“You have to see this place in person to believe it. This is not your typical restored Georgian mansion. It’s a light-hearted interpretation of the old theme, designed for good times…”

Jeanne Mills, Great Trips Unlimited, Mexico

History of the House

AN OVERVIEW

1john_sweteAccording to local historian Dermot Ryan, Kinsale has surprisingly few great houses but Ballinacurra House, overlooking a tributary of the Bandon River is an exception.

It is not clear exactly when Ballinacurra House was originally built. The first recorded owner was John Swete Esquire who was the High Sheriff of Cork. The Swete family bought Ballinacurra with money inherited from their cousin who was the paymaster for the Duke of Marlborough. The house appears on an old road map drafted in 1770 which is the earliest record of the house we have yet uncovered.

John Swete sold the house in 1791 when it was described as a ‘small hunting lodge’. It was purchased, re-built and extended by the Bleazby family, who had the house until the 1950’s. (photo John Swete esq)

The History

house1Situated 2 miles west of Kinsale amid beautiful mature woodland overlooking a tributary of the Bandon river. This tributary divides the parishes of Kinsale and the Clontead and it is also from it that the townland  derives its name Baile-na-Coradh, meaning ‘place of the weir’. In 1791 about 300 acres of land in the Ballinacurra area was purchased by the Bleasby family from John Swete Esq. for £5,500. Because of its architectural design it is almost certain that a portion of the house was built during the latter quarter of the 18th century, with the East Wing added in 1831 and the West Wing being rebuilt around 1960 after the original stables and garages were destroyed by a fallen tree.

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The graveyard and burial plot of the Bleasby Family near Ballinacurra House

 bleasby1879The name Bleasby is indeed rare in County Cork. They came to Ballinacurra from a part of Cork City known today as Watercourse Road, and remained there for almost 200 years. They were a wealthy, successful and popular family, very much involved in the tannery industry. In 1878 William Bleasby owned or controlled 691 acres of land in County Cork.

Ballinacurra House stayed in the Bleasby family for over 170 years, having been passed down through the generations. The last member of the Bleasby family to occupy the house was Emily Leach (nee Bleasby) who died in 1967. The family is buried in nearby Tisaxon graveyard. In the 1950′s the property was sold to John Danford. He lived in the East Wing with his man-servant, Nigerian Samuel Edpo; his mother and step father, Mrs and Colonel Jagoe, lived in the centre part of the house; the west wing being used as stables and storehouses etc. (photo John Noble Bleazby, born 1854 died 1931 and Mary Jane Burch b 1850 d 1892, marriage photo)

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(photo Colonel & Mrs Jago Outside Ballinacurra)

danfordDanford was the British representative of the Council of Trinidad, Barbados, the Westward and Leeward Islands and also British Counsel to Ganbia, Africa. He was also a very talented painter and sculptor and to this day there is ample evidence of the man’s immense talents in each room in the East Wing, especially in the large ground floor room known as the Ballroom. Here each of these fine works of art are explained in his own handwriting.

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John Swete Esq.1759 -1836

During his many years in Africa, Danford built up a tremendous friendship with a group of Ardfoyle nuns. Following his death at a relatively young age in the early 1970′s, these nuns became benefactors of Ballinacurra, using it as a summer residence for a number of years.

It was then purchased by the Gliksten family who owned the property up to 1988, when it was bought by Michael and Pauline Forsythe. The Forsythes purchased Ballinacurra whilst they were living in Hong Kong and used it as a summer residence. This ownership was the continuation of the relationship of the house with the East, as Danford had also spent time in Japan. But as coincidence would have it, the current owners, Des and Lisa McGahan, also spent 14 years in Hong Kong prior to returning to Des’s native Ireland.

The property has its own private quay and the remains of the boathouse, which was much used in the past by the Bleasby family and others to follow. As one views the splendid lawns that front the house it can be seen that the game of croquet was a popular form of recreation. The estate also consisted of large glass houses, orchards and gardens, which for decades produced fruit and vegetables in abundance. The estate was tenderly cared for by generations of local families.

A short distance from this property on the side of the public road is what is known locally as the Shincough Well where for centuries people came to drink its cool crystal-clear water that is said to have had cure for whooping cough.

swetefmlytree_smlJohn Swete Esq. was the son of Benjamin Swete of Pleasantfields, Cork. He was a Magistrate and the High Sheriff of Cork. Benjamin inherited 30,000 pounds from his cousin (Benjamin Swete Esq.also) in England who was paymaster for the Duke of Marlborough, which leads us to believe he used that money to buy Ballinacurra. He sold the house in 1791.

