Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Palace Barracks, Holywood


PALACE BARRACKS, Holywood, County Down, was constructed between 1894 and 1898 by various contractors and was probably designed by the War Office Architects department, London.

The officers' mess bears the date 1899.

The building was reputedly completed in two phases: the contractors for Phase One being Lowry of Belfast, and for Phase Two, Campbell, also of Belfast.

From the mid-1880s, the Army established the Kinnegar camp at Holywood, County Down, as a training ground for regiments stationed in Belfast.

The camp could accommodate more than 400 personnel under canvas.

The Bishop's Palace in Holywood, Ardtullagh, formerly the official residence of the Lord Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore, fell vacant on the succession of Bishop Reeves in 1886, who resided at Dunmurry.

Attempts were made to sell the Palace and grounds but these proved fruitless until, in 1890, an offer of £1,000 from the War Office was accepted.

By 1891 the palace and grounds were being used for training by the Royal Irish Rifles.

In 1893, work began on officers' quarters; and in 1894, the construction of barracks.

The barracks were almost completed in 1896 and the old palace had been demolished.

Four blocks which comprised accommodation for the men were already finished.

The Belfast Newsletter described the scheme, which was pioneering in its day,
In all there will be nine blocks, constructed to quarter one regiment of infantry. Each block will afford accommodation for 84 men and two unmarried sergeants. A recreation establishment of the newest type is in course of construction which will contain lecture-room, coffee-room, billiards-room, and a canteen, with separate accommodation for corporals.
The usual cook-houses, baths, and workshops, which appear to be very numerous, are in the course of erection. A sergeants' mess establishment and guardhouses are being erected near the site of the central lodge of the old palace. The commanding officer's quarters is a separate building and is situated at the south-west angle of the grounds.
The officers' quarters will accommodate twenty-seven officers, with mess establishment ... a hospital is almost completed, with a medical officer's residence adjoining, which is the first time in this part of the country that accommodation for a medical staff has been constructed in conjunction with a military hospital.
There is also in course of construction quartermaster's and warrant officers' quarters and there will also be erected several blocks of buildings for the accommodation of married men. These houses will be erected at the north end of the park, along the side of the road known locally as Jackson's Road.
The buildings are lighted throughout with gas, supplied by the Holywood Gas Company Limited. The water is supplied by the Belfast Water Commissioners. The sanitary arrangements are perfect. Nothing has been left undone for the comfort and health of the men, who seem well pleased with their new quarters".
The records of a parliamentary debate in 1907, in which improving the accommodation at Holywood barracks was discussed, noted that,
"There is much more difficulty in recruiting in Ireland than in any other part of the UK and therefore it is important to make the barracks in Ireland as attractive as possible".
Palace Barracks has been the Regimental Headquarters of the Royal Irish Regiment since 2008 and the home base of several squadrons of the 152 (Ulster) Transport Regiment (Volunteers).

First published in January, 2015.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

BH Memoirs: III

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL JOHN MATTHEW BLAKISTON-HOUSTON DL (1898-1984), OF BELTRIM CASTLE, COUNTY TYRONE, AND RODDENS, COUNTY DOWN, WAS BORN AT ORANGEFIELD HOUSE, KNOCKBREDA, NEAR BELFAST.

HE SERVED IN THE FIRST AND SECOND WORLD WARS; WAS AIDE-DE-CAMP TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF AUSTRALIA, 1929-30; HIGH SHERIFF OF COUNTY DOWN, 1944; DEPUTY LIEUTENANT OF COUNTY DOWN, 1946; HIGH SHERIFF OF COUNTY TYRONE, 1954.

In March, 1924, I went home on a year’s leave on full pay.

Dermot Kavanagh also got a year’s leave.

I’m sure we were the last two officers in the British Army ever to be granted a year’s leave, except for special reasons.

Colonel Geoffrey Lockett had once praised me and said, “If ever you want anything, let me know”, so when the leave-book came round I put down March 1924 to March 1925.

The Colonel, of course, sent for me and asked me for my reasons and I reminded him of his promise.

He signed it, saying, “Of course the Brigadier will turn it down”.

However, it so happened the Mouse Tomkinson had just been appointed to the Brigade a few days before.

