“Ornamental marks of grandeur should be scattered about a dependent landscape so as to distinguish by their number and design the taste, wealth and dignity of the proprietor.”  Humphrey Repton (1793)

The Conolly Folly Obelisk at Castletown house is perhaps the most unusual construction built in Ireland in the 18th Century. Built in the winter of 1740, as part of a ‘famine relief’ programme. It was commissioned by Katherine Conolly, as a funerary monument to her late husband ‘Speaker’ Conolly who died in 1729. The folly is positioned to the rear of Castletown House, Co. Kildare.

Folly's were often seen in the Irish landscape garden of the 18th Century, Irish patrons and architects travelled extensively which encouraged a variety of architectural styles, influenced by the best gardens throughout Europe. The Conolly obelisk contains a mixture of the Palladian, Neo Classical and Baroque styles and has been described as ‘a bizarre collection of architectural elements’!

During the early 18th Century secular architecture gained a new ornamental vocabulary, geometric patterns and symbols overtook the art and architecture of the Renaissance. The Connolly Folly obelisk belongs to a family of follies known as ‘eye‐catchers’, objects which use framing to create a visual impact, most are constructed at a high point in the landscape framing a piece of sky or allowing their shape to become silhouetted on the horizon. As The flat expanse of Co. Kildare did not offer many points of prospect, the Conolly Folly contained a ‘prospect room’ raised above the wood surrounding it. The Folly sets up a dialogue between objects in the landscape surrounding the Castletown Demesne.

During the mid‐18th Century landscape fashions began to change from the rigid formal garden to a softer more pastoral approach. Scenic painting at the time began to inform this new aesthetic and scenes from the most influential gardens and ‘wilderness’ landscapes began to popularize a new type of tourism. It became fashionable for the upper classes to embark on tours of the country, often following routes set up to take in the most popular ‘sights’, often the ‘landscape tourist’ would try to exactly position themselves relative to the surrounding countryside to recreate a popular composition. The obelisk, its prominence on the maps of the time and its proximity to Dublin, suggest that it was as much an object of importance to the 18th Century casual tourist as it is today.

Thank you to Iseult O'Clery of the Saturday Workshop for sharing the above with us. You can purchase The Saturday Workshop’s Conolly Folly here.