A week ago I attended a marathon of an event. It lasted from 10.30am to sometime about 9pm, long after I had left. It was absorbing. It was full of surprises, good and bad. It was a glimpse into the past, and it said a lot about the present Irish economy. For anyone from my locality who attended it, there was no doubt a tinge of sadness as well as great fascination.
This event was the sale of the contents of Fortgranite, a gentleman’s residence just a few miles outside of Baltinglass. For over two hundred years it had been the home of the Dennis family, but recently it was sold and now we were picking over the family’s heirlooms, their more personal possessions and the things they had forgotten in the less visited corners of the ancient house.
As well as wanting to purchase a pair of Victorian bookcases and some genealogical books, I had the mad notion of ‘saving’ one of the many portraits for Baltinglass. The house was crammed full of the images of the Dennis family’s ancestors. Most of them were from the Swift family. Apparently they had come to Fortgranite from Swiftsheath, Co. Kilkenny.
In the male line the Dennises originally were Swifts. Meade Swift, a first cousin of the famous Jonathan Swift and a second cousin of the poet John Dryden, was the father of Thomas Swift who married Frances Dennis. Frances’s brother Lord Tracton died without issue in 1782. He left his estates in Co. Kerry to his nephew Rev. Meade Swift on condition that he adopt the surname of Dennis. In 1780 Rev. Meade Swift had married Delia Sophia Saunders of Saunders Grove. Through this marriage the family’s connection with the Baltinglass area had come about. It was their son Thomas Stratford Dennis who was the first owner of Fortgranite. It would appear that the property came with his marriage in 1810 to his first cousin Katherine Martha Maria Saunders. The last resident owner of Fortgranite was their great-great-grandson Piers Dennis, who died in January 2016.
The Swift portraits were not the ones I was concerned about. I got it into my head that the Stratford family portraits should remain in Baltinglass, where they had history and context. In my mind’s eye I could see them on the walls of Baltinglass Courthouse, a building almost contemporary with Fortgranite. Unable to interest anyone with money in being philanthropic, I innocently decided that I might manage to ‘save’ one of the portraits. Who could possibly wish to go beyond the guide price to purchase portraits of complete strangers by unknown artists? Well now I know that the answer to that is many people. The Stratford portrait I was least interested in was that of Lady Maria Stratford, about whose very existence I was previously unaware. The guide price was €4,000 to €6,000 but Lady Maria was fought over by a number of people before someone bidding over the phone got possession for €18,000. It must be said that the catalogue indicated that this painting was attributed to James Latham.
So, why did the Stratfords interest me, and why where their portraits in Fortgranite? Robert and Mary Stratford had a residence in Baltinglass in the 1660s. Their son Edward, though he lived in Belan, Co. Kildare, purchased the town of Baltinglass and many of the townlands in its vicinity from the Carroll family in 1707. His son John Stratford did much to encourage the development of Baltinglass. He married Martha daughter of Rev. Benjamin Neale (apparently Rector variously of Hacketstown, Kiltegan and Baltinglass) and through the marriage acquired further local property, including Mountneill, Co. Carlow, a few miles south of Baltinglass.
John and Martha became Baron and Baroness Baltinglass in 1763, Viscount and Viscountess Aldborough in 1776 and finally Earl and Countess of Aldborough in 1777. Their eldest son, Edward, was the more famous 2nd Earl. It was he who build Aldborough House in Dublin and founded the industrial town (now village) of Stratford-on-Slaney, a few miles north of Baltinglass.
The Dennis family were descended from John and Martha through their daughter, Martha Saunders. The last of the Stratfords was the 6th Earl. When his residence, Stratford Lodge (where Baltinglass Golf Club is now located), went up in flames in 1858 four Dennis brothers were among those who attempted to save its contents. Whether the portraits were there at the time is unclear but they came into the possession of the Dennis family either then or on the death of the last earl’s mother. In any case they adorned the walls of Fortgranite for over 130 years.
As for the portraits, they included one of the original Edward Stratford, one of his son John (1st Earl), two of John’s wife Martha and one of their son Edward (2nd Earl). To me, these historical characters were part of the story of Baltinglass and their images bring to life an aspect of our heritage. I determined to at least bid for the ‘cheapest’ of them, the nicer of the two of Martha Neale. The guide price was €1,500-€2,000 and I was sure it would sell for less. I never got to take part. The bidding started at €1,500 and the portrait sold for €5,000.
Martha Neale may not be a well-known historical character internationally but she possibly was the earliest woman associated with Baltinglass of whom there is a surviving image. Genealogically she made her mark on the world. As the mother of at least fifteen (family legend says nineteen) children she produced thousands of descendants. Among those living today are the Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York, the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes and the acting brothers Ralph and Joseph Fiennes.
During the auction various military jackets went for huge prices. Much attention was given to a letter dated 1901 from Winston Churchill replying to Capt. (later Col.) Meade J.C. Dennis, who took exception to his comment on the conduct of the Boer War. With the interest shown in military memorabilia it might have been expected that the letter would fetch a hefty sum, but this was not the case.
One portrait that went past me unnoticed, because it was surrounded in the auction by several Swifts, was that of ‘Miss A. Plunkett, niece of the first Lord Aldborough, Countess of Antrim’. This was Anne Plunkett, a granddaughter of the Edward Stratford who purchased Baltinglass in 1707. She was also the great-great-great-great-grandmother of Winston Churchill. I doubt Churchill was aware that the man he was replying to in 1901 was his fifth cousin twice removed.
It wasn’t necessary for me to find space in my house to accommodate Martha Neale, and she left Baltinglass after all. However, I learned that she and the other Stratfords of whom I was concerned went to ‘good homes’ in Ireland. This is reassuring to know. The Dennises were the last descendants of the Stratfords living locally, some three and a half centuries after Robert and Mary Stratford first came to Baltinglass. ‘The end of an era’ is a dreadfully hackneyed phrase. But in this instance the auction was just that, and I was there to witness the end.
