Tisdall of Charlesfort House

Charlesfort House, Cortown, Kells was erected and lived in by the Tisdall family. A low rectangular house Richard Castles prepared plans for the house which was later re-modelled by Daniel Beaufort and William Murray.  The house which was erected in the 1740s was remodelled in the 1780s and again about 1841.  Mulligan said the house has an elegant entrance hall.  The library, dining room and drawing room all have regency style plasterwork.  The limestone porch is probably a late 19th century addition.

In 1668 Michael Tisdall leased the manor of Martry from Nicholas Darcy.  Michael lived at a house at Bloomsbury and called it Mount Tisdall.  It is not clear if he erected that house.  His grandson, Michael Tisdall, was M.P. for Kildare, Castlebar and Ardee in the late 1600s and early 1700s.  He was succeeded by his eldest son, Charles.  Born in 1719 Charles Tisdall began the erection of a new house in April 1742.  He selected an elevated and dry site at Athgaine, away from the river.  It is said that a doctor advised him to move away from the river for the good of his health.  Charles purchased a volume of books on Palladio's architecture. The famous architect, Richard Castles, was paid £20 in 1743 for providing a plan for the house and supervising some of the work.  Charles Tisdall attended the first performance of Handel's Messiah in April 1742 in Dublin.  Charles maintained an account of the building of the house and also recorded his tree planting for the years 1740- 1751.  In 1741 Charles planted 50 pear trees, 150 apple trees and 1,000 beech trees.  In 1744 he planted 1,000 oak trees and 800 ash trees.  More ash and elm trees were planted in 1746.  The slates for the house were purchased from Reilly in Ballyjamesduff.

Charles probably moved into Charlesfort in 1753. The following year, 1754, aged 34, Charles married Hester Cramer.  In December 1755 their son, Michael, was born, and in October 1756 another son, Charles, was born.  Charles, the father, died in 1757, aged 37 and was buried in Martry graveyard.  Michael Tisdall inherited the estate but only took control on his coming of age in 1776.  Additions were carried out to the house for Michael Tisdall, which were designed by Rev. Daniel Beaufort of Navan.  Michael was High Sheriff of Meath in 1781.  He died in 1794 aged 39 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Charles Arthur.  Charles Arthur took over the estate at 21 years of age in 1803. Charles married Elizabeth Vernon of Clontarf Castle in 1807. In 1811 Charles was appointed High Sheriff for Meath.  In 1813 the house underwent some works.  Charles had an interest in religion and wrote and distributed two books attempting to persuade his tenants to convert to Protestantism.  In 1824 he attended a meeting in Navan to found a branch of the Reformation Society.  He stated that as a Magistrate "he was disgusted with the vice and immorality, the insincerity and want of truth in the commonest transactions" that he encountered.  In the 1830s Charlesfort was described as the residence of Mr. C.A. Tisdall and a good two storey house with an extensive and well laid out demesne.

Charles died in 1835 aged 53.  John Tisdall took over the estate in 1836 at 21 years of age, the year after his father's death.  The following year he married Isabella Knox.  Their eldest child, Charles Arthur, was born in 1838.  John provided a site for a Protestant Church at Athgaine Great. In 1883 John Tisdall held 3,962 acres in Meath, 493 in Limerick and 575 in Kilkenny a total estate of 5,030 acres.  John died in 1892. John's eldest son, Charles, had died in 1869.  His second son, John Knox, appears to have been estranged from his father.  John Knox' son, also called Charles Arthur, born in 1875, inherited the estate on his grandfather's death in 1892.  As a young man he joined the Irish Guards and was reluctant to return to Ireland to take over Charlesfort.

Robert Heuston leased Charlesfort from Major Tisdall.  From Belfast Heuston was a noted polo player and resided at Charlesfort until 1904. Two of Major Tisdall's uncles, Henry Chichester Tisdall and Vice-Admiral Vernon Archibold Tisdall also farmed portions of the estate.  In 1904 half the estate was sold to the tenants.  Major Tisdall organised train trips for the estate children to Dublin, once to see Queen Victoria in 1900 and on another occasion to watch army drills at the Vice-Regal Lodge in the Phoenix Park.  Major Tisdall was a talented musician and a pupil and friend of Sir Edward Elgar who visited Charlesfort.  Elgar said when he visited the house “Charlesfort will never die, because it is built on a magic hill.‟  In 1914 Major Tisdall was killed just a month after World War I broke out, killed in action in the retreat from Mons in Belgium. The Major's brother, William, came to live at Charlesfort in 1904, inherited in 1914 and remained there until his death in 1954.

During the First World War William stabled army horses at Charlesfort and tilled some of the land for vegetable growing.  William was High Sheriff of Meath in 1921. He purchased the first tractor in the area and also the first wireless, which he invited local people to come and listen to.  He also gave drives in his car to the local children at the parties he hosted on the estate.  William's son, Michael, was in the British army and was accidentally killed in 1940 during a military training exercise.  He was 37 years old.  William's wife also died the same year.  Five years later William married a second time.  His wife was Una Palmer Burke from Ballina.  William died aged 78 in 1954.

William was succeeded by his cousin, Dr. Oliver Tisdall. Oliver and his family came to live on the estate in 1955 and he immersed himself in the running of it.  When Oliver Tisdall came to Charlesfort he was unable to find the key for the Protestant church as the key had been mislaid some years before.  After rummaging he came across a key which fitted the lock.  Locals were surprised with the label on the key which read “the dungeon of Martry.”  Apparently the key for the police cell at Martry RIC police barracks also opened the Protestant church.  Oliver died in 1964 and his widow sold the property in 1968.  In recent years the Hogan family have rescued the house and have restored it.

There is considerable further information in “Charlesfort – The story of a Meath estate and its people, 1668-1968” by Tony Coogan and Jack Gaughran and also on the Ask about Ireland, Irish Libraries website.

Source: meath-roots.com

Charles Tisdall of County Meath, 1740–51
From spendthrift youth to improving landlord

Marion Rogan

This book investigates the world of Charles Tisdall, a Co. Meath landlord and gentleman, during the mid-eighteenth century. It begins with Charles’ coming into his inheritance during 1740 when Ireland was devastated by frost, famine, disease and death. ends in 1751, when the country was experiencing significant economic growth. It details Charles’ extensive travel on the Grand Tour, explores his expenditure on material acquisitions, his lifestyle and leisure pursuits and provides a glimpse into his privileged and fashionable world. It considers the management structure he established on his Meath estate and his relationships with his tenants. An early proponent of the ‘improving’ ethos, his legacy is imprinted on the Meath landscape in the Richard Castle-designed Charlesfort House, the two demesnes with their large plantations of trees and the extensive surviving stonework. Although he rubbed shoulders with the great and the good, he was neither titled nor a member of parliament. He was a middling sized country landowner, lower than the aristocracy, but higher than the large tenant farmer.

Part of the Maynooth Studies in Local History series (Raymond Gillespie, series editor).

Author Marion Rogan holds an MA in Local History from NUI Maynooth. She lives near Kells in Co. Meath and is a retired primary school principal.