The brief answer to the title question is: nothing but a field and a gate. First of all however, a little bit about Elizabeth Bowen and what Bowen’s Court was.
A vibrant literary tradition colours County Cork. On the road from Kildorrery (North Cork), you’d be forgiven for thinking you were on one of the same country roads that wind and weave throughout the Irish countryside, except that this one is irrevocably imbued with the memories and stories of Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen (1899-1973), perpetuated most resolutely in the novel The Last September (1929). Bowen was born at Herbert Place in Dublin on the 7th of June, and famously thought that winter resided in Dublin and summer in Cork, given that she grew up spending her summers in Bowen’s court. Her father, Henry, and her mother, Florence, decided to move to England once her father become mentally ill in 1907. Victoria Glendinning’s 1977 biography provides much more extensive detail on her life for those interested.
Bowen’s work is intensely cinematic. She is wonderfully adept at creating the tension and suspense of a thriller, with the lush depth of a romance. Her dealings with madness and psychological unravelling are not to be ignored as gothic elements are peppered throughout all her work. She hauntingly uncovers the murky, unexamined horror of what goes on behind closed doors. Her short fiction is especially eerie, with stories such as ‘The Cat Jumps’ and ‘The Demon Lover’ bearing heavily on the psyche of all who read them.
Without going too much into depth about the history of the house (which is dealt with extremely thoroughly in Bowen’s own work, Bowen’s Court, 1942) it was built in the 1770’s by Henry Cole Bowen. In 1786, it began to be referred to as Faraghy, the seat of Mr Cole Bowen. It suffered a tumultuous history, being attacked during the Irish Rebellion in 1798, and the costly business of upkeep led to its deterioration. Elizabeth Bowen was the last of the Bowen family to own the house (and the only woman ever to inherit it). She remained based in England but made frequent visits to the area. Many writers visited her at Bowen’s Court, including Virginia Woolf and Irish Murdoch. Her portrait was painted by Patrick Hennessy in 1957 and hangs in Crawford Art Gallery, Cork City, and depicts Bowen standing in the stairway of the house, looking out a grand window onto the land she wrote so much about.
The original gateway of the house now brings you to a much more modern home, which I’m sure has been subject to many a car with a wide-eyed Bowen fan pulling up and then disappointedly reversing through their driveway. A short distance away from it leads you to the side of the road that once gave a glorious view, and where a sign now marks it as a heritage site. Notice boards detail other Cork literary heroes, Edmund Spenser and William Trevor, as well as a map of possible walking trails being offered to the wanderer who has clearly not arrived at a satisfactory destination point. Thankfully, there is also a history of the site we had travelled to see, with an image showing Bowen’s Court in all its illustrious glory.
A few metres away from this humble (but gratefully received) attempt at marking the area, Farahy (or Faraghy) cemetery and Church are possible to visit. Elizabeth, along with her husband, are buried there and there is an annual ceremony to celebrate her life. Cork County Local authorities warn against grave digging (an ominous and horrific thought, appropriately enough given the gothic strand throughout Bowen’s work.) Peering through the window of the school attached to the church, you can just about make out the image of Bowen’s Court as it once was: grand, imposing, and utterly austere, creating the kind of chill familiar to those who’ve read her work.
Luckily, I didn’t have to have my insatiable appetite for this house to be left unsatisfied. My Grandmother, a native of Doneraile, (just over a ten minute drive from Bowen’s Court) was able to fill me in on what became of this house which once dominated the landscape. Bowen’s Court was extremely expensive to maintain and in the end, Bowen was forced to part with it, only to see it almost immediately pulled down by the new owner. This earned him infamy in the community which effectively ostracised him for his decision, and he ultimately moved away. Before it was demolished, most items belonging to the house were auctioned (some of which ended up in my Grandmother’s home to my delight) and then the house was torn asunder in 1961. Bowen developed lung cancer in 1972 and died in February 1973 having lived a peripatetic lifestyle after parting with the house and living between friends and hotels before renting a flat in Oxford which was to be her final home.
Bowen had a great fear that the house would burn down (a trope in her fiction) but its tragic fate was no less devastating. The house which once embodied so many memories for Bowen (and transferred to us as her readers) is now obsolete and nothing remains except a gate and a field. However, the land will always bear the weight of its important inheritance and I find it difficult to envision what could ever take its place.
A lavish film was made of The Last September in 1999, directed by Deborah Warner with the screenplay written by John Banville. A litany of stars make up the cast including Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, David Tennant and Keeley Hawes amongst many others. The extent to which it is an effective/truthful portrayal of the words Bowen wrote is debatable but I think there is no truer experience than visiting the grounds which inspired so many words itself, in spite of the glaring absence of the house, it still maintains a presence.
Bowen, Elizabeth. Bowen’s Court. Cork: Collins, 1998. Print.
Bowen’s Court, Noticeboard at Farahy. Personal photographs by author. 2014.
“Elizabeth Bowen.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.
Glendinning, Elizabeth Bowen: Portrait of a Writer. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1977. Print.
“The Last September.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.