Turtle Bunbury

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FAMILY

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LISNAVAGH

William Robert Bunbury, 4th Baron Rathdonnell (1914-1959)

On Sunday 23rd November 2014, glasses were raised at Kinsellagh's Hill to celebrate the 100th birthday of the 4th Baron Rathdonnell, my grandfather, who died aged 44 some 66 years earlier. On hand for this spontaneous and merry occasion were his three surviving children, three of his grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, namely Tom Bunbury, Jemima Bunbury and the Sykes trio.

Born in 1914, William Robert McClintock Bunbury, known variously as Bill and 'The Baron', was the only child of Tim Bunbury, Baron Rathdonnell and a grandson of Tom Bunbury, 2nd Baron Rathdonnell. His father became heir to Lisnavagh following the death of his uncle Billy Bunbury during the Boer War. Tim's three sisters - Pauline Dalgety, Isabell Colvin and Mimi Bramwell - would all play a key role in his life.

Bill was just 23 years when he succeeded his father to Lisnavagh House and the baronetcy of Rathdonnell in 1937. That same year he married Miss Pamela Drew, an up and coming artist from the Lake District in England.

Bill's relatively short reign as Lord Rathdonnell was dominated by the Second World War in which he played a key role in the rounding up of senior Nazi figures after Hitler's suicide. Bill and Pamela oversaw the resizing of Lisnavagh House in 1952, focusing on hunting, painting and partying for pleasure.

Bill Rathdonnell died of a brain tumor on 13 October 1959, aged 44. He was my fathers' father.

THE IEVERS CONNECTION

Bill's mother Ethel was a daughter of a prominent government servant, fluent Singhalese speaker and hunter called Bob Ievers who was based in Ceylon. Her mother once famously survived a scuffle with a sloth bear near Anurdahapura. Ethel's elder sister Nena married Norman Izat, a son of the Director of the Bengal & North-Western Railway Company, while her younger sister Kitty married Bertram de Glanville of the Ceylon Civil Service who later became Chairman of the Colombo Port Commission . Nena's three children - Mary Izat [v], Katherine Izat[vi] and Alan Izat [vii] - and Kitty's six children - (Ranulph[x], Geoffrey[xi], Robert[xii] and John) and two daughters (Joan[xiii] and Moira Dorothea[xiv] - were thus all first cousins of The Baron.

FOOTNOTES

[v] Mary Izat married Frank Pilditch and had a son David.
[vi] Katherine Izat (d. April 2005) married Michael King (d. 2003) and had two sons, Duncan (who died c. 2002-3) and Graham, and a daughter, Deborah.
[vii] Alan Izat (d. 2000) married Joan Kinnear (d. 1998) and had two sons Anthony and (Norman) John. I have been in contact with John Izat (NJAI@aol.com) since 2nd June 2004. He confirmed that his grandfather, hitherto “N. Izat” was in fact “Norman Izat”.
[x] Ranulph de Glanville married Daphne Pethides and bore Susan, Sarah and Christopher Michael.
[xi] Geoffrey de Glanville married Angela Benison.
[xii] Robert de Glanville married Joan Davidson and was killed in action in 1941.
[xiii] Joan de Glanville married Vivian Sauvagny and had a son Philip.
[xiv] Moire Dorothea de Glanville married E.M.C. Wait and had a daughter, Angela Jean, and son, Jonathan.

Birth of the Baron

On 23rd November 1914 Ethel gave birth to her one and only child, William Robert McClintock Bunbury, later the 4th Baron Rathdonnell and this author's paternal grandfather. The Times noted that the birth took place at 50 Drayton Gardens in South West London. 1914, of course, was a calamitous year to be born because the world had gone to war just a few months before William's birth and the war didn’t stop for five years. Ethel moved to Ireland before Christmas and William was christened on January 15th the following year. Among the gifts he received at his christening was a silver dish presented by Godmother, Isabella K. Colvin, now in the Lisnavagh dining room. Isabella was one of his three aunts, the others being Mimi Bramwell and Pauline Dalgety.

THE OUTBREAK OF THE GREAT WAR

In 1912, Bill's father began working as Assistant Secretary to Sir Wyndham Rowland Dunstan, the Director of the Imperial Insitute in Kensington, London. Dunstan was also President of the (3rd) International Association of Tropical Agriculture which took place in the last week of June 1914 and which Tim Bunbury attended.[iiic] Within six weeks, Europe was at war and, aged 33, Tim joined the army without delay. In 1914, Captain McClintock Bunbur was mentioned in despatches for his services in the campaign in German East Africa. On 22 December 1915, the Hon. T. L.. McClintock Bunbury, M.A. (Cantab.), resigned his post as Assistant Secretary to ‘in order to undertake military duties’.[iiie] He was later reputedly on special assignment in Austria and Italy, for which he was awarded both the Croce di Guerra and the Order of the Crown of Italy.[xv]

There is a letter at Lisnavagh from Sir Charles Delme-Radcliffe, a man with Canadian connections who commanded the International Mission in Italy after the Great War. He wrote to Bill after Tim’s death in 1937 saying that he “served me right well during the war in Italy. I was very fond of your mother too. She was a wonderful person. I knew her when she came out to join your father at North Klagenfurt in Cariatha (sic?)”. Alas I can’t yet read the last part but Google may yield more! In 1918, he was awarded the British Red Cross Society Medal for War Service and an MBE at the end of 1919. In 1919, he also recieved a personal thanks from Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for War, having been mentioned in despatches by General Smuts for his 'gallant and distinguished services in the firled' in 1916. He returned to Ireland in 1919 and was appointed High Sheriff for County Carlow, a difficult post in a year when anti-English sentiments were reaching fever pitch across Ireland.

Ethel– The Lady Rathdonnell That Never Was

Bill's mother, Ethel McClintock Bunbury, died young on 4th March 1922, having endured probably the most miserable decade in recent Irish history. SAssuming she arrived in Ireland with her new husband circa 1913, she would have been just in time for Jim Larkin's strike and lock out, the near civil war between the Irish Volunteers and the Ulster Volunteers, followed by the outbreak of the First World War (which kept her husband occupied for five years), the Easter Rebellion (which her father-in-law became closely involved with), the War of Independence (which which brought great hardship to Rathvilly, particularly with the exeuction of Kevin Barry), the Anglo-Irish Treaty (over which her father-in-law became a vocal opponent of partition for the Unionist cause), the Spanish Flu (which wiped out people all across the surrounding parishes) and the bloody Civil War which erupted within weeks of her death. She must have died dreaming of happy days in Celylon when it was all about tea, tennis and sunshine. She seems to have lived at Lisnavagh for much of this time, with her husband's parents who were were such a formidable pair that Ethel appears meek in their presence, a sort of Isabella Linton if you’ve ever read Wuthering HeightShe was buried in Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey. Her only son was eight years old at the time.

DEATH OF LORD AND LADY RATHDONNELL

Bill's grandmother, the formidable Lady Rathdonnell (nee Katherine Ann (“Kate”) Bruen) passed away in 1924. In May 1929, Tom Bunbury, 2nd Lord Rathdonnell passed away at the age of 81. Tim duly succeeded as the 3rd Lord Rathdonnell. He took his 13-year-old son with him on a trip to India that Christmas. I believe Tim aquired a new lover about this time but am delving deeper into this

Great Wadd

I am slowly working my way through various letters and other manuscripts but it would seem to me that a particularly strong bond evolved between 8-year-old Bill and his father in the years after Ethel’s death. But perhaps they hardly saw each other at all! My father says they spent a lot of time at Great Wadd near Staplehurst in Kent. However, when my father visited the Colvin's - first cousins of Bill who lived close to Staplehurst - he noted that there was never a mention of Great Wadd although we have files relating to the property from the 1930s. My father believes his father and grandfather were also, for a time, living at Straw Hall in Carlow, subsequently absorbed into urban Carlow and the now closed beet factory. Presumably this was part of the Oak Park Estate at the time. Perhaps this was the fine large house beside the Business Gateway Park Centre, directly opposite The Holy Angels Centre, which was owned by Bruen. They were also regular visitors to Drumcar.

THE cHARTERHOUSE YEARS

I don’t know where the Baron was educated before he went to Charterhouse. At Charterhouse, he was in Saunderites (as was my father) where he befriended Johnny Drew and Peter O'Sullevan. (Eton contemporaries he might have met at this point included Marcus Rueff, Gerald Kildare, John Grafton and Paddy Leatham). On 10th July 1933, he took a 1st class cabin from Southampton to Angola on board the German Woderman-line vessel, the Watussi.

The Baron met Pamela in about 1930. In fact, there is a brilliant mention in Granny’s diary of their first encounter which I don’t have to hand but, needless to say, it mentions both hunting and whiskey. He was great friends with her younger brother Johnny and presumably went to stay with the Drews at Eversley because Ireland was too far away to go home for half-term. He left school, aged 18, in 1933. Within two years, he and Pamela were driving one another’s cars!’

POTTED INTRODUCTIONS

The following covers a short spell of Bill's life between 1930 and the end of the Second World War with attempts to chronologise against the backdrop of the times. Johnny Drew died in 1935. And William became Lord Rathdonnell at the age of 23 when his father dropped dead the day his engagement to Pamela was announced in The Times. From 1939 to 1945, The Baron and Pamela were both active in bringing an end to Nazism, leaving the running of Lisnavagh to John Langham and, on occasion, Edith Sylvia Drew. Her daughters Diana and Golly were meanwhile being Land Girls and eventually farmed Bank Farm in the Lake District. The house was up for sale at this point and nearly purchased by Evelyn Waugh. It was eventually resized in 1952. He was a member of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee, a steward of Baldoyle races and was on the executive and agricultural committees of the RDS. He was a trustee of the Carlow Hunt and at one time he had his own pack of hounds. Piers Dennis recalled him as “a very lighthearted and much loved man - almost a caricature of the 1920s generation”. The Baron died at the age of 44 on 13 October 1959. He left four young children – Dad was 20, Ally was 19, Jane was 16 and Rosebud just 11.

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Lisnavagh House as it would have looked between 1847 and 1952.

1930 Lisnavagh Visitor’s Book

The following comes from the Lisnavagh – Drumcar Visitor’s Book of this period. It’s also important to note that Bill's wife Pamela wrote a diary for most of these years and within them will be all sorts of tidbits that might help shape this story.

Rosamund C Rashleigh July 28 - Aug 30. [Afterwards Lady Langham. Her engagement to John Langham was announced on 26th July 1930, so presumably champagne was flowing at Lisnavagh].

EF Bruen Aug 13 - 16

A. Bruen " "

PS James Aug 22 - Sept 2

P. H (or L?). Leatham Aug 22 Sept 2

Grace Walsh Sept 4 - 5

Oonah Walsh Sept 4 - 5

R de Glanville Aug 20 - Sept 18

MJ (Maude?) Butler Sept 17 - 20

John Langham 9 May 1929 - 27 Oct 1930

Crystal Langahm 15 Oct - 27 Oct

1931 Lisnavagh Visitor’s Book

Maude J Butler April 11 - 12 1931

Maude J Butler June 27 - 30

Mary KR Colvin Aug 8 - 10

Peter McC Greenwell Aug 23 -31

JM Drew Aug 25 - Sept 1st

PM Leatham " "

Cooper Ossory Sept 6 - 7

Diana M Powell Sept 18 - 21

1932 Lisnavagh Visitor’s Book

Maude J Butler May 16 - 20

Maude J Butler June 10 - 14

Gore? Phillips Aug 18 - 22

Gurl? Boughey Aug 22 - 27

Noel G (or E?) Boughery? Aug 22 - 27

J Boughey Aug 22 - 27

PS James Aug 23 - Sept 2

THE SLINGSBY CONNECTION

In 1933, I believe The Baron went on to Trinity College, Cambridge, to read history where he became friendly with the young Duke of Grafton’s set. This leads to a curious connection with no less a soul than Timothy Slingsby, an old mate of mine from Glenalmond days and father of my goddaughter, Jessica Slingsby. Tim and his parents live at Idvies House near Forfar in Scotland. Before the Slingsbys, a family named Brodie owned Idvies. A daughter of this house by name of Phoebe Brodie married Humphrey Sneyd whose family hailed from Keele (subsequently an educational school set up by Labour) and Ashcombe Park in Staffordshire. Humphrey Sneyd was killed while serving with the Irish Guards at Ploegsturet on November 2nd 1914. The cross his soldiers erected over his grave is still in the Churchyard at Cheddleton, says William Battersby who spent much of his childhood at Ashcombe Park, which his aunt and uncle bought in 1961.

