Glen of the Downs conservation scheme hit by vandals before plaster dries

Initials, messages and drawings etched on the walls of the Octagon while plaster was still wet

A conservation project at the Octagon, an 18th century folly in the Glen of the Downs in Co Wicklow, was vandalised before fresh plaster applied during the works had dried.

The Octagon, located high on the eastern side of the Glen of the Downs, was built by the La Touche family in 1766 and was designed by Enoch Johnson. It has extensive views of the Great Sugarloaf and of a rock on the glen’s western side from which highwaymen were said to have been hanged in the 18th century.

It became a venue for raves and antisocial behaviour in recent years, with damage caused to the structure both by vegetation and vandalism.

A National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) conservation project, costing €280,000, started earlier this year in tandem with the removal of encroaching vegetation. Consultants L7 Architects and conservation experts Oldstone were appointed to devise and execute a scheme for the building.


The work included the removal of some older preservation efforts and tiled floors, and the installation of herringbone brick flooring in an octagonal shape in the main chamber. In the lower, vaulted chamber, walls and Gothic-style arched windows were repaired and a coat of lime plaster applied.

In recent weeks, just as the work was nearing completion, vandals breached a perimeter fence and interfered with the still-wet plaster in the lower chamber, inscribing it with initials, messages and drawings.

Wesley Atkinson, regional manager with the NPWS, said the vandalism was “unfortunate”.

In a statement, the NPWS said seating for visitors and interpretative panels would be provided and it was “hoped that by providing information on the history and significance of the building and its importance in the landscape of the Glen of the Downs, further antisocial behaviour at the Octagon may be prevented or deterred”.

The Octagon is a key focal point in the Glen of the Downs Nature Reserve. The 59 hectare site is managed mainly for nature conservation and attracts tens of thousands of visitors annually. It is one of the few remnants of the Bellevue estate developed by the La Touche family, who were prominent bankers in Ireland in the 1700 and 1800s.

The La Touche family were known for their charitable works, and opened an orphanage and school on the estate.

The family’s country retreat was built at nearby Ballydonagh between 1754 and 1756 at a cost of £30,000, and called Bellevue. Beautiful gardens were laid out by David La Touche and his son, Peter, when he inherited the property in 1785.

Among these was the Octagon, built in 1766, with a panther on springs, which could be made to jump out at unwary visitors. Bellevue house was best-known for its huge glasshouses, built between 1783 and 1793. The house was ultimately pulled down in the 1950s.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist