IRELAND THE BIG HOUSE.
The increase of wealth and confidence that created georgian dublin was also responsible for the building of large country houses and fine but more modest dwellings all over rural Ireland.
As in England, the aristocratic 'big house' displayed both the wealth and the good taste of its owners, combining rustic simple settings with sophisticated elegance, great number of servants, and every available comfort. The house generally stood in extensive parkland (in Ireland called the demesne) which had long drives and given touches of light hearted fantasy in the form of mock-temples, obelisks or statuary.
The architectural style of Andrea Palladio and other variations on classical ideals determined the outward appearance of the big houses, while the interiors were luxurious, whether decorated in the curved Rococo style or the more stately Neo-classical style that displaced it. The paintings that hung there reinforced the impression of untroubled harmony, contradicted in many places by the continuing but unrepresented misery of the peasantry. Nevertheless it was not a matter of pure snobbery when the poet W.B. Yeats mourned the passing of the traditional loveliness symbolized by a big house such as the now-vanished Coole Park, home of his patron-friend Lady Augusta Gregory, where so much of value to the Gaelic and literary revival was planned and executed.
Although many have disappeared or have been gutted, the 18th century big houses still exist in ample numbers. The largest and grandest, Castletown in County Wicklow, was also one of the earliest. It was built from 1722 for William Connolly, an astute enterpreneur who ended as Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. The architect, Alessandro Galilei had an unusual itinerary. Born in England, failed to find appropriate work there, and so moved on to Ireland. Dispite his success at Castletown and elsewhere, he returned to Italy, where his most important commission was to design a new facade for a famous early christian church in Rome.
The following wave of country-house building coincided with the Dublin boom, and many of the same busy architects were involved. Pearce designed Bellamont Forest (County Cavan) in 1729-30, and Cassels' wide practice included Westport (Mayo), Carton, not far from Castletown (an area of many big houses), and the impressive Powerscourt House in County Wicklow. Sir William Chambers and two other well-known British architects, James Wyatt and John Nash, also worked in Ireland; among Wyatt's designs were interiors at Powerscourt House and its model village. Many good houses were the work of lesser-known Irish builders such as Isaac and John Rothery and the Johnstone brothers. More talented than these was another little-known figure, the Sardinian Davis Ducart, architect of Kilshannig (Cork) and the lovely Castletown Cox (Kilkenny) which, though relatively small, can stand comparison with any house in the land.
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