St. Mary’s Abbey, High Street, Trim, Co. Meath

contact: Peter Higgins

Tel: 087-2057176

Open dates in 2023: June 19-23, July 10-23, Aug 12-25, Sept 11-17, Oct 9-22, Nov 6-11, 2pm-6pm
Fee: adult €5, OAP/student/child €2

St. Mary’s Abbey overlooks Trim, impressively tall. The ruin of the Abbey, the “yellow steeple,” looks deceptively like part of the building although it is not. The yellow steeple is the ruin of the abbey bell tower, named for the yellow colour reflected by the stonework in the setting sun.
Trim Castle, built around 1175 by Hugh de Lacy, across the River Boyne from St. Mary’s Abbey.

St. Mary’s Abbey house is one of the oldest properties on the Section 482 list. Now a private home, the building was probably initially part of an Augustinian Abbey, situated across the River Boyne from Trim Castle. We visited Trim Castle after seeing the Abbey, and learned that in 1182 when Hugh de Lacy was granted the Liberty of Meath, he occupied this site at Trim Castle. See my entry about Trim Castle.

Hugh de Lacy (born before 1135, died 1186) was an Anglo-Norman who came to Ireland with King Henry II’s troops. He was created Lord Justice and fought to establish English authority. He was also put in charge of Dublin Castle so was a sort of first Viceroy of Ireland. As well as having Trim Castle built, he built a ring of castles around Dublin to secure the land. Other castles reputedly built by Hugh de Lacy in Meath are Dunsany, which is also a Section 482 property, and Killeen Castle, both of which were held by the Cusack family on behalf of the de Lacys.

St. Mary’s Abbey was established in the twelfth century, and is said to be on the site of a church established by St. Patrick, the fifth century missionary in Ireland. The church was destroyed in 1172 by the local Irishman Conor O’Loughlinn [1], and rebuilt by Hugh de Lacy, so the still standing steeple may have been built around the same time as Trim’s Castle Keep, or as the author of Trim: Its Ecclesiastical Ruins, Its Castle, Etc writes, the steeple was probably built after a fire in 1368.

The gardens of St. Mary’s Abbey go down to the River Boyne.
The River Boyne runs through the village of Trim.
The Yellow Steeple, 40 metres (130 ft) tall (seven storeys), a remnant of St. Mary’s Abbey, established in the twelfth century. The most elaborate part of the remaining tower of St. Mary’s Abbey is the belfry window, described in Casey and Rowan’s The Buildings of Ireland: North Leinster as “a generous pointed opening with two pointed lights bisecting at the centre by a cross-mullion, with a flowerlet formed in the tracery pattern above.” [2]
It’s incredible how well-built the steeple is, one wall still in immaculate condition.
One can even go inside the steeple tower remains, through its doorway with Gothic arches surmounting the lintel.
This looks like remnants of a staircase in the steeple tower.
Remains of the St. Mary’s Abbey tower.
The tower is unusual, I would think, for an Abbey. It looks more like a tower-house, as it has large windows.

The building listed on Revenue Section 482 is now called St. Mary’s Abbey, after the abbey of which it was probably a part. It is also called Talbot’s Castle as it was said to have been built, Mark Bence-Jones tells us, by Sir John Talbot (c. 1384-1453), 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, for his own occupation when he was Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, although as I will explain, I do not think that this was the case. [3] The National Inventory dates the building to the incredibly early date of 1415, which would coincide with the idea that it may have been built by John Talbot. The Abbey itself existed before this, so Talbot may have taken part of the abbey to be his home. His crest adorns the wall of a tower part of the house. However, I think it is unlikely that Talbot ever lived here.

St. Mary’s Abbey, a fifteenth century tower house, still has the Talbot crest. Probably due to the presence of the coat of arms, it is said to have been built by Sir John Talbot (c. 1384-1453), 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, when he was Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, but this may not be the case. As well as the Talbot crest, with accompanying dogs, the tower has a plaque noting that William Rowan Hamilton, noted mathematician, attended the school that had been housed in the St. Mary’s Abbey building.

The Abbey was burned in 1368. Shortly after the fire, the abbey erected a statue of the Virgin Mary that became famous for its miracles of healing, and so became a place of pilgrimage. It seems unlikely that Talbot lived in the Abbey at this time, therefore. It was still an Abbey at the time of John Talbot, in 1415. Perhaps his coat of arms marks his financial support of the Abbey, thus giving him the blessings and prayers of the Abbey.

St. Mary’s Abbey, a fifteenth century tower house, still has the Talbot crest, and is also called Talbot’s Castle.
The house looks much smaller, when one approaches, than it appears from Trim Castle, dominating the hill above the river bank. It is just one room deep.
The front door is in a Gothic arch, up stone steps, with matching arched window.

The Abbey was dissolved at the time of King Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries. The author of Trim: Its Ecclesiastical Ruins, Its Castle, Etc tells us that on 15 May 1542 agents of Henry VIII forced Geoffrey Dardis, St. Mary’s last abbot, to sign his own expulsion, and the abbey’s lands were granted to Sir Anthony St. Leger (b. circa 1496, d. 1559), who in 1540 was Lord Deputy of Ireland. (see [1]).

It seems to me that it would have been after the dissolution of the abbey that the abbey building was converted into a secular residence.

The turret with the Talbot arms, which is of two storeys over a basement (although today it looks three storey), is distinct from the rest of the range, Christine Casey and Alistair Rowan point out in their Buildings of Ireland: North Leinster book. (see [2]) They write that: “The punched limestone rubble and big square embrasures still visible in the basement are similar to the Yellow Steeple and support and early to mid-C15 date.”

The entrance vestibule has panelled walls and ceiling and pretty decorative swags draped from bucranium, or rams heads, above the wall panelling.

The stucco work would not have been part of the abbey, as bucrania, ox’s skulls, allude to the ancient Greek and Roman ceremonies of sacrifice, and sacrificial cattle were decorated with garlands of fruit and flowers or decorative ropes with tassels.

Many of the interior doors are arched.

From the vestibule one enters the Gothic maroon coloured dining room, which leads into the drawing room, which is thought to have been the refectory of the abbey. Mark Bence-Jones tells us that the building incorporated part of the Abbey cloister, which forms a vaulted recess on one side of the drawing room.

The dining room has a fireplace that looks like Connemara marble, and the swags again adorn the walls over the wood panelling.

The Drawing Room in what may have been the Refectory of the Abbey. A vaulted recess on one side may have been a cloister of the Abbey.

The drawing room has what Casey and Rowan call a “remarkable and very rare medieval survival, an oriel window or gallery opening off the room in the southeast corner, roofed over by two bays of quadripartite vaulting, springing from octagonal shafts, all of punched grey limestone.”

Rowan and Casey continue: “One has only to look at the refectory building at Newtown Trim to recognize that this is the characteristic position of the reader’s desk or gallery from which scripture was read while the monks ate their meals.”

There’s also a wonderful fireplace that looks very old.

In 1617 King James I granted the churches, rectories and chapels of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Trim to Thomas Ashe of Trim. A website about the Ashe family tells us that Sir Thomas Ashe, of St. John‘s and of Drumsill (now Ashfield Hall), in the county of Cavan, was knighted at Dublin Castle by Sir George Carew, Lord Deputy, on St. James’s day, 25 July 1603, on the occasion of the coronation of James I. [4]

Little seems to be known about the building until it became a school. Mark Bence-Jones tells us that the property was given gables in C17, by which time it has become a “Latin school.” Casey and Rowan write that in the opening years of the eighteenth century the Diocesan School of Meath, which was being run by Dean Jonathan Swift’s curate at Laracor, was without fixed accommodation.

In 1716 Jonathan Swift’s friend “Stella” (her read name was Esther Johnson) bought “St Mary’s Abbey” from John Blakely and the following year she either sold it or gave it to Swift, and it then became the Diocesan School. Peter has copies of the deeds framed. Swift sold it after another year.

The land Deed signed by Esther Johnson, Jonathan Swift’s friend “Stella.”

Casey and Rowan tell us that after the building had become the Diocesan School in the eighteenth century, a report of the Commission for Irish Education of 1827 described it as “a very old building forming part of the quadrangle of St Mary’s Abbey.” Famous past pupils include Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) and William Rowan Hamilton (1805-1865), Irish mathematician, astronomer, and physicist.

Peter showed us some metal bars outside an upstairs window which he suggested may have been supports for William Rowan Hamilton to mount a telescope.

Bence-Jones tells us that the Georgian Gothic windows and the long two-storey wing was added in the early nineteenth century, but I don’t think this is correct since that is the part that houses what seems to have been the Abbey refectory. He may mean that this wing was converted at that time into a drawing room, as described by Rowan and Hamilton.

The school closed down and the building was bought by the last schoolteacher, Rev James Hamilton. He was the uncle of William Rowan Hamilton. [5] The Dictionary of Irish Biography describes Reverend James Hamilton: “James Hamilton was a classicist with some knowledge of oriental languages; he recognised his nephew’s precocious talent and fed him an extraordinary diet of the classics, Hebrew, and a wide range of oriental and modern languages. He was quite a taskmaster, albeit a kindly and supportive one, and his nephew responded positively.” [6]

William Rowan Hamilton,(1805-1865), Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Irish Academy,(pl. for ‘Dublin University Magazine’, Vol. XIX, January 1842)Engraver John Kirkwood After Charles Grey, Scottish, c.1808-1892. Photograph courtesy of the National Gallery of Ireland.

It was occupied as a private house by him and his descendants until 1909, when it was bought by Archibald Montgomery, who carried out various improvements and panelled the principal rooms. Montgomery was a Dublin lawyer and Sheriff of Dublin.

Casey and Rowan tell us that Archibald Montgomery added an attic storey with yellow-brick gables to the west end, and retained a mish-mash of pointed eighteenth century sash windows and Gothic-French windows throughout the rest of the building.

The lobby upstairs has lovely trefoil style windows. Casey and Rowan write that there are angel shield bearers in some window spandrels upstairs, and that they were probably found and reused in the 1909 reconstruction.

The attic storey with pointed gables was added in 1909.
The hopper on the left has the date 1909, to indicate that it is the addition, while the one on the right has the date 1425 on it.
There are angel shield bearers in some window spandrels upstairs, and that they were probably found and reused in the 1909 reconstruction.

In the basement Peter pointed out a feature of the ceiling which would indicate its age. There are what look like scratches, which would be the remains of wickerwork ceiling.

Scratches on ceiling show where an ancient wickerwork ceiling used to be.

We saw the same scratches on a ceiling in Trim Castle:

Similar markings on ceiling in part of Trim Castle.

Montgomery died in 1942 and everything in the house was sold. The house was purchased in 1951 by an engineer from Manchester, John O’Leary. He was also a big game hunter, and won the bronze medal in the 1924 Olympics in Paris for shooting. He and his wife had no children, and he died in 1967 and his wife Eileen in 1981. They left all the contents in the house. Peter Higgins moved in as Caretaker, in 1984 and later had the opportunity to buy the property in 1991.

The gardens tier down to the river, and the house has wonderful views of Trim Castle and the River Boyne.

[1] Trim: Its Ecclesiastical Ruins, Its Castle, Etc. : Together with a Collection of Documents Not Hitherto Published, and Notes of Trim and Its Environs for Past Two Centuries. Jan 1886 · Printed at the Office of the Irish Builder.

[2] Casey, Christine and Alistair Rowan. The Buildings of Ireland, North Leinster. The Counties of Longford, Louth, Meath and Westmeath. Penguin Books, London, 1993.

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


[5] I found more about Reverend James Hamilton’s family on


The Old Rectory, Killedmond, Borris, Co Carlow R95 N1K7

contact: Mary White

Tel: 087-2707189

Open dates in 2023: July 1-31, Aug 1-31, 9am-1pm
Fee: adult €10, OAP/student €6, child free.

A five bay two storey Tudor-Gothic Revival house with three dormer windows and a loggia.

This is such a pretty house, a “cottage ornée,” a little like a gingerbread house! According to the Irish Historic Houses website, the Old Rectory in Killedmond, near Borris in County Carlow, is:

“a mid-19th century house in a restrained Tudor-Revival style, which looks out over the valley of the River Barrow to the Blackstairs Mountains beyond. Designed by the architect Frederick Darley for the Kavanagh family of nearby Mount Leinster Lodge, the house is an accomplished and dramatic arrangement that uses gables, dormer windows, bargeboards and finials to produce a symmetrical five-bay façade. The three central bays on the ground floor are recessed behind a glazed loggia, flanked by the end bays, which break forward and terminate in wide gables.” [1] [2]

I arranged with Mary White to visit in the first week that the Covid 19 lockdown lifted. Mary and her husband Robert run a business, the Blackstairs Eco Centre, from their home, as can be seen on the lovely wooden sign outside their gates. They have four sweet “shepherds huts” for overnight stays, and hold tree trail walks and wild food courses on the property. [3]

In the article in the Irish Times which first prompted me to embark on the project of visiting Section 482 houses, there was a picture of Mary swimming in her own lake. That to me looked like heaven. We had a few minutes to wander in the gardens around the house before we met Mary so I was delighted to find and photograph the small lake, which is fed by mountain streams. It lies in front of the house.

One can walk all around the lake, and cross the stream on one of the several small granite bridges.

We were greeted warmly by Mary. We walked around the gardens before entering the house.

Mary and her husband moved into the property about forty years ago, and have done massive amounts of work on the garden (and on the house). On the left, when facing the house, through a lovely old arch, is a fruit garden.


On the right hand side, facing the house, toward the front of the property, is a vegetable growing area complete with a wonderful large polytunnel.

I envied the White’s long, productive asparagus patch.
The greenhouse, with a herb garden to one side.

I have an allotment so Mary and I bonded swapping notes on our vegetable production.  Their production is all organic and they even use a “vegan” manure! I had to think hard to picture what that must be – no animals involved of course!

The trees near the vegetable growing area can be identified by the time they were planted. In forty years, the Whites have built up an interesting tale in their trees. One was a wedding present. One was planted when their daughter was born. Another is the “election tree” when Mary was elected to be a Green TD in government.

Beyond the vegetable garden, the shepherds huts sit dotted carefully around a lawn, each positioned in such a way that their windows don’t look into another hut so each is supremely peaceful and private.

The website describes the huts:

“The Shepherds Huts are centrally heated and very cozy with a double bed in each – suitable for two. Each Hut has three windows including a half door to look out onto a completely natural wooded area set beneath the Blackstairs Mountains. All you will hear is the soft cooing of wood pigeons!”

We peered into one, which was prepared to receive guests at the weekend, and it looked lovely. You can see photographs of the interior of the huts on the website. [see 3] It is a short distance to the barn, which is also a protected historic structure but which has been fully adapted for use as a kitchen, toilets, sitting room and demonstration area for wild food preparation. It has been carefully refurbished maintaining historic structure, with recycled materials, natural wooden furniture, cedar doors and ecological heating and electricity, which also provide the house.

The wildflower meadow next to the barn.
Inside the barn: the kitchen and demonstration area, with large tables for gatherings including hen parties, which can be fully catered. The kitchen can be used by those renting the shepherds huts, as well as the relaxation and reading areas.
Inside the barn.
Upstairs in the barn, a place for visitors to relax.

The Barn is separated from the house by a cobble courtyard. The guests also have use of an outdoor eating and barbeque area:

I had to stop to have a go on the swing, hanging from a large beech tree.

We definitely want to return to stay in one of the huts, and to walk the Celtic tree trail. The property has an example of each of the 21 trees native to Ireland. The sculpture of an ogham stone, by sculptor Martin Lyttle [4], has the cut line lettering representing each type of native Irish tree. As part of the Tree Trail we will get to see the sixteen minute film that has been made about the trees on the property.

Ogham is the earliest form of writing in Ireland and dates to the fourth century A.D. The alphabet is made up of a series of strokes along or across a line. The letters each relate, also, to a species of tree. The letters were carved on standing stones often as a memorial to a person, using the edge of the stone as a central line. The letters are read from the bottom up. [5]

We noticed the electric car charger near the barn when wandering the gardens:

I was also thrilled to see a solar panel array in a field:

Mary and her husband cultivated a rose garden, surrounded by a small canal, forming a “parterre” or patterned garden.

Canal by rose garden. See the granite bridges, and the barn in the background.

In the rose garden, we admired the sculpture of Dionysus, sculpted by her friend in college, Alice Greene, and presented to Mary as a birthday gift. [6]

The property contains wooded area with walking trails, which we didn’t explore as it was rainy and we were heading to my cousin’s house nearby for lunch!

According to the Irish Historic Houses website:

“Two other fronts are virtually identical, with the exception of a half-octagonal bay window on the Eastern side, while the vertically paired windows, culminating in a series of matching gables, create an illusion of symmetry that is greatly enhanced by a profusion of plants and creepers on the walls. Their openings all have simple chamfered granite dressings while the sash windows retain their heavy mullions and delicate marginal glazing bars.” [note: “chamfered” means an edge between two faces, usually at a 45 degree angle.] [2]

The Whites carried out extensive repairs on the house over the years. The wooden bargeboards and finials were rotting and had to be repaired. The house was completely reroofed with expensive blue Bangor slates. The windows have thirty six panes, and when windows were repaired the original glass was retained. Mary pointed out where someone has scratched their name onto the window pane – there was a tradition of scratching names into glass in the past, and Mary dates this scratch to about 1905. It reads “W. Pennyfeather” and “Nicholas Pennyfeather.” Nicholas was rector of the parish from 1900 and lived in the house. I have come across several occasions of scratching names on window panes in my reading, and saw a short film that refers to the tradition, “Words on a Window Pane,” by Mary McGuckian, made in 1994, an adaptation of a play by W.B. Yeats about Dublin spiritualists visited by the ghosts of Jonathan Swift and the two women associated with him, Vanessa (Esther Vanhomrigh) and Stella (Esther Johnson).

There is a more unusual scratched illustration on the glass in a bedroom upstairs. Someone has used a diamond to carve the profile of a girl into the window, but has written “Sidney is a very ugly girl”! The girl in the portrait is not ugly though! I suspect some sister came along to mar the effect, out of jealousy, or maybe Sidney herself was feeling extremely fed-up and self-deprecating one day.

We walked back around to the front of the house, past the herbaceous border, to have a tour inside.

The herbaceous border.
The herbaceous border and to the left of the photograph, the “flower tower” or Echium plant.

The Irish Historic Houses (IHH) website mentions the “loggia” at the front of the house. This is a conservatory-like structure, a Victorian sort of folly. Wikipedia describes a loggia as a covered exterior gallery or corridor, where the outer wall is open to the elements and is usually supported by a series of columns or arches. This one does not have a wall open to the elements but as described, it is not meant for an entrance but as an out-of-door sitting room. A loggia differs from a veranda in that it is more architectural in form and is part of the main edifice of the house.

According to the IHH website, the loggia is supported by cast-iron brackets on slender granite columns while the upper level of the central section is treated as an attic storey with tall, gabled dormer windows in the steeply sloping roof. The loggia, Mary told us, is wonderfully warm, and a lovely place to sit.

The house was designed by Frederick Darley (1798-1872), whose father was also an architect and builder. Frederick Darley built many buildings in Trinity College Dublin, as well as many civic and church buildings (including Lorum church, nearby [7]). He built New Square in Trinity, where my husband Stephen lived for a year! His father served as Alderman in Dublin and as Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1808-09. His mother Elizabeth Guinness was the eldest daughter of Arthur Guinness (1725-1803), founder of the Guinness brewery, of Beaumont House, Drumcondra (now the Beaumont Convalescent Home behind Beaumont Hospital). In 1843 Frederick Darley Junior was the Ecclesiastical Commission architect for the Church of Ireland diocese of Dublin. He was a pupil of Francis Johnston, and lived on Lower Fitzwilliam Street in Dublin. [8]

The house a hunting lodge for the Kavanagh family who owned nearby Mount Leinster Lodge. I haven’t been able to find out more about James Kavanagh who owned the house. In Victorian times the house became the rectory for nearby Killedmond Church but was sold in the early twentieth century. Subsequently it passed through a succession of different families. Mary told us that a former owner was a Captain Temple Bayliss, who was a Captain in the Royal Navy, with his wife Patricia and daughter, Philippa, both of whom are accomplished artists. [8]

The historic houses website tells us that the interior is largely original, with good joinery, chimneypieces and plasterwork, and stained glass panels in the original front door. I took a photograph of the beautiful stained glass in the door:

The front hall is floored with beautiful tiles original to the house:

The rooms are a nice size with high ceilings and the sitting room with a bay window, and plaster ceiling decoration in the form of a border with decorative rondelles. The chimneypieces are indeed lovely and as Mary pointed out, they have the traditional white for the drawing room and black for the dining room. I had never heard of that before!

The bay window of the Drawing room.

The current owners have two lovely studies, with built-in bookcases and a display of books that Stephen and I admired – Mary and her husband are also book-lovers, and I admired a lovely bound set of Virginia Woolf essays.

The flagstones in the back hallway are also original, and had to be lifted to install geothermal heating.

Mary makes great use of her larder, which was a place formerly used for storing milk and butter, the flagstones keep it cool. Large saucepans hang from original hooks in the ceiling, ready for making jams and chutneys from the garden produce.

I like the style of the kitchen with repurposed cupboards discarded from a local school, and an old Aga cooker. Mary told us that the Aga company contacted her as they keep records of where they installed their cookers, and hers is rather rare. The feature that distinguishes it from less rare versions is, wonderfully, a “full stop” at the end of the warning on its lower door: “Keep tightly closed.”

We got on so well with Mary and had so much to talk about that our tour lasted for two hours! I look forward to a return visit.

Addendum: We returned in August in 2021, to stay a couple of nights in a shepherd’s hut! We stayed in the red hut.

We learned a little more about the shepherd’s huts, which Mary had custom-built, from a book left in the hut for us to read.

We met lovely people staying in the other huts – our first night, only one other hut was occupied, and the second night, a mother and daughter occupied the third hut. We enjoyed trading tips and stories when we met in the barn, for breakfast or when making our dinner. The others went cycling by the Barrow River – one can rent bikes – and also canoeing/kayaking.

One of the couples went kayaking at Clashganny – in 2019, I went swimming there.

From our base at Mary’s, we made trips to Kilfane gardens and waterfall and to Woodstock gardens, both in nearby County Kilkenny. I will be writing a separate entry about our trip to Kilfane, since the gardens are listed in the Revenue Section 482.

Woodstock House, outside Inistioge, County Kilkenny, built in 1745-47 for Sir William Fownes by architect Francis Bindon. The house was burnt in 1922.

In the 1770s Sarah Ponsonby (1755-1831) lived at Woodstock with her cousins William and Betty Fownes (nee Ponsonby), when her dear friend Eleanor Butler (1739-1829) made her way here from from Borris House in Carlow and the two young women escaped their families to go to live in Wales, where they became known in literary circles as the “Ladies of Llangollen.” (see my entry on Borris House).

William Fownes had only one child, a daughter, Sarah, who married William Tighe of Rossanagh House, County Wicklow, thus Woodstock passed in to the Tighe family. William Tighe’s grandson, also named William, married Louisa Lennox, the great-niece of Louisa Lennox of Carton House, and it was she who did much work to create the gardens at Woodstock.

The gardens of Woodstock include an Arboretum of exotic trees planted in the nineteenth century. It includes Montezuma pines, California redwoods, Wellingtonia, cypresses and cedars, as well as beech, chestnut, and an avenue of monkey puzzle trees. The gradual restoration of the gardens began in 1996 under the Great Gardens of Ireland Restoration Programme.

Monkey puzzle tree walk,trees planted in 1861-62 (replacing trees planted in 1845).
The Walled Garden at Woodstock is 1.9 acres
The Turner Conservatory at Woodstock, designed by Richard Turner.
The Turner bench.
Woodstock Gardens.

And finally, on our last day at the Old Rectory in Killedmond, I was able to imitate the photograph that started me on this whole wonderful adventure of exploring historic houses, the photograph that was in the Irish Times of Mary White swimming in her own lake.

Me swimming in the lake at the Old Rectory.


[2] architectural definitions



The fact that Martin Lyttle’s sculpture stands on the property is perfect, as Martin’s family lived in the Old Rectory for seven years before Mary White acquired it!



[7] Record of Protected Structures, County Carlow



The Old Glebe, Newcastle-Lyons, County Dublin

The Old Glebe, Main Street, Newcastle, Co. Dublin

contact details: Hugh F. Kerins, Martin Connelly. Tel: Frank 087-2588356, and Martin 087-6686996
Open in 2023: May 1-31, June 1-30, Mon-Sat, Aug 12-20, 10am-2pm, 4 tours daily during
National Heritage Week, 10am, 11am, 12 noon, 1pm
Fee: Free, voluntary contributions only proceeds to charity

I visited this property in 2012 during Heritage Week with my husband Stephen and my Dad. We were welcomed by the owner, Frank Kerins. A glebe house is one on the grounds of a church providing accommodation for the clergy. This house is next to Saint Finian’s, an ancient church from the fifteenth century, but no longer houses its vicar and is in private ownership. St. Finian’s is now a Church of Ireland and still holds weekly services. There’s a beautiful view of the church from the back of the house, where one can see the restored Gothic “pointed-arched window with flowing tracery” [1] through another arch, and behind, the church tower.

“The Old Glebe,” Newcastle, County Dublin.

The older part of the house dates from around 1720, and is a five bay two storey block over basement [2].

[17/5/20: I have stumbled across a reference while looking up historic houses in Dublin, while googling Athgoe Castle. This reference gives a little detail about the Glebe House, which is referred to as the Rectory for St. Finian’s Church: The Archdeacon of Glendalough, Thomas Smyth, who became Archdeacon in 1722, built the rectory. The east window of the church bears his initials and the date 1724. [3]]

An addition from about 1820 has, according to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage website, two-bay rere elevation, and single-storey extensions to east. [4]

Continuation of the front of the house; the gardens were looking splendid on the August day on which we visited, the flowers in full array.
St Finian’s church, Newcastle Lyons (now Protestant).

A second tower stands in front of the Glebe house, and I immediately fell in love with the attached 1727 Mews house. The Mews house contains accommodation and an artist’s studio. The deep yellow door, white painted divided pane sash windows, ivy and flowers won my heart.

Mews house at the Old Glebe, Newcastle.

Mr. Kerins is enthusiastic about the house and is familiar with the history, as of that of the tower and adjoining church. He has written a book, published in 2017, called Some views of the Old Glebe House, Newcastle.

There is an article that was in the Irish Times when the house was for sale in 1999, by Orna Mulcahy. She overestimates, I believe, the age of the house. [5]:

“One of the oldest houses in south Dublin, it was built by a vicar of Rathmichael, the Reverend Simon Swayne, in the mid-1600s. The original two-storey over basement house was extended in the 18th and 19th centuries and the current owners have made their own contribution in the form of a small conservatory overlooking the gardens. The property includes an old cut-stone mews house.”

Maurice Craig in his Classic Irish Houses of the Middle Size, p. 66, pictures “Newcastle Rectory, Co. Dublin” and it looks like this Glebe House. He says it is built in 1727 by Archdeacon Smyth. Another article in the Irish Times claims that it was built in 1710. [6]

I was not allowed to take photographs inside the house, which is usual for the section 428 properties. Mr. Kerins gave us a tour. We entered the large front hall, impressively furnished and finished. This open into the long drawing room through a door with fanlight. Another door from the hall leads to a dining room. Through a hall, one steps into a lower level of the house and to the timber conservatory. My father and Mr. Kerins chatted about furniture, as my Dad’s father was an antiques dealer, while I envied the occupants of this beautiful, comfortable, elegant home. There is a beautiful wood-panelled sitting room.

I did, however, take many photographs of the splendid garden at the back of the house, which leads down to a lake.

Back of “The Old Glebe” Newcastle, County Dublin.
Looking down the garden from the back of the house.

The second article from the Irish Times continues:

“The Old Glebe used to belong to the Church of Ireland. The church dates back to the 13th century but the present house was built in 1710. The current owner, Frank Kerins, bought it in 1989. In a corner of the garden (open to the public in summer) surrounded by benches, stands a wonderfully wide and healthy yew. Like any tree, its age is up for dispute. With a bulging girth of five metres, Fennell estimates it at 500 years plus. “Some of the branches have been lifted, but it’s probably Dublin’s oldest tree.” Kerins is adamant it is older. “There are local references to it and to Jonathan Swift – it’s definitely over 700 years.”

“Fennell is conservative when estimating age. “Yews are probably older than most people think. Some time in the future they will be able to nail it down with new technology and humble previous opinions.”

“In the meantime, Kerins, like others before him, enjoys his tree. ‘We’ve restored the gardens and the house. The wildlife and shrubs have returned. We love to sit under the tree and take a glass of wine and imagine what Swift must have been thinking when he sat here 300 years ago. He wrote to his friends and he also had a girlfriend in the area, from Celbridge.’ [he must mean “Vanessa,” or Esther Vanhomrigh, who lived in Celbridge Abbey in County Kildare].

Stephen and I sat beneath this “Dean’s Tree”, under which Jonathan Swift, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, enjoyed writing before his death in 1745. Perhaps he sat here to write a letter to Stephen’s ancestor, the Reverend John Winder, who succeeded Jonathan Swift as Vicar of Kilroot, County Armagh.

Stephen and Jen at the “Dean’s Tree” (Jonathan Swift sat on that bench!).

I loved the romantic statues placed in the garden.

The picturesque lake completes the beauty of the garden with its deep peace.

By the ornamental lake at The Old Glebe, Newcastle, County Dublin.
My father observes the lake and its small fountain.

After we said goodbye to Mr. Kerins, we went to explore the church nextdoor. The National Inventory describes it [1]:

“Detached single-cell church, c.1775, incorporating west tower and chancel of fifteenth-century church. Four-bay nave, with further three bays to east, now unroofed. Rubble stone walls. Paired cusp-headed windows with quatrefoil [2] over having smooth limestone surround to nave. Large pointed-arched window with flowing tracery to the east gable of nave. Pitched slate roof. Graveyard to grounds in use since medieval times. Some table graves, legible gravestones dating from the late 1760s, also including medieval cross. Rendered stone rubble boundary wall and gate piers to road.

This church has been a major historical feature of Newcastle since the fifteenth century, once a Parish Church of the Royal Manor and is still in use. The site contains a variety of fine gravestones which further enhance the setting of this engaging building which possesses many attractive features, particularly its windows.”

I found it difficult to take a photograph of the whole church, so here is one from the National Inventory website:

photograph from the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.

The church consists of three parts: the tower, built in the days of King John (1166-1216), the church section (built around 1775), and a roofless section.

St. Finian’s Church. The ivy covered grave is, I think, a Bagot grave.
The impressive church tower, built during the era of King John, it is believed (1166-1216), through which one enters to go to the nave of the church.
Windows looking into the functioning part of the church.
Stephen in the roofless section of the church.

I was particularly interested in the graveyard as it contains some Bagots, whom I hope were my relatives, though I have not found the connection (it must be far back in the family tree, and we stem from a different branch, if connected at all). A website that describes graves lists James John Bagot and his wife Ellen Maria (nee O’Callaghan), who are interred in this cemetery [7]:

There is a large vault, grass-grown at top, with a cross-shaped loophole at east end,inscribed:-
Pray for the souls of | Those members of the BAGOT Family | who are interred herein | the last of whom | JAMES JOHN BAGOT ESQr | of Castle Bagot County Dublin | Died Aged 76 years | on the 9th of June 1860 | Pray also for the soul of |Ellen Maria BAGOT | his widow interred Herein | who died at Rathgar on 17th Sept 1871 | R.I. P.

Stephen and I returned in 2018 to have a closer look at the grave. In 2012, we thought the grave was the rather macabre vault containing half-open coffins:

Iron vaults in graveyard at St Finian’s, Newcastle Lyons.

Coincidentally, James John’s mother, Eleanor Dease, was probaby related to Colonel Gerald Dease who lived in Celbridge Abbey in 1901.

1000 year old cross in graveyard of St Finian’s, Newcastle Lyons.

In August 2012, we also visited the Catholic church of St. Finian’s in nearby Kilamactalway, to see the baptismal font donated by Ellen Maria Bagot in memory of her husband James John, who died in 1860 and who had lived in Castle Bagot in Rathcoole/ Kilmactalway. I’m a little confused as to why James John and his wife were buried in the Protestant graveyard, since there is a graveyard at the Catholic church, which was built in 1813.

Catholic church of St. Finian’s in Kilmactalway.



[2] architectural definitions

“A bay is a vertical division of the exterior of a building marked by a single tier of windows in its centre. Thus the number of bays in a façade is usually the same as the number of windows in each storey. There are, however, facades in which some of the bays contain two or more narrow windows in each storey in place of a single window of whatever width is the norm.”

“Quatrefoil window: a window in the shape of a four leafed clover; found in Gothic and Gothic-Revival architecture.”

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.] pp. xxix-xxxi






Irish Historic Homes