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Dorinda The Honourable Lady Dunleath Baroness Mulholland + Killyvolgan House Ballywalter Down

Life and Times

Dorinda loved discussing the many Irish country houses she knew well. “I could write a book about my experiences in country houses. Maybe you should for me!” One of her earliest memories was visiting her uncle and aunt, Major Charlie and Sylvia Alexander, at the now demolished Pomeroy House in County Tyrone. Dorinda also enjoyed visiting Springhill in County Londonderry (now owned by The National Trust) – she was married from there in 1959. There was a painting of Springhill in the sitting room of Killyvolgan House. It was her Great Aunt Mina’s home. Mina Lenox-Conyngham was the last owner of Springhill. “Staying at her house was always enormous fun.”

“I remember aged six being taken against my will to dancing lessons at Lissan House. It was absolutely freezing! I lay on the ground screaming and kicking my feet in the air. Such a dull house, don’t you think?” She was great pals with Diana Pollock of Mountainstown House in County Meath and recalled good times there with Diana and her sisters. “I could never love Mount Stewart. Dundarave has an interesting vast hall but the reception rooms are plain. I remember the auction of Mount Panther’s contents. Everyone was standing in the entrance hall and up the stairs when the staircase started coming away from the wall! Cousin Captain Bush lived in Drumhalla House near Rathmullan in Donegal. He’d a parrot and wore a wig. I remember my cousin threw his wig off when he went swimming in the cove end of the garden. I was absolutely terrified to jump in after him!”

One of Dorinda’s most memorable stories combines several of her loves: country houses, fashion and parties. “It was the Sixties and I had just bought a rather fashionable tin foil dress from a catalogue. I thought it would be perfect for Lady Mairi Bury’s party at Mount Stewart. It was so tight and I was scared of ripping it so I lay down on our bedroom floor, arms stretched out in front of me, and Henry slid me into it.” She gave a demonstration, laughing. “Unfortunately I stood too near one of the open fires and my dress got hotter and hotter. So that was the first and last time I wore it!” Dorinda always managed to look stylish, whether casual or formal. Her suits were the envy of fellow Trustees of the Board of Historic Buildings Trust. Her ‘off duty’ uniform of polo neck, sports jacket, jeans and boyish shoes was effortlessly chic.

When it came to finding her own country house after her tenure at Ballywalter Park ended, things proved challenging. “I searched for two years for a suitable property. There’s a country house for sale in Keady. Nobody lives there! I’d be driving up and down to Belfast non stop!” Eventually Dorinda would build her own house on a site just beyond the walled estate of Ballywalter Park. At first, she wanted to rebuild the double pile gable ended two storey three bay house occupying the site called McKee’s Farm but when the structure proved unstable, a new house was conceived. Despite being known as a modernist, Belfast architect Joe Fitzgerald was selected to design a replacement house of similar massing to McKee’s Farm, adding single storey wings in Palladian style. Like its owner, Killyvolgan House is understated, elegant and charming. She was pleased when the council planners described Killyvolgan as the ideal new house in the countryside. It displays a distinguished handling of proportion and lightness of touch.

“I bought the Georgian grandfather clock in the entrance hall from Dublin. I’m always slightly concerned at how fragile my papier mâché chairs are for ‘larger guests’ in the drawing room. I guess the chairs were really meant for a bedroom? I’ve painted all the walls in the house white as the shadows on them help me see around.” And then there was the urn in the courtyard. “The Coade stone urn I found in the 19th century barn was much too grand. So instead I bought this cast iron urn on the King’s Road in Belfast. Fine, I will leave the Marston and Langinger pot you have brought me in the urn so that I remember that colour. Oh, Farrow and Ball are very smart! They’re very clever at their marketing.” In the end, the much debated urn would remain unpainted. “Henry wouldn’t deal with snobs. That’s why I liked him. Henry took everything he got involved in very seriously. Henry was the only Alliance Party member in the House of Lords. He strongly promoted the Education (Northern Ireland) Act 1974 which provided greater parity across the sectarian divide.” Later, “Oh how exciting, is it full of good restaurants and bars? Great! I’ll be an authority now on Ballyhackamore.”

She recalled an early drama at The Park. It was a tranquil Sunday morning in 1973 and unusually Dorinda was at home rather than at Holy Trinity Church Ballywalter. “Henry was singing the 23rd Psalm at Eucharist when he heard six fire brigades go by. Poor people, he pitied. I’d warned our butler not to interfere with the gas cylinders of the boiler, but he did, and the whole thing exploded, lifting off the dome of the staircase hall like a pressure cooker. The billiard room disappeared under a billow of smoke and flames. I rang the fire brigade and said, ‘Come quickly! There’s a fire at Ballywalter Park!’ The operator replied, ‘Yes, madam, but what number in Ballywalter Park?’” The estate of course doesn’t have a number – although it does have its own postcode.

“A spare room full of china collections fell through the roof. Well, I guess I’d always wanted to do an archaeological dig! It was so sad, really. As well as the six fire brigades, 300 people gathered from the village and around to help lift furniture onto the lawn. Fortunately the dome didn’t crack. Isn’t life stranger than fiction? The Powerscourt fire happened just one year later. Henry was philosophical and said we can build a replacement house in the walled garden.” In the end the couple would be responsible for restoring the house to its lasting glory. Ballywalter Park is a mid 19th century architectural marvel designed by Sir Charles Lanyon.

“I arrived over from London as a young wife and suddenly had to manage 12 servants. I used to tiptoe around so as not to disturb them. There was a crazy crew in the kitchen. Mrs Clarke was the cook. Billy Clarke, the scatty elderly butler, mostly sat smoking. Mrs Clarke couldn’t cook unless he was there. I was too shy to say anything!” Dorinda once briefly dated Tony Armstrong-Jones who would become the society photographer Lord Snowdon. “We met at pony club. He got me to model sitting next to a pond at our house in Widford, Hertfordshire.” One book described Dorinda as being “very pretty”. When questioned, she replied, “Well, quite pretty!” She was more interested in her time bookbinding for The Red Cross. In those days The Bunch of Grapes in Knightsbridge was Dorinda’s local. “Browns Hotel and The Goring were ‘safe’ for debutantes. After we got married we went to the State Opening of Parliament. We stayed in Henry’s club and I haled a taxi wearing a tiara and evening dress. Harrods was once full of people one would know. We would know people there. ‘Do you live near Harrods?’ people would ask. I’ve heard everyone now lives southwest down the river, near the boat races. You need some luck and then you’ve just got to make your own way having fun in London.”

As ever with Dorinda there were always more great stories to relate. “I bought the two paintings from the School of Van Dyke in my dining room for £40. I knew they are rather good landscapes so I decided to talk to Anthony Blunt about them. We arranged to meet in The Courtauld for lunch. Halfway though our meal he disappeared for a phone call. He was probably waiting for a message, ‘Go to the second tree on the left!’ He never reappeared. Next thing I heard he was a spy and had gone missing! I think he turned up in Moscow. I’ll remember other interesting things when you’re gone.” Occasionally colloquialisms would slip into her polite conversation. “The funeral was bunged! That was completely mustard!” One of Dorinda’s catchphrases, always expressed with glee, was, “That’s rather wild!”

“I called up to The Park. It was so funny: for the first time in history there were three Lady Dunleaths including me all sitting chatting on a sofa! One lives in The Park; the other, King’s Road and I don’t mean Belfast!” Dorinda made steeple chasing sound so exciting. A dedicated rider and breeder, she was Chairman of the Half Bred Horse Breeders Society. The Baroness’s contribution to Northern Irish culture and society is unsurpassed. She was Patron of the Northern Ireland Chest Stroke and Heart Association and the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, as well as being a Committee Member of the Royal Ulster Agricultural Society. Dorinda was a Director of the Ulster Orchestra and a founding member of The National Trust in Northern Ireland and the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society. Along with Sir Charles Brett she laboriously carried out and published early ‘Listings’ of buildings in places such as Downpatrick, Dungannon and Lisburn. The Baroness’s legacy lives on in the Dorinda Lady Dunleath Charitable Trust. This charity was started by her late husband but after he died it was changed into Dorinda’s name and she added to it every year thereafter. It supports education; healthcare and medical research; the arts, culture, heritage and science; the environment; alleviating poverty; and advancement of the Christian faith. The Dorinda Lady Dunleath Charitable Trust continues to donate to charities that she would have liked, with a focus on Northern Ireland.

One of the last heritage projects Dorinda supported was the restoration and rejuvenation of Portaferry Presbyterian Church, not far from Ballywalter. It’s one of the best Greek Revival buildings in the United Kingdom. “Prince Charles came to the reopening. I curtsied so low I could barely stand up again! Afterwards, a few of us had a very grand supper at Ikea to celebrate!” She voiced concern about the future of the organ at Down Cathedral. Music in May at Ballywalter Park was an annual festival of organ music started by the newlyweds. The Dunleath Organ Scholarship Trust was set up by her late husband and she continued to support it for the rest of her life, attending its concerts each year.