In April 1915, Phoebe gave birth to Humphrey's posthumous daughter, Averil, named for the month that was in it. On 25th August 1925, Phoebe married again, a chap named Alfred Dugdale. Alfred’s first wife died in 1918, three weeks after the birth of their son, George, who was a great pal of Averil. [Alfred probably has something to say to Rose Dugdale, the well-to-do lass who got in cahoots with the IRA during the Beit robbery.]

The Dugdales spent their time between Idvies and Basford (inherited by Averil on the death of her uncle Gustavus). Meanwhile, Averil grew up from lonesome child to rebellious schoolgirl, coming out at a party given in Princess Gate by the Dugdales’s cousin, “Lady Amerhyst” of Hackney. She was a proper Thirties girl, eager for hunting and cabaret, dance and flirtation. She was much admired by the young men of Cambridge, headed up by John (Duke of) Grafton, who died young in a motor accident. In her Memoirs, Phoebe recalls how each of ‘The Gang’, as Averil called her young men friends, proposed to her in turn and were refused. They led her into a good deal of trouble by having constant motor accidents. She managed to be in five serious ones in the course of two years. It seemed impossible to restrain her. The young men would appear and take her out. According to a conversation between Averil and T.P. Slingsby, one of these men was Bill Bunbury, aka The Baron, aka my grandfather. He was her senior by only five months. Eventually Averil married Bunty Scott-Moncrieff, into whose car my grandmother would crash her Rolls in 1936. William Battersby, who knew them well, is on the button when he says they were 'slightly larger than life.'

When Phoebe’s only surviving sister, Nancy Johnston Brodie, passed away she left her house to Averil and Bunty’s son Humphrey. (Nancy and Phoebe’s brother John accidentally shot himself while shooting in 1926). Humphrey’s wife Judy Prince was at school with Fay Slingsby and Penny Marshall. And it was through that connection that the Slingsby’s aquired Idvies where I spent many happy days during my school years at Glenalmond.

1933 Lisnavagh Visitor’s Book

[On April 28 1933, William and his father attend the wedding of Viscount Milton (later Earl FitzWilliam) and Olive Plunket in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin].

Mary Colvin Aug 12 - 15

J Fitzherbert Aug 23 - 28

MF Graham Aug 24 - 28

Philip S James Aug 22 - Sept 9

Sonia Golejewski Sept 7 - 8 [She was the daughter of Maj. Gen Nikolai Golejewski, known as 'Koka', Assistant Chief of the Russian Imperial General Staff. He was the subject of an exquisite silverpoint drawing by John Storrs and died in Moscow in 1958. Her mother was Honor Grove (1883- 13 December 1944), known as Dode or Kiddy, daughter of Sir Walter John Grove, 2nd Bart, and Agnes Geraldine Fox-Pitt. Nikolai and Honor married on 30th May 1911 and had two daughters, Kira and Sonia].

Sonia Golejewski Sept 15 - 18

Maude J Butler Sept 20 - 23

John Drew Dec 19 - 23

1933 Liverpool Cup

Denbigh won the Liverpool Autumn Cup on 11th November 1933 - as a 4 year old. He came in at 13/2 3rd favourite. He was owned by Sir Ernest Tate, Trained by Dobson Peacock and ridden by Billy Nevett. This horse won a £15,000 fortune on the Irish Sweep for Tommy Merriman. (Thanks to Estelle Maher).

1934 Lisnavagh Visitor’s Book

John Drew July 16 - Aug 8

Isabel Colvin Aug 13 - 14

EH Pilsbury Aug 20 - 24

FWB Smart Aug 20 - 24 [1]

J Fitzherbert Aug 21 - 26 (could be June Fitzh?)

Jean Hanap / Harap Aug 27 - 29

Michael Harap Aug 27 - 29

Seramus Sweetman Aug 30 - 31

Maude j Butler Sept 7 - 10

Mary Purcell-FitzGerald Sept 14 - 18

Nicholas Purcell-FitzGerald " "

R de Glanville Dec 16 - 23

[1] Lieut-Col F. W. B. Smart. M.A., as he became, had been the Cambridge-educated Modern Language Master at Charterhouse, taught French and German at the school as early as 1905. He was housemaster of Robinites from 1919 until 1932.

1935 Lisnavagh Visitor’s Book

John Dalgety April 14-16

Pamela Drew April 26 - 30 (first recorded visit to Lisnavagh by my grandmother)

[On Friday June 28th 1935, William and Tom Butler were among those who attended a dance thrown by the Greenwalls at Woldingham].

Maude J Butler May 4 - 6

John Cherry? Aug 1 - 5

Consie Cherry / Cressy? Aug 1 - 5

Hugh Massy Aug 1 - 8

Katie Gethin Aug 2 - 5

Pamela Drew Aug 1 - 9

Pamela Drew Oct 7 – 11

THE 3RD BARON IN AUSTRALIA

Between 18th May and 29th August 1935, Tim's father would seem to have been a Purser on board a 1990hp ship called the Tuscan Star that sailed from London to Auastralia and New Zealand. There is a certificate of discharge from the Board of Trade relating to this event in the Visitors Book at Lisnavagh. On Friday 28 June 1935, The Argus of Melbourne Australia announced on page 6 that ‘Lord Rathdonnell, of County Donegal Ireland, arrived in Melbourne yesterday. He is staying with Colonel E F. Harrison, M.H.R., M H R , and Mrs Harrison at 14 Lansell road, Tooiak. Lord Rathdonnell is taking advantage of a health tour to visit Australia and to see something of Australian (report cut short).'

While he was sailing hime, Tim learned of the death of his widowed sister, Pauline Dalgety (nee McClintock Bunbury) on 25th July 1935 aged 58. On 26th June 2005, her grandson Alexander Dalgety told me the circumstances of her latter years were a source of considerable pain to the family. At some point she became a convert to Christian Science. When her husband Major Fred Dalgety became ill in the 1920s, she seems to have refused to administer the necessary medical treatment to him. He died aged 60 on 23rd May 1926. She subsequently went on a lecture tour of America promoting Christian Science. On her return from one such trip she caught chronic dysentery. She again refused to take any medicine and so she died, presumably in agony, while her brother was sailing home from New Zealand. Alexander seemed flabbergasted by his grandmother’s actions – she was hitherto known as a very popular and rather beautiful lady. But her own sons considered her religious beliefs to have caused their fathers death and her face is etched out of the family albums.

Bill turned 21 on 23rd November 1935. At Lisnavagh, all the alternating oak and beech trees that run alongside the Broom Park were planted in celebration of the occasion.

DEATH OF JOHNNY DREW

Johnny Drew died on 21st December 1935. The coroner's verdict on the 21st suggested that Johnny threw himself from the 7th floor of the Dorchester Hotel in London having said goodbye to a particular lady friend (sometimes said to have been Rosemary Davidson Houston, later Lady Butler) who had gone overseas to America a few days earlier. Johnny and Bill had been good friends for many years. So too were Albert Marcus Rueff and Patrick Leatham, both called upon as witnesses for the Coroner's Inquest (see The Times, Saturday 21 December 1935, page 3). He was buried at Heversham in Westmoreland. I do not know why he committed suicide but over fifty years later I asked Johnny's younger brother Anthony Drew if he ever had any brothers. Anthony said no, he had no brothers. The impact of this death must have been absolutely phenomenal on the family and is a matter to consider in greater depth anon.

Marcus Rueff was an officer in the Tower Hamlets Rifles, or the 9th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade as it became known. He was killed in Libya in April 1941, alongside Captain Quentin Hurst, the son of Sir Gerald Hurst. The two men had been at Rose Hill together. Marcus was apparently 'a gifted scholar, musician and soldier'. For more on his death, see here.

On 20th January 1936, Edward VIII succeeded his father, George V; not crowned

On 16th February 1936, Bill’s uncle Lt. Col. Forrester Farnell Colvin, OBE, died. The following day, after several years of a disastrous trade war, the British and Irish governments signed the Anglo-Irish trade pact which greatly reduced tariffs between the two countries. The Irish government finally agreed to pay the land annuities to British claimants, but Irish exporters regained access to their most lucrative market.

 

1936 Visitors Book

Henry Bramwell Aug 2nd - 5th

Philippa Bramwell " "

E. Mabel Ussher Aug 8 - 11 [1]

Lancelot Ussher " "

Maude J Butler Aug 10 - 12

Isabel Colvin Aug 9 - 15.

[1] The Usshers grandson Patrick Ussher advises me that the Usshers later lived in Cape Town but used to spend the Cape winters in England. Lancelot also built a house in Melbourne. It is presumed they were pals of the 4th Baron although he didn’t take on Lisnavagh until the following year. Or perhaps they were guests of the 3rd Baron, or even leased the house for Horse Show week.

BILL BUNBURY IN AMERICA

On August 5th 1936, four days after Adolf Hitler launched the Olympic Games in Berlin, my 22-year-old grandfather sat at his desk in the plush Hotel Warwick, Newport, Virginia, and wrote a letter to his father. Curiously the letter was sent to “The Lord Rathdonnell”, c/o Copley Plaza Hotel, Boston, Mass” implying that his father was also in America at this time. The letter essentially explained that his plane had arrived safely at Richmond having called in at Philadelphia, Baltimore & Washington – “just like a bus!” He seems to have been staying with a family friend by name of Gerry or Gerard who could feasibly, I presume, be no less a soul than Gerald FitzGerald, Marquess of Kildare. At any rate, “Gerry extremely well and working as a stevedore or something in the shipbuilding yard ..he gets off on Friday midday and we are going down to Virginia Beach for the weekend, to the Cavalier Hotel if you want to write. He will come up on Wednesday and show me New York a bit and he then wants me to stay with some friends at Southampton, Long Island. After that we would go to Bar Harba (Maine). I think it sounds a good idea as he knows lots of people and can show me round properly. I shan’t see so much of America (though quite a lot) but I shall see it much closer and meet far more people of interest.” He complains that he was “pretty fed up with Henry when I got to New York and heard absolutely nothing – no message or anything and I think I am quite justified in handing him the [???] which I now intend to do”. Again, I am not certain who Henry was. Perhaps a servant!? It can’t have been his cousin Henry McClintock Bunbury Bramwell because, according to the Lisnavagh – Drumcar Visitors Book, he and his new wife Philippa (nee Carroll-Leahy) stayed with Tim from August 2nd –5th. At any rate, “I think I am quite justified in quitting on Henry”. [iii]

[iii] Rathdonnell Senior must also have spent some time in America. On 7th September 1936 he recalled in a letter to Bill how he once ?went through the Delaware Gap southward by the Lehigh Valley RR [Railroad]?.

Bill was never too far from tragedy. He had just learned of the death of his friend John Grafton in the papers. John, who had succeeded his grandfather as 9th Duke of Grafton in 1930, was a passionate motoring enthusiast. On August 4th 1936, he took part in the Limerick International Grand Prix. However, on the very first lap, tragedy struck when the young Duke crashed his Bugatti at the Roxborough Road Corner. The car burst into flames trapping John inside. Eventually dragged out by a marshal, the 22 year old was rushed to hospital where he died later in the day. “I am very sorry about it', wrote Bill, 'but was always afraid something like that would happen eventually. We shall all miss him very much”.

August 1936 was to prove a busy month in world affairs. While Hitler hosted the Olympics in Berlin, the civil War continued to rage across Spain as General Franco gradually secured control. And presumably Bill was wont to wonder at the growing speculation in the American and continental press when Wallis Simpson joined the King and other guests for a cruise along the Yugoslav, Greek and Turkish coasts. For one thing, Wallis was simultaneously supposed to be having an affair with Gerald Kildare’s father, the Duke of Leinster.

SEEKING A MILITARY NOMINATION

Meanwhile, Tim Rathdonnell began to pull the necessary strings at the War Office for his only son to secure a nomination to an officer’s commission in the army the following month. My father believes Bill’s original notion of joining the Scots Greys came a cropper when the Greys stated he needed to provide three horses and pay £1000 a year to stay with them; the Hussars merely required one horse and £500 which was much more affordable. However, as Bill had failed to pay “certain monies due” to Cambridge, the College Office would not issue the necessary Certificate that would qualify him to proceed. With Bill in Maine, Tim journeyed to Cambridge on 23rd August to try and reason with the authorities but could find nobody of use, just a “lot of rubber-neck Americans ogling Kings; I caught the remark “My, isn’t that just too cute” – I wonder what the O.B. would have said”. The OB was presumably Tim's late father, probably short for the 'Old Boy'.

