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Vigors of Old Leighlin, Erindale & Holloden

The Vigors hailed from Devon, England, and came to Ireland in the early 17th century when one of them became chaplain to the influential Boyle family. During the reign of Charles II, they  were granted estates in County Carlow, where branches were established at Old Leighlin, Holloden and Burgage. Family members include a zoologist, an antiquarian and the writer Wilfred Thesiger.

 

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English Origins

 

Spectemur Agendo – Let Us Be Judged By Our Actions. The coat of arms of the Vigors family is available here.

The Vigors family of County Carlow originated in Holloden near Bridgerule on the border between Cornwall and north Devon. Educated at Oxford, the Rev. Louis Vigors was one of hundreds of people from Devon to move to southern Ireland during the early Stuart period, following in the path of the Devonian explorer and whiskey drinker, Sir Walter Raleigh. [1]

Louis’s son Urban Vigors was chaplain to Lord Broghill, whose father Richard Boyle, the Great Earl of Cork, famously arrived in Ireland from Canterbury aged 16 with sixpence in his pocket and fetched up as the richest man in Ireland. [2] Lord Broghill’s brother Robert Boyle is hailed as the father of modern chemistry. The Rev. Urban Vigors also married into the Boyle family.

During the reign of Charles II (1660-1685), the Vigors were granted estates in Co. Carlow, including Old Leighlin and, it is thought, the townland of Clorusk (or Clorouske) near Royal Oak, where Holloden now stands. [3]

 

Commissioner Urban Vigors

 

Urban Vigors, son of the Rev. Urban Vigors and Mary Boyle, was attainted by James II’s Parliament and lost his lands. However, he was restored to his estates by William III and Queen Mary, for whom he served as Commissioner for County Carlow and also as High Sheriff of Co. Carlow. He is recalled by a floor monument dated 1718 in the church at Old Leighlin; the church has 32 memorials to the Vigors family in total.

He moved to Old Leighlin after his marriage to Bridget Tench, the daughter of Allen Tench of Staplestown, Co. Carlow, who came to Ireland from Cheshire about 1645. Curiously the Bunbury and Bruen families also originated in that part of the world.

Urban’s brother Bartholomew (1643-1721) succeeded Dr Narcissus Marsh to become Bishop of Leighlin and Ferns in 1691.

 

Richard Vigors of Old Leighlin (d. 1723)

 

Urban and Bridget’s eldest son Richard Vigors of Old Leighlin, County Carlow, was a cogent in Captain Pierce Butler’s Dragoons in 1702, and served as High Sheriff of County Carlow in 1714. He had no issue by his first wife but his second wife Jane Cliffe – the youngest daughter of John Cliffe, Oliver Cromwell’s secretary of war – gave Richard three sons and a daughter before his death in 1723.

 

John Vigors (1709-1776) of Old Leighlin

 

Richard’s second son John Vigors was born in 1709 and ultimately succeeded to Old Leighlin. A Freeman of Ross, John was married in 1781 to Anne Alyward, eldest daughter of Nicholas Aylward of Shankhill Castle, Paulstown, County Kilkenny. They had three sons and two daughters.

I think he must have been a brother of the Rev. Vigors who played a key role in alleviating distress in Carlow during the awful famine of 1741, as evidenced by this story published in the American Weekly Mercury on 30 April 1741:

‘Dublin, February 10. We hear from Old Leighlin in the County of Carlow, that the melancholy Condition the Country in general is in, is most deplorable, Numbers die of the Flux, which rages every where thereabouts, and many would Perish but for the Charity of the Rev. Mr. Vigors, of Old Leighlin, who besides his private Charities and daily feeding Numbers at his House gave last Week 14 l. to be laid out in Oat-Meal to provide two Meals in the Week for the Poor of that Town, of whom 105 are now Fed by that Charity.’

