Harristown, Brannockstown, County Kildare

contact: Hubert Beaumont. Tel: 087-2588775

https://www.harristownhouse.ie

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

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

Last week I wrote about Charleville in County Wicklow, a house designed by Whitmore Davis. This week I am writing about another house by Davis, Harristown House. This house is magnificently situated at the top of a gently sloping hill, overlooking the River Liffey. I contacted the owner Hubert Beaumont, the husband of the listed contact, Noella, to arrange a visit on Thursday 22nd August 2019, during Heritage Week.

We drove up a very long avenue to the house, between fields, now farmed by the Beaumonts.

A British Parliamentary Paper, a Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the municipal corporations in Ireland, in 1833, tells us that in the 33rd year of Charles II’s reign [he was restored to the British throne in 1660 but some would claim that his reign began with the death of his father, Charles I, in 1649], the Borough of Harristown was incorporated by a Charter which created the Manor of Harristown, which could hold a Court and make judgements, by “Seneschals” (a governor or other administrative or judicial officer) appointed by Sir Maurice Eustace and his heirs. He could also hold a market and fairs, on particular days, and have a prison. The borough could return two Members of Parliament. The Commission continues to describe the borough in the present day of 1833: the borough was the property of the LaTouche family, and at the Union [1801], John LaTouche obtained compensation for loss of the elective franchise. [1]

The Eustace family acquired the land of Harristown in the sixteenth century. The Harristown house website agrees with Mark Bence-Jones that the current house at Harristown was built by Whitmore Davis [2]. However, a website about the La Touche family claims that the present Harristown House was built in 1662, for Maurice Eustace (circa 1590-1665), but does not mention an architect [3]. Maurice Eustace became Lord Chancellor of Ireland after the Restoration of Charles II to the throne, because he was loyal to the monarchy. Wikipedia refers to Maurice Eustace’s beloved “Harristown Castle,” “which he was rebuilding after the damage it had suffered during the Civil War, and which by the time of his death was considered to be one of the finest houses in Ireland.” [4] This seems to refer to a house Eustace built near the original castle. After much soul-searching, Maurice left Harristown as well as a large fortune to a nephew, Maurice. He had an illegitimate son with a woman of, apparently, “some social standing,” also named Maurice and he promised his inheritance both to this son and to his nephews, sons of his brother William and William’s wife Anne Netterville. He consulted a preacher as to whether his promise to his lover was binding, and the preacher cruelly advised that it was not. Sadly, Maurice also had a daughter by this liaison, Mary. Maurice also had a wife, Cicely (or Charity) Dixon, daughter of the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Robert Dixon, but with her had no children. He left not only his country estates but a townhouse, named “Damask,” on the street which is now named after him, Eustace Street. He eventually left his inheritance to his nephews, the eldest had died so it went to the younger, Maurice.

This nephew, Maurice, married Anne Colville, and then secondly, Clotilda Parsons. He had no male heirs and his fortune was divided on his death between his three daughters. The Harristown estate went to his daughter by his first wife, also named Anne. It’s sad to me that the house was inherited by a daughter, when the first Maurice Eustace’s illegitimate daughter, Mary, unlike her brother, was never even considered for inheritance. Anne married the Irish MP Benjamin Chetwood, and her son Eustace Chetwood inherited Harristown. He became MP for Harristown but mismanaged his estates [5] and it passed to James FitzGerald, the 1st Duke of Leinster. James FitzGerald’s son William, who had no need for Harristown since he had also inherited Castletown House in County Kildare, sold it to David La Touche (1703-1785) in 1768. [6]

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

I cannot find the original date of construction of the house – Mark Bence-Jones in his Guide to Irish Country Houses identifies it as late Georgian, which generally means 1830-1837, but the Georgian period began in 1714 so “late” could mean as early as around 1800, which is more likely, as Charleville was built in 1797. I suspect that this house was built earlier, perhaps around the time when Whitmore Davis worked for the Bank of Ireland, because the Bank of Ireland was set up in 1783, and The La Touche family were major contributors to the bank.

