Described by Mark Bence Jones in his seminal Guide to Irish Country Houses (London, 1978) as ‘a gaunt and rather sinister ruin’, the remains of Tyrone House still loom over the surrounding Galway countryside. Descriptions of the building have rarely been any kinder. For Rev. D. A. Beaufort, who visited within a decade of its completion in 1779, it was ‘large and new but very bleak and too high’. Thirty years later another visitor noted that ‘without a tree, bush or office in sight, nothing can be more uncompromising than it looks from the road’.
Attributed to John Roberts of Waterford, Tyrone House was built for local landlord Christopher St George. An imposing, cut-stone block, its elaborate entrance front contrasted with the austere side and rear elevations, while internally, the main reception rooms had fine Adamesque ceilings. The house served several generations of St Georges, but had begun a long, slow slide towards dilapidation well before the end of the nineteenth century. These photographs, from original glass plate negatives, were taken in 1904. They capture the blunt majesty of the still-intact exterior, and the faded grandeur of the interiors. Within a year, the St Georges had moved out and left the house to its own devices.
Tyrone House stood intact for another fifteen years until it was burned by the IRA in 1920 following rumours that it was to be pressed into use by Crown forces. It was not particularly typical of the houses destroyed in the period – it was already empty and abandoned – but the starkness of its remains have turned it into what Dr Terence Dooley has called ‘an iconic symbol of the fall of the Irish Big House’.
The Burning the Big House exhibition curated by Dr Dooley, ran in the Irish Architectural Archive in Spring 2022 and thenin Maynooth University Library. Dr Dooley’s book, Burning the Big House was published by Yale University Press earlier this year.