The Lines of Beauty
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 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”.