Destruction of Irish country houses (1919–1923)

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The destruction of country houses in Ireland was a phenomenon of the Irish revolutionary period (1919–1923), which saw at least 275 country houses deliberately burned down, blown up, or otherwise destroyed by the Irish Republican Army (IRA).[1]

The vast majority of the houses, known in Ireland as Big Houses, belonged to the Anglo-Irish aristocracy of the Protestant Ascendancy. The houses of some Roman Catholic unionists, suspected informers, and members or supporters of the new Irish Free State government were also targeted. Although the practice by the IRA of destroying country houses began in the Irish War of Independence, most of the buildings were destroyed during the Irish Civil War (1922–23).[2] Today, most of the targeted buildings are in ruins or have been demolished. Some were restored by their owners, albeit often smaller in size, or were later rebuilt and re-purposed.[3]

The Big House as a target[edit]

Ballynastragh House depicted in 1826, typical of the "Big Houses" targeted by the IRA.

By the start of the Irish revolutionary period in 1919, the Big House had become symbolic of the 18th and 19th-century dominance of the Protestant Anglo-Irish class in Ireland at the expense of the native Roman Catholic population, particularly in southern and western Ireland.[4]

The Anglo-Irish, as a class, were generally opposed to the notions of Irish independence and held key positions in the British administration of Ireland. The Irish nationalist narrative maintained that the land of Irishmen had been illegally stolen from them by the landowning aristocracy, who had mostly arrived in Ireland as Protestant settlers of The Crown during the late 16th and 17th centuries. The Irish Big House was at the administrative centre of the estates of the landowners, as well as being the family seat from which the Anglo-Irish exerted their political control over the island.[5]

This perception was popularly held by nationalists, despite a considerable increase in Irish landownership in the previous decades due to the Irish Land Acts. Whereas in 1870, 97% of land was owned by landlords and 50% by just 750 families, by 1916, 70% of Irish farmers owned their own land.[6] Catholics had been emancipated in 1829 and the political dominance of the Anglo-Irish in Ireland had consequently declined following the electoral successes of the Catholic nationalist Irish Parliamentary Party through much of the 19th century.[7]

Irish War of Independence[edit]

In the destruction of the country houses of the aristocracy and landed gentry, the IRA hoped to overcome a culture of deference towards the landowning class.[8] As early as 1918, IRA organiser Ernie O'Malley had his Volunteers train in demesne grounds to "rid them of their inherent respect for the owners".[9]

During the Irish War of Independence, country houses were often targeted in reprisal for the destruction of houses by the British Army, who took to burning or defacing the homes of nationalists engaged in actions against the British administration in Ireland. Usually the local Big House and landowner had no influence over British military policy in the area, and the reprisal attack by the IRA would be carried out on the assumption that all Anglo-Irish were loyalists. "In April 1921, north Cork IRA leader, Liam Lynch, enraged by the destruction of several houses in reprisal for an IRA ambush declared, 'six big houses and castles of their friends, the Imperialists will go up for this.'"[10]

At least 76 country mansions were destroyed in the War of Independence; 30 "Big Houses" were burned in 1920 and another 46 in the first half of 1921, mostly in the conflict's Munster heartland, i.e. counties Cork, Kerry, Tipperary, Clare and Limerick.[7]

Historian James S. Donnelly stated in a study of the burning of over 50 country mansions in County Cork in 1919–21 that although there may have been agrarian or sectarian animosities at work, most of the houses targeted by the IRA were burnt either to deny them as potential billets to the British forces or as reprisals for house burnings committed by the British forces.[7] Similarly a study of the border region of counties Louth, Cavan and Monaghan found no such burnings until June and July 1921, coinciding with a sizeable British Army offensive in the area and that the main motive was to deny them garrisons. "In this region at least it was the guerrilla tactics of the IRA and not agrarian motives that were main motive for targeting the Big Houses".[11]

The "Big Houses" did not become the subject of a concerted campaign until the Irish Civil War.[12] In this period there was also a significant level of violence against southern Irish Protestants. In County Cork, between 1920 and 1923, the IRA shot more than 150 civilians.[13] Of the 122 assassinated as "spies", 44, or about 36% were Protestants:[14] about twice the percentage of Protestants in the civilian population of Cork. Mrs Mary (or Maria) Lindsay, an elderly Protestant from Coachford, was shot and killed, with her driver, in an outbuilding while her house was burning, after the authorities refused to commute the capital sentences of six IRA volunteers who were executed after Mrs. Lindsay had informed the authorities of a pending nearby ambush, after her efforts and that of a local priest to stop the pending ambush were ignored by the IRA. The degree to which such IRA violence can be categorised as sectarian as opposed to politically motivated is still the subject of much debate.[15]

Irish Civil War[edit]

The ruins of Woodstock House in County Kilkenny, which was attacked on 2 July 1922 during the Civil War.