His first marriage was to Martha Heard the daughter of Bickford Heard and Susanna Maunsell in 1781. The Heards had been landed gentry in Ireland since the sixteenth century, bearing the formal ancestral name “Heard of Kinsale, County Cork.” Bickford was the son of The Sovereign of Kinsale (in 1734) John Heard 1690 – 1763. John Heard was the son of Elisha Heard and Margaret St Leger, ( Elisha was the great grandson of the first John Heard in Ireland. John Heard is said to have come from Wiltshire with Sir Walter Raleigh in 1579 and received a grant of lands at Bandon. Sir Isaac Heard,Garter, stated in 1762 in a memorial still at the College of Arms that all John Heard’s papers were destroyed in the Irish rebellion 1641.Will proved 1619.) Margaret St Leger was the daughter of John St Leger (A direct descendant of Warham St Leger) and Lady Mary Dorcas Chichester. (A direct descendant of Sir Arthur Chichester).

John had his business in Bandon but lived in Floraville House, Cork where he raised his family and also owned Ballinacurra House in Kinsale.

Information from – Peter Swete of Essex UK, Kerrin Cook of Australia, Hilary Everitt of Canada.

THE BLEAZBYS OF COUNTY CORK

bleasby1879Extract from “The Bleazby Family – from Ireland to Geelong and Beyond” By Elaine N. Wallace, published 2004

The Bleazbys gave their name to the creek and the sight of the patriarch of the family marshalling his daughters to morning service at Saint Multose Church has been chronicled by Lennox Robinson.

Some 23 km (about 10 miles) south of Cork city is Kinsale, one of the most picturesque of the Irish seaports, situated on Kinsale harbour, the estuary of the Bandon River. A little further south is a promontory with spectacular cliff scenery named Old Head of Kinsale where in 1915, during WWI, the Lusitania was sunk off the coast by a German submarine. Kinsale has one of the few medieval parish churches in Ireland. St Multose, founded in the twelfth century, and an important event in the town’s history is the famous battle of 1601 when the English defeated the Spaniards.

photo-0042Ballinacurra House, where several generations of Bleazbys lived, is some 3 km west of Kinsale township. In 1996 a local historian, Gerry McCarthy, guided us to this large, impressive and beautiful mansion, which belonged to the Bleazby family for almost 200 years. In 1791 the Bleazbys purchased some 300 acres of land from the Swetes for £5500, with a view to settlement. The central part of Ballinacurra House seems to have been built in 1791, with the wings being added much later. (photo John Noble Bleazby, born 1854 died 1931 and Mary Jane Burch b 1850 d 1892, marriage photo)

The last member of the Bleazby family to occupy this large residence was Emily, who was married to William Barns Leach, and she died in 1967. Emily and many family members are buried in the nearby Tisaxon graveyard. “Ti” means house and “saxon” refers to the English. Therefore Tisaxon is “the house of the Englishman”, a name originally given to a monastery not far from Ballinacurra, started by English Monks in the seventh century.

Workers for Emily Leach, Dan Geary left, G O’Donavan right with Frank Bleazbyy outside Ballinacurra 1979

bleasby1979The Bleazby family was known in the area as wealthy, successful and popular, and it was thought they were very much involved in the tannery industry. The estate was close to the river and had a private quay and a boathouse, very popular with family members who were always interested in boating. In 1878 William Bleazby owned or controlled 691 acres of land in CO. Cork. William and John Bleazby were lessors of property (according to Griffiths Valuations) at Kinsale, Timoleague and Clonakilty.

Ballinacurra House has been sold many times since Emily Leach (nee Bleazby) lived there. Firstly, in the 1960s, it was sold to John Danford, who had been a British representative in the West Indies, and he lived there with his parents and a Nigerian man-servant. John Danford was a talented painter and sculptor, and a 1996 photograph shows the interior walls of the east wing ballroom, where some of painting may be seen. For a few years after his death some nuns, whom he had met in Africa, used Ballinacurra as a summer residence. Later this mansion was purchased by the Glicksten family, and in August 1988 Michael and Pauline Forsythe bought it, planning restoration. By June 1997 the house was for sale again, and a local newspaper article, entitled “Georgian Splendour with historic Bonus”, detailed its history. It was expected to bring £450,000, even though refurbishment would be required, as it had been rented out during the previous year.

photo-0032In 1996, Gerry McCarthy, the historian showed us an original workhouse building now being used as Council offices. Gerry recalled that members of the Bleazby family were on the board of Guardians of the Workhouse during the years of the Great Famine from 1845. They manned soup kitchens and did as much as they possibly could to relieve the suffering caused to thousands of Irish people. There also a memorial burial ground dedicated to the many thousands who died of malnutrition or starvation during the famine. Desperate people would try to get into the workhouse building, but those who could not because of overcrowding, just died outside and were carried across to the burial field shown in the photograph. Irish people had been mainly dependent on potatoes for sustenance, and they faced a disastrous situation when the crops failed because of a fungus disease. Some emigrated, but many just perished.

