Hidden away on the eastern edge of the Castletown Estate in Leixlip, Co. Kildare, is the highly unusual “Wonderful Barn.” Commissioned by Katherine Conolly, widow of William ‘Speaker’ Conolly, it was originally conceived as a relief project following the severe famine of 1740-1741, when severe weather led to the deaths of as many as 480,000 people. (Icebergs were reported floating down the River Liffey and crushing cargo ships).
Although it has been described as a “folly,” or purely ornamental building, the Wonderful Barn was used for storing grain. This topsy-turvy, tapering cone rises to a height of 22 metres, with a cantilevered spiral staircase of 94 steps winding its way around the exterior. It features seven floors, some of which were used as living areas for servants, with central holes for use in grain storage. The top floor is a crow’s nest viewing gallery. The fortified exterior may have been designed to repel attempts by the Wicklow O’Toole and O’Byrne clans to seize the grain.
Adding to the quirky aspect, the barn windows are triangular in shape. The barn is flanked by two smaller dovecote towers and a surrounding wall. The adjoining Barnhall House is derelict. You can see an attempted imitation of the Wonderful Barn in Churchtown, Dublin 14: The Bottle Tower (or Hall’s Barn) was built by Major Hall in 1742, again as a famine relief project.
The Wonderful Barn and its adjoining buildings need substantial refurbishment, and the Irish Georgian Society is working with several partners to ensure they survive to intrigue future generations. Take a trip to Leixlip and see this wonder for yourself – PlacesToStay.com has a selection of holiday homes in Kildare to make your visit even more wonderful.
Image Credits Garry Boggan