Pevsner’s Cork

Have you heard of the Pevsner Guides? It’s shorthand for a series of books, originally conceived and written in England by Nikolaus Pevsner, about significant buildings. But not just buildings – their context and surroundings, like that of Holy Trinity Church, above.

There’s a Buildings of Ireland series, only half done now – 16 of our 32 counties to date, with more underway and others yet to be started. It’s a monumental achievement and on Saturday we attended the launch of the Cork volume in Nano Nagle Place in Cork.

The Buildings of Ireland, Cork: City and County, was written by Frank Keohane (Above, signing my copy) and it took him ten years. Ten years! Covid restricted his investigations for some of that time, but still. At almost 700 pages, it’s an amazing achievement and we were very glad to be able to attend the symposium to celebrate its publication.

Alistair Rowan, genial author of the first of the Irish series was honoured during the day

The day was full of talks and progress reports on volumes currently underway (Dublin suburbs and country, Leitrim/Sligo/Roscommon and Central Leinster). What I loved about the talks was the descriptions of going out exploring and investigating – it certainly wasn’t all about dry research in dusty archives, although I suppose some of that has to be involved too. The Dublin writers, Brendan and Colm, went around by bike and there was one particularly striking photo of a slavering Rottweiler hot on their heels – or rather, wheels. 

We enjoyed all the talks very much, but perhaps our favourite was the keynote by Bishop Paul Colton (above, showing us the dilapidated state of Desertserges church, which houses a significant Túr Gloine window). Titled A Parson’s Dilemma, it was witty and warm and brought us all back to the sense of buildings that provide the backdrop and context for people’s lives, and all the disparate functions that they serve as well as the emotions we attach to them. His talk also served as a stark reminder that many churches and religiously-administered premises are facing severe challenges as congregations decline and buildings begin to face dereliction.

The Cork volume, as is the pattern with the Pevsner Guides, is laid out as a Gazetteer, arranged alphabetically by town, village or district. I will illustrate (with my own photographs) four entries from the thousands the book contains, just as an example of how this volume has already stoked my interest in things we have seen and motivated me to go back and take another look. (And I only got it yesterday!)

Youghal – a town we have visited and marvelled at (see here and here and here), gets 25 pages, a clear indication of its architectural and historical importance. St Mary’s Church is described in detail, the exterior and interior, with informed comment on the ages of the various parts – not something that an amateur like me could figure out on her own. Here is what Frank has to say about Richard Boyle’s monument.

One of the finest expressions of Jacobean architecture and sculpture in the country, retaining richly painted decoration of a later date. Richard Boyle commissioned it in 1617 from Alexander Hylls of Holborn in London, 24 years before he died. Boyle was acutely aware of the power of funerary monuments in extolling dynastic greatness and this one is only one of four that he commissioned.

Coolkelure Lodge is described, along with its gate lodge (below). 

Wonderful three-bay, two-storey gabled lodge in the same vein, [as Coolkelure House which was built in 1874, architect Henry Hill] with elaborate Bath stone carvings, ornate bargeboards, and a three-stage stair tower with pointed roof.

We stumbled upon Clonmeen House when we were on a North Cork Holy Well Expedition with Amanda and Peter, near Banteer. We were staying in a house on the grounds and when out for a walk in the evening got an intriguing glimpse of the house – I have wondered about it ever since, and here it is in the Guide!

Built by Stephen Grehan, first Catholic Governor of the Bank of Ireland, to designs by George C Ashlin – an obvious choice. Keohane states that Stephen Grehan was the first Catholic Governor of the Bank of Ireland. I can find no information on this – but I know who I can ask!

And finally, a tiny detail that is easy to miss, at the Catholic Church at Kilcoe, just down the road from us. The last sentence of the description points out The Iron Rings fixed in the churchyard wall for tethering worshippers’ horses and donkeys are a happy survival.

The Guide is now in the car, where it will live along with the Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass, as our essential companions on our peregrinations.

2 thoughts

  1. So glad that the series are now including Ireland – we have a very well worn copy for Warwickshire and I always loved Pevsner’s rather dry and occasionally humorously disparaging comments about buildings he disapproved of. Copy in our car too!

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