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The vision of the Irish Georgian Society is to conserve, protect and foster a keen interest and a respect for Ireland’s architectural heritage and decorative arts. These aims are achieved through its scholarly and conservation education programmes, through its support of conservation projects and planning issues, and vitally, through its members and their activities.

‘Print REbels’ exhibition at the City Assembly House 9th July - 27th August 2021

09.06.2021

Posted by IGS


Saint Eustace, Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471-1528) c. 1501 | Engraving | B 57, M 60

Dürer’s largest engraving depicts the moment of conversion of the Roman General Placidus. While hunting, Placidus sees a crucifix miraculously appear between a stag’s antlers. The stag speaks in Christ’s voice and the general falls form his horse, going on to become a Christian baptized with the name Eustace.

This composition has long been admired as an exemplar of Dürer’s extraordinary virtuosity; the animals and creatures of the landscape served as models for artists for the next two centuries. The animals are confidently portrayed and particularly notable are the five hunting dogs carefully posed to show different aspects of the canine figure; standing to left, standing to right ,seated, crouching and lying in a sacra conversazione.

Edward Twohig RE (Fellow)

Click here for more info on 'Print REbels'

'Print REbels' at the City Assembly House would not have been possible with the financial support of Northern Trust (Ireland), the Heritage Council and Camilla McAleese.

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Frederick A. Krehbiel (1941-2021)

08.06.2021

Posted by IGS

Fred Krehbiel

The Irish Georgian Society was greatly saddened to learn of the death last week in Chicago of Frederick A. Krehbiel (June 2, 1941 ~ June 3, 2021), a great champion of Ireland's art and architecture and a dear friend to many. Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time. Ní bheidh a leithéid ann arís.
An obituary has been published on the website of Powell Funeral Directors: https://www.powellfuneraldirec...

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'Print REbels' at the City Assembly House (9th July-27th August 2021)

01.06.2021

Posted by IGS

The contents in 'Print REbels' mark a twenty-five year collecting odyssey for Edward Twohig. Here he discusses its genesis and the Irish strands interwoven across his pioneering comprehensive book and exhibition. Pre-19th, 19th and 20th century artists are featured include Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn, J.M.W. Turner, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Charles Meryon, Samuel Palmer, Seymour Haden, James Tissot, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, Georges Rouault, and Clare Leighton; Dublin born William Orpen and Cork born Robert Gibbings. (SEE THE IGS EVENTS PAGE FOR FURTHER DETAILS)

Print REbels at the Bankside Gallery, 2018 (2)

'Print REbels' as the Bankside Gallery, 2018

This touring exhibition commemorates the 200th anniversary of the birth of the founder and first President of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers (RE), Francis Seymour Haden (1818–1910). The selection of prints, ranging from Haden to work by current RE members, reflects on the achievements of the society and the changes it has undergone. Works by Haden’s contemporaries at the end of the nineteenth century, including Samuel Palmer (1805–81) and James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), hang alongside prints by current members; prints by all of the thirteen RE Presidents (from 1880 to today) form a bridge between past and present.

My chief aim in Print REbels is to reflect on past and present Members, its history, and the legacy of this Society. One of the world’s premier printmaking organisations, all of the R.E.’s Members are practising professional printmakers, following a rigorous selection process since 1881. Membership, which was and still is restricted in number in order to make it a mark of distinction, is by election based on work submitted to the Society’s Council for peer review. This Society seeks practising artists globally and intends its Membership to reflect the very best in printmaking as a creative platform in all its diversity from contemporary via traditional to innovative in the pursuit of the not yet realised.

Haden Mytton Hall. 1859. Etching and drypoint. S.19.iii/v.

Haden, Mytton Hall. 1859. Etching and drypoint. S.19.iii/v.

My passion for collecting etching and drypoint prints began with an acquisition of a proof impression of Mytton Hall. This composition presents an avenue of trees, its branches arching overhead with their cast shadows, vibrating with poetic atmosphere, drawn and printed in 1859 by Seymour Haden. This work captivated me though a shop window in Cork when he was 17. Haden, the son of an eminent Victorian paediatrician, pursued a full medical career as a surgeon of distinction, attending, amongst others, Queen Victoria, Charles Stewart Parnell MP and the 2nd and 3rd Dukes of Wellington. However, the great interest of his life, above even surgery, was etching, and it is by his etchings that Haden is now best remembered. He was the co-doyen of the 19th century Etching Revival in Britain. Haden’s great excellence was the art of suggestion and drawing for him meant training the eye and disciplining the hand for incisions during surgery.

Haden’s finest and rarest compositions were created along the River Muteen, by Greenpark in Dundrum, County Tipperary and at Glenmalure, County Wicklow. This surgeon-etcher visited Ireland four times between 1859 and 1864. Impressions of A River in Ireland, A Bye Road in Tipperary and Sunset in Ireland are hailed internationally amongst the finest landscape etchings of the 19th century. Kenneth Guichard writes in British Etchers 1850-1950 published in London, 1977:

‘Sunset in Ireland must be one of the greatest prints ever produced in etching, one can feel the dew beginning at the end of a balmy evening in Tipperary.’

