Adare Manor, Co. Limerick

Irish marble at Adare Manor


Adare manor contains some of the rarest decorative limestones in Ireland which when polished are commonly known as marble. The second Earl and Countess of Dunraven were geological enthusiasts who, during the 1830s, scoured the local landscape for richly textured stone. The garden front of Adare Manor is filled with a variety of these coloured stones and the Dining Room cloisters are made from blocks of finely tooled,  grey, white and red local marble. In a corner of the vast entrance hall what looks like a tiny chimneypiece originally framed a vent for the hot air heating. Its salmon pink and grey marble came from Dunaman near Croom as did the chimneypiece in the Countess’s bedroom. Other grey and red marbles came from Pallaskenry and Curragh Chase. No longer quarried, these are among the most rare and beautiful decorative marbles used in Victorian Ireland.

A decade before A.W.N. Pugin designed chimneypieces for Adare Manor in the mid 1840s, crafted in local red and grey limestone, the parents of his client had consciously chosen to promote local masons and carvers as key protagonists in their building programme and, significantly, employed a range of coloured limestone, grey, yellow, red and brownish red, from local quarries for discrete parts of Adare Manor. While the south and west fronts were completed by Philip C. Hardwick in 1850, building accounts for the 1830s indicate the conscious employment of variegated stone. The recently cleaned elevations exhibit a most remarkable arrangement of coloured limestone with some eight different types of white, red and black ‘ashlars’ displayed in a cabinet-like fashion in the gables of the entrance and garden fronts. This precocious handling of local stone is the earliest thorough-going instance of structural polychromy in Irish Victorian architecture.

In her diary for June 1833 Caroline, Countess of Dunraven recorded the comings and goings of her husband and his scientific guests: ‘the gentlemen went off geologizing’; ‘a great deal of geological talk all evening’; ‘we looked at Edwin’s specimens and amused ourselves in his room till near late’. Precisely what effect the Dunraven’s sought to achieve in these patchwork polychrome facades is unclear. The dominant pink and white tones are at once redolent of northern Italian Gothic facades and of local medieval buildings such as the cloister at Askeaton Friary later described by Kinahan as ‘a pinkish-greyish stone, in places yellowish … used for the beautiful pillars of the cloisters of Askeaton Abbey, built by the Earls of Desmond … in the fourteenth or fifteenth century’.

An ancient tower of distinctly red hue at Croom near Adare Manor was captured in a contemporary watercolour among a collection of drawings associated with Benjamin Woodward. The Dunravens were friends of the De Vere-Hunts, a literary family and friends of Tennyson and Richard Monckton-Milnes both of whom visited the family seat at Curragh Chase in County Limerick from whence some of the limestone for Adare was obtained. Monkton-Milnes Venetian poems of the 1830s, much admired by his Irish friends, and later cited by Ruskin, atmospherically described the city’s time-worn marbles: ‘ the universal sheen of marble amber – tinged like some enormous baldaquin gay- chequered and deep’.

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The drawing room at Adare Manor has undoubtedly Ireland’s most magnificent chimneypiece of native marble.

Yet beyond aesthetic intent, the Adare Manor facades and interior chimneypieces wrought from polished local stone exhibit a through-going interest in geological display. In Memorials of Adare Manor published in 1865 by Caroline and her son the 9th Earl, mention is made of these quarries though more precise identification is given in a manuscript memo of 1862 which traces the source of the remarkable mottled marble in Caroline’s private quarters, and around the hot air vent in the hall, to a quarry at Dunaman near Kilfinny.

Contemporaries were clearly aware of the Dunraven’s assiduous pursuit of local geological specimens and Kinahan notes the small-scale and non-commercial nature of their experiments.

Pugin’s patron, the 9th Earl of Dunraven, who studied astronomy at Trinity College with William Rowan Hamilton, shared his parents’ geological enthusiasm. A long-standing correspondence with the distinguished scientist Edward Sabine includes the aforementioned letter from the Penrhyn slate quarries written by Sabine in 1835 to inform Lord Adare of its comparison to the Valentia slate quarry.  The Dunravens were strong supporters of the rival Killaloe slate quarries and owned extensive lands in a slate-rich region of Wales. The extent (four pages) and seriousness of Sabine’s letter suggest more than an academic interest in the subject. Clearly Adare and Sabine had visited the Valentia quarry together, Later, in 1838, Adare and his wife would spend two months on Valentia. Sabine was at pains to point up comparisons and contrasts and to comment on the relative proportion of high quality slate at each location, noting the extent of intractable ‘green tough rock’ lamented by the workmen at both sites. The Knight of Kerry was also preoccupied by these seams of green stone and wrote to Alexander Nimmo, for his opinion on its potential value.

The Dunraven papers and contemporary newspapers attest to a lively public interest in geology in the cities of Limerick and Cork. The Dunravens attended public lectures in Limerick by the geographer and geologist William Francis Ainsworth. The earliest known public display of marbles in Ireland is recorded in Limerick in 1842 when the sculptor and marble mason William Manderson presented to the Museum of the Philosophical and Literary Society a ‘handsome case’ containing “ specimens of marble from 16 counties” “beautifully polished”. Manderson also presented objects of Irish marble to the Museum of Economic Geology in London, and together with the Limerick engineer Joseph Long sent displays of polished Irish marble to the Great Exhibition of 1851.


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