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Born in a thatched cottage on the estate of the Cuffe family, Earls of Desart at Cuffesgrange, near Callan in County Kilkenny, Ireland, James Hoban rose from journeyman carpenter and wheelwright to become the architect of the world's most famous house. Little is known of the Hoban family's connection to the Cuffes, other than that Hoban's father Edward worked as a tenant farmer or an estate laborer on the Desart Court lands.

His mother Martha's maiden name was Bayne, and he had at least three siblings, Joseph, Philip, and Ann. Hoban, educated at the estate school, probably displayed a talent for drawing and design. With Lord Otway Cuffe's consent, and possibly his patronage, young Hoban attended the Dublin Society's Drawing School.

Hoban surely excelled in his studies, as he received the prestigious Duke of Leinster's medal for drawings of "Brackets, Stairs, and Roofs, & c." from the Dublin Society in 1780. He subsequently found a position as an apprentice to the Cork-born architect Thomas Ivory, the headmaster of the Dublin Society School from 1759 to 1786.

Desart Court

In 1733, John Cuffe, newly created as Lord Desart, commissioned the construction of a handsome country manor called Desart Court. One of the finest houses in Ireland, it was built during a great age of Anglo-Irish architecture in Ireland, an era that would witness the transformation of Dublin into one of the most elegant cities in Western Europe and adorn the countryside with stately Georgian country houses.

The identity of the architect of Desart Court has not been established, but some attribute the design to Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, the architect of Parliament House in Dublin (now the Bank of Ireland in Cottage Green) and chief exponent of Palladianism in Ireland. It may also have been the work of prominent Palladian designer Richard Cassels (or Castle), a German engineer, who enjoyed a flourishing practice in Ireland in the first half of the eighteenth century. His work included Leinster House in Dublin, a model for Hoban's design of the President's House.

A fire damaged Desart Court during the Irish Civil War, a conflict precipitated by the 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty granting Ireland independence from Great Britain. Although rebuilt, the house was neglected. It was razed in 1957, and the cellars filled in and seeded over.

Courtesy of the Irish Architectural Archive