Blarney House & Gardens, Blarney, Co. Cork

contact: C. Colthurst

Tel 021-4385252

www.blarneycastle.ie

Open dates in 2022: June 1-Aug 31, Mon-Sat, National Heritage Week, Aug 13-21, 10am-2pm
Fee: adult €10, OAP/student €7, concession joint with castle

Blarney House, County Cork, June 2022.

We timed our visit to County Cork to be able to have a tour of the impressive Scottish Baronial Blarney House, replete with turrets, finials, stepped gables and dormer windows.

built of the light blue hammer-dressed limestone of the demesne, with Glasgow stone dressings to doors, and window opes, gables, etc.; the slates are green Cumberland.”

It was designed by John Lanyon of the Belfast architectural firm Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon. It was built in 1874 for Sir George Conway Colthurst (abt. 1824-1878), 5th Baronet and his wife, Louisa, whose family owned Blarney Castle, so that his family could live on their Blarney estate, but away from the castle, which was a tourist destination, much as it is today. He married Louisa Jane Jefferyes in 1846. The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us that Sir George Colthurst was a neighbour, from Ardrum near Inniscarra in County Cork. He was also her second cousin.

The Jeffereyes (or Jefferyes) family previously occupied a house which was attached to Blarney Castle. In 1820, the same year in which Louisa was born, this house was destroyed by fire (see my entry about Blarney Castle). Instead of rebuilding, George Jeffereyes and his family moved to Inishera House in West Cork. [1]

The view of Blarney House from the top of Blarney Castle.

George Colthurst was a man of considerable property with another large estate at Ballyvourney near the border with County Kerry, along with Lucan House in County Dublin (now the home of the Italian ambassador to Ireland). He inherited Blarney on his father-in-law’s death in 1862. [2] He and Louisa lived in Ardrum House, which has since been demolished, before moving to the new house in Blarney, nearly thirty years after they married. [3] Randall MacDonnell tells us in his The Lost Houses of Ireland: A chronicle of great houses and the families who lived in them that the mirrors and fireplaces, as well as the neoclassical porch, came from Ardrum House. [4]

The pillared porch was taken from George Colthurst’s former house, Ardrum House, which no longer exists.
There are some interesting carvings on the facade of the house – a horse, and a few crests. A black colt is on the Colthurst crest. Inside the portico is lovely carved drapery above the door.
Stephen liked the sculpture inside this window.

The family motto Justem ac Tenacem (Just and Persevering) and the quartered Colthurst and Jefferyes Arms are set in the entrance façade of the house.

The limestone walls are “snecked” which means that it has a mixture of roughly squared stones of different sizes (and lumpishness) and some of the walls have carved sandstone stringcourses. The windows are also surrounded by carved sandstone.

The Archiseek website quotes The Architect, August 21, 1875:

This new mansion has just been completed for Sir George C. J. Colthurst, Bart., it is built of the light blue hammer-dressed limestone of the demesne, with Glasgow stone dressings to doors, and window opes, gables, &c.; the slates are green Cumberland (a combination that produces a very pleasing effect). The new building is situated within about three hundred yards of the historical old “Blarney Castle,” and from the oriel window in our illustration the celebrated ” Kissing Stone ” can be seen. The principal entrance is as shown on the north-east, and leads, by a wide flight of Portland stone steps, through the vestibule to the staircase hall (which is central and lit from the top); off this hall are grouped dining-room, drawing-room, morning-room, library, billiard-room, own room, etc. The next floor contains the principal bed-rooms and dressing-rooms, boudoirs, etc., which are entered off a handsome arcaded gallery, with timber roof supported on walnut pilasters; on the top floor are bedrooms for the family, female servants, etc. The kitchen and household offices and men-servants’ bed-rooms are on the basement floor, which is all above ground. The Castle is in the Scottish Baronial style, and designed with a view to defense if necessary.

The works have been carried out by the Messrs. Dixon, of Belfast, builders, under the superintendence of, and from the designs by, Mr. John Lanyon, F.R.I.B.A., Dublin and Belfast.” [5]

I wonder why George and Jane decided to hire John Lanyon to design their new house, since the company in which he worked, Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon, was based in Belfast, and most of the houses the company designed are in the north of Ireland, including Castle Leslie in County Monaghan (another section 482 property which we visited, see my entry)? John joined his father Charles Lanyon (1813-1889) and William Henry Lynn (1829-1915) in the architectural firm. Blarney House looks very similar in style to Belfast Castle, also designed by Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon.

Belfast Castle, photograph by Aidan Monaghan 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool [6]
Blarney House, June 2022.
Blarney House, June 2022.
The National Inventory continues: “single-storey wing to side (west) terminating in corner turret and full-height corner turret to north-east.”
West facade of Blarney House.

The Lanyons were Freemasons, so perhaps the Colthurst family were also part of that Society. Another possibility is that George Colthurst met John Lanyon due to a common interest in railways. After his father retired, John Lanyon, who also worked as an engineer, worked on railways in the north. [7] The railway was important for bringing tourists to Blarney, as we can see from the old tourism posters on display in the cafe in the stable courtyard, advertising the London Midland and Scottish Railway, British Railways and Great Southern Rhys railway. George Colthurst probably made sure that the railway travelled to Blarney so that it could bring tourists to the destination his wife’s family had created. The Dublin to Cork Great Southern and Western Railway reached Cork in 1856, and Blarney was a stop along the way. The Muskerry railway line, built in 1880, which he financially supported, ran through the George Colthurst’s Ardrum estate and travelled to Blarney. [8] John Lanyon was not involved in the southern railways, but perhaps Colthurst met with him when he was interested in the railways.

Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures inside Blarney House. We paused in the front hall, with its timbered ceiling of polished pine beams, on a flight of stone steps, next to a Colthurst and Jefferyes family tree, to learn more about the family and the house. A chair in the hall also features a white colt, the symbol of the Colthurst family, and was made for the wedding of George Colthurst and Jane Jefferyes.

George and Jane had a son, and they gave him the second name of St. John, following the tradition of the Jefferyes family. George St. John Colthurst the 6th Baronet married Edith Jane Thomasine Morris from Dunkathel house, County Cork. He was in the military and served as Aide-de-Camp to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. His son George Oliver the 7th Baronet succeeded to the estates. He fought in the First World War and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. He died at the age of 68, unmarried. His brother then inherited the estate and title. Richard St. John Jefferyes Colthurst (1887-1955), 8th Bt, also fought in the First World War. He married twice and his heir was son of his second wife.

The house and castle still belong to the Colthurst family. It was empty for some years until Richard Colthurst 9th Baronet and his wife, Janet Georgina Wilson-Wright from Coolcarrigan, County Kildare (also a section 482 property, see my entry) moved in, replumbed, rewired and redecorated it, and in the process, saved the building. Their son the 10th Baronet now lives in the house with his family. We did not meet the Colthursts unfortunately, and a guide led the tour.

The National Inventory describes the entrance: “Square-headed door opening with double-leaf timber panelled door opening to flight of sandstone steps and set within sandstone diastyle portico comprising Composite columns, architrave, frieze and dentilated cornice.” [9] A fine arched sandstone window with Corinthian pilasters and keystone and corbelled architrave with a crest on top, sits above the portico.

The chandelier in the front hall is of Waterford crystal and it was made for the house, as were the carpets, which mirror the keyhole motif in the doors. In the staircase hall, with its Jacobean style oak staircase, our guide pointed to a console table at the foot of the stairs, which has a mirror underneath for ladies to be able to check their hems before entering the reception rooms, to make sure their ankles weren’t accidentally revealed!

The stairs lead up through two storeys to a barrel-vaulted coffered ceiling, framing a large skylight. The heavy wooden staircase was made in Scotland, and features the baronetcy symbol of a hand, and also the Colthurst symbol of a horse and a crest.

A silk embroidery of the castle with its attached Gothic mansion which burnt down was stitched by the Jeffereyes women.

The rainwater hopper sits below a stone dog-style gargoyle.

The library to the left of the stair hall was originally the dining room, as we can see by the Carrera marble fireplace which features Ceres, Goddess of Agriculture and grain. One side of the room has a servants’ entrance and the other end has a dumb waiter, a mini elevator to bring dishes up from the kitchen. The guide pointed out a rent table, a round table with drawers into which tenants could put their rent, and the table could be rotated on its base. I learned that a safe was built in underneath the table top! The land agent would have collected rent twice a year. The Gothic bookcases came from the house in Ardrum. A library chair opens up into steps for climbing the shelves!

The double doors to the drawing room are fireproof and soundproof. The drawing room is painted Regency style duckegg blue. The mirror in the room is from Ardrum. A writing bureau from 1710 is the oldest piece in the house. There are many portraits of members of the family including miniatures, which would have been a gift before a wedding to a future spouse, to show all the members of the new family being acquired! These miniatures feature the La Touche family.

The father of George Colthurst the 5th Baronet of Ardrum, Nicholas, was just seven years old when his father, also named Nicholas, died in 1795. Nicholas the 3rd Baronet Colthurst married Emily La Touche, daughter of David La Touche and Elizabeth Marlay. As I mentioned in my entry about Blarney Castle, Louisa Jeffereyes was also a descendant of a daughter of David La Touche and Elizabeth Marlay, Anne La Touche, who married Louisa’s grandfather, George Charles Jeffereyes (1761-1841).

Nicholas Conway Colthurst (1789-1829) the 4th Baronet married Elizabeth Vesey, daughter of Colonel George Vesey of Lucan House in County Dublin, which is how Lucan House came into the ownership of the Colthurst family. The portrait of Nicholas the 4th Baronet would have come from Ardrum House.

I love the corner turret and its round wrought-iron finial, and the tantalising exterior staircase.
On top of the full height corner turret is a very fancy weather vane. The carved stringcourse to the turret has a floral motif alternating with armorial shield shapes and engraved date reading 1874.

What is now the dining room was the billiard room. It has a plain wooden floor and a slimmer door which was designed, our guide told us, to keep women, with their large crinoline skirts, out! The fireplace, like the one in the entrance hall, is of Portland stone, not marble, indicating that it was originally a less formal room than the drawing room or original dining room. Suitable to a male environment, it has nautical imagery in the fireplace, and acorns, which are a military symbol also, indicating the oak from which ships were made. A portrait of William of Orange shows that the Colthursts took William’s side in the war between the future King William and James II.

The east facade of the house has a full height canted bay and above the window is very decorative tiara-like carving.

Upstairs the upper landings open on three sides through rounded arcades with Corinthian pilasters, and the bedrooms are off the arcaded gallery. [10] The Adam Revival friezes and late eighteenth century Neoclassical chimneypieces reputedly came from Ardrum. [11] We did not get to see the back of the house from the outside as the gardens behind are private, but there is a lake behind the house.

I was disappointed also to discover that the walled garden is private, after a television show was made called “Blarney: a year on the estate.” I felt sure that the gardens featured in the television show would be open to the public!

[1] see the timeline in James Lyttelton’s Blarney Castle, An Irish Towerhouse.

[2] http://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Blarney%20House

[3] https://landedestates.ie/property/3182

[4] p. 30. MacDonnell, Randal. The Lost Houses of Ireland. A chronicle of great houses and the families who lived in them. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. London, 2002.

[5] Archiseek: https://www.archiseek.com/2009/1875-blarney-castle-cork/

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

[7] https://www.dia.ie/architects/view/3086/LANYON,+JOHN

[8] http://www.inniscarra.org/history/page/ardrum.html

[9] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/20845020/blarney-house-blarney-blarney-co-cork

[10] 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.

[11] p. 269, Keohane, Frank. The Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2020.

Blarney Castle & Rock Close, Blarney, Co. Cork

contact: C. Colthurst

Tel: 021-4385252

www.blarneycastle.ie

Open dates in 2022: all year except Christmas Eve & Christmas Day, Jan-Feb, Nov-Dec, 9am-4pm,
Mar-Oct, 9am-5pm.
Fee: adult €18, OAP/student €15, child €10, family and season passes.

Blarney Castle, County Cork, June 2022.

We visited Blarney Castle on a trip to Cork in June 2022, choosing to visit on a date when we could also visit Blarney House – see my entry (on its way!).

We have all heard that kissing the Blarney stone gives us the “gift of the gab,” but where did the story come from? Randal MacDonnell, in his book, The Lost Houses of Ireland, tells us that Queen Elizabeth I said of Cormac mac Diarmada MacCarthy (1552-1616), Lord of Muskerry, ‘This is all Blarney; what he says he never means!’ so the term was used as far back as Elizabethan times. The Blarney Stone, set high in the castle under the battlements, was said to have been a gift to the MacCarthy family after sending 5,000 soldiers to help Robert the Bruce (who died in 1329) in battle. It was reputedly the stone that gushed water after Moses struck it, or else it is said to be part of the Stone of Scone, on which the Kings of Scotland were inaugurated. It is also said to be the pillow that Jacob slept upon when he dreamed of angels ascending a ladder to heaven, that was brought from the Holy Land after the Crusades. Frank Keohane tells us bluntly in his description of Blarney Castle in Buildings of Ireland, Cork City and County (published 2020) that it is in fact the lintel to the central machicolation on the south side!

An Irish person can be reluctant to visit Blarney castle, thinking it “stage Irish” with its tradition of kissing the Blarney stone but it is really well worth a visit, including queueing to get to the top of the castle (to kiss the stone, which you can of course skip!), because along the way you can see the interior five storeys of the castle with its many rooms and corridors. Each year around 550,000 tourists visit Blarney Castle.

It is also worth visiting just to wander the seventy acres of gardens, which are beautiful. There’s a coffee shop in the stable yard.

Map of the extensive estate and gardens.
The Stables and Coach Yard have a coffee shop.
This sign board tells us that the castle we see today is the third structure that was erected on the site. In the tenth century there was a wooden hunting lodge. Around 1210 this was replaced by a stone structure, which was demolished for the foundations of the third, current, castle, built by Cormac MacCarthy in 1446.

The castle we see today is the third structure that was erected on the site. In the tenth century there was a wooden hunting lodge. Around 1210 this was replaced by a stone structure, which was demolished for the foundations of the third, current, castle, built by Cormac Laidir (‘the strong’) MacCarthy in 1446. To put it into chronological perspective, this is around the same time that Richard III deposed King Edward V and nearly fifty years before Christopher Columbus “discovered” the “New world” in 1492 (see the terrific chronology outlined in James Lyttelton’s Blarney Castle, An Irish Towerhouse). He built a slender self-contained four storey tower house, which is now called the northwest tower.

The MacCarthy clan had vast estates, and were recognised as Kings of Munster by the lesser Irish chiefs, the sign boards at Blarney tell us. They trace their ancestry back to a chieftain who was converted to Christianity by St. Patrick. Cormac MacCarthy built Cormac’s Chapel on the Rock of Cashel, 1127-1134, before the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169.

The second, larger, five storey tower was built in the early to mid 16th century.