“It’s so exciting… I can’t say how exciting it is you’re here! Tell me, who is this David Bowie everyone’s talking about? I feel like I’m about 100! It’s like when my father asked me, ‘Who is this Bing Crosby?’ The House of Lords used to be full of country specialists like experts in bees or men who loved linen. They used to give the most marvellous speeches. Each generation must do something. It would be great to write this down.” Later, “Gardens should have vistas, don’t you think? They need focal points; you need to walk for an hour to a place of discovery. Capability Brown and Repton knew how to do it.”

In latter years, there were memorable times to be had at The Wildfowler Inn, Greyabbey. Those long, languid lunches. “Portavogie scampi? I’ll have the same as you. And a glass of white wine please. We can have sticky toffee pudding after.” Dorinda would don her yellow high viz jacket, pulling the look off with considerable aplomb. Her eyesight failing, she would claim, “It helps people see me in Tesco in Newtownards!” Much later, balmy summer afternoons in the sheltered courtyard of Killyvolgan House would stretch long into the evening. There was Darjeeling and more laughter. Those were the days. Halcyon days by the shore. Days that will linger forever. On that last evening at Killyvolgan, Dorinda pondered, “Who’s left who cares about architectural heritage?”

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Lavender’s Blue + The Castle Castletownshend West Cork

Grand Tourism

A few years ago Frank Keohane gave a lecture to the Irish Georgian Society London based on his ongoing research which would later be published as the 2020 Pevsner Architecture Guide, The Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County. A monumental achievement by any measure. “There are so many buildings at risk in Cork City and County,” he warned. “The southeast of England hasn’t enough country houses to go round. In contrast, Ireland has one of the lowest population densities in Europe. There’s plenty of talk but action is needed too.”

“There are 345 identified buildings at risk in County Cork of which 67 are country houses,” he added. “But there are good news stories too. Monkstown Castle has been restored and Jeremy Irons famously restored Kilcoe Castle near Ballydehob. Cork naturally has the biggest asylum in the country!” One country house that thankfully isn’t at risk (the owners restored it six years ago) is The Castle, Castletownshend.

Frank summarises it as, “A house of several parts, the seat of the Townshends. The earliest, described as ‘newly built’ in 1780 by the Complete Irish Traveller, is presumably the two storey five bay rubblestone centre block, with dormers over the upper windows and a two storey rectilinear porch. Taller three storey wings with battlements carried on corbelled cornices and twin and triple light timber mullioned windows. The east wing was perhaps built in the late 1820s; the west wing was added after a fire of 1852. Modest interior. Large low central hall with a beamed ceiling and walls lined with oak panelled and gilded embossed wallpaper. Taller dining room to the rear, with a compartmented ceiling, a neoclassical inlaid fireplace in the manner of Bossi, and a large Jacobean sideboard. 19th century staircase with barley twist type balusters.”

“Oh please don’t ask me what’s my favourite Irish country house. That’s such a weak question!” jested Min Hogg, Founding Editor of The World of Interiors, giving us her last interview. The Castle has to be in our own top 10 (and we get around). “We’re the 11th generation of the family to live here,” welcomes our hostess Sharon Townshend. Guest rooms are named after people or events connected to the house. On the ground floor is the Gun Room. On the first floor, Chavenage, Deans and Studio. On the top floor, Archbishops, Army, Navy and our party room, Abigail.

Dark panelling and glass fronted bookcases stretching up to the ceiling enhance the character of the interior. Books include The Poems and Plays of Robert Brown; The Early Romances of William Morris; The Poems of Alfred Tennyson; The Plays of Richard Brinsley Sheridan; Northanger Abbey and Persuasion by Jane Austen; Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities, Nicholas Nickleby, Old Curiosity Shop and The Pickwick Papers. Keeping it local are Old Ireland Reminiscences of an Irish K C by Serjeant Sullivan and Last Memory of a Tenderfoot by R B Townshend.

The entrance front overlooks Castlehaven Bay, a spectacular setting by any standards. The northwest elevation backs onto the hillside. At its deepest part, the triple pile return wing almost touches the hillside. A 40 pane double height window adds natural light to the gallery-like staircase corridors and landings which line the north elevation.

