Extracts from the Memoir of Derrick Barton (1900-93) published in 1986
The Barton family lived in the Manor House at Barton in Lancashire for many generations. As early as 1275 there is mention of this name in some legal matter – there are many years thereafter which are difficult to follow, complicated as they are by an endless succession of the same christian names. Towards the end there emerges yet another Thomas who lived from 1557 to 1603, and his two brothers.
His father is referred to as “of Barton” and was accustomed over a number of years to do much of his farm business with one John Fleetwood of Park Hill in Lancashire. They were on very friendly terms and when his grand-daughter was born she was called by the family name of Fleetwood. By 1599 the relations were evidently getting anxious about the health of Fleetwood’s father Richard (who died four years later), and to protect her future as the sole heiress of the family and its estate her grandfather Thomas came to an arrangement with a neighbour, Sir Richard Mollineux of Sefton, to marry the infant of seven years to his son Richard. The marriage was subsequently set aside legally, and she married Richard Shuttleworth of Gawthorpe by whom she had ten children. She died in 1644. A descendant eventually sold the property in 1834 to Alderman W. Smith and thus finally severed the family’s last links with the Barton Manor Estate which they had held for some 300 years. Fleetwood was the last Barton to own Barton Hall. By a strange coincidence my wife and I came in contact with a Shuttleworth descendant during the last days of World War 2.
A younger brother of Thomas, named Andrew, is by well-held family tradition believed to have gone to Ireland with the expedition of the Earl of Essex in 1600. What with the troubled state of the country and the continued duplication of family names it is well-nigh impossible to follow the history of the family in Ireland for some considerable time, until yet another Thomas emerges, born in 1694. By his own written testimony he was brought up a merchant, working at first in Marseilles and Montpellier and eventually settling in Bordeaux in 1725. He states that he inherited property on Bowe Island in Lough Erne from an uncle and the “Little Estate of Curraghmore” (where he had been born) on his father’s death. He asserts that the father of William, through whom he inherited Bowe island, was Anthony, descended from the Bartons of Barton Hall in Lancashire, thus linking the two periods of family history.
Thomas Barton is a very notable figure in family history and by all of us of later years he is referred to almost reverently as “French Tom”. He settled in Bordeaux at the age of thirty-one and Grove, in Tipperary, was bought in 1744 and became a kind of family centre until his grandson Hugh bought Straffan in 1828, which superseded it. And it was he who laid the foundations of the family’s notable association with the wine business which has continued to this day.
I came across this gem of a letter, from him -as a grandfather to his ten year-old grand-daughter, in the writer’s Letter book copied in his own hand-writing, and feel it is too good to allow to pass into oblivion. It is so illustrative of a bygone age and of a relation between the generations that we have never known. One wonders, after reading it if there can have been any laughter in the nursery?
At the time this letter was written he was already seventy-eight and lived on, in spite of what he says therein, for another eight years, dying in 1780. Grace, the grand-daughter to whom he was here writing, was only ten at the time. She became Grace Palliser, the mother of four sons and four daughters, and o ‘ ne can but ho pile that the poor dears were taught to laugh, among the other virtues!
5th May 1772
My very dear Grand-daughter,
I received your two letters…. it does me very great pleasure to understand that you are a good girl and mind your learning which pray mind to continue to do, but above all things, my dear little Grace, let strict virtue and good humour, free from vanity or pride be your chief study. Virtue is a glorious thing that never fades. To be truly virtuous will make you Beloved Esteemed and Respected by everyone that may ever become acquainted with you : but virtue once in the least tarnished is never to be repaired. A woman that wants virtue will always be despised, disregarded and hated even by her nearest relations. You have a fine pattern of virtue and goodness before you that is your virtuous grandmother Barton who loves you.
Copy after her and you will be happy in this world and in the world to come, if you prove a good virtuous woman. Be assured that I shall love you dearly, and do everything in my power for your welfare and happiness. Once more guard against Vice, Pride and Vanity. Let your soul be wrapt up in goodness and then God will bless you in all your ways. I am sorry to find that you have been in want for proper clothes. I shall send you … sufficient to make you summer clothes and when summer is over I shall send you wherewithall to make you winter clothes if you continue to be a good girl. I shall take very affectionate care of you. I pray the Almighty God to bless you and preserve you in the paths of Godliness and holiness. Mind your duty and pray unto the Great God and He will bless you and preserve you, for it is through Him that all happiness proceeds.
