On Wednesday, 4th May 2022 the long delayed final stage of the restoration of the Murland Mausoleum by the Follies Trust at Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church took place. There was a good attendance of people gathered at the event, originally scheduled to take place in March 2020 but inevitably cancelled at the start of the lockdown. The meeting included a short service of thanksgiving for the work of the Follies Trust and the singing of the hymn Praise my soul the King of Heaven, accompanied by Melanie Campbell on the organ. Rev Dr David Steers welcomed everyone and spoke about the history of the Church, and introduced Dr Finbar McCormick who gave a fascinating talk on the restoration of the Murland Vault and the history and place of mausolea as places of burial in Ireland. Primrose Wilson, chair of the Follies Trust, thanked everyone involved, especially Noel Killen who had carried out the restoration of the monument, and invited everyone to Ballydugan Mill where the launch of the Trust’s new book Fifteen Years of the Follies Trust took place.
Churches in County Down are replete with interesting ancient mausolea and tombs and this is especially true in the area around Lecale, most particularly amongst the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches, and the churchyard at Downpatrick, for instance, alone has eight or nine large tombs of different designs.
But the most celebrated Mausoleum of all is at Clough.
The Murland Mausoleum was built in about 1860 by a family who were closely connected to the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian congregation at Clough for generations. The Murland family were wealthy local mill owners, they lived at Ardnabannon and it is thought that the architect who designed their house also designed the family mausoleum. This was Thomas Turner, a Dublin-born architect who began his career as an assistant to Charles Lanyon in Belfast and who had a long and productive career designing buildings all over Ireland including Stormont Castle and Coleraine Town Hall.
But it is very clear when you look at the Murland Mausoleum that this was the work of someone steeped in the designs of classical architecture and particularly ancient funerary architecture. The inverted torch is used in Christian iconography to represent the resurrection and the eternal life of the soul. But it actually goes back to ancient Greece where it represented Thanatos the Greek god of death.
It is a very rich design.
Professor James Stevens Curl describes it as
something one might expect to find in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise or in one of the great American cemeteries, rather than in a small rural churchyard in the shadow of the Mountains of Mourne.
The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society list describes the mausoleum as ‘the phenomenal Murland vault of about 1860, furnished with all the pompe funebre of the classical manner, with trimmings.’
For local schoolchildren it is a place well-known for decades as somewhere where the bravest of them could stand near the open grill and peer in at the coffins resting in the dusty gloom.
As such an old structure the building was gradually becoming in need of restoration and to see this done the church was able to partner with the experience and expertise of the Follies Trust, a body set up in 2006 to help, in their own words, with ‘the conservation, preservation, restoration and protection, in their original setting, of mausolea and monuments; follies; grottoes; garden buildings and other structures of particular beauty or historic, environmental, architectural or industrial significance.’
At the church we were very pleased to welcome local expert Dr Finbar McCormick of Queen’s University, Belfast who gave a fascinating talk on the history and development of memorials to the dead in Ireland and beyond, looking at the influence of the Reformation and classical ideas.
This was a prelude to the work being done on the mausoleum. A number of specialists have looked at the building, and the job of restoring the structure was given to Noel Killen, noted for his work in restoring the nearby Mill at Ballydugan.
Generally, considering its great age, the building was in good shape but there was lots to be done to make the structure fully watertight and secure again for the future. Stonework that had crumbled had to be replaced. The iron work in the grills and the heavy door had to be conserved. They were also repainted in the original colour, which had largely long faded from view.
Work commenced in August 2019 and was completed within a few months. To mark the completion of this work and the collaboration that was involved we planned a special service of celebration with representatives of the Follies Trust and others, but this wasn’t to be. Like so many other plans it fell foul of the pandemic and couldn’t be held. But the important thing is that this striking and unique structure is now restored and fit to last for another 160 years.
Clough Church Hall was full for the lecture by Dr Finbar McCormick on Wednesday, 13th March on the topic of ‘Mausolea & Memorials to the dead in Ireland’. It was an incredibly informative and also enjoyable and entertaining talk about a subject that might not appear that interesting at first glance.
Dr McCormick delivering his lecture
Dr McCormick took his hearers through the traditions of dealing with death going back to antiquity and into the Christian era including the changes that came about due to the Reformation. It was astonishing to see the variety of mausolea produced in Ireland over the centuries, including one Victorian structure at Clonbern, county Galway constructed entirely from cast iron! Among many other tombs Dr McCormick referenced the Templeton Mausoleum designed by Robert Adam at Templepatrick in 1789 (illustrated at the top of this page). Dr McCormick showed how classical funereal art and architecture influenced later mausolea like the Murland tomb, which drew on the decorations for sarcophagi as well as ancient buildings. It is quite clear that such a rich construction as the Murland Mausoleum was designed by someone with a very thorough understanding of classical architecture and funeral design.
