Strokestown Park House & Famine Museum, Roscommon, Ireland

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Items filtered by date: December 2012

As part of a new blog series we are exploring some of the lesser known nooks and crannies of Strokestown Park that are not part of the official guided tour.  For a behind the scenes peek into the fascinating history of an Irish aristocratic house and demesne, look no further!

Strokestown Park House as it currently stands was designed by Richard Cassells c.1730 as the epicentre of a vast estate employing many people. Lady Olive Pakenham-Mahon was the last of a long family line who had lived on the estate since the mid-17th century. By the 1970’s she was served by a single remaining maid and many of the formerly busy rooms had been left to crumble into dereliction.

Works carried out to restore Strokestown Park have been ongoing since the mid 1980’s and although the formal rooms occupied by the Pakenham–Mahon family are now open to the public with daily guided tours, there are many more rooms that still await conservation.

Some of which are more unusual than the standard 18th century Big House plan. For example, the old drawing room located at basement level is the vestigial remains of an earlier structure built by Captain Nicholas Mahon in the late 1600’s. This room pre-dates the classic Palladian architecture seen elsewhere in the house, with its low roof, ornate relief work decoration and built in storage cupboards, it is of a distinctly earlier style of interior architecture that is quite at odds with the spacious airy rooms seen on the floor above.


The old drawing room was once the epicentre of a more modest manor house which formed the foundation of Richard Cassells later grand design. This room, though built on ground level, is now incorporated into the basement of Strokestown Park House, and adjoins a simple stone flagged corridor housing the servant’s dining room, workshops and food storage cellars.

Despite the location and unassuming proportions of this room, the ornate plasterwork over the fireplace belies its original stately purpose. Carved wood panelling occurs in the built-in storage cupboards and two concealed doorways. The pattern of the wood work is mirrored in the ceiling plasterwork. The floor is beautifully tiled in a grey and black pattern.


This attention to decorative details highlights that this was not a room to be used by servants but rather was originally used by the Mahon family themselves as a place for relaxation, entertaining guests and displaying their affluent lifestyle.  As fashion changed, the old drawing room fell out of vogue but it remains today as a reminder that Strokestown Park House has gone through many alterations over the centuries and continues to evolve as a place to be enjoyed. 

- Colleen O'Hara

Winter in the Garden

Wednesday, 08 November 2017 09:26 Published in Garden Blog

So far the weather has been rather mild, which creates a wonderful working condition for this time of year.

As the flowers are coming very close to the end of their time, the garden changes in colour, you'd be forgiven for thinking that colour is absent. The large Beech hedges have turned lovely shades of red and orange. Luckily the Beech hedges are reluctant to depart with their leaves just yet.


The work now lends itself to preparation for the year to come. With ground being cleared of weeds, and turned over to allow the soil to 'breath', once this has been done Mypex sheets are crucial in ensuring that no weeds grow on the soil.

While the weather has been mild temperature wise, it has lived up to its Irish stereotype when it comes to rainfall. We were fortunate to find a respite from the wet to give the extensive grass areas their final cut of the year.

While working we were treated to seeing this late bloom brought on by the mild weather.


-Ross Chippendale, gardener

The Pakenham-Mahon family of Strokestown Park were enthusiastic adopters of new
technologies. In the 1890’s Henry Pakenham Mahon converted a room off the Gentleman’s
Study into a darkroom and laboratory. This is where he conducted elaborate experiments
involving colour and light and indulged his interest in amateur photography. These rooms are
currently not accessible to the public but may be added to the tour in the coming years.

Visitors to Strokestown Park will, however, have spotted the unassuming wooden
wall-mounted telephone located in the corridor connecting the formal dining room with the
galleried kitchen. This modest box telephone is an example of a style that was gaining
popularity in businesses and more well-to-do private homes in the early 1920’s.

The Strokestown Park Telephone

This Magneto battery powered set pre-dates the installation of electricity at Strokestown Park.
The caller would turn the hand-crank on the side of the box which created enough power to
speak with the operator, who would then connect the call. Numerical dials did not become
commonplace until the later 1920’s and even then this style of phone continued to be used in
some homes right up until the 1970’s, when the telephone exchange system was finally
phased out.

With the advent of the telephone network, the younger male telegraph operators often took
on the role of connecting phone calls. However, there were frequent complaints from the
public that the phone operators were playing pranks and had an impatient manner with

The first female telephone operator, Emma Nutt, was hired in 1878 in Boston. She proved so
popular with the public for her professional and courteous manner, that by the 1920’s female
operators were the norm on both sides of the Atlantic. In fact working at the telephone
exchange eventually came to be seen as a respectable job for young women with a modest
level of education.

A respectable female profession

The placement of Strokestown Park’s telephone in the area bridging the formal rooms
occupied by the Pakenham-Mahon’s and the functional rooms where the servants carried
out their duties, suggests that this was considered a useful piece of household equipment
rather than a status symbol to be proudly displayed. It was often the responsibility of the
Butler or the Housekeeper to make and take phone calls.

In recent years a visitor to Strokestown Park who had been a guest of the Pakenham-Mahon’s
as a child, recalled an incident when the phone was newly installed. Olive Pakenham-Mahon,
the last resident of the house, had been out running errands. On her return she asked the
Butler had there been any phone calls, he replied, pointing to the phone “It invited you to
dinner next week.”

Despite the speedy adoption of the telephone by the upper classes there was still much
confusion over the proper way to use it, as illustrated by this Punch caricature.

Punch Magazine 1922

In 1882, just six years after Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone,
The Telephone Company of Ireland was established to deal exclusively with Irelands
growing network. Management of the Irish phone network went through several iterationsbefore coming under the banner of The Department of Posts and Telegraphs in 1922 with the establishment of the Irish Free State. At that time there were 194 telephone exchanges with 19,037 lines and 553 call offices.

The first public telephone box was opened on Dawson Street, Dublin in 1925. Form and
functionality were considered of equal importance when it came to public amenities and
The Irish Times reported on the event saying the new public telephone boxes were
“designed so as to present a pleasing appearance and be in harmony with the surrounding

Public phone boxes being installed in 1932

Today with the omnipresence of mobile technology, not only are public phone boxes
disappearing but the presence of a household telephone is quickly becoming a thing of
the past. With each passing year the rudimentary wall mounted ‘landline’ at
Strokestown Park becomes more of a quaint curiosity.

Thankfully mobile technology has advanced past the pioneering designs that were being
proposed as early as 80 years ago. This example of a mid-20th century mobile phone
doesn’t even appear to have a built in camera or wifi!

Mid-20th Century mobile phone

by Colleen O'Hara

The Ice House of Strokestown Park

Wednesday, 22 March 2017 12:14 Published in Strokestown Park Blog


An edited version of a talk about the Strokestown Park Ice House, given by one of our fantastic tour guides - Aidan McBride.

Please note - the Ice House is not open to the general public at present.


I would like to share the history of one of the more overlooked features of the Strokestown estate, the Ice House.

Anyone who has given a tour of the house or has been on the tour should be aware of the beautiful wooden ice box lined with zinc that rests in the dining room - an item that was used generally to store and keep white wine chilled for the dining guests all year round.

You may also be aware that the ice box (from the dining room) was supplied with ice by the great ice house that exits on the Strokestown estate.

In the middle of winter when the river and fish pond froze, ice was collected by the servants and transferred for safe storage to this Ice House where it could be kept all year round, or even for many years later.

The Ice house as it exists today:

You are introduced to the Ice House by cast iron door rusted and positioned on its side. It blocks the entrance now, and a few thick brambles from an old thorn bush help discourage any wandering sheep from falling in. Moving these obstructions aside you find yourself in a small tunnel about 8 feet long. Then you are greeted by the impressively large red brick room in a classic beehive shape that slopes down to something more oval at its base. A drop of about ten feet to the bottom awaits if you’re not careful and there is no ladder to get back up. The floor is covered in old broken wooden boards, brick-a-brac, and what appears to be an unfortunate sheep’s skull.

The Ice House, despite its slow slide into disuse and disrepair, is still amazingly well preserved. This building had been built to last and endure. A feat of solid craftsmanship and design for its time.

Who built the ice house and when:

When Maurice Mahon took over the estate after the death of his father Thomas in 1782, he made many changes to it and the surrounding townland. Popular among the gentry of Britain and Ireland from around 1760 was the building of ice houses and fish ponds. Among the many changes Maurice made to the estate can be found in the building of a fish pond directly in front the house, and the construction of the ice house itself dates from around 1784, as noted by the academic Ms. Susan Hood from the University of Ulster in her thesis “The Landlord Influence in the Development of an Irish Estate Town: Strokestown, County Roscommon”.

Possibly built by the Ice House Undertakers Inc., what is known and can be seen from the ordinance survey maps available; is that the Ice House is still listed and in use in 1837. A long road goes up through the top field coming close to the Ice House itself. This road would have brought a traveller right out to the northern end of the town and would have been called ‘The Ladies Entrance’, possibly set up by Maurice to have his wife’s carriage bypass most of the town.

We don’t know exactly when the Ice House stopped being in use but we do know by the 1888 ordinance survey it is listed as disused. By this same survey map, we can see that the fish pond is gone, along with other smaller changes to the estate.

How Ice Houses worked:

By keeping the majority of the building underground, a near constant sustained temperature could be maintained. Taking the ice sheets from the frozen pond was a job known as skimming. It would then be taken by cart along the road and packed in the Ice House, alternating layers of ice, straw or sawdust and salt.  This would ensure the ice remained mostly frozen even in the height of a hot summer. Any condensation dripping or melting water would be carried down the drainage kernel at the bottom of the building. Fresh water could be brought into a well-stocked ice house and frozen, so that clean ice could be used directly in drinks or food recipes.

Apart from the obvious use of ice to keep drinks cool, food could also be stored in these giant refrigerators to be kept fresh. They could also be used to help prepare ice cream and sorbets.


The ice house, still as it stands today, is a fantastic relic of the estate for its design and craftsmanship alone. 

The tale of a mystery fish..

Wednesday, 22 February 2017 11:50 Published in Strokestown Park Blog


Blog Entry By Pam Stocker - Strokestown Park Volunteer (Originally a presentation she gave at our monthly CPD)

This is the story of two houses at the same time in history, how they approached the famine, the results, and a mystery. Our story starts in Belleek, Co Fermanagh in 1849 when John Caldwell Bloomfield inherited the Castlecaldwell Estate, which encompassed the village of Belleek.

He was very concerned for the welfare of the villagers and tenants of the estate and wished to find a way to help them move forward from the ravages of the famine. So he hired a geologist to survey the estate to see if there was anything within the grounds that might help. What were discovered were the components for making pottery, and with the river Erne flowing nearby, there was a viable power source.

Caldwell and his new business partners were then successful in bringing a rail line to Belleek which was crucial because it brought in coal to heat the kilns.The early output from Belleek was sanitary ware such as toilets, sinks, floor tiles and other domestic items. Early attempts as decorative pieces failed until in 1863 the first product of Parian ware were successfully made and sold.  (Parian is a style of porcelain which was designed to imitate marble).The fish above is date stamped from this first period 1863-1891. And is heavier and thicker than porcelain we now associate with Belleek.

However, we have a parallel story from Strokestown Park. Denis Mahon took over the estate in 1845 when it was heavily in debt and consumed by the after effects of the Famine.The census of 1847 found 12,000 people living on the estate, often 30 to an acre with no income, no food, and ill with malnutrition. Denis found it more economically viable to lease boats and send 1,490 of his tenants to Canada. Half of them died on the journey and Denis was blamed for their deaths. Subsequently he was murdered in November 1847.

Grace Catherine Denis Mahon's daughter who was married shortly before her father’s death, was horrified by what had been done to her father and vowed never to live in Strokestown Park again, which she never did.


