Stradbally Hall, Co. Laois
By Major E A S Cosby (April 1951)
Stradbally Hall as it appears today, dates from the middle of the 19TH Century. It is an enlargement in classical style of a Georgian house, which had been built in 1772 to replace a yet older residence.
The foundations of this earlier house can still be traced, some hundred yards east of the present mansion. They lie among the trees that border the avenue leading from the southern entrance to the demesne. The north front, with its massive pillared entrance faces a broad stretch of parkland. The south front, of which the most remarkable feature is a lofty pillared pavilion, overlooks the terraces and gardens. The tall windows on the ground floor to the left and right of the pavilion light a series of apartments arranged en suite. In the centre behind the pillars is the salon- the present homely and very cosy “living room” Connected with this by circular connected archways in which are set half round mahogany double doors are the dining room on the left and on the right the drawing room.
All these rooms form part of the old Georgian house and have not been changed in subsequent alterations. The ceiling and frieze of the dining room are excellent examples of Adams style. The bow window in the eastern front lights the great library –ballroom. This, the largest apartment on the ground floor, is particularly remarkable for the series of 24 panels en grisaille, which decorates the ceiling. It is of French origin and depicts the mythical story of Cupid and Psyche. Other rooms on this floor are the richly furnished Prayer Hall and the billiard room. At the head of the grand staircase is the Picture Gallery. Flanked by narrow passages from which open the bedrooms, this magnificent apartment occupies the centre of the house. Sixty feet in length by twenty in breadth, it is surmounted by a barrel vaulted glass roof, the panels of which are set in a steel frame work of simple but chased design. The soft even lighting thus achieved enhances the beauty of the many pictures that hang on the walls. At the western end is a small lobby separated from the main portion by two marble pillars, above which is an architrave decorated with a bold design in stucco.
Stradbally Hall has been the seat of the Cosby family since the reign of Edward VI( 1547-1553). The family of cosby is of Saxon origin, and previous to the Norman Conquest, they possessed the lordship of Cosby in Leicestershire, where they continued to reside until the reign of Richard II (1377-1399). Later by marriage they acquired by marriage the Manor of Great Leake in the county of Nottinghamshire, which descended in the time of Henry VIII (1509-1547) to Richard Cosby and thence to Francis Cosby, the patriarch of the family in Ireland. General Sir Francis Cosby married Lady Mary Seymour, daughter of the Lord Protector, Sir Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, by whom he had three sons, Alexander the eldest, Henry and Arnold.
Arnold Cosby served with great distinction in the Low Countries. It is recorded that he was in the company of the celebrated Sir Phillip Sydney, when he received his fatal wound at the battle of Zutphen on the 22nd September 1586.
On the death of the Duke of Somerset, charged with and executed for high treason, Francis Cosby came over to Ireland, accompanied by his eldest son Alexander.
He was appointed by Queen Mary, under her Majesty’s signed Manual dated 14th February 1558 General of the Kern (or Light Irish Foot). Constantly engaged in service, he was seldom allowed any fixed residence, but he appears to have considered Stradbally Abbey as the seat of his Family.
This residence, situated immediately north west of Stradbally Bridge, which spans the river Beatogue, would appear to have been a very extensive, and handsome pile of buildings from the ruins, which remained so late as 1772. The site of the old Abbey of St. Francis at Stradbally lies on the North East side of the Main Street of Stradbally. A handsome dwelling house now stands on the site, to which some remains of the ancient building are still attached, including the stone arched vaults, which formerly were part of the old Franciscan house. This building still retains the name of ‘the Abbey’ and has passed into the possession of the Presentation Nuns.
General Sir Francis Cosby, who represented the borough of Thomastown in parliament in1559, eventually fell at the head of his Kern, which he valiantly led to the charge, although 70 years of age, at the battle of Glendalough on the 25th August 1580. He was succeeded by his eldest son Alexander. Alexander Cosby married Dorcas Sydney of Otford in Kent, a great niece of Sir William Sydney, Lord of Cranley, and maid of honour to Queen Elizebeth. During the whole of his life Alexander was engaged in perpetual warfare with the celebrated Rory O’Moore and the members of his family. This came at length to issue in the year of 1596 when Anthony O’Moore sent to demand a passage over the Stradbally Bridge. The requisition being deemed by Cosby as a challenge was promptly and peremptorily denied, and preparations were made to oppose him on the 19th May 1596.
Alexander Cosby, learning the O’Moores were on the march, headed his Kern and set himself to defend the bridge, taking with him his eldest son Francis Cosby.
Francis Cosby was born on 1st January 1571, christened with much ceremony in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin-the Lord Deputy Sir Henry Sydney standing as godfather. He had a son William who was but nine weeks old on the day of the fateful battle. In the ensuing battle both Alexander Cosby and his son Francis were slain, their residence plundered and burnt and many ancient patents of the family are reported to have been destroyed, together with many “records and curious antiquitities”.
It is recorded that the respective wives of Alexander Cosby and his son Francis were following the fortunes of the battle from one of the windows of the Abbey. It is not known how the wives escaped but the infant William was carried off concealed by his nurse, becoming the fifth possessor of the estates. William Cosby however died very young and he was succeeded by his uncle Richard Cosby, brother of Francis who was slain at the battle.
Richard Cosby, being eagerly sollicicitious to revenge the death of his father, and brother, challenged the whole race of the O’Moores to a pitched battle.
The challenge was accepted, and the Cosby’s and O’Moores met accordingly in the year 1608 in the Glyn of Aughnahelly under the Rock of Dunamace.
This engagement is reputed to have been the most bloody that had been fought by any of the family.
Fortune this time favouring Cosby, and though receiving so many wounds that is was found impossible to carry him back to Stradbally, his victory was nevertheless complete.
Having thus one victory each to there credit the cosbys and the O’Moores seem to have decided that honour had now been satisfied, and that the ploughshare should be substituted for the sword.
By the end of the 18th Century the descendants of both Cosbys and O’Moores were to be found living side by side on the most amicable terms having apparently transferred their mutual interest from what most probably might be described today as a “Hot War” to the far less exacting though equally exciting sphere of the hunting field.
After the Battle of Stradbally Bridge (this bridge with some of it’s embattlements are still in existence) the mansions were again rebuilt.
A very fine old oil painting of this house, which includes the town of Stradbally, together with the surrounding country, hangs in the billiard room at Stradbally Hall.
In the year 1772 Dudley Alexander Sydney Cosby who for his services as Ambassador to the Court of Denmark, had been created Lord Sydney of Leix and Baron of Stradbally commenced to build a new house on a new site about half a mile SW of the ancient castle.
Lord Sydney married Lady Isabella St Lawrence daughter of the 1st Earl of Howth but died in the ensuing year. He only lived to finish the offices, and one wing of the house, which was completed by his successor Admiral Phillips Cosby. Admiral Phillips was born in America when his father Colonel Alexander Cosby was Lt. Governor of Annapolis Royal, and his uncle General William Cosby Governor of New York. Admiral Phillips had a very distinguished naval career and too fond of his profession to exchange an active naval life for the somewhat less exciting one of a country gentleman, he continued to serve for many years after succeeding to the estates.
It is recorded that in his early life he was in company with General Wolfe when the later was killed on the “Heights of Abraham” In the year 1778 he was in command of the ‘Centaur’ of 74 Guns and in an engagement on the 16th March 1781 under Admiral Arbuthnot, Captain Cosby led the van in the ‘Robust’of 74 Guns against the French off the coast of America. Later that same year he was ordered to England with a large convoy receiving on board his ship the Earl of Cornwallis and most of the officers who were on “parole” having been taken prisoner by General George Washington. He struck his flag in 1782 and returned to Stradbally Hall. In 1785 he was recalled and appointed Commodore and commander in chief of the Mediterranean Fleet sailing from Spithead in the flagship ‘Trusty’. His task on this occasion was to bring the emperor of Morocco to terms, and having accomplished this task he again returned to Stradbally. Recalled again in 1792 he was appointed Commander in Chief of the Port of Plymouth and soon after promoted Vice Admiral of the Blue. In 1793 hoisting his flag on board the ‘St. George’ and later on the ‘Windsor castle’ he was appointed to the Mediterranean and under the command of Vice Admiral Hood ordered to take possession of Toulon (Captain Horatio Nelson was on this occasion in command of the Agamemnon).
On Admiral Cosby’s appointment as Commander in Chief of Cork it was unanimously voted by the Mayor the Sheriffs and the Common Council of the city of Cork that the ‘Freedom at Large thereof’ was to be presented to him in silver box as public testimony of the very high opinion they entertained of his merit and the great satisfaction they felt in the appointment of so gallant and deserving an officer to that station. In 1801 he was advanced to rank of Admiral of the White. Admiral Cosby died and was buried in Bath Cathedral in the year 1808. Most of the oil paintings in Stradbally Hall were collected by Lord Sydney when employed in the Diplomacy.
Among those of special interest are three family portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA, those of Lord Sydney of Leix, George Earl of Halifax and the third Duke of Grafton. There is also a portrait of his Excellency General William Cosby, Colonel of the Royal Irish Regiment and Equerry to the Queen. General William Cosby who was Governor of New York and the Jerseys married Grace sister of Lord Montagu Earl of Halifax K.B. His daughter Elizabeth Cosby married Lord Augustus Fitzroy and their eldest son became the 3rd Duke of Grafton, Prime Minister of England in 1767.Their second son was created the 1st Lord Southampton.
In the Dining room are- a painting by Owen of the Earl of Mornington, elder brother to the Duke of Wellington, a portrait of Captain Thomas Cosby, Royal Horse Guards by Middleton and a large painting of Emily and Marie Ashworth by Sir Thomas Laurence.
In the Prayer Hall leading from the Library, there are two very fine large paintings –one of ‘St.John baptising our Lord with the Heavens Opening’ and the second ‘ The Venerable Bede spending the last day of his life translating the last Chapter of St.John’s Gospel into Anglo-Saxon’ by Doyle Penrose. There is also an oil painting of Admiral Phillips Cosby by Hunter.
Col Robert Cosby succeeded his uncle in 1837. He like his predecessors was for many years a Master of the Queens County (Leix) Hounds. In the year 1877 he had the honour of entertaining at Stradbally Hall H.R.H. The Duke of Connaught.
Major Ashworth Cosby the present owner of Stradbally Hall succeeded his father Captain Dudley Cosby in 1923. He served in the first and second World Wars with the Rifle Brigade and was Joint Master of the Queen’s County Hounds from 1933-1938. In 1934 he married the daughter of Major and Mrs Hamilton of Roundwood, Mountrath, by whom he have four sons and a daughter. His Eldest son Adrian Cosby is now at Eton. To be continued!