The content of Turtle’s first book, ‘The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of Co Kildare’, published in 2004, offer a unique and lively historical insight into eighteen of County Kildare’s most influential “big house” families, as listed below. The story of these often eccentric dynasties is set against the backdrop of the past – the violent religious wars of the 17th century, the rise of the British Empire in the 18th and the run up to Irish independence in 1921.
Amongst the many anecdotes relayed are the tales of “French Tom” Barton and the vineyards of France, the bizarre death of Viscount Drogheda, the innkeepers son William Conolly who became the richest man in Ireland, Admiral de Robeck of Gowran Grange, Punchestown, who led the Dardanelles campaign, the Duke of Leinster’s romance with Wallis Simpson, the medieval ape who saved the Earl of Kildare’s life, the Celbridge connection to the Salem Witch Trials and the remarkable terrier who journeyed from Forenaghts to Bristol in 1798.
Three hundred and sixty years ago, the fate of the wine-producing Barton dynasty lay with a small boy, left naked on a snow-blitzed island, beside the corpse of his murdered father. During the 1720s, the boys grandson “French Tom” Barton migrated to France and purchased the first of the family vineyards in Bordeaux. His heirs managed to survive the ravages of the French revolution intact and by 1820, the Barton & Guestier clarets were being exported worldwide. Hugh Barton acquired Straffan House from the Henry family in 1831 and his descendants remained there until the 1960s. After thirty years of mixed and eventful ownership, the house now forms the backbone to the world famous K-Club, home to the 2006 Ryder Cup. The Barton family continue to produce wine at Chateaux Langoa and Leoville Barton in France.
In the mid 17th century, a Leicestershire family emigrated to Massachusetts and so escaped the ravages of the English Civil War. Only one son, Daniel Clements, remained behind, serving a commission in the army of Oliver Cromwell. For his military services in Ireland he was rewarded with an estate in Cavan. His descendents rapidly scaled the heights of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy gaining the Earldom of Leitrim in 1795. Meanwhile, in America, Daniel’s sister Mary was arrested for witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials. Daniel’s grandson Nat Clements was one of the great amateur architects of Georgian Ireland. Perhaps his best-known legacy is the Irish President’s residence, Arás an Uachtaráin, in Phoenix Park. In 1767 Nat’s eldest son Robert took the first lease on a property at Killadoon. A series of prudent marriages and the will of the assassinated 3rd Earl of Leitrim boosted the fortune of the Killadoon branch, but the subsequent land acts considerably reduced the size of the estate in the 20th century. Killadoon is presently home to Charlie Clements, representing the tenth generation of the Clements family since Daniel’s arrival in Ireland.
Perhaps the greatest individual phenomenon of 18th century Ireland was the rise of Speaker Conolly, an innkeeper’s son from Donegal who the most powerful man of his generation. His magnificent Palladian residence at Castletown House, Celbridge, is one of the Irish nation’s greatest treasures. The Speaker’s eventual heir, “Squire Tom” Conolly was to the forefront of Irish politics in the lead up to the disastrous Rebellion of 1798 and married one of the beautiful Lennox sisters. In one particularly audacious adventure, another Tom Conolly attempted to run the Charleston Blockade in the American Civil War and was home in Donegal in time for an election. The house passed from the Conolly-Carew family in 1966 and is now open to the public.
With a lineage stretching back to the great Emperor Charlemagne, the de Burgh’s role in Irish affairs has made an immense impact on the shape of the island’s past. From the first Norman knights who cantered across the seas in the 12th century to the courtrooms of Georgian Dublin, the de Burghs have been intrinsically involved with some of the most pivotal events in Irish history. The Oldtown branch was established in Kildare just over 300 years ago by Thomas Burgh, one of the first great Irish military engineers. His descendants include the Georgian orators Walter Hussey Burgh and John Foster, General Sir Eric de Burgh, the singer Chris de Burgh and the 2003 Miss World, Rosanna Davison.
