Turtle Bunbury

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HISTORY

FAMILY HISTORY

IEVERS OF MOUNT IEVERS, COUNTY CLARE

RETURN TO IEVERS CONTENTS

 

8. THE CONSTRUCTION OF MOUNT IEVERS

A DREAMLIKE HOUSE

In 1736, Colonel Henry Ievers built Mount Ievers on the site of the old tower house at Ballyarrilla.[i] The new house has been variously described as Pre-Palladian, Queen Anne and early Georgian.

The Hon. Desmond Guinness is closest to the mark when he described it in 1975 as ‘an example of the time-lag in architectural styles to be found in the remoter parts of the country.’ The house reminded him of ‘a forlorn doll’s house’, an impression heightened by ‘a curious architectural deice’ whereby ‘at each of the stone bands or [cut-stone] string-courses that surround the house it become narrower by some nine inches.’

A few years later, Mark Bence Jones hailed it as ‘the most perfect and also probably the earliest of the tall Irish Houses’, possessed of ‘that dreamlike, melancholy air which all the best tall 18th century Irish houses have.’[ii]

THE ROTHERY ARCHITECTS

The original architect of Mount Ievers was John Rothery, scion of a family highly regarded for their skills in architecture and stonemasonry in Munster. In 1733, he designed and built the Market House in Sixmilebridge, along the south bank of the river.

It seems likely that John was either a son or brother of a Joseph Rotherey [sic] who was recorded as living beside Castletown House in County Kildare at the time of its building between 1722 and 1729. Indeed, it is likely that the Rotherys actually oversaw the work at Castletown as its Italian architect Alessandro Galilei is known to have left Ireland before building commenced. In this regard, it is notable that the original interior layout of Castletown owed much to recently published plans of English houses such as Chevening in Kent, with a central hall and saloon surrounded by four apartments on the ground floor and a gallery flanked by apartments on the piano nobile level. Indeed, Castletown shares a number of features with Mount Ievers including the two huge chimney stacks, the plain facade and the corner fireplaces.[iii]

John Rothery may have been a son of William Rothery who was paid £3 10 shillings for his work as a freemason on the construction of the Royal Hospital of King Charles II at Kilmainham (or Oxmantown Green) in Dublin circa 1670.[iv] William Rothery was also working on the Blue Coat School (aka King’s Hospital, circa 1670) and on the Ormonde Bridge in 1682.[v]

In 1913, a writer for the 5th and final volume of the original Georgian Society publications told how John Rothery died on 4th September 1736, before his work was complete. Work continued, until December 1736, under the direction of Mr. Tyrrell, who would appear to have been the agent of Henry Ievers. Colonel Ievers grandson Henry Ingram was married to the Tyrrells of Gort, which might have been the connection here. In December 1736, a new agreement was made with Isaac Rothery, son of John, who supervised the completion of the building. There is also a single reference to a Jemmy Rothery, probably a younger brother.[vi]

Three major houses in County Cork - Bowen's Court, Newmarket Court and Doneraile Court - have also been attributed to Isaac Rothery. Bence-Jones felt that Bowen's Court - the since vanished ancestral home of the writer Elizabeth Bowens - had ‘much of Mount levers's dreamlike, melancholy beauty’.

THE DESIGN

Mount Ievers is among the earliest and grandest of the tall Irish country houses, and was almost certainly inspired by the original 1679 drawings for Chevening, the old Lennard home in Kent which was sold to the Earl of Stanhope in 1717.[vii] The fact that Sir Sampson Eure’s mother was a Lennard of Chevening has given rise to the theory that Henry Ivers, grandfather of the Colonel Henry Ievers who built Mount Ievers, was a close kinsman of Sir Sampson.

It is also to be noted that Henry Ivers was employed by Lord Clare whose wife was a granddaughter of the Baron Dacre who built Chevening. There is certainly something here but precisely what still eludes us.

THE EXTERIOR

The result was a three-story, seven bay house with two fronts, the south elevation built of red brick over a high basement, the rear and side facades of rendered, cut limestone ashlar of a silvery hue. As well as the string-courses, there are eaves courses which run, along with a moulded frieze, under the hipped slate roof.

As the Irish Georgian Society notes: ‘The basement windows have segmental arched openings while those of the upper floors are square-headed with timber sash windows and limestone sills. The south entrance possesses timber-panelled doors between console brackets and under an entablature. A beautiful set of limestone steps leads to the piano nobile (the principal floor of the house).’ Desmond Guinness further pointed out that ‘the sash windows are of the earliest kind, with heavy glazing bars and four panes across instead of the three generally found.’

