Strokestown Park House is a characteristic Irish Big House, built in the Palladian style during the peak of the building boom of these residences around 1740.
The big house, seen on the photo below, became famous over the murder of the first of seven Irish landlords that were triggered by the agrarian unrest started by the famine.
Denis Mahon took over the estate in 1845. He had been a
major in the English army. He had no managerial experience. On arrival he found
an estate heavily in debt. Between1842 and 1845, most tenants had not paid any
rent for five years. They did not have the money to pay. They could
barely feed themselves. Poverty among tenant farmers all over Ireland was
The estate at Strokestown had only 750 lease holders, but
according to the 1847 census, close to 12,000 people were actually living
on the part of the estate that was allocated to be rented. As many as thirty
people were living on one acre of land on this portion of the estate, which
included space for mud cabins, for grazing animals and for growing the staple,
the potato crop. It was an unsustainable situation ultimately, and reflected
what was going on on estates all over Ireland.
About the era of the Big Country House
About the lifestyle of
About the lifestyle of the servants
The role of big country houses in the local economy
This big house and
the Irish Potato Famine
The History of
this big house
Denis Mahon who had no managerial experience, hired an
estate manager. Together they looked at how the estate could be brought out of
debt. They calculated that the cost to Denis to pay for tenants who had to
avail of the poor house (under the new poor law)
would be 11,000 Pounds per year.
They came up with a ‘creative solution’: assisted
emigration to Canada was going to be a once-off expense of 6,000 Pounds. In
practice, this effort at assisted emigration became a disaster. The boats Denis
Mahon leased were hopelessly overcrowded and there was a lack of food and
water. As many as half the passengers died. The episode helped to coin the term
Word of the tragedy got back to Ireland. Denis Mahon got
the blame. The local parish priest is said to have said during mass that
Major Denis Mahon was worse than Cromwell, ‘yet he lives’. A few days later, on
November 2nd 1847, he was shot dead just 8 miles from his home when coming out
of a meeting.
Although three local men were brought to court there is a
chance that none of them were actually involved. This murder, like other murders of landlords,
is still shrouded in mystery.
Just prior to the murder, Denis Mahon’s daughter Grace
Catherine married Sir Henry Sandyford Pakenham.
Grace Catherine’s new husband Henry Pakenham-Mahon took over
the estate after Denis’ death. He evicted some 6,000 tenants claiming
they were connected to the murder.
Today, Strokestown Park
House is home to the Irish Famine Museum which illustrates the history
of the Irish Potato Famine using audio-visual displays and original documents,
enriching visitors knowledge of this part of Irish culture.
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