Monday, 26 February 2018

Cooper's Lodge
Dromore West , Co. Sligo

The Haunted House on the Hill?

Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC
Situated in the Townland of Crowagh or Dunneill Mountain near Lough Easky in Co. Sligo, can be found the remains of a structure now known as Cooper’s Lodge but was once known as Croagh Lodge. This shooting lodge appears on the 1837 OS Map and was owned by the wealthy and powerful Cooper Family of Markree Castle in Co. Sligo, hence it became known as Cooper's Lodge. All that remains today of this building are its bedraggled gables that are in a state of gradual collapse in the stark setting of the surrounding bog land. There are long forgotten stories associated with these ruins that have now come to light since I became aware of this building a number of weeks ago. Cooper’s Lodge was once home to a number of game keepers over the years who were in the employment of the Cooper family, including one unfortunate individual who met a violent end in 1880. Is this the restless spirit that supposedly haunts these ruins and is this the reason for which this house was abandoned?

Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC
In 1869, it was reported that Colonel Cooper’s game keeper, William Nichol, shot a fine female golden eagle on Dunowl Mountain near Lough Easky in Sligo with one charge of No. 06 shot. The bird measured seven and a half feet from tip to tip of its wings and it was said to be the largest of its kind that had ever been seen in the area. William Nichol and his family lived nearby at Croagh Lodge, known locally as Cooper’s Lodge, which they maintained for use by Colonel Cooper of Markree and his guests.  A number of years later, in 1880, William Nichol’s name would again appear in the headlines of the local newspaper, however on this occasion, William would be one that would die at the hands of another. On St. Patrick’s Day in 1880, William Nichol was assaulted by persons unknown and the injuries inflicted were so severe that he died a number of days later on the 23rd of March. He had been found lying on the road leading to Dromore West having been severely beaten, he was removed to the nearest Constabulary Barracks and was then moved to the hospital located in the nearby workhouse. William’s death certificate recorded that he was aged 60 and had died as a result of ‘violence with several injuries’ and ‘inflammation of the brain’. A reward of £200 was offered for any information on the attack on William but none was forthcoming.

Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC
William’s widow Anne and their son aged 17, also named William, applied to the Grand Jury of Sligo for compensation of £250 for the suspicious death of the head of the Nichol Family. It is said a number of years before the murder there been a dispute over land. Former tenants blamed William for their land being taken from them and resentment had been brewing over the intervening years. It was reported at the time that ‘It was Nichol who advised the Colonel to take in the plantation. I heard he incautiously said he would take in the whole valley’. Another possible explanation for the attack on William is he was alleged to have passed information to the police about illicit poteen distilleries in the proximity of the shooting lodge. In October 1882, an application for compensation was made to the Lord Lieutenant by Anne Nichol. As part of this process, William and Anne’s children were named as Matthew, Alexander, William, Charles, Mary and Jane. As part of the application, it was said that William was murdered from being beaten by a party of men and as a result of the injuries he sustained, he died a number of days later. It is also recorded that he had been murdered as a result of an ‘unlawful association’ but this is never elaborated on. The Lord Lieutenant intended to open an investigation into the murder within one week of the application however it did not result in any conviction. During the application for compensation held in Tubbercurry in 1883, it was noted that William, as Colonel Cooper’s gamekeeper, was paid €140 per annum and had the use of Croagh Lodge. His widow Anne was eventually awarded £700 for the wrongful death of her husband which was payable by the Barony of Tireragh however no one was brought to justice for the murder of William Nichol.

Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC
At  the time of the 1901 census there is a house listed in the townland of Crowagh as having nine windows in its entrance front, nine rooms in its interior and a slate roof. This is most definitely Cooper’s Lodge as it is listed as being owned by The Right Honorable Edward Henry Cooper of Markree Castle, in Co. Sligo.  In 1901, the game keeper in residence was Robert Walton Winters aged 46, a Presbyterian, born in Sligo who could speak both Irish and English. He was married to Isabella aged 36, a house keeper born in Sligo and also resident in the lodge was Francis Mc Hugh, aged 18, a Roman Catholic, born in Sligo and who was listed as being a servant. The owner of the lodge was Lieutenant Colonel, the Right Honorable Edward Henry Cooper who died soon after the census being carried out on the 26th February 1902 aged 74. He had been Lord Lieutenant for Sligo, was late of the 7th Hussars, Grenadier Guards and had been a Member of Parliament for Sligo from 1865. Among the many bequests in his will was £2,000 to be kept in trust for the repair and maintenance of the observatory at Markree Castle. 

Markree Castle Co. Sligo, the ancestral home of the Cooper Family 
who owned Cooper's Lodge
Picture ( above)  Copyright The National Library of Ireland

By 1911, the house was now owned by Captain Byran Ricco Cooper, the grandson of Edward Henry Cooper, the house is recorded as having eight out offices, ten windows in its entrance front and ten rooms in its interior. Byran had inherited the impressive Markree Castle in Co. Sligo, which according to the 1901 census had 104 rooms, sat in a demesne of a 1,000 acres in addition to a deer park of 200 acres surrounded by estate lands that extended to 30,000 acres. The more modest shooting lodge near Lough Easky at this time was home to Nathan Campbell, aged 51 from Donegal, a gamekeeper and his wife Anna Selina aged 48 from Cork who have been married for 23 years. They had six children but only five are living in 1911. Four sons are present in the house at the time of the census, Robert Cecil aged 17, Richard Maxwell aged 17, Frederick James aged 15 and Nathan Percival aged 8. The two elder sons were born in Mayo while the younger pair were born in Sligo. The name of the house being Croagh Lodge is confirmed from an advertisement that appeared in 1907, when Nathan Campbell was selling his pony, harness and trap and it mentioned that these can be viewed at ‘Croagh Lodge’