He came with one reputation – that he was in the habit of getting more leave than anyone else in the Army.

I suppose he thought he would not like to feel that his first act as Brigadier-General was to turn down two poor fellows leave – so it went through.

My parents were living at Finlaystone, near Glasgow in the winter and at Roddens in the summer.

My brother, George, was working in the Clyde Shipping Company in Glasgow.

I went with my father grouse-shooting and spent part of the winter hunting in County Meath.

Tommy Ainsworth and Holmpatrick were joint masters that year.

Ireland was still in an unsettled state.

The Government of Ireland Act had been passed in 1922 but the Free State Government were having trouble with the Republican element and there were frequent clashes between the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and the Free State Army.

I stayed with my uncle, George Fowler, at Kells.

The Republicans had painted up on his wall, “FOWLER PREPARE FOR DEATH”, but that did not appear to worry my uncle.

My aunt used to tell an amusing story,

One day a taxi drove up to the National Bank in the small town of Carrickmacross, and three men got out. 
The leader produced a dirty bit of paper and presented it to the Manager. 
Written on it was “These men have been ordered to protect you, IRA”
Rumour flew round the town that the IRA had sent some men to protect first. 
The IRA leader replied that his orders were to protect the National Bank but he’d see what he could do to oblige, if the Manager stayed in the Bank and waited after closing hours. 
He left his two assistants in the National Bank and went on up to the Bank of Ireland. 
When he got to the strong room he took over the keys and gave the Manager a gentle push and locked him inside. 
The taxi drove up and collected the swag from both banks and proceeded on its way to Drogheda.

My aunt had another story about an unfortunate gentleman who had his house burned down by the IRA.

The house was a complete ruin but in the fire one wall had taken on a dangerous lean.

He received a letter from the IRA instructing him to take down this dangerous wall forthwith as it was endangering the lives of the people searching for “souvenirs” in the ruins.

In August, 1925, my brother George was accidentally drowned while shooting duck at Finlaystone.

His death was a great blow to me.

First published in January, 2015.  Extracts by kind permission of RP Blakiston-Houston OBE JP DL 

1st Viscount Taaffe

THE TAAFFE FAMILY OWNED 1,277 ACRES OF LAND IN COUNTY LOUTH


The members of this noble family resided, for a series of years, in the Austrian dominions, and filled the highest and most confidential employments, civil and military, under the imperial government, doubtless from having been, from theretofore, as Roman Catholics, debarred the prouder gratification of serving their own.

The Taaffes were of great antiquity in the counties of Louth and Sligo, and produced, in ancient times, many distinguished and eminent persons; among whom was Sir Richard Taaffe, who flourished during the reign of EDWARD I, and died in 1287.


Contemporary with Sir Richard was the Lord (Nicholas) Taaffe, who died in 1288, leaving two sons: John Taaffe, Archbishop of Armagh, who died in 1306, and

RICHARD FITZ-NICHOLAS TAAFFE, whose eldest son,

RICHARD TAAFFE, was seated at Ballybraggan and Castle Lumpnagh.

This gentleman served the office of sheriff of County Louth in 1315, and to his custody was committed the person of Hugh de Lacy, the younger, Earl of Ulster, after his condemnation for high treason, in inciting the invasion of Ireland, by Edward Bruce, until the execution of that unfortunate nobleman at Drogheda.

From this Richard lineally descended

SIR WILLIAM TAAFFE, Knight, of Harleston, in Norfolk, who distinguished himself by his services to the Crown, during the Earl of Tyrone's rebellion, in 1597; and subsequently maintained his reputation against the Spanish force, which landed at Kinsale in 1601.

Sir William died in 1630, and was succeeded by his only son,

SIR JOHN TAAFFE, Knight, who was advanced to the Irish peerage, in 1628, by the title of Baron Ballymote and VISCOUNT TAAFFE, of Corren, both in County Sligo.

His lordship married Anne, daughter of Theobald, 1st Viscount Dillon, by whom he had (with other issue),
THEOBALD, his heir;
Lucas, major-general in the army;
Francis, colonel in the army;
Edward;
Peter, in holy orders;
Jasper, slain in battle;
WILLIAM.
His lordship died in 1642, and was succeeded by his eldest son,

THEOBALD, 2nd Viscount (c1603-77), who was advanced to an earldom, as EARL OF CARLINGFORD, in 1662.

