RICHARD JOHN Leeson-Marshall built a country house on his estate at Callinafercy Milltown, Co. Kerry in the year 1861. He was, in fact, the great grandson of the 1st Earl of Milltown who built Russborough House in County Wicklow. His youngest daughter was christened Susan Edith, but she had little or no memory of him because he died when she was still very young.
Edith’s mother was Rebecca Power, daughter of the Archdeacon of Lismore and granddaughter of Sir John Power of Kilfana.
Edith had one brother, Markham and two sisters, Mary and Grace. Markham and Mary were much older than her and she describes how they ran more or less wild at Callinafercy, when Markham came home on holidays from school.
The family travelled a good deal after her father’s untimely passing, living in France, Belgium and Germany respectively.
Their old home at Callinafercy was boarded up during the heyday of the Land League and the Land War, her brother Markham choosing to live in London then.
There was, in fact, a great Land League meeting at Callinafercy in the year 1886 to protest at the eviction of a tenant on the estate.
MARKHAM MARRIED Mabel Godfrey of Kilcolman Abbey, but Mabel died soon after the birth of their only child, Mary in 1891: the latter subsequently reared by a governess under the supervision of her grandmother, Lady Godfrey at Kilcolman.
Edith’s mother was not in good health by the 1890s and preferred to stay at home at Calinafercy rather than travel elsewhere.
Ireland was more peaceful then, Edith spending a good deal of her time at Dromana. The latter overlooking the river Blackwater and belonged to her uncle Henry Villiers Stuart.
Another Henry, born in 1803, was one of the four Protestant candidates who supported Daniel O’Connell’s campaign for Catholic Emancipation.
The historian J C Beckett described him as one of the greatest landlords of the county and a man of considerable influence. It is clear that Edith loved her time at Dromana: her happiest memories were of the house and family there.
A few miles thither up the river were Glencairn Abbey, the home of another Uncle William Power. It was here that Edith and her husband, Home Seton Gordon, the son of a Scottish baronet held their reception on the day of their wedding, October 2nd 1897.
The wedding which took place in Lismore, was one of the fashionable marriages of the period, and received extensive coverage in the papers.
“When the bridal party arrived at the church before two o’clock the approaches to the building were thronged with carriages and eager crowds”
Inside the church the organist played Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, the bride given away by her brother Markham; her dress of ivory white duchess satin, trimmed with lace, her train of handsome brocade carried by her cousins Marjory and Laura Power, the latter dressed in white silk.
The bride’s tulle veil was worn over a wreath of orange blossom and fastened by two diamond stars. She also wore a pearl and diamond brooch. The six bridesmaids, including her sister, Grace, wore dresses of white satin trimmed with white chiffon, their gold heart and enamel shamrock brooches much admired.
HOME SETON Gordon was a lover of Wagner and cricket and had translated several books from French. His parents had separated, however, as had his grandparents, something which did not seem to augur well for the newlyweds. When Edith Gordon wrote a letter to the Outlook magazine it was to be the beginning of a journalistic career.
Thereafter she contributed weekly articles, not only to the Outlook but to other magazines as well.
It was some time later that she inherited some land at Caragh Lake, County Kerry and began the building of Ard na Sidhe. She described Caragh Lake as an enchanted land of lake and bog, moor and mountain too. When it came to her garden, she had an anecdote of an old woman who was told to spray her potatoes by the priest. To please his Reverence, the old woman sprayed one half and left the other to God. She, herself, thought she might adopt the same approach to her garden.
Lady Gordon supported Home Rule, which was why she was among those to greet John Redmond when he came to Kerry in 1913.
Her brother, Markham, was staunchly Unionist, however, and was on the platform at the pro-union meeting held in the Theatre Royal in Tralee.
Edith, meanwhile, encouraged local youths to join Redmond’s National Volunteers in support of the war effort.
A review of the Killorglin, Cromane and Glencar volunteers took place at Ard na Sidhe, during which Lady Gordon praised the true patriotism of the volunteers and described herself as a Kerry woman, born in the shadow of its beautiful mountains.
A little bit of history which proves once again that all history is local.