Thursday, May 2, 2002

Verschoyle (Part II)

Verschoyle was a name familiar in the Kilberry area of Athy for 200 years or more up to the middle of the last century. They were Landlords with substantial holdings of land in that area and it would appear that the first of the Verschoyle’s to be associated with South Kildare was James Verschoyle, Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. He was appointed Dean in 1794 and held that position until he was raised to the Bishopric of Kilalla in 1810. While he was the Dean of St. Patrick’s, he came into possession of lands at Kilberry just outside the town of Athy which formerly belonged to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. How or in what way ownership passed from St. Patrick’s to the Dean I cannot say, but in any event the lands thereafter formed part of the property of successive generations of the Verschoyle family.

The Bishop’s son, Robert Verschoyle lived at Abbeyfarm, Kilberry with his wife Catherine and their six children. He died in London in 1866 and he is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery as is his wife Catherine who died sixteen years later. As a young woman, Catherine was featured in a book published in 1839 entitled “Heaths Book of Beauty”. Of their three sons, only one, Henry William survived to adulthood. Henry, born in 1835 obtained a Commission in the Grenadier Guards and served in the Crimean War of 1854/55 and carried the regimental colours at the Battles of Alma, Balaklava and Inkerman. He was wounded during the siege of Sebastopol in 1855. Henry married in December 1856 and continued to live at Kilberry and at 6 Wilton Crescent in London. He was an accomplished artist and photographer and a large collection of his photographic works are held in the Hulton Collection in London.

On retiring from the Grenadier Guards with the rank of Colonel, Henry Verschoyle became a sailor of note and owned a racing cutter named “Vanguard”, with which he won the Queens Cup at the Cowes Regatta in 1870. Just two days later the Kilberry based yachtsman collapsed and died while participating in another race at the same Regatta. Henry and his wife Clara had three daughters and two sons, the eldest of whom Arthur lived in Kilberry and also at 6 Wilton Place, London. Arthur Verschoyle married twice and had one son Terry, born in 1894 by his first wife who herself died in 1899. His only son died in 1912 and Arthur himself died at Brighton in 1937.

Abbey Farm, Kilberry appears to have been home at different times, not only to the descendants of Robert Verschoyle but also to those of his first cousin John James Verschoyle who was employed as a land agent. It was John James Verschoyle who is reputed to have planted trees along the roadway from Athy to Kilberry. When John died in 1894, his estate included a farm at Kilberry which he had leased from Arthur Verschoyle.

His eldest son John Stuart Verschoyle was a great favourite of the local people and when he was ordained for the Church of England, he allowed the lands at Kilberry, to which he was entitled on the death of his father, to pass to his younger brother William. John Stuart Verschoyle was an important figure in literary London at the turn of the 19th Century. He edited the “Fortnightly Review” with the better known writer Frank Harris who was one of George Bernard Shaw’s biographers.

William Henry Verschoyle’s occupancy of the Kilberry lands coincided with the Land troubles of the 1880’s and like the Weldon’s of Kilmoroney and Lord Landsdowne of Luggacurran, he was the target of local Land League agitation. Threatening letters were sent to Verschoyle and he was the subject of at least one assassination attempt. The police in Athy wrote to him on the 24th April 1881 advising him of plans to shoot his Bailiff, John Gilmore and to assassinate Verschoyle on his next visit to the town of Athy. Gilmore was given police protection while Verschoyle stayed away from the area for a while. He certainly deemed it prudent to do so after the following notice was fixed to the entrance gates at Abbey Farm. “I am obliged to make this known in public that you are going to be shot dead as sure as a revolver is available and your name is Verschoyle”.

In 1881, Athy not only had a branch of the Land League but also an active branch of the Ladies Land League whose president was Mrs. M. Doyle. Much of the Land League activity in South Kildare centered on opposition to the Leinster Lease which the Duke of Leinster sought to impose on his tenants. Tenants who signed the Leinster Lease found that many of the provisions of the Land Acts which would benefit them were excluded under the terms of the Leinster Lease. Sir Anthony Weldon whose tenants occupied lands in the Ballylinan area and Henry Verschoyle, landlord in the Kilberry area together with the Duke of Leinster bore the brunt of the opposition whipped up by the local Land League. All sections of the local community were involved in the Land League and even young children were encouraged to take part. Mrs. Cantwell, Secretary of the Ladies League in Athy, whose husband John was imprisoned for his involvement in the Land League, reported on the 8th October 1881 that she had “enrolled seventeen children in the juvenile branch of the League”.

No surprise was likely to be expressed by Messrs. Verschoyle or Weldon when placards were posted around Athy and District in September 1881 which read,
“Men of Kildare, be on your guard. No surrender. Sign no new Lease or agreement. Let the Commissioners settle the judicial rents. Have nothing to do with agents, bailiffs, valuers or land agents. Refer them to the Land League”.

However, none of the local landlords came to any harm during the Land League agitation in South Kildare and William Henry Verschoyle was soon able to return to his farm in Kilberry.

He married, firstly, Frances Hamilton by whom he had three sons and a daughter. Two of his sons William and Francis were killed in France during World War 1. Their mother Frances Verschoyle died in 1924 and two years later William Verschoyle married for the second time. His new wife, the novelist, Winnifred Letts wrote the charming book “Knockmaroon” which was illustrated by her step-daughter Kathleen Verschoyle. William Henry Verschoyle died in 1943 and is buried at Rathcoole, Co. Dublin. His widow Winnifred died in 1972. William’s surviving son George was ordained for the Church of Ireland and he served as a curate in a number of Parishes up to 1954 when he died. Following the death of William Verschoyle in 1943, the lands at Kilberry were sold and the Land Commission allocated various parcels of the Verschoyle lands to local farmers. The Abbey Farm residence and the farm of land adjoining it were acquired by Walter Stacey, a Gorey man who had been employed as a land steward by William Verschoyle from 1930 to 1943. The Verschoyle families are no longer represented in the Kilberry area while Abbey Farm is now the home of Mr. & Mrs. Ernie Stacey.

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