Abandoned ireland


Dartfield House,

Co. Galway.

A huge thank you to Mark Thomas for the following incredibly complete complete history of Dartfield:

According to P. W. Joyce in his book "Irish Names of Places" (1869) Dartfield's name derives from the Gaelic:  'Gort na Saighead' meaning:   'field of the arrows or darts'.  Between 1636 and 1703 the estate is refered to as Gortnaside in the Co. Galway Book of Survey and Distribution.  In 1640 John McUlrick Wall was listed as the owner of the Gortnaside estate, then extending to 60 acres.  Later anglicised to Dartfield it became the property of the Blake family of Ardfry.  They were an ambitious but somewhat indebted branch of one of the famous Tribes of Galway.  Their head Joseph Henry Blake (1765-1803) was made Baron Wallscourt on 31st July 1800 for supporting the Act of Union.  The same year he sold Dartfield to Robert Blake, a Dublin attorney.  Dr. Patrick Melvin, an expert on the Galway gentry says that this was one of many land transactions the Blakes did amongst themselves.  It is unclear, though which set of co. Galway Blakes Robert actually came from.  A Catholic, he lived at 4 Temple St. in Dublin (where Pigot's 1824 Directory of Ireland lists him).  He married Elizabeth Aylmer of Seneschalstown in co. Kildare.*  Their marriage produced at least one son and two daughters Elizabeth (d. 1861) who became a Sister at the convent at Rathfarnham and Maria Louisa.  

*However, Walker's Hibernian Magazine records a Robert Blake of Dartfield marrying a Miss Redington at Ryehill, co. Galway in August 1802.  It also says that a Robert Blake of Temple St. (Dublin) married a Miss Browne of Ardskea, co. Galway in May 1809.  

       After Robert Blake bought Dartfield, his wife's half-brother Peter Aylmer (b. c. 1788) seems to have used the house.  However, Peter and Robert went to the Chancery Court in Dublin in April 1814 in a dispute over who righfully owned part of the lands of Seneschalstown, Horses Town and Mullaskerry in co. Meath.  Richard Aylmer of Seneschalstown (d. 1795) had once owned these lands.  

       It is not Robert Blake but his son Henry Blake (b. c. 1793) who is the most dynamic and interesting character in Dartfield's story.  As a child he inherited the fortune of his uncle, James Deane Aylmer of Seneschalstown (d. 1794).  This was worth £1,500 a year.  But this good luck did not deter him from  forging a career in the law.  Entering Trinity College, Dublin in November 1808, he graduated with a BA in 1812.  The next year he proceeded to London's Lincolns Inn.  Returning to Ireland, he was admitted to the Dublin bar in Michaelmas 1816.  By 1824 he had his own house, 8 Temple St., Dublin and a co. Galway residence, Seafield at Oranmore.  He became a dominant figure at Dartfield too.  In 1827 he had the present house built in a prominent place just off what was the N6 Galway to Dublin road.  The design (whose architect is unknown) includes a Lodge with wrought iron gates on stone pillars overlooking the main road.  It soon became a meeting place for a famous local hunt the Galway Blazers.  From this a winding entrance drive leads to the mansion.  This is built in two storeys around a three-sided courtyard.  At its rear was a garden.  Beyond the house two ancilliary blocks contained a gardener's house and a stable block.  The main house itself was built of 'random-rubble' limestone in courses.  Its main details (windows and flat-arched front door) were picked out in smooth, dressed stone.  At the corners of the building, quoin stones were used and the walls were 'wet-dashed' with a mixture of lime and aggregate.  On the seven-bay wide entrance front was a pediment which seems to have been free of ornament. 

      Henry Blake was also very interested in the grounds and garden.  He hired prominent Irish landscape designer James Frazer (1793-1863), a pupil of the landscape designer and theorist J.C. Loudon as his head gardener.  In addition, another well-known garden designer, Alexander McLeish (d. 1838) head gardener at Terenure Park in co. Dublin advised on the planting of the demesne.  Between them these two produced a stylish parkland where belts of trees along the estate's edges sheltered the buildings from winds and prying eyes. 

      However, it is clear that Henry Blake was not especially shy of publicity.  He freely expressed his Whig political opinions and sympathy for O'Connell.  In February 1839 he was one of a group of co. Galway landowners who called on the government  to retain the Corn Laws.  A month later he supported an address to the Lord-Lieftenant of Ireland, Lord Normanby praising his administration.  Henry also built a successful legal career and he  extended the estate by adding the lands of Menus (122 acres) to it in 1844 at a cost of £5,900.   Meanwhile, his father Robert gradually faded from events.  He is known to have been living in 1840 - on May 12th that year the Freeman's Journal reported that he had donated £20 to Mrs. Doyle and the Community of the Presentation Convent in Dublin's George's Hill.  Thereafter he vanishes from directories.  He may well have been dead by 1846 when Slater's Directory of Ireland listed only his son Henry as living at Dartfield where he served as a J.P..   

