days on Lord Waterford's estate in Portlaw
Curraghmore has always been in my blood.
My earliest memory is waking up in a little cottage on the
estate, called "Farm Lodge" which looked out
on the Comeragh Mountains.
I was born towards the end of the powerful aristocratic
era where there was a wide gulf between the gentry, who
owned this magnificent estate, and the working class.
When my mum and dad came to live with my great-grandmother
in the early 1940s, Curraghmore had still the feel of a
bygone era. The first thing my mother was taught was how
to curtsy, this included bowing to the baby 'Waterford,'
who was pushed by our cottage in a large pram by his governess
My grandmother told us stories of yesteryear. When she was
young, in the days before the invention of the motorcar,
His Lordship and Her Ladyship's mode of transport was a
coach and four horses. People in those days spoke about
a time when a headless coach would replace those beautiful
As my grandmother lived at a gate lodge, it was her duty
to open and shut the gate and let the coach through, day
and night. She told the story of a night long ago, around
the turn of the 20th century, when the 'Family' were due
back late at night.
Jack, my grandfather, had been sick and granny was exhausted.
She knew she was still expected to open the gate, while
dressed in her uniform - a black dress, white apron and
The coachman, on the rear of the coach, would sound his
horn at Lizzy's Coe's Gate, at the top of the hill, and
she should jump into action so that the horses could gallop
through without breaking their stride.
On the night in question, granny had a bright idea; because
of her tiredness, she stuck a sweeping brush near the open
gate and placed her dress and apron on it with her cap on
In her troubled sleep, she thought she heard the coach go
by. The next day the coach driver knocked on granny's door
and rebuked her. "Mrs. Kelly," he said, 'that
was a dastardly thing you did last night. If His Lordship
woke he would have created hell; if you do that again, I
will report you."
Looking back, I always thought that was a case of "a
penny looking down on a halfpenny."
In the 1940s, Lady Waterford lived in the 'Big House,' with
her sister Miss Lindsay. She had tragically lost her husband;
her two sons, Lord Tyrone and Lord Patrick, were about to
start their education in England.
Mr. Silcock was the bookkeeper in the office in the courtyard.
After some time, Her Ladyship and John Silcock started walking
out together. Then one weekend the couple took a trip to
England. When they returned Her Ladyship informed us that
John would be called 'Colonel' from now on.
Her Ladyship bought John his title, so to his death he was
known as Lieutenant-Colonel John E. D. Silcock. Soon after,
Her Ladyship and her titled fiance were married, and lived
a long and happy life together.
More than 150 people worked on the estate, as labour was
cheap and everyone had a great respect for gentry. Every
worker doffed his cap and ladies jumped of their bikes to
curtsy when "The Family" passed.
In the farmyard, workers started at 8 a.m. to the sound
of the bell; the bell tolled at 1 o'clock for their meagre
lunch, and at 6 o'clock to end the day's work.
The first land stewart I recall was Mr. Bell; he was followed
by Mr. Fennel. Mossy Hickey and Bill Rowe were herdsmen
while Mick Brett and Jimmy Keyes were the sheperds who looked
after hundreds of sheep.
Ellen Ashmore was the dairymaid, who dispensed the milk
and made lovely butter. I used to go to the dairy each day
for a pint of milk. Ellen always measured out an exact pint
and then added a 'tilley,' which looked like a further half-pint.
Horses played a big part in the running of the farm; I remember
two big Clydesdales, called 'Danny' and 'Charley' who were
well treated and respected for the work they did.
When the ploughmen worked on the edges of the estate, they
mounted their horses and rode them into the farmyard like
cowboys, for lunch break of a mug of tea and a cut of bread.
The round journey often took forty minutes; time passed
very slowly in those days.
The forge was just behind our house. The blacksmiths were
Gussy Howley and Bill Purcell. I can still see the large
bellows, which kept the coals white-hot. I can hear the
rhythmic beat of the hammer on the anvil, see the sparks
flying ferociously towards the ceiling; I can smell the
red hot shoes being cooled in a bucket of water, the stench
of horses hooves, and the bang of the nails being driven
home. I can hear Gussy swear when the horse lost his balance
on three legs. Those images were stored in my mind when
I was about eight-years-old.
The estate was always kept in pristine condition, and workers
in droves, armed with shovels, kept the verges neat. Bluebells
adorned the woodland area near the 'Big House', and I can
still smell the crushed wild garic as I walked through the
woods. The area in the vicinity of the house was called
the Pleasure Ground, and that is exactly what it was.
The grass was shaved like a cricket pitch, and flowers of
every variety adorned the walkways. As a kid I played around
the Shell House, which is still an attraction for visitors.
There was a large lake at the front of the house, which
faced the Comeraghs, as the back of the house was at the
top of the courtyard. All the houses in this area were lived
in then and each had a character of its own.
Through an arch on the right of the courtyard were stables
and an engine room, where a generator provided electricity.
Mikey Cullinane worked there and I used to bring our wet
batteries to be re-charged to keep our primitive radio going.
The estate was adorned by Rhododendrons of various shades,
and in late spring my mind was filled with the images and
perfumes, which I carried with me all my life.
These were the war years. The Irish army was allowed on
the estate to carry out manoeuvres. Some of the soldiers
came into our kitchen and stuck their hand up the chimney
for soot to blacken their faces. They were dressed in coarse
green uniforms and wore hob-nailed boots. We were given
sweets by some soldiers to lessen our terror. They camped
in a grove at the back of our house.
Some nights our curtains were hurriedly drawn and the lamp
quenched when we heard the drone of a rogue German plane
My father joined the Local Defence Force and spent the weekends
on the hillside near Clonegam, cutting branches from trees
and aiming them at the sky. The Germans were supposed to
think that these sticks were anti-aircraft guns - 'Dad's
Army' at its best!
On the same hill, two men from Clonea came with nets and
ferrets to catch rabbits. At the end of the day, these men
walked to Carrick pushing their bikes laden with dozens
of rabbits which sold for sixpence per pair.
Years later, my long lost cousin visited our house with
her new husband. He was recognised by the 'old lady' as
one of the soldiers. His name was Joe Kennedy, who years
before gave us sweets and allowed us to play with his gun.
The market garden was run by Mr. Pelow, head gardener, with
a team of workers to support him. Every type of vegetable
and every variety of flower that would adorn Her Ladyship's
table were grown there. Each day the gardener would deliver
fruit, vegetables and flowers to the courtyard. In autumn,
some people from the estate would drop in and buy a bag
of apples for sixpence.
The road from the garden led to King John's Bridge; nearby
stood a large coniferous tree, which was later listed in
the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest tree in Britain
As a boy, I strolled down the River Walk. Down there was
a Japanese Garden where there was an almost stagnant pool
with strange plants, of oriental origin, floating on the
surface, surrounded by Monkey Puzzle trees and spanned by
a rope bridge.
I was told that in days of old the horses' hooves were covered
in sacking so that their hoofprints would not damage the
virgin moss. Further on, near the Enchanted Island Hill,
there was a semi-circular metal seating hideout, built into
the hillside, where, it was said, the courting gentry sat
and watched the Clodagh River meander by.
As I said, Curraghmore has always been in my blood. My family
lived on the estate for about 200 years. In my youth I roamed
from Clonegam to the Racecourse, and from Tower Hill to
Many memories stand out, like one August night I stood outside
our little cottage and listened to the music of Mick Delahunty
wafting through the still air from the riding-school in
the courtyard. Hundreds of boys and girls cycled in from
the country to dance the night away. My uncle John met his
wife, Anna, at one of those dances, so the riding-school
was a 'Ballroom of Romance.'
Those days have now gone; the estate, like a stately old
lady, still retains her dignity. She remembers times past,
war and peace, famine and plenty, the joy of new life and
the sorrows of death.
Courtesy of Waterford News & Star