|Print This Page||Go To Archive|
Building of the Month - October 2010
The Destruction of Country Houses in County Wexford during "The Troubles" (1919-23)
The effect of the 1798 Insurrection on the architectural heritage of County Wexford cannot be overstated. As the unexpected epicentre of Insurgent activity in Ireland, the principal towns – Enniscorthy, New Ross and Wexford – were devastated while houses of the gentry throughout the county were targeted by rebel forces. Thirty-four Catholic chapels were torched by Crown forces in a three-year period up to 1801 while one Church of Ireland church – Saint Mary's Church (Old Ross) – was destroyed in 1799. Timber bridges spanning the Rivers Barrow and Slaney were identified as strategic, and easily combustible targets while the small harbour at Fethard was bombarded by the Louisa and the Packenham during the only maritime episode in the conflict. The building boom of the early nineteenth century can be interpreted as an attempt to make good the damage caused by Crown and rebel forces and included the repair of churches and the reconstruction of the homes of the gentry.
Over a century later, resurgence in military activity during "The Troubles" (1919-23) necessitated a similar programme of reconstruction and repair, the targets of the incendiarism – private houses, public buildings and transport infrastructure – mirroring those of the 1798 Insurrection. While Centennial and Bicentennial monuments record the sites of 1798 activity throughout County Wexford, it is the vacant sites, the ruins and the reconstructed buildings that mark the scenes of military activity during "The Troubles".
In the first part of this Building of the Month the focus will be on the country houses that were targeted during this period. Statistically, the Wexford gentry fared better than their contemporaries in Ireland and just nine houses were destroyed in the county out of a nationwide total of almost three hundred houses.
Figure 1: Ballyrankin House, once the home of the Devereux family and now an entangled ruin overlooking the River Slaney
Ballyrankin House, the first house targeted, is arguably the least familiar of the major country houses in County Wexford (fig. 1). The ancestral seat of the Devereux family, the house was described as 'the seat of Mr. Devereux, which has been rebuilt, and with much taste' (Doyle 1868, 122-3). Occupied by tenants at the turn of the twentieth century, the house was sold to Walter Clarmont Skrine (1860-1930) in 1912.
An article in The Irish Times later reported: 'Our Wexford Correspondent states that Ballyrankin House, situated between Enniscorthy and Newtownbarry [Bunclody], was burned to the ground on Friday morning. From the particulars available it appears that a party of about 20 armed and masked men forced an entry to the house, and ordered Mr. and Mrs. W.C. Skrine, the occupiers, into one of the rooms, where they were kept under guard. The two servants were ordered to clear out, and after the house and furniture had been sprinkled with petrol, it was set on fire, and Mr. and Mrs. Skrine were then released. The house and its contents were burned to the ground. Mr. and Mrs. Skrine were obliged to walk in their night attire to Newtownbarry, which is four miles distant' (The Irish Times 9th July 1921, 6).
It has been suggested that the burning of Ballyrankin House was in retaliation for the destruction by the Black and Tans of the home of Maggy Doyle of Cromoge. Skrine, using the £11,300 awarded in compensation, abandoned the house and purchased nearby Newlands House, branding it the "new" Ballyrankin House. Today the original Ballyrankin House stands as a picturesque ruin in a dense wooded setting, much of the Italianate detailing surviving intact but with the handsome balustraded portico long removed.
Within a fortnight of the burning of Ballyrankin House an article in The Irish Times recorded: 'On the morning of Saturday, 9th July – three days before the truce [ending the war of Independence on 11th July 1921] – Ardamine House, Gorey, Co. Wexford, the residence of Major A.W. Mordaunt-Richards, was burned down by a large party of men. The caretaker and his wife were given time to remove their private effects, but were refused permission to touch anything belonging to Major Richards. The incendiarism was carried out expertly, each room being dealt with separately, the furniture sprinkled with pertroleum, and the upper storeys set alight first, when all was in readiness to complete the destruction. The accumulation of about a century was destroyed utterly. Major Richards has lived consistently at home all his life… He had installed the electric light without sparing expense on fittings, and everything in the house was modernised and kept up. The insurance on the house and its contents is totally inadequate, and was limited by an average clause, of which he was in ignorance. The loss is estimated as £45,000. It was stated in certain papers that Major Richards had removed his furniture and valuables to his residence in England. This is unfortunately not the case. He has no other residence, permanent or temporary, and nothing was removed except some plate and four family pictures to a place of safety about twelve months ago' (The Irish Times 21st July 1921, 6).
