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Grehan Estate Collection: Home

About the Collection

Collection Ref.:             IE BL/EP/G
Title:                            Grehan Estate Collection
Dates:                            1722 - 1971 
Level of description:     Item
Extent:                           70 boxes & outsize material
Administrative History:

BL/EP/G are the estate papers generated by the Grehan family of Clonmeen, Banteer Co. Cork. After the sale of Clonmeen estate, the surviving records which form the Grehan Estate Collection today were removed by Mr. Peter A. Grehan to his residence in Co. Kerry after a short period of storage at Inch, Co. Tipperary. It was from Kerry that they were later transferred to the Boole Library, University College Cork in 1983 by Mr. Peter A. Grehan. An initial boxing and cleaning of the material was then carried out by Library staff who took care to ensure that any original order still apparent in the records was preserved. In 1995 an archivist was then commissioned to draw up a descriptive list for the collection and formalize storage arrangements.

Biographical History: 

The Grehan’s, originally prosperous Dublin wine merchants, first acquired land in Cork through a legacy of the lands of Clonmeen left by one John Roche about 1830 ( see BL/EP/G/101 ff.). Stephen Grehan ([1776] - 1871), the main beneficiary of Roche’s will, then set about acquiring more land in the area and also in County Tipperary. This work was carried on by Stephen’s son George ([1813] -1885) who in about 1860 moved from his Dublin home 19 Rutland Square, to take up permanent residence at Clonmeen, where his son Stephen (1859 - 1937) was raised.

When the Grehan’s first moved to their property in Co. Cork they lived in a small Georgian house now known today as Clonmeen Lodge. In 1893 Stephen Grehan, who had married Esther Chichester in 1883, built the present day Clonmeen House. Large tracts of land were sold off by Stephen Grehan through the auspices of the Land Commission throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century (see BL/EP/G/274 ff.) but Clonmeen remained as a working farm until the death of Major Stephen Grehan in 1972, after which the property was sold.


Due in part to the removal of the records from their site of origin, some original order had been lost. However in many cases, especially relating to legal and administrative records, files were still homogenous and in order. Where this occurred no attempt was made to impose a new order or to split up file series. This lead in the case of Major Grehan’s administrative and personal filing systems, to the placing of personal material with administrative records and vice versa, but it was felt more important to preserve Major Grehan’s original system and reflect his own perspective, than to remove certain records to place like with like.

During the listing use was made of the headings and sub level headings detailed by White et al in the article ‘The Arrangement of Estate Records’ JSA, vol. 13 (1992), pp1-8.
The collection was divided into four main sections A, B, C, D each containing records of similar origin and content.

Section A, Legal Records was further sub divided by records relating to land title, with a large section containing pre Grehan titles, (BL/EP/G/ 1ff), wills and marriage settlements relating to lands at Clonmeen, and records of trusts administered by members of the Grehan family and finally legal case papers. Sub section 4 here, ‘Trusts administered by members of the Grehan Family’, revealed a closely knit network of families of similar social class and religious background supporting one another. It also stands testament to the high regard the Grehan’s were held in by their peers in that they were consistently chosen to safeguard the future inheritances of others (see BL/EP/G/148 ff.).

Section B, Estate Administration, contains records of the working of Clonmeen home farm and the letting and sale of tenancies as well as records of employment on the estate and within the main house. It is unfortunate that records such as Butlers or Housekeepers accounts do not survive nor records relating to the gardens. This section mainly reflects the subdivision of the estate into many small holdings and the eventual break up of the estate through sales to the Land Commission. Wages paid to servants and labourers are recorded in sub section 5 Employee Records. Reflected here also is the changing nature of such employment in the twentieth century with the introduction of employers tax (see BL/EP/G/319 ff.).

Copious correspondence relating to the administration of the estate survives. In the early years of Grehan ownership agents were employed to administer the estate especially the outlining holdings in  Kildorrery and  Inchigeela, Co. Cork.  From the early 1900’s however after the death of the agent John Therry and the sale of some of the holdings, the Grehan’s administered the estate themselves. Records were kept of bills received and monies paid out. Letterbooks dealing specifically with this area were kept by Stephen Grehan and are described under the level heading 11. They are however quite difficult to read and some virtually illegible. Throughout this section and indeed throughout the collection as a whole, the presence of the Grehan family solicitors, Roche and Sons of St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin is felt. Besides performing purely legal functions Roche and Sons advised on money management and oversaw all transactions with the Land Commission acting in many instances as an Land agent for the Grehans.