The recent intense and prolonged heatwave experienced by Ireland reminded me of a short newspaper article I came across a few years ago. I included it in my contribution to the Journal of the West Wicklow Historical Society, No. 6 (2011), ‘Miscellaneous Biographical Notices Relating to Baltinglass, 1748-1904’.
The article recounted the tragic death of a little boy during a hot spell in August 1882. It appeared in the Saturday 12 August edition of the Kildare Observer, under the heading ‘Death from Sunstroke’:
During the past week a child of Mr. Felix Bowes, of Baltinglass, died from the effects of the intense heat. The deceased was a fine little boy of five years of age, and was playing with a number of other children, when he complained of having a pain in his head, and, after a short illness, succumbed. It appears his head was uncovered, and it would be desirable children should not be allowed to expose themselves to the heat of the sun this weather.
The little boy was John Bowes. He was indeed five years old, as he was born in Baltinglass on 7 January 1877. On his birth record he parents were named as Phelim Bowes, a tailor, and Margaret Bowes, formerly Parker. The names Phelim and Felix were used interchangeably, due to Felix being used as a pseudo-translation of Phelim.
The exact date of John’s death is in doubt. Theoretically, the newspaper was published on Saturday 12 August but it may have appeared a few days before or after that date, as local newspapers often did until recent years. John’s death record gives his official date of death as 13 August, but it was not registered until 13 October, so the date is most likely inaccurate. The record stated that the uncertified cause of death was ‘Sunstroke two days’.
A little bit of digging showed that Felix Bowes married Margaret Parker in 1870 June in the Leeds area of Yorkshire. They were not identified in the 1871 Census in England and the first reference found to them in the Baltinglass area was John’s birth record in 1877. Presumably Felix was a Bowes of Killabeg, Co. Wicklow (between Shillelagh and Tullow), as Catherine Bowes of Killabeg was informant on John’s birth record. John’s mother, Margaret, converted to Catholicism in Baltinglass on 17 October 1878. She was baptised conditionally and the record stated that she ‘was married before Baptism in Protestant Church’. The record gave her parents as Edward Parker and Sarah Watson.
Felix and Margaret Bowes had three younger children – Charles (1879), Felix (1881) and George (1882). Felix died at birth. Then, the following year, John died of sunstroke. George died just over four months after John, aged seven months. The cause of his death was hydrocephalus, more commonly called ‘water on the brain’. The final tragedy came sixteen months later, when Margaret herself died on 21 April 1884 at the stated age of 36. The certified cause of death was ‘Decline’, which she had suffered for ‘years’, possibly from the birth of her last child.
The loss of four members of his family in the space of three years did not entirely defeat Felix Bowes. Four months after his wife’s death he married again. This was not unusual and, indeed, with at least one living child it was necessary that he find a wife who would share the burden. He married Mary Roche of Baltinglass in August 1884. Initially they lived in Car’s Rock, just outside the town, where their son, another John, was born in 1885. Their other children born in Car’s Rock were Michael (1886), Catherine (1888) and Walter (1890), while Felix (1892) and Edward (1894) were born in Baltinglass. Edward died at five weeks old. Felix Bowes, the father of the little boy John, died a widower in April 1916 in Baltinglass Workhouse, at the stated aged of 78.
If you were to take a photograph to capture the essence of Baltinglass you might think of a general view of the town from the Carlow Road, or one of the Abbey from across the river. But you’re as likely to think of the McAllister monument as your symbol of Baltinglass. McAllister has been at the heart of the town for a lot longer than living memory. In fact, Sam McAllister has been standing in Main Street for exactly one hundred years [first published in 2004].
In May 1904 a huge crowd gathered for the unveiling of the new statue to commemorate the 1798 Rebellion. Six years had passed since the centenary, but the idea of a monument had only been mooted in Baltinglass at a meeting in March 1898. Raising money for the statue was a long process. Two organisations based in Dublin were the driving forces behind the commemorations throughout Wicklow. On a local level the Dwyer and McAllister Memorial Committee did their best to raise funds. However, much of the money came from outside Ireland, with emigrants in America subscribing substantially.
The first ceremony at the monument site was the laying of the foundation stone on Sunday 15 June 1902. Special trains ran from Dublin with a return fare of two shillings. Hundreds of people poured into the town. Despite unrelenting rain, there was a long parade before the stone was laid by E.P. O’Kelly, the Baltinglass man who was then Chairman of Wicklow County Council.
It was almost another two years before the monument was put in place and unveiled. On Sunday 8 May 1904 an estimated 10,000 people crowded into the town. Fortunately it was a sunny day. A parade started at the railway station, where the Lord Mayor of Dublin and other dignitaries arrived. With flags, banners, costumes and marching bands, it was an exciting day for Baltinglass in an era when entertainment was not to be had at the press of a button.
So began Sam McAllister’s long vigil in Main Street. The railings that once surrounded the base of the statue were removed decades ago to be placed at McAllister’s grave in Kilranelagh. In more recent years the area around the statue was paved, and now Sam is floodlit at night [not anymore]. After a hundred years keeping watch over the town McAllister is recognisable to all Baltinglass people as a symbol of home. But the irony is that the real Sam McAllister was an outsider with no real links to the town.
Little is known about McAllister’s life other than that he was a Presbyterian, originally from Ulster, who deserted from the Antrim Militia and joined the rebels. The historian Ruán O’Donnell says that McAllister joined the Antrim Militia on 1 April 1798 in Co. Wicklow and that he may have been resident in the area at the time. That being the case, there is a strong possibility that he was living in Stratford, where there was a significant number of Presbyterians among the weavers working in the textile factory.
