Friday 1 February 2019

Cill-Alaithe House
( Killala House) 
Killala, Co. Mayo

The Entrance Front of Cill-Alaithe House, once home to Augusta Gertrude Knox Gore
Photo dates from August 2020
     Copyright ICHC

Cill-Alaithe House is situated near the town of Killala, in Co. Mayo, designed and built for Miss Augusta Gertrude Knox Gore in the 1890's, a remarkable expression of independence considering the few rights that women had at this time. The house was constructed on the land of the nearby former Bishop's Palace which had been purchased by her brother Sir Charles James Knox Gore, 2nd Baronet of Belleek Castle in 1874. Sir Charles died on the 22nd December 1890, unmarried with a personal estate valued at £70,339 2s 2d. As Sir Charles had died with no male heirs, the title of Baronet died with him, having only been awarded to his father twenty two years earlier. The estate at Belleek Manor and its land near Ballina, was entailed under the terms of Charles's fathers will, and was thus divided between his older sisters. In the 1870's the Knox Gore estate extended to over 22,000 acres of land in Mayo with a further 8,500 in Sligo.  However it was Sir Charles's sizable personal fortune, which was not entailed, that provided Augusta with the independent means with which to build her own home. 

The grave of Charles James Knox Gore and his dog Phizzie buried nearby
in the demense of Belleek Manor overlooking the River Moy. It was the death
of Charles and the money that Augusta inherited from him that allowed her to
construct her home in Killala
     Copyright ICHC

Under the terms of this will Charles appointed a number of executors which included his sister Augusta Gertrude Knox. She was well provided for under the terms of the will, she received all her brother's silver plate, linen, china, books, wines, liquors, furniture, household effects, guns together with all his carriages and horses in Belleek Manor. However he also left her a large sum of money, in the amount of £20,000, which would allow Augusta to construct the house in Killala. Charles also recorded in his will that he desired to be buried in the demesne around Belleek Manor, in an area that he had pointed out previously to Augusta. It is obvious that Charles held his sister in high regard, as once the finances of his estate were settled after his death, any residue was to be placed in a trust and the income paid to Augusta. She was the only trustee of her brother's estate who had the power to appoint new trustees and it was she who had the final say over her deceased brothers investments, Charles also stated that Augusta had the right to reside at Belleek Manor for a period of six months after his death to allow her to make arrangements for a new residence for herself. Charles had left to his sister, Mrs Saunders ( who inherited Belleek Manor under the terms of her father will), the Warwick vase, two candelabra and the oak furniture in the castle. However if Augusta was refused by her sister the period of six months residence in the manor, Mrs. Saunders forsook these items, which causes one to think that relations were not good between the sisters.

The Entrance Front of Belleek Castle, Ballina, Co. Mayo
The home of Augusta Knox Gore before she built her home in Killala
     Copyright ICHC

Augusta Gertrude Knox was born circa 1846 and was the daughter of Sir Arthur and Lady Sarah Knox Gore of Belleek Manor outside Ballina, Co. Mayo. Augusta's mother, Lady Sarah, whom Arthur Knox Gore married in 1829, was the daughter of Colonel Charles Nesbitt Knox of Castle Lacken near Killala. Arthur and Sarah's marriage produced a family of two sons and six daughters. Sir Arthur, who became a baronet in 1868, brought the railway to Ballina and vowed that he would travel on the first train to arrive in the station in the town. He was true to his word, but he arrived contained within a coffin as he died in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin in 1873. Augusta was said to have be treated badly by her mother who preferred her other daughters and often let it known to the staff of Belleek Manor that the needs of her other daughters came before the needs of Augusta’s. As a result of this treatment in her childhood she grew up to be a very disagreeable woman in later life. It appears that Augsuta's mother, Lady Sarah thought herself better than others in the extended family and landed classes in the locality at the time.  Augusta's sister and Lady Sarah's daughter, Agnes Frances Nina Knox Gore of Belleek Manor married Utred Knox of nearby Mount Falcon in 1875. However her mother Lady Sarah, in her estimation considered Utred's family home, Hollywood House (also known as Mount Falcon as it was its predecessor), not suitable as a residence for her daughter having grown up in Belleek Manor. Utred had inherited £7,000 from his father but had to borrow a further £14,000 in order to complete a new house for his new bride. The new home was designed by the architect James Franklin Fuller, however the debt that Utred incurred worried himself and Nina for the rest of their married life. When Lady Sarah died aged 77 at Mount Falcon in 1888, she made no provision or bequest in her will to her daughter Augusta despite leaving an estate valued at £6,822 which passed in most part to her daughter Agnes Frances Nina Knox. Lady Sarah's funeral was strictly private, was held at 4 am in the morning when she was buried with her husband in Belleek Wood under the monument designed by Fuller. Therefore Augusta, possibly in awe of her sister's home at Mount Falcon and having grown up in Belleek Manor, would have had plenty of inspiration when it came to designing her own home in Killala. It is quite possible that Augusta had inherited her mother's conceit and pretentious nature which now could be expressed with the inheritance received the from her brother. Augusta probably felt that the new house in Killala was necessary for someone of her social class considering the other homes of family members such as Belleek Manor and Mount Falcon.