Haden A Sunset in Ireland. 1863. Etching and drypoint. S.47.xiii/xiv.

Haden A Sunset in Ireland. 1863. Etching and drypoint. S.47.xiii/xiv.

This is fortified in Raymond Lister and Robin Garton’s book, Great Images of Printmaking in 1978:

‘1863 was a sublime year for Haden in printmaking. Sunset in Ireland is one of the greatest etchings of its period. It has the potency of ‘A River in Ireland’, but its textures are still richer, with their hint of that humid dusk often encountered in Ireland. There too, a note of mystery in the river as it curves into wooded reaches. In places the lines of shading seem almost careless, where much of the composition is cross-hatched by diagonal lines. The apparent carelessness is all part of Haden’s calculated and brilliant gift of suggestion. The plate was etched on the spot at Dundrum Park in Tipperary’.

More recently, Sunset in Ireland was admired by Corkonians’ when it was exhibited in the Visible Poetry exhibition at the Crawford Art Gallery in 2014 and at Gainsborough’s House Museum in Sudbury, Suffolk, in 2016.

Print REbels on tour in Wales, 2019

'Print REbels' on tour in Wales, 2019

Haden’s brother-in-law, James MacNeill Whistler, was the other co-doyen of 19th-century Etching Revival. He was a major influence on Irish, British and American artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like Haden, Whistler was among those who advocated for etching as a method of producing original, spontaneous art works, in contrast to reproductive engravings or lithographs. His paintings and etchings were shown at the Dublin Sketching Club in 1884, an innovative society from which several amateur and professional painter-etchers emerged. In the mid 1870’s, Haden flanked by the raffish James MacNeill Whistler and visionary Samuel Palmer were rebelling against the prevailing notion across the mid-Victorian art world and centres such as the Royal Academy, that printmaking was merely a means of reproducing paintings and not a creative versatile medium in its own right, on par with painting, sculpture or architecture. In defiance to this, their work and example set in motion the Etching Revival in Britain for the next eighty or so years, infusing wider interest in etching which made the British, Irish and Scottish printmakers of the next generations the most expensive contemporary printmakers in the world.

R.E. printmaking relations with Ireland continue to be rich, multi-facetted and at junctures, symbiotic with sagacious results. These strands were touched upon in the wonderfully insightful exhibition ‘Making their Mark: Irish Painter-Etchers & the Etching Revival 1880-1930’ curated by Dr Angela Griffith and Ann Hodge, at the National Gallery of Ireland in 2019. Two etchings by Walter Osborne R.H.A. (1859-1903) created in 1882 during his second year at the Academy of Fine Art in Antwerp, mirrors knowledge of one of the earliest R.E. Member’s, Alphonse Legros’ (1837-1911), portraits in terms of technique and style. Stylistically the etching Two Figures in a Boat from 1883 by John Lavery, R.A., R.H.A. (1856-1891) is a hybrid between a Legros and Whistler’s linear etchings. In 1884 the Dublin Sketching Club initiated by the Irish etcher, Dr William Booth Pearsall (1845-1913) invited Whistler, with whom he corresponded, to exhibit his Thames Set (created between 1859 and 1879) and First Venice Set (1880) of etchings affording the citizens of Dublin an opportunity to see at first-hand work of an important international contemporary artist.

Pearsall was an acute and avid collector of Whistler’s and his brother-in-law Haden’s prints. Whistler led a peripatetic lifestyle that exposed him to several cultural environments, which enriched his artistic practice. William Orpen R.A., R.H.A. (1878-1931), who became President of Whistler’s International Society of Sculptors, Painters and Gravers in 1921, made a series of line portrait etchings early in his career. In 1910, as the instigation of Dermod O’Brien, Hon. R.A. (1865-1945), then President of the Royal Hibernian Academy, the comprehensive historical survey of printmaking (to date) in the British Isles was held at the R.H.A. Seventy three R.E. Members participated in this Dublin show. County Down-born, Sarah Cecilia Harrison (1863-1941) learnt etching from Alphonse Legros, who was present when Haden founded the R.E. in Hertford Street, Mayfair, in July 1880. Academician and R.E. Member, Gerald Leslie Brockhurst (1890-1978) lived and worked in Ireland from 1915 to 1919. The Prix de Rome Scholar and R.E. Member, Job Nixon (1891-1938) created a body of drypoint prints in and around the River Blackwater between Fermoy and Ballyduff in the early 1920’s. Dublin born artist, Estella Solomons (1882-1968) befriended both Brockhurst and Nixon.

Frank Short (2nd RE President) drawn and printed by Malcolm Osborne (3rd RE President) in 1931.

Frank Short (2nd RE President) drawn and printed by Malcolm Osborne (3rd RE President) in 1931.

