The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of Co. Wicklow (2005)
"Only a year after the publication of his Kildare
volume, Turtle Bunbury has produced another book detailing the eccentricities
and preoccupations of the landed gentry in Co. Wicklow. Deeply peculiar,
quietly amusing and written with great style" - The Dubliner.
'Exhaustively researched and lavishly illustrated'
- The Irish Times
"Excellent content and thorough research presented
in a reader accessible fashion" - Hugh Oram
ABOUT THE BOOK
Turtle Bunbury's second book brings his readers on a journey into the past, tracking
nine of Co. Wicklow's prominent landowning families as far back as he can
and then bringing them right up to date. Thus the Brabazon
family, Earls of Meath, begin with a Belgian mercenary at the battle
of Hastings in 1066 and gallop through the centuries to the 21st century.
The Earls of Wicklow astonish British society by their continuing
dalliance with the Catholic faith. The Wingfields of Powerscourt
build arguably the most impressive Palladian mansion in Ireland and sire
the mother of Sarah, Duchess of York. The Tighes of Rossanagh join
hands with the Brontes and Percy Bysshe Shelly but run foul of Jonathan
Swift. The Barton family of Glendalough establish vineyards in France
and give birth to Erskine Childers, the brilliant writer who became
de Valera's Minister of Propaganda during the Irish Civil War and whose
son, also Erskine, was President of Ireland. General Dennis of Fortgranite
commands the artillery at El Alamein while Captain William Hume of
Humewood plays a vital role in the daring escape of the 1798 rebel, Michael
A handsome, beautifully illustrated and
thoughtfully designed hardback, The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Wicklow (Volume 1) was singled out for special recommendation by Eason's Bookshops
in 2006 following a series of glowing reviews from customers.
The book was launched at Kilruddery House, Bray, Co. Wicklow, on Thursday
8th December 2005. Senator David Norris delivered a tremendously
amusing speech to the gathered assemblage of 150 persons. It received widespread coverage in
the media, with excellent reviews in Cara, The Irish Times, The White
Book, The Dubliner, The Wicklow People, The Wicklow Times and The
Carlow Nationalist. Turtle also appeared on East Coast Radio with Donal
Swift and Anna Livia FM with Beth Anne Smith.
This book is currently out of print but should be available from many libraries in Ireland, or if you have specific enquiries, try contacting the author directly.
Other books in the "Landed Gentry
& Aristocracy of Ireland" series are Kildare, Meath, Kilkenny, Wexford
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION
We all of us descend from men and women whose names we will never know.
Until recent centuries, every generation simply came and fell like fields
of wheat. When one contemplates the extraordinary legacy of our lost ancestors,
it seems they understood the machinations of our planet better than we do.
It matters not whether these forbears were from the icy Artic or the plains
of Africa, the deserts of Arabia or the forests of Europe. In every land
there are testimonies to the ingenuity of forgotten people. County Wicklow,
the soft, mountainous terrain in which this book is set, sparkles with the
granite legacy of these ancient people. Circles of rock echoing a harvest
moon, standing stones pointing to a solstice morn, mounds of grassy earth
where children once danced and old men fought.
County Wicklow is a gorgeous part of Ireland. Between its voluptuous mountains
and rocky coastline, it has entranced everyone from philosophical hermits
and Vikings marauders to Hollywood film directors and the economic whiz-kids
of modern Ireland.
The nine principle families who feature in this book descend from adventurous
people of courage and conviction who arrived in Wicklow when Ireland was
a violent island perched on the edge of the world. Some like the Humes,
Dicks and Leslies were Scottish in origin, beneficiaries of Jacobite kings
and the prosperous linen trade in Ulster. Most were English. The Bartons
came from Lancashire, the Childers from Yorkshire, the Wingfields from Suffolk
and the Ellis's and Tighes from Lincolnshire. Some claim descent from exciting
characters; the Wingfields from a Saxon warrior, the Brabazons from a Belgian
mercenary who fought at Hastings.
In the two hundred years following the Tudor invasion of Ireland in the
mid-16th century, each of these families established themselves as vital
cogs in the colonial system. Ownership of land, the acreage beneath one's
feet, was the most patent symbol of wealth. As such, their influence came
to bear not just on their various land-holdings but also upon the whole
of Ireland and, in many instance, upon the wider world beyond. Thus these
families became intertwined with that extraordinary, mesmerizing, bewildering
age of the Ascendancy.