What gave him his heroic reputation was the circumstance of his death in the early hours of 16 February 1799. A group of rebels led by Michael Dwyer were sheltering for the night at Derrynamuck in the Glen of Imaal. They were ambushed by a detachment of soldiers and McAllister was wounded in an exchange of fire. In order that Dwyer might escape, McAllister stood in the doorway and drew the fire of the surrounding soldiers.
Unlike other rebellions in Irish history, 1798 involved people from various religious backgrounds. In Ulster it was primarily a Presbyterian phenomenon; in Leinster it was primarily Catholic, but there were Church of Ireland activists, such as Joseph Holt from east Wicklow. However, it has to be admitted that in Wicklow the revolt had a sectarian element and the rebels were no heroes to the general Protestant population.
Sam McAllister was, therefore, something of an oddity. It would be nice to think that the choice of McAllister for the Baltinglass monument was primarily inspired by a desire to be inclusive of all elements in Irish society. However, tradition has it that he was selected in place of Michael Dwyer because Dwyer was held responsible in Baltinglass for a sectarian killing spree in Sruhaun and Tuckmill on 8 December 1798.
Monuments have a way of developing their own character. In 1904 McAllister represented heroism in rebellion. After a century on the street in Baltinglass, Sam has become a symbol of the town. The real Sam McAllister was an outsider. His image in the heart of our town is a reminder that today’s outsider is tomorrow’s old resident.
[First published in The Baltinglass Review, 2004]
Those who died in the Great War (1914-1918) are commemorated each year on 11 November. Huge numbers of Irishmen enlisted to fight in the British Army, the Royal Navy or the forces of other countries in the British Empire. They joined and fought for a variety of reasons. Those who died in that terrible conflict deserve to be remembered in their home place, especially at this time of year.
Saturday, 1 July 1916, when the Battle of the Somme commenced, was a particularly black moment. Over 19,000 British soldiers lost their lives on that single day. Among them were five men from the Baltinglass area - Thomas Devine, Patrick Greene, Andrew Jones, Patrick Kane and Edward Tutty. Hundreds of Baltinglass lads faced the dangers of that war over its five-year course. It’s impossible to determine how many there were in all. It’s easier to count the ones who never returned.
The following were 45 lads from the Baltinglass area who lost their future by taking part in the Great War. Five of them are commemorated on a plaque in St. Mary’s church in Baltinglass: all are now commemorated on the Co. Wicklow War Dead memorial at Woodenbridge, thanks to the initiative of Billy Timmins, former TD, and the committee he formed with a view to creating a permanent memorial to this lost generation.
Charles Ferris of Lathaleere (Irish Guards – Western Front)
Patrick Sullivan (Scots Guards – Western Front)
Patrick Doyle (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
James Glynn of the Sruhaun Road aged 24 (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
George Herbert Morris aged 22 (Gloucestershire Regiment – Western Front)
James Dunne aged 23 (Leinster Regiment – Western Front)
Michael Brien aged 23 (Irish Guards – Western Front)
Patrick J. Kehoe of Weavers’ Square aged 35 (East Yorkshire Regiment – Western Front)
Matthew Whyte of Tuckmill (Connaught Rangers – Gallipoli)
John Abbey of Weavers’ Square aged 24 (Irish Guards – Western Front)
James Hennessy of Chapel Hill aged 24 (Irish Guards – Western Front)
John Nolan (Connaught Rangers – commemorated in Alexandria, Egypt)
Laurence Sutton of Belan Street aged 22 (Leinster Regiment – Western Front)
Richard Jones of Mill Street aged 29 (Royal Horse Artillery – Mesopotamia)
Joseph Bayle of Main Street aged 27 (Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers – Western Front)
John Joseph Behan aged 27 (Royal Irish Rifles – Western Front)
Patrick Doyle of Belan Street aged 18 (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
Henry O’Neill aged 23 (Royal West Surrey Regiment – Western Front)
Thomas Devine from Stratford aged 45 (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
Patrick Greene (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
Andrew Jones of Boleylug aged 35 (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
Patrick Kane of Holdenstown (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
Edward Tutty aged 27 (Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers – Western Front)
William Byrne aged 22 (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
William Lanegan shoemaker in Clarkes of the Bridge aged 24 (Irish Guards – Western Front)
Thomas William Middleton aged 28 (Royal Navy – near Dunkirk)
James Christopher Doogan of Main Street aged 19 (Royal Irish Regiment – Western Front)
Thomas Fitzgerald (Royal Garrison Artillery – Western Front)
Anthony Ovington from Woodfieldglen (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
William Conway of Deerpark aged 26 (Connaught Rangers – Western Front)
James Kearney of the Green Lane (Irish Guards – Western Front)
Michael O’Neill (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
George S. Brereton of Weavers’ Square aged 42 (Royal Irish Regiment – East Mediterranean)
Joseph Doody of Stratfordlodge aged 23 (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
Henry Hawkins from Newtownsaunders aged 41 (Royal Navy – Orkney, Scotland)
William Kelly (Irish Guards – Western Front)
William J. Mallen of Grangecon aged 18½ (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – Western Front)
Michael Kane (Royal Field Artillery – Western Front)
Thomas Malone of Main Street aged 39 (Machine Gun Corps – Western Front)
Ambrose A. Shearman cashier in the National Bank aged 26 (London Regiment – Western Front)
Hubert L. Grogan of Slaney Park aged 21 (Worcestershire Regiment – Western Front)
Michael J. Harbourne of the Bridge Hotel aged 21 (Australian Infantry – Western Front)
Joseph Brean (Army Service Corps – Southern Front)
Henry Pollard (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – in Germany)
1919 (from wounds)
James Moore of Ballyhook aged 24 (Royal Dublin Fusiliers – in Germany)
Time for my annual appeal for Baltinglass to embrace its heritage and bring back the juggies to the streets at Halloween. Banish the dreadful “trick-or-treat” expression and tell Baltinglass children to do what Baltinglass children did from at least the early years of the twentieth century – tell them to go out juggying, knocking on doors saying “HELP THE JUGGIES”.
Halloween isn’t something we got from America. It’s an old Irish custom and different parts of Ireland have different words to describe the activity of children dressing up in old rags to disguise themselves and going door to door asking for nuts, fruit or sweets. In Baltinglass it's called juggying. No one seems to know where that word came from or what exactly it represents. It’s been discussed a lot in recent years. What can be said is that it’s a word almost unique to Baltinglass. Other towns have other words for juggying, or none at all.
Don’t let the juggies be replaced by a bland international copy of the real Baltinglass thing. Banish the pumpkin and bring back the turnip! Leave the fireworks till night-time and give the kids time to go juggying. Don’t destroy a living tradition. Tell your kids that when they dress up at Halloween they’re dressing up as JUGGIES. Tell them when they go door to door they’re going JUGGYING. And tell they when the door is opened to say “HELP THE JUGGIES!”.
It’s well known that the family of Walt Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse and all that sparkles, came from north Co. Kilkenny. But Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, had a very close connection with the Disney family. One of them lived in Baltinglass for many years. Mary Disney (Walt’s great-great-grandaunt) married John Jones in 1810. They lived in Newtownsaunders and were part of the Methodist congregation in Baltinglass. John Jones was a farmer and a land agent. In 1833 he was one of the trustees for the Methodist congregation when they leased a plot in Mill Street where they built their meetinghouse.
In the early 1850s John Jones moved into Weavers Square to the house now owned by the O’Shea family. I cannot honestly say whether Mary was still alive by the 1850s. I have not looked into this in enough detail, as I have not looked closely at John and Mary’s gravestone in Hacketstown. Mary was one of several children of Robert Disney and his wife Mary Capel / Kepple, who married in Carlow Church of Ireland parish in 1775. Another of their daughters was Elizabeth who married William Cooke in 1809. The Cookes lived in Griffinstown in Ballynure parish, just north of Baltinglass.
Theoretically, Elizabeth Disney and William Cooke could have descendants in the area. Certainly Mary Disney and John Jones have quite a number of descendants around Baltinglass. Walt Disney’s distant cousins live in the area and his great-great-grandaunt once lived here, so there is a little touch of Disney sparkle to the town.
What’s the oldest gravestone in St. Joseph’s graveyard in Baltinglass? I really don’t know. But I do know that it’s not the one with the earliest date on it. Am I confusing you? Well, there is a gravestone that includes ‘Michael Brophy who gave his life in Ireland’s cause at Baltinglass in 1798 aged 55 years’. The headstone and that inscription were put in place in the oldest part of the cemetery in about 1920 by Michael’s great-grandson, William Henry Brophy of Bisbee, Arizona, USA.
Michael Brophy was a prosperous farmer who lived in Rathmoon House (now Burke’s) but he was originally from north Kilkenny. He had twelve sons and one daughter. In the 1790s he was known to be involved in the United Irishmen. Family tradition suggested that he was at the Battle of Vinegar Hill in June 1798, after which he was captured and executed. Over a century later E.P. O’Kelly wrote that Brophy was hanged from a beam at the entrance to Tan Lane (on one side of Mill Street).
Michael’s son George, who was born in Kilkenny, attended Carlow College before training for the priesthood in Paris and Madrid. He returned to Paris and was ordained in 1798, the year of his father’s death. George spent decades in France before moving to the USA in 1843. He died in Davenport, Iowa, in 1880, reportedly at the age of 105. Rev. George Brophy moved in exalted circles and in his time met Napoleon Bonaparte and six American presidents, including Abraham Lincoln.
Another of Michael’s sons, William, was intended for the church but he decided it was not for him and emigrated to Canada where he practised law. His grandson Truman William Brophy, born in Illinois in 1848, became a dentist and then a medical doctor. In the late nineteenth century, based in Chicago, he pioneered surgical procedures to repair the cleft lip and palate. Truman Brophy travelled internationally performing operations and lecturing, and he published two books on the subject. His work alleviated the suffering of countless people born with the condition.
Another of Michael’s sons was James Brophy, who succeeded him in Rathmoon. In 1815 James married Catherine (‘Kitty’) Cullen of Prospect, Narraghmore, Co. Kildare. Kitty’s younger brother, Paul Cullen, became Ireland’s first cardinal in 1866. James and Kitty’s eldest son, Michael Brophy, succeeded to the Rathmoon property. He had married Matilda Lalor, from the Goresbridge area of Kilkenny. Michael and Matilda’s son William Henry (‘Billy’) Brophy was baptised in Baltinglass on 18 October 1863. He went to America when he was aged 17, arriving in New York with his cousin Hugh on 11 April 1881.
Billy Brophy gravitated to the mining settlement of Bisbee, Arizona, where his older brothers had already begun to work. A mercantile, mining and banking career ultimately made him a millionaire. When the USA entered the First World War in 1917, Brophy became a ‘Dollar-a-Year’ man. He was one of a number of high powered businessmen who gave their expertise for a token salary of $1 plus expenses. He was based in Paris for the duration.
