Ballymurrin, Kilbride, County Wicklow

contact: Philip Geoghegan.  086-1734560

www.ballymurrinquakerfarmstead.eu

Opening dates in 2020 but check due to Covid: May 1-3, 5-10, 12-17, 19-24, 26-31, Aug 1-2, 4-9, 11-23, 25-30, Sept 1-6, 2pm-6pm, Guided Tours 2pm and 4pm

Fee: adult/OAP/student €5, child free under 16 years but must be supervised.

Philip coming out to greet us.

Stephen and I drove to Ballymurrin House on Saturday 27th July 2019. We were looking forward to it as we had seen the house on “Home of the Year” on RTE, and I particularly love its style, and we knew it was originally a Quaker farmhouse. Stephen is a Quaker so it is special for him, to see part of the history of Quakers in Ireland. I emailed Philip beforehand, to let him know that we were coming. I knew that the current owners are not Quakers, but the website describes the Quaker history of the house.

Philip was friendly and delighted to welcome a Quaker. The house was built in around 1668, and was formerly a pair of houses, according to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. [1] On the Ballymurrin website, the part of the building with the pink painted exterior is identified as the farmhouse, and the white end is the coach house and forge. The pink part of the house was originally two dwellings: a five bay main house, and a dower house of two bays. We did not get to see inside the Dower House, which is now called Box Tree Cottage in honour of a tree in its garden, but you can see pictures on the Ballymurrin website. The buildings form a U shape around a yard, although the buildings to the right hand side when facing the house have not yet been renovated, although they have been stabilised. These would have been the stables. On the left hand side of the U is what was formerly the milking parlour. [2]

The former milking parlour. We did not get to visit inside as it was being used for guests, as it is converted for self-catering.

At the time of the English Civil War (1642–1651), many “dissenting” Christian groups formed, including the Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, as it is also known. The founder of the Quakers, George Fox (1624-1691), was dissatisfied with the teachings of the Church of England and of the other nonconformist, or dissenting, groups. He sought a more pure faith. Wikipedia tells us that in 1652 Fox had a vision on Pendle Hill in Lancashire, England, in which he believed that “the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered,” and after this, Fox travelled around England, the Netherlands and Barbados preaching and teaching with the aim of converting new adherents to his faith. He found many other “seekers” who also felt the churches had become bogged down with traditions, rituals and power politics, and together they tried to live out the Christian message more simply. [3] and [4]

The Quakers spread to Ireland very early after George Fox started the Society in England in 1652: the first recorded Friends Meetings for Worship in Ireland were held in 1654 at the home of William Edmundson in Lurgan, Co. Armagh [4]. As Ballymurrin Farmstead was built from around 1668, some of the first Quakers in Ireland settled in this area in Wicklow. Turtle Bunbury writes that William Edmundson served in Cromwell’s army during the Civil War (and thus fought against those loyal to King Charles I) and settled in Ireland in 1652, and that by 1656 Quaker ideals were making a negative impact on the morale of the Cromwellian army – so much so that Cromwell purged the army of Quakers. This would explain why Quakers settled so early in Ireland – they had been in Cromwell’s army in Ireland. [5] It may seem odd that Quakers were in the army, but it was only during Charles II’s reign that they embraced pacifism.

The Quakers chose a beautiful area to settle in Wicklow, with a view of rolling hills. The house itself is tucked into a hillside so that the hill behind shelters the house.

A Quaker settlement was also established in the late 17th century in Ballitore, County Kildare, by two Quakers, John Bancroft and Abel Strette, who began farming in the area, and Ballitore is still known as the Quaker Village. A Quaker School was founded in Ballitore by Abraham Shackleton (1697–1771) in 1726. Stephen and I visited Ballitore the following month, in August 2019.

Before we began our tour, Philip brought us through the house to the kitchen for a refreshment as it was a particularly hot day. We drank water with fresh mint and sat at the big kitchen table, joining his wife Delphine.

Philip and Delphine are both architects. I love their style, which respects the history and original architecture of the home. The house preserves the traditional cottage air with its thick limewashed stone walls, window alcoves, and exposed wooden beams and lintels. I love the old farmhouse doors. Philip led us into the house via a room which has display boards explaining the history of the house and the Quakers, which we had time to study later. Philip and Delphine purchased the property over twenty-five years ago and have done much renovation work. Philip explained that the setting, with its square courtyard, reminded him of the type of farm houses which he loved in Jersey, the Channel Island, where he had previously worked.

In this explanation board, created by Philip Geoghegan, you can see the farmhouse, with the three-sided courtyard, in the aerial photograph. The third side, the stables, have not been converted.

To begin the tour, Philip brought us out first to see the remains of a cottage out behind the house, built in the 1600’s.

The cottage has been stabilised, but not roofed. The walls were fixed painstakingly to maintain their integrity and heritage. Originally covered in ivy, this was cleared and the floor also levelled.

See the wooden lintel over the door.

Ballymurrin, or “Ballymooranbeg” (Ballymurrin Lower) is identified on the Down Survey Map, made by Sir William Petty for Oliver Cromwell in 1654, and it listed as belonging to Sir William Parsons, who lived in Milltown, Rathnew. [6] William Parsons, the 1st Baronet of Bellamont, was a Lord Justice of Ireland and served as Surveyor General of Ireland. In this position he was able to discern faulty titles for land and appropriate this land for himself. [7] There were Quaker families in Dunganstown and Kilmacow, County Wicklow.

Information panel in the cottage, created by Philip Geoghegan.

Philip has done much research to establish who lived in Ballymurrin. In this 1760 map pictured above, Ballymurrin is identified, and a Quaker Burial place in Kilbride. There is also a Quaker meeting house in Ballykean. Quakers do not have church “services” or masses, they have “meetings,” which are mostly silent.

The Eves family from Leicestershire settled on land also owned by William Parsons. In 1667 Anne Eves married Ambrose Judd, who had moved from Suffolk in England to Ireland in 1651, and their first child, Robert, was born in Ballymurrin in 1668. This couple built up Ballymurrin and had a large family. In 1687 their first child, Robert, died and was buried in the “Friends burying place” just a small walk from the farmhouse, a graveyard that is still there today.

In the marriage register pictured below, of 1680, a Mark Eves (related to Anne) signs as a witness, along with William Bate of Ballymurrin. William Bate, Philip has determined, was born in Stepney St Dunstans East End of London in 1635. He was a carpenter, and he and his wife Anne and five children lived in Ballymurrin for ten years. He probably built most of the buildings at Ballymurrin. He was put in Wicklow Gaol, at the Black Castle, along with twelve other Quakers, for attending a meeting in 1671. The Quakers left England hoping to escape persecution but they were still persecuted in Ireland, for dissenting from the official Church.

Due to persecutions and after his imprisonment, in 1681 William and Mary Bate[s] and their children left Wicklow and helped to set up a township in Newton Creek, West Jersey, in land set aside for Irish Quakers by William Penn, who had that year founded Pennsylvania. William Bates became a senior administrator in the West Jersey government and was buried in 1700 in the Newton Quaker Burial Ground.

Based on the registered births, Philip has calculated that there were about 150 Quakers in County Wicklow between 1661 and 1700. A Meeting House was established in Wicklow Town for monthly meetings at Thomas Trafford’s house in 1669. In details published on Ballymurrin’s website, we see that Thomas Trafford was committed to prison in 1680 for opening his shop (a drapers) on Christmas day! Many Quakers do not celebrate Christmas, since it is every day that Jesus is in their heart.

Inside I was delighted to see the original animal trough inside the cottage:

Animal trough: the Quakers would have kept cows, sheep and pigs, hens, ducks and geese. They grew barley, wheat, oats and vegetables and fruit.

If you look closely you can see a division in the floor. This would have been a wall, dividing the living quarters from the animal quarters. You can see the original door lintel. The fourth wall has been levelled, as you can see in the next picture, from the back of the cottage:

We were curious about the round column at one end of the cottage, while the other is a square column. Philip doesn’t know why there is the rounded column or what it signifies, but it is very impressive, considering it stands there since the 1600s! There are similar rounded gate posts by the stables.

Stephen and Philip speculate on the rounded column to the left, in the barbeque area next to the old cottage.

Next we headed back to the house, and entered the door leading into the forge. You can see the fireplace, with some equipment, in the background, and I took a picture looking upward into the fireplace.

The beehive chimney in the Forge sits on a tree trunk built into stone walls and is a timber frame filled with woven hazel twigs and covered with clay and cow dung inside and plaster outside. It is, Philip points out, a remarkable structure from the 17th century and, even more remarkable, remains intact.

There are more information boards which Philip has made.

Ambrose was “convinced of the blessed truth” in 1672, i.e. became a Quaker.  “Convincement” is when a person realizes that he or she wants to join the Quakers (“Convincement” and officially becoming a Quaker don’t necessarily happen at the same time. Nowadays a person attends Quaker meetings for years before applying for membership). The next information board tells us that Ambrose Judd had to pay for his Quaker faith, with hay and barley, wheat and oats. These were “forcibly recovered,” taken as tithes to be paid to the established church, the Church of Ireland. Catholics also had to pay these tithes. Quakers refused to pay the tithes, so a “tithemonger” took the goods, and refusing to pay tithes would be a reason that Quakers were put in gaol.

In 1689 King James II granted toleration to the Quakers, which means that they no longer had to pay the tithes to the Church of England/Ireland.

Here is another part of the forge:

In the Timeline for Ballymurrin which Philip compiled, we can see that in 1754, Susanna Ashton, born Eves, a widow, marries Joseph Pim from Nurney, County Kildare, who moves to Ballymurrin. He dies in 1764 and is buried in Ballymurrin Burial Ground. His son may have built nearby Woodville House, in Kilbride, County Wicklow (built around 1780). [8]

Above the exhibition room is a loft, which still has its original roofing timbers. The forge below would have kept the bedrooms above warm.

In 1855 Ballymurrin Upper, 163 acres was sold by Joseph Pim through the Emcumbered Estates Court. The Encumbered Estates Act was passed in 1849 to facilitate the sale of Irish estates whose owners could not meet their financial obligations due to losses during the Famine. Ballymurrin Lower was sold in 1874 or 1891, this time by Lydia Pim, through the Landed Estates Court, which had taken over from the Encumbered Estates Court. Ballymurrin and Woodville were bought by the Catholic Byrne family: Edward, Bernard and Mary, according to Philip’s research.

According to Philip’s records, Mary Byrne dies in 1926 and after this, the O’Sullivans live in Ballymurrin. Alterations were made to the house, dated 1927 and 1935.

In 1990, David and Mary Strawbridge moved in to the house and initiated restoration of the main house. In 1994, Delphine and Philip Geoghegan purchased and extended restoration of the house over a twenty year period. In 1995, they re-roofed the agricultural building on the left of the main house, which incorporated a dwelling, two buildings for agriculture, a forge and a cart shed with loft above. This part of the house now includes the exhibition space, a studio and bedrooms upstairs.

We moved on into the next room then, which would have been the living area of the original house.

The living area of the original house.

This contains another huge fireplace. This is called an “inglenook” fireplace. It had been boarded up for perhaps two hundred years!

Next to this is the kitchen, which would have been a later addition to the Quaker house. Its size indicates a good standard of living. The beams of the ceiling are original but the secondary joists were replaced in 1927. The stairs appear to be a later addition as the beam supporting the ceiling joists was cut to make head room for ascending the stairs. Originally the upper level was probably accessed by a steep ladder. You can see a huge oak beam spanning across the kitchen fireplace, which is original.

Kitchen, with yet another huge fireplace, with the airbnb guest inside!

Inside the fireplace is a special feature which Philip and Delphine discovered during their renovations, unique as far as they know to this house for this time period: a bread oven.

The bread oven. I love its wooden door, which you can see at the right hand side of the photograph.
The stone floor of the fireplace is from a local quarry, and has fossils of wormy creatures.

In the last room of the tour, now the family sitting room, there is a wonderful old original cupboard, which contains more Quaker history, which Philip calls the “Minutes cupboard,” as it may have held the minutes of meetings. This cupboard is original to the house, as are the window shutters and doors.

A facsimile of the the front page of a book, History Rise and Progress of the People called Quakers in Ireland, from the year 1653 to 1700.

Before the visitors arrived, Stephen was able to have detailed discussion with Philip about the Quakers, and Philip showed us documents he had transcribed which Stephen admired, especially because he himself has been attempting to copy old documents, and has found them sometimes impossible to decipher. He asked if he could send a copy of a document to Philip to see if he is able to help in deciphering! Since our visit, Philip has indeed aided Stephen in his transcription. Philip prepared the information boards for a 350 year celebration of the Quakers which took place in the farmhouse. He has also prepared a booklet for visiting schoolchildren.

Another event the Geoghagans hosted, which you can see on the website, was a visit by the Bates family of America, descendants of the Quaker Bates who moved to Pennsylvania.

We were delighted not only to see the beautiful house, but to meet this wonderful couple!

After we left the house we visited the nearby Quaker graveyard.

Although about 140 people are buried in this Quaker burial ground, there are only four headstones. This is because in 1671 the Quakers stopped using headstones, perhaps they did not like the overly ornate headstones becoming popular at the time, as these did not convey their belief about the equality of all people. However, by 1850 this restraint was dropped, and the four headstones memorialise members of the Pim family. The Pim family transferred ownership of the Burial ground to the Quakers in 1812.

[1] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/16403107/ballymurrin-house-ballymurrin-lower-kilbride-co-wicklow

[2] https://www.ballymurrinquakerfarmstead.eu/index.html

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quakers

[4] https://quakers-in-ireland.ie/history/background/

[5] p. 75. Bunbury, Turtle and Art Kavanagh. The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Kildare. Published by Irish Family Names, 11 Emerald Cottages, Grand Canal St, Dublin 4 and Market Square, Bunclody, Co Wexford, Ireland. 2004.

[6] Information taken from information boards created by Philip Geoghegan:

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_William_Parsons,_1st_Baronet_of_Bellamont

Nora Robertson writes about him in her book, The Crowned Harp. Memories of the Last Years of the Crown in Ireland. published by Allen Figgis & Co. Ltd., Dublin, 1960.

[8] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/16403106/woodville-house-ballymurrin-lower-kilbride-co-wicklow

[9] I examined the census to see if I can work out more about who lived in Ballymurrin farm, but it is confusing as I don’t know what other habitations exist in the area of “Ballymurrin Lower” and “Ballymurrin Upper” and the numbering system seems to change from 1901 to 1911, as well, perhaps, as the specification between which habitations are “upper” and which “lower,” unless the families moved about quite a bit, which is possible. I don’t know whether all the habitations listed are actually part of the current Ballymurrin farmstead. I have made charts but it is all guesswork.

Philip Geoghegan mentions Mary, Bernard and Edward Byrne purchasing Ballymurrin, but looking at the census, ownership appears to be more complicated.

The 1911 census has a Mary Byrne as head of household, single and Catholic, in house “1.2” in Ballymurrin Lower. The 1901 census has Bernard Byrne and his sister Mary in house 6 in Ballymurrin lower, along with servants who include Laurence Farrell and two youger Farrells who are probably his sons, as well as Peter Penrose, Julia Bull and Patrick Murry. It looks like the numbering system changed from 1901 to 1911 as I doubt the occupants moved between the dwellings.

In 1911 in house 1.1 there is Mary Farrell, head of household, and her sons John, Laurence and James, and daughter Mary – all also Catholic. These are probably the Farrells listed as servants to the Byrnes in 1901.

It looks like a nice little community, with tailor, postmen, shoemaker and dressmaker along with farmers and agricultural labourers, although they may be on the edge of poverty with the dwelling places only classed as type 0, with perishable materials in 1901, but nearly all of the habitations are improved by 1911. Furthermore, by 1911 all but one of the homes are owned by their inhabitants. The families are extended and many are related by marriage. The main families in 1901 are Byrne, Farrell, Arthur, Smyth (or Smith), Douglas, Meade, Redmond (Byrne daughter married a Redmond), Carly (or Carty). Additionally, owners include Colonel Ellis and Mary Cullen. In 1911 the main familes are Byrne, Farrell, Arthur, Smith, Douglas, Meade (daughter married a Farrell), Murray, Lawless and Doyle, as well as owners Michael Kavanagh and Mrs Stampher. All of the inhabitants are Catholic.