The La Touche family was a Huguenot family. Huguenots, who were French Protestants, fled from France due to the punishment and killing of Protestants after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes – the Edict of Nantes had promoted religious toleration. Earlier in the week, Stephen and I had a tour of another La Touche house, Marlay House in Marlay Park in Rathfarnham. Marlay House is now owned by Dun Laoghaire and Rathdown County Council and it has been restored and furnished and holds tours by arrangement. [7]

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

It was David Digues La Touche, born in the Loire Valley, who fled from France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. He fled to Holland, where his uncle obtained for him a commission in the army of William of Orange. He fought in the Battle of the Boyne in the regiment under General Caillemotte. [9] He left the army in Galway, where he was billeted on a weaver who sent him to Dublin to buy wool yarn (worsteds). He decided then to stay in Dublin, and with another Huguenot, he set up as a manufacturer of cambric and rich silk poplin. Where I live in Dublin is an area where many Huguenots lived and weaved – we are near “Weaver Square,” and our area is called “The Tenters” because cloth was hung out to dry and bleach in the sun and looked like tents, hung on “tenterhooks”!

The La Touches began banking when Huguenots left their money and valuables with David for safekeeping when they would travel out of the capital. He began to advance loans, and so the La Touche bank began. He had two sons, David La Touche (1703-1785) and James Digues (later corrupted to Digges) La Touche. This David La Touche purchased properties which passed to his sons: Marlay House to David (1729-1817), Harristown to John (1732-1805), and Bellevue, County Wicklow, to Peter (1733-1828). Bellevue has since been demolished, in the 1950s [10].

As I mentioned last week, the biography about Whitmore Davis in the Dictionary of Irish Architects is not flattering. Descriptions include: “By 1786 he had became architect to the Bank of Ireland at St Mary’s Abbey, where he was employed on minor works, but in 1788 he was reprimanded for lack of attention to his responsibilities ….Although he was employed as architect of the new Female Orphan House in 1792-93, his performance was not judged satisfactory; the Board’s minutes register ‘much disappointment’ at his not having completed the building within the time stipulated…. his architectural practice appears to have been going into decline and by February 1797 he had been declared bankrupt. [my italics]” However, things picked up for him eventually: “by 1803 he had succeeded Richard Harman  as Surveyor of the Revenue Buildings for the Port of Dublin, a post which he still held in 1811.” [11]

The La Touches purchased Harristown and its lands in 1768, and presumably the house that was built by Maurice Eustace still stood on the land. They were involved with the establishment of the Bank of Ireland at Mary’s Abbey in 1783 and David La Touche was a major investor. It could have been at this time, when Whitmore Davis was architect for the Bank of Ireland 1786-91, that the La Touches had him build the new house at Harristown. Peter La Touche hired Whitmore Davis in 1789 to build a church in Delgany, County Wicklow, and the Orphan House on North Circular Road, also by Whitmore Davis, was commissioned by John La Touche in 1792.

Like Charleville, Harristown is ashlar faced, and has nine bays with a central breakfront of three bays, but it was originally three storey over basement. After a fire in 1890 it was rebuilt to designs by James Franklin Fuller, and was reduced to the two storeys you can see in the photograph above. As it stands now, the windows in the breakfront are grouped together under a wide “relieving” arch, as Mark Bence-Jones describes (I’m not sure what this means – if you know, please enlighten me! – perhaps it means that it is “in relief” ie. raised from the background), with a coat of arms and swags. There is a single-storey portico of Ionic columns. (see [2])

crest with pomegranate on Harristown House.

The crest on the over the portico in Harristown features the same pomegranate symbol, for fertility, as features in the La Touche crest on Marlay House on an urn over the front door, as well as a star shaped symbol. The guide at Marlay House was unable to explain the star shaped symbol to us but thought it might be the shape of the pomegranate flower. This shape features on the front pillar gates of Harristown House also, as well as a Greek key pattern.

