Lost History: Summerhill House Co. Meath

Today, I am bringing you another sad story of architectural destruction as Ireland is littered with great estates without great houses. One such example is in Summerhill, Co. Meath.  Summerhill House was one of the largest houses built in the country with about 100 rooms!

Summerhill House

Summerhill House

Summerhill House was built in 1731 by the  Langford Rowley family in the Palladian style that was fashionable in the 18th century. What made this house so important in terms of architectural heritage were the names of those involved in it’s construction.  Edward Lovett Pearce was the original designer, and the house was executed by the great Richard Cassels, one of Ireland’s greatest architects.  Russborough House in Wicklow is just one example of his fine work that still stands today.  The original designs for Summerhill were also influenced by probably my favourite 18th century architect, the wonderful, flamboyant Sir John Vanbrugh. He was behind the creation of my favourite ever country house, the splendid Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire.

If this wasn’t enough of a pedigree later in the house’s life the great Scottish architect Robert Adam had a hand in the interior scheme of the house.  All of this architectural input together means that Summerhill was much more then just a house, it was a bonafide palace. As a palace it can even count a royal visitor to its doors. In February 1879 Her Imperial Majesty, Elisabeth Empress of Austria, stayed at the house while visiting Ireland. She chose the house possibly due to the fertile hunting grounds around Meath.  So Summerhill was a very important building in it’s day and would have been a jewel in the Irish countryside were it still standing.

But what happened to this amazing building? Well in 1921 it was set on fire by the Irish Republican Army. Like so many other great houses, the house was completely destroyed.  It stood as a ruin on its magnificent perch up until the 1970′s when it was finally pulled down.  I guess Summerhill can be used as a testament to the troubled history of Ireland.  In the 1920s it would have been a symbol of the oppression that the Irish were fighting, and one can’t argue with that.  But the reality was that Summerhill, like other great houses, would have been a huge employer in the area. So in 1922 when Colonel Rowley abandoned the estate and moved back to England, a huge source of employment dried up in the area, not to mention the loss of the stunning art, antiques and architecture that went up in flames that night in 1921.

If you would like to lean more about Ireland’s lost houses check out Tarquin Blake’s books, Abandoned Mansions of Ireland and Abandoned Mansions of Ireland II.

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