Moyaliffe House

Clonoulty-Rossmore Vintage Club, 19th Annual Vintage Rally, Clonoulty Village, Cashel, Co. Tipperary, September 1, 2019

Moyaliffe House is a large house, built over several periods. It is situated within a mature garden, beside the River Clodiagh and within the grounds of a ruined castle. The approach to the house is between a stately avenue of lime trees, planted over one hundred years ago. Nearby is Moyaliffe Hill, which rises to over four hundred feet above sea level, from the top of which are fine views of the Rock of Cashel and the Devil’s Bit.

The name ‘Moyaliffe’ or ‘Mealiffe’ is a derivation meaning ‘field of Olaf’. As far as is known, Olaf was the reigning King of the territory in 900 AD, when he fought a fierce and defensive battle on the banks of the River Clodiagh, losing two hundred men.

The ruins of a castle, which was built about 1100 AD, can be seen to the south of the house. The castle was one of a series built by the Butler family to preserve law and order over their vast domain granted by King John of England. In 1500 AD it was besieged by Turlough O’Brien, when one hundred Kilkenny men with Robert Shee, the sovereign of that city, marched out to the assistance of Sir Piers Butler at Moyaliffe, but were defeated and left a great number of their men dead on the field, including Shee.

The House

The oldest wing of the house at one time adjoined the castle. The middle wing was added in the 17th century, while the newest wing, which made the house the fine structure it is today, was built in 1810. All the walls of the house are of exceptional thickness. Behind panelling, in the thickness of one of the outside walls enclosing a passage on the first floor, is what might have been a secret closet, in which a man could have hidden. In the courtyard is a deep well which assured a water supply, which was important in such houses in case of attack.

The Armstrongs

The owners of Moyaliffe since 1695 were the Armstrongs when Thomas Armstrong (1671-1741) purchased the townland and the ruins of a towerhouse, which had been built there by the Butler family in the early fourteenth century. Thomas was the younger son of Captain William Armstrong of Farney Castle, who had come to Ireland to fight for the royalist cause in the Irish Confederate Wars. The Armstrongs were of Scottish origin and are said to have derived their name during the Battle of the Standard (1138), when a warrior of the clan lifted a fallen king back onto his horse by using just one arm. The family motto, vi et armis Invictus maneo (by force and arms I remain unvanquished, reflects the fearless and warlike nature for which the clan was famous.

The Moyaliffe branch of the family was rather more peaceful in its inclinations than the motto might suggest. While many men of the family continued in the tradition of serving in the army, equally many took to the cloth and served as clergymen in parishes in Tipperary and elsewhere. William ‘Billy’ Carew Armstrong (1752-1839) served as rector of Moyaliffe from 1789 to 1797. He also held the rectorship of Moylough in the diocese of Tuam and the chancellorship of the diocese of Cashel. Billy’s marriage to Catherine Beresford in 1789 was not only good for his career but brought money into the family, allowing him to improve the holding at Moyaliffe. He extended the modest family home by the addition of a Georgian wing, planted a parkland of oaks and beeches and established a beech walk overlooking the Clodiagh River. As a result of this prosperous marriage, many subsequent generations carried ‘Beresford’ as their middle name.

Billy’s eldest son, John Armstrong (1791-1846) also married well. His wife, Catherine Somers, was the only surviving child of Thomas Somers of Chaffpool, County Sligo. Through this marriage, the Armstrongs came into possession of estates in Mayo and Sligo, and for many decades the family abandoned Moyaliffe House in favour of Chaffpool House. Apparently John was a much-liked landlord and highly respected magistrate, and the local community were devastated to hear the news of his premature death during the famine from typhus fever he had contracted while working tirelessly to ease the suffering of the poor and starving.

End of the Family Connection

Eventually the Moyaliffe estate came to Captain Marcus Beresford Armstrong and, following the death of his only son, he made the decision to pass the state to his second daughter, Jess (1891-1949). (The Mayo and Sligo estates had been sold to the Congested Districts Board in 1904.) She was married in 1927 to Captain William Daryl Olphert Kemmis (1892-1965) of Ballinacor, County Wicklow.

She and her husband divided their time between Moyaliffe and Ballinacor until the death of Captain Kemmis in 1965, when, through a series of events, Jess Kemmis lost ownership of Ballinacor, which was inherited by her husband’s maternal cousin, Major Richard Lomer, and Moyaliffe, which was offered for sale to the Land Commission. She was later able to regain possession of Moyaliffe House and 12 acres of the demesne, but not the surrounding farm.

As Jess had no children, and he younger sister was also childless, Jess Kemmis bequeathed Moyaliffe House and grounds to her distant relation, Robert George Carew Armstrong (1911-1983) of Natal, South Africa. Following Robert’s death, the property passed to his eldest son, Graham Carew Armstrong (b. 1946). It remained in the hands of the Armstrong family until July 1999, when it was sold to John Stakelum.

Life in Moyaliffe

In his comprehensive Life of Tom Semple and the Thurles Blues, Liam Ó Donnchú gives an interesting picture of life at Moyaliffe in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Many of the workers on the estate were brought in from Scotland. Tom Semple’s grandfather, James, was one and worked as a servant at Farney Castle, where the father of the first Armstrong to take over Moyaliffe, was established. Tom’s father, Martin, is recalled locally as being a coachman and butler at Farney Castle and later at MoyaliffeI

It is clear, from the following account of a celebration at Moyaliffe, that Martin Semple was held in high esteem by the Armstrongs and could be trusted with a position of responsibility. ‘In October 1878, Captain Edward Armstrong celebrated the annual ‘Harvest Home’ at Moyaliffe Castle. Invitations had been sent to his tenants, labourers, tradesmen and their families and the celebrations began at about 4.00 p.m. for the assembled gathering of all ages, numbering about one hundred and fifty-five. They assembled in the vicinity of the farmyard, in an area specially built for such festivities, where a dance-floor had been laid and the area decorated with evergreens, corn sheaves and appropriate slogans, some in the Irish language. Fiddle music filled the autumnal air and the tables were ‘full and plenty’ and well-decked with a selection of meats including roast beef and a selection of hot smoking puddings. Captain Armstrong arrived with his wife and her companion, Miss Bagwell, about 8.00 p.m. amid welcoming cheers. The flowing bowl followed with plenty for all and the Captain drank to the health of his tenants, labourers and his invited friends from Farney Castle and Templemore. At 10.30 p.m. the Captain and his entourage retired. Tea, punch and porter were liberally distributed during the remainder of the night, under the supervision of Mr. Semple (Tom’s father), Mr. Hogan, Mr. Harrington and Mr. Aduett, all appointed by Captain Armstrong to act in his absence. Celebrations continued until 7.00 a. m., when all wished each other good-bye in friendship.’