Abandoned ireland


Ballycanvan House,

County Waterford

Documenting our Heritage

Research and write up by Mark Thomas:

I am very indebted to Julian C. Walton's work on the Bolton family of co. Waterford for this account. I would also like to acknowledge the help of Jean Ellis and Sandra Xing who have delved into the history of their ancestors the Kent family of Ballycanvan and sent me some great information.

    The earliest part of this house is a late medieval tower which was built by the Power family. Their most important stronghold in co. Waterford was Curraghmore Castle near Portlaw. Ballycanvan (on a 369 acre townland bearing that name) seems to have been one of their subsidiary castles. The Power family (le Poer, Poer, de la Poer, de Poer, Poher and Puher are other variants of their name) originated in Pembrokeshire in Wales, according to the leading historian of medieval Ireland Professor Kenneth Nichols. They became firmly established in Southern Ireland when King John granted Henry fitz Philip le Poer* the whole of the east of co. Waterford around Tramore and the Barony of Dunhill. Though Henry's descendants only continued in a direct line until c. 1360 the Power name multiplied in numbers and influence.

     The Powers were at first ostensibly servants of the English Crown, but they increasingly became 'hibernicised' and 'more Irish than the Irish'. By the late 15th century they had become almost as much of a clan as Irish gaelic families like the MacCarthys and O'Sullivans. This was despite being Sheriffs of co. Waterford and receiving the title of Baron of le Poer and Curraghmore in 1535 by the English Crown. The Power family had their own 'country' and enfored their own levies on people there. The widow of Sir Richard Power, Lady Katherine Butler even appointed her own judge who judged cases according to Brehon Law. She and her family also regarded the people of Waterford city and foreigners passing through the surrounding country as sources of revenue.

     "A presentment of the city of Waterford before the King's Commissioners" dated October 29th 1537 lists a series of crimes by members of the Power family. Amongst them is one Thomas Power of Ballycanvan who 'commits many extortions' including the capture and ransoming of Edward Beck merchant of Chester. He has also stolen the Dean of Ferns' horse. He is described as taking 'coyne and livery' ** and acting as 'tanyst' (leader) and 'second capitaigne of his nacyon'. Thomas was the eldest son of Edmund Power who was a natural son of the 1st Lord Power. Thomas' son, another Edmund Power is described as staying in the Mayor's Gaol in Waterford. He is accused of highway robbery and of burning a house full of corn belonging to Patrick Comford, merchant of Waterford. Other family members listed in the presentment are Lady Katherine Power, Nic. Power of Kylvydan, old Nich. Power of Carroduf, Walter Power and Davy Power.

     Despite the anger of Waterford city's rulers , the Power family retained its status. They also continued to use Ballycanvan as a residence. In 1598 a stone chimneypiece was built into its tower. On it were carved the names of Richard, 4th Baron le Poer and Curraghmore (d. 1607) and his wife Katherine Barry. + Katherine was the daughter of John fitzJohn Barry, 3rd Viscount Barry. Richard had succeeded to his title in 1592 aged about 39 but had been seriously wounded fighting against the Desmond rebels in the 1580s. In 1588 he was given a grant of lands worth £50 a year by Queen Elizabeth I. His marriage with Katherine produced four sons and three daughters.

     In the 17th century the fortunes of the Power family oscillated between plenty and near-ruin. In 1654 they were granted 20 shillings a week grant to live on by the Cromwellian authorities after suffering because of their Catholic faith and Royalist sympathies. They were not transplanted to Connaught like other Catholic landowning families. However with the Restoration of Charles II good times returned and in 1673 Richard, 6th Baron le Poer and Curraghmore was made Earl of Tyrone and Viscount Decies. Richard's fortunes took a turn for the worse when he fought as an infantry colonel for James II in the Williamite Wars and was eventually captured. He died in the Tower of London in 1690. In 1717 the Power heiress of Curraghmore married a Beresford and the estate passed to that family.

