Sir William Somerville

The Times, (The London Times) 12 September 1836. Representation of Meath (from the Dublin Mail)

Sir William Somerville, who ought to be a gentleman, and who thoroughly despises the ragamuffin crew with which he has the cowardice to identify himself, lately joined the new Roman Catholic Association, in the hope – a vain one - of securing the popish interest in the county of Meath, and thereby insuring his return to Parliament.  He has been disappointed in his calculations, for the patriots of Meath, with Dr. Mullen at their head, and father Burke at their tail, have had the sense to perceive the motives by which Sir William is influenced, and the courage to denounce the mean and paltry way by which he would seek to palm himself upon the constituency as a “true man” to the injury of some more worthy professor of the “true faith”.

No, Sir William, you may depend upon it in joining the “Just-Asses” you have overshot the mark, and have by your move only added Protestant contempt to popish hate.

We subjoin an abstract from the published report of the proceedings of the Meath Club, by which it will be seen that Sir William, finding Protestant tenants better than Roman Catholics, has given a preference to the former. This is made a pretext for the abuse heaped upon him: but it is pretty evident he has no chance of support from that party to which he has humbled himself, contrary, as we are convinced, to his better judgement and real feelings.

Meath Club

There was a meeting of the club at Brady’s hotel, Navan, on Wednesday, the 31 ult. Mr. Thomas Boylan of Hilltown House was in the chair.

The Rev. P.O’Donohoe, parish priest, moved that a deputation be appointed to visit Kells, Oldcastle, Duleek, and other towns in the county, for the purpose of making arrangements to forward the registry at the October sessions.

The motion having been seconded by Mr. Thomas Gargan.

Dr. Mullen rose to support the motion.  After some observations at the state of the registry, he said that in Meath, as well as in other parts of Ireland, the popular party had to complain that the leading Whig proprietors not only displayed a great degree of apathy in promoting the registry, but that many of them entrust the management of their estates to Tory agents, who were doing everything in their power to forward the interests of the Conservatives.  It was stated, on what he, (Dr. Mullen) considered good authority that for several years Sir William Somerville, has not invested a single Roman Catholic tenant with the elective franchise.  He, Dr. Mullen, could assert that he had not seen any of them come forward to register.

Dr. Mullen then mentioned the case of a Roman Catholic, tenant of Sir William Somerville, near Navan, named James Mullen, who, on the expiration of his lease, subsequently to the last election, was turned out of possession, and his farm given to a Protestant, named Morgan who had voted for Plunkett and Lambert, although Mullen had always been punctual in the payment of his rent.  Dr. Mullen then mentioned several instances of the Darnley estate of Roman Catholic tenants dispossessed and Protestants substituted.  When Mr. Duncan Bligh (Lord Darnley’s brother) was a candidate for the representation of Meath, the freeholders on the Darnley estate supported his pretentions with a desperate fidelity; and what had been their reward?  Every effort was made to coerce them to vote for the Orange candidates at the last election (“Shame, shame”).

Should a vacancy occur in the representation of Meath by the death or resignation of either of the present representatives, care should be taken that individuals whose acts were so diametrically opposed to the Professions should not be suffered to represent the county whilst we had such men as Mr. Preston, Mr. Barnwall, Mr. Corbally, or Mr. Samuel Winter, who could be trusted as honest reformers. (Cheers).

The Rev. Mr. Burke, parish priest, concurred in the sentiments expressed by his friend Dr. Mullen.

Right Hon. Sir William Meredyth Somerville

The Times, 21 Dec 1863

Letters patent have passed the Great Seal granting to the Right Hon.  Sir William Meredyth Somerville, and the heirs male of his body, the style, title, and dignity of Baron Athlumney, of Somerville and Dollardstown, County Meath, in the peerage of Ireland.  The title of Athlumney is taken from a castle in the name near Navan, belonging to the Somervilles, and was chosen, 100 years ago, by Sir Quale Somerville, for the designation of a peerage which was then offered to him.

Wills and Bequests

The Times, 12 June1874

The probate, granted on the 20 of January last at Dublin, of the will and four codicils of the Right Hon. William Meredyth Lord Baron Athlumney in the Peerage of the United Kingdom. Late of Somerville, Balrath, Navan, in the county of Meath, to Herbert Riversdale Mansel James and John Cornwall, the executors, was sealed in London on the 19 ult., the aggregate value of the personal estate in England and Ireland being sworn under £12,000.

The Times, 24 June 1886

Lord Athlumney writes to us from Somerville, Navan, June 22 - Lord Powerscourt in his letter to The Times states that the late Lord Athlumney “as Mr. Somerville was Under Secretary for Ireland”.  This is a mistake, my father, as Sir William Somerville was Chief Secretary for Ireland from 1847 to 1852, during the potato famine and rebellion.

The Times, 5 February 1890: Legal

Bankruptcy Receiving Order Athlumney, Lord James Herbert Gustavus Meredyth, Baron Meredyth, Curzon St, Mayfair and Navan, County Meath, lieutenant in Her Majesty’s Regiment of Coldstream Guards.

10 April 1890

The insolvency of Lord Athlumney (Baron Meredyth) upon a receiving order on January 31 last, Mayfair, and of Somerville, Navan, County Meath, a summary of the debtor’s statement of affairs has been issued, which returns the liabilities at £11,228, with assets £1,563.  In the observations of the Official Receiver it is stated that the debtor is a lieutenant in her Majesty’s Army; that he attained his majority in 1886, and his net income, which is derived as tenant in tail from rentals of settled estates situate in Meath and Dublin, has averaged £500 per annum, after providing for charges formerly created, and irrespective of his pay as a lieutenant.

He attributes his insolvency entirely to liabilities (£10,804) contracted since February 1888, in respect of accommodation bills which he was induced by misrepresentation to accept for the benefit, as he considered, of an absent friend at the solicitation of another person, who it is alleged, obtained the greater part of the process of such bills, and afterwards left the country.  Of the proceeds the debtor states that he only received about £1,350, the balance of which (about £460) is included as an asset in £503 cash at his bankers.

6 June 1890

From the report of the Official Receiver it would seem that the debtor is a peer of England and on obtaining his majority in March 1866, became entitled to estates in counties Meath and Dublin, which subject to encumbrances, produce a net annual income of about £600.  He is also entitled on attaining the age of 25 to possession as tenant for life of certain other estates in Meath.  He attributed his insolvency entirely to liabilities for the benefit of an absent friend, Mr. Plower.  The debtor states that he was induced to incur there liabilities by misrepresentation and solicitation of a Mr. Cameron who obtained the greater part of the proceeds of the bills, and afterwards left the country.  Cameron led him to believe that he had obtained security for payment of the money, that in August 1889 Mr. Plower would become entitled to £15,000 and that the bills would be met.

The Times, 4 May 1897

60 Mark Lane, London E.C. May 3.


We are instructed on behalf of the Right Hon. Lord Athlumney, of Somerville, Navan, County Meath, to state that the issue of the prospectus of the Grand Hotel and Theatre of Varieties, Ipswich Ltd., in which his name appears as a director, was made without his authority or consent, he having, by notice to the company prior to the issue thereof, withdrawn his consent, to be a director of the company, which he had previously given, and his lordship further instructs us that the first information he had that his name was in such prospectus was yesterday on reading Saturday’s daily papers.

Yours etc. Hodges and Pyke.


Somerville House

Somerville House at Balrath, near Kentstown, was erected for Sir James Somerville in the early eighteenth century.  Only the basement from that house survives today as the house was re-modelled at the end of the eighteenth century when the rooms on the south side were re-modelled.  The house was reorientated from back to front about 1831 to the design of Sir Richard Morrison.  Rooms on the garden front are much higher than the entrance front as the garden front is two storey while the entrance front is three storey. The ceiling plasterwork in the salon and library is in the manner of Michael Stapleton and could be taken for late 18th century but is more likely to be early 19th century.  The dining room has a domed ceiling.  The main entrance to the house is through a grand stone archway named, Ivy Lodge.  There is an impressive stable yard with a battlemented octagonal tower.  There is a walled garden and there was a rose garden, pigeon house, ice house and bathing house.  In front of the house the Nanny river was dammed to create a feature but also to provide a bathing place.

The Somervilles originally settled in Fermanagh at the time of the Ulster Plantation. Thomas Somerville purchased 1,066 acres in Meath from the Forfeited Estates Court after the Battle of the Boyne.  In 1729 James Somerville became M.P. for Dublin City, a position he held until his death in 1748. In 1736 he was appointed Lord Mayor of Dublin.  Shortly before his death James Somerville was made Baron of Somerville, Co. Meath in 1748. Sir James Somerville, 1st Baronet married Elizabeth Quaile in 1713.