It was shortly afterwards that he had the gravestone erected in Baltinglass to his grandparents, James and Kitty, and to his great-grandfather Michael Brophy, the 1798 rebel. In the early 1920s he moved to Los Angeles. In November 1922, while on a fishing trip in the Gulf of California, Billy Brophy was swept overboard in a storm and drowned. He was aged 59. Mass was celebrated for him in Baltinglass a few months later. In 1928 in his honour his widow, Ellen Amelia, founded Brophy College Preparatory, a Jesuit boys’ school, in Phoenix, Arizona. The stained glass windows of its Brophy Chapel were designed and executed by artists from Dublin’s An Túr Gloine.
2013 (when this post was first aired on Facebook) was the 150th anniversary of the birth in Baltinglass of William Henry Brophy, who erected the gravestone with the earliest date in the oldest part of St. Joseph’s graveyard. But it’s not the oldest gravestone.
Oliver and Margaret Walsh may never have been internationally recognised figures, but they had a significant impact on the world. Were it not for them the Abbey Theatre might never have been founded, the word ‘Disneyland’ would mean nothing to anyone, and the course of the Second World War might well have been different.
When Margaret Borrowes married Oliver Walsh she was probably looking forward to a happy life, to having children, and to the relative comfort she was used to. The Abbey Theatre, Disneyland and the Second World War were far from her thoughts, as they were then unimagined developments of the distant future. Oliver and Margaret lived in Ireland in the seventeenth century. The happenings of the twentieth century were for their famous descendants to influence.
By the standards of the time Oliver and Margaret were prosperous people. He was what was termed a ‘gentleman’ and he had the means in 1639 to purchase lands at Ballykilcavan in what was then Queen’s Co. (now Laois). Margaret was from Gilltown, Co. Kildare, some twenty miles away. They both witnessed the 1641 Rebellion, in which her father lost heavily for his support of King Charles. They were again bystanders when in 1649 the wrath of Cromwell descended on Ireland.
Cromwell died in 1658, and so too did Oliver Walsh, bequeathing his DNA to posterity. Three years later his and Margaret’s son, another Oliver, married Editha Hunt of Dublin. About the same time their daughter Mary married a young man from Warwickshire named Robert Stratford. With the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, Charles II was trying to perform a miracle of loaves and fishes in confirming Irish land to Cromwellian soldiers while restoring the same land to dispossessed royalists. It was a chaotic time ‘when land was cheap and money dear’, and Robert Stratford snapped up some bargains, buying or leasing various properties. One of these was the town of Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, and he settled there with Mary.
Oliver and Editha Walsh remained at Ballykilcavan, which is still today in the possession of descendants. Their daughter Rebecca married Toby Caulfeild of Clone, Co. Kilkenny. A century later, in 1795, Rebecca’s great-great-granddaughter, Frances Best, married a farmer called Kepple Disney. In the 1830s Frances and Kepple’s son Arundel left Ireland with his wife and their infant son, sailing for New York. They later settled in Ontario in Canada, but the son moved to Kansas. His son Elias settled in Chicago, where he worked as a carpenter, and it was there that his son, Walt Disney, was born in 1901. So if Oliver and Margaret Walsh had never married the man who turned his surname into a byword for fantasy and entertainment would never have existed.
Returning to the Stratfords, Robert must have done well out of his property speculation in the 1660s, as he was able to marry off his seven daughters quite respectably and leave his son Edward in a comfortable position. Despite heavy losses incurred in his support for William of Orange in the civil war fought out in Ireland against James II, Edward Stratford prospered. His son John was eventually elevated to the peerage, first as Baron Baltinglass in 1763 and ultimately as Earl of Aldborough in 1777, the year of his death. John’s son Edward was the 2nd Earl. As well as developing the town of Baltinglass, constructing Aldborough House in Dublin and Stratford Place in London, he dreamt up a new industrial town in Co. Wicklow which he called Stratford-on-Slaney. For decades it was a prosperous textile manufacturing centre but after the industry failed it dwindled to the quiet, pleasant village it is today. There were four more earls of Aldborough, the last being an eccentric recluse who died in 1875 at Alicante in Spain.
In 1697 Abigail Stratford, one of the seven daughters of Robert Stratford and Mary Walsh, married George Canning of Garvagh in Derry. Their only surviving child was Stratford Canning. Stratford’s eldest son, George, was a great disappointment to him. Having got himself into serious debt in London, he was bailed out by his father but in return had to renounce his inheritance. Then, in his early thirties and still in London, he married a young lady with no fortune, fathered three children and died after less than three years of marriage. His impoverished widow was forced to take to the stage and she drifted into an even more socially unacceptable position as the mistress of a disreputable actor.
At the time of George’s death his second child was a year old. He was another George. He spent his early childhood in near penury before being rescued by the Cannings, who paid for his education at Eton and Oxford, where he gained a reputation for academic brilliance. Entering politics, he rose to the position of Foreign Secretary during the Napoleonic Wars, but lost it after being wounded in a duel with a political rival, Lord Castlereagh. However, he returned to that office in 1822 following the suicide of the erstwhile Lord Castlereagh, then Marquess of Londonderry. After a successful five years as Foreign Secretary, in April 1827 he became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. However, he became ill in July and died on 8 August at the age of 57 after serving one of the shortest terms of any British Prime Minister. In his day George Canning was regarded as a man who rose from humble origins to the highest political office on his own merit, a unique achievement in nineteenth century Britain. Though he visited Ireland only once, both his parents were born in the country and he referred to himself as ‘an Irishman born in London’. He was also a strong advocate of Catholic emancipation, a position that would have horrified his great-granduncle, Edward Stratford, the staunch supporter of King Billy.
