09 January 2021

Castle Hewson in Askeaton
was home to generations
of the Hewson family

Castle Hewson in Ballyengland, Askeaton … home to generations of the Hewson family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Castle Hewson, east of Askeaton, Co Limerick, stands in the townland of Ballyengland. The 18th century house is on a low crag is undergoing restoration, and I visited the house earlier this week for the first time since moving to Askeaton four years ago.

Castle Hewson stands beside an earlier tower house or castle that gives the house its name. It was also known as Ballyengland House, and the England family were originally tenants of the Earls of Desmond. After the Desmond rebellion at the end of the 16th century, Thomas England was pardoned in 1581 and 1590, when his son attainted and hanged.

George Isham received a grant of Englandstown or Ballyengland in 1597, but Thomas and Oliver England were living at Ballyengland in 1601.

The Hewson family was living at Castle Hewson from the end of the 17th century. They continued to live there into the late 20th century, with other branches of the family living at Enniscouch and Hollywood.

By the mid-19th century, the main part of the Hewson family estate was in the parish of Askeaton, but the family also owned other houses and lands in the area: in the 1870s, John Brownrigg Hewson owned Castle Hewson and 1,435 acres; George James Hewson of Hollywood owned 666 acres; and Robert Hewson of Ennishcoush owned 398 acres near Rathkeale, Co Limerick. Other family members owned lands at Castleisland, and Ennismore, near Listowel, Co Kerry.

The East Window in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, was donated by the Hewson family of Castle Hewson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Castle Hewson is an imposing, detached, five-bay, two-storey country house, built ca 1760, with a central, two-storey canted projecting bay at the front or east elevation, extensions at the rear or west elevation, and an adjoining six-bay, two-storey block at the rear. The three-stage tower house adjoins the house at the north side.

Castle Hewson retains much of its original form and fabric, including a variety of tripartite and timber sliding sash windows. A number of decorative features – including the red brick voussoirs, cast-iron ridge crestings, and limestone finials – add an interesting contrast to the rubble stone and rendered walls. The adjoining tower house adds archaeological significance to the site and is preserved in a relatively good condition. The outbuildings and walled garden behind the house add context to the site.

The architectural features of the main house include a hipped slate roof with terracotta ridge crestings and ridge tiles, rendered chimneystacks, a cut limestone eaves course, a limestone finial on the south gable, square-headed window openings with cut limestone sills, red brick voussoirs, and six-over-six pane timber sliding sash windows.

The first-floor windows have double-leaf timber louvered shutters. The square-headed opening at the front of the house has a carved limestone doorcase with a limestone pediment supported by pilasters, and a flanking double-leaf timber panelled door. It is approached by cut limestone steps.

The walled garden behind the house has a square-profile, three-stage tower at the north-east corner. There is an eight-bay, two-storey outbuilding beside the north elevation of the tower house, and a four-bay, split-level outbuilding at the north side of this outbuilding. There is also a three-bay, double-height outbuilding to the east of house.

The definitive history of the Hewson family is Memoirs of the House of Hewetson or Hewson in Ireland by John Hewetson (London: Mitchell & Hughes, 1901). He traces the family back to John Hewson or Hewetson (1498-1567), a glover, who was born in Settrington, Yorkshire, and became a Freeman of York and a member of the Merchant Adventurers’ Company.

His eldest son, Thomas Hewson, was also a Freeman of York. He moved to Ireland in the 1570s with his family, including his younger brother, Canon Christopher Hewetson, who became Prebendary of Howth, Vicar of Swords, and Treasurer of both Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, and Ardfert. Since the move to Ireland, the names Hewetson and Hewson seem to have been interchangeable. Other variants of the family name include Hughson, Huetson and Huson.

Dominick Hewetson died in 1640, but, almost two years later, his body was dug up from the nave of Saint Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare, by rebels and placed in a ‘garden’ outside the cathedral churchyard.

