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Building of the Month - February 2013

King House, Main Street/Military Road, KNOCKNASHEE Td., Boyle, County Roscommon

King House, Boyle 01 - Representative View

Figure 1: One of the earliest surviving substantial townhouses in the Province of Connaught, King House was built for Sir Henry King MP (c.1681-1739) to a design attributed to William Halfpenny (d. 1755), an assistant of the renowned Sir Edward Lovett Pearce (d. 1733).  Although built in the Palladian style replete with Classical detailing, Venetian Windows, and a pedimented roofline, the house retains a seventeenth-century fortified character which must have served it well when it was adopted by the Connaught Rangers and Roscommon Militia at the turn of the nineteenth century.  Click here to view a photograph of King House from the William Lawrence Collection

The story of King House begins in the early 1700s (fig. 1).  During its lifetime many different people have lived there and the house has had many different roles: as a family home; as a military barracks; as an office; and even as a store.  Built for Sir Henry King MP (c.1681-1739) between 1720 and 1740, King House was subsequently home to Edward King MP (1726-97), first Earl of Kingston, and through marriage and conquest the Kings became one of the premier landowning families in Ireland.

King House, Boyle 02 - Entrance Front King House, Boyle 03 - Garden Front

Figures 2-3: A view of the Entrance Front suggests that the house was not completed as originally intended.  Structural evidence has been found to suggest that the "U" was to have been infilled forming, on the ground floor, an impressive entrance hall giving way to the Long Gallery.  This omission possibly accounts for the somewhat blank appearance of the Entrance Front today.  The corresponding Garden Front cannot fail to impress and features, as its centrepiece, a spacious tripartite Venetian Window defining the Grand Saloon

King House is built symmetrically on four floors on a U-shaped plan: it is almost certain that the house was intended to be rectangular in form but the Entrance Front intended to compliment the Garden Front was never completed (figs. 2-3).  The house boasts an extensive vaulted basement area with the ground, first and second floors also vaulted with red brick, an unusual feature where predominantly only basement areas were vaulted in large houses.  It is believed the extensive use of vaulting in King House was a method of preventing the spread of fire and three varieties were used: barrel, pointed and groin vaults.

King House, Boyle 04 - Long Gallery King House, Boyle 05 - Long Gallery Chimneypiece

Figures 4-5: A view of the Long Gallery showing the groin vaulted ceiling.  King House is distinguished by its extensive vaulting on all four floors and, according to Reverend Daniel Beaufort (1739-1821) who was a visitor in 1787, the vaulting was intended to prevent the spread of fire.  Ultimately, King House was damaged by fire in 1788, which may have prompted the Kings to move, but, in an ironic twist of fate, the succeeding family seat at Rockingham was damaged by fire on two occasions, the second in 1957 leading to the demolition of the house in 1971.  Apart from the Venetian Windows at either end, twin pedimented chimneypieces form the focal point of the Long Gallery.  Fashioned from fossilised Kilkenny limestone, polished to give the appearance of marble, the chimneypieces feature floral and peapod motifs

Of particular note in King House is the Long Gallery running the full length of the ground floor with its majestic front door, stone tiled floor laid in the Carréaux d'Octagnes pattern, ornate chimneypieces, and tripartite Venetian Windows (figs. 4-5).

King House, Boyle 06 - Main Saloon 

Figure 6: A view of the Main Saloon, the centrepiece of the piano nobile or principal floor.  A near-perfect cube, symmetry of design predominates and once again twin chimneypieces enhance the effect.  A spacious Venetian Window commands impressive vistas overlooking the pleasure grounds and meandering Boyle River

The splendid Main Saloon on the first floor is also noteworthy and is almost a perfect cube in shape: twin chimneypieces enhance the symmetry of the room (fig. 6).  A spacious Venetian Window overlooks the pleasure grounds while a bold plasterwork cornice supports a coved ceiling.  The most important rooms in King House were located on the first floor, the piano nobile, and either side of the Main Saloon were suites of rooms including bedrooms.  Other spaces may have included a library, a music room, a sewing room, and a study.  The dining room, however, was located on the ground floor, readily accessible by the kitchen staff and servants in the basement area.

