Owners of listed building in Galway warned against ‘unauthorised’ work
Archaeologist describes removal of stone from Gothic-style ruin Ardfry, once home to Irish literary revival figure Valentine Blake, as ‘wanton vandalism’
Work at Ardfry House in Galway. Photograph: courtesy of archaeologist Michael Gibbons
Galway County Council has issued the owners of a late 18th century Gothic-style mansion with an enforcement notice, following demolition of part of its ruined structure.
The local authority has ordered immediate cessation of any further “unauthorised” work at the listed building, which was once home of Irish literary revival figure Valentine Blake, and has directed the owners to consult with the county council heritage and conservation offices on remedial works.
It warns the owners, Kathleen and William Greaney of Cregboy, Claregalway, Co Galway, that they may be guilty of an offence if steps outlined by it are not taken.
The removal of stone from the two-storey ruin overlooking Galway Bay was witnessed by archaeologist Michael Gibbons who has described it as “wanton vandalism”. He reported it to the Office of Public Works, the local authority and Birdwatch Ireland. He has also contacted the Royal Irish Academy, urging it to place the destruction of monuments by “public and private bodies” on its agenda.
Ardfry was built in 1770 by Joseph Blake on whom was conferred the title of Lord Wallscourt. It was designed as a two-storey house with nine bays, a central pediment to the front and a raised roofed pavilion at either end. It was built on the site of an earlier medieval castle owned by the Blakes, one of the tribes of Galway.
It was renovated in 1826 and updated with some gothic features including a pointed entrance doorway with pinnacles, battlements on the end pavilions and a gothic conservatory with stone piers.
The home fell into ruin after the fourth earl’s second wife reputedly gambled away the family money. Architectural historian Tarquin Blake, author of Abandoned Mansions of Ireland and an associated website, says it had many eccentric owners, including one who was known to walk around naked carrying a cowbell to “forewarn the maids”.
In 1950, the fourth earl’s three granddaughters reclaimed the house and 33 acres of the esstate, and lived in an outhouse close to the ruin. It was used as a set for the Paul Newman film, The Mackintosh Man, in the 1970s, when it was given a new roof and windows and then burned for the film’s purposes.
The land and property was valued at about £1.6 million (sterling) when put up for sale in 2001, and was listed for sale again several times.
The new owners were granted planning permission for holiday apartments, but this has expired.
The ruin, which is a nesting site for owls and is frequented by herons and egrets, is on a peninsula which is rich in archaeological sites, including one of the largest kitchen middens on Galway Bay.
Mr Gibbons says the house was almost certainly built on the medieval castle site, and describes the area as an “archaeological park”. An experimental oyster farm was established at Ardfry in 1902.
“The destruction highlights the lack of protection afforded to our architectural heritage – even on high-profile sites such as this with their rich literary and scientific background,” he says.