Dartrey temple can be tourism magnet

In contrast to the daily diet of doom and gloom on the economic front; it is heartening to see development groups, civic and tourism bodies, along with local politicians, coming together to push forward with a vision for the future that can enhance the lives of present and future generations. Such a meeting was held in Ballybay on Wednesday the focus of which was the development of the rich tourism potential of the Dromore river catchment - a swathe of countryside encompassing river, lakes and wetlands stretching from Donaghmoyne through Ballybay, Rockcorry and on to Cootehill. The Dromore river itself is a significant waterway that is noted for angling and was once navigable from Cootehill to Ballybay. It flows into the Annalee river near Cootehill, which in turn connects to the Erne at Butlersbridge and if the Dromore can be developed to take boat traffic it will add another important artery to the Shannon/Erne water system. The tourism potential of such a development is immense tying in with a series of historical attractions and events along its route that can draw visitors from Ireland North and South as well as from the UK and continental Europe. 'People are coming here from London and other big cities for the fresh air,' says retired public representative Talbot Duffy one of the organisers of Wednesday"s think in. The Dromore river flows past the Dartrey estate. Indeed the river separates Dartrey from Bellamont Forest - the historic abode of the Coote family who built Cootehill. Dartrey was the former estate of the Dawson family one of the leading titled families in this part of Ireland in the 18th and 19th centuries. (They also had another estate in County Wexford). The Gothic style Big House on Dartrey was regrettably demolished in the 1940s and other buildings such as the original stable block (built in 1730) and the 'new stables' built in the 1840s are suffering the effects of time and non use and require urgent remedial restoration. The original stable block is of Palladian/Georgian style construction and is of recognised architectural importance. Both stable blocks are in private ownership, although Dartrey and District Heritage Association hopes that the two can be restored and preserved. The Dartrey estate has been a commercial forest for many years. Presently owned by Coillte Éireann, it stretches from Cootehill to the village of Rockcorry, a distance of five miles. While there may be regrets about the loss of aspects of the built heritage on the estate there are other very valuable structures that are still in existence and are being preserved. The Dartrey and District Heritage Association is to be commended for its commitment to all of this work. The Association has successfully promoted a restoration programme for the Dawson monument on the Cootehill/Monaghan road. The monument is a Roman Tuscan column, 60 feet in height, designed by the renowned architect, James Wyatt and erected in memory of Richard Dawson, MP, who died in 1807 at the relatively young age of 44. Dawson is described as a reformist who supported Henry Grattan and opposed the Act of Union. The monument with its sculpted image of a flame on top is understood to reflect the age of Enlightenment. It was erected by freehold constituents and is one of three important architectural structures erected on the estate. The former Dartrey estate had several entrances such was the extent of its road frontage. However, at what was the main entrance about midway between Cootehill and Rockcorry is the original post office. Constructed of sand stone and brickwork intricately built in a Flemish style, the former post office has been a private residence for many years. Designed by noted Scottish architect, Robert Burns, it is one of the estate"s protected structures and is of recognised architectural importance. One of the most beautiful specimens of the built environment is the metal bridge, which links Black Island to the rest of the estate and is also a protected structure with its cast iron lattice work of the same import and design as that of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. However, Dartrey and District Development Association see the temple on Black Island as a focal point of significant tourism and heritage interest with considerable potential. The Lady Ann Dawson Temple was designed by leading 18th century architect James Wyatt (mentioned earlier) who based it on the pantheon in Rome. Wyatt designed Castlecoole near Enniskillen and several other big country houses. He travelled Europe extensively and studied the great architectural heritage of all of those countries. His temple on Black Island, Dartrey, is one of two that he designed, based on the Roman original. However, the second one located at Oxford Street in London has since been demolished - leaving the Black Island temple as the only survivor. Wyatt was commissioned to build Black Island temple by Thomas Dawson, owner of the Dartey estate, in memory of his wife, Lady Ann Dawson who died on March 1, 1769, at the young age of 36. Wyatt in consultation with the then leader of the Academy of Sculptors in London, Joseph Wilton, decided on the design of a pantheon-style temple with its incorporation of the themes of death, love and resurrection in its structure. Completed in about 1779, the Black Island temple or Lady Ann Dawson temple overlooks the Inner Lough on the estate facing the big house now demolished. Over the years, subsequent to the decline of the estate, the Black Island temple has fallen into a state of dereliction. The original domed roof has long since disappeared and its marble sculptural images have been the subject of vandalism. However, now thanks to the work of Dartrey and District Development Association, supported by Monaghan County Council and the funding agencies, a programme of restoration of the temple is well underway. Chairman of Dartrey and District Development Association, Noel Carney, states that the original dome is being recreated under the guidance of conservation specialists and great care is being taken towards ensuring that Wyatt"s design work is closely adhered to. Noel points out that the Development Association is also making a big input to the work themselves. In that regard Noel, himself, is a qualified building surveyor with wide experience of construction projects in countries such as the UK, Germany and Finland. Noel Carney explains that the term Palladian architecture comes from the famous 16th century Italian architect, Andrea Palladio. The Lady Ann Dawson temple is of typical Palladian design with columns or pillars supporting a triangular abutment over the entrance. Moulding is of the dental design. The inner sanctum of the temple contains an alcove, which houses an altar on which is displayed a life size image of an angelic figure with outstretched hand reaching down to a man on bended knee holding a boy alongside him. The man has his hand stretched upwards almost touching the angel"s hand. The interpreters of Wyatt"s creation recognise the angel like figure as Ann Dawson reaching down to take her husband and son with her. The figures are sculpted from Carrara marble and have been significantly vandalised. However, the promoters of the restoration project are confident that all of the figures can be successfully restored. Above the altar is the dome with its glass occulus, which completes the image in the mind of viewer of the figures on the altar being raised up through the occulus to their heavenly home. The restoration of the temple, which is now situated in the heart of the forest, is well under way with craftsmen well advanced in the work of constructing the dome. Particular attention to detail has been undertaken to the pointing of the outside brickwork of the temple adhering strictly to all of the original work. It was necessary to engage the artistic skills of experts in this field to ensure that the pointing and decorative restoration work were carried out to perfection. Dartrey and District Heritage Association acknowledge the support of the project from Monaghan County Council, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, (especially the Heritage Policy Unit in Wexford), Coillte Eireann (on whose lands the temple now stands) and all of the many local supporters and fundraisers. Noel Carney expresses his gratitude to Monaghan County Manager, Declan Nelson, Monaghan County Tourism Officer, Dympna Condron and all the other agencies who are backing the project. He thanks John Coote of Bellamont Forest for allowing the association use the Cootehill mansion for the hosting of fundraising concerts and meetings and for his generous gift towards the project.