Kerry

| 21.1°C Dublin

To doomed Kerry manors born

A fascinating new work focusing on the fortunes of ten of the big houses of Ireland reveals much about the Ascendancy society of Kerry – in Ardfert, Sneem and Kenmare

Close

Ardfert Abbey, home of the Talbot-Crosbies, in its heyday.

Ardfert Abbey, home of the Talbot-Crosbies, in its heyday.

The sun lights up a ghostly reader in the drawing room - Anne Talbot-Crosbie perhaps?

The sun lights up a ghostly reader in the drawing room - Anne Talbot-Crosbie perhaps?

Life-size grisaille figures depicting the Classical world provide silent company for another reader within Ardfert Abbey.

Life-size grisaille figures depicting the Classical world provide silent company for another reader within Ardfert Abbey.

The Abbey in the immediate aftermath of the fire in 1922.

The Abbey in the immediate aftermath of the fire in 1922.

/

Ardfert Abbey, home of the Talbot-Crosbies, in its heyday.

kerryman

A VANISHED society is brought to vivid life in a new history of some of the most prominent Anglo-Irish families and the grand edifices they inhabited.

And three of the ghostly redoubts of the ascendancy featured in this work were in Kerry, as author Robert O’Byrne offers a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era of gilded splendour – in so far as the wealthiest were concerned.

Left Without a Handkerchief is the title of the new history by O’Byrne – Apollo Foundation trustee, author and publisher of award-winning blog An Irish Aesthete, presumably written for an English reader judging by its subtitle This is Not an Oxymoron.

The title of his latest book refers to Lulu Bagwell’s grief on the burning of her family pile in 1923. ‘We hadn’t even a handkerchief...everything has gone,’ Lulu wrote her mother-in-law of the destruction of Marlfield House.

This is Kerry Newsletter

The top stories from the Kingdom in news and sport, direct to your inbox every week

This field is required

It was a sentiment that could as easily have been voiced by one of the Kerry families featured in this lucid and lively window on our past – the Crosbies in Ardert; the Blands of Derryquin in Sneem and the succession of names to inhabit Dereen, not least among them the fifth Lord Lansdowne.

Ardfert Abbey, as it was named on the completion of the original block – in late Baroque style – in the late 17th Century by Thomas Crosbie, was a case in point.

The family is remembered today as of a landlord type straight from central casting thanks to the efforts of the Famine and post-Famine era laird William Talbot-Crosbie, better known in North Kerry as ‘Billy the Leveller’.

And it was burnt to the ground in his memory by republican forces in August 1922.

But ingrained into the wainscotting of its corridors and drawing rooms was three centuries of Irish history as the fortunes of the Crosbies and Talbot-Crosbies (the latter descended from John Talbot, who inherited the estate from his mother Lady Anne Crosbie) waxed and waned with the tides of social mores, land management practices and political forces.

There’s no trace of the grand old manor home today beyond the entrance gate in the centre of Ardfert village. But O’Byrne resurrects some sense of the local milieu with flair.

And he demonstrates too, how its ruin came to see the construction of a handful of fine properties standing to this day in the capital.

From the get-go in the 1690s it was an impressive place, if deemed a tad old-fashioned even on its inception by certain architectural critics of the era.

“The main block ran to seven bays and two storeys, the central breakfront crowned by a tall pediment. This building was flanked by short wings, which soon turned at right angles to project forward and create a substantial forecourt, ensuring an impressive arrival for visitors,” O’Byrne details in an adroit sketch.

Surrounded by formal gardens, the entry led into equally elegant interiors: “Inside, the reception rooms were panelled, with the entrance hall being further decorated at some unknown date in the eighteenth century when near life-size grisaille figures in classical garb were painted on the walls.

“Beyond this room lay the main staircase, the steps wide and shallow as was then fashionable, and with each baluster carved to look like a fluted Corinthian column.”

Much of the grandeur, like the estate’s accounts, had succumbed to rot by the time Billy the Leveller arrived on the scene in the mid 1800s.

For all his ferocious, and deserved, ill-repute among the native population, William Talbot-Crosbie single-handedly reformed the fortunes of the estate. What looked great on paper among his peers, did of course entail the slight inconvenience for a number of local families of having their village homes demolished for the expansion of the demesne.

Unusually, his son and heir Lindsey Talbot Crosbie departed fully from his Plymouth Brethern sire’s approach, coming to be known as the ‘Emancipated Landlord’ for his efforts to reach compromises with the United Irish League in the Land War. Indeed it can credibly be claimed his efforts helped facilitate the Wyndham Act.

With the writing on the wall by the War of Independence the family had fled to Britain. They did leave with slightly more than their handkerchiefs intact, managing to auction most of the valuables spirited out of the property in England.

And the £21,024 in compensation they eventually won from the Irish State for the loss of their home was transformed into a larger stack of cash as the terms forced them to use it to build anew. But a clause allowed them to build anywhere in the Free State – not necessarily on the original site.

“Ardfert’s loss would be the capital’s gain,” O’Byrne writes of the 17 homes in Glenageary and the three in Howth subsequently constructed by the Talbot-Crosbies; which they promptly sold for likely more than the compensation figure.

A thoroughly engaging romp through this vanished society and its grand spaces, Left Without a Handkerchief is the perfect primer for any lay student of the Protestant ascendancy as told through the prism of ten of its septs and their many larger-than-life characters.


Privacy