Turtle Bunbury

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Rathsallagh, County Wicklow: A Potted History of 5000 Years

Written by Turtle Bunbury in 2003.


1. A Brief Introduction

2. Megalithic Rathsallagh
Tuatha de Danaan - Stone Circles -Origins of Baltinglass - Burial Sites & Dolmens

3. The Dawn of the Celts
Keltoi - The Celtic System in Ireland - The Death of King Cormac -Celtic culture - Ringforts - Ogham Stones.

4. The Coming of Christianity
St. Patrick's Visit to Moone - The First Monasteries - The Beginnings of Rathsallagh Farm - St. Kevin of Glendalough - Celtic Christianity.

5. Viking & Norman Invasions
Plunder & Pillage - The Battle of Glen Mama (Dunlavin) - Brian Boru - The Cistercian Order - Strongbow's Invasion - Glendalough's Decline.

6. Medieval Ireland
War and Plague - Edward the Bruce's Invasion - The End of Glendalough -The Rise of the FitzGeralds - The Dissolution of the Monasteries - Silken Thomas - The Eustace Family.

7. Elizabethan Ireland
Robert Piphoe of Rathsallagh - Massacre of Mullaghmast - The Eustace Rebellion - Sir Henry Harrington of Grangecon.

8. Rathsallagh, the Ryves & the House of Stuart
Origins of the Ryves Family - Sir William Ryves - The Confederate Wars - Dr. Brune Ryves & the Restoration - William III & the Penal Laws.

9. The Age of the Ascendancy
The Big House Boom - The New House at Rathsallagh - Jonathan Swift in Dunlavin - Quakers of Ballitore - Stratford-on-Slaney - The Grand Canal.

10. Rathsallagh & the 1798 Rising
Origins of the Rebellion - Local Atrocities - Captain William Ryves - The Massacre of Dunlavin Green - The Burning of Rathsallagh - Mick O'Dwyer.

11. William Ryves & the Early 19th Century
Act of Union - Napoleonic Wars - Enlightened Liberalism - Construction Boom - The Last of the Ryves.

12. The Pennefathers
Staffordshire Origins - The Whiteboys - Chief Justice Edward Pennefather - John Nelson Darby & the Plymouth Brethren - The Great Famine - O'Connell's Monster Meeting - Edward Pennefather, QC.

13. The Age of Leisure
Arrival of the Railway - Hunting and Shooting - Punchestown 1868 - Percy French in Dunlavin - Death of Edward Pennefather, QC - Father Donovan & Dunlavin - The Gordon Bennett Cup 1903 - Court of Petty Sessions - Parnell & the Irish Land League - Peirce O'Mahony & the Twelve Apostles - Captain Charles Pennefather - Fred Pennefather of New Zealand.

14. Twilight of the Irish Colony
The Theft of the Crown Jewels - The Great War - Home Rule - The War of Independence - Irish Civil War.

15. Rathsallagh after Independence
The Division of Rathsallagh -End of the Line for West Wicklow's Railway.

16. The Last of the Pennefathers
Harold Freese Pennefather - John Joseph White - Patricia Bennet - The Telephone Line - Herr Funk - "The Fire Station's on Fire!"

17. Modern Times
The O'Flynns of County Cork - Rathsallagh Golf & Country Club

18. Bibliography & Thanks

Rathsallagh: A Brief IntroductionUp arrow

The story of Rathsallagh is an epic and sweeping saga that ties the land in with much of the history that has befallen Ireland since man first arrived here 8000 years ago. In the following pages, the story is relayed in chronological fashion so that the reader might learn not just about the history of the farm itself but of the history of the island on which it stands. When the first humans arrived in the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains, the land must have presented a formidable challenge. Glacial valleys overgrown with scrub wood and ancient, inpenetratable forests. For several thousand years, these European settlers seem to have lived a simple nomadic existence, celebrating the creation of life with ritual gatherings on the summits of the surrounding hills and mountains. Gradually the arrival of the Celts shifted the emphasis towards a more settled existence and the first agricultural revolution got underway. In the 6th and 7th centuries after Christ, West Wicklow emerged as one of the most significant outposts for the Christian community in Europe during an otherwise dark and fearful time. Rathsallagh started life as a farming outpost of the monastic city of Glendalough during these same years. Internal warfare and the invasions of Viking, Norman and English armies took their toll on the landscape; Rathsallagh was one of infinite pawns in the subsequent struggle for political supremacy between the indigenous Irish, the Anglo-Norman settlers and the Elizabethan armies of the late 16th century. By the 17th century, Ireland had fallen to the English Crown and Rathsallagh came under the possession of the Ryves family, a bloodline intimately associated with the ruling elite of both England and Ireland through to the accession of Queen Victoria. The Rebellion of 1798 brought much tragedy to the locality; the Ryves mansion was burned down in its aftermath and the Queen Anne stable converted into the present house.

In 1834 the house at lands at Rathsallagh came to a man named Edward Pennefather who, as Chief Justice of Ireland, went on to become one of the principal political opponents of Daniel O'Connell, the Emancipator. After Chief Justice Penneftaher's death, his descendants continued to farm the land while concentrating on their own careers in the legal, diplomatic and political world. Rathsallagh survived the Troubles of 1919 - 1922 intact but, in the wake of Irish independence, much of the estate was divided up and re-granted to its former tenants. The Pennefather line continued to occupy the main house until the death of Harold Freese-Pennefather in 1962. A German and a Dutchman subsequently took on the property. In 1979, it came to rest with the family of Joseph O'Flynn, a Corkman who was proud to become the first Irishman to own the land since its seizure by the English Crown in the reign of Henry VIII. Under the expert management of the O'Flynns, Rathsallagh has since emerged as one of Ireland's foremost Golf and Country Clubs.

Megalithic RathsallaghUp arrow

Tuatha de Danaan - Stone Circles - Origins of Baltinglass - Burial Sites.

It may perhaps seem odd to commence a history of one of Ireland's leading country clubs with the actions of mysterious nomadic Stone Age men five thousand years ago. But to understand the true value of anything, a broad perspective often helps. Rathsallagh lies in a region where megalithic remains have been found in abundance; more than 400 recorded and protected monuments lie between the Wicklow Mountains and the borders of Counties Kildare and Carlow. The oldest may date as far back as 6000 BC. "Megalithic" is a term to describe the manmade stone formations erected in an unrecorded time by an unrecorded people for an unrecorded purpose. These magnificent structures continue to baffle the broadest of archaeological minds to the present day. How can we relate to the ancient cairns and perfect stone circles on mountain tops? Or the gigantic dolmens and carefully chiselled long stones that stand alone and aloof by rivers and sea? What can we do but gape in bewildered awe as we enter passage graves bedecked with symbolic spirals and strange coralesque motifs?

The 12th century Book of Invasions maintains that Ireland was first occupied by a magical people from the north of Europe, known as the Tuatha de Danaan, Children of the Sun Goddess Dana. Some believe these were masters of the occult, educated in the great, mysterious cities of Falias, Gorias, Murias and Finias. Others suggest they arrived from the Middle East in the wake of the Great Flood, an argument most strongly voiced in the Kingdom of Kerry where Noah's granddaughter is said to have died. Fictional or not, that the Tuatha de Danaan honoured the Sun should come as no surprise. The ancients understood nature as we have failed to do. For them, the Sun dictated Seasons and the Seasons dictated Life. Thus the Sun was the source of Life.

The only thing we can say with any certainty is that the architects of the megalithic structures of Ireland had a profound understanding of both mathematics and astronomy. Stone circles - of which there are more than 200 in Ireland - were definitely created with the assistance of astronomical learning. Each one seems to have been designed to coincide with an important lunar or solar event, such as Midwinter or Midsummer's Day, or on one of the Equinoxes between. Many of these stone circles lie upon ley-lines, powerful beams of magnetic energy that are in existence all around us. The Castleruddery Stone Circle near Donard is a particularly fine specimen, featuring a pair of sizeable white quartz portal stones. There is a sense of quiet magic here that compels one to concur with those who can't sleep unless they've got small quartzite pebbles in every corner of their bedroom. At Athgreany, on the Baltinglass - Blessington Road, a signpost points the way to the Piper's Stones. The archaeologist Peter Harbison tells the legend of "a piper (a standing stone) and his dancers pirouetting in a circle … turned into stone for having dared to amuse themselves so frivolously on the Sabbath". Harbison believes this version probably emerged during the puritanical days of the 17th century. An older story runs that this was simply the result of a stone-throwing contest between giant-sized pipers. A smaller stone circle is to be found at nearby Brewel Hill, perhaps the work of a junior league of piper stone-throwers. Another stone circle - known as the Griddle Stones - lies at Boleycarrigeen near Kilranelagh. In fact, there was probably a good deal more stone circles across Ireland than exist presently but many were broken up by farmers seeking to clear land or by Christians eager to extinguish any festering beliefs in pagan Gods.

The townland of Baltinglass, which lies on the River Slaney to the south of Rathsallagh, appears to have been occupied since earliest times. Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) states "this place, in the opinion of most antiquaries, derives its name from Baal-Tin-Glass, signifying, according to common acceptation, the pure fire of Baal, and is thence supposed to have been one of the principal seats of Druidical worship". Could this be the same Baal whom the ungrateful Israelites persistently flock to in the Old Testament? Or could this be the legacy of occultist refugees in the time of the Tuatha de Danaan? Recent scholars have denounced the Lewis definition as Victorian Satan-mongering and prefer to attribute the pure fires to the Celtic Feast of Bealtan (now May-Day). Either way, the silent passage grave on the summit of Baltinglass Hill no doubt contains the truth. Golden Fort, near Tuckmill Cross, is the setting for two ancient circular ring-forts or raths. In one, a number of golden coins were found, hence giving rise to the name. In the other, 19th century archaeologists found a kistavaen containing an urn of rude pottery in which were ashes, with a number of human bones scattered around. An ancient cemetery lies in the same demesne.

Such monuments to the ancients continue to rise from the ground to the north and west of Rathsallagh. At the entrance to the Punchestown Racecourse, a 23 foot standing stone, the second highest such stone in the British Isles, fell over in 1931. During its re-erection a Bronze Age burial site was discovered at its base. More of these grooved granite long stones, unique to Kildare, have been found at Craddockstown, Mullaghmast, Harristown and Ballycore. The Celts seem to have adopted (or perhaps rebuilt) these stones as meeting points for sporting occasions such as wrestling matches and chariot racing. In a stone-henge at the Curragh, archaeologists found a pit containing the skeleton of a young woman buried alive. A more cheerful discovery was that of a 6-foot high holed stone at Crehelp, outside Dunlavin, a device associated with the celebration of marriage in megalithic times. At Tournant Moat, south of Dunlavin, a large stone was found bearing similar spiral-shaped markings to those found at Newgrange. It has been suggested that the burial ground at Rathsallagh itself has pagan origins. Prehistoric burial sites have also been identified locally at Crehelp and Friar Hill (Dunlavin), Golden Fort and Lathaleere (near Baltinglass), Carrig and Blackrock on Mount Lugnagun and Killeen Cormac (Colbinstown). At Kilashee. 2 miles south of Naas, archaeologists are presently investigating a remarkably complex passage grave or souterrain hollowed out of sandy clay. Another passage grave is sited at Rathcoran on the summit of Baltinglass Hill, enclosed within the twin banks of a once substantial ring-fort.

One of the more remarkable feats of ancient engineering was the construction of the dolmens. Two excellent dolmens (or "Druid's Altars") are to be found in County Carlow, one at Haroldstown near Rathvilly, the other outside Carlow Town at Brown's Hill. The capstone of the latter is a phenomenal 100 tons, making it the largest of its kind in Europe. In the legends, these dolmens served as nocturnal bedrooms for the lovers Diarmuid and Grainne in their flight from the wrath of Grainne's old and troublesome husband, the once mighty warrior Finn MacCool. In happier times, Finn and Grainne are said to have slept on the slopes of Mount Keadeen, by Kiltegan; the imprints of their substantial bodies may be seen on the mountains' north west slope to this day.

The Dawn of the CeltsUp arrow

Keltoi - The Celtic System in Ireland - The Death of King Cormac - Celtic culture - Ringforts - Ogham Stones.

In due course, the original inhabitants of Ireland came under the influence of the Celtic world. The chronological distinction between ancient monuments erected by the Celts and those built by their predecessors is still something of a blur but with modern archaeological innovations, such as radio carbon dating, we are everyday getting a clearer insight. The word "Celt" is derived from the Greek word keltoi, denoting a vast ethnic group whose domain eventually extended from Scandinavia to the south of Spain and from the western shores of Ireland to the Baltic Sea. Their driving force was the cult of the Celtic Sun God, Lugh, from which we get the Irish word, lughnasa, meaning August. Celtic civilisation was not the creation of a separate race but a language and a way of life that spread from one people to the next, much as democracy, capitalism and rock n' roll did in the last century. It began some 4000 years ago, somewhere between Bohemia and the east bank of the Rhine. By 500 BC, they dominated the northern half of Europe, Ireland included. Setting forth from their hill-forts, led by nobles on horseback or in chariots, they sacked Rome in 390 BC and looted the temple of the Oracle in Delphi in 278 BC.

As such, there is no set date for the start of the Celtic Age in Ireland. Some believe their influence began to take effect as early as 1500 BC. Others insist there was no significant alteration of native culture until the 2nd century BC by which time Celtic power in Europe had been heavily curbed by the rising Roman Empire. Ireland has traditionally been a land in which newcomers are absorbed with remarkable speed. It seems plausible that these new Celtic-thinking peoples inter-married with what indigenous peoples they encountered and together sired the ensuing generations. But maybe they simply massacred the non-believers and started all over again. Sadly, aside from the cryptic letters of Ogham, the "Celts" left no written records and so we are dependent on their enemies - predominantly later Christians - for any account of their day-to-day lives. These sources are often propaganda driven, spinning terrifying tales of a pagan tribe much given to the jovial pastimes of head-hunting and human sacrifice.

