History of Dowdstown House

The origins of Dowdstown goes back probably to the ownership of the High Kings of Tara.  When the High Kings left Tara in the year 550, Dowdstown became the property of local chieftans and later a church was built on it.  When the Normans conquered the country this church was handed over to St. Mary's Abbey, Dublin, by Eugene, Bishop of Meath.  The land came into the possessions of the Dowdalls of Athlumney Castle and their steward occupied the farm.  In 1640 it consisted of 184 acres, the church and the farmhouse.  After the Battle of the Boyne the 251 acre Dowdstown estate was granted to Robert Rochford.  The estate was bought by Thomas Taylor, a retired British general at the end of the 18th century. A contemporary source says "The Hon. General Taylor has a seat in the cottage style in a demesne of about 590 statute acres, of which about 240 are plantations".  The plantations were a pet project of the General's.  He had fought at Waterloo so he decided to lay out trees to represent the placings of the regiments.  Tall trees signified the officers.  He also built Dowdstown House and gave employment in the district when there was little paid employment available.  The house was designed by an architect called Lynn from Belfast in a neo-Jacobite design.  The strapping around the wooden pillars and panels are of this style.

The Taylor Family

The above-mentioned Taylor family came to Ireland in 1653 to work with the Irish Commission on the Down Survey of Ireland.  It surveyed and valued the land which had been confiscated by the Cromwellian campaign in Ireland.  Thomas capitalised on the opportunity to acquire large amounts of land in Ireland.  In 1660, he sold his property in Sussex and bought approximately 21,000 acres in Ireland.  This included 7,443 acres in County Meath, near Kells, where he bought the townlands of Kenlis, Brownstown, Armagh, and Bregagh.

Thomas Taylor's estate was inherited by his only surviving son, also called Thomas, who consolidated his father’s wealth and elevated the family status in post-Cromwellian Irish society, serving as a member of Parliment for Kells during the period 1692 to 1736.  Thomas Taylor married Anne Cotton of Combermere, Cheshire, in 1682 and they had eleven children.  Robert was their second son and it was he who built Prospect House, which became known as Ardgillian Castle in later years.  It is situated near Skerries and is now owned by Fingal County Council since its sale in 1982.  Robert died unmarried in May 1744, and Prospect House and its estate became the property of his eldest brother, Thomas the second Baronet of Headford.  Headford and Prospect House came together under one branch of the family.  He married Sarah Graham of Platten, County Meath.  Only three of the six children survived childhood, Sarah, Henrietta and Thomas.  Sir Thomas died in 1757 and was succeeded by his son, Thomas, who later became the first earl of Bective.  Headford house Kells was his primary residence.

Prospect House in Skerries, Dublin was described by the English antiquary, Austin Cooper in 1783 as "a country seat of Lord Bective's" (An 18th Century Antiquary by Austin Cooper, p82)  Thomas, The first Earl of Bective married Jane Rowley, Viscountess Langford.  They had five children.  Thomas the eldest inherited Headford house, and Robert (1760-1839) was to inherit Dowdstown House.

Robert entered the British army and it is this Robert to whom we have already made reference, who fought at the Battle of Waterloo with Wellington.  He did not marry and his home as we have already stated was Dowdstown House, where he had the grounds planted of the position of the troops before the battle of Waterloo. He died on 23rd April 1839.  His brother, Henry Edward, was born at Headford on 13th November, 1768.  He lived at Arlington Castle and married Marianne St. Ledger.  Richard Chambre Hayes was one of their seven children.  He was born on 19th March 1819.  He was educated at Harrow, England and was later to inherit Dowdstown House.  He was called "great uncle Dick".  His brother Thomas Edward, was educated at Eton and entered political life, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, the First Earl of Bective, and his great grandfather, Sir Thomas Taylor, both of whom had been MP's for Meath.  In 1874 he defeated Charles Stuart Parnell in the election for one  of the two County Dublin seats.  On Marrianne Taylor's death in 1859, Ardgillan demesne was inherited by her grandson Richard, and Thomas Edward inherited Dowdstown House.  Richard served in India during the Indian Mutiny Canpaign and regularly wrote to Thomas Edward.  The following is a letter he wrote in December 1858, to Thomas Edward, from Camp Bulrampore on the Raptee, his love of hunting is captured in this excerpt;

"There is good tiger shooting not far off.  If my brigade is left on this side of the Gigra, I hope to have some sport bye and bye.  There is a friendly Rajah here, a mighty hunter, and with good elephants."
(The Letters of Richard Chamber Hayes Taylor to his family, 1857-1859, The Taylor Family Papers).

Richard began his military career in 1835. He would have only been 16 years of age then.  He was a member of the 79th Regiment of Foot, the Cameron Highlanders.  He was assigned to a post at the Rock of Gibraltor in 1846.  He was later to serve at the Battle of Alma, in the Crimean War.  He was a major in the army at this time and served under a general who was a good friend of the family, Sir Colin Campbell.  He remained in the Crimea until the armistice of July 1855, after the storming of Malakoff.  Richard returned to England to remain at headquarters as Lieutenant-Colonel.  He looked after supplies and the training of recruits for the British Army.  In September 1857, Richard went on a second experience of active military service to India.  He set sail from Southhampton on board the steamer "Ripon".  He journeyed for six weeks and arrived in Calcutta on November 1st 1857.  He awaited the arrival of his regiment and during that period he stayed with his 'aunt' Eliza Fagan.  She was his mother's half-sister and was married to the Chief Magistrate of Calcutta.  Here he was introduced to the colonial society of the city.  He wrote to his mother about certain aspects of this culture he found difficult:

"..the tone of society here is somewhat colonial; petty jealousies, and absurd forms of etiquette, interfering rather with my ideas of good company."
(Letter to his mother, 23rd November 1857)

Richard was in charge of the third division, and was in the vanguard of General Outram's force, as they tried to recapture the city of Lucknow.  His division was the first to cross the River Goomtee as it advanced on the city.  There were a large number of casualties on both sides.  It involved heavy fighting for over two weeks where there was a lot of close-quarter fighting within the streets of the city.  After the fall of Lucknow, Richard continued to campaign in the north east of India supressing the remaining pockets of resistance.  It was at this time also that his mother was dying.  He tried to return home but she died on March 22nd, 1859, while he was on route from India to Southamption.  His diary records for May 7th 1859:

"Saw newspaper of 4th April, read the death of my dearest mother.  God's will be done.  Not unexpected, but still very painful.  Miserable all day."
(The 1859 Diary of Richard Chambre Hayes Taylor, The Taylor Family papers.)

Richard married Lady Jane Hay, the daughter of George the 8th Marquis of Tweeddale, on 9th June 1863.  They lived at Dowdstown House, Navan the home of Richard's uncle, General Robert Taylor, which Richard had owned since 1859.  They had six childre.  Constance Mary was born on 6th April, 1864; Gertrude Helene was born on 8th, July 1865; Milicent Lilla Harriet was born on 8th November 1866; Evelyn Beatrice Charolotte was born on 8th December 1867; Florence Virginia Mathilde was born 5th July 1869 and their only son, Richard Edward Montagu was born on 20th July 1871.  Their son Richard became a lieutenant in the East Surrey Regiment and he served in South Africa where he "was awarded a medal with three clasps, and the first world war where he received two medals and a 1915 Star."
(Ardgillian Castle and the Taylor Family p44.)

The following extract from the same book tells us that:

"Even with mounting demands of family life, Richard still pursued his army career and on 1st April 1867 he was made Inspecting Field Officer of a Recruiting District.  Eight years later at the age of 57, Richard was promoted to Deputy Adjutant General on the 29th November 1876 and one year later he was made a full Lieutenant General.  In 1882 he was conferred with the title of Knight Commander of the Bath (K.C.B.)."
(Ardgillan Castle and the Taylor Family p44).

In the same year he also took up the post of Governer of Sandhurst Royal Military College.  He remained at Sandhurst until he retired in 1886. He was 67 years of age then.

It is assumed that not much of the time was spent at Dowdstown.  General Sir Richard Chambre Hayes Taylor died on the 6th December 1904.  He was 85 years old when he died.   He died in Chertsey, Surrey and is buried in the Taylor family vault in St. George Church, Balbriggan.  Dowdstown House remained in the possession of Richard's family until 1927, when it was sold to the Columban Fathers.  His funeral cortege was made up of 300 men of the Cameron Highlanders, under the command of Major George's M.Stuart Riach.  His regiment later erected a commemorative plaque to his memory in St. George's Church Balbriggan.  His brother Thomas Edward M.P died in 1883.  His son Edward Richard inherited Ardgillan Demesne.  This period in Irish history underwent a gradual change, whereby the traditional power of the local landlord was weakened.  The Taylor family like all other families had come to terms with the new circumstances that prevailed in Ireland.  Land acts enabled tenants to purchase back their land.  With the formation of the Free State impetus towards ownership increased and land owned by Edward Richard Taylor in Dowdstown, Navan was purchased under the Land Holding Acts in 1916.

An excerpt from the Dragon magazine tells us that Dowdstown "was rented out to sportsmen and officers whose regiments were in Dublin, with the result that it became and still is a meeting place for the hunt." (p29).  It is commonly believed that the Dowdstown property was rented from about 1870 by the families, Stuart, Watts, and Singleton.  The land was rented to local farmers.  As the British troops departed and with the rising costs in living, tenants were harder to find and "for the twelve years before 1926 Dowdstown was vacant" (Dragon p29).  By the mid-twenties the property was in disrepair.  May Lynch told the writer that when she came to Dowdstown with the Columban Fathers in 1929, it was well known that the cattle on the farm came into the house as the door was open!  There doesn't seem to be any substance in the locally held belief that around 1870 an Ainsworth family got possession.  One legend says that it was won from Headford in a game of cards!  Another legend has it that Ainsworth built a new Victorian section, and that this section is only half built, and that he ran out of money in the process.  Part of the story is that he lost an expensive lawsuit.  Another story is that he intended his mansion to be a wedding present for his bride, but because the marriage turned out to be an unhappy one he did not complete his plan.

On November 13th, 1926 at the Bishop's house in Mullingar, the foundation of a Columban House at Dowdstown became a reality;
"The society of the Maynooth Mission to China is hereby authorised to open a house of their society at Dowdstown House in the parish of Johnstown, in the Diocese of Meath...
Laurence Gaughran, Bishop of Meath
Witness: John Finegan..
Michael O'Dwyer
Witness: Rev. James Wilson."
(Meath Diocesan Annals)

It was purchased for 15,000 pounds.  It became the new headquarters for the Columban Fathers who brought the name Dalgan Park with them from their previous home of that name, outside of Ballinrobe.  The new college was opened in 1941 but Dowdstown house was still international headquarters of the Columban Fathers until 1967 when they moved to Dublin.

Bishop John McCormack re-dedicated the House for use by the Meath Diocese as a retreat and pastoral centre in 1981.  It was named after one of the founder members of the Columban Society, Fr. John Blowick.

Source: http://www.dowdstownhouse.com/history.html


Read: Of Other Days by Anthony Holton (1944-) who grew up in Dowdstown.

Lady Jane Hay did not appear to have spent much time in Dowdstown House.
Dowdstown House

is located to the south of Navan on the old Dublin road and can be accessed via Dalgan Park.  The house was described in the 1940s as having an imposing entrance on the Navan, Dublin Road with beautifully wrought and impressive iron gates hung on giant piers of ashlar limestone.  The avenue was bordered by sylvan woodland and then emerging into verdant parkland.  The house was described as pseudo-Tudor in style having turrets, gables and square headed four light windows.  The cut stone facade was described as beautiful.  Inside there is some magnificent oak panelling.

The house, formerly the home of Captain Taylour, became the headquarters of the Maynooth Mission to China in 1927.  Overlooking the Boyne the house has a fine panorama.  Erected in a neo-Jacobite style the house had a splendid interior of carved wood.  James Shiels drew up plans for alterations by General Robert Taylour in 1820 and 1834. Joseph Bateman drew up plans in 1831 but these were not used.  An extensive baronial design was drawn up about 1870 by Lanyon, Lynn and Lanyon, possibly with the assistance of S.P. Close.  Dowdstown came into the possession of Robert Rochford after the Battle of the Boyne and it was then purchased by the Taylour family of Headfort, Kells.  Robert Taylour was the third son of Thomas, first Earl of Bective and third Baron of Headfort.  He joined the British army in 1783 and rose to the rank of general by 1819. Robert served in Flanders and Germany in the early 1790s. He was M.P. for Kells from 1791 until the Act of Union in 1800. During 1798 he was based in the west of Ireland where the French army landed.  At the Battle of Ballinamuck in September 1798 he was second in command to General Lake.  The Battle of Ballinamuck marked the defeat of the main force of the French incursion during the 1798 rebellion.

General Taylor was supposed to be one of the three Meath generals who fought at Waterloo.  The trees on the estate were planted in the layout of the armies which fought at Waterloo.  In the 1830s General Taylour had his seat at a cottage style house in a demesne of 590 acres of which 240 was wooded.  The demesne includes a haha.  Robert died in 1839. In 1835 the entrance would appear on the opposite side to which it is today.  There was extensive woodlands with walk ways.  His nephew, Thomas Edward, inherited Dowdstown. In 1855 Dowdstown was held by Col. Thomas E. Taylor who lived at Ardgillan.  An M.P. for Dublin from 1841 to his death in 1883 he held many high offices in the Treasury.

His brother, Richard Chambre Hayes Taylor, served in India during the Indian Mutiny.  He began his military career in Gibralter in 1846 and then fought at the battle of Alma, during the Crimean War.  Richard was one of the leaders of the attack on Lucknow in 1858. Richard was appointed Governor of Sandhurst Royal Military College, a position he held until he retired in 1886. He died in 1904 aged 85.  In 1863 Richard married Lady Jane Hay, daughter of the 8th Marquess of Tweeddale, and they lived at Dowdstown on occasion.  The house at Dowdstown was often rented out to visiting sportsmen.  Geoffrey Hone, the uncle of Evie Hone and famous cricketer, resided at Dowdstown for a period.  In 1901 and in 1911 William Dugald Stuart and his family were living at Dowdstown House.  Richard and Jane had five daughters and a son.  The son, Richard Edward Montagu, was born in 1871 and went on to become a lieutenant in the East Surrey Regiment.  He served in the Boer War and the First World War.
The estate at Dowdstown was purchased under the Land Acts in 1916 and the house was disposed of in 1927.  Richard married but died without an heir in 1953.  In 1927 Dowdstown House was purchased by St. Columban's Missionary Society.  Since 1927 Dowdstown House has been the headquarters of the society.  In June 1937 it was proposed to build a new college and work began.  In 1941 there were 106 students and professors at the Dowdstown.  The name, Dalgan Park, came from where the St. Columban's first settled in 1918 in Shrule, Co. Mayo.  The college was called Dalgan Park.  In 1984 Dowdstown house was taken on lease by Bishop McCormack as a pastoral centre for the dioceses of Meath.  The building has now been developed as a conference centre and retreat centre.  Counselling and bereavement support are major works of the centre.  During archaeological investigations in preparation for the M3 an extensive multienclosure site was identified by geophysical survey at Dowdstown, immediately south of the River Boyne.  The house website has more extensive information on the house and family and was used, as a source for this article.
Source: meath-roots.com


The Parliamentary Gazetteer 0f Ireland, 1844-1845, Vol. 2

DOUTHSTOWN, Dowdstown, or Dowestown, a parish on the west border of the barony of Screen, 3 3/4 miles south by east of Navan, co. Meatb, Leinster.  Length and breadth, each I mile; area, 869 acres, 1 rood, 36 perches, of which 5 acres, 1 rood, 26 perches, are in the river Boyne. Pop., in 1831, 385; in 1841, 280. Houses 53.  The surface lies on the right bank of the Boyne, and consists of but indifferent land. Dowestown house is the seat of the Hon. Lieutenant General Taylor, and stands in a demesne which begins to be sheltered and beautified by young plantations.  This parish is a vicarage, and part of the benefice of Skreen, in the dio. of Meath.  The vicarial tithes are compounded for £20 13s. 4d., and the rectorial for £41 6s. 8d.; and the latter are impropriate in P. P. Metge, Esq. of Athlumney. In 1834, the parishioners consisted of 5 Churchmen, 3 Presbyterians, and 284 Roman Catholics; and there was neither church, chapel, nor school.
Slater's Directory, 1894

Dowdstown, a parish in Co. Meath, barony of Skreen, union of Navan, diocese of Meath, 2 miles northeast from Bective station on the Midland Great Western railway, 3 1/2 south east from Navan, containing 2 townlands, on the river Boyne.  The area comprises 869 acres; the population in 1891 was 83.

Hone, Capt. T.