Turtle's first book, The Landed Gentry
& Aristorcacy of Co Kildare was
launched at Castletown House,
Celbridge, Co Kildare, by the Hon.
Desmond Guinness, President of the
Irish Georgian Society, on
8th December 2005.
The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of Co. Kildare (Irish Family Names, 2004)
Turtle’s debut book, "Landed Gentry and Aristocracy
of Ireland", offers a unique and lively historical insight into
eighteen of Co. Kildare’s most influential “big house”
families. The book features fifty illustrations and covers more than a thousand
years of Irish history. The families profiled are those of Aylmer, Barton,
de Burgh, Clements, Conolly, Guinness, Henry, Fennell, FitzGerald, Latten,
La Touche, Mansfield, Maunsell, Medlicott, More O’Ferrall, Moore,
de Robeck and Wolfe.
The story of these often eccentric dynasties is set
against the backdrop of the past – the violent religious wars of the
17th century, the rise of the British Empire in the 18th and the run up
to Irish independence in 1921. Amongst the many anecdotes relayed are the
tales of "French Tom" Barton and the vineyards of France,
the bizarre death of Viscount Drogheda, the innkeepers son who became the
richest man in Ireland, the Admiral from Punchestown who led the Dardanelles
campaign, the Duke of Leinster’s romance with Wallis Simpson, the
medieval ape who saved the Earl of Kildare’s life, the Celbridge connection
to the Salem Witch Trials and the remarkable terrier who journeyed from
Forenaghts to Bristol in 1798.
This book is currently out of print but should be available from many libraries in Ireland, or else try contacting the author directly.
With thanks to Art Kavanagh.
A PROFILE OF THE Eighteen Families
OF STRAFFAN HOUSE
Three hundred and sixty years ago, the fate of the wine-producing Barton
dynasty lay with a small boy, left naked on a snow-blitzed island, beside
the corpse of his murdered father. During the 1720s, the boys grandson
“French Tom” Barton migrated to France and purchased the first
of the family vineyards in Bordeaux. His heirs managed to survive the
ravages of the French revolution intact and by 1820, the Barton &
Guestier clarets were being exported worldwide. Hugh Barton acquired Straffan
House from the Henry family in 1831 and his descendents remained there
until the 1960s. After thirty years of mixed and eventful ownership, the
house now forms the backbone to the world famous K-Club, home to the 2006
Ryder Cup. The Barton family continue to produce wine at Chateaux Langoa
and Leoville Barton in France.
- CLEMENTS OF KILLADOON
In the mid 17th century, a Leicestershire family emigrated to Massachusetts
and so escaped the ravages of the English Civil War. Only one son, Daniel
Clements, remained behind, serving a commission in the army of Oliver
Cromwell. For his military services in Ireland he was rewarded with an
estate in Cavan. His descendents rapidly scaled the heights of the Anglo-Irish
ascendancy gaining the Earldom of Leitrim in 1795. Meanwhile, in America,
Daniel’s sister Mary was arrested for witchcraft during the Salem
Witch Trials. Daniel’s grandson Nat Clements was one of the great
amateur architects of Georgian Ireland. Perhaps his best-known legacy
is the Irish President’s residence, Arás an Uachtaráin,
in Phoenix Park. In 1767 Nat’s eldest son Robert took the first
lease on a property at Killadoon. A series of prudent marriages and the
will of the assassinated 3rd Earl of Leitrim boosted the fortune of the
Killadoon branch, but the subsequent land acts considerably reduced the
size of the estate in the 20th century. Killadoon is presently home to
Charlie Clements, representing the tenth generation of the Clements family
since Daniel’s arrival in Ireland.
- CONOLLY OF CASTLETOWN
Perhaps the greatest individual phenomenon of 18th century Ireland was
the rise of Speaker Conolly, an innkeeper’s son from Donegal who
the most powerful man of his generation. His magnificent Palladian residence
at Castletown House, Celbridge, is one of the Irish nation’s greatest
treasures. The Speaker’s eventual heir, “Squire Tom”
Conolly was to the forefront of Irish politics in the lead up to the disastrous
Rebellion of 1798 and married one of the beautiful Lennox sisters. In
one particularly audacious adventure, another Tom Conolly attempted to
run the Charlston Blockade in the American Civil War and was home in Donegal
in time for an election. The house passed from the Conolly-Carew family
in 1966 and is now open to the public.