Historic houses in County Wicklow listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage

I would like to share with you some examples of the houses in Wicklow listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (photographs are all taken from the National Inventory):

i. Avondale, open to the public. Built in 1779, designs may have been by James Wyatt. It was the home of Charles Stewart Parnell, the Nationalist leader in Ireland.

ii. Avonmore

Avonmore House, built around 1830.

iii. Ballyarthur

Ballyarthur, built in 1680.

iv. Ballycurry

Ballycurry House, built in 1807 to designs by Francis Johnston.

v. Ballykeane

Ballykeane, built around 1780.

vi. Ballymoney

Ballymoney, built around 1800.

vii. Ballynure House

Ballynure House, built around 1800.

viii. Baltiboys

Baltiboys, built around 1840.

ix. Carnew Castle

Carnew Castle, built in the late sixteenth century, re-roofed and remodernised ca. 1817 by 4th Earl Fitzwilliam whose Irish seat, Coolattin, is nearby.

x. Castle Kevin

Castle Kevin, built in 1813.

xi. Clonmannon House (Old)

Clonmannon House (Old), built around 1700.

xii. Cronroe, now Bel Air Hotel

https://www.belairhotelequestrian.com/hotel/

Cronroe, now Bel Air Hotel, built in 1890.

xiii. Donard House

Donard House, built in 1813-14 to the designs of William Vierpyl.

xiv. Fortgranite

Fortgranite, built around 1730.

xv. Glanmore Castle

Glanmore Castle, built around 1804, to designs by Francis Johnston.

xvi. Glenart Castle, was a hotel, now private again, built around 1820.

xvii. Grangecon Parks

Grangecon Parks, built around 1820.

xviii. Hollybrook House

Hollybrook House, built in 1835 incorporating an earlier house, to designs by William Vitruvius Morrison.

xix. Humewood Castle

Humewood Castle, built 1867-70 to designs by William White.

xx. Mount John

Mount John, built around 1800.

xxi. Rathsallagh, now a hotel

https://www.rathsallagh.com/

Rathsallagh, built as stables around 1750, converted to a house in 1798.

xxii. Rosanna House

Rosanna House, built around 1720.

xxiii. Roundwood

Roundwood, built around 1800, remodelled later in the nineteenth century.

xxiv. Slaney Park House

Slaney Park House, built around 1810, reduced by one storey after a fire in 1946.

xxv. Tinakilly House, now a small hotel

Tinakilly House (now a hotel), built around 1876 to designs by James Franklin Fuller.

xxvi. Tinode House (you can visit June Blake’s garden www.juneblake.ie )

Tinode, built in 1864 to designs by W.F. Caldbeck, partly demolished in a fire in 1922 and restored in 1973.

xxvii. Tulfarris – now a hotel https://www.tulfarrishotel.com/

Tulfarris – now a hotel, built in 1760, porch from around 1860.

xxviii. Woodbrook, now a golf course

Woodbrook, now a golf course, built around 1840.

xxix. Woodstock House, now Druid’s Glen Golf Course and hotel

Druid’s Glen hotel, formerly called Woodstock, built around 1770.

Loughton House, Moneygall, County Offaly

Sat May 25th 2019, Loughton, Moneygall, Birr, Co Offaly

Opening dates in 2020: June 9-13, 16-20, 23-27, July 1-4, 7-11, 14-18, 21-25, 28-31, Aug 4-9, 11-30, 11am-4pm.

contact: Michael Lyons and Andrew Vance, 089 431 9150

Fee: adult €5, child €3, OAP/student €4, family ticket €15

www.loughtonhouse.com

We drove up a long tree-lined avenue to Loughton House. Stephen rang from the car on our way and spoke to Michael Lyons, who was out chopping wood, so told us that Andrew would be at the house to meet us.

This would have been the front of the house in 1777, as it has the bow in the centre. This is the side which we saw first as we drove up, the North facing side.

Loughton House was built on the site of a previous house, in 1777. When we arrived, we wondered why there were two front doors. I think Andrew Vance, who greeted us, explained, but we were so busy introducing ourselves and immediately got along so well, that I forget what he told me about the two doors. That’s a question for next time!

single storey addition with crisp limestone pilasters, and pediments on console brackets over the doors.

According to the website, alterations were made to the house in 1835 by James and George Pain. I don’t know who the architect of the 1777 house is, but originally the house faced north, with a shallow full-height half hexagon bow in the centre.

I would consider this to be the back of the house since we went out of the door in the single-storey addition, above, after our tour, to see the garden, but is officially the front, the South facing side. The windows have pediments with console brackets on the ground and first floors. The three storeys are over a concealed basement.

Mark Bence-Jones describes the house in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses:

“Of elegant and restrained late-Georgian character, the main front consisting of two wide and shallow three sided bows of three bays each, with a two bay centre between them. Single storey wing of two bays, adorned with pilasters. Pediments and entablatures on console brackets over ground floor and first floor windows. Parapeted roof. Very handsome Georgian stables.” [1]

The 1777 house was built for Major Thomas Pepper. Thomas, born around 1735, of Ballygarth, Julianstown, Co Meath, son of Lambert Pepper and Jane Otway, was Major in the 14th Light Dragoons. The Peppers acquired Ballygarth Castle (now a ruin) and lands in County Meath after the Restoration of Charles II to the British throne in 1660, for their loyalty to the Stuart monarchy. [2] Thomas Pepper married Mary Ryder, daughter of John Ryder, the Archbishop of Tuam, County Roscommon. The 14th Light Dragoons was originally called James Dormer’s Dragoons, and were raised in the south of England in 1715 in response to the Jacobite Rebellion. They were sent to Ireland in 1717. In 1747 they were renamed the 14th Regiment of Dragoons, and became the Light Dragoons in 1776 [3]. Loughton House passed to their son Thomas Ryder Pepper (1760-1828), who in 1792 married Anne Bloomfield, daughter of John Benjamin Bloomfield and Charlotte Anne Waller, of Newport, County Tipperary. The Bloomfield family had originally settled at Eyrecourt, County Galway.

When Thomas Ryder Pepper died, the house passed to his brother-in-law, Benjamin Bloomfield, 1st Baron Bloomfield (1815) of Oakhampton and Redwood (1768-1846). Redwood House in County Tipperary no longer exists. Oakhampton, also in Tipperary, still stands. He was Lieutenant General in the British Army and fought the rebels in 1798 at Vinegar Hill, County Wexford. He rose in the ranks to become Keeper of the Privy Purse for King George IV. This was a particularly difficult job – we came across King George IV before at several houses listed in the Revenue Section 482 Property list. The king enjoyed a romance with Elizabeth Conyngham of Slane Castle, and relished the good life: food, drink and beauty in the form not only of women but in architecture, with the help of John Nash. He was therefore rather a Big Spender. Naturally, therefore, he came to resent Benjamin Bloomfield and his efforts to tighten the purse strings.

We have already seen that several houses underwent alterations in expectation of a visit from King George IV in 1821. In Charleville, County Wicklow, a new floor was installed at great expense. Here in Loughton, a bedroom was done up for the King. Unfortunately, the King never made it to Loughton.

It was later that Bloomfield hired James and George Richard Pain to renovate Loughton House, in 1835.

James and George were sons of James Pain, an English builder and surveyor. Their Grandfather William Pain was the author of a series of builder’s pattern books, so they had architecture in the blood. According to the Dictionary of Irish Architects, James and his younger brother George Richard were both pupils of John Nash, one of the foremost British architects of his day responsible for the design of many important areas of London including Marble Arch, Regent Street and Buckingham Palace. He was architect to the prolific lover of architecture the Prince Regent, later King George IV. When Nash designed Lough Cutra Castle in County Galway for Charles Vereker in 1811, he recommended that the two brothers should be placed in charge of the work, so it was at this time that they came to Ireland. Lough Cutra is an amazing looking castle privately owned which is available for self-catering rental. [4] James Pain settled in Limerick and George in Cork, but they worked together on a large number of buildings – churches (both Catholic and Protestant), country houses, court houses, gaols and bridges – almost all of them in the south and west of Ireland. [5] In 1823 James Pain was appointed architect to the Board of First Fruits for Munster, responsible for all the churches and glebe houses in the province.

The Pains Gothicized and castellated Dromoland Castle in County Clare at some time from 1819-1838, now a luxury hotel. [6] They took their Gothicizing skills then to Mitchelstown Castle in 1823-25, but that is now a ruin. In 1825 they also worked on Convamore (Ballyhooly) Castle but that too is now a ruin. They also probably worked on Quinville in County Clare and also Curragh Chase in County Limerick (now derelict after a fire in 1941), Blackrock Castle in County Cork (now a science centre, museum and observatory which you can visit [7]), they did some work for Adare Manor in County Limerick (also now a luxury hotel), Clarina Park in Limerick (also, unfortunately, demolished, but you can get a taste of what it must have been like from its gate lodge), Fort William in County Waterford, probably they designed the Gothicization and castellation of Ash Hill Towers in County Limerick (also a section 482 property!), alterations and castellation of Knoppogue Castle, County Clare (you can also visit and stay, or attend a medieval style banquet), Aughrane Castle mansion in County Galway (demolished – Bagots used to own it, I don’t know if we are related!), a castellated tower on Glenwilliam Castle, County Limerick and more.

The Pain brothers reoriented Loughton House to face south, and the main doorcase was put to the east end, the Loughton House website tells us. In his Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster. Counties of Kildare, Laois and Offaly, Andrew Tierney tells us that this oblique approach of typical of James Pain. [8]

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage claims that Loughton House is probably the Pain’s finest Classical work [9]. The exterior is relatively plain, with limestone window dressings with keystones. The north facing side is the original house, whereas the south facing side, of eight bays instead of the seven in the north side, is by the Pain brothers. The windows on this side have moulded cement detailing: architrave, cornice and consoles, and pediments. We saw more of the Pains’ work inside, in the Drawing and Dining Rooms which date from their renovation, and the wonderful curved stone cantilevered staircase.

The current owners, who acquired the house in 2016, are both medical doctors, as was the previous owner, Dr. James Reilly, who was also a former Minister for Health in the Irish government. When we visited, the house exuded a comfortable quirky chic, with marble busts on pillars in the front hall and a touch of whimsy, with a stag’s head draped in a fur at the bottom of the sweeping cantilevered staircase. 

The Loughton House website tells us:

“The house has very fine detailing – traces of the late eighteenth-century decoration can be seen in the house as well as early nineteenth-century changes in internal layout.

“The ground floor is laid out with bright and generously proportioned formal reception rooms with magnificent decorative cornicing and ceilings, ornate plaster work and large original period fireplaces. The original wood floors remain throughout and the grand sash bay windows permit torrents of light into the house. Most notable are the wood-carved shutters and door panels in the original Billiard room.” [10]

Loughton passed to Bloomfield’s son, John Arthur Douglas Bloomfield (1802-1879). He succeeded as 2nd Baron Bloomfield on his father’s death. He was a diplomat and travelled widely, was envoy to St. Petersburg and Ambassador to Austria. He was appointed Privy Counsellor on 17 December 1860. He was created 1st Baron Bloomfield of Ciamhaltha, Co. Tipperary on 7 August 1871. In 1834 his father had a hunting lodge built, Ciamhaltha House, County Tipperary, so the new title referred to this house [11]. He and his wife Georgiana Liddell had no son and the titles ended with his death. Georgina served as a Maid of Honour to Queen Victoria between 1841-45. Upon Georgiana’s marriage to Baron Bloomfield in 1845, when Georgiana left her position in the house of the Queen, Victoria gave her a cutting from a vine, which still grows at Loughton House today. Georgiana wrote the book Reminiscences of Court and Diplomatic Life, published 1883. It sounds fascinating!

The house passed to the Baron’s sister, Georgina, and her husband, Henry Trench, of Cangort Park, County Offaly (still standing, privately owned). The Landed Estates website tells us that in the 1870s, Henry Trench owned 4,707 acres in county Tipperary, 2,113 acres in county Offaly, 1,926 acres in county Limerick, 1,581 acres in county Galway, 704 acres in county Clare and 432 acres in county Roscommon. [12]

When James Reilly sold Loughton House, he unfortunately sold its contents, including an archive of family papers. Michael Parsons of The Irish Times wrote of the auction:

Lot 2066, The Loughton Papers circa 1749-1960 – an archive of documents including correspondence, diaries, journals, sketch books and recipe books created by the various families who had lived at Loughton House – sold for €12,000 (above the estimate of €5,000-€8,000).

Sheppard’s said the buyer was Galway businessman Pat McDonagh, founder and managing director of the Supermac’s fast-food chain and owner of the Barack Obama Plaza – a services area on the M8 motorway just outside the village of Moneygall built following the visit of the US president.”

Fortunately, the article continues to reassure the readers that the documents will be properly preserved and accessible:

“In a statement issued via the auction house, Mr McDonagh described the archive “part of a tapestry of history” and that his “first priority” was its “preservation for historians, the community and the country”.

“The statement said: “Mr McDonagh commended Offaly County Council for their interest in working with Supermac’s for the preservation of the papers” which will be digitised, and that “historians owe a debt of gratitude to the owners of Loughton House, Dr James Reilly and his wife Dorothy”.

“Mr McDonagh “confirmed also that the visitor centre at the Barack Obama Plaza will host a Loughton House section, where extracts from the archive will be displayed on a rolling basis.” He said the plaza would work to ensure that the heritage of the house was not lost to the community, adding that he would encourage local and expert input to ensuring that the archive would be educational, appropriate and accessible.” [13]

The wood carved panels shutters and door panels in the billiards room, now a dining room, were decorated by one of the Trenches, Dora. The form of decoration, with details rendered by a hot poker, is exquisitely done. The portrait of the artist, Dora, hangs next to the doors. Dora was Henry Trench’s son Benjamin Bloomfield Trench’s wife, Dora Agnes Caroline Turnor. Dora Trench died in 1899, after a brief illness. Benjamin and Dora had two daughters, Sheelagh Georgiana Bertha and Theodora Caroline. [14]

Dora illustrated the doors with crests and intricate patterns, and all of the doors from the room are decorated, along with the shutters. I was delighted when Stephen asked if I could take a photograph of the door – I didn’t like to ask, knowing that most section 482 houses forbid indoor photography. Andrew’s assent typified his warm welcome. You can see photographs of the room, called Dora’s Room, on the Loughton website, along with photographs of the other reception rooms, the Library, Dining and Drawing Rooms. “Dora’s Room” contains a long table and chairs, and an intricately carved fireplace.

The fireplace in Dora’s Room can be seen on the Loughton website. It is, Andrew Tierney tells us in his Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster, Tudor Revival, of 1862. The male caryatid figure on the right is the original, Andrew thinks, whereas the figure on the left is a copy. It’s strange how such fireplaces are carved in wood and manage to survive the fire they contain. Andrew said it throws out great heat. It has a second flue behind, from which the fire can draw its oxygen, rather than drawing from the warmed air inside the room.

The Loughton website tells us that the Trenches remained in residence until 1973 when the property was passed to the Atkinson family.

Major Anthony Guy Atkinson (b. 1909) inherited Loughton in 1970 from his cousins Thora and Sheelah Trench (Dora’s daughters). Henry Trench, Georgina Bloomfield’s husband, had a sister, Anne Margaret Trench. She married Guy Caddell Atkinson. They inherited Cangort Park in County Tipperary and Major Anthony Guy Atkinson was a descendant of Anne Margaret Trench. [15] He made Loughton over to his son, Guy Nevill Atkinson (b. 1950), who sold it in 2001.

From Dora’s Room we came upon the hallway with the sweeping floating stone cantilever staircase. This was originally the entrance hall, before James Pain added the staircase and moved the entrance to the east end.

Andrew drew our attention to an old tall clock with barometer. It was from Lissadell House, and, appropriately, was made by a man named Yates – not the poet Yeats who frequented the house, note the different spelling, but in a nice touch, the picture hanging beside it was of the poet. Incidentally, one of the Trench family, a sister of Benjamin Bloomfield Trench who inherited Loughton, Louisa Charlotte, married Colonel James Gore-Booth, of the Lissadell family. The owners have taken their time to populate the house appropriately, with respect for its history and a dash of humour.

I was most enamoured with the next room, the library, with its floor to ceiling built in bookshelves. It retains original wallpaper, worn but still in situ.