That Edward Stratford’s daughter Elizabeth married Charles Plunkett of Dillonstown, Co. Louth. Their daughter Anne married the 5th Earl of Antrim in 1739. Anne’s only son, Randal, became the 6th Earl on his father’s death. He eventually married but had no son to inherit the title. He obtained a new patent in 1785 allowing for his three daughters and their male issue to succeed. On his death in 1791 his sixteen year old eldest daughter, Anne Catherine, became Countess of Antrim in her own right. She married Sir Henry Vane-Tempest but their only child was a girl named Frances Anne. She could not inherit her mother’s title as it was limited to her male heirs, so the earldom passed to Frances Anne’s aunt. However, on his death in 1813 Sir Henry left his daughter a very rich heiress, with an estimated £60,000 a year. Lady Frances Anne might have attracted all the gold diggers in London. However, her mother encouraged the attention of Charles, Lord Stewart, a forty year old widower. Though he was twice her age, he had a sizeable income of his own and very good connections. They married in 1819. Three years later Charles’s half-brother, the Foreign Secretary popularly known as Lord Castlereagh, committed suicide. Frances Anne’s distant cousin, George Canning, became the new Foreign Secretary and she herself became the Marchioness of Londonderry.
Lady Londonderry’s eldest daughter, Frances, took a further step up the aristocratic pyramid by marrying the Marquess of Blandford, as he later succeeded his father as Duke of Marlborough. While her husband served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in the 1870s there was a threatened return of famine, and Frances, Duchess of Marlborough set up a relief fund that raised £135,000. While in Dublin the Marlboroughs resided at the Viceregal Lodge (now Áras an Uachtaráin). That was how it came about that their grandson Winston Churchill’s earliest memories were of being in a pram in the Phoenix Park. Though he was a Nobel Prize winning writer, it was through his leadership of the United Kingdom during World War II that his memory became immortalised.
Producing two British prime ministers was not the only legacy to the world from the Stratford branch of Oliver and Margaret Walsh’s family. Many descendants were prominent in politics and the arts. Included in their number was Charles Stewart Parnell, who led the constitutional Irish nationalist movement from the 1870s. On the other hand, so was Sir Basil Brooke (Lord Brookeborough), leader of the unionist movement in the mid-twentieth century and Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.
Another descendant was Augusta, Lady Gregory, one of the founders of the Abbey Theatre which influenced Ireland’s cultural identity at the beginning of the twentieth century. The artist Sir William Orpen was hardly aware of Oliver and Margaret Walsh, or his distant relationship to Churchill when he painted the future legend’s portrait in 1915. There were other artistic individuals hidden in the branches of the extensive family tree grown by Oliver and Margaret. The architect Sir Thomas Newenham Deane was one of them. Among his works were the National Library and National Museum in Kildare Street, Dublin. The popular twentieth century author Elizabeth Bowen was another. The Canadian-born Hume Cronyn who died in 2003 was a Broadway star and a Hollywood character actor whose films ranged from Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt in the 1940s to television movies made in the 2000s. Along the way he starred with his wife Jessica Tandy in such films as The World According to Garp and Cocoon.
In the world of the arts today the most prominent offspring are the Irish singer-songwriter Chris De Burgh, and the highly successful English acting brothers Ralph and Joseph Fiennes, who spent part of their childhood in Ireland. Their kinsman, the explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes, is another Stratford descendant. Another celebrity descendant is the 2003 Miss World, Rosanna Davison, who is the daughter of Chris De Burgh. Jemima Goldsmith, wife of the Pakistani cricketer and politician Imran Khan, inherits her Walsh blood from the Londonderrys. Oliver and Margaret have royal descendants in Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York, whose mother, Sarah Ferguson, traces her ancestry from the Stratfords through the Wingfields of Powerscourt.
Oliver and Margaret are thirteen generations back from Rosanna Davison and the princesses. Beatrice and Eugenie are Rosanna’s eleventh cousins. They are ninth cousins three times removed of Walt Disney. Most people have no contact with relatives as remote as third cousins, and few have traced their ancestry back any more than about five or six generations. So most people have no idea of who else might be sharing their bloodlines.
Today there are thousands of Oliver and Margaret Walsh’s progeny all over the planet. They are by no means all wealthy, famous, or successful people. They are in all walks of life, and most are unaware of the seventeenth century Irish couple whose DNA contributed to making them the individuals they are. Oliver and Margaret may not have done remarkable things during their lifetime, but without them the world’s history would have taken a slightly different shape. That should be a sobering thought for any parent.
[First published in Ireland of the Welcomes, Vol. 55, No. 1 (January-February 2006)]
Old bridges have a strange way of blending into the landscape. Often we don’t notice them at all. Some of the smaller ones are camouflaged by greenery or hidden by road resurfacing. Larger ones are so familiar that they seem to have been there forever. With so much concern about flooding this year our bridges have come back into focus. Eldon Bridge and Baltinglass Bridge have been in the public eye more in 2010 than at any time since 1965. That was the year when another of our old bridges was swept away by the waters of the Slaney.
It may surprise people that there are well over twenty bridges in our parish, not counting those over the old railway line. Most of them are nameless and secretly cross small streams. ‘Our parish’ may seem a vague term. In this instance we are talking about the Catholic parish. It has set geographical boundaries, incorporating Ballynure, Baltinglass, Rathbran and Rathtoole civil parishes in Co. Wicklow and parts of Graney and Kineagh civil parishes in Co. Kildare.
In the Kildare end of our parish are two bridges of note. Miller’s Bridge, on the road between The Pike and Bigstone, crosses a stream that flows off Carrigeen hill. The stream joins forces with others before reaching the bridge at Graney. This familiar humpback on the road from Baltinglass to Castledermot was the scene of the infamous Graney Ambush on 24 October 1922, a brutal episode in the Civil War. This stream flows into the Lerr at Castledermot and enters the Barrow north of Carlow Town.
