Hunstanton Norfolk to Hunston Offaly and the L’Estrange family. By Sylvia Turner

Hunston is the name of a townland in the west of Offaly, close to where the Brosna and Shannon rivers meet. It is unlike many place names in Ireland which relate to an anglicised geographical description. It originates from a planter family who came to Ireland from England in the 16th century during the first plantation of Ireland.

Following Henry VIII claimed of kingship over all of Ireland in 1541, the English wished to extend their control further than the area called the Pale around Dublin to the whole of Ireland. One way was to drive the Irish landowners off their land and replace them with English or Scottish settlers, called ‘planters’. The first plantation took place in the region now known as Offaly and Laois in 1556. It was from this area that the O’Connor and O’Moore clans had invaded the Pale. The Government divided the land into Counties. Present day Laois was named Queen’s County, after Queen Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and present-day Offaly was named King’s County after Mary’s husband King Philip of Spain. Forts were built at Maryborough (Portlaoise) and Philipstown (Daingean).

The L’Estrange family probably came to England from France during the Norman conquest, their name likely to have evolved from the French word l’étranger meaning strange. They were known in the parish of Knockin (Cnukyn) Shropshire, when from the 12th century, the King enabled the L’Estrange family to have a castle constructed. The castle remained in the ownership of the family till the 16th century but by 1540 was in ruins. According to An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk published in 1809,Guy L’Estrange of Knockin had three sons, Guy, Hamon and John, and from these sons descended the Lords and Barons of Knockin, the Barons of Blackmere, and the L’Estranges of Hunstanton.

Hunstanton Hall was the ancestral home of the Hunstanton branch of the family. It is 2km inland from the north Norfolk coast on the south-east edge of the village of Old Hunstanton. According to Historic England, the L’Estrange family were one of the most powerful in Norfolk  during the 15th and 16th centuries. Much of the Hall was destroyed by fire in 1853 and again in 1951. It was divided into apartments and sold, although the Le Strange family retained the park and part of the gardens.

Ancestral records show that a number of the L’Estrange family from the Hunstanton branch came to Ireland as planters. It was Thomas L’Estrange (1566-1639) that came from Norfolk and held Castle L’Estrange in Roscommon in the late 16th century. Thomas’s son (1580-1660) moved south to Offaly to a townland that became known as Hunston, the common pronunciation for Hunstanton in Norfolk. Two mansions were established there. One was at the Moystown Demesne bounded by the River Brosna to the east and the River Shannon to the south-west, and the other at Kilcummin which is approximately four kilometres north of Moystown Demesne

1838 Ordnance Survey map

The L’Estrange family are well documented on genealogical websites. Records show Thomas’s descendants remained at Moystown until the latter 19th century. Information from Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland of 1837 gives detailed information about the parish of Tessauran (Tisaran). Kilcummin House was in the hands of the L’Estrange family at least from the mid-18th century when William L’Estrange (1711-1773) born at Moystown, died at Kilcummin. Samuel Lewis notes seats in the parish were held by Colonel L’Estrange at  Moystown, Robert Baker at Belmont,  William L’Estrange at Kilcummin and Major Carlton at Hunstanton.

Information from the Griffith’s Valuation of 1854 shows that Moystown was occupied by Beresford L’Estrange but was owned by Lord Ashbrook.  John Collins leased Belmont from the Revd. James Drought, John Burdett leased  Hunstanton from the Revd. Charles Hume and only Kilcummin was owned by its occupier, William L’Estrange.

The Famine badly affected the county early and hit it badly. According to Ciarán Reilly, in his book ‘The Irish Land Agent 1830-60: the case of King’s County’, landlords were slow to react or realise the gravity of the situation. On Saturday 3 February 1849 it was reported that a quantity of potatoes was stolen from George L’Estrange. Concern about growing unrest may have led to the following action taken by Mr White, the land agent of Colonel L’Estrange. On Saturday 15 December 1849 the Westmeath Independent reported that there was a ploughing competition at Moystown and Colonel George L’Estrange’s agent, Mr White, took the opportunity to inform the tenants that their rents were to be reduced and that their poor law rates paid for them.

The 1901 census identifies 217 people of the name L’Estrange in Ireland and just 40 in Offaly. By 1911, numbers had dropped to 184 in Ireland and just 22 in Offaly. It is clear from the household returns that by the turn of the 20th century, the majority of people named L’Estrange were not of the ruling class but tenant farmers in rural areas or tradespersons in towns. The majority of these people were Catholic. Clergy and those who served in the armed services were generally Protestant.

Kilcummin  House remained in the hands of the L’Estrange family until the early 20th century. Major Edmund L’Estrange (1828-1912) was in residence with his daughter. They were both listed as Protestants. The Thom’s directory of 1907 shows he was resident in the house. In the 1911 Edmund is listed in Dalkey, Dublin. Edmund died the following year and  probate was awarded to his nephew William Atkinson, a family with whom the L’Estrange family had intermarried over the generations. Kilcummin House came into William Atkinson’s possession.

Leinster Reporter 14 March 1925

Serious personal injury inflicted on Mrs Waller Sawyer in 1922

Moystown from the Encumbered Estates Court Sale to demolition

Moystown House came into the hands of the Waller family. The Landed Estates database states that the first Waller came to Ireland as a soldier in Cromwell’s army and the family seat was Shannongrove, Pallaskenry, Limerick. Bolton John Waller, a farmer and Justice of the Peace took up residence at Moystown in 1864. The 1901 and 1911 census records identify the family as Protestants. The following announcement explains that Bolton John Waller had bought Moystown from the lessor, Lord Ashbrook, in 1864 and had remained there until 1921. His daughter remained at the house after her father had left. At the time of the Civil War, such ‘big’ houses, usually owned by Protestants, were targets for arson. However, various newspaper reports such as the Leinster Reporter of Saturday 28 January 1922, reveal that his daughter, Mrs Waller-Sawyer, made herself a particular target as she had purchased the land on which stood Hunston House for £6000, a move that was very unpopular locally.  A serious raid had been made on the house and Mrs Waller-Sawyer had been seriously assaulted. The following announcement in the Leinster Reporter of Saturday 14 March 1925 explains the demise of Moystown House.

The burning of Moystown

Today, there just sixteen people listed in the Eircom telephone book for Ireland. Local people around Hunston know of the name L’Estrange  as previous landlords. Also, according to the National Inventory of Architectual Heritage,  L’Estrange Bridge is the name given to the ingle-arch masonry canal bridge, built in 1800, carrying the road from Cloghan to Shannonbridge over the Grand Canal as seen on the Geohive website below. The bridge is still in use today.