Places to visit and stay in County Laois, Leinster

On the map above:

blue: places to visit that are not section 482

purple: section 482 properties

red: accommodation

yellow: less expensive accommodation for two

orange: “whole house rental” i.e. those properties that are only for large group accommodations or weddings, e.g. 10 or more people.

green: gardens to visit

grey: ruins

Carlow, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow are the counties that make up the Leinster region.

As well as places to visit, I have listed separately places to stay, because some of them are worth visiting – you may be able to visit for afternoon tea or a meal.

For places to stay, I have made a rough estimate of prices at time of publication:

€ = up to approximately €150 per night for two people sharing (in yellow on map);

€€ – up to approx €250 per night for two;

€€€ – over €250 per night for two.

For a full listing of accommodation in big houses in Ireland, see my accommodation page: https://irishhistorichouses.com/accommodation/

Places to visit in County Laois:

1. Ballaghmore Castle, Borris in Ossory, Co. Laois – section 482

2. Ballintubbert House and Gardens, Stradbally, Co Laois – gardens sometimes open to public 

3. Gardens at Castle Durrow, County Laois

4. Emo Court, County Laois – OPW

5. Heywood Gardens, County Laois – OPW

6. Stradbally Hall, Stradbally, Co. Laois – section 482

Places to Stay, County Laois:

1. Ballaghmore Castle, Borris in Ossory, Co. Laois – section 482

2. Ballyfin House, Co. Laois – hotel €€€

3. Castle Durrow, Co Laois a hotel 

4. Coolanowle Country House, Ballickmoyler, County Laois

5. Inch House, County Laois €

6. Roundwood, Mountrath, Co Laois – guest house

and the forge and writer’s cottage at Roundwood

Whole House Rental County Laois:

1. Ballintubbert House, County Laois – whole house and weddings

2. Inch House, County Laois

3. Preston House, Abbeyleix, County Laois – whole house accommodation

Places to visit in County Laois:

1. Ballaghmore Castle, Borris in Ossory, Co. Laois – section 482

contact: Grace Pym
Tel: 0505-21453
www.castleballaghmore.com
Open: all year except Christmas Day, 10am-6pm Fee: adult €5, child/OAP/student €3, family of 4, €10

Castle Ballaghmore, photograph courtesy of website.

The website tells us:

Ballaghmore Castle was built in 1480 by the Gaelic Chieftain MacGiollaphadraig (now called Fitzpatrick), meaning son of the servant of Patrick. Lords of Upper Ossory. They defended North Munster, strategically placed as they were on the old Irish Road. A Sheela-na-Gig carved in stone is on the front facing wall, a pagan fertility symbol to ward off evil.

Castle Ballaghmore, photograph courtesy of website.

Ballaghmore was partially destroyed by Cromwell’s forces in 1647. It was restored in 1836 by a Mr. Ely who found a hoard of gold on the land. Ely was shot by an angry tenant and never lived in the castle. The castle was then used as a granary and afterwards fell into disuse, until the present owner Gráinne Ní Cormac, bought it in 1990 and restored it. Now furnished.

Castle Ballaghmore, photograph courtesy of website.

Gráinne (Grace) will delight you with stories of the history of the MacGiollaphadraigs (changed to Fitzpatrick by order of Henry 8th of England) which goes back to 500 B.C.

Castle Ballaghmore, photograph courtesy of website.
Castle Ballaghmore, photograph courtesy of website.
Castle Ballaghmore, photograph courtesy of website.
Castle Ballaghmore, photograph courtesy of website.

2. Ballintubbert House and Gardens, Stradbally, Co Laois – open to public 

https://www.discoverireland.ie/laois/ballintubbert-gardens-house

The gardens at Ballintubbert have been described as ‘An enchanting work of art – intimate and extraordinarily peaceful”. 

The historic gardens at Ballintubbert have been expanded with an Arts & Crafts influence to include an impressive variety of over 40 ‘garden rooms’ and pedimented yew cloisters within 14 acres. 

Of particular note is the Sir Edwin Lutyens design water garden complimented by Gertrude Jekyll style planting schemes. 

There are wild flower meadows and woodlands influenced by William Robinson’s approach to ‘wild gardening’ in contrast to the formal lime walks that flank a hundred meter canal in the more classical gardening tradition. 

Opening Hours 

The gardens are open to view every Thursday from 10am to 5pm 
(April to September) 

Very occasionally the gardens may be closed with a private event – please check our Facebook page for details 

Admission €5 (children under 8 free) 
Guided tours available by appointment 

Allow 2 hours and please feel welcome all day. Relax & savour what lies ahead – this is a rich experience of the senses 

3. Gardens at Castle Durrow, County Laois

www.castledurrow.com 

See below, under places to stay.

The website tells us that the gardens were started 300 years ago.

After the Ashbrook Family left, the garden fell into a period of neglect until the Castle was opened as a hotel and restaurant in 2000 by the Stokes family. The gardens are a work in progress, years of renovations and restoration with the end nowhere in sight. In its present form Castle Durrow’s garden is a mature, charming and very beautiful garden. With 50 acres of lush lawns, colourful borders, green parkland, wild forest, meandering river and plentiful orchards. With each season, the gardens change and grow, giving each visit a unique feel.

Masses of bulbs in springtime, going up the tree lined avenue and in the walled garden.

A Haven for Connoisseurs and Amateurs, our Gardens are, like the Hotel they surround, divided into Rooms each with their own Identity, Feel and Character. At the Back of the House, Follow Your Nose and Walk up the Steps into our Courtyard room, filled with hundreds of fragrant David Austin Roses. From Here Step into the Walled Garden, where Some of the areas are Decorated Picturesque ,like the Orchard, Filled with Old Fruit Trees and Inhabited by Our Duck Family and the Chickens. Others areas are very grand, like our Sunken Garden with the canal and its Ornamental Pots and Statues.

Via the Main Corridor with its Majestic Blue and Pink Hued Borders, you step into the Foodie Room, our Kitchen Garden, it’s Produce handpicked daily by our Award Winning Head Chef, Graham Gallagher. Follow the meandering path by the recently Restored Ha-Ha flanked by spring, summer and autumn bulbs, towards the Victorian Grotto. The pleasure garden is where historically the gardeners would have planted the specimen trees. We have started to plant oak here again after many years.

4. Emo Court, County Laois – OPW

see my OPW entry, https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/02/07/office-of-public-works-properties-leinster-laois-longford-louth-meath-offaly-westmeath-wexford-wicklow/

Emo Court, County Laois.

5. Heywood Gardens, County Laois – OPW

see my OPW entry: https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/02/07/office-of-public-works-properties-leinster-laois-longford-louth-meath-offaly-westmeath-wexford-wicklow/

6. Stradbally Hall, Stradbally, Co. Laois – section 482

Stradbally Hall, County Laois, June 2021.

contact: Thomas Cosby
Tel: 086-8519272
www.stradballyhall.ie
Open: May 1-31, June 1-9, Aug 13-21, Oct 1-14, 9am-1pm Fee: adult €10, OAP/student €5, child free

See my entry:

https://irishhistorichouses.com/2021/10/14/stradbally-hall-stradbally-co-laois/

Places to Stay, County Laois:

1. Ballaghmore Castle, Borris in Ossory, Co. Laois – section 482 – see above.

There is the tower house castle, a farmhouse or a cottage to stay in.

2. Ballyfin House, Co. Laois – hotel €€€

https://ballyfin.com

Ballyfin, photograph by Tony Pleavin 2018 for Tourism Ireland [1].

The website tells us: “Steeped in Irish history, the site of Ballyfin has been settled from ancient times and was ancestral home in succession to the O’Mores, the Crosbys, the Poles, the Wellesley-Poles (the family of the Duke of Wellington) and later the Cootes.”

Ballyfin, photograph from “In Harmony with Nature, The Irish Country House Garden 1600-1900” in the Irish Georgian Society, July 2022, curated by Robert O’Byrne.
Photograph courtesy of Ballyfin website.

The website continues:

The Coote family was descended from Sir Charles Coote, an Elizabethan adventurer who came to Ireland in 1601. The Coote coat-of-arms is prominently displayed above the entrance to Ballyfin.

The house itself was built in the 1820s for another Sir Charles Coote to designs by the great Irish architects Sir Richard and William Morrison. The Cootes enjoyed the house for exactly one hundred years employing a large team of servants to preserve the life of refined leisure that is documented in Edwardian photographs showing tea on the terrace or skating in the walled garden. As the political situation changed with the dawning of the Irish Independence, the Cootes sold the estate to the Patrician Brothers who, for much of the twentieth century, ran a much-loved school at Ballyfin. After many years of restoration Ballyfin reopened its doors in May 2011.

The restoration project took nine years – significantly longer than it took to build the house in the first place. Every single aspect of the house from the roof down required remedial attention. Skilled craftsmen worked on the elaborate inlaid floors, repaired the gilding and the stucco work or treated the stone work of the house which was disintegrating. After this emergency work, a process of redecoration could begin with carefully selected paint finishes, papers and textiles bringing the interiors back to life. The house has been furnished with a collection of Irish art and antiques from around the world, fine Irish mahogany, French chandeliers and mirrors by Thomas Chippendale. The result was spectacular, and one of Ireland’s most endangered great houses emerged ready for the current century, a place of grandeur, yet warmth, providing the kind of welcome envisaged when the house was first built.”

Ballyfin, photograph by Tony Pleavin 2018 for Tourism Ireland (see [1]). Wrought-iron curvilinear Victorian conservatory, c.1855, on a rectangular plan with apsidal ends and glazed corridor linking it to Ballyfin House. Designed by Richard Turner.
Photograph courtesy of Ballyfin website.

Ballyfin was built between 1821 and 1826 by Sir Charles Coote, 9th Baronet of Castle Cuffe, Queens County, or County Laois (1794-1864). He was the son of Chidley Coote of Ash Hill, County Limerick, where Stephen and I stayed during Heritage Week in 2022 – another Section 482 property. The 8th Baronet Coote of Castle Cuffe, Charles Henry Coote, who was also the 7th Earl of Mountrath, had no legitimate children. The 8th and 9th Baronet Cootes seem to be rather distantly related.

Coote’s house replaced a long, plain house of 1778 which had been the seat of William Wellesley-Pole (1763-1835), afterwards 1st Baron Maryborough and 3rd Earl of Mornington, a brother of the Duke of Wellington. They had lived in Dangan Castle in County Westmeath. Coote, the Premier Baronet of Ireland, bought the estate from Wellesley-Pole ca 1812. William Wellesley-Pole was born William Wellesley and added the name Pole to his surname when he inherited from his cousin, William Pole (1713-1801), who owned Ballyfin. William Pole married Sarah Moore, daughter of Edward, 5th Earl of Drogheda. A bedroom in the hotel is named after Sarah. She dedicated much attention to the gardens at Ballyfin. She and William had no children, and so William Wellesley (Pole) inherited Ballyfin.

William Pole’s sister Sarah married Dudley Cosby (1662-1729) of Stradbally Hall also in County Laois.

William Wellesley-Pole’s father was Garret Wesley (1735-1781) who was created 1st Earl of Mornington. His father was Richard Wesley (c. 1758) who was born Richard Colley, who in 1728 inherited the estates of Dangan and Mornington, County Meath, on the death of his cousin, Garret Wesley. So there are many name changes in the family! Richard Colley’s sister Anne married William Pole (1680-abt. 1732) and they were the parents of William Pole who owned Ballyfin and who left it to his cousin William Wellesley-Pole.

Charles Coote 9th Baronet married Caroline Whaley, granddaughter of “Burn Chapel” Whaley (Richard Chapel Whaley) whom we came across when we visited the Museum of Literature of Ireland in St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin.

Mark Bence-Jones tells us that Charles Coote seems to have (p. 21) “…employed an architect named Dominick Madden, who produced a design for a two storey house with a long library at one side running from front to back, and extending into a curved bow in the centre of the side elevation; a room very similar to the library at Emo Court, a few miles away.

When this end of the house – which also contained a top-lit rotunda, another feature doubtless inspired by Emo – had been built, Coote switched from Madden to Richard Morrison, who, assisted by his son William Vitruvius Morrison, completed the house according to a modified plan, but incorporating Madden’s library wing which forms the side elevation of Morrison’s house, just has it would have done of Madden’s; it is of one bay on either side of the central curved bow, which is fronted by a colonnade of giant Ionic columns.” [2]

The south front of Ballyfin, with the grand bow window for the library. Image from archive of Country Life 31/08/2011  [Not Used]. Photograph by Paul Barker.
Ballyfin, County Laois, from “In Harmony with Nature, The Irish Country House Garden 1600-1900” in the Irish Georgian Society, July 2022, curated by Robert O’Byrne.

Bence-Jones continues: “The side elevation is now prolonged by a gracefully curving glass and iron conservatory of ca 1850. The principal front is of thirteen bays with a giant pedimented Ionic portico, the two end bays on either side being stepped back.

The interior, almost entirely by the Morrisons, is of great magnificence and beautifully finished, with exciting spatial effects and a wealth of rich plasterwork, scagiola columns in Siena porphyry, green and black; and inlaid parquetry floors; originally the rooms contained a fine collection of pictures and sculpture and furniture said to have been made for George IV as Prince of Wales. A rather restrained entrance hall, with a coffered ceiling and a floor of mosaic brought from Rome, leads into the top-lit saloon in the centre of the house, which has a coved ceiling decorated with the most elaborate plasterwork and a screen of Corinthian columns at each end.” [2]

The hall at Ballyfin, built in the 1820s for Sir Charles Coote to designs by Sir Richard and William Morrison. The mosaic centrepiece on the floor came from Rome in 1822. Image from archive of Country Life 31/08/2011  [Not Used]. Photograph by Paul Barker.
Ballyfin Hallway, photograph courtesy of Ballyfin website.
Image from archive of Country Life 31/08/2011  [Not Used]. Photograph by Paul Barker.

The upstairs top-lit saloon reminds me of that at Stradbally Hall. The first son of Charles Coote and Caroline Whaley died unmarried, the second son predeceased the first son, after marrying Margaret Mary Cosby of Stradbally. The third son, Algernon, became 11th Baron Coote and joined the clergy. He died in 1920 and afterwards the house was sold.

Ballyfin, the top-lit saloon in the centre of the house, which has a coved ceiling decorated with the most elaborate plasterwork and a screen of Corinthian columns at each end. Image from archive of Country Life 31/08/2011  [Not Used]. Photograph by Paul Barker.
Ballyfin top-lit saloon, photograph courtesy of Ballyfin website.
Ballyfin, the top-lit saloon in the centre of the house, which has a coved ceiling decorated with the most elaborate plasterwork and a screen of Corinthian columns at each end. Image from archive of Country Life 31/08/2011  [Not Used]. Photograph by Paul Barker.
Detail of the ceiling in the saloon at Ballyfin. Image from archive of Country Life 31/08/2011  [Not Used]. Photograph by Paul Barker.

Bence-Jones continues: The saloon is flanked by the rotunda, which is surrounded by Ionic columns and has a coffered dome, and the staircase hall, which has pairs of engaged and recessed columns round its upper storey; the balustrade of the stairs and gallery being of brass uprights.

The rotunda at Ballyfin, which is encircled by eight Siena scagliola columns. The coffered dome is ornamented with hexagonal panels containing decorative stars set in an emphatic geometrical lattice. Country Life 31/08/2011  vol. CCV. Photograph by Paul Barker.
Image from archive of Country Life 31/08/2011  [Not Used]. Photograph by Paul Barker.
The staircase hall at Ballyfin. Image from archive of Country Life 31/08/2011  [Not Used]. Photograph by Paul Barker.
The staircase hall at Ballyfin. Country Life 31/08/2011  vol. CCV. Photograph by Paul Barker.
photograph courtesy of Ballyfin website.
The doorway in the saloon at Ballyfin, looking through to the staircase hall. Image from archive of Country Life 31/08/2011  [Not Used]. Photograph by Paul Barker.

Bence-Jones continues: “There is a splendid vista through the centre of the house, from the staircase hall to the library, which lies at right angles to this central axis, beyond the rotunda; it is divided by screens of Ionic columns. The drawing room has characteristic Morrison ceiling and gilt Louis XV decoration on the walls dating from 1840s and by a London decorator. Classical entrance gates with piers similar to those at Kilruddery, Co Wicklow and Fota, Co Cork; and a folly castle in the park. Ballyfin was sold by the Coote family 1920s and is now a college run by the Patrician brothers.” 

The library at Ballyfin, with screens of Scagliola columns, photograph courtesy of Ballyfin website.
The library at Ballyfin. Image from archive of Country Life 31/08/2011  [Not Used]. Photograph by Paul Barker.
The Gold Drawing Room at Ballyfin, photograph courtesy of Ballyfin website.
The Gold Room in Ballyfin during restoration, photograph courtesy of Ballyfin website.
The “Whispering Room” at Ballyfin, photograph courtesy of Ballyfin website.
The dining room at Ballyfin, photograph courtesy of website.
The Lady Caroline Coote Room at Ballyfin, photograph courtesy of Ballyfin website. With its gracefully rococo stucco work ceiling, the Lady Caroline Coote Room (formerly Lady Coote’s boudoir) is among the most pleasingly elegant bedrooms at Ballyfin.
The decoration with a vivid, electric blue wallpaper transforms the room into a suggestive tent-like enclosure. It perfectly reflects the interest in textiles seen in interiors of the Empire period. The colour serves as an ideal foil for the early-Georgian portrait over the chimneypiece showing Henry Meredyth of Newtown, County Meath, by the Irish artist Charles Jervas.
The Westmeath bedroom, with a wonderfully carved French bed positioned prominently in the centre of room and richly patterned wallpaper. The portrait above the chimneypiece, from the studio of Sir Thomas Lawrence, depicts the dashing Marianne Jeffreys of Blarney Castle, County Cork, after whom the room is namedshe married the 7th Earl of Westmeath.

