Thursday 17 November 2016

Castle Ellen House
Athenry, Co. Galway

The Entrance Front of Castle Ellen, Athenry, Co. Galway
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
Today near Athenry in Co. Galway there is a house known as Castle Ellen that not only has connections with the political heavy weight, Edward Carson but also the literary genius, Oscar Wilde. There is even a possibility that they met here many years before fate brought them together in one of the most famous trials of that century. Today Castle Ellen is the home of Mr. Michael Keaney, a man who is devoted to this house and to whom we must grateful for his attempts to rescue it from ruin since he purchased it in 1974. While still a work in progress today, Michael has saved this house from the absolute brink of ruin and thus has preserved so many wonderful original features such as decorative plaster work and joinery. If a house could be heated by the warm welcome that it's host offers, Castle Ellen would be one of the warmest homes in Ireland.

The owner of Castle Ellen, Mr. Michael Keaney, pictured on the front steps of his wonderful home
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
Castle Ellen is a large two storey, over raised basement house dating from the early 1800's which is found at the end of a meandering avenue covered by a canopy of ancient trees. The first Lambert residence in the area, was a castle, the remains of which can be found in the grounds to the front of Castle Ellen House, Michael has also done his best to retain what remains of this ancient structure. It is said that the house was built around 1825, however some historians date its construction as taking place earlier in 1810. Peter Lambert, the head of this branch of the Lambert family, at that time, found the castle too small for his growing family and built the house to better suit his needs. One of the first children to be born in the new house was Isabella Lambert who would eventually marry Edward Henry Carson, an architect from Dublin, and this union would produce Edward Carson. Isabella's brother Walter made many improvements to the estate during his tenure which included having a range of impressive greenhouses constructed. At this time the estate was at its peak and the grounds were made up of tennis courts, croquet grounds and expansive gardens while the lands of the estate extended to 3,500 acres. 

 Castle Ellen when it was the home the Lambert family before their departure in the 1920's
Picture ( above)  Copyright Castle Ellen
In 1859, the Lord Lieutenant appointed Walter Peter Lambert of Castle Ellen to the office of High Sheriff for Galway. The following year, in September of 1860, an advertisement appeared in the national papers indicating that Stump Hill House and demesne in Cork was being offered for lease. People who wished to lease this property were directed to send their proposals to Walter P. Lambert of Castle Ellen, Galway. This property had come in to the ownership of the Lamberts when Walter Peter Lambert married Elizabeth who was the daughter of William Mc OBoy of Stump Hill in Co. Cork. Walter Peter Lambert died in October 1892 in the Imperial Hotel in Tuam supposedly he choked to death while eating breakfast. He is described as a gentleman farmer who left an estate valued at £ 35,558 11s 5d ( which unbelievably is approximately £3.5 million in the money of today). His will was proved by his son Peter Fitzwalter Lambert of Castle Ellen also described as a gentleman farmer. Peter Fitzwalter Lambert married Julia Mary Hewetson in 1887 but their marriage would not be a long one. 
The ancient castle of the Lambert's, the remains of which are found to the front of Castle Ellen
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC
Peter Fitzwalter Lambert died on the 24th February in 1894, aged only 45 and left an estate valued at £10,806 10s, 7d.  Peter had been experiencing ill health after his father’s death, dying a year and a half later and five months before the birth of his third son, William Robert. A stained glass window was erected in the local church to his memory. An elder son of Peter Fitzwalter named William Peter was born in 1891 and inherited the estate after the death of his father. By the time of the census in 1901, Castle Ellen is described as having 23 out buildings with the main house comprising of 23 rooms which is owned by Mary Lambert, Peter’s widow. The house at the time of census is occupied by five servants, the house hold staff was made up of the cook, housemaid, kitchen maid, coachman and stable man. By the time of the 1911 census the house is again only occupied by four servants. In November 1907, the estates of Walter Peter Lambert (a minor) and Julia Mary Lambert (his guardian) in the townlands of Dunkellin, Athenry and Kilconnell in the County of Galway were sold to the Estates Commissioners.

