Dillon Family of Lismullin

A suggested date for the construction of the house is 1720–1740 when there was an optimistic period after the Boyne.  Lismullen is a typical gentleman's residence, nothing unique about its design, sited to maximise the use of local scenery.  At the turn of the twentieth century the mansion had twenty one rooms and thirty four outoffices.  The house had an entrance hall, study, dining room, drawing room, back hall, principal staircase, butler's pantry, two lavatories and bathrooms, eleven bedrooms, dressing rooms and strong room.  The house was decorated with many paintings including a Gainsborough, a Reynolds and portraits of family members and family connections.  A door from the main house led into a kitchen, with a scullery and larder.  The out offices included a larder, dairy, tiled laundry, apple loft, storerooms and stables.  There were three coach houses and a motor house.  These out offices were entered through an archway from the back avenue.  At the back of these buildings was a large farmyard, hay barn, walled in garden, pleasure ground, conservatory and tennis court.

The Dillons were a prominent family of the Pale.  Lodge's Peerage states that the Dillons of Lismullen were descendants of Thomas, the third son of Sir Robert of Riverstown.  William Mallone, Irish papist, was in possession of Lismullen in 1640 but during the Cromwellian confiscation the entire parish of Lismullen and 172 acres at Clonarden in the neighbouring parish of Templekeran parish were allocated to Arthur Dillon.  Arthur's son, John, added further lands to the estate in the Williamite confiscations.  Sir John Dillon's close connection to Ormond may have resulted in William of Orange spending a night at Lismullen after the Battle of the Boyne.

A number of personal items were said to have been given to the Dillons by William of Orange in 1690, two days after the Battle of the Boyne.  The items included a glass decanter, a glass posset bowl, a bed-coverlet and two pairs of gauntlets.  John was succeeded by his grandson, John Talbot Dillon who as Member of Parliament for Wicklow introduced a successful bill for some relief of Catholics from the penal laws in 1782. For this support of the Catholic cause Sir John Dillon was created a baron of the Holy Roman Empire by Emperor Joseph II of Austria.  On 22 February 1783 John Dillon received Royal License to use the title and was created baronet by George III on 31 July 1801.  Sir John Dillon, his son, Charles and Nathaniel Preston formed a company to exploit a vein of copper ore on the Walterstown lands of Nathaniel Preston.  There appear to have been two Sir John Talbot Dillons living at approximately the same period in the nineteenth century and the lives of both having some common events are often confused by writers.

Sir John Talbot Dillon had six sons and three daughters.  His eldest son died before his father.  His three remaining older sons, Charles Drake, Arthur Richard and William, held the title of baronet in succession following his death.  In March 1847 the stables of Sir William Dillon of Lismullen were rented as extra accommodation for paupers by the Dunshaughlin Board of Guardians as the work house at Dunshaughlin was at full capacity.  The fifth son, Rev. Ralph Dillon, left a son, John, who succeeded on the death of his cousin, in 1852.  This John was the father of Sir John Fox Dillon.  Sir John Fox Dillon married Marion Louisa Dykes and the couple had only one child, a daughter, Millicent, born in 1895.  Sir John enjoyed hunting and was a member of the Meath Hunt and the Norfolk Hunt.

Sir John was a candidate in the first Meath County Council elections, running in Tara district.  He received twenty-seven votes but failed to get elected.  The 1898 Act stipulated that three seats on the new council were reserved for outgoing members of the Grand Jury and Sir John Dillon was one of the three selected.  Sir John had donated a site for a new church at Lismullen and contributed a large amount to the construction costs.  Sir John remained as churchwarden until his death in 1925.

Lady Dillon commissioned a window from Harry Clarke in February 1929 as a memorial to her husband for the new church at Lismullen.  The window The Ascension was installed above the altar in March 1930.  Lismullen church was demolished in 1964 as a result of declining attendance.  The Clarke window was removed to storage in Trim and sold by the church authorities in the 1990's.  Sir John grew tobacco to support Sir Nugent Everard in his efforts to introduce the industry on a commercial basis in Meath at the turn of the century.  He also supported Everard's experimentation with the growing of hemp to provide the raw material for cordage and as shelter for the tobacco crop.  Sir John invented a machine to scotch the hemp and proposed that the 10,000 tons of hemp imported annually from Russia and Poland be produced in Ireland.  In 1918 Sir John Dillon disposed of 1,693 acres of his estate at Lismullen under the Land Acts.

In early 1923 a renewed outbreak of violence occurred in the area surrounding Lismullen.  Despite his military experience Sir John was not prepared for the arrival of the arsonists.  On 5 April 1923 a group of men stole a trap at Knockmark, drove to Dunsany Stores and took petrol which they took to Lismullen.  Later that night a large party of men gained entrance to Lismullen house and set the place alight.  When the house was destroyed by fire very few items were saved. Sir John found time to send a note to Killeen to warn the Fingalls that the arsonists had said that Killeen was next.  The motive for the burning is not clear with various reasons being put forward at the time.  In 1923 he and his family left Ireland behind to purchase a property, Longworth Hall, in England.

Under the Damage to Property (Compensation) Act of 1923 Sir John Dillon received £10,942 to rebuild his house.  The new "modern residence‟ at Lismullen was built on the foundations of the destroyed house which was "of a very old fashioned and inconvenient type‟.  The replacement house was as undistinguished as its predecessor being described by one observer as "a modern tasteless building‟ in 1942.  Sir John Dillon died suddenly on 1 November 1925, at his residence, Longworth Hall, at the age of 82.  Since Sir John had no son a distant cousin, Robert William Charlier Dillon, was the heir.  Robert's father died 6 October 1925, just a month before Sir John's death so Sir Robert inherited the estate at eleven years of age.

The Dillon lands at Lismullen were compulsory purchased by the Land Commission in 1963.  The house and garden were sold on for charitable and social purposes and became a residential conference centre and a hospitality training centre.  It is owned by the Lismullin Educational Foundation, an educational charity, which in 2000 completed a major development of the site and facilities.  These are inspired by the spirit of the Prelature of Opus Dei and reflect a Christian outlook on life and culture.

Source: meath-roots .com