Listed Open Dates in 2020 (but check due to Covid restrictions): Jan 13-24, Feb 3-14, May 5-29, June 2-5, Aug 15-23, Sept 7-11, 9am-1pm
Last week I wrote about Charleville in County Wicklow, a house designed by Whitmore Davis. This week I am writing about another house by Davis, Harristown House. This house is magnificently situated at the top of a gently sloping hill, overlooking the River Liffey. I contacted the owner Hubert Beaumont, the husband of the listed contact, Noella, to arrange a visit on Thursday 22nd August 2019, during Heritage Week.
We drove up a very long avenue to the house, between fields, now farmed by the Beaumonts.
A British Parliamentary Paper, a Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the municipal corporations in Ireland, in 1833, tells us that in the 33rd year of Charles II’s reign [he was restored to the British throne in 1660 but some would claim that his reign began with the death of his father, Charles I, in 1649], the Borough of Harristown was incorporated by a Charter which created the Manor of Harristown, which could hold a Court and make judgements, by “Seneschals” (a governor or other administrative or judicial officer) appointed by Sir Maurice Eustace and his heirs. He could also hold a market and fairs, on particular days, and have a prison. The borough could return two Members of Parliament. The Commission continues to describe the borough in the present day of 1833: the borough was the property of the LaTouche family, and at the Union , John LaTouche obtained compensation for loss of the elective franchise. 
The Eustace family acquired the land of Harristown in the sixteenth century. The Harristown house website agrees with Mark Bence-Jones that the current house at Harristown was built by Whitmore Davis . However, a website about the La Touche family claims that the present Harristown House was built in 1662, for Maurice Eustace (circa 1590-1665), but does not mention an architect . Maurice Eustace became Lord Chancellor of Ireland after the Restoration of Charles II to the throne, because he was loyal to the monarchy. Wikipedia refers to Maurice Eustace’s beloved “Harristown Castle,” “which he was rebuilding after the damage it had suffered during the Civil War, and which by the time of his death was considered to be one of the finest houses in Ireland.”  This seems to refer to a house Eustace built near the original castle. After much soul-searching, Maurice left Harristown as well as a large fortune to a nephew, Maurice. He had an illegitimate son with a woman of, apparently, “some social standing,” also named Maurice and he promised his inheritance both to this son and to his nephews, sons of his brother William and William’s wife Anne Netterville. He consulted a preacher as to whether his promise to his lover was binding, and the preacher cruelly advised that it was not. Sadly, Maurice also had a daughter by this liaison, Mary. Maurice also had a wife, Cicely (or Charity) Dixon, daughter of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Robert Dixon, but with her had no children. He left not only his country estates but a townhouse, named “Damask,” on the street which is now named after him, Eustace Street. He eventually left his inheritance to his nephews, the eldest had died so it went to the younger, Maurice.
This nephew, Maurice, married Anne Colville, and then secondly, Clotilda Parsons. He had no male heirs and his fortune was divided on his death between his three daughters. The Harristown estate went to his daughter by his first wife, also named Anne. It’s sad to me that the house was inherited by a daughter, when the first Maurice Eustace’s illegitimate daughter, Mary, unlike her brother, was never even considered for inheritance. Anne married the Irish MP Benjamin Chetwood, and her son Eustace Chetwood inherited Harristown. He became MP for Harristown but mismanaged his estates  and it passed to James FitzGerald, the 1st Duke of Leinster. James FitzGerald’s son William, who had no need for Harristown since he had also inherited Castletown House in County Kildare, sold it to David La Touche (1703-1785) in 1768. 
I cannot find the original date of construction of the house – Mark Bence-Jones in his Guide to Irish Country Houses identifies it as late Georgian, which generally means 1830-1837, but the Georgian period began in 1714 so “late” could mean as early as around 1800, which is more likely, as Charleville was built in 1797. I suspect that this house was built earlier, perhaps around the time when Whitmore Davis worked for the Bank of Ireland, because the Bank of Ireland was set up in 1783, and The La Touche family were major contributors to the bank.
The La Touche family was a Huguenot family. Huguenots, who were French Protestants, fled from France due to the punishment and killing of Protestants after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes – the Edict of Nantes had promoted religious toleration. Earlier in the week, Stephen and I had a tour of another La Touche house, Marlay House in Marlay Park in Rathfarnham. Marlay House is now owned by Dun Laoghaire and Rathdown County Council and it has been restored and furnished and holds tours by arrangement. 
It was David Digues La Touche, born in the Loire Valley, who fled from France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. He fled to Holland, where his uncle obtained for him a commission in the army of William of Orange. He fought in the Battle of the Boyne in the regiment under General Caillemotte.  He left the army in Galway, where he was billeted on a weaver who sent him to Dublin to buy wool yarn (worsteds). He decided then to stay in Dublin, and with another Huguenot, he set up as a manufacturer of cambric and rich silk poplin. Where I live in Dublin is an area where many Huguenots lived and weaved – we are near “Weaver Square,” and our area is called “The Tenters” because cloth was hung out to dry and bleach in the sun and looked like tents, hung on “tenterhooks”!
The La Touches began banking when Huguenots left their money and valuables with David for safekeeping when they would travel out of the capital. He began to advance loans, and so the La Touche bank began. He had two sons, David La Touche (1703-1785) and James Digues (later corrupted to Digges) La Touche. This David La Touche purchased properties which passed to his sons: Marlay House to David (1729-1817), Harristown to John (1732-1805), and Bellevue, County Wicklow, to Peter (1733-1828). Bellevue has since been demolished, in the 1950s .
As I mentioned last week, the biography about Whitmore Davis in the Dictionary of Irish Architects is not flattering. Descriptions include: “By 1786 he had became architect to the Bank of Ireland at St Mary’s Abbey, where he was employed on minor works, but in 1788 he was reprimanded for lack of attention to his responsibilities ….Although he was employed as architect of the new Female Orphan House in 1792-93, his performance was not judged satisfactory; the Board’s minutes register ‘much disappointment’ at his not having completed the building within the time stipulated…. his architectural practice appears to have been going into decline and by February 1797 he had been declared bankrupt. [my italics]” However, things picked up for him eventually: “by 1803 he had succeeded Richard Harman as Surveyor of the Revenue Buildings for the Port of Dublin, a post which he still held in 1811.” 
The La Touches purchased Harristown and its lands in 1768, and presumably the house that was built by Maurice Eustace still stood on the land. They were involved with the establishment of the Bank of Ireland at Mary’s Abbey in 1783 and David La Touche was a major investor. It could have been at this time, when Whitmore Davis was architect for the Bank of Ireland 1786-91, that the La Touches had him build the new house at Harristown. Peter La Touche hired Whitmore Davis in 1789 to build a church in Delgany, County Wicklow, and the Orphan House on North Circular Road, also by Whitmore Davis, was commissioned by John La Touche in 1792.
Like Charleville, Harristown is ashlar faced, and has nine bays with a central breakfront of three bays, but it was originally three storey over basement. After a fire in 1890 it was rebuilt to designs by James Franklin Fuller, and was reduced to the two storeys you can see in the photograph above. As it stands now, the windows in the breakfront are grouped together under a wide “relieving” arch, as Mark Bence-Jones describes (I’m not sure what this means – if you know, please enlighten me! – perhaps it means that it is “in relief” ie. raised from the background), with a coat of arms and swags. There is a single-storey portico of Ionic columns. (see )
The crest on the over the portico in Harristown features the same pomegranate symbol, for fertility, as features in the La Touche crest on Marlay House on an urn over the front door, as well as a star shaped symbol. The guide at Marlay House was unable to explain the star shaped symbol to us but thought it might be the shape of the pomegranate flower. This shape features on the front pillar gates of Harristown House also, as well as a Greek key pattern.
