Friday, 17 July 2020

Scarvagh House


This branch of the ancient Milesian house of REILLY, PRINCES OF EAST BREFFNY, discontinued the prefix 'O'.

TURLOGH O'REILLY, youngest son of Edmund O'Reilly, of Kilnacroft, Prince of East Breffny, had two children,
The elder son,

BRIAN O'REILLY, had two sons, viz.
JOHN, of Belfast;
Miles, an army captain.
The former was father of

MILES O'REILLY (1661-1735), of Lurgan, County Armagh, who wedded Jane Ackens, and had issue,
John, dsp;
James, dsp;
JOHN, of whom hereafter.
Mr Reilly was succeeded by his youngest son,

JOHN REILLY, of Scarvagh, County Down, who espoused, in 1738, Lucy, daughter of Francis Savage, of Ardkeen, County Down, and was father of

JOHN REILLY (1745-1804), of Scarvagh, Chief Commissioner of Public Accounts, MP for Blessington, 1779-1800, High Sheriff of County Down, 1776, County Armagh, 1786, who married, in 1773, Jane, daughter and co-heir of Colonel William Lushington, of Sittingbourne, Kent, and had issue,
William Edmond;
James miles;
Jane Hester; Amelia; Elizabeth.
John Reilly MP (Image: Ulster Museum)

Mr Reilly was succeeded by his eldest son,

JOHN LUSHINGTON REILLY (1775-1840), of Scarvagh, High Sheriff of County Down, 1810, who wedded, in 1807, Louisa, second daughter of Gustavus Handcock Temple, of Watertown, County Westmeath, and had issue,
JOHN TEMPLE, his heir;
Gustavus Handcock, an army officer, 1813-41;
Robert Lushington, captain, East India Company;
William Charles, 1819-45;
Charles Myles Townsend;
Isabella Elizabeth; Jane Lushington; Louisa Mary; Gertrude Harriet;
Mary Amelia; Frances Lucy; Charlotte Moore.
Mr Reilly was succeeded by his eldest son,

JOHN TEMPLE REILLY JP DL (1812-1903), of Scarvagh, High Sheriff of County Down, 1845, who wedded, in 1865, Elizabeth, daughter of James O'Hara, of Lenaboy, County Galway, by his wife Anne, daughter of the Most Rev and Hon Power le Poer Trench, Lord Archbishop of Tuam, and had issue,
John Temple Miles, 1867-68;
John Temple James, died in infancy;
Anne Elizabeth.
GUSTAVUS MILES O'HARA REILLY, of Scarvagh House, 1869-1909.

SCARVAGH HOUSE, Scarva, County Down, was built in the early to mid-18th century and has undergone several phases of addition and renovation since that time.

The House is associated with the Reilly family, founders of Scarva village and original hosts of the annual Scarva "Sham Fight", commemorating the battle of the Boyne.

It comprises two storeys with two-storey wings extending forwards, thus forming a three-sided entrance court.

The present house is thought to have been built ca 1717 by Myles Reilly, originally intended as offices (a house was to be erected in front).

The house was altered in the mid-19th century by John Temple Reilly.

The elevations are plain, excepting a two-storey Jacobean-style porch with a curvilinear gable in the centre range, flanked by two oriels and dormer gables.

The wings terminate with square, battlemented towers.

The porch is of golden stone; the remainder of the house rendered.

The entrance gates and gate lodge at the Scarva end of the property were added between 1834-60, together with a long entrance driveway leading to the house.


A local legend states that, in recognition of his services to the Williamite army in the 1690s, Reilly was given as much land as he could walk and plant with acorns in a day.

Harris wrote in 1744,
North-west of Loughbrickland about two miles is a house and good improvements of Mr John Reilly, standing pleasantly on a rising ground near the new canal and Scarvagh Bridge...Mr Reilly has a view of forming a village near this bridge where coal-yards and store houses are preparing and for this end has obtained a patent for fairs and markets.
There is a salt-works carried on in partnership between Mr Reilly, Mr Cherry and Mr Steers of Liverpool, the latter of whom has the salt rock on his own land and sends the same by water carriage to Scarvagh.
Scarva village had been established by the Reillys by 1746.

John Lushington Reilly is thought to have been responsible for much of the present appearance of Scarvagh House.
The Archaeological Survey of County Down, which carries a plan of additions and alterations to Scarvagh House, suggests that Lushington Reilly built two double-height wings onto the original main block in the early nineteenth century forming a forecourt to the original house.
Interior alterations in a Gothic-Revival style were carried out within the main block and an extension was added to the north west. Between 1834-60, the south facade of the main block was remodelled in a Jacobean style and internal decoration in contemporary style took place.
Dimensions are given for the house, including the new porch, four two-storey outbuildings, one single-storey outbuilding and gate houses.

The 1901 census lists the occupant as
John Temple Reilly JP, DL, who lives with his Galway wife, his daughter, sister, niece and three servants, a cook, a housemaid and a kitchen maid. The house has sixteen rooms, twenty outbuildings and is of the first class.
Subsequent occupiers were Sir John Tuthing [sic], 1905; and Henry Thomson MP, 1906.

In 1911, Mr Thomson was living in the house with his wife, a nurse and three servants.

Henry Thomson died in 1916 while still resident at Scarvagh House, and the house was taken over by a relative, possibly a son, Henry B Thomson, in 1926.

Scarvagh House was acquired by Alfred Buller before the 2nd World War, and Mr Buller was happy to continue opening the grounds each year for the Sham Fight.

William Buller, of Scarva, is a well-known racing driver.

The most recent historic map dating from 1960s/70s shows that numerous outbuildings have been added to the site in the vicinity of the main house.

Other recent work has included the refurbishment of the east and west wings for rental purposes.

A strong tradition exists that WILLIAM III camped under a tree that later became enclosed by Scarva demesne, on his way to the Boyne in 1659; and due, in part, to this association, Scarva demesne has become the scene of the annual Sham Fight, a mock reconstruction of the battle of the Boyne that takes place on the 13th July every year.

The Sham Fight forms the centrepiece of a Royal Black Preceptory parade, when the villagers of Scarva are joined by tens of thousands of visitors from Ulster and elsewhere.

The mock battle, played out over 30 minutes, ends when the green standard of JAMES II is cornered and lowered by the red-shirted Williamite soldiers.


THE HOUSE lies on a south-facing ridge, with excellent views to Lough Shark and distant hills beyond.

The demesne contains mature avenue, parkland and woodland trees.

There are well-maintained ornamental gardens at the house.

The walled garden was latterly an orchard but is no longer cultivated.

There are grand gate pillars at the village entrance, and a lodge built ca 1870 at the North Gate.

First published in July, 2014.

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