Monday, 16 February 2015

Mount Shannon
Castleconnell,Co. Limerick

Accreditation- Picture by David Hicks

Mount Shannon House is a superb example of a neo-classical mansion that is situated near the village of Castleconnell in County Limerick. Modern houses have sprung up like trees around the ruined mansion shielding it from the view of any curious passer by. Over the years I have seen many pictures of its impressive portico and I am saddened to see it is showing signs of distress and possibly collapse. This entrance portico is one relic that echoes the glories of Mount Shannon’s illustrious past and the beauty of the interiors that once existed within. Now that the roof is long gone, its interior is a mass of brambles, trees and weeds. The house which was built in the mid-eighteenth century has seen its far share of colorful characters pass through its doors. This mansion once sat at the centre of a 900 acre estate, its parkland surrounded by woodland that kept the mansion at its heart free from prying eyes. The compound that surrounded Mount Shannon contained the necessary facilities essential for the upkeep of any big house and its occupants. These expansive ancillary buildings were made up of servants’ quarters, outbuildings, green houses, laundries and the house even had its own plant to produce gas to illuminate its many rooms. The gardens and surrounding parkland were landscaped by John Sutherland, one of the eminent landscape gardeners of his time. In order to maintain a house and gardens of this size, an army of indoor and outdoor staff were employed. The produce in the kitchen garden supplied the house with fresh vegetables and the green houses, heated by hot water pipes, supplied exotic fruits like peaches and nectarines. In front of the large portico there was a large gravel turning circle which would allow the carriages to arrive and turn in a dramatic fashion.

While the portico of Mount Shannon remains unchanged, whole sections of the side of the house have collapsed leaving the desolation of the interior exposed.
Accreditation- Picture by David Hicks

Photograph from between 1910 & 1920 of the front elevation of the Mount Shannon House showing its impressive portico and the arched windows of the entrance hall
Accreditation- Picture from Limerick City Museum

The house was built by a gentleman with the unusual name of Silver Oliver and was constructed over a number of years before finally being inhabited in 1750. It was soon afterwards purchased by the White family and eventually came in to the ownership of John Fitzgibbon by 1765. John was a Limerick man, who, after initially exploring the option of a career in medicine decided to abandon it in favour of law. As a result of the Penal Laws of the time it was necessary for him to change his religion from being a Catholic to a Protestant in order to allow him to practice in the Irish Courts which debarred Catholics. He became very successful in his chosen field and died in 1780 a rich man. Mount Shannon was inherited by his son also named John who had also excelled in the field of law and specialized in cases of a political nature. In 1780 John was elected to the Irish Parliament as a university member for Trinity College and in 1783 he became Attorney General. Three years later in 1786 he married Anne Whaley in Dublin. By 1795 he was made the first Earl of Clare in connection with the passing of the Act of Union in 1801.

John Fitzgibbon, 1st Earl of Clare
( From the Collection of The National Library of Ireland)

 This support of the Act did not carry favour with the general public and his life was often under threat. His home at Mount Shannon was attacked and one of his servants was murdered. In 1802 he died and as his coffin was being lowered in to the grave, a dead cat was thrown in by someone who was in disagreement with his previous comments regarding the Act of Union. He had once said “that he would make Ireland as tame as a mutilated cat” hence the appearance of one at his funeral. Mount Shannon was now inherited by his son who became the second Earl at the age of 10. He attended school at Harrow in London and then proceeded to Oxford University. He married the Honorable Elizabeth Julia Georgina Burrell in 1826 in Surrey England. He was appointed Governor of Bombay between 1830 and 1834 and he held the office of Lord Lieutenant for County Limerick between 1848 and 1851.

In 1813 an architect named Lewis William Wyatt prepared designs for the addition of a portico to the house for John Fitzgibbon, second Earl of Clare. It is believed that a man by the name of James Pain may have supervised the work. In 1840 James Edward Mc Connell supervised the erection of several horticultural buildings and a great deal of machinery at Mount Shannon. The house which had been enlarged by the first Earl was subsequently remodeled and decoratively enhanced by the second Earl in the 1850s. During his life the Earl traveled the continent and used this opportunity to furnish Mount Shannon with works of art. As he made his way across Europe, crates and wagons returned to his estate in Limerick stuffed with marble and bronze statues, paintings, furniture and rare books. When he died in 1851 in Brighton, England, the title and Mount Shannon passed to his brother Richard Hobart Fitzgibbon, who became the third Earl of Clare. 