They certainly enjoyed a good fight. Celtic Ireland was divided into a hundred or more petty kingdoms, each ruled by an elected tribal elder. These petty kings then paid tribute (in the form of cows, sheep, pots, pans and no doubt the occasional milkmaid) to their superiors, the Kings of Munster, Leinster, Ulster, Meath and Connuaght. And these kings would, in turn, pay their respects to the High King (or Ard Ri) of Ireland who ruled from his palace on the Hill of Tara. Only it wasn't quite that simple. Many of the petty kings wanted to be Kings. Those who succeeded then invariably set their ambitious eyes on the High Kingship of Tara. Thus, there were plenty of excuses for full-scale warfare all year round.

The petty king of the Rathsallagh district must have been in a fine predicament during the days of the Celt. At various times, the kingdom of Munster reached as far north as the village of Grangecon. But the Kings of Leinster, headquartered at Naas and Kilcullen, also laid claim to Grangecon and its environs. In between these on-going territorial debates, a lot of fighting took place. Indeed, just outside Grangecon, there is a large lump of a hill known as Cormac's Grave or Killeen Cormac. Cormac was a kindly king of Munster who, on hearing of yet another war on his north-eastern front, ventured up from his palace - the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary - to negotiate a settlement with the Leinster men. Sadly he was slain in mid-talks prompting another battle between the two sides as to who now had the right to bury the dead monarch. The dispute was finally settled when Cormac's corpse was placed on a cart drawn by unguided oxen. They drew it to the aforementioned large lump of a hill outside Grangecon whereupon a hound leapt from a nearby hill (possibly Knockdoo) with such vitality that he landed on a stone and left the imprint of his paw. A pillar-stone with what appears to be the imprint of a paw can still be seen at Killeen Cormac.

The Celts brought much in the way of progress to Ireland. For one, they were skilled horse riders and charioteers making battles much more exciting; the great plain of the Curragh (meaning, literally, race-course) was a site for chariot racing in Celtic times. They were also highly skilled in the decorative arts, developing the intricate patterns and spirals found on ancient passage graves to embellish their pottery and metalwork. The gold-bearing mountains of the Wicklow range would have been of immense importance to the Celtic craftsmen and it is assumed that much of the gold that eventually made its way into Celtic chalices, brooches, manuscripts and other items was panned from the rivers to the east of Rathsallagh.

The Rathsallagh area is well supplied with ringforts, dating to the Celtic age but often occupying sites of much greater antiquity. These forts are generally composed of circular earthen embankments or stone walls, situated on higher ground. They were most likely used as base camps for Celtic tribes at a time when traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyles were fading away and enclosed livestock farming was becoming the norm. The Brussellstown Ringfort on the summit of Spinan's Hill, between Donard and Baltinglass, is a jolly place to go for a ramble on bright afternoons. The ringfort is said to be the largest in Ireland and dates to at least the 2nd century AD. The view is immense. All the mountain ranges of Leinster are to be beheld - the Blackstairs of Wexford, the Comeraghs of Kilkenny, the Slieve Blooms of Laoise and Offaly, the Hill of Allen in County Kildare and - on exceptionally clear days - the great Hill of Tara in County Meath. Similar views can be obtained from the raths at Golden Fort outside Baltinglass, Glen Ding near Blessington and Dun Ailinne outside Kilcullen, once the most important royal palace in South Leinster. Another former Royal Residence stood at Naas. Dunlavin takes its name from the Irish, Dun Luadhain, or Luadhan's Fort but, alas, there is no record of whom Luadhan might have been. At Tournant, a mile north of Rathsallagh, archaeologists have unearthed several carved items featuring Celtic inscriptions as well as a Celtic burial chamber. Rathsallagh evidently derives its name from its own rath or ring-fort; an adaptation of old the Irish expression "Raith Salach" for "sweet fort".

If Ireland is acclaimed as a literary nation then this too may be a legacy of the Celts for they gave us our first alphabet. Just off the N7 heading south from Naas, 1 km before The Priory Inn, there stands a lofty, oblong rock perched atop an earthen mound. This is one of several hundred Ogham Stones in Ireland. Ogham was the ancient alphabet of the Celts, invented in the south of Ireland perhaps 2000 years ago and subsequently used as far away as Bosnia. These rocks were Stone Age Man's equivalent of exercise books. Adults and children would assemble around Ogham Stones to listen as their wizened elders prodded relevant letters and explained their meanings. Meanings, incidentally, which again we today can only guess at. In due course, Irish Christians would adapt this novel method of teaching to their high crosses.

The Coming of ChristianityUp arrow

St. Patrick's Visit to Moone - The First Monasteries - The Beginnings of Rathsallagh Farm - St. Kevin of Glendalough - Celtic Christianity.

During the 4th century AD, the crumbling Roman Empire realised it was in dire need of something adhesive to unite their innumerable subjects against the increasingly militant hordes to the north and south. Thus they invented Roman Catholicism; a religion loosely based on the Judaic teachings of the Old Testament together with the four "Christian" Gospels and a number of other suitable letters, psalms and essays. Missionaries were encouraged to go into the dark corners of Europe and spread the word. One of the first to come to Ireland was a Gaulish Bishop, Saint Auxillius, who established a monastery at Killashee (Cill Ausaile) near the royal seat of Naas in the late 4th century. A Roman Bishop named Palladius is credited with founding a monastery at Moone during the same era.

In 432AD a refugee called Patrick, a self-confessed "sinner, the simplest of men", arrived in Ireland, lit a powerful bonfire upon the Hill of Slane and proceeded around the country, preaching the word of God. Saint Patrick is believed to have passed through the Rathsallagh region with great determination in the mid-5th century, founding a monastery at Old Kilcullen and baptizing King Cromthain of Leinster in the River Slaney near Rathvilly. This was no mean feat in a land supposedly populated by war-mongering maniacs who'd skewer their own daughters over the price of a bullock. He was particularly unimpressed by his reception at Moone. The local community was against a visitation to their community by the future Patron Saint and thus laid a series of traps for him, the intricacies of which sadly do not survive. Patrick got wind of this skullduggery and placed a curse on the town decreeing that no man born in Moone would ever become a king or a bishop. Sixteen hundred years later, the curse still stands to the good. However, many did like what Patrick had to say and started doing the same thing, barefoot walkabouts and spreading the word. Gradually the petty kings and provincial Kings and High Kings of Ireland conceded defeat and swore blindly to accept the new faith.

However, old habits have always died hard and, despite their noble intentions, the petty kings and provincial Kings and High Kings of Ireland continued to wage war in a singularly unchristian manner. The saints sighed at the heavens and decided to stop wanderings and settle down. For a long time the inhabitants of Ireland had been building structures made of rock that, while pleasing to the eye and useful for clan gatherings, were nonetheless not much use in regard to sleeping arrangements. In general, one's bedroom was a bundle of straw on the ground of a small dark hole contained within cold mud walls and a damp thatched roof. The saints thought about this conundrum and came up with the notion of reassembling rocks into structures that we today might call houses. These dwellings, variously known as monasteries or abbeys, became very popular from around the 6th century onwards. The Saints were, like Jesus, often kind-hearted people, happy to have visitors come and stay. They built special dormitories for pilgrims and travellers to sleep in and, in time, they built other rooms where they could offer instruction to those seeking Christian education and spiritual enlightenment.

The Saints and their followers left no stone unturned in their bid to spread the word. In his concise and informative history of Rathsallagh, Ian Cantwell suggests that the circular embankment or rath (27 metre diametre) is typical of early Christian farmsteads built between the 5th and 8th century. At some point, the farm at Rathsallagh became a daughter house of the great monastic city of Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains. It may even precede Glendalough; in the old burial ground outside Rathsallagh, archivists speak of headstones inscribed with Christian crosses dating to the 5th or 6th century but, alas, these have since disappeared. From about 550AD onwards, the war-weary aristocrats of the battle-scarred European continent began sending their sons to be educated in Ireland, henceforth the land of saints and scholars. Glendalough was founded about this time by Saint Kevin and had become one of the great centres of learning in Europe by the 7th century. Saint Kevin of Glendalough was born a few miles west of Blessington at Tipperkevin. His memory is enshrined in a large white statue, erected on a rocky outcrop behind the village of Hollywood. The Irish name for Hollywood, Cillin Chaomhin, means the Little Church of Kevin. Hollywood is very keen on Kevin. The (Protestant) Church of Ireland, the Roman Catholic Church and the National School are all named for him. His bed and cave are said to be located beneath the statue and his Chair lies in the valley below. It is said that any person who can rise from this chair without using their hands will never have back trouble.

Kevin was not alone in his bid to convert the heathens of the Wicklow Mountains and Great Plains of Kildare. Saint Tegan is credited with the founding of the original church at Kiltegan (meaning Church of Tegan) and the now ruined St. Bridget's Abbey at Kilranelagh. This was also the age in which the Bishop of Ferns, Saint Moling, founded the monastery at Timolin (Tigh Moling, St. Moling's Monastery). Saint Diarmuid, a grandson of King Aed Roin of Ulster, established a hermitage at Castledermot that would go on to become a major monastery in the 9th and 10th centuries. Less successful was St Conleth, a protégé of Saint Bridget, who decided to go on a pilgrimage to Rome but was killed by a wolf near Dunlavin in 519 AD.

In the following centuries, scores of monasteries and hermitages were constructed across Kildare and Wicklow. It is again worth noting that these early "Christians" felt inclined to adapt the decorative style of the pagan Celts in order to convince their listeners of the authenticity of their words. The elaborately decorated high crosses of Ireland are a particularly good example of this overlap in culture. On the Moone High Cross, for instance, one finds ancient Celtic motifs and symbols running adjacent to scenes from Genesis and the New Testament. These Celtic art forms may have been purely decorative but it is relevant that certain pagan aspects of Ireland's past survived into the Christian era. The same fate befell the traditional pagan festivals, which were eventually converted into Christian festivals, celebrating a particular event in the New Testament or perhaps commemorating the life of a Saint.

A new religion had by now emerged in Ireland, blending the creative flow of Celtic thought with the moral code of the Holy Bible. These people are thus referred to as Celtic Christians. However, it was not just the pagan festivals and Celtic arts that survived the coming of Christianity. In fact, contrary to all they claimed, many early Christians still tended to hold a good deal of respect for the druidic inclinations of their forefathers. They were not prepared to wholly abandon their inherited fascination with sun, moon and stars in order to worship a carpenter's son from Galilee. They did not necessarily believe in the divinity of Christ, the Virgin birth, eternal damnation or even the Resurrection. The new faith would be severely tested over the following centuries when first the Vikings and then the Normans arrived in Ireland in pursuit of gilded riches and territorial conquest.

Viking Attacks & Norman Mercenaries (795 - 1169AD)Up arrow

Plunder & Pillage - The Battle of Glen Mama (Dunlavin) - Brian Boru - The Cistercian Order - Strongbow's Invasion - Glendalough's Decline.

There's nothing like an axe-wielding Viking to put the fear of God in one's soul. The Irish Annals are filled with the scrawls of terrified monks bemoaning their inevitable demise at the hands of these beer-swilling Scandinavian anti-Christs. The first Viking assault on Ireland took place at Lambay Island in Dublin Bay in 795AD. Within 50 years they had established settlements along the south coast at Limerick, Cork, Waterford, Wexford and Dublin with further encampments at Arklow and Leixlip. From these bases, the dragon-prowed longships of both Norse and Dane advanced up river in pursuit of the immense wealth of gold and jewellery reputed to hidden in monastic schools and villages. The plundering and pillage was, by all accounts, of a most brutal nature. The abbey at Glendalough, Rathsallagh's mother church, was a popular target, being repeatedly attacked from about 815 through to 902. St. Patrick's monastery in "Old Kilcullen" was another favourite, eventually destroyed by Vikings in the 9th century. The original monastery of Saint Diarmuid in Castledermot was also raided on several occasions. However, just as the Celts fell for the spirit world of the Tuatha de Danaan, so too the Vikings gradually calmed down, converted to Christianity and started concentrating on the lucrative merits of Europe's rapidly expanding trade industry.

An important battle took place at Glean Mama near Dunlavin in 999AD. Sitric, Danish King of Dublin, had captured the King of Leinster, prompting an attack by Brain Boru, King of Munster. Sitric was defeated, and his brother Harold killed. Legend has it that Prince Harold lies buried beneath the pillared stone at Crushlow Churchyard in Crehelp. The Munster men subsequently took Dublin, where they remained seven nights, before burning the fortress and plundering the city of "gold, silver, hangings, and all precious things." Sitric was expelled from the city, but soon found an ally in his former foe, Brian Boru. Together they masterminded the fall of Malachy II and, in 1002, Brian Boru assumed the High Kingship.

By the 11th century, Ireland was struggling to deal with the legacies of Celt, Christian and Viking. In 1014, Brian Boru managed to unite just about everybody in a war that would suit all tastes and still leave him with the High Kingship. Vikings, both Norse and Danish, were selected as principle enemy of state. The troublesome Leinstermen were also declared fair game. Boru's colossal army set forth for the marshlands of Clontarf in north Dublin to do battle. It was a famous victory for Boru, although he himself was slain in the process. The Vikings completely toned down their operations in Ireland, leaving a few ineffective puppet kings to rule their rapidly depleted coastal communities, and fled north to Iceland where there is still a remarkably strong Celtic Irish tradition to this day. That said, the Vikings continued to exert an influence over Leinster right up to the arrival of the Normans in 1169. In that year, Mac Torcall, the last Norse King of Dublin, still claimed to rule over a territory extending as far south-west as Blessington. The Normans had him swiftly beheaded for such impudence.

