The Legend of Cathnafola House
In a far forgotten corner of old Ireland lies the ruins of what was once a magnificent late Gothic revival mansion. Now lying hidden some two miles from the nearest country lane, this once proud dream of wealth, circumstance and social acceptability is now all but a faint echo of a past life.
Built in 1855 by Hubert Vazey-Asquith, for his pregnant wife and expectant child, Cathnafola House was beset with problems from the day the first brick was laid.
The site chosen for this project lay across the remains of an almost forgotten ancient battle site where Irish chieftains battled for three days and nights for territory control, yet despite the hundreds of dead and dying warriors left to rot where they fell, there was no overall winner.
As the Vazey-Asquiths learnt to their bitter dread, the area named historically as Cath na fola or `battle of blood` belonged to nobody of this realm and particularly not to English settlers who were given these lands via a descendant of Cromwell`s bloody Irish campaigns .
Shortly after starting the build, his wife gave birth to a healthy son named Grayston, but because of complications during child-birth, she unfortunately bled to death.
Hubert was grief struck, but with a small child as heir he felt he owed it to them both to finish the project.
A few years after completion of the house Hubert suffered a second loss as his son died of an apparent food allergy to eating sweet chestnuts harvested on the estate.
Hubert then shut himself away from the society upon which he had previously wanted to be part of. He rarely left the house, and was beside himself with grief as he could see no more purpose to his now lonely life.
One morning, a young maid despatched to take breakfast to his bedroom was shocked to find Hubert dead having hung himself during the night from a rope attached to a first floor balcony.
In his dressing gown pocket a suicide note written by Hubert was found which confirmed the loss of his wife and son as the reason for ending his life.
As there were no immediate heirs, the estate was passed to a distant relative living in Britain who had only ever met Hubert once as a child, and had very little interest in Ireland or indeed Irish affairs.
This inheritor, a man named Sefton Villiers-Vazey had no need of the house or the estate having already owned a profitable and less worrying house and horse stud in mainland Britain. However he continued to run the estate through agents and was for the most part an absentee landlord having only visited the house twice within 15 years of ownership.
In 1880 Sefton died on a business trip to Portugal, and his son, Montague who had no interest in his fathers properties ordered that the Cathnafola estate be sold by auction in Dublin through the family solicitors.
The house and the estate was sold sight unseen by to a new owner, one Darby Hesmondwicke, a 50-year-old successful London businessman who wanted a country estate in Ireland to eventually retire to.
Darby arrived at Cathnafola as a single man in 1881 and immediately began restoration work on the house and estate after some years of neglect.
Darby had no problems finding workers and artisans to complete the work, and in return paid his workers a fair wage and ensured no estate families would suffer during this terrible period.
He soon made the estate self-sufficient and profitable, and was regarded by the Irish staff and tenant farmers as a firm but kindly man.
In 1882, he met the beautiful Elizabeth O`Donnell, a lady of noble Irish ancestry from Dublin, and importantly to Darby, a recent convert to the Protestant faith.
Being some 20 years younger than Darby, she was regarded by many as quite a catch.
Beth (as she was known) was a dark-haired beauty with deep brown eyes, whom it was said may have had Spanish blood in her ancestry which was perhaps evidenced by her latin temperament.
Despite her lineage to alleged early Irish royalty, Beth knew that outside of Dublin society, she was little more than a traitor to the predominantly Catholic Irish, and to polite English circles nothing more than an Irish whore.
However, at Cathnafola as wife to the gentlemanly Darby she was regarded as the lady of the house and enjoyed there at least, a modicum of respect from the estate workers.
For some years the couple tried desperately to have a child, but always without issue.
This brought a strain on an otherwise happy relationship, and after acknowledging failure of an heir, Darby started to lose interest in the estate and increasingly travelled between Cathnafola and London where he conducted an interest in stocks and shares.
Beth however, was tied to the affairs of running the estate`s business and refused to join Darby in London.
By 1890, Darby`s absence became almost permanent, and by arrangement with his wife he recruited as an estate manager, a 39-year-old Englishman from the London Home Counties to assist her in Ireland.
The appointee, a single man named as William Trentham came from a respectable middle-class family who had returned from colonial service in India some years before.
William was regarded as a thorough and efficient manager of a tea plantation in Assam, and had impeccable references which more than qualified him to run Cathnafola`s 40,000 acre estate.
However, what was not shared to his new employer was Trentham`s cruel disaffection towards the natives of India, and indeed against anyone not deemed to be British enough to his tastes.
Within that umbrella of bigotry, Trentham clearly saw the Irish as no worthier than the Indians, and shortly after arriving on the estate he set about unravelling the good work his employer had achieved in Anglo-Irish relations.
Trentham was known to walk the estate with a heavy indian rosewood walking stick which he used frequently to beat workers whom he regarded as `erstwhile savages`.
He also had perverted sexual tastes and upon young female staff members he indulged in what he called `horseplay`, but in modern terms would regarded as rape through sodomy.
Rumours of his behaviour soon spread not just across the estate, but to nearby villages and hamlets. There was little anyone could do as Trentham employed local thugs to mind out for him on his daily rounds and the local resident magistrate shared much of Trentham`s hatred towards the Irish.
Technically, Beth was Trentham`s employer, but as he was highly efficient in running the estate profitably, and also of course relieving much pressure from her shoulders, she turned a blind eye to many of his misdeeds.
As the month`s passed Beth grew increasingly frightened of Trentham, who was an overbearing bully whose fiery temperament gradually wore down Beth from the status of employer to that of his mistress.
Within a year, Trentham, or `Master William` as he preferred to be addressed, had moved from the manager`s cottage and into the matrimonial bedroom.
Here he continued in a sordid affair with Beth and also with other female staff in service. As a consequence some fell pregnant through him and were immediately dismissed from the house and estate.
Darby knew nothing of this, and instead read accounts that showed a profitable business and no complaints from his now estranged wife.
This unhappy state of affairs came to a head almost two year`s later when Beth too became pregnant by him.
As everyone knew that Darby the absent father could never have been the father, Trentham panicked, and this recklessness was to drive him from the status of rapist to that of a cold-blooded murderer.
In late February 1893, Beth went into labour. An abortion at Trentham`s insistence months before was ignored by her and despite being whipped because of it, she was still able to reach full term.
As staff prepared the master bedroom to assist with the delivery, Trentham refused to contact the local doctor to deliver the child. It was believed that her battered and scarred body might reveal the full extent of Trentham`s evil upon her, and as a consequence he decided that he would deliver the baby himself.
Around midnight, Trentham ordered the domestic staff to leave, and from threats of being sacked, the women reluctantly left the master bedroom to Trentham and Beth.
It is said that not only did Trentham deliver the live birth of a baby boy, he immediately tore the child from her clutches and after separating the umbilical cord, he wrapped the screaming child in a bedsheet and took it (whilst Beth pleaded hysterically) down into the cellars where he had prepared an open chamber and that the still crying baby was walled up alive after bricks were cemented into place to permanently seal the crime.
The crying it is said, continued for an hour and then was heard no more.
A few days later a bereft with grief Beth flung herself from an attic window and died during the fall after impaling herself on railings below.
By now the truth of the monster that was William Trentham had turned even the thugs in his service against him, and fearing reprisals from the estate workers, it was rumoured that Trentham was left unconscious in the house as it mysteriously caught fire burning and incinerating both the body of Beth and Trentham.
A search of the ruins a few days later revealed the remains of a man and woman, and the entire matter was covered up by the resident magistrate who feared his own inaction to earlier complaints might go against him should the real truth be revealed.
When Darby later heard the official account of an accidental house fire that was recorded as probably caused by a dropped oil lamp, the matter was closed by him, and the surrounding farmland and tenancies were sold to neighbouring farmers.
Darby never returned to Ireland.
Many years later, it is alleged that a cellar wall within the ruins was removed for storing poteen (illicitly distilled whiskey) by a farmer, and inside, and still wrapped in a faded and rotten bedsheet were what appeared to be the remains of a human baby.
The farmer apparently fearful of the Garda discovering his illegal activities buried the remains in a nearby field.
Today Cathnafola exists as grand ruins sheltered by tree`s and undergrowth, and very little visited by modern man.
It is rumoured that the remains are still haunted by William Trentham and Elizabeth, and that sometimes her baby can be heard crying as she roams the house calling for her child.
Trentham (according to legend) is sometimes seen as a malevolent entity that gloatingly follows Beth on her nightly vigil, and because of the house`s fearful reputation nobody will travel there at night.