While many of us who come from the south-east of Ireland will no doubt be familiar with this week's featured country house, we probably know it by its modern name: Kildalton College. As I child I remember going on a school tour to Kildalton, an agricultural college run by Teagesc, the Irish agriculture and food authority. If my memory serves me correctly our visit focused little on the house's long and illustrious history, but was concerned more with matters agricultural! Thus for many years I presumed the house had always been referred to as Kildaton. In more recent times I learned a little more about it and its history, coming to learn that when it was conceived it was given the name of Bessborough House. Named after the earls of Bessborough, the house dates from the 1740s, although much altered in the twentieth century. The family for whom Bessborough House was built, the Ponsonbys, were an aristocratic family of English decent. The peerage 'earl of Bessborough' was created in 1739 (previously the family's senior title was 'Viscount Duncannon' and 'Baron Bessborough') for Brabazon Ponsonby. The first earl had previously served as M.P. for Newtownards in Co. Down and later for Co. Kildare and had recently married Sarah Margetson of Bishopscourt Hall near Nass, Co. Kildare when building began on his new home.
Brabazon's marriage to the wealthy Sarah Margetson may have spurred him onto commissioning his new home near the small village of Fiddown. The architect he favoured for his project was Francis Bindon (d. 1765). Though more well-known as a portrait painter, Bindon's architectural portfolio was not insignificant; his most famous work being Russborough House, Co. Wicklow. Ponsonby's new home was designed in the Classical style: a four storey nine bay central building flanked on either side by extending wings; a common addition to many Palladian houses. The porch seen in the image above was an addition from the late nineteenth century.
Bessborough House continued to be one of the family homes into the twentieth century. In 1923 the house was burnt and severely damaged. A thorough and complete reconstruction, faithful to the original designs, took place and was completed by 1929. However, the Ponsonbys were never again to reside at Bessborough, having relocated to Stansted Park near Chichester in England. Bessborough was house was in turn purchased in 1940 by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a male Catholic religious who established a novitiate there. It continued to be used for this purpose until the late 1960s. In 1971 it was bought by Teagesc who established an agricultural college there.
Lord and Lady Bessborough