Monday, 18 January 2016

Ardagh House

THE FETHERSTON BARONETS, OF ARDAGH, WERE MAJOR LANDOWNERS IN COUNTY LONGFORD, WITH 8,711 ACRES.


The founder of this family,

CUTHBERT FETHERSTON, of the ancient stock of the Fetherstons of Heathery Cleugh, County Durham, removed into Ireland after the battle of Worcester, in which Sir Thomas Fetherstonhaugh was made prisoner, and afterwards beheaded at Chester.

The eldest son of this Cuthbert, 

CUTHBERT FETHERSTON, had three sons,
Cuthbert, ancestor of the Fetherstons of Bracklyn;
THOMAS, of whom hereafter;
Francis.
The second son,

THOMAS FETHERSTON, settled at Ardagh, County Longford and marrying Miss Sherlock, had four sons,
John (Very Rev), Dean of Raphoe;
William, of Carrick;
Francis;
RALPH, of whom we treat.
The youngest son,

RALPH FETHERSTON (1731-80), of Ardagh, was created a baronet in 1776.

He wedded firstly, Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Samuel Achmuty, of Brianstown, County Longford, by whom he had an only daughter, Elizabeth; and secondly, Sarah, daughter of Godfrey Wills, of Will's Grove, County Roscommon, by whom he had four sons and four daughters,
THOMAS, his heir;
Godfrey, killed in the East Indies;
John;
Francis;
Sarah; Maria; Letitia; Elizabeth.
Sir Ralph was succeeded by his eldest son,

SIR THOMAS FETHERSTON, 2nd Baronet (1759-1819), who represented County Longford for several years in parliament.

This gentleman married Catherine, daughter of George Boleyn Whitney, of New Pass, County Westmeath, by whom he had,
GEORGE RALPH, his successor;
John;
THOMAS, succeeded his brother;
Elizabeth; Catherine; Isabella; Sarah; Octavia.
Sir Thomas was succeeded by his eldest son,

SIR GEORGE RALPH FETHERSTON (1784-1853), 3rd Baronet, MP for County Longford, 1819-30, who espoused, in 1821, Frances Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Richard Solly, of York Place, Portman Square, London, in a childless marriage.
Sir George and Lady Fetherston landscaped the demesne grounds and the village of Ardagh. The conversion of the old house into the mansion within its demesne may have been completed at this time, and involved the re-siting of the village street or road. The village clock-tower and surrounding buildings were erected in 1863 in remembrance of Sir George and of his life-long devotion to the moral and social improvement of his tenantry, and the site whereon they stand purchased by Frances Elizabeth, his widow. A memorial stone in the old church records his death on 12th July 1853, and that his wife died in London twelve years later and was buried in Walthamstow. 
Sir George was succeeded by his youngest brother,

THE REV SIR THOMAS FRANCIS FETHERSTON (1800-53), 4th Baronet, who died the same year, aged 53.

He married firstly, in 1823, Adeline Godley; and secondly, Anne L'Estrange, of Moystown, County Offaly.

His son,

SIR THOMAS JOHN FETHERSTON, 5th Baronet (1824-69) was succeeded by

SIR GEORGE RALPH FETHERSTON (1852-1923), 6th and last Baronet, who succeeded in 1865 at the early age of thirteen.

Born in Dublin and educated at Brighton College, in his mid-twenties he entered Salisbury Theological College to prepare for ordination into the Ministry of the Church of England.  

He served as curate in Tenby and Worcester City, and for six years as Rector or Vicar of the Parish of Pydeltrenthide in Dorset.

He served also as an honorary chaplain to Millbank Military Hospital, London, during the 1914-18 War.

He was one of the first two men in Holy Orders to serve as Sheriff in their Counties until the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland clerics of the Anglican Communion were not permitted to hold such Office.

Being Sheriff in 1897 he received the Diamond Jubilee Medal and preached his Jubilee Sermon in St. Patrick's Church, Ardagh.

Sir George was a man of many interests and hobbies — music, travel, cycling, fishing, photography, collecting ancient china and stamps, bird-watching and study of insects.

He travelled widely in Europe, Africa, North and South America.

This must have absorbed some of the Ardagh estate income.

He was Fellow and Vice-President of the Guild of Church Musicians and of the Victoria College of Music London. 

Who's Who credited him with the composition of 150 alternative tunes for Hymns Ancient & Modern, various chants, songs and other music, but none of these are to be found in current chant and Hymn books.

His publications have been listed as The Malvern Hills, Through Corsica with a Pencil. The Mystery of Maple Street, A Poem: The Rose of England. An Incident in the Siege of Antwerp, A Legend of Corpus Christi College, and four books of Sermons and Addresses.

These may have been published privately for limited sale or distribution.

Sir George may not have had much interest in the ownership and management of the estate.

He entered into voluntary agreements with over 300 tenants to sell to them the freehold of their farms, under the Irish Land Act 1903. 

The Ardagh estate was not acquired or purchased by the Irish Land Commission, which, however, advanced the money required by the tenants and others, and the holdings were vested in them by the Commission in 1922-23.

An area of 427 acres of bog land was vested in trustees for the use of purchasing new freeholders.

Sir George retained Ardagh House and demesne acres until his death in a Worcester City Nursing Home, and burial in Tenby, South Wales, in 1923. 


An attempt to destroy the house by fire in 1922 may have been a local expression of dissatisfaction with allocation of estate land or an effort to hasten sale of the last remnants of the estate.

Manuscripts written in Irish were salvaged from the 1922 flames of Ardagh House.


Ardagh House is an eight-bay, two-storey (originally three-storey) over-basement house, originally built ca 1730 and altered ca 1826 and ca 1863. 

A Three-bay, two-storey block (formerly the ballroom) was attached to the south-east end, having hipped slate roof with overhanging bracketed eaves.

A single-bay porch with tetra-style porch to the centre of the front façade (south), adjoined to the east by a four-bay single-storey additional conservatory with pilasters and lean-to roof. 

Ardagh House was acquired as training college by the Sisters of Mercy ca 1927, with multiple extensions to the east and the north-east.

It retains much of its early character despite a fire in 1948 that resulted in it being reduced to two storeys in height.

Much interesting fabric remains, such as some timber sliding sash windows, and console brackets to the porch. 

Although probably early-to-mid 18th century in date, this structure now has a predominantly early-to-mid 19th century appearance.

The elegant porch and conservatory, and the former ballroom/block to the east, were also added at this time. 

It also retains some of its early fabric to the interior, despite the fire in 1948, including plasterwork and fireplaces.

First published in December, 2011.

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