Context 163 - March 2020

20 C O N T E X T 1 6 3 : M A R C H 2 0 2 0 Ireland) the population is only 5.9 million or less than one tenth. Put crudely, and from the point of view of a publisher, 10 times more people might buy a Buildings of England volume than would ever be interested in a Buildings of Ireland book. That is why we decided, at the outset, that each of the Irish volumes would deal with several counties, grouped in a way that respected the historic division of Ireland into the four provinces of Ulster, Munster, Leinster and Connacht. This decision has always meant that there is a great deal more visiting to do for an Irish volume that for an English one. I began in North West Ulster . Politically the volume straddles the north and the south, including the counties of Derry, Donegal, Fermanagh and Tyrone, whose landmass at almost 12,000 square kilometres is larger than that of the whole of Yorkshire, the largest English county, which Pevsner had treated in three volumes. A second huge difference between England and Ireland, at least in the 1970s and 80s, was the amount of architectural history already published in the two countries. For England there were many sets of important studies, like the Victoria County Histories , publications of The Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments , monographs on individual archi- tects, individual county histories and, an impor- tant additional source which Pevsner relied on, the provisional lists of buildings prepared by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. No similar sources existed for Ireland. The few existing Irish county histories rarely covered architecture and, until well into the 1980s, no government lists of historic buildings in either parts of the country had been prepared. I decided, before any visiting could begin, to extract whatever architectural information could be found in published sources on an all-Ireland basis, and to build up a database of factual infor- mation for each of the 32 counties. For several years a team of people, each acknowledged in the first volume of the series and numbering 14, worked as research assistants, reading all sorts of material and examining collections of drawings to complete ‘Twinlock C1 file cards’ (one card per building), which were checked and sorted into counties in Edinburgh either by Ann Martha or by an elderly friend of ours, Alma Bevan, who was for many years ‘the mistress of the files’. Since 1990 the Buildings of Ireland files have been deposited in the Irish Architectural Archive in Merrion Square, Dublin. The bulk of the information they contain has been absorbed into the archive’s on-line Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720–1940 ( ) complied by Ann Martha and launched in 2009. The visiting for the first volume was carried out during the summer vacations of 1970 and 1971, when we drove around, Derry, Donegal, Fermanagh and Tyrone in a converted, 15 cwt Commer camper van in which we worked, slept and ate. The van made a cramped home for two months, but it allowed us to stop where we were each day and start again next morning without loss of driving time. We went down every road shown on the six-inch Ordnance Survey maps, and visited each church and every site that was marked in antique script. Hugh Dixon, who I first encountered as a senior student in Edinburgh and who I asked to work for the series in Belfast from September 1970, was an essential assistant in the production of the first volume, and he kept up our spirits for much of the visiting in those early years. There was an unspoilt beauty about so much of the Irish countryside and new buildings to be discovered every day. It was certainly memorable to be woken one summer morning by a herd of cattle gently rocking the body of our van while licking the bodies of dead flies off the headlamps. Alistair Rowan is editor and author of the Yale University Press (previously Penguin Books) Buildings of Ireland series, of which six volumes are published: NorthWest Ulster: the counties of Londonderry, Donegal, Fermanagh and Tyrone (1979), written by Rowan; North Leinster: the counties of Longford, Louth, Meath andWestmeath, written with Christine Casey (1993); Dublin City, by Christine Casey (2006); South Ulster: the counties of Armagh, Cavan and Monaghan, by Kevin Mulligan (2013); Central Leinster: the counties of Kildare, Laois and Offaly, by Andrew Tierney (2019); and Cork City and County, by Frank Keoghan (2020). A seventh volume on Greater Dublin and Co Dublin, written by Brendan Grimes and ColmO’Brien, is in course of production, planned for publication in 2022. A sketch plan and elevation of Caledon, one of the finest neoclassical houses in North West Ulster, from the author’s notebook. The house was begun by Thomas Cooley in 1779.