The rear of Harristown has a pair of curved bows:
Just a little diversion to tell you about Marlay House: David La Touche purchased the land of Marlay Park in Rathfarnham in 1764. Before La Touche, the land in Rathfarnham had belonged to St. Mary’s Abbey, until King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. In 1690, Thomas Taylor, one time Mayor of Dublin, acquired the land and built a house, which he called “The Grange.” He farmed the land, and both his son and grandson held key political positions in Dublin in the 1740-60s. Part of this house still stands and is incorporated into the present Marlay House. David La Touche renamed the house “Marlay” in honour of his wife, Elizabeth Marlay, and her father, George Marlay, Bishop of Dromore. David La Touche enlarged the house. I don’t know what architect designed the enlargement of the original Taylor house for La Touche. If it was done in 1764 it can’t have been Whitmore Davis as he only joined the Dublin Society’s School of Drawing in Architecture in 1770. Marlay house does have bows, similar to Harristown. Turtle Bunbury claims that the enlargement was indeed by Whitmore Davis so perhaps it was done some years after purchase of the estate, which is perfectly possible as David and his wife and family would have spent much of their time in their townhouse closer to the city centre. His father had developed much of the area around St. Stephen’s Green, Aungier Street and the Liberties.
John La Touche enclosed the present Harristown desmesne and built a new road and bridge over the Liffey.
He represented the Borough of Harristown in Parliament. He died in 1805. Two of his sons also sat in Parliament. His son John inherited the estate. He was artistic and travelled in Italy, enriching his home with paintings and marbles. He died in 1822 and the estate passed to his brother, Robert La Touche, who was also an MP for Harristown. Robert had married Lady Emily Le Poer Trench, daughter of the Earl of Clancarty of Garbally in Ballinasloe, and they had four children. They also owned a house on Merrion Square in Dublin. A son, another John, succeeded his father in 1844, the year after he had married Maria Price. John had a twin, William, but William died in the same year as his father. John was called “the Master” as he was a keen huntsman, and was Master of the Kildare Hounds 1841-45. He had a serious fall off a horse, however, and stopped hunting, and the same year, his brother Robert died tragically in a stand at the Curragh races – I think the stand collapsed.
John lived at Harristown for sixty-two years. His wife, Maria was artistic, with a particular interest in botany, drawing, languages and poetry. She was an avid letter-writer and wrote a number of tracts on religious and social themes. She also wrote two novels, “The Clintons” (1853), and “Lady Willoughby” (1855). According to the La Touche legacy website, she had a horror of blood sports – and no wonder, with her husband’s nasty fall – and complained often about the enthusiastic hunting pursued by neighboring gentry.
During the John initiated drastic measures in his household: “allowing no white bread or pastry to be made, and only the simplest dishes to appear on his table. The deer-park at Harristown ceased at this time to have any deer in it; all were made into food for the starving people.” He busied himself with his farm tenants, and supported Land Reform under Gladstone.
In 1857 John La Touche heard the preaching of C.H. Spurgeon, which led him to become a Baptist. In 1882, he built a Baptist Chapel and a fine Manse (minister’s house) at Brannockstown, and was a regular benefactor of Baptist work throughout Ireland. John had an interest in education, as did all the La Touches, and he knocked down the remains of Portlester Castle to build a school at Brannockstown, which opened in 1885. This school prospered for twenty years, but under his son, Percy, the pupils moved to the Carnalway National School. It re-opened in 1928 under Catholic management and it is still in use. For more on the La Touches and education and banking, see Turtle Bunbury’s chapter on the La Touches in his book The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Kildare.
Maria La Touche’s friend, Louisa, Lady Waterford (whom we came across in Curraghmore, the wife of the 3rd Marquess), introduced her to the famous art critic John Ruskin, and she asked him to tutor her children, especially her daughter Rose, in art.
The relationship between Rose and Ruskin is fascinating and sad. They grew to be very fond of each other, and he fell in love with her when she was still a young girl. Ruskin proposed marriage but due to the fact that his first marriage, to Effie Gray (featured in the film “Effie Gray” written by Emma Thompson), was annulled due to his impotence, Rose’s parents would not allow the marriage.   According to a wikipedia article, Rose’s parents feared that if Rose did become pregnant by Ruskin, the marriage would be invalidated since the reason for his annulment would be disproved! Ruskin proposed again, when Rose came of age. She must have had some sort of illness or unusual anatomy because doctors had told her that she was “unfit for marriage.” She said would only agree to the marriage if it could remain unconsummated. Ruskin, however, refused this, “for fear of his reputation” (again, according to wikipedia).
The La Touche legacy website is less sensationalistic about Rose – it claims that she had ill health and this was one reason that her parents were worried about a potential marriage to Ruskin, and they also didn’t like his professed atheism. Given their firm religious faith this seems a most probable reason for their disapproval. Rose went to London in January 1875 for medical care and Ruskin attended her, but she soon died.
According to wikipedia, Rose was placed by her parents in a Dublin nursing home in her mid-20s, and :
“Various authors describe the death as arising from either madness, anorexia, a broken heart, religious mania or hysteria, or a combination of these. Whatever the cause, her death was tragic and it is generally credited with causing the onset of bouts of insanity in Ruskin from around 1877. He convinced himself that the Renaissance painter Vittore Carpaccio had included portraits of Rose in his paintings of the life of Saint Ursula. He also took solace in Spiritualism, trying to contact Rose’s spirit.”
In 1891 a fire gutted the three storey house. It was rebuilt to the designs of James Franklin Fuller. One storey was removed, which Mr. Beaumont pointed out to us when we were inside, makes the house brighter than it would have been with a further storey. The brightness is further aided with lantern skylights. Franklin Fuller also rebuilt the small Church of Ireland at the entrance to the estate, Carnalway church. It was done in a Hiberno Romanesque style similar to his masterpiece at Millicent. The church also has stained glass windows by Harry Clarke and Sir Ninian Comper.
When “The Master” died in 1904 in his 90th year, his son, Percy, succeeded to the estate. He moved in the highest levels of society and was a favourite of King Edward the Seventh. He married Lady Annette Scott, a sister of the Earl of Clonmel, but they had no children. After his death in 1921, his sister Emily’s son succeeded, but he sold it soon afterwards.  The estate passed through two other owners before being sold to Major Michael Whitley Beaumont, grandfather to the present owner, Hubert Beaumont, in 1964.
Hubert’s grandfather Michael set about renovating, and shipped furniture and interiors, even panelling and wallpaper, from the home he purchased from Lord Buckingham in England in 1929, Wootton (or Wotton) House. Wotton House was later to be owned by the actor John Guilgood, and Tony and Cherie Blaire, amongst others. Major Beaumont sold Wotton House in 1947.
Hubert Beaumont inherited the house from his grandfather Michael’s widow, Doreen (the Major’s second wife. It was his first wife, Faith Pease, daughter of the 1st Baron Gainford, who was Hubert’s grandmother). Hubert’s father, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, was a British politician in the Liberal Party, Liberal Democrats and Green Party, and also an Anglican clergyman. Major Michael’s father was also a politician in the Liberal Party, Hubert Beaumont (1864-1922). There’s a strong line of politicians in the family, and they go are related to George Canning, who served as Prime Minister of the UK from April 1827 until he died in August later that year.
The house is spacious, bright, and beautifully decorated with the items that the Beaumonts brought from their former home in Buckinghamshire. Wootten’s interior was designed by Sir John Soane, and Doreen Beaumont brought some of the Soanian influence to her new home.  The colours she used are not traditionally associated with an Irish Georgian house. You can see pictures of the interior on the website.
