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

Ballymurrin, Kilbride, County Wicklow

contact: Philip Geoghegan.  086-1734560

www.ballymurrinquakerfarmstead.eu

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

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

Philip coming out to greet us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the wooden lintel over the door.

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

Information panel in the cottage, created by Philip Geoghegan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are more information boards which Philip has made.

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

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

Here is another part of the forge:

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

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

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

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

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

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

The living area of the original house.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Castle Leslie, Glaslough, County Monaghan

Contact: Samantha Leslie Tel: 047-88091

www.castleleslie.com

(Tourist Accommodation Facility)

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

Fee: Free

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

Slane Castle, County Meath

Contact: Alex Conyngham
Tel: 041-9884477

www.slanecastle.ie

Open dates in 2021 but check due to Covid restrictions: April 19-29, May 2-20, 23-27, 31, June 1-3, 7-10, Aug 14-22, Sept 29-30, Oct 1-2, 4-7, Sundays 12 noon-5pm, Monday – Saturday 11am-3pm 

Fee: adult €14, OAP/student €12.50, child €8.40 

Today (Saturday 27th April 2019) we made our first official blog trip, my husband Stephen and I.  We started in the “ancient east,” going to Slane Castle. The land around the Boyne River is beautiful, rolling and fertile. It took almost exactly one hour to drive from our home in Dublin, taking the M1 which I find easier than the M2 through the city’s north side, with which I’m less familiar. Our timing was perfect, we arrived at 2:10pm, in time for the 2:15 tour – there are tours every hour on the quarter hour. [1]

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The view of Slane Castle from just inside the gate, driving in.
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coming closer to the Castle.
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The view over the beautiful River Boyne.

The castle is three storeys over basement, in the Gothic Revival style. There is a bow on the back side of the castle, facing the river, and the basement serves as the ground floor on this side due to the steep slope down to the River Boyne. The bow forms a round tower, but you cannot see it as you approach the castle as the river is behind.

The Building of Slane Castle

Our tour guide was a young very pleasant man named Matthew, who seemed very knowledgeable about the castle and its history and the history of the Conyngham family, who have owned the castle since it was built in 1785 for the second Lord Conyngham, to the design of James Wyatt (1746 – 1813). Wyatt also designed another house on the section 482 list this year, Curraghmore in County Waterford, and a house not on the list, unfortunately, as I would love to see inside, Abbeyleix House (incidentally, my father grew up in Abbeyleix and we used to enjoy the gardens which used to be open and which were reknowned for the bluebells. Also, coincidentally, according to wikipedia, Wyatt spent six years in Italy, 1762–68, in company with Richard Bagot of Staffordshire, who was Secretary to the Earl of Northampton’s embassy to the Venetian Republic. My family is rumoured to be descended from the Staffordshire Bagots, although I have not found the connection!). Our guide told us that the castle was reconstructed and enlarged by William Burton Conyngham. It was built on the foundations of a medieval castle of the Fleming family, replacing an earlier house. William Burton Conyngham was a classicist and the front hall features Greek columns and key patterns on the walls and many marble Greek sculptures, including a sculpture of King George IV of England, donated by the king himself. William Burton Conyngham argued with his architects, Matthew told us, so ended up having three architects for his castle: James Gandon, James Wyatt and Francis Johnston. According to Mark Bence-Jones in A Guide to Irish Country Houses, Francis Johnston completed the house for the the second Lord Conygham’s son, although our guide told us the 2nd Lord Conyngham never married and the castle was inherited by his nephew. It was this nephew, who later became the 1st Marquess Conyngham, who completed the building. Other architects were consulted at various times, including James Gandon, who most famously designed the Custom House and the Four Courts in Dublin, and Emo Court in County Laois. Francis Johnston designed the General Post Office in Dublin, and Townley Hall, a grand house in County Louth. Another architect consulted was a favourite of King George IV, the English Thomas Hopper.

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Stephen in front of the Castle.
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The intertwined “C” is the symbol of the Conyngham family.