In the west of our parish, straddling the boundary between Wicklow and Kildare, is Ballycore Bridge, now most noticeable as a narrowing of the R747, which links Baltinglass to the new M9. The stream it crosses flows on through Timolin to join the Greese and make its way into the Barrow just south of Maganey. Close to Ballycore, but on a less trodden path is Rathtoole Bridge. It links the R747 with the ‘Bed Road’. Despite its name, this narrow single-arch bridge is slightly outside Rathtoole townland. The north side of it is in Baronstown Lower and the south side is in Lackareagh and Moneymore.
Apart from the Slaney crossings there are two other named bridges in our parish. Kyle (officially spelt ‘Kill’) is a two-arch bridge over a stream fed from Kilranelagh and Baltinglass hills. Further on its course this stream once powered the mill in Tuckmill. It still flows unnoticed under the N81 to join the Slaney just north of Tuckmill Cross. Further south, a network of streams from the Talbotstown area drain into a small river that enters the Slaney at Kilmurry. The small river separates Baltinglass from Rathvilly parish and Wicklow from Carlow. Spanning it with a single arch is Mountneill Bridge, a venerable humpback with great character.
The bridging of the Slaney goes back to the 1600s. Tradition has it that there was a ford in Baltinglass north of where the present bridge stands. The Cistercian monks who built the original mill on the west bank of the river had to have some crossing point from the Abbey on the east side. Sometime in the latter half of the seventeenth century Sir Maurice Eustace built a bridge in the town. It may have been immediately adjacent to the ford. A map from 1745 shows it about where Gillespie’s SuperValu now faces St. Kevin’s. Before the present SuperValu was built in the late twentieth century the line of the street leading down the slope to this bridge was discernible. The popular name for Jimmy Donohoe’s pub, ‘the Hollow’, most likely originated from this sloping street.
In the late eighteenth century the then owner of the town, Edward Stratford, 2nd Earl of Aldborough, built a new stone bridge south of the original one. Its western approach was aligned with Cuckoo Lane (Belan Street), which led to his residence at Belan, Co. Kildare. The bridge crossed the river at a slight angle so that its eastern approach was not exactly aligned with the existing north side of Main Street. Presumably this was to centre it on the widened street. Edward’s three-arch bridge had triangular cutwaters and dressed granite voussoirs and it was under construction in 1788. At the time it must have been impressively wide. Built for horse drawn vehicles almost a quarter of a millennium ago, this bridge still stands at the heart of the town, tested daily by twenty-first century articulated lorries.
Despite its antiquity, Baltinglass Bridge is not the oldest existing Slaney bridge in our parish. That honour goes to Manger Bridge, which is estimated to date from some decades earlier and may be the oldest bridge on the river’s entire course. In its heyday this narrow five-arch crossing was on the road from Baltinglass through Dunlavin to Dublin. Lord Aldborough’s new town of Stratford-upon-Slaney was built on this road in the 1780s. The realignment of the Dublin road to the east of the river in the early nineteenth century diminished Manger’s importance. It may well have saved it too, as road expansion inevitably would have seen a wider bridge replace it.
Tuckmill Bridge is another eighteenth century construction. The late Tommy Doyle of the Lough maintained a tradition that one of his ancestors was drowned at a fording place in Tuckmill in the 1770s. Subsequently the present bridge was built. Tommy stated that the Dempsey family came to work on it and then settled in Tuckmill.
An old fording place that has long been defunct is Maiden’s Ford, between Cloghcastle and the end of the Green Lane in Newtownsaunders. According to the Ordnance Survey Name Books, compiled in the 1830s, it got its name from ‘a young woman having been drowned at it about a hundred years ago’. Michael Coogan of the Redwells appears to have been the source of this information. Further downstream, between Holdenstown Lower and Slaney Park, was Lady’s Ford. It connected a now abandoned road through Holdenstown with the Redwells. Apparently again quoting Coogan, the Name Books state that it was named after ‘a Lady being drowned at it in crossing the River about 50 years ago’.
In the 1940s the place-names expert Liam Price dismissed the explanations of Maiden’s Ford and Lady’s Ford as unconvincingly similar. Perhaps Price was too quick to reject the traditions. In the mid-eighteenth century Slaney Park was the home of Sir Warren Crosbie who called it Crosbie Park. His wife was Dorothy Howard from Northumberland. Their grandson, the balloonist Richard Crosbie, Ireland’s first aviator, is believed to have been born at Crosbie Park. Lady Crosbie drowned in the Slaney on 29 October 1748. Pue’s Occurrences of 1-5 November 1748 reported:
Last Week the Lady of Sir Warren Crosbie was unfortunately drowned, as she was crossing the River Slany near Enniscorthy in her Coach, occasioned by a great Flood that was in the River. Sir Warren Crosbie and some other Gentlemen who were in the Coach, happily saved their Lives by swimming to Shore; two of the Coach Horses were also drowned.
The coincidence is too great to ignore. It is easier to dismiss the newspaper’s mention of Enniscorthy as inaccurate than to dismiss the potential connection with Lady’s Ford.
The old road leading through Holdenstown ran parallel to the present one, which came into existence before 1838 and possibly much earlier. At some stage, perhaps in the 1820s, Aldborough Bridge was built, linking this road to the Redwells. The three-arch humpback still serves this quiet road.
The Building Bridge also was erected sometime before 1838, linking the village of Stratford to the new Baltinglass to Dublin road. This may well have been to provide better access to the cotton printing factory that was then just a few hundred yards from the bridge. On the night of 17 November 1965, during the greatest flood in living memory, the Building Bridge gave way, causing concern for the other old bridges downstream. Indeed a small portion of Tuckmill Bridge also went in that flood but it was repaired. Afterwards the Building Bridge was replaced by a temporary wooden structure before the present concrete bridge was put in place some twenty years ago. It is a functional structure but not as pleasing to the eye as the older bridges.
