I got a number of interesting comments on my last blog on Sneem.  One, in particular, was most interesting.  -It was an explanatory piece from Bob Frewen that he had contributed to a  Sneem book titled:   ‘Bridging Memories’. that was published at Christmas 2010 , one of over a dozen chapters Bob had contributed.   I am delighted to reprint it here today:  

Lord Dunraven, Garnish & Sneem   by Bob Frewen

Edwin Wyndham-Quin, 3rd Earl of Dunraven

The Quin family is one of the rare instances in the Irish peerage to be a family with true Gaelic origin. Thady Quin (born 1645), settled in Adare, County Limerick, was the ancestor of Valentine Quin who, between 1720 and 1730 built the first Quin manor there. His grandson, Valentine Richard Quin of Adare in 1777 made an upwardly mobile marriage to Muriel Fox Strangways, the daughter of the Earl of Ilchester and unusually he too rose to an earldom. His grandson, Edwin Richard Wyndham-Quin, (1812 – 1871) succeeded to the earldom and became the 3rd Earl of Dunraven in 1850 on the death of his father. The Wyndham-Quins were among Ireland’s wealthiest families, and the marriage of the second Earl to Caroline Wyndham brought through inheritance an immense property in Dunraven Castle at Brigend in Glamorganshire, Wales, that had a coalmine and another estate, Clearwell Court, in Gloucestershire. They also had a London town house at Eaton Square in Belgravia. The family added Wyndham to the Quin name in 1815 and the 1st Earl took his title from his daughter-in-law’s home, Dunraven Castle.

The 3rd Earl’s role and influence in Sneem is a culmination of the knitting together of several strands, all of which individually were important, but combined made a big impact on the Sneem community. In 1836, the 3rd Earl’s sister Anna Maria married William Monsell, later to be created Lord Emly. Both men were mainly resident landlords, close friends and part of a group of enlightened Limerick gentry that continued to provide leadership and protection to their tenants for the next decades. The turning point in Monsell’s life was the Great Famine of 1845 – 1850. The depredations and scale of that horrific event caused him to question the politics normally associated with his class. His famine experience had also brought him closer to his Catholic tenantry, and working with Catholic clergy on relief work and political activity brought him closer to that church, into which he was received in December, 1850. His close friend and brother-in-law, Dunraven, became a Catholic in 1855, delayed due to his wife’s vehement opposition. Her tactic was to have heart palpitations when he seemed to be about to convert. After he finally did so, they became seriously estranged and quarrelled bitterly over the education and religious upbringing of their eldest son, the future 4th Earl, who, disgusted by the acrimony is said to have become an agnostic.

Garnish Island, Sneem. Postcards from Ireland.

Work on the re-building of their Co. Limerick home, Adare Manor was almost complete when, in July 1855, Lord Dunraven took a lease on Garnish Island at the mouth of the Sneem River from the Blands. The name is derived from Gar-inis, near-island, to differentiate it from Sherkey, lying further out in the bay. The island was a relatively barren piece of land, with ravines running its length. The intention was to use it as a base for the Earl’s hobbies of archaeology and sailing. Then as now, the bay inside Garnish provides one of the safest accessible anchorages on the South Kerry Coast. In the best Victorian tradition Dunraven set about making a garden, creating windbreaks, importing soil and fertilizer from the mainland, building up beds in the ravines and planting them up with exotic plants. He built a small house to use as a shore base for his yachting trips, and also built a large boathouse, with an extensive loft to facilitate the drying and storage of sails. The first house built on Garinish was small and basic, and did not meet either Lord Dunraven’s standards or the needs of his growing family – he had at least eight children, two sons being still-born, leaving one son and heir, and five girls.

Another topic to the forefront of his mind was the condition of the Catholic Church in Sneem, where he used to attend Mass when in residence at Garnish. That church was appalling – it could hold less than a quarter of the congregation, most having to stand outside in the rain: inside, there was an earthen floor and no seating and those who had the doubtful luck to squeeze inside had little shelter as the roof leaked. Clearly the village needed a new church and for this the Earl employed Philip Hardwick, the architect he had used to supervise the finishing of Adare Manor (his father, the 2nd Earl, was his own architect). The builder was a West Cork businessman, Denis William Murphy, who came up from Bantry and lived in the house on Garnish while preparing for the construction of the new church. He also started to build the extension of the house on Garnish. Before the Church cornerstone was laid, in 1863 Murphy died and his place was taken by his son, nineteen year old William Martin Murphy, who had only recently left Belvedere College, an exclusive Jesuit school in Dublin. During his time in Belvedere, Murphy, who lodged with family friends while attending school, made a significant number of contacts in the Dublin business community that would assist him in later life. Murphy impressed his employer and soon Dunraven was extolling the virtues of the young builder. At the end of July 1865 the new church was consecrated.

