Belfast Telegraph

Life in the Great Houses revealed

Memoirs of the privileged lives behind the walls of Ireland's Great Houses have been brought to life by historians.

Stories and anecdotes from the ancestors of more than 100 prominent Anglo-Irish landlords have been captured on CD and preserved for future generations.

Historians Maurice and Jane O'Keeffe have spent three years documenting the Great Houses of Ireland, travelling across the UK to meet descendants of the major landowners of Ireland's past.

Mr O'Keeffe said the Irish countryside was once scattered with wonderful historical buildings, but many were destroyed during Ireland's War of Independence and, latterly, the Troubles.

Families also lost estates because of the running costs and rates or when the land commission carved up the land and destroyed buildings, he added.

"The lives and experiences of Anglo-Irish families who left Ireland during the Troubles in the 1970s and 1980s were largely ignored in the version of Irish history taught in schools," said Mr O'Keeffe.

"The testimonies of these families deserve to be heard, as they form a significant part of our shared Irish history."

The interviews can be heard on and in several libraries nationwide.

Barrister Tom Somerville had made his ancestral home - Drishane House, in Castletownshend, Co Cork - his family home with wife Jane and sons Thomas and Hal. He is a descendant of Somerville and Ross, the pseudonyms of cousins Dr Edith Somerville and Violet Florence Martin, who wrote under the pen name Martin Ross.

Their best known writings were first published in 1928 under the title The Irish R M. Despite growing up and being educated in England, Mr Somerville admitted he always thought of the great house as more than just a holiday destination. "It was always the steady point in the shifting world for me," he said.

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