since coming to the East Cork area I have always been curious about this area……..these sad trees what was built here and who walked the grounds between these trees…if these trees could talk what secrets would they hold….this story tells of graves, curses, mistresses to kings, actresses, great parties but also death, sadness and pain.
As with the other houses I started to do a bit of research on Rostellan House and the people who build it and here is their story:
Rostellan House was built by William O’Brien (1694-1777) the 4th Earl of Inchiquin in 1721. He built Rostellan as a replacement of the ageing old castle. He built this mansion for his wife Lady Anne (Anne Douglas-Hamilton) who was the 2nd Countess of Orkney.
Lady Anne was the daughter of the first Countess of Orkney – Elizabeth (Villiers) Hamilton (1657-1783) who was the acknowledged mistress of King William II & III of England and Scotland from 1680-1695. She was the Lady in Waiting to his wife Queen Mary II. King William ended the relationship motivated by his wife’s wishes. In 1694 a dual was fought over her affection. 25 Nov 1695 she married her cousin Lord George Hamilton and their marriage seem to be a happy one. Her first daughter Anne Douglas-Hamilton (second Countess of Orkney) married her cousin William O’Brien 27th March 1720.
William wanted to build the new residence near the site of a former graveyard, he ordered the graves to be leveled some accounts say that he ordered the gravestones to be thrown into the sea and others say he used it in the new build. A woman who’s only son was buried here cursed the family by saying their line would die out , and that no sons would be born and that while they lived there the crows would not nest in Rostellan. At that stage of the prophesy he had four sons and four daughters, but his wife died in 1757 and before her death they lost four sons and three daughters.
The only daughter that was left was Mary who became the next Countess of Orkney. Mary was as they used to be called deaf and dumb (mute) Her father arranged for her to be married to his nephew Murrough O’Brien (1726-1808) and he became the next owner of Rostellan the 5th Earl and 1st Marquis of Thomond in 1800.
With the help of sign language, they were married in 1753. She lived in Rostellan and he spent a lot of time in London. It is said that he had many mistresses and that he did not visit the marriage bed often. In 1755 they had a baby – also Mary O’Brien.
The story goes that after Mary was born her mother came into her room. The nanny was present, she walked to the crib with a stone and the nurse stated to scream thinking that she would do the child harm but Mary dropped the stone next to the baby and when the child started screaming, Mary started crying uncontrollably. Mary was the only child of the marriage.
Murrough is described as being a very friendly guy who was liked by everyone who met him although some said he talked to much. Polite, cheerful, and amiable would also be the way they described this Irishman. It was reputed that he was a big drinker. He had very important friends and owned many estates in England and Ireland. although very wealthy he had trouble with money. Rostellan House was used for a lot of entertainment and then he used to show his guest an ancient sword said to have been used by Brian Boroihme, the great ancestor of the O’Briens. The sword was preserved in a small armoury of the castle.
After Mary’s death Murrough married Mary Palmer she was the niece of the celebrated painter Sir Joshua Reynolds. There were rumours that Murrough had an illegitimate son from Abigail Aston who he had met at, Castle Martyr a son Thomas Carter was born no record survives of his birth. Murrough introduced Thomas as a son that was born to a poor relative in Cork.
Murrough died in a horrible accident in 1803 (mind you he was 82) He was riding his horse of Grosvenor Square when his horse slipped on the ice. Murrough fell onto the pavement, right in front of an approaching cart which ran over him and killed him instantly.
Mary O’Brien married Hon. Thomas FitzMaurice son of John Petty, 1st Earl of Shelburne.
The estate was then passed on to Murrough’s brother Edwards son William (1765-1846) the 2nd Marquis of Thomond. He planted 55,140 trees in 1827. Norway spuce, Scots pine, broad leaves such as Spanish Chestnut, Ash, Oak, Beech, Maple and Cherry, Alder, Willow and Hawthorn.He had no sons and the estate went to his brother Admiral
Lord James (1769-1855) The 3rd Marquess, Admiral in the royal navy although married three times there was no heirs and in 1855 the Earldom of Inchiquin became extinct. Two years after his death the property was sold.
The next owner of Rostellan is Dr Wise a Scotsman who lived in Rostellan House with his spinster sister Anne untill his death in 1879. He had made his money with Indigo plantations in India. The trade in Indigo created brisk and great trade fortunes during the 1739-1742 war with Spain/Portugal and France when Royal Blue dye became scarce in England. After his death the house content was sold in a big 4 day house auction at Rostellan. Priced possessions such as paintings of Turner, Van Dyke, Claude and Michaud. He left the estate to his brother James F.N. Wise who sold it to Sir John Pope Hennessy who sold it to C.J. Engledow and after that to MR. Rattner. In 1930 Rostellan House was leased to Cloyne China Clay co. who mined clay there and exported. Operation ceased in 1940 and the house was regrettably demolished in 1944 by the Army Corps of Engineers.
A three storey house, 5 front bays, between two-three sided bows and it has a side elevation of a 3 sided bow and 4 bays. Originally the hall was adorned by weapons and armour and the rooms contained a splendid collection of portraits. During the 19th century a gothic porch was added and also a long low gothic chapel wing, flanking the front with pinnacles and perpendicular window and ending in a squat battlements round tower. (a tiny bit of this wall is left visible)
Garden in the front of the house:
- Rostellan House was well-known for its luxurious gardens – accounts of expansive lawns leading down to an elevated terrace overlooking the sea on which deer grazed.
- The castle is delightfully situated in a wooded promontory (mass of land overlooking water) commanding an exceedingly fine view of the grand and animated harbour with its beautiful shores. The demesne (area) is rich in luxuriant beauty and the judicious (discrete) manner in which the grounds are laid out speaks highly of the elegant taste of the noble owner.
- ….a gentle tide flows to the garden wall and boats come up to the stairs. On the terrace, near the water are small cannons pointed, which upon firing render several echoes through the various hills that surround the harbour.
- Along the waterfront near the house was a castellated terrace. (part of this wall still exists the castellated terrace looks as if it was built all around the water edge – the same pattern is followed in the bridge)
- Cannons were mounted on these terraces, giving the appearance of a battery. Part of this feature remains today in the shape of a ship’s bow with the date 1721 carved therein.
- The plinth of what was once a monument to Lord Hawke also remains at the waters edge. According to the account or Sir R. Colt Hoare this statue on the terrace above the water, is a statue of Lord Hawke with its back turned to the elements where on that commander had achieved his fame. The statue was ordered by the Cork Corporation who then decided not to take it so that the Rostellan owners bought the statue and averted its eyes from the city that rejected it.
The Inchiquins had a long naval tradition. Edward Hawke was a British Admiral and played an important part in the aviation of French invasion in 1759. The statue’s right arm which was grasping a sword, fell of on the day the French landed on Bantry Bay in 1798. It is believed that the statue ended up in Youghal.
- Folly tower: a circular plan folly tower was erected on the water’s edge of the coast in 1727. The 5th Earl of Inchiquin Murrough O’Brien later named the tower - “Siddons’ Tower” in honour of the Druids lane actress Sarah Siddons who apparently visited the Rostellan House.Sarah was a British actress who was one of the first actresses that gained respectability with roles such as Lady Macbeth and held her audience spellbound. She was tall and had a striking figure, expressive eyes and a solemn dignity.
She mixed with the elite of London Society.
- The walled kitchen garden (still visible today in the Rostellan woods) also called the secret garden. Acres of kitchen gardens with complex potting and heating sheds for maintaining fruit, vegetables and exotic flowers. Supplies for the stately home. Now overgrown with trees.
- Ice House (also visible) cold and dark area where ice was stored in winter.
- Milestones: 18th century milestones on the bridge.
Another feature in the area: Dolmen
On the Northern shore is a pre-historic tomb-Cromleach or dolmen called ” Carriga Mhaistin” which is submerged at high tide. Some claim that this is where the name Rostellan comes from. Ros (headland) and dallan or dolmen.