Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Mountshannon House


The Earls of Clare are said to have represented a collateral branch of the Duke of Leinster's family; the FitzGibbons, the chief of whom was styled "The White Knight", being descended from the FitzGeralds, Barons Offaly, progenitors of the great houses of KILDARE and DESMOND; as were the Knights of Glin, of the Valley, and of Kerry, titles conferred on junior branches of the house of FitzGerald, by the Earl of Desmond, as Count Palatine.

THOMAS, 3rd Baron Offaly, had an only son,

JOHN, who had issue,
MAURICE, grandfather of 1st Earl of Kildare;
GILBERT, ancestor of Thomas FitzGibbon, of Ballylander.
The younger son,

GILBERT, represented the collateral male line of the White Knights, the elder branch having terminated in an heiress, who carried the estate of the Kingston family.

His son,

DR JOHN FITZGIBBON, was father of

THOMAS FITZGIBBON, of Ballysheedy, County Limerick, father of 

JOHN FITZGIBBON (1708-80), of Mount Shannon, County Limerick, an eminent barrister, who published a work entitled "Notes of Cases determined at Westminster", which was highly spoken of by Lord Chancellor Hardwicke.

He wedded Ellinor, daughter of John Grove, of Ballyhimmock, County Cork, and had issue,
JOHN, his successor;
Arabella; Elizabeth; Eleanor.
Mr FitzGibbon was succeeded by his son,

THE RT HON JOHN FITZGIBBON (1748-1802), who having been bred to the Bar, was appointed Attorney-General of Ireland, 1784; and, five years later, filled the high office of LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND.

This gentleman was elevated to the peerage, in 1789, in the digniy of Baron FitzGibbon, of Lower Connello, County Limerick.

His lordship was advanced to a viscountcy, in 1793, as Viscount FitzGibbon, of Limerick; and further advanced to the dignity of an earldom, in 1795, as EARL OF CLARE.

He wedded, in 1786, Anne, eldest daughter of Richard Chapel Whaley, of Whaley Abbey, and had issue,
JOHN, his successor;
Richard Hobart, father of JOHN CHARLES HENRY;
Isabella Mary Anne.
Richard Hobart, 3rd Earl, was MP for County Limerick, 1818-41, Usher and Registrar of Affidavits in the Irish Court of Chancery 1810-36, Lord Lieutenant of County Limerick, 1831-48 and 1851-64.

On the decease of the 3rd Earl the titles expired.

On display in the coach-house of Newbridge House is the sumptuous state coach made in London, in 1790, for John FitzGibbon, 1st Earl of Clare, Lord Chancellor of Ireland and a relation of the Cobbe family.

The coach had been painted black until restored by the Irish National Museum to its former golden magnificence - even the fresco panels had been painted out, probably for the funeral of Queen Victoria.

Entrance Front

MOUNTSHANNON HOUSE, near Castleconnell, County Limerick, was an 18th century mansion, bought from the White family by John FitzGibbon before 1780.

Seven-bay entrance front with pedimented porte-cochere of four massive Ionic columns; adjoining front of five bays.

The rooms were large and spacious, though boasted little internal ornament; a fine hall and library; French gilt furniture in the drawing-room and morning-room.

The 1st Earl was one of the most powerful men in Ireland at the time.

The house was re-modelled in neo-classical style after 1813 to the designs of Lewis Wyatt.

Mount Shannon appears to have been called Ballingown on the Taylor and Skinner map of the late 1770s.

Mark Bence Jones writes that it was enlarged by the 1st Earl of Clare and remodelled by the 2nd Earl.

The contents of the house were sold in 1888 and the house was purchased by the Nevin family ca 1893 (Bence Jones).

The 3rd and last Earl, who didn't have the government pension that his predecessors enjoyed, and who was most generous in providing financial succour to emigrants after the Irish famine, left the estate impoverished.

As a consequence, his daughter, who inherited the estate, was obliged to sell most of the precious contents of the house in 1888.

Abandoned Ireland has written an excellent article about the family and estate:
Lady Louisa Georgina FitzGibbon, daughter of the 3rd Earl, came into possession of Mountshannon on the death of her father. She was a very extravagant and over-charitable woman who gave lavish banquets and balls at the mansion to which all the aristocracy and landed gentry from Limerick and neighbouring counties were invited...

But the world of reality eventually took control as Lady Louisa frittered away the Fitzgibbon fortune and ran up huge debts in an effort to keep up the grand lifestyle to which she had become accustomed.

She became engaged to a Sicilian nobleman, The Marquis Della Rochella, thinking his wealth would rescue her from financial ruin, only to discover that her betroth was himself almost penniless and was marrying her for the same reason.

During a sumptuous party in the mansion to announce their engagement, the sheriff arrived to seize some of the mansion's valuable effects.

Two large paintings hanging in the main hall were among the items earmarked for confiscation, but were found to have holes burned through the canvas when the sheriff's men were removing them. The restored and still very valuable pictures were in later years hung in the hall of Dublin Castle.

It was on this occasion that the Marquis discovered that Lady Louisa, like himself, was bankrupt but, noble gentleman that he was, he went ahead with the marriage - even if it was a misguided union.

The Marquis, unaccustomed to the Irish climate, fell into bad health and died a few years later, still pining for his native sunny Sicily. Still struggling to keep face, Lady Louisa was forced to sell much of the contents of the mansion including the priceless collection of books from the family library.

Soon the lavish entertainment, the sumptuous feasting and the glittering balls were all gone and the magic that once was Mountshannon disappeared. Gone too were Lady Louisa's wealthy friends, leaving her at the mercy of her creditors who quickly foreclosed on her and she was forced to sell the mansion and the estate.

Lady Louisa left Mountshannon in 1887 and went to live in the Isle of Wight at St. Dominic's Convent where she spent the rest of her life .... The powerful FitzGibbon line that had stretched across one hundred and twenty years at Mountshannon had finally ended.

The next owner of Mountshannon was an Irishman, Thomas Nevins, who had made a large fortune in America and returned to Ireland with his wife and three daughters and purchased the mansion and estate. 

For the Nevins, who were a decent and honest Catholic family, their years at Mountshannon were fraught with trouble and ill-luck, so much so that people said the curse that many believed was on the place must surely have touched on these unfortunate people...

...Tom Nevins, like Lord Clare before him, was thrown from his horse while riding through the estate and died a few months after from his injuries. His body was also placed in the Cooling House, as was his wife's who died some years later the little building had by then become the family burial chamber ...

... So at last the tragic Nevins family rest undisturbed and entombed in what was once the cold storage house for Mountshannon Mansion.

Dermot O'Hannigan was the last owner of Mountshannon and in 1921, during the Troubles, in a spectacular and devastating fire, the flames of which could be seen, it is said, from many parts of Limerick city and county, the beautiful mansion was burned to the ground.
The estate was eventually taken over by the Irish Land Commission and divided up into several farm holdings.

Little remains of Mountshannon Mansion today but the ivy-clad shell of the great house, its four columns at the entrance still stand defiantly against the elements and even time itself, like some battle-scarred warriors still guarding the faded remnants of a grandeur that is no more.

First published in March, 2012.   Clare arms courtesy of European Heraldry.


Anonymous said...

I am researching my Irish family.My Great Grandfather was the Mayor of Clonmel he was Fitzgibbon As far as I know he owned a hotel in the town and was Mayor for two years 1913-1914.My Grandmother was Mary Jo Fitzgibbon. When she was alive she used to talk about the Big House burning down as if it had been in her family. I have read your fascinating history about Mountshannon house.My wonder is did Lady Louise have children ?Is there some connection to the family?She married a soldier from the barracks and lived a good part of her life in London.If you know something I would be grateful .Pat Bruce

Andrew said...

Of you check there's a Lady Louisa FitzGibbon married to Hon Gerald FitzGibbon. Not sure if that's who you're after.