Saturday 11 November 2023

(563) Bennett of Thomastown Park

Bennett of Thomastown Park 
The Bennetts of Thomastown were yet another family using the same coat of arms as the Earls of Tankerville and other English Bennet or Bennett families. It seems possible that they were closely connected with the Bennetts of North Cadbury Court, since both families were in the wine trade in the 18th century, but this is far from certain, and the fact that the Bennetts of Thomastown were Roman Catholics may be evidence to the contrary. The story of the family really begins with Thomas Bennett (d. 1795), who seems to have been a wine merchant in Dublin, and who purchased the Ballyvonine estate in King's County (now Co. Offaly) before 1784, changing its name to Thomastown. Thomas died without issue and his estate passed to his younger brother, Francis Bennett (d. 1800), who was also a Dublin merchant. Francis did not marry until 1787, and at his death left a young widow, who survived to 1845, one son, and two daughters, several other sons having died in infancy. The surviving son, Valentine Bennett (d. 1839), was educated at Stonyhurst, but by 1813 he was back in Ireland and had joined the King's County militia. In 1820 he spent several weeks touring south-west France, but his diary of his travels does not explain the purpose of his journey. Since he is not known to have had any mercantile occupation, it seems unlikely that he was there on business, and since he was constantly on the move it is unlikely to have been motivated by financial retrenchment; it was probably a simple holiday. He married in 1824 and he and his wife produced seven sons and one daughter (who died in infancy). Three of his younger sons became Roman Catholic priests in the Liverpool area, and two more joined the army. Of these, Col. George Henry Bennett (1827-67) enjoyed very rapid promotion during the Crimean War, rising from Ensign to Lieutenant-Colonel in less than eight years. His brother, Valentine Francis Bennett (1828-55) was less fortunate, being killed at Sebastopol. The heir to the Thomastown estate was the eldest son, Francis Valentine Bennett (1826-90), who was educated at Oscott College in Birmingham, and then studied estate management with his late father's agent, George Garvey. Garvey, who was agent for the Birr Castle estate and several nearby properties, was known for his harsh dealing with estate tenants, and Francis and his brother Frederick Philip Bennett (1830-1905), who also studied under Garvey and became his brother's agent, seem to have adopted a similar approach. When Francis died in 1890 Frederick succeeded him, but since none of the seven brothers ever married, on his death in 1905 he bequeathed the estate to his cousin, Valentine John Eustace Ryan (1882-1947), desiring him to take the name Bennett in lieu of Ryan. Ryan declined to change his name but accepted the estate, which he in turn passed on his son, Group Capt. Richard S. Ryan, who sold it in 1951, when he was about to take up an overseas posting.

Thomastown Park, Co. Offaly

For what was once quite a significant landed estate, remarkably little can be said with any confidence about the history of Thomastown Park. Burke's Visitation of Seats and Arms gives the fullest account of the house, saying

"There is an old castle upon this estate: this was besieged and reduced to ruins by Cromwell's army, which seems to have swept over the land with all the destructive violence of lava from a volcano. Many curious reliques have been, from time to time, picked up amongst the mouldering and disjointed fragments. The present mansion was built in the year 1730, by Mr. Leggat, and stands in the centre of a well-wooded park, commanding a fineview of some distant mountains. The grounds are much celebrated for the beauty of their walks and drives."

Unfortunately, the site of the castle is not recorded on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map, so its very existence cannot be confirmed. 

Thomastown Park, Co. Offaly: the entrance front in 1951. Image: Country Life.
A photograph of the Georgian house published when it was for sale in 1951, which appears to be the only known visual record of the building, shows that the it was a five-bay, two-storey block with the wider central bay having a projecting single-storey porch with narrow niches to either side and similar features flanking the first-floor window. A single dormer window in the centre of the roof enhanced the emphasis on the centre. To the left of the house and recessed by almost its entire depth was a two-bay block labelled on the Ordnance Survey map as a private chapel. The elegant and carefully planted walks and drives referred to by Burke can also be identified on the Ordnance Survey map, which shows the surviving, minimally Gothic, lodge at the main entrance, and another, now lost, on the western approach. Also surviving today are the dilapidated remains of a gatescreen of c.1800, comprised of shallow quadrant walls, flanking a pair of tall ashlar gatepiers with simple iron gates.

