Biography, Carlow History

Lord Walter Bagenal and Bagenalstown

Lord Walter Bagenal and Bagenalstown

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien


Lord Walter Bagenal of Dunleckney, Co. Carlow restored his family’s fortunes in the first quarter of the eighteenth century and founded the modern town of Bagenalstown on the River Barrow, modelling it on Versailles, France. This article is an outline history of the man.


Walter Bagenal was the eldest son of Colonel Dudley Bagenal and Ann Matthew, daughter of George Matthew of Thomastown, Co. Tipperary.[1] His father was descended from an earlier Dudley Bagenal, younger son of Sir Nicholas Bagenal, founder of the Irish Bagenals. Nicholas Bagenal fled England for Ireland about 1539 after he had killed a man in a brawl. In about 1552 Nicholas Bagenal was granted Newry castle and other lands. In 1585 Nicholas Bagenal purchased a large estate in the Barony of Idrone, Co. Carlow for his second son, Dudley Bagenal.[2]

One of the grandchildren of Dudley Bagenal was Walter Bagenal of Dunleckney. Walter Bagenal was governor of County Carlow in 1641 and was a Colonel in the Leinster army of the Confederate Catholics. Walter Bagenal was sentence to death by the Cromwellian High Court of Justice in 1652.[3]


The 19th century Dunleckney manor built on older foundations 

Walter Bagenal’s eldest son, George Bagenal was killed in a skirmish in 1650 and so at the restoration of Charles II it was Walter’s second son, Dudley Bagenal who was restored to the family estates. In 1688 Dudley married Ann Matthew and served as MP for Old Leighlin and Carlow in the Irish Parliament. In 1690 Dudley Bagenal was a Colonel in the army of James II and subsequently had his lands forfeited. Dudley Bagenal followed King James into exile and served as a Gentleman Usher at the exile court in St. Germaine. He died at Bruges in 1712.[4]

Walter Bagenal

The Lord Walter Bagenal of this article was born in 1670 as the eldest son of Dudley Bagenal. Walter Bagenal had three younger brothers who all died without heirs in exile on the Continent. Of Walter’s four sisters two became nuns in France while the other two got married and had children.[5]

Converting to Protestantism

The Bagenal family had for centuries supported the Catholic cause but on 21st July 1725, Walter Bagenal converted to the Protestant religion in order to secure his family’s estate. He was living in Dublin at the time and his conversion was enrolled on 5th August 1725.[6]

As P.H. Bagenal wrote in 1925, “Walter Bagenal, with his experience of the penal laws and an eye on the future of his estates, decided to marry a Protestant and become one himself, and accordingly we find him in 1725 wedded to a second Eleanor (his first wife was Eleanor Barnewall), daughter of John Beauchamp of Ballyloughan Castle, and granddaughter of the Rt. Rev. B. Vigors, Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin”.[7]

Of course his conversion also had to do with more personal ambitions. Only Protestants could become Members of Parliament and Walter Bagenal had his eye on a seat when a bye-election occurred in Carlow. But Walter Bagenal was unsuccessful and also failed to win a seat for Gowran in Kilkenny. The Protestant community was shocked at the actions of Walter Bagenal and on 22nd November 1725 the Irish Parliament passed a resolution that no convert “could be admitted to Parliament until seven years had lapsed”.[8]

Foundation of Bagenalstown

After Walter Bagenal gained restoration of the family estates in Carlow he proceeded to develop it in line with the sweep of estate development that was the story of the eighteenth century. To add to the commercial potential of his estate Walter Bagenal took the small settlement of Moneybeg on the River Barrow and developed it into the central urban settlement of the Bagenal estate.

An early settlement was established at Moneybeg by Henry Rudkin who had leased the site from Dudley Bagenal. Henry Rudkin built a mill around 1680 and houses for the workers. From his experience in France Walter Bagenal wanted to recreate a version of Versailles in Ireland. Indeed the initial new name for Moneybeg was to be Versailles but this was later changed to Bagenalstown as Versailles was too French and Catholic for a recent convert to Protestantism. Observers have pointed out the regular layout of the town as a testament to Bagenal’s formal scheme.[9]

Yet the town’s layout is not in a perfect grid pattern. Regent Street on the north and Church Street on the south are two straight east-west streets connected with four north-south streets. These connecting streets are from the west side, Long Range, Barrett Street, Fair Green West, Church Road and Kilree Street. Long Range and Church Street differ from the other streets as they do not join Regent Street and Church Street at right angles but are slanted towards the north-west. The two main streets at Versailles are straight south-west to north-east parallel streets joined by three right angle streets but with four connecting streets that join at an angle much like at Bagenalstown. If we take the east-west flow of the River Barrow and place the Palace of Versailles in that same position in relation to the town then the connection with Versailles may have more to do with the street layout than a version of grand public buildings.