The front hall is a large double room which opens into the three main reception rooms: the library, drawing room and dining room. The beautiful fireplaces were brought from Wootten. A sitting room leading from the drawing room features delicate sixteenth century Chinese wallpaper, depicting birds against a sky blue background. The mounted wallpaper was imported from England, so an artist was hired to continue the pattern (although it is not a “pattern” as such as the birds are all hand-painted and none are repeated) on the remaining wall. I was particularly delighted with the little mouse painted over the skirting board – the artist found the room so full of mice as the house was being renovated, he decided to commemorate one. The artist also commemorated Doreen’s beloved dogs, and painted a Chow Chow on the wall. A portrait in the room of Mr. Beaumont’s grandmother features her standing next to a chair occupied by her chow!
Upstairs the stairs lead on to a magnificent bright landing corridor lined with long wooden bookshelves, which were also brought from Wootton, along with much of the library from that house, which also feature in the library downstairs. One bedroom is paneled in Tudor oak, brought from a sixteenth century house in England and is older than the house! This interior could be from the Jacobean Dorton House in Buckinghamshire, another house which Major Michael Beaumont had owned. The room contains a four poster bed and heavy French Empire pelmets.
A feature normally lost in old houses which Harristown retains is the servants’ tunnel under the house that leads from the basement to the yard.
In the basement we saw some of the vaulted storage rooms and what would have been the kitchen. The Beaumonts have opened their house to film crews and a recent film set in the house is one I’d love to see, “Vita and Virginia” about Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. The tunnel was also used in one of our favourite TV series, “Foyle’s War”!
After our tour, Mr. Beaumont invited us to explore outside. We wandered over to the farmyard first, which has marvellous old barns, and a beautiful weather vane.
There is extra accommodation in a converted stableyard where Noella teaches English and French to live-in students. Some teenagers emerged when we were passing and we asked where we could find the walled garden. Noella followed them out, welcomed us, and pointed us in the right direction. We walked along a grassy path past a delightful henhouse – the hens also have their own portico!
We passed the tennis court, and an odd random gate featuring two cherubs.
 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.
 p. 129. 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.
 p. 137, 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.
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Fee: adult €8, OAP/student/child €4, concessions no charge for school outings
I am publishing my Leixlip Castle blog this week to honour Desmond Guinness who died last month. The Irish Aesthete Robert O’Byrne published a thoughtful tribute on his website. 
It was a beautiful sunny day on Saturday June 15th 2019 when we headed to Leixlip Castle. It is just outside of Leixlip, not far from Dublin on the N4, though confusing to find when one drives into Leixlip – don’t get it confused with the Manor! Keep going through the town and you’ll see it on your left as you are heading to veer right – so don’t veer right but turn left instead. You cannot see it in advance so I’m sure one could cause an accident if a car follows close behind!
A note on the gate listed tour times – I think they were every hour at quarter past the hour, on open days. We made it in time for the 11:15 tour. We were early, so had time to walk around the grounds. This is the place so far where I most want to live! It is so beautiful, especially the garden.
We passed a gate lodge on the way in – impressive itself!
Not sure where to park, I parked outside the gate lodge. We then walked up toward the house, along a cobbled driveway with wildflower meadow alongside and gorgeous sylvan landscape.
We approached the castle: impressive with a rounded tower immediately in view and castellated wall, with gothic mullioned windows, approached by a sweeping lawn:
The oldest part of the castle, the round tower, was built in 1172 – there is a stone noting that date  – by Adam de Hereford, an Anglo-Norman knight. A lovely coincidence is that when I looked up Adam de Hereford on Wikipedia, I have discovered that amongst the land bestowed by Strongbow on de Hereford, was “half the vill of Aghaboe.” My Grandfather purchased the house and farm at Aghaboe, which contains the Abbey of Aghaboe in County Laois! Unfortunately the Land Commission placed a compulLsory purchase order on the land when my Grandfather, John Baggot, died in 1977. Our family was left the house and about ten acres. The family sold the remaining land and house in 1985, much to my disappointment.
John Colgan has complied a chronology of Leixlip, 1200-1499.  According to this, the grant from King John to Adam de Hereford is given in 1202. A website called “Curious Ireland” claims that soon after the castle was built, it was used as a hunting base by King John when he was Lord of Ireland in 1185. 
According to Mark Bence-Jones in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses, it later belonged to the Crown [more on this later], and was then granted in 1569 to Sir Nicholas Whyte, Master of the Rolls [again, we shall learn more about these details later]. In 1731, it was sold by John Whyte to Rt Hon William Conolly, nephew and heir of Speaker Conolly, the builder of nearby Castletown. William Conolly left Leixlip for Castletown after his aunt’s death in 1752, but it remained in the Conolly family until 1914, being let to a succession of tenants. Bence-Jones writes that remodelling of the castle appears to date from when William Conolly lived in it, and also perhaps slightly later, during the tenancy of Primate Stone, which was from 1752 onwards. The wing which forms a projection on the entrance front, balancing the old round tower, was more or less rebuilt at this period, and has a regular three storey four bay front towards the river. The windows on this projection are pointed and have Gothic astragals (a term used loosely to denote the glazing bars in the window). Similar windows, Bence-Jones adds, “were pierced in the thick old wall of the entrance front, and were glazed with diamond panes, in a delightful Batty Langley manner.” 
Beyond the round tower in the other direction there are steps leading up to a small terrace:
Walking around a little further, we see more of the house, with multiple roof levels, and a squat round ivy-covered one storey crenellated wall:
We can see more little windows, set into the round tower, another gothic arched window, and a round window also.
Walking further around, the back part of the jumble of a building leads to an archway built into the building:
The other side of the cobbled driveway leads to outbuildings with a path down to farmbuildings. Ahead of us, was a doorway in the wall, leading to the gardens.
According to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage Buildings of Ireland website, the castle was completed in 1837. I find it hard to correlate the descriptions of the castle with the castle itself: the inventory describes:
Detached four-bay two-storey over part-raised basement rubble stone house, completed 1837, incorporating fabric of earlier castle, dated 1172, and subsequent reconstructions with two-bay two-storey advanced end bay to left (north-east), four-bay three-storey side elevation to north-east and single-bay three-storey corner tower to west on a circular plan having battlemented parapet.…Set back from road in own extensive landscaped grounds. 
The Castle overlooks the River Liffey:
Leixlip Castle has been owned by Desmond Guinness, the founder of the Irish Georgian Society in 1958. The Georgian Society is dedicated to the conservation and research into eighteenth century Irish art and architecture. His wife Penny joined us in the front hall, before Jenny took us on a tour of the house. The tour guide, Jenny, a young Philipino woman who was hired to take care of Desmond’s parents, and has been with the family for seventeen years and at the time we visited, took care of Desmond. Before entering the house, however, we had to find where to enter!
There’s a front door to the front of the castle but moss growing on the steps indicated to me that that door is not used. We went around to the side, to the terrace. The door is small – the handle very low, so I imagined Sleepy, Doc or Grumpy opening the door! Jenny explained that the floor had to be raised and that they just cut the door to make it fit.
Jenny had us sign the book and started to tell us about the castle, when another couple arrived and joined us for the tour. There is an accompanying brochure written by Desmond Guinness about the house and its contents. Jenny told us we are allowed to take photos! I began eagerly to snap away, as well as to take notes.
History of Leixlip Castle
The pamphlet explains that the Irish name for Leixlip, Leim an Bhradain, means “leap of the salmon,” and that the name derives from the Danish Lax-Hlaup, as the village was first established by the Vikings.
The pamphlet says that the castle was built just after 1192, so this must be the part built on to the earlier 1172 tower. It was built where the Rye Water and the River Liffey meet.
From 1300, a family called Pypard lived in Leixlip. Sources online state that in 1302 Ralph Pypard “surrendered all his castles etc to the Crown, and in consequence Richard de Kakeputz, who was constable of Leixlip, was ordered to deliver it up to the king.  “Curious Ireland” adds that in 1316 the castle withstood a four day siege by Edward Bruce’s army.
