Mornington House Luxury Manor House Accommodation

Co. Westmeath, Ireland

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history

On horseback in front of the house

A taste of Ireland's Heritage

Mornington could be considered a typical Historic House of Ireland. As an old man Owen O’Hara told the story of how, when he was a boy, there were nine houses along the Currahanagh and five (houses) down Teapot Lane. How there were nine men working on the farm and two in the garden. The house was fully staffed with a Cook, Parlourmaids, Chambermaids and a French Sewing Maid. The Coachman lived over the Coach house and it was his job each morning and evening to run the generator to charge the batteries for the power plant. The gardener pumped the water from the well to the house twice a day. For him life was never better.

For some however, life was very different. Tales are told of people closing the door of their cottage and leaving for America, the delft still on the table and the beds made. There the cottage remained, unoccupied, until the roof fell in and the walls crumbled.

The intensity, almost passion, with which life at Mornington is described, by those who were born and brought up in the community is noteworthy. Some, when they return to Ireland from Australia or America seem to have a need to come and call to Mornington, the house, and discuss the way things were. Others call at the well down the "old avenue" and fill containers with the spring water to take back to Dublin, for a ‘good’ cup of tea. The ties are deep rooted in the souls of these people. Some who left never returned, their cottages merely a memory. Today, there are nine houses in an area where once there were thirty-six. Less than thirty people live full-time where once 205 lived. The names of the townlands are the same, Monintown and Knockbody; but the name of the community is Mornington. The community, house and demesne are inextricably linked. The story of Mornington is the not unusual in Ireland but it is peculiar to Mornington.

Modernisation of the Irish Country Demesne

In the past twenty-five years the area has changed visibly. The bog has been ‘reclaimed’, hedges and field boundaries have been removed, and piles of rubble in the corners of fields have been bulldozed and obliterated. Some families have moved to other farms, whilst their families’ holdings have been redistributed to those who remain. The major portion of the lands of the demesne has been sold; a different type of farming taking place and there has been a corresponding change in the landscape.

The changing faces of a Historic Country House in Ireland

Mornington contains elements of a much earlier house or castle, the middle section was an early Queen Anne house, being built around 1710. A photograph taken in 1876 shows this house to have been thatched. Mornington was remodelled and extended in 1896 by Warwick’s grandparents, Patrick Henry and Elise. The interiors are virtually unaltered ever since. The architect was W.H.Byrne, a prolific church architect, who is known to have designed only one other private house, that being Ballyna in Moyvalley, Co. Meath. It is most probable that Bishop Donnelly, Elise’s guardian, retained him as architect.

The original house shown in the photograph was gutted. A few pieces of furniture, some of the china and books escaped the demolition. The building was completed by 1898 at a cost of £2,400. Local limestone was used for the walls. This was quarried from the side of Knockbody.

The furnishing of the house cost £836 16s 7d. The original bill of sale for all the items purchased for the furnishing of the "new" house is in the family archives. Much of the furniture is still in the house. It is noteworthy that the sum of £ 31 2s 11d was spent on furnishing two servants bedrooms. At the insistence of Elise, a generator was installed in the engine house and the electricity produced was used run the lighting system in the house. Staff found this easier than the daily cleaning of oil lamps.

The walled garden is well preserved. Indeed, the first ordinance survey map of 1837 shows the gardens to have been laid out in their present form. Whilst the house is essentially unchanged, modern central heating, bathrooms and comfortable beds have been installed for the benefit of guests.

Farming History

In Ireland, the horse played a very important part in the seasonal work on a farm. The breed of work horse used at Mornington was the Irish draught. They were bred on the place.

Ploughing and harrowing prepared the seed bed for oats and wheat. The oats being used to feed the horses and hens, wheat was a cash crop and sold off the farm.The crops were harvested using a reaper and binder. As the sheaves came off the binder were made into stooks in the field After two or three weeks these stooks were made into small stacks in the field. During late September the small stacks were broken down and brought into the haggard and made into large stacks to await the arrival of the travelling threshing machine, which separated the grain from the straw. Farming was labour intensive.

Thrashing dinners were held at 1o'clock on the two or three days threshing took place. The servant's hall would be full. One neighbouring farmer habitually lost his hat during the threshing dinners.

Warwick's father Owen, resisted change as long as he could. Especially in the way that the farm was run and the methods used. He was often heard to say that a good man on a good day could plough five acres. Tractors were not used at Mornington until the last man able to use a horse had left the place. Then a local agricultural contractor took only hours to complete jobs which had previously taken days.

Read The Good Hotel Guide review Tripadvisor, the world's largest travel review site Alistair Sawday's Special Places to Stay Georgina Campbell's Ireland Guide Green Hospitality Programme Karen Brown's Ireland The Hidden Ireland

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