By the 27th, he was starting to get fed up running around Cambridge looking for the relevant bodies to talk to. “This is all very annoying”, he wrote, “for I am due at Lisnavagh on Tuesday when Langham is due for leave”. Nonetheless he pledged to “have a shot at General Courage but he is usually in Scotland at this time. [Rathdonnell to WRMcCB, August 27th 1936]

The next day, Tim wrote the promised letter. General Courage had been Colonel of the 15th/19th King's Royal Hussars since November 1931. The regiment was formed in 1922 by an amalgamation of the "The Fighting 15th" (or the King's Hussars) and the 19th (or the 1st Bengal European Light Calvary, raised in 1861, and nicknamed "The Dumpies"). In the ensuing fifteen years, the Hussars had been part of “an army at low ebb; an army disheartened by a policy of disarmament, hampered by parsimony and disregarded by the people in the revulsion against war which came with peace”. They were garrisoned in Egypt from 1924 to 1928 – “the normal peace-time life of training, reviews, polo, racing and sport”. In late 1928 they sailed to the North West Frontier in India where they remained, stationed at Risalpur, until 1934, doing their share of patrols and expeditions at a time when the frontier tribes were wont to “blaze into sporadic insurrection”. The regiment returned to England in 1934 and was stationed first at Shorncliffe and then, in early 1936, at Tidworth.

Tim explained his son’s case to the General, stating that the “hitch” was that Bill had been too ill to complete all his papers and that, as the University was then “in vacation”, it was difficult to secure the necessary papers to prove that the University had in fact awarded him a BA degree – “a sort of aegrotat”. [Letter from Rathdonnell to Courage, August 28th 1936]. An Aegrotat means you receive credit for a course even though you have not been able to complete all the work required.Tim was particularly perturbed by the fact that if Bill’s name did not go forward for the September nominations, “my son … is going to lose six months seniority in the Army”. There was no mention of “certain monies due”.

Three days later, Tim wrote to his son that the September nominations were now beyond their reach. He berated him for “missing the bus” and insisted he pay all his College and University fees as soon as possible, visit Colonel Murray and start seeking a nomination in November. He stated that these matters “must take precedence of all other engagements whatsoever …Your inattention to essential matters during the last three months has caused an immensity of trouble and was on the way to jeopardizing your Army career”. Tim was still in Cambridge and clearly very bored with the heat and “stiff-lipped” bureaucracy of his old college. “I came here to spend 2-3 days, but it takes 2-3 days to do 2-3 hours work and I have now been here 11 days in a heat wave. Everything is closed now and were it not for the rubber-necks, the place would be dead. The shops have sold off all their wares and not yet got the new ones; the shop keepers stand at their doors and cast jests across the street at each other. I have tried to buy a suitable shirt but failed; Bodger offered to make one for me but when I asked him How Long? he said ten days! All the dons are on leave; when I went to the University for that Certificate, it took three days to find a don to sign it. No, I have not enjoyed myself. All best love, Son, look after yourself”.

A week later, Tim was back at Lisnavagh, watching the hay come in and the silage pile up at the bottom of Kinsella’s Hill.None of the corn has been brought in yet and until some threshing can be done there are no oats or straw: all the carefully made reserves have been used up. It has been a bad summer, like 1930. Good job there were reserves to use [but] the worst of building up reserves is that people think there is any amount to waste”. Bill was meanwhile voyaging around the Great Lakes of America. The Ards TT Race at Newtonards brought back memories of John Grafton’s death when “a [Riley] car got into a skid and charged the spectators”, killing eight and injuring 40 others. It was to be the last TT Race at Newtonards. Tim Rathdonnell was clearly anticipating his son’s return soon – “I told Dowdall to get The Scut in and cleaned up for you to ride when you come, but he is only grass fed: there are no oats until threshing can be done. Anyhow, if you do not want him, he can be turned out again”.[ix]

News from Lisnavagh

Bill began to make preparations for his return across the Atlantic in early September. His father was held hostage at Lisnavagh while Sir John Langham was on leave until the 17th but had hopes to be in the south of England by the 20th. He suggested meeting his son off the “Queen Mary” at Southampton on the 28th. That said, he was by no means pushy, adding that “I am not tied to dates and you may have other plans for your arrival. I have some business in Southampton but that is not dependent on your movements. Carry on, Son. But please let me know”. Life at Lisnavagh had not been so easy. “It has been blowing a gale here for 24 hours with slashing showers. I think of the unfortunate harvest. I see no chance of building up another reserve this year. I was in the garden yesterday without coat or hat and got drenched. Some bug got washed down from the heavens and on the way bit me in my back hair – kind of horse-fly bite; nothing serious, but annoying to have the back of one’s neck getting in the way of one’s collar”. Perhaps he sensed that his son’s imminent return would put an end to the correspondence between them. At any rate he concluded his last letter rather sweetly thus: “Good luck and good traveling to you, Son. Thank you so much for all the letters which you have sent; they have been most refreshing to me; they have been more than that, Son, they have kept me in touch with your ideas of a world which has changed and which will go on changing. All best love, Son, from …”.

Military Bureaucracy

However, a sense of panic resumed the following week when Tim evidently got wind from General Courage that his son could not possibly be considered for the Army until a proper degree was conferred by Cambridge. On Wednesday 16th September, he telegrammed Bill, staying at Sol’s Cliff in Bar Harbor, Maine, that the “matter now rests entirely with you … everything possible done this side”. The following day, Tim received an encouraging letter from General Courage, sent from Golden Cross House in Charing Cross. The General apologized for not replying sooner but explained he had been on a cruise for the previous three weeks. “I am so sorry there was a hitch over your boy’s Degree and I look forward to getting him a Commission in my Regiment after October”. Better still, “I should not worry unduly about your boy having lost six months seniority, as I do not think it will affect his future”. Tim was delighted with the news. The General had meanwhile written a similar letter to Bill in which he counseled him to “let me know” when the Degree was conferred “and find out from Colonel Murray that he has definitely forwarded your name to the Military Secretary and then I will take up the matter at once and get you gazetted”.

Tim was still not convinced. On Tuesday 22nd September he wrote to his son, explaining that he “badly” wanted to see him about “your Army affairs” He said he would be staying at The Dolphin Hotel in Southampton and advised Bill to make his way directly there once he had disembarked. He figured his son would probably try and escape to go on the razz in London and advised that “there are frequent fast trains [to London] from Southampton” although he personally did not wish to go there “unless obliged”. He stressed that his being in Southampton was merely coincidental. “I have important business, unconnected with you … it concerns Miss. Hewitt and must be transacted”. He further offers his “love, or regards or compliments, whichever you think most proper to deliver” to a “Miss. Brickenden” and to Gerard”.

DinnIE Brickeneden

The Miss. Brickenden in question was Dorinda (or “Dinnie”), the 16-year-old daughter of George (Arthur Porte) and Catharine Keziah McCormick Brickenden. Better known as Kizzie Brickenden, Dinnie's Ontario-born mother was the granddaughter of wealthy biscuit maker Thomas McCormick. As a visionary theatre producer, playwright, director, actress, entrepeneur and co-founder of London Little Theatre, Kizzie became known as “the Grand Dame of the Grand Theatre” during the 1920s. She modeled much of her work on The Abbey Theatre in Dublin. She also wrote 'A Pig in a Poke', which was produced on the Grand Theatre stage in 1950 and starred Nonie Jeffery. Dinnie’s father was Judge George A. Brickenden. The big news in 1936 as far as the Brickenden's would have been concerned was the Dominion Drama Festival which attracted the attention of the Governor General and his wife (Lord and Lady Tweedsmuir). In August 2005, I established contact with the late London theatre critic Chris Doty who had written an appraisal of Kizzie’s life to see what he knew. He subsequently spoke with Dinnie (now Mrs. Dorinda Hall-Holland Fuller Greenway and based in Hertfordshire) who confirmed that she had met Bill while at boarding school in Yorkshire earlier in the year and that, at her invitation, he had come to stay on the Brickenden estate, Dorindale, for the Summer. One of the most famous names in Pony Club camp circles in Canada, she has been riding to hounds all her life, achieving her colours with the London (Ontario) Hunt at the age of eight. Chris added: “Like her mother, she [Dinny] is a very accomplished equestrian and still rides at breakneck speeds at the age of 85”. For more, see the Brickenden Awards.

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Can anyone identify this motor photographed outside the old front entrance of Lisnavagh House?
As one commentator observed, 'I would think this is a fairly early car (1904-1906 maybe) and I
can just pick out the two digits "44" on the number plate which immediately tells me that it it
most likely not a Carlow registration so was probably visiting for the day. My thought is that it
could be a De Dion.
'

In the Name of the Rolls

Meanwhile, a new matter had arrived on Tim’s desk at Lisnavagh. It concerned a young lady called Pamela Drew, eldest daughter of John Malcolm Drew of Alexander Drew & Sons, calico printers, of Eversley, Milnthorpe, Westmoreland. And one banjaxed Rolls Royce. The matter had first arisen in August when Tim received a letter from David Scott Moncrieff, owner of the Esher Garage on the Portsmouth Road in Surrey. Known by his friends as “Bunty”, Scott-Moncrieff described himself as “a purveyor of horseless carriages to the nobility and gentry since 1927”. He specialized in Mercedes, Rolls Royce, Bentley, Alfa-Romeo, Lagonda and Fiat.

From Bunty’s letter to Silvermugs of August 17th 1936, it would seem that the Baron had lent “Miss. Drew” his Rolls Royce and that she had returned it “with all four wings wiped, the luggage grid bent and the spare wheel bracket attacked”. The garage had done their best to repair the vehicle and a bill for £8-15-0 was already whittling its way to young “Mr. Bunbury”. Pleading ignorance as to the origins of these injuries, Tim wrote back to Scott-Moncrieff that he would personally foot the bill – his son being in America - but not until he knew more about “the place and nature of the mishap”. He had certainly heard nothing at all from either his son or Miss. Drew. Bunty replied that the Baron had dropped the Rolls off at his garage shortly before he left for America, asking him to sell it and get a new one “with front wheel breaks”. Bunty then tracked down “Miss. Drew” and the result was this amusing letter, written to the 3rd Lord Rathdonnell on Tuesday 22nd September 1936, just over a year before Bill and Pamela’s engagement was announced.

Dear Lord Rathdonnell,

I have now heard from Miss. Drew. Apparently both she and William drove the car after it came out of the Coachbuilders. William didn’t hit anything, but she seems to have scored four wings and a luggage carrier in three hits.

At the traffic round-about opposite Victoria station an omnibus stopped suddenly on the corner without warning and she ran into the back of it.

Oxford Street was very slippery from a thunder shower. Miss. Drew was coming westwards from king’s Cross and a taxi skidded in front of her; as you know the Rolls only has back wheel brakes and in the ensuing skid quite a lot more damage got done.

Of all the cars in London to back into she chose mine. However luckily it was only the works hack and did not suffer much, but the Rolls got a bit dented.

I hope these details are sufficient.

Yours sincerely,

David Scott-Moncreiff

So between this and Bill’s uncertain army career, Tim certainly had much to stress about. However, I do not know if the Southampton meeting ever took place or what happened next! There are a stack more letters which I have yet to transcribe and these may yield more on the matter!

The Kavanagh Wedding & Wallis Simpson

On Saturday October 17th 1936, Tim Rathdonnell was among those who gathered at Borris House in Co. Carlow to attend the wedding of Major McMurrough Kavanagh’s daughter Joane to the Marquess of Kildare. Bill was unable to make the wedding, being “at present [still?] abroad, overseas”. It was a shame he could not make the wedding. The Marquess - Gerald FitzGerald, later 8th Duke of Leinster - was a good friend and exact contemporary. Gerald was born in May 1914 and Bill in November. Gerald’s father was the notorious spendthrift Duke of Leinster who lost the Carton estate. He was also apparently engaged in an affair with Wallis Simpson at the time of his son’s marriage. He had separated from Gerald’s mother shortly after his birth; Gerald was raised by a great-aunt, Lady Maurice Fitzgerald, at Johnstown Castle, Co. Wexford. It was at this wedding that Sir Harry Mallaby-Deeley, the man who secured the Carton estate after the 8th Duke’s bankruptcy, gifted the newlyweds the historical FitzGerald castle of Kilkea near Castledermot as a wedding present.[xiii] On October 20th 1936, three days after Gerald and Joane?s wedding, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin confronted the King for the first time over his relationship with Mrs Simpson. He asked him to conduct his affair more discreetly and to persuade her to put off her impending divorce proceedings against her husband. Baldwin?s request was to no avail and a divorce was granted.