According to the leaflet written by Desmond Guinness, the Pypards occupied Leixlip until King Henry VII granted Leixlip to Gerald Fitzgerald 8th Earl of Kildare, upon his marriage to Dame Elizabeth Saint John, between 1485-1509. Known as “Garret the Great” (Gearóid Mór) or “The Great Earl”, he was Ireland’s premier peer. He served as Lord Deputy of Ireland from 1477 to 1494, and from 1496 onwards. His power was so great that he was called “the uncrowned King of Ireland”. A legend, retold by Nuala O’Faoláin, says that Fitzgerald was skilled in the black arts, and could shapeshift. However, he would never let his wife see him take on other forms, much to her chagrin. After much pleading, he yielded to her, and turned himself into a goldfinchbefore her very eyes. A sparrowhawk flew into the room, seized the “goldfinch”, and he was never seen again. 
Due to the rebellion of Silken Thomas Fitzgerald, 10th Earl of Kildare, in 1534, Leixlip Castle was taken back by the Crown. In 1569 the Manor and Castle were granted to Sir Nicholas Whyte, Master of the Rolls, and the house remained in the family for nearly 200 years.
An article in The Journal of County Kildare, based on notes on Leixlip principally taken from a pamphlet called “Leixlip Castle,” written by the late Very Rev. James Canon O’Rourke, in 1885 (when Parish Priest of Maynooth), states:
“In 1538 the Manor and Castle of Leixlip were surrendered by Matthew King, of Dublin, on which John Alen, the Chancellor, obtained a lease of them for twenty-one years; in 1561 they passed to William Vernon, gent., for a like period; and in 1569 they were granted to Sir Nicholas Whyte, Master of the Rolls, in whose family they remained till about the beginning of the eighteenth century.” 
Reverend O’Rourke continues: “Sir Nicholas Whyte’s successor at Leixlip was his fourth son, Charles, who had served in Spain, and in 1689 was Governor of the County Kildare; he died about the year 1697, was buried at Leixlip, and was succeeded by his son John, from whom, I believe, the Conollys of Castletown purchased Leixlip, which remains at present in the possession of that family.”
William James Conolly (died 1754), nephew, heir and namesake of Speaker (of the Irish House of Commons) William Conolly (1662-1729) of Castletown, County Kildare, purchased Leixlip Castle in 1731 and it remained the property of the family until 1914. It was frequently let during this period. Desmond Guinness purchased Castletown House in 1967 to preserve it from destruction, nearly ten years after purchasing Leixlip Castle!
Mark Bence-Jones mentions two of the tenants of Leixlip Castle during this period: in the eighteenth century, Primate George Stone, Archbishop of Armagh, “the most powerful man in Ireland in his day,” and 4th Viscount (afterwards 1st Marquess) George Townshend (1724-1807), when he was Viceroy.
O’Rourke tells us:
“Lewis, in his “ Topographical Dictionary of Ireland,” speaking of Leixlip Castle, says: — “ This venerable mansion was the favourite retreat of several of the viceroys, of whom Lord Townsend usually spent the summer here; it is at present (1837) the residence of the Hon. George Cavendish, by whom it has been modernized and greatly improved.”…
George Cavendish (1766-1849), of Waterpark, County Cork, added “unobtrusive” battlements, according to Mark Bence-Jones. O’Rourke continues:
“In the autumn of 1856, John Michael Henry, Baron de Robeck, then a tenant of the Castle, was drowned in the Liffey during a great flood. He was High Sheriff for the County Kildare in 1834, for the County Dublin in 1838, and for the County Wicklow in 1839. His remains were deposited in the vault in the Maynooth Church tower.”… “In 1878 Captain the Honourable Cornwallis Maude, son and heir to the Earl of Montalt, took up his residence in the Castle after his marriage in this year. When the Boer war broke out, he volunteered for service, and was numbered with the dead after the disastrous Majuba Hill affair on the 27th February, 1881. The present resident in the Castle is William Mooney, Esq., j.p., who so kindly admitted the members of the County Kildare Archaeological Society into his demesne to visit the Salmon Leap, and showed them over the old Castle in 1896.”
In 1914, John de La Poer Beresford, 5th Baron Decies, Chief Press Censor, purchased the property and added the kitchen wing. Bence-Jones tells us that he replaced some of the Georgian-Gothic windows with Tudor-style mullions, and panelled one or two rooms in oak. Unable to sell it in 1923, the castle was let to more tenants, and for a while served as residence for the French ambassador. In 1945 the castle was sold to William Kavanagh (see , and when I googled him, I found, interestingly, a painting for auction by Whytes in 2004 of the Salmon Weir, Leixlip, and it was owned by William Kavanagh, “Rathgar, a well known specialist in the work of O’Connor in the 1920s to 1940s” ). Finally, Desmond Guinness purchased the castle in 1958. His ancestor Richard Guinness had a brewery in Leixlip in the mid eighteenth century, before Richard’s son, Arthur, founded the Guinness brewery in Dublin!
The pamphlet we obtained in the hallway states that an electric dam was built in1947, completely submerging the salmon leap.
Jenny had us sign the Guest Book and then began to tell us of the contents of the grand hallway in which we stood.
The Castle Interior
Desmond Guinness’s pamphlet describes the contents also. The black Kilkenny marble mantel was originally made for Ardgillan Castle, Balbriggan, County Dublin, in 1744. The coat of arms featured over the fireplace belongs to the Gorges family of Ratoath, County Meath. The tapestry to the right of the fireplace was made in Florence in around 1730 and a manufactory by the name of Bennini, and it has the Medici arms, with the balls. When Stephen and I travelled to Florence for a holiday, we saw these balls on many buildings.
To the right of the side door hangs a mirror from Clonfert Palace, County Galway (palace of the Church of Ireland bishops of Clonfert, unfortunately a ruin since 1950).
The dolls house is believed to have originated in County Cork:
The wooden-headed antlers are probably of German origin and come from Powerscourt, County Wicklow. The tapestry is seventeenth century and depicts Theodotus offering the head of Pompey to Caesar. 
Desmond Guinness states that the dining room chairs are eighteenth century “Irish Chippendale,” and were purchased at the Malahide Castle sale in 1976, as were the two black side tables.
The tapestries, in the “Chinese taste,” were woven in Bavaria in around 1750. The picture over the fireplace is an early view of Leixlip Castle of unknown origin. The ornate frame came originally from the eighteenth century house that was replaced by the present Dromoland Castle in County Clare. There is also a picture of the Holy Family by Cambiasi, the leaflet tells us.
As we read the pamphlet we can see Desmond Guinness’s love of antiques and history, which brought us the great treasure that is the Georgian Society. His generosity spills from the house, in the way he let us photograph, and he teaches us patiently through his leaflet.
We next entered the Library.
The pamphlet states that the plasterwork in the Library dates from the mid 18th Century. An Irish library cabinet stands between the windows. These windows, and the bookcases, are modern and were installed by the present owner, who also devised the print room decoration on the walls. The prints are laid out in a way similar to those of the Print Room in Castletown House, which were done by the Lennox sisters.
The prints in Leixlip Castle were put up by Nicola Windgate-Saul in 1976. The engravings, according to the pamphlet, relate to the decoration in the Galerie des Glaces in Versailles, executed in 1755 by Jean Baptiste Masse, based on the seventeeth century paintings of Charles le Brun (gardener to Louis XIV I believe – see my entry on Curraghmore).
The gilt mirror over the mantel was originally in a bedroom (Lady Kildare’s, Jenny told us) at Castletown, as well as the golden plasterwork, and was made in Dublin by the firm of Francis and John Booker in the mid-18th century.
