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Capard House and the Pigotts

Laois Local Studies > Articles > Capard House and the Pigotts
‘They built, not only to emphasise that they had arrived, but that they would remain’

Capard House and the Pigotts

by Sinéad Holland, Laois County Library

The landed estates of Ireland were mostly established in the middle of the seventeenth century from lands confiscated by the British Crown. Initially, the grantees struggled to hold their land and were regularly required to defend themselves against attack. By the middle of the nineteenth century legislation was enacted that allowed for the sale of estates overburdened with debt.[1] Later, a series of acts were introduced that would transfer property from landlords to tenants through affordable government loans.[2] However, during the eighteenth century many of the estates were well established and prosperous and landlords began to construct ‘Big Houses’ to display their social and economic dominance. The ‘Big house’ was not just a symbol of their position at the top of society, but a strong statement of their intention to remain there for centuries to come.  The landed estate being discussed in this article is the Capard Estate, adjacent to the village of Rosenallis and based at the foothills of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in County Laois. It was the seat of the Pigott family for over three centuries. Unfortunately, estate papers are not available,[3] but there are sufficient complementary sources to explore the topic.

The Pigotts and the Plantation of Queen’s County

The Pigotts came to Laois as part of the Plantation of Queen’s County in the 1550s. John Pigott was an English captain who accompanied Thomas Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex, into Queen’s County circa 1558. He came from Salop and was connected to the ancient Pigott family established at Chetwynd Edgmont.[4] For his service John Pigott received a grant, by letters dated 28 February 1563, of the 772 acre estate in the Dysart Hills, located between Maryborough and Stradbally.[5] He resided at Dysart Castle, formerly held by the O’Lalors.[6] John Pigott died in 1570 and was succeeded by a younger son, Robert Pigott, in 1586.[7]

Robert increased the family’s property and influence, through his military success and the powerful alliances he forged through marriage.[8] He distinguished himself in the early part of the Nine Years War, being described as ‘one of the few settlers to hold out with a company of 12 horsemen for which he was later knighted.’[9] In 1607 he was present at an inquisition held in Maryborough where it was decided ‘to seize the castles, towns, villages and lands of Teige Oge O’Doyne and to redistribute the chattels to the planters.’[10] Robert Pigott would profit greatly from the confiscation of O’Doyne lands and      by 1622 he was granted a significant amount of land in the Slieve Bloom Mountains, including Capard.[11]

Dysart Castle was inherited by Sir Robert’s eldest son by his first marriage, John Piggott, and the lands in Capard passed to the eldest son of his second marriage, Thomas Piggott. John and his eldest son William were both killed in 1646 when Dysart Castle was sacked by Confederate forces.[12] The surviving Pigotts relocated to Capard and the first bawn house or castle was built there, following the Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland. Capard offered excellent defensive advantages, being located on high ground with views across the county and beyond. In addition, the Iregan Plantation of the O’Doyne lands in the 1620s had obliged settlers to build houses, so the barony of Tinnahinch in which the Pigotts now resided, was increasingly anglicised, despite being the last part of the county to be settled.

The Pigotts and the Capard Estate

In 1685 Thomas Pigott died and the estate passed to his son Robert Pigott. Robert planned to overhaul the property. He was greatly encouraged by development in the area of Rosenallis and Mountmellick, the result of members of the Society of Friends settling in the vicinity in the post-Cromwellian era.  Unfortunately, his plans were interrupted by the renewal of war in 1689. [13] However, the conclusion of the war strengthened the position of the protestant ascendancy in Ireland and restored law and order. At this point Robert Pigott chose to expand the size of the estate. By mortgaging other land held in Queen’s County and King’s County, he purchased additional land in Capard and beyond.[14] Although this increased the extent of the Capard Estate, it curtailed Robert’s ability to develop the existing property.

Robert Pigott died without issue in 1706 and the estate passed to his younger brother, Chidley Piggott. Chidley died in 1719, but during his tenure he petitioned Queen Anne seeking full restoration of a warrant to ‘build a habitable and manned fortress near the town of Mountmellick.’[15] The petition reflects the Pigott family’s determination to consolidate its growing estate at Capard and construct a new dwelling that would indicate the family’s prosperity and permanence.     

Chidley was succeeded by his cousin’s nephew, Southwell Pigott. Southwell was a military man, who had fought in the Cromwellian campaign and spent most of his military career on the continent.[16] He was constrained from improving the estate by legal battles to prevent it being taken in lieu of unpaid mortgages.[17] However, the house fire in 1738 forced him to reconsider. His initial ambition was to build a house in the Palladian style, but the house completed in 1742 was more modest and incorporated much of the earlier bawn house. However, Southwell did invest in laying out the demesne and planted over 200 acres of oakland adjacent to the house. In the end he built his Palladian mansion in Bathford in England, where he remained until his death in 1756.[18]

Southwell was succeeded by his second son, Colclough Pigott, who resided in Annsfield in Queen’s County.[19] In 1757 Colclough leased Capard to his brother Dowdall Pigott, who immersed himself in developing the demesne. He expanded the gardens began by his father, but like many of his predecessors, his plans to improve the house and demesne were hindered by circumstances. A downturn in the economy in the 1770s resulted in looting and poaching on the estate and forced Dowdall to clear much of the oak plantations to finance the further development of the estate and the building of tenant houses in Rosenallis. Despite the sacrifice, the money raised was not enough to continue improving Capard, and the property was leased before Dowdall’s death in 1789.

Capard House

Dowdall Pigott was succeeded in 1789 by his nephew John Pigott. John was a member of the prosperous Limerick branch of the Pigott family, who had acquired over 3,500 acres in Limerick in the post-Cromwellian era. John sold property elsewhere to finance the building of a ‘big house’ at Capard. The new house would replace the earlier structures that reflected the family’s defensive position in the area. Like many of the big houses being built in Laois at that time,[20] the new house would symbolise the family’s established position in the vicinity, emphasising its wealth, dominance and endurance.

The beginning of the build dates to about 1796. Unfortunately, no plans or drawings of the house survived, and it is unclear who advised or oversaw the project. Initially the new house was to be three times the size of the 1642 structure, but once again plans were scaled back due to economic circumstances and social unrest. In 1797 Capard House was attacked and looted by ‘Defenders’, a secret society reflecting agrarian unrest in the area. The 1798 Rebellion broke out the following year, and although Capard House was untouched during the rebellion, the nearby town of Mountmellick experienced considerable violence.[21] The negative impact of events on John Pigott and the ultimate effect on the development of the area are recorded in the following contemporary account by Sir Charles Coote[22]

Near to this is the demesne of Cappard, the elegant seat of John Pigot Esq; who has lately rebuilt the present mansion, offices, and farm yard in a style of true magnificence. The improvements, which were commenced here, previous to the late rebellion, and on which several thousands have been expended, were planned with great taste and in the most modern style; but Mr. Pigot … disgusted with the ingratitude and villanies of the neighbouring peasantry, has abandoned this beautiful seat forever

Coote’s remarks confirm that a significant amount of work was completed by 1798. It also indicates that Pigott’s withdrawal from Ireland occurred before 1801. However, Coote’s assertion that the build and development of the estate ceased when Pigott moved to England is contradicted by another contemporary account by travel writer William Wilson. In 1803 Wilson describes a completed house that is ‘one of the most extensive in the kingdom’ with a ‘magnificent appearance’. He also highlights further development of the demesne, praising the wooded area and remarking ‘the proprietor is daily adding large plantations’.[23]

Capard House is described as a ‘very fine early nineteenth century pedimented two story cut stone Greek revival house having a single Doric portico.’[24] Without the survival of plans it is difficult to know exactly what the house looked like in the early 1800s. The 1901 Census House and Building Return form indicates that it had in excess of 13 rooms, with 27 outhouses.[25]

It is interesting that the completion of the ‘big house,’ the family’s symbol of endurance, was followed by a vacancy of almost thirty years.[26] It was not until after John Pigott’s death in 1828 that his son and heir, also John Pigott, returned to Capard House to manage the estate and re-establish the family in Queen’s County. He planned to develop agriculture in the area and supply the prosperous town of Mountmellick. However, his decision to evict tenants on the estate in 1831 contributed to considerable agrarian unrest in the 1830s, and a downturn in the Irish economy at the end of the decade impacted on the fortunes of Mountmellick. By the time the famine arrived in 1845 the area was already experiencing severe poverty, with a man being found dead from starvation at the gates of Capard House, several weeks before potato blight was recorded in the Slieve Bloom region.[27]