Lieutenant Colonel, the Right Honorable Edward Henry Cooper 
who was the owner of the lodge in 1901.
Picture ( above)  Copyright The National Portrait Gallery, London

Major Bryan Ricco Cooper died at his residence in 1930 in Dalkey, Co. Dublin, the exotically named Khyber Pass. He was born in India in 1884, the son of Major F.E. Cooper and the grandson of Col. Edward Henry Cooper. He was educated at Eton and Woolwich, he became Second Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery in 1903. In 1905, he resigned and was gazetted to the Duke of Connaught’s own Sligo Militia as Captain. In 1914, he resigned and was gazetted as Captain to the 5th Battalion of the Connaught Rangers. In 1910 he was elected as a Unionist M.P. for South County Dublin, he was a Deputy Lieutenant and High Sheriff for Sligo while also becoming Press Censor in 1919. In 1923, he was returned to the Dail as an Independent candidate for Dublin and again in 1927. A marriage in 1910 produced four children but ended in divorce in 1920. Bryan died at the young age of 46 in 1930 and after bequests were made, the residue of his estate passed to his son, Edward F. Cooper.

The remains of Cooper's Lodge are found in the
 isolated bog land near Lough Easky in Co. Sligo
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC

In December 1938, a young girl, named Maggie Ann Mullarky, recorded a story told to her by her grandfather about the lodge being haunted. What is interesting about this story is that it mentions that the lodge is in ruins at this time. Newspaper reports from the 1930’s may provide a reason why the idea of the house being haunted was promoted. At various times, people were arrested for keeping poteen stills near the house which was then referred to as ‘Byran Cooper’s famous shooting lodge’. Tales of a ghost would have kept curious onlookers away from the house and left those distilling there undisturbed.  In 1939 another individual was arrested for unlawful distilling and he was found ‘near an old shooting lodge on the mountain’. Markree Castle has recently passed out of the ownership of the Cooper family and their former shooting lodge outside Dromore West will soon cease to exist. The few weather beaten walls still standing, bear little testament to the local civil unrest nearly 140 years ago that resulted in the death of William Nichol. 

Lough Easky found a short distance from Cooper's Lodge
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Glenlossera Lodge
Ballycastle , Co. Mayo

Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC
Glenlossera Lodge found outside Ballycastle in Co. Mayo on the West Coast of Ireland is an object of desire for some, many have dreamed about rescuing this structure from ruin but may not have deep enough pockets to do so. Sitting high on a hill on a steep bend on the road to Belmullet, the house enjoys unrivaled views of the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding dramatic countryside. What may surprise some is that this house was once home to a woman who had connections with numerous historical figures namely Queen Victoria, her servant John Brown, Oscar Wilde and Alfred Douglas. Lady Florence Dixie, who made Glenlossera her home for four months in 1882 was the aunt of Alfred Douglas whose relationship with Oscar Wilde led to a trial that dominated the headlines of Victorian Britain. Lady Florence is also said to have suffered the wrath of Queen Victoria who blamed her for the death of her faithful servant, John Brown. When one enjoys the panoramic view from the front of the house, one can understand why Zachary Mudge picked this spot to construct his hunting lodge here in the 1850’s. However this is an isolated, cold and unforgiving spot which receives the full brunt of the weather blown in from the Atlantic Ocean, so Zachary's pioneering spirit in the 1850's has to be admired. The longevity of Glenlossera Lodge will soon be curtailed with the speedy acceleration of its decline in recent years. A glimmer of hope was offered in 2008 when planning permission was granted for its restoration, however since then its decline has been swift with the loss of large amounts of the surviving roof structure and the collapse of a number of its chimney stacks. The property has been on the market for a number of years however a willing saviour has yet to come forward.
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC
The story of Glenlossera Lodge begins in November 1853, when it was recorded that Mr. Zachary Mudge purchased at auction,  'Lot 30 - Glenglassera' containing 1,191 acres with a net annual rent of six pounds sixteen shillings and two pence for £775. In the same sale Mr. Mudge also purchased Lot 26, 'Sralagagh West' containing 1,662 acres for £1,065 and Lot 27 containing 181 acres situated at 'Glenora'. Zachary Mudge was the son of Admiral Mudge who died in 1852, meaning Zachary was in possession of his inheritance when he purchased the lands in Mayo. He was born in 1813 and was educated in Oxford where took an M.A. in 1840. He became a barrister but did not practice as he succeeded to the family property. His principle property was Sydney House in Devonshire and South Pill in Cornwall together with the lodge he would build in Ballycastle Co. Mayo. His heir was his son Arthur Mudge, a Lieutenant in the Second Queen's Royal Regiment. It would appear that soon after the land was purchased, the lodge was constructed. It would appear that the Mudge family only spent certain times of the year, such as Autumn, in the lodge and never lived there on a full time basis. At times a game keeper was retained however it would appear that the lodge was often leased to various people, the most interesting and notable of these was Lady Florence Dixie.

Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC
In September 1882, Lady Florence Dixie (1855-1905), a daughter of the 8th Marquis of Queensberry, was in residence at Glenlossera Lodge in Ballycastle, Co. Mayo. She was the sister of the 9th Marquis of Queensbury and aunt to the Alfred Douglas who were both involved in the scandalous trial of that century with Oscar Wilde. After marrying in 1875, Florence combined her love of sport, travel and writing when she journeyed across Patagonia from 1878-9 where she hunted big game and publishing a book about her adventures called 'Across Patagonia' in 1880. A woman fond of adventure, in 1879 she was the war correspondent for The Morning Post, covering the Zulu war in Southern Africa. She had strong views on African politics, publishing  ‘ The Land of Misfortune' in 1882. In Britain she was a keen writer of letters to newspapers on a range of liberal issues. She had forthright views on women, equality of the sexes in marriage and divorce. In the 1890s, in a distinct turn-around from Patagonia, she condemned as cruel the blood sports she had once so greatly enjoyed, in 'The Horrors of Sport (1891)'. 
Lady Florence Dixie
Picture ( above)  Copyright NPG
In 1875, aged 19, Florence Douglas had married Sir Alexander Beaumont Churchill Dixie, 11th Baronet. However according to his new wife, Alexander was  "a spendthrift, a hopeless gambler, a heavy drinker" and as a result the family estate of Bosworth in Leicestershire had to be sold in 1885. Florence wrote "For some time past I have been fighting against the terrible consequences of my husband's immense losses on the Turf and at gambling . . It was a great blow to me to find that the last remnant of a once splendid fortune must at once go to pay this debt. Ruin ... Beau ... has been so accustomed to have heaps of money at his command that he cannot understand that it is all gone .... By selling Bosworth and the property these (debts) could be met.' Their marriage produced two sons, born in 1876 and 1878. 

Panoramic views of the surrounding area
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC
Alexander and Florence shared a number of interests however their love of alcohol earned them the nickname of "Sir Always and Lady Sometimes Tipsy''. Florence was the author of a number of books for both children and adults and wrote many letters to newspapers on a number of issues in particular Irish Home Rule. Her article ' The Case of Ireland' was published in Vanity Fair in May 1882.  It had been the assassination of the Secretary and the Under Secretary for Ireland in May 1882 that prompted Lady Florence to come to Ireland where she resolved to do all she could for the poor suffering tenants. In August 1882, she together with her husband, Beau and brother Jim came to Ireland for a number of months. Despite receiving death threats before her trip and being begged by members of her family not to go to Ireland, she persisted and came to County Mayo to stay at Glenlossera Lodge. When she was only one month in Ireland in September 1882, she received a letter bomb, whether this was sent to Glenlossera we cannot be sure. During her sojourn of four months in Glenlossera Lodge, she wrote to numerous newspapers to highlight to the British public the great poverty amongst the small farmers on the west coast of Ireland. She appealed for donations to assist her in the formation of a fund which would help her to alleviate the suffering of the truly unfortunate, destitute and those unfairly evicted. Her appeal was generously responded to and contributions were received from within Ireland, England and Scotland. However she stated publicly that she would not engage with the Land League nor donate any of the funds raised by her to them. She felt they received adequate funds from the Irish in America and she did not agree with their violent methods. In 1883, a visitor to Ballycastle recorded that on the road between Ballycastle and Belmullet ' there are a few miserable hovels thinly scattered and one or two hunting lodges of English gentlemen. During a great portion of the year these lodges are closed up, the owners living elsewhere.' It is also recorded that 'on this road one passes Glenossery Lodge, together with the houses of the chief and under gamekeepers...... In this lodge, which belongs to an Englishman named Mudge, resided in for sometime Lady Florence Dixey.' Lady Florence continued to be critical of the Land League after her departure from Ireland. Near Windsor she was reportedly attacked by them in March 1883 however some doubted whether this attack had actually taken place. Lady Florence had alleged that she was attacked by two gentlemen dressed as women who tried to stab her and only for the quick actions of her St. Bernard dog she would have been killed. This led to another extraordinary connection, as the attack happened near Windsor Castle, Queen Victoria sent her faithful servant John Brown to investigate. During his investigations carried out in exceptionally cold weather, John Brown caught a cold from which he never recovered and died soon after. As a result Queen Victoria is said to have blamed Lady Florence for the death of her faithful servant.

Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC
In January 1877, a man representing himself as Captain Baggot of Glenlossera Lodge ordered goods to the amount of £39 in the town of Killala. He said at the time that he had bought the lodge from Captain Wilde who was a tenant of Captain Mudge. A few weeks later, despite never having paid for the goods, Captain Baggot returned to Killala and informed the shop keeper that he had become a landlord after purchasing a large property at Newport. He was going to London to pay for it and needed funds prior to his trip. He withdrew funds of £25 on the basis of a letter stating that he was £1,000 in credit with his bankers in London. However it appears that Captains Baggot's stories were all a fabrication and he was arrested for his dishonoured bank drafts.  By December 1887, a Miss Priestly (or Mrs. Mudge), was in residence in Glenlossera where she advertises a recommendation for her Governess in order for her to find work in alternative employment in the New Year. In 1893, a meeting was held in Ballycastle in relation to the extension of the railway line from Killala to Ballycastle. A large number of people attended the meeting including the large land owners of the area, and Mr. A.J. Mudge of the lodge. 

Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC
At the time of the 1901 census, the lodge is described as having 15 rooms, being occupied by William Lynch and owned by Arthur J. Mudge. William Lynch was a Game Keeper, a member of the Church of Ireland and from Cork City. He lived in the lodge with his wife, three sons and one daughter.  His youngest two children were born in Mayo with the elder of these children is one year old meaning the family had come to the area around 1900. The eldest children of the family were all born in Cork as was his wife. By 1911, William and his wife are still in residence in the lodge but they now have another child named Walter aged 8. By 1923, the lodge was still the home of the Lynch family, in May of that year, a party of National troops came to Glenlossera Lodge and asked for permission to be put up there. This was granted with the stipulation that none of the troops were to enter the family bedrooms. However later in October, a case was mentioned in the press where the larceny of property from the house had taken place. A solider was later sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for the thief of the jewelry.  The Lynch's were still in residence in the lodge by 1926, which is confirmed by a number of notices that appeared in the local paper from that time. However it would appear that the Lynch's tenure of the lodge ended in 1927 when it was sold. The Mudge family reduced their holding in Mayo gradually over the previous decades with the sale of 2,731 acres taking place in 1927 to the Irish Land Comission.

Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC

In 1931, F.H. Martin-Atkins passed away and left an estate of £ 11,130.00 and it was noted that he was formerly of Glenlossera Lodge, Ballycastle, Co. Mayo. In 1934, Glenlossera was advertised for sale, fully furnished with 906 acres. The interior is described as having three sitting rooms, five bedrooms, two servant’s rooms and kitchen which was all available for the price of £1,000 however due to lack of interest this was reduced to £500 one year later. In 1956, it was advertised that instructions had been received by James King, who had now taken up residence in Galway, to offer for sale  the property known as 'Glenlossera Lodge' on 7 acres of arable and woodland with boat-houses and slips at Belderrig and Glenlossera lakes. The lodge is described as a ' beautiful cut stone structure of the Bungalow type erected on dry elevated ground in perfect structural and decorative order. It contains large entrance hall, sun lounge, 2 reception rooms, kitchen, kitchenette, cold room and pantry with tiled floors, 5 well appointed bedrooms, bathroom, W.C.' The sale was to be carried out by John Moran and the price included all furniture. In 1964, Albert Stephen Fallon was in residence in the lodge, and when in 1992 Mr. Fallon passed away in Clomel and his death notice stated that he was formerly of Glenlossera Lodge. The lodge has become derelict over the years but full planning permission for its restoration was granted in 2008. Despite being on the market with seven acres for a number of years, for offers in the region of €125,000. there have been no takers. As I am familiar with the house I have noticed recently that a number of the chimney stacks have collapsed and the decline of the lodge has accelerated. However one still hopes that someone might be brave enough to save this unique house with a surprising connection with a number of historical figures.

A large number of the chimneys and external walls of the
 lodge have unfortunately collapsed.
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Ballinafad House
Belcarra, Co. Mayo

Ballinafad House, found near Belcara outside Castlebar in Co Mayo, may look to the causal observer like a country house that has seen better days however be advised that in this instance to never judge a book by its cover. The interior is a hive of activity since the arrival of Bede Tannock from Australia who is tackling this challenging restoration. The list of work is awe inspiring while the quantities involved are staggering, 70,000 square feet of floor space, 340 sash windows, 110 rooms and surely a couple of acres of roof. Some people may think that the purchase price of €80,000 is a bargain, for this large house that sits on 8 acres, however it will take many multiples of the purchase price to restore this building and make it pay its way. Ballinafad House was once home to the Blake family but was donated by Llewellyn Blake, to the Society of African Missions in the early 1900's. This generous gift was given in the belief that it would atone for the sins of Blake's ancestors. Llewellyn believed that religious ceremonies conducted in memory of his dead relatives would rescue them from purgatory and admonish them of their past sins. However as you will see from reading the following paragraphs, Llewellyn did not seem to notice the living purgatory that his own tenants endured on his Mayo estate. Llewellyn's endowment of the Society of African Missions in 1916 was the equivalent of a donation in today's terms of nearly €6.5 million. Also the establishment of the Society of African Missions at Ballianfad was not met with universal welcome,  both the tenants of the estate and Llewellyn's relatives were actively hostile to the very idea.

The original Ballinafad House sits between two wings that were added
 to the house in the 1940's & 1950's. From this viewpoint  the claim that
 the house possesses the widest chimney in Ireland appear to be well founded.
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
Ballinafad House was built in 1827 by Maurice Blake but over the years has been enveloped by the ancillary buildings of the seminary and college it became after being donated in 1908. Ballinafad was the home of the Blakes, who were also connected with the Blakes of nearby Towerhill House but also connected by marriage to the Moores of Moore Hall. The interior of the original section of Ballinafad is important as many surrounding country houses are lying in ruins or no longer exist. When in the drawing room of Ballinafad, one can imagine that possibly it bore some resemblance to the nearby, but lost, interiors of Moore Hall, Towerhill or Clogher House. Prior to it being extended in the 1940's, Ballinafad House was a two storey over part raised basement house with 28 rooms. Sitting atop the roof is an impressive chimney that serves 26 fireplaces and possibly lays claim to being the widest domestic chimney in the country. The structural supports for the chimney dominate the layout of the house, beginning with a series of vaulted ceilings in the basement which support arches on the ground and first floor that in turn support the large chimney above. The support structure for this mammoth chimney essentially divides the house in two halves. The series of rooms to the rear of the house are separated from the main reception rooms at the front of the house by an elongated spine corridor that traverses the centre of the building. The entrance to the house is via a pair of sweeping curved stone steps that lead to an entrance porch, supported on an arch. A decedent of the Blake’s, Maurice Moore,  whose mother was born and raised at Ballinafad, was of the belief that his grandfather, who had added the porch to the house, was inspired by ‘an imperfect memory of one he had seen in Italy.