We could not identify the origin of the death mask:
A card next to the death mask, however, identified the stuffed animal below the table, a mongoose:
There are a lot of mongooses (mongeese?) in Grenada in the West Indies, I remember. They supposedly harbour rabies. One rarely sees one, however. We did have an injured one come into our garden in Grenada, which we discovered due to our dog Minky barking madly from the safety of the patio. The poor mongoose, like the one above, died. Mongoose can kill snakes and snails. I need one for my allotment!
the chandelier is nineteenth century Venetian. It reminds me of the chandeliers in Castletown:
A delightful detail in the library are the model cast iron stoves:
We moved from the library into the Drawing Room.
The pamphlet tells of the treat in the Drawing Room: the large 18th century Dolls House that originally came from Newbridge House. It was given to Desmond’s daughter Marina when she was ten years old (his children’s mother is his first wife, Mariga).
The little plates in the dolls’ house are decorated with the initials “JG” for Desmond’s granddaughter Jasmine Guinness, now a model in London. The building blocks beside the dolls’ house were for the boys.
There are also drawings of the six Mitford sisters by William Acton. These sisters are the mother and aunts of Desmond Guinness.
The one on the top left is Nancy Mitford the writer. Diana Mitford, below her, is Desmond Guinness’s mother: she left his father, Bryan Walter Guinness, in order to be with Robert Mosley, the Nazi, and Hitler was the best man at their wedding, five years after she had married Bryan Guinness. Next to Nancy on top is Unity Mitford, a friend of Hitler, and below her, Deborah, who married Andrew Cavendish, 11th Duke of Devonshire, who inherited Lismore Castle in Waterford, a real fairytale-looking castle with gardens which are open to the public.
We were lucky to be shown the “secret door”:
It led to a surprising outdoor area, which features mosaics on the walls!
and a blocked up arched doorway:
On the way to the grand staircase we passed another painting of Desmond’s mother – one she was not so fond of, as you can imagine, as it’s a bit risque. It highlights the blue of her eyes, however, which are inherited by her son.
The woodwork of the staircase dates from the early 18th century or late 17th. The window is twentieth century and probably replaces a Venetian window, Guinness tells us in the pamphlet, in an attempt to make the interior look earlier than it is.
This (below) is just something that Desmond saw at a party that tickled his fancy, I believe:
The carved wooden heads “supporting” the upstairs landing came from a shop front in Dawson Street, Dublin, where they were unrecognisable due to many layers of paint. They may be the work, Guinness tells us, of Edward Smyth who carved the Riverine heads on the facade of the Custom House in Dublin, besides much of the sculptural ornament on public buildings in Dublin.
The tapestry was woven in Brussels in the seventeenth century and depicts Caesar in a green toga, making the crossing to Brindisium, protected on the way by the goddess Fortuna, who hovers aloft. It was a present to Desmond from his mother, who brought it from France (somehow!).
Next we went upstairs. There are 14 bedrooms, all still used when there are enough guests.
The first room we entered is the “Yellow room” or the “plate room.” Notice that the plates are complemented with matching candles!
The next room, the Blue Room, is one of the largest:
The next room is NOT called the “pink room,” Jenny told us. I think it’s the Chinese or Oriental room.
I believe Marina cut and pasted the prints in this hallway:
The next room is called the Chapel, so named, I believe, for the IHS above the doorway.
The next bedroom was the grandest, and is called King John’s bedroom as the story is that he slept there. There is a painted Venus on the ceiling.
I love the enormous wardrobe with funny leonine feet with too many toes, and the still used copper bath.
Our last room, the Tower Room, is not usually one shown to guests, I think, because it’s not always kept tidy, but Jenny found us such enthusiastic guests, along with the other couple, that we were privileged with a view of the room and even the toilet off it.
We explored outside before we had our indoor tour.
This is the vision that met our eyes when we went through the gateway, a living arcadia:
By the side of the conservatory, there is another gate, down to the farm buildings and stable, by a cottage, where Jenny and her family live.
 p. 183. 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.
“Sir Nicholas Whyte, Knt., was the son of James Whyte, of King’s Meadows, in the County Waterford. He was in 1564 Recorder of Waterford; in 1569 he was appointed Seneschal of the County of Wexford and Constable of the Castle of Wexford; and in 1572 he was made Master of the Rolls — an office which he held till his death on the 20th March, 1593. In 1569 he was granted the lands of St. Catherine’s, on the opposite bank of the Liffey, in the County Dublin, and in the following year he obtained a grant of the Manor of Leixlip, two castles, a water-mill, a salmon-weir, two fishing-places, called the Salmon Leap, on the river Analiffey, Priortown Meade, and other demesne lands of the manor, 6d. rent for licence to have a right of way from Confey to Leixlip, the right of pasture on the great common of Moncronock, and rents out of several townlands, to hold for ever in capite by the service of a fortieth part of a knight’s fee, at a rent of £36 13s. 4d.Irish (or 1227 10s.sterling)….”
 And to finish off, if you have had the mammoth attention-span to get through this all in one go (and even if you have not!), we’ll end with a Ghost Story by Charles Robert Maturin (a favourite writer of Oscar Wilde’s):
Bibliographical note: First published in The Literary Souvenir; or, Cabinet of Poetry and Romance (London: Hurst & Robinson 1825); rep. in The Grimoire and Other Supernatural Stories, collected by Montague Summers (Fortune Press 1936), pp.23-27.
Source: The Literary Souvenir, or Cabinet of Poetry and Romance (1825), at “The Literary Gothic Website” [online] – supplied by Dr. Dick Collins (Inchigeela, Co. Cork, Ireland) [accessed 30.11.2007.]
THE INCIDENTS of the following tale are not merely founded on fact, they are facts themselves, which occurred at no very distant period in my own family. The marriage of the parties, their sudden and mysterious separation, and their total alienation from each other until the last period of their mortal existence, are all facts. I cannot vouch for the truth of the supernatural solution given to all these mysteries; but I must still consider the story as a fine specimen of Gothic horrors, and can never forget the impression it made on me when I heard it related for the first time among many other thrilling traditions of the same description.
The tranquillity of the Catholics of Ireland during the disturbed periods of 1715 and 1745, was most commendable, and somewhat extraordinary; to enter into an analysis of their probable motives, is not at all the object of the writer of this tale, as it is pleasanter to state the fact of their honour, than at this distance of time to assign dubious and unsatisfactory reasons for it. Many of them, however, showed a kind of secret disgust at the existing state of affairs, by quitting their family residences and wandering about like persons who were uncertain of their homes, or possibly expecting better from some near and fortunate contingency.
Among the rest was a Jacobite Baronet, who, sick of his uncongenial situation in a Whig neighbourhood, in the north – where he heard of nothing but the heroic defence of Londonderry; the barbarities of the French generals; and the resistless exhortations of the godly Mr Walker, a Presbyterian clergyman, to whom the citizens gave the title of ‘Evangelist’; – quitted his paternal residence, and about the year 1720 hired the Castle of Leixlip for three years (it was then the property of the Connollys, who let it to triennial tenants); and removed thither with his family, which consisted of three daughters – their mother having long been dead.
