Arch, architecture, country house, eyecatcher, garden history, Ireland, landscape garden, Obelisk

Ireland of the Follies

In 1972 Mariga Guinness, or Mrs Desmond Guinness as she was known in more formal times, wrote an article on follies for Ireland of the Welcomes, a publication produced by the Irish Tourist Board to promote Ireland as a holiday destination. Launched in 1952, it is still published today and describes itself as ‘the largest and longest-running Irish interest magazine in the world’. Hermione Maria-Gabrielle von Urach (1932-1989), known as Mariga, married Desmond Guinness in 1954 and they moved to Ireland the following year. Mrs Guinness loved Ireland, and threw herself into preserving the architectural heritage – she and her husband co-founded the Irish Georgian Society in 1958. The couple first rented the Georgian mansion Carton House, and later bought Leixlip Castle, both home to garden ornaments, so Mrs Guinness was well-placed to write in praise of follies.

The map of follies designed and illustrated by Jan de Fouw for Ireland of the Welcomes magazine in 1972.

Accompanying the text is a delicious map which was drawn by Jan de Fouw (1929-2015), a Dutch-born graphic designer and illustrator who settled in Ireland in 1951. From 1952 to 1996 he was the freelance designer of Ireland of the Welcomes. As well as featuring in the magazine the map was published as a stand-alone guide to Irish follies, complete with a county-by-county list of what to see. Mrs Guinness didn’t give exact locations believing, as the Flâneuse does, that ‘Folly-hunting must be regarded as an exploratory adventure’.

The reverse of the map continues the list and has photographs of a selection of the featured follies.

Mrs Guinness opens her article with the assertion that ‘there are more follies to the acre in Ireland than anywhere else in the world’. The Flâneuse doubts that anyone has ever tried to prove or disprove this bold claim, but there is no denying that Ireland has both quantity and quality. Mrs Guinness thought that ‘folly-hunting appears to be a totally neglected facet of Irish travel’ and as Ireland of the Welcomes was mainly aimed at the U.S. market, one hopes that American tourists took up her challenge to explore Ireland’s arbours, grottoes, towers and shell-houses.

A year before the Ireland of the Welcomes magazine article was published the Curwen Press published a series of views of follies under the editorship of Barbara Jones. Richard Beer (1928-2017) was responsible for this wonderful lithograph of the Conolly Folly.

The first folly Mrs Guinness mentions in her text is the Conolly Folly in County Kildare. This unique structure was built by Katherine Conolly (1662-1752, born Conyngham) in 1740 to terminate a vista, and to provide work and food for the local population in a time of need.

The rear facade of Castletown House which looked to the obelisk – although the view from the garden is now blocked by trees.

It is attributed to the architect Richard Castle (d.1751) and stood on high ground in the Castletown demesne – or rather it stood near the Castletown estate. Apparently Mrs Conolly (widow of William, reputedly the richest commoner in Ireland) discovered too late that she didn’t own the plot on which the obelisk was built: it was just over the Castletown demesne boundary, and was actually on Carton estate land. Marked on a mid-eighteenth century map as ‘Obelisk’, it soon became known as the Conolly Folly or Conolly’s Folly.

Carton House is now a hotel and – as is rather obvious from this image – a golf resort.

Carton was Mariga Guinness’s first Irish home, and although she moved to other properties it would become her last: she was buried beneath the folly in 1989. Her memory lives on in the many properties and follies she actively campaigned to save, and in the ongoing work of the Irish Georgian Society. And 52 years after it was first published, her article recently guided the Folly Flâneuse on a fabulous flit around some of the follies of Ireland (watch this space).

Robert French of Lawrence Photographic Studios, Dublin, c.1900. NLI Ref.: L_ROY_05166. Image courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.

The Conolly Folly is now a national monument in the care of the state. It was among the first buildings to be restored by the Irish Georgian Society in 1962, and was adopted as their logo. There is public access, but unlike the contented visitors in the early photograph above, you will not be able to get up close: ugly security fencing protects the monument from vandals.

