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The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Kildare – Press

Irish Times Review

Return to Contents of The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Kildare.




The Irish Times – August 2005 – Richard Roche – Local History

Previous volumes in the Gentry series initiated by Art Kavanagh and the late Rory Murphy of Bunclody included histories of the “gentry” (ie: landed proprietors as well as the older, truer aristocracy) of Wexford, Tipperary and Kilkenny and the publishers promise forthcoming publications on Louth, Meath, Waterford, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Clare and Armagh. This volume, The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of Co. Kildare, consists of detailed and colourful records of 18 families, picked at random according to author Turtle Bunbury. He warns, however, that this is not intended as a compendium of pedigrees, even though much use has been made of the ever reliable Burke. It is a beautifully illustrated volume and well worth the €40 price.

Books Ireland Summer 2005 by Hugh Oram

[This] book about the aristocracy and landed gentry of County Kildare seems to tell the story of an effete tribe indeed. However many of the histories deserve narrating, and Turtle Bunbury unearths an amazing amount of information about the families concerned. The story of the Barton family of Straffan who once owned the great house that’s now the K Club is intriguing not least for their connection with the Bordeaux wine trade. The involvement of the Guinness family in brewing and of the La Touche family in banking is also thoroughly researched. Bunbury is right up to date; in documenting the More O’Ferrall family, the famous More O’Ferrall outdoor advertising firm is there. It started in 1936 and was sold to the US multinational Clear Channel media in 2002. There are many curious little anecdotes, like the fact that an ancestor of Chris de Burgh commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry in Normandy. The research in this book is very thorough; no stone or layabout has been left unturned.


Castletown House, Celbridge, Co. Kildare, was an, if not the, appropriate venue for launch of a new book on the history of Kildare. The house once owned by one of Ireland’s richest men, Speaker Connolly, hosted the publication of a book the aristocracy of Co. Kildare. Historian and traveller, Turtle Bunbury, has provided plenty of detail about the life and times of eighteen of the county’s most influential “big house families,” include the Connolly family.

The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Kildare,” was launched with the support of Kildare Kitchens and Tindal Wines. A large gathering, including members of some of the families portrayed, turned up on 8 December for a first look at the book which covers more than a thousand years of Irish history.

Families include the Aylmer, Barton, de Burgh (singer, Chris, is related), Clements, Connolly, Guinness, Henry, Fennell, Fitzgerald, Latten, La Touche, Mansfield, Maunsell, Medlicott, More O’Ferrall, Moore, de Robeck and Wolfe. Mr. Bunbury, who is also working on a travel book on Sri Lanka, has provided much detail about the lives of these often eccentric families, who had their share of failure as well as success. The book, published by Irish Family Names, describes itself as a short potted history but is a neat and comprehensive overview of its field.


Leinster Leader, January 2005 – Con Costello – Looking Back

The families of de Burgh and Clements are each devoted a chapter in Turtle Bunbury’s well researched “The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Kildare”, in a series published by Irish Family Names. The Clements family is descended from a 17th century English wine merchant, while the de Burghs claim Charlemange as an ancestor. Settled at Oldtown, Naas, since the late 17th century the family has produced many celebrated soldiers, including General Sir Eric de Burgh, who was a President of the Co. Kildare Archaeological Society, and his grandson Chris de Burgh, the popular singer who has sold more than 40 million albums and performed over 2,500 concerts worldwide.

Acknowledging that Guinness is undoubtedly one of the most famous names associated with Ireland amongst the international community, the first identifiable member of the family is Richard Guinness who was born about 1690. Now the best know member of the dynasty is Desmond who, with his late wife Mariga, established the Irish Georgian Society which awakened interest in historic houses, and especially ensured the preservation of Castletown House at Celbridge. Their son, Patrick, initiated a DNA test which confirmed their bloodline’s genetic affiliation with the Gaelic sept of Magennis of Co. Down.

Families which have disappeared from the county in modern times include those of Aylmer of Donadea, Wolfe of Forenaghts, More O’Ferrall of Balyna and Kildangan, Mansfield of Morristown Lattin, La Touche of Harristown, Barton of Straffan, and of course the Fitzgeralds.

Bunbury concludes that “It will not be long before the last of the tweed-clad, Spaniel toting gentlemen vanishes in his entirety, taking with him a remarkable chapter in Irish history.”


The Leinster Leader – January 2005 – BETWEEN THE COVERS WITH HENRY BAURESS: A look at Kildare’s most influential families

Historian and traveller, Turtle Bunbury, has provided plenty of detail about the life and times of eighteen of the Kildare’s most influential families. In “The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Kildare,” he has provided fascinating details about eighteen families whose names pepper the history of not only Kildare but Ireland it one time legal power centre, London.

The Aylmer, Barton, de Burgh (singer, Chris, is related), Clements, Connolly, Guinness, Henry, Fennell, Fitzgerald, Latten, La Touche, Mansfield, Maunsell, Medlicott, More O’Ferrall, Moore, de Robeck and Wolfe families are among a network of around four hundred families who governed Ireland for more than 200 years after King William’s victory over the Jacobite forces at the Boyne in 1689. These families from the Protestant gentry and aristocracy – the Anglo Irish ascendancy – held great power up until the end of the 1900’s.

Turtle Bunbury and Art Kavanagh have brought together an entertaining overview of the stories of these families, whose role in Irish history will no doubt continue to be debated. Where did they come from? Some descended from old Irish chieftains. Others came via the Norman invasion 800 years ago and other arrived from England in the 1650’s. Yet others, like the La Touche and de Robeck, were the modern equivalent of asylum seekers on the run from religious and political turmoil on the European mainland. Whatever about their origin, Turtle Bunbury says they were the privileged elite and Kildare’s proximity to Dublin brought it to the forefront during those the aforementioned two hundred year period.

The lot of the gentry, while apparently privileged, has not always been a bed or roses. There have been thorns on the rosebushes. One of the Clement family, Nat, was the architect and designer of the Aras an Uachtarain and is credited with the design of Newberry Hall and Williamstown in Carbury, Lodge Park in Straffan and Colganstown in Newcastle, Co. Dublin. But other members of that family found themselves on the wrong side of the status quo on occasions. A female member was arrested for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials in the United States. Much later, another was a prominent IRA supporter in the 1930’s and was interned in the Curragh during the World War 11 period.

The one time richest man in Ireland, Speaker Connolly, did not have aristocratic blood in him. The son of a Protestant inn-keeper from Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal, went to study law and began collecting land in voluminous amounts at very cheap rates. All above board? One of his friends who aided his development was the London banker, Sir Alexander Cairns, whom Jonathan Swift described as “a shuffling scoundrel.”

Two of Dublin’s best known streets, Henry Street and Moore Street, are named after the Moore family of Monasterevin, Earls of Drogheda. The widow of one of the Earls married the Restoration dramatist, William Wycherly. She died before him and the playwright lost a lot of money fighting the will. One result was he spent seven years in Fleet Prison in London.

The Wolfe family of Forenaughts in Naas, whose home is now part of the Smurfit thoroughbred operation, suffered during the Emmet Rebellion in 1803 when two of them were dragged from their carriage in Dublin and murdered. Another, Richard, died in the Sudan when his army unit was sent to relieve Gordon garrison in Khartoum in 1885.

A member of the Henry family, Michael Charles Henry, the last of his family to live at Straffan House and Lodge Park, was a Commander in charge of the Port Crew on board the first Polaris submarine, Resolution.

Turtle, who is also working on a travel book on Sri Lanka, has provided much detail about the lives of these often eccentric families who had their share of failure as well as success.

What of the author himself, whose surname appears in the index of the book?

One of the Lennon sisters, Sarah, who featured in Stella Tillyards book, “Aristocrats,” married the Suffolk racing magnate, Sir Charles Bunbury. She divorced him and later, in 1787, Oakley Park near Celbridge, became her home and that of her husband Colonel George Napier. If it was not death, gambling also took its toll on the aristocracy. One of the Fitzgeralds lost Carton House in Maynooth as a result.

Turtle’s family are from Rathvilly, Co. Carlow, and came to Ireland 300 years ago. One of his ancestors, a Norman knight at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, got land in Cheshire near a place called Bunbury. One of the family lost almost everything when he supported Charles I and hopped it to Ireland. The family were settled into Carlow by the 1660’s.

There are five or six explanations as to how he was Christian named Turtle. One is because he was a third son and the Latin for that is Tertius. Another, he said, is that his grandmother gave him three turtles when he was a baby. “There are others but we will leave them aside,” he said in an interview with the Leader.

He went to school in Dublin, at Castle Park in Dalkey until he was thirteen and then headed to Perthshire in the Scottish highlands for his secondary education. He loved it there. Back to Trinity where he started law but changed to history finishing there in 1996.

A three year spell in Hong Kong in the magazine/ media area followed but he returned to Ireland and got stuck into the history business where he is now working with publisher, Art Kavanagh.The Kildare book is part of a series and there could be another Kildare related book by the 32-year-old Dublin-based historian.

In between researching the gentry he has been doing a book on Sri Lanka with James Fennell of Athy and that, “Living in Sri Lanka,” will be out next year. Part of that project includes a three month spell in the country.

During his history period in Trinity, Turtle specialised in Irish history from the 17th to 19th centuries. He started work on the Kildare book in April of this year in conjunction with others such as Eneclann (

As far as the author is concerned, entry to the world of the aristocracy was not impossible. Speaker Connolly did it but, he said, Speaker played by the rules of that group of people, which contained both heroes and villains. Many of those big families are gone. If Kildare had about fifty of them in their heyday, less than half of them remain intact. He found the families he wrote about “very helpful.”

Publisher, Art Kavanagh, has produced a number of county based books on such families, including Wexford, Tipperary, Kilkenny and now Kildare. Others are due to come on stream this year. The book describes itself as a short potted history but is a neat and comprehensive overview of its field. Every school and library should have one.