Sub section C  ‘Family and Personal Papers’ then contains those records generated by members of the Grehan family which relate to their day to day lifestyle. Letters, diaries etc. are all grouped under the name of their originator and cross referenced where necessary. Letters are generally listed under the name of their recipient. Descriptions in this section begin with the records of George Grehan ([1813] - 1885). Both he and his father Stephen ([1776] - 1871) were prosperous wine merchants and members of Dublin’s Catholic social elite. Stephen Grehan was appointed the first Catholic Director of the Bank of Ireland (see BL/EP/G/ 1293), and while at school in France witnessed the beginning of the French Revolution (see BL/EP/G/651) His son George was a member of the St. Stephen’s Green Club and graduated with a B.A. from Trinity College in 1835 (see BL/EP/G/654). George, a widower, moved with his son Stephen (1859 - 1937) to take up residence at Clonmeen around the 1860’s where they were joined for a time by his father Stephen (see BL/EP/G/1291). The family seems to have been readily accepted in the area and soon became well known in local social circles, mixing other prominent local families such as the Longfields and the Leaders. Records, mainly letters, also survive relating to George’s brother Peter ([1812] - 1877) and his wife Maraquita (d. 1899). Peter, the elder son, remained on in the family residence in Rutland Square which his wife continued to occupy until her death when it was then leased out and eventually sold (see BL/EP/G/410 ff.). Similarly to most members of their class the Grehan sons completed their education with a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe. Stephen Grehan’s letters home from his tour describing his route and itinerary are preserved within the collection (BL/EP/G/595 ff.). Stephen, although born in Dublin, was the first member of the family to live out his life at Clonmeen and it was there that in 1883 he brought his wife Esther Chichester.

Chief amongst Stephen and his families leisure pursuits was a love of hunting and he and his son Major Stephen A. Grehan, were prominent members of the Duhallow Hunt Club, some records relating to which survive (see BL/EP/G/802 ff.)

The bulk of the nineteenth century material in the collection was generated by Major Stephen (Stevie) A. Grehan (1895 - 1972). Major Grehan went directly from school in England to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and signed up as a cadet just at the outset of World War I. A diligent letter writer over 200 of his letters home written while on active service in Europe, Salonica and Mesopotamia (1914-1922) are contained within the collection. These together, with his diaries, evoke the world of a British Army officer, proud to be part of the British Empire. Contemporary attitudes towards current affairs and international events are all reflected in the letters and diaries, as well a contemporary British attitudes towards those colonized which may now grate harshly, but were entirely reflective of their times (see BL/EP/G/1166a). Major Grehan was not given to introspection in his diaries or letters and there is little philosophical musing on the nature of or need for war. Rather he writes an enthusiastic account of soldiers doing their duty cheerfully, secure in the knowledge that they are on the side of right ( see BL/EP/G/995;1002;1023 ff.).

Major Grehan resigned his commission in 1937, shortly after the death of his father and returned to Clonmeen to live and work the farm there. His later diaries contain accounts of visitors to Clonmeen, visits made references to farm work harvesting the purchase of new machinery etc. He maintained his links with the British Army through organizations such as the British Legion, of which he was the North Cork representative. The section dealing with this work, much of which involved investigating hardship cases, is described in 10.4. An interesting aspect of social history which this section reflects, is the amount of support given by organizations such as the British Legion to ex-servicemen and their families in the Republic for so many years after Independence.
Material relating to Major Grehan’s wife Cecily Gaisford St. Lawrence and their two children Peter and Denis Grehan is quite sparse in the collection with little of their personal records being preserved here.

Sub section D then deals with material generated by relatives of the Grehan’s which was for various reasons transferred to Clonmeen House and became integrated with the family collection there. As mentioned above members of the Chichester family were frequent visitors to Clonmeen, one of the most regular visitors being Esther’s sister Christine. A fascinating woman Christine Chichester was a gifted amateur photographer and many of her photographs are preserved here. Very much a free spirit she traveled continuously throughout Ireland and Britain, Europe and often much farther afield (see BL/EP/G/1506; 1507). Christine also acted as her family’s unofficial historian, gathering information, personal reminisces and memorabilia about the Chichester Constable family, some of which is now preserved here (see BL/EP/G/1449 ff.) All photographs in this section are in monotone or black and white.

Records generated by the Murphy, Nugent and Johnson families (all interrelated) would have come into the possession of the Grehan family when in 1939 Major S.A. Grehan inherited the Murphy home at Osberstown, Co. Kildare (see BL/EP/G/1315). Although he chose to sell Osberstown and remain at Clonmeen, some furniture was transferred to Cork and most likely also the papers and memorabilia now preserved here. BL/EP/G/1540 is a unique and poignant document, a history of her family by Mary Frances Murphy with some later additions spanning the period 1879-1912. She writes of her childhood in Dublin and her upbringing by her grandfather, William Murphy of Mount Merrion, who having quarreled with her father over money cut him off completely. Her parents were then forced to move to the continent where they seem to have spent their lives keeping always one step ahead of their creditors. William Murphy together with several members of his family died of cholera in 1849. Mary Frances’ father died in 1853 after which she discovered the strain of her life had forced her mother into a sanatorium in Strasbourg. The history ends with Mary Frances’s account of bringing her mother home and caring for her.

Other items in the Johnson section reflect the careers of Col. William Johnson and General Christopher Johnson who made their names fighting for various armies in Europe throughout the eighteenth century (see BL/EP/G/ 1547;1548).

Only photographs relating to the Chichester family are described within this listing. Due to the large number of Grehan family photographs, which are uniformly monotone or black and white with no colour prints, it was deemed more appropriate to list them separately, while cross referencing with the main list. Names of townlands and family names are spelt as in the original items, and this has resulted in some variance between entries. All townlands mentioned are situated in Co. Cork unless otherwise stated.

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Finding Aid: Descriptive list (see separate tab above, next to 'Home' tab)

Additional Collection Information

Language: English

Copyright: Resides with the representative of the Grehan family. For further information contact the Library Archivist

Collection Image

         Clonmeen House (20th century)