Abandoned ireland


Cherry Garden,

County Offaly

Research and write up by Mark Thomas:

    The gentry of 18th century Ireland often had large numbers of children who wished to emulate their parents' lifestyle and aspirations.  This was just one factor which led to the splitting of estates, the building of new seats and a proliferation of smaller gentry.  Sometimes parts of estates were leased or rented to others outside a family grouping.  The Briscoe family of Cherry Garden and Mount Briscoe are an example of these trends.

    The first of the family to settle in Ireland was John Briscoe (originally from Crofton Hall in Cumberland) who built Scragh (or Srah) Castle near Gleashill in 1588 and fought for Elizabeth I's army in O'Neill's Rebellion of 1594-1603.  He also married Eleanor Kearney of Scragh.  One of his descendants, William Briscoe (d.c. 1775) had by his second wife, Ismena Nugent of Clonlost *co. Westmeath two sons, Edward John (1770-1815) and William Nugent.  While Edward John eventually inherited Riverdale in co. Westmeath and Screggan in co. Offaly, William Nugent Briscoe received two properties near Daingean:  Mount Briscoe and Cherry Garden.

      Cherry Garden was one of a type of country house which became popular between the mid-18th and early 19th centuries.  An unpretentious gentleman's residence, it has five bays.  Its front door with its (now vanished) surround was reached by steps level with its basement.  Two storeys were built over the basement and the walls were of unsquared stone.  The roof would probably have been a gently sloping hipped one.  Inside, a large entrance staircase led to the first and second floors.  The house appears to have played a subsidiary role to its neighbour Mount Briscoe.  There the present Tudor Revival style house, built in the 1840s replaced an abandoned 18th century one. 

  Information about Cherry Garden's occupants is not always plentiful.  During William Nugent Briscoe's ownership it was lived in by two families.  The first was the Marlay family.  Sir Arthur Vicars' Index of Prerogative Wills of Ireland lists the will of William Marlay (or Morley) of Cherry Garden, proved in 1811.  His successor at the house seems to have been Henry Marlay.  He married Maria, daughter of Rev. James MacKay of Dublin on 14th January 1813 at St. George's Church, Dublin.  He appears to be the same man who was admitted as an undergraduate to Trinity College Dublin aged 16 on February 9th 1797.  He is listed in 'Alumni Dublinenses' as the son of Thomas Marlay, soldier.  This also lists his elder brother, Richard Marlay who was also admitted to Trinity on November 3rd 1794 aged 17.   Henry does not seem to have taken a degree at Trinity and he died in 1832.  His brother Richard, (Rector of Annaghdown in co. Galway since 1809) then proved his will.  Richard subsequently died at Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) aged 72 in June 1854.  Circumstantial evidence suggests that these Marlays were related to the Charles Brinsley Marley who inherited the grand Belvedere House in co. Westmeath from the Rochfort family in 1839.  The Rochforts were also owners of the Annaghdown estate in Co. Galway until it was sold in 1856.

     Before his death Henry Marlay had stopped living at Cherry Garden.  Instead Thomas Handy (c. 1811 -1844) was in residence by 1831.  He was from another co. Westmeath landed family - the Handys of Bracca Castle who were prominent Methodists.  One of Thomas' daughters was born in the house in 1831.  A baptism record in Tullamore for Catherine Handy, born 1st July 1831 and the child of Thomas Handy and Honora Spollen seems to confirm this story.  Thomas Handy later moved to his final residence Blundell House, Edenderry a house originally built for an agent of the Marquis of Downshire.  This is still standing and well-preserved.

    William Nugent Briscoe, who died aged 67 in  August 1836 had quite a large family and comparatively modest income.  By his first wife Anne Darcy of Corbetstown (they married in 1797) he had three sons and two daughters.  By his second wife Eleanor Shawe (they wed in 1817) he had another son, Robert and a daughter Ismena.  In July 1821 he wrote to William Gregory, Under-Secretary at Dublin Castle asking for a job as a port surveyor or land-waiter.  He referred to a friend of Gregory's Lord Castlemaine, as a referee.

