Errislannan Manor, is on the west coast of Ireland four miles south of Clifden. Sheltered by a surrounding wood the Manor overlooks the trout lake and is bounded by Connemara’s moors and mountains. It houses the Errislannan Manor Connemara pony stud and riding centre and is the home of the Connemara Branch of the Irish Pony Club. Many ponies and children have been started here. It is also a member of the Royal Horticultural Society of Ireland Irish gardens for charity scheme.
A brief history of
People have lived on Errislannan for at least 7,000 years. A Mesolithic (middle Stone Age) waste pit containing periwinkle and oyster shells has been found on the shore of Clifden Bay behind the manor house. The ponies themselves helped the discovery of a Fulachta Fiadh (burnt mound) in the same area, where stones were heated in a fire and then pushed into a water-filled pit to boil water for cooking.
The name Errislannan (Iorras Fhlannáin) means the peninsula of St Flannan, who came here in the early seventh century and founded the little St Flannan’s church beside the lake. There is a holy well dedicated to him beside the graveyard of the ruined church.
St Flannan was a great preacher of peace. Legend has it that because of him:
1. the fields waved with the richest crops
2. the sea poured almost on the shore an abundance of large whales and every kind of smaller fish, and
3. the apple trees drooped under the weight of the fruit,
4. woods abounded in acorns and hazel-nuts,
5. the most restless nations were at peace, and
6. the poor of every description experienced open-handed hospitality.
Errislannan Manor was original built as a small hunting lodge during the 18th century. The eastern end of the house is the older part. It had two upstairs rooms and two downstairs. The Lamberts of Athenry used to come here for the shooting of red deer, grouse etc and to fish for salmon and trout.
In the 1830s the Rev. Dr Richard Wall (1794–1869) rented Errislannan and he eventually bought the house (and about a quarter of the peninsula) outright in 1851. Errislannan was not Richard Wall’s main residence. He had a parish in Dublin (St Matthew’s in Irishtown) and also had a school in 6 Hume Street near to St. Stephens Green. He had Errislannan Church built in 1853 by the Architect Joseph Welland and also started a little ‘protestant mission’ school on the road to boat harbour (on the site where the round house now stands).
His son Walter Saunders Wall, who is believed to have had some disability with one leg, studied the Arts at Galway University in 1854 and then became a farmer and remained in Errislannan his whole life. He never married but he became a JP and served on the Clifden Assizes each month. In the 1870s he was on the board of the Clifden Poor Law Union.
It was likely Walter Wall who did most of the work in developing Errislannan as we know it today while his father was up in Dublin. It was transformed into a complete farm unit with pigsties, cattle sheds etc and 3000 trees were planted on the bare hillside. Extensive additions were made to the house and the walled garden was created. Local families were employed cultivating the land, growing vegetables, ploughing and seeding the fields and manuring with seaweed gathered from the shores. As part of this transformation, the road, which had originally run along the back avenue and past the house towards boat harbour, was diverted around to the south of the lake and up past the new ‘Mission School’.
Walter had two brothers who are believed to have gone off into the British Colonial Service and died in the faraway places, and three sisters. When Walter died (in about 1884) The estate appears to have passed to the second sister, Mary Anne Wall (1805–1890) but when she died it was inherited by his third sister, Henrietta Jane (1838–1924), who had married the Rev. George Abraham Heather (on 8th February 1866).
George became Archdeacon of Achrony in Sligo and eventually Dean of Achrony from 1895 to 1905. It is not clear whether George and Henrietta ever lived much at Errislannan, for he had just bought a stud farm at Knockadoo, Coolaney, Sligo a couple of years before Henrietta inherited Errislannan.
It seems that Henrietta moved back to Errislannan after George’s death in 1907, for we can see from the 1911 census that she had one son and three daughters living there with her. John Williamson Campbell Heather (1871– ?), Eva Madeline Heather (1873–1944), Henrietta Jane Heather (1875–?1956) ‘Janie Heather’ and Edythe Maude Heather (1878–1955) ‘Edith Heather’.
George and Henrietta’s eldest son Dawson Dean Richard Henry Heather (1867–1927) had been born at Errislannan but lived with his family on the stud farm at Knockadoo.
Their youngest son Walter Saunders Heather (1869–1929) also had a taste for the horses and set up his own stud farm in England at North Kilworth, Rugby. He married Florence Mary Harrison (born 1874) of Southport in 1898 (apparently using a fictional middle name Ganderswall) and they had a son and two daughters. Donald (born1900), Eileen Medora (1901–1992) and Kathleen (born 1905). Apparently, Florence was ill so the two elder children spent their childhood holidays in Errislannan with their aunts Janie and Edith. Donald survived the Second World War only to be killed in a plane crash in Iraq just after.
The middle child was the painter Alannah Bent. Her parents reputedly christened her Medora by randomly choosing a name out of a stud-book but her aunts demanded an Irish name; Hence she was known as Alannah, a contortion of Eileen. During the First World War Alannah aged 16 worked for the Red Cross and seems to have included “attendance at the Errislannan Manor Working Party” amongst her duties in 1918 and 1919.
Alannah was educated in England and studied at the Slade with Randolph Schwabe (1930–33), and at the Central School of Arts and Crafts where she studied stained glass. She worked on Sark, in Errislannan, and in Cornwall (St Ives, during the Second World War) where she married Roger Bent in 1941.
Eventually, Janie, the surviving aunt, had to go into a nursing home and Errislannan had to be sold. By this time there was just the manor and 250 acres left.
In 1956 Errislannan was sold to Donal Brooks, who came from the Dublin Brooks family. He had studied medicine at Trinity and was based in London at the time working as an orthopaedic surgeon and later a hand surgeon. When he was a child the Brooks family had often rented Errislannan Manor for summer holidays, (the Heather Family moving out to accommodate this).
When Donal and Stephanie came to view the place in 1956 it was derelict, with buckets under the roof, the whole back passage and kitchen was six inches deep in water. The surveyor said “it had a delightful disposition”, and they were convinced to buy it. It was cheap in those days, Connemara had not yet been fully discovered, there were still few metalled roads and very few cars.
Donal and Stephanie had a family of six children. Every holiday the Brooks family came over from London, with furniture, children and dogs and gradually the house came to life again. The children grew up with gas lamps downstairs and oil lamps and candles upstairs. Eventually electricity arrived in 1976.
The first year they put in twenty gates and started to re-roof the farm buildings and bought Hereford crossbred cows. After about three years they put a new roof on the house itself and moved the staircase, put in a second bathroom and enlarged the sitting room. They made hay in one of the meadows, late in the year as Donal Brooks only got holidays in August. Stephanie remembers the last hay-raking brought out the corncrake family, half-grown and rushing for shelter in the grass at the field edge.
They decided they needed six ponies for the children, all Connemara’s of course. Later when her children did not get their holidays until mid-July, Mrs Brooks would drive the Landrover into Clifden and collect any local children who wanted to come out and learn to ride the ponies. And that was how the Connemara Branch of The Irish Pony Club started. It continues today, though now with a lot more members and a lot more rules!
In the 1960s, the little Errislannan church was due to be demolished but a few families got together to save it. It needed a new roof and a few of the Brooks’ daughters’ friends gave a few shillings to go towards the church roof in exchange for riding. Hotels heard of this and asked to send their guests and so the riding and trekking centre started.
Eventually it was the turn of the garden. They cleared the walled garden of tightly packed brambles and scrub, and put the donkeys in to help eat it down. The garden became Donal Brooks’ passion. He planted many unusual trees and designed the upper garden and its flower beds, leaving the lower garden as an orchard with the herbaceous border on one side and shrubbery at the bottom.
Upon retirement Donal moved to Errislannan full time and enjoyed many happy years with Stephanie since. While Stephanie dedicated her time to Connemara ponies, breeding their own, progressing the riding stables, and the Pony Club, Donal Brooks devoted much of his retirement to the gardens’ continuous upkeep and expansion. The garden is kept going by Stephanie Brooks in loving memory of her late husband who died in 2003.