Figures 2-3: A sepia photograph of Ardamine House, the seat of the Richards family described by Thomas Lacy (1852) as 'a new and handsome building consisting of a centre and corresponding wings [with] grounds tastefully laid out and richly planted' (Lacy 1852, p.26). Following the destruction of the house the Richards' architectural endeavours are recorded by the nearby Church of Saint John the Evangelist (Ardamine), an estate church later lauded by Lacy (1863) as '[an] exceedingly beautiful edifice…in the Early English style…designed by G.E. Street, architect, London…' (Lacy 1863, p.495)
Major Richards allegedly considered rebuilding Ardamine House but, having consulted with his architect, was deterred by the expense. The ruined remains were subsequently demolished and today the site is occupied by a caravan park (fig. 2). Happily, the Ardamine estate and the Richards family are remembered by the nearby Church of Saint John the Evangelist (1860-2), a memorial church erected by and dedicated to Solomon Augustus Richards (1828-74) and his wife Sophia (1828-99) (fig. 3). The work of George Edmund Street (1824-81), celebrated for his designs for the Royal Courts of Justice (1868-82), London, the church has been described by Jeremy Williams as rivalling the Irish churches of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-52) and William Burges (1827-81).
Figure 4: A view of the chapel erected for Anthony John Cliffe (1800-78), an important relic of the much-dissipated Bellevue estate. The architect responsible for the chapel has long been the subject of debate. Citing the article on the burning of the house in The People it has been claimed that the chapel is the work of Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-52). It is more likely, however, that the chapel is the work of his son Edward Welby Pugin (1834-75) who, in partnership with George Coppinger Ashlin (1837-1921), was responsible for the contemporary Maher Mausoleum (1861) at Ballymurn and the churches at Lady's Island (1862-4) and Killinierin (1865-72)
The ruined remnants of a farmyard complex and a number of gate lodges aside, a private chapel similarly survives as the lasting architectural legacy of the Bellevue estate near Ballyhoge (fig. 4). The house, rebuilt for Anthony Cliffe (1800-78) subsuming an earlier house occupied by George Ogle MP (1742-184), was described as 'an elegant mansion…the principal front [consisting] of a centre with a noble portico of eight Ionic columns, and two boldly projecting wings' (Lewis 1837 II, 138). An article in The People reports: 'On Wednesday night, Bellevue, the beautiful residence of the late Captain Anthony Loftus Cliffe, which was situate on the banks of the Slaney, near Macmine, was burned to the ground… Shortly after eleven o'clock on Wednesday night [Martin Nolan, caretaker] was awakened by a loud knocking at the front door, and on answering the knock was confronted by about twenty armed men who ordered himself and his family out of the house. The caretaker's furniture was then removed, and, this task completed, petrol was sprinkled over the entire building, which was then set alight. Adjoining the house was a beautiful domestic chapel, designed by Pugin, which was erected in 1859. Before setting fire to the house the armed men detached the chapel from the main building, and in this way the fire was confined to the building proper. The flames spread rapidly through the building, and in a short time the beautiful residence was reduced to ruins… Wednesday night's was the second attempt to fire the building, the last occasion being some weeks ago, when an unsuccessful effort was made, and on which occasion damage estimated at £200 was done to two of the rooms' (The People 3rd February 1923, 5).
Figure 5: A survey drawing of the ground floor of Bellvue illustrates the principal apartments including the hall and staircase hall, the morning room, drawing room, two dining rooms, a smoke room and gun room. Further survey drawings by Hugh Morrison Wood outline the arrangements of the basement and first floor. Courtesy of Wexford County Archive (WCA/P3/1)
A collection of survey drawings was prepared by Hugh Morrison Wood, chartered surveyor and valuer of Dublin, in support of a claim for compensation lodged by Lady Jane Emma Power (d. 1930), Captain Cliffe's widow (fig. 5). The prospect of rebuilding the house does not appear to have been considered, however, and a front-page notice published in The People within a month of the fire advertised an 'Important Sale at Belleview [sic.]… [including] large lot of Fire Grates, Ranges, Baths, Building Material, quantity of Lead, Presses, Windows, Timber and Slates. Also – The complete appointments of the Chapel, comprising Benches, Vases, Candlesticks, Statues, etc., etc.' (The People 3rd March 1923, 1).
