However, despite the abundant examples of original Gothic ruins in Ireland, in the 18th century there appears a curious architectural reluctance to make a full commitment to the style. Moore Abbey, which dates from the early 17th century in County Kildare, for example, follows a classical structure with the sole addition of Gothic windows.
From this period we also find one of the first and oddest examples of the Gothic style in Ireland. This is Castleward House in Co. Down, Northern Ireland. Ostensibly, on approach, it lacks any Gothic character. Built of Bath Stone and overlooking Strangford Lough, the front is resolutely classical from the rusticated stone, to the alternating classical pediments, to the gently curling Ionic volutes of the columns.
Wander around the back however, and you are confronted by an almost dizzying surprise a fully articulated Gothic façade complete with ogee arches and decorated pinnacles.
Moving through the house, the domestic spaces become stranger. Entering the front door, the visitor passes into a coolly elegant space, with scagolia columns, delicate Rococo stucco and pedimented doorways, the theme carrying through the dining room and the staircase.
Moving towards the back of the house is the Gothic library, complete with secret panel, the saloon and most infamously, the boudoir, with its ceiling, an extraordinarily inappropriate lath and plaster copy of the Henry the 7th chapel ceiling in Westminster Abbey.
Castleward House is the result of a commission from Lord Bernard Ward, a devout fan of Neoclassicism, and his wife, Lady Anne Ward, who was obsessed with the Gothic. Alarm bells went off when it became known they were planning to build a house “He wants taste” warned 18th century diarist Mrs. Delaney “and Lady Anne is so whimsical”. However, the unknown but adaptable architect facilitated what is described by architectural historian Desmond Guinness as “a remarkable architectural and matrimonial compromise”.
Apart from being enormous architectural fun, this house, with its fragmented domestic space acts as a reflector of the Anglo-Irish condition. These Anglo-Irish, these descendants of English planters lack a solid identity, but like Castleward House seem half and half – neither English nor Irish, but something in between. It also acts as a visual reminder of the binary oppositions that define the Gothic Great House – those of Protestant and Catholic, Ascendancy and native Irish, landlord and tenant.