08 January 2012

Dunboyne Castle: a story that goes back 1,000 years

Dunboyne Castle, Co Meath ... stands on the site of an Anglo-Norman motte (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

When does Christmas end? When we celebrate Epiphany? When we celebrate Candlemas?

During the weekend, I visited some family friends in Dunshaughlin for dinner, and they kept their Christmas decorations up – including their Christmas Tree – for my visit. Now that was truly keeping the Christmas spirit alive.

On the way to Dunshaughlin, I stopped to see Dunboyne – both the village and Dunboyne Castle – for what may have been my fist visit there. Driving through flat, open, green Meath pastures, it is difficult to believe that this is only 19 km from the centre of Dublin City.

Dunboyne Castle, which still had its Christmas wreath on the main door, is a fine Georgian house, built as the seat of the branch of the Butler family that held the title of Lord Dunboyne. Generations of Dunboyne people worked at the castle which, at one time, was teeming with butlers, housemaids, gardeners, servants and coachmen – it was said it took 40 men a day to mow the lawns of its grounds.

Dunboyne Castle Hotel and Spa is a 145-room hotel and it is a romantic venue in a peaceful setting, with 21 acres of woodland and gardens, approached along a tree-lined avenue. But the imposing, three-storey, seven-bay house, dating from the mid-18th century, stands on the site of an earlier Anglo-Norman motte, that in turn may have been built on the site of an earlier, pre-Norman dĂșn or fort.

The Christmas wreath was still on the front door of Dunboyne Castle, Co Meath, yesterday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The first Anglo-Norman family here was the le Petit family, whose members were Barons of Dunboyne by tenure. In the early 14th century, the le Petit heiress married Sir Thomas Butler, a younger brother of the 1st Earl of Ormond, and he was summoned to the Irish Parliament in 1324 as Baron of Dunboyne.

A new Barony of Dunboyne was created for this family in 1541, when the 11th feudal Baron Dunboyne, Edmund Butler, a grandson of the eighth Earl of Ormond, was made a peer by letters patent.

The present house dates from two different periods, the front being a later addition, added in 1768 James Butler, de jure 19th (9th) Lord Dunboyme, or his brother, Pierce Butler, de jure 20th (10th) Lord Dunboyne, and inspired perhaps by Charlemont House in Dublin, designed by Chambers.

The house has many interesting features from the late 18th century, including the stucco-plaster ceiling in the ballroom, which the nuns turned into their chapel. The master bedroom, which has been compared to the one in Woburn Abbey, home of the Dukes of Bedford, also has an ornate stucco ceiling, and there is fine plasterwork over the stairs. It has been suggested that the stuccowork in Dunboyne Castle is the work of the Francini brothers and or Robert West.

A relic from the past ... in the grounds of Dunboyne Castle, Co Meath, yesterday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The last of the Butlers to live at Dunboyne Castle was John Butler, Roman Catholic Bishop of Cork from 1763 to 1786 and de jure 22nd Lord Dunboyne. After succeeding to the Dunboyne title when his nephew died in 1785, he sought a dispensation from the Pope to resign and marry so that he could father an heir to his peerage. However, the Pope refused and Lord Dunboyne then caused a sensation when he conformed to the Church of Ireland in 1786 and year later married Maria Butler in 1787.

The former bishop moved into Dunboyne Castle in closing years of his life and it was here that his son and heir was born, although he did not survive. Before Lord Dunboyne’s death in 1800, Dunboyne Castle was leased to James Hamilton of Holmpatrick Parish, Skerries, who fathered 36 children.

After Lord Dunboyne’s death, a legal dispute over his property ensued. His estates were divided between the trustees of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and his family, and the house passed to Mary O’Brien Butler, wife of Nicholas Sadleir. The legacy is remembered in the name of Dunboyne House in Maynooth. However, Dunboyne Castle fell into disrepair although extensive repairs and renovations were carried out in the 1830s. The Sadleir family sold the castle and 121 acres of land to George Beamish for £7,250 in 1870.

Later in the 19th century, the castle passed to the Mangan family and in the 1890s and 1900s was the home of Simon Mangan. The Mangan family, in turn, leased the castle to the Koenig family, German Roman Catholics with large wine and hotel interests. It was later leased to the Morrogh-Ryan family. During the 1916 Rising, Lord Fingal, who had been at the Fairyhouse races that weekend, stayed at Dunboyne Castle, rather than risk returning to his house in Dublin.

John Morrogh-Ryan was a famous polo player and he and his wife lived in the castle until after World War II. While the Morrogh-Ryan family was living at Dunboyne Castle, their guests included the late Lord Mountbatten.

The entrance to a secret garden ... in the grounds of Dunboyne Castle, Co Meath, yesterday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

After World War II, the castle and lands were bought by a Mr Garvey, who sold them to the Watchman family. Dunboyne Castle was bought by the health board in 1950 and became the Convent of the Good Shepherd, where the Sisters of the Good Shepherd established a home for pregnant unmarried girls.

By the time the convent closed in the 1991, the building was suffering severe damage, and some of the building had to be dismantled. In 2006, the convent was sold and converted into the Dunboyne Castle Hotel and Spa.