The obelisk as seen from within the grounds of Carton House.

The view to the Conolly Folly is now obstructed by mature trees, but the tip of the obelisk can be seen peeking above the verdure from some distance.

For a wonderful tribute to Mariga Guinness see

There’s more on Ireland of the Welcomes here

Ed Kluz Root House 2024. Plaster, heather root, volcanic rock, ground glass, minerals and raw pigment. 775mm x 590mm x 225mm. Image courtesy of the artist.

Regular readers might remember that the Flâneuse is a huge fan of artist Ed Kluz. If you are anywhere near Bath before the 22nd of June go and see his new sculptural pieces at Berdoulat at 8 St Margaret’s Buildings in the city centre. Here’s a taste of what you might see, and more works can be seen at

Thank you for reading. As ever, your thoughts are very welcome. Please scroll down to the comments box to get in touch. Please note that only your name will appear – your email address remains private.


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12 thoughts on “Ireland of the Follies”

  1. Wim Meulenkamp says:

    Have a copy of the selfsame magazine at home (somewhere). Lucky to have it, but can’t remember how I came by it. Thank you Follyflaneuse, for yet another delightful column.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Wim. You are very lucky to have a copy of this wonderful magazine – I eventually tracked a copy down in the National Library in Ireland. Thank you for the kind comments – I had great fun working on this post and touring Ireland.

  2. archaeogail says:

    What a wonderful map & a fascinating story! Can’t wait to read more about your Irish folly hunting adventures!
    In the lithograph of the Conolly folly, there’s someone standing on top of the first tier. How did he get up there? Is there an internal staircase & could he have climbed up any higher?

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning Gail. Thank you. The map is an absolute delight, as is Mariga Guinness’s text. It is possible to climb up the obelisk but the access door is kept securely locked for health and safety reasons today, and as you can see the site is securely fenced too. It’s really intrusive but I assume vandalism had become a major issue.

  3. Chris Tyler says:

    I look forward to more Irish folly hunting.

    1. Editor says:

      Thank you Chris. I have rather a lot of photos and notes to sift through but more Irish follies will certainly feature in due course.

  4. Iain KS Gray says:

    I hope you manage to link up with James Howley down at Sandy Cove when you return to Ireland, a wonderful host and adviser.

    1. Editor says:

      Good evening Iain. I did of course refer to James’s excellent book before our trip. I’m sure we will return – there’s so much more to see.

  5. Simon Scott says:

    Thank you for reminding me of a fabulous folly-hunting holiday undertaken with my late parents back in 1998 – our last vacation together sadly. But memories of the Conolly Folly (and The Wonderful Barn nearby) are still strong. The sheer scale of the Conolly Folly was as impressive as its unique design. Pleased that vandal-resistant fencing was not so obvious back then and you could walk right up to and under the structure. Happy memories!

    1. Editor says:

      Good afternoon Simon. I’m so pleased that you were able to see the folly at close quarters, and that you enjoy happy memories of a family holiday. I certainly won’t forget our wonderful trip (including the Wonderful Barn)

  6. Steven Martin Myatt says:

    A few years ago stayed for a week at Dromana Castle, high above the Blackwater, just outside Cappoquin in County Waterford. The late Mister Villiers-Stuart showed me all over the castle (and the ruins outside – it had been a far larger building – which were now garden features). A great delight was the ‘Hindu/Gothic’ gates, created by Henry and Theresia Villiers-Stuart, at the entrance, which again were built to give relief and income to the unemployed. Do look them up – they’re a delight (and if you come across them unexpectedly, a bit of a shock).

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Steven. Dromana was very much on my ‘must see’ list and I was not disappointed. It might just feature here before too long! Lucky you staying on the estate and having a tour with the owner. It’s a stunning location.

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