Tuesday, November 16, 2010

book week: the irish country house

When a copy of The Irish Country House landed in my mailbox several weeks ago, I knew it would be the perfect thing with which to wrap up book week. Being of Irish descent myself, I have to admit that I was thrilled to see such a beautiful publication about the Irish house, which has been somewhat neglected (at least by publishers). Following on the heels of last year's Romantic Irish Homes (see The Architecturalist for more), this is the first significant publication in almost 10 years to take a good look at the houses of that emerald isle. And it does not disappoint.

Written by Desmond FitzGerald, Knight of Glin, along with James Piell, the book is a compilation of photographs and stories about 10 houses, from FitzGerald's own Glin Castle to the classic Georgian manse, Burtown House (pictured above). All of the houses are still lived in by descendants of their original owners and builders ~ an extraordinary legacy. And needless to say, each has a tale to tell.

Students of architecture and decorative arts will be delighted with the large, elegant views of landscapes and interior rooms, such as the library at Glin (above) with its indigo-hued walls and piles of Asian porcelain. However, I found myself charmed by the stories of each house, poignantly illustrated through details of family mementos such as hunting journals and old photographs at Lisnavaugh (below) ~ and my personal favorite, a glimpse of a darkroom at Birr Castle, still containing the Countess of Rosse's photographic developing chemicals from the 1850s.

Each room is a treasure trove, with layers of history and extraordinary objects to be discovered. When I first saw the entrance hall at Kiladoon (below) I was struck by the pale green walls, scarlet curtains, and unusual early 19th-century hall chairs. Then I noticed those magnificent Irish elk antlers, so gloriously incongruent. And the libraries. . . well, for more on those, read Courtney's post on Style Court. She has a few of her own interesting observations!

Finally, as a photographer, I would be remiss not to highlight James Fennell's glorious images. His work has previously appeared in, Irish Furniture (also authored by the Knight of Glin and James Piell), Vanishing Ireland and The Irish Pub.

(all photographs by James Fennell, from The Irish Country House, courtesy Vendome Press, 2010)


ArchitectDesign™ said...

It's high on my list of christmas gifts!

Style Court said...

You summed it up perfectly Janet. Apart from its beauty, the book really is a terrific resource. And we have something in common: Irish roots. I've always known more about my English and Welsh heritage but am just now becoming aware of my Irish ancestors. So, I think the book appeals to me on that front, too :)

home before dark said...

This book came last week as a delayed October birthday present to myself (so convenient to have birthday in the middle of the all the new book releases). So looking forward to the end of my garden duties and declare myself officially marooned for the winter with all my new books! This one is beautiful and the photographs are stunning. The elegant use of light is masterful. And, my mother's grandfather came from County Cork.


Looks like gorgeous book, and I have to admit that there is not an Irish house in ruins or perfect condition that does not appeal to me. And FitzGerald deserves all credit for the work he's done on Irish preservation. But the Irish part of me always is aware that — gorgeous as these houses are and as much as I love them — they are Anglo-Irish and I most definitely am not. But enough of that. (And according to Snowdon's autobiography, the Countess of Rosse — his mother — was quite a piece of work!)

Stuart Blakley said...


I totally agree - The Irish Country House is the latest in the prestigious line of books on Irish country houses and is particularly well illustrated. If you are every visiting Ireland, staying at a property in the Hidden Ireland group is a great way to experience Irish country house living - without the burden of upkeep!