Do you dare to try a Georgian Mince Pie?!

Do you dare to try a Georgian Mince Pie?

The idea of mixing fruit, meat and spices in one pie is believed to have been brought from the east to the west by returning crusaders. Anyone who has been on holiday to Morocco or Algeria may have tried a ‘pastille’ – a sweet spiced meat pie. The fruit and spices offered a way of preserving meat without smoking, pickling or salting it. Slowly the meat component of mince pies disappeared, and today the only meat based ingredient is the suet. Why not try and make this Georgian mince pie from Hannah Glasses’ ‘receipt’. Even here the meat is optional.

To make Mince-Pies the best way

Take three pouts of suet shred very fine, and chopped as small as possible; two pounds of raisins stoned, and chopped as fine as possible; two pounds of currents nicely picked, washed, rubbed, and dried at the fire; half a hundred of fine pippins, pared, cored and chopped small; half a pound of fine sugar pounded fine; a quarter of an ounce of mace, a quarter of an ounce of cloves, two large nutmegs all beat fine; put all in a great pan, and mix it well together with half a pint of brandy, and half a pint of sack; put it down close in a stone pot, and it will keep good four months.

When you make your pies, take a little dish, something bigger than a soup plate, lay a very thin crust all over it, lay a thin layer of meat, and then a thin layer of citron cut very thin, then a layer of mincemeat and a layer of orange peel cut thin, over that a little meat, squeeze half the juice of a Seville orange or lemon, lay on your crust and bake it nicely.

These pies eat finely cold, if you make them in little patties, mix your meat and sweet-meats accordingly. If you chose meet in your pies, parboil a neat’s (cow’s) tongue, peel it, and chop the meat as fine as possible, and mix in the rest; or two pounds of the inside of a sirloin of beef boiled. Buy you must double the quantity of fruit when you use meat.

Hannah Glasse, 1747

mince pie


The man who “invented” Christmas

Bah Humbug!

The man who “invented” Christmas


“Flowers have fallen in my path wherever I have trod; and when they rained upon me at Cork I was more amazed than you ever saw me.” Charles Dickens

This year Charles Dickens comes to Fota House for The Magic of Santa, a Victorian Christmas Experience. Ebenezer Scrooge, from A Christmas Carol features largely in this seasonal event. But it’s not Mr Dickens’ first visit to Cork. He came here in 1858 to read from his novella at the Opera House or as it was called then, The Athenaeum. This trip was part of a tour of Ireland, taking in Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Limerick, where the author did readings from his work to huge, enthusiastic audiences.


The Athenaeum (Old Opera House), Cork City

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843. At the time he was in financial difficulties and this short book helped to alleviate these problems. It cost 5 shillings a copy (€25 today) and the first run of 6,000 sold out by Christmas Eve. However, the production costs were high as Dickens insisted that it be beautifully illustrated and bound. So, despite its many reprints and huge popularity, his profits were modest.

CD pic

An Illustrated edition of A Christmas Carol

Part of the reason for its immediate popularity was its ability to catch the imagination of Victorians. It reflected the revival of the tradition of celebrating the Christmas holiday season. Although Christmas trees were introduced into England during the previous century, their use was widely popularised by Queen Victoria and her German husband, Prince Albert. There was also a renewed interest in Christmas carols, whose popularity had declined over the previous 100 years.

But most importantly, A Christmas Carol was a story of repentance and redemption. Ebenezer Scrooge undergoes a profound change that allows him to enter into the spirit of Christmas by sharing his wealth and helping others. Dickens himself, probably because of his own childhood experience of poverty, was deeply interested in the plight of Victorian children. In 1843 he visited the Cornish tin mines and was horrified by what he saw there. He realised that the best way to highlight his social concerns was not through worthy, fund-raising speeches (which he undertook also) but to write a popular and moving story about poverty and hunger.

In the book he focused on the humanitarian aspect of the Christmas season, which still influences how we still view the holiday today – family gatherings, spending time with loved ones, visiting neighbours, exchanging gifts, sharing food and drink and giving to charity.

