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Bantry House

Category: 
Stately home

This fine building, originally known as Blackrock, was built in the early eighteenth century and bought by the White family, prosperous merchants who lived on nearby Whiddy Island. Richard White came to fame through his support of the British against the French invasion led by Wolfe Tone in 1796. For his loyalty he was awarded a baronecy. This was followed in 1816 by an Earldom. Lord Bantry was the most influential landowner in the area and at one time the estate was over 80,00 acres. The appearance of the present house and garden is mainly the work of the second Earl, a great traveller, who expanded and developed the buildings to house the many treasures collected on his Grand Tour. New wings were added as were the stable blocks. Treasures brought home included a 15/16th century Russian household shrine including icons, some magnificent French tapestries supposedly once gracing Versailles, and some replica mosaics from Pompeii.  He also completely redesigned the southern garden in Italianate style with a fountain complete with tritons as the centrepiece of the formal parterre, with 100 steps leading upwards through the seven terraces to the woodland. In the north, or front of the house, 14 round beds and  various statues and pots grace the formal garden, including a replica of the famous Warwick Vase.  Diana the Huntress makes a fine figure but the more modern goddess seems to have her arms on back to front. The extensive gardens are a delight to wander in.

The four guns overlooking Bantry Bay date from the late eighteenth century. One, stamped A4RP is French, possibly  captured from the Surveillante at the time of the invasion of 1796.

The house is an interesting variety of styles with a mixture of stone and decorative brickwork. The orangery remains but the original conservatory (by the library steps) has gone. Inside several rooms are now open to the public. it is a treasure trove of original furnishings (some amazing wallpaper), furniture made for the house (an extraordinary buffet in the dining room), wonderful architectural details (columns in the library) and unexpected finery - huge chandeliers, imposing portraits, rich colours.

Times change and during the Irish Civil War the house was used as a hospital, Lady Bantry insisting that injured on both sides be treated equally. During the 2nd World War it was the base for the 2nd Cyclist Squadron of the Irish Army. After the war, the family opened the house to the public - the first stately home in Ireland to do so.The family still live in the house, now managed by Sophie Shelswell White .

 

Townland: 
Seafield
Location: 
Clearly signed off the N71 as you enter Bantry
Fieldnotes: 

This is an extraordinary house. It's former opulence and glory is now a bit faded but it retains huge charm and interest. It is unique in that the the family still remain in the house, and that the house still contains many of its original furnishing and items made especially for it. The vibrant blues of the dining room, the faded and peeling wallpapers, all manner of items bearing the Bantry coronet, those enormous and compelling portraits of George III and his queen all describe a way of life long since gone. These items when combined with the eclectic European collection of the 3rd Earl, add up to something very special. Although Bantry House may smack of elitism and privilege, even colonialism, it has much to contribute towards a greater understanding of Irish history, Much is crumbling. It is a huge expense to run and maintain and the family are stretched. The future of the house and its still extensive gardens looks uncertain. This house, with its rich past and current standing has a meaningful place in national history and should surely be protected.