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Carlingford Louth + Fergus Flynn Rogers

The Four Deep

Esteemed architect Fergus Flynn Rogers more or less single handledly turned around Carlingford back in the day. Everywhere you look in the village there’s one of his motifs: a plate glassed Diocletian window here; a sky high metal framed corridor there. He possesses a crucial and unnerving handling of materiality, at once immediate and sympathetic. Between Carlingford and Newry lies the village of Omeath.

Former resident artist Anne Davey Orr explains, “Omeath was the last Irish speaking area on the east coast. It was where people from Falls Road Belfast came for their summer holidays – hence the caravan parks.” Meanwhile, lucky roadside donkeys chomp on apples from a Ballyfin goody bag.

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Architects Architecture Country Houses People

Kings of Leinster + Borris House Carlow

The Lines of Beauty

Borris House Estate © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Staggered up a hillside, an architectural beauty parade of picturesque cottages clinging to the gradient, a Georgian house doubling as a petrol station, a boutique hotel boasting a celebrated chef, and an improbably vast château like a granite mirage on the horizon, Borris in County Carlow is a cut above the average Irish village. With a County population of 50,000, one third that of the smallest London Boroughs, driving around Carlow is a breeze.

Borris House Carlow © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

  • Borris House is a mostly 1830s Richard and William Vitruvius Morrison confection: neoclassical innards under a Tudoresque skin. The original Georgian box swallowing up an older castle is decorated outside with battlements, finials, cupolas and hood mouldings, some ogee shaped.
  • Morrison masterpieces stretch the length of the country from Glenarm Castle in the north, Ballyfin in the midlands and Fota to the south. Glenarm is the closest in looks.
  • Borris is the seat of the MacMorrough Kavanaghs, High Kings of Leinster. Their pedigree is traceable back to the dawn of Irish history. Art Mór Mac Murchadha Caomhánach was a particularly feisty ancestor. Reining for 42 years before his demise in 1416, he revived the royal family’s power and land. He spent a lot of time warring with Richard II.
  • On the 650 acre walled estate stands Ireland’s tallest broadleaf tree. It’s a 144 foot high hybrid black American poplar down by the River Barrow. The estate once covered 35,000 acres before being broken up in 1907.
  • Current owner Morgan MacMurrough Kavanagh says, “A two storey wing with a walkway over the kitchens used to connect the main house to the estate chapel so that the family could enter straight into their first floor gallery seating. My grandmother demolished that wing. Anglican church services are still held in the chapel every other Sunday.”
  • Songstress Mrs Alexander, forever extolling the combined merits of Christianity and country life, donated an organ to the chapel. Her son married Eva Kavanagh, daughter of a mid 19th century owner of Borris.
  • In 1778, Eleanor Charlotte Butler, the sister-in-law of Thomas Kavanagh fled from Borris House where she was staying and eloped with Sarah Ponsonby of nearby Woodstock, Inistioge. Eventually escaping and setting up home together in Plas Newydd, Llangollen, they were two ladies who allegedly did more than lunch together. A recently discovered 18th century letter in the library of the house refers to the pair as “Sapphos”.

Borris House Main Fronts © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Borris House Side Elevation © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Borris House Portico © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Borris House Plasterwork © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Architecture Art Country Houses Design Luxury People

