Thursday, 10 August 2017

Memories of playing on
the steps of the Venetian
Gothic bank in Millstreet

The Bank of Ireland in Millstreet was designed by Bretts in the Venetian Gothic style (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I have very few memories of visiting Millstreet, Co Cork, as a child, although my grandmother, Maria (Crowley) Murphy, continued to live there, running a pub and a shop on the Square until she died 60 years ago on 8 July 1957 at the age of 72.

I must have been about six or seven at the time I have two memories from – playing on the steps of the local branch of the Bank of Ireland and in the old Mill Race that gives its name to Millstreet.

The Bank of Ireland branch on the Square in Millstreet was just a few doors away from the shop and pub my grandmother had owned.

The bank is built in limestone in the Venetian Gothic style and remains a striking and imposing feature on Millstreet’s Main Street. It was designed by Brett and Sons as a branch of the National Bank, and is a fine small-town bank designed in a Vednetian Gothic with fine chimney stacks.

The austerity of the stone façade is offset by the decorative emphasis of the openings, as well as the roof dressings. The Gothic style is unusual for financial architecture in Ireland in Victorian times, when architects tended to favour Classical elements.

The limestone construction and dressings lend an air of authority to the building and give it a sense of elegance and authority. The exposed stone construction and simple design of the outbuilding contrasts markedly with the bank.

This is a detached, two-storey double-pile bank and bank manager’s house, with a three-bay first floor with a doorway and a group of three windows to the ground floor, and a single-bay, single-storey, gable-fronted bay to the west.

There is a hipped slate roof, cast-iron ridge crestings, rendered chimneystacks, over-hanging eaves, a carved limestone cornice and decorative timber bracketed eaves. The carved limestone gable at the front has a carved limestone finial and coping, with a pointed arch recessed panel with a chamfered surround and a decorative polychromatic patterned brick inset.

On the ground floor, there is a group of three Tudor-style arch windows, a shouldered square-headed door opening at the front flanked by shouldered square-headed sidelights, pointed arch over-lights to the sidelights, and a Tudor-style arch over-light above the timber panelled door.

The building is approached by the flight of cut limestone steps that I remember playing on in the late 1950s. The bank is set back from the street with dressed limestone castellated boundary walls that have carved limestone copings.

Henry Elliott Herbert Shaw, who was the Bank Manager of the National Irish Bank in The Square, Millstreet in the 1940s, was the father of Ethna (Colleen) Shaw, who in 1949 married my mother’s first cousin, Timothy (‘Ted’) Crowley, of Coole House, Millstreet, and Finnstown House, Lucan, Co Dublin, a son of my grandmother’s brother, Cornelius (‘Con’) Denis Crowley (1879-1972), of Coole House, Millstreet, and Finnstown House, Lucan, Co Dublin.

The former National Bank branch in Millstreet, Co Cork, illustrated in the ‘Irish Builder’ in 1878

At the time the bank was built, the architectural practice of Henry Brett and Sons Civil worked from 49 Dame Street, Dublin, from about 1875 until the mid-1880s. The partners were Henry Brett and his sons, John Henry Brett and Henry Charles Brett. In the 1870s, the Bretts designed several branch banks for the National Bank, and after Henry Brett’s death in 1882, his two sons continued the practice as John H & HC Brett.

The elder Henry Brett had been the county surveyor for Offaly, Mayo, Waterford and Wicklow. He was a son of John Brett, and was born at Carrowreagh, near Tobercurry, Co Sligo. As county surveyor for Co Mayo for over 13 years, he was responsible for famine relief works programme in the county, which he felt was both extravagant and demoralising

As county surveyor for Co Wicklow in the 1860s, he was extremely critical of the waterworks that were being built by Dublin Corporation in Co Wicklow. Later, he was surveyor to Bray Township.

Brett assisted Sir Richard Griffith in his valuation of Ireland. He carried out surveys for railway lines in Connaught under Sir John McNeill in 1843-1844, and made the first plans for the Irish West Coast railway. He was the engineer for the Dublin to Baltinglass railway scheme (1863-1864), ‘which had to be abandoned, entailing heavy pecuniary loss to himself,’ and the engineer to the Dublin, Rathmines, Rathgar & Rathfarnham railway (1868-1874).

Brett died at his home at Rosemount, Booterstown, Co Dublin, on 13 May 1882 and was buried in Deansgrange Cemetery.

His obituary in the Irish Builder described him as ‘an incessant and laborious worker, and retained to the last all the energy of his earlier years. Well-informed upon nearly every subject, he possessed a remarkable memory for incidents, which, added to his generous and kindly nature, made his society most attractive and agreeable, and gained him a host of friends.’

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