IT is intriguing that one of Ireland’s leading song writers now lives in the place where one of our greatest ever musical ambassadors wrote his most famous ballad. Jenkinstown Castle is long gone but it played huge role in the life of the city and county with the most powerful, infuential people living there.
As well as Spanish heireeses, an owner whose first fiancee was beheaed with Marie Antoinettewe and an acentric Bryan who preferred the company of naimals ot humans and tales of ghosts and tragedies and the visit of the Elvisd Prelsey of hisd time, Jrnkinstoen Castle had it all but little or nothing is left now save for the front entrace ot St Kieran’s Collefge.
There is something in the air at Jenkinstown, you can feel it as you drive by the immaculately maintained Conahy GAA club pavilion and pitches, the well kept farms on either side, the great land and as you turn right handed up the lane to where Jenkinstown Castle once stood and where the parish church opened in the mid 1980s is set , there are all sorts of peculiar and lovely pieces of memorabilia perched along the gateway and border of the farm house closest to Jenkinstown House and what was Jenkinstown Castle.
The Macroom born, Jimmy McCarthy has brought some of the splendour back to the house since he purchased it six or seven years ago. We should be on our bended knees to the Cork born musical genius for taking on the restoration of Jenkinstown House. The man who gave us songs like Ride On, No Frontiers and Come Running Home Again Katie has made his home here and as day breaks at around 4.50am and the sun rises on the slightly gothic building, you can see why he has chosen to live here with a glorious view of Kilkenny in front of him and the fabulous, fabled woods behind where we are told ghosts roam, especially the Green Lady who has been seen by several people and recounted in Erin’s Own by a now deceased soldier stationed there during the Emergency (1939-45).
And Jimmy has gone a step further; he has created, from the old church used by Catholics then protestants and then Catholics again, a wonderful sound proofed 106 seat theatre and recording studio. And it is called, appropriately enough, the Thomas Moore Theatre. Moore wrote The Last Rose Of Summer” while staying at Jenkinstown
It is striking that in the early 1800s, many famous thespians and artistes including Moore went on stage at the castle and this is well documented in the Kilkenny Private Theatre Company records and it is where Brinsley Sheridan, the playwright of that time performed his comedy, The rivals” in 1801. The play was George Washington’s favourits and is credited with popularising the term malapropism.
The significance of Jimmy McCarthy’s intervention is that he has married the old with the new in a seamless way that has left us with the history of the place intact and provided us with a future - a theatre and a recording studio.
It is important to differentiate between the house and the castle. The house where Mr McCarthy now lives was built for Sir Patrick Bellew (1798-1866) while the main illustration here provides us with what the castle looked like in its heyday. And today we can get a sense of its size by looking at the entrance to St Kieran’s College. This was one of the three original entrances to Jenkinstown Castle which was taken down, stone by stone and placed at the front of St Kieran’s in the city in the 1940s. Even though most of the castle is now gone we still have this important piece of it.
The castle stood from the 1600s and its size and status went up and down with the fortunes of those who owned it. And there is always one who stands out. They still talk about the eccentric James Bryan who went by his Irish name, Seamus O’Brian. He was a recluse and famously put up a reward of 50 guineas for any information leading to the discovery of oak and ash and elm trees cut down at Jenkinstown or nearly Gragara. He took out an advert in Finn’s Leinster journal of April 1801 for that purpose. He liked to camp outside and was a great man for ghost stories and piseogs.
He never married (lived to be 88) and would pay local people if they gave him good information on deer, and other wild annals which he sought,. To this day, the grounds of the Jenkinstown Park are home to small herd of deer kept with the walled paddock by the woods. It is said that James Bryan was mad but he still managed to increase the lands at Jenkinstown and he left a good estate for his nephew and the man who made, peraps, the greatest impression at Jenkinstown, George Bryan whose first fiancée was beheaded along with Marie Antoinette . He later married her sister, Countess Maria Louise Augustine of Nancy, France. He witnessed the massacre at Tuileres during the French Revolution. His wife we are told: “Had a kindness of heart that defussed happiness not only through out her own immediate family but that respectable circle in which she moved. “ It helped she had a fortune and George also had a fortune because his mother from Oporto in Spain was the only daughter of vastly wealthy merchant there.
It was estimated that he was the wealthiest commoner in Ireland and added 169 acres of land at nearby Ballyrafton for £3.042 pounds. The property eventually passed to the Bellew family of Barmeath Castle Louth and to the second Baron Bellew of Barmeath. They moved to Jenkinstown Castle in 1847 and super imposed heavy battlements of cut stone which later collapsed and killed several workmen.
The last titled person to live there was Lady Bellew who moved out in 1935, first to Kilcreene and then to Butler House on Patrick Street, Kilkenny on an annuity of £500 a year. She died in March 1973 aged 88 years and is buried in St Kieran’s cemetery.
In his excellent article in the old Kilkenny Review, J Brennan commented that the Bryans who lived at Jenkinstown from 1640 to 1880 are completely forgotten and that Bellews who lived there from 1880 to 1935 are remembered by a small few. After World War II, the house was demolished and the land was divided up by the Land Commission.
And if you thought family inheritance was difficult now just look at the will of John Bryan (dated 1 December 1673). Bryan had six children by his first wife Jane Loftus, and five by his second wife (who survived her husband), Ursula Walsh. the will is a deathbed plea to his eldest son to provide for his step-mother, brothers and sister, and step-brothers and step-sisters. James is requested to honour an earlier promise that he would make certain monetary bequests to his siblings, and allow his step-mother to enjoy those lands that were held by the father and upon the same terms. The will also reveals both John’s resentment of his current landless status, and some fear that his wishes may not be honoured: ‘I charge and require that my said son James Bryan not to molest or hinder her (Ursula Bryan) in the enjoyment thereof during her life, nor trouble or prejudice her or her children in anything, having given him an estate and having released unto him the great powers I had to charge him, though I received nothing of his portion, and having given unto him and paid for him and in the worst of times spent in providing and recovering the estate far more than the value thereof, and he performing my will therein I forgive him of all things wherein he offended me and I pray God to bless him and all my children’
We know from Mr J Brennan that the Bryans came to Jenkinstown, formerly known as Corclach (stumps of trees in English) around 1640 when John Bryan (John of Kilkenny), married an heiress, Ann Stanes and the family stayed there for 240 years
There was great pomp associated with Jenkinstown Castle and this is documented from an 1803 visit there where the writer said of the owner, Major George Bryan : “The demesne which is richly wooded is proportionate to the posessions of the hospitable proprietor who is a constant resident upon the noble estate./ It gets worse: The castle’s internal arangements are remarkably elegant and sumptuous. the entrance hall is a noble appointment, the great saloons and and libraries are chaste designs and cleverly executes.”
How things change