This picture of the corner detail of Mount Shannon exhibits the talent of the stone mason

Accreditation- Picture by David Hicks

It was Richard’s daughter Louisa who eventually became chatelaine of Mount Shannon in 1864 and by the 1870s her estate extended to over 10,000 acres in Limerick and over 3,000 acres in Tipperary.  After the death of her first husband in 1880, Lady Louisa lived beyond her means and entertained on a grand scale. This feckless spending meant she had to sell the contents of Mount Shannon’s library in Sotheby’s in 1866 to keep creditors at bay. She thought her financial woes were over when she met the General Carmelo Ascene Spadafora, Marchese della Rochella. As Louisa entertained on such a lavish scale her potential suitor was under the impression that she was a rich woman and would be in a position to pay off the debts on his estates in Sicily. Lady Louisa, on the other hand believed that the vast estates that the Marchese owned and bragged about in Sicily would keep her in the lifestyle to which she had become accustomed. It was only after a party to celebrate their engagement in Mount Shannon that sheriffs arrived to seize some of the mansions contents to settle outstanding debts. The game was up and there in front of the assembled local gentry, Lady Louisa and the Marchese both realized that they were penniless. They still went ahead with the marriage to save face as bankruptcy was frowned upon socially but a broken engagement was an entirely different matter. The couple married in May 1882 and the newly weds tried to keep the façade of being wealthy. The lavish entertaining came to an end and they soon found that their fair weather friends abandoned them. After the death of her second husband and with creditors looking for payment, Lady Louisa sold the entire contents of the house in 1888. A catalogue that exists from the auction gives an idea of what the eclectic interiors of Mount Shannon House contained. Items for sale included a bronze model of the state carriage built by Godal for the Earl of Clare in 1800, crimson damask window curtains and a statue of Vishnu that sat on the staircase. Everything went under the hammer from the contents of the kitchen and servants quarters to the full size billiard table.  The sale followed a judgement against Lady Louisa in a court case and a Henry Unwin was appointed the receiver of her estate. Lady Louisa left Ireland to spend the remainder of her life on the Isle of Wight where died there in June 1898.

The beautifully ordered rear elevation of the house with its curved conservatory that extended out from the façade overlooking the well maintained gardens.
Accreditation- Picture from Limerick City Museum

On the May 27, 1890 under the direction of La Marchesa della Roccella a.k.a Lady Louisa Fitzgibbon, Mr. F.W. Mc Carthy offered the Mount Shannon Estate for sale. The estate comprised of the mansion house, pleasure grounds, gardens, farm buildings, offices and 947 statute acres of dairy pasture, meadow lands and wood land. The estate was broken down into eleven lots, with lot number 4 comprising of the house, out buildings and forty-two acres. The house is described as having sixty rooms, elegantly appointed and “fitted in the highest decorative art”. The brochure for the sale also states that a hydraulic ram provided the house and grounds with an abundant supply of water and the domestic lighting was provided by a miniature gas works. The house had three gate lodges together with dwellings for the land stewards and gardeners. The house is listed as having spacious front and back halls, drawing room, boudoir, library, dining room and a study which had beautiful views of the of the parkland. The upper rooms were accessed by a Portland stone staircase together with two additional back staircases for the servants.

