Friday, October 29, 1993

Bert House

Bert House, largest mansion in South Kildare, has been advertised for sale. Described as an outstanding Georgian residence on 165 acres the Auctioneers blurb refers to the building’s classical style and generous accommodation.

Bert House was built between 1720 and 1730 for Captain William Burgh who was Comptroller and Accountant General for Ireland. His brother Thomas Burgh of Oldtown was the Architect. Thomas had been appointed Barrack Overseer in Ireland in 1701 and was responsible for the building of Trinity College Library, Dr. Steeven’s Hospital, Dublin and Collins Barracks in Dublin. The original Bert House consisted of the central block of seven bays, three storey high over a basement. The overlapping side wings were added early in the 19th century. It’s a house steeped in history and the people who lived there helped shape the course of Irish history during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Captain William Burgh, the first owner of the house, was born in 1667, son of Ulysses Burgh of Dromkeen, Co. Leitrim. He was succeeded by his only son Thomas Burgh whose sister Elizabeth was married in 1734 to Chief Baron Anthony Foster. Their son, John Foster was to be the last Speaker in the Irish House of Commons. Thomas Burgh was born in 1696 and while he sat in Parliament as Member for Lanesboro in Co. Longford he never represented Athy in that capacity. He was however a freeman of Athy Borough and served as Sovereign of Athy in 1755. He married Ann Downes, daughter of the Bishop of Cork and Ross whose wife Catherine was a sister of Robert, 19th Earl of Kildare. His wife’s brother Robert Downes was later to sit as M.P. for Kildare and was appointed Sovereign of Athy in 1749. Thomas Burgh of Bert House, was the owner of extensive tracts of land in South Kildare. The present house has but 165 acres of land remaining.

When Thomas Burgh died in 1758 he was succeeded by his eldest son, William, who was born in 1741. William was the first Burgh of Bert House to represent Athy in Parliament which he did between 1768 and 1776. Removing himself to England when the Parliament ended he died in York in 1808. A monument to his memory by the famous sculptor Sir Richard Westmacott is to be found in York Minster.

When William left Bert House his younger brother Thomas succeeded him as M.P. for Athy and he continued to do so until 1790. Thomas, who had previously resided in Chapelizod, Co. Dublin succeeded to the Bert House estate in 1808 but died two years later.

The Parliamentary connection was maintained by Thomas’ sister Anne who in 1767 married Walter Hussey. Born in Donore, Co. Kildare, Hussey who was regarded as the finest Orator of his day represented Athy Borough Council in the Irish House of Commons between 1769 and 1776.

On the death of Thomas Burgh in 1810 Bert House passed to his only son, Ulysses. Born in 1788, Ulysses married Maria Bagenal of Bagnelstown in 1815. He was a member of the Borough Council of Athy until it’s disbandment in 1840 and served as Sovereign of Athy in 1834 and again in 1840. Incidentally he was not the last Town Sovereign, a distinction held by Rev. F.S. Trench of Kilmorony House.

Ulysses Burgh succeeded to the title of Lord Downes in 1826 on the death of his cousin William Downes who was appointed Lord Chief Justice in 1803 following the assassination of Lord Kilwarden during the Robert Emmet Rebellion. William Downes, son of the former Sovereign of Athy Robert Downes, was created Lord Downes in 1822 on his retirement as Chief Justice. Dying without male issue the title passed to his cousin Ulysses Burgh of Bert. It was the former Ulysses Burgh, by then Lord Downes, who presented the Town Hall clock to the people of Athy in 1846.

When Lord Downes of Bert died in 1863 he was succeeded by his eldest daughter, Charlotte who had married Lt. General James Colborne in 1851. Colborne was the son of John Colborne who led the decisive movement of the 52nd Light Infantry which secured the victory of Waterloo. He was later Commander in charge of the British Army in Ireland and was raised to the title of Lord Seaton in 1839. Charlotte’s husband, James Colborne, succeeded to his father’s title in 1863 and it was as Lord and Lady Seaton that James and Charlotte came to live in Bert House following the death of Lord Downes. The house remained in their ownership until 1909 when it was sold to the Misses Geoghegan.

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