     In the aftermath of the Williamite Wars, Ballycanvan was leased to Captain William Harrison in 1697. He was still living there in 1703. It is thought that he may have built the area of the house at the tower's rear. On his death his son John Harrison moved in. After John's death his widow Harriot leased the Castle and land around it to Reverend Hugh Bolton, Dean of Waterford (c. 1683-1758). Eccentric and somewhat quarrelsome he came from a family which had been prominent in Waterford city politics since the Restoration of Charles II. The Boltons' story in co. Waterford had begun in 1650 when the brothers Francis, William and Thomas Bolton had arrived there as Cromwellian officers. Their and their descendants' lives are described in Julian C. Walton's learned and systematic account "The Boltons of County Waterford". ++

     The Boltons who lived at and owned Ballycanvan were the Faithlegg branch of the family who descended from William Bolton (d. by 1709). Even by the standards of the 17th century he had a brutal and turbulent career. He arrived on 10th August 1650 in Waterford city on its surrender. He was then in charge of a troop of horse in Colonel Prittie's Regiment. In 1651 he was responsible for the killing of two hundred and fifty Catholic women and children in the baronies of Skarawalsh, Ballaghkene, Bantry and Gillmalere in co. Wexford. By 1659 he was living at Faithlegg, having been given its lands and Castle as a 'land debenture' in lieu of his soldiers pay. His estate consisted of the townlands of Killure, Faithlegg, Kilmacomb, Ballynamoyntragh, Ballyvelly and Carrowgariff. These lands were all in the Barony of Gaultier and amounted to 2334 statute acres. After the Restoration of Charles II he was pardoned. He served as Sheriff of co. Waterford and once as Mayor of Waterford city. Here both his past as a soldier and his obvious distaste for both Roman Catholics and non-conformist Protestants made for discord. It was appropriate that after being elected for a second time as Mayor for 1669-70 that he refused to serve. As a result he was stripped of his positions as Alderman and Freeman of the city and retired to his Faithlegg estate.

     In c. 1735 a new owner of the Faithlegg estate came of age. He was Cornelius Bolton the Elder (c. 1714-1774). In the years 1758 and 1765 he enlarged his estate by renting two parts of Ballycanvan. In the first lease of 1758 he became occupier of Rev. Hugh Bolton's share of Ballycanvan along with the "castle, outhouses, orchards, buildings & improvements thereon". In 1765 he obtained a lease of the mill farm at Ballycanvan. He also built a Georgian house onto the existing medieval tower. The house was of six bays and two storeys with a broken pediment over the front door.+++ 

     Cornelius Bolton the Elder was clearly a considerable businessman. He bristled with ideas for creating employment and making money. Part of the Faithlegg estate were leased to Protestants to build houses on and use. In 1767 he developed the Ballycanvan estate. In October 1776 the new house at Ballycanvan saw a visit from Arthur Young the English writer on agriculture, social statistics and economics. He stayed one night at Ballycanvan. Young seems to have been very impressed with both Cornelius and the activity on his estates because he returned for another stay of 24 days in 1778. During this time he met Cornelius Bolton's son Cornelius Bolton, MP and studied the Faithlegg estate's farming methods. The estate was, he noted being imaginatively and attractively developed. Cornelius senior had limekilns at Ballycanvan, Faithlegg pills and Cheekpoint. In six years he had built forty new houses on his land. He had given leases of 21 and sometimes 31 years to tenants to ensure stable tenure. More than 300 acres of his land had been planted with trees.

     It seems one of the reasons Cornelius Bolton the Elder had built his new house at Ballycanvan was as a statement of intent and a means of promoting the enterprises on the Faithlegg estate. These included textiles and a cobalt mine. It must also have been useful for entertaining guests and the 'networking' he excelled at. Made Mayor of Waterford in 1743, he was High Sheriff of Waterford that year and for a second time in 1778. He also had children with his wife Elizabeth Barker (from another wealthy Waterford city family). They had married in 1738. In September 1779 Cornelius senior died and on 30th October his will was proved. It left Ballycanvan to his elder son Cornelius.

