|Clare County Library||
|The Henn Family of Paradise, County Clare, Ireland|
Part 5: Paradise and other Henn
Family Properties of Earlier Times; The Sale of Paradise;
“Paradise, situated near the confluence of the Rivers Fergus and Shannon, the seat of the Henn family for many generations, may be said to be one of the most beautiful residences in the County Clare. The grounds are tastefully planted with rare trees and ornamental shrubs, and there is probably no place in the kingdom which commands more exquisite scenery than this lovely spot. It is wooded from the water’s edge to the summit of Paradise Hill, a prominent landmark from land and water for many miles; underneath are the Rivers with the Islands that adorn them: Canon Island, with its cloistered abbey, built between the years 1166 and 1169 by Donald O’Brien, King of Limerick; Coney Island, with the ruins of two churches, in one of which, it is said, Saint Brendon of Clonfert ministered; Deer Island, or Inishmore – ‘The Great Island’, containing portions of an abbey said to have been erected by Saint Senan of Inniscorthy, “who appointed Saint Liberius, one of his disciples, to preside over it,” and Low Island, which contains one of those remarkable cairns called ‘Dermot’s and Grania’s Bed.’ Paradise commands also a splendid view of the Shannon from Askeaton to Limerick, the greater part of the County of Limerick, Keeper Hill, The Galtees and other mountains, together with the hills of Tulla and Killaloe.” (Guy’s ‘Guide to the Province of Munster’)
The Paradise Story
As far as I can piece it together, the
story is as follows.
When this last’s three children all died without male issue, his wife Mary devised the Paradise estate to her brother, Thomas Arthur of Glanomera, Co. Clare. On his death in 1845 the estate remained in the ownership of his wife Harriet (their eldest son, another Thomas Arthur (1806-1884), educated at Eton and Oxford, died unmarried and reputedly a lunatic). It appears that during the Arthur family’s brief ownership of Paradise they lived there only intermittently, if at all – perhaps because ownership of Glanomera rendered this unnecessary – and that at times it was leased to others. For example, a John Scott is on record as living there in 1814.
It seems possible also that Thomas Rice
Henn (of the 8th Generation) also rented Paradise from the Arthurs for
a time in the mid-19th Century, for although (see below) he may not
have actually bought the property back from the Arthurs until 1863,
the Grant of Arms to him dated 1856 describes him (but not his father)
as being ‘of Paradise in the County of Clare’.
On the death in 1901 of Thomas Rice, his eldest son William having predeceased him without issue, Paradise passed to the second son, Francis Blackburne, then Resident Magistrate in Sligo, but the latter and his family did not take up permanent residence at Paradise until his retirement in 1913. In his autobiographical ‘Five Arches’ his son comments: “[When my father inherited the place] it was heavily encumbered with jointures and settlements; my grandfather’s large family took their shares.” On the death of Francis Blackburne in 1915, Paradise passed to William Francis (10th Generation). The Paradise estate was then incorporated into the Marriage Settlement drawn up on his marriage to Geraldine shortly after the death of his father. This settlement, which gave control to Trustees, allowed Francis Blackburne’s widow, Helen, to continue to live at Paradise during her lifetime (she died there in 1936) with Trustees exercising overall supervision of the estate.
William Francis, now nominally owner of Paradise, lived and worked in Egypt until 1937 and was only able to visit Paradise briefly on home leaves every second year and thus in no position to exercise close supervision. Sadly, the Trustees appear to have been lax in doing so, with the result that on Helen’s death in 1936 the estate was in an extremely parlous state. It would be wrong none the less to attribute all the blame for this state of affairs to the Trustees, for the story of the Paradise estate and Henn family fortunes is similar to that of many other Anglo-Irish families and estates in Ireland at this period. As already indicated, the estate extended to various lands in West Clare over and above the Paradise demesne itself; in 1878, possibly its heyday, it extended to 7,664 acres. But successive Land Acts of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, which entailed the compulsory purchase by the State of tenanted farms with compensation made in virtually un-negotiable Land Bonds, had drastically reduced the estate, so that it comprised little more than the demesne (including a small home farm) that never could be economically viable.
