Architects Architecture Art Design Luxury People Town Houses

St Stephen’s Green + Kildare Street Club Dublin

Fulfil Our Vows Day After Day

Dublin’s most exclusive club is the only place to watch sundown over St Stephen’s Green. The Kildare Street Club of course isn’t on Kildare Street or at least hasn’t been since the war. Ireland’s most spirited architect John O’Connell joins us. “My first essay was the green leather bar. And I am responsible for the mirrored jib door on the staircase landing. Nobody interrupted me in my work. The ceiling is painted pewter as invented by Robert Adam.” That’s the bar sorted. We’re off on a tour. “You have to have life in the building. There should never be crewelwork in such an interior. I love festoons! My ladies’ windows!”

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The Corscaddens + Cabra Castle Hotel Kingscourt Cavan

Increase the Days of the King’s Life

Unusually for the Irish Republic, Kingscourt has not been un-anglicised like Kingstown in County Dublin (these days known as Dun Laoghaire). A few kilometres from the town is the first hotel in the Romantic Castles of Ireland, a collection owned by the Corscadden family. Bought in 1991 along with its 40 hectare estate, the part 18th century mainly 19th century little bit 20th century castle was extensively restored. Belllingham Castle in County Louth would follow, correct sash windows reinstated and inappropriate plastering removed. The latest addition to the collection is Markree Castle in County Sligo, acquired in 2017. Restored by the Cooper family and opened as a country house hotel, Markree Castle has been reinvigorated and relaunched primarily as a wedding venue. Cabra Castle is an absolute riot from the exuberant architecture to the ebullient staff.

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Rokeby Hall Grangebellew Louth + Francis Johnston

Lead Us to the Rock

Rokeby Hall is quite the trailblazer. A late 18th century house successfully adapted for early 21st century living. Architecture so spare it heralds modernism. Built in 1786, Rokeby Hall predates architect Francis Johnston’s masterpiece Townley Hall by a decade. Both houses are in the Boyne Valley. Rokeby portrays many of the architect’s trademarks: a restrained cuboid; precise cut stone elevations; an attic floor behind the parapet; a circular internal central space. Unlike its next in line, Rokeby Hall has an original long single storey service wing. In the 20th century, the wing was converted into garaging. This century has proved kinder: it’s back to being a kitchen again – plus an adjoining sitting room with exposed brick walls revealing earlier iterations.

Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh, originally commissioned his go-to architect Thomas Cooley to design him a country house. But when Thomas died in 1784 his apprentice Francis took over and made it his own. The Archbishop named the house after his family home Rokeby Park in County Durham which his brother had lost. This wasn’t the first building to benefit from the hands of the master and his protégé. The private chapel of Armagh Palace was designed by Thomas Cooley and its interior completed by Francis Johnston.

The Johnstons were a construction dynasty. Francis’ brother was also an architect – his design for Castle Coole in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, was adapted by James Wyatt. The Archbishop was already in his 70s when he commissioned Rokeby Hall and died in England before it was completed. His funeral carriage would ride past the house. The 400 hectare estate with the big house, stable block, 30 farmhouses and three gatelodges passed to the Archbishop’s nephew. Four generations of the Robinson family would enjoy life here until 1913.

The current owner explains that a descendent of the Archbishop, Sir John Robinson, married Sarah Denny of Hertfordshire, who arrived in the 1840s armed with a handsome dowery of £40,000. While the newly minted Robinsons retained the essence of Francis Johnston’s brilliance, they couldn’t resist some glazed interventions starting with inserting heraldic stained glass into the round headed landing window showing off the history of the estate. The owner points out how the entrance hall sums up the history of the house in one space: the original columned and corniced interior; Victorian encaustic tiles on part of the floor; 1950s wallpaper filling the wall panels.

While at Townley the architect would make a double height circular feature of the staircase hall, here at Rokeby he designed a first floor landing swirling round to connect the main bedrooms. Internal circular windows above the doors of four symmetrically placed lobbies prove the owner’s observation that every living space in the house benefits from natural light. Francis Johnston wasn’t just a meticulous designer; he was trained as a carpenter by his father. The architect left a knowing note at Townley, “I have worked out the timber calculations so no overcharging for materials!”

Sir John and Lady Sarah didn’t stop at a stained glass window. They commissioned Richard Turner, the Joseph Paxman of Ireland, to dream up a conservatory. And dream up he did. One of the great glass structures of the county, province and country, the conservatory at Rokeby Hall was recently restored over one and a half years by the same company who resurrected Ballyfin’s glazed extension. Pulleys open the roof windows. The restoration won an award from An Taisce, Ireland’s answer to the National Trust. And what colour did the owner paint the metal frame? Turner White of course.

Architects Architecture Art Country Houses

Rathfarnham Castle Dublin +

A Strong Tower

In the midst of suburban Dublin stands an Elizabethan castle. It narrowly avoided demolition in the 1980s: Rathfarnham is south Dublin prime real estate. Archbishop Adam Loftus, an ambitious Yorkshire clergyman who would become Lord Chancellor of Ireland, built the property. It was remodelled several times in the 18th century although the askew angled four flanker towers betray its earlier origins. “Rathfarnham Castle is an enigmatic house,” remarks heritage architect John O’Connell. “And brilliant white! There is a very good drawing room and wonderful gallery. There is also a spectacular James ‘Athenian’ Stuart saloon and if that’s not good enough there is the Sir William Chambers horseshoe stair!” Now owned by the Office of Public Works, Rathfarnham Castle grounds and interiors are open to the public.

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Carton Hotel Maynooth Kildare +

Longing to Dwell in Your Tent Forever

To create is to forget. “Baby we are boys of our time.”