On Thursday 17th December 1936, William attended the wedding of his cousin Ruth Greenwall to William Colquhoun.

Joining the Army - 1937

In The Times of Saturday, January 30th 1937, the official appointments and notices of the previous days’ London Gazette were listed. Only two men appeared under the heading of “Cavalry” as having secured appointments as Second Lieutenant from the Territorial Army – the Hon. W. R. McClintock Bunbury (15th / 19th Hussars) and HC Massy (4th / 7th Dragoon Guards).

On Friday June 4th 1937, William attended a regimental dinner for the King’s Hussars at the Cavalry Club. The previous day, Edward and Wallis Simpson were married in France; Wallis was now the Duchess of Windsor. The Coronation of King George VI took place five weeks earlier.

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Above: The Rolls-Royce which stood at Lisnavagh from 1937 to c. 1961.

A NEW FAMILY ROLLS

In May 1937, Bill - then apparently serving with the 15/19 Hussars in York - bought a 1929 Rolls-Royce 20hp Barker Two Door Coupe. This motorcar with the registration GFN10 had originally been ordered by Albert Donn, an Eastbourne property developer, and was registered in the name of his wife Ethel Donn at their London address of Northgate Mansions, Regent’s Park. By 1936, the car was with Arthur Isaac Phillips of Tunbridge Wells but, according to research by the team at www.realcar.co.uk, by early 1937 the car is shown on the chassis card as being with Frederick Alfred Gatty of the Overwater Hall estate which he purchased in 1929.* Mr Gatty only had the Rolls a short time before it was bought by the Hon W. R. McClintock-Bunbury, aka Bill Rathdonnell.

My father - Bill's son - remembers learning to drive in GFN10 – which was slightly awkward but not as bad as the Alvis he had at Dartmouth which had a centre accelerator! GFN10 remained with the Rathdonnells until after the death of the 4th Baron in 1959. By 1964 the little 20hp had moved to Woodbridge, Ontario (hometown of Elizabeth Arden) & was with D. McColl until 2004. In December 2013, the car returned to the UK and was offered for £39,500 via http://www.realcar.co.uk/20hp_gfn10.htm

* Mr Gatty made his family fortune through the development of Khaki dye which the Army adopted; upon his death in 1951 the estate & contents were auctioned off; the contents numbered over 2,000 items & included 12 bottles of 1878 Vintage Cognac, 2 cannons & a chair carved from the timbers of “Foudroyant” (Nelson’s flagship).

WHITE GLOVES FOR CARLOW

Nationalist and Leinster Times, June,1937.
ABSENCE OF CRIME IN CARLOW.
Judge presented with White Gloves.
At Carlow Circuit Court on Tuesday Mr Fitzgerald, County Register, said he had great pleasure in presenting His Lordship, Judge Sealy, with white gloves as a token of the crimeless state of the County of Carlow. His Lordship said he was very pleased to receive the presentation and he congratulated the people of Carlow on the fact that there was no criminal business to go before him. Carlow, he said, was a very well-behaved County, and it very often happened that there was no criminal business. He had some doubt about the continuance of this practice of presenting white gloves. In the old days, this pleasure fell on the Sheriff of the County who had a lucrative office, but that office had been abolished, and they had transferred the honour to the County Register, but none of the fees. As the Minister for Justice had refused to pay the expenses of presenting white gloves, His Lordship said that in the circumstances the County Register had his permission to discontinue the practice in future.
(With thanks to Michael Purcell).

THE BECKETT CONNECTION?

On 3rd July 1937, Irish playwright Samuel Beckett wrote a letter in which he said he had been ‘offered a job as an agent to an estate (Lord Rathdowne’s?) near Carlow. £300 per.an. & a free house. I passed it on to Percy but he turned it down on the ground that Beverley would whip in a young wife the moment his back was turned. I thought it would have suited him exactly’. The editor of these letters points out that the Rathdowne estate belonged to Viscount Chetwynd, one of whom died in 1936, but it was in Dublin. As such, the editor said ‘the Rathdonnell estate in Co Carlow came closer to the description’, particularly as the then Lord Rathdonnell allegedly lived in England at this time. Lisnavagh had the same manager from 1930 to 1951 but the editor suggested Beckett might have been offered a job running a smaller property nearby, curiously suggesting Oak Park. (The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1929-1940, edited by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld & Lois More Overbeck, p. 501.

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Above: The Irish Press, 1st October 1937.

An Unhappy Coincidence

On Tuesday September 28th 1937, two starkly contrasting events took place. I remain astonished that I had not heard of this unhappy coincidence before but once again I suspect that there may have been some unbearable sorrow sustained during this time that compelled people to say nothing on the subject and move on. Firstly an announcement appeared in The Times stating that Bill and Pamela Drew were to be married.[xiv] The proposed marriage had been a source of great concern to Tim who, while approving of Pamela no end, felt his son was far too young to engage in such a union. I have a number of fascinating letters relating to this period that I will endeavour to transcribe soon. Bill is defiant throughout, his father patient and wise.

However, rather shockingly, Tim Rathdonnell died on the very same day his sons' engagement was announced in The Times. Thomas Leopold (Tim) McClintock Bunbury, 3rd Baron Rathdonnell was 57 years old. It is not clear why he died so young, although my father - his grandson - says he was in poor health in his later years and the wheelchair in the library at Lisnavagh was most probably for his use, as opposed to his own father before him. No doubt his wartime experiences did not help but he also smoked heavily and was fond of a drink. He was cremated at Liverpool in a private ceremony and his ashes were then transferred to be with his late wife at Brookwood, outside London. The Times carried a short obituary to him two days later.

THE Wedding

Tim's death must have come at a hugely inconvenient time for Bill who now became the 4th Lord Rathdonnell. The marriage to Pamela went ahead on 25th November - just two days after Bill's 23rd birthday and three days after Bill finally secured his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 15th / 19th King's Royal Hussars. The service was officiated by the Bishop of Ossory together with the Archdeacon of Furness, Canon Royds and the Rev ER Ellis. Pamela was given away by her brother Anthony Drew while her sister Diana was the only bridesmaid. She sported “a greenish-grey check tailor-made suit with a felt hat and jumper to tone”. The best man was Hugh Caruthers Massy of the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards. After Bill's death, Hugh Massy would go on to marry Pamela and became known to the family as "The Major". His story is told in greater detail here. On account of the 3rd Baron’s recent death, there was no reception afterwards. The couple went to Manchester on their honeymoon where they managed to catch Solitaire winning the November Handicap, perhaps hoping their might double their luck with the Irish Sweepstake. [xv] The new Baron then joined his regiment in York where he bore witness to the momentous change that had finally begun to press itself on the Army for “the era of the horse was finished and in future men would do battle in machines”.

NB: (Sir) Tom Butler of Ballintemple, a recent graduate of Trinity College, Cambridge, was also married in 1937, to Rosemary Davidson-Houston of Pembury Hall in Ken, daughter of Major James Davidson-Houston.

On November 23rd 1937, Pamela gave William a copy of Brown Jack by R.C. Lyle. Brown Jack was a legendary stayer who dominated staying races around 1930. Originally trained to run over hurdles he was good enough to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. After this he was switched with dramatic effect to run on the level. His forte was the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot. It was run over two and three quarter miles and was therefore the supreme test of stamina for a horse. Brown Jack made the race his own, winning it on no less than six occasions. His regular partner was the Champion Jockey, Steve Donoghue. He won other big stayers races too. These include the Ascot Stakes, Goodwood Cup, Doncaster Cup, Chester Cup and the Ebor Handicap. These races were often won carrying very large weights

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Bill Rathdonnell, circa 1943, with his son Ben (right) and daughter Alexandra, or Pally.

The Birth of the 5th baron

Bill and Pamela's firstborn son - my father was born, at Lisnavagh, the following September 17th 1938. As he likes to say, he was born seventeen feet in the air as the bedroom at Lisnavagh where he was born no longer exists.

The event was recorded in the Dundee Evening Telegraph (Wednesday 21 September 1938, p. 4), as follows: 'Son and Heir for Lord Rathdonnell - The birth of a son at Lisnavagh, Rathvilly, Co. Carlow, to-day to Lady Rathdonnell announced. Lord Rathdonnell, the fourth baron, is 23. He succeeded to the title in September last year, and two months later married Pamela, eldest daughter of the late Mr John Malcolm Drew, of Eversley, near Milnthorpe, Westmorland. At the ceremony at Heversham, Westmorland, he wore the waistcoat which his father used at his wedding 25 years previously. Before her marriage, Lady Rathdonnell was a keen follower of the Oxenholme Staghounds and a member of the Royal Windermere Yacht Club.'

The son was named Thomas Benjamin McClintock Bunbury, combining two of the three most popular Bunbury family Christian names, the third being William. The event was recorded in the Court Circular of The Times four days later.[xvi] At his christening his godparents were Christopher Dalgety (father of Alexander), Honor Leatham, Jack Langham, Diana Drew and Hugh Massy. The latter gave Dad a silver tankard with all the Grand National winners etched on it, now in the office. Dad says his father fancied Honor Leatham a good deal; she was a sister of one of the Cambridge 'gang', Paddy Leatham, who later died on 17 August 1951 in a riding accident. [xvii]

SEVENTY ONE EMPLOYEES AND NO MONEY TO PAY 'EM

My father says that when his mother arrived as a bride to Lisnavagh there were 21 non-productive staff (mostly in-house but including stableboys and a gamekeeper) and over fifty semi-productive employees working on the farm. However, by the 1940s – with Britain itself bankrupt - there was no money to either pay staff or to keep the place warm and clean.

HOWZAT!

On August 12th–13th 1938, Bill Rathdonnell was playing cricket for Na Shuler against Cork County during the club’s pre-war revival. He was out for an LBW by Collins after just 3 runs. On the plus side he avenged his Great Uncle Jack Bunbury, who was caught by a Colthurst in 1873, by catching out Sir George Colthurst. On August 15 – 16, the Na Shuler team went on to Castlemore where Bill was run out but he managed to catch out the opponent’s captain, K. Alexander. Lord Kildare also played. On August 17 they played Newtownbarry where Bill was caught out by Hall-Dare after just 6 runs. John de Burgh batted after him. Bill’s last game was against Cork on 18 – 19 August when he was bowled out for 4 runs; the late Mungo Park played same game. The last game the Na Shuler played was at Newtownbarry on August 26th 1939 though (Sir) Bill Blunden did rally troops in the 1970s. Mungo Park, a stockbroker from Bailey in Howth, played with him, as did Hall-Dare, John Watson and Philip Blunden (an artist who lives out by Celbridge). [See Patrick Hone, History of Cricket in Ireland.] This was the same month that the German government decreed that all Jews must add Israel or Sara to their first names for ease of identification.

HENRY GIFF

Bill Burgess liked Henry Giff who was Steward at Lisnavagh for 30 years or so. He began as Under-Steward but duly fell in. Mrs. Giff reared an awful lot of Guinea Fowl in the Second War; they were a pound each at that time. They were also exporting large numbers of rabbits from Lisnavagh to England at that time. At Corrigans in Maplestown, Bill Burgess recalled rabbits being so plentiful that if a sheepdog chased them down the burrens, they’d pop up out of another one because there wasn’t enough room for them all. After successful reintroduction, buzzards put paid to many of them.

‘It got to the stage with Mr. Giff that he couldn’t buy a couple of nails’, recalled Bill Burgess. Everything had to go through John Langham, my father’s godfather, who was the agent at Lisnavagh for many years and lived in Germaines. ‘He’d have to send up to Langhams with them. Langham was terrible mean for buying things. I remember Mr. Giff sitting down here one day to know did I have a pair of ordinary ploughing chains. I had some myself. Everything he bought had to come through Langham. Why he couldn’t make up a pair, I don’t know? He had a blacksmith and all. But I had a new pair and I gave them to him.’ On another occasion he said ‘have you any oats down there?’ I said ‘I have’. He said ‘You’d never give me a few bags of oats. I have cattle going to the show in Dublin and Langahm won’t let me but anything to feed them and I’ve nothing to give them’. I said ‘Come down and have whatever you want’. I don’t know how he got on in the show!’ The week after the thrashing in the autumn, Bill’s oats were replaced.

