, 2007
Contact: Donough Cahill, Director Irish Georgian Society
Te: 01 6767053/086 8372086

Vernon Mount, situated near Cork and one of Ireland’s finest Georgian villas, has been selected for inclusion in the 2008 World Monuments Watch® List of 100 Most Endangered Sites, a list prepared every two years by the New York based World Monuments Fund –

The inclusion of Vernon Mount in the Watch List brings international recognition from the World Monuments Fund which works with communities around the world in supporting the protection of endangered sites and also attracts technical and financial resources to assist in their rescue.

Vernon Mount was nominated to the Watch List by the Irish Georgian Society in January 2007 due to its “desperate state of neglect” and the reluctance of its owners to maintain effectively or repair the building. Desmond FitzGerald, Knight of Glin, President of the Irish Georgian Society, welcomed the selection:

“Inclusion in the list of 100 Most Endangered Sites will draw international attention to the plight of Vernon Mount. It is deplorable that a building of this calibre can be allowed to deteriorate when there has never been a more favourable environment for the protection of our built heritage.”

Though it is protected through the Cork County Development Plan and the Planning Act, Vernon Mount has slipped into a decayed state over the last ten years. At a recent protest demonstration held by the Irish Georgian Society at Vernon Mount to highlight its condition, Desmond FitzGerald said:

“Vernon Mount has largely been left to the elements since planning permission for a big hotel was refused for the site in the late 1990s. Water has been entering the building through holes in the roof since late 2005 and, in spite of pressure from Cork County Council, it is only recently that stop gap repairs have been made.”

The Irish Georgian Society has repeatedly called for action on the part of the owners of Vernon Mount and Cork County Council to take action for its conservation and restoration. Donough Cahill, Deputy Director of the Society, said:

“The international recognition given to Vernon Mount by its inclusion in the List of 100 Most Endangered Sites must mean that action will now be taken. If nothing happens, it is likely that Ireland will lose one of its finest surviving 18th century domestic buildings.”

About Vernon Mount

Vernon Mount is one of Cork’s most important heritage buildings.

It is arguably the finest example surviving in Ireland of a Georgian classical villa, standing in its own 'pocket demesne' on the outskirts of a major city.

While the architect of Vernon Mount is unknown, it is distinguished for the curvilinear elegance and subtlety of its façade design and for the sophistication of its planning and decorative interiors.

The significance of Vernon Mount is enhanced by the presence of exceptionally fine neo-Classical paintings of classical mythological subjects by Nathaniel Grogan, an accomplished late 18th-century Cork artist and contemporary of the internationally-famous Cork artist James Barry.

Grogan's paintings are in oil on canvas and are mounted on the ceiling of the ground floor drawing room and as trompe l'oeil paintings on doors and niches in the first-floor oval vestibule.

In the late 1990s, a re-development proposal for Vernon Mount was refused permission by the planning authorities due to the adverse impact it would have on the house. Since that time, the building has been used occasionally by the Munster Motorcycle Club.

Following several years in which Vernon Mount had little or no maintenance, some limited efforts have been made in recent months to prevent the ingress of water into the building, with temporary repairs to its roof and wooden panels fixed over its smashed windows.

The Irish Georgian Society has had an interest in the plight of Vernon Mount for many years and recently nominated the building for inclusion to the World Monuments Fund 2008 Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites – a decision on this nomination is due shortly.

About the World Monuments Fund
The World Monuments Fund (WMF) is the foremost private, non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of endangered architectural and cultural sites around the world. Since 1965, WMF has worked tirelessly to stem the loss of historic structures at more than 450 sites in over 80 countries.

Every two years, WMF issues its World Monuments Watch list of 100 Most Endangered Sites, a global call to action on behalf of sites in need of immediate intervention.

WMF's work spans a wide range of sites, including the vast temple complexes at Angkor, Cambodia; the historic centre of Mexico City; Nicholas Hawksmoor's London masterpiece, St. George's, Bloomsbury; the iconic modernist A. Conger Goodyear house, Old Westbury, New York; and the extraordinary 18th-century Qianlong Garden complex in Beijing's Forbidden City. In Ireland, the WMF assisted in the restoration of the Browne Clayton Monument in Wexford and is currently involved with Headfort, Co. Meath and the Wonderful Barn, Co. Kildare.

