In the closing days of Elizabeth I’s reign, Sir John King – a soldier originally from Yorkshire – was granted by the queen a lease on the former Cistercian abbey in Boyle, County Roscommon (see Brought to Boyle « The Irish Aesthete). As an exceptionally able, and loyal, servant of the crown, in 1617 this grant was confirmed by James I, along with surrounding land running to some 4,000 acres; by the time of his death in 1636, King owned land in 21 different counties. He was succeeded by his son, Sir Robert King, also a soldier and statesman who acted as Muster Master-General for Ireland, thereby consolidating the family’s position in this country. In turn his younger son, also called Robert, became a politician and in 1682 received a baronetcy (it was thanks to the marriage of the younger Robert’s elder brother, John King, first Baron Kingston, that lands in Mitchelstown, County Cork now also passed into the family’s possession). Successive generations continued to prosper, and in 1768 Edward King was created first Earl of Kingston.
When the Kings first settled in Ireland, like other such arrivals, they converted the abbey buildings at Boyle into a domestic residence. This appears to have been their home until they built a new house in the centre of the town and moved there. That building was badly damaged by fire around 1720 and in the following years Sir Henry King commissioned a new house in Boyle, which still stands (see Boyle « The Irish Aesthete). That too suffered a fire in 1788 but by then the notion of a landed family having their principal residence in the centre of a provincial town had fallen out of favour and some years earlier, during the 1770s, Edward King, the first Earl of Kingson, had constructed an alternative house on land a few miles outside Boyle and adjacent to Lough Key; when completed, it was given the name Kingston Hall. Here he died in 1797. However, in the early 19th century this property would in turn be superseded by another house, Rockingham, commissioned by General Robert Edward King, first Viscount Lorton and designed by John Nash. King houses seemed doomed to suffer from fire, one of which gutted Rockingham in 1863, after which it was rebuilt. The final conflagration occurred in 1957 when, once more, the house was severely damaged: the shell was entirely cleared from the site in 1971: a spectacularly hideous concrete viewing tower now indicates where it once stood.
Following the construction of Rockingham, Kingston Hall remained in use and became known as the Steward’s House. A long, narrow building of nine bays and two storey-over-basement, it had a one-bay breakfront, although the main entrance was to the immediate left of this. Immediately to the south of the main house is a tall circular dovecote, now missing its capped roof; the base is of cut-stone, but the upper portions of brick. Beyond the west-facing rear is a very substantial courtyard (measuring some 174 by 82 feet) with a second one almost as large beyond this; the north face of these features a succession of large arches, some open, others filled with rubble stone. The scale of these yards indicate Kingston Hall was once an important establishment, but no more. Although the house was still occupied and in good condition well into the last century, it has since fallen into a state of total dereliction, and now stands a roofless shell. Running to approximately five acres, the site has just been sold: it will be interesting to see what the new owners intend to do with this historic property.