27 December 2017
The Island House on Cloon Island must be the most unusual house in Castleconnell, Co Limerick, with its imposing Doric portico, and with its most unusual location and setting.
Half-hidden behind a cluster of mature trees, this striking house actually stands on an island on the River Shannon, opposite the terrace of Georgian houses known as the Tontines, and it plays a significant role in both the landscape and the riverscape of Castleconnell.
Island House also has archaeological significance, standing close to the site of a mediaeval chapel said to have been founded by Reginald de Burgh in 1291, when he allowed a group of Franciscan friars to use Cloon Island or Inis Cluain to set up a small monastery.
Cloon Island was completely separated from the rest of Castleconnell and was surrounded by deep fast flowing water, and the only access was by boat. The monastery survived until the 16th century when the monks were driven off the island and the church destroyed, leaving only the ruins that are visible today.
Sir Richard Burke of Castleconnell, son of John Bourke and his second wife Mary Donellan, was High Sheriff of Co Limerick in 1758. In previous generations, another branch of the Burke family had owned the castle that gave its name to Castleconnell. The title of Baron Bourke of Castleconnell was given to Sir William Bourke in 1580. The last holder of the title was the eighth baron, William Bourke, who lost his titles and estates as a Jacobite in 1691.
Within a century, Richard Burke was involved in the early development of the spas in Castleconnell. He assumed the name de Burgho when he was given the title of baronet in 1785. A year later, in 1786, Wilson refers to Park, situated on an island created by a canal and the River Shannon, as the seat of Sir Richard de Burgho.
Sir Richard Burke and his second wife, Elizabeth Dwyer of Cabinteely, Co Dublin, were the parents of two sons, Richard de Burgo and John Allan de Burgo, who succeeded as the second and third baronets.
When Sir Richard died in 1790, the title passed to his elder son, Sir Richard de Burgho (1783-1808). He was succeeded in turn by his brother, Sir John Allen de Burgho (1785-1839), who married Anne Matilda Waller, daughter of Richard Waller of Castle Waller, Co Tipperary.
According to Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary, the Island House was built in 1815 by Sir John Allen de Burgho (Burke). Cloon Island and Island House are reached by a single-arch sandstone road bridge or causeway across the River Shannon, built at the same time with crenellated rubble parapet walls with render copings. Lewis refers to a ‘handsome newly erected cottage on the island’ in his description of Castleconnell in 1837.
When Sir John de Burgho died in 1839, Island House and the family title passed to his only son, Sir Richard Donellan de Burgho, as fourth baronet. At the time of Griffith’s Valuation, Island House was valued at £17 and was the residence of Sir Richard de Burgho and it was surrounded by nine acres.
At the time, the de Burgho family owned at least 10 townlands in the parish of Stradbally including most of the town of Castleconnell. The family also held land in the parish of Tuogh, Barony of Owneybeg, including Dromsallagh, where the Bourke family had lived in the early 18th century.
In 1840, the Clare Journal and Ennis Advertiser advertised: ‘The celebrated Chalybeate Spa of Castle-Connell will be open to the visitors this season gratis, by order of Sir Richard de Bourgho, Bart, the youthful proprietor of that beautiful resort.’
In 1844, Sir Richard de Burgho married Catherine Brasier of Rivers, Co Limerick, and Ballyellis, Co Cork. He was a major in the Limerick Militia and Sheriff of Limerick in 1855.
In the 1850s, he also donated a site in the centre of the village for building Saint Joseph’s Church, a new Roman Catholic parish church in Castleconnell, and he made an initial donation of £40 towards the building costs.
Sir Richard barely escaped with his life when he was attacked by his servants after returning from a visit to Limerick on 14 August 1862. He was severely wounded and would certainly have died but for the intervention of his wife and their guest, Sir Thomas Fitzgerald.
A few days after falling from a horse while hunting, Sir Richard died at Ballyellis, Co Cork, on 26 January 1873, and the title of baronet became extinct.
The widowed Lady de Burgho, the former Catherine Brazier, continued to live at Island House, and in the 1870s she owned 3,844 acres in Co Limerick and 372 acres in Co Wexford. In his Directory, Slater refers to ‘The Island’ as the property of Lady de Burgho in 1894.
Island House is a detached three-bay, two-storey over basement villa-style house. It is distinguished by the pedimented fluted Doric portico at the front, supporting rendered entablature with triglyphs and metopes. A flight of limestone steps leads up to the entrance. At the rear of the house, there is gable-fronted breakfront, and the house has flanking, full-height conservatories.
Although the house is small in scale, it is highly decorative, and the imposing fluted Doric portico gives the façade an air of grandeur.
A room in Island House is available on AirBnB, where it is described as a ‘Grecian revival regency period house on an island on river Shannon, accessible by car by bridge. The island comprises 9 acres of garden and woodland. The house is in a charming village, featuring traditional pubs and riverside walks.’
Today is the feast of Saint John the Evangelist, or Saint John the Divine [27 December 2017].
Until the end of December 2017, I am continuing a practice I began at the beginning of Advent this year. I am spending a short time of prayer and reflection each morning, using the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar from Lichfield Cathedral.
USPG, founded in 1701, is an Anglican mission agency supporting churches around the world in their mission to bring fullness of life to the communities they serve.
Under the title Pray with the World Church, the current prayer diary (22 October 2017 to 10 February 2018), offers prayers and reflections from the Anglican Communion.
This week, the Prayer Diary visits the Holy Land, and this theme was introduced on Sunday by Salwa Khoury, who is based at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Nablus on the West Bank.
The USPG Prayer Diary:
Wednesday 27 December 2017, Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist:
Pray for Palestinians whose homes are being seized, bulldozed and destroyed.
Lichfield Cathedral Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar:
The calendar suggests lighting a candle each day as you read the Bible and pray.
Today, the calendar suggests reading John 20: 1-8.
The reflection for today offers this challenge:
As we reflect on Christmas, pray for the way we may follow Christ: for grace to believe, to follow, to serve and to understand.