About thirty years before the Normans arrived in Ireland, a new wave of Roman Catholic thought arrived in the country, spearheaded by the fundamentalist Cistercian Order founded in France in 1112AD. The first Cistercian abbey was established at Mellifont in County Louth by Saint Malachy, Bishop of Armagh, in 1142. Within a decade there were more than three hundred Cistercian abbeys in France and the British Isles, including 35 in Ireland. One of the finest examples of a Cistercian abbey is that of Baltinglass, founded in 1148 by Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster. The Cistercian Order received the full support of the Kings of Europe. Indeed, the abbey at Baltinglass numbered among its principal benefactors no less a man than John, Earl of Morton and Lord of Ireland, better known as King John, the great foe of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Its original name was Vallis Salutis or "The Valley of Salvation" and its estate covered some 50,000 acres of the Slaney Valley, with daughter houses established at Maune (County Cork), Jerpoint (Co. Kilkenny), Abbeyleix (Co. Laoise) and Monasterevin (Co. Kildare).

The Cistercians did much to advance the practice of agriculture in Ireland. Monastic life was no longer a case of simply humming the Te Deum and whipping one's back with birch whenever a dirty thought came to mind. Young novices now mustered together for specific projects, constructing weirs and eel farms on the rivers, planting herbs and fruits, harvesting wheat, clipping unruly yew bushes, negotiating wool exports with Italian merchants and such like. The village of Grangecon commenced as an out-farm (or grange) of Baltinglass Abbey. It seems likely that, although technically governed by the Celtic Christian community in Glendalough, the farm at Rathsallagh would also have fallen under the sphere of Cistercian influence.

Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster and founder of Baltinglass Abbey, is the man universally blamed for bringing the rabbit-munching Normans to Ireland. Dermoy had fled Ireland during a brutal tribal war with the O'Rourkes and the O'Connors. When Henry II of England turned down his request for military assistance, he called upon the Cambro-Norman knights of Wales. Their leader, Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, better known as Strongbow, was offered a vast tract of land in Leinster together with the hand in marriage of Dermot's wilful daughter, Aoife. Strongbow accepted the offer and managed to secure a letter from the Pope - an Englishman called Adrian - giving his small army of Norman mercenaries the go-ahead for an 'invasion' of what was deemed to be a pagan island on Christianity's westernmost frontier.

Strongbow's mercenary army arrived in Wexford's Bannow Bay in the summer of 1169, consisting of just 30 knights, 30 cavalry and 600 foot-soldiers, many of them Flemish. Within less than a decade most of the eastern half of Ireland had come under the rule of the English throne. Amongst the knights were three sons of Princess Nesta - Maurice FitzGerald, Robert FitzStpehen and Raymond Le Gros. The petty kings and provincial kings and High Kings didn't stand a chance against the Norman's super-efficient chain-mail clad army of cavalry, lancers and archers. The Normans' gigantic Arab steeds made the Irish ponies and draught horses look like field mice. In no time at all, the clans conceded defeat, swore a vague allegiance to the English king and returned to their various castles and raths (ringforts) for a rethink. On Dermot's sudden death in 1171, Leinster, formerly the stronghold of the O'Tooles and MacMurroughs, fell into the hands of Strongbow and his men. It was a powerful step west for a Norman Empire that now stretched as far east as Palestine and southern Italy.

[Dermot McMurrough is supposedly buried in Ferns, Wexford, where Henry II spent some 5 weeks as penence for ordering the execution of Thomas a Beckett. Others claim Dermot is buried in the Abbey in Baltinglass].

In 1172, just three years after the Norman Invasion, Rathsallagh was listed as a grange or farm attached to the Abbey of Glendalough. At this time, Glendalough fell within the demesne of the eminent ecclesiastic, Saint Laurence O'Toole, Archbishop of Dublin. Born in 1128, this outstanding man survived the Norman invasion but died in France in 1180 while trying to broker a peace treaty between King Henry II of England and Roderick O'Connor, the deposed High King of Ireland. O'Toole was canonised in 1226.

Anglo-Norman activity in the Rathsallagh area was immense. Perhaps their most magnificent monument was the construction in 1180 of Kilkea Castle outside Castledermot by Hugh de Lacy. Castles and keeps of considerable strategic importance were also built at Baltinglass (later converted into a farmhouse but two arched Norman doorways remain today), Rathvilly (credited to Hugh de Lacy) and Athy (Woodstock Castle, built by Richard de St. Michael at the end of the 13th century). Smaller defensive structures were constructed on man-made earthen mounds, or mottes, at Tournant and Tober (near Dunlavin), Merginstown and Lemonstown (between Dunlavin and Hollywood), Casteruddery, Rathmoon, Rathvilly and Ardscull (the Hill of Shouts) near Athy. A castle was built on top of an earthen motte at Hollywood (adjacent to the present Church of Ireland) and a manor house erected on the site of the present village. Villa Cumin, a manor house at Burgage outside Blessington, was established by John Comyn, a man of Scottish descent who succeeded Laurence O'Toole to the Archbishopric of Dublin; the church tower still stands. Another manor house was built for the Archbishop in Ballymore Eustace. With the Norman sponsored churches now on the rise, the influence of Glendalough was waning fast. Those tilling the soils of Rathsallagh must have wondered what this new European power had in store for them.

Medieval Ireland (1300 - 1561 AD)Up arrow

War & Plague - Edward the Bruce's Invasion - The End of Glendalough - The Rise of the Fitzgeralds - The Dissolution of the Monasteries - Silken Thomas - The Eustace Family.

Judging by the sombre words of the Irish Annals, the centuries that followed the Norman invasion of Ireland involved an endless torrent of plague, famine and bloody war. Sometimes it's Norman against Celt. On others occasions it's Celt against Celt. But mostly its Norman and Celt against Norman and Celt with a few Scottish mercenaries and Welsh archers thrown in. The Christian settlements were not immune from violence. The Cistercians of Baltinglass were under continual attack from the mountain septs of O'Byrne and O'Toole seeking the spoils of plunder. In 1308, the Archbishop of Dublin's property at Dunlavin was burnt down, along with the nearby Norman settlement of Tober. In 1328 Saint Moling's church at Timolin was destroyed by Edmund de Butler, the Anglo-Norman Chief Justiciar.

It could have all been so very different. In 1315 the Normans were very nearly cleaned out of Ireland when a joint army of Scot, Welsh and Irish under the leadership of Edward the Bruce (brother of Robert of Bannockburn) came storming south through the country intent on uniting the three lands into one Celtic Kingdom. In the first weeks of 1316, they achieved a major victory over the English at the Mote of Ardscull, north of Athy. The Scots subsequently plundered the Franciscan friary in Castledermot and set fire to the fledgling town of Naas. Alas for the Celt, everything went downhill when the Irish chieftains began quarrelling and murdering one another en route giving the Normans just enough breathing space to advance north and kill Edward the Bruce.

As a consequence of the on-going wars between the Wicklow chiefs and the Anglo-Norman invaders, the great monastic city of Glendalough was finally burned and abandoned in 1398. The farm at Rathsallagh had been taken over by laymen in the early 13th century. By 1326, it belonged to Thomas Fitzgerald, 2nd Earl of Kildare. They rented the property for 70 shillings and "two pounds of wax" a year. It is perhaps difficult to eradicate the image of men anxiously fingering their ears whenever rent was due but such wax was most probably manufactured by a small bee population living in the locality.

By the 16th century, the Royal Houses of England had run out of patience with Ireland. For centuries the King's coffers had been pouring money into the country and getting scant little in return. The island was now largely in the hands of the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Kildare, and the Butlers, Earls of Ormonde. The King's Lord Deputy was effectively impotent to perform any of his duties without first obtaining consent from the heads of these two powerful Anglo-Norman dynasties. The Wicklow Mountains were still predominantly in the hands of the O'Toole, O'Byrne and MacMurrough clans but each of these was now finding themselves under pressure from the growing ambitions of the Fitzgeralds.

In 1529 Henry VIII (1509 - 1547) fell in love with Anne Boleyn. In the process of separation from his Spanish wife Catherine of Aragon, he announced that he would no longer be answerable to the Pope and that he himself would henceforth be Supreme of Head of the Church of England. Lo!, the birth of English Protestantism.

There were several motives behind the English administration's subsequent decision to suppress and close the Catholic monasteries of Ireland. There were, of course, allegations of mass corruption within the monastic hierarchy. But the Catholic Church in Ireland was also possessed of enormous wealth in terms of land ownership, a wealth the English were eager to acquire. In the Rathsallagh area alone, there were abbeys at Baltinglass, Moone, Castledermot, Naas, Kilcullen and dozens of smaller monasteries scattered in between. Furthermore, these strategically located properties doubled up as safe-havens for rebels. In short, the dissolution of the monasteries would eradicate a major thorn in England's side and simultaneously increase the State's revenue. The church lands, when seized, could then be resold to key figures in the Irish system, Gaelic (ie: Irish Celt) or Norman, and thus hook these same individuals into a contractual bond with the Royal House of Tudor that could not easily be broken. By 1540, the monasteries of Ireland had been closed down and the church lands re-granted to those deemed worthy of royal patronage by the English administration in Dublin Castle. West Wicklow and the plains of Kildare now came under direct royal control but the dissolution may not have had such a dramatic impact on daily life as later histories suggest. Indeed, the farm at Rathsallagh would most probably have continued to operate as a farm, despite the change of ownership.

The Anglo-Norman family of FitzEustace were hereditary Constables of the Archbishop's Manor in Ballymore Eustace from 1373 until 1524. Intermarriage with the indigenous O'Byrne, O'Toole and Kavanagh clans complimented their rise within the colonial administration. In the 15th century, Sir Edward Eustace stood as Lord Deputy of Ireland while his son, Sir Roland, served as both Lord Deputy and Lord Treasurer. In June 1534, Silken Thomas Fitzgerald, 10th Earl of Kildare (and landlord of Rathsallagh), launched a spirited but doomed rebellion against the English forces in Ireland. He was defeated at Threecastles near Blessington, and again at Maynooth. Despite a guarantee of his personal safety if he surrendered, Silken Thomas was hung, drawn and quartered with his five uncles at Tyburn on 3rd February 1537. In the wake of his execution, the Crown confiscated Kildare's substantial lands. Rathsallagh formed part of this forfeited estate and was granted to Sir John Travers in 1545. The lands around Rathsallagh were granted to Sir Thomas Eustace, a nephew of Sir Rowland. In 1538, Sir Thomas was created Lord Kilcullen and Viscount Baltinglass. The latter title was created when the Eustace family were granted the estates formerly owned by the Cistercians of Baltinglass Abbey.

Elizabethan IrelandUp arrow

Robert Piphoe of Rathsallagh - Massacre of Mullaghmast - The Eustace Rebellion - Sir Henry Harrington of Grangecon.

In the early part of Queen Elizabeth's reign, Rathsallagh passed from Sir John Travers to his kinsman, Robert Piphoe, Crown Seneschal (or military governor) of West Wicklow. At the time, the estate consisted of a tower house and approximately 1000 acres. The tower most probably stood near the present graveyard, but Piphoe himself most probably lived in the Manor House at Hollywood. Piphoe's appointment as Seneschal in 1569 suggests that he would have been heavily involved in quelling the unrest that was soon to explode across the island in reaction to the Desmond and Eustace Rebellions. Piphoe had the power to assemble all local inhabitants into a defensive militia as well as pass judgement and punish "in body and goods, rebels and malefactors". Piphoe retained this post for nearly a decade until succeeded in 1578 by Sir Henry Harrington (1541 - 1612), a nephew of Lord Deputy Sidney, who resided in a tower house just outside Grangecon.

There were rebels a-plenty in Piphoe's day. And not without cause. During the reign of Queen "Bloody Mary" Tudor (1554 - 1559), the modern day counties of Offaly and Laois were planted with English settlers and became known as King's (after Philip II of Spain, Mary's husband) and Queen's County respectively. This territory incorporated the Slieve Bloom Mountains, ancestral home to the O'Moore chieftains, which lie to the west of Rathsallagh. In response to the plantation, the O'Moore's and their allies launched a guerrilla campaign against the planters and the English garrisons stationed to protect them. The war assumed a religious bent in the wake of the papal excommunication of Queen Elizabeth in 1570. On New Year's Day 1576, the Slieve Bloom chieftains were summoned to attend a Peace Conference at the ancient rath of Mullaghmast near Ballitore. Queen Elizabeth gave her personal assurance that the English would treat the chieftains with all due respect. This was not the case. O'Moore and forty of his principal allies were massacred at Mullaghmast by an English force headed up by Sir Francis Cosby of Stradbally Hall.

As such, Elizabethan Ireland was again a time of war but increasingly it was a war between Catholic and Protestant. The Catholics were those who had lived in Ireland prior to the Reformation. Most were of native "Irish" stock but many were descended from both the original Anglo-Norman families and later migrants from medieval England and Wales. The Catholic Counter-Reformation on the European continent was of the utmost importance to these men. The Protestants were primarily English settlers, like Piphoe and Harrington, supported by an ever-expanding military presence in the four provinces and a well-financed administration head-quartered in Dublin. The two major rebellions of this period were the Desmond Wars in Munster (1579 - 1583) and the Nine Years War, which began in Donegal in 1592 and concluded with the decisive defeat of the Irish chieftains at the battle of Kinsale in 1601. But there was a third rebellion during Elizabeth's reign that is of much greater relevance to the Rathsallagh locality - the FitzEustace Revolt.

In July 1580 the devoutly Catholic James Eustace, 3rd Viscount Baltinglass, allied himself with the septs of O'Byrne and Kavanagh and launched a rebellion against the English, in the name of the Pope and Mary, Queen of Scots. Under the command of FitzEustace and Fiach MacHugh O'Byrne, the Catholic rebels sacked the garrison town of Naas and managed a famous victory over the English army at Glenmalure in the Wicklow Mountains on 25th August 1580. Inevitably Baltinglass's rebellion linked up with that of the Desmonds in Munster, a war that had become increasingly serious since the arrival of Spanish reinforcements at Smerwick Harbour in County Kerry. However, the English regained the upper hand, captured the Earl of Desmond, slaughtered the Spanish army and Viscount Baltinglass fled to Rome in February 1581.

