Teach na Rí aka King House is of the earliest surviving substantial Georgian townhouses in the province of Connacht. During its lifetime it has functioned as a family home, a military barracks, an office, a store and now, a tourist attraction.
It was the seat of the King family – one of the most influential landed families in the West of Ireland. Their large estate, centred around Boyle in County Roscommon, stretched to lands in Leitrim, Mayo and Sligo. The family also held extensive lands in other parts of the country notably around Mitchelstown, Co. Cork (held as the Earls of Kingston) and in Co. Tipperary. Later, their seat moved from King House to Rockingham.
18th CENTURY ESTATE HOUSE
In 1730, King House was built for Sir Henry King MP (c. 1681–1739) 3rd Baronet of Boyle Abbey.
The design of King House is attributed to William Halfpenny (d. 1755), an assistant to the renowned Sir Edward Lovett Pearce (d. 1733). Although built in the Palladian style, replete with classical detailing, Venetian windows and a pedimented roof line, the house retains a seventeenth-century fortified character.
King House is built symmetrically on four floors on a U-shaped plan: it is almost certain that it was intended to be rectangular in form, but the entrance front intended to complement the garden front was never completed. The house boasts an extensive vaulted basement area, with the ground, first and second floors also vaulted with red brick—an unusual feature, as predominantly only basement areas were vaulted in large houses. It is believed that the extensive use of vaulting in King House was intended to prevent the spread of fire, and three varieties were used: barrel, pointed and groin vaults. Ultimately, however, King House was damaged by fire in 1788, which may have prompted the Kings to move to a new mansion, Rockingham, on the outskirts of Boyle.
Of particular note is the Long Gallery running the full length of the ground floor, with its majestic front door, stone-tiled floor laid in the Carréaux d’Octagnes pattern, and tripartite Venetian windows. Twin pedimented chimney-pieces form focal points: fashioned from fossilised Kilkenny limestone, polished to give the appearance of marble, they feature floral and peapod motifs. The splendid main saloon on the first floor is almost a perfect cube in shape: twin chimney-pieces enhance the symmetry of the room. A spacious Venetian window overlooks the pleasure grounds, while a bold plasterwork cornice supports a coved ceiling. The dining room was located on the ground floor, readily accessible by the kitchen staff and servants in the basement area.
King House was inherited by Edward King MP (1726–97), first Earl of Kingston; the Kings had, by this time, become one of the premier landowning families in Ireland.
In 1786 Wilson wrote "the Earl of Kingston has a very fine house at Boyle, situated near the ruins of an ancient abbey".
Following a fire in 1788, the King family vacated King House and built a new house at Rockingham, on the shores of Lough Key. The house was leased and subsequently sold in 1795 to the War Office in London for a sum of £3,000.
19th CENTURY BARRACKS
King house was then adapted as a barracks for twelve officers and 260 non-commissioned officers and private foot soldiers. Throughout the nineteenth century, it was a military barracks and recruiting depot for the famous Irish regiment of the British army – the Connaught Rangers. It was also adopted as the headquarters of the Roscommon Militia.
On the first OS maps of 1837, King House is denoted as "Infantry Barracks" at Main Street, Boyle.
In Griffith's Valuation 1857, it is recorded at #1 Sligo Road (townland of Knockashee) Boyle, as "Military Barracks & Yards" occupied by the Honorable Board of Ordnance. King House, valued at a whopping £160, was exempt from rates.
20th CENTURY RESTORATION
On the foundation of the Irish Free State in 1922, the newly formed Irish National Army took possession of the house and it was renamed Dockery Barracks in honour of a commanding officer killed in Boyle during the Civil War. It was taken over by the Third Infantry Battalion and witnessed military activity once again during the Emergency.At the end of the Civil war in 1923, the barracks passed into the control of the newly-formed Irish Free State Army, and was used as a military barracks until the 1960s.
In 1960 King House, together with the east and north grounds, again changed hands, although the army continued to occupy the west and south grounds. Used as a merchant's feed and turf store, the house, as one can imageine, fell into disrepair.
In the 1970s tenders were invited for its demolition to make way for a car park.
In 1987 King House was acquired by Roscommon County Council, but the state of disrepair was considerable (sycamore trees were growing out of its high-pitched roof!) A four-year restoration was undertaken by Roscommon County Council and and the house was returned to its former Georgian style.
King House, now open to the public, is a popular tourist attraction and home to the Boyle Civic Arts Collection, the museum of the Connaught Rangers Association and Boyle Town Library.