 

Captain Nicholas Aylward Vigors (1755-1828) of Erindale

 

Nicholas Aylward Vigors (1755-1828), their second son, served with the 29th Regiment during the American War of Independence as a young man. He was 21 when his father died in 1776, leaving him Old Leiglin. He was married firstly in 1781 to Catherine Richards, with whom he had a son Nicholas Aylward Vigors junior, and four daughters.

In 1803, a year after Catherine’s death, he was married secondly to Mary (Jane) Browne, with whom he had five more sons and a daughter, the eldest being Thomas Tench Vigors, who would later inherit Erindale. Their other sons included Joshua (who commanded a party of infantry who stormed Delhi during the Indian Mutiny); Charles (who was killed in a horse-fall during the Garrison Steeplechase in Dublin in 1844) and the memorably named Horatio Nelson Trafalgar Vigors (who didn’t join the Navy but became a General and a Governor General of St Helena).

Waterford Mail, 29 December 1838.

On 19 March 1807, a baptism record for Nicholas and Mary’s third son, Horatio Nelson Trafalgar Vigors includes the words ‘of Erindale,’ in brackets but this may have been added later. The name is also in brackets after the baptism of their daughter Dorothea Elizabeth Vigors in April 1809. Erindale is more confidently stated as their address by 20 December 1811, when their son John Urbanus Vigors was baptised. [4]

N.A. Vigors senior was certainly at Erindale by January 1812, when he signed a ‘Protestant petition‘, addressed to both Houses of Parliament in London, ‘in favour of persons professing the Roman Catholic religion.’ N.A. Vigors junior was recorded on the same petition as living at Old Leighlin. When Sarah Steele published ‘Eva, an historical poem’ in 1816, Mrs Vigors of Erindale was listed as a subscriber.

Thus, it seems likely Erindale was constructed between 1806 and 1812. There was a theory that the house was once owned by the Duke of Wellington but this seems unlikely. James Grogan wondered if someone had simply got muddled between Nelson and Wellington. The Iron Duke certainly had Carlovian connections. Sir Ulysses des Burgh, his aide de camp & assistant military secretary, was married in Carlow in 1815 to Maria, only daughter of the late Walter Bagenal, Esq. who represented County Carlow in several Parliaments. Moreover, Wellington also had an illegitimate daughter, Jane Hanlon / O’Hanlon of Grangemore, Tullow, County Carlow, born circa 1787 through a teenage romance with Alicia Eustace (1773-1860), second daughter of Lieutenant-General Charles Eustace of Robertstown, County Kildare. Being considered spoiled goods, poor Alicia was married off in1797, aged 24, as second wife to the 80-year-old Lord Trimleston. A contemporary report said the occasion caused much ‘mirth’. (Could Grangemore be a misspelling of Castlemore, which was a Eustace house outside Tullow?)

 

Captain Nicholas Aylward Vigors junior (1785-1840) of Erindale

 

Nicholas Aylward Vigors (1785-1840), soldier, scientist, zoologist and politician.

The elder N.A. Vigors was clearly keen to set up his firstborn son, N.A. Vigors junior, who, born in 1785, attained his majority in 1806. Captain Nicholas Aylward Vigors served under Wellington in the Peninsula Wars and was wounded at Barossa. He later became first secretary to the London Zoological Society.

The following story was originally in the Carlow Morning Post and Saunders News-Letter (23 November). This version appeared in The Statesman (London) on Friday 23 November 1821:

‘On Tuesday night, a beautiful and valuable Devon Calf, the property of N, A. Vigors, Esq. of Erindale, near this town, was taken off the pasture field, and brought to a grotto near the house, where having been killed, by some one or more ruffians, they left the carcass behind, carrying away only the skin. We are totally at a loss to account for such conduct, for if there is one gentleman in the vicinity of Carlow, entitled to the unqualified esteem of the public, Captain Vigors is that man! This gentleman has expended several thousand pounds on his demesne, which he has literally thrown open to the public ; and during the summer months the inhabitants of this town have every accommodation they can wish for, whenever they may be disposed to recreate themselves in the beautiful scenery and improvements of Erindale: yet the liberal proprietor, whose heart and hand was ever open to relieve his fellow-creature–is not secure, as it appears, from outrage.

