ARCT40080 Research Innovation I 05092019Matthew Murphy Essay

ARCT40080 Research & Innovation I 05/09/2019

Matthew Murphy – 12362101

The Built Environment of The Hook Peninsula

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Matthew Murphy – 12362101


Research Essay


ARCT40080 Research & Innovation I 05/09/2019

Matthew Murphy – 12362101

The tapering promontory of the Hook, located in the barony of Shelburne in the southwestern corner of County Wexford, forms the Eastern boundary of Waterford Harbour.

Although this study focuses primarily on the peninsula itself. Due to its peninsular character,

the Hook has always been a considered remote and isolated; yet its association with

Waterford Harbour has given the region strategic importance, particularly evident in the

medieval period. Remoteness by land and accessibility by sea have had a profound impact on

the evolution of the landscape and settlement on the peninsula, contributing to the

development of a cultural identity and continuity. The traditional use of the estuary as a

political and ecclesiastical boundary further isolated the Hook as a frontier area. The

significance of the harbour with its ‘three sister rivers’ the Barrow, the Suir and the Nore has

been recognised since earliest times known in Irish as Comar na dTr? nUisce (the confluence

of three rivers). The harbour has been used by many waves of newcomers including the

Vikings (who gave it its present name), the Anglo-Normans and the English.

Fig. 1 This view, taken form 3,000m looking towards the north-east, dramatically illustrated

the peninsular, rock-bound topography of the Hook, its threat to shipping emphasised by the

imposing medieval lighthouse. The regular estate field-system of Loftus Hall in the middle

distance contrsts sharply with the small fields and fragmented holdings associated with the

farmhouse cluster of Churchtown in the left foreground. In the right foreground the townland

of Slade replicates the contrasting field patterns. The manorial village of Slade, with it’s tower

house, developed at the only natural landing place on the peninsula, beside a small bay

sheltered from prevailing south-westerly winds. In the far distance, the promontory of

Baginbun and the island of Bannow are visible, both sites associated with the arrival of the

Anglo-Normans in the late twelfth century.

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Matthew Murphy – 12362101

The importance of Waterford Harbour as a trade route inevitably influenced the growth

of settlement in the adjoining district. In the medieval period, the foundation of key ports on

its tributary rivers made the protection of the harbour a priority. Security requirements in the

late twelfth century led were partly responsible for the granting of the land bordering

Waterford harbour in the Hook region to high profile religious orders; the Cistercians at

Dunbrody and the Templars at Templetown. In the early thirteenth century the volume of

shippingusing the harbour led to the building of a unique tower at the tip of the peninsula as

a lighthouse and navigation aid. In the late Sixteenth century the construction of Duncannon

fort was motivated by security and economic concerns. The Civil Survey compiled in the

1650’s emphasised the commercial significance of the harbour and its river system:

Those three incomparable sisters commonly called the three famous rivers of Barrow, Nore

and Suir, whose lovely embracements makes the harbour deep and spatious, safe for

navigation which plentiful enricheth the several parts of this nation and commerce, with

shipping both foreign and domestic.

The granting of the region to three religious foundations in the medieval period

established the fundamental matrix for subsequent social and landscape organisation, giving

a cohesiveness and distinctive character plan to the settlement pattern. This was particularly

true for the Cistercian estates which in theory at least, created a tabula rosa by removing all

lay people form the monastic lands. The three secular estates which evolved from the Church

lands in the sixteenth century inherited existing lands and tenants and, in turn, added a new

layer of occupants and infrastructure. These two principal periods of colonisation and change

in land ownership led to a three-tiered society made up of Irish, Old English and New English.

By the mid nineteenth century the Hook had one of the highest densities of English family

place-names in Ireland. Similarly, the high ratio of Irish and English place-names with cultural

elements is the product of this distinctive settlement history.