Interpreting the past can be a double-edged sword and it is always worth
noting where a particular author's loyalties might lie. There is a growing
awareness that history, good or bad, is made by people, real human beings
with real human conundrums. Perhaps it is the influence of so many newcomers
to our shores but Ireland is gradually coming to terms with its past. And
not everything about it was awful.
Any family history that focuses on the bare, irreducible facts of birth,
deaths and marriages will quickly become unbearably tedious to read. Without
the dramatic assistance of anecdote and description, the lineage of even
the most enterprising of clans can prove exceedingly dull. I hope the tales
told herein add a small splash of colour to the past. Many of the characters
in this book were players on a stage that circulated the entire world. A
cousin of the Wingfields of Powerscourt founded the first settlement of
Jamestown, Virginia. Henry Ellis of Magherymore was Governor of Georgia.
The Bartons made their fortune selling French wine to rich Americans. The
Dicks prospered in the Far East and the Childers in Ceylon. The philanthropic
no-nonsense 12th Earl of Meath would undoubtedly have painted the globe
in the colours of the Empire but, down at Glendalough, Erskine Childers
would find the treatment of the Boers in South Africa soured his appetite
for the imperial way. No family was unaffected by the conflicts of the 20th
century. At Kilmacurragh, ownership of the ancestral estate was thrown into
chaos by the death in action of all three Acton brothers.
As regards these houses today, only Kilruddery and Fortgranite remain in
the hands of their original owners. Powerscourt still carries the influence
of the Wingfields through their close kinship with the Slazengers. The Powerscourt
estate is now home to the a luxurious five star hotel. There are many in the neighbourhood of Glendalough House who recall
the families of Barton and Childers though the house itself is gone. Mimi
Hume passed away in 1992, since when Humewood Castle has become a popular
retreat for sportsmen and celebrities. Shelton Abbey is presently a reformatory
prison and Magherymore is headquarters of the Columbian Missionaries. Kilmacurragh
is a ruin awaiting restoration and Rossanagh is a ghost of its former self.
So now, as the story goes, I raise my glass to the past.
“Adiuvante Deo” (With the help of God)
Kilmacurragh lies a few miles south of Glenealy, midway between Rathdrum
and Brittas Bay. The property came to the Acton family during the 17th
century at the end of which they built the original house of Kilmacurragh
(or Westaston). During the 1850s, the forward thinking Tom Acton planted
an arboretum that is now in peak condition with an exceptional array of
crimson rhododendrons, Irish yews, giant shaggy podocarpus and exceptional
pleasure grounds, carpeted in bluebells in the spring, birdsong echoing
around the branches of trees from Peru, Tasmania, the Middle East, Indochina.
Tom’s brother William was a hero at the battle of Inkerman while
another brother Charles Ball-Acton was prominent in India. The death of
all three Acton brothers between the Boer War and the First World War
spelled an end for the family although the last surviving member of the
family, Charles Acton, distinguished himself as one of Ireland’s
greatest music critics in the 20th century.
- Barton & Childers of Glendalough
“Fide et Fortitude” (By fidelity and fortitude)
The destiny of the Barton and Childers families became entwined in the
19th century when tragedy brought the children of the two houses together.
The Bartons descended from the great wine-growing family of Straffan in
Co. Kildare while the Childers hailed from England and were of a more
intellectual bent. Their young were raised at Glendalough House, known
to the family as Glan, sheltered beneath Djouce Mountain and close to
the waters of Lough Dan. In the run up to independence, Robert Barton
and his cousin Erskine Childers found themselves increasingly drawn into
the fray. As protégés of the British public school system,
they were unlikely but highly effective adherents to Sinn Fein. Executed
for his beliefs, Erskine’s legacy was to found a dynasty that has
already produced a President of Ireland and a senior diplomat in the United
- Brabazon of Kilruddery, Earls of Meath
“Vota Vita Mea” (Prayers Are My Life)
From a fantastical beginning amongst the pivotal battle of Saxon and Norman,
the line of Jacques le Barbancon has continued to the present day. After
several centuries of steady growth in Surrey and Leicestershire, the family
fortunes blossomed when Henry VIII dispatched the Machiavellian Sir William
Brabazon to Ireland as Vice-Treasurer. He established the family at Kilruddery
and his grandson was created 1st Earl of Meath in 1627. Over the next
three hundred years, the family consolidated its influence in Wicklow,
Ireland and the wider world of the British Empire. A strong sense of philanthropy,
evident since the establishment of the Meath Hospital in the 1750s, became
the guiding force of the 12th Earl and his Countess during the reigns
of Queen Victoria and Edward VII. The father and grandfather of the present
Earl were distinguished war heroes and this close knit Wicklow family
continues to generate characters of great charm and generosity.