The story of Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim is universally familiar, due to adaptations by Disney and the Muppets, as well as the many illustrated children’s versions found in bookshops and libraries. The book in its original version is rarely read nowadays. The publicly spoken word was powerful in Dickens’ day and he toured extensively all over the world, reading from his many books and earning a great deal of money.

Dickens came to Cork in August 1843 and did three readings at the Old Opera House. A description of the Christmas Carol reading was published in the Cork Constitution newspaper.

“His appearance is eminently prepossessing. His figure slight and graceful – his features regular and sharply chiselled, and his shaven cheeks, moustache and pointed beard, after the American fashion, render still more striking a face remarkable for character, energy and expression”

The piece continues – “Mr Dickens proceeded to read the Carol, the main interest of which, as all the world knows, turns upon the conversion, by a series of warning visions, of an old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, a ‘squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner’ into a kind friend, a good master and a jovial, hearty, benevolent old man…It was an intellectual treat of the highest kind to hear Mr Dickens read. His voice though not very powerful, is rich and clear and capable…of expressing the most varied feelings…His mimetic powers are first rate…from the surly growl of Scrooge to the timid tones of Bob Cratchit to the weak treble of Tiny Tim or the cheerful, hearty accents of Scrooge’s nephew.”

This contemporary newspaper account records the huge crowds of Cork people attended the event, describing “everyone in the reserved portion of the building in full dress, the house looked very attractive.”

In his letters Dickens mentions his intention to visit Queenstown.  We don’t know if he did or if he ever met the Smith-Barrys but it would be safe to assume that some of the inhabitants of Fota House attended one of his readings at The Athenaeum.

So, Charles Dickens’ spirit will be very much in attendance at the House this year; a spirit that will be invoked with characters vividly brought to life by RSVP (Red Sandstone Varied Productions).


Images of the author and book courtesy of

Image of The Athenaeum, Cork courtesy of Cork City Library (

The Fota House Game Larder

In the 21st century we don’t think twice about purchasing strawberries for Christmas in shops or supermarkets. Seasons are largely unimportant in today’s globalised world, and when we want to preserve food we can easily chill or freeze it. But in the 1800s storing and preserving supplies for winter, especially meat, was a real challenge and so ingenuity was called for.

In the 1830s, John Smith Barry added the game or wet larder and it acted as an early refrigerator and processing and preservation area. As fishing, hunting, hospitality and entertaining played a major part in Ascendancy life, a place was needed to prepare, stored and preserve all the meat and game. Foodstuffs coming into the house at this time were unprocessed and sometimes even still alive. A number of procedures had to be carried out before the food was ready for the kitchen. It is interesting to note some of the features in the Fota House game larder such as the grooves on the stone flags of the floor. These are a testament to the messy work that was carried out there, as they were designed to stop staff from slipping on blood and entrails.

A lot of thought went into the design of the game larder. It is built on a north east facing wall that gets little sunlight and has a hexagon shape to maximise outer wall surface area. There is a vent in the roof so that cross winds could blow through, creating what is known as a venture effect, which would suck any bad smells up and out. There are also screens on the windows to keep vermin and insects out but allow fresh air in. In order to ensure there was no pilferage of expensive meats, the windows of this room had iron bars fitted. To see the game larder for yourself, why not come down to Fota House and take a tour with one of our knowledgeable volunteer tour guides!

The Game Larder



If you are planning a visit to Cork, Ireland  this year perhaps you would like to do some Volunteer Tourism?  Last summer we were delighted to welcome our first ever volunteer tourist!

Lisa Waechter, a teacher from Germany, joined Fota’s volunteer programme as part of her holiday in Ireland.  Lisa contacted us; “on your website I read that you are looking for volunteers to get involved in your projects. I spent a few months in Ireland during my studies so I have grown to love the country and the people and during my stay I would like to get involved in a working project!”

The Irish Heritage Trust runs a comprehensive volunteer programme across its properties, including Fota House, Arboretum and Gardens (Co. Cork) and Strokestown Park and Famine Museum (Co. Roscommon).

“We are very proud of our volunteering programme here at Fota” said Victoria Tammadge, General Manager at Fota House, Arboretum & Gardens. “Our aim is to create opportunities for everyone to get involved with their heritage in any way that they choose and volunteering is a great way for us to offer meaningful ways for people to participate with heritage” she added.

We believe this increased individual and community participation at special places brings them to life and helps protect and preserve them for future generations. Our team of passionate and enthusiastic volunteers help us do so much more at Fota.

Lisa enjoyed three days of volunteering in August, which included assisting a children’s group to pot plants in Fota’s beautifully restored Victorian Frameyard Garden and learn about propagation.  She also was able to learn a skill at the volunteer led photography course.  “I really enjoyed the benefits of volunteering while giving something back to the Fota community”, continued Lisa.

We look forward to welcoming many more Volunteer Tourists in 2017!

Lisa Waechter Volunteer Tourism Fota House Cork

For further information on Volunteer Tourism contact:

Katie Sheehan

Fota House, Arboretum & Gardens

Fota Island,


T:+353 21 481 5543


The Last Letter

The Last Letter

The Irish Heritage Trust which manages Fota House in Cork is proud to be the gatekeeper of many stories.  We know this one is all too common and many families safeguarded those last letters from the front as precious mementos.  This letter dated April 1917 is 100 years old this year and it was sent from Charlie Beswick, son of Mr Beswick, who was the head Gardner on the Fota Estate from about 1899 to 1914.

Beswick Family

Clockwise from left, Charlie’s last letter to his parents written on the 19th of April 1917; Eliza Beswick, standing in front of the head gardener’s   house at Fota. The house can still be visited on tours of the kitchen gardens; the Beswick family, Charlie is standing front left with Brothers Arthur, Willie and his parents.

The Beswicks had three boys and you can see in the family photograph. Willie, Arthur (who took many of the family pictures), and Charlie, the youngest.  Charlie grew up on the estate and later followed in his father’s footsteps: he trained in botany at Kew Gardens in London. At the outbreak of WW1 Charlie joined up, and we have a selection of postcards that he dutifully sent to his parents from the front.  The address he uses is ‘The Gardens’ Fota House, Cork.  No postcodes needed!   Charlie commence his service as a private he later progressed to became an officer in  the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment and this image of him smiling and handsome in his lieutenant’s uniform belies the sadness that war brought to families such as the Beswicks.

The Trust was lent this letter written by Charlie to his parents dated the 19th of April 1917 and it is one of the most poignant and thoughtful messages from a young man to his family. His words are laden with significance and convey an outcome that he must have sensed was imminent and inevitable.  Charlie sustained fatal wounds after leading his platoon into action in Cambrai in France and died three days after writing the letter on the 22nd of April – 100 years ago.

The letter reads:

Dear Father and Mother

I am just about to go into action leading my platoon. With God’s help I will return safely – then if not I shall do my duty to the best of my ability. If anything should happen please tell Willie and Arthur and all, also Ernie Mills that I thought of them and you all and thank God he has thought fit to make me of some use to my King and Country.

Your loving son Charlie

Pictured below: Charlie Beswick in uniform and the letter he wrote just three days before he died.

Charlie   Letter

By the end of the War William and Eliza had moved to Bath, but their memory and that of their boys still lingers at Fota through their family album and especially through the house they once lived in, tucked away in a corner of ‘The Gardens’.  Today visitors can see where he played as a boy in the orchard and kitchen gardens at Fota House.  When we walk the paths where he walked and look at the family home it is hard to imagine how difficult it must have been to leave the leafy tranquillity of Fota to face the horrors of the trenches.

Fota House, Arboretum and Gardens, Co Cork, Ireland

Open from spring to September and by appointment at other times

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