Kyle Leyden - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Kyle Leyden

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Kyle Leyden

PhD student; Associate Lecturer

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Thesis: “The Epitome of the Kingdom”: The Politics of Fine Building and the Fashioning of Irish National Identity, 1719-1782

Supervised by Prof. Christine Stevenson and Prof. Katie Scott 

AHRC-CHASE Doctoral Training Partnership

My research focuses on an examination of how the contextualisation of buildings and urban topologies within the contemporaneous milieu of political activity, philosophical thought, artistic taste and foreign influence can transform orthodox historic narratives. Few historians of Irish architectural history have considered the possible relationship between the Irish patriotic movement, which emerged within the Dublin Parliament in the early eighteenth century, and the structures its members commissioned and designed.

When confronted with the mansion then under construction for the Speaker of the Irish Commons at Castletown in 1722, Sir John Perceval (1683-1748) wrote that “I would have it as it were the epitome of the [Irish] Kingdom”. Major buildings, both public and private, constructed in Ireland between 1719 and the grant of the Irish Constitution in 1782, were overtly fashioned and often propagandized as uniquely Irish. They were cast as manifest symbols of an Irish national identity centred on mercantile prosperity, good government and political independence from Britain which was peculiarly Protestant in its outlook and ethos. This semiotic aspect of Irish building appears particularly significant in the country house type. The seats of a great landowners were, through artistic taste, wise land stewardship and prudent household management, cast as a microcosm of the Irish state symbolising and promoting a conspicuously patriotic political message and a distinct form of Irish national identity as a cosmopolitan independent state among the states of Europe.

I aim to re-contextualise Irish country house architecture from this period within its socio-political framework in order to determine the extent to which “fine building” was consciously propagandized in this way. The work will be “bookended” with two examinations of the most widely scrutinised building of the period, Castletown. The first will examine its planning, construction, decoration and use between 1719 and 1729 contextualised both within the contemporary Irish social, political, financial and philosophical milieu and also within the political career of its patron, William Conolly (1662-1729). The second will examine the very significant changes made to the fabric and decoration of the house by Lady Louisa Conolly between 1759 and 1776, by which stage the political project commenced by William Conolly had begun to unravel. The contrast in their motivations and the reception of their work will provide a golden thread by which changes in architectural meaning may be traced across the intervening period.

In doing so, the orthodox narrative history of patriotic Irish statehood shall be reshaped through a reconnection of these structures (so often misunderstood as monuments of a hegemonic attempt to put the relative dominance of the English state on display) to outward looking notions of Irish statehood based on Enlightenment thought which were commercial rather than cultural in aim and Protestant in outlook. This form of Irish identity was substantially “airbrushed” from the orthodox narrative of Irish history in the nineteenth century, with the rise of an inward-looking form of Irish nationalism based on shared culture, language and Catholic religious belief.


  • LL.B. in Law, Trinity College, Dublin, 1997-2001
  • B.L. in Law, The Honorable Society of King’s Inns, Dublin, 2001-2003
  • M.A., B.C.L. in Law and Legal History, the University of Oxford, 2012-2013
  • M.A. in History of Art, Courtauld Institute, University of London, 2013-2014
    – Special Option: Modernity and Antiquity in British Architecture, 1615-1815 (Prof. Christine Stevenson & Dr. Jocelyn Anderson) – Dissertation (Distinction with Director’s Prize): “More Patrick’s House than Any Other”: Parliament House, Bank of Ireland and the Iconography of the Irish Whig Project, 1728-1810


  • Tutor in Contract Law, Trinity College, Dublin 2003-2007
  • Guest Lecturer in Architectural History, Notre Dame University in London, 2015-2017
  • Teaching Assistant, Courtauld Institute of Art, BA1 & Postgraduate Diploma Foundations Lecture Course: Nineteenth and Twentieth-Century Architecture and Design, 2016-2017
  • Teaching Assistant, Courtauld Institute of Art, BA1 & Postgraduate Diploma Foundations Lecture Course: European Architecture, c.1480-c.1820: Case Studies, 2017-2019
  • Teaching Assistant, University College London, Architecture in London Undergraduate Elective Course, 2017-
  • Associate Lecturer, BA 2 & Postgraduate Diploma Constellations Lecture Course: Artists, Radicals, Mystics: European Art, 1760-1830, Spring 2020
  • Associate Lecturer, BA 2 & Postgraduate Diploma Constellations Seminar Course: Printmaking in an Age of RevolutionSpring 2020

Research interests

  • Eighteenth-Century Architecture
  • Eighteenth-Century Politics
  • Ireland
  • Country House Architecture
  • Nationalism
  • Post-Colonial Discourse
  • Eighteenth-Century Decorative Studies
  • The Enlightenment

Recent publications

  • “‘More Patrick’s house than any other’: Parliament House, Bank of Ireland and the Iconography of the Irish Patriotic Project 1728-1810”, Immediations 4.3 (2018)
  • “Substance over style: Castletown and the protean politics of Irish ‘improvement'”, Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies 20 (2018)

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