www.bantryhouse.com Open dates in 2023: Apr 1-Oct 31, 10am-5pm. Check the website in advance as it may be closed due to an event. Fee: adult €14, OAP/student €11.50, child €5, groups over 8-20, €8 and groups of 21 or more €9
Help me to fund the maintenance and update of this website. It is created purely out of love for the subject and I receive no payment so any donation is appreciated!
What we see today at Bantry House started as a more humble abode: a three storey five bay house built for Samuel Hutchinson in around 1690. It was called Blackrock. A wing was added in 1820, and a large further addition in 1845.
In the 1760s it was purchased by Captain Richard White (1700-1776). He was from a Limerick mercantile family and he had settled previously on Whiddy Island, the largest island in Bantry Bay. The Bantry website tells us that he had amassed a fortune from pilchard-fishing, iron-smelting and probably from smuggling, and that through a series of purchases, he acquired most of the land around Bantry including large parts of the Beare Peninsula, from Arthur Annesley, 5th Earl of Anglesey. The house is still occupied by his descendants, the Shelswell-White family.
Driving from Castletownshend, we entered the back way and not through the town. From the car park we walked up a path which gave us glimpses of the outbuildings, the west stables, and we walked all around the house to reach the visitors’ entrance. We were lucky that the earlier rain stopped and the sun came out to show off Bantry House at its best. I was excited to see this house, which is one of the most impressive of the Section 482 houses.
We missed the beginning of the tour, so raced up the stairs to join the once-a-day tour in June 2022. Unfortunately I had not been able to find anything about tour times on the website. We will definitely have to go back for the full tour! The house is incredible, and is full of treasures like a museum. I’d also love to stay there – one can book accommodation in one wing.
Captain Richard White married Martha Davies, daughter of Rowland Davies, Dean of Cork and Ross. During his time, Bantry House was called Seafield. They had a son named Simon (1739-1776), who married Frances Hedges-Eyre from Macroom Castle in County Cork. Their daughter Margaret married Richard Longfield, 1st Viscount Longueville.
The house overlooks Bantry Bay which is formative in its history because thanks to its views, Richard’s grandson was elevated to an Earldom.
Frances Jane and Simon had a son, Richard (1767-1851), who saw French ships sail into Bantry Bay in 1796. The British and French were at war from February 1793. It was in gratitude for Richard’s courage and foresight in raising a local militia against the French that Richard was given a title.
There are four guns overlooking the bay. The two smaller ones are from 1780, and the larger one is dated 1796. One is French and dated 1795 and may have been captured from an invading French ship.
United Irishman Theobald Wolfe Tone was on one of the French ships, which were under command of French Louis Lazare Hoche.
Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763–98) (named after his godfather, Theobald Wolfe) had sought French support for an uprising against British rule in Ireland. The United Irishmen sought equal representation of all people in Parliament. Tone wanted more than the Catholic Emancipation which Henry Grattan advocated, and for him,the Catholic Relief Act of 1793 did not go far enough, as it did not give Catholics the right to sit in the Irish House of Commons. Tone was inspired by the French and American Revolutions. The British had specifically passed the Catholic Relief Act in the hope of preventing Catholics from joining with the French.
The Dictionary of Irish Biography tells us that
“With the outbreak of war with France, Dublin Castle instituted a crackdown on Irish reformers who had professed admiration for the French, and by the end of the year the United Irishmen and the reform movement were in disarray. In quick succession, the Volunteers were proscribed, the holding of elected conventions was banned, and a number of United Irishmen… were hauled before the courts on charges of seditious libel.“
Tone went to the U.S. and thought he might have to settle there but with others’ encouragement he continued in his work for liberating Ireland. He went to France for support. As a result 43 ships were sent to France.
“In July 1796 Tone was appointed chef de brigade (brigadier-general) in Hoche’s army ... Finally, on 16 December 1796, a French fleet sailed from Brest crammed with 14,450 soldiers. On board one of the sails of the line, the Indomptable, was ‘Citoyen Wolfe Tone, chef de brigade in the service of the republic.’” 
Richard White had trained a militia in order to defend the area, and stored munitions in his house. When he saw the ships in the bay he raised defenses. However, it was stormy weather and not his militia that prevented the invasion. Tone wrote of the expedition in his diary, saying that “We were close enough to toss a biscuit ashore”.
The French retreated home to France, but ten French ships were lost in the storm and one, the Surveillante, sank and remained on the bottom of Bantry bay for almost 200 years.
For his efforts in preparing the local defences against the French, Richard White was created Baron Bantry in 1797 in recognition of his “spirited conduct and important service.” In 1799 he married Margaret Anne Hare (1779-1835), daughter of William the 1st Earl of Listowel in County Kerry, who brought with her a substantial dowry. In 1801 he was made a viscount, and in 1815 he became Viscount Berehaven and Earl of Bantry. He became a very successful lawyer and made an immense fortune.
Richard was not Simon White’s only son. Simon’s son Simon became a Colonel and married Sarah Newenham of Maryborough, County Cork. They lived in Glengariff Castle. Young Simon’s sister Helen married a brother of Sarah Newenham, Richard, who inherited Maryborough. Another daughter, Martha, married Michael Goold-Adams of Jamesbrook, County Cork and another daughter, Frances, married General E. Dunne of Brittas, County Laois. Another son, Hamilton, married Lucinda Heaphy.
A wing was added to the house in 1820 in the time of the 1st Earl of Bantry. This wing is the same height as the original block, but of only two storeys, and faces out to the sea. It has a curved bow at the front and back and a six bay elevation at the side. This made space for two large drawing rooms, and more bedrooms upstairs.
The house was greatly enlarged and remodelled in 1845 by the son of the 1st Earl, Richard (1800-1867). The 1st Earl had moved out to live in a hunting lodge in Glengariff. This son Richard was styled as Viscount Berehaven between 1816 and 1851 until his father died, when he then succeeded to become 2nd Earl of Bantry. He married Mary O’Brien, daughter of William, 2nd Marquess of Thomond, in 1836.
The 2nd Earl of Bantry and his wife travelled extensively and purchased many of the treasures in the house. The website tells us he was a passionate art collector who travelled regularly across Europe, visiting Russia, Poland, France and Italy. He brought back shiploads of exotic goods between 1820 and 1840.
To accommodate his new furnishings he built a fourteen bay block on the side of the house opposite to the 1820 addition, consisting of a six-bay centre of two storeys over basement flanked by four-storey bow end wings.
The website tells us:
.”..No doubt inspired by the grand baroque palaces of Germany, he gave the house a sense of architectural unity by lining the walls with giant red brick pilasters with Coade-stone Corinthian capitals, the intervening spaces consisting of grey stucco and the parapet adorned with an attractive stone balustrade.“
He also lay out the Italianate gardens, including the magnificent terraces on the hillside behind the house, most of which was undertaken after he had succeeded his father as the second Earl of Bantry in 1851.
After his death in 1867 the property was inherited by his brother William, the third Earl (1801-1884), his grandson William the fourth and last Earl (1854-91), and then passed through the female line to the present owner, Mr. Shelswell-White.
Mark Bence-Jones tells us: “The house is entered through a glazed Corinthian colonnade, built onto the original eighteenth century front in the nineteenth century; there is a similar colonnade on the original garden front.” 
Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photographs inside. You can see photographs of the incredible interior on the Bantry house website, and on the Irish Aesthete Robert O’Byrne’s blog. 
The rooms are magnificent, with their rich furnishings, ceilings and columns. Old black and white photographs show that even the ceilings were at one time covered in tapestries. The Spanish leather wallpaper in the stair hall is particularly impressive.
Mark Bence-Jones continues: “The hall is large but low-ceilinged and of irregular shape, having been formed by throwing together two rooms and the staircase hall of the mid-eighteenth century block; it has early nineteenth century plasterwork and a floor of black and white pavement, incorporating some ancient Roman tiles from Pompeii. From one corner rises the original staircase of eighteenth century joinery.”
The website tells us: “Today the house remains much as the second earl left it, with an important part of his great collection still intact. Nowhere is this more son than the hall where visitors will find an eclectic collection garnered from a grand tour, which includes an Arab chest, a Japanese inlaid chest, a Russian travelling shrine with fifteenth and sixteenth century icons and a Fresian clock. There is also a fine wooden seventeenth century Flemish overmantel and rows of family portraits on the walls. The hall was created by combining two rooms with the staircase hall of the original house and consequently has a rather muddled shape, though crisp black and white Dutch floor tiles lend the room a sense of unity.. Incorporated into this floor are four mosaic panels collected by Viscount Berehaven from Pompeii in 1828 and bearing the inscriptions “Cave Canem” and “Salve.” Other unusual items on show include a mosque lamp from Damascus in the porch and a sixteenth century Spanish marriage chest which can be seen in the lobby.“
Bence-Jones continues: “The two large bow-ended drawing rooms which occupy the ground floor of the late eighteenth century wing are hung with Gobelins tapestries; one of them with a particularly beautiful rose-coloured set said to have been made for Marie Antoinette.“
The Royal Aubusson tapestries in the Rose drawing room, comprising four panels, are reputed to have been a gift from the Dauphin to his young wife-to-be Marie Antoinette. In the adjoining Gobelin drawing room, one panel of tapestries is said to have belonged to Louis Philippe, Duc D’Orleans, a cousin of Louis XV.
The website tells us: “The most spectacular room is the dining-room, dominated by copies of Allan Ramsay’s full-length portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte, whose elaborate gilt frames are set off by royal blue walls. The ceiling was once decorated with Guardi panels, but these have long since been removed and sold to passing dealers at a fraction of their worth. The differing heights of the room are due to the fact that they are partly incorporated in the original house and in the 1845 extension, their incongruity disguised by a screen of marble columns with gilded Corinthian capitals. Much of the furniture has been here since the second Earl, including the George III dining table, Chippendale chairs, mahogany teapoy, sideboards made for the room, and the enormous painting The Fruit Market by Snyders revealing figures reputedly drawn by Rubens – a wedding present to the first Countess.“
The Chippendale chairs and the George III dining table were made for the room.
The description on the website continues: “The first flight of the staircase from the hall belongs to the original early eighteenth century house, as does the half-landing with its lugged architraves. This leads into the great library, built around 1845 and the last major addition to the house. The library is over sixty feet long, has screens of marble Corinthian columns, a compartmented ceiling and Dublin-made mantelpieces at each end with overhanging mirrors. The furnishing retains a fine rosewood grand piano by Bluthner of Leipzig, still occasionally used for concerts. The windows of this room once looked into an immense glass conservatory, but this has now been removed and visitors can look out upon restored gardens and the steep sloping terraces behind. “
The third Earl, William Henry (1801-1884), succeeded his brother, who died in 1868. On 7 September 1840 William Henry’s surname was legally changed to William Henry Hedges-White by Royal Licence, adding Hedges, a name passed down by his paternal grandmother.
His grandmother was Frances Jane Eyre and her father was Richard Hedges Eyre. Richard Hedges of Macroom Castle and Mount Hedges, County Cork, married Mary Eyre. Richard Hedges Eyre was their son. He married Helena Herbert of Muckross, County Kerry. In 1760 their daughter, Frances Jane, married Simon White of Bantry, William Henry’s grandfather. When her brother Robert Hedges Eyre died without heirs in 1840 his estates were divided and William Henry the 3rd Earl of Bantry inherited the Macroom estate.  Until his brother’s death in 1868, William Henry Hedges-White had been living in Macroom Castle. 
William Henry Hedges-White married Jane Herbert in 1845, daughter of Charles John Herbert of Muckross Abbey in County Kerry (see my entry about places to visit in County Kerry).
In November 1853, over 33,000 acres of the Bantry estate were offered for sale in the Encumbered Estates Court, and a separate sale disposed of Bere Island. The following year more than 6,000 further acres were sold, again through the Encumbered Estates Court. Nevertheless in the 1870s the third earl still owned 69,500 acres of land in County Cork.
His son, the 4th Earl, died childless in 1891. The title lapsed, and the estate passed to his nephew, Edward Egerton Leigh (1876-1920), the son of the 4th Earl’s oldest sister, Elizabeth Mary, who had married Egerton Leigh of Cheshire, England. This nephew, born Edward Egerton Leigh, added White to his surname upon his inheritance. He was only fifteen years old when he inherited, so his uncle Lord Ardilaun looked after the estate until Edward came of age in 1897. William Henry Hedges-White’s daughter Olivia Charlotte Hedges-White had married Arthur Edward Guinness, 1st and last Baron Ardilaun. Edward Egerton’s mother had died in 1880 when he was only four years old, and his father remarried in 1889.
Edward Egerton married Arethusa Flora Gartside Hawker in 1904. She was a cousin through his father’s second marriage. They had two daughters, Clodagh and Rachel. In March 1916 an offer from the Congested Districts’ Board was accepted by Edward Egerton Leigh White for 61,589 tenanted acres of the estate.  Edward Egerton died in 1920.
Patrick Comerford tells us in his blog that during the Irish Civil War in 1922-1923, the Cottage Hospital in Bantry was destroyed by fire. Arethusa Leigh-White offered Bantry House as a hospital to the nuns of the Convent of Mercy, who were running the hospital. Arethusa only made one proviso: that the injured on both sides of the conflict should be cared for. A chapel was set up in the library and the nuns and their patients moved in for five years. 
In 1926, Clodagh Leigh-White came of age and assumed responsibility for the estate. Later that year, she travelled to Zanzibar, Africa, where she met and married Geoffrey Shelswell, then the Assistant District Commissioner of Zanzibar. (see )
Geoffrey Shelswell added “White” to his surname when in 1926 Clodagh inherited Bantry estate after the death of her father. They had a son, Egerton Shelswell-White (1933-2012), and two daughters, Delia and Oonagh.
During the Second World War, the house and stables were occupied by the Second Cyclist Squadron of the Irish Army, and they brought electricity and the telephone to the estate.
Clodagh opened the house in 1946 to paying visitors with the help of her sister Rachel who lived nearby. Her daughter Oonagh moved with her family into the Stable Yard.
Clodagh remained living in the house after her husband died in 1962, until her death in 1978. Brigittte, wife of Clodagh’s son Egerton, writes:
“As far as I know it never occurred to Clodagh to live elsewhere. She thought nothing of having her sitting room downstairs, her kitchen and bedroom upstairs and her bathroom across the landing. No en suite for her! In the winter when the freezing wing howled through the house, she more or less lived in her fur coat, by all accounts cheerful and contented. She loved bridge and held parties, which took place in the Rose Drawing Room, or in the room next to the kitchen, called the Morning Room.“
Brigitte also tells of wonderful evenings of music and dance hosted by Clodagh and her friend Ian Montague, who had been a ballet dancer with the Royal Swedish Ballet. Ian put on plays and dancing in period costumes. Members of the audience were taught about eighteenth century dance and were encouraged to join in. I think we should hold such dances in the lovely octagon room of the Irish Georgian Society!
Clodagh’s son Egerton had moved to the United States with his wife Jill, where he taught in a school called Indian Springs. When his mother died he returned to Bantry. The house was in poor repair, the roof leaking and both wings derelict. Jill decided to remain in the United States with their children who were teenagers at the time and settled into their life there.
Bantry House features in Great Irish Houses, which has a foreward by Desmond FitzGerald and Desmond Guinness (IMAGE Publications, 2008). In the book, Egerton is interviewed. He tells us:
p. 68. “The family don’t go into the public rooms very much. We live in the self-contained area. I remember before the war as children we used the dining rooms and the state bedrooms, but after the war my parents moved into this private area of the house. It feels like home and the other rooms are our business. You never think of all that furniture as being your own. You think of it more as the assets of the company.”
The relatively modest private living quarters were completed in 1985. Sophie Shelswell-White, Egerton’s daughter, says, “When we were younger we shied away from the main house because of the intrusion from the public. Everyone imagines we play hide and seek all day long and we did play it a bit. We also used to run around looking for secret tunnels and passageways. I used to believe one day I’d push something and it would open a secret room, but it never happened.”
Mark Bence-Jones continues his description, moving to the stables: “Flanking the entrance front is an imposing stable range, with a pediment and cupola. The house is surrounded by Italian gardens with balustrades and statues and has a magnificent view over Bantry Bay to the mountains on the far shore. The demesne is entered by a fine archway.” (see )
The National Inventory tells us about the East Stables:
“A classically inspired outbuilding forming part of an architectural set-piece, the formal design of which dates to the middle of the nineteenth century when Richard White, Viscount Berehaven and later second Earl of Bantry, undertook a large remodelling of Bantry House. At this time the house was extended laterally with flanking six-bay wings that overlook the bay. This stable block and the pair to the south-west are sited to appear as further lateral extensions of the house beyond its wings; when viewed from the bay they might be read as lower flanking wings in the Palladian manner. This elaborate architectural scheme exhibits many finely crafted features including a distinguished cupola, playful sculptural detailing as well as cut stone pilasters to the façade. The survival of early materials is visible in a variety of fine timber sliding sash windows, which add to the history of the site.“
Egerton married Brigitte in 1981. They undertook many of the repairs themselves. They started a tearoom with the help of a friend, Abi Sutton, who also helped with the house. Egerton played the trombone and opened the house to musical events. They continued to open the house for tours. They renovated the went wing and opened it for bed and breakfast guests.
Coffee is served on the terrace, similar to that in the front, but only partly glazed. Unfortunately we arrived too late for a snack. Bantry House is breathtaking and its gardens and location magnify the grandeur. I like that the grandeur, like Curraghmore, is slightly faded: a lady’s fox fur worn down to the leather and shiny in places.
The balustraded area on the side of the house where tea and coffee are served overlooks a garden.
Brigitte and Egerton continued restoration of the house and started to tackle the garden. They repaired the fountain and started work on the Italian parterre. In 1998 they applied for an EEC grant for renovation of the garden. They restored the statues, balustrades, 100 Steps, Parterre, Diana’s Bed and fourteen round beds overlooking the sea.
It is Egerton’s daughter Sophie who now lives in and maintains Bantry House, along with her husband and children.
The family donated their archive of papers to the Boole Library of University College Cork in 1997.
The National Inventory tells us the five-bay two-storey west stables were also built c.1845. They have a pedimented central bay with cupola above, which has a copper dome, finial, plinth and six Tuscan-Corinthian columns.  The West Stables were used as a workshop for outdoor maintenance and repairs. They had fallen into disrepair but were repaired to rectify deteriorating elements with the help of the Heritage Council in 2010-11.
 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.
 Shelswell-White, Sophie. Bantry House & Garden, The History of a family home in Ireland. This booklet includes an article by Geoffrey Shelswell-White, “The Story of Bantry House” which had appeared in the Irish Tatler and Sketch, May 1951.
“Cahir Castle is one of Ireland’s largest and best-preserved castles. It stands proudly on a rocky island on the River Suir.
The castle was was built in the thirteenth century and served as the stronghold of the powerful Butler family. [The Archiseek website tells us it was built in 1142 by Conor O’Brien, Prince of Thomond] So effective was its design that it was believed to be impregnable, but it finally fell to the earl of Essex in 1599 when heavy artillery was used against it for the first time. During the Irish Confederate Wars it was besieged twice more.
At the time of building, Cahir Castle was at the cutting edge of defensive castle design and much of the original structure remains.“
Our tour guide took us through the castle as if we were invaders and showed us all of the protective methods used. We were free then to roam the castle ourselves.
The name derives from the Irish ‘an ChathairDhun Iascaigh’ meaning stone fort of the earthen fort of the fish.
The information leaflet tells us that the area was owned by the O’Briens of Thomond in 1169 at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion. The area around Cahir was granted to Phillip of Worcester in 1192 by John, Lord of Ireland, who later became King John. His nephew William was his heir – I’m not sure of his surname! But then his great-granddaughter, Basilia, married Milo (or Meiler) de Bermingham (he died in 1263). They lived in Athenry and their son was the 1st Lord Athenry, Piers Bermingham (died 1307).
Edward III (1312-1377) granted the castle to the James Butler 3rd Earl of Ormond in 1357 and also awarded him the title of Baron of Cahir in recognition of his loyalty. The 3rd Earl of Ormond purchased Kilkenny Castle in c. 1392. Cahir Castle passed to his illegitimate son James Gallda Butler. James Gallda was loyal to his mother’s family, the Desmonds, who were rivals to his father’s family, the Butlers.
In their book The Tipperary Gentry, William Hayes and Art Kavanagh tell us that the rivalry between the Butlers of Ormond and the Fitzgeralds of Desmond turned to enmity when the War of the Roses broke out in England, with the Ormonds supporting the House of Lancaster and the Desmonds the House of York. The enmity found expression in the battle at Pilltown in 1462. The enmity continued for over a century, and the last private battle between the Ormonds and the Desmonds was the Battle of Affane, County Waterford, in 1565. 
Thomas Butler (d. 1558) was created the 1st Baron Caher (of the second creation), County Tipperary, in 1543. He married Eleanor Butler, daughter of Piers Butler 8th Earl of Ormond (d. 26 August 1539) and Margaret Fitzgerald, daughter of Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare (d. 3 September 1513). Their son Edmund became the 2nd Baron Caher (died 1560) but the title died with him and The Peerage website tells us his barony fell into abeyance between his two aunts.
The brother of Thomas 1st Baron Caher, Piers Butler (d. after February 1567/68) had a son Theobald who was then created 1st Baron Caher [Ireland, of the 3rd creation] on 6 May 1583. (see The Peerage website )
It was Piers Rua Butler, the 8th Earl of Ormond (c. 1467 – 1539), who brought peace between the warring factions of Fitzgeralds of Desmond and the Butlers of Ormond. He married Margaret Fitzgerald, daughter of Gerald (or Garret) Fitzgerald (1455-1513) 8th Earl of Kildare. His efforts culminated in a treaty called the Composition of Clonmel. It stated that Edmund Butler of Cahir should receive the manor of Cahir on condition that he and all his heirs “shall be in all things faithful to the Earl [of Ormond] and his heirs.” The Barons of Cahir were not allowed to keep their own private army nor to exact forced labour for the building or repair of their castle or houses. (see ).
This storyboard tells us that Ireland was dramatically different from Renaissance England in its language, customs, religion, costume and law. It was divided into 90 or so individual “lordships” of which about 60 were ruled by independent Gaelic chieftains. The rest were ruled by Anglo-Irish lords. Queen Elizabeth saw Ireland as a source of much-needed revenue. She did not have sufficient resources nor a strong enough army to conquer Ireland so she encouraged her authorities in Dublin to form alliances between the crown and any local chieftains who would submit to her authority. Many chieftains who submitted did so in order to assist them in their own power struggles against their neighbours. Elizabeth especially needed this support in order to ensure that if Spain invaded Ireland she would be able to quell rebellion.
Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, travelled to Ireland to subjugate Ulster and Shane O’Neill (“The O’Neill) in 1573. He failed, and had to sell of much of his land in England to pay debts accrued from raising an army. He died in Dublin of typhoid in 1576.
His son, the 2nd Earl of Essex came to Ireland to quell a rebellion which included the rise of Hugh O’Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone (1550-1616), cousin of Shane O’Neill.
The storyboard tells us that Hugh O’Neill fought alongside the 1st Earl of Essex in Ulster between 1573 and 1575. He also fought for Queen Elizabeth in 1580 against the rebel Gerald Fitzgerald, 14th Earl of Desmond (circa 1533, d. 11 November 1583), and as thanks he was made Earl of Tyrone. However, he turned against the crown in 1594 and formed an alliance with Red Hugh O’Donnell to fight against the Queen’s troops, in the Nine Years War.
The ties between the Earls of Essex and Queen Elizabeth I are complicated. When Walter Devereux the 1st Earl died in Ireland, his wife, Lettice Knollys, remarried. She and Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, married secretly, a fact which enraged the disappointed Queen. It was Robert Dudley who introduced his stepson Robert Devereux 2nd Earl of Essex to Elizabeth and he subsequently became her favourite, alongside Walter Raleigh. However, Elizabeth was to be angered again when this next favourite, Devereux, also secretly married, this time to Frances Walsingham, who was the widow of Sir Philip Sidney. We came across her before when we visited Portumna Castle as she later married Richard Bourke 4th Earl of Clanricarde. Philip Sidney was the son of Henry Sidney (or Sydney) who had been Lord Deputy of Ireland.
Robert Devereux the 2nd Earl of Essex sought to re-win courtly favour by going to fight in Ireland, following the footsteps of his father, and persuaded Elizabeth to name him Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
In May 1599, Essex and his troops besieged Cahir Castle. He arrived with around two to three thousand men, a cannon and a culverin, a smaller and more accurate piece of heavy artillery.
Thomas Butler the 10th Earl of Ormond, who owned the castle in Carrick-on-Suir and was another favourite of the Queen, as he had grown up with her in the English court. However, the storyboards tell us that he at first rebelled, alongside Thomas Butler 2nd Baron Cahir (or Caher – they seem to be spelled interchangeably in historical records) and Edmond Butler, 2nd Viscount Mountgarret (1540-1602), another titled branch of the Butler family.
By the time of the 1599 siege, the Earl of Ormond was fighting alongside Essex, and Cahir Castle was held by rebels, including Thomas Butler’s brother James Gallada Butler (not to be confused with the earlier James Galda Butler who died in 1434). Thomas Butler 2nd Baron Cahir travelled with Essex toward the castle. Baron Cahir sent messengers to ask his brother to surrender the castle but the rebels refused. Thomas Butler 2nd Baron Cahir was suspected of being involved with the rebels. Thomas was convicted of treason but received a full pardon in 1601 and occupied Cahir Castle until his death in 1627. James Gallada Butler claimed that he had been forced by the rebels to fight against Essex. Essex and his men managed to capture the castle.
During the three days of the siege, the castle incurred little damage, mostly because the larger cannot broke down on the first day! Eighty of the defenders of the castle were killed, but James Gallada Butler and a few others escaped by swimming under the water mill. This siege was to be the only time that castle was taken by force. James Gallada recaptured the castle the following year and held it for some months. The Butlers regained possession of the castle in 1601.
Inside the castle in one room was a wonderful diorama of this siege of Cahir Castle, with terrifically informative information boards.
Failing to win in his battles in Ireland, however, Essex made an unauthorised truce with Hugh O’Neill. This made him a traitor. The Queen did not accept the truce and forbid Essex from returning from Ireland. He summoned the Irish Council in September 1599, put the Earl of Ormond in command of the army, and went to England. He tried to raise followers to oust his enemies at Elizabeth’s court but in doing so, he brought a small army to court and was found guilty of treason and executed.
Cahir Castle was taken again, this time by Murrough O’Brien (1614-1674, 6th Baron Inchiquin and later created 1st Earl of Inchiquin in 1647) in the Confederate War, which followed the rebellion of 1641. O’Brien fought on the side of the Crown – his ancestor Murrough O’Brien was created 1st Baron Inchiquin in 1543 by the Crown in return for converting to Protestantism and pledging allegiance to the King (Henry VIII). Since he took the castle for the crown, it implies that at this time Lord Caher fought against the crown again – and since the information boards tell us that the 1599 siege was the only time it was taken by force, force must not have beeen used at this later time. This must have been the time that Oliver Cromwell in 1650, when the occupants surrendered peacefully.
Once invaders get through the portcullis they are trapped in a small area, where defenders can fire arrows and stones at them. The walls of this area slope outwards towards the bottom, known as a base batter, so falling rocks bounce off them to hit the invaders.
The Butlers of Ormond also had to forfeit their land in the time of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate. Both branches of the Butlers had their lands restored with the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II in 1662.
The castle layout was changed considerably and enlarged during work to repair some of the damage caused by the battles, but was then left abandoned until 1840 when the partial rebuilding of the Great Hall took place. 
The core of the castle is the keep.
There’s an excellent history of Cahir on the Cahir Social and Historical Website:
“Throughout the reigns of Elizabeth I and Charles I, Cahir Castle appears as a frequent and important scene in the melancholy drama of which Ireland was a stage. The Castle was taken and re-taken, but rarely damaged and through it all remained in the hands of the Roman Catholic Butlers of Cahir. By this time Cahir had become a great centre of learning for poets and musicians. Theobald, Lord Cahir [I assume this was 1st Baron Cahir of second creation who died in 1596] was said by the Four Masters “to be a man of great benevolence and bounty, with the greatest collection of poems of any of the Normans in Ireland”.
“A study of the Butler Family in Cahir in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries reveals the rise and fall of one of the minor branches of the House of Ormond. At the end of the fifteenth century, they possessed extensive powers, good territorial possessions and a tenuous link with the main branch of the Butler family. During the sixteenth century, their possession was strengthened by the grant of the title of Baron of Cahir with subsequent further acquisition of land, but they came under closer central government control. A complete reversal in their relations with the Earls of Ormond occurred, strengthened by various marriage alliances. They also participated in political action, both in the Liberty of Tipperary and at National Level. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries their position was affected by their adherence to Roman Catholicism, which resulted in their revolt during the Nine Years War, and subsequent exclusion from power by the Central Administration. They formed part of the Old English Group and as such, suffered from the discriminatory politics practiced by the Government. From 1641 they became minor landowners keeping their lands by virtue of the favour of their relative, the Duke of Ormond. In 1647 the Castle was surrendered to Lord Inchiquin for Parliament but re-taken in 1650 by Cromwell himself, whose letter describing acceptable terms of surrender still survives. At the restoration of Charles II, in 1660, George Matthews, (as Warden of Cahir Castle and half-brother to the Duke of Ormond), retained the Cahir lands for the Lord Cahir, then a minor.”  George Matthew (or “Mathew,”1645-1735) was married to Eleanor Butler, daughter of Edmond Butler, 3rd/13th Baron Dunboyne. She seems to have married twice: first to Edmond Butler son of 3rd Baron Cahir, then to to George Matthew. Her son was Piers Butler, 4th Baron Cahir, who was just seven when his father died.
Piers Butler 4th Baron Cahir (1641-1676) married George Mathew’s niece, Elizabeth Mathew (1647-1704). They had no male issue, but two daughters. His daughter Margaret married Theobald Butler, 5th Baron Cahir (d. 1700), great-grandson of the 1st Baron Cahir.
“Despite embracing the Jacobite Cause in the Williamite Wars, the Cahir estate remained relatively intact. However, the Butlers never again lived at Cahir Castle but rather at their country manor, Rehill House, where they lived in peace and seclusion from the mid-seventeenth century, when not living abroad in England and France.
…By 1700 a sizeable town had grown around the Castle, although hardly any other buildings survive from this period. Agriculture, milling and a wide range of trades would have brought quite a bustle to the muddy precursors of our present streets. At this time, the Castle was quite dilapidated and was let to the Quaker William Fennell, who resided and kept a number of wool combers at work there.” 
Margaret Butler daughter of the 4th Baron Cahir was the 5th Baron Cahir’s second wife. His first wife, Mary Everard, gave birth to his heir, Thomas (1680-1744), 6th Baron Cahir. Thomas had several sons, who became 7th (d. 1786) and 8th Barons Cahir (d. 1788), but they did not have children, so that title went to a cousin, James Butler (d. 1788), who became 9th Baron Cahir.
“On the completion of Cahir House [in the town, now Cahir House Hotel] in the later 1770’s, Fennell rented Rehill House from Lord Cahir and lived there over half a century. [The Barons moved to Cahir House.] A strong Roman Catholic middle class emerged. James, 9th Lord Cahir [d. 1788], practiced his religion openly. He maintained strong links with Jacobite France, and paid regular visits to England. While not a permanent resident, he kept his Cahir Estates in impeccable order and was largely responsible for the general layout of the Town of Cahir. Under his patronage, some of the more prominent buildings such as Cahir House, the Market House and the Inn were built during the late 1770s and early 1780s. In addition, the Quakers built the Manor Mills on the Bridge of Cahir, the Suir Mills (Cahir Bakery), and the Cahir Abbey Mills in the period 1775-90.“
The son of the 9th Baron Cahir, Richard, became 10th Baron and 1st Earl of Glengall.
“… The young Lord Cahir married Miss Emily Jeffereys of Blarney Castle and together they led Cahir through the most colourful period of its development…Richard, Lord Cahir, sat in The House of Lords as one of the Irish Representative Peers, and in 1816 was created Earl of Glengall, a title he enjoyed for just 3 years. He died at Cahir House of typhus in January 1819, at the age of 43 years. Richard, Viscount Caher, (now 2nd Earl of Glengall), had already taken his place in political circles while his mother, Emily, ran the Estate with an iron fist.” 
“During the Great Famine (1846-51), Lord and Lady Glengall did much for the relief of the poor and the starving. Lord Glengall’s town improvement plan was shelved in 1847 due to a resulting lack of funds and his wife’s fortune being tied up in a Trust Fund. The Cahir Estates were sold in 1853, the largest portion being purchased by the Trustees of Lady Glengall. This sale came about due to Lord Glengall being declared bankrupt. The Grubbs had by now become the most important Quaker family in the district and bought parts of the Cahir Estate during the 1853 sale...
In the interim, Lady Margaret Butler (elder daughter and heir of Lord Glengall) had married Lieut. Col. Hon. Richard Charteris, 2nd son of the 9th Earl of Wemyss & March. Using a combination of her mother’s Trust and Charteris funds, Cahir Town and Kilcommon Demesne were repurchased.
Lady Margaret, although an absentee landlord, resident in London, kept a close watch on her Cahir Estates through two excellent managers, Major Hutchinson and his successor William Rochfort… Her son, Richard Butler Charteris took over her role in 1915 and remained resident in Cahir from 1916 until his death in 1961. In 1962, the House, and circa 750 acre estate core (within the walls of Cahir Park and Kilcommon Demesne) were auctioned…And so ended the direct line of Butler ownership in Cahir, almost 600 years.“ 
The castle became the property of the state after the death of Lord Cahir in 1961; it was classified as a national monument and taken into the care of the Office of Public Works. (see )
Our tour guide took us through the outside of the castle, showing us its defenses. Our tour ended inside the Great Hall, or dining hall.
The dining hall has a magnificent ceiling. The building would have originally been of two storeys, and taller. The appearance today owes much to restoratation work carried out by William Tinsley in 1840, when the building was converted into a private chapel for the Butler family. The hammer-beam roof and the south and east wall belong to this period. The external wall dates from the 13th century.
Next we explore the keep building.
2.Famine Warhouse 1848, Ballingarry, County Tipperary:
General information: 087 908 9972, firstname.lastname@example.org
“How did an ordinary farmhouse near Ballingarry, County Tipperary, become the site of a bloody siege and a monument of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848?
It was here that rebels, under the leadership of Protestant aristocrat William Smith O’Brien, besieged 47 police officers who had barricaded themselves into the McCormack homestead, taking 5 children hostage. After two of their number were killed, the rebels finally gave in. They were later transported to penal colonies abroad.
The Warhouse, as it became known, is now a museum. Its contents illuminate the history of the Young Irelander Rebellion, the trials of its leaders, their exile in Australia and escape to the USA. The exhibition places the rebellion in the context of the Great Famine and the upheaval that rocked Europe during that turbulent year.“
Traditionally it was known as Ballingarry Warhouse or The Widow McCormack’s House.
“As destination for pilgrims, Holy Cross Abbey, near Thurles, County Tipperary, has a rich history. Pilgrims travelled here for eight centuries to venerate the relic after which the abbey and surrounding villages are named – a piece of the True Cross of Christ’s crucifixion.
Today this working parish church is a peaceful landmark and a place for quiet contemplation and historical discovery. As well as inspecting the relic of the cross, you can marvel at the building’s ornate stonework. The chancel is possibly the finest piece of fifteenth-century architecture in the country. The abbey also houses one of the only surviving medieval wall paintings in Ireland.“
4.The Main Guard, Sarsfield Street, Clonmel, County Tipperary:
General Information: 052 612 7484, email@example.com
“In the seventeenth century County Tipperary was a palatinate, ruled by James Butler, duke of Ormond. When the duke decided he needed a new courthouse, he built one in the heart of Clonmel [built in 1673]. Later, when it was used as a barracks, it became known as the Main Guard.
A fine two-storey symmetrical building, some elements of its design were based on works by the famous Sir Christopher Wren.
In the eighteenth century it was the venue for the Clonmel Assizes. The most notable trial it witnessed was that of Father Nicholas Sheehy, the anti-Penal Laws agitator. Sheehy was hanged, drawn and quartered.
In about 1810, the ground floor was converted into shops, but the building has recently undergone an award-winning restoration. The open arcade of sandstone columns is once again an attractive feature of the streetscape, while inside you will find a fantastic exhibition and event space.“
5. Nenagh Castle, County Tipperary
General information: 067 33850, firstname.lastname@example.org
The OPW doesn’t seem to have a site for this currently, but there is information at a site about Nenagh:
“Nenagh Castle was built by Theobald Walter (the first of the Butlers of Ormond) around 1200. To this day the cylindrical keep adorns the town and like most keeps it formed part of the perimeter of the fortress. The walls have now almost disappeared, but fragments remain.
Built from limestone Nenagh Castle measures fifty-five feet in external diameter at the base and rises to a height of one hundred feet. The Castle features four storeys and thanks to a recent renovation this wonderful landmark now represents the town’s premier tourist attraction.
The building and has stone spiral stairs to the top. There are 101 steps in all to the top. Access to the tower is through a passageway within the base of the wall. This has low head room and visitors will need to stoop to avoid hitting the stone above. All children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. 
6. Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary:
General Information: 051 640787, email@example.com
“Joined on to an earlier medieval riverside castle, Ormond Castle Carrick-on-Suir is the finest example of an Elizabethan manor house in Ireland. Thomas, 10th Earl of Ormond [“Black Tom” (1531-1614)], built it in 1565 in honour of his distant cousin Queen Elizabeth.
The magnificent great hall, which stretches almost the whole length of the building is decorated with some of the finest stucco plasterwork in the country. The plasterwork features portraits of Queen Elizabeth and her brother Edward VI and many motifs and emblems associated with the Tudor monarchy.“
The castle has a low and wide-spreading addition to an older castle, which consisted of two massive towers set rather close together. The castle is joined to these towers by a return at each side, making an enclosed courtyard. The facade is of two storeys with three gables and a central porch and oriel. It is only one room thick. It is virtually unfortified, having no basement, and windows only three freet from the ground, and a few shot-holes for defence by hand-guns, Craig points out. The windows on the ground floor may have been widened at some point.
Mark Bence-Jones writes:
“The house, which is horseshoe shaped, forming three sides of a small inner court, and the castle the fourth. The house is of 2 storeys with a gabled attic; the towers of the castle rise behind it. The gables are steep, and have finials; there are more finials on little piers of the corners of the building. There are full-sized mullioned windows on the ground floor as well as on the floor above, the lights having the slightly curved heads which were fashionable in late C16. There is a rectangular porch-oriel in the centre of the front, and an oriel of similar form at one end of the left-hand side elevation. The finest room in the house is a long gallery on the first floor, which had two elaborately carved stone chimneypieces – one of which was removed to Kilkenny Castle 1909, but has since been returned – and a ceiling and frieze of Elizabethan plasterwork. The decoration includes busts of Elizabeth I, who was a cousin of “Black Thomas,” Ormonde through her mother, Anne Boleyn, and used to call him her “Black Husband”: she is said to have promised to honour Carrick with a visit. The old castle served as part of the house and not merely as a defensive adjunct to it: containing, among other rooms, a chapel with carved stone angels.” 
Thomas Butler (1582-1614) the 10th Earl of Ormond is a fascinating character. He was the eldest son of James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond, and his wife Joan Fitzgerald, daughter of the 10th Earl of Desmond. Because he was dark-haired, he was known to his contemporaries as “Black Tom”or “Tomas Dubh”. As a young boy, Thomas was fostered with Rory O’More, son of the lord of Laois (his mother was granddaughter of Piers Rua Butler, 8th Earl of Ormond) before being sent to London to be educated with the future Edward VI. He was the first member of the Butler family to be brought up in the protestant faith. In 1546, he inherited the Ormond earldom following the sudden death of his father. He fought against the Fitzgerald Earls of Desmond in the Desmond Rebellions, as he was loyal to the British monarchy. He was made Lord Treasurer of Ireland and a Knight of the Garter.
He was highly regarded by Queen Elizabeth to whom he was related through her mother Anne Boleyn. Anne Boleyn was the granddaughter of the 7th Earl of Ormond making Elizabeth and Thomas cousins. Thomas married three times but left no heir and was succeeded by his nephew Walter Butler 11th Earl of Ormond. He died in 1614 and was buried in St Canice’s cathedral, Kilkenny.
James Butler the 12th Earl of Ormond and 1st Duke of Ormond (1610-1688) spent much of his time here and was the last of the family to reside at the castle. On his death in 1688 the family abandoned the property and it was only handed over to the government in 1947, who then became responsible for its restoration.
7. Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary:
General Information: 062 61437, firstname.lastname@example.org
“Set on a dramatic outcrop of limestone in the Golden Vale, the Rock of Cashel, iconic in its historic significance, possesses the most impressive cluster of medieval buildings in Ireland. Among the monuments to be found there is a round tower, a high cross, a Romanesque chapel, a Gothic cathedral, an abbey, the Hall of the Vicars Choral and a fifteenth-century Tower House.
Originally the seat of the kings of Munster, according to legend St. Patrick himself came here to convert King Aenghus to Christianity. Brian Boru was crowned High King at Cashel in 978 and made it his capital.
In 1101 the site was granted to the church and Cashel swiftly rose to prominence as one of the most significant centres of ecclesiastical power in the country.
The surviving buildings are remarkable. Cormac’s Chapel, for example, contains the only surviving Romanesque frescoes in Ireland.“
8.Roscrea Castle and Damer House, County Tipperary:
General information: 0505 21850, email@example.com
“In the heart of Roscrea in County Tipperary, one of the oldest towns in Ireland, you will find a magnificent stone motte castle dating from the 1280s. It was used as a barracks from 1798, housing 350 soldiers, and later served as a school, a library and even a sanatorium.
Sharing the castle grounds is Damer House, named for local merchant John Damer, who came into possession of the castle in the eighteenth century. The house is a handsome example of pre-Palladian architecture. It has nine beautiful bay windows. One of the rooms has been furnished in period style.
The grounds also include an impressive garden with a fountain, which makes Roscrea Castle a very pleasant destination for a day out. There is also a restored mill displaying St Crónán’s high cross and pillar stone.“
This was originally the site of a motte and bailey fortification known as King John’s Castle. The original wooden castle was destroyed in the late 13th century and was replaced with a stone structure built in 1274-1295 by John de Lydyard. The castle was originally surrounded by a river to the east and a moat on the other sides.  It was granted to the Butlers of Ormond in 1315 who held it until the early 18th Century. The castle as we see it today was built from 1332.
Eoin Roe O’Neill, at the head of 1,200 men, stormed Roscrea in 1646 and reportedly killed every man, woman and child. The only survivor was the governor’s wife, Lady Mary Hamilton (1605-1680), who was a sister to the Earl of Ormond [married to George Hamilton, 1st Baronet of Donalong County Tyrone and of Nenagh, County Tipperary]. She was again forced to play host in the castle to O’Neill three years later which again ended by the guests looting everything in sight. 
Damer House is of three storeys and nine bays and has a scroll pediment doorway and inside, a magnificent carved staircase. The Irish Georgian Society was involved in saving it from demolition in the 1960s.
Roscrea Castle was sold to the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, by the James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormond in 1703. It was bought by Joseph and his nephew John Damer (1674-1768) in 1722. The Damer family who built an elegant three-storey pre-Palladian house in the courtyard in c. 1730.
In their book The Tipperary Gentry, Hayes and Kavanagh tell us that Joseph Damer was born in Dorset in England in 1630. The came to Ireland after the restoration of Charles II when land was being sold cheaply by Cromwellian soldiers who were given land instead of pay but did not want to remain in Ireland. He bought land in Tipperary and became a sheep farmer. He also became involved in banking in Dublin. His nephew John acted as his agent in Tipperary. Jonathan Swift wrote a ditty mocking Joseph Damer’s parsimony:
“He walked the streets and wore a threadbare cloak
He dined and supped at charge of other folk
And – by his look – had he held out his palms
He might be thought an object fit for alms.”
He had no children and left his vast fortune when he died in 1720 to his nephews John (1674-1768) and Joseph (1676-1736), sons of his brother George Damer. He was so wealthy that he entered folklore with tales of how he gained his wealth, and he was compared to King Midas, as if everything he touched turned to gold.
The nephew John had no children and his brother Joseph inherited. Joseph became MP for Tipperary in 1735. He died three years later.
Robert O’Byrne tells us that his son Joseph (1717-1798) inherited the house and castle was later created the Earl of Dorchester.  He was an absentee landlord and his brother managed his Irish properties. He built a mansion named Damerville which was very grand, but was demolished in 1775. Their sister Mary married William Henry Dawson, 1st Viscount Carlow, who lived at Emo in Laois. It was her offspring who later inherited the Damer properties.
Joseph’s son John (1744-1776) married Ann Seymour, a sculptress. He spent all of his inheritance and killed himself. Subsequently it was his younger brother George who inherited the title to become 2nd Earl of Dorchester. None of Joseph’s offspring had children, however, so the properties passed to the 2nd Earl of Portarlington, a second cousin, who assumed the name Dawson-Damer.
Mary who had married the 1st Viscount Carlow had a son John Dawson (1744-1798) who became 1st Earl of Portarlington, Queen’s County. He married Caroline Stuart, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Bute and his writer wife, Mary Wortley Montagu. He commissioned James Gandon to built Emo Court in Queen’s County (Laois). It was his son John Dawson (1781-1845), 2nd Earl of Portarlington, who inherited the Damer fortune and lands, and added Damer to his surname.
The castle was used as a barracks from 1798, housing 350 soldiers. It was used later as a school, a library, and a tuberculosis sanatorium. Roscrea Castle fell into disrepair in the 19th century, and when the roof collapsed extensive repairs were needed in the 1850s. It was named a national monument in 1892, and is now under the care of the OPW.
9.Swiss Cottage, Ardfinnan Road, Cahir, County Tipperary:
General Information: 052 744 1144, firstname.lastname@example.org
“The Swiss Cottage, just outside the heritage town of Cahir, is a cottage orné – a fanciful realisation of an idealised countryside cottage used for picnics, small soirees and fishing and hunting parties and was also a peaceful retreat for those who lived in the nearby big house.
Built in the early 1800s [around 1810] by Richard Butler, 1st Earl of Glengall, who, we believe, managed to persuade world-famous Regency architect John Nash to design it [he also designed Buckingham Palace for the Crown]. Originally, simply known as “The Cottage” it appears to have acquired its present name because it was thought to resemble an Alpine cottage.
Inside, there is a graceful spiral staircase and some exquisitely decorated rooms. The wallpaper is partly original and partly the fruit of a 1980s restoration project, in which the renowned fashion designer Sybil Connolly was responsible for the interiors.“
We visited the Swiss Cottage in June 2022. The guide told us that the Glengalls probably never even spent a night in their cottage! They used it for entertaining. A Swiss Cottage, or cottage ornee, was the ultimate in impressive entertainment. It was meant to look like it had grown from the ground, and it was designed deliberately off-kilter and asymmetrical with different windows, wavy rooves, oddly shaped rooms. Even the expensive floorboards were painted to look like they were made of a cheaper wood!
The National Inventory describes it:
“The building, constructed as an architectural toy, was used as a lodge for entertainment purposes and was designed specifically to blend with nature. The roof pitches and tosses and varies in length while differing window sizes and openings punctuate it. The verandah and balconies, although luxury features, have been fashioned to appear humble with exposed rustic tree trunk pillars. The asymmetrical design of the cottage, although immediately apparent of architectural detailing, is deliberately flawed and distorted to appear unsophisticated. Both the building and its setting right down to its cast-iron rustic fencing maintains a sense of blending with nature as it was originally designed.” 
Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photographs inside. I took a few photographs looking through the windows. You can see better photographs of the interior on the OPW website.
Downstairs has a room off either side of the hallway, the Dufour Room and the Music Room. The Dufour room is so called due to some original Dufour wallpaper, depicting Constantinople, much of which has been reproduced to line the room. Dufour was one of the first Parisian manufacturers creating commercially produced wallpaper. Another door from the central hall leads to a limestone stairway and basement. The first floor interior comprises a landing with rooms leading directly to the west (Small bedroom) and east (Master bedroom) through angular-headed timber panelled doors.
Every window has a different shape.
Walking under the balcony one is embraced with the glorious scent of the roses and other flowers.
 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.
Open dates listed in 2023: Mar 30-31, Apr 1-2, 5-10, 12-16, 19-23, 26-30, May 1, 3-7, 10-14, 17-21, 24-28, 31, June 1-30, July 1-31, Aug 1-31, Sept 1-3, 6-10, 13-17, 20-24, 27-30, Oct 7-8, 14-15, Nov 29-30, Dec 1-23,
Mar, Apr, May, Sept, Oct, 12 noon-6pm, June, July, Aug, 11am-6pm, Nov, Dec, 4pm-10pm, Fee: adult €9, child €6, family and season passes under 3 years free
Help me to fund the maintenance and update of this website. It is created purely out of love for the subject and I receive no payment so any donation is appreciated!
We visited Oakfield Park in July, on a trip to County Donegal. Unfortunately the house is not open to the public, but there is plenty to see in the grounds, and it has been created as a family-friendly destination complete with steam train! There’s also a shop and café.
The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage tells us that the house at Oakfield Park is a five-bay two-storey over basement former Church of Ireland deanery with dormer attic, built c. 1739, having courtyard of outbuildings to the north with curved screen walls to the north-west and north-east of the house. 
The Inventory continues:
“This impressive, well-maintained and well-proportioned mid-eighteenth century country house retains its early form. It has recently been extensively conserved and retains its original character. It was originally built as the deanery for the Church of Ireland Diocese of Raphoe in 1739 at a cost of £1,680. Its form with dormer attic level and Tuscan pedimented porch was slightly old fashioned for its construction date and it has the appearance of the house dating to the second half of the seventeenth century or to the start of eighteenth century. This is something it shares with the contemporary Bogay House, which is located a few kilometres to the north-east of Oakfield.“
The reason that the Inventory calls the style “old fashioned for its construction date” is because, according to Alistair Rowan in his Buildings of Ireland: North West Ulster, the elevation has a seventeenth century character, or at latest, Queen Anne. It is “not essentially different from Inigo Jones’s design for Lord Maltravers at Lothbury in the City of London of 1638.”
It was William Cotterell, Dean of Raphoe, who commissioned the building of Oakfield Park. Robert O’Byrne tells us:
“Oakfield is of interest for many reasons, not least its links to one of the loveliest estates in England: Rousham, Oxfordshire. The main house at Oakfield, built in 1739 at a cost of £1,680, was commissioned by William Cotterell, then-Dean of Raphoe. Cotterell was a younger son of Sir Charles Lodowick Cotterell who, like his father before him (and several generations of the same family thereafter) held the court position of Master of Ceremonies. In 1741 Dean Cotterell’s brother, Sir Clement Cotterell who performed the same role in the royal household, inherited the Rousham estate from a cousin. William Kent had already been working on the gardens at Rousham but now also undertook improvements to the house. Clearly the Cotterell brothers were men of taste and this can also be seen at Oakfield even if Kent did not work there. In fact the house’s elevations are stylistically somewhat anachronistic and seem to harp back to the late 17th century. Nevertheless, it is a handsome building in an admirably chosen setting: on a bluff offering views across to Croaghan Hill some five miles away.” 
The Inventory continues with more particulars about Oakfield Park:
The detail of Oakfield is kept to a minimum with plain sandstone eaves course while the impressive pedimented Tuscan porch provides an effective central focus. The ranges of outbuildings are hidden behind quadrant screen walls to the north-west of the house in a vaguely Palladian fashion, a style that was en vogue at the time of construction. The house is composed of graceful classical proportions with a rigid simplicity and order to all the three main elevations with the architectural composition defined by the diminishing size of openings on the upper levels, the raised ground floor, overhanging eaves and the central entrance doorway.
Oakfield remained in use as a deanery until 1869 when it was purchased by Captain Thomas Butler Stoney of the Donegal Militia. Captain Stoney further built up the estate by acquiring additional land in Raphoe including the ruins of the Bishops Palace.“
Robert O’Byrne tells us that Thomas Butler Stoney was a younger son of James Stoney of Rossyvera, County Mayo and that as well as being a Captain in the Donegal Artillery Militia, Stoney also occupied all the other positions expected of someone in his position: County High Sheriff, Deputy Lieutenant of the county, Justice of the Peace. Following his death in 1912 Oakfield was inherited by his only son, Cecil Robert Vesey Stoney, a keen ornithologist who eventually moved to England in the early 1930s.
The National Inventory continues: “It was later the home of Captain George B. Stoney in 1881 and a Captain Thomas Butler Stoney in 1894 (Slater’s Directory). When Captain Stoney died in 1912 the house was inherited by his son Cecil who retained it and some land, letting it out during the 1920s and 30s.“
Robert O’Byrne tells us that the house and surrounding lands thereafter passed through several hands. The Oakfield Park website tells us it belonged to several local families, including the Morrows, Mc Elhinneys and Pattersons. Twenty-six years ago it was purchased by businessman Gerry Robinson who together with his wife Heather has since undertaken an extensive restoration of the property. The website tells us of their renovations:
“Alterations made during Victorian times and earlier were reversed and where possible the house returned to its original design. Wherever possible, the existing floorboards, stairs and panelling internally were retained and restored. The gardens have matured quickly and to-date more than 40,000 trees have been planted. An international collection of Oaks (Quercus) has been established in recent years. A Victorian Ram Pump which was installed at Oakfield Park in 1864 is still in operation. It was used to pump water from a nearby stream up to the main house. For any Donegal sightseeing visitors, this pump has been restored and is still in use today, supplying fresh water to the formal ponds in the walled garden.“
The Inventory continues: “Occupying attractive mature grounds with extensive recent alterations and additions, Oakfield Park is an important element of the built heritage of the Raphoe area and is an integral element of the social history as a former Church of Ireland deanery. It forms the centrepiece of a ground of related structures along with the walled garden (see 40906218) to the north-east, the complex of outbuildings (see 40906214) to the north-west, and the icehouse (see 40906219) to the south-east.“
Unfortunately we arrived too late in the day to see the upper gardens, which are only accessible via a guided tour. They include a clipped box parterre, planned by Tony and Elizabeth Wright, based on a design by Sebastiano Serlio, and a semi-circular pergola.
Robert O’Byrne tells us:
“Over the past two decades, not only have the Robinsons restored the residence at the centre of Oakfield, but they have created a 100-acre parkland around it. Some of this is based in the old walled gardens immediately adjacent to the house but the rest is spread over two areas bisected by a road. This division applies also to the spirit of the two sections, the upper garden having a more classical aspect thanks to elements such as a Nymphaeum on one side of the lake. The lower garden’s principal architectural feature is a newly-created castellated tower house overlooking another stretch of water. Between this pair of substantial structures are other, smaller buildings to engage a visitor’s interest. Oakfield is an admirable demonstration of what imaginative vision allied with sound taste can achieve. Walking around the grounds, it is hard to believe this is County Donegal. But that is what sets Oakfield apart: like Rousham on the other side of the Irish Sea, once inside the gates one is temporarily transported to Arcadia.“
The website tells us that there are many kilometres of designated walking paths through the gardens, which pass under native woodland, alongside sculpture, over natural wetland and via many beautiful viewpoints and features.
The website tells us about the trains:
“Over 4.5km of narrow-gauge railway track weaves its way through the trees, around the lakes and along the meadows, revealing many pleasing vistas throughout the park – both sculpture and nature. Tickets and departure times are available at the gate on arrival, in Buffers restaurant or in the ice cream truck. No booking is required except for group visits. The trip will take about 15 minutes.
One of three locomotives in Oakfield Park, The Duchess of Difflin steam engine, with her carriages in the traditional red and cream livery of the Wee Donegal is a nostalgic delight that runs on the last Sunday of each month in the season – Steam Sunday. This is a family attraction in Donegal like no other.
At least one of the two diesels run every other day, at least on the hour. The Earl of Oakfield blue diesel engine, delights children, Thomas the Tank Engine fans and train enthusiasts alike and the green locomotive, Bishop Twysden is the first full locomotive ever built in Donegal.”
In the Lower Gardens, there are many sculptures. “The Longsleeper” by Lockie Morris is the largest, constructed from oak and steel. Other sculptures include “The Keepers of the Knowledge” and “Serene” by Owen Crawford, the “Love Seat” and a number of expertly crafted chainsaw sculptures by local carver, Gintas Poderys. Other garden sculpture in Oakfield park includes “Reading Chaucer” by sculptor Philip Jackson, known for his bronze sculptures depicting life-sized elongated figures. Then there is “Deer” by Rupert Till, two life-size mesh statues by one of the leading contemporary wire sculptors in the UK.
The slate of the sculpture reflects the slate that leads up to the folly by the lake.
The website tells us about a maze, which unfortunately we did not get to try:
““A Maze” is a really popular addition to the park and offers hours of endless fun. The maze was designed by Jennifer Fisher and set out and planted by our team of gardeners at Oakfield Park.
The maze a must do family activity in Donegal suitable for both children and adults alike, working you way into the centre toward the imposing 10-metre-tall brick tower – then spend the afternoon trying to work your way out again! If you get stuck just look up the free Oakfield Park app where you can use the map to guide you out.“
The Swiss-Italian stuccadores were brought to Ireland from England in 1738 by Robert Fitzgerald (1675-1744) 19th Earl of Kildare, who built both Leinster House in Dublin (first known as Kildare House until his son was raised to be Earl of Leinster) and Carton House.
Going back to its origins, the estate of Riverstown was purchased by Edward Browne (b. 1676), Mayor of Cork. He married Judith, the heiress daughter of Warham Jemmett (b. 1637), who lived in County Cork. The present house possibly dates from the mid 1730s, Frank Keohane tells us in Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County.  A hopper with the date 1753 probably records alterations, when the gable end at one side was replaced by full-height canted bays.
Mark Bence-Jones describes Riverstown in his A Guide to Irish Country Houses (1988):
“…The house consists of a double gable-ended block of two storeys over a basement which is concealed on the entrance front, but which forms an extra storey on the garden front, where the ground falls away steeply; and a three-storey one bay tower-like addition at one end, which has two bows on its side elevation. The main block has a four bay entrance front, with a doorway flanked by narrow windows not centrally placed.” 
The tower-like third storey on part of the house was possibly added by architect Henry Hill around 1830, Keohane tells us. Henry Hill was an architect who worked in Cork, perhaps initially with George Richard Pain, and later with William Henry Hill and Arthur Hill.
As Riverstown and its plasterwork was described in 1750 in Smith’s History of County Cork, it must have been created before this, perhaps when Browne’s son Jemmet Browne was elevated to the position of Bishop of Cork in 1745. He later became Archbishop of Tuam.
Reverend Jemmett Browne gave rise to a long line of clerics. He married Alice Waterhouse, daughter of Reverend Thomas Waterhouse. His son Edward (1726-1777) became Archbishop of Cork and Ross, and a younger son, Thomas, also joined the clergy. Edward named his heir Jemmett (1753-1797) also, and he also joined the clergy. He married Frances Blennerhassett of Ballyseede, County Kerry (now a hotel and also a section 482 property that I have yet to visit!). If the tower part of the house was built in 1830 it would have been for this Jemmett Browne’s heir, another Jemmett (1787-1850).
In BeautiesofIreland (vol. 2, p. 375, published 1826), James Norris Brewer writes that: “the river of Glanmire runs through the gardens banked with serpentine canals which are well stocked with carp,tench, etc. A pleasant park stocked with deer, comes close to the garden walls. The grounds of this very respectable seat about in aged timber and the whole demesne wears an air of dignified seclusion.”
Jemmett Browne’s interest in fine stucco work was probably influenced by fellow clerics Bishop George Berkeley, Samuel “Premium” Madden and Bishop Robert Clayton. Samuel Madden recommended, in his Reflections and Resolutions Proper to the Gentlemen of Ireland that stucco is substituted for wainscot.  Bishop Clayton owned what is now called Iveagh House on St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin (see my entry, https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/09/23/open-house-culture-night-and-heritage-week-dublin-visits/ ).
The stucco work is so important that the Office of Public Works feared it would be lost, as the house was standing empty in the 1950s before being purchased by John Dooley, father of the current owner, in around 1965. Under the direction of Raymond McGrath of the Office of Public Words, with advice from Dr. C. P. Curran, the authority on Irish decorative plasterwork, moulds were taken in 1955-6. The moulds are now displayed prominently in the home of Ireland’s President, Áras an Uachtaráin. (see my entry on the Áras in the entry on Office of Public Works properties in Dublin, https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/01/21/office-of-public-works-properties-dublin/ )
Shortly after John Dooley purchased the property, the members of the Irish Georgian Society decided to help to restore the plasterwork.
The book published on the 50th anniversary of the Irish Georgian Society has part of a chapter on Riverstown and the Irish Georgian Society’s role in restoration of the Lafranchini plasterwork in the 1960s. By this time, John Dooley had purchased Riverstown, after it has been standing empty. At the time, Dooley had not yet moved in, and the dining room was not preserved to the standard the Georgian Society would have liked. The book has a photograph of potatoes being stored in the dining room.
The entrance hall of Riverstown is also impressive, and the members of the Georgian Society also helped to clean the plasterwork in this room. The walls curve, and the room has an elegant Neoclassical Doric frieze and shapely Corinthian columns.
Mark Bence-Jones decribes: “The hall, though of modest proportions, is made elegant and interesting by columns, a plasterwork frieze and a curved inner wall, in which there is a doorcase giving directly onto an enclosed staircase of good joinery. To the left of the hall, in the three storey addition, are two bow-ended drawing rooms back to back. Straight ahead, in the middle of the garden front, is the dining room, the chief glory of Riverstown.”
The Lafranchini work in the dining room derives from Maffei’s edition of Agostini’s Gemme AnticheFigurate (1707-09). Frank Keohane notes that the Maffei’s engravings were also used for the decoration of the Apollo Room in 85 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, also by the Lafranchini brothers.
The ceiling at Riverstown: winged figure of Father Time, rescuing Truth from the assaults of Discord and Envy, taken from the allegorical painting by Nicholas Poussin which he painted on the ceiling in France for Cardinal Richelieu in 1641 and now hangs in the Louvre, Paris.
C. P. Curran tells us that the history of the Lafranchini brothers is obscure, but they “represent one of the successive waves of stuccodores who from quite early periods swarmed over Europe from fertile hives in the valleys of either side of the Swiss Italian Alps….They worked in some unascertained way side by side with local guildsmen and introduced new motifs and methods. Their repertory of ornament was abundant and they excelled in figure work.”  They executed their work in Carton in 1739, Curran tells us, and in 85 St. Stephen’s Green in 1740.
The work by the members of the Irish Georgian Society on the dining room in Riverstown was complete by the end of 1965. John Dooley continued the restoration of the rest of the house, and it is now kept in beautiful condition by his son Denis and wife Rita, with many treasures collected by the Dooleys. A 1970 Irish Georgian Society Bulletin, Robert O’Byrne tells us, reported further improvements made by the Dooleys. It tells us that one of the house’s two late-eighteenth century drawing rooms adjoining the dining room:
“has been given a new dado, architraves, chimney-piece, overdoors and overmantel. These have been collected by John Lenehan of Kanturk, who rescued them from houses in Dublin that were being demolished and inserted them at Riverstown.”
The two drawing rooms do indeed have splendid over mantel and overdoors. The drawing room has been hung with green silk wall covering. The Dooleys have shown fine taste for the decoration and maintenance of the rooms and I suspect John Dooley knew what he was doing when he purchased and thus saved the house.
A fine wooden staircase brings us upstairs to a spacious lobby containing a Ladies’ conversation chair.
The owners’ bedroom has an extraordinary carved marble mantel.
The Dooleys have a garden centre, which is situated behind the house. They maintain the gardens with its rolling lawns beautifully. The Glanmire river passes by the bottom of the garden.
 Bence-Jones, Mark A Guide to IrishCountryHouses. (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.
 Curran, C.P. RiverstownHouseGlanmire, County Cork and the Francini. A leaflet given to us by Denis Dooley.
Open dates in 2023: May 1-26, 29-31 June 1-9, 12-16, 20-23, 27-30, Aug 12-20, 10am-2pm Fee: adult/OAP/student €8, child €4 under 4 years free, group rates €6
Help me to fund the maintenance and update of this website. It is created purely out of love for the subject and I receive no payment so any donation is appreciated!
We visited Larchill on a glorious sunny day in May 2022. The house has an excellent website explaining the fact that it is a ‘Ferme Ornée’ or Ornamental Farm and is the only surviving, near complete, garden of its type in Europe. It was created between 1740 and 1780.
The Ferme Ornée gardens of the mid 18th century were an expression in landscape gardening of the Romantic Movement. The National Inventory tells us that the house, ornamental farm yards and follies were built by Robert Watson, but it could have been for the previous owners, the Prentice family, a Quaker merchant family who lived in Dublin and at nearby Phepotstown and who owned the land of Larchill. According to the National Inventory, the farm yard was built around 1820, later than the house, which was built around 1790.  
Robert Prentice leased Phepotstown in 1708 to grow flax for the production of linen and it seems that at this time he started to develop the land as a ‘Ferme Ornée.’ 
It was the current owners, Michael and Louisa de las Casas, who discovered the significance of the property, which had become overgrown and fallen into disrepair, due to a visit by garden historian Paddy Bowe,who was the first to realise that Larchill was a Ferme Ornée and an important ‘lost’ garden.
