Lyons House by James Fleming (1937)

The Story of Lyons House by James Fleming published on August 14 1937

Peter Lawless, son of James of Shankill, was father of Robert Lawless, the wealthy woolen merchant, of High Street, Dublin, whose remarkable career deserved more than cursory mention.

Cloncurry coat of arms

Cloncurry coat of arms

At an early age Robert Lawless was thrown completely on his own resources; it does not appear tat he inherited so much as the value of one solitary farthing in chattels or cash from his father: friendless and moneyless, he had to shift for himself. All accounts agree in stating that Robert was an extremely intelligent youth, of strict morality, honesty and rectitude, and as the biographer of the second Lord Cloncurry puts it, what was looked upon at the time as a singular fact (considering the few opportunities in those days that boys of his faith had of receiving instruction), he knew how to read and write.

Lyons House photographed by Robert French in 1902

Lyons House photographed by Robert French in 1902

In the year 1730 a respectable woolen draper in High Street Dublin took young Lawless into his service as a shop boy, and the lad plunged earnestly and at once into the work he was engaged to perform.

He daily improved himself in his new sphere and in a few years rose to foreman, and finally partner in the business.

The gate of the medieval settlement of Lyons

The gate of the medieval settlement of Lyons

On the death of his principal, in 1731, he married the widow, who was by many years the junior of her first husband; she was Mary, daughter of Dominick Hadsor, merchant of Dublin. There was issue of the marriage a son, Nicholas, Born 30th October 1733, who became the first Lord Cloncurry, and a daughter, Mary, born 13th October 1736, who married in 1752 Patrick Lawless of Dublin, brewer; this lady died in 1767, leaving an only daughter and sole heir, Margaret, who married, in 1779, John Scott, first Earl of Clonmell and Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

Nicholas Lawless succeeded his father (who died 6th march 1770) as woolen merchant and banker; he married, in 1761, Margaret, only child of Valentine Browne, of Mount Browne, one of Dublin’s wealthiest merchants, and after having amassed a large fortune retired from business and took up residence at the castle of Galleville in Normandy.

Rath on top of Lyons hill, the seat of ten kings of Leinster

Rath on top of Lyons hill, the seat of ten kings of Leinster

It is supposed that, being a Roman catholic, he was then induced to adopt this course, but his religion did not in the eyes of the French nobility, compensate for supposed defects in his character; they insulted him, and he, unable to get redress, sold out his property in Normandy and returned to Dublin, where he rented the mansion, No 24 Merion Street.

The house, notable as the birth place of the first Duke of Wellington, and known as Mornington House, was built with three others (Nos 21, 22 and 23) about the year 1760 by Charles Stanley Monck (created Viscount Monck in 1801). Monck and his son (created Earl of Rathdowne in 1822) lived in No 22, now the Orthopedic Hospital. He sold or let No 24 in 1760 to Garrett, Earl of Mornington, on whose death the house came into Lord Cloncurry’s possession. Lord Castlereagh lived here in 1799-1801, and needless to say, many meetings of the Union Party were held within its walls during the occupancy.

Mornington House

Mornington House

After the Unions Lord Castlereagh sold Mornington House to the Government who converted it into the Army Accountants Office. From 1839 to 1870 it was the office of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and afterwards was occupied successively by the Church Temporalities Commissioners and the Irish Land Commission.

When Lawless returned to Ireland he conformed to Protestantism, and thereby became qualified to hold a territorial stake in his native land. His proselytistation was read in St Bride’s Church, as the following entry in the Register of the church will show:

  • “Nicholas Lawless of Merrion Square (Esq) was received at morning service by me, on Tuesday May 30th 1774, Jno Dowden.”

He was created a Baronet of Ireland 20th June 1776, and elevated to the Peerage, 22nd September 1789, as Baron Cloncurry of Cloncurry, Co Kildare. He represented the Borough of Lifford in parliament in 1776 and 1778. His lordship died at his Dublin residence 28th August 1799, by which time his son and heir, The Hon Valentine Browne Lawless, was confined a state prisoner in the Tower of London.

Valentine Browne Lawless

Valentine Browne Lawless

Valentine Browne Lawless, second Baron Cloncurry, was born in 1773; he was educated at Portarlington, and at Dr Burrowes School, Blackrock, Co Dublin; and graduated at Trinity College. He joined the Society of United Irishmen about 1793, and after a tour on the Continent he entered at the Middle Temple in 1795 “still keeping up the closest intimacy with the leaders of the revolutionary movement.”