John Pigott’s third son, Henry Pierce Pigott, resided at Capard from the 1840s and appears to have assisted his father in running the estate.[28] Despite earlier evictions, the Pigotts redeemed themselves during the famine, ‘by granting abatements of rent and forgiving arrears.’[29] They also developed outdoor relief schemes and employed hundreds of people building roads through the mountain and planting trees on the Ridge of Capard. The Capard estate was well managed during the famine years, but the population was devastated, with a drop of 34% in a decade.[30] Henry Pierce Pigott died on 27 May 1864 of ‘accidental drowning.’ [31]

The decline of the Capard Estate

The death of John Pigott in 1867 was the beginning of the end for the Capard Estate. His three sons, John, Edward and Henry, had predeceased him and died without issue. As a result, the estate passed to John’s Swiss-born nephew, Henry Armand Robert Pigott. This development would ‘bring to an end the permanent residence of the Pigott family at Capard, which would become merely a seasonal retreat from which to escape the harsh Swiss winters.’[32] To maintain the Pigott link with Capard, Henry Robert Armand Pigott left a will in 1886 that placed the estate in a trust, allowing his son Robert the use of the estate for his lifetime, provided he spend six months of the year in residence. However, legal family chains could not withstand the social, economic and political pressures building in Ireland at the turn of the century.

At the beginning of the twentieth century the British government introduced legislation in the hope of finally settling the Irish land question. The Irish Land Purchase Act 1903 provided Irish tenants with loans to purchase their holdings. Robert Pigott agreed to sell part of the estate and within a decade ‘a total of seventy-eight tenants purchased 2,263 acres’ and the ‘Capard estate was reduced by almost half, with only 900 acres remaining adjacent to the house and just over 1,000 acres centred on the remote area known as the Cones.’[33] From this time Robert Pigott began to remove the house contents and spent less time at Capard. When Robert died in Dublin in 1917 he was unmarried and had no legitimate children.[34] Mary Ellen de Jenner, Robert’s sister based in Switzerland was named a tenant for life by her father’s will, but could not inherit the estate as it was male entailed. She successfully fought a legal battle to remove the entail in 1918 and when she died a decade later, the property was passed to her son, Adrian Robert Charles de Jenner, better known as Charles de Jenner.

Charles was the last member of the Pigott family to be connected to Capard. He was a Swiss diplomat and his work made it impossible for him to reside there. Once again Capard became a holiday destination for the family and their associates and it was not until Charles retired in 1961 that the house became his fulltime residence. Since the 1920s many of the county’s landed families had withdrawn from the area.[35] Factors in their decision included agrarian unrest, land purchase schemes, attacks on big houses and a fear of what life would be like in an Independent Ireland. Capard had come under similar pressure. The house was occupied by anti-treaty forces in 1922 and was the scene of a civil war battle.[36] Although damaged and derelict for several years the house was repaired and survived. Similarly, pressure to break up the remainder of the estate was on-going from the 1930s and resulted in shots being fired at the house on 21 August 1951.[37] Despite all of these pressures Charles de Jenner remained at Capard until his death on in 1970.

Conclusion

The Pigotts were one of the first settlers in Laois and one of latest to vacate. The history of the Capard estate reveals the determination of the settler to defend his position, consolidate his gains and indicate his intention to remain. Capard House had several occupiers and owners since Charles de Jenner’s death,[38] but the property was fully restored since the purchase of the house by its current owners.[39] The house remains as a reminder of the settler, his power and prosperity. But its history also reveals the struggles to maintain that power and property and emphasises that, in the end, we all just occupy a space in time.

