The History of Dromana

There can be no more unique home in Ireland than Dromana on the Blackwater, a house as time-touched as the rock from which it springs. For there, in the beauty and solitude unchanged since medieval times, may be traced the happenings of seven centuries.  It is the nearest thing in Munster to a castle on the Rhine, and owes half its charm to the splendid isolation which was its safeguard in the past.

Sheer to the river bank drops  the rocky escarpment on which it stands, and in Norman times some eagle-eyed Fitzgerald was swift to grasp its worth. The tower he raised there was already old when the seventh of the powerful Earls of Desmond endowed it to his son in 1457. Gerald Mhòr, Lord De Decies and founder of the Dromana family, required more than a feudal keep to maintain his station. The castle he built was solid, extensive, and  impregnable. The mansion of today sprouts from its sturdy foundations like a spring leaf from a winter-blasted oak.

Changed  Fortunes

Far below, the river eternally reflects Dromana, and to downwards is to look back, for through the years it has mirrored the changing fortunes of the owners. Almost five centuries have passed since it framed the image of Gerald Mhòrs pretty granddaughter Katherine Fitzgerald. She married her relative the twelfth Earl of Desmond, and as tradition records she died by falling from a Dromana cherry tree at the age of 140 years. That her age was not exaggerated is evidence by the writings of Sir Walter Raliegh. For Queen Elizabeth’s fallen favourite was a settler in these parts and the cherry trees at Dromana are amongst the first he introduced to Ireland.

History is silent on the minor alarms inseparable from life in such a stronghold, but the bright face of the Blackwater mirrored violence on a grand scale in the 1640’s. The rising of 1641 was still young when a resurgent Irish occupied the castle, and six years elapsed before they were ejected. Victorious Inchiquin, Lord President of Munster, breached its outer defences in 1647, and the garrison surrendered on terms.

It was later in that same century that a second Katherine Fitzgerald contributed to the romantic associations of Dromana,like the villainous squire of fiction, her uncle and guardian, Lord Power of Curraghmore, laid covetous eyes on her inheritance. To secure it he arranged the wedding of his twelve year old niece to his son, by the Arch Bishop of Canterbury.

Rebel Girl

That was in 1673, but two years later the rebellious Katherine denied the validity of the marriage and appealed to Charles 11th to up hold her. Protest as he might her uncle had little option but to surrender when Katherine capped her defiance by a runaway marriage with Edward Villiers. For the husband of her choosing was a cousin of the king’s current favourite, Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland.

From being a rakish Gaurdsman and the son ofa Viscount Grandison , Edward progressed to the Governorship of Waterford and played notable parts in the siege of Cork and the storming of Kinsale. Tradition however, deals hard with his memory. The Brigader as he was invariably called, was credited with dark and violent deeds, ranging from the hanging of a tenants son to the callous murder of his Moorish page. Small wonder  then that Dromana’s past is thickly sown with stories of his unquiet spirit. In country mansions, to lack a ghost is to lack cachet, but in this respect the old house by the Blackwater is liberally endowed. For fresh from his losses at the gambling table, Lord Barrymore committed suicide in Dromana’s card room and yet another apparition joined the mustered lore of seven centuries.

It was in 1802 that lady Gertrude Villiers married Lord Henry Stuart- a son of the Marquis of Bute-and a new and liberal strain distinguished the succession. Their eldest son inherited Dromana and taking the name of Villiers-Stuart set a headline for the landlord of Munster. Backed by an incredulous Daniel O’Connell, he stood for the Waterford election of 1825 in the interests of Catholic Emancipation and routed the all-powerful Lord Beresford.

At the time when the Liberator was a familiar figure at Dromana the house  had assumed its new appearance. On the foundations of the ancient castle had risen an eighteenth-century mansion with apartments so vast that they provoked the comment of a later and equally-famous visitor, Thomas Carlyle, the writer. Dromana’s hall was reminiscent of a cathedral, he slept in a room “as big as a ballroom”, and described the house as a “huge, square old mansion hanging on a wooded brow…clad in solitude…and begirt by silence”.

Today it is still the residence of the Villiers-Stuart family, after a down size of the Estate in the 1960’s when sadly the Georgian Extension was removed and the original seventeenth century Residence then restored.