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The Hamiltons + Hamwood House Dunboyne Meath

Taking Refuge in the Shelter of Your Wings

Stephen Odlum sums up the origins of Hamwood House in his book Eva, Letitia and The Hamilton Sisters: Class, Gender and Art (2021): “The Hamiltons originally came from Scotland in the early 17th century and initially settled in the north of Ireland. The first of these settlers was Alexander Hamilton (1690 to 1768) who was MP for Killyleagh in County Down. In a tradition followed by many subsequent generations of the Hamilton family, he became a land agent. He seems to have been particularly successful in this role and left his five sons land worth £50,000. His son Charles Hamilton (1737 to 1818) moved south to Dublin where he first traded as a wine merchant. It appears that this business flourished, as he decided to build a house reflecting his new status. He chose to build in an area to the east of the village of Dunboyne in County Meath close to the border with County Dublin and only about 15 miles from the centre of Dublin.”

The writer details, “The Hamilton sisters remained attached to the old Ascendancy social monies and traditions. Letitia, Eva and Connie, who developed a gardening consultancy business, and Ethel, up to her death in 1924, pooled their resources to live in refined but declining style in a series of large, rambling houses in the Castleknock and Lucan areas of County Dublin from 1920 onwards. Manners mattered more than money – dinner was a formal event which the ladies dressed for and were summoned by a gong. In a world which would become increasingly dominated by Catholic dogma, Letitia and Eva would have had a liberty that was not often open to their Catholic sisterhood. Those who did choose to pursue modern feminist ideas were seen as being ‘West Brit’ or pro British. Indeed, Catholic women who were educated and middle class were more likely to join forces with their Protestant counterparts to achieve social and political recognition, as seen in the suffragette movement in the early part of the 20th century.”

It’s an unseasonably cool and overcast morning to meet Charles Hamilton VII for a private tour of his splendid home. The four bay two storey over basement under attic entrance front or perhaps it is the garden front (to be explained later) has curved wings extending out like crab claws grabbing the octagonal pavilions. “The house was built by Charles I in 1777 for £2,500,” introduces his descendant. “’Ham’ comes from Hamilton and ‘Wood’ comes from his wife Elizabeth’s maiden name Chetwood. Charles II’s wife Caroline found the house draughty – the original entrance on the side or west elevation opened straight into the reception rooms – so that’s how the current arrangement came about. A corridor now separates the entrance door from the living quarters. The driveway used to access what is now the garden elevation – really the house is back to front. In very hot dry summers the ghost of flowerbeds appears opposite the current entrance front.”

He adds, “Caroline insisted on many more trees being planted to help create shelter for the strong winds. Remember that when she arrived at Hamwood in the early 1800s it was a cold and bleak situation and very exposed being 300 feet above sea level. That may not sound particularly high but in relatively flat Leinster there was nothing between the house and the east coast! Caroline and her husband were greatly involved in the interior design of the house too, adding furnishings, artwork and ornaments.”

“The architect is unknown,” explains Charles, “although a surveyor Joseph O’Brien is mentioned in family papers. During the 1798 Rebellion the agent for nearby Carton was hanged. So my ancestor Charles I took over as agent and my family continued in the role from 1800 to 1950. This supplemented the income they made of the 165 acres at Hamwood. The family have always been very active in the community. They set up agricultural societies to create work and during the famine they ran a soup kitchen. My father Charles Gerald was the last agent of Carton. The Duke of Leinster sold it to Lord Brocket and then eventually it was turned into a hotel. We walk round to the other side of the house, down the long garden which has unbroken views across the countryside. Unbroken thanks to a nine foot wide haha.”

“The 1911 Census records a butler, three yard men, coachman turned chauffeur and five indoor servants. I remember as a child we still had seven glasshouses filled full of peaches and nectarines,” says Charles. We have now entered the house through the ocean blue coloured door and are greeting by a Canadian moose head in the octagonal hall. The corridor feels early Victorian: it is lined with tongue and groove wooden panelling and encaustic tile floored. It leads into an elegantly furnished double drawing room spanning the full four bay entrance front. The pale sea green blue walls are filled with paintings and drawings. There are two corresponding reception rooms on the garden front. The two bay dining room is painted deep shell pink. Two similar oil paintings hang side by side: Mrs Charles Hamilton by Sir William Orpen (the subject dressed in back with white frills writing a letter) and Portrait of Louisa Mrs Charles Hamilton by Eva Hamilton (the subject in the same outfit reading a book). “Eva and Letitia both trained at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art,” Charles confirms, “where the prominent Irish artist William Orpen taught. Eva was especially influenced by Orpen’s style.”

Bright airy bedrooms fill the first floor even on a dull day. A roof lantern lit corridor extends off the staircase landing. “The two storey library wing was built by my great uncle,” notes Charles. “It disrupts the symmetry of the garden elevation.” The two pane Victorian glazing has been replaced on the entrance front with 12 panes on the main block and intricate gothic topped panes on the arched windows of the wings. A painting of another country house hangs in the staircase hall. He states, “That was our family estate at Ahakista in West Cork. The television presenter Graham Norton lives there now. We used to have a townhouse in Dublin too – 40 Dominick Street Lower.” This four storey three bay terraced house, built in 1760, is now a language school. Hamwood House stands proud as the continuing family seat of the Hamiltons.


Dunboyne Castle Hotel + Spa Dunboyne Meath

Listen to Our Prayer

Kamala Harris, US Vice President, speaketh: “I think it’s very important for us at every moment in time and certainly this one to see the moment in time in which we exist and are present and to be able to contextualise it. To understand where we exist in the history and in the moment that relates not only to the past but to the future.”