Lawless was arrested in June 1798, and committed to the Tower; the Duke of Leinster, Curran, and Grattan, who happened to be visiting him at the time of his arrest, were also taken into custody but were immediately released. His imprisonment lasted about six weeks. On the 14th April 1799, he was again arrested and again committed to the Tower, where he remained until 18901.

Valentine Lawless spent two terms of imprisonment in the Tower of London

Valentine Lawless spent two terms of imprisonment in the Tower of London

It was during his second imprisonment that his father died as stated, his grandfather, who was deeply attached to him and the young lady to which he was engaged, also died during the same period. It is said that his father voted for the Union, against his conscience, in the hope of obtaining his son’s release, and that through fear of confiscation of his property by the Government, Lord Cloncurry left away from his son almost £65,000.

Shortly after his release, and in order to restore his broken health, Lord Cloncurry started on a prolonged European tour. At Nice he met, and fell in love with, Elizabeth Georgiana, youngest daughter of Major-General Morgan, a young lady of seraphic beauty and fascinating manners. After a brief and romantic courtship, they were married at Rome on 16th April 1801.

Magazine account of  marriage of Valentine Browne Lawless

Magazine account of marriage of Valentine Browne Lawless

Lord and Lady Cloncurry returned to Ireland in November 1805, and at once proceeded to Lyons. During their two and a half years residence in Rome two children were born to them, and “nothing” says Fitzpatrick, “could exceed in ardour the mutual attachment which subsisted.“ But, unhappily, this condition was destined to end in a break.

After her ladyship’s separation from her husband and her children, she returned to England, and at once assumed her maiden name of Morgan. About the year 1812 on the death Coloncy Kyd, Miss Morgan became entitled to a considerable property.

Painting of Lyons by Gabrielli before the wings were added

Painting of Lyons by Gabrielli before the wings were added

In 1819, her marriage with Lady Cloncurry having been dissolved by Act of Parliament, 7th April 1811, she married the Rev John Sanford, Rector of Nynehead, Somerset, and, according to Fitzpatrick, uninterrupted happiness and serenity crowned this alliance.

Lord Cloncurry married secondly, 20th June 1811, Mrs Emily Leeson, mother of Joseph, Earl of Milltown, and daughter of Archibald Douglas of Barnock.

Lyons House drawn by JP Neale in 1825

Lyons House drawn by JP Neale in 1825

About this period Lyons was the scene of many noteworthy and convivial gatherings. The illustrious Grattan, Patrick Lattin, John Philpot Curran, Chenevix the chemist, and Robert Jephson were frequent visitors. The president and professors of Maynooth College and other dignitaries of the Catholic Church often times passed days within the hospitable mansion. Of one such visit the Dublin Evening Post, 12th January 1811, tells the following interesting anecdote.

Bust of Valentine Lawless

Bust of Valentine Lawless

Dr Everard, President of Maynooth College, and afterwards Archbishop of Cashel, was, in December 1810, together with four of the professors, on a visit with Lord Cloncurry. Although a good Irishman, the Revd Doctor, had lived too long in England not to give some credit to the stories so plausibly related to the prejudice of his countrymen, and was deeply engaged in an argument with Bishop Delaney on the subject of our inferiority to the sister kingdom when Messrs Atkinson, the great manufacturers of Celbridge, waited on this much esteemed and highly respected nobleman to inform him of their severe losses by the fire which recently destroyed a portion of their extensive factory.

His Lordship inquired particularly into the cause of the conflagration and the conduct of the townspeople on the occasion. “Although we were strangers in the town,” replied Mr Atkinson, “the whole people had left their beds in the dead of night, and assisted us with the zeal and honesty of brothers. To their activity and honesty we are indebted for the large portion of our property which has been saved. When a similar misfortune befell our great establishment in our own country (England) the people were indifferent, or rather joyful spectators.”

‘Ah, generous and maligned people,” exclaims the Post, “is it not enough to rob you of your rights without daily adding insult to the injury.”

Lord Cloncurry was created a Peer of the United Kingdom on 14th September, 1831, and on 28th October, 1853, this great and patriotic Irish nobleman closed his long and eventful career.

Ireland,” says Daniel O’Connell (1824), “has not a better friend or one more devoted to her service than Lord Cloncurry. He sets a splendid example, possessing a munificent fortune and expending every shilling in his native land. The poor man’s justice of peace; the friend of reform; in private society – in the bosom of his family – the model of virtue; in public life worthy of the admiration and affection of the people.”

In the words of his biographer: “through all the great triumphs and greater afflictions of his life there is but one idea – Ireland.”

