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The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Wicklow – Contents

A handsome, beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully designed hardback, The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Wicklow was singled out for special recommendation by Eason’s Bookshops in 2006 following a series of glowing reviews from customers.
The book was launched at Kilruddery House, Bray, Co. Wicklow, on Thursday 8th December 2005. Senator David Norris delivered a tremendously amusing speech to the gathered assemblage of 150 persons. It received widespread coverage in the media, with excellent reviews in Cara, The Irish Times, The White Book, The Dubliner, The Wicklow People, The Wicklow Times and The Carlow Nationalist. Turtle also appeared on East Coast Radio with Donal Swift and Anna Livia FM with Beth Anne Smith.
This book is currently out of print but the content is available to members at the links on this page.

Turtle’s second book brought his readers on a journey into the past, tracking nine of Co. Wicklow’s prominent landowning families as far back as he can possibly go … and then bringing them right up to date.

Thus the Brabazon family, Earls of Meath, begin with a Belgian mercenary at the battle of Hastings in 1066 and gallop through the centuries to the 21st century. The Earls of Wicklow astonish British society by their continuing dalliance with the Catholic faith. The Wingfields of Powerscourt build arguably the most impressive Palladian mansion in Ireland and sire the mother of Sarah, Duchess of York.

The Tighes of Rossanagh join hands with the Brontes and Percy Bysshe Shelly but run foul of Jonathan Swift. The Barton family of Glendalough establish vineyards in France and give birth to Erskine Childers, the brilliant writer who became de Valera’s Minister of Propaganda during the Irish Civil War and whose son, also Erskine, was President of Ireland. General Dennis of Fortgranite commands the artillery at El Alamein while Captain William Hume of Humewood plays a vital role in the daring escape of the 1798 rebel, Michael O’Dwyer.

 

Contents

 

 

 

1. Acton of Kilmacurragh
“Adiuvante Deo” (With the help of God)
Kilmacurragh lies a few miles south of Glenealy, midway between Rathdrum and Brittas Bay. The property came to the Acton family during the 17th century at the end of which they built the original house of Kilmacurragh (or Westaston). During the 1850s, the forward thinking Tom Acton planted an arboretum that is now in peak condition with an exceptional array of crimson rhododendrons, Irish yews, giant shaggy podocarpus and exceptional pleasure grounds, carpeted in bluebells in the spring, birdsong echoing around the branches of trees from Peru, Tasmania, the Middle East, Indochina. Tom’s brother William was a hero at the battle of Inkerman while another brother Charles Ball-Acton was prominent in India. The death of all three Acton brothers between the Boer War and the First World War spelled an end for the family although the last surviving member of the family, Charles Acton, distinguished himself as one of Ireland’s greatest music critics in the 20th century.

 

2. Barton & Childers of Glendalough
“Fide et Fortitude” (By fidelity and fortitude)
The destiny of the Barton and Childers families became entwined in the 19th century when tragedy brought the children of the two houses together. The Bartons descended from the great wine-growing family of Straffan in Co. Kildare while the Childers hailed from England and were of a more intellectual bent. Their young were raised at Glendalough House, known to the family as Glan, sheltered beneath Djouce Mountain and close to the waters of Lough Dan. In the run up to independence, Robert Barton and his cousin Erskine Childers found themselves increasingly drawn into the fray. As protégés of the British public school system, they were unlikely but highly effective adherents to Sinn Fein. Executed for his beliefs, Erskine’s legacy was to found a dynasty that has already produced a President of Ireland and a senior diplomat in the United Nations.

 

3. Brabazon of Kilruddery, Earls of Meath
“Vota Vita Mea” (Prayers Are My Life)
From a fantastical beginning amongst the pivotal battle of Saxon and Norman, the line of Jacques le Barbancon has continued to the present day. After several centuries of steady growth in Surrey and Leicestershire, the family fortunes blossomed when Henry VIII dispatched the Machiavellian Sir William Brabazon to Ireland as Vice-Treasurer. He established the family at Kilruddery and his grandson was created 1st Earl of Meath in 1627. Over the next three hundred years, the family consolidated its influence in Wicklow, Ireland and the wider world of the British Empire. A strong sense of philanthropy, evident since the establishment of the Meath Hospital in the 1750s, became the guiding force of the 12th Earl and his Countess during the reigns of Queen Victoria and Edward VII. The father and grandfather of the present Earl were distinguished war heroes and this close knit Wicklow family continues to generate characters of great charm and generosity.

 

4. Dennis of Fortgranite
“Suaviter sed Fortiter” (Mildly but Firmly)
The Dennis family descends in the male line from the Swifts of Herefordshire, kinsfolk of both Jonathan Swift and John Dryden. In the late 18th century, a prudent marriage to the sole heiress of the Chief Baron of the Irish Exchequer brought the extensive Dennis estates in Kerry, Cork and Dublin to the family. A similarly lucrative marriage settlement in 1810 introduced Thomas Dennis to West Wicklow when he succeeded to the Pendred estate at Fortgranite outside Baltinglass. Further marriages to the Bakers of Tipperary, the Crosbies of Kerry and the Handcocks of Westmeath further increased their social network. Amongst the dramatis personae of relatives were the Shakespearian scholar Edgar Flower, the artist Kathleen Marescaux, the Crimean War veteran Major John FitzThomas Dennis and the Indian tea magnate Maurice FitzGerald Sandes. In the early 20th century, the inventive Colonel Meade Dennis pioneered the concepts of radio-transmission and submarine detection at his office in Fortgranite. His son and heir, General Meade Dennis, served as principal artillery commander in Montgomery’s successful campaign against Rommel’s army in North Africa.

