It was the late Nuala O’Faolain who, almost 25 years ago, told me the unhappy story of Marianne Talbot, a story Nuala later incorporated into her 2001 novel, My Dream of You. The tale can be summarized as follows: in January 1845 John Talbot-Crosbie, a younger son of the Rev John Talbot-Crosbie of Ardfert Abbey, County Kerry, married Marianne McCausland. A year later the couple’s only child, a daughter also called Marianne, was born. In May 1851 John Talbot-Crosbie’s uncle William Talbot died, and left his nephew an estate in County Roscommon called Mount Talbot. However, the will stated that John was only to enjoy lifetime occupancy and full ownership rested on his having a male heir. A year later, John, who by royal licence had now dropped Crosbie from his surname, claimed to have discovered his wife Marianne with a groom called Mullen in the latter’s room, the door to which was locked; curiously the couple’s little daughter was also in the room. However, immediately separated from her child, the following day Marianne Talbot was brought by the local rector to Dublin and there kept in confinement. It is said that Mullen followed Marianne to the city and tried to see her there, but was not allowed to do so. Some time later she was declared insane, taken to England and placed in a lunatic asylum where she is believed to have spent the rest of her life. Meanwhile, her husband initiated divorce proceedings against Marianne on the grounds of adultery and although his application was granted, it was repeatedly challenged by Marianne’s family, the case going all the way to the House of Lords where the couple’s divorce was confirmed in July 1856. As can be imagined, the matter attracted considerable public attention, and it was widely believed that John Talbot, knowing his wife was unlikely to have any further children and certainly not a boy, had fabricated her adultery with the groom so as to allow a divorce. Having succeeded in this ambition, he was able to marry again – in October 1858 – and a year later his second wife, Gertrude Caroline Bayley, had a son. Divine justice then intervened: John Talbot died a fortnight after the birth.
The Talbots were a family long settled in Ireland, the first of them being Richard de Talbot who around 1185 was granted land in Malahide where his descendants lived in a castle until 1973. Another branch was based in Templeogue, County Dublin until, in the aftermath of the Cromwellian Wars, Sir Henry Talbot had his lands seized and was transplanted to County Roscommon. Restored to his original lands in the aftermath of the Restoration, all seemed well until Sir Henry’s son James took up the cause of James II and was killed at the Battle of Aughrim in 1691. Once again, the family lost its property in the Dublin region, but somehow managed to hold onto the Roscommon estate, which eventually passed to James Talbot’s nephew Henry. In the 1730s he embarked on building the core of what remains today of the house at Mount Talbot. The design of this has been attributed to that prolific architect of the period, Richard Castle. Certainly, the building as originally constructed conformed to the Castle’s Palladian model, the main block being flanked by wings set at an angle of 45 degrees and linked to them by curved open arcades with a series of urns along the parapets. So far, so standard but then around 1820 the era’s Tudor Gothic craze hit Mount Talbot’s then owner, the aforementioned William Talbot (the terms of whose will would later be the cause of so much unhappiness). The consequences were startling.
The architect chosen to oversee Mount Talbot’s transformation was a local man, Richard Richards, of whom relatively little is known although he did design a number of churches. This was certainly his most important commission and he clearly wanted to make an impression. What presumably had been a symmetrical classical house was given a great square keep at one end of the façade and a smaller polygonal turret at the other; between them the entrance to the building was now flanked by similar turrets. The centre of the garden front received a three-storey projecting block with arched Gothic windows and pinnacles at the corners of the roofline, all of which was castellated. One more turret rose above all the others in the middle of the building. Further work undertaken in the early 1880s when a new entrance front approached by a grand stone staircase was added in the north-east corner of the house. Yet while the main block was dressed up to look like a castle, the arcades and wings retained their original classical appearance, an altogether bizarre juxtaposition of styles. It was not to last long. William John Talbot, the heir born to John Talbot just two weeks before his death, in due course came of age and into his inheritance when he embarked on the additional work mentioned above. Known as Johnnie, in 1897 he married a wealthy heiress, Julia Molyneux, only child of Sir Capel Molyneux of Castle Dillon, County Armagh, meaning the couple were exceedingly wealthy. All was well until the onset of the War of Independence and its aftermath, the Civil War. During the first of these, British troops were garrisoned in the house and grounds of Mount Talbot, the Talbots seemingly living during this period at Castle Dillon. Following the signing of the Treaty, they returned to Mount Talbot but in early April 1922, a group of armed Republicans arrived at the house and assaulted the now-elderly Johnnie Talbot, giving the couple 24 hours to leave the place or face worse. The next day the Talbots departed, never to return, he to go into a nursing home in Dublin, his wife to the Shelbourne Hotel, where she died that night, supposedly from shock brought on by the attack at Mount Talbot. Johnnie Talbot died the following year in London. Meanwhile, as the Civil War continued, Free State troops occupied Mount Talbot which in July 1922 was attacked by Anti-Treaty forces who placed a mine under the main entrance and other bombs around the building, causing considerable damage. The Talbots had no children, and following his death, the estate was broken up by the Land Commission and the house, along with its contents, sold. All that remains today is a stump of the central block and one of the wings. No trace survives of the other wing, nor of either linking arcade. After all that John Talbot had done to ensure Mount Talbot remained in his family, and all the suffering he had caused to his first wife Marianne, this was the end result.