Sunday 28 April 2013



Mount Congreve Gardens in Waterford



Another day and yet another story of a house that is closed as a result of the State and solicitors getting involved.  The gardens of the Mount Congreve Estate in Waterford extend to over 70 acres and contain 3,000 varieties of rhododendrons, four acres of walled gardens and glasshouses.  However this jewel in the crown of Waterford Tourism is now closed due to a dispute that has developed between the OPW and the Mount Congreve Estate. Again like the situation that occurred at Lissadell, self-sustaining employment was compromised as 12 gardeners jobs are left in doubt. Ambrose Congreve, a banker who inherited the house in 1969 died two years ago aged 104.  The contents of the house were sold last year for €2.2 million.


However the estate won’t pass fully into State ownership for another 19 years and as a result they won’t foot the bill for the €400,000 annual running costs. While Id admit this is a large amount of money, in time, if managed properly the estate and its marvellous grounds could become self-sustaining and less reliant on cash from the exchequer. This why I still uphold the opinion, as I always have, that the state and county councils should have nothing to do with historic properties such as country houses. Again and again it has been debated about a National Trust style management model to be introduced in Ireland, if this was done and managed by competent and committed individuals, revenue streams could be identified for each of these unique properties to make them self-sustaining.  Also if this building and its gardens are left in limbo for 19 years, it will certainly cost a lot more money to restore them and as always in these situations large amount of original material will be lost.

Mount Congreve is an 18th century Georgian Mansion near Kilmeaden in Co. Waterford on the banks of the River Suir. It was designed by the architect John Roberts who also designed both Catherdrals in Waterford and Moore Hall in Co. Mayo.

Friday 26 April 2013

Paintings from Kenmare House Stolen!

A major investigation involving gardaĆ­ 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 gardaĆ­ 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 of Killarney 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 to stand.
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


Sunday 14 April 2013

My first book, now in its second print run features 24 Houses and Castles from all over Ireland comparing photographs of these buildings taken over 100 years apart.
Available from The Collins Press Website or Amazon
by clicking on the links below
Glenbeigh Castle Kerry

Castle Bernard Cork

 Lough Eske Castle Donegal

Kilwaughter Castle Antrim

Mayfield House Portlaw Waterford


Castletown House
Dundalk, Co. Louth

The Georgian Castletown Castle House and fifteenth century castle in the early 1900s around the time that the Eastwood Bigger family would have been in residence.
 Accreditation- The National Library of Ireland

Today both the castle and house appear unchanged except for the abundant ivy that has been removed. A modern secondary school has grown up behind both buildings, of which the castle forms part. The later Georgian house is now the home of the St. Louis nuns who founded the school in the 1950s.
 Accreditation- Photograph copyright  Ellie Ross

This picture shows the complex of buildings that now make up the substantial secondary school that is known as Dun Lughaidh Convent.
 Accreditation- Photograph copyright  Ellie Ross

An engraving of the castle that was first published in September 1791 by J. Hooper. In this image, which shows the rear of the castle, the Georgian House built in the 1740s by the Tipping Family cannot be seen.

Castletown Castle House and Castle are situated in the town of Dundalk and also are known to many of its former students as Dun Lughaidh Convent, which is all girls secondary school. The fifteenth century castle is now covered in Virginia creeper; its red hue softens the huge bulk that is the ancient structure, and provides a dramatic backdrop for the smaller Georgian house. Initially when I found the picture of Castletown in the photographic collection of the National Library in Dublin, I thought that these buildings may have been swept away by progress. I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only are they still standing but both are still in active use. When I visited Castletown in July 2011, the St. Louis sisters that live there are still extremely enthusiastic about the history of the building that they now call home.