From its headquarters in New York City—and offices and affiliates in Paris, London, Madrid, and Lisbon—WMF works with local partners and communities to identify and save important heritage through innovative programs of project planning, fieldwork, advocacy, grant-making, education, and on-site training.

Irish Georgian Society

The Irish Georgian Society aims to encourage an interest in and to promote the preservation of distinguished examples of architecture and the allied arts of all periods in Ireland.

These objectives are achieved through a number of programmes, including promoting historical research, publishing an annual Journal, providing grant assistance for the conservation of historic buildings, lobbying for buildings at risk, and running education & outreach projects. We also provide an extensive events programme for members.

The Irish Georgian Society was founded in 1958 by the Hon. Desmond Guinness and his late wife, Mariga. Through their enthusiasm and commitment, and the dedication of its members and supporters, many buildings of outstanding architectural merit have been saved throughout Ireland.

The Society has an international membership of 2,800 members, with its headquarters in Dublin. It has lively Chapters in regional centres in Ireland including CORK, Limerick and Birr, and an active Chapter in London. The Society is also a thriving concern in the USA, with its headquarters in New York and regional Chapters in Chicago, Boston, and Akron-Cleveland.

Vernon Mount 'A Neo-Classical Villa in Jeopardy'



By the Knight of Glin & Donough Cahill

Set on the shores of a great natural harbour, the city of Cork emerged as a prosperous manufacturing and trading centre in the latter part of the 18th century. It’s distilling, brewing, textile and milling industries thrived from the close availability of raw materials from the Munster agricultural sector whilst its butter market was so successful that it ranked as the largest exporter of butter in Europe. The city’s prosperity was also driven by a successful manufacturing sector involved in tanning, candle making and glass production. Cork’s role as a trading centre accelerated in the 1770s with the onset of the American War of Independence. This conflict brought fleets of warships and merchant-men into the city’s port for provisioning before their departure for England, the colonies or the West Indies.

Following the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and the ensuing peace in the Americas, the port’s prosperity continued for the duration of the Napoleonic Wars but went into sharp decline after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The bankers and merchants of Cork who prospered during this period built a series of magnificent villas and demesnes overlooking the River Lee and Cork harbour. Amongst these were Woodhill, Dunkettle and Lota Beg which were built by the English architect Abraham Hargrave I (1755-1808). Other houses included Fota, which was built to the designs of Sir Richard Morrison (1767-1849), and Lota and Tivoli, which were designed or were influenced by the Italian architect Davis Ducart (c. 1735 - c. 1785). A little further away to the south of the city on an elevated site with panoramic views of Cork and the Lee estuary, is an extraordinary suburban villa said by Bence-Jones to have been built c. 1784 by Sir Henry Browne Hayes (1762-1832) a scion of glass making and distilling businesses. Hayes called his new villa Vernon Mount, a name that derives from the enthusiasm for George Washington and the American War of Independence which was so much admired in Ireland. In the same vein as the American colonies, Ireland also desired its legislative independence and free trade with the rescinding of the Navigation Acts.

This American nomenclature can also be found at Belcamp in Dublin where Cork-man Sir Edward Newenham, an admirer and correspondent of Washington, built a monument to commemorate Washington and his victories at Lexington and Concord. Another example is at Roxborough, County Galway, where Colonel Persse built a bridge commemorating Washington and also named his seaside house at New Quay on Galway Bay Mount Vernon, after the president’s famous house on the Potomac. Hayes’ new villa was by any standard in Ireland extremely unusual. It stands two-storeys over basement level and is distinguished for the curvilinear elegance and subtlety of design of its façades and for the sophistication of its planning and decorative interiors. It has a two-storey curved entrance front with symmetrical convex bows on either side and is flanked by serpentine walls one of which incorporates cellars and a dovecot. The entrance door (badly damaged by burglars several years ago) is a fine tripartite Ionic composition in limestone, capped by a giant semicircular fanlight.

Inside the house, the staircase hall is heated by an elegant cast iron stove in the form of an urn set in a niche and the other rooms still retain their plain but elegant marble and wooden chimney pieces. The reception rooms are decorated by swagged friezes and one room has a shallow dome with garlands and classical plaques. The elegant cantilevered stone staircase retaining its original neo-Classical wrought-iron balustrade ornamented with alternating paterae and urns and is lighted by an arched window. Beneath the first flight is an oval lunette. This arrangement is also found in other Cork houses such as Newmarket Court and Doneraile. These sweeping cantilevered staircases in the Cork area are associated with the architect Abraham Hargrave I and are found at other Cork mansions designed by him such as Castle Hyde, Lota Beg and Hoddersfield.

Hargrave, however, did not arrive in the Cork area until 1791 when he superintended the erection of St. Patrick’s Bridge by the architect and engineer Michael Shanahan. This confusingly leads one to wonder whether Vernon Mount was built as early as 1784, as mentioned by Bence-Jones. A later date is supported by the fact that the house is advertised in the Cork Courier of December 10th, 1794, announcing ‘a new house Vernon Mount to be let, with from 160 acres of meadows, lawns, shruberries etc.’ The house is described as being ’finished in a superb style, with painted ceilings, elegant chimney pieces, grates’. If this is so, Abraham Hargrave could be its architect and it’s pared down interior detailing and shallow Soane-like ceilings would seem to us more likely to date from the early 1790s rather than the old suggestion of about seven years earlier. The staircase leads up to one of the most original features of the house, the oval landing or atrium with its series of eight marblised Corinthian columns which are interspersed with seven doors painted with tromp l’oeil niches with classical statues and urns painted by the Cork artist Nathaniel Grogan (c. 1740-1807). These niche doors lead to bedrooms and a service staircase. The coving below the atrium’s shallow dome is also delicately painted with acanthus and caryatids.

Nathaniel Grogan was a contemporary of the internationally famous artist James Barry and had served with the army in the Americas and the West Indies. While in Philadelphia in 1777, an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Ledger touted his services in ‘Sign and ornamental painting, with pencil work in general’. On his return to Cork at the end of the American War, he specialised in topographical views and the manners and customs of the Irish peasantry, very much in the manner of Dutch 17th century painters. His most important work at Vernon Mount includes one of the very few surviving ceiling paintings on canvas executed in Ireland in the late eighteenth century. This decoration in the drawing room ceiling is somewhat in the style of Angelica Kauffmann and depicts in the centre of an octagonal frame Minerva throwing away the spears of war, possibly commemorating the cessation of the American War of Independence. The elaborately coved scheme around this central picture is delicately handled and features lozenge shaped panels with mythological figures including angels, Ceres with acanthus, bell flowers and vine leaves surrounding roundels that enclose prancing centaurs. The corner pendentive panels are painted with further acanthus scrolls that have urn shaped finials. In all, a delicate, well-handled composition.

In the 1780s or ‘90s, Grogan produced a small oil of a scene in the grounds at Vernon Mount depicting a woodland glen with a romantic gothic ruin. This painting was one in a series of four small oils that featured the Entrance Gates to Tivoli with the Temple of Vesta in the background; The Gothic Temple at Tivoli; and a View of the Old Blackrock Castle which is in the collection of the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork. All in all, the plan, the curved elevations, the staircase, the oval atrium, the decoration and the original setting must make Vernon Mount unique in the history of the Irish villa and is a building of national importance. However, its current condition belies its significance as Vernon Mount is now an ‘At Risk’ building in very great danger of becoming another lost Irish house. Since the 1950s, when Vernon Mount was purchased by the Cork and Munster Motorcycle Club, it has been in decline. On acquiring the house, the motorcycle club built a motor-cross race track around it stripping much of the parkland’s character. However, the Club did find a use for the house which they kept in good condition before selling it in the 1990s to a consortium of developers led by the San Diego based IT entrepreneur Jonathon Moss and his colleague in Cork, Olaf Maxwell. An initial planning application by the consortium to re-develop the house and its grounds as a hotel was refused by Cork County Council. In its decision, the Council described the proposals as ‘a gross over-development of the site’ that would ‘be seriously detrimental to the setting, scale and character of a listed building’.

Since that time Vernon Mount has been in a state of limbo with a standoff existing between the developers and Cork County Council. On the one hand, the consortium aspires to re-develop the site whilst, on the other hand, the lands have been zoned for use as Active Open Space in which there is a ‘general presumption against development’. Prior to recent efforts to undertake holding-repairs, Vernon Mount had declined to the point where there were holes in its roof, its gutters and down-pipes were broken and the windows throughout the house were smashed. The Irish Georgian Society has been campaigning for a number of years for action to be taken to prevent further deterioration yet it took the selection of Vernon Mount for the World Monuments Fund List of 100 Most Endangered Sites 2008 before minimal repairs were undertaken.

