MARBLE HILL ICEHOUSE
Marble Hill Icehouse, near Portumna in Galway, is one of the few surviving examples of a once common feature of country estates in Ireland. It was built around 1780 as part of the Marble Hill Demesne, a large and elegant property owned by the Burke family.
An icehouse is a structure designed to store ice for long periods of time, usually for cooling food and drinks. Icehouses were an important part of the life of a country house and demesne, especially before the invention of refrigeration. They were also used for medical purposes, such as reducing fever or swelling.
Icehouses typically consisted of a circular or rectangular pit, lined with stone or brick, and covered with a domed roof. The pit was filled with ice, usually harvested from nearby ponds or lakes during winter. The ice was packed with straw or sawdust to insulate it and prevent melting. A small opening at the top of the roof allowed access to the ice, while a drain at the bottom of the pit removed any water. The roof was often covered with earth or vegetation to further protect the ice from heat and sunlight.
The Marble Hill Icehouse is situated in a wooded area, close to the ruins of Marble Hill House, a Georgian mansion that was destroyed by fire in 1915. The icehouse is built of limestone and has a circular plan, measuring about 6 meters in diameter and 4 meters in height. It has a conical roof with a circular opening at the apex, and a doorway on the south side. The interior of the icehouse is divided into two chambers: an upper chamber where the ice was stored, and a lower chamber where the water was drained.
The Marble Hill Icehouse is one of the oldest and best preserved icehouses in Ireland. It is also one of the few that still retains its original roof structure, which is made of stone slabs supported by wooden beams. The masonry was executed by skilled craftsmen, as evident in the detailing of the doorcase. The icehouse is a testament to the wealth and sophistication of the Burke family, who owned Marble Hill for over two centuries.
The Marble Hill Icehouse is currently disused and in need of conservation. It is owned by Coillte, the state forestry company, who have granted access to the public. However, there are no signs or information boards to guide visitors or explain the significance of the site. The icehouse is also vulnerable to vandalism and damage from vegetation and animals. The icehouse is located on private land, so visitors are asked to respect the property and leave no trace.
The Marble Hill Icehouse is a rare and remarkable example of Galway’s industrial heritage. It offers a glimpse into the past, when ice was a precious commodity and a sign of luxury. It also showcases the skill and craftsmanship of the people who built and used it.
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