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Napier of Celbridge Park (Oakley Park), County Kildare

General Sir William Francis Patrick Napier, K.C.B. (1751 – 1860), attributed to George Frederic Watts (1817-1904). As a boy, he apparently spent ‘much of his time with a vagabond called Scully … [who was] something of a poacher.’ He also wrote a series of volumes on the Peninsula War, I believe.

In 1787, Oakley Park became the home of Colonel George Napier and his wife, the former Lady Sarah Bunbury (née Lennox). She was one of the beautiful Lennox girls, popularised in the book and TV series “Aristocrats” by Stella Tillyard. Her sisters included Lady Louisa Conolly of Castletown and Emily, Duchess of Leinster.

Located between the Conolly estate at Castletown and Lord Cloncurry’s estate at Lyons, the Georgian house at Celbridge Park (Oakley Park) was originally built in 1724, most likely by Thomas de Burgh. Its first owner was Dr Arthur Price, the Vicar of Celbridge who proposed to Jonathan Swift’s “Vanessa“. Price later became Bishop of Meath and Archbishop of Cashel. Dr Price’s steward at Oakley Park was Richard Guinness, whose son, Arthur went on to establish the Guinness Brewery.

The Napiers raised eight children in this home. They clearly did something right because the sons grew to be remarkable men. Indeed, for many years afterwards, the house was known by country people as “The Eagle’s Nest,” on account of the high spirit of the Napier boys.

During the 1798 Rebellion, Colonel Napier armed his five sons and instructed them all in the strategy of defence. The boys were educated at the grammar school in Celbridge. Here the eldest boy Charles organised his fellow pupils into a volunteer force and made them parade.

However, his younger brother William showed such little respect for these military drills that he was tried by “a drum-head court martial” and sentenced to some sadly unknown punishment. William refused to accept the penalty and so Charles reluctantly gave the go-ahead for the other volunteers to teach the young rebel a lesson. However, “William, his fiery nature revolting against the insult, whirling a large bag of marbles like a sling discharged them amid the crowd, and then, charging, broke the obnoxious drum, and forced his most prominent assailant, greatly his superior in age and size, to single combat. Although getting far the worst of it, and badly hurt in the fight, William, still refusing to give in, was restored to the ranks by his brother for the pluck he had shown.”

The long-term impact of these schoolyard scraps becomes somewhat more formidable when one considers that Charles, William and a third brother George went on to become three of the greatest British heroes of the Peninsula War. All three were knighted and promoted to the rank of General. After the death of Colonel George Napier, the house and lands were sold to Theobold Donnelly. He changed the name from Celbridge House to Oakley Park. The house was later home to the Maunsell family.

 

Lady Sarah Bunbury Sacrificing to the Graces by Joshua Reynolds.