Monday, 28 September 2009

Great uncles at Finnstown House

Finnstown House, Lucan ... once the home of my Great-Uncle Con Crowley, now a country house hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

On Sunday morning [27 September 2009], I was preaching during Morning Prayer and assisting at the Eucharist in Saint Columba’s College, Rathfarnham. By early afternoon, I was in Lucan for the baptism of my newest grand-nephew, Matthew Melinn.

Later, we went back to celebrate over lunch in Finnstown House, the country house hotel outside Lucan.

Although most of my memories of visiting Finnstown House in my childhood in the late 1950s or early 1960s are vague, I have one distinct memory of running through the fields in the surrounding farm, falling head-first into a bed of nettles and being badly stung. At that time, Finnstown House it was the home of my Great Uncle Con and Great-Aunt Hannah. Cornelius D. Crowley (1879-1972), of Finnstown House, Lucan, Co Dublin, and Roscrea, Co Tipperary, was originally from Millstreet, Co Cork. He was one of my great-uncles, a brother of my grandmother, Maria (Crowley) Murphy (1882-1953) of Millstreet, Co Cork.

For many years Con Crowley was a director of the Roscrea Meat Company with his brother Jeremiah D. Crowley of Wallstown Castle, Castltownroche, Co Cork – the other directors included Robert Briscoe TD and G Fasenfeld. After World War II, Con Crowley bought Finnstown House, an 18th century manor house outside Lucan, Co Dublin, that is said to incorporate parts of the older Finnstown Castle.

The Italian-style fountain on the front lawn at Finnstown House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Records dating from 1547 refer to the area as “Fyne’s Town,” while 17th century maps spell the name “Fyan’s Town.” At one time, the three principle country houses or estates in the parish of Esker, outside Lucan, were Hermitage, Woodville and Finnstown. Hermitage is now a golf club and Woodville has been demolished, so Finnstown House is the only one of the three that is now open to the public.

Joseph Browne was living at Finnstown in 1622. By the 1640s, Finnstown was owned by Lamerick Nottingham, a brother-in-law of Patrick Sarsfield, Earl of Lucan and hero of the Siege of Limerick. In 1650, Finnstown Castle belonged to Alderman Walter Kennedy. When he died in 1672, Finnstown passed to his eldest son, Christopher Kennedy. However, the Kennedys’ Jacobite loyalties were their undoing, and Christopher Kennedy’s son, Colonel Thomas Kennedy, fled to Spain.

By 1837, Finnstown House was owned by John Rorke, a Dublin solicitor with offices in Upper Temple Street. In the 1860s, Thomas James Nash (1825-1887) from Millstreet, Co Cork, bought Finnstown House and its surrounding estate of almost 3,000 acres.

Thomas Nash’s father, James Nash, lived at Tullig House in Millstreet, Co Cork. When James Nash died on 23 August 1849, he left Thomas a wealthy landowner at the age of 24. Nash married a daughter of Richard Grainger (1797-1861), the planner who designed the city centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the 1830s and 1840s.

The portico and main entrance at Finnstown House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Shortly after he came into the possession of Finnstown House, Thomas Nash commissioned an architect to redesign the front rooms of Finnstown House. His eldest son, Richard Grainger Nash (1860-1914) of Finnstown House, was the pioneering force behind both the Lucan Dairies and Lucan Mineral Waters, founded by the Nash family in the late 19th century. The mineral water business peaked in the Edwardian era, with Nash’s ginger beer being marketed and sold in popular stone jars. The Lucan Dairies were bought in the 1960s by the American company WR Grace, and later became part of Unilever.

In 1917, Richard Nash’s widow, Caroline, married the Revd Canon Charles Follis, Rector of Carbery in the Diocese of Kildare. In 1918, she sold Finnstown House. She died in 1967 aged 88.

Con Crowley sold Finnstown House and the immediate grounds and fields to Christopher Keogh and his family in the 1960s. However, the Crowley family continues to farm some of the land today at neighbouring Coolmore.

The Keoghs hosted several hunt balls for the South County Dublin Hunt at Finnstown House. Then in 1986, the Keogh family sold Finnstown to Eoin and Nora Hickey, who opened Finnstown Country House Hotel on Saint Patrick’s Day 1987.

Today, the hotel stands in 45 acres of manicured lawns and gardens and is now part of the Mansfield Group.

I don’t know if Con Crowley ever knew that Thomas Nash, an earlier owner of Finnstown House, was also from Millstreet. But he never forgot his roots in north Co Cork. He erected two stained glass windows in Saint Patrick’s Church, Millstreet, in memory of his parents Denis and Margaret Crowley – my great-grandparents – who are buried in the grounds of Drishane Castle, on the edge of Millstreet.

On Sunday, I was the proud great-uncle at Finnstown House. Little did I realise when I fell in the nettles 35 or 40 years ago that I would enjoy returning to Finnstown House for such a happy family celebration.

Wallstown Castle, near Shanballymore, Mallow, Co Cork ... home of Jeremiah D. Crowley, brother of Cornelius D. Crowley (1879-1972) of Finnstown House, and of my grandmother, Maria (Crowley) Murphy (1882-1953) of Millstreet, Co Cork

(Last updated: 19.12.2013.)