- Dennis of Fortgranite
“Suaviter sed Fortiter” (Mildly but Firmly)
The Dennis family descends in the male line from the Swifts of Herefordshire,
kinsfolk of both Jonathan Swift and John Dryden. In the late 18th century,
a prudent marriage to the sole heiress of the Chief Baron of the Irish
Exchequer brought the extensive Dennis estates in Kerry, Cork and Dublin
to the family. A similarly lucrative marriage settlement in 1810 introduced
Thomas Dennis to West Wicklow when he succeeded to the Pendred estate
at Fortgranite outside Baltinglass. Further marriages to the Bakers of
Tipperary, the Crosbies of Kerry and the Handcocks of Westmeath further
increased their social network. Amongst the dramatis personae of relatives
were the Shakespearian scholar Edgar Flower, the artist Kathleen Marescaux,
the Crimean War veteran Major John FitzThomas Dennis and the Indian tea
magnate Maurice FitzGerald Sandes. In the early 20th century, the inventive
Colonel Meade Dennis pioneered the concepts of radio-transmission and
submarine detection at his office in Fortgranite. His son and heir, General
Meade Dennis, served as principal artillery commander in Montgomery’s
successful campaign against Rommel’s army in North Africa.
- Howard of Shelton Abbey, Earls of Wicklow
“Inservi Deo et Laetare” (Serve God and Rejoice)
For close on three hundred years, the Howard family held court at Shelton
Abbey outside Arklow. From the outset they were an unusual clan with a
tremendous penchant for the arts. Hugh Howard emerged as one of the great
collectors of the early 18th century while his brother acquired the great
library of Lord Chancellor West. The Howards were equally adept at collecting
wealthy wives. Marriages with the Boleyns, Forwards, Arnolds, Darnleys,
Charlemonts, Powerscourts and Abercorns ensured their position in high
society. Created Viscounts in 1776 and subsequently elevated to the Earldom,
four sons of the family sat as Representative Peers between 1800 and 1905.
The 7th Earl was a Senator in the Irish Free State and the last Countess
sat in the Irish Seanad in 1948. The family’ artistic bent was emphasized
by friendship with the hymn-writer Fanny Alexander and the pre-Raphaelite
poet, Dante Rossetti. Protestant by birth but often Catholic by persuasion,
the family was caught up in one of the most extraordinary legal battles
of Victorian times. In the last century, Billy Wicklow was one of Evelyn
Waugh’s great friends and a renowned figure in Dublin society. His
cousin Lady Katherine Howard established a charitable foundation and was
the last of the Howards.
- Hume-Dick of Humewood
“True to the end”
When the Right Honourable Fitzwilliam Hume Dick stood for election in
November 1868, he advised the people of Wicklow that “having so
long represented” the county, voters knew perfectly well what his
standpoint was and thus he felt it was “not necessary to go into
a full explanation of his political opinion”. In other words, he
would again be running as a Conservative, this time in support of Benjamin
Disraeli who had lately succeeded Lord Derby as leader of the party. As
it happens, Disraeli lost to Gladstone in the ensuing election but Fitzwilliam
Dick’s seat was secure. Indeed, the Wicklow landowner was successful
in every election bid from 1852 through to 1880. But if one was looking
for a reason why he had not felt it necessary to explain himself in the
run-up to the 1868 election, perhaps he was simply too busy watching his
most remarkable legacy take shape beneath Keadeen Mountain in West Wicklow.
The Humes traced their origin back to Scotland and slowly rose through
the rank and file of the Irish Asendancy from the late 17th century onwards.
Intermarriage with the exceptionally wealthy linen family of Sameul and
Quintin Dick provided enough money for the family to be considered one
of Co. Wicklow’s most important for the 19th century. In the 20th
century, Mimi Weygand, last of the Humes of Humewood, married into a French
family greatly tarnished by the fall of France in World War Two.