The Dining Room of Castle Ellen is decorated with exotic stuffed birds 
that Michael has accumulated over the years
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
The connection with Edward Carson was through his mother Isabella who met the architect Edward Henry Carson when he came to Castle Ellen to design a stable block for her father. Isabella was the daughter of Peter Fitzwalter Lambert of Castle Ellen and Eleanor Seymour of Ballymore Castle. Peter Fitzwalter died in 1844 and Castle Ellen was inherited by Isabella’s brother Walter. In May 1851, the marriage took place of Isabella Lambert and Edward Carson at Athenry Church, where the ceremony was conducted by the groom's brother Rev. William Carson. There is an entry in the Dictionary of Irish Architects which indicates that the architect Edward Henry Carson received a commission in 1863 to carry out extensive alterations and additions to Castle Ellen for his brother-in-law Walter Peter Lambert. Edward Henry Carson was quite accomplished in his field having designed the Colonial Building in the center of Galway city (opposite Brown Thomas today) and was also Vice-President of the Royal Institute of Irish Architects. The newlyweds made their home in Dublin and over the years welcomed six children, one of which was Edward Carson. Edward wanted to follow his father in to the architectural business but his father had decided that his son would enter the legal profession. As a child Edward Carson spent his summers in Castle Ellen and during this time spent in Galway he became friends with the Shawe-Taylor family of Castle Taylor in Ardrahan (Castle Taylor is featured in my second book Irish Country Houses - Portraits and Painters). It is also said that Castle Ellen provided the backdrop for the meeting of Carson and Oscar Wilde prior to the famous trial that would bring them together again in later years. It is also said that Edward attended many hurling matches and became so fond of the game that he tried to introduce it to Trinity College when he was a student there. Edward Carson's career in law progressed until he became one of the most divisive figures in Northern Irish politics with his opposition to Home Rule for the island of Ireland.

Side view of Castle Ellen (Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC)
Despite the time that he spent in Castle Ellen with the catholic community in his early life, his battle cry in later years was that ' Home Rule is Rome Rule' as Carson wished to retain Ireland’s union with Britain. Today outside the Stormont Parliament Building near Belfast in Northern Ireland, stands a statue of Edward Carson which indicates the long shadow he still casts over Irish politics.  In June 1914, it was reported that despite his efforts in Northern Ireland, it appears that Edward Carson was still fondly thought of in Athenry, as a local Catholic farmer was heard to declare’ Ned Carson is a decent man. I take no notice of his ranging and ranting among the Orangemen of Ulster. Sure, isn’t every successful lawyer a bit of a play actor!’. Edward Carson obviously had great affection for the maternal side of his family as when his first son was born in 1880, he was named William Henry Lambert Carson, and thus ensuring the Lambert name would be carried in to the next generation of his family. 

A statue of Edward Carson found outside Stormont in Northern Ireland
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
The famous playwright and wit, Oscar Wilde and Edward Carson's paths often appeared to have crossed many times throughout their lives. As children in Dublin their homes were located near each other, when in Galway Carson and Wilde were said to have met at Castle Ellen and then they were contemporaries in Trinity College, Dublin. However it was their most infamous encounter that has gone down in history.  In 1895, Oscar Wilde took a libel case against the Marquis of Queensbury, the Marquis was appalled at the nature of Wilde's relationship with his son and had used a public forum to express his opinion. Wilde sued the Marquis who had chosen to be represented by Edward Carson in the trial of the century, whose every detail was picked over in the press. Caron's skillful cross examination of Wilde, extracted all the lurid detail necessary to ensure Wilde's case against the Marquis collapsed.  Wilde was subsequently arrested and tried for gross indecency which resulted in his imprisonment and ruin. For two men who started life in similar circumstances, upon their death, one was celebrated with a state funeral and the other passed away in penury.  Wilde was released from jail in 1897 and immediately left for France where he died 3 years later, Carson's career flourished, he became a key figure in the politics of Northern Ireland, dying in 1935 and received a state funeral.

This image shows the expansive glass houses that once existed to the side of Castle Ellen
Picture ( above)  Copyright Castle Ellen
There has been a lot of discussion over the years as to what precipitated the departure of the Lambert family from Castle Ellen. However an incident that occurred in 1920, I think, shows the beginning of the end of the family's tenure of their ancestral home. When Walter Peter Lambert, who inherited Castle Ellen as a minor, came of age he joined the Connaught Rangers where he rose to the rank of Captain. After the First World War he returned to Castle Ellen and was on extremely good terms with his neighbours and the local community. His father, before his death, had sold all his available land to his tenants, retaining only a small amount of demesne lands around Castle Ellen. In early 1920, it appears that not all in the locality were on such good terms with the then current occupant of Castle Ellen. In January of that year, it was reported that a group of men approached the house and demanded the land that the Lamberts still held in their possession. Walter Peter Lambert responded that he had no land to give and owned nothing other than the demesne around the house. Walter also informed one of the men in the group that they actually owned more land than himself. The angry group departed but as they did, they informed Captain Lambert that they would take his remaining lands by force and would plough the land that surrounded Castle Ellen up to the front door. The following day, those who worked for the Lamberts received threats that they should cease working for them or face the consequences, threats were also received by Captain Lambert and members of his family. Local people condemned the attack but possibly it left Captain Lambert in no doubt as to which way the wind was blowing.  A friend of the family, Frank Shawe-Taylor of Castle Taylor in Ardrahan was shot in March 1920 while travelling to the fair in Galway which probably only heightened the fears of the family. It is part of local lore that the family left suddenly on St. Patrick’s Day in 1921 and it is possibly as a result of the unsettled times in which violence and the burning of landlords houses was commonplace in Ireland.

