are the old folk, the house stands deserted²
to be confused with ³This Ole House², a song made famous
by the late Rosemary Clooney (aunt of George) in the 1950s
and revived by Shakin Stevens in the early Eighties, ³The
Old House² by Sir Frederick O¹Connor is a recollection of
his childhood at Baltrasna House, near Oldcastle, writes
For many years, Baltrasna House was the ancestral home of
the OReilly family, a branch of the famous OReilly
of Breffni whose sphere of influence spread as far south
as Loughcrew in the 15th century, while the lands to the
south of Loughcrew were under the control of the Plunketts.
Baltrasna House and Estate were in the control of the OReilly
family and latter through marriage the OConnors
until the early 20th century. The house is over two hundred
years old and built in the longhouse design and replaced
an old castle that was a short distance away from the current
Shortly after the Battle of the Boyne, John OReilly,
who had a distinguished military career acquired Baltrasna
estate. John was the son of the great Cavan folk heroes,
Myles The Slasher OReilly who died defending
the bridge of Finea in 1644.
Myles father Edmund OReilly from Kilnacrott
was the last member of the OReilly clan to hold the
title of ORaghallaigh before Breffni was
shired in 1584 and became County Cavan. Edmund was killed
in Cavan town in 1601.
John OReilly or John Reilly (he was said to be the
first member of the OReilly clan to drop the prefix
O) was elected a knight for the county of Cavan
in May 1689. He raised a regiment of dragoons for King James
II and served in the Jacobite army in the war against King
William of Orange, fighting at the siege of Derry and the
Battles of Aughrim and the Boyne.
John Reilly was one of three individuals mentioned in the
military articles connected with the Treaty of Limerick
that was signed on October 3, 1691 and was allowed to keep
his lands. By and large the Williamite side stood by the
military articles, but it was their failure to comply with
the civil articles that led to led to the accusation that
the treaty was broken before the ink was dry.
In 1718, Thomas OReilly succeeded his father as master
of the estate, His son James later became a Protestant in
order to retain control of his property. Another son of
Thomas, Alexander (born in 1722) made a name for himself
in Spain, fighting with the Irish Brigade having previously
fought with the French and Austrian armies.
He graduated to the rank of Field Marshall and later became
Governor of Madrid, Captain General of Andalucia and Governor
Cadiz. Alexander merited a mention in Byrons poem
Was is for this that General Count OReilly,
who took Algiers, declared I used him vilely?. Byron
also wrote General Count OReilly did not take
Algiers, Algiers took him. Alexander OReilly
was humiliated by his failure to take Algiers in 1775.
Six years earlier he set sail for New Orleans with a strong
military force to quell a revolt. His affability allowed
him ingratiate himself to the rebels and after inviting
them to a reception, he promptly had them arrested. Five
were executed and the rest were jailed in Havana.
As Governor of Louisiana, Alexander was regarded as enlightened
and liberal and shortly before his death in 1794, paid a
1000 guineas to a genealogist to set out his pedigree. According
to one account Alexander also held an unfulfilled ambition
to return to Baltrasna with one of his regiments to deal
with his brother James for abandoning his Catholic faith.
The OReillys of Baltrasna also made their mark
in Cuba and acquired the title of Counts of Castillo and
Marquis of San Felipe y Santiago. One of the major streets
in Havana - the Calle Orely is derived from the surname,
OReilly. In addition, streets in Madrid, Barcelona
and Cadiz bear the family name.
One of Alexanders descendents, Robert Maitland OReilly
(1845-1912) was surgeon general in the US Army from 1902
to 1909 and was also personal physician to President Grover
Cleveland, who served two separate terms as President of
The saying the life of Reilly is believed to
have its origin in the 15th century practice the family
had of making their own coinage by clipping
English coins, something that was later outlawed. On the
other hand someone who was financially challenged hadnt
a Reilly to his name.
In the early 19th century the OReillys of Baltrasna
House fell into financial difficulties and mortgaged the
estate to Jews. When the OReillys failed to
keep up with the repayments they were dispossessed.
However, the new owners were despised by their tenants and
were terrorized by the Ribbon Men, a secret society that
was active in pre-Famine times, that specialized in making
life difficult for notorious landlords. The upshot of all
this was that Anthony OReilly was reinstated at Baltrasna
and continued to reside there until his death aged 62 in
Anthony planted a tree for each of his seven daughters along
the main avenue to the house. With the death of his only
son, James, the family name at Baltrasna died with him.
Anthonys eldest daughter, Harriet Georgina (born 1841)
married Matthew Richard Weld OConnor in 1865. OConnor
was the son of the Rev. George OConnor, Vice-Choral
of Cloyne and Rector of Castleknock, County Dublin.
Harriets husband was an unscrupulous land agent and
hated by the tenants at Baltrasna to whom he showed no mercy
in his dealings with them. Rents were very high on the estate
in an effort to lessen the debts.
Another member of the OConnor family, Frederick, wrote
about his childhood home in the The Old House.
Sung to the air of the popular Welsh song, The Ash
Grove, it was part of John McCormacks repertoire
and he even sung it at his farewell concert at the Royal
The Old House
Lonely I wander, through scenes of my childhood,
They bring back to memory those happy days of yore,
Gone are the old folk, the house stands deserted,
No light in the window, no welcome at the door.
Heres where the children played games on the heather,
Heres where they sailed wee boats on the burn,
Where are they now? Some are dead, some have wandered,
No more to their home shall those children return.
Lone stands the house now, and lonely the mooreland,
The children have scattered, the old folk are gone.
Why stand I here, like a ghost and a shadow.
Tis time I was moving, tis time I passed on.
Frederick had a successful career in the British Army and
was later knighted. The advent of the 20th century brought
huge changes in terms of land distribution and ownership
in Ireland and Baltrasna was no different.
A family called Murdock bought the land in the early years
of the new century and remained there until after the Second
World War. A Mrs. Crocker took possession in 1946 and promptly
sold off much of the estate. In the 1950s the Land Commission
subdivided much of the estate.
Taken from Royal County