“This is where we sit in the evenings, with a glass of wine,” Andrew told us. I could just see myself there too, in the well-worn couches, facing the fireplace. You can also see this room on the website, with its comfy leather armchairs. The Equine pictures are appropriate as Andrew is Master of the local Hunt!

In the Drawing Room, a formal room with sofas, carpets and lovely salmon pink walls, gorgeous cabinets, piano and ornate gilt overmantel mirror, Andrew pointed out another treasure: the fire insurance plaque from a building. The various insurance companies had their own firetrucks and teams, and they only put out fires of the buildings insured by them. Unfortunate neighbours burned down. I was excited to see the plaque as I had seen one on the Patriot Inn in Kilmainham, one of the few remaining, and learned about them in a lecture in Warrenmount in Dublin.

We then entered the second dining room (if we consider Dora’s Room, the former Billiards room, to be a dining room also, as it is currently furnished), a larger room than the first. This dining room also has a clever fireplace, this one of steel, with secret cabinets at the sides to keep the plates and dishes hot. It also had vents, and further vents built into the walls of the room, to control temperature and air flow.

A painting above the door is by Sarah, Lady Langham, an artist, who has also applied her creative skills to the house, and who manages the day-to-day operation of the house. She has made curtains and even the wallpaper of The King’s Bedroom. On our way to the back staircase we ran into Sarah herself, as I was photographing the chain that was used to pull the coal to the upper floors.

The final rooms we viewed are Sarah’s piece de resistance, “the King’s Suite,” which comprises two rooms – the room where George IV was meant to sleep, and a room next to it also furnished with a bed, which might have been his dressing room or a parlour.

Sarah created the wallpaper. It features a crest of a unicorn and a lion around the top – and a stag that is pictured in the recurring motifs below. She also made the magnificant curtains and pelmet.

The fireplace is interesting. It is made of limestone, which contains fossils of tubular sea creatures:

This, along with other rooms, is available for guest accommodation.

There is a stable complex to one side of the house. Andrew brought us out to show us the function room, which was originally a coal shed. It’s huge, and would be wonderful for parties, and is available for hire. The garden outside it, which would also be available for the functions, is romantic and beautiful, with a pond and stone walls.

Then we sat at a table outside and Andrew brought us coffees – such a lovely touch!

Michael joined us briefly and shared with us a photograph he had found in the national archives in England, of a group gathered at what is now the back of the house.

Andrew then urged us to wander in the gardens. We walked over to what looks like a Norman keep. It is Ballinlough Castle (not to be confused with Ballinlough Castle of County Westmeath), which dates back to the early seventeeth century, and belonged to the O’Carroll family. I climbed nearly all the way to the top (at my own peril!)!

We then found our way to the walled garden. Michael told us he hopes to restore the glasshouse.

I’d love such a large growing space, with space for fruit trees and sheltering walls. I have had my own allotment for seven years!

The vine, above, which was taken from a cutting from a vine belonging to Queen Victoria and given to her lady-in-waiting, Georgiana Liddell, when she married Baron Bloomfield.

I’d love to stay in the cottage, which is also available to rent.

[1] Mark Bence-Jones. A Guide to Irish Country Houses. (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.

[2] http://www.patrickcomerford.com/search/label/castles?updated-max=2017-03-10T11:30:00Z&max-results=20&start=79&by-date=false

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/14th_King%27s_Hussars

[4] http://www.loughcutra.com/

[5] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/2640/PAIN-JAMES

[6] https://www.dromoland.ie/

[7] https://www.bco.ie

[8] p. 472. Tierney, Andrew. Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster. The Counties of Kildare, Laois and Offaly. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2019.

[9] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/14946003/laughton-house-ballinlough-cl-by-cullenwaine-ed-moneygall-co-offaly

[10] https://loughtonhouse.com/

[11] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/22403202/ciamaltha-house-garraunbeg-tipperary-north

[12] http://landedestates.nuigalway.ie/LandedEstates/jsp/estate-show.jsp?id=2352

Redwood was inherited by Henry Trench’s son William Thomas Trench (1843-1911).

[13] https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/fine-art-antiques/owner-of-supermac-s-buys-loughton-house-archive-1.2818308

[14] http://www.thepeerage.com

[15] https://landedfamilies.blogspot.com/search/label/Ireland?updated-max=2017-02-19T16:18:00Z&max-results=20&start=23&by-date=false Atkinson of Cangort and Ashley Park

Barmeath Castle, Dunleer, Drogheda, County Louth

contact: Bryan Bellew. Tel: 041-6851205

Opening dates in 2020: May 1-31, June 1-9, Aug 15-23, Oct 1-20, 9am-1pm  

Fee: adult /OAP/student €5, child free

photograph taken from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage [1]
photograph taken from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage [1] I myself didn’t manage to take a photograph of the entire building.
photograph taken from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage [1]. Square tower which was added in 1839, with its Romanesque arch and portcullis.
photograph taken from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage [1]

I was excited to see Barmeath Castle as it looks so impressive in photographs. We headed out on another Saturday morning – I contacted Bryan Bellew in advance and he was welcoming. We were lucky to have another beautifully sunny day in October.

We drove up the long driveway.

The Bellew family have lived in the area since the 12th century, according to Timothy William Ferres. [2] The Bellews were an Anglo-Norman family who came to Ireland with King Henry II. The Castle was built in the 15th century by previous owners, the Moores, as a tower house. The Moores were later Earls of Drogheda, and owned Mellifont Abbey after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which became the Moore family home until 1725. [3]

We were greeted outside the castle by Lord and Lady Bellew – the present owner is the 8th Lord Bellew of Barmeath. I didn’t get to take a photograph of the house from the front as we immediately introduced ourselves and Lord Bellew told us the story of the acquisition of the land by his ancestor, John Bellew.

The name “Barmeath” comes from the Irish language, said to derive from the Gaelic Bearna Mheabh or Maeve’s Pass. Reputedly Queen Maeve established a camp at Barmeath before her legendary cattle raid, which culminated in the capture the Brown Bull of Cooley, as recounted in the famous epic poem, The Tain.

The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us:

“Barmeath Castle stands proudly on the sheltered slopes of a wooded hillside in County Louth, looking out over the park to the mountains of the Cooley Peninsula and a wide panorama of the Irish sea. The Bellew family was banished to Connacht by Cromwell but acquired the Barmeath estate in settlement of an unpaid bill.” [4]

John Bellew fought against Cromwell and lost his estate in Lisryan, County Longford, and was banished to Connacht.

Theobald Taaffe, Lord Carlingford, also lost lands due to his opposition to Cromwell and the Parliamentarians and loyalty to King Charles I. The Taaffes had also lived in Ireland since the twelfth or thirteenth century, and owned large tracts of land in Louth and Sligo. Theobald Taaffe, 2nd Viscount, was advanced in 1662 to be Earl of Carlingford. He engaged John Bellew as his lawyer to represent him at the Court of Claims after the Restoration of King Charles II (1660). Theobald’s mother was Anne Dillon, daughter of the 1st Viscount Theobald Dillon. John Bellew, while banished to Connacht, married a daughter of Robert Dillon of Clonbrock, County Galway. The Clonbrock Dillons were related to the Viscounts Dillon, so perhaps it was this relationship which led Lord Carlingford to engage John Bellew as his lawyer. Bellew won the case and as payment, he was given 2000 of the 10,000 acres which Lord Carlingford won in his case, recovered from Cromwellian soldiers and “adventurers” who had taken advantage of land transfers at the time of the upheaval of Civil War. Lord Carlingford may have taken up residence in Smarmore Castle in County Louth, which was occupied by generations of Taaffes until the mid 1980s and is now a private clinic. A more ancient building which would have been occupied by the Taaffe family is Taaffe’s Castle in the town of Carlingford.

The Baronetcy of Barmeath was created in 1688 for Patrick Bellew, the lawyer John’s son, for his loyalty to James II. [see 2] Patrick, who was High Sheriff of County Louth, married Miss Elizabeth Barnewall, sister of Sir Patrick Barnewall Baronet of Crickstown Castle, County Meath (a little bit of a ruin survives of this castle). His son John inherited Barmeath and the title, 2nd Baronet Barmeath.

John’s second son, Christopher, remained in Galway and established the market town, Mount Bellew.

A three storey seven bay house. Two round corner turrets were added on the former entrance front, which is now the garden-facing side.

The castle we see today was built onto the 15th century tower house, in 1770, for Patrick Bellew, 5th Baronet, and enlarged and castellated in 1839 by Sir Patrick Bellew, 7th Bt, afterwards 1st Baron Bellew. The title Baron Bellew of Barmeath was created in 1848 for Sir Patrick, who had previously represented Louth in the House of Commons as a Whig, and also served as Lord Lieutenant of County Louth. Part of a genuine tower house is still part of the castle, detectable by the unusual thickness of the window openings at the northeastern corner of the building. [5] Before the 1839 enlargement, it was a plain rectangular block, two rooms deep and three storeys high, with seven windows across the front, and a central main door.

Mark Bence-Jones suggests in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses that the design for the enlargement may have been by John Benjamin Keane. [6]. Lord Bellew recalled Mr. Bence-Jones’s visit to the house! However, the Irish Historic Houses website names the Hertfordshire architect, Thomas Smith, as the designer of the Neo-Norman castle.

John Benjamin Keane worked first as an assistant to Richard Morrison, and went into independent practice by 1823. According to the Dictionary of Irish Architects, during the next two decades he received several important commissions including the new Queen’s College, Galway, and a number of major Catholic churches in Dublin and elsewhere, and in 1846-48 he was engineer to the River Suir Navigation Co. [7] He also designed several houses, such as Stradone House in County Cavan for Major Burrowes (1828), Cloncorick Castle County Leitrim for Edward Simpson (1828), Ballybay House in County Monaghan for Lt. Col. Leslie (1829), Laurah in County Laois for Sir Walter Burrowes (1829), Belleek Manor in County Mayo (around 1830), Gothicization of Castle Irvine County Fermanagh in 1831-1835, Glencorig Castle County Leitrim, probably Pilltown House County Meath (1838), Edermine County Wexford in 1840, Magheramenagh Castle, County Fermanagh for James Johnston (1840, now a ruin), Oak Park mausoleum in County Carlow, and Glencara House County Westmeath. It makes sense that he could have Gothicized Barmeath since he worked on Castle Irvine in that period.

However, the Dictionary of Irish Architects attributes Barmeath to Thomas Smith (1798-1875). He also worked on Castle Bellingham in County Louth (another magnificent castle which is available for weddings) [8], and Braganstown House in County Louth (privately owned).

The faces in the carving around the windows reminded me of Borris House.

At this time, Bence-Jones tells us, two round corner turrets were added on the former entrance front, which became the garden front. A new entrance was made under a Romanesque arch guarded by a portcullis on a square tower which was built at one end of the side elevation. On the other side of the castle, a long turreted wing was added, enclosing a courtyard. The castle kept its Georgian sash-windows, though some of them lost their astragals later in the nineteenth century. The entire building was cased in cement, lined to look like blocks of stone, and hoodmouldings were added above the windows.

The Bellews brought us inside, and Lady Bellew had us sign the visitors’ book. I told them I am writing a blog, and mentioned that we visited Rokeby Hall and met Jean Young, who had told us that she is reading the archives of Barmeath. Lord Bellew proceeded with the tour. 

On the staircase, we chatted about history and enjoyed swapping stories. Lord Bellew pointed out the unusually large spiral end of the mahogany staircase handrail, perpendicular to the floor – it must be at least half a metre in diameter. The joinery of the staircase is eighteenth century, with Corinthian balusters.

Mark Bence-Jones describes it:

“Staircase of magnificent C18 joinery, with Corinthian balusters and a handrail curling in a generous spiral at the foot of the stairs, opening with arches into the original entrance hall; pedimented doorcases on 1st floor landing, one of them with a scroll pediment and engaged Corinthian columns.”

Bence-Jones continues his description:

“Long upstairs drawing room with Gothic fretted ceiling. Very handsome C18 library, also on 1st floor; bookcases with Ionic pilasters, broken pediments and curved astragals; ceiling of rococo plasterwork incorporating Masonic emblems. The member of the family who made this room used it for Lodge meetings. When Catholics were no longer allowed to be Freemasons, [in accordance with a Papal dictat, in 1738], he [Edward Bellew, 3rd Baronet] told his former brethren that they could continue holding their meetings here during his lifetime, though he himself would henceforth be unable to attend them.”

When in the library, I told Lord Bellew that I’d read about his generous ancestor who continued to allow the Freemasons to meet in his home despite his leaving the organisation. Lord Bellew pointed out the desk where Jean works when she visits the archives. What a wonderful room in which to spend one’s days!

The rococo details pre-date the exterior Gothicization. The egg-and-dart mouldings around the first floor doors, Corinthian columns and staircase all seem to date, according to Casey and Rowan, to approximately 1750, which would have been the time of the 4th and 5th Baronets; John the 4th Baronet (1728-50) died of smallpox, unmarried, and the title devolved upon his brother, Patrick (c. 1735-95), 5th Baronet [see the Lord Belmont website, 2]. The library might be from a little later. Casey and Rowan describe it:

“The finest room, the library, set on the NE side of the house above the entrance lobby, is possibly a little later. Lined on its N and S walls with tall mahogany break-front bookcases, each framed by Ionic pilasters and surmounted by a broken pediment, it offers a remarkable example of Irish rococo taste. The fretwork borders and angular lattice carving of the bookcases are oriental in inspiration and must reflect the mid-C18 taste for chinoiserie, made popular by pattern books such as Thomas Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director (1754). The ceiling has a deep plasterwork cove filled with interlaced garland ropes, a free acanthus border, oval motifs and shells set diagonally in the corners. Free scrolls, flowers and birds occupy the flat area with, in the centre, a rather artless arrangement of Masonic symbols, including three set-squares, three pairs of dividers, clouds and the eye of God.”

an example of Masonic symbols from the wonderful Freemasons Hall interior in Molesworth Street in Dublin, open during Open House Dublin each year.
Freemasons Hall interior in Molesworth Street in Dublin, Open House Dublin 2010.

We saw some of the bedrooms next, which provide accommodation when the house is used as a wedding venue. [9] A wing of the house is also advertised for accommodation on Airbnb. [10]

Next we headed outside, and Lord Bellew took us on a tour of the garden. According to the Britain and Ireland Castles website, Barmeath Castle is set on 300 acres of parkland with 10 acres of gardens, including a lake with island. I found a short video of Lord Bellew discussing the castle on youtube, and he tells how his son made the “temple” on the island, in return for the gift of a car! The temple is very romantic in the distance, and extremely well-made, looking truly ancient.

The Irish Historic Houses website tells us about the gardens:

“The lake and pleasure grounds were designed by the garden designer and polymath, Thomas Wright of Durham (1711-1785), who visited Ireland in 1746 at the invitation of Lord Limerick and designed a series of garden buildings on his estate at Tollymore in County Down. Wright explored ‘the wee county’ extensively and his book “Louthiana“, which describes and illustrates many of its archaeological sites, is among the earliest surveys of its type. His preoccupation with Masonic ‘craft’ indicates that Wright is likely to have been a Freemason, which probably helped to cement his friendship with the Bellew of the day [this would have been John the 4th Baronet]. He may well have influenced the design for the Barmeath library and indeed the mid-eighteenth century house.

Wright’s highly original layout, which is contemporary with the house, is remarkably complete and important, and deserves to be more widely known. It includes a small lake, an archery ground, a maze, a hermitage, a shell house and a rustic bridge, while the four-acre walled garden has recently been restored.”

Thomas Wright also designed the perhaps more famous “Jealous Wall” and other follies at Belvedere, County Westmeath. He may have designed them especially for Robert Rochfort, Lord Belvedere, or else Lord Belvedere used Wright’s Six Original Designs of Grottos (1758) for his follies. The Jealous Wall was purportedly built to shield Rochfort’s view of his brother George’s house, Rochfort House (later called Tudenham Park).

The lake was created to look like a river, and indeed it would have fooled me!

The topiary is unique:

We walked along the lake to the specially created bridge by Thomas Wright. We walked over it, and I marvelled at how it stands still so solid, after two hundred and fifty years!

The view through to the archery ground:

 The current owners have been working to restore the four acre walled garden. Lord Bellew and I discussed gardening as he showed us around.

A cottage in the garden contains beautiful painted walls:

The walls depict scenes of Venice.

