Moylurg was an ancient Gaelic kingdom (c. 956–1585). The literal translation of the Irish name, Magh Luirg an Dagda, is “the plain of the tracks of the Dagda”; ‘the Dagda’ being an ages-old Irish mythological deity associated with fertility, agriculture, wisdom and strength.
The McGreevy (Mac Riabhaigh) were the Kings of Moylurg until 1255, when they were dispossessed by the Mulrooney (Maelruanaidh) – later known as MacDermot (Mac Diarmada). Queen Elizabeth I's Composition of Connacht in 1585 brought an abrupt end to the MacDermots’ rule. Tadhg MacDermot, the last King of Moylurg, died in 1586 and the sept’s former territory was renamed the Barony of Boyle.
Moylurg House was built around 150 years later, geographically close to the heart of the former ancient kingdom of Moylurg. It was originally known as Clogher House and a 1749 Census reveals that it was occupied in the earlier half of the 18th century. The house is believed to have been built as a hunting lodge by a member of the King family – prominent Anglo-Irish peers, politicians and landowners based in Boyle – possibly Sir John King, 2nd Baronet (1681–1720), eldest son of Sir Robert King, 1st Baronet (c.1625–1707), who was M.P. for Roscommon.
The house was remodelled in the latter part of the 18th century, retaining the basement of Clogher House, and the name was at some point changed to Moylurg. Moylurg became part of the Rockingham Estate when Edward King (1726–97), Earl of Kingston, was succeeded by his son, Robert King, 1st Viscount Lorton (1773–1854).
The demesne is steeped in Gaelic-Irish and Anglo-Irish history and, for almost 100 of its c. 270 years, Moylurg was home to a succession of Resident Magistrates, Justices of the Peace, High Sheriffs and prominent Roscommon landowners – men at the heart of local Politics, Administration and Law during one of the country's most challenging periods.
Stone from the ruins of one of the MacDermot clan’s ancient castles – for centuries known locally as Moylurg Castle – was used to build Moylurg House, adding archeological interest to the building, which is listed by the Irish National Inventory of Architecture as "a house of artistic, architectural and historical significance". The remains of Moylurg Castle can still be seen within Moylurg’s lands and, in recent aerial photographs, the circular outline of an ancient ring fort is also clearly visible on the land, near Clogher Lough.
Moylurg House is a three-bay building, comprising two storeys over a half-basement that contains two flag-stoned rooms (the former kitchens of Clogher and Moylurg House) and a vaulted cellar, with a three-storey ‘tower’ and a further two-storey extension later added to the east wing.
The two original gate lodges that guarded separate entrances to the estate (one towards Boyle, one towards Carrick) were demolished some time after 1913. However, Moylurg still retains its impressive cast iron entrance gates, elegant curved railings and hand-carved stone pillars, which open onto a half-kilometre avenue, lined with mature ash, horse chestnut and beech trees. It also retains an exceptional one-acre walled garden that has a decorative cast iron gate and railings with hand-carved stone piers, as well as a multitude of very old apple trees that continue to fruit annually. There is a large, semi-cobbled, u-plan stable and coach yard; the surviving walls of a hexagonal stone summer house overlooking Clogher Lough; an intact section of what is one of Ireland's few remaining ha-has; and a 200 year old Douglas Fir tree, believed by one of the gardeners at Kilronan Castle to be among the tallest in Europe. Moylurg’s former farmyard buildings (now derelict) are situated some distance away from the house, near the top end of Clogher Lough, and are no longer part of the property.
In the Census of Elphin, commissioned by Bishop Edward Synge in 1749, Clogher, in the Parish of Eastersnow, was held by John Kingston Esq. (“Protestant farmer”), who had four children under the age of 14. Three Catholic cotters also lived on the lands: Denis Rork, James Bern (3 children under 14 in cottage) and Conor Bern.
After the Kingston family, the next occupant was James Coyne Esq., "an unmarried Gentleman farmer and a Catholic", who leased Clogher from the Earl of Kingston and lived there for more than 30 years, until his death in 1785. In the Betham Genealogical Abstracts, James Coyne of Clogher in Co. Roscommon (b. 10th October 1704, d. 21st June 1785) is described as the brother of Phineas, Barnaby and John Coyne, and of Margaret Keaveny (neé Coyne) and Ellinor Plunkett (neé Coyne). Phineas Coyne is remarkable for the fact that he lived until the ripe old age of 105. He continued to lease Clogher after the death of his brother, James, and The Northern Whig, on 11th March 1832, reported the death of Phineas Coyne at Clogher.