Each had various Celtic roots and exhibited frequently at the R.H.A.: Sir Frank Short (1857-1945) who succeeded Haden as second President (P.R.E.) of the R.E. from 1910-1938; third President, Malcolm Osborne (1880-1963) P.R.E. from 1938 to 1962; fourth President, Robert Austin (1895-1973) P.R.E. from 1962-1970 and sixth President, Harry Eccleston (1923-2010) P.R.E. from 1975 to 1989. Irish printmakers Francis Walker, Myra Kathleen Hughes (first female Irish printmaker to be elected to the RE in 1911) and Cork-born George Atkinson R.H.A. (1880-1941), who created the exceptional Shannon Scheme series of etchings in 1929, shown in Brussels and the Paris Salon in 1930, impressions held at the Crawford Art Gallery, each learnt etching and printing directly from the avuncular Frank Short. If Haden was the R.E.’s creator and head, Short was the Society’s backbone, right up to just before the Second World War. Principal of St. Martin’s School of Art from 1912 to 1930, Fred Vango Burridge R.E. (1869-1945), was a friend and executor of Sligo-born, Percy F. Gethin (1874-1916), an Irish early 20th century etcher who was friends with Lady Gregory and Sir Hugh Lane and who chronicled Irish life within his compositions, was killed in action at the Somme. Burridge wrote to the artist Sarah Purser R.H.A. (1848-1943) R.H.A., who founded the Friends of the National Collection in 1924, sending her four of Gethin’s etchings ‘for inclusion in the gallery or museum in Dublin which you would consider best suited to house them’. They are now at the National Gallery of Ireland. Malcolm Osborne was a London neighbour of William Orpen and relative of the Irish Impressionist painter and etcher, Walter F. Osborne R.H.A., and like him, created urban scenes often with an architectural and Impressionist/Realist focus. Robert Austin was related to and worked with Percy Metcalfe (1895-1970), sculptor and designer of car mascots, Indian, Iraqi, Canadian and the Irish Saorstat Eireann coins. Metcalfe’s designs depicting various animals: woodcock, pig and piglets, hen and chicks, hare, wolfhound, bull, salmon and horse, with the Brian Boru harp on the obverse were used on each coin issued by the Irish Free State. Metcalfe undertook work for the Irish Currency Commission of 1926, which was chaired by the poet W. B. Yeats and then soon to be appointed Director of the National Gallery of Ireland, Dr Thomas Bodkin. Taking advantage of the State’s name change to Éire in December 1937, Metcalfe refined his engraved designs a year later, strengthening the obverse harp and the reverses of the penny - hen & three chicks design along with the horse - on the half-crown. Metcalfe accomplished this with advice and help from Robert Austin who went on to design the C Series banknotes in England from 1960 to 1979. An impression of Robert Austin’s engraving masterpiece, Girl on Stairs, 1937, is in the collection of the Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, which was an astute purchase from the Gibson Bequest. The influential printmaker-teacher, Tim Mara, born in Dublin in 1948, elected a Member of the R.E. in 1990 stepped into Frank Short’s role becoming Professor of Printmaking at the Royal College of Art also in that year.

Frank Short The Headlights Over the Hill. 1927. Mezzotint. 6th & final state. H 127.

Frank Short, The Headlights Over the Hill. 1927. Mezzotint. 6th & final state. H 127.

This exhibition, ‘a necklace of visual gems and revelations’ recently described by Professor Dr David Ferry, Haden’s current successor and 13th President of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, demonstrates how remarkable the Etching Revival and Etching Boom era was. John Ruskin, the leading Victorian art critic and arbiter of taste, described etching as ‘an indolent and blundering art’. 150 years later Print REbels explores the great Etching Revival and the prominent artists who proved him wrong. That said, a work by Ruskin is included in this exhibition. Further, it shows R.E. Members’ prints, historic and contemporary, shining light on these artists work and bringing this legacy back into the public eye where it belongs.

David Ferry (13th and current RE President) The Aquarium Wilton House, Wiltshire from English Aquariums in Country Houses. 2017. Digital Archival Print.

David Ferry (13th and current RE President) The Aquarium Wilton House, Wiltshire from English Aquariums in Country Houses. 2017. Digital Archival Print.

Part of this exhibition includes the Print REbels Portfolio Boxset which comprises works by current RE Members, made specifically in response to this Society’s heritage. Twenty-five of these compositions were selected by Dr Jenny Ramkalawon, Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum for this Print REbels Portfolio Boxset limited to eight boxes. One Print REbels Portfolio Boxset is held in the collection at the British Museum, another housed with the RE Diploma Print Collection at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford while another was presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.