Advertisement for the sale of Castle Ellen in 1921
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC
In November 1921, an advertisement appeared in the national press offering Castle Ellen and 600 acres for sale by auction on the 1st December 1921 in a Dublin auction room. The house is described as having an entrance hall with double staircase, two drawing rooms with folding doors and marble chimney pieces, morning room and dining room. Also on the entry level was a butler’s pantry, gun room and store room. On the first floor were six family bedrooms, two dressing rooms, a bathroom, two lavatories and linen press.  Servant’s quarters in the basement extended to a tiled kitchen, scullery, pantries, dairy and maid’s rooms. The enclosed yard consisted of out offices, garage, chauffeurs living quarters, stables, two stalls and nine loose boxes together with a large coach house, lofts, kennels, cart sheds, haggard, large hay shed and cattle sheds. Also included was the large walled garden, the ruins of a castle and tennis courts.

A decorative capital found on a pilaster on the half landing at Castle Ellen
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC
Now that the house was on the market, the auction of the house contents was set for Monday 19th, December 1921. The sale consisted of antique and modern furniture, silver, Sheffield plate, farm vehicles, farm implements, farm horses, carts, ewes, hay, oats, straw, turnips and potatoes. These sales were carried out under the instruction of Captain Lambert, the last Lambert landlord of Castle Ellen. Some of the furniture was described in later advertisements for the auction, included in the sale was an antique cellarette sideboard, a set of mahogany pillars, a claw foot dining room table with twelve chairs and two carver chairs. The drawing room had tapestry covered chesterfield sofas, a Sheraton writing table, Venetian mirrors and mahogany bookcases. Walls were decorated with coloured engravings, sporting prints and tapestries, floors were covered with Axminster carpets and around the windows were hung damask curtains. The yards offered up a range of items associated with a time when the horse was the king of the road which included a Governess cart and numerous farm wagons. 

The poly-chromatic plaster work found in the entrance hall
Picture ( above and below)  Copyright ICHC
In January 1940, Castle Ellen appeared on the market again, this time under the instruction of the Irish Land Commission for sale by public auction however the land associated with the house was reduced to 66 acres. The house at this time is described as being in excellent condition. Another fascinating glimpse in to what the interior would have looked like is provided, interestingly the entrance hall is described as having stained glass windows and a glass dome overhead.  The grand staircase only provided access from the ground floor to the first floor bedrooms and would have been solely for the use of the family. A secondary staircase was discretely located to one side of the main stairs. This plain, utilitarian stairs provided access from the basement to the top of the house and was used by the servants. The dining room was located near this stairs which provided access from the kitchen in the basement. The dining room has two doors, one door allowed the family and guests to enter from the main entrance hall whereas the second door provided access for the servants from the kitchen. 

One of a pair of entrance door to the Dining Room, this one was for the use of the servants
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
The stained glass window on the half landing of the staircase was emblazoned with the Lambert crest and coat of arms. The advertisement now says that there are seven large bedrooms on the first floor with two attic bedrooms. The description of the basement is further elaborated on from earlier advertisements, which is said to contain a kitchen, large servant’s hall, three servant’s bedrooms, three pantries, two coal houses, wine cellar and a single w/c. A number of years later in September 1945, four young men were sentenced to two months imprisonment for stealing apples from the garden at Castle Ellen which was now in the ownership of Mr. Herbert Mc Nally of Galway. In 1951, Castle Ellen was again offered for sale described as a ‘Georgian Residence in the centre of Galway Blazer Country, standing on 70 acres of land’.  Castle Ellen was sold by a Mrs Mc Nally back to the Land Commission, it would appear that she sold it after her husband had died. In 1961 when the local school was being repaired and was not fit for use, Castle Ellen was sequestered and used a temporary school house. The house at this time was beginning to become down and at heel as the staircase is described as not being suitable for use and there was a hole in the roof.

The advertisment that appeared in 1974 which first drew Michael Keaney's attention to Castle Ellen
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
By 1974, Castle Ellen and 11 acres are offered for sale by public auction by the Irish Land Commission however the house is now described as derelict. Michael Keaney spotted this advertisement and fortunately purchased the house for sum of £6,800. The house he now owned was badly vandalised over the previous years that it had remained empty. Windows had been broken and lead had been removed from the roof which allowed water to destroy the interior, rot floors and destroy ceilings. Any fixtures such as fireplaces had been stolen and the only way to enter the house was through a window. Over a number of years, before Michael made the house his full time residence, he secured the external fabric which meant reinstating the roof and windows in an effort to make the building water tight. During his restoration, any element of architectural merit was saved and stored until the time came that it could be reinstated. A lot of decorative plasterwork survives in the reception rooms of the house, however the entrance hall and staircase ceiling had collapsed before Michael's tenure. Large sections of this ceiling survive and give tantalising glimpses of what this area of the house once looked like. Decorative capitals of pillars remain on the half landing of the stairs around which cling elements of the polychromatic plasterwork with its daring red, green and gold colour scheme. 

