Moone Abbey House and Tower, Moone, County Kildare

 

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Moone Abbey House

contact: Jenifer Matuschka. Tel: 087-6900138

Listed Opening Dates in 2020 but check due to Covid 19 restrictions: May 1-31, Aug 15-23, Sept 1-30, 12 noon-4pm

Fee: adult €6, OAP/student/child €3

 

We visited Moone Abbey House on Saturday May 11th, 2019.

We had a 3pm appointment with the owner, Jenifer Matuschka. We visited Charleville House in Wicklow earlier in the day. Moone Abbey is at the far end of Kildare, approximately an hour away from Charleville. We arrived nearly an hour early, however, having given ourselves plenty of driving time in case we got lost on the way.

This gave us time to see the Abbey itself. The Abbey predates the house by centuries, so the house is named after the Abbey that was on its lands. Access from the road to the Abbey is a narrow gap in the stone wall. The Abbey contains the impressive Moone Cross, one of the two tallest Celtic Crosses in Ireland, and certainly the tallest that either Stephen or I had ever seen (we think – certainly none made such an impression, since we were able to stand right next to it). The Abbey is a ruin but a roof has been constructed to protect the cross, which originally stood outside the Abbey.

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The High Cross of Moone Abbey, looking inside the Abbey from the front
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inside the Abbey

 

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back of the Abbey

 

According to the Irish Historic Houses website [1]:

Behind the mid-18th century Palladian house are the remains of Moone Abbey, a monastery originally founded in the 6th century by St. Columkille and rebuilt almost 700 years later. The abbey contains the splendid High Cross of Moone, rediscovered amidst the ruins during the nineteenth century, while the house’s mediaeval predecessor stands a little way off; a ‘Ten Pound’ tower house in remarkably fine condition.

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Stephen and the south side of the cross

A panel describes the finding of the cross – and in fact there is a second cross displayed in parts, behind where Stephen stands in the photo above.

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The panel says:

The two remarkable High Crosses displayed here – one complete except for its cap, and the other surviving only in fragments – were probably both carved in the ninth century, and are the earliest surviving testimony to the existence of an early Christian monastery on this site. Yet its old Irish name, Moen or Moin Cholm-cille, the “walled enclosure” or “bog” of St. Colmcille, better known as Columba, suggests that the abbey may have been founded by the great Celtic churchman who lived in the sixth century. His connection with the site is supported by a twelfth century literary source, and a nearby well dedicated to him was a popular place of annual pilgrimage until the last century. The O’Flanagan family certainly provided hereditary abbots during the eleventh century but, by 1225, the archbishop of Dublin was in a position to give the monastery’s lands and mill to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

The Franciscans were said to have had a house in Moone, and this church with its long rectangular shape so typical of Irish medieval friary architecture, may well have been built by them, possibly around 1300, but abandoned when the English king Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1536-40. Outside, to the south-east, there was once a four-story tower in which the friars may have lived, but it was demolished in the early 1800’s, along with a Lady Chapel adjoining the north-east wall of the church.

Before 1850 a mason in search of good building stones discovered the base and head of the tall cross “deeply buried under a heap of fallen masonry” where the tower had once stood, and these were mounted together by the fourth Duke of Leinster and Mr Yeates, the then owner of the adjoining mansion. One Michael O’Shaughnessy later discovered a shaft portion which then lay loose around the churchyard for years until it was inserted between the other two parts in 1893, with assistance from the Kildare Achaeological Society. this helped to raise the height to over seven metres, and thereby made Moone of the two tallest High Crosses in Ireland.

The granite for the cross must originally have been brought from some miles away, and the slightly differing hues of the stones has led to doubts as to whether all three parts belong together, but no evidence to the contrary was found when the cross was temporarily dismantled in 1994, before being brought inside and displayed here in 1996.

 

Further panels explain the carvings on the cross.

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This picture explains the south side of the cross, from top to bottom:

human figure
human figure
human figure turned to left
angel
heart-shaped feature (enclosing human head?)
roaring lion
long eared animal sniffing the ground
Saints Paul and Anthony breaking bread in the desert – the hermit saints, seated on their high backed chairs in the middle of the desert, break the bread which the rather plump raven above them had brought for their nourishment.
The Temptation of (probably) St. Anthony the Hermit. A central figure, probably St. Anthony, tempted by the devil who, half human and half animal, appears in the guise of a goat and cock.
Six headed monster. There is a head at each end of this six-legged monster, from whose twin body-spirals four fabulous animals uncoil themselves, two with their heads in profile and the other pair with a head seen from above. The significance of this curious beast is uncertain (apocalyptic?).