We’re on a drive by shoot. Just enough time to capture the façade, no time for the spa. We’ll rest when we’re dead. Even by our standards, seven country estates, one city hotel and of course one club in 72 hours is a jam packed agenda. We’re in true country house country, within and beyond The Pale, sandwiched between Carton and Hamwood (more of them to come) and admiring how Dunboyne Castle bears a passing resemblance to Armagh Palace (more of that too). This three storey 18th century seat is a tall house and a big house but not a long house (again more to come on the latter). Thank goodness for daffodil trimmed turning circles – this really is the in and out country club. Onwards and roundwards.

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Walmer Kent +

If It Was Good Enough for the Queen Mum

We know Kent. Margate is rough and classy round the edges. Folkestone is classy and rough round the edges. Walmer is classy. Deal’s Siamese twinned town (really they should share a hyphen) attracts artists and architects some of whom still commute to London albeit for the new normalcy of two days a week. On a sunny Saturday evening mid venue hopping Walmer is the Christie Turlington of the east coast (photogenic), from semis to the cemetery. Next stop The Lighthouse Pub which sits on the invisible hyphen. But does it attract a rough Saturday night crowd?

Architects Architecture Country Houses

Netherside Hall Yorkshire Dales West Riding +

Out on the Wiley Windy Moor

Ok it’s more Dales than Moors, but Netherside Hall has quite an air of Wuthering Heights about it. A certain robustness. A sturdy Jacobethan manner. The coursed rubble and ashlar walls are almost the same gunpowder grey as the slate roof. The Nowel family seat was built in the second decade of the 19th century. It has long since been in educational use. The architect was possibly George Webster who belonged to a dynasty of designers based in Kendal. There are plenty of mullion and transom windows for Cathy to knock.

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Oughtershaw Hall + Estate Yorkshire Dales West Riding

So Little Time So Many Loggias and Verandahs

The road from Skipton narrows and meanders as it heads deep into the Yorkshire Dales. Dry stone walls lining the road open in places to reveal the River Wharfe. Curious sheep and goats ignore the Green Cross Code. Pheasants scurry and rabbits run for cover. All creatures very great and very small. Hubberholme is the last hamlet to pass through on the journey. The George Inn, dating back to the 17th century, looks across the River Wharfe to St Michael and All Angels Church which is half a millennium older. The road further narrows and meanders even more. The valleys deepen and the mountains get steeper.

Finally, a tantalising glimpse is caught of Oughtershaw Hall nestling in Langstrothdale Chase before it disappears again back into the woodland. A country kilometre later along the road, slick new timber gates open into a pristine entrance forecourt. This house and estate are where heritage and luxury meet. A plateau of lawns aprons the house. The garden front overlooks the wooded ravine of Oughtershaw Beck, a subsidiary of the River Wharfe. Purple copper beach and Japanese barbery along with red European beech and Japanese maple stand out amongst the greenery of horse chestnut and elephant ear. Even the stone pigsty in the field opposite the entrance is of picturesque appearance.

This regal country house is the jewel in the crown of Catch the Breeze Retreats self-catering company. In the 1850s London wine merchant Basil George Woodd transformed an older house into a grand shooting lodge designed in a neo Jacobethan style. His son Charles further enhanced the house and estate. Just in case the visitor is in any doubt of its providence, dates and initials and inscriptions are all around. ‘BCW NON NOBIS 1851’ in the stone lintel over the entrance door off the garden front verandah. On a stone frieze across the garden front incorporating Latin from the Psalms: ‘1863 NON NOBIS GOD’S PROVIDENCE IS MINE INHERITANCE CHLW + WHEREFORE LET THERE BE SUNG NON NOBIS AND TE DEUM COME LOVE AND HEALH TO ALL WELCOME AS THE FLOWERS IN SPRING C+JW 1873’. And ‘1874’ on a drainpipe and the weathervane. It’s as if the father and son were in competition for who could put their mark on the building most. In true Victorian style, stained glass windows incorporate Woodd family heraldry and the coats of arms of the related Sole and Mitton families.

Rewind a few centuries and Charles I was rumoured to have stayed at Oughtershaw Hall. “This area was known as The King’s Hunting Ground,” says the house manager Ben Hart, “and in 1241 it was recorded as being called Huctredale. A Woodd ancestor allegedly accompanied the king to his execution. ‘Shaw’ is derived from an old English word meaning wooded area.” Rewind a few millennia and Ben confirms there are the remains of a Stone Age settlement at the top of the field beyond the pigsty.

The London Gazette, 9 March, 1894, states, “Charles Henry Lardner Woodd. Diseased. Notice is hereby given that all persons having any claims against the estate of Charles Henry Lardner Woodd Esquire, a partner in the firm of Messrs Basil Woodd and Sons, of 34 and 35 New Bond Street, Wine Merchants, and late of Roslyn House, Hampstead, Middlesex, and Oughtershaw Hall, Skipton, Yorkshire, (who died on 15 December 1893, and whose will was proved on 22 February 1894 by the Reverend Trevor Basil Woodd and Charles Hampden Basil Woodd Esquires, the executors), are hereby required to send in the particulars of their claims to the said executors, at Roslyn House, Hampstead, on or before 8 April 1894.”

Hilda Christie writes in A Schoolmarm’s Reminiscences, 1955, “At Oughtershaw Hall lives the Reverend T B Woodd, a very dear old parson. He once gave us a most interesting lantern lecture on missionary work in India. Once every summer we all spent a day with him at his home, taking our own food and being provided with liquid refreshment. We tried to pick a fine day, never setting off in the rain. Those who know the Dales will recollect how quickly the weather can change; one can be drenched in no time on those hills!”