His son, Captain George Hewetson or Hewson, was one of the 49 Irish officers who remained loyal to King Charles I during the Civil War in the 1640s. He was supposedly related to the regicide and hard-line radical preacher, Colonel John Hewson of London, a self-proclaimed ‘Child of Wrath’ and the Cromwellian butcher of Drogheda.

George Hewson’s grandson, George Hewson (1662-1735), acquired land near Askeaton, Co Limerick, including Castle Hewson in Ballyengland, which he held under a lease from Brooke Brydges of High Holborn, Limerick.

Members of the family included the Ven Francis Hewson, Archdeacon of Aghadoe, Rector of Listowel and Sovereign (Mayor) of Dingle; Margaret Anne Hewson, who married the Revd George Maxwell, Rector of Askeaton; Admiral George Francis Hewson, who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar; and Thomas Hewson, President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

The memorial in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, to Maurice Hewson, who died at 14 at school in Repton in 1892 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Castle Hewson passed through generations of the Hewson family down to John Brownrigg Hewson (1826-1909), who was the father of three sons: William Everard Gardiner Hewson (1874-1957), John Gilbert Brownrigg Hewson (1875-1951), and Maurice Francis Hewson (1887-1892).

The youngest son, Maurice, caught pneumonia while he was at school in Repton and died when he was only 14. He is remembered in a plaque in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

The eldest son, William Everard Gardiner Hewson, became a Justice of the Peace or magistrate for Co Limerick in 1909. He was a keen campanologist and rang the changes in many Irish and English cathedrals. Everard Hewson murdered a woman for no apparent reason in 1914. Elizabeth Costello (née Lynch) was a widow working as a maid in Castle Hewson.

A year later, William Everard Gardiner Hewson was found ‘Insane and Incapable of Pleading.’ He was detained at Dundrum Lunatic Asylum for the Clinically Insane, at ‘his majesty’s pleasure.’ He was released five years later, and was sent to a dower house near Rathkeale. He died in Barrington’s Hospital in 1957 and is buried in the grounds of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.

The memorial in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, to Maurice and Pamela Hewson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Meanwhile, Castle Hewson was inherited by John Hewson’s second son, John Gilbert Brownrigg Hewson, known as Gilbert Hewson. Gilbert Hewson married his distant cousin, Kathleen Violet Hewson, daughter of George Hewson of Ennismore, Co Kerry. He was elected to Dáil Éireann as an independent TD for Limerick in June 1927, but lost his seat at the September 1927 election and was an unsuccessful candidate in the 1932 election. A barrister, he was a member of Limerick County Council for many years. When he died in hospital in 1951, he was living at Lough House, Ballyengland.

His son, Maurice Hewson (1913-1998), was educated at Repton and Trinity College Dublin, where he was an outstanding cross-country runner, tennis player and boxer. He was a district commissioner and member of the British colonial administration of the Gold Coast (Ghana).

He became one of the District Commissioners charged with planning the Gold Coast Volta River Dam project. But the project collapsed when the Gold Coast gained independence as Ghana. Maurice Hewson returned to Ireland in 1957 and moved back to Castle Hewson and Lough House. He was a leading parishioner in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

Maurice Hewson and his wife Pamela died in a tragic fire at Lough House on 23 February 1998. Their detached, two-storey home, fronting a lake, was destroyed in the blaze. When fire brigade units from Rathkeale, Foynes and Newcastle West arrived at Lough House, they found the doors of the house and the gate to the driveway were locked, and the fire rapidly engulfed the house.

At the time, friends described them as a ‘wonderful and endearing’ couple who were very popular. Many media outlets reported the tragedy with headlines such as ‘relative of U2’s Bono killed in house fire.’

The memorials to the Hewson family in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, include the East Window depicting the Good Shepherd.

