What remains of Bowen’s Court?

The brief answer to the title question is: nothing but a field and a gate. First of all however, a little bit about Elizabeth Bowen and what Bowen’s Court was.

A vibrant literary tradition colours County Cork. On the road from Kildorrery (North Cork), you’d be forgiven for thinking you were on one of the same country roads that wind and weave throughout the Irish countryside, except that this one is irrevocably imbued with the memories and stories of Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen (1899-1973), perpetuated most resolutely in the novel The Last September (1929). Bowen was born at Herbert Place in Dublin on the 7th of June, and famously thought that winter resided in Dublin and summer in Cork, given that she grew up spending her summers in Bowen’s court. Her father, Henry, and her mother, Florence, decided to move to England once her father become mentally ill in 1907. Victoria Glendinning’s 1977 biography provides much more extensive detail on her life for those interested.

Bowen’s work is intensely cinematic. She is wonderfully adept at creating the tension and suspense of a thriller, with the lush depth of a romance. Her dealings with madness and psychological unravelling are not to be ignored as gothic elements are peppered throughout all her work. She hauntingly uncovers the murky, unexamined horror of what goes on behind closed doors. Her short fiction is especially eerie, with stories such as ‘The Cat Jumps’ and ‘The Demon Lover’ bearing heavily on the psyche of all who read them.

Without going too much into depth about the history of the house (which is dealt with extremely thoroughly in Bowen’s own work, Bowen’s Court, 1942) it was built in the 1770’s by Henry Cole Bowen. In 1786, it began to be referred to as Faraghy, the seat of Mr Cole Bowen. It suffered a tumultuous history, being attacked during the Irish Rebellion in 1798, and the costly business of upkeep led to its deterioration. Elizabeth Bowen was the last of the Bowen family to own the house (and the only woman ever to inherit it). She remained based in England but made frequent visits to the area. Many writers visited her at Bowen’s Court, including Virginia Woolf and Irish Murdoch. Her portrait was painted by Patrick Hennessy in 1957 and hangs in Crawford Art Gallery, Cork City, and depicts Bowen standing in the stairway of the house, looking out a grand window onto the land she wrote so much about.

The original gateway of the house now brings you to a much more modern home, which I’m sure has been subject to many a car with a wide-eyed Bowen fan pulling up and then disappointedly reversing through their driveway. A short distance away from it leads you to the side of the road that once gave a glorious view, and where a sign now marks it as a heritage site.  Notice boards detail other Cork literary heroes, Edmund Spenser and William Trevor, as well as a map of possible walking trails being offered to the wanderer who has clearly not arrived at a satisfactory destination point. Thankfully, there is also a history of the site we had travelled to see, with an image showing Bowen’s Court in all its illustrious glory.

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A few metres away from this humble (but gratefully received) attempt at marking the area, Farahy (or Faraghy) cemetery and Church are possible to visit. Elizabeth, along with her husband, are buried there and there is an annual ceremony to celebrate her life. Cork County Local authorities warn against grave digging (an ominous and horrific thought, appropriately enough given the gothic strand throughout Bowen’s work.) Peering through the window of the school attached to the church, you can just about make out the image of Bowen’s Court as it once was: grand, imposing, and utterly austere, creating the kind of chill familiar to those who’ve read her work.

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Luckily, I didn’t have to have my insatiable appetite for this house to be left unsatisfied. My Grandmother, a native of Doneraile, (just over a ten minute drive from Bowen’s Court) was able to fill me in on what became of this house which once dominated the landscape. Bowen’s Court was extremely expensive to maintain and in the end, Bowen was forced to part with it, only to see it almost immediately pulled down by the new owner. This earned him infamy in the community which effectively ostracised him for his decision, and he ultimately moved away. Before it was demolished, most items belonging to the house were auctioned (some of which ended up in my Grandmother’s home to my delight) and then the house was torn asunder in 1961. Bowen developed lung cancer in 1972 and died in February 1973 having lived a peripatetic lifestyle after parting with the house and living between friends and hotels before renting a flat in Oxford which was to be her final home.

Bowen had a great fear that the house would burn down (a trope in her fiction) but its tragic fate was no less devastating. The house which once embodied so many memories for Bowen (and transferred to us as her readers) is now obsolete and nothing remains except a gate and a field. However, the land will always bear the weight of its important inheritance and I find it difficult to envision what could ever take its place.

A lavish film was made of The Last September in 1999, directed by Deborah Warner with the screenplay written by John Banville. A litany of stars make up the cast including Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, David Tennant and Keeley Hawes amongst many others. The extent to which it is an effective/truthful portrayal of the words Bowen wrote is debatable but I think there is no truer experience than visiting the grounds which inspired so many words itself, in spite of the glaring absence of the house, it still maintains a presence.

References:

Bowen, Elizabeth. Bowen’s Court. Cork: Collins, 1998. Print.

Bowen’s Court, Noticeboard at Farahy. Personal photographs by author. 2014.

“Elizabeth Bowen.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.

Glendinning, Elizabeth Bowen: Portrait of a Writer. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1977. Print.

“The Last September.” IMDb. IMDb.com, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.

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26 thoughts on “What remains of Bowen’s Court?

  1. Truly interesting, thank you. Now I must read through some of her works. Love the history and the evidence of community evoked. Well written, factual and educational.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Elizabeth Bowen was my great aunt. She had no children and her brother St. John b. 1872 was my great grandfather. His first son Bob my grandfather. So I have quite a vested interest -pity they lost all that land in 1916!

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  3. Pingback: Elizabeth Bowen and other matters | josephinefenton

  4. I too am a Bowen. My father, originally from Co. Cork, told me of the connection with Bowenscourt and the branch of the family that moved to Limerick before moving back to Cork. For years I hoped to find a piece of the silverware emblazoned with the hawk. Or indeed any item connected with Bowenscourt. I have visited the site often and the Bowen graves in Farahy Church. Am wondering where the family portraits are now. I see some of the family characteristics in my own family….red hair, nervous disposition, clumsiness etc all very interesting.

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  5. Elizabeth Bowen acknowledged that the great Bowen ‘dynasty’ was founded on a great injustice. The Bowenscourt lands originally belonged to the native Irish. They were taken from them by force and given as payment for service in Cromwell’s army. As a Bowen I am pleased that this fact was finally acknowledged by a prominent member of the clan.

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    • yes Ann I have visited Bowens Court twice I have read most of her books the one I liked best
      was Bowens Court it tells the long sad history of that area in north Cork
      do you live in Ireland or England are you related to the family
      it was so sad that lovely old house was torn down like many other places in Ireland
      thanks for your e mail hope to hear from you again
      my best regards Matt

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      • Apologies for delay. Have emailed some pics. Am in Cape Town South Africa. Elizabeth’s father (Henry)’s oldest sibling that had children was St John and he moved to South Africa. He’s was chief magistrate of Cape Town and was my great, great grandfather. We took a family tree drawn originally by my grandfather and updated by my sister to Farahy church in 2016.

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  6. hi

    was there around 9 years ago and remember the basement area and the bread ovens still in the left hand wall. the out houses where still there around the back and i also remember a huge beam which was the main roof beam. i live close by but not been there lately and last heard the basement was filled in?

    my partners grandmother was a maid there .

    the local pub ( walsh / welch) has some rare photos of bowens court and the bowen family.. theres a photo also of my partners grand mother’ molly obrien with elizabeth sitting in the kitchen on the large table that was there.

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  7. Pingback: The Last September: Elizabeth Bowen – genusrosa

  8. Hello, My name is Barrie, my paternal grandparents and Great Grandparents owned and lived at “Courthouse Farm” Ilston ,Gower , Swansea ,Wales. Col Bowen once lived there and had to leave it behind when exiled to Cork under the Cromwell regime. He missed home so much he rebuilt what would remind him of his beloved Court House which is what is referred to as Bowens court, it is quite remarkable to have a childhood home steeped in so much history and feel privileged to know it as a family home with my own fond memories of it during 1960s to 1996 when it had to be sold after my Gran passed away. I have a couple of newspaper articles relating to the history of it which were published in the south wales evening post. and have pictures of it as it is today. however the house which we knew was a later build approx. 1890s at a guess as my grandfather was the first “Williams” to be born there ( 1901 ) but the land and surrounding buildings are all original.

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  9. By accident, I came across Farahy in 1997 whilst on holiday in Ireland, where I found a photograph of Bowen’s Court in the church This was very significant to me, as a descendent of the Bowen Family of Courthouse, Ilston, in the Gower Peninsula. My ancestor, Nathaniel Bowen (d.1771) was one of the last of the Bowens to live in the Parish of Ilston, at a place called Lunnon. My brother still farms at Lunnon and although living in Cambridge, I also have a house there. Courthouse still exists as a farm, but the ancient house has long gone.
    Both Elizabeth Bowen and I are descended from Morgan ap Owen of Swansea, who bought Courthouse from Geoffrey de la Mare in 1441; me from his 4x great grandson, Thomas Bowen and Elizabeth Bowen from his brother, Harry Bowen of Llanellen, the father of the Lieut- Col Henry Bowen who went to Ireland with the Parliamentary Army and was granted land at Farahy.
    When Morgan ap Owen died in 1467 he left 7/6d to the Parish Church at Ilston. My family has been associated with this church ever since and when my grandson, Rhys, was baptised there in August 2015, he was the 10th successive generation recorded in the registers. Nathaniel Bowen’s daughter, Elizabeth was the first recorded in 1732. Rhys is thus the 17th great grandson of Morgan ap Owen.

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    • Thank You for a most informative and interesting bit of History Jeff, its a pity a picture of the original house at Courthouse does not exist ………well not to my Knowledge anyway I have always tried to picture how it would have looked ? perhaps somewhere there possibly is a drawing or even an old photograph but without it being Listed as to where it is no one would be able to tell. Thank you for your comment and chat again ok 😉

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      • I will have to get a copy of the Cottingham. I have one pedigree listing Richard as being a son or grandson of the Harry/Henry that died in 1582. Maybe a couple of Bowen men from Courthouse died in 1582. Curious. So are you aware of any extant Bowens of Pennard from the courthouse line?
        Thanks
        Nathan

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    • Jeff,
      I’m a Bowen in the US, descended from one Richard Bowen d. 1674/5 in New England, now in US, of course. Some claim Richard was from Kittle Hill, near Courthouse Farm. However we have no credible evidence to confirm his European origin prior to coming to the Americas. Many of his descendants here in the US have confirmed our shared ancestry by Y chromosome DNA testing. I am looking for any Bowen men in Wales, who also claim ancestry from Morgan ab Owen, that would be willing to volunteer for DNA testing in order provide evidence for us to support or refute a connection to the Bowen family of Courthouse Farm.
      I’d be glad to pay for the testing if the men would share the results. The men would need to be continually paternal/male descendants from any Courthouse Bowen lineage in order to compare the Y chromosome to ours. Any help or advice you might be willing to share would be greatly appreciated.
      It’s nice to see you are so connected to Courthouse and willing to share your history.
      Many thanks from perhaps a distant relative,
      Nathan J. Bowen, PhD
      Atlanta, GA, USA
      nbowen@mac.com
      Or
      njbowen@gmail.com
      Or
      ab.owain@gmail.com

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      • Dear Nathan

        Thank you for your email regarding the Bowen Family of Courthouse Ilston, Gower.
        You will see that I am descended from a Nathaniel Bowen, who was born in 1692 and died in 1771. His 7x great grandfather, Morgan ap Owen purchased Courthouse and other property in Ilston Parish from Geoffrey de la Mere in 1441. Unfortunately, any other descendants of Nathaniel Bowen, like me, are through the female line and therefore unsuitable for a DNA test on the Y chromosome.

        I have a book entitled ‘Pedigree of Bowen of Court House’ by Lieut. Colonel E R Cottingham, published by the St Catherine Press in 1927. In the book there is an extensive pedigree of the descendants of Morgan ap Owen of Courthouse. one of his great great grandsons, John Bowen of Pennard (a son of Harry Bowen of Courthouse) whose will was proved in 1609, married Margaret the daughter of John Daniel of Kettlehill and widow of Mathew Hamon.. This began the family of Bowen of Kettlehill. George Bowen of Kettlehill, the son of the above John, was Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1650, as was his grandson, also George Bowen of Kettle Hill, in 1679. There is no mention of a Richard Bowen of Kettlehill. However, a brother of Harry Bowen of Courthouse (will proved 1582), Thomas ap Owen of Bishopston had a son and grandson, John Bowen and William Bowen respectively. One of William Bowen’s sons Harry Bowen, is given as of New England. The same information is given in Limbus Patrum Morganiae et Glamorganiae (Genealogies of Glamorgan) by G T Clarke (1886).

        I hope this is helpful.

        Kind Regards

        Jeff

        Jeffrey L Jones PhD

        Liked by 1 person

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