Strokestown Park House, Strokestown, Co. Roscommon

contact: Ciarán

Tel: 01-8748030

Open dates listed for 2023: all year:

Jan-Feb, Nov-Dec, 10.30am-4pm,

Mar-May, Sept-Oct, 10am-5pm,

June-July, 10am-6pm

Fee: adult house €12, tour of house €16, child €6, tour of house €9, OAP/student €10,
tour of house €12.50, family €27, tour of house €35

Image by Chris Hill, 2014, Tourism Ireland, from Ireland’s Content Pool. [1]
Strokestown Park, County Roscommon, August 2022.

The Archiseek website describes Strokestown Park house as “a substantial house in the Palladian manner of a central block flanked by wings and curved sweeps. The centre block was completed in 1696 but extended around 1730 by Richard Cassels who added the substantial wings. The house was further altered in 1819 by J. Lynn.” [2]

We visited Strokestown Park in County Roscommon during Heritage Week 2022. It houses the excellent National Famine Museum and Archive, which is really worth visiting. It sounds grim, but it is a great exhibition and it tells us so much about people’s lives that it is not a grim museum at all. It also tells us about the Pakenham-Mahons, the family who lived in the impressive Strokestown Park. Strokestown Park was the home of the first landlord to be assassinated during the height of the Great Famine of Ireland the 1840s, and it is therefore ideal for the location of the Famine Museum.

In 1979 Nicholas Hales Pakenham Mahon sold the estate to Westward Garage, founded by Jim Callery. The new owners allowed the last of the Mahon family, Olive and her husband Wilfrid Stuart Hales Pakenham Mahon, to remain living in the house until she moved to a nursing home.

Despite no longer being in the hands of the original owners, the house contains the original furnishings and fittings. The house is unchanged from the time when the Mahons lived there.

The Museum was created when Jim Callery, founder of the Westward Garage which purchased the property, found documents relating to the famine in the family archives. Jim Callery and the Westward Garage carried out a major restoration programme and opened the property to the public. Since 2015, Strokestown Park is cared for by the Irish Heritage Trust, an independent charity. Produce from the original working gardens are grown by volunteers and used in the Strokestown Park Café.   

The website tells us that the house is built on the site of the 16th-century castle, home of the O Conor-Roe Gaelic Chieftains. Before being called “Strokestown House” the property was called “Bawn,” in reference to the bawn of the O Conor-Roe castle.

Nicholas Mahon, a captain in King Charles I’s army, was granted Strokestown as a royal deer park in 1653. Later, after pledging allegiance to King Charles II, he received more land. He was High Sheriff of County Roscommon, 1664-76. [3] He received over 3000 acres in 1678. He started to build a house, which was completed after his death in 1680, in 1696. Terence Reeves-Smyth tells us in his book Irish Big Houses that there is a stone by the door which has 1696 carved into it – the stone is now inside the house.

Strokestown Park featured as Building of the Month in December 2015 on the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, and it tells us about the 1696 house:

Evidence of this house survives to the present day at basement level where a panelled still room, previously one of the principal reception rooms, retains a rosette-detailed Jacobean chimneypiece, an egg-and-dart-detailed plasterwork overmantle decorated with fruits and shells, and a compartmentalised ceiling with dentilated moulded plasterwork cornices. Some earlier remains of the castle are also found in the basement where sections of the walls measure almost three metres deep. Memories of the medieval past were carried through into the nineteenth century when the house was still officially called, and was referred to by Isaac Weld (1832) and Samuel Lewis (1837) as “Bawn”.” [4] [5]

Stephen and I were able to see part of the interior of the house, despite the house being closed for restoration work at the time, by joining a Heritage Week talk about a photographic dark room which had been created in the house by one of its residents. Unfortunately we did not get to see the basement or the galleried kitchen.

Captain Nicholas married Magdalena French, daughter of Arthur French of Movilla Castle, County Galway. [6] They had several children. Their son Reverend Peter (d. 1739) became Dean of Elphin and married Catherine, daughter of Paul Gore of Castle Gore, County Mayo (otherwise known as Deel Castle, now a ruin), who was son of Arthur, 1st Baronet Gore, of Newtown Gore, otherwise known as Parkes Castle in Leitrim (see my Office of Public Works in Connaught, Counties Leitrim, Mayo and Roscommon entry).

Another son, Nicholas (c. 1671-1781) married Eleanor Blayney, daughter of Henry Vincent, 5th Baron Blayney of Castle Blayney, County Monaghan.

A daughter, Margaret, married Edward Cooper of Markree Castle, County Sligo (another Section 482 property which we visited).

Strokestown passed via another son, John (d. 1708), who married Eleanor Butler (daughter of Thomas, 3rd Baronet Butler, of Cloughgrenan, Co. Carlow), to their son Thomas (1701-1782). It was Thomas who built on to the 1696 house, to create a residence designed by Richard Cassells, in about 1730.

I think the portrait is of Thomas Mahon (1701-1782), who employed Richard Castle to built a house at Strokestown.