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Above: The ruins of the oil mill at Ballintlea.

THE PEASE FAMILY & THE DUTCH BRICKS

The pink-red brick used on the southern elevation of Mount Ievers was transported by ship from the Netherlands as ballast from Holland in exchange for oil squeezed out of rape-seed at the nearby Ballintlea oil mill on the River O’Garney.
At this time, the mill was almost certainly owned by George Pease (1683-1743). George was born in Amsterdam to which city his father Robert Pease (1643-1720), a once influential citizen of Hull in Yorkshire, had emigrated in about 1668, holding strong objections to the Restoration settlement. Giles Vandeleur, a Dutchman, operated the rape seed oil mill in Sixmilebridge in 1675. The Pease family seem to have acquired this mill, along with a linseed exporting business in Limerick. Under a scheme to introduce settlers in the area, George Pease brought in Dutch artisans and rebuilt the mills in 1696.
The 1839 Ordnance Survey Placename Books for County Clare adds the following details: “By 1703 the Moland Survey relates that Sixmilebridge, on the south side of the river, consisted of "20 good tenements and about 32 cabins". By then the entire area had established a reputation for milling. Moland observes that "Castle Cappagh has on it an old castle, two cabins, firing in ye bog belonging to ye premises, Cappagh Lodge, situate as ye former, has on it a good stone house, built by ye Lord Thomond, where he used to reside, when he came in these parts, a good stable, barn, brew house, store houses, mill and a pleasure garden with two orchards and an avenue to ye house. Lower Cappagh alias Oyl Mill, situate as ye former, has on it a dwelling house thatcht, an orchard, 2 corn mills and a tuck mill and about 4 cabins".
Nearly eight years later Arthur Young remarked that a mill could be successfully run every hundred yards along the river. At Annagore a sharp fall in the river was harnessed to drive the mill wheel. To achieve this, the river was diverted by the construction of a large barrier of stone. The remains of this barrier can still be seen today.”
George’s younger brother William Pease (1667-1747) lived in Amsterdam and may have been the main contact for the bricks-for-oil barter. Another brother Joseph Pease (1688-1778) became an oil and paint merchant in Hull and subsequently established Yorkshire’s first bank. George married Elizabeth Randall of Co. Cork but left no issue. The Pease Papers held at Hull City Archives include numerous letters written from George Pease of Limerick during the 1730s and may contain some more useful clues about the construction of the house.

Cargo boats regularly made their way up the River O’Garney, which was tidal as far Ballintlea. From the mill, the goods – or, in this case, the bricks - were transported by road to Sixmilebridge. And from Sixmilebridge, a human chain passed each brick from hand to hand to the site, a further mile and a half away. Meanwhile, the boat returned to Holland with a cargo of oil and soap from the mill.

THE OAK & SLATES

The Galway town of Portumna, some 60m miles north-west of Mount Ievers, takes its name from the Irish ‘Port Omna’, meaning 'the landing place of the oak'. It is certainly an apt name from Mount Ievers perspective because thirty four tons of oak used in the construction of the houses’ hipped roof came from the Earl of Clanricarde’s woods at Portumna. The timber was transported south by boat across the waters of Lough Derg to Kilalloe, from where it was carted a further 30km by road.

The slates that adorn the roof of Mount Ievers were transported by road some 15km from the Broadford quarries amid the Slieve Bernagh hills. In 1833, the Broadford slates were regarded by a writer for Encyclopaedia Britannica as ‘nearly equal to the finest procured in Wales’. Henry Ievers acquired the slate at a cost of nine shillings and sixpence (47 ½ p) per thousand.

CEILINGS & WALLS

One of the most prominent features of the house are the brick-vaulted ceilings which run over all the ground floor rooms. Eyre Hebert Ievers pointed out that these vaulted ceilings provided were secure from the three upper floors. ‘A single, small thick door with a hole for a musket shut off the narrow stairs giving the only access inside from the ground floor’, he wrote. ‘Both first floor entrance doors and thick, hung on enormous hinges, are furnished with massive locks, and there are slots in the walls at the sides to take a 6 inch by 4 inch beam across the back’. In 1937, The Irish Times noted that ‘the original brass locks are on all the doors on the first floor, and a number of the old window seats remain.’ [viii]
The ceilings and cornices in the hall, staircase and upper hall are paneled in pre-Georgian style. A stone fireplace dated 1648 was salvaged from the nearby castle and re-erected in the hall of the house where it still stands.
The walls are often four to five feet thick and, in several rooms, they are panelled in plaster, as opposed to wood.

