Architects Architecture Art Design People

St Michael’s Church Creeslough Donegal + Liam McCormick

A Response to Place

Really, it’s the ultimate expression of architecture as sculpture as terrain. The design of St Michael’s Catholic Church in Creeslough, County Donegal, owes as much to its humpbacked Muckish Mountain backdrop as it does to Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp and abstract art. It is one of seven churches in the county designed by Liam McCormick in the second half of the 20th century.

Dr McCormick said in 1978, “I like to go and absorb the characteristics of the site, to steep myself in the quality and the character of the place and pick up some element which will give me a clue for the building.” The rugged landscape was clearly the clue to designing St Michael’s.

In place of the traditional cruciform layout, St Michael’s is an innovative fan shape, physically drawing the congregation together into one democratic space. The architect was particularly adept at capturing light in unexpected ways. Cue an idiosyncratic wall-to-window ratio and relationship. For example, a cluster of small windows filled with stained glass by artist Helen Moloney on the northeast elevation contrasts with great expanses of white rendered wall on the south elevation.

The single storey flat roofed residence next door to the church is surely by Liam McCormick as well. Its simple form and punched window openings, a reinterpretation of the vernacular cottage, would make a good prototype for contemporary dwellings. In the early 21st century MacGabhann Architects are keeping the torch lit | carrying the mantle | upholding the tradition of thoughtful design in County Donegal.

Architecture People

Doe Castle Donegal + Rory O’Donnell

Adhere | The Fight of the Earl | To Crown It All

The 19th century German traveller Johann Kohl maintained, “Irish ruins generally wear a very picturesque look.” That may bear some truth but if left entirely to nature’s devices, ruins disappear. Professor Finola O’Kane Crimmins, lecturer at University College Dublin, is a specialist in Ireland and the Picturesque. “There is an insouciance in English paintings of ruins,” she believes. “They are often used as framing devices. But ruins in Ireland have always been political in light of the country’s history.”

Doe Castle, sitting on a promontory jutting into Sheephaven Bay, County Donegal, is as picturesque as they come. It looks for all the world like a Scottish Highlands shortbread tin lid. Even more so recently, thanks to the addition of a striking high pitched roof bravely accentuating its silhouette. The roof is one of several daring interventions carried out by the Office of Public Works. Limewashing the keep and constructing new plinth walls are two others.

Doe” is derived from the Gaelic word “Tuath” meaning territory. The castle was for a time the stronghold of the MacSweeney Clan who had three territories stretching from Rosgoill in the east to Gweedore in the west. It is first mentioned in the Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland in 1544 although the four storey keep is probably older. Naturally it has a history as bloody as a Donegal foreland. “The iterative cycle of land,” observes Professor O’Kane Crimmins. Historian Brian de Breffny wrote in 1977, “For many years the ownership of the castle was fought over and disputed incessantly.” Rory O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnell, was granted custody of the castle by Royal Warranty for a fleeting three years at the turn of the 17th century.

There’s more. Adopting a portmanteau, Brian de Breffny also wrote, “The Government then compelled the Earl to allow Sir Basil Brooke to occupy Doe and its lands. The Earl of Tyrconnell sailed for the Continent from Lough Swilly in 1607, never to return, and Castledoe was once again in Crown hands.”  Beyond the battlemented and buttressed and buffeted bawn, in sight of the haunted keep, sloping down to the water’s edge, is a well kept graveyard. The tombstone set in a wall of the wife of Captain John Sandford who bought Doe Castle in 1614 reads: “Heere Lyeth the bodie of Anne Sanforde Late Wife Vnto Captain John Sanforde Who Desesed The 13 of Jvly Anno Domeni 1621 For Whose Sake This Chapell was Ercted” [lots of sic].


Boyeeghter Bay + The Murder Hole Beach Donegal

Where Morning Dawns and Evening Fades

It’s been voted Ireland’s best beach and it also boasts Ireland’s best beach name. The Murder Hole’s alternative name – somewhat less dramatic if more alliterative – is Boyeeghter Bay. It could also easily be Ireland’s remotest beach. Directions from Downings, the nearest town, are: turn left, turn right, left, right, slight left, continue straight, left, stop. Cross a field or two, jump a gate or three, slide down a sand dune, and hey presto! It’s The Murder Hole! Yes! So many hard rocks. So many shallow pools. And the fastest tidal current of the Atlantic. There are only invisible footprints in the sand.

