When we first saw Ballinderry it was in a sorry state, used as a store for country furniture, old farm carts, and an amazing variety of agricultural implements and artifacts. While the roof looked intact from the front, the three large Victorian dormer windows at the rear had collapsed, causing considerable damage, both to roof and to the internal fabric. In addition, vandals had smashed the windows and looted the chimneypieces (which a in any case were Victorian replacements).
Our first task was to strip the roof, which was done by George’s brother John, his partner Florian, and their team. They repaired the main timbers, made good wherever possible, and saved enough slates to re-roof the front of the building. We bought reclaimed slates for the rear and the return, and replaced the dormers with large ‘conservation’ roof lights – which provide much-needed extra light without compromising the outline of the building.
The house is constructed of fieldstone, covered in lime render, which had become defective and had to be removed. This revealed stone lintels, which showed the original positions of the drawing room and dining room windows, now happily reinstated by local masons.
At the rear, several other windows have also been replaced and the rear elevations are now broadly symmetrical. The defective rendering has been replaced with several coats of protective wash in an appropriate shade of ochre, which contrasts well with the limestone sills, cornice and doorcase.
The windows have been restored to what we believe was their original appearance, with unequal sashes on the ground floor (nine panes over six) using heavy early-Georgian glazing bars in the main house and light, ultra thin Regency glazing bars in the wing, all specially made for the house.
Internally, the floors were in an extremely decayed state, though it was possible for John and Florian to save most of the joists. The floorboards have now been replaced with wide pine boards sawn from old reclaimed beams. The decorative woodwork had been badly attacked by woodworm but we salvaged all the principal doors and most of the shutters, together with sufficient architrave for us to copy. The skirting had deteriorated beyoned repair and the chair-rail had been removed many years ago. In replacing these we used a whole series of carpenters, ranging from local men to wandering German carpenters in their distinctive formal uniform, and the house was finally fitted out by a local builder, Thomas Hibbett.
The recently completed work has restored the joinery in the hall. The paneled doors, shutters and reveals have been repaired but most of the architrave and all the dado-rail and skirting have been replaced, while the hall ceiling and cornice have also been retained and repaired.
Apart from the shutters and doors, nothing remained of the original decoration in either the drawing or dining rooms. These rooms have been given new ceilings (with the remains of the damaged Victorian cornices hidden above) while the 18th century window and door cases have been authentically reproduced.
In the drawing room the window to the rear had been blocked, so as to close off the view of the 1840’s stable from Victorian eyes (or, perhaps, to prevent the grooms from watching the ladies). This window has now been reinstated and the room has been paneled in the early 18th century style and given a fine early Kilkenny marble chimneypiece from a house in County Waterford. The dining room has received similar treatment with an early 18th century slate chimneypiece.
The second and fifth flights of the staircase had been badly damaged, largely as a result of broken windows on the rear (western) elevation, but also partly by vandals (though, luckily, enough survived to allow it to be retained and repaired.)
The worst effected treads have been replaced, while more than 50 missing banisters were turned by hand, by Ray Walsh of Newmarket-on-Fergus. As luck would have it the former owner, Mr. Patrick Carty of Kilconnell, had the foresight to remove the newel post, along with the elliptically curved spiral at the foot of the handrail, after a spate of vandalism in the area.
As a result these irreplaceable items were saved and were returned to the house for re-instatement.
On the first floor the doors and most of the shutters have been retained, as have the door-cases but, once again, there was nothing to salvage as the original decoration and chimneypieces had all been removed. The two first floor bedrooms have now been paneled in the 18th c. style and given simple chimneypieces, one of finely figured marble and the other of slate.
The decoration on the top floor had always been more basic and was largely confined to the landing and stairwell. The original chimneypieces were of plaster, with a simple molded surround (similar examples can be seen at Scregg, near Knockroughery in County Roscommon) and these have been reinstated.
Luckily all the seven-paneled doors have been repaired and retained.
During reconstruction a number of interesting details came to light. These include:
- A heavy oak beam, which originally supported the dining room floor but shows clear signs of having come from a much earlier building. This may have been an earlier house on the site (of which we have no record), a nearby tower house or even part of the nearby Friary church.
- Small un-worked tree trunks (or large branches) were used for timber lintels over all the windows and doors. These had been used while green, and with the bark attached, but they disintegrated to powder on removal, due to advanced woodworm attack. We have kept a full photographic record of these items.
- What appeared as timber panels below the first floor windows, turned out to be just a timber frame. The panels it contained were actually constructed from a series of turf sods, carefully and regularly cut, and built as if they were bricks, then plastered-over and painted. They would have been excellent insulation but it appears that the risk of fire had never been considered.
George and Susie with Duncan Stewart on RTE’s “About the House” programme (Pictures: RTE)
The restoration of Ballinderry, which was featured in a series of programmes by Duncan Stewart and his ‘About the House’ team, was a labour of love. It cost far more than we had ever intended and we will be paying for it for the rest of our lives – but we think the result is magical.
Ballinderry would never have been finished without grants from The Heritage Council, the Irish Georgian Society, and the tax relief for historic houses granted under Section 482 of the 1997 Taxes Consolidation Act.
We are greatly indebted to all the craftsmen who worked here for us; to our architect Jeremy Williams, our conservation engineer, Christopher Southgate, to John Lenahan for his expert advice on 18th century joinery and to Christopher Moore for endless help with paint techniques and colours.
We hope that they are all as happy with the results as we are.