The Eustace estates were subsequently confiscated and granted to Sir Henry Harrington of Grangecon, Seneschal of Wicklow since 1578. He seems to have alternated between a policy of coercion and bribery. For much of the FitzEustace Rebellion he was actually incarcerated in Grangecon by the government who believed his role in the execution, without trial, of Tibbert O'Toole had been a major cause of the rebellion. A brave but foolhardy commander, he does not seem to have been much of a peacemaker, losing 200 men during a skirmish with the O'Byrnes near Rathdrum in May 1599.

Rathsallagh, the Ryves & the House of StuartUp arrow

Origins of the Ryves Family - Sir William Ryves - The Confederate Wars - Dr. Brune Ryves & the Restoration - William III & the Penal Laws.

Robert Piphoe died in 1609, eight years into the reign of the Scottish-born King James I. Rathsallagh formed part of his inheritance but, for the next twenty years, actual ownership of the property is unknown. By 1632 it had come into the possession of Sir William Ryves (c 1570 - 1648) whose family were to retain the estate through the bloodiest age Ireland had ever known. The Ryves family had its origins in the English county of Dorset and claimed to be the inspiration behind "A Reeves Tale" in Chaucer's A Canterbury Tale. During the 16th and 17th centuries many of the Ryves bloodline attended Oxford University, after which they went on to play prominent roles in the fields of education, politics and the church. Perhaps the most illustrious member was Sir William's cousin, Dr. George Ryves (1559 - 1613), who was among those men selected by James I to work on the translation of what would become the King James Bible (1605 - 1611).

Sir William Ryves and his brother, an ecclesiastical lawyer of note, came to Ireland in the early 17th century at the behest of their influential cousin Sir John Davis, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. In 1619, Sir William was appointed Attorney-General of Ireland, an office that put him in intimate contact with the political elite. In 1629, the South Wicklow magnate Lord Fitzwilliam became involved in a long and expensive inheritance dispute with his siblings. The costs forced him to mortgage "his lands in all directions". Sir William Ryves was named as one of his mortgagees. Part of this repayment may have been the granting of the estate and townlands of Rathsallagh. In 1632, Sir William was granted a license to hold a market at Rathsallagh on the Feast of Saint Bartholomew (4th September). This fair was still going strong 300 years later when a visitor described it as "one of the largest fairs in the kingdom … for horses, cattle and sheep".

Fairs and feasts aside, 17th century Ireland was a profoundly unhappy land. With religious divisions ever deepening throughout Europe, it was inevitable that a people so predominantly Catholic would be plunged into further conflict. During James I's reign, the Protestant and Presbyterian planter communities in Ireland consolidated their hold of the Irish Parliament and began to gradually dispossess and disenfranchise the Roman Catholics. Under Charles I, the Earl of Strafford, as Lord Deputy of Ireland, made some attempt to halt this process; an act that ultimately provided his manifold enemies with the necessary pretext to demand his execution.

In 1641 the Irish Catholics rose and the Confederate Wars commenced, pitting a fragile alliance of Irish and Anglo-Norman Catholic (including the Eustace family) against the forces of English Protestant Republicanism. Head-quartered in Kilkenny, the Confederate forces produced many admirable victories, including the conquest of north Kildare, but were ultimately unable to sustain the pressure. Following Cromwell's brutal suppressions of the garrisons at Drogheda and Wexford, a treaty was signed at Cahir Castle in County Tipperary. The collapse of the Confederacy enabled Cromwell to proceed with the confiscation of all property belonging to Catholics accused of complicity in the "rebellion". These lands were duly granted to soldiers who had fought in his victorious wars against the Royalist forces of King Charles I in England (1642 - 1653) and against the Catholics in Ireland. Among those to benefit from the Cromwellian land settlements were Matthew Pennefather (whose descendants would go on to inherit Rathsallagh) and Sir Maurice Eustace, who built the first house at Harristown in 1662.

The activities of Sir William Ryves of Rathsallagh and his family during these troubled times is unknown. He himself would have been too old to fight but it seems likely that his sons and grandsons took sides in the confrontation. Following the death of Sir John Davis in 1638, three years before the outbreak of the Confederate Wars, Sir William succeeded to the vacated post of Justice of the King's Bench, an office he held until his own death in 1648. In 1643, he served in the prominent position of Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. Sir William died in 1648, shortly before the execution of Charles I. His estates (including Rathsallagh) were inherited by his eldest son, Charles Ryves, a barrister, and then by his grandson, Richard Ryves who became Baron of the Exchequer in 1693.

Following Cromwell's death in 1659, the English concluded that a King was better than a dictator. The monarchy was restored in 1660 with the accession of the eccentric but likeable Charles II. James Butler, Duke of Ormonde, an enlightened soul who briefly commanded the Confederate army during the wars of the 1640s, was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland.

It may be of interest to note the advancement of an English cousin of the Ryves at this time. Dr. Brune Ryves (1594 - 1677) served as Chaplain to both Charles I and Charles II. During Cromwell's Protectorate (1649 - 1660) he made at least one trip to France to carry funds to the latter, then in exile. During this time he almost certainly encountered the Duke of Ormonde who was also in exile in France. After the Restoration of the House of Stuart, he was appointed Chaplain to the King and Dean of Windsor. Upon his death in 1677, he was buried in Windsor Castle. In the 17th century, as today, progress depended less on what you knew and more on whom you knew. Dr. Ryves close ties with the monarchy can only have enhanced the fortunes of his cousins at Rathsallagh.

The relative peace that existed during Charles II's reign came asunder with the accession of his brother, James II, a fervent Roman Catholic. Britain was once again plunged into civil war - known as the Glorious Revolution (1688) - as Protestants mustered around the Dutch Prince William of Orange, and Catholics rallied to the Jacobite cause of King James. Once again Ireland bore the brunt of the violence with the major battles - the Boyne (1689) and Aughrim (1691) - taking place on Irish soil. At one point King William's mighty army swept across the plains of Kildare from Kilcullen. King James was defeated and exiled to France. King William III and the Protestants now held absolute authority throughout the British Isles and, in order to prevent any further outbreak of revolt, initiated a legislative campaign - the Penal Codes - that would effectively render the Catholic population of Ireland second class citizens for over 130 years. Catholics were forbidden the right to bear a weapon or own a horse. They were not allowed to vote in elections or buy land. Roman Catholicism itself was outlawed and proposals to castrate any priests found giving Mass were seriously considered in the Irish House of Parliament. The age of the Protestant Ascendancy had begun and high amongst the new elite was Richard Ryves of Rathsallagh, appointed Baron of the Exchequer in 1693.

The Age of the AscendancyUp arrow

Big House - The New House at Rathsallagh - Jonathan Swift in Dunlavin - Quakers of Ballitore - Stratford-on-Slaney - The Grand Canal.

Over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, Ireland developed as a relatively prosperous economical unit primarily through the industries of textile manufacture and agriculture. New administrative and judicial buildings were built in the main towns, alongside banks, churches, markets, tholsels and gaols. The population continued to climb steadily. By 1845, the eve of the Great Famine, there were some 8 million people living in the country. The vast majority lived on Protestant-owned land outside of the towns. Most were tenant farmers, contractually bound to pay rent to the landowners as well as a tithe to the Established (Protestant) Church. The principal land-owning families in the Rathsallagh area during the 18th century included Saunders, Stratford, Tynte, La Touche, Harrington, Dennis, Pendred, Bunbury, Bonham and Ryves.

Perhaps the most symbolic legacy of this new age was the so-called Big House, the sumptuous mansions and castles built for the Anglo-Irish aristocracy and landed gentry who effectively ran the country from the reign of King William III until independence in 1922. The province of Leinster was a major stronghold for these predominantly Protestant families and many walled estates are to be found around Rathsallagh. Indeed, one of the earlier houses to be built at this point may well have been at Rathsallagh. Richard Ryves's tenure as Baron of the Irish Exchequer under King William III had provided him with sufficient money to retire from the law and settle as a gentleman-farmer. In 1703, with Queen Anne on the British throne, he commissioned the construction of a new stable for his horses in the old farm at Rathsallagh. It is not known when the house he resided in was built but it seems likely that it would date from the same period. The original house was destroyed by fire in 1802, at which point the stables were converted into the present Rathsallagh House. Joe O'Flynn senior recalls putting a sewer quite deep across the front of the present house and discovering the ground was all rough granite stone; he thinks this marks site of the old house.

Richard Ryves eldest son and heir, Thomas, stood as High Sheriff for County Wicklow in 1714, the year the German-speaking George I succeeded to the British throne. He is assumed to have been the Sheriff Reeves who broke up ‘a Riotous Assembly of Papists’in Wicklow, as he gleefully reported to Joshua Daswson, Secretary to the Lords Justice, at Dublin Castle: ‘Wee pulled down their Tentes, threw down and demolished their superstitious crosses, destroyed the wells, apprehended and committed one Tool a Popish school master.’ He he seems to have kept his head out of the political intrigues that followed the Hanoverian succession and his son, William, served as High Sheriff in 1734.

Architects and masons were kept busy throughout West Wicklow and South Kildare during the Georgian Age. In 1702, James Worth Tynte, an influential Dublin-based politician, secured as his bride Hester Bulkeley, sole heiress of John Bulkeley, landlord of the Dunlavin estates. Their scholarly son Robert Tynte built Dunlavin's Market House in 1741. This granite stone building was primarily used as a market place for the sale of potatoes and corn but later acquired a less honourable distinction when used as a prison prior to the massacre of Dunlavin in 1798. In 1716, a year after the accession of King George I, barrister Morley Saunders, a grandson of Cromwell's Governor of Kinsale, purchased an estate outside Baltinglass and commissioned a large three-storey mansion with 365 windows, known today as Saunder's Grove. His brother-in-law, George Pendred, who succeeded Thomas Ryves as High Sheriff of Wicklow, constructed Fortgranite outside Baltinglass in 1730. Castle Martin outside Kilcullen was built for the Blacker family in the same year. Russborough House, near Blessington, was designed in 1741 by the great Richard Cassels, assisted by Francis Bindon, and is considered to have the most perfect Palladian entrance in Ireland. Cassels and Bindon again joined forces in 1743 to create Belan House, home of the Earls of Aldborough, in the village of Moone. The Bonhams established their family seat at Colbinstown, Dunlavin, in 1744. The Yeats built a small Palladian house by the 15th century ruined castle in Moone. Three miles from Moone, Burtown House, home to the Fennell family, dates to the mid 18th century. The Harringtons, descendants of the Elizabethan Seneschal, built a new house at Grangecon. The Powells erected Tober House (now ruined) outside Dunlavin in the early 18th century. In the 1770s the Huguenot banking family of La Touche commissioned Whitmore Davis to design a new house by the old FitzEustace castle at Harristown outside Brannockstown. These were the families with whom the Ryves of Rathsallagh socially interacted; an uncertain and isolated gentry, be-wigged and frocked, seated in grand halls and earnest libraries, reading the works of Swift and Defoe, listening to young ladies play Handel on the piano, arguing about Bonnie Prince Charlie and the growing impudence of the colonists in British North America.

The religious divide continued to widen, albeit at a more peaceful pace than the previous century. The Established Church of Ireland exerted the predominant influence. One of the earliest Protestant churches was St. Mary's in Blessington, built in 1685, complete with clock and bell-tower. A new Protestant church was built in Dunlavin in the early 18th century, presided over by a young Jonathan Swift, author of "Gulliver's Travels", appointed to the prebendary of Dunlavin in 1700.

The Quakers had been in Ireland since the days of Oliver Cromwell. But progress was by no means limited to the landed gentry. In the late 17th century, two industrious members of the community named Barcroft and Strettel purchased a tract of land on the banks of the River Griese at what is now the village of Ballitore. A Yorkshire-born Quaker named Abraham Shackleton (1697 - 1771), great-great-great grandfather of the polar explorer Sir Ernest, founded a school at Ballitore in 1726. In 1740, the school became the educational quarters of 11-year-old Edmund Burke (1729 - 1797), perhaps the greatest philosopher of the late 18th century. A later student of Ballitore was Cardinal Paul Cullen (1803 - 1878), the man who drafted the dogma on papal infallibility.

This was also an age of small-scale industrial revolution in Ireland. Indeed, one of the greatest projects of the era was the construction of a model industrial town at Stratford-on-Slaney during the 1780s. The project was the initiative of Edward Stratford, the eccentric Earl of Aldborough, and resulted in a linen and cotton-printing factory, together with an extensive walled bleaching green, which operated on the banks of the River Slaney. At its peak in the early 19th century, Stratford employed more than 1000 people, producing in excess of 2000 pieces of printed cotton every week. The importation of a labour force from Ulster to work at the factory necessitated the building of a Presbyterian kirk in the village. Only the bleaching green and a ruined dye house remain today but Stratford continues to impress in the annual National Tidy Towns Competition.

At the close of the century, the town of Athy received a significant boost when the River Barrow was linked to the Grand Canal at Robertstown in 1791, enabling goods to travel with relative ease along the 42 mile waterway to Dublin City. Benefiting from this development was the Crookstown Corn Mill on the banks of the River Griese near Ballitore, built in 1804 of limestone by the local landowner John Bonham of Ballintaggart House.

Rathsallagh and the 1798 RisingUp arrow

Origins of the Rebellion - Local Atrocities - Captain William Ryves - The Massacre of Dunlavin Green - Burning of Rathsallagh - Mick O'Dwyer.

