Borris House in County Carlow, again perhaps due to its medieval origins, is one of the few Irish country houses to be built beside a town. In the late 18th century the owner, Thomas Kavanagh, represented Kilkenny in the Irish Parliament and, after its abolition in 1800, at Westminster. His large 17th century house, which incorporated an earlier castle on the site, was damaged in the 1789 rebellion, so Sir Richard Morrison and his son, William Vitruvius, were engaged to restore and enlarge the building in the newly fashionable Tudor-Revival style.
The Kavanagh family of Borris are hereditary kings of Leinster, descended from Dermot MacMorrough who first invited the Normans to Ireland for support in his struggles with the High King. Dermot married his daughter Aoife to the Norman leader, Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke (otherwise known as Strongbow) to cement the new alliance. Succeeding generations of the MacMorrough family controlled this mountainous region of South Leinster from their power base at Borris, maintaining the old Gaelic traditions. On several occasions, most notably during the reign of Art McMorrough Kavanagh who regained total control of South Leinster at the turn of the 15th century, the family was in open rebellion but they gradually grew to accept the new status quo.
When engaged by Thomas Kavanagh in the early nineteenth century, the Morrisons chose to retain the form and fenestration of the earlier structure, with its defensive projecting corner towers, while giving the facades a rich overlay of decoration in the Neo-Tudor style, with a profusion of battlements and a splendid three bay porch. The concept was decidedly avant-garde when completed in 1820 but, despite the innovative exterior, the interior is largely classical. The plasterwork in the hall is especially ornate and very fine; elsewhere the decoration is rather more muted.
Thomas Kavanagh’s sister-in-law was Eleanor Butler, whose obsession with a neighbour’s daughter, Sarah Ponsonby, so alarmed her family that she was sent to Borris to be out of harm’s way. In 1778 she escaped to Wales with her ‘friend’ and together they became famous as the 'Ladies of Llangollen'.
In Victorian time the owner, Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh, MP for County Carlow and a Privy Councillor, had been born without arms or legs. Despite his disabilities he was an able and enlightened landlord, a competent administrator, a wily politician, a famous explorer and yachtsman, a fearless rider to hounds and the father of a large family.
There is a fine embattled entrance archway and several good pairs of early eighteenth century piers and gates on the estate, while the River Barrow wends its way through the undulating demesne beneath the house, where it forms the boundary between Counties Carlow and Kilkenny.
Address & ContactBorris House, Borris, Carlow
t: +353 97 71884
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May 1, 5, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 22, 26, 29.
June 2, 5, 9, 12, 16, 19, 23, 26, 30.
July 3, 7, 10, 14, 17, 21, 24, 28, 31.
August 4, 7, 11, 14, 18, 21, 25, 28.
September 4, 8, 11.
October 29, 30.
December 3, 4.
1.30pm to 5.30pm