10 April 2014

Stopping in Monaghan and recalling
some long roads we have travelled

Inside the Westenra Arms Hotel in Monghan this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

I spent much of the day travelling to and from a funeral in a small country parish church in the picturesque lakelands of Co Fermanagh, between Roslea and Lisnaskea, close to the border between Co Fermanagh and Co Monaghan.

On the way back to south Dublin, five of us stopped briefly for a late lunch in Monaghan at the Westenra Arms Hotel on the Diamond.

This is an hotel with an interesting history that has served the people of Monaghan for almost 200 years. It has been a silent witness to many social and political events events, and some of the foundations of the older buildings on this site are said to date back to the 17th century.

Thomas Kelly was an innkeeper at the “Westenra Arms” in 1824, when it was probably a coaching inn. In the 1830s, Mr James Curran and his wife Elizabeth were running the hotel. A daughter continued running the hotel, and in the 1860s Miss Emma Curran and sister are listed as leasing the premises from a Mr Mitchell.

The hotel was later bought by Lord Rossmore and rebuilt in the late 19th century. By 1939, Miss Mary F. Bain was the proprietor and manageress of the hotel.

By the end of the 20th century, the hotel’s proprietors were Peter and Anne Driver. Today, the McEnaney family are the proprietors. They undertook major refurbishment work at the hotel in 2003, including the careful restoration of many of the hotel’s original and elegant features.

The Westenra Arms overlooks the Rossmore Memorial in the Diamond in Monaghan’s town centre. The hotel takes its name from a local family, the Westenra family, who are of Dutch descent, and came to Ireland in the 17th century. They lived nearby at Rossmore Park and held the title of Baron Rossmore,

The title was given to General Robert Cuninghame, Commander-in-Chief of Ireland, in 1796, with remainder to the nephews of his wife Elizabeth, Henry Alexander Jones, Warner William Westenra and Henry Westenra.

When the general died the title passed to his nephew Warner William Westenra, was an MP for Monaghan. His eldest son, the third baron, also sat as a Whig MP for Monaghan before succeeding to the family title.

The Rossmore Memorial in the Diamond was erected in 1876 as a memorial to the 4th Lord Rossmore, who died after a hunting accident at Windsor Castle on 28 March 1874. This Victorian monument was described by architectural historian CEB Brett as “formidable and striking.” It is octagonal in shape, with central marble columns supporting a fountain. Around it, the eight grey columns support the pinnacled superstructure that rises to a dome. The dome is surmounted by a spire supported by yet more columns. The letters of Rossmore (also 8 in number) are spaced out around the monument.

Rossmore Park was abandoned in the 1940s, fell into ruins, and was demolished in 1975.

Nearby, in front of the courthouse, stands a monument in memory of the victims of the 1974 Monagahan bombings. It was unveiled by President Mary McAleese on 17 May 2004, on the 30th anniversary of the bombing. The sandstone and metal column contains seven light wells bearing the names of each of the seven victims of the bombing.

I wonder did anyone at today’s reception in Windsor Castle recall that Lord Rossmore had died there 140 years ago.

On the other hand, some of the graves in that small country churchyard in Co Fermanagh and the monument outside Monaghan Courthouse are reminders of the difficult road we have all travelled in the past 40 years that made possible today’s reception for President Michael D Higgins in Windsor Castle, and the attendance of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.

The road from Monaghan back to Dublin seemed a little shorter this evening.


Anonymous said...

Patrick, Is there evidence in the Rossmore Papers at Proni that would indicate whether the Westenra family settled Dutch/French Huguenots on Wicklow estates c1700s titled to Robert G Cuninghame?

Patrick Comerford said...

Sorry, I haven't been through the papers, Patrick