The Castle of Leixlip, at that period, possessed a character of romantic beauty and feudal grandeur, such as few buildings in Ireland can claim, and which is now, alas, totally effaced by the destruction of its noble woods; on the destroyers of which the writer would wish ‘a minstrel’s malison were said’. – Leixlip, though about seven miles from Dublin, has all the sequestered and picturesque character that imagination could ascribe to a landscape a hundred miles from, not only the metropolis but an inhabited town. After driving a dull mile (an Irish mile)  in passing from Lucan to Leixlip, the road – hedged up on one side of the high wall that bounds the demesne of the Veseys, and on the other by low enclosures, over whose rugged tops you have no view at all – at once opens on Leixlip Bridge, at almost a right angle, and displays a luxury of landscape on which the eye that has seen it even in childhood dwells with delighted recollection. – Leixlip Bridge, a rude but solid structure, projects from a high bank of the Liffey, and slopes rapidly to the opposite side, which there lies remarkably low. To the right the plantations of the Vesey’s demesne – no longer obscured by walls – almost mingle their dark woods in its stream, with the opposite ones of Marshfield and St Catherine’s. The river is scarcely visible, overshadowed as it is by the deep, rich and bending foliage of the trees. To the left it bursts out in all the brilliancy of light, washes the garden steps of the houses of Leixlip, wanders round the low walls of its churchyard, plays, with the pleasure-boat moored under the arches on which the summer-house of the Castle is raised, and then loses itself among the rich woods that once skirted those grounds to its very brink. The contrast on the other side, with the luxuriant walks, scattered shrubberies, temples seated on pinnacles, and thickets that conceal from you the sight of the river until you are on its banks, that mark the character of the grounds which are now the property of Colonel Marly, is peculiarly striking.
Visible above the highest roofs of the town, though a quarter of a mile distant from them, are the ruins of Confy Castle, a right good old predatory tower of the stirring times when blood was shed like water; and as you pass the bridge you catch a glimpse of the waterfall (or salmon-leap, as it is called) on whose noon-day lustre, or moon-light beauty, probably the rough livers of that age when Confy Castle was ‘a tower of strength’, never glanced an eye or cast a thought, as they clattered in their harness over Leixlip Bridge, or waded through the stream before that convenience was in existence.
Whether the solitude in which he lived contributed to tranquillize Sir Redmond Blaney’s feelings, or whether they had begun to rust from want of collision with those of others, it is impossible to say, but certain it is, that the good Baronet began gradually to lose his tenacity in political matters; and except when a Jacobite friend came to dine with him, and drink with many a significant ‘nod and beck and smile’, the King over the water – or the parish-priest (good man) spoke of the hopes of better times, and the final success of the right cause, and the old religion – or a Jacobite servant was heard in the solitude of the large mansion whistling ‘Charlie is my darling’, to which Sir Redmond involuntarily responded in a deep bass voice, somewhat the worse for wear, and marked with more emphasis than good discretion – except, as I have said, on such occasions, the Baronet’s politics, like his life, seemed passing away without notice or effort. Domestic calamities, too, pressed sorely on the old gentleman: of his three daughters the youngest, Jane, had disappeared in so extraordinary a manner in her childhood, that though it is but a wild, remote family tradition, I cannot help relating it:-
The girl was of uncommon beauty and intelligence, and was suffered to wander about the neighbourhood of the castle with the daughter of a servant, who was also called Jane, as a nom de caresse. One evening Jane Blaney and her young companion went far and deep into the woods; their absence created no uneasiness at the time, as these excursions were by no means unusual, till her playfellow returned home alone and weeping, at a very late hour. Her account was, that, in passing through a lane at some distance from the castle, an old woman, in the Fingallian dress (a red petticoat and a long green jacket), suddenly started out of a thicket, and took Jane Blaney by the arm: she had in her hand two rushes, one of which she threw over her shoulder, and giving the other to the child, motioned to her to do the same. Her young companion, terrified at what she saw, was running away, when Jane Blaney called after her – ‘Good-bye, good-bye, it is a long time before you will see me again.’ The girl said they then disappeared, and she found her way home as she could. An indefatigable search was immediately commenced – woods were traversed, thickets were explored, ponds were drained – all in vain. The pursuit and the hope were at length given up. Ten years afterwards, the housekeeper of Sir Redmond, having remembered that she left the key of a closet where sweetmeats were kept, on the kitchen table, returned to fetch it. As she approached the door, she heard a childish voice murmuring – ‘Cold – cold – cold how long it is since I have felt a fire!’ – She advanced, and saw, to her amazement, Jane Blaney, shrunk to half her usual size, and covered with rags, crouching over the embers of the fire. The housekeeper flew in terror from the spot, and roused the servants, but the vision had fled. The child was reported to have been seen several times afterwards, as diminutive in form, as though she had not grown an inch since she was ten years of age, and always crouching over a fire, whether in the turret-room or kitchen, complaining of cold and hunger, and apparently covered with rags. Her existence is still said to be protracted under these dismal circumstances, so unlike those of Lucy Gray in Wordsworth’s beautiful ballad:
Yet some will say, that to this day She is a living child – That they have met sweet Lucy Gray Upon the lonely wild; O’er rough and smooth she trips along, And never looks behind; And hums a solitary song That whistles in the wind.
The fate of the eldest daughter was more melancholy, though less extraordinary; she was addressed by a gentleman of competent fortune and unexceptionable character: he was a Catholic, moreover; and Sir Redmond Blaney signed the marriage articles, in full satisfaction of the security of his daughter’s soul, as well as of her jointure. The marriage was celebrated at the Castle of Leixlip; and, after the bride and bridegroom had retired, the guests still remained drinking to their future happiness, when suddenly, to the great alarm of Sir Redmond and his friends, loud and piercing cries were heard to issue from the part of the castle in which the bridal chamber was situated.
Some of the more courageous hurried up stairs; it was too late – the wretched bridegroom had burst, on that fatal night, into a sudden and most horrible paroxysm of insanity. The mangled form of the unfortunate and expiring lady bore attestation to the mortal virulence with which the disease had operated on the wretched husband, who died a victim to it himself after the involuntary murder of his bride. The bodies were interred, as soon as decency would permit, and the story hushed up.
Sir Redmond’s hopes of Jane’s recovery were diminishing every day, though he still continued to listen to every wild tale told by the domestics; and all his care was supposed to be now directed towards his only surviving daughter. Anne, living in solitude, and partaking only of the very limited education of Irish females of that period, was left very much to the servants, among whom she increased her taste for superstitious and supernatural horrors, to a degree that had a most disastrous effect on her future life.
Among the numerous menials of the Castle, there was one withered crone, who had been nurse to the late Lady Blaney’s mother, and whose memory was a complete Thesaurus terrorum. The mysterious fate of Jane first encouraged her sister to listen to the wild tales of this hag, who avouched, that at one time she saw the fugitive standing before the portrait of her late mother in one of the apartments of the Castle, and muttering to herself – ‘Woe’s me, woe’s me! how little my mother thought her wee Jane would ever come to be what she is!’ But as Anne grew older she began more ‘seriously to incline’ to the hag’s promises that she could show her her future bridegroom, on the performance of certain ceremonies, which she at first revolted from as horrible and impious; but, finally, at the repeated instigation of the old woman, consented to act a part in. The period fixed upon for the performance of these unhallowed rites, was now approaching – it was near the 31st of October – the eventful night, when such ceremonies were, and still are supposed, in the North of Ireland, to be most potent in their effects. All day long the Crone took care to lower the mind of the young lady to the proper key of submissive and trembling credulity, by every horrible story she could relate; and she told them with frightful and supernatural energy. This woman was called Collogue by the family, a name equivalent to Gossip in England, or Cummer in Scotland (though her real name was Bridget Dease); and she verified the name, by the exercise of an unwearied loquacity, an indefatigable memory, and a rage for communicating, and inflicting terror, that spared no victim in the household, from the groom, whom she sent shivering to his rug,  to the Lady of the Castle, over whom she felt she held unbounded sway. The 31st of October arrived – the Castle was perfectly quiet before eleven o’clock; half an hour afterwards, the Collogue and Anne Blaney were seen gliding along a passage that led to what is called King John’s Tower, where it is said that monarch received the homage of the Irish princes as Lord of Ireland and which was, at all events, the most ancient part of the structure. 