Wonderful pieces of joinery and plaster work that survive in Castle Ellen
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC 
Michael over the years has used many ways to publicise his historic property which once involved an appearance on 'Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners - Country House Rescue' on Channel 4. In this programme, two individuals were tasked with de-cluttering Castle Ellen but a lot of items hold memories for Michael so this job wasn't always easy.  Despite a few disagreements during the course of the episode, the kindness of Michael's character couldn’t help but shine through. Today Castle Ellen is open to the public by appointment and for special events. Michael has also grasped the nettle of modern technology and rooms in Castle Ellen now appear on Air B&B. I am so grateful to have been offered an opportunity to visit Castle Ellen and meet with one of the most engaging and interesting people whom I have encountered in the last few years. I wish Michael all the best with Castle Ellen and do hope to make a return visit in the near future.

The wonderful detail of entrance porch is illuminated in the autumnal sunshine
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC

Some of the original plaster work that survives in Castle Ellen, together with a piece Michael has salvaged for reinstatement.
Picture ( above)  Copyright ICHC

Saturday 15 October 2016

Sheskin Lodge
Belmullet, Co. Mayo

Whiskey & Literature 
meet in the wilds of Co. Mayo

Many times I have heard the word ‘lost’ being bandied about when referring to some large country house being misplaced as if it was a child’s toy. However Sheskin Lodge in Co. Mayo, the subject of this piece, does truely fulfill this description. Located in the wilds of county Mayo on the west coast of Ireland, lost in a wood and easily passed by, this former hunting lodge is not accessible by car and is a forty minute walk from the nearest public road. This building does not appear on any list of protected structures or indeed it does not feature in the architectural heritage of Mayo. Overlooked and forgotten, the modern world has passed it by, very few people may know that this house has a connection with one of Ireland’s most famous whiskey distilling families and is also associated with the world of literature.

A Monkey Puzzle Tree which indicates the location of Sheskin Lodge 
that was once surrounded by beautiful grounds. 
Picture Copyright ( above) ICHC

The Cast Iron Verandah to the front of the lodge
Picture Copyright ( above) ICHC
Sheskin Lodge is difficult to locate but one of the few features that indicate its presence at the heart of a wood is a monkey puzzle tree which looks out of place in this wild Mayo landscape. I came to know of this hunting lodge though a family connection as members of the Wills family once acted as the stewards of the Sheskin Lodge for the Jameson family. The first mention of Sheskin Lodge, that I could find, is in November 1858 where it states that road repairs will take place ‘between the mail car road and the lodge in Sheskin’. In November 1866, it is noted that a Charles Monck Wilson is listed as being the owner of Sheskin Lodge however in July of 1868, the estate was listed for sale in The Landed Estate Courts. The estate is described as running to 7,012 acres which included a ‘comfortable shooting lodge, gardens and offices’ all situated in the centre of the estate. This sizable estate stretched from Ballyscastle to Bellacorick in Co. Mayo.  Sheskin Lodge and the surrounding 7,000 acres were purchased by John Jameson. In August 1878 it was recorded that, John Jameson, now the owner of Sheskin Lodge, had donated £5 to the repair of local churches. It is said that when the Jameson family purchased the lodge they made many improvements, which probably included the addition of the distinctive glazed veranda to the front of the lodge with its decorative cast iron supports that have survived to this day. The owner of the lodge was the descendant of John Jameson from Scotland, who founded the famous Whiskey Distillery that still bears the family name. John Jameson was extremely wealthy and when he died in Dublin in December 1881, he left an estate valued at over £300,000. He died at the family home St. Marnock's in Dublin which is now the Portmarnock Hotels and Golf Club. He was succeed by his son, also named John, born in 1835 who inherited his holdings including Sheskin Lodge. King Edward VII, known as the party King, visited the Jameson family home at St Marnock's, where the golf-keen family also developed an early nine-hole course, founding one of the city's oldest golf clubs. The King was friendly with the youngest brother, Willie Jameson, a good sailing friend of his since 1880. It was Willie who personally helped Edward to commission his racing yacht, Britannia. Members of the Jameson family owned impressive homes in Dublin, one of the most grandiose is Sutton Castle commissioned by Andrew Jameson, a grandson of John Jameson who founded the famous distillery near Smithfield. Andrew made the decision to decamp from his townhouse on Fitzwilliam Square for the fresh air of the Howth Peninsula, and commissioned architect Alfred Darbyshire to design Sutton House, a 40-room Tudor-style mansion finally completed in 1895, it eventually became known as Sutton Castle. The last Jameson to own the house was Harriet Kirkwood, Andrew's daughter, a well-known artist. While the Jameson family were wealthy and mixed in the highest echelons of society, they were no strangers to scandal. James S. Jameson, one of the Dublin whiskey heirs and a well known explorer, had died of fever on an expedition in the Congo in 1888. But by 1890 revelations were being published about his lifestyle prior to his death. The most shocking story related to his purchase of a 10-year-old slave girl, whom he handed her over to cannibals so he could observe and make sketches of the child being killed and eaten. That expedition became the inspiration for Joseph Conrad's novel "Heart of Darkness". The revelations brought considerable hostility towards the privileged family and possibly made the lodge at Sheskin a welcome retreat.
John Wills, from Rosserk, Steward of Sheskin Lodge until 1909
Picture Copyright ( above) ICHC