The website tells us about the idea of an ornamental farm:
“Emulating Arcadia, a pastoral paradise was created to reflect Man’s harmony with the perfection of nature. As is the case at Larchill, a working farm with decorative buildings (often containing specimen breeds of farm animal) was situated in landscaped parkland ornamented with follies, grottos and statuary. Tree lined avenues, flowing water, lakes, areas of light and shade and beautiful framed views combined to create an inspirational experience enabling Man’s spirit to rejoice at the wonder of nature.“
The owners continue the tradition of keeping specimen breeds with the long-horn cow, peacocks and quail. They used to be kept busy with tourists and children with an adventure area and collection of rare breeds of farmyard animal, but they no longer gear it toward such an audience.
The website continues: “At this time in Versailles, Marie Antoinette enjoyed extravagant pastoral pageants, housed specimen cattle in highly decorated barns, while she herself is said to have dressed as a milk maid complete with porcelain milk churns. Freed from the restrictions of the 17th century formal garden, the Ferme Ornée represented the first move towards the fully fledged landscape parkland designs of Capability Browne.“
I recently visited the exhibition of “In Harmony with Nature: The Irish Country House Garden 1600-1900” at the Irish Georgian Society, curated by Robert O’Byrne. He describes the Romantic movement and landscape design of Capability Brown:
The Larchill website continues: “The Prentice family had trading connections throughout Europe and would have been aware of the new fashion in garden design: in particular the famous gardens of Leasowes and Woburn Farm in England. In Ireland the Prentice’s townhouse was adjacent to the home of Dean Swift in Dublin where he had developed his orchard and garden, ‘Naboth’s Vineyard.’ Dean Swift and his great friend Mrs Delaney (known today for her exquisite floral collages) were most closely associated in Ireland with knowledge of the new movement in garden design. Larchill was only 10 miles from Dangan Castle [now a ruin], often visited by Mrs Delaney, where from 1730 an extravagant 600 acres of land was embellished with a 26 acre lake, temples, statuary, obelisks and grottos by Richard Wellesley, Earl of Morningtonand Grandfather of the Duke of Wellington [I think this was Richard Wesley (c.1690-1758), first Baron of Mornington. He was born Richard Colley but took the name Wesley when he inherited Dangan from his cousin Garret Wesley.  Mrs Delaney writes that he had a complete man-of-war ship on his lake!]. This is entirely contemporary with the Prentice’s period of garden development on their estate.“
Robert O’Byrne writes of Larchill in his blog and tells us more about the beginnings of the movement for “ornamental farms”:
“Despite its French name, the concept of the ferme ornée is of English origin and is usually attributed to the garden designer and writer Stephen Switzer.* [*Incidentally, Stephen Switzer was no relation to the Irish Switzers: whereas his family could long be traced to residency in Hampshire, the Switzers who settled in this country in the early 18th century had come from Germany to escape religious persecution.] His 1715 book The Nobleman, Gentleman, and Gardener’s Recreation criticized the overly elaborate formal gardens derived from French and Dutch examples, and proposed laying out grounds that were attractive but also functional: ‘By mixing the useful and profitable parts of Gard’ning with the Pleasurable in the Interior Parts of my Designs and Paddocks, obscure enclosures, etc. in the outward, My Designs are thereby vastly enlarg’d and both Profit and Pleasure may be agreeably mix’d together.’ In other words, working farms could be transformed into visually delightful places. One of the earliest examples of the ferme ornée was laid out by Philip Southgate who owned the 150-acre Woburn Farm, Surrey on which work began in 1727. ‘All my design at first,’ wrote Southgate, ‘was to have a garden on the middle high ground and a walk all round my farm, for convenience as well as pleasure.’ The fashion for such designs gradually spread across Europe as part of the adoption of natural English gardens: perhaps the most famous example of the ferme ornée is the decorative model farm called the Hameau de la Reine created for Marie Antoinette at Versailles in the mid-1780s. The most complete extant example of this garden type in Europe is believed to be at Larchill, County Kildare.” 
The Larchill website continues: “Thus there were many sources of reference for the Prentice family as they created their own pastoral paradise before falling on hard times and bankruptcy due to failure in their trading enterprises [around 1760]. The Ferme Ornée gardens were, as a result, leased separately from Phepotstown House and became known as Larchill after a boundary of Larch trees was planted around the farm and garden in the early 1800’s.“
The Watsons leased the property in 1790 and the farm manager’s house was upgraded with additions at this time (around 1780). (see )
The website Meath History Hub gives us more information about the inhabitants of Larchill:
“Richard Prentice, a haberdasher from The Coombe in Dublin occupied Larch Hill in the late eighteenth century. He may have established a Ferme Ornéeat Larchhill and constructed the follies although they are generally dated to later.Mr. Prentice was declared bankrupt in 1790, owing ten thousand pounds to a Mr John Smith in Galway.
In 1790 the lease at Phepotstown was taken over by Thomas Watson. The Watson family were a Quaker family from Baltracey, Edenderrry. The house at Larch Hill may have been constructed at this time. Thomas died in 1822. His brother, Samuel Eves Watson [1785-1835], took a lease on Larchill when he married Margo Doyle in 1811. In 1820, Samuel E. Watson inherited half the estate of his uncle, Samuel Russell, in Hodgestown, Timahoe. This brought together four estates with a total area of 1,627 acres. When he died in 1836 his grandson, Samuel Neale [or was Samuel Neale his nephew, son of his sister Anna Watson?], got the estate but he had to take the name Watson in order to inherit. In 1837 Larch Hill, Kilmore, Kilcock was the residence of S.E. Watson. Its grounds were embellished with grottoes and temples. Samuel Neale Watson, as he was now known, married Susanna Davis in 1840 and lived mainly in Dublin. Samuel Neale Watson died in 1883. Seamus Cullen has researched the history of the Watson family.” 
The property is mainly notable for its follies, but the house is lovely too, an old Quaker farmhouse.
The yard is connected to the house.
We heard the distinctive cry of a peacock and one strutted in the yard. Guinea fowl ran around in a large gang, alerting owner Michael to our visit.
He greeted us outside the barns, and brought us through the house. The house was built around 1780, and entering the back door, one can see the age – one senses it in the walls in the back hallway, which are not as smooth and straight as in a modern house, and they seem to sit more firmly in the ground. The ceilings are also higher.
Although a farmhouse, it has lovely coving in the drawing room, a ceiling rose and marble fireplace.
The Larchill website continues, about the early 1800s: “It was after this time that the local Watson family leased Larchill and the famous connection was made, to this day, between Robert Watson, Master of the Carlow and Island Hounds and the Fox’s Earth folly. Although the Fox’s Earth would certainly predate the Watson’s tenure at Larchill [he died in 1908], and the fact that Robert Watson was only a distant relative of the Watsons at Larchill, still it is believed that the Fox’s Earth was constructed in response to Robert Watson’s guilt at having killed one too many foxes and his fear of punishment in reincarnation as a fox.”
The Larchill website the National Inventory tell us that according to folklore the Fox’s Earth was created by Mr Robert Watson, a famous Master of Hounds in the 18th Century who feared punishment through re-incarnation as a fox, having killed one too many foxes during his hunting career. References I have found refer to the 19th century Robert Watson who was master of the hunt.  I’m not sure if there was an 18th Century Robert Watson to whom the Larchill website refers. Robert Watson (1821-1908) of the Hunt lived at Ballydarton, County Carlow.  Maybe he influenced his Watson relatives who lived at Larchill to ensure that the odd structure would act as a “fox’s earth” in case he was reincarnated as a fox! Whatever the case, it makes a great story! Ideas of reincarnation were, the Larchill website tells us, being explored at this time through the Romantic movement as established Christian doctrine came into question. It is feasible that there was every intention to create a Fox’s refuge with the design of this folly.
The “Fox’s Earth” folly structure, the website tells us, comprises an artificial grassed mound within which is a vaulted inner chamber with gothic windows and entrance. A circular rustic temple surmounts the mound. Externally it is reminiscent of an ice house.
Leading away, on either side from the vaulted interior, are tunnels disappearing into the mound. These ‘escape’ tunnels seem to corroborate the story of this being a “Fox’s Earth”, a refuge and escape route for a fox pursued by the hunt.
The National Inventory calls it a Mausoleum: “Mausoleum and folly, built c.1820. Comprising three-bay single-storey dressed limestone façade set into artificial mount, with rustic temple set on the mount. Pointed arch openings to three-bay façade. Rubble stone walls to site, with circular profile piers. Circular profile temple, comprising six columns, capped with dome. Rubble stone bridge to the site.” 
Another possibility that Michael told us is that the temple is a Temple of Venus. Inside its tunnels are in the shape of a woman’s reproductive system, with a womb and fallopian tubes. It could have been a sort of temple to fertility.
The Larchill website continues: “Although described in the notes to the 1836 Ordnance Survey as ‘the most fashionable garden in all of Ireland’ over the decades knowledge of the Larchill Ferme Ornée faded. The parkland returned to farmland, the lake was drained and the formal garden was lost and used to graze sheep. Although the follies became semi derelict and obscured by undergrowth and trees, the mystery and beauty of Larchill was still recognised. Folklore stories of hauntings and the ‘strange’ nature of Larchill ensured its continued notoriety.
The Meath History Hub tells us: “The Barry family resided at Larchhill from the 1880s until 1993. Christopher and Maria Barry donated the Stations of the Cross to Moynalvey church. Christopher died before 1911 leaving Maria a widow.” (see )
In 1994 the de Las Casas family acquired Larchill. Four years of restoration followed with the aid of a grant from the Great Gardens of Ireland Restoration Program and a FAS Community Employment Project.
In recognition of the quality and sensitivity of the restoration program Larchill Arcadian Garden has been awarded the 1988 National Henry Ford Conservation Award, the 1999 ESB Community Environment Award and the 2002 European Union Environmental Heritage Award.
We then went outside to explore. Michael gave us a map to follow around the grounds. First he showed us the ingenious mechanism in the ornamental gate:
Before we walked the circumference of the field and lake, Michael showed us to the walled garden behind the house. On the way we passed a statue of Flora:
The ornamental dairy used to have Dutch tiles but unfortunately a previous owner removed them! Ornamental dairies were common in ornamental farms, and were places where products of the dairy could be sampled if not actually made there.
At the north west corner of the restored Walled Garden the Shell Tower is a three storey, battlemented tower with single arched Gothic windows.
The tower, called a “Cockle Tower,” is decorated with shells, but unfortunately it needs to be stabilised before one could safely enter. I did manage to see the inside of the shell tower by looking through a window. We saw a shell house in Curraghmore in County Waterford, and Mary Delany is famous for her shell work. There is also one nearby at Carton Estate.
The website tells us that in the case of the Larchill Shell Tower, where lower rooms are decorated with shells laid in geometric patterns, the shells appear to be mostly native varieties, many are cockles with some exotic exceptions such as conches – perhaps sourced via the trading connections of the 18th century Prentice family who created the Ferme Ornée at Larchill.
After we explored the walled garden, we set off to see the follies dotted around the lake. On the lake itself are two follies: the Gibraltar and the round temple. A previous owner had drained the lake but the current owners reinstated it, as water is an essential element of an ornamental farm, creating a romantic landscape. We learned a charming new word: marl clay lines the bottom of the lake. To prepare the clay before the lake was filled with water, the land underwent the process of “puddling.” This is letting sheep loose on the clay to walk it into the ground.
The ditch of the ha-ha contained a fish pond, and this flowed to an eel pond. Fish farming would have been a lucrative practice.
Gibraltar: This is a castellated miniature fort with circular gun-holes and five battlemented towers situated on one of two islands within the lake. It would have been constructed just shortly before, or at the same time as, the famous defense by the British of their garrison on Gibraltar against the Spanish during the ‘Great Siege’ of 1779 to 1783. The siege, which lasted nearly three and half years through starvation and repeated onslaughts by the Spanish, was impressive news at the time and must have motivated the naming of the fortress as Gibraltar.
There is a similar “Gibraltar” tower in Heathfield Park Estate in East Sussex. In 1791 Francis Newbery bought Bailey Park, an estate in East Sussex, which he renamed the Heathfield Park Estate. One of his first projects was to create a memorial to the former owner of the estate, George Augustus Eliot, who had been Governor at Gibraltar during the lengthy ‘Great Siege’ by the Spanish and French of 1779-1783. In 1787 Eliot was created Lord Heathfield of Gibraltar in recognition of his service to his country, and his death in 1790 had been marked by long eulogies in the press. The tower was later sketched by Turner as part of his commission to provide illustrations for Cooke’s Views in Sussex. 
However the fortress at Larchill was much more a source of pleasure and entertainment, the Larchill website tells us, with stories of mock battles across the lake.
There are more follies that one comes across as one walks around the estate.
The website tells us about the Lake Temple: it “is a circular island building in the lake to the west of Gibraltar. The outer wall has decorative recesses and the internal circle of columns surrounds a well-like central core.
There is evidence that the columns may have originally been partially roofed so as to direct rainwater into the well itself. It is possible that the design was intended to emulate the plunge pool baths of Ancient Rome, such as the famous pool at Hadrian’s Villa in Tivoli.”
There used to be a causeway out to the island temple. Another theory is that the well and round temple could have been part of a sham Druidic temple. Tim Gatehouse writes of a Grand Lodge of Irish Druids in the 1790s, whose summer activities included visits to members’ estates. (see )
It was lovely to wander around Larchill on such a sunny day. The owners have done us a great service to resurrect the beauty of an ornamental farm.
