26 June 2017

A missing plaque linked
Newcastle West with
leading Irish Philhellene

The estate cottages on Bishop Street, Newcastle West, were built by Charles Edward Napier Curling in 1872 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Some weeks ago, I wrote about an interesting connection between Newcastle West and the Irish Philhellenes – those Irish men and women who were involved in the Greek War of Independence in the 19th century and who engaged in the political aftermath in Greece.

Now I am wondering what has happened to a missing plaque on a row of estate cottages in Newcastle West that link this part of West Limerick with one of the most prominent Irish Philhellenes.

Sir Charles James Napier (1782-1853), an Irish general who was Governor of Kephalonia. He was a first cousin of the 1798 leader Lord Edward FitzGerald, and his childhood home was in Celbridge House, now known as Oakley Park, in Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Napier was the British Resident or colonial governor of the Ionian island of Kephallonia, and there he lived with a young, beautiful, patriotic Greek woman, Anastasia. Although they never married, they had two daughters, Susan Sarah, born in 1824, and Emily Cephalonia, named after Lord Edward FitzGerald’s mother and Napier’s beloved Greek island.

In a sad twist to this love story, Anastasia obstinately refused to marry Charles, and refused to accompany him to England in 1824. Two years later, as he was leaving for London for his mother’s funeral, he tried to leave their two small daughters with Anastasia, but she put the girls in a small boat, pushing them out to sea after him.

The two girls were rescued by a local fisherman, and eventually, after being reunited with their father, were entrusted once again to the care of an Irish-born member of Napier’s staff, John Pitt Kennedy (1796–1879), from Co Donegal.

Anastasia’s identity has never been established with certainty, and she died at a young age. To the surprise of his family and friends, Charles Napier subsequently married the poor and invalided Elizabeth Kelly in April 1827. She was a widow of over 60 with grown-up children and grandchildren.

Napier left Kephallonia with his gravely ill wife Elizabeth in 1830, and while he was on leave in London his appointment to Kephallonia was annulled, his papers were seized and he was forbidden to return to Kephallonia.

Some time later, Edward Curling left Kephallonia, taking Napier’s two daughters with him and bringing them to their father in England. Until Napier’s elderly wife Elizabeth died on 31 July 1833, she treated the girls as her own children. When she knew she was dying, wrote a book, the Nursery Governess, to help Napier find someone to care for them after her death. Napier took an active interest in their education, teaching them geography and maths as well as languages.

Edward Curling (1807-1874), who was born in St Nicholas-at-Wade, Ken, was a great nephew of Elizabeth Napier. He had worked for Napier on Kephallonia from 1828 to 1831. In recent weeks, a member of his family contacted me with further family details that link this episode in the story of the Irish Philhellenes with Newcastle West.

When Edward Curling left Kephallonia, he brought his Maltese-born wife Rosalina (Rosa) Vittoria Curling (nee Mallia), to England with him and was appointed the Land Agent for Sir Henry Bunbury’s estate near Bury in Suffolk. Sir Henry Bunbury had married Charles Napier’s sister, Emily Louisa Napier, and Lady Sarah Lennox, mother of Emily and Charles, had been first married to Sir Henry’s uncle.

Edward worked on the Bunbury estate for 16 years before moving to Newcastle West, Co Limerick, in 1848 as the land agent for the Devon estate, centred on the castle in Newcastle West.

Edward Curling, who died on 28 October 1874, named his son after Sir Charles Napier. Charles Edward Napier Curling (1835-1895) lived at the Castle in Newcastle West, and married Alice Raymond from Monkstown, Co Dublin.

Charles Edward Napier Curling seems to have succeeded his father sometime before 1874 as agent for the Devon Estate in Newcastle West, for two years earlier a pretty row of estate workers’ cottages was built in Bishop Street, Newcastle West in 1872.

An inscription that once decorated these cottages, but that has long disappeared, read: ‘Erected by public subscription as a token for his service to Charles Edward Napier Curling Esq JP.’

These pretty cottages, with their steep overhanging roofs, flamboyant bargeboards, their decorative use of brick for the window surrounds, and their pitched-roof porches, make them look more like cottages in a rural setting in England than in provincial west Limerick.

Charles Edward Napier Curling was succeeded by his son Richbell Curling as the land agent for the Devon estate. The Curling family eventually bought the castle and the Devon estate in 1920, and remained in Newcastle until the 1940s.

