Mrs Rundell’s Really Rich Custard

Strokestown Park House Irish Heritage Trust Galleried Kitchen

The galleried kitchen at Strokestown Park in Roscommon – the daily menus were dropped down from the gallery to the cook

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.

Another important element of the food supply to an estate kitchen was the dairy which provided the house with milk, cream, cheese and butter sourced from the dairy herd. Butter was a much used ingredient and a very large household could consume up to 40 pounds of it per week for cooking, baking and for the table.

We are fortunate in the Trust that our preserved service wings help us to imagine the contexts and servants who toiled in the old kitchens – but the best way to understand them is to try a recipe! This is just a simple one but does give a sense of the work involved and the ingredients used. Appropriately for the time of year it’s for an extremely Rich Custard from a ‘receipt’ book published in 1806. The book called A New System of Domestic Cookery was written by Mrs Rundell and was a runaway best seller for many decades and I’d like to think that perhaps it was used at one of our houses.

Image courtesy of Blue Vinny

Image courtesy of Blue Vinny

Rich Custard
Boil a pint of milk with lemon peel and cinnamon; mix a pint of cream and the yolks of five eggs well beaten [and leave aside]; when the milk tastes of the seasoning, sweeten it enough for the whole; pour it into the cream, stirring it well; then give the custard a simmer till of a proper thickness. Don’t let it boil; stir the whole time one way; season as above.

If to be extremely rich, put no milk but a quart [two pints] of cream to the eggs

Try to avoid the bitter pith of the lemon when scraping the peel – ideally a tool for taking julienne strips should be used. As in all early recipes that we make (without the aid of a servant) this one takes a little time and attention, but it is so superior to readymade cartons of custard and it adds a truly luxurious element when served at Christmas on your deserts or pudding. Happy Christmas!


Preparing for Christmas, Dressings Aside …

Fota House Irish Heritage Trust Conservation Santa

Whilst a good number of volunteers are working with staff on the annual exercise of taking all the decorations down from the attics and sitting around a table sorting, making and sometimes mending, Museum Standards and Property Care Co-ordinator Stephen Williams is going through his schedule of rooms, checking his lists twice for precious objects which must be either protected or carefully moved to a safer location before thousands of children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles come through the house for Fota’s celebrated Magic of Santa.

“Things get pretty busy around here in December!” laughs Stephen, “so we plan and re-plan routes through the house and make sure that nothing of the house or anything inside it is put at risk – it’s all part of our holistic Museum Standards Accreditation.”

The Trust knows that people come to Fota for Christmas because they want to be in the grand reception rooms and experience the glimmer and glamour of the big house at this time of the year. Our job in the Trust is to make sure that we work with the house and objects, to strike a good balance between access and conservation.

What kind of jobs is Stephen doing with his team? Here are just a few examples:
– The careful and even rolling-up of good carpets and covering them in Tyvek cloth to keep them clean and protected.
– The creation of boxes (acid and pest free!) around objects which can’t be moved, such as the delicate gilt pier tables in the main pink Drawing Room.
– The careful relocation of precious sidetables and chairs which can’t fit amidst all of Santa’s kit and entourage, always lifting these precious objects by their lowest load-bearing points, never by their chair-rails or carved skirting.

We are getting ready for you at Fota and look forward to welcoming you inside!

Fota House Irish Heritage Trust Conservation Santa

The unbelievable tale of Lady Barrymore ‘The Boxing Baroness’ – boxing and boozing in Regency London

The Boxing Baroness, is it Lady Barrymore

The Boxing Baroness Courtesy of the British Museum

“The Barrymores, you know, really cannot be held accountable for their odd manners” … and the worst offenders were the Earls of Barrymore who partied their way through their fortunes in Regency London. Richard Barry, the 7th Earl, was perhaps the most notorious. Amongst the mix of his dangerous or expensive passions was the sport of boxing. History has somehow remembered both Richard and his wife practicing the sport of boxing, but would a high born woman in Regency England really have done this? We do know that the Regency was rather a racy time. Or was “The Boxing Baroness” remembered in early 19th century prints instead Mary Ann, Richard Barry’s mistress in the late 1780s. When Richard left her and married another woman in 1792, poor Mary Ann may have been married off to one of Richard’s servants, but her association with the name Barrymore remained. By the 1820s Mary Ann was in the gutter, she was heavily dependent on alcohol and had tendency to use her fists on lawmakers who tried to arrest her. Hence could this have won her the title “The Boxing Baroness”. Mary Ann had descended from the luxury to penury, dying gin soaked in a garret near Drury Lane in 1832.

Why not visit the home of the Barrys, Fota House, Co. Cork

Read here about Female Boxers in Georgian England, where we are told that Lady Barrymore posed as a boxer and sparred before her husband Lord Barrymore

To read more about Mary Ann as “The Boxing Baroness” go to

The Columbine, Cowes and The Water Club of the Harbour of Cork … More Racing Around in Yachts!


The honours board that is on the wall in the platform of the Royal Yacht Squadron with our John Smith Barry’s name very prominent for all to see to this day

John Smith Barry did indeed enjoy racing his yacht Columbine.  One account from the sporting magazine dated august 24th 1835 of the ‘Cowes Regatta’ describes

The beautiful King’s cup was won by Mr Smith Barry’s Columbine beating The Corsair, The Fanny and The Albatross. The vessels that contended were from 90 to 70 tons and all were built by Mr Ratsey.  His most gracious majesty’s beautiful cup will for the first time find its way to the sister isle, and grace the sideboard of the hospitable and liberal proprietor of cove island in Cork Harbour”.

The King’s Cup is a silver gilt trophy that was presented to the royal yacht squadron by King William IV in 1830 – the names of the winners of the Kings Cup are written in gold on an honours board that is displayed on the platform at the castle that is the home of the Royal Yacht Squadron to this day. The Royal Yacht Squadron was founded in 1815 by a group of friends and quickly became a favourite of the aristocracy, its regatta at Cowes being one of the most fashionable events of the season.


The wonderful signal book that belonged to Columbine and is in the possession of the Royal Cork Yacht Club in Crosshaven

However, yachting for pleasure, in an organised social form, blossomed in Ireland long before England.  The Water Club of the Harbour of Cork was active from 1720 to 1765, its members met fortnightly (coinciding with the spring tides) between April and September to sail and dine.  Once a year their admiral received the honours of the flag, ‘attended with a prodigious number of boats with their colours flying, drums beating and trumpets sounding.  The Water Club’s boats – cutters of the type used by pilots and revenue officers – carried out manoeuvers rather than racing, the spectacle made livelier by frequent signalling with guns and flags, clouds of smoke and the Irish genius for conviviality!

Huge thanks to Sally O’Leary for writing this super follow up blog to

Racing around in yachts – sailing for pleasure with the Smith-Barrys in honour of Annalise

John Smith Barry with Columbine behind him in Cork Harbour

John Smith-Barry (1793-1837) of Fota House loved to race yachts and won many cups with ‘The Morning Star’ and ‘Columbine’, the latter a 99 ton cutter. The painting above shows John at Fota with ‘Columbine’ moored in Cork Harbour behind him.

A cutter like Columbine


His son James Hugh Smith-Barry was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and Vice Admiral of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, later admiral. James preferred cruising to racing and had Columbine turned from a cutter into a yawl. Those of you who have visited Cobh will know the beautiful promenade called the Columbine-quay. This was built at a great expense by James Smith Barry and was used by the Royal Cork Yacht Club, at their annual regatta

‘the gayest and best supported of any display of the kind in Ireland; the prizes are often large, and contended for with great emulation and spirit. In the centre of the beach is the Yacht Club House, for the accommodation of the numerous and respectable members, who meet once a week during the summer season, the fleet then generally going to sea for some hours under the command of the ‘Admiral of the day.’’

Royal Cork Yacht Club is the oldest yacht club in England or Ireland … founded in 1720 it was first called the ‘Cork Harbour Water Club’. It changed its name to the Cork Yacht Club in 1828 and, under the patronage of William IV, became the Royal Cork Yacht Club in 1830.’

During the Great Famine of 1845-49 the Smith-Barrys had to cut back on lavish spending as their income, based on tenant rents, fell away to nothing. The Smith-Barrys had to resort to ‘pretty rigid economies’ – they sold ‘Columbine’, stopped all improvement works in their houses and went abroad for a year or two until the financial situation improved. We know very little of their efforts, if they made any, to aid their distressed tenants. If only we knew as much of Fota during the Famine as we do about her sister Irish Heritage Trust property, Strokestown.

When Arthur Hugh Smith-Barry inherited the estate he tried his hand at many sports, even rowing! And although was a ‘fair oarsman’ (watch out Paul and Gary) he really loved to play cricket and played for Ireland on one occasion. In 1876 he bought a sea going topsail schooner ‘Goshawk’ weighing 252 tons.

