Thursday, 11 June 2009

Newpark Country House, Kiltoon, Roscommon

Newpark Country House, has a history that is good enough to write a facinating story, we have been burnt down twice, bombed, and landlords have suffered the sad fate of loosing his wife through an assassination attempt, the house has been in ruins on many occasions, and yet happily it is settling into its maturily with the ancient celts with gardens and cellars and a function room to celebrate in the ancient traditions of the ancient celts

'Maine the Great' was the 132nd Monarch of Ireland, and during this period the territory that Newpark House County Roscommon now stands on, was known as Imania or Hy-manny (Hy or I being the plural of Ua or O, a grandson) and belonged to the Clan O'kelly,this was O'Kelly country, and Athlone was the Barony of the O'Kellys.
In the year 1014 Brian Boru, High king of Ireland defeated the invading Norsemen at the battle of Clontarf, Teig O'Kelly the King of Hy-many was killed in the battle, and was honoured with the name Teig of the Battle of Brian.

In 1351 the O'kelly Chieftan William Boy (Bui-meaning golden haired), a prince of unbound munificence, held a great feast and invited a host of musicians and poets to spend Christmas with him at Galey Castle, on the bank of Lough Ree, just north of the present Newpark House. This grand gesture gave rise to the the expression 'Failte Ui Cheallaig', indicating a warm and hospitible welcome. In 1353 he founded the magnificent Abbey of Kilconnel, the ruins of which are still well preserved.

The O'Kellys were said to be hereditary treasures to the O'Connor Kings of Connacht, and owned several castles throughout Eire including the local castles of Mote near Roscommon town, & Moyvannan castle located just above Newpark House. Moyvannan's earliest remaining link of its Celtic past is the Ringfort, known locally as the Fairy Fort, the remnants of which are on the drive up to the castle.

The O'Kelly Chieftans were to remain at Moyvannan castle, until the Tudor conquest of Ireland began in 1534 with Henry V111, and then further onslaught from Elizabeth 1 slowly crushed the Gaelic resurgence. As a consequence the best lands were confiscated for settling with Protestant English owners or Tenants. In 1643 Edmund Og O'Kelly was disposed of Moyvannan Castle his lands and estate for his part in the 1641 rebellion of the Old Irish. (part of his land was the Estate of Newpark House) Many castles were destroyed by Cromwells artillery, but Moyvannan survived possibly as it was used by Cromwells forces during the eleven years war, as a consequence of Cromwellian disposession, From the 17th & 18th century many O'Kelly's had been made paupers, and they were no longer affluent members of this major Clan of Ireland, and many of them left with the Wild Geese after the seige of Limerick, creating new careers and distinguishing them selves on the battle fields of Europe, usually fighting against the English.

John Lyster who came to Ireland before the year 1600 as Secretary to Judge Osbaldson built the original structure of Newpark House 1692 after the battle of Aughrim in 1691. (The Jacobite army of James 11 comprised of Old Irish & English, and was heavily defeated by the Williamites led by William of Orange.) Newpark still has the remains of the Jacobite ruins of the old courtyard & arched carriage rooms, with a secret passage & escape tunnel that travels under the fields to rise up the hillside and emerge at one of the Newpark lodge gate houses, this expressing the fear and subterfuge that was needed during this period of history and civil unrest for Newpark House.

After the death of John Lyster the estate of Newpark passed to his son Walter, who married Miss Blood, they had five children, his wife and all his children were murdered during the 1641 rebellion by the English. Anthony remarried and had two sons named Thomas & John, the younger son John leased the lands of Newpark from his elder brother Anthony, and then bought them in 1722.

Newpark was then inherited by Anthony Lyster who was married to Mary the daughter of Bryan Geoghegan the Chief of the ancient sept of McGeoghegan, their eldest son Mathew succeeded to the Estates of Newpark. Mathew Lyster was a Captain of the 9th Dragoons. In 1750 he became a justice of the peace, and in 1779, he died twenty years later in 1799was appointed High Sheriff of County Roscommon, he died twenty years later in 1799, he was the last of the direct line of Lysters to live at Newpark.

In 1830 the House had passed back to Elizabeth the daughter of Mathew Lyster as she had become his sole heir, she married Ralph Smyth, and after her death the property passed to her second son Henry Mathew Smyth J.P of Barbavilla & Newpark. The Rev. H.L.L.Denny, in his memorials of 'An Ancient House' , notes that Henry M. Smyth, was the target of an attempted assasination on in which his wife was killed instead. Reading the memorials it appeared that Mr Smyth was one of the most popular landlords in the heart of Ireland, and a group of assassins chose him as their target in the hope that it would send out the message that nothing could save the landlords in Ireland from extermination. Driving back to Newpark from church in their brougham carriage with a guest, Mr Smyth and his wife had exchanged seats to accomodate their guest, obviously the assassins had assummed Mr. Smyth would be sat in his usual seat of the carriage and therefore fired their shots according, the consequences of which was the foul murder of Mrs. Smyth.

After this tragedy Mr.Smyth sold the property to Murtagh the Miller who later sold it to Marcus Levinge in 1879 who refurbished the building. Marcus continued to live at his other property until the house was fit for a gentlemans residence again.

In November 1882 The 'Freemans Journal' an Irish newpaper recorded a committee meeting of the Evicted Tenants Fund, and gave details of tennants, some of which had been evicted from Newpark properties, and the monetary support they had been offered as a consequence. (link shows details)

The Levinge family had originally arrived in Ireland in the 1600's when Sir Richard Levinge, Knight & Baronet, was appointed Solicitor general for Ireland. The house was rebuilt once more by his decendant Marcus Anthony Levinge, J.P. for Roscommon & Westleath who lived at Newpark until his death in July 1908, he was 90 years old. Marcus was suceeded by his son Frederick who took over until his death in 1933, who then left the property to his niece Emma who was married to Col.Andrews of the British Army, they resided in England. As a Protestant estate with connections to the British army, this unfortunately had consequences for the house once more, as In 1938 an attempt to blow up Newpark was made with a bomb placed in a window, which luckily caused little damage.

1939 Land Sale of Newpark - Irish Land Commision (an absentee landlord) the land owned by Newpark was subdivided and sold on, the parcel of land with Newpark house itself was sold in 1940, the new owner had the roof and slates removed, the front door entrance pillars and flagstones sold off, leaving the house a derelict and roofless ruin, this was done so as to avoid paying rate charges & taxes.1970 Paddy & Bernadette Kenny rebuilt the house as Newpark house creating a hotel, and the vaulted cellar kitchens and store rooms of the servants they converted into a bar which saw music and merriment once more for the locals as well as guests, they rented the property to manager but the business eventually closed and remained empty once more.

In 2005 driving across the main Roscommon road, the essence of the Ancient Celts and their powerful force drew Mary & Claus Zerbe into the lush sheltered valley of kiltoon, where they found an old Georgian house in need of sympathy. Having found the house, they then decided to rescue it from the grief of history, of jacobite ruins, a bomb attack, and a secret escape tunnel for the families who had lived through troubled times. With the help of the Heritage Council their dream to unify Newpark Country House, repair the damage and breathe new life into this old house is finally taking shape. The house that we see now embraces the Georgian Period. The finest archetectureral features are to be seen above the modern front porch, these are a Wyatt & Diocletian window, the Wyatt window named after the architect James Wyatt(1747-18130 is a rectangular triple window and is a common feature of Late gerogian architecture, The Diocletian window is a semi-circular window divided into three lights by two verticle mullions.

Newpark is a special house that has morphed with the times and reinvented itself through civil conflict fires & bombs, and finally has now settled into its maturity, peace has been restored & Newpark Country House has happily embraced the Zerbe Family who wish to share the joy of finding Newpark, they have created their own flats within this old manor House that had been the home of the Levinge family for centuries, but now the Zerbe family will offer Bed & Breakfast facilities in the right wing of the house overlooking the old Jacobite courtyard, that holds onto the essence of older history. Their gardens embrace the spirituality and harmony of the sacred earth & trees that the Ancient Celts & Druids naturally understood.

The Large Lounge of Newpark Country House, with all its French windows overlook the vibrant fields of green that roll down to Lough Ree (Irish: Loch Rí or Loch Ríbh) which is the second largest lake on the River Shannon. The town of Athlone is situated at the southern end of the lake, and has a harbor for boats going out on Lough Ree lake.The Monastery of Clonmacnoise on the Island of Inchcleraun (Inis Cloithreann) lies on the northern part of the lake and dates back almost 1,500 years. St.Ciaran chose the site in 545 AD because of its ideal location at the junction of the river Shannon and road travel in Celtic Ireland. This first Christian monastery lies in the heart of Ireland and became the burial place of many of the kings of Connaught and Tara. Prince Diarmuid helped St Ciaran to build the first church on this site; he was then crowned as the first Christian High King of Ireland.

The monastery attracted many scholars of Ireland and from across Europe and it was to become the most illustrious school in Europe. It was a Scriptorium from the 8th-10th Centuries and many scribes toiled for long hours to learn and enhance the skills to become world renowned in works such as the Books of Kells and Durrow. Metal workers in gold, silver and bronze produced some of the world's finest Celtic craftwork, not surpassed since the 11th century.

In Irish legends, it was also on this Island that Queen Maeve was killed. She ruled from Cruachan (now Rathcroghan, County Roscommon) in ancient times this was said to hold the entrance to the Otherworld, which is now called the Cave of the Cats, The cave is mentioned in the Book of Leinster as one of the three caves of Ireland, the others being at Howth, outside of Dublin, and Dunmore, in Kilkenny. Maeve was the enemy of Conchobar mac Nessa, King of Ulster, she is famous for the Táin Bó Cúailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley) to steal Ulster's prize stud bull.

The Viking Turgesius had also controlled a ring fort here on the shores of Lough Ree until his death by drowning in Lough Owel.

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