On Saturday, 29th July, a large coach full of IGRS members and their friends descended upon counties Wicklow and Wexford for the Ireland Branch’s Annual Summer Outing.
The first stop was Wicklow town’s historic gaol. First opened in 1702, until 1924 it was continuously in use as a prison, although from 1877 its status was reduced to that of a Bridewell (remand prison). It saw all walks of like, from debtors to thugs and villains. from the unfortunate drawn into crime through necessity, right through to the patriots of the 1798 Rising, transportees to Australia, the combatants of 1916 and those on the losing side of the civil war.
As a museum, the prison was restored in the 1990s and was formally opened as a visitor attraction by President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, in 1998.
The group then made their way to Monart House, near Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford. The House was built in 1740 and is a Palladian style sandstone gentleman’s residence. It was erected by Edward Cookman JP, High Sheriff of County Wexford, as a wedding present for his son upon his marriage to a daughter of the Jamieson distilling family.
It is now an exclusive five star hotel and spa and the group’s primary purpose there was to enjoy a terrific three course waiter served lunch.
In the early afternoon the group visited Monksgrange House, originally Grange House, near Rathnure, Co. Wexford, standing at the at the foot of the Blackstairs mountain. It is another country gentleman’s house built in the Palladian style.
It was erected for Goddard Richards (1717-95) and has been in the same family ever since, passing through marriage from the Richards family to the Orpen family. The current owner is Jeremy Hill, the son of Charmian D. Richards-Orpen and Edward Parkinson Hill who married in 1940.
Jeremy gave the group an facinating (and amusing) insight into how Goddard Richards came into possession of Monksgrange and of his descendants. The house holds a very complete archive of both personal and estate papers, telling the history not just of the Richards and Open families, but of the tenants of the estate too, over several centuries. The cataloging of this material is expected to be complete for the celebrations of the 250th anniversary of the building of the house in 2019.
The extensive gardens surrounding Monksgrange were a partcular delight at this time of year as they possess many different varieties of hydrangea. Given that the archive room can only hold about 15 at a time, the group had to be broken into four, allowing time for those waiting too enjoy the gardens and plants.
In the late afternoon the trip finished with a tour of Enniscorthy Castle and the Athenaeum theatre, both in the town of Enniscorthy.
The original castle had been built in the 12th century by the Anglo-Normans, but replaced later in the 15th century by a more substantial structure, built for Sir Henry Wallop. Ownership of the castle passed through several generations to John Wallop, who became the 1st Earl of Portsmouth in 1743. The castle ceased to be a residence and became used for various business interests during the 18th and 19th centuries.
It became the residence of the Roche family in 1903 after it was bought and restored by Patrick J. Roche for his son, Henry J. Roche and his wife Josephine Shriver (a member of the American Shriver family, connected to the Kennedys).
The Roches were a local merchant family, which owned a large malt house in Enniscorthy, as well as having considerable property and business interests in New Ross. The last member of the family to leave was Josephine (Dodo) Roche who sold the castle and its contents in 1953.
The principal receptions rooms of the castle are set out as they were when the Roche family were in residence, with other rooms containing exhibitions of local interest. Currently, this includes the work of Eileen Gray (1878-1976). She was born in Brownswood House, Enniscorthy, to a family of Scottish descent and is known for her modern minimalist furniture and architecture, although her work also includes lacquer work and more traditional pieces. In 2009, her Frauteuil aux Dragons armchair sold at public auction for just under €22 million, setting a new record! Various reproductions of her furniture are on display.
The Athenaeum was built in 1892 to the plans of architect J.K. Freeman and served as both a theatre and town hall. It played a high profile role in the Easter Rising of 1916 when the Irish Volunteers chose it as their headquarters. There is an extensive exhibition dedicated to this part of its history on the ground floor of the building.
The day was a terrific success and thanks for this are due to chairperson of the Ireland Branch, Claire Bradley; honorary secretary, Aileen Wynne; honorary treasurer, Bernadette Cass, and Ireland Branch committee members, Cat Delaney and Gay Conroy.
Well done to all!