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The Temptation of St. Anthony, Anthony in the middle with a goat on one side and cock on the other, representing the devil. Below is the six-headed monster.

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The Twelve Apostles. I had an apostle like this made of old bog turf – it was my mother’s, a gift from me or my sister, I’m not sure.
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my Moone Abbey Apostle. I never realised until I saw the cross at Moone that this statue’s design was based on the Cross of Moone. Statue is made by Owen Crafts, Ballyshannon, Ireland.

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Above, the west face: Adam and Eve being tempted by the snake, Adam about to sacrifice his son Isaac (with the ram in the thicket nearby which the Lord tells him to offer instead of his son), and below, Daniel in the lions’ den (he is saved by an angel). You can see the North side in this picture also, just about. This is Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace, to the side of Adam and Eve. King Nebuchadnezzar had thrown them in the furnace for refusing to worship a golden image he had set up, but they did not burn. I used to know a song about this, that I was taught along with my classmates in Australia by Mrs. Firth. It went “Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, lived in Judah a long time ago, they had funny names and they lived far away but they knew what was right and they knew what to say. This is a story that you ought to know about Shadrach, what kind of name is that? Meshach, who had a name like that? Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego-ooooh!” Below them on the cross is the Flight into Egypt of Mary and Jesus on the donkey and Joseph alongside, as they’d been warned of the Slaughter of the Innocents by Herod. The final picture, on bottom, is the miracle of the loaves and the fishes.

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The west face of the cross: Jesus, with an animal above, and below, two human heads each in the claws of two serpents

We were still early when we drove up to the house. Someone passed by in jodphurs and said Jenny, the owner, would be out to us in a minute.

Jenny greeted us warmly. She told us first about the impressive tower. It is a “ten pound tower” – landowners were paid ten pounds in the 1400s to build a fortified tower for protection of the inhabitants to defend from Irish marauders: in this area, the O’Tooles were the marauders. (In Irish Castles and Historic Houses by Brendan O’Neill, he writes “In the early fifteenth century, government subsidies were offered to those able to construct castles or towers in the counties of Dublin, Kildare, Louth and Meath, but these “ten-pound” castles were fairly basic.”). 

The Irish Historic Houses website adds: “In return for building a defensive castle or tower, 20’ long, 16’ wide and at least 40’ high, dimensions that were smaller than those of a typical Irish tower house, landowners received a subsidy of £10 to help defray their expenses, perhaps the earliest instance of that much-loved Irish institution, the building grant.”

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The website also states that “the monastery was duly suppressed and dissolved in the sixteenth century, and its lands ultimately passed to the Jacobite O’Dempsey family who lived in the nearby tower house.”

The Jacobites were supporters of King James II. However, when James II fled from Ireland to France, and William of Orange was crowned king, Jacobites in Ireland lost their land. The estate was granted to a Cromwellian soldier, Thomas Ashe, who was buried in the nearby Rath of Moone. The Irish Aesthete writes in his blog entry on 30th Sept 2019 that Thomas Ashe was a Dublin alderman, who died in 1741. [2]

The property was subsequently leased for 999 years to Samuel Yates (or Yeats, the spellings have been used interchangeably), who built the current house in about 1750. Yates, according to the Irish Aesthete, was from Colganstown, in County Dublin, another property listed in Section 482! Colganstown is said to have been designed by Nathanial Clements, so Moone Abbey House may also have been designed by Clements although it is not known. Robert O’Byrne the Irish Aesthete also mentions the Dublin-based architect John Ensor as the possible architect of Moone Abbey House.

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Yates’s new house consisted of a central block, five bays wide and two of storeys over a basement, with wings on either side joined to the central block by curved walls. The stretch of the house, with the wings, make it “Palladian” style. Originally there was a single bay central breakfront surmounted by a pediment with a Diocletian window (a Diocletian or thermal window, according to Maurice Craig and Desmond Guinness in Ireland Observed, A Handbook to the Buildings and Antiquities, is a large semi-circular window with two vertical mullions dividing it into three. This styles derives from Roman baths!) [3]  After a fire in around 1800, the central block was rebuilt and given an extra storey, and the Diocletian window seems to have disappeared.

