Michele Horrigan Back
In Ruin Reconciled

Video (duration 13 minutes)

Curraghchase House was built in 1657 as home to generations of the De Vere family, Anglo-Irish settlers after the Cromwellian plantations of the country. Located in a remote and picturesque setting, it was gutted by fire in 1941. Today it remains a brooding hulk of a ruin sitting atop a hill overlooking a forest park.

In Ruin Reconciled combines animation and video footage, accompanied by a script assembled from literature and memoirs of those who lived there. One source is Aubrey de Vere, poet and writer, well known in literary circles of the 19th century. He was a close friend of Alfred Lord Tennyson, who often visited him, as did many Victorian poets and artists. Another voice, Joan de Vere, a grandniece of Aubrey, succinctly describes the physicality and eventual demise of the house. These narrations move from dreamlike sequences to tracts relating the layout of the interior and practicalities about the upkeep of house and gardens.

Somewhat archetypical ‘big house’ stories are mentioned – it had a room haunted by a poltergeist that was always kept locked, and an over-zealous cleaner once destroyed an artwork by vigorously removing all traces of it with a scrubbing-brush. Yet, as in W B Sebald’s novel Rings of Saturn, the remnants of past lives here touch on a particular sense of melancholy found in the decay and destruction of countryside mansions of Ireland. As it burned, the fire destroyed a substantial art collection including one of only two existing plaster casts of Michelangelo’s Moses carrying Tablets of the Law, two large potpourri-filled Ming vases (spoils from the sacking of the summer palace of Beijing), a William Hogarth painting, a glut of neoclassical art, and a small gold crucifix believed to hold a relic of Jesus Christ’s cross inside it.