Duckett’s Grove: a mansion house that’s upside down
Niall C.E.J. O’Brien
Duckett’s Grove is a ruined mansion near the northern boundary of Co. Carlow. Its name is taken from the Duckett family who held the area for about two hundred and fifty years. At its height many visitors came to Duckett’s Grove to enjoy the place and their company. After the departure of the Duckett family and the fire of 1933 the visitors still come. Today visitors come with curiosity to understand the place which is home only to the birds. Yet Duckett’s Grove is no straight forward gentry’s mansion. It is rather a mansion house that’s upside down in many respects.
The front door and side of Duckett’s Grove
Duckett’s Grove in the wrong townland
The present ruined mansion and associated buildings lie just inside the eastern boundary line of townland of Rainestown. Yet when Thomas Duckett, ancestor of the Ducketts of Duckett’s Grove, came to the area in 1695 he purchased the townland of Kneestown which adjoins Rainestown on the east. In 1852 John D. Duckett owned the entire 201 acres of Kneestown where he had some farm buildings and land and no residents. The entire area of the townland of Rainestown (620 acres) was in 1852 owned by William Burton of Burton Hall. John Duckett only had a long term lease on 179 acres around Duckett’s Grove from William Burton thus the Duckett family didn’t really own the land their house was built on. This long term lease was taken out sometime in the eighteen century as Jonas Duckett (1720-1797) was the first to address himself as of Duckett’s Grove.
The area around Duckett’s Grove c.1840 and c.1900
John Duckett also didn’t own the grand entrance gateway at Russellstown Cross Road which was owned by his brother, William Duckett of Russellstown Park. The grand house at Russellstown Park was demolished in the 1950s by the Land Commission but in the early 1900s the Ordnance Survey had already removed the house and outbuildings from their maps.
Russellstown Cross Roads gateway
The grand entrance gateway at Russellstown Cross Roads is the wrong way round and in the wrong place. There are in fact two gateways in one structure at the Cross Roads. The smaller gateway opens to along avenue the heads north-east across Russellstown townland and towards the two grand houses of Rainestown House to the left and Duckett’s Grove to the right. This long avenue is used by present day visitors to Duckett’s Grove. The grander gateway at the Cross Roads is not in use today but in the past lead eastwards at first before curving round to the north-east and heading straight for Duckett’s Grove. This abandoned avenue can still be seen today as visitors leave the mansion house and take the right hand turn towards Rainestown House. The abandoned avenue was joined by another abandoned avenue that came from a gate way further east along the Russellstown road at a ninety degree turn. Thus the Russellstown gate way takes visitors in the wrong direction.
Russellstown gateway – the usual entrance is on the left
The Russellstown gateway is also in the wrong place because before 1840 the straight avenue from the Russellstown Cross Road was just an ordinary public road. The original entrance to Duckett’s Grove was via a gate way and gate lodge located half way down the straight avenue on the right. The third gateway into Duckett’s Grove is located straight past the house and out onto the R418 Castledermot to Killerrig road. The accompanying map shows the road patterns around Duckett’s Grove in the 1840s and around 1900.
The grand entrance at Russellstown cross road which once led to Duckett’s Grove
Duckett’s Grove built of brick
Another oddity about Duckett’s Grove is the materials used in its construction and the manner of its eventual destruction. The vast majority of Duckett’s Grove is built of brick. Often when you build with brick, one thinks of fire brick. If the builders of Duckett’s Grove had ideas that the extensive use of brick would protect the house from fire they were to be sadly mistaken. In April 1933 locals notice smoke coming from the empty house and took swift action to prevent disaster. But on 20th April 1933 a second fire took hold of the building and consumed it in its entirety. Nobody knows if the two fires were started accidentally or otherwise but the red bricks did little to stop it.
Remains of spiral stairway from basement to ground floor
The unseen servants made visible
The fire of 1933 destroyed the mansion of Duckett’s Grove yet exposed the underground cellars where the servants who kept the house in running order worked away unseen when the house was standing.
But even long before the fire the servant quarters were empty. In 1911 Duckett’s Grove was described as a house with 24 windows in front and 40 rooms within and 27 outbuildings. The census records show no servants were living in the house. Instead, at that time William Mackey lived in the house with his sister and acted as land agent for Maria Duckett.
This is in contrast with the early years of the house when the servant quarters were a hive of activity. In the 1841 census 17 people lived in Rainestown in two houses and by 1851 there were 32 people in the townland living in three houses.Although we can’t say for certain how many of these people lived at Duckett’s Grove it would seem to be the case that the number of servants at the house increased in those years.
At one time there were eleven men employed full-time maintaining the lawns, gardens and driveways. Along these driveways for nearly eighty years visitors in great numbers came to picnic on the well maintained grounds. As many as 150 sat down for lunch on the same day. The great kitchens under Duckett’s Grove were hot with cooking at those times. The ice house out by the back avenue would help to keep thing cool. But by 1900 the family had turned cold against this open policy as visitors damaged flowers entered the enclosed yards, looking in the windows and laughing loudly.
The main kitchens
Catholic servants not approved but still employed
Maria Duckett, wife of William Duckett (last male owner of Duckett’s Grove), was said to have a hatred of Catholics and the Catholic Church. It was said that she would not employ Catholics. She was reported as saying that “people are in league with the Catholics to poison and kill me”. Yet the census returns for 1901 and 1911 show at that time that she was not so against Catholic servants as later commentators may have suggested.
In 1901 the census returns account for six servants at Duckett’s Grove of whom five were Roman Catholics or as William Duckett called them “Church of Rome”. William Duckett died in 1908 and his widow left the house for Raglan Road in Dublin. There in 1911 Maria Duckett had five servants two of whom were Roman Catholics or as it is written “Church of Rome”. If Maria Duckett was totally against Catholics among her employees it must have occurred later in life.
The 1926 census, which is the next after 1911, is not due for publication until 2026 and thus we must wait ten years to see the religious affiliations of her servants at that time. Maybe Maria’s dislike of Catholics could be from a discovery that the Duckett family were not all Protestant. Back in the days of religious Reformation and Counter Reformation in England many members of the Duckett family in Lancashire and Westmoreland stayed Catholic while a prosperous Protestant branch settled in Wiltshire. The Catholic branches produced two Catholic martyrs in the form of James and John Duckett. Another member, John Duckett, was priest in 1660 to Colonel Mervyn Touchet, later Earl of Castlehaven.
Servants well cared for
Even if the Ducketts kept their servants unseen in the basement or even may have disliked their religion, the family did have a reputation of caring for their servants. New suits of clothes, boots and a cash bonus was given to the men servants at Christmas while their wives got new bed clothes and cash with gifts for the children. Such was the respect for the family by the locals that when the I.R.A. occupied the house they left it intact and did not burn it or loot it like they did at other houses like Mitchelstown Castle in Co. Cork.
Of course in any relationship there will be ups and downs. In 1893 William Duckett of Duckett’s Grove brought an action against his former coachman and groom, John Sweeney, for theft. John Sweeny countered with an action of slander and claimed damages of £500. The case was settled with Sweeney getting £65 in damages. In 1901 John Sweeney was living at Strawhall near Carlow town and employed as a coachman – though not for the Ducketts.
The walled gardens at the far end
Another curiosity at Duckett’s Grove is the situation of the two walled gardens. The two walled gardens are separated from the mansion house by the enclosed farm yard and servant buildings. Because today’s visitors enter the mansion complex via the farm yard entrance with the walled gardens to the left and the mansion far to the right you get a strange sense of situation. It would seem that visitors to the house of the nineteenth century would have to walk through the farm yard seeing servants and heaps of horse dung to get to the gardens from the house.
It is only when you go to the far end of the gardens that you find a sculptured doorway through which visitors of the past entered the gardens. This doorway is on the south side of the gardens.
Yet still the gardens seem to be place in an odd place. Visitors of the nineteenth century would have to exit the mansion by a side door or the front door and walk around the outside of the walled farm yard to get to the gardens. It would seem better if the walled gardens were at the side of Duckett’s Grove rather than at the further rear of the house.
Of course if the original Duckett’s Grove was in Kneestown townland then the walled gardens would be right beside the house and not far away from it. The townland boundary between Kneestown and Rainestown passes just outside the eastern wall of the walled gardens.
Duckett’s Grove entry by the back door
Owing to the 1933 fire present-day visitors don’t enter the mansion house by the front door or the door frame of the front door. This is because the front door is barred with an iron gate which is mostly locked. Instead modern visitors enter the enclosed farm yard, pass through the servant’s area and enter the mansion house via the back door. This line of approach allows visitors to see the workings behind the big house and get an appreciation that these large gentry’ houses may have been built by a landlord family but could only operate with all the servants and their associated buildings in the back.
The front door – or should say gate – into the mansion house
Duckett’s Grove in conclusion
There are possibly other curiosities at Duckett’s Grove waiting to be discovered such as the oval window on the south side of the main reception room that was changed into a square window with semi-circular top. Every visit brings new discoveries and new wonders. It is a wonderland of exploration and discovery – an Alice in Wonderland place – even if it is a mansion house that’s upside down.
The north facade with gateway to enclosed farm yard in middle picture & house to right
End of post
 Jimmy O’Toole, The Carlow gentry: What will the neighbours say! (Carlow, 1993), p. 101
 Griffith’s Valuation, Rainestown townland, Killerig parish, Carlow barony, Co. Carlow
 Burke’s Landed Gentry of Ireland (London, 1899), p. 125
 Griffith’s Valuation, Russellstown townland, Killerig parish, Carlow barony, Co. Carlow
 Jimmy O’Toole, The Carlow gentry: What will the neighbours say!, p. 104
 http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/reels/nai001664569/ accessed on 15 September 2016
 http://www.dippam.ac.uk/eppi/documents/13270/page/340863 accessed on 15 September 2016
 Jimmy O’Toole, The Carlow gentry: What will the neighbours say!, p. 102
 Jimmy O’Toole, The Carlow gentry: What will the neighbours say!, pp. 97, 98
 http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/reels/nai000417551/ accessed on 15 September 2016
 http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/reels/nai000126649/ accessed on 15 September 2016
 J. Anthony Williams, Catholic recusancy in Wiltshire 1660-1791 (Catholic Record Society, 1968), p. 100
 Jimmy O’Toole, The Carlow gentry: What will the neighbours say!, p. 103
 http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/reels/nai000418986/ accessed 23 September 2016