Tag Archives: Roscommon

Good-bye Bog, Hello Wicklow

My housesitting experience came to an end Sunday as my second hosts returned home, and I wasted no time putting the midlands of Ireland behind me on Monday morning. Good-bye soggy bogs, grey skies and same-same views. Hello lovely east coast, great coffeeshops and the sparkling waters of the Irish Sea.

My nearest neighbors in the midlands. ©Marcie Miller

My nearest neighbors in the midlands. ©Marcie Miller

Midlands review in a nutshell: It is a nice place to visit, on your way somewhere else. As a tourist, two days with a good list of things to see there would be plenty.  My two months of housesitting worked out very well; I feel lucky to have found both of them so quickly and I have no regrets there. But, if I do this again, I think I would look for appointments farther apart. Live and learn. But more on that in another post.

Wicklow Harbor - feels like coming home.

Wicklow Harbor – feels like coming home.

I moved on to Wicklow Town, a six-hour bus trip from Roscommon Town, and a world away. OK, well it is still Ireland, but Wicklow is set on green, rolling countryside running down to the sea, where sailboats mix with fishing boats, and swimmers in wetsuits maneuver around the boats at anchor in the harbor. The Irish have a passion for swimming in the sea all year, often without wetsuits. Keeps them tough I guess.

Dublin is an hour train or bus ride to the north, with plenty of interesting stops along the way. The coastal stretch from Dublin to Greystones (approx. 10 miles north of Wicklow) is historically where the rich from Dublin used to come on holiday — back when 20 miles was a long way to go. The towns are chock-a-block with stately Georgian homes, and it really feels like stepping back in time as you stroll the promenade along the beach.

I’m staying in a historic Georgian house on Bachelor’s Walk, which runs along the Leitrim River, parallel to the shore. It’s now  Capt. Halpin’s Hostel. I thought it would be quieter and cheaper than staying in Dublin for the final 10 days. And there is only one other hostel between here and Dublin. The room I’m sitting in, the parlor, has an original marble fireplace, high ceilings, a crystal chandelier and upright piano. It smells musty, but that’s pretty much the smell of Ireland. It used be Leitrim Lodge and it’s claim to fame is that the town’s most famous citizen, Capt. Halpin, once lived here. I had to share a bunk room with three smelly, and I do mean smelly, boys last night, but for the rest of the time I’ll be in an all-girl room.

Enough for now — sun’s out, time to go strolling!

Ireland’s Great Houses: Going, Going…

Crumbling walls are all that remain of Kingston Hall, a once grand estate on Lough Key, Co. Roscommon. ©Marcie Miller

Crumbling walls are all that remain of Kingston Hall, a once grand estate on Lough Key, Co. Roscommon. ©Marcie Miller

Ireland’s history of war and oppression, and war against the oppressors, is nowhere more evident than in the crumbling estate houses that were once the glory of Ireland. Or at least, the glory of the English landlords.

And therein lies the rub. While visitors to Ireland look with dismay at the beautiful stately mansions that are decaying and falling away into piles of rubble, many Irish see it differently. Without delving too deeply into Irish history, basically the estate houses were built using the rent that tenant farmers paid to the (mostly) English landlords for their meager plots of land. The to-the-manor-born landlords lived in splendor, while their workers lived in squalor.

Clonalis House, near Castlerea in Co. Roscommon, has been in the O'Conor family since it was built in 1878 and is stuffed with family heirlooms dating to the 16th century. It's also a bed and breakfast.©Marcie Miller

Clonalis House, near Castlerea in Co. Roscommon, has been in the O’Conor family since it was built in 1878 and is stuffed with family heirlooms dating to the 16th century. It’s also a bed and breakfast.©Marcie Miller

There are two main reasons for the demise of the estate houses, of which there were more than 6,000 across Ireland in the late 1700s. The first was the Land Wars of the 1870s to 1890s which led to much of the land being taken from the English and divided up amongst the tenants. Without one massive income, the estates were unsustainable. Some were purchased by Irish owners, but most of the English owners simply packed up and moved back to England, leaving the mansions to crumble.

To the tenants who couldn’t afford to purchase or live in them, they were symbols of dark times. Many were dismantled, with the stones carted off to build other houses, or stone fences. Others mysteriously burned to the ground.

The “big houses” which held on into the 20th century faced a new threat—Irish independence. Again the houses were targeted as symbols of English dominance and many were burned to force out the English owners.

While some estate houses where purchased during the boom years of the late 2000s and returned to their former glory, now they face a new threat—repossession. The banks have no desire to restore these white elephants, so they continue to decay and crumble, often to the point of no repair.

Man-made structures, no matter how magnificent, are no match for Ireland's verdant vegetation. ©Marcie Miller

Man-made structures, no matter how magnificent, are no match for Ireland’s verdant vegetation. ©Marcie Miller

There are some groups in Ireland calling for the government to step in and preserve these national treasures, but the government doesn’t have the cash to be in the home repair business. Case in point is Tyrone House in Co. Galway, which belongs to the Irish Georgian Society. The government said it would provide the funds to restore, or at least preserve, this once magnificent house, but now it can’t. They can’t even provide the funds to repair Thoor Ballylee, the castle home of William Butler Yeats, which was damaged several years ago when the adjacent stream flooded. Once a visitor center, it’s been closed for several years.

Rain from a broken skylight and vandalism are speeding the demise of the once grand Loughglynn House in Co. Roscommon.

Rain from a broken skylight and vandalism are speeding the demise of the once grand Loughglynn House in Co. Roscommon.

A more recent example is Loughglynn House, once a glorious mansion whose landlords were generous and well-liked in the small village. It became a convent and school in the late 1800s and supported a thriving cottage dairy industry, but closed in the 1970s. It was purchased by a developer in 2002 for €2 million with plans to turn it into a luxury hotel. Then the developer went broke, and the bank seized the property. Now, with vandalism and lack of maintenance, it too is in danger of becoming derelict beyond repair, in just a few short years.

The loss of Ireland’s estate houses means a loss of Ireland’s tangible history. I hope more can be preserved before it’s too late.

For more information on the vanishing estate houses visit www.nobodyhome.com or www.abandonedireland.com.