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Some historical notes on Kilmore House in St. John's Parish, Roscommon.
by Liam Byrne, (© St. John's Parish Heritage Group).
The extensive remains of the 17th. Century Kilmore House lie within the townland of Carrowphadeen in the parish of St. John's in South Roscommon. The name Kilmore, from the Irish Cill - a church or as in this case, Coill - a wood, is a popular one with at least seven of the name Kilmore or Killmore in Co. Roscommon alone. The big wood (Coill Mór) to which the name refers once stretched all the way from Roscommon to Athlone but now only a small remnant of this mighty forest remains at St. John's Wood about two miles north of Kilmore House. The house was built of blue Roscommon limestone by Sir. Arthur Shaen (later spelled Shane, McShane or O'Shane)1 sometime in the early 1600's. The Shaen's ancestors were O’Farrell’s from Annaly in Co. Longford. These O' Fearghail of Muintir Anghaile were very active in this area from at least the early 1300's. Their plundering was such that in 1305 the Justiciar of Connaught had to put a thirty-two oared galley on Lough Ree "which shall constantly remain at Randon for the defence of the castles of Athlon and Randon if it shall be necessary" 2 But by the time of Elizabeth the First things had changed. Francis Farrell, or Sir Francis Shaen as he became, was knighted by the Queen for services to the crown. His chief residence was at Granard, Co. Longford where he was described by Haynes for the year 1598 as having "free (fee) farms & leases of religious lands". 3 He later rebelled against the crown although both his son and grandson were again active officials during the reigns of Charles I and Charles II. In the 1660’s Sir James Shaen of Kilmore, Farmer (sic) of the Revenue, Commissioner of Excise and Surveyor General of Ireland, bought a large portion of the barony of Erris in Co. Mayo from Robert Viner, a London goldsmith, who had been granted the lands by Charles III in payment of a debt. In 1695 the estate was inherited by his son Arthur. On 3rd August 1706 Sir Arthur leased four acres at Kilmore to William Hartley.4 A funeral card for the death of Sir Arthur on 24th June 1725 informs us that his remains were to be taken from “his late Dwelling House at Kilmore in the Co. Roscommon”. Sir Arthur died without male issue, leaving three daughters, who were minors at the time of his death. In "Pue's Occurrences" for 1731 we find the following advertisement, "the house and lands of Kilmore, containing 620 acres, near Athlone, on the Shannon... There are 12 acres of gardens and orchards, stabling for 40 horses, with large malt-house, brew-house and barns, to be let during the minority of the Miss Shaens" 5 The eldest daughter, Francis, would marry John Bingham of Newbrook, Co. Mayo in 1738 and the youngest, Suzannah, married (first) James Wynne MP for Co. Sligo, son of Owen Wynne of Hazelwood and (secondly, in 1750) Captain Henry Boyle Carter of Robertstown, Co. Meath, who had service at the Siege of Derry and fought with King William at the Boyne.6 The Kilmore lands would form part of the Shaen-Carter estate.
