Turtle Bunbury

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The Ponsonbys of Kilcooley Abbey

For more on this family, see Smyth of Ballynatray, Holroyd-Smyth of Ballynatray and the Earls Mouncashell..


On 21st April 1902, six months after his fathers’ death, Captain Rowland Holroyd-Smyth married Alice Ponsonby, a direct descendent of Sir John Ponsonby of Bessborough. They subsequently had four sons – John, Horace, Bryan and Oliver – and a daughter, Mary. Alice’s lineage is this. Sir John had two grandsons – the 1st Earl of Bessborough and Major General Henry Ponsonby. General Ponsonby lived at Ashgrove in Co. Kilkenny and was married to Lady Frances Brabazon, daughter of Chambre, 5th Earl of Meath. The General was killed in action at the catastrophic battle of Fontenoy on 11 May 1745. He left a daughter Juliana and a son, Chambre Brabazon Ponsonby, MP.[1] Chambre succeeded to Ashgrove. Just over a year after his father’s death, Chambre was married. It was the first of three marriages. The first and second produced a daughter each, the latter being Sarah Ponsonby who, with Lady Eleanor Butler, was to become one of the celebrated ‘Ladies of Llangollen’.[2] His third wife Mary, daughter of Sir William Barker, 3rd Bart, of Kilcooley, Co. Tipperary, was the forbear of Alice Holroyd-Smyth. It was also through this marriage that the Ponsonbys came into Kilcooley Abbey. Chambre and Mary Ponsonby had two children, who they rather confusingly called Chambre and Mary Ponsonby. The elder Chambre died suddenly shortly before Christmas in 1762, less than six months after the birth of his only son. Mary’s brother, Sir William Barker, 4th Bart, who had since succeeded to Kilcooley, invited her and her two children to live with him in the Palladian mansion. Sir William was something of a Protestant extremist and commanded two companies of Volunteers. He married an heiress by name of Catherine Lane but they had no children of their own. The widowed Mary Ponsoby later married Sir Robert Staples, 7th Bt, while her daughter Mary married Thomas Barton of Grove.

The Ponsonby-Barkers

Chambre Brabazon Ponsonby-Barker of Kilcooley was born on 12th June 1762, six months before his fathers’ death. On 4th June 1791, he married Lady Henrietta Taylour, daughter of Thomas, 1st Earl of Bective. They were the great-grandparents of Alice Holroyd-Smyth. Chambre was a classic Georgian spendthrift, racking up debts of £4000 by the time of his marriage which were paid off by his kindly uncle, Sir William Barker, and new father-in-law, the Earl of Bective. For the first decades of their married life they lived at Belmont Lodge near Durrow. In 1818, Chambre succeeded his uncle at Kilcooley. He subsequently became High Sheriff of the county and was a leading opponent of Catholic Emancipation.

The Taylours of Headfort, Earls of Bective Abbey

The Taylours were a Sussex family who prospered through a college friendship between Thomas Taylour and Sir William Petty. When Petty became Surveyor-General of Ireland under Cromwell, he recruited Taylour to assist him with The Down Survey. Ultimately Taylour was uncredited for his contribution. Taylour sold his lands in England and took possession of a large estate in Ireland centred on Kells, Co. Meath. He occupied a number of important posts such as Deputy Receiver General, Vice Treasurer and, prior to his premature death aged 51 in 1682, officiated as Treasurer-at-War. His son Thomas was created a Baronet of Ireland in 1704 and sworn onto the Privy Council in 1726. The 1st Bart’s grandson, another Thomas, was created Earl of Bective Castle in 1760. His wife Jane was the eldest daughter of Rt Hon Hercules Langford Rowley by Elizabeth, Viscountess Langford. They had a large number of children, including Lady Henrietta Ponsonby and her eldest brother Thomas (1757 – 1829) who was created Marquess of Headfort in December 1800.[3]

Thomas Ponsonby of Kilcooley

Chambre died on 13th December 1834 and his widow, Lady Henrietta, followed on 12th January 1838. They left at least three sons but Alice’s grandfather Thomas (Henry) Ponsonby was the only one to leave children.[4] He was a huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ sort, known as ‘Damnation Tom’ for his penchant of peppering every sentence with the word ‘damn’. He was born on 21st February 1807, an auspicious day for some, and served as a Captain in the 6th Dragoon Guards. On his 31st birthday, he married Fanny Mary, daughter of Major RL Dickson. He briefly succeeded to Kilcooley Abbey on the death of his 82-year-old brother William Barker in January 1877. William had racked up serious debts on the property and Damnation Tom duly sold lands in Waterford and Kilkenny to clear them off. He died aged 73 on 10th February 1880 and was succeeded by his son, Chambre, who was Alice Holroyd-Smyth’s father.