A sea going topsail schooner like Goshawk


He and his wife Mary sailed in the Mediterranean, travelling as far as Alexandria and then to Crete, Athens, Malta, Tunis, Algiers and Gibraltar and then ‘across the bay’ to Cobh. He replaced ‘Goshawk’ with the ‘Alruna’, a 126 ton yawl, followed by ‘Celia’ a 60 ton cutter, and the ‘Waterwitch’ a 150 ton schooner. Arthur Hugh was a great traveller, but never made it as far as Rio …


Arthur Hugh Smith-Barry’s unpublished autobiographical notes

Slater’s National Commercial Dictionary of Ireland, Cove (Cobh) Co. Cork, 1846

Membership List of the Western Yacht Club – 1837-47

Fota and the Rising, April 24 1916

That no rising happened in Cork on the 23rd-24th April 1916 might said to be down to Edwardian communications technology. It was impossible to communicate in secret at speed. The rising in Cork ran as follows:

“On Easter Sunday morning ‘two or three hundred’ Cork city Irish Volunteers had boarded a train for Crookstown to meet other volunteer groups from West Cork. The plan was to seal off all roads to Kerry so that guns could be landed safely from the German ship, the Aud.”

Tomás MacCurtain received countermanding orders from Eoin McNeill calling off the manoeuvres some time on Saturday night-Sunday morning, these had arrived by car, delivered in person by The O’Rahilly. MacCurtain “drove to Kilmurray with Terence McSwiney, where all the volunteers had joined up, to send them home. The whole company marched to Macroom and the city volunteers got the train to Cork that evening”. They could not have known that the IRB military council meet on Sunday in Liberty Hall, where they decided the Rising would go ahead on Easter Monday. Indeed, The O’Rahilly only realised the insurrection had gone ahead when, from his home in the Dublin suburbs, he heard the sound of gunfire from Dublin city centre.

Back in Cork, Irish Volunteers were guarding Volunteer Hall on Sheares’ Street, refusing to stand down. This led to an increasing ring of steel being thrown around the building by the British Forces. A six day stand-off ensued.

If there was confusion in the Irish ranks there was shock in the British ones. Dublin Castle’s intelligence officials were taken by surprise, despite their knowledge that the Irish Volunteers were an armed force who regularly drilled in public. On Easter Monday, when the combined force of Irish Volunteers and Irish Citizen Army personnel took over various Dublin buildings, British forces in Ireland were rapidly scrambled. Here we see the difference between the Irish Volunteers and the British army in terms of communications. Urgent messages were sent out to barracks all over Ireland, soldiers were rapidly entrained, and they headed for areas of crisis.

Captain Charles Brett

Captain Charles Brett in 1914

One such message reached the Connaught Rangers stationed in Kinsale. They were there preparing for being sent into action on the Western Front. Amongst them was Lieutenant Charles Brett from Belfast, who had arrived in Kinsale in October 1914. He gives an account of being called into action on the 24th April 1916:

“At Easter 1916 the Irish Rebellion took place in Dublin and there were manifest fears that it would spread to the South. We were ordered to produce a flying column of about four hundred men (of whom I was one) and on the first night we marched to Crosshaven (on Queenstown Harbour – twelve miles from Kinsale) where we arrived at dawn. We were all given breakfast and then loaded on board two tugs (which were most dangerously overloaded and terrifyingly unstable) and ferried across the harbour to Queenstown where we marched to Fota, a large estate on an island off the River Lee between Queeenstown and Cork. There we were obviously well placed, had there been any trouble in Cork City.”

The owner of Fota House, Arthur Hugh Smith Barry, Lord Barrymore, was a committed Unionist and Conservative MP. He was deeply opposed to Home Rule, fearing that once the Home Rule Bill was enacted in 1914 the rights of southern Unionists would be completely compromised. After war was declared, however, Lord Barrymore shared a stage with the Home Rule M.P. William O’Brien at a military recruitment rally in Cork on the 5th September 1914. He declared that “this was a time when they should all stand together in defence, not merely of the Empire, but of the island which they themselves lived; it was a time when they should follow the saying of the ancient Roman where “None were for party but all were for state”. He then related the story of his nephew, the only one who bore his name who went out in the Aviation Corps. He had returned to England with both legs broken, but, thank God, he was getting on well towards recovery. You can read about his nephew, Robert Raymond Smith Barry, here.

We do not know if Arthur Hugh Smith Barry was at home in Fota in March 1916. Various ‘Fashionable Intelligence’ and ‘Social and Personal’ columns tell us that Lord and Lady Barrymore came to Fota from their English residence in September 1915. The papers also tell us that on the 30th March, 1916, at the Munster Agricultural Society Spring Show, that Lord Barrymore’s calf ‘Fota Minstrel’ won first prize in the pure bred short horn bull category. But we do not know if Lord Barrymore was there to witness this victory. One thing is almost certain. He would have been most supportive of Charles Brett and his men encamping on the Fota Estate in defence of British rule in Ireland.

