Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Collecting books on Irish Architecture – A work in progress: Kevin Hurley

‘Ireland Observed’ © 1970, 1980 was the first book on Irish buildings that I ever bought and this book sent me on my journey of discovery of Irish Architecture. It was a joint publication by Maurice Craig and the Knight of Glin both of whom are well know in the field of architecture and art respectively.

A book shop that did well from my early purchases was Wm. Egan & Sons (now Jack n’Jones/Vero Moda) of St. Patrick Street, Cork and was source of many of my purchases in my early days of collecting. The first book purchase in Egan’s was ‘The Houses of Ireland’ © 1975 by Brian DeBreffny & George Mott which is a very good overview of the development of the Irish house from earliest times to the early twentieth century.

I soon followed this up with ‘Irish Houses & Castles’ © 1971, 1980 by Desmond Guinness & William Ryan a lavishly illustrated volume of houses and their collections many of which are now dispersed. Uniquely it also shows the floor plans of the buildings which is very useful indeed though has never been repeated in later similar books. This volume contains very good images of Powerscourt House, Co. Wicklow that was destroyed by fire in 1974. Egan’s was doing well with all my purchases and another acquisition was ‘Irish Art & Architecture’ © 1978 by Peter Harbison, Homan Potterton & Jeananne Sheehy which presents surveys on art, architecture and archaeological remains from earliest times right through to the present time. Subsequent publications included ‘Irish Castles’ and ‘Irish Churches & Abbeys’ and all these volumes were published by Thames & Hudson.

The subject of the Irish Country Houses is addressed specifically in one of the finest endeavours in the field of Irish Architecture especially ‘Country Houses’ with the first volume of a projected multi-volume series covering Ireland and the United Kingdom ‘Burke’s Guide to Country Houses – Volume I Ireland’ © 1978 by Mark Bence-Jones was the first volume and probably the best. My first meeting with this volume was seeing it in the window of Egan’s and it was open with the illustration of the long demolished baroque mansion house “Summerhill House”, Co. Meath. This was certainly a revelation as I had never heard of this house and soon I made my way upstairs to the bookshop on the first-floor, oh what excitement! This was a volume I certainly had to have no matter what the cost. It featured houses long demolished or others I had never heard of and was full of atmospheric photographs of people, cars and other forms of transport long vanished. This remains one of my favourite books and I still dip into it every now and then when researching country houses or planning visits. It has a wonderful introduction to the development of the country house architecture and an excellent bibliography. This led me to join the ‘Irish Georgian Society’ and discover articles about country house architecture in ‘Country Life’ magazine. Certainly it was one of those seminal books and spurred my further research into the field of the Irish Country House.

Another series covering Irish Architecture is the Pevsner series the ‘Buildings of Ireland’ which saw the first volume ‘North West Ulster’ © 1979 by Alaistair Rowan being followed by ‘North Leinster’ © 1995 and ‘Dublin’ © 2005 being the current volume. More volumes are in preparation and I hope that the projected nine volumes will be published before I am cold in my grave.

Country Houses also feature in the series by the Ballinakella Press and to date volumes covering County Clare, Kerry, North Cork and Wexford have been published with more planned in the future.

Maurice Craig has a wonderful writing style and he could make any subject interesting, when it comes to architecture it is hard to beat ‘Classic Irish Houses of The Middle Size’ that was recently reprinted in paperback. Another Craig book that has been reprinted many times is ‘Dublin 1660-1860’ and just as interesting as one would expect and for a chronological study of Irish architecture then there is no better than ‘The Architecture of Ireland from Earliest times to 1880’. Another book on Dublin buildings is ‘Georgian Dublin’ by Desmond Guinness. Victorian architecture which was often dismissed without a second thought is brought to life by Jeremy Williams through his research, writing and lively drawings in his book ‘Architecture in Ireland 1837-1921’ which was published in 1994 and it would be great to have an updated version at some stage.

The bulletin of the Irish Georgian Society also featured articles on Irish Art and Architecture and its successor ‘Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies’. Of course the ‘Irish Arts Review’ always has an interesting article on Irish architecture historical or contemporary.

The County Archaeological Series published by the OPW usually stops at the end of the seventeenth century and so doesn’t cover country houses. However, in the case of the County Cork volumes they include a representative sample of post 1700 buildings such as ‘country houses, market houses and churches.

Lately the NIAH (National Inventory of Architectural Heritage) guides that cover nearly all the country and these are attractive and inexpensive guides to the architecture of each county from about the seventeenth century to the present. It is a representative survey that has a very good online record of every building surveyed and this can be accessed by the unique record number of every building. The only problem is that if you don’t know the record number or the town-land you have to trawl through the entire listing of the county to find the building you are interested in.

If I was given a choice to take one book to a desert island I would find it very hard to decide between my two favourite books ‘A Guide to Irish Country Houses’ (Bence-Jones) and ‘Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size’ (Craig).

That’s all folks, more thoughts later………….

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