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the curved two storey wall, concealing a courtyard, that join the wings of the house to the main house

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage Buildings of Ireland website describes the frontal aspect of the house [4]:

The ‘modern’ house is a fine example of a pseudo Palladian structure that is composed of a central residential block, linked by curved walls or wings to attendant ‘outbuildings’ and at Moone this arrangement has been little altered since first constructed. The house is composed of graceful Classical proportions and is without superfluous detailing – the porch to centre of the main (south-east) front, the bow to the rear (north-west), the curved walls and Dutch-style gables are all subtle features that enliven the composition. Furthermore, the regular distribution of openings adds a rhythmic quality to the piece. The house retains an early aspect and early materials, including fenestration and a slate roof...

There is a bay in the back which we didn’t see but one can see it in pictures on the National Inventory website. The wings of the house are two storey two bay blocks with Dutch gables.

Inside, Jenny pointed out to us that the house itself is surprisingly narrow from front to back, just one room “deep” plus the front hallway. The two wings are attached by concave walls which front courtyards rather than more rooms, so they make the house look bigger than it actually is. One of these attached wings has been used for stables in the past and is now to be renovated for accommodation, while the other is a guest-house.

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a statue in a niche in the concave wall between a wing and the main house
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The second curved wall that is between house and the wing, and the two storey, two bay wing, with its Dutch gable. This is now a guest house. Beyond lie the farm buildings.

The single storey projecting porch was added later in the 19th century.

The Irish Historic Houses website goes on to expand on the previous occupiers of the house:

Members of the Yates family were no strangers to drama. One was piked to death by the Ballytore rebels in 1798, suspected of alerting the authorities to their activities. Another was prosecuted for abusing his position as High Sheriff to seduce a young woman from Castledermot, while the 1800s fire was allegedly the result of a family feud that got out of hand. Eventually, their unconventional behaviour took its toll on the family finances and in the 1840s they were forced to sell under the Encumbered Estates Act after a tenure of almost a hundred years.

The purchasers were the O’Carroll family, who themselves sold out to the Bolands in 1910 while the estate was bought by a member of the princely German family of Hohenlohe in 1960 and their descendants still live at Moone today. Nearby is the famous castellated flour mill of the Shackleton family, ancestors of Sir Ernest the polar explorer, while the whole complex is approached from Moone village through a pair of splendid piers that originally formed one of the entrances to Belan, the long demolished great house of the famous collector, connoisseur and patron, Lord Aldborough.

After a brief tour of the house, Jenny then brought us out to the garden, including the walled garden. She then allowed us to climb up into the tower, at our own risk! We were thrilled to be allowed such access. It’s amazing to climb the original stairs in such a tower.

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inside the Tower House
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Stephen climbs the stairs in the tower

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the ceiling has been carefully made of overlapping slates
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ceiling slates, a corbelled roof. There is such a corbelled roof also inside Newgrange.
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a fireplace in an upstairs room in the tower, and window

The tower has been converted into a pigeon loft. The book Did you know…? 100 Quirky Facts about County Offaly by Amanda Pedlow (published by Offaly County Council, Nov 2013) contains an entry on pigeon houses. They were used to raise pigeons for food. Several tiers of small nest-holes are placed high above the ground to make it more difficult for rodents to kill the young pigeons. Nest holes are square shaped but in the tower in Offaly and perhaps the one in Moone, inside the walls the holes turn at a right angle to make an L shape. Inside this dark space the pigeons raise their young, called “squabs.” These were a valuable source of food. The birds were considered to be domestic fowl rather than wild game and belonged to the neighbouring house. The presence of a pigeon house was evidence of the high status of the owners.

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the pigeon boxes built into the tower

I was able to take aerial photos from the top, of the house and its surroundings.

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From the front of the house, and top of the tower,  we could see a beautiful single-span cast-iron footbridge over the Buggawn, or Griese, River. We headed down to see it after climbing the tower.

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The house is beautifully situated near the river, with a lovely view toward another stone bridge in the other direction.

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view from the river back toward the house and tower. The Abbey lies behind the house.

The house is a working farm, and Jenny and her husband, whose parents bought the house in 1960, also hosts bed and breakfast guests. The guesthouse is advertised on the airbnb website [5]. I’d love to return and stay!

