The debt which Ireland owes to members of the Society of Friends, otherwise known as Quakers, is insufficiently appreciated. Although always relatively small in number, members of their faith were often outstandingly industrious and possessed of exceptional foresight. One of the most notable among them was Anthony Sharp, born in Gloucestershire in 1643 before moving to this country in 1669 to escape religious persecution in England. He settled in Dublin where he became involved in the wool trade and quickly gained success: by 1680 he employed some 500 workers and eight years later the Weavers’ Guild elected him Master; he also became an Alderman of Dublin. As well as allowing him to acquire extensive property in the capital, Sharp’s business acumen provided him with the necessary funds to buy land elsewhere in Ireland, notably in what was then known as Queen’s County, now Laois. Around 1685 he purchased from Thomas Sharkey of Abbeyleix some 1,700 acres in Killinure based around a small dwelling house. Using the land to graze sheep and thus produce more wool, Sharp established a small community in Killinure which came to have the informal name Friends Town and it appears there were other buildings in the vicinity including mills. Even before buying the estate in Ireland Anthony Sharp had been one of the original shareholders in the purchase of West New Jersey in 1677 (in which William Penn, who had converted to Quakerism while in Ireland, was also involved). Likewise, when East New Jersey was bought by the Quakers in 1682 Sharp was an investor. While he remained in Ireland, in late 1700 his eldest son Isaac Sharp moved to America where he settled in Salem County, New Jersey, naming the district Blessington after the County Wicklow town (the area in New Jersey is now known as Sharpstown).
Anthony Sharp died in 1707 and was buried in Dublin. The bulk of his property was bequeathed to his son Isaac who at the time was still living in Salem County where he served as a judge and a colonel of the local militia; he would also be a member of the New Jersey General Assembly from 1709-21. In 1714 he married a local woman, Margaret Braithwaite, with whom he had six children. Thus although being the principal beneficiary of his father’s estate, he remained in America and only returned to Ireland around 1726, together with his eldest son Anthony. The latter thus inherited the Killinure property on his own father’s death in 1735 (he conveyed the East New Jersey lands to his younger brothers five years later). Anthony Sharp remained on the Killinure estate, now called Roundwood, until his death in 1781; he had two children, a boy and a girl but the former Isaac Sharp died while still a minor and the estate passed to the son of Anthony Sharp’s daughter Frances’ son, one Robert Anthony Flood who in accordance with the terms of his grandfather’s will assumed the surname Sharp. Soon after the family’s decline began, Robert Sharp taking out a mortgage in 1784, a year after his marriage to Mary Horan of Dublin, on all his properties in the capital. He died in 1803 leaving a one year-old heir William Flood Sharp under whom the deterioration of finances accelerated to such an extent that in 1835 the house and demesne of 1,680 acres were assigned to a Dublin attorney to cover the family’s debts. One of the witnesses to the deed of transfer was a first cousin once-removed William Hamilton of Peafield in the same county. Two years later Hamilton was shown to be in possession of Roundwood and his descendants remained there until 1968 when Major Maurice Chetwode Hamilton sold house and remaining 200 acres to the Land Commission.
The Land Commission, as was ever that body’s wont, displayed no interest in the house which was left boarded up, its condition soon deteriorating. It might have been lost altogether had the Irish Georgian Society not stepped in to buy house and surrounding fourteen acres for £6,250 in the summer of 1970. There was no water supply or electricity but thankfully the building had not been vandalised and its chimneypieces and other features were intact. Brian Molloy, one of the IGS’s most spirited members at the time moved into Roundwood and aided by a band of volunteers set about rescuing Roundwood. A diary he kept during those first months indicates just how dilapidated the house had become and how much had to be done. In an entry for July 15th 1970, he notes that a 19th century extension to the rear of the house ‘was consumed with dry rot, wet rot and decay’ (it was soon demolished) and three days later, ‘Mr Maloney the electrician is coming on Tuesday, thank God. He gave an estimate of £218, very reasonable as it includes 47 thirteen amp sockets.’ Gradually the house was refurbished and decorated at a cost of just £15,000: the drawingroom’s Victorian chimneypiece was replaced with a fine 18th century example from Bert House, County Kildare but otherwise little was added to the building. Similarly the overgrown grounds and stable yard were cleared and tidied. The house was officially opened on June 6th 1971 after which Brian Molloy lived there while overseeing the restoration of the Damer House in Roscrea, County Tipperary (for more on that property, see Bon Anniversaire, September 23rd 2013). Two years later it was bought from the society for £35,000 by one of the organisation’s keenest American supporters, John L Tormey of Akron, Ohio. He was happy that Brian Molloy should continue to live there as he did until his untimely death in 1978, after which John Tormey generously donated Roundwood back to the Society. It was then occupied for a time by Brian Molloy’s friend, the artist’s muse Henrietta Moraes before being leased from the IGS in 1983 by Frank and Rosemarie Kennan. Five years later they bought Roundwood from the society and today their daughter and son-in-law Hannah and Paddy Flynn live there and, like her parents, run the house as a family guesthouse.
Roundwood has often and rightly been described as having the appearance and character of a doll’s house and is certainly one of the prettiest such properties remaining in Ireland. The building must date from before 1741 which is when the name Roundwood first appears in registered deeds instead of Killinure. One can therefore presume it was built by Anthony Sharp shortly after he came into his inheritance in 1735. The main elevation is of five bays and three storeys with a break front, the central projecting bay crowned with a pediment. There is only a part-basement and unusually the kitchen has always been on the ground floor behind the dining room. The entrance doorcase is Gibbsian, flanked on both sides by narrow windows and composed of limestone, unlike the rest of the facade which is of sandstone with side and back being rendered. The design of the house has been attributed to both Richard Castle and Francis Bindon but what might be described as the clumsiness of certain elements make this unlikely. It has been noted, for example, how the detailing of the first floor Venetian window lacks sophistication and its coursing differs from that of the quoins. As Maurice Craig wrote in 1976, ‘I prefer to believe it was just put together by somebody: master-builder or even owner.’ One suspects this was often the case in 18th century provincial Ireland.
The greater part of the interior remains unaltered, the rooms still with their carved timber architraves to window openings, lugged doorcases and panelled wainscotting, as well as some primitive rococo plasterwork in the former study. All the chimney pieces remain except, as already mentioned, that in the drawing room which came from Bert, County Kildare, a house of similar date. But the great delight of Roundwood is its double-height entrance hall with a bow-fronted first-floor gallery once described as swelling out like a pair of opera boxes, their balustrades made of distinctive Chinoiserie fretwork. No matter how many times one visits Roundwood, the sight of its entrance hall lifts the spirits up and beyond the ceiling’s stucco foliate centrepiece. Forty-five years ago the future of this house looked decidedly uncertain and many others of its ilk were lost then and in the intervening years. Thankfully in this instance salvation was at hand in the nick of time. Roundwood has survived and now serves as an wonderful example of how such properties can be both a family home and financially viable.
Elevation and sectional drawings by architect John O’Connell.
Roundwood welcomes guests. For more information, see: http://www.roundwoodhouse.com
Thank you for highlighting this wonderful house! I have had the pleasure of staying at Roundwood twice and find it to be unique and charming with exquisite architectural details. I have some beautiful pictures taken in front of the house and this post brings back some happy memories of my times there with family and friends.
Thank you for getting in touch. I am so pleased you enjoyed the piece and have good memories of this very special house.
Thank you so much for writing this post.
I had recently seen a post that had photos of a house very similar to Roundwood House. I thought I had left you a comment to visit Roundwood, but I believe I made an error.
I was so happy to see this. My mom and I have been to Ireland 4 times now. In August of 2013 we had a wedding in Kilkenny for our family and stayed at Roundwood House a few days before heading south. I had written to Hannah for over a year having discovered that Anthony Sharp was my mother’s 8th great grandfather! Her father died very young and we thought that he was of English descent and were quite surprised to discover his family while English played quite a significant role in Dublin as wool merchants but also as an original proprietor of NJ.
We were fortunate to have located a book titled “Anthony Sharp a Dublin Merchant” which led us to Roundwood House. My grandfather had passed away at the young age of 48 so it is difficult to know if he ever knew this. I think not as my 97 year old grandmother was 2nd generation and remained in contact with her Galway relations said that she never knew this about her husband’s family so I don’t think he could have known.
You did a lovely job covering the house. (And all of your posts are wonderful)! I didn’t see any discussion of the structures that were the original home of Anthony. Hannah shared a lot about the family but I don’t believe they know much about the older buildings either. Perhaps there is no longer any documentation. I believe that Anthony’s final resting place is also gone giving way to the Royal College of Surgeons at St. Stephen’s Green in 1805.
Thank you again for your research on this house an helping me with some documentation of the family history. If you have any new sources, I’d love to have them. I believe Hannah shared what she had with me.
Thank you for making contact and for your kind comments. I am not sure there is a lot of additional information about the older buildings on the site, those that existed before the present main house was constructed. The book on Anthony Sharp is extremely helpful in providing what is known about his life and family. If I come across any additional facts I shall of course share these with you.
Such an amazing balustrade! It is somewhat reminiscent of the patterns used as blind-fret in furniture – but so boldly scaled up here. A wonderful example of taking a pattern and running with it, on the part of Anthony Sharp, his master builder, or his joiner.
Thank you, yes it is rather special, especially the boldness of scale which makes the balustrading a dominant feature of the double-height entrance hall. One suspects it is the boldness of the provincial (and that term is here employed without disparagement) unconcerned about following what is deemed correct procedure.
Thank you for this great article. While not a direct descendent of Anthony, my ancestor was Thomas Sharp, who Anthony sent to NJ to survey his holdings. I plan to visit Roundwood next year.
Thank you for getting in touch, how interesting that you are descended from the Sharps. You will, I am sure, greatly enjoy your visit to Roundwood, the present owners are most enthusiastic and kind.
Roundwood features in my earliest memories as my late father was the CofI rector of Mountrath….(we lived in the fine old rectory which is now in private hands.) Memories include tennis in Mountrath – Chetwode and John Hamilton of Roundwood being keen members – afternoon tea with Major Hamilton at Roundwood (I was ordered to behave well and keep my mouth shut!) and those never ending summers of youth.
Major Hamilton was a Master of the local hunt; he showed us his horses and thus began a long time interest in those most wonderful of animals.
So, some 65 years later my wife and I spent a few days at Roundwood as guests where we had the most wonderful time and found the present owners to be the most wonderful hostsand the most friendly of people, Hannah and Paddy; I hope that all goes well for them and for this great house.