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Lordship's own extravagances, and the numerous incumbrances with which he had already charged his estates.
It was owing, in no small degree, to Lady Blessington's advice, and the active steps she had caused his Lordship to take for the retrieval of his affairs, that his difficulties were to some extent diminished. From £30,000 a year his rental had decreased to £23,000 or £24,000; but for two years previously to his departure from England, it rather exceeded the latter amount.
I visited several of the surviving tenants of Lord Blessington, still living on the Mountjoy estate, near Omagh, in March, 1854. All concurred in one statement, that a better landlord, a kinder man to the poor, never existed than the late Lord Blessington. A tenant never was evicted by him, he never suffered the tenants to be distressed by an agent, however much in need he might stand of money; he would not suffer them to be pressed for rent, to be proceeded against or ejected. Graham, one of the oldest and most respectable tenants on the estate, says, he is aware, of his Lordship, at a period when he was in great want of money, having written to the agent not to press the tenants too much, even for arrears that had been long due ; that rather than they should be dealt harshly with, he would endeavour to obtain money on mortgage in London ; and Graham adds, the money his Lordship then required was thus obtained by him. “He took after his father in this respect. He looked on his tenants as if he was bound to see they suffered no injury at the hands of any person acting for him on his estate.”
The residence of the father of the late Lord Blessington, on the Mountjoy Forest Estate in Tyrone, was on the town land of Rash, near “ the Church of Cappagh;" on the opposite side of the river, about a quarter of a mile from the cottage residence to which Lord Blessington subsequently removed.
The Dowager Lady Mountjoy resided at Rash for some years after the death of her husband, in 1798.
And here, also, prior to 1814, the late Lord Blessington resided when he visited his Tyrone estates ; and about 1807, expended a great deal of money in enlarging the offices, building an extensive kitchen and wine cellars, and erecting a spacious and elegantly decorated theatre, and providing
properties," and a suitable wardrobe of magnificent theatrical dresses for it.
The professional actors and actresses were brought down by his Lordship, for the private theatricals at Mountjoy Forest, from Dublin, and some even from London. But there were amateur performers also, and two of the old tenants remember seeing his Lordship act "some great parts;" but what they were, or whether of a tragic or a comic nature, they cannot say, they only know "he was thought a fine actor, and the dresses he wore were very grand and fine.”
The ladies who acted were always actresses from the Dublin theatres; and during the performances at Rash, his Lordship had them lodged at the house of the school-mistress, in the demesne near the avenue leading to the house.
The “ Quality” who came down and remained at Rash during the performances, which generally lasted for three or four weeks each year, were entertained with great hospitality by his Lordship
The expenditure was profuse in the extreme for their entertainment, and the fitting up and furnishing of places of temporary accommodation for them during their brief sojourn.
The dwelling-house of Rash was more a large cottage, with some remains of an older structure than a nobleman's mansion.
Moore, in his Diary, September 11th, 1832, alludes to the theatricals of Lord Blessington, but without specifying time or place. He refers to a conversation with Corry about the
theatricals of his Lordship. “A set of mock resolutions, one of which was the following, chiefly levelled at Crampton, who was always imperfect in his part—That every gentleman shall be at liberty to avail himself of the words of the author, in case his own invention fails him.'”
These theatricals were at Rash, on the Mountjoy Estate.
To an inquiry addressed to Sir P. C--, on the subject of these theatricals, I received a note informing me he had never heard of any theatricals in Dublin, got up by the Blessingtors, and that if there had been any such there he must have heard of them, nor was he the person alluded to in the mock resolutions; “ he had neither hand, act, por part in theatricals of any description.” The observation might possibly allude, for any thing he knew to the contrary, to a brother, who had been dead many years.
The taste for theatricals survived the theatre in Mountjoy Forest. In June, 1817, Lord Blessington took a leading part in the public entertainment and testimonial given to John Philip Kemble, on his retirement from the stage. At the meeting, which took place at the Freemasons' Tavern, when a piece of plate was presented to Kemble, Lord Holland presided ; on his right hand sat Mr. Kemble, and on his left the Duke of Bedford. Lords Blessington, Erskine, Mulgrave, Aberdeen, Essex, and many other noblemen were present; and among the literary and artistic celebrities, were Moore, Campbell, Rogers, Croker, and the great French Tragedian Talma. Lord Blessington assisted also in the well-known Kilkenny theatricals. He took parts which required to be gorgeously apparelled; on one occasion, he played the part of the Green Knight, in “ Valentine and Orson.”
The theatricals at Rash lasted from 1908 to 1912. The first Lady Blessington was there during one season, and remained for several months.
The period selected for the theatricals at Rash was usually
the shooting season. But the guests were not confined to sportsmen; the latter came occasionally accompanied by their ladies; and what with their field sports and the stage amusements, there was no dearth of enjoyments and gaiety for a few weeks, in a place that all the rest of the year was a dull, solitary, lifeless locality, in the midst of a forest, some fourscore miles from the metropolis.
The second Lady Blessington did not visit Mountjoy Forest during the period of the theatricals. It was the peculiarity of Lord Blessington to throw himself with complete abandon into any passion or pursuit that came in his way, and to spare no expense or sacrifice of any kind, to obtain, as soon as possible, the fullest enjoyment that could possibly be derived from it; and no sooner was the object so ardently desired accomplished, the expense encountered, and the sacrifice made for its attainment, than the zest for its delight was gone ; other phantoms of pleasure were to be pursued, and no sooner grasped than relinquished for some newer objects of desire.
The delights of the chase in Mountjoy Forest, and of the theatre at Rash, after a few years, became dull, tame, and tiresome amusements to the young lord. He went to England, contracted engagements there, which led to his making London principally his place of abode, and Mountjoy Forest and the theatre at Rash were allowed to go to ruin.
The Dowager Lady Mountjoy had left Rash, and fixed her abode in Dublin prior to 1807.
The house became in a short time so dilapidated, as to be unfit to live in. His Lordship gave directions to have extensive repairs and additions made to a thatched house of middle size, about a quarter of a mile distant from Rash. The furniture was removed to this place, which Lord Blessington called “the Cottage,” and the old residence at Rash was abandoned.
When I visited the place recently, nothing remained but some vestiges of the kitchen and the cellars. The theatre had utterly disappeared, and nothing could be more desolate than the site of it. The grounds and garden had been broken up, the trees had been all cut down in the vicinity. Here and there, trunks and branches, yet unremoved, were lying on the ground. The stumps of the felled trees, in the midst of the debris of scattered timber, gave an unpleasant and uncouth aspect to a scene, that had some melancholy interest in it for one who had known the noble owner of this vast property.
The extent of the estate appears almost incredible; I am told its extreme length exceeded ten miles.
But though the theatre erected by Lord Blessington on his estate has wholly disappeared, one structure on it exists : a vault beneath the chancel of the church of Cappagh, on the estate, which he intended for his tomb, and which in several notices of his Lordship's death, and some memoirs of Lady Blessington, is erroneously stated to have been the place of sepulture of his remains. I was misled by those accounts, and visited the vault, in the expectation of finding his remains there. But no interment had ever taken place in that vault, although at his death orders had been sent down from Dublin to have the place prepared for his interment: these orders, however, had been countermanded, for what reason I know not, ard th remains of his Lordship were deposited in St. Thomas's church, in Marlborough Street, Dublin, along with the remains of his father.
It has been also erroneously stated, that the remains of his Lordship's first wife were deposited in the vault beneath the chancel of Cappagh church; such, however, is not the fact.
In September, 1816, Lord Blessington visited his estate of Mountjoy Forest. His first wife had been then dead nearly two years. He brought down some friends of his from Dublin, and invited others from the neighbourhood of his estate, to come on a visit to “ the Cottage.”