The Folly in Architecture

Folly, (from French folie, “foolishness”) is a costly, generally nonfunctional building that was erected to enhance a natural landscape. Follies first gained popularity in England, and they were particularly in vogue during the 18th and early 19th centuries, when design was dominated by the ideas of  Romanticism. Thus, depending on the designer’s or owner’s tastes, a folly might be constructed to resemble a medieval tower, a ruined castle overgrown with vines, or a crumbling Classical temple complete with fallen, eroded columns.

Many follies, particularly during times of famine, such as the Irish potato famine, were built as a form of poor relief, to provide employment for peasants and unemployed artisans.

Wynns Folly, Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry
Wynns Folly, Glenbeigh Co. Kerry

On summer holidays in Glenbeigh, Kerry growing up, we heard about the eccentric man who built himself a castle- known locally as Wynns Folly.

The Irish Potato Famine of 1845-49 led to the building of several follies in order to provide relief to the poor “without robbing them of their dignity” by issuing unconditional handouts. However, to hire the needy for work on useful projects would deprive existing workers of their jobs. Thus, construction projects termed “famine follies” came to be built. These included roads in the middle of nowhere, between two seemingly random points, screen and estate walls, piers in the middle of bogs, etc.

Famine road, County Clare, leading nowhere[/caption

This reminds me of how absurd some piers can look too

Taken from the book Boring Postcards- phaidon publishing