The gardens are open to the public as part of the Boyne Valley Gardeners Trail. [11]. More visitors were scheduled to arrive so Lord Bellew saw us to our car and we headed off.

Later, on a visit to the Battle of the Boyne museum, we saw the Bellew regalia pictured on a soldier. I also took a photo of this information panel:

[1] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/13901817/barmeath-castle-barmeath-co-louth

[2] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Louth%20Landowners

[3] http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_family/hist_family_mooredrogheda.html

[4] http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Barmeath%20Castle

[5] p. 152-154. Casey, Christine and Alistair Rowan. The Buildings of Ireland: North Leinster. Penguin Books, London, 1993.

[6] Mark Bence-Jones. A Guide to Irish Country Houses.(originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.

[7] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/2896/KEANE%2C+JOHN+BENJAMIN#tab_biography

[8] https://www.bellinghamcastle.ie

[9] https://www.britainirelandcastles.com/Ireland/County-Louth/Barmeath-Castle.html

[10] https://www.airbnb.ie/rooms/14447440?source_impression_id=p3_1571074477_5G4k1LLpF4gKSz4n

[11] https://www.garden.ie/gardenstosee/barmeath-castle/

Clonalis, Castlerea, County Roscommon

contact: Pyers and Marguerite O’Conor Nash

Tel: 087-3371667

(Tourist Accommodation Facility): April 1- October 5th.

email: info@clonalis.com

www.clonalis.com

listed opening dates in 2020: Jun-Aug, Mon-Sat, National Heritage Week Aug 15-23, 11am-5pm, last tour 3.45pm

Fee: adult €10, OAP/student €8, child €5, family groups catered for.                                                                                                                                                                                       

Clonalis House is arguably the finest expression of the Victorian-Italianate style in County Roscommon.

Stephen and I were invited to join friends for a weekend in County Westmeath and took the opportunity to visit Clonalis House in County Roscommon. We were particularly eager to visit the house once Stephen heard that it is the house belonging to the O’Conor Dons. The O’Conor Dons are descended from the last High Kings of Ireland. Stephen knew the last High King of Ireland, Father Charles O’Conor, at school, as a gentle elderly priest sweeping leaves in Clongowes Wood College. Stephen has affectionate memories of him, and was impressed by his humility and contentedness. Unfortunately since Father Charles became a Catholic priest, the line died out. The house was bequeathed to Father Charles’s sister, Gertrude, who married Richard Rupert Nash, and passed then to her son Pyers, who added the name O’Conor to his last name Nash. The term “Don” refers originally to hair colour, and there was another branch of the O’Conor family called “Rua” or red, but the line has died out. However, the term “O’Conor Don” is a title, applying to the Chieftain of the O’Conors of Connacht.

We were running late as I find Google always underestimates the time it will take to any destination over an hour away, so we arrived just in time for the last house tour at 4pm. I took the wrong turn as we drove up the long entrance driveway, turning off to the self-catering holiday homes in a former courtyard, by mistake. I was in such a rush that I didn’t notice the beauty of the drive up to the house, which I stopped to appreciate on the way out. The drive is one third of a mile long, stretching through parkland.

We had contacted the O’Conor Nashes in advance, and a young historian who now gives tours of the house welcomed us. She has a lot of facts to learn! The house is bursting with history. The family, impressively, can date their genealogical tree back to 1100 BC; there is a book detailing their pedigree in the library, signed and legitimised by Sir William Betham, Ulster King of Arms, in 1825. There is also a chart in the library listing the male line, which goes back to 75AD. The family produced 11 high kings of Ireland and 24 kings of Connacht. [1]

Our guide began the tour outside. She pointed out a large stone in front of the house. It was brought from Rathcroghan in County Roscommon, about nine miles from the house. Upon this stone, called the Coronation Stone, the High Kings of Ireland were crowned.

There is an indentation like a footprint on the top of the stone, and this is supposed to be where each king put a foot during his coronation. According to Mrs. Pyers O’Conor-Nash’s entry in Sybol Connolly’s book, In An Irish House, published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in London in 1988, one of the last to be crowned king of Connacht was Felim O’Conor, who was killed in the battle of Athenry when fighting against his Connacht neighbours the de Burghs and the de Berminghams in 1316.

The Clonalis website describes the ceremony of inauguration of a king. He symbolically married the soil over which he was to rule, and the sacred stone acted as the King’s bride in the ceremony known as “Banais Ri” (the King’s Marriage”). This stone was probably used to inaugurate thirty O’Conor kings!

I was impressed immediately by the symbol on the house of the arm holding the sword:

Randall MacDonnell tells us in his book The Lost Houses of Ireland that in 1175 Roderick O’Conor, the High King of Ireland, agreed to the following: “Henry [King Henry II of England] grants to Roderick, his liege King of Connacht, as long as he faithfully serves him, that he shall be King under him…and as his man.” This agreement is known to history as the Treaty of Windsor, which St. Laurence O’Toole had negotiated on behalf of the Irish High King. Sadly, Roderick’s own sons plotted against him so, in 1187, he abdicated and spent the remainder of his life as a religious in the Abbey of Cong in the west of Ireland. According to the website, at the height of O’Conor\O’Connor power, as High Kings of Ireland in the 12th century, Tuam and Dunmore in Galway were their Ecclesiastic and Administrative centres. O’Conor castles from the 14th century can be found in Ballintubber, County Roscommon, and in Roscommon town, and the one is Ballintubber is still owned by the family, although they have not resided there since the seventeenth century.

Possession of the lands can be traced back to the O’Conor Dons for over 1,500 years. The original house was built in the late seventeenth century, and incorporated a medieval castle, but it flooded regularly due to its position by the River Suck, so a new house was built by Charles Owen O’Conor Don and the family moved in 1880 to the present house. The old house is now a ruin and can be seen from the driveway. On the official website, the current resident, Pyers O’Conor Nash (his mother Gertrude married a Nash, after being born an O’Conor), writes touchingly that Charles Owen built the new house also because the old house made him too sad, as he lost his parents when living there, at the age of seven, and then at the age of 27, lost his wife Georgina.

The River Suck. We passed this on the way out (and in, when I was driving too carefully to notice!). What a romantic spot!

The current house is two storeys over basement with a dormered attic. It was designed by a young popular English architect Frederick Pepys Cockerell. It is a mixture of Queen Anne Revival and Victorian Italianate style. Frederick Pepys Cockerell had spent time studying architecture in Italy, and was attempting to establish a practice in Ireland (he also built Blessingbourne in County Tyrone for the Montgomery family) [2]. It has a rendering of cement and is one of the first concrete houses constructed in Ireland [3]. Cockerell died shortly after building work at Clonalis began in 1879.

The Italianate feature is the central projecting tower, containing the main entrance in a balustraded porch, and a pyramidal roof. The front double-leaf door inside the porch is timber-panelled and glazed, and is flanked in the porch by sidelights. The porch has Doric pilasters, and Ionic pilasters on the storey above. Mark Bence-Jones, in his Irish Country Houses, points out the scroll-pediments over the windows on the ground floor, some set in round-headed recesses. [4]

The high-pitched roof is carried on a cornice of elaborately moulded brackets. The chimneystacks are tall and wide: some of them are decorated with mouldings and recessed panels; others are pierced with arches. [see Bence-Jones]

You can see photographs of the interior of the house on the Clonalis website.

We entered the large Hall. To my untrained eye, the décor looked quite medieval. This is probably due to the large oak staircase beyond an archway, the fireplace, and the banner hanging over the stairs, which reminded me of the tattered banners than hang in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. The banner, our guide explained, was carried by Denis O’Conor Don at the coronation of George V in 1911. Later we saw the military uniform which Denis wore to the coronation in a museum room in the house. Denis O’Conor Don was the first person to represent Irish Gaelic families at an English coronation. Our guide referred us to the Ionic columns of marble, explaining that the pink colour of the marble is unusual, and is from Mallow in County Cork. The ceiling of the hall has a modillion cornice and arches. [5]

We walked though the broad arched corridor which leads from one side of the hall to the main reception rooms: the Drawing Room, Dining Room and Library. Terence Reeves-Smyth describes:

The first of these to be entered is the large and rather charming drawing room, which has fine Boulle furniture and some beautifully modelled figures of Meissen, Limoges and Minton porcelain.

The room is bright and airy with large windows and lovely mirrors, and marble chimneypieces which were transferred by Cockerell from the old house. Reeves-Smyth continues:

In the library mahogany bookcases are over 5000 books, including the diaries of Charles O’Conor of Belnagare (1710-90), the great historian and antiquary.”

We were bowled over by the library, as is our tour guide, as she told us that she would not dare touch any of the books – and we are not allowed to either! We itched to, of course. I longed to see if the cream bound set of Jane Austen was a first edition. Bence-Jones writes that the bookcases are mahogany, designed by Pepys-Cockerell. Much of the library was collected by Charles O’Conor of Belnagare. We saw the genealogical pedigrees, and our guide used the portraits, mostly in the dining room, to tell us more about the history of the family. You can see great photographs of the library on the Irish Aesthete’s website. [6] The marble chimneypiece is flanked by niches for turf, and was also designed by Pepys-Cockerell.

I was interested to hear that one of the family, Hugh O’Conor, founded Tucson, Arizona! When I visit my sister in the U.S., I fly in to Tucson. Another ancestor, Major Owen of Ballintubber, lost his lands under Cromwell, regained them under Charles II and mortgaged them to raise troops for James II. The family were able to buy back some of the land but some was never recovered. Major Owen backed the wrong man, as indeed did my Baggot ancestors, being loyal to the Catholic James II rather than supporting William III, James’s son-in-law and nephew (Charles II arranged for his brother James’s daughter Mary to marry William III, to appease the Protestants, to prove that despite his brothers’ leaning toward Catholicism, he was raising his children to be good Protestants).

It was Parliament who invited William III to be King of England and to replace James II. Battles took place in Ireland as James II went to Ireland to raise troops. The Irish were loyal to the monarchy and not as many had converted to Protestantism, as in England or Scotland. William however brought troops from nearly a dozen countries. I hate to hear the bad names James has been called, and he was in fact an excellent military man as proven by his earlier leadership of the British navy. But ultimately William III was crowned king alongside his wife Mary, and Major Owen O’Conor lost his land!

The website tells us that the fortunes of the family were devastated and they were reduced to peasantry. It was Denis O’Conor (1674-1750) who recovered 600 acres of their former land, while living in a mud cottage in Kilmactranny in County Sligo. In 1820 the “Ballanagare” [there seems to be a variety of spellings of this townland] O’Conors, another branch of the family, succeeded to the O’Conor estates at Clonalis as the Clonalis branch became extinct in the male line.

The O’Conor family remained Catholic, and they have a Catholic chapel in the house. Our guide pointed out a chalice on the altar. It can be taken apart into three pieces, to be more easily hidden, as required during the time when Catholic priests were outlawed. The chalice belonged to Bishop Thaddeus O’Rourke, he consecrated it in 1722. He had to go into hiding and stayed with the O’Conor family. Many houses have secret “priest’s holes” where Catholic priests could hide. The altar in the chapel is called a penal altar as it was taken from the original house and dates to the time when masses had to be celebrated in secret. There is a photograph of the Father Charles whom Stephen knew in Clongowes, standing next to a cross in the National Museum. The cross was commisssioned by Turlough Mor O’Conor, who reigned from 1119 to 1156, so is nine hundred years old! It is called the Cross of Cong. Turlough Mor O’Conor was not just king of Connacht but High King of Ireland. See the website for more about this King and his cross. It bears the inscription, “A prayer for Turlough O’Conor, King of Erin, for whom this shrine was made.” [7] Turlough Mor founded a port in 1124 which was later developed into the city of Galway. He is buried in Clonmacnoise. [see 3].

The website has terrific accounts of the family history. You can read more about the Penal Laws and about Denis O’Conor, who regained the O’Conor property, which is now farmed by the O’Conor Nash family.

The house contains two museum-style rooms, displaying historical items from the family. One room displays letters and documents. The first president of Ireland, Douglas Hyde, was a neighbour, so there are letters from him. Charles Owen O’Conor (1838-1906), who joined the Irish Liberal Party and became MP for Roscommon, was President of the Society for the Preserving the Irish Language, a precursor to the Gaelic League. When he died, Douglas Hyde wrote of him: “It was owing to his foresighted statesmanship that the Irish language was originally placed by Parliament upon the curriculum of the Board of Intermediate Education and from that day until his death he never ceased… to champion its cause. Few men in Ireland know how much they owe to the watchful care of the O’Connor Don in this matter.” It was this Charles Owen who built the house in the 1870s. He also wrote the book, The O’Conors of Connacht.

One of the oldest documents is, according to Marguerite  O’Conor-Nash, “the last judgement handed down by the Brehon lawmakers.” Stephen and I puzzled over that, wondering who exactly determined Brehon laws, but that is research for another day! The day we visited, I was most excited to see the signature of King Louis XVI of France, the king who was beheaded, husband of Marie Antoinette. I was also excited to see a letter penned by the author (and surprisingly, cleric – surprising if you read his novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, as it contains rather risque material!) Laurence Sterne. Reeves-Smyth also notes that there are pieces written by such famous personalities as O’Connell, Parnell, Gladstone, Trollope, Napper Tandy, and Samuel Johnson. It was a pity we were on the last tour of the day; I could see that Stephen longed to linger.

After Catholic Emancipation the O’Conor family played a pivotal role in Ireland’s history as Members of Parliament for County Roscommon, as one can see from the letters.

The other museum room had artefacts such as clothing and antiques, armour, etc. The family treasure their piece of history from the famous blind musician Turlough Carolan (1670-1738) whose memorial one can see in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, who often played at Clonalis, and once remarked “When I am with the O’Connors, the harp has the old sound in it.”

The house is surrounded by formal lawns and terraces, with fine views over the park. We wanted to start our drive back to Westmeath before darkness, but took a few minutes to walk outside, and the beauty of the gardens enticed us to explore further.

The garden front of the house. The house has 45 rooms!

The garden front has projecting ends, and a centre which breaks forward. Bence-Jones describes how the centre is crowned with a pedimented dormer gable and a balustraded balcony on very heavy console brackets. The side projections are also surmounted with balustrades and smaller dormer gables. In the centre is a doorcase with scrolled pediment. [8]

This is the view from the garden front of the house:

garden front and the back of the house
The stone wall at the side of the house had a great sculpture of a fox (or dog).

Then we walked further around, to the back of the house, down a path, past the sweeping view of parkland trees, into a wooded area leading into a splendid garden.

Past the sweep of magnificent trees:

The wooded area into which we could not help but be enticed:

The woods lead to a splendid garden.

We saw the signs for the “penal grave” and a bomb shelter, so couldn’t leave without seeing those!

The penal grave.

One of the residents of the house during World War I worried that the area would be bombed by a Zeppelin, and built the bomb shelter:

With sadness at leaving such a wonderful place, we slowly drove away up the driveway.

But we still couldn’t quite yet drag ourselves from the area. How could we leave without trying to find the intriguingly named location on our map, the “elephant’s grave”? We could see pillar in the near distance in a graveyard and wondered if that could be it, so abandoned the car to have a look. Unfortunately it was not the elephant’s grave and we didn’t find it, but we did come across the O’Conor graves. [9]

[1] MacDonnell, Randal. The Lost Houses of Ireland. A chronicle of great houses and the families who lived in them. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. London, 2002

[2] Terence Reeves-Smyth, Irish Big Houses, published in 2009 by Appletree Press Ltd, Belfast.

Also http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Clonalis%20House

[3] Paul Connolly, The Landed Estates of County Roscommon. Published by Paul Connolly, 2018.

[4] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/31920004/clonalis-house-cloonalis-co-roscommon

and Mark Bence-Jones. A Guide to Irish Country Houses [originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978]; Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.

[5] https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/04/18/architectural-definitions/

[6] https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/01/07/the-books-will-still-be-there/

[7] https://clonalis.com/oconors-kings-of-connacht-high-kings-of-ireland/

[8] Mark Bence-Jones. A Guide to Irish Country Houses [originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978]; Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.

