WARNING These connections are very tenuous but I found them interesting and hope you do too!
The Parnell Monument in O’Connell Street, Dublin
Charles Stewart Parnell was dubbed “The Uncrowned King of Ireland” despite being a Protestant landowner in Ireland. He was also famous for his ‘scandalous’ affair with the married Kitty O’Shea. Read a resumé of his life and influence in Victorian Ireland here.
My maiden name was Parnell and when my sister-in-law and husband suggested a visit to Avondale House in Co. Wicklow, Parnell’s former home, I was delighted. As far as I am aware there is no family connection.
Surprisingly, Avondale House was open on weekdays in May. I’ve just looked at the website and see that it is now closed until further notice due to work being carried out.
“Avondale House, the birthplace and home of Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891) one of the greatest political leaders of Irish history. Set in a magnificent forest park of over 500 acres with tree trails and walks ranging in duration from one to five hours. This beautiful Georgian House designed by James Wyatt and built in 1777 contains fine plasterwork and many original pieces of furniture. The American Room is dedicated to Admiral Charles Stewart – Parnell’s American grandfather who manned the USS Constitution during the 1812 war. Visitors are introduced to this wonderful historical house by a specially commissioned audio visual presentation.”
There were no other visitors but I was able to tour the house, buy postcards and we enjoyed tea and cake outside at the picnic tables. The house and grounds are now owned and managed by Coilte Outdoors (Irish Forestry). We did come across a group of walkers who were enjoying the extensive estate and woodland/forest paths. If ever I’m lucky enough to return to Avondale I’d love to take a hike there.
Ground Floor Appartments
The house tour begins with a specially commissioned audio visual presentation. Most of the main rooms of the house can be visited and photography is allowed.
After visiting the ground floor apartments, which are suitably decorated and furnished for the period, the tour continues upstairs where there is some exhibition space and artefacts formerly belonging to Parnell and family.
The American Room was the bedroom in later life of Parnell’s American mother, Delia Tudor Stewart the daughter of Admiral Charles Stewart who manned the USS Constitution during the 1812 War. Both he and his ship gained the nickname “Old Ironsides”. Delia died as a result of burns which she received after a fire in this room. The Wooton Desk was originally the property of her father.
The Wooton Desk
Wooton Desk Files
There is a well-known (in Ireland, anyway) song about Parnell – The Blackbird of Sweet Avondale.
“The Blackbird of Sweet Avondale Charles Stewart Parnell was imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail in Dublin in 1881 for the leading part he played in the Irish Land League. In songs of rebellion or songs that the government might consider seditions, it was common to use a synonym instead of a person’s real name. In this case, Parnell is “The Blackbird of Sweet Avondale“. [source]
It’s nice to think of this connection with Ireland
My other family connection is more real but it has been hard to find much concrete evidence.
During the War my Dad served in the RAF and for a while, early on in his career, for he spent most of the War in India, was stationed (presumably for training) in Northern Ireland. One of the places he used to talk about was Newtownbutler. Before I went to Ireland and whilst I was staying at the Crom Estate in Co. Fermanagh I tried to find out more about radar stations in the area but with no luck at all. I spoke with two chaps who were interested in finding out about what went on in the area but we were none of us able to shed any light on the situation. This was all we could find (and the date is too late for Dad as he was already on his way to India). Scroll down to two photos labelled Newtownbutler.
I’ll just to divert for a moment here to mention that The Crom Estate played an important role during the Second World War and there was a good exhibition in the National Trust Visitor Centre on the site.
In the autumn of 1942 American soldiers arrived and used the estate to prepare for D-Day. The officers lived in the Castle and the men in Nissen huts scattered throughout the site. They practised building bayley bridges, marching and manoeuvres.
I visited Newtownbutler itself, tried to find the site of the former radar station which is now private land and not easily accessible and enquired at the Co. Fermanagh Information Bureau in nearby Lisnaskea but all to no avail. The village was really just a couple of streets leading to a crossroads.
At the Crossroads in Newtownbutler
Still, I’m happy to have visited somewhere that Dad spent time and he talked about Northern Ireland with great affection. British forces, of course, were not allowed to cross the border into southern Ireland as it was a neutral country at the time.