Tipp’s aristocrat postman gave it up for love

The story of how Ballycraggan House’s first owners were split by The Famine and by a marriage became a movie

Ballycraggan House, Puckane, Nenagh, Co Tipperary

A view indoors from one of the picture windows

One of the reception rooms

The formal dining room

The entrance hallway

A children’s treehouse on the grounds

Robert has an illicit liaison with Eileen in a scene from The Minnitts of Anabeg

Mark Keenan

There’s no great fondness today for the legacy of the Anglo Irish landlords whose big estate houses shaped our towns and ruled our tenant populations over hundreds of years. But at the same time plenty of local stories passed down generations will relate how some of the gentry went out of their way to help the local populace; sometimes to the detriment of their own security and standing.

Because they didn’t have everything in their favour. The high walls around their estates kept them prisoner as much as it kept a suspect population out. So their own wider social network was essential for survival. And tight conformity and closed ranks were required to maintain that network.

Robert has an illicit liaison with Eileen in a scene from The Minnitts of Anabeg

It meant the Minnitt family, the landlords of Annaghbeg in Co Tipperary had a lot to lose when they stuck their heads above the parapet to help locals during the Great Famine. Joshua Minnitt of Anaghbeg House near Nenagh was a Protestant Justice of the Peace and owned an estate that spanned more than 1,000 acres.

Minnitt saw that food was being exported even as the local populace had begun to starve to death. It sparked him to intercede with the British authorities to reduce the amount of food taken from the area to feed British forces abroad. The latter were campaigning in Africa, India and Mexico and hoovering up huge amounts of commodities in Ireland.

Irish tenants had hitherto been reliant on Lumper potatoes for most of their diet and while a blight was ruining this crop, vast amounts of grain, livestock and other produce were being exported out of the country by the boatload.

A view indoors from one of the picture windows

A million starved to death and a million left the country. The impact on the economy resonated and caused the populace to dwindle further through massive emigration in the decades following.

In 1847 the population of England was just over 15 million while Ireland’s was 8.5m. It has recently been estimated that Ireland’s population would stand at around 30 million today had the Famine poor been fed by the authorities in those years.

Joshua Minnitt’s son Robert, who played a key role in managing his father’s estate, was mixing with local tenants daily. He went even further than his father. Indeed too far by his own family’s standards. Much to Joshua’s consternation Robert went to the newspaprers to speak out on the horrific conditions in the local Tipperary workhouses. Local ‘big houses’ would often play a role in running these.

One of the reception rooms

Worse again, he fell in love with Eileen Kennedy, a local Catholic girl and went ahead and married her against his parent’s wishes.

Likely under pressure from ‘big house’ society, Joshua both disowned and disinherited Robert.

Instead of taking over at the family seat, Anaghbeg House and its 1,000 plus acre estate; Robert would instead become a postman and he and Eileen would raise 13 children in a tiny house on the edge of the Minnitt holdings. Robert and Joshua never spoke again..

Joshua’s grandson James would later join the fight for independence, acting as a car driver for republicans in the years before the foundation of the state.

The formal dining room

Their story was told on screen by London-based writer and director Alan Brown, a direct descendant of Joshua and Robert Minnitt. His 2013 film The Minnitts of Anabeg starring Patrick Bergin and Frank McGrath was part of a trilogy made by Brown to portray how The Famine affected Irish families.

At almost 4,000 sq ft, Ballycraggan House at Puckane was among the larger homes owned by the Minnitts of Annaghbeg. It has the appearance and size of either a dower house or an estate manager’s residence. Perhaps the Minnitt Estate had to hire someone in after Robert departed the fold and they lost his estate manager skills.

The timing is about right given that Ballcraggan was constructed in the mid 1800s and it incorporated the structure of a by then run-down smaller ‘gentleman tenant farmer’s house’, itself built about 50 years previous.

The entrance hallway

Today Ballycraggan appears on the ‘houses of interest’ list of the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage which highlights its gablets and chimneystacks as particular points of interest that separate it from the plainer Georgian style more typical for rural homes this size in the Victorian era.

The property was acquired and worked on again by its current owners who have adapted it to create accommodation suitable for family living.

A children’s treehouse on the grounds

Ballycraggan has a hardcore, sweeping, tree-lined driveway leading to a parking and turning area to the front of the house. The house itself has a terracotta-painted render exterior beneath a slate roof. Ballycraggan is entered via double doors and the accommodation is contained over two principal floors. The present owners have invested a lot of money adapting the home for modern family living, but it hasn’t lost its period home character and atmosphere.

Today it comes with an open-plan kitchen/living room which is at the heart of the house. But there are also four reception rooms and in particular, the formal dining room takes you right back to the era of the Minnitts of Annaghbeg.

For remote workers one reception has become a home office/study on the ground floor and there’s a family room and a boot room to the rear, handy given that the house comes with just over 12 acres. There are six bedrooms (one of which has its own ensuite) and a family bathroom on the first floor. The bedrooms are of a size that would permit more ensuites although planning permission is required. Period features include coving, ceiling roses, sash windows, and the aforementioned gablets and chimneystacks.

To the rear there’s a stone-built stable building with four loose boxes and shed. along with a derelict outbuilding.

Savills is asking €750,000.

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