Thursday 9 March 2023

   Belgarriff House

Belgarrow, Foxford,

Co. Mayo

The saying is often bandied about ‘’ hiding in plain sight’’, but Belgarriff House near Foxford in Co. Mayo is a fine example of this adage. A house whose inhabitants once dominated Foxford town now lies forgotten and shrouded by trees and ivy.  Now a ruin, this once fine house was obliterated by the bureaucracy of the Land Commission over seventy years ago. Still referred to in the locality as Knox’s, it is another empty shell to add to the long list of properties occupied by this once dominant family. The man most associated with this house, John A. Knox, was driven by his social ambitions and lived in several fine houses during his lifetime. Some survive today but unfortunately his last home, Belgarriff in Foxford, is an ivy clad ruin with few distinguishable features. The social ambitions of John A. Knox meant that he and his young family moved numerous times between the 1870’s and 1890’s before settling in Foxford. The question must be asked, was it his choice of wife and her exclusion by the Killala branch of the Knox family that led to their choice of Belgarriff in Foxford as their eventual home? It is also possible that this exclusion led to an estrangement between John and his wife in later years. Furthermore, in the 1930’s Belgarriff was rocked by scandal, as the once lofty position of the Knox Family did little to shield them from the letter of the law when a family member, who was a clergyman, was jailed.

An earlier house on the site, Dove Hall shown on the 1829 to 1841 Map
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The story of Belgarriff House, situated in the townland of Belgarrow, begins in the early 18th century when the Evans family settled in Ballinrobe, in Co. Mayo. In the 1830’s, the Evans' estate in Mayo was centred on the parish of Killasser, in the barony of Gallen. These lands may have come into the possession of the family following the marriage of Francis Evans to a daughter of John Gardiner of Farmhill.  They owned lands in the townland of Belgarrow where a predecessor of Belgarriff House stood, a house known as Dove Hall. This house situated here was leased to a Mr Strogen in the early 19th century, Dove Hall was known to be the home of Captain Strogen who was a member of the North Mayo Militia. After 1867, Dove Hall became known as Belgarriff, the then home of John Locke Evans. He was in residence in Belgarriff from July 1865 and a member of the Grand Panel of the Mayo Assizes, by July 1868 Belgarriff is the home of John Ogle Evans. It is said that a new house was built on the site in 1870, but I wonder if it is around 1867 that the new house was developed and the name of the property changed with the ownership of John Ogle Evans. This house is labelled Dove Hall on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map, however, a larger house named Belgarrow or Belgarriff House, is shown on the 25-inch edition of the 1890’s map. The house was found at the end of a long avenue that is quarter of a mile long. However, this was never meant to be a private avenue and once continued past, Belgarriff and linked in with another road. 

Belgarrow or Belgarriff House shown on the 1897 to 1913 Map
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In February 1870, it is noted that Mr. John Durkan is retiring as the bailiff of the estate for Mr. Evans, the agent at this time was Mr. Mc Dermott. He had recently been appointed as the agent for the estate, he originated from Cloongee House, and his new employer was his father-in-law. By November 1871, the estate of John Ogle Evans appeared in the Landed Estates Court for sale, heavily indebted. It is possible that the construction of the new house of Belgarriff indebted John Ogle Evans to such a degree that it brought about the sale of the estate lands. Several lots were sold but the sale of the lands at Belgarrow was adjourned. In July 1873, it was advertised in the press that several lots of land belonging to John Ogle Evans would be offered for sale again, Lot 7 comprised of 475 acres in Belgarrow. In June 1874, an attempt was again made to sell lands of the Evans estate, including the lands of Belgarrow, again the sale was adjourned with the highest bid received being in the amount of £3,000. By the late 1890’s, the Evan’s family were still in residence in Belgarriff, by May 1896, an auction was held at Belgarriff House to auction furniture and the outdoor effects of Mrs. Evans. One year later, in February 1897, Eliza Evans of Belgarriff was charged with being drunk and disorderly. She was returning home from Miss Sheil’s public house in the town of Foxford when she stopped at a neighbour’s house to verbally abuse her. This drew the attention of a local member of the constabulary and led to a court appearance. Owen Devany, a servant in the employment of Mr. Evans, recalled that he had locked up the doors of the ‘’ big house at Belgarriff’’ on the evening in question. He came into town to show his employers the way home with a lantern. It is noted in this report that Eliza’s husband was John O’ Evans, who at the time was a feeble old gentleman. In another court appearance by Eliza in 1897, she stated that she had married her husband in 1891. This court case related to the seizure of a cow due to the non-payment of income tax. At this time Eliza confirmed that there was a mortgage on the estate and that there was a receiver ‘’over the property for the last four years’’. The cow was worth £18 but was seized over a debt of £3, the bailiff confirmed that it was the only thing of value on the estate. When Mr. Evans was served with the first notice for payment of the income tax, he said he could not afford to pay it. By the time of the receipt of the last notice, it was implied that the receiver would pay it. It was also noted during this court appearance that the house and the lawn were still in the possession of Evans himself, and not the Court of Chancery, however this was later disproven.  In May 1897, the demesne of John Ogle Evans known as Belgarriff was advertised for lease by J.M. Mills, The Receiver, Killala.

