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Building of the Month - June 2011

Loughcutra Castle, LOUGH CUTRA DEMESNE Td., County Galway

Loughcutra Castle 01 - Representative View 

Figure 1: A photograph of Loughcutra Castle illustrating the Entrance Front.  Click here to view a photograph of Loughcutra Castle from the William Lawrence Collection (between 1880-1914)

Designed by the English architect John Nash (1752-1835) for Colonel Charles Vereker (1768-1842), second Viscount Gort, Loughcutra Castle is located on the banks of Lough Cutra: it is labelled "Loughcooter Castle" on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1839; published 1841) (fig. 1).  Nash had many well-known commissions, including the master-plan (1818) for the Regency area in London, the Royal Pavilion (1815-22), Brighton, and the conversion of Buckingham House into Buckingham Palace (1826-9) for King George IV.  The original intention was to build an Italian-style house in the southern portion of the demesne, but after a visit by Gort to Nash's East Cowes Castle on the Isle of Wight a Gothic Revival castle was built instead.

Construction, of limestone blocks, started in 1811 and was not completed until 1817.  The Pain brother, James (1779-1887) and George Richard (1793-1838), oversaw the construction; they were later to develop their own successful architectural practice and to design such mansions as Dromoland Castle (1819-43), County Clare.  The main portion of the building is a series of towers attached to one another by castellated sections (figs. 2-3).  The total cost of the castle and landscaping of the surrounding grounds was said to be £80,000.

Loughcutra Castle 02 - Original Block Loughcutra Castle 03 - Doorcase

Figures 2-3: A view of the principal block showing a quasi-symmetrical frontage.  The windows on either side of the doorcase originally presented a battlemented box bay form

After the second viscount's death in 1842, the castle passed into the hands of his son, John Prendergast Vereker (1790-1865), third Viscount Gort.  In 1851 financial strain, brought on by previous debts and the Great Famine (1845-9), led to the sale of the castle.  The estate lands were divided and sold to separate owners, while the house and grounds were purchased by the Loreto Sisters for use as a convent school.  Shortly afterwards Loughcutra was sold again, this time to Sir Hugh Gough (1779-1869), first Viscount Gough.  In 1900 the Gough family constructed a Victorian-style addition, demolishing two of the towers.

In 1928 the family moved into converted buildings in the stable yards.  The castle remained unoccupied, except for a brief period when it was used to house soldiers during the Emergency (1939-46), and was finally sold in 1952 to Standish Robert Page Prendergast Vereker (1888-1975), seventh Viscount Gort, who purchased it for his great-niece, Elizabeth Sophia "Libba" Sidney (b. 1941).  By then it was derelict and in 1967 plans were made to restore it.  Using the original plans, Lord Gough's Victorian addition was demolished and restoration was completed in 1970 (fig. 4).  Elizabeth Sidney's divorce led to the resale of the property, when it came into its current ownership; since then, restoration has continued.

Loughcutra Castle 04 - Garden Front 

Figure 4: A view of the Garden Front as restored in the later twentieth century.  Click here to view a photograph of the Garden Front from the William Lawrence Collection (between 1880-1914)

Where the grounds are concerned, it has been suggested that John Nash's earlier work with the noted landscape gardener Humphrey Repton (1752-1818) in the 'romantic picturesque' style influenced his garden design at Loughcutra Castle, where there are signs of the characteristic interweaving of building and grounds.  The grounds were altered from their original form: the castle was placed on a rocky hillside, with soil brought in and turf laid down on the surrounding rock to create the present terraced landscape (figs. 5-6).  Garden designer John Sutherland (1745-1826), whose style is said to reflect that of Lancelot "Capability" Brown (1716-83), was hired to create front and back approaches to the castle.  Sutherland has already designed gardens at Slane Castle (1787), County Meath, and Rockingham (1810), County Roscommon, and would go on to work on Mountjoy Square, Dublin, and Caldeon House, County Tyrone.

Loughcutra Castle 05 - Gardens Loughcutra Castle 06 - Gardens

Figures 5-6: Two late nineteenth-century paintings illustrate the sequence of terraces descending down to the shoreline of Lough Cutra.  Click here to view a photograph of the gardens at Loughcutra Castle from the William Lawrence Collection (between 1880-1914)

The first Lord Gort was responsible for planting trees and shrubs around the property, including replanting the original woodlands.  Later the Gough family made further additions, including an azalea walk along the lakeshore and an American Garden south-west of the castle.  In the 1970s the lakeside gardens were razed and all that remains of the nineteenth-century landscape are the terraced slops, several large rhododendrons and specimen trees, a line of yews, and a set of steps that once led to a sunken garden.

Amanda Shull, US International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) intern with Galway County Council

Figures 1-4 photographed by Nutan Photography for the NIAH publication An Introduction to the Architectural Heritage of County Galway

Loughcutra Castle 07 - Introduction 

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