Monday, 3 August 2015

Bessborough House

THE EARLS OF BESSBOROUGH WERE THE SECOND LARGEST LANDOWNERS IN COUNTY KILKENNY, WITH 23,967 ACRES

This ancient and noble family derives its origin from Picardy, in France.

Their ancestor accompanied William, Duke of Normandy, in his expedition to England, and his descendants established their residence at Haile or Hale, near Whitehaven, in Cumberland.

They assumed their surname from the lordship of Ponsonby, in Cumberland.

The office of Barber to the King was conferred upon them about the same time as the Earl of Arran's ancestor was appointed Butler.

JOHN PONSONBY, of Hale, was great-grandfather of

SIR JOHN PONSONBY (c1609-78), Knight, of Hale, colonel of a regiment of horse in the service of CROMWELL; who wedded Dorothy, daughter of John Brisco, of Crofton, Cumberland, and had several children.
After the decease of his wife, Colonel Ponsonby made a settlement of his estates in Cumberland upon certain of those children, and removing himself into Ireland, was appointed, on the reduction of that kingdom, one of the commissioners for taking the depositions of the Protestants, concerning murders said to have been committed during the war, and was sheriff of counties Wicklow and Kilkenny, in 1654. 
He represented the latter county in the first parliament called after the Restoration; had two grants of lands under the acts of settlement, and, by accumulating debentures, left a very considerable fortune.
Sir John was succeeded by his eldest son,

SIR HENRY PONSONBY, Knight, at whose decease, in the reign of WILLIAM III, without issue, the estates devolved upon his brother,

THE RT HON WILLIAM PONSONBY (1659-1724), of Bessborough, MP for County Kilkenny in the reigns of ANNE and GEORGE I.

This gentleman was sworn of the Privy Council in 1715, and elevated to the peerage by the title of Baron Bessborough in 1721.

His lordship was advanced to a viscountcy, in 1723, as Viscount Duncannon.

He married Mary, sister of Brabazon Moore, of Ardee, County Louth, and had, with six daughters, three sons,
BRABAZON, his heir;
Henry, major-general;
Folliot.
Lord Duncannon was succeeded by his eldest son,

BRABAZON, 2nd Viscount (1679-1758), who was advanced to the dignity of an earldom, as  EARL OF BESSBOROUGH, in 1739; and created a peer of Great Britain, in 1749, as Baron Ponsonby.

His lordship wedded firstly, Sarah, widow of Hugh Colville, and daughter of James Margetson (son and heir of the Most Rev James Margetson, Lord Archbishop of Armagh), by whom he had issue,
WILLIAM, his successor;
John, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons;
Richard;
Sarah, m to Edward, 5th Earl of Drogheda;
Anne, m to Benjamin Burton;
Elizabeth, m to Rt Hon Sir W Fownes Bt;
Letitia, m to Hervey, Viscount Mountmorres.
The 1st Earl espoused secondly, in 1733, Elizabeth, eldest daughter and co-heir of John Sankey, of Tenelick, County Longford (and widow of Sir John King, and of John Moore, Lord Tullamore), but by that lady had no issue.

He was succeeded by his elder son,

WILLIAM, 2nd Earl (1704-93), who married, in 1739, Lady Caroline Cavendish, eldest daughter of William, Duke of Devonshire, and had surviving issue,
FREDERICK, his successor;
Catherine, m to Aubrey, 5th Duke of St Albans;
Charlotte, m to William, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam.
His lordship was succeeded by his only son,

FREDERICK, 3rd Earl (1758-1844), who wedded, in 1780, Henrietta Frances, second daughter of John, 1st Earl Spencer, by whom he had issue,
JOHN WILLIAM, his successor;
Frederick Cavendish (Sir);
William Francis, 1st Baron de Mauley;
Caroline.
The heir apparent is the present holder's son, Frederick Arthur William Ponsonby, styled Viscount Duncannon.

BESSBOROUGH HOUSE is located in Kildalton near Piltown in County Kilkenny.

It was first built in 1745 by Francis Bindon for the 1st Earl of Bessborough.

Bessborough House, as stated by Mark Bence-Jones, consists of a centre block of two storeys over a basement joined to two-storey wings by curved sweeps.


The entrance front has nine bays; a three-bay pedimented breakfront with a niche above the pedimented Doric doorway.

The roof parapet has urns, while the basement is rusticated; perron and double stairway with ironwork railings in front of the entrance door.

The Hall has a screen of Ionic columns made of Kilkenny marble. The Saloon has a ceiling of Rococo plasterwork; and a notable chimney-piece.

Bessborough House had to be rebuilt in 1929 after it was burned down in 1923.

The Ponsonbys never returned to the house after this.


In 1940, the Oblate Fathers established a seminary at Bessborough House.

The Oblates worked their own bakery, and farmed dairy cows, poultry, cattle, pigs, sheep. They grew potatoes, grain and other crops.

They also had a very good orchard.

Alas, the great mansion has been altered and added-to since the Ponsonbys left: The urns have been removed from the parapet and are now at Belline.

From 1941 to 1971, 360 priests were ordained in Bessborough House, Kildalton.

By 1970, numbers joining the order had fallen and the Oblates decided to sell the property.

It was bought for £250,000 by the Irish Department of Agriculture in 1971.

It was then opened as an agricultural and horticultural college and renamed Kildalton College.

Other seats ~ Parkstead House, Surrey; Sysonby, Leicestershire.

First published in September, 2011.  Bessborough arms courtesy of European Heraldry.

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