The Flemings of Slane

The Conynghams bought the land in Slane after it was confiscated from the Flemings. In 1175, Richard Le Fleming built a castle at the western end of Slane hill and, three generations later, Simon Fleming was created Baron of Slane. [2] The Flemings had their land confiscated as Christopher, 17th Baron Slane (1669-1726), backed James II in his battles against William of Orange. He served in the Irish Parliament of King James II in 1689, and as colonel in James’s army in Ireland 1689-91, fighting in both the Battle of the Boyne and in Aughrim, where he was taken prisoner by William’s forces. Released, he emigrated and fought in the French and Portuguese armies, as did many of James II’s followers who were attainted and lost their estates, as they needed to be able to earn a living. He was later reconciled with Queen Anne of England (daughter of James II) and returned to Ireland, to live in Anticur, County Antrim.

Before moving to Slane, the Conynghams came from Donegal, and before that, they came from Scotland. They did not acquire Slane directly after it was confiscated from the Flemings – Terry Trench of the Slane History and Archaeology Society writes that the estate changed hands, at least on paper, seven times between 1641 and 1703. The estate had been taken from the Flemings before Christopher’s time, in 1641, when William Fleming, the 14th Baron, joined the Catholic Irish forces in rebellion against the British. He remained loyal to the king, but objected to the laws that the British parliament passed to make the Irish parliament subservient to the British parliament. The estate was restored to William’s son Randall under the Act of Settlement and Distribution of Charles II’s reign, by decree dated 27th March 1663. [3] Many estates that had been confiscated by Cromwell’s parliament were restored when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660.

The Conynghams of Slane

The Conyngham motto, Over Fork Over, recounts the way Duncan hid from Macbeth (familiar to us from Shakespeare). Matthew told us that Duncan hid in straw in a barn, having it forked over him. After that, he managed to defeat Macbeth and to become king. So the Conynghams are descendants of a Scottish king!

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The Conyngham coat of arms, with its motto, Over Fork Over.

Alexander Conyngham moved from Scotland to Ireland when he was appointed in 1611 to be the first Protestant minister to Enver and Killymardin the diocese of Raphoe, County Donegal. He was appointed dean of Raphoe in 1631. He settled at Mount Charles, an estate he leased from John Murray, earl of Annandale, the owner of ‘a vast estate’ in Scotland. Conyngham subsequently acquired the Mount Charles property through his marriage to the earl’s grand-neice, Marian, daughter of John Murray of Broughton, in Scotland (see [3]). Alexander’s grandson Henry purchased the land in Slane in 1703. Brigadier Henry Conyngham’s father Albert had fought with William III’s troops in the Battle of the Boyne, against Fleming and James II’s troops. Albert married Mary, daughter of the Right Reverend Robert Leslie, Bishop of Raphoe – this Bishop is the ancestor of the Leslie family of Castle Leslie in County Monaghan, another property on the Section 482 list that I will be visiting. Albert was killed by Irish Royalist rebels, and succeeded by his only surviving son, Henry. Henry Conyngham built himself a residence, Conyngham Hall, on the foundations of an older castle formerly belonging to the Flemings.

Henry fought first in James II’s army, but then persuaded his regiment to transfer their loyalty to William III. Henry’s son William inherited the Slane estate. William became an Member of the Irish Parliament and was raised to the peerage in 1753 to the title of Baron Conyngham of Mount Charles, and later became Viscount and eventually, Earl. He died without a son so the Barony passed to his nephew, Francis Pierpoint Burton (his sister Mary had married Francis Burton). On inheriting the title and estate, Francis took the name Conyngham [4]. He married Elizabeth, the daughter of amateur architect Nathaniel Clements, whose work we will see later in other houses on the section 482 list of heritage properties. For himself, Nathaniel Clements built what is now the Áras an Uachtaráin, the residence of our President, Michael D. Higgins, in Phoenix Park in Dublin.  It was Francis Conyngham who continued the building of Slane Castle which his uncle William had begun.

The castle and estate passed to Francis’s son Henry. Henry served as politician and moved quickly up the ranks of the peerage and was Lord Steward of the Royal household  between 1821-30.

