About Borris House
The ancestral home of the McMorrough Kavanaghs, High Kings of Leinster, Borris is one of the few Irish estates that can trace its history back to the royal families of ancient Ireland. Set in over six hundred and fifty acres of walled private park and woodlands, Borris House retains its place as the centrepiece of the locality.
Originally an important castle guarding the River Barrow, Borris House was rebuilt in 1731 and late altered by the architectural dynastic family, The Morrisons, chiefly Richard and William. Externally, they clothed the 17th c house in a thin Tudor Gothic disguise, adding a crenellated arcaded porch on the entrance and decorating the windows with rectangular and ogival hood-moulds.
Inside the house they created an exuberant series of rooms beginning with the most florid room of the house, the entrance hall, where a circle is created within a square space with the clever use of pairs of scagliola columns and richly modelled plasterwork. The ceiling is like a great wheel with its shallowly coved circular centre from which eight beams radiate outwards. The plasterwork is profuse with festoons in the frieze, eagles with outspread wings in the spandrels and swirling acanthus in the cove of the ceiling.
Richard and William Morrison designed a number of works as a father and son team. They include such prominent houses as Baronscourt, Co Tyrone, Kilruddery House, Co Wicklow, Ballyfin House, Co Laois and Fota House, Co Cork. Among their public works were alterations to the cathedral at Cashel, the court-house and gaol at Galway, court-houses at Carlow, Clonmel, Roscommon, Wexford, and elsewhere, and the Roman Catholic Pro-cathedral at Dublin. William Morrison is also responsible for Clontarf Castle, Co Dublin, Glenarm Castle and Mount Stewart, Co Down.
The MacMorrough Kavanaghs
No family in Ireland can point to a more ancient pedigree than the Kavanaghs. They can trace it back to the dawn of Irish history. Tradition, indeed, carries it far beyond that limit – to the legendary Feniusa of Scythia, coeval with the Tower of Babel, whose descendants, having wandered into Egypt, found their way back again to Scthia, and thence to Spain, from which country Heber and Heremon, the 2 sons of Gallamhy or Milesius, crossed over to Ireland, reduced it to subjection and divided it between them. From them sprang lines of Kings ruling over the 5 monarchies into which the island was split up.
One branch eventually established themselves as Kings of Leinster and from Murchadh, or Morrough, King of Leinster, in the 11th C, the family became known as MacMorrough. The grandson of this Monarch was Dermot MacMorrough, surnamed, na-nGall, that is, “of the Strangers”, who invited the Normans to Ireland in 1167.
Dermot in order to secure the support of Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke, surnamed Strongbow, to re-establish himself in his Kingdom, from which he had been expelled, agreed to give him his daughter Aoife in marriage. On the death of Dermot in 1171, Strongbow claimed the throne of Leinster in right of his wife, and in defiance of Irish law and custom. He was soon obliged to renounce his pretensions to establishing himself as an independent sovereign, and surrendered his rights as such to King Henry II.
Art Mór Mac Murchadha Caomhánach (anglicized Art mac Art MacMurrough-Kavanagh; died 1416/17) is generally regarded as the most formidable of the later Kings of Leinster. He revived not only the royal family’s prerogatives but their lands and power. During the length of his forty-two year reign he fully lived up to his title, dominating the Anglo-Norman settlers of Leinster.
His dominance of the province and its inhabitants – both Gaelic and Hiberno-Norman – was deemed sufficiently detrimental to the colony that Richard II spent much of the years 1394-1395 sparring with him. While Art did indeed submit to Richard, he renounced this fealty on Richard’s departure and made much of his kingdom a death-trap for any invading English or Anglo-Irish forces. He was very much cut of the same cloth as his ancestors Diarmait mac Mail na mBo and Diarmaid Mac Murchadha.
Did You Know?
In the 1640’s, Sir Morgan Kavanagh’s daughter, Eleanor Kavanagh, eloped with her lover, Cormac O’Daly. Such at least, is the legend, which gave rise to the song Eleanor (or Eileen) Aroon, better known in Scotland as Robin Adair, after a later proponent of the tune. Its fame even reached France, where Francois Boieldieu used it in the final act of his masterpiece, the opera La Dame Blanche in 1825.
Mrs Cecil Francis Alexander
Francis Alexander began writing verse in her childhood and by the 1840s she was already known as a prolific writer of hymns with over 400 coming from her busy pen. She wrote many narrative poems and Tennyson the poet said he would have been proud to have written her poem “The Burial of Moses”. All the profits from the publications of her hymns were given to help an institution for Irish mutes.
Her book, Hymns for Little Children reached its 69th edition before the close of the nineteenth century and some of her hymns, e.g. All Things Bright and Beautiful, There is a Green Hill Far Away and the Christmas carol, Once in Royal David’s City, are known by many millions of Christians the world over, as is her translation of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate.
Her son married Eva Kavanagh a daughter of Arthur Kavanagh, and she donated an organ to the Chapel on the grounds. This organ is still in use today. In fact it is often presumed that she may well have written All Things Bright and Beautiful during one of her many stays at Borris as some of the verses describe Borris exactly.
Tallest Broadleaf Tree in Ireland
Borris is home to many beautiful trees but has one champion among champions with the tallest Broadleaf tree in Ireland. This tree is an American Poplar and is quite unremarkable to look at but is situated down by the Barrow Line majestically overlooking the peaceful river.
The Ladies of Llangollen
In the 1700’s Thomas Kavanagh married Lady Susan Butler, daughter of the 16th Earl of Ormond and in 1778, the Kavanaghs took charge of Susan’s sister, Lady Eleanor Butler, after she had made what would have been considered at the time a scandalous attempt to elope with Sarah Ponsonby. After three weeks of confinement, she managed to escape and walked 12 miles southwest to Woodstock, the Ponsonby family home in Instigoe, Co Kilkenny. Sarah hid Eleanor in her room until Lady Eleanor’s father, Lord Ormonde, conceded defeat and the pair were allowed to go to Wales, via Waterford, in pursuit of the Gothic Pastoral Ideal.
They spent the next 50 year living together in what may, or may not, have been a lesbian relationship. Certainly, they never spent a night apart again and died within two years of each other. They became objects of curiosity, visited in their home, PlasNewydd, by the Duke of Wellington, Sir Walter Scott, William Wilberforce and William Wordsworth, who wrote a poem in their honour, and they were known as “the Ladies of Llangollen” after the local village. A contemporary account described what they did to their originally modest cottage ornee as ‘fantastical, rather than tasteful, and shows more of the eccentricity than of sentiment.