Monday, May 14, 2012

A Visit to Carrigaline and Environs

Some hidden jems within the environs of Carrigaline attracted an impressively large gathering at our second outing of the year. Members came together at Kilmoney Abbey, Carrigaline on a wettish Sunday on the 22nd April. But the rain did nothing to dampen our spirits as we were warmly welcomed by Flor and Michelle Riordan to their beautiful mid-eighteenth century home. Helped by their children, our hosts plied us with beverages and delicious home-made treats served around the blazing hearths of the delightfully appointed dining and drawing rooms. Comfortably refreshed, Flor outlined how his family first acquired the house in 1927 and how his grandfather and father, being more interested in the estate than the house, went on to lavish care on the surrounding farmland. Time passed, by 1997, Flor and Michelle had become the owners of the house and estate. But it was the severe Christmas storm of 1997 that forced our hosts to make decisions about the future of their home as its entire roof succumbed to the force of the storm and was blown down.

Members listened awestruck with admiration as Flor went on to describe the challenge and extent of the work that was needed to restore the roof, plaster work, the venetian window, the exterior and other fine details of the house. We were full of appreciation as our host brought us on a tour of the house to witness the outstanding quality of the finished refurbishment.

Stage two of our itinerary was only a short drive away to the newly restored and extended Knocknamanagh Old School. Built as a school at the end of the reign of William IV, the group were delighted to hear from committtee member, Eileen McGough that the building, thanks to the Herculean efforts of the local community, continues to be used for educational purposes today. Now ready for sustinance, the group were welcomed by Edward Corrigan, committee member, to his tranquil family home, Knocknamanagh House. There, members and friends were graciously entertained to a sumptious sit-down Sunday lunch with the Corrigans in fine surroundings.

Although reluctant to leave the Corrigans, the group then made their way back towards Carrigaline and to the fourth gem of the day, Mount Rivers, the mid 18th century ancestral home to six generations of the Roberts family. Lesley Roberts, raconteur, bibliophile and “inveterate and insatiable collector” held a spellbound audience as he traced the history of his home and family with wit and zeal. Captivated, the group enjoyed being guided round the house to view many thousands of historic objects of interest. Amongst the fascinating items, was some Carrigaline Pottery from the company that had been founded by Lesley’s grandfather in 1928.

Refreshments, courtesy of the committee, completed a fascinating trip to the environs of Carrigaline. Our hearfelt thanks to all our hosts and a special word of appreciation to Dr. Alicia St. Leger who planned and organised the day.

A Visit to Fota House and Desmesne

Historic Fota House and demesne was the setting for the opening of the Cork Chapter’s 2012 programme of events on Sunday 25th March. A lively group assembled among the scagliola columns in Fota’s magnificent classical hall before settling down to a leisurely lunch in the sun-filled airy long gallery café.

After lunch, Fota’s drawing room, lit by its elegant regency windows, made the perfect setting for author and lecturer Dr. Éibhear Walshe’s presentation Burning Down the House, Bowen, Keane and the Big House Novel. A provocative title indeed, given the location and content of this entertaining and informative afternoon lecture.

Positing the “Big House” as a person, Walshe discussed its fate from the differing perspectives of novelists Elizabeth Bowen and Molly Keane. Walshe, elaborating, suggested that Bowen conceived the “ Big House” historically, as an unloved creature, living as it did in the hostile world of the troubled decades of early 20th century Ireland when so many houses were lost to us. This loss, he referred to as “the death of the Big House.” The irony that we were in a position to appreciate such a topic was not lost by the thoughtful audience.  One could almost register the sense of relief experienced by our group, conscious that Fota was indeed lucky to have weathered that particular historical period relatively unscathed. It had been cared for by its owners, the Smith Barry family until 1975. Today, it is in the care of the Irish Heritage Trust and has a positive on-going story to tell us.

After this lively and compelling lecture, the group, enticed by early spring sunshine and led by our guide Geraldine O’Riordan, made their way through the gardens to arrive at the focus of the final part of the day’s programme – the series of early Edwardian glass houses that formed an important part of the “Big House” horticultural operation. After years of neglect and the ravages of Irish weather, the glass houses and adjacent bothy snugly contained within a walled space, are a stunning example of authentic and sensitive refurbishment. The group were impressed by the outstanding quality of workmanship undertaken by specialists Cornerstone Construction under the steady eye of the Irish Heritage Trust. The visit to the glass houses rounded off a perfect afternoon.

Our thanks to the Irish Heritage Trust and volunteer staff in welcoming us to Fota. And a special appreciation is conveyed to Geraldine O’Riordan who organised the event and to all those who contributed to making the occasion such an auspicous start to our 2012 programme.