The Collogue opened a small door with a key which she had secreted, about her, and urged the young lady to hurry on. Anne advanced to the postern, and stood there irresolute and trembling like a timid swimmer on the bank of an unknown stream. It was a dark autumnal evening; a heavy wind sighed among the woods of the Castle, and bowed the branches of the lower trees almost to the waves of the Liffey, which, swelled by recent rains, struggled and roared amid the stones that obstructed its channel. The steep descent from the Castle lay before her, with its dark avenue of elms; a few lights still burned in the little village of Leixlip – but from the lateness of the hour it was probable they would soon be extinguished. The lady lingered – ‘And must I go alone?’ said she, foreseeing that the terrors of her fearful journey could be aggravated by her more fearful purpose. ‘Ye must, or al
l will be spoiled,’ said the hag, shading the miserable light, that did not extend its influence above six inches on the path of the victim. ‘Ye must go alone – and I will watch for you here, dear, till you come back, and then see what will come to you at twelve o’clock. The unfortunate girl paused. ‘Oh! Collogue, Collogue, if you would but come with me. Oh! Collogue, come with me, if it be but to the bottom of the castlehill.’
‘If I went with you, dear, we should never reach the top of it alive again, for there are them near that would tear us both in pieces.’
‘Oh! Collogue, Collogue – let me turn back then, and go to my own room – I have advanced too far, and I have done too much.’
‘And that’s what you have, dear, and so you must go further, and do more still, unless, when you return to your own room, you would see the likeness of some one instead of a handsome young bridegroom.’
The young lady looked about her for a moment, terror and wild hope trembling at her heart – then, with a sudden impulse of supernatural courage, she darted like a bird from the terrace of the Castle, the fluttering of her white garments was seen for a few moments, and then the hag who had been shading the flickering light with her hand, bolted the postern, and, placing the candle before a glazed loophole, sat down on a stone seat in the recess of the tower, to watch the event of the spell. It was an hour before the young lady returned; when her face was as pale, and her eyes as fixed, as those of a dead body, but she held in her grasp a dripping garment, a proof that her errand had been performed. She flung it into her companion’s hands, and then stood, panting and gazing wildly about her as if she knew not where she was. The hag herself grew terrified at the insane and breathless state of her victim, and hurried her to her chamber; but here the preparations for the terrible ceremonies of the night were the first objects that struck her, and, shivering at the sight, she covered her eyes with her hands, and stood immovably fixed in the middle of the room. It needed all the hag’s persuasions (aided even by mysterious menaces), combined with the returning faculties and reviving curiosity of the poor girl, to prevail on her to go through the remaining business of the night. At length she said, as if in desperation, ‘I will go through with it: but be in the next room; and if what I dread should happen, I will ring my father’s little silver bell which I have secured for the night – and as you have a soul to be saved, Collogue, come to me at its first sound.’
The hag promised, gave her last instructions with eager and jealous minuteness, and then retired to her own room, which was adjacent to that of the young lady. Her candle had burned out, but she stirred up the embers of her turf fire, and sat, nodding over them, and smoothing the pallet from time to time, but resolved not to lie down while there was a chance of a sound from the lady’s room, for which she herself, withered as her feelings were, waited with a mingled feeling of anxiety and terror.
It was now long past midnight, and all was silent as the grave throughout the Castle. The hag dozed over the embers till her head touched her knees, then started up as the sound of the bell seemed to tinkle in her ears, then dozed again, and again started as the bell appeared to tinkle more distinctly – suddenly she was roused, not by the bell, but by the most piercing and horrible cries from the neighbouring chamber. The Cologue, aghast for the first time, at the possible consequences of the mischief she might have occasioned, hastened to the room. Anne was in convulsions, and the hag was compelled reluctantly to call up the housekeeper (removing meanwhile the implements of the ceremony), and assist in applying all the specifics known at that day, burnt feathers, etc., to restore her. When they had at length succeeded, the housekeeper was dismissed, the door was bolted, and the Collogue was left alone with Anne; the subject of their conference might have been guessed at, but was not known until many years afterwards; but Anne that night held in her hand, in the shape of a weapon with the use of which neither of them was acquainted, an evidence that her chamber had been visited by a being of no earthly form.
This evidence the hag importuned her to destroy, or to remove: but she persisted with fatal tenacity in keeping it. She locked it up, however, immediately, and seemed to think she had acquired a right, since she had grappled so fearfully with the mysteries of futurity, to know all the secrets of which that weapon might yet lead to the disclosure. But from that night it was observed that her character, her manner, and even her countenance, became altered. She grew stern and solitary, shrunk at the sight of her former associates, and imperatively forbade the slightest allusion to the circumstances which had occasioned this mysterious change.
It was a few days subsequent to this event that Anne, who after dinner had left the Chaplain reading the life of St Francis Xavier to Sir Redmond, and retired to her own room to work, and, perhaps, to muse, was surprised to hear the bell at the outer gate ring loudy and repeatedly – a sound she had never heard since her first residence in the Castle; for the few guests who resorted there came, and departed as noiselessly as humble visitors at the house of a great man generally do. Straightway there rode up the avenue of elms, which we have already mentioned, a stately gentleman, followed by four servants, all mounted, the two former having pistols in their holsters, and the two latter carrying saddle-bags before them: though it was the first week in November, the dinner hour being one o’clock, Anne had light enough to notice all these circumstances. The arrival of the stranger seemed to cause much, though not unwelcome tumult in the Castle; orders were loudly and hastily given for the accommodation of the servants and horses – steps were heard traversing the numerous passages for a full hour – then all was still; and it was said that Sir Redmond had locked with his own hand the door of the room where he and the stranger sat, and desired that no one should dare to approach it. About two hours afterwards, a female servant came with orders from her master, to have a plentiful supper ready by eight o’clock, at which he desired the presence of his daughter. The family establishment was on a handsome scale for an Irish house, and Anne had only to descend to the kitchen to order the roasted chickens to be well strewed with brown sugar according to the unrefined fashion of the day, to inspect the mixing of the bowl of sago with its allowance of a bottle of port wine and a large handful of the richest spices, and to order particularly that the pease pudding should have a huge lump of cold salt butter stuck in its centre; and then, her household cares being over, to retire to her room and array herself in a robe of white damask for the occasion.
At eight o’clock she was summoned to the supper-room. She came in, according to the fashion of the times, with the first dish; but as she passed through the ante-room, where the servants were holding lights and bearing the dishes, her sleeve was twitched, and the ghastly face of the Collogue pushed close to hers; while she muttered ‘Did not I say he would come for you, dear?’ Anne’s blood ran cold, but she advanced, saluted her father and the stranger with two low and distinct reverences, and then took her place at the table. Her feelings of awe and perhaps terror at the whisper of her associate, were not diminished by the appearance of the stranger; there was a singular and mute solemnity in his manner during the meal. He ate nothing. Sir Redmond appeared constrained, gloomy and thoughtful. At length, starting, he said (without naming the stranger’s name), ‘You will drink my daughter’s health?’ The stranger intimated his willingness to have that honour, but absently filled his glass with water; Anne put a few drops of wine into hers, and bowed towards him. At that moment, for the first time since they had met, she beheld his face – it was pale as that of a corpse. The deadly whiteness of his cheeks and lips, the hollow and distant sound of his voice, and the strange lustre of his large dark moveless eyes, strongly fixed on her, made her pause and even tremble as she raised the glass to her lips; she set it down, and then with another silent reverence retired to her chamber.
There she found Bridget Dease, busy in collecting the turf that burned on the hearth, for there was no grate in the apartment. ‘Why are you here?’ she said, impatiently.
The hag turned on her, with a ghastly grin of congratulation, ‘Did not I tell you that he would come for you?’
‘I believe he has,’ said the unfortunate girl, sinking into the huge wicker chair by her bedside; ‘for never did I see mortal with such a look.’ ‘But is not he a fine stately gentleman?’ pursued the hag.
‘He looks as if he were not of this world,’ said Anne.
