A High House on High Ground

‘It is a high house, standing on high ground; without a tree, bush or offices in sight, nothing can be more uncompromising than it looks from this road. We soon after approach two bridges over different rivers, which rise after a subterranean course…the old gentleman [Christopher French St George] built the house and an excellent one it is – finished it in the best manner – with painted ceilings to all the lower rooms, and to the hall, which is large and handsome – he furnished it in the best style of those days – of about twenty years back, lived in it and enjoyed it, and 9 or 10 years ago resigned it to his son, who soon after married Lady Harriet St. Lawrence, and they have lived happily and have seldom left it, never for any length of time – they have six little girls – and they appear very happy – Mr St. George an excellent country gentleman, improving his estate, fond of hunting, shooting and all country sports…’
From the Journal of Mary Beaufort, September 1808

‘In the afternoon Tilly Redington and I drove over to Tyrone House. A bigger and much grander edition of Ross – a great square cut-stone house of three stories, with an area – perfectly empty – and such ceilings, architraves, teak doors and chimney-pieces as one sees in old houses in Dublin. It is on a long promontory by the sea and there rioted three or four generations of St. Georges – living with country-women, occasionally marrying them, all illegitimate four times over. No so long ago eight of these awful half-peasant families roosted together in that lovely house, and fought, and barricaded and drank, till the police had to intervene – about 150 years ago a very grand Lady Harriet St Lawrence married a St. George, and lived there, and was so corroded with pride that she would not allow her daughters to associate with the Galway people. She lived to see them marry two men in the yard. Yesterday as we left an old Miss St. George, daughter of the last owner, was at the door in a donkey trap-she lives near, in a bit of the castle, and since her people died she will not go into Tyrone House, or into the enormous yard, or the beautiful old garden. She was a strange mixture of distinction and commonness, like her breeding, and it was very sad to see her at the door of that great house – If we dare to write up that subject!’
From a letter written by Violet Martin to Edith Oliver, March 18th 1912

‘A correspondent has sent some interesting but sad details of the malicious burning of Tyrone House…It was in the late Georgian style and the finest house in Ireland. The ceilings were all painted by Italian masters and were regular works of art. The mantle pieces were all of rare Italian marble and very costly. In the hall was a fine full sized marble statue of Baron St George the founder of that once great family. It was the work of an Italian artist. The head was broken off the night of the raid deliberately it must be said. All the ceilings are now ruined and the mantle pieces also, and the entire structure an empty shell and ruin. There was no grounds for the report that the military or police intended or were to occupy the house, and agrarian motives are believed to have inspired and instigated this most foul and reprehensible act of purely wanton destruction. Of late years the place was freely allowed to be used by pleasure parties who came out from Loughrea and other places to have a dance which cost them nothing and to enjoy themselves, and who were never prevented from having their pleasure and a dance on the spacious floor of the dining room, and they can now no longer do so, and where in olden days the finest balls in the Co. Galway took place.’
From the Tuam Herald, September 4th 1920.

I shall be speaking of Tyrone House, County Galway and the St George family next Friday, September 22nd at 12 midday during the 2017 Irish Antique Dealers Association Fair in the RDS, Dublin. For more information, please see: http://www.iada.ie/antique-fairs

34 comments on “A High House on High Ground

  1. Simon Peers says:


  2. Conor lucey says:

    Ceilings in fact after designs by George Ruchardson (published 1774-76) and plaster bas-reliefs from William Salmon’s manufactory in Anglesea Street.

  3. Thank you for this, very interesting, and now on my ‘to visit’ list. I was especially interested to read the letter quoted above. May I ask if that should be to Edith Olivier? If so, may I ask whether it’s from a published work/book of letters? And if so, could you give me the full details. Sorry not to be able to get to the talk not being based in Ireland. Many thanks, Barbara

    • Thank you for getting in touch. No, not Edith Olivier but Edith Somerville, who together with Violet Martin wrote many books published under the name Somerville and Ross: if you are unfamiliar with their work, I highly recommend it to you (esp. the Irish R.M. stories, as well as The Real Charlotte and the book inspired by Tyrone House – The Big House at Inver). The letter is published in a volume called The Selected Letters of Somerville and Ross which is widely available. I hope this is of assistance to you…

      • Thank you so much for the clarification. Of course, I knew that Somerville and Ross were pseudonyms but didn’t register their real names. I have the first title (unread) and knew of it through a TV series of years ago. I have made a note of the other two to follow up at the Library. Keep up the good work.

  4. Fergal says:

    Somerville and Ross based ‘The Big House of Inver’ on it, I believe.

  5. John Phelan says:

    I know this poem was about Maud Gonne, but I think it also says much about those times.

    Why should I blame her that she filled my days
    With misery, or that she would of late
    Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
    Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
    Had they but courage equal to desire?
    What could have made her peaceful with a mind
    That nobleness made simple as a fire,
    With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
    That is not natural in an age like this,
    Being high and solitary and most stern?
    Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
    Was there another Troy for her to burn?

  6. Lawrence Byrne says:

    The neglect of Tyrone House saddens me. I notice from your photographs that more of the fine stonework has disappeared since my last visit. Saddened not surprised. Keep up the good work.

  7. Elizabeth Printy says:

    How sad…what does the future hold for the house?

  8. Tom Crane says:


  9. I also don’t know what the future holds as am aware that in the 1970’s my grandaunt, Victoria St George Mark (nee Joyce) gave 100,000 Irish Pounds to the Irish Georgian Society for its possible upkeep or transfer. I am not sure what happened after this. Over the years the ruin has deteriorated significantly. In the Irish Georgian Society quarterly bulletin July-December 1976, pages 23 to 69 there is an excellent write up on Tyrone House by my cousin Gordon St George Mark. In this is a reference to a letter, dated 11/11/1970, from my granduncle, Gordon Joyce stating “The name of the architect for Tyrone House was Roberts. I met a grandniece of his about 50 years ago. You know, of course, that the man forgot the staircase and as a result had to substitute a wretched narrow one, which more or less spoiled the house.”

  10. Robert, my brother as you know went to your lecture and in his words “it was brilliant”. He was able to meet up with some St George relatives that he had not met before.

    • Thank you, and apologies, I meant to reply sooner but became distracted and only now realise I hadn’t done so. Delighted to have met your brother and even more delighted that he enjoyed the talk…

  11. lawrieweed says:

    who owns Tyrone House now and what is the nearest town to this house?

    • In 1972 the Irish Georgian Society acquired Tyrone House but am not sure if they have retained it. The nearest town is Oranmore with a population of 4990. Two closer villages are Clarinbridge, population 384 and Kilcolgan 141. Census figures from last census April 2016.

      • The story is slightly more complicated. In the early 1970s the IGS entered into negotiations to buy Tyrone House and immediately surrounding land. The deal was done, but subsequently it transpired that the vendor wasn’t the actual owner of the site, which has been the property of the same family since the early 1930s. So it was never owned by the IGS…

  12. Stephen Blogg says:

    Just trying to piece together my Aunt’s family tree. Her maternal great grandfather was Thomas Burton Vandeleur St George (born around 1827) and his Father was Matthew St George, born around 1799. Matthew lived in Kilcolgan Castle and married Elizabeth Lambert. Any information would be much appreciated. Thank you.

  13. Dominic Ó Ceallaigh says:

    Unfortunately the destruction of Tyrone House continues. I was disappointed to read a few years back, in an article about the restoration of another Galway house, that some of the window surrounds had been taken from Tyrone House. In the context it did seem to imply that this was not just a case of copies having been made but the removal of the actual stone surrounds.

    • Thank you for getting in touch. Yes, the actual cut-stone window surrounds have been removed, thereby rendering the building more vulnerable to collapse (despite it being listed for preservation…)

      • Dominic Ó Ceallaigh says:

        It is surprising that people would be prepared to embellish their own restoration at the expense of destabilizing and scarring the magnificent Tyrone House.

    • Brian F Ross-Murphy says:

      Dominic, yes it is such as pity that the destruction continues and unfortunately I don’t think it will ever be restored. My late cousin Gordon St George Mark was, over the years, able to acquire some of the furniture and paintings that had been in Tyrone House and survived the fire in 1922. Some of these he gifted and others are in the care of the Chicago Branch of the Irish Georgian Society which he founded. His son Peter Mark now looks after the collection and continues to add items to their collection from the period. My great great grandfather was Christopher St George.

  14. Dominic Ó Ceallaigh says:

    Well, stranger things have happened. Perhaps someone with enthusiasm (and funds) will come along and resurrect the home for that collection one day. If a house like Uppark (U.K.) can be brought back why not Tyrone? Meanwhile it would help if the scavengers would leave it to their feathered cousins!

  15. I have only just found this site after I today attended a talk given by Prof. Roy Foster the noted Yeats scholar. He was speaking at the Galway Arts Festival about Yeats and Tur Ballylea. I posed a question to him about the lack of care given to so many other buildings of heritage value in this area, such as Tyrone, Ardfry and Renvile House. I was most fortunate as a Galway City taxi driver that was interested in local history to bring Gordon St George Mark out to visit Tyrone in the years just before his fatal sailing accident – a great shock for me as I also happened to be chair of An Taisces – Galway Association. We spoke about the attempts made to preserve the building and the difficulties noted in trying to get the County Council even, to buy it. It is owned by a local man I understand, who was asking for more than the authorities could afford and who was hoping to develop houses nearby! Gordon thereafter would write me the occasional letter and ring me for news all the way from his home in Chicago. I am today so sorry that I didn’t get the opportunity to be able to tell him that Tyrone was to be saved and some new moneybags owner had committed to either conserve or to restore it. I am afraid that is not likely to happen in my lifetime, or ever, such is the failure of Irish people and the politicians they elect to value their history. Sad indeed.

    • Brian F Ross-Murphy says:

      It’s good to hear about your interest in preserving buildings of heritage value. Peter Mark, Gordon’s son, has visited Tyrone House in recent times and commissioned the book that Robert wrote on Tyrone House and the St Georges. As you can see from previous comments I am directly related. Am also related to the Joyces of Galway as my grandfather was a Joyce and his first cousin was Pierce Joyce who was with Lawrence of Arabia. The stone warehouses near the Galway docks were used by the Joyces and there are plaques on the outside detailing their usage.

      • Most interested to hear your comments on Peter’s continuing interest in Tyrone House. Hadn’t connected the Joyces to TE Lawrence, my boyhood hero. Also not aware of the plaques at Galway Docks. Where exactly? Has Peter had any contact with Marie Mannion, Galway County Heritage Officer, to determine if there are any moves likely to at least conserve the building, which is being robbed of its stone constantly.

    • Brian F Ross-Murphy says:

      Thanks for your response to my reply. If you can email me I can send you further details of the Joyce family buildings and warehouses. Regards brian.rossmurphy@xtra.co.nz

  16. Charles holmes says:

    i have visited Tyrone on 4 or 5 occasions, never ceased to be impressed, it must have been magnificent in its heyday

    • Brian F Ross-Murphy says:

      Charles, yes even in it’s dying days it was impressive from what my grandfather told me about staying at Tyrone before he went off to South Africa and the Boer War. He used to talk especially about the walled garden and the oyster beds including the Galway Hookers coming in with loads of turf. My great grandmother was Harriet St George. This is a recent aerial view of the house:

      Regards Brian

  17. Tyrone House has a spot in my heart. I first set eyes on it when I was visiting Ireland with friends in the late 1990’s and stayed at a bed and breakfast on Killeenaran which was owned by an older couple-I think from Germany. A few years later I returned with my girlfriend (we were only friends on the first visit), and we walked to Tyrone House one misty morning enjoying the views and fresh air. It’s a lovely house and I hope it does get restored. A post above mentions a rich guy bought it with intentions to restore it to her glory. Lets hope that actually occurs before more destruction occurs.

  18. […] House. For further information on the building and its former owners, the St George family, see https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/09/18/tyrone-house/ or watch on the Irish Aesthete’s YouTube channel: […]

  19. James Canning says:

    Fascinating, but very sad indeed.

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