She continues, “What treasures he showed us! He was a descendent of Captain Basil Woodd, who was with King Charles I when he was on his way to his execution. Reverend Woodd had, amongst his most treasured possessions, a gauntlet worn by Kings Charles I. He had too a lock of John Hampden’s hair but, as a very keen Jacobite, he seemed rather ashamed of this. His dining room was full of ‘exhibits’ having a 17th century fireplace, in addition to suits of armour and ancient weapons, most of them belonging to his ancestors.” Ben remembers the last lady of the manor having retreated to living with her cats mainly in the largest reception room.

An old faded photograph of the house shows how little has changed externally: the only difference is there was once a conservatory built into the slope down to Oughtershaw Beck. No architect has been identified for the rebuilding of the second half of the 19th century. The many inscriptions would suggest the Woodds gentlemen may have had a helping hand in the design. In a common country house occurrence, the older house became the servants’ quarters. Thicker walls and vertical sash windows differentiate it from the later blocks with their Elizabethan style casement windows. The entrance front is an asymmetrical arrangement of adjoining wings. Set at a perpendicular angle to the entrance front, the elevation overlooking the ravine displays the ‘near symmetry’ beloved of Arts and Crafts practitioners. The entrance hall door behind the loggia is off-centre; the corners of the drawing room bay window are chamfered, the dining room bay is fully rectangular. Otherwise the garden elevation is symmetrical.

The original dining room is so large it now includes a full sized sitting room furnished with sofas plumped high with cushions in purple fabrics matching the hues of the trees outside. Hectares of curtains flow luxuriantly down onto the timber floors. “As many original items in the house as possible were retained,” explains Ben pointing to a long oak dining table engraved with ‘C W 1876’. There’s a row of servants’ bells in the kitchen ‘Drawing Room, Dining Hall, Morning Room, South Room, Middle Room, C Woodd’s Room, Bishop’s Room’. A carved wooden cupboard door set into the dining room wall opens to reveal a shuttered spyhole into the loggia – one way of checking what guests are arriving.

All the reception rooms have open fires or wood burning stoves. “Sustainable heating is provided by ground source pumps,” Ben confirms. “Local stone was used for the restoration and extension. The house is insulated with double glazed windows. The Yorkshire Dales are very seasonal and constantly changing. Spring is pretty special, and summer is full of color in the landscape. In winter we can get snow drifts. The house is open all year round for short stays except January when it is closed.”

There are eight bedrooms upstairs in various wings. The principal bedroom with its super king size bed, bathroom and dressing room forms a private suite. White marble bathrooms by Fired Earth are piled high with thick white towels. The most dramatic contemporary intervention is the swimming pool in the former coach and stable block. The pool is raised a couple of metres up from ground level meaning swimmers can gaze out the glazed arches into the forecourt – another way to spy on guests arriving. It is a double height space open to a beamed ceiling. Clive and Lynne Sykes, the owners of Catch the Breeze Retreats, have carefully integrated the swimming pool complex into the main house by inserting a discreet extension linking it to the former servants’ wing. There’s a sauna in an old cloakroom space.

Further along the road is the hamlet of Oughtershaw. The Old Schoolhouse has been transformed into Ruskin Hostel. Its listing states, “Coursed limestone and gritstone blocks in contrasting bands, graduated stone slate roof. A rectangular single storey building with three windows on the south side and an entrance bay on the east end. East end: a massive round arch of two orders, with imposts and drip moulding, provides a full height porch. Inside is a shouldered arched board double door with large strap hinges decorated with elaborate leaf motifs. Flanking attached columns support the arch with contrasting coloured voussoirs and the tympanum below has a chi-rho symbol in relief and inscription: ‘LYDIA WILSON WOODD AT PAU 16 JUNE 1856 AGED 32.’” Lydia was Charles Woodd’s first wife.

The building was also used as a meeting house for a rural Methodist congregation. The Woodds were involved in charitable endeavours with true Victorian fervour. The Old Schoolhouse is strongly associated with art critic John Ruskin who visited this area as a guest of Charles Woodd. The architecture incorporates Ruskinian ideas such as horizontal bands of masonry imitating geological layers and deep recessed arched openings. Opposite The Old Schoolhouse is a building known as The Reading Rooms. Dating back to at least the 18th century, this is Catch the Breeze Retreats’ latest portfolio addition. A dash of colour amongst all this stone is the red telephone box for emergencies.

But the only emergency is to get back to that terrace at Oughtershaw Hall for a glass of Ribeauvillé Riesling as the sun sets.


Stone Barns + Yorkshire Dales West Riding

Fair Follows Form Follows Function

London born Yorkshire raised Ben Hart knows his stone barns. He is house manager of Oughtershaw Hall and lives a kilometre or two up the road at Swarthghyll Farm. Something of a multitasker, Ben not only manages Oughtershaw but also farms and runs a bunkbeds barn, self catering holiday flat and studio at Swarthghyll. He is also an expert at dry stone walling: his current project is building a stone path and bridge along Oughtershaw Beck, a subsidiary of the River Wharfe, for visitors to Oughtershaw Hall to enjoy.

So who better to quiz about the ubiquitous stone barns that dot the Yorkshire Dales landscape? There are two distinct features to their appearance. Firstly, most of the barns have a long extended sloping roof covering part of them. Secondly, they have stones conspicuously jutting out of the walls at regular intervals. These are functional buildings so there must be a reason for such features.

Over to Ben, “These barns were built mainly for storing hay. Farmers would bring square bales of hay by horse and cart and stack them up inside the barns. Sick animals would sometimes be cared for in the barns too. There’s a simple reason for the long sloping roofs: they provide better runoff from rain and snow than shorter roofs. The stones that stick out are called ‘through stones’. Before cement, lime mortar was used which moves, allowing moisture in and out. It’s almost like having dry stone. Through stones create stability to the walls and when used with quoins ‘lock’ the building together. Throughs are often used around doorways and the corners of barns to strengthen them.”

