Architect and stonecutter, of Cork. According to his obituary in the Cork Mercantile Chronicle, Michael Shanahan was born in about 1731. He is said by Fothergill to have been a native of Cork, who entered the service of the Hon. Frederick Augustus Hervey, future fourth Earl of Bristol, when Hervey was Bishop of Cloyne, Co. Cork, in 1767-68. By this time - if the obituary is correct - he was already in his mid-thirties and about the same age as Hervey. Information about his previous career is lacking, but it seems possible that he was a stonecutter by upbringing with a facility for drawing and an interest in architecture which attracted Hervey's patronage. Hervey maintained his connection with Shanahan after his translation to the see of Derry in 1768 and, when he made a second visit to Italy in 1770-1772, took Shanahan with him to make sketches of geological formations and measured drawings of bridges; Shanahan was also to teach drawing to Hervey's young son, John Augustus. Hervey's party was in Switzerland in the summer of 1770, and in the Veneto in the autumn. Shanahan is recorded at Vicenza, about to leave for Rome, in May 1771. He was still in Italy in October and at Chur in November 1771. Hervey, who spent the winter of 1771-1772 in Padua in a poor state of health, finally left Italy with his companions in April 1772, returning to Britain via Paris.
During his two years abroad Shanahan appears to have been given a good deal of freedom and, according to his obituary, embraced the opportunity to further his architectural formation: 'Scientific acquisition, intellectual expansion, and the minute examination of every species of architecture during his travels, together with his association with the most celebrated masters of Rome, Venice, Naples, Paris and Vienna, placed him in the first rank of his profession.' At the time of this (his second) European tour, Hervey had a notion to build a bridge across the River Foyle at Derry and was particularly interested in collecting information about bridges on the Continent. In France, Switzerland and Italy, Shanahan and John Augustus Hervey, made measured drawings of a number of bridges. These were engraved by Cristoforo Dall'Acqua of Vicenza. Shanahan planned to publish them in book form in Dublin but appears to have done so in a very limited way; only two variant copies of this work, entitled Plans and Elevations of Stone and Timber Bridges in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy; together with a plan of an intended bridge at London-Derry, are known. Neither Shanahan's name nor the date appears on the title page, but the dedication is to the Lord Lieutenant, Simon, 2nd Earl Harcourt, who held the post between 1772 and 1777. Shanahan seems also to have envisaged a more ambitious architectural publication with engravings by Dall'Acqua from other drawings made during his travels; it would appear to be these plates - rather than the plates for the bridges - which are referred to by Harvey in several letters written between 1774 and 1776, in which he complains about Dall'Acqua's failure to produce the plates for 'Shanahan's Architecture' or 'our Architecture'. By 1783 Shanahan believed that the plates had 'long since…vanashed[sic]', but they were finally recovered by Hervey on a later visit to Italy and sent to Shanahan in Cork in 1786. Proof copies of seventeen engravings from these plates - chiefly of buildings in the Veneto - have recently come to light in Milan and Vicenza.
After his return to Ireland in 1772, Shanahan took up residence on Hervey's estate at Downhill. He later recalled that he had never intended to stay in the north of Ireland, but 'was first induced to it in hopes of getting my copper plates'. For the next eleven years he acted as Hervey's resident agent on the Downhill estate, responsible for the construction of the mansion itself (1776 onwards) and for some churches and glebe houses in the diocese of Derry, including work on Derry cathedral. Even when he was no longer living in Co. Derry he continued to be involved in Hervey's building projects there, notably the Mussenden Temple (1783-1785) and a second mansion some thirty miles distant at Ballyscullion (1787 onwards). His task as Hervey's architect appears have been to give concrete form to his employer's volatile notions and his role to have been that of an executant rather than an initiator. The results were not always satisfactory, at least in the case of Downhill. In the early 1780s - probably at the end of 1783 - Shanahan moved his base to Cork, where he established - or could he have inherited? - a marble works and stonecutting business in White Street. Hervey was a major client: in addition to chimney-pieces his purchases included stone leopards for the Lion Gate at Downhill, flagstones and a coat of arms for the Mussenden Temple, and flagstones and a cut-stone geometrical staircase for Ballyscullion. In September 1788 the Rev. Daniel Beaufort visited the works to see the chimneypieces which were being produced there - 'all very handsome and much cheaper than in Dublin' - including one for Hervey (by then Earl of Bristol) with 'very large figures' and a relief of 'Minerva … drawing the curtain off from … arts & sciences, w. Lord B[ristol's] bust, and shewing them to Hibernia, whom Britain strives to keep back'. Shanahan also showed Beaufort his portfolios, which included 'colored & gilt sections of Carraccia Gallery in the Farnese Palace at Rome, many excellent prints & drawings - & especially some coloured copies of Antient paintings, in Baths of Titus &c - & the whole engravings of those Baths…Also Raphael's Vatican - w. some of them coloured from Nature - and some Originals of Hackert'.
