The Follies of St. Enda’s Park

The Follies of St. Enda’s Park

More people visit St. Enda’s Park in these pandemic times than ever before.  Many notice the follies dotted around the park and probably wonder what these funny little buildings are all about. Follies are officially described as:

“A Folly is a building constructed for, aesthetic pleasure, decoration on the landscape, entertainment, amusement and fun”.

A 21st century public park offers amenities such as pathways for walking, playgrounds for children, some have areas for allowing dogs off leads, walled gardens with seating and usually a coffee shop somewhere within the park.  18th/19th century parks/parkland like St. Enda’s were privately owned and organised in a way to suit the owners and their guests.  St. Enda’s / The Hermitage as it was then called was no exception.

The house was built in 1786 by Dublin dentist Edward Hudson on land known as “The Fields of Odin” renamed by Hudson as “The Hermitage”.  Over time a series of follies inspired by ancient Irish field monuments were added to the grounds, perhaps by Edward’s son William Eliot Hudson born at the Hermitage in 1796, interested in antiquities and mythology, founder the Irish Archaeological Society in 1840 and the Celtic Society in 1845.  The choice of follies which echo Ireland’s ancient past would seem fit with Hudson’s interests.

Throughout the late 18th and early 19th century follies were a fashionable addition to a garden or demesne.  Major Doyne who was owner of the house in the 1860’s is said to have erected an obelisk  in memory of the horse that carried him safely through battle in the Crimean war.  Patrick Pearse moved his school, Scoil Éanna, to Rathfarnham in 1910 and seems to have been very taken with the idea of it being a ‘Hermitage’ and a retreat from the city, nestling in the foothills of the Dublin mountains. The Hudsons actually went so far as to build a Hermit’s Cave, complete with mysterious arcane carvings and a secluded stone seat for contemplation. In June 1913 Pearse began a series of articles in the Irish Freedom newspaper which he entitled “From A Hermitage”. He began by saying “I have only two qualities in common with the real (or Imaginary) hermit who once lived (or did not live) in this place: I am poor and I am merry”. The articles were published monthly, with the final one appearing in January 1914. In them Pearse reflected on the current state of Ireland and what Irish people needed to do to obtain their freedom.

Over time many of the follies began to fall into disrepair.  Many people who visit the museum tell stories of their childhood and  what an adventure it was to sneak into the park, running through the overgrown areas looking for excitement.  In 1970 the house and grounds were handed over to the state, the house became The Pearse Museum/Músaem na bPiarsach and the grounds St. Enda’s National Historic Park.

In the run up to the anniversary of the 1916 Rising a report was prepared for the Office of Public Works, by Howley Hayes Architects with special emphasis on “the conservation of the built heritage of St. Enda’s National Historic Park.  It examined the historical development of the site, with its important designed landscape and ornamental garden structures”.  The first step was to uncover the ruins to see how much work was needed. We who work in St. Enda’s were amazed to see what was hidden beneath the ivy, shrubs and sprouting trees.  The Hermit’s Cave as an example when exposed was a much bigger construction then we ever imagined.  A large walk in but ‘mind your head’ chamber with room for 4/5 adults standing. The remains of a castellated effect to the roof at the front was restored and stonework repaired.

The Hermit's Cave

The Hermit’s Cave

Similarly, the star shaped Emmet’s Fort contained four separate rooms with a central fireplace, a door at the front and side of the building, a third door leading to a tiny back yard and a wonderful view of Dublin from the roof.  It was probably originally built as a house for grounds staff, however research revealed that in the 1920s Patrick Pearse’s step-sister, Mary Emily MacGloughlin came to live there with her son and two daughters and died there in 1944. We are told Éamon De Valera the then Taoiseach came to pay his respects to Emily’s family at the Fort.  Further research revealed that the fort was occupied up until the 1960s.

Emmet's Fort

Emmet’s Fort

Follies come in all shapes and sizes and the Cromlech is no exception.  Following an attack by vandals it had to be deconstructed in the late 1990s and for many years it looked like an unremarkable collection of stones on the ground.   With the help of a drawings and photos, the Cromlech was restored to its original glory.  Walking by the Cromlech in these times children can be seen playing around it, posing for photographs and generally enjoying climbing on it.

