Captain Austin Cooper, whose maritime career I described in an earlier post, retired (I believe) from the sea in 1878. It must have been a wrench, after a life of routine and duty aboard ship which must have lasted twenty or thirty years. But unexpectedly, at the age of 43, duty of a different sort called.
Austin’s eldest brother Samuel died in 1877, only 47 years old and unmarried. Austin had to come back to dry land to take over the running of the family estate and the family home which he had inherited – Killenure Castle near the village of Dundrum in Co Tipperary.
Killenure Castle in 1793
Killenure Castle was, reputedly, the stronghold of the O’Dwyer clan, who built it in the late 16th century. It may already have been ruinous by 1640 but it fell, so the story goes, to Oliver Cromwell’s troops as they ruthlessly suppressed Catholicism in Ireland between 1649 and 1653. When I visited it in 2004, I was told that you could still hear the ghostly screams of the O’Dwyers, whom the English soldiers burnt alive within its walls.
Unlike many English families arriving in Ireland in the wake of Cromwell’s visit, who acquired huge tracts of land at the expense of the old Irish Catholic nobility, the Coopers did not benefit from such atrocities. In fact they came to Ireland rather reluctantly after the restoration of the monarchy (see my earlier post about Austin the first Cooper settler). The burnt-out castle changed hands a few times after the O’Dwyers forfeited it, before my 5x great grandfather William Cooper bought both the ruin and a modest single-storey thatched house beside it in 1746. Much extended since then the house became and remained the Cooper family home for the next 217 years. (One of seafaring Captain Cooper’s first acts on returning to Killenure in 1878 was to get married, obviously feeling that a family home should have a mother as well as a father figure!)
Killenure Castle in 1850
Living in a castle, or at least in a Georgian mansion beside one, isn’t always as glamorous or romantic as it sounds. Doreen Cooper, Austin Samuel’s granddaughter recollected: “At Killenure, we had no electricity, no water … [and] no telephone - no refrigerator, but we had five indoor servants, a groom, a chauffeur and a gardener. We also had no central heating and the limestone walls used to run with water on damp days.”
It was a note by my great grandmother on the back of a faded photograph of Killenure – her mother’s “old home,” she wrote (see my earlier post) – that got me started on research into my whole family tree. And Violet Cooper, widow of the late Austin Francis Cooper of Killenure (who most reluctantly sold it to the Irish Land Commission in 1963), recalled the happy centuries passed there when she wrote: “Our beautiful old home, Killenure Castle”; “all the ancestors hanging in their huge frames on the dining room walls”; “all the glorious treasures, the silver and antiques.”
Killenure Castle in 1960
If my seafaring Austin Samuel Cooper felt a wrench when leaving the sea after 30 years, imagine how it must have felt for Austin Francis Cooper to give up Killenure after more than two centuries? The treasures and pictures are all dispersed now; but the warmth and affection for the place in the hearts of any Cooper you speak to, those remain.
Killenure Castle in 2010