14 November 2020
Earlier this week, I initiated an unexpected conversation on Instagram and Facebook when I posed a photograph of a Victorian red post box near Kilbradren, close to Creeves and Rathkeale in west Co Limerick.
Some people wanted to know whether it was genuine, others suggested it was a plastic replica, while a number of people wanted to know how many Victorian post boxes have survived in Co Limerick and other parts of Ireland.
For about ten years or so, I have occasionally taken photographs of old post boxes and pillar boxes that predate the formation of the Irish Free State and a separate Irish postal service in 1922.
They are spread throughout the country, from Co Mayo to Co Wexford, and from Co Louth to Co Wexford. When I last posted about these fast-disappearing post boxes on 18 August 2017, I included a collection of photographs of 47 pre-independence post boxes in 11 counties throughout the Republic of Ireland.
I have not gone in search of them with any purpose or method, so my collection of is representative at any time only of places I have visited in recent years, and of how alert I was on any particular day.
Since that first posting, I have come across another 15 similar post boxes, spread across the island in different places.
Most of these post boxes and pillar boxes are embellished with royal monograms. The simpler boxes, inserted into walls, have plain ‘VR’ initials with crown insignias, while the stand-alone tubular pillar boxes often have a monogram with the ‘VR’ (Queen Victoria) or ‘EVIIR’ (Edward VII) initials in a cursive flourish, but despite the decorative approach have no crowns.
The initials became more elaborate in their calligraphic flourishes during the reign of Edward VII, but they returned to more simple fonts in the reign of George V, reflecting not only the harsh times of World War I and the War of Independence but also the design and development of new typefaces for typography and printing that emphasised clarity and legibility.
The green post box, in various shapes and sizes, is a familiar sight on city streets and country roads throughout Ireland. But all the post boxes illustrated in this evening’s posting and my earlier posting three years ago were originally painted in Post Office Red, and the embossed crowns were painted in gold, as may have been the lettering.
The post box was introduced over 160 years ago by the novelist, Anthony Trollope, who worked for the Post Office in Ireland for several years. He wanted to make it easier for people to post their letters and make it unnecessary for them to have to wait for a post office to open.
The first boxes appeared on the streets of cities such as Dublin, Belfast and Cork about 165 years ago and they were introduced to other towns and villages from the 19th century on. The big pillar boxes were soon joined by smaller boxes that fitted into walls and later by lamp boxes that were cheaper to make and could be attached to lamp and telegraph poles.
The first letter boxes were put in place in 1855, when five boxes were erected in Belfast, Ballymena and Dublin. The first Dublin box was rectangular in shape and is now on display in the National Museum in Kildare Street, Dublin.
Pillar boxes had been placed in many Irish cities by early 1857. The Post Office went on to put wall boxes in place throughout the island, and the cylindrical boxes were introduced in March 1879. A new design was introduced in 1887, incorporating the royal cypher on the door and the words ‘Post Office’ on the collar below the rim of the roof.
Most of the early pillar boxes were painted dark bronze green throughout the United Kingdom. But in 1874 the Post Office decided to make pillar boxes more obvious by painting them a striking royal red. All the boxes illustrated here and in my posting three years ago were originally painted in red. However, after Independence the Irish Post Office changed their colour to green.
A number of these old post boxes remain in use today and they are an elegant feature in many towns and suburbs. But many are neglected, left to rust, blocked up. In some cases the royal insignia has been wilfully razed or filed away, or an additional monogram with the initials ‘SÉ’ has been added, representing Saorstát Éireann, the Irish Free State, the official name of the state for 15 years from 6 December 1922 until 29 December 1937.
There was a genuine concern among many of the people commenting on my photograph earlier this week that post boxes with royal monograms might be targets for the vandalism of over-zealous self-proclaimed republicans or, on the other hand, of thieves targeting antiquities.
The 15 post boxes and pillar boxes in this evening’s posting date from the reigns of Queen Victoria and Edward VII, and were seen in counties Clare, Cork, Limerick, Kerry, Tipperary and Wicklow, They are an important element in the street architecture of Ireland, and it would be a shame if they were lost because of neglect, wanton abandon, or vandalism.
The reign of Queen Victoria:
These ten post boxes date from 1887 to 1901:
The reign of Edward VII (1910-1910):
These five date from the reign of Edward VII (1910-1910):
I noticed during the week that Scholarstown House, just a short walking distance from my home in Dublin, is on the market through DNG, with an asking price of £2 million.
Scholarstown House is a handsome, well-proportioned period house with an interesting history and an attractive setting and it is listed on the register of Protected Structures due to its architectural and historical relevance.
Although Scholarstown House was built or rebuilt at the beginning of the 20th century, the house retains substantial original fabric and it shows the continuity of style and form with subtle modifications that are prevalent in buildings of this type.
This is a detached three-bay two-storey house with roughcast rendered walls. The timber sash windows are wider to the first floor and paired to the ground floor outer bays. The central glazed timber door has a segmental-arched radial fanlight above the flat projecting bracketed timber hood.
The pitched slate roof has gable chimney stacks. There is a large, three-storey, square-plan wing to the rere, with further ancillary buildings in the garden.
The original Scholarstown House was first built in 1588 for Archbishop Adam Loftus, after he acquired the townland of Scholarstown as part of the Manor of Rathfarnham following their confiscation from Lord Buttevant in 1583.
