Levalley – Spanish adventurers, Jewel thieves and lots of Roes!

As well as being a Mafia Boss, a Don is a Spanish title used to refer to a gentleman of a grand family.   Don Vicaro came to England in 1501 with the 15 year old Catherine of Aragon.

With a rugged jaw, dark flashing eyes and flowing mustachios, his grandson Thomas Vicars cut quite a figure around Spink in an area where even Google Street View has yet to penetrate, though sadly Coilte and Galetech Energy Developments are planning a massive windfarm here. 

Though “The proposed wind turbines are to be located in an upland area, well away, according to the documents submitted, from any protected structure.” Cooper’s Building at Knockardagur, on Cooper’s Hill was probably where the lovely Margret Lalor lived in the late 1500s, though some suggest that it might have been the structure at Castle Coole Bridge in the neighbouring townland of Moat.  The area is in the uplands between Ballinakill and Clogh

 In Irish Lalor is Leathlobhair, “the half-leper,” (which it is hoped was a nickname and not to be taken literally!).    The name of Harry Lalor is remembered as the hero of the massacre of Mullaghmast on the last day of 1577 (which was on March 25th, The Feast of the Annunciation, until Britain adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1752).     Deavil, Greham, Cosby, Piggott, Bowen, Hartpole, Hovendon, O’Dempsy, and the FitzGeralds of Monasterevan invited between 40 and 400 (depending on whose account you believe) Lalors, O’Moores , O’Dorans, O’Dowlings, O’Deevys, O’Kellys and McEvoys to a meeting at the rath.

The Lalors were late arrivals and Henry Lalor of Dysart, noting that no one who had entered the fort before him had returned, told his companions to make off as fast as they could if he did not come back. On entering the rath and seeing the bodies of his slaughtered companions he drew his sword, and fought his way back to those that survived, and made his escape to Dysart, the Lalor ancestral home.

The aggression between the Irish septs and the planters continued.  In 1606 Richard Cosby challenged the O’Moores to a pitched battle, and defeated them at a battle under the rock of Dunnamase; After the battle, being heavily wounded Cosby was taken to the home of Sir Robert Pigott ( of Dysert ), whose daughter Elizabeth nursed him back to health, and then they soon married.

In the treaty signed at Lalor’s Mills on St Patrick’s Day 1607 the families of 102 Moores, 87 Lalors, 43 McEvoys, 39 Kellys 13 Dorans and 5 Dowlings agreed to abandon Laois and were  transplanted in June 1609 to Tarbert, Co Kerry where they held lands from Patrick Crosbie and his son Sir Pierce Crosbie. The father was a leading figure in Irish history during the plantation period, posing as an English loyalist while in reality being a MacCrossan, bard to the O’Moores. His son was landlord to the septs in Kerry, led regiments in a number of wars and was both Cupholder and Gentleman of the Kings’ Bedchamber to both King James I and Charles I. He lost and then regained his estates and was closely associated with a notorious scandal in which his stepson the Earl of Castlehaven was executed for sexual depravity with Laurence FitzPatrick.   From Laois to Kerry by Michael Christopher Keane gives the whole story.

Mary (or possibly Margaret) Lalor having married Thomas Vicars remained at Knockardagur, where Thomas died in 1616/17.  We are fortunate that Sir William Betham (1779-1853)  who was deputy Ulster King of Arms from 1807 and Ulster King of Arms from 1820, spent a lifetime collating indexes and abstracts of the manuscripts held in the Record Tower of Dublin Castle.  One of the many genealogies that he produced was that of the Vicars family. 