He died in 1748 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Sir Quaile Somerville, 2nd Baronet.  Born in 1714 and dying in 1772 Sir Quaile married Sarah Towers and was succeeded by his eldest son, Sir James Quaile Somerville, 3 rd Baronet.  Sir James Quaile Somerville, 3rd Bart was born about 1742. He married Catherine Crofton in 1770. Sir James erected the Church Tower and planted the avenue of lime trees.

He was succeeded by his son, Sir Marcus Somerville, 4th Baronet. Sir Marcus was born about 1772 and died in1831. Sir Marcus married Mary Anne Meredyth, daughter and heiress of Sir Richard Gorges Meredyth, Baronet in 1801. He married Elizabeth Geale as his second wife in 1825. Sir Marcus was M.P. for Co. Meath in Irish Parliament in 1800 and in London Parliament 1801-31. From his election of 1826 there is an itemised bill for the entertainment of voters at a Trim inn.  Sir Marcus provided room and board for the voters at the Trim inn and provided raw whiskey, punch, a free shave and haircut.  He had trouble keeping the piper sober to play for his voters.

His son, William Meredyth Somerville, born about 1802 became 1st Baron Athlumney.  In 1832 William married Lady Maria Henrietta Conyngham, daughter of Henry Conyngham, 1st Marquess of Conyngham and his wife Elizabeth, who had been mistress to George IV.  William served as Paid Attaché at Berlin, 1829-32. In 1837 Somerville House was described as the seat of Sir William Meredyth Somerville Bart.  A fine mansion in an extensive demesne, it had been recently enlarged and improved, and a handsome entrance lodge erected, the grounds were embellished with an expansion of the Nanny water.  He married secondly in 1860. Educated at Oxford, Sir William was returned to Parliament for Drogheda in 1837, a seat he held until 1852, and served under the Liberal Prime Minister, Lord John Russell, as Chief Secretary of Ireland from 1847 to 1852, during the worst of the Famine.  He became M.P. for Canterbury in 1854 and continued as its M.P. until 1865.  In 1863 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Athlumney of Somerville and Dollardstown and in 1866 he was created Baron Meredyth of Dollardstown.

The Somerville family held part of the townland of Athlumney which gave them their title. The water spout with the lion's head was erected by Sir William Somerville.  The water supply is said to come from Trinity Well in the nearby woods.

He had only one surviving son, James Herbert Gustavus Meredyth Somerville, born March 1865.  He died at Dover in 1873 and was buried in Kentstown churchyard.  In 1876 Lord Athlumney of Somerville held 10,213 acres in County Meath and 274 acres in County Dublin.  James served in the Coldstream Guards and was with Kitchener in Egypt.  When James was 53 he married a young Australian, Margery Honor Boan, but died without children ten years later, 1929. He was buried in Kentstown Churchyard and with him died the titles Baron Somerville and Baron Athlumney.  Lady Athlumney never remarried and died in a swimming accident in the river Nanny in the grounds of Somerville House in July 1946 aged 45.

Somerville was inherited by Mr. Quentin Agnew, nephew by marriage to Sir James Somerville, 6th baronet and second and final Lord Athlumney.  He took the name Somerville in 1950 but later sold the estate.

The estate was broken up in the 1950s into six farms. A former Naval officer Sir Quentin pursued a career as an insurance consultant.  His daughter Geraldine Somerville, who was born in Co. Meath, is an actress and has starred in the Harry Potter movies as Lily, Harry's mother.



Sir William Somerville, Bart., 3 1/4 miles west south west of the village of Duleek, and partly in the barony of Skreen, but chiefly in that of Lower Duleek, co. Meath, Leinster.  The mansion and the larger portion of the demesne are in the parish of Kentstown; but the demesne extends also into the parishes of Ballymagarvey, Piercetown, and Danestown.  The house occupies an elevated and commanding site, and is a spacious and very respectable structure.  The demesne is of great extent and beauty; it presents many inequalities of surface favourable to picturesqueness of close view; it is watered and beautified not only by the stream, but by a lacustrine expansion, of Nanny Water; and its plantations contain numerous fine specimens of old trees, and are so extensive, and spread so far along the mail road from Dublin to Londonderry, as to form a striking and very agreeable feature of scenery in a great district of country.

Source: Parliamentary Gazatteer of Ireland, 1845.