 

[1]  http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Moone%20Abbey

[2] https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/09/30/moone-abbey/

[3] Maurice Craig and Desmond Guinness Knight of Glin, Ireland Observed, A Handbook to the Buildings and Antiquities.Mercier Press, Dublin and Cork, 1970.

[4] http://www.buildingsofireland.ie/niah/search.jsp?type=record&county=kd&regno=11903614

[5] https://www.airbnb.ie/rooms/11415715?guests=1&adults=1&sl_alternate_dates_exclusion=true&source_impression_id=p3_1559472574_rN9y32sa2JklBBRL 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coolcarrigan House and Gardens, Coill Dubh, Naas, County Kildare

Listed Opening Dates in 2020, but check first due to Covid 19 restrictions: Feb 17-22, April 20-21, May 11-15, 23-24, 25-29, Aug 4-7, 14-30, Sept 1-4, 7, 24-30, Oct 1-2, 5-9, 9am-1pm
Fee: adult €8, OAP/student €5, child free

Contact: Robert Wilson-Wright 086 258 0439

http://coolcarrigan.ie/

On Sept 21st 2019, my husband Stephen and I visited Coolcarrigan House & Gardens, Coolcarrigan, Coill Dubh, Naas, Co Kildare. I rang Mr. Wilson-Wright that morning, leaving a message on his answering machine to say we’d be visiting during the open hours that day, hoping it would be alright since we hadn’t actually spoken to him in advance.

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entrance gates taken from inside the property – note the lovely tops on the side piers.

On the gates and there was a note welcoming visits, so we headed up the long driveway.

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We reached the house, and parked.

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We were lucky to have another sunny day!

Mark Bence-Jones describes the house in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses as a two storey nineteenth century house of three bays. According to Bence-Jones, there is a parapet along the entrance front, and a bracket cornice under the roof at the sides and a projecting porch, though I can’t see that the porch, if he means the front door, projects [1].

There was a note on the door with two mobile phone numbers to ring. Robert Wilson-Wright answered, and said he’d be out to meet us in a few minutes. On either side of the central block of the house, curved screen walls, ending in tall piers, project outwards and disguise the fact that the house has been considerably enlarged at the rear. The piers are topped with what look like pineapple representations, and the walls contain niches.

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To our left, when we stood in front of the house, stretched a beautiful vista of a lawn with curved urns on pillars in the distance.

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The Irish Historic Houses website states that the house is in the Georgian style, and was built in the 1830s by Robert Mackay Wilson on a large estate, to the designs of an unknown architect. It must have been a bit later, however, if Timothy Ferres is correct, and Robert Mackay Wilson was only born in 1829. [2] The Irish Historic Houses website continues “The façade has hooded mouldings over the upper windows and a simple parapet, while the central bay is emphasised by a pair of pilasters and a typical late Georgian door-case with a fanlight and sidelights.” [3]

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Mr. Wilson-Wright greeted us warmly. He brought us inside. The house has a lovely big hall, and the main reception rooms are off the hall. Robert gave us a brief history of the house and his ancestors. He is the sixth generation of the family to live in the house!

Mr. Wilson-Wright took us back to Robert Mackay Wilson’s father: William Wilson, a shipping magnate in Belfast, had four sons, and he bought each of them a house. These houses were Coolcarrigan in Kildare, Currygrane in Longford, Dunardagh in Dublin and Daramona House in Westmeath. The current Robert has made recordings about his family history,  which I found online [4].

The oldest son of the four, John, inherited Daramona House in County Westmeath from his father, and was High Sheriff for Counties Westmeath and Longford. Thejournal.ie explains what High Sheriffs were in Ireland: [5]

The concept of a sheriff is a pre-Norman one and its continued existence in Ireland is a remnant of English law.

The word itself comes from the words shire and reeve, where reeve is old English for an agent of the king and shire is an administration subdivision.

Originally comprising of a single ‘high sheriff’ with many ‘under-sheriffs’, they were responsible for the enforcement of court judgements.

Changes in the 19th century took the enforcement of these judgements away from the high sheriff and into the hands of the under-sheriffs who then, in turn, handed over the responsibility to bailiffs.

After independence, the Court Officers Act of 1926 led to the high sheriff being abolished and the transfer of under-sheriff functions to county registrars as each under-sheriff post became vacant.

