Lisreaghan House & Bellevue Folly, County Galway
Also known as Bellevue or Belview, this was the seat of the Lawrence Family, descendants of an Elizabethan settler, John Lawrence (see Ballymore Castle). It was built in an extensive and beautifully wooded demesne, approached from all directions by tree-lined avenues. In its day, the demesne was noted for its fine cedars of Lebanon and Evergreen Oaks.
The large mansion was built by Col. Walter Lawrence (1729-1796), in the 18th Century. He had inherited a large fortune as his mother, Mary Scott, had been heir to a vast estate at Mount Serat in the West Indies. He travelled throughout Europe, visiting Voltaire at Vernay and spent a number of years in Italy. He was a cultured man, publishing at least one play in Italian, La Virtuosa di Teatro. While in Italy, he became friends with and supported Canova, a young artist who later presented him with two colossal statues in 1760. It is said that a sum of £6,000 was offered for these statues of Mars and Minerva c. 1800.
Lisreaghan House was a vast two-storey house with a Doric portico and two main wings. It is said that the house had a window for every day of the year. The interior was lavishly decorated with frescos and filled with priceless treasures. An Italian influence is evident in the names that were assigned to the various rooms, for example, the Aurora Hall, the Constantine Hall and the Italian drawing room. The library was eighty feet long and one corridor was 270ft long.
The Aurora Hall frescos included one of Romulus and Remus and the Feast of Weeks. Statues of Roman Emperors taken from Vatican originals rested on marble tables. From the Aurora Hall, one entered the Constantine Hall, which contained a magnificent fresco of the Battle of Constantine and Maxentius (15x20ft) and a fine, white Italian marble staircase. The Italian drawing room contained the statues of Mars, the God of War and Minerva, the Goddess of Battle, both gifts of Canova. It is said that it also contained finds from the ruins of Pompeii. The second drawing room or Gothic room had a wooden panelled ceiling featuring the coats of arms of all the families with whom they intermarried during the years.
George, Prince of Wales (later George IV), spent some time with Walter Lawrence in Lisreaghan from 1780 to 1790. Walter was active in political events such as the Volunteer Movement (see Volunteer Gate).
The 19th century was a period of financial decline for the Lawrence’s. By 1876, the property was heavily encumbered. Later, most of the land was sold to tenants. In 1912, there was a great sale of art treasures and a final sale in the 1920’s. The house was demolished to provide building materials for houses and bridges in the area. No member of the family in the male line is extant. Nothing remains today except two Gothic-style follies (see Bellevue Folly), the Volunteer Gate and the former driveway to the house, which is now a public road.
The Bellevue Folly
This late 18th century Gothic ruin stands odd and alone, close to the main road, outside the village of Lawrencetown. Built with flying buttresses, pointed windows and pinnacles, it gives the illusion of a front wall of a building that never existed!
Follies were ornamental features built on the estates of 18th century houses as eye-catchers. Viewed from Bellevue (Lisreaghan) House, the folly would have acted as a romantic landmark, rather than having any practical purpose.
The Volunteer Gate
The Volunteer Gate is an elaborate 18th century monumental or triumphal arch. It was erected by Walter Lawrence to commemorate the parliamentary independence of Gratten’s Parliament and the Irish Volunteers in the year 1782. It consists of a main arch flanked on either side by a smaller arch and gate lodge. The edifice was surmounted by a pediment and two sphinxes (a mythological creature half man, half lion). The original façade was 80 ft long.
A Latin inscription in Roman Capitals when translated reads, “Liberty after long servitude was won on 16 April 1782 by the armed sons of Hibernia, who with heroic fortitude regained their ancient laws and established their ancient independence”.
The arch was the main gateway at the western entrance to Belview Mansion, Lawrencetown. The house is long gone yet this beautiful arch is still standing. Plans to restore the gate lodges are at an advanced stage.
For info on the town of Lawerencetown click here.