From the early 1790s onwards, apart from his continuing involvement with Ballyscullion, Shanahan's activities seem to have been mainly confined to Co. Cork, where, as well as running his stonecutting yard, he also worked as architect and contractor for a number of public and private projects, including St Patrick's Bridge and the County Gaol in Cork. He is referred to as a rich man in 1803 and was the owner, in the words of the Cork Mercantile Chronicle obituary, of a 'rare and valuable collection of Pictures and curious antiquities' and a 'select Library'. He died in Cork, aged eighty in 22 May 1811, a month after his wife's death, meeting 'his dissolution with the firmness of a philosopher and the resignation of a Christian'. The high tone of the obituary, which speaks of him as 'eminently gifted' with 'the noble attributes of nice honor, rigid probity, and strict integrity' is in startling contrast with the outburst of the Rev. Forster Archer, Inspector General of the Prisons of Ireland, who visited Cork County Gaol in the course of a tour of prisons in 1801. Confronted by 'The Defects in its Building and in its Plan, The Dishonesty used in its construction, the pitiful Frauds Practiced by its Architect', Archer concluded that 'Greater Imposition, Greater Fraud, Greater Wrong & Robbery was never Committed by any Gaol Builder in any County in Ireland, than has been Committed by Shannahan the Architect'.
Shanahan's will was not proved until 1830, which suggests that it was a matter of contention. In it he directed that he should be buried in the graveyard at Ballintemple and bequeathed his considerable property, which included several houses and a marble yard in White Street, two houses on George's Quay, a house in Dunbar Street, a quarry and field at Ballintemple, and 'fields in Bohreen managh' to his five sons - MICHAEL SHANAHAN  , Frederick, Henry, Edmond and Richard - and his daughter, Anne.. Henry Shanahan, who inherited the marble yard, sent a collection of marbles from Co. Cork to the Society of Arts in 1812. Richard Shanahan, who was born in Cork, was admitted to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1806. A Thomas Shanahan perhaps a grandson - is recorded as a stone and marble mason in White Street, Cork, in Slater's National Commercial Dirctory of Ireland for1846.
Addresses: Downhill, Co. Derry, >=1772-1783?; White Street, Cork, at time of death.
All information in this entry not otherwise accounted for is from Shanahan's obituary in the Cork Morning Chronicle, 24 May 1811, and P. Rankin, Irish Building Ventures of the Earl Bishop of Derry (UAHS, 1972), passim.
Brian Fothergill, The Mitred Earl: an Eighteenth-Century Eccentric (1974), 41.
In this he was aided by an Italian draughtsman named Bitio, see John Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701-1800(1997), 850.
For further information about this tour, see Ingamells, op. cit., above, 126,850, and Pierre du Prey, 'Eighteenth-Century English Sources for a History of Swiss Wooden Bridges', Zeitschrift fur Schweizerische Archaologie und Kunstgeschichte 36 (1979), 52-55.
One is in the British Architectural Library and the other in a private collection (not in Trinity College, Dublin, as stated in P.W. Nash & al., British Architectural Library…Early Printed Books 1478-1840 IV (2001), 1835-1837, which see for further information about the work). A number of the engraved plates were copied by draughtsmen in John Soane's studio circa 1792-93.(Sir John Soane's Museum, London, SM 79/1/37; reproduced in Angelo Maggi, 'John Soane e la "sublime semplicita della struttura" dei ponti in legno svizzeri', John Soane e I ponti in legno svizzeri(Accademia di Architettura, Mendrisio, 2002), 59-115.
See Du Prey, op. cit., above, 53,62n22, and Rankin, op. cit. above, pp. 23-24. .
Discovered in 2001 by Angelo Maggi, to whom I am indebted for this information.
See note 6, above.
For Soane's impression in 1780 of the state of Downhill in 1780, see Pierre du Prey, '"Je n'oublieray jamais": John Soane and Downhill', BIGS 21 (Jul-Dec 1978), 24-36 .
His address is given as White Street in Lucas's Cork Directory (1787) and thereafter, but his continuing involvement with Hervey's building projects in Co. Derry is evidenced by the fact that he gave the Rev.Daniel Beaufort a tour of Downhill on 18 Nov 1787 when Hervey was unwell. According to W.G. Strickland, A Dictionary of Irish Artists (1913), I, 468, James Heffernan the sculptor was an apprentice in Shanahan's Cork workshop, circa 1796.
In 1803 Hervey was hoping to reclaim from 'poor old Shanahan' some of the 'vast sums' he had paid him for Ballyscullion (Rankin, op. cit., 52).
MS travel journal of the Rev. Daniel Beaufort, 1788, II, 71,74. (Beaufort Papers, Trinity College Library, Dublin).
Information from S.G.P Ward, Haslemere, Surrey, citing PRO WO 55/831.
At an auction of Shanahan's effects after his death, Thomas Deane acquired carved marbles from the ruins of Baalbek and Palmyra (see Frederick O'Dwyer, The Architecture of Deane and Woodward (1997), 15); much of the library found its way to Westport House, to be dispersed at auction in the 1970s; other volumes form part of the Mullins Bequest to the ICEI.
Cork Mercantile Chronicle, 22 Apr 1811. His wife appears to have been Anne (née Uniacke) whom he married in 1774, see The Shanahan Family Genealogy,http://home.comcast.net/~little.house.antiques/lls_ltr1.html (last visited, Aug 2010).
British Library Add MS 35,920, 'Observations in a Tour made through Leinster, Munster & Connaught by the Rev F. Archer, Inspector General of the Prisons of Ireland', 1801, ff.7v,8 (IAA, Edward McParland files, Acc. 2008/44).
Copy of transcript of will by Henry McDowell, Celbridge, Co. Kildare, supplied by Kathy Rhodes, Aug 2010, see also Shanahan Family Genealogy, http://home.comcast.net/~little.house.antiques/lls_ltr1d.gif (last visited, Aug 2010) .
This may be the disused Beaumont quarry at Ballintemple, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Beaumont_quarry.jpg (last visited, Aug 2010).
APSD, S, 66.
Alumni Dublinenses, 743.