John’s son William Edward Wilson became a famous astronomer. According to the website of the Northern Ireland Amateur Astronomy Association, William E. Wilsons’s father had a great influence on him, “a man of intellectual capacity who is 1885 published Thoughts on Science, Theology and Ethics.”  The Irish Aesthete writes of Daramona House and William Edward Wilson and tells us that it was a trip to Algeria to see a total solar eclipse that led to his interest in astronomy, and that he set up an observatory next to his house. [6]

The second brother was George Orr Wilson who was given Dunardagh, Blackrock, County Dublin. This house was taken over by the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul in 1939. [7]

The third, and youngest, of the brothers was James Wilson, who was given Currygrane in County Longford. This house is now demolished – it was burnt down in 1922 when James’s son, James Mackay Wilson, a noted antiquarian, was in residence [8]. Another  son of James Wilson was Field Marshal Sir Henry Hughes Wilson [more on him later].

The Mackay name of Robert Mackay Wilson is from his mother, Rebecca Dupre Mackay. Robert was given Coolcarrigan by his father. In 1858 Robert Mackay Wilson married Elizabeth, daughter of Murray Suffern of Belfast. He became High Sheriff of Kildare in 1887. Coolcarrigan passed to Robert Mackay Wilson’s only surviving child, Jane Georgina Wilson (1860-1926), in 1914. Jane Georgina married Sir Almroth Wright (1861-1947), in 1889. Almroth Wright was the son of the Reverend Charles Henry Hamilton Wright and his wife Ebba Johanna, daughter of Nils Wilhelm Almroth (Director of the Royal Mint in Stockholm and a Knight of the Northern Star of Sweden). Mark Bence-Jones describes Sir Almroth Wright as an eminent pathologist, author, and originator of the system of Anti-typhoid innoculation.

A stained glass window in the stairwell of Coolcarrigan contains the family crests.

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Current owner Robert showed us portraits of some of the prominent family members, including Almroth Wright. Wright worked on the development of vaccinations, and discovered the cure for typhoid. He also warned that antibiotics would eventually lead to antibiotic resistant bacteria. A far-sighted man!

The playwright George Bernard Shaw was his close friend and “Sir Colenso Ridgeon” in his play The Doctor’s Dilemma is based upon Sir Almroth. I haven’t read this play! While Sir Almroth studied medicine in Trinity College Dublin, he simultaneously studied modern literature and won a gold medal in modern languages and literature! (I studied pharmacy in Trinity, and subsequently took a degree in English and Philosophy in Trinity – I didn’t do them at the same time!).

In 1902 Wright started a research department at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London. He developed a system of anti-typhoid fever inoculation and persuaded the armed forces to innoculate the troops in France during World War I. He remained in St. Mary’s, with a break during World War II, until his retirement in 1946. Alexander Fleming also worked and did research in St. Mary’s Hospital, and discovered penicillin. It must have been after the discovery of this antibiotic that Wright realised that bacteria can develop immunity to antibiotics.

Working in England, the Wrights must not have resided much in Coolcarrigan. In researching Almroth Wright I discovered that a biography has been written about him: The Plato of Praed Street: the Life and Times of Almroth Wright by Michael Dunhill, published in 2000. Wright worked in the University of Sydney, Australia, as Professor of Physiology, from 1889-1892. [9] Before that, not sure if he wanted to pursue medicine, he studied in the Inns of Court in London, reading Jurisprudence and International Law! (and here I am, pharmacist and philosopher, researching history! Some of us just can’t settle down it seems…)

Unfortunately Wright was not a fan of women’s suffrage, and thought women’s brains did not equip them for social and political issues. His arguments were most fully expounded in his book The Unexpurgated Case Against Woman Suffrage (1913). His friend Bernard Shaw strongly disagreed with him, though never dissuaded him from his view.

Sir Almroth’s first son died young, so his second son, Leonard Almroth Wilson-Wright, inherited Coolcarrigan. He also served as High Sheriff for County Kildare. He married Florence, eldest daughter of James Ivory, Justice of the Peace, of Brewlands, Glenisla, Forfarshire.

