Who will save this crumbling manor?
Buildings at Risk: Cartown House, Co Louth, a 17th-century manor house
The remains of Carstown House, a rare example of a 17th-century manor house. The five dormer windows in the attic were added later. Photographs: Fergal McGirl
Why is it of interest?
Carstown House near Termonfeckin in Co Louth is a rare example of a 17th-century Irish manor house. It is designated a building of national importance on the County Louth Record of Protected Structures.
The fact that a late 15th/early 16th-century tower house was incorporated into the building gives it the added status of a National Monument (buildings of significance that predate 1700).
Carstown House was built as a five-bay, single storey, over-basement with an attic storey into which dormer windows were later added. The main entrance is unusually off centre and reached by limestone steps. Some features of the tower house still survive, including a pointed arched entrance in the basement. Two sculpted panels, which are dated 1612 and have armorials crests and the initials OP and KH, identify the early owners as Oliver Plunkett and his wife, Katherine Hussey, both well- known Irish landowning families.
What state is it in?
Carstown House is in a perilous state of disrepair. Not lived in since the 1980s, its windows and doors have been blocked off with cement blocks. Lead from the valleys of the roof was stolen in 2014. Some slates were broken during the theft, resulting in water leaking into the interior. This has damaged wooden floors, window frames, timber wall panels and plasterwork.
A three-storey, three-bay residential wing, which was added in the 19th century, remains relatively intact. The once formal gardens are now a muddy field. The magnificent 19th-century stable yards, with their fine brick and stone work and ornate cobbled floors, have been similarly abandoned to the elements.
What repairs have been carried out?
Carstown House was re-roofed in the early 20th century and remained in good repair until the recent theft of leading from the roof. No repairs have been carried out to prevent further deterioration of the building since this occurred.
Who is championing its cause?
Several groups and individuals have highlighted the plight of Carstown House. These include Robert O’Byrne, who has written about the history and abandoned state of the house in his blog, The Irish Aesthete. “Time is running out for Carstown House, a house that in other countries would be cherished for its rarity,” O’Byrne writes. “All those who could and should play a part to ensure its survival – the owners and the local authority – need to understand that by failing to act now, they are diminishing the nation’s architectural heritage and depriving future generations of better understanding our complex history.”
If restored, he adds, Carstown House would merit inclusion on Fáilte Ireland’s Ancient East itinerary.
The County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society is actively engaged in trying to save the building. The society received funding from the Heritage Council to carry out an architectural survey by conservation architect Fergal McGirl.
Earlier this year, the society received further funding from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Built Heritage Investment Scheme and the County Louth Buildings At Risk fund for the conservation and repair of Carstown House.
“There is a gap in the timeline of Irish domestic houses from 15th- and 16th-century tower houses to 18th-century Georgian Houses,” McGirl says. “Carstown House is a very significant house from this period. There are very few late 16th-century and 17th-century houses in Ireland. The small amount of work proposed would do a lot to safeguard this house.”
The society must have permission from the owner or the local authority to carry out any work. Frank Pentony, director of planning at the county council, says tracking down the owners has proven difficult.
“As the property is unregistered, we are currently seeking legal advice on how to proceed,” he says. To authorise works on the building, the council must serve a section 59 notice on the owner requesting them to make the building safe. “Our difficulty is who we can serve this notice on.”
What happens next?
Pending eventual permission from the owners, the County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society is intending to replace the broken roof tiles and put in temporary materials to prevent further deterioration. However, the long-term future of this rare Irish manor house is still in jeopardy. “Ideally, the house needs a private owner who wants to restore it, and the only solution to finding someone is for the house to be sold,” concludes Jean Young from the County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society.