In 1821 King George IV spent time in the Castle with his lover, the wife of Conyngham, Elizabeth Denison. In return the king made Conyngham a Marquess [5]. One of the rooms of the castle, the Smoking Room, has two cartoons from the period mocking the King and his consort Elizabeth, drawing them as overweight. In one, she aids her son when he has to move from the Castle of Windsor where he was Royal Chamberlain. It was he who announced to Victoria that she was Queen, upon death of the previous monarch. He was let go from his position when he tried to move his lover into his rooms in Windsor. His mother came to fetch him, with several wheelbarrows, the story goes, and she took all the furniture from his rooms. Somehow she brought a grand piano back from Windsor to Slane Castle where it sat in a specially made arbor for music in the Smoking room, until it was destroyed by a fire in Slane Castle in the 1990’s. One of the Punch style cartoons is of Elizabeth with a wheelbarrow fetching her son from Windsor. I can’t quite remember the other – it had King George IV and herself in a carriage. The Irish were very annoyed that when he came to Ireland he spent his entire time at Slane Castle!

The Irish Aesthete writes of the visit:

“Neither the king nor his inamorata were in the first flush of youth, and both were equally corpulent. These circumstances however did nothing to dampen their ardour. As was written of them at the time, ‘Tis pleasant at seasons to see how they sit/ First cracking their nuts, and then cracking their wit/ Then quaffing their claret – then mingling their lips/ Or tickling the fat about each other’s hips.’ And according to one contemporary observer, Lady Conyngham ‘lived exclusively with him during the whole time he was in Ireland at the Phoenix Park. When he went to Slane, she received him dressed out as for a drawing-room; he saluted her, and they then retired alone to her apartments.’” [6]

Our tour started with a video of Charles Conyngham, now known as Lord Mount Charles, telling of his childhood in the Castle, growing up in a very old-world upper class manner.  He did not join his parents at the dining table until he was twelve years old, dining until then in the Nursery. His nurse, Margaret Browne, came to the Castle at 16 years old, and he held her in such regard that he named his bar after her. We had lunch in the bar after the tour. The food was delicious! Stephen had bread with buttery mushrooms and creme fraiche, and I had Thia carrot lentil soup. With good strong Americanos our meal came to €24 with tip, the same price for entry for two adults to the Castle Tour.

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The menu in Browne’s Bar, which gives an explanation of the name, telling of the housekeeper.
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The music theme of Browne’s Bar is reflected in the gramophone horn lampshade.
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Me in Browne’s Bar.
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Entrance to the bar and Gandon Restaurant.
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Outer entrance to the bar and Gandon Restaurant.

But, back to our tour! Lord Mount Charles described how he started out, when he had to take over the Castle, with a restaurant, which is now the Gandon Restaurant. To further fund the Castle maintenance, Lord Mount Charles started concerts at the venue, beginning with Thin Lizzy in 1981. To seal the deal, the next show was the Rolling Stones! With such august imprimateur, the Castle’s concerts became world-famous and featured many top performers including David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Queen.

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Album covers of musical performers at the Castle, in the bar: Van Morrison, Santana, Bruce Springstein, Neil Young, the Rolling Stones, Chris Rea, Bob Dylan, U2 and Bon Jovi.
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Lovely picture of Phil Lynnott of Thin Lizzy carrying a child at Slane.
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Memorabilia from music events: I think the guitar was signed by Phil Lynott (it was signed, anyway).
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However, there was a disasterous fire in the castle and roof and one third of the castle was destroyed.The magnificent library with its intricate ceiling and impressive wooden chandelier was saved by two firemen fighting the fire from within the room, battling for nine hours. The smoke was so thick that one couldn’t see the ceiling. I think they deserve a plaque in the room to recognise their effort! Meanwhile the family saved as many priceless historic paintings and antiques as they could, including a huge portrait of King George IV that is now hanging again in the library, by cutting it from its giant gilt frame then taking the frame apart into four pieces in order to get it out through the doors. Lord Mount Charles now suffers with his lungs, probably partially as a result of long exposure to the flames and smoke. It took ten years to reconstruct the castle, but it has been done excellently so traces of the fire barely remain.

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newspaper clippings about the fire, in the entry to pub and restaurant
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a bit of history, on the walls going to the dining area
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We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, as usual with these properties. There is a picture of the ornate roof in the library on the wonderful blog of the Irish Aesthete [7].

