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Ash Hill

The house, its history and those who lived here.

Photo of Ash Hill from the Lawerance  collection



          The oldest evidence of habitation at Ash Hill is what is believed to be a long barrow grave dating somewhere between 4000 and 2000 B.C. This was described in letters written by Eileen Foster, an American visiting her ancestral home, Ash Hill, in 1908. Miss Foster wrote "close to the avenue, as they call it, although there are trees on only one side of the road, is a large green mound which is supposed to mark the burial place of one of the Irish chieftains and a number of his followers. It was the custom in those days to bury a dozen or so of his slaves with every chieftain. Father says he would like to explore the spot, but not a man could be found who would put a spade into the sacred earth".

           Also on the estate, beside the site of an old lake, there are the remains of a crannog (an Irish house built on a small island) usually dating prior to 1000 A.D. The lake was drained in the 1915 and during this process, the remains of numerous Irish Elk (deer from the interglacial period) were discovered.

     Close to the lake, overlooking the town, is the site of Castle Coote, birthplace of Lieutenant General Sir Eyre Coote, conqueror of India (see geneology page). This castle was demolished in the later half of the eighteenth century.

      The courtyard to the main house was built sometime between 1720 and 1740 and it was sympathetically restored in the 1950's by the late Mrs. Denny Johnson. The present house, which overlooks this courtyard, was built by Chidley Coote in 1781.

    This part of the house has numerous ceilings of historical and architectural importance displaying dancers from Herculaneum which are similar to the stucco medallions found in the saloon at Castletown, County Kildare. Numerous windows, looking out onto the courtyard, date from this period and have the original glass. 

         This ceiling is a fine example of decorative plasterwork, incorporating medallions of the female dancers from Herculanium as well as one medallion of Hercules.

In the 1830's, Eyre Evans employed Charles Anderson, an architect, to build the front of the house in a Gothic style with two large towers on it. There are various Gothic features in this part of the house. Unfortunately, due to excessive rates (a valuation based property tax), some parts of the house, including the towers, were removed in the early 1960's.

During the "troubled times", the house was occupied by three sets of troops who looted and vandalized the property, using ancient family portraits for target practice. As these "troubled times" were ending, Michael Collins, the Irish leader at the time, visited the house on his way south to what would be his violent and untimely demise at the hands of his enemies. There is a considerable amount of graffiti left on the walls of the top floor rooms which were occupied by both troops and prisoners.

The families who lived at Ash Hill

The first recorded ownership of Ash Hill was in 1667 when Chidley Coote acquired the property from Catherine Bligh. It is probable that he had a son who was also Chidley Coote. In 1726, Lieutenant General Eyre Coote (son of Chidley Coote--a clergyman and owner of Castle Coote) was born at Ash Hill which was known as Castle Coote at that time. General Coote went on to become one of the greatest military tacticians of the eighteenth century with numerous victories to his credit, including winning India from the French in the Seven Years' War and defeating Hyder Ali despite being outnumbered by almost twenty to one. This same victorious pattern was to be repeated in battles throughout the war. 

Coote's nephew, Sir Eyre Coote, who was born at Ash Hill in the late eighteenth century, became the Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica between 1806 and 1808. It has been said that Coote, while living in Jamaica, had a relationship with a slave girl. Although unconfirmed, it is thought that Colin Powell, hero of the Gulf War, may be a descendent of this relationship. Sometime prior to 1799, Ash Hill passed on to Eyre Evans. We are still attempting to ascertain if Eyre Evans was a descendent of Eyre Coote. We believe this could well be the case in light of both parties sharing the same first name as well as ownership of Ash Hill. At about the time of the Famine, ownership of the estate passed out of the Evans family and, in 1858, part of the estate was acquired by Thomas Weldon. In 1860, another part of the estate was acquired by Captain Henry Frederick Evans. In 1880, Evans' widow sold her interest in the estate to John Henry Weldon, a son of Thomas Weldon. 

Eyre Evans aged 18 in 1791

          The Evans familey was a large familey with many branches that emegrated to New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England, Cannada and U.S.A. One of the branch that emegrated to New Zealand was a prolific writer and much or possibly all of his writings were donated to the Alexander Turnbull libary in Wellington, New Zealand. 

          Corry Skilbech is a decandant of one of the Evans'es who emegrated to New Zealend and she is the author of "Jottings of a Gentelman" a book that is the story of one branch of the Evans family of Ash Hill Towers. For anybody who wishes to purchase this book, it's ISBN is 9780977551835 (pbk.). 

George and Stanley Evans in 1912 or 1913

               The house has been visited by many of the descendents of the aforementioned from all parts of the world. Such visits include one by Eileen (Weldon) Foster in 1908 who wrote numerous letters to her American fiance during her stay at Ash Hill. In 1912, the house was visited by Evans descendents from New Zealand. Walter and Anna Weldon visited in 1932, writing home that "the interior had been despoiled by three sets of troops during the Irish Rebellion. Beautiful Italian marble fireplaces chipped and cracked. Ancestral paintings used for target practice....the lovely books of the library strewn underfoot." Any information from people whose antecedents lived at Ash Hill would be most appreciated and gratefully received. Please feel free to e-mail Simon Johnson.

          The estate passed out of the Weldon family to P.M. Lindsay in 1911. Captain Lindsay sold Ash Hill to Mrs. Denny Johnson in 1946. 

            After Denise Johnson bought the property in 1946 she ran it as a successful stud, and she was a successful point-to-point rider with over 50 wins to her name. In 1956 she married Stado Johnson. After many falls she was told to "take up a safer sport than point-to point riding" by her doctor, she took up 3-day eventing and represented Ireland at an international level. 

Today, Ash Hill has been opened to the public and sees a great many people of varied interests. From architects to historians interested in taking a peek at Ireland's unique past, all are welcome. Ash Hill is still owned by the Johnson family who enjoy sharing their love of history and the outdoors with the public. Most days, Simon and Nikki Johnson can be found wandering around, tending to the garden and pastures. For those interested, Simon can be happily talked into a full tour.

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