Woodfield House

Fragments of the courtyard boundary walls and portions of the foundations of Woodfield House are all that now remain on the property of the Naughton’s in Woodfield. The site of the house is marked in an old ordnance survey map and in the national monuments website. According to James Greaney in his History of Dunmore – The first mention of Woodfield House is in connection with the Ouseley family. It was the residence of Gideon Ouseley (b1698), grandfather of Gideon Ouseley the famous Methodist Preacher. He was a steward for Lord Ross who had inherited the estate of Sir George St. George after the Cromwellian Plantation. Gideon Ouseley later moved to Derrymore and Woodfield House came into the possession of a branch of the Kirwan family, probably through a marriage settlement.

The most famous of the Kirwans of Woodfield was Yellow Richard of the Sword. The Irish Brigade that fought in European wars during the closing years of the 17th century and for almost a hundred years afterwards contained a number of heroic soldiers. However, few returned home. Of the most famous west of the Shannon was Yellow Richard of the Sword, or to give him his proper name Richard Moy Kirwan, a descendant of the Galway Kirwans. His father was a son of Patrick Kirwan of Cregg Hall, the principal seat of the Kirwan family near Claregalway and his mother was a daughter of Richard Martyn of Birch Hall. Yellow Richard, or as he became known locally, Dick od the Sword, was the founder of the Woodfield branch of the Kirwans.

Richard fought with the Irish Brigade at Fontenoy. At another period of his life he served in the army of the Empress of Austria. The gentry of County Galway in those days were quick to settle insults – even imaginary ones – by duelling. When pistols took the place of swords, they became very proficient in these weapons and earned for themselves the nickname the Galway Blazers. Two of Richard’s brothers were killed in duels. Dick of the Sword is reputed to have fought nineteen duels though it is claimed that he never sought a quarrel and indeed did his best to avoid all personal differences.

James Greaney in his history of Dunmore sets out the following story. “One of the stories told about him (Richard Kirwan) refers to an adventure that befell him in London. The story goes that a grave injustice had been done to an acquaintance, a shy timid person, and Richard compelled the culprit to make restitution, so earning the intense hatred of that individual. This individual knowing that he was no match for Richard in a duel plotted to have him murdered. He hired a notorious bully famed for his swordsmanship to pick a quarrel with Richard. This man ensured his own safety by wearing under his jacket a coat of chain armour, proof against any sword. The idea was that Richard would appear to have been killed in a man-to-man fight, a legal duel in other words. Richard’s daily movements were closely followed and late one evening he was accosted in a lonely street by the hired hooligan. After a few insulting remarks he was called upon to draw his sword. He was obliged to do so as he was immediately attacked. Twice he got inside his opponent’s guard and on each occasion the point of his sword was deflected by the chain armour and he himself suffered two gashes. It looked as if the result was only a matter of time. An Irish girl who was looking out a window which overlooked the street and who evidently had some knowledge of the plot, shouted loudly in Irish, “Cén chaoí a mharuíos tú muc?” (how do you kill a pig?) Richard immediately switches his attack and with a lunge pierced the bully’s throat severing his jugular vein. The blood gushed out over Richard’s hand, arm and shoulder and the saying goes that ever afterwards he always took his pinch of snuff with his left hand.

Before Richard left his father’s house at Cregg to go to France with the “Wild Geese” he fell in love with a beautiful young lady, Miss Christine Maria Bermingham of Barbersfort near Tuam. She too fell in love but was much troubled because she was a devout Catholic while he was a Protestant. However, they became engaged. When Richard was leaving for France she gave him an amber Rosary Beads threaded with silver and a silver crucifix which had been blessed by the Pope. She asked him to promise that he would always carry the beads for protection. He promised that he would and that if they saved his life that he would become a Catholic. He kept it in his inner breast pocket. At the battle of Fontenoy a spent bullet struck him in the chest and he was saved by the Rosary Beads. Richard was absent for several years and communication between Ireland and France was scant and seldom but nevertheless Miss Birmingham kept her promise to marry Richard although she was approached by many young eligible bachelors for her hand in marriage. Unfortunately, she later became struck with the disfiguring disease of small pox which destroyed her beautiful face. When Richard returned she immediately sought to release him from their engagement believing that he would no longer love her as she had lost her beauty. Richard would not hear of it. They married and he became a Catholic. They settled in Woodfield where it is understood they lived a happy life. Richard died in Woodfield in 1779 and he is buried in Cloobdargon.

Richard’s eldest son, Martin, inherited his father’s property. He was sent to France to be educated and when he returned he settled down in Woodfield. He was one of the first Catholics in Ireland to be appointed a Justice of the Peace and his kitchen In Woodfield House was often used as a courtroom. According to James Greaney, “When the French landed in Killala in 1798 Martin Kirwan and his brother, Richard, took opposite sides. Martin became an officer in the Yeomanry while Richard went away with a company of Woodfield tenants to join General Humbert. After the defeat of the French and the Irish forces at Ballinamuck, Richard returned to Woodfield but had to remain in hiding for a long time. Richard died unmarried but Martin married Miss McAnn and they had several children. He died in Woodfield during the first quarter of the last century (19th). Soon after Martin’s death the Kirwans of Woodfield got into financial difficulties. It is thought that they became involved in lawsuits and this together with the collapse of the Tuam Bank in 1815 resulted in the family losing their property. By the time of Griffith’s Valuation in 1856 Woodfield House belonged to the Hancocks of Carrowntryla House, Dunmore.

Author: Patricia Scarry

Source: ‘Dunmore’ – James Greaney 1984