Richard Bellew built a tower house in the fifteenth century at Castletown above the town of Dundalk and it was here that his family and descendents lived for nearly two centuries. Castletown or Bellews Castle was built around 1472 on the site of an earlier castle that was ‘once defended by a strong wall and other works of circumvallation’. The square tower house stands nearly twenty metres in height and four smaller towers project from each of its corners. One of the most defining features of this building are its battlements, which are known as crow–stepped or Irish battlements. James II ennobled the Bellew family in 1686 and John Bellew of Castletown became Baron Bellew of Duleek in County Meath. By the late seventeenth century the Bellew association had ended and the castle was abandoned. In 1740, Edward Tipping had acquired the castle with the surrounding lands and proceeded to build a modern Georgian house adjacent to the ancient structure. The new house was a plain two-storey dwelling with a three bay entrance front and became known as Castletown House. Often cold ancient castles were cast aside in favour of newer, more manageable houses which were often built beside their elder predecessor. Some of the rooms of the castle were still used by the Tipping family mainly as ancillary areas to the new house such as a kitchen and servants hall. The main rooms of the castle on the first floor have a barrel-vaulted ceiling supporting the principal living area above, heated by two large fireplaces. A spiral staircase in one of the corner towers was used to access each floor and the roof of the castle which was often used to entertain guests with views of Dundalk bay and the surrounding countryside.

By 1784, the Tipping family had left Castletown Castle House and it was purchased by John Eastwood from Armagh. In 1786 it is recorded that the Eastwoods are in residence in Castletown House and several rooms of the castle are said to be still habitable at this time. It was during the ownership of the Eastwoods that the castle became neglected and started to become dilapidated. When John Eastwood died in 1790, his son James, a clergyman, inherited the castle, house and demesne. Rev. James erected an archway at the gate to the walled garden in the grounds of the house, where he placed a plaque that recorded the date that he inherited Castletown. In 1806, James Eastwood was still living at Castletown but when he died two years later, the estate was inherited by his younger brother Charles. In a survey carried out in 1823 Castletown was recorded as being the home of Charles Eastwood Esq. and was described as ‘a fine ancient castle in good repair, a neat modern lodge which has been attached to it by Mr. Eastwood’. Charles left his mark on the castle like previous generations when he carved his initials “CE” in the stone surround on the right hand side of the entrance doorway to the castle. He died in 1828 and was succeeded by his eldest son James, who it was noted in 1837, had great intensions of renovating the castle and making a residence for himself. These plans were never implemented and instead the run-down structure was used as out offices. Time and money were lavished on landscaping the grounds around the house, many trees were planted and the walled garden was improved with the addition of many exotic plants. A formal garden was laid out to the south and in later years an orchard and a sunken tennis court were added.

 In 1851 the last public hanging took place in Dundalk of two men who attempted to murder James Eastwood at Castletown. They tried to steal his gold watch and after an altercation, he was thrown in to a nearby quarry and left for dead. Despite his severe ill treatment, James still pleaded for clemency and tried to save the men’s life, but this was to no avail. James who was the local magistrate, died without issue in 1865 and his body was returned to the family vault in Armagh. His wife, Louisa, inherited the house, castle and estate lands which included 877 acres in County Armagh. After James’s death, the family experienced financial problems and a lot of land was sold under the Land Purchase Acts to clear the substantial debts. In 1886 the castle under went some repairs to its roof and battlements which was mentioned in Barrett’s Directory.  The house and castle eventually passed from the Eastwoods to the Bigger Family, who came from the nearby Falmore Hall and were related through marriage. It was obviously a condition of the inheritance that the Bigger family had to adopt the additional surname of Eastwood in order to secure the estate. By the time of the 1901 census, John James Eastwood Bigger is resident in Castletown Castle House with his wife Kathleen and their three servants. John James appeared to own a lot of the surrounded properties and was still in residence in Castletown by the time of the 1911 census when the house is described as having thirteen rooms and eighteen outbuildings.