    On September 3rd 1819 William had made legal provision for his wife and children.   He made an indenture between himself, Rev. Cuthbert Fetherston, William Henry Magan, Humphrey Borr and John Francis Darcy.  This charged the land and premises he owned in co. Offaly with £4000.  This sum went to these trustees and was to be used for the benefit of his children by his first wife, Anne Darcy.  These children were his eldest son Andrew, his other sons John Featherstone and Ralph and his daughters Anne and Mary.   The arrangement was to give £1,800 to Andrew, £1000 each to this two other sons and £100 each to his two daughters when they reached the age of 18 or got married.  Interest was to be earned on the money and his second wife was to get a none too ample jointure of £60 a year to live on.

    This agreement was sound in principle but was upset by events.  On 16th June 1835 Andrew Briscoe entered a deed with one George Cooke in which he assigned the latter his interest in the estates.  Cooke then decided to challenge the 1819 agreement in the Chancery Court in Dublin a few months after William Nugent Briscoe had died.  The case of Cooke v. Briscoe was heard in Dublin in January, April and May 1838.  The court decided that Robert Briscoe (son of William's second marriage) was entitled to estates worth £400 a year.  It ruled that under William's will of 30 April 1832, Robert (still a minor) was the holder of his estate for life.

   A few years afterwards came another twist of fate.  In September 1846 Robert Briscoe died at Cherry Garden, aged only 15.  This seems to have left his sister Ismena Briscoe as heiress of both Mount Briscoe and Cherry Garden.  It further improved Ismena's already comfortable circumstances.  She had married Samuel Francis Dooley on January 27th 1845 at Philipstown Church co Offaly.  He was a 25 year old solicitor then living in Queen St., Dublin and she, then living at Cherry Garden was 28.  Their deed of marriage survives.  The parties to it were Thomas Dooley solicitor of Dublin (Samuel's father), Henry Eyre Odlum of Kilinurve co. Offaly and William Harding of Queen St., Dublin.  In it Samuel agreed (with Thomas' consent) to assign the lands of Marshalrath & Knockatupper (128 acres, 0 rods and 38 perches) in the Barony of Atherdee co. Louth to Harding and Odlum "subject to the life estates of the said Thomas Dooley".**   The latter lived at Clonturk House, Drumcondra.  This unusual house and its grounds had been developed as a spa and amusement park by a Dublin dancing master called John Arthur Du Val (1773-c. 1827).  Du Val set out, apparently to exploit 'hypocondriacs and dyspeptics' visiting the city.     

      Samuel Francis Dooley, a third son had made an advantageous marriage with an heiress from an old established family.  It may have been some comfort to him to have done so in the light of his father's reputation.  For Thomas Dooley  (c.1787-1873) seems to have been an eccentric, quarrelsome man.  A solicitor and deputy tipstaff to the Court of Queen's Bench he is mentioned in the printed transcripts of a parliamentary committee sitting in May 1876.  This, examining Local Government and Taxation of Towns in Ireland was chaired by Sir Michael Hicks Beach, a future British Lord Chancellor.  Dooley's role  as holder of four leases in Drumcondra from Dublin Corporation came under detailed scrutiny.  One committee member, Isaac Butt, MP asked a witness, Francis Morgan, a solicitor and law agent to Dublin Corporation about Thomas.

      "Butt:  ....was not he a very active member of the old unreformed corporation?

      Morgan:  He was a prominent member;  I believe he was considered very litigious, and the corporation wished to give him a lease in such a way that he would probably dispose of it to some other person. for he was very troublesome;  we generally had to bring ejectments against him for non-payment of rent."

Morgan added that Dooley had been wasting some of the land he leased from the  Corporation in Drumcondra.  He had sold gravel from its surface and threatened to "build mud cabins on it".

      Samuel Francis Dooley's tenure of the Mount Briscoe and Cherry Garden estates was not free from troubles.  He and Ismena suffered the death of their fourth son Edward at Mount Briscoe in August 1854.  Three years later in early 1857 Cherry Garden was invaded by men (probably from outside the local area).  The Morning Post+ describes what happened.  On a Sunday morning between 10 and 11 Eldon Dooley (one of Samuel's brothers) and an unmarried Miss Dooley were there.  Suddenly five men broke open the hall door.  Their leader was armed with a pistol and the rest held bludgeons.  The gang's leader fired at Eldon Dooley.  Eldon grabbed a firearm and replied with two shots of his own.  Hit in the chest by a bullet the gang's leader fell, fatally wounded over the staircase banisters and into the hall.  His companions then fled from the house carrying him.

