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Building of the Month - June 2010

Dromana Gate, DROMANA Td., County Waterford

Dromana Gate 01 - Representative View 

Figure 1: Dromana Gate, erected to a design by Martin Day (d. 1861), replaced a temporary version built in celebration of the marriage of Henry Villiers-Stuart (1803-74) to Theresia Pauline Ott (d. 1867).  The distinctive Hindu Gothic details are believed to have been inspired by John Nash's (1752-1835) Royal Pavilion (1815-22), Brighton

The origins of Dromana Gate on the periphery of the Dromana Forest, near Cappoquin, County Waterford, can be traced back to a papiér maché-detailed canvas-covered timber structure erected (1826) by the tenants of Villierstown to welcome home the newly-wed Henry Villiers-Stuart (1803-74), Lord Stuart de Decies, and Theresia Pauline Ott (d. 1867).  It is said that the Villiers-Stuarts spent at least some of their honeymoon in Brighton, on the south English coastline, and the gate, interpretable as a vast reduction of the Royal Pavilion (1815-22), the centrepiece of that emerging seaside destination, would appear to support such a claim.  Built as a retreat for King George IV (1760-1832), then Prince Regent, to a design by John Nash (1752-1835), the eccentric Brighton Pavilion represented a radical departure from the cheerless Classicism monopolising the mainstream taste and exploited, on the exterior, almost every conceivable motif derived from indigenous Indian architecture and, in the state apartments, fanciful decorative themes melding Chinese and Indian patterns.

Surviving drawings for the present "permanent" gateway are signed and dated (1849) by Martin Day (d. 1861), a native of Gallagh, County Wexford, best remembered today for his collaborations with Daniel Robertson (d. 1849) on a series of country houses in that county.  Day would appear to have been the architect of choice for Villiers-Stuart and his earliest drawings illustrate a portico for the ongoing "improvement" of Dromana House and a range of "offices" (1822) commissioned by the trustees of the estate of Lady Gertrude Amelia Mason-Villiers (d. 1809), Henry not yet having come of age.  A later drawing (1826?) shows an unexecuted proposal for a Classical gateway while further alterations were made to the house and stables from 1843, upon completion of which (1849) Day began work on Dromana Gate.  The Georgian substance of Dromana House having been demolished in 1966, Dromana Gate survives as Martin Day's enduring contribution to the estate.

Described by James Howley in 1993 as 'one of the strangest gate lodges in the country', at the heart of the Dromana Gate is a remarkably simple composition comprising a central gateway flanked on either side by single-cell chambers or porters' lodges; the symmetry of the façades is continued beneath the vaulted gateway where false doors flank the entrances to the lodges.  While the curvilinear profile of the openings, the decorative glazing bars complimented by a quatrefoil-detailed filigree overhead, might have been familiar through their appearance in contemporary Georgian Gothic ecclesiastical architecture, the slender minaret-topped piers framing a copper-clad onion dome, easily the most recognisable shorthand for the "exotic" in architecture, were undoubtedly a new experience for the casual observer.

Dromana Gate 02 

Figure 2: Restored (1967-8) by the Irish Georgian Society, and again (1990) by Waterford County Council, the gate makes a dramatic statement overlooking the Finisk River and remains an outstanding feature of the architectural heritage of County Waterford

Although widely cited as the only example of the Hindu Gothic style in Ireland, that unique claim has not necessarily guaranteed the future survival of Dromana Gate.  Restored (1967-9) by the Irish Georgian Society, Howley later remarked that 'remote follies or garden buildings will always be subject to vandalism [and] the Irish Georgian society has learned this to its cost at the Dromana Gateway' and a further restoration (1990) by Waterford County Council was required to make good the damage caused by vandals.

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