[9] For more about the elephant grave, I am grateful to Stephen who found an article about it online: https://roscommonherald.ie/2014/09/23/memorial-stone-now-marks-cindy-elephants-final-resting-place/

Borris House, County Carlow

contact: Morgan Kavanagh, 087 245 4791

www.borrishouse.com

Open dates in 2020 (but check first due to Covid 19): May 4, 10, 13-15, 20-22, 27-29, June 3, 6-7, 10-11, 17-19, 28, July 1-3, 8-10, 15-17, 22-23, 26, 29-31, Aug 2, 5-7, 9, 12-23, 26-28, Sept 2-4, 9-11, 16-18, 11.30am-3.30pm

Fee: adult €10, child €5, OAP/student €8, child free under 12 (accompanied)

I had been particularly looking forward to visiting Borris House. It feels like I have a personal link to it, because my great great grandmother’s name is Harriet Cavanagh, from Carlow, and Borris House is the home of the family of Kavanaghs of Carlow, and the most famous resident of the house, Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh, was the son of a Harriet Kavanagh! Unfortunately I don’t think there’s a connection.

We were able to park right outside on the main street of Borris, across from the entrance. My fond familial feelings immediately faded when faced with the grandeur of the entrance to Borris House. I shrank into a awestruck tourist and meekly followed instructions at the Gate Lodge to make my way across the sweep of grass to the front entrance of the huge castle of a house.

We brought our friend Damo along with us – here he is with Stephen at the entrance arch. The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage tells us that this entrance was designed by Richard Morrison, in around 1813. It has an arch opening with crenellations, flanking turrets and buttressed walls. [1]
a view of the arched entrance from inside the demesne.

Unlike other section 482 houses – with the few exceptions such as Birr Castle and Tullynally – Borris House has a very professional set-up to welcome visitors as one goes through the gate lodge. The website does not convey this, as it emphasises the house’s potential as a wedding venue, but the property is in fact fully set up for daily guided tours, and has a small gift shop in the gate lodge, through which one enters to the demesne. Borris House is still a family home and is inhabited by descendants of the original owners.

approach to the front of the house from the gate lodge
standing at the front of the house looking to our left at the beautiful landscape

Originally a castle would have been built in the location on the River Barrow to guard the area. From the house one can see Mount Leinster and the Blackstairs Mountains. The current owner, Morgan Kavanagh, can trace his ancestry back to the rather notorious Dermot MacMurrough (Diarmait mac Murchadha in Irish), who “invited the British in to Ireland” or rather, asked for help in protecting his Kingship. The MacMurroughs, or Murchadhas, were Celtic kings of Leinster. “MacMurrough” was the title of an elected Lord. Dermot pledged an oath of allegiance to King Henry II of Britain and the Norman “Strongbow,” or Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, came to Ireland to fight alongside Dermot MacMurrough against Dermot’s enemies. As a reward, Dermot MacMurrough offered Strongbow the hand of his daughter Aoife. Succeeding generations of MacMurrough family controlled the area, maintaining their Gaelic traditions.

In the late 14th century, Art mac Murchadha was one of the Irish kings who was offered the a knighthood by King Richard II of England. Henry VIII, in the 1500s, sought to reduce the power of the Irish kings and to have them swear loyalty to him. In 1550 Charles MacMurrough Kavanagh (the Anglicised version of the name ‘Cahir MacArt’ MacMurrough Kavanagh) “submitted himself, and publicly renounced the title and dignity of MacMorrough, as borne by his ancestors.” [2] (note the various spellings of MacMorrough/MacMurrough).

We gathered with a few others to wait outside the front of the house for our tour guide on a gloriously sunny day in July 2019. Some of the others seemed to be staying at the house. For weddings there is accommodation in the house and also five Victorian cottages. We did not get to see these in the tour but you can see them on the website. Unfortunately our tour guide was not a member of the family but she was knowledgeable about the house and its history.

The current house was built originally as a three storey square house, in 1731, incorporating part of an old castle. We can gather that this was the date of completion of the house from a carved date stone. It was built for Morgan Kavanagh, according to the Borris House website, a descendent of Charles MacMurrough Kavanagh. [3] It was damaged in the 1798 Rebellion and rebuilt and altered by Richard and William Vitruvius Morrison into what one can see today. According to Edmund Joyce in his book Borris House, Co. Carlow, and elite regency patronage, it was Walter Kavanagh who commissioned the work, which was taken over by brother Thomas when Walter died in 1818. [4]. The Morrisons gave it a Tudor exterior although as Mark Bence-Jones points out in his Guide to Irish Country Houses, the interiors by the Morrisons are mostly Classical.

The Morrisons kept the original square three storey building symmetrical. Edmund Joyce references McCullough, Irish Building Traditions, writing that “The Anglo-Irish landlords at the beginning of the 19th century who wanted to establish a strong family history with positive Irish associations were beginning to use the castle form – which had long been a status of power both in Ireland and further afield – to embed the notion of a long and powerful lineage into the mindset of the audience.” In keeping with this castle ideal, the Morrisons added battlemented parapets with finials, and the crenellated arcaded porch on the entrance, with slightly pointed arches, as well as four square corner turrets to the house, topped with cupolas (which are no longer there). They also created rather fantastical Tudor Gothic curvilinear hood mouldings over the windows, some “ogee” shaped (convex and concave curves; found in Gothic and Gothic-Revival architecture) [5]. These mouldings drop down from the top of the windows to finish with sculptured of heads of kings and queens. These are not representations of anyone in particular, the guide told us, but are idealised sculptures representing royalty to remind one of the Celtic kingship of the Kavanaghs. As well as illustrating their heritage in architecture, Walter commissioned an illustrated book of the family pedigree, tracing the family tree back to 1670 BC! It highlights the marriages with prominent families, which are also illustrated in the stained glass window in the main stairwell at Borris.

an ogee shaped hood moulding

The guide pointed to the many configurations of windows on the front facade of the house. They were deliberately made different, she told us, to create the illusion that the different types of windows are from different periods, even though they are not! This was to reflect the fact that various parts of the building were built at different times.

The crest of the family on the front of the house on the portico features a crescent moon for peace, sheaf of wheat for plenty and a lion passant for royalty. The motto is written in Irish, to show the Celtic heredity of the Kavanaghs, and means “peace and plenty.”

The Morrisons also added a castellated office wing, joining the house to a chapel. This wing has been partially demolished.

view of the chapel from the front of the house, and beyond, the path leads to the gate lodge. In between the chapel and the house you can see the wall which once housed the kitchen, with the octagonal chimney stack built into the wall.
side of Borris House, with the later wing that was added, that stretches toward the chapel
the square tower contained the nursery, the guide told us.
side of Borris House with the chapel in the foreground.

Charles MacMurrough Kavanagh’s son Brian (c. 1526-1576) converted to Protestantism and sent his children to be educated in England. One of them, Sir Morgan Kavanagh, acquired the estate of Borris when he was granted the forfeited estates of the O’Ryans of Idrone in County Carlow. When Protestants were attacked in 1641 by a Catholic rebellion, the MacMurrough Kavanaghs were spared due to their ancient Irish lineage. Later, when Cromwell rampaged through Ireland, they were spared since they were Protestant, so they had the best of both worlds during those turbulent times.

The tour guide took us first towards the chapel. She explained the structure of the house as we trooped across the lawn. She pointed out the partially demolished stretch between the square part of the house and the chapel. All that remains of this demolished section is a wall. The octagonal towerlike structures built into the wall were chimneys and the demolished part was the kitchen. The square tower that joins the house to the demolished kitchen contained the nursery. The wing was demolished to reduce the amount of rates to be paid. The house was reoriented during rebuilding, the guide told us, and a walled garden was built with a gap between the walls which could be filled with coal and heated! I love learning of novel mechanisms in homes and gardens, techniques which are no longer used but which may be useful to resurrect as we try to develop more sustainable ways of living (not that we’d want to go back to using coal).

As I mentioned, the house was badly damaged in 1798, when the United Irishmen rose up in an attempt to create an independent Ireland. Although the Kavanaghs are of Irish descent and are not a Norman or English family, this did not save them from the 1798 raids. The house was not badly damaged in a siege but outbuildings were. The invaders were looking for weapons inside the house, the guide told us. The Irish Aesthete writes tells us: “Walter MacMurrough Kavanagh wrote to his brother-in-law that although a turf and coal house were set on fire and efforts made to bring ‘fire up to the front door under cover of a car on which were raised feather beds and mattresses’ [their efforts] were unsuccessful.” [6]

Edmund Joyce describes the raid in his book on Borris House (pg. 21-22):

“The rebels who had marched overnight from Vinegar Hill in Wexford…arrived at Borris House on the morning of 12 June. They were met by a strong opposing group of Donegal militia, who had taken up their quarters in the house. It seems that the MacMurrough Kavanaghs had expected such unrest and in anticipation had the lower windows…lately built up with strong masonry work. Despite the energetic battle, those defending the house appear to have been indefatigable, and the rebels, ‘whose cannons were too small to have any effect on the castle…’ the mob retreated back to their camps in Wexford.”

The estate was 30,000 acres at one point, but the Land Acts reduced it in the 1930s to 750 acres, which the present owner farms organically. The outbuildings which were built originally to house the workings of the house – abbatoir, blacksmith, dairy etc, were burnt in one of the sieges and so all the outbuildings now to be seen, the guide told us, were built in the nineteenth century.

It is worth outlining some of the genealogy of this ancient family, as they intermarried with many prominent families of their day. Morgan Kavanagh who probably commissioned the building of the 1730s house, married Frances Esmonde, daughter of Laurence Esmonde of Huntington Castle (another section 482 property I visited). His son Brian married Mary Butler, daughter of Thomas Butler of Kilcash. Their son Thomas (1727-1790) married another Butler, Susanna, daughter of the 16th Earl of Ormonde. It was the following generation, another Thomas (1767-1837), who is relevant to our visit to the chapel.

This Thomas was originally a Catholic. He married yet another Butler, Elizabeth Wandesford Butler, in 1825. At some time he converted to Protestantism. It must have been before 1798 because in that year he represented Kilkenny City in Parliament and at that time only members of the Established Church could serve in Parliament. His second wife, Harriet Le Poer Trench, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Clancarty, was of staunch Scottish Protestant persuasion [7]. When he converted, the chapel had to be reconsecrated as a Protestant chapel. According to legend, Lady Harriet had a statue of the Virgin Mary removed from the chapel and asked the workmen to get rid of it. The workmen, staunch Catholics, buried the statue in the garden. People believed that for this act, Lady Harriet was cursed, and it was said that one day her family would be “led by a cripple.”

The story probably came about because Harriet’s third son, Arthur, was born without arms or legs. As she had given birth to two older sons, and he had another half-brother, Walter, son of Thomas’s first wife, it seemed unlikely that Arthur would be the heir. However, the three older brothers all died before Arthur and Arthur did indeed become the heir to Borris House.

The plasterwork in the chapel, which is called the Chapel of St. Molin, is by Michael Stapleton.

While we sat in the chapel, our guide told us about the amazing Arthur MacMurrough Kavanagh. When her husband Walter died, Harriet and her children went travelling. They travelled broadly, and she painted, and collected objects which she brought back to Ireland, including a collection of artefacts from Egypt now in the National Museum of Ireland. When Arthur was 17 years old his mother sent him travelling again, to get him away from his high jinks with the local girls. Arthur kept diaries, which are available for perusal in the National Library. I must have a look! I have a special interest in diaries, since I have been keeping my own since I was twelve years old. Some of Arthur’s adventures include being captured and being cruelly put on display by a tribe. He also fell ill and found himself being nursed back to health in a harem – little did the Sultan or head of the harem realise that Arthur was perfectly capable of impregnating the ladies!

Arthur’s brother and tutor died on their travels and Arthur found himself alone in India. He joined the East India Company as a dispatch rider – he was an excellent horseman, as he could be strapped in to a special saddle, which we saw inside the house, now mounted on a children’s riding horse! I was also thrilled to see his wheelchair, in the Dining Room, which is now converted into a dining chair.

When Arthur came home as heir, he found his mother had set up a school of lacemaking, now called Borris Lace, to help the local women to earn money during the difficult Famine years. The lace became famous and was sold to Russian and English royalty. The rest of the estate, however, was in poor shape. Arthur set about making it profitable, bringing the railway to Borris, building a nearby viaduct, which cost €20,000 to build. He also built cottages in the town, winning a design medal from the Royal Dublin Society, and he set up a sawmill, from which tenants were given free timber to roof their houses. He set up limekilns for building material, and also experimented (unsuccessfully) with “water gas” to power the crane used to built the viaduct. His mother built a fever house, dower house and a Protestant school, and Arthur’s sisters built a Catholic school. There is a little schoolhouse (with bell, in the picture below) behind the chapel.

Arthur seems to have had a great sense of humour. On one of his visits to Abbeyleix, he remarked to Lady De Vesci, “It’s an extraordinary thing – I haven’t been here for five years but the stationmaster recognised me.”

Arthur married Mary Frances Forde-Leathley and fathered six children. He became an MP for Carlow and Kilkenny, and sat in the House of Commons in England, which he reached by sailing as far as London, where he was then carried in to the houses of Parliament.

He lost when he ran again for Parliament in 1880, beaten by the Home Rule candidates. He returned from London after his defeat and saw bonfires, which were often lit by his tenants to celebrate his return. However, this time, horrifically, he saw his effigy being burned on the bonfires by tenants celebrating the triumph of the Home Rule candidates. He must have been devastated, as he had worked so hard for his tenants and treated them generously. For more about him, see the Irish Aesthete’s entry about him. [8]

Jimmy O’Toole’s book gives a detailed description of politics at the time of Arthur’s defeat and explains why the tenants behaved in such a brutal way. Elections grew heated and dangerous in the days of the Land League and of Charles Stewart Parnell, when tenants hoped to own their own land. In the 1841 election, tenants of the Kavanaghs were forced to vote for the Tory candidate against Daniel O’Connell Jr., despite a visit from Daniel O’Connell Sr, “The Liberator” who fought for Catholic emancipation. The land agent for the Kavanaghs, Charles Doyne, threatened the tenants with eviction if they did not vote for his favoured candidate. In response to threats of eviction, members of the Land League forced tenants to support their cause by publicly shaming anyone who dared to oppose them. People were locked into buildings to prevent them from voting, or on the other hand, were locked in to protect them from attacks which took place if they planned to support the Tory candidate. Not all Irish Catholics supported the Land League. Labourers realised that landlords provided employment which would be lost if the land was divided for small farmers.

It was Arthur’s grandfather, Thomas, who undertook much of the renovation work at Borris in the 1800s, with money brought into the family by his wife, Susanna Butler. [9] Under her influence, Italian workmen were employed and ceilings were decorated and Scagliola pillars installed. After hearing the stories about amazing Arthur, we returned across the lawn to enter the main house.

The front hall is square but is decorated with a circular ceiling of rich plasterwork, “treated as a rotunda with segmental pointed arches and scagliola columns; eagles in high relief in the spandrels of the arches and festoons above,” as Mark Bence-Jones describes in his inimitable style [see 5, p. 45]. We were not allowed to take photographs but the Irish Aesthete’s site has terrific photographs [see 3]. The eagles represent strength and power. There are also the sheafs of wheat, crescent moons and lion heads, symbols from the family crest. Another common motif in the house is a Grecian key pattern.

side of the house

The craftwork and furnishings of the house are all built by Irish craftsmen, including mahogany doors. There is a clever vent in the wall that brings hot air from the kitchens to heat the room.

We next went into the music room which has a beautiful domed oval ceiling with intricate plasterwork. It includes the oak leaf for strength and longevity.

The drawing room has another pretty Stapleton ceiling, more feminine, as this was a Ladies’ room. It has lovely pale blue walls, and was originally the front entrance to the house. When it was made into a circular room the leftover bits of the original rectangular room form small triangular spaces, which were used as a room for preparing the tea, a small library with a bookcase, and a bathroom. The curved mahogany doors were also made by Irish craftsmen in Dublin, Mack, Williams and Gibton.

The dining room has more scagliola columns at one end, framing the serving sideboard, commissioned specially by Morrison for Borris House. It was sold in the 1950s but bought back by later owners. [10]The room has more rich plasterwork by Michael Stapleton: a Celtic design on the ceiling, and ox skulls represent the feasting of Chieftains. With the aid of portraits in the dining room, the guide told us more stories about the family. It was sad to hear how Arthur had to put an end to the tradition of the locals standing outside the dining room windows, and gentry inside, to observe the diners. He did not like to be seen eating, as he had to be fed.

