The Founding of the Presentation Brothers’ Schools at Birr in 1877; recollections of 1927 from J. Deering.
[Birr Historical Society meets again on Monday 4 December 2023 after a break of three…
But while Amy Biddulph’s life was happy, these were troubled times. From the age of nine Amy began to hear of the Land League. Francis read the newspapers out loud every day for the benefit of Annabella. Just after the shooting of the Chief Secretary Lord Frederick Cavendish in the Phoenix Park, her brothers were walking along one of the roads in the town near their house with two policemen walking in front of them. They saw a flash out of one of the houses and one poor young policeman fell dead almost at their feet. There was constant anxiety about Francis. As a J.P., a landlord and an army man he was a marked man. One day he received a letter containing a picture of a coffin with his name on it. In spite of this, for the three girls growing up in Birr, there was a lively social scene.
On the 1st January 1890, according to an item in the Irish Society (Dublin) of the 11th January 1890, the Countess of Rosse and Lady Muriel Parsons held a children’s fancy dress ball in Birr Castle.
‘Dancing commenced soon after 8 o’clock in the beautiful drawing room of Birr Castle, and was continued throughout the evening with the greatest possible spirit and enjoyment. Supper was served at 11 o’clock in the dining room, which was brilliantly illuminated with electric light.’ Miss Amy Biddulph attended as a Russian Tambourine Girl, Miss May Biddulph, as a Watteau Shepherdess, Miss Beatrice Biddulph, an Ice Queen. Miss Kathleen Biddulph, aged 9, daughter of Assheton Biddulph, was Little Bo-Peep.
Assheton Biddulph (centre), master of the King’s County Hunt at Rathrobin, near Kinnitty in the early 1900s
As the three sisters grew older they played an active part in the life of the town..
May was a keen cyclist. Her name appears in an account of the Bog of Allen Club Bicycle Gymkhana which took place in July 1897. She was clearly an enthusiast of the bicycling craze which swept America and Europe at this time and promised greater freedom for women.
The Annual Gymkhana, promoted by the Bog of Allen Club, came off successfully at Oldtown, Naas, in tropical weather, and in the presence of a large and fashionable concourse of spectators. The Band of the 5th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers played a fine selection of music during the afternoon, under the baton of Mr. Colvet.
She took part in the Hallow Eve Race (for Pairs) with Rev. L. Fletcher, and also in the Bending Race (for Ladies). Her sister Bea also took part in the Bending Race. The final race of the day was a One-legged Race (Ladies and Gentlemen). It’s not known if either May or Bea took part.
Amy Biddulph and her aunt, Miss Biddulph of Bunrevan, took part in a Birr Barracks Entertainment, an account of which appeared in the Midland Counties Advertiser of the 27th October 1892. Amy was seventeen years old.
‘Miss Biddulph, of Bunrevan House, next contributed a pleasing number ‘Saved from the Wreck’ which was very favourably received…Miss Amy Biddulph, St. Kilda, the eldest of the pretty daughters of Colonel Biddulph was, in the absence of Mrs Frend, requested to furnish a song, and greatly pleased her audience by giving a charming rendering of ‘The old home beyond the hill.’ The youthful vocalist fully sustained the musical reputation of her respected family, and she made a most favourable impression. Possessing a voice of singular power and sweetness and under perfect control, this young lady gives every promise of becoming a valued addition to local musical circles.’
Amy played tennis, sometimes mixed doubles with her brother Charlie, sometimes with Emma McSheehy. One year the annual tennis ball was held in St. Kilda’s. ‘It was a lovely moonlight night high in midsummer and the hay had just been cut and put up in heaps to dry and next day we had a great time discovering hankies and fans etc., at a great distance from the house – even on the island which told a tale! Also we weren’t very pleased to find the haycocks had been flattened.’
St Kilda’s Birr
However this life couldn’t last. Francis had commuted his pension to fund the purchase of the 50-acre farm. When the farm failed through a combination of the agent’s deliberate mismanagement, Francis’ lack of competency, and the difficulties arising from the agrarian unrest, together with the refusal on the part of one of his half sisters to help him financially, the original entail inheritance having been broken to support his half sisters. He had borrowed money at an exorbitant rate from Joyce the moneylender in Dublin, and he was bankrupt. The family was forced to leave St. Kilda’s. All their horses were rounded up to be taken away and sold, though the donkey Yankee and the old pony Countess were later saved. Amy ran until she came to the wishing well and lay on her face on the mossy bank and cried her heart out. Amy’s brother Charlie helped to save some silver and jewellery by packing them into his uniform cases. Bea and May carried out pictures and hid them in an old derelict lavatory in the bushes. Next day they left St. Kilda’s forever and stayed in lodgings in Birr.
Francis and Annabella moved first to Dalkey in County Dublin. Their youngest daughter Bea, went with them and trained to become a nurse. There was worse to come when Charlie died of typhoid on the 26th of June 1900 in Queenstown, South Africa.
May married Charles Francis Pease in Belfast in 1904. He was ‘a well known Irish cyclist’ and the son of Charles Clifford Pease of Hesslewood, Yorkshire.
Amy travelled to Belfast to become a companion to an elderly relative. She married Surgeon-Captain James Walker in Belfast in 1906. By a strange twist of fate he had served in Crinkill Barracks, in Birr. They had seen each other but had never met. He died of pneumonia 18 months later in Jacobabad, India.
Bea would later marry Archibald Mateer, stepson of John Parnell, whose brother Charles Stewart Parnell had founded the Land League.
The Days that are gone in Birr is an account of the return of Colonel F. E. Biddulph to Parsonstown after the family had left.
‘The return of Colonel F. E. Biddulph to Parsonstown, this time as a visitor, revived happy memories of the near past. The neighbourhood became all the poorer by his absence, as when he took his departure half the social vitality of the district accompanied him. In his own peculiar character-line in amateur theatricals he was unique. His latest role was that of the “The Duke,” in Mrs Darby’s burletta ! – “Acting on the Square!” – a composition of wonderful originality. Those who saw it will easily recall that effective tableau where the gallant Colonel, clad in stone grey, a motionless figure, on the top of the column on the stage of Oxmantown Hall, with Miss Gertrude Armstrong dressed as a colleen, singing in sweet voice a humorous ditty to the long drawn out measure of the “Wearing of the Green.”
During this visit the King’s County Hunt returned to Parsonstown after an interval of 21 months, and held a meet from the Square, where a fine gathering of mounts, wheelers and footers greeted Mr. Assheton Biddulph (Master of Foxhounds). With Joe Jeffreys whipping, the M.F.H. wheeled his beauties into the north-east corner just beside Miss Sylvester’s, whose crowded steps resembled a grandstand at a races, and at 11.10 am the pack started around by John’s Place for the Irishtown direction… Amongst those in the Square were – The M.F.H., Mrs, Miss and Mr Hugh Biddulph, Misses Biddulph, Bunraven, Bertie and Miss Ethne Biddulph, Colonel and Miss May Biddulph, Commander Biddulph, R.N. (half brother of Francis)
A distinct tone of sociality was given to the meet by the presence of Colonel F.E. Biddulph, formerly of St Kilda, who is visiting the district, and who was cordially welcomed back.
The hounds were put into the Knock where they rattled out a good fox, which broke for Irishtown Hill, but being headed wheeled and led back, but before reaching covert headed for Gloster and thence to Mulhair’s furze, where he got to earth after a 55 minutes run.’
Francis Edward Biddulph in later years (Private collection)
Francis and Annabella’s marriage lasted fifty years and they celebrated their golden wedding in Bullock Castle, Dalkey, County Dublin, in 1911.
In 1917 the family, including two of their daughters, Amy and May, and four of their grandchildren, returned to Southsea where Francis and Annabella first met and Francis
had fallen in love with one of the four beautiful Kennedy sisters. Francis died two years later in 1919. Francis and Annabella are buried in Highland Road Cemetery, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England.
Amy died in Dalkey in 1970. May, in Alassio, in 1925. Both had married twice, and Amy left nine great grandchildren. Bea died in Co. Dublin in 1967.
There is a memorial obelisk in Birr, County Offaly, which bears, among others, the name of Capt. Charles Biddulph. It is located in the military cemetery at Crinkill.
This Monument was erected by the Officers warrant Officers Non-Commissioned Officers and Men of the 3rd Batt., Leinster Regiment in Memory of their Comrades who were killed in action and died of disease in South Africa during embodiment between 18 January 1900 and the 26th May 1902.
The ‘Duke’ in Birr about 1900.