Annual Excursion to Stradbally – 2013

On the 7th of July 2013 the County Kildare Archaeological society held its Annual Excursion to Stradbally, Co. Laois.

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The day began at 12.30 with a picnic lunch attended by over seventy members in the grounds of Stradbally Hall, the home of the Cosby family.  The visit by the society coincided with the annual hound and horse show held by the Laois Hunt Club. Members picnicked in the park with a good view of much of the activity.  The show added to the atmosphere of the day and was not the usual backdrop for the annual excursion.  At least one member benefited from the presence of some horse drawn carriages at the event by arranging a lift in one later in the day! We were also delighted to be joined at the picnic by Elizabeth O’Kelly, long time member and past Council member of the CKAS.

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Although the day started overcast but warm the sun came out in the afternoon and stayed, creating the perfect conditions for a picnic.  At 2 o’clock, the group proceeded to meet our hosts at the steps of the Hall.  Thomas Cosby, the current owner, was called away from hound judging duties to meet the group and welcome us to his home. His wife Gesa was unfortunately travelling in Europe and was unable to be there and Mr. Adrian Cosby (father of the owner) led the tour of the house and spoke extensively about the history of the family, the local area and the landscape changes over the past centuries. The house was been rebuilt several times, most recently in 1860 when it was rebuilt in an Italianate style.  The estate consists of lands, originally held by the Franciscan order and granted to the Cosby family. The estate and house, currently best known for hosting the Electric Picnic music festival, is an excellent example of intact walled estate, with a well preserved and maintained estate town nearby which has been in the ownership of the same family since its establishment. The tour of the house included all of the principal rooms, starting in the billiard room, and continuing through the elegant reception rooms in the garden front, culminating in the prayer hall and the upper hall for which Stradbally is well known. Adrian Cosby was a very welcoming and entertaining host and regaled the members with many anecdotes and stories about the family members who portraits hang on the walls of the house. Following words of thanks from our President Con Manning the group proceeded to the garden terrace to enjoy the sun before returning to their cars for the short drive to the Market square in the town.

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When the group had collected at the Market House, James Deegan LCC gave a talk on the history and development of the town, including the Market House, which will shortly be undergoing a major restoration. The Market House is a unique structure built in 1899, in a ‘pagoda’ style.  Mr Deegan, shared his passion for the history of the town along with the telling us of many of the community projects that have been undertaken or are planned. As well as visiting the original Courthouse, currently the town library and arts centre, Mr Deegan had arranged for a visit an original estate cottage in the town that is in much the same condition as when it was built. The cottages, built for estate workers were prize winning at the time of their construction and are currently maintained by the Irish Countrywoman’s Association (ICA).

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The final stop for the Society was the graveyard site of Oughaval Church, which as well as containing  the mausoleum of the Cosby family, holds the remains of the family of Kevin O’ Higgins. The church itself is on the site of a monastery dating to the 6th century. Again Mr Deegan spoke of the early foundations of the monastery and showed us graves of interest, including those of the Cosby and O’Higgins family. By this stop the group had shrunk to a smaller number as some members decided to find shelter from the late afternoon sun, not a usual complaint on an out for the CKAS!

The day concluded with supper in the Killeshin Hotel in Portlaoise.

 

Report: Michael Dempsey

Photographs: A.J. Mullowney