- Leslie Ellis of Magherymore
“Non Sine Jure” (Not without right)
The Leslie Ellis family descends from Sir Thomas Ellis or Ellys of Wyham,
a small village near Louth in North Lincolnshire. He was Deputy for Francis
Manners, Earl of Rutland, Lord Deputy of Lincolnshire from 1612. As a
young man, Rutland was imprisoned alongside his brothers for supporting
the Earl of Essex’s ill-fated 1601 rebellion against Queen Elizabeth’s
government. However, with the support of the Cecils, he swiftly regained
favour and rose to become a prominent courtier during the reign of King
James. As Rutland’s Deputy, Sir Thomas almost certainly encountered
King James during the Scottish-born monarchs many visits to Rutland’s
home at Belvoir. Sir Thomas was created a baronet on 30th June 1660. His
grandson, Sir Richard Ellis of Wynham in Lincolnshire, was a zealous non-conformist
and author of a book entitled Fortuita Sacra which is extremely rare.
Sir Richard was returned to Parliament twice for Grantham, and three times
for Boston, commencing in 1722.
Summum Nec Metuam Diem Nec Optem (Let Me Neither Fear nor Wish for
the Last Day)
The Tighe family’s connection to Ireland began when an opportunist
farmer from Lincolnshire secured the contract to supply Cromwell’s
troops with bread and wheat. He became MP for Dublin and indeed every
generation of the family held a seat in the Irish Parliament right through
to the Act of Union in 1800. His grandson, Richard Tighe, was a Privy
Councillor in the reign of George I and became one of Dean Swift’s
greatest foes. By dint of prudent marriages to families such as Bligh,
Fownes and Bunbury, the Tighes became one of the wealthiest commoner families
in Ireland. With a reputation for frugality, they had amassed over 16,000
acres by 1876, primarily in Counties Kilkenny and Wicklow. For 200 years
they held court at Rossanagh outside Ashford. The family had a remarkable
talent for encountering the literary greats. Dean Swift, Percy and Mary
Shelley, Thomas Moore, John Wesley and Patrick Bronte were all connected
and they even had their own family poet, Mary Blachford Tighe. Plagued
by an asthmatic gene, many of the family perished young but the line continues
to prosper, inspire and amuse to this day. Their magnificent gardens at
Woodstock in Co. Kilkenny are presently being restored. Perhaps Rossanagh
will one day have a similar happy fate.
- Wingfield, Viscounts Powerscourt
“Fidélité est de Dieu” (Fidelity is of God)
Powerscourt House is quite possibly the most famous Georgian house in
Ireland. Built in the 1740s, the house was tragically devastated by fire
in 1974. In August 2005, Treasury Holdings confirmed that they had won
the contract to build Ireland’s first Ritz Carlton Hotel at Powerscourt.
The estate takes its name from the de la Poer family who built a castle
here in Norman times. In 1608, the property came to the possession of
Sir Richard Wingfield, a prominent general in the English army. In time,
the family received the honours of a Viscountcy. Their sons prospered
both at home and overseas – one became Lord Byron’s closest
friend, another hosted George IV to dinner. They continued to exert an
influence on Irish affairs right through until the last century. The 8th
Viscount’s great-granddaughter is Sarah, Duchess of York. The Slazengers
who run Powerscourt today are closely related to the present Viscount.
The Irish Times (March
(Reviewed alongside The Landed Gentry and Aristocracy of Co Meath,
Volume I by Art Kavanagh, Irish Family Names)
There are few true aristocrats in Ireland today and gentry, landed or
otherwise, are equally thin on the ground. Yet it is still interesting to
read about those who did, and do, lay claim to such titles. Turtle Bunbury
and Art Kavanagh (themselves bearers of historic names) bring us back to
the heydays (and low days) of lords, earls, viscounts, baronets and other
"gentlefolks" of the counties of Wicklow and Meath. Many, if not
most, of these people, as in almost every county in Ireland, acquired their
titles and lands in one of just a few ways, through conquest, confiscation
and plantation, royal favour, descent and inter-marriage, while not a few
estates were actually purchased. We're talking, of course, of the centuries
of English rule in Ireland and of those who benefited therefrom. Nineteen
of Co Meath's prominent families are dealt with in Art Kavanagh's first
volume on that county, while Turtle Bunbury, in this first Co Wicklow volume,
details the history of just nine of that county's principal land-owning
families. Both books are exhaustively researched and lavishly illustrated.
Read and see how the other 10 per cent lived not so long ago. (Richard
Irelands Antiques & Period Properties (November 2005)
Turtle Bunbury loves writing about the aristocracy; recently, he
chronicled the great landowning families of Co Kildare in amazing detail.