In 1628 King Charles I created Cormac (Charles) MacCarthy (1564-1640/41) Viscount Muskerry. His father was the 16th Lord of Muskerry – the family gained the title from the English crown in 1353 – and his mother was Mary Butler, daughter of the 1st Baron Caher (of second creation), Theobald, of Cahir Castle in County Tipperary. Viscount Muskerry inherited Blarney in 1616 and undertook alterations, perhaps adding the tall machicolated parapets, and enlarging windows, fitting them with hooded twin and triple light mullioned windows. He married Margaret O’Brien, a daughter of the 4th Earl of Thomond, and secondly, Ellen, widow of Donall MacCarthy Reagh, and daughter of David, seventh Viscount Fermoy. [1]

Viscount Muskerry died in 1640/41, passing the title 2nd Viscount to his son Donnchadh (or Donough). Donough MacCarthy based himself in Macroom, County Cork, and Dublin. Donough and his father were Members of Parliament and sat in the House of Lords in Dublin. He was loyal to the crown in 1641 during the rebellion but afterwards supported the Catholics who sought to be able to keep their lands. The Duke of Ormond sought negotiation between the Confederate Catholics and the crown, and 2nd Viscount Muskerry played an active role in these negotiations. [2] Negotiations were complicated because the lines of disagreement were unclear and as time progressed and more negotiators became involved, goals changed. For some, it was about Catholics being able to own land, for others, to be able to practice their religion freely. Factions fought amongst themselves.

Donough MacCarthy (1594-1665), 2nd Viscount Muskerry and 1st Earl Clancarty, Painted portrait (oil on canvas) at the Hunt Museum, Limerick, Accession number HCP 004. The portrait is part of the original collection donated by antiquarian John Durell Hunt and wife Gertrude Hunt. Other sources suggest it is Donough MacCarthy the 4th Earl Clancarty. I will have to check this!

Further complications arose as Parliament in England was unhappy with the reign of Charles I. Viscount Muskerry was firmly Royalist, along with his brother-in-law the Duke of Ormond. It was at this time that Donough MacCarthy the 2nd Viscount married Eleanor Butler, twin sister of the 1st Duke of Ormond. In 1649, Lord Broghill (Roger Boyle, later created 1st Earl of Orrery) persuaded the towns of Cork, Youghal, Bandon, and Kinsale to declare for Parliament. The division was no longer between Catholics and English rule, but between Royalists and Parliament supporters.

Blarney Castle was taken by Cromwell’s army under Lord Broghill in 1646 and again in 1649 by Oliver Cromwell. The inhabitants and defenders fled via the passageways below the castle and escaped.

It is said that the inhabitants of the castle escaped Cromwell’s army by these routes under the castle.

The 2nd Viscount became the 1st Earl of Clancarty in 1658, raised to the title by the exiled son of King Charles I, who in 1660 became King Charles II. MacCarthy’s property was restored to him by the King.

Charles 3rd Viscount died in the same year as his father (1665), having joined first the French army when in exile from Ireland, and later, the regiment of the Duke of York (who later became King James II). It was therefore his son, Charles James MacCarthy, who became 2nd Earl of Clancarty. The 2nd Earl’s mother was Margaret de Burgh, or Bourke, daughter of the 1st Marquess Clanricarde. The 2nd Earl died in the following year, so the 1st Earl’s second son, Callaghan (1635-1676) became 3rd Earl of Clancarty in 1666. Callaghan converted to Protestantism. He married Elizabeth FitzGerald, daughter of the 16th Earl of Kildare. His younger brother, Justin, was given the title of Viscount Mountcashel.

Jane Ohlmeyer writes of the MacCarthys of Muskerry in her book Making Ireland English:

p. 108: “[the MacCarthys of Muskerry] The family thus enjoyed a formidable range of kinship ties that included the Butlers, of Ormond and Cahir, and the houses of Thomond, Fermoy, Buttevant, Courcy of Kinsale and Kerry. Like Viscount Roche, Muskerry enjoyed a close friendship with the earl of Cork and stood as godfather to one of his youngest children. …Blarney Castle..was the family’s principal residence…. They also resided at Macroom castle in mid-Cork…Though Muskerry retained the traditional customs associated with Gaelic lordship, he also acted as an anglicizing speculator, loaning money and securing lands through mortgages, and as an improving landlord who encouraged English settlers to his estates and especially his main town of Macroom, in mid-Cork.” [see 1]

We saw many means of defense illustrated on our tour of Cahir Castle recently during Heritage Week 2022, and many of these were utilised at Blarney. [see my entry on Cahir Castle in https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/06/26/opw-sites-in-munster-clare-limerick-and-tipperary/ ] One can see the heavy machicolation, a series of openings in the floor of projecting parapets in castles and tower-houses through which offensive or injurious substances can be dropped on the enemy below.

See the machicolation at the top of Blarney Castle.

The castle rises formidably from the bedrock of solid limestone. Its height gives a view all around for defense.

The castle is built on a bedrock of solid limestone.
Ground level openings.
The ground level entrance we see was a gatehouse that defended the tower. Below the castle is a labyrinth of underground passages and chambers. One chamber may have been used as a prison. Another housed a well.

A bawn surrounded the tower house: a defensive area of about eight acres surrounded by a wall. Animals and people took shelter within the bawn in times of danger. The castle was self-sufficient and the bawn would have been a hive of activity with tanners, blacksmiths, masons, woodcutters, carpenters, livestock keepers, horses, cows, pigs, poultry, butchers, cooks, gardeners and attendants. Part of the bawn wall remains.

View of the bawn wall from the castle.
Defense measures include an Oubliette for unwanted guests, and a murder hole if you gain entry to the tower house.
The tower house rising from the limestone bedrock.
The impressively intact casement oriel window we can see here was the Earl of Clancarty’s bedchamber, probably added in 1616 when Cormac (Charles) MacCarthy (1564-1640/41) Viscount Muskerry inherited and undertook major alterations. Further up, there is a two-light window, which was not made to be glazed so is therefore very old.

Blarney was a typical tower house with four or five storeys, with one or two main chambers and some smaller rooms on each floor. A vaulted stone ceiling served to keep the thin tower structurally sound by tying the walls together and also acted as a firebreak. Blarney was constructed as two towers, one built later (by about 100 years) than the other. At the bottom the walls are about 18 feet thick. When it was first built it would have been covered in plaster and whitewashed to protect it from rainy weather.

The MacCarthys retained Blarney Castle until forced to leave it in the years following the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. They were Jacobites, supporters of King James II, and not supporters of King William III, who was crowned King of England, along with his wife Mary, James II’s daughter, in 1689. Mark Bence-Jones tells us that the castle was fortified by Donogh MacCarthy (c. 1668-1734), 4th Earl of Clancarty, who fought for James II in the Williamite War. [3]

The Dictionary of Irish Biography tells us that Donogh MacCarthy the 4th Earl held the office of Lord of the Bedchamber to King James II in Ireland in 1689. MacCarthy fought in the Siege of Cork in 1690, where he was captured, and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He escaped and fled to France in May 1694. In 1698 he secretly returned to England but was betrayed by his brother-in-law, Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland, and was again imprisoned in the Tower. The Dictionary tells us that Lady Russell obtained a pardon for him, on condition he stayed permanently abroad. Lady Rachel Russell, nee Wriothesley, had previously petitioned unsuccessfully for the freedom of her husband, William Lord Russell, who had been arrested as part of the Rye House Plot to kill King Charles II and his brother James.

In exile in France in 1707, Donogh MacCarthy was Lord of the Bedchamber to the titular King James III (so called by the Jacobites who continued to support the Stuarts for the monarchy after William III and Mary had taken the throne). [4] This means he would have known John Baggot of County Cork and Baggotstown, County Limerick, whom I hope was an ancestor of mine (I haven’t been able to trace my family tree back that far). John Baggot married Eleanor Gould, daughter of Ignatius Gould, and fought at the Battle of Aughrim, where he lost an eye. The exiled monarchy recognised his sacrifice and in gratitude, made him groom of the bedchamber to the titular King James III in France also. Those that left Ireland at this time were called the Wild Geese. His son John Baggot subsequently fought in the French army and the other son, Ignatius, in the Spanish army.

There is a terrific summary in plaques in the ground in Limerick city around the Treaty of Limerick stone, on which the Treaty of Limerick was signed in 1691, that tells of the series of battles fought between the troops supporting King James II and the troops supporting King William. One plaque tells us:

Sept 1690 King William returned to England leaving Baron de Ginkel in charge. Cork and Kinsale surrendered to William’s army. Sarsfield rejects Ginkel’s offer of peace. More French help arrives in Limerick as well as a new French leader, the Marquis St. Ruth. Avoiding Limerick, Ginkel attacked Athlone, which guarded the main route into Connaght. 30th June 1691, Athlone surrendered. St. Ruth withdrew to Aughrim. 12th July 1691 The Battle of Aughrim. The bloodiest battle ever fought on Irish soil. The Jacobites were heading for victory when St. Ruth was killed by a cannonball. Without leadership the resistance collapsed and by nightfall, the Williamites had won, with heavy losses on both sides. Most of the Jacobites withdrew to Limerick.

Plaques in the ground of Limerick City around the Treaty of Limerick Stone, about the War of two Kings.
There are many additions to the castle as well as the main keep. This round tower was part of a Gothic mansion built on to the side of the castle by James Jefferyes in 1739.

After the MacCarthys were forced to leave Blarney Castle, it was occupied by the Hollow Sword Blade Company from London. The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us that this company was a forerunner of the disastrously speculative South Sea Company that was attempting to break the Bank of England’s monopoly over Government loans. [5] The Landed Estates database tells us:

The Hollow Sword Blades Company was set up in England in 1691 to make sword blades. In 1703 the company purchased some of the Irish estates forfeited under the Williamite settlement in counties Mayo, Sligo, Galway, and Roscommon. They also bought the forfeited estates of the Earl of Clancarty in counties Cork and Kerry and of Sir Patrick Trant in counties Kerry, Limerick, Kildare, Dublin, King and Queen’s counties (Offaly and Laois). Further lands in counties Limerick, Tipperary, Cork and other counties, formerly the estate of James II were also purchased, also part of the estate of Lord Cahir in county Tipperary. In June 1703 the company bought a large estate in county Cork, confiscated from a number of attainted persons and other lands in counties Waterford and Clare. However within about 10 years the company had sold most of its Irish estates. Francis Edwards, a London merchant, was one of the main purchasers.” [6]

In 1702 the castle was sold to Sir Richard Pyne, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, who sold it the following year, in 1703, to the Governor of Cork, Sir James Jeffereyes (alternatively spelled “Jefferyes”). Richard Pyne also purchased land at Ballyvolane in County Cork, another section 482 property which we have yet to visit!

In 1739 James Jeffereyes built a four storey Gothic style mansion on to the side of the castle, which he called “The Court,” demolishing a former house the MacCarthys had added to the castle. Frank Keohane tells us that the architect may have been Christopher Myers, who had previously rebuilt Glenarm Castle in County Antrim. We can see glimpses of its appearance from the round towers and ruins to one side of the castle, which are the remnants of this grand mansion. The Jefferyes family also laid out a landscape garden at Blarney known as Rock Close, with great stones arranged to look as though they had been put there in prehistoric times. There is a stone over the “wishing steps” inscribed “G. Jefferyes 1759” which commemorates the date of birth of James Jefferyes’s heir. It was a popular tourist destination as early as the 1770s.

Pictures of the Gothic house that was built on the side of the castle, on a noticeboard at Blarney.
Ruins of “the Court,” the Gothic house added to the side of the castle by the Jeffereyes. You can see the plaster decoration of a horse over the door. This must have been put up by later owners of the castle as the horse, or colt, is a symbol of the Colthurst family.

We joined the queue to go up the tower. The ground floor is a large vaulted space. We saw the same sort of vaulting in Oranmore Castle in County Galway, which we visited later that week during Heritage Week 2022.

Ground floor of the Castle, a vaulted space.

This room would have been the cellar chamber when first built, and would have had a wooden floor above, supported by still-present stone supports in the walls. The room on the upper wooden floor was the Great Hall. Originally, an information board tells us, the lower storey probably housed servants or junior members of the household. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it had become a wine cellar, as evidenced by some brick-lined shelves.

Ground floor of Blarney Castle.

We can see the arched vaulted ceiling from the ground floor, with indentations left from wickerwork mats that were used, on which the bed of mortar for the roof was set. We saw similar indentations at Trim Castle and the nearby house of St. Mary’s Abbey in Trim, in the basement [see https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/09/17/st-marys-abbey-high-street-trim-co-meath/ ]. The walls would have been covered in tapestries, which were put on the floor at some stage, becoming carpets. The arched ceiling tied the walls of the tower together.

See the remnants of the wickerwork on the vaulted ceiling, and an impressive fireplace remains in what would have been the Great Hall.

Next to the Great Hall was the Earl’s bedroom.

From here we have a good view of the remnants of the Gothic house remnants:

Remnants of the Gothic styled house which had been built onto the castle.

We climbed a stone spiral staircase inside the tower to see the upper chambers. As usual in tower houses, the narrow spiral staircase was built partly for defense.

We next reached the “Young Ladies’ Bedroom.” The noticeboard tells us that three daughters of Cormac Teige MacCarthy (d. 1583), 14th Lord, grew up here.

The room above the Great Hall in the tower would have been the family room.

Remaining plasterwork on the wall in the family room.
One end of the Family Room has a large fireplace, and the Banqueting Hall was on the storey above. The floor of the Banqueting Hall no longer exists, but you can see the fireplace of this room on the right hand side of the photograph.
Continuing our climb up to the top of Blarney Castle, looking down.

The floors of the banqueting hall, above the family room, and the chapel which would have been on the floor above the banqueting hall, are gone, so when you reach the top of the castle, you can look down inside.

Looking down from the battlements at what would have been the chapel (with the arched windows) and the Banqueting Hall below.

In the Chapel, mass would have been said in Latin, and the chaplain acted as tutor to the children also. The builder of Blarney Castle, Cormac Laidir MacCarthy, was a generous patron of the church and he built five churches, including Kilcrea Abbey where he was buried, which became the traditional burial place for the lords of Blarney.

I love how well-preserved the stone door and window frames remain.

The information boards tell us that feasting was part of the way of life at the time and a meal was combined with a night’s entertainment as part of the social life of the Castle. A series of courses would be served, with fish eggs, fowl and roast meat, all highly spiced to keep them fresh. Alcohol served included mead, beer, wine and whiskey. The high ranks sat near the Lord at the top of the table “above the salt” and others sat “below the salt.” As the meal progressed the Chieftain’s Bard would play his harp and sing songs celebrating the prowess of the MacCarthy clan.

The bell-tower, midway along the top of the eastern battlements. The north pilaster supporting the arch is built on top of a chimneystack that served the fireplaces in the Great Hall and the Banqueting Hall.

