Tracing the legacy of the historic mansions of Barryroe parish and their occupants

Courtmacsherry House.
Courtmacsherry House (the hotel) features in Margaret O’Dwyer’s “Principal Houses in the Parish of Barryroe 18th–20th Century” (pic: © Historical Picture Archive).

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In this article, author and historian Margaret O’Dwyer delves into the often-overlooked history and architecture of the historic rural residences of the lesser gentry, focusing on Barryroe parish in West Cork.

While there is no shortage of printed material on Ireland’s “big houses” and landed estates, very little has been published on the large houses of the lesser gentry at parochial level. These houses were big relative to those of the largest tenant farmers and relatively huge compared to the mud cabins and cottages occupied by cottiers and labourers.

To help fill this knowledge gap, in 2022, I published The Principal Houses in the Parish of Barryroe 18th–20th Century. This 297-page volume offers an in-depth exploration of the history and architecture of over 20 prominent houses in my local parish in West Cork.

It also traces the long history of the residents of these houses and their families, from the arrival of the Anglo-Normans to the present. In doing so, this publication aims to offer a fresh perspective on the actions and interactions of the powerful local families of the time, many of whom are no longer part of the social fabric of the area.

The houses featured in this book offer a glimpse into the lives of the higher echelons of society within the barony of Ibane and Barryroe, with the power struggles between and within the various families and dynasties often serving as the backdrop to the saga of these houses. Some houses reflect an age of comfort and splendour, while others provide insights into the ordinary and sometimes difficult lives of their occupants.

Among the residents were bankers, farmers, lawyers and military men, including one individual who grew strawberries commercially in retirement! The well-known author and clergyman, Rev. Horatio Townsend, is found to have enjoyed his time in the area. Another famous name encountered is William Penn, whose son founded Pennsylvania, while Edmund Spenser, author of the epic poem “The Faerie Queene”, is also connected to one of the houses – the home of his sister, Sarah.

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On the other hand, an unexpected visit to Barryroe from a New York bishop offers an outsider’s view on the poverty experienced by the local people, as well as their work ethic.

Courtmacsherry House

One of the houses featured in my book is Courtmacsherry House (now a popular hotel), located on the eastern edge of the picturesque village of Courtmacsherry.

Old photo of Courtmacsherry House.
Old photo of Courtmacsherry House, West Cork (© Historical Picture Archive).

This house was initially built as the summer residence of the Earl of Shannon, whose seat was at Castlemartyr in East Cork. An example of the most popular architectural style of late 18th- and early 19th-century Irish country houses, the present structure was built between 1841 and 1851 and features curved gables – a design characteristic commonly employed for grand mansions at the time.

Henry Boyle, 1st Earl of Shannon; Richard Boyle, 2nd Earl of Shannon; Henry Boyle, 3rd Earl of Shannon.
Left: Henry Boyle (1682–1764), 1st Earl of Shannon (photo courtesy of Richard Henry John Boyle, 10th Earl of Shannon); Centre: Richard Boyle (1727–1807), 2nd Earl of Shannon (oil painting by Joshua Reynolds; source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain); Right: Henry Boyle (1771–1842), 3rd Earl of Shannon (photo courtesy of Richard Henry John Boyle, 10th Earl of Shannon).

In 1760, the 1st Earl of Shannon, Henry Boyle, inherited the Boyle estate in the parish of Barryroe, which encompassed Courtmacsherry. His successor, the 2nd Earl of Shannon, Richard Boyle, was probably responsible for planting much of the woodland overlooking Courtmacsherry Bay in the late 18th century. Henry Boyle, 3rd Earl of Shannon and his wife Sarah Hyde (daughter of John Hyde of Castle Hyde in Fermoy) had four sons and eight daughters; after the earl died in 1842, his six surviving adult daughters, known as the “Ladies Boyle”, were granted the Courtmacsherry estate of nearly 6,000 acres. It was around this time that the present building was erected.

Sketches of the Ladies Boyle Courtmacsherry.
Sketches of the Ladies Boyle (photos courtesy of Richard Henry John Boyle, 10th Earl of Shannon). Left: possibly Lady Elizabeth; Centre: possibly Lady Jane; Right: Lady Charlotte-Anne in her 70s. Elizabeth and Charlotte-Anne lived in Courtmacsherry House and were joined by Jane in her later years.

These sisters were of independent means and did not marry. It appears that they held the land in Courtmacsherry as a life interest only, with no powers of bequest. All of the sisters had passed away by 1894, at which point Courtmacsherry estate reverted to the Boyle estate, then in the possession of the 6th Earl of Shannon, Richard Henry Boyle, the grandnephew of the Ladies Boyle.

He leased Courtmacsherry House and 10 acres of land to James Brennan of Bandon in 1897, who opened it as a hotel, while the 8th Earl, Robert Henry Boyle, converted this lease into a sale for £1,250 in 1923.

During the War of Independence, Courtmacsherry House was partially burnt in March 1921 by the IRA, who had heard rumours that the British forces planned to take it over for accommodation. The damaged portion of the house was rebuilt without the pitched roof and with the addition of a porch. Subsequently, the house continued to operate as a hotel.