This nobleman espoused zealously the royal cause during the civil wars, and had his estate sequestered by the Usurper.

After the Restoration, he obtained, however, a pension of £800 a year; and, upon being advanced in the peerage, received a grant of £4,000 a year, of the rents payable to the Crown, out of the retrenched lands of adventurers and soldiers, during such time as the same remained in the common stock of reprisals, and out of forfeited jointures, mortgages etc.

His lordship was succeeded at his decease by his eldest surviving son,

NICHOLAS, 2nd Earl and 3rd Viscount, who fell at the battle of the Boyne, in the command of a regiment of foot, under the banner of JAMES II; and, leaving no issue, the honours devolved upon his brother,

FRANCIS, 3rd Earl (1639-1704), the celebrated Count Taaffe, of the Germanic Empire.

This nobleman, who was sent in his youth to the city of Olmuts, to prosecute his studies, became, first, one of the pages of honour to the Emperor Ferdinand; and, soon after, obtained a captain's commission from CHARLES V, Duke of Lorraine, in his own regiment.

He was, subsequently, chamberlain to the emperor, a marshal of the empire, and counsellor of the state and cabinet.

His lordship was so highly esteemed by most of the crowned heads of Europe that, when he succeeded to his hereditary honours, he was exempted from forfeiture, by a special clause in the English act of parliament, during the reign of WILLIAM AND MARY.

His lordship died in 1704, and leaving no issue, the honours devolved upon his nephew,

THEOBALD, 4th Earl, son of Major the Hon John Taaffe, who fell before Londonderry, in the service of JAMES II, by the Lady Rose Lambart, daughter of Charles, 1st Earl of Cavan.

He married Amelia, youngest daughter of Luke, 3rd Earl of Fingal; but dying without issue, in 1738, the earldom expired, while the viscountcy and barony passed to his next heir male,

NICHOLAS, Count Taaffe (c1685-1769), of the Germanic Empire, as 6th Viscount.

This nobleman obtained the golden key, as chamberlain, from the Emperor CHARLES VI, as he did from His Imperial Majesty's successor, which mark of distinction both his sons enjoyed.

His lordship, as Count Taaffe, obtained great renown during the war with the Turks, in 1738, and achieved the victory of BELGRADE with high honour.

He married Mary Anne, daughter and heiress of Count Spendler, of Lintz, in Upper Austria, a lady of the bedchamber to Her Imperial and Hungarian Majesty, and had issue,
John, predeceased his father;
Francis, dsp.
His lordship was succeeded by his grandson,

RUDOLPH, Count Taaffe (1762-1830), 7th Viscount, who espoused, in 1787, the Countess Josephine Haugwitz, and had issue,
FRANCIS, his successor;
Louis;
Clementina.
His lordship was succeeded by his only son,

FRANCIS JOHN CHARLES JOSEPH RUDOLPH, Count Taaffe (1788-1849), 8th Viscount, who wedded, in 1811, the Countess Antonia Amade de Várkony, and had issue.

Successor to the claim

  • Richard Taaffe (1898–1967), entitled to petition for restoration of the viscountcy, but never did so.
Carlingford arms

Lord Taaffe was seated at Ellischau Castle, Bohemia.

Under the Titles Deprivation Act 1917, his name was removed from the roll of the Peers of Ireland by Order of the King in Council, 1919, for bearing arms against the United Kingdom in the 1st World War.

In 1919, he also lost his title as Count of the Holy Roman Empire, when the newly-established republic of Austria abolished the nobility and outlawed the use of noble titles.

Independent of the legal situation in the UK, the monarchy was abolished in Austria in 1918, and in 1919 the newly established republic of German Austria abolished all noble titles by law.

Heinrich, Count Taaffe, 12th Viscount Taaffe, thus lost both his titles and ended his life as plain Mr Taaffe.

He married, in 1897, in Vienna, Maria Magda Fuchs, and they had a son, Richard (1898–1967).

Upon the death of his first wife in 1918, he married, secondly, Aglaë Isescu,, in 1919, at Ellischau.

He died in Vienna in 1928, aged 56.

