09 August 2021

Gort Muire, a Carmelite
house first built for
an old Dublin family

Gort Muire, formerly Gortmore House, in Ballinteer, is the residence of the Prior Provincial of the Irish Province of Carmelites … designed by John Skipton Mulvaney for Richard Atkinson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

I am in Dublin today, visiting my GP for check-ups for my continuing pulmonary sarcoidosis and for one of my regular injections for my B12 deficiency.

I am planning a theme on Carmelite churches and spirituality for a future week in my prayer diary in my morning blog postings, and I used today’s visit to Dublin and a few other recent visits to photograph the Carmelite churches in Clarendon Street, Whitefriar Street, Terenure College and Saint Colmcille’s Church, Knocklyon.

This afternoon, after a walk on the beach in Bray, Co Wicklow, I also tried to visit the Carmelite chapel at Gort Muire, Ballinteer. Gort Muire is the residence of the Prior Provincial of the Irish Province of Carmelites and houses the Provincial offices, including the Province Archives and Library. It is the Irish Province’s study centre as well as a house of hospitality and retirement, and for the care of sick and elderly friars.

Some years ago, I had organised a retreat in Gort Muire for students from the Church of Ireland Theological College (now CITI). The Carmelites bought the original Gortmore House in 1944. The chapel houses a specially commissioned work, ‘The Scapular Vision’ by the Irish artist Sean Keating, and two beautiful stained-glass windows of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and of Saint Joseph are from the Harry Clarke Studios.

Sadly, my efforts were in vain this afternoon. The chapel remains closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and I was unable to photograph the chapel or the windows this afternoon.

The chapel at Gort Muire … once the venue for a retreat for students from the Church of Ireland Theological College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Gortmore House was designed in 1858 for Richard Atkinson (1818-1871) by the architect John Skipton Mulvaney (1813-1870). It was almost 10 years before it was completed, and the conservatory was added in 1897.

Richard Atkinson of Gortmore was born on 6 October 1818 and educated at the King’s Inns, Dublin. He married on 14 October 1840 at Caledon, Co Tyrone, Mary Jane Elizabeth, daughter of Captain George R Golding of Lime Park, Caledon, and they were the parents of three sons and six daughters. He died on 18 July 1871.

Their daughter, Katherine Mabel, married Canon Robert Baker Stoney, Rector of Holy Trinity, Killiney, Co Dublin, and Canon Treasurer of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. Their son, the surgeon Richard Atkinson Stoney (1877-1966), was visiting surgeon at the Royal City of Dublin Hospital, a consulting surgeon at the Ministry of Pensions Hospital in Leopardstown and the Masonic Boys School.

During the World War I, Stoney was with the medical services of the French army and was awarded the Légion d’Honneur. Later, he was President of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland (1930-1932), and President of the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland (1933-1936).

During surgery, he was known for his robust and eccentric manner. He detested kidney-shaped surgical dishes, preferring to use round ones. On one occasion a flustered theatre nurse handed him one and he threw it through the window into the street.

His wife Gladys Enid was a daughter of Arthur Lenox Figgis of Greystones, Co Wicklow, and they were the parents of two daughters: Dr Jean Stoney, who later married the artist Louis Le Brocquy, and Patience Kate Stoney, who married Adolph Gygax.

The architect John Skipton Mulvany was born in 1813, the fourth son of the landscape and figure painter Thomas James Mulvany by his wife, Mary, daughter of Dr Cyrus Field. His father was a friend and biographer of James Gandon and was keeper of the Royal Hibernian Academy’s house in Lower Abbey Street.

Mulvany trained with William Deane Butler, and had established himself in private practice by 1836, when he was commissioned to design an extension to the hotel at Salthill, Monkstown, for the Dublin and Kingstown Railway Company.

He designed railway stations at Salthill, Blackrock and Kingstown (Dun Laoghaire), and also designed Broadstone Railway Station and the Royal St George Yacht Club and the Royal Irish Yacht Club in Kingstown. But his important domestic commissions were from members of the Malcomson family of Portlaw, Co Waterford, for whom he designed several houses. He also designed Prior Park School, a short-lived Quaker-run school in Clonmel.

He died at the age of 57 in 1870. His pupils included Alfred Gresham Jones.

Gortmore House was sold in 1880 to Edward F Burke, a spirit and wine merchant, of 16 Bachelor’s Walk in Dublin. He installed the ornamental wooden staircase that bears his initials EB. Edward Burke was also responsible for the fine wood panelling in the hallway and reception rooms. The wood used was of the highest quality, and was the same as that used for conserving the spirits.

Edward Burke died in 1897, and the house passed to his brother-in-law, Sir John Gardiner Nutting, chairman of the Burke Company. It was probably during his time there that the elegant wrought-iron veranda and charming conservatory were added. In 1889, John Nutting bought the much grander Saint Helen’s, off Stillorgan Road. He was Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Co Dublin and was made a baronet in 1903.

By 1900, Gortmore was the home of Sir Joseph Michael Redmond, a distinguished Dublin physician. He was knighted when he became President of the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland.

Sir Michael and his wife Oswaldina (Nelson) were Catholics and they kept a private oratory in the room over the main entrance. Jesuit priests from Milltown Park came occasionally to celebrate Mass there. His brother, the Revd James Redmond SJ, served as vice-president during the Jesuit management of UCD, and later was the superior of the Jesuit community in Leeson Street, Dublin. Sir Michael died at in 1921 at 41 Merrion Square, Dublin; Lady Redmond died in 1924.

The next owner was Oswald Hegarty, a barrister, who in turn sold it to the Lefroy family in 1930.

Gortmore House and about 50 acres of land were bought by the Carmelites from St George LeFroy in 1944 for £12,000.

When the Carmelites bought the house and lands, Father O’Shea, the Provincial, changed the name of the house to Gort Muire, meaning ‘Maryfield, and Father DC Kiely was appointed first Prior.

The Carmelites then undertook a building programme. The chapel was designed by the architects Robinson, Keeffe and Devane and was built by Walsh & Co. This was followed by large accommodation blocks for clerical students.

The chapel at Gort Muire was designed by the architects Robinson, Keeffe and Devane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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