By 1836, Moylurg was the seat of John Duke* Esq., a Gentleman tenant of Viscount Lorton and a Trustee of Boyle Savings Bank. At this time, both Lewis and the Ordnance Survey still record the house as Clogher, situated on the opposite shore of Lower Cavetown Lake (now called Clogher Lough) to Cavetown House. John Duke and his wife, Mira, lived there for 16 years, during the worst years of the Great Irish Famine. * Lewis erroneously recorded Clogher as the seat of J. Dick, Esq.
The Duke family was descended from an earlier John Duke, who arrived in Sligo with Oliver Cromwell and was granted land at Kilcreevin in 1662. The Dukes accumulated wealth and status and, around 1780, John Duke's grandfather, Robert Duke (1732-1792), built Newpark House, Co. Sligo, which the family owned until 1910. The house was sold to Richard O’Hara, a younger son from nearby Annaghmore and Coopershill. His grandson, Anthony Kitchin, still lives there today with his wife, Rosemary, and runs it as a working farm.
ROBBERY [Roscommon & Leitrim Gazette - 22 June 1844 ]
—On Thursday night last, three sheep, the property of John Duke, Esq., were stolen off the lands of Moylurg, and last night, two pigs, belonging to the same gentleman, were also carried off. Mr. D. has offered a reward of £5, for such private information shall lead to the discovery of the robbers.
BOYLE SAVINGS BANK [Saturday 22 March 1845]
PRESIDENT, PATRON, AND TRUSTEE: The Right Hon. Lord VISCOUNT LORTON. TRUSTEES AND MANAGERS MORGAN CROFTON, Esq – Abbeyview HENRY FRY, Jnr. – Frybrook. CALEB ROBERTSON. Esq— Tangier. JOHN MULHALL Esq. – Boyle GUY LLOYD Esq —Croghan OWEN LLOYD. Esq. Knockadoo. JOHN DUKE Esq. — Moylurg. JOHN DUCKWORTH, Esq.—.Mount Erris; KINGSTON D. LLOYD. Esq.—Coradoo. JOHN LAW HACKETT, Esq. – Boyle.
STATE OF THE COUNTRY [Roscommon & Leitrim Gazette - Saturday 24 January 1846 ]
On Monday night last, upwards of 300 persons visited several farms in the vicinity of Croghan, (within or miles of this town,) and turned such ground as they conceived should be given out as Con-acre. They turned a portion of a farm at Rusheens, held by F. Robertson, Esq., of this town, also part of the property of the following gentlemen; —John Duke, Esq., Moylurg; Charles Peyton, Esq., Keelogues; Arthur Irwin, Esq., Rushfield; Mr. James Shaw, and Mr. Acheson, they fired several shots before their departure.
In 1839, Tithe Applotment Records for Clogher House (this was a tax paid by each occupier of land, regardless of his religion, to support the Protestant Church of Ireland clergy) record John Duke as occupier and valued the house at £31. Duke, along with his neighbour Guy Lloyd of Croghan, sat on the Boyle Union Board of Guardians before and during the Great Irish Famine.
John Duke and Moylurg House are mentioned in the book, The History of Ireland, by noted Irish historian John D'Alton, which was first published in 1845: “At Moylurg, within the townland of Clogher, is the handsome seat of Mr Duke, one of Lord Lorton’s tenants, adjoining which are discernible some massy traces of the stone ramparts and rounded angular towers of the ancient castle, once undoubtedly held by some members of the MacDermot sept; nature, however, has reassumed her empire over works of man, and the weed, and the sod, and the ivy, are thickly matted over the prostrate pile.”
John Duke’s wife, Mira (1808–92), was the daughter of John Irwin (1762–1842) of Camlin House, Ballinameen, Co. Roscommon (the house was built by the Irwin family c. 1610). She was one of eight children by two wives of Irwin and her mother was Elizabeth O'Malley, a direct descendent of Grace O'Malley (1530-1603), the celebrated Irish pirate queen.
Headstones in Mount Jerome Cemetry, Dublin, commemorate John Duke of Moylurg, Co. Roscommon, who died on 26th March 1854, and his wife, Mira, who died on 17th November 1892. They had no children.
In 1841, just before the Great Irish Famine, records show that there were 11 cottages in Clogher townland, housing 13 families; comprising 39 males and 41 females. Some would have been employed as farm workers, gardeners, stables and household staff at the house. A stone schoolhouse was constructed overlooking Clogher Lough for the children of the estate’s workers and this still stands, but is now a private residence.