       Subsequently, financial troubles were an added pressure on the Dooleys.  In 1867 part of the town and lands of Marshalrath (in Ardee co. Louth) an area of 222 acres and 8 perches had to be sold in the Landed Estates Court.  In February 1875 Eldon Dooley's holding of two lots at Clonturk and Charlotte Place, Drumcondra (his father's old properties) had to be sold too.  When Thomas Dooley had died in January 1873 at Clonturk House he had left an estate valued at "under £600".  Despite all this, a 1876 list of co. Offaly landowners includes Samuel Francis Dooley with 1002 acres.  He had been made a local magistrate in September 1878.  He also became a member of the county's Grand Jury. 

        In early summer 1890 Samuel Francis Dooley died at Mount Briscoe.  He left assets worth £851, 5s. 1d.  His successor was his eldest son William Nugent Briscoe Dooley, born around 1852.  William lived at Cherry Garden and 9 Leinster Square Dublin.  He had access to the Dublin social life which had the Viceroy and his court at its apex.  Then single, he needed a wife. Eventually he chose someone who was both a Dubliner and a relative.  In December 1896 he married Ellen Helena Nesbitt Maddock who lived at 41 Richmond Place.  She was descended from William Nugent Briscoe through his son John Fetherstonhaugh Briscoe.  The latter had married Samia, daughter of Henry Nesbitt of Ahermore.  The couple's daughter, another Samia had married William Maddock, then a clerk in the Chancery Office in 1863.  They were Ellen's parents.  On marrying Ellen, her husband recorded that he was a gentleman farmer and living at Cherry Garden.

        William and Ellen Dooley suffered serious family tragedy.  Three of their children, Ismenia, William and John died young.  At the same time, William Dooley senior's brothers, Henry, Samuel, Robert and Thomas (living at Mount Briscoe) stayed single. The 1911 Census for Cavemount townland shows William Briscoe occupying a house which seems to be Cherry  Garden.  The census records that it has thirteen rooms or more, and ten out-offices and farm-steadings.  The Dooleys are recorded as occupying 16 rooms in the house.  Meanwhile, at Mount Briscoe, the other large house in the townland, the then head of the family Robert B. Dooley (60) is living with his brothers Thomas H.B. Dooley (61) and Samuel F.B. Dooley (50).  Robert and Thomas are recorded as being farmers while Samuel is recorded curiously as being a medical student.  All are single. Robert is described as the owner of the land on which the house sits.  The census shows the Dooleys' comparative prosperity and isolation.  In a townland of eleven houses they are the only Protestant families with the only 'first class' houses under the census' classifications.

         The troubles the Dooleys faced seem to have been two-fold.  The first was financial.  In June 1897 Dublin solicitor H. Francis Stephens of 43 Dawson St. took William Dooley senior and his four brothers to court. In the case of Stephens v. Dooley,  Stephens claimed that he had been retained by the five men to raise a mortgage on lands at Mount Briscoe.  He claimed £329 "on foot of a bill of costs".  However, William had to admit liability while his four brothers denied that they had wanted to use Stephens' services.  The jury then found for the plaintiff against all the defendants.

       The Dooleys' second problem was that the two houses and their lands needed maintaining but those with that task were getting older and not being replaced by a younger generation.  Between 1914 and 1921 Thomas, Robert and Samuel Dooley all died.   William seems to have been Robert's heir at Mount Briscoe and by 1929 he was living there.  He died in 1931 aged 79++.  However, as had happened with the Briscoe family a new, related family stepped in.  One of William's daughters, Samia Nesbitt Briscoe Dooley had married Louis Henry Edgill of Mount Wilson, Edenderry in 1925.  A farmer's son Louis had grown up at his father Joseph's home Rathdrum House, Ballycommon.  So after death of William Dooley the Edgills successfully ran the Mount Briscoe estate.

