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Building of the Month - September 2009

Castlecore House, CASTLECORE Td., County Longford

Castlecore House 01 - Aerial View 

Figure 1: An aerial view of Castlecore House showing the eighteenth-century hunting lodge with its early twentieth-century Entrance Front.  Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive

Castlecore House is regarded as one of the most unusual eighteenth-century houses in Ireland (fig. 1).  Erected as a hunting lodge for the Very Reverend Cutts Harman (1706-84), Dean of Waterford Cathedral (appointed 1754) and younger son of the Harman family of nearby Newcastle House, the exact date of construction in unknown with estimates varying from 1735 to 1765.  The architect is also unknown although it is possible that Cutts Harman served as his own draughtsman.  The original house, the rear portion of the present composition, consists of a two-storey block on an octagonal plan with short radiating wings projecting from four of its faces forming a cruciform footprint.

Speculation as to the inspiration for the unusual design varies and includes:

  • Plans for windmill sails illustrated in the seventh volume of Tutte l'opere d'architettura et prospetiva (1575) by Sebastiano Serlio (1475–1554), the renowned Italian Mannerist architect
  • Palazzina di Stupinigi (begun 1729), near Turin, Italy, the hunting palace of the Dukes of Savoy
  • Schloss Clemenswert (1737-47), Sögel, Germany, the hunting lodge of Clemens August of Bavaria (1700-61)
  • The Great Rotunda of Ranelagh House (demolished 1803), London, which once boasted a central octagonal support with chimneypieces, a feature missing from Stupinigi and Clemenswert
  • William Halfpenny (d. 1755) who in 1739 was commissioned to design a new cathedral and bishop's palace in Waterford, both unexecuted

Castlecore House 02 - First Floor Plan (1913) 

Figure 2: A drawing signed (1913) by Adam Gerald Chaytor Millar (1874-1957) of Dublin showing proposed improvements to Castlecore House with the new block at first floor level accommodating three bedrooms, two dressings rooms, and a bathroom.  A half-octagonal bow defining the master bedroom was not included in the finished house.  Note also the diminishing in the depth of the wall masses in the eighteenth-, nineteenth- and twentieth-century blocks.  Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive

In the nineteenth century a conventional two-storey block was added on to the hunting lodge in an attempt to make it more suitable for permanent residential use.  Later in 1913 a wider front, centred on a pedimented tripartite doorcase, was constructed abutting the nineteenth-century block (figs. 2-4); each addition makes it somewhat difficult to appreciate the original concept of the composition.

Castlecore House 03 - New Entrance Front Castlecore House 04 - Doorcase

Figures 3-4: A view of the "new" Entrance Front erected for Captain Charles James Clerk JP DL, one-time High Sheriff of County Longford (fl. 1906), who inherited Castlecore House through his marriage (1901) to Emily Constance Bond.  An exemplar of the contemporary Georgian Revival movement, the front shows symmetry of form, Classical proportions, and a high pitched roof, all eighteenth-century in character and therefore sympathetic to the original hunting lodge

On entering the house the visitor passes through the top-lit galleried entrance hall of the twentieth-century block and, ascending the top-lit staircase of the nineteenth-century adjunct, enters the "Great Hall", the crowning glory of Castlecore House (fig. 5).

Castlecore House 05 - The Great Hall 

Figure 5: A view of the "Great Hall" and its extraordinary central chimneypiece.  The mirrors, modern replacements, not only reflect pastoral views from the opposing windows, but also the late nineteenth-century neo-Egyptian mural artwork which may have been inspired by illustrations in Owen Jones' (1809-74) Decoration (1856)

The "Great Hall" is a single room on the first floor of the central octagon.  Its centrepiece is composed of four chimneypieces clustered together as a remarkable architectural assemblage.  Each chimneypiece is framed by tall Corinthian columns supporting a rich entablature, the segmental pediments surmounting a mask of Apollo motif.  A mirror on each face reflects views of the countryside from the four tall windows opposite.  Overhead, an octagonal shaft rises to a boldly-detailed cornice and high coved ceiling.  Architecturally the visual impact is extraordinary and the "Great Hall" must rank as one of the most interesting eighteenth-century rooms in the country.

Castlecore House has enjoyed a variety of uses during its lifetime – hunting lodge, private residence, convent, guesthouse and nursing home – and is currently undergoing restoration as a private residence once again.

FURTHER READING

Bence-Jones, Mark, A Guide to Irish Country Houses (London: Constable Press, second edition 1988)

Casey, Christine and Rowan, The Buildings of Ireland: North Leinster (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993)

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