‘Of this world, or of the next,’ said the hag, raising her bony fore-finger, ‘mark my words – so sure as the – (here she repeated some of the horrible formularies of the 31st of October) – so sure he will be your bridegroom.’ ‘Then I shall be the bride of a corpse,’ said Anne; ‘for he I saw tonight is no living man.’
A fortnight elapsed, and whether Anne became reconciled to the features she had thought so ghastly, by the discovery that they were the handsomest she had ever beheld – and that the voice, whose sound at first was so strange and unearthly, was subdued into a tone of plaintive softness when addressing her or whether it is impossible for two young persons with unoccupied hearts to meet in the country, and meet often, to gaze silently on the same stream, wander under the same trees, and listen together to the wind that waves the branches, without experiencing an assimilation of feeling rapidly succeeding an assimilation of taste; – or whether it was from all these causes combined, but in less than a month Anne heard the declaration of the stranger’s passion with many a blush, though without a sigh. He now avowed his name and rank. He stated himself to be a Scottish Baronet, of the name of Sir Richard Maxwell; family misfortunes had driven him from his country, and forever precluded the possibility of his return: he had transferred his property to Ireland, and purposed to fix his residence there for life. Such was his statement. The courtship of those days was brief and simple. Anne became the wife of Sir Richard, and, I believe, they resided with her father till his death, when they removed to their estate in the North. There they remained for several years, in tranquility and happiness, and had a numerous family. Sir Richard’s conduct was marked by but two peculiarities: he not only shunned the intercourse, but the sight of any of his countrymen, and, if he happened to hear that a Scotsman had arrived in the neighbouring town, he shut himself up till assured of the stranger’s departure. The other was his custom of retiring to his own chamber, and remaining invisible to his family on the anniversary of the 31st of October. The lady, who had her own associations connected with that period, only questioned him once on the subject of this seclusion, and was then solemnly and even sternly enjoined never to repeat her inquiry. Matters stood thus, somewhat mysteriously, but not unhappily, when on a sudden, without any cause assigned or assignable, Sir Richard and Lady Maxwell parted, and never more met in this world, nor was she ever permitted to see one of her children to her dying hour. He continued to live at the family mansion and she fixed her residence with a distant relative in a remote part of the country. So total was the disunion, that the name of either was never heard to pass the other’s lips, from the moment of separation until that of dissolution.
Lady Maxwell survived Sir Richard forty years, living to the great age of ninety-six; and, according to a promise, previously given, disclosed to a descendent with whom she had lived, the following extraordinary circumstances.
She said that on the night of the 31st of October, about seventy-five years before, at the instigation of her ill-advising attendant, she had washed one of her garments in a place where four streams met, and peformed other unhallowed ceremonies under the direction of the Collogue, in the expectation that her future husband would appear to her in her chamber at twelve o’clock that night. The critical moment arrived, but with it no lover-like form. A vision of indescribable horror approached her bed, and flinging at her an iron weapon of a shape and construction unknown to her, bade her ‘recognize her future husband by that.’ The terrors of this visit soon deprived her of her senses; but on her recovery, she persisted, as has been said, in keeping the fearful pledge of the reality of the vision, which, on examination, appeared to be incrusted with blood. It remained concealed in the inmost drawer of her cabinet till the morning of the separation. On that morning, Sir Richard Maxwell rose before daylight to join a hunting party – he wanted a knife for some accidental purpose, and, missing his own, called to Lady Maxwell, who was still in bed, to lend him one. The lady, who was half asleep, answered, that in such a drawer of her cabinet he would find one. He went, however, to another, and the next moment she was fully awakened by seeing her husband present the terrible weapon to her throat, and threaten her with instant death unless she disclosed how she came by it. She supplicated for life, and then, in an agony of horror and contrition, told the tale of that eventful night. He gazed at her for a moment with a countenance which rage, hatred, and despair converted, as she avowed, into a living likeness of the demon-visage she had once beheld (so singularly was the fated resemblance fulfilled), and then exclaiming, ‘You won me by the devil’s aid, but you shall not keep me long,’ left her – to meet no more in this world. Her husband’s secret was not unknown to the lady, though the means by which she became possessed of it were wholly unwarrantable. Her curiosity had been strongly excited by her husband’s aversion to his countrymen, and it was so – stimulated by the arrival of a Scottish gentleman in the neighbourhood some time before, who professed himself formerly acquainted with Sir Richard, and spoke mysteriously of the causes that drove him from his country – that she contrived to procure an interview with him under a feigned name, and obtained from him the knowledge of circumstances which embittered her after-life to its latest hour. His story was this:
Sir Richard Maxwell was at deadly feud with a younger brother; a family feast was proposed to reconcile them, and as the use of knives and forks was then unknown in the Highlands, the company met armed with their dirks for the purpose of carving. They drank deeply; the feast, instead of harmonizing, began to inflame their spirits; the topics of old strife were renewed; hands, that at first touched their weapons in defiance, drew them at last in fury, and in the fray, Sir Richard mortally wounded his brother. His life was with difficulty saved from the vengeance of the clan, and he was hurried towards the seacoast, near which the house stood, and concealed there till a vessel could be procured to convey him to Ireland. He embarked on the night of the 31st of October, and while he was traversing the deck in unutterable agony of spirit, his hand accidentally touched the dirk which he had unconsciously worn ever since the fatal night. He drew it, and, praying ‘that the guilt of his brother’s blood might be as far from his soul, as he could fling that weapon from his body,’ sent it with all his strength into the air. This instrument he found secreted in the lady’s cabinet, and whether he really believed her to have become possessed of it by supernatural means, or whether he feared his wife was a secret witness of his crime, has not been ascertained, but the result was what I have stated.
The separation took place on the discovery: – for the rest,
I know not how the truth may be, I tell the Tale as ’twas told to me.
1. An Irish mile – a distance of undetermined length. In the West of Ireland, any distance up to about sixty kilometres may be expressed as ‘about a mile or so.’ 2. His rug – the horse-rug under which he sleeps. 3. King John – king of England 1199-1216. Was Lord of Ireland for a brief period; having mortally insulted the Irish chieftains, he was hastily withdrawn by his father, the great Henry II (1154-1189). This is why he was called ‘John Lackland.’
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.
According to the Irish Historic Houses website :
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.
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.
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.
This picture explains the south side of the cross, from top to bottom:
human figure turned to left
heart-shaped feature (enclosing human head?)
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?).
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.
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.
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.”
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. 
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.
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!)  After a fire in around 1800, the central block was rebuilt and given an extra storey, and the Diocletian window seems to have disappeared.
The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage Buildings of Ireland website describes the frontal aspect of the house :
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.
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.
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.
I was able to take aerial photos from the top, of the house and its surroundings.
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.
The house is beautifully situated near the river, with a lovely view toward another stone bridge in the other direction.
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 . I’d love to return and stay!
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
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.
On the gates and there was a note welcoming visits, so we headed up the long driveway.
We reached the house, and parked.
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 .
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.
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.
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.  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.” 
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 .
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: 
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. 
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. 
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 . 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.
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.  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.
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.
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.
We were accompanied on our walk around the grounds by a lovely dog:
Paths have been created which enables wonderful wandering. We spent at least an hour walking around.
A walled garden contains an orchard:
The corners of the walled garden have impressive towers:
This tree below reminds me of the paperbark trees in Western Australia.
Sculptures and garden furniture are studded romantically around the gardens:
I could make out the artist’s name carved in to the leg of one of the rabbits, Kinsella.
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.
Stephen spotted this fascinating bird skull on the ground.
Robert and his wife are creating an Arboretum.
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.
You can see more about the church with information and photographs of the windows on the Coolcarrigan website.
 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.
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
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.
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.” 
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.
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.  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:
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.
Naomi has an informative poster of Sheelagh-na-gigs in Britain and Ireland, which includes her Sheelagh-na-gig:
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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.