Country Houses

Downings Pier Rosguill + Mevagh

Shore Thing

The Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, Parishes of Donegal I, 1833 to 1835 record: “The villages of Downings and Doagh are the principal fishing places. Some few persons give themselves up entirely to the trade, not having any land, and send their fish to Letterkenny and Derry on ponies and asses.”

Rosguill, historically known as Mevagh, is one of several peninsulae off the north coast of County Donegal. To its west is the gentle watered Sheephaven Bay; to its east, the rocky waves of Mulroy Bay. The 15 kilometre Atlantic Drive loops round its dramatic coastline. Downings is a low key tourist destination on the western shore of this far flung tip of Ireland.

Again, The Ordnance Survey Memoirs of Ireland, Parishes of Donegal I, 1833 to 1835: “The climate is very moist and changeable, the parish being mountainous and exposed to the vapours from the Atlantic Ocean.”

Architects Architecture Country Houses

Tranarossan House Downings Donegal + Sir Edwin Lutyens

The New Ned

Is this Ireland’s greatest chalet bungalow? Who knew the legendary English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens rustled up a design for such an isolated site in Ireland? Certainly, the master’s New Delhi architecture is somewhat better known than his work in Dundooan Lower. Ned’s mother was Irish and he was rather well connected, allowing him to vamp up a country house here, revamp a castle there. His most famous project in Ireland is Dublin’s War Memorial Gardens.

In the 1890s the well heeled Honourable Robert and Mrs Phillimore of London blew £40 on a three hectare site near Downings. They commissioned Ned to design them a holiday home. Irish architect John O’Connell says, “Lutyens was very adept at immediately seeing potential on site. He would rarely deviate from his initial sketches.” After her husband died, Mrs P continued to use the house until 1936 when she handed it over to the An Óige Trust. Tranarossan House, rechristened Trá na Rossan, became the Trust’s most architecturally distinguished youth hostel.

A traveller recalls, “I remember staying at Tranarossan in the 1960s. We hitchhiked to The Atlantic Drive and then had to find our way to the hostel in the dark. We got there about midnight. It was full… there were bunkbeds in every room… but the managers let us sleep on the kitchen floor. It was run by an old couple. I remember thinking the building was quite new, that it was a purpose built hostel.”

Ned swung from Arts + Crafts in his heady youth to neoclassicism coming up to retirement. This building firmly belongs in the first camp. Two gable fronted blocks built of local rubble granite are joined by a single storey link. Each gable is distinctly treated. One is roughcast with sash windows; the other, tile hung with casement windows. This is the freest of free style Arts + Crafts. A deep wraparound verandah – now partially filled in on the entrance front – provides shelter in this exposed setting.

An extravagance of roof celebrates the chalet bungalow form. In place of the customary Gertrude Jekyll (rhymes with treacle) garden forever hand-in-glove with a Lutyens house are rocky outcrops and sandy dunes. Tranarossan House blends into the hillside, an organic recognition of place in shades of grey (there’s a good tradition of loving slate staying by the fireside). This is Ireland’s greatest chalet bungalow. The readership knew.

Architecture Country Houses

Downings Donegal + Modernism

Above the Radar

Meekness and majesty, mistiness and mystery. Clinging onto the Atlantic coast, notwithstanding its tonal contextualism, this villa with the mildest of butterfly roofs, an angularity at odds with the contours of its setting, is a reminder that modernism once reached the furthest corners of the earth.


Carrigart Hotel Donegal + Soufflé

Fair Dos | No Bother 

Carrigart Hotel Donegal © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“The Carrigart Hotel was dead fancy! It really was The Place To Go To. They even served soufflé!”

Country Houses Luxury

The Atlantic Drive Donegal + Downings

Existential and Pragmatic Reality

The Atlantic Drive Rosguill © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

So many peninsulae, so little time. Nowhere does the magnetic draw of Donegal pull more strongly than Downings and its radial route of suspense, The Atlantic Drive. Ethereal expanses of shining sand, at once quotidian and crystalline, measureless strands bordered by the foam lipped waves of a constantly shifting sea, dunes intermittently reflected in the pellucid waters, journeying mercies on borrowed time. Soon, the glooming will come, dimpsey hour. We were like those who dream.

