Monday, August 2, 2010

A mid-Summer visit to North Cork Saturday 17th July 2010

A mid-Summer visit to North Cork - Saturday, 17th July, 2010

On a somewhat dull Saturday morning in July members began to arrive at the entrance to St. Colman’s Church of Ireland, Farahy for a day of visits to a church, a site and two country houses.

St. Colman’s Farahy once threatened with demolition has been saved for posterity and is preserved as a sort of shrine to the memory of Elizabeth Bowen and who is buried in the churchyard. St. Colman’s is described ‘The church was built in 1721 and is a fine example of a very rare early 18th century Church of Ireland church. Attached to it is an early 18th century schoolhouse that is now used as the vestry’. Dean Robert McCarthy who is a trustee of the church gave us a short talk on the history of the building and its association with Elizabeth Bowen and he also gave a short reading from ‘Bowen’s Court’ published in 1942. On leaving the church we noted the memorial to Elizabeth Bowen carved by Ken Thompson and in the graveyard the tombstone which commemorates Elizabeth and her husband Alan Cameron who died in 1952. The ‘Cole-Bowen’ vault was pointed out and it would not have been noticed but for the knowledge of Dean Robert McCarthy. Of note in a corner of the graveyard was a memorial to those that perished in the ‘Great Famine’.

We now made our way to the site of the demolished ‘Bowen’s Court’ was a classic example of the tall and square 18th century Irish house and was built by Henry Bowen to the designs of Isaac Rothery in 1776. The house was three storeys over a basement and had a seven bay entrance façade with a three bay breakfront and a pedimented door case. The house was the home of Elizabeth Bowen (1899 – 1973) the novelist and it has been immortalised in her book ‘Bowen’s Court’ with its “rows of dark windows set in the light façade against dark trees has the startling, meaning and abstract clearness of a house in a print, a house in which something important occurred once, and seems from all evidence, to be occurring still”.

We strolled to the site in the ever increasing heat as the clouds peeled away to reveal a clear blue sky. Such optimism was soon repressed as we came upon mounds of broken cut stone a testament to the quality of the craftsmanship that had made such a fine house. The group stood and stared silently for a few moments reflection. It was sad to think that the house had only been demolished in 1961 having been sold by Elizabeth Bowen in 1959 due to the rising cost of upkeep. Elizabeth’s hope that the house ‘could be filled with the sound of children’ went unrealised as the ‘rates’ condemned the house to its fate shared by many other ‘big houses’ in the neighbourhood. At least ‘Bowen’s Court’ has been luckier than most other houses that have gone as the house is memorialised in the book of the same name. There is one surviving out-building that could be rescued with a little imagination and used as a museum to Elizabeth Bowen and the site itself and the remaining stone should be given special protection by the County Council.

A book well worth having is ‘Elizabeth Bowen Remembered - The Farahy Addresses’ Eibhear Walshe, Editor © 1998

Our thanks to Brenda Hennessy for giving us access to the Church and bringing us to the site of the house and looking after some members in need.

We departed the vanished house and followed in convoy led by Don McAuliffe to ‘Ballymacmoy House’ a Regency house built in 1818. It is the original home of the Wild Geese family - the Hennessys of Cognac. The compact estate is located at the edge of the village of Killavullen. It has three and a half miles of exclusive fishing rights along the river Blackwater and has a one acre walled garden. There is also a unique prehistoric private cave on the estate. Parking in the designated area the house was just visible through the trees. Walking the short distance it was immediately obvious that much work had been undertaken to restore the house and certainly the exterior had the feeling of newness. Our host Frederic Hennessy welcomed the group to his home and gave a short history of the evolution of the house and estate and its connection with the famous ‘Hennessy Cognac’ family. The house has been restored to its ‘Georgian’ elegance with its rows of ‘Wyatt’ windows and the newly lined faux ashlar. The interior was a revelation and the intimate scale of the rooms made the house elegant and comfortable. Memories came flooding back for some of those on the tour as it had been run as county house accommodation in the early 1970s by Eileen and Dan McAuliffe and tow of their children Jocelyn and Don both relived their memories of the house at the time which contributed to the enjoyment of all. The bowed former ball-room was now a dining room and having strolled about the house we were ready for lunch and we were not disappointed as there was plenty of food and seconds if needed, dessert, tea and coffee followed. All too soon it was time to depart and as we thanked Frederic for his hospitality we wished his enterprise well.

Once again the convoy made its way to the next house ‘Annes Grove’ which was built in the early eighteenth century. In 1900 Richard Grove Annesley (1879-1966) inherited the property and developed the renowned Robinsonian gardens. After his death in 1966, the task of maintaining the gardens fell upon his son, the late E. P. Grove Annesley, and they are now being conserved by his grandson, Patrick Grove Annesley. The ‘Woodward’ gate lodge has been restored by the Irish Landmark Trust. With such a big group we were divided into two with one group led by Jane Annesley and the other by her husband Patrick Annesley. The interior of the house is quite intimate and not what one would expect but at least it makes it more manageable. The house has been re-roofed recently and so hopefully preserves it for future generations to come. The porch a later addition to the house was erected sometime in the late nineteenth century and the steps were brought from Ballywalter House having been burnt in the troubles. Of course the ‘piece de resistance’ is the garden developed in the early twentieth century. ‘There are few gardens anywhere in Ireland where rare trees and shrubs are grown so successfully and in such a harmonious setting as the beautiful Robinsonian gardens of Annes Grove. Set on a sloping site around an elegant early eighteenth-century house overlooking the River Awbeg, the thirty acre garden is filled with thousands of thriving plants in a layout that merges unobtrusively into the landscape. In front of the house stretches a parkland with some fine trees; nearby is a walled garden with herbaceous borders, yew walk, rock garden and water garden; beyond is an extensive woodland garden noted for its rhododendrons; and down below in a wooded limestone gorge is a lovely river garden with an island, stony rapids, rustic bridges and a lush tapestry of green foliage’. (Terence Reeves-Smith Irish Gardens © 1994). Having enjoyed the house and garden we converged on a converted barn to enjoy some refreshments, the storm clouds were gathering and despite a few drops of rain the tour successfully concluded before the deluge began.

We extend our thanks to Geraldine O’Riordan for organising this enjoyable event and to our speakers and photographers.