It is believed that 199 country houses were destroyed during the Civil War.[16] Some mansions were destroyed in the fighting of the early months of the war, but the campaign against them began in earnest in late 1922. The leadership of the Anti-Treaty forces orchestrated a campaign of Big House destruction across Ireland. The order to burn houses of Free State supporters and 'Imperialists' (as the IRA called the Anglo-Irish upper class) was given after the government embarked on a policy of executions of anti-Treaty Republican fighters.

Liam Lynch, anti-Treaty IRA Chief of Staff, after the execution of four senior Republicans in Mountjoy Prison, issued a General order on 8 December 1922 that, "all Free State supporters are traitors and deserve the latter's stark fate, therefore their houses must be destroyed at once", and, on 26 January 1923, issued another order for property destruction and possible killing of Free State Senators in reprisal.[17]

The ostensible reason for the coordinated attack on the 'Big Houses' therefore was that many of their owners were senators in the Senate or Seanad. However, others were targeted because the IRA listed them as "Imperialists" or in some cases 'Freemasons'.[17] Most country houses were isolated and in rural areas, and targeting them forced the National Army to allocate their stretched resources to protecting landowners, while also creating an atmosphere of panic among the Anglo-Irish, as well as unionists in general. As such, the country house was regarded by the IRA as a "soft target".[18]

Attacks were planned and organised, and generally focused on Irish peers who had sat in the House of Lords, members of the Senate of the Irish Free State and former Irish Unionist Party politicians.[19] The assault on the "Big Houses" was part of a wider campaign against Free State supporters as a reprisal for the executions policy of the Government. In Dublin for instance, out of 28 homes burned by the IRA between 10 December 1922 and the end of April, nine could be counted as Big Houses or mansions associated with the Anglo-Irish gentry.[17] As well as members of the gentry, the houses of newspaper owners and editors, members of the National Army and former British Army officers, and Justices of the Peace, were also targeted.[citation needed]

Some Free State TDs, such as Liam Burke and Seán McGarry, were targeted; in the case of the latter causing the death of his seven-year-old son, Emmet. The former's home was demolished but the latter rebuilt his property. The Ballyboden home of the President of the Executive Council of the Irish Free State, W. T. Cosgrave, was burned down in January 1923.[20] The Foxrock, County Dublin home of the Anglo-Irish politician Sir Horace Plunkett, a distant relation to Count Plunkett, was burnt down in 1923, despite his reputation as a social reformer.[21]

Some houses, such as Ballycarty House, were purportedly also attacked to prevent their being used as garrisons by Free State forces. The size of the buildings targeted ranged from small to palatial. Most were destroyed by being set on fire, their interiors having been doused in petrol, although in some instances houses were blown up using high explosives. The attempt to burn down Burton Hall, Stillorgan, the home of Henry Guinness, in March 1923 failed when a mine planted there failed to explode.[17]

In most cases, no one was injured during the destruction of the house. It is recorded that in several cases, members of the IRA helped the targeted family to remove their possessions from the house before it was destroyed. When the home of Dermot Bourke, 7th Earl of Mayo, was attacked on 29 January 1923, he described the IRA guerrillas as being "excessively polite" and apologetic. Nonetheless, there were incidents of violence and deaths in such attacks. The Church of Ireland Gazette recorded numerous instances of Unionists and Loyalists being shot, burned out or otherwise forced from their homes during the early 1920s.[citation needed]

Senator John Philip Bagwell was kidnapped during the attack on his home. Country houses were often looted during and following their destruction, and in most cases a family's possessions were entirely destroyed. Homes of pro-Treaty Catholic nationalists, such as Oliver St John Gogarty and George Moore were targeted. The former was rebuilt, but the latter was not. The library of Moore Hall, County Mayo, containing ancient manuscripts relating to Irish and world history, was entirely destroyed in February 1923.[22]

Not all such houses were regarded by the IRA as targets, depending upon their ownership. Mount Trenchard House in County Kerry was the home of Mary Spring Rice, a nationalist activist, and the building was used by the IRA as a safe house.[citation needed]

Aftermath[edit]

The ruins of Moore Hall, County Mayo, which was abandoned after being burnt down by the IRA in 1923.