Mount Falcon, Ballina, Co. Mayo, the home of Augusta's sister Nina who married Utred Knox. 
Nina's mother declared that a new house of stature had to be built as Utred's previous home 
was not suitable for her daughter. Mount Falcon was therefore built by Utred in the 1870's
 to keep his mother-in-law happy. Copyright ICHC

On the 16th May 1891, it was reported,in The Western People, that the contract had been awarded for the construction of a house for Miss Knox Gore in Killala at a cost of £8,000. What is interesting about the date is that is within the six month period mentioned in Charles’s will. In the same paper in the same month, a John Goode, a contractor based in Killala, placed an advertisement looking for a number of masons and stone cutters to help with the construction of an 'extensive villa at Killala'. At this time Miss Knox Gore was lobbying the Board of Guardians of the nearby workhouse. Her solicitor, Mr. Garvey, told the board that Miss Knox Gore was ' anxious to attach portion of the workhouse grounds for the villa residence she intends to build on her property near the town'. While the board seen no issue with the request, they were concerned that it might have some effect on a proposal to turn the workhouse into an industrial training school in the near future. 
Cill-Alaithe House outside Kilala was built in the 1890's to Augusta's specification
Photo dates from August 2020
     Copyright ICHC

One year later in June 1892, The Western People, reported that ' the handsome mansion which Miss Knox is building for herself near Killala is drawing rapidly to a finish. It is a very imposing structure, and commands unrivaled marine and land views. We wish Miss Knox Gore many years to enjoy her new home'. The architectural firm who are are said to have designed the house were Millar and Symes, who were an architectural partnership based in Dublin, formed in 1874. It was recorded by the architect, R.C. Millar, in his diary that he made visits to other Knox homes, Mount Falcon and Castle Gore between 1892 and 1894. The house in Killala is said to have been built between 1893 and 1894, however as we can see from reports in the local press that the house was built between 1891 and 1892 however it could have been 1894 by the time the gardens and courtyard were completed. It is recorded that the architect was staying with the Knox family while he oversaw his West of Ireland commission. It is said that the Knox Gore’s instructed the architect to visit and incorporate ideas from ten of the stateliest houses in England. However the architect may have been inspired by the Knox’s own homes in Mayo, as the interior of the completed Cill Alaithe contains a chimney piece from Rappa Castle together with items from other Knox homes in Ballina. One of the fireplaces came from the residence of the Colonel King in Ballina, which is now the offices of Mac Hales Solicitors in the town. However over the years, I have heard other architectural historians imply that the house may have been the work of James Franklin Fuller, who had completed a number of projects for the Knox family in the previous years. Also the entrance gates to Belleek Castle were commissioned by Augusta’s brother, Charles, from Fuller the architect in the 1870’s together with a monument over the grave of their father. It should be noted that Charles purchased the land in Killala on which Augusta’s new house would be built in 1874. Would it be possible that Fuller had provided an outline design at that time in the 1870's for the house in Killala which was later developed by Millar and Symes when it came to building the house in the 1890's . However this is just conjecture as Fuller was notorious for destroying his own records.

The top lit walnut staircase of the house in Killala was said to have been modeled on another Knox Family home at Castlereagh which was demolished in the 1930’s. The completed house in Killala is in the Italianate architectural style which would have been the height of fashion at the time. The house was named Cill-Alaithe, which is the Irish for the name of the town of
Killala. At the time of the 1901 census, Augusta Gertrude Knox Gore is aged 54 and living in the house with a large number of servants, her income is derived from dividends and land, with her religion being described as Plymouth Brethren. Present in the house on the night of the census is Joseph Valentine Russell, a land steward, aged 31 and member of the Church of Ireland from Sligo. There is a headstone along the side avenue to the house in memory of Joseph who died in 1912 and is said to have been more than just a close friend of Miss Knox Gore, however one thinks this is unlikely considering the age difference. Joseph died on the 27th March 1912 , his death certificate records that he died of heart failure and that a Martin Divine was present at his death which occurred in Killala, he was aged 42 and his profession is listed as being a carpenter, Also present in the house at the time of the 1901 census were James Devine from Mayo aged 40, a butler, Mary Devine aged 47, the cook, Jane March aged 18, the house maid, Kate Reape aged 17, a laundress and Anne Canning aged 17, a dairy maid. All the servants were from Mayo and Catholic. The house is recorded at this time extending to 18 rooms with 41 outbuildings. By 1911, Cill Alaithe was inhabited by the Scott family, the head of the family John Scott is described as a labourer. Augusta at this time was residing with her sister in Coolcronaun near Foxford.