Leonard did not remain in Coolcarrigan for long. He fled from Ireland in fear of being shot by the IRA. The IRA took over the house for a week. His cousin, the grandson of William Wilson whom I mentioned earlier, Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson, a Unionist, had been shot by the IRA in London in 1922. [there is more on Leonard and on the Field Marshall in Robert’s recordings footnoted below]

Leonard and Florence had one son, John Michael (Jock) Wilson-Wright, who married in 1953 Sheila Gwendolyn Yate, only daughter of Col. Henry Patrick Blosse-Lynch of Partry, Claremorris, County Mayo. Jock moved back to Coolcarrigan when he inherited in 1972. Jock and Sheila had three children, including Robert, the current owner.

According to the online description of his recordings, over time, Robert and his father have added some arable land to their property and have bought back some of the peat bog which had been taken under the Emergency Powers Act. Now the property is more viable as a business than it was previously, he explained to us.

Stephen asked Robert how his family fared during the famine, wondering whether they  had tenants. Robert explained to us that much of the land is bog, and that theirs was not a “big house.” This makes me curious as to how one defines a “big house.” According to Robert’s use, it must mean that a big house is a landlord’s.

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The side of the house, pictured above. Robert told us that a bath had to be brought to the upper floor via a window, which means the conservatory below it must have been built later than that although he wasn’t sure when. Bence-Jones writes that the main block is flanked by two 2 storey blocks at the back, and that these are joined to the back of the main block by lower ranges, enclosing a courtyard which is prolonged beyond them by walls, and enclosed at the opposite end to the house by an outbuilding.

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side of the house, showing wall at back joining the outbuilding
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view of the house from a different side

We headed out to the gardens. Robert explained that in the 1970s the garden was hit by a windstorm and many trees fell. Major replanting took place with the help of Sir Harold Hillier, an eminent English plantsman, so it now contains a collection of rare and unusual trees and shrubs in 15 acres of  garden and arboretum which experts travel from all over the world to see. The website details the plants through the seasons, with its constant display of colour. The greenhouse (see photo below) was restored.

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We were accompanied on our walk around the grounds by a lovely dog:

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Paths have been created which enables wonderful wandering. We spent at least an hour walking around.

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A walled garden contains an orchard:

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The corners of the walled garden have impressive towers:

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This tree below reminds me of the paperbark trees in Western Australia.

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Sculptures and garden furniture are studded romantically around the gardens:

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I could make out the artist’s name carved in to the leg of one of the rabbits, Kinsella.

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Stephen particularly liked this statue, of what we assumed to be a Cavalier – we’re fond of the Cavalier soldiers of Charles II, with their flamboyant outfits.

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Stephen spotted this fascinating bird skull on the ground.

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Robert and his wife are creating an Arboretum.

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Within the demesne is romantic small Hiberno-Romanesque Revival Church of Ireland church, consecrated in 1885 by Archbishop Lord Plunkett, with a Round Tower and a High Cross. Its design derives from the 12th century Temple Finghin at Clonmacnoise on the River Shannon in County Offaly. There is still a service once a month in the church, and it can be booked for weddings and ceremonies. The interior, which unfortunately we did not get to see, has frescoes in Gaelic script, specially chosen by Dr. Douglas Hyde, first President of Ireland and a close family friend of the Wilson-Wrights. We tried to make out the pictures on the stained glass windows, dedicated to various members of the family, which are in the Celtic Revival style. This tiny complex, surrounded by trees and a dry moat, can be seen from the house and avenue. There’s also a small graveyard.

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detail of the high cross in the small church yard

You can see more about the church with information and photographs of the windows on the Coolcarrigan website.

[1] Bence-Jones, Mark. 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://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Kildare%20Landowners?updated-max=2018-04-07T08:56:00%2B01:00&max-results=20&start=7&by-date=false

[3] http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Coolcarrigan

[4] https://www.irishlifeandlore.com/product/robert-wilson-wright-b-1956/

[5] https://www.thejournal.ie/explainer-irelands-sheriffs-541570-Aug2012/

[6] https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/05/11/daramona/

[7] for more on Dunardagh House, see https://www.youwho.ie/dunardagh.html

[8] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/13400910/currygrane-house-currygrane-county-longford

[9] https://jramc.bmj.com/content/jramc/88/6/250.full.pdf

 

 

Blackhall Castle, Calverstown, Kilcullen, County Kildare

Blackhall Castle, Calverstown, Kilcullen, Co Kildare

contact: Jeffrey & Naomi White. Tel: 045-485244

listed opening dates in 2020 [but check in advance due to Covid-19 restrictions]:

May 1-31, Aug 15-23, Sept 1-15, Dec 1-20, 2pm-6pm

Fee: Free.

