Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720 - 1940

Architectural draughtsman and author of A General treatise on architecture (1754). John Aheron's origins are not recorded, but according to a report in the Dublin Courant of 17 May 1745 he had by that date never been out of Ireland and was only then making his first visit to the capital. By 1740, perhaps even by 1736,(1) he had become a protegé of Sir Edward O'Brien (1705-1765) of Dromoland, Co. Clare, whom he described in the preface to the first manuscript version of the Treatiseas 'the chief person who gave rise to my ambition and desire for the study of architecture'. Clues provided by the Dromoland Album, a collection of 18th century architectural drawings mostly by Aheron relating to the house and estate,(2) would suggest that Sir Edward, although best known for his passion for racehorses, was a knowledgeable architectural amateur who may have been largely responsible for the overall design of improvements to his house, stables and garden at Dromoland and employed Aheron, a painstaking draughtsman, to work up his schemes in detail, making use of published architectural works in his library. In 1741 Aheron, whose drawings for Sir Edward manifest an obsession with meticulously rendered repetitive detail, such as bricks in a wall or trees in a plantation, and who had evidently been fired by his study of engraved plates in architectural publications, embarked on a series of architectural drawings executed to look exactly like copperplate engravings, accompanied by a treatise on architecture written out to resemble printing. Drawings and text were bound together in a volume which Aheron brought to Dublin in 1745 in the hope of attracting subscribers to its publication.(3) In May 1745 he showed it to the Dublin Society; the members admired it as a 'curiosity' which evinced 'a good taste and genius for architecture'(4) but, as Casey suggests, may also have pointed out that the vast scale and grandeur of the schemes rendered them impracticable in an Irish context. Aheron set about producing a second manuscript version which was reduced in size and more uniform and orderly in appearance; it contained new designs for houses and public buildings on a modest scale as well as retaining many of the vast mansions from the first version. It was this second manuscript, finished in 1751, which he took to London to have engraved and, in March the following year, to display to prospective English subscribers.(5) The work, with further reductions in the number of plates, was eventually published in Dublin in 1754.(6)

At some point between the completion of the first manuscript in 1745 and of the second in 1751 Aheron appears to have broken with Sir Edward O'Brien, for both the prefatory acknowledgment to him and the plan and elevation of Dromoland which appeared in the first manuscript are omitted from the second. Little is known of his activities following the publication of the Treatise. Later in the 1750s he published a folio sheet containing two engravings of designs for Trinity College, Dublin, with accompanying 'Remarks and observations on the building carrying on for a certain college', in which he criticized the west front of the college and offered to produce a grander and cheaper design himself.(7) Towards the end of his life he may have been in straitened circumstances. He sold the second manuscript version of the treatise to an unknown buyer in Dublin in 1758(8) and eventually went to London, where he died in at his lodgings in Long Acre on 7 January 1761. Engravings after drawings by him of Steeven's Hospital, Mercers' Hospital, Clontarf Charter School, the Hospital for Incurables and St Patrick's Hospital were published in the Dublin Magazine in 1762.(8) Aheron's Treatise was indeed, in its manuscript forms, primarily a 'piece of curiosity'. The material contained in it was largely taken from other sources, including Sébastien Le Clerc's A Treatise on Architecture (1732), Colen Campbell's Vitruvius Britannicus(1715-1721) and William Kent's Designs of Inigo Jones (1728), and the original designs were derivative. Aheron includes plans and elevations for five named Irish houses - Dromoland, Stradbally, Ballyheigue, Courcy Mont and Rockforest - but it is impossible to know to what extent the designs were actually of his creation and whether - or to what extent - they were carried out, for all the houses have since been remodelled or demolished.

See WORKS.



References

All information in this entry not otherwise accounted for is from Christine Casey, '"Such a piece of curiosity": John Aheron's A General Treatise of Architecture', Georgian Group Journal(1995), 65-80, and Eileen Harris, British Architectural Books and Writers 1556-1785 (1990), 104-107.

(1) The stable block, for which there are drawings in Aheron's hand, dates from 1736.
(2) The album is in the collection of Lady Inchiquin (photographs in IAA and photocopies or microfilm in NLI).
(3) This volume was acquired by George III aand is now in the British Library, King's MS 282. The inscription at the end of Part V, 'finished the thirteenth of April Anno Dom. 1751 by John Aheron' which leads Harris to conclude that this manuscript and the 'superior' version (see below) were both produced in the same year, was probably added to the first MS. When the second MS. Was completed.
(4) Dublin Courant, 17 May 1745; see also Faulkner's Dublin Journal, 18-21 May 1745 (IAA, Edward McParland files, Acc. 2008/44).
(5) Pue's Impartial Occurrences, 2 Jun 1752, notes Aheron's return from England with the engraved plates.
(6) Pue's Occurences, 4 May 1754, announces its publication (IAA, Edward McParland files, Acc. 2008/44). See Harris, op. cit. above, for the location of copies in Britain and the United States. In Ireland there are copies in Trinity College Library, Meath County Library and in the collection of Peter Rowan, Belfast.
(7) Now in Trinity College Library, Early Printed Books.
(8) It is now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York; according to R.M. Butler it belonged in 1907 to Herbert Batsford, who also owned 'a very fine work of Aheron's published in 1756 on the Classical Orders', presumably a separately published edition of Part III of the Treatise(AAI Green Book (1909), 19); IB 49, 2 Nov 1907, 749).
(8) W.G. Strickland, A Dictionary of Irish Artists (1913), I, 3.