Behind the ground floor Honesty Bar, a sepia tinted advertisement reads, “Castle Townshend, County Cork, has been the seat of the Townshend family for many generations, and is now run as a guesthouse by Mrs R M Salter-Townshend. It is situated on the borders of Castle Townshend Harbour. It certainly affords every variety of pleasure that guests could require. Mains electricity (A C current 220 volts).”

“Interior sprung mattresses and hot and cold running water in all bedrooms. Guests are welcomed to this castle as personal friends, and the old family portraits, historical associations etc, no less than the hospitality shown by all, are a delight to visitors. The climate in this part of Ireland compares very favourably with the south of England. The passage by sea from England is both cheap and luxurious. Director air service to Cork from Paris, London, Bristol, Cardiff, Dublin and Birmingham. Air car ferry Bristol to Cork and Liverpool, to Dublin.”

“There is never a dull moment at Castle Townshend, and one visit will convince you that this is just the place for a holiday that you have always been hoping to find. Also holiday cottages and maisonette flats to let. Fruit and vegetables from our own garden; and milk from our farm.”

“What we do at Castle Townshend. Boating and fishing. Own rowing boats, free to guests. Individual rowing boats can be hired weekly by arrangement. Good facilities for sailing. Own yacht, including competent yachtsmen for hire for morning or afternoon 12/6. Whole day £1. Safe bathing from nearby coves. Picnics, teas and lunches made up to order. Riding: riding ponies available for hacking. 7/6 a ride. Golf: pleasant links in vicinity (nine hole). Shooting: woodcock, snipe and duck shooting over 300 acres private woodlands and estuary, in season. Salmon and white trout fishing in River Ilen, Skibbereen (£1 licence). Trout fishing in own lakes and streams free.”

“Hackney cars available to meet train or bus by arrangement, and for motor drives to Bantry, Glengarriff, Killarney, Berehaven Mountains, Healy Pass (1,500 feet), Pass of Keimaneigh, Glandore, Baltimore, Crookhaven, Lake of Swans and Mizen Head. Wireless, good library, books, billiards.”

“Open all the year round. April, May and June: 10 guineas a week. July, August and September: 12 guineas a week. Christmas week: 14 guineas. The remainder of the year: nine guineas a week. Per day for not less than three days: July, August and September 37/6. The remainder of the year except Christmas 32/6. Bed and breakfast (all year) 23/ a day. Garage 1/. Early tea 7/ per week. Meals served in bedrooms 1/ extra. Electric convector heaters with own meters in bedrooms, or if required, log fires at 8/ a day or 4/ per evening. No reductions made for long visits. Please pass this on to an interested friend. Dogs welcome but not allowed in the dining room or drawing room. Telegrams and phones: Castletownshend Five.”

Sharon and Justin Townshend provide plenty of their own up to date notes: “We welcome you to enjoy our home which is steeped in history and the charm of days gone by. Colonel Richard Townshend built The Castle (Castle Townshend) around 1650 and it was gradually expanded over time with the towers being added in the 1800s. The portraits, panelling and wallpaper in the Front Hall are all original and where possible, 11 generations on, we’ve tried to retain the character of The Castle.”

“Relax and enjoy the views, the village and the grounds. Take a walk to the two ruins up behind The Castle, Bryans Fort and Swifts Tower, named after the second generation Bryan Townshend and Dean Jonathan Swift who wrote Gulliver’s Travels. Swift was supposed to have stayed at The Castle. Visit the church on the hill up 52 steps (one for each weekend of the year) for the views. Open for services on Sundays, weekly in summer and first Sunday of the month in winter, catch a look at the Harry Clarke stained glass windows.”

“You’ll find warm Irish hospitality up at Mary Ann’s and Lil’s further up the hill. So take in the village as it really is like stepping back in time. The Castle is a wonderful and unique place, and we are lucky to have the opportunity to live in it and be the guardians until the next generation.”  We take their advice to heart and really take in the village and, as it turns out, the village really takes in us, including for midnight wine.

Even the breakfast menu in the Dining Room is imbued with history: “The Castle itself started off as a much smaller building and was gradually added onto over time with the castellated towers being added in the 1800s. Of the portraits of the Townshend family that you can see on the walls around you, Richard Townshend MP is the earliest portrait, the 4th generation here. He married Elizabeth Fitzgerald whose brother was the Knight of Kerry: a very prosperous family alliance. Their portraits can be seen in the Front Hall.”

