The rediscovery of Bloomville, County Offaly. Christopher Fettes

Bloomville, Cloneygowan, County Offaly

On June 15th 1991, I climbed a locked gate marked Bloomville, just as the rain stopped and the sun came out.  There were some lovely beeches, but no sign of a house. I then spotted two ancient chestnuts, and it was only then that I could see the house in the distance.

It was a case of love at first sight, with everything sparkling in the sunshine, and I wondered why the agent’s advertisement had not included a photograph.  Only when I approached the house could I understand the reason.  The traditional roses (still flourishing 29 years later) looked pretty, but, close up, the house looked very neglected.

When I went round the side of the house there was a romantic but mournful sight.  I could see why the previous inhabitants had left a couple of years earlier, feeling that they could no longer cope with it.  The stone outhouses were impressive, but may missing slates above the old stables had left the upper floor too rotten to use.

Once inside the house, the first thing I noticed was the beautiful wooden bolt on the C17 half-door, leading to what was clearly the oldest part of the building and then the very dark Kitchen.  Even now it is dark, but with its arsenic-green walls, its low brown ceiling and its creeper-covered windows, plus the big black hole that had once housed a stove, it was the most depressing part of the house.

The Mulberry tree

It was a relief to turn right through the stairwell and into the south-facing Hall, where even the peeling wallpaper could not hide its pleasingly sunny aspect. I was drawn to the Bow Room on the left, with its broad east-facing windows where even the various creepers, and holes in the ceiling and floor, could not hide its rather grand aspect.

The bow room at Bloomville

On the right of the impressive Front Door, which was jammed shut, I found a pleasingly airy room (12’ x 12’ x 12’) which must have been either a dining room or a drawing room, though in the absence in the house of furniture of any kind it was difficult to know. The green slime running down the NW corner suggested a serious leakage somewhere, and the two small rooms to the west were seriously damaged by exposure to the elements.

Details of the cost of building the bow room in 1802

Returning to the stairwell, the tall window on the north side was particularly impressive; the stairs, on the other hand, were in a very rickety condition, though still usable.  They led first to the mezzanine floor, where what had perhaps been the main bedroom, over the Kitchen, was now clearly inhabited by both bats and wild bees: it led to a smaller bedroom with no ceiling, and small rooms off each of these had presumably been dressing-rooms, but clearly not in the recent past.  Despite the state of the smaller room, it had a gem in the form of a small cupboard whose sides and top were still illustrated with cartoons from C18 magazines: they are of course still there.

And so to the top floor, with its fine view of a remarkably tall weeping ash and the surrounding parkland, and two more bedrooms.  The ceiling of the smaller room, on the left, had recently started to collapse, whereas the larger room was clearly the bedroom which had most recently been used, and was indeed the only one in the house that was still habitable.  All four bedrooms, incidentally, had their own fireplace.

So, with all these defects, why did I nevertheless decide to purchase Bloomville? Well, firstly, I had to find somewhere for the old family furniture languishing in a Sussex bungalow which had to be sold, and quickly.  In addition, I had already fallen in love with the mature trees, including two grand copper beeches and, best of all, an ancient oriental plane.  

If I had known of the many heartaches to come, would I have still bought it?  Probably not; but then they did not all arrive at once.  Overall, saving the old house, planting twelve thousand deciduous trees, and being able to give delight to so many friends and relations, I have no regrets at all.

Christopher Fettes

Offaly History adds: Christopher Fettes saved this house from destruction where many would have walked away. Congratulations to him on his twenty-nine years at Bloomville. We are fortunate to have him and so was Bloomville. The pics are from the Offaly History Collection.

Michael Byrne adds:

The 906-year lease for the house is dated 1789. from Milo Bagot to Ephraim Harper. The property was sold in the Encumbered Estates Court in 1852 to Sydney Jennings. The lease of 1789 recites that Milo Bagot Esq., Ballycumber in the King’s County of the one part and the Rev Ephraim Harper of the other part where in it was witnessed that the said Milo Bagot for and in consideration of the yearly rents covenants etc. reserved there did grant set and farm let to Ephraim Harper all that part of the lands of Shranure now in the possession of the said Ephraim Harper and William Gibbs his under tenant containing of a survey there of 132 acres which are lying and being in the upper half of the Barony of Philipstown and parish of Ballykean in King’s County and mare and bounded on the east by Thomas Cleary’s farm, on the south by Bolins farm on the road leading to Killeigh and the west by the lands of Ballincrossan and the north by river of Down to have and to hold the demised premises with the rights appurtenance etc. belonging unto Rev. Ephraim Harper and his administrations and assigns from the date here of and for and during the term of 906 years and hence forth at yearly rent of £62. 4 shillings in sterling to be paid half yearly. The lease rent may mean that the house was built by the lessee.