In 1965, Courtmacsherry Hotel was sold, and in 1973, the Adams family bought the hotel from Vincent and Mona Gaio. The Adamses remain the custodians of this once magnificent summer house of the Boyle dynasty.

Kincraigie House

Now descending into complete ruin as it disappears into the surrounding woodland, Kincraigie House is a large Victorian mansion built on elevated ground overlooking Courtmacsherry village.

Kincraigie House, Courtmacsherry, Co. Cork.
One of the few photos of Kincraigie House, Courtmacsherry, as it looked in its original form (photo courtesy of James Barrett, nephew of William Wagner Barrett, who lived there from 1924–60).

Its nearby gate lodge is now the only indicator to a passer-by of this once-fine house.

Gate lodge at Kincraigie House, Courtmacsherry, Co. Cork.
Gate lodge at Kincraigie House, Courtmacsherry (oil painting by author © Margaret O’Dwyer).

The contrasting fates of Courtmacsherry House and Kincraigie House perhaps indicate the fragile nature of family fortunes. The architecture, the occupants and the stories behind Kincraigie House give us an interesting window into the social and political history of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The name of the house comes from Kincraigie in Scotland via Donegal and the Leslie family. Rev. John Leslie – son of George Leslie, 9th Laird of Kincraigie (in Scotland) – moved to Donegal and called his new home there Kincraigie. His grandson, Charles Leslie MD, came to practice medicine in Cork and had a residence in Courtmacsherry. The doctor had two sons, Charles Henry Leslie and John Leslie, who became bankers and owned Leslie’s Bank in Cork. The bank’s collapse led to serious economic disruption in Munster in 1826.

The second wife of banker John Leslie was Catherine Hyde, a sister of the previously mentioned Sarah Hyde, wife of Henry Boyle, 3rd Earl of Shannon. Furthermore, John Leslie was the earl’s land agent. This is just one example of the many interactions between the inhabitants of the principal houses in Barryroe parish.

John Leslie and Catherine Hyde’s son, William Burton Leslie, was responsible for building Kincraigie House in Courtmacsherry soon after his marriage to the widow Jane Florence MacCartie Townsend in c.1845. Her first husband was Rev. Horatio Townsend, the son of the aforementioned author of the same name, who lived for a time in Courtmacsherry, and in 1810, published an important treatise on farm improvements in the county: A General and Statistical Survey of the County of Cork.

The Leslies were industrious. For example, Charles Henry Leslie teamed up with John Moore Travers from Ballinamona House near Courtmacsherry to establish Ballincollig Gunpowder Mills. They also founded a porter brewery, which Beamish and Crawford later bought.

William Burton Leslie and his wife Jane were residing in Kincraigie House in 1892 when it was almost destroyed by fire. Fortunately, it was insured and was subsequently restored. Three years after the fire, Jane died, aged 81 and her husband died in 1900. Jane’s son by her first marriage, Captain Horace Townsend, lived at Kincraigie until he died in 1904. The next resident was Colonel Henry Fane Travers – the Travers shared close familial and business links with the Leslies.

In 1924, connections between Kincraigie House, Scotland and Donegal were resumed. The last occupant of Kincraigie House was William “Bill” Wagner Barrett from Bogstown House in Howe’s Strand, Kilbrittain. He was married to Christine Caldwell Dagg, who was born in Scotland and moved to Co. Donegal before relocating to West Cork, where she was employed as a teacher in Bandon Grammar School.

A lieutenant of the 12th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment, William Wagner Barrett was awarded a military cross and bar during World War 1. He was the last full-time resident of Kincraigie House and remained there until he died in 1960.

Mystery and speculation prevails after the property was acquired by a Dutchman, followed by a German. And so Kincraigie began its journey back to nature and descent into ruins. The entrance avenue approaches the front of the house, where the former detail of the front door and bay windows are still evident.

Remains of Kincraigie House in West Cork.
Remains of a double-door entrance, portico and bay windows at Kincraigie House, Courtmacsherry (pic: author © Margaret O’Dwyer).

Pick up your copy

The Principal Houses in the Parish of Barryroe 18th-20th Century brims with colourful images, paintings (including some of my own), beautifully drafted maps and photos of past events. It is available to buy in local bookshops in West Cork, including:

  • Bandon Books, Riverview Shopping Centre, Bandon;
  • Courtmacsherry Community Shop;
  • Kerr’s Bookshop, Ashe Street, Clonakilty.

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For further information, you can also contact me directly here: magodwyer@gmail.com.

The Principal Houses in the Parish of Barryroe 18th–20th Century by Margaret O’Dwyer.
“The Principal Houses in the Parish of Barryroe 18th–20th Century” by Margaret O’Dwyer is for sale in West Cork bookshops.

Margaret O’Dwyer is an artist who lives at Broadstrand, Courtmacsherry, in the parish of Barryroe. A graduate of University College Cork, Margaret has an honours degree in art history and archaeology and a master’s degree in local history. Teaching and painting in outdoor locations in the parish of Barryroe encouraged her interest in the history of the big houses locally and inspired her to document their stories.

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