For the most part, Georgian Ireland was a peaceful and relatively prosperous land, an age in which buildings, both public and private, rose up across the landscape with renewed confidence. However, with the evolution of political thought, it was inevitable that Ireland would once again be drawn into a European conflict. In this case, the catalyst was the American War of Independence (in which so many first and second generation Irishmen fought) and the French Revolution. Both events were founded on a desire to bring liberty, fraternity and equality to all mankind. Such noble aims were enticing to Irish ears. In 1792 a union was formed between certain Protestants, Presbyterians and Catholics eager to bring an end to the Ascendancy's monopoly on Irelands' economic and political affairs. The revolt of the United Irishmen - better known as the 1798 Rebellion - was ultimately a disaster and a tragedy. The lines of communication between like-minded people were too fragile for any concise strategy to develop. The French fleet arrived several months too late. The British Redcoats (numbering several thousand Irishmen in their ranks) managed to douse the rebellion but only after a bitter and indiscriminate four-month war that left perhaps as many as 30,000 people dead, loyalist, rebel, Catholic, Protestant and Presbyterian; the majority, civilians.

The small towns and villages around Rathsallagh did not escape the violence. Brutal battles and murders took place at Kildare, Ballitore, Narraghmore, Dunlavin, Ballymore Eustace, Stratford and Baltinglass. Thirty cartloads of rebel dead were carried away from the latter skirmish. Mr. Yates of Moone Abbey, one of Lord Aldborough's yeomen, was piked to death at Ballitore early in the conflict. Captain La Touche of Harristown was one of the lucky survivors of an ill-advised cavalry charge on rebel forces at Old Kilcullen, a battle that left more than 150 dead, mainly loyalists. On another drastic occasion, 350 unarmed Catholics were massacred at the ancient Gibbet Rath outside Kildare town. In Ballitore, the Quaker diarist Mary Leadbetter managed to write down her own unhappy experience when a British troop took the village.

"Ah, they came breathing vengeance … cannon accompanied them! To see cannon in Ballitore! I ran upstairs to my children whom I had seen in the room over the dairy. The Currough was now on fire, the crash of breaking windows could be heard and the trumpet sounded. Just then it was said the doctor was shot. I ran out into the room, and beheld him lying on his back, his arms extended and his life flown: then terror and distress seized me … the tumult now ceased, the trumpet sounded again. I suppose a retreat. We awoke as from a terrible dream".

At this time, Rathsallagh was in the possession of Captain William Ryves, grandson of the William Ryves who served as High Sheriff in 1734. A contemporary, the Rev. Christopher Robinson described him as "sensible, cool, loyal, persevering but in examining a man to get information, he sticks too much to the quibbles of a Court of Law and forgets the now necessity of the soldier". Ryves certainly gave little heed to the "quibbles" of law when he ordered the execution of over 30 prisoners at the Green in Dunlavin in June 1798. Being a Magistrate and supporter of Anglo-Irish interests, Captain Ryves had mustered his own cavalry corps to rout insurgents early in the days of the rebellion. His neighbour, Captain Saunders, had likewise formed a corps with which he had rounded up some 36 suspected rebels, subsequently imprisoned in the Market House in Dunlavin. The following is an extract from the memoirs of the Rev. John Shearman, Rector of Dunlavin at this time.

"Next day Captain Ryves of the Rathsallagh yeomen, being on the look-out for insurgents on the hill of Uske, his horse was killed by a ball aimed at its rider. Ryves got home safely; rode to Dunlavin, and then it was determined to shoot the prisoners of Saunder's yeomen, and those of the Narraghmore corps, numbering in all 36 men. Next day, the 26th May, being the market-day of Dunlavin, these unfortunates were marched from the market-house to the Fair Green, on the rising ground above the little town. In a hollow or pit on the north side, near the gate of the Roman Catholic chapel on the Sparrowhouse Road, the victims were ranged, while a platoon of the Ancient Britons (a loyalist brigade) stood on the higher ground on the south side of the Green on the Boherbuoy Road. They fired with murderous effect on the 36 victims. All fell - dead and dying - amid the shrieks and groans of the bystanders among whom were those widows and relatives".

The event is commemorated in the Irish ballad "Dunlavin Green" although, remarkably, it is Saunders and not Ryves who takes the brunt of responsibility:

Bad luck to you, Saunders, may bad luck never you shun!
That the widow's curse may melt you like the snow in the sun
The cries of the orphans whose murmurs you cannot screen
For the murder of their dear fathers on Dunlavin Green

Some of our boys to the hills they are going away
Some of them are shot and some of them going to sea
Micky Dwyer in the mountains to Saunders he owes a spleen
For his loyal brothers who were shot on Dunlavin Green

After the rebellion had ended, Mary Shackleton and a friend went to Rathsallagh in order to retrieve "some of our plundered property" which "Squire Ryves", as a magistrate, was safe-guarding. She wrote:

"The way seemed long, lonely and dreary. The large old mansion of Rathsallagh exhibited a melancholy air. Its neglected appearance, barricaded windows, the absence of the female part of the family and the presence of a military guard made us think our own situation preferable, as we were permitted to enjoy domestic comfort. Some of our things were here and while the squire restored them to us, he smiled, and warned us of our danger of being robbed again. He foretold but too truly…"

The jury is still out as to whether the fire that subsequently destroyed the manor house at Rathsallagh in 1802 was accidental or not. Joe O'Flynn senior recalls, 'A crowd came in here looking for a family called Moody who lived here in the 18th century when they came in across the field and burnt the house to the ground. The children here escaped up the back and hid in the haycocks and they were all scattered around the world after.' Whether this be true or not, it is perhaps a surprise that the house survived the rebellion at all. Protestant parishes to the north and south suffered badly and put in claims for substantial compensation. Donard Parish was the worst hit in the county, with one claim for every three houses. Captain Ryves died in February 1803 and was succeeded by his son, William, a solicitor, who took over as captain of his fathers' corps. He also converted the Queen Anne stables into a fine country house that we know today as Rathsallagh House.

The rebellion continued in the Wicklow Mountains long after its suppression elsewhere. At Derrynamuck, on the south side of the Glen of Imaal, the Dwyer-McAllister Cottage stands testament to this prolonged resistance. In a showdown reminiscent of the Wild West, Michael Dwyer, leader of the Wicklow rebels, made a daring getaway from this cottage when surprise attacked by a brigade of Scottish Redcoats from Humewood, Kiltegan, in February 1799. His friend Sam McAllister, already wounded, deliberately drew the enemy musket-fire so that Dwyer could escape out the back. A monument to McAllister now dominates the main street in Baltinglass. Dwyer was later captured and exiled to Australia, one of 60,000 Irish felons transported Down Under between 1785 and 1845. He became a Constable in Sydney but died of the drink.

William Ryves & the Early 19th CenturyUp arrow

Act of Union - Napoleonic Wars - Enlightened Liberalism - Construction Boom - The Last of the Ryves.

In 1800 the Irish Parliament voted itself out of existence and ceased to exist. Ireland's five million strong population now found themselves in a situation where all decisions on Irish affairs were henceforth to be concluded at Westminster, a situation that remained until independence was granted to the Irish Free State in 1922. Without the tiresome duties of State to trouble them, the Anglo-Irish landlords looked to improve their arrangements in the countryside; many had acquired a considerable fortune as a result of the British Government's policy of "compensation" for the abolition of the Irish House of Parliament.

The Napoleonic Wars inevitably took their toll on Ireland, not least in the number of oak trees felled to provide wood for the rapidly expanding British Navy. There were human casualties too, of course. William Ryves neighbour, Morley Saunders, lost two sons - one at the battle of Vittoria and another in the American War of 1811. In the wake of Waterloo (1815) and Napoleon's fall, a new age of enlightened liberalism emerged in British politics. In the Empire, this resulted in the abolition of slavery in 1836. In Britain there was a radical overhaul of working conditions. In Ireland, largely due to the powerful presence of Daniel O'Connell, the Catholic population - or those who owned land at any rate - were finally given the right to vote. The emancipation of the Catholics inspired a new era of religious architecture in Ireland. The benevolent Anglo-Irish landlady, Lady Hannah Tynte-Caldwell personally granted land in Dunlavin for her tenants to build a Catholic Church in Dunlavin, named for Saint Nicholas of Myra, aka Santa Claus. By 1835 Sunday mass at St. Nicholas' was drawing a congregation of almost 2000. The Catholic Church of St. Kevin in Hollywood was restored and extended in 1830. Nonetheless the situation remained dire and, between 1815 and 1845, more than a million Irishmen emigrated to North America.

But nothing could dampen the Ascendancy's spirits when it came to building Big Houses. The Marquis of Downshire was one of the first off the mark, building a brand new house at Blessington in 1801 to replace an earlier one burnt in the 1798 Rebellion. William Ryves conversion of the Rathsallagh stables took place at the same time. The ancient Fitzgerald stronghold at Kilkea Castle had also been severely damaged during the rebellion and underwent a restoration, a process it had to repeat following a serious fire in 1849. Ballinure, outside Grangecon, was built for the Carroll family in the early 19th century. The Tynte family, resident in Ireland since Elizabethan times, built a new Classical home, Tynte Park, outside Dunlavin in 1820; it remained with the family until 1974. William Heighington oversaw the construction of Donard House outside Dunlavin in 1813. The Dennis family of Fortgranite considerably extended the size of their property between 1810 and 1815, and again in 1870 when a large arboretum was planted. Gowran Grange, by Punchestown, was built for the Baron de Robeck between 1847 and 1852. Daniel Robertson was summoned from retirement to design a new house and gardens for the McClintock Bunbury family at Lisnavagh during the same years. Joseph Welland, later Vice-President of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland, designed D'Israeli School in Rathvilly for an uncle of Benjamin Disraeli, the British Prime Minister, who had won a National Lottery and decided to put the money to good use. One of the last houses to be built was the magnificent Gothic mansion of Humewood Castle outside Kiltegan, completed in 1860, the brainchild of an eccentric architect, William White, who spent his life trying to prove that Francis Bacon was William Shakespeare.

There is a complex situation that, as of April 2020, I have yet to examine properly but it seems the property passed to William Ryves, 'a gentleman of cultivated and intellectural mind', who was the last of his bloodline to reside at Rathsallagh. One assumes the family never got on with their neighbours quite so well ever after the massacre on Dunlavin Green. I previously stated that William, a bachelor, had got into serious debt. Cantwell suggests this may have been "through gambling or some other secret vice …as none of the money he raised by mortgaging the estate was spent on his house or demesne". Ryves adopted a policy whereby land could no longer be sub-let by his tenants to smaller farmers, an act unlikely to have enhanced the popularity of his family. The estate population subsequently dropped from 1000 in 1820 to just over 300 by the time William Ryves died on 6th June 1834. [Check date of death] It appears that William fell from a horse in about 1818, damaging his spine and forcing him to become a recluse. His mother meanwhile moved to Bath with his sister. The sister later came back to Rathsallagh to nurse him. His only surviving brother John Ryves was in the army but had a massive fall out with the nursely sister in 1825, after which he apparently vowed that he would never live in Ireland. At this point, William told several witnesses that he planned to leave Rathsallagh to a Tipperary based lawyer, Edward Pennefather 'as he would preseve it, and would manage it and the tenantry in the way he wished.' Soon afterwards, William made a will to that effect, also leaving £10,000 to his sister and £80000 to his friend, Mr Harris. In his will, William bypassed his younger brother John Ryves and left the property to Pennefather (who reputedly cleared William's debts.) This led to a disputed law case in July 1833 about which further details here and here, in which John argued that his older brother was insane when he made his will.


The PennefathersUp arrow

Staffordshire Origins - The Whiteboys - Chief Justice Edward Pennefather - John Nelson Darby & the Plymouth Brethren - Great Famine - O'Connell's Monster Meeting - Edward Pennefather, QC.

The Pennefathers were an old English family from Staffordshire. The first of the family to come to Ireland was Matthew Pennefather, a Cornet in the New Model Army, who acquired lands in County Tipperary in 1660. His grandson, also Matthew, served as a Lieutenant Colonel in General Sabine's regiment and "gallantly distinguished himself at [the battle of] Outenarde". He served as Auditor of the Irish Revenue and MP for Cashel during the reign of King George I. Lieutenant Colonel Pennefather's nephew, Richard Pennefather, had two sons, Kingsmill and William. The Right Honourable Edward Pennefather (1774 - 1847), a grandson of William, was the man who acquired Rathsallagh in 1834. Edward trained for the law, most probably in the Four Courts in Dublin. He went on to become "one of the most eminent and learned lawyers of his time". His elder brother, Richard Pennefather (1773 - 1859), was one of the Barons of the Exchequer in Ireland.

In 1806 Edward Pennefather married Susan Darby, eldest daughter of John Darby of Markly in Sussex and Leap Castle in County Offaly (then the "King's County"). John Darby's brother Henry commanded HMS Bellerophon (nicknamed the 'Billy Ruffian') under family friend Admiral Lord Nelson at the battle of the Nile some years earlier.

John Darby in his will left the portrait of William Ryves, which hung in the dining parlour in Great George Street, to his son-in-law Edward Pennefather. Ryves (1570 –1647) acted as Deputy to the Lord Chancellor of Ireland for a time and also held office as Attorney General for Ireland and a justice of the Court of King's Bench (Ireland). Given the common law denominator between Ryves and Pennefather Darby senior’s action is not surprising, but there may be more to it than that, given both the Ryves and Pennefather connection to Rathsallagh.

