42 The epit­ome of Ire­land

The first great Pal­la­dian coun­try house of Ire­land is un­der­go­ing restora­tion and con­ser­va­tion at the hands of the Of­fice of Pub­lic Works. Jeremy Mus­son re­ports

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Pho­tographs by Will Pryce

The first great Pal­la­dian coun­try house of Ire­land is un­der­go­ing restora­tion and con­ser­va­tion at the hands of the Of­fice of Pub­lic Works. Jeremy Mus­son re­ports

Castle­town House, Co Kil­dare

ACrisp, pale gi­ant of a build­ing, Castle­town House, in Co Kil­dare, was built by Wil­liam ‘speaker’ Conolly in the 1720s. stand­ing in open park­land, the pal­la­dian-in­spired house ( Fig 1) echoes, in its grand el­e­va­tion, the palazzo Far­nese. The cen­tral block —13 bays of two storeys plus at­tic over a raised base­ment—is linked by curved ionic colon­nades to two-storey pavil­ions of seven bays each. At the ends of these are ped­i­mented gate­ways, both prac­ti­cal and po­etic, giv­ing ac­cess to sta­ble and kitchen court­yards while ad­ding to the grav­ity and ex­pres­sive­ness of the en­sem­ble.

in 1732, the travel di­arist John Love­day de­scribed it as ‘much the grand­est house we have seen in ire­land… very lofty and deep’. The com­po­si­tion is el­e­gant and aus­tere, the de­ci­sion to place the pale cen­tral block be­tween darker wings ad­ding to its im­pact. The for­mal rhythm of the win­dows is punc­tu­ated by al­ter­nat­ing seg­men­tal and tri­an­gu­lar ped­i­ments on the first-floor pi­ano no­bile. An­other vis­i­tor, richard Twiss, wrote in 1775: ‘This [is] i be­lieve the only house in ire­land to which the term palace can be ap­plied.’

Few en­coun­ter­ing the house to­day would doubt its in­ter­na­tional sig­nif­i­cance and, in the mid 1960s, it be­came one of ire­land’s con­ser­va­tion causes célèbres. it was res­cued from de­vel­op­ment and de­spo­li­a­tion by the Hon Des­mond Guinness, who bought the house and 120 acres in 1967, and the ef­forts of the ir­ish Ge­or­gian so­ci­ety (which ran it) and many donors and sup­port­ers. in 1979, it was vested in the Cas­tle-

town Foun­da­tion, from which it passed to the care of the state in 1994.

It is now more than half a cen­tury since the house ceased to be the res­i­dence of the Conollys. Un­der the lead­er­ship of Mary Hef­fer­nan of Na­tional His­toric Prop­er­ties, Castle­town is en­ter­ing a new phase. Fol­low­ing ma­jor re­pair and restora­tion, the Of­fice of Pub­lic Works (OPW) is now tack­ling the in­te­ri­ors, pre­sen­ta­tion and an­cil­lary ar­eas. The home farm is be­ing adapted to pro­vide vis­i­tor fa­cil­i­ties and, this sum­mer, re­stored plea­sure gardens will be un­veiled.

The OPW also has the ac­tive and valu­able in­volve­ment of the Castle­town Foun­da­tion, chaired by Christo­pher Moore. The foun­da­tion has an ad­vi­sory role and owns the ma­jor­ity of the col­lec­tion, in­clud­ing im­por­tant fur­ni­ture and paintings orig­i­nal to the house ( Fig 4). This has re­cently been cat­a­logued in Castle­town: Dec­o­ra­tive Arts (2011), which also con­tains the most de­fin­i­tive ac­count of the build­ing’s his­tory. The foun­da­tion is made up of ex­pe­ri­enced vol­un­teers from academia, plan­ning and con­ser­va­tion.

It is re­mark­able that, after nearly 50 years, the preser­va­tion of Castle­town, although safe in pub­lic own­er­ship, still gen­er­ates great good­will and in­ter­est—in­spired by con­tin­u­ing re­search into the Conolly fam­ily, the house, its con­tents and its land­scape set­ting.

Cur­rent projects within the house in­clude the con­ser­va­tion of the Red Draw­ing Room, which re­tains faded 1870s hang­ings, prob­a­bly Ital­ian. Visi­tors are in­vited to share in the de­bate about how best to pre­serve its at­mos­phere and watch the on­go­ing con­ser­va­tion of the silk. This is be­ing ac­com­pa­nied by weav­ing of new fab­ric for cur­tains. The aim is to pre­serve some of the el­e­gance of the orig­i­nal scheme while re­tain­ing the ef­fects of the pas­sage of time.

The in­tensely so­cial and pub­lic am­bi­tion of Conolly’s orig­i­nal vi­sion for Castle­town is re­flected in a new itin­er­ary of cul­tural and pub­lic ac­tiv­i­ties. After the house’s cur­rent ex­hi­bi­tion of modern art (by Richard Gor­man), it will host, in 2017, events de­voted to the 350th an­niver­sary of Jonathan Swift’s birth. The fol­low­ing year will be ded­i­cated to cel­e­brat­ing the artis­tic in­ter­ests of Lady Louisa Conolly, third daugh­ter of the Duke of Rich­mond and one of the four fa­mous Len­nox sis­ters who fea­ture in Stella Till­yard’s 1994 book Aris­to­crats.

Born as the son of an innkeeper in 1662, Wil­liam Conolly rose to im­mense

This is the only house in Ire­land to which the term palace can be ap­plied

power and wealth in the af­ter­math of the Ôglo­ri­ousõ Rev­o­lu­tion of 1688. A trained lawyer, he first dealt in, and then bought up, the land con­fis­cated by Wil­liam III from Catholic sup­port­ers of James II in Ire­land (at his death in 1729, he owned more than 100,000 acres). In 1692, he was elected to the Ir­ish House of Com­mons, where he sat for the next 37 years and, in 1694, mar­ried the well-con­nected daugh­ter of Sir Al­bert Conyn­g­ham.

He was ap­pointed Speaker of the Ir­ish House of Com­mons at the ac­ces­sion of Ge­orge I in 1715, an of­fice of enor­mous power and au­thor­ity. The po­si­tion he es­tab­lished for him­self in Ire­land was sim­i­lar to that of his English con­tem­po­rary Sir Robert Walpole. Like Walpoleñwho built Houghton Hallñ he un­der­stood the role of ar­chi­tec­ture in bol­ster­ing his au­thor­ity.

He left no writ­ten ac­count of what he set out to do at Castle­town, but, as Mau­rice Craig and the Knight of Glin have pointed out ( Coun­try Life, March 27, 1969), there is ev­i­dence of Conolly com­mis­sion­ing de­signs for the house from the Floren­tine Alessan­dro Galilei, who vis­ited Ire­land in 1718. In a let­ter of May 18, 1717, John Molesworth wrote of bring­ing Galilei, Ôthe best Ar­chi­tect in Europeõ, to visit Con­nolly in Ire­land. (Molesworthõs fa­ther wrote that year, that he, son John, Galilei and Thomas Hewett, were to be Ôthe New Junta for Ar­chi­tec­tureõ).

Galilei was paid for de­signs in 1719, and spoke of hav­ing de­signed a Ôpalazzo di Villa p[er] il My Lord Gover­na­tore di quel reg­noõ. Galilei had re­turned to Florence by the time con­struc­tion started and it seems the Ir­ish ar­chi­tect Ed­ward Lovett Pearce then re­vised the plans and de­signed the wings.

Thanks in part to Conolly, Pearce (whose fa­ther was Van­brughõs cousin) be­came the ar­chi­tect of Ire­landõs out­stand­ing Pal­la­dian-in­spired Houses of Par­lia­ment. There are three sur­viv­ing draw­ings by Pearce for Castle­town: a ground-floor plan, a sketch plan for Ñor ofñthe en­trance hall ( Fig 2) and an el­e­va­tion of the main ex­ter­nal cor­nice for the pavil­ions. Conolly may have sent Pearce to Italy for in­spi­ra­tion, as he was there in 1724 and in touch with Galilei. His­to­ri­ans Giles Wors­ley and David Grif­fin have both sug­gested that the sur­veyor-gen­eral Sir Thomas Burgh may also have been in­volved.

The philoso­pher Ge­orge Berkeley, an intimate of Lord Burling­ton in Lon­don Ñwho had seen the work of the An­cients him­self in Rome and Si­cily and vis­ited the ma­jor cities of the north of Italy in 1717Ñalso gave ad­vice. In July 1722, Berkeley wrote en­thu­si­as­ti­cally to Sir John Perce­val, Ôthe most re­mark­able thing now go­ing on is a house of Mr Conol­lyõs at Castle­towné It is to be of fine wrought stone, harder and bet­ter coloured than the Port­land, with out- houses join­ing to it by colon­nades, &c. The plan is chiefly of Mr Conol­lyõs in­ven­tion, how­ever, in some points he has been pleased to con­sult meõ.

Berkeley noted in a fol­low­ing let­ter that Ôthe build­ing is be­gun and the cellar floor arched be­fore they have agreed on any plan for the el­e­va­tion or fa•ade. Sev­eral have been made by sev­eral hands, but as I do not ap­prove of a work con­ceived by many heads so I have made no draught of mine own. All I do be­ing to give my opin­ion on any point, when con­sult­edõ. His­to­rian Ed­ward Chaney has sug­gested that the curved colon­nades at Castle­town may even be a re­sult of Berke­leyõs en­thu­si­asm for Berniniõs colon­nades at St Peterõs in Rome.

The son of an innkeeper, Wil­liam Conolly rose to im­mense power and wealth

Perce­val wrote that he was ‘glad for the hon­our of my coun­try that Mr. Conolly has un­der­taken so mag­nif­i­cent a pile of build­ing, and your ad­vice has been taken’. He urged the use of ma­te­ri­als from Ire­land (woods, stone, fur­ni­ture, ev­ery­thing down to the lock plates), ‘since this house will be the finest Ire­land ever saw, and by your de­scrip­tion fit for a Prince, I would have it as it were the epit­ome of the King­dom, and all the nat­u­ral rar­i­ties she af­ford[s] should have a place there’.

Perce­val’s mind­set must have ac­corded with Con­nolly’s, as the paler stone is from Eden­derry, the darker lo­cally quar­ried. In­side, even the ta­pes­tries were of Ir­ish man­u­fac­ture. It is apt that this ‘epit­ome of the King­dom’ should to­day be a show­case of Ir­ish con­ser­va­tion and cul­ture.

The bold, dou­ble-height en­trance hall (at­trib­uted to Pearce) is clev­erly ar­ranged, full of light, fac­ing south, with a first-floor gallery. This be­comes an ax­ial cor­ri­dor, run­ning above an equiv­a­lent in­ter­sect­ing cor­ri­dor on the raised ground floor. This ar­range­ment is some­what rem­i­nis­cent of the halls in houses by Van­brugh (who fa­mously had to ex­plain to the Duchess of Marl­bor­ough what a cor­ri­dor was). The un­usual, splayed piers and pi­lasters of the gallery level carry carved wooden cap­i­tals in the form of flower-filled bas­kets painted to look like plas­ter.

Lovett Pearce’s one sur­viv­ing floor­plan sug­gests a cir­cu­lar stair­case was in­tended, but none was com­pleted in the 1720s. Sec­ondary stair­cases at ei­ther end of the house gave ac­cess to the up­per storeys, which in­cluded suites of wain­scoted rooms, the end rooms with corner fire­places (then a lit­tle old-fash­ioned in Eng­land). There was one large pic­ture gallery.

Wil­liam died child­less in 1729, but his wife, Kather­ine, lived un­til 1752—in 1740, she had the great obelisk-like Conolly Folly built as a mon­u­ment to her hus­band, to de­signs by Richard Cas­tle ( Fig 6). Mrs De­lany re­called Kather­ine’s habits: ‘She rose con­stantly at eight, and by eleven was seated in her draw­ing room, and re­ceived vis­its to three o’clock, at which hour she punc­tu­ally dined, and gen­er­ally had two tables of eight or ten peo­ple each.’

The house passed to Wil­liam’s old­est nephew, also called Wil­liam, who, with his wife, Lady Anne ( née Went­worth), ran the es­tate dur­ing Kather­ine’s wid­ow­hood. It was in­her­ited soon after by his son Thomas. Four years later, in 1758, Thomas mar­ried Lady Louisa, a daugh­ter of the 2nd Duke of Rich­mond, and, to­gether, they be­gan to change Castle­town’s in­te­ri­ors.