The Entrance Hall of Kilala House
Photo dates from August 2020
Copyright ICHC

From reading newspaper reports from the time, it appears that Miss Knox Gore established a stud farm at Cill Alaithe which expanded rapidly from 1898 after the construction of the house. In 1901, it was reported that a horse by the name of Vertigo, bred by Miss Knox Gore, won the Aintree Feather Plate at the Liverpool meeting making this its third win in succession. In August of the same year, Miss Knox Gore's horses, St. Moritz and Vertigo also won at the Windsor races. In 1906, a horse named Royal Arch ran at Kempton Park was bred by Miss Knox Gore. It was noted at the time that she was a famous horse breeder and had bred successful horses named Glenamoy and Nausicaa, who won at Lingfield in 1905. It was said that the sea air near Cill Alaithe was the reason behind the successful horses she bred.

This image of the gardens surround Cill-Alaithe were featured in Country Life magazine in 1902,
what is interesting above this image is that it would show the gardens soon after they were completed
     Copyright ICHC

The grounds surrounding the house are now in the process of being re-established after being over grown for decades but were once envied throughout Ireland and England. Miss Knox Gore had one of the finest collections of rare and exotic trees and at one stage employed four gardeners to keep it in check. Her collection of plants were in the landscaped grounds which she named her Italian garden was featured in Country Life Magazine in 1902. In the magazine, the garden was referred to being eight years old, which would indicate that it was complete by 1894. It was necessary when the garden was being constructed, that the perimeter was surrounded with a double beech hedge to provide protection to the plants from harsh weather. In the garden was planted magnolias, aralias, cordylines, hydrangeas, fuchsias and myrtles. When the French sailed into Killala in 1798, they brought three canons with them. One was left in Killala while the other two travelled with the French to Castlebar, and ended in the grounds of Raheen's House in Castlebar, subject of an earlier post. It was said that up until the Civil War in Ireland this cannon sat on the lawn of Miss Knox's house. However it was confiscated during the troubled times of the 1920's in the mistaken belief that it could still be of some use. The man said to be responsible for the design of the gardens around Augusta’s house in Killala was Mr. John Leybourne, who was once the head garden in Belleek Manor prior to the death of Augusta’s brother Charles. After the departure of Augusta in the 1920's from Cill-Alaithe, John continued to live in Killala until his death in 1930 and is buried in Ballysokeery graveyard.

This is possibly an image of Augusta Knox dating from 1902 in the garden of Cill-Alaithe House
     Copyright ICHC

By early 1919, Miss Knox Gore was beginning to divest herself of her holdings of land around Killala and in February of that year, the sale of eight farms owned by Miss Knox was advertised. W.M. Boland was instructed to sell lands at Public Auction at the Courthouse in the town on the 8th of February. It is also mentioned that farm implements and machinery in the yard of Cill Alaithe would also be sold. It says that the implements are by the best manufacturers and are only one year in use. James Gilvarry, a wealthy local man returning from the U.S. bought the house from  Augusta in 1923. She moved to Hadfod, Lon Llandegfan , Menai Bridge Anglesey in Wales and died there in October of 1924 and she is buried in Llandeyfan, Anglesey in Wales. Her will was probated in London in January 1925 by Frederick Hellewell Mills, a barrister and Ethel Theodora Pery. Miss Knox Gore's estate was valued at £13,492 1s. When Augusta left Killala in 1923 she transported all her belonging from Killala in an old boat, and it is said that when it reached its destination, on the other side of the Irish Sea, that it had barely been unloaded when it heeled over and sank.

