Rokeby Hall is a country house in the Neoclassical style built for Richard Robinson, Archbishop of Armagh.

Initially designed by Thomas Cooley and built c. 1785 by renowned Irish architect Francis Johnston, Rokeby is an elegant building with beautiful exterior and interior detailing which remains largely unchanged to this day.

The house is a testament to the architects and the skilled craftsmen of the Georgian era and is today considered to be one of the most significant historic country houses remaining in Co. Louth.

 

Richard Robinson, Lord Rokeby, Archbishop of Armagh (1708-1794)

Richard Robinson was the sixth son of William Robinson of Rokeby Park in Yorkshire. After coming to Ireland as chaplain to the Duke of Dorset in 1751, he eventually rose through the ranks of the chuch before becoming Archbishop of Armagh in 1765. Prior to Robinson's appointment, most Archbishops had spent little time in Armagh which in 1759 had been described as 'an ugly, scattered town'. Primate Robinson is credited with much of Armagh's transformation to the beautiful Georgian city it is today. His many contributions to the city include the Armagh Public Library, the Armagh Observatory, the Gaol, the Armagh Infirmary and the Archbishop's Palace, Chapel and Palace Stables.

He was created the 1st Baron Rokeby in 1777, choosing the title "Rokeby" as his elder brother Sir Thomas Robinson had by then sold the family estate of Rokeby Park. He purchased land at Marlay in Co. Louth from the Earl of Darby to create a new "Rokeby" estate. On his death, his titles passed to a cousin but he left the Rokeby estate in Louth to the son of his sister Grace. The Reverend John Freind changed his name to his maternal surname "Robinson" and moved from England to Rokeby Hall in 1794.

 

Thomas Cooley (1740-1784)

Thomas Cooley was an English architect who moved to Ireland after winning a competition in 1769 to design a new Royal Exchange in Dublin. The Royal Exchange, completed is 1779, is now Dublin's City Hall. In 1775 he was appointed chief architect to the Board of Works. He was employed by Richard Robinson to design and build many of the new buildings in Armagh and was also responsible for the initial design of Rokeby Hall before his death.

 

Francis Johnston (1760-1829)

Francis Johnston was born in Armagh in 1760 and was sent to Thomas Cooley in Dublin as an apprentice by Richard Robinson in 1778. Following Cooley's death in 1784, Johnston succeeded him as the Archbishop's architect. Johnston lived in the Drogheda area from 1784 to 1794 where he took over work on the various projects associated with the Archibishop's new estate in Louth. This included the final designs for Rokeby Hall and the overseeing of the building work for the house and estate.

He designed a number of other buildings in the area during that period and received the Freedom of Drogheda in 1787. After the Archbishop's death in 1794, he moved to Dublin where he continued to design and build primarily in Dublin and North Leinster. His most well-known building is of course the General Post Office in Dublin while Townley Hall in Louth is considered to be his masterpiece.

 

Rokeby Hall History

After the Archibishop's death, his nephew the Reverend Archdeacon John Robinson (created 1st Baronet in 1819) moved from England to Rokeby Hall. However his stay was shortlived as he chose to remove his family to England following the murder of his father-in-law during the 1798 Rising.

The house was subsequently leased to a number of tenants - including the Viscount Southwell, Henry Coddington Esq., and Count Jerome de Salis. The Robinson family eventually returned when John's eldest son Sir Richard Robinson once again took up residence sometime around 1840.

Sir Richard died in 1847 and was succeeded by his eldest son Sir John Stephen Robinson. Sir John and his wife were responsible for two significant additions to Rokeby Hall - the Turner conservatory added in the 1850s and the armorial window showing the Robinson family history in the main stair hall.

Sir John died in 1895 and the estate passed to his son Sir Gerald Robinson (4th bart.) who died in 1903. The 5th baronet was Sir John's younger brother Richard Harcourt Robinson. After his death in 1910 the estate eventually passed to Sir Gerald's sister Maud who had earlier married Richard Montgomery, the owner of Beaulieu House in Co. Louth.

With the Robinsons no longer in residence, the estate was gradually broken up. The house and demense lands were sold to the Clinton family in 1912. The remaining estate lands were also broken up and sold and the Robinson collection of furniture, art and books were eventually auctioned in 1943. The Clinton family remained at Rokeby until about 1950. Since then the ownership of the house has changed a number of times. The current owners purchased the house in 1995.

It is significant that the house has been used solely as a family home throughout its history and as a result the original design and detailing has remained largely unchanged. Many of the original demesne structures now in separate ownership - including the stable complex, two sets of gates, two gatelodges and the estate manager's house - are still in use and are being maintained or restored. And despite the continual division and re-use for agriculture of the original demesne surrounding the house, the layout of that demesne is still discernible in the modern landscape.

 

  •  House 
  •  Interior 
  •  Gardens 

Click on thumbnails for larger image.