The possible entrance front of Belgarriff House, dating from 1867 to 1870
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Between 1897 and 1901, Belgarriff House came into the possession of John Anthony Knox. He was the son of John Knox, who died in Killala, Co. Mayo in 1874 aged 72. He is listed as being late of The Lodge in Killala, and his will was proved by his son John Anthony Knox, also of The Lodge, Killala.  John Knox was a brother of Henry A. Knox of Palmerstown and James A. Knox of Crosspatrick. He had resided for a time in a house known as Broadlands on the Killala Road, however he did not own it, it was rented from the Knox Gores. John’s son and future owner of Belgarriff, John Anthony Knox married Margaret Carroll from Ballysakeery, in Dublin in November 1875. She was the daughter of Francis Carroll who was a farmer. She was described as an ‘’excellent’ wife but due to the strict class distinction at the time, it was felt that John had married beneath him, therefore his wife was not received by local society. After initially living at The Lodge in Killala where their children were born, they moved to a nearby house, known as Ballybrooney. On the 20th of March 1876, James Annesley Knox was born, the son of John Anthony Knox and Margaret, the birth was registered in Killala. This was followed by another son on the 22nd of September 1877, when Godfrey Fitzroy Knox was born.  In October 1878, a daughter Harriett Adelaide Knox was born but unfortunately, she died in February 1884, at Ballybrooney. 

The Lodge, Killala,  where John A. Knox lived at the time of the death of his father
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She was aged only five and is recorded as being the daughter of a gentleman, she died due to diphtheria.  In February 1893, John A. Knox instructed Isaac Lenehan, Auctioneer, Ballina to dispose of his effects at his residence Ballybrooney House, Killala. It mentions in the advertisement that he is leaving ‘’this part of the country’’. John had decided that if local society would not accept his wife, he would move to Dublin and see if his social ambitions would have more success.  Unfortunately, his wife failed at charming the polite society of Dublin and became a pariah on the social circuit. Her husband’s temper ensured that he locked her out of their house on more than one occasion in disgust.  It is said that John Anthony or Johnny Knox, as he was known, was described in the Knox family as ‘not being right in the head’, which may account for his behaviour. When John A. Knox and his wife Margaret did not find Dublin society very amenable to them, they returned to Mayo and purchased Belgarriff House and estate near Foxford in Co. Mayo. As the Killala area in the 1870’s was dominated by the Knox Family, one wonders if it was John’s own family who would not accept Miss Carroll rather than those whom he described as ‘’society’’. This may have influenced his decision to move to Dublin and their eventual choice of Belgarriff in Foxford. While it was close enough to his family based near Killala, it was also far enough away.