Architecture Design

Deepdale + Firth Fell + Hubberholme + Oughtershaw Yorkshire Dales West Riding

Handsome is That Handsome Does 

There are no “dingy houses in Mincing Lane” (The Lottery of Life by Marguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington, published by Galignani in 1842). God’s Very Own Country is more attune to Her Ladyship’s description in Mary Lester: “A brilliant sun was sinking in the horizon, and tinging all round with his golden beams.”

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Lavender’s Blue + Big Yella Taxi

They’re Not Paving Paradise

There’s no parking lot.

Architecture Country Houses

Dungiven Castle + Park Dungiven Londonderry

An Aristocracy of Bloods

Fàilte! It’s the country house that never quite was. No Wonder Mark Bence-Jones gives it short shrift in his 1988 Guide to Irish Country Houses: “A 19th century castle with a long two storey battlemented front, having a central polygon tower with a pointed Gothic doorway and a pointed window over, and a round tower at each end, five bays on either side of the centre.” Dungiven Castle has spent most of its life as a ruin albeit a picturesque one at that. It has forever resembled a rather grand stable block too. Despite a chequered past, this historic structure has proved itself to be truly sustainable forever being resurrecting as an architectural phoenix. Not many buildings have been a country house for a few years, a ruin for a few centuries, an army barracks, a dance hall, a hotel then an Irish language school. Sláinte!

The word “castle” is surely the most flexible in the architectural lexicon of Ireland. Doe Castle in Creeslough County Donegal is the real McCoy or at least the real MacSweeney: all medieval keep and working battlements. Keeps with Georgian houses would later become a genre. Ballymore Castle in Laurencetown County Galway is an example of a medieval tower house with an 1800s two storey house hugging it. Dungiven Castle belongs to an early 19th century Georgian gothic toy fort tradition which includes Carrowdore Castle in County Down (or at least the original one not the postmodern replacement) of 1818.

The other certainty is that an Irish castle is never quite what it seems. Dungiven Castle may have been built by Anglo Irish landowner Robert Ogilby between 1836 and 1839 but of course it goes back much much further. He died before its completion which explains an unusually speedy transition to ruinous status. The first castle was built by the O’Cahan family. It included a keep with round towers fitted with gun ports and earthworks defences. During the Flight of the Earls in 1607 the Clan Chief, Sir Donnell O’Cahan, was implicated in treason and had his lands and titles confiscated, including Dungiven Castle. Some time after the Plantation of Ulster, Robert Ogilby plonked his castle on top of the ruins of his predecessor’s.

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Redcastle Hotel + Lough Foyle Inishowen Donegal

Another Queen 

Somewhere peeling away the layers there is a historic building. But today is all about sun kissed mocktails. We haven’t had this good a view since wining and dining in Verige65 Boka Bay Montenegro. This afternoon we’re even spotting the castle in Redcastle. Sláinte!

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Camden Place Chislehurst Kent + Napoléon III

Les Boiseries

It was a two day conference investigating the cultural and commercial migrations of 18th century French boiseries from their places of production in Paris and the Bâtiments du Roi to the drawing rooms of Britain and America. The first major study of boiseries in the context of transatlantic cultural history was appropriately held at Camden Place outside London, a country house with a history and interior shaped by the migration of people and decoration over four centuries.

William Camden, author of Britannia and the Annals of Queen Elizabeth I, built a house close to the current building in 1609. A century later businessman Robert Weston constructed a new residence, calling it Camden House. In 1760 a lawyer named Charles Pratt bought the property and, working with architects George Dance and James ‘Athenian’ Stuart, spent 25 years transforming it into a country house. He renamed it Camden Place. In 1765, Charles Pratt was ennobled and took the title Lord Camden. Cabra Castle in County Cavan and Enniscoe House in County Mayo were Pratt family estates in Ireland. In 1862, the enigmatic lawyer and fixer Nathaniel Strode bought the house. He was friendly with Napoléon III and that is how the Empress came to lease the property.

Dr Alexandra Gaia, lecturer in history at Jesus College Oxford, later confirmed at the Society of Antiquaries in Burlington House Piccadilly London, “William Camden was one of the greatest of English scholars. He was the first chair of history at Oxford – there still is the Camden Chair which is now political, not civil, history. He was at the centre of 16th century intellectual political life in Britain if not the centre.”

Dr Lindsay Macnaughton of the University of Buckingham, who organised the conference with Laura Jenkins of The Courtauld Institute of Art, opened the conference: “We are marking the death of Napoléon III here 150 years ago. The name ‘Camden’ evokes somewhere that doesn’t exist anymore, Château de Bercy.” We are in the dining room of Camden Place which is lined with boiseries from that château. “The scattered surviving evidence of the architectural vestiges of lost houses continue to live and breathe. These panels possess a sense of scale, of shared taste, the layering of history. From an historical perspective boiseries have always, in a sense, been mobile. In the 18th century, Parisian joiners and carvers travelled to locations outside the city to install panelling. Entire decorative schemes were sent abroad to Germany, Spain and Latin America. Shifting fashions and continual reallocations of appartements at Versailles set into motion near ceaseless rotations of décors, including boiseries.”

Her colleague Dr Thomas Jones spoke next on ‘Camden Place as a Headquarters of Bonapartism 1870 to 1879’. “The movement of boiseries is the movement of people and their things, of exile, of friendship. There were nine glorious years of Bonapartism at Camden. This house was ideally located close to ports and accessible to London by rail and the local church is Catholic. Eugénie and her son Louis Napoléon established a household of 62 while they waited for Napoléon III to join them. The year after the Emperor’s death, the Imperial Prince’s 18th birthday had a sense of massive celebration with 4,000 guests. Could there be a Third Empire? Both Napoléons had overthrown Republics, curbing the excessive influence of Paris with provincial assemblies. Their shared dynamic was one of dramatic action, over reach and disaster.” The potential Napoléon IV was killed serving for the British army in Zululand in 1879.