It is not known what impact years of neglect have had on Nathaniel Grogan’s paintings or on the remainder of the house. Both the Irish Georgian Society and Cork County Council have failed to get access in spite of meeting on site with representatives of the owners – the key tends to get misplaced or lost! Given its condition, it is likely that there is a significant amount of water damage with wet rot throughout and that the upper floor has been particularly badly affected. This places the Grogan paintings in the first floor oval hall at particular risk whilst, in the face of such total neglect, the condition of Grogan’s ceiling painting of Minerva causes great concern. This article attempts to document Vernon Mount’s unique architectural importance and it is hoped that it will draw Cork County Council’s attention to the plight of the house and urge it to take firm action in implementing its powers to secure the future of this important Irish building.

Who was the builder Sir Henry Browne Hayes? Henry Browne Hayes was the son of a successful merchant and industrialist with interests in brewing, milling and glass works. In 1786, he married Elizabeth Smyth of Ballynatray on the Blackwater near Youghal - we have suggested that Vernon Mount was built in the early 1790s some time after their wedding. In 1790, Hayes rose to the position of Sheriff of Cork City and, in that same year, was knighted by the Lord Lieutenant. His wife, Elizabeth, died young in 1794 and it is after her death that the story heightens: In 1797, Hayes placed himself at the centre of the most notorious marital scandal of the period having abducted the wealthy Quaker heiress, Mary Pike with a fortune said by some to amount to £20,000 and by others to £80,000. Pike was staying at nearby Woodhill, the seat of Cooper Penrose, the Quaker, merchant and art connoisseur. Having brought her to Vernon Mount against her will, Hayes forced her into a sham marriage at gun point though was unable to consummate the marriage - Lord Chancellor Clare put it with typical bluntness ‘the cock would not fight’! Pike was rescued and subsequently put up an award of £500 for the capture of Henry Hayes. Having spent some years lying low, Hayes is said to have asked his barber to inform on him and gain the award. He was sent to trial for abduction where he was found guilty and sentenced to hang for his crime. This sentence was commuted to transportation for life to the penal colony at Botany Bay. His journey to Australia was not without adventure as he bribed Captain Richard Brooks of the Atlas to be allowed various privileges and to be accompanied by his servant.

Despite his ostensibly harsh sentence, Hayes contrived to live in considerable luxury overlooking Sydney harbour where he built Vaucluse House, later to become the home of the distinguished Irish-Australian politician W.C. Wentworth, who remodelled the house. Vaucluse would later become the first property of the Australian Historic Houses Trust. This Australian connection makes Vernon Mount of particular Irish-Australian interest, especially as so many Irish felons of the period were transported to the new colony from Cork. Hayes was later pardoned and returned to Ireland in 1812 in the same ship as ‘General’ Joseph Holt of the United Irishmen. When the two arrived back in Ireland, Cox's Irish Magazine commented: 'These two eminent gentlemen have arrived from Botany Bay. It is singular enough that the two were transported for the Pike business, Sir Henry for stealing a pike, and the General for bestowing pikes.’ Hayes died in May 1833 and is buried in a vault in Christchurch in South Main Street, Cork.

Book launch of Irish Georgian Society - A Celebration


Speech by Dr Martin Mansergh, TD, Minister of State with responsibility for OPW and the Arts at the launch of The Irish Georgian Society A Celebration by Robert O’Byrne at the Crawford Gallery, Cork, Thursday, 6 October 2008, at 6:30pm

I am very pleased and honoured to have been asked to perform the Cork launch of the 50th anniversary publication of The Irish Georgian Society, A Celebration. It all began with a letter by Desmond Guinness to the Irish Times on 22 July 1957 [sic], asking if anyone would object to the revival of a long defunct Georgian Society from the early years of the 20th century. So it is appropriate that its history should be written by an Irish Times, now freelance, journalist, Robert O’Byrne.