Ballybrooney House, Killala where John A. Knox lived until 1892
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By the time of the 1901 census, John A. Knox is living in Belgarriff, aged 50, with his wife Margaret, aged 45, and their sons, James A., aged 24, and Godfrey F. aged 22. There are two female servants resident in the house, the head of the household is John A. who lists his profession as a Private Gentleman. The house is listed as having eight rooms, five windows on its entrance front and is owned by John Knox rather than being leased from the Evan’s estate. By 1903, the Knox Family were establishing themselves at Belgarriff as Mrs. Knox had placed an advertisement in the local press looking for a maid. In 1904, a herd of Hereford Cattle was commenced on the estate by John A. Knox.  The Hereford’s of Belgarriff House were known throughout the country and won numerous prizes at county shows. In 1916, it was reported in the ‘’Skibbereen Eagle’’ that John A. Knox was in possession of a very fertile cow. She produced her first calf in 1905, for the following six years she produced a calf each year, followed by four years producing twin calves, after which she produced one calf for the next three years. This amounted to 17 calves in 11 years, which John A. was proud to boast. By 1911, John and Margaret are still in residence in Belgarrow, however, their sons are no longer present. It is noted that they are married 35 years and that they had three children but only two are living. In October 1920, their son, James Annesley Knox of Belgarriff married Margaret Emily Glover of Foxford, in the Parish Church of Toomore, Co. Mayo. It is noted that he is the son of a gentleman, and she is the daughter of a Clerk of the Petty Sessions.

One of the many fireplaces of Belgarriff House
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In December 1937, John Anthony Knox died at Belgarriff with his eldest son, James, present. His death certificate lists his age as 89, but other records point to John A. being 87 at the time of his death. A headstone in nearby Craggagh Cemetery notes that John A. Knox of Belgarriff House, died 30th December 1937 aged 90. His headstone erected by his youngest son Godfrey F. Knox. John A. Knox was a widower at the time of his death, but no details are recorded for the earlier passing of his wife on this headstone. However, Margaret Knox, died in Carrowhubbuck in Enniscrone, Co. Sligo aged 78 in December 1932. Present at the time of her death was Bessie Greer, who owned Moy Salmon Lodge also known as Orme’s Lodge in Enniscrone. Margaret’s son Rev. Godfrey F. Knox was a clergyman in nearby Kilglass and this would explain his mother’s presence in a lodging house in Enniscrone. In Mullafarry Graveyard outside Killala, there is a headstone to Margaret however it states that her place of death was at her ‘’son’s residence, The Rectory, Enniscrone ‘’. One is under the impression that there was an estrangement in the family between John A. and Margaret considering that they are buried in different graveyards, miles apart. Margaret Knox, nee Carroll, obviously returned to be buried in Mullafarry as she was originally from nearby Ballsakeery. Godfrey was responsible for putting up headstones over the graves of his parents, but the wording on his mother’s memorial is more affectionate than that of his father’s. John Anthony Knox’s will was administered in London in 1938 to his son James Annesley. His estate in England amounted to £ 242.00 but was re-sworn in the amount of £ 3,485.00.

Some surviving features of the interior of Belgarriff House
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John A’s youngest son, Reverend Godfrey F. Knox of Kilglass Rectory was involved in unacceptable behaviour that would result in him being jailed for six months in 1933. One of the reasons given at the trial for his current mental state was the recent death of his mother. In 1934, it appears that Reverend Godfrey F. Knox travelled to the US after his release from prison. Two years later, Reverend Godfrey F. Knox arrived in Liverpool, England in February 1936 having departed from St. John New Brunswick in Canada. By 1939, he was living in Devon, but had adjusted the year of his birth from 1877 to 1884, however, he left the month and date the same as it appeared on his birth certificate,e which is the 22nd September. Godfrey Fitzroy Knox died in the Hotel Woodburn in Torquay in April 1957, despite being named as a clergyman, his profession is listed as a clerk. He left an estate of over £3,300 which was left to members of the Knox family at Palmerstown, Killala.