An insight to the life of a servant in Castletown Castle House in the early 1900s was described following a tragic incident that took place there in October 1910. An inquest was held relating to the death of Lawrence Treanor at Castletown, a coachman in the employment of Mr. Eastwood Bigger. He was found dead after mistakenly drinking oxalic acid instead of Epsom salts, which he had purchased for the purpose of removing stains from hunting boots. On the following Sunday morning, he drank the acid and died a short time afterwards. Sometimes instances like this were reported as being accidents whereas in reality these were the drastic actions of people trying to escape their mundane existence. The end of the Eastwood Bigger family connection with Castletown came in May 1925 when John James Eastwood Bigger, Junior of Castletown, Dundalk was declared bankrupt. It was interesting to note that that the advertisement of the bankruptcy noted that any proof of debt sent to the Four Courts before May 1922 would have been destroyed in a fire during the Irish Civil War. In September 1926 as a result of the implosion of the family finances, Castletown Castle and House with ten cottages were to be sold at the auction rooms of E.J. Bothwell. The main house is listed as having three reception rooms and eight bedrooms with servant’s apartments. Outhouses comprised of loose boxes, a coach-house and harness room. The house and castle were sold with thirty-seven acres of land, which included fruit, vegetable and flower gardens, which incorporated tennis courts. The lands of the Eastwood estate were eventually sold to the Land Commission and divided among the tenants. In the 1940s the Taafe family purchased the house and grounds.

By May 1950, Castletown Castle House was listed for sale and was eventually purchased by an order of St. Louis nuns who began the arduous task of turning the building into a school. The foundation of the school began when part of the Georgian House was used accommodate classrooms for first students. The castle has become part of a substantial complex of buildings that has grown up around it, which accommodates 600 students. The Georgian house eventually became the home to the sisters of St. Louis and remains similar to when the Eastwood family lived there. Its internal layout appears unchanged with the exception of one of the reception rooms, which has been converted into a private chapel. Initially when the school opened, the old castle was used as storage as previously to this, it had been used to store apples from the nearby orchard.  Eventually as the school expanded the decision was taken to utilise the castle building to provide additional space. The survival of both the house and castle today is a reflection of the passion and commitment that the current owners have devoted to their preservation

(Text Copyright David Hicks)

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Cahercalla House

 Co. Clare

Cahercalla in the early 20th century when still a private residence
(Copyright the National Library of Ireland)

The extension to the house can only be described as unsympathetic
(Copyright Ellie Ross)

However one detail that has survived is the fantastic door knocker
(Copyright Ellie Ross)

Times have not been kind to this building that appears majestically overlooking a lake in the black and white picture from the National Library. The lake is a distant memory and the house is now a community hospital. An unsympathetic wing has been added that detracts from the simplistic beauty of a house. Cahercalla House is situated near Ennis in County Clare, details are few but it was occupied in the 18th century by the Crofts, England and the Maguire Families. In 1735 a James Croft died there in 1735 and later The Clare Journal reported that a Joseph England died there on Monday 1st February 1779. In 1814 the property was owned by David A. England. The Ennis Chronicle of 28th October 1818, reported that a Thomas Mc Mahon died at Cahercalla the home of David A. England. David Arthur’s mother was a member of the Mc Mahon family and the house was probably inherited by a member of the McMahon family as a Charles Mahon lived here in 1837.
 The house was then owned by Wainright Crowe in the 1860 when he was High Sheriff for Clare. In 1868 on the instructions of Wainright Crowe nine acres were enclosed in to form a Fair Green which eventually became the town park in Ennis. In 1873. Wainwright Crowe of Cahercalla died, he had been the agent for Lord Leconfields extensive Irish estates having succeeded both his father and brother in the same position. In 1887 Edith Millicent Crowe daughter of Wainright Crowe married Wyndham Harry Payne- Gallwey In the 1901 census Wainright Francis Crowe  aged 39, a son of the previous owner, is in residence in Cahercalla House with his wife Ellen Mary, his two daughters Muriel Francis and Milicent and his brother Edmund together with  five female servants. By 1911 only Wainright, his two brothers and two female servants are listed as living in the house. The house is listed as having 30 rooms and 11 windows on its entrance front.  In 1909 Wainwright F. Crowe agreed to sell over 1’600 acres to the Congested Districts Board. The Cahercalla Estate and residence were aquired by St. Flannan’s College in 1935, three years before the arrival of St. John of God sister's from Wexford.  In 1951 the Bishop of Killaloe opened Cahercalla as a private hospital to be managed by the Sisters of St. John and it initially accommodated 35 patients.