By the late eighteenth century the Kings had built a new mansion, Rockingham House (rebuilt 1863; destroyed 1957; demolished 1971), on the outskirts of Boyle.  The original family home was leased and subsequently sold in 1795 to the War Office in London for a sum of £3,000.  Throughout the nineteenth century it was the home of the Connaught Rangers and was also adopted as the headquarters of the Roscommon Militia.  With the founding of the Irish Free State in 1922 the newly formed Irish National Army took possession of the house.

King House, Boyle 07 - Before Restoration King House, Boyle 08 - Before Restoration

Figures 7-8: Sold to the War Office in 1795, King House was adapted as a barracks for twelve officers and two hundred and sixty non-commissioned officers and private foot soldiers.  On the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922 the barracks, renamed Dockery Barracks in honour of a Commanding Officer killed in Boyle during the Civil War (1922-3), was taken over by the Third Infantry Battalion and witnessed military activity once again during "The Emergency" (1939-46).  A prolonged period of neglect thereafter rendered the townhouse sadly uninhabitable and for a time King House was faced with the prospect of demolition.  Happily, Roscommon County Council acquired the property in 1987 and in 1989 commenced an extensive restoration of King House to return it to its early Georgian splendour

In 1960 King House, together with the east and north grounds, once again changed hands although the army continued to occupy the west and south grounds.  Used as a feed and turf store, the house fell into disrepair and in the 1970s tenders were invited for its demolition to make way for a carpark (figs. 7-8).  In 1987 King House was acquired by Roscommon County Council but the state of disrepair was considerable: sycamore trees were growing out of its high pitched roof!  Turf stacks littered the basement; windows were broken; walls were saturated with water and the whole building was dilapidated.  Happily, a four-year restoration was undertaken by the council and the house was returned to its early Georgian glory (figs. 9-10).

King House, Boyle 09 - Plasterwork Before Restoration 

King House, Boyle 10 - Plasterwork After Restoration 

Figures 9-10: Among the considerable undertakings by the council were the reinstatement of the roof; the repair or replacement of windows and doors; the reconstruction of supporting arches where openings had been made by the military; the restoration of the Main Saloon which had had a mezzanine floor added; and the replastering internally and externally of the entire property.  A detail of the decorative plasterwork at King House before and after restoration shows bands of Acanthus, dentil, and egg-and-dart motifs

Situated in the centre of Boyle, King House is managed and operated by Roscommon County Council and welcomes visitors to step back in time and experience life in the eighteenth century.  Interactive exhibitions are spread out over three floors.  The principal rooms feature period furniture and ornaments and the grandeur of the architecture cannot fail to impress.  The Long Gallery is home to the Boyle Civic Arts Collection, widely considered one of the finest collections of contemporary Irish painting and sculpture.  The collection can be enjoyed by visitors throughout the year when rotating exhibitions featuring selected works from the collection are on show.

Every year King House comes alive with a season of cultural events.  An Arts Programme supported by the Arts Council was introduced in 2012 and includes exhibitions, lectures, music, theatre and visual art.  Boyle Arts festival takes up residence in the house from late July, their visual art programme continuing throughout August.  A museum traces the history of the Connaught Rangers Association from its inception in 1793, through all the great wars of the nineteenth century to its disbandment in 1922.  King House is also the home of Boyle Town Library.

Nollaig Feeney, Heritage Officer, Roscommon County Council, based on King House Guidebook available at King House

Click here to visit the King House website

Click here to visit the King House Places to See page

Figures 1, 3-10 courtesy of Roscommon County Council.  Figures 8-9 photographed by George Gossip courtesy of Roscommon County Council.  Figure 2 photographed by Architectural Recording and Research for the NIAH Roscommon County Survey 2003

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