In response to the increasing likelihood of attack a number of the landed gentry elected to leave their Irish homes and remain in England until the political climate stabilised. Included among this number was Robert Shapland George Julian Carew (1860-1923), third Baron Carew of Castleboro House, and a brief notice in the "society page" of The People commented: 'Lord and Lady Carew are still in London, where they spent the winter. It is doubtful whether they will spend the summer at Castle Boro' this year' (The People 23rd April 1921, 5). An indication that this was more than a temporary leave of absence could be found on the front page of the same edition where a notice advertised a 'Highly Important And Interesting Sale of Very Superior Antiques and Modern Furniture, Silver, Old Engravings, Oil Paintings, Library, Grand Piano. Also Costly Bedroom Furnishing and other Effects' (ibid., 1). During the five-day long auction held from the 17th to the 21st of May the house was almost entirely emptied and amongst the lots sold was a chimneypiece that can now be seen in Borris House, County Carlow.
Figure 6: A view of Castleboro House, the impressive country house reconstructed for Robert Shapland Carew (1787-1856), first Baron Carew, to a design by Daniel Robertson (d. 1849) working in collaboration with Martin Day (d. 1861). The centrepiece of the neo-Palladian composition, the impressive Corinthian porte cochère, was reused by Robertson on a much reduced scale at Ballinkeele House (1840-8), Ballymurn. Interestingly, the symmetry of the house is disturbed by a minor discrepancy: the Guilloche stringcourse on the west wing is not present on the corresponding east wing. Click here to view a photograph of the Entrance Front from the William Lawrence Collection (1880-1914)
A lengthy article in The People titled "Castleboro Burned: Lord Carew's Mansion In Flames: Now A Mass Of Debris" states: 'Castleboro, the ancestral home of the Right Hon. Lord Carew was burned to the ground on Monday night, and all that remains now of the palatial mansion are smoke begrimed roofless walls and a heap of debris. The reason for the destruction of one of the finest residences in Leinster remains a mystery to all but those who were responsible for the destructive work which will only add more thousands to the bill that the Co. Wexford will have to foot when the time of reckoning comes. The work of destruction was perpetrated shortly after ten o'clock on Monday night. Between nine and ten the farm steward, Mr. Robert Richardson…was knocked up at his residence by armed men. On answering the knock he was compelled to hand over the keys of a store in which some barrels of paraffin oil were stored. These the armed men took possession of and rolled them from the farm yard to the main building and brought with them hay, which they also got in the farm yard. Then it would appear that they soaked the hay in the paraffin and scattering it through the main building set it alight with the result that in a short time the whole place was ablaze… Entrance to the house was gained through the French bay windows which would appear to have been broken by the butt end of rifles. The noise of the breaking of the glass was plainly audible in the farm yard and tongues of flames leaping up to the sky after a short space of time conveyed the first intimation of what the advent of the armed men breaking in on their peaceable surroundings meant while they were left powerless to attempt to save their master's property… It was impossible to do anything to extinguish the conflagration which had taken a complete hold of the building and which appeared to have been fired in several places. The fire raged furiously for some hours and completely destroyed the fine building' (fig. 6).
Figure 7: A view of the ruined Garden Front including the terraces once descending to an artificial lake formed by the Boro River. A tiered fountain marking the midway point of the terraces now stands in the grounds of Park House, near Wexford, while the "Grand Gateway" was removed to Farmley House, near Clohamon, in the 1970s. Click here to view a photograph of the Garden Front from the William Lawrence Collection (1880-1914)
The report concludes: 'The building of the mansion cost, it is stated, £200,000, so that a claim which will undoubtedly be lodged is likely to run into a very big sum. Castleboro was always famous for its gardens and through the liberality of the present Lord Carew visitors were allowed to stroll through the grounds, a privilege that was largely availed of in the summer months. The scene of Monday night's fire was visited by large numbers of people on Tuesday and the terrible work was condemned on all sides. The people of the district were always liberally treated by the Carew family and the wanton destruction of their beautiful home was learned with feelings of horror and dismay' (The People 10th February 1923, 5).