The patronage and support of Dunraven led Murphy back to Dublin, where in 1870 aged 25 he became involved in the development of tramways, later expanding into railways, with projects as far away as Argentina Through the merger and acquisition of smaller railway companies, in 1903 Murphy became a director of the Great Southern and Western Railway, reinforcing his local links with Parknasilla and its hotel. He became one of the most formidable figures in the Irish business scene, owned Clerys department store, then the biggest in Dublin and the biggest national ‘daily’, the Irish Independent newspaper. It was he who organized about 400 leading employers to band together to crush labour leader Jim Larkin’s 1913 strike through a lockout until the workers were starved back to work after 22 weeks. Some years before that, in 1907, Murphy played a major part in the highly successful Irish International Exhibition. There was an expectation that he would be knighted for his work. He, an ardent Irish nationalist, made it clear to the lord lieutenant, the marquis of Aberdeen, that he would not accept the honour.

French, R., & Lawrence, W. (18651914). Garinish Island, Sneem, Co. Kerry.

In the 1870’s Lord Dunraven often rented out Garinish during the summer months, and Lord Cloncurry (fourth lord) with his family were regular tenants. The first Lord Cloncurry had built Lyons House, in Co. Kildare, at a cost in today’s money of about €20 million. It had more than that amount spent on restoring it in the last decade, by Tony Ryan, a self-made multimillionaire, founder of Ryanair among other ventures, who was the son of a Great Southern and Western Railway stationmaster and grandson of a train driver. Cloncurry’s daughters, one of whom, the Hon. Emily Lawless, later a famous writer, were playmates of Ida Graves, the Bishop of Limerick’s daughter, occupiers of the ‘Bishop’s House’ at Parknasilla along with Katie Bland of Derryquin Castle and the Heard sisters of Rossdohan House. Their summers spent together are covered in Ida Graves’ book on her childhood, “An Admiral’s Wife in the Making.”

The 4th Earl (1841-1926), shared his father’s love of both gardening and sailing and he expanded the gardens at Garinish. Using some of the skills learned in Sneem Harbour he became a world-renowned yachtsman and unsuccessfully tried on two occasions to win back the Americas Cup. He was so disgusted by what he considered to be the New York Yacht Club’s “cheating tactics” that he resigned as an honorary member of that club (arguably the most prestigious in the USA) and gave up Americas Cup racing. The Americans were shameless in their determination to win at all costs, constantly stacking the rules in favour of the defender, drawing accusations of cheating and bad sportsmanship, and prompting the expression “Britannia rules the waves, but America waives the rules.”  In addition to cattle ranching in Wyoming (where he was a guest at ‘Frewen Castle’ on the Powder River, the ranch of Moreton Frewen, a kinsman of this writer) and big game hunting in the Rockies, Lord Dunraven was active in Irish politics. He was one of the main instigators of the Wyndham Land Act of 1903 that opened the way to land ownership by ordinary Irish farmers, including the many who bought out their tenancies from the Derryquin Estate. He was a close friend of Horace Plunkett (a founding father of the co-op movement) who also had cattle-ranching interests in Wyoming and shared an interest in Irish politics with G B Shaw, who at one time left Parknasilla Hotel to stay with him to discuss Home Rule.

After the sale of Garinish by the Dunravens, who also had a property at Derrynane, Garnish was owned by an Englishwoman, Mrs. Simmons, who, with her companion Mrs. MacLean, was a regular visitor. Ownership of Garnish then passed to the Browne family. The Casey family were long associated with Garnish, Paddy Casey being caretaker for many years and lived in the house near the Oysterbed Pier. That house also contained a large laundry, which was used by the Dunravens and the crew of their yachts. It had Belfast sinks along one wall and a channel in the floor for water run-off. In more recent times, Tommy Downing of Drimina worked on Garnish, always ensuring that the gardens were maintained in their beautifully tidy state. Seamus Browne sold the island which again changed hands and today it and its houses are owned by a gentleman domiciled in Switzerland.

Bob Frewen, Lord Dunravenm, Garnish & Sneem, (May 2010)