Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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Book Cover of The Landed Gentry and Aristocracy of Co. Wicklow by Turtle Bunbury

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The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of Co. Wicklow (2005)

"Only a year after the publication of his Kildare volume, Turtle Bunbury has produced another book detailing the eccentricities and preoccupations of the landed gentry in Co. Wicklow. Deeply peculiar, quietly amusing and written with great style" - The Dubliner.

'Exhaustively researched and lavishly illustrated' - The Irish Times

"Excellent content and thorough research presented in a reader accessible fashion" - Hugh Oram



Turtle Bunbury's second book brings his readers on a journey into the past, tracking nine of Co. Wicklow's prominent landowning families as far back as he can possibly go … and then bringing them right up to date. Thus the Brabazon family, Earls of Meath, begin with a Belgian mercenary at the battle of Hastings in 1066 and gallop through the centuries to the 21st century. The Earls of Wicklow astonish British society by their continuing dalliance with the Catholic faith. The Wingfields of Powerscourt build arguably the most impressive Palladian mansion in Ireland and sire the mother of Sarah, Duchess of York. The Tighes of Rossanagh join hands with the Brontes and Percy Bysshe Shelly but run foul of Jonathan Swift. The Barton family of Glendalough establish vineyards in France and give birth to Erskine Childers, the brilliant writer who became de Valera's Minister of Propaganda during the Irish Civil War and whose son, also Erskine, was President of Ireland. General Dennis of Fortgranite commands the artillery at El Alamein while Captain William Hume of Humewood plays a vital role in the daring escape of the 1798 rebel, Michael O'Dwyer.

A handsome, beautifully illustrated and thoughtfully designed hardback, The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Wicklow (Volume 1) was singled out for special recommendation by Eason's Bookshops in 2006 following a series of glowing reviews from customers.

The book was launched at Kilruddery House, Bray, Co. Wicklow, on Thursday 8th December 2005. Senator David Norris delivered a tremendously amusing speech to the gathered assemblage of 150 persons. It received widespread coverage in the media, with excellent reviews in Cara, The Irish Times, The White Book, The Dubliner, The Wicklow People, The Wicklow Times and The Carlow Nationalist. Turtle also appeared on East Coast Radio with Donal Swift and Anna Livia FM with Beth Anne Smith.

This book is currently out of print but should be available from many libraries in Ireland, or if you have specific enquiries, try contacting the author directly.

Other books in the "Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of Ireland" series are Kildare, Meath, Kilkenny, Wexford and Tipperary.


We all of us descend from men and women whose names we will never know. Until recent centuries, every generation simply came and fell like fields of wheat. When one contemplates the extraordinary legacy of our lost ancestors, it seems they understood the machinations of our planet better than we do. It matters not whether these forbears were from the icy Artic or the plains of Africa, the deserts of Arabia or the forests of Europe. In every land there are testimonies to the ingenuity of forgotten people. County Wicklow, the soft, mountainous terrain in which this book is set, sparkles with the granite legacy of these ancient people. Circles of rock echoing a harvest moon, standing stones pointing to a solstice morn, mounds of grassy earth where children once danced and old men fought.

County Wicklow is a gorgeous part of Ireland. Between its voluptuous mountains and rocky coastline, it has entranced everyone from philosophical hermits and Vikings marauders to Hollywood film directors and the economic whiz-kids of modern Ireland.

The nine principle families who feature in this book descend from adventurous people of courage and conviction who arrived in Wicklow when Ireland was a violent island perched on the edge of the world. Some like the Humes, Dicks and Leslies were Scottish in origin, beneficiaries of Jacobite kings and the prosperous linen trade in Ulster. Most were English. The Bartons came from Lancashire, the Childers from Yorkshire, the Wingfields from Suffolk and the Ellis's and Tighes from Lincolnshire. Some claim descent from exciting characters; the Wingfields from a Saxon warrior, the Brabazons from a Belgian mercenary who fought at Hastings.

In the two hundred years following the Tudor invasion of Ireland in the mid-16th century, each of these families established themselves as vital cogs in the colonial system. Ownership of land, the acreage beneath one's feet, was the most patent symbol of wealth. As such, their influence came to bear not just on their various land-holdings but also upon the whole of Ireland and, in many instance, upon the wider world beyond. Thus these families became intertwined with that extraordinary, mesmerizing, bewildering age of the Ascendancy.

Interpreting the past can be a double-edged sword and it is always worth noting where a particular author's loyalties might lie. There is a growing awareness that history, good or bad, is made by people, real human beings with real human conundrums. Perhaps it is the influence of so many newcomers to our shores but Ireland is gradually coming to terms with its past. And not everything about it was awful.

Any family history that focuses on the bare, irreducible facts of birth, deaths and marriages will quickly become unbearably tedious to read. Without the dramatic assistance of anecdote and description, the lineage of even the most enterprising of clans can prove exceedingly dull. I hope the tales told herein add a small splash of colour to the past. Many of the characters in this book were players on a stage that circulated the entire world. A cousin of the Wingfields of Powerscourt founded the first settlement of Jamestown, Virginia. Henry Ellis of Magherymore was Governor of Georgia. The Bartons made their fortune selling French wine to rich Americans. The Dicks prospered in the Far East and the Childers in Ceylon. The philanthropic no-nonsense 12th Earl of Meath would undoubtedly have painted the globe in the colours of the Empire but, down at Glendalough, Erskine Childers would find the treatment of the Boers in South Africa soured his appetite for the imperial way. No family was unaffected by the conflicts of the 20th century. At Kilmacurragh, ownership of the ancestral estate was thrown into chaos by the death in action of all three Acton brothers.

As regards these houses today, only Kilruddery and Fortgranite remain in the hands of their original owners. Powerscourt still carries the influence of the Wingfields through their close kinship with the Slazengers. The Powerscourt estate is now home to the a luxurious five star hotel. There are many in the neighbourhood of Glendalough House who recall the families of Barton and Childers though the house itself is gone. Mimi Hume passed away in 1992, since when Humewood Castle has become a popular retreat for sportsmen and celebrities. Shelton Abbey is presently a reformatory prison and Magherymore is headquarters of the Columbian Missionaries. Kilmacurragh is a ruin awaiting restoration and Rossanagh is a ghost of its former self. So now, as the story goes, I raise my glass to the past.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Irish Times (March 2007)
(Reviewed alongside The Landed Gentry and Aristocracy of Co Meath, Volume I by Art Kavanagh, Irish Family Names)
There are few true aristocrats in Ireland today and gentry, landed or otherwise, are equally thin on the ground. Yet it is still interesting to read about those who did, and do, lay claim to such titles. Turtle Bunbury and Art Kavanagh (themselves bearers of historic names) bring us back to the heydays (and low days) of lords, earls, viscounts, baronets and other "gentlefolks" of the counties of Wicklow and Meath. Many, if not most, of these people, as in almost every county in Ireland, acquired their titles and lands in one of just a few ways, through conquest, confiscation and plantation, royal favour, descent and inter-marriage, while not a few estates were actually purchased. We're talking, of course, of the centuries of English rule in Ireland and of those who benefited therefrom. Nineteen of Co Meath's prominent families are dealt with in Art Kavanagh's first volume on that county, while Turtle Bunbury, in this first Co Wicklow volume, details the history of just nine of that county's principal land-owning families. Both books are exhaustively researched and lavishly illustrated. Read and see how the other 10 per cent lived not so long ago. (Richard Roche)

Irelands Antiques & Period Properties (November 2005)
Turtle Bunbury loves writing about the aristocracy; recently, he chronicled the great landowning families of Co Kildare in amazing detail. Now, his next book is being printed, ready for publication in December. The new book will be called "The Landed Gentry and Aristocracy of County Wicklow" and will chronicle the lives and doings of nine of Wicklow's most prominent families, including the Viscounts Powerscourt and the Earls of Meath and Wicklow. It will include many rare and fascinating photographs. Turtle has investigated the lives of three different Erskine Childers; the Baltinglass man who commanded the artillery at El Alamein and the girl who inspired Mary Shelley to write. Among the great characters who will people the pages of this book is the 8th Earl of Wicklow, otherwise Billy Wicklow. Well- known in artistic and literary circles in Dublin, he frequented many of Dublin's best known literary pubs. Billy Wicklow was one of the great characters of Dublin, of a type no longer seen around the city streets and hostelries. The family estate, at Shelton Abbey, was declared bankrupt in 1951 and eventually became an open prison. (Hugh Oram)

Carlow Nationalist (November 16th 2005)
Ireland’s first amateur radio transmitter was built by a Colonel Meade Dennis at his Fortgranite home near Baltinglass and who went on to establish contact with a radio amateur in Australia. It was all done with a chip of crystal (lead sulphide) he found on his farm, a very high aerial, a few twists of wire, a cat’s whisker and a great deal of ingenuity. The story of the transmitter and the Dennis family is just one of the fascinating passages in a beautifully illustrated book due to be published in December. Entitled ‘The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Wicklow’, the book abounds in rare photographs and records the family histories of nine of the most prominent landowning families in County Wicklow.
Inevitably, the Viscounts Powerscourt and their neighbours, the Earls of Meath and Wicklow are included. The author mentions that among the other illustrious Wicklow characters are “the epic lives of the three Erskine Childers, the general who commanded the artillery at El Alamein (North Africa WW2), the girl who inspired Mary Shelley to write, the clergyman who taught the Bronte’s father to read and the Baltinglass soldier who made radio contact with Australia”.The pages also cover the botanical genius who helped create Kilmacurragh gardens, the Glendalough man who ‘took on the Zulus’, the Madame of Humewood whose father surrendered Paris to the Germans and the playboy who became devoted to the Dublin pubs in the 1950s. Turtle Bunbury, the author of ‘Landed Gentry’, was educated in Dublin and Scotland and then became a freelance correspondent with the South China Morning Post and Business News Indochina. (William Paterson)


Great to have all of these stories documented at a time when all the old estates are being bought up for golf courses or whatever.
Liam Kenny, Co. Kildare

Turtle Bunbury holds an extraordinary talent in making historical facts accessible to people who may find the past rather overbearing. His style is swift, charismatic and above all else, passionate and respectful for people who made an impact in Irish society. Perhaps, someday soon, Turtle should turn his hand to fiction? I sense this author has a wonderful future ahead of him.
Sarah Fairchild, Gloucestershire

A highly enjoyable and absorbing book, and obviously fantastically well researched. A real treat!
Ralph Fielding, New York, USA

I thoroughly enjoyed the read … a really excellent addition to what has been written on the family.
Richard Wingfield, Reading

A most fascinating book. Turtle Bunbury illuminates the past in a thoroughly refreshing manner.
Margaret Edwards, Aberdeen

A fascinating read, well-written and extensively researched.
Jocelyn Wingfield, UK

Wonderfully written, excellent research, sterling work.
Elizabeth Alexander, Carlow

Well written and accurate.
Mallica Childers, New York

Brilliant! A great job. Most informative and entertaining.
Ann Tighe, Wexford

An enjoyable read, with great attention to detail!
Mathew McCauley, Dublin

'Finally got a copy of your Wicklow book, very good indeed, a nice follow on from Sheila Wingfield's books' - Karl Henry, Dublin.

A nicely produced & well researched book, in the spirit of the classic -gone publishers, such as John Murray et al.
Louis Hemmings, Dublin

Greatly enjoyed the 'Wicklow' volume. As before, Turtle has managed to winkle out some of the more interesting - and lesser known - stories relating to these families. This ensures that as well as being a good reference work, it is also a good read! Also, the fact that he brings the family concerned right up to date, renders a valuable - and timely - service.
Brian McCabe, Kildare

Its really great to see the past coloured in like that ... I look forward to Volume 2!

Charles O'Brien, Arklow



Mary Rose Everan, Co. Kildare.

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