Tuesday 16 August 2016

Killala, Co. Mayo

Castlereagh located near Killala, Co. Mayo was the ancestral home of the Knox family. 
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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.
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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.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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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