Mark Bence-Jones describes the room in his 1988 book (published before the fire, but this room remained intact!), A Guide to Irish Country Houses:

“…the great circular ballroom or library which rises through two storeys of the round tower and is undoubtedly the finest Gothic Revival room in Ireland; with a ceiling of Gothic plasterwork so delicate and elaborate that it looks like filigree. Yet this, too, is basically a Classical room; the Gothic ceiling is, in fact, a dome; the deep apses on either side of the fireplace are such as one finds in many of Wyatt’s Classical interiors, except that the arches leading into them are pointed; they are decorated with plasterwork that can be recognised as a very slightly Gothicized version of the familiar Adam and Wyatt fan pattern.”

Of the tales on the tour, I especially enjoyed the story of the funeral of a soldier’s leg. Apparently it was quite the custom to have funerals for body parts – his leg had to be amputated on the field of battle and the soldier brought it back to be buried with a full-scale military funeral. It must have been to do with the fact that a person’s body is to be resurrected on the Last Day, so it’s good to know where all the parts are! Cremation used to be forbidden in the Catholic church, as somehow it would be too difficult for God to put the ashes back together – never mind a disintegrated body!

There is an adjoining distillery in what used to be the stables, and a tour of that can be purchased in combination if desired. Lord Charles’s mother bred horses before the stables were converted. The stables were designed by Capability Brown.

According to the Irish Aesthete:

“Henry Conyngham, grandson of General Henry Conyngham who purchased the property, around 1770 invited Capability Brown around 1770 to produce a design both for the landscaping of the parkland at Slane, and also for a new stable block. In the collection of the Irish Architectural Archive in Dublin a drawing survives of Brown’s proposal for the latter. It is not unlike the finished building, but more elaborate than what we see today.” [8]

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the stables, designed by Capability Brown, now a whiskey distillery
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I noticed this on the wall on the lower level outside the Castle – I don’t know its origin or age

I found a blog by the Irish Aesthete on a portrait now in Slane, of Lady Elizabeth wife of the first Marqess’s daughter, Lady Maria Conyngham. Reportedly Lady Elizabeth looked very like her daughter – which one would not guess from the unflattering cartoons of her! [9]

[1] https://www.slanecastle.ie/tours/castle-tours/

[2] https://www.culturenorthernireland.org/article/1323/the-flemings-barons-of-slane

[3] http://slanehistoryandarchaeologysociety.com/index.php/famous-people/13-the-flemings-and-the-conynghams

[4] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/search/label/County%20Meath%20Landowners?updated-max=2018-06-15T13:05:00%2B01:00&max-results=20&start=7&by-date=false

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Conyngham,_Marchioness_Conyngham

“She probably became his [George IV’s] lover in 1819, when he was Prince Regent, but finally supplanted her predecessor, Isabella Seymour-Conway, Marchioness of Hertford, after he became king in 1820. He became besotted with her, constantly “kissing her hand with a look of most devoted submission.” While his wife Caroline of Brunswick was on trial in 1820 as part of efforts to divorce her, the king could not be seen with Lady Conyngham and was consequently “bored and lonely.” During his coronation, George was constantly seen “nodding and winking” at her.
“Lady Conyngham’s liaison with the king benefited her family. Her husband was raised to the rank of a marquess in the Peerage of the United Kingdom and sworn to the Privy Council, in the coronation honours of 1821. He was also given several other offices, including Lord Steward of the Household and the lieutenancy of Windsor Castle. Her second son was made Master of the Robes and First Groom of the Chamber.”

[6] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/10/12/when-royalty-comes-to-call/

[7] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/10/24/vaulting-ambition/

[8] https://theirishaesthete.com/2014/10/27/after-the-horses-have-bolted/

[9] https://theirishaesthete.com/2015/03/21/ireland-crossroads-of-art-and-design-vi/

Irish Historic Homes

Huntington Castle, County Carlow

In the past, in August 2016, I visited Huntington Castle in Clonegal, County Carlow.