The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us that in former times visitors were lowered over the parapet to kiss ‘The Stone’ while gripped firmly by the ankles. The process has become easier and safer today though one still has to lean very far back to kiss the stone, head dangling downward. It has been a popular tourist destination since the days of Queen Victoria. The keep and Blarney stone remains, “despite the osculatory attrition of the eponymous stone by thousands of tourists every year” as Burke’s Peerage tells us with verve! (107th Edition (2003) page 865)

Photograph dated around 1897, National Library of Ireland Creative Commons on flickr.
photo by Chris Hill, 2015, Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool.
Winston Churchill at Blarney Stone, 1912.
Photograph from National Library of Ireland Creative Commons.

One can see from the window embrasures how thick the castle walls are. There are passageways within the walls.

Passageways within the thick walls of the castle.

Some passageways lead to ancilliary rooms, sometimes to a garderobe or “bathroom.”

James St. John Jeffereyes (1734-1780) inherited Blarney estate at the age of six. St. John Jeffereyes was an “improving” landlord who sought to aid the welfare of his tenants and maximise profits from his estates. He took an interest in the linen trade developing in County Cork, which processed locally grown flax into linen. St. John Jeffereyes created a village near Blarney Castle in 1765 with a linen mill, bleach mill, weavers’ cottages and a bleach green. The River Martin powered the mills. The rise of cotton, however, proved the downfall of the production of linen. In 1824, Martin Mahon moved his woollen manufacturing business to a former cotton mill in Blarney, to develop Blarney Woollen Mills. James St. John also, with three other landed gentlemen, established the Tonson Warren bank in Cork city (1768). It was a prominent institution in Cork until its failure in 1784, after Jeffereyes’s death.

James St. John Jeffereyes first married Elizabeth Cosby (1721-1788). We came across her when we visited Stradbally in County Laois, which is still owned by the Cosby family. Her father was William Cosby (1690-1736), who was Governor of New York. She had been previously married to Augustus Fitzroy, 2nd Duke of Grafton, who died in 1741. James St. John and Elizabeth’s daughter Lucia served as Maid of Honour to Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III.

James St. John Jeffereyes married secondly Arabella Fitzgibbon, sister of the 1st Earl of Clare, John Fitzgibbon (1748-1802) (who, by the way, married the daughter of Richard Chapell Whaley, who had the house on St. Stephen’s Green built which now houses the Museum of Literature Ireland (MOLI) – see my entry for MOLI on https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/06/06/covid-19-lockdown-20km-limits-and-places-to-visit-in-dublin/. He was the Lord Chancellor of Ireland who forced the Act of Union through parliament). With Arabella, James had a son and heir, George Jeffereyes (1768-1841).

James’s son George Jeffereyes (1768-1841) married Anne, daughter of the Right Hon. David la Touche of Marlay, the richest man in Ireland and head of the banking dynasty. George’s sisters also married well: Marianne married George Frederick Nugent, 7th Earl of Westmeath; Albinia married Colonel Stephen Francis William Fremantle; and Emilia married Richard Butler, 1st Earl of Glengall.

The Court was destroyed by fire in 1820. Instead of rebuilding, George Jeffereyes and his family moved to Inishera House in West Cork. [7] George and Anne’s son St. John Jeffereyes (1798-1862) inherited Blarney. He had a son, also St. John, who lived in Paris and died in 1898. The estate passed to St. John’s sister Louisa, who married George Colthurst (1824-1878), 5th Baronet Colthurst, of Ardum, Co. Cork. He was a man of property, with another large estate at Ballyvourney near the border with County Kerry, along with Lucan House in County Dublin (currently the Italian ambassador’s residence in Ireland). Blarney remains in the hands of the Colthurst family. Blarney House was built for Louisa and George Colthurst, in 1874.

Blarney House, built for George Colthurst (1824-1878), 5th Baronet Colthurst and his wife Louisa Jeffereyes in 1874, as seen from the top of Blarney Castle.

George Colthurst’s maternal grandmother was Emily La Touche, daughter of David La Touche and Elizabeth Marlay, and paternal grandmother was Emily La Touche’s sister Harriet. Their sister Anne had married George Charles Jeffereyes, Louisa’s grandmother, so Louisa and George were second cousins.

Randall MacDonald tells us in his book The Lost Houses of Ireland. A chronicle of great houses and the families who lived in them:

p. 29 “The Colthursts had arrived in Ireland from Yorkshire towards the end of Elizabeth I’s reign and settled in Cork. Christopher Colthurst was murdered by the rebels in 1641 near Macroom in County Cork. By the 1730s, they were High Sheriffs of County Cork, and in 1744 John Colthurst, who had married the daughter of the 1st Earl of Kerry, Lady Charlotte Fitzmaurice, was created a baronet. It would be uncharitable to suggest that it was his father-in-law’s influence that procured him this advancement. He was Member of Parliament for Doneraile from 1751 (and afterwards for Youghal and Castle Martyr). His son Sir John Colthurst, the 2nd Baronet, was killed in a duel with Dominick Trant in 1787 and the title passed to his brother (MP for Johnstown, Co Longford and then for Castle Martyr until 1795), who married Harriet, daughter of the Right Hon. David la Touche. Sir Nicholas Colthurst, the 4th Baronet, was the MP for the city of Cork from 1812-1829.

It was his son, Sir George Colthurst, the 5th Baronet, who married Louisa Jefferyes of Blarney Castle in 1846.” [8]

The 9th Baronet Colthurst, Richard La Touche Colthurst (1928-2003) married Janet Georgina Wilson Wright, from Coolcarrigan in County Kildare, another section 482 property [ https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/05/31/coolcarrigan-house-and-gardens-coill-dubh-naas-county-kildare/ ]. Their son is the current owner of Blarney Castle and House.

We headed for the coffee shop after our perusal of the Castle. In the yard they have beautiful barrell vaulted wagons, and in the cafe, lovely old travel advertisements.

Individual stables have been made into “snugs” for snacks.

The seventy acres of gardens offer various landscapes. The bawn contains a Poison Garden, or medicinal garden, where various medicinal plants are grown, including poisons such as wolfsbane, ricin, mandrake, opium and cannabis.

The bawn wall and poison garden.

The Rock Close is the garden that was developed by the Jefferyes in the 1750s and echoes Ireland’s ancient past with giant rock formations and hints of Druidic culture. Water running through adds to the beauty, with a lovely waterfall.

We were impressed by the bamboo maze.

My favourite area is the Fern Garden, which feels prehistoric and is extremely picturesque, with raised wooden walkways. We headed to Blarney House, which will be my next entry!

The Fern Garden, which includes lovely wooden walkways.

[1] p. 108. Ohlmeyer, Jane. Making Ireland English: The Irish Aristocracy in the 17th Century.

[2] See Ó Siochrú, Micheál’s entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography: https://www.dib.ie/biography/maccarthy-donough-a5129

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

[4] G.E. Cokayne; with Vicary Gibbs, H.A. Doubleday, Geoffrey H. White, Duncan Warrand and Lord Howard de Walden, editors, The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant, new ed., 13 volumes in 14 (1910-1959; reprint in 6 volumes, Gloucester, U.K.: Alan Sutton Publishing, 2000), volume III, page 216. Quoted on the website The Peerage.com. See also https://www.dib.ie/biography/maccarthy-donogh-a5128

[5] https://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Blarney%20House

[6] https://landedestates.ie/family/2877

[7] see the timeline in James Lyttelton’s Blarney Castle, An Irish Towerhouse.

[8] MacDonnell, Randal. The Lost Houses of Ireland. A chronicle of great houses and the families who lived in them. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. London, 2002.

Places to visit and stay in Leinster: Offaly and Westmeath

On the map above:

blue: places to visit that are not section 482

purple: section 482 properties

red: accommodation

yellow: less expensive accommodation for two

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

green: gardens to visit

grey: ruins

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

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

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

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

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

€€€ – over €250 per night for two.

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

Offaly:

1. Ballindoolin House, Edenderry, Co. Offaly

2. Ballybrittan Castle, Ballybrittan, Edenderry, Co. Offaly

3. Birr Castle, Birr, Co. Offaly

[at some time, to re-open to the public, the gardens at Bellefield – see Robert O’Byrne’s blog: https://theirishaesthete.com/2022/05/02/bellefield/

4. Boland’s Lock, Cappincur, Tullamore, Co. Offaly

5. Charleville Forest Castle, Tullamore, County Offaly

6. Clonony Castle, County Offaly

7. Corolanty House, Shinrone, Birr, Co. Offaly

8. Crotty Church, Castle Street, Birr, Co. Offaly

9. Gloster House, Brosna, Birr, Co. Offaly

10. High Street House, High Street, Tullamore, Co. Offaly

11. Leap Castle, County Offaly

12. Loughton, Moneygall, Birr, Co. Offaly

13. Springfield House, Mount Lucas, Daingean, Tullamore, Co. Offaly

14. The Maltings, Castle Street, Birr, Co. Offaly

15. Woodland Cottage Garden, Birr, County Offaly

Places to stay, County Offaly

1. Kinnitty Castle (formerly Castle Bernard), Kinnity, County Offaly €€

2. Loughton House, County Offaly

3. The Maltings, Castle Street, Birr, Co. Offaly

Whole house rental, County Offaly:

1. Ballycumber, County Offaly – whole house rental (13 guests)

Westmeath:

1. Athlone Castle, County Westmeath

2. Belvedere House, Gardens and Park, County Westmeath

3. Lough Park House, Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath

4. St. John’s Church, Loughstown, Drumcree, Collinstown, Co. Westmeath

5. Tullynally Castle & Gardens, Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath

6. Turbotstown, Coole, Co. Westmeath

7. Tyrrelspass Castle, County Westmeathrestaurant and gift shop 

Places to stay, County Westmeath: 

1. Annebrook House Hotel, Austin Friars Street, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath, N91YH2F

2. Lough Bawn House, Colllinstown, County Westmeath €€

3. Lough Bishop House, Collinstown, County Westmeath

4. Mornington House, County Westmeath €€

Whole House Rental/wedding venue, County Westmeath:

1. Bishopstown House, Rosemount, County Westmeath – whole house rental (sleeps up to 18 people)

2.  Middleton Park, Mullingar, County Westmeath – whole house rental and weddings

Offaly:

1. Ballindoolin House, Edenderry, Co. Offaly

contact: Rudolf Prosoroff
Tel: 0043 676 5570097
Open: April 4-8, 19-28, May 2-5, 7-12, 14-19, 21-26, 30-31, June 1-2, 6-9, 13-16, 20- 23, 27-30, Aug 13-21, 10am-2pm

Fee: adult €10, student /OAP/child €5

Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie

An article in the Irish Times by Gemma Tipton in March 2014 tells us that Ballindoolin near Edenderry is the old demesne of the Bor family. The Humphrey Bor family lived on the estate from 1620 untill the 1890s brought them financial difficulty and their land agent William Tyrell took over the demesne when they vacated it. The house was built in 1822.  

When Robert Moloney inherited it in 1993, he and his wife Esther began a huge project of renovation and restoration, including reroofing, replumbing and rewiring.  

Outside, with the help of Fáilte Ireland and some EU funds, the original large walled gardens were returned to their exact and former glory, as one of 26 chosen under the Great Gardens Restoration Scheme.

The house was again on the market in 2021. Gemma Tipton writes tells us a bit more about the house in the August article in the Irish Times: The Bor family were Dutch bankers, whose origins in the Dutch East India Company might be seen in the Hindu Gothic style plasterwork in the hallway.

Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie. Tipton tells us that the gate lodge is designed originally by  William Morrison for the Duke of Abercorn.
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie

Tipton writes:

Robert and Esther used documents and diaries to ensure the restoration, inside and out, was in-keeping, later donating 40 boxes of account books, ledgers and records to the archives at NUI Maynooth for safe-keeping.  

These reveal a wealth of stories about the day-to-day running of the house, although it is just as easy to imagine them coming alive as you wander through the rooms. There is the wide, stone-flagged hallway, and the cosier, but still imposing back hall. The drawing room has its original wallpaper and chandelier; the marvellous fireplaces are intact. ”

Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie. Gemma Tipton writes that The Bor family were Dutch bankers, whose origins in the Dutch East India Company might be seen in the Hindu Gothic style plasterwork in the hallway.

Tipton tells us:

Ballindoolin last sold in 2017, to an Austrian businessman, who fell in love with the house, its enviable position (less than an hour’s drive to Dublin city centre) and its stories. His plan was to lavish it with care and attention, and ultimately move over with his family. The first part worked out beautifully – Ballindoolin is in showpiece condition, but the family’s plans changed, and so it is now on the market.

Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie
Ballindoolin House, County Offaly, from myhome.ie

2. Ballybrittan Castle, Ballybrittan, Edenderry, Co. Offaly

Ballybrittan Castle, County Offaly, photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

contact: Rosemarie
Tel: 087-2469802 

www.ballybrittancastle.com

Open: Jan 30-31, Feb 6-7, 13-14, 20-21, 27-28, May 1-31, Aug 13-21, Sept 21-30, 2pm-6pm.
Fee: Free – except in case of large groups a fee of €5 p.p.

The National Inventory describes it: “Detached four-bay two-storey house, built c.1750, with return and extension to rear and adjoining outbuildings to north. Set within own grounds…Modest in design, this fine house retains its original character with minimal intervention. The simple well proportioned façade is enhanced by the survival of its sash windows and door, while the finely executed door surround forms a subtle adornment. The outbuildings to rear, along with the iron-mongery to the front, complete this appealing domestic complex.” [1]

3. Birr Castle, Birr, Co. Offaly

contact: Alicia Clements Tel: 057-9120056

www.birrcastle.com

Open: May 17-Aug 31, Mon-Sat, National Heritage Week, Aug 13-21, Sept 1-2, 10am-2pm
Fee: adult/OAP/student €20, child free

Birr Castle, photograph by Chris Hill 2018, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [2]

Our tour guide was young but thoroughly knowledgeable. He walked a group of us over to the castle, across the moat, which he told us had been created, along with the walls surrounding the castle demesne, and the stone stable buildings, which are now the reception courtyard, museum and cafe, in 1847 when the owners of Birr Castle provided employment to help to stave off the hunger of the famine. 

Gates made by Lady Rosse, Mary Field, wife of the third Earl of Rosse, with the family motto, “For God and the Land to the Stars.” The motto was originally for God and King but, unhappy with the monarch’s response to the famine, the family changed their motto.

I was intrigued to hear that the gates had been made by one of the residents of the castle, Lady Mary Field, wife of the third Earl of Rosse. She was an accomplished ironworker!! She brought a fortune with her to the castle when she married the Earl of Rosse, which enabled him to build his telescope. But more on that later. 

Birr Castle, photograph by Chris Hill 2018, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. (see [2])

More on Birr Castle soon!

Birr Castle, photograph by Liam Murphy, 2015, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. (see [2])

The website tells us:

In Anglo Norman Times, the Castle was built on the motte. The gate tower of this led into the castle bawn (courtyard) which is now the centre of the present building. The Central Gate Passage with its 12 foot walls can be seen in the lower floor of the present building.