Now, his next book is being printed, ready for publication in December.
The new book will be called "The Landed Gentry and Aristocracy of
County Wicklow" and will chronicle the lives and doings of nine
of Wicklow's most prominent families, including the Viscounts Powerscourt
and the Earls of Meath and Wicklow. It will include many rare and fascinating
photographs. Turtle has investigated the lives of three different Erskine
Childers; the Baltinglass man who commanded the artillery at El Alamein
and the girl who inspired Mary Shelley to write. Among the great characters
who will people the pages of this book is the 8th Earl of Wicklow, otherwise
Billy Wicklow. Well- known in artistic and literary circles in Dublin, he
frequented many of Dublin's best known literary pubs. Billy Wicklow was
one of the great characters of Dublin, of a type no longer seen around the
city streets and hostelries. The family estate, at Shelton Abbey, was declared
bankrupt in 1951 and eventually became an open prison. (Hugh Oram)
Carlow Nationalist (November 16th 2005)
Ireland’s first amateur radio transmitter was built by a Colonel Meade
Dennis at his Fortgranite home near Baltinglass and who went on to establish
contact with a radio amateur in Australia. It was all done with a chip of
crystal (lead sulphide) he found on his farm, a very high aerial, a few twists
of wire, a cat’s whisker and a great deal of ingenuity. The story of
the transmitter and the Dennis family is just one of the fascinating passages
in a beautifully illustrated book due to be published in December. Entitled
‘The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Wicklow’, the book
abounds in rare photographs and records the family histories of nine of the
most prominent landowning families in County Wicklow.
Inevitably, the Viscounts Powerscourt and their neighbours, the Earls of Meath
and Wicklow are included. The author mentions that among the other illustrious
Wicklow characters are “the epic lives of the three Erskine Childers,
the general who commanded the artillery at El Alamein (North Africa WW2),
the girl who inspired Mary Shelley to write, the clergyman who taught the
Bronte’s father to read and the Baltinglass soldier who made radio contact
with Australia”.The pages also cover the botanical genius who helped
create Kilmacurragh gardens, the Glendalough man who ‘took on the Zulus’,
the Madame of Humewood whose father surrendered Paris to the Germans and the
playboy who became devoted to the Dublin pubs in the 1950s. Turtle Bunbury,
the author of ‘Landed Gentry’, was educated in Dublin and Scotland
and then became a freelance correspondent with the South China Morning Post
and Business News Indochina. (William Paterson)
Great to have all of these stories documented at a time when all the
old estates are being bought up for golf courses or whatever.
Liam Kenny, Co. Kildare
Turtle Bunbury holds an extraordinary talent in making historical facts
accessible to people who may find the past rather overbearing. His style
is swift, charismatic and above all else, passionate and respectful for
people who made an impact in Irish society. Perhaps, someday soon, Turtle
should turn his hand to fiction? I sense this author has a wonderful future
ahead of him.
Sarah Fairchild, Gloucestershire
A highly enjoyable and absorbing book, and obviously fantastically well
researched. A real treat!
Ralph Fielding, New York, USA
I thoroughly enjoyed the read
a really excellent addition to what
has been written on the family.
Richard Wingfield, Reading
A most fascinating book. Turtle Bunbury illuminates the past in a thoroughly
Margaret Edwards, Aberdeen
A fascinating read, well-written and extensively researched.
Jocelyn Wingfield, UK
Wonderfully written, excellent research, sterling work.
Elizabeth Alexander, Carlow
Well written and accurate.
Mallica Childers, New York
Brilliant! A great job. Most informative and entertaining.
Ann Tighe, Wexford
An enjoyable read, with great attention to detail!
Mathew McCauley, Dublin
'Finally got a copy of your Wicklow book, very good indeed, a nice follow on from Sheila Wingfield's books' - Karl Henry, Dublin.
A nicely produced & well researched book, in the spirit of the classic
-gone publishers, such as John Murray et al.
Louis Hemmings, Dublin
Greatly enjoyed the 'Wicklow' volume. As before, Turtle has managed to
winkle out some of the more interesting - and lesser known - stories relating
to these families. This ensures that as well as being a good reference work,
it is also a good read! Also, the fact that he brings the family concerned
right up to date, renders a valuable - and timely - service.
Brian McCabe, Kildare
Its really great to see the past coloured in like that ... I look forward
to Volume 2!
Charles O'Brien, Arklow
Mary Rose Everan, Co. Kildare.