Lyons House: Haunt of Poets and Patriots by Brigid Maguire (1963)
Brigid Maguire was principle of Ardclough National School until 1963.
Lyons House with its surrounding estate of thirteen hundred acres has roots which dig deeply into the history of Ireland.
This lovely old Georgian residence is on the Kildare-Dublin border, and its surroundings are so grand that from a hill at the back of the house, Cromwell, on his return journey from subjugation of this country, is credited with saying that “Ireland is a country worth fighting for”.
Lyons was once the property of the Aylmer family who came here at the end of the thirteenth century. This Anglo-Norman sept deduce their origin from King Ethelred; but in common with others we find them fighting on both sides in our age-long struggle.
William Aylmer, Lieutenant in the Militia, fought on the Irish side at the battle on the Hill of Ovidstown in ’98. Two years before this Mel Aylmer had sold Lyons Demesne to Nicholas, Lord Cloncurry, for the goodly sum of £45,000. T
his was a big step in the rise to fame of the Lawless family. The first member of the family had sold turf on the streets of Dublin. Robin Lawless had been invited by a woollen merchant to stay with him during the bad winters. On the death of this kindly benefactor, Robin married his widow, sold his ass and cart, and embarked on a fine trade in woollen manufacture as well as a banking career. His son, Nicholas, was the first Lord Cloncurry.
And down the family tree came Valentine Lawless, patriot and friend of artists, and later still Emily Lawless, historian and poet In captivity.
The fight for fame and title of the first Lord Cloncurry, who voted for the Act of Union, was almost set at nought by the actions of his son, Lord Valentine, whose intense sympathy with the ’98 patriots led him to captivity in the Tower of London, and nearly to the loss of his life.
He was a friend of Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Daniel O’Connell, Grattan, and of every English statesman who had sympathies with this country. His partiality for Irish manufacture led him to dress in green cloth made here, and his pamphlet against the Union was a strong denunciation of British rule.
As advocate for better farming, Lord Valentine championed spade cultivation, and in 1847 he offered to his tenant farmers who had tilled the greatest portion of their land, digging it not less than nine inches deep and sown before the 20th March, a prize of fifty pounds. There were other prizes coming down to fifteen pounds for tillage.
He, with the Duke of Leinster, formed the Co Kildare Farming Society and started the first ploughing match at Monasterevan. He said that “the first manufacture is farming. In the land we have the best raw material. The best artisan is the bold and intelligent denizen of the soil.”
He was Director of the Grand Canal which he tried to open from the Irish Sea to the Atlantic. In this he foresaw a panacea for the ills of Ireland for there would be employment for 30,000 spades “instead of bayonets.”
He was also a magnificent patron of arts, and in Lyons House may be seen a portico which originally adorned the Golden House of Nero. He employed and Italian al-fresco painter to beautify Lyons House wherein are Hogan’s Hibernia and a marble bust of Cloncurry himself.
And in Ardclough Chapel, which he caused to be erected in 1810, is a holy-water font of white marble brought from Rome, and a bronze crucifix was there given to him as a personal gift from Pope Pius VII.
In direct line from Valentine Lawless came Emily Lawless, poet and patriot. Strong Unionist though she was, her pen was plied to sing of Ireland’s wrongs. In one of her poems, “After Aughrim”, she strikes a note of patriotic poignancy when she speaks of Ireland.
- They gave me of their best,
- They lived, they gave their lives for me;
- I tossed them to the howling waste,
- And flung them to the foaming sea.
- And when the ghosts of warriors sail home
- after Fontenoy on ships without sails or row-locks-
- Men of Corca Bascinn, men Of Clare’s brigade,
- Harken, stony hills of Clare, Hear the charge we made;
- See us come together, singing from the fight,
- Home to Corca Bascinn, in The morning’s light.
With her cousin, Horace Plunkett, a frequent visitor to Lyons, she planned schemes for the establishment of industries in Connacht, and for the betterment of the farming community by instruction through libraries. Plunkett was a grandson of Valentine Lawless through his grandmother, Charlotte Lawless, a sister of Lord Valentine’s.
Friends of strikers In our own century Mary Lawless, friend of the Dublin strikers of 1913, asked her father for a cow for milk for those who were locked-out. Lord Cloncurry promised her that she could have her cow if she drove her to Dublin herself. He thought this would put her off. But he didn’t know the generous stuff of which his daughter was made. With a pair of stout walking shoes, and a stouter ”bouthilaun”, she drove her cow right up to Liberty Hall to provide milk for the little ones.
I hope the future of Lyons will be in keeping with its great past. Inside the demesne walls, and indeed narrowing with them, are lovely woods, a lake and a model walled garden.
This makes a fitting home for students of agriculture to study the science of the “spade” that Lord Valentine Lawless was so anxious to drive at least nine inches into the rich soil of the spot where the best of our people met and planned to make our country rich by its “first manufacture-farming”.
Brigid Maguire, Leinster Leader, August 1963