07 January 2021

Monkstown House, built
in an ‘Italian-Byzantine’ style
for the Pim family in 1859

Monkstown House with its landmark tower, was designed by Carmichael and Jones for William Harvey Pim (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

If Monkstown Castle is highly visible because of its prominent position on a busy roundabout in suburban Monkstown, Monkstown House might remain unnoticed by many people but for its prominent tower.

Monkstown House is tucked away in Monkstown Avenue, an almost-hidden cul-de-sac in Monkstown. It was designed in a mixed Italian-Byzantine style in 1859 by the architects Carmichael and Jones for William Harvey Pim (1811-1878). The builders were Roberts & Son, the clerk of works was William Dockrell, the contractors for the plaster and cement were Hogan & Sons and the ironwork is by Hodges & Sons.

The architectural partnership of Carmichael and Jones was formed by Hugh Carmichael and Alfred Gresham Jones in 1854.

Hugh Carmichael had been a pupil of William Deane Butler, and his partnership with Jones lasted until Carmichael died in 1860.

Alfred Gresham Jones (1824-1915) was born in Dublin, a son of George Jones, a merchant tailor. At an early stage in his career, Jones was awarded a Silver Medal by the Royal Dublin Society in 1843 or 1844 for his watercolour reconstruction of the Parthenon in Athens, a project whose influences can be seen in his designs for Monkstown House over a decade later.

After studying at the RDS School of Architectural Drawing, Jones spent some time in London. He returned to Dublin, and by 1852 was working with John Skipton Mulvany. A year later, he was working from his father’s home at 7 Garville Avenue, Rathgar. He formed a partnership with Hugh Carmichael in 1854.

After Carmichael died in 1860, Jones practised on his own. He was a member of the Blackrock Town Commission (1874-1875) for the Monkstown ward.

He was involved in the residential development at Queen’s Park, Monkstown, where he designed two villas, the Cottage (later Villa Carlotta) and Verona, where he lived in 1869-1872 and in 1886-1888. He also lived at 2 Kenilworth Terrace (1863-1865) and Kenilworth Road, Rathgar (1867-1868).

His other works include houses on Kenilworth Square, Palmerston House in Rathmines, Grosvenor Road Baptist Church in Rathmines (1859), Tullow Parish Church (1862), Carrickmines, Merrion Hall (1862-1863), built near Merrion Square for the Plymouth Brethren and now the Davenport Hotel, the Methodist churches in Athlone (1864), Bray (1864), and Sandymount (1864), Saint Paul’s Church, Glenageary (1864-1868), Saint Barnabas Church, North Lotts (1869-1870), Wesley College on Saint Stephen’s Green (1877-1879), the long-lost Turkish Baths on Saint Stephen’s Green (1878), the Metropolitan Hall on Lower Abbey Street (1878-1879), Harold’s Cross Parish Hall (1882-1883), near Kenilworth Square, and Mytilene House on Ailesbury Road (1885), now the French Embassy.

Jones also designed the Dublin Exhibition Palace and Winter Garden on Earlsfort Terrace, an ambitious project that included heated winter gardens. However, all that remain of the Crystal Palace are a few statues and a rustic grotto in the Iveagh Gardens, the original site of the palace.

At the height of his successful, prolific career in Dublin, and for reasons that are still unexplained, Jones emigrated with his family to Australia in 1888. By then, he was already in his mid-60s, and he started a successful practice in Australia, where he also wrote poetry. He died in Melbourne in 1913 at the age of 91.

Jones also designed a Victorian terrace of houses opposite Grosvenor Road Baptist Church. This terrace has been described by Jeremy Williams in Architecture in Ireland 1830-1921 as ‘the most ambitious Gothic Revival speculative terrace built in the Dublin suburbs.’