A family named Feehily occupied one of the labourers’ cottages and Danny Feehily’s passion for fishing is remembered in the name of the crannog at the east end of Clogher Lough – Danny’s Island.
Clogher Lough’s second crannog (known as Esme Island) drew attention following the discovery of a large stone ‘holy water’ font on the crannog during the 19th century, which gave some credence to the folklore that the crannog had been used as a refuge for priests in penal times (1695–1728). The font was removed from the crannog and became an ornament in the garden of Guy Lloyd’s Croghan House, which is no longer extant. The font’s whereabouts are now unknown.
In May 1849, Moylurg was advertised To Be Let (Source: Norwich Mercury, Saturday 26th May 1849) and nearly three years later, on Tuesday 22nd June 1852, all of John Duke’s possessions from Moylurg, including “new, fashionable and elegantly kept furniture”, expensive rugs, vehicles, horses, etc, were advertised for public sale.
Tradition has it that Moylurg’s next resident was Edward Barlow, who commissioned nearby Rockmount House, now owned by the O'Hart family. However, this story is unfounded, as Edward Barlow, a Lieutenant in the Roscommon Militia and a founding member of the Boyle Brunswick Club, died in 1844 at Rockmount.
The lease of Moylurg was actually acquired, following John Duke’s relinquishing of it in 1852, by a Methodist minister, Rev. William Robinson (or Robertson; it appears spelled both ways on documents of the time). That same year, Rev. Robinson also purchased the lease to the estate of Thomas Irwin “the older” (1772–1853), at Granny East, Co. Roscommon.
By 1853, Moylurg House had become the residence of Captain John Johnston, who was sworn in before Captain William Duckworth of the Roscommon Militia (who lived at Mount Erris) as Magistrate for County Roscommon, in October of that year. [Roscommon & Leitrim Gazette]
In 1854, Capt. Johnston was a Guardian of Boyle Union and one of the principal lessors in the parish of Eastersnow.
On 20th November 1854, Robert King, 1st Viscount Lorton, died at Rockingham at the age of 81. Captain Johnston of Moylurg is recorded as having attended Lord Lorton’s funeral in the Church of Boyle, along with Jemmet Duke of Newpark (John Duke's brother) and Guy Lloyd of Croghan, “together with all the gentry, without exception, residing on his lordship’s estates (whose names we really could not undertake to particularize), with thousands of most respectable tenantry and inhabitants of the town of Boyle.” – Roscommon & Leitrim Gazette (Source: Dublin Evening Mail, Wednesday 29th November 1854)
In 1857, at the time of Griffith's Valuation, Moylurg House was valued at £25, with Capt. Johnston recorded as a tenant of the Rev. William Robertson (aka Robinson).
On 8th February 1858, the lease of Moylurg was ordered to be sold In Chancery (John Robinson Esq. Vs James Nicholson, the Rev. William Robinson, and Caleb Robertson Esq.).
In April 1858, Captain John Johnston and his wife - who, in January 1858, had given birth to a baby daughter at Moylurg - relocated to Rose Lawn, Celbridge, Co. Kildare. [In 2003, Rose Lawn House was sold to the son of multi-millionnaire racehorse owner J. P. McManus for €11 million and turned into a stud farm.]
Roscommon & Leitrim Gazette, Saturday 17th April 1858:-
–We regret to find that Captain Johnston, of Moylurg, intends to leave for the present, this part of the country. The absence of landed proprietors is at all times to be regretted; but particularly so in this instance – he, as an active and impartial Magistrate, as a private gentleman, and as a kind and accommodating neighbour, cannot at this time be well spared.
That same month, the contents of Moylurg House were advertised To Be Auctioned on May 5th and, on June 4th, the lands of Clogher and land owned at Eastersnow were ordered to be put to Public Auction.
In July 1859, the lease to Moylurg House was reported Sold:
We are glad to learn that Mr. Henry Hackett, brother to John Law Hackett Esq., of Ardcarne has purchased in the Incumbered Estates Court, the lands and beautiful residence of Moylurg, situate within three miles of Boyle.—Boyle Herald.
Other reports stated that the property was, in fact, purchased by John Law Hackett (Roscommon Messenger).
In August of 1863, G. H. Hackett, Peter Aungier and John Law Hackett advertised that the lease to Moylurg House was For Sale :-
The Evening Freeman, Thursday 20th August 1863:- Houses & Lands, County Roscommon
To be sold, the House, Offices, and lands of Moylurg, as held under the Viscount Lorton at a low rent for a long term, with a covenant of renewal.