Chambre and Mary Ponsonby

Alice’s father was Captain Chambre Brabazon Ponsonby (1839 – 1884) of Kilcooley. On 22nd October 1873, Chambre married the Hon. Mary (Eliza Sophia) Plunkett, eldest daughter of the 16th Lord Dunsany. When the newlyweds returned to Kilcooley, they were greeted by ‘illuminations and a triumphal arch … and a bonfire at the entrance to the demesne. Cheering tenants pulled their carriage and there was music and dancing all night’. Whiskey and beer were provided for all guests by Chambre’s evangelical uncle, Sir William Ponsonby-Barker. Alice was one of seven children born over the ensuing years, four sons and a daughter. As agrarian unrest spread across Ireland, Chambre became increasingly disenchanted by the country. His brother-in-law Horace Plunkett had purchased a ranch in Wyoming where he spent the springs and summers. Chambre went to visit him and decided to sell his Irish estates and move. However, while returning home from this visit, he suddenly took ill and died aged 45 on 9th October 1873. He and Mary were less than two weeks away from celebrating ten years of marriage. Mary raised the children with assistance from Horace Plunkett. When Mary’s brother Lord Dunsany died in 1889, she then took on his children too. The eldest of these children was Lord Dunsany of literary fame. As soon as the children were old enough to be sent to boarding school, Mary abandoned Kilcooley and lived in England until her death in 1921.

The Plunkett Family

Mary’s family, the Plunketts descend from Sir Christopher Plunkett, a Deputy Governor of Ireland during the early years of the War of the Roses. His son Christopher was created 1st Baron Dunsany in 1438. Despite strong catholic allegiances the Plunketts managed to hold onto their estates during the upheaval of the 17th and 18th centuries.[5] Alice’s grandfather, Edward Plunkett, 16th Baron Dunsany (1808 – 1889), was a Representative Peer for Ireland.[6] In September 1846 he married the Hon. Anne Constance Dutton, daughter of Lord Sherborne. They were only married twelve years before Anne’s death on 27th June 1858. She left Lord Dunsany with four sons and three daughters. Mary was the eldest.

The Uncles of Alice Holroyd-Smyth’s

Alice never knew her two of her uncles. The youngest Edward died aged eight in December 1864.The firstborn, Randall Plunkett, was elected MP for West Gloucester but died on Christmas Day 1883 aged 35. Her uncle John succeeded as 17th Baron in 1889 and was father to the eccentric author and playwright, the 18th Baron. Her most famous uncle was the politician, the Rt. Hon Horace Plunkett (1854 – 1932). He was MP for South Dublin 1892 – 1900, first VP of Dept of Agriculture 1899 – 1907 and Commissioner of the Irish Convention in 1917.

Thomas Ponsonby of Kilcooley

Alice Holroyd-Smyth’s brother Tom Ponsonby was grandfather to Henry Ponsonby who inherited Ballynatray in the 1960s. Born on 29th December 1878, Tom was just six years old when the death of his father left him master of Kilcooley. He was educated at Eton and Oxford and served with the 10th Hussars in the Boer War. He then spent three years managing his uncle Horace’s ranch in Wyoming. In later life he was a Deputy Lieutenant for County Tipperary. On 25th November 1909, he married (Frances) May Paynter, younger daughter of Major George Paynter of Eaton Grange, Grantham, Lincolnshire. They had three sons, Chambre, George and Henry, and a daughter, Noreen. George was the father of Henry Ponsonby who subsequently succeeded to Ballynatray. During the Easter Rising of 1916, Tom was seriously injured when British soldiers fired on his car in the mistaken belief that he was a rebel. He recovered sufficiently to personally diffuse an attempt to burn Kilcooley down in the Civil War. Under May’s guidance, the interior of Kilcooley was significantly renovated and refurbished. Tom Ponsonby died aged 68 on 17th November 1946, having leased much of his land to the Forestry Department.