      By this stage, Henry Blake and his family and tenants should have been enjoying the new house, garden and grounds within their 367 acre townland.  Instead, the Famine must have clouded the next few years before he died aged 61 in late June 1851.  Henry's will made his sister Maria Louisa Blake (b. c. 1800) administratix of his estate.  Now a widow, Maria had been married to James Henry Blake Q.C. (c. 1801-1841) who may well have been a relation.  His parents were Andrew Blake (c. 1762-1841) a merchant of Galway and his wife Monica Morris (d. 1853).  Monica's family were from another Galway 'Tribe',  Catholics who were based in Galway itself and at Spiddal.  The Morris family were eventually created Barons Killanin in 1900 when James Henry Blake's cousin Michael Morris (1826-1901) who served as Lord Chief Justice of Ireland in 1887-89 was given this title.  A younger brother of  James Henry's, Patrick Joseph Blake Q.C. (1811-1886) eventually became a county court judge and in 1860 Chairman of Quarter Sessions in co. Fermanagh.  James Henry was the eldest son and started his career as a student of Andrew Harry Lynch of Galway.  Lynch became MP for Galway city, a leading equity lawyer in England and a Master in Chancery.   James Henry spent time in London, entering Gray's Inn on April 28th 1823 and later became a prominent Catholic barrister on the Connaught Circuit.  According to Oliver Burke ** he was "gifted with talents of the highest order" with "a most amiable disposition and the most engaging manners" who would have risen to the very top of his profession.  Sadly he died of heart disease in London in early August 1841 when about to visit the Continent.  He left a daughter Emilia Julia Aylmer Blake who caused considerable confusion by reducing her age.  Some sources have her being born in 1846!

** Oliver J. Burke:  Anecdotes of the Connaught Circuit From Its Foundation in 1604 to Close Upon The Present Time, published in Dublin (1885)

      As Dartfield's owner Maria had to deal with a considerable amount of conflict.  Firstly, there came a challenge from her sister Eliza, a nun in the Loretto Convent at Rathfarnham.  In the chancery case of Blake v. Blake (1853) Eliza petitioned for an account of the assets (personal estate and real property) of Maria's deceased husband James Henry Blake Q.C. (d. 1841) and for a partition in equal shares of his real property.  She then petitioned for a share of her brother Henry's property as one of his 'co-heiresses at law'.  After the Lord Chancellor of Ireland had ruled in Eliza's favour, Maria had another problem - some of the Dartfield tenants.   

       According to a Freeman's Journal report of November 13th 1855, on November 2nd that year there was an attempted eviction of seven or eight families for non-payment of rent at Maria Blake's request.   The co. Galway Sub-Sheriff, John O'Hara and fourteen Constabulary officers under Head Constable Higgins went to the site and were confronted with 150 locals.  They were forced to withdraw until they could get military backing.  According to a 'Daily News' report of Monday, November 26th, a second round of conflict followed three weeks later.  On Friday, 23rd November soldiers and about 150 police under the command of W. Coffey, C.I. under orders from resident magistrate E.F. Ryan went to the area accompanied by Sub-Sheriff O'Hara and some bailiffs.  They intended to eject the families involved but a stand-off occurred.  Negotiations failed and then the soldiers charged with bayonets, fatally wounding John Monaghan a Dartfield man.  The seven houses were taken possession of but the atmosphere was now even more poisoned. 

       Maria Blake's position was outlined in a letter she wrote to a Galway newspaper.   'The Courier' a paper in Hobart, Tasmania ran an article publicising this on Thursday, 6th March 1856.  Maria maintained that the tenants threatened with eviction had reneged on their promise (made in June 1855) to vacate their properties peacefully on agreed terms.  She said that there had been a 'Riband' conspiracy on the Dartfield estate for the previous two and a half years.  Her agent had been threatened in 1854 and eighteen months previously she had been threatened with death unless she settled with the tenants involved.  The sum of £5, she wrote had been raised by tenants to pay an assassin to kill her.  Her steward had been captured by tenants who threatened to kill him.  Some tenants had also been forbidden to work for her family or face the consequences.  

      Maria Blake's letter did little to pacify the Dartfield estate.  The Freeman's Journal reported on March 20th that James Farrell, Michael Farrell, John Quin (sr.), John Quin (jr.) and widows Mary Glenane and Judy Syms had been indicted at Galway Crown Court for 'forcible entry and detainer of part of the lands of Dartfield' on November 23rd 1855.  They were however found not guilty.  However, on April 26th 1856 there were more evictions, according to 'The Anglo-Celt' of Thursday, May 1st.   Sub-Sheriff O'Hara along with a hundred police and three officers including Mr. Coffey, S.I.P. and Mr. Sweeney, S.I.P. executed seven ejectment decrees granted at the last Galway Assizes and six ones upheld at the last Ballinasloe Quarter Sessions.  The empty houses were then levelled.  But trouble continued.  On November 3rd the 'Daily News' reported that the court in Ballinasloe had granted an ejectment decree against one John Egan and two others.  Another two tenants had given up their holdings and been re-admitted as caretakers.  However, Egan, his mother and his two children were now put out of doors.  His house and barn (in which he had put up an evicted family the previous year) were now knocked down.  A few days later, on November 20th, the 'Morning Chronicle' printed a report on the 15th that the house of John Quin, a tenant of Maria Blake's had been destroyed by fire.  A Mr. Glenane had been assigned it but his store of oats were scattered across his haggard and one night a shot was fired through one of his windows. 

     After all this conflict, Maria Blake and her daughter Emilia spent quite a lot of time abroad, particularly in Brighton and France.  From time to time Maria visited Ireland though.  She decided in February 1859 to convey part of the lands of Seneschalstown, co. Meath to Margaret Kelly.  This was marred by the legal action Mrs. Mary Kelly of Seneschalstown took against her for libel at the Cork Assizes in late March.  Mrs. Kelly objected strongly to a letter Maria had written to the editor of  'The Western Star'.  Eventually Maria had to agree after negotiation to a verdict of £500 against her plus costs.  She and her daughter Emilia returned to Dartfield in July 1860.   She also played host in November 1864 at the house to English Catholic novelist and travel writer Theresa Yelverton.  Born Theresa Longworth in 1833 she was involved in a sensational six year legal case over her disputed marriage with Protestant aristocrat Major William Yelverton, Viscount Avonmore from co. Cork.  Maria and Emilia, however are shown in the 1871 English Census as living at 37 Victoria Road, Chelsea.

       By April 1869, a grazier called Joseph Hardy was living at Dartfield which by 1873 was an estate of 1,304 acres.  For a relatively brief period another grazier John Geoghegan (d. 1891) lived at Dartfield where he is shown on a list of co. Galway landlords of 1873.  He was the owner of 1,530 acres.  But his family were living at Kiltormer by the early 1880s.  It is clear that men like Geoghegan and Hardy flourished in post-Famine Ireland.  Landlords, frustrated by low yields from small farms and difficult tenants found it to their advantage to let out large parts of their estates to be grazed with cattle.  An article by Dr. John Cunningham on herdsmen*** in the Loughrea area in the late 19th century talks about Hardy's career.  He had started in 1837 as the owner of a small mill, then in 1846 moved into grazing.  By 1880 he was grazing some 6000 acres for five landlords including Lord Dunsandle and Lord Clonbrock.  This figure seems to have included 800 acres around Dartfield.  Dr. Cunningham describes Hardy as "opinionated, self-righteous and impatient", traits which were to have serious consequences later.

***   Dr. John Cunningham:  A 'spirit of self-preservation':  herdsmen around Loughrea in the late 19th century.  In ed. Joseph Forde et al.:  The District of Loughrea:  Vol. 1. History, 1791-1918, published by Loughrea History Project (2003), pp. 257-80.

      Meanwhile, in England, Mary Louisa Blake died at her Chelsea home on 17th October 1876.  Her English will which left 'effects under £200' made her daughter Emilia her sole executrix.  Another, Irish will dated 19th January 1879 was proved in Galway that year.  By this time, Emilia Aylmer-Blake was an accomplished poet and writer who had published 'France Discrowned, & other Poems' in 1874.  She would go on to publish plays and novels, and she had theatrical gifts as an actress and reciter of verse.   On 3rd July 1877 at Kensington Parish Church, London she married actor and playwright William Gowing as his second wife.  Gowing (who now assumed the name 'Aylmer') had been previously married to Jane Laura Atkinson, daughter of Sir Jasper Atkinson (1790-1856), Provost of the Royal Mint but she had sadly died in 1873.  The marriage had produced a daughter, Constance Marie Seymour who now signed her father's marriage certificate.  Emilia had previously been engaged to the Count de Charette de Bois Foucauld a landowner from Brittany in June 1862 but this had fallen through.  Gowing who had started on the stage under a pseudonym 'Walter Gordon' in November 1856, playing Captain Littlepop in a play called 'Little Toddlekins' at the Drury Lane Theatre had retired from acting in 1876.  From 1860 on he had written light comedies with titles like 'Old Trusty' and 'Pay to the bearer - a kiss' in 1860.  Together Emilia and William maintained a hospitable, artistic establishment in Chelsea, even running a magazine called 'The Play' together from 1881 to 1884.