Castle Hewson is an imposing, detached, five-bay, two-storey country house, built ca 1760 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

A first-time walk along
a stetch of the Dodder
River Valley in Firhouse

A new red pedestrian and cycling bridge spanning the Dodder was built and installed in November 2014 as part of the Dodder Greenway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

I try to do something new or something different at least once a week. It keeps my mind open and inquisitive, and it usually involved exercise and walking, so it is good for both mind and body. In these times of Covd-19 restrictions and social distancing, doing something new does not have to involve traveling great distances, and it is interesting to find how many new, undiscovered and interesting places are on our own doorsteps.

Last week, I was in Dublin for a consultation with my GP, including a check-up on my pulmonary sarcoidosis and a much-needed injection for my Vitamin B12 deficiency. During that visit, I took opportunities to visit Dún Laoghaire, to research a photo-feature on the architecture of Kenilworth Square, to take a New Year’s Eve after-dark walk in Marlay Park, and to visit the Dublin Jewish Progressive community’s cemetery, just 2.5 km from my home in Knocklyon.

I also went for a walk for the first time along a stretch of the River Dodder between Firhouse and Old Bawn, along paths and riverside walks that have been newly opened in recent years.

During the years I was working in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute full-time (2006-2017) and part-time (2002-2006), I often walked along the Dodder banks from Rathfarnham to Firhouse. But this was my first time to walk further west on this stretch of the Dodder Valley Park and Nature Trail.

A new red pedestrian and cycling bridge spanning the Dodder was built and installed in November 2014 as part of the Dodder Greenway. It is a landmark, single-span, steel structure that was designed for accessibility and decreased impact on its environment, with near level access to both sides of the Dodder River Valley.

The bridge links the communities of Firhouse and Tallaght, midway between Old Bawn and the M50. It also offers a wonderful opportunity to view the river from directly overhead, allowing park users to experience the full grandeur of the Dodder and its riverbanks.

Winter skies in the Dodder River Valley between Firhouse and Old Bawn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Dodder River Valley is an important wildlife corridor in an urban environment, allowing protected species like bats and otters to pass through the urban environment at night-time when the park is quiet and dark. The public lighting along the bridge was designed to ensure there is no overspill of bright light onto the river below.

The lime-rich soils that underlie the slopes around the bridge support grasslands that are rich in flowering species. These include flowers such as Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Clover, Cowslips, Ox-eye Daisy, Fairy Flax, Wild Carrot and Pyramidial Orchids.

These meadows are also important for pollinating bees, bumblebees, hoverflies, and also for other insects like beetles, butterflies and moths.

The Dodder River Valley between Old Bawn Bridge and the City Weir at Balrothery and Firhouse is a proposed Natural Heritage Area and hosts a range of interesting habitats like wet woodlands, flowering grasslands, and natural gravel riverbeds. It also hosts species like Kingfishers, Heron, Otter, Dipper and Wagtails.

Two of us walked as far as the Old Bawn Bridge, which marks one of the earliest fords of the River Dodder. A three-arch bridge was first built there in 1800, but it was undermined by the frequent floods of the turbulent upper Dodder.

The current single-arch bridge at Old Bawn was built in 1840, spanning the point where the river drops down over the weir to become the wider, slower-moving middle Dodder that makes its way through Old Bawn Park.

At this point, the riverbank is lower on the left bank, along the park’s riverside path. Woodland covers much of this bank, with willows, alders, sycamore, birch and poplar trees. The riverbanks on the far side of the river are sometimes undercut by the power of winter floods, exposing the underlying glacial till, sands and gravel. As the river passes into the woodland, it splits into many small rivulets and streams that wind their way through the willow and alder trees.

The Dodder Valley is unique in being an urban river that still retains many of its natural river processes and its special habitat and species. All this has been on my doorstep since I moved to Knocklyon in 1996, but it took until last week for me to find and explore this part of the Dodder Valley for the first time.

The Dodder Valley is a unique urban river that retains many of its natural river processes and its special habitat and species (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)