The Italian garden beside Cill-Alaithe, the bottom photo dates from after the 1950's
as the palm trees ,present in the above photograph, are missing as they collapsed in a storm
     Copyright Richard Longfield

James Gilvarry did not live in the house on a full time basis but a man by the name of Michael Gilvarry, James's brother, was in residence on occasion. James and his family did return from America to the house on numerous occasions during the summer months and their visits were often recorded in the press. In 1935, James's daughter Mary Elizabeth was married in the chapel in Killala with the reception taking place afterwards in Cill Alaithe. During one summer in the house, the family entertained the Taoiseach W.T. Cosgrave, whom they also previously entertained in New York. On one occasion, Cosgrave on his return to Ireland from the United States had shamrocks picked from the grounds of Cill Alaithe and sent to James in Amercia as a thank you for his hospitality. In the newspaper The Brooklyn Daily Eagle in June 1936, it was reported that Mrs. James H. Gilvarry and her daughter, Miss Peggy Gilvarry of 66 Maple St., Brooklyn had sailed for Ireland on the Cunard Liner Britannic ( sister ship to the Titanic), to visit their summer home Cill Alaithe in Killala, Co. Mayo. They were to be joined by James H. Gilvarry Jr. who was a student of medicine at Trinity.  Mrs Gilvarry's husband James would sail later in the month and would spend most of August in Ireland and on the continent. In 1938, James made front page news in New York when he was abducted by two armed men and his car stolen. The property in Killala then passed to James' daughter Mary Flynn, who often listed the house as her address when advertising pedigree livestock for sale. She had married a man from Leitrim and was based in Ireland on a full time bases. Her father, James, possibly had to curtail his visits to Killala from America as a result of the outbreak of the Second World War. James H. Gilvarry died in 1947  at the age of 71, it was noted in his obituary that he was a lawyer and real estate broker, he died of a heart attack in the Court House in Manhattan.  

This OS Map shows the location of August's Italian garden which occupied
an area to the side of the house.
     Copyright OSI

In early 1941, the Sisters of the Marist Order arrived from France, Belguim and England  at the house in Killala to take refuge as their own convents had been damaged in the bombings during the Second World War. The house was occupied until 1942 by the group of nuns,when it was purchased by Alexander Knox Miller. He maintained the house in a good condition and was always happy to let anybody visit the house and grounds, provided they had asked permission. For a number of years, a local priest Father Guckian lived in the house in Killala, in a small flat. He looked after the house as Mr. Miller lived mostly in Millbrook, Co. Derry, where he still practiced the family profession that gave rise to his surname. In June 1954, there was a dispersal sale of livestock, which was advertised as taking place at Cill-Alaithe under Mr. Miller's instruction. At the sale, one of the yearling heifers swapped one salubrious residence for another when it was purchased by Mr. P. F. Cooper of Markree Castle in Sligo. The last wedding to take place in this lovely house took place on 7th September, 1963, between Mr. Miller’s daughter, Felicity, and Richard Longfield, whose forebears came from Mallow, Co. Cork. Both groom and bride were graduates of Trinity College, Dublin. 

The green house that once existed to the rear of Cill Alaithe
     Copyright Richard Longfield

Side Elevation
Copyright ICHC

In 1970, Asahi, a local factory, purchased Cill Alaithe House, who intended to maintain the property for use by its employees. In 1988 Asahi granted Killala Community Council permission to lease the house to An Oige for use as a youth hostel. Over the following years the house changed owners a number of times. In 1997 the house appeared on the market for around €320,000 but after a number of bids it was sold to Johnny Mc Carthy for €400,000. During the time that the house was owned by Asahi, its condition deteriorated and original features were lost including the substantial glass house to the rear of the property. Mr. Mc Carthy restored the house, spending over €1 million euros, and placed it back on the market in 2003 for €1.5 million. In 2004, a planning application was lodged by the new owners to Mayo County Council to link the house with the stable block and also construct 72 bedrooms in an effort to turn the house in to a hotel. This plan never materialized and the house appeared again on the market in 2010. New owners were not forth coming as Ireland was in the midst of a financial crisis. In October 2014, the house was sold for €765,000 and the new owners have embraced the prospect of owning a property of this nature and have reinvigorated the house, stables and the gardens in a lavish fashion.  Daniel Mc Auliffe and Anoj Don have renovated the house, restored the many derelict outbuildings and created a haven for a menagerie of animals since bringing the extensive grounds under control after years of neglect. Today the interior of the house is decorated with heritage colors, antiques and a number of items that display the humor of its new owners. This country house could not have hoped for better owners, for they do not want to turn this house into a hotel but simply want to make it a home. If the ghost of Augusta Knox Gore takes a walk through the grounds today, I'm sure she would approve of the work done and be happy that her legacy is in safe hands.

NOTE :Please note that the text of this article or any of the photograph's contained within may not be reproduced without the permission of David Hicks


  1. Wonderfully informative article! Thank you for sharing the history of these estates.

  2. Very interesting reading. I know a guy that works and lives there. He works with the horses.

  3. Interesting article. I own the mentioned head gardener's house, John Leyburn. Now oldest inhabited house in Killala.