by Aidan Herron
There’s no doubt Zoom has transformed our lives over the past twelve months or so and most of us have a kind of love/hate relationship with it. Aidan Herron might be forgiven for hating it more than loving it after expending much blood, sweat and tears to bring his Skerries Historical Society presentation to the masses last Tuesday. Fortunately he was able to batter the technology into submission in the end. The nearly sixty strong audience had been kept entertained in the meanwhile by the ever versatile David O’Connor with an impromptu rendition of ‘the gentlemen who hunt with Mr Woods’ hounds’. This song was more than appropriate for an evening dedicated to the gentlemen – and ladies – of yesteryear in Aidan’s ‘Dropping in on the Taylor’s – the Guestbook at Ardgillan 1879 – 1882’.
The hosts at Ardgillan in this period were Thomas Edward Taylor and his wife, Louisa. They were from a very influential family and they had influential friends as Aidan’s study of the guestbook shows. Thomas’s cousin, Thomas Taylour, 3rd Marquess of Headfort, was no stranger to Ardgillan and visited with his daughter, Adelaide, during this period. Perhaps it is no surprise to find that another relative, Edward Hamilton Woods and his new bride, Katherine Margaret, also called in from Milverton, just down the road. The foundation stone of Milverton Hall was laid just a year later and the Woods must have already been planning their new home. We can imagine it was a hot topic of the conversation at dinner in the autumn of 1879 – I wonder who came up with the idea of an Italian style house with a French roof. Clearly not a eurosceptic!
Other fairly close neighbours were the Gormanstons who were fashionable enough not to sit in each other’s pockets, visiting Ardgillan independently of each other. Then there was Talbot de Malahide, the fourth baron, who would have had a very easy journey from Malahide Castle to Ardgillan halt by the Dublin and Drogheda railway which was by then well established, having been opened thirty five years previously.
Aside from family and neighbours, the cream of nineteenth century Irish society visited the castle. One signature that stands out is that of Marlborough. This was John Spencer-Churchill, Duke of Marlborough who was accompanied by his wife, Frances Anne. The Marlboroughs were, without doubt, top-drawer people. Lord Marlborough was also a very able Conservative politician who was serving as the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland at the time that he went visiting the Taylors.
For legal questions you were spoilt for choice: Edward Gibson, later Baron Ashbourne, was another high-ranking political animal who spent time in Ardgillan. In 1879 he had been Attorney General for Ireland for two years and was later appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Then there was David Plunket, later Baron Rathmore. He was the Solicitor General and later Paymaster General in Disraeli’s Conservative government.
Aidan showed that all the visitors to Ardgillan Castle had some claim to fame. In comparison to Kenure House or Gormanston Castle, Ardgillan may have been small, but it punched well above its weight and clearly gave hospitality to all the movers and shakers of the day.