7 work entries listed in chronological order for AHERON, JOHN


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Building: CO. CLARE, DROMOLAND
Date: 1741ca
Nature: Designs (not necessarily his own) for remodelling of house, stables, rotunda, gazebo and gardens for (and with?) Sir Edward O'Brien.
Refs: Dromoland album, NLI MS 2791 (see Bibliography); Knight of Glin unpublished thesis on Irish Palladianism, Chapter 6, ?note 5; Country Life 139, ? Jan 1966, 26(illus.);  Finola O'Kane, 'Leamaneh and Dromoland: the O'Brien ambition, part II', Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies 7 (2004),85-97(illus.).

Building: CO. CLARE, DROMOLAND
Date: 1741ca
Nature: Designs (not necessarily his own) for remodelling of house, stables, rotunda, gazebo and gardens for (and with?) Sir Edward O'Brien.
Refs: Dromoland album, NLI MS 2791 (see Bibliography); Knight of Glin unpublished thesis on Irish Palladianism, Chapter 6, ?note 5; Country Life 139, ? Jan 1966, 26(illus.);  Finola O'Kane, 'Leamaneh and Dromoland: the O'Brien ambition, part II', Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies 7 (2004),85-97(illus.).

Building: CO. LAOIS, STRADBALLY HALL
Date: 1745a
Nature: 'new design for the front'. For Pole Cosby.
Refs: John Aheron, lst MS version of General treatise on architecture, Pl. 40 (see Christine Casey, '"Such a piece of curiosity": John Aheron's A General Treatise of Architecture', Georgian Group Journal(1995), 71)

Building: CO. KERRY, BALLYHEIGUE CASTLE
Date: 1751a
Nature: Designs for house 64 ft long and 44 ft broad, for James Crosbie.
Refs: Plan & elevation in 2nd MS version of Aheron's General treatise on architecture, pl. 21 (see Christine Casey, '"Such a piece of curiosity": John Aheron's A General Treatise of Architecture', Georgian Group Journal(1995), 72)

Building: CO. CORK, COURCY MONT
Date: 1751a
Nature: Designs, for Lord de Courcy, Baron of Kinsale.
Refs: Plans & elevation in 2nd MS. version of Aheron's General treatise on architecture, pl. 22 (see Christine Casey, '"Such a piece of curiosity": John Aheron's A General Treatise of Architecture', Georgian Group Journal(1995), 72,73(illus.)

Building: CO. CORK, ROCKFOREST
Date: 1751a
Nature: Designs, for James Cotter.
Refs: John Aheron, 2nd MS version of General treatise on architecture, pls. 37-40 (Christine Casey, '"Such a piece of curiosity": John Aheron's A General Treatise of Architecture', Georgian Group Journal(1995), 72)

Building: CO. LAOIS, OUGHEVAL, CHURCH (CI)
Date: ?
Nature: Attrib. to JA by C. Casey in thesis. (but not in Georgian Group Journal article)
Refs: E.McP file,s citing Christine Casey, 'Books and builders: a bibliographic approach to Irish eighteenth-century architecture', unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Trinity College, Dublin, 1992.

Author Title Date Details
Aheron, John 'A general treatise on architecture, divided into five books' 1751 British Library, MS. Bib. Reg. 282-283E.
Aheron, John 'A general treatise on architecture, divided into five books' 1751. MS. in Metropolitan Museum, New York. (Differs from MS. in BM; see John Harris, A Catalogue of British drawings…in American collections (1971), 12.)
Aheron, John A general treatise on architecture, divided into five books 1754 Dublin: John Butler, 1754. (See AAI Green Book (1909), 1920. Is this the same book?))
Aheron, John MS. Dromoland album n.d. NLI, MS. 2791. (Contains drawings attr. to JA. Album exh. Irish Architectural Drawings (1965), no. 112. Photographic copy in IAA.)
Anon. 'Architectural and archaeological literature in Ireland' 1871 B 29, 7 Oct 1871, 789.
Anon. 'An overlooked architect and his work - John Aheron' 1871 B 29, 28 Oct 1871, 843; IB 13, 15 Nov 1871, 292.
Anon. 'John Aheron, architect; and others' 1871;1872 B 29, 16 Dec 1871, 978; IB 14, 1 Jan 1872, 14.
Anon. 'The Caxton celebration…printing and publishing in Ireland' 1877 IB 19, 15 Aug 1877, 234-6.
Harris, Eileen British Architectural Books & Writers 1556-1785 1990 Cambridge University Press (1990), 104-107.