The castle or fortress of Birr was re occupied by the O’Carroll’s who held it until the 1580s when it was sold to the Ormond Butlers. In 1620 the now ruined castle was granted to the Parsons family by James I.  Rather than occupy the tower house of the O’Carrolls, the Parsons decided to turn the Norman Gate Tower into their ‘English House’. Building on either side and incorporating two Flanking Towers.  Sir Laurence Parsons did a large amount of building and remodelling including the building of the two flanking towers, before his death in 1628. This is all accounted for in our archives.

The castle survived two sieges in the 17th century, leaving the family impoverished at the beginning of the 18th century. This led to little was done to the 17thcentury house.  However, sometime between the end of that century and the beginning of the 19th century, the house which had always faced the town, was given a new gothic facade, which now faces the park.  The ancient towers and walls, now the park side of the castle, were swept away, including the Black Tower (The Tower House) of the O’Carroll’s, which had stood on the motte. Around 1820 the octagonal Gothic Saloon overlooking the river was cleverly added into the space between the central block and the west flanking tower.

After a fire in the central block in 1836 the centre of the castle was rebuilt, with the ceilings heightened, a third story added and also the great dining room. In the middle of the 1840s a larger work force was employed during the famine times in Ireland. The old moat and the original Norman motte were flattened, and a new star-shaped moat was designed, with a keep gate. This was financed by Mary, Countess of Rosse. This period of remodelling was also overlapped with the construction of the Great Telescope, The Leviathan. Which was completed in 1845.

The final work on the castle was completed in the 1860s when a Square Tower at the back of the castle on the East side was added. This now contains nurseries on the top floor which have a great view over the town of Birr.”

Birr Castle gardens, photograph for Tourism Ireland, 2015, Ireland’s Content Pool. (see [2])

The website also gives us a good history of the family:

The Parsons family arrived at Birr in 1620. They acquired the ruined fortress of Birr. It had been an O’Carroll castle, but had for some twenty years belonged to the Ormond Butlers. Sir Laurence [1576-1628], one of four brothers living in Ireland at the beginning of end of the 16th century, had been working with his cousin Richard Boyle the great Earl of Cork,(to whom he was related through the Fenton family, in Youghal). Laurence died suddenly in 1628 and was succeeded by his second son, William, ably supported by his mother, Anne, née Malham, a Yorkshire woman related to the Tempest family.

Sir Laurence’s elder brother, also William, became Surveyor General of Ireland and founded the elder branch of the family, living in Bellamont, Dublin. This branch died out at the end of the 18th century.

The 17th century was a turbulent one for the Parsons family in Birr. The castle was involved in two sieges, the first in the 1640s where the family moved for a time to London, before returning at the end of the Cromwellian period. In 1690 the castle was besieged again, by Sarsfield [Patrick Sarsfield, 1st Earl of Lucan].This time the Castle held out and Sarsfield moved on.

The 18th century was a quiet period for the family who were left with little money and returned to improving their estates at Birr and living off the land. Towards the end of the century Sir Laurence, [1758-1841] 5th baronet, became a politician and friend of Flood and Grattan. He was praised for his honesty. He opposed the Act of Union. He became 2nd Earl of Rosse in 1807 when he inherited the title from his Uncle [Lawrence Harman Parsons-Harman, 1st Earl of Rosse, who had inherited Newcastle, County Longford].”

Birr Castle, this is the only photograph I can find of the inside as one cannot take photographs! photograph by Chris Hill 2018, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. (see [2])

The website history of the family continues:

The 19th century saw the castle become a great centre of scientific research when William Parsons, 3rd Earl built the great telescope. (See astronomy).His wife, Mary, whose fortune helped him to build the telescope and make many improvements to the castle, was a pioneer photographer and took many photographs in the 1850s.  Her dark room – a total time capsule which was preserved in the Castle – has now been exactly relocated in the Science Centre.

Their son the 4th Earl also continued astronomy at the castle and the great telescope was used up to the beginning of the 2nd world war. His son the 5th Earl was interested in agriculture and visited Denmark in search of more modern and successful methods. Sadly he died of wounds in the 1st world war.

His son, Michael the 6th Earl and his wife Anne created the garden for which Birr is now famous. (see the gardens and trees and plants) Anne, who was the sister of Oliver Messel the stage designer, brought many treasures to Birr from the Messel collection and with her skill in interior decoration and artist’s eye, transformed the castle, giving it the magical beauty that is now apparent to all.  Michael was also much involved in the creation of the National Trust in England after the war.

Their son Brendan, the present Earl, spent his career in the United Nations Development Programme, living with his wife Alison and their family in many third world countries.  He returned to Ireland on his father’s death in 1979.  Brendan and Alison have also spent much time on the garden, especially collecting and planting rare trees.  Their three children are all passionate about Birr and continue to add layers to the story for the future.

Patrick, Lord Oxmantown currently lives in London and is working on plans to bring large scale investment into Birr which will enable him and his family to move back to Ireland.

Alicia Clements managers the Birr Castle Estate and lives in the sibling house of Tullanisk.

Michael Parsons, works in London managing a portfolio of properties for the National Trust and is a board member to The Birr Scientific and Heritage Foundation.”

4. Boland’s Lock, Cappincur, Tullamore, Co. Offaly

contact: Martin O’Rourke
Tel: 086-2594914
Open: June 1-30, July 1-31, Aug 1-31, 12 noon-4pm Fee: adult €2, student/child free, family €5

Boland’s Lock, photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. Designed by Michael Hayes of Tullamore Harbour.

The National Inventory describes it: “Oval-shaped four-bay two-storey lock keeper’s house, built c.1800, with a projecting bow to the front and rear. Located at the 26th lock on the Grand Canal.”

5. Charleville Forest Castle, Tullamore, County Offaly

Charleville Castle, August 2018.

Mark Bence-Jones writes (1988):

p. 82. “(Bury/IFR) The finest and most spectacular early C19 castle in Ireland, Francis Johnston’s Gothic masterpiece, just as Townley Hall, Co Louth, is his Classical masterpiece. Built 1800-1812 for Charles William Bury, 1st Earl of Charleville, replacing a C17 house on a different site known as Redwood. A high square battlemented block with, at one corner, a heavily machicolated octagon tower, and at the other, a slender round tower rising to a height of 125 feet, which has been compared to a castellated lighthouse. From the centre of the block rises a tower-like lantern. The entrance door, and the window over it, are beneath a massive corbelled arch. The entire building is cut-stone, of beautiful quality. To the right of the entrance front, and giving picturesque variety to the composition, is a long, low range of battlemented offices, including a tower with pinnacles and a gateway. The garden front is flanked by square turrets. The interior is as dramatic and well-finished as the exterior. In the hall, with its plaster groined ceiling carried on graceful shafts, a straight flight of stairs rises between galleries to piano nobile level, where a great double door, carved in florid Decorated style, leads to a vast saloon or gallery running the whole length of the garden front. This is one of the most splendid Gothic Revival interiors in Ireland; it has a ceiling of plaster fan vaulting with a row of gigantic pendants down the middle; two lavishly carved fireplaces of grained wood, Gothic decoration in the frames of the windows opposite and Gothic bookcases and side-tables to match. The drawing room and dining room, on either side of the hall, are also of noble proportions, the dining room  has a coffered ceiling and a fireplace which is a copy of the west door of Magdalen College chapel, Oxford. Staircase of Gothic joinery leading to the upper storeys, with Gothic mouldings on walls. Small octagonal library in octagon tower; charming little boudoir in round tower, with plaster vault surmounted by an eight-pointed star. Very heavily oak-wooded demesne, with grotto and serpentine walks; castellated entrance gateway. With the death of 5th Earl of Charleville 1875, the title became extinct; Charleville Forest passed to a sister of 4th Earl [Emily Alfreda Julia Bury, who married Kenneth Howard who added Bury to his surname], then to her son [Charles Kenneth Howard-Bury], and then to the grandson of another of 4th Earl’s sisters. After standing empty for many years, the castle has been let to Mr M.G. McMullen, who has restored it.” [3]

The entrance door, and the window over it, are beneath a massive corbelled arch.

Sean O’Reilly tells us in rish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of Country Life: “Bury’s intention, as he wrote in his own unfinished account of the work, was to ‘exhibit specimens of Gothic architecture’ adapted to ‘chimneypieces, ceilings, windows, balustrades, etc.’ but without excluding ‘convenience and modern refinements in luxury.’ This recipe for the Georgian gothic villa had already been used at Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill in London, and Bury’s cultivated lifestyle in England certainly would have made him aware of that house and its long line of descendants.” [4]

My camera battery died before I had time to take photographs when I visited so please excuse these blurry pictures taken on my old phone. For much better pictures and more information, see the website of the Irish Aesthete Robert O’Byrne, https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/10/14/charleville/

In the hall, with its plaster groined ceiling carried on graceful shafts, a straight flight of stairs rises between galleries to piano nobile level, where a great double door, carved in florid Decorated style, leads to a vast saloon or gallery running the whole length of the garden front.

O’Reilly tells us: “Charleville Forest’s patron, Charles William Bury, from 1800 Viscount and from 1806 Earl of Charleville, was a man well versed in contemporary English taste and style. He inherited lands in Limerick, through his father’s maternal line, and in Offaly. His great wealth, lavish lifestyle and generous nature allowed him simultaneously to distribute largesse in Ireland, live grandly in London and travel widely on the continent…[p. 139] Charleville’s lack of success in his search for a sinecure proved ill for the future of the family fortunes for, continuing to live extravagantly above their means, they advanced speedily towards bankruptcy. On Charleville’s death in 1835, the estate was ‘embarrassed’ and by 1844, the Limerick estates had to be sold and the castle shut up, while his son and heir, ‘the greatest bore the world can produce’ according to one contemporary, retired to Berlin.

O’Reilly continues to tell us of the history of ownership: “The 3rd Earl [Charles William George Bury (1822-1859)] returned to the house in 1851, but with a much reduced fortune; the property was then inherited by his grand-daughter Lady Emily Howard-Bury, after whose death in 1931 it remained unoccupied.”

Charming little boudoir in round tower, with plaster vault surmounted by an eight-pointed star.
Charming little boudoir in round tower, with plaster vault surmounted by an eight-pointed star.
It has a ceiling of plaster fan vaulting with a row of gigantic pendants down the middle.
The ceiling, with its coffered panels, sports family emblems of the Moores and the Burys, all supported on a light Gothic crested frieze, dating to 1875 and a remnant of William Morris’s only Irish commission. (see [5]) The oak forest and lands were gifted by Queen Elizabeth I to Moore, Earl of Charleville in 1577. Due to the lack of male heirs in the Moore family the land was inherited by Charles William Bury who was the grand nephew of the last Earl [Charles Moore (1712-1764), 1st Earl of Charleville] just six months old.
Staircase of Gothic joinery leading to the upper storeys, with Gothic mouldings on walls.

6. Clonony Castle, County Offaly

https://www.visitoffaly.ie/Things-to-do/Culture-Heritage/Clonony-Castle/

The website tells us:

Clonony Castle, built in the 1490’s by the Coghlan Clan, was seized by Henry VIII during the war of dominion by England. He ceded it to Thomas Boleyn, making him the Earl of Ormond, his daughter, the ill-fated Ann, a countess and marriageable by a king. When Henry tired of Ann and the Boleyns fell from grace, two ladies, Mary and Elizabeth, were sent back to Clonony and remained for the rest of their lives. Their tombstone lays beneath a tree in the castle bawn.

Following the ladies demise, a merchant, Sir Matthew de Renzi, wrote to Queen Elizabeth of the great significance of the castle and begged to be awarded it. These DeRenzi letters have become very important as they tell us what life was like in the 16th Century in the midlands. Possessing a great facility for language, speaking and trading with many countries, he wrote the first English/Irish dictionary.

Today the castle has been sensitively restored to reflect the way of life through this historical period and now is open to the public casually from 12 to 5 on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through summer and anytime by appointment on 0877614034. There is no fee, but donations toward the maintenance of the castle is greatly appreciated. In June, the castle will open on weekends for glamping (glamourous camping). Early booking is essential.”

7. Corolanty House, Shinrone, Birr, Co. Offaly

Corolanty House, photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

contact: Siobhan Webb
Tel: 086-1209984
Open: Jan, Feb, July, Aug, Sept, daily 2pm-6pm Fee: Free

The National Inventory tells us it is: “Detached five-bay three-storey over basement country house, built c.1730, with two-storey addition to north. Set within its own grounds….Corolanty House displays some of the characteristics of a typical eighteenth-century Irish country house, which include its form and scale, the finely tooled Gibbsian door surround and the curiously concealed tooled limestone architrave surrounds to the window openings. The symmetrical form of the house is maintained by the inclusion of blind windows to the rear elevation, but this is somewhat disrupted by the two-storey addition to the north-facing side elevation. The retention of many original features, including the staircase, decorative plasterwork to the ceilings of the principal rooms and the interior joinery, contribute to the character of the house and its architectural and artistic significance. The remains of Corolanty Castle to the yard contributes an archaeological interest.” [5]

8. Crotty Church, Castle Street, Birr, Co. Offaly

contact: Eoin Garry
Tel: 086-3286277
Open: all year, 1pm-5pm Fee: Free

9. Gloster House, Brosna, Birr, Co. Offaly

contact: Tom & Mary Alexander
Tel: 087-2342135
Open: Jan 3-28, Mon-Fri, May 1-31, Aug 13-21, 9am-1.30pm Fee: adult/student/child/OAP €7

The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us:

Just east of the road between Birr and Roscrea, Gloster is County Offaly’s most important remaining eighteenth century house. The formal facade, overlooking the steeply terraced garden, is unusually long and low, and is very grand. Thirteen bays wide and two stories high, the house is constructed in blue-grey limestone with a wealth of early architectural details in warm contrasting sandstone. The interior is equally splendid, especially the two principal rooms; the richly decorated double-height entrance hall and the great barrel-vaulted hall, or landing, on the piano nobile. 

The Lloyd’s ancestor came to Ireland from Denbighshire, to serve in the army of King Charles I, and he acquired the estate in 1639 through  marriage with an heiress, Margaret Medhop. Presumably they and their descendants lived in an earlier dwelling, of which no trace remains, until the present house was completed sometime after 1720. The architectural historian Maurice Craig, who edited the book of Pearce’s drawings, observed that, “Gloster has features which can hardly derive from anyone other than Sir Edward Lovett Pearce” (c.1699-1733). Craig also believed that, while Pearce may well have provided a design for his cousin, Trevor Lloyd, he almost certainly left the execution to others since “for all its charm, it is provincial in almost every respect”.

The central breakfront is relatively plain, apart from the typically 1700s hooded door case with pilasters to either side, while two recessed bays at either end of the facade are treated as wings, with Pearcean blind niches in place of windows on the upper storeys. Meanwhile the three intervening bays to either side are further divided by vertically paired pilasters, Doric below the string course and Corintian above, and their positions are reflected in the cornice, the parapet and in the intervals of the balustrade.