Henry Chambre Ponsonby

Alice Holroyd-Smyth’s second brother, Brigadier Henry Chambre Ponsonby, was born on 8th April 1883 and enjoyed a distinguished military career. He served in the First World War, was mentioned in despatches and brevet. In 1918 he won a DSO. He also won an MC and a Greek Military Cross but when is unknown. He was a 1st grade GSO and promoted to the rank of Colonel in the KRRC. He served with the 4th Division from 1932 to 1935. From 1935 to 1939, he commanded the 6th Infantry Brigade. On 5th July 1923, he married Beatrice Maud Cecil, second daughter of Sir William Henry Levinge, 9th Bt. After the war they settled at Ansty Water Farm near Salisbury in Wiltshire. He died on 2nd January 1953, leaving a daughter, Eileen Dorothy.[7]

Dorothy Ponsonby & the Chetwynd-Staplytons

Alice Holroyd-Smyth’s eldest sister Dorothy Ponsonby was married on 5th December 1905 to Colonel Bryan Henry Chetwynd-Staplyton, CBE, of Cheshire. The Chetwynds were an ancient family from Shropshire. William Chetwynd was serving as Gentleman-Usher to Henry VII when murdered at Tixall Heath by assassins hired by his arch-nemesis Sir Humphrey Stafford. His great-grandson was created Viscount Chetwynd in 1717 in return for his support of the Hanoverian succession. Bryan descended from the 5th Viscount. He was the second son of Lt Gen Granville George Chetwynd-Staplyton (1823 –1915), sometime commander of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. Bryan’s mother was Lady Barbara Emily Maria Leeson (d. 1919), daughter of the 4th Earl of Milltown. Bryan’s elder brother Granville Chetwynd-Staplyton, RFA, was born in 1871 and served in the Boer War (2 medals, 7 clasp). He was married just over two months after Bryan and Dorothy to Elizabeth Lethbridge. Granville was killed in action on 25th August 1914.[8]

Bryan was born on 10th June 1873 and educated at Charterhouse in Surrey. He went on to the RMC and served in South Africa from 1899 – 1902 where, like his brother Granville, he was awarded two medals and seven clasps. He was Staff Captain and Deputy Assistant Adjutant General at the War Office from 1910 to 1914. He served at the Front but was captured at the battle of Mons in 1914. In 1919 he was given command of the 1st Battalion Cheshire Regt (which he retained until 1923). He was Assistant Adjutant General from 1919 - 1920. He was awarded the CBE in 1922 and retired from the army in 1930. Dorothy died on 23rd August 1942. Bryan survived her until 29th May 1958. They left a son, Major Edward Henry Chetwynd-Staplyton, and daughter, Mary Turton.

The Turton-Bridgeman Connection

Bryan and Dorothy Chetwynd-Staplyton left two children. The eldest child, Mary (Blanche) Turton was born on 16th Sept 1910 and, living in London today, was good enough to record some of her childhood memories of life at Ballynatray. These have been incorporated into this tale. She was an enthusiastic hunter. She was married on 22nd February 1936 to Ralph Meredyth Turton of Low Middleton Hall, Darlington. He was the third son of Major Robert Bell Turton of Kildale Hall, Whitby, Yorkshire.[9]

The Turton’s daughter Harriet is the present Viscountess Bridgeman. In 1972 she began the wonderful Bridgeman Art Library with just one box of photographs in her attic. Today the Bridgeman Art Library is the world's leading source of fine art with images from over eight thousand collections and twenty nine thousand artists. The Viscountess was selected as a finalist in the prestigious 2006 NatWest Everywoman Awards. In 1966 she married Robin Bridgeman who succeeded as 3rd Viscount in 1982. The Bridgemans have three sons and presently live in London.

Major Chetwynd-Staplyton

Mary Turton’s only brother, Major Edward Henry Chetwynd-Staplyton, was born two weeks after the Titanic sank in April 1912. He served with the Cheshire Regiment during the Second World War. In June 1957 he married Priscilla, daughter of Maj. Robert Gerald Wright of Tunstall Grange, Richmond, Yorkshire. They settled down at Low Middleton Hall Farm, Middleton St. George, Darlington. Their son Miles Edward was born June 1958.


