About a decade ago I began to develop an interest in country houses. I can't remember how it started, but the more I learned about them the more fascinated I became about both the houses themselves and the lives people lived in them. My initial exploration took place through reading, though the three summers I spent teaching in Ireland gave me my initial opportunity to explore them firsthand. When I tried to read up on Irish country houses, though, I quickly discovered that there was dearth of books on them, which made for an odd contrast with the small libraries published about country houses in Britain and on the continent.
For this reason alone Patricia McCarthy's book is a welcome addition to the literature about country houses. Through careful archival work she provides readers with a study of the dramatic evolution country houses underwent in the early 18th century with the introduction of Palladianism. These architectural ideas took country house design in a very different direction than had been the before, as the houses went from being quasi-fortifications to elegant structures that displayed the wealth of the Protestant Ascendancy. McCarthy then takes readers through a tour of the houses, showing how they used their public and private spaces in a variety of ways to serve their living and entertainment needs. Nor does she confine her examination to the upper classes, as she spends considerable space talking about the servants and the lives they lived as well,
Well written and beautifully illustrated with a generous selection of photographs, McCarthy's book is necessary reading for anyone interested in country houses or 18th century Ireland. Reading it proved a revelation for me, as not only did it fill in a gap in my understanding about the period, but it also provided answers to questions that I had forgotten about for want of answers. This is a work that deserves the widest possible readership, especially for those with interests in architecture, social history, and the history of the Emerald Isle.