The de Robecks have always been fighting men. The 2nd Baron de Robeck served with the Franco-American army against the British redcoats in the American War of Independence. His son, the 3rd Baron, fought in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars. The 4th Baron opted for a quieter life, building the present family home of Gowran Grange outside Punchestown and serving as Ranger for the Curragh in the reign of Queen Victoria. His son, Admiral Sir John de Robeck (1862 – 1928, reluctantly witnessed the disastrous attempt to capture the Dardanelles Straits in March 1915. The 5th Baron commanded an artillery battalion in the Great War and married one of the Alexanders of County Carlow. In World war Two, the 6th Baron was instrumental in helping General “Punch” Cowan defeat the Japanese in Burma. The present head of the family is John, 8th Baron de Robeck. A military career is not amongst his plans for the future.
In the wake of the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland, John Fennell, a young soldier from Wiltshire, was awarded an estate in Cahir, Co. Tipperary. His acquisition of land coincided with his conversion to Quakerism, a religious phenomenon that swept across the British Isles in the late 17th century. Over the next hundred years, his descendants established themselves as prosperous millers and gradually spread across Ireland. An inadvertent wallop of a cricket ball altered everything when Burtown, an old Quaker house in Kildare, passed to Jemima Fennell, great-great-grandmother to the present owner. The early 18th century house lies close to the Quaker village of Ballitore, home of the illustrious Shackletons. The present head of the family is James Fennell, co-author with Turtle Bunbury of books such as ‘Vanishing Ireland’ and ‘Living in Sri Lanka’.
Guinness is undoubtedly one of the most famous names associated with Ireland amongst the international community. Founded by Arthur Guinness in 1759, the Guinness brewery now accounts for one million pints poured every day. Almost as famous as the stout are the Guinness family, a dynasty that spans the world with ever-growing confidence. Lodge Park is presently home to Robert and Sarah Guinness. Robert descends from Samuel, a younger brother of Arthur, who became a goldbeater in the 18th century. Samuel’s descendants founded the bank of Guinness Mahon and included Adelaide, 1st Countess of Iveagh, the financiers Loel and Dick, and Robert’s father, Richard, a prominent Engineer.
When Maurice FitzGerald decided to assist the deposed King of Leinster in his invasion of Ireland, he cannot have possibly imagined how potent a force his descendants would become over the next seven hundred years. From the Machiavellian pragmatism of Garret Mor to the doomed rebellion of Silken Thomas and the flight of the Wizard Earl, the Kildare FitzGeralds have always been a dynasty of consequence. In the 18th century, a new age of respectability saw the family head elevated in the Peerage as Duke of Leinster. But even in those times, scandal was not far away as the Duke’s son Lord Edward Fitzgerald became embroiled in the Rebellion of the United Irishmen. The outbreak of the Great War in 1914 was ultimately followed by tragedy and ruin, fostered by a compulsive heir whose passion for fast living almost wiped out the Fitzgerald fortunes forever.
In the early 18th century, a Presbyterian minister’s son from Co. Antrim who struck rich in the banking world acquired the former Tyrconnell estates at Straffan on the banks of the River Liffey. A high profile marriage to the Earl of Milltown’s daughter subsequently enabled Hugh Henry’s descendants to enjoy a prominent position in Kildare society during the 18th and 19th century. Among these was Joseph Henry, one of Ireland’s greatest art connoisseurs, and Admiral Hastings Yelverton, sometime First Lord of the Admiralty. An extravagant lifestyle obliged the Henrys to sell Lodge Park to the Bartons in 1831. Lodge Park was sold to the Guinness family in 1948. Meanwhile the Henry family continued to enjoy a fruitful life that would take them from Monte Carlo to the Cold War to Kosovo.
The Lattin family were prominent merchants in Kildare during the 16th and 17th centuries, well known and respected for their patronage of Catholicism. Like their cousins, the More O’Ferralls, they dispatched many sons to fight on the Continent during the late 18th century, losing one in battle in 1789. Patrick Lattin served in the Irish brigade and was a close colleague of Lord Cloncurry. His uncle Jack became the subject of a popular country dance tune, “Jockey Lattin”, following his premature death in 1731. Morristown Lattin was originally built in 1692 and passed by marriage to the Mansfield family in 1836.
- LA TOUCHE OF HARRISTOWN, MARLAY & BELLEVUE
Ireland’s most prominent Huguenot family descend from David La Touche, a refugee from the Loire Valley who served at the Battle of the Boyne and went on to found the bank of La Touche & Sons. His descendants were to be instrumental in the evolution of Ireland’s banking institutions over the 18th century and to spearhead educational reform in the 19th. The Harristown branch included John “The Master” La Touche, a fanatical evangelist, and his daughter, Rose, whose tragic romance with artist John Ruskin resulted in her untimely death at the age of 25.
The Mansfield family have been in Ireland at least since the 12th century when they made their presence known in Co. Waterford. Penalized for their Catholicism in the 17th century, fortune returned when they married the sole heiresses of the Eustaces of Yeomanstown House and the Lattins of Morristown Lattin. During the 1840s they acquired a curious attachment to the Danish colony of St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Latter day characters closely associated with the family include the parachuter Major Richard Mansfield, children’s author Brownie Downing, Fine Gael politician Gerard Sweetman. Morristown Lattin was sold in 1982 and is now owned by Constance Cassidy and Eddie Walsh.
A heroic defence of a Waterford Castle against Cromwell’s army earned the Maunsell family considerable respect from their Irish peers when they first settled in the country in the mid 17th century. During the Georgian Age, they rose to prominence in Limerick, as bankers, politicians and Mayors. When not in Limerick, they were invariably leading an army from one international battlefield to the next. In the early 18th century, they acquired Oakley Park from the Napier family, scions of three mighty Generals, while a daughter of the family caused a considerable scandal with her elopement. A marriage to the Orpen family ultimately sparked the end of the family’s association with Ireland and the house was sold to the St John of Gods.
An invitation to manage the Ormonde estates in post-Restoration Ireland changed everything for the youngest sons of a prominent London barrister. In 1714, the younger brother George Medlicott acquired an estate at Dunmurry. Despite a series of complex changes in ownership, the house remained the family base until 1955. George’s descendants excelled as horse riders, both hunting in Kildare and in action with the British Army overseas. Dunmurry House is currently owned by Peter Cole.
Readers of magazines such as Architectural Digest, Harpers & Queens and Nest may be familiar with the work of the prolific interiors photographer Derry Moore. These same readers might be surprised to learn that Derry Moore is also the 12th Earl of Drogheda, head of a prominent Kildare family who resided in Monasterevin for exactly 200 years between 1725 and 1925. Although the Moores left Ireland early in the 20th century, their ancestral home, Moore Abbey, built in the mid 18th century, continues to stand today, being the Irish headquarters of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary.
Descended from two great Catholic Irish families, the More O’Ferrals combined with the marriage in 1751 of the Balyna heiress Letitia O’More and the Dublin banker Richard Ferrall. At the close of the 18th century, Richard and Letitia’s sons played a prominent role on the battlefields of Europe. During the 1840s, Sir Richard More O’Ferrall emerged as one of the great champions of religious toleration and independence. Latter members of the family include the police commissioner John, the film director George, the horse trainer Roderic, the de Beers marketing guru Rory and the unfortunate Richard, murdered by the IRA in 1935. Kildangan would become the property of Sheikh Maktoum whilst Balyna was developed as a hotel and golf club.
A Royalist soldier from Durham seems to be the first member of the Wolfes of Forenaghts to arrive in Ireland. Whatever his motives, within a generation he had established a family in the county that would play a dominant role in the “affairs of the Pale” through to the 19th century. Indeed, the Wolfes of Forenaghts produced no less than eleven Freemen of Dublin over the years. The most celebrated member was Chief Justice Lord Kilwarden, a contemporary of Wolfe Tone, murdered during the Emmet Rebellion of 1803. A high profile marriage to the fashionable Lady Charlotte Hutchinson in the mid 19th century produced no heirs and another heir was slain in action against the Mahdi.