Last year I got Tarquin Blakes Abandoned Mansions of Ireland and it revived my interest in history but especially the history of the old houses and castles in Ireland. I then saw a gorgeous new book that came out before Christmas called Irish Country Houses: A Chronicle of Change by David Hicks. I had hoped someone would buy it for me but alas no one took my hints about it.
I finally got a copy a few weeks ago and started reading it straight away. It’s a large book, what we call a coffee table book as it’s so big it has to be read on a table. It’s a lovely book illustrated with beautiful photos. It covers houses in all provinces of Ireland but I was particularly interested in the Cork ones especially Castle Bernard in Bandon and Castle Freke, both in Cork.
What makes this book different from the rest is that the author and photographer have gone to the trouble of finding the old pictures and then taking a photograph of how the place looks now and how they were in the past for comparison. It’s sad to see the state of some of these gorgeous old houses but it’s a long and sometimes bitter history as to how some of them became the way they did. As I also work for a builder I was interested in the architectural details and cost of building at the time.
The book is very simply written but with a wealth of detail. I only read a chapter per night so that I could enjoy whatever house I was reading about and digest the historical detail. There is a lot of Irish social history in the book and makes me want to read many more books about people, places and periods of history. That is the best and the worst thing about these books. They make you want more.
I hope there will be a follow up to this book as it is one of the best presented books on Irish country houses that has come out with a while. David Hicks blog is certainly one to follow if you are interested in Irish country houses.
I hadn’t long finished reading Irish Country Houses when the TV3 series The Big House started on television. This was more country house history but more from the servants side of things. Again, it’s great social history and very well researched. There are three more episodes to air and I don’t think they will disappoint me.