The house is very commodious, and suitable for a gentleman of position. It is situate on the banks of the Lower Cavetown Lake [Clogher Lough], of which it commands a beautiful view, and is well sheltered by ornamental plantations. The Lawn and Pleasure Grounds are tastefully planted and laid out.
The Lands (a limestone formation) contain 160 acres exclusive of waste, and are of the finest fattening quality and are also well adapted for tillage or meadow.
The plantation consists of Oak, Ash, Larch, Fir, Spruce &c, interspersed with old timber. In fact, the property is at once a picturesque and beautiful gentleman’s residence, and a valuable and productive first-rate farm.
There are two approaches, one to Boyle, a station on the Midland and Great Western railway, two and a half miles distant; the second towards Carrick-on-Shannon Station, three miles distant.
The Farmyard is large. Stabling and Offices extensive. The Garden exceeds half an acre. The County Hounds are within eight miles and the Boyle & Leitrim Hounds hunt over the plains of Boyle of which the above Lands form part.
The Upper Cavetown Lake is close to the Lower [Clogher Lough] and both contain the finest trout and char.
A portion of the purchase money can remain outstanding on such terms as may be agreed on.
For particulars, apply to G. H. Hackett Esq, 24 Lower Baggot-street Dublin; to Peter Aungier Esq, 70 North King-street Dublin, and to John L. Hackett Esq, Ardcarne, Boyle.
By 1865, Moylurg House had become the residence of Henry Taaffe Ferrall, Esq. and his wife, Alice Mary (née Keogh). In addition to his position as Justice of the Peace for Roscommon, he was also Deputy-Lieutenant of the 3rd Battalion of the Connaught Rangers (formerly South Mayo Militia) from 1877.
A leading Irish Unionist and a Catholic, Taaffe Ferrall was a long-term member of the Board of Guardians of the South Dublin Union. His name frequently appears in The Irish Times of the period as attending the Lord Lieutenant's Levée in Dublin Castle, taking part in notable court cases, or involved in charitable Poor Law activities.
The Roscommon & Leitrim Gazette (Saturday 16th September 1865) listed Taaffe Ferrall of Moylurg as having donated £2 (roughly £250 in today’s money) to the Catholic Young Men’s Society. The same list of donors shows Lord Lorton as having given £10 in addition to his annual subscription of £5, and the O’Connor Don is also reported to have donated £10.
As well as owning 5,140 acres in Roscommon (source: The Great Landowners of Great Britain & Ireland, 4th edition, published 1883), Henry and Alice Taaffe Ferrall also owned a house at 73 Merrion Square, Dublin, from 1866–1906; a fine Georgian townhouse in the historic quarter. At the time, Merrion Square was a residential area for aristocrats who, in the main, had country estates elsewhere. It is considered one of Dublin's finest surviving examples of a Georgian square. Oscar Wilde's parents owned 1 Merrion Square and he grew up there; Irish political leader Daniel O'Connell lived at number 58; and the eminent poet W. B. Yeats lived at number 82. 73 Merrion Square still stands and is now owned by the Irish Traditional Music Archive.
—The Archive's brochure states that: "The history of the houses on Merrion Square mirrors the elite social and economic history of Dublin and Ireland during most of their 200 and more years. Built by speculative developers and wealthy tradesmen, they were at first the townhouses of the nobility and gentry of the Ascendency (including members of the Irish Parliament), of the upper clergy of the Established Church, of the judiciary, and of lawyers prominent in government.
"Their earliest owners may have felt them to be rather cramped by comparison to their country houses and estates, with servants in unwelcome proximity."
Henry Taaffe Ferrall's only sister, Barbara Eleanor, was the wife of Richard Grace Esq., son of O. D. J. Grace Esq. of Mantua House, Elphin.
In 1866, the year in which he was sworn in as High Sheriff of Roscommon (John Law Hackett of Ardcarne, from whom he purchased the lease of Moylurg, was sworn in as his Sub-Sheriff), Major Taaffe Ferrall was recorded as meeting with Land League resistance from his tenants in Ballintober, Co. Roscommon, who refused a 15% abatement in rents. (Source: Roscommon & Leitrim Gazette, 3rd February 1866)
The Irish National Land League was officially founded 13 years later, as a political organisation that sought to help poor tenant farmers by campaigning to reduce inflated rents and, ultimately, by abolishing the landlord system in Ireland and enabling tenant farmers to own the land they worked on. Charles Stewart Parnell was an early fundraiser for the movement.