One of their first acts was to add the great stair­case ( Fig 3). The Port­land­stone treads and brass balus­ters, dated 1760, were sup­plied by An­thony King of Dublin. The flow­ing Ro­coco plaster­work dec­o­ra­tion is by the stuc­cadore

Philip Lafran­chini, from the Ti­cino re­gion. The mag­nif­i­cent dec­o­ra­tive scheme in­cludes re­lief por­traits of Thomas, Louisa and her Len­nox sib­lings (in­clud­ing the 3rd Duke of Rich­mond).

Louisaõs brother-in-law, the Earl of Kil­dare (Duke of Le­in­ster from 1766), per­suaded Louisa to adapt rather than re­build. Ceil­ings and chim­ney­p­ieces in new draw­ing rooms on the north front and the din­ing room cre­ated from two rooms on the south front bear close com­par­i­son with those de­signed by Isaac Ware for Lord Kil­dareõs town house, Kil­dare (later Le­in­ster) House.

The first-floor pic­ture gallery ( Fig 7) was re­mod­elled in 1760, ini­tially with ad­vice from Wil­liam Cham­bers, with the work ex­e­cuted by Si­mon Vier­pyl, who also over­saw the new stair­case. The Gallery was fur­ther dec­o­rated, dur­ing the 1770s, with schemes drawn from the pub­li­ca­tions of dõhan­car­ville and Mont­fau­con and en­grav­ings of Raphaelõs dec­o­ra­tions of the Vat­i­can log­gia (painted by Charles Reuben Ri­ley). The three Mu­rano chan­de­liers were ap­par­ently sup­plied di­rectly to Castle­town.

Busts of po­ets and his­to­ri­ans still stand on carved brack­ets along the south wall; be­tween the win­dows were orig­i­nally cases for books, china or cu­riosi­ties. It was treated as a liv­ing/ draw­ing room: Ôlord Har­court was writ­ing, some of us played at whist, oth­ers at bil­liards, Mrs Gar­diner at the harp­si­chord, oth­ers at chess, oth­ers at read­ing and sup­per at one end. I have sel­dom seen twenty peo­ple in a room so eas­ily dis­posed of.õ

Lady Louisaõs dec­o­ra­tive in­stincts can be seen par­tic­u­larly in the ground-floor Print Room ( Fig 5), which is the work of her own hands and a unique Ir­ish sur­vival of this fash­ion. In 1768, she wrote: Ôall this fin­ish­ing work is so very en­ter­tain­ing, I am as busy as a bee, and that you know is mighty pleas­ant.õ

Something of that joy and in­dus­try is dis­cernible among those who care for and cham­pion this house to­day and will surely be felt by all who visit. Ac­knowl­edge­ment: David Grif­fin For fur­ther in­for­ma­tion, visit www.castle­town.ie

Fig 1: The en­trance front of Castle­town, the great house built in the 1720s for ‘Speaker’ Conolly, with the in­volve­ment of Alessan­dro Galilei, Ed­ward Lovett Pearce and the philoso­pher Ge­orge Berkeley

Fig 2: The main dou­ble-height en­trance hall of Castle­town is a room of great drama and light, with a first-floor gallery

Fig 3 fac­ing page: The stair­case added in 1760 by Thomas and Lady Louisa Conolly. Fig 4 above: The Green Draw­ing Room look­ing through to the Red Silk Draw­ing Room; both were re­mod­elled in the 1760s and the silk in the for­mer was wo­ven and hung in 1985

Fig 5 top: Lady Louisa’s Print Room is a re­mark­able sur­vival of a pop­u­lar late-18th-cen­tury dec­o­ra­tive fash­ion. Fig 6 above: The Conolly Folly, a large, com­plex obelisk erected in 1740 for Kather­ine Conolly as a memo­rial to ‘Speaker’ Conolly, her late hus­band

Fig 7: The Gallery: a vast, long room re­mod­elled with ad­vice from Sir Wil­liam Cham­bers and dec­o­rated in the 1770s in the neoRo­man style. The Mu­rano chan­de­liers are thought to have been in­stalled by Lady Louisa. It was used for en­ter­tain­ing, mu­sic, din­ing and con­ver­sa­tion

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.