The second title document available is a conveyance of the 18th of March 1851 from Longfield and Hargreaves, two of the Commissioners for the sale of Encumbered Estates in Ireland. Reciting that a sum of £1,920 was paid by Sydney Webb Jennings of Cloneygowan in Co. Offaly for the lands of Bloomville otherwise Shranure situated in the upper half of the Barony of Philipstown and that the said moneys was paid into the credit of the Estate of Mary Anne Webb owner and petitioner . Further reciting that the lots of grounds were the land held for the term of 906 years from the 23rd of December 1789 and also lands at Gurteen called Mardykepark situated in the same barony and held under an unexpired term of 885 years from the 1st of November, 1810 with both denominations of land containing together 211 acres, 2 roads and 27 perches. Described on a map attached to the conveyance of 1851.

The tenants of the property are described on a schedule attached to the map and consisted of the following:

  1. Bloomville and Gurteen called Mardykepark, tenants name Mary Anne Webb holding 88 acres and 20 perch in statue measure 142 acres, 2 roads and 3 perch and valued at British rent of £114 with the 10 acres known as the house division in possession of petitioner and her son who will give up possession on the 1st day of November and pay to the purchaser 1 half years rent at the rate set forth in the rent column.
  2. Bloomville otherwise Shranure that has 29 acres, 3 roods and 39 perches (valued for British rent at £18.10 shillings) together with another part of the same property let to Margaret Flanagan comprising 31 acres, 2 roods and 19 perch ( valued in British rent at £19. 10 shillings). These tenants hold under lease stated the 25th day of December, 1804 for the Rev. Ephraim Harper to Thomas Flanagan and James Flanagan for the term of 31 years from the 1st of May 1805 for the lives of Ephraim Labatt and John Labatt sons of Mr. Valentine Chetwood Labatt formerly of Ballinakill in the King’s County. Attached is the note that the quantity of land devised by this lease was 53 acres and 37 perch but a portion there of was surrendered and these tenants claim under this lease to pay rent separately for the quantity of land each tenants holds.
  3. Lands at Bloomville otherwise Shranure led to Michael Hyland representative of William Barrett comprising 3 acres 1 rood 14 perch, valued at £4 2 and 6 in British rent. This lease is dated the 30th day of November 1839 from Rev. John Webb to William Barrett for 31 years from the 1st of November 1839.
  4. Let to John Hunt comprising of 1 Irish acre and 1 acre 2 rood, 19 perch British measure and annual value in British rent £2. This tenant held from year to year from the 1st of November.
  5. William Connor held 2 roods perch Irish measure and 3 roods 10 perch statute measure, in British rent £1. 5 shillings and held on a lease from the 6th February 1810 from the Rev. Ephraim Harper to William Connor for the life of the said William Connor the rent reserved by the lease was £3. 10 shillings and 10 pence which had been reduced to the amount said forth in the rent column (ie. £2). This lease contains a covenant that the lessee will not sell his interest in the premises without the consent of the lesser.
  6. Bernard Dunne holding 1 acre or 1 acre 2 roods 19 perch statute measure at and annual British rent of £2 with the lease dated the 10th December 1827 for Richard John Webb to Bernard Dunne for 31 years from the 1st of November 1837. From these rents were to be deducted £57. 8 shillings and 3 pence for Bloomville, 18 shillings and 5 pence for the land at Gurteen and a tithe rent charge of £6. 10 shillings and 10 pence, totalling £64 and 16 shillings and giving a net profit rent of £96. 10 shillings and 10 pence.
    The purchaser paid £1,600 into the Bank of Ireland to the account and to the credit of the petitioner in July 1850.

Mary Caroline Louise Jennings of Bloomfield as it was now called created a mortgage on the 2nd of December 1926, between herself and her solicitors of Clare Street, Dublin

Mary Caroline Louise Jennings died on the 25th January 1939 and her probate of her estate was granted to Patrick Glynn of Bloomville, Portarlington, Farmer. Her personal estate was valued at £615 under her will, she devised all she possessed of to her faithful friend Patrick Glynn who has “managed everything for me for the past 18 1/2 years and without whom I could not have got on”. “I have never been able to remunerate him in any way though he often risked his life in conducting my affairs and in preserving my home and lands for me”.

Patrick Glynn made his last will on the 8th of January 1949, at Conway and Kearney Solicitors, Tullamore. He gave everything he possessed to his friend Miss Joyce Taylor- Bloomville, Portarlington for her life and after her death to the children of his deceased sister Mrs. Bridget Grimme late of Dublin and he appointed Miss Joyce Taylor as his executrix. He died on the 1st of May 1951 and the gross value of his personal estate was £574 .17 shillings and 3 pence.

On the 31st of March 1952 Maria Jamieson of Bloomville in Cloneygowan sold the property to Robert Sydney Harvey and A. George Harvey both of Ballyboden Ballacolla in the Co. Laois. This document recites both the 1789 lease and the lease of the 21th of February 1811 which was made between William Newcomb and Arthur Newcomb and another.

Bloomville. Clongeygowan, in 2019