Scholar Dr Pat Wheaton referred to Camden Place as, “A composition of decorative taste, weaving the past until fragments become whole.” As well as Camden in north London he noted there are 23 Camdens in the US, one in the West Indies and three across Australia and New Zealand. Dr Rebecca Walker, also an independent scholar, referred to Camden Place as “an eclectic mix”. Dr Lee Prosser, Curator of Historic Buildings at Historic Royal Palaces, called the house “an architectural conundrum, an eclectic melange”. On a different note, Dr Frédéric Dassas, Senior Curator at Musée du Louvre, observed how the Paris Ritz is an American style hotel of 200 bedrooms behind a retained façade. Another case of design fusion.

The 48 hours (or 72 if you add the pre and post celebrations) spent at Camden Place were full of highlights. As Lee remarked, “There are so many luminaries in this room we hardly need the lights on!” The after lunch graveyard slot on the second day was anything but dead. Here are just some of the quickfire lines of Dr Mia Jackson, Curator of Decorative Arts at Waddesdon Manor, on ‘Contextualising the Rothschild collection of panelling at Waddesdon Manor’: “Waddesdon was originally meant to be twice as large. Think of how more stuff we could have fitted in! It’s like a Parisian townhouse albeit one that has been smoking opium. This is a brief segue into how obsessed I am with the house. If Waddesdon is a stage, boiseries aren’t scenography, they’re actors. The West Hall has some stonking panelling from Palais Bourbon. With the added excitement of carved cats! The Green Boudoir panelling is from Hôtel Dudin and has frankly bonkers iconography. The men ate their first meal of the day in the Breakfast Room while the ladies ate breakfast in bed as is right and proper.”

The most recent biography of Napoléon III is The Shadow Emperor by Alan Strauss-Schom (2018). Colourful extracts include: “a red blooded young man bent on adventure and excitement, and this, combined with an unquenchable idealism, was bound to resurface at the next opportunity … the young man continued to dream in a world of his own … Queen Hortense was without doubt the most influential person in Louis Napoléon’s life, inculcating his moral and spiritual values, strengthening his ego, and enforcing his determination to achieve supreme power … Louis Napoléon spent every day at her bedside. ‘My mother died in my arms at five o’clock in the morning today,’ he wrote his father on 5 October … As for the mourning 29 year old Louis Napoléon, his was a grief that would never disappear.”

“Downing Street gave Louis Napoléon permission to come to England, and the great houses of the capital opened their doors to offer him a warm welcome once again. The prince settled in at the spacious and fashionable 17 Carlton House Terrace, Pall Mall, overlooking St James’s Park. The prince’s second and last principal residence was at nearby 1 Carlton Gardens, a large, handsome, white two storey corner house, now the Foreign and Commonwealth Officer, then owned by the wealthy and influential Frederick John Robinson, the Earl of Ripon.”

“Although the French have never had clubs on as large a scale as the English, and never replicating the ambience and purpose of English clubs, Louis Napoléon himself was a natural ‘club man’ and a frequent visitor to the Athenaeum, Brooks’s, and especially the Navy Club … The key to Louis Napoléon’s private and public life was a modest gentleman rarely mentioned by historians, but whose real role was fundamental to everything … naturally he took his pleasures seriously, which centred more and more around Gore House, Kensington (on the site of Albert Hall). There the lovely Marguerite Gardiner, the Countess of Blessington, resided with her dissolute, effeminate lover and Parisian playboy, the talented painter and sculptor Alfred Count d’Orsay dubbed ‘the Archangel of Dandyism’ by Lamartine.”

Unlocking the Secrets of Camden Place: Remembering Napoléon III 150th Anniversary Dinner sponsored by Ovation Data was held on the first night of the conference. It was hosted by Peter Unwin, Chairman of Chislehurst Golf Club, with guest speech by historian and author Dr Edward Shawcross, and grace by Father Dr Francis Lynch of St Mary’s Church Chislehurst. Wine was suitably cross-channel: Gardner Street Henners Classic 2021 (English Sussex), Château Beaumont 2015 (French Haut-Médoc) and Vouvray Demi Sec Domain de la Rouletiere 2020 (French Loire). Vegetarian courses were roasted squash, Graceburn feta and cobnut dukkah followed by leek, mushroom and potato pithivier. Kingcott blue was served with quince jelly and cheese sablé and pudding was mandarin and lemon posset. Julie Friend was the Chef. Preceding dinner was a reception in the drawing room fuelled by Jacquesson, the Emperor’s favourite bubbly.

Chislehurst Golf Club was founded in 1894,” explained Peter, “We have an 18 hole course in 70 acres of beautiful parkland.” He expressed his compliments on the star studded array of speakers at the conference and summarised the French connection: “On 9 January 1873 Napoléon III, France’s first President and last Emperor, died here at Camden Place. His funeral was a huge event attracting tens of thousands of mourners from France and England. For a combination of reasons his less than ordinary life has been largely eclipsed by his famous uncle. He lived at Camden Place for less than two years but he certainly made his mark! Chislehurst is proud to celebrate its French Imperial heritage and this week we remember the man who gave France 22 years of stable government and economic growth.” The Chairman also remarked that one of the guests, who works for a housebuilder, observed the golf course would make a great housing site.

