Monday 1 May 2023

Land and Gentry: Pubblebrien landowning families

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Tuthills, Taylors and Coopers.

The Fascinating Story of the Landowners of Faha, Newtown and Cooperhill.

The Barony of Pubblebrien in County Limerick, which had been the patrimony of the O’Briens, Lords of Carrigogunnell, was confiscated at the time of the Cromwellian Plantation in the 1650s and given to English planters. It includes the modern parishes of Patrickswell-Ballybrown and Mungret-Crecora-Raheen and contains the villages of Clarina, Mungret and Patrickswell.  As a result of the Cromwellian Plantation the landlords dominated Ballybrown for over 250 years, from the 1650s to the early twentieth century. During this time, virtually all the land was owned by just five landowners: the Monsells of Tervoe House (who held the title of Baron Emly from 1874 to 1932); the Massys of Elm Park (who held the title of Baron Clarina from 1800 to 1952); the Barkers/Ponsonbys/Ponsonby-Barkers of Kilcooley Abbey, Thurles, County Tipperary (who held the baronetage of Bocking Hall from 1676 to 1818); the Coopers of Cooperhill and the Tuthills/Taylors of Faha House. All resided in the Ballybrown area except the Barkers/Ponsonbys/Ponsonby-Barkers who lived near Thurles, while only the Coopers and the Tuthills/Taylors received no title, not even a knighthood.

While the best known of the Ballybrown landlords were Lord Emly and Lord Clarina, and the largest estate was that of the Barkers, the other two were also of great interest. The estate of the Tuthills/Taylors at 2,197 acres was the second largest in Ballybrown, while the Coopers, despite being by far the poorest of the five, had more famous connections than any of the others. In addition, after 1844 the Coopers were a branch of the Tuthills, and after 1859, the Taylors inherited the Tuthill estate so it is appropriate that this article should deal with these three families together.

The Tuthills.

Like many English settlers in Ireland, including their neighbours the Monsells, the Tuthills came from the West Country of England, and were a prominent family in Exeter, the capital of Devon. One of them, Christopher Tuthill (1650-1712), a native of Minehead in Somerset, came to Ireland in 1685 and settled in Youghal, County Cork. In 1694, he leased Kilmore near Croom and in 1697 Faha near Patrickswell, which became the two principal centres of the Tuthill estates in County Limerick. He also seems to have taken possession of Newtown, the largest townland in Ballybrown, with an area of 1,664 acres. On his death, he was succeeded by two sons John (1686-1760) and George (1693-1771) to whom he left Faha jointly. George, described by one historian as ‘an entrepreneur of considerable acumen’ bought his brother’s share of Faha and in 1737 purchased Kilmore House near Croom which the family had previously held on lease. At the time of his death, George Tuthill owned a large estate in County Limerick including Kilmore (Croom), Doorlass (Granagh), Garrytigue (Bruree) and four townlands with a total area of 2,513 acres in the Patrickswell-Ballybrown area (then known as the Parish of Kilkeedy): Faha, Newtown, Ballyanrahan East and Ballyanrahan West.

George Tuthill was married twice. His first wife was Jane Armstrong whom he married on 30 May 1727 in Kilkeedy Church (now the ruined church in Kilkeedy Cemetery) by whom he had a son Palmes (1730-57) who died unmarried and before his father, and two daughters who died as children. After Jane’s early death in 1732, George Tuthill married Dorothea Villiers in 1740, with whom he had two sons John and Christopher and three daughters. After George’s death on 13 March 1771 at the age of seventy-six (he was buried in the vestry of Kilkeedy Church), his estates were divided between his two sons. Christopher (1750-1817) received Faha, Newtown, and the two Ballyanrahans, while John (1744-1814) received all the rest and in 1794 assumed the name Villiers-Tuthill in accordance with the will of his uncle Edward Villiers of Kilpeacon. Shortly after coming into his inheritance, Christopher Tuthill built Faha House (reputedly in 1773, although it must have surely taken longer than that to construct). He was also married twice but had issue only by his second wife, Mary Anne Massy, a daughter of the second Lord Massy (and therefore a cousin of Tuthill’s neighbour Lord Clarina) with whom he had two children George and Catherine. George Tuthill (1787-1859) was the last of his family to reside at Faha. In the 1850s, his estates consisted of Faha, Ballyanrahan East and Newtown with a total acreage of 2,197, as Ballyanrahan West had now passed into the hands of Alexander O’Grady Rose. George Tuthill was married to his first cousin Catherine Greene (1791-1845) whose mother was another daughter of the second Lord Massy, but they died childless and both were buried in Kilkeedy Churchyard. Unlike the Monsells and Massys, the Tuthills were not prominent in political life, the sole exception being John (1772-1835), a son of John Villiers-Tuthill and first cousin of George of Faha (died 1859), who unsuccessfully contested Limerick City in an 1816 by-election.

