16 October 2016

An elegant regency house
saved from ruin in Carlow

Braganza Villa, once the residence of the Bishops of Kildare and Leighlin and built by Thomas Cobden for Sir Dudley Hill (1790-1851) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

I spent Saturday afternoon [15 October 2016] in Carlow Town, strolling by the banks of the River Barrow, visiting the castle and the churches, and photographing some of the town’s elegant architecture dating from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, including Braganza Villa, dating from 1818-1823.

Braganza is hidden at the rear of a housing estate off Athy Road. This once elegant Regency mansion is one of Carlow’s oldest buildings and the former seat of the Bishops of Kildare and Leighlin. For six years the residence of Bishop Michael Comerford while he was coadjutor bishop of the diocese.

This beautifully designed mansion, looking down onto the banks of the River Barrow, was recently in danger of being reduced to a ruin. Braganza Villa was first built for Major-General Sir Dudley St Leger Hill (1790-1851), a Carlow-born army general and colonial governor. The house was designed by Thomas Cobden, the English-born architect, when he was only in his mid-20s. Hobden also designed the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption, Saint Mary’s Church of Ireland parish church, and the Scots’ Church or Presbyterian Church in Carlow.

Thomas Alfred Cobden (1794-1842) was born in Chichester, and had moved to Ireland by 1814 or 1815, when he prepared designs for Gurteen le Poer, Co Waterford, for John William Power. Most of his Irish commissions were in Co Carlow and Co Wexford, and included Duckett’s Grove, Co Carlow. He lived for some time in College Street, Carlow, but returned to London by 1832 and died in Hackney in 1842 at the age of 48.

Sir Dudley Hill was born in Carlow in 1790, the son of Dudley Hill of Dublin Street, Carlow. His ancestors are said to have come to Ireland a century earlier with the army of King William III. His grandfather, Edward Hill, married Catherine Colclough, a daughter of Henry Colclough of Kildavin, near Bunclody, and a cousin of Beauchamp Bagenal (1741-1802), MP for Enniscorthy and Carlow and remembered as a rake – he is said to have jilted Princess Charlotte, who later married King George III.

Hill joined the army at the age of 17 in 1804, when he was appointed an ensign in the 82nd Foot. A year later the transferred to the 95th Rifles.

As Lieutenant Hill, he was sent to South America in 1806, and during the Battle of Montevideo in 1807 he commanded the scaling party that captured the north gate of the city. He was wounded and taken prisoner in the subsequent attempt at Buenos Aires, when he fought under Colonel William Carr Beresford.

He accompanied his battalion to Portugal in 1808, under the command of Sir Arthur Wellesley, later the Duke of Wellington, and he was present at the Battle of Roliça, was wounded at the Battle of Benavente, and took part in the Battle of Corunna.

He was back in Portugal in 1809, when he took part in the Battle of Talavera and the operations on the Côa River. Later, he was appointed to the Portuguese army and had a commanding role both with the Loyal Lusitanian Legion at Battle of Bussaco in 1810, and at the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro in 1811.

Hill then commanded the 8th Caçadores at the Siege of Badajoz, at the Battle of Salamanca in 1812, and in the Burgos retreat, where he was wounded and taken prisoner. He was present at the Battle of Vitoria and was wounded at the Siege of San Sebastián in 1813. He was also present at the Battle of Bayonne in 1814. In all these campaigns, he was wounded seven times.

Hill later returned with the Portuguese army to Portugal, where he spent some years. He was knighted in Portugal in 1815 as a Knight of the Order of the Tower and Sword, and when he returned home he was knighted as a Knight Bachelor in 1816.

The banks of the River Barrow below Braganza in Carlow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Around 1818, he began building the manor house of Braganza on the banks of the River Barow in Carlow. He named the house Braganza in honour of the Portuguese Royal Family, inspired by his long military career in Portugal.

In 1819, at Saint Marylebone in London, Hill married his first wife Caroline Drury Hunter (1799-1831), a daughter of Robert Hunter of Kew, Surrey, and his wife Charlotte (Hansford), and they had six children, some of whom were born in Carlow.

He had returned to Portugal once again by 1820 and by 1823, when he decided to sell Braganza, he was an army major.

But in 1834 he became a senior British colonial figure when he was appointed the Lieutenant-Governor of Saint Lucia, where he was involved in the emancipation of the slaves.

He returned home when he married a second time in 1838. His second wife Mary (Watkins) was the widow of Mark Davies, of Turnwood, Dorset. A year later, he was made Commander of the Order of Aviz in Portugal in 1839.

He was appointed a major-general in 1841, and, after spending time on the army staff in Ireland, he was appointed to a divisional command in Bengal in 1848, when he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB). He still held his colonial post in Indian when he died of apoplexy at Umballa in Bengal on 21 February 1851.

His grave in Ambala Cemetery bore the inscription: ‘Sacred to the memory of Major General Sir Dudley St. Leger Hill, KCB, Colonel of HM 50th Regt who died at Umballah while in command of the Sirhind division on the 21st February 1851.’

Braganza in its elegant days as the Bishop’s Palace

Braganza is said to have been modelled on Portuguese architecture. Cobden was probably commissioned to design the house in 1818, and building work began on Monday 26 August 1819. According to the local newspaper of the time, The Carlow Post, the first stone was laid by his mother and Hill and his wife then entertained a large party of 40 friends to ‘an elegant breakfast prepared for the occasion.’