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THE STAIRCASE

Many people consider the Queen Anne style staircase, with its barley-sugar banisters, to be
the best feature of the interior. In 1937, for instance, The Irish Times applauded the staircase
as ‘a thing of beauty … The stairs are six foot six inches wide; the banisters are alternately
spiral and fluted; at their base, on the outside, there is a good deal of carving, mostly floral
decoration’.[ix]



THE ART

In the drawing room there is a beautiful fresco built into the wall which gives a panoramic view of the house, demesne and neighbourhood from about 1740. In the background of the painting one can see Bunratty Castle and the River Shannon beyond. [x]

THE GROUNDS

At the same time as the house was designed, a garden was formally laid out with rectangular fish-ponds. The panoramic Mount Ievers fresco of 1740 includes a walled yard on the west side of the house, as well as an obelisk, a Fish House, an Ice House and a Pigeon House. The courtyard boasts sentry boxes either side of the entrance gate.


THE LABOUR

We are exceptionally fortunate that a complete set of the original building accounts has survived. [Where are these now?]. These provide vital details about both the labour costs and the source of the building materials, alluded to above. For instance, an entry for 11th September 1736 refers to the price of hiring ‘11 masons’ (£2 15 for one week) and ‘48 labourers’ (£1 for one week), showing that masons received five shillings a week for their work, while labourers earned a whopping five pence for the same hours. As Eyre H Ievers has noted in the Ievers File, the workers also received food, shoes and serge (the fabric), as well as firewood. Some of the tradesmen and senior staff would also probably have been housed.
The stonemasons and cutters were responsible for creating the handsome cut stone Georgian style south face out of grey limestone. According to The Archaeological journal, Volume 153, two cut-stone street names in Sixmilebridge are dated 1730. When Dr. Pococke visited in 1752, he also remarked on a ‘new’ parish church at Kilfinaghty, dedicated to St. Finaghta.[xi] As such, there must have been no shortage of experienced stonemasons in the area by the time Henry Ievers had completed his ambitious construction project.
With so much of the work relying on local labour and materials, the total cost of the house was £1,478 7s. 9d., a comparatively small amount by the standards of the time. According to the National Archives (UK) online currency converter, that would have the same spending worth of £127,570 in 2005. That said, by the same gauge, Henry Ievers was able to employ 48 labourers for a week for the grand total of £86.29. The cheapness of the Irish labour force in the 1730s becomes ever more evident from these weekly accounts for Mount Ievers.

Masons before [John] Rothery’s death: £81 19 2
Since his death to 23rd Nov 1737: £71 17 10

£153 17 0

Carpenters before his death: £79 8 1
Since his death to 23rd Nov: £35 9 8½

£114 17 9½

Stonecutters to the death of Mr Rothery: £180 1 5½
From the death to the new agreement: £27 17 10
From the new agreement to 23rd Nov 1737

£113 7 4

________

£321 6 7½

Entire cost of the whole building to Rothery’s death: £1053 9 8

From that to the new agreement: £311 10 9

From the new agreement to 23rd Nov 1737: £113 7 4

____________

£1,478 7 9

Besides two horses I gave Rothery, value £15 0 0

3,600 laths £1 16 0

Iron Riddle & Sledge 0 10 10

*****************

From ‘Irish Country Houses’ by Terence Reeves Smyth (Belfast : Appletree Press, 1994)

