30 April 2016

Old Bawn House: a lost link
between Beaumaris and Dublin

Old Bawn House: a lost link between Beaumaris and Dublin

Patrick Comerford

I am staying in Beaumaris, the former county town of Anglesey, this weekend, at the eastern entrance to the Menai Strait, the waterway that separates Anglesey from the coast of North Wales, with plans to visit nearby Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, which has a longer place name that is supposed to be the longest place name on these islands, the site of the former prison camp at Frongoch, and Portmeirion, the coastal village designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 in the style of an Italian village.

But there is an interesting connection between Beaumaris and the Diocese of Dublin and the part of Dublin I live in.

Sir Richard Bulkeley (1533-1621) of Beaumaris was once one a powerful figure in Welsh politics. He was appointed Constable of Beaumaris Castle in 1561 and elected the first Mayor of Beaumaris in 1562. In 1563, he was elected MP for Anglesey, and he became High Sheriff of Anglesey in 1570.

Bulkeley was knighted at Whitehall, in 1577, and became embroiled in the many power struggles in Wales. Owen Wood accused him of oppressing the townspeople of Beaumaris, and of being involved in the Babington plot in 1586. Bulkeley was cleared and became one of Queen Elizabeth’s courtiers.

Bulkeley was elected MP for Anglesey once again in 1604, and was re-elected in 1614. When he died in 1621 at the age of 88 he was buried in Beaumaris.

Bulkeley’s younger half-brother was Lancelot Bulkeley (1568-1650), later Archbishop of Dublin. Lancelot Bulkeley was educated at Brasenose College, Oxford, and Saint Edmund Hall. He was ordained deacon and priest in 1593 and 1594 by Hugh Bellot, Bishop of Bangor. He continued as Rector of two parishes in the Diocese of Bangor when he was appointed Archdeacon of Dublin in 1613.

In 1619, he succeeded Thomas Jones as Archbishop of Dublin. As Archbishop, Bulkeley revived the controversy over the Primacy of Ireland. The debate was brought before the Lord Deputy, Thomas Wentworth, who ruled in favour of the precedence of the Archbishop of Armagh.

At Christmas 1628, he was involved in an unsuccessful attempt to prohibit the public Roman Catholic celebration of the Mass. The move provoked a large-scale riot in Dublin, the mob stoned Bulkeley, and he was forced to seek refuge in a private house. Dublin Corporation refused to come to his aid and blocked troops sent to quell the riot.

In 1635, Archbishop Bulkeley built Old Bawn House, south of Tallaght. This fortified house was of a late Tudor style, designed in an H shape with high pointed gables. It had many windows and 12 chimneys. The features included a chimneypiece and a carved oak staircase that were moved to the National Museum. The chimneypiece reached to the ceiling and depicted the building of the walls of Jerusalem.

Old Bawn House was enclosed by a wide fosse and probably had a drawbridge. To the south of the house there was a large pleasure garden laid out with walks, ponds and tree-lined avenues. Old Bawn House was damaged in the rebellion of 1641, but it was restored immediately at a cost of £3,000.

Throughout the Cromwellian wars, Bulkeley remained a loyal Anglican. In 1646, he signed a proclamation confirming a peace treaty between Lord Ormonde and the Roman Catholics. He resisted the act prohibiting the use of the Book of Common Prayer and was imprisoned in 1647.

Shortly after the execution of Charles I, a decree on 8 March 1649 confiscated all Bulkeley’s honours, privileges, castles and estates, and vested them in General Henry Ireton.

Archbishop Bulkeley died in Tallaght on 8 September 1650. He was then 81, and he was buried in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

His sons included William Bulkeley, who was a canon of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin (1626-1636), Rector of Rathfarnham (1636), Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (1630-1671), and Archdeacon of Dublin (1640-1671).

Another son, Sir Richard Bulkeley (1634-1685), was High Sheriff of Wicklow (1660) and MP for Baltinglass, Co Wicklow (1665-1666).

After the Bulkeleys, Old Bawn House passed to Lady Tynte who leased it. In 1830, the house was bought by the McDonnell family who established a paper mill behind the house. This was one of many mills along the banks of the River Dodder in the 19th century.

The house fell into disrepair during the early 1900s it was used as a storehouse when the lands in the area were being developed for new housing in the 1960s. I still remember the storm 40 years ago when what remained of Old Bawn House was demolished in 1976, and a connection between Beaumaris, Dublin and a former archbishop were levelled to the ground.