On Wednesday 11th March 1868, the London Daily News published a Declaration from a list of “aggrieved” Catholic gentlemen; among the signatories was Henry Taaffe Ferrall, D.L. Captain, Moylurg, Co. Roscommon:-
–We, the undersigned Irish Catholic Laymen, deem it our duty to contradict publicly the assertion that we do not feel aggrieved by the present Ecclesiastical Settlement of Ireland. We feel, with reference to that settlement, as our Protestant fellow-countrymen in England, Ireland and Scotland would feel if they were subjected to like injustice. The indignity of the religion and of the people of Ireland demands religious equality; and we are convinced that without religious equality there cannot be generated and secured that respect for law, and those relations of mutual goodwill, which constitutes the true foundation for national prosperity.
Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, Taaffe Ferrall regularly appears in the newspapers as a member of the Grand Jury for Roscommon; sitting as a Magistrate at the Boyle and Carrick Petty Sessions; attending Boyle Poor Law meetings at the Workhouse as a member of the Board of Guardians; appearing at Roscommon Races; helping to organise the Rockingham Estate Agricultural Show; and making numerous charitable donations.
In January 1879, there was a tragic occurrence on Clogher Lough, within sight of Moylurg House, when, during a hunt, a "splendid pack of hounds" chased "a magnificent red hind" into the centre of the lake, which was frozen over. The ice broke under their weight and, of the 30 hounds, all but eight were drowned, along with the very unfortunate deer. The devastated Hunt Master is reported to have "leaned over his brown mare and grieved like a child". (Longford Journal, 18th January 1879)
The Dublin Daily Express, on Monday 30th July 1888, reported that Major Henry Taaffe Ferrall had been elected Vice-President of The City of Dublin Unionist Registration Association, 9 Dawson St, Dublin, under the President, Sir Edward Cecil Guinness. Edward Cecil Guinness (1847–1927), 1st Earl of Iveagh, was an Irish businessman and philanthropist. A member of the prominent Anglo-Irish Guinness family, he was the head of the family's eponymous brewing business, making him the richest man in Ireland. A prominent philanthropist, he is best remembered for his provision of affordable housing in London and Dublin through charitable trusts.
On Saturday 31st March 1894, an advertisement in the Irish Independent announced that the Moylurg lease was, once again, To Be Auctioned:-
–COUNTY OF ROSCOMMON, TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION
On the Premises on the 5th April 1894
RESIDENTIAL FARM OF MOYLURG
3 miles from Boyle Station on Midland Railway. 160 Irish acres, held under lease, subject to £198 15s 5d, with gentleman’s residence, two gate lodges, pleasure grounds, walled-in garden, green houses, good stabling and farmyard, with large cattle shed. All buildings and improvements were erected by Lessee. For further particulars and conditions of sale, apply to: John O’Hagan, Solicitor, 9 Harcourt Street, Dublin; or to Mr Cunningham, Auctioneer, Boyle.
Four months later, having moved permanently to 73 Merrion Square, Freeman's Journal, on Wednesday 18th July 1894, reports Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Taaffe Ferrall D.L. as a member of the Mansion House Committee formed in Dublin for the purpose of “promoting the permanent improvement of the condition of the Achill islanders”:-
–“The recent calamity, by which so many of the poor people of Achill lost their lives migrating to England and Scotland in search of harvest employment, has caused public attention to be fixed upon that district.”
On June 14th 1894, 32 Achill islanders had drowned at Westport Bay when the boat they were on hit a sand bank, listed to one side and threw the passengers into the water. Some drowned in their cabins, others became entangled in sails and ropes. About 70 people were saved by boats that came to the rescue. The Committee set to work, appealing in the press for relief for those who had lost their breadwinners. They received a generous response and collected £3,000 [roughly £383,000 today] for the relatives of those drowned. They also erected a large headstone listing the names of the deceased.
Colonel Henry Taaffe-Ferrall's obituary was published in the London Standard on 31st August 1898. He died at his Merrion Square home on August 27th. The obituary states: "Colonel Henry Taaffe-Ferrall, of Moylurg, County Roscommon, whose death is announced as having taken place at his Dublin residence, in Merrion Square, at the age of 66, was the eldest son of the late Mr Edmond Taaffe, of Woodfield, County Mayo, by his marriage with Louisa, daughter of Mr Richard Ferrall, of Moylurg*, whose name he subsequently assumed in addition to his patronymic. He was born in 1832, and married in 1855 Alice Mary, daughter of Mr John Keogh, of Lisalea, County Dublin. He was a Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Roscommon, of which County he served the office of High Sheriff in 1866, and he was formerly Lieutenant Colonel of the South Mayo Militia (the 3rd Battalion of the Connaught Rangers)."
