Of all great Irish country houses, Bantry House surely enjoys one of the most idyllic locations, overlooking the glorious Bantry Bay, surrounded on each side by the rugged Caha Mountains. The house there is in the possession of the Shelswell-White family, the descendants of the earls of Bantry. The present house is largely a nineteenth century construction, but with a significant central section dating from the early eighteenth century. Construction on the house commenced in 1710 by the original owners, the Hutchinson family. The house, originally known as Blackrock, was a detached five bay two storey house, and was a noble Classical structure, displaying strong elements of the Queen Anne style. This structure forms the central part of the house we see today.
In 1765 Richard White purchased the house from the Hutchinsons. The Whites had up to then lived at nearby Whiddy Island. They had strong ties with Limerick, and had initially prospered as a merchant family. Better known as 'Councillor White', Richard was a well-known local politician. His son Richard received the title 'Baron Bantry' in 1797, and was subsequently made the first earl of Bantry in 1817. Upon the death of the childless fourth earl, William Henry, in 1891, the title became extinct.
The above image shows the house in its current form. The house was transformed in the nineteenth century, with additions being made to the east and west of the original eighteenth century structure, as well as to the south, giving it a t-shape appearance. The bow wings, in the centre of the picture above, adorned by the balustrade were added in 1820, while the south extension, facing the sea to the right, was an even later addition, from 1845.
The view of the house towards Bantry Bay. To the right is the decorative stable block added in 1845.
In 1796 Bantry Bay was the scene of an event of international importance, when a French revolutionary force, led by General Hoche attempted to land in the bay. Their goal was to the creation of a revolutionary Irish state, along the lines of revolutionary France. This expeditionary force was made up some fifty ships and thousands of men. The attempted invasion was doomed, however, due to bad weather, and not a single ship landed successfully.