News - 12th May 2017

Castletown Demesne – The oldest and greatest of the Palladian Mansions of Ireland

Castletown house backdrop 1

The Office of Public Works has responsibility for the day-to-day running of all National Monuments in State care and National Historic Properties. Oldbridge, Castletown, Kilkenny, and New Ross parkruns are all hosted on their sites.


Hugh Bonar, who manages Castletown House, explains how parkrun has become yet another chapter in this property’s fascinating history.


“This is the only house in Ireland to which the term palace may be applied.”
Richard Twiss, 1775


The Castletown Demesne has been hosting parkrun for two years now and the numbers taking part have grown greatly in that time. Participants of all ages and abilities from a wide variety of backgrounds so for us it is great to welcome such a wide spectrum of society to experience Castletown Demesne.


Part of the attraction of the run is that the location for the event is such a beautiful and historic park. Runners not only have the experience of running at Ireland’s greatest and most significant house but also can appreciate the various historic elements of the estate, which the Office of Public Works has restored over the last two decades.


The idea of an event in Castletown Demesne came from a local runner Sharon Ashmore who regularly ran around the grounds and thought it could be a very suitable venue. Sharon approached house management and from there discussions began 2015.


The OPW from Sharon’s initial approach worked with parkrun to set up the event for the benefit of the local community. The first event was held in October 2015. It’s great to see the weekly influx of runners from near and far who visit our grounds and flood the café post run.


The history of Castletown Estate began when William “Speaker” Conolly bought Donganstown House around 1720 and commenced work on the present great house and the surrounding estate.


There is some evidence that Donganstown house had formal flower gardens that extended towards the Liffey, but the new Castletown estate was conceived on a much more considerable scale. Formally designed landscapes in the French Baroque style were laid out with terraces between the house and the river. Further alterations to the landscape began during Katherine Conolly’s stewardship of the estate, under the inspiration of Lady Anne Conolly, influenced by her father’s work at Wentworth Castle in Yorkshire. Vistas connecting the house to the Wonderful Barn and the Conolly Folly were created, while early demesne maps also show clearly marked meandering pathways through the woodland behind.


But it was only with the arrival of Lady Louisa in 1759 that the Castletown landscape began to be radically altered in line with contemporary fashion. Influenced by the improvements made by her sister Emily, Duchess of Leinster at Carton, Louisa turned to the Castletown parkland. The river Liffey to the south of the house became the focal point of the demesne. She created a picturesque walk along the banks of the river, while rapids were created in the river to add to the picturesque quality. Lady Louisa also constructed a number of garden buildings. These included a classical style temple complete with columns removed from the Long Gallery during its redecoration in the 1760s. This temple, visible from the south front of the house, was erected in honour of Sarah Siddons, the actress. Further along the river a Bathing House, now in ruins, was built to designs drawn up by Louisa herself, although how much bathing actually took place is unknown.


The eighteenth century Castletown landscape has survived remarkably well. Parkrunners are still able today to appreciate Lady Louisa’s river walks and see her Temple and the remains of the Bathing House. In the nineteenth century, efforts were concentrated on the immediate environs of the house, with the creation of a formal garden behind the house and the planting of the yew trees in front. The break-up of the estate in the 1960s, however meant that the immense walled gardens, formerly situated to the north-west of the house have been built upon. These kitchen gardens were by the early twentieth century the most profitable aspect of the estate, and a great source of local employment. Today only the farmyard beyond the West Wing remains.


The most obvious features of the Demesne are the lake and cascades in front of the house. It was Lady Louisa who had the lake and cascades built and these now provide the most iconic views of the house. The other features of the estate built by this remarkable woman are a number of gatehouses, including the extraordinary gothic fantasy of the Batty Langley Lodge.


Castletown demesne is unique in its scale, its ambition and the extent to which it is still possible to appreciate the aspirations of the Speaker Conolly, Lady Louisa and their family for this greatest of Irish estates.

Further information about the Office of Public Works can be found here.

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