But what about the stand-off at the Volunteer HQ at Sheares’ Street? Here there was no trouble. During this stand off the British demanded the surrender of all weapons but the Volunteers refused. Not a shot was fired on either side. Eventually, a compromise brokered by the Lord Mayor and the Auxiliary Bishop. And Charles Brett? He and his men, not needed in Cork, went via train to Dungarvan, thence to Enniscorthy, but the rebels had fled. They saw no action in Ireland, but soon Charles Brett was deployed to France where he saw a lifetime’s worth of action in a few short years.

John Dorney, ‘‘Glorious Madness’, The Life and Death of Michael O’Rahilly’
Sir Charles Brett, An Irish Soldier with the Connaught Rangers in World War I, published by the Somme Association, 2007

The Skibbereen Eagle, 5 September 1914, Page 8, Accessed via the Irish Newspaper Archive Online


Tally ho! A Jolly Good Show! … Foxhunting and Ascendancy in Co. Cork

Violet Florence Martin by Edith Anna Oenone Somerville, 1886, Oil on Canvas, The National Portrait Gallery London

Violet Florence Martin in her riding habit by Edith Anna Oenone Somerville, 1886, Oil on Canvas, The National Portrait Gallery London

A recent wintery walk at beautiful St. Barrahane’s Church in Castletownshend led to the discovery that it is 100 years since the death of Violet Florence Martin (11 June 1862 – 21 December 1915). Using her pen name, Martin Ross, she wrote both funny and poignant stories and novels about Anglo-Irish life at the turn of the century with her cousin Edith OEnone Somerville (1858-1949). Any readers familiar with Major Yeates, the Irish R.M, will know that a dominant leisure time occupation of his set was foxhunting, an activity very appropriate to write about at this time of year.

Somerville and Ross did a wonderful job of conveying the excitement of the hunt, along with its rigors. Their story ‘The Pug-nosed Fox’ about an attempt by Major Yeates, as temporary ‘Master of Hounds’, to have his photograph taken in full regalia with the dogs about him in mid-summer, does a superb job of conveying these rigors, along with giving us passages of text written in a colourful, thick, West Cork accent. When the hounds decide to follow the scent of the pug-nosed fox from Templebraney, rather than have their photograph taken, Major Yeates and the whip Michael Leary have to chase them across the countryside in sweltering summer heat. When the pair become separated the Major has to find out where Michael and the hounds have gone, he asks an old woman in her garden:

““Did you see any dogs, or a man in a red coat?”

“Musha, bad cess to them, then I did!” bawled the old woman, “look at the thrack o’ their legs down thro’ me little pratie garden! ‘Twasn’t but a whileen ago that they came leppin’ out o’ the wood to me, and didn’t I think ‘twas the Divil an all his young ones, an’ I thrun meself down in the thrinch the way they wouldn’t see me, the Lord save us!”

My heart warmed to her; I would also would have gladly laid down among the umbrageous stalks of the potatoes, and concealed myself for ever from Michael and the hounds.

“What way did they go?” I asked, regretfully dismissing the vision, and feeling in my pocket for a shilling.

“They went wesht the road, your Honour, an’ they screeching always; they crossed out the field below over-right the white pony, and faith ye couldn’t hardly see Michael Leary for the shweat! God help ye asthore, yourself is getting hardship from them as well as another!”

The shilling here sank into her earthy palm, on which she prayed passionately that the saints might be surprised by my success.”

Far more hilarity ensues when Major Yeates arrives at Templebraney House where he finds Tomsy Flood, the best man at a wedding in the house, sewn in to a feather mattress. And the hounds then proceed to eat the wedding breakfast.

Violet Martin’s writing partner, Edith Somerville, was also an artist, farmer, suffragist and Master of the West Carbery Hunt. It is in this capacity that she may have met Dorothy Bell of Fota House. Mrs. Bell rode with the United Hunt of Middleton, the South Union Hunt of Carrigaline, the West Waterford Hunt, and with the West Carbery Hunt, Skibbereen. Mrs. Bell wore a full riding habit and always rode side saddle. This image of her, from the Fota Collection, tells us that she was Master of the South Union Hunt.