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Killeavy Castle Hotel + St Luke’s Church Meigh Armagh

A Major Retrospective

Mark Bence-Jones’ tome A Guide to Irish Country Houses, 1978, unusually misses out Killeavy Castle. Its architect George Papworth (1781 to 1855) moved from London to work in Dublin. There’s an entry for another of his works, Middleton Park in Mullingar, County Westmeath: “A mansion of circa 1850 in the late Georgian style by George Papworth, built for George Augustus Boyd. Two storey six bay centre block with single storey one bay wings; entrance front with two bay central breakfront and single storey Ionic portico. Parapeted roof with modillion cornice; dies on parapets of wings. At one side of the front is a long low service range with an archway and a pedimented clocktower. Impressive stone staircase with elaborate cast iron balustrade of intertwined foliage. Sold circa 1958.”

Middleton Park is very well restored as a hotel; another of the architect’s houses is not. Kenure Park in Rush, County Dublin, is included in The Knight of Glin, David Griffin and Nicholas Robinson’s 1988 publication Vanishing Country Houses of Ireland, “A large early to mid 18th century house altered circa 1770 when the two large drawing rooms were created. These rooms had magnificent rococo ceilings and carved doorcases, that on the ground floor having a superb Doric chimneypiece. The house was altered and enlarged again in 1842 for Sir Roger Palmer Baronet, to the design of George Papworth. Papworth refaced the house and added the granite Corinthian portico. He also created the entrance hall, the library and the central top lit staircase hall. The house was sold in 1964 and became derelict before its demolition in 1978. Samples of the rococo ceiling were saved by the Office of Public Works. Only the portico remains.”

Nick Sheaff, the first Executive Director of the Irish Architectural Archive, recalls a visit to Kenure Park: “My first impression was of a mansion conceived on ducal scale in Greco Roman style. In reality it was a stucco refacing of a mid-18th-century three-storey house, skilfully realised by George Papworth in 1842 and fronted by his great Corinthian porte cochère of limestone. It had stylistic echoes of Nash’s work at Rockingham, County Roscommon, and the Morrisons’ work at Baronscourt, County Tyrone. Kenure had a remarkable interior, with two magnificent rococo ceilings of circa 1765 in the style of Robert West. The majestic top lit stairhall by George Papworth had a double-return staircase with a decorative cast-iron balustrade painted to resemble bronze, and walls marbled to suggest Sienna marble blocking as at Benjamin Dean Wyatt’s York House, St James’s in London (now Lancaster House), completed in 1840. When I visited Kenure in 1977 with Rory O’Donnell the house was derelict, open to the elements and to vandalism. It was demolished in 1978 with only the great porte cochère left standing. Kenure had contained some exceptional English furniture of the mid-18th-century, including pieces attributed to Thomas Chippendale, Pierre Langlois, and William and Richard Gomm.” A Chippendale cabinet, commissioned by Sir Roger Palmer for Castle Lackan in County Mayo, and formerly at Kenure Park, was sold at Christie’s in 2008 for £2,729,250.

George Papworth, typical of his era, was able to fluently design in a multiplicity of styles, from the neoclassicism of Middleton Park and Kenure Park to the Tudor Gothic medieval castellated Killeavy Castle. The latter’s setting is majestic, backing into the hillside of the Slieve Gullion and commanding a panorama across the green basin floor. The castle is now a wedding venue and forms the star in a galaxy of 140 hectares of forest, farm and formal gardens. It stands in isolated splendour rising over its battlemented apron of a terrace like a fairytale in granite. In line with best conservation practice, the ‘enabling development’ contemporary hotel and spa accommodation is kept away from the main house. No sprawling 20th century type extensions here. The Listed coach house and mill house were restored and five less important farm buildings demolished and replaced with newbuild around a courtyard roughly filling the original footprint. The mill fountain and pond form eyecatchers framed by the large single pane windows of the hotel. Owner Mick Boyle, locally born then raised in Australia, returned to his homeland and together with his wife Robin and four children took on the immense task of restoring and rejuvenating the castle and demesne. He explains,


“The environment around us inspires all that we do at Killeavy Castle Estate. Everything has a purpose. We put much thought into what we grow, buy, use and reuse. We’re restocking our woodland with native oak to restore habitat diversity. And creating forest trails to bring you closer to nature. We farm sustainably too. Traditional local breeds of Longhorn cattle and Cheviot sheep graze in our pastures. Whenever possible we use fresh ingredients foraged, grown or raised right here, in our fields, forests and extensive walled and estate gardens. We make our own jams, preserves and dried foods. We smoke, age and cure our own meat so that bounty can be savoured year round in our restaurants and farmshop. We support our community by sourcing 90 percent of what we serve and sell from within a 32 kilometre radius. Even the seaweed adorning Carlingford oysters ends up fertilising our strawberry plants. And slates have a second life as plates. We’re always finding inventive ways to meet our sustainable target goal of being carbon neutral by 2027.”

The Boyles’ architect was Patrick O’Hagan of Newry. In the planning application of 2014 (which would be approved a year later by Newry and Mourne District Council) he explained, “The Grade A castle will be repaired and fully restored adapting current conservation techniques and standards. Interventions to the Listed Building will be minimal. The works to the Listed Building will be under the direction of Chris McCollum Building Conservation Surveyor, working in conjunction with Patrick O’Hagan and Associates Architects, and other design team members. A 250 person detached marquee will be sensitively positioned to the rear of the castle, excavated into the hillside and suitably landscaped to ensure it does not detract from the setting of the Listed Building or the critical views from the Ballintemple Road.” A discreet wheelchair ramp to the entrance door is just about the only element Powell Foxall wouldn’t recognise. The entrance hall leads through to two formal reception rooms with further informal reception rooms now filling the basement. The first floor has a self contained apartment including a sitting room, dining kitchen and three bedroom suites.

