Shannon Estuary Way: Stories of park life in Curraghchase
After a year of covid restrictions we are now able to travel and mingle. Our weather has improved so families can travel to Forest Parks, beauty spots and areas of historical interest. One such area is Curraghchase Forest Park which lies in the parish of Kilcornan. The Park is approximately 600 acres of woodland. There is a large car park with walking trails, playground area and picnic tables. There is also a camping area and restaurant. The remains of the big house which dates to the late 17th century overlooks the man-made lake. The house was destroyed by a fire in 1941.
Most grand houses have a reputation of being haunted – Curraghchase house was no exception. Most, if not all these stories, can be taken with a grain of salt. But, and there is always a but, there is one story that is harder to explain.
This story comes from a diary written by Veronica and Mary Guillebaud in the 1930s and who stayed at the estate for the summer months. Poltergeist activity was so strong that Mrs. De Vere, the lady of the house, and the servants were becoming very alarmed. The sound of footsteps, doors opening and closing, and furniture being moved in locked rooms were a cause of concern.
Eventually, Mrs. De Vere contacted her father – Bishop Hadley Moule of Durham, England. She explained to him her fears of the unusual and frightening activity in the house.
He arrived and conducted a “private service of exorcism”. He said there were “restless spirits but not at all distressed or worrying”. Unfortunately, the diary does not mention any more about the outcome.
Another story concerns a man called John Leahy. In the first week of April 1811, John Leahy passed away following a two-day illness. What was remarkable about John was the fact that he was born in the year 1699. That would make him 112 years of age upon his death. He commenced his servitude with the owner of Curraghchase House who was Vere Hunt Esq. as a groom in the year 1730. He remained working in Curraghchase for upwards of eighty years.
The last ten years of his life was spent living in a cottage built for him on the estate. He was married eight times and had children by seven of them. His eight and last marriage was at the ripe old age of 103 years.
He declared that he “never suffered a day’s illness or an hours pain unless for the death of a friend or occasionally for the loss of a wife”.
The sight of the fire meant that they wished to travel over for a visit via rowing boat or during the Summer it meant they requested help with bringing home hay. A reply would be sent in the form of another fire being lit at the opposite side of the shore which would then instigate a trip across the Estuary. “In today’s times, with all our technology at hand, it seems that our grandparents had a better relationship with our dear neighbours than we do. I think that is something that can be revived and hopefully the Shannon Estuary Way is the tool to make that happen.”
The 21st of December 1941 was very cold and frosty. On that night fires would have been lit early in the big house in Curraghchase. The people in the house that night were Mrs. De Vere and two female servants. Her husband Stephen had passed away in 1936.
Around 2 am one of the servants, Kitty Burke, was woken by the sound of a bell ringing. The house operated a system of bells in each room upstairs and downstairs. A box of indicators on the wall specified which room the bell was ringing in. It was the library bell. Kitty, the servant girl, went to the library door and noticed a lot of smoke coming from under the door from the room.
She knocked on Mrs. De Vere’s door and upon getting no answer went in and called her. Mrs. De Vere said, “what’s wrong?” and Kitty replied “there’s something happening in the library. There’s a lot of smoke”. Mrs. De Vere in a calm voice said, “we have to stay cool Kitty”. We now know that the fire started in the library which was probably caused by a spark from the fire. All three occupants got out of the house safely. The fire brigade was called but got lost on the way and when they did finally arrive, they discovered that fire hoses were too short to reach from the lake to the house. The fire travelled from the library on the left side of the building stopping before it reached the saloon on the right side. The damage to the house was so extensive that Mrs. De Vere had to move out into a smaller house on the estate which is now the scout house. She died in 1959 and is buried in Adare.
These are just some of the stories concerning Curraghchase in the past and the forest park today is a haven for families to enjoy the scenery, the walks, and the food.
This article was written by historian Michael Costello and appeared in The Limerick Leader Shannon Estuary Way series ‘Stories from the Shannon Estuary Way’. https://www.limerickleader.ie/news/home/672786/shannon-estuary-way-stories-of-park-life-in-curraghchase.html