architecture, belvedere, Dovecote, eyecatcher, Folly, Ireland, landscape garden

The Wonderful Barn, near Leixlip, County Kildare, Ireland.

In January 1739 (1740 new style) Katherine Conolly sat in her Dublin town house writing to her sister. Although close by the fire she complained she was still freezing, and she despaired of the severe weather. She wrote of her efforts to feed the poor which included sending ‘4 score loves of breed every wick’ (spelling was not her strong point) to the labourers and needy on her country estate at Castletown.  A few years later she commissioned this superlative silo to conserve grain for times of need, although cannily it doubled as a fanciful eye-catcher from the house at Castletown.

Although Mrs Conolly was benevolent, she disliked being ‘cheated’ by the poor. Building projects like the Wonderful Barn and the obelisk known as Conolly Folly, which she had built in 1740, enabled her to give employment, rather than charity, when few other opportunities were available.

The Conolly Folly

In the first years of the 1740s the weather caused huge problems for farmers and smallholders, and the poor were in a ‘most miserable condition’. Extreme winters of frost and snow were followed by hot spring months without rain. Crops failed, and in drought conditions even those who had corn could not grind it as there was no water to power the mills. To ensure a secure supply was available in the future Mrs Conolly built a grain store – but her barn was far from the ordinary, and the elaborate design created many hours of work for those employed to build it.

The Wonderful Barn and Barnhall House on a sunny May day (remember them?).

The building was constructed with a spiral staircase on the exterior, which gives it the look of a huge fairground helter-skelter. From the viewing platform at the top Mrs Conolly and her guests could admire the Castletown demesne, including the recently-constructed obelisk. A plaque on the barn states that it was executed by John Glinn in 1743, but whether he was architect or builder is not known. Whichever is the case, he deserves credit for a unique design or a complicated build. Soon after completion it was noted as the ‘Mighty Barn’ but by the beginning of the nineteenth century it was famed as ‘The Wonderful Barn’.

The Wonderful Barn is not named but is shown centre right, with the distinctive external staircase. Detail from Noble and Keenan’s 1752 map of the County of Kildare.

A traveller in 1815 visited the ‘wonderful barn’, having heard reports that had ‘excited [his] curiosity’. Sadly he was weakened by illness and couldn’t face the climb to the viewing platform, but he was fascinated by the workings of the tiered structure of chambers inside the conical structure, and the system of pulleys and buckets that allowed the grain to be moved around the building.

One of the pigeon houses.

Two smaller versions of the barn were built as pigeon houses, creating a most picturesque group with the adjoining Barnhall House.

The Wonderful Barn and Barnhall House.

Barnhall House is in need of restoration having been damaged by fire. The Wonderful Barn is structurally sound but remains at risk whilst empty. Discussions continue to find a viable use for the complex of buildings.

A new housing estate has recently been created in fields a little distance from the barn. It is called ‘Barnhall Meadows’ and the developers couldn’t resist marketing it as ‘The Chance to live in a Wonderful Place’.

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8 thoughts on “The Wonderful Barn, near Leixlip, County Kildare, Ireland.”

  1. Kate Dyson says:

    Excellent discovery! What a fascinating building! Do hope a new and philanthropic owner can be found

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning Kate. I think we can be confident about the future: the barn is owned by the local council and I know they are committed to maintaining it and the surrounding buildings and that discussions are ongoing.

  2. Nic Orchard says:

    Oh for a new owner with a soul. It’s a relief the barn is in reasonable condition – so far. It’s wonderful. Incidentally, I hope I’m not the only follyer/ist that finds the folly furnishes a tower too far. It is perfect without it.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello Nic. Whoever first christened the building the ‘wonderful barn’ all those centuries ago got it just right!

  3. DAVID J GRIFFIN says:

    Happy to report that the Wonderful Barn and surrounding buildings has since been restored. A similar barn of the same date called Hall’s Barn can be found near Rathfarnham Castle South County Dublin.
    David J Griffin,
    County Dublin.

    1. Editor says:

      Hello David. Sadly I didn’t have time to see the other barn on my recent trip, but I hope to return and visit more of Ireland’s ‘wonderful’ collection of follies. It is sad to see Barnhall House all bricked up, but I know that the heritage bodies are working towards securing the future of the complex.

  4. T0M GARDNER says:



    1. Editor says:

      Good morning from England where the sun has at last made a brief appearance. That’s the kind of fresh air I have been waiting for. Thanks for your kind words.

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