But it would still be interesting to discover what happened to the plaque on these cottages that link Newcastle West, the Curling family and the Irish Philhellene Sir Charles Napier.

The cottages built by Charles Edward Napier Curling in Newcastle West (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Two Victorian villas at the heart
of the campus at Villiers School

Tivoli, built by William Henshaw Owen in 1838 for Sir Croker Barrington (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I spent most of Saturday at the Diocesan Synod for Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert in Villiers School on the North Circular Road, Limerick. I was writing on Saturday morning about the original Villiers School buildings in Henry Street, and later on Saturday about the Villiers Almshouses, which were endowed too by Hannah Villiers.

The school moved in 1952 from Henry Street to the North Circular Road, and today Villiers School stands on a campus with two large, former Victorian villas that are part of the social and architectural history of Limerick, Tivoli House, which was originally built as Woodville House, and Derravoher, previously known as Riverview and Lansdowne Cottage, and originally built as Glendower.

The origins of this Limerick suburb can be traced back to the early 19th century, when building Wellesley Bridge (1824-1835), later renamed Sarsfield Bridge, opened up tracts of land that had previously undeveloped on the northern banks of the River Shannon, and the new bridge enhanced the value of the Barrington families property along what became the North Circular Road.

The key figures in the development of suburban housing along what opened up as the North Circular Road were Sir Matthew Barrington (1788-1861) of Glenstal Castle, his son, Sir Croker Barrington (1817-1890), and Lord Lansdowne.

Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice (1780-1863), 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne, was the son of a former Prime Minister, and had inherited the family titles along with extensive estates in Wiltshire and in Ireland, including over 1,500 acres in Co Limerick. His father, William Petty-FitzMaurice (1737-1805), 2nd Earl of Shelbourne and Marquis of Lansdowne, built Shelbourne House on the North Circular Road around 1790. The Greek Revival house is now part of Ardscoil Rís on Lower Shelbourne Road. The Lansdowne names and titles are remembered in a number of street-names in this part of Limerick, including Lansdowne Park, Lansdowne Gardens, Shelbourne Road, Shelbourne Park and Shelbourne Avenue. The 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne was a Liberal politician who had a successful political career over half a century, and was Chancellor of the Exchequer (1806-1807), Home Secretary (1827-1828), and on three occasions between 1830 and 1852 was Lord President of the Council.

Alongside Lansdowne and Barrington, a key figure in the early development of this Limerick suburb was William Henshaw Owen (1813-1853). He was one of the 17 children of the architect and engineer Jacob Owen (1778-1870). The younger Owen joined his father at the Board of Public Works and was sent to work in Limerick in 1836. He oversaw the building of Thomond Bridge (1836-1840) to designs by James Pain and his brother George Richard Pain, and designed Mathew Bridge (1844-1846). His other architectural works in Limerick include the Savings Bank (1839), to designs by Thomas Deane, on the corner of Glentworth Street and Catherine Street.

The site of Villiers School is one of the first plots of land recorded on the new North Circular Road. In 1838, Sir Croker Barrington commissioned Owen to design a house to be named Woodville House.

Two years later, in 1840, Croker Barrington married Margaret Lewen of Fort Fergus, Co Clare. The house was known as Tivoli by the time it appeared on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey, which was surveyed in 1840 and published in 1844.

Later, Tivoli Cottage was the home of Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Hugh Massey Wheeler (1791-1871), a retired officer of the Indian army, who was leasing it from Sir Matthew Barrington at the time of Griffith's Valuation. Wheeler was a retired colonel in the Indian Army. His first wife, Maryann, died in 1860, and in 1861, he married his second wife, Emily Delmerge (1837-1909), from Gort, Co Galway in Saint Munchin’s Church, Limerick. Colonel Wheeler died at Tivoli House on 15 March 1871. His two daughters, Constance (1865-1947) and Eveline Wybrants (1866-1953), later lived at 72 Grosvenor Road, Rathmines, Dublin, where they died.

From the 1930s, Tivoli was the home of the Daly family, prominent Republican family in Limerick associated with the events during the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the Civil War. Since 1952, the house has been the centre of Villiers School.

This is a detached, three-bay two-storey over basement house, with a five-bay side elevation and a four-bay, two-storey wing built on to the south east around 1955, and a further three-bay two-storey annexe to the west built in 1985.

