Open day at historic Nenagh house
All are welcome to visit Solsborough House next month and marvel at the rejuvenation of one of the oldest and best known estates of Nenagh's hinterland.
Purchased by William and Emma Kennedy in late 2014, Solsborough on the Dark Road has been saved from ruin with a comprehensive restoration project that has breathed new life into the old house and its surrounds. The new owners have taken great care to rebuild the house almost exactly as it was, preserving the long legacy of an estate still spoken about with interest by local folk today.
Originally known as ‘Clonmucke’ or ‘Meadow of the Pigs’, the Solsborough lands were owned by the O'Briens of Annagh (Kilbarron) prior to the suppression of the Irish Rebellion in 1641 and ensuing Cromwellian Plantations. The lands were thereafter incorporated into the ownership of Thomas Poe, a senior officer in Cromwell’s army, who was assembling a large estate for himself using some of the finest agricultural land in North Tipperary.
POES AND O'BRIENS
It is not clear when exactly the first Poe house was built. The earliest indication of a ‘Solsboro’ house and estate appears on Taylor and Skinner’s 1793 Dublin-Ennis Road Map. The Poes had renamed the Clonmucke area ‘Solsborough’ some time in the late eighteenth century, probably because it sounded more fashionable.
The Poes played a major role in Nenagh town life. John Poe (1773-1857) most likely built the main Solsborough House using baked clay bricks from Nenagh's ‘Brick Field’ area. He fell into debt and wound up selling the house – along with an estate of 325 acres – to the Incumbered Estates Commissioners in 1852. Somewhat ironically, the estate was subsequently purchased at a Dublin auction by his nephew, Henry Harrington, for the handsome sum of £4,000.
An early profiteer from Britain’s golden age of imperialism, Harrington made extensive alterations and additions to the house, and employed a large workforce of servants, stewards, herdsmen, horsemen and a farm manager to tend to the land.
When the Harrington-Poe overseas business went bankrupt, the debt-ridden family began selling off parcels of land in order to make ends meet. The last Poe finally gave up on Solsborough in 1894, selling it to his Springfort neighbour Chris Brien, great-grandfather of the estate's last owner, the late David O'Brien.
Born into a small-time butcher family in Ball Alley Lane, Chris Brien may have come from humble origins but when he entered the livestock trade he demonstrated the extent of his negotiation prowess and became one of the largest animal exporters in the region. Renting and where possible buying farmland to facilitate his business, Brien saw Solsborough House and its remaining 150 acres as an ideal opportunity to further his financial gain, while at the same time returning the land to the O’Brien clan some 250 years after they had lost it.
While he used the land for his livestock trade, Brien leased Solsborough House itself, first to Mr Smyth, County Inspector of the RIC until 1911, then to a Ms Atkinson, a spinster lady of gentry stock, who lived there until the 1940s.
DECLINE, AND REJUVENATION
By that stage the house had fallen into a state of chronic disrepair. Brien’s once lucrative livestock business had suffered a sharp decline during the 1930s, a decline from which it never recovered. During the ‘50s, his successor transformed the house interior into flats that he rented out, mainly to newly-married couples. But the rent was not high enough to meet the tax and maintenance costs that Solsborough House demanded, and in 1956 the building was sold for salvage.
McMahon’s Contractors of Limerick stripped Solsborough of its interior, taking windows, stairs, floorboards, roof tiles and anything else of worth. Some of the furniture was also taken and auctioned off.
For decades the house stood as little more than an empty shell, its outer walls reflecting forlornly on its glorious past.
But in the last six years Solsborough has been transformed to an extent that really must be seen to be believed. Almost all of the original stonework was used to complete the external walls and reconstruct those internal, all of which have been positioned exactly where they were when the house was originally built. Protected by covering for several years - to dry out an interior that had been exposed to the elements for decades - the walls were reinforced with steel where necessary.
Among the many attractive interior features is a newly-built staircase, while the vaulted ceilings of the basement rooms have been lovingly preserved. The steps leading to the grandiose main entrance have also been restored.
Practically all of the trasdemen who worked on Solsborough over those years were local. Operating in harmony and displaying genuine interest in restoring the house to its former glory, the success of the project is a testament to their craft.
Mr and Mrs Kennedy took the opportunity to praise everyone involved in the project, including Tipperary Co Council, which worked with the new owners on achieving the restoration. They also thanked the local community for taking interest and supporting them with this unique project.
All are welcome to come and see the house with all its history, before it begins its next chapter as a private home, again, on Sunday, October 10, from 9am to 1pm.
Admission will be €5 per person or €10 per family, and all proceeds will be donated to the North Tipperary Hospice. Complimentary teas, coffees and snacks will be included with the admission price.
How to get there: Pedestrians can access through the main entrance on the Dark Road and walk up the splendid approach-way to the house; similarly, by car access through the farm entrance on the Dark Road (adjacent to the main entrance).