Butler of Ormonde
One of the Rolling Stones, with three bedraggled friends, was present at the handing over of Kilkenny Castle to the State on August 12th 1967. The Butlers were well represented, dressed immaculately in contrast to the ‘rockers’. The eighty year old Lord Ormonde himself was there with his Lady. Mr. Charles Butler, his heir, from America was there. So too were Lord Carrick, Lord and Lady Mountgarret and Lord and Lady Dunboyne. Slightly lesser Butlers were represented by Sir Thomas of Ballintemple, Co. Carlow, Hubert the historian and a brace of Vicomtes from France. German and Austrian Butlers were represented by the Barons von Buttlar-Elderberg. The government party of officials was headed by the colourful Minister for Finance, Charles Haughey. Members of the public and a large contingent of Butlers attending the Butler Rally were present.
This was one of the most momentous occasions in Irish History. It marked the end of a feudal system that had lasted from the 13th century right down to the 20th. The Butlers present knew it. The government party knew it. The Rolling Stone didn’t give a damn. He was there to have his photograph taken in front of the Castle.When the press photographers got wind of the word that a Stone was present they lost interest in the Lords and Ladies and the 600 years of history and switched their focus to the new aristocracy of rock. Followed by the Irish version of the ‘paparazzi’ the Stone legged it out the gate and away, causing a ripple of raised eyebrows among the glum set who were standing as at a burial, which in fact they were.
Butlers (Lords Carrick) of Mount Juliet
“To those who know this place, the very name evokes memories of green meadows sweeping down to the river Nore, groves of trees clothed in summer richness or stark against a winter sky, with groups of horses congregating under a row of pruned lime or spreading beech and all reminiscent of a scene by Herring or Stubbs. Happily, the great house of the earls of Carrick still dominates the demesne. This place, now well into its third century of existence, maintains that well bred air of aristocratic privilege which was so essential for its creation.”
When the noted Kilkenny historian John Kirwan penned those words he may have been vaguely aware that today Mount Juliet would be synonymous with World Class Championship Golf Course. Not alone was the famed Golf Course developed in the last decade but the splendid and elegant Mount Juliet House has been carefully restored and is now a Hotel of enviable international repute. In addition the entire 1500 acre estate is fully utilized to make it a veritable heaven for guests. The long list of pursuits available to the visitor includes riding, fishing, hunting, shooting, archery and of course golf.
The story of the Butler family, who built Mount Juliet, began, not in Kilkenny but in Tipperary.
Cuffe of Desart
In 1921 the treaty between Britain and Ireland led to the establishment of the Irish Free State, which gave Ireland the right to govern itself as a Dominion within the British Empire. Within a few months, Ireland again erupted in conflict, this time a bitter civil war between the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State and those who felt that the Anglo-Irish Treaty fell far short of Republican ambitions.
On the night of February 1922, the 5th Earl of Desart was in London when a small group of Republicans walked up the avenue to Desart Court armed with fire-torches. Why it was felt necessary to destroy the building is unclear. The Desarts had not done anything obvious to bring this destruction upon them. The 5th Earl had been amongst the earliest Irish landlords to agree to the sale of his estate in the wake of the 1903 Land Act. Lady Sybil Lubbock maintained the burning was “for no personal ill-will towards them [the Desarts] but in reprisal for some measure of severity on behalf of the new government”. That same night, the Ponsonby’s house at Bessborough was also burned.
Butlers of Maidenhall
As Hubert Butler, that exceptional man of great insight and international fame said modestly, ‘the Butlers of Maidenhall were minor gentry’. Maidenhall is near Bennetsbridge in Co. Kilkenny. The family took up residence there in the mid 1800s. Before that it was built and occupied by a Henry and Frances Griffith in the mid eighteenth century. Henry was an intellectual and an entrepreneur and his wife was a writer. Hubert Butler found them a most extraordinary couple and in his book Escape from the Anthill he devoted the first chapter to them under the title Henry and Frances.
Hubert in concluding the chapter went on to say ‘Last year the Nore flooded, as it often does, and flattened out the remaining wall of Griffith’s flaxmill, which has been used for some generations as a boundary fence. The mill-stream has long been choked up and it was only quite lately that poking about on the banks of the river I found traces of its stone built sides. The cottages that housed the mill-hands as well as the sixty one harvesters have gone without trace, but the elm trees which Henry planted are still standing. As for Maidenhall, it has not changed very much; its successive owners have always been poor and never had any money to make many of those lavish improvements which were admired in Victorian times.’
Butlers Viscounts of Mountgarret
The 17th Viscount Mountgarret who passed away in 2004 was a most colourful character. He sat in the House of Lords and he certainly did not endear himself to those whose political persuasion inclined to the left. He rejoiced in not being dependent on the whim of electors. “I do not have to curry favour with constituents” he stated tritely in the House much to the chagrin of the New Worker which reported his comment and went on to say “Just a few weeks ago an industrial tribunal ordered him (Viscount Mountgarret) to pay £20,000 compensation to a gamekeeper who had suffered eight years of his (Mountgarret’s) unpredictable, irrational and intolerable rages”.
Another remarkable incident was noted in a brief comment about the Viscount in an article on the Internet. “The 17th Viscount Mountgarret, who has died of a heart attack aged 67, claimed descent from King Henry VII and regularly behaved as though living in the 16th century. His most famous exploit was to take a shotgun to a hot-air balloon manned by tourists, which floated too low for his liking over his Yorkshire grouse moor in 1982. He was fined £1,800 by Skipton magistrates, amid much testy harrumphing.”
de Montmorency of Castle Morres
One of the most extraordinary characters of the ‘old’ family of the Morres/de Montmorency must surely have been Hervey Morres who was born c.1743. He was the son of Hervey the 1st Viscount and his mother was a daughter of Brabazon Ponsonby the 1st Earl of Bessborough. Politics was in his blood from both sides as his father had been an M.P. for many years and the parliamentary exploits of the Ponsonbys are legendary. John Ponsonby, the Speaker, was his uncle. Hervey was educated at Oxford and entered politics shortly afterwards. He was a strong Ponsonby supporter. Some quite amusing stories are told of him. One, in particular, concerned his duel with the Hon. Francis Hely Hutchinson. The cause of the quarrel has been quite forgotten, as so often happens with quarrels, but the duel did place at Donnybrook, in Dublin, a favourite venue for ‘Affairs of Honour’. After taking their places the order to fire was given and Hutchinson was fastest with his shot. de Montmorency fell to the ground but after some time was able to rise to his feet. The protagonists bowed to each other and de Montmorency, helped by his second, was brought to his lodgings in Dublin.
Flood of Farmley
Henry Flood the great Irish politician and statesman was the most high profile man of his family. The circumstances surrounding his birth were somewhat out of the ordinary and the circumstances arising from his death were quite extraordinary.
His father, Warden Flood who later became a very eminent lawyer, met his future wife while studying in the Temple, in London. She was Isabelle Whiteside. Like many a young couple before them they fell in love and Isabelle became pregnant. Warden, being the gentleman he was, proposed marriage and the date was set. Young Henry to be, not being privy to their plans arrived early and so had to bear the stigma of illegitimacy that bedevilled many a good man before and after him.
Henry was, of course, treated just like a lord and was provided with an excellent education that enabled him to rise to the highest ranks in the political world of his time and in the process amassed a considerable fortune in money and property. When his time came to leave this world he made a most controversial will. He left some money to provide for his wife, made a few other bequests and left the bulk of his estate to Trinity College for the advancement of the study of the Irish language.
Loftus of Mount Loftus
It is reputed that the Mount Loftus estate or Mount Eaton as it was then known was won in a card game. The then owner was Mr. John Eaton, a grandson of the original grantee of the same name. It would appear that the winner of the game was Rt. Hon. Nicholas Lord Loftus, first Viscount Ely. The difficulty encountered by the Rt. Hon. Nicholas in getting actual possession would lead one to believe that the story of the card game was very probably true.
Mr. Eaton was not overly anxious to give up his ancestral home easily. Lord Loftus was compelled to seek legal redress and obtained a Chancery suit. Eaton refused to quit. He had two bodyguards, prize-fighters, one armed with a pike and the other with a blunderbuss to prevent the Chancery suit being served. He also had two men to guard the demesne to prevent the Sheriff’s officers from entering.
John Eaton, the son of Theophilus Eaton and grandson of John who got the original estate in 1703, which was called Mount Eaton, was still embroiled in the legal wrangle over the ownership of the estate in 1763.
McCalmont of Mount Juliet
The McCalmont family came from Abbeylands, White Abbey, County Antrim. Major General Sir Hugh McCalmont leased Mount Juliet house and demesne from the Earl of Carrick in the first decade of the 20th century. They purchased the house and property a short time later in 1914. Even before they purchased the demesne, they continued to maintain and improve the house and the grounds. Sir Hugh was married to Lady Rose Bingham, the third daughter of the Earl of Clanmorris, in 1885.
Sir Hugh’s brother, Colonel Harry McCalmont was a very wealthy man who had been left an immense fortune. He was left over four million pounds by an uncle in 1888. Harry purchased Cheveley Park Mansion and estate in England. He became Member of Parliament for Newmarket and a J.P. and earned distinction in the South African war.
Ponsonby of Bessborough
Because of the film ‘Waterloo’ the vision of General Sir William Ponsonby charging to his doom at the head of his cavalry will be forever etched in the memories of the millions who saw the cinematic images. The General was in fact the grandson of Kilkennyman John Ponsonby, the Speaker of the Irish House of Parliament and contemporary of Henry Grattan. Sir William Ponsonby (MP for Londonderry), who led the Union Brigade’s charge on D’Erlon’s troops was killed by French lancers. As if he had a premonition of his death he handed his watch and ring to his aide-de-camp, prior to his charge, telling him to give them to his wife.
The ancestor of this remarkable Kilkenny family was Colonel John Ponsonby, originally from Hale Hall in Cumberland. The Colonel raised a regiment of cavalry and accompanied Cromwell to Ireland. When the war concluded he was appointed a Commissioner for the taking of depositions concerning atrocities committed against Protestants during the 1641-49 rebellion, and was made Sheriff of Wicklow and Kildare.
Power of Kilfane
The story of the Powers of Kilfane is quite extraordinary as the founding father of the Kilfane Powers, John, later knighted as Sir John Power, was what might be described as the Saint Hubert of Kilkenny Hunting, while his brother Richard was the inspirational light that led to the founding of the Kilkenny Theatre. These brothers blazoned a trail in their respective fields, that still to this day, lights the way for many Kilkenny rural and urban dwellers. The traditions they nurtured and to which they devoted a great amount of time may have resulted in the love of Kilkenny people for the sport of hunting and the pastime of amateur dramatics, as evidenced today by the existence in the city of a vibrant theatrical company named Barnstorm and the Watergate Theatre.
Smithwick of Kilcreene
Kilcreene House, the home of the Smithwick family for many generations and now a hospital, in Kilkenny, was first built, according to Peter Smithwick, in 1660. The lands of Kilcreene were originally owned by the Rothe family and then after the Cromwellian War they were acquired by Sir Henry Bayley Meredith. The Smithwick family bought the lands from the Merediths.
Kilcreene Lodge was built on lands in the possession of Richard Cole. He got a lease of the land from the Ormondes – a portion of St. Francis Abbey Brewery. According to Walter Smithwick, Peter’s father, the house was a Miller’s house as there was a linen bleach there and the remains of a retting pond could still be seen not more than four hundred yards from the property. John Smithwick, the son of Edmond Smithwick (d.1876) was the first of the family to live at Kilcreene Lodge in 1861 after his marriage to Christina Devereux, whose father owned a distillery in Bishopswater in Co. Wexford. They spent considerable money on the house and grounds. A very fine chandelier was purchased from Baccaret, France and installed in an extension to the house built in 1884. In 1871 a lake with a waterfall and additional features was formed from a stream that ran through the property. These works included installing a system of running water and Kilcreene Lodge was the first house in Kilkenny to have a bathroom with running water.
St. George of Freshford
Howard Bligh St. George was a J.P for counties Galway and Dublin and in 1891 he married Evelyn Baker of New York. They lived at Screebe Lodge in Connemara and at Clonsilla Lodge in Dublin. Evelyn St. George was the celebrated Mrs. St. George, who, having become quite friendly with William Orpen, the internationally renowned artist, became his inspiration leading him to paint many portraits of her, which afterwards became quite famous. A full length portrait of Mrs. St. George hung in Straffan House for many years.
Perhaps the most popular and best known man of the St. George family was Shoeshine a member of the Woodsgift branch. He was the man who set up a shoeshine business in Picadilly in 1941 and became a legend in his own lifetime. He continued working the same stand until well into the 1960s when he retired. Shoeshine was married and had a family.
Wandesforde of Castlecomer
In 1842 a commission set up by the British government to investigate the employment of children issued a report on children working in mines in the United Kingdom. Frederick Roper, one of the commissioners, visited mines in the south of Ireland. Writing about the Castlecomer coal field on the borders of Kilkenny and Laois, or Queen’s County as it was then called, he said: “I inspected about a dozen of the different shafts, worked by contractors and found none but men employed. Indeed, I was informed that none but strong, able young men would be of any use in the pits, the labour being severe. I did not see any under eighteen years of age”.
He goes on to say that he went down into the pit and saw the people at their work and even the “hurriers” who draw the coals to the foot of the shaft, were mostly strong young men. Elsewhere, Roper stated that no female of any age was employed in mining. It was not necessary to employ child labour as there was a surplus of adult workers. He described the “hurriers” in the collieries of Kilkenny – Queen’s County going along the narrow low passages of seldom more than three feet high and often down on their hands and feet, the body stretched out. ‘They drew the sledge, on which wooden boxes containing the coal are placed, by a girdle round the loins and a long chain fastened to the sledge going down between the legs. It was a matter of wonderment to me how these hurriers many of whom were stout men upwards of six feet high, could manage to get along these very narrow low passages at such a rate as they do.’