While development on the estates over three centuries was broadly similar, there were

also marked differences. These included location, natural resources, the introduction of new

tenants and the social and political philosophy of the landlord. Based on hierarchical class

structure which generated concern about tenurial rights, the estate system encouraged

psychological dependence while providing a basic economic and social structure. The impact

of the psyche on the Hook people must have been heightened by the erection of an

impressive gateway at Porter’s Gate, on the neck of the peninsula, as an entrance to the

Loftus demense lands. Although the gateway was removed seventy years ago, the site is still

referred to as ‘the piers’; an indication that the gate, as well as being an actual barrier,

created a subliminal division between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders.’ The disintegration of the

estate system and revolution in land ownership at the end of the nineteenth century

introduced considerable social change. People whose ancestors had been tenants for

generations became owners of their traditional family farm; an increase in emigration was

also inevitable as the various traditional occupations which supported a labouring class on

the estate were no longer viable. In spite of the highly organised nature of the estate system,

the secluded, cul-de-sac nature of Hook allowed older landscape and cultural features to

survive intrusive forces of change, particularly on the Loftus lands in the south of the region;

the resultant landscape and society are remarkable palimpsests of complex origin.

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Matthew Murphy – 12362101

The physical attributes of the peninsula itself has a fundamental impact on the growth

of settlement; decisions which resulted in landscape changes were inevitably influenced by

location, topography, geology and soil quality. In a region with such extensive maritime

connections, the sea obviously played a prominent role in people’s lives, especially along the

coastal strip. The need to exploit the rich off-shore fishing grounds, for commercial as well as

subsistence purposes, led to the construction of six small harbours, which were also engaged

in low-level commercial activity. The opportunities for employment offered by the sea were

taken up by many who broadened their horizons by sailing the world. Derelict houses in the

region are reminders of many others who left by sea, not as sailors but as emigrants, whose

descendants periodically return seeking their ancestral origins.

The Hook Lighthouse

The Tower of Hook or Hook Lighthouse, located at the tip of the headland as a

navigation aid, was built in the early thirteenth century as part of the development of the

Lordship of Leinster. Realising the importance of Waterford Harbour and its river system for

trade and shipping, Marshal established the port of New Ross on the river barrow 30

kilometres from opens sea. Perhaps influenced by his own narrow escape from shipwreck,

Marshall knew that shipping needed to be guided safely into Waterford harbour if his port in

New Ross was to be a success. As a navigation aid, he had a thirty-six metre high circular

tower constructed at the tip of the peninsula to act as a landmark by day and a fire tower by

night. The monks form the monastery of Rinn Dubh?in were involved in the construction of

the tower and acted as the lightkeepers and were granted maintenance in the form of

‘money and otherwise’ from the Pembroke Estate to upkeep the lighthouse. In medieval

times religious organisations were commonly associated with the display of warning lights.

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Matthew Murphy – 12362101

Marshal’s idea for a light tower may have been inspired by Mediterranean examples such as

the Crusader lighthouse at Acre or the Pharos lighthouse in Alexandria. The tower of hook

was based on cylindrical castles which were popular in France.

The monks lived in the tower which served as a monastery and a lighthouse. For four

centuries the Tower of Hook remained in the control of Marshal’s of New Ross. The monks

discontinued to act as custodians following the dissolution of their monasteries in 1540. Lay

people would have tended to the lighthouse but following extremely tough economic times

in the seventeenth century the lighthouse ceased to operate. In 1671 Robert Readinge was

granted ?500 a year to repair and build six lighthouses on of these being the tower of Hook.

He erected a glass lantern to protect the coal burning fire from the elements.

