Lords of the manor and a lord of the dance

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - BOOKS - PAUL CLEMENTS

Nearly 20 years ago, the en­ter­tainer Michael Flat­ley bought Cas­tle Hyde in north Cork, spend­ing more than ¤27 mil­lion on painstak­ing restora­tion, which pro­vided a life­line for the Ge­or­gian man­sion. When he took it on, the build­ing was derelict, hav­ing suf­fered decades of ne­glect and de­cay, but it car­ried a heavy weight of his­tory. That fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ri­og­ra­phy is de­scribed in

Cas­tle Hyde: The Chang­ing For­tunes of an Ir­ish Coun­try House

by Ter­ence Doo­ley, pub­lished with a clutch of other books in the Maynooth Stud­ies in Lo­cal His­tory se­ries.

Cas­tle Hyde, near Fer­moy, is one of the big houses of Cork that sur­vived both land­lord de­cline and rev­o­lu­tion­ary changes in Ir­ish life. It was named af­ter Arthur Hyde of Berk­shire, whom the queen made a knight ban­neret, and was later bought by Sir Henry Wrixon-Becher, a north Cork land­lord. In the mid-20th cen­tury a prom­i­nent Amer­i­can busi­ness ty­coon, Henry Laugh­lin, turned it into a guest house for 50 years.

Since tak­ing it over, Flat­ley has made con­tro­ver­sial changes such as re­plac­ing the orig­i­nal flight of eight en­trance steps, while ten­sions arose over pro­posed al­ter­ations to the gar­dens and demesne. Crit­i­cism came from An Taisce, which had prob­lems with the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties for al­low­ing what it called “a form of fa­cadism”. They were re­luc­tant to refuse peo­ple per­mis­sion to carry out changes, es­pe­cially if they hap­pened to be fa­mous and were “buy­ing an im­age rather than a re­al­ity”. In 2015 the house was put on the mar­ket for sale at ¤20 mil­lion, but failed to find a buyer.


In the same se­ries an­other coun­try house comes un­der scru­tiny by Clair McDon­ald in

The Eigh­teenth-Cen­tury Land­scape of Strad­bally Hall, Co Laois,

a venue best known since 2004 for its host­ing of the Elec­tric Pic­nic arts and mu­sic fes­ti­val. This book de­votes at­ten­tion to the changes which have taken place in shap­ing the land­scape from the per­spec­tive of four di­verse groups: the own­ers, ten­ants, car­tog­ra­phers and vis­i­tors.

The Cosby fam­ily has owned Strad­bally since first be­ing granted the land in the 16th cen­tury in what was then Queen’s County. Through close study of es­tate leases, maps and plans of the grounds, the au­thor pieces to­gether the na­ture and role of the ten­ants in the land­scape to cre­ate a com­pre­hen­sive pic­ture.

The Ten­e­ment Dwellers of Church Street, Dublin, 1911

by Janet Moody con­sid­ers a mi­cro-com­mu­nity of 132 fam­i­lies liv­ing in the heart of the city’s worst slums. While the lives of the Dublin up­per and mid­dle classes in the early 20th cen­tury have been doc­u­mented, very lit­tle has been recorded of ten­e­ment fam­ily life in the same pe­riod.

Church Street is one of the old­est streets in the city and was first known as Great Street around 1248. In Septem­ber 1913 it be­came no­to­ri­ous when two houses on the street col­lapsed, lead­ing to a pub­lic out­cry and a sub­se­quent re­port that de­picted the ex­tent of the hous­ing cri­sis. The hor­rific child mor­tal­ity rates, low lev­els of lit­er­acy and the num­ber of fam­i­lies who lived in sin­gle-room dwellings are all re­vealed.


For sev­eral cen­turies work­ing-class Ir­ish women sur­vived as street traders, sell­ing fruit, veg­eta­bles and sec­ond-hand cloth­ing.

The Shawlies: Cork’s women street traders and the ‘mer­chant city’, 1901-50

come un­der the spot­light in Su­san Martin’s ex­am­i­na­tion of their role. Part of an old Cork cus­tom, the women took their nick­name from their dis­tinc­tive tra­di­tional black shawls and worked on the streets un­til well into the 20th cen­tury.

Us­ing cen­sus in­for­ma­tion, city archives and con­tem­po­rary news­pa­per re­ports, an evoca­tive por­trayal is built up of these black-clad street women, known as “onion sell­ers”. Some even­tu­ally were des­ti­tute, but of­fi­cial­dom lim­ited their rights, mak­ing sur­vival dif­fi­cult and they were ef­fec­tively writ­ten out of his­tory. Since 2010, a group “Cork Shawlies For­ever” has been cam­paign­ing to have a memo­rial erected to the women on Coal Quay, but noth­ing has yet tran­spired.


Culture, Pol­i­tics and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment in Fin­gal, 1891-1914,

De­clan Brady con­sid­ers the pe­riod from the death of Par­nell to the Home Rule cri­sis in terms of the po­lit­i­cal elite. Fin­gal was then a largely ru­ral area – far enough away from Dublin city life not to be part of it, but close enough for its spirit to in­hale its pol­i­tics and culture. The chang­ing com­po­si­tion and con­duct of lo­cal pol­i­tics is ex­am­ined, help­ing to bring about an un­der­stand­ing of the con­di­tions that pre­vailed in the im­me­di­ate years pre­ced­ing the Ir­ish rev­o­lu­tion­ary decade.

The fi­nal study,

Kerry, 1600-1730: The Emer­gence of a Bri­tish At­lantic County

by Marc Ca­ball, takes a broad view of Kerry’s coastal lo­ca­tion within the north At­lantic. The in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal in­flu­ences which shaped the county’s cul­tural and so­cial fab­ric are ex­plored while im­por­tant strands in the Kerry story are con­sid­ered through a se­ries of spe­cific mi­cro-his­to­ries. All books are priced at ¤9.95.

Cas­tle Hyde: Michael Flat­ley spent more than ¤27 mil­lion on painstak­ing restora­tion

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