The Art of Architecture: Printmaking and Irish Castles

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Swords Castle, 1791View the Art of Architecture Gallery

Before photography was widely available or popular, printmaking preserved the landmarks of the Irish landscape. The usual method of printing for many of the images in this gallery is through engraving, a process by which marks are made into a plate, and the recessed areas are filled with ink to produce the print. An artist would be hired to make a drawing, and then an engraver would engrave the drawing onto a plate. The prints could be sold cheaply and were, essentially, the precursors to postcards. Artists chose locations much the same way photographers today choose locations for postcards, choosing a locally famous landmark or something that was meant to represent Ireland and Irishness. Medieval castles were an extremely popular choice among print artists because they satisfied both criteria.<--break->

Ireland is heavily associated with the many castles that dot its landscape. Irish castles date from anywhere from medieval Anglo-Norman castles constructed in the 12th century to grand estates of largely Protestant gentry in the 19th century, and even the oldest castles have been reconstructed or additions have been made throughout the centuries. These castles represent some fantasy to the families that purchased them or modelled their homes on them, but to the Irish, they represent English power and are symbols of oppression and tyranny. Hence, castles were featured in many prints of 18th and 19th centuries including the ones featured in this image gallery, but during the Irish War for Independence (1919-1921), a significant number were burned or knocked down and are no longer standing or lie in ruins. A few castles have been converted into hotels or are maintained as national monuments because, since there are so many in Ireland, they continue to capture the imagination and have been incorporated into the image Ireland projects to the world.

The castles in this image gallery are all medieval castles or began as such, but three in castles in particular are perhaps more widely known than the others, Blarney Castle in County Cork, Kilkenny Castle in County Kilkenny, and Malahide Castle in County Dublin.

Blarney Castle is arguably the most famous castle in Ireland, thanks largely to the legend of the Blarney Stone, which attracts numerous visitors every year. Blarney Castle was constructed in stone on the site of earlier wooden fortifications in the 13th century, but its current keep was built in the mid-15th century by an Irish chieftain named Cormac MacCarthy.  The castle briefly was captured by Parliamentary forces during the Wars of Three Kingdoms, but was restored to the MacCarthy family after the Restoration of the English monarchy. After the Williamite Wars in the late 17th century, the castle was confiscated from Donough McCarthy, 4th Earl of Clancarty, who had supported King James II of England and lost, and eventually sold to Sir James St. John Jefferyes. The Jefferyes, married into the Colthurst family in the 19th century, built a mansion in 1874 on the grounds, replacing an earlier one destroyed by fire, which they still own and continue to live in.

Kilkenny Castle was built by William Marshal, 4th Earl of Pembroke around the turn of the 13th century.  Marshal was distantly connected to Richard de Clare, otherwise known as Strongbow, who had led the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1170. James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormond, purchased the estate near the close of the 14th century and the Butler family continued to own the castle for nearly 600 years until James Arthur Norman Butler, 6th Marquess of Ormonde, gave the castle to the people of Kilkenny for a payment of £50 in 1967. The grounds are now maintained by the Office of Public Works and the castle is open to the public.

Malahide Castle was originally constructed in the 12th century by Richard Talbot, a knight serving Henry I in Ireland. The Talbot family proceeded to own and reside in the castle until 1976, when, after the death of Milo John Reginald Talbot, 4th Baron Talbot de Malahide, his sister Rose sold the castle and grounds to Dublin County Council, with a short exception in the 17th century during the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The estate survived through the bloody Battle of the Boyne in the late 17th century and the Penal Laws directed against Catholics, which the Talbot family remained until the late 18th century. The castle is maintained and operated cooperatively between Fingal County Council and Dublin Tourism. Since 2007, Malahide also has concert venue, which has hosted the likes of the Arctic Monkeys, Pink, Radiohead, and Prince.

This gallery has been created by Francesca La Brecque, Undergraduate at University of California - Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA; Class of 2015, majoring in History and German. Francesca came to Ireland under the European Study Abroad (EUSA) Program.

These and many other Topographical Engravings can be seen at the Reading Room in DCLA.

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Libraries and Archives Digital Repository: Digital records relating to Dublin, including photographs, postcards, letters, maps and ephemeral material. Highlights of the collection include the Fáilte Ireland Photographic Collection, Wide Street Commission Map Collection (1757-1851), the Irish Theatre Archive and the Birth of the Republic Collection, which comprises material from the period of the foundation of the Irish state.

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