The Bulkeley family is remembered today in Beaumaris (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

For other postings on the architectural heritage of South Dublin see:

Berwick Hall.
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.
Knocklyon Castle.
Laurelmere Lodge, Marlay Park.
Marlay Park.
Mountain View House, Beaumont Avenue, Churchtown.
Newbrook House, Taylor’s Lane, Rathfarnham.
Old Bawn House, Tallaght.
Rathfarnham Castle.
Sally Park, Fihouse.
Scholarstown House, Knocklyon.
Silveracre House, off Sarah Curran Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Synge House, Newtwon Villas, Churchtown, and No 4 Orwell Park, Rathgar.
Templeogue House.
Washington House, Butterfield Avenue, Rathfarnham.
Westbourne House, off Rathfarnham Road.

A weekend with the prisoner in Frongoch
and ‘The Prisoner’ in Portmeirion

Portmeirion … a view of the central plaza (Photograph: Michael Maggs, Wikimedia Commons)

Patrick Comerford

I am in Wales for the weekend, staying at the Castle Court Hotel in Beaumaris, a former royal borough and once the county town of Anglesey.

It is some time since I have stayed in Wales. I stayed in Saint Michaels’s College in Llandaff, near Cardiff in south Wales, in 2007, when I was visiting theological colleges in England and Wales, and I was in north Wales in 2004 when I led a retreat in Loreto House.

But I have to be honest and admit that while I have travelled through Wales quite often since my teens, I seem to have treated as a corridor between Dublin and the English Midlands, never giving myself a real opportunity to know this country.

I have arrived here this morning on the ferry between Dublin and Holyhead, and Beaumaris is still on the island of Anglesey, at the eastern entrance to the Menai Strait, the waterway that separates Anglesey from the coast of North Wales.

Castle Court, on Castle Square, where I am staying is a 19th-century hotel facing mediaeval Beaumaris Castle and a two-minute walk from the beach and Beaumaris Pier.

Beaumaris is a small town with a population of about 2,000. This was originally a Viking settlement known as Porth y Wygyr, or Port of the Vikings. To the north, the village of Llanfaes was occupied by Anglo-Saxons in 818 but was later retaken by Merfyn Frych, King of Gwynedd.

But the town only began to develop in 1295. After Edward I of England conquered Wales, he commissioned the building of Beaumaris Castle as part of a chain of fortifications along the coast of North Wales. The other castles include Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech.

Beaumaris Castle was built on a marsh from which it takes its name – the French builders called it beaux marais or “beautiful marshes.” French and English masons were brought in to build the castle and a walled town. The castle was designed by James of St George, a master mason from Savoy, and is considered a perfect example of a concentric castle.

The Welsh residents of Llanfaes were moved forcibly as one group to Rhosyr in the west of Anglesey, and a new settlement grew up around the castle. This new town was named “Newborough” by King Edward. In the royal charter, only the English and Norman-French residents were given full civic rights, while any remaining Welsh residents were largely disqualified from any civic office, carrying any weapon, and holding assemblies. The charter also prohibited Jews from living in Beaumaris.

Beaumaris became the main commercial centre of Anglesey and the port of registration for all vessels in north-west Wales.

As well as the castle, the town’s notable buildings include Saint Mary’s, the 14th century parish church, the 14th-century Tudor Rose, one of the oldest, original timber-framed buildings in Britain, and the Bull’s Head Inn, which was built in 1472.

During the Siege of Beaumaris in 1648, during the second English Civil War, General Thomas Mytton had his headquarters at the Bull’s Head Inn. The hill leading north from the town is named Red Hill from the blood spilled in that conflict.

Two of us are using Beaumaris as a base this weekend. Among the places we hope to visit this weekend include nearby Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, which is just 10 km away and is known as the place on these islands with the longest place name:


We may also get to see the cathedral at Bangor, the sea at Lladudno, the mountains of Snowdonia, and the castles at Conwy, Caernarfon and Harlech.

But the first place to see is the former prison camp at Frongoch, which is about 60 km from here. Barbara’s grandfather, Sergeant Joe Doyle of the Irish Citizen Army, was held in the immediate aftermath of the Easter Rising in 1916. It seems appropriate to visit this site 100 years after he was a prisoner there.

Then tomorrow, we plan to visit Portmeirion, which is about 50 km from Beaumaris. This coastal village was designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 in the style of an Italian village, and is now owned by a charitable trust. Portmeirion has been the location for many films and television shows, and was ‘The Village’ in the 1960s television series The Prisoner.

So from the prisoner in Frongoch to the The Prisoner in Portmeirion, this should be an interesting weekend in Wales.