Trabolgan Country Estate

Here I am….researching the next property,  while others are watching the Royal wedding.

Little did I know that this property would be so closely linked to the very one that was getting married….

Take the journey to Trabolgan Estate with me  were sadly very little of the original buildings remain…..learn of the lives,  and lost loves of the Roche family.

The estate is approached by an avenue of  trees and shrubs.

Half way up the avenue there is a Triumphal Arch similar in design to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Trabolgan- Triumphal Arch

Paris- Arc de Triomphe

Legend has it that one of the Roche are buried under the arch.

The history of Trabolgan takes us back to the 12th Century when the French Benedictines had a monastery which was a repository for valuable manuscripts, paintings and sacred objects saved from religious prosecution sweeping continental Europe.

However, the land was confiscated by the crown and the Fitzgerald Family took up residence in the year 1174 A.D.

Around 1640-1650 AD, the Roche family purchased the Fitzgerald estate (approx 1500 acres) from Edmund Fitzgerald of Ballymaloe and lived for many centuries at Trabolgan.

Roche family motto:  Mon Dieu Est Ma Roche –  “My God is my Rock”

In 1850, Edmund Burke Roche(1815-1874), was created 1st Baron Fermoy in the Peerage of Ireland. He held the office of member of Parlement of Cork. He was succeeded by his son Edward FitzEdmund Burke Roche (1850-1877) 2 nd Baron Fermoy. He was high Sherrif of  Country Cork in 1874. He was succeeded by his brother.

James Boothby Burke Roche(1851-1920), 3rd Baron.(Great grandfather of Diana Princess of Wales)  He held the title for only eight weeks in 1920 before expiring. James brought dynamic new blood into the family, having married an American  heiress Frances (Fanny) Ellen Work on 22 September 1880.

Frances Roche

Frances Ellen Work was an American Heiress and socialite. She was born in New York the daughter of Franklin H Work (Frank) a well know stock broker and protegé of the Vanderbilt. Her father (Frank) took a dim view of both the British and titles and promptly excluded her from his will.

James and Fanny Roche went to live in Ireland, where in 1884-1885 Fanny had three children (a daughter and twin boys) within 11 months. Fanny, however was as addicted as her father to having her own way. And six years later the marriage ended in  divorce on the grounds of desertion. She returned to America with her children. Frank Work duly reinstated her in his will, on condition that she undertook never to return to Europe. Equally her sons would inherit only if they became American citizens and remained for the rest of their lives in the United States. Thus Fanny Roche’s children were brought up in America. But after Frank Work’s death in 1911 it proved possible to nullify the provisions of his will, so that Maurice Roche, the elder of Fanny’s twin boys who succeeded his father as the 4th Baron Fermoy in 1920, was able to return to England with considerable fortune.

In 1896 James stood as candidate for the Nationalist seat of Parliament. The party had split because the leader Parnell was named as co-responsible for a divorce. In this instance James said nothing about his own divorce. And denied publicly that he did not know of the divorce and that he did not desert his wife and children.

In 1905 Frances married again this time a Hungarian born riding instructor Aurelde Bokonyi, who claimed to be a count. Two years later Frances divorced again allegedly that her father was going to disinherit her if she stayed with him. She was a prominent figure in New York and best friends with Reginald Vanderbilt.

The next descendant was Edmund Maurice Burke Roche(1885-1955), 4th Baron Fermoy.

Maurice Roche

He Graduated from Harvard and gained the rank of Lieutenant in the Royal  Airforce.  Edmund became Conservative MP for King’s Lynn and close friend of the Duke of York, the future George VI. In 1931 he married Ruth Gill, a pianist from an Aderdeenshire family. George V, in recognition of the young couples friendship with the Duke of York, granted them a lease of Park House.

Frances Ruth Burke Roche (mother of Diana) was born on 20 January 1936 at Park House, Sandringham, the second daughter of the 4th Lord Fermoy later on that same day a mile away King George V died. “I’ve got no English blood” Frances later said. “I’m a quarter American, a quarter Irish and half Scottish” Meanwhile the Fermoy’s had remained close to the Royal Family, and as a girl Frances used to undergo the formidable ordeal of being taken to the pantomime by Queen Mary. On the day that King George VI died in 1952, he had been shooting with Maurice. After Lord Fermoy died in 1955, his widow Ruth became Lady-in-Waiting to the Queen Mother.

Ruth was delighted when in 1953, Frances still only 17 became engaged to Johnie Althorp, 12 years her senior and heir to the Spencer earldom.

Local legend has it that Lord Fermoy lost Trabolgan on a bet with a guest who had a good greyhound. Lord Fermoy thought he had a better one, and arranged a race with Trabolgan as the prize. Lord Fermoy’s dog is reputed to have spotted a crow which he chased instead of the hare and so lost his Lordship the race and Trabolgan.

Whether the story is true is unknown.

Edmund Roche

James was succeeded by his  son, Edmund James Burke Roche (1939-1984) He studied at Eton College and served as Captain in the service of the Royal Horse Guard. On 22 Jun 1964 he married Lavinia Frances Elizabeth Pitman. After suffering with depression  Edmund took his own live at 45.  His son Hon. Patrick Maurice Burke Roche became the 6th Baron of Fermoy.

The Trabolgan House:

By now I could not wait to see the house that this family had stayed in… was it a big country estate….I had heard that it had been demolished was anything left and was there at least some photos to capture the heart and soul of this estate….this is what I found:

The shape of the bay gave the place its name. Tra meaning strand/beach and Bolgan/Bulgen meaning bulging or big wave.

Trabolgan House

A Georgian house, of two storeys at the front, and three storeys at the back, to which single-storey wings were added on either side in the early 19th century, making a facade of exceptional length.

With a single storey Doric entrance portico The front of the house faced out to sea; so that in a south-easterly gale it was hard to open the hall door.

The house was approached by an avenue of more than 1 mile in length, which was closely hemmed in by trees and shrubs for most of the way, emerged spectacularly into the open by the sea and swept around to the long front of the house.

In 1912 the Clarke Family  originally from Liverpool (Clarkes Tobacco Co. of Bristol – Players Cigarettes, etc) acquired Trabolgan House and 1500 acres. Mr and Mrs Clarke resided at Trabolgan and even grew tobacco during the war years, until late 1930’s when Mr Clarke died and Mrs Clarke moved residence. She moved to Farran House a Georgian style house. Later donated the Farren Woods to the public.

The Irish Land Commission purchased the total estate from the Clarke family and most of the land – (except some 140 acres) were divided amongst tenant farmers.

The remaining estate including the house was used as a base by a unit of the Irish Army during the Second World War. In 1948, a Mr. Bright and Mr White, together with a number of local investors decided to purchase the remaining estate from the Land Commission and to operate the estate as a holiday camp for Pontins. For this purpose, over 100 chalets, a dance hall and an outdoor swimming pool were built. The holiday centre was successful at the start and attracted British holiday makers, but on the whole it was not successful and so Trabolgan was put up for sale once more. During the following years the mansion and estate changed hands from people such as Egan to Sutton and was used as accommodation for overseas engineers involved in the building of the Whitegate refinery.

Front door Trabolgan 1973

In 1958 Gaedhealachas Teo decided to buy Trabolgan house and estate and establish a boarding school for boys – Scoil na nOg. This school was opened in June 1959 and until 1973, 160 pupils each year, received their education through Irish. During the summer months, Scoil na nOg operated a summer Irish college where up to 1400 boys and girls were provided with an opportunity to improve their knowledge of the Irish language.

In his blog Dr. Eugene F.M. O’Loughlin recalls some memories of the  school: “The building,  I remember was a very old house with huge pillars at the front. I revisited the location a few years ago and found no trace of the old School. This location is now better known as Trabolgan Holiday Village. The school was a great location for 11/12-year-old boys – it was beside the sea at the entrance to Cork Harbour, there were lots of woods about with plenty of bamboo shoots which made great swords and spears. We played lots of football and hurling and generally had a good time”  He shared a room at the school with the well-known tenor Ronan Tynan. In his autobiography Ronan also makes mention of the school and tells the story of playing football with his Wellington’s.  Sadly the house was demolished not long after

Ronan’s web site                  Roche Folly Tower

Roche Tower

The coastline of Cork make a dramatic, perfect backdrop for a constructed Gothic Folly Tower in 1790 near the water’s edge as a banqueting house. The panoramic view it enjoyed attracted the attention of the government  as a possible light house.