Inverted torch on the Murland Mausoleum
Dr McCormick also suggested that the Irish architect Thomas Turner could possibly be the architect of the Murland Mausoleum given that he designed the family house at Ardnabannon in the 1860s and some of his large scale buildings in Ireland include similar details to those found on the Mausoleum. But it was a fascinating evening that certainly showed why this particular tomb is worthy of conservation by the Follies Trust.
The Murland family vault at Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church will be the focus of a public lecture by Dr Finbar McCormick on the topic of ‘Mausolea & Memorials to the dead in Ireland’ at Clough NSP Church on Wednesday, 13th March 2019 at 7.30 pm. Everyone is welcome and the talk will be followed by refreshments. The tomb is in need of conservation which will be undertaken by the Follies Trust in the forthcoming months.
The three Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches of Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough each possess interesting graveyards housing the last resting places of centuries of church members, including many notable figures. The graveyards are remarkable too for the wide variety of tombs, stones and other memorials. Of especial note are the mausolea mostly dating from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries.
Downpatrick has a large number of what Professor James Stevens Curl describes (in Mausolea in Ulster, Ulster Architectural Heritage Society, 1978) as being of ‘the barrel-vaulted variety, rather like a Nissen-hut’. These type of tombs appear to be local to the Downpatrick area, there are other examples in the locality but the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church on Stream Street has the largest number of examples of them, tombs built by local merchants including the Potter, Morrison, Quail, Rowan and Gordon families. The Quail tomb is dated 1800. The Morrison family tomb is located in the graveyard exactly opposite the house on Stream Street where the family then lived, so every day they gazed out of the window at a rather stark reminder of their own mortality.
Downpatrick tomb, possibly that of the Potter family
Quail family tomb
Gordon family tomb
Morrison family tomb opposite their residence
Downpatrick tomb, inscription not legible
There is another example of such a tomb at Ballee.
Side view of the tomb at Ballee
Of particular interest to architectural historians are the two tombs at Downpatrick described by Professor Curl as consisting:
of square bases, with panelled sides, surmounted by pyramids having concave sides derived from early mausolea in the Kedron Valley, Jerusalem.
The link with the Kedron Valley is particularly intriguing.
The two concave tombs at Downpatrick ‘derived from early mausolea in the Kedron Valley, Jerusalem’
But by far the grandest tomb is to be found at Clough. Professor Curl describes it as:
A work of Victorial funerary architecture in full bloom…The grand ‘Order’ of consoles instead of pilasters or columns; the massive vermiculated rustication of the entrance; the shrouded urns; and the remnants of neoclassical form give an indication of the ‘fat atmosphere’ of funerals so typical of opulent burial in the nineteenth century…The funeral pomp of the Murland mausoleum at Clough is something one might expect to find in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise or in one of the great American cemeteries, rather than in a small rural churchyard in the shadow of the Mountains of Mourne.
The Murland family were local mill owners and members of the church at Clough. The Memorial at Clough is now in need of conservation and the Follies Trust is hoping to tackle this in forthcoming months. On Wednesday, 13th March 2019 there will be a public lecture at Clough Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church at 7.30 pm by Dr Finbar McCormick on the topic of ‘Mausolea & Memorials to the dead in Ireland’. Everyone is welcome and the talk will be followed by refreshments.
Dr McCormick is a senior lecturer in the School of the Natural and Built Environment at Queen’s University, Belfast and former Chair of the Discovery Programme. The Follies Trust writes:
The talk will look at the history and development of memorials to the dead in Ireland and beyond. It will show how the Reformation changed people’s attitude to commemorating the dead and will demonstrate how Presbyterianism in Scotland played such an important role in the development of the modern mausoleum. Dr McCormick will also show how classical ideas had such an influence on mausoleum design as can be seen in the magnificent Murland mausoleum at Clough. The Ulster Architectural Heritage Society list describes the mausoleum as ‘the phenomenal Murland vault of about 1860, furnished with all the pompe funebre of the classical manner, with trimmings.’ It was designed by Thomas Turner and is a fine example of the genre.
The Follies Trust leaflet contains illustrations of the tomb and information on how to make a donation to the project if you wish. It can be downloaded from this link: