Bushy Park House, County Roscommon
Bushy Park house is the oldest inhabited “Big House” in the River Suck Valley Area. It is situated two miles from Mount Talbot village and a mile from the main Roscommon/Galway road. The original house was built in about 1720, it’s Georgian front was added on a hundred years later by Parson Hicks. He kept a school there for the sons of Protestant clergymen.
Other tenants were the Barlows, who lived in great style with a pack of harriers, subsequently lost their money and emigrated to Australia.
A clergyman named Knox and his family lived at Bushy Park for twelve years but the longest tenants were the French’s. They came from Monivea Castle, County Galway, in 1864. They were tillage and cattle farmers and worked hard draining and improving the land. The house and land were rented from the Talbot’s of Mount Talbot who wanted to turn out the family on one occasion when the lease was up. When the Land Acts were passed in 1903, Tom French bought Bushy Park for £1644.
Contemporaries of the French’s were the Mahon’s of Thornfield, who lived above Mount Talbot Bridge beside the river Suck and the Talbot’s. There was no love lost between the Talbot’s and the French’s. Mr. Talbot was a hard landlord and very unpopular with his tenants. He evicted many families from “Botharbuidhe”, a village now long gone. One of the fields at Bushy Park is still known as “Botharbuidhe”.
It was his custom to go to Thornfield every day and come back alone late at night. One night a man lay waiting for him in Finnerty’s cowhouse with a gun to shoot him; the man fell asleep so Mr. Talbot had a lucky escape.
Another time his cousin and agent Mr.Crosbie tried to persuade an old woman to give up her house. She had some legal title to her holding which said she could not be turned out without her consent. In spite of all his harassments and threats, the woman returned a simple and conclusive answer:”Hoult I’ll have, Crosbie, hoult I’ll keep.”
There were twenty men working at Thornfield House in old Mr. Mahon’s time and he kept fifteen cart horses. Tom French always said he never knew such a place for feeding. They had a retinue of servants and killed a cow every month and a sheep every week. Mr. Mahon had an out-farm near Ballygar. When they were drawing hay from there, they drove the cart-horses at a gallop through the town. He said, “you could here the rattle of them six miles away at Bushy Park house.” Somehow the rattle of those cart-horses seems to conjure up a picture of a forgotten life.
The French’s were one of the original Twelve Tribes of Galway. Their ancestry can be traced, on their father’s side, to Rollo, Duke of Normandy and on their mother’s side to Brian Boru. They brought their wit and love of story telling with them from Monivea. Tom French was a down-to-earth, self-educated man and he had a great love for the countryside and it’s people.
Mrs. French was a very accomplished lady. She spent her youth in Germany and England as a companion-help. In Germany she developed her love of music and in England she learned the art of woodcarving. Many fine examples of her work can be seen at Bushy Park. They had two daughters, Rosamund and Noelle. Rosamund was her father’s daughter; she loved farming and country life. She was also involved in a lot of charity work, in particular the Irish Red Cross Society. She never married and died at Bushy Park in 1965.
Noelle was the scholar. Proficient in seven languages, she was writing poetry and short stories at the age of eleven. She married a Welshman and both of them were very involved in Plaid Cymru. Her books of poetry, essays and other written work are in Roscommon library under the “Davies Collection”.
Bushy Park, like Thornfield, was believed to be haunted. The story goes that one night Tom French was sitting up late reading “Charles O’Malley”, he heard a barrel being rolled down the stairs and counted the steps as it bumped from one to the other. He went down to investigate, but his candle blew out each time he lit it. There was no draft as all doors and windows were closed. After his fourth attempt at relighting the candle he gave up and, very sensibly, went to bed!
During the Knoxs tenancy, a “Headless Coach” was seen to come up the long winding avenue. Miss Knox and her mother heard it. When they went outside they saw lights, heard the jingle of the horses harness and the voices of people arriving in the yard. Yet there was nothing there.
When Tom French’s sister was very ill she heard the “Headless Coach” one night and thought she was going to die; next day it turned out to be an ivy leaf tapping at the window.
Whilst waiting for me to come home one evening, my own children saw lights coming up the avenue, stop half-way and disappear completely, perhaps the “Headless Coach”? If there are ghosts about at Bushy Park they are very friendly. Visitors always say that the house has a lovely warm atmosphere. It certainly welcomed me with open arms when I arrived here from war-torn Germany in November 1947. I can still see myself being overwhelmed by its size and staring at the massive oak hall door studded with iron. Later I learned that this was the original back door from Mount-Talbot castle.