“Above the 400 year old sideboard you’ll see Colonel John (6th generation) on the left and his brother Reverend Maurice on the right. Colonel John fought with the Duke of Wellington in the Spanish Peninsular War around 1810, and on the opposite wall is a portrait of the Dublin Duke himself, Arthur Wellesley.”

Reverend Maurice became the heir to the Townshend estate and wrote to the Townshends of Norfolk, England, where he requested that the whole Castletownshend family also incorporated the ‘h’ into their name. Therefore, it is speculated that, because the Norfolk Townshends have titles and can trace their heritage back further, the first Richard Townsend of Castletownshend was perhaps an illegitimate child who was sent off with the army.” This brings a whole meaning to “dropping you ‘h’!”

Reverend Maurice married Alice Shute who had inherited a property in Gloucestershire called Chavenage (that’s where our bedroom name comes from). Unfortunately, Chavenage was later sold to pay off inheritance taxes. Interestingly, the property is used in many period dramas, the most recent being the Warleggan family house in the television series Poldark.”

“To the right of the front window is a portrait of Reverend Maurice’s son, Henry. One of his uniforms, along with the original helmet, is displayed under the sideboard. The Castle has been welcoming guests for over 60 years. Rose Marie Salter Townshend from 1947 and then by her daughter Anne Cochrane Townshend from 1997. We took over in 2015 and were delighted to win the Georgina Campbell Bed and Breakfast of the Year Award in 2019.”

A sign at the foot of the hill beyond the Dining Room windows, just visible from our breakfast table, states: “The private grounds cover a total of 90 acres, much reduced from the 8,000 acres originally recorded. The woodland is open to the public for walks at set times during the year. Discover the ruins of Bryans Fort, the original castle before it was destroyed, and Swifts Tower named after Dean Jonathan Swift who wrote Gulliver’s Travels and travelled and wrote here. Follow the marked paths to discover the St Patrick’s Cross hidden deep in the woods, admiring the view down harbour along the way.”

Decisions, decisions. Union Hall smoked salmon and scrambled eggs? Or vegan breakfast? Thank goodness for multiple night stays. We’ll alternate. The latter includes Clonakilty vegan black pudding. It’s from down the road in the town made famous for meaty black pudding. But to channel our inner U2, the vegan variety is “Even better than the real thing”. Clonakilty is also known as the final earthly resting place of the late Damian O’Brien, Marketing Director of Bord Fáilte and country house enthusiast. While we’re enjoying breakfast, turndown of the Abigail Room takes place: beds remade and towels replenished.

To paraphrase the words of Mrs Salter-Townshend, Sharon’s predecessor back a generation or two, The Castle certainly affords every variety of high voltage pleasure that we could desire. The West Cork weather really does compare favourably with southern England. This weekend anyway. And yes, there’s never a dull moment at Castletownshend.

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Lavender’s Blue + Kinsale West Cork

Apples of Gold in Settings of Silver

“The town of Kinsale is a large stinking filthy hole… I was glad to leave so vile a place…” So complained the Reverend Richard Allyn in his 1691 journal. Clearly not a fan. Things have somewhat improved in the intervening centuries. In fact Kinsale is the poster girl for West Cork – it’s bigger, brighter, busier and (running out of alliteration) richer than the stiff competition. There are three independent book shops: Bookstór, Write On and Kinsale Bookshop.

Kinsale’s architecture breathes colour. Every other building is brightly painted – no Farrow and Ball Elephant’s Breath here. It’s pointless being subtle against a usually grey sky. Burnt terracotta, highlighter pen pink, ochre yellow, pig’s blood, salmon pink, swamp green, turquoise sea blue, or “Duck egg blue” or “Tuscan yellow” as Mrs O’Driscoll (formerly Mrs Doyle of Father Ted) observes in Graham Norton’s new television detective series Holding set in West Cork. Bruno’s Italian Eatery (with scarlet red doors and window frames) wears its heart on its (unusually white) walls. A Christopher Morley quote “No man is lonely while eating spaghetti; it requires so much attention,” joins one from Sophia Loren, “Everything you see I owe to Spaghetti.” The tiniest dormers imaginable peep out from the slate roof above.

Frank Keohane notes in his 2020 Pevsner series architectural guide The Buildings of Cork City and County, “Kinsale has a large number of high quality houses, many featuring 18th century first floor oriel windows… the medieval street pattern very much survives, with streets creeping along the hillside at different levels.” He comments on one of the most historic buildings in the town, “Market and court house (former). Market Square. Completed by 1707, perhaps to the designs of Edward Bridges, architect and burgess of Kinsale, and possibly incorporating the remains of a market built circa 1610…” ‘Dutch Billy’ gables are hung with Cornish style weather slates.