Thomas Pim (1771-1855) was the ancestor of the Pims of Monkstown House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The original Monkstown House was the home of a Quaker merchant, Thomas Pim (1771-1855), who was born in Mountmellick, Queen’s Co (Laois). He was educated at Ballitore School, Co Kildare, before he was apprenticed to Joshua Edmundson, a linen draper in Dublin. He began trading as a merchant from the premises of his eldest brother, James Pim, at 69 Grafton Street. By 1802, he had become the principal in a partnership with his younger brother, Jonathan Pim (1778–1841), at 22 South William Street, Dublin.

The firm began as general merchants specialising in the import and wholesale distribution of cotton wool, and it soon built up a trade with New York, Liverpool, and the West Indies. The Pims’ business exported linen to all three markets and also supplied poplins to Liverpool and coarse cotton products to the West Indies.

They imported spices from the West Indies and sourced cotton wool directly from New York and indirectly from Liverpool, and also imported fancy goods. At home, they supplied fancy goods and poplins to the retail trade, but the largest constituent of their business was the supply of cotton wool to Irish manufacturers.

To maintain and expand the market for cotton wool, Thomas and Jonathan Pim often bankrolled customers such as James Greenham, who had a manufacturing concern at Roper’s Rest in Dublin. To finance his expansion, Greenham mortgaged the property to Thomas Pim and in 1808 built a weaving mill at Greenmount, Harold’s Cross. When he bought Temple Mills at Celbridge, Co Kildare, Greenham was employing 1,600 weavers and using 27 tons of cotton a week supplied by Thomas Pim.

Greenham encountered difficulties in 1813 and mortgaged his Harold’s Cross premises to Thomas and Jonathan Pim. Around the same time, the youngest Pim brother, Joseph Robinson Pim, joined the family business. Greenham went bankrupt in 1824, and from 1826 the firm headed by Thomas Pim took over running the Greenmount mills and added manufacturing to their growing number of businesses. The volume of goods being imported and exported had become so large that Thomas owned three ships: Hannah, Margaret, and Hibernia.

The partnership was restructured in 1831 as Joseph Robinson Pim and Thomas Pim began to devote more time to their shipping concerns. In 1834, they installed 100 power looms at the Greenmount mills, which by then used a mixture of water and steam power. The mills employed more than 300 workers, for whom the Pim brothers built cottages and gardens.

Thomas Pim was wealthy enough in 1841 to buy the adjoining premises at 23 South William Street. A year later, he was involved in the foundation of Pim Brothers on South Great George’s Street with his son, Jonathan Pim (1806-1885). His firm had become so large that it had agents in New York and London.

Thomas Pim had several other business interests. He was involved in the first attempts to found a Dublin Chamber of Commerce, was a founding shareholder of the Irish Marine Insurance Co, and was the first chair of the Dublin & Kingstown Railway Co, to which his family contributed 20% of the initial capital. He was involved in a mercantile and brewing partnership with his cousin James Pim, and was a director of the National Insurance Co. The business interests of his brother, Joseph Robinson Pim, included the Patriotic Insurance Co, the St George Steam Packet Co and the Irish Mining Co.

Thomas Pim of Monkstown House was one of the early Quakers involved in Monkstown Meetinghouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The early Quakers involved in Monkstown Friends Meeting included merchants and industrialists such as Thomas Pim of Monkstown House; Henry Perry, ironmonger, of Obelisk Park, Blackrock; James Perry, iron manufacturer, of Obelisk Park; Jonathan Pim, textile manufacturer, of Greenbank, Monkstown; and James Pim, merchant, of Monkstown Castle.

Thomas Pim married Mary Harvey, daughter of William and Margaret (née Abell) Harvey in 1805. In his later years, he lived at Monkstown House, Monkstown. His sons included William Harvey Pim and Jonathan Pim (1806-1885), the proprietors of Pim Brothers, leading drapers in Dublin.

When Thomas Pim died in Dublin on 29 November 1855, he was described as one of the most distinguished merchants in the city.

His son, William Harvey Pim, who rebuilt Monkstown House, was born on 23 December 1811. He never married, and he died at Monkstown House on 19 November 1878, aged 66. William Harvey Pim’s brother, Jonathan Pim (1806-1885), was the secretary for the Quaker Relief fund during the famine and was Liberal MP for Dublin City from 1865 until 1874 – the first Irish Quaker to sit in Parliament. He was president of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland between 1875 and 1877.