- DE BURGH OF OLDTOWN
With a lineage stretching back to the great Emperor Charlemagne, the de
Burgh’s role in Irish affairs has made an immense impact on the
shape of the island’s past. From the first Norman knights who cantered
across the seas in the 12th century to the courtrooms of Georgian Dublin,
the de Burghs have been intrinsically involved with some of the most pivotal
events in Irish history. The Oldtown branch was established in Kildare
just over 300 years ago by Thomas Burgh, one of the first great Irish
military engineers. His descendents include the Georgian orators Walter
Hussey Burgh and John Foster, General Sir Eric de Burgh, the singer Chris
de Burgh and the 2003 Miss World, Rosanna Davison, with whom Turtle appeared in the 2009 series of 'Who Do You Think You Are?'
- DE ROBECK OF GOWRAN GRANGE
The de Robecks have always been fighting men. The 2nd Baron de Robeck
served with the Franco-American army against the British redcoats in the
American War of Independence. His son, the 3rd Baron, fought in Spain
during the Napoleonic Wars. The 4th Baron opted for a quieter life, building
the present family home of Gowran Grange outside Punchestown and serving
as Ranger for the Curragh in the reign of Queen Victoria. His son, Admiral
Sir John de Robeck (1862 – 1928, reluctantly witnessed the disastrous
attempt to capture the Dardanelles Straits in March 1915. The 5th Baron
commanded an artillery battalion in the Great War and married one of the
Alexanders of County Carlow. In World war Two, the 6th Baron was instrumental
in helping General “Punch” Cowan defeat the Japanese in Burma.
The present head of the family is 30-year-old John, 8th Baron de Robeck.
A military career is not amongst his plans for the future.
- FENNELL OF BURTOWN
In the wake of the Cromwellian invasion of Ireland, John Fennell, a young
soldier from Wiltshire, was awarded an estate in Cahir, Co. Tipperary.
His acquisition of land coincided with his conversion to Quakerism, a
religious phenomenon that swept across the British Isles in the late 17th
century. Over the next hundred years, his descendants established themselves
as prosperous millers and gradually spread across Ireland. An inadvertent
wallop of a cricket ball altered everything when Burtown, an old Quaker
house in Kildare, passed to Jemima Fennell, great-grandmother to the present
owner. The early 18th century house lies close to the Quaker village of
Ballitore, home of the illustrious Shackletons. The present head of the
family is James Fennell, a frequent collaborator with Turtle Bunbury.
- GUINNESS OF LODGE PARK
Guinness is undoubtedly one of the most famous names associated with Ireland
amongst the international community. Founded by Arthur Guinness in 1759,
the Guinness brewery now accounts for one million pints poured every day.
Almost as famous as the stout are the Guinness family, a dynasty that
spans the world with ever-growing confidence. Lodge Park is presently
home to Robert and Sarah Guinness. Robert descends from Samuel, a younger
brother of Arthur, who became a goldbeater in the 18th century. Samuel’s
descendents founded the bank of Guinness Mahon and included Adelaide,
1st Countess of Iveagh, the financiers Loel and Dick, and Robert’s
father, Richard, a prominent Engineer.
- FITZGERALDS OF CARTON – DUKES OF LEINSTER
When Maurice FitzGerald decided to assist the deposed King of Leinster
in his invasion of Ireland, he cannot have possibly imagined how potent
a force his descendants would become over the next seven hundred years.
From the Machiavellian pragmatism of Garret Mor to the doomed rebellion
of Silken Thomas and the flight of the Wizard Earl, the Kildare FitzGeralds
have always been a dynasty of consequence. In the 18th century, a new
age of respectability saw the family head elevated in the Peerage as Duke
of Leinster. But even in those times, scandal was not far away as the
Duke’s son Lord Edward Fitzgerald became embroiled in the Rebellion
of the United Irishmen. The outbreak of the Great War in 1914 was ultimately
followed by tragedy and ruin, fostered by a compulsive heir whose passion
for fast living almost wiped out the Fitzgerald fortunes forever.
- HENRY OF STRAFFAN HOUSE and LODGE PARK
In the early 18th century, a Presbyterian minister’s son from Co.