Charles, second son of William Bleazby, of Ballinacurra, and Mary Morony, was admitted to Trinity College, Dublin, in 1819, at 16 years of age. Charles was also registered in the Kings Inns Admission Papers (legal school), Eastern term 1824.

Detailed information has not been available, but this extract from the Cork Express was printed on 10 may 1847:

Died at his house at Ballinacurra , near Kinsale on 3rd inst., John Bleazby, Esq., aged 47

This John was the only Bleazby listed in the County section of the Post Office General Directory, 1842-43.

 

John Alexander Danford O.B.E.

By Peter Pollard –May 2005

danfrdAlthough it is now over 34 years since my cousin is John Danford is died – in Ballinacurra in October 1970, at the age of 57 – I still have most vivid memories of both his artistic talents and his charismatic personality. John’s mother was the eldest of four sisters, of whom two remained unmarried and my mother was the youngest. He and I were the only offsprings and, although separated by a 25-year gap, came into contact quite regularly during his life. Himself unmarried, John was very family-minded and when visiting Ireland or England on leave from abroad made a point of seeing all his relatives. And when abroad, he sent them long and fascinating letters describing all his activities. I recall, for example, the time he acted as guide to the Queen and Prince Philip when they visited Nigeria and he showed them works of art – and also his description of the night when, lying in bed, he was all too aware of the sound of gunfire around his house (I think in Sierra Leone) when caught up in a revolution of some kind.

I really don’t know where is John ‘s artistic gift came from. Music was the art form in which many of that particular family were skilled, but John had clearly not inherited the music gene! His father, George Danford, was a farmer in Leixlip, Co Kildare, and John was born in Dublin in 1913. Sadly, his father died almost a year later and John was only five when his mother married Lieutenant Richard Kingston (always known as ‘King’) Jago (from Bantry) of the South Irish Horse. The family moved to London in 1921 and John’s education was in Hampstead and Sutton, Surrey, from where he won a scholarship to Wimbledon Art School. From there, at the age of 21, he was accepted into the Royal Academy and, while there, won several coveted prizes for both Art and Sculpture, including a year’s Travelling Scholarship. John’s unconventional approach was immediately apparent, in that he chose to spend his travels in small Austin van, which he equipped as a temporary home, and set out on a 17,000 mile journey which took him through 20 different countries. He turned this to good effect in the years that followed, giving a series of illustrated lectures detailing all aspects of his travels. The spark of adventure was certainly in him.

Then of course came War. John was already a Reserve Officer with royal Artillery and he served in France until the evacuation from Dunkirk. His knowledge of Africa gained through his scholarship year soon proved useful. He was transferred to the West African Frontier Force and served through the Burma campaign until demobilisation came in 1946. The war had been a stressful time for John’s mother in that both her husband, now a Brigadier with the ‘Sharpshooters’, and son were serving abroad, whilst she was living near London and coping alone with a battle against cancer, which fortunately she won. (My aunt and uncle died within a few days of each other, in 1974, and I well remember my aunt’s funeral in Rincurran).

With his African links now so strong, it was perhaps inevitable that John should soon return there, having been recruited by British Council.

In the post-war years, the British council – an organisation set up in 1934 to promote a wide Knowledge of the UK abroad and develop closer cultural relations with order countries – was expanding its work and John was clearly well suited for the role he then undertook. He first served as Regional Director in Ibadan, Western Nigeria, where his affinity for the people was strengthened further, and it was during the next ten years that he worked to promote the study of Nigerian art and built up what then became the largest private collection of West African art and artefacts, now housed in Birmingham University. Fortunately he never neglected his own painting and sculpture, and a number of his paintings and murals were created at that time. It was then that he was awarded the Order of the British Empire for services to education and to art, an honour which gave enormous pleasure.

John left Nigeria in 1957, and until he was forced to retire through ill-health in 1969 continued to work as Regional Director for the British Council: in Trinidad, Manchester and lastly in Sierra Leone. For me and my family John’s time in Manchester in the mid 60’s proved an unexpected bonus, as we saw him frequently. I was teaching in Macclesfield, some 20 miles away, and he and I had meals out and visited the cinema, etc. and I also attended various British Council functions. His forced retirement came chiefly as a result of his having saved the life of his steward boy from drowning in Sierra Leone and being flown home to England for treatment. I last saw John in University College Hospital in London, where I was shocked by his gaunt and aged appearance; my private fears were realised in his premature death just over a year later.

