Amateur Photographers at Clonbrock, Co Galway.
- National Library of Ireland
This picture from 1899 was taken on the Clonbrock estate in Ahascragh, County Galway. The Dillon family who owned the estate were very enthusiastic amateur photographer and the image shows Augusta, Lady Clonbrock, in the centre. The others are her daughter, the Hon. Ethel Dillon;her sister in law, the Hon. Katherine Dillon; her son the Hon. Robert Edward Dillon; and her daughter the Hon Edith Dillon.
Clonbrock was well managed: Lord Dillon and his father before him had a hands on approach to running the estate. They were fair landlords and unusual in that they resided permanently on the estate.
Just a few years after this picture was taken the Wyndham Act of 1903 offered very advantageous terms to landlords to sell land - and for tenants to purchase their farms. However Lord Clonbrock was reluctant to sell as he was attached to his land and could see no real advantage in shifting from a rental income to one derived from investment. This made him very unpopular and from 1903 to 1907 the estate was subjected to extreme agitation.
Facing huge losses in rental income, by 1915 Lord Clonbrock was left with little option but to sell off most of his estate. It was the rental income that sustained most estates; as they were reduced or broken up the decline of the big house gained momentum. Photographs are a medium that have the power to evoke the past in a poignant way – and this is particularly the case when it comes to photographs of life in a big house in Ireland. Few pictures survive of Fota; however the Clonbrock collection from the National Library of Ireland provides a rich pictorial record of life on a landed estate. Ironically the photographs have survived while Clonbrock no longer exists – it was accidently burnt down in the 1980s.
Terence Dooley, The Decline of the Big House in Ireland: A Study of Irish landed Families 1860-1960. Wolfhound Press, 2001.
Noel Kissane, Ex Camera 1860-1960, Photographs from the collections of the National Library of Ireland, NLI 1990.