The Darbys were to cast an intriguing new angle over the Pennefather family, not least on account of Susan's younger brother, John Nelson Derby (1800 - 1882) who co-founded the Plymouth Brethren in 1832, an evangelical group of travelling preachers who believed strongly in the power of the Holy Spirit. John Nelson Darby was born at Westminster and christened an Anglican with Admiral Nelson standing as one of his godfathers; hence the use of 'Nelson' as a middle name. He was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College Dublin, where he graduated in 1819 as Classical Medallist. He was called to the Irish Chancery Bar but soon felt that being a lawyer was inconsistent with his religious belief. He instead chose ordination as an Anglican clergyman in Ireland and, in 1825, he was ordained deacon of the established Church of Ireland. The following year he became a curate and distinguished himself for his successful ministry among the Roman Catholic peasants of his parish in Calary, near Enniskerry, County Wicklow. He later claimed to have won hundreds of converts to the Church of Ireland. Such conversions ended when William Magee, Archbishop of Dublin, ruled that converts were obliged to swear allegiance to George IV as rightful king of Ireland. In October 1827, he was thrown from a horse and badly injured. He duly convalesced with his sister's family, sometimes in Dublin and sometimes in their home at Temple Carig in Delgany. The accident compelled him to give up his curacy at Calary but he later stated that it was during this time that he recognized that the "kingdom" described in the Book of Isaiah and elsewhere in the Old Testament was entirely different from the Christian church. Darby did not formally declare his separation from the Church of Ireland until 1832, at the Powerscourt Conference, an annual meeting of Bible students organized by his friend, the wealthy widow Lady Powerscourt (Theodosia Wingfield Powerscourt). That conference was also where he first described his discovery of the "secret rapture", a theory which proposes that Christ will snatch away his true believers from this world without warning. He became a regular at Plymouth, which he first visited in 1830, and one of the most prominent members of the Brethren. During the 1840s he went on several missions to the continent, visiting Germany, Switzerland, Holland and Italy. In later life he made similar trips to Canada, the United States, the West Indies, New Zealand and Hawaii, bringing thousands of people into the Brethren's fold. Among Darby's protoges were two men he tutored who would themselves serve as tutor to the Pennefather boys - first Joseph Charles Philpot and later Francis William Newman.

[An outline of Darby's biographical development can be found in two recently published essays: “Influences in the early development of John Nelson Darby” in Crawford Gribben, Timothy C.F. Stunt [eds], Prisoners of Hope? : Aspects of Evangelical Millennialism in Britain and Ireland, 1800-1880 (Carlisle [Paternoster Press] 2004) and “John Nelson Darby: Contexts and Perceptions” in Crawford Gribben, Andrew Holmes, [eds], Protestant Millennialism, Evangelicalism and Irish society, 1790-2000 (Basingstoke; New York [Palgrave Macmillan] 2006).]

In 1829 Edward Pennefather presided over the trial of six men accused of membership in the Whiteboys (Buachailli Bana), a secret oath-bound society founded in Tipperary in 1761. At night they would gather in small groups and set about levelling banks and ditches on Anglo-Irish estates to enable tenant farmers to avail of free grazing. They wore white shirts so they could recognise one another in the dark. In time their list of grievances expanded to include resistance to the payment of tithes to the Protestant church and a demand for fixed and fair rents. It is unlikely that Pennefather had any sympathy for the Whiteboy cause. After he took over Rathsallagh, he continued with William Ryves policy of prohibiting tenants to sub-let. In the 1829 trial, the Whiteboys were defended by Daniel O'Connell, the man who had secured Catholic Emancipation earlier that year. Four of the accused were sentenced to death, a sentence later commuted to transportation for life to New South Wales, Australia.

The Irish Potato Famine of 1845 -1849 has gone down in history as one of the worst disasters of recent times. Historians still argue as to precisely how many died or emigrated but most would agree that, either way, the population decreased from approximately 8 million to less than 4 million by 1860. Ironically Pennefather's refusal to allow his tenants to sub-let meant Rathsallagh was spared the worst excesses of the Famine because there were quite simply no small farmers left on the estate to suffer. The Chief Justice was not living at Rathsallagh at this time but resided in a house on Fitzwilliam Square in Dublin. Edward's nephew, Richard Pennefather, was Under-Secretary of State for Ireland during this terrible era. However, his neighbour, John La Touche of Harristown set an uplifting precedent by feeding his starving tenants with meat from the deer in his park. Curiously, the Crookstown Corn Mill claimed its most profitable era occurred during the famine and that very little emigration took part in the area.

The great Celtic rath of Mullaghmast outside Ballitore became a household name when, on October 1st 1843, Daniel O'Connell held one of his famous monster meetings here, agitating for the right of Catholic Ireland to be a self-governing entity within the British Empire. Hundreds of thousands are said to have turned up to hear the Emancipator speak. O'Connell would surely have been aware of the appropriateness of the location, stemming from the massacre of Mullaghmast three centuries earlier.

O'Connell's monster meetings earned him the wrath of the British Government and, in due course, he and his colleague Gavin Duffy were arrested for conspiracy to incite revolt. The trial was presided over by no less a man than Edward Pennefather, Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench. Anthony Trollope alludes to this case in the opening pages of "The Kellys and the O'Kellys". As the elderly O'Connell arrives at the Four Courts in Dublin, he passes observation on the various judges appointed to try him. When he comes to the Chief Justice he exclaims: "Look at that big-headed pig-faced fellow on the right. That's Pennefather! He's the blackest sheep of the lot and the head of them! He's a thoroughbred Tory, and as fit to be a judge as I am to be a general". O'Connell and Duffy were sentenced to a year's imprisonment and fined 2000 pounds. Perhaps owing to the public outcry at the sentence, Edward Pennefather retired from his post as Chief Justice and Privy Councillor in late 1845. He died on 6th September 1847 and was buried in Delgany, Co. Wicklow. Daniel O'Connell died in Genoa on 15th May that same year.

Pennefather's lands at Rathsallagh were inherited by his eldest son and heir, also Edward Pennefather (1809 - 1895), initially educated by his evangelical uncle, John Nelson Darby. Like his father, Edward then studied at Oxford and trained as a barrister-at-law, serving as a Queen's Councillor, Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant for County Wicklow. Along with his neighbour, Joseph Pratt Tynte of Tynte Park, Edward Pennefather would establish himself as one of the most influential men in West Wicklow over the course of Queen Victoria's long reign. His brother William Pennefather (1811 - 1878) was variously Rector of Callan (Co. Kilkenny) and Delgany, and later Precentor of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. Another brother, Richard, rose to become Auditor-General in British Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). One of his sisters, Dora, married James Stopford (1794 - 1858), 4th Earl of Courtown. Another, Ellen, married James O'Brien (1792 - 1874), Protestant Bishop of Ossory and Ferns. A third, Mary, was to become the mother of Sir George Ruthven Le Hunte, Governor of Trinidad (1909 - 1916). On 30th March 1841 Edward married Harriet, third daughter of an Englishman named Richard Hall from Totteridge in Hertfordshire. Their eldest son Edward died in 1846 at the age of three. A second son Arthur perished in September 1863, aged 16. The third, Charles Pennefather, duly inherited Rathsallagh, and after his death, it passed to the fourth son, Frederick. A daughter, Susan, married an Englishman named Wood and was grandmother to Harold Freese-Pennefather, the last of the line to own Rathsallagh.

[ The acquaintance of the Pennefathers with Robert Daly was probably sometime long before 1819. In a biography of Edward Nangle the following is found concerning his time at the Royal School in Cavan:
“The then Head-master of Cavan Royal School was Dr. John Moore. He held the first School in Ireland at that time at his own place, Donnybrook Castle; and when appointed by the Lord Lieutenant (Lord Hardwicke) to the School of Cavan, he brought with him to the county about forty boys. Among these were several who were afterwards noted in the history of Ireland; [...] I just remember the names of a few of his schoolfellows. The late General Sir John Pennefather was a schoolfellow of his; also ‘Robert Daly,' the late well-known Bishop of Cashel, and his brother the celebrated Warden of Galway. Then there were the Brownes of Mayo, the O'Byrnes, La Touches, and Norburys, etc. Most of these were just leaving school when Nangle came there.”(Henry Seddall, Edward Nangle: The Apostle of Achill, A Memoir and a History, London, (Hatchards), 1884, p. 26.)
The John mentioned here was Edward Pennefather’s nephew who later became famous as General Sir John Lysaght Pennefather (1798-1872). There must have been many intersections between the Daly and Pennefather families as both were involved in positions of law and parliament. Kelley is mistaken when he refers to him as the Lord Chief Baron of Ireland in his dissertation (Trapped, p. 37).
Thanks to Max Weremchuk, author of an upcoming revised Darby biography, entitled 'Becoming JND – The Early Years – 1800-1828’.

The Age of LeisureUp arrow

Arrival of the Railway - Hunting & Shooting - Punchestown 1868 - Percy French in Dunlavin - Death of Edward Pennefather, QC - Father Donovan & Dunlavin - The Gordon Bennett Cup 1903 - Court of Petty Sessions - Parnell & the Irish Land League - Peirce O'Mahony & the Twelve Apostles - Captain Charles Pennefather - Fred Pennefather of New Zealand.

The Great Southern & Western Railway was first sanctioned in 1844, connecting towns such as Carlow and Athy with Dublin by 1846. The Sallins - Tullow line arrived in Dunlavin in 1885 and Tullow in 1886. The venture was sponsored by a landed gentry and aristocracy keen to secure local access to this avant-garde transport system. Colonel John Bonham of Ballintaggart, a veteran of the Siege of Lucknow, was a director of the GSWR and it was he who secured the train station for Colbinstown. The arrival of the railway in Victorian Ireland revolutionized the potential for Irish people of all classes to travel around the island. In time this would lead to a mass exodus of people from the countryside to the rapidly expanding cities of Cork, Dublin and Limerick. Improved links with neighbouring towns also prompted an explosion of bulk-buying for farmers and shopkeepers that continued through until the 1950s.

It is really from this point onwards that the upper classes began to enjoy the true privileges of wealth. The estates of West Wicklow and South Kildare became celebrated throughout the British Isles for their excellent shooting, magnificent hunting terrain, fine fishing and, of course, the hearty parties, dances and theatrical high jinks. Bicycling, cricket, rounders, croquet and lawn tennis began dominating summer gatherings. The O'Mahonys imported vast wads of turf from England in order to create one of the most prestigious cricket grounds in the county at Grangecon. Lil Moore recalls Grangecon as a great centre for cricket right through until the 1950s. "We all went to watch the cricket every Sunday, a lovely park full of white deer. A lot of locals played alongside the gentry, all very united, a great community. An old lady in a white apron would serve tea from trestle tables out by the lawn in front of the house. Anyone who had a bit of talent could play".

In the 1860s, landowners devised a new means of preserving their game stock by constructing high walls around the perimetres of their wooded estates. A good example of such an estate wall is to be found at the Harristown estate between Dunlavin and Kilcullen. Another is the Grangecon demesne, formerly home of the O'Mahony family. In 1850 the Kildare Hunt Club decided to make Punchestown its permanent venue for their annual race meeting. By 1854 the meeting was a two day affair and by 1865 it was drawing a crowd of "upwards of 40,000". As a newspaper man of the time enthused: "Every residence in the neighbourhood, from that of peer down to peasant, bore evidence of the approaching meeting for days previous, and every train has the brougham, family omnibus, or private car awaiting its arrival with the visitors to partake of Kildare hospitality during the meeting and to judge by the highway, one could suppose Dublin to be deserted." In 1868 the presence of the young Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, drew a record crowd of 150,000, which has never been equaled on any racecourse anywhere in the world. The Prince's brother, the Duke of Connaught, and the Princesses Patricia and Margaret visited the Tyntes at Dunlavin later in the century, prompting the confident Irish Unionist community to tumble out onto the streets with Union Jacks waving fast and furious. Many members of the Kildare Hunt stabled their horses in at the back of Mrs. Moore's excellent Public House in Grangecon during the hunting season.

Another highlight was a charity performance by the inimitable Percy French at the Market House in Dunlavin in April 1895; three extra trains were laid on from Naas to cater to the crowds. The concert had been organised by Mr. Supple, district inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary, to raise money for the locality in the wake of a "long and continued snowstorm" that February. Whether it was this snowstorm which carried off Edward Pennefather, "one of our ablest lawyers and a churchman of intense loyalty" on February 2nd 1895, is unknown. His contemporary, Joseph Pratt Tynte, who "for fifty six years, to a great extent, presided over the destinies of Dunlavin parish and district" died in August the following year. Perhaps the deaths in quick succession of Dunlavin's most prominent Anglo-Irish landowners encouraged lesser classes to take a stance against the accepted social order. The Protestant community assuredly felt the times were changing and erected a memorial in the chancel of Dunlavin Parish Church in memory of the two men.

The 4500-strong Catholic populace of Dunlavin seem to have benefited greatly during the latter decade of the 19th century from the evangelical efforts of their parish priest, Father Donovan, to boost local morale. During the 1880s he substantially renovated both the Jonathan Swift School and St. Nicholas Church, equipping the latter with all manner of candlestick, vestement and chalice. A marble memorial was erected to the memory of his predecessor Canon Whittle by Dublin stonecutters Pearse & Sharp. (Pearse was father to Padraig Pearse, the 1916 rebel). The cost of these restorations was met by both the Catholic and Protestant communities - the Pennefathers, Mahonys and Dixons all contributed generously. Dunlavin itself remained an important market town, boasting a Post & Telegraphs Office, a Money Order Office, a Savings Bank, a Royal Irish Constabulary station, drapers, ironmongers, tallow chandlers, cobblers, saddlers, grocery shops, spirit dealers and several pubs.

As the century came to a close, so too a new age of sporting options befell the land. The Golfing Union of Ireland was established in 1891, making it the oldest in the world. Golf courses subsequently sprang up at Naas (1896), Athy (1906) and Baltinglass (1928). In 1903 the Gordon Bennett Cup motor race was hosted by the La Touche family at Harristown. Maria La Touche referred to this occasion as "that idiotic motor race" (July 1903) but nonetheless drove a pony chair to watch the Belgian "Red Devil", Camille Jenatzy, cruise home to victory, much to the disappointment of the British. The eccentric heiress of Tynte Park, Violet Tynte, was so impressed by the occasion that she went on to co-found the Royal Irish Automobile Club on Dawson Street.