Descent: [forename unknown] Leggat (fl. c.1730)...sold before 1784 to Thomas Bennett (d. 1795); to brother, Francis Bennett (d. 1800); to son, Valentine Bennett (d. 1839); to son, Francis Valentine Bennett (1826-90); to brother, Frederick Philip Bennett (1830-1905); to kinsman, Valentine John Eustace Ryan (1882-1947); to son, Group Capt. Richard S. Ryan (fl. 1951), who sold 1951...

Bennett family of Thomastown Park

Bennett, Nicholas. Parentage unknown. He married Mabel O'Kelly from Co. Roscommon, and had issue:
(1) Thomas Bennett (d. 1795); probably the man of this name who was a wine merchant in Dublin; acquired the Thomastown Park estate before 1784 and gave it his name; died unmarried; will proved, 1795;
(2) Francis Bennett (d. 1800) (q.v.);
(3) Mabel Clare Bennett; married, 1776, as his second wife, John Ball (1728-1804), of Dublin, silk manufacturer, and had issue one son (Rt. Hon. Nicholas Ball, justice of common pleas) and four daughters; living in 1821 but death not traced;
(4) Anne Bennett; living in 1804; died unmarried.
His date of death is unknown. His wife's date of death is unknown.

Bennett, Francis (d. 1800). Second son of Nicholas Bennett and his wife Mabel O'Kelly, of Co. Roscommon. He was evidently the merchant in Dublin of this name whose shop and warehouse were looted by rioters in 1779. He married, April 1787 in Dublin, Elizabeth Laffin (c.1758-1845) of Co. Kilkenny, and had issue:
(1) Thomas Bennett; died young;
(2) Nicholas Bennett; died young;
(3) Francis Bennett; died young;
(4) James Bennett; died young;
(5) Valentine Bennett (d. 1839) (q.v.);
(6) Mary Catherine Bennett (c.1796-1893), born about 1796; married, 1817, Lt-Col. Henry Peisley L'Estrange (1793-1847) of Moystown (Co. Offaly), and had issue at least nine sons and three daughters; died in Norwich (Norfk), 20 December 1893; will proved 6 January 1894 (effects £142);
(7) Elizabeth Emily Bennett (c.1800-85); married, January 1820, John Farrell (1784-1870) of Moynalty (Co. Meath) and had issue three sons and one daughter; died 22 September 1885; will proved 21 October 1885 (effects £9,199).
He lived at Usher's Quay in Dublin until he inherited the Thomastown estate from his elder brother in 1795.
He died in 1800; his will was proved 8 March 1800. His widow died in Dublin, 23 September 1845.

Bennett, Valentine (d. 1839). Fifth?, but only surviving, son of Francis Bennett (d. 1800) and his wife Elizabeth Laffin. Educated at Stonyhurst. Adjutant of the Kings County Militia, 1813. JP and DL for King's County; High Sheriff of King's County, 1830. In 1820 he spent two months travelling in south-west France, but the purpose of his journey is uncertain. He married, 7 January 1824, Elizabeth Helen (d. 1863), daughter of George Ryan of Inch House (Co. Tipperary), and had issue:
(1) Francis Valentine Bennett (1826-90) (q.v.);
(2) George Henry Bennett (1827-67), baptised at Eglish (Co. Offaly), 1 April 1827; an officer in 20th Foot (Ensign, 1846; Lt., 1852; Capt., 1854; Maj., 1858; Lt-Col., 1859; Col., 1864); died at Little Crosby, Liverpool (Lancs), 7 November 1867; administration of goods granted 10 December 1867 (effects under £4,000);
(3) Valentine Francis Bennett (1828-55), baptised at Eglish, 3 April 1828; an officer in the 33rd Foot (Ensign, 1848; Lt., 1852); killed on the attack on the Redan at Sebastopol in the Crimea, 18 June 1855;
(4) Fr. Thomas Joseph Bennett (1829-67), baptised at Eglish, 27 May 1829; a Roman Catholic priest; canon of Liverpool RC Cathedral; died 'of a malignant fever', 10 January 1867; administration of goods granted 21 February 1867 (effects under £300);
(5) Frederick Philip Bennett (1830-1905) (q.v.);
(6) Fr. Henry Grey Bennett (1832-87), born 31 January 1832; a Roman Catholic priest at Little Crosby (Lancs), 1863-87 and canon of Liverpool RC Cathedral, 1878-87; died 11 May 1887; will proved 20 August 1887 (effects £2,097);
(7) Elizabeth Marian Bennett (d. 1833); died young, 1833;
(8) Fr. Albert Augustus Bennett (c.1839-1902), born posthumously and baptised at Eglish, 11 August 1839; a Roman Catholic priest; founder and rector of St Thomas of Canterbury, Waterloo R.C. parish near Liverpool, c.1869-1902; died 27 June 1902; will proved 25 July 1902 (estate £4,227).
He inherited Thomastown Park from his father in 1800. At his death the estate encompassed some 5,322 acres.
He died at Thomastown, 23/25 May 1839; his will was proved in the Prerogative Court of Dublin, 18 July 1839. His widow died in Dublin, 1 March, and was buried at Meelick (Co. Galway), 5 March 1863; administration of her goods was granted 23 April 1863 (effects under £1,000).

Bennett, Francis Valentine (1826-90). Eldest son of Valentine Bennett (d. 1839) and his wife Elizabeth Helen, daughter of George Ryan of Inch House (Co. Tipperary), born 28 January/4 February 1826. Educated at Oscott College and trained in estate management by George Garvey, agent to his father and other estates. Walford's County Families, (1871), says he was 'formerly an officer in the army', but I have found no evidence to support this. JP and DL for Co. Offaly; High Sheriff of Co. Offaly, 1854. He was a Conservative in politics, and served as Vice-President of the King's County Unionist Association. He seems to have been a rather prickly customer, exemplified by the comment of one of the Guardians of the Poor for the Parsonstown Union that he had 'made a generous offer in an ungraceful manner'. He was unmarried and without issue.
He inherited Thomastown Park from his father in 1839 and came of age in 1847.
He died 27 September 1890; his will was proved 12 November 1890 (effects £2,797).

Bennett, Frederick Philip (1830-1905). Fifth son of Valentine Bennett (d. 1839) and his wife Elizabeth Helen, daughter of George Ryan of Inch House (Co. Tipperary), born 25 July 1830. Trained in estate management by George Garvey and acted as land agent to his brother at Thomastown before he inherited the estate. JP and DL for Co. Offaly; High Sheriff of Co. Offaly, 1895. He was unmarried and had no issue.
He inherited Thomastown Park from his elder brother in 1890. At his death he bequeathed it to his cousin, Valentine John Eustace Ryan (1882-1947).
He died in Monaco, 4 April 1905; his will was proved 18 August 1905 (estate £4,699). 

Principal sources

Burke's Landed Gentry of Ireland, 1904, pp. 33-34; Sir B. Burke, Visitation of Seats and Arms, series II, vol. 2, 1855, p.7; C.J. Reilly, 'Land agents and estate management in King's County during the Great Famine, 1838-53' PhD thesis, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, 2010; J.A.K. Dean, The gate lodges of Leinster, 2016, p. 324.

Location of archives

Bennett of Thomastown Park: misc. family papers, 1795-1905 [University College, Cork, Boole Library BL/EP/R/3/1]

Coat of arms

Gules, a bezant between three demi-lions rampant argent.

Can you help?

  • Does anyone know more about the ownership history of Thomastown before 1784 or after 1951, or exactly when the house was pulled down? Any further photographs or paintings of the house would also be of great interest.
  • Can anyone provide photographs or portraits of the people whose names appear in bold above, for whom no image is currently shown?
  • If anyone can offer further information or corrections to any part of this article I should be most grateful. I am always particularly pleased to hear from current owners or the descendants of families associated with a property who can supply information from their own research or personal knowledge for inclusion.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 11 November 2023.

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