Lord Carew did not live to see his claim for compensation satisfied and died on the 29th of April 1923, less than three months following the destruction of his home. Castleboro House survives as an impressive ruin in a somewhat bleak setting, the parkland to the north now used for grazing and the abbreviated terraces to the south – once second only to those at Powerscourt House, County Wicklow – no longer descending to the lake formed by the Boro River (fig. 7).
The destruction of country houses did not meet with unanimous support and an editorial in The People commented: 'The burning of the mansions as part of the campaign against the Free State Government makes Ireland distinctly poorer. Very often the mansions burned are the property of people of Liberal views who could not be regarded as enemies of their country… The burning of Bellevue and Castleboro' is very regrettable. They were stately piles and belonged to families who certainly were not objectionable from the popular standpoint. The Cliffe family were extensive landowners. We do not remember that evictions were ever carried out on any of their estates, the ownership of which have long passed to the tenants… It was the same in regard to Castleboro'. That stately mansion and demesne were one of the beauty spots of the county; its gardens and terraces were unrivalled, and must have given an exceptionally large amount of employment' (The People 10th February 1923, 4).
Figures 8-9: A photograph of Coolbawn House prior to its destruction in 1923 and a view of the ivy-covered ruin in 2007
Nevertheless, the campaign continued unabated and within a month of the destruction of Castleboro House, the neighbouring Coolbawn House was torched (figs. 8-9). Described as 'a splendid mansion in the later English style…after a design by Frederick Darley, Junior [1798-1872]' (Lewis 1837 II, 617), Coolbawn House was erected for Francis Bruen MP (d. 1867) on the occasion of his marriage to Lady Catherine Anne Nugent (1801-64). Thomas Lacy later described the house as 'nicely situated, with handsome terraces descending from the southern front to the rich lawns beneath… The whole building is composed of fine cut stone, and is elaborately ornamented with pinnacles and spires; indeed, it may be very justly said to be overloaded with ornaments' (Lacy 1852, 246). Bruen's descendants disposed of Coolbawn to James Richard Dier JP (b. 1857) in 1917 or 1919 and the new proprietor allegedly entered into negotiations to sell the house on for use as a sanatorium. That sale having fallen through The Irish Times subsequently recorded that 'Coolbawn, a beautiful unoccupied mansion, near Rathnure, about nine miles from Enniscorthy, owned by Mr. J.R. Weir [sic.], Clonroche, was burned to the ground on Wednesday night. The mansion, which was of modern construction, was built by the late Francis Bruen, of Oak Park, Carlow… It was locally known as "Bruen's Folly", so much money was spent on its erection' (The Irish Times 2nd March 1923, 6).
