Noefields was apparently built by the de Vesci’s on the site of the old town soon after the new town of Abbeyleix was constructed.  The exact dates when de Vesci created the new town are not clear.  It was not marked on Taylor & Skinners Map of 1783, but was fully established by 1820.   Norefield is shown on the grand jury 1809 map. There is a lease of Abbeyleix Mill to John Lyster of Norefield dated 1818  in the de Vesci papers.    John Lyster  (1794-1882) married Frances Kimmins in 1818. By 1870 he was a Justice of the peace and owned over 1500 acres.


From The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage Five-bay three-storey over basement Georgian house, built c.1810, with single-bay two-storey flanking wings. Renovated and extended to rear, c.1985, comprising single-storey over basement return to accommodate use as guesthouse. Double-pitched slate roof with clay ridge tiles, red brick chimneystacks and cast-iron rainwater goods on iron brackets. Nap rendered walls, painted. Square-headed window openings with limestone sills and replacement three-over-six and six-over-six timber sash windows, c.1985. Round-headed door opening with limestone doorcase with keystone and urn and replacement timber panelled door, c.1985, with sidelights and fanlight. Interior comprises door opening with flanking timber fluted pilasters; timber panelled internal shutters to window openings; carved timber architraves to internal door openings; timber panelled internal doors. Set back from road in own grounds; tarmacadam forecourt to front; limestone steps to entrance with wrought iron railings. Detached rubble stone outbuildings with half-dormer attics to site. Gateway to site comprising limestone ashlar piers with cast-iron gates.  The simple doorcase with sidelights and a fanlight that almost looks as if was slipped in as an afterthought.  The style would have been very old fashioned if it was built at the beginning of the 19th century. 

By 1820 Norefield was the Abbeyleix Institution.    Under the patronage of the de Vescis Abbeyleix became briefly a centre of education to almost rival Portarlington’s classical schools.

The Abbeyleix Pestalozzian Institute had as one of its terms of admission a fee of ten guinea’s entrance and one hundred guineas per annum which was to be paid quarterly in advance.   Considering this high fee and the fact that de Vesci himself sent his two sons, Thomas and John William, to the school, it is reasonable to assume that the Abbeyleix Institute was concerned only with the education of a privileged class.  However the 2nd Viscount was an advocator of the Pestalozzi principle that pupils of all classes were to be given access to schooling, and so he became involved with the education of local children who had both upper and lower class, Catholic and Protestant backgrounds.  This theory of education centered around Pestalozzi’s demand that the functions of the body be brought into harmony with the activities of the mind and heart. At the core of Pestalozzi’s argument was the notion that practical education or physical education was essential for the education of the whole person. He regarded gymnastics as an essential part of the liberal education of man, saying that, ‘In relation to the body it assists man in the independent use of his physical powers and their best possible use; in relation to his morals it enables him to make the spirit govern the flesh.”

The president of the Abbeyleix Pestalozzian Institution was Viscount de Vesci, while its visitors are listed as Rev. James Dunn, Rev. Robert Daly, John Synge Esq., Mr. Sergeant Lefroy (the youthful Innamorato of Jane Austen) , James D. La Touche Esq. and Charles E.H Orpen Esq.  The objective of the institution was to provide a school where parents could place their children, with the expectation that the good principles which they would have taught at home would also be impressed upon the children’s minds at school.

In a report from the commissioners of Irish education 1826-27, reference is made to a further two schools established by Lord de Vesci at Abbeyleix. The first is the Abbeyleix parish school where Joseph Dobbs, a Protestant, was appointed by Lord de Vesci as master. The number of pupils in attendance at this school at the time of the report was recorded as eighty five, forty of whom were Roman Catholics and the remainder Protestants of the established church. The school opened in 1814 and was mixed.

In May 1822 the Irish Papers report on” a singular conspiracy formed at Abbeyleix School, about fifty miles from Dublin, by seven or eight of the pupils, for poisoning the master and conductors of the school, blowing up, or otherwise destroying the mansion, and flying to Italy.  Some of these romantic children are said to be detained in custody, and a senior barrister has been dispatched to Abbeyleix. “ 

The headmaster was the Rev Matthew Eaton, whose family were agents for the Wandesfordes at Castlecomer and descended from Theophilus Eaton of Goresbrige.  The art teacher was Edward Hayes and his son the artist Michael Angelo Hayes was born whilst he was teaching in Abbeyleix.  Louis Du Puget, a Swiss pedagogue trained by Pestalozzi was a disciplinarian and may have prompted the mutiny. 

 In January 1831, when applying for the headmastership of school of Meath and Ardagh [at Mullingar), Eaton mentions his long experience as a clergyman, consisting of 30 years in the Church of Ireland; noting also his past work as headmaster of a school of Abbeyleix, established for ‘the sons of the upper ranks of Society in Ireland’

A girl’s school was opened in August 1824, under Mrs Suffield and Miss Cramer,  in a house on the Ballacolla road next to Rose Lodge, and they did not move out till  March 1831, by which time the Rev Johnson was in residence at Bellbrook.  It seems that the Ladies’ Academy was at The Heath, where Dr White lived in recent times. 

The Heath, an academy for young ladies

After Matthew Eaton resigned in 1831 the school struggled on briefly under the Rev Mr Treyer before John Lyster returned , pre 1835.  The Lysters remained there for most of the 19th century, flourishing as millers, property dealers, businessmen and landlords.  The last Lyster resident was John Lyster who died at Norefield aged 88 in 1882.

John Lyster’s older brother, Philip, emigrated to Canada in 1831.   Newry Examiner and Louth Advertiser reported 09 September 1835:- “Last week a cow, the property of Mr Lyster of Norefields had three calves.”

As a miller he was not popular during the famine.  Three sacks of oatmeal, the property ot Mr John Lyster, of Abbeyleix, were plundered from the carriers on the high road at Clonad, within two miles of Maryborough.  December 14, 1847

The Lysters leave Norefield
The Lyster’s sale in 1894

In 1895 it was let to Albert Edward Meredith Carlton, headmaster of the Preston School  12 boarders were accommodated at Norefield.  By 1901  it was the home of  Lt-Col. Arthur Bor    “Served many years in West Indies and on West Coast of Africa; served in the Sofa Expedition 1893-94, for which he has the medal” – ‘The Family of Bor of Holland and Ireland’ in ‘Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica’.    The Sofa Expedition was not, as it may sound, an expedition for the remote control, but a rather over zealous attack in Sierra Leone against the Mali troops who had themselves been pushed back by the French forces (which sounds like European colonists fighting over African mineral resources).

Bor wedding at abbeyleix
A Bor wedding in 1902

His brother was the vicar of Abbeyleix, and his sister was married to Frank Rothwell, the son of Richard Rothwell RHA.    Colonel Bor had moved to Bournemouth by 1910 where he died in 1913

The next tenant was Mark Burns-Lindow, The  Burns Lindow family owned Ehen Hall, Cleator and Irton Hall, Eskdale.   Iron ore mine owners, they acted as JPs, served as High Sheriffs of Cumberland, & as Conservative MPs.    As a younger son after his amy career was over Burns Lindow became the master of the South Union Hunt in Cork and bred and trained horses at Norefield.  To avoid IRA attention  he removed to England in September 1921.   

Norefields acution sale 1921
Major Burns Lindow heading back to England

It then became home to Cecil Fitzherbert, whose father was living at Millbrook, to which they moved after his mother died in 1928.  Fitzherbert had been a pilot in the First World War, initially with the Royal Navy Air Service, and then with the Canadian Airforce.    In 1916  he married Kitty Lowndes whose family were of Hassall Hall in Cheshire. 

LG B Rogers lived there for about 3 years and from 1931 it belonged to the Fitzpatricks who sold it in 1938 to the Wisons who owned  BAT leathergoods, luggage manufacturers in Mountmellick.  Charlotte Elizabeth Wilson sold it in March 1959.  Later 20th century owners include Thomas Maher and Pedar Maher, the Abbeyleix Fianna Fail TD, who then sold it to Dessie Lalor, the noted MFH.

Fruitlawn, Abbeyleix

Abbeyleix’s Worsted Factory

Fruitlawn is a charming late 18th century house (circa 1790) with a 3 bay 2 story façade, a fine cut stone doorcase with a cobweb fanlight,  and an attic floor with narrow windows slipped in under the eaves on the side elevations.

Though in 1796 there is a James Leech is listed as a flaxgrower in Antrim, I think that James Leech of Fruitlawn may be more local.   They were certainly in Abbeyleix when James’ father died in 1792.  By 1817 Mr James Leech was receiving Linen for bleaching on the Kilkenny Bleach Green at Fruit Lawn.  It may have been built as a millers house by Lord de Vesci, and Leech recruited to run the mill.  The Fruitlawn Worsted Factory was across the field to the North.  It is noted on the 1839 OS map as a worsted factory, but is more specifically described as a worsted spinning factory in the 1840 valuation. Powered by a modest 15ft x 9½ft waterwheel off the River Nore, it was operated by Messrs Alan and Thomas Leech. Samuel Lewis, writing in 1837, noted that it employed about 200 people in the combing, spinning and weaving of wool.  Are there any companies with 200 staff in Abbeyleix in 2021?

Saunders’s News-Letter – Wednesday 13 May 1829 reported the death of George, 5th son of James Leech of Fruitlawn.  The old churchyard in Abbeyleix has more on the family:-

William Leech deptd this Life March 7th  1792 Aged 74 years. Also Anne his Wife I February 15th  1803 Aged 85 years

To the memory of James Leech late of Fruit Lawn in the Queen’s County who died on the 17th of November 1838  in the 78th year of his age and whose remains are here deposited together with those of his Sons – George who died on the 5th of May 1829 aged 25 Years;  James who died on the 19th of December 1834  aged 34 Years; William who died 31st  October 1847 in the 54th year of his age  also Catherine the beloved wife of James Leech on the 28th October 1852 in the 79 year of her age

Sacred to the Memory of George Leech of the City of Kilkenny who departed this life March 14th  1832 in the 76th year of his age.  His mild gentle and unobtrusive virtues I evinced that he had learned of and to the last I trusted in the Blessed Merciful Redeemer of Mankind who was meek and lowly in heart.   This Tomb is erected by his affectionate & Much afflicted Wife Mary Ann Leech

In 1847 during the famine years some men entered the cow house of Allen Leech, of Fruitlawn, loosened the cattle and turned them into the yard. Mr. Leech’s watchmen having given the alarm, the marauders decamped.  In that year his son Allen junior was born.  Allen snr died at the age of 84 in 1868.    It is not clear who was running the mill during Allens minority, and by 1906 it had closed down.   

Allen Leech died in 1912 and the lease was sold to Captain William Vanderkiste.  The founder of the Vanderkiste family in Ireland was Freegift William Vanderkiste. His unusual forename was a happy portent for his descendants. William Vanderkiste moved with his wife and family to Limerick in the 1820’s to take up an appointment as Comptroller of the Port of Limerick. One hundred years after his wedding day, his daughter Sophia Vanderkiste was given the title deeds to the houses of 1, 2 and 3 Pery Square, as part of her Tontine ‘winnings’ in 1913.  In 1922, with the civil war in full swing,  Captain Vanderkiste decided it would be safer to move to England.

The next tenant was J P Kelly who was agent for Batchelors tinned vegetables, supplying  farmers with pea and beans.  The mill was demolished in the 1940s, it is said so that it could be de-rated.  Te attractive modern house with its symmetrical wings and Diocletian window that is now on the site incorporates part of a dwelling which stood on the west gable of the former mill.

In The Irish Press  Thursday, June 09, 1955   Mr Kenny (which is possibly a typo for Kelly) is offering Fruitlawn on 7 ½ acres was for sale for  £1000 ono.   A year later James O’Reilly  has sold Fruitlawn according to Nationalist and Leinster Times September 22, 1956 

January 17, 1959;  C Hefferman is selling Fruitlawn on 8 acres for £1000  and it was bought by John Delaney.

Sam and Cherry Pratt (Lalor) were living in Fruitlawn when I first visited it in 1980, and it had a host of damp problems and was in need of a fairly serious refurbishment. It was for sale on about 1 acre for £35k.  It then became the home of Ann and Bruce Wallace, whose son Andrew now has Granston Manor,  before being bought by Liz Verekeer, whose father Lord Gort had restored Bunratty Castle and lived in Lough Cutra Castle.  Liz achieved a certain fame for the four poster bed she produced for spoiled pets!  Garden designer Arthur Shackleton then bought it and created a home in the old yard buildings and an amazing  1 acre walled garden.

The house and remaining lands were sold in 1998 for €350,000.    Gary and Michi Owens turned Fruitlawn into a very 21st century house with geothermal heating and other such basics.  The Owens were serial restorers, who went on to be finalists in the 2018 “Home of the Year “ competition for their restoration of a mill in West Cork.    They sold it in November 2006 for €1.4 m  (Oh clever people, the last years of the Celtic Tiger!  The crash was in October 2008).

The Leech family were at Fruitlawn for over 100 years, and then in the last 50 years it has been sold 10 times.  It is interesting how often this happens.  So often the idea of living in a beautiful house in the country seems like a perfect dream;  but once your dream turns into reality it often becomes a nightmare!

Blackhill or Bellview

Ancient relics and agents

At Blackhill there lies a famous old stone which a druid and his people used to worship at before the time of Saint Patrick. The stone itself is in a wood which covers all the hill and is now standing upright in the midst of a bunch of thorns on the top of the hill. It is now only about four feet above the ground and is very hard to find.  ( 

Blackhill seems to have been built by Galamiel Bell around 1790 and called Bellview.  There is a lease from Lord de Vesci to Samuel Leigh of Black Hill in 1806, but that seems to refer to the mill at Beechfield.  By 1832 Galamiel’s son William Bell (1779-1860) was living at Bellview.  He married m. 1st Esther Foxall (d. 1820) and had 13 children  He then married Charlotte Crown and had 5 more children.  I am not sure quite how 20 people lived in Blackhill!

His daughter Eleanor (1808 – 1875)  married Ebenezer Shackleton of Belan Lodge.  Described as a woman of rare charm, both in person and character, of cultured literary tastes, and came of Quaker stock, she is buried in Ballitore.

His son Thomas emigrated in 1833:-   We are authorised to contradict the statement that Thos. Bell, Esq., second son of William Bell, Esq., of Bellview, Abbeyleix, was about depart for America with his lady, in spite of the earnest entreaties of their distracted parents. The fact being that the young couple have the full concurrence of their families and friends in departing for a country where they have every fair prospect of succeeding in the objects which they have view.  Dublin Evening Packet – Tuesday 17 December 1833

His son Zachariah (1808-1864) moved to Dublin, and William (b 1804) moved to London and became a Doctor.  He returned to Clonmel where his son William Abraham Bell was born in 1841. W.A. went on to become a doctor, real estate and industrial developer in Colorado, returning to England to become Lord of the Manor of Bletchingley. His father returned to his homes in England –  Hertford Street , Mayfair , and Merlin, Eastbourne where he died before seeing his granddaughter Hyacinthe Bell become the Countess of Glasgow.  Her grandson’s decoration of the family seat, Kelburn Castle, is unique.

Kelburn Castle

His son George Robert served in the Royal Navy for 30 years, seeing action in the Crimean War, and retired as a Captain, and then joined the Dublin Steam Packet Company.

Like Norefield, Blackhills had a variety of occupiers, many of them cogs in the machinery of the British Empire.   In 1834 it is advertised to let.   The Dublin Morning Register – Friday 19 August 1836 notes the Rev John Delany is of Blackhill, though this may have been just the townland.   In 1847 it is on the market again.  In Griffiths Valuation of 1850 Francis Hetherington is actually the occupier of Blackhill House, a tenant of Lord de Vesci, and William Bell is in Bellgrove.  It would be great if this was the Francis Hetherington who was gardener to the 2nd Earl of Charlemont, of Marino.   He convened a meeting of fellow gardeners in the Rose Tavern, Donnybrook, on 30 September, 1816, and thus founded what is now the RHSI. The first formal meeting of the Horticultural Society of Ireland was held on 1 January 1817.  In January 1839 Francis Hetherington, farmer,  of Abbeyleix, is registered as a freeholder.  His death in Abbeyleix, at the advanced age of 105, took place in 1868.

His daughter Mary Anne Hetherington married Henry Sheppard, a medical student, in Abbeyleix in 1847.  His son Francis (1820-1886)  married Frances Dobson (1840-1879) and in 1876 Francis Hetherington had 142 acres at Blackhill, though it would appear that he was no longer living at Blackhill because in 1856 and 1860 William’s son Arthur Bell is offering Blackhill to let again as he was intending to emigrate.  On 13 Sep 1862  The Farmers Gazette reports on “a useful saw mill, constructed by amateur, Mr. Arthur Bell, Belleview, Abbeyleix. It was driven by one of Garrett’s five-horse power steam-engines ; but Mr. Bell informed us that he had a small two-horse power engine, which he found sufficient.”

In 1867 there are letters in the deVesci papers to the 3rd Viscount de Vesci from Arthur Bell , about his (unfulfilled) plans to emigrate to New Zealand, and about repairs to Bellview carried out with the help of a loan from the 3rd Viscount .  Arthur sems to have found a leasee in the form of Samuel John Benwell from Coolacrease, Cadamstown who sold the lease in 1871, and returned to Coolacrease.  It is said that it was the land at Coolacrease that Benwell sold to the Pearsons that resulted in the IRA murder of the Pearson brothers on July 7 1921.

It is often difficult to determine where people actually lived – Francis Hetherington’s death certificate of 1886 gives his address as Blackhill.  When Arthur Bell married Susan Madden, the daughter of the Rev Samuel Madden of Attanagh in October 1854 he gave his place of residence as Bellview (aka Blackhill House).  However I suspect that he was actually living at Bellgrove.  When his daughter Selina Grace Bell was born in 1865 he just gave his residence as Abbeyleix.  His son Charles D’Hautville Bell succeeded his uncle, Capt George Robert Bell, RN, as the Marine Superintendent of the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company, founded by their neighbour Richard Bourne of Springmount. 