Inside, the elaborate double-height entrance-hall has a series of bust-filled niches while there is very grand upper hall on the piano nobile. This is approached by twin staircases and overlooks the entrance-hall though a series of round-headed openings with a profusion of architectural detail.

Samuel Chearnley may have had a hand in designing the gardens, which contain a canal, a lime avenue and a pedimented arch, flanked by obelisks in the manner of Vanburgh, while a series of later terraces in front of the house descend to a small lake.

Gloster was sold in 1958 and became a convent and nursing home, with a new school complex built on the site of the former stables. The school closed shortly after 1990 and the house fell into considerable disrepair. Happily Tom and Mary Alexander purchased the house and have carried out a thorough and sympathetic restoration.

Famous visitors to Gloster include John Wesley, who preached here in 1749, while the famous Australian “diva” Dame Nellie Melba sang from the gallery in the upper hall early in the 20th century.” [6]

10. High Street House, High Street, Tullamore, Co. Offaly

contact: George Ross
Tel: 086-3831992

www.no6highstreet.com

Open: Jan 4-31, Mon -Fri, May 1-18, Aug 13-21, Sept 1-24, 9.30am-1.30pm Fee: adult/student €5, OAP €4, child under 12 free

11. Leap Castle, County Offaly

https://www.visitoffaly.ie/Things-to-do/Culture-Heritage/Leap-Castle/

Sean Ryan of Leap Castle, insisted that he doesn’t fabricate when telling the story of what he and his wife see and hear at their home. Where most would refer to these apparitions as ghosts, Sean prefers to call them spirits. He describes the regular visions as people with a haze around them. Sometimes there is a lot of activity; other times less so. The sounds they hear are footsteps, doors opening and closing and crowds talking. However, on occasions that he has gone in the direction of the noise, nothing is apparent there, with the location of the spirits always out of reach. There is spirit, though, a lady, who touches off people. A lot of guests to the castle have also felt her presence. The remarkable thing Sean told us was that this experience never seems to alarm his guests, rather they always remain very calm, something that surprises them! Sean doesn’t regard his home as haunted and, as far as he is concerned, the spirits he sees and hears have as much right to live there as he does. Sean is happy to continue to live alongside them as he has done since 1994, when restoration on the castle began.

Leap Castle by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. (see [2])

The Leap Castle website gives us more information: http://leapcastle.net

Built in the early 1500’s under the supervision of the powerful and warring O’Carroll clan, Leap Castle has been the centre of much bloodshed.

Leap Castle by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. (see [2])

The O’Carrolls were a fierce and brutal clan, continually struggling for power and supremacy. They were known to be particularly violent and cunning in the attempts for domination. John O’Carroll was thought to be the first Prince of Ely who lived at Leap Castle. It is very probable that it was he who was responsible for the construction of the earliest sections of Leap Castle. John O’Carroll died at Leap Castle, suffering from the plague. John O’Carroll was succeeded by his son named Mulrony O’Carroll.
Mulrony O’Carroll was renowned for his strength, bravery and valour and was considered a great leader. The Great Mulrony as he was known died (most likely) at Leap in 1532 after a rulership of forty two years. Mulrony was succeeded by his son Fearganhainm.

The website continues with the history of one brother after another killing each other for supremacy.

The website tells us:

In 1629 John O’Carroll, nephew of Charles O’Carroll was given the official ownership of the Leap Estate.
The year 1649 the property of Leap Castle was handed over to the first of the Darby line, Jonathon. He was a soldier of the Cromwellian forces and was handed the property and land in lieu of pay.

1664 saw the property handed back to John O’Carroll due to his continued loyalty to Charles the 1st. This arrangement was unfortunately reversed in 1667 due to the differing views of Charles the 2nd. The Leap Castle was once again back in the hands of the Darbys.

Leap Castle by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. (see [2])

Jonathon Darby the 2nd, a Cromwellian soldier obtained Leap Castle in 1649. This was lieu of payment for his services. Jonathon and his wife Deborah had a son also named Jonathon.

The estate was passed through a line of Jonathan Darbys.

“Jonathon Darby the 5th maintained the Leap Estate until his death in 1802. As Jonathon fathered no male children, Leap Castle was passed on to his younger brother Henry. 

Henry d’Esterre Darby, born in 1750 climbed through the Naval ranks to become Admiral Sir Henry d’Esterre Darby in 1799. Henry died in 1823 bearing no children of his own. Upon Henry’s death, the Leap Castle estate was inherited by his brother John Darby. 

John Darby married Anne Vaughan and died in 1834. He was succeeded by their sons William Henry, Christopher, George, Susan, Jonathon, Horatio d’Esterre, John Nelson and Sarah Darby.

William Henry Darby inherited Leap Castle died in 1880.  His eldest son had died in 1872 aged 45 so the Leap Estate was passed on to his grandson Jonathon Charles Darby.

Jonathon married Mildred Dill aka Mildred Darby in 1889.

Leap Castle by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. (see [2])

In the early hours of Sunday morning, 30 July 1922 a party of eleven raiders set fire to the Leap totally destroying the North and larger wing and its valuable contents.  Giving evidence in the claims court Richard Dawkins said that on 30 July 1922, he was living in the Castle as caretaker with his wife and baby. They were the only persons in the castle that night. Richard Dawkins stated that at 2.20am there was a knock on the door. He opened the window, put out his head, and saw men outside who stated that they wanted a night’s lodging. They ordered him to open the door. He went down and opened the door and was subsequently held at gunpoint. The raiders then stated that they were going to burn the castle.  Dawkins asked for time to get his wife and child out and was given twenty minutes to do so. The raiders then went into the castle and poured petrol over the rooms, and set them on fire. They kept the family outside from 2.30am to 5.00am. Each of the men had a tin of petrol, and all were armed. Some had trench coats and other had bandoleers over their civilian clothes. The men broke furniture before setting the castle on fire.

In a newspaper report Jonathan Darby said that it looked as if there were explosives used in the destruction of the castle he had found some dynamite in the cellar where the raiders got so drunk they could not explode it.  He said that it was the locals who burned the castle.” 

–          Noel Guerin

Leap Castle by Brian Morrison, 2015 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. (see [2])

13. Loughton, Moneygall, Birr, Co. Offaly

Loughton House, County Offaly, May 2019.

See my entry:

https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/11/01/loughton-house-moneygall-county-offaly/
contact: Michael Lyons 
Tel: 089-4319150
www.loughtonhouse.com
Open: May 10-June 30, Tue-Sunday, Aug 2-7, 9-21, 11am-3.30pm
Fee: adult €5, OAP/student €4, child €3 (under 12 free), family (2 adults & 2 children over 12) €15

14. Springfield House, Mount Lucas, Daingean, Tullamore, Co. Offaly

contact: Muireann Noonan
Tel: 087-2204569
www.springfieldhouse.ie

Open: Jan 1-9, 1pm-5pm, April 15-19, May 21-29, June 10-12, 17-19, July 1-3, 8-10, 15-17, Aug 13-28, 2pm-6pm, Dec 26-31, 1pm-5pm
Fee: Free

Write-up coming soon!

15. The Maltings, Castle Street, Birr, Co. Offaly

Contact: Eoin Garry
Tel: 086-3286277 

www.canbe.ie

(Tourist Accommodation FacilityOpen: all year

16. Woodland Cottage Garden, Birr, County Offaly

https://www.gardensofireland.org/directory/42/woodland+cottage+garden/

Contact: Anne Ward 

Tel: +353 (0) 57 912 1215 

Mobile: +353 (0) 86 305 1697 

Email: nanoward@eircom.net 

Web: www.loughderggardens.com 

Places to stay, County Offaly

1. Kinnitty Castle (formerly Castle Bernard), Kinnity, County Offaly

https://www.kinnittycastlehotel.com/index.html

Kinnitty Castle Hotel, 2014, photographer unknown, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. (see [2])

Mark Bence-Jones writes in his 1988 book of Kinnitty Castle, formerly named Castle Bernard: p. 62. [Castle Bernard]: “[Bernard 1912; De la Poer Beresford, Decies] A Tudor-Revival castle of 1833 by James and George Pain [built for T. Bernard]. Impressive entrance front with gables, oriels and tracery windows and an octagonal corner tower with battlements and crockets; all in smooth ashlar. Subsequently the home of 6th Lord Decies [Arthur George Marcus Douglas De La Poer Beresford (1915-1992)], by whom it was sold ca. 1950. Now a forestry centre.” 

Kinnitty Castle Hotel, 2014, photographer unknown, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. (see [2])

The website used to include a history, which told us:

The present building was originally built by William O’Carroll on the site of the old Abbey in 1630.  The English Forces, as part of the plantation of Offaly, or “Kings County” as it was renamed, confiscated this in 1641.  In 1663 Colonel Thomas Winter was granted 2,624 acres by King Charles II for military services rendered.  The Winter family sold the building in 1764 to the Bernards of County Carlow.  This building was reconstructed as a castellated mansion in 1811 by the famous Pan Brothers at the commission of Lady Catherine Hutchinson, wife of Colonel Thomas Bernard.  The building was burned in 1922 by Republican forces and rebuilt by means of a Government grant of £32,000 in 1927.  The building became the property of Lord Decies in 1946.  He in turn sold it and the estate to the Government of Ireland on 12th December 1951.  The State used the castle as a Forestry Training centre from 1955 until it was purchased in 1994 and turned into a 37 bedroom luxurious hotel for all guests both locally and internationally to enjoy.

Kinnitty Castle Hotel, 2014, photographer unknown, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. (see [2])
Kinnitty Castle Hotel, 2014, photographer unknown, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. (see [2])

2. Loughton House, County Offaly see above

https://loughtonhouse.com

3. The Maltings, Castle Street, Birr, Co. Offaly

contact: Eoin Garry
Tel: 086-3286277 

www.canbe.ie

(Tourist Accommodation FacilityOpen: all year

Whole house rental, County Offaly:

1. Ballycumber, County Offaly – whole house rental (13 guests)

https://www.airbnb.ie/rooms/21064152?source_impression_id=p3_1646848147_zcYarfp2zhDKFdHo

The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage tells us about Ballycumber:

Originally built as a castle in 1627 and remodelled at a later date, the regular from of this well proportioned house is enhanced by architectural detailing such as the finally executed doorcase and attractive, steeply-pitched hipped roof. The building retains many notable features and materials such as the timber sash windows with the date plaque, which adds historical interest to the site. The related outbuildings and walled garden create an interesting group of agricultural structures, while the folly and landscaped tree-lined river walk make a positive contribution to the setting of the house, reflecting the era of the large country estate.

The Offaly history blog tells us more about the occupants of Ballycumber:

Ballycumber House was bought by Francis Berry Homan Mulock in 1899 from the Armstrong family who had been in possession of the estate for successive generations. Originally built as a castle in 1627 by the Coghlan family, it was extensively remodelled by the Armstrongs in the eighteenth century into a detached five-bay two storey over basement country house, much as it is today.” [7]

I would love to stay at Ballycumber because the Bagot family of County Offaly intermarried with the Armstrong family who owned Ballycumber. I’m not sure if my own Baggot family is related to the Bagots of Offaly but there is a good possibility!

Westmeath:

1. Athlone Castle, County Westmeath

http://www.athlonecastle.ie/ 

Cruising by Athlone Castle, Co Westmeath Courtesy Fennell Photography 2015, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool.

The website tells us: “Trace the footprints of the generations who shaped this place. From early settlements and warring chieftains to foreign invaders and local heroes. This site on the River Shannon is the centre of Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands.

Over the centuries it has been the nucleus of the Anglo-Norman settlement; a stronghold of the rival local families the Dillons and the O’Kelly’s; the seat of the Court of Claims; the residence of the President of Connaught and the Jacobite stronghold during the sieges of Athlone.  After the Siege of Athlone it became incorporated into the new military barrack complex.  It remained a stronghold of the garrison for almost three hundred years.

In 1922 when the Free State troops took over the Barracks from their British counterparts, they proudly flew the tricolour from a temporary flagpole much to the delight of the majority of townspeople.

In 1967 the Old Athlone Society established a museum in the castle with a range of exhibits relating to Athlone and its environs and also to folk-life in the district.  Two years later when the military left the castle it was handed over to the Office of Public Works and the central keep became a National Monument.

In 1991 to mark the Tercentenary of the Siege of Athlone the castle became the foremost visitor attraction in Athlone.  Athlone Town Council (then Athlone UDC) made a major investment in the castle creating a multi-faceted Visitor Centre as it approached its 800th Anniversary in 2010. A total of €4.3million euro was invested in the new facility by Fáilte Ireland and Athlone Town Council and was officially opened by the then Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Michael Ring T.D. on Tuesday 26th February 2012.

Athlone Castle Visitor Centre is now a modern, engaging, fun and unique family attraction which harnesses most significant architectural features, such as the keep, to act as a dramatic backdrop to its diverse and fascinating story.

It houses eight individual exhibition spaces, each depicting a different aspect of life in Athlone, the Castle and the periods both before and after the famous Siege. Fun, hands-on interactives, touchable objects and educational narratives immerse visitors in the drama, tragedy and spectacle of Athlone’s diverse and fascinating story. 3D maps, audio-visual installations, illustrations and artefacts bring the stories and characters of Athlone to life and The Great Siege of Athlone is dramatically recreated in a 360-degree cinematic experience in the Keep of the castle.

As part of Westmeath County Council’s commemoration of Ireland’s world-renowned tenor, John Count McCormack, a new exhibition dedicated to the celebrated singer was opened at Athlone Castle in October 2014.

Athlone Castle, Athlone, Co Westmeath_Courtesy Ros Kavanagh 2014, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool.

Archiseek tells us about Athlone Castle: “Towards the end of the 12th century the Anglo-Normans constructed a motte-and-bailey fortification here. This was superceeded by a stone structure built in 1210, on the orders of King John of England. The Castle was built by John de Gray, Bishop of Norwich. The 12-sided donjon dates from this time. The rest of the castle was largely destroyed during the Siege of Athlone and subsequently rebuilt and enlarged upon. In the early 1800s, during the Napoleonic Wars, the castle was rebuilt as a fortification to protect the river crossing, taking the form we largely see today. The machicolations of the central keep are all nineteenth century. In the interior is an early nineteenth century two-storey barrack building. The modern ramp up to the castle has a line of pistol loops. The castle was taken over by the Irish Army in 1922 and continued as a military installation until it was transferred to the Office of Public Works in 1970.” [8]

Athlone Castle, Athlone, Co Westmeath_Courtesy Ros Kavanagh 2014, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool.
Athlone Castle, Athlone, Co Westmeath_Courtesy Sonder Visuals 2021 for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool.

2. Belvedere House, Gardens and Park, County Westmeath

Belvedere, County Westmeath, August 2021.

