The Follies

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Follies Conservation Project, St. Anne’s Park.

St. Anne’s Park is the largest park under the management of Dublin City Council Parks Department. It is located in Clontarf, and is one of Dublin’s most important historic park landscapes, comprising 220 acres which was formally part of the Guinness family estate. The park contains a number of historical features among them 12 garden follies built by two generations of the Guinness family, Benjamin Lee Guinness and his son, Arthur Edward, Lord Ardilaun. The majority of these follies follow the course of the Naniken River which runs through the park. Most of the rest are to be found along an evergreen Oak lined avenue. The follies represent a broad sample of follies – bridges, towers, temples, hermitages and a shell house and reflect the trend of the 19th century wealthy class returning from grand tours of Europe, replicating features they had seen on tour to demonstrate this wealth. The first folly to be built was Annie Lee Bridge to commemorate the birth of Benjamin Lee’s daughter in 1837. The rest followed during the 1850’s and 60’s. The condition of the follies had deteriorated over the years to the point that each was in poor condition. The Parks Department engaged Howley Hayes Architects in 2016 to manage the required conservation works to ensure the survival of these important features.

The follies conserved during the project were:

  • St. Anne’s Well (Medieval)
  • Roman Tower ‘Tomb of Julii’
  • Annie Lee Bridge
  • Herculanean Temple
  • Yew Circle (Yew Circle and Fountain)
  • ‘Ornamental’ bridge / hermit’s cave (Bridge & Hermitage)
  • Rustic Hermits Cave and Footbridge (Rustic Grotto – Cave)
  • Arch (Rustic archway & bridge)
  • Four-sided arched gateway axial to rear of former house (Rustic Grotto – Archways)
  • Rockwork feature
  • Boat House
  • Shell House / Dogs Graveyard

In August 2017 works commenced on site with the appointment of specialist conservation contractor, Oldstone. In the main the works involved arresting the decay, cleaning the structures, clearing vegetation, removing graffiti and protecting the structures from future vandalism and graffiti. Some of the follies also received new railings. During the course of the works some interesting discoveries were made.

The first was at St. Anne’s Well, which is the medieval well which gives the park its name. The well is on the Record of Monuments and Places (RMP-DUO19012) and is a protected structure. The structure around the well was built by the Guinness Family. While clearing the ground adjacent to the well an old limestone path was exposed buried under approx. 60 centimetres of soil. None of the Parks staff were aware of this path.

Later in the project, while cleaning the floor of the Herculanean Temple in preparation of a new surface being installed, a historic tiled floor was discovered covering almost the entire floor of the main room, again under a layer of soil. The tiles are 9 inch glazed square tiles and while the temple is Roman in form the tiles used Grecian motifs in their design. The tiles are believed to be hand painted and ruled to create the impression of smaller mosaic tiles. Howley Hayes conducted a lot of enquiries to try and establish the provenance of the tiles but nothing definite has been found.

While the project is completed now, work on the Herculanean Temple will continue for a number of months to come.

This conservation project has secured the follies for generations to come.

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Annie Lee Tower and Bridge

A ‘sacrificial’ layer of harling was applied to Annie Lee to protect the stone. Photographic evidence suggests this coating may have been used originally. This layer can easily be painted over if required. Small pockets were found across the face of Annie Lee during the project which may have been used as small planting pockets.

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