Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Celebration of John Roberts

The Waterford classical legacy of architect John Roberts, presented the Cork Chapter members and friends with an excellent motive to reserve Sunday 17th June for a day out together. The day, by any standards, was truly a memorable one for many reasons, not least of which was the fact that the day was one of the rare sunny days this summmer. The carefully chosen programme was unique in that we were afforded the opportunity to explore and embrace several types of architectural gems designed by the same archiect, with one exception. These masterpieces comprised of Curraghmore House, Portlaw, The Bishop’s Palace and The Church of Ireland Cathedral, Waterford City, together with the exception of the Church of Ireland, Clonegam Church.

Being a Sunday, it seemed fitting that we should start with a visit to Clonegam Church, perched on a hill, within the Curraghmore Estate of the Marquess of Waterford in Portlaw. While the Church of Ireland Clonegam church was not designed by Roberts, it is also a fine Georgian structure built in 1741 for Sir Marcus Beresford Earl of Tyrone and Countess Catherine de la Poer who had united the Beresford and de la Poer families with their marriage.

The group was captivated by the range of funerary monuments and deeply moved by the delicate white marble statue of a lady with her infant, created by Boehm in 1873, immortilising the memory of Lady Florence Grosvenor who died with her baby. The stillness of remembered dead was only briefly broken as our group forced themselves to leave the past and proceed with the present by moving outdoors to cast an eye over the magnificent Curraghmore House as it lay in the valley beneath, beckoning us in the morning sunlight.

Curraghmore House looked truly monumental as we approached its vast and splendid courtyard. We were awestruck by the combination of architectural features from several periods that lay before us, starting with its 1167 origin. Lord Waterford’s house guide Basil, warmly welcomed our group and he proved to be a knowledgeable, enthusiastic and patient guide. We learned that while this ancient structure was modernised by John Roberts of Waterford City in the eighteenth century, James Wyatt created a series of neo-classical decorated rooms that delighted our sensibilities.

More splendours awaited us outdoors, as we viewed the Victorian refacing to the front of the building and enjoyed the formal parterre and tiered lawns as we walked towards the renowned Shell House created by Catherine Countess of Tyrone in 1754. As we crowded into the dimly lit shell house, John van Nost’s statue of the Countess lit up the space with its pure beauty.

Later in the afternoon in Waterford city, and fortified after a delicious lunch, the group was led through the fine Georgian interior of The Bishop’s Palace designed by Roberts in 1746. We were captivated by beautifully proportioned rooms that were full of exquisite silver, fine portraits and the splendour of Waterford Crystal chandeliers, all set off by the exemplary restoration of the building by Waterford City Council.

Cheek-by-jowl to the Bishop’s Palace was the third Roberts designed building on our programme, the Church of Ireland Christ Church Cathedral, 1774. Members were stunned by the exterior elegance of its wonderful tower and classical proportions. Inside, we were enthralled by its fine Georgian interior that included glittering chandeliers, magnificent stained glass windows, restrained wooden pews, but especially by its newly Kenneth Jones restored organ. Members gathered spellbound as we were treated to a special performance by Eric Sweeney, the cathedral’s musical director. Our applause registered our appreciation as we realised that John Roberts cathedral is not only a place of worship but a place of art and culture also.

As our group ventured out onto the street once more in the late afternoon sunshine, we were still taking in the exterior splendour of the cluster of Roberts buildings that gives the City of Waterford its integrity.  Our special thanks to all our hosts and to Kevin Hurley and Catherine FitzMaurice for conceiving and planning an outstanding and integrated programme.