Thursday, 11 January 2018

Ballykilcavan House

THE JOHNSON-WALSH BARONETS OWNED 3,131 ACRES OF LAND IN THE QUEEN'S COUNTY

ALLEN JOHNSON, of Kilternan, County Dublin, son of Christopher Johnson, of the same place, married firstly, Anne _____, and had a son,
ALLEN, his heir.
He wedded secondly, Abigail, daughter of Benjamin Burton, and had issue,
Benjamin;
Robert.
The eldest son,

ALLEN JOHNSON, of Kilternan, wedded, in 1740, Olivia, daughter of John Walsh, of Ballykilcavan, Queen's County, and had issue,
JOHN ALLEN, his heir;
Henry (Major-General Sir), 1st Baronet, GCB;
Anne.
Mr Johnson died in 1747, and was succeeded by his elder son,

JOHN ALLEN JOHNSON (c1745-1831), High Sheriff of Queen's County, 1792, MP for Baltinglass, 1740-90, who espoused, in 1783, Sackvilla, eldest daughter of Edward Brereton, and had issue,
John Allen, dsp;
EDWARD JOHN, of whom hereafter;
HUNT HENRY, heir to his brother;
Olivia.
Mr Johnson was created a baronet, in 1775, denominated of Ballykilcavan.

Sir John assumed, in 1809, upon the demise of his maternal uncle, the Very Rev Raphael Walsh, Dean of Dromore, the surname and arms of WALSH.

He was succeeded by his eldest surviving son,

SIR EDWARD JOHN JOHNSON-WALSH, 2nd Baronet (c1785-1848), of Ballykilcavan, High Sheriff of Queen's County, 1825, who died unmarried, and was succeeded by his brother,

THE REV SIR HUNT HENRY JOHNSON-WALSH, 3rd Baronet (1787-1865), Rector of Stradbally, who was succeeded by his son,

SIR JOHN ALLEN JOHNSON-WALSH, 4th Baronet (1829-93), who married, in 1859, Harriet Anne, daughter of the Rev Brownlow William Forde, and had issue, a son,

SIR HUNT HENRY ALLEN JOHNSON-WALSH, 5th Baronet (1864-1953), of Ballykilcavan, who espoused, in 1910, Grace, daughter of the Rt Hon Henry Bruen, of Oak Park, County Carlow, and had issue, an only child,

OONAGH JOHNSON-WALSH, who married (William) Frederick Kemmis, of Shaen House.

Thereafter the family name was changed to WALSH-KEMMIS.

The baronetcy expired on the decease of the 5th and last Baronet.


BALLYKILCAVAN HOUSE, near Stradbally, County Laois, is a two-storey, seven-bay house with a dormer attic, with a centre gable and projecting end bays.

It was built about 1680 in wooded parkland just east of Stradbally.

The estate was acquired by Oliver Walsh in 1639 and the house was probably built by his son, also Oliver, who died in 1697.

The house has full-height wings like flanking towers at the corners of the entrance front; while similar towers on the rear of the house are now hidden by later extensions.

These towers were a feature of fortified houses of the 17th century and lingered on into the early 18th century as decorative features.


The house is comprised of a ground floor (unusually at ground level), an upper floor and an attic storey, where the dormer windows have been replaced by skylights.

It has been altered and extended many times over the centuries but many rooms retrain their late-17th century dimensions, though the decoration is later.

In the 18th century Ballykilcavan was given a more Georgian aspect with a ‘floating’ pediment-gable, a fine cut-stone doorcase and sash windows with thin glazing-bars.

There is decorative 1730s plasterwork on the hall ceiling, and even finer work above the staircase and landing.

The landing is Ballykilcavan's finest room and originally extended from front to back as a gallery before the main staircase was installed.

The first prominent member of the family was Major-General Sir Henry Hunt Walsh GCB, who commanded the 28th of Foot at the siege of Quebec.

He was awarded a valuable estate in Prince Edward Island in a lottery of lands after the Seven Years’ War before succeeding his uncle at Ballykilcavan and becoming MP for Maryborough.

General Walsh is likely to have commissioned the magnificent 18th century U-shaped stable block.

The next owner was the Major-General's brother Raphael, Dean of Dromore, who began an ambitious remodelling of the house.

He planned a new front at the rear with a classical cornice and parapet, and a suite of south-facing rooms.

Unfortunately, work was disrupted by the 1798 Rebellion, and Dean Walsh only completed half the building vertically, leaving the remainder blank.

This provides a single, very large drawing room, entered at the half level from the staircase, and a pair of bedrooms overhead.

The drawing-room is particularly beautiful, with fine late-18th century woodwork, mahogany doors and a finely modelled cornice.

Dean Walsh was succeeded by his sister’s son, Sir John Allen Johnson-Walsh, 1st Baronet, who assumed the name Walsh and the estate passed in turn to his two sons.

The second son, Sir Hunt, Rector of Stradbally, was a keen gardener and built a tunnel to his walled garden at the far side of the Stradbally-Athy road.

He also employed a promising local man, William Robinson, to oversee his garden and plant collection.

The story is that master and servant fell out and Robinson doused the hot-house fires before quitting his position on a particularly cold winter’s night.

Nobody noticed his absence and, by the time the fires were re-lit, many precious plants had perished.

In Dublin and later in London, Robinson’s career took-off and he became the doyen of late 19th century garden designers, influencing a whole school of gardening with his ‘natural’ plantings.

Sir Hunt was succeeded by his son and grandson, whose only child Oonagh married a neighbour, William Kemmis of Shaen.

They subsequently changed their name to Walsh-Kemmis and their grandson, David, and his wife Lisa, are the thirteenth generation of the family to live at Ballykilcavan.

The 1700s layout and avenues were rearranged in the nineteenth century when a new road was built from Stradbally to Athy.

A distant section of this road is now on axis with the front door, and acts almost as an avenue with the spire of a First Fruits Church as an eye-catcher in far distance.

Much of the estate is given over to woodland, with some spectacular specimen oaks and Spanish chestnuts, and the record Irish black walnut.

Select Bibliography: Irish Historic Houses Association.

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