Another impressive public building is positioned high up overlooking the marina. According to Walter’s Way 2015, “The Municipal Hall was rebuilt in the late 1920s having been burnt during the Civil War in 1922. Prior to that it was The Kinsale Club, the social hub for the British Soldiers stationed in Kinsale. In front is a lovely bowling green, with a magnificent view over the harbour. The Municipal Hall later became the offices of Kinsale Town Council.”

Frank states, “Municipal Hall (formerly Assembly Rooms). The Mall. A pretty affair in pasteboard Gothick, described as ‘recently built’ in 1837. Two storeyed. Four bay front, the outer bays advanced and raised above the centre to give the impression of towers. Big pointed windows look out over the harbour. Coursed rubble sandstone, articulated by string courses and tall shallow arched recesses to the end windows. Burnt in 1922, interior reconstructed in 1928 in a nondescript manner – adjoining bowling green laid out before 1656.” It bears more than a passing resemblance to Hillsborough Fort in County Down.

Founded in the 12th century by Anglo Normans, Kinsale soon became established as an important port trading in wine and salt, a taste (pun) of things to come. It’s now as famous for its restaurants as for being the starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way, a 2,500 kilometre touring route of oceanic coastline. Cherry blossom floating down the pavements in the spring breeze, like yesterday’s confetti, adds to the colour of the town. Kinsale is like a snow cooled drink at harvest time – it’s refreshing.

On a peninsula south of Kinsale, high on a hill across the River Bandon, lies Castlelands Graveyard. Collins, Keohane and White are popular surnames on the gravestones. One inscription reads, “Here lyeth the body of Cornelius Raily who departed this life August 15 1801 aged 42 years. God rest his soul.”

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Lavender’s Blue + Timoleague West Cork

Good Optics

Frank Keohane writes in The Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County (2020), “A small, charming village at the junction of two rivers at the head of Courtmacsherry Bay, in a landscape of gentle rolling hills. St Molaga founded a monastery here in the 7th century. Timoleague derives from ‘Teach Molaga’ – Molaga’s House.” Timoleague Friary merits two pages coverage starting with, “One of the most impressive and picturesque monastic establishments in County Cork.” The low winding coast road is memorable for being almost level with the sea.

“Timoleague, formerly spelt Tagumlag, Tymulagy or Tymoleague, derives its name from Tig Molaga (the house of Molaga,) an Irish saint who lived in 655 AD and to whom the abbey, built in the beginning of the 14th century was dedicated,” explains Tony Brehony in West Cork A Sort of History (1997). “St Molaga was a native of Fermoy and his principal monastery there was called Tulach Min Molaga… The town of Timoleague, and most of the adjoining countryside, belonged to the Hodnetts, an English family who came to Ireland from Shropshire. According to Charles Smith, ‘The family degenerated into the Irish customs and assumed the name of McSherry from whence came the name of the village of Courtmacsherry.’”

The first landmark that springs into vision along the coast road is the exquisite designed and exquisitely sited Timoleague House. Frank Keohane again, “The seat of the Travers family. Original house built circa 1818 and burnt in 1920. New house built in 1924 to designs by William H Hill Junior on a site closer to the castle. Exposed rubblestone walls. Hipped roof. Five bay garden front with a one-three-one rhythm and French windows.” Mark Bence-Jones provides some more detail in A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1996) “A square late Georgian house, built circa 1830 by Colonel Robert Travers. Burnt 1920; a new house built on a different site 1924 by S E Travers, to the design of W Henry Hill, of Cork. The new house is of stone, with a high eaved roof and a five bay symmetrical front, with modern casement windows; the ground floor windows having pleasantly cambered heads. Ruins of old Barry castle in grounds. Gardens with notable collection of trees and shrubs from all over the world.”

Continuing along the coast road, the next intriguing landmark is a church with a recently whitewashed tower. An Introduction to the Architectural Heritage of West Cork by Environment by Heritage and Local Government (2011) states, “The Church of the Ascension in Timoleague was built from the ruins of a medieval church in the first years of the 19th century and refitted in 1863 by Welland and Gillespie. It is in typical Gothic Revival style with a pinnacled two stage bell tower with additions of transepts and chancels occurring from 1863 to 1890.”

