18 August 2015
I have written in recent days about Berwick House on Whitehall Road, which is near where I work, and Scholarstown House, which is near where I live.
On my way home yesterday [17 August 2015], I stopped on Whitehall Road again to look at the curious structure known as the Bottle Tower or Hall’s Barn.
This local landmark in the Rathfarnham/ Churchtown area was built by Major Hall in 1742 as a miniature replica or imitation of the better-built “Wonderful Barn” erected at the same time by Katherine Conolly near Castletown House, Co Kildare.
Why were these barns or bottle towers built?
And what inspired them?
Extremely cold and wet weather his Ireland in 1740-1741, and it persisted for almost two years. It led to the failure of corn and potato crops, a shortage of milk and a shortage of meat because livestock starved. This year was known as the ‘Year of the Slaughter’ and this famine resulted in widespread deaths from both hunger and disease. It is said about 28% of the population of Ireland died – a far higher death rate than in the ‘Great Famine’ a century later.
Katherine (Conyngham), the widow of William Connolly of Castletown House, was appalled by the suffering during those years. Her husband was Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, and she responded to the famine by commissioning the barn with two main purposes: to give employment to impoverished local people and to act as a store for grain that could be used should in the event of future famines.
There are suggestions that the design is based on the design of rice stores in India.
An external cantilevered stone stairs winding around the tapered external wall gives the barn its amazing corkscrew appearance, with 94 steps leading to the 70 ft high top.
Inside there are vaulted brick walls, covered with rubble stone, reaching up through seven floors, with a central hole running through each. Small triangular windows open at intervals on some levels, reflected by similar triangular motifs elsewhere.
Some historians, however, suggest that the barn was never intended for use as a barn. There are theories that it was either a dovecote or an elaborate hide for shooting parties could take aim at game or at least was used for one or other of these purposes.
The Bottle Tower on Whitehall Road is only one other building in Ireland like the “Wonderful Barn.” They share the same corkscrew design and conical appearance, and they both have an adjoining conical dovecote.
The Bottle Tower on Whitehall Road was built in 1742 by Major Hall who was living in an old house known as Whitehall. The land that had once been part of the Rathfarnham Castle of ‘Speaker’ Conolly but had been sold in 1742 to John Hoadly (1678-1746), Archbishop of Dublin (1730-1742), Archbishop of Armagh (1742-1746) and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College Dublin (1743-1746).
The floors and other timber work in the Bottle Tower have long disappeared and the winding stone steps are not safe to ascend. Whether it was originally intended as a barn or a residence when it was built in the 1740s is unclear. The ground floor may have been used as a barn, but the first and second floors appear to have been residential and they were both fitted with fireplaces. The stone spiral stairs may indicate that the tower was also used as a viewing tower.
A smaller structure behind the barn, built on somewhat similar lines, was a pigeon house.
The old house named Whitehall was also built by Major Hall around the same time. By 1778, Hall’s house at Whitehall had become the home of the Revd Jeremiah Walsh (1702-ca 1789), who was the perpetual curate or Vicar of Taney Parish from 1758 to 1787. In 1778, Walsh also married his second wife, the widow of Thomas Eyre, MP for Fore, Co Westmeath.
In 1795, the Bottle Tower was converted into a boarding house by Michael Kelly. The painter Francis Jukes described it that year as “a very curious building, the singularity of which much attracted my notice. The stairs, by which you ascend it, are on the outside; and having a parapet wall, the ascent is rendered easy and safe. At the top the prospect is very beautiful, commanding a view of Lord Ely’s and Mr Palliser’s parks and of the country, as far as the mountains. It is two and a half miles from Dublin.”
A newspaper advertisement in 1816 invited inquiries from prospective visitors.
The barn appears on many early maps of Dublin. Samuel Lewis, in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) names many of the old houses in the area, including Whitehall, of WP Matthews, Newtown, of Dr John Kirby, Barton Lodge, of W Conlan, Nutgrove, of P Jones, and Whitehall, of T Laffan. This last Whitehall is described as having an out-office “built in the shape of a pottery furnace, with a winding flight of steps on the outside to the top, whence there is a commanding prospect of the surrounding country.”
Hall’s former house stood immediately north of the barn until it was demolished some years ago. Hall’s Barn or the Bottle Tower has been unoccupied for over 150, it is unsafe to visit and it is in a state of advanced ruin. But it remains one of the most unusual looking buildings in the Rathfarnham and Churchtown area.
For other postings on the architectural heritage of South Dublin see:
The Bottle Tower, Churchtown.
Brookvale House, Rathfarnham.
Camberley House, Churchtown.
Dartry House, Orwell Park, Rathfarnham.
Ely Arch, Rathfarnham.
Ely House, Nutgrove Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Fernhurst, 14 Orwell Road, Rathgar.
Fortfield House, Hyde Park, Terenure.
No 201 Harold’s Cross Road, the birthplace of Richard Allen.
Homestead, Sandyford Road, Dundrum.
Kilvare House, also known as Cheeverstown House, Templeogue Road.
Laurelmere Lodge, Marlay Park.
Mountain View House, Beaumont Avenue, Churchtown.
Newbrook House, Taylor’s Lane, Rathfarnham.
Old Bawn House, Tallaght.
Sally Park, Fihouse.
Scholarstown House, Knocklyon.
Silveracre House, off Sarah Curran Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Synge House, Newtwon Villas, Churchtown, and No 4 Orwell Park, Rathgar.
Washington House, Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Westbourne House, off Rathfarnham Road.