Its look, feel, quality and illustrations are reminiscent of Desmond Guinness’ and Jacqueline O’Brien’s even slightly larger Great Irish Houses and Castles, and I would have to say I have on my bookshelves in Tipperary for reference a good many of the books mentioned in the bibliography.

I would have known some of the characters mentioned in the book. I have fond memories of Mariga Guinness, through my mother, who in the 1960s and 1970s shared the enthusiasm for all things Irish Georgian. She had an Adam-style fireplace recovered, by an architect from a demolished house in Dublin installed in our drawing room in Tipperary. My own aesthetic tastes are 18th century, with an orientation towards the France of Louis XV, the Italy of Canaletto and Tiepolo, and the Germany of Schloss Bruhl, Dresden and Sanssouci. Of course, much of the architectural inspiration in both Britain and Ireland came from the continental grand tour, and artists who had either visited or were from the continent, like Angelika Kaufmann. If I have an historical prejudice, it is that I never really liked or admired any of the Georges, though George II was probably the most competent among them. His statue is in the National Gallery.

Robert O’Byrne’s book is very much an inside story, an engagé account of the Irish Georgian Society reflecting its view. It was a movement that engaged in a struggle to salvage and gain recognition for what could in large part be described as the more valuable parts of the Anglo-Irish artistic and architectural heritage. The difficulties it faced was its strong association with the ancien régime. The biggest achievement of the Irish Georgian Society over the past 50 years has been to overcome that, and give the people of Ireland a greater sense of ownership of this part of their heritage, a sense which barely existed at the beginning outside perhaps of the employees and social circle of the big house. To put it another way, Georgian buildings have been mainstreamed.

The context has to be understood, and it is a moot point as to whether poverty and lack of resources or burgeoning wealth was the more destructive of heritage. Up to the 1960s, there was no money to save heritage, unless property owners made shrewd and rewarding marriage alliances. My biggest regrets are not great houses burnt in revolutionary circumstances, but places like Coole Park, demolished in 1939, which would have been a mecca of the Literary Revival if it had survived, and Bowenscourt lost in 1960, which had classic aesthetic merit as well. My father always claimed he had taken me to tea at Bowenscourt when I was young, with his distant cousin Bitha, as Elizabeth Bowen was known, but I would have been very young, at an age when one is easily bored having to sit quietly through adult conversation over tea, so I do not remember it.

I have since been a member of the Farahy Trust, which looks after the adjacent small church, and attached 1720s schoolhouse, where an annual Elizabeth Bowen memorial service and an occasional chamber concert are held, and I have taken up the cudgels more than once in defence of Elizabeth Bowen against her detractors, who believe that because of her reporting back to London on Irish public attitudes during World War II, she forfeited any claim to be regarded as Irish.

The Irish Georgian Society were formed in circumstances, when the Irish State had hugely pressing economic and social priorities, and when its cultural policy was directed almost entirely to the rescue, maintenance and documentation of early Christian and Celtic cultural remains. In those days, everyone was poor in comparison to today, but in a classic post-colonial situation the residue of a former ruling minority still held a disproportionate amount of the wealth of the country. In public discourse and bureaucratic assumptions, little value was attached to what many people regarded or purported to regard as reminders of an alien and oppressive heritage.

The social and cultural minority, though of more than one religion, is often accused of having kept its head down. No more than Hubert Butler, the Irish Georgian Society did not keep the head down. They engaged in rearguard battles against commercial forces that were gaining the upper hand. They saved Castletown House and Tailors’ Hall. Even where battles were lost in Fitzwilliam Street and Frascati, public awareness was increased. The public sphere was gradually nudged in the direction of accepting greater responsibility for all of Ireland’s heritage.

I remember from the late 1950s the old dingy Deanery that was once the Cashel Palace, where I was taken after church to meet the Rev Dr. Robert Wyse-Jackson, later Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe, no mean historian. The Palace has long since been in a succession of good hands as a splendid hotel. Charlie Haughey used to like to slip off to stay in the Bishop’s bedroom with its magnificent view up to the Rock. The Palace, gardens and the Rock in the 18th century have been wonderfully documented by Anthony Malcomson in his vast magisterial volume on Archbishop Charles Agar, the bicentenary of whose death in 1809 will be commemorated next year.

