Stillorgan Obelisk was erected circa 1727 and is possibly the earliest surviving obelisk to be built in Ireland. It was in certainty completed by 1733 when the rock (The Devil's Castle sea stack) off Bromore Cliffs in Co Kerry is described as similar to Lord Allen's Obelisk. The Conolly folly was built in 1740, Killiney Hill 1742, and the Wellington Memorial took from 1817 until 1861 to build.
Joshua Allen, 2nd Viscount Allen of Stillorgan Park commissioned the architect Edward Lovett Pearce to design it. Pearce had travelled in France and Northern Italy in the early 1720s and visited many great classical buildings. He was impressed by the work of Andrea Palladio who is widely considered the most influential person in the history of architecture. Pearce designed Castletown House in Kildare and would subsequently design the original Houses of Parliament on College Green, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1729. The cost of the parliament building was recorded in The Journal of the House of Commons of the Kingdom of Ireland in 1735 as being 25091L 5s 10¼ d and Pearce was given a further 2K for managing the building project.
It is thought that he took his inspiration for the Obelisk at Stillorgan from Bernini’s Obelisk in Rome although it it far more rustic* The obelisk measures one hundred feet in height and is made of cut granite built on a base of large granite rocks. It contains a large vaulted chamber and has a double staircase leading to a platform. From this platform four doorways of Egyptian design form the entrance into a room at the base of the pillar. It is believed to have been built either to provide local employment during the famine that year, or that it was a monument to his wife, Lady Allen. One of the architectural drawings has a note by Pearce. ‘Lady Allen’s bury-ing place, to be a monument to patience’. However, Lady Allen died in London in 1758 and was buried at Piccadilly. Legend has it that the second Viscount of Stillorgan, Joshua Allen, had his favourite horse buried beneath the obelisk.
In 1794 when Stillorgan Park was put up for sale by Nicholas Le Ferve, the surveyor John Brownrigg valued the estate at 32K but the cost of the Obelisk and Grotto were not taken in to account. If they were included it would add a further 1930 pounds to the value. The Russian Princess Dashkova on seeing the obelisk on a visit to Ireland (1779/80) declared that she wanted to create one herself on her return to Moscow and employed the artist Richard Cranfield junior to sketch the elevation and sections.
In 1954 when some boys from St Augustine’s were preparing a site to build a Marian Grotto up against the obelisk they found skeletal remains in a small stone lined grave. Gardaí, followed by experts from the National Museum were called in, and the area was excavated by Joseph Raftery and his team. What the boys had uncovered was indicative of a Bronze Age cist burial. The cist was found to contain the remains of a young adult female about 5 ft tall who had died from a blow to the head. Prof E J Keenan and Dr John McGrath could not confirm if the blow was accidental or deliberate and the date arrived at was due to the presence of flint and oyster shells in the grave. This was not the first burial to be found in the park, some 8 years earlier remains were found and ordered by the coroner to be re-interred and there was also a previous cist burial find in 1716.
Stillorgan was very proud of its obelisk and directions to various places used terms like opposite the Obelisk, or a mile past the Obelisk, but today the address for the Obelisk is Carysfort Woods, Blackrock. The Obelisk fell into disrepair and in 2008 Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council undertook a preservation project which lasted three years. The rock face was cleared of ivy and vegetation, the base and shaft were re-pointed and a handrail was fitted on the steps to make for safer access to the viewing area. An iron railing was erected around the monument to protect it.
Not the Statua della Minerva (Elephant and Obelisk) in the Piazza della Minerva in Rome which is sometimes written, but the La Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, a fountain by Bernini in Piazza Navona in Rome designed in 1651.
© June Bow & Karen Poff – January 2013