Terence Reeves-Smyth tells us in his Irish Big Houses that the top storey and balustrade were added probably around 1740 when Richard Castle built the wings for Thomas Mahon. [7]

Richard Castle, or Cassells, (c.1690/95–1751) probably came to Ireland to work for Sir Gustavus Hume to design Castle Hume, Co. Fermanagh. [8] He then worked under Edward Lovett Pearce when Pearce worked on the Parliament Building in Dublin. Pearce died young and Castle succeeded to his practice. The Dictionary of Irish Biography tells us:

He contributed significantly to the development of Dublin, designing the first imposing town houses in cut stone for the nobility, notably Tyrone House, Marlborough St. (1740–45), built for Marcus Beresford (1694–1793), later earl of Tyrone, and Leinster House, Kildare St. (1745–51), for James Fitzgerald, earl of Kildare, the grandest town house and since the 1920s the seat of Dáil Éireann. His commissions included 85 Stephen’s Green (c.1738), the first stone-fronted house on the Green, latterly part of Newman House; houses in Kildare St., notably Doneraile House (designed c.1743); and Sackville Place...Castle designed many country houses, including Belvedere, Co. Westmeath (designed 1740), which incorporated the ‘Venetian’ window, a common feature of his designs, and Ballyhaise, Co. Cavan (c.1733). By altering and enlarging many houses, he created grand country mansions (often with vaulted stables), notably Powerscourt, Co. Wicklow, with its magnificent Egyptian hall (built 1731×1740; damaged by fire 1974, and since partly restored), Westport House, Co. Mayo (1731–40), and Carton House, Co. Kildare (c.1739–45). Conolly’s Folly at Castletown estate, Co. Kildare (1740), a tall obelisk mounted on multiple arches, is attributed to him. He possibly collaborated with Francis Bindon on Belan House, Co. Kildare, complete with temple and three obelisks (1743), and Russborough, Co. Wicklow (c.1742–55).” [9]

Also designed by Richard Castle: Westport House, County Mayo (1731), photograph courtesy of Ireland’s Content Pool [1].
Newman House, St. Stephen’s Green (Museum of Literature Ireland), also designed by Castle (1738).
Also designed by Richard Castle: Carton House, County Kildare, renovations by Castle in 1739.
Carton House, County Kildare, renovations by Castle in 1739.
Castletown obelisk folly, also by Richard Castle (1740).
Also designed by Richard Castle: Belvedere, County Westmeath (1740).
Also designed by Richard Castle: Powerscourt, County Wicklow (1740)
Russborough House, also designed by Richard Castle, 1742. Photo taken by Jeremy Hylton June 2012.
Russborough House, County Wicklow, also designed by Richard Castle.
Also designed by Richard Castle: Leinster House, 1745 [Dublin, July 2022].

The house has a seven-bay, three-storey over basement central block, with curved curtain walls linking it to flanking pavilions with four-bay principal façades. The centre block front facade has three bays in the centre with giant pilasters either side and two bays beyond on either side. The centre three bays have a central panel on the pediment and the two bays on either side of the pilasters have a balustraded pediment. The front door is set in a tooled stone doorcase with decorative brackets, with an ornate spoked fanlight, and is flanked by traceried sidelights.

Strokestown House.

Most of what we see today was designed by Castle, but the house was resurfaced in 1819 and the portico added.

The portico was added around 1820.

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage tells us that the pedimented archways to outer walls extending from pavilions give access to stable complex and kitchen yards. [10]

The flanking curtain walls have niches flanked by oculus windows on the upper part with tooled stone surrounds, and a Gibbsean doorcase with pediment over.

Flanking wall between main block and a pavilion block.
An oculus window in the curtain wall has overgrowth of greenery on the other side!

The Famine Museum is located in the stables. One enters via a Visitor Centre to one end of the complex.

Pedimented archways to outer walls extending from pavilions give access to stable complex and kitchen yards.
Entrance to the Famine Museum, located in the stables.
Visitor Centre, located at one end of the stable courtyard, opposite the entrance to the stables and the Famine Museum.
Inside the Famine Museum, which is in the former stables.

In 1735, Thomas married Jane Crosbie, daughter of Maurice, 1st Baron Branden, of Ardfert, County Kerry, MP for County Kerry. Thomas Mahon later became MP, first for the Borough of Roscommon in 1739-1763 then for County Roscommon 1763-82, when he was called the “Father of the House.” [11]

I think this is Jane Crosbie, who married Thomas.

Thomas’s son Maurice (1738-1819), named after Jane’s father, married Catherine, daughter of Stephen Moore, 1st Viscount Mountcashell, in 1765. He inherited when his father died in 1782. He was granted a peerage for his support of the Act of Union, and created 1st Baron Hartland, of Strokestown, Co. Roscommon in 1800.

Terence Reeves-Smyth tells us:

His son Maurice, who became Baron Hartland upon accepting a Union Peerage in 1800, made further additions and modifications to the house, including the inlaid mahogany doors, chimney-pieces and cornices as well as the library.”

Strokestown, image by Chris Hill, 2014, Tourism Ireland, from Ireland’s Content Pool. [1] Mark Bence-Jones writes that in a late-Georgian addition at the back of the house there is a splendid library with a coved ceiling and an original early nineteenth century wallpaper of great beauty, in yellow and brown, which gives the effect of faded gold. [12]

Maurice Mahon also had the main street of Strokestown laid out between 1810 and 1815, and had a tall Georgian Gothic arch erected at the entrance to Strokestown Park, at one end of the main street. At almost one hundred and fifty feet wide, the main thoroughfare, leading up to the gates of the estate, was said to be the widest in Ireland at the time. Apparently Baron Hartland wanted it to be wider than the Ringstrasse in Vienna. [see 12]

Tripartite gate at the entrance to the Strokestown Park estate, with crow stepped battlements.

Maurice, 1st Baron Hartland had three sons. The first, Thomas (1766-1835) succeeded as 2nd Baron Hartland in 1819. His mother lived another fifteen years after her husband died in 1819, and the museum tells us that receipts for her extravagant spending are kept in the archive.

When Thomas inherited the property in 1819 he hired John Lynn who created the porch, among other renovations. Lynn had served as clerk of works for the building of Rockingham House in County Roscommon, erected in 1810 for Robert, 1st Viscount Lorton to designs by John Nash. We saw pictures of Rockingham House when we visited King House, see my entry. Rockingham House no longer exists. Soon after working in Strokestown, Lynn moved up to Downpatrick, County Down. [13]

Terence Reeves-Smyth continues in Irish Big Houses: “In 1819 Lieutenant General Thomas Mahon, second Lord Hartland, employed the architect J[ohn] Lynn to carry out some more improvements, such as the addition of the porch and giant pilasters to the front. Except for the gardens, few changes were later carried out at Strokestown and it remained the centre of a vast 30,000 acre estate until the present century.”

Thomas the second baron was educated at the Royal School in Armagh, Trinity College Dublin and St. John’s College, Cambridge. He joined the military and became Major in the 24th Light Dragoons. In 1798 he was in command of a garrison in Carlow, where he trapped and killed many rebels. [14] In 1811 he married Catherine Topping, but they did not have any children. He later fought in the Napoleonic wars and in Argentina.

Terence Reeves-Smyth continues:

In contrast to the exterior, the interior is quite intimate, with surprisingly small rooms – a product of the early date of much of the building. Early 18th century wood panelling survives in parts of the house including the main staircase hall, but many rooms were redecorated in regency times, such as the dining room which still has its early 19th century furniture, including a bath-sized turf bucket and pinkish-red damask wallpaper.

Staircase hall of Strokestown Park, with its original wood panelling, and archivist Martin Fagan.
On the wall on the right hand side is a portrait of Edward Pakenham (b. 1778), an uncle of Henry Sandford Pakenham who married into the family, and on the left, his brother Lt. Col. Hercules Pakenham (1781-1850). Both were brothers of the 2nd Earl of Longford, of Tullynally, County Westmeath.
Mark Bence-Jones tells us that some of the principal rooms in the centre of the house have eighteenth century panelling. [see 12]
Strokestown dining room, image by Chris Hill, 2014, Tourism Ireland, from Ireland’s Content Pool. [1] Robert O’Byrne tells us that the wallpaper features in Wallpaper in Ireland 1700-1900 written by David Skinner.

Terence Reeves-Smyth continues: “Regency additions incorporated the study, which also retains its original furnishings, and the smoking room, which was converted into a laboratory and photography darkroom by Henry Pakenham-Mahon, an amateur scientist, in the 1890’s. The finest regency addition is the library at the back, originally built as a ballroom with a bowed wall at one end to accommodate musicians. This contains Chippendale bookcases and beautiful brown and gold wallpaper, made especially for the walls in the early 19th century.

The bowed library with its gold-coloured wallpaper.
King William III on his horse in the portrait. The chimneypiece features Siena marbe, Ionic pilasters and a Grecian key pattern.
The library contains Chippendale bookcases.
The curtain pelmet features a dragon head.
The ceiling rose in the library.

Reeves-Smyth continues, describing the kitchen which we did not see: “The old kitchen in the left wing of the house is approached from the dining room along a curved corridor, past store rooms for kitchen utensils and sporting equipment. Fitted with spits and ovens for baking, roasting and smoking, this kitchen has its original balustraded gallery which crosses the high ceilinged room lengthwise, the only example of its kind to survive in Ireland, especially in houses designed by Richard Castle. These galleries allowed the housekeeper to supervise the affairs below – one tradition has it that menus were dropped from the balcony on Monday mornings with instructions to the cook for the week’s meals.

The wing to the right of the central block contains magnificent vaulted stables carried on Tuscan columns, similar to stables built by Castle for Carton (1739) and Russborough (1741). An underground passage links these stables to the yard on the north side of the house. The estate office was also in this wing, which meant the tenantry had to come here rather than to an office in the village to pay their rent.

A photograph of the vaulted stables, by Henry Pakenham Mahon (1851-1922).

Maurice Craig tells us in his Irish Country Houses of the Middle Size: p. 21. “The practice of connecting the house with outlying offices by a tunnel seems to be peculiar to Ireland…Strokestown, Bellamont, Castle Coole and Lucan are amongst the Irish examples. In the nature of things, this is a feature of the grander houses, though it has been reported in connection with some of modest size.”

Thomas 2nd Baron married but had no children and his brother Maurice (1772-1845) succeeded as 3rd Baron Hartland when Thomas died in 1835. Maurice had joined the clergy, and was awarded a prebendary (an administrative role) in Tuam Cathedral in 1804.

In 1813 the 3rd Baron Hartland married Jane Isabella Hume of Humewood, County Wicklow, but also had no children and the title became extinct. He had another brother, Stephen, but he predeceased his brothers and had no children. The museum tells us that the 3rd Baron suffered with mental illness, though it does not give us specifics. He was declared insane just a year after he inherited the property in 1835.

The 3rd Baron Hartland married Jane Isabella Hume of Humewood, County Wicklow. Humewood, County Wicklow photograph courtesy of National Library of Ireland, photographer Robert French, Lawrence Collection Circa 1865 – 1914 NLI Ref. L_IMP_3853.

The Dictionary of Irish Biography tells us that it was Denis Mahon who brought a motion against Maurice claiming that he was mentally ill and incapable of caring for the estate. Maurice had allowed the lease to lapse for a portion of the estate and stopped collecting rent from the town of Ballykilcline and its surrounding area. This led to an official declaration stating Maurice was a “lunatic.” Denis was named executor of the estate as well as being named Maurice’s legal guardian.

The museum tells us that when he was declared insane in 1836, two cousins battled in the courts to inherit the property: Denis Mahon (1787-1847) and Marcus McCausland.

Marcus McCausland owned the property of Drenagh, Limavady in County Derry (now a wedding venue). His mother was Theodosia Mahon, a sister of the 1st Baron Hartland, who had married Conolly McCausland-Gage. The nine year court case decided in favour of Denis Mahon. As well as the now poorly managed property, he inherited debts.

Denis was the son of a brother of 1st Baron Hartland, Reverend Thomas Mahon (1740-1811). Reverend Thomas married Honoria Kelly, daughter of Denis Kelly of Castle Kelly, County Galway (also called Aughrane Castle, it has been demolished. It was purchased by Bagots in 1910, I’m haven’t found an ancestral link to these Bagots).