The Ballyfin website tells us:

At Ballyfin, stone walls enclose 614 acres of parkland, a lake and ancient woods, delightful garden buildings, follies and grottoes. The landscape, laid out in the mid-eighteenth century, is among the finest examples in Ireland of the natural style of gardening inspired by ‘Capability’ Brown.

There are many highlights that will keep garden lovers and outdoor enthusiasts exploring for days. These include the medieval-style tower, built as a folly in the 1860’s, the walled garden with its formal borders and kitchen gardens, the abundant wildlife to be seen on early morning walks and the restored Edwardian rock garden.”

Image from archive of Country Life 31/08/2011  [Not Used]. Photograph by Paul Barker.
Photograph courtesy of Ballyfin website.
The new cascade and classical temple at Ballyfin. Image from archive of Country Life 31/08/2011  [Not Used]. Photograph by Paul Barker.
Image from archive of Country Life 31/08/2011  vol. CCV. Photograph by Paul Barker.
The south front of Ballyfin, with the grand bow window for the library. Beyond is the lake made in the 1750s. Photograph courtesy of Ballyfin website.

3. Castle Durrow, Co Laois – a hotel 

https://www.castledurrow.com

Mark Bence-Jones writes of Castle Durrow (1988):

p. 66. “(Flower, Ashbrook, V/PB) An early C18 house of an attractive pinkish stone, with a high-pitched roof and tall stacks’ built 1716-18 by Col William Flower [b. 1685], MP, afterwards 1st Lord Castle Durrow, who employed a builder named Benjamin Crawley or Crowley. Of two storeys – originally with a dormered attic in the roof – and nine bays; the front being divided into three groups of three bays by giant Doric pilasters and entablature with urns; now erected on the front of a C19 enclosed porch. Alterntive triangular and segmental pediments over ground floor windows. Originally the house was flanked by single-storey outbuildings with mullion-and-transom windows; but these have since been replaced by other outbuildings; while the front has been extended by the addition of two projecting bays at one side. The interior was originally panelled, the hall and dining room in oak; but the panelling now survived only in two rooms. Subsequent generations of the family, who from 1751 held the title of Viscount Ashbrook [Henry Flower (1712-1752)], adorned the house with C18 plasterwork and C19 stained glass; as well as building the impressive castellated entrance gate in the square of the little town of Durrow. Castle Durrow was sold by 9th Viscount Ashbrook 1922 and is now a convent school.In recent years, the attic dormers have been removed.” 

The 4th Viscount, Henry Flower, married Deborah Susannah Freind. Their son the 5th Viscount, Henry, married Frances Robinson, daughter of John Robinson, who became 1st Baronet Robinson, of Rokeby Hall, Co. Louth, a section 482 property (see my entry). He was born John Freind, and changed his name to Robinson when he inherited Rokeby. The 6th and 7th Viscounts had no male heirs and the 8th Viscount, Colonel Robert Thomas Flower, was the son of the 5th Viscount. It was his son, the 9th Viscount, who sold Castle Durrow.

The website tells us:

Colonel William Flower commenced with the construction of the Manor in 1712. The Flower family assumed residence of Castle Durrow in 1716 and continued to expand and improve their estate on various occasions during their 214 year reign. Past research indicates that the Ashbrook family were generally regarded as benevolent landlords and of course the largest employer of Durrow Village.

In 1922 the banks finally foreclosed and the Flower family were forced to relocate to Britain. The castle was sold to Mr Maher of Freshford, County Kilkenny who was primarily interested in the rich timber reserves of the Estate and sold of most of the beautiful old oak trees to Britain, by 1928 the old hard wood forests of Durrow were scarce.

The Land Commission divided up the arable portions of the property and the Forestry department took over many of the woods for further plantation. During this time the great manor house remained entirely empty. The Bank of Ireland acquired the town and consequently for the next 40 years house property in Durrow was purchased from that bank.

In 1929 with the Bishop’s approval the Parish of Durrow acquired the Estate for the purchase price of £1800 and Castle Durrow was transformed into a school, St. Fintan’s College and Convent. The establishing of a school at Castle Durrow was testimony to the fact that beautiful buildings of the past could be used in the modern world. The Presentation order ran the castle as a closed convent before they opened up the castle as a primary and secondary school which stayed open until 1987.

In the 90’s, Peter and Shelly Stokes purchased Castle Durrow and began the castle’s renovations. The works took over 3 years to complete. The renovations were a bigger job than originally was thought; the roof had to be completely replaced, new wiring and plumbing was put in through the whole castle. When the roof was renewed the original black oak beams were exposed and they are now a feature in the oriental rooms. Irish oak floors with underfloor heating were put in. New wooden sash windows were made for the castle to replace the old rotten ones. The stained glass windows, fire places and magnificent plastered ceilings were all restored. Furniture for the entire house was handpicked from Irish and European auction houses and many family heirlooms and antiques can be found dotted around the grounds. The Stokes family manage the daily running of the castle and they are an intricate part of the charming homely feel.

4. Coolanowle Country House, Ballickmoyler, County Laois

http://www.coolanowle.com

The website tells us:

Coolanowle Country House is a multi award winning County House B&B offering an inviting and welcoming stay for all its guests. It also offers two tastefully restored  self catering holiday cottages as well as a cosy log house self catering chalet. In total it can accommodate up to 38 guests. 

Coolanowle is the perfect venue for small parties & events.  Set on 3 acres of natural woodland with historic flax ponds, it’s the perfect place to experience country living. Famous for organic traditional food and personal attention to detail, a stay here at Coolanowle will rejuvinate, regenerate and revive!  

5. Inch House, County Laois €

https://inchhouseireland.ie/

Inch House, Monaferrick, Stradbally, Co Laois, ©Michael Fitzpatrick _Inch House Ireland.

The National Inventory tells us that it was built around 1830.

6. Roundwood, Mountrath, Co Laois – guest house

https://roundwoodhouse.com 

and the forge and writer’s cottage at Roundwood

The website tells us: “Nestled in 18 acres of native woodland, just over an hour from Dublin, Roundwood House is a B&B and restaurant with six bedrooms in the Main House, four in the older restored Yellow House, two self-catering cottages, a wonderful library, a dog that gives walking tours, two little girls, some hens and ducks to greet you on arrival and a rooster named Brewster.”

The website tells us a little of the history of the house: “Built in 1731 for a prosperous Quaker family of cloth makers by the name of Sharp, it retains much of its charm and feel from its early days.

Most of its original features remain intact including chimney pieces of Black Kilkenny marble, carved timber architraves, sash windows and Rococo plasterwork.The 1970s were a particularly colourful time in Roundwood’s history. Then, under the ownership of the Irish Georgian Society, Roundwood became a party house for a young, upper-class, bohemian setSome individuals stand out during the 1970s in Roundwood, including Brian Molloy, who abandoned his law degree in favour of working on restoring houses with the Irish Georgian Society. Molloy brought the derelict Roundwood back to life and guests remember his hospitality, with candlelight, bouquets of wild flowers and “music floating out from somewhere”.

Hannah’s parents, Frank and Rosemary Kennan, bought Roundwood in 1983, after it had been rescued by the Irish Georgian Society from the fate of demolition. A decade of restoration by the Society followed, after which Hannah’s parents opened their home to guests and lovingly ran it for 25 years.

Just over a decade ago, Hannah & Paddy took the reins. Paddy Flynn, a musician from Canada, met Hannah in Galway where she was studying Classical Civilization. They decided that a life as live-in hosts in a Georgin Country House was an appealing prospect and so left their city life behind to do just that. They and their two girls, Amélie and Lucie, look forward to welcoming you into their beautiful home.

An added feature of Roundwood is a special library:

Frank’s Library is situated in the old Coach House on the grounds of Roundwood House. It is an English language library with approximately two thousand volumes.

The library is intended to facilitate a general understanding of the development of civilisation & to celebrate those individuals who successfully climbed onto the shoulders of millions to give us something new & beautiful; a poem, a philosophy, a scientific theory, a painting, a symphony, a new kind of politics or technology. The intention is to do this within the overall picture of our history from the beginning, with our darkest periods included.

Spread over two levels, with ample desks and armchairs in cosy corners, the library is couched in exposed brick, with beautiful brass lighting fixtures, a wrought-iron gallery and spiral staircase. Its book cases are packed wall to wall with everything from Fisk’s tome on the Middle East to an impressive fine art and limited edition facsimile copy of the Book of Kells.

The Library is open to guests staying in the house and the self-catering cottages. For anyone  not booked to stay, but interested in visiting the library , please contact us in advance.

Whole House Rental County Laois:

1. Ballintubbert House, County Laois – whole house and weddings

https://www.ballintubbert.com/exclusive-hire/manor-house/

Ballintubbert is a five-bay two-storey over basement rectory, c. 1835. It was previously owned by actor John Hurt, and poet Cecil Day-Lewis.

The Manor House has five double bedrooms and the Garden Wing has four additional double bedrooms. A beautiful country style kitchen, two stunning living rooms and a dining room that sits twenty. The house has six bathrooms.

2. Inch House, County Laois – see above

3. Preston House, Abbeyleix, County Laois – whole house accommodation

https://hiddenireland.com/house-pages/preston-house/

Hidden Ireland tells us:

We are delighted that you have found our beautifully restored 18th Century Georgian House, with a private courtyard and wooded garden, located on the Main Street of the picturesque Heritage Town of Abbeyleix.

Preston House is the perfect space to unite for family gatherings or private parties. Boasting the home from home comforts of a fully equipped country kitchen, a drawing room, a music parlour & two dining rooms, our six luxurious suites are individually decorated with a quirky mix of chic and antique furnishings, providing ample living space to comfortably accommodate 14 people.

Our country manor kitchen, with an Aga to boot, was originally designed to cater for up to 80 people but it’s perfect for large or small gatherings. The individual room mixes are the perfect setting for family dining, relaxing with friends or celebrations. The house as a whole can be transformed into an event or workshop space, a cultural gathering or wellness space.

With a beautiful courtyard for outdoor dining, historic curtledge and a wonderful tree lined garden Preston House is the perfect place for a family break, a celebration or a unique wedding setting.

The Lords Walk is just a short walk from Preston House, every day, there is an adventure waiting in Laois. With its mountains, canals, forest trails, rivers & lakes, Laois is truly an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, Preston House and Abbeyleix is the perfect starting point to explore!

Each of the suites in Preston House has its own unique & fascinating story to tell. The Pembroke Suite was named after Pembroke Terrace, a group of four impressively designed houses built as part of a dowry by the 11th Earl of Pembroke & Montgomery when his daughter Emma married Thomas De Vesci the 3rd. At the turn of the century a constabulary barracks, an inspector’s house and the post office occupied Pembroke Terrace. The Preston Suite was named after a previous incarnation of this fine premises which was a post-primary school. Mr A. E. M. Charleton of Galway Grammar School was appointed Head Master in 1895. Two months later the school opened to both boarders and day pupils. It served as an excellent educational establishment until it closed in September 1966. The Heritage Suite was named after our local tourism and community centre Heritage house: It was a Boys National School until 1995, it now serves as heritage centre with a museum, meeting rooms and playground. It’s open to the public for guided tours, cultural events and exhibitions. Exhibits include ancient artifacts and recent traditional craft from Laois as well as artifacts from the Titanic Carpet factory here in Abbeyleix.