The entrance porch to Ballinafad with its curved 
sweeping steps was said to have been inspired
by an Italian counterpart 
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
The Moore's of Moore Hall, as I have previously mentioned, were connected with the Blake Family of Ballinafad through marriage. In 1851, George Henry Moore, of nearby Moore Hall married Mary Blake, the 23 year old daughter of Maurice Blake of Ballinafad House. Mary was one of ten children of Maurice and Anne Blake and upon her marriage to Moore was bestowed with a dowry of £4,000 which enriched the Moore Estate (This would be the equivalent of over €5 million in today's terms). Mary would name her second son Maurice after her father with the first born son, and heir of Moore Hall Estate, was given the name George. George Moore, who became a famous literary figure, would later write about Ballinafad describing it as ‘a county house, surrounded by a large park with a little quick running river close by’ and that 'ancestors had lived in Ballinafad for many generations; the obstinate Blakes they were called…’ Based on this statement, it would appear that there was possibly an earlier house on the site, when George Moore speaks of the family living there for generations. In December of 1851, Maurice Blake of Ballinafad died after a long illness and his remains lay in Ballinafad until removed for burial to Cloughballymore in Galway. The reason for Maurice's burial in Galway is that he had married the daughter and heiress of Marcus Lynch. Therefore the large Lynch Estate at Cloughballymore, Co. Galway eventually passed in to the Blake family. As Maurice had made a wise dynastic match with the Lynch family, his daughters would also marry in to other landed families. In 1854, Catherine married into the O'Connors of Elphin, Rosscommon , followed in 1858 when Julia married in to the Browne family and in 1859, when Victoria married in to the ffrench family.

LLewllyn Blake, son of Maurice Blake
who built Ballinafad in 1827

Initially it did not look as if Maurice's youngest son, Llewellyn Blake, would inherit his fathers estates as he had older brothers who would inherit before him. Llewellyn Blake was born in 1842 and in his lifetime gained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the 6th Battalion of the Connaught Rangers and held the office of High Sheriff of Galway in 1886. He also held the Office of Deputy Lieutenant for Country Mayo together with the Office of the Justice of the Peace for Counties Mayo and Galway. In 1869, Llewellyn was appointed to the Commission for Peace and was recommenced to the Lord Chancellor by the Marquis of Clanricarde. In August 1877 at St. Michael’s Church, Kingstown ( now Dun Laoghaire),  Dublin, Llewellyn Blake married Honoria Mary, the widow of William Murray (who died in 1874) of Northampton House in Country Galway. William Murray was a successful pawnbroker in Galway who moved to Kinvara and built Northampton House. In December 1877, Llewellyn Blake was living at 2 Willow Terrace, Blackrock, Dublin, we know this as he was advertising land for lease in Offaly and Kildare and mentions this as his address.

Further additions were added to the house over the 
years including the 'Priest's House' seen to the right
of the picture. 
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
In November 1891, Llewelyn’s wife, Honoria Mary Blake died aged only 41, strangely her death notice reports in great detail that she died from ‘congestion of the lungs’. She left an estate valued at £15,105 and she died at her home Northampton House, Kinvara, Co. Galway. Northampton House no longer exists, albeit for one wall, as the house was demolished in the 1930’s. Llewellyn and Honoria's marriage produced no children and as result this branch of the Blake family would die out with Llewellyn's death Llewellyn's brother, Mark Blake of Ballinafad died in June 1886 and his estates passed to his brother Joseph Blake. Joseph managed the Moore Hall estate  for his nephew George Moore after the death of his father, George Henry Moore. It was after the death of Joseph ( Gontran) Blake who died at Ballinafad in January 1893 that his estate valued at £12,581 passed to Llewellyn. As a result of these deaths in close succession, Llewellyn had inherited the estates and homes of his wife and brother so he was now a very wealthy man. At the time of the 1901 census, Llewellyn Blake aged 61 is living in Ballinafad House, it is noted that he was born in England and is a widower. Also present in the house is his 64 year old Land Stewart, Michael Cloran, together with two female servants Honoria Glynn aged 50 and Mary Mc Gurrin aged 40. 

The beautiful ceiling rose in the Entrance Hall
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
In January 1906, it was announced that the title of Count was conferred by the Pope on Llewellyn Blake of Cloughballymore, Galway and Ballinafad House, Mayo. This honour was conferred in recognition of Llewellyn's generosity towards the Society of African Missions based in Cork also known as the SMA. Llewellyn had also founded a scholarship at St. Jarlaith’s College in Tuam for the education of priests for the foreign missions. In 1906, it is recorded that Llewellyn held over 1,000 acres of untenanted land in Mayo and it appears that not everyone was happy about Llewelyn Blake’s donation to the African Missionary Society.  A letter to ‘The Western People’ in January 1906,  a tenant of the Blake estate wrote the following ‘ A couple of weeks ago reading on your paper that Colonel L. Blake of Ballinafad got a very high title from the Pope, we, his poor unfortunate tenants in the bogs of Ballinafad were in hopes that something would follow, and that as ‘Charity begins at home’ the gallant Colonel would think of his poor tenants and how to improve their lot. He has about fifty families living on 150 acres of bog.’ The author of the letter points out that he lives on three acres of bog while Llewellyn farms 950 acres of fine farmland. The tenant ends his letter saying that ‘ Many a fine good Irish boy and girl who left Ballinafad for the past twenty years would be glad to return if Shanroy, Lakemount, Cloonflyn, Castlelucan or Ballinafad grazing ranches were only divided up amongst the people at reasonable rents'.

One of the restored stained glass windows
in the chapel of Ballinafad, that commemorates
the work of the Society of African Missons.
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
In January 1908, the Pope approved the establishment of a college for the education of priests for the African Mission at Ballinafad. The announcement indicated that the African Missionary Society, who had a college in Cork were about to take over Ballinafad House and demesne. Rev. Zimmerman from the Cork College had visited Ballinafad in early 1908 and was shown over the estate by Count Blake.  The dining room of Ballinafad was readied for Mass to celebrate a new beginning for the house.  The tenants on the estate reacted angrily to this news and they believed the donation to be part of a ploy to cheat them out the opportunity to buy their own land. While the tenants had no objection to the college being established, it was their belief that they were entitled to first consideration if any land of the estate was being disposed of.  When Father Zimmerman from the SMA, Count Blake and a land surveyor visited a nearby land holding, they were met by tenants who ‘booted them off the farm’.  It was the tenants hope that legislation would be introduced to ‘come to their aid in their struggle with the Count, who, in his zeal for the Africans sees fit to ignore the claims to simple justice which cry at his very door;’ The tenants protestations had the desired effect as it was announced in May of 1908 that all the tenanted land of the demesne had been offered for sale to the Estates Commission.

 The restored plaster work in one of the vaulted areas

found on either side of the main staircase.
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 

While his tenants were not impressed with the actions of the Count, his relatives were even less enamored. George Moore of nearby Moore Hall who was a nephew of Llewellyn made no secret of his dissatisfaction with the arrangements made for his mother’s former home. In fact George Moore could always be relied upon to present a less saintly representation of the Blake family. When describing his illustrious uncle, he said the following ‘ Llewelyn is a tall as his brother Mark, two or three inches over six feet, large in proportion, with sloping shoulders, snapping his words out and then relapsing into silence'. George also said that his uncle had ‘become uneasy about his soul. He was warned of its disease by me years ago, but he paid no heed to my warnings, and convinced of its continued existence, and that priests can help him to save it, he has founded a monastery.’ In 1914, George Moore wrote about his uncle Llewellyn whom he said ‘is my uncle and my mother’s youngest brother and he came into the property of Ballinafad on the death of Joe Blake……His brother, Mark, from whom he inherited Ballinafad, was a fine old country rake, leaving samples of his voice and demeanour and appearance in every village and then going to Dublin to repent of his sins….' It would appear according to George Moore that both Mark and Joe had indeed fathered children outside the confines of marriage as it is also recorded that they both died 'without lawful issue'. Was it these actions of his brothers that prayed on the mind of Llewellyn?, was his donation of all his property to religious orders, an act to ensure that his deceased brothers were rescued from purgatory?

The ceiling and cornicing of the Drawing Room in Ballinafad
Picture ( above and below)  Copyright ICHC

By the time of the 1911 census, Ballinafad House was now being used as Ballinafad College where a Rev. William Butler is listed as the head of the household and the owners of the property recorded as the South African Mission, Rev. Butler aged 30 from Kilkenny is a Professor of Latin and English, also present were John Corcoran aged 27, a Professor of Latin, History, French and Mathematics, William Cotter also aged 27, a Professor of Latin, Music, French and Mathematics together with Bartholomew Ronayre a Professor of Latin, English and Mathematics.  Johanna Cummins aged 63, from Tipperary, is listed as the Matron and Manageress while there are also two female servants, Mary Mc Gurrin and Bridget Joyce. Llewellyn at this time is living in Cloughballymore in Galway, the 4,000 acre estate and 19 room house which had been inherited from his mother's side of the family. On the night of the 1911 census he has two female visitors,  Mary and Kate Regan and also present in the house are three servants. Count Llewellyn Blake died on the 8th September 1916 at his Galway home Cloughballymore in Kilcolgan. His remains were removed from his residence to Ballinderreen Parish Church. His death certificate indicates that his death was sudden but that he suffered from heart disease. The certificate is witnessed by his house keeper, Norah Hughes who was with him when he died. The funeral mass involved nine clergy after which the remains were brought to Ardrahan train station and were conveyed to Cork for burial. At Wilton Church in Cork, High Mass was again celebrated and interment took place in the church grounds. In his will dated December 1907, he appointed as executors, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Tuam and the Bishop of Cork together with the Rev. Joseph Zimmermann of the SMA.  Llewellyn left £1,500 to have Mass celebrated in churches and chapels in Ireland for the souls of his wife, mother, father, brothers and sisters. He left £50 to his Parish Priest in Galway to have additional masses said for deceased members of his family and £50 to help the local poor. He left £500 to the sisters of Charity in Dublin to assist in their foreign missions for the propagation of the Roman Catholic religion. After these deductions were made, the residue of his estate was to be divided in fifteen equal parts. Six fifteenths of his estate were to go to the new College of the Sacred Heart, founded by the Apostolic College for Foreign Missions in Ireland located at Ballinafad House. Two fifteenths were apportioned to the Roman Catholic Ecclesiastical Seminary in Limerick. Two fifteenths were allocated to All Hallows College, in Dublin, St. Joseph’s College in Wilton, Cork and St. Jarlaiths College, Tuam ,Galway.  Another condition of the will stipulated that each college should use the monies to enable poor students to train for the Priesthood, who could not afford to pay for their own education. One final fifteenth was to assist in the publication of Annals of the Propagation of the Roman Catholic Faith.

Details of the Drawing Room Ceiling.
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 

Llewellyn left an estate with a value of £61,502.00 (of which £11,225 was in England), this would be roughly €6.5 million in today's money. The probate of his estate was granted to the Most Reverend John Healy, Archbishop of Tuam and the Most Reverend Daniel Coholan, Bishop of Cork. He left nothing to his relatives, so Maurice Moore and his sister Nina Kilkelly (Llewellyn's niece and nephew) made a petition to the Pope for a portion of their late uncle’s estate. The Pope agreed to release a donation of £2,000 to Mrs. Kilkelly and £1,000 to Maurice Moore which was paid in 1919. Maurice Moore had wanted to join with other members of the Blake Family to over turn his uncle’s will. He was annoyed that Ballinafad, his mother’s childhood home, was now passing out of the family to become a religious institution. His brother George on the other hand took offence at the way he felt his wealthy uncle had been pursued by members of the religious order. George believed that they had prayed on Llewellyn’s concern for the souls of his deceased ancestors and convinced him that by donating his wealth he could redeem them from purgatory. However George would not join with Maurice or support his petition for the overturning of the will, using Maurice's respect for his Catholic faith against him. This would not be the only time that Maurice would be disappointed by the last will and testament of a relative. When his brother, George Moore died in 1933, he left no provision for Maurice or his sons. At this stage Moore Hall had been burnt down a decade earlier and lay in ruins. Maurice had hoped to restore the house but his brother's will had prevented that. While Maurice had purchased the ruin of Moore Hall, he had no funds to implement a restoration. Perhaps if his Uncle Llewellyn had made provision in his will for his nephew, who bore the name of his father, Maurice may have been able to resurrect the home of the Moore’s on Muckloon Hill after its destruction.

One of the restored sash windows and shutters
in an area of the house that had been obliterated
by damp.
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
Llewellyn's nephews, George and Maurice Moore visited Ballinafad after the order had taken over. George walked around the drawing room and recalled the musical renditions performed here by his mother, her sisters and her brother. He noted at this time that ‘remembered pictures’ were still hanging on the walls. One wonders what became of the contents of the house as they appear to have been donated to the Order that took over Ballinafad. Also Llewellyn's other house, Cloughballymore in Galway, which also donated,  contained a number of family portraits still hanging on the walls years after the order acquired it. During his visit to Ballinafad, George spoke with one of the priests based there, who informed him that the first group of priests , dispatched on the missions from Ballinafad,  had found the African climate intolerable and that ‘large amount’ of these men had died. Whether George was being melodramatic or not, we do not know however the Priest did inform him that another group was leaving shortly for Africa and that he ' hoped not to lose so many’. However in a letter from George Moore to his brother Maurice dated August 1912, he says the following ‘I enclose some papers that I received this morning, and I think they will distress you. Apparently Llewelyn is going to settle an ecclesiastical establishment in Ballinafad unless he can be stopped. Will you please let me hear from you on the subject. Miss Gough says it is to be sold…’ This was followed by another letter dated September 1912 ‘I have heard no more from Tom Rutledge about the sale of the Property, Llewelyn Blake and Ballinafad, Has everything come to a standstill?’.

A beautifully restored window on the half
landing of the main staircase
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
Ballinafad was initially a seminary after the SMA took over but then adopted the duel function of being a secondary boarding school. In 1948, a new staff residence, dormitory and dining facilities were built followed in 1955 by another block of classrooms and an assembly hall. It is noted that Ballinafad ‘never grew popular as a local school’ however up until the 1960’s in Ireland, secondary level education was for the favoured few. By 1960, Ballinafad had produced 400 priests and it was hoped by the time of the centenary of the establishment of the SMA at Ballinafad in 2016, they would have produced over 1,000 priests. In the 1960’s, the SMA built an Oratory together with basketball courts, tennis courts and handball alleys at Ballinafad. In 1966, the Vatican Council introduced changes in the approach for the training of priests and this coupled with the introduction of free education lead to a decline in the fortunes of Ballinafad. As the population of the area was too small, the outlay for providing facilities for boarders hadn’t been a success and the order could no longer meet the running costs. In 1975, it was announced that the Sacred Heart College established at Ballinafad would close. For a time a skeleton staff were kept on to maintain the place as no Government Department was interested in finding an alternative use for Ballinafad. The College was still in possession of a 470 acre farm around the main campus and it was local contention that the land should be divided amount local farmers upon its closure. However the complex was sold to Balla Mart who ran it as an Agricultural College for a number of years before it too closed. In the year 2000, Ballinafad House appeared on the market with a price tag of £2.5 million for the house with 400 acres, however a price of £500,000 could buy Ballinafad standing on 8 acres. In December 2002, at the height of the excesses of the Celtic Tiger it was reported that Ballinafad had been sold to Preston Homes who intended turning into a 5 star hotel however its appears that the recession killed this pipe dream. By 2010, Ballinafad was back on the market with a price of €499,000 for the college buildings but at this stage Ireland was in the midst of a recession so there were no takers.

