All writing © 2009-2015 by Colin Salter unless indicated otherwise. All rights reserved.
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Tuesday, 12 January 2010

AUSTIN COOPER (1759-1830) AND IRELAND’S ARCHITECTURAL HERITAGE

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My 5x great uncle is known in the Cooper family as Austin the Antiquary, to distinguish him from the more than twenty other Austin Coopers who occur in the Cooper family tree.

Austin Cooper FSA

In his lifetime he achieved high office in the Irish treasury, but he owes his lasting fame to his extracurricular interest in the ancient buildings of Ireland. As he went about his work of collecting taxes and inspecting the British military institutions which peppered the Irish countryside, he began to sketch what he saw around him – the ruins of earlier fortifications, castles and abbeys, early churches and even prehistoric sites.

It must be said that my family has produced finer artists than he. But his drawings emphasise the fact that he had the eye of an antiquarian rather than that of an artist. He was a civil servant, a recorder of information; and the information that he left now forms, 180 years after his death, an invaluable record of Ireland’s past.

Cloghleagh Castle, Co. Cork
(Austin Cooper in the coach with a military escort, 
taking the Cork taxes back to Dublin)

He was not the first person to wake up to the importance of antiquities in the landscape. In Ireland Gabriel Beranger was already working to record such sites when Cooper began his own activities. In Britain John Aubrey had been drawing detailed plans of prehistoric remians a century earlier, and William Stukeley was working in the same field around the time of Cooper’s birth.


All these men were however at the vanguard of the antiquarian movement which was part of the emergence of science as an academic discipline, a pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and for the better understanding of the human condition.

Killenure Castle, Co Tipperary
(Austin Cooper's childhood home)

Cooper’s drawings and plans remained virtually undiscovered, kept together by his descendents in the Cooper family, until his great grandson Albert Damer Cooper left money in his will for their publication. In 1942 “An Eighteenth Century Antiquary – The Sketches, Notes and Drawings of Austin Cooper (1759-1830)” finally made it into print and the public domain.

In the 1960s the Cooper family left Ireland, and in 1993 donated all Austin the Antiquary’s work, including his diary notes about the places he had visited, to the National Library of Ireland. In 2000 the Library published a new collection of the work, “Cooper’s Ireland – Drawings and Notes from an Eighteenth-Century Gentleman.”


2 comments:

  1. I may be a little late to the party, being that this article is over 2 years old, but I;m also a relative of Austin Cooper, X6 great grandfather. Would you care to exchange information, p.roniger@yahoo.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. I descend from Anne Marie Cooper and Capt John Greene of Millbrook and Kilkea Lodge, she was my both great grandfather's Grandmother, I also descend from Anne Irwin, of Streaamstown Sligo, that after being left widowed by Nathaniel Cooper she married his cousin Joseph Greene of Gaulstown House Cº Meath and that died at Cooper Hill, I would like to know if you do, what happened to my great grandfather Robert's half brothers Cooper.

    ReplyDelete

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