An image of the empty library in the house in 1918 gives an impression of the beautifully detailed rooms that once existed in Mount Shannon
Accreditation- Picture from Limerick City Museum

The house remained empty for a number of years when it was purchased by an Irish American named Thomas Nevins in 1893. Nevins who had made a large fortune in America returned to Ireland with his wife and three daughters. He was originally from Mayo and had emigrated to America in 1864. After working as a contractor he eventually purchased a quarry which laid the foundations of his wealth. He graduated into the development of town tram systems and railroads in Detroit and by the time of his death he was a large shareholder in electric traction, railroad and gas companies in America. The family did not have much luck living in Mount Shannon and met tragic deaths during their tenure of the house. An ice house on the estate became the family’s mausoleum and in The Irish Tourist Association survey of 1942, three massive coffins were to be found in the former ice house.  Thomas Nevins died of heart failure in Mount Shannon in August 1902. High Mass was held in the drawing room of the house with his burial afterwards in the improvised family vault. His passing was of such importance that it was reported in the New York Times in August 1902. After his death the estate was owned by his wife Esther until her death in 1907. In the census of 1911, a 21 year old American called Robert Marshall is living in the house with his Irish born wife. Judging by the presence of jockeys, grooms and horse trainers, Robert must have been running some kind of equestrian related enterprise at Mount Shannon. The estate was eventually divided up by the Land Commission and the house was purchased in 1915 by Mr. D. O’ Leary Hannigan from Co. Cork for £1,000 plus fees.  When the house was sold in 1915 the following description was provided of the house which was made up of five reception rooms which included a library 60ft x 21ft, a lofty hall with handsome staircase that led upstairs to the twenty-two bedrooms, five dressing rooms, bathrooms, and lavatories. The house had excellent domestic accommodation and the residence was now wired for electric light. The out buildings included three workmen’s cottages, gardens of six acres and ornamental planted grounds. The house when sold at this time was described as being potentially suitable for a school, college, institution or suitable for a religious order. Mount Shannon House was burnt down on the night of Monday June 14, 1920 and has lingered in this ruined state since. 

Many beautiful trees that have survived still dot the parkland surrounding the house.  Mount Shannon even in its ruinous state still commands attention from any curious passer by.
Accreditation- Picture by David Hicks

Thursday, 12 February 2015

 Hope Castle 
 Co. Monaghan

Hope Castle can be found near the town of Castleblayney in County Monaghan. Perched high on a hill overlooking an expanse of water known as Lough Muckno, the castle is hidden by trees and accessed from the town through impressive entrance gates. The town of Castleblayney is the third largest in County Monaghan and its development is closely linked to the influential Blayney family. From the late 1700s the Blayneys were responsible for the creation of local industry and the construction of a number of the public buildings in the town. A few months after I began to compile this piece, I learnt that the castle had been deliberately burnt to the ground. As a result of the loss of this building I felt I had to highlight its history and beauty, in the hope it would rally local people to ensure that it is restored. It is also fascinating that the family that gave their name to the worlds most famous gem stone also lent their surname to this castle in Monaghan.

The entrance front of Castle Hope with its large extension added by Henry 
Thomas Hope in the 1860s. The Hope family crest is emblazoned
 on the castle in the centre of this facade.
 Accreditation- The National Library of Ireland
In the 1600s, the lands around Lough Muckno were owned by the Blayney family who built the original castle that preceded the existing building. The eleventh Baron Blayney, Lord Andrew Thomas Blayney eventually built a new castle near the site of the original ancestral seat. It is little wonder that the site for the new castle was chosen as it enjoys one of the most spectacular views of Lough Muckno and the surrounding countryside. Robert Woodgate who designed the new castle in 1799 had previously served as an apprentice to the architect John Soane in London. In the same year, he also set up his Irish practise in Dublin and secured the commission from Baron Blayney in County Monaghan. Woodgate wrote to Soane, his former employer, in November 1799 and enclosed a sketch of Castle Blayney. The grateful apprentice recorded the following in the accompanying letter- 'Sketch of the first house I ever built as a small tribute due for your former kindness to me'. The completed three storey, five bay block of Castle Blayney now stood on the hill overlooking the lough but its completion would also mark the end of the Blayneys connection with the estate. The eleventh Baron was a generous man and in 1814 he donated a painting of St. Sebastian to be used as an alter piece in the local Catholic Church which stood on land that he had donated in 1803.During the time that the eleventh Baron Blaney succeeded to the Monaghan estate he did much to improve the town of Castleblayney and he was responsible for its streetscape and development of local industry. Lord Blayney died on April 8, 1834 and was succeeded by his son Cadwallader Davis Blayney, the twelfth and last Lord Blayney. In 1853, the Hope family purchased the remainder of the Blayney estate under the Encumbered Estates Act 1849 for £180,000