The Taylors.

In 1859, the extinction of the Faha line of the Tuthill family resulted in their estates passing into the hands of the Taylors of Hollypark, Kilcornan, near Curragh Chase. On 5 September 1815, in Kilkeedy Church, George Tuthill’s sister Catherine (1788-1873) had married her cousin Richard Taylor (died 1849) of Hollypark, and on George’s death, his lands in Faha, Newtown and Ballyanrahan East were inherited by Catherine’s sons George and William Taylor. Unlike the Tuthills, the Taylors had long been a politically prominent family in County Limerick. They had come to the area in 1703 when they purchased lands at Kilcornan and played a dominant role in the politics of the Borough of Askeaton for some seventy years. Between 1692 and 1760, five Taylors over three generations had represented Askeaton in the Irish Parliament. Catherine Taylor, daughter and co-heir of Edward Taylor (last of the family’s MPs), married the second Lord Massy and was thus grandmother of both George and Catherine Tuthill. Although this politically active branch of the Taylors had become extinct with Edward’s death in 1760, Catherine Tuthill had married into a less prominent branch of the family and indeed her husband Richard, through mismanagement, principally gambling, had in 1836 managed to lose his estate at Hollypark to his cousins the de Veres of Curraghchase. Subsequently, the Taylors recovered their estates in Kilcornan and were fortunate to be able to add their Ballybrown inheritance to them. After 1859, Catherine Tuthill’s sons George Taylor (1831-1907) and William ran their estates in Kilcornan and Ballybrown for some fifty years. According to the 1901 census, George, a widower was then living at Hollypark with his daughters Catherine and Georgina, his unmarried siblings William and Mary Anne and a few servants. As George’s son and heir had died in 1886, his property was inherited by his daughters, and on the death of Georgina Taylor (1881-1937), the estate was sold, although by this time, the lands in Ballybrown had been bought out by the tenant farmers.

The Coopers.

The Coopers of Cooperhill were also descended from the Tuthills. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, a Cooper family was established in Cooperhill, whose connection to the notorious Máire Rúa O’Brien (1615-86) of Leamaneh Castle in the Burren (who had married as her third husband a Cromwellian officer named John Cooper) is probably a colourful legend. Samuel Cooper of Cooperhill (1717-79) is buried at Kilkeedy Churchyard, as is James Cooper (1752-1824), probably his son, who was married to Honora Dickson (1758-1844), a first cousin of Reverend Richard Dickson (1776-1867), Church of Ireland rector of Kilkeedy parish for an incredible 68 years (1799-1867). During the eighteenth century, Cooperhill House was built, probably around 1791, though one source gives 1741 as the correct date. After James Cooper died in 1824, his widow Honora occupied Cooperhill until her own death twenty years later. James and Honora Cooper left no heirs, so in her will, she left the estate to James Cooper Tuthill (1825-1906), whose grandfather Richard (1725-1800) was a first cousin of Christopher of Faha (died 1817) and had married another of the Dicksons. When James inherited Cooperhill in 1844, he took the surname Cooper-Cooper in accordance with Mrs Honora Cooper’s will. Out of this exceedingly complex heritage, James Cooper was to create a distinctive legacy for his family through his numerous descendants.

