In the early 1770s Thomas Taylor, the first Earl of Headfort, commissioned Irish architect George Semple to build Headfort House. The interior contains a magnificent suite of six state rooms designed by the renowned Scottish architect Robert Adam. Adam’s influence on domestic architecture in the UK and Ireland during the eighteenth century cannot be overestimated and history has given his name to the distinctive style he created. These Adam rooms are the only major commission of his to survive in Ireland and thus these interiors hold a unique place in Ireland’s architectural heritage. Headfort remained the private residence of the Taylor family until 1949, when the family leased the building to the newly formed Headfort School. In 1996 ownership of the buildings was transferred to a building preservation trust, the Headfort Trust. This relationship has saved the interiors from the fate of many similar sized properties which have suffered from alteration and over-repair.
2004 World Monuments Watch
By 2004 the house and its internal decoration were deteriorating due to a lack of investment. The roofs were leaking, masonry required re-pointing, internal rooms were being damaged by water ingress, and the Adam interiors had been repainted in an inappropriate colour scheme that required repair and redecoration. A significant issue was that Headfort was a little known and appreciated site outside of the conservation community. Headfort’s inclusion on the 2004 Watch raised the profile of the site, supported the Headfort Trust who were raising funds within Ireland, and eventually led to the site being awarded funds from WMF. WMF support has resulted in major external repairs being completed followed by conservation of the Adam apartments and upgrading of the fire protection system. Detailed analyses of the decoration were undertaken, which revealed the original decorative scheme and which enabled WMF to begin the process of restoring the unique interiors.
Headfort is a unique site in Ireland, being the only place where a suite of Robert Adam-designed interiors survive (this in itself can tell us much about how eighteenth-century interiors developed in Ireland, distinct from the rest of the British Isles). Because of its relative obscurity and its current use as a school, the survival of these important interiors was in jeopardy due to a lack of awareness and appreciation. Now that the restoration of the Adam interiors has been started visitors are able to appreciate the original eighteenth-century decoration.