The Founding of the Presentation Brothers’ Schools at Birr in 1877; recollections of 1927 from J. Deering.
[Birr Historical Society meets again on Monday 4 December 2023 after a break of three…
Anyone who has read the Ballycumber chapter of the recently published Flights of Fancy: Follies, Families and Demesnes in Offaly by Rachel McKenna, may have noticed a remarkable set of snapshots from a photograph album of the Homan Mulock family of Ballycumber and Bellair. The album is still in Ballycumber House, now owned by Connie Hanniffy and thanks to her generosity, its pages have been digitised revealing life in the big house in the early 1900s. The album is more of a scrapbook filled with illustrations, sketches, and notes alongside the many photographs relating to the leisure pursuits of the Homan Mulocks. Particular interest is shown in horses and equestrian events locally and in England, with photographs from the Pytchley, Grafton and Bicester Hunts; racing at Punchestown; the Moate horse show; and polo matches and gymkhanas at Ballycumber House in the early years of the twentieth century.
Ballycumber House was bought by Francis Berry Homan Mulock in 1899 from the Armstrong family who had been in possession of the estate for successive generations. Originally built as a castle in 1627 by the Coghlan family, it was extensively remodelled by the Armstrongs in the eighteenth century into a detached five-bay two storey over basement country house, much as it is today.
Ballycumber Gazebo and Ballycumber House
Francis Berry Homan Mulock (1848-1932) was the fourteenth child of Thomas Homan Mulock of Bellair (Ballyard), King’s County. Educated at the Royal School, Enniskillen and Trinity College Dublin, he was then appointed to the Indian Civil Service where he worked from 1869 until his retirement in 1898. He married Ethel Annie Braddon, the daughter of the premier of Tasmania in 1878. Francis and Ethel Annie returned to Ballycumber on his retirement and purchased Ballycumber House, near to the Bellair homeplace, the latter which had been since 1889 in the possession of his brother, William Bury Homan Mulock, also ex-Indian Civil Service.
Francis and Ethel Annie had three children – Frances Ethel (known as Ethel), Edward, and Hester Nina (known as Enid). The photograph album, now recently rebound in leather and entitled Ballycumber Memories 1908-1910 is inscribed on the first page by E. Mulock. Ethel or Enid? My guess is on Ethel as there are several pictures of her husband Claude Beddington, her daughter, Sheila (later Lady Powerscourt) and her son, Guy. It was Enid, however, who ended up with the album and who passed it down to her niece, Sheila, along with the Bellair estate, which she had inherited in 1932. Enid was the last Homan Mulock to live at Bellair. Sheila left the album to the family of the Bellair farm steward, Tom Salmon, who subsequently gave it to the present owner of Ballycumber House, so it is now back where it was originally created.
(l) Guy and Sheila Beddington with ‘Nana’ and (r) Ethel Annie Homan Mulock, mother of Ethel and Enid
‘Ethel or Enid’ is a bit of a refrain in the family lore of the Homan Mulocks of Ballycumber. Sheila Wingfield, Lady Powerscourt, published a memoir Sun Too Fast (London, 1974) where she unfavourably compares her mother Ethel, whom she despised, to her aunt Enid, whom she idolised.
And it was Enid; I thought (hand still on the sundial) who  embodied durable affection. This had enfolded me with a truly comforting and maternal love. Unselfish, undemanding, sustained devotion.
Since childhood I recalled her good looks inclined to plumpness, her squarish Mulock jaw, her most golden fair hair, blue eyes and radiant complexion. She was the antithesis of her sister, my mother – in every way different. My mother had black hair, dark eyes, a thin body, and a mind surging with hate for her parents (Irish Grandma and Grandpa) as well as for husband and children. Enid adored all her family and became the mother-substitute I needed so badly.
The ‘Bellair’ sundial in its original setting at Ballycumber House in 1909.
The title of this memoir Sun Too Fast references a 1776 bronze sundial of the Armstrong family which became a favourite artefact of Sheila Wingfield when she wintered at Bellair in the 1940s and 1950s. It had in fact been removed from Ballycumber House to the rose-garden at Bellair in the early 1900s. The motto on the sundial reads ‘SUN TOO SLOW SUN TOO FAST’ and features engravings of months, hours, degrees and various horological gradations. The pictures from the album clearly show the sundial in situ at Ballycumber House as late as 1909.
Captain Claude Beddington with his son, Guy, at Ballycumber House, 1909
Despite their differences, Ethel and Enid had a pleasant upbringing in Ballycumber in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Theirs was a world of visiting friends and family, partaking in hunts, and hosting polo gymkhanas at Ballycumber House, all of which are depicted in the photograph album. Ethel went on to marry ‘the first young man to fall in love with her who could also afford to take her away from the Bog of Allen’ (in the slightly jaundiced view of her daughter Sheila). This young man was Captain Claude Beddington of Park Lane, London. There, following years on the horse and hound circuit, Mrs Claude Beddington, as she preferred to be known, set up a successful musical salon and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Philarmonic Soicety of London. In 1929 she published a memoir All that I have Met. Claude was killed on active duty with the Royal Navy in World War II. They had three children, the aforementioned Sheila, Guy Claude who died from tuberculosis in 1925 at the age of 23 and Niall Alfred who tragically died in a skiing accident in 1935 also at the age of 23.
Ballycumber Polo Gymkhana, 1909
Enid married thirteen years after Ethel had left Ballycumber with Claude. Her husband was Sir Harold Stansmore Nutting, D. L. 2nd baronet (1882-1972) and she was thereafter styled Lady Nutting. She inherited the Bellair estate in 1932 when her father, Francis Berry Homan Mulock died. He had succeeded to the estate on the death of his brother, William, in 1921 and subsequently sold Ballycumber House in 1923 to Michael Cantwell of Rahan (grandfather of the present owner). Enid handed the Bellair estate to her niece, Sheila Wingfield, Lady Powerscourt, whose husband, the 9th Viscount Powerscourt, farmed the land there from 1945 until the estate was sold in 1963. When not at the family seat at Powerscourt in Wicklow, the Wingfields spent up to half the year at Bellair.
Penny Perrick’s biography of Sheila Wingfield, Lady Powerscourt (2007)
Ethel’s photograph album which Enid handed on to Ethel’s daughter Sheila, must have been a bittersweet set of memories if we are to believe all that is in Sheila’s 1974 memoir. A 2007 biography of Sheila Wingfield by Penny Perrick cautions the reader of the excesses of Sheila’s remonstrances in her memoirs and paints a picture of an unhappy and troubled woman. Her lack of recognition as a serious poet following the publication of no less than seven volumes of poetry between 1938 and 1977, left her frustrated and bitter. Her marriage to Lord Powerscourt ended in 1963, the same year that she sold Bellair. Perrick’s portrait of Sheila’s relationship with her children is tragically reminiscent of her own relationship with her mother Ethel.
The interested reader can take a guided walk through Ballycumber and view Ballycumber House and its gazebo beside the River Brosna by following the walking tour available in A Walker’s Guide to Ballycumber Past, published in 2017 by Ballycumber GAA History Group. Visitors can also stay in Ballycumber House which is now a guesthouse.
Joe Devine, Down the Great Road – a journey to Lemonaghan
Sir Edmund T. Bewley The Family of Mulock, (Dublin, 1905)
Robert Mullock-Morgans and Robert Hughes-Mullock, The Mullock and Mulock Families of Great Britain and Ireland