Figures 10-11: A sepia-tinted photograph of Wilton Castle, the ancestral seat of the Alcocks described by Lacy (1852) as having 'undergone extensive alterations and improvements, and [presenting] not only a modern but even a really rich aspect' (Lacy 1852, p.248). The architect responsible for the reconstruction was Daniel Robertson (d. 1849) and the house has been compared favourably with his most celebrated work at Johnstown Castle, near Wexford. Reduced to a smouldering shell in 1923, and thereafter commanding the attention of the passer-by as an eye-catching landmark, the castle has recently undergone partial restoration with financial support from The Heritage Council
By week's end, the same newspaper carried a report titled "Enniscorthy Mansion Burned: Roofless Walls And Smoking Ruins: Work Of Armed Raiders". The arsonists' target in this instance was Wilton Castle, the impressive house designed by Daniel Robertson (d. 1849) for Harry Alcock (1792-1840) enveloping an 'old mansion which was in the dull style of the period of William and Mary' (Doyle 1868, 179) (figs. 10-11). As outlined in the report: 'Wilton Castle, the residence of Captain P.C. Alcock, about three miles from Enniscorthy, was burned by armed men on Monday night. Nothing remains of the beautiful building but smoke-begrimed, roofless walls, broken windows, and a heap of smouldering debris. The Castle was occupied by a caretaker – Mr. James Stynes – the owner, with his wife and family, having gone to England about a year ago. Shortly after 9 o'clock on Monday night the caretaker was at the Steward's residence…when he was approached by armed men, who demanded the keys to the Castle. When he asked why they wanted the keys, one of the armed men said: "We have come to burn the place. We are sorry". The raiders told the caretaker that he could remove his personal belongings from the part of the Castle that he occupied, but they would not allow him to remove the furniture. Fearing that the Castle might be burned, however, Captain Alcock had removed the most valuable portion of his furniture some weeks ago, but a good many rooms were left furnished. When the caretaker had removed his property he was ordered back to the Steward's house. Soon the noise of breaking glass was heard. It appears that the armed men broke all the windows on the ground floor, and having sprinkled the floors with petrol, set them alight. They did not hurry over their work of destruction, and they did not leave the Castle until near 12 o'clock, when the building was enveloped in flames. About thirty men took part in the raid. After the raiders left, the caretaker and Steward, with what help they could procure, tried to extinguish the flames, but their effort was hopeless' (The Irish Times 7th March 1923, 7).
Castleboro House, Coolbawn House and Wilton Castle today survive as impressive ruins and have been described as of greater architectural interest now than when they were complete. Indeed, Castleboro House is often cited as 'one of the most magnificent ruins in Ireland'.
Figures 12-13: Artramon House, near Wexford, the seat of the Le Hunte family, was at the time of its destruction described as 'one of the finest two storey structures of its kind in the county' (Irish Weekly Times 24th February 1923, 2). Reconstructed to a design by Patrick Joseph Brady (d. 1936) the house appears to retain at least the footings, and possibly the shell of its eighteenth-century predecessor although the centrepiece – a rather squat pedimented breakfront – is a twentieth-century invention
Of the country houses destroyed in County Wexford during "The Troubles", only two attempts were made at reconstruction or repair. Under the title "Splendid Residence Gutted" The People reported: 'Artramont, for generations the residence of the Le Hunte family, and at present owned by Sir George Ruthven Le Hunte, situate about four miles from Wexford, was burned to the ground on Sunday night… The caretaker, Thomas Stevens, who lives about 150 yards from the place was awakened about 2 o'clock on Monday morning by a loud crash and on rising found the house in flames. The noise which he heard was that of the falling roof. He was powerless to do anything to stop the progress of the fire which completely demolished the building in a few hours. It was a commodious and finely laid out mansion, overlooking the town of Wexford and the River Slaney… There was an agitation in the immediate neighbourhood for a distribution of the lands of Artramont, and a grazing auction advertised to be held proved abortive. Two petrol tins were found on a window inside the building and up to Monday evening the fire was still smouldering' (The People 24th February 1923, 5). Artramon House, described as 'one of the finest two storey structures of its kind in the county' (The Weekly Irish Times 24th February 1923, 2), was reconstructed (1928-32) to a design by Patrick Joseph Brady (d. 1936) of Ballyhaise, County Cavan, retaining at least the footings of the original house (figs. 12-13).