Enquiries were made relative to the grounds at Roche’s Point and the possibility of using the Folly tower as a light house . In the reported in 1814 the suitability of  the Roches Tower as a lighthouse was discussed the Tower is described as a 35 feet (10.6m) high tower strong enough to support a lantern. The base of the tower was 46 feet (14.0m) above high water.  The Board ordered their Law Agent to ascertain the value of the Tower and one acre of land.
In April 1814 Mr Roche agent wrote to the Board stating that he had no authority to sell or dispose of any or part of the estates of Edward Roche Esq. and that Mr Roche had resided for some years as a prisoner of war in Naples, Italy. Recent political activities had however set him free and he should be back in Cork in the early summer. The Board ordered a delay in the  inquisition. It was February 1815 before Edward Roche wrote to them, he stated that the Tower had been built (presumably by himself or his father) as a banqueting and pleasure house. It was also the only place where he could get a sight of shipping and Cork Harbour. He also stated that he had recently refurbished the Tower so he could spend as much of his time in it as he could.

During the American War of Independence (1776-83) Roche rented the Tower to the Government for a period of 10 years at 100 guineas per annum. Using this as a basis and pointing out that the value of land had risen by 80% he said he would be content with 100 guineas per annum and that the lease should be for a corn-rent to protect his heirs against depreciation.The Board could not accept his proposals as the rent was too much, they also required a lease for ever and unless such was given and the rent greatly reduced the Board would, by Law, have to have the premises valued by a jury.

Needless to say Roche was very upset with the Board’s reply and threatened to take his case to the House of Commons. With this attitude the Board ordered the Law Agent to prepare steps for an inquisition. During April 1815 the Law Agent informed the Board that the inquisition was to be held in Cove (Cobh) on 5 June, the result of which was that the Tower was valued at £160 and the ground at £1,266, making a total of £1,426. The purchase was completed in January 1816 but not without Roche objecting to searches for encumbrances and enquiring about the delay in receiving the valuation of his ground.

The Board instructed Inspector George Halpin to complete the project of building the light house at  Roche’s Point instead of using the folly tower and to build a Keeper’s dwelling  close to the Roche’s Tower.

This small lighthouse  was not conducive to a major harbour  and port and in 1835 it was replaced by the present larger tower.

About Annemarie Foley

I'm a house-historian that researches and documents the history of a house and the people that lived there. I bring together a snapshot of the story behind the house. This information is used by a variety of people from Historians to Architects, Estate agents, Ancestors or those generally concerned about the heritage of the property.

9 Responses to “Trabolgan Country Estate”

  1. Thank you. This is most interesting. I was wondering if this Roche family had any connection to the Roche family that built a magnificent estate of three buildings in Far Rockaway, NY at the end of the 19th century or the beginning of the 20th century. Thank you for whatever information you can offer.
    Charlotte N. Roth

  2. Hi Annemarie,

    Many thanks for the mention in your blog post – I certainly enjoyed reading all about the Roches.

    I also enjoyed seeing the photo of the house. I have no photos from this time, so this is the first time seeing the house since 1972. It brings back lots of fond memories, we used to play indoor bowls just inside the front door!

    You might also be interested in another one of my blog posts about Ballingate House Upper (Near Carnew, Co Wicklow), which was an old house demolished in the 1950s. I only recently saw a photo of that (which is on my blog). See

    Eugene O’Loughlin

  3. Alan Charles Mount Reply February 20, 2013 at 9:52 pm

    Hi I have lived in a cottage in Askeaton Co Limerick for the past 22yrs and the land registry shows it to be part of the estate of lord fermoy.
    As we now have it up for sale, viewers are interested its history and all we have found so far it is on an ordenance servey map of about 1814,
    would be interested if you could direct me on how to go further
    regards alan c mount
    ps cottage is on follow details to Askeaton via Limerick

  4. Michael Kenefick Reply June 30, 2013 at 12:46 pm

    I am a member of Aghada Graveyard Researchers and I am led to believe that you know of a relation of the Thackwells of Hadwell. We would very much like to contact him as the historic grave is in poor repair

  5. Hi there, always i used to check weblog posts here
    early in the daylight, since i enjoy to find out more and more.

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  9. My great grandfather was William Patrick Roche and he was born in Whitegate, County Cork in 1839. His father was james Roche who was a groom to the hunt and he made the red jackets that the huntsmen wore. I would dearly love to know more of his history, which hunt for example. maybe someone can help? Great blog by the way.

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