     The new owner of Ballycanvan, Cornelius Bolton the Younger (1751-1829) seems to have had less affection for Ballycanvan than his father. He built a new house at Faithlegg (still standing and now used as a hotel) and in 1792 sold Ballycanvan to his younger brother Henry Bolton. Henry seems to have set about making his holdings at Ballycanvan a more coherent unit. He received a £200 annuity from owning the quarters of Ballycanvan House and Ballycanvan mill. He had also inherited rights to the rest of Ballycanvan and Ballinaboola townlands. He paid more than £500 to buy these areas. In 1792 Henry exchanged the £200 annuity for his brother Cornelius jr.'s part of Ballycanvan townland plus the mansion, out-offices, gardens, stables, coach-houses, barns and other improvements.

     Henry Bolton was seemingly a prosperous man. In April 1779 he had married his first cousin Elizabeth Barker and through her acquired the townlands of Ballyclohy (in Upperthird), Garrancrobally (near Tramore), Cross and Grantstown. From the Mayor and Corporation of Waterford he held a third of Kilculliheen and a lot of property in Waterford city. He had served as High Sheriff of co. Waterford in 1790. In reality financial clouds were starting to gather. In 1786 on the death of Anne Fortin of Waterford her executors obtained a court judgement against him for £1200. In 1792-3 he had to mortgage all the Waterford city premises he owned for £2,400. It must have been rather distressing for him to have to lease Ballycanvan House to Samuel Roberts of Blenheim in May 1805. On 5th October 1805 Henry Bolton died just short of 48 years old.

     Samuel Roberts (c.1758-1834), the new occupant of Ballycanvan was an ambitious attorney and banker. He dabbled in architecture. This was fitting in a son of the great architect John Roberts of Waterford.  Samuel leased Ballycanvan for £183 per annum and a lease fine of £1,600. He now set to work. According to Julian Walton he had the plasterwork in Ballycanvan's drawing room created. He may also have replaced an entrance to a tower stairway with a strongroom. During this work the 1598 Power chimneypiece was discovered. Eventually Samuel spent almost £5000 on changes to Ballycanvan's buildings, plantations and other improvements.  By 1811 however he had lost a substantial £22,000 through failed investments. In 1818 he went bankrupt and his lease for Ballycanvan was put on sale.

     The new lease-holder was Thomas Meagher (1764-1837). He was a highly successful Catholic merchant who had made a fortune in the Newfoundland trade. Born in co. Tipperary he had emigrated to St. John's Newfoundland, and then returned to Ireland. His career had been first as a farmer, then as a trader, merchant and shipowner. In St. John's Newfoundland he had imported woolen goods, glass, sugar and meat from Waterford and sent back to it animal skins, oil and fish. He moved into the house with his wife Mary Crotty and their two sons, Thomas and Henry. The Meagher family stayed until 1829 when they moved to The Quay in Waterford. In 1843 Thomas Meagher junior became the first Catholic Mayor of Waterford since James II's reign. His son was Thomas Francis Meagher ("Meagher of the Sword") the famous Irish nationalist leader who became a distinguished soldier and later Territorial Governor of Montana.

    With the departure of the Meagher family the lease to Ballycanvan was put up for sale. The buyer was Captain Richard Morris. He now bought the Meagher family interest in Ballycanvan for £1,400. He married Elizabeth daughter of Ussher Lee, Dean of Waterford and they came to live at Ballycanvan. A son, William was born in the house in August 1829. On Captain Morris' death in 1836, his family moved out.

    In 1829, the tenants on the Faithlegg estate refused to pay their rents. This put Edward Roberts (son of Samuel) the agent of the estate in a tough position. Behind the tenants' display of defiance was probably considerable anxiety about the estate's future. This was because the inheritor of the estate on Henry Bolton's death in 1804 had been his daughter and only child, Elizabeth Francis Bolton (b. 1784). Tragically she had suffered a mental breakdown in 1807. She then left for England with her mother and never recovered. In 1830 the Irish Court of Chancery had decided that Elizabeth had been incapable of recovering and of running her own affairs since 1821. They tried to get the estate's finances sorted out and made her cousin Cornelius Henry Bolton "committee of her estate".