Meanwhile, the Dunboyne line of the Butler family continues, despite the worst fears of the bishop-baron that his family was in danger of dying out. Patrick Theobald Tower Butler, the 28th (18th) Baron Dunboyne, who lived in London, was an assiduous and determined genealogist on behalf every branch of the Butler family. He died in 2004 and was succeeded by his son.

Another descendant of this branch of the family was the writer, campaigner and historian, the late Hubert Butler of Maiden Hall, Bennetsbridge, Co Kilkenny, his niece, the late Melosina Lennox-Conyngham, who was renowned writer and local historian, and the genealogist and local historian Turtle Bunbury.


Anonymous said...

Devastating place of pain for those poor women forced to hand over their children for adoption by the Irish State and Irish society.
Shameful !

Anonymous said...

a house of horrors turned into a hotel !! i wonder do the people who stay here or have their weddings there know that they are walking the corridors of such pain !!

Trevor said...

My Mother had to give up a child in this home that she fought to keep. It would have been around 1969. I would love to know what everyday was like for these women ?? Someone please help me find the truth. My mother is now deceased.

Anonymous said...

What a horrendous, barbarous country is corrupt little Ireland !
A country run by corrupt gangsters in government, hiding their past, and persecuting women, still murdering them as they did Savita Halappanavar in 2012.

A dump of a country !

Anonymous said...

How could anyone with the knowledge of what this building represents have anything to do with it.My god the pain and emotional torment in that place.should have been locked up for good

Anonymous said...

Some of us don’t have horrendous memories of our time there. Some of us experienced non-judgemental caring and support at a time when society wasn’t prepared to give us either. Living with those nuns renewed my faith in the church (for a time) and I will always be grateful to those particular individuals who helped me and others through a terribly frightening time. And no, I was not forced or coerced to give up my baby.

Unknown said...

The castle has a lot more history than its years as a home for unmarried mothers its amazing how people just focus on the negetive.when I was growing up I was scared of the place because it was supposed to be haunted .but I am glad it got a new lease of life as a hotel I hope it stands for many many more years

Unknown said...

I am descended from the Butler's. My mother was born Butler Creagh. I fascinated by what I am finding out and the history of this home and what transpired over the years.

Unknown said...

I'm author of the book the babysnatchers i stayed there a dismal place a sad place

Anonymous said...

The place should be closed down - it's an absolute disgrace that Ireland treated women in such barbaric fashion. Their children were stolen, disappeared. No acknowledgement of these crimes of humanity by the Irish State. Ireland is a thoroughly corrupt dump, with horrifically corrupt politicians who work in collusion with criminals to cover up their crimes. These are crimes against humanity - women treated like shit by society and dumped into these convents, treated like slaves then their babies taken from them, as if this was acceptable procedure. These are criminal acts by all involved. Europeans are stunned by the barbarity of the Irish. Time for these women to find good lawyers and prosecute the bastards responsible.

Anonymous said...

"The castle has a lot more history than its years as a home for unmarried mothers its amazing how people just focus on the negetive.when I was growing up I was scared of the place because it was supposed to be haunted .but I am glad it got a new lease of life as a hotel I hope it stands for many many more years "

An absolutely appalling comment written by someone who hasn't the remotest idea of the impact of this criminal activity carried out by Ireland against women incarcerated in Dunboyne. Women who are incarcerated and have their children stolen suffer lifelong consequences of severe trauma, as do the children. This dump of a castle should be closed down - amazing how the Irish are still so bigoted in their judgment and ignorance, minimising the most horrific crimes carried out by Irish people. Shameful country. No accountability for anything in Ireland. Stay well away - they're a greedy bunch of crooks.

Anonymous said...

I agree with those who call for this hotel's closure - it's a disgrace to Ireland.
Aljazeera have just documented the horrific crimes of Ireland against its women and children, when endured a century.
When will the Irish government and State apparatus responsible for this criminality be called to account?

Anonymous said...

This is a building with a lot of history.and like the person who commented I too grew up close by and remember being afraid because the place was supposed to be haunted.i also remember it being a home for unmarried mothers. A lot of whom were there by choice not all girls were reluctant to be there and before you comment that I dont know what am talking about.i do know I have first hand experience because i too spent time in cork in the unmarried mothers home there may i add it wasn't a nice experience but most of the girls i met there were happy enough to be there.so same as the person above I am happy to see dunboyne castle as a lovely hotel.it was so sad to see it run down it is beautiful now and not at all scary maybe one day I might even get to stay there with my children

Anonymous said...

Omg grow up this is a historic building which is now in use would you rather it lay empty in a run down state.i was so glad it was turned into a hotel.for a few years it was a sad sorry sight falling into disrepair I hope it stands for many mamy more years.

Anonymous said...

Not all women in those homes were forced to be there I spent time in one of those homes and most of the girls I met were happy enough to be there we were well fed and cared for and I even got to do typing lessons and got the use of the art room.i rebeled because I didnt want to be there and I was outcast by the others and I got to go home and keep my baby.but in my time there I only saw one girl crying over having to give her baby up

K said...

I was in this home, so can help you if you need info

Anonymous said...

From what I can see this place was the best of the lot.
I was there in the 70's but didn't stay long.
I was homesick and just went home because I could.
It was comfortable and the food was good.
I never felt any pressure on me to have my baby adopted, or to stay
The only job I had was to lay the table for the priest's breakfast and do my own washing.
The nuns were friendly and we could go down to the village
I kept my baby

Patrick Comerford said...

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