Sunday, 30 July 2017

The Ancient Clock of
Moyne Abbey
Killala, Co. Mayo

One might wonder what connection an ancient monastery in county Mayo has with the world of the Irish Country House but Moyne Abbey located near Killala is where the Knox family made one of their first homes in the county in the early 1700’s. In the next one hundred years they would come to dominate the county through the vast tracts of land that they would accumulate and the large country houses that would be built by later generations of the family. However it beggars belief that an ancient clock, said to be centuries old, had existed at Moyne Abbey and survived in the Knox’s possession up until the 1920’s.

The Franciscan Friary of Moyne was founded by Mac William de Burgo in 1455 and the building was consecrated in 1462. The monastery was burnt in 1590 by Sir Richard Bingham, the English Governor of Connaught. The friars left after suffering persecution at the hands Bingham and the lands of the abbey came in the possession of Edmund Barrett. However it soon came into the hands of an English widow who allowed the friars to return to the Abbey in 1606 where they remained until 1618. After which the monastery was owned by the Lindsay family who demolished part of the monastery with gun powder. It is also said that they sold the bell from the tower of Moyne for £700, which was a gift to the friars from the Queen of Spain. It was purchased for the Protestant Cathedral of Armagh and as a result of this sale and their treatment of Moyne, the Lindsay family were cursed and despised by many.

Later in 1718, the abbey came in to posession of the Knox family when Francis Knox, the son of William Knox of Castle Rea, took up residence at Moyne after his marriage to Dorothea Annesley. Initially it is said that parts of the abbey were still habitable and that Francis re-modelled a wing of the monastery and lived there. It was recorded by that Knox Family that ‘ in 1750 the then proprietor was building a dwelling house on the site of the old walls and that some of the buildings on the north side were taken down for that purpose’. After the Knox family left Moyne to live in Rappa Castle near Crossmolina, the property at Moyne was bought by the Kirkwoods, who are remembered for their association with Bartra Island and the nearby town of Killala. The Knox family may have left Moyne but it appears that they took a number of items with them to Rappa from the monastery that included an ancient clock.

A visitor to Rappa Castle in 1882 noted that ‘the entrance hall - a comfortably furnished apartment - across a second, into the crowning glories of a third, where we were requested to wait till Captain Knox made his appearance’. He showed the visitors the many treasures that the castle contained including the clock from Moyne Abbey. This ancient artefact was found sitting on the flagged floored kitchen of the castle where they were told by Captain Annesley Arthur Knox that the clock had ticked as it had done for 300 years. The visitor went on to describe that ‘The case of some dark wood beautifully carved. I thought it was bog oak, Captain Knox said mahogany, which would make the case to be much younger than the clock. The Captain assured us that it was the best time-keeper in the world. It only requires winding once a month, it used to show the day of the month, but some meddler disarranged that part of the machinery. The dial plate is of some white metal, brilliant and silvery. Captain Knox said it was brass, but I have seen things look more brazen that not so old.’  The clock was recorded as being in good working order in 1903.

Captain Annesley Knox died in 1897, his nephew inherited the castle at Rappa and its contents but a number of family deaths in close succession resulted in the sale of the contents of Rappa in December 1924. The vast scope of items on offer ranged from a 1924 Chevrolet de Lux motor car to an ancient cannon on a stand. Interestingly also listed in the contents for sale, is the Holy Water font from Moyne Abbey but there was no mention of the ancient clock. However it was later recorded by a member of the Knox family that the ancient clock that came from Moyne Abbey was sold as a box of scrap metal and had left the castle before anyone realised its true value. As a result of this oversight one of the most fascinating artifacts associated with this monastery situated on the banks of the Moy disappeared from sight and has never made a reappearance.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Rappa Castle
Crossmolina, Co. Mayo
The Mias Tighearnain

The Mias Tighearnáin 
Many times when in Dublin, I visit the National Museum of Ireland and head straight to the first floor. There I find an ancient artifact known as the Mias Tighearnáin or St. Tiernan's Dish, which is now displayed  in a glass case but would have originated in Crossmolina, Co. Mayo. I always stand back and study it for a few minutes, looking for further clues to an ancestor of mine that once owned it, maybe seeing something that I missed previously. The ancestor in question was my great, great grandfather, Annesley Arthur Knox who died in 1897 and who lived in Rappa Castle near Crossmolina in Co. Mayo. A mysterious man, a contradiction, an enigma who took many secrets to the grave with him. Despite having died over 120 years ago, his influence on our family has trickled down through the generations to me today. This artifact in the glass case, known as the Mias Thighernáin, is one of the few things that I know that he held in his hands and would have been housed  in the now bare walls of the ruins of Rappa Castle. Another interesting aspect to this story is that Oscar Wilde’s father would have visited Rappa Castle in the mid 1800’s to study this artifact which is meant to have the power to turn one's face to the back of their head if  a lie was told when swearing upon it.

Rappa Castle as it was in the 19th Century, the home of
the Knox Family found near Crossmolina, Co. Mayo. 
Copyright: ICHC
The Mias Tighearnáin, an alms dish, was said to have been dug out of the grave of St. Tiernan near Errew Abbey beside Lough Conn in Crossmolina, Co. Mayo. There are a number of stories of how it was found including local folklore which says that it was found in Lough Conn when it floated to the surface having lay at the bottom of the lake for centuries. Researchers have differed over the age of the object, as it could possibly date from anywhere between the 6th and 14th centuries, also it appears to have been repaired, embellished and damaged many times over the years. It was preserved for a number of years in the family of O'Flynn who were said to have been the hereditary wardens of Errew. They were induced in the 18th century during a hard summer, when provisions were expensive, to sell it to Francis Knox of Rappa Castle located near Crossmolina. In later years during the 1800's the relic was used by the peasantry of the area for the act of swearing upon with the consent of Mr. Knox. It was said to possess the miraculous power of causing the face of anyone who did not tell the truth, when swearing upon it, to turn round to the back of their head. When the Parish Priest of Kilmore in Erris heard about this practice he had it removed from the people who were using it. The priest brought it to Ardnaree Barracks and the members of the Royal Irish Constabulary had it returned to the Knox Family who were told in no uncertain terms to put an end to this practice. Around this time, the superstition grew up that the Mias  Tighearnáin brought misfortune to those who trafficked in it, whether true or false, the Knox family of Rappa endured a great deal of sadness and their former home is in ruins today.At the time of Griffith's Valuation the Rappa estate included six townlands in the parish of Bekan and one townland in parish of Aghamore, barony of Costello and at least three townlands in each of the parishes of Ardagh,Ballysakerry and Kilfian, barony of Tirawley, county Mayo. In 1876 the Rappa Estate consisted of 6,855 acres in county Mayo and 724 acres in county Galway

