The enthralling and engaging memoir of Bettina Grattan-Bellew on Mount Loftus, located half way between Goresbridge and Graignamanagh and immediately recognisable because of its wonderful entrance gates designed by the man who gave us St Stephens Green, is the Irish equivalent to Margaret Mitchell’s masterpiece Gone With The Wind.
It might do little to change our stereotypical view of the landed gentry, who received huge tracts of land in Ireland and enjoyed lives of pure indulgence. But it is also a story of integration and how the local people around Powerstown, Skeoughvosteen and communities in the vicinity of Mount Loftus came to respect the family as their links with the area, deepened after so many “natural” children were conceived with local women. The testostrone filled men of mount Loftus looked after their off-spring and loyalty towards the Loftus clan remained strong. Was their way of life a more natural existence than the downtrodden Catholic way of doing things at that time. Don’t know.
By far the most colourful, randy, unashamedly amoral and drink loving gambling reprobates was Sir Nicholas Loftus. He must have been a fantastic character and people still talk about him. We will dwell on him later.T
Thankfully, today, Mount Loftus is an absolutely glorious place to visit thanks to owners Pat and Bridget Byrne who have done so much to enhance Mount Loftus. The house is wonderful and so tastefully in keeping with the original that to the untrained eye it looks 300 years old. And as aside, the front pillars of the house are from the original.
However, it;s their integrity to the original way Mount Loftus looked which is most impressive. And as Bridget Byrne said: “If you can;’t fund peace at Mount Loftus, you won’t be able to fund it anywhere.” The love of horses has also continued and Pat has enjoyed great success with them, especially Quyinze which waon a glawy Hurlsde in 1999 when trained by lvoal man, pat Hughes. He won a totla of 16 races and was placed a furher nine times.
Tragedy has been part and parcel of Mount Loftus too. During the 1798 rising, a daughter of Sir Edward Loftus, who was the king’s representative in Kilkenny (High Sheriff) saw her life shattered in an instant. She never recovered from the events of that time. Her father was tipped off in advance of the rising that; “the climat of Mount Loftus might not suit him.”
He had Elizabeth and her mother brought to Wexford and and as their carriage was going into Wexford town, Elizabeth saw her lover’s head stuck on a pike on the bridge going into the town. He was a United Irishman, Bagenal Hervey while her family took the side of the crown.
And while the United Irishmen, drank out the cellar when they entered Mount Loftus they did not burn it to the ground or ransack like other places and the reason might be that the High Sheriff had a great regard for the Napper Tandy and this was something that was communicated to the United Irishmen. So was Sir Edward hedging his bets in case the struggle for Irish freedom was successful. It would seem so from letters in possession of the Loftus family.
Elizabeth Loftus never married after that event in Wexford and spent the rest of her life with her two brothers at the estate, that one time covered over 4,000 acres and in the 1800s was around 2,000 acres.
Of course Mount Loftus and the entire estate was won by the Loftus family in card game at the original Loftus residence in Ireland the haunted Loftus Hall near Hook Head, Co Wexford.
The games of cards was in 1752 and the owner, John Eaton, of Comwellian settler extraction, refused to quit the property. Reason is that he kept two prize fighters at Mount Loftus, one armed with a pike and the other with a blunderbuss, who never left his side so that he could not be served with the legal writ. The law has long been changed and gambling debts are unenforceable in law. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
In her article contained in the Old Kilkenny Review. Bettina speaks with grat warmth about Sir Nicholas and she says: Here is one of his love stories. One day he was walking in the Barracks in Kilkenny when he saw one of his sergeants beating and abusing his wife. the wife was an extremely good looking woman but her husband did not seem to appreciate her properly. Sir Nicholas was touched. He had an eye for beauty and being a gallant, still more for beauty in istress. He bought the woman from her husband there and then and took her to Mount loftus, where he installed her in a houce called Whalebone Hall near the present walled garden and he was wont to say he was never so happy as when he was in the arms of his mistresswith his favourite racer neighing in his box below.”
The most famous Sir Nick story is this one. He was going back to Mount Loftus one day when he met a hawker selling whip handles made from holly. Sir Nicholas spotted a young horse behind the hawker’s cart and he bought him for £5. The horse turned out to be the finerst race horse of hs day and was called Hollyhock (whip handle) He won 15 king’s plates. He was unbeatable in england and Ireland and is buried at Mount Loftus.
We move ot 1864 when Mary Murphy inherted the palce. Mary was a catholic and was deemed illegitimate by some. Her father was Edward Loftus, who was a tyoung British amry officer and kiledo urt foreoughn while her mother was a Mary Carooll, the daughter of alocal Cathlic farmer tenant. And it was elizabeth who lived with Sir Nicholas that reared her and when elizabeth dies she left the palce to Mary. The local protestant clergyman and his wife, distant relations of the loftus can tooka legal actin sating that Mary Murphy was illegitate and couldn’t suceed to the porerty according to the penal laws.. They lost tehr cawee ansd accoring to Bettina, Mary Mutht was swamped by wellswishers whe the terain carring her stpped at Goresbridge staion. Tat night bonfires blazedand the reaso nseems to be because of her and her family’s generosity during the Famine. Peoel in goresbridge don’t forget.
Many people wondered why the old stately home at Mount Loftus was knocked at the turn of the last century. Simple - Bettina’s father, Captain John Edward Blake Loftus took over the run down house, minus the estate in 1903 after purchasing it back through the high court. He married Pauline may Lichtenstadt, only daughter of August Lichtenstadt of Seymour Street, London. She was understandably unhappy with the old house which was more or less falling down and the new one was built and completed in 1909.
All through the piece in the old Kilkenny Review, Bettina refers to illegitimate children as natural children which is lovely and there is a kindness to her writing trying to make the Loftus family real and to make you, the reader, more sympathetic to their plight,. it works. She died in 1995 and it as then the house was sold because her two children lived abroad. She inhetited Mount loftus after her brother died at 22 years of age. Her husband was Thomas Henry (Hal) Grattan-Bellew, a great great grandson of Henry Grtaan, the great irish patriot who spenthis life fighting for Cathloci Emancipaltion. And that explains why two banners calling for free trade and legislaive rights for the Irish Parliamant from grattan’s Parliamant ended uyp at Mount Loftus and were sold by the doyens of Great House sales. The Mealy’s of Castlecomer in 1995 when Mount Loftus was sold.
Dromroe Castle, meaning russet or yelloe ridge or hill still remains ot this day and it seems that in the 19th century was used as a dovecote for pigeons, ferrying messages between the grwta houses of the region. In 1525, hen Charles Kavanagh, son of Maurice the Younger his mother ans nine others were burned to death. The castle it is said was doomed from the start because it was erected on a Rath.
The present Mount Loftus is the third on that spot and we hope that the Byrnes with ytheir wamr hospitality and love of the place long continue for many years to come. they have done an incalubale service to the countyin retaining the essence of Mount Loftus - Benevolence.