Contact person: Alexander Durdin Robertson, tel 053-9377160

Open dates in 2021 but check due to Covid restrictions: 

Feb 6-7, 13-14, 20-21, 27-28, Mar 6-7, 13-14, 20-21, 27-28, Apr 3-4, 10-11, 17-18, 24-25, May 1-31, June 1-30, July 1-31, Aug 1-31, Sept 1-30, Oct 2-3, 9-10, 16- 17, 23-24, Nov 6-7, 13-14, 20-21, 27-28, Dec 4-5, 11-12, 18-19, 11am-5pm


Fee: house/garden, adult/student €9, garden only €6, OAP house/garden €8, garden only €5, child house /garden €6, garden only €3, group and family discounts available 

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It’s magical! And note that you can stay at this castle – see their website! [1]

Huntington Castle stands in the valley of the River Derry, a tributary of the River Slaney, on the borders of Counties Carlow and Wexford, near the village of Clonegal. Built in 1625, it is the ancient seat of the Esmonde family, and is presently lived in by the Durdin-Robertsons. It passed into the Durdin family from the Esmonde family by marriage in the nineteenth century, so actually still belongs to the original family. It was built as a garrison on the strategically important Dublin-Wexford route, on the site of a 14th century stronghold and abbey, to protect a pass in the Blackstairs Mountains. After fifty years, the soldiers moved out and the family began to convert it into a family home. [2]

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A History of the house and its residents

The castle website tells us that the Esmondes (note that I have found the name spelled as both ‘Esmond’ and ‘Edmonde’) moved to Ireland in 1192 and were involved in building other castles such as Duncannon Fort in Waterford and Johnstown Castle in Wexford. Laurence Esmonde was a convert to Anglicanism and served in the armies of British Queen Elizabeth I and then James I . He fought in the Dutch Wars against Spain, and later, in 1599, he commanded 150 foot soldiers in the Nine Years War, the battle led by an Irish alliance led mainly by Hugh O’Neill and Tyrconnell (Hugh Roe O’Donnell) against the British rule in Ireland. In reward for his services,  he was raised to the peerage in 1622 as Baron of Limerick (I was confused about this, but there is a Limerick, or Limbrick, in County Wexford, according to wikipedia, and it is now called Killinierin), and it seems that a few years after receiving this honour he built the core of the present Huntington Castle: a three-storey fortified tower house, which forms the front facing down the avenue, according to Mark Bence-Jones in A Guide to Irish Country Houses. [3]

 

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Huntington Castle, Clonegal, County Carlow, the view when one enters the courtyard from the avenue. There is an irregular two storey range with castellated battlements and a curved bow and battlemented gable, and the earlier building, the fortress, rises above them.
photograph by Kevin Loftus, 2017, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool [4].

This original tower-house is made of rough-hewn granite. The first alterations and additions to that core were made around 1680 by the grandson of Laurence, also a Sir Laurence Esmonde. In her discussion of marriage in Making Ireland English, Jane Ohlmeyer writes that for the Irish, legitimacy of children didn’t determine inheritance, and so attitudes toward marriage, including cohabitation and desertion, were very different than in England. She writes that the first Baron Esmonde behaved in a way reminiscent of medieval Gaelic practices when he repudiated his first wife and remarried without a formal divorce. Laurence met Ailish, the sister of Morrough O’Flaherty (note that Turtle Bunbury tells us that she was a granddaughter of the pirate queen Grace O’Malley!) on one of his expeditions to Ulster, and married her. However, after the birth of their son, Thomas, she returned to her family, fearing that her son would be raised as a Protestant. Esmonde went on to marry Elizabeth Butler, a granddaughter of the ninth earl of Ormond (daughter of Walter Butler, and she was already twice widowed). He had no children by his second marriage and despite acknowledging Thomas to be his son, he did not admit that his first marriage was lawful and consequently had no official heir and his title Baron of Limerick became extinct after his death. Although his son did not inherit his title, he did inherit his property. [5] Baron Esmonde governed the fort of Duncannon from 1606-1646 when he died after a siege of the fort by General Preston of the Confederates, who considered Esmonde a defender of the Parliamentarians (i.e. Oliver Cromwell’s men, the “roundheads”). [6]

Thomas Esmonde did not inherit his father’s title but was himself awarded a Baronetcy, and became Baronet Esmonde in 1629. It was the 2nd Baronet, Laurence, who made the first additions to Huntington Castle around 1680, and who named it “Huntington” after the Esmonde’s “ancestral pile” in England [7]. A wing was constructed by the latter’s grandson (yet another Sir Laurence, 4th Baronet) around forty years later in 1720. The castle, as you can see, is very higgeldy piggedly, reflecting the history of its additions.

