Redesdale House is the oldest one in the Stillorgan area. It was built in the early 18th century and was the country home of Sir Michael Smith who was born in 1740.
He was a very distinguished person. He was Called to Bar in 1769 and elevated to the Bench as the Baron of the Exchequer in 1793. Later on he became Master of the Rolls.
He married Mary Ann Cusac of Coolmines, Co. Dublin, and his son and grandson carried on his great tradition; both in turn adorned the Irish Bench. (Ball, p133)
In 1799 he sold the house to Sir John Mitford, Speaker of the British House of Commons who had come over to Ireland about the time to take up the post of Lord Chancellor, on the death of Lord Clare. For him, this move was quite unexpected. He happily thought he would live out his life in England. However, the promise of substantial rewards for his services in Ireland proved the deciding factor. So he surrendered his Speaker’s Mace, and in return was presented with the Chancellor’s Great Seal of Office, and a Peerage. He took the name Lord Redesdale, an old family name. His town was in Ely Place, Dublin, but he considered Dublin too dusty to live in, seven days of the week. He looked around for a country residence and subsequently found, and bought a house and a farm of sixty acres out in Kilmacud. He made a lot of improvements to the house, which he called Redesdale House, and he grew to love it dearly. In 1803 he married Frances, the seventh daughter of Lord Perceval, Second Earl of Egmont.
According to Jonathan and Catherine Guinness in their book “The House of Mitford,” 1984, “John was at first seen as an improvement on his predecessor, Lord Redesdale, being conscientious, where Clare had been flippant, but it was soon apparent that a touch of flippancy might have helped him to get on better with the Irish barristers who rather liked their little joke”. They go on to stay that: Before he came to Ireland, John Mitford enjoyed the reputation of being a liberal minded man, and he had supported legislation to ease the Penal burden on Catholics.
However, when he did arrive here, he acted quite differently. When full Catholic Emancipation was granted to Catholics, that is to say, not just freedom from the Penal Laws (which had restricted their right to worship and to hold property) but freedom of all Civil Rights, including the right to vote. Lord Redesdale was very much against the idea, so he used all in influence to block the appointments of Catholics to all positions of responsibility, even that of Justice of Peace. This caused him to be detested in Ireland, and he became very unpopular, but this did not seem to worry him unduly. He enjoyed his life, and really loved his beautiful mansion.”
To give him his due, he did one good thing. He found that all official records and historic documents were mouldering away in neglected corners in outhouses. So, he ordered that they be rescued and gathered together in one place and looked after properly. He was also much concerned with etiquette and good manners, However, “the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley” and so it happened for Lord Redesdale. Two things occurred which were responsible for his removal from office. The first was his refusal to make Lord Cloncurry a magistrate, which cause an outcry, people saw him as having disgraced British justice. The second was a change of Government, and as the Lord Chancellorship was, and still is, a political appointment, such a change meant a new Chancellor. Lord Redesdale’s appointment lasted only six years. He was broken hearted at such a cruel turn of fate.
On the 6th March 1806 he sat in court for the last time, and when the assembled Bar said their formal farewells, he burst into tears. His worst moment came when he had to leave his beloved mansion, and it is said that as he walked down the steps for the last time, he wept bitterly. (Ball, p133)
However, the pain of his enforced retirement was eased somewhat when in 1808 he inherited Batford Park and its large estate. He lived there for many more years and died, aged 81, on the 16th January 1831. (Guinness, P29)
Let us now take a look at this house which Lord Redesdale loved so much. Actually, if one were to compare it with Westbury, Mount Anville, Kilmacud House or many of the other stately homes, one would not be inclined to put it in the same category. It is a huge grey pile of a house, with rather a dismal look. It really has very little to recommend it, even porch looks quite inadequate for such a big building.
As one walks up the avenue, one notices the back of the house is a semicircle. As the old saying goes, “one should not judge a book by the cover”. this can be true also of a house because the outside of Redesdale House belies the inside, which I found most exciting and puzzling.
Inside the hall door there is a flight of steps with wrought iron balustrade. The hallway is semi-circular. The doors, right and left, lead into reception rooms. The one in the middle opens into a beautiful oval room, which is repeated on the two upper storeys. These rooms are really beautiful, and the doors are curved. Most of the fireplaces are now built up. Another door leads into the heart of the house, the staircases, and one can look right up through the well to the roof. The house is full of nooks and crannies, curved walls, and straight walls.
I was brought on a tour of inspection by one of the helpers of the St. Michael’s House Group, which now owns and occupies the house. The house still bears a lot of signs of the time when the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity had a home here for homeless and recalcitrant girls; there are still bars on the upper storey windows and protection barriers on the stairs. One can but imagine how unique such a house was in its heyday as Redesdale House. Let us get back now to what happened after the departure of Lord Resdesdale. For a while the house became an out-farm of Vartry Dairy, Churchtown. It was managed by a Mr.Lofty Buckley who was well known in the Kilmacud, Stillorgan and Dundrum areas. Subsequently it became the residence of one, Richard Whateley, who was created Archbishop of Dublin on October 20th, 1831. It was he who was responsible and remarkable for the fact that there were no trees planted on Redesdale Estate. Mr. Kevin Harrington who kindly allowed me to quote from his book “The Way to Dundrum” says that “according to an Act of Parliament in 1765 a register of trees was maintained by all the parishes. At the beginning of the 19th century there were great plantations of trees in the district”. At the time of the first Ordnance Survey of Drumdrum and Kilmacud in 1837, the lands were held by the Archbishop, but he refused to plant any trees on this estate at Redesdale, he thought they would spoil the place. About 1845 the lands were let to a Colonel Bennett, R.F. Archbishop Whateley died in 1863.
In 1849 Redesdale House was listed along with Kilmacud House, Lakelands, and Merville, as the principal houses in the district. Unfortunately, the two latter houses were demolished in the 1950’s and the new estates of Lakelands and Merville are flourishing areas at the present time.
In 1878 a Mr. M. Jones occupied Redesdale House. He was still there in 1886. Later on it became the residence of Sir Patrick Farrell, the sculptor, whose best known works include the kneeling marble effigy of Archbishop Murray, and the statue of Cardinal Cullen in the Pro Cathedral in Dublin, as well as Cardinal McCabe’s recumbent figure in Glasnevin.
Sir Patrick was the last tenant of “Redesdale House”. The next occupants changed the name to “St. Kevin’s Park”. In 1903 a Catholic organisation acquired the old mansion to use it as a house of rest and enjoyment for Catholic business girls. From an old book, given on loan to me by Monsignor Val Rogers, Kilmacud, I found quite an amount of information about this venture. The book itself was a well bound volume of copies of a booklet called “The Irish Rosary”. the date was 1903. The authoress of the article was one Miss Ellen Leahy.
I quote: Redesdale,or as it will henceforth be known, “St. Kevin’s Park”, is an grey mansion already can count the years of its existence by more than a century. It is rich in historic association. It all the charm of a magnificent house, hoary with the passage of long years, combined in a marvellous degree with the comforts and appliances of modern improvements. It stands in eighty acres of parkland. The situation is high with delight views of the Dublin mountains. The house lacks none of the delightful characteristics of a venerable mansion - endless rooms- there are forty-eight, several of them opening into each other, steps up, steps down, a labyrinth of passages, the most delightful intricacy and bewilderment.
The girls for whom the house was acquired were Dublin business girls whom Miss Leahy describes as “the hardest workers in our city, and those least fitted by nature to bear the strain of prolonged and heavy toil. Many of these are employed from morning till night in close workrooms, offices or shops, where they are compelled to stand during long hours each day, supplying the wants of capricious, exacting customers”. At St. Kevin’s Park, perfect peace and relaxation were the order of the day for these poor souls, so devastated by the battle of life However, games were also provided for the less worn out, and beautiful walks around the grounds. Miss Leahy goes on to say: The promoters of this ideal Holiday Home do not wish to limit the enjoyment of it exclusively to busy workers. Ladies who may wish to recruit and rest a while in this beautiful place will be gladly welcomed. The charges are kept well within the limits of moderation, particulars of which can be obtained by applying to the Lady Superintendent, St. Kevin’s Park, Kilmacud.
Subsequently, a road of houses was built on the lower parkland and these carry on the name St. Kevin’s Park. In 1916 the house became St. Kevin’s Training School of Domestic Economy. This school was run by then Department of Education, and it was in use until 1944.
In 1943 it so happened that the then Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Rev. Dr. McQuaid, who was very interested in the welfare of homeless and recalcitrant girls, invited the Sisters of the Community of Our Lady of Charity at High Park, in North County Dublin, to open a third house of their Order.
These establishments did wonderful work in education, protection and training of girls of tender years who were living in not very congenial environments at home, without any care or supervision.
They also had older girls who came here, having been ill-used and hurt, and needing care and protection. These girls helped in the laundry and around the house generally. As Redesdale House was vacant at the time, it seemed an ideal place for the new foundation. It was out in the country, and the house was commodious enough to house the nuns and the girls together.
So at the end of 1944 it was acquired by the Sisters. It needed a tremendous amount of work done on it, both inside and out, but in 1945 it opened its door as St. Anne’s Industrial School, subsequently known as “Girlsville”. The girls who came there were very lucky, though many of the older ones did not think so, as they were far from the city and their friends. Some of them were wild and troublesome and hard to manage at first. Hence the bars on the windows of the top storey at Redesdale House. However, under the care and supervision of the Sisters and due to the orderly routine laid out for them, they gradually settled down.
There were two sections, one for twelve to fifteen years olds, and the other for older young women. The younger ones had regular school hours and also did cookery, sewing and laundry. The older ones helped in the laundry and the house generally, did needlework and crafts.
In those early years their annual exhibition and sale of work was well attended, and great praise was expressed at high excellence of the work. This was very gratifying for pupils and teachers alike.
When their training was over, the nuns found suitable jobs for the girls and after-care extended to the nineteenth or twenty-first year. Many were sad to leave the good Sisters and some even asked to be allowed back for holidays and came back regularly to visit. Some of the older girls who had no families remained on with the nuns.
For years the nuns and the girls all lived under the one roof but by degrees the accommodation became cramped. So, in 1955 a new convent was built nearby for the nuns. Later on, some existing buildings were enlarged and practically rebuilt for the girls, who meanwhile stayed on in Redesdale House until 1975 when they moved into the new “Girlsville”.
However, the old mansion was not left vacant for very long because in June 1975 St Anne ‘s Day Care Centre was opened there. This was the brainchild of Mrs Jet Dunleavy, Kilmacud, a Home Care Organiser, who saw clearly need for giving a break to Carers of the elderly, the sick and the disabled. with this in mind, she went to the Eastern Health Board with her plan, and they gave her loan, initially of £2,500. With this money she opened the Day Care Centre in Redesdale House. Sister Agnes did the cooking and Mrs Pearl Rave was the Supervisor. Many local people also came to help. They had 12 to 25 people attending each day, and they did handicrafts which were sold at their fund-raising functions. Mrs Dunleavy said it was a very happy place.
In 1976 the St. Michael’s House Group bought the house for a Day Care Centre for mentally and physically handicapped children, so Mrs. Dunleavy’s little group was moved to Monkstown Community Centre, and it is still invaluable in relieving Carers who took after confused, elderly, and Alzheimer’s Disease patients.
The ladies who now run St. Michael’s House also have a number of voluntary staff. A visit her or to any of their other houses is certainly an eye opener to the wonderful caring work they do with these poor little helpless children. Their aim is to provide a setting where each child can receive loving care and attention to their needs as individuals. Through self-help they are given some degree of independence and each one is encouraged to reach his or her full potential.
The Association of Parents and Friends of Handicapped Children was founded in 1955 by a very courageous lady, a Mrs. P. Farrell of Co. Meath. She had a young mentally handicapped son herself, and she was frustrated by the fact that there were no educational or remedial facilities available for such children in Ireland.
Her advertisement in one of the national daily papers was like a clarion call to the hundreds of parents in like circumstances, and at a subsequently arranged meeting, 186 persons attended. A committee was formed and shortly afterwards as Association calling itself the Association of Parents and Friends of Mentally Handicapped Children was formed. This was the first of its kind in Ireland.
Over the years, incredible work has been done and unbelievable obstacles overcome, but the results speak for themselves, with the many Day Care Centres, Advisory Services, Recreation Clubs and Special Care Units all over Dublin. The people who can avail of these services for their receive from the dedicated staff.
Redesdale House is now one such Centre where Day Care is given to 34 small children and about 14 adults.
So once more the scene has changed for this old mansion whose walls once echoed with the sounds of “banquet, and revel and mirth” and whose residents were people of great importance and wealth.
The house is tired now; one can sense it, both outside and inside. it needs a lot of care and attention. I wonder is there anybody interested enough to give it that new lease of life? Or at some future date, shall we see the bulldozers moving in, to wipe out yet another historic landmark from our area?
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