31 May 2016

Searching for the remains of
Lord Charlemont’s lost estate

The Marino Institute of Education … on the site of Marino House built in the 1750s by the Earl of Charlemont (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

It is almost 20 years since I was invited to speak about the history and identity of the Church of Ireland to a group of German church leaders, who were visiting Ireland in 1998. I spoke in the Marino Institute of Education, but the visit from the Association of Protestant Ministers of the Diaspora in the Rhineland was so short, and I was brought in and out of their meeting so hastily, that I never had the opportunity to appreciate the setting or the surroundings in Marino.

I was back in the Marino Institute yesterday [30 May 2016] for a day-long series of conversations with Archbishop Rowan Williams, and decided to walk there from the Mater Dei Institute of Education in Drumcondra.

It was a bright, sunny, summer morning, and as I arrived at the Marino Institute I was impressed by the tree-lined surroundings on Griffith Avenue, and the driveway that leads up to the impressive gates that open into the Marino Institute.

Charlemont, the name of the small housing estate nestling below these gates just off Griffith Avenue, provided a clue to the story of the site of the institute, even if the house that once stood there was demolished almost a century ago.

A watercolour of Marino House by the Irish artist Edward McFarland in 1853 shows a conservatory with flowers. This picture is included in McFarland’s album of watercolours, A Drive from Dublin to Howth Returning by Clontarf.

Another watercolour by McFarland in the same collection shows the Entrance Gate to Marino Demesne. It is the only representation of the main entrance gates in their original location, when they still opened into Charlemont’s demesne.

Cipriani’s gates at Marino are decorated with dragons and the motto from the Charlemont coat-of-arms (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

In 1755, James Caulfeild (1728-1799), 1st Earl of Charlemont, returned to Ireland after his Grand Tour of classical sites in Italy and Greece. His step-father offered him an estate in Donnycarney that stretched down to the shores of Dublin Bay at Fairview.

In creating his demesne, Lord Charlemont was strongly influenced by his experiences on the Grand Tour, from visits to antique Roman gardens to the poetry of Virgil and Horace. Perhaps the sea views reminded him of his Mediterranean tour when he renamed his estate Marino.

In 1746, at the age of 18 year, he was sent on a Grand Tour of Europe, accompanied by the Revd Edward Murphy as his tutor. During his Grand Tour, which lasted almost nine years, he travelled to Holland and Germany, and spent a year in Rome and Naples before travelling on to Greece, where he was totally fascinated by the Parthenon in Athens and made drawings of the building long before it was pillaged destroyed by Lord Elgin.

He visited Turkey and Egypt too before returning to Rome in 1750, where he met many famous people, including the Scottish architect Sir William Chambers (1723-1796), the sculptors Simon Vierpyl and Joseph Wilton and the artist and decorator Giovanni Battista Cipriani (1727-1785) from Florence. He spent vast sums of money collecting paintings, sculptures and books and shipping them back to Ireland.

He returned to Ireland in 1755, and went on to build Marino House, the Casino in Marino, which is Dublin’s finest surviving neoclassical building, and Charlemont House in Dublin, now home to the Hugh Lane Gallery of Modern Art.

Although bestowed with titles and honours, he disregarded court favours and formed a political alliance with Henry Flood and Henry Grattan. In 1780, as Lord Charlemont, he became the commander-in-chief of the Irish Volunteers, and in 1783 he presided at the Volunteer Convention in Dublin. From then on was known as the Volunteer Earl.

The main entrance to his estate on the north fringes of Dublin was in Fairview, later the site of Saint Joseph’s National School, where an imposing Doric gateway opened on to a long driveway to the house.

The house was designed or remodelled by William Chambers and the gates were designed by Cipriani. In 1768, Chambers wrote to Charlemont, enclosing ‘Cipriani’s drawing for the dragons of the gate at Marino.’ The dragons feature on the Charlemont coat-of-arms, and the family motto, Deo Duce, Ferro Comitante (‘God as my leader, my sword my companion’) is also inscribed on the gates.

