Clonalis House

Whatever the great Victorian mansion at Clonalis may lack in architectural beauty, it certainly gains through its historical associations with the O'Connor Dons, descendants of the last High Kings of Ireland whose possession of these lands can be traced back over 1,500 years. The ruins of the old ancestral seat - an attractive late seventeenth-century gable-ended house incorporating a medieval castle - can still be seen in the demesne. This was abandoned in 1880 after the completion of the present house, a large, rather grim cement-rendered building of two storeys with a basement and dormered attic. Its peculiar mixture of Queen Ann Revival and Victorian Italianate styles is typical of the work of its designer - Frederick Pepys Cockerell, a young and popular English architect who died shortly after building work at Clonalis had begun in 1879.

On the lawn in front of the house stands the inauguration stone of the O'Connors, originally erected at Rathcroghan, the ancient seat of the High Kings of Connaught some nine miles distant. The main entrance to the house is through a balustraded porch set at the base of a projecting Italianate tower. Entering the building, visitors will be struck by the height of the hall, whose modillion ceiling cornice is supported by graceful arches and Ionic columns of pink marble from Mallow. The room has a striking marble bolection chimney-piece, while behind an arcade stands a fine staircase with an oak handrail and pitch-pine balusters. Over the stairs hangs a banner which was carried by Denis O'Connor Don at the coronation of George V in 1911 - the first Irish Gaelic family to be so honoured. Family portraits here include Hugh O'Connor, who founded Tucson in Arizona, and Major Maurice of Ballintober who lost his lands under Cromwell, regained them under Charles II and mortgaged them to raise troops for James II.

A broad arched corridor leads from one side of the hall to the main reception rooms. The first of these to be entered is the large and rather charming drawing-room, which has fine Boulle furniture and some beautifully modelled figures of Meissen, Limoges and Minton porcelain. In the library mahogany bookcases hold over 5,000 books, including the diaries of Charles O'Connor of Belnagare (1710-90), the great historian and antiquary. There are also facsimiles of many early illuminated Irish manuscripts and over 100,000 letters and documents. The room's marble chimney-piece is flanked by niches for turf, as is the chimney in the dining room where the furniture is mostly Irish Sheraton and the dinner service Mason ironstone. The Roman Catholic chapel contains a number of relics from penal times, including the altar from a secret chapel located in the outbuildings of the old house and a chalice once used by Bishop O'Rourke to celebrate mass, which unscrews into separate pieces for easy concealment.

Some of the most interesting items in the house are found in the billiard room, now converted into a small museum. Here visitors can peruse letters and papers from the family archives, including notes written by such famous personalities as O'Connell, Parnell, Gladstone, Trollope, Napper Tandy, Samuel Johnson and Laurence Stern. However, pride of place in this room is the harp that was once played by Turlough Carolan (1670-1738), the famous blind musician and last of the traditional Irish bards. He often played at Clonalis and once remarked that 'when I am among the O'Connors, the harp has the old sound in it'.

Located 6 miles west of Castlerea on the N60. NGR: M 6608143. Open daily, 1 June to 12 September: 12:00 - 5:00 pm (closed on Mondays). Afternoon teas available in the tea room. Toilet facilities