In the late seventeenth century the ownership of the tower passed to Henry Loftus, who had

acquired the lands of the Hook subsequent to Cromwell’s campaign in Ireland. In 1706 he

leased the tower to the authorities for 21 years at ?11 a year. In 1728, Nicholas Loftus

threatened to close the lighthouse in an attempt to raise rent to ?200 per year. In 1867, the

Commissioner of Irish Lights was set up as the body in charge of Irish lighthouses. During the

1860’s, three dwellings were built for the light-keepers and their families. New gas lights

were installed in 1871 lit by gas manufactured in the lighthouse enclosure still known as the

gas yard. Parrafin oil subsequently became the source of power. In 1972, electricity came the

power source and light sensitive switches were installed to control the lantern. In March

1996, the Hook lighthouse became fully autonomous and the last of the light-keepers who

had climbed the stairs and tended the light for almost eight hundred years were permanently

withdrawn from the station. The tower of Hook now is an intrinsic attraction as the

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Matthew Murphy – 12362101

oldest remaining lighthouse in the world and

it is now accessible to the public as a tourist


The lighthouse was constructed with

2.5 metre thick stone walls at the base and

divided into three tiers with vaulted stone

ceilings. The lower tier has three rib-vaulted

ceilings with a stairway ascending through

the thickness of the wall. The narrower

upper section carried the warning beacon.

Still in use as a lighthouse, the substantially

intact tower may be the only secular

medieval building in Ireland still serving its

original function.

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Matthew Murphy – 12362101

Slade Castle

Slade Castle is one of the best preserves of its type and it is maintained as a national

monument. Some towers had attached houses or halls, usually timber and mud construction.

The castle at Slade had adjoining stone halls and is regarded as forming a distinctive type of

castle. The tower house has four floors with stone vaults over a ground-floor loft and third

story. A half-storey on top, with a look out platform overhead providing access to the

machicolation. A mural stairway in the south wall leads to the loft under the vault; a wellpreserved spiral stairway continues to the top, where almost complete stepped battlements


The principal chamber on the first floor has a fireplace, garderobe and window with

seats. The some-what later fortified

house connected with the corner of

the tower but no provision was made

for internal communication. A link

was later provided by building a

structure in the angle and knocking

out two rough openings at first floor

level. The vaulted ground floor has

loops in embrasures and a mural

chamber high on the south wall. Two

internal walls were later inserted as

well as a large fireplace and chimney

on the west wall. From an entrance

lobby, protected by a murder-hole, a

stairway ascends in the south wall to

the first floor. Now divided by a later

wall, this floor, with a loft, was

originally a large room with a

garderobe (now destroyed), free

standing fireplace and chimney.

Some ogee-headed windows had

double lights and window seats.

Stairs in the south wall and surviving

stepped battlements was presumably

from this level. An external stairway

on the east wall was part of

eighteenth-century alterations.

ARCT40080 Research & Innovation I 05/09/2019

Matthew Murphy – 12362101

Loftus Hall and Loftus Demense

Loftus Hall originates as Redmond Hall, a late medieval residence erected by the

Redmond family, who were tenants on the manor of Kilcloggan. In the late seventeenth

century, this structure was occupied by Henry Loftus, who renovated and enlarged the

building and changes its name to Loftus Hall. In 1752, the house was described as follows: A

late seventeenth century house is gable-ended and of two storeys and nine bays, with a

dormed rood and steep pedimented able. It is fronted by a forecourt with tall piers

surmounted by ball finials and has a haunted tapestry room.

It is probable that further

improvements were subsequently made,

but, by the end of the nineteenth century,

the hall was not in good repair. In 1870, a

decision was made to level the entire house

and to erect the present structure on the

same site, incorporating parts of the

previous building. Following demolition

rubble was dumped along the cliff edge,

where it can still be seen. The outbuildings,

including the coach house and walled garden

were left untouched and still survive in

various stages of preservation. Built to a rather plain design, the new building is a rectangular

Victorian pile of three storeys. The east facing front fa?ade has nine bays with hood

mouldings over windows, pedimented on the first floor, and a projecting portico with glass

panels to the south side has seven bays with a bow extension. Two stone eagles, probably

taken from the existing building are perched on the decorative balustrade which hides the

flat roof. The ground floor has several large reception rooms, some with panelled ceilings and

elegant marble fireplaces. The main feature of the house, a splendid oak stairway in a central

well lit by a cupola, ascends to a gallery around which the bedrooms are located. The

stairway was imported from Italy and assembled by local carpenters. The hall was fitted with

hot-air central heating, gas lights with Waterford Crystal chandeliers and running water,

supplied from a reservoir built on higher ground two kilometres to the north.

