Thursday, March 3, 2011

Coolbawn Castle. Francis Bruen. Absentee Landlord.

Coolbawn Castle. Wexford. Francis Bruen, absentee landlord.

Coolbawn Castle.

Built in the mid 1800’s by Francis Bruen who was descended from a Cromwellian soldier called James Bruen who had settled in Boyle, County Roscommon. The family were to eventually own lands and estates covering 25,000 acres. Francis Bruen commissioned the architect Frederick Darley to design the house which was to replace an earlier house that had been destroyed in an accidental fire. It was completed at great expense constructed of fine cut stone and finished in white granite from the nearby mountains. The house was covered in elaborate ornaments, pinnacles and spires. It has been described as 'a splendid mansion in the later English style and was erected by Francis Bruen (d. 1867) on the occasion of his marriage to Lady Catherine Anne Nugent (1801-64).

Coolbawn Castle has a gorgeous view of the Blackstairs Mountains. So much money was spent on its erection that it was locally known as "Bruen's Folly". Bruen was an absentee landlord, disliked by the locals and when close-by Tomanine Bridge was constructed, a discreet stone carving of Breun’s face was placed in the bridge, and its nose was then knocked off.

He spent most of his time in England and left the running of the estate to his hated agent, a man by the name of Routledge, who would pay the rent arrears of the Protestant tenants rather than let the land fall into the hands of the Catholics. If the Catholics could not pay, they would be evicted and their land was given to the Protestants. Remember this was in the 1840s and the Great Famine was looming.

Routledge also ordered fifty horses to be shod every Friday morning in preparation for a visit by Mr Bruen, but he very rarely bothered to make the journey from England (according to John Hennessy, son of the present local blacksmith).

Coolbawn was eventually inherited by Francis Bruen’s nephew, Henry Bruen who was an Irish Conservative M.P. for County Carlow and a member of the Privy Council of Ireland. In the 1911 census it is recorded that Coolbawn House was occupied only by Henry’s servants. His cook was the head of the household. Her name was Mary Sharkland, aged 43. Also recorded, Susan Warren, aged 25, parlour maid. Mary Kate Martin, aged 16, Kitchen maid and John Neill, aged 28, a domestic servant.

Bruen's descendants disposed of Coolbawn to James Richard Dier JP (b. 1857) in 1917 or 1919 and the new proprietor allegedly entered into negotiations to sell the house on for use as a sanatorium. That sale having fallen through The Irish Times subsequently recorded that 'Coolbawn, a beautiful unoccupied mansion, near Rathnure, about nine miles from Enniscorthy, owned by Mr. J.R. Weir [sic], Clonroche, was burned to the ground like many of the stately homes of Ireland, by the I.R.A. in 1923(during the civil war).

The ruins are currently owned by the Tector family, the castle ruins look magnificent set to a moonlit backdrop despite its violent end. The interior is now covered in ivy and even has a tree growing from the cantilever staircase, a case of nature reclaiming its own, but if you close your eyes it’s not hard to imagine the former beauty and grandeur of Coolbawn Castle. It survives today as one of the most impressive ruins in Ireland and is in some ways of greater architectural interest now than when it was intact.


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  2. This was the house of my great grandfather, my father worked on the land at Coolbawn and whenever I went back to Ireland would always visit as a form of pilgrimage. I have a picture of the house before it was destroyed. It was a magnificent place. John A Dier