John O’Connell + Montalto House Ballynahinch Down

A Treatise on Georgian Architecture

In Five Paragraphs 

L. V. B. R. T. P. I.

1 Montalto House Spa Ballynahinch © Stuart Blakley

The Ghosts

“Riddled!” shrieked the 5th Countess of Clanwilliam, after years were already gone since irony, when faced with the prospect of sharing her matrimonial home Gill Hall with more ghouls than an episode of Rent-a-Ghost. “Simply one damned ghost after another!” A card game later, or so the rural myth portends, the lucky Earl won neighbouring Montalto House from a gentleman surnamed Ker. “Phew!” she exclaimed, sinking into a sofa in the first floor Lady’s Sitting Room with its Robert West stuccowork of scallop shells and a brush and comb and a cockerel and fox. The only spirits ever at Montalto are the Jameson bottles rattling on drinks trolleys. Over a wee dram, it’s worth catching sight of the resident albino hare in the 10 hectare gardens on the 160 hectare estate. His son the 6th Earl, in between sewing tapestries, demolished the ballroom and a chunk of the servants’ quarters, shrinking the size of the house by a half. Under the ownership of JP Corry, a famed timber merchant, the east wing and rear apartments also had to be chopped following a calamitous fire in 1985.

2 Montalto House Spa Ballynahinch © Stuart Blakley

The Arts

Country houses form distinctive works of architecture, with appropriately furnished interiors, and considered as part of a demesne, conceived in all its complexity as a picturesque ensemble of gardens, woods and buildings, they represent what is justly described by John Harris in The Destruction of the Country House as ‘the supreme example of a collective work of art’. But whatever else a country house may symbolically constitute, it was always conceived to be decorated and furnished quite simply as a habitation, and it is that incomparable sense of home that the restitution, restoration and refurnishing of Montalto has sought to preserve for today and tomorrow. The Earl of Moira commenced construction in 1752 by which time a prosperous Irishman could have confidence that his home would remain his castle without having to look like one.

3 Montalto House Spa Ballynahinch © Stuart Blakley

4 Montalto House Spa Ballynahinch © Stuart Blakley

5 Montalto House Spa Ballynahinch © Stuart Blakley

The Orders

Ballyfin is the Montalto of the South, beloved by the KanyeKardashian kouple and all known cosmopolitan denizens. It is no coincidence both houses have benefitted from the hand of heritage architect John O’Connell, plucked from a slim pantheon of heroes. Nor does he spin. Ballyfin is the Morrisons’ masterpiece. John also led the restoration of Fota, another Morrison great. Both Fota and Montalto have Doric porches. He designed a Doric temple for Ballyfin. Order, order! First there were the three orders of Vitruvius’ treatises: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. Architect George Saumarez Smith, himself author of a treatise, calls Doric “solid and muscular; Ionic “graceful and light”; Corinthian “grand”. Then Renaissance men Alberti, Filarete, Palladio, Serlio and Vignola added Tuscan (a plainer Doric) and Composite (a hybrid Ionic and Corinthian). The five orders became the established canon, a sacred alphabet related to the laws of nature. Now that’s a tall order. Return to Montalto. Tall round headed windows and niches cavalierly skim the carriageway like crinoline skirts. The central shallow porch is set in a canted bay. In 1837 unlucky owner David Ker excavated the rock under the house promoting the basement to ground floor. Not without precedent, Hilton Park and Tullylagan Manor are other examples of the elevation of an elevation. Tripartite windows and more canted bays on the sides of the house overlook nature tamed as topiary taking the form of spherical shrubs and conical box hedges. The rear elevation with its generous wall to window ratio is a 20th century repair following fire and demolition. Its sparseness, bearing the greyness and eternity of a cliff, recalls Clough Williams-Ellis at Nantclwyd Hall.

6 Montalto House Spa Ballynahinch © Stuart Blakley

The Interior

A sense of order framing majestic comfort prevails indoors with eight pairs of Doric columns guarding the entrance hall, sentinels in stone. It’s flanked by the dining room and library. Straight ahead the staircase leads to the long gallery, of more than average beauty, an axis in ormolu, a spine of gilt. Trompe l’oeil and oeil de boeuf and toile de jouy abound. The interior, like beauty, is born anew every hundred years. Montalto is a sun, radiant, growing, gathering light and storing it – then after an eternity pouring it forth in a glance, the fragment of a sentence, cherishing all beauty and all illusion.

The End

7 Montalto House Spa Ballynahinch © Stuart Blakley