Monkstown House was offered as auxiliary hospital at the beginning of World War I (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

During World War I, a number of private individuals offered their houses for use for the war effort, often as auxiliary hospitals. One of these was Monkstown House, which was offered by John Harold Pim, son of Thomas Pim.

The Liverpool-born architect Charles Herbert Ashworth (1862-1926) drew up the plans for conversion of Monkstown House into a private auxiliary hospital in 1914, including the addition of its landmark tower.

Ashworth was the architect to the Board of the Richmond, Whitworth and Richmond Hospitals and Monkstown House was the first auxiliary hospital to open in Ireland in October 1914.

Ashworth was also the architect of the Dublin Artisans’ Dwelling Company, which was pioneering the provision of distinctive, well designed, one- and two-storey houses for working class families throughout Dublin, including the Coombe, Portobello and Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire). Ashworth gave meticulous attention to the smallest details of design, construction, and maintenance.

He also had an extensive private practice, which included the design of the Bank of Ireland, Saint Stephen’s Green, the Royal Bank of Ireland, Dolphin’s Barn, bakeries, and factories, and he was architect to the Gaiety Theatre and the Theatre Royal in Dublin.

Monkstown House continued in use as a hospital until recent decades, and Conor, who lives in the caretaker’s apartment in the basement, explained how Monkstown House retains many of its original features and houses a number of community facilities.

As for Thomas Pim who died in the earlier Monkstown House in 1855, his descendants are found today in a large nexus of families, including the Bewley, Goodbody, Green, Griffin, Gwynn, Harvey, Haughton, Hogg, Jacob, McCoy, Kelly, Pim, Richardson and Wigham families.

The descendants Thomas Pim of Monkstown House are found in a large nexus of families (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Monkstown Castle stands
on a prominent roadside
site by a roundabout

Monkstown Castle stands on a prominent site by a large roundabout in suburban south Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Monkstown Castle is a landmark archaeological site in suburban south Dublin, standing in a nicely kept green area on a prominent site by a large roundabout near the village of Monkstown.

I visited the remains of the castle last week, after a few hours in Dún Laoghaire, while I was in Dublin for medical check-ups. The castle is in quite a striking location on the edge of the roundabout and the site must be a surprise for motorists when they first see it.

According to the Martyrology of Tallaght, Saint Mochonna founded Holmpatrick monastery on an island off Skerries. After a Viking raid in the year 798, some of the monks escaped and established a church at Carrickbrennan, south of Dublin, where they were protected by a local chieftain named Mac Gillamocholmog.

The monks dedicated their church to Saint Mochonna and farmed the land given to them by Mac Gillamocholmog.

The monastic foundation and lands at Monkstown and the grange of Carrickbrennan were granted to the Cistercian monks of Saint Mary’s Abbey, Dublin, in 1200. These Cistercian monks built their grange near the church, and a village grew up around it. Parts of their lands extended as far south as Bulloch Harbour, near Dalkey, where the monks built a fishing harbour.

Monkstown Castle was first built by the Cistercian monks of Saint Mary’s Abbey, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

For years, the monks were subject to attacks from the O’Toole and O’Byrne families who had taken refuge in the Wicklow mountains. By the 13th or 14th century, the Cistercians built a castle at Monkstown to administer and protect their lands and another castle at Bulloch Harbour to protect their fisheries.

Monkstown Castle originally consisted of three strong towers and thick walls surrounding a large house within. Two of the towers remain today but there is nothing left of the inner house. One of these fine towers and the gatehouse still survive.

Saint Mary’s Abbey was dissolved at the dissolution of the monastic houses in 1539-1540, during the Tudor Reformation. Monkstown Castle was granted to Sir John Travers who came to Ireland from Cornwall. Travers was Master of the Ordnance and a Groom of the Chamber to the King.