Antrim who struck rich in the banking world acquired the former Tyrconnell
estates at Straffan on the banks of the River Liffey. A high profile marriage
to the Earl of Milltown’s daughter subsequently enabled Hugh Henry’s
descendants to enjoy a prominent position in Kildare society during the
18th and 19th century. Among these was Joseph Henry, one of Ireland’s
greatest art connoisseurs, and Admiral Hastings Yelverton, sometime First
Lord of the Admiralty. An extravagant lifestyle obliged the Henrys to
sell Lodge Park to the Bartons in 1831. Lodge Park was sold to the Guinness
family in 1948. Meanwhile the Henry family continued to enjoy a fruitful
life that would take them from Monte Carlo to the Cold War to Kosovo.
- LATTIN OF MORRISTOWN LATTIN
The Lattin family were prominent merchants in Kildare during the 16th
and 17th centuries, well known and respected for their patronage of Catholicism.
Like their cousins, the More O’Ferralls, they dispatched many sons
to fight on the Continent during the late 18th century, losing one in
battle in 1789. Patrick Lattin served in the Irish brigade and was a close
colleague of Lord Cloncurry. His uncle Jack became the subject of a popular
country dance tune, “Jockey Lattin”, following his premature
death in 1731. Morristown Lattin was originally built in 1692 and passed
by marriage to the Mansfield family in 1836.
- LA TOUCHE OF HARRISTOWN
Ireland’s most prominent Huguenot family descend from David La Touche,
a refugee from the Loire Valley who served at the Battle of the Boyne
and went on to found the bank of La Touche & Sons. His descendants
were to be instrumental in the evolution of Ireland’s banking institutions
over the 18th century and to spearhead educational reform in the 19th.
The Harristown branch included John “The Master” La Touche,
a fanatical evangelist, and his daughter, Rose, whose tragic romance with
artist John Ruskin resulted in her untimely death at the age of 25.
- MANSFIELD OF MORRISTOWN LATTIN
The Mansfield family have been in Ireland at least since the 12th century
when they made their presence known in Co. Waterford. Penalized for their
Catholicism in the 17th century, fortune returned when they married the
sole heiresses of the Eustaces of Yeomanstown House and the Lattins of
Morristown Lattin. During the 1840s they acquired a curious attachment
to the Danish colony of St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Latter day characters
closely associated with the family include the parachuter Major Richard
Mansfield, children’s author Brownie Downing, Fine Gael politician
Gerard Sweetman. Morristown Lattin was sold in 1982 and is now owned by
Constance Cassidy and Eddie Walsh.
- MAUNSELL OF OAKLEY PARK
A heroic defence of a Waterford Castle against Cromwell’s army earned
the Maunsell family considerable respect from their Irish peers when they
first settled in the country in the mid 17th century. During the Georgian
Age, they rose to prominence in Limerick, as bankers, politicians and
Mayors. When not in Limerick, they were invariably leading an army from
one international battlefield to the next. In the early 18th century,
they acquired Oakley Park from the Napier family, scions of three mighty
Generals. A marriage to the Orpen family ultimately sparked the end of
the family’s association with Ireland and the house was sold to
the St John of Gods.
- MEDLICOTT OF DUNMURRY
An invitation to manage the Ormonde estates in post-Restoration Ireland
changed everything for the youngest sons of a prominent London barrister.
In 1714, the younger brother George Medlicott acquired an estate at Dunmurry.
Despite a series of complex changes in ownership, the house remained the
family base until 1955. George’s descendents excelled as horse riders,
both hunting in Kildare and in action with the British Army overseas.
Dunmurry House is currently owned by Peter Cole.
- MOORE OF MOORE ABBEY – EARLS OF DROGHEDA
Readers of magazines such as Architectural Digest, Harpers & Queens
and Nest may be familiar with the work of the prolific interiors photographer
Derry Moore. These same readers might be surprised to learn that Derry
Moore is also the 12th Earl of Drogheda, head of a prominent Kildare family
who resided in Monasterevin for exactly 200 years between 1725 and 1925.
Although the Moores left Ireland early in the 20th century, their ancestral
home, Moore Abbey, built in the mid 18th century, continues to stand today,
being the Irish headquarters of the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary.
- MORE O’FERRALL OF BALYNA & KILDANGAN
Descended from two great Catholic Irish families, the More O’Ferrals
combined with the marriage in 1751 of the Balyna heiress Letitia O’More
and the Dublin banker Richard Ferrall. At the close of the 18th century,
Richard and Letitia’s sons played a prominent role on the battlefields
of Europe. During the 1840s, Sir Richard More O’Ferrall emerged
as one of the great champions of religious toleration and independence.