Dr Caroline Guignard, Keeper at the Cabinet d’arts graphiques of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva, wrote a review of my Print REbels book in Print Quarterly, in December 2019. Here I quote an excerpt:

‘Printmaker, collector and professor Edward Twohig insists on the pervasive influence of the RE’s presidents from Haden to the present, but also shares his passion for the so-called ‘REbels’ who campaigned tirelessly for the recognition and promotion of original prints. The distinguishing quality of this publication is Twohig’s point of view on the most significant consequences of the etching revival in Britain. His genuine admiration for the founders of the RE and the scholarship he displays in his comments about each impression mirror the passion that animated Haden and other pioneers who challenged the Royal Academy’s reluctance to integrate printmaking into its programme. Print REbels successfully aims at a broad audience. The exhibits come from Twohig’s personal collection.’

Further information can be found here:

https://www.banksidegallery.com/news/13-print-rebels-haden-palmer-whistler-the-origins-of-the/

Edward Twohig is a Fellow and Core Member of Council at the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers (RE) in London. He is the first European to be bestowed with Honorary Membership of the State Academy of Fine Arts of Azerbaijan. His 100 Views of Old City, Baku was shown at the National Museum of Art of Azerbaijan in 2017. Two further solo exhibitions followed in 2018 and 2019. His ‘Super Moon 2020 Suite’ was shown at Eames Fine Art, London in February and March 2021. Twohig combines his practice with his role as Head of Art at Marlborough College in Wiltshire.

Further information from

British Museum website:

https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/term/AUTH226936

Eames Fine Art website:

https://www.eamesfineart.com/artists/78-edward-twohig/

'Print REbels' at the City Assembly House would not have been possible without the financial support of Northern Trust (Ireland), the Heritage Council and Camilla McAleese.

Heritage Council_2
Northern Trust_2


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The Irish Georgian Society is recruiting!

25.05.2021

Posted by IGS


The IGS is seeking to appoint a City Assembly House & Communications Coordinator to manage events in its headquarters and to administer communications and publicity for the organisation.

The City Assembly House & Communications Coordinator will:

(i) Manage events in the City Assembly House (CAH), oversee its presentation, and promote it as a venue for commercial lettings.

(ii) Devise & deliver PR strategies for the Irish Georgian Society’s conservation and education activities.

Applications are accepted only through the 'Indeed' recruitment website where full details of the position are available. See: https://tinyurl.com/423txy7b

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IGS Year of the Country House Garden

01.04.2021

Posted by IGS

Garinish Island, County Cork
Garinish Island, County Cork (Robert O'Byrne)


2021 is the Irish Georgian Society Year of the Country House Garden during which we will be celebrating four hundred years of Irish gardens and designed landscapes.

In September 2021 the IGS is hosting two unique exhibitions in the City Assembly House: the first will explore the history of the Irish Country House Garden while the second will see forty specially commissioned paintings of Irish Walled Gardens by four leading artists. Curated by Robert O’Byrne, former vice-President of the IGS, both exhibitions are not to be missed and will be of exceptional interest to anyone with an interest in Irish gardens and gardening.

In Harmony with Nature: The Irish Country House Garden

Cappoquin, County Waterford
Cappoquin, County Waterford (Robert O'Byrne)


While the changing landscape of the Irish countryside has been extensively examined in recent decades, the evolution of gardens attached to country houses remains under-investigated.

This exhibition will explore the history of the Irish Country House Garden using paintings, engravings and photographs as well as film and other media creating an exciting, engaging and informative experience.

It will open c.1600 with sites around castles and fortified houses such as those at Lismore, County Waterford and Portumna, County Galway, and it will end with two great island gardens created just before the First World War: Garnish, County Kerry and Lambay, County Dublin.

The exhibition will consider what makes our gardens different from those found in other countries. What plants were favoured during which eras? Who were the most significant plantsmen and women? What role did owners play in laying out a garden? Who were the most important gardeners? What new species were introduced to Ireland, especially in the 19th century.

Stepping Through the Gate: Inside Ireland's Walled Gardens

Burtown, Co. Kilkenny (Lesley Fennell)
Burtown, Co. Kilkenny (Lesley Fennell)


Walled gardens have a long history going back millennia having often simultaneously served not just as places to grow fruit and vegetables, but also areas of privacy and of protection from intemperate weather conditions.

This exhibition will feature forty specially commissioned paintings of Walled Gardens by four distinguished artists: Lesley Fennell, Andrea Jameson, Maria Levinge and Alison Rosse.

All four artists are active gardeners and are people who understand plants. Alison Rosse and her husband inherited responsibility for one of Ireland’s finest demesnes at Birr Castle which includes superlative walled gardens laid out by his late parents. Lesley Fennell can take credit for creating a truly lovely garden at Burtown, County Kildare. Together with her two sisters, at Tourin, County Waterford, Andrea Jameson ensures that the walled garden remains as productive as ever, while Maria Levinge, having moved house a few years ago, embarked on establishing a new garden in County Wexford.

Paintings in the exhibition will be available for purchase. A catalogue can be purchased from the IGS bookshop.

Dates may change subject to government guidelines.

