Located 20 km from Ballinasloe, Woodlawn House was the manor home of the Trench family. Originally built in the late 18th century by Frederick Trench, first Baron Ashtown, it was remodelled and hugely extended in the 1860s by his nephew Frederick Mason Trench, the second baron, and remained in the family until 1947. The lavish re-modelling of Woodlawn House in the 1860s was designed by London-born James Forth Kempster. The re-modelling was done in an Italianate style, with heavy cornices and tripartite windows. It was a rare project of its kind in post-Famine Ireland. In the house itself, which extends to 30,000sq ft (more than 9,000sq m), there were 26 bedrooms, numerous reception rooms and a magnificent staircase.
Frederick Mason Trench was a prolific developer. Not only did he remodel the manor house, he also built artisan cottages for many of the 300 staff on the estate during its heyday, as well as a gamekeeper’s lodge, an ice house, family mausoleum, the local Protestant Church and the Gothic-style Woodlawn railway station (1858), which is still in use today.
The third Baron Ashtown, Frederick Oliver Trench, inherited Woodlawn when he was just 12 years old. Educated at Eton and Oxford, Blake notes that he became “one of the richest landowners in the whole of Ireland, holding more than 24,000 acres, which brought in an annual rent of around £10,000” – a huge sum at the time. However, he provoked many republicans at the time and the cost of publishing his anti-republican tracts was a drain on the estate and put him into bankruptcy in 1912. Having discharged his debts in 1916, he ran into more trouble in April 1921, when a letter arrived from the western command of the IRA demanding his departure from Woodlawn so that the house could be used to accommodate Catholic refugees from the North. Less than a year later, the contents of Woodlawn – including livestock – were sold by auction.
Ashtown went into exile, but returned in 1922 to find the house ransacked. In 1947, some 15 months after he died in a Catholic nursing home in Ballinsaloe, Woodlawn was acquired by Derek Le Poer Trench, who lived there until 1973 when he shot himself in the arboretum of Lough Cultra Castle near Gort. It was then sold to a local farmer, whose only interest was in the remaining 115 acres, for £200,000.
The manor house lies in ruin today.
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