Buildings of South County Down

I was very pleased to be among those invited to the launch of the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society’s  new book Buildings of South County Down at Ballydugan Mill on 1st May 2019. It is a splendid book written by Philip Smith and beautifully illustrated throughout in colour by Alan Turkington. It describes itself as not claiming ‘to be an exhaustive record of its particular area, but rather a selection giving a broad overview of the built heritage of the southern half of Down’ and it is a very comprehensive collection of significant buildings both large and small, public and private.

Ballydugan Mill on the day of the book launch

The churches section numbers 25 buildings and contains no less than three Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches which is a very significant representation and indicates the historical importance of what is, nevertheless, quite a small denomination. Both Downpatrick and Clough feature in the book, the Clough meeting house being photographed just before its recent repainting which means it doesn’t look its best but that can’t be helped. Leafing through the book it is interesting to see the number of other buildings that have a link with Downpatrick and Clough churches – the Murland Mausoleum has a photograph and a number of houses appear which were once the homes of prominent members including the homes of the Murlands themselves and the nearby houses of Nutgrove and Mount Panther, once the dwelling places of leading members of the church. Both Nutgrove and Mount Panther are painted on the First World War memorial in Clough.


Dr Edward McParland, Vice-President of Ulster Architectural Heritage introduces the book

The book contains much information that is new to me. I didn’t know that the now ruined but still impressive edifice of Mount Panther was named after the ‘local legend of the “Great Cat of Clough” a monstrous feline said to have once terrorized the area’. I also did not know anything about Marlborough House which seems to have originally been built by Rev Thomas Nevin sometime before 1728. The entry on the Downpatrick Church states that ‘the church is said to have been built in 1711 at the beginning of the ministry of the Rev Thomas Nevin’ but it seems clear from the presbytery minutes that the new building and the new ministry did coincide quite closely. However, one interesting thing about Marlborough House is that it was built quite near to the site of the original seventeenth-century meeting house, although Buildings of South County Down says that Nevin acquired the land from Brice Magee, a local apothecary, so it can’t have been the site of the original manse.

The other Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in the book is Rademon which has a number of very attractive photographs included with its account. The photograph of the interior of Downpatrick taken by Alan Turkington did not make the final cut but it is interesting to look at the interiors of Downpatrick and Rademon. Although the buildings are separated by over 75 years and it is not at all difficult to differentiate one from the other it is instructive to compare the two interiors which are very similar in layout and design and probably also dimensions:

Interior of Downpatrick (Photo: Alan Turkington)
Interior of Rademon (Photo: Alan Turkington) page 30

But the book contains much more than churches. As well as houses (grand, middling-sized and small) there are antiquities and fortification, public buildings, commercial buildings, follies, monuments and memorials. Anyone who enjoys looking at the built environment around them will enjoy this book and find plenty to enlighten them about buildings in the locality of south Down.

Mausolea & Memorials to the dead in Ireland

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.

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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.

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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.

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Dr Finbar McCormick

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Refreshments after the meeting

Mausolea in Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough

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.

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Downpatrick tomb, possibly that of the Potter family

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Quail family tomb

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Gordon family tomb

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Morrison family tomb opposite their residence

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Downpatrick tomb, inscription not legible

There is another example of such a tomb at Ballee.

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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.

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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:

Follies Mausoleum Flyer