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Above: Hilda the nanny with young Pally (Alexandra) and Ben.

JOHN BETJEMAN AT LISNAVAGH

The poet John Betjeman and his wife Penelope stayed at Lisnavagh from July 25-27 1941. That same year, Betjeman was appointed British press attaché in neutral Dublin, Ireland, working with the civil sevant Sir John Maffey. Betjeman is thought to have been involved with the gathering of intelligence and was reputedly marked for assassination by the IRA until an anonymous Old IRA man reprieved him because he enjoyed Betjeman's works.

THE BARON VERSUS NAZI GERMANY

During my first conversation with him, the late Atty Dowling told me a story about my grandmother Pamela Drew and Mr. Giff, the agent at Lisnavagh, arriving on horseback in the Cow Field. It was a cold morning in February 1939. Atty was working in the field at the time with his cousins from Williamstown, Jack, Pat and Tom Dowling. They were following a hoodless tractor, stomping in the sods of earth kicked up by a herd of cattle who'd been grazing there over the winter. Everyone was smoking cigarettes. 'Ah it's very cold, Lady Rathdonnell?, they said. ' It is' said she, 'it's a lazy wind that wouldn't take the time to go around you but would go straight through'. Mr. Giff later asked why she thought a European war so inevitable. 'Because the Jews have bought the stocks of the world up', she said. 'And she was right', concluded Atty. 'Six months later we were at war.'

In the summer of 1943, Rathvilly was among those places to send a contingent of Wolf Cubs and Scouts to the Lansdowne rally at which Lord Somers presided, and at which the late Johnny Golden attended. I presume my grandmother lead them onto the pitch. The Irish Times, Monday June 14th 1943.

I wonder what my grandfather thought of war. His father's only brother was killed at Kimberley during the Boer War so he must have understood the significance of fate; but for the Boer sniper's bullet, Billy Bunbury would have inherited Lisnavagh and all would have been utterly different. Likewise Pamela's father John Drew had lost his only brother Alan Appleby Drew to war; he fought for the Cameron Highlanders and died at Neuve Chapelle in 1915. I visited his grave at Laventier 95 years later. At least he had a grave, poor fellow.

The Hussars were not mechanized until 1938, a complicated and lengthy process. “By April 1938", as the regimental history out it, "all the horses had left the Regiment, except for one charger for each officer. But the horses were not immediately succeeded by machines and for about nine months the Regiment knew a period of frustration and uncertainty, with only a few obsolete tracked carriers and half a dozen motor cycles and trucks in which to train itself”. By early 1939 they had received some modern carriers and by August they had a number of Light Tanks and Bren carriers. But within a month Hitler’s armies would advance on Poland and War would begin. Like the Army, the Regiment was seriously under-equipped and its soldiers ill-trained for the new age. Major Massey was one of the cavalry officers assigned to give rapid training to the troops at Sandhurst in the early part of the war. Another was Geoff Milne who had been wounded early on. Neither were said to have been particularly popular, ambling around with their dogs and horses, as Sandhurst was traditionally a Guards haunt and none of these dashed horse chaps were any good.

THE WAR YEARS

At 1100 on 3rd September 1939 Neville Chamberlain wearily declared “a state of war exists between this country and Germany”. Few among the Hussars were old enough to have fought in the Great War and thus few can have understood the implications of this terrible declaration. The Regiment had been stationed at Binnigton near Scarborough during August but were relocated to their permanent barracks, the Cavalry Barracks at York, in the last week of August. It seems likely Bill joined them here at York. He seems to have been only part-time with the Regiment at this point but, following the declaration of war, became a full-time officer. At York, “tents sprang up like mushrooms on the grass” at the Square in front of the Officer’s Mess. The “glistening whiteness” of these tents was “soon dulled by camouflage paint”. More than 2,000 men crowded into the Barracks, many from No. 1 Dock Group. The Regiments role was to be Divisional Cavalry to 3 Division. Here they heard the air sirens for the first time, just practice runs, but essential at a time when most people believed that this would be a war of incessant air raids. By the evening of 2nd September “over 300 reservists – all men trained in the days of horses – had rejoined [and] more than double this number were to join in the next week”. I presume Bill was among these. On 7th September “the last of the horses left the Regiment, when 21 officers’ chargers were dispatched to Melton Mowbray – the end of the friendship between man and horse which had for a hundred and eighty years inspired the work and play of the Regiment”. They sat about for the next few weeks, training, training, training, painting the new vehicles and waiting for the War Office to issue them with new equipment. A new battle dress arrived – designed to replace the traditional “pants, puttees and spurs”. The Colonel of the Regiment, Brigadier General A Courage, DSO, MC, visited the Regiment at the end of the month.

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Above: Bill Rathdonnell and his fellow B-Squadron Officers of the Hussars on a Humber scout car
in Germany. L-R: Lieutenant S.R.M. Frazer, Captain Sutherland, Lieutenant R.F. (?),
Captain the Earl of Harrington, Major the Lord Rathdonnell, MC (puffing a pipe at the back)
and Captain N. Weatherby, MC.

On 29th September the regiment moved by train and road to Avonmouth. In the early hours of October 3rd they set sail for France with the British Expeditionary Force, dropping anchor outside St. Nazarie in Western France. A storm in mid crossing bode ill but a clumsy man falling into the sea brought good cheer again.

I will add further notes about the regiment's progress shortly but, in the meantime, one of the worst days for the regiment forms the focus of a chapter in the brilliant book 'Blood Knots' by Luke Jennings. His father was a fellow officer of my grandfather Michael Jennings, MC, and recorded the following in his diary:

"At Zonhoven, north of Hasselt, ‘B’ Squadron suddenly found themselves in the thick of a battle with an SS Division. We knocked out several tanks and guns. Basil Pearson was sniped and died in a few minutes. David Agnew’s tank was hit and he was concussed. He started crawling towards the enemy until he was rescued by Cpl Lucas, who won the Military Medal. An 88mm took a pot-shot at Bill Rathdonell’s tank but missed. Bill tried to fire back but his gun jammed. Meanwhile the colonel was weaving around in his scout-car, directing the battle. Frank Ainslie’s tank was stalked by a German who dropped a grenade in through the turret. He and Cpl Walker were killed."

King George V1's Christmas Day message of 1939 quotes four lines of a poem by Minnie Haskins:
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year,

"Give me a light, that I may tread safely into the unknown "
And he replied,
"Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of whom or whatever you conceive your God to be.
That shall be brighter than the brightest light and safer than a known way.'

1940

June - Nationalist and Leinster Time: 'Carlow's New Cinema, an enterprise nearing completion in Tullow Strret, will be officialy opened for entertainment on Saturday 18th June. It will be known as "Ritz" the last word in super-cinema in the provinces.'

1942

RITZ CINEMA, CARLOW, presents. COUNT JOHN MCCORMACK. LAST FAREWELL CONCERT. NOVEMBER 11th. The stalls are now booked out. We have a limited number of balcony seats at 7/6p (seven shillings and six pence). Please book by Friday. Count McCormack may make a final farewell speech from the stage. Do not miss this historic occasion.

1943

On July 17th 1943, a British Wellington bomber of the 304th Polish Squadron, crashed at Ballickmoyler. The crew bailed out over Carlow.

1944

R’s Regimental War Diary states that, two days after landing, he and his regiment spent the night of 18th August, 1944, "just west of Ecouché" and next day pressed on through a badly damaged Argentan.

For the next chapter in this saga, I would suggest you turn to my interview with the late Bill Harrington who served as Bill Rathdonnell's No. 2 during the latter years of the Second World War, when they were closely involved with mopping up the last Nazi resistance around Lunenburg Heath, including the arrest of Hitler's designated heir, Admiral Karl Doenitz. That story can be found here.

MILITARY CROSS

Bill Rathdonnell was awarded the Military Cross at the end of the war. It is believed this was given to him by Field Marshal Montgomery in Holland and there is a apparently a photograph of this occasion somewhere.

1946

23 May: Pamela Rathdonnell gives birth to a baby daughter. The child passes away just three days later.

Garret Moore recalled the first Tullow Show in 1946, revived for the first time since 1913, when he was a secretary and my grandfather turned up. Someone had to delineate a line and it required posts being hammered in. Lord Rathdonnell picked up the mallet and set off to hammer them all in himself. I think that’s what made grandfather a little different to many other aristos of his generation - his willingness, nay, eagerness, to get involved with all the physical stuff, banging in posts, driving tractors and such like. And likewise I keep meeting people who remember my grandmother as being very open and level with them - especially children - and sending people paintings of Rathvilly for their homes and such like.

November: "OFFENCES UNDER TRAFFIC - NEWBRIDGE CONVICTIONS. At Droichead Nua District Court, before Justice Patrick D. O'Grady, Lord Rathdonnell, Lisnavagh, Rathvilly, Co Carlow, and Harold Herterich, Main Street, Droichead Nua, were prosecuted for alleged dangerous driving at Lumville Cross Roads on Saturday, September 21. Mr, A. E. MacMahon, solicitor, appeared for Lord Rathdonnell, and Mr. P. P. Wilkinson for Mr. Herterich. A plea of guilty was entered by both defendants, and, in defence, it was stated that visibility was very limited on the date in question and this had caused a slight collision between cars driven by defendants. The Justice imposed a fine of 40 - in each case." (Leinster Leader - Saturday 23 November 1946)

EVELYN WAUGH

In May 1947, the author Evelyn Waugh spent seven days in Ireland, visiting three mansions a day (as he told John Betjeman) with a view to purchasing one of them. The purpose of his visit is well explained by Patrick Ross in this review of Alec Waugh’s ‘My Brother Evelyn’ for Envoy (1967):

‘...Soon after the end of the war I chanced to be in Dublin, on leave from the Middle East. Here a telegram reached me from Evelyn, which read: ‘Kindly inspect Gormanston Castle which I intend to purchase Waugh.” I did so on a cold and foggy November night and the next day crossed to England where I stayed at Piers Court. Evelyn explained that he was anxious to escape from post-war England and from a neighbourhood which threatened to become over-industrialised. He asked me eagerly for details of Gormanston, which he had seen advertised for sale. He was attracted by the Irish legend of the foxes at Gormanston, which are said to bay around the Castle on the eve of its noble occupant’s death. Would they bay, did I think, for him?

I was unable to answer this question, or indeed to tell him much of the Castle, which I had been able to see only by the light of a flickering candelabrum. It seemed to me, I said, immense, hard to heat and to light and to run, and moreover cursed with an interminable and cavernous basement. ‘Spendid’, said Evelyn, ‘that will do for the children. We can batten them down below stairs.’ A few days later he and Laura went over to Ireland and inspected the Castle, which pleased Evelyn greatly. They decided to buy it – but luckily found out, just in time, that the strip of land between the Castle and the sea had just been sold to another buyer for conversion into a holiday camp.’

Thanks to Alexander Waugh who sent the above details. The holiday camp became Butlin's Mosney in 1948 and was built to accomodate 2000 people! Gormanston was instead bought by the Franciscans and tunred into a school.

As Victoria Glendenning put it in an email to me in September 2015, 'Waugh was part of the ‘Flight from Moscow’ - the kind of English people appalled by the radical new Labour Government in UK in 1945, and thinking that in Anglo-Ireland they would find good houses, hunting, ‘traditional’ values, and service, i.e. maids etc. Some stayed, some didn’t.'

As well as Gormanston, Waugh was very interested in Lisnavagh. The house appears to have been pre-selected for his viewing by the solicitor and novelist Terence de Vere White (later Victoria Glendenning's husband, as well as literary editor of The Irish Times from 1961 to 1977). The fact that John and Penelope Betjeman had stayed at Lisnavagh in July 1941 may have been relevant.

Following a 'luncheon with Lady Rathdonnell', Waugh very nearly settled on Lisnavagh, which he described variously as ‘a practical Early Victorian Collegiate building’, ‘…quite unromantic, a machine for living in, 1845 baronial tudor, granite, yews’ ([i] ) and ‘a large prosaic Early Victorian baronial mansion'. ([ii]). Lisnavagh was up for sale for £20,000. Indeed, he went so far as to get headed paper written up with Lisnavagh at the top.

