Well Lodged

Hare Island, County Westmeath is located at the southern end of Lough Ree is said to derive its name from the number of hares that once inhabited its 57 acres. It appears there was a monastic settlement here established in the sixth century by St Ciarán before he moved on to Clonmacnoise. However, it was subject to repeated attack and plunder, and cannot have been a very secure place to live. At some point in the second half of the 12th century, the Augustinian canons settled on the island, perhaps under the protection of the local Dillon family who controlled this part of the country. They remained in possession of the island until 1653 when Sir James Dillon went into exile, having formed the famous Dillon Regiment which then fought in the French army. His estates passed into the possession of a Dublin merchant Ridgely Hatfield, who was sheriff of Westmeath and in the 18th century Hare Island next came into the ownership of the Hackett family. They sold it to the Handcocks, landowners in Westmeath whose main seat was at Moydrum Castle (see An Unforgettable Fire, August 15th 2018).

Originally from Lancashire, William Handcock was the first member of his family to settle in Ireland, arriving here during the 1650s. Within a decade he had become a member of the Irish parliament, representing Athlone as did many of his descendants. In this area he built a house called Twyford, which still stands but is now ruinous. The Handcocks prospered and in 1812 William’s great-grandson, also called William, was created the first Baron Castlemaine of Moydrum. Around the same time and presumably to mark his elevation to the peerage, he commissioned the design of Moydrum Castle from Richard Morrison. It is believed that the same architect was responsible for the lodge on Hare Island. A keen sportsman, Lord Castlemaine used the building for fishing and shooting expeditions.

Mark Bence-Jones comments that the lodge on Hare Island gives the impression ‘of having been concocted out of the “left-overs” from several different houses of various styles and periods. Among the elements incorporated are an 18th century classical pedimented doorcase, gothick windows, one of them with a mullioned bay and, on the exterior, a Regency veranda its wide eaves supported by slim iron columns. The main lodge is quite small and of one storey, the main room obviously serving for receptions, parties and dancing. Behind are a handful of smaller spaces, perhaps acting as accommodation. But behind the lodge are further ranges, including a pair of two-storey pavilions facing each other across a narrow courtyard. From what remains, these appear to have been for guests (Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, a cousin of Queen Victoria is said to have stayed on Hare Island in 1850 as a guest of the third Lord Castlemaine). Behind these pavilions are further outbuildings, probably for servants, livestock and so forth. The buildings remained in use until relatively recently, being available for rent. Unfortunately they have now fallen into serious disrepair and the lodge’s future does not look encouraging.

13 comments on “Well Lodged

  1. pjespinoza says:

    On Mon, Oct 15, 2018 at 6:31 AM The Irish Aesthete wrote:

    > theirishaesthete posted: ” Hare Island, County Westmeath is located at the > southern end of Lough Ree is said to derive its name from the number of > hares that once inhabited its 57 acres. It appears there was a monastic > settlement here established in the sixth century by St Ciar” >

  2. Martin Rafter says:

    Robert, another photograph; http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000322236 It was a beautiful place.

  3. Sad waste. Judging from the last photograph, it could have been restored and put back into use. It always seems to be that a lack of imaginatiion and needless neglect lead to such destruction. There are at least two gatehouses in Galway city that have also been allowed fall into ruin. At Rosshill and Glennina.

  4. momoftenplus says:

    When I was little, my father’s model clipper ships evoked a wish that I could miniaturize myself and climb through them. Seeing these photos brought a similar feeling, a wish to go back in time and see this as it once was. Would that we could.
    I really enjoy your work. Thank you.

  5. Emma Williams says:

    Lough Ree is a tourist/fishing destination, so you would have thought the lodge would have made a wonderful holiday retreat or given the number of weddings at Hodson Bay Hotel a honeymoon hideaway. Lovely in its heyday. Incidentally the Hodsons bought Twyford from the Handcocks.
    So interesting all the places you write about, thank you.

  6. Mary Apied says:

    If only the Irish Landmark Trust had more resources …..

  7. Dr John Keane immediate past president of The Old Athlone Society says:

    Castlemaine sold his estate to the land commission after the burning of Moydrum. Small parts were left out including the Island (114 acres) which was occupied by the Duffy family who are recorded as having arrived there towards the end of the 17th century. They lived in the handsome and substantial buildings to the rear of the lodge which also contained an ice house.
    The Duffy’s lived there until the seventies. in the sixties a lawyer purchased Castlemaine’s interest in the island but lost the legal battle with the Duffy family who gained the title.
    After Castlemaine left in 1921 the Duffy’s rented the lodge to various tenants among whom were numbered Sean McBride and Heinrich Boll.
    Incidentally the largest hoard of viking silver ever found outside of Scandinavia was discovered on the island carefully drawn and then melted down to make jewelry.
    St Ciaran founded his first religious settlement on the island before going down stream to found Clonmacnoise
    The state of the lodge is lamentable deep pockets would be required to restore it.

  8. Adrienne Winter says:

    My grandfather had permission to use the lodge and I have a couple of family photographs from the thirties and forties that were taken there.

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