Newsletter - November 2014
Special Interest Day
Thank you to those members who sent in their online feedback to the Special Interest Day on New York by Mary Alexander. 91% of those who responded voted it outstanding or excellent with an overall rating of outstanding. For a report click here.
Readers may have noticed the article ‘Focus on East Anglia’ and the brief mention of our ‘’ ceramic outdoor wall plaque; for our Young Arts project.
Another notable feature of local interest is the ‘Homage to Manet’ opening at Norwich Castle Museum at the end of January. How marvellous to have something as important as this on our doorstep! If anyone is interested in a group tour contact Naomi Milne at
There are a range of Christmas celebrations at Holkham Hall including candlelight tours; concerts and theatre. For further information go to http://www.holkham.co.uk/html/xmas_2014.html
October – The Irish Country House
Tom Duncan led us on a dash through approximately1500 years of history: from the Romans in Ireland – who called it Hibernia, “a cold and windy place”; the remarkably intact Celtic heritage; and the arrival of the Normans in the 12th century. The Normans arrived in 1169 and set about their usual practice of conquer and control, starting to building castles and also churches in the early English Gothic style. Some of the castles in Ireland retain the Norman building within 18th century additions to turn them into large country houses.
Previously all the Irish coastal towns had been Viking, but the Normans constructed a ring of castles to protect Dublin, this was called the Pale, and the unprotected territory lay ‘beyond the pale’.
From 1691 the English set about conquering Ireland, with force and with what is called the ‘plantation generation’ – to plant English culture and the protestant religion on the Irish; an act of cultural imperialism. Two families came to prominence: the Butlers, who were descended from Normans, held three counties, and were headed by the Duke of Ormonde; their seat was Kilkenny Castle. From 1320 to 1934 the Butlers lived here, but also possessed 32 other houses. Kilkenny Castle is now owned by the state.
Another of their properties was Ormonde Castle in county Tipperary; its owner Thomas Butler spent many years at the court of Elizabeth I as he was related to her mother Anne Boleyn. The building is a medieval Tudor manor house fronting a Norman castle. It contains plaster decoration that includes the head of Queen Elizabeth; after being abandoned by the Butler family in the 17th century it was eventually restored by the Irish state.
The second important family we were introduced to was the Talbot family, who came to Ireland in 1173 and lived in Malahide Castle until 1976. Unfortunately, before it came into the hands of the state, many of the furnishings had been sold, but some were retrieved, even from as far away as Australia.
The Great Hall, which visitors have sometimes been informed is a medieval hall, is actually a Victorian copy (Tom shudders as he speaks the word Victorian!) but nevertheless is an imposing room.
Beaulieu House overlooks the banks of the River Boyne and was home to the Plunkett family. It is a William and Mary house in the Anglo-Dutch style and has a magnificent garden. Its proportions are in contrast to the Coote family home of Ballyfin House built in 1731, which is now a luxury hotel.
Castletown House in Co. Kildare is more like a 17th century Palladian palace that a house with its curved arms and wings projecting each side of the main building. It was built for the speaker of the Irish House of Commons, and once occupied by the great-granddaughter of Charles II; it is the largest and grandest house of its type in Ireland.
These and many more stories of the buildings and their occupants, including their portraits, and many other connections with some illustrious Irish families, including the Guinness family, were covered in Tom’s talk and left us with a mine of information and a desire to see more.