02 September 2020
A brief afternoon visit to
Lismore, with its colourful
buildings and monuments
This summer’s ‘Road Trip’ inevitably took us through Lismore on our way from Co Kerry to Cappoquin, and I stopped briefly to stroll through a town that I loved in my childhood and that is still colourful and charming.
As well as Lismore Castle and Saint Carthage’s Cathedral, there is a cluster of prominent or landmark buildings at the most important junction in Lismore that includes the Lismore House Hotel, the Red House, the former courthouse, and the Ambrose Power Memorial.
The Lismore House Hotel, where I have stayed in the past, is a protected Georgian building, and boasted in the past that it is Ireland’s oldest purpose-built hotel. Guests in the past have included the 19th century travel writer William Makepeace Thackeray, whose stay is commemorated with a plaque on the façade.
In his Irish Sketch Book, Thackeray was effusive in his praise of Lismore, describing ‘the river and banks as fine as the Rhine and the castle as noble and picturesque as Warwick.’
The hotel was built by the Duke of Devonshire in 1797, when it was known as the Devonshire Arms Hotel. It was first built to provide accommodation for guests of the Cavendish family at Lismore Castle.
The hotel has 29 bedrooms, conference and banqueting facilities, a bar and a restaurant, and is said to be in almost ‘ready to go’ condition.
The Lismore House Hotel had a significant overhaul and rebranding in 2006, setting up as a four-star boutique hotel with conference and function facilities. It was a popular wedding and function venue, but suffered from licensing issues and noise disturbance complaints when it reopened as Club V about 12 years ago.
In recent years, the hotel was associated with the Nolan family, who have an Irish and European transport and haulage business. Family members recently settled a long-running legal dispute with AIB over hotel investments, including the Lismore House Hotel, and Isaacs Hostel in Dublin, where debts of up to €23 million were in dispute.
Lismore House Hotel has not traded recently, and the latest Tripadvisor comments come from mid-2016, When it closed, Lismore’s Immrama Festival of Travel Writing also lost a venue. It is on the market through Sherry FitzGerald Reynolds. When it first went on the market in November 2017 It had an asking price of €1.5 million.
Lismore also had a long association with Fred Astaire and his sister, Adele, and a plaque at who married a Cavendish. A plaque above ‘Summerhouse’ recalls that Fred Astaire was a ‘frequent visitor.’
On a nearby house, another plaque recalls that Timothy Healy (1855-1931), Governor General of Ireland, once lived in Lismore.
Beside the hotel, the Ambrose Power Memorial in the Square is a focal point in the town and is one of the first features seen on arriving in Lismore. from the north and was erected in the Gothic-Revival style in to commemorate Archdeacon Ambrose Power of Lismore. His daughter Mary married Henry Windsor Villiers-Stuart of Dromana House.
The well-maintained memorial contains fountains, and although they are no longer working they are believed to retain their internal mechanisms.
Facing the hotel, the Red House Inn is a striking corner building in the Arts and Crafts style. It is well maintained and retains important features both outside and inside. These include the decorative veranda balcony, canted oriel window, advanced gable, dormer attic and profiled timber bargeboards. Inside, there is a distinctive serpentine serving counter.
It was built in 1902, and incorporates fabric of from an earlier building, built on the site in 1825.
Another prominent landmark in the centre of Lismore is the imposing, classical-style courthouse, now serving as a Visitor Centre. It too was built by the Dukes of Devonshire, and retains its original form and massing, and many original features and materials, as well as its the later clock tower.
I was too late to call into the cathedral this time, but walking through the colourful streets of Lismore, even on a dull afternoon as summer turned to autumn, evoked childhood memories and brought a promise to return.