      It is clear that Emilia was not planning to emulate woman writers like Maria Edgeworth and live and work in Ireland.  She was also uncomfortable in co. Galway society.  On November 27th 1895, Lady Gregory, a fellow co. Galway landowner staying in London wrote in her diary: 

                    "....did some calls - one on Mrs. Gowing .....she is rather cracky - says Galway was too hot for her when she took to literature - & if she went out every item of her dress was remarked & had all over the Co[unty]....."

Emilia and her husband's interest in Dartfield lay mainly in seeing that it functioned peacefully and that the rents were paid. 

      At Dartfield however, peace was relative.  Joseph Hardy, despite being a JP, member of the Church of Ireland synod and a Ballinasloe Union guardian seems to have had limited tact and empathy.  In December 1879 he had trouble when he tried to move a widow, Mrs. Brien from one farm to another and he received one threatening letter then a second.  He later made a much more serious error in dismissing the representative of his herdsmen, Thomas Broder (who sought higher wages for his colleagues) and then trying to get possession of Broder's house at the next Loughrea Petty Sessions.  As a result his other herdsmen went on strike and he tried to replace them with men from Lurgan in co. Armagh.  On June 28th 1882 the Freeman's Journal reported that Hardy was being protected by 16 men of the 28th Regiment under Lt. Cotter and three emergency cars containing police under the direction of Sub-Inspector Stewart and Captain Mansfield, R.M..  When his sons had to move his stock from the possession of striking herdsmen Thomas Gennings, Thomas Mitchell and a Mr. Nevill they needed the help of six soldiers of the 13th Regiment and some RIC officers.  Eventually Hardy had to capitulate in early August and make the herdsmen a new deal including a promise to construct new cottages for them.  Though the Lurgan men who had made a poor impression in the area left, Hardy was now thoroughly unpopular.  On May 4th 1883 he signalled that he was giving up farming.  He had a 'monster auction' of 4,500 cattle, sheep and horses along with farm implements.   He seems to have continued to need police protection.  On January 30th 1891 he died at Dartfield aged 71.  For the last few years of his life, with his small empire reduced to 1,800 acres he had almost been like one of the old planters - suspicious, insecure and embattled.

       Away in England, Emilia went on living in Chelsea.  Her husband William died on 20th June 1892 and was buried in Brookwood Cemetery in London.  Probate on his effects valued at £4827 5s. 10d was given to Emilia on the 15th February.  She went on producing books like 'Sita, and other Poems' (1895) (written in William's memory).  Several of her dramas like 'A Life Race' and 'A Crown For Love'  were successfully brought to the stage.  On March 12th 1900, Lady Gregory wrote in her diary: 


           "Lunch rather a terror, Mrs. Martin+, very blind and tottering, with a sun hat & white veil, and Mrs. Aylmer Gowing in point lace & feathers, very deaf - And during lunch George Moore came in - However he knew Mrs. Gowing of old, & paid her compliments on her knowledge of Greek and French - "

The Censuses of 1891 and 1901 show that Emilia was visited by her husband's grandchildren Daisy (b.c. 1884) and May Rose (b.c. 1881).  Their needs were usually supplied by servants like her cook Harriet Hull.  On 20th August 1905 she died at 'Le Grand' Hotel du Parc, Aix-les-Bains.  Her effects were valued at £5996 19s. 11d. and her will was proved by Rev. Henry Alexander Kennedy, Henry Hives Lee and solicitor Edward Hilder in London on 9th October. 

+  according to J. Pethica, editor of Lady Gregory's Diares, p. 75, note 51 this was Anna Selina Martin, (b Fox) d. 1906 mother of the novelist Violet Martin (1862-1915).  She was Lady Gregory's second cousin. 

