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To Have and to Hold: A study of landscape management and attitudes in the Golden Vale

Part 2 Dissertation 2007
Patrick Quinlan
University College Dublin | Ireland
Every piece of the Irish landscape has a memory. Every corner of every field; every wood and valley and hill has played host to generations of people whose remains have long since returned to the soil. Sometimes the memories of their lives, their places and their names have been passed down through families as part of an oral tradition. For countless more, it is only the landscape that remembers. A broken heap of stone and hedging growing wild may be the only trace of an abandoned homestead, its descendants scattered to the four winds.

This piece of research delved into the memories of a piece of landscape in the valley of the River Suir, a few miles upstream from the county-town of Clonmel. The topography defines and contains a very beautiful tract of rich land, visually unified despite being in different counties, and for much of its history, under two distinct ownerships. This landscape housed the power-base of the locality; a pair of fortified castles, coldly regarding one another across the river. These fortresses evolved into well-appointed country houses, the surrounding land was sculpted into a pair of spectacular demenses.

For almost three hundred years, the lands at Knocklofty and Kilmanahan were moulded and remoulded to mirror the aspirations and ambitions of a new aristocracy. Successive generations carried out extensive improvements to the demese core, managing land, water and vegetation to achieve their various dreams.

This story also engages with an old Irish family of ‘strong farmers’ taken on as a tenant at Kilmanahan; examining the different values they brought to the management of the productive landscape.

Following the sale of the estate in the early 1980’s, the designed landscape has fallen into a deep slumber. Each year, the arboreal, horticultural and architectural legacy of the Donoughmore’s slips further from view as nature reclaims for herself the wooded pathways and ornamental terraces. Rediscovering the secrets of this lost world has involved a threefold exploration, engaging with the physical remains, with old maps and manuscripts, and with the memories of the people who knew it as it once was.

Patrick Quinlan

The dissertation was written within the fourth year History and Theory Programme. Small-group thematic seminars lead into individual research for which a dissertation of at least 5000 words is produced.

Patrick’s research involved considerable site investigation and assessment and the use of archival material (estate maps and family papers) as well as oral traditions and folk knowledge from the locality. With acute perception and analytical skills he has pieced together the evolution and changing design forms of two demesnes dramatically sited facing one another across the River Suir. He presented has this as an engaging narrative.

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