Ireland in the 19th Century displayed a curious architectural typology: the gate lodge. The typical Irish country estate was defined with walls and occasionally interrupted with openings. The humble gate lodge was merely the entrance to the estate. Yet what was ostensibly a simple and ordinary architectural feature soon became a means by which landowners could express and exhibit their creativity, tastes and, most significantly, their wealth. The gate lodge was the precursor to what lay beyond; representing a sample of the architecture and opulence one would expect to enjoy beyond. First impressions were paramount. Ultimately it had to impress important visitors, surprise passers-by and set the landowner apart from their neighbours.
Most gate lodges were inspired by the classical and gothic styles but few were as unusual and unique as the structure situated at the entrance to Dromana house in Co. Waterford. Dromana was an inhabited gate lodge, a necessity as it was about 3km from the main house. It proudly stands as one of the only examples of Hindu-Gothic architecture in Ireland. This delightful mark on the Irish landscape continues to surprise and delight all those who pass through it even to this day.
The gate lodge was the entrance to Villierstown, a small 18th century estate village where linen production played a major role. In 1824, Henry Villiers Stuart inherited the estate and later married an Austrian, Pauline Ott in 1826. As the story goes, the couple honeymooned in Brighton and upon their return they found the tenants of the village had constructed them a welcome home present in the form of a temporary timber structure covered in canvas with papier-mâché detailing. The couple were so elated with the structure that it was later rebuilt in stone at the Dromana gateway.
The permanent structure as we see it today was built in 1849 and designed by Irish architect Martin Day. The gate lodge is made up of a simple symmetry consisting of a central archway with a single chamber or lodge on either side. The pointed window opes, triumphal archway, and vaulted ceilings within the lodges are all notably of the Gothic style. The decorative quatrefoil featured in the railing overhead also compliments the Gothic style. What makes this gate lodge so exotic and unexpected is without a doubt the copper clad ogee-shaped onion dome surrounded by delicate minaret-topped posts. To add to this picturesque scene, the lodge extends into a bridge over the River Finnisk, giving a real sense of arrival to an esteemed location.
As the couple had travelled to Brighton, it could be said that some of the inspiration for the design can be seen in the majestic Royal Pavillon, designed by British architect John Nash in 1815. The structure is a complete immersion into the style and composition of Indian architecture. Many of the motifs present in the Pavilion can be recognised at Dromana, especially the onion dome.
Nonetheless, the structure was certainly a new experience for the people of 18th Century Waterford. The gate lodge in general was a unique form of architecture in the Irish landscape, each one individual to the owners of the great estates. The structure fell into disrepair in the 20th century but was later restored by the Irish Georgian Society in the 1960s and again by Waterford Council Council in 1990. The future of Dromana gate lodge, like any other piece of architectural heritage, can never be guaranteed but will hopefully continue to delight future generations.
Ryan, T (2013) How East Met West: A Typological Explanation for Dromana Gatelodge, Decies No. 69, pp. 81-98.
Campbell, H, Hurley, L, Loeber, R, Montague, J, Rowley, E, (2014) Architecture 1600 – 2000; Art and Architecture of Ireland / Voume IV, The Royal Irish Academy, pp. 358.
All photos of Dromana by author.