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

The rear of Harristown has a pair of curved bows:

Just a little diversion to tell you about Marlay House: David La Touche purchased the land of Marlay Park in Rathfarnham in 1764. Before La Touche, the land in Rathfarnham had belonged to St. Mary’s Abbey, until King Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. In 1690, Thomas Taylor, one time Mayor of Dublin, acquired the land and built a house, which he called “The Grange.” He farmed the land, and both his son and grandson held key political positions in Dublin in the 1740-60s. Part of this house still stands and is incorporated into the present Marlay House. David La Touche renamed the house “Marlay” in honour of his wife, Elizabeth Marlay, and her father, George Marlay, Bishop of Dromore. David La Touche enlarged the house. I don’t know what architect designed the enlargement of the original Taylor house for La Touche. If it was done in 1764 it can’t have been Whitmore Davis as he only joined the Dublin Society’s School of Drawing in Architecture in 1770. Marlay house does have bows, similar to Harristown. Turtle Bunbury claims that the enlargement was indeed by Whitmore Davis so perhaps it was done some years after purchase of the estate, which is perfectly possible as David and his wife and family would have spent much of their time in their townhouse closer to the city centre. His father had developed much of the area around St. Stephen’s Green, Aungier Street and the Liberties.

John La Touche enclosed the present Harristown desmesne and built a new road and bridge over the Liffey.

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

He represented the Borough of Harristown in Parliament. He died in 1805. Two of his sons also sat in Parliament. His son John inherited the estate. He was artistic and travelled in Italy, enriching his home with paintings and marbles. He died in 1822 and the estate passed to his brother, Robert La Touche, who was also an MP for Harristown. Robert had married Lady Emily Le Poer Trench, daughter of the Earl of Clancarty of Garbally in Ballinasloe, and they had four children. They also owned a house on Merrion Square in Dublin. A son, another John, succeeded his father in 1844, the year after he had married Maria Price. John had a twin, William, but William died in the same year as his father. John was called “the Master” as he was a keen huntsman, and was Master of the Kildare Hounds 1841-45. He had a serious fall off a horse, however, and stopped hunting, and the same year, his brother Robert died tragically in a stand at the Curragh races – I think the stand collapsed.

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

John lived at Harristown for  sixty-two years. His wife, Maria was artistic, with a particular interest in botany, drawing, languages and poetry. She was an avid letter-writer and wrote a number of tracts on religious and social themes. She also wrote two novels, “The Clintons” (1853), and “Lady Willoughby” (1855). According to the La Touche legacy website, she had a horror of blood sports – and no wonder, with her husband’s nasty fall – and complained often about the enthusiastic hunting pursued by neighboring gentry.

During the John initiated drastic measures in his household: “allowing no white bread or pastry to be made, and only the simplest dishes to appear on his table. The deer-park at Harristown ceased at this time to have any deer in it; all were made into food for the starving people.” He busied himself with his farm tenants, and supported Land Reform under Gladstone.

In 1857 John La Touche heard the preaching of C.H. Spurgeon, which led him to become a Baptist. In 1882, he built a Baptist Chapel and a fine Manse (minister’s house) at Brannockstown, and was a regular benefactor of Baptist work throughout Ireland. John had an interest in education, as did all the La Touches, and he knocked down the remains of Portlester Castle to build a school at Brannockstown, which opened in 1885. This school prospered for twenty years, but under his son, Percy, the pupils moved to the Carnalway National School. It re-opened in 1928 under Catholic management and it is still in use. For more on the La Touches and education and banking, see Turtle Bunbury’s chapter on the La Touches in his book The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Kildare.

Maria La Touche’s friend, Louisa, Lady Waterford (whom we came across in Curraghmore, the wife of the 3rd Marquess), introduced her to the famous art critic John Ruskin, and she asked him to tutor her children, especially her daughter Rose, in art.

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

The relationship between Rose and Ruskin is fascinating and sad. They grew to be very fond of each other, and he fell in love with her when she was still a young girl. Ruskin proposed marriage but due to the fact that his first marriage, to Effie Gray (featured in the film “Effie Gray” written by Emma Thompson), was annulled due to his impotence, Rose’s parents would not allow the marriage. [12] [13] According to a wikipedia article, Rose’s parents feared that if Rose did become pregnant by Ruskin, the marriage would be invalidated since the reason for his annulment would be disproved! Ruskin proposed again, when Rose came of age. She must have had some sort of illness or unusual anatomy because doctors had told her that she was “unfit for marriage.” She said would only agree to the marriage if it could remain unconsummated. Ruskin, however, refused this, “for fear of his reputation” (again, according to wikipedia).

The La Touche legacy website is less sensationalistic about Rose – it claims that she had ill health and this was one reason that her parents were worried about a potential marriage to Ruskin, and they also didn’t like his professed atheism. Given their firm religious faith this seems a most probable reason for their disapproval. Rose went to London in January 1875 for medical care and Ruskin attended her, but she soon died.

According to wikipedia, Rose was placed by her parents in a Dublin nursing home in her mid-20s, and :

Various authors describe the death as arising from either madness, anorexia, a broken heart, religious mania or hysteria, or a combination of these. Whatever the cause, her death was tragic and it is generally credited with causing the onset of bouts of insanity in Ruskin from around 1877. He convinced himself that the Renaissance painter Vittore Carpaccio had included portraits of Rose in his paintings of the life of Saint Ursula. He also took solace in Spiritualism, trying to contact Rose’s spirit.

In 1891 a fire gutted the three storey house. It was rebuilt to the designs of James Franklin Fuller. One storey was removed, which Mr. Beaumont pointed out to us when we were inside, makes the house brighter than it would have been with a further storey. The brightness is further aided with lantern skylights. Franklin Fuller also rebuilt the small Church of Ireland at the entrance to the estate, Carnalway church. It was done in a Hiberno Romanesque style similar to his masterpiece at Millicent. The church also has stained glass windows by Harry Clarke and Sir Ninian Comper.

When “The Master” died in 1904 in his 90th year, his son, Percy, succeeded to the estate. He moved in the highest levels of society and was a favourite of King Edward the Seventh. He married Lady Annette Scott, a sister of the Earl of Clonmel, but they had no children. After his death in 1921, his sister Emily’s son succeeded, but he sold it soon afterwards. [14] The estate passed through two other owners before being sold to Major Michael Whitley Beaumont, grandfather to the present owner, Hubert Beaumont, in 1964.

Hubert’s grandfather Michael set about renovating, and shipped furniture and interiors, even panelling and wallpaper, from the home he purchased from Lord Buckingham in England in 1929, Wootton (or Wotton) House. Wotton House was later to be owned by the actor John Guilgood, and Tony and Cherie Blaire, amongst others. Major Beaumont sold Wotton House in 1947.

Hubert Beaumont inherited the house from his grandfather Michael’s widow, Doreen (the Major’s second wife. It was his first wife, Faith Pease, daughter of the 1st Baron Gainford, who was Hubert’s grandmother). Hubert’s father, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, was a British politician in the Liberal Party, Liberal Democrats and Green Party, and also an Anglican clergyman. Major Michael’s father was also a politician in the Liberal Party, Hubert Beaumont (1864-1922). There’s a strong line of politicians in the family, and they go are related  to George Canning, who served as Prime Minister of the UK from April 1827 until he died in August later that year.

The house is spacious, bright, and beautifully decorated with the items that the Beaumonts brought from their former home in Buckinghamshire. Wootten’s interior was designed by Sir John Soane, and Doreen Beaumont brought some of the Soanian influence to her new home. [15] The colours she used are not traditionally associated with an Irish Georgian house. You can see pictures of the interior on the website.

The front hall is a large double room which opens into the three main reception rooms: the library, drawing room and dining room. The beautiful fireplaces were brought from Wootten. A sitting room leading from the drawing room features delicate sixteenth century Chinese wallpaper, depicting birds against a sky blue background. The mounted wallpaper was imported from England, so an artist was hired to continue the pattern (although it is not a “pattern” as such as the birds are all hand-painted and none are repeated) on the remaining wall. I was particularly delighted with the little mouse painted over the skirting board – the artist found the room so full of mice as the house was being renovated, he decided to commemorate one. The artist also commemorated Doreen’s beloved dogs, and painted a Chow Chow on the wall. A portrait in the room of Mr. Beaumont’s grandmother features her standing next to a chair occupied by her chow!

