Tag: Eighteenth-century

A ‘Rose Tinted’ Georgian City

Too often we look upon Georgian Dublin with rose tinted glasses; its well-laid squares exhibiting austere yet harmonious facades and magnificent door-cases in no way prepares us for the sumptuously opulent interiors secluded behind the brick elevations. Yet we neglect the squalor that was situated directly outside those very doors. We forget for instance that bootscrapers adjacent to the thresholds had more of a functional than aesthetic purpose. However this aspect of Dublin’s history is slowly finding its voice. Dr. Finnian O’Cionnaith’s recently published Exercise of Authority (2015, Four Courts Press)  documented the decades of turmoil surrounding the lighting and paving of Dublin City. Dr. Patricia McCarthy has reassessed how the aristocracy of Georgian Ireland lived from day-to-day in her publication Life in the Country House in Georgian Ireland (2016, Yale University Press).


Both of these authors, along with other eminent names associated with the history of the Georgian Era, are presenting papers at a seminar dedicated to life in Georgian Dublin. Organised by Dublin City Libraries and Archive, and hosted in the former Royal Exchange (now Dublin City Hall) as part of Heritage Week 2016, this seminar covers topics from construction and habitation to conservation and restoration. The seminar is being held on the 24th August and early booking is essential at or on 01 674 4806.


Mount Street Upper, Dublin

*Cover image: Herbert Street, Dublin.


Posted on 10-08-16

Citation;  McKenna, M. (2016) A ‘Rose Tinted’ Georgian City.  Available at (Accessed dd/mm/yyyy)

Leaving Certificate Georgian Architecture Question


Traditional Building Skills Exhibition 2016

Georgian Architecture and the Leaving Certificate

I am delighted to be presenting a paper to Leaving Certificate students at this year’s Traditional Building Skills Exhibition in Portumna Castle, 1.00pm, 7 May 2016.  The lecture will consider the development of architecture through the eighteenth century and will assist students in preparing an answer for the Georgian Architecture question on the Leaving Certificate Art paper.

This lecture and all scheduled lectures are FREE and no advanced booking is required.  You can find more information here, or download the IGS Event Programme.



Bessborough, Co. Kilkenny – J.P. Neale

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Bessborough was constructed in the 1740s to designs by Francis Bindon.  It was altered by T.M. Deane in the nineteenth-century and burned in 1923 along with many other country houses.  It was rebuilt around 1929, purchased by the State in 1971, and is now known as Kildalton College, an agricultural college run by Teagasc.  The entrance front has nine bays with the central three breaking forward while the garden front – illustrated by Neale – displays six window bays with the central four breaking forward and an unusual arrangement of Venetian Windows.

From; J.P. Neale, Views of the seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, vol.II, London, 1823

“Bessborough is situated toward the eastern end of a fine country, called by way of eminence the Golden Vale, distant about seventy miles south from Dublin.  The ancient name of the Mansion was Kildalton, and the Owner having forfeited it by being engaged in the Rebellion of 1641, it was granted to Sir John Ponsonby, an officer in the Parliament army, the immediate ancestor of the present noble Proprietor.

Brabazon, first Earl of Bessborough, in 1744, pulled down the large ancient building which formerly stood here, and erected the present Mansion on the site of it.  It is constructed of hewn stone, extending in front above 100 feet, and in depth 80 feet, from a design of Francis Bindon, a native of Ireland, who had visited Italy, and who professed the arts of painting and architecture; his name stands among the earliest of the Irish artists: he lived in intimacy with Swift, Delany, and Sheridan, and died much respected in 1765. The Hall is large, handsome, and in some respects unique, for it is adorned by four Ionic columns of Kilkenny marble, each of the shafts consisting of one entire mass, 10 feet 6 inches high.  The Saloon and Dining Room are furnished with several fine Pictures, deserving the attention of the connoisseur; particularly a Night Piece; Peter’s Denial, by Gerard Segers, formerly belonging to Monsieur De Piles; a Nativity, by J. Jordaens; three fine old copies after Corregio; Birds, by Hondekoeter; Dead Game and Fruit, by F. Snyders and De Bos; with several Landscapes by Lucatelli and Horizonti.  In the Corridor, leading to the principal staircase, are placed two horns of the moose deer, remaining fast to the skull: they were found at the farm of Belline, in November, 1781, and are supposed to be the largest ever discovered; the length of each horn, from the extremity to the tip, is 6 feet 1 inch.

