Fota History Nuggets – Stories From Cork, Ireland and Beyond

On this day, April 14th, 1894, Dorothy Elizabeth Smith Barry was born at 20, Hill Street, the family’s London home.

Dorothy’s mother, Elizabeth Wadsworth Post, an American, was 43 and her father Arthur Hugh Smith Barry was 53. Dorothy had two half-sisters from her parents’ previous marriages, Helen Post and Geraldine Smith Barry. A younger half-brother, James, who had been born in 1870, died in his first year. Dorothy spent her childhood at the various Smith Barry homes in London, Marbury and Fota House. She also travelled extensively with her parents. A 1901 UK Census reveals that she had a French governess.


In May 1912 Dorothy was presented at the Royal Court by her mother. This debut into society was followed by a series of balls, and attendances at theatres and concerts. Like celebrities today, the lives of the upper classes were followed closely in the media of the time, with newspapers and magazines describing what functions they attended, what they wore, their travel movements and their engagements and weddings.
In January, 1917 Dorothy married Captain William Bertram Bell, a soldier serving in the WW1. Their daughter Susan Wanda was born later that year. Two other daughters followed, Evelyn and Rosemary. In the mid 1930’s, Major and Dorothy Bell bought Fota House from her cousin, Colonel Robert Smith Barry, who had initially inherited it from Lord Barrymore. They moved to Fota House and spent around 40 years living here.

By all accounts, Dorothy Bell was a strong, dynamic personality. You can see some further snapshots from her life below.

She loved horse-riding and hunting, at which she excelled, always riding side-saddle. She was a great gardener and enjoyed showing the Fota Arboretum and Gardens to visitors. She corresponded with all the major international Arboreta, including Kew Gardens, the Arnold Arboretum in Harvard, USA and others like Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, as well as those in South Africa and Australia. She sent them seeds and seedlings, which leads one to believe that trees and shrubs from Fota are growing in these gardens around the world. Most of the directors of these famous Botanic Gardens visited Fota at some stage during Dorothy’s lifetime. She and her husband, Major Bell, were involved in many charitable organisations such as the RNLI, the Red Cross and the Scouts and organised fundraising events at Fota House. One year Dorothy put on a film of the Grand National. Hundreds of people came to the event, to see both the film and the house. Tea and cakes were served through the window of the Billiards Room (nowadays the Café).
In the early Seventies after the death of Major Bell, when the upkeep of Fota House became too costly, Mrs Bell moved into the Gardener’s House in the orchard. She lived there until she died in 1975.
This #FotaHistoryNuggets post is thanks to our volunteer Catherine Coakley who researches and writes these fascinating accounts of This Day In History for our channels – our volunteers make exceptional contributions to Fota House & Gardens with their individual expertise, skills and passion.