The Dining Room of  Ballinafad which shows
the condition in which the new owner found most
of the house after he purchased it. This room will be
subject of the next phase of works.
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
The buildings saviour came in the form of a young Australian, Bede Tannock,  who first viewed the building in 2012. He later purchased the house on 8 acres for €80,000 however but after decades of being abandoned, the phrase ‘ in need of renovation’ did not do justice to the mammoth task that lay ahead at Ballinafad. Work began in 2014 and initially consisted of removing years of debris compounded by two decades of abandonment. Luckily despite the neglect, the new owner found that the main block of the house, the original Ballinafad House, still retained a wealth of original details such as plaster work, door and window cases which had survived. Currently the entrance porch has its diamond pattern windows removed for restoration but the beauty of the fanlight of the original front door to Ballinafad can be appreciated. Once inside you are greeted by a wonderfully restored elaborate ceiling rose and from here, you can access one of the most impressive areas of the house, a large double height hall where the staircase is contained. Illuminated by a large window, this space retains beautiful vaulted spaces that contain delicate plaster work. It is from these vaulted spaces that one gains access to the two large reception rooms at the front of the house. The original drawing room to the front of the house is luckily one of the most intact rooms to survive, and here a ceiling depicting musical instruments and foliage awaits redecoration, replacing the strong garish colours of its previous colour scheme from possibly 40 years ago. One wonders if the choice of the musical instruments illustrated on this ceiling was to reflect the musical nature of the Blake Family that George Moore spoke about. The dining room on the opposite side of the entrance front has not fared as well. Here the ceiling with its central plaster ceiling rose of fruit is largely damaged however a hopefully Bede directs my attention to a carefully collected and stacked pile of fragments on the floor that will be reinstated. This room is thought to be the dining room due to the choice of ceiling decoration and its proximity to the servants staircase, which is located directly across the vaulted hall, provided direct access to the kitchen in the basement. The dining room is not the only room to be damaged during the years of neglect, a leaky roof caused the corroded water tanks to collapse which completely destroyed rooms in one back corner of the house. 

A large room in the wing of the house that dates from 
the 1950's,  will be used as a space for events such as weddings.
Picture ( above and below)  Copyright ICHC 

This damaged area where these rooms once occupied was open from the ground floor to what remained of the roof, the ceiling and floor in between were obliterated and therefore necessitated a complete rebuilt. Today walking though these reinstated rooms, details such as the cornicing, window shutters and high skirting boards look pristine, not giving any hint of the scene of destruction that originally confronted Bede. The SMA had extended Ballinafad House substantially over the years, adjoining wings built in the 1940's and 1950's were added to either side of the original house, together with an auditorium and a chapel. Today the beauty of the chapel's stained class windows that commemorate the work of the SMA can be appreciated having been recently restored. The 1950's wing and the auditorium have had substantial restoration work carried out and work in the original house is progressing at a steady pace. The 1940's wing will be a later project, but stabilisation work has been carried out including work to the work to the roof, any further deterioration in this wing has been arrested. As a result of the additions carried out by the SMA, the house is now easily adaptable for the new venture proposed by its current owner as Ballinafad House will open next year as an event venue. Here events such as weddings can be held in the Ballinafad's recently restored large reception room with 13 restored sash windows and chandeliers. 

The interior of the Priests House which has been converted
in a beautiful home, as I said at the beginning of this piece, 
to never judge this house by its exterior.
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
Bede is currently working against the clock, Ballinafad will feature in a RTE programme about the restoration of the house to be screened in 2018. For this programme, a number of rooms will be completed and the main facade of the house will boast newly restored windows. The people of Mayo are lucky that Bede is carrying out such a sensitive restoration and is so committed to the project. Ballinafad could have languished for years on the market before it was either vandalised further or eventually collapsed from neglect. Therefore I wish Bede well and I look forward to making a return visit as Ballinafad House to see the fruits of his efforts in reversing the fortunes of this country house. One of the things I noticed at Ballinafad is a religious painting that is hanging over the staircase, it is distressed from the time the house was abandoned and open to the elements. This painting has hung here since the time of the SMA and despite its condition I think Bede has made the correct choice to keep it. Once Ballinafad is complete, this painting will remind people of the changing fortunes of the house, the level of dereliction that it descended to and the herculean task involved in revitalising this surviving home of the Blakes.

A religious painting that has stood guard over
the main staircase, possibly since 1908, has
presided over the changing fortunes of the mansion.
This painting endured while the house was abandoned 
in the 1970's and water ran down the walls on which it hung. 
So it is fitting that the new owner has decided to
retain it in situ as Ballinafad looks to a brighter future.
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC