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Viewmount House, County Carlow

Viewmount House is located just east of Carlow Town in southern Ireland. As Samuel Lewis noted in 1837, the house is ‘pleasantly situated and commanding a beautiful prospect of the neighbouring country’. [i] To the front rises ‘a noble mountain ridge, while in other directions the prospect is bound by Lugh-naCuillagh and Mount Leinster’. [ii] The spires and public edifices of the county town of Carlow can be seen in the distance.

Together with its neighbouring mansion of Browne’s Hill to the west, the house occupied the site of an ancient religious establishment called St. Kieran’s Abbey. During the suppression of the monasteries, this property was granted to one the Earl of Thomond, head of the O’Brien family. Three towers of this monastic pile were still standing in the 1760s. Indeed, the walls of Viewmount are apparently built from the remains of these towers, as was the original park wall at Browne’s Hill. [iii]

One of the most majestic megalithic remains in Europe is to be found in the vicinity – the Browne’s Hill Dolmen. Its 103-ton granite table stone, believed to be the biggest in the world, is 23 feet in length, 19 in breadth, and at the upper end nearly 4 ½ feet thick; it is supported at the east end on three upright stones, 15 feet 8 inches high, and at a distance is another upright stone standing by itself.

Viewmount is in the townland of Kernanstown. The Browne’s Hill demesne lay across the ‘border’ in the townland of Chapelstown; its main avenue was the dividing line between the townlands of Kernanstown and Chapelstown.

To see a map of Viewmount House from 1846, click here.

 

A Georgian Mansion

Viewmount House was one of several handsome residences built in the charming countryside of County Carlow during the Georgian Age. It was one of the earliest houses in the county, built by the Browne family in 1750 and predating Browne’s Hill by thirteen years.

Eighteenth century politicians were wont to devote their latter years to overseeing the construction of magnificent new homes that might reflect their lifetime achievements for centuries to come. Many such properties were erected or extended in County Carlow at this time – consider Burton Hall (1730), Ballintemple (1740s), Beechy Park (1750s), Duckett’s Grove (pre-Gothic, 1760s), Johnstown (altered in 1760) and Browne’s Hill itself (1763).

The latter was a detached six-bay three-storey over-basement neo-Classical country house. It was built in the Doric style with a granite ashlar façade, having a pedimented central breakfront and a full-height canted bay to the rear. In 2009, the Department of Manuscripts in the National Library of Ireland stumbled upon several boxes of maps, drafts, surveys and correspondence relating to the Browne-Clayton family, which were acquired by the NLI in 1982.

 

Viewmount lease in the Dublin Evening Post, 9 February 1790

 

 

The Crosbie Family

 

In 1785, Richard Crobsie took to the skies of Dublin in a hot air balloon.

Robert Browne of Browne’s Hill put the house up for lease from 1790, with advertisements in newspapers such as the Finn’s Leinster Journal and the Dublin Evening Post. It may have been occupied by the Doyne family prior to this. In 1792, the lease was taken up by Sir Edward Crosbie, 5th Bart, eldest son of Sir Paul Crosbie, a baronet of Nova Scotia.

The Crosbies descended from a once powerful Catholic dynasty in Kerry and Limerick whose influence waned during the religious troubles of the 17th century.

Sir Edward’s younger brother, Richard Crosbie became a household name across Britain and Ireland after his pioneering journey in a hot air balloon from Ranelagh to Clontarf in the summer of 1785.

Sir Edward Crosbie would be executed for treason after the 1798 Rebellion, when the rebels assembled at Viewmount the night before their disastrous assault on Carlow town. The Crosbie story is told here.

 

The Bennets of Viewmount

 

It is not yet known what happened to Viewmount after Sir Edward’s death. One imagines his widow and children were ill-disposed to live there. At some stage it appears to have been leased to the Bennett family, with John Bennett clocked as a residence from at least 1817. [iv]  Was he related to William Bennet of Ballylockan, Leighlinbridge, the man murdered in 1797? It seems likely as John was buried in the graveyard at Dunleckney, near Leighlinbridge, when he died in 1827 aged 63. [v] His grave is inscribed:

BENNET
Beneath this stone rest the mortal remains of John Bennet, Esq., of Viewmount in this county, who departed this life on the 4th May, 1827, aged 63 years. Truly regretted, an honest man and a sincere friend.

Also of interest is this extract from the Carlow Morning Post of December 1821, provided by the Pat Purcell Papers:

DIED. In Gardiners-place, Dublin, Mrs Hamilton, wife of Charles Hamilton, Esquire, and daughter to the late Thomas Bernard, Esquire, of Gayville, Carlow. The deceased was a most excellent woman; she was brought up, we may say, under our own eyes, by her kinsman and guardian, John Bennet, Esquire, of Viewmount, Carlow – having lost both parents at a very tender age – . She has now in her 27th year, left a disconsolate husband and three infant children to deplore their irreparable loss.

Back to Browne

 

Viewmount House returned to the Browne family soon after. By 1837, it was the residence of Robert Clayton Browne (1799-1888). This was still Robert’s residence two years later when he was recorded in the Commercial Directory under the heading ‘Nobility, Gentry, and Clergy‘. [vi] Robert was also described as ‘of Viewmount’ in an affidavit relating to ‘the last Will and Testament of William Browne of Brownes Hill in the County of Carlow Esquire who died on the 1 April 1840′. [vii]

 

Acknowledgments

 

With thanks to Mick Purcell, the P.P.P., Ivor Bowe, Paul Gorry, Tom King, Michael Brennan, JJ Woods, Susie Warren, Robert Browne-Clayton.

 

Footnotes

 

[i] Carlow Town and Civil Parish from Lewis Topographical Dictionary. The family of the Orator Henry Flood also had a residence called Viewmount near Gowran in Co. Kilkenny. Tom King might have an image of Viewmount and Mick Purcell thinks there’s a map in the PPP.

[ii] Bernard Burke, A Visitation of the Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, 1855.

[iii] Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland, 1845.

[iv] Dublin Evening Post – Saturday 13 September 1817, see here.

[v] John Ryan’s “History & Antiquities of the County of Carlow” (1833), p. 337, transcribed by the indomitable Susie Warren. A copy of this book can be found in the Carlow Library, County Carlow and at the LDS Library Film # 1441050. There is an index in the back of the book, which could be expanded extensively, as many names that appear in the book, do not appear in the index.

[vi] The New Commercial Directory for the Town of Carlow. For F. Kinder & Son. 1839.

[vii] B-C Papers, BP7.