EDWARD CHARLES RICHARD TAAFFE (1898–1967) was an Austrian gemmologist who found the first cut and polished taaffeite in November 1945.

Mr Taaffe inherited neither the viscountcy nor the title of Count, as Austria had generally abolished titles of nobility in 1919.

With Richard Taaffe's death in 1967, no heirs to either title remained and both the Austrian and the UK titles became extinct.

Portions of the Taaffes'  County Sligo estate were offered for sale in the Encumbered Estates Court in 1852.

In 1866-67, John Taaffe offered for sale his estate at Gleneask and lands at Drumraine, in the barony of Corran.

In 1880 John West Pollock offered over 500 acres of the Taaffe estate in the barony of Corran for sale in the Land Judges' Court.

The Gleneask estate derived from an 1808 lease between Henry King and John Taaffe; while the Drumraine lease dated from the same period from the Parke estate.

The Taaffe family are also recorded as the owners of 833 acres in County Galway in the 1870s.

The family also held extensive properties in counties Louth and Meath.

The Congested Districts Board acquired over 5,000 acres of the Taaffe estate in the early 20th century.


SMARMORE CASTLE, near Ardee, County Louth, is claimed to be one of the longest continuously inhabited castles in Ireland.

Records show that William Taaffe was seated here in 1320, after his family arrived in Ireland from Wales at the turn of the 12th century.

Successive generations of Taaffes continued to make Smarmore Castle their main residence in Ireland until the mid 1980s, when the property was sold.

The castle is divided into three distinct sections comprising an early 14th century castle-keep with extensions on either side built ca 1720 and 1760 respectively.

The castle is built of local stone and its walls are eight feet thick.


The 18th century courtyard behind the castle was formerly the stables for the estate.

First published in October, 2012.  Carlingford arms courtesy of European Heraldry.

Monday, 16 January 2017

BH Memoirs: II

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL JOHN MATTHEW BLAKISTON-HOUSTON DL (1898-1984), OF BELTRIM CASTLE, COUNTY TYRONE, AND RODDENS, COUNTY DOWN, WAS BORN AT ORANGEFIELD HOUSE, KNOCKBREDA, NEAR BELFAST.


HE SERVED IN THE FIRST AND SECOND WORLD WARS; AIDE-DE-CAMP TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE GOVORNOR-GENERAL OF AUSTRALIA, 1929-30; HIGH SHERIFF OF COUNTY DOWN, 1944; DEPUTY LIEUTENANT OF COUNTY DOWN, 1946; HIGH SHERIFF OF COUNTY TYRONE, 1954.


IN 1908, at the age of ten, I went to school for one term at Mourne Grange, near Kilkeel, County Down.

I remember the journey well because we travelled in an Argyll motor car, and a great deal of stopping was necessary to allow the car to cool off on the hills.

Next term I went to Arnold House, Llandullas, North Wales, and stayed there until I went to Eton in September, 1911.

My career at Eton was not a very distinguished one: I got my Lower Boats, and passed most of my trials and made many friends, but I can’t claim that my school-days were the happiest days of my life.

In any case I was only there four years and left in December, 1915, after passing into Sandhurst, rather unexpectedly.

I had been in Army Class from the time I became an “Upper”, and I now realised how very narrow the specialized this Army Class modern school was.

It is only within the last few years that I have read any English Literature.

Of Shakespeare, of Milton, Thackeray, and of other English Classics I knew nothing.

My brother, George, was eighteen months younger than me.

We shared a room together at Bookers’ House.

The winter holidays were spent at Roddens where we used to hunt two days a week with the Ards Harriers.

Captain Dick Ker was Master, and his son David hunted them.

As the Kers lived outside the hunting country my father turned his laundry into a kennels and much of our time was occupied in exercising hounds.

My father took some 42,000 acres of Grouse Shooting at Pettigo, County Donegal, for five years from 1912.

We lived in The Agency, a house in the village of Pettigo.

We were allowed to ask some of our friends from Eton over, so the house was packed from the 12th of August till the end of the summer holidays.

Two parties, each of two grown-ups and a boy shot each day over dogs, and two boats with the remainder of the party fished Lough Derg for brown trout.

It was four miles of mountain road from Pettigo to the Lough.