Moynalty House

Co. Meath 

Moynalty House in the early 1900's with its wonderful glass house
(Copyright the National Library of Ireland)

Moynalty House today, Sadly its glass house is no more.
(Copyright Ellie Ross)

Moynalty House is located in a beautiful village that’s gave the house its name and yet again it is one of those houses that if last night's lotto number came up, I would be heading off to Meath with my cheque book. The Farrell family are responsible for the creation of this house that still retains its integrity despite the years taking their toll on some of its features. Since the black and white picture was taken the house appears aletred, its substantial glass house is gone and the adjoining room has become a garage.

 The story of this house begins in the 1820’s which coincided with the transformation of the entire village. Moynalty together with several other town lands were purchased in 1790 by James Farrell for £34,500. James was a Catholic brewer and moneylender from Dublin, who began to purchase land after the relaxation of Penal Legislation in 1782. James lived in Merrion Square in Dublin but carried out many improvements around Moynalty. James’s son John donated land in 1819 for the construction of a Catholic Church at the opposite end of the village to the existing Protestant church which was also being rebuilt at the time. After John married in 1829 he was given the Moynalty estate by his father. Around 1825, John turned his attention to building a home for himself and his wife and the resulting house was constructed in the Regency style, a three-bay, two-storey house with a shallow hipped roof and over sailing bracketed frieze. An imposing feature of this house is its Limestone Doric columns surmount the steps that lead to the front door, these give the house a stately presence despite its small size. Despite its proximity to the village and roads, the house is hidden from view by high walls and trees and the only indication of its presence to the outside world is its decorative irongate posts and beautiful gate lodge. The surrounding estate at its height extended to 4,790 acres.

 John did not restrict himself to just creating a home for himself and his wife but he also turned his attention to remodelling the whole village. The redevelopment of the village began in 1826 and was completed by 1837; this involved the removal of mud huts and other sub standard buildings. All the houses on the river side of Main Street were removed, creating a green area that sloped down to the river. Much was made over the years of the village of being “all to one side”, however in the 20thcentury buildings were constructed on the river side. The tradition of improving the village is something that has continued down through the years, with the village winning the “Tidy Towns” awards numerous times including being named as overall winner yet again in 2011.

John’s son Arthur who was born at the time of the construction of the house inherited the house and in 1860 he married Lucretia Pauline, the daughter of the 13th Viscount Gormanston. In the census of 1901, John Arthur Farrell was aged 75 and his wife Lucretia who was aged 62 and her profession is listed as a “daughter of a Peer of the Realm”. Living with them at this time were their three sons and a daughter. To see to their needs was a substantial staff listed as being part of the household which included a cook, house keeper, house maid, laundry maid, kitchen maid, coachman and footmen. When Arthur passed away in 1904 his son John Edward returned from Tasmania to run the estate but he sold it due to ill health. In the 1911 John Edward aged 49 is now listed as being the head of household, his wife is Harriet Susannah who was born in Kent in England. There two sons and four daughters and their governess are also in residence together with eight servants which includes a new position in the ranks of the staff from 1901, a ladies maid. Only one of John Edward’s six children was born in Moynalty, the other five were born in Hobart, Tasmania, the eldest child is 22.

In November 1928 under the instructions of Major V.J. Farrell to sell Moynalty House on Monday 19th November. The house is described as having 2 drawing rooms, dining room, library, hall, office, 4 bedrooms, bathroom and lavatory on the entry level, top floor consists of 6 bedrooms, lavatory, the basement contained kitchen, servants hall, pantries and dairy. The conservatory was still in situ at this time and is described as having its own heating, the remainder if the house was heated by central heating. The inner yard contained 6 loose boxes, hay shed, workshop, engine room, garage, oil shed and men’s quarters with lavatory. The farmyard consisted cattle shed, oats loft, laundry, stabling for 8 horses, boiler houses and turnip house. There were also two tennis courts, large garden, green houses, and gardeners store rooms, potting shed, gate lodge and sheds.