Conservatory Restoration

Rokeby's Turner conservatory was built in the 1850s by Sir John Stephen Robinson and his wife Sarah. At some point during the twentieth century, the conservatory was re-glazed with perspex and fibreglass and a rough triangular roof installed to replace the original missing upper roof. Subsequent deterioration resulted in significant damage including rust damage and broken and missing cast iron decorative pieces.

before

Before restoration

Restoration work was commenced in the summer of 2012 when the "modern" glazing was stripped and the conservatory was completely dismantled. All the cast iron and wrought iron components were painstakingly tagged and then removed to the Iron Excellence workshops in Ballina, Co Mayo.

before before

Partially stripped with later roof removed

Damage to window frame

  
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Laying out roof components

Duffy the cat lends a paw

  
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Almost down

Copper tags used to identify each piece

Over a period of about a year, the various components were gradually restored. Missing cast iron pieces were recast by the Athy Co-operative Foundry in Co Kildare. A new "Turner-esque" roof was designed and built to replace the missing upper roof. Initial coatings of primers and paint were applied in the workshop.

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Cast iron restoration

Recycled wrought iron patched to repair original

  
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Roof windows

Workbench supports cleaned

  
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Newly painted panels

Work to re-erect the structure at Rokeby was carried out over the summer of 2013 and final coats of "Turner White", the same paint recreated by the OPW for the Botanic Gardens restoration work in Glasnevin, were applied.

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Restored components

New castings to replace missing pieces.

  
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Door frame

Partially rebuilt

  
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Almost there

Iron structure in place

  
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Tree removal to allow best views of the restoration

Glazing of the restored structure was subsequently carried out by Emerald Stained Glass of Tullamore, Co Offaly with that work completed late in 2013.

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Curved glass

Glazing underway

   
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Roof partially glazed

Roof complete

   
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Glazing finished

Planting of the restored structure in 2014 included the importation of two partially grown palm trees from nurseries in The Netherlands. Sourcing plants was the only part of the project conducted outside Ireland. The area around the conservatory was also re-landscaped to better display the newly restored structure.

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Tree planting

Palm trees in place

   
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Before new landscaping

Work in progress

 

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The Rokeby Conservatory

 

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Ellison Award for the conservatory restoration

Restoration at Rokeby

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The restoration work at Rokeby has been underway since the purchase of the house in 1995.
Some of the completed and ongoing projects are described below.

  •  Armorial Window 
  • Attics 

The Robinson armorial window was a Victorian addition to the house. It was installed by Sir John Stephen Robinson and his wife Lady Sarah Robinson sometime after they inherited Rokeby in 1847. The window shows the Robinson crest at the top and the coats of arms of a number of members of the Robinson family. It also includes a coat of arms for "Freind" at the bottom to represent the Archbishop's nephew's change or name from Freind to Robinson when he was made his uncle's heir. The large centre panel would have originally contained Sir John's coat of arms. However this panel had been previously removed or broken and replaced with plain glass.

Armorial Window

Armorial window today

The window was one of the earliest restoration projects undertaken as many of the panels were broken or otherwise damaged. Approximately a third of the window was removed by stained glass craftsmen for repair work. Some panels had suffered too much damage so new panels were created to match the originals.

 

Window with damaged panels
removed for replair.

  Glass panel being repaired in
the workshop.

The top floor attics at Rokeby often surprise visitors as the floor is largely hidden from the outside. The windows are behind the parapet wall and cannot be seen from ground level. The rooms on this floor were historically used as nurseries, staff bedrooms and storerooms. They are however beautifully designed and detailed rooms despite their lower status.

The bulk of the ongoing restoration work on this floor has involved repairs to floor joists and windows. Damage from both wet and dry rot over many years meant most of the floor joists on this floor needed to either be supported at the walls or have new wood sistered to undamaged wood in some places. This work required opening both floors and walls to access the damaged joists. Most of the old sash windows also required repair which has involved taking them apart and rebuilding them using old components where salvageable and new wood where the damage has been irreparable.

Sash window removed for repair and wall opened to allow access to support damaged floor joists at the wall.

 

Walls and floor had to be opened to repair rotten joists in this room. The ceiling in the room beneath also needed to be temporarily supported while work was in progress.

 
     
 


Two of the attic rooms after restoration work.

The Observatory at Rokeby Hall

  •  Sketches 
  •  Solar Sketches 
  •  Equipment 
  •  Construction 
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2016 Opening Times

 

Rokeby is open for guided tours of the house during May, Heritage Week in August, and September.

 

May 1st - 31st
Monday to Saturday 
 10.00am to 2.00pm
Sunday 
 CLOSED

June and July - closed

August 20th to 28th (Heritage Week)
Daily including Sundays 

During Heritage Week, guided tours of the house will depart from the main door at 10am, 11am, 12 noon and 1pm only.

Tour guests are welcome to visit the gardens between 10am and 2pm.

September 1st - 30th
Monday to Saturday 
 10.00am to 2.00pm
Sunday 
 CLOSED

 

 

Entrance fees are €7 for adults and €5 for students/children.

Booking is not required for individuals or small groups at the above times.

Groups of 8 or larger please phone or email in advance to book.

Children are welcome but must be supervised.

 

Visits outside the above dates can be arranged for groups by appointment. Please email info@rokeby.ie or phone 086 8644228.

 

Please note that the house is not wheelchair accessible.

Map

Rokeby Hall is located close to Dunleer in Co. Louth.

Click on map for larger size.

 

Directions

Take the Dunleer exit (J12) from the M1 Dublin/Belfast motorway.

Follow signposts into Dunleer.

Turn right opposite Centra - R170 signposted Clogherhead.

Continue almost 5km to Grangebellew crossroads.

Turn right at crossroads.

Continue for 1.5km. R170 becomes L2275. The gates for Rokeby Hall are on the right.

 


View Rokeby Hall, Grangebellew in Google Maps

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