The mystery lies on where our beautiful fish comes from. It is a first-period example of Belleek Parian ware, is, in fact, a vase; and dates from 1863-1891. This example is quite rare and so it must have had some value and yet he is not listed in the valuations done by Lt Col Nick Pakenham Mahon. Nor was he bought in By Jim Callery during his renovation of the house. So, if Grace Catherine wasn’t in residence during the relevant period and if he’s not listed in either valuation or inventory the mystery remains how he turned up here? Perhaps we will never know!

Discover more about Belleek History here:


Spring Heralds

Monday, 13 February 2017 11:00 Published in Garden Blog


We have just had one of the mildest winters in a long time and you can see that plants are happy. Some plants are springing into life already in the garden. Our wonderful Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis sp.) are now in full bloom, this has happened so quickly. One day I am saying to friends that they are only peeping up out of the ground and then a few days later I am braking suddenly on the avenue to get out and admire these old friends, they never let us down. Planted at least 100 years ago under one of the old lime avenue trees and under that magnificent old oak tree, on the meadow in front of the house. If you get a chance to go for a stroll be sure to keep an eye out for them, they are very easy to miss.

Then in the Walled Garden a little showier but still incredibly beautiful - the Hellabores (Hellaborus niger sp.) are coming into flower, sometimes called The Christmas Rose, these were planted in the fernery and in a few other discreet shady spots back in the late 1990’s and thank goodness they are still thriving. They make a really lovely display at this time of year.

John O'Driscoll - Strokestown Park Manager


The 1930s HMV Gramophone at Strokestown Park


During the early evening’s monthly get-together for staff and volunteers at Strokestown Park on Tuesday the 24th of January 2017, the 1930s family gramophone was wound up and records from the 1920s, ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s were played as tea and cake were consumed.


The wind-up gramophone, blue in colour (a more expensive model than the standard black), had not played a record for some time, but thanks to the care and kindness of Renaissance man Andrew Clancy, it was put to working order again without any intervention and advice for a gentle wind-up touch.


We were given a brief history of the invention as it was put into context with earlier recording machines, the logo HMV (His Master’s Voice) explained, and a quick journey through time as records from several decades were played – some very much recognisable, others quite unknown.


The Gramophone Company Ltd. (later HMV) with a massive factory in Middlesex England, sold this Model 102, c.1934, as The World’s Finest Portable. Portables only came into existence in the early 1930s, before then records were played at home on large, stationary, cabinet-style gramophones. Indeed the 102 is still a very fine piece of musical kit, as was demonstrated on Tuesday evening as it produced a wonderful sound. It was purchased as part of the contents of the house by Jim Callery and Westward in 1981 from Olive and her son Major Nicholas Hales Pakenham Mahon. We cannot be sure, but could assume that it may have been in the house since the mid-1930s. Playing records such as the foxtrot No Place But Home from the British musical Ever-Green, one could picture Olive and her husband Wilfrid dancing in the Library, perhaps with friends, and children Lettice, Elizabeth, Denys and Nicholas looking on with delight and even joining in.


Along with the gramophone is thankfully a marvellous collection of musical records – 7” and 10” – which give us such a real connection to the family tastes as we can play the music now, the particular sounds from the speaker being so evocative. With many records being nearly 100 years old however, it is a rare and very special thing to play them. 

The walk, never to return..

Friday, 27 January 2017 16:34 Published in Strokestown Park Blog


One of the bleakest events in Strokestown’s long history is the journey of 1490 tenants from the Mahon estate at Strokestown Park who took part in an assisted emigration scheme to Canada, funded by the Landlord Denis Mahon. The tenants walked to Dublin, accompanied by the Bailiff of the Strokestown estate who was there to ensure they boarded the ship in Dublin and did not return home. This journey took place in 1847 or ‘Black 47’, one of the worst years of suffering of the Great Irish Famine.

The story of the tenants’ fate after they left Dublin is a harrowing one. They travelled on open deck packet steamers to Liverpool where they waited in the cellars of quayside buildings at Liverpool docks to board their ships to Canada. The four ships they boarded - Erin’s Queen, Naomi, The Virginius and The John Munn were badly fitted out and badly provisioned. Almost half of those who embarked died aboard ship or in the ‘fever sheds’ at Grose Isle when they arrived in Quebec. Of course, this was not known to them as they walked along the Royal Canal to Dublin, they believed that they were walking away from hunger and towards a better life.



Mrs Rundell’s Really Rich Custard

Monday, 19 December 2016 16:22 Published in Strokestown Park Blog

Mrs Rundell’s Really Rich Custard  

This time of year as millions of people order things for Christmas dinners with a click and a credit card my mind wanders to the kitchens in the Trust properties of Fota House, Johnstown Castle and Strokestown Park and I think of how foods were sourced and prepared in the past. When everything was prepared from scratch and it took time and hard work. Not an issue in big houses with a dedicated team of servants to pluck, draw, skin, peel, scrape, grate, pound, grind, sieve and wash raw materials that entered by the scullery door – and of course to clean up afterwards.

Food miles were not huge issue for the big house cooks either: a large portion of their ingredients were obtained from the estate.  The range of food consumed by the upper classes was great. Potatoes, grains and eggs were in plentiful supply and most of the meat consumed was sourced from the estate including venison from the deer park, game, beef, poultry, rabbit and mutton and a variety of fish if there was river or a lake such as at Johnstown Castle.  

The kitchen garden supplied numerous varieties of vegetables and fruit and for table decorations a selection of flowers was essential – it was the head gardener’s task to ensure that there was a plentiful and impressive supply throughout the year. It was deemed so important to have floral decorations gracing one’s table that Victorian advice manuals suggested that hiring flowers was a solution for town dwelling middling sorts who didn’t have gardens of their own.  Fota’s kitchen garden with its heated glasshouses shows how generations of gardeners used ingenious means to force (or delay) growth in order to supply the house with out of season delights such as roses or strawberries for Christmas!

The demands placed on the gardener often came through the cook from the mistress of the house. Each day the cook would settle the menus with her mistress.  In Fota the ever practical Lady Dorothy made her way to the kitchen for this discussion.  This was not the ‘done’ thing and was considered an invasion of the cook’s territory and one which produced much grumbling!  In Strokestown the gallery above the kitchen allowed the mistress to stay aloof and drop her handwritten menu down to the cook waiting respectfully below: an action that plainly signified which woman was of the higher social rank. 

Olive & Edward

Monday, 19 December 2016 16:18 Published in Strokestown Park Blog

A fragile piece of cloth has been framed as a precious memento of a happy event. It is a table napkin and a typical souvenir given to wedding guests in the past.  The occasion marked on this napkin was the marriage of Olive Packenham Mahon to Edward Stafford King Harmon in 1914.  This was a great alliance of two of Roscommon’s most prestigious families, uniting the estates of Strokestown Park and Rockingham. The marriage was short-lived however as four months later Edward was killed in action in Ypres.

From London Edward left by train for Flanders with his regiment the Irish Guards and Olive was on the platform to wave him off. She was later to remark that as he looked back from the carriage window she felt it was as if he had wanted to return to her. But Olive was never to see him again. Shortly after arriving in Flanders, Edward was missing in action. It is not hard to imagine that having no definite proof that he was dead, Olive might have hoped that by some miracle he would return.   She remained at Rockingham for a number of months afterwards – but finally, with no news of her husband, she accepted that he would never come back and returned to Strokestown and her former life. Edward’s remains were never recovered.

You can still see the napkin today if you take a tour of Strokestown Park House. It hangs in the hallway and it tells us of the marriage that took place on the 4th of July 1914 in the Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks and it reads ‘…all blessings and happiness to them.’  That summer day of happiness stands in stark contrast to the events of the following months. We now know that Olive was expecting their first child when she waved Edward off to war and in the space of 12 months she had married, was widowed and became a mother. This month marks the anniversary of Edward’s death, one hundred and two years ago on the 6th of November.




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Strokestown Park House
Co. Roscommon,

Tel : 00 353 71 9633013
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