 

This is an impressive four storey sixteenth century tower-house ruin. We drove over to see it after visiting Harristown on Thursday 22nd August 2019, during Heritage Week.

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Blackhall Castle was constructed by the Eustace family. The Eustaces of Castlemartin, County Kildare, nearby, were a branch of the “old English” FitzEustace  family who held the title of Baron Baltinglass. In the online introduction to an article published in 1955, “The Eustace Family & Their Lands in County Kildare,” by Major-General Sir-Eustace F. Tickell with additions by Ronald F. Eustice [Tickell’s article as published in the Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society Volume XI1I, No. 6 (1955)], Ronald Eustice describes the Eustace family’s importance in Irish history:

“[The story of the Eustace family] is a story closely linked with Irish history since the fourteenth century, the story of the birth of a great family and of its gradual disappearance from the County in the storms that have passed through Ireland during the last five-hundred years. 

“This was a family often divided against itself by deeply- held religious differences and by divergent political loyalties, a family whose important members so often chose the losing side: It was for a time perhaps the most powerful in Kildare (except of course the FitzGeralds), with lands scattered from Confey in the north to beyond the county boundary in the south; from the Dublin and Wicklow mountains in the east to Athy and Newbridge in the west. The triangle containing Naas, Ballymore Eustace and Old Kilcullen was almost one large family estate:

“Criche-Eustace  or  Cry-Eustace  it was called. Their castles, especially those at  Ballymore Eustace, Harristown, Castlemartin and Clongowes Wood, guarded the Pale for several centuries, and only fell at last to the guns of Ormonde and Cromwell. It was rare for a jury of county gentlemen to contain no Eustace, and on at least one occasion they formed a majority upon a panel of twelve… The family produced two Lords Deputy, three Lords Chancellor, two Lords Treasurer and the High Sheriff of Kildare on forty-five occasions. With a few notable exceptions they have now almost disappeared from Kildare, and their name has become a rare one in Ireland itself.” [1]

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We drove up the wooded driveway to the castle, which has a later building attached, and is next to a beautiful old country house, now belonging to Jeffrey & Naomi White. The driveway passed the castle and entered a yard bordered by a fine stone wall. From here we were able to approach the back of the castle for a closer look.

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the farmhouse next to the castle, itself probably built in the 1700s! And the stone wall, built with stones that were originally part of the castle.

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We were greeted by a pair of dogs, and Naomi emerged from the house after them. She was very kind and welcoming, and after telling us a little about the ruin, invited us in to her house to tell us a bit more!

 

When Jeffrey and Naomi purchased the house, many years ago, the ruin still had its four walls. It was when they were away on a trip to Australia in 1999, leaving their property in the hands of a tenant who lived in the small cottage beside the ruin, that half of the castle came crashing to the ground. A severe storm caused a structural subsidence resulting in the complete collapse of the East section and parts of the North and South walls. [2] A deep loud rumble preceded the fall, and the dogs barked, as if they knew something momentous and disasterous was about to occur. Suddenly, nearly three sides of this huge ancient stone edifice tumbled to the ground, casting its giant rocks into the yard below. Fortunately nobody was injured and the cottage next door, sheltering the terrified tenant, remained unharmed, as did the centuries old farmhouse.
Naomi showed us pictures of the castle before the fall, as it stood when they first acquired the property – see the top photograph in Naomi’s collage:

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The castle now existed as a one-sided shell next to an enormous heap of stones and rubble. Fortunately, when the Whites began to clear the rubble, they found the Sheelagh-na-Gig, the ancient fertility symbol which appears lewd to our modern eyes, intact. The figure had been inserted originally above the door frame of the castle. It has now been attached back on to the remains of the castle.

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Naomi has an informative poster of Sheelagh-na-gigs in Britain and Ireland, which includes her Sheelagh-na-gig:

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The remains of the castle have been made secure, which cost tens of thousands of euro, undertaken by the Whites with the help of a government grant. There is still much work to be done. Clearing the rubble was a massive task. The stone walls around the yard were built by an expert using some of the castle stones.

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One can see where the floors of the castle were situated, the thickness of the walls, and the windows and fireplaces. I was particularly thrilled to see the intact round staircase, although we could not climb it, for safety reasons.