Lord Charlemont hired Matthew Peters, a renowned gardener, to landscape his Marino estate in a type of ‘idealised Italian landscape’ – open and informal, with soft undulating lines offset by carefully positioned clumps of trees. There, until he died in 1799, Lord Charlemont lived a life of elegance and luxury.

His titles and estates were inherited by his son, Francis William Caulfeild (1775-1863), 2nd Earl of Charlemont, who had been MP for Co Armagh until 1799. He died at Marino House in 1863. His four children pre-deceased him and his estate and titles passed to by his nephew, James Molyneux Caulfeild (1820-1892), the 3rd and last Earl of Charlemont.

In 1876, this Lord Charlemont, put Marino House and estate up for sale. A notice in The Times on 8 May 1876, advising that the estate was to be sold, described the demesne in great detail. It said the “gardens are very tastefully laid out, and in the highest heart and condition, well stocked with fruit trees of good and new varieties. The houses consist of conservatories, greenhouses, vineries, peach houses, forcing and stove houses, of modern construction, all heated on the best principles...”

The Irish Christian Brothers bought Marino House, on the former Charlemont demesne, and made it their home. The last Earl of Charlemont died some years later in 1892 in Biarritz and was buried in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh.

A photograph from the late 19th century in the Lawrence Collection shows Marino House with a member of the Irish Christian Brothers standing outside. At the time, the Christian Brothers were using this former residence of Lord Charlemont as their quarters, until a new house named Saint Mary’s was built nearby in 1904.

By 1911, a map shows the remains of the Charlemont estate included Marino House, the gate lodges, the Casino, and the ruins of the Gothic Room. New additions included Saint Mary’s College, the O’Brien Institute, and Saint Joseph’s Christian Brothers School

Marino House before it was demolished (Photograph: Archiseek)

However, Marino House would be demolished within the next decade or so. By the 1920s, the Christian Brothers owned a significant portion of the old estate, including all the land between Saint Mary’s Monastery, now the Marino Institute of Education, and Saint Joseph’s in Fairview. Brother Killian Fitzgerald, who at that time was on the teaching staff at Saint Joseph’s, recalled that ‘even up to the [1920s] …, Marino could still be admired for its beautiful woods and its exquisite demesne.’

The population of Dublin was growing rapidly, and there was a pressing need for new housing. In 1924 a parcel of land belonging to the Christian Brothers’ parcel was acquired by a Dublin Corporation housing order for the Marino and Croydon Park Housing Scheme.

Over the next two years, 1,283 houses were built on those 89 acres of land. In the process, Lord Charlemont’s old house was demolished, although his Casino still stands as an enduring monument to this Renaissance man.

Lord Charlemont’s achievement in creating an earthly paradise at Marino was seen by him as his gift to posterity. Sadly, by the mid-20th century, almost all vestiges of this marvel had been lost, and in turn the memory of such a landscape at Marino was almost erased.

The urns designed by Cipriani for Marino House stand on the roof of the Marino Institute to this day, on either side of a statue of the Virgin Mary. Cipriani’s gates have been saved and moved and now stand at the entrance to the Marino Institute of Education.

The urns of Marino House still stand on the roof of the Marino Institute (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)


Anonymous said...

This is so interesting
Sad how an achievement can vanish

Anonymous said...

Marino Institute of Education wasn’t built on the site of Marino House

Donal Leader said...

The Marino estate still remains largely intact despite the parceling up into distinct entities. The new Griffith Woods apartment complex is the most significant recent development on the Marino lands. In its own way the new complex is creating a new vision of the estate that has a more cosmopolitan feel. The 1920s Marino housing developing on the other side of Griffith Avenue (itself developed on the estate lands) was one of the finest housing developments in Europe in its day, built at a time when the new state was struggling to exist.

eamon said...

There are two or three classical urns on the back hall of the school i saw them last in 1991.
The deserve a better location to preserve them.