The Story of Straffan House by James Fleming, Published in the Irish Weekly Times, on October 2 1937
According to the Rev M McDevitt SJ, whose scholarly contributions to the publications of the Kildare Archaeological Society have done much to waken a lively and abiding interest in the history of the Geraldine country, the earliest mention of Straffan in the Annals of Ireland occurs in the Dindsenchus, a topographical treatise in prose and verse dealing with the names of the remarkable places in Ireland, a work which is said to have been composed as far back as 550AD. The place was then called Tech-Strafain,; the House or Church of Straffan.
From that time until the Anglo-Norman invasion little is known of this historic spot; but it comes prominently into the picture when Strongbox’s adventurers appeared on the scene; and thenceforward the names of many of those who from time to time acquired the lordship of the Manor of Straffan are indelibly marked in the records of Kildare.
The first of the Normans to come into the possession of Straffan was Maurice FitzGerald, to whom it was granted, with other territory, by Strongbox. Maurice’s son and heir, William conveyed a large portion of his estate to his younger brother, Gerald, ancestor of the Earls of Kildare. The grant was confirmed by Prince John, and is mentioned by Michael O’Clery in his Irish pedigree of the Geraldines:
“And it is Gerald, son of Maurice, son of Gerald, who got Magh Nuadat (Maynooth), Rath Mor, and Tech Straffain etc., and John, son of King Henry, gave them.
The de Penkistons.
There was a change in the ownership of Straffan sometime in the thirteenth century; for in the year 1288, Sir John Fannyn (Fanning) of Carnalway, in the County Kildare, is mentioned as being in possession of the estate, and chief lord of Straffan.
In 1289 this Sir John Fanning conveyed his estates in Straffan and Ballespaddah (afterwards called Irishtown) to Richard de Penkiston, and directed his “beloved and faithful tenants to be intendant to their new lord, Richard Penkiston, and to pay to him all rents and arrears hitherto payable to John Frannin.”
During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Penkiston family had become considerable landholders in North Kildare, but forfeited all in 1581, having been implicated in the rebellion of Lord Baltinglass. They had, however, in the year 1480 disposed of their Straffan and Irishtown estates, the lordship of which passed to the family of Gaydon, in whose possession the property remained during the two following centuries.
The charter of conveyance, dated 10th November 1490, declares “that we, Richard de Penkiston of Straffan, gent., in the County of Kildare, James Ashe, chaplain, and Richard Rosse, Chaplain, have given and granted…to John Gaynor, junior, of the City of Dublin, merchant, all the messuages, lands, tenements, rents and services, which we hold in the aforesaid Straffan…”
“John Gaydon, Irish Papist.”
An inquisition of Jame1, 6th July, 1613, taken at Naas finds that: “John Gaydon, alias Gayton, was seized of the fee of al the castle, messuages, lands , and tenements…in Straffan of the castle and 168 acres…and that being so seized, he died 11th December 1595; that Nicholas Gaydon in his son and heir; aged 38 years and married; that from the death of the said John the aforesaid Nicholas had occupied the premises and received all the issues and profits….”
Nicholas Gaydon’s brother, John, appears as owner of the estate in 1641, but when Cromwell triumphed, “John Gaydon, Irish papist,” forfeited his Kildare property. It is recorded in a Commonwealth revenue Book, 1653, that a Mr. Thomas Bowles hath taken the town and lands of Straffan containing 250 acres belonging to John Gaydon…at the yearly rent of £150”; and thus Gaydon became a landless man in his County Kildare.
This state of affairs was partly remedied after the restoration. It is on record that, on the 29th July 1663, the Court of Claims declared John Gaydon’s son, Patrick “innocent” and granted him a decree for 700 acres in remainder in the County Kildare; but Patrick returned to an impoverished estate, as the family had been dispossessed since 1653, and soon found himself in embarrassed circumstances, being ultimately compelled to dispose of his Straffan property. Richard Talbot, afterwards known as the Duke of Tyrconnell, became the purchase (in 1670), the consideration being the sum of £700 sterling.
Straffan thus became associated with one of the most prominent figures in Irish history, whose memory is still preserved there in the “Tyrconnell gate” near Straffan Bridge; and the Gaydons followed their predecessors, the Penkistons, into the legion of dispossessed Irish landowners.
