Kilkenny mansion influenced White House design, new study finds – The Irish Times

The White House designer was heavily influenced by a stately home in Co Kilkenny that burned down during the Irish Civil War, a new book suggests.

James Hoban: Designer and Builder of the White House is the first book about the Irish-born architect who was commissioned by the first President of the United States, George Washington, to build the iconic residence.

Desart Court in Cuffesgrange, Co Kilkenny, stood for nearly 200 years before being burnt down in February 1923 by anti-Treaty Republicans.

At the time, the house was owned by Hamilton Cuffe, the fifth Earl of Desart. His sister-in-law Ellen Cuffe was to become one of the Free State Senate Senators.

The Anti-Treaty IRA had declared that anyone who agreed to become a member of the Senate would be executed. Instead, many of their homes were burned down.

Desart Court was rebuilt after the arson but was eventually demolished in 1957.

Hoban was born in 1755 and his childhood years were spent in Desart. His father was a tenant farmer. Unusually for someone involved in architecture and house building at the time in Ireland, he was Catholic.

In 1785, at the age of 30, he emigrated to the United States, where he settled in Charleston, South Carolina.

He met Washington in Charleston in 1791. Hoban won the competition to design the White House in 1792 and it was completed in 1800.

He was also involved in rebuilding the White House after it was burned down by the British in 1812.

The book, which is edited by White House Historical Association President Stewart D McLaurin, states that many design features of the White House are based on Irish buildings.

These not only include Desart Court, but also Leinster House, which was then the home of the Duke of Leinster and where the Oireachtas now stands. Another building that influenced Hoban was the Custom House, a masterpiece of 1780s Irish Neoclassicism by James Gandon.

The book states that the inspiration for the White House came from Desart Court.

Mr. McLaurin and his team traveled to Ireland to examine the buildings that influenced the design.

Among the places they visited was the 18th-century Newcomen Bank, opposite Dublin City Hall, where there are three oval rooms which are “perfectly reminiscent in space of the Oval Office of the White House”.

Mr McLaurin said it was “remarkable that so little is known about [Hoban] here or in America” and that it took over 200 years for the first book to be written about him and his work.

All of Hoban’s papers were burned in a fire after his death and so little is known about his life other than the buildings he left behind.

“He knew he couldn’t go any further in Ireland because of the criminal laws. Although he wouldn’t call it the American dream, he went to America to pursue his craft,” Mr. McLaurin said. “He was one of the founders of the first Catholic Church in virtually all of Southeastern America.”


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