'A pretty name - Lisnavagh - with the accent on the last syllable', he wrote to Diana Cooper. At the time, the house had 22 bedrooms, 5 bathrooms, 12 acres and a luggage entrance. However, Waugh complained, 'the privations in Ireland are as bad as in England'. Jeremy Williams says that Mrs. Waugh liked the house also.

‘Obscure peers – RATHDONNELL. It is his house I am negotiating for. He has a daughter named ALLY PALLY M’CLINTOCK-BUNBURY. It (the house not Ally Pally) is a hundred years old exactly. It looks very English in this picture but its interior is good baronial architect William [no, Daniel! – ed.] Robertson.’ [iii]

Other houses he considered included Viewmount in Kilkenny, Kiltinane in Tipperary (now Lloyd-Webber), Strancally Castle on the Blackwater and ‘and a fine ugly 1870 Italianate villa on Lough Derg called Slevyre, the home, believe it or not, of General Sir William Hickey.’

Ultimately he decided not to move to Ireland. The Labour Government in the UK was ‘piling up repressive measures’ on those who left - the Flight from Moscow, I think it was dubbed - and he did not want to seem to be ‘flying from them,’ suggested one source. [iv] Or maybe, as Victoria Glendenning puts it, it was simply 'more hassle than he had imagined maybe, such as the value of standing timber at Lisnavagh. Trees weren’t just trees. (The man who bought Bowen’s Court from Elizabeth Bowen only wanted it for the timber, and razed the house.)'

Two relevant letters from the Lisnavagh Archives follow below:

LORD RATHDONNELL TO TERENCE DE VERE WHITE, 21 JULY 1947

To: Terence de Vere White Esq., 21 Nassau Street, Dublin.

July 21st 1947.

Dear Mr. White,

Thank you for your letter of June 25th; as I think you were told, I have been away.

It does not seem to me thet Mr. Waugh has made any serious attempt to value the property he requires. If you remember he made an offer through you of £10,000 on May 28th, and I told you at that time that it was an offer I would not consider. He has now added more land on which there is timber, a 30-acre wood and several more small items, all of which he appears to value at a further £1,000. I would like to point out — and you can if you like send an independent valuer to confirm this — that in the Cow Field alone there is more than £2,000 worth of timber as it stands, and in fact I should be extremely sorry to accept that for It. That does not even touch on the value of the timber in the Reservoir Wood. The increase in his offer would barely cover the increased acreage of farm land he wishes to take in.

For the property as defined in Mr. Waugh’s letter to you of June 17th I should require £20,000. I would give Mr. Waugh any reasonable guarantees with it as regards building or otherwise spoiling the outlook of his property,and also of course about the water.

Yours truly,

[Rathdonnell]

EVELYN WAUGH TO LORD RATHDONNELL, 7 AUGUST 1947

Piers Court, Dursley 250.
Stinchcombe,
Glos.
7 August

Dear Rathdonnell,
White has sent me a copy of your letter of July 21st. I wrote when I first saw Lisnavagh that I was afraid it would be beyond my means & I have reluctantly decided that this first impression was the right one.
It is true that in making my last offer I had not considered the value of the standing timber except as an amenity of the place. Had the offer been otherwise acceptable we might have adjusted it so as to leave most of the timber in your possession to cut when it suited you. But that would still leave an impassable gap between the price you ask & what I can offer. So I am afraid I must call it off.
Thank you very much for all your hospitality during the negotiations. i hope you will give me chance of returning it when in England or in Ireland if I find a house there.
My kindest regards to you both and to Ally Pally.
Yours sincerely
Evelyn Waugh

The above letter has ‘Answered 28/8/47’ pencilled on it, indicating a gap of nearly three weeks since Waugh wrote to Rathdonnell.

FOOTNOTES

[i] The Letters of Evelyn Waugh and Diana Cooper, Ticknor & Fields, 1992, p. 97.

[ii] Irish Voices: An Informal History, 1916-1966 (Pimlico, 2000), by Peter Somerville-Large, p. 249; ‘Mischief in the Sun: The Making and Unmaking of The Loved One’ (Whitston Publishing Company, 1999) by Robert Murray Davis, p. 71.

[iii] The letters of Evelyn Waugh, p. 250.

[iv] Evelyn Waugh: 1924-1966 (Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press, 2001), by John Howard Wilson, p. 139.

NB: Terence de Vere White’s worthwhile correspondence was sold during his lifetime to Howard Gotlieb at Boston University, and is now in The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Centre, part of the Mugar Memorial Library at Boston University. In September 2015 Laura Russo, Manager of Public Service and Donor Relations at the centre advised: 'The Terence de Vere White Collection consists of 24 boxes and 1 package containing manuscripts of his novels, nonfiction, plays, short stories and poems, printed materials, photographs, personal and professional correspondence (re: Trinity College Historical Society and Irish Times), memorabilia, financial materials, legal materials, artwork, subject files and notebooks. The Collection is available to researchers by appointment, Monday through Friday, 9 AM - 3:45 PM. The Director and Curator here at the Gotlieb Center is Vita Paladino.'

 

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NB: In the photograph above left, Thomas is my father 'Ben Rathdonnell' and Hermione is my late aunt
Jane Bunbury McLeod who passed away in May 2011.

carlow hunt ball

Nationalist and Leinster Times.
January 21st 1947.
CARLOW HUNT BALL.
A correspondent writes that while the Carlow Hunt Ball at Lisnavagh, attracted an overflow attendance, it also attracted a spate of local comment, when it was learned that the Ball concluded with the playing of"God Save the King" instead of our own National Anthem. He thinks that this occurrence calls for an explanation from the Committee.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Nationalist and Leinster Times.
28th January 1947.
READERS' VIEWS.
CARLOW HUNT BALL.
Lisnavagh, Rathvilly,
January 22nd, 1947.
Dear Sir.
Your correspondent should be more certain of his facts before he "calls upon the Committee" for an explanation.
Our own National Anthem was most certainly played at the conclusion of the Ball.
Yours faithfully,
RATHDONNELL.

What the 4th Baron did not say in his letter was that, following the playing of "our own" National Anthem, the celebrants then gave a rousing rendition of "God Save The King", a common event at Hunt Balls in Ireland up to the 1960s. My father, who was 8 years old at the time, told me that, while he was 'quite rightly asleep when the ball ended', 'several anthems' were probably played 'at half hour intervals in an attempt to bring the party to a close'. Local bands were frequently asked to perform the British anthem but rarely did so, either because they were of a Nationalist pursuasion or because they did not know the tune.

In March 1948, Hugh Massey presented Pamela with a copy of Lt Col Peter Brush’s newly published ‘The Hunter Chaser - An Authoritative guide to breeding, making and training’. The inscription implies they were both in London at the time.

My grandmother subscribed to The New Yorker in 1947 and 1948.

My father says there was certainly a set pattern to the summers of his youth. The Derby, Henley, Glyndebourne and then either Cowes or the Dublin Horse Show. Like his grandfather, Bill Rathdonnell was prominent on the executive and agricultural committees of the Royal Dublin Society. Every August, he would greet Sean T O’Kelly, the chirpy drink-swilling top-hatted President of Ireland, at the Dublin Horse Show. [1] A photograph survives of the Presidential entourage at the RDS with the Baron in conversation with Sean T’s larger-than-life wife, Phyllis.

FOOTNOTE

1. Born in 1882, Sean T had been galloping about the GPO as one of Jim Conolly’s assistants when the Baron was a two year old. In 1919, Sean T was sent to Versailles with George Gavan Duffy to argue for recognition of Irish independence. He followed Dev during the split – going against his brother-in-law Richard Mulcahy - and seems to have followed Dev in just about everything ever after except the Presidency, into which post Dev followed him. The transfer of office from Sean T to Dev took place in 1959).

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THE HORSE SHOW AND BALDOYLE

During Dublin Horse Show week, Bill would hire 48 Lansdowne Road from the Coyle family, and the chauffeur, Walter Wood, drove them up for the week. There was another hunt ball every night and most people would aim to attend five out of seven with everyone gathering at the Italian Embassy in Lucan for the final shebang. “Yes, but weren’t they the sort of balls where you all go home at midnight?” I wondered. “We certainly did not”, answered my father gruffly. My grandfather’s sunglasses would apparently get a little darker every morning. He was also a member of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase (INHS) Committee and, shortly before his demise, he was appointed a INHS steward at Baldoyle Racecourse, the first of the Dublin metropolitan racecourses to close. He was a Trustee of the Carlow Hunt and at one time had his own pack of hounds.

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The Lisnavagh Pack prepare for a grand day out.

LORD RATHDONNELL'S HOUNDS

In 1948, Bill started his own pack, in part as a protest against a split in the Carlow Hunt. He assembled a pack from the Pychley, Bache Cunard's, Lady Kerr's (Brecon, Wales) and other packs. As my father says, if you declare your intent to start up a pack, everyone else with a pack has two or three hounds they are longing to get rid of. He hunted them everywhere but Carlow – not even Lisnavagh apparently? - and once ended up ove the far side of Lugnaquilla.

The late, much lamented Tom Purser, who later worked at Lisnavagh, told me how he once found one of Rathdonnell’s missing hounds near Hacketstown, possibly at Constable Hill. When he returned the hound to Lisnavagh, Bill gave him a whopping £5 reward. Ian Lyon also recalled an occasion when my grandfather had been driving a tractor in a field at Lisnavagh when the Carlow Hounds appeared in the field. He went to open a gate for the hunt and stood by the gate when a horsemen galloped through and, much to Bill's amusement, tossed him a half a crown coin.

George Hawkins, who was born in October 1914, vividly recalls an afternoon when Bill Rathdonnell’s pack came galloping past their land at High Park, Kiltegan. It had been a very bad year and George was trying to dig potatoes out of the field to supply to one of the Kelletts in Dublin. The kids from Hyde Park were duly recruited, arriving in their football jerseys, and set to work scooping up ‘beautiful Kerr’s pink potatoes’ from the drills. At that point, Bill came thundering past along with Bill Burgess and John Burgess, headed for a fox covert above the field. George thought it an utterly hilarious scene, not least because Bill Burgess, his daughter Nora's father-in-law, thought there was a football match in progress in the field.

His good friend Paddy Leatham was killed in a riding accident on 17th August 1951.

Lord Rathdonnell's hounds ceased in 1952, the year the bulk of the main house came down.

Like his father and two grandfathers, Benjamin (my father) went to Charterhouse where he was also in Saunderites, leaving in 1956. My brother William was also in Saunderites, leaving in 1984.

On Saturday December 26th 1953, Bill attended the funeral of Ann Reid-Scott who was killed while hunting with the Kildares near Dunlavin on Christmas Eve. She had arrived at Ballynure to visit her parents four days earlier. She left two small sons, David and Malise.

Appalling weather and an unusually late harvest in 1954 lead to very late cubbing season and a poor season for hunts generally.

In September 2012, a lady called Marjorie McCullagh recalled to me how my grandfather used to go to their place on the Dublin/Meath border - I didn't catch the name of it - to collect parts for a Clark combine harvester which her husband kept. He would always arrive up early enough to breakfast with them. One morning he brought my father, then about 12 years old. Marjorie said her own son Ian, then 3, was having a tantrum when Rathdonnell and son arrived, standing at the top of the chair screaming and ripping his clothes off. The Baron apparently glanced up at the toddler and advised her: 'Treat them like a pony - I have four of them and they get used to it'.

Presumably that was the same combine harvester that Paddy Delany was out cutting the fields of Lisnavagh when, as he told me in the summer of 2012, my grandfather would arrive at his side at 3am and tell him to dismount, he'd take over from here, go home and get some sleep. Paddy says he was immensly fond of the Baron. It was one of the darkest days of his life when Tom Kerins the agent arrived into one of the fields where they working and informed them that the Baron had succumbed to a brain tumor aged 44. Paddy and I were drinking hot poitin at the time, the Katie Daly he called it, and twas damned good too. He went quiet for about 20 seconds after he told me this and appeared to be on the verge of weeping.