It is recorded in the census of 1901 that John Wills, aged 33 (my own great grand uncle) was the Steward of Sheskin Lodge and lived there with his wife Mary Jane, aged 26, their two year old daughter Gladys. John Wills was from Rosserk outside Ballina, his wife Mary Jane Patterson was from the neighbouring townland of Carrowkelly. They had been married in Ballysakeery in 1899.  Also resident in the lodge at the time of the census, was a servant, Maria Clarke, aged 25. Mary Jane and John had six children, Gladys Victoria born in 1901, Edith in 1903, twins Violet and Janet in 1907. Their sons John, born 1904, and George, born 1909, were born at Sheskin Lodge.  Unfortunately John Wills contracted stomach cancer and was being removed by the Jameson family to Dublin for treatment in 1909. However, he was only well enough to travel as far as the home of relatives in Ballina, where he died in Arran Street, Ballina on the 15th February 1909. He left behind his widow Mary Jane and their six children, his youngest son had only been born one month before. Mary Jane and her family returned to be near the Patterson family and lived at Ballysakeery, followed by Castle Road and Arran St. in Ballina. 
Mary Jane Wills, widow of John Wills, and their six children
Picture Copyright ( above) ICHC
By 1911, Sheskin had another steward, William Wills (John Wills' brother) aged 34 who lived there with his sister Sarah aged 44.  The lodge at this time is described as having five outbuildings, seven windows in its front elevation and consists of ten rooms internally. A later auction advertisement describes the building as having four bedrooms, a drawing room, dining room and kitchen. It appears that the Jameson family’s connection with the lodge ended in May 1922, possibly due to the death of John Jameson at the age of 85 in 1920, the family no longer had a use for the lodge.  An auction was advertised of the household effects of Sheskin Lodge, sold under the instruction of William George Jameson, the brother of John. The furniture was removed from the lodge to Boland’s Salesrooms in King Street, Ballina, Co. Mayo. Afterward it appears Sheskin became the home of a number of individuals during the course of the 1930’s. In 1931, Sheskin Lodge was the residence of Col. J.F. Champion, who complained in the local newspaper about the state of the Crossmolina to Belmullet road. In March 1938, it was advertised in local newspapers that C.G.T. Morrison of Christ Church, Oxford intended to dispose of the contents of Sheskin Lodge.

Sheskin Lodge prior to the removal of its roof
Picture Copyright ( above) NIAH
In June of 1939, Sheskin became home to the British writer, Terence Hanbury White, who travelling to County Mayo to look for a suitable isolated location to rent, in particular a grouse or fishing lodge. He became known for his books which were based on the court of King Arthur and his knights of the round table. One of his best known works is ‘The Sword in the Stone’ which was adapted into an animated film by Walt Disney. He took Sheskin Lodge for the Autumn of 1939 and intended to have a large house party, unfortunately the Second World War was looming and his guest list began to shrink. The lodge at this time was described as a crumbling aristocratic bungalow with a glassed in winter garden set amid feral rhododendron and pine. While White was visiting Belmullet on September 1st  1939, he first heard that Germany was at war with Poland. Just over a week later, while his friends, the Garrett Family were passing through Crossmolina , they had made the journey to Mayo to stay at Sheskin with White, confirmed the news that England and Germany were now at war. White remained at Sheskin until October 1939, all the while living alone in the woods in a lodge lit by candle light. After his departure, the lodge was abandoned for a number of decades, its decline appears to have been accelerated with the recent removal of its roof. The building's location  is its downfall, the isolation that have attracted so many people over the years to escape from the bustlingly world has now resulted in its very existence being forgotten.

The Cast Iron Verandah to the front of the lodge
Picture Copyright ( above) ICHC

The isolation of Sheskin Lodge in Co. Mayo
Picture Copyright ( above) ICHC

Tuesday 16 August 2016

Killala, Co. Mayo

Castlereagh located near Killala, Co. Mayo was the ancestral home of the Knox family. 
Picture Copyright ( above) ICHC 

One of the surviving features of Castlereagh is its gate lodge which was located next to the main gate, the entrance to the demesne. This entrance was found just below Palmerstown Bridge, but today nothing of the main gate remains. It was intended at one stage to align the bridge with this gateway however this pipe dream was never implemented. The main gate was removed during the 1930’s but the associated gate lodge remains and was lived in until the 1950’s. Castlereagh was the first Knox residence established in the area but the original structure was damaged in 1798 and as a result a new house was built. It possibly incorporated sections of the older building as it took the name of ‘castle’ from a tower that formed the left wing of the building. It would appear that a castle did indeed exist on the site as Castlereagh is the anglicised version of the Irish for grey castle, caislean riabhach.  In the eighteenth century when it was the home of John ‘Diamond Knox’, the house was described as a large mansion but it was remarked that it was ‘unbeautiful’.

One of the surviving features of Castlereagh is one of its gate lodges.
Picture Copyright ( above) ICHC 
The Knox family originally hailed from Scotland and came to Ireland when a William Knox settled in Donegal in the seventeenth century. This Donegal settler's son named William Knox came to Killala in the Cromwellian period and had a son Arthur who married Hannah Palmer, a member of the family who gave their name to the nearby Palmerstown. Arthur Knox died in 1744 and is buried in St. Patricks Cathedral in Killala. His son John ‘Diamond’ Knox was born in 1728 and married Anne King in May 1750. John's wife was extremely well connected as her father was Sir Henry King, and her mother was Isabella Wingfield of Rockingham, the sister of Viscount Powerscourt. John 'Diamond' Knox was branded with his unusual middle name due to the large dowry he gave his daughter upon her marriage which included a large suite of diamonds. He was a magistrate for Mayo, Sligo and Roscommon and was elected to Parliament in the 1760's. He died in February in 1774 supposedly as a result of a riding accident and was buried in the family vault in Boyle Abbey.

Portrait of Anne King who married John 'Diamond' Knox. This portrait once hung in Rockingham House in Roscommon.
Picture Copyright ( above) Adams

John 'Diamond' Knox's son and heir was named Arthur, who was born in September 1759 , settled at Woodstock in Wicklow an estate that he purchased from Lord St. George and served as High Sheriff of that country in 1791. He married in 1781 Lady Mary Brabazon eldest daughter of Anthony 8th Earl of Meath.  He died in Bristol in October 1798 and is buried in New Castle in Wicklow in a vault which he had constructed for the use of family.

The Knox Sporting Screen painted by Roper for John 'Diamond' Knox
Picture Copyright ( above) ICHC 

One of John 'Diamond' Knox's possessions still survives today, a painted screen known as The Knox Sporting Screen and was sold in 1985 for £247,500 in Sotheby’s.  The work of art ,which is signed R.Roper and dates from 1759, comprises of twelve paintings of hunting subjects on the front of the screen while the reverse has eighteen portraits of celebrated race horses of the time with their grooms. This screen which is considered a masterpiece appeared at auction again in 2011 in Christie's and sold for £241,250.

A map showing the layout of the mansion at Castlereagh and its associated out buildings.
Picture Copyright ( above) OSI

In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the vast wealth and land holding of the Knox family can not be underestimated. The family had estates all over Mayo and as different branches of the family grew so did the families collection of houses. Names of family homes in Mayo, some of which still exist, include Rappa CastleMount FalconBelleek Castle, Castle Lacken, Netley Park, Greenpark, Errew Grange and Cillaithe House. The towns of Ballina and Ballyhaunis with which the Knox family were most associated with had their main streets named after the family. In 1798, Castlereagh was the seat of Arthur Knox when it was pillaged by an organised band of marauders during the rebellion which is said to have led to the rebuilding of the house. This was possible as by 1800 as the rent roll of Castlereagh brought in the substantial sum of £18,000 a year which would be an annual income of over €2 million in today's terms. By this stage the estate had passed to John Knox who was born 13th May 1783 who eventually married Maria Anne Knox on the 12th March 1808. They led an extravagant lifestyle and maintained houses in Dublin and the UK together with Woodstock in Co. Wicklow. The debts associated with their spending is something that neither the family nor the estate at Castlereagh could ever shake off in future generations. By the time of the death of John in 1861, the family were nearly bankrupt. Maria and John had four sons Arthur Edward, Ernest, Robert Augustus and Edward William John. The eldest son, Arthur Edward married Lady Jane Parsons in Petersham, Surrey in December 1835. She was the elder daughter of Lawrence, 2nd Earl of Ross and sister of William Parsons, the 3rd Earl of Rosse of Birr Castle.  Arthur was the eldest son of  John Knox and after his  death, his estates in Mayo were sold in the Encumbered Estates Court in 1853. It appears that the estate was possibly entailed to the eldest son as Arthur's son, Lawrence (who was a minor at the time) was also mentioned as being an owner in press advertisements when the estate was sold. The first sale of land owned by Arthur Knox extended to over 16,000 acres with the second sale amounting to over 25,000 acres. Arthur Knox appears to be living in Sussex at this time and his younger brother Ernest purchased the Castlereagh Demesne together with lands at Cortoon, Killybroone and Leadymore, Mullinacrush, Killeencreevagh which extended to 1,600 acres. Ernest married Charlotte Catherine Knox Gore in 1861, the daughter of James Knox Gore of Broadlands Park in Mayo.

The staircase in Cillaithe House, Killala which was said to be modelled on one of the many staircases that existed at Castlereagh.
Picture Copyright ( above) ICHC

Ernest made a number of changes to the house, none of which improved its appearance internally or externally. He divided up the entrance hall to create unneeded additional rooms and as per the attitude of the previous generations never completed the endeavor. He decided to close up the original main entrance to Castlereagh and re-orientate the house. The new entrance that was created was through a small glass door which seemed very odd in a building of such a vast size. Lots of projects were begun in the house but were never completed which were often lamented by later generations.  Pictures were removed from the walls to be re-hung but were still on the floor over fifty years later. Apparently in later years as areas of the house deteriorated the inhabitants moved to other parts of the house that were unaffected. This resulted in there being four incarnations of the kitchen as it followed the family around their decaying home. The house was adapted over the generations in an ad hoc manner, there were five staircases one of which was said to be the inspiration for the staircase that exists today in Cillaithe House in nearby Killala also owned by a Knox relative. In 1812, the north west side of the house was rebuilt, to form a new wing. This new section of the house was two high stories instead of the three stories of which the older part of the house was comprised of.  As a result of the differing floor levels, parts of this new addition were left uncompleted and interconnecting passages between the old and new wing were never resolved. The house was surrounded by a complex of outbuilding which included the stable block that incorporated a clock tower and was possibly architecturally superior to the house. To the rear of the house were vast walled garden enclosing acres of land. Also situated within the demesne and closer to the river was the Knox family's private burial ground.

This is Castlereagh after the improvements of Ernest Knox, he moved the original entrance door that was situated in the tower on the left and created a new entrance which consisted of two glass doors which can be seen in this image.
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With a large rambling country house of its size, there was tales of ghosts especially a deceased butler who would make his way through the passages of the house at night dropping crockery. Naturally enough there was also a haunted room that no one was meant to disturb. The room contained an apparition that would rearrange the belongings of any guest foolish enough to stay there. It wasn’t unusual for rooms to be locked and forgotten about in Castlereagh, one such room was locked after one of the estate's agents drowned who occupied it. The room remained locked for over sixty years and was only opened to retrieve the contents after the floor began to collapse in that section of the house. In fact it appeared to be a tradition, that as the family members died and the size of the family began to decrease, the bedroom of the deceased was locked and remained as it was at the time of the person’s death. It was said that whenever a member of the Knox family who lived in the house was about to die, a ghostly horse and carriage would descend from the heavens and arrive at the door of Castlereagh to carry the recently deceased to heaven...... or hell, it was never determined where its destination was.

Lawrence Knox , the founder of The Irish Times, whose father and wife desended from the house at Castlereagh near Killala in Co. Mayo and not Roscommon as a number of publications ascribe his origins to.

It was Ernest's nephew Lawrence Knox who established the Irish Times in 1859 although it is said that he made no money from it.  He was the son of Arthur Edward Knox who sold Castlereagh. Lawrence was born in 1836 in Ballina, Co. Mayo according to The Freeman's Journal of 1873. Also when Lawrence Knox was baptised in Sussex in January 1837, his birthplace is not recorded. In time he joined the army where  he served in the Crimea during the Russian War. He was eventually elected to Parliament as a representative for SligoLawrence married Clara Charlotte Knox, who was his first cousin, the daughter of Ernest Knox of Castlereagh. Lawrence and Clara Charlotte Knox are recorded as being married in St. Patrick's Cathedral in Killala in 1858. It is very odd to read that when Laurence Knox died in 1873, Ernest Knox of Castlereagh was described not only as his uncle but also as his father-in-law. After Lawrence’s death, The Irish Times was sold for £35,000, his desk which had ‘The Irish Times’ inscribed on it passed to another member of the family. Ernest Knox of Castlereagh Mayo died 8th September 1883, leaving his widow Charlotte Katherine Knox in control of Castlereagh. By the time of the census in 1901, Ernest's eldest son, John Valentine Knox aged 62 is living in the house with his widowed mother Charlotte Katherine aged 91 together with his two spinster sisters Maria Louisa aged 64 and Helen aged 57.  They have two live in servants, Mary Tighe aged 23, a house maid and Agnes Mc Gurrin aged 17 who is said to be the cook. Castlereagh is described in the census documents as having 19 out buildings with the house itself having 36 windows in its entrance front and extending to 15 rooms. Charlotte Katherine Knox, Ernest senior's widow is recorded as dying in 1901 followed by her daughter Maria Louisa who died in 1905 and Lawrence's widow, Clara Charlotte Knox, who died in 1908.

A newspaper advertisement indicating that contents of Castlereagh are to be sold
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By 1911, John Valentine Knox is resident in the house with his sister Helen but they are now joined by their brother Ernest and another sister Gertrude. Ernest Knox who was born in 1846, retired from his position in the banking profession in 1910 and returned to his Mayo home. They have four live in servants in the house.  It is said that John and Ernest’s sister Gertrude always wore a hat all the time and was never seen without it for the sole reason that she had no hair. John Valentine died in 1919 followed by Gertrude in 1923. The last residents of the house was Ernest Knox and his sister Helen. The attitude of the previous generations to lock up rooms and forget about parts of the house was still prevalent in Ernest. Once when showing a guest around the house they enquired what a large heavy timber cupboard situated on the landing contained. Now one must remember that Ernest had lived in the house since childhood for over eighty years so his response might surprise some. He replied that he had never had the sufficient curiosity to open it. One relative whose boxes of possessions returned to the castle after their death in 1876 remained unopened by the time it came to clear the castle in 1933. Another box which was transferred from Woodstock in Wicklow was found to have remained unopened in Castlereagh for over one hundred and twenty years. Obviously curiosity was not a vice that the Knox family suffered from.

The stables at Castlereagh Killala where the clock, that once over looked the stables at Castlereagh,  ended up after the auction of Castlereaghs contents and its subsequent demolition in 1937.
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In April 1930, Ernest Knox aged 84 was laid to rest in the private cemetery within the demesne, today this area is marked by a group of trees, and though it exists on private lands it is said that the grave markers remain. Only Ernest's elderly sister Helen aged 90 and a few relatives attended his funeral.  Ernest spent his time at Castlereagh in his notable library or trout fishing on the nearby river. His herd of deer, which galloped around the demesne, was said to be second only to the one that the Guinness family kept at Ashford Castle. At the time of Ernest’s death it was said that Castlereagh was one of the oldest mansions in the county and was still in a reasonable state of repair despite large sections being neglected. Prior to the first Land Acts, the estate rental was £20,000 a year but it was one of the first estates to be sold under the Encumbered Estates Court.    In June 1936,  a notice appeared in The Irish Independent inviting tenders for the demolition of Castlereagh and its associated out buildings. Previously, in February 1936 the contents of Castlereagh, Killala were advertised for auction by the order of Cyril St. George Knox. The auction of the contents would take place over three days and would extend to rare antique furnishings, oil paintings, china, glass, a valuable library of books and even a herd of deer. The auction was attended by a large number of antique dealers who came from many parts of Ireland and the UK. Two antique dealers in particular from Birmingham attended and bought heavily. The auction was also attended by a representative from the National Museum of Ireland, as the Knox family were known to collect ancient Irish antiquities, however it is not recorded if they purchased anything. A Chippendale table was purchased for £21 by a man from Manchester and the 2,000 volume library held no first editions but twenty-eight late seventeenth century books which were sold for £9. An exciting incident occurred during the disposal of the contents of the library, one of the workmen pulled out one of the wall panels by accident which uncovered a hidden room. This room had been used as an armoury which contained a number of guns and musketry. Everything had to go, including twenty of the deer roaming the grounds which were sold for £24 to the Ward Union Hunt. Nearly every item in the catalogue was cleared. The clock over the stable yard was purchased and made its way to the stable yard in nearby Cillaithe House in Killala and still exists today. The clock when purchased was in pieces in a box, like a lot of the Knox’s projects at Castlereagh, it had been taken down years before to be repaired but never reinstated.

In December of the same year, tenders were invited for the purchase of the timber on the lands of the estate which comprised of 2,500 trees made up of Ash, Oak, Elm, Beech, Sycamore and Larch. The house was bought by Arthur West of Ballina who intended to demolish it for materials. In 1937 the demolition of Castlereagh began but resulted in a tragedy. Michael Burke, aged 18, was killed during the demolition of the house when a wall collapsed on him. Even during the demolition of the house Castlereagh had one more secret to reveal, as another staircase was uncovered having being built up decades before. The destruction of the great house was now complete, it was wiped from the landscape as if it never existed and today the field where it once stood gives no hint to what was once there.
The remains of a decorative arch of the walled gardens at Castlereagh which survives today.
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