Latter members of the family include the police commissioner John, the
film director George, the horse trainer Roderic, the de Beers marketing
guru Rory and the unfortunate Richard, murdered by the IRA in 1935. Kildangan
is now the property of Sheikh Maktoum whilst Balyna is being developed
as a hotel and golf club.
- WOLFE OF FORENAGHTS
A Royalist soldier from Durham seems to be the first member of the Wolfes
of Forenaghts to arrive in Ireland. Whatever his motives, within a generation
he had established a family in the county that would play a dominant role
in the “affairs of the Pale” through to the 19th century.
Indeed, the Wolfes of Forenaghts produced no less than eleven Freemen
of Dublin over the years. The most celebrated member was Chief Justice
Lord Kilwarden, a contemporary of Wolfe Tone, murdered during the Emmet
Rebellion of 1803. A high profile marriage to the fashionable Lady Charlotte
Hutchinson in the mid 19th century produced no heirs and another heir
was slain in action against the Mahdi.
Carton House, seat of the Dukes of Leinster.
(Photo: James Fennell)
The Irish Times – August 2005
Richard Roche – Local History
Previous volumes in the Gentry series initiated by Art Kavanagh and the
late Rory Murphy of Bunclody included histories of the “gentry”
(ie: landed proprietors as well as the older, truer aristocracy) of Wexford,
Tipperary and Kilkenny and the publishers promise forthcoming publications
on Louth, Meath, Waterford, Cork, Galway, Limerick, Clare and Armagh. This
volume, The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of Co. Kildare, consists
of detailed and colourful records of 18 families, picked at random
according to author Turtle Bunbury. He warns, however, that this is not
intended as a compendium of pedigrees, even though much use has been made
of the ever reliable Burke. It is a beautifully illustrated volume and
well worth the €40 price.
Ireland Summer 2005 by
[This] book about the aristocracy and landed gentry of County Kildare seems
to tell the story of an effete tribe indeed. However many of the histories
deserve narrating, and Turtle Bunbury unearths an amazing amount of information about the families concerned. The story of the Barton family of Straffan
who once owned the great house that’s now the K Club is intriguing
not least for their connection with the Bordeaux wine trade. The involvement
of the Guinness family in brewing and of the La Touche family in banking
is also thoroughly researched. Bunbury is right up to date; in documenting
the More O’Ferrall family, the famous More O’Ferrall outdoor
advertising firm is there. It started in 1936 and was sold to the US multinational
Clear Channel media in 2002. There are many curious little anecdotes,
like the fact that an ancestor of Chris de Burgh commissioned the Bayeux
Tapestry in Normandy. The research in this book is very thorough; no
stone or layabout has been left unturned.
Kildare Times – January 2005
Greatest Kildarian Ever
In the wake of the BBC’s successful hunt for the “Greatest
Briton” ever – Churchill, incidentally – I would like
to initiate a quest for the “Greatest Kildarian” of all time.
My own six nominees all have one thing in common. They all feature in a
book I have just released called “The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy
of Kildare”. The book offers a unique historical insight into
eighteen of Co. Kildare’s most influential “big house”
families. The families profiled are those of Aylmer, Barton, de Burgh, Clements,
Conolly, Guinness, Henry, Fennell, FitzGerald, Latten, La Touche, Mansfield,
Maunsell, Medlicott, More O’Ferrall, Moore, de Robeck and Wolfe. The
story of these often eccentric dynasties is set against the backdrop of
the past – the violent religious wars of the 17th century, the rise
of the British Empire in the 18th and the run up to Irish independence in
1921. So, without further ado, my nominees are:
Arthur Guinness, founding father of the
brewing dysnasty, who was born and
raised in Celbridge, Co Kildare.
Arthur Guinness (1725 – 1803), Brewer
The founding father of the Guinness Brewery must be amongst the most famous
names in the world. Across the world, more than a million pints of Guinness
are now consumed every day. Arthur's father, “Richard Guinis”,
was principal steward to Dr. Arthur Price, sometime Vicar of Celbridge
and later Archbishop of Cashel. By 1752, Richard and his second wife Elizabeth
were running an inn in Celbridge called “The Bear & Ragged Staff”.
31st 1759, Arthur Guinness, aged 34, took a 9,000-year lease on a brewery
at £45 a year. That brewery was St. James' Gate in Dublin, now the
largest stout brewery in the world. In 1876, Arthur’s great-grandson
Edward Guinness (the Earl of Iveagh) took sole control of the brewery
and swiftly became the richest man in Ireland.
Lord Edward FitzGerald (1763 – 1798), Revolutionary
A profoundly romantic Byronesque figure in Irish revolutionary history,
Lord Edward was the fifth son of James FitzGerald, 1st Duke of Leinster.
As a young man, he served with the British during the American War of
Independence. He subsequently became one of the principal leaders of the
United Irishmen, a radical but liberal society of Protestants, Presbyterians
and Catholics determined to eradicate English control of Irish politics.
He was arrested on 19th May 1798 but mortally wounded during the process.
One cannot help but wonder whether the subsequent Rebellion, spearheaded
by Wolfe Tone, might have succeeded had he lived. His French wife Pamela,
widely believed to have been a daughter of the flamboyant Duke of Orleans,
gave him a son and two daughters.
“Silken Thomas” (1513 – 1537), Rebel Leader
The hot-headed firstborn son of the 9th Earl of Kildare descended from
the Anglo-Norman FitzGerald family who had secured almost total control
of Leinster during the 14th and 15th century. When Henry VIII’s
Tudor army began encroaching on the FitzGerald’s power base in the
1530s, Silken Thomas went into armed rebellion. A vast English army was
rapidly dispatched across the Irish Sea; the eastern half of Ireland was
plunged into a brutal war for the next eighteen months. Despite early
successes, the FitzGeralds were completely outnumbered and, in March 1535,
their headquarters in Maynooth was destroyed and the defending garrison
put to the sword. Thomas and five of his uncles were subsequently betrayed,
captured and hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn.
“Speaker Conolly” (1662 – 1729), Politician
The builder of Castletown House in Celbridge was truly a most remarkable
man. His father was a Donegal innkeeper who made sufficient money providing
drink and accommodation to English and Scottish settlers in the late 17th
century to send young William to Dublin to study law. William returned
to Donegal and quickly established himself as the foremost authority on
land law. His expertise enabled him to start buying land in vast quantities
and, by his death in 1729, he was the wealthiest man in Ireland. He was
for many years Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. His life stands
testament to the fact that, even in the 18th century, a man of relatively
humble origins could, if he played by the rules, rise through the ranks
to a position of immense influence. He became a legend in his own lifetime,
an inspiration to young middle class Protestants throughout Ireland.
French Tom (1694 – 1780) & Hugh Barton (1766 –
1854), Wine Merchants
Tom Barton was the great-grandson of an English settler murdered by Catholics
during the Ulster Rebellion of 1641. In the 1720s, Tom and his wife Margaret
moved to Bordeaux in France and set themselves up as wine merchants. Tom’s
grandson Hugh took on the business in 1780 at which time the company was
shipping 125,000 barrels of wine annually. One of Hugh’s principal
clients was Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States. It was through
Jefferson that Barton met Daniel Guestier. After the French Revolution,
the two men formed the partnership, Barton and Guestier, famous today
for the “B & G” wine label. In 1831 Hugh purchased Straffan
House (now The K Club) from the Henry family; his descendents lived there
The 7th Duke of Leinster (1892 – 1976)
Although there have now been nine Dukes of Leinster, the 7th Duke - named
Lord Edward FitzGerald after his revolutionary kinsmen - merits inclusion
for his remarkable commitment to roguery. He was the youngest of three
boys orphaned shortly after his birth in 1892. By 1910, he had amassed
such colossal debts through gambling that he was obliged to accept an
offer from a wily businessman Sir Harry Mallaby-Deeley. Sir Harry lent
Edward £60,000 on the understanding that should Edward ever become
Duke of Leinster, an unlikely event with two elder brothers, then all
the income from the Leinster’s Irish estates would pass to Sir Harry.
By 1922, both Edward’s elder brothers were dead and he became Duke.
Sir Harry received an annual income of £80,000 ever after; the 7th
Duke had to sell the family estate at Carton to pay off his debts. According
to British State papers released in 2003, the 7th Duke later found some
consolation in the arms of Wallis Simpson.
Leader – December 2004
NEW BOOK TELLS STORY OF ARISTOCRACY OF KILDARE
Castletown House, Celbridge, Co. Kildare, was an, if not the, appropriate
venue for launch of a new book on the history of Kildare. The house once
owned by one of Ireland’s richest men, Speaker Connolly, hosted the
publication of a book the aristocracy of Co. Kildare. Historian and traveller,
Turtle Bunbury, has provided plenty of detail about the life and times of
eighteen of the county’s most influential “big house families,”
include the Connolly family.
“The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Kildare,”
was launched with the support of Kildare Kitchens and Tindal Wines. A large
gathering, including members of some of the families portrayed, turned up
on 8 December for a first look at the book which covers more than a thousand
years of Irish history.
Families include the Aylmer, Barton, de Burgh (singer, Chris, is related),
Clements, Connolly, Guinness, Henry, Fennell, Fitzgerald, Latten, La Touche,
Mansfield, Maunsell, Medlicott, More O’Ferrall, Moore, de Roebeck
and Wolfe. Mr. Bunbury, who is also working on a travel book on Sri Lanka,
has provided much detail about the lives of these often eccentric families,
who had their share of failure as well as success. The book, published by
Irish Family Names, describes itself as a short potted history but is a
neat and comprehensive overview of its field.
Leader, January 2005
Con Costello - Looking Back
The families of de Burgh and Clements are each devoted a chapter in Turtle
Bunbury’s well researched “The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy
of County Kildare”, in a series published by Irish Family Names.
The Clements family is descended from a 17th century English wine merchant,
while the de Burghs claim Charlemange as an ancestor. Settled at Oldtown,
Naas, since the late 17th century the family has produced many celebrated
soldiers, including General Sir Eric de Burgh, who was a President of the
Co. Kildare Archaeological Society, and his grandson Chris de Burgh, the
popular singer who has sold more than 40 million albums and performed over
2,500 concerts worldwide.
Acknowledging that Guinness is undoubtedly one of the most famous names
associated with Ireland amongst the international community, the first identifiable
member of the family is Richard Guinness who was born about 1690. Now the
best know member of the dynasty is Desmond who, with his late wife Mariga,
established the Irish Georgian Society which awakened interest in historic
houses, and especially ensured the preservation of Castletown House at Celbridge.
Their son, Patrick, initiated a DNA test which confirmed their bloodline’s
genetic affiliation with the Gaelic sept of Magennis of Co. Down.
Families which have disappeared from the county in modern times include
those of Aylmer of Donadea, Wolfe of Forenaghts, More O’Ferrall of
Balyna and Kildangan, Mansfield of Morristown Lattin, La Touche of Harristown,
Barton of Straffan, and of course the Fitzgeralds.
Bunbury concludes that “It will not be long before the last of
the tweed-clad, Spaniel toting gentlemen vanishes in his entirety, taking
with him a remarkable chapter in Irish history.”
Leinster Leader – January 2005
BETWEEN THE COVERS WITH HENRY BAURESS
A look at Kildare’s most influential families
Historian and traveller, Turtle Bunbury, has provided plenty of detail
about the life and times of eighteen of the Kildare’s most influential
families. In “The Landed Gentry & Aristocracy of County Kildare,”
he has provided fascinating details about eighteen families whose names
pepper the history of not only Kildare but Ireland it one time legal power
The Aylmer, Barton, de Burgh (singer, Chris, is related), Clements, Connolly,
Guinness, Henry, Fennell, Fitzgerald, Latten, La Touche, Mansfield, Maunsell,
Medlicott, More O’Ferrall, Moore, de Roebeck and Wolfe families are
among a network of around four hundred families who governed Ireland for
more than 200 years after King William’s victory over the Jacobite
forces at the Boyne in 1689. These families from the Protestant gentry and
aristocracy - the Anglo Irish ascendancy - held great power up until the
end of the 1900’s.
Turtle Bunbury and Art Kavanagh have brought together an entertaining overview
of the stories of these families, whose role in Irish history will no doubt
continue to be debated. Where did they come from? Some descended from old
Irish chieftains. Others came via the Norman invasion 800 years ago and
other arrived from England in the 1650’s. Yet others, like the La
Touche and de Robeck, were the modern equivalent of asylum seekers on the
run from religious and political turmoil on the European mainland. Whatever
about their origin, Turtle Bunbury says they were the privileged elite and
Kildare’s proximity to Dublin brought it to the forefront during those
the aforementioned two hundred year period.
lot of the gentry, while apparently privileged, has not always been a bed
or roses. There have been thorns on the rosebushes. One of the Clement family,
Nat, was the architect and designer of the Aras an Uachtarain and is credited
with the design of Newberry Hall and Williamstown in Carbury, Lodge Park
in Straffan and Colganstown in Newcastle, Co. Dublin. But other members
of that family found themselves on the wrong side of the status quo on occasions.
