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Architecture Country Houses

Lavender’s Blue + Castle ffrench Galway

Fortissimo

Anglicisation from Gaelic is to blame in some instances (The Argory is a case in point) but quite a few Irish country houses have intriguing names. Jockey Hall and Shandy Hall (the latter in Dripsey) sound fun. Whiskey Hall sounds like too much fun. Bachelors Lodge and Hymenstown are presumably miles apart. Mount Anne or Mount Stewart anyone? The mildly unnerving Flood Hall, Fort Etna, Spiddal Hall and The Reeks. Is Sherlockstown worth investigating? Zoomorphic zaniness: Fox Hall, Lizard Manor, Lyons, Mount Panther and Roebuck Hall. Elphin – Castle? Place names too. Bungalo begs the question: is it full of single storey residences?

Lots of houses without so much as a battlement are called castles: Beltrim Castle, Castle Coole, Castle Grove, Castle Leslie. Castle ffrench joins this list although there are ruins of a tower house on the estate. The double consonant lower case doesn’t disguise the fact the name originated somewhat unsurprisingly in France. The ffrench family were part of a Norman landing in County Wexford in 1169. In time, they became one of the 14 Tribes of Galway. Their single consonant upper class case cousins owned French Park in County Roscommon.

Castle ffrench is a star of Maurice Craig’s seminal work Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size. He notes its plan is virtually identical to Bonnettstown’s in County Kilkenny, despite the 90 mile 40 year gap. A notable feature of both pretty Big Houses is the pair of staircases side by side, like slightly asymmetric Siamese twins. A thin wall between the pair once segregated the classes’ ascent and descent (for richer, for poorer). One is dressed in plasterwork; the other bare. Landings pressed against the four bay rear elevation provide interesting mid storey variations in window positions. Both stairwells are lit by tall fanlight topped windows identical on the outside – only the family one has internal panelling.

The front elevation is more conventional, the grouped middle three bays of a five bay composition gently projecting. Urns and finials sprouting from a solid parapet dot the horizon. A three storey over basement (hidden to the front | semi exposed to the sides | for all to see to the rear) limestone block, this house is the epitome of Irish Georgian style. It even has an archetypal fanlight set in the entablatured triglyphed pilastered fluted rosetted doorcase. Conservation architect John O’Connell calls the building “very accomplished” and recognises the influence of the architect Richard Castle. A niche in the entrance hall is marginally unaligned with the ceiling plasterwork above. A signal that the house is the work of a builder with a pattern book or two at his disposal? Or simply plastered on a Friday afternoon?

Castle ffrench rises above an unruffled patchwork quilt, a landscape of interlocking greens, quieter than Pimlico Tube Station on a Friday evening (are Pimlocals like Peter York too posh to push onto public transport?). So silent. Rural aural aura. Within the vale beyond The Pale. A mile long drive and 40 acres keep the populace at bay. Augustine days of yore aren’t so distant… Indoors, there’s a hooley! The plasterwork, at any rate. The stuccodores’ genius charges towards zenithsphere in the entrance hall and landing (of the family staircase). Neoclassicism and rococo blend and blur in mesmerising jigs and reels of fables and foliage ribboned round Irish harps and ffrench French horns. Wreathes and sheaves and sickles, the whole shebang.

Lady Fifi ffrench (stutteringly fitting phonetics or what?) and her husband John were the last of the original family to reside at Castle ffrench. Sheila and Bill Bagliani, the current owners, have sensitively restored this knockout property, subtly preserving its patina of age. Bertie the Labrador and Sally the Westie run amok through the grounds. Sheila, a talented artist, has a top floor studio to kill for. No really. All stairs lead to a second floor central corridor spanning the full width of the house. This corridor might not have the ornate plasterwork of the spaces below but it’s very much defined by a series of blind and open arches like abstract vaulting. A forerunner to Sir John Soane’s streamlined style. At one end, a door opens into a softly lit corner room with views to die for. There are flowers and canvases and a ghost – a previous owner refuses to leave and who could blame her? – in the attic.

Categories
Architecture Art Country Houses

Ambrose Congreve + Mount Congreve Waterford

What a Fad

Mount Congreve Entrance © Stuart Blakley

First it was Farmleigh, then Lissadell, next it was Mount Congreve. Historic Irish houses lived in by the original families with intact interiors and gardens that could have been saved in their entirety for the nation. The Guinnesses’ former home Farmleigh was eventually purchased by the Government after its contents had been sold. Lissadell, once the home of Countess Markievicz who helped establish the Republic of Ireland, was sold on the open market and its contents auctioned despite the Gore-Booth family offering it to the State. At Mount Congreve, it is the gardens that have been saved. Its last owner, Ambrose Christian Congreve, struck a deal with the former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey that in return for tax exemption during his lifetime, the gardens would be left to the people of Ireland. The house is still there, stripped naked of its phenomenal collection of furniture and art, still surrounded by one of the finest gardens in the country, if not the world.Mount Congreve Facade © Stuart BlakleyIt took just two days in July 2012 for Mealy’s and Christie’s to auction off the entire contents. At the time, George Mealy explained, “There are lacquered screens and vases from Imperial China, rare books, Georgian silver, vintage wines, chandeliers and gilt mirrors and enough antique furniture to fill a palace. Everything is on offer. It’s a complete clearance of the entire estate. He did his art shopping in London. He got most of it through London because he had spotters for items that he might be interested in. Mr Congreve loved collecting. He loved nice things and he had unbelievable taste.” The result was a hard core property porn auction catalogue. Page after page of exotic beauty: the crimson library, the lemon bedroom, the Wedgwood blue sitting room, the large drawing spanning the full depth of the house: Chinoserie takes on Versailles.

 

 

Mount Congreve Garden Front © Stuart Blakley

Jim Hayes, former IDA director, records a visit to Mount Congreve in his autobiography The Road from Harbour Hill, “We were received on arrival by Geraldine Critchley, the social secretary and long-term assistant of Ambrose Congreve. The ornate hall was decked with a number of gloves, walking canes and a variety of riding accessories. We were escorted into a large drawing room, the walls of which were covered in 18th century, hand-painted, Chinese wallpaper. Three large Alsatian dogs lay asleep in the corner of the room. A liveried servant then appeared with a silver tray and teapot and antique bone china cups and saucers. This young man, of Indian origin, was one of the last few remaining liveried servants of Ireland’s great houses.” Sheila Bagliani, doyenne of Gaultier Lodge in County Waterford, recalls, “Gus, Ambrose’s Alsatian, had full run of the house.”

Mount Congreve Driveway © Stuart Blakley

Ambrose was in London rather aptly for the Chelsea Flower Show when he died in 2011, aged 104. He had no children so eight generations of his family’s enhancement of Waterford came to a close. Geraldine Critchley, his partner, survives him. The son of Major John Congreve and Lady Irène Congreve, daughter of the 8th Earl of Bessborough, Ambrose inherited Mount Congreve in 1968 and restored and redecorated and replanted it to within an inch of its being. The good life took off, on a whole new level. Ambrose divided his time between Mount Congreve and his London townhouse near Belgrave Square. He employed a succession of fine chefs de cuisine including Albert Roux who went on to co-found Le Gavroche restaurant.

Mount Congreve Garden © Stuart Blakley

Now for some horticultural stats. 46 hectare estate. 28 hectares of woodland. 1.6 hectares of walled gardens. 16 miles of paths. 3,000 different trees and shrubs. 3,000 rhododendrons. 1,500 plants. 600 camellias. 600 conifers. 300 acer cultivars. 300 magnolias. 250 climbers. The stuff of rural legend, all piled high on the south bank of the River Suir. The manicured gardens end abruptly next to open fields, like a beautiful face half made-up. Awards include classification as a Great Garden of the World by the Horticultural Society of Massachusetts and a Veitch Memorial Medal from the Royal Horticultural Society. Sheila Bagliani remembers, “Piped music in the grounds kept the 25 gardeners entertained while working. Ambrose also employed the Queen Mother’s former chauffeur.” Lot Number 492 at the auction was his 1969 shell grey Rolls Royce Phantom V1, price guide €12,000 to €18,000. It sold for €55,000. At his centenary lunch celebration, Ambrose declared, “To be happy for an hour, have a glass of wine. To be happy for a day, read a book. To be happy for a week, take a wife. To be happy forever, make a garden.” His garden lives on in perpetuity, making the public happy.

Mount Congreve Garden Dutch Steps © Stuart Blakley

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Architects Architecture Art Country Houses Luxury People

The Baglianis + Gaultier Lodge Woodstown Waterford

Townland and Country

Gaultier Lodge Front Garden © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Bastardstown, Cheekpoint, Mooncoin, Passenger East, Priesthaggard… Names, names, such memorable names. Say them with a cut glass accent. Only in Waterford, the civilised southeast coast of Ireland. Geography is close, history closer. Everything is near water, everyone remembers generations past. Land of Molly Keane. Nowhere is more horse and hounds than Gaultier Lodge (pronounced “Gol-teer”) thanks to its country pursuits loving owners, Sheila and Bill Bagliani. Animal motifs abound, on potpourri sachets, coasters, wallpaper friezes, upholstery, saltshakers, pepper grinders, paintings (there’s an artist in residence – Sheila), even wine glasses. “We’re a bit obsessional!” jokes Sheila.