James Cooper was master of Cooperhill for 62 years (1844-1906). His tiny estate of 524 acres brought in a very small income and by the standards of his landlord neighbours, he was a comparatively poor man.  His poverty was greatly exacerbated by his having an enormous family. On 10 August 1847, he married Mary Pickering (1828-77) and they had a total of eighteen children, of whom five sons and ten daughters lived beyond childhood. Due to their poverty, the boys were not allowed to wear shoes until they were twelve and the girls went to balls in turn, as they did not have enough ball gowns to go around. Nevertheless, the Coopers were an Ascendancy family, proud and high spirited and they lived in considerable style in the fine old Cooperhill House, surrounded by a huge demesne on the banks of the Shannon. The family was marked by tragedy for nine of the Cooper children died of tuberculosis before they reached the age of forty and one was killed in the First World War. However, the ten Cooper girls were renowned for their beauty and high spirits and appeared in the glittering London Season (a splendid series of balls, receptions and other social events held every Summer and centred on the Royal Family and Court) in search of suitable husbands. Most of Cooper sisters married well and their famous and flamboyant descendants played major roles in the crowded history of the twentieth century.

Famous Relations of the Coopers.

The eldest daughter Jane (1848-86) was married to Alfred Perceval Graves (1846-1931) a writer, folklorist and song-writer (he wrote the ballad ‘Father O’Flynn’), whose father Charles (1812-99) was Church of Ireland Bishop of Limerick (1866-99) and a distinguished antiquarian and mathematician while his aunt Clarissa Graves was married to German historian Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886), considered to be the father of modern historical research methods. Alfred and Jane had five children including Philip (1876-1953), journalist and writer, who in a series of articles in the Times exposed the notorious Russian anti-Semitic text The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (which claimed to reveal a Jewish plot for world domination and was admired by Hitler among others) as a forgery. One of Jane’s granddaughters Diana Graves was briefly married to British actor Michael Gough (1916-2011), who later played the role of Batman’s butler and mentor Alfred Pennyworth in the four Batman films of the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher franchise (1989-97). After Jane’s death, Alfred Graves married again and by his second wife (a grand-niece of Leopold von Ranke) was the father of the celebrated poet and novelist Robert Graves (1895-1985), author of I Claudius and numerous other works. One of the greatest literary figures of the twentieth century, Robert Graves served with the British Army in the First World War and was stationed in Limerick from December 1918 to February 1919. In his famous autobiography Goodbye to All That (1929), Graves mentions the supposed descent of the Coopers from Máire Rúa O’Brien and describes a visit he made to his uncle Robert Cooper at Cooperhill in February 1919. He stayed the night in Cooperhill House (surely one of the greatest writers ever to visit Ballybrown) during which he caught pneumonia.  Later Alfred Perceval Graves wrote his own autobiography entitled To Return to All That (1930), in which he petulantly contradicted some of Robert’s claims, including the apocryphal connection of the Coopers to Máire Rúa O’Brien.

Grace Cooper (1850-1928) spent much of her life in India. She married firstly Thomas William Gribble (1841-80), Postmaster-General of Bengal and secondly Sir Charles Pontifex (1831-1912), who had a long and distinguished legal career in India, including service as a  Judge of the Supreme Court of India and legal adviser to the Secretary of State for India. She had no children by either husband.

Honoria Cooper (1852-1932) married as her second husband Captain William Spencer Beaumont of the 14th Hussars and later became mother-in-law to one of the most formidable women of her time. One of Honoria’s sons Dudley John Beaumont (1877-1918) was married to Sibyl Mary Collings (1884-1974), who ruled the tiny island of Sark in the Channel Islands from 1927 to 1974. The Dame of Sark, as she was known, ruled the island under a hereditary feudal system that dated back to 1563 and during the German occupation of the Channel Islands (1940-45), gave inspirational leadership to her 500 subjects. The autocratic Dame also designed a flag for Sark and banned motor traffic, a rule that still applies there.  After her death, she was succeeded by her grandson John Michael Beaumont, the current Seignuer of Sark, so that the island is still ruled by a descendant of Honoria Cooper (although representative government was finally introduced in 2008).

Sarah Cooper (1857-87) married William Hone and was the mother of Joseph Maunsell Hone (1882–1959), critic, biographer, and publisher who played a major role in the Irish Literary Renaissance and was a close friend of W.B. Yeats, whose biography he wrote. Hone had less happy relations with James Joyce, with whom his publishing company Maunsell & Co. Ltd had a long dispute over the publication of Joyce’s collection of short stories Dubliners which was finally published by Grant Richards in 1914.

