Monthly Archives: December 2017

Visitors to Rockfield House, Artists Paul and Grace Henry

Faitle Roimh Geach Gael was the wording on the sign on Emily’s gatepost at Rockfied House or Teach na Carraig, as it became known. The sign on the gate attracted many, mostly from the Gaelic League and later from Nationalist circles. It later became a haven for those on the run during the Independence and civil wars.

Paul Henry in his later years

In the early 1910’s the door of  Rockfield House was open to artists and writers too. Emily was an excellent hostess, she knew how to entertain, and people felt at ease in her hospitality. One such visitor was the artist Paul Henry, who credits Emily in his autobiography, An Irish portrait; the autobiography of Paul Henry; with the only baths he had on Achill.

 “It was to her kindness I was indebted to the only baths I ever got there.”

Besides providing washing facilities for the Henry’s she welcomed them to her home and ensured that they were introduced to the Achill people, and more to the point “the ways peculiar to the island”. The fire place below could well have thrown out heat and light on the cold winter nights that the Henry’s may have spent at Emily’s.

The hearth in Emily’s house “Rockfield”

Irish Times 18 February 1956
Henry, Paul. An Irish Portrait; the Autobiography of Paul Henry. London, New York: B. T. Batsford, 1951.


History of Rockfield House; Part 2


Emily and friends outside Rockfield House

Emily’s ownership of Rockfield house was short enough lived. In the winter of 1918 she was on the brink of loosing it again, but it was nothing to do with the Mission Estate this time, it steamed from an event that was unfolding over three thousand miles away, the Russian Revolution. Emily had stocks and shares in Russian industry, which generated a substantial income for her for more at least a decade. These investments became worthless overnight and she lost her financial mainstay.

In a letter to her friend Margot Trench, she expressed that her income had been “denied from Russia” and was in great financial difficulty. She had at that stage returned to work as a nurse to survive. It is an ill wind that does not blow some good as the old saying goes, in Emily’s case it was the flu epidemic of 1918, where her services as a nurse were in great demand. She got a post at the Meath hospital straight away. It was at that time that perhaps the full extent of her financial woes were realized and the possible loss of her home.

“I had to leave Rockfield as I am getting no money from Russia… Miss O’Flaherty is at Rockfield now for the winter and it is nice to know she is in the house and looking after things…”

Emily did not loose the house then and there, but held on to it until 1925, when she got her husband’s estate sorted out nearly two decades after he died!The house and grounds were bought by the Catholic Arch-Bishop of Tuam Dr, Gilmartin.

National Library of Ireland. Department of Manuscripts, MS 46,331 /6 – 10 Coffey and Chenevix Trench papers, 1868-2007.
Photo courtesy of John ‘Twin’ McNamara

History of Rockfield House; Part 1.

Edward and Emily Weddall arrived on Achill as newlyweds sometime in 1906, where took up residence at Rockfield House in Keel. The couple’s new home was acquired through contacts with the mission estate in Dugort, where Emily’s father lived for some time in the 1840’s. Although the mission was well disbanded at that state they land was still in the hands of

Rockfield was a former school house for orphaned boys, when her father lived on the island, it closed as a school some time afterwards and may have been occupied by many people over the six decades before Emily occupied it.

Although it is unclear when the house was finally Emily’s, it was owned by the Mission Estate at Dugort, when she and Captain Weddall moved in in 1906. Six years later the Land Agitation episode of the winter of 1912/1913 changed the land ownership of the Island for good.

This event in history was recorded for the National Folklore Commission; The Schools’ Collection in 1937/38. The informant was by Pádhraic Mac Pháidín, the headmaster of Tonatavally, on Achill. 

St Thomas' Church on the Achill Mission Estate

St Thomas’ Church on the Achill Mission Estate

About 30 years ago the C. D. B. [Congested District Board] was buying up the estates in the poorest part of the West. The people wanted the “Achill Mission” to sell and they refused. An agitation was commenced and eventually they agreed but wanted to retain the lands of the Colony and other Protestant Settlements in the Island. the Protestants became infuriated at this juggling and the Catholics promised them support moral and material. This was in 1912. the leaders were Rev. Fr. Colleran, Darrell Figgis and William Egan, a Protestant gentleman of Slievemore.To these must be added the name of Walter Bourke another Protestant, who by verse and organising ability gave impetus to the movement…

…A system of boycotting was adopted, and Grierson was compelled to get two “Emergency men” from outside. A mass meeting was convened and the people marched in a body to the Rent office and demanded that the land should be sold…

Master Mac Pháidín remembers that the Agitation went on for the entire winter of 1912/13, but was resolved eventually in the Spring. With the perseverance of the locals and under the guidance of   Fr. Colleran the Land Wars ended quietly, the people of Achill the victors.

Mr Scott sold out immediately at the commencement of the agitation and Mr Pike did likewise a short time afterward. the Achill Mission and Mrs McDonnell did so at last.

The remarkable thing about the whole saga was it disproved the popular opinion that Catholics and Protestants were on opposite sides. In a letter to the Mayo News Anita tells of how the people of Achill from different backgrounds and religion united to sort out the situation for the good of all.

In conclusion it is pleasant to be able to state that Achill offers an emphatic denial of the much talked of division between Protestants and Catholics in Ireland. In Achill, if anywhere for reasons too long to explain here we might expect to find sectarian feeling very strong. Yet today, in striking vindication the Irish Protestant from the Irish Catholic we find the Protestant Dugort  tenants united with their Catholic neighbors, and as anxious as they are to free Achill Island from the blighting influence of the Achill Mission trusteeship…

The victory over the establishment was the end of the old system and the beginning of the new, although it would take almost a further decade. It would take nearly two decades before Emily would finally have full ownership of the house and land only to have to sell it again.

The Schools’ Collection, Volume 0086, Page 318 Tonatanvally, Co. Mayo
The Mayo News, April 12 1913