*This seems to indicate that Taaffe Ferrall's maternal grandfather may also have lived at Moylurg.
An intriguing footnote to the Taaffe-Ferrall years is a gravestone, found in Eastersnow Cemetery, with the dedication:
IHS, Erected to Margaret Halpin, the faithful servant of Henry Taaffe-Ferrall Esq, Moylurg, died 17 September 1870, May She Rest in Peace, Amen.
Erected during the class-ridden Victorian era, there was speculation locally that this tribute hints at an illicit affair between the master and his servant, a Dubliner who was just 35 when she passed away at Moylurg, but it is more likely the case that Taaffe Ferrall was rewarding a loyal servant who died too young and wanted it recorded for posterity. We will probably never know.
Moylurg's next leaseholder was James Martin Esq., a fiery Justice of the Peace from Longford, who was involved in a "scandalous shooting affray" at Moylurg one night in September 1896. He shot a man called Michael McDermott in both legs and bludgeoned the poor man's head with his gun, "until he broke it in two", when he caught him stealing planks from a cattle shed on Moylurg land (sources: Freeman's Journal and Leitrim Advertiser). Martin was arrested, then bailed for "£300 and two sureties of £200 each", as the Resident Magistrate, a Captain McTiernan, considered him to be "of irreproachable character". Michael McDermott's name appears frequently as a defendant in the Irish Petty Court Sessions for Boyle, so it seems that he may have been a serial offender. Following the Magisterial Investigation, James Martin appears to have been cleared. There is no record of what happened to Mr McDermott.
James 'Jimmy' Martin also owned and actually lived at nearby Tullyboy Farm, which has belonged to the O’Dowd family (originally from Galway) since the 1950s and has been successfully operating as a visitor farm since 1993.
By 1901, Jimmy Martin was sub-letting Moylurg House to Colonel James Nicholson Soden Kirkwood (born 1846), son of James Kirkwood J.P., of Woodbrook House; a house made famous in the novel, 'Woodbrook', by author David Thomson, which gives a poignant account of life at Woodbrook during the 1930s. Thomson stayed there for several summers with the Kirkwood family as tutor to their young daughter, Phoebe, with whom he claims to have had a platonic love affair.
Originally Scottish, the Kirkwood family had lived on the lands around Woodbrook (originally called Hughestown House) for “upwards of three centuries” (source: The County Families of the United Kingdom, 1860). According to Burke’s The Landed Gentry 1882 (vol.1), James Nicholson Soden Kirkwood served as a Lieutenant in the 95th Regiment of Foot, a British Army Line Infantry Regiment. Thom’s Irish Who’s Who lists the retired Colonel Kirkwood as:
J.P., Co. Roscommon (High Sheriff, 1914); J.P. Co. Sligo (High Sheriff 1916); served in Afghan War, 1880; second and eldest surviving son of late James Kirkwood, D.L., J.P., of Woodbrook, Co. Roscommon; born 1846; married 1880 to Minnie, 4th daughter of the late Major Home Fergusson, of The Park, Elie, Fifeshire. Res. : Woodbrook, Boyle, Co. Roscommon; Carrowmabla, Co. Sligo. Member of the gentlemen’s club: Hibernian United Service Club, 8 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin.
In the 1901 Census, he was shown as living, aged 55, with his wife Minnie (who was born in India), at Clogher, with his occupation listed as a Colonel in the Indian Army Staff Corps. Three servants are also recorded as living in the house at the time of the Census: coachman Michael O’Brien (23), table maid and domestic servant Annie Brehanny (20) and cook Nellie Costello (19). In the same Census, Moylurg House is listed as having 23 rooms, 3 stables, 2 coach houses, 1 harness room, 1 cow house, 1 calf house, 1 dairy, 2 piggeries, 1 fowl house, 1 workshop and 1 shed. Post-Famine, there were now only 2 cottages* on the demesne: a 3-room cottage rented by Patrick Lee and two female members of his family and a 4-room cottage rented by Martin Connor and his family of 10. *These may have been the gate lodges, which were still standing in 1913.
The National Archive of Will Calendars reveal that, in March 1911, Colonel James Nicholson Soden Kirkwood (Retired) was left £24,916/2s/9d [c. £2.9 million in today's money] in the Will of his older brother, Colonel Thomas Yaden Lloyd Kirkwood of Woodbrook House, who was a J.P. and High Sheriff of Roscommon County in 1873 (he died aged 67 and is buried at Ardcarne Cemetery).
In 1911, the Kerry Cattle Herd Book vol 4, lists Colonel James Nicholson Soden Kirkwood as living at Carrigard House in Boyle. He and his wife then moved into Woodbrook House following the death of his brother, Thomas. James Nicholson Soden Kirkwood was made High Sheriff of Roscommon in 1914; the second former Moylurg House resident to hold that position.
Minnie Charlotte Kirkwood was buried at Ardcarne Cemetery in 1924 and her husband, Colonel James Nicholson Soden Kirkwood, was buried beside her two years later.
Jimmy Martin J.P., who, like all previous residents, was leasing Moylurg, decided to buy the house and its lands from the King-Harman Estate when the opportunity arose in 1906, but things did not run smoothly. On 14th April 1906, the Roscommon Messenger carried a report from the Boyle Quarter Sessions on annuities (sums of money paid in regular instalments) on purchase agreements for tenants on the King-Harman Estate.
In the House of Commons, Mr James O’Kelly, the Irish Nationalist M.P. for Roscommon, asked the Chief Secretary, Mr James Bryce, whether he was aware that the farm of James Martin, on the estate of Edward Charles S. King Harman, at Clogher, Co. Roscommon:
“…has been valued under the rule or directions to valuers, which have since been cancelled, at £5,071 [c. £605,000 in today’s money] as the price Mr Martin is to pay; that the value was fixed on the basis of the holding being security for so much, and without regard to the tenant’s improvements or the rent payable, or the fact that this figure leaves the yearly annuity £9 more than the tenant paid in rent for the holding prior to 1902; and whether, having regards to the new directions issued to inspectors not to confuse price with security, a fresh inspection of this farm would be ordered for the purpose of fixing a price for the landlord’s interest, so as to save the tenant [James Martin] having to pay over again for his own and his predecessor’s improvements.”
Mr Bryce replied that the matter was still under the consideration of the Estates Commissioners, who did not think it desirable to go into the details of the case in a matter which had not yet been decided.
The Irish Land Conference of 1902-03 had been established in an attempt to bridge the gulf between what landlords would accept and what tenants wanted to pay to own the land they lived on. Its report, published in January 1903, provided much of the basis for the Act that became the first to make purchasing land a realistic goal for tenants, while simultaneously providing inducements for landlords to sell. The entire purchase money was paid in cash to landlords, who were also given a 12% bonus on the sale of estates; while tenants were guaranteed that their annuities would be appreciably less than their old rents. In the case of James Martin, this was clearly not the case and he was complaining that his annuities were £9 per annum more than his previous rent [roughly £1,000 per annum in today’s money].
In 1910, Moylurg’s new owner, James Martin – the first owner who wasn't a member of the King family – moved his family from Tullyboy Farm to Moylurg House. Despite being a Justice of the Peace, Jimmy Martin found himself hauled in front of the courts on at least one other occasion: for dismantling a stone wall belonging to the District Council. He was fined £3 6s. (Roscommon Messenger, 22nd October 1910)
At the time of the 1911 Census, James Martin (44, farmer) was living at Moylurg with his (second) wife of 10 years, Elizabeth (37), their children Frederick (14), Strother (9), Hester (6) and Heary (7 months), along with a boarder, Mollie or Mallie Nixon (23, a teacher from Cavan), and a servant, Eliza Kane (21, from Longford), but the family did not stay long.
In 1916, 34 year-old Robert Johnston Cotton of Brierfield, Castlerea, began renting Moylurg House from James Martin.
In 1930, 10 acres and the old stone school house, built within the Moylurg demesne c.1820, were sold to neigbouring farmer, Tom Beirne.
In 1932, Robert Cotton purchased outright 250 acres of land and Moylurg House from James Martin for £12,000 [c. £789,500 in today's money]. Robert Cotton had three daughters, Gladys, Elizabeth and Muriel, and a son, Robert Cox Cotton. 16 year-old Robert was killed in a tragic road accident in 1935, when he was hit by a motor lorry as he cycled home after school, following a visit to The Deanery in Elphin, the residence of Rev. William Andrew Stewart Blaine, Principal of Elphin Grammar School (who died three years later, in 1939). Robert “… sustained shocking head injuries and died in half an hour”. (Source: Roscommon Messenger, 15th June 1935)
Further tragedy hit the family when, c. 1942, a visiting beau of one of the girls (his surname is believed to be Rochford) committed suicide in one of Moylurg’s remote farm buildings (the farmyard, now a ruin, is located on the other side of Clogher Lough, and is currently owned by the Sharkey family).