The Atlantic Drive Downings © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Atlantic Drive Donegal © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Atlantic Drive Rosguill Peninsula © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Atlantic Drive County Donegal © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Architecture Art Country Houses Fashion People

English Heritage Georgian Makeover + Kenwood House London

Big Wigs Going Viral

“Hello! I’m Fashion Historian Amber Butchart and welcome to Kenwood House which is cared for by English Heritage. We’re standing inside an incredible Georgian house in north London that was once home to William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, and his high society companions in the 18th century. Today we’re looking at the late 18th century and we’re going to show you how to recreate an authentic Georgian look inspired by one of the people whose portraits hang here at Kenwood. We’ll be exploring not only what the cosmetics can reveal about England during this period, but we’ll be investigating why bigger was better when it came to hairstyles of the Georgian aristocracy. Plus we’ve got an extra special treat for you. We’re going to be recreating two Georgian looks and talking about how women and men used makeup to make an impression on Georgian society.”

Cosmetics reached a zany zenith in the closing decades of the 18th century. Powdered wigs piled high with miniature ships celebrating naval victories, mouse fur eye brows, zinc and arsenic makeup: this is beauty to die for. Breeches and crinolines donned, the new Lord and Lady Mansfield are ready for a busy day’s strolling and lolling around while the cameras are rolling. So many cantilevered staircases and hard landings! Then it’s time for The Reveal in Kenwood’s Library, the room of a myriad mirrors. The cast and crew:

Luxury People Restaurants

Le Détroit Restaurant Calais + Serge Clabault

Crickets and Cockerels

The country lanes around Calais are lined with wild roses and poppies framing fields of barley and corn. This coastal restaurant in Hauts de France region though is named after the small town of Le Détroit in Normandy. The three gourmet graces of Calais are in one Corbu-on-Coast modernist block opposite the quay: La Sole Meunière | Le Channel | Le Détroit. Unsurprisingly, the focus is on seafood: “spécialités de poisons et crustacés”. Equally unsurprisingly, as the competition on either side is stiff, Monsieur Clabault’s food is top notch. On a hot summer’s afternoon, taking a Gallic break from Pimm’s and Proms, lunch is:

Art Design People

Museé des Beaux-Arts + Conquête Urbaine Calais

Calaisfornia Dreaming

On a summer’s day. Liberal Christian philosopher Marilynne Robinson speaks: “What is the errand you came to flesh upon? It’s yours, not somebody else’s. Do you know what I mean? And it’s beautiful, and it has much potential as you give it attention and possibility. You are not in competition with anybody else. There’s nobody else who can be you. Your uniqueness is guaranteed so long as you respect it. My deepest feeling on this question is that if you find that something is so interesting to you that you put aside other things that are more practically important to pursue that interest, you’re doing the right thing.” Living art.

Architecture Country Houses People

Fréthun Town Hall Hauts de France + Mairie

Xanadu in the Boondocks

Frethun Hauts de France © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Town hall as château. The Hôtel de Ville of the Fréthunois and Fréthunoises is terribly smart. Under the direction of the recently appointed Mayor Guy Heddebaux, it’s become even smarter: “We’ve built a square in front of the Town Hall to make the heart of the village more pleasant, more attractive.” It’s the best landscaping scheme imaginable – grassy cobbled parking spaces and brassy trellis artwork.

Frethun School © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Frethun Mairie Landscaping © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Frethun Mairie Lodge © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Frethun Town Hall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Frethun Hotel de Ville Landscaping © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Frethun Hotel de Ville © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Architecture Art Country Houses Design Developers Fashion Hotels Luxury

Hôtel Meurice Calais + Lavender’s Blue


From Paris to Berlin Calais, we’re always at home in Le Meurice. C’est bon. Cest très bon. Tout suite.

Architecture Country Houses

Fréthun Farm Hauts de France + Summer

Gîte Alors

Storied lives, crowded with incident. There’s always respite in a shadow place of contrasts.

Architecture Fashion Luxury People

St Tricat Hauts de France + St Nicaise Church

Bronze Brawns

Well of course we’d end up in St Tricat this summer. It’s where the Big Hitters and Hot Shots are hanging out. The new St Tropez. We’re a breeze in from the Opal Coast; what’s not to love picnicking in the flatlands under the shadow of a 12th century church? La vie en rosé. Welcome to a hypernatural world.