By the time of his death in 1605, Archbishop Loftus was the owner, landlord and controller of much of the lands and estates in the Rathfarnham and Knocklyon area, including Scholarstown, Oldcourt, Tymon, Woodtown, Killakee, Ballycragh, Ballycullen and Mount Pelier Hill or the Hell Fire Mountain.
His descendants soon became one of the most prominent, manipulative and long-tailed families among the landed aristocracy in Irish politics.
Over the past four or five centuries, the residents of Scholarstown House were mostly tenant farmers. The earliest recorded tenant, Henry Jones, was killed during the siege of Rathfarnham in 1641. In 1659, David Gibson was living in Scholarstown House.
The Rathfarnham estates, including Scholarstown, passed to Lucy Loftus in 1691, when her father, Adam Loftus (1625-1691) of Rathfarnham Castle, Baron of Rathfarnham and Viscount Lisburne, died fighting on the Williamite side at the Siege of Limerick in 1691. The cannonball that blew his head off is now in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.
Lucy Loftus was his only daughter and heiress, and when she married Tom Wharton as his second wife the following year, in July 1692, she brought a vast fortune and estate to the marriage, augmenting Tom Wharton’s income by some £5,000 a year.
Her vast Rathfarnham estates included Knocklyon, Scholarstown, Woodtown, Ballyroan, Ballycragh, and other tracts of land in Whitechurch, Cruagh, Firhouse, Oldcourt, Tymon and Tallaght.
Tom and Lucy Wharton were the parents of the infamous ‘Rake of Rathfarnham,’ Philip Wharton (1698-1731), who became Duke of Wharton and Earl of Rathfarnham. He inherited the Rathfarnham estates, including Scholarstown, when his parents died in 1716. He also inherited his parents’ great influence and wealth, with an estimated income of £14,000 a year. But he would quickly dissipate this heritage within less than a decade.
In 1723, while he was still only 24, Philip Wharton first tried to sell Rathfarnham Castle and Estates, including Scholarstown, to Viscount Chetwynd for £85,000. But he was forced to reduce his asking price when eventually he sold them for £62,000 to the Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, William Conolly.
Conolly would never reside at either Rathfarnham Castle or Scholarstown House, instead letting both to a number of tenants.
Later, Philip Wharton married his second wife, Maria Theresa Comerford, in Madrid in 1726 – just three months after the death of his sadly neglected and abandoned first wife Martha.
Maria Theresa’s mother, Henrietta Comerford, died in Madrid in 1747. Maria Theresa used the family name of her step-father, Major-General John Comerford (ca 1665-1725), of Finlough in Loughkeen, Co Tipperary, of Waterford, and of Madrid.
When she was widowed, Maria Theresa moved to London, where she subsisted on a small Spanish pension, and died in 1777. There were no children to inherit her claims to her husband’s former wealth and titles in Ireland, including his estates and castles at Rathfarnham Castle, Knocklyon Castle and Scholarstown House.
‘Speaker’ Conolly, who bought the Rathfarnham estate in 1723, including Scholarstown House, left his name in local memory, and a field in the area was known as ‘Connolly’s Freehold.’
The house is shown clearly on John Rocque’s map of Dublin in 1757.
In 1789, Scholarstown House was leased to the Somervell or Somerville family.
However, during the first half of the 19th century, the La Touche family of Marlay Park became the immediate lessor of Scholarstown, probably through defaults on mortgages held by their bank.
Transactions in the mid-19th century show Scholarstown House and farm formed a 92 acre estate. Scholarstown House was leased in 1836 by John David La Touche of Marlay Park to Patrick Dunne.
Between 1845 and 1847, Father Matthew Flanagan, Parish Priest of Francis Street parish in Dublin and secretary to the board of Maynooth College, was living in Scholarstown House.
Flanagan was instrumental in the design, building and decoration of the Church of Saint Nicholas in Francis Street. He brought in John Hogan and some of the great sculptors, painters and craftsmen in early and mid-19th century Dublin to work on the interior of his new church.
But he also left reminders of his own family tree around the church. In the west wall of the north transept there is a monument to his mother, Mary Flanagan, who died in 1830, and his brother, Stephen Flanagan, as well as a white marble sarcophagus on the east wall of the south transept.
However, the house had returned to the Dunne family, and Griffith’s Valuation shows a Mrs. Dunne was living in Scholarstown House in the 1850s.
The house later passed to Richard Duncan King, and in 1876 Michael Walsh acquired King’s lease of Scholarstown House.
Walsh later mortgaged the house to the Munster and Leinster Bank, but in the 1890s he tried to burn down the house in an insurance scam. He was arrested, tried, convicted and jailed, and died in Mountjoy Prison on 17 May 1899.
Scholarstown House then passed to his niece, Ellen Tierney, from Killeen, Birr, Co Offally.
The Jolly family was living in Scholarstown House by 1901. They owned a dairy yard and shop in Rathfarnham village, and rebuilt and restored the fire-damaged house in the 1900s. The Jolly family sold Scholarstown House to the O’Brien family in 1928.
The surrounding farmland has been sold off in recent decades for housing development, but the house today stands on a site of 0.67 ha (1.65 acres), which is being advertised as a ‘superb residential development site (subject to planning permission).’ DNG says it ‘would suit a medium density residential development which would be sympathetically designed to take account of the protected nature of Scholarstown House.’
The entire site is zoned ‘R2’ for residential development. But Scholarstown House remains an interesting part of the architectural and historical heritage of the Knocklyon and Rathfarnham area, and hopefully it survives the next stage of its history.