2 Gaultier Lodge Entrance Front © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Gaultier Lodge may have been referred to in Victorian times as “Gaultier Cottage” but don’t be misled by its reticent exterior. This is a sophisticated design befitting its former status as a hunting lodge of the Earl of Huntingdon. Four rooms span the original beach front, linked by a tripartite gallery along the entrance front. The middle two rooms are deeper with more ornate mantelpieces and cornices. Now the drawing room and dining room, they are interconnected by a vast pair of panelled doors. In the middle of the gallery is a square vestibule with symmetrical openings. Twin sets of doors include a false door for visual harmony. A guest bedroom bookends either extremity of the beach front.

1 Gaultier Lodge Entrance Porch © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

The hand of a master is at work. His name is John Roberts, the architect who designed much of 18th century Waterford City and worked on Curraghmore, the Marquess and Marchioness of Waterford’s stately home. Never has a piano nobile been more appropriate. The raised ground floor provides breathtaking views across Woodstown’s unspoiled golden strand to a Knights Templar church on the opposite side of the Waterford Channel. “Thank goodness low tide goes out 2.5 kilometres,” says Sheila. “Otherwise we’d be as developed as Tramore.”

1 Gaultier Lodge Pillars © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

In the early 1900s a two bay bedroom wing was added – no country house, however miniature, should be without one. And a porch. “We’ve done our best to dress up the plain porch,” she continues, “with pillars and sash windows.” A pleasant colonial appearance is the result. The coastline was damaged by the Lisbon Tsunami of 1755. Gaultier Lodge was built four decades later. A photo dated 1870 shows the retaining wall along the beach part concealing the lower ground floor. “A storm has since washed away the mound of rabbit burrows against the wall. Last winter another storm flattened our greenhouse and blew 100 slates off the roof.” There’s a price to be paid for the beauty of proximity to nature. Not that it’s apparent, on a long spring evening sipping wine on the lawn watching the remains of the day.

1 Gaultier Lodge Entrance Front © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

2 Gaultier Lodge Beach Front © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

1 Gaultier Lodge Beach Front © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Gaultier Lodge from the Beach © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Gaultier Lodge Driveway © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

1 Gaultier Lodge Garden © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Gaultier Lodge Garden © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Gaultier Lodge Beach © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Gaultier Lodge Bedroom View © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Gaultier Lodge View © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

“Historic houses are like horses,” declares Sheila. “They’re expensive to run!” That hasn’t stopped the Baglianis buying another one on the opposite side of Ireland. “Castle ffrench was the home of Percy French. Maurice Craig compares it to Bonnettstown in his book Classic Irish Houses of the Middling Sizes. All the original furniture was sold but we’ve bought suitable pieces, many from the US.” Sheila and Bill also own a stud in North Carolina, suitably called Castle French Farm.

Gaultier Lodge Entrance Hall © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

The fire roars. Frequently read books on the country and houses and country houses and country house owners and lovers of country houses and country house owners’ lovers pile high on occasional tables. “When I used to go to Mount Juliet, it was just like the famous Colman’s Mustard advert, where the butler is sent back from the hunt to get mustard for a guest’s sandwich. The butler really did cater to every whim,” recalls Sheila. Bats noiselessly swoop in eternal graceless circles across the lawn while inside dinner is attentively served. Red onion and goat’s cheese tart is followed by monkfish with salad on the side, an American touch. The hallmark of Gaultier Lodge cooking is fresh country produce, layered with taste, such as the carrots soaked in butter and citrus. Gin and tonic sorbet – what’s not to love? Pudding is Italian carrot cake “baked with ground almond instead of flour to make it lighter”.

Gaultier Lodge Cornice © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

Woodstown has always been famed for its decadent high end hospitality. In 1967 newly widowed Jackie Kennedy and her children Caroline and John stayed at nearby Woodstown House. The Daily Herald breathlessly reported, “Woodstown House, about seven miles from Waterford City, where the Kennedys will stay during their visit is one of the most beautiful residences in the area, known for its gracious mansions… Mrs Kennedy will occupy the main bedroom which is toned in a predominantly dark blue colour.”

Gaultier Lodge Breakfast © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley

It keeps going, “The Woodstown area itself probably carries the greatest concentration of Anglo Irish blue bloods in the country and the social whirl runs at a pretty fast pace. Among her neighbours in the county will be the Duke of Devonshire who owns Lismore Castle and the Marquess of Waterford who lives at Portlaw.” Another temporary resident in the 1960s was Jack Profumo who decided to lie low at Ballyglan, his brother’s house across the road from Gaultier Lodge. Names, names, such memorable names.

Gaultier Lodge Carrot Cake © lvbmag.com Stuart Blakley