This is Anglo Irish country; West Britain to some. Tony Brehony lists the names of English settlers planted in West Cork. These surnames continue to be popular in the area: “Abbott, Adderly, Alcock, Atkins, Austen, Baldwin, Beamish, Bennett, Bernard, Berry, Birde, Blacknell, Blofield, Booll, Bramlet, Brayly, Brooke, Burwood, Cable, Cadlopp, Carey, Cecill, Chambers, Chipstow, Christmas, Churchill, Clark, Clear, Cleather, Coomes, Cooper, Corkwell, Cotterall, Cox, Crofte, Dashwood, Daunte, Davis, Deane, Dolbers, Downs, Drake, Dun, Dunkin, Elliot, Ellwell, Elms, Evans, Farre, Fenten, Flemming, Flewellan, Fondwell, Franck, Franklin, French, Frost, Fryher, Fuller, Gamon, Gardiner, Giles, Glenfoild, Grant, Greatrakes, Green, Greenway, Grenville, Griffith, Grimes, Grimstead, Grimster, Hales, Hammett, Hardinge, Harris, Harvie, Hewitt, Hill, Hitchcock, Hodder, Holbedyr, Howard, Hussey, Jackson, Jifford, Jones, Joyce, Jumper, Kent, Kerall, Kingston, Kite, Lake, Lambe, Lane, Langford, Lapp, Law, Light, Linscombe, Lissone, Little, Lucas, Margets, Martyn, Meldon, Moaks, Monoarke, Mowberry, Nelson, Newce, Newman, Osmond, Perrott, Peyton, Pitt, Poole, Popham, Porter, Preston, Radley, Rake, Rashleigh, Richmond, Saunders, Savage, Scott, Seymour, Shephard, Skence, Skinner, Skipwith, Smith, Snookes, Spenser, Spratt, Stanley, Sugar, Sweete, Symons, Synoger, Tanner, Taylor, Thomas, Thompson, Tickner, Tobye, Travers, Tucker, Turner, Valley, Vane, Vick, Wade, Ware, Warren, Watkins, Whaley, Wheatley, Wheeler, White, Wight, Williams, Willobe, Wiseman, Woodroffe, Woolfe.”

Ballinspittle lies 16 kilometres east of Timoleague and was the location of a very 1980s Catholic Ireland phenonomen. The location was a grotto outside the village to be precise. In the heady summer of 1985, a worshipper at the grotto reported that the statue of the Virgin Mary had moved. A host of Marian apparitions followed across the land. Along the roadside edge of the grotto, a balustrade of sky blue painted concrete letters reads, “I am The Immaculate Conception”. It’s very moving.

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Architects Architecture Art Country Houses Design People

Lavender’s Blue + Bantry House West Cork

Owning It 

The iconic garden front graces the dust jacket front cover of Frank Keohane’s 2020 publication, the latest in the Pevsner series, Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County. His description opens with some understatement, “The house is extensive.” The Chartered Building Surveyor and architectural historian continues, “At its core is a three storey, five bay block, known originally as Blackrock, built by Samuel Hutchinson circa 1730. The Whites acquired it in the 1730s but did not take possession until the 1760s. They renamed the house Seafield, and undertook improvements following the marriage of Simon White to the heiress Frances Jane Hedges Eyre in 1766. In 1790 the heroic Richard White made an advantageous marriage to Margaret Anne Hare, who possessed a dowry of £30,000. Soon afterwards, he added bow ended two storey wings, the same height as the three storey centre. The 2nd Earl of Bantry, Viscount Berehaven, was responsible for the house’s great mid 19th century transmogrification.”

Julie Shelswell-White lives at Bantry House and a couple of years ago along with her brother Sam took over its running. She suggests, “Take a guided tour or wander about at your own leisure to learn about the history of this family home. Relax with a light lunch or tea and cake in our tearoom overlooking the sunken garden. For a special treat enjoy an afternoon tea in the Library. Our bed and breakfast in the East Wing of the house has six rooms all en suite, with beautiful views of the formal garden. Guests are welcome to enjoy a drink from the honesty bar by the open fire in the Library or take a fellow guest on, in the Billiards Room. The estate is the perfect setting for weddings and celebrations. From a simple ceremony or intimate dinner to full estate rental, the house and garden offer many options.”

Old photographs show how little the house has changed in the last 100 years or so. One part that has disappeared with a trace or two is the huge conservatory that once arched and vaulted and summer salted its way across the six central bays of the garden front. The red brick pilasters topped with Corinthian Coade stone capitals between these six bays were chopped off in line with the top of the piano nobile windows at the time of the conservatory’s construction. This has left these pilasters ‘floating’ in perpetuity, a charming idiosyncrasy. The now white window frames of the house were once painted seaweed green. There’s a sublime Mediterranean feel to the whole estate from its loggia verandah to the balustraded prospect over Bantry Bay.