       At Dartfield, the Hardys continued in residence.  They eventually seem to have acquired the estate but Joseph's legacy made things difficult.  At first Ernest one of his sons seems to have been in charge but by 1900 he had moved to Cranna at Portumna.  He married Georgine Comerford, only daughter of John Comerford of Kilmore, Nenagh, co. Tipperary that year.  The 1901 Census entry for Dartfield shows James North Hardy (49) , another of Joseph's sons living there with his wife, Mary (40) and their children Cecil Aylmer (9), Godfrey Vivian (8) and Enid Frances (3).  The Census of 1911 shows James still in charge and in the house with his daughter Violet Maud (20) and his son Cecil (19).  There were two servants:   Florence Annie Nelson Keenely (35) who had a son Oliver Francis (4) living with her, and William Miller (23) a farm servant born in co. Cavan. 

       In late 1921, James North Hardy died aged 70 leaving his son Cecil Aylmer Hardy in charge.  Cecil soldiered on with the farm at Dartfield until in 1946 he went to live regularly at Glenageary in co. Dublin.  He visited co. Galway occasionally.  On 10th April 1951 the 'Connaught Sentinel' reported that in a macabre twist of fate he had been found dead in his car outside the entrance gates of Dartfield on the 7th of that month.  His daughters Mrs. Pamela Potterton (she had married in Summer 1952) and Miss Alison Hardy now inherited the estate.  From now on it is clear that there were three pressures on them.  There was the cost of the mansion's upkeep, the slog of running the farm and the periodic attempts by others to break up what remained of the estate.  It became a war of attrition.  In January 1955 they faced a Land Commission Appeal tribunal.  They argued that 32 acres of their 326 acre farm had been undervalued by the Commission.  The Commission's valuer had put a price of £709 on the land while a local auctioneer E.J. O'Dea of Loughrea had said it was worth £2,055.   In July 1965 the beleagured estate attracted attention in the Dail when A.G. Millar, T.D.asked the Minister for Lands if he would direct the Land Commission to examine the possibility of acquiring Dartfield and another neighbouring estate Cooleeny at Kilrickle.  

      As time went on sales sliced away the estate's assets like salami.  In August and September 1951 there were two sales of different timber from the estate.  On March 29th 1952, 'The Connaught Tribune' reported that Edward O'Dea of Loughrea was selling grazing lands in divisions for Mrs. Potterton and her sister.  In July 1954 the sisters auctioned off 14 acres of meadow.  On November 5th 1966, the 'Irish Farmers Journal' published a profile of Mrs. Potterton who was then living at Carbury in co. Kildare.  The last five generations of Pottertons had farmed at Ardkill where they had a 400 acre estate.  A co. Meath gentry family they had been in Ireland for 250 years.  Pamela was an authority on Hereford cattle, pedigree Jersey cows and Oxford Downs and had received prizes for her cattle at the Royal Dublin Show.  The profile disclosed that sadly Dartfield was now standing empty. 

      Tragically, Pamela Potterton died at Ardkill a few months later in March 1967.  She was only 42.  With her interests in architecture (she was a member of the Irish Georgian Society  and the Society for the Preservation of the Ancient Monuments), her skill in farming and her strong interest in those around her, she was a great loss.  She left a husband Hubert and three sons Cecil, Godfrey and Gregory.  After this, with someone who could perhaps have revived it gone, Dartfield languished.  On May 12th 1974, Hugh McKeown published an article in the  'Sunday Independent' on the Dartfield estate.  In it he said that the house with its broken front door did not seem habitable and was not being lived in.  He also observed that locals thought that the house was haunted.  Cecil Potterton wrote to the newspaper a letter published on June 2nd denying that Dartfield was haunted and saying that it was still being used in the Summer.  However, the Potterton family were unable to revive the house.  In 1982 Hubert Potterton died and this may have brought on Dartfield's sale in 1984. 

      The new owner of the house was now Paddy Casey, a builder.  However it began to slide further into decay.  Some of the parkland trees were cut down, and the garden vanished.  The roof of the house began to decay and external features got knocked around.  The square entrance porch and the three-sided bay window disapeared.  The drainage system fell apart.  However, in 1993, the Loughrea-based horse entrepreneur Willie Leahy, Master of the Galway Blazers visited Casey where he was living in Scotland and days later bought the house and its remaining lands.  Leahy's plan was to create a Museum showing the historical relationship of Irish people with the horse.  At the cost of more than three million Euros (and with substantial EU funding) he created 20,000 square feet of museum space using the ancilliary buildings of the house.  Work began in June 2000 and was substantially complete within two years.  The result is attractive and absorbing.

In May 2002 the Irish Times reported that Leahy "..would like to restore Dartfield House itself - then the picture would be complete."

This article is researched and written by Mark Thomas.

Co. Galway