Elizabeth Rosemary Cotton, daughter of Mr Robert Cotton and the late Mrs Cotton of Moylurg, Boyle, married John Campbell Hunter, son of Mr and Mrs Thomas Hunter, 11 Malone Park, Belfast (one of Belfast’s most upmarket addresses), at St Ann’s Church, Dublin, on February 6th 1946. (Northern Whig, 20th February 1946)
The Cottons remained at Moylurg until c.1963, after which Joseph Patrick Cox (1907–77) purchased the house and the 250-acre estate. Although brought up in Manchester, England, after his family emigrated from nearby Knockroe to escape poverty, Joe Cox had dreamed of owning Moylurg since childhood – having been sent back to Ireland to live with his grandmother and attend Knockroe National School (1911-17). An entrepreneur, financier and philanthropist, Cox made his fortune selling radios and televisions in Manchester. He achieved his ambition of returning to Clogher to purchase the beautiful house and rolling lakeside land he had always coveted after selling his business to the Rank Organisation. His first wife, Agnes Horan, died in 1960 and, seven years later, he married Dorothy Bradshaw, the widow of millionnaire Ewart Bradshaw. (d. 1958), the founder of Loxhams Garages.
Dubbed “The Millionaire” locally, and a familiar sight on the country lanes in his maroon Rolls-Royce, Joe Cox carried out extensive renovations to Moylurg House; rewiring and replumbing it; replacing the roof; and - in keeping with the times - installing a bar in the large drawing room, where he hosted legendary parties on his trips over from the UK.
Michael Dwyer and his wife, Veronica (Vera), moved into a wing of Moylurg House during the 1960s and were employed to manage the farm and the house, assisted by Paddy Beirne, who owned the adjacent farm. Vera Dwyer, now 77, featured in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s longest surviving single-lung transplant patient, having had the life-saving operation in 1988. She appeared in newspapers and on national television in Ireland and in the UK on 20th November 2018 and received a gold medallion from the Irish Heart & Lung Transplant Association to commemorate the 30-year anniversary of her ground-breaking operation.
Tragedy again struck at Moylurg in 1964, when, during Joe Cox’s renovations, a workman named Michael King of Breedogue, Boyle, was killed by falling masonry while working at the rear of the property.
In 1968, Joe Cox was awarded the papal honour of Knight of St Sylvester for his generous donations to Catholic and other charities.
1981 heralded a drastic change in the fortunes of Moylurg House. Joe Cox had passed away in 1977 and the Land Commission compulsorily purchased 170 acres of the estate, which was then redistributed among local farmers. The house lay empty for two years and, sadly, was targeted by thieves and vandals, who ripped out original carved wood Adams fireplaces and pulled expensive chandeliers down, damaging the elaborate Victorian plasterwork ceilings.
The next owner of Moylurg House was George Peel, formerly of Hertfordshire and North Wales. George’s daughter, Lorna Peel, who lived at Moylurg as a child, is now the author of several historical fiction and mystery romance novels set in Ireland and the UK. She and her brother, Denis, continue to live in rural Ireland.
In 1986, Moylurg House was sold to Reiner Plossl, a German doctor, and his wife, Angelika. The Plossl family owned Moylurg until c. 1998, during which time they reroofed the stable block, arguably saving the buildings in the process; replaced the stables doors; and, more controversially, replaced the house’s original wooden Wyatt sash windows with modern double-glazed uPVC units. The Plossls returned to Germany in 1998.
The house was bought by Martin and Martha (nee O’Gorman) Jordan, from Co. Mayo, who sold the property in November 2014 and moved out in June 2015. Martin Jordan was a prison officer (retired) and sheep farmer. An ex-garda, Martha O’Gorman made the national news in 2017 when she successfully sued the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for more than €230,000 for an alleged historic incident at work, which “she believed was an attempt by a motorist to murder her” (Irish Times, 15th August 2017). It was “one of the largest sums awarded by the High Court to any member of the force, past or present”.
Under new ownership, the long overdue renovation and repair of this historic Roscommon house and its grounds began in 2015, including rewiring; replumbing; rebuilding and restoring (using traditional lime mortar) the neglected stone and brick walls of the beautiful walled garden – which had already collapsed in several places and was in danger of being lost forever – landscaping, planting new trees, etc. Grants from Roscommon County Council’s Built Heritage Investment Scheme helped towards some of the cost of the external works in 2016-19.
Acknowledgements: Thomas Mullaney, Ann McGivney, Myra Egan, Michael T. Lennon, Laura Burke Egan, Kenny Clements
[Research by Rua Mac Diarmada in 2017]
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