We saw the portrait of Lady Susanna’s husband, whom her sister Charlotte Eleanor dubbed “Fat Thomas.” Eleanor formed a relationship with Sarah Ponsonby, and they ran away from their families to be together. As a result, Eleanor was taken to stay with her sister’s family in Borris House, and she must have felt imprisoned by her sister’s husband, hence the insulting moniker. Eleanor managed to escape and to make her way to Woodstock, the house in County Kilkenny where Sarah was staying. Finally their families capitulated and accepted their plans to live together. They set up house in Wales, in Llangollen, and were known as The Ladies of Llangollen They were visited by many famous people, including Anna Seward, William Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott, Charles and Erasmus Darwin, Sir Arthur Wellesley and Josiah Wedgewood.

Mark Bence-Jones describes an upstairs library with ceiling of alternate barrel and rib vaults, above a frieze of wreaths that is a hallmark of the Morrisons, which unfortunately we did not get to see. We didn’t get to go upstairs but we saw the grand Bath stone cantilevered staircase. The room was originally an open courtyard.

We then went out to the Ballroom, which was originally built by Arthur as a billiard room, with a gun room at one end and a planned upper level of five bedrooms. The building was not finished as planned as Arthur died. It is now used for weddings and entertainment.

In 1958 the house faced ruin, when Joane Kavanagh’s husband, Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Macalpine-Downie, died, and she decided to move to a smaller house. However,her son, Andrew Macalpine-Downie, born 1948, after a career as a jockey in England, returned to Borris, with his wife Tina Murray, he assumed the name Kavanagh, and set himself the task of preventing the house becoming a ruin. [11]

We were welcomed to wander the garden afterwards.

I was delighted with the sheep who must keep the grass down.

[1] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/10400804/borris-house-borris-borris-co-carlow

[2] p. 33, MacDonnell, Randal. The Lost Houses of Ireland. A chronicle of great houses and the families who lived in them. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. London, 2002.

[3] https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/11/04/an-arthurian-legend/

The Borris website claims that the 1731 house was built for Morgan Kavanagh, but the Irish Aesthete Robert O’Byrne writes that the 1731 house was built by Brian Kavanagh, incorporating part of the fifteenth century castle. I have the date of 1720 as the death for Morgan Kavanagh and he has a son, Brian, so it could be the case that the house was commissioned by Morgan and completed by his son Brian.

[4] Joyce, Edmond. Borris House, Co. Carlow, and elite regency patronage. Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2013.

[5] https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/04/18/architectural-definitions/

and Mark Bence-Jones. A Guide to Irish Country Houses [originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978]; Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.

[6] https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/11/04/an-arthurian-legend/

This entry also has lovely pictures of the inside of Borris House and more details about the history of the house and family.

[7] p. 130. O’Toole, Jimmy. The Carlow Gentry: What will the neighbours say! Published by Jimmy O’Toole, Carlow, Ireland, 1993. Printed by Leinster Leader Ltd, Naas, Kildare.

[8] https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/11/04/an-arthurian-legend/

[9] for more on the Butlers see John Kirwan’s book, The Chief Butlers of Ireland and the House of Ormond, An Illustrated Genealogical Guide, published by Irish Academic Press, Newbridge, County Kildare, 2018. Stephen and I went to see John Kirwan give a fascinating talk on his book at the Irish Georgian Society’s Assembly House in Dublin.

[10] p. 115. Fitzgerald, Desmond et al. Great Irish Houses. Published by IMAGE Publications Ltd, Dublin, 2008.

[11] p. 134. O’Toole, Jimmy. The Carlow Gentry: What will the neighbours say! Published by Jimmy O’Toole, Carlow, Ireland, 1993. Printed by Leinster Leader Ltd, Naas, Kildare.

Castle Leslie, Glaslough, County Monaghan

Contact: Samantha Leslie Tel: 047-88091

www.castleleslie.com

(Tourist Accommodation Facility)

Open in 2020 (but check due to Covid-19 restrictions): all year, National Heritage Week events August 15-23

Fee: Free

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“A brooding pile of rock faced limestone and russet sandstone, the exterior blends the irregular massing and elongated proportions typical of the High Victorian era with details inspired by the Renaissance and Tudor periods.” [1]

As a treat for Stephen’s birthday we booked ourselves in to Castle Leslie for two nights at the end of November. What luxury! I assumed we could not afford it as I only heard of it when Paul McCartney married there in 2002. But it is amazingly reasonable! In Christmas regalia, its beauty and opulence took my breath away, as did the generosity of the owners, allowing us to wander every nook and cranny and to sleep in a bed that was made in the year 1617!

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The Drawing Room: “Among the suite of lavish reception rooms, each one a showcase for the skill of the carpenter and stuccadore, is the Italian Renaissance-style drawing room where polygonal bay windows give unsurpassed views overlooking manicured terraces and the wooded Glaslough Lake.” (see [1])

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Above, our bed from 1617.

DAY 1: Our Castle Tour and the history of the Leslies

We had to make sure we left Dublin in time for the tour at 1pm, which does not run every day but several days a week. Our tour guide, Enda, shared only the tip of the iceberg of his knowledge of the castle and family in a tour that lasted an hour. We were able to mine him for even more tidbits later and still I felt we only scratched the surface!

The castle is a relative youngster at just 130 years old, a “grey stone Victorian pile” as Mark Bence-Jones calls it [2], or in Scottish Baronial style, according to Maurice Curtis and Desmond Fitzgerald [3]. It was designed by Sir Charles Lanyon and William Henry Lynn, built ca. 1870 for John Leslie, MP, incorporating part of an earlier house. William Henry Lynn (1821-71) was a Belfast based architect and the Castle is considered to be his masterpiece. It is set in a 1000 acre estate (much reduced from its original size) overlooking a lake, and the castle is near another residence, the Lodge (formerly the Hunting Lodge), which houses the bar and restaurant. The Lodge was designed by one of the Leslies, Charles Powell Leslie II and was built before the present castle. The hotel includes an excellent Equestrian centre on its grounds – a perfect way to explore the huge estate of lakes, forest, parkland and streams. The Estate has three lakes, Glaslough (Green Lake), Kilvey Lake and Dream Lake. [4] There is more accommodation in the restored Old Stable Mews, or in holiday cottages in the village.

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the Lodge

We drove through the picturesque village of Glaslough to reach the “crow stepped gabled gate lodges” marking the entrance to the Castle Leslie estate. (see [1])

Our tour began in the front hall of the Castle, soon after we arrived, so we left our suitcases at the front desk, to check into our room afterwards. The front hall contained arms from the Leslie family.

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The bust is of Charles Powell Leslie III. The animal heads, which you can barely see at the top of the photograph, were shot by Norman Leslie, whose bedroom we slept in!

Originally Hungarian, the first of the family moved to Ireland in 1633. They have lived at Castle Leslie since 1665. Our guide traced the family back to 1040. Their genealogy reaches even further back to Attila the Hun (he died in the year 453).

According to the Castle Leslie website, Bartholomew Leslie, a Hungarian nobleman, was the chamberlain and protector of Margaret Queen of Scotland, who was wife of King Malcolm III (he lived 1031-1093). One day, fleeing from enemies, Queen Margaret rode behind Bartholomew on his horse. When fording a river, the queen fell off and Bartholomew threw her the end of his belt and told her to “grip fast” the buckle. He saved the Queen’s life and from that day onwards she bestowed the motto “Grip Fast” on the Leslies. [5]

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Our guide told us that King Malcolm’s sister Beatrice married Bartholomew Leslie. They moved to Aberdeenshire in Scotland.

Five hundred or so years later a descendent John Leslie was born in 1571 in Aberdeenshire. He received his Doctorate of Divinity from Cambridge and was Privy Councillor to Kings James I and Charles I. He was promoted to become Bishop of the Scottish Isles, and in 1633 transferred to Donegal to the Bishopric of Raphoe.

When Oliver Cromwell came to Ireland, John Leslie, friend of the monarchy, raised a private army to battle against Cromwell, as so he earned the moniker “The Fighting Bishop.” His troops beat Cromwell in the Battle of Raphoe. When King Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, he rewarded the Bishop with £2000 – note that the Bishop was ninety years old by this time! Despite his age, he became Bishop of the Diocese of Clogher in 1661.

With the £2000, in 1665 Bishop Leslie bought the estate at Glaslough with an existing castle which had been built in 1608 by Sir Thomas Ridgeway. Bishop Leslie died at the age of one hundred, and left the estate to his wife, Catherine Cunningham (or Conyngham) of Mount Charles in Donegal (an ancestor of the present Lord Henry Mount Charles of Slane Castle), and children. He had married at the age of 67 the 18 year old Catherine and sired five (according to our guide) or 10 (according to Wikipedia, [6]) children! Only two of his children survived to adulthood and only one has descendants.

Due to the limitation of the tour’s length our guide jumped forward to the 1880s. I am guessing that it was he who wrote the history of the Leslies on the Castle’s website, so I will defer to that to fill in the gaps. We moved from the front hall into the hallway of the grand staircase, where our guide told us about the people in the various portraits. We then moved through a room with a large table, to the drawing room and the dining room, where the guide spoke about more of the family and their portraits.

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the Drawing Room

Below is the throne of Bishop John Leslie, the “fighting Bishop.” He also built the church on the estate, in 1670.

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the Drawing Room, with the throne of Bishop John Leslie, the “fighting Bishop.”

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the Dining Room

The Bishop’s son John, another cleric, the Dean of Dromore, inherited the estate. He never married so when he died, the estate passed to his brother, Charles, at 71 years of age. Charles was a theologian and defended the Catholics, opposing the penal laws which prevented Catholics from participating in political life. King William III had him arrested for high treason, but he escaped to France. The next king, George I, pardoned him, saying “Let the old man go home to Glaslough to die.” (see [5], which provides most of my narrative)

Charles married Jane Griffith, daughter of the Very Reverend Richard Griffith, Dean of Ross [7] had three children: Robert, Henry, and the unusually named “Vinegar” Jane. Robert and Henry were friends with Jonathan Swift, who wrote the following about the family:

“Here I am in Castle Leslie

With rows and rows of books upon the shelves

Written by The Leslies

All about themselves.”

I’m not sure what was written at that stage, but certainly when we stayed, there were plenty of books by the Leslies! I had a good browse through them – more on them later.

Robert wedded, in 1730, Frances, daughter of Stephen Ludlow. Their son Charles Powell Leslie (c. 1738-1800), took over the Estate in 1743. He devoted himself to the improvement of farming methods in the district. He was elected MP for Hillsborough in 1771 and MP for Monaghan in 1776. Like his grandfather, he supported the Catholics. At the time, due to Poynings Law, all Irish legislation had to be approved by the British Privy Council. Henry Grattan and others, including Charles Powell Leslie, sought legislative independence. Once this was achieved, Grattan fought in parliament for Catholic Emancipation from the Penal Laws, so that Catholics could be treated as equal citizens of Ireland. In his election speech of 1783, Charles Powell Leslie stated ”I desire a more equal representation of the people and a tax upon our Absentee Landlords”.

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portrait of Charles Powell Leslie I

In 1765 Charles Powell married Prudence Penelope Hill-Trevor, daughter of Arthur Hill-Trevor, 1st Viscount Dungannon. They had two sons, Charles Powell II and John. After his first wife died, Charles Powell Leslie I married, in 1785, Mary Anne Tench, and had a third son. The heir, Charles Powell II, also represented Monaghan in parliament.

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Charles Powell Leslie II

Arthur Hill-Trevor’s elder daughter, Anne, married Garret Wesley, the 1st Earl of Mornington, of Dangan Castle County Meath, and their son grew up to be the Duke of Wellington who defeated Napolean at Waterloo. According to the website, Charles Powell Leslie gave his impoverished brother-in-law, Lord Mornington, the money to educate his son Arthur, in Eton and then military school in France (Stephen and I found it ironic that the Duke of Wellington, who beat Napoleon, hence France, received his military training in France!). Arthur, the Duke of Wellington, married Kitty Pakenham of Tullynally, County Westmeath.

Charles Powell Leslie II, an amateur architect, designed the present farm buildings and the gate lodge. (see [8] for more about Charles Powell Leslie II). He died in 1831 and his wife Christiana took over the running of the estate. She managed to feed the needy during the great famine of 1845, setting up soup kitchens, and gave employment by having a wall built around the estate. The population of County Monaghan was 208,000 before the Famine. It went down to 51,000 during and after the Famine and is now only 61,000 – still far less than its pre-Famine population. It is said that nobody perished on the Leslie estate. As well as the soup kitchen, Christiana suspended rents.

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Farm buildings: perhaps these are ones designed by Charles Powell Leslie II.

Her son Charles Powell III (1821-71) also enjoyed architecture, and had flamboyant taste. He designed the entrance lodges at the main gates of the estate. He had many other grand building plans but died, choking on a fishbone, and it was his brother John (1822-1916) who built the new castle – to a much more modest design than Charles’s. Charles never married so John succeeded to the estate, in 1871.

John Leslie married Constance Dawson Damer, the daughter of Mary Seymour who was allegedly George IV’s daughter by Mrs. Fitzherbert.

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a portrait of Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert, which Stephen and I discovered upstairs on our way to the cinema room in the castle!

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Maria, born Smythe, was a Catholic. She married a wealthy Catholic landowner when she was just 18 years old. He died tragically, and she married a second time, but her second husband died when she was just 24! Her uncle decided to bring her out into society, and brought her to the opera. There, she met King George IV. He pursued her, and a marriage between them is recognised by the Catholic church, but not by the Monarchy. He moved her to Brighton and the Royal family took care of her, although George was married off to European Royalty, Princess Caroline.

Maria had two children, reputedly, with George IV. The daughter was adopted by a friend of George IV, Hugh Seymour. It was this Mary Seymour who married George Dawson Damer, and her daughter Constance married John Leslie. Constance burned all the evidence of her background, as it was not approved by the Royal Family. It is therefore not a definitive history, just, shall we say, rumour. Her descendant Shane Leslie wrote a biography of Mrs. Fitzherbert.

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a portrait of Lady Constance in later life.

It was the portrait above, of Lady Constance, which a nurse, who had been attending the dying Leonie (wife of Constance and John’s heir, John), recognised as the lady who had visited Leonie’s deathbed – despite Constance having been dead for nearly twenty years!

Before his brother died, John brought Constance to live in the old castle. Constance must have wanted a place of her own so in 1860, they moved into the Hunting Lodge in order to live separately from Charles Powell III and his mother.

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a room inside the Lodge

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front hall and welcoming room of the Lodge

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a small private dining room in the Lodge

However, once they inherited the old castle, not content with her Lodge or the old castle, it was Constance who insisted that John build the new castle. While it was being built she and her husband went on a Grand Tour and collected much of the present furniture in the house including the blue and white Della Robbia chimneypiece in the drawing room, and a mosaic floor in the hall which is a replica of a two thousand year old Roman villa floor. Constance was a connoisseur of fine art and antiques.

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Della Robbia chimneypiece in Drawing Room, purchased by Constance and John Leslie

Their travels influenced the style of the Castle, built by Sir Charles Lanyon and William Henry Lynn. An Italian Renaissance cloister (said to have been copied from Michaelangelo’s cloister at Santa Maria degli Angeli in Rome, according to Mark Bence Jones (see [2]) joins the main block of the castle to a single-storey wing containing the library and former billiard-room.

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The Italian Renaissance style Cloister

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Behind the cloister runs a long top-lit gallery divided by many arches, with pre-Raphaelite style frescoes of angels and other figures, including portraits of members of the family, painted by John Leslie, a talented artist. One of his paintings was hung in the Royal Academy in the same year. He later become 1st Baronet of Glaslough.

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Frescoes painted by Sir John Leslie.

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I think it was this painting that hung in the Royal Academy

The next to inherit the estate was the 2nd Baronet, Sir John Leslie (1857–1944). He married Leonie Jerome, one of the three beautiful daughters of Leonard Jerome of New York. Her sister Jenny married Lord Randolph Churchill and was the mother of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Winston did not get on well with his mother but was very close to his aunt Leonie. The young Winston Churchill paid visits here to his uncle and aunt, except when he was temporarily banished by his uncle on account of his espousal of Home Rule! Leonie’s correspondence with Winston is in Blenheim Castle in England, the estate of the Churchills. When his beloved aunt died in August 1943, Winston couldn’t attend the funeral due to the war, but he telephoned Eamon de Valera to request permission for the flyover of an Royal Air Force Spitfire plane. It was her son, Desmond Leslie, who was in the RAF, who flew the Spitfire and dropped a huge wreath from Winston Churchill to the funeral.