The castle is now boarded up since it was destroyed by fire in 2010. The 
substantial wing built by Henry Thomas Hope was demolished around the 
time the castle was renovated  in the 1980s leaving the building as it 
appeared when it was first built.
 Accreditation- Photograph by Ellie Ross

The most famous diamond in the world which shares its name with a castle 
in Monaghan once owned by Henry Hope

A niche on the rear elevation of the castle still contains a statue that 
once overlooked a formal garden.
Accreditation- Photograph by Ellie Ross

The estate had been sold to Henry Thomas Hope of Surrey who was a member of the Scottish-Dutch banking family, famous for their ownership of Hope Diamond.
The diamond was a supposedly cursed jewel that had passed through both the French and British Royal families and had supposedly brought ruin to whoever owned it. Henry Thomas Hope had the building in Monaghan refaced and embellished during the 1860s which included the addition of the Hope family crest to the parapet of all the facades of the castle. A large extension was added to the building which now became a modern country retreat for the extremely affluent family. Inside a large collection of art treasures were amassed which included a gallery of pictures by the Dutch and early English masters. Henry Thomas Hope died in 1862 and the castle eventually passed to his grandson, Lord Henry Francis Hope Pelham-Clinton. Between 1900 and 1904, Hope Castle was occupied by the Duke of Connaught, son of Queen Victoria, during his appointment as Commander in Chief to Ireland. It was said at the time that the Duke and Duchess experienced a great deal of difficulty in finding an Irish home as they did not wish to spend all their time in the official residence at the Royal Hospital in  Kilmainham, Dublin. The Irish residence associated with the office of Commander in Chief was not thought to be suitable for habitation by such high ranking royals as the grounds of the residence were far from private and its location was thought to be in an inferior part of the city. The residence of the Lord Lieutenant and the Chief Secretary in the Phoenix Park would have been suitable but neither of these residents could vacate those houses. The large administrative staffs associated with these official roles could not be moved easily without huge disruption. Several other houses such as Castletown House in Kildare were considered before the Duke settled on Castle Hope in Monaghan which he leased from Lord Henry Francis Hope. 

Prince Arthur, 1st Duke of Connaught 
(The National Portrait Gallery, London)

The garden front of the castle that overlooks Lough Muckno, the large 
drawing room of the house was contained behind the large projecting
 bay window that can be seen in this picture.
Accreditation- Photograph from The Irish Historical Picture Company

Leonie Leslie 

It is believed that Castle Hope was chosen as it was located near the home of Leonie Leslie, a prominent socialite at the time, who lived at Castle Leslie. She was a close friend of the Duke and Duchess of Connaught but it is alleged that she was a closer friend of the Duke. The royal couple arrived in Castle Blayney in June 1900 and received a warm welcome from the local people; both the gates to the castle and the whole town were decorated with bunting and flags. The Duke had taken the castle for the summer season in 1900 with an option of leasing it for a further five years.  It was thought at the time that Castle Hope would become an official royal residence and that Queen Victoria would visit her son here. She never graced Castle Hope with her presence before her death in 1901 and the Duke of Duchess of Connaught ended their association with the castle in 1904. 

The entrance gates to the castle  in the 1900s around the time that Duke and 
Duchess of Connaught were in residence. The presence of police officers 
also gives credence to this assumption.
Accreditation- The National Library of Ireland.

Today the handsome gates piers and adjoining lodges are a distraction 
surrounded by parked cars, incongruous signage and electric wires.
Accreditation- Photograph by Ellie Ross

Lord Henry, the castle’s owner, lived beyond his means which eventually led to marriage troubles and financial woes. He was forced to sell the Hope Diamond in 1901 for £29,000, which would be over two million pounds in today’s money, but this was not sufficient to plug the gapping hole in his finances. Lord Henry Francis Hope had mortgaged the estate in Monaghan heavily and ceased to live there from 1914. After this, the castle was occupied by every army that the country had seen since 1919 which included the Auxiliaries, Black and Tans and the Free State Army. It was also recorded that after the ratification of the treaty that the Crown forces were evacuated from Hope Castle on January 16, 1922.