Upstairs the stairs lead on to a magnificent bright landing corridor lined with long wooden bookshelves, which were also brought from Wootton, along with much of the library from that house, which also feature in the library downstairs. One bedroom is paneled in Tudor oak, brought from a sixteenth century house in England and is older than the house! This interior could be from the Jacobean Dorton House in Buckinghamshire, another house which Major Michael Beaumont had owned. The room contains a four poster bed and heavy French Empire pelmets.

A feature normally lost in old houses which Harristown retains is the servants’ tunnel under the house that leads from the basement to the yard.

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

In the basement we saw some of the vaulted storage rooms and what would have been the kitchen. The Beaumonts have opened their house to film crews and a recent film set in the house is one I’d love to see, “Vita and Virginia” about Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. The tunnel was also used in one of our favourite TV series, “Foyle’s War”!

After our tour, Mr. Beaumont invited us to explore outside. We wandered over to the farmyard first, which has marvellous old barns, and a beautiful weather vane.

There is extra accommodation in a converted stableyard where Noella teaches English and French to live-in students. Some teenagers emerged when we were passing and we asked where we could find the walled garden. Noella followed them out, welcomed us, and pointed us in the right direction. We walked along a grassy path past a delightful henhouse – the hens also have their own portico!

We passed the tennis court, and an odd random gate featuring two cherubs.

The walled garden was beyond the tennis court.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] www.dlrevents.ie

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

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

[10] p. 129. Bunbury, Turtle and Art Kavanagh, The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Kildare. Published by Irish Family Names, 11 Emerald Cottages, Grand Canal St., Dublin 4 and Market Square, Bunclody, Co. Wexford, Ireland, 2004.

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

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

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

[14] p. 137, Bunbury, Turtle and Art Kavanagh, The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Kildare. Published by Irish Family Names, 11 Emerald Cottages, Grand Canal St., Dublin 4 and Market Square, Bunclody, Co. Wexford, Ireland, 2004.

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

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) my husband Stephen and I made our first official blog trip.  We started in the “ancient east,” going to Slane Castle in County Meath. 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.

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.

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 1703. The Conynghams of Slane Castle are descendants of the Conynghams of Mountcharles, County Donegal. The Conynghams lived in Donegal possibly as early as 1660, when Albert Conyngham purchased land there. [2] The first Conyngham to move to Ireland was Alexander (1610-1660), from Scotland, who joined the clergy and was appointed in 1611 to be the first Protestant minister of Enver and Killymard, County Donegal. [3] He was appointed to the Deanery of Raphoe in Donegal in 1630. His son Albert lived at Mountcharles. It was Albert’s son Henry (1664-1705), a military man who also served as MP for County Donegal, who moved to Slane Castle. 

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The view over the beautiful River Boyne.

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. [4]

The Conynghams 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 was taken from the Flemings in 1641, when William Fleming, the 14th Baron Slane, 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. [5] Many estates that had been confiscated by Cromwell’s parliament were restored when Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660.

The Flemings had their land confiscated again 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. In 1703, Henry Conyngham purchased the estate of Slane.

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Stephen in front of the Castle.

The Building of Slane Castle

In 1785 the castle was remodelled 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 (1733-1796). 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, nephew of William Burton Conyngham, Henry (1766-1832), who later became the 1st Marquess Conyngham. 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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The intertwined “C” is the symbol of the Conyngham family.

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 Conyngham (d. 1705) fought first in James II’s army, but then persuaded his regiment to transfer their loyalty to William III. Henry’s son Henry (1705-1781) inherited the Slane estate. Henry 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 [see 3]. 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.  

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 [6]. 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.’” [7]

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 [8].

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.

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The stables, designed by Capability Brown, now a whiskey distillery.

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.” [9]

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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! [10]

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

[2] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/40847025/the-hall-hall-demesne-mountcharles-co-donegal

[3] http://lordbelmontinnorthernireland.blogspot.com/2017/11/slane-castle.html

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

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

[6] 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.”

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

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

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

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

Irish Historic Homes