In 1828, having inherited his Carlow estate, he threw himself behind the cause of Catholic Emancipation, successfully defeating the Tories (dominant in Carlow since 1695) and serving as Liberal MP for the county until 1840, when his death put the Tories back in charge in the form of Thomas Bunbury and Colonel Henry Bruen.

In 1836, he helped Sir William Jardine and Prideaux John Selby with their Illustrations of Ornithology (1836-43). He also wrote a section describing the birds of the American North-West for The Zoology of Captain Beechey’s Voyage, published in 1839.

The family fortunes peaked with over 4,200 acres in Carlow.

 

The 1836 cartoon ‘Catching a Tartar’ by H.B. (John Doyle), grandfather of Arthur Conan Doyle, depicts Daniel O’Connell as the central figure, shouting ‘Hello! Comrades I have caught a Tartar.’ This refers to the 1835 Carlow election petition and the bear he hugs has the head of Colonel Henry Bruen.

 

 

Thomas Tench Vigors (1804-1850) of Erindale

 

Captain Aylward was succeeded by his half-brother Thomas Tench Vigors (1804-1850), who was living at Erindale from at least 1836 until his death, at Erindale, on 20 February 1850. Shearman’s Directory of 1839 lists him at Erindale with his wife Jane Murphy. Born at Boulange, France, Jane was previously married to Patrick Murphy and was the daughter of Gilbert Rudkin of Wells (between The Royal Oak and Paulstown. Gilbert was connected to Rudkin’s Mill of Bagenalstown, County Carlow. Thomas died in 1850. Two years later, his widow Jane, who survived him until 1879, leased Erindale to Jocelyn Thomas.

Captain Henry Rudkin Vigors, Carlow Rifles, Thomas and Jane’s only son, seems to have sold it on in 1864. [5] In about 1883, Erindale was rented byArthur McClintock and his wife Susan, who later settled at Rathvinden by Leighlinbridge.

 

Rev. Edward Vigors (1747-1797) of Burgage, County Carlow

 

Captain Thomas Vigors, a younger son of Urban and Bridget, served in the Black Horse and, by his second marriage to Elizabeth Mercer, was father to the Rev. Edward Vigors, who was born in 1747. [6] In August 1773, Edward Vigors attached his name to a printed notice from the Coulter Club offering a reward of £100 for information relating to an agrarian outrage on the lands of John Gorman, a former chairman of the Club, at the deerpark in Garryhundon when ‘a large parcel of hay’ was maliciously burned.

The Rev Edward was Perpetual Curate of Old Leighlin, Co. Carlow from 1774 to 1783, during which time he built Burgage House. Prior to this he lived at the Lodge (Eastwood House), Bagenalstown, but in April 1770, he signed a renewable lease (at the yearly rent of £106) for all the lands of Lodge and the Demesne of Bagenalstown to his kinsman Richard Mercer, including the river-side Corn Mill, founded in 1708 and formerly run by Owen Murphy. [7]

In 1781 he became Rector of Shankill, Co. Kilkenny. The Rev. Edward died aged 51 in 1797 and was buried in Old Leighlin; his widow Mary (née Low of Westmeath) died in 1827 and was also buried in Old Leighlin. They had three children, the Rev Thomas Mercer Vigors, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Maria. [8]

 

Rev. Thomas Mercer Vigors (1775-1850) of Burgage

 

On his death in 1797, the Rev Edward Vigors was succeeded at Burgage by his only son, the Rev. Thomas Mercer Vigors (1775-1850). Educated at Trinity College Dublin, Thomas became Perpetual Curate of Old Leighlin until 1815 when he was appointed Rector of Rathasbeck, Queen’s County (Laois). He was later promoted to Powerstown, which he held until his death on the 7th April, 1850. His wife Anne Cliffe was a daughter of the Rev. John Cliffe of New Ross Co. Wexford.

The fortunes of the Vigors of Burgage plummeted when Thomas Mercer Cliffe Vigors bet it all on a horse in the 1887 Derby called The Baron who lost. When Thomas was caught in bed with a maid by his wife, he tried to win her back with the line: ‘If one is going to appreciate Chateau Lafitte, my dear, one must occasionally have a glass of vin ordinaire.’

Eileen Esme Vigors of the Burgage family was mother to Stephen Ward, a key figure in the Profumo scandal which rocked MacMillan’s government in 1963.

 

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Colonel Philip Doyne Vigors (1825-1903) of Holloden, County Carlow

 

Philip Doyne Vigors, courtesy of Donagh O’Grady.

Margaret Vigors, wife of Philip Doyne Vigors, with daughter Esther Alice. Courtesy of Donagh O’Grady.

‘Colonel Vigors is well known in the antiquarian world as an energetic and enthusiastic antiquarian, and a courteous and cultivated gentleman.’ Londonderry Sentinel – Saturday 6 September 1890

Colonel Philip Doyne Vigors (1825-1903) of Holloden, County Carlow, was the seventh and youngest son of the Rev. Thomas Mercer Vigors. He was a military man, antiquarian and explorer. In September 1848, he set off for Australia as a subaltern in the 11th Foot on the three-masted convict ship, the Pestonjee Bomanjee, carrying 298 female Irish prisoners; it took 146 days to reach Sydney. In 1851 he managed to join in the Gold Rush in New South Wales, scooping some gold and ore from the Turon River that was later displayed in the drawing-room at Holloden; the wedding ring he gave his wife was made with some of this gold. [9]

Colonel Vigors then spent four months cruising around the islands around Australia and New Zealand, including Fiji, the Solomon Islands and the New Hebrides; to his collection he added the arm-bone of a girl eaten by cannibals for stealing a coconut. He subsequently served in India and Burma, gathering more items during visits to Java and the Spice Islands.

Freemans Journal, 12 June 1894.

He returned to Ireland in 1880, moved to Holloden and became a Poor Law Guardian. [10] He was also co-opted onto the County Council. In 1888 he founded the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead to record many faded tombstones in cemeteries, working closely with Lord Walter FitzGerald. He was vice president of the ‘Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland’.

Among the prize possessions to pass through his hands at Holloden were the Clontarf Chalice, an elk head found at Browne’s Hill, the rosary beads owned by the luckless Spaniard at the heart of the father-son Lynch murder trial in Galway, and the brass blunderbuss reputedly used by Freney the Robber. The walls were also lined with trophies, clocks and weapons, while his library included over 200 books.

In 1894 he was serving as High Sheriff for County Carlow when a notice appeared in newspapers across Ireland announcing that he had been found ‘dead in his bed’ at Holloden on 12 June. He swiftly penned a note to the editor, denying this ‘wicked and most unjustifiable report.’ He lived on until 1903 when, aged 78, he did indeed pass away at Holloden. His body was laid to rest in the family vault in the Old Leighlin Cathedral where a fine black oak Episcopal Throne (which had belonged to Bishop Vigors in 1691) was later erected to his memory by his widow and daughter. [11]

In 1882 Colonel Vigors married Margaret Woodhead of (Brighton?) Sussex, who died in October 1922. Their only child, Esther, was born at Holloden on 16 June 1884. The 1911 Census records the inhabitants of Holloden as Margaret Vigors (aged 58) and her daughter Esther Alice Vigors (aged 26) along with a staff of 3 – Julia Purcell, cook, aged 46, Annie Doyle, parlour maid, aged 22 and Sarah Cane, maid, aged 19.

 

Holloden House, County Carlow, circa 2020.

 

Esther O’Grady (1884-1970)

 

On 7 June 1911, Esther was married in Leighlin Cathedral to Major Standish de Courcy O’Grady, as he was then, of the Royal Army Medical Corps, a grandson of The O’Grady and cousin of Standish O’Grady, the Gaelic Revival man. There were five bridesmaids, Stamer O’Grady was best man and the road from Royal Oak to the Holloden Gate was decorated with arches of flowers erected by the villagers. Mrs Vigors hosted an after-party for 200 guests at Holloden, with a wedding breakfast on the lawn. [12]

The O’Grady’s had three children – Gerald (1912-1993, who became ‘The O’Grady’), Philip (born 1916), and Faith O’Grady (1913-1980).

Lieutenant Colonel Standish De Courcy O’ Grady, CMG, DSO, had the unhappy distinction of being the highest ranking officer from this part of Ireland to die in the Great War. Although the death of the 48-year-old Medical Officer did not take place until 23 December 1920, it was deemed inevitable that he would contact one of the deadly disease so prevalent due to the war. He was buried at the Pieta Military Cemetery in Malta. [13]

On 11 May 1946, John Richard Hedges Becher, former Archdeacon of Ossory & Leighlin, died at Holloden at the age of 86. They had previously lived at Lorum. His son John Hedges Becher and his wife Elizabeth Maude (Betty) moved to Bagenalstown House in about 1948, with their young daughters Margaret and Gillian (my aunt Gilly Butler). The archdeacon’s younger son Captain Edward Overington Becher won an M.C. in the last year of the Great War. Edward died after a brief illness at the Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot, in 1931, just two years after his marriage to Joan Graham Biden, only child Mr. and Mrs. H. Graham Biden, of Forest Corner, Liss. At Edward and Joan’s wedding, ‘the bridal party passed out of the church beneath an archway of crossed swords held by officers of the bridegroom’s regiment,’ which must have been quite a tunnel.

One of Esther’s first cousins was the maternal grandmother of Eoin Hickey, formerly of Finnstown. He recalls: ‘As kids, we spent several holidays at Holloden in the early 50s. My mother made a tape recording of Esther when she was very old, at Holloden in the mid 1960s where she talks about growing up in Brighton and coming to Carlow and bringing up her family there. Esther was very clever (my mother’s words), in introducing her son Gerald to his elderly great-aunts in Kilballyowen, near Kilmallock, which he subsequently inherited. On a visit there with my mother, in around 1960, I met the explorer Wilfred Thesiger who was staying there with Gerald, then The O’Grady, our respective cousin. Wilfred’s mother was a Vigors. We have the tape recording with Ester. “

In 1956-1959, Wilfred Thesiger is said to have written part of his travelogue masterpiece, ‘Arabian Sands’, in a room “at the end of a long corridor” at Holloden whilst staying with his cousin Faith O’Grady. Thesiger’s mother was Kathleen Mary Vigors, a daughter of the bold Thomas Mercer Cliffe Vigors.

 

My brother William Bunbury, outside Holloden House in the late 1970s, with his first fish, plucked from the Barrow, and my father’s trusty spaniel, Seamus.

Latter Days of Holloden

 

After Esther died in 1970, aged 86, her daughter Faith O’Grady (1913-1980) lived at Holloden and farmed the land. Following Faith’s death in January 1980, the house was abandoned. The considerable Vigors library was also sold in 1985, along with much of the furniture, clocks, art and the elk head. Harry O’Grady inherited Holloden and sold the house with 131 acres in 1986, when he was about eighteen years old.

A man was apparently planning to quarry the land before the Walsh family, founders of The Irishman and Writer’s Tears whiskey, bought it as a base for what would ultimately become a complete grain to glass whiskey distillery built on the grounds of the Holloden estate. Bluett & O’Donoghue Architects collaborated with MLQ (McCullagh Lupton Quinn) Chartered Quanity Surveyors on extensive emergency conservation works to Holloden House (Protected Structure) as part of the Walsh Whiskey Distillery project.

 

 

Acknowledgments

 

With thanks to Donagh O’Grady, Faith Ponsonby, James Grogan, John Headon, Bernard Walsh, Eoin Hickey, Alma Brophy & others.

