12 August 2017

Finding an unexpected
architectural delight on
Millstreet’s Main Street

Tangney’s shop on the Main Street is an architectural gem in Millstreet, Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Walking around any provincial town in Ireland, it is always a source of wonder to realise the number of buildings – commercial and domestic – that display thoughtful architectural creativity.

These aesthetic delights are easy to see in the works of Pat McAuliffe that can be found throughout Listowel and Abbeyfeale, the Georgian and Regency doorways of Rathkeale or the Wyatt windows in the houses in Bunclody.

Every town, it seems, has its architectural surprises that even local people seem to pass nonchalantly without comment.

Strolling through Millstreet, Co Cork, earlier this week, in search of the houses and shopfronts that were once part of the lives of the Crowley and Murphy families, I found the brightly coloured shopfronts lifted my spirits on a grey and misty afternoon.

The more obvious architectural treasures in the town include the local branch of the Bank of Ireland and the tower that marks the site of Saint Anna’s former Church of Ireland parish church. Outside the town, there are once great country homes such as Drishane Castle and Coole House. But on the Main Street of Millstreet, Tangney’s shop in its bright colours is an example of those architectural delights that the discerning eye can find in any provincial Irish town.

This shop and house are made up of twin buildings that have been combined into one, so that they present a single shopfront at street level and one dwelling above.

The main terraced, three-bay, three-storey house, on the left (west) side was built ca 1880. At first it may have been intended as a townhouse, and was converted into commercial premises in the years that followed.

The decorative scheme of the façade of this building marks it out on the streetscape of Millstreet. It incorporates classical elements, such as the cornice and parapet and pilasters. The use of shamrock motifs on the first-floor opening surrounds is a distinguishing feature, showing the influence of the Celtic Revival influence.

There is a render shopfront at the ground floor. This shopfront has channelled render pilasters with round recessed panels to the caps, a moulded render cornice and fascia with attached timber lettering. The square-headed plate-glass display windows have tiled stall risers and chrome edging, and there is a flanking recessed entrance with a square-headed timber-glazed door.

The plate-glass windows, tiled riser walls and simple form are elements typical of the Modern Movement and shopfronts of this time in Ireland. The shopfront to the ground floor adds context to the site and works well with the overall façade.

At the first-floor level, there are round-headed openings with one-over-one pane timber sliding sash windows, render sills with square-headed recessed panels below, a moulded render continuous impost course and moulded render surrounds incorporating flanking engaged banded columns and archivolts with shamrock motifs.

These shamrock motifs must have been painted in green originally, so that they stood out dramatically in previous decades, adding a modest McAuliffe-type of decorative presentation.

There are camber-headed openings on the second floor, with a continuous moulded render hood-moulding course, one-over-one pane timber sliding sash windows and render sills with square-headed recessed panels below.

There is a pitched roof with rendered chimney-stacks and a render bracketed cornice and parapet wall. There are painted rendered walls with render pilasters to the upper floors, with square-headed recessed panels, and a render string course between the upper floors.

The shamrock motifs on Tangney’s shopfront must have been painted in green originally, so that they stood out dramatically in previous decades (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The building next door, which has been incorporated in a visually pleasant way into one building, is a terraced two-bay three-storey house, built at the same time, with a gablet to top window. There is a pitched roof with rendered chimney-stacks, cast-iron rainwater goods and a render corbel course.

There are moulded render barges to the gablet with a ball finial and a terracotta tiled decorative inset. There are ainted rendered walls with chevron details in the relief flanking the top-floor window, and render brackets to the cast-iron rainwater gutter under this window.

There is a square-headed window opening to the top floor, partly within the roof space, and this has a moulded render sill and a tripartite one-over-one pane timber sliding sash window.

On the first floor, there are paired camber-headed window openings with a continuous moulded render sill, replacement timber windows, a roll moulded render surround and incised arch details above.

At the ground floor, there is a segmental-headed opening with a moulded render sill and decorative cast-iron railings, a roll moulded render surround, fixed timber windows and an incised arch detail above. The camber-headed door opening has a timber panelled door, a paned over-light, a chamfered and roll moulded render surround and a moulded render bracketed cornice above.

The decorative emphasis of the façade of this building makes it an unusual and notable feature in Millstreet. A Dutch influence can be seen in the steep gablet to the front façade, and this feature is highlighted by the tiled decoration, which adds variety of texture and materials to the site and to the street.

The rainwater goods are also unusual and are notable for their inclusion as a decorative feature within the façade. The variety of openings and styles in the building adds to and enlivens the appearance.

Colourful shopfronts in The Square in Millstreet (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

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