It was Denis Mahon who was then murdered during the Famine. The story is told in detail in the Famine Museum. The estate was badly run and tenants let and sublet their parcels of land, hence owned smaller and smaller portions of land to grow their crops.

Reeves-Smyth tells us: “Major Denis Mahon, who succeeded to Strokestown on the death of the third and last Lord Hartland in 1845 was so unpopular a landlord during the famine years that he was shot whilst returning from a meeting of the Roscommon Relief Committee in 1848, apparently on suspicion of chartering unseaworthy ships to transport emigrants from his estate to America. His successors were much better regarded and his great-granddaughter and last owner, Mrs. Olive Hales-Packenham-Mahon, was a much loved figure in this part of Ireland. She died in 1981, leaving a house filled with the trappings of three centuries of unbroken family occupation.

Captain Denis Mahon chose to help his tenants to leave Ireland. He wanted to reduce his number of tenants. The 1838 Poor Law made a local tax for poor rates. In 1843 the act was amended and introduced new rates, charging landlords a tax for each tenant who had holdings of less than a value of £4. Landlords therefore tried to reduce the number of tenants.

Sculptures of shoes like this are dotted along the way of the Famine Walk.
The entrance to the Famine Museum and café.

The Famine Museum is introduced by a beautifully handwritten letter by tenants asking not for money or food, but work. The eloquent letter humanises those who were experiencing the poverty of the famine in the 1840s.

Arthur Young writes in his A Tour in Ireland in 1799 that “the poor live on potatoes and milk, it is their regular diet, very little oat bread being used and no flesh meat at all except on Easter Sunday and Christmas day.

Denis Mahon tried to make the estate pay for itself, to pay off the debts he had inherited. He also tried to take care of his tenants. He had two agents, John Ross Mahon and Thomas Conry. He began relief efforts for his tenants in March 1846. 4000 people were provided with corn on a weekly basis at low or no cost, and after a harsh winter, he distributed free seed to his most needy tenants. He also had a soup kitchen set up.

John Ross Mahon wrote to him that the poor rates would exceed receipts of rent. By 1847 the conditions were worse and there was unrest amongst the tenants. Mahon began to evict tenants and to encourage others to emigrate. The Freeman’s Journal in 1848 states that “The evictions on the estate since Major Mahon had taken over amounted to 3006 people, including the 1,490 who were selected to emigrate.” Fewer than half of those who emigrated survived the trek to Dublin and the journey on the ship.

The building of the month entry in the National Inventory summarises: “Major Mahon, an improving landlord, sought to alleviate the situation by judicious depopulation and in 1847 organised the voluntary emigration of almost one thousand of his tenants to North America. However, a far greater number refused to move and were the subject of evictions involving almost 600 families and 3000 individuals. Returning from an evening meeting in Roscommon, where he had urged the Board of Guardians to keep the workhouse open for needy paupers, Major Mahon was fatally shot on the 2nd of November 1847. Three men were hanged for the murder and two were transported, but the true identity of the assassin or assassins has been debated ever since.”

The Famine Museum tells us that there were secret societies who sought to improve the conditions of the poor. A local one in Roscommon was called the “Molly Maguires.”

The man suspected to be the mastermind of the murder, Andrew Connor, probably escaped to Canada. Police followed to Canada to try to capture him but to no avail. A man named Patrick Hasty was hanged for the murder, along with two others.

Denis’s son Thomas predeceased him, childless, and the house passed to his daughter, Grace Catherine. Earlier in 1847, Grace had married Henry Sandford Pakenham (1823-1893), son of Reverend Henry Pakenham, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, who was from Pakenham Hall in County Westmeath, now called Tullynally (see my entry, it is another Section 482 property which can be visited).

Henry Sandford Pakenham held the office of High Sheriff of County Roscommon in 1830. He was heir to the vast Pakenham and Sandford estates in counties Longford, Westmeath and Roscommon. He legally changed his name to Henry Sandford Pakenham Mahon by Royal Licence in 1847.

Elizabeth Sandford, mother of Henry Sandford Pakenham, wife of Reverend Henry Pakenham, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. Henry Sandford Pakenham married the heiress Grace Catherine Mahon and changed his surname to Pakenham Mahon.
A portrait of Lt. Gen. Hercules Pakenham (1781-1850), an uncle of Henry Sandford Pakenham Mahon, hangs in the front hall of Strokestown House.
Major General Edward Pakenham (1778-1815), another uncle of Henry Sandford Pakenham Mahon, also hangs in the front hall of Strokestown House.

After Denis Mahon was killed his devastated daughter Grace moved to the Isle of Wight with her husband, who continued to manage the estate with the help of his agent.

He and Grace Catherine had several daughters, and a son, Henry Pakenham-Mahon (1851-1922).

Henry moved back to live in Strokestown. He was High Sheriff, Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant of County Roscommon, following in the footsteps of his father. He married Mary Burrard and Olive, as mentioned by Reeves-Smyth, was their daughter.

Henry Pakenham-Mahon was a keen horticulturalist and his main contribution to the estate was the development of the gardens. The family lived part-time in Strokestown Park and part-time in England. He developed a Pleasure Garden in the walled garden.

He also had an interest in photography, and he built a darkroom in Strokestown House.

His daughter Olive, born in 1894, first married Captain Edward Charles Stafford-King-Harman, from Rockingham House, County Roscommon, whom we came across in King House. Tragically, he died in the first world war in 1914. They had one daughter, Lettice. If Lettice had been a boy she would have inherited Rockingham. Olive and Lettice returned to live in Strokestown Park.

The King Harman Gate in the Pleasure Gardens, a wedding present from the men of Rockingham Estate on the marriage of Olive to Edward Charles Stafford-King-Harman.

Olive married again, this time to Wilfrid Stuart Atherstone Hales, who also fought in the first world war, and later, in the second. A British garrison was set up in Strokestown House during the War of Independence. After an ambush nearby, Wilfrid Stuart Hales was sent to investigate, and he and Olive fell in love. On 18 April 1923 his name was legally changed to Wilfrid Stuart Atherstone Hales Pakenham Mahon by Deed Poll. He married Olive in 1921 and he changed his name after the death of her father in 1922. They went on to have several children. It was her son who sold the estate.

Olive Hales Pakenham Mahon dressed for a visit to Buckingham Palace in the 1930s.

The Pakenham Mahons did not spent much time in Strokestown due to Stuart Hales Pakenham Mahon’s military career, until they returned to live there in the 1950s.

Stuart Hales Pakenham Mahon was interested in finding water and mineral deposits by “dousing,” and the photography display we saw in the house also had information on this topic.

The property has a six acre walled garden and woodlands.

Westward Garage Ltd approached the Pakenham Mahons to buy their land, and terms were agreed. At first the garage only wanted to keep some land and they planned to sell the house, but then Jim Callery found the documents relating to the famine, and had the idea of setting up a famine museum. The company let Olive and her husband remain in the house. Jim Callery employed his cousin Luke Dodd to oversee restoration of the house. [15] In 1987 the house opened to the public, and the Famine Museum opened in 1994. The walled garden opened in 1997, and the herbaceous border is said to be the longest in either Ireland or the UK.

Seated is Henry Pakenham Mahon, son of Grace Mahon and her husband Henry Sandford Pakenham Mahon (born Pakenham). He is photographed here with his wife Mary and to far left, his daughter Olive, and friends.

After exploring the Famine Museum we went out to the extensive walled garden.

This Venetian window was over the doorway of Strokestown Park House in the eighteenth century. The window was removed when the house was refaced in 1819 and remained in storage until an opportunity for its reuse was found. Its “Venetian” form elicits comparisons with the doorcase of the Castle-designed Ledwithstown House (1746), County Longford, and the first floor centrepiece of the long ruined Mantua House (1747), near Elphin. [16]
image by Chris Hill, 2014, Tourism Ireland, from Ireland’s Content Pool. [1]
Paul Connolly tells us that this building was used in the summer months by the Mahons, offering views of their garden.

The following day there was a talk about the mausoleum at Strokestown, but we had to move on with our Heritage Week plans. The mausoleum was constructed within an earlier 17th century church and contains a crypt in which members of the Mahon Family were buried. Following years of careful and professional conservation and sympathetic landscaping, this ruin is again accessible and visible to visitors to Strokestown Park.





[5] You can see the chimney and plaster overmantel on the website of Robert O’Byrne,

[6] Bernard, Sir Burke, editor, Burke’s genealogical and heraldic history of the landed gentry of Ireland, 4th ed. (London, U.K.: Burkes Peerage Ltd, 1958), page 471. I’m not sure if “Movilla” mentioned here refers to Moyveela townland.

[7] Reeves-Smyth, Terence. Irish Big Houses. Appletree Press Ltd (22 April 2009)



[10] and Strokestown Park featured as Building of the month in December 2015


[12] 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. Note that Mark Bence-Jones claims that it was the 2nd Baron Hartland who laid out the main street of Strokestown and had the entrance built, but the National Inventory tells us that it was Maurice, 1st Baron Hartland.


[14] p. 203. Connolly, Paul. The Landed Estates of County Roscommon. Published by Paul Connolly, 2018.

[15] p. 213, Connolly.


Corravahan House and Gardens, Drung, County Cavan H12 D860

contact: Ian Elliott
Tel: 087-9772224
Open dates in 2023: Jan 9-10, 16-17, 23-24, Feb 13-14, 20-22, 27-28, Mar 6-7, 13-14, 20-21, 27-28,
May 7-10, 14-17, 21-24, 28-31, June 11-14, 18-20, Aug 12-22, 28-29, Sept 4-5, 11-12, 9am-1pm, Sundays, 2pm-6pm
Fee: adult €10, OAP/student/child €5

CCTV in operation.

This house is a delight! The owners, the Elliotts, who purchased the house in 2003, appreciate the intricacies of the house and its history, and convey this with enthusiasm. Corravahan House has an excellent website which describes the history of the house and its occupants, along with photographs from former days.

Ian Elliott obliged us by opening on a day not normally scheduled. Visits are further curtailed by Covid-19 restrictions and distancing and safety requirements. I appreciate when anyone is willing to accommodate a visit this year.

We drove to the house on our way to Donegal to visit Stephen’s mother. We stopped a night in Monaghan, so had plenty of time for our visit. Unfortunately it was raining so we didn’t get to see the gardens – we will have to visit another time!

The National Inventory of Historic Architecture tells us that Corravahan House is an Italianate style three-bay three-storey over basement former rectory, built 1841. It has a one-storey projecting entrance porch to the front, containing a four-panelled timber door. The Inventory website also mentions “glazed tripartite loggia” and the bow on the rear elevation.

The Inventory notes the slate roof “with oversailing eaves” and the cornice on the chimneystacks. The garden facing walls are of “random rubble” with large corner stones at the rear elevation, and other walls have been rendered.

On the garden elevation, there is a Wyatt window with plain stone mullions and projecting cornice under red-brick relieving arch, and brick dressings to window openings on upper floors, garden front.

The Inventory mentions the “ruled-and-lined rendered walls.” Ian pointed this out to us inside the timber lean-to. One can see the original wall, and the lines hand-drawn. The lines are to make the rendered wall appear to be made of stone blocks! We can see a clearer, more recent example of this on a new structure built in the yard, but again, more on this later.