[1] Land Transfer Act 1848

http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/1848/act/120/enacted/en/html 

[2] The Purchase of Land (Ireland) Act, 1885,

http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/1885/act/73/enacted/en/html 

Irish Land Act, 1903

http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/1903/act/37/enacted/en/html 

[3] The National Library of Ireland had a catalogue entry for the Pigott Papers, but the papers could not be located

[4] Ivan Cosby, ‘The English settlers in Queen’s County, 1570-1603’ in Pádraig G. Lane and William Nolan (eds), Laois History and Society: Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 1999), 284

[5] Kenneth Nicholls, The Irish Fiants of the Tudor Sovereign during the Reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Philip & Mary and Elizabeth I (Dublin 1994), 56

[6] Máirtin D’Alton, The Architecture of the Leix & Offaly Plantations, c.1540-1600’ (1940), 438,              D’Alton decribes Dysart Castle as a ‘castle of the O’Lalors subsequently occupied by the Piggotts. Described as having a large bawn and a large hall. Held out in 1600 against Uaithne Mac Ruaidhri, but apparently destroyed during besiegement in 1646, when Captain Pigott and 80 defenders were killed

[7] Ivan Cosby, ‘The English settlers in Queen’s County, 1570-1603’, 283                                                                   In the interim years John Pigott’s widow had married another settler, John Barnyse of Castletown, and it was he who began building additional defences at Dysart Castle

[8] Ivan Cosby, ‘The English settlers in Queen’s County, 1570-1603’, 284

[9] Ivan Cosby, ‘The English settlers in Queen’s County, 1570-1603’, 284

[10] Ciaran Reilly, Capard: an Irish Country House and Demesne (Dublin, 2019) p. 43, taken from ‘A list of the holders of land in the territory of Hy Regan in the Queen’s Co.’, extracted from an inquisition held at Maryborough on 27 September 1607 (Royal Irish Academy, Upton Papers/29 (33)

[11] Ciaran Reilly, Capard: an Irish Country House and Demesne, 43

[12] Rolf Loebe, ‘Warfare and Architecture in County Laois through Seventeenth Century Eyes’ in Pádraig G. Lane and William Nolan (eds), Laois History and Society: Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 1999), 406

[13] Ciaran Reilly, Capard: an Irish Country House and Demesne, 45

[14]Ciaran Reilly, Capard: an Irish Country House and Demesne, 47                                                           Mortgaged land to Robert Rochfort

[15] Ciaran Reilly, Capard: an Irish Country House and Demesne, 48

[16] Ciaran Reilly, Capard: an Irish Country House and Demesne, 48-49

[17] Robert Rochford was still owed for previous mortgages by Robert Piggott and wanted the Capard Estate in lieu of payment[18] Ciaran Reilly, Capard: an Irish Country House and Demesne, 50

[19] http://pigott-gorrie.blogspot.com/2016/09/

[20] David J. Griffin, ‘Country Houses of County Laois’ in Pádraig G. Lane and William Nolan (eds), Laois History and Society: Interdisciplinary Essays on the History of an Irish County (Dublin, 1999), 563

[21] Alan Dunne, 1798: a Local Perspective (Mountmellick, 1998), 46-47

[22] Sir Charles Coote, A Statistical Survey of the Queen’s County being the first volume of the Statistical Surveys of Ireland  (1801), 155

[23] William Wilson, Post Chaise Companion (1803), 256-257

[24] David J. Griffin, ‘Country Houses of County Laois,’ 569

[25] http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie accessed 02

[26] Pigot’s directory of 1824 doesn’t mention John Pigott as being a member of the gentry in the area of Mountmellick

[27] Nenagh Guardian, 20 August 1845

[28] Henry Pierce Pigott is recorded as immediate lessor in Capard in Griffith’s Valuations, despite not having succeeded to the property http://griffiths.askaboutireland.ie

[29] Ciaran Reilly, Capard: an Irish Country House & Estate, 75

[30] Ciaran Reilly, Capard: an Irish Country House & Estate, 76

[31] Leinster Express, 4 June 1864

[32] King’s County Chronicle, 6 March 1867, in Capard: an Irish Country House & Estate, p. 85

[33] Ciaran Reilly, Capard: an Irish Country House & Estate, 104

[35] The Coote family of Ballyfin House left in 1921; the Earl of Portarlington of Emo Court left in 1920; the Flowers family of Castle Durrow left in 1922

[36] Michael Rafter, The Quiet County: towards a History of the Laois Brigade IRA and Revolutionary Activity in the County, 1913-1923, 2nd edition, (Castletown, 2016), 100-101

[37] Leinster Express, 25 August 1951

[38] Ciaran Reilly, Capard: an Irish Country House & Estate, 14

[39] https://www.leinsterexpress.ie 

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