According to the poet Brian Ó Fearghail (a native of the area) who wrote his poem in 1786, Kilmore had at one time been the possession of Robert Dillon.7 By the late 1730’s the house may have been rented by the Earl of Clanrickarde. He is mentioned by Ó Fearghail and gives his address as Kilmore, Athlone in a newspaper advertisement of 3rd. January 1744 when he was looking for the hire or purchase of a "good milk ass". 8 A Clanrickarde manuscript in private hands has numerous entries for Kilmore dating from 1737 - 1744 but some of these entries seem to be contradictory and the document may relate to another place with a similar name? Ó Fearghail also notes that Councillor Farrell lived at Kilmore in 1737 (died 1738) and also mentions his grandson Edmond Costello (Nimble Ned), a barrister, subsequently of Edmondstown near Ballaghaderreen (died 1769/70).9 On 20 June 1747 Bishop Edward Synge of Elphin called to see his friend Mr. Waller, at Kilmore.10 Robert Waller Esquire (Born 1703. Married Jane Ormsby of Tubbervaddy) shared the house with 6 children under 14, ten male servants and twelve female servants.11 Synge travelled from Garbally in Ballinasloe and took five hours to ride to Kilmore. He records in his letter “this place is as beautiful as a vast open of a noble river and fine trees can make it. But these are beautys who do not strike me as strong as they do most others” However, he continues, “The house is not good. The people I need not describe”.12 His letters make numerous mentions of visits to Kilmore and visits by the Wallers to meet him at the Ormsby’s house at Tubbervaddy between 1747 and 1750 and he mentions Mrs Waller as “a great favorite” in a letter of 4 August 1749. The next mention of Kilmore is in 1778 when Taylor and Skinner were publishing their map of the main roads of Ireland. Kilmore House is listed as still in the possession of Major Waller 13 however in reality the family may already have moved to Rookwood by then 14 and according to Ó Fearghail, the house was derelict “Gan coill, gan craobh, gan dion, gan teach” by the time he wrote his poem in 1786? The late 18th. Century was a time of serious agrarian unrest in Co. Roscommon and elsewhere. Whether it was this turmoil, or by accidental fire, or for some other reason, sometime between 1750 and 1786 the house was completely turned to ruin. Isaac Weld wrote in 1832 that "the remains of an old mansion house stand conspicuous on an eminence near the bay of Kilmore". He continues, "they contain numerous chimneys and gable ends, all firmly built and the windows give indication of the apartments having been large and extensive. The place must in it's day, have been one of consequence".15 By the 1830's however all was bleak with only some poor cabins resting amongst the ruins. The general area became quite populated during the middle of the 19th. Century. Carrowphadeen was one of the few townlands in Roscommon to show a rise in population between 1841 and 1851 (i.e. during the Famine). The population of the townland doubled from 58 persons to 124 and the houses from 13 to 26.16 The availability of fishing on Lough Ree may have been an element in this as the locals would have been able to supplement their diet of potato with rich pickings from the lake. In May 1855 the Shaen-Carter family offered Kilmore for sale. 17
The Pierce family came into possession of Kilmore in 1889. They sold it to the present owners in 2002.18 Though reduced somewhat in size and grandeur, the splendour of this once fine mansion, with it's extensive views over Lough Ree, is still plain for all to see. Sources: 1. "History of the Ferralls" by R.B.Ferrall. Privately Published. USA (1981) and “Athlone, the Shannon & Lough Ree” G. T. Stokes (1897). pp 43/44 2. "Journal of the Old Athlone Society" Vol. 1 No. 1. (1969) p.49. 3. "History of the Ferralls" op. cit. p.45. 4. 1855 rental. NUIG Landed Estates Database - http://www.landedestates.ie 5. RSAI Proceedings. (1890/91) Vol. 21 p188 and Stokes (1897). op. cit. 6. Ulster Journal of Archaeology, Second series, Vol. 3 No. 1 (Oct. 1896) pp. 58-59. Published by Ulster Archaeological Society - http://www.jstor.org/stable/20608990 Accessed: 16/02/2011.(NUIG Landed Estates database gives the Carters as of Castle Martin, Co. Kildare - http://www.landedestates.ie)? 7. Éigse V (1945 – 47) “Memoirs of Brian Ó Fearghaill” by Marcus MacEnery. p.160. (According to the “Book of Survey & Distribution” Sir Luke Dillon had one quarter of arable and rocky land in Carrowphadeen in 1641)? 8. Éigse V (1945 – 47) op. cit. p.160 9. ibid. Footnote 6. 10. “The Synge Letters” Marie-Louise Legg. p. 39 11. "A household account from County Roscommon 1733 - 4" by William Gacquin, in "Irish Fairs & Markets - Studies in Local History". Four Courts Press 2001. p. 107 12. “The Synge Letters” op. cit. p.40 13. "Maps of the Roads of Ireland" by Taylor & Skinner. (1778) p.242. 14. “The Strange Story of Sarah Kelly” by Vera Hughes (2nd ed.) (1997). p.39. 15. "Statistical Survey of the County of Roscommon" by Isaac Weld. (1832). p. 565 16. "The Census of Ireland for the year 1851 - Part 1. Co. of Roscommon". Stationary Office. (1852). 17. NUIG Landed Estates database - http://www.landedestates.ie 18. Pers comment. Pierce family.