The private burial ground of the Knox Family of
Rappa Castle which despite being a unique surviving
feature of the estate is unrecorded and is not
protected in any way by local authorities. 
Copyright: ICHC
In “ A Guide to Irish Country House”, Rappa Castle located near Crossmolina in Co. Mayo  is described as an early or mid-eighteenth century house consisting of a three storey centre block of four bays with two storey wings on either side. The centre block and the side wings also had high pitched gable ended roofs, with tall chimneys in the gable ends. The castle was once home to the Crofton family with a castle being built on the site in the fifteenth century by the Burke family. It eventually came in to the ownership of a gentleman by the name of Francis Knox who was resident in the castle in 1798 and previously in 1786 the house was mentioned as being ‘the pleasant seat of Mr. Knox’. Francis Knox was the third son of Francis Knox of Moyne Abbey and Dorothy Annesley. Francis died in 1813 having married and produced six sons and six daughters. He was succeeded by his eldest son Annesley Gore Knox who died in 1839. He had married Harriett in 1793 who was the sister of Sir Ross Mahon. Harriett and Annesley had eight sons and five daughters.  The eldest surviving son inherited Rappa, also named Annesley was succeeded by his son Captain Annesley Arthur Knox.

In 1841, the Mias Tighearnáin was exhibited by W.R. Wilde at the Royal Academy in Dublin having been lent to him by Annesley Knox. William Robert Wills Wilde, was an Irish doctor who specialised in afflictions of the eyes and ears and was also the father of the famous literary figure, Oscar Wilde. He had a particular interest in the archaeology and folklore of ancient Ireland which explains his interest in the Mias. Again in 1846, the Mias Tighearnáin was brought before the Royal Irish Academy by W.R. Wilde and at this time two very accurate drawings of the artifact were made and deposited in the pictorial catalogue of the museum of the academy. It appears that Doctor Wilde was extremely interested in the piece and concerned about its safety, as in 1851, the Mias Tighearnáin  was deposited in the Museum of the Royal Academy, at the insistence of Dr. Wilde. However it was noted later that the relic was returned to Mr. Knox of Rappa Castle.

William Robert Wilde, the father of
Oscar Wilde, whom took an interest
in the Mias Thighernain.
In 1882, a visitor to the castle found the Mias Tighearnáin  in the procession of Captain Annesley Arthur Knox. They give the following description of their visit and the relic ‘The owner of Rappa Castle, a landlord against whom nothing in the way of blame is said, was assuredly of as much interest to us as the relics which his house possessed. A tall, fine looking, kindly faced man, rosy with health, courteous and pleasant, came into the room. We told our errand and the Captain went for the Mias Tighearnáin and placed it in our hands. It is evidently only part of the original dish, the socket where the upper part rested being still there. It is very heavy, formed of three layers of thin bronze bound at the edge with brass - evidently a later thought, and done for preservation. There are three bands of silver across it, which show the remains of rich figuring. There was originally a setting of three stones, one of which still remains and looks as if it might be amber. It is as large as a soup plate. Something is among the layers of metal which rattles when shaken. It is one of the oldest relics in the country. Whoever made it had no mean skill in the art of working metals. According to a certain Father Walsh it was used to wash the saint's hands in at mass. This dish, after lying at the bottom of Lough Conn for a hundred years, come up to the surface and revealed itself. It has been used as a revealer of secrets ever since it came in to the hands of the Knox family. We requested afterwards to see the clock of Moyne Abbey, and were taken by the courteous captain across the other rooms to the flagged kitchen, where the clock ticked as it has done for 300 years - or since the abbey was dismantled, how long before history hath not recorded. The case of some dark wood beautifully carved. I thought it was bog oak, Captain Knox said mahogany, which would make the case to be much younger than the clock. The Captain assured us that it was the best time-keeper in the worked. It only requires winding once a month, used to show the day of the month, but some meddler disarranged that part of the machinery. The dial plate is of some white metal, brilliant and silvery. Captain Knox said it was brass, but I have seen things look more brazen that not so old.’