On leaving Egypt in 1937, William Francis was appointed Chief Constable of Gloucestershire, a post he held until retirement in 1959. Throughout these years, which included the 1939-1945 War, he lived in England and could rarely visit Paradise, where control was still formally in the hands of the Trustees. Its upkeep was proving very difficult and drastic measures were required to meet unavoidable expense, such as rate demands and wages for the very small number of people necessarily still employed; these measures included the sale of some of the very fine timber from the woods and of some of the farm buildings such as barns. At various times during this period the house itself was let but this brought in little money. Indeed, from 1936 until his retirement in 1959 the estate had become something of a financial mill-stone around the neck of William Francis. Since he could see no way in which he could afford to continue to maintain it and live there on retirement, and although it all but broke his heart to do so, he was obliged to face the inevitable. In 1960 he agreed that the Trustees should sell Paradise House, garden and immediately adjacent land (in 1964, just before he died, he agreed to the sale by the Trustees of further land, when rights of way were reserved in perpetuity to the Henns, “their heirs and assigns, agents and licensees, for all purposes” over certain pathways; primarily these are the main Avenue and paths giving access to the family graveyard, boathouse and old farmyard).
Following a sale by auction of the contents of Paradise House (of which the auctioneers’ records are no longer available) the property was bought by a wealthy German, Herr Kurt Linnebach for a very low price, the sale taking place at the bottom of the market for such properties. Those woodlands of economic value were purchased by the Irish Forestry Commission, and some of those who lived on the estate and whose families had worked for years for the Henn family were given, freehold, their cottage and a small plot of land. What formally remained in the ownership of the Trustees were some uneconomic strips of woodland (over which Counsel advised the Trustees that it would be difficult to assert ownership, since these had been broken into and grazed by neighbours’ cattle) and the small Henn family private burial ground consecrated in 1887.
On the death in England in 1964 of William Francis, and with the agreement of his widow Geraldine, their two sons (William Bryan and Francis Robert) took over from the previous Trustees (an Ennis solicitor, who transacted all the business, and Hester Mathews, their mother Geraldine’s sister, who appears to have been an inactive member) and attempted to unravel the financial affairs of the estate. In spite of every effort by the Trustees’ Solicitors in England (Messrs Rickerbys of Cheltenham), the Solicitors in Ennis, who had administered Henn family affairs for several generations, proved unable to produce a satisfactory statement of the financial situation and a possibly substantial sum of capital had to be written off. (On the death of William Bryan in 1978, and with the agreement of our mother, I continued as sole Trustee).
Although the Linnebachs modernised Paradise House, including installation for the first time of electricity and central heating and building a primitive indoor swimming pool in the old turf-house in the Outer Yard, they did not live there and visited only occasionally. (This was at a time when the Cold War generated fears of a possible Soviet advance into Western Europe, so that bolt-holes elsewhere, especially Ireland, were being sought by some Germans). Throughout their ownership the garden and surroundings were increasingly neglected and in 1970 a fire totally destroyed Paradise House itself, which was unoccupied at the time; it was not rebuilt. In 1978 the Linnebachs sold the property to an Irish property company (registered in the Channel Isles), which in turn sold it to a British property company (currently (1995) Charles Robertson (Developments) Ltd., with offices in Liskeard, Cornwall). It is believed that the intention of both companies was to develop the site as a holiday complex, but to date (2008) nothing has been done to this end bar some trial borings for water. The whole property is now an overgrown wilderness grazed by cattle.
The private burial ground, still in Henn ownership, is maintained in a tidy state at the expense of my sister Margaret and myself, who pay an honorarium to a local man for doing this.
The sad end of Paradise House has been vividly described by T.R. Henn (1901-1974) in his ‘Five Arches’:
“Paradise was destroyed by fire on the morning of 6th October, 1970. Next day the Irish papers carried photographs of its blackened ruin. By all official accounts it was an accident: the German owner, who had bought the house and a small portion of the demesne from my brother in 1960, had installed central heating and electric lighting. Old houses do not always tolerate these improvements. Others believe that the burning was deliberate; as seemingly of the same method and timing as the burning of houses in The Troubles and afterwards and in keeping with the policy of the new Republican Movement which had pledged itself to direct action to prevent ‘alien enterprises acquiring property in Ireland.’ When my wife and I visited the house a month before there were some signs that the familiar process of erosion had begun: fences were being broken down, gates torn out, young timber hacked and wracked.’
That September my wife had gone over all the house and told me that she found it informed by my Mother’s presence, happy and fulfilled. For though my Mother had been dead for thirty-six years, she had fought to save the house … for the sake of her children and grandchildren through The Troubles, the Civil War, and an aftermath of lawlessness in the late 1920s. We believed that she had succeeded by the strength of her personality, for she was greatly loved by the people; she had resisted both poverty and threats until, in old age, the fear of burning returned to unsettle her mind.
On my visits at Christmas I would find her wandering through the long corridors, candle in hand, obsessed with the fires that might have been begun by the raiders. It was ironical to recall all these events, in peacetime, and there was irony too in the contemplation of the blackened shell. For it was said that the fire had begun in the great oak Victorian sideboard in the dining-room, where much liquor was kept by the new owner; there were armorial shields and devices and overall the quotation from the ‘Winchester’ psalm:
Sit pax in domicilio tuo, et abundantia
in turribus tuix
And in the Hall: The Lord Shall Preserve Thy Going Out And Thy Coming In.”
Those who knew Paradise in its former state must find its present condition sad in the extreme. Its glories were described as long ago as 1779 by John Lloyd in his ‘Short Tour of County Clare’ which points to the William of the 5th Generation (and perhaps also his father and uncle) as having largely been responsible for what Lloyd described as a Munster Paradise. But no doubt Henns of the later generations, in particular Thomas Rice of the 8th, added to the beauty of the lovely place.
Other Irish Properties of Earlier Days Associated with the Henn Family
This was the main Henn family residence in Dublin for some three generations. It is a fine Georgian house in one of the city’s loveliest Georgian squares. Over 200 years old, it was originally the property of William Henn (died 1796), a Judge of the King’s Bench of Ireland 1767-1790, who is thought either to have built the house or, perhaps, to have been its first occupant. On his death it passed to his son William, who in 1782 had married Susanna Lovett. This William, who was appointed Master of the Court of Chancery in 1793, was succeeded in his turn to the property by his son, another William (1782-1857), who married in 1809 Mary Rice Fosbery and in 1822 also became a Master of the Chancery. A silhouette drawing of Augustus Edward dated 1834 portraying them and their eight children together with William’s brother (a bachelor who probably was living with them at the time) appears to have been drawn in the drawing room of this house. This (third) William and his family lived at No. 26 Fitzwilliam Square (see below) until the death of his father.
As recorded elsewhere in these Notes, their son Thomas Rice (1814-1901) restored Paradise to the Henn family sometime about the middle of the 19th Century. Whether or not he lived at No. 17 Merrion Square after his marriage in 1845 (to a daughter of Rt. Hon. Francis Blackburne of Rathfarnham Castle, County Dublin) and the death in 1857 of his father is uncertain. But it is relevant to note that the Grant of Armorial Bearings dated 1856 describes him then as being already “of Paradise in the County of Clare.”
This house was owned in 1995 by Sybil Connolly, a leading Irish fashion designer with clients on both sides of the Atlantic (since deceased). She bought it in 1957 and used part of it for her fashion design business and part as her town home. At what point it was sold by the Henn family (presumably on the death in 1857 of the third William or that of his widow in 1867) and its history between the Henn and Connolly ownership is unclear. During a visit to the house in 1990 Sybil Connolly’s nephew, who lived there with his aunt (she was away at the time) told me that he was writing a history of the house and promised me a copy (which I have not so far received).
In ‘In an Irish House’ (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1988) edited by her, Sybil Connolly wrote as follows of this house:
“I love my house. Of course, it was not always my house. Records show that as early as 1782 no. 17 Merrion Square, as it was known then, was occupied by Judge Henn, his wife Helen (sic), and son William. The Henns were a family who for many generations had distinguished themselves in the field of law. They were sufficiently prosperous to own a country estate – Paradise Hall (sic) - in the County Clare. In 1760 it was described by Lloyd in his survey of that county as being one of the ‘most beautiful seats in the Kingdom’. With the Irish predilection for nick-names, the family was commonly referred to as ‘The Henns of Paradise’.
Towards the middle of the nineteenth century the number of the house in Merrion Square was for some reason changed from no. 17 to no. 71 and so it remains today.
Considering the house is over 200 years old, surprisingly few families have occupied it. Earlier in this century Princess Margaret of Hesse and the Rhine was born in what was then the day nursery, and which now is my dining room. Her father, Lord Geddes, was professor of anatomy at the Royal College of Surgeons on St. Stephen’s Green, and this house was their home. On occasions her great love of music brings her back, usually to attend the Wexford Opera Festival. Returning to the house where she was born encourages a mood of nostalgia. She recalls with affection the names of housemaids, footmen, cooks and other members of the household, who worked for her family. I like to feel she has a sense of homecoming when she is here.”
No. 26 Fitzwilliam Square: This seems over a number of years to have been the home in Dublin for junior members of the Henn family. In the early part of the 19th Century the William of the7th generation and his wife Mary and family lived here until moving to No. 17 Merrion Square on the death of his father. This house seems then to have passed to John James Stanford who married Mary Henn (1816-1892). Mary’s two unmarried sisters, Christiana Kate and Susanna, apparently lived here with them.
No. 7 Herbert Street: Richard, who married Maria Atkinson in 1841 and died in 1864, is on record as having lived at a house, possibly No. 7, in this street.
“At the time of my birth and childhood the houses had not spread far along the road to Ballisodare and Dublin, and the square ugly house in which I was born stood almost on the outskirts, in its own grounds, and was called, perhaps in some excess of Victoria patriotism, Albert House. The garden was large, raised well above the road, and held a tiny wood at one end. … Along one side of the walled garden lay a deep sunken lane, leading to the yard and the coach-house.”
“Oaklands is a delightful 18th Century, one-storey, five bay, hipped roof house, facing south-southeast over the River Shannon Estuary from a hill. … The house is approached by a longish drive from the east. To the rear and northwest are utility buildings and gardens. There is a park to the east and south which was once well-wooded.”
Cloonakilla House, Ballynacally: Situated only about one mile west of Paradise House, this seems not to have been owned by Henns, although it was lived in for a time by Richard Arthur Milton Henn (1855-1929) and his wife Elizabeth, whose first child, a daughter who survived for only three days, was born there in 1896. The house still stands inhabited today.
The following is a copy of a report that appeared in ‘The Clare Champion’ in 1960 (date uncertain)
German Millionaire takes over Paradise - Old Clare Residence Sold
Paradise House, Ballynacally, which has been the home of the Henn family since 1685, has been sold to a millionaire German commercial film maker as a holiday home. One of the oldest residences in the south of Ireland, Paradise House will be renovated by the present owner, Herr Kurt Linnebach, the Honorary Irish Consul in Munich, and one of the leading commercial film makers in Germany for T.V. and cinema. Herr Linnebach’s wife will visit Paradise on 6th February and it is understood that renovation work will start immediately.
Built on a wooded hill, overlooking a magnificent stretch of the Shannon and Fergus estuaries with Shannon Airport across the water, Paradise House, although almost three hundred years built, is in a very good state of preservation. Since Richard Henn bought the Paradise lands from the Earl of Thomond in 1685, the Henn family have lived in this 38-roomed towered mansion.
It has not been occupied for the past twenty-four years since the late Mrs. Francis Henn, formerly Miss Helen Letitia Gore of Woodlands, Co. Clare, died. Her son Colonel William Henn, who recently retired as Chief Constable of Gloucestershire, decided to sell the property.
Herr Linnebach, who is also associated with the manufacture of a well-known German magnetic tape recorder, visited Ireland for the Oyster Festival in Galway last September and heard about the estate from Mr. Charles Neale, Travel Centre Manager at Shannon Airport.
Paradise House has many historic associations. It was from the boathouse at Paradise that Lieutenant William Henn, R.N., a grandson of Francis Blackburne, Lord Chancellor of Ireland sailed the ‘Galatea’ to the United States for the America’s Cup in 1886. He was beaten, however. On the front of the house is the crest of the Henn family, which appropriately enough includes a hen pheasant.
The father of Lieutenant Henn was Thomas Rice Henn, Q.C. who before being appointed Recorder of Galway in 1878, was a Judge in Co. Clare. His wife was the daughter of Francis Blackburne, Lord Chancellor of Ireland. One of their sons, Henry, later became Bishop of Burnley. A young brother of the previous owner of Paradise is Prof. Thomas Rice Henn, C.B.E., Fellow and Senior Tutor at St. Catherine’s College, Cambridge, since 1945.
Mr. John McCauley, who has been caretaker
of the house for the past twenty-seven years, is at present preparing
the residence for the visit of Mrs. Linnebach.
The Private Family Burial Ground at Paradise
This small burial ground is situated in a rather remote but beautiful position in the upper part of what was known to the family as ‘the Shore Field,’ overlooking the southern end of Deer Island and the meeting of the waters of the rivers Fergus and Shannon. It is consecrated ground, an Act of Consecration being recorded in an entry dated 5th October, 1887 in the Church of Ireland’s Diocesan Registry for Killaloe and Clonfert. The graves lie within a small stone-walled enclosure entered through an iron gate, this being surrounded originally by a larger area enclosed within a wire and iron post fence and painted with flowering shrubs and evergreen trees.
It was established by Thomas Rice Henn (1814-1901), who himself lies buried there. Most of the inscriptions on the tomb-stones are now illegible, but other graves probably are those of his wife, Jane Isabella; his sons William (1847-1894) and Francis Blackburne (1848-1915); the latter’s wife Helen, who died in 1936; and his daughter Adela Jane (1853-1890), wife of James Samuel Gibbons. Also thought to be buried here are Margaret (1880-1888), younger daughter of these last two, and the infant daughter (born 1896 but surviving only for three days) of Richard Arthur Milton (1855-1929) and his wife Elizabeth, then living in Cloonakilla House, near Paradise. After their death and cremation in England, I scattered at the burial ground the ashes of my father William (1892-1964) and those of my mother Geraldine (1889-1981) and had plaques to their memories affixed to the surrounding gate.
The burial ground was not sold with the remainder of the Paradise estate in 1960 but remains in the ownership of the remaining Trustee (myself) of the Marriage Settlement drawn up between my father and mother in 1915. Rights of way giving permanent and unrestricted access to the burial ground were retained for the benefit of the Henn family when the estate was sold. The area within the stone-wall enclosure is maintained in tidy condition by the kindness of local people, to whom an honorarium is paid for so doing by my sister Margaret and myself. The larger wired-in surrounding area has been broken into by cattle, trees have been felled and shrubs left to grow wild. None the less it remains a serene and peaceful place.
T.R. Henn has described in his ‘Five Arches’ the funeral of his father, Francis Blackburne (1848-1915), which as a boy aged 14 he attended at Paradise:
“The day of the funeral [10th November, 1915] there was a high gale with sleet and snow; the great woods that screened the house from the south-west were in trouble, and a number of trees were blown down. It was the custom with us that the women-folk should not go to the grave-side; my Father had thought it too great an emotional strain. The first part of the service was held in the hall, with its big glass door looking out over the Shannon: a faint light coming through the Victorian Gothic stained-glass windows at the sides, that carried various family coats-of-arms. There was an immense polished chest, holding tennis-gear and the like [this chest is now owned by me]. On the walls hung curved cavalry swords in their leather-and-brass scabbards. I remember that I was taught to kiss weapon-steel if I ever had occasion to unsheathe it. (These swords were later taken by the IRA on one of their many raids.) The coffin stood on two stools, whose supports were negro boys carved in ebony. After the preliminary service it was carried on the shoulders of men, a great body of the tenantry following, half a mile across the fields, to the tiny burial ground on the hill. The scene was impressed vividly on me, for this was the first funeral I had seen: the hill-top looking out over the estuary, with its screen of small storm-bent larches and firs, and clumps of rhododendrons below: the white surplice of the Canon; the driven sleety snow. The coffin was lowered slowly and clumsily on ropes into some inches of snow and water; the three handfuls of earth sounded muffled upon its lid … …”