Discover Tyrone House, Co. Galway in Watercolour

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Here you can see Róisín painting the view towards the Kilcolgan river

south Galway fields

Tyrone House and the Fall of the St. Georges

15th June 2013

The road where I live, in Kilcolgan, south Co. Galway, is like something out of Little House on the Prairie. There aren’t many trees, the wind has an unfair advantage and makes the most of it, making its presence felt all the time. People are always arriving at our house and saying, “It’s really windy here! It’s not windy anywhere else!” Yes, thanks, we know.

There’s a field between our house and the Kilcolgan River. It’s an estuary, and rises and falls with the tide. It is full of oysters and trout, the former of which I have partaken regularly, and the latter of which I have seen leaping but have never eaten.

In winter, the wind tears all the heat from your hands. The landscape loses most of its colour, and everything sinks back into muted shades of purple, olive green and blue greys. There are days when just getting to the car leaves you traumatised, not to mention soaked. Trees have given up trying to grow straight, and storms make you fear for your home when you are lying in bed at night.

Then comes May, and you remember why it’s the most beautiful place in Ireland. The sky is a vast canvas of blue and white, the fields are the brightest green and everywhere you look there are carpets of dandelions (nodding in the wind). By June, the hedgerows are bursting with wildflowers of every description, the grass is four foot high and it’s heaven, even when the drizzle returns.

Tyrone House from afar

You don’t have to walk far from my home to get to Tyrone House. It’s a ruin now, having been burnt out during the War of Independence in 1921 by the local chapter of the IRA. They had heard that the hated Black and Tans were going to use it as an infirmary, and they decided to put the house beyond use. It had been abandoned some years earlier, and the only remaining resident was an elderly caretaker. He was the great-grandfather of my neighbour James Martin. “They had to carry him out, Róisín,” James told me. “It broke his heart to see the house that he’d looked after up in flames.” The IRA carried him, bed and all, into an outhouse before destroying the house.

Until a few years ago, anyone could roam the empty ruin. But James told me that the County Council insisted that the house was fenced off for health and safety reasons. Now you have to have permission to wander through the building. I sat and painted the façade one day a couple of weeks ago. It was one of those amazing hot and sunny spells we very occasionally get in Ireland. The man who claims ownership of the house and its grounds was very pleased to see me sketching, and told me I could come and go as I pleased.

It was heavenly to sit in the sunshine and paint the façade of the house, with the vandalised architraves, the wall softened by ivy and the squares of blue sky visible through the gaping windows.

Tyrone House facade

The house was built in the Palladian style in 1779 by a chap called Christopher French St. George, by the Waterford architect John Roberts. His people had made a load of cash and I guess he wanted something to show for it. Apparently the house was full of the finest furniture and paintings, and no expense was spared in the detail. You can still see the ghosts of Italian-looking plasterwork in the foyer and grand fireplaces throughout the empty rooms. One room at the back of the house has the remains of the biggest fireplace I’ve ever seen. You could roast an entire cow in it, never mind a pig. Over the next hundred years, the St. George family made quite an impression on the area: one of them helped to found the Galway Blazers, a group of people who like to cause terror to foxes on horseback. He also established oyster beds in the river behind the house, and some of the finest oysters in the world, if not the finest, are harvested here still. The house is close to the river, and the view from the rear windows is beautiful.

Tyrone House viewing estuary

I’m so lucky to see the house from my bathroom window. The sunsets are fabulous – in fact, those same sunsets, two hundred and thirty years ago, were one of the reasons the site was chosen: they were regarded as being the best in Europe.

Tyrone House from our bathroom

I get the impression that the locals weren’t too fond of the St. George family. Someone told me that if you passed one of them on the drive up to the house, you had to turn away so as not to look at them. What nonsense. Another time, I visited the ruin with my mother. There are stone steps leading from an apparent hole in the grass down to the scullery. As we went down them, my mother remarked that it was sad that no one uses them anymore. I mentioned this to a local whose people have lived in the area since 1690. “Ha!” she snorted. “Sad! Good riddance, more like!” The drive from the house used to pass though woods full of deer. Now when you look through the arched window of the front entrance, you look over fields owned by the locals, where they rear cattle. A walk along the roads reveals the occasional cottage adorned with surprisingly ornate cut limestone.

