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The days of landed gentry are long gone

Historically these stately homes belonged to Ireland's landed class – those gentry and aristocratic families that for centuries owned nearly all the land in Ireland divided up into in large estates.

This land brought them great wealth and also access to political and social influence throughout the eighteenth and much of the nineteenth centuries.

However, a combination of political activism and government-sponsored land reform saw the undermining of this class' political and economic power, and the eventual break-up of their great estates. But some, including the Macnaghtens of Dundarave and the McCauslands of Drenagh, strongly resisted the pressure to sell their estates, determined to remain living in their country houses and managing their landed property as they had always done.

Following partition in 1921, however, compulsory land purchase acts in both the Free State and Northern Ireland forced landlords to sell all their remaining tenanted land.

The twentieth century saw an increasing number being sold off as institutions, hotels, schools or for demolition.

But through careful management and imaginative use of the remaining resources remaining to them, families such as the Macnaghtens and McCauslands managed to keep the property going and hand it on to the next generation. This takes commitment, energy and resources, and the numbers of houses still in original ownership is dwindling.

Earlier this year administrators were appointed to Drenagh Farms Ltd, the company behind Drenagh Estate. It is now for sale, along with Dundarave. Those remaining families who continue to live in their ancestral homes do so through hard work, determination, creativity and a fair degree of good luck.

Dr Olwen Purdue is a lecturer in Irish social and economic history at Queen's University Belfast

Belfast Telegraph