Then and Now: A Lost Mansion in North Dublin

Today’s post brings us quite literally into my neck of the woods: Santry Demesne Park, which is beautiful, historical, and very conveniently located five minutes away from my house.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Santry Demesne belonged to the Barry family, and contained their stately home and extensive gardens. The house was first built in 1703 and was extended over the following generations, but may have been situated on or near the site of an older, medieval residence. Benjamin William Adams, writing in an 1883 history of Santry and the local townlands, describes the “noble mansion”:

The Court is a large brick mansion, of four stories high, in the style of Queen Anne’s time, with high narrow doors and windows like Blenheim House, and resembling on a minor scale Versailles Palace. It comprises a centre and two wings, the latter thrown forward and connected with the main body by covered passages. The square in front of the house is enclosed with iron gates, and in its midst is a pillar recording the pedigree and death of an Arab steed belonging to the present owner.

History and Description of Santry and Cloghran Parishes, Benjamin William Adams, 1883
Image of a large old-fashioned house, with a large external staircase leading up to the front door. Two rows of windows are found across the whole front of the house. Parts of the front of the house are covered in ivy.
Image from the Patrick Healy Collection, South Dublin County Libraries

Adams also gushingly describes the interior of the building and the many beautiful artworks it contained. He fails, however, to mention one of the darker moments in the house’s history, which would result in the house and gardens being left to new owners. This incident occurred in the 1730s, when the owner of the estate, Lord Henry Barry, was convicted of murdering one of his former servants, a man called Laughlin Murphy, during an extended drinking session at a tavern in Palmerstown. At his trial, the court heard that Murphy had been attempting to stave off a quarrel between an extremely intoxicated Lord Santry and another man who was present, and that Barry had run him through with a sword for his pains. Barry was tried by a jury of his peers, and was sentenced to be executed. (There is a fascinating account of this case in Neal Garnham’s 1999 article “The Trials of James Cotter and Henry, Baron Barry of Santry”).

A commentator from less than a hundred years later viewed the whole incident as tragic – for its perpetrator, at least:

Henry, the fourth Lord Santry, who acceded to the title in 1734, forfeited his station in society by the calamity of killing one of his servants, a footman. He was indicted for the offence in the year 1738-9, and was convicted, on a trial by his peers, but received the grant of a miserable life from the clemency of the crown. The family of Domville succeeded in possession of the lord ship of Santry, in the person of Sir Compton Domville, uncle to the above unfortunate nobleman.

James Norris Brewer, The Beauties of Ireland: being original delineations, topographical, historical, and biographical, of each county (1825)

Lord Santry managed to escape the death penalty, but his house and lands were confiscated. He reluctantly retired to England, and care of the estate passed to his uncle, Sir Compton Domvile. By the time Adams wrote his history of Santry in 1883, the estate was in the hands of “Sir Charles Compton William Domvile, Bart., Lord of the Manor of Santry”, who apparently was a much better overlord than his drunken predecessor. Here is an anecdote concerning Sir Charles and some turkeys, preserved in the historical Schools’ Collection of folklore: apparently he was fondly remembered by residents of the area as late as the 1930s.

Although Adams’s book describes the lavish appointments of the house and grounds in the 1880s, by the early part of the 20th century the house had fallen into disrepair, and it was seriously damaged by a fire in the 1940s. The derelict house was finally torn down in 1959. A rather lovely miniature temple, which was transported from the Barry family’s other residence in Templeogue at the start of the 18th century, is one of the few artefacts from the old estate that survives intact. Traces of the old estate still remain, however, in the raised foundations of the house, and the tree-lined avenue that leads up to it.

Some wonderful footage, from the Lorcan Film Unit, survives from before the final demolition of the house.

The mansion must have been very impressive in its heyday, even if a comparison with the palaces at Versailles seems like a bit of an exaggeration!

Two images are placed side by side. In the first image, which was taken in 2019, a small child in a green coat climbs a set of modern, concrete steps, while his back is turned to the camera. A stand of trees are visible at the top of the steps.
In the second image, the same boy is standing facing the camera and smiling, at the top of the steps. From this viewpoint, it is possible to see down the steps and across an expanse of green grass. An avenue of trees appears down the centre of the grassy field.
Photos taken by Karen Wade, 2019. Caption: The original stairs have been replaced with modern ones, but they still lead up to an excellent view – and are still very popular with small children!

Nowadays, Santry Park is a beloved local amenity, and also contains a children’s playground and a community garden.

This image looks up an avenue of tall trees, towards the set of steps and viewing platform that were visible in the previous picture. Various different kinds of trees are visible, across an expanse of grass. The steps are in the far distance, and are only just visible.

Works Cited

Adams, Benjamin William. History and Description of Santry and Cloghran Parishes, County Dublin. Mitchell & Hughes, 1883.

Brewer, James Norris. The Beauties of Ireland: Being Original Delineations, Topographical, Historical, and Biographical, of Each County … Illustrated with Engravings, by J. & H. S. Storer, after Original Drawings, Chiefly by Mr. Petrie. Sherwood, Jones & Co; Martin, 1825.

Garnham, Neal. ‘The Trials of James Cotter and Henry, Baron Barry of Santry: Two Case Studies in the Administration of Criminal Justice in Early Eighteenth-Century Ireland’. Irish Historical Studies, vol. 31, no. 123, Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 328–42.

Lorcan Film Unit. Santry Demesne in the  60s. 2017. YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aw7Nb9tKcFI.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Calmgrove says:

    The still photos and engraving remind me of the neoclassical Witley Court in Worcestershire which was left in ruins after a disastrous fire in the 1930s. But no scandal similar to Santry that I’m aware of!

    Like

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