Patrick O’Hagan continued, “The hotel will have its main entrance located in the Listed coach house and will be restored under the direction of the conservation surveyor working closely with the architect. The lean-to Listed structures and the old mill building will be restored and form part of the hotel accommodation. The design carefully maximises the benefits of the steeply sloping site, sloping to the east, which ensures that the new three story hotel building’s roof level is some six metres below the floor level of the castle. The flat roofs of the hotel will be appropriately landscaped to present a natural ‘forest floor’ when viewed from the castle and terrace above.”

And concluded, “The layout of the hotel provides important views to the castle, the restored walled garden and distant views of the surrounding demesne and beyond making travel in and around the hotel an experience in itself. The restaurant, lounge and kitchen areas are vertically stacked on the northern elevation but the public areas also address the internal courtyard providing a southerly aspect and natural solar gain. Views up to the castle from the restaurant and lounge areas are a critical element of the design and will ensure a unique ambience. The courtyard level bedrooms are externally accessed directly from the landscaped courtyard and internally via passenger lifts. The remaining bedrooms are designed with both courtyard and east elevation views.”

Sustainability was a theme of the construction as well as the ongoing running of the hotel. “A limited palette of materials is proposed in the new building work. The use of granite cladding and larch boarding reflects materials naturally occurring on the site. The larch boarding will be painted with a water based wood stain to emulate the great boughs of the adjacent ancient beech, lime and sycamore. The organic masonry water based paint colours will be selected to tone with the woodland setting. All construction materials will be 100 percent recyclable.” Sustainable operational features for the 45 bedroom hotel include a woodchip boiler harvesting waste timber from the demesne and collecting and reusing rainwater.

Kimmitt Dean records in The Gate Lodges of Ulster Gazetteer, 1994, “South Lodge circa 1837 architect probably George Papworth; demolished. A painting in the Armagh Museum indicates what was a contemporary and unassuming gatelodge at the end of a straight avenue on an axis with the front door of the ‘castle’.” Not content with simply restoring the castle, the Boyles commissioned Templepatrick based architects Warwick Stewart to dream up a suitably romantic replacement gatelodge. The result is a convincing neo Victorian country house in miniature faced in stone, dressed with cut granite, and dressed up with bargeboards. The gatelodge provides self contained guest accommodation of two bedrooms over a sitting room and dining kitchen.

Kevin Mulligan provides a detailed account of the castle in The Buildings of Ireland: South Ulster, 2013. Highlights include: “A delightful toy castle rising above a castellated terrace… remodelled in 1836 … In both architecture and picturesque effect the design recalls Charles Augustus Busby’s dramatic Gwrych Castle near Abergele in Wales … a lot has been achieved in a small compass: by the addition of an entrance tower, corner turrets, stringcourses, battlements, attenuated slits, flat label mouldings and mullioned windows, what was effectively a decent farmhouse has been impressively transformed … The tall narrow doorway is flanked by stepped buttresses, the door an ornate Gothic design bristling with studs and set under a Tudor arch and a machiolated bay window with three round lancets. The Foxall arms are displayed in Roman cement on the upper stage.” George Papworth’s client was Powell Foxall even though the Newry bank his family co founded, Moore McCann and Foxall, had folded two decades earlier.

And adds, “There is little dressed stonework in the design, and Papworth’s additions are distinguished from the rubble of the 18th century work by rough ashlar blocks – of limestone rather than the local granite – with wide uneven joints. On the side elevations, presumably as an economy, he concealed the old wall by replicating the newer pattern in stucco, using a composition render, as he had done at Headford (County Galway) in 1829.” Really it’s an attractive 1830s pre Gothic Revival version of Gothic.

Sir Charles Brett devotes four pages of Buildings of County Armagh, 1999, to Killeavy Castle. He’s clearly an admirer, “An exceedingly fine, deceptively modest, pre Victorian castle … a sort of scaled down version of Gosford Castle … The crenellations are marvellously convincing, as are the splendid mock medieval studded front door (painted green) and the astonishingly tall and narrow slit windows … George Papworth was the younger brother, and pupil, of the better known English architect John Buonarotti Papworth, son of a notable stuccodore. He established a successful practice in Ireland, and designed Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital in Ireland, and the King’s Bridge over the Liffey, in Dublin. His drawings for Killeavy were exhibited in the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1836, with the comment ‘now erecting’.”

The castle started life as an 18th century two storey over basement villa of the rectory size, with a three bay entrance front and a bow window in the centre of the rear elevation. George Papworth mostly retained the symmetry and plan, adding a square tower to each corner except for a circular tower to the rear northwest corner which rises an extra storey. A bathroom now occupies the top floor of the tallest tower. Charmingly, the Gothic carapace cracks on the rear elevation to reveal glimpses of the earlier house. Less charmingly, well for the Foxalls anyway, this was probably down to that age old issue of running low on funds. Earlier sash windows still light the bowed projection.

It’s hard to imagine the perilous state of Killeavy Castle until the Boyles came to its rescue. Imagination turns to reality in a lobby of the hotel: a gallery of photographs shows the ruins. St Luke’s Church of Ireland in the local village, Meigh, hasn’t been so lucky. At first glance it could be mistaken for another George Papworth commission, an offshoot of the castle. But Kevin Mulligan confirms that it is an 1831 design by the prolific Dublin based architect William Farrell. “A variation of the design for the churches of Clontribret and Munterconnaught. A small three bay hall with Farrell’s familiar pinaccled belfry and deep battlemented porch. The walls are roughcast with dressings of Mourne granite, nicely displayed in the solid pinnacle topped buttresses framing the entrance gable and porch. The windows are plain lancets with hoodmoulds, made impossibly slender on either side of the porch. Inside, the roof is supported on exposed cast iron trusses.”