Dorothy Bell as Master of the South Union Hunt

Dorothy Bell as Master of the South Union Hunt

In Patty Butler’s wonderful writings about Fota there is account of what Mrs. Bell did when she came home from a hunt. She would enter the house calling the names of the servants “Mary! Patty! Peggy! Russell!’ and dump her small lunch basket inside the front door. She would then proceed up the stairs shedding her riding gear, throwing off the skirt of her habit, her hat and her whip as she ascended. These were duly picked up by her ladies maid, Mary Wixon, as she followed along behind to help Mrs. Bell change into her day clothes.

Mrs. Bell and any guests who had also been out hunting would have tea, hot toast and boiled eggs served to them in the library. As hunting is a winter sport there would always be a fire burning. The talk of the days sport would be loud and lively. As Patty Butler recounts “you could hardly hear yourself clearing the table above the chatter. “Jolly good show …!” could be heard in loud English accents and they laughed a lot as they looked back over the day’s events.” If the experiences of Major Yeates are anything to go by, they had much to laugh about.

Excerpts taken from:
Edith Somerville and Martin Ross, The Further Experiences of an Irish RM (Longmans and Green, 1908)
Patty Butler, Through the Green Baize Doors, Fota House (Carrigtowhill, 2011)

Danielle O’Donovan, Irish Heritage Trust, 2016

Sprinkles and your letters to Santa!

Santa and his elves at Fota!

Hi Everyone!

Sprinkles here, just checking in with you all at this busy time.  Hope you are all keeping well and have your letter written and posted to Santa.  There were letters posted in my letter box here at Fota House and I passed them straight onto Santa.  I have had lots of elfmails asking for the correct address for Santa.  Well boys and girls there is no CORRECT address and as long as it says “Santa” & “The North Pole” it will get there! PHEW …

I am still very busy wrapping and organising here at the Elf Academy, I love every minute of it! OOOohhh the excitement!! Have you ever tried to wrap a bike with stabilizers? It’s a tricky task … hmm … I think I am running out of sticky tape after that one!!! Hannah I hope you will love your bike.

We are ready now for all the lovely children to come and visit us at Fota House … looking forward to seeing you all here this weekend and next weekend!


If you want to book tickets for the Magic of Santa at Fota House click HERE

Sprinkles the Elf is Decorating Fota House for Christmas!

Sprinkles counts the Chimneys

I hope you are feeling on top of the world today and excited about Santa!

Us elves are putting on our wellingtons because we are going on an adventure around the arboretum to find beautiful holly, ivy and greenery for decorating the house. Lets hope the birds haven’t taken all of our berries! I LOVE green, it’s my favourite colour – it reminds me of the wonderful gardens here at Fota where us elves go out to play when we aren’t busy working for Santa and Mrs Claus.

We have been counting all the chimneys here at Fota. We will have to decorate all the mantle pieces! Can you guess how many there are? Why not put YOUR wellingtons on and come to Fota to count them yourselves?


Christmas with the Bells

The Hall Dressed for Christmas with Male Bust and Tree

Mrs. Bell and her family used to dress up in very fancy clothes for Christmas. These were kept in storage in a chest in the attic. Christmas Eve was a hive of activity for the staff preparing for the next day. A single large Christmas tree was placed in the Front Hall and this was decorated with streamers, silver balls and other decorations kept over from the previous year. The family put their presents under the tree.

On Christmas morning, Mrs. Bell and her family went to church. Even the Protestant servants went to church, possibly for the only time in the year, apart from Easter. After breakfast, Mrs. Bell came around to all the staff with presents; I remember I got a white apron. She also went around the village distributing gifts to her tenants.

On Christmas morning, the family went to the library to exchange presents. They loved gifts such as books and music records or ornaments or exquisite boxes of chocolates. The chocolates lasted for weeks as they usually only ate one at a time.

On Christmas day, the servants had dinner, turkey and ham, in the middle of the day in the servants’ hall. The Bell family helped themselves to a cold lunch in the Dining-Room, which we had prepared beforehand. This was the only day in the year that they waited upon themselves so that we could enjoy our Christmas dinner.

In the evening, the custom was for all the servants to line up in the Hall to watch the family pass by into the dining room, dressed in all their glitter and glamour – Major and Mrs Bell, the Captain and Rosie, Evelyn and her first husband David Petherick, and Susan. We had to bow to them as they passed by. I remember one year in particular when I could scarcely stop myself from laughing. Mrs. Kevin, the housekeeper, carried a bell behind her back and as she bowed to each individual, the bell rang out each time!

This is an excerpt from Behind the Green Baize Doors: Fota House Memories of Patricia Butler. We are so lucky to have Patty and her niece Eileen’s writings about life in Fota House, above and below stairs, in the middle years of this century. Copies of Through the Green Baize Doors are available in the Fota gift shop.