Perhaps the most noticeable crossing of the Slaney within our parish is Eldon Bridge, tucked into a sharp bend on the N81. Before its construction the way from Baltinglass to Dublin ran from Chapel Hill to Tuckmill along what we now call the Sruhaun Road. On the other side of the river the way from Baltinglass to Grangecon and Dunlavin ran from Mill Street to Raheen. In about 1829 a new stretch of road was run from the western side across the new Eldon Bridge to join the existing Dublin road at the foot of the hill. John Scott, the first Earl of Eldon, was Lord Chancellor until 1827 and the bridge appears to have been named for him. It spans three arches, but slightly at a remove on the eastern side is an additional dry arch for use in floods. Until just a couple of years ago there was a marked dip on the western approach to Eldon Bridge. This allowed river water to cross the road at times of high flooding. Controversially the dip was smoothed over when the road to the dump in Rampere was widened. Many people familiar with the Slaney’s habits fear that this change might weaken the bridge’s structure if another major flood were to happen.
We may pay little attention to our bridges as a rule, but they are part of the fabric of our parish and we would miss them if they were to vanish from the landscape. Baltinglass Bridge is barely wide enough for the vehicular and pedestrian traffic it is taxed with now. The provision of a free-standing walkway beside it could relieve the congestion and make it safer for those on foot. Ultimately though, this old familiar bridge will only be preserved for posterity by a bridge that has yet to be built. The Baltinglass Town Development Plan has identified the route for a relief road south of the town. Unfortunately, it is left to private enterprise to develop such a road so we may be waiting quite some time for our first bridge of the new millennium.
[first published in The Review 2010 – A year in the life of Baltinglass, Bigstone, Grangecon and Stratford]
One of the most recognisable structures in Baltinglass is the tower in St. Joseph’s Graveyard on Chapel Hill. Standing almost alone beside the central pathway, it evokes thoughts of times gone by. There is a haunting picturesque quality about it. Familiar as it is, many people have only a vague idea of how it came to be there. Is it the last remnant of the old church? Has it something to do with Catholic Emancipation? Is it part of an old castle?
Today, as you look up the central pathway, the tower is in the middle of the graveyard. Until 1938, when the graveyard was extended up the hill, the tower formed part of its upper boundary wall. Further back again, before the area to the left of the central pathway was added to the cemetery in 1903, the tower occupied the north-east corner of the much smaller cemetery. The lowest part to the right of the central pathway was not part of the grounds before that time either; small houses once stood there. Before 1903 you would have entered the graveyard through the gateway in what was the south-west corner. The gate still stands, but like a forgotten old favourite, above its rows of crooked granite steps. When that gate was in its heyday it was the entrance to the chapel yard. Directly inside it was the chapel and on the somewhat higher ground to the north was the small cemetery area. Standing in the corner above the graves and at some distance from the chapel was the tower. Beside the boundary wall, a narrow flight of steps ran up from the chapel towards the tower. The steps are still to be seen.
Before the end of the 1820s the tower was less conspicuous, partly because it was not as tall then but also because the chapel obscured its view. Chapel Hill got its name from this chapel. When it was built, possibly in the late eighteenth century, the term ‘church’ officially related to a Church of Ireland place of worship. All other denominations had chapels or meetinghouses. Throughout most of the eighteenth century the Penal Laws were in force in Ireland. They were aimed at bolstering the position of the Protestant ruling class and they restricted the religious practices of Roman Catholic and Protestant Non-Conformist denominations. One of these laws forbade priests from officiating in a chapel with a steeple or bell. Luke Gardiner’s second Catholic Relief Act, passed in 1782, removed many restrictions on priests and Catholic worship but retained the prohibition regarding a steeple or bell.
Throughout the period of the Penal Laws their enforcement depended very much on the attitude of those in power locally. By the late eighteenth century most of the laws had been dismantled and those that remained could be flouted in many cases. It is probably in these circumstances that our bell tower was first constructed. It was built several yards away from the chapel so that, technically, no law was being broken. Chapel Hill was an established place-name by 1802 but the chapel may not have been very old by then, as it was called ‘the new chapel’ in a deed of 1799. The tower may well have been built at the same time as the chapel.
When Catholic Emancipation was enacted in 1829 it removed all remaining restrictions on Catholic worship. Rev. Henry Young, a charismatic missionary priest, is said to have been responsible for raising funds locally for a new bell, made in Dublin that year. It is said that at the same time the tower was raised to its present height, with the castellated finish. The Parish Priest responsible for this was Rev. John Shea, who had been in Baltinglass for over twenty years.
At some stage, not necessarily in 1829, a rectangular plaque was placed on the tower. At its centre is a cross. Above that is an inscription in Greek which apparently translates as ‘Glory to God in the highest’. Below the cross is the very strange ‘Shea Mont Castle’ and below that ‘Anno Domini 1829’. What exactly was meant by the words ‘Shea Mont Castle’ is uncertain but the inscription is clearly in English and is not an abbreviation of a longer text. Presumably it relates to Father Shea’s building up of the tower, but it has given rise to the mistaken belief that the tower is that of a castle called ‘Shea Mont’.
In the 1850s, when the present St. Joseph’s church was ready for divine worship, the decaying chapel on Chapel Hill was abandoned. The clock tower of the new church was not completed until the 1890s. Up to that point the bell in the tower in the graveyard continued to be rung to summon parishioners to Mass. The 1829 bell was then transferred to the church in Stratford, where it remained in use until the 1930s.
[First published in The Review 2009: a year in the life of Baltinglass, Bigstone, Grangecon and Stratford]
I'm a genealogist by profession, with credentials from AGI. I also dabble in local history and the history of Irish golfers, and I'm always writing something!