1720 - 1780
1844 - 1920
1913 - 2000
IntroductionMy name is Michael Brabazon and am resident in West Cork, Ireland. My family is of the Swinford branch of the Brabazon Clan and here are some central parts of our history. Please respond if you are interested in what is displayed or not displayed.
Conversion to Catholicism and Irish NationalismAnthony Brabazon of Ballinasloe married Ellice Dillon from one of the Old English families, which had remained Catholic, in 1641.
Anthony's change of spiritual allegiance was the precursor to his joining - what was soon to become - the Kilkenny Confederation. From his base at Ballinasloe Castle he wreaked much havoc, firstly against the Dublin Establishment and later the Cromwellian Army. The ferocity of his actions, fighting literally to the bitter end in 1651, was as much, I imagine, due to a guilty conscience of his former anti-Catholic actions as to his military prowess. His guerrilla raids against Cromwell's lines of supply seriously hindered the English advance around the coast, for which - amongst other incidents - he was tried in absentia and sentenced to death. Anthony escaped with many others to the Continent and died in exile in Seville, the old royalist capital, two years later, in the service of the Spanish king in a regiment specifically for Irish officers. Anthony may have been defeated but his inheritance was reclaimed in part by a presumed young son, William, the son of Anthony’s widow, who was later to take up the gauntlet in the army of King James. By his actions my ancestor at Ballinasloe had transformed himself from New English to Old English, and then, in common with the other Confederates, to New Irish. This then is the cultural watershed for my lineage, which has affected the fortunes of my family and those associated with us down to the present.
Acquisition of Land in Kilconduff ParishThe first mention of my family being connected to the Swinford-to-be locale is the marriage settlement of Anthony's son William in 1679 to Mary Browne of the Neale. William is styled "of Tullinacurra" and in later documents he is "of Tullinacurra, Lough Maske and Ballinasloe". All of our Mayo properties were acquired by inheritance from our Dillon relatives, not the Brabazons. What is interesting is that later on Hercules Brabazon, who inherited from Sir William Brabazon, the 2nd Baronet, in the 1840s administered the Swinford estate through his nephew Harvey Trewythen Combe whose address was The Lodge, Tullinacurra, (demolished in the early 1900s). If there are sufficient archaeological remains, I'm sure the Combe house will date to the Stuart period.
William is then the founder of Brabazon residency in Swinford, and Tullinacurra, therefore, is the genesis of Swinford town.
Captain William Brabazon 1650-1731William - as I have said - was supposed to have been raised a Protestant by his mother and Dillon relatives, who outwardly had conformed. The reality was very different. As he would have had little or no memories of his putative father, being just an infant at the time of his exile, it must have been his mother, her new Dillon husband and grandparents who instilled in him the political and religious faith of the New Irish. William became a Captain in the army of King James, fighting at the Boyne in 1690, Aughrim in '91 and finally at the following doomed siege of Limerick, being one of the Jacobite representatives negotiating the surrender treaty. As with his father before him, he faced his kinsman the Earl of Meath, a leading supporter of William and Mary. Indeed, the negotiators of the Treaty of Limerick had Brabazons and Dillons sitting on both sides of the table.
Perhaps no wonder then that the resultant document shocked the Establishment in Dublin and Westminster with its lenient terms, which were later annulled. After the war, Captain William settled down to estate management and cattle rearing, neither in Ballinasloe or Tullinacurra, but at Partry on the northern shore of Lough Mask.
In a list of Catholic officers drawn up in 1693 William is registered in Mayo, along with members of the Fitzmaurice family who were later to become his in-laws from his second marriage in 1717. The Fitzmaurice seat was at Coolnaght near Claremorris and the family had been vehemently opposed to the New English influence from the beginning. The choice of Lough Mask/Partry seems logical from both an administrative and political stance: firstly, it was located in the middle of Brabazon holdings, facilitating universal access, and secondly, it was in Mayo, one of the counties where Jacobite officers had immunity under the Treaty of Limerick. However, there must have been a final move to what is now Swinford towards the end of Captain William's life, as according to the plan of the Brabazon vault at Kilconduff - dated 1827 - the 'Old Generation' is buried therein, which has to refer to William and his wife Catherine Fitzmaurice, dating the vault to at least 1742.
