Tag Archives: Ireland

The much delayed blog!

I thought I would do a quick shout out for Mount Stewart Restoration Project. Mount Stewart is situated near Newtownards, Northern Ireland, and is a stunning piece of Neo-Classical architecture. I’m yet to venture over to any part of Ireland, but I felt it necessary to re-blog here simply because the Restoration Project is now underway, and it’s rather nice to highlight projects of this kind at houses other than Knole!

Mount Stewart - House & Restoration

Once again I find myself saying sorry for the delay in the posting of these blogs. To say we have been very busy is an understatement! Anyone who has ventured to Mount Stewart will see what I mean. There seems to be an endless stream of differing tradesmen coming from all over the country. I mention this as the painters all come from Castlederg and the surrounding area, a drive which takes them 2½ hours each way! I thought I was bad coming from Lurgan but I don’t complain anymore.

So for the update, I can tell you now, this will be a long blog, there is so much to tell you all.

The New Look Gallery

As you may or may not know we had huge structural problems with the gallery which I mentioned in previous blogs. The fixing of which fell to the structural engineers who quite frankly…

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Filed under Architecture and Design, Collections, restoration

Guest post: Famine and the Country House and Estate, Dr Ciarán Reilly.

In December last year, I included a guest post by Professor Terence Dooley about the establishment of a Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates (CSHIHE) at the National University of Ireland (NUI), Maynooth. Here is a wonderful follow up to that which highlights a particular project currently underway concerning the Great Irish Famine by Dr Ciarán Reilly.

The subject of the Famine is something of which I know very little within the context of the country house. Aspects of Irish history are discussed in English schools as part of GCSE level history, but that’s probably as far as most people take it, and any specialisms only surface at a later stage with further or higher education.  The following certainly pulls the wider histories of the country house into view. As the piece suggests, a great many public outcomes have so far come about because of the project, and it is hoped that the research will have far reaching effects even when the project has been completed, both academically and socially.

Strokestown Park House

Strokestown Park House

Dr Ciarán Reilly is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses & Estates at the Dept of History, NUI Maynooth.

At the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses & Estates at NUI Maynooth of the most exciting projects on the Great Irish Famine is being undertaken. Paying particular attention to how the Famine impacted on the Country House & Estate, Dr Ciarán Reilly is presenting groundbreaking findings on how the Famine impacted and unfolded. This research is the result of  the collaboration between the Irish National Famine Museum at Strokestown Park House and the CSHIHE. In 2008 the archive was transferred on loan to the Office of Public Works (OPW)/NUI Maynooth Archive and Research Centre at Castletown House, county Kildare.

The Strokestown Park House Archive is one of the most important and extensive nineteenth-century estate collections in Ireland comprising over 50,000 documents, including rentals, accounts, correspondence, maps and plans, property deeds, rent books, labour returns, pamphlets, press cuttings and even photographs. Of particular importance are the papers relating to the Great Famine of Ireland, 1845-51. Given the paucity of Famine records in a great many other estate collections, the Strokestown Archive has thus an added significance because of the microcosmic insight it offers into the Famine at local level. To date an in-depth analysis has been carried out on what can now be described as Ireland’s most important collection of documents relating to the Great Famine. While the archive details the running of the Mahon (and later Pakenham Mahon) estate from the 1600s until 1979, the majority of the papers relate to the tenantry on the estate. In the case of the Great Famine of the 1840s, the archive reveals the very people for whom Famine was a living nightmare. Here, through daily petitions for food and relief, we see the ‘forgotten voices’ of the Great Famine. It is through the study of such local estates that a greater understanding of how the Famine unfolded and impacted upon local communities can be fully understood. Through themes such as blight, eviction, emigration, murder and the struggle for land, a picture of Ireland in the 1840s and early 1850s is clearly identifiable. Significantly, the archive challenges long held assumptions about the Great Famine.

To date a number of public outcomes have resulted from the project including the annual International Famine Conference at Strokestown Park House. In July 2013 the third annual conference will take place organised by the Department of History, NUI Maynooth (a call for papers will shortly be advertised). In addition, the Strokestown Winter/Spring Lecture Series is also in its third year. The project has also seen an ambitious search for the location of more than 5,000 Famine emigrants from Strokestown who settled in Britain, Australia, America and Canada.

Major Denis Mahon

Major Denis Mahon

In the summer months of 1847 more than 1,400 people were assisted by the owner of the estate, Major Denis Mahon, in emigration to Canada.  It has been estimated that more than 600 never made it ashore in Canada, having succumbed to fever at sea or died in the quarantine station at Grosse Ile. More than sixty children were orphaned at Grosse Ile and through the generosity of the Catholic Church and local people, they were adopted. It is hoped that the descendents of these children and others will return to Strokestown Park in July 2013 as part of the Gathering. 


Staff profile, http://historicirishhouses.ie/people/dr-ciaran-reilly

Project overview, http://historicirishhouses.ie/research/postdoctoral/strokestown-famine-project

Strokestown Park & Irish National Famine Museum http://www.strokestownpark.ie/

Putting the Great Famine into perspective http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/famine_01.shtml

Atlas of the Great Irish Famine book with links http://greatirishfamine.ie/

Exploration of the Famine by Professor Cormac O’Grada for the Economic History Society 1992 http://www.ehs.org.uk/ehs/refresh/assets/OGrada15b.pdf

A heavily referenced overview on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_(Ireland)


The Strokestown Park House Archive: What it tells us about the Great Famine in county Roscommon’ in Journal of the Roscommon Historical and Archaeological Society (forthcoming, 2011)

The Strokestown Park House Archive: Offering new perspectives on the Great Irish Famine’ in The Bonfire: Newsletter of the Ballykilcline Society, vol 13, no 2 (Fall, 2011)

James Donnelly, The Great Irish Potato Famine (Sutton Publishing, 2002)

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Filed under Collections, Non-British country houses

Guest Post: Professor Terence Dooley and the Irish Historic House.

After attending the Attingham Trust 60th Anniversary Conference in October, I thought it only appropriate that I share some of the thoughts that were featured. In my last post I hinted at my own desire to obtain a greater understanding of the interpretation and presentation of the country house outside Britain. Several papers at the Conference opened my eyes to the architectural heritage of historic houses around the world. These also offered up a fascinating insight into how vastly different socio-economic and political backgrounds have provided contrasting approaches to modern-day heritage management.

One such paper was given by Professor Terence Dooley from the National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUIM). Dooley’s own specialisms are in Irish social and political history of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with particular focus upon the Irish country house and the landed class. A quick read of his staff profile will tell you he is well-versed in ‘policy matters relating to heritage and restoration’. Moreover, he has placed a great deal of energy into creating fantastic links with fellow academics, researchers and those working directly in country house management at an international level. This has been a significant accomplishment, and one which stems from the establishment of the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates (CSHIHE), of which Dooley is currently the Director.

The main aims of the CSHIHE are to secure and enhance public appreciation of historic properties by supporting education, research and scholarly publication. Its foundation was in large part due to Dooley’s report, A future for Irish historic houses? A study of fifty houses (2003) which was jointly commissioned by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Irish Georgian Society. This was crucial in informing government policy as well as leading to the establishment of the Irish Heritage Trust. Dooley’s conclusion to the report stated that,

An appreciation of historical and cultural heritage values should be promoted through exhibitions of historic house art, contents and archive collections and conferences to raise public awareness. Houses should be regarded as an educational asset, offering a unique insight into the country’s social, economic, cultural and political history as well as the architectural heritage which they represent.

It is with many thanks to Prof. Terence Dooley that I can now include the following overview of the activities and developments of the CSHIHE since the delivery of the report.



Prof. Terence Dooley

National University of Ireland

In 2004, the proposal for the establishment of a Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth was enthusiastically supported by the Office of Public Works (OPW). Its main strength was perceived to be that the central thrust of the Centre would be educational in the broadest sense: to support teaching and research on Ireland’s country house heritage at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels at NUI Maynooth; to initiate an outreach programme with local schools; and to collaborate with those involved in the heritage industry in Ireland. The CSHIHE is now a unique public-private venture with no equivalent elsewhere in Ireland or Britain.

As part of its educational brief and to provide a forum for debate and the dissemination of new heritage-related research findings, the CSHIHE embarked on a series of annual conferences at Maynooth. These conferences have attracted audiences from a broad cross section of Irish society and overseas including owners and managers of historic properties; heritage professionals; academics and students; specialists in architecture, landscape and conservation; secondary school teachers; and those with a general interest in the built heritage. The success of these occasions has been determined by the range of topics, the quality of speakers, and the mix of audiences. Moreover, overseas speakers have generously facilitated tours for groups from the Centre to Paris, Moscow and Sicily.

At university level, educational initiatives have included the development of modules at undergraduate level on the social, political, economic and cultural history of Irish country houses, their architectural evolution, their material culture and the creation (and destruction) of their surrounding landscapes. Teaching modules have also included visits to the UK which have enabled a comparative study of country houses in Ireland and Yorkshire in collaboration with the Yorkshire Country House Partnership.

