The Wily Foxes

The Fox family of County Longford were of ancient origin, their name being Ó Sionnaigh before it was anglicized. In the 11th century Tadhg O Catharnaigh (Kearney) was Chief of Teffia in Co. Meath and as a result of his wiliness came to be known as ‘An Sionnach’ – The Fox. His descendants kept the title, and eventually gained control of the Barony of Kilcoursey, County Offaly, the head of the family continuing to be known as The Fox. Among these descendants was one Patrick Fox, who appears to have been based in Dublin in the late 16th century when he worked closely with English government forces and as a result managed to secure lands in what is now County Longford which had hitherto belonged to the O’Farrells. On his death in 1618 he passed the estate to his eldest son Nathaniel, then aged 30, who built a house there, seemingly incorporating parts of the old O’Farrell castle of Rathreagh. This residence was called Foxhall.
Close to the house at Foxhall, Sir Nathaniel Fox erected a small church, now roofless and in poor condition, the south wall of which is dominated by his tomb (he died in 1634). This wonderful monument takes the form of a limestone altar tomb on which can be seen the reclining figure of Sir Nathaniel, garbed as a knight in full armour lying on his side: the head, right hand and left leg of the effigy are long gone, so that just the truncated torso and thigh remain. An orb and skull can be seen at his feet while what remains of his right arm rests on a tasselled cushion. On either side of the effigy are paired Ionic pilasters supporting an arch on which rest sphinxes. Winged putti can be seen within the arch above which is an entablature with obelisks and elaborate scrollwork. A panel above Sir Nathaniel contains the Fox coat of arms, and below two shields is a Latin inscription which translates as follows: ‘Here lies Nathaniel Fox, of Rathreagh, founder of this church, eldest son and heir of Patrick Fox of Moyvore in Co. Westmeath, who had as wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Walter Hussey of Moyhussey Knight. By whom he had 8 sons and 5 daughters, of whom 8 sons and 3 daughters survived. Patrick, son of the aforesaid Nath., sole heir, had as wife, Barbara, daughter of Lord Patrick Plunkett, Baron of Dunsany. The same Nath. and Elizabeth, lived for 25 years as man and wife, and he died at Rathreagh,2nd of Feb. A.D. 1634, aged 46.’ The entrance to the church at the west end is through a fine cut-limestone classical doorcase with a plaque noting that the building was enlarged and restored in 1772. Presumably this work was undertaken by Francis Fox of Foxhall who in 1759 married Mary Edgeworth of Edgeworthstown, linking the two families. This connection was further strengthened in 1824 when their grandson, Major Barry Fox married Mary Edgeworth’s great-niece Sophia, half-sister of writer Maris Edgeworth.

Writing of Foxhall in July 1797, Maria Edgeworth noted that ‘The house is partly an old castle, and the place quite out of order, run to ruin during [Mr Fox’s] two year absence with his regiment of Militia, besides it rained the whole time we were there and the prospect is bounded by black bogs.’ The Mr Fox to whom she here refers was the aforementioned Francis Fox, Colonel of the Longford Militia. One must presume that the condition of the house improved as three years later Maria Edgeworth again wrote to one of her siblings, ‘We – that is my father, Mrs E, Charlotte and Maria are just returned from Foxhall where we have been dining and making merry with excellent raisin wine and walking and seeing the monument and statue recumbent of that valiant knight Sir Nat Fox who has a one foot upon a globe and the other upon a skull.’ Her host Francis Fox had in 1787 married Lady Anne Maxwell, daughter of the first Earl of Farnham. This may be of relevance when one looks at the photograph of Foxhall (the last below), as there are strong similarities between the house and Farnham, the latter remodelled and enlarged from 1802 onwards for the second Lord Farnham (Lady Anne’s brother) to the designs of Francis Johnston (this is even allowing for major alterations made to Farnham in 1961). Both buildings are were of three-storeys and with a three-bay breakfront, the respective owner’s coat of arms being featured in the pediment above. Farnham was certainly larger, suggesting that Francis Fox having found his house, in Maria Edgeworth’s words, ‘run to ruin’ decided to undertake a major refurbishment and to emulate his brother-in-law’s residence. We shall likely never know because the house no longer stands. The last of the male Foxes to live here, Richard Maxwell Fox, died in 1885 and having no living sons the estate was inherited by his eldest daughter Adeline. It would appear neither she nor her two sisters married, and that they preferred to live in England. The greater part of the Fox land having already been sold, the house and demesne went the same way in the 1920s, and the former was eventually demolished by the Land Commission in 1946. The yard buildings, which stood directly behind the house, still survive to give some idea of what the place must once have been like.

Please note: In Ireland, as in so much of the world, a great many buildings are closed to the public at present. On the other hand, locations that are in decay or ruin, and open to the elements are often accessible. As a result, this site is likely to feature many such properties over the coming weeks. The Irish Aesthete apologises, but promises to keep the tone as upbeat and cheerful as possible. 

17 comments on “The Wily Foxes

  1. Lisa Lambert says:

    Thank you for this lovely interlude!

  2. Dolores Kearney says:

    Fantastic readings-thank you for such attention to detail.

  3. brianlynch731 says:

    This is wonderful. Are we right to think that the altar tomb was not made locally but bought in? By the way, is it possible to add photos to the comments?

    • Thanks, and yes I imagine the tomb was made somewhere other than locally and then installed in the little church, but I don’t believe any work has been done on whence it might have come.
      Ref. adding photos to comments, I’m afraid I don’t know. Why not give it a try, and if no luck let me know and I can enquire of the server (WordPress).

  4. john logan says:

    Yes; truly wonderful. Erudite, scholarly, accessible. All this nudges us away, gently, from being tourists and consumers to become discerning observers. Many thanks

  5. This house is very similar to a large Georgian house near where I grew up. I actually played in it as it was still in perfect condition with some large furniture in it. It then had it’s roof stripped, water got in, then someone set fire to it. It still stands as a shell covered in ivy and breaks my heart to this day. I used to Wonder who owned it but couldn’t find out then on a plane flying North the old lady next to me told me that her son owned an old estate and it was this one ! He converted the outbuildings to a home but left the walls of the manor alone. The estate had walled gardens, several pavillions and stables etc. Hundred year old rhododenrons grew around it, it was truly a gem.

  6. Deborah Sena says:

    Glad you are still writing and thanks for giving us a wee bit of ‘normalcy’ and as always, for covering the Midlands.

    • Thanks for the kind comment. I am well-stocked with material, enough to keep going for a couple of months even if confined to quarters, so plan to maintain the site (altho’ as mentioned, there will be rather a lot of ruins…)

  7. brianlynch731 says:,%20Mayo.html
    The tech is beyond me. I remember Roger Stalley saying that the O’Malley tomb you can see in this link was bought in, I think, from France – which suggests a somewhat astonishing mail-order economy in the 13th century.

  8. Mairead Byrne says:

    Thank you for these fascinating reports.Love your work…

  9. Elizabeth Printy says:

    Thank you for your commitment to this special blog which we all anticipate, learn from and enjoy. Sometimes these events allow us to experience a new direction or vision. I know this will happen for you, and you’ll gather us up and carry us along with you.

  10. Hibernophile says:

    Dearest Robert,

    How glad I am to learn that, like me, you plan to keep calm & carry on. Of course conventional life at present is rather different, and we all must act responsibly, but there is no question that features such as those supplied by ‘The Irish Aesthete’ provide a welcome supply of curiosity & enjoyment. I am thankful, that while the rest of us have been stocking up on pasta, baked beans & loo roll, you have amassed a store of intriguing material to accommodate our aesthetic needs!

    I read each post with complusive expecation, and find myself confounded at all the interesting places of which I knew nothing. Todays post is one such, as I was not aware of the existence of Foxhall. Although visits to places of interest will have to be suspended in the short term, I look forward to further inspiration for future trips when the pestilence has passed.

    With much appreciation,


  11. Was so pleased to find your blog, and to read about the Fox family history. Adeline and Evelyn Fox came to Aldbourne, Wiltshire in the early 1920s. They stayed until about 1945. During their time here they supported the community, helping with fundraising, providing transport for the elderly to events and, in Adeline’s case, painting scenery for children’s plays. All best, Jo

Leave a Reply