The Cromlech

The Cromlech

The folly by the Whitechurch stream is known as the Tower or the Temple.  It is a decorative building with a practical purpose, an architectural device used to change levels from the lower path beside the pond to the upper path.  Originally there was a third set of steps leading up to the rooftop viewing platform of the tower (now changed for safety reasons). During the renovation of the tower a lower/basement level was discovered that had contained a 19th pumping system which may have been used to pump water to the fountain in the nearby walled garden.  From the far side of the stream there is a clear view of the different types of stone and the decorative way it is used on the building.

The Tower

The Tower

Art and St. Enda’s School

Art and St. Enda’s School

The Scoil Éanna Art Gallery

Patrick Pearse had a keen interest in art and wrote some very insightful art criticism in the Gaelic League newspaper, An Claidheamh Soluis. Art played a key role in the life of Scoil Éanna. The boys were surrounded by works of art and the inner hall was transformed into an art gallery. Part of the collection seems to have been made up of engravings, sculptures and casts which belonged to the Pearse family. Patrick Pearse also purchased several pieces  of contemporary Irish art, while other works were donated to the school by well-wishers.


 Beatrice Moss Elvery  Later Lady Glenavy (1881-1970) was an Irish stained-glass artist and painter. She was the second daughter of a Dublin businessman whose family had originated from Spain where they were silk merchants. She was part of the family of Elverys sports goods fame, whose name continues today. Most of her early life was spent in Foxrock where the Beckett’s were near neighbours. Although the Elvery family was relatively prosperous, her mother, who came from less well-off circumstances, was horrified when Beatrice turned down an offer of marriage from an elderly musician saying “He has four hundred pounds a year and a piano”. She attended the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art where William Orpen (1878-1931) taught painting and later used Beatrice as a model. Of his pupil, Orpen wrote that she had “many gifts, much temperament and great ability. Her only fault was that the transmission of her thoughts from her brain to paper or canvas, clay or stained glass became so easy to her that all was said in a few hours.” She remained a friend and correspondent of Orpen until shortly before his death in 1931.

 When Sarah Purser (1848-1943) founded her studios An Túr Gloine (‘The Glass Tower’) in 1903, she invited Beatrice Elvery to be one of the designers and her first commission of six windows was installed in the Convent of Mercy, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanage in 1905. Whilst at An Túr Gloine Beatrice provided illustrations for Patrick Pearse’s collection of short-stories, Íosagán agus Scéalta Eile . Of her meeting with him she remarked that Pearse “was a rather bulky, pale, shy young man whose clothes made him look as if he belonged to some religious order”.

Beatrice married Charles Campbell (later 2nd Baron Glenavy) in 1912 and they settled in London, returning to Ireland at the end of the First World War when she then concentrated on painting. The Campbells moved in literary circles and their friends included Katherine Mansfield, D.H. Laurence and George Bernard Shaw. Beatrice’s husband became Secretary to the Department of Industry and Commerce in the Irish Free State from its foundation in 1922 until 1932. Beatrice had three children, one of whom was the journalist and humourist, Patrick Campbell. He was a writer for the Irish Times (using the pseudonym ‘Quidnunc’), and wrote the “Irishman’s Diary” column for many. He was also a regular on BBC radio and television programmes, and is best known for his appearances on the comedy panel show Call my Bluff.

Pearse hung this painting of Íosagán by Beatrice Elvery in the entrance of Cullenswood House when it first opened in 1908. When the school moved to Rathfarnham in 1910 it was once again displayed in the front entrance. The painting depicts Christ as a young boy against the backdrop of the Dublin mountains. His arms are outstretched in premonition of his crucifixion. The figure depicted would have been a similar age to the boys in Scoil Éanna and this painting was intended to portray an ideal for them to aspire to.

Beatrice Elvery’s painting Éire (sometimes referred to as ‘Éire Óg’) was inspired by W.B. Yeats and Lady Gregory’s one-act play, Cathleen Ní Houlihan. It was purchased for Scoil Éanna by Maud Gonne. Years later a former pupil of the school told Beatrice that the picture had inspired him to try to die for Ireland. She expressed her shock that her ‘picture might, like Helen’s face, launch ships and burn towers!’ (Image reproduced courtesy of Lady Davis-Goff)