 

Further Reading

 

Turtle with Bernard Walsh announcing The Irishman whiskey’s sponsorship of Turtle Bunbury’s Global Irish podcast series at Lisnavagh House, Rathvilly, County Carlow, in 2022.

‘The Vigors Family of Burgage, Leighlinbridge’ (Carloviana, 2011, p. 93-102) by Victor Connolly of Burgage includes a useful family tree and comprehensive details of the Holloden branch as well as Thesiger, Stephen Ward, Tim Vigors, etc., via the Carlow Historical & Archaeological Society.

 

Footnotes

 

[1] The Rev. Louis Vigors arrived in Cork circa 1615. He had been ordained on the 5th of November 1603 by the Bishop of Exeter. In Ireland he was beneficed in the Diocese of Ross where he became Treasurer of the Cathedral in 1631. He died in Devonshire in 1642, as did his widow in 1651. Myles Kavanagh, ‘Eastwood House and the Moneybeg Demesne’, Carloviana 2016, p. 20.

[2] During the English Civil War, Lord Broghill was one of Oliver Cromwell’s closest allies but he was also a natural born survivor. The moment Cromwell died, Broghill realized the game was up and he sent an invite to Charles II to reclaim his throne. Such resourcefulness earned him the gratitude of the new monarch who showered him with gold and titles.

Urban Vigors was beneficed 1634-37 in the Diocese of Cork and Ross, and in 1645 was Chaplain to the 1st Earl of Ossory. He married circa 1635 Catherine Boyle sister of Richard Boyle, Bishop of Ferns (1667–1683) and Roger Boyle Bishop of Clogher (1672-1687). They had a son called Urban.

[3] They also had estates and houses in Derryfore and Rathevan, Queen’s County (Laois) and Ballybar and Corries Co. Carlow (1729) and Seldon, Devonshire (1725).

[4]  (Journal of the Association for the Preservation of Memorials of the Dead in Ireland (1895), p. 28, 29 and 31.

[5] Carlow Post, 25 June 1864.

[6] Urban and Bridget’s second son Thomas Vigors was born c.1685. Thomas was Captain in the Legion Regiment, “The Black Horse” and was Justice of the Peace for Queen’s County (Laois) and High Sheriff in 1714. Captain Thomas married twice, first to Margaret a widow and they had issue of three children Urban, Bartholomew, and Lucy. His second marriage was to Elizabeth Mercer, daughter of Edward Mercer of Knockballystine Co. Carlow and they had issue of three children Richard, the Rev. Edward and Elizabeth.

[7] Born in 1747, the Rev. Edward Vigors graduated with a B.A. in Trinity College Dublin in 1767 and married Mary Low of Lissoy, Co. Westmeath, daughter of Edward Low and Elizabeth Nelligan (daughter of the Rev. Maurice Nelligan) in December 1773.

[8] Elizabeth died unmarried on 30 July, 1828 and was buried at Old Leighlin. Maria married the Rev. George Alcock, died in 1854 and is also buried at Old Leighlin.

[9] A journal PDV kept of his time in Australia was apparently sold by Christie’s.

[10] I located an article in the Freeman’s Journal of 16 June 1880 relating to the purchase of an estate in Cloughrouske (Clorusk), which was held in trust for Philip D Vigors. I believe this is the purchase of Malcomville and the beginning of it being the seat of the Vigors family. This ties in with a 1958 article in the Kilkenny People in which his daughter, Esther O’Grady, states the house was called Malcomville before her father purchased it on his return to Ireland in 1880.

[11] Dublin Daily Express, 11 April 1906, p. 2.

[12] Dublin Daily Express, 10 June 1911. Richard Sheehan, ‘Fashionable County Carlow Wedding’, Bagenalstown Yearbook 2010, p. 51.

[13] John Kenna, ‘Leighlin Men who Died in the Great War’, Carloviana 2001, p. 88.