by Joe Coughlan
Corville house has a very long and colourful history in the Roscrea area. The house was built by the Birch family around 1770. Birches who became large land owners in the area and owned many estate house such as Birchgrove House, Monaincha House, Racket Hall and Sheehills House which was there till the early 1900s
In 1780 a Scotsman named John Kilpatrick married Francis Lloyd from Gloster House and leased the estate and house from Birches. Kilpatrick died in 1786 leaving a young widow who went on to marry another called Despard Fossett who was part of the famous Stewart clan of Scotland.
In the first half of the 19th century the house and lands were leased to the Hon Francis A Prittie. Prittie whose brother 2nd Lord Dunalley, owned extensive lands in Clonmel , Nenagh , and Charleville castle and estate in Tullamore . Prittie was a member of parliament for Tipperary and held his position for 25 years in which the Clonmel Herald says “during his 25 years in the House he was scarcely absent from his parliamentary duties. He died in 1853 leaving his son Henry to become the 3rd Lord Dunalley when his brother died having no children.
In June 1858 the house and land was put up for sale and was bought by Count John O Byrne . At this time O Byrne had 2753 acres in Tipperary and 1125 acres in County Louth. In 1864 he married Eleanor Van Hubner who was the daughter of the Austrian Ambassador to France and Rome
The O Byrnes were described as being a very religious people and contributed a substantial sum of money towards the building of the new basilica in Lourdes .In recognition of this and the families contribution to the church the Pope made John O Byrne a Count Of The Holy Roman Empire. His son Patrick was born in 1871 and went on to become a barrister in 1893.
After he inherited the title from his father he took a prominent part in the struggle for Irish Independence and strongly opposed the treaty of 1922. He also played a big part in local politics . He was Chairman of Tipperary North County Council and a director of Roscrea Bacon Factory . He was also a pioneering member of The Gaelic League and Muintir Na Tira and an advocate of votes for women.
According to Kathleen Moloughney’s book Roscrea Me Darling . “Political meetings were held in Corville which were attended by many nationalist people on the run. Mary Mc Sweeney and Countess Markievitz addressed a rally from the front steps of Corville. In the early 20s Eamon De Valera was known to be in the area. While soldiers were searching for him he was sitting up in a tree looking down at them. When they withdrew he came down and was received by the Count. After a meal he went on his way. Years later he visited Sean Ross and pointed out the tree in which he had hidden “
Count O Byrne sold Corville to the nuns in 1931 and lived in Dublin until he died in 1944.
In 1932 the house was opened as a mother and baby home the name was changed to Sean Ross Abbey .This was run in a harsh regime and women who went in there often had to stay for up to four years after their child was born and work on the farm or in the laundries. Nearly all of the children were put up for adoption mainly abroad and between 1950 and 1970 438 babies were sent to America alone.
The mother and baby home closed and its name was changed again to St Anne’s and became a home for mentally challenged children . In the mid 80s most of the land of the estate was sold off . Since then it has developed into a large complex catering for adults and children with its own school ,gymnasium , hydrotherapy pool , and many residential units both in the grounds and in the community . It is now probably the biggest employer in the town.
N.B. The sketch , map and poster from 1858 are with thanks to Jackie Lee.