 

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The Eustace family, according to Ronald Eustice, were a junior branch of the Le Poer family, whom I came across in my trip to Waterford, in Curraghmore (and mention of them in Salterbridge, in relation to Powerscourt, another Section 482 property). Four brothers Le Poer, of Norman origin, landed in Ireland with Henry II in 1171, and were granted lands in Ossory (Waterford). The stag with the crucifix between its antlers that tops Curraghmore is related to Saint Eustachius, a Roman centurion of the first century who converted to Christianity when he saw a miraculous stag with a crucifix between its antlers. This saint, Eustace, was probably the Patron Saint of the Le Poers since their family crest is the St. Eustace stag. I did not realise that St. Eustace is also the patron saint of Newbridge College in Kildare, where my father attended school and where for some time in the 1980s and 90s my family attended mass!

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See the stag on the top of the crest on the top left, of this slip of paper I found in my father’s memorabilia from school.

The Eustace line of the Le Poer family are descended from Eustace le Poer, Baron of Kells and a Justice Itinerant in 1285. I’m familiar with the term “Justice Itinerant” as a Robert Bagod, whom I hope is my ancestor, also served in this position in 1274. It was a judge who had to travel to courts in various parts of the country. Robert Bagod ended up living in Limerick. According to the article, Eustace le Poer’s son Arnold took the name FitzEustace, which changed to Eustace soon after the introduction of surnames in 1465. [see 1] Ronald Eustice writes of the move of the Eustace ancestors into County Kildare:

By 1317, Arnold FitzEustace Le Poer certainly owned Castlemartin and the neighbouring townlands of Kilcullen, Brannockstown and Nicholastown, all just south of the Liffey. We also know that a FitzEustace was settled at Castlemartin before 1330; perhaps he was the Robert FitzEustace who was Lord Treasurer of Ireland in l 327. 

We can thus assume with a fair degree of certainty that the Eustace estates in County Kildare originated at least as early as the start of the fourteenth century, (they had been granted lands near Naas in 1355) and were based upon the family stronghold of Castlemartin at the great bend in the Liffey, and that this had been built by a member of a junior branch of the powerful Le Poer family from Waterford, who had been granted or had seized lands in Kildare. One of these FitzEustaces founded the Dominican Priory at Naas in 1356, with its church dedicated to St. Eustachius.”

Ronald Eustice continues:

“Calverstown was occupied by the Eustaces at a very early date when they built their Blackhall Castle south of the present village. … In 1484 and again in 1493, a Richard Eustace of Kilgowan (just east of Calverstown) was High Sheriff.

“Both Calverstown and Gormanstown were owned by the Viscounts Baltinglass, and Roland, later the 2nd Viscount, lived at the latter while his father was alive and occupying Harristown. At this time Calverstown was leased to a William Eustace, a juror in 1536. Both Calverstown (which contained “two castles prostrate”) and Gormanstown were forfeited after the Baltinglass rebellion, but Calverstown was re-granted to John ( [Eustace] son of William of Castlemartin), with Harristown and Rochestown, and this grant was confirmed to his son Maurice in l627.”

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I like making the connection to Harristown, which we had visited earlier in the day!  Ron Eustice tells us that Sir Maurice Eustace gave Calverstown to his daughter Mary, either at the time of her marriage to Sir Richard Dixon, or upon his death. Calverstown passed to their son, Robert Dixon, later Colonel, and M.P. for Harristown from 1703-1713. On his death in 1725 it passed to his brother, Robert Dixon, and then to his sister Elizabeth, who had married Sir Kildare Borrowes, 3rd Bart. of Giltown, M.P. for Harristown in the Irish House of Commons in 1721. Their property, which would have included Blackhall Castle, had to be sold in 1747, however, to pay debts. Eustice notes that nothing remains of the occupation of Eustaces in either of their estates except Blackhall Castle. Wikipedia states that Sir Kildare Borrowes lived in Barretstown Castle, which could be why he was able to sell Blackhall. I’m not sure who owned (and perhaps occupied) Blackhall after that, before the Whites.

 

[1] http://www.roneustice.com/Family%20History/IrishFamiliessub/Kildare.html

[2] http://irelandinruins.blogspot.com/2014/09/blackhall-castle-co-kildare.html