Emily Lawless

Emily Lawless

The eldest daughter Emily, D Litt TCD, is remembered as the distinguished poet, novelist, biographer and historian, whose work, Ireland, has gone through many editions. This gifted and patriotic daughter of Ireland died unmarried on the 19th October 1913, her sisters Elizabeth and Rose died unmarried in 1929 and 1891 respectively, and Mary who married in 1877, William Blacker of Castle Martin, Co Kildare.

His lordship died 4th April 1869, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Valentine, 4th Lord Cloncurry, who married, 23rd January 1883, the Hon Laura Sophia Priscilla Winn, daughter of 1sr Baron St Oswald, by whom he had issue two daughter, Mary Hermione, who died 20th November 1922, and Kathleen Emily Marie, now of Lyons.

Valentine F Lawless, 4th Lord Cloncurry

Valentine F Lawless, 4th Lord Cloncurry

The fourth Lord Cloncurry died 12th February 1928, and was succeeded by his brother, Frederick, fifth Baron Cloncurry, on whose death, unmarried, 18th July 1929, the title became extinct.

The splendid mansion of Lyons, situate within twelve miles of Dublin (the counties of Dublin and Kildare meet in the demesne), was purchased by the first Lord Cloncurry in 1796 from Michael Aylmer, who pressed by his debts, sold the estate, including the townland of Cloncurry, which had belonged to the Aylmer family for five hundred years.

Lyons House and Lyons Castle viewed from Lyons Hill

Lyons House and Lyons Castle viewed from Lyons Hill

The Aylmer’s came into possession of Lyons between the years 1271 and 1300; previously the property had been in the occupation of Waleran de Wellesley, who held the New Castle of Lyons from the crown in 1270.

In connection with the long association of the Aylmers with Lyons, an interesting article appeared in the fourth volume of the Kildare Archaeological Society, in the course of which the writer (Lord Walter FitzGerald) states that:

Rent roll for Michael Aylmer at Lyons

Rent roll for Michael Aylmer at Lyons

“In Johnstown churchyard a conspicuous object, visible from the public road, was a small mural tablet of white marble, which was fixe din the wall of these church ruins. This tablet, now removed, bore the Aylmer coat-of-arms in relief, with the following inscription below it:

  • Within this old Catholic Chapel for centuries were interred Generations after Generation of the Aylmer family, the ancient proprietors of Lyons, Cloncurry and surrounding townlands.

    Michael Aylmer in 1787

    Michael Aylmer in 1787

The Aylmers were seated at Lyons from the year 1300 to the close of the last century.

In 1799 the family of the present owner obtained possession of the estate, and some years after the remains of the Aylmers were disturbed, their very graces leveled and efface.

  • Gerald J Aylmer, Esq, present representative of the family, caused this tablet to erected in 1878, as a memorial of the last resting place of his ancestors, RIP.

The following addition to the foregoing inscription appeared on the tablet:

  • The above tablet was removed from the Chapel at Lyons by the fourth Lord Cloncurry who, like his predecessors, wished to put of sight all traces of the Aylmers.
Aerial view of Lyons House, 2012

Aerial view of Lyons House, 2012

Lyons mansion is built of grey Irish granite, quadrangular, spacious and handsome, ornamented with corridors and pavilions. The portico is of granite of red Egyptian granite, each column being a single stone. Three of these originally come from the Golden House of Nero at Rome, and been placed in the banqueting hall of the Farnesque Palace by Raphael, and were brought by the second Lord Cloncurry from the King of Naples, when that monarch succeeded to the property of the Farnesse family; the fourth column was found in the Baths of Titus. At each side of the portico are lions, in Irish granite by Smyth.

Drawing room at Lyons House

Drawing room at Lyons House

The hall, which is well proportioned, and of a chaste Doric architecture, contains six very fine basso-relievos over the doors; and a very sarcophagus of white marble from the Gardens of Venus at Tivoli. Here, and in all the principal apartments, priceless objects of the sculptors’ and painters’ art are displayed.

The dining parlour presents two choice vases, one representing Apollo and the Muses, and the other a Bacchanalian dance. There are views on the walls of the bays of Dublin and Naples, by Gabrielle, and a model miniature of the tomb of Agrippa.

Dining room at Lyons House

Dining room at Lyons House

In the library hangs a portrait of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, by Hamilton, a Cupid by Bernial, a coat of Gannymede, and the heads of Hercules, Ariadne and the Muses.

In the demesne in which this historic house stands there is a rath, which it is said, commands prospects extending over thirteen counties; and in the farm yard are some remains of the old castle at Lyons, which was destroyed by Ormonde in 1641, and stood on the site of one which the O’Tooles had destroyed.

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