A brief history of Rockbarton Estate

Rockbarton House was constructed in the late 18th century. It is said to have been a stunningly beautiful residence with exquisite fittings & furniture and a sweeping staircase of portland stone.

Rockbarton House was the main residence of Standish O’Grady (1766-1840) who was the chief prosecuting counsel in the trial of Robert Emmett who was hanged for treason in 1803.

The House was subsequently occupied by the 2nd Lord Fermoy when he married into the O’Grady family in 1877 and finally by Nigel Baring, of the Baring banking dynasty, who married Lord Fermoy’s only daughter, Sybil in 1908.

Nigel Baring spent stg.£30,000 on a major refurnbishment of Rockbarton House and stableyard in 1908. However, within a few short years the Golden Age of Irelands Great Houses came to an end. Ireland became a dangerous place for the ascendancy and Nigel Baring was forced to flee Ireland leaving his beloved Rockbarton Estate behind him. The Estate was divided by the Land Commission in 1922. The house was stripped down and sold off bit by bit. It eventually fell into disrepair and an auction was held to dipose of the remaining fixtures and fittings. The staircase is known to have been sold and installed in a house in London. All that now stands as a testament to the grandure of Rockbarton is its Courtyard where our Garden Centre is located.

The History of Rockbarton & Caherguillamore Houses

By Mary Sheehan

Rockbarton and Caherguillamore were both situated on the same estate and were originally O’Grady houses. Caherguillamore House was the Dower house while Rockbarton was a much larger house. Both houses were occupied by O’Grady’s and those who married into the O’Grady clan.

Rockbarton House was built at the end of the 18th century, when many Irish Country Houses were erected, while Caherguillamore House would already have been in place by this time. All that remains today of these houses are the ruins, the remains of the woodland, the Rockbarton stable yard & workers’ living quarters and the gate lodge. The Caherguillamore/Rockbarton Estate was a very impressive place in the 1920’s when Nigel Baring left Ireland. At that time it had a sophisticated underground drainage system and a water supply from a reservoir situated above Rockbarton House. The golden age of these houses was from the late 1700’s to early 20th century. In the early 1800’s the First Viscount Guillamore took up residence at Rockbarton and his descendants remained there until 1922.

Caherguillamore was situated in a valley and surrounded by rising ground. The house was approached by an avenue of ash and elm., which was almost a mile long. This avenue into Caherguillamore is now known as ‘Burma Road’ and it still retains much of its quaint and ancient atmosphere although several houses have since been erected there. The parkland contained Cedar of Lebanon trees and was well stocked with deer. The demesne is reputed to have been one of the most interesting in the County for Raths and other remaining antiquities.

Rockbarton House was also splendidly furnished having a fine hall with a noble staircase of Portland stone. The house also facilitated large apartments which would have been decorated to the highest standards of the time.

Chief Baron O’Grady – First Viscount Guillamore

In the 1700’s Standish O’Grady married Hanora Hayes who was co-heir to properties at Caherguillamore and in this way the Caherguillamore estate passed into the O’Grady family. Standish O’Grady’s grandson who was also called Standish was born in 1767. He was to become Chief Baron and the First Viscount Guillamore and Rockbarton House was his place of residence. Standish was a lawyer and a contemporary of Daniel O’Connell. His promotion in the legal profession was rapid and in 1803 he was appointed as Attorney General for Ireland. Subsequently, he was the leading officer for the Crown during the prosecution for Treason of Robert Emmet. The government was highly impressed with his conduct of the case and as a result promoted him to Chief Baron of His Majesty’s Court of Exchequer. He was again honoured in 1831 when he was raised to the peerage as Viscount Guillamore.

In legal history of the time he was viewed as a humorist and as a fairly rough character. It is also recorded that he spoke with a broad County Limerick accent which indicates that his links with his Irish roots may have been stronger than his links with the ascendancy. Locally, his reputation for imposing the death penalty as a punishment for trivial offences grew and so he became known as the ‘Bloody Judge’. However, his involvement in the trial of Robert Emmett may be the reason for his unpopularity in local folklore.

His local reputation as the ‘Bloody Judge’ who showed no mercy to anyone is said to by some to be somewhat unfair as, at that time hanging was the penalty for many offences. In fact in many of the recorded cases of the time he was seen to be a fair judge. He was originally Judge in the Case of the Doneraile Conspiracy, which is the subject of Canon Sheehan’s book ‘Glenanaar’ .

In the early 1800’s there would have been a lot of Whiteboy activity around Doneraile and around this time a local landlord’s son was murdered as a result of these activities. In an attempt to solve the case the authorities of the time offered a reward of Stg.£750 for any information given which would lead to convictions. An unsavoury character offered information, which implicated over seventeen men from the Doneraile district. One of the accused, O’Leary, was a man over seventy years old. Chief Baron O’Grady, who was the Judge at the initial assizes, was suspicious of this informer and did not go along with the Crown as he recommended to the Jury that they should not find anyone guilty on the evidence of an informer. Subsequently, two other judges came into the case and the prisoners were found guilty and sentenced to death. Later, Daniel O’Connell came out of retirement to appeal the case and the conspiracy was uncovered.

In local folklore, it is said that the Judge O’Grady condemned a priest to death in Clonmel. The condemned priest cursed O’Grady by saying ‘May you never die’. Later, he suffered from paralysis and it is said that the skin rotted off his body. During this time his greatest wish was to die, but it was not until a Father O’Grady from Bruff prayed over him that he died. His body lay in state for a week in the spacious library at Rockbarton, awaiting the nobility of Ireland to assemble at the funeral. The body was interred in the O’Grady vault at Knockainey Churchyard.

Lt. Col. Standish O’Grady – Second Viscount Guillamore

The elder son of the Chief Baron was also known as Standish O’Grady. He commanded the 7th Hussars and fought in the European wars against Napoleon. Upon Napoleons’ return from Elba he sailed for Brussels with his regiment to assist Wellington. When fighting the French at Genappe he secured a safe march to Waterloo for the 7th Hussars, where they were destined to defeat Napoleon. This was considered to have been his greatest military achievement and in recognition he was promoted as Aide-de-Camp to the Queen.

Locally, it is known that he had a beautiful white charger which he rode into battle, but that had never before obliged him by jumping any ditch. However during a retreat from the French this white steed took a great leap over a wide ditch thus saving O’Grady’s life.

Later when O’Grady retired from the army he brought the horse back to Caherguillamore where it was allotted a rich pasture and is reputed to have been buried at the gates of Caherguillamore. During O’Grady’s retirement he married and took up residence at Caherguillamore House. He also became involved in politics and represented Limerick in parliament. He donated the land at Meanus for the building of the Church there. On the death of this father in 1840 he succeeded to the title Viscount Guillamore and he continued to live at Caherguillamore House until his death. As was the case with his father, he was buried in the family vault in Knockainey.

Standish O’Grady – 3rd Viscount Guillamore

Information on Standish O’Grady, 3rd Viscount Guillamore is sparse. It is known that he was buried in Knockainey churchyards along with his father and grandfather. According to his headstone he died on April 10th 1860 at the young age of 27. However it is not known what caused his untimely death. On the death of Standish, the 3rd Viscount Guillamore, the Guillamore title passed from the Rockbarton/Caherguillamore branch of the O’Grady’s to the Rathfreda branch. This is due to the fact that he was predeceased by his only son who died in 1856, aged one and a half.

The final holder of the Guillamore title was Standish Bruce O’Grady who died in 1955. Therefore, the title which was created in 1831 for the then Chief Baron O’Gardy who was referred to locally as the ‘Bloody Judge’ lasted a little more than a century.

2nd Lord Fermoy

The only surviving child of the 3rd Viscount Guillamore was Cecilia O’Grady. She married the 2nd Lord Fermoy in 1877 and brought the properties of Rockbarton and Caherguillamore to the marriage as both of her parents were dead. Therefore Lord Fermoy came to Rockbarton in 1877.

Lord Fermoy was from Co. Cork and the family name was Roche. The Fermoy’s seem to have had some financial difficulties and Lord Fermoy’s father required his Carrignavar tenants to increase their rents in 1850’s to boost the depleted finances of the Roche family. Their fortunes collapsed completely in the 1870’s. Lord Fermoy’s estate of 19,530 acres estate was then pushed onto the market by Norwich Union Insurance Company. Obviously the marriage to Cecilia O’Gardy had a lot of financial advantages for the Second Lord Fermoy. Fermoy was also known to be very interested in greyhounds. He enjoyed a gamble and is reputed to have lost a fortune on the Waterloo Cup. He had a dog running in the Waterloo Cup which he believed was a ‘dead cert’ to win. The dog was interfered with and Lord Fermoy lost a large sum of money. Lord Fermoy lived at Caherguillamore until his death in 1920. He had one daughter, Ada Sybil, who married Nigel Baring.

Nigel Baring was born in Essex in 1870. His father was TC Baring a member of the banking family. His mother, Susan Minturn, was an American heiress. Nigel Baring had a lifelong passion for horses and hunting. He came to Ireland in 1896, and became a famed master of the Duhallow Hounds. His fame was mainly linked to the fact that he bred a pack of hounds for the Duhallows that were famous for their ferocity. His own love of the hunt was also famed as his renowned toast over port was ‘more blood’. He spent 12 years with the Duhallows and was respected both as a huntsman and as a master. In the final season of his mastership he married Sybil Roche and moved to Rockbarton House with his new bride. There he took up mastership of the Limerick Hounds and spent 14 years with them. His retirement from hunting was made necessary due to a hunting accident. Nigel Baring was known to be generous in nature. The late Major Ged O’Dwyer recalled in his memoirs that when he followed the hunt as a young boy on his donkey ‘Bess’ he was looked on with distain by some of the hunting fraternity but was encouraged and befriended by Nigel Baring. It is worth noting that he attributed his love of horses and his success on the International stage to the encouragement he received from Nigel Baring. It is also recorded by Major O’Dwyer how in the early 1920’s he was part of an IRA unit that raided Rockbarton House for ammunition and guns. He stated his case to Nigel Baring and the guns and ammunition were handed over. Nigel Baring, whilst regarded as a member of the landed gentry, was not interested in politics and no intimation was ever given by him to the authorities as to the identity of the raiders.

In 1908 Nigel Baring spent Stg.£30,000 on Rockbarton House and estate, which at that time was a large sum of money. The stable yard was upgraded, an underground drainage system was installed and Italian craftsmen were brought to Rockbarton to decorate the ceilings. A beautiful marble and brass staircase was installed. One can imagine that the Estate must have been considered impressive and it provided employment for a lot of people. When Nigel Baring and his family left Rockbarton in 1922 this source of employment dried up for many people and the nearby town of Bruff went into decline. The 1920’s were a very dangerous time in Ireland for members of the ascendancy and in 1922 Nigel Barings’ horses were stolen. The thieves removed the horse’s shoes and put them on back to front in order to mislead the police. This act of hostility was the catalyst, which led to his decision to leave Ireland.

Nigel Baring was buried in England. His wife Sybil, who died in 1944 was buried in St John’s churchyard in Knockainey. After 1922 the Caherguillamore/Rockbarton Estate was acquired by the Land Commission and divided up into small holdings that were distributed amongst various people of the locality and new families came into the area to work these holdings. Several of the people who worked on the estate received land and houses. Nigel Baring had houses built for the estate workers at Meanus, which were known as ‘The New Houses’.

In 1920 Caherguillamore house was the scene of a bloody massacre at the hands of the Black and Tans. Caherguillamore was burnt out during the troubles and Rockbarton House was sold. It was never again occupied but the house was stripped down and sold off bit by bit. An auction was eventually held and the remaining fittings and furnishings were sold off. The staircase and fountain are known to have been sold and installed in a house in London.

Whilst the houses themselves are now but a memory, the folklore about these houses and their impact on the locality remain. The love of horses and the horse related pursuits which were encouraged by Nigel Baring and the O’Grady’s continue to be a vibrant part of life in County Limerick today.

The History of Bruff – Pius Browne
History of Limerick – McGregor & Fitzgerald
Famous Irish Trials – Hedley McKay
History of Limerick and it’s Antiquities – Lenihan
Glenanaar – Canon Sheehan
Vanishing Country Houses of Ireland
Forgotten Dreams – Tom Twomey
Topographical Dictionary of Ireland – S Lewis
Research on Baring Family in Ireland, Ann Ashton, Anne Baring, Gillian Cooke
Memories of Rockbarton recorded by late John Fraher – Alice Fraher.
Scroll to Top