Arch, architecture, country house, eyecatcher, garden history, Ireland, Lodge

The Dromana Gate, Co. Waterford, Ireland

Dromana House in County Waterford enjoys wonderful views over the mighty Blackwater river, but the approach to the house crosses a tributary, the Finnisk, and there’s a surprise for anyone visiting for the first time. The road curves, and suddenly there is the most perfect of scenes: a tranquil river crossed by a bridge leading to a lodge built in a magnificent melange of the gothic and the oriental.

Entrance to the Dromana Desmesne across the river Finnisk. Postcard sent in 1904. Courtesy of a private collection.

The bridge was originally a wooden structure, with a central drawbridge allowing boats to pass in the days when the river was navigable. Old postcards show that the bridge originally had ogee-arched railings to match the lodge, but even by 1928 the bridge was becoming worn ‘under the strain of heavy traffic’, and strengthening and safety works in the later twentieth century saw the wooden bridge and railings replaced with concrete and steel.

In the early nineteenth century Dromana was the seat of Henry Villiers Stuart (1803-1874), created 1st Baron de Decies in 1839. The tale is told that a papier-mâché arch was erected, where the lodge stands today, to welcome Stuart when he returned to Dromana with his new bride in 1826. The arch was said to have been fashioned in an indo-gothic style to help the happy couple remember their honeymoon in Brighton, where they would have seen George IV’s Royal Pavilion. Stuart and his wife were apparently so taken with the design that they decided to recreate it in a more substantial fashion.

One of the pairs of doors to each side of the arch. One is a dummy to keep the symmetry.

No records can be found to corroborate this story (although such ephemeral celebratory arches were certainly in vogue in this period). In fact, the whole story of Villiers Stuart’s marriage is rather mysterious. He is said to have married Theresia Pauline Ott (c.1802-1867), a Viennese-born widow, in a Catholic ceremony in London in 1826, and a son, Henry, was born in 1827. In 1839 the marriage was solemnised in Christ Church, Marylebone, when the curate noted in the register that the couple had been ‘heretofore married in the city of Dublin according to the Ritual Ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church’, but crucially no date is given. No records of an 1826 marriage could be found after Lord de Decie’s death in 1874, making his son illegitimate, and therefore unable to inherit the title. This was a ’cause celebre‘ of the day, and the ‘exceptionally interesting peerage case’, filled the courtroom and the newspapers for some weeks in 1876.

Surprisingly few accounts of the lovely lodge can be found, but we do know it was extant by 1835 when a Scottish tourist, Robert Graham, saw a ‘remarkable bridge’ with a building with a ‘pear-shaped cupola’ at the end of it.* The ‘costly fanciful structure’ was noted by another writer in 1844, and in 1848 John Bernard Burke (of ‘Peerage’ fame) described it as ‘singularly fanciful and striking’ and ‘looking like some romantic scene in the Arabian Nights’.

Eastern gate of the Jummah Musjid at Delhi, by Thomas Daniell, print, aquatint, 1795, London. Victoria and Albert Museum, London IS.242:1-1961.

The architect is thought to be Martin Day (?1797-?1860), who is known to have worked at Dromana in the correct period. Surviving drawings of the lodge by Day are dated 1849, suggesting that it was perhaps remodelled or renovated at that date. The inspiration behind the lodge remains a mystery – is the Brighton honeymoon story true (probably not – the court case suggests they went straight to Scotland after the wedding)? Had Villiers Stuart or his architect seen Oriental Scenery, the volumes of views of India produced by the Daniell brothers in 1795-1807 (above)? Were they aware of Sezincote, the Mughal palace in the Cotswolds built by Samuel Pepys Cockerell, with the assistance of Thomas Daniell, for his brother Charles in the first years of the nineteenth century? Wherever the idea came from, we should be grateful it did, and that this joyful structure survives today.

View from the Bridge.

The Irish Georgian Society restored the decrepit lodge in 1968, and further repairs were made in the 1990s, but the lodge is once again in need of some care. In 2023 the IGS gave a grant to support the preparation of a building report to investigate how to ‘reinstate this structure to its former glory’.

The bridge and lodge are freely accessible. The house at Dromana was reduced to a more manageable size in the twentieth century and remains the home of the Villiers Stuart family. You can read more about the history and visiting here

That’s the last folly (for now, at least) from the Flâneuse’s recent Irish jaunt. If all goes to plan next week’s post will go off at a tasty tangent. Thank you for reading, and as ever you can share thoughts and comments at the foot of the page.

*This information is from J.A.K. Dean’s impressive gazetteer of the gate lodges of Ireland, and in particular the volume for the province of Munster.