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Building of the Month - October 2013

Corravahan House, CORRAVAHAN Td., Drung, County Cavan

Corravahan House 01 - Representative View

Figure 1: Corravahan House, a glebe house erected (1837-41) for Reverend Marcus Gervais Beresford (1801-85) to a design by William Farrell (d. 1851) of Dublin.  The entrance front, a somewhat featureless façade centring on an understated porch, has elicited comparisons with Bishopscourt (1816), Clones, County Monaghan, a glebe house rebuilt for Reverend Henry Roper (1761-1847) and one frequently attributed to Farrell

Corravahan House, near Drung, County Cavan, is a mid nineteenth-century glebe house of the middle size, constructed in the Italianate Classical style.  Retaining its original period architectural features, thanks largely to its lengthy occupation by the Leslie family, it is one of the most intact examples of its type and is a fitting tribute to the architect, William Farrell (d. 1851) of Dublin.

William Farrell is a prolific, if largely forgotten architect of the early nineteenth century.  Upwards of one hundred and sixty individual buildings may now be attributed to him, at least in part, including the construction of fifty churches between 1823 and 1843, when he served as architect to the Board of First Fruits (fl. 1711-1833) for the Province of Armagh, retaining that position when the Board was reorganised as the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1833.  Farrell has, on occasion, been accused of being untalented, a plagiarist borrowing rather too heavily from the likes of John Bowden (d. 1822), Francis Johnston (1760-1829) and Sir Richard Morrison (1767-1849), but these accusations may be an unfair indictment of a professional ultimately influenced by the same eighteenth-century architectural heritage as these men.  If there is a similarity between many of his churches, albeit with occasional individual flourishes, it seems unfair to criticise him for simply answering the basic requirement of providing an elegant building, equipped with nave and chancel, for each of these numerous commissions.  In the majority of his works, Farrell clearly strove for the symmetry typical of Georgian architecture, exemplified by proportion and the balanced arrangement of windows and doors on the principal elevation.  This aesthetic perfection occasionally eluded him, and sometimes utterly defeated him, most typically seen in an oddly offset chimneystack or unbalanced wing.  Frequently, however, such quirky imperfections merely add to the charm and character of his designs.

Corravahan House 02 - West and South Fronts (1883)

Figure 2: A sepia-coloured photograph, dating from 1883, showing the west front characterised by an elegant bow and the south front with its Wyatt-style tripartite windows

Corravahan House was built between 1837 and 1841 for Reverend Marcus Gervais Beresford (1801-85).  Appointed to the incumbency of Drung Parish by his father, George de la Poer Beresford (1765-1841), Bishop of Kilmore and Ardagh, he found the existing glebe house to be unfit for habitation.  It is possible that the construction of the house was paid for by their cousin, Reverend John George de la Poer Beresford (1773-1862), Lord Archbishop of Armagh, who was a wealthy benefactor to the Established Church during his lifetime.  In any case, Corravahan House, or Coravahn as it was known at the time, was owned by the Beresford family and passed to the Reverend Charles Leslie (1810-70) in 1854 on his appointment to the parish.  Following the death of Leslie, just months into his position as Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh, the property was retained by his family for two further generations while a new house, styled "Drung Vicarage", was erected for the parish circa 1872.  The last Leslies to occupy the house were two sisters, Joan and Madge, who jointly inherited from their uncle in 1930: no male heirs had survived the Great War.  They "modernised" the house, installing central heating, electric lighting and improving sanitation, but the main fabric of the house remained unaltered.  Following their deaths in 1972, the house stood largely unoccupied until its most recent sale in 2003.

Corravahan House 03 - South Front

Figure 3: A recent photograph of the south front showing the effects of the removal of the ruled-and-lined lime render surface finish circa 1890.  The projecting tripartite window lighting the drawing room, and commanding scenic vistas overlooking terraced grounds, is believed to be a later addition or at least an afterthought

Corravahan House is a plain three storey over basement house on a square plan.  An understated porch occupies the centre of the entrance front on the east while a shallow bow distinguishes the west front.  The south front is two bays wide at ground floor level, three bays wide overhead, and features two tripartite windows with one mullioned in the style of James Wyatt (1746-1813).  There is much evidence to suggest that the second tripartite window, projecting forward like a porch, is a later addition or at least an afterthought.  The original ruled-and-lined lime render surface finish was removed circa 1890 revealing the coursed rubble limestone structure of the walls, which, in places, are two foot thick.  A split-level service wing extends to the north of the house and gives access to the adjacent outbuildings and stables.

The house boasts three reception rooms on the ground floor together with a study.  The morning room, occupying the south-east corner, was converted to a library in the 1870s.  The adjoining drawing room, distinguished by the projecting tripartite window, overlooks the terraced lawns to the south of the house.  The dining room, occupying the west of the house, includes the elegant bow.  Thus the house is ideally oriented to track the movement of the sun over the course of a day.

Five bedrooms occupy the first floor of the house while the top floor, known as the attic floor, was used as a nursery until it was largely abandoned in the 1890s.  Accommodations for domestic servants were provided in the basement and wing.

Working extensively in the area Farrell had already completed Tullyvin House (c.1820), Tullyvin; Rathkenny House (1829), equidistant from Drung and Tullyvin; a series of improvements to Ballyhaise House, the seat of William Humphreys (1798-1872), including a charming gate lodge; and the now-ruined Lisnagowan House (c.1830), a dower house in the rural environs of Ballyhaise.

The See House (1835) at Kilmore, the official residence of the Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh, was by far Farrell's most important domestic commission and, sharing many architectural features in common with Corravahan House, there can be little doubt that both are the work of the same architect.  At the See House we also find a centrally placed porch on the entrance front, the reverse front showing a shallow bow, slightly offset in a manner typical of Farrell.  The Wyatt-style tripartite window also recurs including a round-headed variation lighting the staircase hall from the half-landing: the same fenestration pattern was repeated at Farrell's Cavan Courthouse (1824-5).

 

Corravahan House 04 - Entrance Hall

Figure 4: A view into the entrance hall where tiles set in a Carréaux d'Octagnes pattern, boldly modelled arcaded walls, and a sleek plasterwork cornice, all evoke a serene Classicism

Corravahan House 05 - Staircase Hall

Figure 5: A detail of the staircase, which, typically for Farrell, is positioned perpendicular to the entrance hall.  As at the See House the staircase is lit at half-landing level by a round-headed tripartite window yet, while the turned balusters and voluted banister are common to both houses, the staircase at Corravahan House adopts a conventional dog leg plan, that at the See House showing a grander bifurcating "Imperial" plan

 

Corravahan House is a clear statement of the wealth and standing of the Beresfords, another feature in common with the See House.  While not unusually large for the period, the house is exceptionally grand for its stated purpose as a glebe house for a small rural parish in County Cavan.  From the moment they entered the house, the visitor would be reminded of the importance of the owners through the quality of the decorative timber panelling and moulded plasterwork in the entrance hall.  The fine Italian marble chimneypieces and restrained late Georgian plasterwork enhance the artistic quality of the house.  The simple carved scrolling on the timber staircase, emulating a much more costly stone staircase, again hints at the grandeur that Beresford was pursuing and wished to present to his guests.

Corrahavan House is especially notable for its architectural merits, the preservation of its original period features, and for its historical associations with the Beresford and Leslie families, the former the premier family in Ireland for much of the nineteenth century.  Set in seven acres of grounds, with mature planting dating back to 1728, conservation works are ongoing on the house.

Corravahan House is open to the pubic at advertised times or by appointment.  Click here for further information.

Ian S. Elliott MA MSc is an archaeo-geophysical survey consultant, when not engaged in independent research into Ireland's historic buildings and families, in particular those in south Ulster and especially County Cavan.  He is interested in all aspects of the identification, conservation, preservation and refurbishment of Ireland's surviving historic houses.  Ian is a founding member of the Irish Historic Houses Association and a member of the Irish Georgian Society and the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society

 

Figure 1 photographed for the NIAH Cavan County Survey.  Figures 2-5 courtesy of Ian S. Elliott.  Corravahan House appears in the NIAH publication An Introduction to the Architectural Heritage of County Cavan now available in all good bookshops and online from www.wordwellbooks.com   Corravahan House 06 - Cavan Introduction
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