Opening dates in 2023: Mar 1-20, May 1-31, Aug 12-20, 9am-1pm
Fee: adult €7.50, OAP/student €5, child free.
Ballysallagh House dates from 1722, as we can see on the date stone set in the wall next to the front door.  It is a Classical style house built on a T shape, with the stairs in the stem of the “T,” or the single bay full-height return, at the back of the house. The house is of two storeys over basement, with a dormer attic, and is five bays across, with a full-height pedimented entrance breakfront in the centre of one bay width.
The house has a tooled-cut round-headed Gibbsean doorcase with keystone and a Gothic glazed fanlight. A Gibbsean doorcase is an eighteenth century treatment of door or window surround seen particularly in the work of the British architect, James Gibbs (1862-1754), characterised by alternating large and small blocks of stone or intermittent large blocks and a head composed of five voussoirs (the wedge-shaped blocks forming an arch) and a pediment or entablature. 
The pediment of the breakfront has a lunette window at attic level. The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage description tells us that the attic level may have been added later. 
Owners Geralyn and Kieran welcomed us on our visit, and we stopped outside so that they could introduce us to the special features and details of the house and its history.
Kieran speculated that the central breakfront may be the oldest part of the house, with the corner quoins part of a later addition, which makes sense since they do not quite mirror each other. The limestone dressings include a chamfered plinth course to the basement (i.e. a chamfered edge is a surface formed by cutting off a square edge, usually at an angle of forty-five degrees and a plinth is a projecting base beneath a wall or column). The window openings to the basement are camber-headed (i.e. slightly upward curved) whereas the rest of the windows have square headed openings. The windows on the lower level are taller than the windows at the upper level.
Eight limestone steps lead up to the timber panelled front door, with iron railings. Around the house is a ha-ha, created so that from the house the landscape looks continuous, but in reality the ditch around the house prevents animals such as cattle and sheep from approaching too near the house.
The National Inventory describes the entrance gates:
“Gateway, c.1725, to south-east comprising pair of limestone ashlar piers with cut-limestone capping, iron double gates, iron flanking pedestrian gates, limestone ashlar outer piers having cut-limestone capping, and painted rendered curved flanking walls over random rubble stone construction having cut-limestone coping.” [see 2]
The land of Ballysallagh was owned by the Purcell family, who came to Ireland during the Anglo-Norman incursion in the twelfth century. Ballysallagh land was in the hands of the Purcells by December 1571 when Nicholas Purcell fitz Edmund of Ballysallagh was pardoned by the crown authorities, according to Robert O’Byrne. 
Richard Purcell was granted the feudal title of Baron of Loughmoe (in County Tipperary) in 1328 by the first Earl of Ormond, James Butler. [see 4]
A “baron” is a title related to land – a baron is the head of a barony. A good explanation of the term “baron” can be found on the website of “The Baronage Press.” It tells us that in classical Latin baro means dunce or fool. In Low Latin baro means slave or servant – but servants in the houses of the greater nobles of the eleventh century tended to be young men from noble families. The website also tells us that in the early feudal times this was extended to allow the king’s barons, his tenants-in-chief, to have their own barons through a process of “subinfeudation,” but the continuation of this practice was restricted in England when King Edward I [1239-1307] recognised the danger it represented to his centralised power and fiscal efficiency. By 1328 Edward III was king. The 1st Earl of Ormond was palatine Lord of Tipperary (a palatine was an area ruled by a hereditary nobleman enjoying special authority and autonomy from the rest of a kingdom), and granted the feudal title to the Baron of Loughmoe.  There were several palatine districts in Ireland, of which the most notable were those of the Earls of Desmond and the Earls of Ormond in Tipperary. The latter continued until abolished by the County Palatine of Tipperary Act 1715. A Baron does not hold a peerage, so did not have a right to sit in the House of Lords.  One feudal title that continued until recently is the Knight of Glin.
The Barons of Loughmoe built Loughmoe Castle, County Tipperary, which still stands as an impressive ruin, rather similar to Kanturk Castle in County Cork or even Portumna Castle in County Galway, both of which one can visit (Kanturk and Portumna are OPW owned properties, whereas Loughmoe is on private land).  The Purcells were allied with the powerful Butler family, and intermarried with them over the generations.
James Purcell (1609-1652) 12th Baron of Loughmoe married the sister of the 1st Duke of Ormond, Elizabeth Butler (1613-1675). He is buried at Holycross Abbey. His son Nicholas was the last Baron of Loughmoe. James and Nicholas lost their lands at Ballysallagh and Loughmoe in 1653 under the Cromwellian seizures and in the 1652 Act of Settlement. (see )
James died in 1652 and his wife Elizabeth married for a second time, to Colonel John Fitzpatrick (1640-1694), son of the 3rd Baron of Upper Ossory, (Florence Fitzpatrick). Colonel Fitzpatrick recovered the land which had been owned by the Purcells, on behalf of his stepson Nicholas. In the Down Survey, as we saw on a large map in the house at Ballysallagh, Nicholas Purcell is listed as owner of the land at Ballysallagh.
The Down Survey was taken in 1656-58, the first ever detailed land survey that was completed on a national scale in the world. It does not have to do with County Down, as I assumed, but the survey mapped “down” the townlands of Ireland. It especially measured land forfeited by Irish Catholics in order to facilitate its redistribution. The survey was carried out by Sir William Petty.
Ballysallagh is unusual in that it remained in Catholic ownership. The owners did not rely on land ownership for their income, but were of the professional class, with homes also in Dublin. The house passed from Purcell to Byrne ownership by marriage, and then to the Doyle family, also by marriage.
Robert O’Byrne tells us that in the early 18th century James Purcell was living at Ballysallagh and in 1720 his daughter and heiress, Mary Purcell wed Gerald Byrne from County Carlow. Mary and her husband were assigned the property as part of the marriage settlement. It seems likely the couple built the present house soon afterwards in 1722, as noted on the date stone.
Daniel Byrne-Rothwell writes in his book, The Byrnes and O’Byrnes: A Social History of the Clan, volume 2, published in 2010, (p. 92) that Gerald Byrne was the grandson of Edmond mac Hugh Geangach O’Byrne (c. 1652-1737), also known as Edmond “Concagh” of Ballinakill, and his father was Phelim Byrne of Tankardstown, County Carlow.
The house continued to remain in the same family hands until 1939. It passed from Mary Purcell and Gerald Byrne via their only surviving child, Catherine Byrne, who married William Doyle of County Kildare, to their grandson, Gerald Doyle, in 1760, upon the death of Gerald Byrne.
Daniel Byrne-Rothwell tells us that by 1767 a Robert Kelly (d. 1786) was inhabiting Ballysallagh. He was a brother-in-law of the Byrne family, being married to Elinor Byrne (1740-1800). However, Gerald Doyle who had inherited from his grandfather, and his brother Lawrence, were back living in Ballysallagh by 1770. Gerald Doyle of Ballysallagh died in 1816 and his brother Lawrence Doyle of Ballysallagh died in 1812.
Catherine Byrne died at the young age of 26 and her husband William Doyle remarried. He married another Purcell, Frances Purcell of Usher’s Island, Dublin. I am not sure if the two Purcell families are related to each other beyond by the marriage to William Doyle!
William and Frances Doyle nee Purcell went on to have more children. Neither Gerald Doyle who inherited Ballysallagh nor his brother Lawrence had children, so Gerald sold his interest in Ballysallagh to his stepmother, Frances Doyle nee Purcell, in 1785, along with 450 acres. In this way, Ballysallagh remained in the family and passed to a son from William Doyle’s second marriage, another William Doyle, Barrister.
This younger William Doyle, Geralyn told us, also owned property at 46 Rutland Square West (now Parnell Square) in Dublin. The younger William Doyle died unmarried in 1847 and Ballysallagh passed to his brother, Joseph Doyle, a doctor who served as Surgeon to the College at Maynooth, County Kildare. He also had a property at 41 Blessington Street in Dublin.
Joseph Doyle married another Purcell! I do not know his wife’s name, but they had a son, John Joseph Doyle, who inherited Ballysallagh, and lived there until his death in 1890 at the age of 75 (his wife Eliza died in 1900, daughter of Thomas Hartford). In 1876 he is recorded as holding 572 acres at Ballysallagh. John Joseph’s son Gerald Doyle was the last of the family to live at Ballysallagh: following his death in 1939 for the first time the place was put on the market. Gerald had a brother, Major Joseph Ignatius Purcell Doyle, Royal Army Medical Corps, who died in 1913 in France.
In February 1940 Ballysallagh was sold, and the following month, the contents of the house were auctioned. There is a poster in the house advertising the sale. Robert O’Byrne points out that the newspaper advertisement listed many of the items for sale, including a ‘large Antique Hanging China Display Press, enclosed by two glazed panel doors of unique design, Ornamental Frieze and Fluted Columns.’ This, however, remains in the Hall of the house.
Kieran and Geralyn White purchased the house in 1987, falling in love with the architecture and the house’s possibilities. They have done much to renovate the house, both inside and out. In recognition of their care, in 2020 they received the inaugural O’Flynn Group Heritage Prize. A newspaper article from December 2020 by Gemma Tipton in the Irish Times tells us that architectural historian Robert O’Byrne created this annual prize of €5,000, which acknowledges the owners’ commitment to the preservation of buildings.  In 2021 the owners of Clonalis in County Roscommon won the prize.
The front hall is divided from the stair hall by folding doors which were introduced in 1810. A fanlight stretches across the division, and it matches the China display press. The display cabinet is of a wagon wheel design, and the fanlight is made up of similar spokes, and is made from the same dark wood. The cabinet is beautifully carved and decorative with fluted columns and frieze. There is a pattern of foxgloves on the spokes of the cabinet, which could refer to frescoes of foxglove found in Pompeii. The edges of the fanlight has a sunburst pattern, or what looked to me like a ruffle or the folds of an accordion. This pattern is repeated on the window shutters.
The fanlight over the front door is similarly matched by a fanlight visible from the front hall, over a door leading to the basement and kitchen, reached by descending a few stairs. The front door fanlight is also echoed in both the front and back of the house, in the attic storey. Robert O’Byrne tells us that the one in the front in the attic level was installed by the current owners.
The front hall has a lovely wide plaster frieze and cornice and is quite spacious. Here we paused while Geralyn and Kieran pointed out the special features in the cabinet and fanlight and plaster. The details show that the house was designed for someone with a good eye for detail and with knowledge of contemporary trends, influenced by Europe and even the discovery of the ruins of Pompei and Herculaneum.
The ceiling rose is unusual, with the Prince of Wales feather motif. The front door is the original to the house.
The stair hall is in the single bay full height return.
The main reception rooms lie on either side of the entrance hall. In the Drawing Room, Geralyn told us about the portraits which she was fortunate enough to identify and to bring back to their home, a marriage pair of John Doyle and Frances Savage from 1770 attributed to Thomas Pole Stevens. According to the Adams Catalogue which I found online when “googling” their names, John Doyle died May 1819, and is recorded in the archives of the Royal College of Surgeons as being of 14 Usher’s Island, Dublin. Geralyn told us that Frances Savage was John Doyle’s second wife, and that she was from Finglaswood House (formerly owned by the Seagrave family ), which was also called King James’s Castle as King James II was said to have stayed there when fleeing the Battle of the Boyle.
The duck-egg blue drawing room has a good white marble chimneypiece, and carved panelled shutters. Some of the shutters and other repairs to the house are salvaged from Long Orchard House, County Tipperary, home of Barrister and Master of the Mint Richard Lalor Sheil (setting of The Big Wind by Beatrice Coogan).
The dining room has brass picture rails and curtain rails, which Kieran told us were covered with layers of paint. It has a black Kilkenny marble fireplace, as does the golden yellow study, or morning room, also on the ground floor. Also on the ground floor, next to the dining room, is a Butler’s pantry with its original shelves and hooks for hanging game, and lovely large windows. The shouldered architrave on the door shows us, Kieran pointed out, that this part of the house was not modernised during the 1810 renovations.
The wooden staircase leads up to a spacious upper hall, with four bedrooms off it. Stairs lead from this hall to the upper level, to which we did not ascend. The large size of the upper hall with its impressive height adds to the grandeur of the house.
Stone stairs lead to the basement, where the kitchen is still located, although it does not feel like a basement as it has newly installed French doors and plenty of sunlight. On the way down, Kieran pointed out the handy built-in “shoe cricket” at the bottom of the stairs – a contraption with a handle and grip for removing boots!
The Whites had a French drain installed around the house to dry the dampness from the basement, and they recently renovated another room in the basement, creating a wonderfully cosy library with some shelving created from doorcases salvaged from Long Orchard and others newly carved to match.
The gardens of Ballysallagh have been created to complement the sophistication of the house. Geralyn has developed several gardens, the crowning glory being the Winter Garden, which has clipped hedges in a design which Geralyn created to reflect the gothic windows that light the staircase. I had coincidentally only come across the description of a “winter garden” that week having read a review by Fionnuala Fallon in the Irish Times (published Saturday 29th January 2022) of a newly published book by Andrew Montgomery and Clare Foster, Winter Gardens, a book of photographs displaying the sculptural beauty of winter gardens.
Alongside the drive is an avenue of maples. Kieran counted the rings of a fallen larch tree to estimate its age: it was planted around 1761!
Help me to fund the maintenance and update of this website. It is created purely out of love for the subject and I receive no payment so any donation is appreciated!
