What became of Brittas Castle/the Brittas Dunnes?

Brittas Castle – or what’s left of it – now called Brittas House, is being rebuilt, as indicated by this sign and as shown in the 2008 photo below.

This photo provided by Kevin Akers (click to enlarge photos)

Source for this photo

I found myself wondering: Who were the last Brittas Dunnes to own the estate? How did the end of Dunne ownership of the Brittas estate come about?

I found answers to these questions; I will start by setting the stage with the following information from an 1897 book. Allow me to introduce...

Major-General Francis Plunkett Dunne

"On the 18th April, 1853, Mr. W. E. Gladstone, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Coalition Government...announced, when introducing the budget, that he would extend the income tax to Ireland. The poverty of the country
[for this was after years of famine], the full measure in which it already contributed to imperial revenue, and the necessity, on grounds of public policy, of offering some inducements to absentee landlords to reside at home, had hitherto prevented its extension.

Knowledge after the event, which is everyone's, has made it clear that Ireland was face to face with a crisis fraught with disastrous consequences to her material well-being. It may be asked, how did her people demean themselves? And who amongst them made timely and opportune protest? Into the breach created by Mr. Gladstone stepped Major-General Francis Plunkett Dunne.

The gage of battle cast down [something, such as a glove or other pledge thrown down as a challenge to combat, similar to "throwing down the gauntlet"] by the wizard of finance [Gladstone] he [Dunne] instantly took up.
Resistance to and protest against the financial injustice done to his country he made the great purpose of his life.

Upheld by his well-founded belief in the justice of his cause...he led for years a forlorn hope against the injustice and inconvincibility of England...[and was] unsuccessful in his objects and unappreciated in his actions, [although] time has more than amply vindicated both. If ever there be a Pantheon of distinguished Irishmen, his shall be no obscure corner therein. His name shall ever be indissolubly associated with the Irish protest against the over-taxation imposed by Mr. Gladstone [emphasis added].

On his father's side he traced his descent in unbroken line from the ancient Irish chieftains of Brittas, whilst his mother was sister to the first Earl of Bantry. Born in 1802, he graduated in Trinity College, Dublin, and entered the army as cornet in the Dragoon Guards. Retiring from the army in 1840, he entered Parliament, and represented Portarlington from 1847 to 1857, and the Queen's County from 1859 to 1868. A Conservative, he held office as Private Secretary to Lord Eglinton when Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1858-59.

He died on 6th July, 1874, and an obituary newspaper notice states that no man in the Queen's County was more generally or deservedly popular. In private life he was all that was estimable — courteous, honourable, and upright, a perfect gentleman, beloved by the poor as well as by the rich, and a thorough Irishman and lover of his country. All those who held intercourse with him during his long and honourable career were well aware of his sterling honesty and worth." (Source


Brittas House

“During the Jacobite Wars in 1691, the only battle fought was in Tinnahinch. Eight hundred soldiers from King James' army were sent in May to capture Mountmellick, which was under the control of William of Orange. The Jacobean soldiers set up base at Brittas, as the Dunnes of Brittas were supporters of King James.

Destroyed by a fire in 1942, Brittas House was a fine castellated house, built in 1869 by General Francis Plunkett Dunne to the design of architect John McCurdy and stands near the ancestral home of the O'Dunnes. The gate piers of the grand house still remain on the western edge of The Green. The walls and windows give an idea of the house's architecture. It was three storeys (sic) high and the roof was thatched. On the wall over the main entrance, the family crest is still visible, it shows an eagle and a drawn sword. The last of the family to reside in Brittas House were two old ladies, daughters of Francis Plunkett Dunne [2nd].

The house had extensive gardens, shrubberies and out-offices. The links with Clonaslee village, and the remains of the Brittas Estate are strong. The expansive demesne grounds contain many splendid trees – remnants of the larger plantations. Lawson's cypress, copper beech, yew, sycamore, cut-leaved beech, and oak that covered much of the townland of Brittas over a century ago. Brittas Lake – which has recently been restored – was originally constructed as a reservoir for the house. Its banks are stone lined and water was pumped from the Clodiagh River. It is now a public amenity area.”

What became of the Brittas Estate – and the Dunnes of Brittas?

Because having that info would be a fitting conclusion to the story of the Dunnes of Brittas, I began asking some questions. Below are excerpts from an exchange of messages containing data that Kevin Akers provided about this subject. (Kevin Akers is a GG grandson of Bridget Dunne of the Dunnes of Brittas. Jim Kennedy is a friend of his in Ireland - in the area of Brittas - who helps Kevin with local family history info.)

The fire at Brittas Castle

Kevin asked Mr. Kennedy about the 1942 fire that destroyed Brittas Castle, specifically about who was living there at the time. Here’s his response:

“Brittas House was empty, a caretaker lived nearby. Local lore has it that the fire was arson, started by [the] same caretaker because he was stealing the valuables inside and selling them off. The women, Alice Maud and Kathleen, [see below] both lived in England at that time. The story goes that one of them decided to move back to Brittas, so the caretaker set fire to the house, it burned for two days - a tragedy, really, as I can only imagine what this place would be like if it [had] survived.

Most large estate houses in Ireland are now exclusive hotels or golf resorts. Check out Kinnitty castle online, its only 15 minutes away. Some, like Birr Castle (a 30 minute drive from here), are still in the families - check both out on internet.”

The last of the Dunnes of Brittas

We have conflicting information about this, but it appears that the last of the Dunnes of Brittas was Kathleen Plunkett Dunne, daughter of Francis Plunkett Dunne 2nd – and that she was the one to dispose of the estate. Here are portions of the messages that lead me to that conclusion.

Message sent to Kevin Akers by Pat Dunn

“Thanks for forwarding Jim Kennedy's messages regarding Brittas. However, I still find myself confused. From the same source (JK) we have two versions of the story. One says the estate was sold to the Irish government by Alice and Arthur Cottingham, so it appears Alice was the last Dunne to own the estate.

Excerpt from the first of Jim Kennedy’s messages

‘Gen[eral] Dunne's nephew [Francis Plunkett Dunne 2nd] was [the] last male [Dunne to own the estate]. He died very young, leaving a wife and two infant girls, she remarried and the girls left Ireland. One returned with [a] new husband to live at Brittas and farm their large estate. Landlordism was at its end and so was English rule here. Alice and Arthur Cottingham [presumably the couple referred to above] sold the estate to the Irish government around 1924 and returned to the UK.’

From that info it appears that General Dunne’s grand nephew’s widow had a daughter, apparently named Alice Cottingham, who was the final family member to own Brittas – and she sold it in 1924.”


In the second version, it doesn't specify by whom, but says the estate had been divided and sold to local farmers. Since the name ‘Alice’ is in both, perhaps she was, indeed, the last family member to own Brittas. A possible scenario is that after she and her husband sold it to the Irish government, the government sold it off in pieces to the local farmers. However, it's not clear from the info provided that's a correct analysis.

Excerpts from the two of Jim Kennedy’s other messages

“In 1850 Francis Plunkett Dunne was living in Brittas. When he died in 1874, his brother Edward Meadows [Dunne] got the estate, however he died the following year and his son, Francis Plunkett [Dunne] 2nd, inherited.

He died young in 1878, leaving two young daughters, Alice Maud and Kathleen. Kathleen
[the last member of the Dunnes of Brittas] died in England in 1958. She never married, so when she died that was the end of the Brittas line. By then the Estate at Brittas was no more, long since divided up and sold off to the local farmers. That’s it in brief.”


Excerpt from response from Kevin Akers to Pat Dunn

“Independently from Jim, I found these two girls names in 1899 Burke’s Peerage: Francis Plunkett Dunne [FPD] of Brittas married his cousin Frances Jane, daughter of Rev. Robert Hedges Dunne, Rector if Lemanaghan in the King’s County. Frances Plunket died young [but she and FPD had two daughters], Alice Maud and Kathleen Plunket…

Jim Kennedy said it was Kathleen who sold off the estate - and I think that syncs up with what I found on ancestry.com.”


So, there you have it. If my understanding is correct:

■ The males in the direct line of inheritors of Brittas gradually died off, with Francis Plunkett Dunne 2nd being the last male in the line;

■ The estate passed to his daughters, was later divided and sold off (or that may have occurred in the reverse order);

■ The last surviving daughter, Kathleen, died in 1958;

■ What’s now called Brittas House is undergoing a gradual rebuilding as the current owner has funds available.

Not incidentally, a branch of the extended family of the Brittas Dunnes emigrated to the United States, California in particular, and became major landowners and prominent citizens there. That’s a story for another day.

I’d like to visit Brittas House one of these days; with a little perseverance I may make it.

Last updated 8/2/2010

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for doing all the research on this. I just returned from Clonaslee, and saw Brittas House. I went to see it because my Great Aunt, Mary O'Keeffe of Clonaslee once worked there. Unfortunately the reconstruction has stopped because some grant money from the government dried up with the recent economic crash.