A news report from the time of Rev. Godfrey F. Knox sentencing 
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Tragedy would soon strike the remaining members of the family in Foxford, when the eldest son of John A, James Annesley Knox, died suddenly at Belgarriff House on 23rd December 1939, aged 63. James and his wife Margaret never had any children and Godfrey had never married, meaning there was no generation to take over the estate. In 1949, Belgarriff House and Demesne were advertised for sale by Mrs. Knox, James Annesley’s widow. The lands associated with the house extended to 89 acres. The house is described as having contained on the ground floor, a drawing room, dining room, breakfast room, hall, staircase, and back hall. On the floors above there were four principal bedrooms and three large attic rooms. In the rear return of the house there were storerooms, a pantry, kitchen with yard and out offices. It was noted that the house is of ‘’ fine architecture’’ and that the ground floor ceilings are 11ft high. It appears that the house did not sell so in 1951, The Minister for Lands informed the Dail that the Land Commission had instigated proceedings for the acquisition of lands in the possession of Mrs. Margaret Knox at Belgarriff, Foxford, formerly known as the Evans estate. Mrs. Knox objected to this acquisition, but her objection was disallowed, possibly because she had no one to take over what remained of the estate. Margaret Knox died on the 13th of January 1953 at Brookside, Foxford, the widow of James Annesley Knox of Belgarriff House, she was buried with him in nearby Craggagh Cemetery. The death of Margaret ,who had no direct descendants, ensured the end was nearing for Belgarriff. The contents of the house were auctioned in March 1953 which extended to a vast number of items including a baby grand piano and a half size billiard table. In February 1954, the trees that surrounded the house were sold on behalf of the Land Commission. Over 170 trees were offered for sale that would produce over 250 tons of timber. In January 1953, the Land Commission offered Belgarriff House, Foxford, for sale for demolition. In the sale advertisement, the house is simply described as a two storey, slated dwelling house with timber windows and doors etc. The out offices and even the sheds were also offered for demolition. One finds it hard to fathom the actions of the Land Commission and feels they were motivated by ignorance and vengeance. Belgarriff was a manageable size, when it was pulled down it was described as being in perfect condition. One gentleman wanted to purchase the house as a fishing lodge, but was thwarted by the Land Commission.

Advertisement for the sale of Belgarrriff House in 1949
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Today the ruin of Belgarriff endures, but one wonders for how long, as the destruction of the demolition sale is clear.  A local man told me, there was an abundance of staff that worked in the environs of the house, including a group of men who ensured Belgarriff was supplied with turf from a nearby bog. This was necessary as the house had ten fireplaces that required fuel, the house had no electricity prior to its demolition and was lit by oil lamps. It is my assertion that the new house, Belgarriff, that was built between 1867 and 1870 incorporated a portion of the original Dove Hall. The rear return appears to be older and does not have as fine stonework as the front section. The front block also had internal brick walls, some of which had twisting flues incorporated for the numerous fireplaces. The entrance front of the house is recorded as having five windows, the front door facing Nephin. There was a wide entrance hall which in turn led to a rear hall, where a dog leg staircase was illuminated by a curved headed window on the half landing. Rooms either side of the front hall included a drawing room, dining room and breakfast room, while on the first floor there were four bedrooms. From my investigations it appears that the ancillary area’s such as kitchens were accommodated in the rear return that was possibly part of the earlier house, Dove Hall.

This junction shows the different phases of construction of the house.
On the right we have the later 1867 block with the finer stonework, and
on the left, we have the rougher earlier stonework possibly of Dove Hall.
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Apart from the ruins of Belgarriff, there is one unique survivor from this house. A clock that once graced the drawing room of the Foxford mansion which remains in the possession of a local family. After the death of Margaret Knox, the clock passed to her sister, a member of the Glover Family. After her death in 1966, the contents of her home in Foxford were sold. Due to the poor state of the house at the time of the auction, only a few people could be accommodated for the sale of its contents due to the condition of the floor in the room. After the sale, the local man who had purchased the clock was approached by Major Aldridge of Mount Falcon, he wished to purchase the clock for multiples of the final bid of £2. His desire to have the clock was due to it having originated from the Knox House in Foxford known as Belgarriff. His offer was declined and today the clock is still extant. In the rear of the clock is recorded the date it was purchased, 13th August 1887 from Ganter Brothers in Dublin. This date would mean that the clock not only travelled to Belgarriff in Foxford with the Knox Family, but it also spent time in Ballybrooney House near Killala, between 1884 & 1892, before their time spent in Dublin.

A clock that originated from Belgarriff House
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To end this story, I am always amazed by the social ambitions of members of the Knox Family in Mayo in the late 19th and early 20th century.  John A. Knox was a member of a generation who thought their lifestyle and entitlement would last forever. John A. lived through a period of major change in the history of Ireland during which there was intense upheaval in the lives of the landed classes. The Land War, the Land Acts, Civil War, the foundation of the Irish State and the First World War ensured that people like John A. Knox were cast adrift in a changed nation. Gone were the days of the infallible landlord and their entitled families and no longer would the name of Knox hold sway over local politics. Like most houses of the Knox family, a few decades after John’s death, his home would be a ruin, his immediate family all dead and their way of life consigned to history.

The rear hall that accommodated the staircase of Belgarriff House
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