An important recent development has been the introduction in September 2010 of an MA in Historic Houses Studies, offering modules on historical context, architectural design, material culture, heritage and tourism, restoration and conservation.

stairwell at fota

Stairwell at Fota House, County Cork (Irish Heritage Trust)

The work of the Centre is also focused upon linking the fruits of academic study with contemporary heritage issues at historic properties, and collaboration has been at the heart of these activities. The Historic Houses Association of Ireland (founded in 2009) has been a welcome partner, keen to show how many of their properties have educational assets that could be deployed in a number of ways. There is the acknowledgement that countless projects could be fashioned in relation to specific houses that would allow students and owners to work closely to the mutual benefit of both parties; the ‘Music in the Irish Country House Project’ and ‘Famine and the Country House and Estate’ being cases in point.

In 2008 the establishment of the Archive and Research Centre at Castletown, under the joint auspices of the OPW and NUIM, has presented further opportunities for those working in architecture, the decorative and fine arts, landscape, and conservation. Launched by President Mary McAleese, the Centreaims to facilitate the care and study of archives that deal with the history of Irish estates, their houses and inhabitants. The transfer of the Strokestown Park archive signalled a pioneering collaboration between a house in public ownership, a privately owned house that incorporates the National Famine Museum, and a third level institute. Dr Ciaran Reilly was appointed Post-doctoral Research Fellow to investigate the archive and organise a series of public outcomes relating to his research.

The CSHIHE, in association with the OPW, has also organised a very successful series of seminars at Castletown, addressing key issues relating to the management and understanding of the historic house in Ireland. These gatherings are aimed at those working across the historic house sector – managers, curators, academics, administrators, guides, education officers, marketing personnel, house staff and other heritage professionals.


The 1841 Irish Testimonial to Lord Morpeth (collaborative research between YCHP and CSHIHE and others)

Since 2004 the Yorkshire Country House Partnership (YCHP) based at the University of York, England, and the CSHIHE have held a highly successful series of seminars, conferences and exhibitions in Yorkshire and in Ireland. Like the CSHIHE, the YCHP is committed to re-evaluating the role and meaning of the historic house in its broadest understanding, encompassing architecture, families, collections, landscapes and archives. It has been widely acknowledged within the heritage sector that these events have been instrumental in refashioning the interpretation of the historic house in the UK, Ireland, and Europe.

In 2007, the YCHP and CSHIHE launched a joint scoping exercise aimed at exploring and recording the connections which existed between landed estates in Yorkshire and Ireland, and the respective families connected to these estates. This exercise was carried through by Desmond Konopka, a PhD student of Dr Dooley’s, and David Ghent, a PhD student of the History Department at the University of York. Their findings have yielded a great deal of material that is already supporting new post-graduate research at the University of York, and post-doctoral research at Maynooth on the Lord Morpeth Testimonial of 1841 under Dr Patrick Cosgrove. These projects have opened up an additional dimension to the collaboration between Maynooth and Yorkshire.

Borris House County Carlow (Irish Historic Houses Association)

Borris House County Carlow (Irish Historic Houses Association)

Such is the extent of its activities in the eight years since its inception that the Centre can fairly be said to be leading and determining the debate with regard to historic houses in Ireland, and, indeed, much further afield, both in academic terms (through research, teaching and publication), and in a more general political sense. In September 2005 the internationally renowned Arts journal, Apollo, described the CSHIHE as ‘an academic endeavour that has no parallel in England’ and generously praised its educational efforts particularly the outstanding success of its annual Historic Houses of Ireland Conferences.

The range of organisations, departments and individuals linked with the Centre through these diverse activities is testimony to the central tenet that those working across the entire spectrum of the built heritage sector cannot do things in isolation. Academic research needs to demonstrate a public outcome in addition to its own intrinsic requirements; equally for those who work in the heritage sector their knowledge and understanding is best enhanced by taking advantage of such research. Moreover as the historic house grows in significance so too does its appeal as a visitor attraction. Consequently the collaborative efforts of scholars, owners, managers and other professionals can also translate into economic activity with a defined public value.


Staff profile for Dr. Terence Dooley http://historicirishhouses.ie/people/professor-terence-dooley and the homepage for the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates http://historicirishhouses.ie/

Full links for Irish Historic Houses Association http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm and the Irish Heritage Trust http://www.irishheritagetrust.ie/

Archive and Research Centre Castletown http://www.nuim.ie/opwnuim/

Yorkshire Country House Partnership http://www.ychp.org.uk/main/home.php

The 1841 Irish Testimonial  to Lord Morpeth (George Howard, later 7th Earl of Carlisle) http://historicirishhouses.ie/research/postdoctoral-research-projects/1841-irish-testimonial-lord-morpeth

Strokestown Park: Irish National Famine Museum http://www.strokestownpark.ie/


Filed under Architecture and Design, Collections, Non-British country houses, The Destruction of the Country House