The windows in the bow have curved sashes and timber, although the glass in the windows is flat. These windows would be particularly difficult to craft, to fit the curve of the bowed wall.

Ian greeted us, along with a friendly dog. We stepped into the porch, which has four-over-four timber sash windows to the sides. A further door leads into the entrance hall.

Again, the door facing out to the front porch. You can see the shutters of the deepset windows. A detail Ian pointed out to us is in the photograph above, behind the door is wooden panelling, and the opened door fits so neatly into a specially made recess. This highlights the amount of detail in this small vestibule.

The house was built for a clergyman, Marcus Gervais Beresford (1801-1885). Before he had this house built, he rented nearby as he was the Vicar for Drung, appointed by his father in 1828. The previous parsonage had been condemned as unfit for use. Reverend Marcus Beresford was the great-grandson of Marcus Beresford, the 1st Earl of Tyrone (1694-1763), whom we came across when we visited Curraghmore in County Waterford (the husband of Catherine, who built the Shell House). The 1st Earl’s son John, an MP for County Waterford, was Marcus Gervais’s grandfather, and John’s son, George (1765-1841), Marcus Gervais’s father, became Bishop for Kilmore, County Cavan. Bishop George Beresford married Frances, a daughter of Gervase Parker Bushe and Mary Grattan (a sister of Henry Grattan (1746-1820), the politician and lawyer who supported Catholic emancipation) [2]. Marcus Gervais followed in his father’s footsteps, and as the third son, joined the Church.

Marcus Gervais Beresford, P. Archbishop of Armagh, (1801-1885), as Prelate of the Order of St Patrick by Engraver John Richardson Jackson, English, 1819-1877 After Stephen Catterson Smith, Irish, 1806-1872. Photograph courtesy of National Gallery of Ireland.

The website for Corravahan tells us that the Beresfords engaged the services of the architect William Farrell, who had recently completed the new See House at Kilmore for Bishop George, to construct Corravahan as the new rectory for the parish. According to Wikipedia, William Farrell was a Dublin-based Irish architect who was the “Board of First Fruits” architect for the Church of Ireland ecclesiastical province of Armagh from 1823-1843. In this time he designed several Church of Ireland churches, as well as houses for the clergy. He built several houses in County Cavan, including Rathkenny [ca. 1820] and Tullyvin [built ca 1812], Shaen House in Laois (now a hospital), Clonearl House in County Offaly, and Clogrennan House in County Carlow.

Due to the family’s connections and status, the house was designed to impress. It is the details that indicate its quality, and visitors who were meant to be impressed would have recognised the signs. The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage lists some of the details – for example: “Entrance hall has decorative timber panelled walls set in round headed arch recesses with panelled pilasters having squared Doric entablature. Flooring of decorative black and white tiles mimicking Italian marble.”



The vestibule is Grecian Classical in style. The arches are of plaster. Ian reckons the floor tiles are Portland stone – a stone of particularly good quality – and a darker limestone, perhaps Kilkenny marble. You can see in the photograph the quality craftsmanship of the wood panelling on the walls. And this is just the front hall! A door to the right leads into what would have been the Vicar’s office where he would meet his parishioners. Guests to be entertained would enter straight ahead into the main part of the house.

We entered a room that is now the library. It is the second library of the house. The first room, the Bishop’s office, was the first library. A later resident of the house, Charles Robert Leslie, became wheelchair bound and an elevator was installed into the house where the first library had been, so a second room was converted into a library, which had previously been the morning room. A window was covered over with bookcases, which is still visible from the outside of the house.

Marcus Beresford followed in his father’s footsteps and was appointed Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh in 1854. He moved out of Corravahan, and the next Vicar of Drung moved in, the Reverend Charles Leslie.

This Charles Leslie’s father, John, was the son of Charles Powell Leslie I, whom we came across when we visited Castle Leslie in County Monaghan. John was Charles Powell Leslie’s second son, and since he was not to inherit Castle Leslie, he joined the Church. He rose quickly due to his connections, and became Bishop of Dromore in 1812 and Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh in 1841. He married the daughter of the Bishop of Ross, Isabella St. Lawrence, from the Howth Castle family of St. Lawrences (her grandfather was the 1st Earl of Howth. The castle was still in private hands, until sold by the Gaisford-St. Lawrence family in 2019. I would love to see it!). He preceded Marcus Beresford as Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh. His eldest son, Charles became vicar of Drung in 1855. He moved into Corravahan with his wife and children (or as they liked to call it, “Coravahn.” [3] Their only daughter, Mary, died shortly afterwards, aged just 15.

Charles Leslie married, first, Frances King, daughter of General Robert Edward King, 1st Viscount Lorton of Boyle, County Roscommon, and his wife Frances Parsons (daughter of the 1st Earl of Rosse, the family who own Birr Castle, County Offaly, another section 482 property), in 1834. After she died, childless, he married Louisa Mary King, daughter of Lt-Col Henry King, 1st cousin of his first wife. The Corravahan website tells us that in 1836, Charles went on a tour of Europe with the Viscount and some members of his family, including his late wife’s cousin, Louisa, who he would marry the following year.

Charles Leslie continued to serve as the Vicar of Drung until 1870. He was then appointed, following in the footsteps of his father and of the former resident of Corravahan Reverend Marcus Beresford, Bishop of Kilmore. He died, however, three months after his appointment and so never moved from Corravahan. Following his death, his widow and five sons retained the house as a private residence, while providing a new, more modest rectory for the parish on nearby land. This house is also listed in the National Inventory of Historic Architecture, as Drung Rectory. The entry incorrectly states that it no longer serves as a rectory. It does in fact still serve the parishes of the Drung Group. It was built around 1870, to the east of the walled garden of Corravahan.

Charles Leslie’s second son, Charles Robert Leslie (1841-1904), lived on the estate, running it for his father after retiring from the British army (the oldest son, John Henry Leslie, married and subsequently lived in England). It was he who became disabled and for whom the elevator was installed. Stephen and I were fascinated to learn that he kept diaries, and that the diaries are on the shelves in the library at Corravahan!

The impressive gold leaf gilded pelmet is original to the house.


They would be fascinating to read, as he was engaged in Canada as Captain of the 25th King’s Own Borderers, who repelled a Fenian invasion from New York state! The Fenians, an Irish Republican organisation based in the United States, conducted raids on British army forts, custom posts and other targets in Canada in an attempt to pressure the British to withdraw Ireland [4].

Charles never married and when he died, in September 1904, ownership of Corravahan passed to his younger brother, Cecil, third son of Reverend Charles Leslie and Louisa.

The Corravahan website tells us that Cecil Edward St. Lawrence Leslie (1843-1930) was educated at Oxford, returning to live permanently at Corravahan, and served periodically on the judiciary in Cavan, otherwise living off his investments and rental income on lands he owned. The website continues:

In 1876, he married Emily Louisa Massy-Beresford (1854-1890), a first-cousin-twice-removed of Rt. Rev. Marcus Gervais Beresford, the builder of Corravahan. She was the daughter of Very Rev. John Maunsell Massy, Dean of Kilmore, who had wisely added the name Beresford (by royal licence) subsequent to his equally wise marriage to Emily Sarah Beresford, daughter of Rev. John Isaac Beresford of Macbie Hill, Peebles-shire, who was the grand-niece of George, Bishop of Kilmore and great-great-granddaughter of the Earl of Tyrone. Cecil and “Loo” had two sons, Charles and Cecil George, the last children raised at Corravahan before the present.”

The elder son, Charles, died at the age of 13. The younger, Cecil George, nicknamed “Choppy,” joined the military. He died of tuberculosis in 1919, predeceasing his father.

A fourth son of Reverend Charles and Louisa, Henry King Leslie (1844-1926) married Ruth Hungerford-Eagar. The website tells us that he served as a land agent to numerous estates, and it was while he was living at Kilnahard, Mountnugent, possibly working for the Nugent family of Bobsgrove, or Farren Connell, that Ruth gave birth to their son, Frank King Leslie, in 1885. He died in Gallipoli in 1915. Henry and Ruth also had two daughters, Madge and Joan, who we will return to presently.

The youngest of Reverend Charles’s five sons, Arthur Trevor Leslie (1847-1886), also joined the military, and died in 1886 at Corravahan, probably due to illness contracted in his service.

By 1930, then, all of Rev. Charles Leslie’s five sons had died, the only survivors of the subsequent generation were Henry’s daughters, Margaret Ruth Leslie (1886-1972) and Nancy Joan Leslie (1888-1972). Thus upon Cecil’s death in 1930 it was to his nieces that he left Corravahan, along with the accumulated wealth of the previous generations. The sisters remained unmarried.

Certificates presented for the deaths in Military service of Captain Frank King Leslie and Major Cecil George Leslie. Current owner of Corravahan, Ian Elliott, has managed to collect many items that once belonged to the house, to reinstate them in the home.

Frank King Leslie’s fiancee, May Haire-Forster, remained close to the family and joined Madge and Joan, to live in Corravahan after 1930. The three women lived together in the house for forty years. They modernised the house, having inherited quite a bit of money from their brothers, so they were able to install electricity and central heating. They were careful to preserve many elements of the house that they may have remembered fondly as children, however, in a way that someone who did not grow up in the house may not have retained. They were popular in the neighbourhood and continued to give employment to people of the area.

The sisters installed electric lights before rural electrification of Ireland, which occurred in 1957. The sisters innovatively used a wind turbine system to create their electricity.

The house passed in 1972 to Madge’s god-daughter, Elizabeth Lucas-Clements, daughter of the Lucas-Clements family of nearby Rathkenny House. Rathkenny, also designed by William Farrell, was built for Theophilus Lucas-Clements in the 1820s [5]. Having sold Corravahan and its contents in 1974, largely to meet various bills for death-duties, Elizabeth Lucas-Clements retained much material that was personal to the Leslie family, and, among other items, gave the diaries of Charles Robert Leslie to the current owner.

The house then stood empty for five years and was occupied only occasionally for a further twenty-five years, until it was purchased by its current owners, the Elliotts. The surrounding farmland and outbuildings, walled garden and orchard no longer belong to the house. The National Inventory tells us: “The walled garden is located to the south-east of the lawns, and once formed part of an extensive landscape of gardens, woods, paths, and ponds more in the style of a country house demesne reflecting the particularly wealthy status of the clergy incumbents of Beresford and following him Rev. Charles Leslie.” The Elliotts are restoring the eight acres they have remaining around the house.

We moved from the former morning room to the drawing room.

The room has an egg and dart pattern ceiling cornice and a large bay window. This is the “glazed tripartite loggia having steps to the garden” mentioned in the National Inventory [see 1. And we saw a loggia before in the Old Rectory in Killedmond, County Carlow]. It does not look like a door, but the middle panel of the windows slides up into the frame in an ingenious manner to make a door. Ian is not sure if this bay window is original to the house. On the one hand, it is not well-constructed as it does not have a relieving arch over it, which would lend solidity, and as a result, the ceiling has cracked over time. This seems particularly odd as there is a relieving arch over another window. But William Farrell has built similar designs in other places. Ian has seem something similar to the door/window in Castle Ward, County Down, and apparently there is something like it in Abbeville in Dublin, another Beresford residence.

On a purely personal note, the ironwork on the windows reminded me of the protecting grille on our windows and doors in Grenada, though the Grenada one is simpler.

Our house in Grenada had similar ironwork on the windows.

I admired the built-in shelving unit in the drawing room and asked whether it was original to the house.

It was not. There were doors here between the drawing room and the former morning room, closed up when the second library was created. You can see Stephen wearing his mask in the photograph, as we were all protecting ourselves from Covid-19!

We entered the dining room next. Ian pointed out that as we followed the typical daily progress of a house resident from room to room: morning room to drawing room to dining room, we followed the path of the sun shining in to the house! It was well designed!

The bow in the house contains the dining room.

The bow makes the room look grander and larger than it would with straight walls. It necessitates having slightly curved wooden window frame joinery, however, requiring skill and extra expense. The glass in the windows, fortunately, is not curved, as that would be even more expensive and difficult. The room has more beautiful curtain pelmets and decorative plaster coving.

It also has a decorative ceiling rose. The other architectural novelty in this room is an arched recess for a sideboard.

Interestingly, it appears that the Beresfords had a smaller sideboard than the Leslies. The Leslies had to have the recess widened! They did not leave their sideboard but the Elliotts were lucky enough to find one that fit perfectly!

The room has the Classical feature of symmetrical details, which includes the doors. There are four doors in the room. Two of them, however, exist merely for balance. One leads to a drinks cabinet and the other appears to have been used as a cupboard for the silverware, as it has a strong lock. The other doors lead from the main house, and to the servants’ area, for serving the food.

I was also delighted to see the old fashioned railing around the top of the walls – a tapestry rail. It is perfect for hanging pictures. In the room there was a picture of Marcus Gervais Beresford, who later became the Archbishop of Armagh, and one of Bishop John Leslie, the father of Charles who moved into the house when Marcus Beresford left.

The tapestry rail runs all around the room along the ceiling. On the right, above, is Marcus Gervais Beresford. Note that on the top of the portrait frame is the mitre of an Archbishop. The portrait of Bishop John Leslie is on the left hand side, and in the photograph below:

Bishop John Leslie.

Next, we went out to the servants’ hall. It has large built-in cupboard along the wall:


This was specially built to hold extra leaves of the dining room table! I wondered what was the purpose of the little shelf under the cupboard. Ian explained – the board on the wall across from the ledge comes down to form a shelf, on which the dishes coming from the kitchen were placed. There is another shelf that can be lowered behind where I was standing to take the photograph, that is on the other side of the door coming from the dining room, which would have been for the dirty dishes!

Before the cupboard was built for the leaves of the table, the wall had what looked like wooden panelling. Guests would have seen this if they glimpsed out into the hall from the dining table, and they would have been impressed to see that even the serving hall was panelled.

Above, the inside of the wall cupboard that was to hold the leaves of the dining table.

What looks like carved wood panelling, is actually wallpaper! I couldn’t believe it – the wood looks so real! I had to run my finger over it, and still found it hard to believe! Unfortunately the rest of the wallpaper has been painted over, below the leaf cupboard. The wood appearance wallpaper would have come halfway up the wall to look like wood panelling.

From the hall we entered a kitchen which is inside the timber lean-to. This was added on since the original kitchen was in the basement. A dumbwaiter was built into this lean-to for the sisters Madge and Joan, for the ease of their housemaid.

Inside the shaft where the dumb waiter goes up and down, Ian pointed out the original wall of the house. It was here that we could see the way the wall had been drawn on, “ruled and lined rendered walls,” to make it look like it was made of stone.

The servants would have lived in the basement and in the outbuildings to the side of the house in the coachyard and stable block. The top of the house was the nursery. I took a photo of the outbuildings from the top floor of the house, the attic storey. In this photograph you can see the arches of the coach house. Servants would have lived above.


You can just about see the solar panels which have been carefully installed, in such a way as not to damage the roof slates, which have been repaired and replaced by the current owners. The building on the left is new, but has been so well-made that it looks like the older buildings! Here again Ian pointed out how the render has been decorated so that around the new arches, it looks like stonework but is really cement plaster, carefully etched to mimic the original cut stone of the adjacent coach-house doorways.

There are two staircases in the house – the back stairs for the servants, and the main staircase.

The back stairs lead up to the nursery attic storey.

The rooms upstairs are airy and bright and surprisingly large. Looking out a window, we had a bird’s eye view of the giant old Lebanon Cedar tree, which must be about 300 years old.

My family had a Lebanese cedar also nearly as old, at our house in Puckane, County Tipperary:

The house we owned in Puckane, with its Lebanese cedar tree.

We then used the main staircase to return downstairs. It has a mahogany handrail and carved timber balusters, and is overlooked by a grand arched window.

This Wyatt window topped with arches is a style favoured by the architect William Farrell. There are similar windows in other houses he built, Rathkenny House and the See House in Kilmore. There is also a window like this in the courthouse in Virginia, County Cavan, but this is not an original – the window was originally an arch and was copied from Farrell’s windows.

A rather vertiginous view of the stairs, looking down.


The stairs are ornamented with Vitruvian scrolls, which is a motif from Greek temples. The fact that these were carved in stone in temples lends to the idea that the stairs are made of stone, although they are of wood. The bannisters are painted black and can be mistaken at a glance for wrought iron.

We ended our tour at the bottom of the stairs in another lovely hall space complete with fireplace. We signed the guest book, and look forward to returning to see the garden and to explore more outside!







“At this stage the house passed to Elizabeth Lucas-Clements ( Margaret’s god daughter) of the aforementioned neighbouring Rathkenny. Catherine Beresford, daughter of the Rt. Hon John de la Poer Beresford had, years before, married Henry Theophilus Clements of also nearby Ashfield Lodge, a cousin of the Rathkenny Lucas-Clements.”

The blog gives a great image of the way the gentry families intermarried and connected:

These houses and families can often be like circles looping into each other, not unlike Olympic rings, connecting at a point, distant again perhaps for a period, but uniting again before this “pattern “ frequently continues unabated.”