Thursday, April 18, 2002

Verschoyle (Part 1)

The name Verschoyle is remembered in connection with land ownership in the Kilberry area of Athy. Today the only reminder of the extensive land holdings which were once in the Verschoyle name are the shooting rights which are reserved to members the same family. On the other side of Athy at Ardreigh, there lived up to 1956 a man whom I and many others believed was a retired English Army Officer. He was, or so I always thought, a retired Army General and while he lived behind the closed gates of Ardreigh House, nothing was ever said or done to alter that perception.

The man in question was Ainslie Verschoyle. The eldest son of Robert and Gertrude Verschoyle he was born in England in 1875. As a young man, he was involved in a number of different business enterprises including the operation of a fleet of carriages in the university town of Oxford. A well travelled man, he once operated a Hotel in the South of France, while another of his innovative businesses was organising trekking parties in the Rocky Mountains. Verschoyle was also involved in motor racing when that sport was still in its infancy. It was an interest he retained until the end of his days and one which allowed him to indulge his passion for driving sports cars.

Those who recall Verschoyle of Ardreigh House invariably mention the man in the context of sports cars and gun dogs. Indeed, he was heavily involved in gun dog trials and founded the Irish Fields Trial Association of which he was president until he died. An excellent trainer of gun dogs, he won many trophies in field trials which for many years were held on his lands at Athy. Shooting and fishing were part of his sporting repertoire and I can recall a story told to me many years ago of the master of Ardreigh House as Verschoyle was commonly known. The gate lodge was home to the Bolger’s and one day when one of their chickens encroached on Verschoyle’s lawn, it was swiftly dispatched with a well aimed shot from the front door of Ardreigh House followed by the bellowed instructions “Bolger, there’s chicken soup on the lawn”.

There was also a romantic and sentimental side to the man as evidenced in a story recounted to me some years ago by Manchester based Sarah Allen who as a young girl lived with her grandmother at Ardreigh. Mrs. Lawler worked as a cook for Ainslie Verschoyle and occasionally her young grand daughter Sarah was sent into Athy to collect a newspaper. Sarah still recalled over fifty years later the one and only occasion she walked through the front door of Ardreigh House, when invited to do so following one newspaper trip to town. She recalled the luxury of walking on carpets for the very first time in her life and Verschoyle’s gentle demeanor as he brought her into the dining room beyond the hall to show her his late wife’s harp. It stood in a corner of the room, a poignant reminder of his late wife Eleanor whom he had married in 1903, the year of the Gordon Bennett Race.

Ainslie Verschoyle and his wife Eleanor had no children and when Mrs. Verschoyle died in 1925 at their home in the Pyrennes, her husband Ainslie returned to England. When exactly he returned to Ireland I cannot say but the information available to me at present would indicate that Ainslie Verschoyle moved to Ardreigh House in the early 1930’s. There he was to live for over twenty years in the splendid surroundings of a house which had been built in the final years of the Great Famine, for the Haughton’s who were a Quaker family.

I have not traced any records of Ainslie Verschoyle’s supposed Military Service and given his business interests in so many country’s while he was still a young man, it is likely that he had no connection at all with the British Army. In that respect, he was different than his only brother Henry who served as a Colonel in the Royal Army Service Corps and who died in 1967 aged 80 years. Ainslie Verschoyle had three sisters Catherine Eleanor and Lucy, only one of whom appear to have married. He died on 1st March 1956 and Ardreigh House was subsequently purchased by Georgie Farrell , a man who in his time acquired and sold many of the big houses in this area.

On the Northern side of Athy lies Kilberry, once home to another Verschoyle family who were cousins of Ainslie Verschoyle. Ainslie’s grandfather Joseph Verschoyle was brother of Robert Verschoyle of Kilberry and both were sons of James Verschoyle, Bishop of Kilalla who died in 1834. The Kilberry lands came into the possession of the Verschoyle’s while James Verschoyle was Dean of St. Patrick’s in Dublin. He had been appointed Dean four years before the Year of Rebellion 1798 and was eventually raised to the Bishopric of Kilalla in 1810.

The Bishop’s son, Robert Verschoyle who was born in 1792 and who qualified as a Barrister in 1818 lived for most of the year in Kilberry but during the London season he was based at 116 Eaton Square, London. The Kilberry residence of the Verschoyle’s was known as Abbey Farm, built it was believed, on the site of a ruined Abbey. Winnifred Letts, the poet, playwright and fiction writer who married William Henry Verschoyle in 1926 wrote eloquently of rural Leinster and her book of reminiscences titled “Knockmaroon” published in 1933 has a wistful charm which owes much to the long standing Verschoyle links with the Kilberry area. She wrote of Abbey Farm as being
“surrounded by little stumps of castles, one in the farmyard proudly rules the hay rick. Another, Castle Reddy, in a field, was its legends of buried treasure and of the old La Rede Family……… just by the avenue gates lies the old Churchyard and the ivy buried nave of the Church of St. Baire which has become “Berry” in these days. Ruins of the Abbey stand close to the house”.

Next week I will continue the story of the Verschoyle families and their connections with Kilberry.

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