Most of the properties targeted by the IRA were abandoned following the attacks. The widespread use of petrol and other incendiaries ensured that most of the buildings were completely gutted by fire and rendered uninhabitable. The state of the buildings, as well as fear of a repeat attack, meant that few of the country houses were rebuilt. Most were demolished, while others remain as ruins. Most of the owners sought compensation from the Irish Free State government. Ebenezer Pike claimed £62,000 for the destruction of Kilcronagh House, arguing his losses were "enormous, for valuable furniture, paintings, and art treasures were all consumed in the flames."[23]

Both of Sir Augustus Digby Warren's properties in County Cork were destroyed. William Downes Webber sought compensation from the Irish Free State totalling £149,000 for the rebuilding and £18,000 for the contents of Mitchelstown Castle; £27,500 for the building and the full £18,000 for the contents were eventually awarded by Justice Kenny in 1926. Webber deemed the award for rebuilding too small and relocated to Dublin.[citation needed]

The period of the destruction of the Big Houses came to play an important part in Irish culture.[24][25][26]

William Butler Yeats decried the targeting of Big Houses in the poem Meditations in Time of Civil War (1924). In The Last September (1929), Elizabeth Bowen mythologised "The Big Houses" as an ideal of civilisation and order, yet one which had its origins in injustice and could not be expected to survive in the modern world.[24]

Resurgence during The Troubles[edit]

During The Troubles in Northern Ireland, the practice of targeting the "Big House" was revived by the Irish Republican Army, although there were relatively few of these in the six counties. Most notoriously, Tynan Abbey was attacked on the night of 21 January 1981. The 86-year-old Sir Norman Stronge, Bt., and his only son, James, 48 (both former MPs), were murdered by the PIRA attackers. The house was then burnt to the ground. The bodies of the father and son were later recovered from their blazing home.[27][28]

List of houses destroyed[edit]