During the latter decades of the 19th century, a Court of Petty Sessions met in Dunlavin every fortnight to pass judgement on local miscreants, presided over by six magistrates including Joseph Pratt-Tynte and Edward Pennefather. And perhaps it was here in the Courts that the gaiety of the upper classes suddenly faded away as Ireland's right to self-government once again became a burning issue across the British Isles. Ireland remained an occupied territory after the Great Famine. A small rebellion in Tipperary in 1848 and the growing threat of American-Irish involvement in the smouldering Republican movement had necessitated the continued presence of British garrisons throughout Ireland. The major army camps in the Rathsallagh district were at the Glen of Imaal and the Curragh (established in 1858), both used by the Irish Army to this day. Dunlavin profited greatly from its proximity to the latter with red coated British Army officers a regular sight on the streets right up until the eve of the Great War. A shrewd man by the name of Fisher acquired a considerable income during the 1870s by lining the main street with iron pails of water for the cavalry to water their horses. He would then sell the buckets to local farmers before getting his blacksmith to forge a new set.

The problem was that Ireland was a Catholic country ruled by a right wing Protestant elite. This did not make sense to the increasingly educated Catholic population. It did not seem right that families like the Pennefathers and Tyntes could dictate laws from the safety of their vast estates while the common people struggled with hunger, poverty and emigration. In the Dunlavin area, several influential middle class families of both religions arose in opposition to the dominance of "the Tory deadheads who rule the roost to Baltinglass". It was only a matter of time before their daily discourses on the state of Irish politics would lead them to join the struggle for independence.

Guided by O'Connell, the struggle had found its voice in the British Parliament in Westminster. In 1879, O'Connell's mantle was taken up by a Protestant landowner from Rathdrum, County Wicklow, Charles Stewart Parnell, leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party. Known in his prime as the "Uncrowned King of Ireland", Parnell argued for Irish Home Rule and, when that did not appear forthcoming, allied himself with Michael Davitt and the Irish Land League. In time this alliance led to the Land Wars of 1879 - 1881, an often aggressive and sometimes deadly campaign to secure, amongst other goals, fixed rents for tenant farmers and the right to sub-let. A branch of the Irish National Land League was established by the middle class Catholic community in Dulavin in 1880. The Pennefathers and Tyntes must have realised the growing danger their Golden Age now faced. Alas, Parnell's career came to an inglorious end too soon when his name emerged in a divorce action taken by Captain O'Shea against his wife Kitty on the grounds of adultery. Parnell was named as the adulterer; widespread uproar followed.

The Irish Parliamentary Party split into two factions in the wake of the O'Shea case. Only 12 men - known as the "Twelve Apostles" - stayed loyal to Parnell. One of these was Peirce O'Mahony of Grangecon. The O'Mahony family descend from Sabha, a daughter of Brian Boru, and hailed from the kingdom of Kerry. Peirce O'Mahony, a graduate of Oxford University and Gold medallist at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester. He stood as MP for North Meath from 1886 to 1892, during which time he became a close confidante of Parnell. It is said that Parnell regularly met with Peirce at Grangecon, then home to his bachelor uncle David Mahony. Indeed, Lil Moore maintains that Parnell, an enthusiastic forester, planted an oak tree on Bell Hill just outside the town. At any rate, Parnell's fall from grace was so sudden that he never fully recovered and died in October 1891 aged 45. Peirce O'Mahony ultimately succeeded to the Grangecon estates on the death of his uncle in August 1900. He died in his 80th year on October 31st 1930.

Another of Parnell's contemporaries was Charles Pennefather of Rathsallagh, a son of Edward Pennefather, QC, and grandson of Chief Justice Pennefather, born on May 1st 1849. In his youth, Charles purchased a commission with the prestigious 4th Queen's Own Hussars and rose to the rank of captain. In 1890 he stood as High Sheriff for County Wicklow. Captain Pennefather inherited Rathsallagh, together with other lands in Sussex, following the death of elderly father in February 1895. He was reputed to be something of a ladies man and father of many an unexpected child. On account of his lustful reputation, the family was refused permission to bury him in the local cemetery when he died on 4th December 1904. He was instead buried in an unmarked grave at Rathsallagh, between the Larch Wood and the Gate Lodge (by the 2nd tee box). His virile ghost still roams the parklands of Rathsallagh today, sporting a silk top hat and riding boots. For all that, Lil Moore recalls "an old woman who knew him and said the half of the them weren't his at all; they belonged to the smart boys who lived in Dunlavin but he was blamed and had to pay for them". Or as another man put it, 'There was children all over the place. He bred for the British Army, for f--k’s sake!'

Patricia Pennefather told a story of how she was driving up the avenue when first courting Freese Pennefather. A man stopped her at the metal gate, came over to the window and talked away to her until she wound up her window and drove on.
‘Who was that man?’ she asked when she arrived at Rathsallagh.
'What man?' says Freese.
‘The man who was talking to me for the last ten minutes at the gate ... who was he?’
‘Threre's no man at the gate’, he said.

Fifty years later, when the O'Flynn's were newly arrived, Joe junior, David and a Swedish pal were lamping in the woods when a man came through the wood and he made no noise. 'My son Joe saw him and he came in here as white as a sheet,' recalls Joe senior.
"What did he look like?"
"He had riding boots on him, with the tops turned down, and a frock coat. And he was carrying a whip in his hand."
"Baloney, you're eating magic mushrooms or something!’
But when Joe next met Patricia, he said: "Describe the man that stopped you"
"He was a tall man, hunting boots, turned down, frock coat, whip’.
Mrs Pollard, who lived in the O'Flynn's cottage at Rathsallagh for forty years, explained, "Oh Charlie appears anytime a new owner comes into the place, to find out who the new people are."

There is a school of thought that Captain Pennefather subsequently eloped with a maid by name of Maria Spalding, after which he was "cut off" from the family. His daughters by this union were Christina, born 6 January 1896, and Josephine. Josephine died early but Christina survived until 1977 when she passed away aged 81. Christina was baptised in St Agatha's, Dublin, on 17 January 1906, at which time her place of residence was given as 2 King's Avenue, while Charles (Carolus) Pennefather and Maria Spalding were named as her parents, and Patrick (Patritius) Spalding and Julia Anna Keely as her sponsors. It seems that Maria also died young for Christina was made a ward of the court as a child, with the Bishop of Liverpool acting as her Governor. The Pennefather estate allocated her a trust from which she received an annual income until her death. Christina stayed in Liverpool until her coming of age circa 1917 when she returned to Ireland to seek her mothers' family. She subsequently became a governess to one of Ireland's top banking family. She married James O'Neill (known as 'Neal' in Ireland) and had ten children. This information came from Christina's granddaughter, Debby Royds, who lives in England

As Captain Pennefather had no legitimate children, he was succeeded by his only surviving brother, Frederick (Fred) William Pennefather. Born in 1852, Fred Pennefather followed family tradition by taking up a career as a barrister at Lincoln's Inn and the King's Inn in Dublin. He moved to Adelaide, Australia, in the 1890s, leaving in 1896 to spend a brief period in New Zealand when appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court [of New Zealand]. Between 1900 and 1903 he drafted the Criminal Code for South Australia, a code never enacted but nonetheless of considerable interest to legal historians. He returned to England in about 1902 and to Rathsallagh following his brothers' death in 1904. He resided at Rathsallagh for the remainder of his life and took a great interest in the upkeep and improvement of his land. One year his cattle were infected with brucellosis. While others rushed off in pursuit of medical drugs, Fred refused to do anything, believing that, in time, the disease would burn itself out. Although he did lose some calves, his prognosis that Mother Nature knows best ultimately proved correct.

Twilight of the Irish ColonyUp arrow

The Theft of the Crown Jewels - The Great War - Home Rule - The War of Independence - Irish Civil War.

County Kildare in the reign of King Edward VII (1901 - 1911) was a society much given to the social pursuits of hunting and shooting. However, beneath the surface, events in the world at large were coming to a head with growing demands for equality from the lower classes and, in Ireland, a rapid escalation in the number of men prepared to take up arms to defend their belief in the right to self-government. The outbreak of the Great War in 1914 put the Irish question on hold but the ensuing calamities of the Easter Rebellion and the Anglo-Irish War finally culminated in the establishment of the Irish Free State and the downfall of such families as the Pennefathers. The new age was not without colour in the Rathsallagh locality.

In 1907 Pierce Gun O'Mahony of Grangecon, eldest son of Parnell's colleague, was involved in a major scandal concerning the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels. O'Mahony, eldest son of Parnell's confidante, was one of four men entrusted with the safe-keeping of the jewels, the others being Sir Arthur Vicars, Francis Bennett-Goldney and Frank Shackleton, brother of the explorer, Sir Ernest. Scotland Yard headed up the investigation but closed the case with suspicious abruption, perhaps owing to the revelation of an elitist homosexual ring that began in Dublin Castle (where the jewels were kept) and concluded with the Royal family itself. The fate of the jewels remain unknown but current theories hold they were most likely stolen with the knowledge of at least one of the aforementioned "Keepers". Unsubstantiated rumours abounded that Sir Ernest Shackleton's explorations had been funded by the sale of the stolen jewels. The principal suspects met with uncannily sudden ends. Pierce O'Mahony was found dead, shot through the heart while out hunting in Grangecon Lake in 1914. The coroner's verdict was suicide. Others felt it had been "a very peculiar shooting accident." Bennett-Goldney died as a result of a motor accident in France in 1918. Vicars was shot by the Irish Republican Army in April 1921. Frank Shackleton met with a less dramatic, although no less disagreeable, fate. Just two days after the death of King Edward in 1910, he came to financial grief when one of the companies in which he was involved failed. Three years later, he was declared bankrupt and imprisoned for fraud. After his release he lived under a pseudonym and died at Chichester in England in 1941.

On the eve of the war, the British Parliament finally conceded that Ireland should be governed by its own parliament in Dublin. However, Volunteer forces for both Protestant and Catholic interests continued to mobilize forces and import arms. Tensions mounted in 1914 when Gough and 57 other British officers stationed at the Curragh Camp in Co. Kildare announced their intention to resign rather than take part in military operations in Ulster to impose Home Rule. Alarmed at the prospect of civil war, the British government quelled the "Curragh Mutiny" with assurances that the army would not be used for that purpose.

The outbreak of war in August 1914 prompted the British Government to postpone the Home Rule concession indefinitely. Many within the Republican movement were dissatisfied with this situation. Nevertheless, 270,000 Irishmen fought for the British Army in the Great War against the Germans between 1914 and 1918. Untold thousands died in the process. It would be an essay in itself to study the number of men from the area who fought during the Great War. Many of the landed gentry achieved positions of considerable influence. Brigadier General John Maxwell of Moone Abbey orchestrated the Russian Force at the battle of Morjegosskaia. Admiral John de Robeck of Gowran Grange by Punchestown commanded the naval fleet in the Dardanelles campaign. Mervyn Tynte of Tynte Park served as a Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Irish Dragoon Guards. Colonel Meade Dennis of Fort Granite, a veteran of the Boer War, was awarded the Legion d'Honneur and the CB in 1918. Captain Lawrence Grogan, a member of the Slaney Park family, was awarded a posthumous MC following his death in action in France. His cousin, Cornelius Grogan, was awarded the MC in 1916.

Meanwhile, back in Ireland, the Republican forces were gathering themselves for a showdown. In April 1916 they launched the ill-fated Easter Rising which left 200 civilians dead. The principle ring-leaders were tried without jury and executed, including Padraig Pearse, whose father had designed Canon Whittle's memorial in Dunlavin. The only leaders to survive were Countess Markiewicz (reprieved for her femininity) and Eamon de Valera (reprieved for his American citizenship). The harsh reaction of the British forces to the rebellion was such that, almost overnight, the Irish people began to re-evaluate their relations with the old enemy and lend increasing popular support to the Republican movement. A brutal winter and the ferocious Spanish flu epidemic in the winter of 1918 - 1919 further heightened the tension. On 21 January 1919, with neorther permission nor orders from their Chief of Staff, nine men from the 3rd Tipperary Brigade of the Irish Volunteers killed and ambushed two Irish policemen at Soloheadberg, Co. Tipperary, thereby precipitating the War of Independence.

Over the next 18 months Ireland was embroiled in a guerrilla war between the Republicans (masterminded by the formidable Corkman, Michael Collins) and the British Auxiliaries (including the infamous "Black and Tans"). In the General Election of 1918, the people of Wicklow returned to Parliament a Protestant landowner and active Sinn Feiner, Robert Barton (1881-1975) of Glendalough House. In December 1921, Barton and his cousin, Erskine Childers, were dispatched to London with Collins and Arthur Griffiths to negotiate a peace treaty with the British Government. The result was the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 by which Britain agreed to recognise 26 of Ireland's 32 counties as the Irish Free State, a dominion within the British Empire governed by a democratically elected Irish Parliament in Dublin. The issue of the remaining six chiefly Protestant counties in Ulster proved troublesome even then. Indeed, it divided the Irish Republican movement so severely that, in June 1922, a bitter two year long Civil War broke out, leaving a further 3,000 people dead, including Collins, Childers and many other heroes of the War of Independence.

Rathsallagh after IndependenceUp arrow

The Division of Rathsallagh -End of the Line for West Wicklow's Railway.

During the Troubles of 1919-1922 upwards of 135 big houses in Ireland were burned, including Leap Castle, home to the Darby family, cousins of the Pennefather's . Some were undoubtedly burned on account of the hard-line activities of their owners, but many were torched simply because they had been taken over by the enemy - be they British, Free State or Republican - and it was, and indeed is, an accepted policy of war to destroy enemy headquarters. After war, there must be peace. The new leaders of Ireland did not have an agenda for revenge. The involvement of many Anglo-Irish families in securing independence had not gone unnoticed. Nevertheless, many decided to abandon this new Catholic ruled Ireland and resettle in "the mainland" across the Irish Sea.