The Inheritance to the Younger FamilyCaptain William had two sons by his first marriage to Mary Browne, Anthony and George: the former conformed to the Protestant Church, either for personal gain or political expediency, and lived at the family home in Creagh, Ballinasloe, and the latter remained steadfastly Catholic probably residing at Partry and Swinford-to-be. Anthony became the High Sheriff of Galway in 1721 - 1722 shortly before his demise in 1724, brought on by drink related illnesses. Basically, he was squandering the family fortune, so something had to be done to preserve the estates in another's keeping. A deal was struck between all parties which transferred the estates in his ownership to a family trust and thence to the children - George and Malby - of the second marriage of Captain William. This despite the fact that Anthony the High Sheriff apparently had a son William, according to family correspondence. In return for the transfer of property to his half-siblings, the family ensured the material wellbeing of Anthony's widow, Margaret Malone.
After the death of Margaret, the house at Creagh was demolished and the wooden pillars taken to Newpark to be utilised in the construction of the new Brabazon House,Swinford.
The Mansion HouseWithout the construction of Brabazon House by William's son George there would have been no attendant accumulation of personnel in the area and no Swinford as such. So we have in William the founding father - if that doesn't sound too patrician - of the town and a new dispensation for my lineage. I know that it has been generally regarded that George was the first of the line in Swinford, probably due to his construction of Brabazon House in the 1770s. Indeed, George's address before the construction of the Mansion House was still Newpark. The new House was a fine Georgian construction, but hardly of the grandeur or opulence of other country seats. In fact, the move to a larger domicile was driven by the pressing requirements of a very large family, the whole project dominating George's later life and finances, rather than social display. Once the House had been completed Brabazon Park was created, the name often being used interchangeably with Newpark, although it only ever was a part of the townland of Newpark. My family correspondence shows the use of Brabazon Park as an address becoming more generally used in the residency of George's son Anthony.
Sir Anthony Brabazon Bart. (1745-1803)Sir Anthony Brabazon, the first baronet (created 1797) of Brabazon Park and eldest son of George, inherited from his father in 1780, only a few years after the completion of Brabazon House. From 1770 he had actually been living most of the time in Dublin; initially as a young man entering Society, especially to find a suitable wife.
Although, by the time Anthony took Ann Molyneux of Castle Dillon as his wife in 1776 he was already morganatically married to a Miss Phillips of Cloonmore, Swinford, producing two inter-joined families.
Sir William John Brabazon Bart. 1776-1840William John's correspondence from Dublin talks in negative terms of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and of the Rebels' "dark and infamous plots". He is quite patently of his father's establishment position. However, he became an MP for Mayo representing Dan O'Connell's Party. Indeed, not only was he, I understand, one of a handful of Protestant landowning MPs in O'Connell's party, but wrested the seat from the powerful Browne's with the support of the Catholic Church. At his acceptance speech, Sir William drew heavily on his pro-Catholic ancestry, mentioning in particular the battlefield of Aughrim; that is, the part played by Captain William Brabazon. However, in Sir Anthony's favour, he refused (as the R.M.) to comply with a request from the authorities in Dublin to restrict the activities of his younger brother Counsellor Edward Brabazon, who was defending many of the accused rebels.
The accomplishments of Sir William's developments of Swinford town are standard local history: the post office, courthouse, etc. But perhaps his boldest move as a landlord was to grant leases on houses for 999 years or in perpetuity, virtually making them freehold.
Due to this policy Swinford boasted a town of slate-rooved houses long before others in the West as the owners were putting money into what was now their property.
