21 June 2017

Catching glimpses of Tarbert House
during an afternoon in Tarbert Bay

Tarbert House seen from Tarbert Bay during an afternoon sailing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I have often passed Tarbert House during my fortnightly visits to Tarbert, Co Kerry. But my first time to see the house clearly was during my afternoon sailing across the Shannon Estuary yesterday [20 June 2017].

Tarbert House is normally hidden by the large trees that surround it. But as we sailed out of Tarbert Bay, the house came into clear view as it rose up from the surrounding trees and parkland in the distance.

Tarbert House, which dates from 1690, is a Georgian era house built by John Leslie or by James Leslie, Bishop of Limerick, in the Queen Anne style of architecture. The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage suggests the house was built ca 1720.

In 1786, Wilson describes it as ‘happily situated on an eminence commanding an extensive view.’ Tarbert House was owned by Robert Leslie at the time of Griffith’s Valuation, when it was valued at £24 10s.

In the past, visitors to the house are said to have included Jonathan Swift, Benjamin Franklin, the Duke of Wellington, Daniel O’Connell, Charlotte Bronte, Lord Kitchener and Winston Churchill.

After a visit to Tarbert House, Dean Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) wrote: ‘The Leslies have lots of books upon their shelves. All written by Leslies about themselves.’ However, Swift is also said to have written these lines about the leslies of Castle Leslie in Glaslough, Co Monaghan.

John Paul Jones sought shelter for his ship at Tarbert when he was chased by the British navy during the American War of Independence. In order to confuse his pursuers, Raymond McGibney told us in the bay as we looked at Tarbert House, John Paul Jones sent men ashore to place lanterns in the trees, indicating he was still in the bay. Then, under cover of darkness, he sailed silently out to Valentia and on to the US where he founded the US navy.

We were told this story inspired the name of the Lanterns Hotel on the road between Tarbert and Glin.

The US President Benjamin Franklin came to visit Sir Edward Leslie as part of his efforts to rekindle trade between Ireland and America. Franklin presented Sir Edward with a type of rose which, when planted in the gardens of the house, became the inspiration for the famous Rose Pattern that was woven into the curtains that hang to this day in Tarbert House. The pattern has been used since then in curtains as far away as the White House by Nancy Regan, who also visited Tarbert House.

Daniel O’Connell was a friend of the Leslie family and Tarbert House still holds a parchment that is a plea to the House of Commons in 1813 for Catholic Emancipation, signed by bishops, politicians and other notables, including Daniel O’Connell and his brother.

Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855), the author of Jane Eyre, spent part of her honeymoon at Tarbert House, although there is no record of her visit. She married her father’s curate, the Revd Arthur Bell Nicholls, in April 1854. She went to West Clare first and then came to Tarbert House, where she spent a night or two. They then went on to Tralee and to Killarney, where she missed her step getting into a boat. It turned out she was pregnant at the time but soon after she had a miscarriage and died as a result.

Lord Kitchener, who was baptised in a font that is now at Saint Brendan’s Church in Kilnaughtin, once lived on the Leslie estate at Ballygoghlan, where his father had a farm. Surviving correspondence tells how, as a boy, he came to the shore to gather seaweed for his mother’s bath to help relieve her arthritis.

Sir Winston Churchill’s aunt Leonie Jerome married a Leslie cousin, John Leslie of Castle Leslie and it is said that as a boy Winston Churchill spent some of his school holidays at Tarbert House.

Tarbert House, which is located in ancient parkland, retains many of its original internal features, furniture, pictures and decorative forms. They are testimony to the importance of this house in Ireland’s architectural heritage.

Although the estate was sold to the tenants around 1904, Tarbert House remains the home of the Leslie family to this day, and is occasionally open to the public during the summer months.

Tarbert House is open this year [2017], from May to August, from 10 am to 12 noon, and from 2 pm to 4 pm, and during National Heritage Week (19 to 27 August) the house is open each day from 10 am to 4 pm. However, it is advised to contact the house directly before making any arrangements to visit.

Tarbert House emerges from the surrounding trees and parkland and rises above Tarbert Bay (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

A day sailing out of Tarbert
on the hottest day of the year

Arriving back at Tarbert Island after an afternoon sailing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

Who can work through the hottest day of the year?

The temperatures soared as high as 28 or 29 in this part of Ireland yesterday [20 June 2017], and more of the same is promised again today, the longest day of the year.

I had been working a long stretch – at least 10 or 12 days in a row without a break. But early on Tuesday a parishioner rang with an offer she knows I was never going to refuse.

Would I like to go sailing?

Three of packed into a car in Askeaton and headed west for Tarbert, where her friend was waiting for us to join him.

I have enjoyed boats ever since I was taken rowing on Lough Ramor at Virginia, Co Cavan, 50 years ago this summer. But I have never been very active about this pleasure. It has been a more passive form of pleasure for me.

In Cambridge, I regularly enjoy walking along the Backs, watching rowers and scullers alike. I keep in touch on Facebook and on Instagram with the exploits of Sidney Sussex Boat Club. Why, even one of my photographs was used in a fundraising drive by Jesus College Boat Club to find corporate sponsors.

In Greece, I love hopping on and off boats on island-hopping trips and I have had similar pleasures in Turkey and Italy. And there have been occasional trips in currachs and on coastguard floats between Achill Island Inishbiggle.

I have often promised myself in Rethymnon – it seems every year, to be honest – that I am going to take up the offer of a one-day introductory lesson in sailing. But, apart from walking around the sailing clubs in places like Bray and Skerries, and the yacht clubs in Dun Laoghaire, I have never managed to get nearer.

All apart from one memorable afternoon sailing on Tagus estuary in Lisbon late in 2014.

Tuesday’s sailing experience in Tarbert was a dream afternoon and a dream come true.

Three on board on the Shannon Estuary (Photograph: Liliana Montoya, 2017)

We sailed out from Tarbert Island Maritime Club, beside the car ferry pier, where the small and basic clubhouse is a valuable resource for local boat owners.

But it was no small experience. Tarbert is well known for its fast-outgoing tides, and we quickly became aware of the tides as we sailed out from the pier and out across the Shannon Estuary to Shannon Fort in Co Clare, and then across Clonderalaw Bay to Knock.

It was an active afternoon, without a moment’s slacking. I got to raise and lower the sails, navigate take the tiller, monitor the tides and learns how the winds and tides can change all our plans without a moment’s notice.

Tarbert Island Maritime Club takes advantage of the natural amenities of Tarbert Bay. The club has a large membership and the range of activities varies from competitive sailing to leisure activities, including sailing, rowing, swimming and angling. Rowing boats can be rented out, complete with life jackets for those who want to row around the bay or even venture to Glin and beyond.

The club also arranges tuition in seamanship, sailing, rowing, canoeing, power boats and swimming. Dolphin Watch Tours operate from Tarbert Pier, but we never got to see any dolphins. Perhaps they too needed a break on the hottest day of the year.

This was an afternoon that gave me all the experiences I dream of when I look at those offers of a day’s sailing in Rethymnon. We ended up celebrating our afternoon’s fun in the Shannon House by the pier.

Thank you to Rose Fitzgerald, Liliana Montoya and Raymond McGibney for a day of real fun. Yes, I’ll be back. And yes, I’m off to Rethymnon next week.

Blades back in Tarbert Island Maritime Club (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)