Benwell’s deparure in 1871

London Evening Standard – Thursday 15 April 1880 announces at Blackhill, Abbeyleix, the birth of a son to James de Courcy Hughes, Captain, Royal Queen’s County Rifles, only surviving son of the late James Freeman Hughes.    The Hughes family came from Ballinrobe, but James was brought up at The Grove, Stillorgan, which was in recent years a bowling alley called Leisureplex!   When they married in September 1878 they were living at Tigroney House, Avoca and moved to Blackhill in 1879.  Only 27 years old, James died of fever in January 1884 and his widow left Blackhill in 1886. 

Sir William Hutcheson Poe (1848-1934) had lost his leg at the Battle of Metemneh in Sudan in 1895.   In 1896 he married Mary Adelaide Domville, heiress of Santry Court and Heywood House and they moved into Blackhill House, moving to Heywood after her mother died in June 1890.    His brother Admiral Sir Edmund Poe then moved into Blackhill.  Kittie Deegan of Abbeyleix  has a story of the Admiral’s ghost! The Headless Coach is so called because the horses are headless. It generally appears at midnight. It has been seen by several people on different nights.  The people say they feel terrified when they hear the furious driving of the horses, and all animals shiver and run off the road. The figure of the man on the drivers seat can be plainly seen, and he uses his whip. He is dressed in black with a tall hat and the horses and coach are jet black. The coach starts on its journey from Blackhill avenue and on down the Balladine Road, up the town.  and on to the Ballyroan road as far as “Oatlands” avenue. Here it disappears When Sir Admiral Poe was dying it was seen for the first time outside his own house. One of the servants say that he was seen in it, and when they went to his room he was found dead.    Unfortunately for the complete veracity of this story the unhappy admiral died at St Raphael on the Côte d’Azur on 1 April 1921.  But maybe they didn’t go to his room and find hm dead, just received a telegram to say that he was dead.

Col Senator Sir William Hutcheson Poe at Leinster house

FREE STATE PATROL ATTACKED. On Thursday night a party of Free State soldiers were subjected to a fierce attack of machine gun and rifle fire while patrol-‘ ling in the environs of Senator Colonel Poe’s residence at Blackhill, about four miles from Abbeyleix. They took cover and returned the fire, the attackers fleeing after about ten minutes, during which time fire was continued. Blackhill House is at present tenanted by Miss Banks, whose residence was recently burned. Senator Poe for months back has been the victim of several attacks, his motor having been burned and his property in many ways injured.  Their son Hugo was declared to be of unsound mind in 1929.  Whilst they were still living at Heywood there is a tale of a hunt ball and Hugo, who was not allowed to attend, stood on the landing throwing his father’s wooden legs into the throng below.    He also delighted in riding a stallion which he would encourage to mount any mares when out hunting, to the consternation of the mares and their riders.

 By 1930 the Abbeyleix estate was letting Blackhill to Lt Col Kenlis Edward Nangle (1871-1950)  and his wife Sybil Barnard Slater Nangle, whose youngest son Henry Nathaniel Milo  Nangle was killed in a mid air collision between two DART planes, training over Scotland the following year.  Mrs Nangle had been born at Eglish Castle, Birr, now a tragic ruin    Col. Nangle was born in Rangoon, the grandson of Edward Nangle who set up the Achill Mission during the famine.

The next tenant was Major William Augustus Cecil Kinsman,  DSO, OBE , born 15 April 1878, son of Harold John Kinsman, Colonel, Royal Artillery, and Emily Anne, daughter of Reverend R Fitzgerald, Ballydonaghue, of Tarbert, County Kerry.  He joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, as a Second Lieutenant, 21 April 1900.  He served in the, South African War, 1899-1902, and was dangerously wounded; He was mentioned in Despatches [London Gazette, 29 July 1902]; received the Queen’s Medal with three clasps, and the King’s Medal with two clasps.  In the First World War he was Assistant Inspector of Recruiting, Irish Command.   Major Kinsman married, in 1909, Frances Elizabeth, daughter of R J Newell, of Monkstown, County Dublin.  He died in Dorset in 1959.   After the Kinsmans left Sir Hugo Poe and his nurse moved back to Blackhill where he died in 1959. 

After Major Evan Talbot Trevor Lloyd sold Gloster in 1958 he and his family moved into Blackhill where he died in 1964.

Gay Kindersley & Mary Annesley at Lepordstown

Later occupants included the beautiful Mrs Mary Annesley, (I believe the daughter of Maj. Donald Ramsay MacDonald of Hollymount, Carlow) who left having been snapped up by a Scottish Laird.

So what of the building now known Bellgrove, named on the 1890 OS survey,  marked but not named on the 1840 survey and lived in by William Bell in 1850. 


Dublin Mercantile Advertiser- Monday 29 November 1830 has Samuel Mosse of Belgrove Abbeyleix signing a petition as a “Friend of The Union”.  In later life Mosse was a linen miller in Dublin, so might have been associated with the flaxmill at Beechgrove.  The existing 3 bay 2 storey farmhouse with a fully hipped roof, harled with plaster quoins, looks to be no older than late 19th century. The Claxtons of Bellgrove (the Claxton family history, which traces the Laois Claxtons to the 17th century Valentine Claxton of Kerry is at have farmed at Blackhill for several generations and in 1962 made one of the most important Bronze age finds in Laois, a sword, an axe and a spear, which are now in the National Museum, and for which he received the princely reward of £20.

From The Nationalist & Leinster Times January 1984 (& it’s Bellgrove not Bellbrook).

The old OS maps do throw up some interesting questions – who was Nellie Millea, whose name is commemorated in a well at Blackhills Cross.  Why is the motte near Beechfield called Mount Thomas?  What was the monument of Monument Cross, just past Tonduff?

Answers on a postcard please!

Dunmore House

In the 17th century Dunmore was made up of ” Knockanure, Colowny and Kilteigan” with part of another townland called ” Rahinlosky.”  Knockanure (hill of the yew tree), is probably marked by the hill (297 ft.) nearly midway, in a straight line, between Dunmore House and Coolooney Bridge ; Colowney (Owney’s angle) lies along the left bank of the Gully river; Rahinlosky (the burned fort) is on  the right bank of the Gully river and is broken up between Moyne and Dunmore; Kilteigan  (Kyle-thachawn, the Church of St. Tachan)  takes in Dunmore House and its immediate surroundings.   St. Tachan was one of a band of seven missionaries left by St. Patrick with St. Fiac of Sletty. He is connected with Ui Criomhthannain (East Maryborough and Stradbally).  There are no surface traces of the church or the graveyard, and the graveyard is said to have been where Dunmore House and its tennis court were built.  (Carrigan 1905)

There might well have been a tennis court at Dunmore – in the Victorian era  tennis parties were a very useful method of finding spouses for surplus daughters. “ What strenuous singles we played after tea, We in the tournament – you against me!  Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,”  However as so far neither maps nor photographs of a tennis court at Dunmore have been found, maybe the notion of a Protestant tennis court built over a Christian graveyard might possibly be “mere puff” to reinforce the outrageously sacrilegious behaviour of the heretical oppressor?

The Waterford Distillery Website, who have made a point of the terroir of their barley, have a whiskey from Dunmore Barley. “At the top of John Tynan’s barley fields, within a striking circular copse of trees, is the early medieval fort that lends the townland its name – An Dún Mór, the big fort – a reminder of turbulent times of lore. (sic-perhaps yore?) Nestled between the Slieve Bloom Mountains & the Castlecomer Plateau of County Laois is this westerly-facing, lowland terroir, of limestone-derived loamy drift that harbours a compact gravelly tilth.”

The house was a gable ended 3 story lime-plastered 5 bay house with a niche in the central pediment that extended over the 3 central bays, a heavy moulded cornice and block-and-start quoins to the corners.  Advanced 2 storey one bay wings.  It may originally have been a single pile house, the valley roof and rear pile being a later addition.  According to the demolition particulars it had a 5ft wide staircase with a mahogany handrail, as well as a servants’staircase and 70 windows in total. 

Arnold Horner’s invaluable Mapping Laois has an account of the maps following on the forfeitures after the Williamite wars. The Earl of Upper Ossory forfeited Knockanure, as Dunmore was then called. The map of 1700-1702 shows a house that had many similarities to the house that was demolished in 1975. If it is, then Dunmore would have been all the more important as a very fine 17th Century house

Gable ended with advanced one bay wings, this 1702 drawing, allowing for artistic licence, might show the actual building that was demolished in 1975

It was always assumed that it had been built around 1730 by Griffith Drysdale, a lawyer from a family of mostly clerics.  His brother Hugh Drysdale, became Lt Gov of Virginia and died in Williamsburg in 1726.  Griffith , who entered  KilkennyCollege in January 1685, at the age of 14, was admitted to Grays Inn in June 1688.  His parents were the Rev Hugh Drysdale, Archdeacon of Ossory,  d 1692, and his second wife, Elizabeth Fox.   His father had been educated at Trinity College, Dublin and was ordained in 1661.  A Vicar Choral of the Cathedral of St Canice, Kilkenny he became Chancellor there in 1666. In 1668 he became Archdeacon of Ossory. 

From manuscripts at Kilboy, Co. Tipperary, T. U. Sadleir, Analecta Hibernica  No. 12 (Jan., 1943), p150 in 1726  Thomas Drysdale of Roxboro is leasing a mill at Ballyhasty for the lives of Thomas Drysdale, James Drysdale, his son, and Griffith Drysdale then of Knapton.  Knapton and Watercastle seem to have been “spare houses” which throughout the 18th and 19th centuries were leased to a host of tenants.

The next owner was Edward Maurice (abt 1680-1756) who delighted “in the unambitious and retiring enjoyments of rural life”. (History of the Church of Ireland – Richard Mant  1840)

He came from Wrexham and his father had been the Dean of Derry.   He married Sarah Wheeler of Greenan (qv), granddaughter of Bishop John Vesey, and she is said to have died in Galway in 1745, at the age of 21.   Maybe I am being judgemental but (if these dates are correct) it does seem inappropriate for a clergyman in his 60s to marry a girl barely out of her teens. Though his portrait by Thomas Hudson shows him to have been a kindly looking man.

He became the Bishop of Ossory in 1755, died at Dunmore in 1756, and is buried in Durrow.   He bequeathed his ‘printed books to the Kilkenny Diocesan Library … together with ten double cases of one form made of Dansick oak’.  Maurice asked that ‘an oath be taken by the Librarian not to imbezzle or deface or lend any book out of the library but to give due attendance to such clergymen and gentlemen as may be disposed to study there from 6 o’clock in the morning to the tolling of the bell for morning prayer’. The library was founded in 1692 by Bishop Otway, who left £5 per annum to the librarian, and £5 for coal; it was enlarged in 1756, by Bishop Maurice, who increased the stipend of the librarian by an annuity of £20.    Barbara McCormack, of Maynooth University Library has done considerable research on Maurice’s library, which also had books from his brother Theodore Maurice, (1670-1731),Archdeacon of Tuam,  and his brother in law  Peter Drelincourt (1644-1722), Dean of Armagh, the son of French theologian, Charles Drelincourt and brother of Louise XIV’s doctor.  Peter was a protegee of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond, and married Edward’s sister Mary.

Edward left Dunmore to his ward and first cousin once removed Sir Robert Staples, 7th Bart, (1740-1816)  of Lissan, whose great grandfather was Bishop John Vesey and who afterwards married Lord Knapton’s daughter, Jane Vesey, his second cousin.  His father Sir Alexander Staples, 6th Bt, died when his son Robert was only 2. 

His cousin, and the father of the eventual 9th baronet was John Staples, whose first wife was a daughter of William Conolly of Castletown, Co. Kildare, and (in view of the wealth of Conolly family) he must have received with her a considerable marriage portion). His second wife was the famous but unfortunate beauty Henrietta Molesworth who had been severely injured in a fire in London.  She was ‘a wonderful little lady with a wooden leg who burled around the countryside in her cabriolet ’  Her sister was the even more unfortunate Mary Molesworth, incarcerated by her husband Lord Belvedere. He looked after the  Lissan estate in Cookstown which like Dunmore is set above a river.  Davis Ducart, the Sardinian engineer-cum-architect, first appears in Ulster in connection with a colliery canal in Co. Tyrone; and, as the Staples papers show, the Staples family were extremely active in colliery development. Lissan is not a Castletown Cox or a Kilshannig (two of Ducart’s major country house achievements). But it may be that Ducart, who would have valued the patronage of John Staples and his grand connections, at least advised on the alterations to the house.  There is evidence that Ducart designed the White Bridge and Water Gardens at Lissan. His great great grandson was Charles Staples Lewis – CS Lewis of Narnia fame.

Lissan House, Tyrone

In 1832, when Sir Robert Staples, 8th Bt, died without legitimate issue, the baronetcy passed to the Northern branch of the family,  Sir Thomas Staples, 9th Bt, eldest son of the Rt Hon. John Staples. Sir Robert, however, had left an illegitimate son, Edmond Staples by his mistress Ms Sweeny, to whom he left Dunmore and an undivided moiety of the Lissan estate.

Kilkenny Journal 22 Oct 1836

In 1836 Edmond was not selected to be a sheriff of Queen’s County because he was the grand master of the Queen’s County Orange Lodge,  according to the evidence of the select committee on the appointment of sheriffs in Ireland July 1838  The Dublin Monitor recorded his arsenal in the 1840s as consisting of ‘3 double barrelled guns, 6 muskets and sword-bayonets, 6 carbines, 7 bayonets, 1 duck-gun, 3 blunderbusses, 5 double pistols and 18 single pistols.’

However in 1849 The Leinster Express reported that Edmond had rebated rents, and revalued the tenanted farms. Mr. William Fitzpatrick, of Maryborough, was called on to go through the different holdings and put fair setting value on them, taking into consideration the ruinous consequence of the removal of the protective duties, the failure of the potato crop, and the pressure of the poor rate.

In November 1853 a light sleeping butler saved the Staples silver.

Edmond seems to have had only one son, Robert (1823-1886) who married Mary Isabella MacGeough Bond of The Argory, Co Armagh in July 1846.  “The fair fiancée  brought the happy bridegroom a fortune of £20,000 “  Tipperary Vindicator – Saturday 18 July 1846. Their first son was born at 16 Merrion Square East, the home of Albert Walsh, a physician.  He did not survive. 

They had another son, who died when he was three, and 4 daughters. Constance died of Typhoid in 1878, aged 19.  Edith married a vicar, Lionel Wallace, and moved to Goring, Oxon.

Katherine and Florence remained at Dunmore.   In 1924 Katherine appeared in Who’s Who  – in the Poultry, Pigeon, and Rabbit World;  She was also a member of the Society for Psychical Research, so maybe Dunmore had ghosts?

Dunmore from a cartouche on William Beauford’s 1771 map ( Mapping Laois )

In 1901 the house was empty apart from the Cof I house maid from Cavan, Phebe Jermyn, and the RC dairy maid from Cork, Norah Barry, but in 1912 the sisters were living there with Mary Catherine Burke 28, (RC) parlour maid,  Sarah Bothwell, 38, (C of I) house maid, Margaret Campesie, 64 (RC) cook and Katherine Mary  Doyle    22 (RC) kitchen maid.

Mrs Robert Staples

Miss K. Staples sold 1,387 acres to the Congested Districts’ Board on 28 Nov 1907.  The 20th century history of Dunmore is a little hard to follow. 

According to the story on   Miss Staples left Dunmore to Captain Fitzherbert of Millbrook who sold the estate to the Land Commission who divided in between the employees and others who required land.   Canon Wills told me he assisted at three funerals from Dunmore House. Mr and Mrs Staples and their son and that it was a weird experience as the interments took place at mid-night and the funeral processions passed along the back avenue under the trees and out by the gate into the avenue at my house which is now closed.   He thought the custom was because of some member of the Staples’ family who committed suicide being buried like that.

By 1926 the sisters had moved to live with their married sister, Edith Wallace, in Berkshire. Katherine died in 1927. Edith died in 1929 and Florence in 1931. It is not clear, but it would seem that the Lissan Staples inherited the estate – Sir John Staples who died in 1933 or his brother, the artist Robert Ponsonby Staples, who died in 194 and was known as the “barefoot baronet”. He refused to wear shoes as he believed that leather soles would block out natural electricity from the earth and thus impair the health.  They were the sons of Nathaniel, the 10th Baronet, who banished his wife Elizabeth in favour of the notorious Miss Potter.

In a Dail Debate of 1936 it was reported that The Land Commission have issued an offer to purchase under Section 36 of the Land Act, 1923, an area of 820 acres comprised in the estate of Dunmore Farms, Ltd., but it is not possible to state at the present stage of the proceedings whether the lands will be acquired or how they would be divided if acquired. If the lands are acquired it will be possible to set aside a considerable area for afforestation purposes.

In 1936 there was also a conveyance (in trust) from Dunmore Farms [i.e. the Staples family of Dunmore] to the 5th Viscount de Vesci, of Dunmore and the remaining Staples estate in County Laois.

In 1947 the society of Irish Foresters visited  Dunmore Wood  –  the visit was initiated propitiously by the taking of lunch at Dunmore House , under the auspices of Mr McMenain, the head forester. They reported that 324 acres of old woods were taken over by the Department in 1936 , from the Irish Land Commission.

Hugh Doran (1926 – 2004) was an amateur photographer of rare talent. A native of Dublin and a printer by profession, he spent his working life in Arthur Guinness & Co. In 1959 Desmond Guinness asked Hugh to photograph Irish country houses – specifically those with curved wings – for an Irish Georgian Society exhibition.  Snapshot Stories: Visuality, Photography, and the Social History of Ireland by Erika Hanna  describes Doran’s visit to Dunmore. 

according to the vague notations of his Esso map, (Dunmore was) located approximately half way between Abbeyleix and Durrow. However, finding the house was not this simple. He stopped in Abbeyleix and ‘asked the local police if they knew a house, with wings, with or without curved curtain walls, halfway between Durrow and Abbeyleix. We had quite a chat, with some of the locals being called in to rack their brain: However, ‘it was no good. Instead Doran drove three miles and stopped, asking a local farmer ploughing nearby, who—finally—knew where the house was located. It was 7pm when he finally arrived, saying ‘prayers of thanks when I found the light right:” In bright evening sun he photographed the house with the roof off, grass growing out of the walls, with an impromptu doorway having been smashed through masonry, presumably to enable the old stately rooms to be used for storage.”  Doran’s photographs are in the Irish Architectural Archive

The last gasp was on 31  October 1970  – M.P McCabe, the then forester in charge requested the Department of Lands to seek quotes for the demolition of old buildings and the disposal of materials at Dunmore Durrow.  Its demise was noted in  May 07, 1971; in the Leinster Times.  It is unfair to criticise mere functionaries such as McCabe for their gross inability to comprehend the intrinsic value of the ruins in their care, but their Blackrock and Belvedere educated bosses have no Christian Brothers cloak.  Petty, ignorant, power hungry bureaucrats, they are probably burning in the same hell as the goths and vandals.

A local history of Dunmore is a wonderful example of how history is all about emphasis and propaganda, and the dangers of oversimplification.  “When the Irish Free State was set up in 1921, much of the land was confiscated from the Protestant land owners by the Land Commission. Without any form of income, they could no longer support their large houses. Many of them removed the roofs from the houses to make them uninhabitable so that they did not have to pay property tax on them. Some of the former landowners continued to live locally, while others left the country and moved to England. The houses quickly fell into ruin and disappeared, so that many of the old manor houses of Ireland have disappeared almost without trace. This is the case with Dunmore House.”

Whilst it is true that Dunmore has disappeared almost without trace (apart from the demesne wall and one outbuilding), the blame for the disappearance is firmly lodged with what is now the Department of Agriculture. 

Since March 2019 and the result of COVID Dunmoe, with its woods and nature trails, has had more visits than in the previous 300 years! Ave atque vale!

Woodbrook House, Mountrath

A Most Interesting House!

& a little bit about New Park, Mountrath

The imminent publication of Regina Dunne’s Book on Lucy Franks and Helen Roe, “Opening A Window on the Past”  prompted me to look at Woodbrook House, Mountrath, a house to which they were both connected.

Woodbrook House, Mountrath, a country house in Laois
from the sale details in 2019

I had always presumed it to be a pleasant but not madly interesting house, and guessed on stylistic grounds that it dated from the late 1830s.

I was wrong on all counts!

Architecturally it is not very exciting.    A 3 storey over basement, 3 bay house, with a very unusual detail of the staircase leading off the hall to the left as you enter the house, crossing the front window, and a remarkable first floor with a double height landing and a tall arched window.    At the back of the front hall a pair of mahoganized doors set in an elliptical arched opening with reeded pilasters lead into the north west facing drawing room and dining room.  The front door looks like a Victorian replacement, perhaps when the plate glass windows were first inserted, though the tear drop fanlight is original.  There is a gateway at the side of the house with a very fine doorcase.  I wonder was that originally around the front door. The attic floor windows are sqeezed in beneath the fully hipped roof, with a central valley.

Woodbrook - Front Hall with blank fanlight
The Front Hall

The earliest reference that I found was in Volume 8 – Page 155  Irish Memorials Association · 1913.  There is a monument in the C of I church in Mountrath  “Sacred to the Memory of Thomas Dodd late of Woodbrook near Mountrath | who departed this life 18 of June | A.D. 1819 Aged 41 years | Here also lies the Body of | Robert only son of Thomas Dodd | Born 13th Sept 1815 died 30th April 1837.”  Next door to it is the tomb of his parents, Mary and Robert Dodd (1744-1812).  In 1810 Robert Dodd is listed as holding lands at Redcastle from the Cootes.  The Dodds seem to have come from Moyanna at Stradbally.  The indexes to Irish Wills has the wills of Stephen and William Dodd of Stradbally in 1739.  In 1772 Michael Dodd, Stradbally, gent., is a witness to the will of Dudley Alexander Cosby, Lord Sydney.

In 1808 Thomas Dodd was the 1st Lieutenant of the Mountrath Yeomanry.  There is a marriage settlement of Thomas Dodd and Harriet Hunt (b 11 Aug 1791) in 1814 – Thomas Dodd of Mountrath (1st part) James Short of Newtown and Joseph Calcutt of Coldblow (?) (2nd part), Harriet Hunt Spinster (3rd part), Vere Dawson Hunt of Cappagh and Revd Val Griffiths of Mountrath (4th part).   Harriet was the eighth daughter of Vere Hunt and Elizabeth Davis and the sister of Elizabeth Shortt (nee Hunt) of Larch Hill.   Their son  Robert was born in 1815 and Elizabeth was born about 1816.  So It might be assumed that Thomas Dodd built Woodbrook around 1814.

By 1829 it was to let on 7 acres and was rented by Rev Alexander Nixon, who went to Coolbanagher in 1837  from which he resigned in 1845.

Woodbrook Map
Woodbrook on the 1840 OS Map

Alexander, from Fermanagh,  had married Mary Kentinge in Dublin in March 1828.  In 1832 he officiated at the marriage of George Nixon of Dunbar, Fermanagh to Anna Maria, daughter of Alexander Nixon Montgomery of Bessount Park, Monaghan.  Mary died 1 Jan., 1857, and on 25 Feb., 1858 he married Anne Catherine, dau. of the Rev. Thomas Harpur, of New Park, Maryborough, whose son John married Nixon’s niece Ellen in July 1859. 

On Thursday April 19  1829 the Duke and Duchess of Northumerland held a drawing room at Dublin Castle.  The Rev. Nixon and his bride were there, she wearing a white tuille dress, richly trimmed with satin and flowers, over a white satin slip, a train of bird of paradise trimmed with blond, and a head dress of white feathers, blond lappets and diamonds. 

Saturday 13 March 1830  Nixon was in Woodbrook and had engaged Messrs Semple of Marlborough St to enlarge the church. 

On Jan 11 1833  Mrs Nixon had a daughter, Frances Maria, at Woodbrook.  Frances married  1 July, 1869, Bernard George Shaw, D.I., R.I.C., only son of George Nathaniel Shaw, of Monkstown Castle, Cork, a junior branch of George Bernard Shaw’s family whose principal home was Bushy Park in Dublin.

From Coolbanagher Nixon moved to Gweedore where he proved to be an unpopular landlord and in October 1858, when returning from Sunday service with his wife and daughter at about 2 pm,  half way between his house Heathfield, and the village of Falcarragh, a group of three apparently drunk women blocked the road.  As the carriage drove up one seized the reins and stopped the horses, while another commenced singing, and the third began to leap and fling herself about.  Alexander put his head out of the window to see what was going on and one of the men (for that is what they actually were) shot him in the mouth.

His unpopularity had been exacerbated by his evidence to a Parliamentary Committee, which was totally at variance with the appeal of the 10 local parish priests. Mr. Nixon claimed that his lands were let at low rents, and that his tenants were in more comfortable circumstances than they had been some years before, and that the money placed at the disposal of the Roman Catholic priests was disbursed in some cases among “the undeserving”.  I am reminded of Alfred Dolittle in the other Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion :-“ I ask you, what am I? I’m one of the undeserving poor: that’s what I am. Think of what that means to a man. It means that he’s up agin middle class morality all the time. … I don’t need less than a deserving man: I need more. I don’t eat less hearty than him; and I drink a lot more.

Knockballymore, where Nixon died

Nixon’s critics noticed that in the 11 years that he had been in Donegal he had deprived his tenants of their mountain grazing in Gweedore and Cloughaneely, raised the rents enormously, made them pay duty days, poor rates, income tax, turf money, seaweed tax, and “other tributes scarcely credible”. A few days before the attack he informed his tenants that unless they consented to pay these charges in advance all the small holders would be ejected, and large 10 acre farms would be made of the small ones.  He was not killed, but survived another 24 years, having moved to the safety of the Earl of Erne’s agent’s or dower house at Knockballymore, Newtownbutler.   By the time of the OS 1890 survey Heathfileld was marked as “In Ruins” and now it a desert of Sitka Spruce.  Sadly the country villa designed by Walter G Doolin for W Doherty in 1884 was never built.

Walter Doolin’s design for a newly built Heathfield for Mr W. Doherty 1884, The Irish Builder (from Archiseek)

When Nixon left Woodbrook in 1837 an even more colourful tenant arrived.  William Hawkesworth (1792-1871) does not appear in the family tree of the Hawkesworths of Forest, agents to the Coote family.  It really is not at all clear why he came to Mountrath and moved into a house less than 1 mile from Forest, the principal seat of the Hawkesworths.

Williams named his sons Frederick  Amory (1841-1908) and William Connell.  There was a distinguished late 18th Century Dublin barrister called Amory Hawkesworth, who is also missing from the Hawkesworth family tree, but perhaps an antecedent of William?  According to the Kings Inn Admission Papers, Amory Hawkesworth was the 2nd son of Timothy Hawkesworth, of Ennis, Co. Clare, shopkeeper, decd., and Mary Amory; ed. T.C.D. I.T., April 1788, and was called to the bar in 1790.  So William could well have been his son.  Another son might be Amory Hawkesworth who was described as a plumber of Lisle Street,  London in the Morning Chronicle – Saturday 02 June 1832 when he was an expert witness in a case of arson and murder of Miss Eliza Twamley by Jonathan Smithers in Oxford Street.  By the 1850s he was living in Torquay where in 1853 he patented an improved design for lifeboats. 

I had hoped that the William who emigrated to find a fortune in the 1850s, and returned to scandal was this William.  But sadly no, as this William was in debtor’s jail whilst it was his more colourful son William Connell who was fighting for the Confederates. 

Hawkesworth had left when the house was advertised to let in 1850.    In Leinster Express Saturday, July 06, 1850 in a Landed Estates Court notice regarding the estate of Thomas Murray Prior it refers to a house in Rathdowney in the occupation or possession of William Hawkesworth and his wife Jane Prior – they were married in 1825 (Marriage License Bonds Indexes).  Whether this is our William it is hard to say.    He might also have been the William Hawkesworth,, esq, father of John Hawkesworth who married the splendidly named Goold Isabella Power (1817-1883), a widow of Ballygeehan, near Aghaboe, and daughter of Richard Moore on 10 Feb 1849.    She died at 24 Sandycove Avenue West, nearly opposite Somerset, the home of William C Hawkesworth in 1878.

There was another William Hawkesworth (1791 -1871) at the time who was importuning Thomas Jefferson for a job on  6 January 1824.  He writes:- I am a native of Dublin in Ireland, in which city I received my education, I have pursued my present occupation of teaching, ever since my residence in the U States, which commenced in, and has continued since, the year 1811, of this State I have been an Inhabitant, since the fall of 1815, I am a married man, 33 years of age, having made law part of my study both in Europe, and in this country, I obtained license to practise in Virga but, deeming the bar already preoccupied by members, and all the avenues to which are crowded, too precarious a mode of supporting a family, I determined to devote myself to a pursuit, the emoluments of which are more certain.

He was Professor of Latin and Greek at Charleston College, SC, 1838-1865 and claimed that he was a graduate of Trinity, though does not appear in the Alumni Dublinenses.. However his students found him excellent “In classic literature few men in our country have accumulated such stores and hold them so unobtrusively”.

William of Woodbrook had terrible financial problems, which resulted in at least two sojourns in debtors jail.  

On 15 May 1863 in Queely v. Hawkesworth. Mr. Martin moved that the defendant be discharged from custody. It appeared that the defendant was proceeding from his residence at Sandford Villa, Ranelagh, to attend, pursuant to the advice of his attorney, a motion in the Court of Exchequer, in the cause of Samuel Moore v. Hawkesworth, in which he was defendant, and that he was arrested on his way and conveyed to prison. Mr. Sidney, Q.C., appeared at the other side, and said he could not resist the discharge of the defendant, as his attendance in court was bona fide declared to be necessary by his legal advisers. The Court ordered that William Hawkesworth be discharged accordingly.

On 19 September 1866  William Hawkesworth was an insolvent held in the Marshalsea Prison.  Of the Marshalsea John Dillon wrote in 1898:  In that gaol we had a nice suite of rooms, and we had balls there, and many a pleasant hour I have spent there, in the society of many of the most delightful men in Dublin, who were in the habit of spending some time at that resort. This was 25 years ago, and it was perfectly well recognised then that there was no kind of punishment in the debtors’ gaol. They were held there until they made an arrangement with their creditors, but they had everything that their means would allow them to have in prison.

Marshalsea Prison
The Debtor’s Jail, Dublin

Unless debtors’ friends paid rent for private cells, they were housed in the Pauper Building, six rooms, each to contain eight persons. They were fed 2 lbs of bread and 2 pints of milk a day. It was closed in 1874 and demolished in 1975.

In March 1868  The Irish Law Times and Solicitors’ Journal,  reported Hawkesworth, William of Sandford Villa Ranelagh Co Dublin previously of Merrion Lodge Co Wexford formerly of Woodbrook Mountrath Queen’s County Esquire Bankruptcy Hearing on Wednesday April 22.    William Spencer Hakesworth, widower,  died at 15 Harrington Street aged 79 on 15th July 1871.  His will was proved by William Connell Hawkesworth of Amory Lodge, Kingstown, and Frederick Amory Hawkesworth of 15 Harrington Street.

The tale of his wild son is as follows:-

On 28th September 1876 a petition for divorce on the grounds of adultery and for alimony was filed by Ellen Murphy, who stated that she was married on the 3rd December, 1856, to William C. Hawkesworth, in the residence of the pastor of the Roman Catholic Church of St. Peter, New York. Three children were born of the marriage, of whom two girls survive. In 1862 the respondent entered the United States army a volunteer, leaving the petitioner and her two children residing at Fifty-fourth-street, New York, and she had not since seen him.  He continued to correspond with her until 1874, since when she had not received any communication from him. “The petitioner charged that the respondent at divers days between Ist January and Ist March, 1876, committed adultery with one Gertrude Victor, with whom he continues reside at Somerset House, Kingstown, County Dublin.”

The respondent, in his reply, denied the alleged marriage with the petitioner, and also denied the adultery. He stated that the 1st October, 1864, he was lawfully married to Gertrude Victor, at New Orleans by the Rev. Dr Guyon, and had issue four children of the marriage. He had no recollection of any such ceremony with the petitioner, but did remember that he cohabited about the time charged with some woman named Walsh or Murphy, whose Christian name was Ellen. He mentioned that the lady to whom for the past fourteen years he had been married was of the highest lineage, and was grandniece of Napoleon’s famous marshal, Victor

He had lived in New Jersey, being employed there on the coast survey, and had rooms in New York whenever went there.

Did you know anybody of the name of Holland in New York? — I knew Miss Holland. There was a party of that name connected with a murder.

Do you mean to say she was a murderess? — She was connected with the poisoning of somebody. Afterwards she kept a kind of improper house.

Did you send Ellen Hawkesworth money 1864?  —  I think I did send some woman money. I don’t know whether it was that woman.

Did you send money to the one who passed as Ellen Hawkesworth ?—(Alter some hesitation) —I did send her money.

Counsel handed in letter admitted to be in witness’s handwriting, in which in 1864 addressed petitioner as “Dearest Nelly,” and subscribed himself as “Your loving husband,” telling her he had sent her 100 dollars.

In another letter, dated 1862, when respondent was captain in the 88th Regiment, U.S.A., he said “Kiss Josey and baby for me.”   Dr. Houston—Who was Josey ?—I suppose her child. Judge Warren—Whose child ?—Her child, I suppose. Dr. Houston—Whose else ? —  Oh I suppose it was in reference to myself.

Who was Josephine ? Peraps some girl I knew. Were they your own children, sir ? —  No, they were not my knowledge. Josephine was one that was said to be my child, but I don’t recollect. Yes, that must have been she.

Witness stated he had not got employment in this country but made $500 a month and sometimes $1,000 a month by his profession in the United States. He got £200 for his property in the Queen’s County from the Rev. Singleton Harper, since dead, for the benefit of his present wile, who had $1,000 a year when he married her.

Mr. Curtis said there were proceedings bankruptcy against the respondent for £200. He endeavoured to get employment as engineer under the Corporation but had failed.

After this William C disappears from the historical record and does not appear in street directories, newspapers or even in civil records.

To return to Woodbrook.  On 28 January 1852  the  Limerick Examiner reported the marriage of William Roe junior of Woodbrook, Mountrath, to Maria, only daughter the late Heyland Maybury, Esq., of Killarney at Churchtown.   On Christmas Eve 1852 their first daughter, Jane Sharp Roe, was born, who sadly died in 1853. 

William Roe (1809-1887) was the son of William senior (1777-1852) who moved to Mountrath around 1798 from Knockfin, near Rathdowney, which had been rented from the Jacob family.  He bought the woollen factory and converted it into a flour mill.  The claim that these Roes are descended from James Roe of Inchiquin’s Regiment is possible, but the claim is generally based on the confusion between Granstown Castle, Rathdowney, Laois and Grantstown Castle Kilfeacle co. Tipperary.

Mr. William Roe,” the baker,” of Mountrath, had not opportunity in of acquitting “the dearly beloved” White feet, which they would as willingly have done as they had in 1824 convicted the police.  Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent – Tuesday 12 June 1832

A meeting of the respectable inhabitants of Mountrath and its vicinity, held in the market house, it was unanimously resolved that a mutual fund society be established ; for which purpose was £1500  subscribed the spot—and William Roe, jun.. Esq., appointed treasurer, and Mr. James Delany, secretary.   Dublin Monitor – Saturday 16 March 1839

William’s sister married the local doctor –  Lewis, Esq., surgeon, youngest son of the late Richard Lewis, Esq. Cork, to Anne second daughter of William Roe. Esq.. of Mountrath, _  General Advertiser  Saturday 27 May 1837.    They later emigrated to Australia “PRESENTATION of ADDRESS and SERVICE of PLATE to DR. LEWIS, of Mountrath, on bis leaving Ireland for Australia. On Wednesday last deputation from the Parishioners of Mountrath, and the Subscribers to the Ballyfin Dispensary, waited on Dr. Lewis. They were received at the residence of William Roe, Esq., by Dr. Lewis and his family, surrounded a numerous circle of relatives and friends. The Very Rev William Roe, the Dean of Clonfert, one of the deputation, read the address.”   Dublin Evening Mail – Monday 05 May 1851.

The Cootehill Mills, purchased some time ago by the Messrs. Roe, of Mountrath, were destroyed by fire on Wednesday night last. It is thought the fire originated from the friction of some part of the machinery in consequence of the person in charge having neglected to keep them properly oiled. The damage done is estimated at £2,000. The building, machinery and stock, we regret to say, were only insured for £1, 300 —  Freemans Journal, Monday, January 19, 1852;

The Roes had 4 more children – George (who died when he was 1),  Jessie,  Rebecca and William Ernest.  A growing family tempted them to lease New Park from Sir Charles Coote – he apparently rented it from 1858 and signed a lease in 1862. 

Newpark was the residence of the Cootes Earl of Mountrath until 1802 when the title became extinct and his property was inherited by Orlando Bridgeman, Earl of Bradford.  Lord Mountrath is never likely to have inhabited New Park.  An eccentric aristocrat, he had a dread of smallpox and when travelling would avoid Inns. He solved this problem by building five houses between his estates in Weeling Hall in Norfolk (“in point of decoration…a gilded palace, the most superb in its interior that I have ever seen” – Hake 1810) and his seat at Strawberry Hill in Devon   Ballyfin was not then part of the Coote estate, but was bought later from the Wellesley Pole Family and the present Ballyfin was built. 

Around 1804 New Park was rebuilt.  Tierney in “Buildings of Ireland” is unkind, describing it as ungainly, but suggests that it might have been designed by Thomas Cobden (who designed Braganza and Duckett’s Grove in Carlow and whose father was a builder who worked for John Nash).  He notes “Segment headed double sash windows flanking a central nivhe. Hipped roof wit boldly bracketed eaves. To the righ a fan lit porch merging into a two storey bow on the side elevation.” For many years it was the home of James Smith (1780-Oct 1849), F. R. C. S. I.; J. P.; Surgeon to the Queen’s County Militia; who married, 1811, Maria, daughter of Joseph Pemberton, Lord Mayor of Dublin. He may have built the present house.   His father, Henry Smith, was Comptroller of Customs for Sligo, Ireland, died at Dublin, prior to 1816; he married Jane, daughter of John Johnston of Friarstown Co Leitrim.   They had 6 children at New Park..

New Park from the 1890 OS Map

1. Anna Maria, born 1816; married Rev, John Hancock Scott of Sierkyran. 2. Henry Joseph (1818-85), married, 1841, Maria Louisa, daughter of Captain Theodore Norton of Wainsford. 3. Charlotte Jane, born 1820. 4. Georgiana Hester, born 1822; married the Very Rev. Thomas Le Ban Kennedy of Kilmore Rectory in 1851. 5. Louisa Margaret, born 1823. 6. Frederick Augustus  became a Clerk in Holy Orders and emigrated to Montreal.

The Rev. Thomas Le Ban Kennedy was the priest who buried Emily and Mary Wilde, Oscar’s illegitimate half sisters in 1871.  A tragic story, the girls died of burns at a ball at Drummaconor House, Smithsbborough when their crinolines caught fire.

William Roe did not enjoy constant success and in Kilkenny Moderator on Wednesday 12 December 1883 there was an advertisement for the auction of pretty much everting he had.

The Roe’s sale at New Park

On 05 June 1894 William’s son William Ernest Roe (1856-1927) married Annie Lambert Shields, the daughter of Francis Henry Shields, proprietor of The King’s County Chronicle.  Their daughter, Helen Maybury Roe was born ion 18 Dec 1895.  I wonder who the H Roe was who was the witness at the marriage?  And was she born in New Park? They seem to escaped the 1901 census, but by 1911 William, Annie and Helen were living in in an 8 roomed house Portlaoise, without even a live in maid!  Times must have been hard.  

By November 1858 Woodbrook was the home of Dean Kennedy.  The Evening Press reported on “Unedifying Pewyism” –Mr. Senior, of Castletown, a village adjoining Mountrath, possessed a pew in the parish church of that town, which he occupied with his sister and her female attendant. The introduction of person of inferior caste into so prominent a position appears to have struck the Chief Moonshee, a high dignitary of the church, as a violation of the decencies of public worship, he required, therefore, that the young parvenue (she was a Protestant orphan, whom Miss Senior had received into her household) should be packed into a less conspicuous situation. What it was in the girl’s demeanour that particularly jarred against Dean Kennedy’s sense of Christian humility we are not informed; but he did not like her look in that front seat, and, after a good deal of fruitless negotiation by letter and word of mouth, the sexton was directed to settle the question by  forcible ejectment.  In the ensuing case,  assault being clearly proved, and neither denied nor attempted to be palliated, the magistrates fined the sexton, James Garrett, ten shillings and costs, or in default of payment sentenced him to be imprisoned for one week.   Dean Kennedy addressed a letter to Mr. Senior last Saturday, the spirit of Christian kindness, wherein, with an expression of sincere regard of long standing for himself and his sister, he advises them both to absent themselves from the church. Mr. Senior, however, did not quite understand that kind of pastoral invitation, but went to church Sunday usual, regardless of the interdict, and found his pew padlocked.

On Dec 15 1861 at Woodbrook Mountrath, the seat of the Dean of Clonfert, to the wife of Thomas Le Ban Kennedy Esq of a daughter, Catherine Mabella.  Thomas had married on  March 14th, 1861.

The Dean was Robert Mitchell Kennedy, whose wife was Anne Studdert, who came from Elm Hill, Rathkeale, a house whose sad, but not irreversible, fate is noted by Patrick Comerford

Thomas was in the RIC and by the time their 2nd daughter, Harriet Elizabeth,  was born he was a sub inspector in Kilrush.  His wife was Catherine Mabella Staples, step granddaughter of William Connolly of Castletown, granddaughter of Lord Moleswoth,  and youngest daughter of the Rev. John Molesworth Staples, Rector of Upper Moville, County Donegal.  She died in 1870 at the age of 36. He then married Susan Mary Welsh the daughter of the Rev Robert Matthews and widow of Joseph Welsh, M.D., in Ennis in 1872, was transferred to Belmullet and had three more children – what else would you do in Belmullet!

His nephew was Revd Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy, MC (1883-1929), the Anglican priest poet who was known as ‘Woodbine Willie’ for giving cigarettes along with spiritual pastoral care to injured and dying soldiers in the trenches in World War I.

By Nov 1867 there was a new rector in residence at Woodbrook  – William Smyth King, who had moved from Lorum, Co Carlow,  where he had just built a new rectory.   He was the eldest son of Hulton King, Commissioner of Customs. Hulton assumed the Smyth surname upon his marriage to Anne Sarah Talbot, co-heir of her grandfather William Smyth.  The genealogies say  “of Borris House in County Carlow” which is obviously incorrect.  Nor was this a William Smythe of Westmeath, all of whom were well supplied with male heirs.  The newspaper announcement in Dublin Evening Post – Saturday 06 February 1808 refers to her as Miss Talbot of Borris Castle.  In May 1787 Frederick Thompson, of the Middle Temple married Miss Sally Smyth, of Borris in Ossory, and in Nov. 1789 Thomas Woods, of Birr, married Maria Smith,  of Borris Castle, at Borris Ossory and from “The Baronetage and Knightage” By Joseph Foster we know that Anne Sarah Talbot was the only child of Anne, the eldest daughter of William Smyth of Borris Castle,  and Thomas Talbot.

In 1841 he married Jane Elizabeth Ellington, eldest daughter of Rev. Henry Preston Ellington. They had four daughters.  Isabella married John Finlay (27 June 1842 – 12 June 1921) who was Dean of Leighlin from 1895 until 1912.  Finlay was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and ordained in 1867. He began his ecclesiastical career as a curate in Clonenagh. He was the incumbent at Lorum from 1873 to 1890 when he moved to Carlow.  He was murdered at the age of 80 by the IRA on 12 June 1921 for objecting to his home in Cavan being burned.

Emily Louise Smyth-King married Charles Paulet Hamilton of Roundwood in 1878

Alice Matilda Smyth King married Henry Marsh of Springmount in 1879

On is Maura Costigans story of Woodbrook House.  “There was a Rape Oil Mill before Minister King came to live there. Rape was grown very extensively locally. It was used much as a vegetable by the people; to fatten sheep which were let in on it and it was let to seed which was sent to the above mill and made into rape oil. Remains of this mill covered with ivy, are still to be seen at the back of Kelly’s, where the mill-race enters the river.

In 1881 it was the home of Rev J Whyte Fisher, the son of William Shute Fisher, a naval doctor.

In a sudden volte face it went from being a home to vicars to a Patrician Brothers Novitiate. The Novitiate was transferred to Tullow in the summer of 1894

Novitiate, Woodbrook House, Mountrath. Original photograph held by the Delany Archive

In 1895 it was bought by the newly married Henry Franks who was born on July 17th , 1871 at Westfield. His father Matthew Henry Franks was also a land agent, as well as owning Garrettstown near Kinsale and Dromrahane, Mallow and his sister Gertrude Maria Lucy Franks was one of the founders of the ICA and the subject of Regina Dunne’s book.   The founder of the Franks family was a Cromwellian soldier and may have lived at Frankfort Castle, and Matthew’s ancestry is in  “The Royal Lineage of Noble and Gentle Families”, vol. 3.  P 476, tracing him as 20th in descent from Edward I. 

 In 1895 he married Sarah Gardner, (my wife’s great aunt)  whose father Sir Robert Gardner was the founder of the accountants Craig Gardner (now part of Price Waterhouse).  He was agent for several large farms, including the Pim Estate.  By 1914 he was the chairman of The Surveyors Institution, secretary of the hunt, JP, High Sherriff of the county… a busy country gentleman.   Though his elderly father’s house Westield, was burnt during the Civil War Herny Franks main loss was his motor car taken at Woodbrook by Irregular forces on 4 May 1922;  (Post-Truce (Damage to Property (Compensation) Act 1923) compensation files).

From the Estate Agent’s avertisement

The most recent news about it is from the Independent “Woodbrook House, Mountrath, was sold in May 2020 for €260k through Clement Herron Real Estate” 

And though this account may not appeal to those who dislike fish, especially red herrings, I find to my amazement that Woodbrook IS an interesting house!

Ballymorris House

Built by a doctor, and lived in by an architect and a trainer

Ballymorris House in 1997 from

The Buildings of Ireland ( describes Ballymorris as  “a three-bay two-storey Georgian house, extended to rear, c.1930, comprising two-storey return. Double-pitched and hipped slate roofs. Roughcast rendered walls with limestone ashlar plinth and sill/stringcourse to first floor. Square-headed Wyatt-style window openings, Diocletian window opening to centre first floor, with limestone sills and timber sash windows. Round-headed door opening with timber panelled door with sidelights and fanlight. Entrance Hall with timber panelled internal shutters to window openings; timber panelled internal doors; timber staircase; plain ceiling with decorative plaster roundel to centre. House is set back from road in own grounds; landscaped grounds to site; tarmacadam drive and forecourt to approach. Group of detached outbuildings to site. Gateway to site comprising pair of panelled piers with cast-iron gates and railings.”

Ballymorris Gates from Google Streetview
OS 6″ Map 1840

The 1840 6″ OS maps show a pair of parallel buildings seem to have been warehouses serving the Mountmellick Canal, at right angles to the present house, though possibly incorporated in the yard buildings. The OS letters in 1838 note that Ballymorris townland contains  ‘The Spire Hill,’ ‘Carrick Hill,’ and ‘Deerpark’ and the ruins of a house. The 1890 25” map shows the present house (which is now in a very parlous state). 

The land was held under a lease of lives, renewable for ever, set up in 1794 by Richard HH Beecher of Hollybrook, Skibbereen. 

A bankruptcy of 1821 – this maybe Ballymorris, or other land on the same townland

In January 1843 Dr Joseph Harte of Ballymorris died, and in the advertisement describing Ballymorris it was described as having been in his possession for many years, and that the  house and most extensive out-offices had been erected by the late Dr. Harte at a cost of £1300. 

Dr Harte is in Portarlington by 1806, when the lands of Cowlowly at Errill known as Church Park, (where the Hartes had lived since before 1700, when Edward Harte who married Mary Farren was born), Ballintaggart at Borris in Ossory and Castle Qurter at Skirk were advertised to let.  “Application to be made to Mr. Charles Harte, Coilege Green, Dublin, Dr. Harte, Portarlington, or Mr. John Harte, Tinderry, who will show the lands Tuesday 14 October 1806  Dublin Evening Post

MELANCHOLY ACCIDENT.-Christopher, second son of Dr. Harte, of Portarlington, while amusing himself with a pistol, on Saturday last, had the contents accidentally lodged into his stomach .  Friday 30 May 1828: Belfast News-Letter

Mr Porter, Charles Wellington Harte, Esq. eldest son of Dr Harte, of Portarlington, to Phoebe Maria, only daughter of Albert Maxwell, Esq. of Glenalbert, county of Tipperary. … 19 February 1835

At Portarlington, suddenly Mrs. Harte, wife of Dr. Harte, and daughter of the late Christopher Bagot, Esq of Nurney, county Kildare.   Saturday 10 September 1842.  Joseph Harte survived his wife by 4 months, dying in January 1843.   

It was bought by Joseph Francis Cotterell, the Hartes providing the mortgage, as often happened in those days.  By 1850 Cottrell was desperately trying to raise money and had already sublet Ballymorris to Thomas Wright. 

In 1851 it ended up in the Incumbered Estates Court and in 1852 Thomas Wright, (1796-1881) Insurance Inspector, Land Surveyor and Valuer, bought Ballymorris on 64 acres 3 roods and 33 perches, of which he was already the tenant,  for £670.

In the Incumbered Estate Court 1851
Thomas Wright’s purchase in 1853

It is probable that he was from the family of the Wrights of Foulksrath Castle, rented by the Wrights since 1770.  He married Elizabeth Caffrey or Caffery on 27 Oct 1862, in a Catholic church at the age of 65.  When he died in November 1881 at the age of 84 he described himself as an architect in his will, and on his death certificate as a civil engineer.  He was the County Engineer for Laois.  Arnold Horner’s Mapping Laois illustrates an amazing map of Mountmellick that he made in 1874 (pg 188). In 1869 he is condemning the new drying frame at Mountmellick Fever Hospital – “neither the timber nor worknamship were as specified”. The earliest references to him tht I have found are in the Leinster Express on Dec 13 1845 where he is “of Portarlington” and the valuer for claimants for land taken by the GW&S Railway and on July 18, 1846 where he is a professional witness in a case against the GW&SR for flood damage at Old Grange, Kildare, caused by the diversion of a mill stream. The Carlow Morning Post (January 03, 1857) has an adveritsement for the London and County Hail and Cattle Insurance Company, naming Thomas Wright as the agent and inspector for Portarlington.

Joseph Wright (1867 – 1960) the son of Thomas & Elizabeth Wright emigrated to Auckland NZ

It appears that the widowed Mrs Wright may have let Ballymorris for a while to John Hubert Moore, a racehorse trainer – In July 1884 an alcoholic maid called Ellen Kenny found £40 hidden under Mrs Moore’s bolster, which she appropriated.  Whilst Mrs Moore was giving evidence in court her silk umbrella was stolen.  Then in August 1892 one of his apprentices, Terrence Farrell, summonsed J H Moore for assault, misuse and ill treatment, but the judges believed Moore who said that Farrell was the worst boy he had ever had.

In the Freemans Journal  August 09, 1895, Mrs Morris is advertising for a Good Plain Cook  “no washing; one cow” .

John Hubert Moore, (third son of John Moore of Annaghbeg, a cadet branch of the Cloghan Castle family)  eldest son Garrett, had a son John Hubert Moore, born in 1819, who was educated in Trinity College Dublin and who married Emily Henry.   At their marriage in 1841 this younger John Hubert was described as ‘of Castletown, Queen’s County’ while Emily was described as ‘of Eccles Street, Dublin.’ John Hubert the younger appears to have been the same man later described as ‘John Hubert Moore of Jockey Hall, Curragh’, in County Kildare, a noted sportsman, who had a son Garrett Moore. The latter, commonly known as ‘Garry’ Moore went to England at a young age in the 1860s, spending some time in the tuition of Alan McDonough, a noted horse-rider and trainer of east Galway origin. He achieved note as a steeplechase rider before becoming a successful trainer. Emily Moore alias Henry died on 18th January 1902 at Ballyowen House, Lucan and two years later, on 26th May, John Hubert Moore the younger died. Both were buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Dublin.

In the 1901 census Ballymorris was once again the home of Wrights – a 1st class house with 5 windows to the front.  In 1911 it was still the home Thomas’s son Patrick Paul Wright( 40) (the Assistant County Surveyor),  his wife Julia Rourke (35), the daughter of Henry Rourke, a Portarlington publican,  and 8 children from 2 to 12, all of whom could speak Irish and English.  In 1901 there had been a servant as well, but she was gone by 1911. Patrick died in May 1916 of pneumonia and exhaustion (according to his death certificate) and poor Julia died of TB three years later in 1919, leaving a brood of orphan children between 10 and 20 years old.

The house was let in April 1920 to the Hunt.  An advertisement from the time offering the sale of grass at Ballymorris, recalls one of the forgotten slights inflicted on Ireland by Westminster after the Easter Rising.  On October 1 1916 Ireland lost its own time zone. Dublin Mean Time had been in operation for 36 years and set by the longitude of the Dunsink Observatory.  The Time (Ireland) Act 1916, introduced without any consultation by the Zionist Home Secretary Herbert Samuel,  meant that Ireland’s time had to be put back 35 minutes to put it in line with the British time when Summer Time ended that October. 

“Old Time”
A clock in Galway still recalls the days when we had our own time!

From a letter to the Nationalist in 1968 we larn that the Tuohys organised events at Ballymorris “Looking through some back issues of your paper I notice that the Gymkhana held in Portarlington on September 2, 1967 has been referred to as the first Laois/Offaly gymkhana. Such is not the case. I remember two Gymkhanas held in the grounds of Ballymorris House. I remember as children how we debated the pronounciation of the word. One was brought to a close with a rugby match between the Portarlington Harriers and The Queens County Hunt Club. I remember another which was highlighted by the witty comments through a megaphone of the late Dick Hamilton of Doolagh.

In the early days of the last century, horse and pony racing was held in the grounds of Lawnsdown (more correctly Launstown) House. This was organised by a few of the local gentry and by a local scribe and poet Edmond Theophilus O’Kelly. It was arranged that the day’s events would end with a tug-ofwar between the men of Kilmalogue and Bracklone. This degenerated into a free-for-all with men, women and children taking part. A coffee stall was upset and wrecked in the melee. It is said that the Kilmalogue men won the event. Yours, etc. FEINUS FAIRSAIDH

On April 9 1932 we read in the Offaly Independent that “His many friends will be sorry to hear that Mr. Thomas MacMahon, of the National Bank, met with an accident while hunting with Mr. Daniel Tuohy’s hounds. Mr. Tuohy, of Ballymorris House, keeps a small but very select pack, and most unfortunately while out with them on Thursday Mr. MacMahon sustained some iniries, being thrown from his horse, but we are glad to say he is progressing favourably.” Daniel Francis Tuohy (1882-1947) was still there in 1937, when the the Offaly Independent reported that he had had a bad fall, and in 1942, when he was advertising for beet. In July 1946 the Tuohy brothers of the Kennels, Ballymorris House were looking for barley. In March 1947 it was advertised for sale on 10 acres. On 9 Aug 1947 The Offaly Independent reported his death. On Thursday evening of last week the death of Mr. D. Tuoghy, Ballymorris House, Portarlington, occurred rather suddenly and evoked much regret. The deceased gentleman was in his usual good health, and after supper smoked and chatted with his brother and sister before going out to look after his stock. When he did not return within a reasonable period of time his brother went out in search of him and ound him lying unconscious on the grass near the back avenue. Miss Tuoghy was also quickly on the scene and rendered all help possible.. Rev. Fr. Gillian, C.C, and Dr. Hogan were summoned and attended with all haste, but despite all efforts death took place. Mr. Tuoghy was the youngest son of the late Lawrence and Mrs. Tuoghy, of Cameron, Nenagh, and was well known in Birr where he spent many years before residing in Portarlington. He was a keen horseman and a splendid judge of bloodstock. When the sad news of the deceased’s death reached his wide circle ot friends, many of them were shocked, as they had been speaking to the deceased only a short time before. A devout Catholic, he will be sadly missed by the poor of the district to whom he was most charitable ; in fact, anyone soliciting his help in any way was never refused. The late Mr. Tuoghy is survived by a brother and sister to whom, deep sympathy has been, extended by every creed and class in Portarlington and district. On Friday evening the remains were removed from Ballyniorris House to St. Michael’s Church and on Saturday morning the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was offered for the happy repose of deceased’s soul. In the afternoon the funeral took place to the new cemetery where the last prayers were recited by Rev. Fr. Gahan, C.C. The Cortege was of a large and representative nature.

For sale in March 1959 for £1750

The Dunnes were living there by 1957, and in 1959 Kathleen Dunne was advertising it for sale for £1750, though it seems not to have sold as Fintan Dunne died there in 2007. Sadly in the last few years, like much of Portarlington, it has been allowed to deteriorate shockingly.

A fairly recent photo of Ballymorris
Wolf-like, developers encircle Ballymorris

Ashfield Hall, Arles

by Brendan Ward

Gales, Fishbournes and Jeffers

Ashfield Hall is situated about two kilometers south west of the village of Arles. It is described in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage as a detached five bay Palladian style house with a dormer attic and a pedimented advanced entrance bay. It is dated as c 1750.

Ashfield Hall, Arles

At the time of the survey in 2004 it was described as derelict but I’m pleased to report that this is no longer the case.

Ashfield Hall was occupied by members of the Gale family up until the 1850’s and they have in fact given their name to two other features in the locality: Gale Hill at the back of the house and Gale’s Bridge over the River Douglas about four kilometers away near Castletown.

The Gales were descendants of Colonel Oliver Gale who came to Ireland in the time of Henry VIII from Thrintoft in North Yorkshire.  After the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland Anthony Gale was granted the former Crottentegle lands in Laois, forfeited by the Keating family – these amounted to 415 acres. He went on to marry into the Wandesforde family of Castlecomer. His son Samuel in turn married Alicia daughter of Oliver Grace. The latter was a member of the Privy Council of King James II a Chief Remembrancer (a type of registrar) of the English Exchequer and an MP for Ballinakill Co. Laois. Oliver Grace is buried in a mausoleum just beside Arles church and the family lived in Gracefield near Ballylinan.

It was probably Anthony, the son of Samuel, who built Ashfield Hall. He also served on the Queen’s County Grand Jury. Anthony’s son Peter (1736 – 1780) continued the family tradition by marrying into the Browne family of Brownsehill House who were one of the biggest landowners in Carlow. Peter’s son Samuel like his father was a graduate of Trinity College but his grandson Peter also went on to secure a Masters from Trinity.

OS Map 1840
By 1890 the formal gardens had gone

Peter Gale, (1803 – 1857), was the last of the Gales to live in Ashfield. He was the author in 1834 of a book titled “An Enquiry into the Ancient Corporate System in Ireland” which outlined how the system of municipal government was corrupt and suggested reforms.  He ran for election himself as a Liberal candidate for the Queen’s county in 1832 when Sir Charles Coote was returned for the Tory party along with the Repeal candidate Patrick Lawlor.  Known as honest Gale he co-operated with the anti-tithe campaign and was appointed High Sheriff in 1838. However he was forced to sell his estate in 1851 under the Encumbered Estates Act. Even though he also owned a house in Tullow St., Carlow, Peter Gale is buried in Cork.  He was married to Anna Maria Harriet Fleeson in 1837.

For more on the Gale family see Alison Stewart’s DubStewartMania blog.

Ashfield passed through the Incumbered Estates Court in 1851

Dublin Evening Post 4 Oct 1851

Ashfield Hall then came into the possession of Joseph Fishbourne. There exists a lease dated 18th Nov. 1850, for the lives of the three eldest children of Her Majesty the Queen, or 31 years from 1st November 1850 from Peter Gale to Joseph Fishbourne, “a highly respectable tenant”   The Fishbournes were prominent land dealers and property owners in the Carlow area who had been renting Peter Gale’s house in Tullow Street, Carlow since 1776.

Kaye Cole has written an excellent history of the Fishbourne family in Carloviana 2013

The earliest Fishbourne, who came to Carlow in 1738, was his g g grandfather, Joseph Fishbourne, a glazier from Monasterevan. One of his sons was a watchmaker in Carlow and an earlier Robert Fishbourne in Monasterevan was a saddler.  Joseph Fishbourne died in 1888. Listed as living in the house at the time of the 1901 census are Humfrey Fishbourne 39, Sidney Fishbourne a sister 44, and three servants Michael Mooney 42, Bridget Corcoran 40 and Mary Kate Kinsella. There is a great photo belonging to Performing Arts Images of Joseph’s son Robert Moore Fishbourne standing beside George Bernard Shaw at the piano.

By the time of the 1911 census Sidney Fishbourne is listed as the head of the household along with her sister Katherine aged 51. Also present along with Michael Mooney were Kathleen Palmer 43, a hospital nurse and two servants Mary Anne Hipwell, 23 and Mary Houlihan 22.

Their son Charles Edward Fishbourne became a Lieutenant Colonel of the Northumberland Fusiliers and was killed in action at the Battle of The Somme.

Ashfield Hall was put up for sale and was bought in 1919 by Arthur William and Rosanna Jeffers.  He was from Tinryland, the son of a farmer, and she was a Rose from Kilmeany.    It was stated in a newspaper add at the time that £1,000 had just been spent on putting in bathrooms and hot and cold running water.

It is not known when the Jeffers took up occupation of the house but it is more likely than not that it was Ashfield Hall rather than the Ashfield in Ballybrittas that was occupied by 150 IRA men for two weeks training in October 1921. Terence Dooley refers to this incident in his book The Decline of the Big House in Ireland.

The Jeffers family lived in Ashfield Hall until the mid 1980’s. By the time the current owners bought it it had been unoccupied for about ten years. In that time the condition of the building had obviously deteriorated and it had also been ransacked by vandals. They have undertaken substantial renovation work as well as operating it as a farming enterprise and hope to do more.

Finally mention should be made of the gate lodge into Ashfield Hall. Built by Peter Gale around 1835 it is described by Dixie Dean, who has spent a lifetime documenting all the gate lodges on the entire island, as “the most exceptional of Tudor Gothic English Cottage lodges”. It features an attic oriel window and three tall octagonal chimneys. Dean concludes his description by stating that it is a sleeping fairy tale cottage awaiting its Prince Charming.  Tierney in The Buildings of Ireland suggests that it is inspired by P F Robinson’s “Rural Architecture” (1822).   Since the accompanying photograph was taken ten years ago the cottage has lost some more of its charms but it is the intention of the current owners to restore it at some stage.

Ballymeelish Park

From Google Streetview

From a Conservative Protestant to a Liberal Nationalist – Thacker & Lyster to Kelly

John Thacker of Worcestershire came to Ireland with his parents in 1657 at age 9.  On Feb. 3 1677 he married Margery Sparrow, a Quaker, and settled at Castledermot. 

Joanna Cicely Fenne has written a Pedigree of the Morris Family of Borris-in-Ossory.  She writes that  Anne Morris, born 29 October 1720 in Borris-in-Ossory , died 2 May 1804 in Ballymeelish, having married Barker Thacker on 7 August 1741 in Mondrehid, which was then the home of the Walpole family.   


The history of Mondrehd is recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters – In 600 St Laserian, founder of the Abbey of Meanadroichit  died and in 648 Maincheni,  the abbot died.   In 865 there was a battle here where the people of North Ossory “destroyed the foreigners”

The will of William Walpole,” late of Mondrehid,  but driven out of his habitation by the Rapparees and his house burned . Now living in Cloncourse , Queen ‘ s Co . Dictated to his wife and two friends” is dated  11th June  1691

Barker was born on 20 June 1715 in Baltiboys, Co Wicklow and died there 28 November 1793. The unusual name came from his grandfather John Barker of Davidstown, (an idyllic spot overlooking the Slaney by Castleruddery in the Glen of lmaal though now a ruined shell!), had married in 1678. John Barker may in fact have been a member of the Established Church who joined the Friends on his marriage, because there are many Barkers in the parish register of St Mary’s. John Barker of Davidstown probably moved to the Baltyboys area soon after his marriage and his daughters Elizabeth and Hannah, both with Baltyboys addresses, married William Lapham (1700) and John Thacker (1711), respectively, and settled at Baltyboys.

By the 1820s when Baltiboys became the home of diarist Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus (and subsequently of her great granddaughter the ballerina Ninette de Valois (whose name was actually Edris Stannus) the Thacker house was  ‘a mere ruin…in a very curious state of abandonment…dismantled for the sake of selling the materials when the old proprietor determined to live abroad’

Their son 2nd son William Thacker b 1748 was a wool comber of Mountrath when he got into serious trouble in April 1783 for negotiating a “bill” (cheque) of Lord Ossory’s, stolen from the post bag of James Price of Westfield.  Being left unguarded for a moment in Portlaoise Courthouse, he did a runner. 

William Thacker was taken into custody and brought up to the Grand Jury Room, and while information was being prepared to have him indicted he made his escape along the gallery, through the courthouse and into the street

Thacker was described as being “about 34 years old, 5’8 ½ “ tall, round and broad shouldered, lathy and rather long visage and nose, black beard and hair, the latter he usually wears curled, and a brown complexion.”    20 Guinea reward for his apprehension.

Their 5th son (and 10th  child) was  Barker Thacker, (1757-1811)

At the Quakers Meeting House, Mr. Barker Thacker, Capel Street, was married to Miss Elizabeth Barrington, of the Coombe. Tuesday 12 December 1786 Saunders’ News-Letter.   On 3 Jun 1810 he married Margaret Pim in Mountmellick.  He died 8 May 1811 in Dublin, and in 1813 John Barrington of Great Britain Street (now Parnell Street) was advertising “the new House and Concerns in Ryder’s Row, Capel-street, wherein the late Barker Thacker carried on his chandling business”. 

Elizabeth Barrington was the daughter of Alexander Barrington (b1728) of Lambstown, Wexford, and Elizabeth Jessop.  She was a relation of the Barringtons of Stradbally, rather than Cullenagh. 

Their 7th son and 12th child (7th surviving) Joseph Thacker (1760-1831) married Susanna Watters,  the daughter of William Watters, town clerk and sub-sheriff of Kilkenny of Newlands.   The Thackers were educated at Shackleton’s school in Ballitore.  In 1771 there was a Barker Tacker, in 1774 John Thacker,    Though a Quaker School, it offered such an excellent education that the gentry of the established church were keen to send their children there.  The result was that many a Quaker married outside the Society of Friends.  Of course quite a few Episcopalians ended up marrying Quakers.  They did not realise that the only way to maintain a purity of prejudice is to ensure that children are not exposed to humans of a different religion or ethnicity.  The Watters family however embraced the safely Episcopalian Kilkenny College – William Watters sons Joseph and William were both enrolled in Kilkenny College in 1766. 

In 1827 the Quakers, prison reformer Elizabeth Fry and her brother the anti-slavery campaigner Joseph Gurney, stayed at Ballymeelish 

Their father John Gurney was a partner in Gurney’s bank and their mother Catherine was part of the Barclay family who were also bankers, and ancestors of the Durdin Robertsons of Huntington Castle.  Her husband’s uncle will always be remembered for Fry’s Chocolate Cream and Fry’s Turkish Delight. 

Gurney writes:- “We held good meetings at Mountrath and Abbeyleix, in Queen’s County, and took up our quarters for the night at Abbeyleix house, Viscount de Vesci’s. Here, in consequence of a Hibernian blunder (and in this land accuracy is a scarce article,) we found ourselves in the humbling character of uninvited guests. We had been led to understand that we were warmly invited, whereas nothing of the kind had taken place; and this was not intentional deception, but only that total want of exact representation of the truth, to which the traveller in Ireland is frequently exposed. The result in the present instance was curious; a party of seven Friends drove up to a nobleman’s house, on a dark night, knocked at his door, and quietly informed him that they were come to lodge.  Lord and Lady de Vesci are truly kind, hospitable people, resident on their own beautiful estate, and the benefactors of the population around them. They received us kindly, and took five of us in. The next morning we held a public meeting, which passed off well, and left them in peace, on our way to Rathdowny, where we dined with a newly settled young couple of Friends; and proceeded onwards to Knock, to attend a little country meeting. It was a darksome evening, but the meeting was well attended by Friends and others, and was a very solemn one. We lodged at Ballymalish, the house of Joseph Thacker, a county magistrate. He is connected with Friends, has an interesting family, and received us with great hospitality; his family accompanying us in their carriage to Roscrea meeting the next morning. He gives a curious account of the Popish population by which he is surrounded. Their late “jubilee” has been attended by very injurious moral effects; the ceremonies practised on the occasion being thought to have the effect of procuring free forgiveness for the sins of seven years past, and free license for the sins of the seven years now to come. This, at least, appears to be the notion of the extremely ignorant amongst them.”

Their Abbeyleix experience reminds me of a time in the 1970s when I joined some friends at a Hunt Ball in Kilkenny.  We had been invited to stay with a friend of a friend but due to the inevitable problems of failing transport only arrived in Kilkenny in time to go straight to Bobby Kerr’s Newpark Hotel.  We met our host there who gave us directions and told us he would leave the lights on.  At 3 am we set off to try and discover our lodgings.  Impressive gates, a long potholed avenue and finally a beautiful, if slightly peeling, pile eventually came into the arc of our headlights.  But ne’er a light in the house.  We piled out and wondered whether to ring the bell or knock on the door.  Our fearless leader, DDR, tried the handle.  The door swung open, revealing a dark hall.  We decided that rather than risking waking the household we would all sleep on the drawing room sofas.  As the winter dawn stole into the drawing room 6 hours later we awoke to find two bemused total strangers wondering who we were.  We had not slept in the house to which we had been invited.  But nonetheless we were plied with strong coffee and a fortifying breakfast!

The 1838 OS Map

The house is similar in style to Castlewood at Durrow,  Erke Rectory and the front part of Jamestown.  It appears on the 1809 Grand Jury map and Leet lists it as the residence of Jos Thacker Esq in 1814.  It is not however shown on Taylor & Skinner’s map of 1783, though as they do not cover the road from Borris in Ossory to Rathdowney, maybe they just missed it.    There may have been an earlier house on the site as Ballymeelish is shown on the Down Survey and appears in deeds of 1730 Registry of deeds Volume 65, 484, Number 46549 and 1744  112.551.79551.  In the 1730 Deed William Carden of Redfield and Richard Despard of Crannagh are taking a lease on a huge swathe of the Villiers Estate from Hon. George Bridges of Avington who had got it through marrying Lady Anna Maria Brudenell, daughter of Robert, 2nd Earl of Cardigan, widow of Francis Talbot, 11th Earl of Shrewsbury and notorious as mistress of George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham.  The rent for the entire estate was £2,000 a year (the equivalent of about €1m a year nowadays – they were high risk entrepreneurs!).   In the 1744 deed Richard Despard of Crannagh is leasing Ballymeelish (Ballymilis) to William Morris, a clothier of Borris in Ossory (God be with the days when Borris in Ossory had a clothier!).  Though the deed mentions appurtenances, it does not sound as if there were significant buildings on the land.  William Morris was the father of Anne Morris who had married Barker Thacker in 1741. 

Tierney in Pevsner’s Buildings of Ireland suggests that  Ballymeelish was built circa  1810.   He writes “Attractive three-bay villa with hipped roof, over a sunken basement. Ground-floor windows in shallow relieving arches. Very fine Tuscan Doric doorcase with wide segmental fanlight. Spacious square hall with a good ceiling rose and floral cornice. Two large reception rooms behind. The dining room has a pretty ceiling border with vine tendrils and ribbon-and-reed moulding, continued round the arch of the sideboard recess.  The stable-yard has a depressed entrance arch under a naïve pediment, surmounted by a bellcote cusped up to a ball finial, and there is a large walled garden.”

Dean in the Gazetteer of Leinster Gate Lodges writes “A once-delightful rubble-built single-storey gatekeeper’s accommodation, now an overgrown roofless and incomplete shell; four-roomed symmetrical below a hipped roof, its central three-bay bowed living room having round-headed openings. Set well back from a complete gatescreen of outer octagonal pillars linked by convex spear-topped railings to inner postilion and carriage pillars with reeded panels to shafts.” It would be great if the present owners would consider restoring it for human habitation – at the very least it would make a great Airbnb!

Joseph is a residuary legatee of William Walsh of Killismeesta who wrote his will on 9 July 1802.  A codicil to the will was witnessed by Joseph Moran, Ballymeelish, Queen’s Co., farmer.  The Dowling family also lived at Ballymeelish – The four children Patrick Dowling and his wife Betty Fitzpatrick were born at Ballymeelish in the 1770s. (Roman Catholic Baptisms Rathdowney Parish, Irish Midlands Ancestry).  

Joseph’s son Rev Joseph Thacker (1807-1883) was the Archdeacon of Ossory from 1860 until his death in 1883.  A graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, he held incumbencies in Kilfane and Thomastown. On Nov 21 1838, when curate of Aghaboe, he married Charlotte Louisa, the youngest daughter of John Smyly KC, of Dublin, and niece of Sir Philip Crampton, the eminent surgeon.

 In July 1863 outbuildings at his residence of Kilfane Glebe were burned. According to the Dublin Evening Mail, the subsequent inquiry heard that: “Certain parties thought the Archdeacon was too zealous in his profession as a clergyman, in opposing the tenets of the Church of Rome and in promoting the growth of Protestantism, and the location of Protestant labourers in the parish; and that no other motive could be assigned for the outrage.”  In April 1869, he was criticised for telling a meeting of Kilkenny Protestants to “trust in God and keep your powder dry,” a maxim attributed to Oliver Cromwell.

Kilfane Glebe from Sherry Fitgerald – for sale for €1.25m in 2021

It seems probable that Barker Thacker, the next owner of Ballymeelish, was Joseph’s son, and the brother of the Rev Joseph.  We also learn from a Parliamentary enquiry into Perthshire votes that Barker Thacker was claimed as the nephew of the wife of Rev John Isaac Beresford, grandson of Marcus Beresford (whose birth was prophesised by the ghost of Lord Tyrone, but that’s another story)  and Catherine Power, and vicar of Donaghmore. His wife was Sophia White, the daughter of Robert White of Aghaboe.

Barker Thacker, Esq,  J. P., Ballymeelish  was recorded as taking out a game certificate in  September 1823 and again in Aug 1836.  In Oct 1832 he joined the Protestant Conservative Society.  In 1837 his daughter Susan (d 1854) married Ambrose Power, Archdeacon of Lismore,, who inherited Barretstown, Co. Tipperary, where his ancestor and namesake Ambrose Power was murdered by White Boys in 1775.

I am not sure that one could even tweet such allegations nowadays! From The Pilot, 1837

On Saturday 11 January 1834 The Dublin Evening Packet reported that at Skirke Church, by the Rev. J. Thacker. Barker Thacker. Esq., of Ballymeelish in the Queen’s County, was married to Caroline, daughter the late Charles White, Esq., of Charleville, in same county.

In November 1847 Thacker’s duties as a JP brought him on a most gruesome journey to Ballybrophy Station where Mr Dargan’s foreman, Michael Smyth from Cavan, was horribly murdered. It appears that there was bad feeling against Smyth, on account of his not employing everyone who offered their services in the construction of a road from the station to the high road; and he had repeatedly, and even half hour before his death, stated his conviction that he would be murdered. On Saturday evening, Smyth was drinking in one of the tents at Ballybrophy, in company with a national schoolmaster when a man came to the door of the tent, and” was accosted by Smyth, who desired him leave, as he knew the business which he was bent. Smyth took a stick from the schoolmaster, for the purpose of pursuing the man, but he escaped”.  He was found an hour late, laid across the rails and with many wounds and a smashed skull.  John Darcy was executed for the murder, and somehow his co-conspirators John Coogan and John Lonergan were found not guilty despite their own evidence of complicity.  Maybe it was to do with the jury – 18 jurors were rejected  by the defence. 

In April 1849 Rev Joseph Thacker & Robert Hamilton Stubber were suing Barker Thacker in the Equity Court,  which resulted in the letting Ballymeelish  for 7 years.

Money troubles were getting serious. On Wednesday 19 June 1850 the Incumbered Estates Court gave notice “In the Matter of the Estate of Barker Thacker, Owner and Petitioner. Whereas an absolute order, bearing date the 7th day of June, 1850, it was ordered that the Lands and of Shanboe and Borris, situate in the barony of Upper Ossory, as well as one undivided moiety of the lands of Crosslands and Baltiboys, situate in the barony of Talbotstown, and county of Wicklow, held under fee-farm grant, shall be sold for the purpose of discharging the incumbrances thereon”

In Griffiths’ Valuation of 1850 Barker’s brother in law Charles White was leasing Ballymeelish.  His tenants were John Gorman 2 acres, Patrick Whelan 12 perches and Thomas McEvoy 1 acre

Charles White and Robert White, magistrates, both give their address as Ballymeelish in 1851.

In 1856 John Lyster of Norefields obtained Ballymeelish , by deed dated 9 February , from Barker Thacker , for £3600 .

John Lyster of Norefields, Abbeyleix who was a serious player; a Resident Magistrate who owned more than 1500 acres.   His father Philip Lyster came from Clonaslee. Philip was married to Ann Hamilton – one of the hard to place Hamiltons who appear at Birr and Clonreher.   His older brother had emigrated to Canada in 1831. In December 1839 he is listed as a freeholder, occupying Bellbrook (Millbrook) and Norefields from Lord de Vesci and running the mil there.  In December 1847  three sacks of oatmeal, the property of Mr John Lyster, of Abbeyleix, were plundered from the carriers on the high road at Clonard, within 2 miles of Maryborough.  The famine certainly does not seem to have effected his wealth.  In September 1856 the Farmers Gazette reports that Mr. Lyster of Ballymeelish is winning in the horse section of the Upper Ossory Show.

By 1870 Barker Thacker’s heirs are trying to capitalise and the Irish Times (31 March 1870) reports “In the Matter of the Estate of Charles Henry James Lucius Henry Assignees of Barker Thacker Esq Owner John Lyster Esq.   The 6th day of MÁY 1870 The Reversion Expectant upon the decease of the said Barker Thacker in the Ordnance Townland of Ballymeelish containing 227a 3r 21p statute measure situate in the Barony of Clandonagh and Queen’s County held under Fee farm Grant dated the 15th day of September 1851 subject to an annual fee farm rent of £39 15s 11d and producing an estimated net annual profit rent of £189 ls 6d sterling. Sold to Mr John Lyster jun for £3,350  

Lot 2 The lands of Derrinsallagh with the known as Monea and Bawndotie situate same barony consisting of 424a 0r 8p held under for three lives with covenant for perpetual renewal a fee farm grant and yielding a net profit rent £140 18s 11d Same purchaser for £2,000

In April 1872 Lyster sold Ballymeelish  to Margaret Mary Kelly (dau of Patrick Tiernan, mayor of Drogheda) and widow of Thomas Kelly, solicitor and town clerk of Drogheda who died of a stroke in 1859, of Rathmullen , Co  Meath , for £7000, a neat profit!

(Rathmullen is a suburb of Drogheda  – the fire station is on the site of the house.)

Ballymeelish became the home of her youngest son Laurence Thomas Kelly (1851-1904), a “first flight” follower of the hunt.

On 3 Feb 1876  Laurence Thomas Kelly, Ballymeelish Park, Queen’s County. younger son of the late Thomas Kelly. Esq., Rathmullen House  Drogheda was married to Mary, eldest daughter of the late Richard William O’Callaghan of Deepwell Blackrock

Built by Richard Samuel Guinness and in more recent times home of the Reihills of Tedcastle’s Oil, and Image Magazine, Deepwell was bought by Singapore-born Cynthia Chua of Spa Esprit and financier husband Nick Holman for £8m in 2014.  In 2017 they were offering it for €13million and the potential to construct a 42-unit apartment on the 2 acre garden. 

Deepwell, Blackrock, just above the DART

O’Callaghan was a merchant, in 1852 of Great Strand Street, and by the time of his death in May 1874 owned “St Patrick’s Mills” in Kimmage and had extensive premises in Smithfield.

In 1881 Mrs Kelly was looking for a Cook and Dairy Maid – not surprising with her rapidly growing family. 

In July 1889 Laurence Kelly, Ballymeelish Park, was called as a juryman to the case of Father McFadden and 22 people from Gweedore for the murder of District Inspector Martin. Many cases involving Nationalist agitation or outrages were heard in Portlaoise as the Government could not rely on local juries to convict those accused. The Jury panel was nearly 250 people. The prosecution would object to 50 and the defence to 20 Jurors. Here 40 catholic jurors, including Kelly, were ordered to “stand aside.” Mr. Kelly demanded to know whether all the Catholics on the Jury Panel were to be boycotted in that court. The Judge said he could not allow an interruption of that sort, and directed the police to remove Mr. Kelly.  Two other Catholic jurymen were fined £20 for contempt of court for refusing to stand aside. The Leinster Nationalist of Saturday, July 13, 1889 has a great description of Mr Dennis Brennan of Ballyharmon House, near Ballickmoyler, who “went for the Jury Packers in the tone and manner of one who orders “pistols for two and coffee for one”.

The Attorney General “Peter the Packer”, Peter O’Brien from Carnelly, who lived at Airfield, was left speechless when one of the Protestant jurymen, Herbert Smellie of Rathillig, Ballickmoyler, who had already been sworn, stood up and regretted that he could not try a man for his life on a packed jury.

After 2 weeks the jury failed to agree on the guilt of Jack Gallagher and with the prospect of very negative International news coverage and a long trial ahead, a compromise was sought to ensure the trial did not collapse.  The defence team met with the Attorney General and a plea bargain was agreed for all of the men and women on trial.

In the late 19th Century falling yields caused problems for everyone involved in agriculture and Kelly set out his position in the press.

Laurence died of peritonitis in 1904, his son Lawrence reporting the death.  He left 4 sons and 4 daughters.  His eldest son Thomas Joseph Kelly became a J.P. for County Meath and Queen’s County.  Their daughter Margaret Mary married John Coleman Kiernan of Rathlust, Co Louth in 1905, the son of Harriet Tiernan,  a cousin of his grandmother.   Laurence’s eldest daughter, Elizabeth Francis, was the only Irish speaking member of the household apart from Charles Boland, the coachman, who came from Wicklow.  In the 1901 census the cook and housekeeper were sisters from Kilkenny, Anastasia and Julia Carroll.  By 1911 the cook was a local girl, Annie Delaney, and the housekeeper, Mary Donohoe, was from Meath, where the family maintained their house in Drogheda.

The census reported that Ballymeelish had 22 rooms and 6 windows to the front.

In the Easter Rising Mrs Kelly claimed for £7 6s for loss of valuables under repair at Hopkins and Hopkins, jewellers, Sackville Street Lower Dublin. Full payment recommended by Committee..

The Leinster Leader reported on 2 December 1939 that the Land Commission had started to divide the Kelly Estate.  The usual clientelism kicked in:-

Dáil Éireann debate –
Tuesday, 5 Mar 1940

Mr. Davin

asked the Minister for Lands if he will state the number of (1) uneconomic holders, (2) cottage tenants, (3) landless men and others, living near the Kelly estate, Ballymeelish, Ballybrophy, County Laoighis, who made application for and received portions of the estate; whether he has received strong protests from the local people against the decision of the commissioners to provide holdings and houses for three migrants, whether the later have taken possession of the land and are working it; also the total acreage of the land divided, and the total acreage allotted to the three migrants; and whether he proposes to revise the present division scheme.

Mr. Derrig

Only a portion of the Kelly estate at Ballymeelish has yet been allotted, the remainder being still in the hands of the Land Commission. Of the 89 acres so far allotted, some 19 acres have been given as enlargements of three existing uneconomic holdings, some 35 acres to provide a holding for a former employee on the estate, some 21 acres given in exchange to a neighbouring smallholder and some 14 acres given as accommodation plots for a cottage tenant and two other persons. Representations have been received protesting against the introduction of migrants in the division of this estate.

Mr. Davin

Is it a fact that the migrants have refused to take possession of the land offered to them in this case?

Mr. Derrig

That is a separate question.

Mr. Davin

Is it also a fact, having a bearing on the reply to the previous question, that the Minister has refused to receive a deputation consisting of the Deputies for the constituency and some local people who are applicants for land on this estate?

Mr. Derrig

I have answered in reply to a question on the Order Paper that the matter of receiving a deputation is still under consideration.

Mr. Davin

Is it a fact that the Minister has already refused to receive a deputation?

Mr. Derrig

Yes, but the Minister may change his mind.

Mr. Davin


Mr. Derrig

Or he may not.

The attitude to migrants is saddening, though the local papers, who do report that they were threatened, does not make it clear whether they were migrants from Rathdowney or from overseas.  Perhaps in those days it made no difference!

Dáil Éireann debate –
Thursday, 18 Apr 1940

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. – Allotment of Holdings on Leix Estate.

Mr. Doyle (for Dr. O’Higgins)

asked the Minister for Lands if he will take the necessary steps to ensure that the claims of all the deserving local applicants for land on the Kelly estate, Ballymeelish, Leix, are satisfied before giving portion of the lands to migrants

asked the Minister for Lands if he is aware that portion of the Kelly estate, Ballymeelish, Leix, was given to a female old age pensioner who was more than 80 years of age and bedridden, and whether, in view of the fact that the above mentioned pensioner died within a month of securing the allotment, he will state the name of the person who now holds this portion of land, and also if the Minister will consider the advisability of reallotting the holding to an uneconomic holder in the locality.

The claims of all deserving applicants in the locality were considered by the Land Commission before it was decided to transfer migrants to the lands of Ballymeelish, Leix, on the Kelly estate.

No allotment on the estate of L.J. Kelly, Rec. No. S784811 at Ballymeelish was made to an aged woman, but a parcel of four acres on the lands acquired from the same owner at Derrinsallagh, Leix, Rec. No. S78481 was allotted in November, 1937, to Mrs. Ellen Rourke, an aged woman, as an enlargement of a holding of which she was the tenant. Martin Fitzpatrick, her son-in-law, was living with her with his wife and family and was working her holding.

In 2021 Balymeelish remains a delightful and well maintained house, a gem of the heritage of Laois country houses.

Rath House

Rath House with the Turner conservatory

Rathronshin,  to give it its full name is the ring-fort of the red, strong ash-tree  (The Placenames Database of Ireland  dismisses O’Donovan’s rather more charming suggestion of Roisin’s Rath) was obviously occupied from ancient times, though there seems to be no sign of the rath anymore.  Originally O’Demsey territory, it appears in Tudor Fiants, the Down Survey, and of course the Acts of Settlement in 1666.  

There is a lane on the north-west edge of the townland called The Rapparee (The lane of the rogue (?)). Or perhaps a rapper in the sense of ‘(land worth only) a fake halfpenny’    The OS map shows a Children’s Burial Ground (Disused)  “The Dullow Bush” (Sceach an Dola (?) “the bush of the trap, noose”).  The Laois Burial Grounds Survey 2011 says that the word Dullow is used to describe a ghostly apparition. 

From 1715 -1727 Richard Warburton, jnr., a magistrate, was of Rathronshin. Was he the builder of the original house?  The Warburton’s main house was of course Garryhinch, just across the border in Offaly and was lived in by Richard Warburton snr. Ronnie Matthews suggests in the Laois Heritage Society Journal V4 2008 that Rath House may have been built by John Adair when he renewed the lease of “Rathronshaen” from Richard Warburton in 1732.

Taylor & Skinner’s Map 1783

There are conflicting histories of the direct ancestors of the first John Adair at Rath. Some say he was the son of Thomas Adair of Clonterry, 2 km NE of Mountmellick, who died in 1758. Others trace his roots to William, son of Archibald Adair of Litter. Amongst the gravestones in “Dangan’s New Church” between Mountmellick and Emo are two whose inscriptions have been deciphered by Ronnie Matthews (LHS Journal 2008). William Adair of Rath d 11 Feb 1774 aged 63 and his son Thomas. Near it is John Adair of Rath d 14 July 1800, aged 76. As he would have been 8 in 1732 John is not the original lessee (maybe the nephew?) He was however the John who married Rebecca Maquay (qv Bellegrove). In 1783 Taylor and Skinner’s Maps shows Rath –  Mr Adair.  His son George was still at Rath in 1814 “About half a mile farther on the left hand is Rath the seat of George Adair Esq. The house is a pretty good family residence having many small rooms in it.  Old but with the front a little modernized.   The situation is not lofty but the soil is by no means of an indifferent quality”    Survey of Ireland,  William Shaw Mason · 1814. 

By 1817 Adair had moved to Bellegove.  When Dean Trench died in 1834 at Glenmalyre, his son Thomas Trench was in Rath House. The move may have followed his sister’s marriage to Adair in 1822.  The first rebuilding probably took place around then.  Certainly the 1838 OS shows a building that has most of the ingredients of the present house.   It must have been an amazing time to be a builder in Ballybrittas – Five huge houses Emo, Mount Henry, Glenmalyre,  Bellegrove, Graigueverne and Rath all went up within 20 years of each other.  All have architectural similarities reminiscent of Morrison, and all have fine dressed stonework.  Though they are all quite severe and masculine, they are definitely not provincial.

The Buildings of Ireland describes it as a seven-bay two-storey over basement house, c. 1850.  Extended, c. 1890, with domed conservatory designed by Richard Turner and private chapel added. Detached gate lodge, c. 1890, to site.  Dean in his Gate Lodges of Leinster suggest a date of about 1858 for the gate lodge, with a later makeover.  

The Gate Lodge

Tierney in the Building of Ireland suggests that it was built circa 1815.  He suggests that Its severe Neoclassical character is similar to Glenmalire, here with a strong horizontal emphasis, noting the gently advanced end bays — offset from the corners — and smaller upper storey.

Deep four-bay side elevation to s, with full-height bow, consoles and cornices on the ground-floor windows, and narrow string course. The bowed porch with columns and entablature is derived from Morrison’s Bearforest, in a simpler Tuscan order.

Tierney does not mention the low pitched wide eaved roof with its a huge central chimney stack

He does note that the cornices and consoles are only on the windows in the end bays and side elevation, as at Morrison’s Mount Henry.  The bow window to the south connects to a small circular cast-iron-framed conservatory, with ogee-shaped roof, by Richard Turner, c. 1855;  Small but elegant flagstoned oval entrance hall, also showing the influence of Morrison; curved to front and back, with statue niches flanking the entrance to the stair hall behind. Above this doorway is an oval stained-glass window with a sentimental rural scene with figures. The doors to the reception rooms on either side have over-panels of stucco with putti harvesting grapes and making wine. Library to the s with broad ivy-leaf cornice and fitted bookcases.   In the stableyard, an unexpected Gothic oratory of C. 1890 with pointed timber windows.

I suspect that there were two stages of building. The footprint of the 1838 OS survey does not show the Bearforest porch or the  4 bay Southern elevation with its bow.

Rath from the 1838 OS map
Rath in the later 19th Century from the OS map

The Parliamentary Gazetteer  1844-45 was unenthusiastic “Rath is a rather plain seat as to both house and grounds” 

It is not clear where Trench went when Rath was advertised “to be sold or let”.  His youngest children, twins Fanny and Jane, were born at Rath in 1835 (they went on to set up and run St John’s House of Rest on Merrion Road (which is still providing residential care for the elderly) and a small factory where women were taught to weave straw envelopes for wine bottles.)

Dublin Evening Packet 1 April 1837

He was resident in Millicent, a beautiful house on the Liffey near Clane when he changed his name to Cooke Trench in 1850.  Millicent had been the home of Richard Griffith, blessed by genealogists for the accuracy of Griffith’s Valuation of Rateable Property in Ireland.   One of its more recent owners was Paddy Falloon of UTV, Northern Brick and a host of other enterprises who then moved from Millicent to Laois, buying Lansdown Lodge, at Luggacurran.  He was followed at Millicent  by the novelist Evelyn Ward Thomas, most famous for The Tamarind Seed became a film in 1974  starring Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif. 


William Henry Dease moved to Rath in 1837.  He was the son of Garrett Dease and Susan Plunkett of Turbotstown, now once again the home of a Dease descendant – the distinguished barrister Peter Bland  and his talented wife Chacha

Dease married Frances de Friese, daughter and heir of H. de Friese and died in 1856. His heir was his nephew Edmund Gerald Dease (1829 – 1904).  He was the son of Gerald Dease and Elizabeth O’Callaghan and married Mary Grattan, daughter of Henry Grattan, in 1859.

Edmund Dease was elected MP in 1869 and later joined Isaac Butt’s Home Rule Party. He was also a Senator of the Irish University, a fluent Irish speaker and prominent local member of the Gaelic League.  At that time the house became a hub for political diplomacy and discussion.  His daughter was the Irish language prayer collector Charlotte Dease.    His son was Major Edmund James Dease (1861 – 1945) married Mabel, daughter of Ambrose More O’Ferrall of Kildangan, on 28 April 1896.  Their son Richard Edmund Antony Dease was KIA in 1940, serving with the RAF.  His daughter married the Duc de Stacpoole of Tobertynan, County Meath (whose son, the present Duc, is President of the Irish Order of Malta and provides fab Connemara accommodation at Errisbeg) Major Dease’s daughter Marion married William Bland of Blandsfort, which is how the Blands came to Rath. Blandsfort went to their older son John Bland and Rath to their younger son Rory.

Tobertynan, Enfield, Co Meath

I recall Dominic Hamilton telling brilliant tales of Rory Bland’s involvement in the pop music business, producing cover numbers of Number Ones with bands that Dom felt might be more suited to the lowest of low dives.

Following Rory Bland’s grave family difficulties it was put on the market in April 1989 and has been sold a couple of times since.  Hamilton Osborne King’s description, when it was for sale for £260,000

From The Buildings of Ireland

All window shutters are in working order and within the past few months the house has been re-roofed where necessary. rewired and treated comprehensively by Protim. It is a two-story over basement house with uninterrupted views across the surrounding parkland. Attractive mouldings, panelling and a charming Victorian conservatory at the end of the house facing onto the gardens and a small lake are special features. Accommodation includes drawing room with marble Adam style mantlepiece and decorative cornices; Victorian conservatory (in need of refurbishment), library with black marble fireplace, den/living room with grey marble fireplace; dining room (which is presently used as a kitchen, with range of pine units and solid fuel cooker), utility area. first floor return there is a TV room and bathroom, and upstairs there are seven bedrooms. In addition there are cloakrooms, shower room. The basement is currently not utilised and contains spacious dry stores in 6 large rooms and a binned wine cellar

In recent years Peter Farrell received a grant from the Heritage Council to restore the chapel with its brightly painted altar and stained glass panel.

To finish, some delightful local  memories of Rath –

We crossed the lands at Rath House, and there we first saw a Fordson Tractor with Spadelug iron wheels ploughing with a trailer plough. Those tractors were a simple machine compared to the models out now. The engine had four cylinders, spark plugs and a magneto to supply the spark. There was no battery or self starter, a few turns of the starting handle got it running. The fuel tank had two compartments. A small one to hold petrol for starting and the larger compartment held Kerosene or T.V.O. which ran the tractor while the engine was warm during the working hours. There was an iron seat for the driver. It was here in Blands’ lawn that we saw the first electric fence in our area. We could not see how a small strand of wire crossing a field could control big cattle, any doubt we had were dispelled when we tried touching this fence, and of course we encouraged others to have a go just to see the reaction to the shock of the animals and humans, which was often very amusing.   

We watched with interest as the men in Blands’ farm hand dug a silage pit and used the sods to make the sides and end. The grass was gathered and carried in on a buck rake, the men spread the grass with forks and tightened it down with a big horse. The resultant silage was cut out and carted to the cattle in the winter. The smell of this stuff was distinctive to say the least, and if it got on our hands or clothes it lingered.”

The Heath House,

Dutch merchants, Irish Chieftains and Bloodstock

Dry Content Warning!  To try and comprehend the many alliances of the minor (and some major) gentry families of Laois this article is very heavy on genealogy.  And unto Enoch was born Irad: and Irad begat Mehujael: and Mehujael begat Methusael: and Methusael begat Lamech…….

The Heath was built in 1727 by Warner Westenra.   It is a seven-bay two-storey house with a double-pitched and hipped roof.  Square-headed window openings with stone sills, rusticated stone architraves and six-over-six and nine-over-nine timber sash windows. Square-headed Gibbsian door opening with cut-stone pedimented doorcase and timber panelled door with sidelights. The entrance has Gothic Revival-style ashlar piers with cast-iron gates and railings. The windows had (maybe even have? – we can but hope) square blocks where the glazing bars meet.  This is a detail found at Castle Howard and Blenheim.  After John Vanbrugh’s death from asthma in 1726 one of his draughtsmen called “Henry the Penman” came to work for Edward Lovett Pearce and it would be interesting if he brought it to Ireland.   It is a detail that is found on the basement windows at Castletown, (which survived Lady Louisa’s makeover) on the front windows of Montgomery’s house on Stephen’s Green, on Knightstown at Mountmellick and various other houses between 1720 and 1750.   

Blocks on glazing bars – Lambstongue Joinery

The earliest Westenra reference is in the 1659 census which lists Waren (Warner) Westenra, merchant of  Bridge St. Dublin.   The family came from the Amsterdam area (there was a court case against one of the original Westenras) and then prior to that from Wassenburg in North Rhine-Westphalia, an area close to the German/Dutch border.  They claimed a very grand past, noting in their genealogies that in their family was the Noble Jacob Aaron van Wassenaer, Heer van Hazerswoude-Waddingsveen, who had married Lady Amelia Bentinck, daughter of the Duke of Portland in about 1710.  Another ancestor undertook to swim across an arm of the sea with important intelligence to his besieged countrymen. during the Duke of Alba’s campaigns in the 1560s.

In 1674 an act of the Irish Parliament naturalised Derrick Westenra, Peter Westenra, merchant, son of said Derrick; and Warner Westenra, merchant.

Around 1650 Warner had married Elizabeth Wybrantz granddaughter of Joseph Wybrantz, of Antwerp, whose son Peter settled in Dublin in the reign of Charles I.  (for more see the O Cahan genealogy in O Hart’s Irish Pedigrees 1892).

By an act of King James’ Irish Parliament of 10 Aug 1689, there were 5 Westenras attainted for supporting William of Orange – Peter Westenra, Esq;  Peter Westenra of Blanchers-Town;  Peter Westenra of Rathmore, Co Meath, Esq;  Henry Westenra Esq of Kings County; and Henry Westenra of Athlacca in the County of Limerick.   Peter of Rathmore was the merchant, son of Derrick Westenra. In 1682 he married Sarah Bligh. They had no children. In 1692 he was elected to the Irish House of Commons for Athboy. He died in 1693, leaving his property to his first cousin, Warner’s son Henry Westenra, who was the Henry of Kings County – in 1666 there are Letters Patent of Charles II granting lands in Ballybritt, just north of Roscrea, to Warner Westenra, Merchant of the City of Dublin, Henry’s father. 

The Westenra’s grant from Charles II

The Letters patent, granting lands in the Barony of Ballybritt, County Offaly, to Warner Westenra merchant, Dublin, 25 August 1666 was sold in Christies 11 Dec 2019 for about £5000. 

In 1667 he bought the town and lands of “Clonlee, Brickanagh, and Lyagh” from Col Richard Grace of Moyelly Castle, between Moate and Clara at Junction 6 on the M6.  Warner died in 1676.

Warner’s daughter Elizabeth married Simon Digby, miniaturist and later Bishop of Elphin, in 1678.   Simon was born about 1650, the son of Essex Digby DD and Thomasine, daughter of Sir William Gilbert of Kilminchy, (where Kilminchy Village is now – the house was roughly where O’Gorman’s Bar now stands) and grandson of Lettice FitzGerald, 1st Baroness Offaly (c.1580 – 1 December 1658). 

Elizabeth and Simon Digby and their children

Although Lettice became heiress-general to the Earls of Kildare on the death of her father, the title instead went to the next legitimate FitzGerald male heir when her grandfather, the 11th Earl of Kildare, died in 1585. In 1620 she was created suo jure Baroness Offaly by King James I of England.  She married Sir Robert Digby, of Coleshill by whom she had ten children. They were a notoriously litigious couple, who spent many years asserting their rights before numerous courts and were quite prepared to accuse even their closest relatives of wrongdoing.  In early 1642, at the age of about sixty-two, her castle of Geashill was besieged by a force of insurgents from the O’Dempsey clan; she managed to hold out against them until October 1642.  Her defence has been described as having been the “most spirited episode in the history of the Irish Rebellion of 1641”.

Warner’s son Henry m. (1700) Eleanor Allen (dau of Sir Joshua Allen, sister of John, 1st Viscount and sister-in-law of the infamous Lady Allen of Stillorgan who William King branded as a tribad!).  Of Henry’s life we know little.  He had at least three sons and three daughters, (and possibly 10 children in total) and his will was proved in 1719.

His son Peter became curate of Rosenallis , probably married a Mrs Bernard and died in 1788.  Henry became a professional soldier.

Elizabeth married Pole Cosby’s cousin, William Weldon of Rahinderry and Rosscumroe, in 1730.  Their lands in Offaly were very close to the Westenra lands.

Jane (d 05.1788) married John Monckton, 1st Viscount Galway, in 1734.  Despite his title, he had nothing whatsoever to do with Ireland, being of a Yorkshire family.  Their daughter Maria Monckton was born in 1747, and lived to the  age of 93, being generally known in her later years as “Old Lady Cork.” She was compared by Henry Luttrell, a son of Lord Carhampton of Luttrellstown and a famous wit, to a shuttlecock, “All Cork and feathers.”  In her youth she had been a noted blue stocking and a favourite of Dr. Johnson, who delighted in her liveliness and intelligence.

Lady Cork by Reynolds

Of Penelope we know nothing – she apparently died unmarried.

Henry’s eldest surviving son Warner appears at Rathleague in 1727 whilst he was building Heath House into which he moved later that year (he witnessed a deed in February 1727, giving his address as Rathleague).    I wonder what brought him there.  His Digby relations had moved from Kilminchy and both Simon and Elizabeth Digby had died in 1720.      It is not clear where or what the Westenras house was at Ballybritt.  His father had already inherited the estate of his cousin Peter of Rathmore.    It seems that this move to Laois might be one of the building blocks for the transfer from Dutch merchant to Lord Rossmore.  Thomas Fisher, who had lived at Rathleague, died in 1718.   Between June and September 1723 Pole Cosby toured the Low Countries with Warner Westenra, described as “a friend from Queen’s County”.  By 1727 he was in residence in The Heath House.

Warner was elected MP for Marynorough in 1734 and remained an MP for 26 years.  He married Lady Hester Lambert the 2nd daughter of Richard, 4th Earl of Cavan in 1738, a granddaughter of Castilliana Gilbert of Kilminichy, whose mother was  Martha Pigott (daughter of John Pigott of Grangebegg and Dysart, by Martha Colclough), and g granddaughter of Adam Loftus of Rathfarnham Castle and of Warham St Leger.   The extraordinary complexity of all these dynastic marriages must surely have resulted in severe in-breeding!

Lady Hester Westenra, NT Castle Ward, Co. Down, Northern Ireland, on loan from Lord Rossmore.  ‘Twas not for the looks that I married her, but for the bit of title that came with her! (which is an edit of a quote from a Comeragh Mountain farmer – his wife had given me permission to photograph their cottage, and he came into the yard and asked what I was doing.  I explained that I had talked to the lady of the house.  “Ah”, sez he, “You met the wife so.  You’ll note that ‘twas not for the looks that I married her, but for the bit of land that came with her!”

Warner Westenra, Bartholomew Gilbert and William Dawson formed a triple alliance which controlled the Corporation for sixteen years. The first two gentlemen, incidentally, alternated the office of burgomaster for more than a decade.

In 1764 Warner and Hester’s eldest son Henry married Harriet the daughter of Col John Murray from Glenalla House, near Rathmullan in Donegal. Harriet and her sisters inherited a fortune from their grandmother Mary, Dowager Lady Blayney.   Murray was the MP for Monaghan.  His eldest daughter had married Robert Cuninghame, 1st Baron Rossmore, who was also MP for Monaghan, and who left his fortune and his title (by special licence) to Henry.  Warner Westenra died in 1772 but it is said that by 1765 the occupant of The Heath was Alexander Saunderson .  Of him I have not yet found any history except that the house was sold in May 1774 by Rose, the widow of Alexander Sanderson to George Burdett of Ballymanny Newbridge, Co Kildare. 

There exists a letter from Viscountess Knapton of Abbeyleix to [Lady) Harriet [Jocelyn) of Brockley Park, [c. 1770]. Lady Hester Westenra gives a ball on the 23rd … ; she is a nasty woman. She has furnished her house very expensively, is giving entertainments forever and has just made her appearance with all her servants in new silver-faced liveries, while poor Mr Westenra is, one may almost say, starving.  He cannot go to parties because the most he can afford to do this winter is send his eldest son to school. . . . It makes me melancholy to see Mrs Westenra with hardly a decent gown, and Lady Hester blazing in gold and silks, which a woman of her time of life ought to throw aside.’  (Foster/Massereene papers, PRONI. D. 562/341.)  

Saunders’s News-Letter – Wednesday 04 October 1775 carried an advertisement for the sale of the contents of Lady Hester Westenra’s house at 12 Granby Row (which was then the West side of Parnell Square).  The Westenra’s centre of gravity had moved firmly to County Monaghan.

George Burdett (1735 – 1817) had married Jane Frend in 1766.  He became Member of Parliament for Thomastown in 1790.   Their eldest son was born in 1770 which might have prompted the move to The Heath.

From Burke’s Landed Gentry:-

Rev George Burdett  M.A., Dean of Leighlin 1668, d. 1671, administration of his goods being granted to his son, Thomas Burdett, of Garryhill, co. Carlow (father of Thomas Burdett, created a Baronet). Another and younger son, Samuel Burdett, settled at Lismalin, Co. Tipperary. He m. Judith, dau. of Capt. Thomas Evatt, and left at his decease, 1664, two sons ; the elder, George, of Lismalin, d.s.p. ; the younger, John Burdett, Dean of Clonfert,  married Margaret, 5th dau. of Sir John Cole, But. of Newlands, co. Dublin, and dying 1726, left, with other issue, a dau. Lettice, wife of Algernon Warren, of Kilkenny, and a son, Arthur Burdett, of Lismalin, who M. 1725, Grace, dau. of John Head, of Derry Castle, and had (with three daus., one of whom, Grace, in. Barry, 1st Earl of Farnham) two sons,

A. Arthur Burdett, of Bellaville, High Sheriff co. Kildare 1791, who d. 1796, s.p. ;

B. George Burdett , of the Heath House, Queen’s Co., sometime Cornet and Lieut. in the Black Horse (later renamed The Princess Royal’s Dragoon Guards),  M.P. for Thomastown and Callan in the last Irish Parliament. He was b. 1735; m. Jane, 2nd dau. of John Frend, and d. 1817, leaving issue,

1. Arthur  b 1770 of Ballymany m 1810 Anna only daughter of William Ripley Esq of Liverpool and had issue.

2. George, of Longtown House, co. Kildare, Capt. RN.,  m 1st Mary Jane, dau. of the late Lieut-Gen. Whitelock, and 2nd, Catherine Dorothea, only dau. and heiress of the late Col. William Browne, of Glengarry, co. Dublin, by whom he had issue,  a) George, m. Harriet, dau. of William Willan, and d.s.p.  b). Frances Elizabeth, m. Thomas Pery Knox, who d. 1893. She d. 1900. c) Catherine Jane, m. 1836, Richard Brouncker, of Boveridge, Dorset and is deceased. 3. John (Rev.), of Cushcallow, King’s Co., Vicar of Rynagh and Gallen, King’s Co., and Rector of Ballygartb, co. Meath, b. 1775 ; m.4 Dec. 1802, Margaret Anne, 6th dau. of Michael Head, D.L., of Derry Castle, co. Tipperary, by Margaret, his wife, 6th dau. of Henry Prittie, of Kilboy, in the same co., aunt to the 1st Lord Dunally, and had issue, a) John Head, of Hunstanton, and Cushcallow, King’s Co., J.P.. Barrister-at-Law. b. 27 Oct. 1809.

The Head family and The Frend Family keep popping up in Laois genealogies.  The first Michael Head was mayor of Waterford in 1672.  His son John married Elizabeth, the daughter and heir of Samuel Wade, of Derry Castle, a house that was in a stunning position on the banks of Lough Derg between Killaloe and Portroe.  From the early 19th century the Heads lived in a variety of houses including Ashley Park and Modreeny before buying an estate called Walshpark just west of Birr, and commissioning Sir T. N. Deane to build a new house named Derrylahan Park in 1862 which was burnt down in 1922 by the IRA. 

In 1666 John Frend, a captain in the Cromwellian army and Cromwellian Governor of Limerick, was granted over 3,000 acres in the barony of Clanwilliam, county Limerick. His fourth son, Benjamin, held estates centred on Boskill, Caherconlish, county Limerick and Ballyreehy, county Offaly.   He married a Miss Padfield from Ballintemple, Offaly.  Their daughter Jane married Maurice Cuff of Cuffsborough and their only surviving son Benjamin married Bridget Kynaston, an English heiress.  Their son John Frend of Myrtlegrove, Offaly, married three times.  Firstly to Margaret Campbell from Mount Campbell, Drumsna, Leitrim who was Jane Burdett’s mother.  His second wife was Lord Gort’s sister Jane Vereker. His third wife was Elizabeth Ward, the mother of John Frend who inherited Myrtle Grove when his father died in Dublin in 1749. In 1785 he was trying to let the newly built Frendville at Roscrea.  In 1789 he was letting Myrtlegrove, 4 miles from Roscrea, and Frendville still had not been let. Coote in his statistical survey reported that the indifferent grist mill at Myrtle Grove was already in ruins by 1801.   John Frend had died by 1795 when his daughter Emelia married William McLaughlin of Harcourt Street.   I wonder is the Myrtle Grove in Dunkerrin the same one, as that was called Ballyrihy House on the early OS maps and did not become Myrtlegrove till 1837 when Mr J.F. Rollerton was living there.

 By 1790 George Burdett had left The Heath and William Gore, the son of the Bishop of Limerick  was in residence. In July 1788 he married Mary, daughter of Michael Head of Derry Castle, Co Tipperary, whose older sister was Mrs Burdett, which may explain how they came there.

Bishop William Gore

Robert O’Byrne in his history of Tyrone House has managed to get a handle on the Medusan intricacies of the Gore relationships.  Jane, the second daughter of the Bishop’s uncle Sir Ralph Gore, married Chidley Coote of Mount Coote, County Limerick   The third daughter Mary married her cousin, Frederick Gore; they shared a paternal grandfather, Sir William Gore, third baronet.   The Bishop married Mary’s niece Mary Coote, daughter of her sister Jane Coote, his first cousin once removed. Jane was also the 2nd cousin of Dean Chidley Coote who looked after the extensive Coote family interests in Laois.

In 1783 William Gore’s father, the Bishop, commissioned the building of Old Connaught House, near Bray. Old Connaught House still exists today as a private and gated development of apartments in and around the Old House. He died almost as soon as it was finished, on 25 February 1784 and the house was bought by William Plunket, who became Lord Plunket.

Old Connaught House

In 1793 William Gore of Heath Lodge, as it was then called, was appointed a JP and in 1797 he was a zealous Lieutenant in the Maryborough Cavalry.

At Heath Lodge John Ormsby of Ballygrennan, Co Limerick was married to Miss Gore dau of the late Bishop Gore of Limerick and niece to the Countess of Milltown  Saunders’s News-Letter – Friday 11 June 1802

In 1804 the lease of The Heath from the Parnells of Rathleague  was sold by William Gore  at considerable profit to Dowell O’Reilly, The O’Reilly.  Dowell was born at Tullystown House, Finnea, around 1750 and had been living in Leitrim in 1780 when his first son Myles was born.   In 1800 he became the first of the family to convert from Catholicism after quarrelling with Father Dowling of Stradbally, so was presumably already in Laois. 

He was the g grandson of Myles O’Reilly “The Slasher” who was the son of Edmond, of Kilnacrott, the last Prince of Brefney.   In 1786 Count Alexander O’Reilly of Spain   employed the Chevalier Thomas O’Gorman to compile a history of the O’Reillys, for which   he paid O’Gorman  £1137/10/-.  O’Gorman was then living in Inchiquin House, Corofin and in 1790 married the widow of Denny Baker Cuff of Cuffsboro.

When Dowell died his son Myles considered selling the lease, but there were apparently no takers.

The famous Gaelic scholar and placenames expert, John O’Donovan (1806-1861) was a friend of Myles O’Reilly and in 1830 he spent six months in Heath House recovering from an illness.  O’Donovan himself writes: “At this time my health got exceedingly bad, and I was invited by my friend, Myles John O’Reilly, Esq., of the Heath House, in the Queen’s County, to spend some months with him in the country, to see what effect change of air would have on my constitution.  I spent several months with him, and improved wonderfully in my health, and during my stay with him I translated the Book of Fenagh, and some extracts from The Annals of The Four Masters relating to the O’Reillys ; which was the first thing that induced me to study the Irish Annals.  During my stay at the Heath House I had a great opportunity of studying, and I read the works of Ussher, Ware, and Colgan ; and hearing- of the death of Edward O’Reilly, the author of the Irish Dictionary, I applied to Captain Larcom, then Lieutenant Larcorm, for employment.”

In his history of the O’Reillys he mentioned “The eldest son of   Myles J. O’Reilly, Esq., is a young gentleman of great promise and considerable fortune. His rencontre with Lord Clements (now Earl of Leitrim) has been not long since prominently before the public, and in a manner which does justice to our old party quarrels!   Both are, however, worthy of their high descent; and it is to be hoped that they will soon become good friends, as they are both young, and remarkable for their benevolence and love of fatherland.” 

From the Law Reports the details of the case are this:- An action of assault was brought by Myles George O’Reilly against Lord Leitrim, The occurrence took place in the month of December1854. The circumstance connected with the assault will be found in the evidence subjoined : Myles George O’Reilly (the plaintiff) was sworn and examined by Mr. M’Donongh, Q.C I live at Heath, in the Queen’s County ; I have estates in Sligo and Roscommon worth £1400 a year.  I am the grandson of the late Archbishop of Tuam ; on the 12th of December last, I was shooting the Garvagh bog, in the county Leitrim ; I have been shooting on it these six years ; on the day in question I was on a visit at Feena with my uncle, the Rev. Mr. Beresford ; I had spied a shot when the defendant came up and shook a large stick in my face.  He called me a poacher, and said “go off my bog” ; I replied that I would, if he told me the bog was his: I told him my name, and I said I could be heard of at my uncle’s ; He asked for my license ; I said I would produce it if said he was the owner of the bog ; he did not tell who he was, but seized my gun, and tried to wrest it from me ; I pulled it from him. I never presented it at him ; when I pulled the gun out of his hand, he drew back a few paces, and drew from his breast pocket single-barrelled pistol, which he deliberately cocked and presented at me ; he was in a great rage at the time, foamed at the mouth, and looked like nothing but madman ; he continued to hold the pistol opposite to my face ; I told him that he had grossly assaulted me, and that I would seek redress from the law; he kept calling me a  poacher while I was going away, and when was within a few yards of the road beside the bog, he told me he was Lord Clements ; when I left the bog I walked on the top of ditch along the road side ; he desired me to get off the ditch ; I refused, as it was on the public road, and continued walking away ; I did not during the entire time raise my voice higher than ordinary; nor did I point gun at him ; when I left the bog I determined to show my license (winch I had in my pocket) to the Police sergeant at the barrack, winch was not far off; I did show it; I continued to shoot, hut not Lord Leitrim’s property, I had a servant in attendance on carrying my game bag. Cross-examined by Mr. Lynch, Q C.—lt was about eight o’clock in the morning when the occurrence took place ; I entered the bog from the road ; I had no liberty from Lord Leitrim to shoot on the lands.  I was not poaching ; I think poaching’ means shooting or killing came without licence ; I do not consider it is poaching when one has license to go into a gentleman’s place and kill his game ; I call that trespassing—(laughter)—l have been shooting on the grounds these six seven years, and I never was stopped ; I would not have shot upon the bog if I knew it was preserved ; when Lord Clements was coming down to me I had a sort of Idea of what he came for—indeed I could not help hut have an idea of his intentions, for he was shaking his stick at me—(a laugh)—l began to surmise that he same to prevent from shooting on the bog;

O’Reilly got £100 damages and £64 costs

On 16 Jan 1829 Myles married Elizabeth Anne elder dau of the Hon and Rev George de la Poer Beresford son Lord Decies Archbishop of Tuam, by his wife the sister of Lord Chancellor Clare.

 Oct. 30, 1829 at the Heath House, Queen’s County, the Lady of Myles John O’Reilly, Esq., of a son and heir, Myles George.

January 1831   at the Heath House, Queen’s County, the Lady of Myles John O’Reilly, Esq., of a daughter, Susan.

Apr 1832 at the Heath House, Queen’s County, the Lady of Myles John O’Reilly, Esq., of a son, George Myles.

Aug 1834 at  the Heath-house, Queen’s County, the lady of Miles John O’Reilly, Esq., of a still born child

December 1836. At Heath-house, Queen’s County, the lady Myles J. O’Reilly, Esq., of a son

March 27 1838 Died the lady Myles J. O’Reilly, in the south of France where she had gone to seek the recovery of her health

On 14 August 1820 Myles’ sister Margaret followed the Heath House tradition of consanguinity, marrying her cousin – William O’Reilly 4th son of the late Matthew O’Reilly. of Thomastown, Co Louth, to Margaret, fourth and eldest surviving daughter the late Dowell O’Reilly, the Heath House, Queen’s County,

May 1842 At Knock Abbey House, Co Louth, in her 50th year, Margaret, wife of William O’Reilly. Esq , and third daughter the late Dowell  O’Reilly, Esq.. the Heath House.

Monday 09 November 1857 we learn from the Dublin Evening Mail of the death at Naples of Myles John O’Reilly, of the Heath House, in the Queen’s County, Esq. , aged 76 years.

March 1, 1862 in Cork, Harry Tristram Reilly, Esq.. Madras Staff Corps, son of the late Myles John O’Reilly, Heath House, Queen’s County, Esq., to Maria Frances, youngest daughter of the late James Hickson, Esq.. Redcliffe, County Kerry (built in 1790 by Samuel Hickson as a hunting lodge, and recently more famous as the retreat of controversial Eamon Casey, former bishop of Galway!)

In 1864 the lease was bought by Rev John Ambrose Wall.

John Ambrose Wall, DD, had arrived in Portarlington by 1840 to be headmaster of Arlington School.  There are conflicting reports about his ancestry.  Some Australian genealogists claim he was born in Cork in 1801.  According to his death certificate he was born in 1803.   Turtle Bunbury suggests that his family came from Ennismore, near Listowel in Kerry, which would tie in with his younger son’s middle name, Hewson, the family who lived in Ennismore House.   On 3 January, 1839 he had married Julia Henrietta Morton whose father Robert Morton was a ship builder in the Grand Canal Docks.

There exists a letter of August 1825 from Robert Morton, shipbuilder, Grand Canal Docks, Ringsend, Dublin, to Henry Goulburn, Chief Secretary, Dublin Castle, proposing that government offer a reward for information on the murder of Andrew Merchant, his late apprentice, who was killed on Brunswick Street, Dublin, on 6 July. Observes that the commercial community put up a sum of £400 for information on the murder, but as yet no one has come forward. On a personal level, he claims to have ‘firmly resisted the dreadful Combination which exists among the working Shipwrights against me’ due to his employing a substantial number of apprentices. Refers to the case of ‘Chambers’ a carpenter, who was attacked on Baggot Street, and later died of his wounds; To think that we worry about flying pickets!

“Arlington School stands quite at the head of Irish Schools,” was how Professor Mahaffey, Provost of Trinity, described it – and its distinguished students included Edward Carson, the staunch Unionist who acted as prosecutor during the trial of Oscar Wilde.   

The house, on French Church Street, was built by Daniel Le Grand Chevalier Seigneur du Petit Bosc in 1697 and he lived here until his death in 1737. He was responsible for the rear section of the house, to which a new front with pedimented façade and first-floor Diocletian window was added in 1760. One of the finest building in Portarlington it is in a parlous condition.

In 1843 John Ambose’s youngest son died aged 3 years and 9 months and is buried in Lea Old Churchyard, to be joined by his father 34 years later.

On 11 Sept 1868 their eldest surviving son Henry Beresford de la Poer Wall, B. A., Vice-Principal of the Ballarat Collegiate and Grammar School, Australia, and eldest son of the Rev. John Ambrose Wall, D.D., of Heath Hall, Queen’s County, and Arlington House, Portarlington, Ireland, was married to Jessie Wotherspoon, eldest daughter of the late William Wingate, Esq., District Surveyor, Grant, Crooked River.

7th January 1871 at Mount levers, the Rev. Francis Hewson Wall, M.A., of Arlington House, Portarlington, son of the Rev. John A. Wall, of Heath House, Vicar of Dysart-Enos, Queen’s County, was married to Mildred Jane, daughter of the late Eyre levers, Esq., J.P., Mount levers, County Clare

Bunbury writes “Francis Wall ran into financial problems after 1881 and went to England but seemed to constantly fail at any projects he was involved with. He was Vicar of Denton, Leeds (1899–1904) but, in 1904, Carson – now Solicitor-General in Balfour’s government – managed to get him appointed to a crown patron church living in the Lake District as Rector of Aldingham in Lancashire, with a very good stipend. Mildred died on 9th May 1916 and the Rev. Hewson in October 1920 (With thanks to John Power).”

However Rev. F.H. Wall, is a father of rugby in Ireland and introduced into Arlington School, in the 1870s.  His son R.M. Wall was running Trinity Football when they began playing rugby at Trinity in 1867   “Wall sat gravely at his little table in his room in Botany Bay. A small dark wiry hardy chap with a short back beard and kindly dark eyes. He wrote and Barrington (who had been at Rugby School) dictated. Gradually and gradually as one could remember them the unwritten laws that govern the immortal Rugby game were put on paper.”

10 Oct 1878 Adelaide Wall dau of the late Rev. John A. Wall, of Heath House, was married to Rev George Herrick of Nohoval 

John Ambrose had died on 20 May 1877 and in 1878 the lease was put up for sale. 

In 1880 the house was bought by Charles Blake who came from Tower Hill, County Mayo.

Tower Hill was just North of Moore Hall.  A very fine house it was a six-bay (three-bay deep) two-storey over part raised basement country house, built 1790, on a rectangular plan centred on two-bay full-height pedimented breakfront; five-bay full-height rear (north) elevation centred on single-bay full-height pedimented projecting breakfront. Unfortunately in 1949 the house and the final few acres fell into the hands of the dreaded Land Commission following the death of Charles Blake’s nephew Valentine Jospeh Blake in 1947.

Tower Hill, now an ivied roofless shell

In 1880 the papers reported “Mr Charles J Blake, one the stewards of the Irish Turf Club, has recently taken Heath House, Maryborough, where in future his racehorses will trained over the famous Heath course.”   The Blakes were already well known for their racing prowess.  He was the son of Valentine O’Connor Blake, who died in 1879 and Tower Hill became the home of his elder brother.  The Blakes also owned Renvyle and Charles remodelled and refurbished Heath House with timbers salvaged from a ship wrecked on the Connemara coast.

His family made it very famous as a racing stable.  Mr James Dunne was Charles Blakes private trainer and had two Derby winners in 3 years.

Visiting The Heath in 1882

In the 1911 census he was living there with 2 bachelor brothers, Martin who was a barrister and Robert, and his nephew Charles who was a land agent.  Kate Murphy (50) the cook and Mary Nolan  (42) who was the house maid  were the female servants.  James Cunningham (70) was the butler.  The rest of the household consisted of 5 stable lads, 2 grooms and a jockey.  Everyone in the household was single, catholic (apart from the English jockey), and could read and write.  Only the stable lads were local Laois men. In 1901 there had been 14 stable lads, a jockey and a groom.   Only two of the stable lads were from Laois. 

He died in 1917 and his nephew Lt.-Col. Arthur Joseph Blake (1884-1974) inherited and became Leading Trainer in 1930, 1931 and 1938.

The Blakes eventually left Heath House in the early 1960’s and the house was bought by the Uinseann Mac Eoin, a veteran republican, architect, planner, journalist and campaigner for the conservation of Georgian built heritage (whose properties included a fabulous house on Henrietta Street.)  In 1974 when The Heath was unoccupied the Guards arrested an IRA volunteer who was said to be intending to use the attic as an arms dump.

The house again changed hands in recent years and its new owners the O’Connell Husseys have totally renovated the house bringing both it and the grounds back to their former glory.