Paintings from Kenmare House Stolen!
A major investigation involving gardaí and UK police is underway after early 19th Century paintings belonging to the Killarney House estate were stolen from private storage, sold in the UK and put on public auction in Dublin.
Imagine my surprise when reading The Irish ndependent today that two paintings from Killarney and Kenmare House have been stolen. I was even more surprised to find out that these portraits had been featured in an auction that I had attended at Slane Castle last October. I remembered looking at these wonderful paintings in the drawing room which were painted by Hugh Douglas Hamilton. They were valued at between €20,000 and €30,000 but were withdrawn after concerns were raised.
The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has responsibility for the items and this week confirmed that they are helping gardaí with investigations following the loss of "a number of items". Asked if further items from the Killarney collection had been stolen, department officials made no comment but stated that inventory of all items in storage and a review of procedures is currently underway.
HUGH DOUGLAS HAMILTON (1740-1808) A pair of portraits, bust length, of Valentine Browne (1754-1812), 1st Earl of Kenmare (above), wearing a black coat, yellow waistcoat, and stock collar; and his second wife, Mary Aylmer (below) of Lyons, Co Kildare, d.1806 (m.1775) of Lyons, Co. Kildare; painted 1801-2 Oil on canvas, each 74 x 62cm
Of the many beautiful photographs
of wondrous houses that I have viewed during the compilation of my book, none
compare to the extraordinary architectural creation that was Killarney House in
County Kerry. Both it and its predecessor,
Kenmare House, were once the seats of the Browne family who dominated the town
and its hinterland for generations. After a catastrophic fire in 1913,
virtually nothing remains of the colossus that once stood on a hill overlooking
the town. The main block of the earlier, Kenmare House has shared a similar
fate but one of its service wings still survives and awaits restoration.
The house built in 1726 would become known as
Kenmare House and was designed and built by its owner Valentine in the style of
a French chateau, influenced from time he spent in France. This new mansion
incorporated an earlier seventeenth century house that stood on the site. The
house was two-storeys high and a high dormered attic which was contained in a
steep slated roof
The garden front of Kenmare House which was demolished
in the 1870’s after the construction of Killarney House began. Surrounding
Kenmare House were extensive formal gardens. Today only one of the side wings of Kenmare House remain and
the beautiful gardens are a distant memory replaced by a field of grass. As the
town of Killarney
grew it has encroached on the area where the main block of Kenmare House used
The garden front of Killarney House shows a wondrous
collection of gables, bay windows and chimneys. The intricate designs of the
flower beds, stepped terraces and gravel paths give an indication of the cost
involved in the creation of this masterpiece in the 1870s.
In 1872 the new Earl decided to abandon the
existing Kenmare House that dated from 1726 and build a new extravagant
mansion. The old house was seen as old fashioned and it was also said that the
fourth Earl was pressured in to building the new house at the insistence of his
wife Gertrude. The new house which would be known as Killarney House would be
large and imposing red brick Elizabethan-Revival Manor and would occupy a more
elevated site with the grounds of the demesne. It is suggested that Queen
Victoria chose the site for the house when she visited in 1861 as it had
wonderful views of the lakes and mountains. The cost to build the mansion was
estimated at the time at £100,000 and the architect who designed it was George Devey. This mansion burnt down in 1913 and was demolished in the 1940s. In 1956 Mrs. Beatrice Grosvenor, the niece of
the seventh Earl of Kenmare, sold Kenmare house and much of the Kenmare Estate,
to an American syndicate
The entrance hall of Killarney House was designed to
impress with its grand staircase, extensive panelling and an elaborate plaster
ceiling together with a large collection of tapestries and antiques however alot of the contents seen here were lost in the fire in 1913.
A member of this syndicate that
purchased 25,000 acres of the Kenmare Estate in 1956 was a Mr. John Mc Shain
who eventually bought out the other members of the group to become the sole
outright owner in 1959. The remaining block of Kenmare House and the accompanying estate
was sold to the Irish
State in 1978 by John
McShain, for a sum well below market value. He did this on the assurance that
it would be incorporated into the neighbouring Killarney National Park.
Mr. and Mrs. Mc Shain remained in the surviving block of Kenmare House that had
previously been converted in to a house by the fifth Earl of Kenmare and the
surrounding fifty-two acres for their use during their lifetimes. During this
time when it was in the ownership of the Mc Shains, they remodelled it
extensively and spent their retirement there inviting many friends and family
to visit them. Mr. Mc Shain died in 1989 and his wife passed away in 1998, when
the house and the land reverted to the Irish State
as previously agreed. Most of the contents of the house were acquired by the
Office of Public Works as they included important pieces of furniture and art
dating back to the Earls of Kenmare.
The house has remained unused and the daughter of the
John Mc Shain branded the neglect of the house a disgrace in 2008 when it was
occupied by squatters. However I am glad to report that in December it appears
that the restoration of Kenmare House is finally underway and at least part of
one of the Browne’s former homes will be preserved for future generations.
You can read all about the history of Killarney and Kenmare House in my book Irish Country House - A Chronicle of Change available from