Out of all the sites I have visited over the course of the past few years, these ruins must be the most hideous and depressing. Sigginstown or Jigginstown House as it is now know is currently a National Monument in State care? Although to look at it, you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Jigginstown House can be found on the old Newbridge road just outside the town of Naas. In its day it made architectural history as it was the very first large scale red brick building in Ireland. It was built back in the 1630’s by Thomas Wentworth the Earl of Stafford, for use as a summer residence and for the possible use by Charles the first during Royal visits. Between 1632 and 1639 he also served as the Lord Deputy of Ireland where he enforced what many say was an authoritarian rule. Whilst the building of Jigginstown castle is believed to have been the work of Rev. Johnson, rector of Dromlease, another person has also been credited with its construction. In his ‘Excursions through Ireland’, Cromwell credits a John Allen with the job. The most likely reason for the conflicting accounts may perhaps be the fact that Allen whom was well known for his taste in architecture was responsible for the planning phase of the building, whilst Johnson carried out the actual construction. Although Wentworth estimated a cost of £6’000 for Jigginstown, the Stafford papers of 1665 record a much higher figure, with the princely sum £20’000.
The fact of the matter is that Wentworth never got to see his summer residence completed and the King never stayed there, which leaves some speculation as to whether the building was ever completed. By the time of the Civil Survey in 1654 Jigginstown was said to be in ruins. After being recalled to England to serve as advisor to the King and whilst attempting to strengthen his position, he made many enemies in the House of Commons which led to accusations of treason from his time in Ireland. He was impeached and sent to the Tower of London. Now whilst the records show that Wentworth’s alleged acts of treason where bogus, the King most likely signed the death warrant under severe political pressure, as his parliament where causing him numerous issues in relation to dealing with problems in Scotland. Regardless, Wentworth met his fate on the 12th May 1641 at Tower Hill. Following the news of his execution a rebellion broke out in Ireland which led to further tensions between the King and his parliament. Any hope the King had of Wentworth’s execution averting such a crisis soon disappeared and many of Wentworth’s Irish enemies found that his death had put their estates, and even their lives, at risk. Eight years later it was Charles I, turn to face the executioners block. His last words were claimed to be, that God had permitted his execution as punishment for his consenting to Wentworth’s death.
The building itself must have been magnificent back in its day and was described as measuring 448ft in length and consisting of fine vaulted cellars and a number of tall rooms on the ground floor, reached by an outside stairs, with further accommodation in the attic space. The main entrance of the building was a hall door which would have led out on to a balustrade platform. A Double Brick house with free stone about the Windows and some column’s and pavements made of Marble. The floors in the middle parts of the House have since collapsed. To the front of the building there was a rivulet (a small stream) running through the garden. The house was flanked by two slightly projecting wings. A winged staircase near the east end of the north wall provided access to the main entrance. The basement walls consist of mortared stone, lit by mullioned windows and roofed with brick vaulting while the main floor is constructed from brick and lit by large, timber framed windows. A central spine-wall supported pitched roofs to each side. Massive brick chimney stacks rise up from the stone bases in the basement, and have wide fireplaces lined with very small red bricks. During an archaeological excavation of the site, an up cast bank was found, near the south side of the building. This bank provided a terrace overlooking the former large sunken garden and it was here that the remains of a limekiln was found, built into the bank. This was most likely used to provide the lime needed for the internal plaster.
Ironically, it was at Jigginstown that James Butler, the 1st Duke of Ormonde signed the Cessation with the Confederates in 1643. Ormonde had formerly worked as head of government of Ireland under Stafford and had done quite well for himself. After the Restoration, Ormonde went on to move some of the marble door-cases and chimney-pieces from Jigginstown to Kilkenny Castle or Dunmore House. Jigginstown passed into ownership of the Fitzwilliam family and over many years almost disappeared into the undergrowth. The Fitzwilliam’s handed Jigginstown over to the Irish state in the late 1960s and eventually all the undergrowth was cleared away from the structure by a group of volunteers. The house was in danger of deteriorating beyond repair which would have been a great loss to the local heritage.
However, a programme of conservation work was carried out by the OPW (office of public works) at the house between 2003 and 2008 which included archaeological excavations, building surveys and some conservation work on the ruin. The work appears to have been suspended since 2008 whilst alleged emergency work was taking place at the cash cow that is the Connolly Folly Monument at Castletown House in Celbridge. I have no doubt that if the same care and effort that is put into Castletown house was afforded to Jigginstown, we would have another fine amenity to enjoy. The consolidation of the south-west corner was due to commence as part of the 2012 programme of work. But as of today, sadly not a stitch of work has been carried out on the building. It remains a crumbling mess, surrounded by corrugated fencing. A far cry from how it once stood in its former glory. The images I took where all shot through gaps in the fencing. I guess I could have used certain skills to get past it but to be honest on this occasion I did not feel comfortable exploring this particular site. Much of the remaining walls look to have buttresses holding them in place and I fear that my intrusion might disrupt the delicate balance that is holding the old place together. Let’s hope that something is done about this fine piece of architectural heritage is lost forever. And then I can go back and explore those hidden vaulted cellars.