The castle was confiscated when James Eustace, 3rd Viscount Baltinglass, fled after the Desmond rebellion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Sir John Travers lived at Monkstown Castle from 1557, and his other, many grants of land included Rathmore and part of Haynestown, near Naas, Tomogue, and estates in Co Carlow. He married Genet Preston of Gormanston, and when he died in 1562, he was buried in Carrickbrennan Graveyard, at the site of Saint Mochonna’s Church.

The castle later passed to James Eustace, 3rd Viscount Baltinglass, through his marriage to Sir John’s granddaughter, Mary Travers. In 1580, the castle was used as a rebel stronghold during the Desmond rebellion. When Eustace escaped and fled Ireland, Monkstown Castle was awarded to Sir Henry Wallop, Vice-Treasurer of Ireland, proprietor of Enniscorthy Castle, Co Wexford, and ancestor of the Earls of Portsmouth.

Lord Baltinglass died in exile in Spain in 1585, and the castle and lands at Monkstown were returned to his widow Mary in 1589. By then, she had married her second husband, Sir Gerald Alymer of Donadea, Co Kildare, in 1587. When she died in 1610, Lady Aylmer left Monkstown Castle and her estates to Henry Chevers of Goat Castle, the second son of her sister Catherine and John Chevers.

Henry Chevers married Catherine, daughter of Sir Richard Fitzwilliam of Merrion, and they lived at Monkstown Castle with their four children, Walter, Thomas, Patrick and Margaret Chevers.

Monkstown Castle was bought in the late 17th century by Archbishop Michael Boyle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

When Henry Chevers died in 1640, Monkstown Castle and the surrounding lands were inherited by his eldest son, Walter Chevers. The Chevers family was forcibly removed from Monkstown in 1653 by the Cromwellian Commissioners, and transplanted to Killyan, Co Galway. Monkstown Castle was then granted to General Edmund Ludlow (1617-1692), Cromwell’s Master of the Horse in Ireland, and one of the signatories of the death warrant of Charles I.

At the Caroline Restoration in 1660, Ludlow fled into exile in Switzerland, and Walter Chevers was restored to his estate at Monkstown Castle. He lived there until he died on 20 December 1678, and he was buried at Monkstown.

Monkstown Castle was later bought by Michael Boyle (1609-1702), Bishop of Cork (1661-1663), Archbishop of Dublin (1663-1679) and Archbishop of Armagh (1679-1702). Boyle established the town of Blessington, Co Wicklow, and at his own expense built the parish church there. which he supplied with plate and bells.

Archbishop Boyle’s son, Murrough Boyle (1645-1718), 1st Viscount Blessington, was Constable of King John’s Castle, Limerick (1679-1692) and Governor of Limerick (1679-1692). He enlarged Monkstown Castle, making it one of the finest residences in Dublin at the time.

In the early 19th century, Monkstown Castle was the home of the Dublin Quaker merchant, James Pim.

The main tower of Monkstown Castle probably dates from the later 15th century(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Early paintings show it as a large castle with a number of buildings, although many of these have long since disappeared, and nothing survives of the castle built in the 13th and 14th century.

The main tower seen today probably dates from the later 15th century, but its western part is a later addition. The tower formed one side of a large hall that has disappeared. It is four storeys high, with a sentry box along the stairs, and has high, distinctively Irish battlements with machicolations – projections from the battlements through which stones could be dropped on unwelcoming visitors.

This tower was the principal building in a bawn or walled courtyard that was partly rebuilt in the 19th century. The tower still looks quite solid, but the doors are bricked up. The three-storey gatehouse into the bawn and the vaulted room beside it were built at the same time as the main tower. The former inner courtyard is now a well-kept lawn.

Today, Monkstown Castle occupies a prominent, visible site on a roundabout at the junction of Carrickbrennan Road and Castle Park. The surrounding area is residential, and there are many places to park so visitors can stroll around the castle ruins and the site.

The former inner courtyard is now a well-kept lawn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)