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Building of the Month - July 2010

Derrynane House, DARRYNANE MORE Td., County Kerry

Derrynane House 01 - Representative View 

Figure 1: Derrynane House, the ancestral seat of the O'Connell's including Daniel "The Liberator" O'Connell (1775-1847).  Allegedly the first slate-roofed house in the region, it has also been described as 'the best surviving example of the "Big House" of a Gaelic Catholic family in the eighteenth century' (Bence-Jones, Mark, A Guide to Irish Country Houses (London: Constable Press, second edition, 1988), p.102)

Derrynane House, County Kerry, once known as Darrynane Abbey, was the ancestral home of Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847), one of the most celebrated figures in modern Irish history (fig. 1).  From his infancy to his death in Genoa in 1847, Daniel and his family spent most of their summers at Derrynane.  The house and the estate remained in the possession of the O'Connell family until 1948, when it was handed over to the Derrynane Trust who in turn presented it to the nation in 1964.  Described as the "Mecca of the lovers of Liberty", Derrynane House was opened in 1967 as a museum dedicated to the life and times of the Liberator and his family and some 300 acres of land make up the Derrynane National Historic Park opened in 1975.

Derrynane House 02 - Farmhouse 

Figure 2: A rare photograph of the eighteenth-century house reconstructed by Dónal Mór O'Connell (d. 1770) as the successor to, if not retaining the fabric of an earlier farmhouse erected (1702) by Captain John O'Connell.  The house was demolished by the Office of Public Works in the 1960s.  Reproduced from Derrynane National Historic Park (1994)

The earliest Derrynane House was built by Daniel O'Connell's grandfather, Captain John O'Connell, in 1702.  That was extended or replaced by the Captain's son, Dónal Mór (d. 1770), and this Georgian farmhouse survived until its demolition by the Office of Public Works in the late 1960s (fig. 2).  Daniel inherited the estate on the death of his uncle, "Hunting-Cap" O'Connell (1726-1825), and soon extended the house with a spacious dining room and drawing room to the south, and a battlemented library wing to the east.  The orientation of the entrance to the house was also altered at this time, from the old approach from the north to the entrance visitors use today, which meets the house on the east (fig. 3).

Derrynane House 03 

Figure 3: A view of Derrynane House showing the additions by O'Connell including, from left to right, the drawing room and dining room, and the slate hung library.  On the far right a single-storey corridor allows access to the private chap

Derrynane House 04 - Chapel 

Figure 4: A view of the interior of the private chapel erected (1844) by O'Connell on his release from prison on charges of conspiracy.  The chapel was designed by O'Connell's third son, John O'Connell MP (1810-58), and is believed to have been modelled on the ruined medieval monastery chapel on nearby Abbey Island

One of the most iconic features of the property is the chapel built on to the house in 1844 (fig. 4).  As O'Connell is closely linked with Catholic Emancipation (1829), the chapel at Derrynane has seen a strong history of conservation.  Indeed, it is believed that Pope Pius XII donated £100 to the conservation of Derrynane House and its chapel.

No significant additions were made after O'Connell's death and the house remained in the family's possession until Daniel's great-granddaughter Fannie left the house in 1958.  Following strenuous efforts by the Derrynane Trust, the house was purchased by Bord Fáilte in 1964 in an effort to preserve it for posterity.  The house today, following a restoration completed by the Office of Public Works in 1967, consists essentially of the south and east wings built by O'Connell in 1825, linked to the chapel by older buildings now used principally as a caretaker's residence.  The central portion contains the entrance hall with the dining room and study opening directly off it.  At first floor level visitors can see the drawing room and the library, the latter now displayed as a bedroom.  To the north, the site of the eighteenth-century house is marked out by paving.

Derrynane House 05 - Ordnance Survey Extract 

Figure 5: An extract from the Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1896; published 1896) showing "Darrynane Abbey" [sic.] in the parkland setting planted by generations of the O'Connell's over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries

A parkland with garden walks was laid out by the O'Connells in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries (fig. 5).  Nestled amongst the trees stands the Georgian Gothic summer house erected (1842) by O'Connell as his study (fig. 6).

Derrynane House 06 - Summer House 

Figure 6 A photograph of the summer house erected by O'Connell as a private retreat.  The "pointed" profile of the openings is rooted firmly in the Georgian Gothic trend and recalls the paper-thin Gothicism of the library at Derrynane House.  Courtesy of the Photographic Unit, Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government

Derrynane National Historic Park is administered by the Office of Public Works and is open to the public from April to November.

Eilíse McGuane

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