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the bow was probably added by the descendent Manning Durdin-Robertson.

Brendan O’Neill tells us in his book Irish Castles and Historic Houses that the property was inherited by Alexander Durdin in 1849, whose grand-uncle had married the two daughters and co-heirs of Sir John Esmonde, third Baronet, as his two successive wives. This is how the house passed from Esmondes to Durdins.

According to the Irish Historic Houses website, the Durdin family were long established in County Cork, where they had acquired the estates of William Penn (founder of Pennsylvania) [2]. In 1880, Helen, the Durdin heiress who inherited the castle, married Herbert Robertson, Baron Strathloch (a Scots feudal barony) and MP for a London borough. Together they made a number of late Victorian additions at the rear of the castle while their professional architect son, Manning Durdin-Robertson, an early devotee of concrete, carried out yet further alterations in the 1920s.

Manning Durdin-Robertson married Nora Kathleen Parsons, from Birr Castle. She wrote The Crowned Harp. Memories of the Last Years of the Crown in Ireland, an important memorial of the last years of English rule in Ireland [8]. I ordered a copy of the book from my local library! It’s a lovely book and an enjoyable rather “chatty” read. She writes a bit about her heritage, which you can see in my entry on another section 482 castle, Birr Castle. She tells us about life at the time, which seems to have been very sociable! She writes a great description of social rank:

The hierarchy of Irish social order was not defined, it did not need to be, it was deeply implicit. In England the nobility were fewer and markedly more important than over here and they were seated in the mansions considered appropriate….
The top social rows were then too well-known and accepted to be written down but, because a new generation may be interested and amused, I will have a shot at defining an order so unreal and preposterous as to be like theatricals in fancy dress. Although breeding was essential it still had to be buttressed by money.

Row A: peers who were Lord or Deputy Lieutenants, High Sheriffs and Knights of St. Patrick. If married adequately their entrenchment was secure and their sons joined the Guards, the 10th Hussars or the R.N. [Royal Navy, I assume]
Row B: Other peers with smaller seats, ditto baronets, solvent country gentry and young sons of Row A, (sons Green Jackets, Highland regiments, certain cavalry, gunners and R.N.).
Row A used them for marrying their younger children.
Row C: Less solvent country gentry, who could only allow their sons about £100 a year. These joined the Irish Regiments which were cheap; or transferred to the Indian army. They were recognised and respected by A and B and belonged to the Kildare Street Club.
Row D: Loyal professional people, gentlemen professional farmers, trade, large retail or small wholesale, they could often afford more expensive Regiments than Row C managed. Such rarely cohabited with Rows A and B but formed useful cannon fodder at Protestant Bazaars and could, if they were really liked, achieve Kildare Street.

Absurd and irritating as it may seem today, this social hierarchy dominated our acceptances.

I had the benefit of always meeting a social cross section by playing a good deal of match tennis…. The top Rows rarely joined clubs and their play suffered….There were perhaps a dozen (also very loyal) Roman Catholic families who qualified for the first two Rows; many more, equally loyal but less distinguished, moved freely with the last two.

Amongst these “Row A” Roman Catholics were the Kenmares, living in a long gracious house at Killarney. Like Bantry House, in an equally lovely situation.

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We were not allowed to take photos inside, except for in the basement, but you can see some pictures on the official website [1] and also on the wonderful blog of the Irish Aesthete [9].

There were wonderful old treasures in the house including armour chest protections in the hallway along the stairs, which was one of the first things to catch my attention as we entered. We went up a narrow stairway linked as Bence-Jones describes “with wainscot or half-timbered studding.”