Whatever was Lord Walter Bagenal’s true ideas the project proved all too burdensome and the only architectural gem constructed was the town’s imposing court house, or so says folklore.[10] Other sources report that the courthouse with its Ionic portico was built about 1835 by Scottish born architect Daniel Robertson (c.1775-1848) and so can have no association with Walter Bagenal of the early eighteenth century.[11] Observers have questioned how the portico faces away from the Main Street and looks out over the River Barrow. But early maps show the court house to have no restricted access from Bachelor’s Walk and only in the later nineteenth century were houses built on Bachelor’s Walk which give the false impression of a building turned the wrong way.


Street plan of Bagenalstown and Versailles 

The title of Lord Walter Bagenal

Though sometimes referred to as Lord Bagenal, it seems that Walter Bagenal did not in fact have a title. The title of Lord Bagenal is currently (2015) the name of a restaurant and hotel in Leighlinbridge, Co. Carlow.

Family life

Walter Bagenal married twice and left children by both. He first married Eleanor Barnewall, daughter of James Barnewall of Bremore and Drimnagh, Co. Dublin, and they had two daughters, Mabel and Mary. Mabel married Nicholas Staplton of Carlton in Yorkshire and left no issue. Mary Bagenal married Jarrard Strickland of Ogleford as his first wife. On 9th April 1744 Mary Bagenal died after leaving issue. Jarrard Strickland died on 1st September 1791.[12]

Shortly after his conversion Walter Bagenal married for a second time. His new wife was Eleanor Beauchamp, daughter of John Beauchamp of Ballyloghan Castle, Co. Carlow. By Eleanor Beauchamp alter Bagenal had a son, Beauchamp Bagenal (born c.1735) and four daughters. Two of the daughters subsequently died as infants. Of the other daughters, Eleanor married James Carroll of Ballymore, Co. Wicklow, while Catherine married Maurice Keating of Narraghmore, Co. Kildare.[13] The possible father of Maurice Keating, also called Maurice Keating of Narraghmore married Elizabeth Waller, granddaughter of Sir Hardress Waller, one of the judges who sat at the trail of King Charles the first. Catherine Keating, a daughter of the elder Maurice Keating, married in 1719 to Nicholas Aylward of Shankill, Co. Kilkenny.[14]

Death of Walter Bagenal and selling the family lands

The so called Lord Walter Bagenal died in 1745, the year of the second Jacobite rebellion.[15] His son and heir, Beauchamp Bagenal became a legend in his own lifetime as a politician, landlord, duellist and libertarian. But the expense of the estate development of Walter Bagenal left enormous debts. Soon after inheriting the family estates, Beauchamp Bagenal had to sell large parts of it. David la Touche purchased 10,000 acres and the Marquess of Waterford brought 6,000 acres. In all Beauchamp Bagenal sold 32,000 acres.[16]


It is now 270 years since the death of Walter Bagenal yet his memory lives on in the name of a hotel among other things. The Bagenal estates which he recovered from the new Protestant state were his pride and joy. His conversion to Protestantism was to secure those lands for the future even if he was unsuccessful at getting into Parliament, the more immediate reason for his conversion. Yet all these activities are now long forgotten. The enduring legacy of Walter Bagenal is his version of Versailles which stands in the Carlow countryside, a place we know today as Bagenalstown.


Church Street, Bagenalstown 


End of post


[1] Burke’s Irish Family Records London 1976, p.46

[2] Burke’s Irish Family Records London 1976, p.45

[3] Eileen O’Byrne (ed.), The Convert Rolls (Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin, 2005), p. 292

[4] Jimmy O’Toole, The Carlow Gentry: What will the neighbours say! (author, Carlow, 1993), p. 11

[5] Burke’s Irish Family Records London 1976, p.46

[6] Eileen O’Byrne (ed.), The Convert Rolls, p. 4

[7] P.H. Bagenal, Vicissitudes of an Anglo-Irish Family, 1530-1800 (London, 1925), p. 144

[8] D.W. Hayton (ed.), Letters of Marmaduke Coghill, 1722-1738 (Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin, 2005), p. 30

[9] Various, An introduction to the Architectural Heritage of County Carlow (Duchas, the Heritage Service, 2002), p. 8

[10] Jimmy O’Toole, The Carlow Gentry: What will the neighbours say!, p. 12

[11] Various, An introduction to the Architectural Heritage of County Carlow, p. 11

[12] Burke’s Irish Family Records London 1976, p.46

[13] Burke’s Irish Family Records London 1976, p.46

[14] Burke’s Landed Gentry of Ireland, 1899, pp. 14, 466, 467

[15] Burke’s Irish Family Records London 1976, p.46

[16] Jimmy O’Toole, The Carlow Gentry: What will the neighbours say!, pp. 12, 15


2 thoughts on “Lord Walter Bagenal and Bagenalstown

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s