But progress on building Braganza was slow, and three years later it still was not completed. Hill seems to have been frustrated by these delays, and in 1823 he offered the now-completed and fully-furnished Braganza Villa for sale along with six acres of lands.

In a tribute to Dr James Doyle (JKL), Roman Catholic Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, the priests of his diocese launched a collection to buy the buy the house for their bishop and his successors. The organising committee decided to buy Braganza for £2,500. In 1826, Bishop Doyle left his house at Old Derrig and moved to live in Carlow.

From then, until the death of Bishop Thomas Kehoe in 1969, Braganza was the residence of the Bishops of Kildare and Leighlin, and was referred to as the ‘Bishop’s Palace.

The episcopal arms on the portico of Braganza … they show the arms of the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin on one side and on the other what may be a representation on the talbot and indented cross of the Comberford family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

From 1888, Braganza was the residence of Bishop Michael Comerford (1831-1895) following his appointment by Pope Leo XIII as titular Bishop of Corycus in Cilicia Prima, and Coadjutor Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, with the right of succession as Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin.

Michael Comerford was born in 1831 in Tullow Street, Carlow. His father, James Comerford (1788-1859) of Clohamon and Newtownbarry (Bunclody), Co Wexford, moved from Bunclody to Carlow, and lived at 11 Brown Street, within walking distance of Carlow Cathedral and Saint Patrick’s College. He also owned property close to the then Methodist Church in Charlotte Street – named after the once jilted Queen Charlotte.

Michael Comerford was consecrated bishop on 1 January 1889 in Carlow Cathedral, which was also designed by Cobden. He died suddenly on 19 August 1895 without living to succeed as Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. Following his death, there were vespers in Braganza, his residence, ‘and a magnificent demonstration of respect and of sympathy in the procession of religious confraternities through the town where all of the shops were closed and crape universally worn.’

His funeral rites ended with Matins and Lauds in the cathedral. He was buried in front of the High Altar in Carlow Cathedral, where the Flemish pulpit was erected in his memory. A plaque in Brown Street also commemorates his work as both a bishop and an historian.

A plaque in Brown Street, Carlow, remembers Bishop Michael Comerford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

When Dr Patrick Lennon became Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin in 1969, he decided to break with tradition and bought a house on Station Road. His official residence was later built on the grounds of the presbytery at Dublin Road. On 12 July 1972, Braganza Villa, standing on about seven acres of land, was sold at public auction.

A local construction company built 25 private houses on the site and Braganza, by then a listed building, was walled off, leaving only one entrance at the rear. For many years it was in danger of falling into ruins, but it has since been renovated and converted into apartments.

Braganza has been restored and converted into apartments (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)


Frank Callery said...

Lovely blog on a very lucky house, Patrick.

Brian Dempsey said...

What is now the front of the house was originally the rear, the portico was moved when the then derelict house was converted into apartments. There is a small basement below the side extension and a gate lodge in the garden of No 1, the first of the new houses built. A gate leads from
The grounds of the overall estate down to the River Barrow. Kelvin Grove was a neighbouring mansion more recently owned by the HSE and in use as a mental hospital. On considerable larger average this property is in a very poor state of repair. I lived in No 12 Braganza as a child from

Dublindrury said...

Fascinating history, thank you. Great photos, too; what a handsome house.
I am researching places in our family archive. There is a letter dated 20 October 1936 sent from the Presbytery, Carlow, referring to the imminent arrival at Braganza of the new Bishop, and enclosing a cheque for £8 8s. 11d., the half-year's rent on the house. This was sent on by the Carlow solicitor Hugh O'Donnell of Dublin St. to Rev. Richard Archdall Byrn, a descendant of Mrs. Catherine Olivia Byrn. R.A.B had received a letter in 1901 mentioning "the renewal to Mrs. C. Byrn of 9 June 1860 of £29 8s. 5d., being the Head Rent". C.O.B. (alive in 1860) in turn had inherited through her husband's family, the Byrns of Leighlinbridge and Carlow. She also had some financial interest in the property adjacent to Braganza, Kelvin Grove. The Byrns were never owners of either property but had entitlement to annual rents. Irish Property Law is a mystery with its claims and counter-claims cascading through society. Fees for lawyers I suppose.

Unknown said...

Thanks Patrick. I live in Braganza now, and work in Carlow College, so all this is most interesting to read!

Dublindrury said...

I'm a descendant of Surgeon Richard Byrn RN and his wife Catherine Olivia (nee Wright), of Leighlinbridge and have some old documents relating to the land where Braganza was built. Your story is fascinating.
Deed of Demise, 1817
... Between
James Byrn of the Town and County of Carlow Esquire of the one part and Sir
Dudly (sic) St. Leger Hill Knight of the other part Witness that the said Jas. Byrn
for and in consideration of the sum of Three Hundred Pounds sterling ALL THAT AND THOSE that piece or parcel of land..
on the Athy road near the town of Carlow containing Four acres be the same
more or less together with the Houses Offices & premises thereon commonly
called and Known by the name of Doctor Fitzpatricks Land bounded on the
East by the High Road leading from Carlow to Athy on the west by the wall that
divides the same from other land now in the possession of the s’d. James Byrn and
on the South adjoining the back drain of the Canal of the River Barrow on the north
by the wall that divides the same from another part of the said Ja’s. Byrns land ..
Jas. Byrn
Signed sealed and delivered
In presence of being
first duly stamped …
Wm. Carson

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for a very interesting and informative post. Passing by very recently the house seems to be fenced off and in a state of serious disrepair? Maybe I’m looking at the wrong house; opposite the district hospital?