There are some noteable structures inside the building, as Robert O’Byrne notes. “The drawing room has 18th century classical plaster panelled walls beneath a 19th century Perpendicular-Gothic ceiling. Some passages on the ground floor retain their original oak panelling, a number of bedrooms above being panelled in painted pine. The dining room has an immense granite chimneypiece bearing the date 1625, while those in other rooms are clearly from a century later.” [9]

Another drawing room is hung with tapestry, which would have kept the residents a bit warmer in winter. There are beautiful stuccoed ceilings, which you can see on the website.

O’Neill adds that Huntington was one of the first country houses in Ireland to have electricity, and in order to satisfy local interest a light was kept burning on the front lawn so that the curious could come up and inspect it.

I loved the light and plant filled conservatory area, with a childlike drawing on one wall. The glass ceiling is draped in grape vines.

We were allowed to take photos in the basement, which used to house dungeons, and now holds the “Temple of Isis.” It also contains a well, which was the reason the castle was situated on this spot. In the 1970s two of the four children of Manning Durdin-Robertson, the writer and mystic Olivia Durdin-Robertson, who was a friend of W.B. Yeats and A.E. Moore, and her brother Laurence (nicknamed Derry), and his wife Bobby, converted the undercroft into a temple to the Egyptian Goddess Isis, founding a new religion. In 1976 the temple became the foundation centre for the Fellowship of Isis [10]. I love the notion of a religion that celebrates the earthy aspects of womanhood, and I purchased a copy of Olivia Durdin-Robertson’s book in the coffee shop. The religion takes symbols from Egyptian religion, as you can see in my photos of this marvellous space:

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our tour guide
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there is a well here.

Turtle Bunbury has a video of the Fellowship of Isis on his website [7]! You can get a flavour of what their rituals were like initially. Perhaps they are similar today. The religion celebrates the Divine Feminine.

After a tour of the castle, we then went to the back garden. According to its website,

The Gardens were mainly laid out in the 1680’s by the Esmondes. They feature impressive formal plantings and layouts including the Italian style ‘Parterre’ or formal gardens, as well the French lime Avenue (planted in 1680). The world famous yew walk is a significant feature which is thought to date to over 500 years old and should not be missed.

Later plantings resulted in Huntington gaining a number of Champion trees including more than ten National Champions. The gardens also feature early water features such as stew ponds and an ornamental lake as well as plenty to see in the greenhouse and lots of unusual and exotic plants and shrubs.

photograph by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool
photograph by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool
photograph by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool
photograph by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool

The Irish Aesthete also discusses this garden in another blog entry [11]. He tells us that the yew walk, which stretches 130 yards, dates from the time of the Franciscan friary in the Middle Ages! The “stew ponds” would have held fish that could be caught for dinner.

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500 year old yew walk
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photograph by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool

After the garden, we needed a rest in the Cafe.

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I loved the arrangement of plates on the walls of the cafe!

I was also thrilled by the hens who roamed the yard and even tried to enter the cafe:

There is space next to the cafe that can be rented out for events:

A few plants were for sale in the yard. A shop off the cafe sells local made craft, pottery, and books. The stables and farmyard buildings are kept in good condition and buzzed with with the business of upkeep of the house and gardens.

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what is this tall flower?

[1] https://www.huntingtoncastle.com/

[2] The website http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Huntington%20Castle says it was built on the site of a 14th century stronghold and abbey, whereas the Irish Aesthete says it was built on the site of a 13th century Franciscan monastery.

[3]  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.

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

[5] p. 171, Ohlmeyer, Jane. Making Ireland English. The Irish Aristocracy in the Seventeenth Century. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2012. See also pages 43, 273, 444 and 451.

[6] Dunlop, Robert. ‘Edmonde, Laurence.’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online edition volume 18, accessed February 2020. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Esmonde,_Laurence_(DNB00)

[7] http://www.turtlebunbury.com/history/history_houses/hist_hse_huntington.html

[8] Robertson, Nora. The Crowned Harp. Memories of the Last Years of the Crown in Ireland. published by Allen Figgis & Co. Ltd., Dublin, 1960.

[9] https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/01/23/huntington/

[10] http://www.fellowshipofisis.com/

[11] https://theirishaesthete.com/2016/11/14/light-and-shade/

Irish Historic Homes