Susannah Cooper (1861-1945) was married to Edouard Majolier, (1858-1908) a wealthy French Quaker and they made their home in London. Although they had six children, Edouard was fond of both drink and women and supported a mistress and children who also lived in London near his first family. Susannah’s eldest daughter Mary (1887-1973) was married to the notorious Francis MacNamara (1884–1946), an eccentric Irish landlord and poet, of Ennistymon House, County Clare and they had four children. The rakish MacNamara deserted his wife and children and they ended up living for long periods with the even more outrageous Augustus John (1878-1961), one of the most brilliant British painters of the age, and his mistress Dorelia McNeill. Two of Susannah Cooper’s MacNamara granddaughters became major celebrities: Nicolette Devas (1911-87) was an author and artist and successively married two artists: Anthony Devas and Rupert Shephard, while Caitlin Thomas (1913-94) had a famously turbulent marriage with the drunken, womanising Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (1914-53).

When James Cooper died in 1906, he was succeeded by his eldest surviving son Robert (1866-1946), who had served in the Royal Navy and attained the rank of Commander. In 1919, Commander Cooper hosted his nephew Robert Graves at Cooperhill who observed that the Cooper hay was being burnt and cattle driven away at the outset of the War of Independence. Nevertheless, Commander Cooper was popular locally and in 1989, his surviving children (he had a total of six) recalled growing up in Cooperhill with fondness. His younger brother John (1869-1914) also served in the British navy, but was killed at the Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile on 1 November 1914, when HMS Monmouth was torpedoed by German warships.

Batt Laffan and the Duke of Westminster.

In the 1920s, Cooperhill House was sold by Commander Cooper to Bartholomew (Batt) Laffan (1879-1947), a well-known farmer from Killonan near Limerick City, who had served as Chairman of Limerick County Council from 1921 to 1925, during the War of Independence and Civil War. Within a few years, it was purchased by Hugh Grosvenor, 2nd Duke of Westminster (1879-1953), one of the richest and most influential men in the world, owner of a vast area of Knightsbridge, Mayfair, Belgravia and Pimlico in London, a playboy who married four times and was the lover of Coco Chanel, and an extreme Right-wing and anti-Semitic political figure. Few more flamboyant characters have ever had an association with Ballybrown. The Duke made a present of Cooperhill to his eldest daughter Lady Ursula Grosvenor (1902-78) and her husband William Patrick Filmer-Sankey (1900-85) and they lived there for some years until their divorce in 1940. Following the Duke’s death, Cooperhill estate, comprising 550 acres, was sold in 1955 to help defray the enormous death duties (inheritance tax) on his estates and was purchased by Cement Limited. Thereafter it was turned into a model farm and was visited in 1958 by future Taoiseach Sean Lemass, then Minister for Industry and Commerce. Cooperhill House, described as being in good repair at the time of its sale in 1955 had become more dilapidated by 1958 and was eventually demolished.


·         Gerard Beggan, In the Barony of Pubblebrien. Patrickswell and Crecora. History of a Co. Limerick village and its Environs (Limerick: Privately Printed, 1991).

·         W. Bruce Bannermann, Miscellanea Genealogica Et Heraldica: Fourth Series, Vol. 3, (London: Elibron Classics, 2001).

·         Sir Bernard Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Ireland (Several editions, London: Harrison and Sons). 

·         Nicolette Devas, Susannah’s Nightingales (London: Collins and Harvill Press, 1978).

·         Nicolette Devas, Two Flamboyant Fathers (London: Collins, 1966).

·         Alfred Perceval Graves, To Return to All That, An Autobiography (Dublin: Talbot Press, 1930).

·         Robert Graves, Goodbye to All That, An Autobiography (London: Jonathan Cape, 1929).

·         Sibyl Collings Hathaway, Dame of Sark, an Autobiography (New York: Coward-McCann, 1961).

·         E. M. Johnston-Liik, History of the Irish Parliament 1692-1800: Commons, Constituencies and Statutes 1692-1800, 6 Vols., (Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation, 2002), Vol. 2.

·         Máirtín O Corrbuí, Kenry, The Story of A Barony in County Limerick (Reprint, Pallaskenry, Co. Limerick: Pallas Printing Ltd.).

·         John Sheehan, A Corner of Limerick (Limerick: Privately Printed, 1989).



Article reproduced by kind permission of the author, Dr Matthew Potter