December 16, 2010

Catherine de la Poer, Curraghmore shell house

picture (sept 2005) courtesy of Sarah Boles

Those people who create art environments in general do not belong to the world of high society. But of course, there are exceptions. Here is the rather sympathetic story of the Curraghmore shell house.

Life and works

Lady Catherine de la Poer, countess of Tyrone (1701-1769) was born in a family that for centuries owned and inhabited the Curraghmore Estate in Co Waterford, Ireland.

The family migrated in the 10th century from Normandy to Ireland (I presume "Poer" should be pronounced as in french)

In 1717 young Catherine married Sir Marcus Beresford.

Nowadays Curraghmore House exists some 800 years.Through the ages the original castle has been expanded and restyled. The actual facade of the mansion is Victorian with flanking Georgian ranges.

Lady Catherine herself has been active in restyling and redecorating the estate.

In 1754 a shell house was build on the premises. At that time it was quite en vogue among the well to do to have some kind of shell decorated folly on your estate, constructions in general made on commission by (travelling) artists.

Lady Catherine however is known to have decorated the shell house with her own hands. She managed the entire project, like she commissioned captains of ships that sailed to foreign coasts to collect shells, which also entails that the shell house has a lot of exotic specimen.

The Curraghmore shell house became an admirable project, realized by a lady in her fifties (and in a social environment that probably was not enthusiastic about ladies doing this kind of manual labour).

An inscription says that fixing the shell decoration on the walls took her 261 days. Cement had not yet been invented, so the shells had to be glued with a mixture of blood and other ingredients or so ¹. There are no reports saying that the condition of the decoration raises problems, which is also a compliment for lady Catherine's capabilities.

 statue of lady Catherine, in the garden of the estate,
as pictured on the Curragghmore House website 

There is a statue of Lady Catherine's on the premises, commissioned by her husband. sir Marcus Beresford, in admiration of her creative activities. 

Through the centuries, the Beresford family always has been present at the estate, so they have never been "absent landlords". 
Public visits

The house, gardens and shell house of Curraghmore can be visited in may, june and july. The house ranks as one of the important country houses in Ireland. And, as far as I know, its shell house with its DIY decoration by a countess, is unique in the world.

¹  A comment to this post has the information that a mixture of pig blood, horse urine and sand was used. 

Lady Catherine de la Poer, countess of Tyrone
Shell house
Curraghmore House,
Co Waterford, Ireland
can be visited in may, june, july
for days and hours see website

1 comment:

  1. I am related to the de la paor family and I can inform you that lady catherine used a mixture of pigs blood,horse urine and sand