PERHAPS the runaway success of Downton Abbey has something to do with it. A book featuring hundreds of photographs of once majestic old houses that now lie in ruins might not sound like a winning proposition, but Tarquin Blake’s Abandoned Mansions of Ireland proved a hit last year.
The second volume is just as riveting and –once again – some once proud Limerick homes are included.
There is something terribly sad about the stunning photographs here and to actually stand among the ruins can be a surprisingly moving experience: you find yourself trying to imagine a time when the once magnificent property was in its pomp. As Blake notes, “the Big House became a physical representation of the status and role of the landowner within his community”.
The author cautions that most of the houses depicted are still in private hands and require permission to be visited, but his books have done the country a service by capturing them while they still retain at least a semblance of their former grandeur.
The second volume includes two Limerick mansions, both built in the middle of the eighteenth century; the 80-acre Castle Park estate on the northern outskirts of the city near Moyross, and the equally fascinating Elm Hill House in Rathkeale.
Blake’s research is impressive and he conveys an intriguing sense of the ups and downs of both properties, down the ages.
Regular Limerick Leader readers will be aware that the Castle Park estate has been on the market for more than a decade and is open to offers around €1 million. Five years ago, when the prospect of massive building contracts linked to the regeneration of Moyross was raised, the price sought was an astonishing €40 million. A fire and the work of vandals has reduced it to a sad shell of its former self, but it is stil possible to imagine its best years by studying Blake’s wonderful photographs.
There are other mansions of local interest, such as Mount Shannon House and Thomond Villas in Clare, and the pictures for all 47 once splendid homes tell their own compelling story. A magnificent book.
Abandoned Mansions of Ireland II by Tarquin Blake is published by The Collins Press.