The gate lodge and entrance gates to Rappa Castle
which survive today. Copyright: ICHC
In 1897, Captain Knox died and his estate, castle and contents passed to his nephew Ronald Annesley Knox who was only a six year old child at the time. Captain Knox had a brother Ross, the father of Ronald, but he was by passed in favour of his son. Captain Knox’s will was probated in Dublin by the executors of the will, Richard Francis Knox of Thornfield, Ballina and Charles Knox Kirkwood of Bartra House, Killala, Co. Mayo. His estate was valued at £4,342 3s 6d. In 1900 the estate was being administered in the Chancery Division of the High Court. The Mias was now in the custody of the Accountant General and it was noted that he 'had not, so far made an order for its sale'. The importance of this relic was recognised at this time as Sir Thomas Esmonde, wished for the Chief Secretary to ask the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland if he would make inquiry as to the possibility of procuring it for the National Museum in Dublin. Captain Knox left his estate to his nephew Ronald Knox on his attaining the age of 25 years. In the intervening period Ronald's father, Ross Mahon Knox, had the use of Rappa Castle, plate , furniture, vehicles and harness together with a yearly allowance of £300. Ross Mahon Knox had married Violet Florence May Knox Gore in 1890 in Killala Cathedral, who was also a cousin, her father originating from Broadlands, a Knox house located near Ballina.  Their son Ronald was born in 1891 and a daughter Una in 1895. Violet, Ross and their children now occupied Rappa Castle after the death of Captain Knox, but were visited with much misfortune. It appears that Ross and Violet did not have a happy marriage and in 1903 Violet left Rappa Castle taking her two children with her. It was said she returned to her native Cork due to the violent nature of her husband. Ross initiated legal proceedings to have the children returned and was successful. However Ross and Violet's daughter Una died a year later in 1904, in grandfathers house in Youghal, Cork aged only ten years and by 1907, Ross and Violet had separated for good. It is recorded in the 1911 census that Violet was now living in Park House in Youghal in Cork with her father. In 1916, Ronald Knox came of age and was now in control of Rappa Castle however he never enjoyed good health and died in 1918 of TB. He was buried with his sister on the hill near Rappa Castle where many generations of the family had been interred. His father, Ross, also succumbed to the same disease as his son and died in 1920. Ironically it was the one person that was banished from Rappa Castle who would inadvertently come to own it and determined its future. It appears that Ross and Violet had never divorced and as a result Rappa Castle, land and its contents including the Mias Tighearnáin came into her ownership after the death of her estranged husband. It appears that Violet intended to sell everything, in October 1921, an advertisement appeared for the sale of the rabbits of the estate and for further particulars, the manager of the castle was to be contacted. In 1923 the timber around the demesne was sold which included a large quantity of ash, beech, larch and scots pine, in total about 1,500 tress were on offer. Permission was also given by Violet Knox to set up a temporary saw mill. In December 1924, Violet put the contents of the castle up for sale and sold the castle with its remaining land to the Land Commission. Bitterness existed in the extended members of the Knox family, as Violet sold a number of items that were in the Knox family for generations. She was classed as an ‘outsider’ despite the fact that she was a cousin of her husband and that her grandfather would have originated from Rappa Castle also.

Rappa Castle in ruins today after it was dismantled
in the 1930's
Copyright: ICHC
In January 1925, Violet Knox, (Ross's widow), married Thomas Dodd Lowther of Queen Ann’s Mansions Westminster London. It is obvious that she took the Mias with her to England as it later appeared for sale in London.   It was said that the reason the sale occurred outside Ireland was that Violet wanted  to make it as difficult as possible for it to be purchased by the Knox’s or the National Museum of Ireland. In December 1930, it was reported in the press 'that an ancient alms dish which was brought to London by the last of the Knox family' was to be sold at the Grafton Galleries.  It was said to have been sold for between £750 and £800 as accounts differ. In October 1934, Mrs. V.F.M. Knox Lowther of London and formerly of Glasgow and late of Castlerea and Rappa Castle, Co. Mayo, wife of Thomas Dodd Lowther died and left a personal estate in Britain valued at £11,992. Rappa Castle fell in to disrepair after 1925 and by 1938 was dismantled and had its roof removed. The Mias had been purchased by the Marquees of Bute and became part of his private collection at Mount Stewart, Rothesay, Isle of Bute in Scotland until in 1999, it was purchased by the National Museum of Ireland. The Mias did return briefly to Mayo in 2004 when it was displayed in the Museum of Country Life in Castlebar.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Carramore House

The Vaughan Jackson Memorial Fountain, 
Ballina, Co. Mayo

The Font in Ballina, Co. Mayo is a well known landmark and is often mentioned when giving directions due to its distinctive appearance and location at the junction of Teeling Street and Bury Street. Now well in to its second century, having been erected in 1901, few may know of the tragic reasons for its construction or its associations with a local country house. The memorial is still emblazoned with the name George James Vaughan Jackson who once resided at Carramore House, a large Georgian mansion about two miles from the town. Today, Carramore is a forgotten ruin and few will know of the connection between this house and the memorial fountain in Ballina. It is interesting to note that  the committee, in charge of commissioning the monument, discussed numerous designs and locations ranging from Crossmolina to Ardnaree. There was even the possibility of surrounding it with metal railings and accommodating drinking troughs for dogs.

George James Vaughan Jackson was born in 1860 and was the son of Captain Oliver Vaughan Jackson of Carramore House, Ballina. He appears to have been a man who had interests in all things equine, as he was a member of the North Mayo Hunt but also appears to have owned a number of horses, one in particular Bedouin who had won the Cairo Jubilee race in Egypt. It was said that George had come in to the ownership of the Carramore Estate upon the death of his father in 1890. On the night of the 8th April 1898, George James Vaughan Jackson was returning home from Ballina where he had been doing business during the fair day. As turned his horse and trap off the main road at Rehins he encountered  'a light from a travelling caravan' which was drawn up near the side of the road close to the railway bridge. As he drew closer it appeared to be an ' encampment of peddlers'  who had a cart piled high with baskets beside which they had lit a fire. As his horse was a young animal, George alighted from the trap and intended to remove the horse from the shafts to lead it past the obstruction in the road. However the horse bolted and broke its reins resulting in the shafts of the trap breaking free and striking George on the side of his body, knocking him to the ground. Once he regained his feet and being unable to find his horse, he walked the two miles to his home, Carramore House. There he was met by his sister, whom he assured that nothing serious had happened to him but the following morning he was feeling extremely unwell. The local doctor was sent for and it was found that George had serious internal injuries from which he would die the next day. It is said that he passed away after ' bidding a most affectionate farewell to his mother and sisters'. His large funeral cortege extended to over 140 horse drawn vehicles which left Carramore House and  made their way to the family burial plot in the Crossmolina Church yard. The probate of the will of George James Vaughan Jackson was granted to Dr. Percy V. Jackson also of Carramore House who was a surgeon and a brother of the deceased. His estate was valued at £2,177 7s 9d ( which is nearly €300,000 in today's money).