   Cornelius Henry Bolton (b. 1791) now had the difficult task of dealing with an accumulation of misfortune and debt. Much of this was inherited from his father, Cornelius Bolton of Faithlegg (1751 -1829) who had been both unlucky and extravagant. A major factor in these events was the failure of an expensive scheme to develop part of the Faithlegg estate at Cheekpoint. Called 'Bolton' this was intended as a village, industrial centre and ferry port for sea travel to Milford Haven. The personal debt Cornelius Bolton took on mounted steadily. On his marriage to Elizabeth McDonell in May 1789 he owed £22,176 13s. 4d.. By 1800 he had added another £12,560 to these debts. In 1800 Cornelius senior's estate had to be vested by a private Act of the Irish Parliament in the trustees Edward Lee and Charles Osborne. In April 1818 the "house and demesne lands" of Faithlegg were sold to Nicholas Mahon Power of Ballinakill.

    Up to 1829 Cornelius Henry had had a pretty conventional career. He had become a Captain in the Waterford Militia in 1814 and Sheriff of co. Waterford two years later. He had eloped with and married Alicia Sutton of Longraigue in co. Wexford in March 1816. This seems to have been one of the few times he seized the initiative. He seems to have been reactive and unable to reverse the tide of events. In 1839 he was sued for debt by the attorney Michael Dobbyn of Waterford husband of his wife's first cousin Anne Cooke. He then had to sell lands he owned at Fisherstown and Priest Haggard in co. Wexford and properties in Waterford city to pay Dobbyn. Eventually his finances deteriorated further and he had to go and live with his eldest daughter Mrs. Annette Welman at Norton Manor, Norton Fitwarren in Somerset. In 1852 he had another cruel stroke of fortune. On 11th December that year the invalid Elizabeth Frances Bolton died in Devon. He now inherited her property - Ballycanvan and Ballinaboola. In February 1857 he placed these properties in the Encumbered Estates Court. The solicitors handling the sale were Newman & Tandy of 21 Summer Hill, Dublin. In June that year they were sold.

    At Ballycanvan House the lease-holder for the previous few years had been businessman George Kent (b.c. 1786). He had come to live there with his wife Phoebe in 1848. He must have known the Waterford area well since he had had interests in the city since 1824 when Waterford Corporation leased him lands at Ballinamona. He was a farmer and bacon-producer. He had first been in partnership with John Harris then in business on his own at Summerland. He found supplying the British Army in the Waterford area lucrative. Kent was still living at Ballycanvan in January 1866 when he died suddenly while walking in Little Georges Street, Waterford. After this his family decided they no longer could afford living in Ballycanvan House. Three of George's children, his two sons Kingdon and Wilson and his daughter Emma emigrated to Australia.^

     In 1857 the Ballycanvan estate appears to have been bought by Patrick Joseph Power of Faithlegg House (d. 1913) son of Nicholas Mahon Power. He married Lady Olivia Nugent, a daughter of Anthony, 9th Earl of Westmeath. Their only son Hubert Power (d. 1921) left a daughter Eily Power (c. 1891-1953) who inherited both properties. She married Henry William Dayrell Gallwey in 1914 and they had three children. However, in 1935 they sold Faithlegg House to the De la Salle Order and moved to Woodlands a lesser Power family property nearby.

   For Ballycanvan House this last change of ownership may have been fatal. It had already developed structural problems and now its roof was removed. The broken pediment over the front door seems to have been acquired by Lord William Beresford and given to his sister Lady Patricia Miller. It was re-erected at her home a nearby classical mansion - Georgestown House at Kill co. Waterford. Ballycanvan House now remains a rather desolate shell.                   

Many thanks to Mark Thomas for his excellent research and write-up of Ballycanvan House.

* son of Philip le Poer of St. Lawrence, Pembrokeshire.

** 'coyne' meant free compulsory hospitality and 'livery' free food and bedding for a lord's horsemen and stabling and fodder for his horses and grooms.   

+ this chimneypiece was removed in 1805 and put in the Shell House at Curraghmore House.

++ in 'The Irish Genealogist' vol. 7 no.2 pp.186-200, vol 7 no. 3 pp. 405-420 and vol.7, no. 4 pp.615-641.

+++ later removed by Lord William Beresford and built onto Georgestown House co. Waterford.

^  More details of this are on the Hollins and Kent family history site "Hollins and Kent Families"

Co. Waterford