It is not known how the Pennefather family reacted to the sweeping changes in their adopted homeland. The situation had been looking increasingly dicey for Ireland's landed elite since Gladstone's Land Act of 1881. Fred Pennefather, a staunch Unionist, had written an essay condemning home rule on the eve of the war. His opinion is unlikely to have changed in the wake of the Troubles. The gay society he and his friends enjoyed in the days of Edward VII was fast coming to an end. Lady Annette La Touche may still have held her spirited dances at Harristown but the essence of Anglo-Irish lifestyle had already come crashing down. After the treaty, the young British officers based at the Curragh packed their suitcases and made their way back to England. The Pennefather estates at Rathsallagh were simultaneously divided up by the Irish Land Commission and re-granted to those who had been tenants on the farm since Victorian times. Fred Pennefather lived at Rathsallagh during the Great War and died in a nursing home in Dublin on 6th February 1921. He was buried in Putney Vale Cemetery in London. The house and remaining lands now fell to his great-nephew, a minor by the name of Harold Freese.

The opening decades of Irish independence were fraught with economic difficulties, not least when de Valera launched his suicidal economic war against Britain in the 1930s. Ireland struggled against rising costs and mass emigration and emerged as one of the poorest nations in Europe. "The lifestyle was so different then, just mere existence, although people didn't know any better", recalled Lil Moore, who was born in Grangecon in February 1921. "A lot of people from around here emigrated - to England mostly - and they came back in coffins". One of the major casualties of the new age was the railway, substantially reduced across the country during the 1950s and early 1960s. West Wicklow felt the loss as keenly as anywhere. "The railway was the backbone of this town", said Lil. "It had a catchment area stretching to the Carlow and Kildare borders. Each morning there was a train to Dublin at 8 o'clock. They came from Tullow, Rathvilly, Baltinglass, Grangecon, Colbinstown, Dunlavin, Harristown, Naas, Sallins, Straffan, Hazelhatch, Clondalkin, then Dublin. Another went at 10, covering the same district. Another at 12, another at 4 and another at 6. To and back from Dublin. You could set your clocks by the trains going". Barry Deering, who lives in a mill near Colbinstown, likewise recalled how his father would start shaving when he heard the train steaming in to Dunlavin. The train ran at such a low speed between Dunlavin and Colbinstown that he would have time to finish shaving, dry his face and, with only a slight briskness of pace, catch the train at Colbinstown. Lil Moore remembers how the butler to the Mitchell family at Ballinure House would meet the last train running south at Grangecon to collect fish dispatched by Dunne's of D'Olier Street. The fish would be on the table for dinner by half past eight. Lil Moore recalls the excitement of the train station vividly. "Things were different in those times. People had no real way of conveying produce except by train. Eggs, poultry, bags of potatoes, milk, the post, the papers … it all came and went by train. Then there was always a great group of people at the station waiting to collect goods or passengers. They came in their ponies and carts and drays". It is one of the great tragedies of congested modern times that the Irish Government felt compelled to close down this once excellent service. You can still see the fossils of the Great Southern & Western Railway - hump-back bridges, disused stations, sudden tracks across fields and bogs.

For the common people, the alternative to the train was to take a horse and cart or walk. Lil Moore remembers her childhood in Grangecon as one in which she could "wear out a pair of shoes in a week ... I remember two men sitting out on the road when I was going to school wearing goggles and aprons to keep off the dust, breaking big rocks of stone with hammers, chipping them down and then scattering it all from a horse and cart. The roads and the dust was brutal in the summer. At night the streets were lit by tilly-lamps but we got around by torch light and instinct. Everybody walked. You might get a lift on a pony and trap if you were lucky. All the farmers got around on a pony and trap at that time. Around every pub there'd be a ring to tie your horse while the men went in for a pint. The ponies were cute as foxes. They knew the roads as well as anyone."

It is difficult for us today with our modern cars and busy lives to relate to the past as witnessed by the likes of Lil Moore. Ireland in the mid 20th century was an impossibly poor country. Prospects were exceedingly limited. The Catholic Church ruled both the people and the state with an iron fist. Anything considered British was subject to lofty condemnation by both the government and the Catholic hierarchy - railways, cricket clubs and big houses ranked high on the agenda. Small wonder perhaps that the likes of Armine Freese Pennefather decided to leave the running of their Irish estates to agents and pursue careers in other lands.

The Last of the PennefathersUp arrow

Harold Freese Pennefather - John Joseph White - Patricia Bennet - The Telephone Line - Herr Funk - "The Fire Station's on Fire!"

The last of the Pennefathers to reside at Rathsallagh was the wonderfully named British diplomat, Harold Wilfrid Armine Freese-Pennefather who succeeded to the estate on the death without issue male of his great uncle Fred Pennefather in February 1921. In 1925 Harold took on the name Pennefather in order to come in to the property. Harold Freese- Pennefather was born on 2nd March 1907, the only son of Edith Wood and her husband, the Rev. Frederick Freese, Vicar of St. Ethelreda, in Fulham. Edith's mother Susan was Fred Pennefather's only sister; hence the line of succession.

Initially the running of the largely pastoral estate was left to John Joseph White (1851 - 1929). He lived at nearby Beech Hill which his wife, Bessie, had inherited on the death of her father, William Bolton. A man of considerable energy, White also acted as agent for the Mitchell estate at Ballinure in Grangecon and was responsible for buying and selling much of the cattle on Lord Rathdonnell's estate outside Rathvilly. He would drive from farm to farm in his Dodge motor car, a roving landmark to all in the area. Following his death in 1929, Mark Fenton of Ballinclay succeeded as agent. By this time, Lord Rathdonnell's son was running Lisnavagh and Colonel Chris Mitchell had set himself up as a racehorse trainer. But from 1930 through to his death in 1961, Rathsallagh's owner, Harold Freese-Pennefather was, for want of a better expression, an absentee landlord.

After an education at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, Harold entered His Majesty's Diplomatic Service in 1930 and, the following year, started a four year contract as 3rd Secretary to the British Embassy in Washington. The Freese family owned a house on Princess Gardens in London at this time. Much of their fruit and vegetables was dispatched across the Irish Sea from the garden at Rathsallagh whose upkeep JJ White oversaw; Bessie White personally bottled the peaches. Harold presumably spent some of his time in Ireland for, in 1935, his father, the Reverend Freese, actually died during a tennis match at Rathsallagh. That same year, Harold was transferred to the British Embassy in Buenos Aries where he remained as 2nd Secretary until 1938. At the outbreak of World War Two, he was second-in-command at the British Embassy in Oslo but was relocated to Baghdad following the Nazi invasion of Norway. He served in the Foreign Office in London from 1944 to 1949. Three weeks before Christmas 1949, he married the young Patricia Bennet from 'over the hill' in Ballintaggart. Her father, Captain William Bennet, had won an MC for his services in India with the Royal Engineers during the Great War. In 1931 he acquired Ballintaggart House in Colbinstown from Francis Bonham.

Again it would seem that Harold was at least a sometime resident of Rathsallagh. Gordon Merry, grandson of JJ White, recalled how the flourishing diplomat "could spend money left, right and centre, with polo ponies and badminton halls and squash courts" at Rathsallagh. During the war, Harold also commissioned the area's first telephone line, running from Beech Hill (where the Fentons lived) past Oldcourt through the farm at Rathsallagh and on to the main telephone exchange at Colbinstown. Gordon Merry recalls a linesman clambeing up the pole one afternoon to fix the line when a volatile bullock spotted him and "came roaring and pawing at the ground, putting the sods up" so the poor man had to stay up there for hours and "when he came down, his trousers were wet!" Harold's diplomatic career continued after his marriage with appointments to the British Consuls in Burma (1950 - 1951), Rabat (1951 - 1956) and Morocco (1956 - 1957). A daughter, Susan, was born in October 1953 and went on to marry Irish show-jumping legend, Eddie Macken, who was himself a a butcher’s son from Granard, County Longford.

From the summer of 1953 through to August 1955, Rathsallagh was rented to Fristoe Mullins (1912-1997), the Kentucky-born founder of Midcoast Aviation, and his wife Elizabeth Mahaffey.[i], Their eldest son Mike Mullins recalls how he and his brother Birch had learned to ride with the Kildare Hunt when they were small boys, with the Major and Jack Hartigan looking on. ‘If the weather was good, my little sister would come along on a lead with our groom’, wrote Mike. ‘I remember squeezing a hunter and three ponies into a two-horse box which was reminiscent of the circus clown cars.’ It was considered a thoroughly good season, with exciting chases, sharp scent and hounds running well.

Following Harold's death without male heir in 1961 the popular Patricia Pennefather sold Rathsallagh and its outlying townlands to a fun-loving German by the name of Funk. ‘Old Funk was alright by all accounts,’ says Joe O'Flynn senior. ‘I never met him but he had great parties and where we have all the bedrooms coming into the yard, Larry O’Reilly from the village built a bar for it. He had two or three garages with the pits, and he had racing rom Germany to here, and they’d pull in over the pits and examine their vintage cars.’ Herr Funk might have been much amused by a story which whirred around international newspapers on February 10th 1966 when the Dunlavin Fire Station caught fire. The fire station had been located in the granite stone Market House for several years. On the day in question, it would seem that one of the employees had left an oil burner under the fire engine to stop it from freezing over. The Wicklow People wryly observed that the plan "back-fired". The fire gutted the entire building, destroying the former Court Hall and the Court Clerk's office. A local farmer, Mr. Coleborn, hitched the charred remains of the fire engine to his tractor and heroically drew it outside; a deed that earned him the right to briefly locate his garage in the Court Hall. The Market House has since been restored and today serves as the Town Library.

[i] Fristoe Mullins (1912-1997) married Elizabeth Culley Mahaffey on Oct 22 1941 in St. Louis, Missouri. They had Michael, Birch, Lisa and Katherine. For Fristoe’s obitary, see here.

Modern TimesUp arrow

The O'Flynns of County Cork - Rathsallagh Golf & Country Club

The O'Flynn family purchased Rathsallagh House and 507 acres of demesne on New Years' Eve, 1979. Joe O'Flynn was born and bred in County Cork, a cattle farmer on the outskirts of Cork City. His great-uncle was the celebrated priest and teacher, Father Seamus O'Flynn (1881 - 1962). In 1924 Father O'Flynn founded The Loft Amateur Shakespearean Theatre Company on Musgrave Road in Cork City. During one memorable Cork Opera Festival weekend, he directed three different Shakespeare plays with the same performing cast. Father O'Flynn was also famed for his ability to cure stammering which he correctly deduced to be a direct result of incorrect breathing techniques.

Joe O'Flynn was - and to a large extent still is - a farmer by nature, a maturing version of the feisty young lad who used to drive the dusty roads of the Rebel County selling meat from a butcher's van in the aftermath of World War Two. In 1978 Cork County Council ordered the compulsory purchase of the O'Flynn family farm forcing Joe to relocate elsewhere. He took a liking to West Wicklow and, on New Years' Eve 1979, purchased the 500 acre farm at Rathsallagh. It's previous owner, a Dutch national named Jacobus Haverhals, had been using the land for cattle and horse breeding since he purchased it from Herr Funk in May 1968. Joe likewise intended for the property to be run as a farm but, with the agricultural depression of the early 1980s looming large, he and his wife, Kay, began taking in paying guests on a Bed and Breakfast basis in 1985. A restaurant opened shortly afterwards followed, in 1995, by the launch of Rathsallagh Golf Club. In 2000 Georgina Campbell declared it Irish Country House of the Year. The following year, it was listed in both the Bridgestone and Alastair Sawday's guides to Ireland. Today there can be no doubt that Rathsallagh is one of the finest golf and country clubs in Ireland.

It is unusual for a Country Club of Rathsallagh's fine stature to have been created and managed by a family of such pure farming stock as the O'Flynns. But perhaps therein lies the rural charm of the estate. People come back to Rathsallagh because they enjoy being surrounded by wizened old trees and the pastoral aromas of cattle and sheep. In 2002 Kay O'Flynn was appointed Chairman of Ireland's prestigious Blue Book, a conglomerate of 35 of Ireland's most upmarket and exclusive hotels; Rathsallagh rests easily amid the pages of the Blue Book. Guest are often leaders in their fields, be it commerce, industry, finance or show-business. The O'Flynns are never far from sight and their inherited Corkonian ability to charm all who come to Rathsallagh is perhaps their greatest and most inimitable asset. Joe O'Flynn is particularly proud that he is the first Irishman to own the estate since the Reformation in the 16th century. After an often turbulent history stretching back several thousand years, the lands at Rathsallagh must be breathing easily. At last, they have found a caretaker who looks set to stay.


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Bence-Jones, Mark, Twilight of the Ascendancy, Constable (1987).
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Ehrenpreis, Irvin, Swift: The Man, His Works & the Age, Methuen (1983).
Gordon-Bowe, Nikki, "The wild heath has broken out again in the heather field": Philanthropic endeavour and Arts and Crafts achievement in early 20th century Kilkenny', Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies, Journal of the Irish Georgian Society, Volume II, 1999.
Harbison, Peter, Pre-Christian Ireland: From the Settlers to the Celts, Thames & Hudson (1988).
Kavanagh, Art, The Kilkenny Gentry (Irish Family Names, 2004).
Lawlor, Chris, Canon Frederick Donovan's Dunlavin (1884 - 1896), IAP (2000).
Maxwell, Constantia, Artur Young: A Tour in Ireland, Blackstaff (1925).
Somerville-Large, Peter, Irish Eccentrics, Hamish Hamilton (1975).
Zaczek, Iain, Chronicles of the Celts, Collins & Brown (1996).

Special thanks to Trevor Penfold of www.pennyfather.org

Thanks also to Angus Craigie, Barry Deering, Fiona Fitzsimon, Hugo Jellett, John Kostuick, Joe O'Flynn, the late Jack O'Neill, Gordon & Rachel Merry, Mary Metcalfe, Lil Moore, Tom Carew, Mary and Paul Moore, Conor Walsh, Stan Ridgway and Max Weremchuk.

Turtle Bunbury