To coincide with these exhibitions the Irish Georgian Society is publishing a book to be edited by Professor Finola O’Kane-Crimmins with contributions from leading experts in the field. In addition, a television documentary looking at the history of the Irish country house garden is being produced in association with RTE and the OPW, while a conference is planned for the autumn.

Over the course of the year, a series of online interviews will be available with Robert O'Byrne, curator of both exhibitions, talking with people who are passionate about Irish gardens. The first series of talks started in January and features interviews with the four artists whose work features in the Walled Gardens exhibition. These will be re-issued in May and followed by a series of interviews with leading Irish gardeners.

The Irish Georgian Society is most grateful to Susan Burke and her late husband Coley who were the inspiration for these exhibitions and who provided generous funding to bring them to fruition. We also wish to thank the Apollo Foundation, Northern Trust Corporation, Beth Dater, Sheila O’Malley Fuchs, Hindman Auctions, Fred and Kay Krehbiel, Jay & Silvia Krehbiel, Frank Saul, John & Nonie Sullivan, Robert & Gloria Turner, and The Heritage Council.

Northern Trust


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IGS London: Mourne Park House, Kilkeel, County Down – a Recent History by IGS London Committee Member Stuart Blakley

26.02.2021

Posted by IGS

The following article is an entry from IGS London's Stuart Blakley's Lavender Blue.

The first time we visited Mourne Park House, November 1992, the recently widowed Julie Ann Anley whisked us off on a whistlestop tour. “It’s great!” she laughed. “No one ever bothers us here because the house isn’t architecturally important.” This was no tourist attraction. The country house as time capsule may have emerged as a phenonomen in the Eighties when Derbyshire’s Calke Abbey came to the public’s attention, but it certainly was applicable to an extreme at MPH in the wilds of County Down. While the Treasury saved Calke, sadly no knight in shining armour would come to MPH’s rescue.

The last time we visited the house, April 2003, it was teeming with members of the public rummaging over the soon to be dispersed contents. Everything was beginning to unravel. Beige auction labels dangled like insipid baubles from Christmas past, hanging on everything including the kitchen sink. A striped marquee consumed the courtyard while the building itself was crumbling at the edges. The auction was the outcome of a long and bitter family feud which erupted following the death of Nicholas Needham Fergus Philip Gore Anley in 1992, dragging through the courts until the opening days of 2003. On 14th February, without much filial or inter sibling love, it was finally settled.

“It’s something which all our family very much care about,” Marion Scarlett Needham Russell, Julie Ann’s younger daughter with the looks of a young Liza Minnelli, told us back in 1994. “We’ve always known that this house and its land were non negotiable and it was something we would do everything to keep,” agreed her older sister Debonaire Norah Needham Horsman or ‘Bonnie’.

But by the end of the decade, the close of last century, this harmony of outlook had floundered following much brouhaha over how the estate should be run. Events reached a dramatic climax when Marion removed what she considered to be her fair share of the contents from the house in a midnight flit. Her refusal to reveal the whereabouts of these “chattels” as the courts would archaically call them resulted in Marion spending a week at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Five years of arduous legal wrangling costing hundreds of thousands of pounds only concluded when it was finally agreed that she could keep her share and her brother and sister would auction off their two thirds of the contents.

MPH was the seat of the Earls of Kilmorey (pronounced “Kilmurray”). What is it about the upper classes and their delight in orthographic nuances? Althorp is “Althrup”; Beauchamp is “Beecham”; Beaulieu is “Bewley”; Belvoir is “Beaver”; Blakley is “Blakely”; Calke is “Cock”; Coke is “Cook”; Londonderry is “Londondry”; Monson is “Munson”; St John of Fawsley is “Sinjin of Fawsley”. One gets the idea. The Kilmorey family can trace its roots to the Elizabethan soldier, Nicholas Bagenal, founder of Newry. The 4th Earl of Kilmorey died in 1982. Before his death the family inheritance was rearranged because he had no sons, allowing his English nephew and heir, Major Patrick Needham, subsequently 5th Earl of Kilmorey, to waive his right of succession to MPH in exchange for assets of equal value. And so the title returned to England where Charles I had created the original viscountcy in 1625.

This compromise allowed the 4th Earl’s widow Lady Norah and her two daughters to continue living in the house. Patrick’s son, the 6th Earl, is better known as Richard Needham, a former Northern Ireland Office Minister. He’s now the Deputy Chairman of a vacuum cleaning company and declines to use his Anglo Irish title. However his son styles himself Viscount Newry and Mourne. Nicholas, the son of the 4th Earl’s elder daughter, married Julie Ann Wilson at the start of the Sixties and together they had moved into the stables at Mourne Park. He had inherited the estate minus the title in 1984.

Julie Ann may have modestly described the house as being architecturally unimportant and it doesn’t boast the baronial battlements of Ballyedmond Castle or share the symmetrical severity of Seaforde House, to take two other South Down seats. But it is a rare example of a substantially Edwardian country house in a county where Georgian and Victorian are the norm. MPH oozes charm with its long low elevations hewn of local granite and its lavish use of green paint (Farrow + Ball’s Folly Green?) on bargeboards and garden furniture, window frames and porches, and the endless array of French doors. Much of the interior decoration dates from the early 20th century lending the house a magical nostalgic air. And the setting is second to none. Looming behind the house and stables are the craggy slopes of Knockcree Mountain rising 130 metres above oak and beech woodlands. A Victorian visitor, William Russell, waxed lyrical on Mourne Park. “The scene… from the front entrance is indeed very fine. Before you, in the precincts of the mansion, is a lake. Beyond this lake, the demesne stretches away with a gently rising slope, which hides the intervening land, till one can fancy that the sea waves lap the lawns of the park.”

The genesis of the current building dates back to at least 1818 when the 12th Viscount Kilmorey employed Thaddeus Gallier of County Louth to build the central block. It replaced an earlier house on the site. An architect or ‘journeyman builder’, he had already completed Anaverna at Ravensdale a decade earlier. Baron McClelland commissioned that five bay two storey house near Dundalk in 1807. It’s now the des res of the Lenox-Conynghams. Too grand for a glebe, too modest for a mansion, the middling size house, tall, light and handsome, stands proud in its sylvan setting overlooking a meadow. A glazed porch under the semicircular fanlight partially obscures the double entrance doors in the middle of the three bay breakfront. Otherwise, Thaddeus Gallagher’s façade remains untouched. Relieving arches over upstairs windows introduce a motif he was to later employ at MPH. At Anaverna he proved himself to be a designer of considerable sophistication. His was no vainglorious provincial hand. Thaddeus Gallagher’s son James, who recorded in his autobiography that his father worked at MPH for nine months in 1818, emigrated to New Orleans where he carried on the dynastic tradition of designing fine architecture. His grandson, James Gallier Junior, was a third generation architect and his 1857 New Orleans townhouse is now the Gallier House Museum.

The first of multiple incarnations of MPH, Thomas Gallagher’s design was a typical late Georgian two storey country house with Wyatt windows on either side of a doorway similar to Anaverna’s. Next a third storey was added and then some time after 1859 a new two storey front of the same height was plonked in front of the existing house, so that the rooms in the newer block have much higher ceilings that those behind. The replacement façade is three bays wide like the original front but in place of the Wyatt arrangement are twin windows set in shallow recesses rising through both storeys with relieving arches over them. It is the combination of these paired windows and gentle arches, like brows over the eyes of the building, which lends the garden front such a memorable look. In the central breakfront the bottom of the shallow recess floats over the entrance door which is treated as another window, flanked on either side by a window of similar shape and size. A low parapet over a slender cornice partially conceals the hipped roof which wraps round the roof lantern over the staircase. Five attic bedrooms are tucked under the eaves with windows overlooking the roof lantern, unseen from the outside world.

Contemporaneous improvements were made to the estate itself. In the 1840s the 2nd Earl – the Kilmoreys had climbed a rung or two up the aristocratic ladder when his father the 12th Viscount was made an earl for his services to the development of Newry – commissioned a ‘famine wall’. This was a method used at the height of the Irish Famine by many Big House families to create work and keep locals from starving. The cheaply constructed three metre high granite walls also benefitted the estate. The 2nd Earl built Tullyframe Gate Lodge, the third of four gatelodges, at this time. Whitewater Gate Lodge was built in the 1830s and Ballymaglogh Gate Lodge in the 1850s.

But it was the alterations of the 3rd and 4th Earls which gave MPH its Edwardian air. “It’s not fit for a gentleman to live in!” raged the 3rd Earl upon his inheritance. His gentrifications began in 1892 when he added rectangular ground floor bay windows to the garden front and continued up until 1904 when he built a single storey peninsular wing perpendicular to the back of the house. Long Room Passage leads to Lady Kilmorey’s Sitting Room and onwards to the dual aspect Long Room (four pairs of French doors face four sash windows) with its hammerbeam roof, the latter finished in time for his son’s 21st birthday celebrations. The 3rd Earl completed the estate buildings in the 1890s with Green Gate Lodge, a two storey house finished in the same granite as MPH.

A century or more of each generation making their mark on MPH has produced a fascinating interior full of surprising variations in floor levels and ceiling heights and room sizes. The main block is arranged like three parallel slices of a square cake, each different in essence. The oldest three storey slice at the back of the house has low ceilings and small windows, some retaining their Georgian glazing bars. A row of rooms overlooking the stables is accessed off the Long Corridor on the ground floor, the Rosie Passage on the first floor, and the Servants’ Passage on the second floor. The middle slice contains the Hall, Inner Hall, Staircase Hall and Blue Room, opening off each other like first class railway carriages. The first floor bedrooms in the front and middle slice are clustered together off two lobbies except for the Best Bedroom which appropriately takes pride of place in the middle of the garden front and is the only one to be accessed directly off the landing of the Staircase Hall. The ground floor of the newest slice contains the enfilade of reception rooms: the Dining Room (Farrow + Ball’s Calke Green?), the Ante Room and the Drawing Room where Sir Malcolm Sargent had once played the piano. A low two storey kitchen and nursery wing parallel to the Long Room wing links with the stables to create a courtyard to the rear of the house. Room naming at MPH clearly follows the Ronseal approach (“It does what it says on the tin”).

All the ground and first floor rooms were open during the auction preview weekend. We began the tour that we’d gone on a decade earlier, only with a printed rather than personal guide and without the troop of 13 Persian cats that had followed us around the first time round. “Come on, get out now!” Julie Ann had bellowed as she shut the door of each room. “Otherwise you could be locked in for a year or two! It’s not as if the cats even catch mice; they just watch them race by.” Now people were talking in mellow hushed murmurs as if at a wake, respectfully leafing through issues of The Connoisseur in the Estate Office, thoughtfully gazing at caricature prints in the Rosie Passage.

The Hall, dressed like a long gallery with paintings hung on pale painted (Farrow + Ball’s Wimborne White?) panelled walls, is the first in a processional series of spaces which culminates in the Staircase Hall, MPH’s most exciting interior moment. The staircase was extended between 1919 and 1921 to stretch out in the direction of the new entrance while the original flight accessed through an archway into the Inner Hall was retained. Above, more archways and apertures afford tantalising glimpses of corridors filled with shadowy ghosts. MPH, a Mary Celeste in granite.

Close to the new entrance, Lord Kilmorey’s Study has an air of formality in contrast to the intimacy of Lady Kilmorey’s Sitting Room tucked away in the far corner of the house. A seven metre long oak bookcase, used as a temporary display cabinet for the preview (sold for £3,000), and a chesterfield sofa (sold for £800) completed the butch mood of the good Lord’s space. On the other hand, the feminity of Lady Kilmorey’s Sitting Room was enhanced by the delicate double arched overmantle (sold for £1,000) and the 17th century Chinoiserie cabinet on a carved giltwood stand (sold for £11,000) similar to those in the State Drawing Room of 11 Downing Street. Outside, a life size marble garden statue of Ulysses and His Dog by Lawrence MacDonald sold for £110,000. HOK auction staff were making last minute notes on a pile of books in the middle of the kitchen floor. The house no longer felt private.

The main reception rooms were quintessentially Edwardian. Chintz sofas and family portraits mixed comfortably with period pieces. Shabby chic, to use another Eighties cliché, sprung to mind. Decades of decadence had descended into decay, where once the Ascendancy and the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) had whiled away halcyon days. In the Billiard Room (or Morning Room), a corner timber and brick chimneypiece defiantly declared this room to have been decorated in the early 20th century. Paint (Farrow + Ball’s Calke Green?) was peeling, curtains were crumbling. An air of faded grandeur pervaded the Long Room. Triumphal flags now in tatters and coloured wall lamps dulled by the passage of time poignantly hinted at past glories and forgotten parties. A suite of oak bookcases had been supplied by John McArevey of Newry to fit between the rows of window openings. One pair sold for £3,000. The kitchen had lost the lived in look that we remembered. It was neater now with rows of copper jelly moulds and tin pots arranged museum-like along the painted pine dressers. The rows of ceiling hooks for hanging game had gone. High up on the wall above, the clock had stopped.

The principal bedrooms – Avenue Bedroom, Corner Room, Caroline’s Room, Best Bedroom, His Lordship’s Bedroom, Her Ladyship’s Bedroom – contained plain sturdy furniture. A mahogany breakfront wardrobe and matching half tester or four poster bed dominated each room, accompanied by a matching desk and pair of pot cabinets. On average the wardrobes sold for £3,000; the beds, £5,000. The bedrooms looked slightly sparse. Perhaps they had been fuller in happier times. Minor bedrooms – Captain’s Room, Chinese Room, Knockcree Room, Garden Room – and servants’ rooms had brass beds (the one on the Housekeeper’s Room sold for £70), lower ceilings, less dramatic views, and were full of clutter. Not for much longer.

“People say it’s as if time stood still in the house,” Philip Anley told us on the opening day of the auction. “That’s a tribute to mum,” he added, acknowledging Julie Ann’s efforts to maintain MPH while working full time as a teacher. Sales had taken place at Mourne Park before. Shortly before his death, Nicholas had sold more than half the original 800 hectare estate to Mourne Park Golf Club (since renamed Kilkeel Golf Club), allowing it to extend from a nine hole to an 18 hole course. A decade before he had bought out the interest of his aunt, Lady Hyacinth, which allowed her family to remove various heirlooms in lieu of any stake in the house itself. The inheritance of the title and estate had already split in 1960. However this sale was different. It was “the end of an era” according to Philip.

