After decades of neglect, the final quarter of the 20th century saw a rise of public interest in the Irish country house, together with its demesnes and designed landscapes. Its demesnes are now widely recognised as an important part of our cultural heritage. Today, many country houses are owned by the state or by local authorities and visiting country-house gardens is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.
The Follies Trust, founded by Primrose Wilson, champions and repairs neglected or threatened follies, mausoleums and other ornamental garden structures throughout the country. Since it was established in 2006, the trust has repaired some thirty follies across sixteen counties in Ireland, publishing seven beautifully illustrated books to publicise the restorations. Their latest publication is a summary of the successful conservation work they completed during their first fifteen years. The variety of projects completed, the strength of ambition and the high quality of craftsmanship in these intriguing and often quirky little structures is impressive and has secured their long-term future.
The Lawrencetown Eyecatcher in Co Galway is, in many ways, the archetypal folly. It takes the form of a simple Gothic screen, complete with ogival arches, pinnacles and flying buttresses. Lord Limerick’s follies at Tollymore in Co Down provide us with a similar combination of rustic simplicity and architectural sensibility. More sophisticated structures restored include monumental columns and obelisks, mausoleums and the splendid Gloster Arch, Co Offaly, attributed to our greatest Palladian architect, Edward Lovett Pearce. The structures included range from forts to fountains and bath-houses to watch-houses, the latter built beside bleaching greens to oversee the outstretched linen. A site of particular note is the pair of pyramidal mausoleums dating from the 1830s that stand in the Maudlins burial ground in Naas, Co Kildare. These beautiful structures have been carefully repaired and repointed, highlighting the remarkable bedding and jointing pattern of the stonework.
The trust’s philosophy, Primrose Wilson states in this latest publication, ‘is and always has been to conserve and raise awareness of these glorious structures’.