 

5. Howard of Shelton Abbey, Earls of Wicklow
“Inservi Deo et Laetare” (Serve God and Rejoice)
For close on three hundred years, the Howard family held court at Shelton Abbey outside Arklow. From the outset they were an unusual clan with a tremendous penchant for the arts. Hugh Howard emerged as one of the great collectors of the early 18th century while his brother acquired the great library of Lord Chancellor West. The Howards were equally adept at collecting wealthy wives. Marriages with the Boleyns, Forwards, Arnolds, Darnleys, Charlemonts, Powerscourts and Abercorns ensured their position in high society. Created Viscounts in 1776 and subsequently elevated to the Earldom, four sons of the family sat as Representative Peers between 1800 and 1905. The 7th Earl was a Senator in the Irish Free State and the last Countess sat in the Irish Seanad in 1948. The family’ artistic bent was emphasized by friendship with the hymn-writer Fanny Alexander and the pre-Raphaelite poet, Dante Rossetti. Protestant by birth but often Catholic by persuasion, the family was caught up in one of the most extraordinary legal battles of Victorian times. In the last century, Billy Wicklow was one of Evelyn Waugh’s great friends and a renowned figure in Dublin society. His cousin Lady Katherine Howard established a charitable foundation and was the last of the Howards.

 

6. Hume-Dick of Humewood
“True to the end”
When the Right Honourable Fitzwilliam Hume Dick stood for election in November 1868, he advised the people of Wicklow that “having so long represented” the county, voters knew perfectly well what his standpoint was and thus he felt it was “not necessary to go into a full explanation of his political opinion”. In other words, he would again be running as a Conservative, this time in support of Benjamin Disraeli who had lately succeeded Lord Derby as leader of the party. As it happens, Disraeli lost to Gladstone in the ensuing election but Fitzwilliam Dick’s seat was secure. Indeed, the Wicklow landowner was successful in every election bid from 1852 through to 1880. But if one was looking for a reason why he had not felt it necessary to explain himself in the run-up to the 1868 election, perhaps he was simply too busy watching his most remarkable legacy take shape beneath Keadeen Mountain in West Wicklow. The Humes traced their origin back to Scotland and slowly rose through the rank and file of the Irish Asendancy from the late 17th century onwards. Intermarriage with the exceptionally wealthy linen family of Sameul and Quintin Dick provided enough money for the family to be considered one of Co. Wicklow’s most important for the 19th century. In the 20th century, Mimi Weygand, last of the Humes of Humewood, married into a French family greatly tarnished by the fall of France in World War Two.

 

7. Leslie Ellis of Magherymore
“Non Sine Jure” (Not without right)
The Leslie Ellis family descends from Sir Thomas Ellis or Ellys of Wyham, a small village near Louth in North Lincolnshire. He was Deputy for Francis Manners, Earl of Rutland, Lord Deputy of Lincolnshire from 1612. As a young man, Rutland was imprisoned alongside his brothers for supporting the Earl of Essex’s ill-fated 1601 rebellion against Queen Elizabeth’s government. However, with the support of the Cecils, he swiftly regained favour and rose to become a prominent courtier during the reign of King James. As Rutland’s Deputy, Sir Thomas almost certainly encountered King James during the Scottish-born monarchs many visits to Rutland’s home at Belvoir. Sir Thomas was created a baronet on 30th June 1660. His grandson, Sir Richard Ellis of Wynham in Lincolnshire, was a zealous non-conformist and author of a book entitled Fortuita Sacra which is extremely rare. Sir Richard was returned to Parliament twice for Grantham, and three times for Boston, commencing in 1722.

 

8. Tighe of Rossanagh
Summum Nec Metuam Diem Nec Optem (Let Me Neither Fear nor Wish for the Last Day)
The Tighe family’s connection to Ireland began when an opportunist farmer from Lincolnshire secured the contract to supply Cromwell’s troops with bread and wheat. He became MP for Dublin and indeed every generation of the family held a seat in the Irish Parliament right through to the Act of Union in 1800. His grandson, Richard Tighe, was a Privy Councillor in the reign of George I and became one of Dean Swift’s greatest foes. By dint of prudent marriages to families such as Bligh, Fownes and Bunbury, the Tighes became one of the wealthiest commoner families in Ireland. With a reputation for frugality, they had amassed over 16,000 acres by 1876, primarily in Counties Kilkenny and Wicklow. For 200 years they held court at Rossanagh outside Ashford. The family had a remarkable talent for encountering the literary greats. Dean Swift, Percy and Mary Shelley, Thomas Moore, John Wesley and Patrick Bronte were all connected and they even had their own family poet, Mary Blachford Tighe. Plagued by an asthmatic gene, many of the family perished young but the line continues to prosper, inspire and amuse to this day. Their magnificent gardens at Woodstock in Co. Kilkenny are presently being restored. Perhaps Rossanagh will one day have a similar happy fate.

 

9. Wingfield, Viscounts Powerscourt
“Fidélité est de Dieu” (Fidelity is of God)
Powerscourt House is quite possibly the most famous Georgian house in Ireland. Built in the 1740s, the house was tragically devastated by fire in 1974. In August 2005, Treasury Holdings confirmed that they had won the contract to build Ireland’s first Ritz Carlton Hotel at Powerscourt. The estate takes its name from the de la Poer family who built a castle here in Norman times. In 1608, the property came to the possession of Sir Richard Wingfield, a prominent general in the English army. In time, the family received the honours of a Viscountcy. Their sons prospered both at home and overseas – one became Lord Byron’s closest friend, another hosted George IV to dinner. They continued to exert an influence on Irish affairs right through until the last century. The 8th Viscount’s great-granddaughter is Sarah, Duchess of York. The Slazengers who run Powerscourt today are closely related to the present Viscount.