[1] Juliana was married in 1743 to William Southwell.

[2] On 28th Sept 1746, Chambre Ponsonby married Elizabeth Clarke, daughter and heiress of Edward Clarke. Their daughter Frances was married on 28th July 1767to George Lowther of Kilrue, Co. Meath. Chambre was married secondly, on 23 Oct 1752, to Louisa, daughter of John Lyons of Belmont, Co. Westmeath, Deputy Clark of the Council and Deputy Muster Master General. Their daughter was Sarah Ponsonby of Plasnewydd, Llangollen, who died unmarried in 1831.

[3] See: The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of Co. Meath, Art Kavanagh (Irish Family Names, 2005). As to Lady Henrietta’s other brothers, the second one, Major Hercules Langford Taylour (1759–1790) served with the 5th Dragoon Guards, was MP for Kells (1781-83 and 1785-90) and died unmarried aged 31. The third brother General Robert Taylour commanded the 6th Dragoon Guards and succeeded his brother as MP for Kells in 1790 until 1800, and also died unmarried, on 23 April 1839. The fourth brother Clotworthy (1763–1825) did marry - his cousin Graces Rowley - and was created Baron Langford of Somerhill on 21 July 1800; he was MP for Trim (1791-95) and Meath (1795-1800). The fifth brother, the Rev. Henry Edward Taylor (1768–1852) was also married, in 1807, to Marianne St. Leger, eldest daughter of the Hon. Richard St. Leger. Henry and Marianne were forbears of the Taylor family who owned Ardgillan Castle in Balbriggan, Co. Dublin; Balbriggan was to become a famous centre for hosiery between 1780 and 1980, producing the celebrated Balbriggan Stocking as favoured by Queen Victoria and other Royals.

[4] The elder brother, William Ponsonby-Barker, was born in 1795 and married in 1816 to Elizabeth Selina, daughter of the Hon. Rev William Knox, Bishop of Derry. They later separated and there were no children. An evangelical Protestant, Sir William was famed for taking maid-servants to bed with him as hot-water bottles, just as his hero King David had done thousands of years earlier. He inherited Kilcooley from his father when he was 40 years old and seems to have run the place until his own death in 1877. By 1840, Selina Ponsonby was living at Hampton, Middlesex, with her companion Frances Bayly. A curious aside is that in 1840, Selina’s maid, Sarah Glendening, gave birth to a young boy that year, who grew up to be the British landscape painter Alfred Augustus Glendening. There is room to suppose that the artist’s father was not Sarah’s husband, James Glendening, but the master of the house, William Ponsonby-Barker.
The second son, another Chambre Brabazon Ponsonby, served as a Captain in the 8th Hussars. In 1834, at the age of 35, he married Mary, daughter of Colonel David La Touche of Marlay. She died just six years later, without offspring. Captain Ponsonby did not remarry and died without issue on 1st May 1863.

[5] During the 16th century, the Plunkett family forged close marital alliances with those of Cusack, Eustace, Hussey, D’Arcy, Sarsfield and Barnewall. The 9th Baron was granted a sizeable estate by James I but suffered much for his support of Charles I. The 11th Baron was outlawed for supporting James II and the Jacobites but was restored to his estates (though not his privileges) after the Treaty of Limerick, 1691. The 12th baron conformed to the Protestant Church.

[6] When he died he was succeeded as Representative Peer by Thomas Kane McClintock Bunbury, 2nd Baron Rathdonnell.

[7] Eileen was subsequently killed in an accident involving a pony trap.

[8] Granville Chetwynd-Staplyton left two sons, Col. Granville Richard and Col Christopher George C-S, and a daughter Barbara Mary Elizabeth who married Ronald Edward Birch, son of Lt Col Julius Guthlac Birch, DSO, OBE, of Bude, Cornwall. All three children have issue.

Bryan’s only sister Barbara Margaret died unmarried on 4th January 1955.

[9] Major Bell was author of ‘The History of the North York Militia, now known as The Fourth Battalion Alexandra Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment)’.