Probe of near-demolition of Bessborough folly

Stonework being removed from the detached three-bay-two story folly whick was built in 1880 at Bessborough in Blackrock, Cork. Behind the hous is a graveyard in use since the 20’s. Picture Dan Linehan.

The almost complete demolition of an historic folly near a burial plot on the grounds of the former Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork has been described as an outrageous attack on the city’s DNA.

Independent city councillor, and historian, Cllr Kieran McCarthy, made his comments at this week’s city council meeting following confirmation that a planning probe is underway into the activity in Blackrock in recent days.

He was among several city councillors who condemned the near total demolition of the historic structure known locally as the “Castle Folly”. The semi-ruined former two-storey, three-bay structure, which dates from 1870-1890, is owned by the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and is located on the site of the nuns’ burial plot.

It has been described as an “important surviving landscape feature associated with the gardens of Bessborough House”. The Irish Examiner reported last week that work had begun on the structure, after a sign appeared on a gate leading into the site suggesting that the folly presents a “major health and safety hazard due to crumbling mortar and loose stones”.

The Order did not answer questions about who was involved in the work and said it would “deal directly with the Commission on all related matters”. It confirmed that it had informed the Mother and Baby Homes Commission of the work and that “a representative visited the site”.

BEFORE: The Castle Folly in Bessborough, Blackrock, Cork which has been demolished
BEFORE: The Castle Folly in Bessborough, Blackrock, Cork which has been demolished

In a statement yesterday, the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary said that, before it decided to carry out the work, it sought “professional advice” and established that the building “is not on the Record of Monuments and Places (RMP) as maintained under the statute by the Archaeological Survey of Ireland and the Commissioners of Public Works” The commission confirmed that the order had notified it of the “maintenance works”, and that it accepted the structure was in poor condition.

“We understand that the work is necessary because of the dangerous condition of the folly. We have inspected the folly and accept that it is in a dangerous condition,” the Commission said.

But it emerged over the weekend that almost half the structure had been demolished. Cllr McCarthy described its demolition as an attack on the city’s DNA while FF Cllr Terry Shannon and SF Cllr Chris O’Leary both condemned the demolition and urged City Hall to pursue to the fullest extent those responsible.

City officials confirmed that the council’s planning department has now opened an enforcement file into the matter and that all work on the site has been ordered to stop. Outgoing head of planning, Pat Ledwidge, said planning officials will investigate the matter fully, will establish the facts and will report back to the council in due course before determining any possible courses of action.

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