 Daniel Byrne-Rothwell writes in his book, The Byrnes and O’Byrnes: A Social History of the Clan, volume 2, published in 2010, that in December 1808 Ballysallagh House together with 50 acres of land was advertised to let and the house is described as “lately built.” The 1722 date stone was discovered in the attic, so Byrne-Rothwell speculates that it may have been recycled from an earlier house.
 p. 28. 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.
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.“
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.” 
2. Belvedere House, Gardens and Park, County Westmeath
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.”
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.” When Robert Rochfort decided to use Belvedere as his principal residence he employed Barthelemij Cramillion, the French Stuccadore, to execute the principal ceilings. The Rococo plasterwork ceilings were completed circa 1760.
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.
Bence-Jones continues: “The staircase, wood and partly curving, is in proportion to the back of the house.“
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.
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 )
The jealous wall is rather disappointingly attached to the visitor centre of Belvedere at the entrance to the park.
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.
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 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.
www.tullynallycastle.com Open dates in 2023: Open: Castle: May 4-Sept 23, Thurs-Sat, National Heritage Week, Aug 12-20, 11am-3pm Garden: April 1-Oct 1, Thurs-Sun and Bank Holidays, 11am-5pm Fee: adult, castle/garden €16, garden €8.50, child, castle/garden €8, garden €4
8. Turbotstown, Coole, Co. Westmeath
Turbotstown, photograph courtesy of National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
contact: Peter Bland Tel: 086-2475044 Open: July 22-31, Aug 1-31, Dec 1-20, 9am-1pm
“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 €€
“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€
“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
“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.“
The National Inventory tells us:
“A well-detailed middle-sized country house, on complex plan, which retains its early aspect, form and much of its important early fabric. The ascending breakfronts to the entrance front of this structure adds to the overall form and its architectural impact. The facade, incorporating extensive moulded detailing and a very fine doorcase, is both visually and architecturally impressive and displays a high level of workmanship. The present entrance front (east) is built to the front of an earlier house, the form of which suggests that it might be quite early, perhaps early eighteenth-century in date. The 1896 entrance front was built to designs by W.H. Byrne (1844-1917), a noted architect of his day, best remembered for his numerous church designs. Apparently, Mornington is one of only two domestic commissions that can be attributed to this noteworthy architect, adding extra significance to this structure. The building was completed by 1898 at a cost of £2,400. Mornington House was in the ownership of the Daly Family in the early eighteenth-century and has been in the ownership of the O’Hara Family since 1858. It forms the centrepiece of an interesting, multi-period, complex with the outbuildings, the walled gardens and the fine entrance gates to the south. It represents an important element to the architectural heritage of Westmeath and occupies attractive nature grounds to the east of Multyfarnham.” 
Whole House accommodation, County Westmeath:
1. Bishopstown House, Rosemount, Westmeath (sleeps up to 18 people)
“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
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.
The National Inventory tells us:
“A very fine and distinguished large-scale mid-nineteenth country house, which retains its early form, character and fabric This well-proportioned house is built in an Italianate style and is elevated by the fine ashlar limestone detailing, including a well-executed Greek Ionic porch/portico and a pronounced eaves cornice. This house was (re)built for George Augustus Boyd [1817-1887] in 1850 to designs by George Papworth (1781-1855) and replaced an earlier smaller-scale house on site, the property of a J. Middleton Berry, Esq., in 1837 (Lewis). The style of this house is quite old fashioned for its construction date and has the appearance of an early-nineteenth/late-Georgian country house. The form of this elegant house is very similar to Francis Johnston’s masterpiece Ballynagall (15401212), located to the north of Mullingar and now sadly in ruins. This house remained in the Boyd-Rochfort family until 1958 and was famously offered as a prize in a raffle in 1986 by its then owner, Barney Curly. This house forms the centerpiece of an important collection of related structures along with the elegant conservatory by Richard Turner (15318024), the service wing to the north (15318020), the stable block to the north (15318022) and the main gates (15318017) and the gate lodge (15318018) to the west. This building is an important element of the built heritage of Westmeath and adds historic and architectural incident to the landscape to the south of Castletown Geoghegan.” 
 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.
 p. 136. O’Reilly, Sean. Irish Houses and Gardens. From the Archives of Country Life. Aurum Press Ltd, London, 1998.
Open dates in 2023: May 1-31, Aug 12-20, Sept 1-15, Dec 1-20, 2pm-6pm Fee: Free
2. Burtown House and Garden, Athy, Co. Kildare R14 AE67– section 482
www.burtownhouse.ie Open dates in 2023: May 3-6, 10-13, 17-20, 24-27, August 9-20, Sept 6-9, 13-16, 20-23, 27-30, Oct 4-7, 11-14, 18-21, 25-28, 9am-1pm Fee: adult €15, OAP/student/child €8
Burtown House and Gardens, Athy, Co Kildare, photograph by Sonder Visuals, 2022, Courtesy Failte Ireland
The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us:
“Ballytore, in County Kildare, was a stronghold of the Irish Quakers and the centre of a sizeable Quaker community. One of their members, Robert Power, built Burtown House as the hub of a two thousand acre farming enterprise in the 1720s. His Georgian villa, shown on early maps as “Power’s Grove,” was only one room deep so wings were added later in the century. These were subsequently removed, though their faint outlines can still be identified and Burtown was further extended in the early nineteenth century when a full height bow was added on the garden front.
The new extension provided a bow ended room on the garden front, a large bedroom above and a grand staircase, lit by a tall round-headed window. Pretty plasterwork in the manner of James Wyatt was also introduced at the time, most notably in an arched alcove in the bow-ended room, which is likely to have been the original dining room. The alcove is filled with a shallow fan, and delightfully cursive sprays of vine leaves, and is flanked by a pair of classical vases on pilasters of foliage with naive Corinthian capitals.
Burtown has never been sold in all its three hundred years. The house passed from the Power family to the Houghtons and thence to the Wakefields, who gave it a new roof with widely projecting eaves in the early nineteenth century. They also lengthened the sash windows, installed a new front door with a fanlight in a deep recess, and carried out a number of other alterations.
When Mr. Wakefield was killed playing cricket Burtown passed to his sister, who had married a fellow Quaker from County Tipperary, William Fennell. Their son, William James was a keen horseman but “was asked to leave the Quaker congregation because of his fondness for driving a carriage with two uniformed flunkeys on the back”.
Today Burtown is in the midst of two hundred acres of parkland, including ten acres of lush flower, vegetable and woodland gardens with many fine walks. The house has now been home to five generations of the Fennell family, and to the acclaimed botanical artist and illustrator, Wendy Walsh. Coincidentally, the leading Irish botanical artist of the early twentieth century, Lydia Shackleton, also came from the same small Quaker community.” 
“Donadea Forest Park includes Donadea Castle and estate, the former home of the Aylmer family up until 1935. There are many historical features including the remains of the castle and walled gardens, St. Peter’s church, an ice house and boat house. The Lime tree avenue planted in the 19th century formed the original entrance to the estate. Another feature of the park is the 9/11 Memorial, a scaled replica of the twin towers carved in limestone. The small lake is brimming with ducks, waterhens and has a beautiful display of water lilies in the summer. There is a café open throughout the year.“
In 1581 Gerald Aylmer, (1548-1634), Knight, of Donadea, son of George Aylmer, of Cloncurry, and grandson of Richard Aylmer, of Lyons, built a new tower in Donadea, not fully completed until 1624 and it is now the oldest part of the Castle. 
In 1626, he repaired the medieval Church in Donadea and built a new extension in which he established his family burial plot. In the extension he also constructed an Altar Tomb monument as a burial memorial for his family. Gerald was titled by the Crown and became the first Baronet of Donadea.
The Aylmers were connected with the various conflicts and rebellions over the next two centuries. During the wars of the 1640s, Sir Andrew, 2nd Baronet (c. 1610-c. 1671), supported the rebels and was imprisoned at the beginning of the war.
Although he was a brother-in-law of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond, there were no favours granted to him. The Aylmers rebuilt the castle after it was burned by James Butler’s troops.
In 1689, after the battle of the Boyne, Lady Helen Aylmer, widow of the 3rd Baronet, (born Plunkett, daughter of Luke Plunkett 3rd Earl of Fingall) was in charge of the Castle. She was outlawed due to her support for James II, but she managed to hold on to the Castle and lands under the terms of the Treaty of Limerick.
In 1736, Sir Gerald, 5th Baronet, died leaving an only son FitzGerald who became the 6th Baronet.
He was only one year old when his father died and was subsequently raised by his mother (Ellice or Ellen, daughter of Gerald Aylmer, 2nd Baronet of Balrath, County Meath) and her relatives who were members of the established church. FitzGerald subsequently conformed to the established religion. In 1773, he built a new house in front of the Castle and incorporated the Tower in his new residence.
Gerald, 8th Baronet, held the lands of Donadea between 1816 and 1878 and he is accredited with most of the construction work that is visible in Donadea demesne today. He began his building program in the 1820s by re-routing the roads away from the Castle and the construction of a high wall enclosing the demesne. Gate lodges were then built at all the entrances.
He also built a new grand entrance known as the Lime Avenue.
In 1827 he completely remodelled the front of the Castle which gave it an attractive bow shaped appearance. It has been suggested that he employed the renowned architect Richard Morrison to design this new structure.
The older cabin-type dwellings close to the castle were demolished and new estate houses built at the Range. To the west of the Castle he built an eight acre area of gardens and paddocks, surrounded and sub-divided by walls. In the Castle yard he built dwellings for staff and elaborative farm buildings. He also constructed the artificial lake and the Ice House. Large areas of the demesne were planted and, by the time of his death, Donadea demesne was listed as one of the finest parkland settings in the county.
Outside the demesne he was involved in numerous construction projects including the famous ‘Aylmer Folly’, viz. the Tower on the summit of the hill of Allen. (see ) Sir Gerald’s grandson Justin, 10th Baronet, died unmarried in 1885. His sister Caroline inherited the castle and much of the demesne, while the baronetcy passed to a cousin. Caroline Maria Aylmer, who was the daughter of Sir Gerald George Aylmer, 9th Baronet, was the last Aylmer to live at Donadea. She died in 1935, leaving the estate to the Church of Ireland who, in turn, passed it bequeathed to the Irish state.
The castle remained unoccupied and its roof was removed in the late 1950s.
For more on the Aylmer family, see The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Kildare by Turtle Bunbury & Art Kavanagh (published by Irish Family Names, 2004).
Open dates in 2023: Jan 3-16, July 29-31, Aug 1-31, Sept 4-9, Dec 4-9, 9.30am-1.30pm Fee: adult €5, student/child/OAP €3, (Irish Georgian Society members free)
7. Griesemount House, Ballitore, Co KildareR14 WF64– section 482
www.griesemounthouse.ie Open dates in 2023: Feb 27-28, Mar 1-3, 6-10, April 17-21, 24-28, May 2-12, June 12-23, July 10- 21, Aug 12-20, 2pm-6pm
Fee: adult €6, OAP/student €5, child €3
The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us:
“In 1685, the village of Ballitore on the river Griese in the southern corner of County Kildare became the first planned Quaker village in England and Ireland. The Shackleton family from Yorkshire settled here some decades later and besides establishing wool and corn mills, founded the famous village school in 1726. Thanks to an entry by Mary (née Shackleton) Leadbetter in her ‘Annals of Ballitore’, we know that the first stone of Griesemount House (also known as Ballitore Hill House) was laid on Midsummer Day in 1817. While the three-bay side elevation is symmetrical, the two-bay front façade with the front door under the left window is quite modest, as was often the case with Quaker houses. It was built by George Shackleton, who had grown up in Griesebank House beside the now-ruinous Ballitore Mills on the river just below. He married Hannah Fisher and they raised 13 children in the new house, including the noted botanical artist Lydia Shackleton, the first artist-in-residence at the Botanic Gardens in Dublin. One of her first recorded sketches is of the house. The family lived here until the early 20th century; the house then changed hands several times. It was briefly owned and restored by the mother of mezzosoprano Frederica von Stade, and has recently come into new ownership.” 
Open during Heritage Week. The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us:
“The forebears of the Greenes of Millbrook House in the far south of County Kildare lived at Kilmanaghan Castle and Moorestown Castle [now a ruin] in County Tipperary. A great grandson of the family patriarch Captain Godfrey Greene moved up to settle near Carlow. William Nassau Greene (1714-1781) was a businessman and magistrate, and built a residence known as Kilkea Lodge (c. 1740) adjacent to the ancient Fitzgerald seat at Kilkea Castle, where his descendants are still resident. A younger son, John (1751-1819), who became High Sheriff of Kildare and Captain of the Castledermot Yeomanry, built a neighbouring house at Millbrook with the help of his father. It was completed in 1776 with its attendant mill and millrace off the River Griese, which had replaced an earlier mill in the nearby Kilkea Castle demesne. The house passed through generations of the family until finally the mill ceased operating under Thomas Greene (1843-1900), a poet and author who was made High Sheriff of Kildare in 1895. The house was left by inheritance to one of the cousins from Kilkea Lodge, father of the present owner. Throughout WWII, he had served as a frontline doctor in the 4th Indian Division in North Africa, Italy and Greece, and returned with his wife in 1950 to an utterly neglected house. Millbrook is still in the process of being restored to its former state.”