House Location County Owner or occupier Date of attack Current state
Aasleagh Lodge Aghagower County Mayo George Browne, 6th Marquess of Sligo 1923 Rebuilt
Annaskeagh House Dundalk County Louth A. N. Sheridan JP February 1923 Demolished
Antrim Castle Antrim County Antrim Algernon Skeffington, 12th Viscount Massereene 28 October 1922 During a grand ball on 28 October 1922, the castle caught fire and was destroyed. Although much of the evidence pointed to arson by the IRA, the official verdict was not conclusive, thus no insurance claim was paid out. The castle remained as a ruin until its demolition in 1970. Only a slightly raised grassed platform as well as a freestanding Italian tower which was built in 1887 and a gatehouse remain.[citation needed]
Ardamine House Gorey County Wexford Major A. W. Mordaunt-Richards 9 July 1921 Demolished[29]
Ardtully House Kilgarvan County Kerry Raymond William Orpen 1921 Abandoned as ruins
Artramon House Wexford County Wexford Sir George Le Hunte February 1923 Rebuilt; now a hotel
Askeaton Hall Askeaton County Limerick Charles Arthur Spring 1 February 1923 Demolished
Ballybay House Ballybay County Monaghan Edward John Henry Leslie June 1921 Demolished
Ballycarty House Tralee County Kerry Nash family January 1923 Abandoned as ruins
Ballydonnellan Castle Killalaghtan County Galway Donnellan family January 1923 Abandoned as ruins
Ballynastragh House Gorey County Wexford Sir Thomas Esmonde, 11th Baronet 9 March 1923 Demolished; smaller house was later built on the site
Ballyrankin House Bunclody County Wexford Walter Clarmont Skrine July 1921 Abandoned as ruins
Ballywater House Castletownroche County Cork S.G. Penrose Welsted 30 April 1921 Abandoned as ruins
Bearforest Mallow County Cork Major Charles Purdon Coote 1 June 1921 Rebuilt
Beech Park House Ballyboden County Dublin W. T. Cosgrave January 1923 Demolished
Bellevue House Ballyhogue County Wexford Lady Jane Emma Power February 1923 Abandoned as ruins
Bessborough House Piltown County Kilkenny Vere Ponsonby, 9th Earl of Bessborough February 1923 Rebuilt 1929
Burgatia House Rosscarbery County Cork Thomas Kingston February 1921 Demolished
Cahermore House Rosscarbery County Cork Hungerford family June 1921 Demolished
Cappoquin House Lismore County Waterford Lady Adelaide Keane 1923 Rebuilt
Castleboro House Castleboro County Wexford Robert Carew, 3rd Baron Carew April 1923 Abandoned as ruins
Castlehacket Tuam County Galway Bernard Percy Broderick 1923 Demolished; smaller house built on the site
Castle Cooke Fermoy County Cork Colonel William Cooke-Collis 7 June 1920 Demolished
Castle Bernard Bandon County Cork James Bernard, 4th Earl of Bandon 21 June 1921 Abandoned as ruins
Castle Gore Crossmolina County Mayo Arthur Gore, 6th Earl of Arran 1922 Abandoned as ruins
Castle Mary Cloyne County Cork Colonel Mountifort J.C. Longfield 19 December 1920 Demolished
Cecilstown Lodge Mallow County Cork Esther Jane and Annie Jones 3 June 1921 Rebuilt
Clonyn Castle Delvin County Westmeath Hon. Patrick Greville-Nugent March 1923 Rebuilt
Comeragh House Kilmacthomas County Waterford Captain Fairholme 1923 Rebuilt
Convamore House Ballyhooly County Cork William Hare, 3rd Earl of Listowel 30 April 1921 Abandoned as ruins
Coolbawn House Rathnure County Wexford James Richard Dier JP February 1923 Abandoned as ruins
Coolcower House Macroom County Cork Richard Christopher Williams 11 July 1921 Rebuilt; now a hotel
Cor Castle Innishannon County Cork Mrs Caroline Stephenson 25 June 1921 Rebuilt
Crookstown House Crookstown County Cork Robert Warren 13 June 1921 Rebuilt
Currygrane House Ballinalee County Longford Sir Henry Wilson, 1st Baronet 10 August 1922 Demolished
Derreen House Kenmare County Kerry Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne 1922 Demolished
Derry House Rosscarbery County Cork Alexander Sullivan April 1921 Demolished; but attached Myross Wood, where the family continued to live, remains standing.
Derrylahan Park Borrisokane County Tipperary Lieut. Colonel Charles O. Head, JP 2 July 1921 Abandoned as ruins
Desart Court Callan County Kilkenny Hamilton Cuffe, 5th Earl of Desart 1923 Demolished
Dromagh Castle Mallow County Cork William N. Leader 10 March 1921 Abandoned as ruins
Forest House Macroom County Cork Lieutenant Colonel Isaac W. Burns-Lindow/James Gollock 7 July 1921 Demolished
Frankfort House Montenotte Hill County Cork Sir Alfred Dobbin 25 May 1921 Demolished
Gola House Tydavnet County Monaghan William Black March 1921 Demolished
Graiguenoe Thurles County Tipperary Clarke family 1923 Demolished
Innishannon House Innishannon County Cork Brigadier General F.W.J. Caulfeild 25 June 1921 Abandoned as ruins
Kellistown House Kellistown County Carlow Elizabeth Pack-Beresford and sister 23 March 1923 Rebuilt, now the Brophy family home (aka Kellistown Cottage or The Glebe house)