Lord Henry Francis Hope Pelham-Clinton
(The National Portrait Gallery, London)

 None of these occupants had caused serious damage to the stately pile’s contents and in 1926, an auction of the property of Lord Henry Francis Hope was announced. The contents of the castle consisting of antique furniture, paintings, china and the entire furnishings contained in the billiard room, drawing room, boudoir, library, smoking room, bedrooms, servant’s quarters and kitchen were to be auctioned. The sale of the furniture was the final severance of the connection that the Hope Family had with the town of Castleblayney and the auction attracted a huge attendance for the sale of the 1,400 lots. A lot of the large antique furniture sold quite cheaply due to its large size not being suitable for the average family home of the time. Items dispatched for sale included a grand piano and a billiard table which were sold to the nearby Hope Arms Hotel. Over the following years, the castle remained empty and unoccupied until it was used as a temporary hospital between 1932 and 1937 while the new county hospital was being built. It again lay idle for a number of years until it was purchased by a Franciscan Order of nuns who lived there from 1942 until the early 1970s. The Franciscan Sisters had purchased their new home in Monaghan as their previous convent in London had been lost in the blitz during the Second World War. They sought permission to come to Monaghan in December 1941 and secured a loan of £6,000 to establish their convent in Castleblayney. In 1951 the lands of the Hope Estate was taken over by the Land Commission and divided up among the former tenants of the estate. In later years the Franciscan Sisters ran the castle as a guesthouse and they had converted the ballroom into a chapel.

A gravel path led directly from the French doors of the drawing room,
down to the shores of Lough Muckno and a boat house.
 Accreditation- The National Library of Ireland.

The boarded up windows of the drawing room of the castle once overlooked
 Lough Muckno which is considered to rival the famous Lakes of
 Killarney in County Kerry.
Accreditation- Photograph by David Hicks

In 1979, the castle and the remaining estate lands were offered for sale which extended to 1,000 acres but only fifty-five acres were deemed to be agricultural land as over 900 acres were occupied up by Lough Muckno and its twelve islands. The castle was described as having a floor area of 22,500 sq.ft. which included five reception rooms, twenty-six bedrooms and four bathrooms. There were also coach houses, stables, two gate lodges, farm buildings and a boat house. An asking price of £500,000 was sought and eventually in the 1980s the castle and surrounding lands were purchased by Monaghan County Council.
The nineteenth century additions built by Henry Thomas Hope were demolished and the surviving main block of the building was renovated. The eighteenth century castle was leased and operated as a fourteen bedroom hotel for the next number of decades. 
A niche on the rear elevation of the castle still contains a statue 
that once overlooked a formal garden.
Accreditation- Photograph by Ellie Ross

The castle once was surrounded by gardens that contained elaborate
 planting, statues and stone balustrades topped with flower filled urns.
Accreditation- Photograph From the National Library of Ireland

In 2010, the townspeople of Castleblayney were shocked to hear that a fire had swept through Hope Castle which caused extensive interior damage. The alarm was raised by Gardai who were on an early morning patrol when they discovered a huge fire was raging inside the building. Fire units from all the neighboring towns were called but serious damage had been done, the castle had been unoccupied at the time and the fire was started maliciously by trespassers. The blaze ripped through the building leaving large sections of the castle destroyed and many of the antiques that furnished its reception rooms were also lost. For the moment Hope Castle remains cordoned off behind a high fence that shields it from public view. Behind this hoarding is a scene of desolation of broken windows and blackened walls, a view reminiscent of the house burnings of the 1920s. I sincerely hope that this building is restored as a resource that can be enjoyed by the local community and the tourists of Castleblayney. Surely this building could become a place where the history of the many famous people associated with this castle could be recorded. How many buildings in Ireland have their history’s interwoven with the world’s most famous diamond and members of the British Royal family?

As a result of the fire, the castle is now surrounded by hoardings that 
prevents public access but this also inhibits the replication of the above
 historical image. Architecturally, the facades of this side of the building
 remain relatively unchanged.
Accreditation- Photograph by Ellie Ross

Comparing the aerial photograph above and the period ordinance survey 
map below illustrates the reduction in size of the Castle 

Copyright OSI