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Bellevue Folly Lawrencetown.jpg

The Bellevue Folly

Lawrencetown, County Galway

The Bellevue Folly stands on the side of the public road near Lawrencetown village, six miles from Brackloon castle. Typically ornamental and non-practical, examples of this type of architectural structure were often positioned to be viewed from a particular vantage-point as a decorative object in the landscape. A number were built across Ireland to provide employment for the poor during times of famine or distress. However, maps from the early 1800s show a gatehouse in the same location of the folly and it is likely that both were associated. This folly then would appear to have also served the practical purpose of marking an estate entrance.

The structure is essentially a tall single stone wall, supported on either side by primitive flying buttresses. It’s ornamentation is of a simple nature, with roundels and slit window reveals above three arched openings at base and all surmounted by three stone finials.

The folly may date from either the eighteenth or early nineteenth century and, if so, would pre-date Ireland’s Great Famine. On that basis, either Colonel Walter Lawrence of Bellevue, who died in 1796, his son Walter, who died in 1853 or possibly Rear-admiral Peter Lawrence, the Colonel's uncle, may have been responsible for its construction 

Colonel Walter Lawrence was an immensely wealthy, cultivated and politically-active man. He inherited a fortune both from his mother and from his uncle and his first wife brought with her a significant fortune also. He built a new mansion, named Bellevue, on his family lands, developed the surrounding countryside, planted extensively and laid out and built the village of Lawrencetown throughout the 1780s and 1790s with the intention of establishing a strong linen industry there.

When originally built, visitors travelling from Lawrencetown would see before them this ‘eye-catching’ landmark at the end of the public road leading to Lawrence’s mansion. The folly and gatehouse terminated the vista and announced the visitor’s arrival at the eastern entrance to the demesne. There the visitor would turn to the right into the heavily-planted Bellevue grounds along a narrow winding private avenue and, passing by the mansion, could exit through the much larger, grander and classically-designed western entrance, known as the Volunteer’s Gate. The elaborate nature of this western entrance would be in sharp contrast to the simplicity, rusticity and part-gothic forms of the eastern entrance folly.

The road to the folly was one of two public roads leading west from the village of Lawrencetown. However, the road which once led directly to the folly and gatehouse no longer does so. Both roads were adjusted and amalgamated into one at some stage about the mid-nineteenth century, thereby altering our modern perception of the structure and obscuring the original intention of the folly’s designer. 

The folly was further diminished as an entrance marker when Walter Lawrence Junior moved his principal eastern entrance further to the south sometime in the first half of the nineteenth century. In 1823, during Lawrence's absence on the Continent, his land agent had a large mature oak tree felled and sold. Believed to have been around five hundred years old, the oak formed part of the tree-lined avenue to the mansion and was celebrated for its great age and circumference of thirty-one feet. Named for his great-uncle Rear-admiral Lawrence, the tree was affectionately known as 'the Admiral's Oak' and its disappearance was so keenly felt by Lawrence that he relocated the principal eastern entrance to his demesne rather than be reminded constantly of its loss.

Over time the eastern gatehouse at the folly disappeared and in the early twentieth century Lawrence’s mansion was demolished. His demesne was broken up into smallholdings and his private avenue made a public road. The effect of the disappearance of so much that made sense of the folly’s original purpose was such that it stands today by the roadside as an isolated oddity in the surrounding agricultural landscape. It is, nonetheless, a well-regarded local landmark and essential repair and preservation work was undertaken on the monument around 2019 to ensure its preservation into the future.

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