These haunting relics from a bygone era stand as a reminder of just how turbulent times have been for this island.
For the past four years, Tarquin Blake has been documenting the closing days of the landed aristocracy in Ireland and the demise of their country mansions houses. The results are two beautiful bestselling books: Abandoned Mansions of Ireland and Abandoned Mansions of Ireland II – More Portraits of Forgotten Stately Homes.
Published by The Collins Press, both books are large 348 page coffee table books, each of which tells the story in pictures and words of fifty country estate houses. Beautifully photographed, his striking and evocative images convey an indefinable beauty in the decay and abandonment of what were amongst the finest houses in Europe. He writes about their history and folklore, telling of troubled times and private hardship.
Here we look at two previously-loved properties that fell into ruin, never to rise again.
CASTLEBORO HOUSE, COUNTY WEXFORD
Around 1628, Robert Carew obtained a grant of lands in County Wexford and built a fortress known as Bally Boro Castle. The Carew family prospered through the acquisition of land totalling more than 20,000 acres and towards the end of the eighteenth century built a new mansion house which was named Castleboro House. In 1840 when the Carews were away, one of the chimneys caught fire and flames quickly spread through the whole house. By the following morning only the west wing was left standing. Lord Carew promptly commissioned the architect Daniel Robertson to design another new mansion house.
Robertson had built many other country houses including Johnstown Castle and Wilton Castle also in County Wexford. It is said Robertson suffered from gout and spent much of his time at Castleboro being pushed round in a wheelbarrow, the plans for the house in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. The house was completed in 1848 at a cost of £84,000, about 12 million euro in today’s money. The house was built in the Palladian style; a main central block, three stories over basement, with two storey wings on either side.
The majority of the Carew’s land was sold through the Land Acts and by 1919 the Carew family, anticipating the War of Independence, left for England. They took most of their belongings and effects with them and left the house only furnished for occasional visits.
On the night of Monday 5 February 1923 Irish Republican Army irregulars broke into the house. They soaked hay in paraffin and dragged the flaming bales through the interior; the mansion burnt to the ground. The gaunt shell of Castleboro House still dominates the surrounding landscape.
WOODLAWN HOUSE, COUNTY GALWAY
Reverend John Trench purchased the Woodlawn estate at public auction in 1702. His son Frederick, a Dublin lawyer, married the wealthy heiress Mary Sadleir and her dowry of £5000 paid for the first Woodlawn House to be built. Frederick’s son, also called Frederick, was awarded the title Baron Ashtown in return for his vote in favour of the 1800 Act of Union, at the time this exchange was described as a shocking and corrupt act of bribery.
The second Lord Ashtown married another wealthy heiress, Elizabeth Oliver Gascoigne, and in 1859 it was her dowry that paid for Woodlawn to be lavishly remodelled and extended, to become one of the finest country houses in County Galway. The 1911 census records the fifty-room house, with 28 bedrooms, being occupied by just Lord and Lady Ashtown and their daughter, Grace. They had no shortage of staff to look after them – there were thirteen servants working inside the house: a governess, a butler, a footman, a hall boy, a house keeper, a cook, a lady’s maid, a lady’s room maid, three house maids, a kitchen maid and a still room maid.
During busy times it was estimated the total number of staff employed on the Woodlawn estate reached more than three hundred people. The third Lord Ashtown inherited Woodlawn when he was just twelve years old. He became one of the richest landowners in the whole of Ireland, holding more than 24,000 acres, which brought in an annual rent of around £10,000, about 8 million euro in today’s money. From 1906 to 1910, the third Lord Ashtown edited a monthly magazine, Grievances from Ireland, which suggested Irish nationalism was treasonable.
Consequently he became a serious target for the IRA and on the 27th April 1921 he received a letter from the IRA headquarters demanding his departure from Ireland. Woodlawn House was to be confiscated and used to accommodate Catholic refugees from northern towns.
A few months later the contents of the Woodlawn House, the farm and all livestock were sold at auction. Lord Ashtown went into exile in London and only returned to Ireland after the Civil War was over. He found Woodlawn House vandalised and ransacked and continued on at the house in much-reduced circumstances. Derek Le Poer Trench was the last member of the Trench family to occupy the house. Facing financial disaster he ended his own life with a shotgun.
Over the following years the house fell victim to thieves and vandals. Fireplaces disappeared and the house fell into disrepair. During the early 1990s, Woodlawn House was again the scene of some festivities, in the form of illegal rave parties. The house changed hands a couple more times but continues to fall into ruin.