Mount Ievers Court, County Clare

Like many of Ireland's tall eighteenth-century houses, Mount Ievers Court has a dream-like, melancholic quality that is positively beguiling. Set in lush parkland and sheltered by beech trees, the house rises three storeys over a basement, its height accentuated by a steeply pitched roof, tall chimney stacks and the subtle architectural devise of reducing the width of each storey by six inches. Each of its seven-bay fronts are almost identical, save one that is of silvery-grey limestone ashlar and the other of brick imported from Holland as ballast and now faded a beautiful shade of pink-grey. Its exquisite doll's house appearance is enhanced by string-coursing, quoins, lugged window surrounds and by small panes and heavy astragals in the window glazing - standard features of early eighteenth-century architecture.
Although Mount Ievers Court looks as if it was built around 1710, work did not in fact begin until 1731 when Colonel Henry Ievers demolished the seventeenth-century tower house that his grandfather Henry Ievers had acquired less than seventy years before. A stone fireplace dated 1648 was salvaged from the castle and re-erected in the hall of the house where it still stands. The architect of the new house was John Rothery, whose son Isaac completed the work after his death in 1737. From a complete building account which survives, we know that eleven masons and forty eight labourers were employed - the masons earning five shillings a week and the labourers only five pence, though each received food, drink, clothing and in some cases accommodation. Slates which cost nine shillings six pence per thousand came from Broadford ten miles away, while the massive oak-roof timbers, thirty-four tons in weight, came from Portumna, travelling by boat to Killaloe and hauled the twenty miles overland to Mount Ievers. With so much of the work relying on local labour and materials the cost of the house was only £1,478 7s. 9d. - a comparatively small amount by the standards of the time.
The interior of the house has a simple, restrained feel. Many rooms retain their contemporary panelling, including several in plaster that directly follow the lines of wood panelling. The ceilings, with their geometric panels and modillion cornices in the hall, the staircase and the upper hall are all reminiscent of Carolinian houses, as is the magnificent staircase with its fine joinery of alternate barley-sugar and fluted balusters. On the top floor is a long gallery possibly designed as a ball-room, a feature that is unique in Ireland - though Bowenscourt in County Cork once boasted one, a house also built by Isaac Rothery but tragically now demolished. The lovely chimney-pieces throughout the house, which include a Bossi, were installed around 1850 and are mostly late Georgian though the grates seem to be original to the house.
Other striking features include the fine brass knocker on the front door, the vaulted basements and a delightful 1740s fresco in the drawing-room giving a panoramic view of the house, demesne and landscape beyond. The formal garden landscape around the house has now largely disappeared, although the present owner of Mount Ievers, Squadron-Leader Norman Ievers, has restored the fish ponds represented in the fresco. He has also given the house a new roof and has done much to ensure that this magical building will survive into the next century.

************

"On the 28th [August 1752] I went to six mile bridge, where there is a handsom [sic] new church, & near it Mr. Ivers has a pleasant new built house. The ride from this place to Limerick is very delightful, being well wooded & in sight of the fine river Shanon [sic], & of the beatifull [sic] Country on the other side of it..."

Richard Pococke[xii]

John McVeagh, ‘Richard Pococke's Irish Tours’ (Irish Academic Press, 1995) p. 96.

************

For more on the house, see Eyre Herbert Ievers notes, page 12.


SEE NEXT CHAPTER 9. GEORGE IEVERS OF ATHLACCA
FOOTNOTES

[i] Chapter 48: Mount Ievers, Sixmilebridge - A Survey of Monuments of Archaeological and Historical Interest in the Barony of Bunratty Lower, Co. Clare by William Gerrard Ryan. As Desmond Guinness put it, the old castle ‘had no doubt by then been made more commodious than it appears in Thomas Dineley’s sketch’

[ii] Mark Bence-Jones, Burke's Guide to Country Houses Volume 1: Ireland (1978)

[iii] Desmond Guinness, ‘The Irish House’, Eason, Dublin, 1975

[iv] The Account of what hath been paid in Part Payment of Materials and Workmanship, brought in, and done, at the HOSPITAL, now erecting on Oxmantown Green, Dublin, from the 28th Day of May 1669 to the 1st Day of May 1673’. From ‘An address to his excellency, William, earl of Harrington; with a preface, to the free and independent citizens of Dublin’ by Charles Lucas, published in 1749.

[v] Rolf Loeber, A Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Ireland 1600-1720 (1981), 19.

[vi] ‘Mount Ievers - Records of Eighteenth-century Domestic Architecture and Decoration in Dublin, Volume 5’, Georgian Society at the Dublin University Press, 1913, p. 25.

[vii] In ‘Country Life’, architectural historian Mark Girouard (8th November 1962) suggested that the prototype for Mount Ievers was probably Chevening Hall in Kent. Sir Sampson’s mother hailed from Chevening and it seems likely that Sir Sampson would have witnessed the new house under construction in the 1620s.

[viii] ‘Mount Ievers, Co. Clare’, Weekly Irish Times, Saturday September 4th 1937.

[ix] ‘Mount Ievers, Co. Clare’, Weekly Irish Times, Saturday September 4th 1937.

[x] ‘Mount Ievers, Co. Clare’ in Weekly Irish Times, Saturday September 4th 1937.

[xi] St. Finaghta the patron saint of Sixmilebridge parish, also gave his name to the ecclesiastical and civil parish of Kilfinaghta.

[xii] It is presumably a mere coincidence that the Barrett-Lennard Manuscripts held at the Centre for Kentish Studies include the will of Richard Pococke of Leth who died in 1554.

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