According to Burke’s guide to Irish Landed Gentry published in 1899, the Gerrards of Gibbstown, County Meath were ‘a branch of the family to which belonged Sir Gilbert Gerrard, 1st bart., of Fiskerton, co. Lincoln (a descendant of the Gerrards of Ince). During the English Civil War, Sir Gilbert had been an ardent royalist, which may explain why the Gerrards wished to claim association with him. In fact, they were an old Anglo-Norman family who for centuries had been based not far from Gibbstown at the now-ruined Clongill Castle. Gibbtown, meanwhile, belonged to a branch of the Plunket family, who built a tower house here. At some date in the second half of the 17th century, after the lands had been confiscated from the Plunkets, they were acquired by Thomas Gerrard, who died at Gibbstown in 1719, leaving it to his eldest son John. His two other sons were Thomas, who was left Liscarton (see Liscarton « The Irish Aesthete) and Samuel who lived at Clongill from where he corresponded with the likes of Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. Meanwhile, the main branch remained at Gibbstown, while also spending time at another County Meath property, Boyne Hill. When travelling through Ireland in 1776, Arthur Young visited Gibbstown and met its owner, another Thomas Gerrard with whose farming methods he was much impressed (‘he has made many covered drains with stones, the effect of which is great; and he has his fields fenced in the most perfect manner by deep ditches, high banks and well planted hedges’). At the time the estate ran to 1,200 acres bringing in annual rent of £1,300. Following the second Thomas’ death in 1784, Gibbstown was inherited by his only son John Gerrard, who married a County Galway heiress but the couple had no children, so in 1865 the estate passed to a nephew, once more called Thomas. He likewise had no children, and so following his death in 1913 the place was inherited by a nephew, Major Thomas Gerrard Collins, who two years later assumed the additional surname of Gerrard. He would be the last of the family to live here as by 1927 the Land Commission had moved in and the Gibbstown estate was broken up. The following decade it became a Gaeltacht area (now called Baile Ghib) in which Irish speakers from Donegal, Mayo and Kerry were settled on small holdings of 22 acres each.
Until 1865 the Gerrard family at Gibbstown had occupied what appears to have been a long, two-storey 18th century dwelling attached to the late-medieval tower house. However, when Thomas Gerrard inherited the estate from his uncle, despite being a bachelor he decided to embark on constructing a new residence for himself elsewhere on the estate. This was no modest building but a vast Italianate palazzo designed in the early 1770s by William Henry Lynn. Of three storeys and seven bays, faced with cut limestone and entered beneath a Doric portico, the house also featured a long colonnade which led to a free-standing campanile; it was commonly believed that the cost of building and fitting out the new Gibbstown had run to £250,000. A description of the property in the Irish Times in 1912 noted that the centre of the house was dominated by a hall rising some 80 feet and topped by a stained glass dome, with galleries running around the upper floors off which opened the main bedrooms, each of which were ‘vast and magnificently furnished, the adjacent dressing rooms also being large beyond custom, and each set of rooms was furnished with a different suite of furniture, which formed an interesting study in itself…A circular marble corridor formed an imposing feature of the building, and on the first floor were two great sitting rooms, a long and magnificent drawing room, and a dining room; where the roof and tapestried walls harmonised well with the richness of the furniture.’ Alas, Mr Gerrard and his nephew did not enjoy these surroundings for very long before much of them were destroyed: in April 1912 fire broke out in Gibbstown, largely gutting the two upper floors and destroying the aforementioned stained glass dome in the central hall. Fortunately many of the contents were rescued, including a large collection of Chinese porcelain including some pieces, according to the Irish Times, which had come from Paris’s Tuileries Palace, destroyed in 1871. In May 1913 Thomas Gerrard died at the age of 78, by which time Major Thomas Collins Gerrard had already embarked on a restoration of the house, the architect this time being the ubiquitous James Franklin Fuller. But as already noted above, change was in the air and Gibbstown would not be occupied for much longer. In June 1930, Battersby & Co began auctioning the house’s contents, so substantial that it took a fortnight to dispose of them all. Among the best-sellers was a Chinese Chippendale table that made 110 guineas, a satinwood reading table that went for 30 guineas, a carved Italian marble chimneypiece (33 guineas) and an ormolu and bronze clock surmounted by a figure representing Alexander the Great (22 guineas). So it went on, day after day until everything was gone. Five years later Major Gerrard presented the Royal Dublin Society with a bronze vase four feet, eight inches high on a two-foot high pedestal by Major Gerrard. The vase features the figures of Day and Night after Thorvaldsen from plaques exhibited at the Great Industrial Exhibition held in Dublin in 1853: now painted blue and white and beside a plaque announcing that it had been given on permanent loan by ‘the last Gerrard of Gibbstown’ it can still be seen outside the RDS’s premises.
Major Gerrard died in 1945, but even before then the great Italianate house, built barely 70 years earlier, and rebuilt after the fire just over 30 years before, stood an empty anachronism. In this instance however, unlike many other such buildings, it was not demolished but instead taken down, with the stones carefully numbered before being brought to the Cistercian monks at Mellifont, outside Collon, County Louth; the intention was that they would be used in the erection of a new church. However, that never happened and instead, over a period of time, the stonework was sold off piecemeal and used in various other properties around the area. Meanwhile, a wrought-iron aviary from Gibbstown ended up being used in an arcade in Drogheda, County Louth. So, the late 19th century house has gone, but its predecessor remains – just about. It will be remembered that before Thomas Gerrard embarked on his grandiose scheme, the family had lived in an older building, an extension to the late-medieval Plunket tower house. This structure was incorporated into an immense series of 18th and 19th century yards, including stables, coach houses, animal sheds, staff accommodation and much more. These are in turn linked to very substantial walled gardens, the whole offering testimony to the high standards of farming here noted by Arthur Young back in the 1770s. Internally the house consists of a series of rooms often opening one into the next or connected by long, narrow corridors, suggesting the building is relatively early in date and may even have originated in the 17th century. And a couple of the rooms retain at least some of their charming rococo plasterwork. How much they continue to do so is open to question, since in recent years the site has been used as an urban assault airsoft venue (in which participants attempt to eliminate each other using replica weapons). Good clean fun, no doubt, but not necessarily beneficial for the buildings. It will probably be only a matter of time before the surviving remnants of the Gibbstown estate disappear for good.