This is a real trip down memory lane for me. Situated on Montpelier hill, just across the road from the Hell Fire Club, are the stunning grounds of what once was Killakee Estate. Also know as (Coill an Chaoich, in Gaelic which means “Blind Man’s Wood”). These days, it is known as ‘Massey’s Wood’ or ‘Massey’s Estate’ after the name of the last family whom lived here. As a kid I have many great memories camping up here with my scout troop, where we learnt how to build shelters, foraging and other survival skills. The sprawling landscape with its forests, streams, and hills provided us with many fun filled weekends. The history of this place goes back to ancient times. It is said that a Wedge tomb once stood on these grounds. And from the history of the Hell Fire Club, we know that many ancient cairns were destroyed with the stones being removed and used in the building of the nearby hunting lodge.
So I guess that this area was a pretty important place for our ancestors. Moving on a few thousand years, to just after the Norman invasion of Ireland, The surrounding lands came into the possession of a Norman knight, Walter de Ridleford. I guess De Ridleford lost favour of the English crown as the lands were later given to Sir Thomas Luttrell by Henry VIII. Interestingly Thomas was an ancestor of Hell Fire Club member Simon Luttrell. The Luttrell family held onto the estate until the 17th century when it was changed hands and came into the possession of Dudley Loftus and then passed to William Connolly, the man responsible for building the Hell Fire Club.
By 1800, the Connolly family sold the estate to Luke White. It was the White family built Killakee House on the estate in the early nineteenth century. Said to be a two-storey house with thirty-six rooms! It had a Tuscan-columned entrance and large three-windowed bows on the back and sides. Quite impressive considering the area at the time would have been considered a wilderness. It was Luke White’s second son, Colonel Samuel White whom inherited the estate on his father’s death in 1824 and invested a considerable amount of time and money into developing the gardens. In 1838, he enlisted the services of a Sir Ninian Niven, whom had previously been a director of the Botanic Gardens in Dublin. It was Niven whom laid out two Victorian formal gardens with gravel walks, terraces and exotic trees, these were reported to have been lavishly decorated with statues of Greek and Roman gods. Adjacent to the house was a terraced rose garden with a statue of Neptune.
The second walled garden in a vale in the woods below the house contained more fountains and a range of glasshouses designed by Richard Turner. In 1880 Anne White, Samuels widow died, in her will she left the estate to her late husband’s nephew, John Thomas, 6th Baron Massey. The Massey’s were a Protestant family who had come to Ireland back in 1641 and owned extensive lands in Counties Limerick, Leitrim and Tipperary. John it would seem enjoyed his new found wealth and was known for using Killakee house to through lavish parties when entertaining guests. It was during these events long lines of guests’ carriages could be seen, lined up along the road leading to the house. Unfortunately these good times did not last long and by the time of his debt in 1915 he was said to have fallen into major debt due to a decline in various rental incomes and some bad investments.
By the time John Massey’s grandson, Hugh Charles, the 8th Baron Massy, inherited the estate, the family’s finances had become so bad that in 1924 he was declared bankrupt and evicted from Killakee House. The Massey’s initially moved into the Stewards House, across the road before taking up residence in the estate’s gate lodge, Beehive Cottage, after an agreement with the bank. Hugh Massy whom was said to be an alcoholic was unable to find a job and became dependent on his wife, Margaret, their only source of income was from work she did for the Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstake. Hugh became known as the “Penniless Peer”, and was said to have been seen collecting firewood in the woods of his former family estate until his death in 1958.
In 1931 Killakee House was used for a short time as a base of operations for the Detective Unit of the Garda Síochána whom were hunting for IRA members in the area. The demise of Killakee came when after the bank was unable to find a buyer for the estate, it was acquired by a builder whom stripped the house bare before finally demolishing it in 1941. The lands eventually came under the control of the state and were opened to the public. Whilst the trees have reclaimed most of the land which was once occupied by the formal gardens. All that remains is off this once spectacular home is the brickwork at the rear of the glasshouses, some of the garden walls and archways and the disused ice house and water tank.
Back in 1978, the archaeologist and historian Patrick Healy discovered the remains of a the afore mentioned prehistoric wedge tomb in the woods. At this time all that had survived was the scant outline of the main chamber and the outer double walls. He stated that most of the stones had been removed to build the low stone wall that ran across the front of the tomb. I had spent about three hours here one afternoon, much of which I had been trying to locate the remains of this tomb, according to Healy’s description, and I’m sorry to say that I was unable to locate anything that would remotely resemble the remains of this wedge tomb. Today Montpelier Hill and much of the surrounding lands, including Killakee Estate (now called Lord Massey’s Estate) are owned by the State forestry company Coillte and are open to the public. Some of the many types of trees in the woods include Oak, Monterey Pine, Sequoia, California Redwood, Lime and Monkey Puzzle can be found.