Swiss Cottage, the Cahir Butlers’ answer to Marie-Antoinette’s hameau at Versailles, is a wonderfully restored gem. I helped put together materials for Charles Haughey’s speech for its opening 20 years ago. In March this year, I watched Minister of State for OPW, Noel Ahern, reopen it, after a year’s closure for refurbishment, thinking what a pleasant job he had, with no notion that I would shortly afterwards succeed him.

I fought myself as an advisor to Bertie Ahern a battle to acquire Farnham Castle near Cavan, which was initially offered to the State, with its interesting nine-county Ulster Unionist heritage, the UVF having paraded pre-1914 on the lawn. Lord Farnham’s nine-county Ulster might have shortened the life of partition, which is probably why the Ulster Unionist Council rejected it. I was defeated at the hands of OPW. As a Senator, I echoed calls for Lissadell to be acquired by the State, but in all fairness the Cassidys have done a wonderful job to brighten up what had been up to 20 years previously a depressing atmosphere of decay with family members disowning both 1916 and Countess Markievicz.

I would have to say that I take a much more sanguine view of past, present and future, than is suggested by some of the statements expressed in the book. The State is not actually the villain of the piece. What both amazes and encourages me is the vast quantity of our heritage that has survived, even if a lot has been lost. A substantial part of Georgian Dublin remains intact, but a capital city was never going to be as easy to preserve as Bath. Round the walls of the Dáil chamber are Malton prints from around 1800. Only one of the buildings depicted, the Tholsel, has been lost. Leinster House, Dublin Castle, the Royal Hospital have been wonderfully restored.

Whatever their history, they now belong to us. Castletown House, along with Farmleigh and Kilkenny Castle, are jewels in the crown, and I believe the OPW has done a fantastic job in preserving and restoring good examples of all parts of our heritage, including that part which the Irish Georgian Society has championed. Many private owners, many no longer from old country house families, as well as public institutions, have poured money into fine old properties, some of which have never looked better. What Ireland may need today is a Victorian Society to protect many of the mid-19th century villas threatened with gutting by property developers until recently enticed by high capital gains. The present cooling-off period will prevent many excesses.

Architectural ambition is in general laudable. It existed in the 18th century, as it does now. We are apt to forget that Georgian Dublin virtually obliterated all that had gone before, traffic, and the destruction of the old Waterford Cathedral in 1773 is a fine example of Georgian vandalism, even if the replacement, that now also serves as a concert venue, has its own merits. I am becoming a little allergic to too much talk of iconic buildings, as you pay a lot extra for the iconic bit, especially if you are the State. The splendid new Wexford Opera House cost the public purse €26m, with the total coming to €33m. It is state of the art, but does not attempt on the outside to be iconic.

Today, there are so many more supports in place for architectural heritage of all kinds. Scarcity of resources, especially now, may still be a problem in terms of preventing one doing everything that might be desirable, but the awareness is now there. The State has taken over more of the burden through bodies such as the National Heritage Council, with, for instance, its Buildings at Risk programme, and Section 482 relief.

This country does owe a debt of gratitude to people like Desmond and Mariga Guinness, the Knight of Glin, John Redmill, and many, many others. Only yesterday, I was sitting next to Martin Naughton, whose trust is sponsoring a new Dictionary of Irish Art and Architecture under the auspices of the Royal Irish Academy. He and others rescued Wellingtons birthplace or ‘stable’ in 24, Upper Merrion Street, and turned a whole neglected block into a fine hotel.

The Society may once have been a strong political irritant, when Kevin Boland was famously provoked into denouncing the ‘belted Earls’. He quit Fianna Fáil a few years later. Pride of place in that regard is probably now occupied by An Taisce.

The Irish Georgian Society, both by the efforts of its volunteers and by its example, has made a lasting difference to this country, and has exercised an influence of which will be felt for generations. It has also enlarged the sense of Irish identity, and ensured that there is an honoured place in this country for all its traditions, and contributed to greater peace and harmony between them. The degree to which the spirit of the Enlightenment, once so much distrusted, now permeates the State should not be underestimated. I congratulate both the members of the Irish Georgian Society on their achievement, and Robert O’Byrne on a book that celebrates and documents it.

