Brackenstown House circa 1976. Courtesy of the Patrick Healy Collection
Bakers and Brewers
By the end of the Eighteenth Century, records show that Brackenstown was now the country residence of Richard Manders , member of a family of bakers and flour merchants originally from County Laois who served in many civic roles on behalf of Dublin city. The family business had premises at 113 James’s Street, (now Guinness Brewery) Fownes Street, Moore Street and Island Bridge. During the Nineteenth Century, the Brackenstown estate was expanded to include nearby Brazil , Mooretown and Forrest. The Manders may have been attracted by the numerous mills available on the land. They also built a private cemetery where most of the family were interred . Richard Manders was elected a life member of the Royal Dublin Society in 1834, reflecting his interest in plants and raising champion livestock at Brackenstown. He exhibited both at Royal Dublin Society shows . Manders also operated the toll on the Glasnevin to Knocksedan Road until 1823. (19)
The Manders’ businesses hit financial trouble from the 1850s and during this decade Brackenstown entered the vehicle for bankrupt estates, the Encumbered Estates Courts. The bakery and brewery businesses went officially bankrupt in 1883 and the estate was finally sold to pay off debts. The next owner of Brackenstown was Denis Richard O’Callaghan (1827-1904) from Kanturk, Cork, an avid horse fancier who bought the house and lands for the sum of £6,600 (20). Deeds registered at this time indicate that the estate then consisted of 207 acres. The graveyard plot was excluded from the sale and perpetual access to the burial site was granted to the Manders family.
Brackenstown’s long tradition as a centre for breeding and training thoroughbred racehorses took off during Denis O’Callaghan’s time. In 1877, O’Callaghan had married Adelaide Mathilda Grainger, (1832-1913), member of a prominent Northumberland family. Adelaide’s father was the self-made builder, Richard Grainger, the son of a dock porter who rose to become the main driving force behind the development of Newcastle-on-Tyne’s much-loved Neo-Classical centre (21).At least two of her sisters had made marriages in Ireland, including Julia Grainger, later Julia Nash of Finnstown House, Lucan.
Although the couple were well into middle age when they married, two sons resulted from the marriage : Richard Grainger and Cornelius Leslie , or Leslie as he preferred to be known.Adelaide brought a good deal of money to the marriage and the couple established a successful equine centre at the north county Dublin estate. O’Callaghan’s own bred stallion, whom he named Denis Richard after himself , gained a certain amount of fame when he took part in the Aintree Grand National of 1902. General Peace was another of his stable stars.
Although he served as a Justice for the Peace and then ultimately as High Sheriff for Dublin, there was a whiff of controversy about Denis O’Callaghan and his family . In 1863, the master of the Kanturk Workhouse, Thomas Dagg, took an unusual case against him for encouraging a woman, Catherine Connell, to abandon a baby on the road near the workhouse gates. In 1878, a year into his marriage, the newspapers reported another court case involving allegations of the seduction of a maid at Kanturk by O’Callaghan, resulting in the birth of a child in 1873 (22). A second seduction was alleged to have taken place the following year. The case went against the accused on the first count.
A Charge of Manslaughter
Then in 1903, in one of the earliest motoring accidents in the country , Denis’s eldest son , Richard, was charged with the manslaughter of a boy whom he knocked down as he drove away from a race meeting at the Phoenix Park . The car, which was described as being driven in a reckless way, had been bought the previous year for the enormous sum of £1,200 (23). A jury found Richard O’Callaghan guilty of the charge and he was sentenced to three months in prison, which he served in Mountjoy Jail (24).
The stress of this episode may have precipitated Denis’s death the following May. Adelaide survived into her eighties, however, and even took a court action against Balrothery Rural District Council when they attempted to create a water supply for Malahide from two springs originating in her estate. She died at Brackenstown House in 1913. Her last will and testament recorded her wish that her two sons should “share and share alike” in the family estates. However later that year the house at Brackenstown caught fire and was almost completely destroyed. The accident was attributed to the collapse of a crow’s nest over one of the coke fires that had been lit to keep the house aired, as it had been unoccupied since Adelaide’s death. There is a certain murk surrounding these events, however, since they coincided with a possible dispute between the O’Callaghan brothers over the division of the estate. Although Richard had inherited Brackenstown according to his father’s will, he chose to live at nearby Cremona in Swords and was staying there on the night of the fire.
The house was quickly rebuilt, this time with two storeys instead of three and a change in the orientation of the house from its original east-west axis to a north-south one.
Both O’Callaghan brothers were renowned for their croquet skills. The younger , Leslie, invented a new type of mallet grip that became popular in the early 1900s. Both brothers were among a group of young men called the "Irish Terrors", so called because they cleaned up at every competition they entered throughout the British Isles. Leslie’s character was described as brilliant but unpredictable.
Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland
The House of Ussher
By the early 1920s both O'Callaghan brothers had left the country for reasons unknown. Richard, a major in the army reserves by this time, appears to have headed for Australia. In 1922, he sold Brackenstown to Galway horse trainer and one-time national hunt jockey, Harry Ingam Ussher, for £10,500. (25) It was an appropriate transfer as the Ussher family had had a connection to Brackenstown through marriage with the Molesworths two hundred years before. Documents relating to the 1922 sale indicate that the money for the purchase had been put up by Richard Page Croft, the husband of Ussher’s good friend, Pansy Waithman.
An even more professional racing yard developed during Ussher 's tenure . A schooling facility and gallops were added around nearby Collinstown aerodrome. Horses were trained for both the flat and national hunt racing. There were forty-three winners from the stable in 1931 alone . Ussher had success in the Galway Plate on an almost yearly basis. One of his best known horses was the mare , Heartbreak Hill, winner of the Grand Sefton Chase at Liverpool. (26) Harry Ussher also trained horses for the American breeder, Mrs Payne Whitney, the so-called “first lady of the American turf” throughout the 1930s. He died in 1957 aged 75, his friend, Pansy, having preceded him in death by seventeen years. His nearest relative , a niece Kathleen Browne, continued to live for some time in the gate lodge of Brackenstown House.
Towards the end of the Twentieth Century, part of the Brackenstown estate was partitioned off from the main house and a farm and equestrian centre were built up. In the early years of the Twenty-First Century, planning permission was granted for a housing scheme of one hundred and ninety-four houses to be built on this land. The new scheme was dubbed Knocksedan Demesne and destroyed some of the estate’s original features, including one of the long driveways . It also ended the estate’s long equestrian tradition.
More recent visitors would be familiar with some of the folklore surrounding Brackenstown and its grounds. Tales about Harry Ussher and how he met his death had abounded. These included the theories that he had died by a shot gun wound or else that he had been kicked by one of his own horses in a stable that could never be used afterwards. Further research debunked these tales and proved beyond doubt that Harry Ussher died from natural causes in 1957. Such tales may have evolved to explain the mysterious phenomena that were evident to some on the Brackenstown Estate. These included the thunder of galloping hooves like at a race track. The jury is still out on this but it can only add to the magical allure of a place steeped in many dark historical associations.
19 Sean Patrick Donelan, The Laws and Other Legalities of Ireland, 1689-1850, Ashgate Publishing 2011, page 198.
20 Registry of Deeds, Henrietta Street, Land Judges to O’Callaghan. 1887, book 32, page 90.
21 Grainger Town Handbook, /sites/default/files/ Grainger%20Town%20Handbook.pdf, page 5. http://urbed.coop/projects/grainger-town-0
22 The Irish Times, May 8, 1878.
23 The Irish Times, July 25, 1903.
24 Dundee Courier, October 24,1903.
25 Registry of Deeds, Henrietta Street, O’Callaghan to Ussher, 1922, book 33, page 274.
26 The Irish Times, July 31, 1957, page 5.
Some beautiful photographs of present-day Brackenstown to be found on the following site:
More information about the grounds at Brackenstown courtesy of Donegan Landscaping: http://doneganlandscaping.com/blog/2014/08/01/landscaping-dublin-brackenstown-house-gardens-2007/