Burning the Big House: The Story of the Irish Country House in Revolution 1920-1923


This exhibition is the culmination of ten years of  research work by Professor Terence Dooley, Curator and Director of the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates (CSHIHE) at the School of History in Maynooth University . It introduces a new perspective to the Decade of Centenaries Programme – the experiences of the Irish aristocracy or former landed elite who found themselves caught up in the War of Independence and the Civil War. 

Seen through the prism of the burning of country houses, more generally referred to in Ireland as the Big Houses, the exhibition presents the stories of a broad sample of these Big Houses from across the country. It is the product of original research based on a wide variety of primary sources, challenging many commonly held misconceptions about this period in history. The exhibition explores the extent and geographical location of Big Houses burned, and examines the political and social motivations for destruction. It also addresses why many houses were not destroyed. The exhibition explores the national context for these events and the impact of the Land Acts on the country houses.   

The exhibition continues in the first floor rooms of the Irish Architectural Archive, 45 Merrion Square, Dublin 2, until 27 April 2022, after which it will relocate to Maynooth University in time for the 20th Annual Historic Irish Houses Conference (10-11 May 2022).  It will then tour various locations around the country.  When the exhibition run concludes, it will be digitised and made freely available online for everyone, on the CSHIHE, Maynooth University website. 


A free, weekly lecture series will be held online from 24 March to 19 May, in conjunction with the exhibition.  Speakers will include Gemma Clark, Terence Dooley, Robert O’Byrne, Ann O’Riordan, Olwen Purdue, Christopher Ridgway, Glascott Symes and Jean Young, all of whom will address various themes relating to Big Houses during the revolutionary period.

Published in conjunction with the exhibition is Burning the Big House: The Story of the Irish Country House in a Time of War and Revolution, Professor Terence Dooley, Yale University Press, 2022.