Sir Arthur Vicars in the Ulster Tabard

It was reinforced by Sir Arthur Edward Vicars, KCVO (27 July 1862 – 14 April 1921), Ulster King of Arms from 1893.  Vicars was removed from the post in 1908 following the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels.  He was accused of being careless in his guardianship of the Crown Jewels. On one occasion when Vicars was intoxicated at a party, Aberdeen’s son Lord Haddo took one of the safe keys, stole the jewels and returned them to Vicars by post as a prank.  The actual thieves were possibly Captain Richard Gorges (“a reckless bully, a robber, a murderer, a bugger, and a sod”) and Francis Shackleton (“One of Gorges’ chums in the Castle, and a participant in the debauchery” and younger brother of the famed Artic explorer Ernest Shackleton).  A 1927 memo of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, released in the 1970s, stated that W. T. Cosgrave “understands that the Castle jewels are for sale and that they could be got for £2,000 or £3,000”. They have never been found.  Vicars retired to  the home of his step brother The O’Mahony, at Kilmorna, near Listowel, Co Kerry,   On 14 April 1921, he was taken from Kilmorna House by the IRA.  The house was burnt to the ground and Vicars was shot dead in front of his wife.

The shell of Kilmorna – nothing now remains

Though Margaret (or Mary) Lalor is said to have built the castle here herself, Knockardagur was actually O’Moore property and it was granted by Captain Brian (or Barnaby) O’Dempsey,  in 1611, along with other lands, to Sir Thomas Ridgeway, Earl of Londonderry, from whom Brian O’Dempsey  then obtained a lease in 1628.  In 1617  Barnaby married the widow of Captain Thomas Vicars, and in June 1641 sat in Parliament as M.P. for Ballinakill.

Thomas Vicars and Margret Lalor’s son William Vicars lived at Tonduff on the Dublin side of Abbeyleix.    His son, Richard Vicars was of  Garranmaconly Castle, Skeike and died in 1706/7 leaving several children, one of whom was the Richard Vicars who built Levally. 

The abstracts of Grants of Lands..under the Acts of Settlement and Explanation, A.D.1666-1684 (Appendix to Fifteenth Annual Report from the Commissioners of Public Records of Ireland, 45-280; 1825)   mentions Levalley in 1667 & 1669.    The meaning is “The Half Town”.  Levally was at one stage part of the townland of Graigueard, meaning the high hamlet or barn, and is shown on the Down Survey of 1658.

James Anderson’s 1769 map, reproduced in Horner’s “Mapping Laois” shows it to have been a 7 bay house, 2 stories with a Dutch influenced dormer attic story in a steeply pitched roof, and two massive chimney stacks.   Compare it to Beaulieu in County Louth (1715) or more particularly to Edmondsbury, only 10 km away.  The 1835 OS map shows an enclosed courtyard behind the house, a defensive element derived from the earlier idea of a bawn.

In UCD’s National Folklore Collection there is a story collected in the 1930s that related that “Mr Tim Davin of Eglish Errill age seventy four told me that there is an under ground passage running from a cellar in Levally House now owned by Mr Mansfield to Aghboe. This passage was also used in the Penal Days to store guns and swords. All sorts of ammunition and provisions were also kept there.”

There were three generations of Vicars who lived at Levalley from around 1700 to 1814, all called Richard!    The first, who built the house, married Grace Tydd from Ballybritt, Co Offaly, just North of Roscrea.  His son married Elizabeth Armstrong of Ballykealy, at Fivealley near Birr. They had 12 children, so it is fortunate that the house was large!

Elizabeth married Peter La Touche of Bellevue, Delgany, after her cousin, his first wife, had died.   Elizabeth was famous for her charitable works. She opened an orphanage and school for female children in the grounds of Bellevue and supported the children until they were old enough to fend for themselves. Peter, equally well known for his generosity, built Christ Church at Delgany in 1789.   Perhaps their more famous home does actually survive and is as immaculate as when the La Touche family were there – Luggala in the Wicklow Mountains that was the home of the late Hon Garech Browne, described by Garech’s mother Oonagh Guinness as “the most decorative honey pot in Ireland”  LaTouche died in 1828 aged 95.    Bellevue was demolished in the 1950s. 

Peter La Touche
Bellevue, Delgany
The Hon Gareth Browne at Luggala

Grace married Alexander Boyle some of their many children achieved fame in Australia.  Richard Vicars Boyle started as assistant to William Dargan constructing railways in Ireland; He then became an engineer on East Indian Railway; and finally laid out system railways in Japan.

Old Benes House, Howrah by Vicars Boyle

Anne married a vicar from Devon, Rev Laurence Cainnford.   Charlotte and Fanny were unmarried.   Thomas married Elizabeth Gorges of Kilbrew, (now Tayto Park) County Meath (the great aunt of the Crown Jewels thief)  and had three daughters.

Kilbrew, by Tayto Park. The shell of the house is on on the bottom left

The eldest daughter married Lundy Foot, who became Vicar of Whitechurch.  Lundy’s father was a famed snuff merchant and tobacconist in Westmoreland Street and they lived at Kinvere House, Templeogue,  now called Cheeverstown House.  

Cheeverstown, the home of the Foots

Lundy’s uncle, also Lundy Foot, was a JP for Co. Kilkenny and Co. Dublin, where the family had estates; in 1816 he earned lasting public hatred when he determinedly pursued and successfully convicted a father and his two sons, Peter, Joe, and William Kearney, who had been accused of a murder though the victim’s body was never found. The three Kearneys were executed in a field near Bohernabreena, close to Foot’s house at Orlagh, Co. Dublin; the public execution was attended by thousands of people who opposed the sentence, and it was long held in folk memory. Foot moved to Rossbercon, Co. Kilkenny, where he himself was twice the victim of violence: on one occasion he was riddled with gunshots, and some time later, after he had recovered, he was attacked again (2 January 1835) at the age of 71 and battered to death with a large stone by the son of an evicted tenant whose farm had been acquired by Foot. Lundy Edward Foot, son of the victim, was prosecutor in the resulting trial, where a conviction was unexpectedly achieved when a child testified against the murderer. He is buried at St Matthews, Ringsend.

Edward Vicars became a Major General.  He served at the taking of Gibraltar  and became the civil and military commissioner for the Cape Province (South Africa),   retiring, broken in health, in 1814.  Robert became Vicar of Emo.  George married Deborah Hedley, the daughter of John Hedley of Newcastle upon Tyne.  One of their grandsons was the Ulster Herald, Sir Arthur Vicars;  another was Hedley Vicars Strutt of Mulroy House, in  Donegal.  The many Strutt businesses included the estate agency Strutt and Parker and Lord Rayleigh Dairies.  Yet another was Hedley Vicars who fell in the Crimean War and combined being a heroic soldier with Born Again Christianity.    A biography published shortly after his death records: “His voice in the deadly struggle was heard again as he leaped the parapet and chased the retreating enemy down the ravine. In another minute his raised sword, as if pointing on high, was seen by the light of the struggling moon, and the last words that came from the gallant fellow’s lips were, “This way, 97th.” He fell where the foes were thick around him, and he died not unavenged. His death was brilliantly brave, and talked of as gallant men would desire. But this little volume commemorates chiefly the religious phases of his character, and it is his piety, and not his heroism, which has carried the work into so many religious homes.”

The heir of Levalley, Richard Vicars, married his cousin Anne Vicars from Grantstown. , and after her death was briefly married to Mary Mansfield, daughter of Richard Fozard Mansfield of Bournemouth, dying in 1812 before their second wedding anniversary.. 

In 1798, Jerome Watson, a native of Crosspatrick, parish of Johnstown, was tried in the Garrison, Rathdowney, for an attempted robbery of firearms from the house of Mr. Vicars of Levalley on 17 March, during which attempt the steward, Mr. Whitaker, was accidentally shot dead. William Vicars, (who he?- ed) writing to Thomas Vicars in Dublin on the 21 March, confirmed the murder of Whitaker, adding that some of the windows in the house were broken, and that he himself was obliged to seek refuge, every night since, at the residence of Robert Flood of Middlemount. A servant girl, who was injured in the affray, gave evidence for the prosecution, and swore that Watson and a man named Hennessy from Moore St., Rathdowney, were guilty of the murder of Whitaker. Hennessy escaped from the district and was never heard of again. Following his conviction Watson was flogged by a man named Harney under the orders of Robert Flood, J.P., Middlemount, Commander of the Ossory Cavalry, who was primarily responsible for the execution. Watson was then placed on a cart, and hanged from a tree in Rathdowney Square, the rope having being tied around his neck by a young son of Dr. Jacob of Knockfinn. The cart was then drawn from under him, the body cut down, and buried in a grave already prepared for it beneath the tree. A can of lime was thrown over the body by Walter Phelan, and the grave was then closed. An oblong patch of ground covered with gravel marked the grave in which Watson was interred, known to this day as The Croppy’s Grave. It is no longer the simple gravel oblong but a large and shiny memorial.

In the early 1800s Richard Vicars was running Levalley as a stud farm.  In particular he had a stallion by Robin Aylmer of Painstown’s thoroughbred brown stallion called Ranunculus , a marvellous fencer , whose good qualities , however , were marred by a most diabolical temper.  The stud fee was two guineas and half a crown, to be paid before the stallion was led out of the stable!

He died in 1812, a year after his second marriage.  The house was let to Robert Fitzgerald sometime after 1820, when we know that he was at Middlemount  (Deed 751 556 511091)

Robert’s mother was the daughter of Thomas Roe of Gortnalee and his father was Edward Fitzgerald of Coolanowle.   Gerald FitzGerald, 11th Earl of Kildare had spent his youth under attainder for treason against Henry VIII, and during his journeys around the castles of his fellow earls and chieftains had a son, Gerald Oge, by Eleanor O’Kelly, daughter of the O’Kelly of Timogue. When Queen Mary Tudor pardoned him, however, he married Mabel Browne, daughter of Sir Anthony Browne, Master of the Horse and Gerald Oge was given merely the lands and status of superior gentry. The FitzGeralds of Coolanowle maintained their claims to the Kildare earldom for centuries, and the story may account for the very romantic Knight Service that was paid on Timogue – a single red rose.

Robert’s mother had a very horrid death in 1794, which may be why he came to the other side of the county.    It is hard to see where Edward fits into the Coolanowle family, but it seems probable that he was a younger son of Richard Fitzgerald who was shot in 1776 in a duel with his daughter’s father in law, Edward King, 1st Earl of Kingston.  Fitzgerald’s  son in law, Robert, the 2nd Earl  was tried for murder, by his peers, in 1798 when he and his son murdered Captain Henry Fitgerald, also of the Coolanowle family,  who had eloped with Robert’s daughter.  Robert King and Caroline Fitzgerald were probably more distinguished for employing Mary Woolstenecraft as their children’s governesses than for anything they every accomplished themselves. Novelist, historian, author of “The Rights of Woman” and the mother of Mary Shelley who wrote Frankenstein.   Woolstencraft did not think much of Carline Fitzgerald and never really got over her first impressions that she recounted in a letter to her sister Oct. 30, 1787   “I have not seen much of her, as she is confined to her room by a sore throat; but I have seen half a dozen of her companions, I mean not her children, but her dogs. To see a woman without any softness in her manners caressing animals, and using infantine expressions is, you may conceive, very absurd and ludicrous, but a fine lady is a new species of animal to me.”

Many of the Coolnagowle Fitzgeralds made careers abroad – in 1843 Lieutenant Robert Fitzgerald raised the Scinde Camel Corps at Karachi. The corps consisting of camel-mounted infantry was entrusted with keeping the peace on the Sindh frontier, which later became famous as the Punjab Frontier Force or The Piffers.  His brother James Edward FitzGerald (4 March 1818 – 2 August 1896) was New Zealand’s arguably first prime minister and notable campaigner for New Zealand self-governance. 

In Edward Fitzgerald’s will dated 3/6/1803 he leaves to his father-in-law Thomas Roe of Gortnalee and also John Roe, sum of £3000 for his two daughters Elizabeth and Mary Anne and they die unmarried then to son Robert Fitzgerald, his only son and heir at law. 

1819 – John Shortt of Pallas, eldest son and heir at law of John Shortt late of Pallas deceased (1st part), John Roe of Beckfield, Queen’s Co. surviving trustee and Exor. of Edward Fitzgerald late of Coolanowle, Queen’s Co., deceased (2nd part), Mary Anne Fitzgerald, spinster and only surviving daughter of Edward Fitzgerald (3rd part), James Shortt of Newtown, Queen’s Co. and John Roe, Jnr. of Dublin, gent (4th part) … re forthcoming marriage … re lands etc. of Garrane late in possession of Edward Talbot decd and indenture of lease 1/8/1799 Thomas Talbot and John Talbot did demise and release unto John Shortt and his heirs 88 acres and bog, turbary waters, etc. unto John Shortt for and during the natural lives of John Shortt and Grace Shortt, two of the children or said John Shortt the lessee and John Shortt, son of James Shortt the brother of John Shortt the lessee … John Shortt the lessee has lately died intestate.

Bill filed in High Court of Chancery for foreclosure of both mortgages. Conditional decree for sale of several properties so mortgaged. Thomas Roe died 6/7/1806. Elizabeth Fitzgerald died 20/0ct(?)/1809 unmarried so Mary Anne entitled to £3000 and interest of £1600. Robert Fitzgerald attained his age of 21 years in 1816 (after arbitration) should pay £1600 to James Shortt and John Roe Jnr – and the lands of Garrane(?) to James Shortt and John Roe until the marriage. £1000 by John Shortt to James Shortt and John Roe in trust.[2]

In 1825 George Fitzgerald and Robert Roe are trustees of the marriage settlement of Robert Fitzgerald and Mary Anne his wife

The 1835 OS survey still shows the original house, but on the later 25” survey the house has  a quite different footprint.  Given its stylistic features the rebuilding probably happened in the late 1830s, though it is probable that the early fabric was incorporated in the present house. Tierney in The Buildings of Ireland puts it at circa 1815, which is certainly what it looks like, but for the conflicting evidence of the OS maps. A 5 bay house, with a hipped roof and a Doric doorcase, 2 storeys at the front, and three at the rear. The entrance is very grand, and dated by Dean (Gate Lodges of Leinster) to c 1780. “an elegant and antique entrance comprising deep ogee quadrant walls, the coping of which is continuous as a band into the four containing slender cut stone pillars”. Dean in particular notes the hexagonal brick lodge with special bricks to the angles and lancet windows.

From 1835 Robert Fitzgerald is sitting as a JP and on 5 March 1850 his daughter Elizabeth Malvina married Edward P Roe, the son of the Rev Samuel Roe of Thornton, Leics. at Erke Church – the third generation of Roe Fitzgerald marriages!  His daughter Geraldine does not seem to have married and died on 19 Dec 1896 at Newbridge Rectory.  

In 1849  Robert’s wife Mary Anne died and he married Catherine Jackson, the widow of John Flintoff. 

In 1858 Robert is thinking of moving out, and advertises the house, but nothing comes of the plan.  He died in 1872 and his son John Fitzgerald resigned from the army and came home.   John Fitzgerald had been in the Royal Irish Fusiliers  and saw action on the North West Frontier during the Indian Rebellion.  There he met Henrietta Seton Chisholm,  the granddaughter of George Wilding Chisholm, a successful merchant in Calcutta and owner of the Fairlawn Hotel, and made her his bride.  She may not have enjoyed Laois life because again in 1876 and 1877 the house is being advertised, but there were no takers.    

Her younger sister, Emily Seton Chisholm married Philp Crampton Creaghe of Mitchelstown on September 27, 1874, and they regularly visited Levalley. To turn the 7 degrees of separation into only 3, Dodie Smith’s stepfather, (she of 10001 Dalmatians) was Alec Gerald Seton Chisholm, Henrietta’s nephew.

In May 1897 the papers reported Robert Fitzgerald’s death

With deep regret we announce the death of Captain. J. Fitzgerald, which occurred at his residence, Levally, Rathdowney, on May 24th, at the age of 75. Captain Fitzgerald was the eldest son of the late Mr Robert Fitzgerald, J.P. , and joined at an early age the 87th Royal Irish Fusiliers , from which he retired in 1873. He was appointed to the Commission of the Peace for the Queen’s County on the 16th October, 1874, since which time he has lived a quiet life at Levalley, supporting liberally every good cause in the neighbourhood , assisting without ostentation those whose needs were made known to him , and deserving in every respect the great popularity he bad achieved.

THE FUNERAL:-   On Friday, the 28th instant, the funeral of Captain John Fitzgerald , J.P., took place, whose death , after a long illness, borne in that spirit which characterised the life of the deceased gentleman, occurred at his residence at Levalley, Rathdowney, on May 24th. The cortege left the bouse at 11-30 a.m., the coffins, of which there was a suite—the outer one being of Irish oak, stained, polished, and massively mounted in brass—being borne by the tenants of Ballyedmond and Ballyphilip from the hall door to the centre of the avenue, preceded by the hearse, at which point the coffin was taken by a number of the Royal Irish Constabulary, headed by Sergeant Hugh Dearty, who bore it aloft as far as the demesne entrance, thus paying a last tribute of respect to one whose amiable disposition had won the esteem of all. 

The coffins, which bore the following inscription—JOHN FITZGERALD , Died. May 24, 1897, Aged 75 Years . were covered with wreaths of rare beauty, the most conspicuous being those from Mrs Fitzgerald, Mr and Mrs Philip Creaghe _and their children, Mrs Atkinson, Miss Atkinson , Rev. Hamilton and Mrs O’Connor, Mrs Caldbeck , the Misses Hamilton , Miss Fanny Hamilton also one from the servants of the house. The chief mourners were Mrs Creaghe (sister in-law), Mr Philip Creaghe, R.M., and Rev Canon O’Conor (nephew-in-law). The attendance included the gentry, traders , farmers, and labourers of the neighbourhood those having , vehicles accompanying the remains to the churchyard at Killermogh , where the funeral procession arrived about two o’clock. The service was conducted by the Rev. W. Fry, Rector of Rathdowney, assisted by the Rev. G. M. Fry, and the interment took place in the family burial-ground attached to the church. Among those who attended or sent carriages were—A. W. Perry, J.P.; Loftus T. Roe, Mrs Atkinson , Mrs Caldbeck, Rev. W. B. Fry, Rev. B. E. Carr, Rev. B. F. Johnston, B. H. D. Duckworth, M.D.; E. J. Burnett , R. C. Roe, J. C. Dugdale , R. Williams, A. Shortt, R. P. Kent, R. Pratt , P. J. Murphy, J. E. _Tomlinton, J. Williams , J. Barton, H. Barton, Mrs Phillips, R. R. Mitchell , R. Carey, W. Baird, &c.

In 1901 Henrietta Fitzgerald was still at Levally, but she retired to Castlefleming where she died in January 1912  In the census of 1911 Levally was unoccupied. 

On Monday 14 November 1920 Mr Mansfield , the son of John Mansfield and Anne Huggard of Waterville, Co. Kerry, bought Levally on 50 acres for £4,080.  In February 1921 the marriage of Mr. Joseph Mansfield, Levally, Rathdowney, with Miss Margaret (Daisy) Roe, youngest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Peter Roe, Ballykelly, Roscrea, took place at Skeirke Church.  The Roes were back!  I wonder did Mr Mansfield realise that 100 years previously there had been another Mansfield living in the house – Mary Mansfield, Richard Vicars’ second wife.

Of course the Huggards of Waterville are an interesting family too – Martin Huggard took over a hotel in Waterville in 1914, and his son Noel had both Ashford Castle and Ballynahinch Castle.

The next generation were on the horizon – in 1953 The wedding took place of Mr. Leslie Hutchinson, son of Mrs. Hutchinson and the late Mr. J. Hutchinson, Coolbanagher, Portarlington, and Miss Vera Mansfield. Levalley House . Rathdowney  at Rathdowney church. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. J. Costelloe (England), assisted by the Rev E V C. Watson, Rector, -Monasterevan Miss Myra Mansfield assisted her sister as bridesmaid. Mr. William Allen, cousin of the groom, was best man. The reception was held by Mrs. Mansfield at Levally House. Numerous wedding presents and expressions of good wishes were received by Mr. and Mrs. Hutchinson for their future happiness.

In 1965 the Kilkenny People reported a lucky escape for the house – Rathdowney Fire Brigade were called out on Friday to deal with a fire in Levalley House the property of Mr J. Mansfield. The fire began in the chimney and at one stage threatened to do considerable damage but the brigade confined the blaze .

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