The last of the Big Houses?
Sir, – Bruce Finch (July 9th) comments on the sale of the contents of Mount Congreve. He takes umbrage at it being called the “last Big House” and it would seem that, as a spokesperson for the owners of 10 other houses, this description “is not one that the owners of historic properties would recognise”. Four of the houses namely, Beaulieu, Co Louth; Lyons, Co Kildare; Enniscoe, Co Mayo and Church Hill, Co Kerry, were all described by the late Maurice Craig in Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size (published 1976). The mentioning of Tullynally (formerly Pakenham Hall) as one of these big houses, is described by Mark Bence Jones in Burke’s Guide To Country Houses (published 1978), thus: “a castellated country house – of the Gothic Revival”. Neither of these groups fulfil The Big House accolade. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Bruce Finch’s letter rightly draws attention to the fact that there are still several “Big Houses” in private ownership where the lights are still on (Letters, July 9th). But the question must be: for how long more? Recently a Channel 4 documentary described the battle which the owners of Bantry House are fighting to keep the house and demense open to the public and in family ownership.
Because of the legacy of the land wars, rack-renting agents and absentee landowners, the plight of “Big House” owners in trying to retain their ancestral homes in recessionary Ireland does not resonate with most Irish people. There is now more interest in visiting the gardens than the houses themselves. Yet, the loss of furniture and fittings at Mount Congreve after the auction of its contents will deny visitors the chance to understand how this place was once a repository of furniture, paintings and documents – revealing how a family lived over the generations and interacted with staff and local people.
Let us hope that a debate on the future of these “Big Houses” and their contribution to tourism and Ireland’s history can take place to secure their survival for future generations. – Yours, etc,