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The History of Adare Manor

A step back in time

Adare Manor borrows its name from the nearby village of Adare, beloved for its delightful thatched roof cottages, lively pubs, and antique shops. Sitting on the banks of the River Maigue, Adare overlooks the fording point from which the village derives its name: Ath-Dara meaning ‘The Ford of the Oak’.

The plans for the Manor House as it exists today were begun in 1832. Until then, the 2nd Earl of Dunraven and his wife, Lady Caroline Wyndham, lived in a Georgian house known simply as “Adare House” and built in the 1720s by Valentine Quin, grandfather of the 1st Earl of Dunraven. By the 1830s Windham Henry Quin, the 2nd Earl, was laid low by a crippling and painful case of gout. Once an active outdoorsman and now largely confined indoors, he was desperately in need of diversion. His wife encouraged him to immerse himself in the immense and complex task of transforming their home into a spectacular masterpiece modelled after the great houses and cathedrals of Europe, in the hopes that working on the plans would distract him from his ailment.

As it turned out, it was a magnificent and timely suggestion: the building of Adare Manor provided labour for the surrounding villagers during the terrible potato famine that devastated the country during the mid-19th century. The house was built to the highest standards of the day by talented local craftspeople, while the 2nd Earl travelled Ireland, England and continental Europe in search of architectural inspiration. During this time, Lady Caroline Dunraven also established a School of Needlework to develop marketable skills and employment opportunities for local women: some of their magnificent work graced the walls of the Manor House for generations.

Adare Manor is a tribute to the Dunravens’ sense of exuberance, wit, and style. An example of a rare ‘Calendar House’, Adare Manor is adorned with 365 leaded windows, 52 ornate chimneys, 7 stone pillars and 4 towers to mark the annual tally of days, weeks, and seasons in a year. The Manor House is reminiscent of a chateau, sharing many features of the 19th century Gothic Revival in Britain and Ireland, and drawing inspiration from a romantic view of the chivalric past. The building displays a wealth of gargoyles, heraldry and decorative stone and wood carvings. Many of these carvings show creatures and monsters from the Bestiary, a medieval book of mythical beasts.

The interior spaces are designed on a grand scale. One of the most renowned interior spaces is The Gallery: a 132 foot long, 26 ½ foot high expanse inspired by the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles and lined on either side with 17th Century Flemish choir stalls.

By the 1860s this grand project had transformed the family's seat—a typical Georgian mansion—into the romantic Neo-Gothic gem that is Adare Manor. Though Lady Caroline went to great lengths to establish the myth that Adare Manor was planned entirely by her husband without an architect, it is fairly certain today that much of the design work was done by James Pain who, along with his brother George Richard, had been commissioned to design numerous public buildings and country homes. Over the three decades of construction, other renowned architects also contributed to the plans: PC Hardwick and Augustus Pugin. James Connolly, a local mason, supervised the actual construction until his death in 1852.

The 840 acre estate that surrounds the Manor House consists of sweeping parklands, cultivated gardens, formal French gardens, magnificent mature trees, and the Maigue, one of Ireland’s best trout rivers. PC Hardwick laid out the Formal Gardens in geometric box patterns in the 1850s. Among the trees southwest of the Manor House are Ogham Stones, which were brought to Adare Manor from Kerry by Edwin, the 3rd Earl of Dunraven. Ogham Stones date from the early 5th Century to the middle of the 7th Century. They are mainly Christian in context and are usually associated with old churches or early Christian burial sites. Ogham inscriptions are in an early form of Irish, frequently followed by Latin inscriptions and often read from the bottom upwards. A pet cemetery is located close to the Ogham Stones with carved memorials to the Dunraven pets.

As the seat of the Earls of Dunraven until the early 1980s, Adare Manor was a beloved family home; a place to enjoy the simple pleasures of everyday life and to celebrate holidays, birthdays and weddings. It has also been the setting for hunt balls, game fairs, concerts and even a Hollywood movie, The Last Remake of Beau Geste, starring Spike Milligan and Marty Feldman. Visitors over the years have included prominent politicians, musicians and members of the Royal Family, notably in 1897 from the Duke of York, who became George V on the death of his father in 1910, and his wife, the Duchess of York. One frequent visitor to Adare Manor was the poet Aubrey de Vere, a neighbour and close friend of the 3rd Earl, who remembered his time there with fondness, saying “It was a gay as well as a friendly and hospitable house...after dinner we had private theatricals, games of all sorts, dances, and in the daytime, pleasant wanderings beside the beautiful Maigue.”

That sense of warmth and welcome is still very much at the heart of Adare Manor, and those of us lucky enough to spend our days here experience the love that Lady Caroline expressed when, in 1856, she wrote in her book Memorials of Adare Manor:

“This charming spot was my home of unclouded happiness for forty years: may Heaven’s choicest blessings be poured with equal abundance on its present and future possessors!”