Rathfarnham - History - Historical Features - Priory

Priory

Directly opposite to St. Enda's was Priory, the home of John Philpot Curran, at the time of Emmet's rising. The house was formerly named Holly Park but when Curran bought it in 1790 he changed the name to Priory. He lived here for 27 years at the peak of his fame and here he was to endure the tragic events, which cast a shadow on his private life. First the untimely death of his daughter Gertrude, followed by the loss of his wife, who left him for another man, and lastly the discovery of the association of his daughter Sarah Curran with Robert Emmet. Gertrude Curran died in 1792 at the age of 12 as the result of a fall from a window. Curran had her buried in the grounds of the Priory and over the grave he placed a recumbent slab, on which was fixed a metal plate bearing the inscription:

Here lies the body of Gertrude Curran
fourth daughter of John Philpot Curran
who departed this life October 6, 1792
Age twelve years.

The position of the grave was clearly marked on the early editions of the O.S. maps. It was about midway along the northern boundary of the corner field facing the fortification, on the north side of the boundary bank and a few yards from it. It was formerly enclosed by a grove of trees, which can be seen in J. J. Reynold's photograph of 1903 but these were cut down about 1928. Some time later the stumps were dug out and the stone slab broken up and thrown on the adjoining bank. The metal plate had already been taken by souvenir hunters. It was Sarah Curran's desire to be buried here also but to this her father would not agree as he had come in for criticism on the previous occasion for burying his daughter in unconsecrated ground.

In this district nearly every ancient site is associated in tradition with either Sarah Curran or Robert Emmet and it is not surprising therefore to find that this burial place has been suggested as the last resting place of Robert Emmet. This tradition goes back for well over a century and it is rather surprising that this site was not investigated when the search for Emmet's remains was being made at places a great deal less accessible and no less improbable.

In October 1979 the opportunity offered itself to carry out this investigation. The Priory estate was being developed and heavy machinery moved in to lay the roads and sewers. A Mrs. Bernadette Foley of nearby Barton Drive drew attention to the need to carry out this work before the site was buried for ever under a concrete jungle. With the co-operation of Messrs Gallaghers, the developers, a small group undertook to investigate the site. First the exact location was checked on the original large scale manuscript map in the O.S., next the field was carefully chained and the site marked to within a few feet and then a narrow trench 3 feet (0.91 m) deep was dug through where the burial should have been. The result was a complete blank. A second and a third trench were cut at intervals until a large area had been investigated without finding any burial, timber, brick or stone.

The developers then offered to investigate further with the excavator and carefully cleared an area of 20 yd (18 m) long and 10 yd (9.1 m) wide to a depth of 4 feet (1.2 m) without finding any sign of disturbance. They then deepened this area by another two feet with no better result. All the accounts of the burial state that it was made in a vault and it is therefore surprising and disappointing that no evidence whatever was found and there does not seem to be any obvious explanation for it. The builders, Messrs Gallaghers Ltd. were commended for their interest in this aspect of the site and their painstaking excavation work under the supervision of Mr. Leslie Black was expertly carried out.

Priory was occupied by the Curran family until 1875 and subsequently by the Taylors until 1923. At the beginning of the century the house and gardens were still in good repair but after the Taylor's time the place was neglected. Twenty years ago the walls were still standing but little now remains but some heaps of rubble.

Read more about this topic:  Rathfarnham, History, Historical Features

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