The Lough is one of the most beautiful in Ireland, about four miles by five, with over a hundred islands.

It is set like a blue gem in the midst of the soft brown or purple of the hills of County Donegal.

With hardly another human habitation to be seen the natural beauty of the landscape is broken by the great mass of churches and hotels clustered together on Station Island.

Here, each year up to 10,000 Roman Catholic pilgrims congregate between 1st July and 15th August to do penance at the St Patrick’s pilgrimage.

 *****

ABOUT 1909 I was invited by the Lady Londonderry of the day who, I think, was Lady-in-Waiting to The Queen, to stand on the balcony at Windsor Castle to witness the landing of the first aeroplane ever to fly across the English Channel, and it landed on Runnymede, driven by Blériot.

I was accompanied by young Bonar Law, another Eton Boy, whose father was then Prime Minister.

After passing into Sandhurst I spent about a month staying in County Meath with my aunt, Mabel Fowler, and hunting with the Meath Hounds.

Bryan Fowler, my cousin, who was just my age, had passed into Woolwich at the same time and so we hunted in couples.

General Powell was then Master of the Meaths.

On the days we were not hunting we were shooting snipe with my uncle, George Fowler.

In January, 1916, I went to Sandhurst.

I was only to spend seven months there as I was commissioned into 11th Hussars in August 16th, 1916, a fortnight before my eighteenth birthday.

I enjoyed my seven months at Sandhurst. It was a hard school.

As cavalry cadets we were posted to “K” Company.

Major Lomer commanded the company and John Hinde, 15th Hussars, and Jack Nettlefold was very strict and severe.

My father had given me a polo pony and, instead of keeping him in Pitchell’s livery stable, I took stabling at a “Pub” in Camberley, and looked after ponies for Lump Altamont (6th Marquess of Sligo), Blandford (9th Duke of Marlborough) and Scabbard Sword, who later on succeeded me as Adjutant of the Cheshire Yeomanry, as well as my own.

It certainly taught me something of the mysteries of Horse-mastership.

We passed out in August, 1916, and I was posted to the 12th Reserve Cavalry Regiment at Warburg Barracks in Aldershot.

Looking back my method of joining up is amusing.

 *****

AT THAT TIME I was very interested in cockfighting and had several cocks at walk in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

I brought two cocks with me to Aldershot.

Most of the time they were kept in large cages in the officers’ quarters in the passage outside my room.

Later, I suppose for sanitary reasons, they were transferred to the miniature range Nissen hut.

On Sunday mornings it was the habit of our commanding officer, Colonel Ronnie Brooke DSO (elder brother of Lord Alanbrooke and uncle of Sir Basil Brooke, Prime Minister of Northern Ireland) to carry out a tour of inspection of the Barracks after Church parade.

For the inspection my game cocks had been hidden in front of the target, but just as the Commanding Officer and his staff were leaving, the range of cocks gave a loud “Cock-a-doodle-do”.

The CO had gone out but wondered why his staff were tittering behind him.

I was in Eric Crossley’s Squadron “C” and soon Charles Mulholland (later 3rd Lord Dunleath) returned to the Reserve Regiment after being very badly wounded in the early days of the War.

He became 2nd i/c "C" Squadron.

His younger brother, Harry, was also there as a lieutenant and Hotchkiss Gun instructor.

Towards the end of 1916 I conducted a draft out to Rouen.

I remember how cold the weather was.

The ice was so thick on the Seine that we had to have a thick skinned tug to proceed us.

The only person I knew in Rouen was my uncle, Charlie Blakiston-Houston, who was Major in Command of the Ulster Division, RASC.

Uncle Charlie was a well known character wherever he went.

I did not know his address but asked the first Frenchman I met on the Docks.

He immediately replied “Oui, Oui,” and personally conducted me to the suburbs of Rouen where my uncle had his camp.

He was such a character that he had made himself very well know in Rouen.

He was most unorthodox in his methods of dealing with his men and addressed them all either by their Christian names or as “My Dear”.

About the middle of 1917, I was sent on draft leave preparatory to joining the 11th Hussars in France, but as I was still under 19 years old, unknown to me my mother wired Charles Mulholland, and I was waylaid and brought back to Aldershot.

About this time an appeal appeared in Regimental Orders for volunteers for the Heavy Branch, Machine Gun Corps, which later became the Tank Corps – I sent my name forward.

Horsed cavalry at this period of the war was not a very satisfactory arm of the service to belong to.

Trench lines and barbed wire entanglements made their employment in their true role virtually impossible and more often than not they were employed dismounted.

In August, 1917, I was seconded and posted to the 13th Battalion of the Tank Corps, and was stationed at Wareham and Bovington Camps in Dorset.

For the next five months we worked very hard forming the Battalion and attending innumerable courses.

At the end of January, 1918, we sailed as a half-trained unit to continue our training near St Pol in the Pas de Calais.

First published in January, 2015.  Extracts by kind permission of RP Blakiston-Houston OBE JP DL

The Lord Caine

In November, 2016, I wrote an article about a visit to Mount Stewart, County Down, by Charles Villiers, Theresa Villiers and Jonathan Caine.

Jonathan Caine has subsequently been in touch to apprise me of his elevation to the House of Lords.

On the 20th October, 2016,
"Jonathan Michael Caine, Esquire, having been created Baron Caine, of Temple Newsam in the City of Leeds, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Black of Brentwood and Lord Empey, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct."
Lord Caine has sent me two photographs of his introduction.

The Lord Empey, the Lord Caine, and the Lord Black of Brentwood

If we are being strictly precise, his formal style is "the Rt Hon the Lord Caine", informally "the Lord Caine"; or on legal documents "the Rt Hon Jonathan Michael Baron Caine".

These days it's generally abbreviated to "Lord Caine" without the definite article.

The style "Right Honourable" is accorded to all peers below the rank of marquess.

It doesn't imply membership of the Privy Council in these instances (in which case the letters "PC" would be added after the title).


Jonathan Caine read History at Leicester University, where his specialism was the Home Rule Crisis and the Anglo-Irish Treaty.

He joined the Conservative Research Department in 1987, working in the office next to David Cameron.

He joined the party's Northern Ireland desk in 1988, and between 1991-95 was a special adviser at the Northern Ireland Office - rejoining it in 2010.

In 2008, Lord Caine stated that he was a Director at Bell Pottinger Public Affairs.

In 2014, he worked as special adviser to the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers MP, being described in the press as her "right-hand man".

Jonathan Caine had also worked for the Rt Hon Owen Paterson MP, and was described by him as "one of the foremost experts on Northern Ireland".

As of 2016, he had worked for no fewer than seven Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

BH Memoirs: I

LIEUTENANT-COLONEL JOHN MATTHEW BLAKISTON-HOUSTON DL (1898-1984), OF BELTRIM CASTLE, COUNTY TYRONE, AND RODDENS, COUNTY DOWN, WAS BORN AT ORANGEFIELD HOUSE, NEAR BELFAST

HE SERVED IN THE FIRST AND SECOND WORLD WARS; WAS AIDE-DE-CAMP TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF AUSTRALIA, 1929-30; HIGH SHERIFF OF COUNTY DOWN, 1944; DEPUTY LIEUTENANT OF COUNTY DOWN, 1946; HIGH SHERIFF OF COUNTY TYRONE, 1954


I was born on 31st August, 1898, at Orangefield, Belfast.

Orangefield was then the home my grandfather, John Blakiston-Houston.

He was the father of twelve children.

His wife (my grandmother) was then dead, and about half of his children were married and away.

My aunt Nina, the eldest unmarried daughter, acted as housekeeper and hostess.

Entertaining was done on a large scale and it was not uncommon for twenty people to sit down to dinner.

My father and mother lived then at Charlesfort, Kells, County Meath, in the winter for the hunting, and at Roddens, Ballywalter, County Down, twenty miles from Orangefield by the sea in the summer months.

I remember Charlesfort well as we lived there every winter till 1907 when John Watson, the famous master of the Meath Hounds, died.

There must have been stabling for twenty horses in the yard and several friends of my father used to come and stay most winters with their horses, for three weeks or a month at a time.

A regular visitor was my father’s cousin, Charlie O’Hara, from County Sligo.

He brought with him a team of small horses, all of which he’d bred himself.

John Hand was the Stud Groom, one of the real old-fashioned sort.

He had a sure cure for every horse ailment.

There were some other attractive characters about Charlesfort: Johnny Fox, the gardener, was a great friend of ours as children.

He used to unlock the door of the little ivy-covered apple house and produce an apple apiece.

The box hedges were a feature of the Charlesfort garden, and one of them nicely trimmed, must have been fifteen feet high.

Another favourite was his wife, Mrs Fox, who looked after the hens and turkeys and who always wore a shawl and a red skirt, as did most of the country women in County Meath in those days.

Wages were not high then: Johnny Fox, the head gardener, got 10/- a week; and one, Willy Gahan, with a wife and seven children, got 7/-.

He lived in a labourer’s cottage for which I expect he had to pay 1/6 a week in rent.

These labourers' cottages usually had half an acre of land.

On this he grew vegetables and probably kept fowl and a coupe of goats which spent most of their time grazing on the sides of the roads.

In many cases these cottages carried “turbury” rights with them.

This gave the occupier permission to cut a bank of turf.

However he must have had a hard struggle.

The biannual move of the family from Roddens to Charlesfort and vice versa was a memorable undertaking.

The horses and polo ponies often travelled the 100 miles by road, stopping at friends' houses for two or three nights en route.

I remember my mother once driving the pony “Puck” up in the Tub or Governess Cart.

We children usually travelled by train to Belfast where we were met by the Orangefield brake [van] and taken to stay the night there.

For the remaining twenty miles to Roddens one of the farm floats from Orangefield was usually borrowed for the luggage, while a Public Long Car, drawn by two horses, was hired to covey the servants, Nanny and us children, accompanied by “Joker” the goat, and “Cooky” the rough-haired fox terrier.

Bradshaw's Brae was a severe tax on the horses and most of the party were expected to dismount to lighten the load.

From Roddens my father used to drive up to play polo at Orangefield twice a week.

He usually went the whole twenty miles by road in a dog-cart and drove back at night.

The polo ponies were kept at Orangefield and the polo ground was on my grandfather’s property.

My father was very fond of driving and was a very good “whip” with a four-in-hand.

Two coaches were kept at Orangefield and nearly every spring a coaching tour was arranged.

The party consisted of the members of the family, my aunts, and uncles, and their friends.

One year they visited the Highlands of Scotland and another they toured County Kerry and County Limerick.

Between times the coach was only taken out to go to point-to-point races and I remember how proud I was once, when I was older, being allowed to “handle the ribbons” on the way to Comber Races.

At Roddens, we children used to play on the farm and on the shore, and occasionally go fishing on the sea or on the Strangford Lough.

We also spent a good deal of time riding with my father.

Extracts by kind permission of RP Blakiston-Houston OBE JP DL

Friday, 13 January 2017

The Firewood Poem

Clandeboye estate, County Down, operates a thriving sawmill which sells logs for firewood.

Their firewood is harvested from the estate’s 600 acres of woodlands.

It is the largest area of broadleaved woodlands in Northern Ireland, thereby ensuring an excellent source of ready-split logs for sale.

The sawmill operates a ‘pick your own’ system, whereby you can fill recycled bags with logs to suit your requirements.

You can also bring a trailer to fill from one of their builders’ bags if you need to stock up at home.

The estate sawmill  is open on Fridays between 9am and 4pm (closed 12-1pm for lunch).

They have published a charming piece of poetry entitled The Firewood Poem, by Lady Congreve.

It is believed to have been published in The Times newspaper on the 2nd March, 1930:

Beechwood fires are bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year,
Chestnut's only good they say,
If for logs 'tis laid away.
Make a fire of Elder tree,
Death within your house will be;
But ash new or ash old,
Is fit for a queen with crown of gold

Birch and fir logs burn too fast
Blaze up bright and do not last,
it is by the Irish said
Hawthorn bakes the sweetest bread.
Elm wood burns like churchyard mould,
E'en the very flames are cold
But ash green or ash brown
Is fit for a queen with golden crown

Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke,
Apple wood will scent your room
Pear wood smells like flowers in bloom
Oaken logs, if dry and old
keep away the winter's cold
But ash wet or ash dry
a king shall warm his slippers by.