Mark Bence-Jones writes of Belvedere in his 1988 book:

p. 39. “(Rochfort, sub Belvedere, E/DEP Rochfort/LGI1912; Marlay/LGI1912; Howard-Bury, sub Suffolk and Berkshire, E/PB; and Bury/IFR) An exquisite villa of ca 1740 by Richard Castle, on the shores of Lough Ennell; built for Robert Rochfort, Lord Bellfield, afterwards 1st Earl of Belvedere, whose seat was at Gaulston, ca 5 miles away. Of two storeys over basement, with a long front and curved end bows – it may well be the earliest bow-ended house in Ireland – but little more than one room deep.”

Belvedere, County Westmeath, August 2021.
Robert Rochfort (1708-1774) 1st Earl of Belvedere.

Bence-Jones continues: “The front has a three bay recessed centre between projecting end bays, each of which originally had a Venetian window below a Diocletian window. Rusticated doorcase and rusticated window surrounds on either side of it; high roof parapet. The house contains only a few rooms, but they are of fine proportions and those on the ground floor have rococo plasterwork ceilings of the greatest delicacy and gaiety, with cherubs and other figures emerging from clouds, by the same artist as the ceilings formerly are Mespil House, Dublin, one of which is now in Aras.

Belvedere, County Westmeath, August 2021: “The house contains only a few rooms, but they are of fine proportions and those on the ground floor have rococo plasterwork ceilings of the greatest delicacy and gaiety, with cherubs and other figures emerging from clouds, by the same artist as the ceilings formerly are Mespil House, Dublin, one of which is now in Aras.
Hallway, Belvedere, County Westmeath.
Belvedere, County Westmeath, August 2021.
The portrait is of Charles Howard-Bury, who was one of the owners of Belvedere.
The Dining Room, Belvedere, County Westmeath. The Dining Room occupies one end bow of the house, and has a Venetian window overlooking Lough Ennell.

In Belvedere, dining was an opportunity to impress guests not only by the room bu tby the sumptuous meals, presented by immaculately dressed servants. The rococo ceiling of puffing cherubs and fruits and foliage is attributed to Barthelemji Cramillion, a French stuccodore.

The Dining Room, Belvedere, County Westmeath.
The Dining Room, Belvedere, County Westmeath.
The Dining Room, Belvedere, County Westmeath: The rococo ceiling of puffing cherubs and fruits and foliage is attributed to Barthelemji Cramillion, a French stuccodore.
The Dining Room, Belvedere, County Westmeath.

Bence-Jones continues: “The staircase, wood and partly curving, is in proportion to the back of the house.

The Venetian window that lights the stairs, on the back facade of the house. The wooden porch below is an entrance into the basement of the house.
Drawing Room, Belvedere, County Westmeath. The drawing room occupies one of the bows of the house, and has a Venetian window overlooking the terrace and Lough Ennell.

Information boards tells us that the Drawing Room was the place for afternoon tea, after-dinner drinks, music and conversation. Belvedere’s last owners, Charles Howard-Bury and Rex Beaumont would have passed many happy hours relaxing and reminiscing about their wartime experiences and travels across the world, as well as planning trips to Tunisia and Jamaica.

Ceiling of the Drawing Room, Belvedere, County Westmeath.
The kitchen is in the vaulted basement of Belvedere and has an interesting ghostly display of servants.

Bence-Jones tells of the house’s occupants; “Soon after the house was finished, Lord Bellfield’s beautiful wife [Mary Molesworth, daughter of Richard, 3rd Viscount Molesworth of Swords, Dublin] confessed to him that she had committed adultery with his brother; whereupon he incarcerated her at Gaulston, where she remained, forbidden to see anyone but servants, until his death nearly thirty years later; while he lived a bachelor’s life of great elegance and luxury at Belvedere. Another of his brothers lived close to Belvedere at Rochfort (afterwards Tudenham Park); having quarrelled with him too, Lord Belvedere, as he had now become, built the largest Gothic sham ruin in Ireland to blot out the view of his brother’s house; it is popularly known as the Jealous Wall. In C19, the Diocletian windows in the front of the house were replaced with rectangular triple windows; and the slope from the front of the house down to the lough was elaborately terraced. Belvedere passed by inheritance to the Marlay family and then to late Lt-Col C.K. Howard-Bury, leader of the 1921 Mount Everest Expedition; who bequeathed it to Mr Rex Beaumont.” (see [3])

“The Jealous Wall,” Belvedere.

The jealous wall is rather disappointingly attached to the visitor centre of Belvedere at the entrance to the park.

Visitor centre attached to the Jealous Wall, Belvedere.
Visitor centre attached to the Jealous Wall.

Robert Rochfort managed to have children despite his antipathy toward his wife. George Rochfort (1738-1814), 2nd Earl of Belvedere inherited Belvedere and other estates when his father died in 1774. He also inherited debts, and sold Gaulston House, the house where his mother had been imprisoned by his father. Unfortunately Gaulston House was destroyed by fire in 1920. George Rochfort built an extension onto the rear of Belvedere but spent most of his time in his townhouse, Belvedere House in Great Denmark Street, Dublin.

The 2nd Earl of Belvedere had no children. His wife inherited his Dublin property but his sister Jane inherited Belvedere. Jane married Brinsley Butler, 2nd Earl of Lanesborough. She inherited Belvedere when she was 77 years old! She had married a second time and the income from the estate allowed herself and her second husband to live in fine style in Florence. The male line of the Earls of Lanesborough died out after two more generations. Jane’s son Robert Henry Butler (1759-1806) 3rd Earl of Lanesborough married Elizabeth La Touche, daughter of David La Touche and Elizabeth Marlay, whom we came across when we visited Harristown, County Kildare (see my entry) and Marlay Park in Rathfarnham, Dublin. The estate passed down to their son, Brinsley Butler, 4th Earl of Lanesborough. The estate then passed through the female line. The 3rd Earl’s sister Catherine married George Marlay (1748-1829), the brother of Elizabeth who married David La Touche.

Catherine and George Marlay had a son, George, who married Catherine Tisdall, and the estate passed to his son, Charles Brinsley Marlay (1831-1912). He was only sixteen when he inherited Belvedere from his cousin the Earl of Lanesborough. It was Charles Brisley Marlay who built the terraces leading down to the lake, in the late 1880s. The twelve stone lions were added later. He spent many hours planning the 60 metre long rockery to the side of the terraces, and also built the walled garden. He was known as “the Darling Landlord” due to his kindness to tenants, and for bringing happiness and wealth back to Belvedere. He was cultured and amassed an important art collection, as well as improving the estate.

Charles Brisley Marlay built the terraces leading down to the lake, in the late 1880s. The twelve stone lions were added later. The terraces are said to have been inspired by the terraces at Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, the home of his sister.
Charles Brisley Marlay built the terraces leading down to the lake, in the late 1880s. The twelve stone lions were added later.

The inheritance of Belvedere continues to be even more complicated. It passed via Catherine Tisdall’s family. Her mother Catherine Dawson had married twice. Catherine’s second husband was Charles William Bury (1764-1835), the 1st Earl of Charleville. We came across him earlier, as an owner of Charleville Forest, in Tullamore, County Offaly. Belvedere passed to his descendent, Lt. Col Charles Howard-Bury (1883-1963). The 3rd Earl of Charleville, Charles William George Bury (1822-1859) had several children but the house passed to the fourth child as all others had died before Charles Brinsley Marley died. It was therefore the son of Emily Alfreda Julia Bury (1856-1931) who inherited Belvedere. She married Kenneth Howard, who added Bury to his surname. Their son was Charles Kenneth Howard-Bury.

Charles Howard-Bury brought a bear back from Kazakhstan!

Charles Howard-Bury left Belvedere to his friend, Rex Beaumont. Eventally financial difficulties caused Mr Beaumont to sell the property, and it was acquired by Westmeath County Council. Two years previously, in 1980, Mr Beaumont sold the contents of the house – I wonder where those things ended up?

The estate is a wonderful amenity for County Westmeath, with large parklands to explore with several follies, as well as the walled garden.

Belvedere garden folly, Courtesy of Westmeath County Council (www.visitwestmeath.ie), photograph by Clare Keogh, 2019.
The Octagonal Gazebo, Belvedere. It was once panelled with wood on the walls, floor and ceiling adn was used for summer picnics, where guests would be waited on by servants.
Lough Ennell.

3. Lough Park House, Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath

contact: Liam O’Flanagan
Tel: 044-9661226
Open: Mar 16-22, Apr 15-18, May 1-4, June 1-7, July 14-24, Aug 1-7, 13-22, Sept 1- 7, Oct 28-31, 2pm-6pm

Fee: adult €4

4. St. John’s Church, Loughstown, Drumcree, Collinstown, Co. Westmeath

contact: Billy Standish
Tel: 044-9666570
Open: Aug 1-31, Sept 1-30, 2pm-6pm
Fee: adult €4, child/OAP/student €2

5. Tullynally Castle & Gardens, Castlepollard, Co. Westmeath

Tullynally, County Westmeath, August 2021.

https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/11/19/tullynally-castle-and-gardens-castlepollard-county-westmeath/
contact: Octavia Tullock
Tel: 044-9661856 

www.tullynallycastle.com
Open: Castle, May 5-7, 12-14, 19-21, 26-28, June 2-4, 9-11, 16-18, 23-25, 30, July 1- 2, 7-9, 14-16, 21-23, 28-30, Aug 13-21, 25-27, Sept 1-3, 8-10, 15-17, 10am-2pm Garden: Apr 1-3, 7-10, 14-17, 21-24, 28-30, May 1-2, 5-8, 12-15, 19-22, 26-29, June 2-6, 9-12, 16-19, 23-26, 30, July 1-3, 7-10, 14-17, 21-24, 28-30, Aug 1, 4-7, 11-21, 25-28, Sept 1-4, 8-11, 15-18, 22-25, 29-30, 11am-5pm

Fee: adult, castle/garden €16, garden €8.50, child, castle/garden €8, garden €4 (over 10 years only admission to castle) families (2+2) garden €22

6. Turbotstown, Coole, Co. Westmeath

contact: Peter Bland
Tel: 086-2475044
Open: July 22-31, Aug 1-31, Dec 1-20, 9am-1pm Fee: adult/student €8, child/OAP €4

7. Tyrrelspass Castle, Co Westmeathrestaurant and gift shop

https://www.facebook.com/tyrrellspasscastle/ 

Places to stay, County Westmeath: 

1. Annebrook House Hotel, Austin Friars Street, Mullingar, Co.Westmeath, Ireland, N91YH2F.

https://www.annebrook.ie/gallery.html

The family run Annebrook House Hotel Mullingar opened its doors February 2007.  Originally an Old Georgian residence for the local county surgeon, Dr O’Connell, the historic Annebrook House Hotel was purchased by the Dunne family in 2005. With his experience in hospitality and construction Berty Dunne set about creating a hotel as unique as the man who owns it. The Annebrook’s central location, its diverse range of accommodation from 2 bedroomed family suites to executive doubles has made it a very popular location for those coming to experience all that the midlands has to offer.

Situated in the heart of Mullingar overlooking 10 acres of parkland, the Award Winning 4 star Annebrook House Hotel presents a modern day styling coupled with 17th century heritage.  As a family run hotel the Annebrook prides itself on quality and high standards of customer service, working as part of one team to ensure all guests of their best and personal attention at all times. Annebrook House Hotel is steeped in history and enjoys the enviable advantage of being one of the most centrally located hotels in Mullingar town. This unique venue mixes old world charm with modern comfort and has established itself as one of Westmeath’s top wedding venues and was recently voted Best Wedding Venue Ireland by Irish Wedding Diary Magazine. With accommodation ranging from executive hotel rooms, family suites, luxurious champagne suites and apartments, the Annebrook has much to offer those visiting Mullingar. Offering a range of dining options from Berty’s Bar to fine dining in the award winning Old House Restaurant.  The four star Annebrook House Hotel offers an excellent service to both its corporate & leisure guests. The hotel is accessible by car just 50 mins from Dublin and is only 10 minutes from the local Train Station.

2. Lough Bawn House, Colllinstown, Co Westmeath – B&B accommodation €€

http://loughbawnhouse.com

A classic Georgian house in a unique setting. Lough Bawn house sits high above Lough Bane with amazing sweeping views. Nestled in a 50 acre parkland at the end of a long drive, Lough Bawn House is a haven of peace and tranquillity.

The house and estate has been in the same family since it was built in 1820 by George Battesby, the current occupier, Verity’s, Great Great Great Grandfather. The house is being lovingly restored by Verity, having returned from England to live in the family home. Verity ran her own catering and events company in Gloucestershire for over 20 years. Her passion for cooking & entertaining shines through. Guests enjoy an extensive and varied breakfast with much of the ingredients being grown or reared by Verity herself, and delicious dinners are on offer. Breakfast is eaten in the large newly restored dining room, with wonderful views over the lough and of the parading peacocks on the rolling lawns.

Both of the large, en-suite rooms have fine views down the length of Lough Bane and over the wooded hills while the single room and the twin/double room have sweeping views of the surrounding parklands. Guests are warmly welcomed and encouraged to relax in the homely drawing room in front of a roaring fire or to explore one of the many local historical sites, gardens, walks or cultural entertainments on offer.

Several areas of the estate have been classified as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC‘s) due to the incredibly varied and rare flora. Wild flowers can be found in abundance and a charming fern walk has been the created amongst the woodland near the house.

3. Lough Bishop House, Collinstown, County Westmeath

https://loughbishophouse.com/

The website tells us:

Built in the early 19th Century, Lough Bishop is a charming Country House nestling peacefully into a south-facing slope overlooking Bishop’s Lough in County Westmeath, Ireland.

Breathtaking scenery in an unspoilt and tranquil setting, amid the rolling farmlands and lakes of Westmeath make Lough Bishop an ideal refuge from the hustle and bustle of modern life. There are family dogs in the background and animals play a large part of life at Lough Bishop House.

Lough Bishop House is a family run business offering Country House Bed & Breakfast accommodation in a wonderful location in the middle of a working organic farm. We even have a purpose built trailer towed behind the quad bike to give guests a tour of the farm and the opportunity to get up close to the animals.

Following extensive renovation this attractive Georgian Country Farmhouse offers its guests luxurious bed and breakfast accommodations, peaceful surroundings and fine home cooked food much of which comes from our own farm, garden and orchard.

4. Mornington House, County Westmeath – B&B accommodation 

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

Mornington House, a historic Irish Country Manor offering luxury country house accommodation located in the heart of the Co. Westmeath countryside, just 60 miles from Ireland’s capital city of Dublin. Tranquility and warm hospitality are the essence of Mornington, home to the O’Hara’s since 1858.

Mornington House is hidden away in the midst of a charming and dramatic landscape with rolling hills, green pasture, forests with ancient, heavy timber and sparkling lakes, deep in an unexplored corner of County Westmeath. Nearby are ancient churches, castles and abbeys, and delightful small villages to explore, away from all hustle and bustle of 21st century life, yet just 60 miles from Dublin.

There has been a house at Mornington since the early 17th century but this was considerably enlarged in 1896 by Warwick’s grandparents. It is now a gracious family home with a reputation for delicious breakfasts which are prepared in the fine tradition of the Irish Country House and really set you up for the day ahead.

A special place to stay for a romantic or relaxing break Mornington House’s location in the centre of Ireland just an hour’s drive from Dublin and Dublin Airport makes it ideal for either a midweek or weekend country break. Guests can walk to the lake or wander round the grounds. Excellent golf, fishing, walking and riding can be arranged. The Hill of Uisneach, the Neolithic passage tombs at Loughcrew and Newgrange and the early Christian sites at Fore and Clonmacnoise are all within easy reach, as are the gardens at Belvedere, Tullynally and Loughcrew.

Whole House accommodation, County Westmeath:

1. Bishopstown House, Rosemount, Westmeath (sleeps up to 18 people)

https://www.bishopstownhouse.ie

The website tells us of the history:

Bishopstown House is a three-storey Georgian house built in the early 1800s by the Casey family. After he passed away, the original owner, Mr. J Casey left Bishopstown to his two daughters, who then sold the house to Mr Richard Cleary in 1895.

Mr Richard Cleary, formally from the famed lakeside Cleaboy Stud near Mullingar, planned and erected Bishopstown House and Stud. In his younger days he rode horses at Kilbeggan, Ballinarobe, Claremorris and other Irish meetings with varying degrees of success, but as a trainer he knew no bounds. In his later years he devoted his time to breeding and training, and in time he became one of Ireland’s most famous trainers, breeding some excellent horses, including the winner of the 1916 Irish Grand National, Mr James Kiernan’s All Sorts!

Other famous horses from the Bishopstown stud include Shaun Spada and Serent Murphy who both won the Aintree Grand National in England. Another horse called Dunadry won the Lancashire Steeple Chase. Other stallion winners include Sylvio III, Lustrea and Irish Battle who frequently had their names in the limelight throughout Irish and English racecourses.

After being left fall into a dilapidated state, the stud farm and house was purchased by Paddy and Claire Dunning, the owners of the award-winning Grouse Lodge Recording Studios and Coolatore House and members of the Georgian society. It was restored to its former glory in 2009 and is now available for rent.

2.  Middleton Park, Mullingar, County Westmeath – wedding venue and accommodation 

http://mph.ie

Middleton Park House featured in The Great House Revival on RTE, with presenter (and architect) Hugh Wallace. The website tells us:

Carolyn and Michael McDonnell, together with Carolyn’s brother Henry, joined together to purchase this expansive property in Castletown Geoghegan. Built during the famine, the property was last in use as a hotel but it had deteriorated at a surprisingly fast rate over its three unoccupied years.

Designed by renowned architect George Papworth, featuring a Turner-designed conservatory, Middleton Park House stands at a palatial 35,000sq. ft. and is steeped in history. Its sheer scale makes it an ambitious restoration.

The trio’s aim is to create a family home, first and foremost, which can host Henry’s children at the weekends and extended family all year-round. Due to its recent commercial use, the three will need to figure out how to change industrial-style aspects to make it a welcoming home that is economical to run.

Henry will be putting his skills as a contractor and a qualified chippy to use, and Michael will be wearing his qualified engineer’s hat to figure out an effective heating system. Carolyn will be using her love of interiors to work out the aesthetic of the house, and how to furnish a property the size of 35 semi-detached houses in Dublin.

The trio have now made the house available for accommodation and as a wedding venue.

[1] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/14911023/ballybrittan-house-ballybrittan-co-offaly

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

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

[4] p. 136. O’Reilly, Sean. Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of Country Life. Aurum Press Ltd, London, 1998. 

[5] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/14942001/corolanty-house-curralanty-offaly

[6] https://www.ihh.ie/index.cfm/houses/house/name/Gloster%20House

[7] https://offalyhistoryblog.wordpress.com/2018/03/31/sun-too-slow-sun-too-fast-ethel-and-enid-homan-mulock-of-ballycumber-house-by-lisa-shortall/

[8] https://archiseek.com/2009/athlone-castle-co-westmeath/

Curraghmore, Portlaw, County Waterford

contact: Vanessa Behal
Tel: 051-387101
www.curraghmorehouse.ie
Open in 2022: May, June, July, Aug, Sept, Thurs-Sun and Bank Holidays, National Heritage Week, Aug 13-21,10am-4pm

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

DSC_0564

It was difficult to find Curraghmore House despite obtaining directions when we rang the house. We drove two kilometres up a stony track: without the reassuring directions, we would not have believed we were on the right road. When we turned in to the estate, we weren’t sure we had the right entrance, since we went past old buildings and stables. Surely this was not the general entrance for those visiting the gardens, I wondered, which are open to the public? There was barely any signage. When we parked and looked around, however, we discovered that we were indeed in the right place! It’s just not very touristy! [Curraghmore was one of the first places we visited on my project of visiting all section 482 properties, so at the time, it seemed odd that it was not as tourist-oriented as somewhere like Powerscourt in Wicklow, with which I was more familiar. I did not take into account that Curraghmore is still a private home.] We found the bathrooms and the cafe in the courtyard.

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Entering Curraghmore, via servants’ quarters either side of courtyard.

Mark Bence-Jones describes Curraghmore in A Guide to Irish Country Houses, as a medieval tower with a large three storey house behind it. He writes that the “original Castle is encased in a spectacular Victorian mansion” with flanking Georgian ranges housing servants, stables, etc. [1] The house is seven bays wide (see garden front) and seven bays deep.

Mark Bence-Jones writes that:

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

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St. Hubert’s Stag on top of Curraghmore. The crown below that stage on top of the coat of arms, is the coronet of a Marquess.
Photograph of Curraghmore from Georgian Mansions In Ireland by Thomas U. Sadleir and Page L. Dickinson, printed for the authors at the Dublin University Press, by Ponsonby & Gibbs, 1915. [2]
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Back, or garden front, with windows now where there was the original door for guest entrance. Mark Bence-Jones describes the house as seven bays wide.
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The house is very large as it is not only seven bays wide but seven bays deep.

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

DSC_0619

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

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

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

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

DSC_0601
Inside one of the outbuildings, leading me to conclude on first appearances, mistakenly, that the estate was “run down.”

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

According to the website:

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

Some 2,500 acres of formal gardens, woodland and grazing fields make this the largest private demesne in Ireland and one of the finest places to visit in Ireland….This tour takes in some of the finest neo-classical rooms in Ireland which feature the magnificent plaster work of James Wyatt and grisaille panels by Peter de Gree.” [We came across a link to the De La Poer family, also called Le Poer or Power, in Salterbridge, and will meet them again in Powerscourt in Wicklow and Dublin.]

Curraghmore, meaning great bog, is the last of four castles built by the de la Poer family after their arrival in Ireland in 1167. The Castle walls are about 12 feet thick and within one, a tight spiral stairway connects the lower ground floor with the roof above. Of the many curious and interesting features of Curraghmore, the most  striking is the courtyard front of the house, where the original Castle is encased in a spectacular Victorian mansion with flanking Georgian ranges.” (see [3])

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

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

I shall therefore use the spelling “marquess.” If quoting – I’ll use the spelling used by the source. I prefer “marquis”,  as “marquess” sounds female to me, although it refers to a male!

I didn’t take as many photos as I should have, so here are a few from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage of the range that fronts the house: [5]

national inventory 1
Servants’ quarters in the courtyard, photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. [5]
national inventory 2
This is the view looking back the way we drove in, with our backs to the house, and the buildings of the courtyard on either side. Photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage. [5]
national inventory 3
Arch through which we went, in order to explore the gardens, and also through which one goes to see the rest of the outside of the house. [5]

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

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

Baron –  female version: Baroness

Viscount – Viscountess

Earl – Countess

Marquess – Marchioness

Duke – Duchess

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

Sir Piers’s son and heir, Richard, further strengthened the power of the family by marrying a daughter, Katherine, of the 8th Earl of Ormond (Piers Butler, d. 1539). The rival families of Butler and Fitzgerald, into both of which the Le Poers had married, effectively ran the country at this time when English influence in Ireland had been in decline for several decades. [6] Richard was created 1st Baron le Power and Coroghmore, co. Waterford on 13 September 1535. [7]

In 1538 Richard was succeeded by his eldest son, Piers (1526-1545). After Piers’s premature death in 1545, he was succeeded by his younger brother, John “Mor” Power (d. 1592), 3rd Baron. In 1576, Henry Sidney, the Lord Deputy of Ireland and father of the poet Philip Sidney, stayed with John Mor at Curraghmore. He wrote:

“The day I departed from Waterford I lodged that night at Curraghmore, the house that the Lord Power is baron of. The Poerne country is one of the best ordered countries in the English Pale, through the suppression of coyne and livery. The people are both willing and able to bear any reasonable subsidy towards the finding and entertaining of soldiers and civil ministers of the laws; and the lord of the country, though possessing far less territory than his neighbour (ie: Sir James Fitzgerald of the Decies, John Mor’s cousin) lives in show far more honourably and plentifully than he or any other in that province.” [8]

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When one enters the garden through the arch, one walks along the side of the house to the garden front, which originally held the front door of the house. Originally visitors would drive up to the house through the courtyard and then the horse and carriage would go through the arch to the garden front, to enter through the front door facing the gardens.

Turtle Bunbury writes of the Le Poer family history in his blog (see [6]). I wonder if I can turn my blog into a way of learning Irish history, through Irish houses? I will continue to quote Mr. Bunbury’s blog here, so I can try to see connections between various house owners as I continue my travels around the country.

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

John Mor married Eleanor, daughter of James FitzGerald the 13th Earl of Desmond, who bore his heir. After she died, he married Ellen MacCartie, widow of the 3rd Viscount Barry. He died in 1592 and was succeeded by his son Richard (d. 1607), 4th Baron Le Poer. The 4th Baron married his step-sister, Katherine Barry, daughter of his step-mother Ellen MacCartie and her first husband the 3rd Viscount Barry.

The oldest son of the 4th Baron, John “Og”, died young, in 1600. He married Helen Barry, daughter of the 5th Viscount Barry, Viscount Buttevant. After he died, she remarried, espousing Thomas Butler the 10th Earl of Ormond, “Black Tom.” (you can read more about him in my entry about the Ormond Castle in Carrick-on-Suir, an OPW property www.irishhistorichouses.com/2022/06/26/opw-sites-in-munster-clare-limerick-and-tipperary/). She married a third time, in 1631, to 1st (and last) Viscount Somerset, of Cashell, County Tipperary.

The family were very powerful and influential, and Catholic. Despite dying young, John “Og” and Helen had daughters, Ellen, who married Maurice Roche, 8th Viscount Roche of Fermoy (the Peerage website tells us that “She died in 1652, hanged by the Commonwealth regime on a trumped up charges of murder“) and Elinor who married Thomas Butler, 3rd Baron Caher.

King James I ordered Richard the 4th Baron to send his grandson and heir, John, the 5th Baron (born circa 1584), to England for his education, in order to convert John to Protestantism. John lived with a Protestant Archbishop in Lambeth. However, John didn’t maintain his Protestant faith. Furthermore, he later suffered from mental illness.

Julian Walton, in a talk I attended in Dromana House in Waterford (another section 482 house), told us about a powerful woman, Kinbrough Pyphoe (nee Valentine). [9] She is named after a Saxon saint, Kinbrough. Her unfortunate daughter Ruth was married to John Power of the “disordered wits” (the 5th Baron). In 1642, Kinbrough Pyphoe wrote for to the Lord Justices of Ireland for protection, explaining that Lord Le Poer had “these past twelve years been visited with impediments” which had “disabled him from intermeddling with his own estate.” As a result, when Oliver Cromwell arrived in Ireland, he issued a writ on 20th September 1649 decreeing that Lord Power and his family be “taken into his special protection.” In this way, Kinbrough Pyphoe saved the family and estates from being confiscated by the Cromwellian parliament or overtaken by Cromwellian soldiers.

Despite his mental illness, John and Ruth had a son Richard (along with many other children), who succeeded as the 6th Baron. One of their daughters, Catherine (1641-1660), married John Fitzgerald (1642-1664), Lord of the Decies, of Dromana, County Waterford.

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

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WHO TO SUPPORT? CATHOLIC OR PROTESTANT? JAMES II OR WILLIAM III?

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

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

John married his first cousin, the orphaned heiress Catherine Fitzgerald, daughter of above-mentioned Catherine (1641-1660) who married John Fitzgerald (1642-1664), Lord of the Decies, of Dromana, County Waterford. They were married as children in 1673, in order for John to marry Catherine’s wealth. However, Catherine managed to have the marriage declared null and void, so that she could marry her true love, in March 1676, Edward Villiers, son and heir of George, 4th Viscount Grandison [I write more on this in my entry on Dromana www.irishhistorichouses.com/2021/02/06/dromana-house-cappoquin-co-waterford/].

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

DEVELOPING THE CASTLE
In 1700 the 3rd Earl, James, commissioned the construction of the present house at Curraghmore on the site of the original castle. Mark Bence-Jones writes: “the house was in existence in 1654, but was rebuilt 1700 and subsequently enlarged and remodelled; it extends round three sides of a small inner court, which is closed on fourth side by the tower.“(see [1])

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photograph from flickr commons, National Library of Ireland.

In 1704 the male line of the la Poers became extinct as James had no sons. Catherine de la Poer (1701-1769), the sole child of her parents, could not officially inherit the property at the time. Fortunately, the property was kept for her and she was married to Marcus Beresford (1694-1763), in 1717. This ensured that the house stayed in her family, as Marcus joined her to live in Curraghmore.

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

“One night in 1693 when Nichola, Lady Beresford [nee Hamilton, wife of 3rd Baronet Beresford of Coleraine, daughter of Hugh Hamilton, 1st Viscount of Glenawly, Co Fermanagh], was staying in Gill Hall, her schoolday friend, John Power, [2nd] Earl of Tyrone, with whom she had made a pact that whoever died first should appear to the other to prove that there was an afterlife, appeared by her bedside and told her that he was dead, and that there was indeed an after-life. To convince her that he was a genuine apparition and not just a figment of her dreams, he made various prophecies, all of which came true: noteably that she would have a son who would marry his niece, the heiress of Curraghmore and that she would die on her 47th birthday. He also touched her wrist, which made the flesh and sinews shrink, so that for the rest of her life she wore a black ribbon to hide the place.” [10]

The predictions came true! Lady Nichola did indeed die on her 47th birthday, and her son Marcus married John’s niece, Catherine Power. Sir Marcus Beresford of Coleraine (born 1694) was already a Baronet by descent in his family. After he married Catherine, he became Viscount Tyrone and 1st Baron Beresford, of Beresford, County Cavan. In 1746 he was created 1st Earl of Tyrone. Proud of her De La Poer background, when her husband died, Catherine, now titled the Dowager Countess of Tyrone, requested the title of Baroness La Poer.

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

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

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

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

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Dragon from the Beresford crest, atop the garden front of the house.

