Mount Usher Gardens, Ashford, Co. Wicklow

Caitriona Mc Weeney

Tel: 0404-49672

www.mountushergardens.ie

Open: all year 10am-6pm

Address: Ashford, Co. Wicklow, A67 VW22
Tel:
+353 (0)404 49672

E-mail: 
mountusher-gardens@avoca.com

Situated:
GPS: N53-00497 W006-06.403 el 18m
Ashford village, Exit 15/16 off main Dublin – Rosslare M11. 30km south of Dublin.

Open:
Mount Usher Gardens open daily all year: 10am – 5pm (Last admission 4pm) Please check for Winter closing time.

Admission:
Adults €8, Senior Citizens €7, Students €7,
Children 4 – 16 €4, under 4yrs FREE.
Groups (15 or more): Adults €7, Senior Citizens €6, Mixed Group €6.50
Guided Tours: €60.00 (Advance booking required). A Guided Tour takes approximately 90 minutes.

Facilities:
Avoca Cafe, Food Hall, Shopping Courtyard, Toilets, Parking, Wheelchair access (limited). No dogs and no picnics.

Guided Tours:
€60.00 (Advance booking required).

Best time to Visit:
Any time

Before we were allowed to visit Section 482 houses, due to Covid 19 restrictions, we were allowed to visit gardens. Accompanied by our friends Owenroe, Deirdre, Dario and Niamh, Stephen and I headed to Wicklow one sunny Sunday in May. We had wonderful weather for the day, as you can see from my photographs. Before entering the gardens, there are some shops and a cafe.

Mount Usher is open all year to visitors. There is a house, but that is not part of the Section 482 listing, unfortunately! It looks idyllic, set in its lush gardens. Mark Bence-Jones calls it a “simple double bow-fronted house,” [1] and the National Inventory tells us it was built in 1922, and that there is a long two-storey house built in the 1990s to the rear of the house. [2] The gardens cover 23 acres, along the Vartry River.

One enters through the gift shop, a branch of Avoca. Inside, there is a small museum which tells the story of the gardens and its creators. Everything looked so beautiful that we could not resist picking up a hand cream for Stephen’s mother.

The area was named after the Ussher family. John Ussher (1646-1745) is mentioned in The Peerage website as living in Mount Ussher, County Wicklow. His father William Ussher is listed as living in Portrane, Dublin and “Castle of Grange, County Wicklow.” John’s son Christopher, born around 1690, was Secretary of the Linen Board – the later occupants of Mount Ussher, or Mount Usher, as it is now spelled, the Walpoles, were also in the Linen trade. Christopher Ussher inherited land in Galway which he passed to his heirs, and in Ussher Memoirs, compiled by Reverend William Ball Wright in 1889, there is no further mention of Mount Ussher. [3]

The museum tells us that Edward Walpole (1798-1878), a successful Dublin businessman, enjoyed walking in Wicklow, and he stayed in a hotel on weekends to indulge his passion. The Walpole family was involved in linen manufacturing. Thomas Simmons started a linen business in Bride Street in Dublin in 1766, and through mergers and a marriage it grew into Walpole Brothers Limited by 1866. Coincidentally, in 1816 the business moved to Suffolk Street in Dublin and occupied what is now Avoca Shop and Cafe on that street. Mount Usher had originally been a “tuck mill” where local people brought their home spun and woven cloth to be finished. This may be how Edward Walpole came across this location. He took over the lease of Mount Usher in 1868 and began to develop his garden, with the help of his sons. Seven years later he transferred the land to his sons: Thomas, George, William White and Edward. William White and George also continued in the Linen business, and developed their shop into a Gentlemen’s Outfitters. Their younger brother Edward joined the business and expanded to London.

The Walpoles were Quakers. They came originally from the settlement in Mountrath, County Laois – the National Library of Ireland contains documents relating to the Walpoles and their business [4]. The Quakers in Ireland website tells us why Quakers were successful in business:

Why were Friends successful in this way? Modern business has become so competitive, and the profit motive so pervasive, that it is hard to imagine the strong influence their religious convictions exerted on them. They simply believed it was right to offer a good product for a fixed, and reasonable, price. They believed in honesty and integrity in all their dealings. A simple life-style, and not over-extending themselves financially, allowed them to build up their resources. Strict rules governing business methods for members meant that they were increasingly trusted with money, and some became bankers. Various laws, including those related to swearing oaths, prevented Friends from attending university and joining the professions for a couple of centuries, so they put their energies into business instead. Friends were good employers, and this led to a loyal workforce.

Also, and importantly, the structure of The Society of Friends from its earliest days, with a system of representatives from Meetings regularly visiting other Meetings, often in other parts of the country, created a network of relationships between like minded individuals and families. It was natural, therefore, that they would hear about, support, participate in and emulate each other’s ventures. [5]

The brothers acquired more land to add to their garden, adding weirs and bridges. Edward and George were influenced by William Robinson, who has been called “the father of English gardening.”

William Robinson (1838-1935) was born in Ireland. His first job was in Curraghmore, County Waterford. He progressed to become the foreman gardener in Ballykilcavan, County Laois, employed by Sir Hunt Johnson-Walsh. In 1862 Robinson found employment at the Royal Botanic Society’s garden at Regent’s Park in England. He resigned four years later in order to further his knowledge of gardening, and to write. He travelled in France and later more widely in Europe and the United States, and published books on horticulture. His most important work is The English Flower Garden (1883). [6] The Robinsonian style of gardening is to work with nature, as opposed to imposing order.

Walks and woods were added to the property as more land was acquired. The family also owned a house called Windsor Lodge in Monkstown in Dublin. Mount Usher passed to Edward Horace Walpole, the son of Edward Walpole (1837-1917) and Elizabeth Harvey Pim [perhaps his parents were fans of the writer, Horace, or Horatio, Walpole (1717-1797), who most famously wrote the Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto and who also embraced the Gothic style in his home, Strawberry Hill in southwest London – or perhaps they were related]. For over fifty years, Edward Horace enlarged and improved the garden, with the help of his head gardener, Charles Fox. Rare varieties of plants from China, Japan, the Himalayas, Chile, New Zealand and North America were added.

Edward Horace Walpole married Alice Dorothy Scanlan from Nottingham in 1912 in the Friends Meeting House (Quaker) in Nottingham. [7] His son Robert Basil Walpole sold Mount Usher.

In 1980 Madelaine Jay purchased the property, and she continued the garden following organic methods. The garden now covers twenty acres and has over 5000 plant species. It is now leased to Avoca.

Former gate lodge, now in use as a house, built in about 1905.

What a great discovery it is to find this amazing garden! I can’t wait to return.

In the meantime, we have been able to begin to visit houses again listed for the Revenue 482. We visited another Quaker home, that of the Fennells of Burtown, County Kildare. More on that soon!

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

[2] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/16402510/mountusher-house-mountusher-ashford-co-wicklow

[3] https://archive.org/stream/usshermemoirsorg00wrig/usshermemoirsorg00wrig_djvu.txt

[4] http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000834470 and http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000829943

[5] https://quakers-in-ireland.ie/history/quaker-businesses/

[6] Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

[7] https://www.youwho.ie/walpole.html 

Beaulieu, County Louth

Contact: Cara Konig-Brock tel.: +353 41 983 8557

e: info@beaulieuhouse.ie

w: www.beaulieuhouse.ie

Beaulieu House, near Drogheda in County Louth, is not on the Section 482 list in 2019 or 2020, for the first time in many years. I visited, however, during Heritage Week in 2019, and it’s definitely worth a write-up. The front hall is magnificent, and the history of the house is a lesson in the history of Ireland. The history of Beaulieu encompasses the history of Ireland from the 1640s and its owners played an active role.

It is pronounced “Bewley” and sometimes written on earlier maps as “Bewly.” Nobody is sure where the name came from, but the website suggests that it may come from “booley,” the practice of the Irish in which cattle are moved from place to place to graze.

The house overlooks the River Boyne – you can see it beyond the garden at the side of the house:

View from Beaulieu overlooking the River Boyne estuary.

Beaulieu is a very important house architecturally as it is one of the few Dutch influenced houses still surviving, in a style deriving from works of Inigo Jones. It was built around 1715 and incorporates an older building. The Irish Aesthete tells us that the architect was probably John Curle. [1] The Dictionary of Irish Architects tells us that John Curle may have come originally from Scotland, and was active in Counties Fermanagh, Louth, Meath and Monaghan in the late 1690s and first quarter of the 1700s. As well as working on Beaulieu, he designed the original house at Castle Coole, Co. Fermanagh, built in 1709, and in about 1709 he designed Conyngham Hall (later Slane Castle), Co. Meath (another Section 482 property). It has also been suggested that Curle also designed Stackallan House, Co. Meath, in 1712.

Stackallan House, County Meath. Photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

Cement-rendered with redbrick trim, Beaulieu has two show facades, the west front and the south garden front. The entrance is of seven bays, with the two end bays brought forward. The windows are framed with flat brick surrounds, and the doorcase, of brick, consists of two Corinthian pilasters supporting a large pediment with carved swags.

photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

There are three dormer windows over the centre three bays, and one above each two-bay projection, and this type of dormer window is a classical mid-seventeenth century practice of construction. [2] The high eaved roof is carried on a massive wooden modillion cornice. Modillions are small consoles at regular intervals along the underside of some types of classical cornice.

photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, showing the modillion cornice.

The two tall moulded chimneystacks are also of brick. [3] There is a single-storey projecting billiard room in the back and a canted bay which I did not see, on the east side. [4]

photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, showing the billiard room extension.

The garden front is a six-bay elevation with two doorcases, one in the centre of each principal room, both with Ionic pilasters and crowned with large triangular pediments. It looks as though the doors open by lifting upwards on a sash, like the door/window we saw at Corravahan in County Cavan.

photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

This side of the building has three dormer windows.

Beaulieu is now owned by Cara Konig-Brock, who inherited it in from her mother Gabriel de Freitas, who was the tenth generation of descendants since King Charles II granted the lands to Henry Tichbourne in 1666. Gabriel inherited the house from mother, Sidney nee Montgomery, who was married to Nesbit Waddington. [5] The house is unusual in that it has often passed through the female rather than male line.

We arrived early for the tour, so wandered the gardens first. We were excited to see the ramshackle remnants of a festival in the wooded part of the back garden – Vantastival takes place at Beaulieu. I love the magic, creativity and craftsmanship of the pop-up structures in the woods.

There was even a boat in the garden, I assume left over from the festival:

But before I discuss the garden, I’ll tell you about the tour and the house, to give a bit of perspective.

We were greeted by a guide when it was time to enter the house. The front hall which we entered is impressive and rather worn with age. It is double height, and I found it difficult to take in everything at once; when overwhelmed, I focus on one thing – in this case it was the couch. I was delighted to be invited sit in front of the huge fireplace to start the tour, to be able to take in my surroundings. Our guide told us we could take photographs as long as we don’t take pictures of the paintings. It was hard to take photographs, however, without including the paintings, as they covered the walls! So I didn’t take many photos, unfortunately. The large two storey hall is a late seventeenth century copy of a medieval hall.

Stephen in front of the fireplace at the start of the tour, in front hall. The large chimneypiece has bolection moulding, defined in Casey and Rowan’s Buildings of Ireland book as “convex moulding covering the joint between two different planes and overlapping the higher as well as the lower one, especially on panelling and fireplace surrounds of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.”

Before Henry Tichbourne, who acquired it around 1666, the land was owned by the Plunketts. According to the Beaulieu website, the Plunkett family may have first inhabited a tower house at the location. I came across the Plunketts when we visited Dunsany Castle, another Section 482 property. Sir Hugh de Plunkett, an Anglo-Norman, came to Ireland during the reign of Henry II. From then on the family owned lands in Louth and Meath. In 1418 Walter Plunkett obtained royal confirmation of his rights in Bewley and other land. [6] Christopher and Oliver Plunkett, the 6th Baron of Louth (1607-1679) took part in the 1641 Rebellion, and were outlawed. [7] The wide walls of the original tower house can be found in the fabric of the building today. [8] Our guide described these walls: rather contrary to expectations, the walls get thicker higher up. This makes sense if you consider that cannonballs would hit the upper part of a structure.

According to Mark Bence-Jones, it is one of the first country houses built in Ireland without fortification, although until the 19th century it was surrounded by a tall protective hedge, or palisade. [9] Also, the front door is hung with massive carved oak and iron studded shutters, which Bence-Jones explains are probably a vestige of military protection. We did not see these shutters as the door was open for visitors. In the 17th century, troops were garrisoned in the house for a time. We learned more about these troops during the tour.

A History of Beaulieu is a History of Ireland in the 1600’s

To begin chronologically, it’s best to start in 1641 during Phelim O’Neill’s uprising against the British. Phelim O’Neill (1604-1653) rose up to try to prevent a second wave of Plantation in Ireland. During the plantations, first in Laois and Offaly and then in Ulster, lands were taken from the native Irish and given to Protestant settlers to farm, in order to firm up the English King’s control in Ireland. Richard Plunkett, who owned the land at Beaulieu at the time and was a colonel in Phelim O’Neill’s army, allowed Phelim to station his troops in his fortified dwelling at Beaulieu. In his fight, Phelim attacked the walled city of Drogheda.

Henry Tichbourne (or Tichborne – different reference sources spell the name differently) at this time was governor of Lifford, County Donegal. [10] He had come to Ireland from England where as a younger son of Benjamin the 1st Baronet Tichborne of Titchborne, Co. Southampton, he had joined the military. He became commissioner for the Plantation of County Londonderry. Tichborne was sent to Drogheda to protect the city from Phelim O’Neill and his followers. Henry saved the city of Drogheda. His victory is celebrated in the incredible intricately carved wooden “trophy” over the front door in Beaulieu, which includes the “Barbican gate” of Drogheda, underneath the armoured soldier:

According to our guide, after the battle with Phelim O’Neill, the house at Beaulieu was left empty, and Henry Tichbourne moved in. Later, he purchased the land from the Plunketts. The Plunketts had mortgaged their land in order to raise funds for the rebellion of 1641. Tichbourne was able to take over the mortgages and pay them, and thus acquire the estate, thus buying the land and tower that had been formerly occupied by his enemies. [11]

In 1642 King Charles I appointed Tichbourne Lord Justice of Ireland, and he held office until January 1644. In 1644 he went to England with the aim of negotiating peace between the King and the Irish Confederacy. James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde, came to the aid of Tichbourne in Drogheda in 1642. This could explain why Tichbourne was involved with trying to negotiate an agreement between King Charles and the Confederates, as Ormonde was a leading negotiator. [12] Complications arose because at the same time, the Puritans were gaining support in the Parliament in England. They judged Charles I to be betraying his religion and his people. Tichbourne sided with Charles I. He was captured by Parliamentary forces and spent some months as a prisoner in the Tower of London.

Upon his release, he returned to Drogheda. When Oliver Cromwell and his troops came to Ireland in 1649 they laid siege to Drogheda. Tichborne decided that the Royalists could not retain control of Ireland, and decided to join Cromwell’s side, the “Parliamentarians.” When Charles II was restored to the throne in 1661, he forgave Tichborne for his submission to the Parliament loyal to Oliver Cromwell. Charles II was very forgiving. (see Antonia Fraser’s excellent biography of Charles II. Fraser, incidentally, grew up in another house on the Section 482 list, Tullynally.) Charles II confirmed Henry Tichbourne’s ownership of Beaulieu in 1666, and made Tichbourne Marshall of the Irish Army. [13]

The painting in the chimneypiece in the Hall is of Drogheda after Cromwell’s siege. Henry Tichbourne, the grandson of the Tichbourne who fought at Drogheda, commissioned Willem Van Der Hagen to paint a port-scape of Drogheda in the early 1720s. Van Der Hagen began a painting career in Ireland around 1718. He began by painting sets at the Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin – a theatre which has been re-established today after years of alternative use – and went on to become a founding father of Irish landscape painting. The panel painting is built into the overmantel, a picture that refers to Henry’s grandfather the military commander. It is a landscape of Drogheda, with, as the website describes: “its Cromwell-bombarded, medieval walls, gabled houses, (Dutch billies), numerous towers, gates, church spires, monastery gardens and a famous double barbican.”

Beaulieu House

Henry’s son William Tichborne was knighted in 1661 and sat in the Irish Parliament for the borough of Swords, 1661-1666. He was attainted by the Irish Parliament of King James II but was not dispossessed of his estates. He was M.P. for County Louth from 1692 until he died in 1693. He was married to Judith, daughter and co-heiress of John Bysse, Chief Baron of the Exchequer in Ireland. [14]

William’s son Henry also sat in the Irish House of Parliament, representing Ardee and later, County Louth. He also served as Mayor of Drogheda. He was High Sheriff of County Louth and of County Armagh in 1708. He was raised to the Irish peerage as Baron Ferrard of Beaulieu soon after the accession of George I, for promoting the cause of William III in Ireland. He was also Governor of Drogheda. It was probably Henry Baron Ferrard who started work creating the house as we see it today. It was originally thought that the house was begun in William Tichbourne’s time, but due to a letter found by Dr. Edward McPartland in the Molesworth papers in the National Library of Ireland between the then Lord Molesworth and the 1st Lord Ferrard of Beaulieu, it suggests that the building work was carried out between 1710-1720. [15]

The front hall is described in Sean O’Reilly’s Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of  Country Life:

In the entrance hall the magnificence impresses itself on the visitor through architectural effect – the grandeur of the way it rises through two storeys, with the upper levels glazed, most unusually, on inner and outer walls. The internal windows, like those outside with sashes postdating the original construction, allow light to pass between the corridor and hall… the hall is interesting especially for its suggestion of the mixture of traditional or medieval and new Renaissance lifestyles. It is backward looking in the conception of a hall as public living room, a function it continues to serve today as it takes up such a huge proportion of the building… Yet the hall also looks ahead to the Renaissance in its classical articulation and enforced symmetry, all symbolising the power of intellectual discipline.” [16] 

The guide told us that the front hall was actually the courtyard originally, and the front door of the house was the middle door at the back of the hall. There are even windows on the upper level of the hall, which were originally the front windows of the house, and they are part of the corridors upstairs and overlook the hall – see pictures on the website. None of my reference sources however state that this is the case, and the front hall was certainly built in the time of Henry Tichborne, Lord Ferrard.

There are more wooden carvings over two other doors in the Hall. One shows the coat of arms of Ferrard of Beaulieu, who commissioned the three carvings, and the other features musical instruments. The hall was probably used as a place for musical recitals and performances. The lovely plasterwork and panelling is original.

The Ferrard Coat of Arms carved over the door in the Front Hall. According to Thomas U. Sadlier and Page L. Dickinson’s Georgian Mansions in Ireland, the coat-of-arms with the coronet of Lord Ferrard displays the arms of Tichborne, quartering Lymerston, Syferwast, Loveday, de Rake, Wandesford, Martin, Wallis, Rythe and Bysse. The Bysse crest contains silver bells. In Great Irish Houses, the carving is said to be done by a Huguenot. Above the doorway are the antlers of an Irish elk.
One carving over a door features classical instruments while another pictures Irish instruments. The candle sconce was probably made for candles but was later electrified.

The coats of arms include that of William Tichbourne impaling those of his wife, Judith Bysse. More coats of arms embellish the fireplace.

Henry Tichbourne Lord Ferrard wrote in a letter about his relief at finishing the current work on his house. He is proud of the staircase, which was probably delivered by boat, and assembled in Beaulieu, in 1723. The staircase has three flights, with carved balusters and the newels in the form of fluted Corinthian columns. As well as the staircase, it is said that the bricks were brought up the Boyne as ballast in boats, perhaps from Holland.

The wainscoted drawing room contains another work by Willem Van der Hagen, a magnificent trompe-l’oeil painting on the ceiling in a large plaster compartmental panel frame, with garlands of foliage and flowers. It pictures goddess Aurora descending in a chariot to her garden bower from the heavens [17].

Photograph by Paul Highnam 2015, from Country Life picture library.

Most of the other reception rooms also have wood panelling. A fine Italian marble fireplace adorns one of the reception rooms, with a classical carving of Neptune being drawn in a conch shell.

Van der Haagen also designed the gardens, including the terracing and the walled garden. [18] William Aston employed men to create two lakes on the property, in order to provide work in times of scarcity. There is a painting of him in the front hall, pointing toward the lakes.

Lord Ferrard’s sons predeceased him – the eldest was drowned when crossing to England in 1709. The estate therefore passed to Henry Tichbourne’s daughter, Salisbury Tichbourne, and her husband William Aston. [19]

I was fascinated to see the crest with the arm carrying a broken sword, on the chairs in the front hall. I thought it was the crest for the family in Clonalis. On further questioning, the guide told us that it refers to a joust undertaken by King Henry II of France. In 1559 King Henry II wanted to joust against the best jouster of his court. The courtier, Gabriel Montgomery, did not want to joust against King Henry for fear of winning, but Henry promised that no retribution would be taken. The jouster however killed Henry, breaking his jousting stick – which can be seen in the crest. The jouster fled, as despite the king’s assurances for his safety, the jouster could not trust that the king’s widow, Catherine de Medici, would not seek revenge! The broken lance forms part of the Montgomery crest.

Salisbury and William had a son, Tichborne Aston, who was an M.P. for Ardee. In 1746, he married Jane Rowan, daughter of William Rowan. They had a son and a daughter and the property passed down through the generations to its current owners. [20]

I loved that from upstairs you can look over the railing onto the front hall. We saw a bedroom which can be hired out for b&b, which sounds like a treat!

The Beaulieu website describes the gardens:

Four acres of walled garden and grassy terraces surrounding Beaulieu have remained largely original to their early design. Lime trees form an avenue along the short, straight drive and picturesque lakes complete the vista at the front of the house. Family letters [those of Sir Henry, Baron Ferrard] describing the walled garden from this period, tell us that fruits such as figs and nectarines were being grown and also describe crops of flax, hops and bear.”

Inside the walled garden.

At the entrance to the walled garden is a lovely building with classic pillared portico that has been recently renovated:

Inside the attached garden shed is a fern-decked well:

The walled garden is absolutely splendid:

A chapel on the grounds is St. Brigid’s of Beaulieu. According to our guide, it was originally built in 1413 by William Plunkett, a pre-Reformation bishop, and his crypt is inside. Sadlier and Dickinson’s Georgian Mansions of Ireland in fact tells us that John Plunkett of “Bewly” and his wife Alicia founded a church within their manor as far back as the close of the thirteenth century, in the reign of Edward II! The latest version was built in 1807. It contains also a “cadaver stone” the guide told us, which was found in the mud flats of the river, which has a carved skeleton on it. According to Casey and Rowan, it is one of the earliest representations of cadaver figures in Irish medieval sculpture. It displays a female in an advanced state of decomposition, with a lurid range of reptilian life. Worms, toads, newts and lizards slide in and around the shroud. [21]

Photograph by Paul Highnam, 2015, from Country Life Picture Library.

But instead of with death I leave you with life, of growth in the wonderful polytunnel.

[1] https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/01/12/i-am-gabriel/

[2] p. 154-155. Casey, Christine and Alistair Rowan, The Buildings of Ireland: North Leinster. The Counties of Longford, Louth, Meath and Westmeath. Penguin Books, London, 1993.

[3] 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.

[4] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/13902509/beaulieu-house-beaulieu-co-louth

[5] https://lvbmag.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/beaulieu-house-louth-gabriel-konig/

[6] p. 17-20. Sadlier, Thomas U. and Page L. Dickinson, Georgian Mansions in Ireland. Printed for the authors at the Dublin University Press, by Ponsonby and Gibbs, 1915.

[7] http://www.nli.ie/pdfs/mss%20lists/louth.pdf

“Though the Plunketts were deeply involved in the upheavals of the 1640s and 1689- 91, they survived with their lands intact. During the rebellion of 1641, the 6th Baron Louth, Oliver Plunkett, together with several other Catholic Old English lords of the Pale, formed an alliance with Irish rebel leaders from Ulster. The Catholic gentry of Louth appointed Lord Louth as colonel-general of the royalist forces to be raised in the county, though he declined the position. He was taken prisoner in 1642 and outlawed for high treason. Under the Cromwellian land settlement, his lands were forfeited. When Charles II returned to the throne in 1660, most of these lands were restored to Lord Louth and to his son Matthew.”

Also this site tells us of the earlier Plunketts at Beaulieu:

“The Plunkett family of Tallanstown, county Louth was descended from Sir Hugh de Plunkett, an Anglo-Norman who came to Ireland during the reign of Henry II. From then on the family owned lands in Louth. From the fourteenth century they lived at Bewley (Beaulieu) near Drogheda, and a branch of the family was associated with Tallanstown by the late fifteenth century. Early in the fourteenth century, John Plunkett of Bewley, a direct descendent of Sir Hugh, had two sons. One of these, Richard Plunkett, was the ancestor of two titled landowning families; the Earls of Fingall and the Barons of Dunsany, of Dunsany Castle, county Meath – Christopher Plunkett was created Lord Dunsany in 1461. The other son, John Plunkett of Bewley, was the ancestor of the Lords Louth. Of John Plunkett’s direct descendants, his grandson, Walter Plunkett of Bewley, was Sheriff of county Louth in 1401, a position later held by Sir John Plunkett of Bewley, Kilsaran and Tallanstown, who died in 1508. “

[8] https://beaulieuhouse.ie/a-short-history-of-beaulieu/ and also see the article in Country Life, October 28, 2015. https://beaulieuhouse.ie/cms/wp-content/uploads/Country-Life-OCT-28-BEAULIEU.pdf

[9] 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.

[10] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Henry_Tichborne

[11] see Sadlier, Thomas U. and Page L. Dickinson, Georgian Mansions in Ireland. Printed for the authors at the Dublin University Press, by Ponsonby and Gibbs, 1915. See also Great Irish Houses, edited by Amanda Cochrane, published by Image Publications, London, 2008. The text of this book is by many authors, and individual entries are not credited. Text is by Desmond Fitzgerald, Desmond Guinness, Kevin Kelly, Amanda Cochrane, Ben Webb, William Laffan, Deirdre Conroy, Kate O’Dowd, Elizabeth Mayes and Richard Power.

[12] The best piece I have read about the Catholic Confederacy of the 1640s is by Micheál Siochrú, Confederate Ireland 1642–1649 A constitutional and political analysis. Four Courts Press, 1998.

[13] p. 81. Montgomery Massingberd, Hugh and Christopher Simon Sykes. Great Houses of Ireland. Laurence King Publishing, London, 1999.

[14] p. 17-20. Sadlier, Thomas U. and Page L. Dickinson, Georgian Mansions in Ireland. Printed for the authors at the Dublin University Press, by Ponsonby and Gibbs, 1915.

[15] p. 85. Montgomery Massingberd, Hugh and Christopher Simon Sykes. Great Houses of Ireland. Laurence King Publishing, London, 1999.

[16] p. 130. O’Reilly, Sean. Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of Country Life. Aurum Press Ltd, London, 1998. 

[17] https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/06/29/a-room-with-a-view/

[18] p. 86. Great Irish Houses. Forewards by Desmond FitgGerald, Desmond Guinness. IMAGE Publications, 2008.

[19] p. 17-20. Sadlier, Thomas U. and Page L. Dickinson, Georgian Mansions in Ireland. Printed for the authors at the Dublin University Press, by Ponsonby and Gibbs, 1915. According to The Peerage website, Salisbury was the granddaughter of Henry Tichbourne: her father Robert Charles Tichbourne was the son of Lord Ferrard but he predeceased his father so the property passed to his son-in-law William Aston who had married Salisbury Tichbourne. This genealogy makes sense as it accounts for Salisbury’s unusual name, as Robert Charles Tichbourne married Hester Salisbury.

[20] Henry Tichborne, married Jane, daughter of Sir Robert Newcomen of Kenagh, County Longford. They had five sons and three daughters: Sir William Tichborne, the second but eldest surviving son, married Judith Bysse, daughter of John Bysse, Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer, by whom he was the father of Henry, first and last Baron Ferrard. Henry Baron Ferrard married Arabella Cotton. She was the daughter of Sir Robert Cotton, 1st Baronet of Combermere, in Cheshire. They had four sons (William, Cotton, Robert & Henry), all of whom died before their father leaving no male issue, so that at his death in 1731 his titles became extinct.

The son Robert Charles married Hester Salisbury and their only surviving daughter, Salisbury Tichborne, married William Aston, MP for Dunleer. They had a son, Tichborne Aston (1716-1748), who was an M.P. for Ardee. In 1746, he married Jane Rowan, daughter of William Rowan. Tichborne and Jane Aston had a son, William (1747-1769), and a daughter, Sophia.

According to Great Mansions of Ireland, while William Aston owned Beaulieu, the house had Lord Chief Justice Singleton as a tenant. This Chief Justice was a friend of the Lord Lieutenant, the four Earl of Chesterfield, which may explain why it is sometimes said that Lord Chesterfield himself occupied Beaulieu. In D’Alton’s History of Drogheda, a poet and bricklayer, Henry Jones, is said to have been born in Beaulieu. He was also a friend of the Earl of Chesterfield, and of Aston.

Sophia Aston married Thomas Tipping of Bellurgan, County Louth, who was M.P. for the borough of Kilbeggan. Her brother William died and Beaulieu passed to her. Their daughter Sophia-Mabella Tipping, married Rev Robert Montgomery, Rector of Monaghan, and the house passed to them.

Rev Robert Montgomery and Sophia-Mabella had sons Rev. Alexander and (Captain)Thomas Montgomery.

Reverend Alexander Montgomery married Margaret Johnson, and they had a son Richard Thomas Montgomery (1813-1890). According to his grave, Alexander Montgomery took on his wife’s name and became Alexander Johnson. The son, Richard Thomas, married Frances Barbara Smith.

Their son Richard Johnson Montgomery (1855-1939) Maud Helenda Collingwood Robinson of Rokeby Hall.

Richard Johnston Montgomery’s daughter Sidney married Nesbit Waddington. They were parents of Gabriel and Penderell.

Gabriel Waddington married, and was mother of Cara, the current owner.

[21] p. 156. Casey, Christine and Alistair Rowan, The Buildings of Ireland: North Leinster. The Counties of Longford, Louth, Meath and Westmeath. Penguin Books, London, 1993. You can see a picture of the stone at http://irishheraldry.blogspot.com/2014/09/heraldry-and-inscriptions-at-st-brigids.html

Drishane House, Castletownshend, Co. Cork

contact: Thomas Somerville. t: +353 28 36126, 083-8574589

e: info@drishane.com

w: drishane.com

Listed open dates in 2021: May 1-20, Aug 14-22, Sept 13-23, Oct 1-20, 11am -3pm

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

Edith Somerville, of Somerville and Ross Some Experiences of an Irish RM fame (which has been made into a television series), said “If I am ever allowed to return to earth it will be to Drishane that I shall come,” and I can see why. The estate is situated with a magnificent view over the Atlantic ocean.

Stephen overlooking Castletown Bay from Drishane.

Edith’s ancestor Reverend William Somerville fled persecution in Scotland in the 1690s and moved to Ireland. [1] He was an Episcopalian Minister who feared for his life following the disestablishment of the Church of Scotland in 1690. The Drishane House website tells us that Reverend William rowed his family twenty miles across rough water to Ulster, where they found refuge with family connections. 

The Reverend’s younger son, Thomas, attended Trinity College Dublin and was ordained in the Church of Ireland. He married Anne Neville, of Furnace, County Kildare, a prosperous and well-connected family. Thomas obtained the position of Rector of Castlehaven and the family moved to Cork. He set up house in the old O’Driscoll castle next to the church at Castlehaven Strand. Both are now ruins. His portrait, his stick and his 1685 edition of Bedel’s Irish Bible remain in the possession of his descendants.

Three of Reverend Thomas’s sons moved to America and prospered. The eldest son hoped to follow in his father’s footsteps as a clergyman but lost an eye in university, so instead became a successful shipping merchant. He’d send butter and salted provisions to the West Indies and bring back rum, sugar and timber. [2] He built his house at Drishane, on the edge of the village of Castletownshend, where he had a view of his ships in Castlehaven Bay. Among items he imported from the West Indies was the mahogany which was used to make the doors of the reception rooms in Drishane.

He married Mary Townsend, daughter of Captain Philip Townsend who lived in Derry, County Cork, great-granddaughter of Richard Townsend who was an officer in Cromwell’s army and who built the castle at nearby Castletownshend (it was only in 1860 that the family changed the spelling of their name from Townsend to Townshend [3]).

Castle Townshend. photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. [4]
Drishane House.

Drishane house is two storeys, six bays across, with a fanlighted doorway. This tripartite limestone doorcase, with Tuscan demi-columns, now serves as a garden entrance doorway. The newer entrance doorway, built in 1820, is on the more sheltered two bay end of the house, which is prolonged by a lower two storey wing.  The house is covered with purple Benduff weather-slating.

the newer entrance door, with the lower two storey wing. Frank Keohane describes this new entryway: an unusual rock-faced limestone doorcase with a scrolled pediment of vaguely Chinese appearance.” [5]

Stephen and I visited the house during Heritage Week in 2020. The current owner, another Thomas Somerville, welcomed us, and introduced us to his two sons, who gave us the tour of the house and the museum in the outbuilding which used to be Edith Somerville’s painting and writing studio. As there was already someone on a house tour, we visited the museum first.

The grey door leads into the studio. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photographs inside, but that is all the more reason for you to visit! Inside the door is a sign identifying the room as the studio, painted by Edith.

Edith Oenone Somerville (1858-1949) was given her unusual middle name because she was born in Corfu where her father was serving in the British military. She met her cousin Violet Martin (1862-1915) when they were both in their twenties, when Violet paid a visit to Drishane. They were both great-granddaughters of Lord Chief Justice Charles Kendal Bushe. Edith painted a portrait of Violet in 1886 during this visit, and the painting is now in the National Portrait Gallery in London. She painted the portrait in her studio, which at the time was inside the house – it was only later that she moved to the outbuilding. The chair in the painting is still in the studio. Violet’s first holiday at Drishane was a long one, as it was only after a month that Edith began her portrait. Violet brought the portrait with her back to Dublin when she left Drishane ten months later.

Violet’s family lived in County Galway in a three storey house called Ross House (now called Ross Castle). She was the youngest of eleven daughters. Her family had fallen into debt in the time of the Great Famine, due to the help they had given their tenants, and when her father died when she was just ten years old, her brother inherited the house and decided to let it out.

Ross House, or Castle, photograph care of National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
photograph from Internet Archive Book Images. From the book Irish Memories by Edith Somerville, 1919. Publisher: New York, Longmans, Green & Co. It is interesting that the picture is signed a “Martin Ross,” rather than “Violet Martin.” A small silver case given as a gift to Edith from Violet is engraved “To Edith, Love Martin.”

She moved with her mother to Dublin and was educated at Alexandra College, where Edith also studied but as she was four years older than Violet, where they never met. Violet would have felt like a poor relation when she visited her cousins in Cork, but she was warmed by the generous welcome. Edith was surrounded by cousins: the Townshends and the Coghills lived nearby, and at first the quiet Violet must have been overwhelmed with the sociability of the house.

Violet had begun writing when she was in school and hoped to make a living by journalism. Edith studied art in London, Dusseldorf and Paris, and sold some paintings and drawings in order to finance her own art training and hoped to make a living in graphic art. When they first collaborated, Violet wrote the text which Edith illustrated, but soon they were writing the novels together. They did not want to publish under their own names, so chose “Somerville and Ross,” Violet taking the name of her home.

Image from page 164 of Irish Memories by Edith Somerville – I assume this is a photograph of Edith herself. Photograph care of Internet Archive Book Images.

Violet, a sister and her mother moved back to Ross House in 1888, and Violet set about trying to restore the house and gardens to their former glory. At the end of 1888, Violet and Edith received news that their first book, An Irish Cousin, was to be published. At first they had to correct proofs separately, until Edith visited Violet at Ross House. It is believed by the current owners of Ross Castle that the ladies worked on the book under the Venetian window on the first-floor landing, which now has a table and chair set up with some of their books. One can stay in the house: either whole house rental, or self-catering in cottages which are converted stables, carriage house and servants’ quarters. Drishane House is also available for whole house rental and also has holiday cottages). [6]

I imagine that Edith Somerville, when she illustrated their book, Through Connemara in a Governess Cart (published 1893), had herself and her cousin in mind when she drew this picture. Photograph care of the British Library.

The Museum contains copies of some of Edith’s paintings, as well as letters, drawings and photographs relating to her life. I was excited to see correspondence and music by the composer Ethel Smyth, who was a good friend of Edith and also of Virginia Woolf. Like Ethel and Virginia, Edith was also a feminist. Edith wrote: “It will be acknowledged that sport, Lawn Tennis, Bicycling, and Hunting played quite as large a part as education in the emancipation that has culminated in the Representation of the People Bill. The playing fields of Eton did not as surely win Waterloo as the hunting-fields and tennis grounds of the kingdom won the vote for women.” [quoted in the introduction by Gifford Lewis, 1999, of Somerville and Ross’s The Real Charlotte]. Edith was an enthusiast for hunting and became Master of her local hunt. She also became President of the Munster Women’s Franchise League. [7]

After Violet died, Edith wrote a further fourteen books, all published under their joint names. Edith felt that Violet continued to help to write the books after her death. Edith took to a sort of “automatic writing” to include Violet’s input. Examples of this are in the museum. Edith claimed that stormy weather made it more difficult for her to tune into Violet’s messages. [8]

There was another museum in Drishane before Edith’s studio, a collection of Indian items which Edith and her brother Jack called “Aunt Fanny’s Museum.” There is also another item which I forgot to ask about when visiting. Mark Bence-Jones tells the story of its origins:

Drishane’s most famous possession, the Fairy Shoe, was sent away to the bank for safe keeping and bad luck followed, it was wisely decided to bring the Shoe back and it has remained in the house ever since. The Shoe, which came to the Somervilles from the Coghills, was picked up on an Irish mountain early in the nineteenth century; it is exactly like the shoes worn by adults at that time and shows signs of wear, but it is only about two inches long. [9]

Edith had the French doors installed in 1901.

Thomas the merchant’s son, also named Thomas (born about 1765), inherited Drishane from his father. Unfortunately he “was foolish enough to back a bill,” according to Mark Bence-Jones in Life in an Irish Country House, meaning he must have acted as guarantor for someone who was not able to pay their debt, and subsequently when Thomas died in 1811, the bailiffs came and stripped the house of its contents. [10] Thomas’s wife, Elizabeth Henrietta Becher Townsend, was in bed giving birth to their tenth child. According to the story, the children brought everything they could carry to their mother’s bedroom to hide it, as there was a law forbidding  bailiffs from entering the room of the lady of the house.

When we entered the house with young Hal, Tom Somerville’s son who was giving us the tour, he pointed out that there is no chandelier in the dining room, as it was taken by the bailiff, way back in 1811!

We entered through the garden door with the fanlight directly into what is now the library but was originally the entrance hall. It interlinks the staircase hall with its grand sweeping staircase and lovely striped wallpaper, dining room and drawing room. In the dining room we saw a portrait of Edith’s brother Cameron, along with other portraits. Hal also pointed out to us where Edith had scratched her initials into the glass of the dining room, “EOES.” Swags above the tall curtained windows date to the 1820s.

David Hicks tells us more about Drishane from Edith’s time in his book Irish Country Houses, Portraits and Painters:

Drishane in the 19th century could not be described as homely: it was said to be cold, damp and infested with rats, which is in total contrast to the condition of the house today. When poison was put down to fend off unwanted visitors, they usually died under the floorboards. The resulting decomposition meant sometimes the drawing room could not be used for an extended period, such as in 1878, due to the smell. The drawing room also contained a large white marble fireplace that was brought from Italy by Edith’s great-grandfather. However, over the years it became the final resting place for a number of rodents and was christened the “Mouse-oleum.” This fireplace often had to be taken out for the dead mice to be removed and it became damaged. Edith’s brother Cameron was stationed in China from 1885 to 1889 and when he returned to Drishane he brought back a black marble fireplace complete with carved dragons and Chinese symbols, together with the Somerville crest and motto. This exotic-looking fireplace was installed in the drawing room to replace its damaged predecessor. [11]

Having read Hicks’s description I was excited to see the Chinese fireplace. It is indeed very unusual. 

The oldest of the children who had hidden things in their mother’s bedroom was another Thomas (1798-1882). Mark Bence-Jones tells a lovely story about him. He was very in love with his wife, Harriet Townsend, who was a cousin who had lived up the road in Castle Townshend. [12] Bence-Jones writes:

after her death [he] would sit up for hours by his bedroom fire thinking of Harriet and grieving for her and looking for consolation in his Bible by the light of a candle in her own special candlestick. He would burn two candles every night which Mrs Kerr, the housekeeper, would leave out for him. Then he started to complain, night after night, that he could not find the second candle. Mrs Kerr told his granddaughter Edith what she believed had happened. “My dear child, the candle was there! For I always put it on the table myself! It was Herself that took it, the way your Grandpapa should go to his bed and not be sitting there all night, breaking his heart.” [13]

This Thomas inherited Drishane and died in 1882, when the estate passed to his son, another Thomas. This Thomas (1824-1898) married Adelaide Eliza Coghill, and was the father of Edith, along with six other children who survived to adulthood.

Mark Bence-Jones tells us another good story, this one taken from Somerville and Ross’s book Wheel Tracks, which was published in London in 1923:

Tom Somerville [Edith’s father] was a magistrate and when the police brought cases to be summarily dealt with by him, he would swear the deponents on the Bradshaw’s Railway Guide as though it were a bible, partly through laziness [it lay on a nearby table] and partly from ‘a certain impishness of character and a love of playing on ignorance.’ [14]

Edith had suitors, but her mother sent them packing. In any case, Edith seems to have cherished her freedom, taking full advantage of her time to paint, hunt, travel and socialise. When her mother died, she took over the management of the household for her father. When her father died, her brother Cameron inherited the estate, but he, like his brothers, served in the military, and he was mostly stationed abroad, so Edith continued to run the household. 

Another brother, Aylmer, and his wife, lived with Edith for a time, and helped to manage the farm which was part of the estate, and her only sister Hildegarde married their cousin Egerton Coghill, 5th Baronet Coghill, and settled nearby at Glen Barrahane house in Castletownshend [this no longer exists]. Egerton was also an artist and when he died Edith and Hildegarde commissioned Harry Clarke to create a stained glass window in their local Church of Ireland, St. Barrahane’s. The window depicts St. Luke, the Patron Saint of Painters. To the left of St. Luke’s shoulder is a depiction of St. Cecelia playing the organ, which is a tribute to Edith, as she played the organ in the church for seventy years. [15]

Among her many cousins was Charlotte Townsend, the wife of George Bernard Shaw, which visited Drishane.

Violet moved to Drishane to live with Edith permanently in 1906. In the 1901 and 1911 censuses Edith signed herself as Head of Household, and in 1911 listed her occupation as “artist, author and dairy farmer” and Violet as “author.” 

Edith struggled to have enough money for the upkeep of the house. She and Violet hoped to earn money from their publications but they sold the work before they became bestsellers. Desmond’s wife describes the shabbiness of the house, and yet traditions were upheld and up until the second world war, everyone “dressed for dinner.” [16] In the summer Edith would locate to a smaller house in the town and let out Drishane to earn some extra money.

Edith’s brother Boyle lived in a house nearby, called Point House. Boyle had been an admiral in the Navy, and if someone was interested in joining the Navy, they’d go to speak to Boyle. Unfortunately, the IRA saw this as recruitment for the British Army. Tom Somerville who now lives in Drishane tells the story in Jane O’Hea O’Keeffe’s book:

Below the village at Point House, overlooking the water, lived my great-great-uncle Boyle Somerville. He was a retired admiral, and local boys who were interested in joining the Royal Navy used to go to him to ask for a chit to say he knew them and that they were fit persons to join the navy. If that was what they wanted to do, he cheerfully signed the chit for them. This was interpreted by the IRA as recruiting, so on the night of 24 March 1936 they came to the front door of Point House. The admiral picked up the oil lamp from the table and went to answer their knock. They enquired, through the glass porch, if he was Mr Somerville. He answered, “I am Admiral Somerville,” whereupon they shot him through the glass, and killed him.” 

Tom continues: “of all the Somervilles, Boyle was the most nationalist. He took a great interest in the Irish language and had always been very pro-Home Rule. He made a study of all the local archaeological sites and is written up by Jack Roberts in his book Exploring West Cork. He was a remarkable man and perhaps the most talented and interesting of all the Somervilles of that generation, besides his sister Edith.” [17] 

Cameron never married and when he died in 1942 the property passed to his nephew Desmond, the son of his brother Aylmer who had predeceased him. Desmond also served in the British Army.

Desmond and his wife Moira Burke Roche invited Edith to remain at Drishane. A memoir by Moira [Moira Somerville’s Edith OE Somerville. An Intimate Recollection. Typescript in Edith Oenone Somerville Archive] describes her first visit to Drishane, as Desmond’s fiancée, and her memory of Edith: “presiding over the tea things in the hall, her little dogs on her lap, the light of the oil lamp on her thistledown hair, her china-blue eyes, so like a child’s, fixed on my face. From that moment I loved her.” [18]

Violet had died just two years before this visit, in 1915. She and Edith had gone on a holiday to Kerry. David Hicks describes Violet’s last days:

Violet began to feel unwell and when her condition worsened she was transferred to the Glen Vera Hospital in Cork. Each day Edith sat by her bedside and wrote to her brother, Cameron. In one letter she wrote, “No one but she and I know what we were to each other.” She sketched her friend as she lay in her hospital bed for the final time before Violet died in Dec 1915. Edith wrote only one sentence in her diary that day: “Only goodnight, Beloved, not farewell.” [19]

Edith lived in the house until she was finally unable to climb the stairs. She then moved to a small house nearby in the town, Tally-Ho, to live with her sister. She died three years later, in 1949. When Desmond died in 1976, Drishane passed to his son Christopher (Dan) Somerville. In Jane O’Hea O’Keeffe’s book, Dan explains how he obtained the display cases for the museum:

We managed to get display cases which had become obsolete from the Bodleian Library in Oxford. We bought a trailer in England and loaded the cases on and brought them to Drishane. They are lovely cases, late Victorian or Edwardian. We couldn’t get them in the front door when we arrived, so we had to remove a window to install them. [20]

It is Dan’s son Thomas, and his wife and two sons, who now live in Drishane and who welcomed our visit. The house retains many of the original features and contents and paintings that date from Edith’s time. It also contains memorabilia from overseas and military engagements.

The house is set in eighteen acres of gardens and woodland. 

[1] p. 105. O’Hea O’Keeffe, Jane. Voices from the Great Houses: Cork and Kerry. Mercier Press, Cork, 2013.

[2] p. 121. Hicks, David. Irish Country Houses, Portraits and Painters. The Collins Press, Cork, 2014.

[3] p. 84, O’Hea O’Keeffe.

[4] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/20836017/castle-townsend-castletownsend-castletownshend-co-cork

[5] Keohane, Frank. The Buildings of Ireland: Cork, City and County. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

[6] https://www.rosscastle.com and www.drishane.com

[7] p. 105. Bence-Jones, Mark. Life in an Irish Country House. Constable, London. 1996. 

[8] from Moira Somerville’s Edith OE Somerville. An Intimate Recollection. Typescript in Edith Oenone Somerville Archive, referred to by Mark Bence-Jones, Life in an Irish Country House. Constable, London. 1996.

[9] p. 107. Bence-Jones, Mark. Life in an Irish Country House. Constable, London. 1996. 

[10] p. 100. Bence-Jones, Mark. Life in an Irish Country House. Constable, London. 1996. 

[11] p. 122-3, Hicks, David. Irish Country Houses, Portraits and Painters. The Collins Press, Cork, 2014.

[12] Yes indeed, another Somerville-Townshend marriage. The genealogy goes as follows:

Rev William Somerville (1641-1694) m. Agnes Agnew 

Drishane passed to his son, Rev Thomas Somerville (1689-1752), who married Anne Neville 

Drishane passed to their son Thomas Somerville (1725-1793), who married Mary Townsend, daughter of Philip Townsend and Elizabeth Hungerford; grand-daughter of Commander Bryan Townsend (1648-1726). 

Drishane passed to their son, Thomas Townsend Somerville (1725-1811). He married Elizabeth Henrietta Becher Townsend (1776-1832), daughter of John Townsend (1737-1810) [granddaughter of  Richard Townsend and Elizabeth Becher, great-granddaughter of Commander Bryan Townsend (1648-1726)] and Mary Morris.

Drishane passed to the son, Col Thomas Somerville (1798-1882). He married Henrietta Augusta Townshend, daughter of Richard Boyle Townsend (1756-1826), who is great-grandson of Commander Bryan Towsend (1648-1726). 

[ie. Richard Boyle Townsend (1756-1826) is son of Richard Townsend (1725-1783) and Elizabeth Fitzgerald, who is son of Richard Townsend (1684-1742) and Elizabeth Becher, who is son of Commander Bryan Townsend (1648-1726).] 

Drishane passed to son Lieut Col. Thomas Somerville (1824-1898), who married Adelaide Eliza Coghill. 

Drishane passed to their son, (Thomas) Cameron Somerville, the brother of Edith. He died, and Drishane passed via his younger brother Captain Aylmer Coghill Somerville to his son Desmond Somerville. 

[13] p. 100-01. Bence-Jones, Mark. Life in an Irish Country House. Constable, London. 1996.

[14] p. 102. Bence-Jones, Mark. Life in an Irish Country House. Constable, London. 1996. Stephen and I are fans of Michael Portillo’s travel shows, where he takes trains and follows his Bradshaw’s guide, so I like this detail!

[15] https://roaringwaterjournal.com/tag/church-of-st-barrahane/

[16] p. 108. Bence-Jones, Mark. Life in an Irish Country House. Constable, London. 1996. 

[17] p. 113. O’Hea O’Keeffe.

https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/20848098/point-house-point-road-crosshaven-crosshaven-co-cork

[18] p. 106. Bence-Jones, Mark. Life in an Irish Country House. Constable, London. 1996.

[19] p. 130. Hicks, David. Irish Country Houses, Portraits and Painters. The Collins Press, Cork, 2014.

[20] p. 109. O’Hea O’Keeffe.

Covid times, and planning ahead

Ideally I would like to continue publishing a blog entry every week but I am still catching up on places I have visited, writing and researching and seeking approval from home-owners, and am unable to keep up the pace!

Doneraile Court, County Cork.
deer in the park at Doneraile.

We visited some big houses that are not on the Section 482 revenue list when we were in County Cork last year during Heritage Week, including Doneraile Court and Fota, both open to the public and well worth a visit. [1] If I run out of places to write about on the section 482 list, I will write about them! But I still have to write about our visit to Cabra Castle, County Cavan, before Christmas last year! [2] We had a wonderful treat of being upgraded to a bedroom suite in the Castle, the Bridal Suite, no less, with our own rooftop jacuzzi.

The Bridal Suite at Cabra Castle, County Cavan.

The 2021 Revenue list of 482 Properties has not yet been published, and I am not sure when we will be able to visit places again, due to Covid transmissibility. I have already mapped out a year’s worth of visits, all around Ireland, and have even booked to stay in some exciting looking houses, but I don’t know what is going to be open – I have been planning around the 2020 list, assuming opening dates, once places do open, will be similar to last year.

In the meantime I can look at photographs and dream, and work on my own home (I painted the bedroom sage green) and garden (my potatoes are chitting) and research upcoming visits. I’m currently reading Turtle Bunbury’s book about the landowning families in County Kildare, and Mark Bence-Jones’s Life in an Irish Country House, and Somerville and Ross’s The Real Charlotte.

We were privileged to be able to stay in Mark Bence-Jones’s house last year for a wonderful week. [3]

Glenville Park, the home of the late Mark Bence-Jones, County Cork.

I will be writing soon about more big houses and in the meantime, I hope you are able to stay safe and healthy and happy in these Covid times.

Fota House, County Cork.

[1] http://doneraileestate.ie

https://fotahouse.com

[2] https://www.cabracastle.com

[3] http://www.glenvillepark.com

Harristown, Brannockstown, County Kildare

contact: Hubert Beaumont. Tel: 087-2588775

https://www.harristownhouse.ie

Listed Open Dates in 2021 (but check due to Covid restrictions): Jan 11-15, 18-22, Feb 8-12, 15-19, May 4-28, June 7-11, Aug 14-22, Sept 6-10, 9am-1pm.

Fee: adult/OAP/student €10, child €5  

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 [1801], John LaTouche obtained compensation for loss of the elective franchise. [1]

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 [2]. 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 [3]. 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.” [4] 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 [5] 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. [6]

view from what is now the back of the house, overlooking the Liffey

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. [7]

Marlay House in Marlay Park, Rathfarnham, Dublin. Photo from National Inventory of Architectural History [8] When we mentioned to Mr. Beaumont that we had been to Marlay House earlier in the week, he commented on the incongruity between the two parts of that house – the 1690 part and the later part commissioned by David La Touche. It’s true that the two parts of the house are very different.

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. [9] 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 [10].

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.” [11]

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 [2])

crest with pomegranate on Harristown House.

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.

front of Marlay House, with crest of pomegranate on the urn on top of roof, and star symbol under urn. Photo from National Inventory of Architectural History [see 8].

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.

Bridge over the Liffey built by John La Touche in 1788.

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.

Historic houses require constant maintenance. Mr. Beaumont told us that he had to have the entire front portico taken down to be repaired. He preferred the appearance of the house without the portico, but acknowledged that it is good for keeping off the rain!

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.

We loved the aesthetic touch of the pair of peacocks in the garden.

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. [12] [13] 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. [14] 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. [15] 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.

one end of the tunnel, the other end originating in the basement of the house.

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.

The walled garden was beyond the tennis court.

[1] http://www.dippam.ac.uk/eppi/documents/10925/page/244850

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

[3] http://latouchelegacy.com/page15.php

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maurice_Eustace_(Lord_Chancellor)

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Chetwood

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harristown,_Naas_South

[7] www.dlrevents.ie

[8] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/60220011/marlay-house-grange-road-co-dun-laoghaire-rathdown

[9] Young, M.F. “The La Touche Family of Harristown,” Journal of the Kildare Archaological Society, volume 7. 1891. https://archive.org/details/journalofcountyk07coun/page/36/mode/2up

[10] 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.

[11] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/1412#tab_biography

[12] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose_La_Touche

[13] a different view of the marriage and annulment between Ruskin and Effie Gray is discussed in the following article, a review of a book that claims that Ruskin did not consummate the marriage with Effie Gray because he learned that she married him for money and not love. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/mar/29/ruskin-effie-marriage-inconvenience-brownell

[14] 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.

[15] https://www.harristownhouse.ie/en/our-history

Charleville, County Wicklow

Tatiane Baquiega
Tel: 01-6624455

Open dates in 2021 but check due to Covid-19 restrictions: Feb 1-5, 8-12, 15-19, 22-26, May 4-28, 31 June 1-4, 8, Aug 14-22, Mon-Fri, 1pm-5pm, Sat & Sun, 9am-1pm.

Fee: house/garden €6 

This was the least personal of our tours to date, when we went on Saturday May 18th 2019, as there was no sign of the owners, the Rohan family, living in the grand reception rooms, although apparently it is their family home. Ken and Brenda Rohan purchased the house in 1981. A visit to a house that is no longer owned by descendents of the early occupiers resonates less history, although in this case one must admit the current owners are probably no less invested than if their ancestors had occupied it for centuries, as they have maintained it to a high standard, and have carried out sensitive restoration to both house and garden. Dublin architect John O’Connell oversaw work on the interiors.

We are told in Great Irish Houses that the demesne is intact, with the original estate walls and entrance gates surviving. [1]

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Charleville, made of Wicklow granite, faced in ashlar. According to wikipedia, ashlar is “finely dressed stone, either an individual stone that was worked until squared or the structure built from it. Ashlar is the finest stone masonry unit, generally rectangular cuboid, mentioned by Vitruvius as opus isodomum, or less frequently trapezoidal.” A stone string-course divides upper from lower windows.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage website tells us that Charleville is a detached nine bay two storey Palladian style mansion, built in 1797 to designs by Whitmore Davis, an architect originally from County Antrim, who was then based in Dublin [2]. He also built another Section 482 house, Harristown House in County Kildare [3]. The house has a three-storey pedimented breakfront, the pediment is carried on four Ionic columns at the second and third storey level of the house, the ground floor level of the breakfront being “rusticated” as if it were a basement. [4] The windows on the ground floor level in the breakfront are arched. The Buildings of Ireland website claims that the breakfront facade is inspired by Lucan House in County Dublin, which is indeed very similar. Lucan House was designed by its owner, Agmondisham Vesey, consulting with architect William Chambers, a British architect who also designed the wonderful Casino at Marino in Dublin, as well as Charlemont House in Dublin (now the Hugh Lane Municipal Art Gallery) and the Examination Hall and Chapel in Trinity College Dublin.

Casino at Marino in Dublin, designed by William Chambers who helped to design Lucan House, which has similar breakfront to that of Charleville.

It was hard to find, as we were directed to the back entrance, and the gps gave us directions to a different entrance. However the person to whom I’d spoken, from Rohan Holdings, specified where to go. We found someone waiting to let us in. He was very friendly and when I stated my name, for him to write down along with licence plate of car, for security, he asked was I related to the Baggots of Abbeyleix! Indeed, I am the daughter of a Baggot of Abbeyleix! And are they related to the Clara Baggots, he asked? Yes indeed, they are my cousins! So that was a great welcome! He opened the gates for us and said he would see us on the way out, and he directed us down the driveway, toward visitor parking.

the side with its Wyatt window in the Morning Room overlooking the stretch of lawn.

Our tour guide came outside to meet us and invited us into the house. We entered a large impressive entry room. The guide told us that George IV was due to visit the house, but never came, as he was “inebriated.” After visiting Slane Castle, we knew all about George IV’s visit, and why he did not get to Charleville – he was too busy with his mistress in Slane Castle! The marquentry wooden flooring (applying pieces of veneer to a structure to form decorative patterns, designs or pictures) in the front hall was installed at great expense in preparation for his visit to the house. It’s still in excellent condition.

The well-informed guide told us about the previous owners and shared details about the furniture and paintings. The house is perfectly suitably decorated, sumptuous and beautiful. The main reception rooms lead off the entrance hall and run the length of the facade. The house was built for Charles Stanley Monck (1754-1802), after his former house on the property was destroyed by fire in 1792. He succeeded his Uncle Henry Monck to the estate when his uncle died in 1787. Henry Monck had inherited from his father, Charles Monck (1678-1752). Charles Monck, a barrister who lived on St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, came into the property of Charleville through his marriage in 1705 to Agneta Hitchcock, the daughter and heiress of Major Walter Hitchcock. [5]

Although Henry Monck had no son to inherit his estate, he had a daughter, Elizabeth, who married George le Poer Beresford, Marquess of Waterford, of Curraghmore. Charles Stanley Monck was the son of Henry’s brother Thomas Monck (1723-1772), and Judith Mason (1733-1814). He married Anne Quin in 1784, daughter of Dr. Henry Quin and Anne Monck (she was a daughter of Charles Monck and Agneta Hitchcock so was a first cousin). He rebuilt the house in the same year that he was raised to the peerage as Baron Monck of Ballytrammon, County Wexford. He was MP for Gorey, County Wexford, 1790-1798. In 1801, as a reward for voting for the Union of Britian and Ireland, he was awarded a Viscountcy.

As well as having Charleville rebuilt, he had a terrace of houses built in Upper Merrion Street in Dublin, according to wikipedia. Number 22 of this terrace was known as “Monck House,” and number 24 was Mornington House (where some say the Duke of Wellington was born) – the terrace is better known today for housing the Merrion Hotel.

side view of Charleville

The large entry hall has fluted Ionic columns, a ceiling with coving and central rosette plasterwork, an impressive fireplace and several doors. It is full of portraits, including, over the fireplace, a painting of the family of Lord Gort. The double-door leading to the staircase hall is topped with a decorative archway, and the passageway between the front hall and the staircase hall is vaulted.

Leading off the hallway were large double doors, “elevator style” (see Salterbridge), the guide pointed out that they are not hinged, and are held in place by the top and bottom instead, swinging on a small bolt from frame into door on top and bottom. They are extremely sturdy, smooth and effective.

The tour is limited to the outer and inner entrance halls, the morning, drawing and dining rooms.

Charles Stanley did not have long to enjoy his house as he died just a few years later in 1802. He was succeeded by his son Henry Stanley Monck (1785-1848), 2nd Viscount Monck, who was also given the title the Earl of Rathdowne. It was this Henry who made the alterations to the house in preparation for the visit of George IV in 1821.

Mark Bence Jones in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses tells us that the Grecian Revival plasterwork is probably designed by Richard Morrison. There are also floor length Wyatt windows to the side of the house, similar to ones added to Carton in Kildare in 1817 by Richard Morrison.

The staircase hall contains a cantilevered Portland stone staircase and a balustrade of brass banisters. Hanging prominently over the stairs is a huge portrait of George IV’s visit to Ireland, picturing the people saying goodbye to him at the quay of Dun Laoghaire. He stands tall and slim in the middle. The painter flatters the King who in reality was overweight. The other faces were all painted by the artist from life, as each went to pose for him in his studio. The scene never took place, our guide told us, as George IV was too drunk to stand on the quays as pictured!

The sitting room has a barrel-vaulted ceiling and the decorative plasterwork features musical instruments, gardening implements and sheaves of corn. Desmond Guinness pointed out that the plasterwork installed at Powerscourt for the royal visit is similar to decoration found at Charleville. [6] The dining room’s centrepiece of shamrock and foliage is probably earlier than 1820 but the acanthus frieze may have been added. The impressive gilt pelmets were purchased in the sale of the contents after fire destroyed the house at neighbouring Powerscourt. The drawing room also has impressive ceilings. It is furnished beautifully and has magnificent curtains framing views. The trellis-pattern rose-pink and red carpet was woven specially for the room, and the wallpaper replicates a found fragment. In their attention to detail, the Rohans had the wallpaper replicated by Cowtan of London.

The Library and Morning Room sit behind the front reception rooms. The regency plasterwork in Greek-Revival style contains laurel and vine leaves.

An Irish Times article sums up the continuation of the Monck family in Charleville:

“As Henry had no living sons (but 11 daughters), when he died in 1848, the Earldom went with him. His brother became 3rd Viscount for a year until his own death in 1849, and his son, Charles, became 4th Viscount for almost the remainder of the century, until 1894. Charles married his cousin—one of Henry’s 11 daughters who had lost out on their inheritance because of their gender. He was Governor General of Canada from 1861 – 1868. The last Monck to live at Charleville was Charles’ son, Henry, 5th Viscount who died in 1927. As he was pre-deceased by his two sons and his only brother, he was the last Viscount Monck. There are extensive files in the National Library for the Monck family.” [7]

Charles the 4th Viscount entertained Prime Minister Gladstone at some point in Charleville and Gladstone planted a tree near the house to mark the occasion. Later Charles fell out with Gladstone over Home Rule in 1886 as Charles maintained the strongly Unionist views of his family.

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I didn’t note which tree Gladstone planted – perhaps it is one of these near the ostrich!

Henry the 5th Viscount’s widow Edith continued to live in Charleville after his death. She died in 1929. The house was then purchased by Donald Davies. He established one of his “shirt dress” manufacturing bases in the stables.

Davies and his family lived in the house for forty years. His only daughter, Lucy, married the Earl of Snowdon, the photographer son of Anne, Countess of Rosse of Birr Castle.

According to the article in the Irish Times:

“before the Rohan family became owners, the place was popular for film settings. An American couple called Hawthorne were the previous owners, and filled it in summertime with orphaned children. Before the Hawthornes, it was owned by Donald Davies, famous for his handwoven, fine wool clothes, who had his workshops in the courtyard to the back of the house.”

The gardens are also beautiful. I believe they are open to the public at certain times of the year. [8]

The article goes on to mention the gardens:

“And then there are the gardens….It was wet and lovely, along the hedged walks and bowers, by the Latinate barbeque terrace where a lime tree was in fruit, in the rose garden, and orchard. Old flowers clustered in bursts of colour – lupins and peony roses, forget-me-not and hydrangea, wisteria covering a wall.

we were lucky to visit when the wisteria was in bloom.

One steps out of the house and goes around one side, by the courtyard and stables, through that courtyard to the tennis courts. One passes along the tennis court to reach the central part of the garden.

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the exit at the side of the house
we passed this beautiful house – I am not sure when it was built, maybe at the time of the conversion of the stables by Donald Davis – on the way to the courtyard.
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walking by the tennis courts, by the beautiful topiary.
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the central lawn, with a pond that forms the centre of the Radial Garden.

Many elements of the original garden have been conserved, including the fan-shaped walled garden and the walk of yews.

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heading in to the conservatory there are plaques commemorating previous gardeners
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The conservatory, which is in the form of a temple, looking out at the rows of milk-bottle shaped yews.

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Stephen ate a quick lunch in the central garden

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walking around the Radial Garden

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a fountain and pond hidden delightfully amongst the beech hedges in the Radial Garden

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in the radial garden

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the milk-bottle shaped Irish yews, in the Yew Walk

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nobody mentioned the ostrich! (statue)

Beyond the formal gardens is the aboretum with a comprehensive collection of trees.

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I like the way the vine trails along the chain

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We liked the sundial especially, which in itself as a pillar was the dial in a way, though there was a proper sundial on the top also, on the sides of the pillar, on two sides.

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is that the time?

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We also loved the beech walk, with its twisting intertwined branches, some held up by strings or rods to maintain a walkway below.

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[1] Great Irish Houses. Forwards by Desmond FitzGerald, Knight of Glin; The Hon Desmond Guinness; photography by Trevor Hart. Image Publications Ltd, Dublin, 2008.

[2] http://buildingsofireland.ie/niah/search.jsp?type=record&county=WI&regno=16400713

[3] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/1412#tab_biography

[4] see Achitectural definitions

[5] Charles Monck married and came into Charleville. Charles’s sister Rebecca married John Foster and had a daugther who married Bishop George Berkeley, the famous philosopher! My husband Stephen is also distantly related to the Monck family as his third great aunt, Jane Alicia Winder, married William Charles Monck Mason.

Jane Winder

Charles’s older brother, George (1675-1752) married Mary Molesworth and had a daughter, Sarah, who married Robert Mason, and they were parents of Henry Monck Mason who was the father of William Charles Monck Mason.

[6] p. 257. Montgomery-Massingberd, Hugh and Christopher Simon Sykes. Great Houses of Ireland. Laurence King Publishing, London, 1999.

[7] https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/charleville-estate-is-a-place-apart-1.309616

[8] https://visitwicklow.ie/private-gardens/#

Castle Leslie, Glaslough, County Monaghan

Contact: Samantha Leslie Tel: 047-88091

www.castleleslie.com

(Tourist Accommodation Facility)

Open in 2021 (but check due to Covid-19 restrictions): all year, National Heritage Week events August 14-22

Fee: Free

photo by Chris Hill of Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool.
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“A brooding pile of rock faced limestone and russet sandstone, the exterior blends the irregular massing and elongated proportions typical of the High Victorian era with details inspired by the Renaissance and Tudor periods.” [1]

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

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

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Above, our bed from 1617.

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

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

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

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the Lodge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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the Drawing Room

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

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

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

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

“Here I am in Castle Leslie

With rows and rows of books upon the shelves

Written by The Leslies

All about themselves.”

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

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

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portrait of Charles Powell Leslie I

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

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Charles Powell Leslie II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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a portrait of Lady Constance in later life.

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

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

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a room inside the Lodge
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front hall and welcoming room of the Lodge
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a small private dining room in the Lodge

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

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

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

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

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Frescoes painted by Sir John Leslie.
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I think it was this painting that hung in the Royal Academy

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

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

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

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

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

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“Jack’s bed,” in which he used to sleep, now in pride of place on the upper landing, although the bed would have been a squeeze for his over six foot frame!
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portraits of the family including several of Jack. Jack wrote of his life in Never a Dull Moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The website continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DAY 2: Horse riding! And exploring the Lodge

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

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

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

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

And now:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curraghmore, Portlaw, County Waterford

Contact: Vanessa Behal, 051 387101
Open dates listed in 2021 [check if open or closed due to Covid-19]: May, June, July, Aug, Sept, Thurs – Sun, and Bank Holidays, National Heritage Week, Aug 14-22,10am-4pm.

Fee: adult/OAP/student, house/garden/shell house tour €20, house €15, garden & shell house €12, garden €7, child under12 years free.

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It was difficult to find Curraghmore House despite obtaining directions when we rang the house. That difficulty is good in a way, as the house is secluded and safer for the owners. We drove two kilometres up a stony track; without the reassuring directions, we would not have believed we were on the right road. When we turned in to the estate, we weren’t sure we had the right entrance, since we went past old buildings and stables. Surely this was not the general entrance for those visiting the gardens, which are open to the public? There was barely any signage, and there was meant to be a cafe open. When we parked and looked around, however, we discovered that we were indeed in the right place! It’s just not very touristy! We found the bathrooms and the cafe in the courtyard.

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entering Curraghmore, via servants’ quarters either side of courtyard. Approaching the courtyard front of the house, where the “original Castle is encased in a spectacular Victorian mansion” with flanking Georgian ranges housing servants, stables, etc. [1]

I didn’t take as many photos as I should have, so here are a few from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, of the range that fronts the house: [2]

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servants’ quarters in the courtyard, photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage
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this is the view looking back the way we drove in, with our backs to the house, and the buildings of the courtyard on either side. Photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage
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arch through which we went, in order to explore the gardens, and also through which one goes to see the rest of the outside of the house
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photograph from flickr commons, National Library of Ireland.

Mark Bence-Jones describes Curraghmore in A Guide to Irish Country Houses, as a medieval tower with a large three storey house behind it. The house is seven bays wide (see garden front) and seven bays deep. [1]

We explored the buildings flanking the courtyard, and found the entrance to the gardens, through an arch, with an honesty box, in which we duly deposited our fee. We had missed the earlier house tour so had a couple of hours to wait for the next tour. We wandered out into the gardens. The gardens are amazing, in their formal arrangement, for such an empty place.

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when one enters the garden through the arch, one walks along the side of the house to the garden front, which originally held the front door of the house. Originally visitors would drive up to the house through the courtyard and then the horse and carriage would go through the arch to the garden front, to enter through the front door facing the gardens.
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back of the castle, with windows now where there was the original door for guest entrance
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the house is seven bays wide and seven bays deep
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There were horrible scary statues flanking a path – we learned later that they were bought by the fourth Marquis of Waterford in the World Fair in Paris.

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I’ll write more about the gardens later, as we learned more about them on the tour.

We gave ourselves forty-five minutes to get our lunch, and we were hungry after a good stroll. We had home-baked soda bread and salad with smoked salmon, Americano coffee and fresh coffee cake – delicious!

We gathered with others for a tour. The tour guide was excellent – a woman from the nearby town of Portlaw. She told us that the gardens only opened to the public a few years ago, when the more private father of the current (ninth) Marquis died.

I commented to the tour guide before the tour that it was sad to see the place in such a state (of dilapidation). She looked baffled, and once I entered the house, I understood why. The outside may look unkempt and run-down, but once you go inside, all that is forgotten. Splendour!!

As usual, we were not permitted to take photographs inside, unfortunately. You can see some on the website [3]. There is also a new book out, July 2019, it looks terrific! [4] More on the interior later – first I will tell you of the history of the house.

According to the website:

Curraghmore House in Waterford is the historic home of the 9th Marquis of Waterford. His ancestors (the de la Poers) came to Ireland from Normandy after a 100-year stopover in Wales around 1170, or, about 320 years before Columbus ‘discovered’ the New World.

Some 2,500 acres of formal gardens, woodland and grazing fields make this the largest private demesne in Ireland and one of the finest places to visit in Ireland….This tour takes in some of the finest neo-classical rooms in Ireland which feature the magnificent plaster work of James Wyatt and grisaille panels by Peter de Gree.” 
[We came across a link to the De La Poer family, also called Le Poer or Power, in Salterbridge, and will meet them again in Powerscourt in Wicklow and Dublin.]
Curraghmore, meaning great bog, is the last of 4 castles built by the de la Poer family after their arrival in Ireland in 1167. The Castle walls are about 12 feet thick and within one, a tight spiral stairway connects the lower ground floor with the roof above. Of the many curious and interesting features of Curraghmore, the most  striking is the courtyard front of the house, where the original Castle is encased in a spectacular Victorian mansion with flanking Georgian ranges.

Note on spelling of Marquis/Marquess: on the Curraghmore website “Marquis” is used, but in other references, I find “Marquess.” According to google:

marquess is “a member of the British peerage ranking below a duke and above an earl.” … A marquis is the French name for a nobleman whose rank was equivalent to a German margrave. They both referred to a ruler of border or frontier territories; in fact, the oldest sense of the English word mark is “a boundary land.”

I shall therefore use “marquess” and “marquis” interchangeably. If quoting – I’ll use the spelling used by the source. I prefer “marquis”,  as “marquess” sounds female to me, although it refers to a male! Therefore although Marquess is correct, I’ll follow the website and use sometimes use Marquis in this blog entry.

Mark Bence-Jones writes that:

The tower survives from the old castle of the Le Poers or Powers; the house was in existence in 1654, but was rebuilt 1700 and subsequently enlarged and remodelled; it extends round three sides of a small inner court, which is closed on 4th side by the tower. The 1700 rebuilding was carried out by James Power, 3rd and last Earl of Tyrone of first creation, whose daughter and heiress, Lady Catherine Power, married Sir Marcus Beresford…The 1st Beresford Earl of Tyrone remodelled the interior of the old tower and probably had work done on the house as well…The tower and the house were both refaced mid-C19. The house has a pediment in the garden front; and, like the tower, a balustraded roof parapet. The tower has three tiers of pilasters framing the main entrance doorway and the triple windows in the two storeys above it, and is surmounted by St. Hubert’s Stag, the family crest of the Le Poers. [1]

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St. Hubert’s Stag on top. The crown below is the coronet of a Marquess.

POWER AND MONEY AND MARRIAGE: Don’t be put off by the complications of Titles!

I shall intervene here to give a summary of the rank of titles, as I’m learning them through my research on houses. They rank as follows, from lowest to highest:

Baron –  female version: Baroness

Viscount – Viscountess

Earl – ? what’s the female version?

Marquess (Marquis) – Marchioness

Duke – Duchess

The estate was owned by the le Poer family for over 500 years, during which time the family gained the titles Baron la Poer (1535), and Viscount Decies and Earl of Tyrone (1673, “second creation”, which means the line of the first Earls of Tyrone died out or the title was taken from them – in this case the previous Earl of Tyrone, Hugh O’Neill, rose up against the British throne during the Nine Years War and fled from Ireland when arrest was imminent, so lost his title). Sir Piers Power (or Le Poer) of Curraghmore, who came into his title in 1483, cemented the family’s influence with a strategic marriage to the House of Fitzgerald. His first wife, Katherine, was a daughter of Sir Gerald Fitzgerald, Lord of the Decies. His second wife was another Fitzgerald of the House of Kildare.

Sir Piers’s son and heir, Richard, further strengthened the power of the family by marrying a daughter of the 8th Earl of Ormond. The rival families of Butler and Fitzgerald, into both of which the Le Poers had married, effectively ran the country at this time when English influence in Ireland had been in decline for several decades. [5]

In 1538 Richard was succeeded by his eldest son, Piers. After Piers’s premature death in 1545, he was succeeded as 3rd Baron by his younger brother, John “Mor” Power. In 1576, Henry Sidney, the Lord Deputy of Ireland and father of the poet Philip Sidney, stayed with John Mor at Curraghmore. He wrote:

“The night after I departed from Waterford I lodged at Curraghmore, the house that the Lord Power is baron of. The Poerne country is one of the best ordered countries in the English Pale, through the suppression of coyne and livery. The people are both willing and able to bear any reasonable subsidy towards the finding and entertaining of soldiers and civil ministers of the laws; and the lord of the country, though possessing far less territory than his neighbour (ie: Sir James Fitzgerald of the Decies, John Mor’s cousin) lives in show far more honourably and plentifully than he or any other in that province.”

Turtle Bunbury writes of the Le Poer family history in his blog. I wonder if I can turn my blog into a way of learning Irish history, through Irish houses? I will continue to quote Mr. Bunbury’s blog here, so I can try to see connections between various house owners as I continue my travels around the country.
WHO TO SUPPORT? CATHOLIC OR PROTESTANT? JAMES II OR WILLIAM III?

It was a common practice at the time for the aristocracy to send their sons to the English Court. It was a way to curry favour and contacts, and for the King to secure the loyalty of the aristocracy and their Protestant faith. 

John Mor died in 1592 and was succeeded by his son Richard, 4th Baron Le Poer. King James I ordered Richard to send his grandson and heir, John, (John’s father had already died) to England for his education, in order to convert John to Protestantism. John lived with a Protestant Archbishop in Lambeth. However, John didn’t maintain his Protestant faith. Furthermore, he later suffered from mental illness.

Julian Walton, in a talk I attended in Dromana House in Waterford (another section 482 house about which I will be writing later), told us about a powerful woman, Kinbrough Pypho. She is named after a Saxon saint, Kinbrough. Her unfortunate  daughter Ruth was married to John Power of the “disordered wits” [the 5th Baron]. In 1642, Kinbrough Pypho wrote for to the Lord Justices of Ireland for protection, explaining that Lord Le Poer had “these past twelve years been visited with impediments” which had “disabled him from intermeddling with his own estate.” As a result, when Oliver Cromwell arrived in Ireland, he issued a writ on 20th September 1649 decreeing that Lord Power and his family be “taken into his special protection.”

Despite his mental illness, John and Ruth had a son Richard, who succeeded as the 6th Baron. In 1672 King Charles II made Richard the 1st Earl of Tyrone, and elevated Richard’s son John to the peerage as Viscount Decies. Turtle Bunbury writes that Richard the 1st Earl of Tyrone sat on Charles II’s Privy Council from 1667-1679. However, Richard was forced to resign when somebody implicated him in the “Popish Plot.” The “Popish Plot” was caused by fear and panic. There never was a plot, but many people assumed to be sympathetic to Catholicism were accused of treason. In 1681, Richard Power was brought before the House of Commons and charged with high treason. He was imprisoned. He was released in 1684.

James II came to the throne after the death of his brother Charles II, and he installed Richard in the Irish Privy Council.

When William and Mary came to the throne, taking it from Mary’s father James II, Richard was again charged with high treason, this time for supporting James II, and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and died there, in 1690. He was succeeded by his son 25-year-old son John.

John married his first cousin, the orphaned heiress Catherine Fitzgerald. They were married as children, in order for John to marry Catherine’s wealth. However, Catherine managed to have the marriage declared null and void, so that she could marry her true love, in March 1676, Edward Villiers, son and heir of George, 4th Viscount Grandison [I will write more on this in my entry on Dromana].

John died aged just 28 and was succeeded by his brother James. James, the 3rd Earl of Tyrone, married Anne Rickard, eldest daughter and co-heir of Andrew Rickard of Dangan Spidoge, County Kilkenny. He had fought with the Jacobites (supporters of James II), but when William III came to the throne, the 3rd Earl of Tyrone claimed that he had only supported James II because his father had forced him to (this is the father who died in the Tower of London for supporting James II). In 1697 James Le Poer received a Pardon under the Great Seal and he served as Governor of Waterford from 1697 until his death in 1704.

DEVELOPING THE CASTLE
In 1700 the 3rd Earl, James, commissioned the construction of the present house at Curraghmore on the site of the original castle.

In 1704 the male line of the la Poers became extinct as James had no sons. Catherine de la Poer, the sole child of her parents, could not officially inherit the property at the time. Fortunately, the property was kept for her and she was married at the age of fourteen to Marcus Beresford, in 1717. This ensured that the house stayed in her family, as Marcus joined her to live in Curraghmore.

This marriage was foretold. The guide told us the story:

“One night in 1693 when Nichola, Lady Beresford, was staying in Gill Hall, her schoolday friend, John Power, Earl of Tyrone, with whom she had made a pact that whoever died first should appear to the other to prove that there was an afterlife, appeared by her bedside and told her that he was dead, and that there was indeed an after-life. To convince her that he was a genuine apparition and not just a figment of her dreams, he made various prophecies, all of which came true: noteably that she would have a son who would marry his niece, the heiress of Curraghmore and that she would die on her 47th birthday. He also touched her wrist, which made the flesh and sinews shrink, so that for the rest of her life she wore a black ribbon to hide the place.” [5]

The predictions came true! Lady Nichola did indeed die on her 47th birthday, and her son Marcus married John’s niece, Catherine Power. Sir Marcus Beresford of Coleraine (born 1694) was already a Baron by descent in his family. When he married Catherine, he became Viscount Tyrone. Proud of her De La Poer background, when her husband Baron Beresford died, Catherine, now titled the Dowager Countess of Tyrone, requested the title of Baroness La Poer.

The entry via the servants’ quarters, which I thought odd, has indeed always been the approach to the house. Catherine had the houses in the forecourt built for her servants in 1740s or 50s. She cared for the well-being of her tenants and workers, and by having their houses built flanking the entrance courtyard, perhaps hoped to influence other landlords and employers.

Bence-Jones writes of the forecourt approach to the house:

[The house] stands at the head of a vast forecourt, a feature which seems to belong more to France, or elsewhere on the Continent… having no counterpart in Ireland, and only one or two in Britain… It is by the Waterford architect John Roberts, and is a magnificent piece of architecture; the long stable ranges on either side being dominated by tremendous pedimented archways with blocked columns and pilasters. There are rusticated arches and window surrounds, pedimented niches with statues, doorways with entablatures; all in beautifully crisp stonework. The ends of the two ranges facing the front are pedimented and joined by a long railing with a gate in the centre.


We were lucky to be able to wander around.

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There were some interesting looking machines in sheds. Perhaps some of this machinery is for grain, or some could be for the wool trade. Turtle Bunbury writes of the wool trade in the 18th century and of the involvement by the de la Poer family in Curraghmore. [6]

Other buildings were stables, or had been occupied as accommodation in the past, and some were used for storage.

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amazing vaulted ceilings for stables!
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The buildings above are behind the stables of the courtyard.

There must have been a whiskey distillery at one stage:

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the Butler’s house, the first house in the courtyard nearest the main house. The Butler lived in the main house until he married, when he then was given the house in the courtyard. There was a Butler in the house until just two years ago, and he lived here until he retired.
household staff of Curraghmore House, Portlaw, Co. Waterford, ca.1905, National Library of Ireland
Household staff of Curraghmore, around 1905, courtesy of National Library of Ireland

The Guide told us a wonderful story of the stag on top of the house. It has a cross on its head, and is called a St. Hubert’s Stag. This was the crest of the family of Catherine de la Poer. They were Catholic. To marry Marcus Beresford, she had to convert to Protestantism. She kept the cross of her crest. The Beresford crest is in a sculpture on the front entrance, or back, of the house: a dragon with an arrow through the neck. The broken off part of the spear is in the dragon’s mouth.

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dragon from the Beresford crest

The IRA came to set fire to the house at one point. They came through the courtyard at night. The moon was full, and the stag and cross cast a shadow. Seeing the cross, the rebels believed the occupants were Catholic and decided not to set fire to the house. The story illustrates that the rebels must not have been from the local area, as locals would have known that the family had converted to Protestantism centuries ago. It is lucky the invaders did not approach from the other side of the house!

When I was researching Blackhall Castle in County Kildare, I came across more information about St. Hubert’s Stag. The stag with the crucifix between its antlers that tops Curraghmore is in fact 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 (otherwise called St. Hubert’s) stag. I did not realise that St. Eustace is also the patron saint of Newbridge College in Kildare, where my father attended school and where for some time in the 1980s and 90s my family attended mass!

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see the St. Eustace stag in the Newbridge College crest

I read in Irish Houses and Gardens, from the archives of Country Life by Sean O’Reilly, [Aurum Press, London: 1998, paperback edition 2008] that the St. Hubert Stag at Curraghmore was executed by Queen Victoria’s favourite sculptor, Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm. He was also responsible for the “haunting” representation in the family chapel at Clonegam of the first wife, who died in childbirth, of the 5th Marquess.

Someone asked about the sculptures in the niches in the courtyard. They too were purchased at the World Fair Exhibition in Paris. Why are there only some in niches – are the others destroyed or stolen? That in itself was quite a story! A visitor said they could have the sculptures cleaned up, by sending them to England for restoration. The Marquess at the time agreed, but said only take every second one, to leave some in place, and when those are back, we’ll send the remaining ones. Just as well he did this, since the helper scuppered and statues were never returned.

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Since bad weather threatened, as you can see from my photographs, the tour guide took us out to the Shell House in the garden first. This was created by Lady Catherine. A friend of Jonathan Swift, Mrs. Mary Delany, started a trend for grottoes, which progressed to shell houses. Catherine had the house specially built, and she went to the docks nearby to ask the sailors to collect shells for her from all over the world, who obliged since their wages were paid by the Marquess. She then spent two hundred and sixty one days (it says this in a scroll that the marble sculpture holds in her hand) lining the structure with the shells (and some coral). The statue in the house is of Catherine herself, made of marble, by the younger John van Nost (he did many other sculptures and statues in Dublin, following in his father’s footsteps).

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the Shell Grotto
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inside the shell grotto, statue by John van Nost of Catherine Le Poer Beresford.
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Catherine also adorned the interior of Curraghmore with frescoes by the Dutch painter van der Hagen, and laid out the garden with canals, cascades, terraces and statues, which were swept away in the next century in the reaction against formality in the garden. In the nineteenth century, the formal layout was reinstated. [7]

THE INTERIOR OF THE HOUSE

The entrance hall, which is in the old tower, has a barrel vaulted ceiling covered with plasterwork rosettes in circular compartments which dates from 1750, as it was one of the rooms redecorated by Marcus Beresford and his wife Catherine. He also redecorated the room above, now the billiard room, which has a tremendously impressive coved ceiling probably by the Francini brothers, according to Mark Bence-Jones. The ceiling is decorated with foliage, flowers, busts and ribbons in rectangular and curvilinear compartments. The chimneypiece, which has a white decorative  overmantel with a “broken” pediment (i.e. split into two with the top of the triangular pediment lopped off to make room for a decoration in between) and putti cherubs, is probably by John Houghton, German architect Richard Castle’s carver. Bence-Jones describes that the inner end of the room is a recess in the thickness of the old castle wall with a screen of fluted Corinthian columns. There is a similar recess in the hall below, in which a straight flight of stairs leads up to the level of the principal rooms of the house.

According to the Wikipedia article on the Marquesses of Waterford [8], Lord Tyrone ie. Marcus Beresford, was succeeded by his fourth but eldest surviving son, the second Earl, George Beresford (1734-1800), who also inherited the title Baron La Poer from his mother in 1769. [By the way, he married Elizabeth Monck, only daughter and heiress of Henry Monck (1725-1787) of Charleville, another house on the Section 482 list which we will be visiting.]  In 1786 he was created Baron Tyrone. Three years later he was made Marquess of Waterford in the Peerage of Ireland. He was therefore the 1st Marquess of Waterford. The titles descended in the direct line until the death of his grandson, the third Marquess, in 1859.

George had the principal rooms of the house redecorated to the design of James Wyatt in the 1780s. Perhaps this was when the van der Hagen paintings were lost! We will see more of his work later, in a house not on section 482 in 2019, but often on the list, Beaulieu.  At the same time he probably built the present staircase hall, which had been an open inner court, and carried out other structural alterations.

As Bence-Jones describes it, the principle rooms of the house lie on three sides of the great staircase hall, which has Wyatt decoration and a stair with a light and simple balustrade rising in a sweeping curve. Our tour paused here for the guide to point out the various portraits of the generations of Marquesses, and to tell stories about each.

Bence-Jones writes that the finest of the Wyatt interiors are the dining room and the Blue drawing room, two of the most beautiful late eighteenth rooms in Ireland, he claims.

The dining room has delicate plasterwork on the ceiling,  incorporating rondels attributed to Antonio Zucchi (1726-1795, an Italian painter and printmaker of the Neoclassic period) or his wife Angelica Kauffman (a Swiss Neoclassical painter who had a successful career in London and Rome). The walls have grissaille panels by Peter de Gree, which are imitations of bas-reliefs, so are painted to look as if they are sculpture. de Gree was born in Antwerp, Holland [9]. In Antwerp he met David de la Touche of Marlay, Rathfarnham, Dublin, who was on a grand tour. The first works of de Gree in Ireland were for David de la Touche for his house in St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin. [10] The Blue Drawing Room has a ceiling incorporating roundels by deGree and semi-circular panels attributed to Zucchi.

A story is told that a woman’s son was hung, and she cursed the magistrate, the Marquess, by walking nine times around the courtyard of Curraghmore and cursing the family, wishing that the Marquess would have a painful death. It seems that her curse had some effect, as tragedy haunted the family. As mentioned previously, it was the fourth son who inherited the property and titles of Marcus Beresford, all other sons having died.

The obituary of the 8th Marquis of Waterford gives more details on the curse, which was described to us by our guide, with the help of the portraits:

The 8th Marquis of Waterford, who has died aged 81, was an Irish peer and a noted player in the Duke of Edinburgh’s polo team.

That Lord Waterford reached the age he did might have surprised the superstitious, for some believed his family to be the object of a particularly malevolent curse. He himself inherited the title at only a year old, when his father, the 7th Marquis, died aged 33 in a shooting accident in the gun room at the family seat, Curraghmore, in Co Waterford.

The 3rd Marquis broke his neck in a fall in the hunting field in 1859; the 5th shot himself in 1895, worn down by years of suffering from injuries caused by a hunting accident which had left him crippled; and the 6th Marquis, having narrowly escaped being killed by a lion while big game hunting in Africa, drowned in a river on his estate in 1911 when he was 36.” [11]

The lion, along with some pals, stand in the front hallway in a museum style diorama!

The obituary gives us an introduction to the stories of the various descendants of the 1st Marquess, George Beresford. Let’s now look at the rest of the line of Marquesses.

MARQUESSES OF WATERFORD

I am aided here by the wonderfully informative website of Timothy Ferres. [12]
George, 1st Marquess of Waterford, was succeeded by his eldest son, Henry, 2nd Marquess (1772-1826), who wedded, in 1805, Susanna, only daughter and heiress of George Carpenter, 2nd Earl of Tyrconnell. Henry, who was a Knight of St Patrick, a Privy Counsellor in Ireland, Governor of County Waterford, and Colonel of the Waterford Militia, was succeeded by his eldest son, Henry, 3rd Marquess.

In an interview with Patrick Freyne, the current Marquess, whom the townspeople call “Tyrone,” explained that it was the third Marquess, Henry who originated the phrase “painting the town red” while on a wild night in Miltown Mowbray in 1837: he literally painted the town red! [13]

I wonder was this the Marquis who, as a boy in Eton, was expelled, and took with him the “whipping bench,” which looks like a pew, from the school. It remains in the house, in the staircase hall! We can only hope that it meant than no more boys in Eton were whipped.

In 1842, the third Marquess of Waterford married Louisa Stuart, daughter of the 1st Baron Stuart de Rothesay, and settled in Curraghmore House. It was he who broke his neck in a fall while hunting. His wife Louisa laid out the garden. She had been raised in France and modelled the gardens on those at Versailles.

When Henry died he was succeed by his younger brother, John (1814-1866), who became the 4th Marquess. It was this Marquess who bought the scarey statues in the garden. The tour guide told us that perhaps the choice of statue reflected the Marquis’s personality. She referred back to this on the tour. The Earl became more religious and more forboding as he aged. John married Christiana Leslie, daughter of Charles Powell Leslie II of Castle Leslie (we will learn more about the Leslies in my write ups for Castle Leslie and Corravahan House in County Cavan). John entered the ministry and served as Prebendary of St Patrick’s Cathedral, under his uncle, Lord John. He forbade his wife from horseriding, which she had adored. When he died, the sons were notified. Before they went to visit the body, when they arrived home they went straight to the stables. They took a horse and brought it inside the house, and up the grand staircase, right into their mother’s bedroom, where she was still in bed. It was her favourite horse! They “gave her her freedom.” She got onto the horse and rode it back down the staircase – one can still see a crack in the granite steps where the horse kicked one on the way down – and out the door and off into the countryside!

The oldest of these sons, John Henry de La Poer Beresford (1844-1895), became 5th Marquess, and also a Member of Parliament and Lord Lieutenant of Waterford. Wikipedia tells us that W. S. Gilbert of Gilbert and Sullivan fame refers to John Henry in his opera “Patience” as “reckless and rollicky” in Colonel Calverley’s song “If You Want A Receipt For That Popular Mystery”!

Lord Waterford eloped with Florence Grosvenor Rowley, wife of John Vivian, an English Liberal politician, and married her on 9 August 1872. I don’t know what happened to her, but less than two years later he married secondly, Lady Blanche Somerset, daughter of Henry Somerset, 8th Duke of Beaufort, on 21 July 1874. The second Lady Waterford suffered from a severe illness which left her an invalid. She had a special carriage designed to carry her around the estate at Curraghmore.

Lady Waterford in her specially designed invalid carriage 1896
Lady Blanche Waterford, wife of the 5th Marquess, John Henry, in her specially designed invalid carriage 1896, courtesy of National Library of Ireland
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January 10, 1902, Group shot of guests at a Fancy Dress Ball held at Curraghmore House, Portlaw, Co. Waterford, courtesy of National Library of Ireland

Sadly, John Henry killed himself when he was 51, leaving his son Henry to be 6th Marquess (1875-1911).

Henry the 6th Marquess served in the military. He married Beatrix Frances Petty-Fitzmaurice. He died tragically in a drowning  accident on the estate aged only 36.

His son John Charles became the 7th Marquess (1901-34). He too  died young. He served as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Regiment of Horse Guards but died at age 33 in a shooting accident in the gun room at Curraghmore. He married Juliet Mary Lindsay. Their son John Hubert (1933-2015) thus became 8th Marquess at the age of just one year old.

John Hubert served as a lieutenant in the Royal Horse Guards’ Supplementary Reserve and was a skilled horseman. From 1960 to 1985, he was captain of the All-Ireland Polo Club, and he was a member of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Windsor Park team. After retiring from the Army, John Hubert, Lord Waterford, returned to Curraghmore and became director of a number of enterprises to provide local employment, among them the Munster Chipboard company, Waterford Properties (a hotel group) and, later, Kenmare Resources, an Irish oil and gas exploration company. He was a founder patron of the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera.

In 1957 he married Lady Caroline Olein Geraldine Wyndham-Quin, daughter of the 6th Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl, of Adare Manor in County Limerick. The 8th Marquess and his wife Caroline carried out restoration of the Library and Yellow Drawing Room. Lord Waterford devoted much of his time to maintaining and improving the Curraghmore estate, with its 2,500 acres of farmland and 1,000 acres of woodland.

He was succeeded by his son, Henry de La Pore Beresford (b. 1958), the current Marquess. He and his wife now live in the House and have opened it up for visitors. His son is also a polo professional, and is known as Richard Le Poer.

The website tells us, as did the Guide, of the current family:

The present day de la Poer Beresfords are country people by tradition. Farming, hunting, breeding  horses and an active social calendar continues as it did centuries ago. Weekly game-shooting parties are held every season (Nov. through Feb.) and in spring, calves, foals and lambs can be seen in abundance on Curraghmore’s verdant fields. Polo is still played on the estate in summer. Throughout Ireland’s turbulent history, this family have never been ‘absentee landlords’ and they still provide diverse employment for a number of local people. Change comes slowly to Curraghmore – table linen, cutlery and dishes from the early nineteenth century are still in use.

the Hunt, Curraghmore House
The Hunt, January 11, 1902, courtesy of National Library of Ireland
Otter Hunt, Curraghmore
According to the National Library, this is an Otter Hunt! At Curraghmore, May 14, 1901

It is not all fun and games at the house, as in the pictures above!  The guide told us a bit about the lives of the servants. In the 1901 census, she told us, not one servant was Irish. This would be because the maidservants were brought by their mistresses, who mostly came from England. The house still doesn’t have central heating, and tradition has it that the fireplace in the front hall can only be lit by the Marquis, and until it is lit, no other fires can be lit. The maids had to work in the cold if he decided to have a lie-in!

THE GARDENS AND OUTBUILDINGS

Behind the houses and stables on one side, were more buildings, probably more accommodation for the workers, as well as more stables, riding areas and workplaces such as a forge. I guessed that one building had been a school but we later learned that the school for the workers’ children was in a different location, behind a the gate lodge by the entrance gate (nearly 2 km away, I think).

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the Forge – see the bellows in the corner of the room.

According to the website:

After Wyatt’s Georgian developments, work at Curraghmore in the  nineteenth century concentrated on the gardens and the Victorian refacing to the front of the house.

Formal parterre, tiered lawns, lake, arboretum and kitchen gardens  were all developed during this time and survive to today. At this time some of Ireland’s most remarkable surviving trees were planted in the estate’s arboretum. Today these trees frame miles of beautiful river walks  (A Sitka Spruce overlooking King John’s Bridge is one of the tallest trees in Ireland).

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The Lake was designed by James Wyatt

And here is a photograph of King John’s Bridge, a 13th-century bridge built in anticipation of a visit from King John (he never came):

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Built in 1205, this stone-arched structure, spanning the Clodagh River, is the oldest bridge in Ireland.
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And last but not least, Curraghmore is now the venue for the latest music festival, Alltogethernow. There’s a stag’s head made by a pair of Native American artists, of wooden boughs that were gathered on the estate. It was constructed for the festival last year but still stands, ready for this year (2019)! Some of my friends will be at the festival. The house will be railed off for the event.

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

[2] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/22900816/curraghmore-house-curraghmore-co-waterford

[3] http://curraghmorehouse.ie/

[4] https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/07/03/now-available/

[5] http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_family/hist_family_delapoer.html

Turtle Bunbury on his website writes of the history of the family:

“On his death on 2nd August 1521, Sir Piers was succeeded as head of the family by his eldest son, Sir Richard Power, later 1st Baron le Poer and Coroghmore…. In 1526, five years after his father’s death, Sir Richard married Lady Katherine Butler, a daughter of Piers, 8th Earl of Ormonde, and aunt of ‘Black Tom’ Butler, Queen Elizabeth’s childhood sweetheart. The marriage occurred at a fortuitous time for Power family fortunes. English influence in Ireland had been in decline for several decades and the rival Houses of Butler and Fitzgerald effectively ran the country. The Powers of Curraghmore were intimately connected, by marriage, with both.”

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

[6] http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_family/hist_family_delapoer.html

[7] Hugh Montgomery Massingberd and Christopher Simon Sykes. Great Houses of Ireland. Laurence King Publishing, London, 1999.

[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marquess_of_Waterford

[9] https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/11/23/to-a-de-gree/

[10] https://www.libraryireland.com/irishartists/peter-de-gree.php

[11] https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/obituary-the-irish-peer-who-outlived-curse-30998942.html

[12] from http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Waterford%20Landowners

[13] https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/people/oh-lord-next-generation-takes-the-keys-to-waterford-county-1.2191959

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

Contact: Manager, Brian Conroy, Tel: 087-2888925

www.tankardstown.ie

Opening dates in 2021 (check in advance due to Covid restrictions): All year including National Heritage Week, 9am-1pm

Fee: Free

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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the tea rooms

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

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

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

[1] architectural definitions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listed Opening Dates in 2021, but check first due to Covid 19 restrictions: Feb 1-5, 8-12, Mar 8-12, April 19-23, May 10-14, 17-21, Aug 4-10, 14-29, Sept 4-10, 9am-1pm

Fee: adult €8, OAP/student €5, child free

Contact: Robert Wilson-Wright 086 258 0439

http://coolcarrigan.ie/

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

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

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

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We reached the house, and parked.

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We were lucky to have another sunny day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A walled garden contains an orchard:

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The corners of the walled garden have impressive towers:

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

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Sculptures and garden furniture are studded romantically around the gardens:

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

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

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Stephen spotted this fascinating bird skull on the ground.

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Robert and his wife are creating an Arboretum.

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

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detail of the high cross in the small church yard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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