a fascinating social history of country houses and their survival


There is no page in this book, from the preface by Mary Heffernan of the OPW to the personal file of archivist Lucy Whiteside, that does not offer entertainment, pleasure or, at the very least, information. And that includes the index.

It seems important to make this point because at first glance the Brilliant Volume is nothing more than a collection of scholarly essays significant enough in itself, but essentially a collection of scholarly texts prepared for the Seventeenth Annual House Conference. historic held in May 2019 under the auspices of NUI Maynooth’s Center for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates.

As unwieldy as it sounds – and it’s time for the MCSHIHE to invent a more accessible acronym – the book belies its origins. Or maybe it makes them better.

Though conceiving of 14 authors and thus 14 different aspects of provenance from the artistic collections of the Irish and other notable owners, the meticulous editing by Terence Dooley and Christopher Ridgeway ensured an imaginative audit through a succession of country houses that reads like a thriller.

The essays are an inviting array of deeply rooted knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm expressed in gracious scholarship. Such rooting brings a sense of confident brotherhood, so that throughout these beautifully illustrated chapters runs the spell of mystery, doubt, transactions, reputation, affirmation, loss and recovery. .

Here are personal stories of intense rivalry and immense wealth, sorrow, triumph, and brilliantly clever gifts. The work also lights up from an unusual angle The complexities of Irish social history for their context are all over and in his essay on House of the House editor Terence Dooley fears that “the distinguished provenance of Leinster’s portraits and money and other content will be lost. ”.

Why should we care? And how do you define the value, or impact, for a general population of the cultural heritage of country houses, large and small? Literature responds sometimes, like The Spoils of Poynton by Henry James, or Old New York by Edith Wharton.

Or perhaps it is permissible to recall some such subtle excitations. A visit to Russborough House in Wicklow revealed the scars of unscrupulous attacks on art collected by Sir Alfred and Lady Beit. As explained in these pages, they donated most of the best to the National Gallery of Ireland in an act of benevolent generosity which also left the house itself in trust for the Irish people.

The point here is the point of impact. During a guided tour of the rooms in the house in 2001, a clock struck the hour somewhere; its chimes were those heard by Marie-Antoinette. The silver dashes ran like a shudder that stirred the centuries together, ringing: from those calm Irish bedrooms to the lounges of yesteryear.

Beyond the Book in Russia, in the restored summer residence of the poet Aleksander Blok; the windows with their spiral crystal clasps let in the light of her beloved countryside. Here, a general amnesty encouraged locals to bring back to the dacha as much as possible whatever was taken when it was destroyed by fire in 1921.

Salvaged furniture, paintings, linens, books, and even a parasol leaning against an armchair now bear witness to missing lives but still have the power to enchant visitors.

Rich in both famous and un-acclaimed names, this collections book is a collection in itself, with newly examined provenances of wonderful things bequeathed to an unforeseen future. His investigation of auctions and intercontinental scale connections recalls the cultural importance of institutions and homes enclosed in a historic landscape that has defined their existence. It is also a reminder of the philanthropy that often distinguished their owners and dependents.

Although, for example, it was at Lismore in 1642 and from there to the Preservation of Security at Chatsworth that Lismore’s medieval book was taken as a war strike, it was Chatsworth that he was fired in a historic act of repatriation by the 12th Duke of Devonshire in October 2020; this event is not included in these earlier essays, but the Cavendish family’s “enlightened engagement” at Lismore Castle is recorded.

Thus, while among the debates over the return of native works of art, the Ledger is not necessarily on a par with the never-contested Elgin Marbles, in proportion it was a splendid act, applauded to the purse of an irrichie purse and to a Taoisach Micheal Martin.

Correctly Cork’s book, he had been exposed on a loan to UCC in 2011 and it again came that ripple of enthusiasm in reading the hasty note by which Lord Kinalmeaky sent “a manuscript found at Kilbittain” to his father, 1st Earl of Cork at Lismore. Young Kinalmeaky is killed in Liscarroll a few months later. The old book lives in the Boole library. It is the magic of things found, from there to here and now.

How lucky we are! And how unlucky. Compare this discovery, preservation and restoration in its original territory of such a national treasure with the fate, for example, of Woodhill House in Cork, home of Cooper Penrose. Even Sarah Curran knew her “Italian galleries” near Tivoli and wondered, in her letters to her daughters Anne and Elizabeth, if her “statues” had arrived.

The family’s subsequent departures led to the abandonment and sudden demolition in 1989 and the permanent loss to Cork of the arcaded gardens on a city hill. Look south and what’s the case with Vernon Mount?

Dedicated to the memory of Fred Krehbiel, “a true Patron of Irish arts and heritage”, Country House Collections is not just about Ireland and the gains and losses of the past. His eyes are almost equally on the future, as the story works both ways. The future is adventurous and offers the glamor of risk, because who knows of our current fashions and tastes what will survive in value a hundred years from now?

Yet it is the past that offers what one might call a sentimental education, as Ballyfin, near Portlaoise magnificently suggests. In his collection chapter for Irish Art House art historian, William Laffan details the history of this Cote family mansion which, thanks to Kay and Fred Krehbiel, has been restored as a small unique hotel, unique impressive.

Laffan’s essay is also an indicator of how fine art emigrates and immigrates: Ballyfin was built in the 1820s for the young Charles Coote; His portrait of John Hoppner had been sold by art dealer Sir Hugh Lane in the early 20th century, but caught the attention of the Krehbiels when it was disaggregated by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia. . It was bought by Ballyfin Demesne Ltd and now hangs in the Whisper Room.

As William Laffan has said elsewhere, the Irish creative spirit is not locked into any period of time. Thus, Ballyfin presents Hughie O’Donoghue, Louis Le Broquey, Dorothy Cross, William Crozier and other contemporary artists in sculpture and decoration, rhythm of the transitions from century to century in a devout progression.

In a commentary originally applied to Ballyfin but which can also describe the essence of this important book, Laffan believes that “an commission of such a scale with a patron of such a vision draws the best of all who are concerned “.


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