A female member was arrested for witchcraft during the Salem witch trials
in the United States. Much later, another was a prominent IRA supporter
in the 1930’s and was interned in the Curragh during the World War
The one time richest man in Ireland, Speaker Connolly, did not have aristocratic
blood in him.The son of a Protestant inn-keeper from Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal,
went to study law and began collecting land in voluminous amounts at very
cheap rates. All above board? One of his friends who aided his development
was the London banker, Sir Alexander Cairns, whom Jonathan Swift described
as “a shuffling scoundrel.”
Two of Dublin’s best known streets, Henry Street and Moore Street,
are named after the Moore family of Monasterevin, Earls of Drogheda. The
widow of one of the Earls married the Restoration dramatist, William Wycherly.
She died before him and the playwright lost a lot of money fighting the
will. One result was he spent seven years in Fleet Prison in London.
The Wolfe family of Forenaughts in Naas, whose home is now part of the
Smurfit thoroughbred operation, suffered during the Emmet Rebellion in 1803
when two of them were dragged from their carriage in Dublin and murdered.
Another, Richard, died in the Sudan when his army unit was sent to relieve
Gordon garrison in Khartoum in 1885.
member of the Henry family, Michael Charles Henry, the last of his family
to live at Straffan House and Lodge Park, was a Commander in charge of the
Port Crew on board the first Polaris submarine, Resolution.
Turtle, who is also working on a travel book on Sri Lanka, has provided
much detail about the lives of these often eccentric families who had their
share of failure as well as success.
What of the author himself, whose surname appears in the index of the book?
One of the Lennon sisters, Sarah, who featured in Stella Tillyards book,
“Aristocrats,” married the Suffolk racing magnate, Sir
Charles Bunbury. She divorced him and later, in 1787, Oakley Park near Celbridge,
became her home and that of her husband Colonel George Napier. If it was
not death, gambling also took its toll on the aristocracy. One of the Fitzgeralds
lost Carton House in Maynooth as a result.
Turtle’s family are from Rathvilly, Co. Carlow, and came to Ireland
300 years ago. One of his ancestors, a Norman knight at the Battle of Hastings
in 1066, got land in Cheshire near a place called Bunbury. One of the family
lost almost everything when he supported Charles I and hopped it to Ireland.
The family were settled into Carlow by the 1660’s.
There are five or six explanations as to how he was Christian named Turtle.
One is because he was a third son and the Latin for that is Tertius. Another,
he said, is that his grandmother gave him three turtles when he was a baby.
“There are others but we will leave them aside,” he said in
an interview with the Leader.
He went to school in Dublin, at Castle Park in Dalkey until he was thirteen
and then headed to Perthshire in the Scottish highlands for his secondary
education. He loved it there. Back to Trinity where he started law but changed
to history finishing there in 1996.
three year spell in Hong Kong in the magazine/ media area followed but he
returned to Ireland and got stuck into the history business where he is
now working with publisher, Art Kavanagh.The Kildare book is part
of a series and there could be another Kildare related book by the 32 year
old Dublin-based historian.
In between researching the gentry he has been doing a book on Sri Lanka
with James Fennell of Athy and that, “Living in Sri Lanka,”
will be out next year. Part of that project includes a three month spell
in the country.
During his history period in Trinity, Turtle specialised in Irish history
from the 17th to 19th centuries. He started work on the Kildare book in
April of this year in conjunction with others such as www.Enneclan.ie.
As far as the author is concerned, entry to the world of the aristocracy
was not impossible. Speaker Connolly did it but, he said, Speaker played
by the rules of that group of people, which contained both heroes and villains.
Many of those big families are gone. If Kildare had about fifty of them
in their heyday, less than half of them remain intact. He found the families
he wrote about “very helpful.”
Publisher, Art Kavanagh, has produced a number of county based books on
such families, including Wexford, Tipperary, Kilkenny and now Kildare. Others
are due to come on stream this year. The book describes itself as a short
potted history but is a neat and comprehensive overview of its field. Every
school and library should have one.
This book is currently out of print but should be available from many libraries in Ireland, or else try contacting the author directly.