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

When I was researching Blackhall Castle in County Kildare, I came across more information about St. Hubert’s Stag. The stag with the crucifix between its antlers that tops Curraghmore is in fact related to Saint Eustachius, a Roman centurion of the first century who converted to Christianity when he saw a miraculous stag with a crucifix between its antlers. This saint, Eustace, was probably the Patron Saint of the Le Poers since their family crest is the St. Eustace (otherwise called St. Hubert’s) stag. I did not realise that St. Eustace is also the patron saint of Newbridge College in Kildare, where my father attended school and where for some time in the 1980s and 90s my family attended mass!

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See the St. Eustace stag in the Newbridge College crest.

I read in Irish Houses and Gardens, from the archives of Country Life by Sean O’Reilly, [Aurum Press, London: 1998, paperback edition 2008] that the St. Hubert Stag at Curraghmore was executed by Queen Victoria’s favourite sculptor, Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm. He was also responsible for the “haunting” representation in the family chapel at Clonegam of the first wife of the 5th Marquess, who died in childbirth. [11]

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Barrels in the forecourt picture the St. Hubert’s Stag.

Since bad weather threatened, as you can see from my photographs, the tour guide took us out to the Shell House in the garden first. This was created by Catherine Countess of Tyrone. A friend of Jonathan Swift, Mrs. Mary Delany, started a trend for shell grottoes, which progressed to shell houses. Catherine had the house specially built, and she went to the docks nearby to ask the sailors to collect shells for her from all over the world, who obliged since their wages were paid by the Marquess. She then spent two hundred and sixty one days (it says this in a scroll that the marble sculpture holds in her hand) lining the structure with the shells (and some coral). The statue in the house is of Catherine herself, made of marble, by the younger John van Nost (he did many other sculptures and statues in Dublin, following in his father’s footsteps). Robert O’Byrne has a lovely video about shell grottoes and tells us more about this shell house on his website. [12]

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The Shell Grotto
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Inside the shell grotto, statue by John van Nost of Catherine Le Poer Beresford, Countess of Tyrone.
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Catherine also adorned the interior of Curraghmore with frescoes by the Dutch painter van der Hagen, and laid out the garden with canals, cascades, terraces and statues, which were swept away in the next century in the reaction against formality in the garden. In the nineteenth century, the formal layout was reinstated. [13]

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THE INTERIOR OF THE HOUSE

The entrance hall, which is in the old tower, has a barrel vaulted ceiling covered with plasterwork rosettes in circular compartments which dates from 1750; it was one of the rooms redecorated by Marcus Beresford and his wife Catherine (see [1]). Sadleir and Dickinson tell us of the house and the Hall:

p. 49. “Careful remodelling has given to the back of the structure the lines of a complete architectural whole, but there can be no doubt from internal evidence that at least three important additions are in fact embodied; it is also probable that a portion of the centre, which differs in character from the surroundings, was rebuilt in consequence of a fire. 

The entrance hall has a Georgian ceiling of bold, regular design. A flight of stone steps leads up to a corridor giving access to the spacious staircase hall, a late eighteenth century addition, with Adam ornament on the ceiling and walls. The grand staircase, which has a plain metal balustrade, is gracefully carried up along the wall to a gallery, giving access to the billiard room and bedrooms.” (see [8])

Photograph from Georgian Mansions In Ireland by Thomas U. Sadleir and Page L. Dickinson, printed for the authors at the Dublin University Press, by Ponsonby & Gibbs, 1915.(see [8])

Marcus Beresford also redecorated the room above, now the billiard room, which has a tremendously impressive coved ceiling probably by Paul and Philip Francini, according to Mark Bence-Jones. This room is in the original castle keep. The ceiling is decorated with rococo foliage, flowers, busts and ribbons in rectangular and curvilinear compartments. The chimneypiece, which has a white decorative  overmantel with a “broken” pediment (i.e. split into two with the top of the triangular pediment lopped off to make room for a decoration in between) and putti cherubs, is probably by John Houghton, German architect Richard Castle’s carver. Bence-Jones describes that the inner end of the room is a recess in the thickness of the old castle wall with a screen of fluted Corinthian columns. There is a similar recess in the hall below, in which a straight flight of stairs leads up to the level of the principal rooms of the house.

Photograph of Curraghmore mantel in billiard room from Georgian Mansions In Ireland by Thomas U. Sadleir and Page L. Dickinson, printed for the authors at the Dublin University Press, by Ponsonby & Gibbs, 1915. (see [8])
Photograph from Georgian Mansions In Ireland by Thomas U. Sadleir and Page L. Dickinson, printed for the authors at the Dublin University Press, by Ponsonby & Gibbs, 1915. Mark Bence-Jones writes that the ceiling in the billiards room was probably decorated by the Francini brothers. (see [8])

Marcus Beresford was succeeded by his fourth but eldest surviving son, the second Earl, George Beresford (1734-1800), who also inherited the title Baron La Poer from his mother in 1769. [By the way, he married Elizabeth Monck, only daughter and heiress of Henry Monck (1725-1787) of Charleville, another house on the Section 482 list which we visited www.irishhistorichouses.com/2020/09/18/charleville-county-wicklow/.]  

In 1786 he was created Baron Tyrone. Three years later he was made Marquess of Waterford in the Peerage of Ireland. He was therefore the 1st Marquess of Waterford. The titles descended in the direct line until the death of his grandson, the third Marquess, in 1859.

George had the principal rooms of the house redecorated to the design of James Wyatt in the 1780s. Perhaps this was when the van der Hagen paintings were lost! We can see more of Van der Hagen’s work in a house sometimes open to the public, Beaulieu. At the same time George the 1st Marquess probably built the present staircase hall, which had been an open inner court, and carried out other structural alterations.

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

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

Photograph from Georgian Mansions In Ireland by Thomas U. Sadleir and Page L. Dickinson, printed for the authors at the Dublin University Press, by Ponsonby & Gibbs, 1915.

The dining room has delicate plasterwork on the ceiling,  incorporating rondels attributed to Antonio Zucchi (1726-1795, an Italian painter and printmaker of the Neoclassic period) or his wife Angelica Kauffman (a Swiss Neoclassical painter who had a successful career in London and Rome).

Photograph from Georgian Mansions In Ireland by Thomas U. Sadleir and Page L. Dickinson, printed for the authors at the Dublin University Press, by Ponsonby & Gibbs, 1915.

The walls have grissaille panels by Peter de Gree, which are imitations of bas-reliefs, so are painted to look as if they are sculpture. de Gree was born in Antwerp, Holland [14]. In Antwerp he met David de la Touche of Marlay, Rathfarnham, Dublin, who was on a grand tour. The first works of de Gree in Ireland were for David de la Touche for his house in St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin. [15] The Blue Drawing Room has a ceiling incorporating roundels by de Gree and semi-circular panels attributed to Zucchi.

Sadlier and Dickinson tell us: “The principal drawingroom is a large apartment, somewhat low, with three windows, four doors, and Adam overdoors; there is a pretty Adam ceiling in pale green and white, the work in relief being slightly gilt.

Photograph from Georgian Mansions In Ireland by Thomas U. Sadleir and Page L. Dickinson, printed for the authors at the Dublin University Press, by Ponsonby & Gibbs, 1915. The circular plaques are decorated in monochrome by De Gree, while four semi-circular compartments are believed to have been painted by Zucci, the husband of Angelica Kauffman.

Sadleir and Dickinson continue: “The circular plaques are decorated in monochrome by De Gree, while four semi-circular compartments are believed to have been painted by Zucci, the husband of Angelica Kauffman. The heavy white marble mantel, of classic design, is possibly contemporary with the decoration…A door communicates with the yellow drawing room, smaller but better proportioned, which has an uncoloured Adam ceiling, and a pretty linen-fold mantel in white marble [plate XXXI]. It is lighted by three windows … 

“A pretty linen-fold mantel in white marble” [plate XXXI] Photograph from Georgian Mansions In Ireland by Thomas U. Sadleir and Page L. Dickinson, printed for the authors at the Dublin University Press, by Ponsonby & Gibbs, 1915.

Sadleir and Dickinson continue the tour: “A door to the right gives access from the Hall to the library, which has an Adam ceiling with circular medallion heads, and an Adam mantel with added overshelf, the design of the frieze being repeated in the mantel and bookcases. Most of the books belonged to Lord John George Beresford, Archbishop of Armagh, whose portrait hangs over the fireplace.

Photograph from Georgian Mansions In Ireland by Thomas U. Sadleir and Page L. Dickinson, printed for the authors at the Dublin University Press, by Ponsonby & Gibbs, 1915.

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

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

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

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

The 3rd Marquis broke his neck in a fall in the hunting field in 1859; the 5th shot himself in 1895, worn down by years of suffering from injuries caused by a hunting accident which had left him crippled; and the 6th Marquis, having narrowly escaped being killed by a lion while big game hunting in Africa, drowned in a river on his estate in 1911 when he was 36.” [16]

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

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

MARQUESSES OF WATERFORD

I am aided here by the wonderfully informative website of Timothy Ferres. [17]

George, 1st Marquess of Waterford had several children including some illegitimate. His illegitimate son Admiral Sir John de la Poer Beresford was raised to the British peerage as 1st Baronet Beresford, of Bagnall, co. Waterford. His other illegitimate son was Lt.-Gen. William Carr Beresford, created 1st and last Viscount Beresford of Beresford. His first legitimate son died in a riding accident.

The first legitimate son of the 1st Marquess, killed in a riding accident. Photograph from Georgian Mansions In Ireland by Thomas U. Sadleir and Page L. Dickinson, printed for the authors at the Dublin University Press, by Ponsonby & Gibbs, 1915.

He was succeeded by his second legitimate son, Henry, 2nd Marquess (1772-1826), who wedded, in 1805, Susanna, only daughter and heiress of George Carpenter, 2nd Earl of Tyrconnell. Henry, who was a Knight of St Patrick, a Privy Counsellor in Ireland, Governor of County Waterford, and Colonel of the Waterford Militia, was succeeded by his eldest son, Henry, 3rd Marquess.

In an interview with Patrick Freyne, the current Marquess, whom the townspeople call “Tyrone,” explained that it was the third Marquess, Henry who originated the phrase “painting the town red” while on a wild night in Miltown Mowbray in 1837: he literally painted the town red! [18]

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

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

According to the website:

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

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

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Built in 1205, this stone-arched structure, spanning the Clodagh River, is the oldest bridge in Ireland, called King John’s Bridge, a 13th-century bridge built in anticipation of a visit from King John (he never came).
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The Lake was designed by James Wyatt.
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When Henry died he was succeed by his younger brother, John (1814-1866), who became the 4th Marquess. It was this Marquess who bought the scarey statues in the garden. The tour guide told us that perhaps the choice of statue reflected the Marquis’s personality.

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There were horrible scary statues flanking a path – we learned later that they were bought by the fourth Marquis of Waterford in the World Fair in Paris.
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The 4th Marquess became more religious and more forboding as he aged. John married Christiana Leslie, daughter of Charles Powell Leslie II of Castle Leslie (we will learn more about the Leslies in my write ups for Castle Leslie www.irishhistorichouses.com/2020/08/07/castle-leslie-glaslough-county-monaghan/ and Corravahan House in County Cavan www.irishhistorichouses.com/2020/08/28/corravahan-house-and-gardens-drung-county-cavan/).

John entered the ministry and served as Prebendary of St Patrick’s Cathedral, under his uncle, Lord John (John George de la Poer Beresford, Lord Archbishop of Armagh, the brother of his father the second Marquess). Our guide told us that John forbade his wife from horseriding, which she adored. When he died, the sons were notified. Before they went to visit the body, when they arrived home they went straight to the stables. They took a horse and brought it inside the house, and up the grand staircase, right into their mother’s bedroom, where she was still in bed. It was her favourite horse! They “gave her her freedom.” She got onto the horse and rode it back down the staircase – one can still see a crack in the granite steps where the horse kicked one on the way down – and out the door and off into the countryside!

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

The second son, Admiral Charles William de la Poer Beresford, was created the 1st and last Baron Beresford of Metemmeh and Curraghmore, County Waterford in the British peerage. His daughter Kathleen Mary married Maj.-Gen. Edmund Raoul Blacque and in 1926 she purchased Castletown Cox, a Georgian classical mansion in County Kilkenny.

The 5th Marquess eloped with Florence Grosvenor Rowley, wife of John Vivian, an English Liberal politician, and married her on 9 August 1872. She died in 1873, and he married secondly, Lady Blanche Somerset, daughter of Henry Somerset, 8th Duke of Beaufort, on 21 July 1874. The second Lady Waterford suffered from a severe illness which left her an invalid. She had a special carriage designed to carry her around the estate at Curraghmore.

Lady Waterford in her specially designed invalid carriage 1896
Lady Blanche Waterford, daughter of the 8th Duke of Beaufort, wife of the 5th Marquess, John Henry, in her specially designed invalid carriage 1896, photograph courtesy of National Library of Ireland, from Flickr constant commons.
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January 10, 1902, Group shot of guests at a Fancy Dress Ball held at Curraghmore House, Portlaw, Co. Waterford, courtesy of National Library of Ireland.

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

Henry the 6th Marquess served in the military. He married Beatrix Frances Petty-Fitzmaurice. He died tragically in a drowning  accident on the estate aged only 36. His daughter Blanche Maud de la Poer Beresford married Major Richard Desiré Girouard and had a son Mark Girouard, architectural historian, who worked for Country Life magazine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE OUTBUILDINGS

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

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We were lucky to be able to wander around the outbuildings.

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There were some interesting looking machines in sheds. Perhaps some of this machinery is for grain, or some could be for the wool trade. Turtle Bunbury writes of the wool trade in the 18th century and of the involvement by the de la Poer family in Curraghmore. [19]

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

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

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

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

Last but not least, Curraghmore is now the venue for the latest music festival, Alltogethernow. There’s a stag’s head made by a pair of Native American artists, of wooden boughs that were gathered on the estate. It was constructed for the festival last year but still stands, ready for this year (2019)! Some of my friends will be at the festival. The house will be railed off for the event.

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

[2] Thomas U. Sadleir and Page L. Dickinson. Georgian Mansions in Ireland with some account of the evolution of Georgian Architecture and Decoration. Printed for the Authors at the Dublin University Press, by Ponsonby & Gibbs, 1915. 

[3] http://curraghmorehouse.ie/

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

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

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

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

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

[7] www.thepeerage.com

[8] Quoted p. 51, Thomas U. Sadleir and Page L. Dickinson. Georgian Mansions in Ireland with some account of the evolution af Georgian Architecture and Decoration. Printed for the Authors at the Dublin University Press, by Ponsonby & Gibbs, 1915. 

[9] https://dromanahouse.com/2019/03/20/the-drawbacks-and-dangers-of-heiress-hunting/

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

[11] see https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/07/01/curraghmore-church/

[12] https://theirishaesthete.com/2018/03/19/in-a-shell/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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