Figure 14: A sepia-tinted postcard, based on a photograph from the William Lawrence Collection (1880-1914), illustrates the eighteenth-century Ballynestragh in its parkland setting. A number of "improvements" were made to the house over the course of the nineteenth century and included the Gothic battlements introduced (1869) by Sir John Esmonde MP (1826-76) to a design by George Coppinger Ashlin (1837-1921). Courtesy of Wexford County Archive
The last of the great houses destroyed in County Wexford was Ballynestragh, near Gorey, the ancestral seat of the Esmonde family (fig. 14). The house, which had survived an attack during the 1798 Insurrection, was one of almost forty houses owned by senators of the Irish Free State that were burned in the first quarter of 1923. Under the title "Incendiary Outrages: Sir Thomas Esmonde's Mansion Burned: A Westmeath [sic.] Mansion Destroyed" The Irish Times reported: 'Ballynestragh, the beautiful residence of Senator Sir Thomas Henry Grattan Esmonde, Bart., about three miles from Gorey, County Wexford, was set on fire on Friday night, and burned to the ground… The only occupants of the house at the time of the outrage were Colonel Laurence Esmonde, his brother, together with five servants. The raiders, of whom there were about 50 in all, forced an entrance through one of the lower windows at about 9.30 pm, and gave the occupants ten minutes to get ready. They were kept under armed guard in an out-building till the house was well alight, the rooms and furniture having been sprayed with petrol. With the permission of the man in charge, Colonel Esmonde removed the golden chalice and sets of vestments from the beautiful little chapel in the upper portion of the building before the raiders had commenced their work of destruction. These articles are all that was saved. With the aid of a fairly strong wind, gas bombs being also used, the flames made great headway, huge tongues of fire rising towards the sky. They were seen at least ten miles away. The garrison of National troops at Gorey, attracted by the fire, arrived shortly after 11 o'clock, about half an hour after the raiders had left, but they were too late to save the building. Only the bare walls of it remain'. Under the subheading "Sir Thomas Esmonde On His Loss" the report continues: 'Some interesting particulars concerning the burning of his house were given yesterday afternoon to a representative of the Press Association by Sir Thomas Grattan Esmonde, who for the past few days has been in residence in London, but returns to Dublin today. "I received a wire yesterday," he said, "that my house had been burned down, and I must say that it came as a surprise to me. The only reason for such an act, so far as I know, is that I am a Senator of the Irish Free State, and, of course, I am in no worse a position than anybody else' (The Irish Times 12th March 1923, p.6).
Figure 15: A view of the "new" Ballynestragh erected to a design by Dermot St. John Gogarty (b. 1908), one-time apprentice to Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens (1869-1944). Above the door the Esmonde coat-of-arms carved by Peter Alphonsus Grant (b. 1915) states: "Jerusalem Malo Mori Quam Foedari [Death Rather Than Dishonour]"
Somewhat surprisingly, Senator Esmonde initially responded philosophically to the destruction of his home, describing the event as 'all in a day's work', but grew increasingly frustrated with his attempt to secure compensation for the damage. Eager to rebuild, the senator discovered that the insurance on Ballynestragh did not cover damage caused by civil disturbance. In 1924, under the Damage to Property (Compensation) Act, 1923, Esmonde lodged a claim for £77,496 with members of his family claiming smaller amounts ranging from £47 5s. 6d. to £1,682 13s. 8d. However, insistent that the surviving shell could be reused in any projected reconstruction, Gorey District Council awarded a total of £55,100 to Senator Esmonde, including compensation for lost furniture and personal effects, that sum once again reduced to £44,800 on appeal by the High Court. However, although supplemented by his personal wealth, the compensation was insufficient for Esmonde to consider rebuilding the original Ballynestragh and a design for an entirely new house was procured from Dermot St. John Gogarty (b. 1908). The "new" Ballynestragh House (1937), exemplifying the contemporary Georgian Revival fashion, features a colonnade of four granite ashlar pillars that appear to have been reclaimed from the portico of the original house (fig. 15).
Figures 3-7, 9, 11-12, 14-15 from the NIAH publication An Introduction to the Architectural Heritage of County Wexford
Bence-Jones, Mark, A Guide to Irish Country Houses (second edition London: Constable and Company, 1988)
Browne, Elizabeth and Wickham, Tom (eds.), Lewis's Wexford (Enniscorthy: self-published, 1983)
Dooley, Terence A.M., "The Burning of Ballynastragh" in Murphy, Hilary (ed.), Journal of the Wexford Historical Society Volume XIX (Wexford: Wexford Historical Society, 2002-3)
Doyle, Martin, Notes and Gleanings (Dublin: George Herbert, 1868)
Lacy, Thomas, Home Sketches on Both Sides of the Channel (London: Hamilton, Adams and Company, 1852)
Lacy, Thomas, Sights and Scenes in Our Fatherland (London: Simpkin, Marshall and Company, 1863)
Williams, Jeremy, A Companion Guide to Architecture in Ireland 1837-1921 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1994)
|Print This Page||Go To Archive|