In the words of Herbert Jackson Stops’ introduction to the 1920s sales catalogue of Stowe: “It is with a feeling of profound regret that the auctioneer pens the opening lines of a sales catalogue which may destroy for ever the glories of the house, and disperse to the four winds of heaven its wonderful collections, leaving only memories of the spacious past.” A rare level of disarming honesty compared to recent excuses for flogging the family silver. Try, “We are delighted that others will have the chance to enjoy objects which it has given him so much pleasure to discover…” Or, “In this sale which has been carefully selected so as not to damage the overall integrity of the collection…” Alternatively, “In order to allow for reinvestment which will underpin the long term future of the estate, the trustees have carefully selected a number of pieces to be sold at Christie’s this summer…”

The raven haired Sara Kenny from HOK Fine Art (she would later set up on her own launching Sara Kenny Fine Art in 2005) conducted the auction raising a total of £1.3 million. Prices were high with dealers bidding against collectors against locals. “My dad worked on the estate so we want some sort of keepsake,” we overheard. It seemed everyone wanted their piece of MPH. Auction excitement reached fever pitch on the last day when lot 1391 came up. It was the ‘Red Book of Shavington, in the County of Salop, a seat of The Right Honble [sic] Lord Viscount Kilmorey’. For those who don’t know, Red Books were the invention of Humphry Repton, a pioneer in the field of landscape architecture. He created or transformed over 200 English estates. His mantra was natural beauty enhanced by art. His practice was to complete a Red Book for each client.

The Shavington Red Book was a slim volume encased in red leather containing his proposals for “Improvements” outlined in neat copperplate handwriting and illustrated with maps, plans, drawings and watercolours. Several bidders appreciated its exquisite beauty and historical importance. In the end it went under the hammer for £41,000. The 3rd Earl of Kilmorey had sold Shavington, the family seat in Shropshire, in 1881 to pay for debts his father had accrued. He crammed much of the furniture into MPH. Shavington items auctioned included two early 19th century pieces by Gillows of Lancaster which each sold for £11,000: the Corner Bedroom wardrobe and the architect’s desk from the Library.

Mourne Park estate may not have benefitted from the romantic touch of Humphry Repton but its rugged character, derived from the granite face of Knockcree, remains mostly unchanged from sepia tinted 19th century landscape photographs. The same can’t be said for the interior of the granite faced house. “I’ll always remember the day you visited Mourne Park,” Julie Ann had said, strolling up the old drive, “as the day the boathouse collapsed.” And sure enough, the gable ended half timbered boathouse, which had stood there for centuries, not so much collapsed as gently slipped into the lake like a maiden aunt taking a dip in the water. After a few ripples, it disappeared. Forever.

And so 11 years later, masterpieces and miscellany, a record of Edwardian living in its original setting, is gone, just like the boathouse. It was a sad ending for the collection that formed the soul of one of Ulster’s Big Houses. Sad for the family and for the people of Newry and Mourne whose toil allowed the family to amass a fortune in very fine things. In the middle of the (now) 57 hectare estate still stands the house itself, stripped of its contents, naked as the classical statues that once graced the lawns around the lake, awaiting its fate.

Much Ballyhoo! That was then and this is now. Following the auction, Marion placed MPH on the market. “Life is taking us in a different direction,” she said wistfully. “We’re spending more and more time abroad. So it’s made a bit of a nonsense us being here. Em, so a very difficult decision. But we’ve decided to put the estate on the market. I’m sure the moment that I leave is going to be difficult. But having made the decision, you just have to go with it, really.” Its £10 million boom time price guide soon slumped to £6.5 million then £3.5 million but there were still no takers. Marion clung on, admirably restoring the house and beginning to add suitable furniture. Impressively she uncovered and restored an extensive lost Edwardian rock garden. “It was so exciting,” she enthused, “A bit like an archaeological dig. Every day a bit more would emerge.” A happy ending of sorts, but this is MPH, forever permeated by Ibsenesque melancholy.

In June 2013, Marion and her family returned from holidays to find fire engines lining the driveway. More than 80 firefighters were tackling an inferno which had engulfed the main block. The roof, where the fire had started, had collapsed – molten history. Fire Service Area Commander John Allen said, “Our priorities were, one, to prevent the fire from spreading to the adjoining wings of the building and, two, to save as many of the artefacts in the building as we could. Not only the artefacts in terms of history and legacy, but also, this is a family home where children live. Our intent was also to save their items which were of sentimental value.”

Mourne Park House: the place with the endless postscript. The irrepressible Marion Scarlett Needham Russell has plans to transform the house into a 126 bedroom hotel and spa. Since 2000, Irish architects Mullarkey Pedersen have been working up a vision to convert and extend the house and its outbuildings. The châtelaine confirms, “Since the fire, we have done everything we can to preserve the structure of the building: removing, storing and shoring up where necessary. We’re absolutely committed to seeing the restoration of Mourne Park once again and have open minds as to how this would be achieved. The rebuild is currently on hold until the right person or group comes forward to claim the opportunity.” Is a northern Castle Leslie in the making?

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