     Louis and Samia seem to have had five sons and at least two daughters.   The eldest son L.H. Victor Edgill (b.1926) played cricket for Leinster and was a fine hockey player.  He was made President of the Connaught Hockey team.  A younger brother, George Arthur (b.1928) was also a good cricketer and hockey player.  The Edgills were assiduous farmers and successful breeders of horses and pedigree bulls.  Louis, born in 1880 went on living until April 1950.  However by the time of his death a new pressure had emerged.

      By World War Two most of the big estates of Southern Ireland had been broken up.  But there were also small estates left on which the owners farmed their own land and still lived in the old house.   On these local farmers, TDs and the Land Commission cast envious eyes.   A culture of "clientism" built up where TDs did favours for their constituents.   On 30th March 1950 in the Dail, William Davin, Labour TD for Leix-Offaly asked the Minister of Lands, Joseph Blowick whether the Land Commission wished to acquire lands on the Dooley estate at Cherry Garden, Daingean co. Offaly+++.  Blowick claimed that it was "not possible to identify the estate in question".  Davin, however returned to the attack saying that the Minister's department had received representations about this matter recently.

     Two years later, in the Dail on 23rd October 1952 Thomas Francis O'Higgins (jr.) asked the Minister of Lands whether the Land Commission was considering acquiring the lands of Mr. Edgill, formerly owned by Miss O'Brien at Cherry Garden.  If he was, what was the result and would he initiate such proceedings?  The Minister, Thomas Derrig ++++ (Fianna Fail TD for Carlow-Kilkenny) said that the Land Commission had decided to take no action to acquire the lands.  However, a final attempt to bring Cherry Garden into the Land Commission's grip took place a few years later.  On 6th June 1961, Oliver J. Flanagan (then Fine Gael TD for Laois-Offaly) ^ asked the then Minister of Lands in the Dail when the division of the Dooley estate at Mount Briscoe and Cherry Garden would take place.  The Fianna Fail TD for Dublin South, Kevin Boland replied for the Minister, Michael O' Morain ^^ to say that proceedings were still in their early stages and he could not predict what their outcome would be.

       After the death of Louis Edgill in April 1950, the task of running the Mount Briscoe lands went to one of his younger sons,  W. H. (Henry) Edgill born in 1936.  He lives at Mount Briscoe and is an organic farmer and has been a committee member of the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society. 

      Unfortunately, along the way the big house at Cherry Garden was un-roofed and dismantled.  In 2007, architectural historian William Garner made a list entitled "Churches and Houses of Architectural Interest in Offaly" for the Offaly Historical and Archaeological Society.  He did not spend long on Cherry Garden.  It was "...an ivy-covered ruin:  not inspected at close quarters".   However, the building remains a well-preserved shell and other larger ruined Irish big houses have been successfully tackled by restorers.       

*  at Killucan and now a ruin.

** see www.midlouthhistory.com/documents p. 277/867

+  of Thursday, September 10th 1857.

++  His widow Ellen long outlived him and died at Mount Wilson, Edenderry in early July 1958.

+++   Joseph Blowick (1903-1970) served as Family of the Land TD for Mayo South and Minister of Lands from 1948-51 and 1954-57.

          William Davin (1890-1956) also known as Liam O'Daimhin was a station-master by profession.

++++  O'Higgins (1916-2003), Fine Gael TD for Leix-Offaly was a lawyer and later a judge who served as Minister of Health from 1954-57.   Thomas Derrig (1897-1956) had served as commandant of the West Mayo Brigade of the Irish Volunteers from 1918-21.  He was later Minister of Lands from 1939-43, of Education (1943-48) and of Lands again from 1951 to 1954.

^  Oliver J. Flanagan (1920-1987) Independent TD for Laois-Offaly from 1943 later joined Fine Gael and was TD for Laois-Offaly until 1987.  His most famous statement seems to have been:  "there was no sex in Ireland before television".

^^ Boland (1917-2001) was later Minister of Defence (1957-61), Social Welfare (1961-65) and Local Government (1965-70).   Michael O'Morain (1912-1983) was a solicitor and TD for Mayo South.

Many thanks to Mark Thomas for his excellent research and write-up of Cherry Garden.

Cherry Gardens,
Co. Offaly