One month after the passing of George it was proposed that a memorial would be erected in his honour. In May of 1898, a meeting was held in the Moy Hotel  in Ballina town where gathered ' the friends and admirers of the deceased'. It was the members of the North Mayo Hunt who first intended to erect a memorial however with the volume of support from the people of Ballina for the project, the subscription for the memorial was opened to the public. Firstly it was proposed that a monument would be erected over his grave, however it was then considered that as ' he was buried in a remote place....that very few of his friends could have an opportunity to see it'. Then it was suggested that the memorial should be placed in St. Michael's Church in Ardnaree, Ballina, however there were a number of objections to that proposal. Eventually it was decided that a water fountain would be erected in the town that could accommodate  people as well as horses. It was proposed that the fountain should have a statue or the likeness of George placed upon it, however it was agreed that until funds were accumulated, the design of the fountain could not be decided upon. As an illustration for the enthusiasm for the project, by the end of this initial meeting, £67 12s had already been collected. By September of that year £118 10s 6d had been gathered, however the committee were £20 short of what they required and £50 short for the iron railing that was to be placed around the fountain. By March 1899, the committee met again and discussed a design for the memorial fountain, proposed by Harrison & Co., Great Brunswick St., Dublin which was to be made of limestone. The committee had earlier contemplated a design made of metal due to budget implications but it was rejected. Also at this meeting it was proposed that as well as having a trough for horses that a trough should also be integrated  for use by dogs. I had thought that this was something what wasn't included in the final design, but if you look at the fountain today you will see the lower troughs for the use of dogs are found nearer the ground under the main troughs.

By June of 1901 a decision had been made on the final design of the fountain and Mr. E.E. Atkinson wrote on behalf of the Jackson Memorial Committee requesting the permission of the Urban Council to erect the memorial, which was given. In August 1901, the fountain was completed by the contractors opposite 'Baxter's Corner' in the town of Ballina. It was made of Aberdeen granite, cost £184.00 and stood on a hexagonal concrete foundation. It was made by Scott & Rae, Bothwell St., Glasgow and was erected in Ballina under the supervision of their very capable representative, Mr. Robert Taylor. The company of Scott and Rae were established in Glasgow in 1881, it appears they had completed a number of public drinking fountains in their native Scotland and usually worked in pink granite. The fountain is composed of three large drinking troughs for either ' cattle or horses', and rising from the centre is a red and grey granite column diagonally carved and topped by a grey granite ball. Above one of the troughs is a bronze shield having an engraving of a horse. Above another trough was a tablet with the inscription:

'To the memory of
George James Vaughan Jackson
Carramore, Ballina,
Who died on the 10th day of April 1898'

On either side of this main plaque were smaller tablets with the inscriptions ' Erected by public subscription' and 'He passed from among us in the prime of life, respected and beloved by all'. However the fountain wasn't fully completed at this time as the Memorial Committee did not have the funds to undertake a number of works themselves. The entire cost for the project came to £184 ( which is would be about €25,000 in today's money) but the fund had only raised £179 however the contractors in an act of generosity remitted the difference. Now that the fountain was it in place, it was still necessary that guard stones should be erected around the monument to protect it from damage from cart wheels for which the committee had not the funds.  Therefore the committee asked the Urban Council if they would be in a position to complete these works and in early photographs of the memorial we can see that these were indeed put in place.
This grainy newspaper photo from 1957 is one of the few images 
I can find of Carramore before the removal of its roof.

The family home of the Vaughan Jackson family was Carramore situated about two miles from Ballina town. It was a two storey over basement Georgian house built around 1819. The house is surrounded by a large walled garden and an impressive coach house which is still in relatively good condition today. After the death of George for whom the memorial was erected, Carramore House passed to his brother Percy and in later years in October 1920, £75 was claimed by him for malicious damage to Carramore House. Whether this was the reason or not, Percy left Carramore to live in England in 1926 having previously resided at Carramore for 27 years. Percy Vaughan Jackson died in Herts, England in 1943. The house then came in to the ownership of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas J. Reid and in 1935 it was reported that their son Ivan, of the Indian Medical Service, was to be married in Rawalpindi, India. By this time, Miss Beryl Reid, a daughter of the owners of Carramore, was visited by a a reporter who was covering her various enterprises at the house.  They were amazed at her achievements in the garden and the intricate planted beds in the area to the front of the house that she had created. Miss Reid appears to have been an enterprising woman for her time, she had constructed three large glass houses, one alone measured 125 x 30 foot and was in addition to the two older smaller glasshouses that already existed on the site. In July 1935, she had over 2,000 tomato plants growing and 10,000 chrysanthemums plants waiting to go to market. In the 1930's Carramore was also advertised as a guest house, so its appears Miss Reid was doing everything possible to make an income from the property. In 1936, Thomas Reid died, leaving his wife and their two unmarried daughters responsible for Carramore. In 1939 the house suffered a fire and one bedroom was burnt out, it was reported that two sisters Phyllis and Beryl Reid and their invalid mother, Florence, were present in the house at the time. The fire was started by a wireless set which the sisters fought for three hours on their own with buckets of water. In April 1944, Beryl's and Phyllis's mother died and she was buried in St. Michael's Church in Ballina.  

