The Demesne Landscape

Country houses do not stand in isolation. They are part of a designed landscape, known in Ireland as a demesne, which represents the Belline area (usually enclosed by walls) retained with a house for use and enjoyment, over and above the lands of an estate, which were tenanted and formed the main source of income. A foretaste of the architectural qualities within a demesne is often provided by the gate lodges, arranged formally beside, or even as a feature of, grand entrances. Often mirroring the architecture of the house, these range from modest estate workers' houses  to miniature Classical temples  and monumental gate houses

Duckett's Grove Gatescreen

This monumental castellated gatescreen at Duckett's Grove in County Carlow is as ambitious as the castle it was built to serve.

Image courtesy of Kevin Mulligan

 . Most features within a demesne, regardless of function, received architectural attention and could be highly ornamental, whether a stable yard, cart house, dairy, walled garden

Marlay Park

The walled garden clock tower in Marlay Park in Dublin

Image courtesy of Kevin Mulligan

 , bothy, ice house


The ice house at Carnfunnock, Co. Antrim

Image courtesy of Kevin Mulligan

  or pigeon house.

Waterston, Co. Westmeath

This curious monument at Waterston in Co. Westmeath was designed by Richard Castle as a dovecote and placed within a designed landscape to serve as an eye catcher to improve views within the demesne.

Image courtesy of Kevin Mulligan


The guiding hand of the landlord usually extended outside the demesne to the rest of his estate. This was most evident in the formation of estate villages. The finest of these villages are usually found beside the principal entrance, like those of Glaslough, Slane, Ardagh and Moynalty.

Ballyfin, County Laois Inside these bounded landscapes that Elizabeth Bowen called 'house islands' is an enclosed world, where the house is presented in a landscaped park according to the predominant fashion. Natural characteristics of the topography were enhanced and ornamental buildings added to give scenic and aesthetic interest. The steady supply of cheap labour fuelled the creative ambitions of landlords. These ambitions were frequently expressed in architecture, so that many demesnes were embellished by a series of rustic and formal garden buildings. Usually inadequately termed as follies, they range from the whimsical and curious to the extraordinary, and represent the most diverse buildings of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They include bridges, gazebos, temples, towers , obelisks , sham ruins, grottoes  and shell houses. Some of the finest examples can be seen in the demesnes of Tollymore Park, Rockingham, Killua and Belvedere.


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