His death in 1840 has been mythologised as the result of choking on a chicken bone. It may have been that such a convulsion brought on a heart attack, but this certainly isn't mentioned in the newspaper reports. He had been subject to bouts of ill health since the early 1830s, which by the end of the decade had worsened. His last bout of illness, which from the symptoms sounds like a heart condition, began in London earlier in 1840 when he was attending the Westminster Parliament and he was advised to return to Brabazon Park to recover. After a morning ride around his demesne he sat down for breakfast, only to be found slumped over his meal a short while later by his butler. He was the last of the true Brabazons at the Park.
The InheritanceIronically, the Brabazons are best remembered in Swinford in the person of General Brabazon, the last of the family at the Mansion House. I say ironically in that not only was his family name not Brabazon but Higgins, but more than that his politics were also Higgins, which meant Unionist rather than Nationalist. When the unmarried Sir William died in 1840 he left a will referred to by one of the lawyers involved as - and I quote - 'this scandalous document'. 'How so?' you will no doubt be wondering. (A bit of scandal is always enlivening!) Well, besides the main inheritance, other clauses left amounts of money to Sir William's four illegitimate children, but not a thing to the Higgins family. I leave you to draw your own conclusions! In fact, if the main beneficiary failed to honour the residency clause in the bequest, then the illegitimate offspring stood to inherit the estate. Unfortunately, the copy of the will which used to be in the family archive has been lost, leaving only legal discussion documents regarding it. So although my elderly Cousin Eileen can recall many times chuckling over the inheritances of the four illegitimate children, she cannot remember their names.
Nevertheless, one imagines that there may well be an awful lot of Brabazon blood in the district, albeit travelling under a variety of names!
If the Higgins were not the intended Brabazons of Brabazon House, then who were? Sir William actually left all his estates to his nephew William Sharpe, the eldest son of his sister Anne.
Within a few years though, the new William Brabazon - he had to adopt the Brabazon name upon inheriting - died of Malta fever and the property passed to his younger brother Hercules Brabazon Sharpe, who then became, as a French friend once commented to me, Brabazon deux fois. So why weren't the Sharpes in the Mansion House thereafter? The will stipulated that the inheritor would have to spend 6 months of every year in residence at Brabazon Park or forfeit the estate, and Hercules had more of a liking for the Mediterranean climate, not least of all due to his health.
His legal advisors had argued about what 6 months actually constituted: lunar months? Continuous periods of 6 months? A carry over of time from one year to the next? But at the end of the day Bwab, as he was known using the fashionable French R in common with his cousin General Brabazon, was more interested in his art and music than estate management, which he left to his nephew Harvey T Combe. Besides his Brabazon inheritance, Hercules also came into the Sharpe's English estates in County Durham and Seddlescombe, East Sussex, not far from the small town of Battle, the site of the Battle of Hastings.
Hercules Brabazon Brabazon 1821-1906Hercules has been described as a model landlord, and as far as I can ascertain he made virtually no profit from the Swinford properties. He belonged to the Bohemian artistic circle of his day, using his inherited fortune - I do mean fortune - to finance his peripatetic lifestyle and assist less fortunate painters and musicians. One of his proteges was a young German pianist, Emil von Sauer, who eventually became part of Liszt's company of young performers. A story told by Sauer in his memoirs recalls when they first met at a soirée in London in 1882, followed by a trip to Europe and finally an introduction to Franz Liszt.
The young Sauer had been financing himself since his arrival in London by playing at fashionable Victorian gatherings, rather like the background music in a bar. It was at one such occasion that Hercules attended, and was immediately drawn to actually listening to the pianist, that their friendship was first formed.
They talked for hours, ending up in the early hours at Hercules apartment in Morpeth Terrace, at the rear of what is now Westminster Cathedral, picking their way through the stacks of music scores that littered the floor, Hercules being a pianist and composer as well as a painter. As dawn broke, Hercules asked the young German if he would like to travel with him to Spain and Italy that very morning. This may seem a little impetuous, but such was his nature, being famed for his early morning appearances at the front of the house with a small leather case containing a few personal items and his precious watercolour paints, hailing a hansom cab with instructions such as, "Cairo, my good man!" Whatever the foreign destination might be the cabbies simply drove him to Victoria Railway Station where he would catch a train/boat to France and points south or east thereafter.
On the morning he and Sauer set off, the shout would have been "Seville!" Upon arrival in the old royalist capital, Hercules arranged a recital for Sauer to play before the Spanish King through an old friend in the Court. You can imagine how nervous the young German must have been, but this was not the end. After a successful performance Hercules arranged a public recital and organised the publicity personally with himself and Sauer fly-posting the city! For two evenings the main hall in Seville was packed and Sauer's reputation took-off. But even this was to be only the prelude to an introduction to Liszt to whom Hercules had access through the former's mistress in Rome, the Princess Wittgenstein. Liszt immediately took to Sauer and brought him into his circle. The friendship between Liszt and HBB became quite close and the new piano he chose for Hercules was the one my now deceased Cousin Eileen learnt to play on in her younger years.
Eileen was actually HBB's great great niece, the inheritance having passed to her line of the family, the Combes, as Hercules was without wife or direct heir. However, I rather think that what Winston Churchill wrote about General Brabazon is also applicable to Hercules: "Though he had always remained a bachelor, he was by no means a misogynist." These two family lines appeared to be running on parallel tracks: both the Higginses and Combes had changed their family names to Brabazon, the eldest sons had both died young and the second sons failed to produce any heirs.
General John Palmer Brabazon 1843-1922To go back now to Sir William's succession at the Mansion House; how was it that the Higgins family became the resident Brabazons, especially as they had specifically been ignored in Sir William's legacy?
The sequence of events that I pieced together from the family papers and known history commences with Sir Anthony's bequest of properties to his nephew Hugh Higgins, the son of his sister Catherine Brabazon and Luke Higgins. Hugh changed his name by Royal Licence to Brabazon in 1852, at which time he was already the de facto resident of Brabazon House. The House itself had been mortgaged, probably from the outset, and it would appear that a deal was struck between the mortgage companies, Hercules and Hugh Higgins for the latter party to take over the property. By this means the 6 months residency clause in Sir William's will would have been negated, leaving General Brabazon to later pursue a military career.
What kind of person was General John Palmer Brabazon? He was said to be very charming, generous and gregarious, very much the Victorian dandy. His physical resemblance owes more to his Brabazon blood than Higgins', but his politics were fixedly Unionist.
He was a friend of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII and mentor to Winston Churchill. In fact Churchill's preference for Anglo-Irish military leaders - their idiosyncratic way of thinking - I imagine in part was fashioned by his emotional attachment to Bwab. Always a colourful character, one of his notable confrontations with the powers-that-be was over the small growth of hair under his lower lip - in military parlance, a beard. And as beards were forbidden for army officers he was finally commanded to shave it off. This he did, but also half of a very bushy moustache, making quite a noticeable appearance on the Regiment's parade ground.
On another occasion, whilst stationed in South Africa during the Boer War, he reported to the Committee of Imperial Defence that he mistrusted the weapons supplied to the cavalry (he was commanding the 10th Hussars) and that his preference was for shock tactics using tomahawks. His description of a cavalry charge under these conditions - and I quote - 'proved paralysing to the imagination of the commissioners'.
In 1860 his elder brother Captain Luke Brabazon of the Royal Artillery died in the so-called Second Opium War in China, being executed along with a French priest on a bridge just outside Beijing. After the death of their father Captain Hugh Brabazon whilst on a mission to find the body of Luke in 1864 Bwab came into the family inheritance. He retired his commission in 1870 as Captain and returned to Swinford to run the estate, which already in dire straits was to be exacerbated by the second famine.
You have to bear in mind that the Higginses had only ever had a small part of the Brabazon lands and properties, so any downturn in economic fortune could prove disastrous. He returned to full military duties in 1873 and managed to build his army career as well as keep an eye on matters back home.
However, all of his plans to assure the economic viability of his property holding came to naught, and he finished his life in London as a member of the Royal Court.