by B & J Gately
“The largest and grandest Georgian house in South Westmeath was built in 1746 by Edmond Malone and his wife Ruth Judge of Gageborough. The sophistication of Ballinahown Court suggests that he was a travelled and cultured person.” – Thus wrote Christine Casey and Alistair Rowan in their book The Buildings of Ireland, North Leinster. The house is tall and square, a big redbrick three storey block in the manner of Richard Castle with a hipped roof rising behind a parapet and cornice and a large central chimney stack – solid handsome architecture that is even more appealing by virtue of its rarity in this part of the country. The long straight drive approaching the house from the east reveals all that is best in the building – a symmetrical three bay entrance front of warm red brick and limestone trim. Broad expanses of brick masonry frame relatively narrow sash windows, set in moulded limestone surrounds. A fanlit doorcase and long sidelights with pretty geometric patterned glazing are framed by four Tuscan pilasters supporting a broad limestone pediment. A single storey three bay C19 wing adjoins the south flank of the house, but the north side is original. Athlone born T.P. O’Connor M.P. paid a visit to the house in his youth. Thirty five years later he wrote “I still recall it as though it were yesterday the first large house. I was almost overwhelmed by its magnificence. It was brick which I had ever seen, for we do not use brick in the western part of Ireland. The thick soft carpets, the drawing room covered with opulent furniture, everything made me feel my own littleness and poverty’. Local people still recall the magnificent carved library, which alas is no more.
The first occupants – the Malone family were one of the most ancient in Ireland. They held their herediatary property in Ballinahown through all the vestitudes, Civil War, reballions and revolutions for over 900 years. It is a branch of the Royal House of the O’Connors, Kings of Connaught. At the beginning of this millennium, 1111 A.D., we are told thatChristian Malone, abbott of Clonmacnoise, presided at a Council held by the clergy of Meath at Uisneagh. Several others were abbotts and in the Parliament of James the Second helpd in Dublin in 1689, Edward Malone, Ballinahown, represented the Borough of Athlone.
In 1829 the estate was bought by Andrew Ennis, a Dublin businessman, for £26,000, total acreage being 1,879 acres i.e. £13.84 per acre. Andrew was succeeded by his son John – born 1809 – who was elected M.P. for Athlone in 1857. He was Governor of the Bank of Ireland in 1860 and a director for many years. He, with others, founded the Midland Great Western Railway to further the construction of a line to Galway and the West. He became Chairman of the Company and in recognition of his service, when the Southern Line was built from Tullamore to Athlone, a special siding was put in at Cartron’s Bridge, with its own signal. He was succeeded by his son, John James, who became an M.P. for Athlone in 1868.
The latter was the last Ennis to own Ballinahown Court-he died in 1884. When he died, the property devolved on his sister Mary, who had married Daniel O’Donoghue of the Glens, whose mother was a niece of Daniel O’Connell. Thus began the reign of the O’Donoghues in the big house. Through the pressure of the Land Acts and other factors the estate had been reduced to five hundred acres by the end of the 19th Century. It proved impractical to maintain and was sold in 1968.
The present holder of the title “The O’Donoghue” is Geoffrey Vincent Paul, who is one of only twenty Gaelic Chiefs, who have the formal right to use their historic title. On the death of his father, also Geoffrey, as tanaiste he succeeded to the title. He now lives outside Tullamore and runs a number of businesses. The purchaser of the estate, Mr. Basil Crofts Green ran a dairy farm for a few years but eventually sold to the Land Commission.
The house was vacant for some time and the land was divided among local farmers. The present owners of this magnificent house are Mr. & Mrs. Noel O’Gara. Noel bought the house and sixty acres of land in 1977, by public auction for £66,500. He and his wife have tastefully converted the stables into living accommodation for guests. The high wall still surrounds the acre, which was once an orchard. The long straight drive is bordered by magnificent trees lovingly maintained. It is truly a place of peace and tranquility – long may it be so.
Text taken verbatim from ‘A Pilgrim People’ – Stories from Leamonaghan Parish.