The name of Gaydon, however, was not allowed to sink into oblivion. In another sphere the sons of the impoverished Patrick, as soldiers in the army of James II, and afterwards in the Irish Brigade on the continent, John and Richard Gaydon found a congenial outlet for their loyal and patriotic ardour, bringing lustre, if not wealth, to their house and imperishable fame to their native land.
John Gaydon, Patrick’s eldest son and heir, was a Cornet of Horse in 1687, and in 1689 he was a Captain in the illustrious Sarsfield’s regiment of Horse, acing as Aide-de-camp to his chief, with whom he was at the Battle of Aughrim. After the Treaty of Limerick, he accompanied the Irish army to France as a Cornet in the Garde du Crops.
After the disbanding of the Irish Horse Guards in 1698 John Gaydon became attached to Sheldon’s Irish regiment, and fought at Ramillies in 1706, Oudenarde in 1708, and Malplaquet in 1719. His distinguished conduct in all his campaigns earned for him in 1719, the rank of Marchal de Camp; This brave son of Kildare died on the 11th September, 1721, in his sixty-second year.
His younger brother, Richard, was an officer in Dillon’s Regiment, Mountcashel’s Brigade. Before 1718 he had attained the rank of Major and was with Sir Charles Wogan, whose mother was a Gaydon, and two other officers, Captains Missett and O’Toole, all Kildare men and all in Dillon’s famous regiment when the first named intrepid soldier undertook and accomplished the sensational rescue of the sixteen year old and beautiful Princess Marie Clementina Soldeski from her prison at Innsbruck.
A Royal Romance
Sir Charles Wogan was the confidential friend of the “old Pretender”, the exiled son of James II, who confided to him the delicate mission of selecting a wife for him from one of the Catholic royal families of Europe. Wogan set out secretly for Silesia, where he found the Princess, daughter of the illustrious John Sobieski, “the deliverer of Europe.” The bride to be and her parents were agreeable to the proposed alliance; the marriage contract was signed, and the princess and her mother started for Bologna, where it was arranged the marriage should take place.
But, it appears, the British ambassador got wind of the proceedings, and forced or persuaded the Emperor, who at that time could not afford to lose the friendship of King George, to detain the princess in Innsbruck until further orders.
In this dilemma Wogan was commissioned by the anxious bridegroom to rescue his bride at any cost, and the gallant young Irish soldier at once proceeded to Alsace, where Dillon’s regiment happened to be quarters, and here she enlisted the ready services of his fellow officers, Gaydon, Missett and O’Toole, to assist him in his bold undertaking.
How well they succeeded in their perilous enterprise has often been told.
It is sufficient to say that after many exciting adventures, reminiscent of the daring exploits of Dumas’ famous cavaliers, they escort the princess to Bologna, where she became the wife of the “Pretender” and, in due course, the mother of “Bonnie Prince Charlie.”
La Belle Jennings
To return to Straffan – after the battle of the Boyne, Tyrconnell’s property was confiscated, and Straffan was set out by the Williamite Commissioners to one John White at the yearly rent of £150.
When Tyrconnell died, his widow he became associated with the Kildare property. It appears that her husband had, in 1691, conveyed certain lands in Ireland, including Straffan, to trustees to the use of his widow, as for her jointure. After strenuous opposition on the part of the Williamites in Dublin Castle, and prolonged litigation, the Duchess acquired a life interest in Straffan.
A few details of this distinguished lady’s career may be of interest to readers.
Frances Jennings was only sixteen when she was appointed Maid of Honour at the Curt of Charles II. No sooner had she made her appearance than the rumour of her surpassing liveliness was confirmed, and she was at once proclaimed the Queen of Beauty,
“She had,” says Count Grammont in his Memoirs, “the fairest and brightest complexion that ever was seen; her hair a most beauteous flaxen; her countenance extremely animated, though generally persons so exquisitely fair have an insipidity; her whole person was fine, particularly her neck and bosom. The charms of her person and the unexpected sprightliness of her wit gained her the general admiration of the whole Court. In these fascinating qualities she had, there, other competitors; but scarcely one, except Miss Jennings, maintained throughout the character of unblemished chastity.”
Among her many admirers at Court, Dick Talbot, the handsomest man there, was one of the most persistent but the beautiful girl refused his offer of marriage. In the year 1665, after rejecting Talbot a second time, she became the wife of George Hamilton, second son of the Hon Sir George Hamilton, Bart, who was the fourth son of James, first Earl of Abercorn.
Hamilton, whom Evelyn describes “a valiant and worth gentleman” lost his life in an engagement near Zebernstieg in 1676. At his death his widow, who had shortly before become, like her husband, a Roman Catholic, was left with six children, inconsolable and penniless, save a small pension in France.
In 1679, while at Paris, she again met her first and early admirer, Colonel Richard Talbot, who was then in exile. The tallest and handsomest man of the day, eh again, for the third time, urged her to marry him; and, she consenting, they were married soon after in Paris.
In 1685 Talbot was created Earl of Tyrconnell, and in 1686, having previously been made Lieutenant General of the Army in Ireland, he was constituted Viceroy. For three years, as Vice Queen, “La Belle Jennings” as she was called at the Court of Charles II, pure, dignified, and brilliant, held Court at Dublin Castle, throwing a charm over the elevated sphere in which she moved.
Shortly after the Battle of the Boyne, Tyrconnell, who had been elevated to a Dukedom, sent his Duchess “with all his own wealth and the King’s treasure” into France, where she resided at the court of St Germaine.
After her husband’s death the Duchess continued to adhere strictly to the Roman Catholic religion. She pent some years abroad, returned to England in 1705, and soon after came to Dublin, where she was permitted to erected a house in North King Street, as a convent for Poor Clares.
The nuns of the order came to Dublin from Galway about the year 1717, and according to Dr Donnelly’s History of St Michan’s Parish after a brief sojourn in Fisher’s Lane (now St Michan’s Avenue) “thanks to the munificence of Frances Jennings, the widowed Duchess of Tyrconnell, they were established in a convent on the north side of Chancel Row.” The convent was always referred to the North King street Convent, because it had the principal approach from the street.
This benevolent lady died at her residence on Arbour Hill at the great age of 92 years, and was interred, 9th March 1930, in the Jones family vault, St Patrick’s Cathedral.
The Henrys Come to Straffan.
The Duchess of Tyrconnell’s association with Straffan terminated in the year 1717, about which time she died “in consideration of £1,256 3s 6d to be paid to her by Robert Delap, gent, grant and confirm to the said Robert Delap all the town and lands of Straffan, containing by extension 410 acres of profitable land…To have and to hold to the said Robert Delap, his heirs and assigns, for and during the term of the natural life of the said Duchess of Tyrconnell.”
After Delap, the estate passed into the possession of Hugh Henry of the City of Dublin, merchant, who, in consideration of £2,200 sterling, paid by him, was granted all that and those of the town of Straffan….to have and to hold for ever, subject to the yearly quit rent of £2 18s 8d; and on the death of the Duchess in 1730. Hugh Henry entered into possession of Straffan; and , for precisely one hundred years after Straffan House was occupied by the representatives of this notable family.
Always Voted Free
Hugh Henry, a Dublin banker “of great reputation” was married to Anne, daughter of Joseph Leeson of Dublin, and sister of the first Earl of Milltown. The second son of this marriage, Joseph, succeeded to Straffan on the death, without issue, in 1748, of his older brother Robert Joseph Henry matriculated at Trinity College Dublin, 18th November 1740, at the early age of thirteen years. He was MP for Longford 1761-68, and “always voted free and for the real interest of his country.” During a visit to Italy he purchased the two classic marble figures, a Venus de Medici and a Dancing Faun, which in 1786 he presented to the Royal Dublin Society. He died at his home in Henry Street, Dublin, in November 1796, and was succeeded by his son, John Joseph of Straffan.
This gentleman subscribed £500 for the defence of O’Coigly in 1798. He was married at Leinster House, Dublin, 13th March 1801 to Lady Emily Fitzgerald, daughter of William Robert, 2nd Duke of Leinster. His generosity and extravagance were the chief factors compelling him to dispose of the Straffan property to Hugh baton in 1831, after which he removed to Chaton, near Paris, where he died, 28th January 1846.
Brewer author of The Beauties of Ireland visited Straffan while it was still in the possession of John Joseph Henry, and was impressed by the beauty of the place. “Straffan,” he said, “situated on the River Liffey between Celbridge and Clane, is the fine seat of the Henry family. The river is here crossed by a stone bridge of three arches. The mansion is built of brick, and occupies a beautiful position on the banks of the Liffey, which are extremely picturesque in this neighbourhood. The domain is surrounded with a high wall, and the grounds are richly planted.”
The Bartons of Straffan.
When Hugh Barton obtained possession of the property he rebuilt the Manson house, making it one of the most desirable residence in this country of magnificent mansions. The old house was a plain two-storey building in two parts, at right angles to each other. Probably some of tit was the work of Thomas Bowles, the Cromwellian tenant, who had an allowance out of the rent for the purposes of building.
Straffan House is to be again modeled, a princess which which will begin shortly after the fine old furniture and other costly effects of the mansion have been disposed of.
The Bartons of Straffan derive descent from Thomas Barton, who was descended from the Bartons of Barton Hall, in Lancashire. This Thomas Barton, of Barton Hall, is said to have come over in Ireland with the Army of Essex in 1559.
In 1663 William Barton (born in 1630) married Jane Hannah Forster. From this William’s second son, William sprang Thomas Barton, whose son, William, born 1723, married Grace Massey, by whom he had five sons, viz Thomas, William of Clonelly, Charles of Waterford, Hugh of Straffan (born inn 1760) and general Sir Robert Barton
Thomas, grandson of the first names William Barton, established himself in 1735, in business in Bordeaux, which he conducted with considerable success, property of Grove, in the County Tipperary, but eventually the business of Bordeaux, which in 1798 became the property of his grandson, Hugh of Straffan.
During the reign of terror in 1794, a large number of the leading merchants of Bordeaux were thrown into prison, and the places of business closed. Among those arrested was Hugh Barton, who was confined in the prison of Fort du Ha, from which, with the connivance of his wife Anne, who was the daughter of a naturalized French subject of Scotch origin, he made his escape to Ireland.
A Great Partnership
His French property was preserved, during his absence, in a very interesting way. Not being allowed, as an alien, to hold property in France, he arranged with one, Daniel Questier, or Guestier, to take over and manage the business in Bordeaux, while he (Hugh Barton) controlled it in Britain.
“The difficulty”, Mr Barton observes, “of carrying on business in such disturbed ties, at such a distance and under such conditions, was naturally very great;” nevertheless, with a perfect trust and confidence in each other, these two remarkable men continued to carry on the business, each in his own name, and in their respective countries, as though independent concerns, until the 1st August 1802, when a regular and formal act of partnership was entered into between them for nine years.
The partnership was renewed in 1811 by a mere exchange of letters; and still further extended in the same manner until the 1st January 1830. Their sons and grandsons succeeded them in turn; and it is understood that at the present time the direct representatives of Hugh Barton and Daniel Questier are partners of the old firm in the great claret producing district of Medoc.
Hugh Barton died in 1854, leaving issue, five sons and six daughter. His eldest son, Nathaniel of Straffan House, was made High Sherriff of Kildare 1850-’51, married 12th July 1823, Mary Susanna, daughter of Harry Harwood Scott, British Consul at Bordeaux. He died 19th November 1867, and was succeeded by his eldest son.
Hugh, who married 19th April 1855, the Hon Anne Emily Massey, daughter of Eyre, Lord Clarina. He was High Sheriff for Kildare oi 1861,; and, dying without issue, 23rd February 1899 was succeeded by his brother Bertram Francis Barton, High Sherriff for Kildare in 1903, who married 27th September 1855, Fannie, daughter of Frank Cutler, RN, of Upton Lodge, Devon.
Mr Barton died on the 11th September 1904, and was succeeded by his son, Bertram Hugh Barton, of Straffan, whose successor is Mr FB Barton, the present owner of the estate.
The Barton arms are: Argent a rase gules, seeded or, and barbed vert between three boars’ heads erased proper.
Crest: A boar’s head erased proper.
Motto: Fide et fortitudine. (By Fidelity and Fortune)