This map illustrates the extensive house that Carramore once
was with extensive outbuildings and a walled garden
Picture ( above)  Copyright : OSI
As a result of this, in August 1946, Carramore House was advertised in the national press for auction under the instruction of  the representatives of the late Mrs. Florence Eleanor Reid, in the advertisement the house is described as 'a Magnificent Gentleman's Residence'. The accommodation of the house extended to four reception rooms,  lounge, front hall, kitchen and twelve apartments ( which must mean bedrooms). The grounds included a walled garden, coach house and tomato houses with room for 3,000 plants. A person who visited the house in the 1940's recorded that the family had only retained forty acres around the house and that the library of Carramore contained over 3,000 books.  In November 1957, it was reported that Carramore was to be demolished as it had recently been purchased with its land by two local farmers. 

Today (shown right) the walls of Carramore still stand, shrouded in ivy but this house like the history of its occupants is forgotten. The font that now stands in Ballina is one of the few tangible connections we have with Carramore House and the Vaughan Jackson family. As the town of Ballina has changed around the font, it became necessary in 1968 to move it 12 feet further back from the edge of the road and it was moved again in 1983 to its current location. 

While the Vaughan Jackson memorial is one of the few attractive pieces of sculpture that we have in Ballina, the area around this memorial has never been designed or landscaped in such away to show off its true beauty. It might be something to be considered by Mayo County Council, as next year will mark 120 years since the death of the man the fountain commemorates.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Heathfield House
Ballycastle, Co. Mayo

The Entrance Front of Heathfield House found near Ballycastle in Co. Mayo
Picture ( above)  Copyright : Taylor Architects, Castlebar, Co. Mayo

I was recently surprised when reading the obituary of Eileen Wren, Countess of Mount Charles that her birthplace was listed as Heathfield House in Co. Mayo. For a number of years I had observed this house from a distance when travelling nearby Ballycastle town in the county. Eileen was the mother of Henry Mount Charles, the current Marquess Conyngham of the world famous Slane Castle in Co. Meath. Lady Mount Charles was born in Heathfield House near Ballycastle in Co. Mayo in 1924. Her father, Clement Wren Newsam, was also a descendent of the famous architect Sir Christopher Wren, who designed St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Clement moved to Ireland from New Zealand and married in 1921 the widow of Bertram Bourke of Heathfield. Bertram, the heir to Heathfield, had died in action in 1915 during the First World War. In 1927, when Eileen Wren was only three years of age, Heathfield was taken over by the Land Commission and the family were allocated a farm in Beauparc in Co. Meath. Much later in 1950, Eileen married the Earl of Mount Charles and became the chatelaine of Slane Castle, where in later years their son, Henry,  would become famous for holding rock concerts. As well as a direct connection with the Mount Charles family, this house situated in the Mayo countryside, also has a connection with the first female President of Ireland. Mary Robinson who is a member of the Bourke family who would consider this house their ancestral home.

Heathfield before the reinstatement of its roof in 2011
Picture ( above)  Copyright : Taylor Architects, Castlebar, Co. Mayo

In the records of The Architectural Inventory of Ireland, Heathfield is described as a detached, five-bay, two-storey farmhouse with dormer attic, which was known to be in existence in 1775. The house was originally a five-bay, two-storey house on a T-shaped plan however a later addition of a projecting battlemented tower to the front of Heathfield gave the house a more imposing presence. This addition to the front of the house probably occurred pre-1896 when it was recorded that the house was ‘improved’ at this time. This tower obscured the earlier pediment on the front of the building which would have given it a similarity to nearby Summerhill House in Lacken. Heathfield has always been considered the ancestral home of the Bourke Family, a Walter Bourke was born in Heathfield in 1770 to Oliver Bourke and Elizabeth Rutledge. Oliver later married Barbara Ann Gildea and the marriage produced ten children. Walter Bourke passed away in 1819 followed by his widow Anne who died in 1829. Both are buried in the graveyard in nearby Kilcummin where their mausoleum remains today. In 1846, Heathfield was recorded as being the home of Robert Bourke, who was possibly the son of Oliver and Anne. It was reported that a Walter Bourke of Heathfield House in Co. Mayo was gazetted by purchase to an Ensigncy in the 56th regiment in June 1849. The following year, in June 1850 in Monkstown Church in Dublin, Rev. William Bourke of Heathfield in Mayo married Harriette Sarah, the fourth daughter of Jacob West of Loughlinstown House, Co. Dublin. It is recorded in The Freeman's Journal of 1852 that the wife of Rev. William Bourke gave birth to a son on May 27th at Heathfield.  In 1876, the Heathfield estate extended to over 1,600 acres which passed on to the next generation when Reverend William Bourke died on the 20th April 1881.

Summerhill House situated in nearby Lacken would bear a similarity to Heathfield before the addition of the tower to the front elevation that would have obscured its pediment.
Picture ( above)  Copyright : ICHC

The next owner of Heathfield House was Major William Henry Bourke of the North Mayo Militia who died in 1896 in an exotic location in comparison to his Mayo home. His death occurred at Villa Porte Rouge, St. Servan France and his last will and testament was probated by his widow Sarah Louisa Bourke of 38 Colbeg Road, Upper Norwood London. Heathfield now passed to William’s and Sarah’s son Bertram Walter Bourke. In December 1902 a display of fireworks took place at Heathfield for the tenants in honour of the coming of age of Bertram. Two years later Bertram lost his mother when she died in June 1904 at Frognal Mansions, Hampstead. In September 1907, a former clergyman of the parish, Rev. Canon Foley was formally presented with the furniture for his new rectory in Tralee in Co. Kerry. This was the generous gift of his former parishioners in Ballycastle and Lacken. The presentation took place at Heathfield House, the residence of Bertram Walter Bourke. Forty people gathered at the house and were entertained by Mr. and Miss Bourke, this would indicate that Bertram lived in the house with his sister. The parishioners were grateful to the clergyman’s wife, Mrs. Foley who trained the church choir. Despite it being a poor parish, £26 had been collected to purchase the furniture for Canon Foley who had spent eleven years in the parish.

