Tigroney weaves the history of Avoca and the Wynn sisters
A part-restored mansion in Wicklow is the cradle of Avoca Handweavers and 'phase one' of Ireland's feminist movement
Published 12/06/2015 | 02:30
THE early years of the last century and the rebirth of the Irish state saw a flourish of "can do" Irish women emerging into a promising new era of equality in Ireland. It had started with the suffragette movement here, the founding of Cumann na mBan, with widespread female involvement in the 1916 Rising and the election of leader Countess Markievicz to both the Dáil and a Westminster seat.
This period, which lasted into the 1920s, is often referred to as the "first wave" of Irish feminism. But as De Valera came to power backed by the Church and bringing with him his "traditional" visions of maidens dancing at crossroads, this brave new dawn was soon snuffed out until the "second" wave of Irish feminism broke in the 1970s.
But that early century window was a productive one which saw Irish women seize their opportunities in arts and industry as well as politics. Among the notables were the Dun Emer Guild run by the Yeats sisters in Sandyford, the design works of Eileen Gray and the craft-driven efforts of the Overend sisters based at Airfield in Dundrum. Further south in Wicklow, the 1920s marked the resurgence of Avoca Handweavers, driven by the three Wynne sisters of Tigroney House in Avoca.
Emily, Winifred and Veronica were the daughters of a parson based at Tigroney and they inherited the run-down weaving mill at Avoca, which had been working since the 1720s when it was originally set up to provide clothing for the copper miners in the region. The motive of the Wynnes in reviving the mill was to provide local employment to help the impoverished.
It was literally a colourful revival as the sisters threw themselves into finding ways of injecting vibrant colour for the garments which were hitherto brown and grey. The sisters used Tigroney's vast one-and-a-half acre walled formal garden to grow dye-producing plants and they installed vats in the outhouses of Tigroney to experiment with the resulting plant and vegetable dyes. It was recalled that they were always seen walking around with twists of yarn between their fingers, constantly testing the brighter more vibrant product that they were pioneering.
Before long, reds, greens and yellows produced from plants grown at Tigroney were brightening up Avoca garments and making them the talk of these islands. Thanks to the Wynne sisters and a later revival in the 1970s by the Pratt family, Avoca is a well known Irish brand today, with patronage which extends to the British Royal family.
Tigroney House, the cradle of the Wynne-driven Avoca revival, is about to be placed for sale for the first time in 12 years. The house is believed to have been built in the 18th century and was later the homestead of Cornish mining entrepreneur Captain James Higgins who came to Tigroney in the 1880s to run the Avoca mine with his wife Sarah Jane and his 16 children accompanying him.
Later in the hippie era, it became a run-down commune of sorts, home to a free-spirited community of families who helped preserve the house by living in it but invested little in the upkeep of the vast 8,000 sq ft house.
For a time it was owned by Gallagher family construction interests and later still became a ward of the bank. At this time it was bought by the current owner, an entrepreneur in the warehousing business, who was on the lookout for a project in the Wicklow area. He recalls how the house was in a sorry state, had not been lived in for years and the grounds required vast amounts of rubbish, including fifteen wrecked vehicles, to be towed out.
He embarked on a personal crusade to restore it. Over the past 12 years he has undertaken the "root and branch" work which he says has "undone generations of bodges" and has included most of the fundamental restoration work required.
The property has had shoddily-added buildings demolished, the original "floating" ornate staircase in the majestic entrance hall reinstated and restored, the roof removed, all the original slates restored and then replaced again. The house has been completely replumbed and the floor boards have been lifted and stored. The ornate stucco work has been restored and the ceilings and walls completely replastered.
In the meantime the businessman has married and started a young family. "I now have other priorities and the point came when I realised I no longer have the passion and time required to do this job right, so with much regret it's time to sell it on to someone who can finish the house off and turn it into what it can become - a truly magnificent country home."
He estimated that another €300,000 will be required to bring the seven-bedroom mansion to top form. Electrics will be required along with the re-installation of the floors, the installation of bathrooms and kitchens.
So at present it is a work in progress, but with much progress made.
You enter through the front door into the grand entrance hall with its split Palladian carved staircase. To the left is the drawing room with original marble fireplace and a big bay window. To the right is the study in which the mineworkers would queue each week to get paid. Also, there's a sitting room with a French marble fireplace. There's a kitchen at the back with ancillary rooms. Upstairs there are seven double bedrooms with two larger suites to the front. There's a staff annexe to the rear of the T-shaped house and upstairs also includes four bathrooms.
The property also comes with a courtyard which has two cottages both of which have been fully refurbished and a cut-stone gate lodge.
The house comes with 100 acres of lands bounded by the Avoca river to which there is fishing rights. Around 40 acres are in old woodland which includes 800-year-old yew trees. There is 60 acres of grazing.
A wow factor here is that the planted legacy of the Wynne sisters, and of a botanist who also once owned the property, come to fruition each and every spring and summer when tens of thousands of bulbs, snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils and rhododendrons erupt into bloom with staggering effect.
Avoca, Co Wicklow
Asking price: €1.45m
Agent: Ganly Walters (01) 662 3255