The Sexton Suite was named after Sexton House. On the retirement of the last sexton (an officer of a church), the house became somewhat derelict but as it forms a significant part of the town’s heritage its restoration was widely welcomed and it is now a notable stop on the Heritage Trails around the town. The Bramley Suite is named after Bramley’s premises on lower Main St dates back to the early 19th century. The first business was a saddlery and post office. Early in the 20th Century, the first automobile garage in Abbeyleix was opened at the rear of Bramley’s premises. The property beside Bramley’s was formerly the site of the Abbeyleix Carpet Factory, which closed in 1914. The De Vesci Suite is named after Abbeyleix House, home of the De Vesci family for over 300 years. It is a magnificent building built beside the Nore and situated in the rolling pastureland of the estate. It is now in private ownership. The estate is rich in history with the ruins of the Cistercian Abbey and the tomb of Malachy, King of Laois on its grounds.

[1] https://www.irelandscontentpool.com/en

[2] 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.

Stradbally Hall, Stradbally, Co. Laois

contact: Thomas Cosby
Tel: 086-8519272
www.stradballyhall.ie
Open in 2022: May 1-31, June 1-9, Aug 13-21, Oct 1-14, 9am-1pm

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

Thomas Cosby kindly agreed to show us his home, Stradbally Hall, in June, despite ongoing Covid restrictions. This year (2021) Section 482 houses are not required to be open to the public due to the dangers of the Covid virus.

Many people have heard of Stradbally nowadays as it is the venue for Electric Picnic. Being the venue for a festival brings in much-needed finances for some of the big houses in Ireland. Stradbally is owned by the same family for whom it was built, and it is magnificent. I can only imagine how hard it is to maintain. Like many of the owners who inherit their big houses, Thomas farms his land.

Mark Bence-Jones tells us in his  A Guide to Irish Country Houses that a house was built at Stradbally in 1699 for Lt-Col Dudley Cosby (1662-1729). [1] This house, however, was demolished by the grandson of Lt-Col. Dudley, another Dudley (Alexander Sydney) Cosby, 1stand last Lord Sydney of Leix and Baron of Stradbally, in 1768, and a new house was built in 1772, on what was regarded to be a healthier site. It is a nine bay, two storey over basement house. The stone walls of the original house gardens are now the walled garden.

The 1740s painting of Stradbally with the previous (1699) house in the centre. This hangs in the Billiard Room where Thomas brought us first, and used the painting to illustrate the history of his family.
The Archers John Dyke Acland and Dudley Alexander Sydney Cosby Baron Sydney, by James Scott, after Sir Joshua Reynolds, mezzotint, late 19th century (1769). Photograph from the National Portrait Gallery, London.

The second (1772) house was enlarged in 1866-69, designed by Sir Charles Lanyon, of Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon, to form the house which we see today. Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon also designed Castle Leslie, which we visited – another Section 482 property which is now a hotel. [2]

The entrance gates to Stradbally Hall.

Lt-Col. Dudley Cosby was not the first Cosby to live in Ireland. The Cosby, or Cosbie, family, came to Ireland around 1538, during the reign of Queen Mary (i.e. “Bloody Mary,” the eldest daughter of King Henry VIII, called “Bloody” as she used bloody means to defend the Catholic faith). General Francis Cosby (1510-1580) was an active defender of the Pale in Ireland, the area around Dublin controlled by the British crown,  and in 1562 he was granted the site of the Abbey of Stradbally. [3] Francis Cosby married the daughter of the Lord Protector of England, Edward Seymour, the 1st Duke of Somerset. Lord Seymour was the brother of Jane Seymour, wife of Henry VIII. Due to the struggles for power within the court of Henry VIII, Lord Seymour was executed. Francis Cosby came to Ireland at this time. The Abbey, which had been disestablished in Henry VIII’s time (i.e. was taken from the Catholic church and no longer served as an Abbey) became Francis Cosby’s residence, and part of it still exist in the town of Stradbally in a building still called “the Abbey.”

General Francis Cosby died in battle, at the age of seventy, in the battle of Glenmalure in Wicklow, in 1580. He was succeeded by his son, Alexander. Alexander and his son, Francis, continued to fight, engaged in perpetual battle, Major E.A.S. Cosby tells us, with the O’Moores, who had originally controlled the land in the area. In 1596 Anthony O’Moore sent to demand a passage over Stradbally Bridge. Alexander understood this to be a challenge, so he refused passage, and prepared to fight once again, along with his son Francis. That day both Alexander and Francis Cosby were killed, leaving Francis’s nine week old son, William, to inherit. Parts of Stradbally Bridge still exist.

Along the drive to the house.

William died at a young age and so his uncle, Richard, inherited the Stradbally estate. Richard challenged the O’Moores to a further fight to avenge his father, and this time he won. Having won one battle each, the fighting seems to have subsided. Richard married Elizabeth Pigott, daughter of the neighbour Robert Pigott of Dysart.

It was Richard’s great-grandson, Lt-Col. Dudley Cosby (1662-1729) who built the house at Stradbally pictured in the 1740 painting. His grandson of the same name, Dudley Alexander Sydney Cosby (1732-1774), served as Ambassador to the Court of Denmark, and for his services, was created Lord Sydney of Leix and Baron of Stradbally, in 1768. When serving as Ambassador to Denmark he helped to arrange the marriage of King George III’s sister to the son of the King of Denmark. It was an unsuccessful marriage and she left her husband for the Prime Minister of Denmark! Despite the lack of success of the marriage he helped to arrange, Dudley Cosby was elevated to the peerage. He married Lady Isabella St Lawrence, daughter of Thomas St Lawrence, 1st Earl of Howth (who lived in Howth Castle – the castle only recently passed out of ownership of the St. Lawrence family). 

I was lucky to be able to see Howth Castle (pictured here) this year when I went to the preview for the sale of the books in its library.