Derreavoher was built in 1839 by WH Owen, who wanted to name it Glendower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The neighbouring house on the school campus, Derravoher, dates from 1839, when a 999-year lease was signed on 17 February 1839 by Croker Barrington’s father, Sir Matthew Barrington, and WH Owen. In a romantic assertion of his Welsh ancestry, Owen wanted to name his new home ‘Glendower,’ recalling Owain Glyndwr, the 14th-15th century Welsh prince who became a hero figure in 19th century Welsh nationalism. However, his chosen name did not survive, and the house has since been known by many other names.

Barrington’s terms in the 1839 lease were strict. He insisted that only one house could be built on the site, and he allowed no ‘noisome noisy or offensive trade or business whatsoever.’

Owen’s design for his own house is picturesque and has been described as showing ‘a flair for Welsh Gothic detail.’ This is a detached, three-bay, two-storey house, designed on an L-shaped plan with single-bay two-storey gabled projecting breakfront abutting a single-bay two-storey gabled projecting end bay.

The principal front boasts has as its centrepiece a projecting breakfront with a Tudor-headed arcaded open porch.

A drawing room in the south-west corner opens out onto a Tudor-headed arcaded loggia allowing sheltered views overlooking the terraced lawns. The dining room on the south-east corner includes an unusual triangular-plan bay window. The rooms on the first floor are partly accommodated within the roof space with a small number lit by jettied oriel dormer windows. The roof itself is an interesting ornamental feature in the house, with scalloped and sinuous open work bargeboards decorating each and every gable and gablet.

Owen later emigrated to the US and died suddenly in San Francisco on 1 June 1853. Meanwhile, the picturesque suburban villa he built for himself on the North Circular Road, went through many names over the course of its history, from Glendower to Lansdowne Cottage, Riverview and, finally Derravoher.

The house is named as Lansdowne Cottage on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey. In 1843, a marriage report in The Gentleman’s Magazine notes that Hugh Fennessy had been living at Lansdowne Cottage. In 1846, it was the home of William Smyth, described as a Constitutional Court Proctor.

Griffith’s Valuation names the house as Lansdowne Cottage in 1853, when it was the home of Richard Goff, Manager of the National Bank, who leased the house from William Charles Burgess.

The house was leased in 1863 to Francis Cherry Sikes, a Quaker who had a grocery shop at 112 George’s Street, Limerick. Sikes renamed the house ‘Riverview’ because of its commanding vistas overlooking the River Shannon. He died in 1865, and his widow Eliza continued to live in the house until she died in 1892.

By 1911, Sir Alexander William Shaw (1847-1923), the owner of Shaw and Sons of Mulgrave Street, was living at Riverview. Shaw was a bacon manufacturer, one of the founding members of Limerick Boat Club and the founder of Limerick and Lahinch golf clubs. He turned the family firm, WJ Shaw and Sons, into one of the largest bacon curing businesses in Europe. He became one of the most prominent business figures in Limerick, was High Sheriff of Co Limerick in 1898-1899, and was knighted for his services to Irish industry.

Shaw was a keen sportsman and took part in rowing, rugby, athletics and hurling, but golf became his main interest as a result of his many business trips to Scotland. He seems to have been responsible for changing the name of the house to Derravoher: an obituary of his son, Captain Gordon Thompson Shaw, in 1918, refers to him the ‘youngest son of Sir Alex. and Lady Shaw, Derravoher, Limerick.’

The Ray family, who had returned from Santa Barbara in California, leased the house in 1928, and lived there until 1943. James Ray (1885-1950) was the director of O’Mara’s Bacon Company. In 1943, when George Edward ‘Ted’ Russell (1912-2004) moved into the house. He was elected to the Senate in 1969 and bought the house outright in 1979. His widow continued to live at Derravoher until 2011.

Derravoher, set in mature landscaped grounds, was bought by Villiers School in 2012. The house was restored in 2014-2016 for Villiers School under the supervision of Gráinne McMahon, who was project architect and project planner. This restoration work included reinstating the natural slate roof and repairing its decorative timber work.

A limestone flagged path now links Derravoher to the classrooms in Villiers School and Tivoli, the neighbouring Victorian villa. Many modern additions mean Tivoli has lost its original appearance as a detached country house, but this house too has retained many of its important, original features.

A mug of coffee in the sunshine at Villiers School at the weekend (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)