Some Notes on Castle Bernard Bandon Co. Cork

Castle Bernard, Bandon, Co. Cork

The old castle of the O’Mahonys’ formerly known as Castle Mahon, was acquired by the Bernards early in the 17th century and its name eventually changed to Castle Bernard. Francis Bernard, an English settler came to Ireland with the Plantation of Munster

During the first half of the 18th century two new fronts were added to the castle, by Francis Bernard, Solicitor-General of Ireland, Prime Sergeant and Judge of the Court of Common Pleas (‘Judge Bernard’), and by his son, Francis Bernard MP (‘Squire Bernard’). They were of brick, with Corinthian pilasters and other enrichments of Portland stone1. The house was surrounded by formal gardens, a beech avenue and with statues, fountains, cascades and jet d’eau2.

In 1798 Francis Bernard, 1st Viscount Bandon and afterwards 1st Earl of Bandon, pulled down the two early 18th century fronts and began building a new house alongside the old castle, to which it was joined by a corridor3. It was of two storeys, with a nine-bay entrance front overlooking the River Bandon and a garden front of three-bays either side of a deeply curved central bow. It had a prominent roof with a parapet, dentil cornice and bold quoins. Such construction often brought about direct social consequences through the provision of employment4.

In the early 19th century probably about 1815, the 1st Earl gave the house a Gothic coating that was only skin-deep and a façade of battlements and slender turrets on the entrance front which continued around the side and just stopped. The garden front was not interfered with except for the addition of hood mouldings and the insertion of Gothic tracery in the windows similar to that of the entrance front. The old castle and out-offices were also similarly addressed5.

The interior of the building was spacious with a regular plan6. It had a square entrance hall with Ionic pilasters and columns and opened into a wide central corridor running the entire length of the main block with a curving stone cantilevered staircase at one end. On the opposite side of this corridor to the hall was a large oval room, extending into the garden front bow.

Charles Wesley7 was a frequent traveller to Ireland in the eighteenth century and he held the Bernards in high esteem “Although one of the richest persons in these parts, keeps no race-horses, or hounds, but loves his wife and home, and spends his time and fortune in improving his estate and employing the poor. Gentlemen of this spirit are a blessing to their neighbourhood. May God increase their number”

The advent of the railways opened up the countryside for visits among the gentry. The Ladies Howard of Shelton Abbey, Co. Wicklow (now an open prison) travelled by train in 1879 to visit the Listowels at Convamore (now a ruin), the Bernards at Castle Bernard and Lord and Lady Drogheda at Moore Abbey (now a convalescent home) on their return journey.

During the troubles of 1921, the 4th Earl and his wife were woken one night, to be told that men had come to burn the castle. They dressed and went out into the park where they watched the castle and its contents, including a fine library, perish in the flames. The Earl was kidnapped and the Countess, a formidable woman, it’s said, stood erect, tearless and defiantly sang ‘God Save the King’.

It is now an ivy clad ruin smothered with climbing roses and forms the object of the garden of the modern house built nearby in the 1960s by Paddy Bernard, the 5th Earl of Bandon. Today, the estate is home to Lady Frances Carter and Lady Jennifer daughters of Elizabeth & Percy (Paddy) Bernard8.

1 John Coltsman (designed North & South Gate bridges & Christ Church) circa 1715 may have been the architect - see IAA/DIA
2 William Fennell circa 1726 designed the gardens see - IAA/DIA
3 Michael Shanahan (Earl-Bishops architect; Frederick Hervey 4th Earl of Bristol & Bishop of Derry; Downhill, Co. Derry) circa 1794 architect of the works with some of the contracting undertaken by William Deane - see IAA/DIA
4 David Dickson ‘Old World Colony’ see p. 98 (the rich should demolish and rebuild – De Latocnaye)
5 George H. Buckley ‘recently erected in the pointed Gothic style for Hon. W.S. Bernard see – IAA/DIA
6 George Meares circa 1800 designed a screen of columns for the dining room for Lord Bandon see - IAA/DIA
7 The English hymn writer and preacher Charles Wesley (1707-1788) joined his brother John in starting Methodism & composed thousands of hymns to express its religious ideals.
8 Interview with Lady Frances Carter published in the Irish Examiner Sat. Nov. 22nd 2008

De Breffny, Brian & Mott, George: The Castles of Ireland © 1977
Bence-Jones, Mark: Burke’s Guide to Country Houses Volume I – Ireland © 1978
Glin, Griffin & Robinson: Vanishing Country Houses of Ireland © 1988
Williams, Jeremy: Architecture in Ireland 1837-1921 © 1994
Somerville-Large, Peter: The Irish Country House – A Social History © 1995
Dickson, David: Old World Colony © 2005
Leland, Mary: ‘Imposing Ruin with History’ (article published in the Irish Examiner Sat. Nov. 22nd 2008)
Dictionary of Irish Architectures database (DIA) published online by the Irish Architectural Archive (IAA)

Notes prepared by Kevin Hurley on the occasion of the Cork Chapter visit 12th July 2009

Terms and Conditions for Visits and Events

Terms & Conditions:

The committee reserve the right to refuse admission to any event.