Tyrone House from our bathroom

The main house is three stories high, with four huge rooms on the ground floor, a foyer and a stairwell. The stairs have long since collapsed – it was probably the fire that did for them – and now there’s a vertigo-inducing hole where they used to be. A friend of my husband’s took a little wander around Tyrone House one night. Alcohol had been consumed. He fell down the stairwell and broke his leg. The upper floors have all disappeared, leaving the building open to the sky. Down the stone steps alongside the house is the scullery. It is exactly the sort of place a child would love to discover: room after room, all with tall windows opening onto the ditch surrounding the house, which looks for all the world like a moat. The light that filters in has a greenish hue, and is pleasant on a warm summer’s day. Behind the main house there is a grassy path, which leads to outhouses and all kinds of structures. There is a walled garden, where the residents once grew grapes, peaches and pears. Just after that you come to a large castellated building, which leads directly to a pier, and it is my intention to use it as a place to enjoy a dip on a hot day. There is a turf store near the pier (turf was delivered by sea in Galway hookers from Connemara), and a castellated building the purpose of which I don’t know.

When I had my first child, the public health nurse who visited us knew the old ladies who lived in Tyrone House. “One of the old ladies was 104 when she died,” she told me. “Neither of them ever married.” I noticed in a peer’s list that some of the St. Georges married other St. Georges. I have a funny feeling they might have found it difficult to find suitable matches as the years went by.

The end of the St. Georges came a mere one hundred and forty years after it began. The last St. George left the in 1905 and so the house was unoccupied, other than by the caretaker, when it was burnt by the IRA.
It’s not so nice within the ruin walls when there’s no sunshine. It’s spooky, and the caw-caw of the rooks is suddenly not so much charming as scary. There are empty packets of cigarettes scattered on the ground. The basement under the house is littered with the remains of teenage drinking sessions. Perhaps it’s as well that it’s all fenced and barricaded off now.

Check back again for more sketches of the grounds of Tyrone House – it’s a treasure trove of stunning vistas for the watercolour artist. Some winter storm will probably bring it down one day. I’ll be sure to capture it in watercolour again before it does.

By Róisín Curé

Some limited edition (hologrammed) giclée prints on heavy watercolour paper are available in our shop, including :-

Sunset through a window, Tyrone House
The approach to Tyrone House
The front view from Tyrone House
The Georgian facade of Tyrone House
The view onto the Kilcolgan estuary from Tyrone House

Róisín Curé

Art Materials I Use and Can Recommend

My favourite watercolours are made by Schmincke. I use a very small set when I am on the move, or this set of 24, which is available to buy here from Utrecht Art Supplies (in the US):-

Set of 24

Set of 24

or in the UK and EU :-

Jackson’s Art Supplies
Schmincke : Horadam Watercolour : Metal Set : 12 Half Pans

I also use Escoda Versatil brushes (available from Dick Blick in the US) :-

Escoda Versatil Brushes

Escoda Versatil Brushes

or from Jackson’s in the UK and EU :-

Escoda : VERSATIL Kolinsky Synthetic : Series 1540 : # 8

There are three pens I always use. The first is the Platinum Carbon pen, which can be used with cartridges or a converter. A converter is useful when you are choosing your own ink. The Platinum has never let me down: they tell you to use it every couple of days to avoid clogging, but I have left it longer than that and I have never had a problem in many years of use. It is also very reasonably priced and is available to buy from Amazon :-

The second pen I am never without is the Kuretake Brush Pen. I always use waterproof Platinum Carbon ink cartridges in my brush pen. This is available to buy here from Dick Blick in the US :-

Kuretake Brush Pen

Kuretake Brush Pen

or from Jackson’s in the UK and EU :-

Kuretake : Bimoji Fude Pen : Black Medium BRUSH : Maroon pack XT5-10

The third pen I really enjoy using is more expensive, but I chose it for its flexible steel nib, which gives a lovely variable line thickness. It’s the Namiki Falcon and is available here from Amazon :-

I find that grey ink gives a softer line than black – it’s more like a pencil line – and I always make sure at least one of my fountain pens contains grey ink. I use Lexington Gray by Noodler’s, which is waterproof when dry, also from Amazon :-

I use various types of watercolour paper, but one I come back to a lot is by Langton, available here from Dick Blick :-

Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige Watercolor Blocks

Daler-Rowney Langton Prestige Watercolor Blocks

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1 Comment

  1. cinnie moran

    June 17, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    fabulous video of roisin painting the beautiful countryside from inside the house. I loved the sound of rooks making a racket in the background and cows placidly mooing in the scene she was painting!! I really enjoyed seeing the painting progress bit by bit, and finally to see the other views of the house with her fine art at the end. Is there a more detailed history of the house and family? it would be interesting. I look forward to her next video. Happy painting from her new fan, Cinnie.

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