LISNAVAGH DAIRY

The dairy system was installed in the farm yard at Lisnavagh in 1948. It was originally located in the granite building immediately left as you enter the farmyard but relocated to its present location, next to where my sister Sasha now runs her Farm21 enterprise. My father has fond memories of Jim Lawlor, armed with a milk yoke, coming across from Germaines. A generation earlier, Atty Dowling’s father called it the Crucifix when he crossed the firlds with a wooden plank over his shoulders and a bucket of milk at either end. Throughout the 1950s, most of the milk went to the Dublin City Dairy but when that placed a 20 gallon quota on its intake, ie: 5 cows only, dairy-farming became less viable. Any milk over and above the Dublin City quota was sold in Goresbridge for a much reduced price. In 1963, the Lisnavagh dairy closed down and Bill Norris the Cowman headed on. My grandmother was passionate about Shorthorns and she named all the milk cows. One of her favorites was ‘Princess Maud’. Liam Norris, son of the cowman, recalls how she took him out to take photos of them. He has one taken in Kinsellagh’s Hill and another in the Gamekeepers.

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L-R: Jack Halpin; unknown man; Rosemary McClintock Bunbury (who had a birthday party at this
time); Matt Brien; Tom Neill of Station Road; Mick Byrne of Newcestown

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Lisnavagh House during the reconstruction, with Pamela Drew, aka
Lady Rathdonnell, seated in the foreground to right.

 

MR. GIFF

Mr. Williams succeeded Mr. Giff as steward in the ‘50s. Bill Burgess had a poor opinion of the latter, who 'wasn’t too long in it'. ‘You’d be far better not to be next to or near him, I can tell you that much’, opined Bill. He then regaled a story where a herd called Pat Murphy had a cow in the Covered Yard at Lisnavagh who calved late at night. Murphy lived at Knocknagan and walked across to the Lisnavagh farmyard and found the twins. When the men went in at 8 o’clock next morning, Williams met them and said “Pat, your cow had a bull calf’. ‘Begod’, says Pat, ‘I was here and she had two’. Williams had already gone in and taken the calf out and sold it on. Apparently his wife was worse. Lord Rathdonnell was at Duffy’s in Hacketstown one day and was amazed by the thousands of eggs piled up. ‘Tell me, my lord’, says Duffy, ‘the biggest eggs I get come from Lisnavagh’. At that time my sister was buying eggs for the Lord’s breakfast and Mrs. Williams was selling the eggs to Duffys.

Mr. Williams first name may have been Fred and it is thought he was an Englishman who previously worked at Birr Castle.

the felling of the big house

On 17th Sept 1950, Bill gave Pamela a copy of Damon Runyan’s “All This & That” for her 40th birthday. It was inscribed “H - 40 – Love – R”, H being short for ‘Horsington’, his name for her.

The Lisnavagh Archives contain a letter to the 4th Lord Rathdonnell from Aubyn Robinson of Caroe & Partners, College Street, Westminster, 1947, setting out the options for Lisnavagh - reduction in size, new-build or a move to another house; together with various shapes and sizes of drawings, some of them very rough, in connection with the reduction of the house to its present size. One of them marks in red the part of the house which stood over the basement (actually the servants' quarters), and in the end the decision was taken to preserve - with modifications - that part of the house, enlarging as necessary the rooms in it, and demolish the 'grand' rooms in the other part of the house. [Aubyn Robinson was Lady Rathdonnell's uncle, and he and she master-minded the reduction of the house. Lady Rathdonnell (née Pamela Drew) was a noteworthy painter, and her 'before-and-after' watercolours, which gave the architect his general steer, are framed and hanging in the house. The actual work of reduction was carried out by the late Allan Hope (1909-1965) and his Dublin firm of architects, who have presented their drawings in this connection to the Irish Architectural Archive, Merrion Square, Dublin. In addition, the archive has copied all or most of the outsize drawings, by Daniel Robertson and others, kept in the studio at Lisnavagh.

In 1951, Pamela orchestrated the complete redesign of Lisnavagh House, pulling down two thirds of the original Victorian structure. Once the decision to reshape the house was taken, my grandmother went at it with full steam ahead. ‘Rejuvenate the Positive’ was her New Year’s resolution. ‘Only the Best Will Do’, she scrawled in her notebook. My brother William subsequently transcribed these notebooks and was struck by the fact that there were no regrets. Moreover, every single change had been carefully planned. The simple brief was “to produce a 40 room hunting lodge out of a 80 room romantic rambling chateau’. The book is peppered with Grannyisms – ‘bash a hole’ … desultory destruction … and talks of her dancing to a radiogramme until 3am some night. Her uncle Aubyn Peart-Robinson and Dublin architect Alan Hope helped redesign house.

THE IRISH TIMES carried the following advertisement on Friday, April 11, 1952, which was repeated in short on Sat 19th April and in full on Sat 26th April.

JAMES H. NORTH & CO., Ltd.
Sale Thursday 15th May. Lisnavagh, Rathvilly, Co. Carlow. Furniture, Schiedmayer Pianoforte, Sèvres Chandelier, Porcelain, Paintings etc. Owing to extensive alterations of the residence we have been instructed by the RT. HON. LORD RATHDONNELL to dispose of a residue of Furniture, Pictures, etc., of which the following is a basic résumé - Schiedmayer Grand Pianoforte; SUITE OF LOUIS XV GILT FURNITURE of Settee, 6 Single and 6 Armchairs, pair of Gilt Foot Stools; interesting Louis XVI Carved and Gilt Settee, pairs of Gilt Chairs, Carved Gilt Mirrors, Console Table, Mahogany Dining Table on pod. Settees. SÈVRES CHANDELIER, pair Sèvres Chandeliers, pair Sèvres and Ormolu Candleabra, large Sèvres Clock, Suite of Damask Curtains, with gilt and caved wood cornices; Occasional Tables, Tallboys, Chairs, etc.; usual Bedroom Furnishings of Toilet Tables, Chests of Drawers, Washstands, etc.
PAINTINGS include Large Painting of Reclining Figure by GUERCINO: 'Set of Four Paintings'; 'The Life of Our Lord', after Pannini; pair of Classical Landscapes by ORIZONTE; also other paintings after VANDYKE [sic], Lely, Massot, Montanini, etc.
FURTHER DETAILS IN FUTURE ADVERTISEMENTS.
JAMES H. NORTH & CO., Ltd.
MIAA, Auctioneers, 110 Grafton Street. Tel. 77309 and 72532. Established over a century.

On May 14th 1952, Pamela wrote 'Ghastly Auction by Messrs. North, very wet, muc given away'. The next line in her book was 'June: House cut in TWO'. Betty Scott told me Jack Halpin had eight men helping him take down the bulk of the house. My father reckons it was only four and that they, like Jack, had learned the art of demolition in London after the war. Most of the house came down by hand but machines came in to carry the rubble away. Andy Verney has a theory that the terraces became compacted at that time by those machines, so much that they are now prone to flooding. According to my father, Bill would draw the wages of Jack and his three accomplices every week, just like he drew wages for all the other farm hands. There was no contract like with present day builders. My father reckons Jack got £10 a week ‘for self and supervision’. Some of the stone from the old house certainly went down the Front Avenue; Andy Verney says you can see it poking up ever now and then. Some may have gone down the Back Avenue to the Gate Lodge although Andy says that when he arrived circa 1964, one of his first tasks was to rebuild that road and they got their granite from over by Haroldstown. Jack Halpin’s widow lived over by Mount Wolsey until her death some years ago; their field has lately been converted into a development of eighteen houses.

LONDON FOG

December 5-9:Nearly 12,000 people die during four or five days of intense smog. If 'The Crown' TV series is to be believd, this was a time when the young Queen Elizabeth II nearly called for Winston Churchill's resignation.

PAMELA'S ROYAL COMMISSIONS

On Saturday 20 March 1954, The Argus and The Mercury, two Australian newspapers carried the following story:
'Royal portrait. London, Friday. Artist Pamela Drew, who in private life is Lady Rathdonnell, with a historic home in Ireland and four children has been commissioned by Sir David Eccles, British Works Minister, to paint the Queen's night departure in the Airliner Canopus on the start of the Royal tour. She spends part of the year in Ireland and the rest living in London's Chelsea on a strict budget of £5 a week earned by her brush.'

BISHOP PHAIR

John Percy Phair was elected Bishop of Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin on 13th March 1940 and consecrated on 11th June. He held the see for 21 years until he resigned on 31 December 1961.

CLEARANCE SALE AT LISNAVAGH

In March 1956, Patrick G Dawson, MIAA, Auctioneer, of Tullow, ran an ad for a Clearance Sale at Lisnavagh “of useful lots of Household Furniture, Building Materials, 40 lots of Poles etc’. The sale which took place at 2 o’clock sharp on Wednesday 14th march was “by instructions from Rt Hon Lord Rathdonnell”. Up for grabs was: “Round mahogany table, veneered rosewood table, walnut veneered writing table, oak table with flap and drawers, plaster plant-stand, beech bed, washstands and ware, mahogany and other dressing tables, French marble mantelpiece, new bedroom suite including bed with interior sprung mattress and walnut finish, small dining table and chairs, kitchen cabinet, lino, electric cooker, chesterfield suite, oak wardrobe, kitchen dressers, large kitchen press, turf or coal range, press bed, counter scales as new, small churn, 2 open presses oak and mahogany, pram and go-car, boy’s set of trains, steal girder (27ft 8 in), 2 heavy wooden beams (approx 26 ft long), 700-gal sectional steel tank (100-gal), galvinised tank with ball cock, iron cistern, Barford steam boiler, lare and small windows, including mullioned windows some panelled doors, some lots of timber moulding etc. fireplaces, flue liners and pipes, heavy two-part door, stubbed and ribbed. Revolving Summer house, trap and harness, 40 lots of poles suitable for fencing etc. and various other lots. Terms: Strictly cash evening of sale”. It is notable that the washstands and linos are all piled into the listing alongside mahogany tables and chesterfields, one upon t’other, and that there seems to have been no concept of “original Irish” or “late Victorian” in the description.

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Above: The Lisnavagh Pack gathers outside the Stable Yard at Lisnavagh, 1949.

PAMELA'S AVIATION EXHIBITION


‘ARTIST AND R.A.F. Last year Pamela Drew (Lady Rathdonnell of Lisnavagh) spent about three months in the Middle East and Kenya making a pictorial record of the R.A.F.'s activities in those areas. She visited Cyprus, Aden, Port Sudan, British Somaliland, Jordan, the Canal Zone and Kenya, and the results of her travels can be seen in a London exhibition open to the public (admission free) until July 1. The exhibition (at the Imperial Institute, South Kensington) was opened on June 8 by the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Dermot Boyle.

The C.A.S. spoke of his pleasure at being asked to open the exhibition and at meeting the artist again: she had been die only artist to paint the R.A.F.'s Coronation review in 1953, and she was one of those people who seemed to get everyone interested in her work. She had flown in some 14 different types of aircraft during her tour.

The exhibition, which numbers 122 works, is of great variety, and whilst the emphasis is upon aircraft, the artist does not over- look the vital work of the ground forces: there are also some impressive portraits. Pamela Drew has used both oils and pastels for her interpretations of R.A.F. life—and these cover a wide range of activities, such as flight servicing, forest patrols, aircraft refuel- ling and re-arming and tracker-dog searches.’ (Flight Global, 1956, via https://www.flightglobal.com/FlightPDFArchive/1956/1956%20-%200822.PDF )

“Pamela Drew held a most impressive exhibition of paintings and drawings devoted to 'The R.A.F. in the Middle East and Operations in Kenya.’ From this unfeminine theme her industry and ready gifts of ‘seeing’ a picture projected aerial views of Cyprus, Aden and Kenya with a sensitive appreciation of surface contours over which the R.A.F. thrust wings as 'The Intruder'.” (The Studio - Volumes 151-152 (National Magazine Company, 1956, p. 94)

‘AN exhibition of oil paintings and pastel drawings, " The Royal Air Force in the Middle East and Operations in Kenya," is to be opened by the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Dermot Boyle, at the Imperial Institute Gallery, South Kensington, at 11:30 hrs on June 8. The exhibition, by Pamela Drew, represents the results of a three months' tour made last year throughout Cyprus, Jordan, Iraq, the Canal Zone, Aden. British Somaliland and Kenya. Most of the 120 pictures deal with R.A.F. subjects. Pamela Drew painted the official picture of the Coronation Review at Odiham which now hangs in Fighter Command Headquarters and is a founder member of the Society of Aviation Artists. Visitors to the Society's exhibition last year will recall two fine studies by the same artist of Valiants against a stratospheric blue background.’ (Aeroplane and Commercial Aviation News, Volume 90, Aeronautics 1956), p. 260.

 

LIFE AT LISNAVAgH

Ian Lyon, aka Adam IV Lyon, is a son of Francis T.B. Lyon and Irene Lucie Cranston Burgess of Tobinstown House. He lives in Canada.*

When Betty Scott told him that he had missed a bit on the back of his shoes, Bill responded “A good soldier never looks back”.

In about 1956, Bill sold the house at Oddfellows opposite Lisnavagh’s Cow Field to Mrs. Lyons, sister of late Bill Burgess and aunt of William Burgess who lives there today.

The electrification and rewiring of Lisnavagh was overseen by John FitzGerald, a well known businessman and merchant in Tullow, whose son Des I hope to meet when he is next back from Sydney.

In May 2006, Eddie Byrne presented my sister-in-law Emily with a bathtub plunger and said he was doing this in return for the late Lord Rathdonnell’s generosity over fifty years earlier when he drove Eddie’s father to hospital in a Rolls Royce.

Seamus Magrath remembers an art competition at the Tullow Show in which Pamela Rathdonnell entered a Spitfire. He says she came second and never entered again! I guess she can take heart from that ditty about Elvis Presley coming second in the Elvis lookalike contest.

* Francis Lyon worked with Cope Brothers of Liverpool, Tobacco manufacturers, who owned TP & R Goodbody, also Tobacco Manufacturers, of St Catherines Avenue, South Circular Road, Duiblin. He was on temporary transfer to Goodbodys when he met Irene Burgess, then secretary to Percy Mcready, publisher of 'The Motor News', 'The Irish Cyclist and Motor Cyclist' and 'More Bulls and Blunders' in 1921. In 1927, Francis moved to British Leaf of Canada, Chatham Ont, where their son Ian was born in Dec 1930. On or around 20th Dec 1931, Francis became seriously ill and he died on 27th December aged 33. Irene and Ian returned to Ireland and lived in Dublin but spent a lot of time in Tobinstown. In or around 1947 Irene returned to live in Tobinstown full time.

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A Christmas card sketch by Pamela Drew from 1957 showing her husband, son and three daughters.

THE SPLIT WITH PAMELA

The late Lydia de Burgh who knew both my grandparents in the 1950s had lots of inside information on the eventual split between Bill and Pamela which saw Major Massy banished from Lisnavagh circa 1953, presumably for misbehaving.

In late 1956, she became embroiled in the Suez Crisis and one of her paintings is of the RAF Venoms from the Middle East Air Force, which which were used in action from 31st October 1956 to attack Egyptian airfields. One of her key patrons to clear her passage over the Middle East Air Command is believed to have been Sir Dermot Boyle (1904–1993), Marshal of the Royal Air Force, and the Chief of the Air Staff who deployed British air power during the Suez Crisis in October 1956. He also defended the RAF against the views of Duncan Sandys, the Minister for Defence, who believed that the V bomber force rendered manned fighter aircraft redundant. Marshal Boyle was born in Rathdowney, Co. Laois.

There is much of exceptional interest to my immediate family about the affairs which both Pamela and Bill enjoyed during the 1950s. When you examine any of the players, you can completely understand why they acted in the manner that they did.These were complicated times and the war had played hell with many things. But for now these tales shall remain unstated, perhaps whispered within the family but not on show for the wider world.

HARP LAGER & The Dundalk Brewing Company,

It's cheering to know that we once had a brewery in the family, or at least a bit of a brewery. The 2nd Baron Rathdonnell had been chairman of the Great Northern Brewery in Dundalk since at least 1916 and possibly from as early as 1898. In about 1957, the 4th Baron was appointed a Board of Director to the brewery which was bought by Smithwick’s Ale of Kilkenny at about this time and subsequently by Guinness. Up until 1960, the brewery had produced stout and ale. However, in response to an increased demand for lager at that time, Guinness converted the brewery into a modern lager operation and recruited German master brewer, Dr Hermann Mender. My father recalls going to the brewery with him and seeing the great vats and possibly Dr. Muender too. The brewer was working with local ingredients to create a lager. Various names were considered for the brand, including Atlas, Cresta and Dolphin, before they settled on Harp Lager, which first went out as a bottled beer in 1960, soon after the 4th Baron's death, with the Brian Boru harp as its emblem. Within 12 months, Harpwas on sale throughout Ireland and in 1961 it was launched nationwide in Britain. The Dundalk Brewing Company is now the second largest brewery in Ireland after St James’s Gate Brewery.

THE DEATH OF THE BARON

Meanwhile, Bill took up a spirited romance with another lady with whom he apparently planned to elope in October 1959. To the shock of many, he died of a brain tumor aged 44 on 13 October 1959. I am consistently surprised by the number of people who tell me how saddened they were by his passing. One man wrote to me in November 2010, saying 'I remember the day your Grandad died and the sorrow it caused. I went to say a prayer at his grave last year and we had a picture of his headstone here.' Paddy Delaney of Tobinstown Cross was digging potatoes in Carr’s Hill when he heard the news of my grandfather’s death. ‘He was a great man to work with’, he says. ‘And a great man to work for. He would give you a hand like any man’.

Bill's account book for the National Irish Bank suggests he had spent a good deal of time at the Kildare Street Club in his latter year.

He was buried in Rathvilly on Remembrance Sunday. Bill Burgess recalled a certain rumpus at the funeral when the Catholic labourers from Lisnavagh were prohibited from entering the church. (That said, Betty Scott, who worshipped my grandfather, and her mother went in anyway). Bill Burgess remembers the parish priest of Rathvilly at the time, and maybe a dozen men came down as far as the bridge and met the funeral procession coming up and walked up with it. The men wanted to carry the coffin to the church door but they had to get permission from the Bishop to carry it.

Michael Deering, later a Fine Gael councilor for Rathvilly, who says he was great pals with my grandmother claimed that a bonfire burned at Lisnavagh for two weeks after his death.

It was the same year Cary Grant beat off the dust-croppers and cosied up to Eve Marie Saint in ‘North by North West’.

There is a story of how his Model-T Ford was stolen soon afterwards by a fellow from Crookstown that I would like to investigate.

 

My father succeeded him as 5th Baron Rathdonnell at the age of 21. His inheritance seemingly included several, if not all, of the pubs in Rathvilly. In the early days Dad he thought about converting them into restaurants but Paddy Falloon advised him to have nothing to do with it. He subsequently asked Major Massy to return to Lisnavagh and assist him in the running of the estate.

An aerial photograph from the early 1960s shows the farm at Lisnavagh when the Stallion Yard and the rather pristine looking Piggery buildings were still in existence. These were cleared soon afterwards, primarily to make silage. My father was still putting silage into the Covered Yard in 1966, when my pregnant mother summoned him to take her (and a soon-to-arrive William) to The Rotunda. The doors on the entrance to the main yard are no more and the area where the Lisnavagh Timber Project shed (and, from 1976 until circa 2005, the Sheep Shed) is bare ground. In the summer of 1961, shortly before this photo was taken, there was also a tall chimney. Some claim it could have been seen from Rathvilly but my father maintains this was impossible because the hill on which the Reservoir Wood now stands would have blocked the view, with or without trees. Perhaps it was visible from Hacketstown. In any event, that same summer Dad recruited the under-water demolition team of HMS Undaunted to come to Lisnavagh and fell the chimney. This photograph probably matches one taken of the House and was hung in the Back Hall at Lisnavagh for many years.

In 1962, some of Pamela's good friends fought and died in the Congo. Here is some rare footage of an armoured car in motion at that time: Pathe.

In 1968, Pamela was commissioned by the Port of London to paint Chichester coming under Tower Bridge in the Gypsy Moth. The original is in the Bond Room of the Port of London Authority.I think she later painted an Inter Continental plane at Heathrow in 1974? It was her dream to go to the moon. And to watch undisrupted racing.

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Above: Kildimo was bred at Lisnavagh by Lady Rathdonnell
(nee Jessica Butler) ... this probably isn't quite the right place to
show him but he was a wonderful hoss and he needs to go
somewhere so this will do for now!

 

 

FOOTNOTES

[xiii] Gerald and Joane had two daughters, Rosemary and Nesta, and lived at Ballyragget, Co. Kilkenny where Gerald was joint Master of the North Kilkenny Foxhounds until 1940. They also had During the Second World War, he served as a Major with the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoons before head injuries invalided him from the army. He was subsequently Master of the West Percy Foxhounds (1945-46) and the Portman Foxhounds (1946-47). He and Joane were divorced in 1946, in which year he married secondly Anne, daughter of Colonel Philip Eustace Smith, MC, TB, of Rothley Crag in, Northumberland. By this marriage he had two sons Maurice and John. In August 1947 Gerald opened the doors of Carton House for a large party during the Dublin Horse Show Week. Guests dined on bacon and eggs, washed down with bottles of poteen, found in the cellars. It was to be the last time the FitzGerald?s would host a party in the great mansion built 200 years earlier. Carton House was sold in 1949 to the Liverpool brewing magnate, Lord Brocket. His grandson Lord Charlie Brocket became a household name after his appearance in the 2003 edition of ?I?m a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here?.

In 1959, Gerald went into partnership with the flamboyant air ace, Tim Vigors, and founded Vigors Aviation. Vigors, a legendary bloodstock agent and former owner of Coolmore Stud, is regarded as one of the founding fathers of the modern Irish bloodstock world. He inherited Coolmore from his father in 1968 and later became partners with Vincent O?Brien and Robert Sangster before he was eventually bought out. He died in 2003 at the age of 82. Based at Oxford Airport, Vigors Aviation trained pilots and held the UK agency for Piper aircraft. Lord Kildare, as he was then, was technical director and later managing director. In order to fund the business, he sold Kilkea Castle in 1959 and permanently left Ireland. With Leinster House and Carton already gone, Kilkea was the last of the three great Geraldine houses to be sold. In 1962, Vigors Aviation became CSE Aviation and Gerald became its chairman. The company was eventually sold in 1986.

Upon his father?s death in 1976, Gerald succeeded as 8th Duke of Leinster. However, his titles were contested by Leonard FitzGerald, a school teacher from California, who claimed he was the son of the 6th Duke who, he claimed, had not died in an asylum at all but had married and lived in California until the 1960s. The claim collapsed and Gerald succeeded. A keen fisherman and first class shot, failing health ultimately confined the Duke to his house in Oxfordshire. He died on December 3rd 2004 at the age of 90.

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Above: Lisnavagh House, probably during the ice cold winter of 1947.

[xiv] The Times, Tuesday, Sep 28, 1937; pg. 17; Issue 47801; col C

[xv] The Times, Friday, Nov 26, 1937; pg. 19; Issue 47852; col D

[xvi] The Times, Wednesday, Sep 21, 1938; pg. 13; Issue 48105; col A

[xvii] Major Patrick Magor Leatham was born on 15 September 1914. His sister Honor was my father?s godmother. They were the only children of Captain Cecil Maxwell Leatham (6 Sept 1875 ? 11 Sept 1941) of the Norfolk Regiment , and Dorothy Grace Magor. Cecil was a son of Samuel Gurney Leatham and Annie Gertrude La Trobe-Bateman; his younger brother was Admiral Sir Ralph Leatham (1886 ? 10 March 1954), K.C.B., K.St.J, U.S. Legion of Merit, French Legion of Honour, Croix de Guerre, Governor and Commander-in-Chief, Bermuda 1946-1949, World War I 1914-1919, World War II 1939-1946. Another of Cecil?s brother was Eustace La Trobe Leatham (1870 - 1st Sept 1935), a Vice Admiral in the Royal Navy, A.D.C. to King George V 1919-1920, Captain of the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth (1919-1921) and veteran of the Battle of Jutland. Eustace was awarded the Order of Crown of Belgium. Legion of Honour, Order of St. Anne (Russia) and Order of the Rising Sun (Japan). Dorothy was a daughter of Richard Blamey Manuel Magor). Cecil and Dorothy married on 19 April 1911; Dorothy died on 12 April 1960. Major Leatham served in the 10th Royal Hussars. On 6th April 1940 he married Cecily Eveline Berry with whom he had three sons - Simon Patrick Leatham, Philip William Leatham and Jonathan Grant Leatham. Major Leatham died on 17 August 1951 in a riding accident.

With thanks to Betty Scott, Ben Rathdonnell, Jessica Rathdonnell, William Bunbury, Ian Lyon, Liam Norris, Victoria Glendenning, Alexander Waugh, Luke Jennings, the late Bill Harrington, the late Atty Dowling, the late Bill Burgess and others.

 

 

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