It is difficult to understand the reasons

behind the major investment in a new building, in

view of the uncertain atmosphere of the time.

The Land Acts of the following forty years resulted

in the estate being reduced to a fraction of its

original size. In 1913, the hall with its remaining

seventy acres was put up for sale and was

purchased as a convent for Benedictine nuns. In

1936, the Benedictines left and the building was

acquired by the Rosminian Order. The first

postulants, including some local girls, were

accepted the following year. The convent was opened up as a summer venue for other

orders of nuns, who had exclusive use of the private beach known as Hall Bay. In the 1980’s,

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Matthew Murphy – 12362101

the nuns sold the property and it was subsequently run briefly as a hotel. At present the

building is ran as a tourist attraction capitalising on locally well-known tales that the Hall is


Following the confederate war, the Loftus family took over the lands of the Redmonds

and Laffans on the hook, containing the townlands of Hall, Church town, Slade, Galgystown

and Porter’s Gate. The Redmonds had previously made efforts to create a demense

environment. On the 1771 estate maps, an old deerpark is shown as well as the new one

developed by Loftus. Loftus lost non time in modernising his newly acquire property. To

establish the public identity of the manor house and demesne, ‘Henry Loftus of Loftus Hall

Esq. 1680’ was inscribed on the entrance piers at Porter’s Gate. Although the entrance was

removed in the 1930’s, the spot where they stood is still locally referred to as the piers.

Demense developments in the Hook were located for the most part in the townland of Hall,

later Loftus Hall. The walls and gardens built by Loftus, including a large deerpark with

impressive late seventeenth-century piers, still survive, along with an estate landscape of

regular large fields surrounded by walls of local limestone. Similar piers were constructed at

the gates of the manor house and at Porter’s Gate. The priority given to the building of a

walled garden was a response to the difficulty experienced in growing plants on the wind

lashed and salt swept peninsula. The road down the centre of the peninsula was straightened

and enclosed with substantial limestone walls; the use of readily available stone was a

response to the absence of trees on the peninsula. The presence of a labour force with an

expertise in stonework must also have been a

factor. The network of stone walls which still exist

was encouraged by Loftus with a rent reduction on

land enclosed by stone walls by tenants. Field

maps recorded on an estate map in 1771 drawn

by Richard and Charles Frizell presented a detailed

account of tenancies, with four of the family

names still remaining today.

In conclusion the built environment of the Hook peninsula is steeped in a distinctive

personality formed from the many historic influences concentrated into a well-defined

landscape. This combination creates a distinct space, dominated by sea, sky and the

elements, with an exceptional quality that is to be appreciated and further explored by the

architectural community.

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Matthew Murphy – 12362101


1. Malcomson, ‘The Loftus Family,’ p. 187.

2. Ibid., p. 210

3. T, Walsh, ‘The history of Loftus Hall’ in Wex. Hist. Soc. Jn., v (1974-5), pp 32-38

4. D. Rowe and E, Scallon, Houses of Wexford (Whitegate, 2004), no. 671.

5. The people, 9 July 1913.

6. Sr M O’Connor ‘The rosminian sisters in Loftus Hall’ in On the Hook (1998), p 14.

7. The civil survey of the County of Wexford, (ed.) R>C> Simington (Dublin 1953), p[. 167.

8. W.J Smyth, ‘Society and settlement in seventeenth-centruy Ireland’ in Smyth and

Whelan (eds), Common ground (Cork, 1988) p. 61

9. Cal. Doc. Ire., I, nos 2811, 2872

10. D. Hague and R. Christie, lighthouses, their architecture, history and archealogy

11. Hore, Wexford, , p. 407

12. J.S. Sloane, Manual for Lightkeepers (Dublin, 1873).

13. B. Colfer, The Hook Peninsula Rural Landscapes II (Cork, 2002)

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