John had bought Ballinacurra in the 1950’s, with the intention of restoring it and ultimately retiring to his native Ireland. He installed his parents – who had moved to Summer Cove on my uncle’s retirement from the Army in 1950 – in the main part of the house and during his vacations he set about his ‘project’, so much of which he left uncompleted but which is now being magnificently realised under the present owners. Much of ‘John Danford’ remains there. In particular, his desire to create a number of themed rooms, to house the many items he had collected over the years, has been developed further. In the time he had to work on the house John created five specialised rooms – African, Elizabethan, Georgian, Japanese and Victorian – as well as the magnificent ballroom, some details of which still remain. During my visits John always arranged at least one splendid party and that room was seen to good effect by the Jago’s many friends who included Elizabeth Bowen, the well-know novelist, and a host of other interesting and distinguished local people.

John hoped to fill his house with many of his own works, and he once told me that his dream would be to leave it to the nation. Alas for his untimely death – but I know he would welcome the ways in which his beloved Ballinacurra is being brought to life again.

John Danford was a fascinating, complex character, a touch eccentric and someone, I’m sure , whose family knew only a little of his inner life. He was warm-hearted, kind and generous, someone with a great sense of humour and loved by many. Those who met him never forgot the experience.

Synopsis of ILLUSTRATED TRAVEL LECTURES By Mr. JOHN DANDFORD 31 HALL MEAD ROAD, SUTTON, SURREY telephone FAIRLANDS 9654

mummy2 Mr. JOHN DANFORD is a young Sculptor and Painter who has already achieved unusual distinction. Among the many prizes, which have been awarded to him are the Royal Academy’s Silver Medal, and the British Institution Scholarship. Over the period of 170 years, winners of the much prized scholarship have utilised its advantages by conventional studies in Italy or France. Mr. Danford’s choice was distinctly original. Purchasing a `Baby’ Austin van, he equipped it as a temporary home and in it made a complete circuit of the Mediterranean, 17,000 miles of extraordinary interest trough 20 different countries. In its course, he passed by fascinating relics of ancient civilisations and his comments on Roman and Egyptian remains are those of the sculptor. At the same time he mingled intimately with living people, and his tropical observations on much discussed problems are of keen interest. His lectures are illustrated with unusual and beautiful slides – as might be excepted of an artist. With a fascinating description of older civilisations and vivid discussion of modern problems are mingled strange and thrilling experiences which befell this young adventurer on his unusual journey.

1, JERUSALEM OF YESTERDAY & TODAY This lecture includes a brief outline of the growth and envelopment of the holy city, as well as the people of Palestine and their customs traced from remote beginnings down to present times. The present troubled situations is fully discussed with comments from personal experiences and a forecast of Palestine’s future is made. The lecture is illustrated by lovely slides, drawings and reconstructions made by Mr Danford during his stay in the Holy Land.

2, ACROSS NORTH AFRICA IN A BABY CAR A light travelogue describing adventures in a small car from the borders of Morocco through the foothills of the Atlas and across the bleak deserts of Lybia and Egypt to Alexandria.

bust 3, THROUGH THE NILE VALLEY TO LUXOR A lecture about the fascinating country of the Nile Delta and fertile reaches of the Lower Nile as far as Luxor with glimpses of the Ancient Monuments and temples. This lecture is also illustrated witch unique slides of some of the priceless Tutankhmen treasures.

 

4, EAST OF THE MEDITERRANEAN A light travelogue describing the journey of the `Baby’ Austin through the Sinai Desert, The Holy Land, Trans –Jordania and Syria.

5, THE GLORY THAT WAS ROME South and East of the Mediterranean lie cities now lost and forgotten, broken columns and fragments amidst the sand where once a great classical culture flourished. Trade centres, religious centres, outposts of an ancient empire that are only being brought to light today. These are some of places off the beaten track can only be visited in a car over many miles of rough tracks and wich Mr. Danford visited in the course of his unusual journey.

6, HISTORIC TUNISIA In wiew of recent advents, Tunisia as it appeared under the Romans and Moslems cannot tail to be interest to the general public. The greatest stone amphitheatre in the world, the Holiest Moslem city in Africa, the oases of Gabbes in the south are some of interesting places to be seen in Tunisia today.

Each lecture given without notes, is illustrated by mr. Danford’s own original and beautiful slides many of which are unique.