The Dining Room at Fota was created by the Morrisons (architects Richard and his son William Vitruvius) in the early 1820s; the plasterwork on the ceilings and frieze on the higher parts of the walls is very decorative. On the ceiling, the usual motifs associated with wining and dining – perfectly formed grapes and vine leaves – are in abundance.
For the frieze, small animal heads – a sort of gargoyle-lion creature – appear at regular intervals, above lines of geometric and classical designs including “egg and dart”, with bovine skulls connected by ribbons and swags of fruit and flowers below. Why the skulls? The term for these skulls is bucranium, a word derived from Latin – bus (ox or cow) and cranium (skull) ox/cow and skull. The bucranium refer to ancient Greek and Roman ceremonies of sacrifice – animals used in ritualistic slaughter to please the Gods, with the various Gods being appeased with varieties of the bovine and sheep species. We know that the Morrisons had spent time travelling around Europe – they undoubtedly collected ideas from ancient temples and tombs and employed them in their projects on returning to Ireland.