Kilboy House Nenagh County Tipperary Henry Prittie, 4th Baron Dunalley 1922 Partially rebuilt
Kilcolman House Bandon County Cork Mrs. E. M. A. Longfield 28 June 1921 Rebuilt
Kilcronagh House Carrigrohane County Cork Ebenezer Pike 25 May 1921 Demolished
Kilmore House Kilmurry McMahon County Clare Hickman family 30 July 1922 Demolished
Kilmorna House Listowel County Kerry Sir Arthur Vicars 14 April 1921 Demolished
Kilteragh House Foxrock County Dublin Sir Horace Plunkett January 1923 Demolished
Leemount House Coachford County Cork Mrs Mary (or Maria) Lindsay March 1921 Abandoned as ruins
Lanesborough Lodge Belturbet County Cavan Charles Butler, 7th Earl of Lanesborough 4 June 1921 Demolished
Leap Castle Roscrea County Offaly Darby family 29 June 1921 Ruined; partially restored
Lisheen Castle Thurles County Tipperary John F. O'Meara 29 June 1921 Rebuilt; now a hotel
Lohort Castle Cecilstown County Cork Sir Tim O'Brien, 3rd Baronet 5 July 1921 Abandoned as ruins
Lydacan Castle Carnmore County Galway James Greated 1922 Abandoned as ruins
Mayfield House Bandon County Cork Hewitt R. Poole JP 28 June 1921 Rebuilt; now a hotel
Marlfield House Marlfield, Clonmel County Tipperary John Philip Bagwell January 1923 Rebuilt; now houses luxury apartments
Merton House Rosscarbery County Cork Emily and Beatrice Whitley June 1921 Demolished
Mitchelstown Castle Mitchelstown County Cork William Downes Webber 12 August 1922 Demolished
Moore Hall Carra County Mayo Maurice Moore 1 February 1923 Abandoned as ruins
Mountshannon House Castleconnell County Limerick David Hannigan JP June 1920 Abandoned as ruins
Mount Talbot House Tisrara County Roscommon W.J. Talbot 1922 Abandoned as ruins
Moydrum Castle Athlone County Westmeath Albert Handcock, 5th Baron Castlemaine 3 July 1921 Abandoned as ruins
Myshall Lodge Myshall County Carlow Cornwall Brady family (unoccupied) 1922 Demolished
Newberry Manor Mallow County Cork John Pretyman Newman 3 June 1921 Rebuilt; now a nursing home
Old Court House Strangford County Down Una Ross, 26th Baroness de Ros 20 May 1922 Demolished; smaller house built on the site
Palmerstown House Johnstown County Kildare Dermot Bourke, 7th Earl of Mayo 29 January 1923 Abandoned as ruins
Prospect House Innishannon County Cork Michael Dennehy JP 25 June 1921 Abandoned as ruins
Phillipsbury Avenue Fairview County Dublin Seán McGarry TD December 1922 Rebuilt
Puxley Mansion Castletownbere County Cork Henry W. L. Puxley 9 June 1921 Ruined; partially renovated
Ravensdale House Ravensdale County Louth Arthur Gore, 6th Earl of Arran 1920 Demolished
Renvyle Connemara County Galway Oliver St. John Gogarty February 1923 Rebuilt; now a hotel
River View House Innishannon County Cork Colonel Francis C. Godley 25 June 1921 Abandoned as ruins
Rochestown House Rochestown County Cork Francis H. Wise February 1923 Demolished
Rockfield Artane County Dublin J.J. Reddin 1 February 1923 Demolished
Rockforest Roscrea County Tipperary Liam Burke TD March 1923 Demolished
Rockmills House Glanworth County Cork Charles Deane Oliver 30 April 1921 Abandoned as ruins
Rosslevan House Kilraghtis County Clare Hon. Edward O'Brien 1922 Abandoned as ruins
Roxborough House Killinan County Galway Persse family 1922 Abandoned as ruins
Rye Court Moviddy County Cork Tonson Rye family 13 June 1921 Demolished
St Austin's Abbey Tullow County Carlow Doyne family (unoccupied) 1922 Later partially demolished
Shanton House Ballybay County Monaghan Fitzherbert family 8 July 1921 Demolished
Sillahertane House Kenmare County Kerry Sarah S. Lowe 1921 Abandoned as ruins
Skevanish House Innishannon County Cork Ethel Peacocke 14 June 1921 Abandoned as ruins
Springfield Castle Broadford County Limerick Robert Deane-Morgan, 5th Baron Muskerry 1921 Main house rebuilt; partially ruined
Stradone House Stradone County Cavan Burrowes family 29 June 1921 Abandoned as ruins
Summerhill House Summerhill County Meath John Hercules William Rowley, 5th Baron Langford 4 February 1921 Demolished
Templemore Abbey Templemore County Tipperary Carden baronets Early 1922 Demolished
Temple Hill Terenure County Dublin Stephen Gwynn February 1923 Demolished
Tore House[30] Rochfortbridge County Westmeath Henry John McKenna 1922 Destroyed; little more than the facade and few walls of Tore House remain.
Tynan Abbey Tynan County Armagh Sir Norman Stronge, Bt 21 January 1981 Demolished
Warrensgrove Bandon County Cork Sir Augustus Digby Warren 1921 Main house ruined; outbuildings renovated
Warren's Court Macroom County Cork Sir Augustus Digby Warren 17 June 1921 Demolished
Wilton Castle Enniscorthy County Wexford Captain P. C. Alcock March 1923 Abandoned; ruined
Woodstock House Inistioge County Kilkenny Tighe family 2 July 1922 Abandoned as ruins

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Terence Dooley. The Decline of the Big House in Ireland: A Study of Irish Landed Families (Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 2001), p. 2.
  2. ^ Peter Martin, "Unionism: The Irish Nobility and the Revolution 1919–23", The Irish Revolution (Joost Augustein (ed), Palgrave 2002), p. 157.
  3. ^ Head, Charles O. Head (1943). No Great Shakes: An Autobiography. Northumberland Press Ltd. 
  4. ^ Dooley, p. 10.
  5. ^ Dooley, p. 11.
  6. ^ Jonathan Haughton, 'Historical Background' in John W. O'Hagan and Carol Newman, The Economy of Ireland: National and Sectoral Policy Issues (Gill & Macmillan Ltd, 15 August 2014), pp. 19–25.
  7. ^ a b c James S. Donnelly, 'Big House Burnings in County Cork during the Irish Revolution, 1920–21', Éire-Ireland (47: 3 & 4 Fall/Winter 12), p. 141.
  8. ^ Dooley, p. 56.
  9. ^ Ernie O'Malley, The Singing Flame (Anvil 2002), p. 94
  10. ^ "The Big House and the Irish Revolution", The Irish Story (2011). Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  11. ^ "Explaining the Civil War Burnings". TheIrishStory.com. 6 November 2015. 
  12. ^ Martin, p. 157.
  13. ^ Peter Hart, The IRA and its Enemies, pp. 87, 116, 121
  14. ^ Hart, IRA and its Enemies, p. 304
  15. ^ Ireland Volume 11, Book Review, (Spring 2003), historyireland.com. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  16. ^ Michael Hopkinson, Green Against Green: The Irish Civil War (Gill & Macmillan Ltd, 2004), p. 195.
  17. ^ a b c d John Dorney (6 November 2015). "The Burning of the Big Houses Re-visited". TheIrishStory.com. 
  18. ^ Dooley, p. 72.
  19. ^ Alan O'Day, Reactions to Irish Nationalism, 1865–1914 (Bloomsbury Publishing, 1 July 1987), p. 384.
  20. ^ Gemma Clark, Everyday Violence in the Irish Civil War (Cambridge University Press, 21 April 2014), p. 70.
  21. ^ Diarmaid Ferriter, The Transformation of Ireland 1900–2000 (Profile Books, 2004), p. 210.
  22. ^ George Moore, Letter to the Morning Post, 13 February 1923.
  23. ^ Cork Constitution (27 May 1921)
  24. ^ a b Jacqueline Genet, The Big House in Ireland: Reality and Representation (Rowman & Littlefield, 1 January 1991)
  25. ^ Vera Kreilkamp, The Anglo-Irish Novel and the Big House (Syracuse University Press, 1998)
  26. ^ Robert Kee, The Green Flag: A History of Irish Nationalism (Penguin, 2000).
  27. ^ Tim Pat Coogan"The Green Book: I" from The IRA (1993), cain.ulst.ac.uk. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  28. ^ Biographies of Members of the Northern Ireland House of Commons, election.demon.co.uk. Retrieved 22 June 2016.
  29. ^ The Destruction of Country Houses in County Wexford during "The Troubles" (1919-23). National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, October 2010. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  30. ^ "TORE HOUSE – WESTMEATH – HISTORY – Rochfortbridge, Co. Westmeath". rochfortbridge.wikifoundry.com. 

Sources[edit]