by Tom Reilly
You know a Skerries Historical Society presentation is going to be a success when you go to sit down and find all the chairs are taken, all the tables are occupied, and the only place left is the floor. But Tom Reilly’s ‘Hidden History of Ardgillan Demesne’ was so gripping that I almost forgot about my lowly position!
Tom took us on an adventure through the centuries from the 1650s when the land around Ardgillan was measured and ‘set down’ in the Down Survey. It passed briefly through the hands of Elizabeth Villiers, a one-time mistress of William III of England before coming, in the 18th century, to the Taylor family who shaped the demesne for generations.
A comparison of the first Ordnance Survey map, dating to c.1840, and the Griffith’s Valuation map, drawn up a decade later, shows that the family were extending at this time and buying up parcels of land adjacent to their park. The maps also show the positions of a number of buildings, such as gate lodges and out houses, which are now long gone. As Tom pointed out, it’s all too easy to look at what the maps show in the abstract. But the lodges were home to many over the years. Real people were born, lived and died in them. Some spent their whole lives in service to the Taylor family and Ardgillan.
Studying maps and ferreting about in the undergrowth, it is possible to find traces of these buildings. All the bricks and mortar may be gone, but there is still subtle evidence for the keen-eyed – a cultivated sweet pea clambering through the hedge in the Northern most tip of the park may be all that remains of the gate lodge that was once there. Did the gatekeeper, or perhaps his wife, plant it in their garden?
A pond is shown on the first OS map but was lost for many years. In the last year or so it has been rediscovered, cleaned out and refilled. The cobbled pond is not a natural feature but was, perhaps, the pet project of one of the Taylors. They certainly did not limit their planting activities to the formal gardens. The ‘Wilfred Plantation’ which surrounds the pond, was named for Wilfred Taylor, born 1868 while the twenty one yew trees which line the haha to the back of the house were planted by Thomas Edward Taylor to mark a 21st birthday.
Most regular visitors will know where the 26 Acre field is but where was Dungan’s Hill? The Brick Field? The orchard? And the Three Corner field? Or the Cow Lane Plantation?
Dungan’s Hill, later Duggan’s Hill, is the rise next to the 26 Acre field while the orchard was planted below it in the Brick Field. The Three Corner Field is now home to the playground with Collins Field below it while the Cow Lane leads from the disabled parking area down the slope to the splendid stone gate piers which are now almost hidden by the trees of the Cow Lane Plantation. So next time you’re walking in Ardgillan, you’ll know exactly where you are!