I was touched by the presence of Winston Churchill’s christening robe in the drawing room:

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Sir John Leslie died in 1944 and was succeeded by his son Sir Shane Leslie (1885–1971). Shane was one of four brothers: he was christened John, and changed his name to Shane in 1921 when he embraced Irish nationalism; the other brothers were Lionel, Norman and Seymour. Shane grew up to be an ardent nationalist (he joined the Irish Volunteers, a group founded in response to the Ulster Volunteers in Northern Ireland who opposed Home Rule – he thus rejected the support his father gave to the Ulster Volunteers!) and Irish speaker, and converted to Catholicism, under the influence of Cardinal Henry Newman, when he was in Cambridge. He hoped to retreat to a Monastery but instead married another American beauty, Majorie Ide of Vermont. According to the history of the Leslie family recounted on the website, Majorie’s father, Henry Clay Ide, was Chief Justice of Samoa, a tropical paradise where he and his daughters became great friends of fellow islander Robert Louis Stevenson. He was also Governor General of the Philippines. Later in our stay, our guide told us that before she married, Majorie and her sister accompanied U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter on a trade mission to China. The President considered the women to be suitable ambassadors because the current monarch of China was an Empress (the last Empress of China). There are many Chinese objects in Castle Leslie which Majorie brought with her.

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Sir Shane, as a poet and Nationalist, was not fond of running the estate so transferred it to his son John Norman Leslie (1916-2016), who became 4th Baronet. Shane Leslie travelled to London when Michael Collins was negotiating the Treaty granting Ireland its independence from the United Kingdom. Shane’s brother Norman on the other hand fought in the British army, and was killed by a sniper. The bedrooms in the Castle are now named after the family, and Stephen and I stayed in “Norman’s Room”!

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Shane had three children: Anita, John (Jack) and Desmond. Jack transferred the estate over to his sister Anita, owing to ill health after five years in a prisoner of war camp. He had been Captain in the Irish Life Guards in WWII. He moved to Rome where he lived for forty years, finally returning to Castle Leslie in 1994. He died only a few years ago, at 99 years old, inheriting the hardy genes of the Fighting Bishop, and is obviously much missed in the castle which houses many of his mementos and memorabilia.

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“Jack’s bed,” in which he used to sleep, now in pride of place on the upper landing, although the bed would have been a squeeze for his over six foot frame!

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portraits of the family including several of Jack. Jack wrote of his life in Never a Dull Moment.

Later in our stay, Enda the guide told us more about Anita, as we were admiring the paintings of Anita, Jack and Desmond at the bottom of the grand staircase (see the staircase in the photograph below).

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Anita married Pavel Rodzianko, a dashing soldier from Russia, Equerry to Tsar Nicholas and Alexandra. Anita was just 23 years old but bowled over by the 47 year old Pavel. The marriage lasted only three years. This marriage explains the presence of the paintings of Nicholas and Alexandra which Stephen and I had noticed in the bar area.

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Tsar Nicholas and Alexandra

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a poignant picture of Alexandra and her children, all of whom were assassinated only two days before Pavel Rodzianko was able to rescue them.

Pavel tried to rescue the Tsar and his family. He followed with other soldiers loyal to the Tsar, as the Royal family was moved from place to place by those who had overthrown the Tsar. When they caught up with the family Pavel and his companions were too late: the family had been shot in the basement and their bodies burned. Pavel found little Alexi’s dog Joy still alive. Pavel saved the dog and brought her to his home next to Windsor Castle in England, where Pavel lived after leaving Castle Leslie, where Joy lived the rest of her life. Pavel went on to train the Irish show-jumping team, who won the Agha Khan trophy in the Royal Dublin Society (RDS) Horse Show.

During World War II Anita joined the French army as an ambulance driver and married Bill King, a submarine commander. In the 1960s she moved to Oranmore in Galway (Oranmore Castle is a Section 482 property so I hope to visit it!) and transferred Glaslough to her younger brother Desmond (the Spitfire pilot). In 1991 he handed the Estate over to his five children and Castle Leslie Estate is now run by his daughter Samantha Leslie.

I mentioned earlier that many Leslies have written books. I browsed through books by Shane Leslie and Jack. Anita Leslie wrote about her time in the army in The Train to Nowhere. Desmond’s wife Agnes Bernaur is also a published writer. I copied the family tree from Shane Leslie’s book, and notice that the sister of John Leslie 2nd Baronet, Theodisia, married a Bagot! She married Josceline Fitzroy Bagot, of Levens Hall. I may be distantly related to this Bagot, as we are rumoured to be descended from the Bagots of Staffordshire! I confess I have not found the link.

After our tour, we were shown to our room. We were thrilled with it, and especially with our 1617 four poster oak bed. The bed was so high that it required steps to get up to it:

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We had a table and chair, and a lovely wardrobe and chaise longue! I started writing this entry on the chaise longue.

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According to the website, Sammy started her ambition of bringing the Estate back to life by establishing tea rooms in the old conservatory. This had been a painting studio for John Leslie, as it was created to have lots of light.

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The website continues:

Between 1995 and 1997, Sammy refurbished fourteen of the Castle bedrooms and bathrooms, each in its own unique style, in an effort to maintain the individuality and uniqueness of the property. Dinners were served by candlelight in the original dining room, just as it had been in the old days, with pre-dinner drinks served in the Drawing Room or Fountain Garden. The Castle at Castle Leslie Estate was soon rewarded with The Good Hotel Guide Caesar Award for being ‘utterly enjoyable and mildly eccentric’.” [9]

Perhaps one of the mildly eccentric details referred to are the beautiful old fashioned porcelain toilets such as the one in our en suite:

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After the tour, we still had so much of the castle to explore! The tour had only taken in a few of the rooms! We were tired after the tour and lay on our wonderful bed for a nap before dinner. While we were reading, we heard a knock on our door. The staff had brought us a much appreciated, delicious strong cup of coffee! Perfect!

We emerged for dinner. We chose to eat in the bistro rather than the fancier restaurant. The reception staff offered us a lift over to the Lodge, but we chose to walk the short distance up the drive, as it was a beautiful crisp night.

We did a little exploring back at the castle after dinner. We discovered more beautiful rooms to sit in, and a lovely library, and it was only now that we found the bar and the long painted gallery!

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Many new features have been added to the estate, including a spa, a bar and restaurant, and a cookery school.

A new pavilion, adjacent to the long gallery of the main house, facilitates conferences, weddings and other large events – see the pathway leading to the pavilion in the photograph below.

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The website tells us that five new sub-ground floor bedrooms were added to the castle in 2005: the Desmond Leslie room, the Agnes Bernelle Room, the Helen Strong Room, Sir Jack’s Room and the only room in the castle not named after a family member, The Calm Room.

DAY 2: Horse riding! And exploring the Lodge

Stephen and I only saw the castle in daylight the next day, as we had been too tired to explore outside after the tour. It was only then that we saw the cloisters, and the lake! We wandered outside in the evening. Earlier in the day, we decided to avail of the Equestrian Centre, since Stephen confided that he had never sat on a horse!

We booked a one hour walking session, a gentle wander through woods on the estate, hand-led by a guide. I felt safe enough walking without a guide at the reins, as I endured two years of weekly riding lessons when I was young! I say “endured” as I was scared of the horses and fell often! The horses we rode during my lessons in Australia were a more cantankerous brood than those that bless Castle Leslie!

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Below shows me in Australia at my horse riding lessons with my sister when I was young!

Caballo Stables, Jen and Siobhan riding

Jen and Siobhan ready for riding lesson
me and my sister Siobhan in Perth, Western Australia, ready for our riding lesson

And now:

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Our guide, Chris, told us a bit more about the estate as we relaxed onto the hip swinging gait of our horses, and we passed one of the lodges. I knew Stephen would be imagining himself back in the 1700s, familiarising himself with the atmosphere of the former mode of transportation. We both lost our balance as we slid off our horses, Stephen doing the full topple onto the sand, but we were elated! You can see a map of the estate on the castle website. [10]

After lunch in the Lodge, we explored. I took some photographs inside the lodge.

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Dusk fell by the time I took photographs outside behind the castle.

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Sammy’s most recent project (begun in 2015) is renovating the walled garden. I’m sorry I reached it so late in the day, compromising my photographs. These were built in 1860 by Charles Powell Leslie III.

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According to information posted in the walled garden, they cover about four acres, and contain two forty metre greenhouses heated by individual underground boilers fed by rainwater collected from the glass roofs. The flues were built originally under the paths to chimneys hidden in the surrounding garden wall! Ingenious ancestors! Charles Leslie consulted with Joseph Paxton, the Duke of Devonshire’s head gardener, who created the “Crystal Palace” of the 1851 Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in London for Queen Victoria’s consort Prince Alfred.

Outside the Walled Garden was a third large greenhouse, a Tropical House. Charles Powell Leslie III, according to the information boards in the garden, wooed an opera singer with weekly hampers of bananas, melons and mangoes sent from Castle Leslie to her dressing room in Covent Gardens in London!

The Pump House, built from approximately 1848, was one of the first water systems to be constructed for a village and estate. One can still see the ornate cast iron fountains in the village, along with the statue of Charles Powell Leslie III.

Day Three: A walk to the stables and goodbye to Castle Leslie!

The next day dawned bright, a crisp November day. We followed our map of the estate to see the Stable Mews, for a bit of exercise before we had to depart.

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[1] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/places-to-visit/monaghan/glaslough-castle-leslie/

[2] Mark Bence-Jones. A Guide to Irish Country Houses.[originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978; Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.]

[3] Curtis, Maurice and Knight of Glin, Ireland Observed. Mercier Press, Dublin and Cork 1970.

[4] http://www.britainirelandcastles.com/Ireland/County-Monaghan/Castle-Leslie.html

[5] https://www.castleleslie.com/life-the-way-its-supposed-to-be-2/historical-castle-ireland/

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Leslie_(bishop_of_Clogher)

[7] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Monaghan%20Landowners

Note that this website states that Charles and his wife had only one child whereas the Castle Leslie website claims that they had three children.

[8] see [7]. CHARLES POWELL LESLIE II, JP (c1767-1831), Colonel, County Monaghan Militia, High Sheriff of County Monaghan, 1788, MP for County Monaghan, 1801-26, New Ross, 1830-1, who espoused firstly, Anne, daughter of the Rev Dudley Charles Ryder, and had issue, three daughters.

He married secondly, in 1819, Christiana, daughter of George Fosbery, and had further issue,

Charles Powell (1821-71);
 JOHN, his heir;
 Thomas Slingsby;
 Prudentia Penelope; Christiana; Julia; Emily.

[9] https://zs35w2fzekug05wf2mckg53k-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Regeneration-History.pdf

[10] https://zs35w2fzekug05wf2mckg53k-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/E-Map-Only-2017.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

The Old Rectory, Killedmond, Borris, Co Carlow

contact: Mary White

Tel: 087-2707189

https://www.blackstairsecotrails.ie/

Open dates in 2020 [check due to Covid 19 restrictions]: July 1-31, Aug 1-31, 9am-1pm

Fee: adult €10, OAP/student €6, child free

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five bay two storey Tudor-Gothic Revival house with three dormer windows, and a loggia

This is such a pretty house, a “cottage ornée,” a little like a gingerbread house! According to the Irish Historic Houses website, the Old Rectory in Killedmond, near Borris in County Carlow, is:

“a mid-19th century house in a restrained Tudor-Revival style, which looks out over the valley of the River Barrow to the Blackstairs Mountains beyond. Designed by the architect Frederick Darley for the Kavanagh family of nearby Mount Leinster Lodge, the house is an accomplished and dramatic arrangement that uses gables, dormer windows, bargeboards and finials to produce a symmetrical five-bay façade. The three central bays on the ground floor are recessed behind a glazed loggia, flanked by the end bays, which break forward and terminate in wide gables.” [1] [2]

I arranged with Mary White to visit in the first week that the Covid 19 lockdown lifted. Mary and her husband Robert run a business, the Blackstairs Eco Centre, from their home, as can be seen on the lovely wooden sign outside their gates. They have four sweet “shepherds huts” for overnight stays, and hold tree trail walks and wild food courses on the property. [3]

In the article in the Irish Times which first prompted me to embark on the project of visiting Section 482 houses, there was a picture of Mary swimming in her own lake. That to me looked like heaven. We had a few minutes to wander in the gardens around the house before we met Mary so I was delighted to find and photograph the small lake, which is fed by mountain streams. It lies in front of the house.

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One can walk all around the lake, and cross the stream on one of the several small granite bridges.

We were greeted warmly by Mary. We walked around the gardens before entering the house.

Mary and her husband moved into the property about forty years ago, and have done massive amounts of work on the garden (and on the house). On the left, when facing the house, through a lovely old arch, is a fruit garden.

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On the right hand side, facing the house, toward the front of the property, is a vegetable growing area complete with a wonderful large polytunnel.

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I envied the White’s long, productive asparagus patch
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the greenhouse, with a herb garden to one side

I have an allotment so Mary and I bonded swapping notes on our vegetable production.  Their production is all organic and they even use a “vegan” manure! I had to think hard to picture what that must be – no animals involved of course!

The trees near the vegetable growing area can be identified by the time they were planted. In forty years, the Whites have built up an interesting tale in their trees. One was a wedding present. One was planted when their daughter was born. Another is the “election tree” when Mary was elected to be a Green TD in government.

Beyond the vegetable garden, the shepherds huts sit dotted carefully around a lawn, each positioned in such a way that their windows don’t look into another hut so each is supremely peaceful and private.

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The website describes the huts:

“The Shepherds Huts are centrally heated and very cozy with a double bed in each – suitable for two. Each Hut has three windows including a half door to look out onto a completely natural wooded area set beneath the Blackstairs Mountains. All you will hear is the soft cooing of wood pigeons!”

We peered into one, which was prepared to receive guests at the weekend, and it looked lovely. You can see photographs of the interior of the huts on the website. [see 3] It is a short distance to the barn, which is also a protected historic structure but which has been fully adapted for use as a kitchen, toilets, sitting room and demonstration area for wild food preparation. It has been carefully refurbished maintaining historic structure, with recycled materials, natural wooden furniture, cedar doors and ecological heating and electricity, which also provide the house.

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wildflower meadow next to barn
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inside the barn: the kitchen and demonstration area, with large tables for gatherings including hen parties, which can be fully catered. The kitchen can be used by those renting the shepherds huts, as well as the relaxation and reading areas.
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inside the barn
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upstairs in the barn, a place for visitors to relax
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The Barn is separated from the house by a cobble courtyard. The guests also have use of an outdoor eating and barbeque area:

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I had to stop to have a go on the swing, hanging from a large beech tree.

We definitely want to return to stay in one of the huts, and to walk the Celtic tree trail. The property has an example of each of the 21 trees native to Ireland. The sculpture of an ogham stone, by sculptor Martin Lyttle [4], has the cut line lettering representing each type of native Irish tree. As part of the Tree Trail we will get to see the sixteen minute film that has been made about the trees on the property.

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Ogham is the earliest form of writing in Ireland and dates to the fourth century A.D. The alphabet is made up of a series of strokes along or across a line. The letters each relate, also, to a species of tree. The letters were carved on standing stones often as a memorial to a person, using the edge of the stone as a central line. The letters are read from the bottom up. [5]

We noticed the electric car charger near the barn when wandering the gardens:

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I was also thrilled to see a solar panel array in a field:

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Mary and her husband cultivated a rose garden, surrounded by a small canal, forming a “parterre” or patterned garden.

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canal by rose garden. See the granite bridges, and the barn in the background

In the rose garden, we admired the sculpture of Dionysus, sculpted by her friend in college, Alice Greene, and presented to Mary as a birthday gift. [6]

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The property contains wooded area with walking trails, which we didn’t explore as it was rainy and we were heading to my cousin’s house nearby for lunch!

