Thursday, 28 March 2019

Kinlough House: II

THE BIG HOUSE AT KINLOUGH, COUNTY LEITRIM

From Chapter 8 of A Man May Fish by T C Kingsmill Moore, first edition published 1960, copyright Estate of T C Kingsmill Moore 1979. 



"… My son tells me that you are an ardent fisherman. We have a house on the shore of Lough Melvin which fishes well in April, and there will be some salmon in the Bundrowse. If you could spare a week or a fortnight of your Easter vacation to stay with us my wife and I would be very pleased”.

This letter, the first of many phrased with the same careful courtesy, introduced me to the big lakes of the west and to a feature of Irish country life then rapidly passing away.

At Bundoran a wizened coachman met me with an outside car which soon covered the hilly miles to where the Big House stood, surrounded on three sides by woodland and open on the fourth, where lawns and fields sloped to the water’s edge.

In spring, the daffodils spread themselves in golden drifts down to the lake, in autumn the scarlet lobelia blazed a flare of colour between house and shrubberies.

The house itself, built when the Georgian style was yielding to the Victorian, was large but architecturally undistinguished.

Originally the walls of all the main rooms had been covered with French cartoons in grisaille, illustrating scenes from classical mythology.

The many life-sized nudes were a little too explicit for Victorian taste, and pictures and furniture had been arranged to hide the more compromising details.

When a later generation, bracing itself to acknowledge the facts of anatomy, removed the obstructions, it was too late.

The discolouration was permanent.

Already the house was an anachronism, a manor house without an estate.

For nearly a century, when Irish country life had been built on a structure of landlord and tenant, it had been the centre of interest for a barony, its stables full of carriages and horses, its garden a model, its owners men of learning and public spirit.

Politics and literature have dealt harshly with the Irish landlord.

Sad and mad they may have been; too often they were absentees.

But many of them were men of culture, bravery, and a high sense of public duty.

Their libraries were good and sometimes remarkable.

They planted world-famous gardens.

They organised and endowed innumerable Irish charities, relieved distress, and helped and advised such tenants as were willing to accept their advice.

Much of their time was spent in hunting and field sports, but these provided employment of the type that the Irish countryman likes, and made the big house a centre of interest and society.

Above all, they supplied a personal relationship which made up for many abuses.

A good landlord was united to his tenantry by bonds part patriarchal, part feudal, and entirely human, which formed a not unsatisfactory pattern of life.

Now all of this has been changed, shattered irretrievably by a great reform which had enabled the tenants to become freeholders.

The landlords lived on, financially not much worse off, still doing their duty on bench and synod, and spending much of their leisure in sport; but the ties which bound them and their families to the countryside were snapped.

Old retainers still remained.

The coachman who had met me was serving his fourth generation, the parlour maid had been nurse to my host, the gardener had been trained by his grandfather.

But the dust was settling; the Big House was dying at its roots.

My host, who had for some years been living a life of use and wont in which sport had ceased to play a part, his guns licensed but unfired, his rods idle in their cases, now roused himself to put his son and myself on the road to true orthodoxy.

He was orthodox to a fault, his fishing methods not so much dated as out-dated, but I owe him a grounding in caution, in boat-craft, and in etiquette which was to help me in difficult times and places...

For four years my fishing centred around the Big House, ten days in spring and the same in August.

The old retainers were dropping away. “I’ve seen what I’ve seen and I’ll not see much more,” said the coachman, now nearly ninety on the last occasion that he drove me to the station.

On my next visit he was gone.

Kate, the parlour maid, found her rheumatism too crippling, and the gardener retired on a pension to a cottage.

The squire had ceased to come to the lake with us, and he was intellectually less alert.

Over the port he had been eager to cross-question me on all the vexed problems of the day, with his unvaried courtesy treating my undergraduate opinions as if they were worth listening to.

Now he avoided discussion.

When things puzzled him he no longer sought an answer.

He lived more and more in the past.

A weary, slightly despairing look often came over his kindly face.

I was too young to recognise the significance of these changes, signs that the organism could no longer adapt itself to its environment, the first, faint, far-borne notes of the trumpet of Azrael.

Then at one stride came disaster.

Father and mother were dead; the son, always delicate, became incurably ill.

The Big House had fallen.


Another old Irish family had come to an end.

Of the Big House itself only a few ruins now remain.’ 

T.C. Kingsmill Moore was born in Dublin in March 1893 and he died there in February, 1979, at the age of 85. He went to school in Marlborough, England, and returned to Dublin to take a degree at Trinity College. 
During the First World War, from 1917-18, he was in the Royal Flying Corps in France and Flanders. He became a barrister on his return to Dublin and during the Civil War from 1922-23 was also the War Correspondent for the Irish Times. 
In 1947 he was appointed a judge of the High Court and in 1961 a judge of the Supreme Court, retiring in 1965. His visits to the Big House at Kinlough took place between 1914 and 1917 when he was an undergraduate in Trinity. 

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