The Edifice itself is situate in a fine well wooded plain, bounded on the north by the great chain of the Walsh Mountains, on the summit of the principal of which is a remarkable Pagan altar, dedicated to the sun, and said to have been the Table of Fin Macornall the Fingal of Ossian.  (Vide Milton’s Irish Views).

The south side of the plain is bounded by the Suir, a navigable River, which in its progress through the Golden Vale, runs long the foot of a high range of hills, and divides the counties of Kilkenny and Waterford.  The surrounding Park is very beautiful; it is watered by a rivulet called the Shara.

In England, the Earl of Bessborough has an estate at Sysonby, in the county of Leicester; and a seat at Roehampton, in the county of Surrey.

(Our View, was taken from a Drawing by the Earl of Bessborough.)”


Posted on 04-08-15

Citation;  McKenna, M. (2015) Bessborough, Co. Kilkenny.  Available at (Accessed dd/mm/yyyy)

Under the Gaze of a Goddess

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009_RDR_Fireplace 3


Vesta (Greek Mythology: Hestia) Roman goddess of the hearth, and domestic architecture and governance. This is a popular mask which formed the centrepiece of numerous eighteenth-century chimneypieces including this piece from the Red Drawing Room at Castletown House, Co. Kildare. Fire of course is an age old symbol of life, and the Vestal Virgins were the keepers of the eternal fire of Rome. This piece was designed by Sir William Chambers and appeared in his 1759 publication A Treatise on Civic Architecture, a copy of which was at Castletown. Drapery swags from which a central facial mask is revealed continue outwards to wrap around the flanking cruciform border through which they protrude via stylised acanthus masks in an altogether symmetrical scheme.

Chimneypiece, Red Drawing Room, Castletown House

Lady Louisa Conolly, wife of Squire Thomas and mistress of Castletown, mentioned this chimneypiece when she wrote to her sister Lady Sarah in February 1768, ‘Our chimney pieces are come over, therefore we shall soon furnish our House, which will be a great diversion to me’. The chimneypieces referred to were made in London and transported to Castletown to adorn the newly remodelled reception rooms. A similar design appeared in Isaac Ware’s Designs of Inigo Jones and Others in 1731, in which the vertical swags are tied at their finals and the head on the central mask is more exposed, and William Kent also employed this design in Holkham Hall, Norfolk for Thomas Coke first Earl of Leicester. In Ireland this design was used in Lord Kildare’s Dublin townhouse (now Leinster House), his country seat at Carton House, and No.6 South Leinster Street which was built c1760 for Attorney General Philip Tisdall.

Chambers' Design
Chambers’ Design
Ware’s Design

At Castletown, the image of Vesta also appears in the stuccowork on the walls of the staircase hall, sculpted-in-situ by Filippo Lafranchini in the 1760s. Inspiration for the stucco masks may have been found in contemporary publications such as Bernard de Montfaucon’s L’antiquit Expliquee, a book that is believed to have had an influence on the Lafranchini stuccowork in the Apollo room at 85 St. Stephens Green. In Ancient Rome, the design of a temple dedicated to Vesta was governed by the principles of the Corinthian order; therefore it is little surprise that the figures at Castletown reside in rooms whose cornices are that of the Corinthian. Could this be the signature of William Chambers and his dogmatic approach to neo-classical design?

Vesta_Staircase Hall
That the subject of the mask is Vesta is indicated through the lack of iconography accompanying the piece, the context in which it is used, and the cloaking of the mask. Vesta watches over the fire which represents the life and wellbeing of Castletown and its inhabitants, and she can be read as an exceptional domestic governess for the young Lady Louisa to aspire to. Elsewhere at Castletown masks are identifiable through their accompanying symbols; Hercules rests above the first floor doorway in the staircase hall, identified by his lion pelt, and illustrates the strength through which said governance can be achieved.




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Posted on 13-07-15

Citation;  McKenna, M. (2015) Under the Gaze of a Goddess.  Available at (Accessed dd/mm/yyyy)


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