Read this letter when I am dead and gone, often. Your following my advice given you in it may lead you to your future happiness. I am now grown very, old and have not long to expect to live, but while I live my blessing and prayers shall always continue for your welfare. I am with tenderest affection my dear child your etc. etc.
Straffan House was built by my great-great-grandfather Hugh Barton, the grandson of “French Tom”, in 1832. After running the gauntlet of the French Revolution he made his escape with his family to Ireland in 1794, returning to France ten years later to take up the reins of the wine business which he had left in the competent hands of his French friend Daniel Guestier. So faithfully had Guestier fulfilled his trust that he-made him his partner. And this partnership, under the name of “Barton and Guestier”, flourished in those astonishing post-revolutionary years so strongly that together with his other interests he ‘was able to write in the last years of his life, “I calculate that I am now worth £1,000,000”, and proceeded to test the substance of his calculations. He invested much of this in agricultural holdings in North Kildare, including the demesne lands of Straffan House bought from the Henry family of Lodge Park. The original house had recently been destroyed by fire.
He chose as architect of his new home Frederick Darley of Dublin and, presumably because of the family’s long association with France, he prevailed on him to design a mansion which closely followed the lines of Chateau Louveciennes, built in the reign of Louis XIV and given to the Comtesse du Barry by Louis XV. Originally it consisted of three storeys, one wholly underground and lit generally through a steeply sloped bank reaching to ground level. But a very few years after it was completed, a fourth storey was added so that it could become what was to be called “the abode of the happy family”.
it was. to this building that I was brought to live on my grandfather’s death when I was four years old, and which was to become my home and the background of my life till I was fifty. When I first knew it, it housed a throbbing community of more than twenty people, sixteen of whom were paid servants sleeping under its roof. My own family consisted of father and mother, myself and my brother Ronald joined by my sister Storeen two years later. I calculate that to accommodate this great company, together with the needs of passing guests, there were fully thirty bedrooms, and up to the outbreak of war in 1914 no less than five separate meals had to be served four times a day – to the family, the nursery and/or schoolroom, three or four head servants presided over by the butler, the housekeeper’s room where other head servants fore-gathered, and all the rest in the “servant’s’ hall”.
Now, both of us well into our eighties and my wife very much an invalid, we have come to live in a furnished apartment on the outskirts of Blackrock, with a nurse coming in each morning to help her get started on her day, and a very adequate and efficient “Help” coming in for two hours three mornings a week. I myself fill up the gap in our needs with a round of shopping, what passes for cooking and such other domestic chores that have to be done, going out for my own lunch at a nearby restaurant. We have a nice two-bedroomed furnished flat with a spacious living-room and a small kitchen and an electric cooker on the top (second floor) of a purpose-built block, reasonably secure and away from the noise of traffic, looking out on a garden well planted with established trees and a wealth of rose beds.
It is between the varying circumstances and changes of these two dwelling places that I have lived and moved and had my being, so utterly different in themselves and yet so capable of providing a background to the tremendous variety and experience that friends have urged me to call to mind. The change has been dramatic when one looks directly from one to the other. In 1914 Earl Grey is credited with the prophetic utterance to the effect that “I see the lights of Europe going out one by one”. I am not sure it is fair to describe the changes in the background of my life as I have been privileged to live it as “lights going out”. Certainly the scenery has changed, but it has clearly not been from light to darkness. I have found pleasure and satisfaction all the way, as I hope the memories I recall will show. I do so with gratitude and a sense of privilege that it would be niggardly to deny.
Chapter II POLITICS
It will now be necessary to go back to the farmers’ problems while all this was going on. Unrest and general dissatisfaction was growing every- where, so that our Naas branch of the Farmers’ Union was not alone in its discontent., Protest meetings were being held in many different parts I and a meeting was notified for Kilcock by the Branch there. I was asked to attend on behalf of Naas and to report back what was happening. :
And so it was that I found myself attending my first political meeting on behalf of our Naas branch of the Farmers’ Union. I was extremely nervous about this; the Civil War was not very far behind us, and it was feared that any anti-government views would be resented and could erupt once more into violence. There was a small old-fashioned revolver and ammunition in the munitions room and before setting forth I took the precaution of slipping this (loaded) into my pocket. it was a well attended meeting but I don’t remember anything that was said; nor did I know any of the speakers. However all was quiet and peaceful, and I was never again to feel any urge to carry a firearm with me. Eventually I threw the gun into the river!
It was shortly after this meeting that I met Tom Cornelia in the village, He told me that he did not like me going off alone to meetings of this sort, and if I would let him know beforehand he would always accompany me, which he did unfailingly. As he had been the local leader of the IRA (old time) and I some years in the British Army, I could never forget this.
As will be seen later on, I was quickly drawn into the political arena for a short time, and Tom’s promise to be my escort, almost my body-‘ guard, was to be fully exercised. Most faithfully he accompanied me every where. Up to this point, I had not more than a passing acquaintance with him and the more I saw of him, the more I liked him and appreciated the privilege of the friendship and trust he gave me.
I suppose it was the unusual-sounding name that has stuck in my memory from earliest times, but whatever the reason, I remember most distinctively from nursery or schoolroom days being commissioned as an objective for a walk to take one or two pairs of shoes to be mended by Cornelia. I don’t have any recollections of him as a person – only that he lived in one of the tiny cabins of a row in what was called the Boreen more strictly a laneway) built along the edge of the Straffan Demesne. o him was entrusted the repair of all the family footwear and memory sharpened by the resulting consequent break in the dull routine of the obligatory daily walk. it would be perhaps ten years on that I remember one holidays my father mentioning that he had been receiving a deputation of some landless men who were seeking a sale of some land near Straffan village. These ere times when the big estates were still being broken up by the Land Commission for similar sales, and there could often be much disagreeable designation to that end. My father, being a wise man as well as a large and respected employer, was able to come to satisfactory terms with the deputation’, one of whom I was to find out in later years was Tom Cornelia, a son of my earlier friend.
Unlike many at that time, who were unable to make much of similar ultra-small holdings and could only join the queue and let their grazing the traditional eleven months, Tom must have proved his worth as a potential small farmer, and when mote extensive holdings were being vested from another estate in a few years’ time, he was one of the favoured ones. Another was John Cruise, who was one of the very few men to leave my service. I learnt a tremendous lesson when he came up to give me notice. The joy on his face, when he told me he was getting one of the holdings, was most revealing and I had a very different outlook on this hunger for land from that time. John and his new neighbour-to-be both made good, and prospered from their hard work.
What I did not remember, and the recollection of it was only brought to my mind by a chance word many years later, was that Tom had come to me and asked that I would lend him enough cash to buy the necessary seeds for his first harvest. It was not a very large amount, and with so many other things to occupy my mind and the general experience that such loans had a way of becoming gifts I soon forgot all about it; and the years passed and Hitler made his presence felt and I was away from home. One day a postal order came with a little note to the effect that it was payment of “conscience money”. From time to time after at the post brought a similar offering. Eventually, with the conscience honourably assuaged, the payments ceased. But not before a great deal of water had passed under Straffan Bridge.
Meanwhile, unexpectedly, de Valera had decided in 1932 to bring matters to a head by declaring what came to be known as the Economic War on England, His aim (in which he ultimately succeeded) was to keep at home much of the Annuities payable by farmers through the Land Commission to redeem the money advanced to the landlords for the purchase of their farms, and which were remitted to England. The result of the retention of this money was that a tax on every head of cattle exported was promptly imposed and the price of livestock dropped by half in the night. There was a revealing insight into the difficulty of doing a great deal for the farmers which came about from this. In order to try and prevent the bottom quite falling out of the market the Government passed a regulation that no cattle should be sold under a certain price (if my memory serves me right this was £1 a live hundredweight!). I had no business in the Dublin market the day this came into operation, but I took an early trip round it to see what would happen. The first person I met was one of my friends on the local Farmers’ Union Committee. He called me to one side and whispered in my ear: “How are we going to dodge this?” A regulation, remember, issued to try and support the livestock prices!
It was a catastrophic time for the farmers. Every device was thought up to combat the problem, including the slaughter of calves under a bonus scheme to keep the numbers of cattle down. To many it seemed to be a self-inflicted sickness; de Valera’s policy seemed crazy and doomed to fail and the various farmers’ organisations began to coalesce and turn to politics, only for the most part among that part of the population that had favoured making the Treaty with England work. Frank McDermot emerged as a capable leader who began to think once more of a Farmers’ Party and the formulation of a reasoned Agricultural Party. He began to travel around and speak at these meetings up and down the country and his idea of forming a Farmers’ Party that would speak for the difficulties and the needs of the agricultural community began to take root. it was decided to call it “The Centre Party” and his idea was to draw in the farming vote from both the main parties in the DO who could be expected to disapprove of de Valera’s current policy, which was looking disastrous for farming. I met him at one of these public meetings in the county and shortly afterwards he wrote asking me to meet him in Dublin. At this interview he discussed his plans for the new party and asked me if I would consider becoming a prospective candidate for the Kildare constituency. He gave me the names of others who had already agreed, to allow their names to go forward in their own areas. I accepted his invitation, little thinking that with several years to go before the next General Election there was any prospect of anything more than some preliminary work in the county. But within a very few weeks that very astute politician de Valera, sensing that his position was looking more precarious with every week that passed, sprang a surprise election on the country before the organisation of the new party could have time to get established.
I was promptly nominated their candidate by our Farmers’ Party and with all the necessary steps taken, we had our election committee formed, nomination day was passed and the brief campaign was on. Our Speakers’ Team was woefully thin – basically Tom Lalor, an old campaigner for the Cosgrave (pro-Treaty) party who had never got elected – and myself! And we not infrequently had to carry the smaller, country, meetings on our own. There was in addition the young son of one of the leading solicitors’ firms in Naas who was a useful back-up and whose family contacts made for a bit of built-in support. He was no great speaker, anymore than Tom or I ‘was, but on one terrible morning he gave us most manful support. The meeting was to be one of those (to me) horrible ones at the gates of a small isolated Chapel, sited at the roadside, miles from anywhere. Our intelligence department had broken down badly and when we arrived we found the top TD of the constituency in possession just outside the gate. We couldn’t just drive away; so I got our young friend set up about two hundred yards further down the road, and told him he ‘had simply got to talk for a quarter of an hour or so no matter what he said; there was quite literally no-one to listen except for the half-dozen who had come with us and a few blackbirds in the hedge. He kept it up wonderfully, till we felt honour was satisfied. We had held our meeting! There were a few young students up at Trinity College, Dublin, anxious to try their hand (or voice) at public speaking and one or other of them would come down now and again and help out, but none had much of a gift and all faded out long before the campaign was over. But one foggy night we got an unexpected lift when out of the mist, after Tom and I had said our say, a figure emerged and asked if he could say a few words. He did – and probably made the best speech of our campaign. We got him to join us for the next few nights, but he was never so telling again and soon faded out altogether.
That was one of the difficulties, the endless repetition day after day, and three or four times in the day. Although one kept telling oneself that the audience was different and what one was saying was new to them, it was not new to oneself, and it got more and more stale. Towards the end, I had to insist we only went to the more populous centres, where some kind of a crowd, even a hostile crowd, would be around to rouse the adrenalin a bit. Then again there was the almost inevitable throat trouble when I contracted the prevalent heavy cold, and my throat felt as if it had been rubbed hard with coarse sandpaper. With our speakers’ team so small I just could not be spared. My friends loaded me with drafts of “port and brandy” which I had never sampled before. I must say it was the greatest help under the circumstances, giving relief to the vocal chords and an invaluable stimulant.
Meetings were all very quiet and peaceful – and almost entirely without heckling. At the worst, a hostile crowd would come and sit down at the foot of a convenient wall, just not out of earshot, and let you know how little they thought of you! it was very demoralising till one got accustomed to it: a good shouting crowd would have been much more exhilarating. And there were no indoor meetings whatever; it was all open-air stuff and as far as I can remember the weather was mostly very kind to us.
At last we reached the final night before the poll which had to be somewhat of a gala. We foregathered at Lawlors’ Hotel at the bottom end of Naas in the centre of the constituency with the main supporters of the campaign from the Election Headquarters and so on – and believe it or not, were able to hire the Labour Party band for the evening. They gave us magnificent support – as our closest allies they could not have been better, and with them at our head we marched to a prepared “platform” (a couple of farm lorries) in the centre of the town, accompanied by a motley (and not too sober) crew of ex-Service down-and-outs from 1918 who still haunted the country and who lived on their wits and a certain kind of blackmail with what was left of their army discharge papers. Luckily the noise was far too great for anyone to pay any attention to them, for all I heard, when the band drew breath for a moment were cries of: “Up Lloyd George”, not exactly the kind of battle-cry I (as an ex-British Officer) was looking for.
The election was fought, as all Irish elections have been, under Proportional Representation. Kildare was a three-seat constituency, which was not quite enough to be ideal. The sitting members were one Government man (de Valera’s party), one Opposition (pro-Treaty Cosgrave man) and the leader of the small Labour Party. Any hope the Farmers’ Centre Party might have would be the defeat of the second named, who was a well-established and popular mill owner. As it was, we did not do too badly; the quota of votes that was required for election was around six thousand. All I could muster was some four thousand and the result of the poll was to restore the status quo, as it was to remain for many years with changing personalities, until a re-drawing of a larger constituency from neighbouring counties.
But it had been a great experience and good fun, and had given me many friends up and down the county which I would never have found otherwise. For a time I worked for the Centre Party in the county “nursing it” I think it is called, for a future occasion, which of course was a long way off at that point in time.
Meanwhile there was plenty happening to keep the political temperature high. De Valera was in a strong position to pursue his quarrel with England and keep the Annuities money at home. The rather natural reaction to that was “if the money collected for the Land Annuities was not going to be passed on to those for whom it was collected – viz. England- it wasn’t going to be paid at all”! The argument was all the more persuasive in view of the deplorable state of most farmers’ finances by reason of this “economic war”, as it was named. So we don’t pay any annuity. The Government didn’t agree and it was quickly threatened that if the money was not forthcoming the bailiff would be put in and sufficient stock seized to pay for what was owing. In due course, stock was seized and put up for auction; but obviously no-one was going to bid for such tainted goods. They were put up again and a government-appointed agent was put up to bid for them.
Tempers rose to fever heat. At one such sale in Naas, the sale was aborted by a mini-riot. The gates of the pound were broken open and the cattle hunted out into the main street of the town by an enraged mob of farmers. Among these was myself. The situation was looking dangerous, and as I joined in the hunt, I began to wonder what could be done. Apart from anything else, the wretched cattle could not be run indefinitely. As we came to the outskirts of the town, I used my running powers to get to the head of the mob and had a moment of inspiration. The cattle were diverted down a side turning while I persuaded the crowd to keep on running up the main road as if the cattle were still in front of them. The police had got away to a bad start and had not caught up at that stage and the ruse was completely successful. A second turn in the side road hid the cattle and my small band of drovers soon got them quietened to a walk. Another turn to the left and we were heading back to the pound from which we had taken them, and they were duly shut in again. It was quite a time before the unhappy guardians of the law, who had been vainly searching for them far and wide, found them all safe and sound in the place whence they had supposedly been taken. By which time there was no question of holding the sale that day.
The “war” went on remorselessly for some time, and the, cattle trade was in ruins. Good stores could be bought for one pound a leg: double figures were exceptional and the rate of increase from growth and feeding, at around £1 per live hundredweight, was too low for any worthwhile profit. Encouragement was given by the Government to turn to tillage; and a premium was paid to slaughter calves and keep the cattle stocks as low as possible. The wordy warfare went on with England, with the farmers’ livelihood always the ammunition. Eventually some sort of agreement was hammered out and de Valera got his way, at a price; the cash from the annuites was kept at home and England settled for a once-for-all payment or some such solution – I forget what.
But in the meantime, much bitterness was engendered; the claims by the government for the Annuities as they became due went on, up and down the country such scenes as those in Naas were repeatedly enacted, and “Mr. Brown”, the Government buyer, became a familiar and despised figure. For my part, as leader in Kildare, I was in a difficult position.-I could not give my blessing to the withholding of legal dues (it was the Government who were defaulting by not passing on what had been collected) any more than I could advise they should be paid. “Protest” was all that I could do – and it was at a protest gathering at one of these Bailiff’s sales in Prussia Street near the cattle market that I came into serious conflict with Authority. A very angry crowd had gathered outside the yard where the cattle were to be put up for sale and the inevitable Mr Brown was spotted in attendance. He began to be roughly handled and justifiably fearing for his safety he tried to make his escape to the roof via a ladder which happened to be leaning against the wall. The crowd was by now truly menacing as he started up the ladder and I with the help of two or three others standing near me linked hands and were able to hold the crowd back for just the few moments it needed for Mr Brown to reach the safety of the roof. What happened after that I never quite knew, somehow the cattle were smuggled out by a back way and their sale was not possible. And the protest gathering gradually dispersed.
But clearly that could not be the end of the matter. I and three other local “leaders” that were identified as being to the forefront of the crowd were in due course to receive a summons. By that time the “war” against the farmer had hardened still further and our summons was to appear before a new military court that had been introduced to combat the growing threat to lawful authority.
it will be necessary to go back a little in time to see what had been happening. Unfortunately my recollections of these events are somewhat cloudy and chronologically confused. The campaign against the payment of the Annuities, and with them the rates, grew rapidly in strength and scenes such as I have described were occurring all over the country. Into his scene stepped General O’Duffy, lately retired from command of the Garda Siochána. He had done a magnificent job creating a new, unarmed politically neutral police force out of the turmoil of the strife with England and the divisiveness of a bitter civil war. But he Was clearly a product of Cumann na nGaedheal (the pro-Treaty party), and with the position Fianna Fáil now firmly in the saddle his position must have come difficult, to say the least of it. And so he found himself back in civil life and without a job. This was the era of the Shirt Brigades – Mussolini in Italy was soon followed by Hitler in Germany. Mosley was being a nuisance with a bad imitation in England, and it was an easy sequence of thought that O’Duffy should think he would come to- the salvation of his country, as he saw it, and organise a force of “Blue-Shirts”. Once they were in sufficient strength they would in a similar way take over power and stop the disintegration that was going on.
Good as he had been with his police force, he was never quite big enough to do as much on a national scale. Always the shadow of civil war divisions would haunt him, I think, and his potential recruiting ground could not expand far beyond one section of the community. The movement never really caught on, and his brave words did not translate themselves into deeds. There was, however, a degree of persuasiveness about him, and his past achievements gave him a great start, and while quite enthusiastic recruiting and dressing up in the bright blue shirts went forward down in the constituencies, he managed to get together all the bits and pieces of the opposition in Government circles: Cosgrave’s old party, the small band of the farmers (or Centre Party) and sundry Independents (notably James Dillon). The new Fine Gael party took shape. We did get James once into a blue shirt, but only once, and this part of the movement did not appeal to the old order of politicians. it was left to the new blood, people such as myself, to do the fancy dress stuff. And wherever I went for an organisational meeting it was nice to have a small band of Blue-Shirts round me to give it substance.
In 1933 I was co-opted an original member of the central executive committee of the new party, henceforward to be known as Fine Gael, with O’Duffy in the chair, and had an interesting time for a few months while the manifesto and policy of the party was being prepared. I was privileged to share the platform, at some big public meetings such as Naas and Athy with some of the big noises like Cosgrave and Dillon. And one time there was a massed gathering in Trim to which I drove as many of our local Blue-Shirts as I could seat in the farm lorry. I was not one of the platform party on that occasion, being outside my own constituency.
For a time, in those and other ways, the movement just looked as if it might develop into the kind of threat that had been seen elsewhere, and it was evidently enough to alarm the Government into taking Special Powers to deal with any emergency, should it arise. A special military court was empowered to try any cases which were thought unsuitable to be entrusted to the normal civil courts. And such was deemed to be our little upheaval in Prussia Street. Four, including myself, were arraigned before it; I think it was the first of its kind.
I don’t remember much about it except that it was held in one of the big Dublin Barracks by four senior Army Officers with a very prominent State Council leading the attack, who was well known to be anything but neutral, politically. On our side was engaged another well-known State Council to lead our defence. I don’t even remember the offences we. were charged with, but they clearly had to do with such things as riotous behaviour and threatening the safety of someone who was engaged in the service of the state. The case lasted three or four days, and I know that virtually the w hole of one day I found myself at the mercy of the said State Council in cross-examination following my evidence in chief in my own and the general defence. it was a gruelling experience and one which, thank goodness, I have never had to repeat. The end of it all was, almost inevitably, that we were all four found guilty and fined £50 each, which the Party organisation in the county very kindly paid.
I was to have yet another brush with Authority before the so-called Economic War was over, and I have no recollection of what it was about. Certainly it must have been some fairly severe disturbance, presumably in Naas, for some dozen or so prominent farmers were arrested and in due course appeared at the next monthly session of the District Court, this time before the District Magistrate and not the military court. Through the grapevine I got word that a warrant was out for my own arrest, among others, and for the hell of it I decided to do a disappearing act and go “on the run” for three or four days. In actual fact I betook myself for a few days’ fishing on the Newport River, a rather favourite haunt of mine. Being well-known at the pub where I was staying, I told the owner my secret (the incident had of course got into the papers) and for the duration of my stay he got quite a kick out of calling me Mr. Barlow (when he remembered) which all added to the fun! In the end inevitably I had to return home, where I was formally “arrested” and as formerly released within the hour by a special court called for the purpose and ordered to appear at,the next District Court. This I did, and there was great interest when myself and about a dozen of the best-known farmers were duly called. On account of our numbers, the whole procedure somewhat dragged out through the morning and we were remanded for a further hearing at the next Court. This was repeated for another month or two and finally the case was dropped. By then the “War” was over, de Valera had to some extent won his point, and the Annuities (eventually halved I think) were still to be collected, but were to be kept at home and (again as far as I can remember) a “once for all” capital sum was paid over to England.
Some time after this, I decided that politics were not for me and bowed my way out as gracefully as I could. And once again, it had become conclusively shown that there was no room for a purely Farmers’ Party; the -agricultural vote was always going to be swamped by the votes of the urban population.
The house was becoming a problem that would have to be faced on a more permanent basis. It could not be left indefinitely three-quarters unoccupied, either from the viewpoint of the fabric itself, or that of the very valuable contents. That condition had gone on for some eight years now, and there was clearly no prospect of doing anything much better. We had moved back to using the front door instead of a small side door, and a few other small adjustments, and my wonderful mother had found the money (in the region of 0,000) to instal a turbine and generator down at the weir which had originally powered a small local flour mill. With this it had been possible to generate quite a useful amount of electricity, enough to use some electric fires and make an electrified kitchen out of the disused billiard room, thus eliminating a colossal coal-fired kitchen range and finally shutting off all use of the basement. In the end, the electric cookers were not a success and a coal-fired Aga cooker was installed, which was a wonderful invention, and our precious electricity could be used more freely for space heating and the hot water supply. Still, this was all a palliative and something more drastic must be faced; always still short of selling out. Apart from other considerations, there was as yet little or no market for this kind of property and it is not the sort of decision that one comes to easily after the family’s history in it for one hundred years.
Our first idea was to move out and install ourselves in an enlarged gardener’s house. It had a very attractive site but was wholly impractical otherwise. There were several other houses on the estate which in the light of hindsight might have made us a nice home, but were all in turn rejected. And then our architect, who had been struggling with the garden house idea, took a look at Straffan House itself and conceived the notion of taking down a large part of it and making what was left into a comparatively small and manageable house.
This is what we did in the end. It was to be paid for by the sale of all the surplus things that the smaller house would not need, a heart-searching affair; for there was a great wealth of beautiful French and English furniture of the last century or earlier, that had to be parted with. And my darling mother died in London, in 1936, on the very first day of the weeklong sale, so we had to leave everything in the hands of the auctioneers and go over to London and bring her back to be buried in the family graveyard.
I found the architect’s drawings of the original house and with these to help, the architect and I worked out the new plans and we were lucky he was able to put us in touch with a splendid builder who was most cooperative and straight throughout and easy to work with. From the outside it was rather a distortion, but we did make a warm and manageable and attractive home of it. Unfortunately Hitler intervened, and the work was only barely finished when the war broke out.