St. John’s Manor was home of my great-grandmother Anastatia and her brother Ned Kavanagh. When she married she chose a very kind genteel farmer at nearby The Still, Enniscorthy, instead of entering into an arranged marriage to a surgeon. The husband’s relations went off to Boston, America when she arrived at Fairfield Farm. I think she may have ran them, as they were probably too laid back and not so fond of farm work. They were very arty, eccentric type of people from what was told me by my uncle, who visited the next generation in America. We both love[d] individually minded people of that ilk.
She was subsequently disowned by her family. She was a flaming red-head, as most Irish are noted for having – despite Scotland having the larger amount of redheads – and had an independent mind to go with same. There was five hundred acres of very fertile land attached to St. John’s when my ancestors were there. However, in this present day there is only 5 acres. The Kavanagh’s sold the manor in the forties. My great-grandmother had wanted to buy it – but was barred from so doing. There was also a private graveyard attached to it where Ned Kavanagh is buried along with his wife, parents and young daughter. Not to mention some very brave Irish men who were excommunicated from the church because of their allegiance to a national cause and were not allowed a Christian burial.
He had a substantial amount of property besides St. John’s. He was in the threshing/shipping business and had over a hundred men working for him during the threshing/harvest season, etc. He was a very hard taskmaster, and wouldn’t bend to the unions. He was known to have told the union men that if they were so fond of sticking up for the workers why didn’t they go along and work for them instead. It was tough being at the top, and it can make people very hard. He was also in the shipping business and made vast sums of money as well as having also lost vast amounts. He dabbled in stocks and shares. I remember my uncle telling me that the Kavanagh’s were direct descendants of the famous MacMurrough-Kavanagh clan They were fierce strong upright tall business men, and my uncle in Knock who ran a mini religious-stalls empire in days when people were starving in Ireland had the gimp of the Kavanagh about him. They could both turn a penny into a thousand pennies. Or, as my mother used to say, that every pilgrim’s head that landed in Knock was a penny to fill his deep pockets. He wore an apron and it was called the mason’s apron for some unknown reason. Uncle Ned was an impeccable dresser. Every day he wore a business man suit. He was a true professional in his attire and manner. He was a very shrewd business-man, just like his grand-uncle Ned. He counted heads as pennies. He even made money from milk-bottles filled with water from taps that were blessed beside Knock Basilica and subsequently sold to gullible pilgrims as Knock holy water. He laughed all the way to the bank on this holy (H2O). For over forty-five years the pennies rolled in as the holy water flowed out of the taps and made uncle Ned a man to be envious of in the far reaches of Knock Co. Mayo. I used to be in stitches laughing at the cunning ways of the shrewd operator, as the said tales were told me by a reliable source. I remember being told an hilarious story about a bus-load of pilgrims from Enniscorthy, whom made a real fuss of him altogether because he was one of their own. One of these Enniscorthyites sitting in a crowded space in his restaurant called him over to the table and for the craic she whispered jokingly into his ear, “aaarrrh…whist…sure, you must be a millionaire at any rate now, with all the years you’ve been slogging away in business in this neck of the woods?” He moved back a pace from the table with a big smirk on his face, whilst simultaneously clutching his beloved apron, he bent over to her ear and said in a pretended whisper and with a captivated audience to boot. “No, begob, I’m not a millionaire at all, whatever makes you think that indeed?” She pointed to all she could survey, “ah, sure”, she said, “isn’t it well known from here to Enniscorthy that you own the half of Knock, so go wan outta dat and don’t annoy me with all your aul fibbing, I didn’t come down from Heaven, you know, with the last Knock apparition.” “Ah, well,” says he, stiffening himself up, and in a more serious vein, “I’m very afraid, so, that I’ll have to disappoint you, now, on that one there”. There was uproarious laughter at this stage from the whole restaurant of pilgrims, who eavesdropped on the shenanigans. “But”… says he gloatingly with a negative nod, “I will tell you one thing, though, you’ve got your sums terribly wrong”. He then proceeded to go over to her other ear and said in a real loud voice for all to hear. “I have it to say that I’m not a millionaire…but….er… I’m a multi-millionaire. Well… the howls of laughter nearly cracked the ceiling. The craic was just mighty. I laughed my socks off as this was being regaled to me. He was actually telling the truth. You definitely need a sense of humour in business and he was graced so much with that gift.
On a more sombre note. I have it to say that I went to my mothers funeral in a top range Merc, costing nigh on 80,000 grand. I could buy a small house with that amount. His wife left the keys of her own Merc in the city and it was stolen. She was not covered by insurance because of negligence on her part, and went out the next day to buy a newer one, albeit at a lower price range as Ned’s. He wanted a rolls-royce. His other brother in Bassett, Southampton had a porche. Only the best would suffice. She was dripping down to her ankles in Canadian furs. The whole family of five went all over the world during three months of the winter. I believe the suitcases were packed to the hilt with luxury clothing items. This was long before the Celtic Tiger appeared on the Irish scene.
Ned Kavanagh’s children had their own school-room at the house, so they were very fortunate to be well educated. One of his daughters entered a convent and became head of that order somewhere in Africa. She donated St. John’s bellfry to the people. The casket of gold sovereigns that my great-grandmother had stashed away at Fairfield farm would have been her family fortune. Her children were sent to boarding school and university on same. It was rumoured that it was also used to set up uncle Ned in business in Knock. The casket was apparently found hidden in the attic at Fairfield farm, The Still, when she passed away. My mother told me on innumerable occasions to always remember that I came from a respectable family, despite all to the contrary. I always think of what she told me and the stories about my ancestors, especially when I find that there are people out there who think I’m not good enough to wipe their shoes or be in their blogosphere company. I also think of my uncle in Canada who rose to the top – having been a director of WHO organisation for years and had a scholarship foundation called after him; and who had over a dozen letters after his name. His sons too are proudly following in his footsteps in the academic field.
Bought 10 years ago and revamped by its current owners, St John’s Manor, on the outskirts of Enniscorthy, Co Wexford, could be bought either as a family home, or as a home and income. It is for sale for €995,000 through Sherry FitzGerald O’Leary in Wexford.
The late Georgian mansion, built in 1810, sits on five acres near the River Slaney, approached down a poplar-lined avenue. Granite steps lead to a grand entrance hall which, like the rest of the house, is rich in period detail.
There are views of the Slaney Valley from the drawingroom, which has an ornate marble chimneypiece; there’s a black and pink marble fireplace in the dramatic red diningroom and a study. A conservatory with a flagstone floor opens onto a deck.
There are three large en-suite bedrooms upstairs in the main house, and an attic level room at the top.
Other accommodation includes the two-bedroom priory mews cottage and a two-bed annexe.
The Ballycoursey Day Spa is in the basement and is still run as a going concern, leaving it open to new owners to possibly take it over. There’s also potential to run the whole place as a guest house. There are outbuildings in the courtyard and a stable block and two-acre paddock.
St John’s Manor, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford Georgian mansion on five acres Agent: Sherry FitzGerald O’Leary
|5||Kavanagh||View occupants or original census form (as a PDF)|