No bookings accepted without payment.

Attendees must provide own transport.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Borris House and The Heritage Council Headquarters Kilkenny

Early on Saturday morning 28th March 2009 fourteen members of the Cork Chapter boarded a coach that would take us to Borris House in County Carlow and then to the former Church of Ireland’s Bishops Palace Kilkenny for the journal launch of the Irish Georgian Society.

It was a nice change to be driven rather than doing the driving especially given the long distances involved. We left Cork at 9am sharp and commenced our journey to Carlow stopping along the way at Thomastown Co. Kilkenny for some refreshments. We then proceeded apace to Boats Bistro Graiguenamanagh for a delightful lunch which prepared us for the next part of the journey to Borris House, Borris, Co. Carlow where we were met by Mr. Kavanagh who gave us a brief history of the building of the house and its stylistic attributions.

Borris House, situated in South County Carlow on the River Barrow, with views of the Blackstairs Mountains, is one of Ireland's most important country houses. Seat of the McMorrough Kavanagh family, whose ancestors have lived on the site since the fifteenth century, it is one of the very few houses in Ireland that is still occupied by the family for whom it was built and it still contains a great deal of its original furniture, paintings, documentary archives and other artefacts.

Originally an important castle guarding the River Barrow, Borris House was rebuilt in 1731 and later altered by the architectural dynastic family, The Morrisons, in the early 1800s. The Morrisons, chiefly Richard and William, are also responsible for the alterations and additions to Kilruddery in Co Wicklow, Carton House in Co Kildare, Fota House in Co Cork and Shelton Abbey, Co Wicklow to name but a few.

Externally, they clothed the 18th c house in a thin Tudor Gothic disguise, adding a crenellated arcaded porch on the entrance and decorating the windows with rectangular and ogival hood-moulds. Inside the house the Morrisons created an exuberant series of rooms beginning with the most florid room of the house, the entrance hall, where a circle is created within a square space with the clever use of pairs of scagliola columns and richly modelled plasterwork. The ceiling is like a great wheel with its shallowly coved circular centre from which eight beams radiate outwards. The plasterwork is profuse with festoons in the frieze, eagles with outspread wings in the spandrels and swirling acanthus in the cove of the ceiling.

The drawing room is double apsed with a trellis pattern similar to the one used in the library at Cangort Park while the dining room boasts a screen of Roman Ionic scagliola columns and pilasters and a frieze of swagged bucrania such as was used again in the dining rooms at Fota. The chapel, which is in the same Tudor Gothic mode as the stair hall in the main house, has a plaster rib-vaulted ceiling, a gallery at one end and an alter apse at the other, flanked by two canopied balconies containing the preaching desk and the organ pipes.

We visited the private chapel of Borris House which was once connected to the house by way of a corridor but this was removed when later works were carried out to the house. Having enjoyed the chapel we then visited the house where we viewed the magnificent suite of rooms and ascended the majestic staircase to view the library with its magnificent collection of volumes and estate management books.

All too soon our time had expired and we had to leave reluctantly and make our way to Kilkenny for the journal launch of the society. The launch was taking place in the former Church of Ireland Bishop’s Palace that has now been converted into the offices for the Heritage Council formerly house in Rothe House. We had a little detour and so arrived a little later than scheduled but still managed to enjoy the occasion and pick up a few books including ‘An Architect Earl’ by Ronald W Lighbown. Having enjoyed a nice glass of wine it was time to take our leave and head to a local hostelry for some food before the journey home. A long day for members but a rewarding trip and we must thank Kevin Hurley for organising the logistics and to Catherine FitzMaurice for bringing the group to Boats Bistro for a much enjoyed lunch.