But there’s an inherent fragility despite the air of apparent permanence. Raghnall Ó Floinn, Director of the National Museum of Ireland, explains, “Bantry House is a major tourist asset in the southwest of Ireland but action by the State to secure its future and that of its contents should be undertaken for the public good. Such an action by the State to protect our much diminished cultural heritage contributes to the national sense of health and wellbeing; it is the right thing to do… In the overwhelming majority of cases the contents of these great Irish houses have been broken up and sold, ending up scattered throughout the world in museums, galleries and private hands. Once sold, such collections can never be replaced. Successive owners of the house have been forced to sell parts of the contents of the house piecemeal.”

The Bantry House Report of 2015 by the Director of Crawford Art Gallery in Cork City, Peter Murray, investigated a plan for the gallery and the family to work together to ensure the survival of the important historic house and its collection of paintings, sculpture, tapestries and decorative arts. “While the Guardi paintings have gone, sold in the 1950s, and while some of the tapestries and paintings have also been sold, Bantry House is remarkable in that much of the wonderful collection amassed in Europe in the 1820s by the White family, still remains in situ two centuries later. However, the financial viability of Bantry House remains a personal challenge, and in October 2014, the Shelswell-White family announced, with great regret, that the remainder of the collection would have to be sold, to meet bank debts. In the event, the sale did not take place, but the future of the collection remains very much in jeopardy.”

“The proposed solution for Bantry House is for its collection to be acquired by a donor, an individual or a company, and then donated to the Crawford Art Gallery. The donor can then avail of tax relief under Section 1003 of the Finance Act. The Crawford Art Gallery would then lend the collection back to Bantry House on a long term agreement, subject to the house remaining open to the public. The outcome would be very similar to that of the Wedgwood Collection in Britain. This would ensure the collection remains in Ireland as an important cultural tourism attraction.” Solutions continue to be sought, but for now, the house, its contents and estate are together.

Ireland just doesn’t have a country house visiting tradition. It’s a very British thing. Calke Abbey, a National Trust property in rural Derbyshire, is so popular that it has timed entry tickets and queues wrap round the house at weekends. Chatsworth House, also in Derbyshire, the main home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire (their holiday home is Lismore Castle in County Waterford), opened to the public in 1946 around the same time as Bantry House did the same thing. And numbers over the threshold of Chatsworth? Around two million visitors a year. And Bantry House? Circa 25,000. Admittedly Calke Abbey and Chatsworth are close to conurbations but still.

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Baroness + Sessions Arts Club Clerkenwell London

Sizing up the Assizes

“Before Angelo drove his car off the ravine, he was having one of the best nights of his life.” Cut to the chase. It’s the hippest hangout in town right now and we’ve nabbed the hottest table somehow. Everybody and we mean everybody is here: full of the type of people one should know. There’s no sign for the entrance to Sessions Arts Club. That would be just too prosaic. The red entrance door (matching the Giles Gilbert Scott telephone box on the pavement) opens to reveal a curated world of enigma and intrigue. A sunshiny day gives way to a literally and laterally dark space – the unwindowed entrance hall was once a holding cell. And it’s here that things start to go a little crazy. Zany has a new. Rhubarb Bellinis please! “She had endless moral fortitude.”

Performance artist Sarah Baker’s book Baroness Versace Holiday Saga sits on a shelf in the hall. Next to it is her bestseller cassette in a glass dome. Over to the story, “Calling the shots from beneath her Versace satin sheets, Baroness is back for the holiday season with her scintillating book Baroness by Sarah Baker – with our esteemed guest editor, Donatella Versace. Baroness serves a scorching holiday cocktail, mixing lust, jealousy, and greed. Following the lives of five outrageous characters as they navigate tumultuous affairs, the story begins when American music mogul Angelina Marina, played by Baker, receives an unwanted holiday gift, inadvertently opening a sordid, seasonal tale of tangled lives and treachery. Everything is at stake – Angelina’s freedom, the loyalty of her daughter, her friendship with the Baroness, and worst of all – the royalties of her hit single, ‘Spritz Me With Your Love’. Baroness is a riotous whirl of Versace style, rosé Champagne, scandalous associations and the sexiest men in town. But be careful when admiring your own reflection… someone may be plotting behind your back!”