Bertram Walter Bourke of Heathfield House who died in the First World War in 1915
Picture ( above)  Copyright : Our Heros Website
The outbreak of the First World War resulted in the death of Captain Bertram Walter Bourke. He died on May 9th, 1915 aged only 33 and is buried in Ypres. He had become a Captain in 1908 and in 1913 had married Eileen, daughter of Mr. George Neville Ussher of Ballinacarrig House, Carlow. After his death, Heathfield passed into the ownership of Bertram’s widow and their two daughters. Eileen Bourke remarried Clement Wren Newsam which resulted in the birth of the daughter who would later become the Countess of Mount Charles.

Heathfield during the reinstatement of its roof in 2011
Picture ( above)  Copyright : Taylor Architects, Castlebar, Co. Mayo

In The Irish Independent of 6th May 1922, it was said that Heathfield, a mansion in Ballycastle, Co. Mayo with an estate of 500 acres and the property of Captain Newsam had been seized by the Executive Forces. They announced that in the future it was to be worked for the benefit of the Belfast Expelled Workers Fund. In 1923, Mrs Newsam of Heathfield House, Ballycastle was awarded compensation for malicious damage that had been done to her property. The unsettled political situation and the offer of the Land Commission to resettle the family resulted in the decision in 1927 for Bertram's widow together with her family to move to County Meath. After the departure of Bertram's widow, Heathfield came into the procession of the Brice/ Bryce family, who lived there until 1932. In the following decades the house went in to decline and eventually its roof of heavy Mayo slates collapsed. Previous to this occurring, some items of furniture from the house made their way, through family connections, to Enniscoe House in nearby Crossmolina where they remain today. The house remained as a ruin up until 2011 when the structure was stabilised and its roof reinstated.

Slane Castle, Co. Meath
Picture ( above)  Copyright : ICHC

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Castle Ellen House
Athenry, Co. Galway

The Entrance Front of Castle Ellen, Athenry, Co. Galway
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
Today near Athenry in Co. Galway there is a house known as Castle Ellen that not only has connections with the political heavy weight, Edward Carson but also the literary genius, Oscar Wilde. There is even a possibility that they met here many years before fate brought them together in one of the most famous trials of that century. Today Castle Ellen is the home of Mr. Michael Keaney, a man who is devoted to this house and to whom we must grateful for his attempts to rescue it from ruin since he purchased it in 1974. While still a work in progress today, Michael has saved this house from the absolute brink of ruin and thus has preserved so many wonderful original features such as decorative plaster work and joinery. If a house could be heated by the warm welcome that it's host offers, Castle Ellen would be one of the warmest homes in Ireland.

The owner of Castle Ellen, Mr. Michael Keaney, pictured on the front steps of his wonderful home
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
Castle Ellen is a large two storey, over raised basement house dating from the early 1800's which is found at the end of a meandering avenue covered by a canopy of ancient trees. The first Lambert residence in the area, was a castle, the remains of which can be found in the grounds to the front of Castle Ellen House, Michael has also done his best to retain what remains of this ancient structure. It is said that the house was built around 1825, however some historians date its construction as taking place earlier in 1810. Peter Lambert, the head of this branch of the Lambert family, at that time, found the castle too small for his growing family and built the house to better suit his needs. One of the first children to be born in the new house was Isabella Lambert who would eventually marry Edward Henry Carson, an architect from Dublin, and this union would produce Edward Carson. Isabella's brother Walter made many improvements to the estate during his tenure which included having a range of impressive greenhouses constructed. At this time the estate was at its peak and the grounds were made up of tennis courts, croquet grounds and expansive gardens while the lands of the estate extended to 3,500 acres. 

 Castle Ellen when it was the home the Lambert family before their departure in the 1920's
Picture ( above)  Copyright Castle Ellen
In 1859, the Lord Lieutenant appointed Walter Peter Lambert of Castle Ellen to the office of High Sheriff for Galway. The following year, in September of 1860, an advertisement appeared in the national papers indicating that Stump Hill House and demesne in Cork was being offered for lease. People who wished to lease this property were directed to send their proposals to Walter P. Lambert of Castle Ellen, Galway. This property had come in to the ownership of the Lamberts when Walter Peter Lambert married Elizabeth who was the daughter of William Mc OBoy of Stump Hill in Co. Cork. Walter Peter Lambert died in October 1892 in the Imperial Hotel in Tuam supposedly he choked to death while eating breakfast. He is described as a gentleman farmer who left an estate valued at £ 35,558 11s 5d ( which unbelievably is approximately £3.5 million in the money of today). His will was proved by his son Peter Fitzwalter Lambert of Castle Ellen also described as a gentleman farmer. Peter Fitzwalter Lambert married Julia Mary Hewetson in 1887 but their marriage would not be a long one. 
The ancient castle of the Lambert's, the remains of which are found to the front of Castle Ellen
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC
Peter Fitzwalter Lambert died on the 24th February in 1894, aged only 45 and left an estate valued at £10,806 10s, 7d.  Peter had been experiencing ill health after his father’s death, dying a year and a half later and five months before the birth of his third son, William Robert. A stained glass window was erected in the local church to his memory. An elder son of Peter Fitzwalter named William Peter was born in 1891 and inherited the estate after the death of his father. By the time of the census in 1901, Castle Ellen is described as having 23 out buildings with the main house comprising of 23 rooms which is owned by Mary Lambert, Peter’s widow. The house at the time of census is occupied by five servants, the house hold staff was made up of the cook, housemaid, kitchen maid, coachman and stable man. By the time of the 1911 census the house is again only occupied by four servants. In November 1907, the estates of Walter Peter Lambert (a minor) and Julia Mary Lambert (his guardian) in the townlands of Dunkellin, Athenry and Kilconnell in the County of Galway were sold to the Estates Commissioners.