The overseer  for the building of the new house built in 1772 for Dudley Cosby, Lord Sydney was Arthur Roberts (stated on a plaque which reads: “Built by Dudley, Lord Sydney, 1772, Arthur Roberts, overseer.”)  The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us that Dudley died before the house was finished, and his successor Admiral Phillips had to sell 5000 acres to finance the completion. [4]

Dudley Lord Sydney died soon after his marriage, and did not have any children. The estate passed to his nephew, son of his brother Alexander, Admiral Phillips Cosby. Phillips’s father, Alexander, was Lieutenant Governor of Annapolis Royal in the United States, and Alexander’s brother William was Governor of New York. William’s daughter Elizabeth Cosby married Lord Augustus Fitzroy and her son, Augustus Henry Fitzroy (the 3rd Duke of Grafton), became Prime Minister of England in 1767.

General William Cosby (c.1690-1736), Date 1710 by Charles Jervas, Irish, c.1675-1739, photograph courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland. William Cosby became Governor of New York.

Phillips was born in the United States and was active in the Navy, in which he continued to serve after inheriting Stradbally Hall. He served on the British side in the American War of Independence. He collected many paintings, as discussed in Stradbally’s webpage. 

View from the front of the house.

Admiral Phillips had no children, so the estate passed to Thomas Cosby (d. 1798), to his son Thomas (d. 1832), to his son Thomas Phillips, and on down to his nephew Colonel Robert Cosby (1837-1920), son of Sydney Cosby who had married the daughter and co-heir of Robert Ashworth of Shirley House, Twickenham (his brother Wellesley Pole Cosby had married the other daughter and co-heir). 

Emily Ashworth, Mrs. Sydney Cosby, by Camille Silvy, albumen print, 21 April 1861, photograph from the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Colonel Robert Cosby then employed Charles Lanyon (in 1866) to enlarge the house, remodelling it in an Italianate style. He inherited a fortune, and built houses in the nearby village of Stradbally, following in the footsteps of his forebears who had also sought to develop the village.

Stradbally passed to his son, also in the military, Captain Dudley Cosby (1862-1923), and to his son, Major Ashworth Cosby (1898-1984). Major Ashworth married Enid Elizabeth Hamilton from nearby Roundwood, County Laois. 

Roundwood House, County Laois, photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

It was Major Ashworth’s grandson, Thomas, who showed us around the house. Thomas’s young son joined us in the Billiard room to look at the old painting of Stradbally, and asked a few intelligent questions, so he is learning the history of his home also!

Mark Bence-Jones tells us that Lanyon added a new entrance front, which was advanced from the old front wall so that the house became three rooms deep instead of two. This front has an impressive single-storey balustraded Doric portico leading up a flight of stone steps to the front door. On either side of the portico are a group of three round-headed windows, and beyond those on either side, a two-bay block projecting forward. 

The upper storey windows are what Bence-Jones describes as “camber-headed” (he defines camber-headed windows as a window of which the head is in the form of a shallow convex curve). [5]

The house was given a high-pitched eaved roof on a bracket cornice. 

After our tour of the house, we walked around to the back of the house as I wanted to see what Bence-Jones had described: “On the garden front, Lanyon left the two three sided bows, but filled in the recessed centre with a giant pedimented three arch loggia.” It is impressive! According to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, this was originally the front of the house, but when the three arches were added, so was the Doric portico on what is now the entrance front, so this impressive two storey over basement treble arch was never intended, it seems, as an entry to a front door! [6]

The impressive garden front of the house with its “giant pedimented three arch loggia.”

The arches extend into shallow barrel-vaults with well-executed coffering. The door into the garden has an arched pediment over it on brackets. [7]

The side of the house has a bow in the centre, and rectangular windows with entablatures on console-brackets over them. 

The other end of the house is a slightly lower two storey over basement “bachelor’s wing” (this may have been used for visiting single gentlemen.)

The “bachelor’s wing” viewed from the garden front.

Pole Cosby (b. 1703), son of the first Lt-Col Dudley Cosby, wrote an autobiography. [8] His return from a Grand Tour of Europe is pictured in the 1740 painting in the Billiard Room. He says that his father married and set up house at Stradbally. He built the first big house on the estate, with some help from his wife’s dowry. He created gardens and kept racehorses, which, however, his father-in-law did not like and in fact paid him £100 not to keep them, which Lt-Col Dudley did not strictly observe! His wife, Sarah Pole, Pole Cosby’s mother, was from nearby Ballyfin, now a luxury hotel.

Ballyfin hotel, Photo by Tony Pleavin, 2018. [9]

Dudley Cosby overstretched his finances, however, and he had to go into the Army, purchasing a Captain’s Commission in a Regiment. He leased out Stradbally, and his wife returned to Ballyfin while he was fighting abroad. Her father died but she continued to live with her brother in Ballyfin in the winter and in his house in Queens Street, Dublin, in the summer, for five years. The children were sent to board with a family for schooling and to learn French. 

After five years, Dudley and his wife Sarah moved to London “for cheapness” and then to York. They returned to Stradbally in 1714 in better financial circumstances and he continued to do up the house and garden. Pole Cosby’s autobiography is very detailed and he writes of the places in which he lived and of his father’s battles in the military, then of his own schooling, listing all of his schoolmates. He also discusses family finances in detail. He writes that his father financed himself at first by marrying Miss Ann Owens daughter of Sir Andrew Owens of the City of Dublin and “with her he got £1500,” then in 1699 he married Sarah Pole and “got with her £2000.” He paid £300 for his Captain Commission and had to pay £100 to for his brother Alexander for not finishing his apprenticeship (this was the Alexander who moved to the U.S. along with his brother William). 

Pole Cosby went to university in Leyden in Holland, as did several of his Irish cousins. There he was studious and abstemious, he tells us. He travelled while in Europe and was introduced by Lord Townsend to King George I and his son Frederick Prince of Wales. He visited a monastery of Irish priests in Prague and argued with them about religion – they told him he was a heretic and would be damned, but when not talking of religion he says they got along very well!

Pole’s son was the second Dudley, who built the new (current) house, whose successor was Phillips Cosby his uncle. 

But let us go around to the front again. The sides of the Doric portico hold niches.

I love the little doors at either side of the Doric portico.

Two small doors either side of the portico, with segmental pediments surmounted by urns.

In the Doric portico is a round-headed door opening and timber panelled double door with overpanel.

The door leads into an entrance hall with a vaulted ceiling and a flight of steps up to the level of the principal storey. 

This figure is in the front hall, and looks like something from the prow of a ship. Perhaps she is from one of Admiral Phillips Cosby’s ships.

We went first to the billiard room on our right (the newer, Lanyon designed part of the house) to see the large painting of old Stradbally. From the billiard room you have a good view of the beautiful cut-stone farm buildings.

 The dining room. 

The three reception rooms on the garden front: the dining room, saloon  and drawing room remain much as they were before the Lanyon renovation, with late-Georgian plasterwork. 

I admired the beautiful lamp shade over the dining table, and the plasterwork ceiling, which the National Inventory describes as “Adamesque” (ie. like the work of William Adams and his sons, most famous of whom are Robert and James). Andrew Tierney in his Buildings of Ireland describes the frieze of swags “framing calyxes and paterae”, and a “guttae cornice.” Patera is a round or oval ornament in shallow relief, and calyxes are the whorls of a plant that encloses the petals and forms a protective layer around a bud. A guttae is one part of a post-and-lintel structure.

The ceiling centrepiece is of acanthus, anthemion and circles of laurel interweaving around a ribbon-and-reed moulding.

In the dining room are portraits of the Third Earl of Mornington, who was the elder brother of the Duke of Wellington (their grandfather, the 1st Baron of Mornington, was born Richard Colley, and he inherited from his cousin and took the name Wesley, which was later changed to Wellesley. His sister Anne Colley married William Pole, of the Poles of Ballyfin); Captain Thomas Cosby of the Royal Horse Guards; and of Emily and Marie Ashworth by Sir Thomas Laurence (Sydney Cosby, son of Thomas who inherited Stradbally from Phillips Cosby, married Emily Ashworth from Twickenham). Elsewhere in the house, are portraits of Dudley Cosby Lord Sydney; the Prime Minister Augustus Henry Fitzroy, 3rd Duke of Grafton; and George Earl of Halifax (William Cosby who was the Governor of New York married Grace Montagu, sister of the 1st Earl of Halifax).

The ceiling centrepiece is of acanthus, anthemion (i.e. honeysuckle flower) and circles of laurel interweaving around a ribbon-and-reed moulding. [10]

From the Dining Room we went into the Saloon. 

The stuccowork is carefully coloured with pale blue and salmon red, and there is paintwork on the ceiling:

The next room had a ceiling that took my breath away. It has a delicate band of acanthus fronds and an outer band of husks. Andrew Tierney describes also the gilded rinceau freize, in his Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster. This is a frieze of leafy scrolls branching alternately to left and right. The walls have a Victorian paper in a gilt diamond pattern.

The late eighteenth century doorways of the original 1770s house remain.

The ballroom, as Bence-Jones calls it, now the library, one of the additional rooms formed 1866-69, extends into the bow at the end of the house. It has a ceiling decorated with panels of early C19 pictorial paper in grissaille, i.e. painting using a palette of greys, or “gris” in French. There is a pink egg and dart and dentil cornice around the ceiling, and patterning similarly painted in the ceiling rose.

Above and below, grissaille painting on the library ceiling. The paintings are of French origin and depict the story of Cupid and Psyche. [11]
The library extends into the bow.

Back to the front of the house, is the study, on the other side of the front hall from the billiards room.

In his book The Lost Houses of Ireland, Randal MacDonnell identifies the portrait over the fireplace as that of Colonel Cosby.

Amazing as the house is so far, the best is yet to come: the front hall leads to the stairwell. The former entrance hall, which keeps its eighteenth century chimneypiece, was made by Lanyon into a central top-lit staircase hall. The staircase is of Victorian oak joinery and leads up to a long picture gallery. This occupies the centre of the house, and is sixty feet in length and twenty in breadth, and is surmounted by an elaborate coffered and ornamented barrel-vaulted ceiling with glass roof  of panels set in steel frame. 

The gallery is flanked by narrow passages from which open the bedrooms. At the western end is a small lobby separated from the main portion by two pink marble Corinthian pillars, above which is an architrave decorated with a bold design in stucco.

After seeing the house, we went outside to wander around the gardens. The garden front looks on to Italianate gardens, laid out in 1867 by Maurice Armour.

There are also lovely walks around, of which we didn’t properly avail – we must have been tired!

There’s a lake on the property, and tennis court. 

The stable complex matches the house, and was also designed by Lanyon, Lynn & Lanyon. 

Inside the stable courtyard is a pretty little building, a well house with blind recessed arches and raised ornamental panels:

View of the bachelor’s wing from the stable courtyard, and below, the farmyard bell.

[1] p. 265. 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://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/08/07/castle-leslie-glaslough-county-monaghan/

[3] see the Stradbally Hall website, and the history of the house, written by Major E.A.S. Cosby in 1951. https://www.stradballyhall.ie/history/

[4] https://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Stradbally%20Hall

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

[6] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/12900432/stradbally-hall-stradbally-demesne-stradbally-stradbally-co-laois

[7] p. 598. Tierney, Andrew. The Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster. Kildare, Laois and Offaly. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2019.

[8] Autobiography of Pole-Cosby of Stradbally, Queen’s County  (1703-1766) originally published in the Journal of the Co Kildare Archæological Society and Surrounding Districts, Vol V, 1906-1908. 
https://www.ornaverum.org/reference/pdf/183.pdf

[9] https://www.irelandscontentpool.com/en/media-assets/media/52026  

[10] p. 600. Tierney, Andrew. The Buildings of Ireland: Central Leinster. Kildare, Laois and Offaly. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2019.

[11] see https://theirishaesthete.com/2020/02/22/dancing-on-the-ceiling/

for more information about these pictures.