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According to the Irish Historic Houses website:

“Two other fronts are virtually identical, with the exception of a half-octagonal bay window on the Eastern side, while the vertically paired windows, culminating in a series of matching gables, create an illusion of symmetry that is greatly enhanced by a profusion of plants and creepers on the walls. Their openings all have simple chamfered granite dressings while the sash windows retain their heavy mullions and delicate marginal glazing bars.” [note: “chamfered” means an edge between two faces, usually at a 45 degree angle.] [2]

The Whites carried out extensive repairs on the house over the years. The wooden bargeboards and finials were rotting and had to be repaired. The house was completely reroofed with expensive blue Bangor slates. The windows have thirty six panes, and when windows were repaired the original glass was retained. Mary pointed out where someone has scratched their name onto the window pane – there was a tradition of scratching names into glass in the past, and Mary dates this scratch to about 1905. It reads “W. Pennyfeather” and “Nicholas Pennyfeather.” Nicholas was rector of the parish from 1900 and lived in the house. I have come across several occasions of scratching names on window panes in my reading, and saw a short film that refers to the tradition, “Words on a Window Pane,” by Mary McGuckian, made in 1994, an adaptation of a play by W.B. Yeats about Dublin spiritualists visited by the ghosts of Jonathan Swift and the two women associated with him, Vanessa (Esther Vanhomrigh) and Stella (Esther Johnson).

There is a more unusual scratched illustration on the glass in a bedroom upstairs. Someone has used a diamond to carve the profile of a girl into the window, but has written “Sidney is a very ugly girl”! The girl in the portrait is not ugly though! I suspect some sister came along to mar the effect, out of jealousy, or maybe Sidney herself was feeling extremely fed-up and self-deprecating one day.

We walked back around to the front of the house, past the herbaceous border, to have a tour inside.

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the herbaceous border
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the herbaceous border and to the left of the photograph, the “flower tower” or Echium plant

The Irish Historic Houses (IHH) website mentions the “loggia” at the front of the house. This is a conservatory-like structure, a Victorian sort of folly. Wikipedia describes a loggia as a covered exterior gallery or corridor, where the outer wall is open to the elements and is usually supported by a series of columns or arches. This one does not have a wall open to the elements but as described, it is not meant for an entrance but as an out-of-door sitting room. A loggia differs from a veranda in that it is more architectural in form and is part of the main edifice of the house.

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According to the IHH website, the loggia is supported by cast-iron brackets on slender granite columns while the upper level of the central section is treated as an attic storey with tall, gabled dormer windows in the steeply sloping roof. The loggia, Mary told us, is wonderfully warm, and a lovely place to sit.

The house was designed by Frederick Darley (1798-1872), whose father was also an architect and builder. Frederick Darley built many buildings in Trinity College Dublin, as well as many civic and church buildings (including Lorum church, nearby [7]). He built New Square in Trinity, where my husband Stephen lived for a year! His father served as Alderman in Dublin and as Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1808-09. His mother Elizabeth Guinness was the eldest daughter of Arthur Guinness (1725-1803), founder of the Guinness brewery, of Beaumont House, Drumcondra (now the Beaumont Convalescent Home behind Beaumont Hospital). In 1843 Frederick Darley Junior was the Ecclesiastical Commission architect for the Church of Ireland diocese of Dublin. He was a pupil of Francis Johnston, and lived on Lower Fitzwilliam Street in Dublin. [8]

The house a hunting lodge for the Kavanagh family who owned nearby Mount Leinster Lodge. I haven’t been able to find out more about James Kavanagh who owned the house. In Victorian times the house became the rectory for nearby Killedmond Church but was sold in the early twentieth century. Subsequently it passed through a succession of different families. Mary told us that a former owner was a Captain Temple Bayliss, who was a Captain in the Royal Navy, with his wife Patricia and daughter, Philippa, both of whom are accomplished artists. [8]

The historic houses website tells us that the interior is largely original, with good joinery, chimneypieces and plasterwork, and stained glass panels in the original front door. I took a photograph of the beautiful stained glass in the door:

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The front hall is floored with beautiful tiles original to the house:

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The rooms are a nice size with high ceilings and the sitting room with a bay window, and plaster ceiling decoration in the form of a border with decorative rondelles. The chimneypieces are indeed lovely and as Mary pointed out, they have the traditional white for the drawing room and black for the dining room. I had never heard of that before!

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The bay window of the Drawing room

The current owners have two lovely studies, with built-in bookcases and a display of books that Stephen and I admired – Mary and her husband are also book-lovers, and I admired a lovely bound set of Virginia Woolf essays.

The flagstones in the back hallway are also original, and had to be lifted to install geothermal heating.

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Mary makes great use of her larder, which was a place formerly used for storing milk and butter, the flagstones keep it cool. Large saucepans hang from original hooks in the ceiling, ready for making jams and chutneys from the garden produce.
I like the style of the kitchen with repurposed cupboards discarded from a local school, and an old Aga cooker. Mary told us that the Aga company contacted her as they keep records of where they installed their cookers, and hers is rather rare. The feature that distinguishes it from less rare versions is, wonderfully, a “full stop” at the end of the warning on its lower door: “Keep tightly closed.”

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We got on so well with Mary and had so much to talk about that our tour lasted for two hours! I look forward to a return visit.

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[1] http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Killedmond

[2] architectural definitions

[3] https://www.blackstairsecotrails.ie/

[4] https://lithicworks.com/

The fact that Martin Lyttle’s sculpture stands on the property is perfect, as Martin’s family lived in the Old Rectory for seven years before Mary White acquired it!

[5] http://www.megalithicireland.com/Ogham%20Stones%20Page%201.htm

[6] https://www.dralicegreene.com/phdi/p1.nsf/supppages/greene?opendocument&part=7

[7] Record of Protected Structures, County Carlow

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Darley_(architect)

[9] https://philippabayliss.art/

Tankardstown Estate & Demesne, Rathkenny, Slane, Co. Meath

Contact: Manager, Tadhg Carolan, Tel: 087-7512871

www.tankardstown.ie

Opening dates in 2020 (check in advance due to Covid restrictions): All year including National Heritage Week, 9am-1pm

Fee: Free

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Stephen and I went to Tankardstown on the way to Monaghan in 2019, where we were staying a night on our drive to Donegal to visit his Mum.

Tankardstown is now a boutique hotel, although the manager Tadhg who showed us around prefers it not to be called a hotel, as it is more like an opulent modernized seventeenth century home. Unfortunately we were not staying the night!

In his Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988) Mark Bence-Jones describes Tankardstown as a two storey late-Georgian house. According to wickipedia, the Georgian period is 1740-1837.

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He writes that the entrance front consists of three bays and an end bay breaking forward, as you can see in the photograph above. The entrance doorway has a pediment on consoles, not in line with the window above. [1] There are steps up to the front door.

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It has a three bay side elevation, with ground floor windows set in arched recesses with blocking (the use of alternating large and small blocks of stone, or of intermittent large blocks, in a doorcase, window surround or similar feature. Also known as rustication), with blocking around the first floor windows also. Bence-Jones also mentions its parapeted roof (“a low protective wall along the edge of a roof, bridge, or balcony”).

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DSC_0948 (1)Tankardstown Estate was formed from land confiscated by Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century from Irish or Hiberno-Norman families, principally the Teelings. Teelings were an Anglo-Norman family associated with Meath since the 13th century. In 1686 it formed part of a grant of land to John Osborne. It passed into the hands of the Coddington family in 1710, by marriage, when John Coddington married Frances Osborne, daughter of Captain John Osborne of Drogheda [2].

John Coddington purchased nearby Oldbridge Estate from the Earl of Drogheda in 1729 (Oldbridge is now the Battle of the Boyne museum). It looks as though a nephew of John’s, Dixie Coddington, Sheriff, lived in Tankardstown at some point, perhaps with his wife Catherine de Burgh and seven daughters.

Coincidentally, a brother of Dixie, Henry Coddington of Oldbridge (1728 – 1816) had a daughter, Elizabeth Coddington, who married Edward Winder of Bellview in 1798. This Edward Winder is an ancestor of Stephen’s! So our relatives, by marriage, owned Tankardstown!

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The house, as you can see from the photographs, is incredibly opulent with many period features which I assume are original. Above, one can see the unusual black rose patterned wall panels in the inner doorway of the hall, with an arch of alternate black panelling and stuccowork. The drawing room has painted stuccowork on the ceiling and a carved marble fireplace.

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DSC_0954 (1)The plush furnishings and decor are so overwhelming that the place that touched me most, in terms of feeling a link with the former residents, feeling the house’s history,  were some worn stone stairs:

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The Coddingtons sold the house to Brabazon Morris. According to Ireland’s Blue Book [5], Brabazon Morris built a neo-Classical villa on the land in 1789, in part on the foundations of a tenth century castle, close to pre-existing stone yards which were built in 1745. The present Tankardstown house must be his neo-Classical villa so the house the Coddingtons inhabited was probably incorporated into this house.

Brabazon Morris married Anne Hamlin (she died before 1800 aged just 52) [3] and had a daughter Anne, who married Reverend Frederick Cavendish (1803-1875) in 1834, son of Frederick Cavendish and Eleanor Gore, sixth daughter of Arthur Gore the Second Earl of Arran [4].

Brabazon Morris mortgaged the house in 1791 until it was bought by Francis Blackburne in 1815, as his country residence.

According to an article in the Irish Independent newspaper by Anthony Smith, Francis Blackburne was born in 1782 and lived to be 84 years old [6]. He married Jane Martley of Ballyfallen, County Meath. [7] He was called to the bar in 1805 and became Attorney General of Ireland in 1831. He was a devout Protestant and Unionist and prosecuted Daniel O’Connell. In 1852 he was appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

With his new position, Francis Blackburne must have felt he needed something more grand, and purchased Rathfarnham Castle in Dublin. However his position as Lord Chancellor ended later the same year. He obtained the position again in 1866 shortly before his death. He gave Tankardstown to his second son, Judge Francis William Blackburne (d. 1921). His older son inherited Rathfarnham Castle.

Judge Francis Blackburne married Olivia Beatrice Louisa Anstruther-Thomson, and had a son Jack and two daughters, Elena and Amable. The Blackburnes carried out extensive additions, refurbishment and redecoration in the 1880s. Jack Blackburne inherited the estate and worked the farm though his first love was racing cars. (see [6])

Judge Blackburne’s daughter Elena married Charles Maurice Waddington Loftus Townshend (called Maurice) (1899-1966) of Castle Townshend, County Cork, in 1928. They moved to Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) for a while, where two of his brothers as ex-British officers were granted free land, but returned to Ireland when WWII broke out. They lived in Tankardstown after Jack died in the 1940s. They had two children, Francis b. 1930 and Maurice born 1932 [8]. C. Maurice Townshend sounds to have been a little eccentric as he believed he had a sort of second sight – he was able to point to a place on a map where his sister’s missing friend was located. He also pursued the art of water divination. [9]

When Maurice Townsend died in 1966, Judge Blackburne’s other daughter, Amable, moved back to Tankardstown, and she and her sister ran the farm as best they could. Anthony Smith, writer of the Irish Times article, remembers the two elderly ladies giving him treats in the kitchen while his father serviced Jack’s Aston Martin racing car. The article does not mention Elena’s sons but one moved to Australia and the other studied agriculture and farmed in Meath.

Eventually in the 1970s the sisters Elena and Amable sold the house and moved into a smaller house built at the rear entrance to the estate. I am not sure who owned the house directly after the Blackburnes. Both sisters died in 1996. Brian Conroy bought the estate when it came on the market in 2002. [2]

Brian and his wife Patricia spent four years restoring the mansion from complete disrepair. It was to be their dream home.

In the lead up to the Ryder Cup golf tournament which was being held in Ireland that year, a scout contacted Trish and asked if they could rent her property for the duration of the tournament. When the scout visited Tankardstown, she noticed the stable block next to the house and proposed that if it could be refurbished in time, they would rent that out for the tournament as well! The stable block now holds self-contained accommodation.

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Tankardstown has a café for lunch and afternoon tea and a dining room, supplied by their own fresh farm produce.

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The restaurant, the Brabazon, which was originally the milking parlour, retains the old walls and arches.

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the tea rooms

It has a large function room, formerly the Orangerie, for weddings and events.

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The house is situated on an 80 acre estate with woodland, rolling parkland and walled gardens. There is also a pampering treatment room in a “hide-out” beside the walled garden.

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Brian Conroy is an entrepreneur with a successful track record in property development, restoration of heritage buildings and operation of hospitality venues. Having grown up in Monkstown, Co Dublin, he moved to the UK and built an engineering and property business before returning with his family to Tankardstown, Co Meath. He also owns another property on the section 482 register in 2019 which is also now a hotel, Boyne House, Slane (formerly known as Cillghrian Glebe). [10]

[1] architectural definitions

[2] https://www.tankardstown.ie

[3] https://historicgraves.com/kilberry/me-klby-0037/grave

[4] http://www.thepeerage.com/p25513.htm#i255125

[5] https://www.irelands-blue-book.ie/itinerary-detail.html/hotels-history-html

[6] https://www.independent.ie/regionals/droghedaindependent/news/pink-floyd-drummer-and-the-old-aston-martin-38038851.html

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Blackburne

[8] http://www.thepeerage.com/p35219.htm#i352181

[9] http://www.astro.wisc.edu/~townsend/tree/record.php?ref=5C17

[10] https://www.boynehouseslane.ie

County Cavan, historic houses to see and stay

I set out today to do a write up of County Cavan the way I did of Dublin, of all the big houses to visit or that offer accommodation. There are only two listings in Section 482  for County Cavan and one is a hotel. It turns out that, despite multiple beautiful historic houses, there are not many to visit. I researched places to stay in Cavan as Stephen and I travel through there regularly on our way to Donegal where his mum lives.

The 482 listing includes:

1. Cabra Castle, Kingscourt, Co. Cavan

This is a hotel but unlike some heritage house or castle hotels, they do allow visitors to view the building: the website states that they are open between 11am to 4pm for visitors for viewing all year round, except at Christmastime. I am not sure if this applies currently, however, due to Covid restrictions. I have written to them to enquire.

contact: Howard Corscadden.

Tel: 042-9667030

www.cabracastle.com

Listed Open dates in 2020 (but check due to Covid): all year, except Dec 24, 25, 26, 11am-12 midnight

Fee: Free

2. Corravahan House & Gardens

Corravahan, Drung, Ballyhaise, Co. Cavan

Ian Elliott

Tel: 087-9772224

www.corravahan.com

Listed Open dates in 2020 (but check due to Covid): Jan 6-7, 13-14, 20-21, 27-28, Feb 3-4, 10-11, 17-18, 24-25, Mar 2-3, 9-10, May 24-31, June 1-18, 2pm-6pm, Aug 15-28, 9am-1pm, Sunday 2pm-6pm

Fee: adult €7, OAP/student/child/concessions €5.

I will be travelling through Cavan this month so wrote to them to ask if I can visit, although it will not be on a listed date, and they replied and will probably be there to give us a tour!

 

From my research I have a list of forty historic houses in County Cavan. Of those, at least eleven no longer exist or are in ruins, and most of the rest are private. Ballyhaise House is now an agricultural college. Farnham Estate and Virginia Park’s hunting lodge are now hotels. Owendoon House is now the Jampa Ling Buddhist Centre and Dromkeen is a Loreto College. Kilnacrott House also appears to belong to a religious order.

Places to Stay:

  1. Cabra Castle, on section 482 in 2019 – hotel
  2. Cranaghan House, Ballyconnell, Co Cavan – now the Slieve Russell hotel
  3. Farnham House, Farnham Estate, Cavan – hotel https://www.farnhamestate.ie
  4. Lismore House, Co Cavan – restored house (believed to have been the agent’s house) and a place to stay, Peacock House, available on airbnb https://www.airbnb.ie/rooms/27674042?source_impression_id=p3_1588842442_J5wx6zVMXojWzclL&guests=1&adults=1
  5. Ross Castle, Co Cavan – whole house accommodation http://www.enchantingireland.com/Ireland-Accommodations/Castle-Rental-19-Ross-Castle-Sleeps-10-People-With-5-Baths.aspx
  6. Virginia Park, Co Cavan – hunting lodge on estate now a hotel WWW.VIRGINIAPARKLODGE.COM

Places to Visit:

1. Clough Oughter Castle, Co Cavan – ruin, can visit, if you rent a canoe!

http://www.discoverbelturbet.ie/unesco-geopark/clough-oughter/

2. Castle Saunderson, Co. Cavan – a spectacular ruin, can visit

https://www.thisiscavan.ie/fun/article/luanch-of-new-heritage-trail-at-castle-saunderson