The Dining Room of Castle Ellen is decorated with exotic stuffed birds 
that Michael has accumulated over the years
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
The connection with Edward Carson was through his mother Isabella who met the architect Edward Henry Carson when he came to Castle Ellen to design a stable block for her father. Isabella was the daughter of Peter Fitzwalter Lambert of Castle Ellen and Eleanor Seymour of Ballymore Castle. Peter Fitzwalter died in 1844 and Castle Ellen was inherited by Isabella’s brother Walter. In May 1851, the marriage took place of Isabella Lambert and Edward Carson at Athenry Church, where the ceremony was conducted by the groom's brother Rev. William Carson. There is an entry in the Dictionary of Irish Architects which indicates that the architect Edward Henry Carson received a commission in 1863 to carry out extensive alterations and additions to Castle Ellen for his brother-in-law Walter Peter Lambert. Edward Henry Carson was quite accomplished in his field having designed the Colonial Building in the center of Galway city (opposite Brown Thomas today) and was also Vice-President of the Royal Institute of Irish Architects. The newlyweds made their home in Dublin and over the years welcomed six children, one of which was Edward Carson. Edward wanted to follow his father in to the architectural business but his father had decided that his son would enter the legal profession. As a child Edward Carson spent his summers in Castle Ellen and during this time spent in Galway he became friends with the Shawe-Taylor family of Castle Taylor in Ardrahan (Castle Taylor is featured in my second book Irish Country Houses - Portraits and Painters). It is also said that Castle Ellen provided the backdrop for the meeting of Carson and Oscar Wilde prior to the famous trial that would bring them together again in later years. It is also said that Edward attended many hurling matches and became so fond of the game that he tried to introduce it to Trinity College when he was a student there. Edward Carson's career in law progressed until he became one of the most divisive figures in Northern Irish politics with his opposition to Home Rule for the island of Ireland.

Side view of Castle Ellen (Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC)
Despite the time that he spent in Castle Ellen with the catholic community in his early life, his battle cry in later years was that ' Home Rule is Rome Rule' as Carson wished to retain Ireland’s union with Britain. Today outside the Stormont Parliament Building near Belfast in Northern Ireland, stands a statue of Edward Carson which indicates the long shadow he still casts over Irish politics.  In June 1914, it was reported that despite his efforts in Northern Ireland, it appears that Edward Carson was still fondly thought of in Athenry, as a local Catholic farmer was heard to declare’ Ned Carson is a decent man. I take no notice of his ranging and ranting among the Orangemen of Ulster. Sure, isn’t every successful lawyer a bit of a play actor!’. Edward Carson obviously had great affection for the maternal side of his family as when his first son was born in 1880, he was named William Henry Lambert Carson, and thus ensuring the Lambert name would be carried in to the next generation of his family. 

A statue of Edward Carson found outside Stormont in Northern Ireland
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
The famous playwright and wit, Oscar Wilde and Edward Carson's paths often appeared to have crossed many times throughout their lives. As children in Dublin their homes were located near each other, when in Galway Carson and Wilde were said to have met at Castle Ellen and then they were contemporaries in Trinity College, Dublin. However it was their most infamous encounter that has gone down in history.  In 1895, Oscar Wilde took a libel case against the Marquis of Queensbury, the Marquis was appalled at the nature of Wilde's relationship with his son and had used a public forum to express his opinion. Wilde sued the Marquis who had chosen to be represented by Edward Carson in the trial of the century, whose every detail was picked over in the press. Caron's skillful cross examination of Wilde, extracted all the lurid detail necessary to ensure Wilde's case against the Marquis collapsed.  Wilde was subsequently arrested and tried for gross indecency which resulted in his imprisonment and ruin. For two men who started life in similar circumstances, upon their death, one was celebrated with a state funeral and the other passed away in penury.  Wilde was released from jail in 1897 and immediately left for France where he died 3 years later, Carson's career flourished, he became a key figure in the politics of Northern Ireland, dying in 1935 and received a state funeral.

This image shows the expansive glass houses that once existed to the side of Castle Ellen
Picture ( above)  Copyright Castle Ellen
There has been a lot of discussion over the years as to what precipitated the departure of the Lambert family from Castle Ellen. However an incident that occurred in 1920, I think, shows the beginning of the end of the family's tenure of their ancestral home. When Walter Peter Lambert, who inherited Castle Ellen as a minor, came of age he joined the Connaught Rangers where he rose to the rank of Captain. After the First World War he returned to Castle Ellen and was on extremely good terms with his neighbours and the local community. His father, before his death, had sold all his available land to his tenants, retaining only a small amount of demesne lands around Castle Ellen. In early 1920, it appears that not all in the locality were on such good terms with the then current occupant of Castle Ellen. In January of that year, it was reported that a group of men approached the house and demanded the land that the Lamberts still held in their possession. Walter Peter Lambert responded that he had no land to give and owned nothing other than the demesne around the house. Walter also informed one of the men in the group that they actually owned more land than himself. The angry group departed but as they did, they informed Captain Lambert that they would take his remaining lands by force and would plough the land that surrounded Castle Ellen up to the front door. The following day, those who worked for the Lamberts received threats that they should cease working for them or face the consequences, threats were also received by Captain Lambert and members of his family. Local people condemned the attack but possibly it left Captain Lambert in no doubt as to which way the wind was blowing.  A friend of the family, Frank Shawe-Taylor of Castle Taylor in Ardrahan was shot in March 1920 while travelling to the fair in Galway which probably only heightened the fears of the family. It is part of local lore that the family left suddenly on St. Patrick’s Day in 1921 and it is possibly as a result of the unsettled times in which violence and the burning of landlords houses was commonplace in Ireland.

Advertisement for the sale of Castle Ellen in 1921
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC
In November 1921, an advertisement appeared in the national press offering Castle Ellen and 600 acres for sale by auction on the 1st December 1921 in a Dublin auction room. The house is described as having an entrance hall with double staircase, two drawing rooms with folding doors and marble chimney pieces, morning room and dining room. Also on the entry level was a butler’s pantry, gun room and store room. On the first floor were six family bedrooms, two dressing rooms, a bathroom, two lavatories and linen press.  Servant’s quarters in the basement extended to a tiled kitchen, scullery, pantries, dairy and maid’s rooms. The enclosed yard consisted of out offices, garage, chauffeurs living quarters, stables, two stalls and nine loose boxes together with a large coach house, lofts, kennels, cart sheds, haggard, large hay shed and cattle sheds. Also included was the large walled garden, the ruins of a castle and tennis courts.

A decorative capital found on a pilaster on the half landing at Castle Ellen
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC
Now that the house was on the market, the auction of the house contents was set for Monday 19th, December 1921. The sale consisted of antique and modern furniture, silver, Sheffield plate, farm vehicles, farm implements, farm horses, carts, ewes, hay, oats, straw, turnips and potatoes. These sales were carried out under the instruction of Captain Lambert, the last Lambert landlord of Castle Ellen. Some of the furniture was described in later advertisements for the auction, included in the sale was an antique cellarette sideboard, a set of mahogany pillars, a claw foot dining room table with twelve chairs and two carver chairs. The drawing room had tapestry covered chesterfield sofas, a Sheraton writing table, Venetian mirrors and mahogany bookcases. Walls were decorated with coloured engravings, sporting prints and tapestries, floors were covered with Axminster carpets and around the windows were hung damask curtains. The yards offered up a range of items associated with a time when the horse was the king of the road which included a Governess cart and numerous farm wagons. 

The poly-chromatic plaster work found in the entrance hall
Picture ( above and below)  Copyright ICHC
In January 1940, Castle Ellen appeared on the market again, this time under the instruction of the Irish Land Commission for sale by public auction however the land associated with the house was reduced to 66 acres. The house at this time is described as being in excellent condition. Another fascinating glimpse in to what the interior would have looked like is provided, interestingly the entrance hall is described as having stained glass windows and a glass dome overhead.  The grand staircase only provided access from the ground floor to the first floor bedrooms and would have been solely for the use of the family. A secondary staircase was discretely located to one side of the main stairs. This plain, utilitarian stairs provided access from the basement to the top of the house and was used by the servants. The dining room was located near this stairs which provided access from the kitchen in the basement. The dining room has two doors, one door allowed the family and guests to enter from the main entrance hall whereas the second door provided access for the servants from the kitchen. 

One of a pair of entrance door to the Dining Room, this one was for the use of the servants
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
The stained glass window on the half landing of the staircase was emblazoned with the Lambert crest and coat of arms. The advertisement now says that there are seven large bedrooms on the first floor with two attic bedrooms. The description of the basement is further elaborated on from earlier advertisements, which is said to contain a kitchen, large servant’s hall, three servant’s bedrooms, three pantries, two coal houses, wine cellar and a single w/c. A number of years later in September 1945, four young men were sentenced to two months imprisonment for stealing apples from the garden at Castle Ellen which was now in the ownership of Mr. Herbert Mc Nally of Galway. In 1951, Castle Ellen was again offered for sale described as a ‘Georgian Residence in the centre of Galway Blazer Country, standing on 70 acres of land’.  Castle Ellen was sold by a Mrs Mc Nally back to the Land Commission, it would appear that she sold it after her husband had died. In 1961 when the local school was being repaired and was not fit for use, Castle Ellen was sequestered and used a temporary school house. The house at this time was beginning to become down and at heel as the staircase is described as not being suitable for use and there was a hole in the roof.

The advertisment that appeared in 1974 which first drew Michael Keaney's attention to Castle Ellen
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
By 1974, Castle Ellen and 11 acres are offered for sale by public auction by the Irish 's and Commission however the house is now described as derelict. Michael Keaney spotted this advertisement and fortunately purchased the house for sum of £6,800. The house he now owned was badly vandalised over the previous years that it had remained empty. Windows had been broken and lead had been removed from the roof which allowed water to destroy the interior, rot floors and destroy ceilings. Any fixtures such as fireplaces had been stolen and the only way to enter the house was through a window. Over a number of years, before Michael made the house his full time residence, he secured the external fabric which meant reinstating the roof and windows in an effort to make the building water tight. During his restoration, any element of architectural merit was saved and stored until the time came that it could be reinstated. A lot of decorative plasterwork survives in the reception rooms of the house, however the entrance hall and staircase ceiling had collapsed before Michael's tenure. Large sections of this ceiling survive and give tantalising glimpses of what this area of the house once looked like. Decorative capitals of pillars remain on the half landing of the stairs around which cling elements of the polychromatic plasterwork with its daring red, green and gold colour scheme. 

Wonderful pieces of joinery and plaster work that survive in Castle Ellen
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
Michael over the years has used many ways to publicise his historic property which once involved an appearance on 'Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners - Country House Rescue' on Channel 4. In this programme, two individuals were tasked with de-cluttering Castle Ellen but a lot of items hold memories for Michael so this job wasn't always easy.  Despite a few disagreements during the course of the episode, the kindness of Michael's character couldn’t help but shine through. Today Castle Ellen is open to the public by appointment and for special events. Michael has also grasped the nettle of modern technology and rooms in Castle Ellen now appear on Air B&B. I am so grateful to have been offered an opportunity to visit Castle Ellen and meet with one of the most engaging and interesting people whom I have encountered in the last few years. I wish Michael all the best with Castle Ellen and do hope to make a return visit in the near future.

The wonderful detail of entrance porch is illuminated in the autumnal sunshine
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC

Some of the original plaster work that survives in Castle Ellen, together with a piece Michael has salvaged for reinstatement.
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC