Driving out of Athy on the road to Castledermot I have passed on many occasions on the left hand side what appears to be the remains of an extensive walled garden. The 18th century saw the emergence of the walled garden as an essential part of the great country house. My enquiries as to the history of the estate to which the walled garden belonged went unanswered until quite recently when part of the story behind the walled remains from another age were related to me. It turns out that Bray House which is the name given to the imposing residence on the right hand side of the Castledermot Road was built sometime in the middle of the 19th century. Before that however Bray House was a substantial mansion with a walled garden on the opposite side of the road. It was owned I am told by the Gibbons family and I am led to believe that Bray House and the lands adjoining were in the ownership of the same family for many many years.
How or why the present Bray House came to be built I cannot say, nor can I throw any light on when the original Bray House was built. I can only assume on the basis of the existing remains of the walled garden that the original house was a very substantial one, possibly meriting the description of a country mansion.
The Census Returns for 1911 show Kate Gibbons, a widow, as the householder of Bray House. She was succeeded by a bachelor son who folk memory relates emigrated to London after falling for an English lady. Another son, a vet by profession, took over the running of the farm and when he died the extensive lands were sold. Bray farm was purchased by the father of the late Tim Dunne, while the Keating family purchased Bray House and the 80 acre farm which they subsequently sold to Thomas Dunne in 1960.
Thomas Dunne was one of five children of William Dunne from County Carlow and Mary Ann Cullen from Castledermot who married in 1910. William was born on a small farm in Coolmanagh, Hacketstown in 1885 and was just 18 years of age when he took charge of a 38 acre farm owned by an elderly uncle. His marriage to Mary Ann Cullen of Castledermot was blessed with five children, but tragically Mary Ann died on the birth of her last daughter Cathy in 1918.
The grieving widower sold the County Carlow farm and purchased another farm at Belan, Moone. Five years later he married Mary Ann Dowling from the Castledermot area but sadly he died just two years after marrying. His third child Thomas worked the family farm with his older brother Ger for many years and six years after marrying Sheila Doyle of Baltinglass, Thomas Dunne purchased Bray House and the adjoining farm land. The Dunne family moved into Bray House in March 1961 where Thomas Dunne died in 2003.
Last weekend Liam and Marian Dunne who are the current owners of Bray House held a family reunion to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Dunne family residency in Bray. Over 40 members of the extended Dunne family with links back to William Dunne and beyond visited family gravesites in Athy, Nurney, Moone, Levitstown and Hacketstown, finishing with a family gathering in the Carlton Abbey Hotel. This venue too had links with the Dunne family as Thomas Dunne’s sister May entered the Convent of Mercy, Athy in 1931 and died there 49 years later as Sister Imelda.
The photograph shows the family of William Dunne at back from left Ger, Tom, Luke and Cathy and to front Mrs. Mary Dunne and Sr. Imelda.
Last week saw the passing of Eddie Dempsey of Townspark. Eddie enjoyed a youthful appearance and outlook on life which belied his years and possessed an enthusiasm and a community spirit which benefitted his community and his neighbours for whom he worked tirelessly over many years. He will be sadly missed.