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.

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