Heritage sites of Co. Limerick

Adare Manor

The construction of Adare Manor was a long and protracted one. For architectural phases, see the Dictionary of Irish Architects (DIA).

Building of the existing house, Dunraven House, commenced in 1832 and was constructed using part of the fabric of an earlier house dating to the early 1700s. Much of the design is attributed to the second earl of Dunraven, though James Pain, A. W. N. Pugin and P. C. Hardwick were all employed at various times. The architecture is of English, Irish, and Continental Gothic derivation, but principally Tudor Revival, built on an irregular plan with high gables, tall chimneys, and bay windows.

Dunraven House consists entirely of local limestone sourced from Limerick and Clare. The walls are of warm and tonally varied limestone while a more uniform grey limestone is reserved for the canted bays, stringcourses and parapet, as well as the columns and buttressing of the cloister. All of this limestone is part of the typically pale grey Waulsortian Limestone Formation, consisting of biomicrite (a limestone made up of skeletal debris and carbonate mud) that was deposited as carbonate mudbanks during the Carboniferous Period some 350 million years ago.

The varied texture and tonality of the stone was likely imparted by localised hydrothermal alteration, which occurred at the base of the Waulsortian. Magnesium-rich fluids penetrated the Waulsortian limestone through cracks and cavities and the mineral dolomite CaMg(CO3)2 partially or completely replaced calcite CaCO3. The infiltrating fluids also carried other minerals, which resulted in the varied colouration of the stone; red colouration is due to the admixture of hematite, the most common iron oxide, while the input of goethite, an iron oxide hydroxide, results in a brown or ochre pigmentation. Addition of different mineral assemblages during hydrothermal activity result in huge colour variations in stone, which was much sought after for decoration during the Victorian period in Ireland.

The cloister, on the south front, was originally open to the elements, but was closed in during a recent refurbishment to create a dining area. The internal walls and floor of the cloister are particularly rich in colour. The conscious exploitation of the stone for its aesthetic properties is especially notable at Adare Manor, reflecting the geological interests of the second and third earls of Dunraven, who created a museum of natural history inside the house, which included items of geological interest. The earl also used the construction of the house as a platform for the revival of stone and wood working in the locality. ‘The works, both stone and timber, were entirely executed by the mechanics and labourers of the village and neighbourhood.

The parapet is enriched with limestone carvings, including gargoyles, plants, flowers, heads, animals, tracery, lettering, finials, and heraldic emblems. In a way that parallels the ideas of John Ruskin, Adare Manor elevates the position of the craftsmen, the principal of whom, James Conolly, was honoured by the third earl in a carved plaque on the east front of the house. The earl praised this ‘strong intellect…and refined natural taste’. While Conolly was clearly the master mason on site, he was also a stone carver, referred to as ‘the remarkable old carver’ and the son of a local cabinet maker in the Memorials of Adare Manor. The third earl’s promotion of Conolly as a master craftsman and builder may have been inspired by traditions of the legendary early Irish craftsman Goban Saor, whose origin, historicity and reputation he discussed in his history of the nearby church and round tower of Dysert.

Certainly in some of its architecture and ornament Adare Manor looks back to the heyday of medieval Irish carving in limestone in the fifteenth century and it is likely that the antiquarian interests of Viscount Adare (as the third earl was known before the death of his father in 1850) exerted considerable influence on aspects of the design. The cloister on the south front, for example, quotes (in its east wall) the three-light cinque-foil headed openings of the nearby Augustinian friary, distinguished for its precisely cut and sharply profiled detailing. The piers and arches in the last two bays of the cloister on the south front are derived from the Franciscan Friary across the river. The three doorways into the cloister have rounded corners and a distinctive roll moulding inspired by a window in Adare Castle, discussed at some length by the third earl in the Memorials where he reproduced an engraving of it.

These openings are greatly enriched in the manor, with carvings of flowers and fauna. The outer hall of the castle contains doorways and chimneypieces in a Hiberno-Romanesque style. The main hall has great polygonal limestone piers with chamfered arches supported by ribs resting on prismatic corbels, all copied directly from the church of the nearby Franciscan friary. There are several very important chimneypieces in Adare Manor, not just so for their use of local stone, but also in terms of design. At least two were designed by A.W.N Pugin – that in the main hall of grey limestone and the eastern most in the library of red limestone; stone for both was sourced locally in Limerick. Both are in a late medieval English Gothic style and richly carved, presumably by local stone carvers.

In contrast, the much plainer chimneypiece in a room opening to the north of the hall is in a late medieval Irish style and was likely designed by the second Earl or Lord Adare. Its Victorian date is not so much apparent by the style as by the choice of stone, one of the many richly coloured local limestones discovered during the second earl’s local geological excursions.

While carved embellishments on eighteenth century Irish houses tended to be in Portland stone, a soft easy-to-carve oolithic limestone, we see here at Adare an active re-engagement with the harder native Irish limestone as both a building stone and sculptural material, inspired by antiquarian interest and national sentiment. With its disparate Irish, English and Continental architectural sources and firmly nativist inclinations in materials, Adare Manor is the perfect expression of its owners layered Gaelic and Anglo-Irish identity. While the Tudor Revival style predominates and overshadows the native elements of the architecture, nevertheless Adare Manor serves as an important precursor to the more explicit native revivalism of E. W. Godwin’s nearby Dromore Castle built twenty years later.

Further reading:

Geology of Co. Limerick

The geology of Co. Limerick comprises rocks that are between 400 and 320 million years old. The rocks of the Silurain geological period are the oldest, comprising mudstones and sandstones deposited in an ocean that separated Ireland into two. This ocean, at that time, had nearly closed as the continents on either side moved together. These oldest rocks now make up the Slievefelim Mountains.

At the start of the Devonian period [344 Ma] the landscape had changed significantly.  No longer was Ireland split into two, but it consisted of one large continent.  The climate was dry and deserts were common.  These contained many sand dunes of wind-blown sand but also temporary rivers, which occasionally flooded and as they did so coarse pebbly sediments and sands were deposited.  These were eventually cemented to form conglomerates and sandstones that make up part of the Slievefelim range and also small hills near Ballingarry and Kilmeedy. 

The desert conditions disappeared when the area became flooded by a shallow tropical ocean at the beginning of the Mississippian (Lower Carboniferous).  Life in the oceans was plentiful and is now seen as fossils in the pale grey limestone.  Small mudmounds developed in the oceans.  Today, in the Pallas Green district some volcanic lavas and other rocks surrounded by limestone can be found.  In Ireland such Carboniferous volcanic rocks are rare.  During the Pennsylvanian (Upper Carboniferous) rivers carried a great deal of sediment southwestwards across the continent and it was dumped at the mouth of these rivers in the form of deltas that grew out into a deepening ocean.  These formed the shales that make up the higher ground just west of Newcastlewest.

Geological map of Co. Limerick

Map legend: Geological Map of Limerick (based on GSI 1:1,000,000 map 2003). Green: Silurian sediments; Beige: Devonian sandstones and conglomerates; Light blue: Mississippian (Lower Carboniferous) limestone; Brown: Pennsylvanian (Upper Carboniferous) shales; Dark blue: Mississippian volcanic rocks.