IRELAND’S president elect Michael D Higgins may have strong ties to County Clare but he is not the only connection the county has to Áras an Uachtaráin.
As Mr Higgins prepares to take up residency in the Áras, Gilbert McCaffrey recalls to The Clare Champion that his descendents once lived on the historic grounds more than 100 years ago when it was the Viceregal Lodge, the residence of the Irish Viceroys, who represented the British King.
Gilbert, a retired GP, who lives in Ennis with his wife, Evelyn, explained his grandfather, Peter Davidson worked for Viceroy Lord and Lady Aberdeen in the early 1900s.
Over the years, Gilbert and Evelyn’s family have amassed an impressive collection documenting the history of the Aberdeen family and their connection with the Davidsons. As well as photographs, paintings, books, furniture and postcards dating back to the 1900s, a clock, which was presented to the Davidsons by Lord and Lady Aberdeen, takes pride of place in the family’s collection.
“This collection is a real history. It’s living proof of what happened and of the good work that was done back then by so many people. It was the era when postcards started and they are all very interesting to look at with a lot of information there,” said Evelyn.
Gilbert explained the Davidson family, his grandparents, Peter and Annie; his mother, Jean and her brothers and sister, moved from Aberdeen to what was then the Kennel House at the Viceregal Lodge, with Gilbert’s grandfather working as their kennel manager.
“My mother was about 12 when they first moved to what was the Kennel House. My grandfather was originally a saw miller by trade. He worked at Haddo House, which was Lord and Lady Aberdeen’s home in Scotland and they were very interested in breeding dogs and he was involved in that, breeding the dogs and bringing them to shows. When they came to the Viceregal Lodge the family was put up in the head kennel man’s quarters,” Gilbert explained.
The family spent a number of years at the lodge before moving to Peamount House, where the Aberdeen family were instrumental in providing help for people with tuberculosis.
Peter Davidson was the land steward at Peamount, which had a self-sufficient 200-acre farm providing fresh food for TB patients, who came for treatment from all over the country. Peter was responsible for the farm, poultry and buildings at Peamount.
Gilbert explained, “When the Aberdeens came to Ireland, Lady Aberdeen’s son had died of TB in Switzerland, so they bought Peamount and they got my grandfather to run the farm. The idea was to be self-sufficient, providing their own fresh vegetables, meat and eggs. At that time there was no real treatment for TB with the exception of open air nursing and they did trojan work.”
According to Evelyn, “From what we have seen from what we have gathered, the Davidsons and the Aberdeens had a close relationship over the years. Lord Aberdeen wrote a book called Tell Me Another, which he gave to Peter Davidson with the inscription ‘a small token of cordial appreciation of loyal and helpful friendship’. Lord and Lady Aberdeen presented them with a clock for their wedding anniversary. I’d say they weren’t segregated with an upstairs, downstairs attitude to the servants, they were very much involved in what was going on. The Aberdeens did so much for the health of the people of this country. They did so much good work.”
Neither Gilbert or Evelyn have been to the Áras. However, they are hopeful that one day they will be able to see where the family’s ancestors once lived.
Evelyn said, “I hope that because Michael D is so educated in the history of Ireland that he would be in a position to open the Áras up. We would be the first to go if that was the case. We would love to see the Viceregal kennels part of the house and I’d love Gilbert to be able to see the part of the house that his family lived.”
Another item among their prized possession is the itinerary for the 1911 visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Dublin, when the royal couple paid a visit to the Viceregal Lodge.
Evelyn said, “This is a part of history. All of these documents are a real social history of what has gone before. I believe that when the Queen came to Dublin this year the good work of the Aberdeens and all of those who worked for them should have been recognised in some way. Some of those people and their descendents, who lived and worked in the Viceroyal Lodge are still alive and I’m sure the Queen would have loved to have met with them.”
While Gilbert has not been to the Áras, he said he met with Lady Aberdeen during summers and Christmasses as a child when he visited his grandparents in Peamount House.
“She would sometimes visit us. I remember her as a big woman but she probably wasn’t any bigger than the women you see now. I remember she wore black and I sat on her knee,” he recalled.
Remembering his grandfather, who died in the 1940s, he smiled, “I have very happy memories of my childhood and I loved my grandfather. I remember he always wore a bowler hat. I remember once, we were going on a pony and trap to Lucan and he raised his hat as we were passing a graveyard. I said to him, what are you doing GaGa, which is what I called him. He said, I’m saying a wee prayer for anybody who needs it in there and if they don’t want it, they can give it back to me’.”
According to Evelyn, the family are open to possibly putting the collection on some form of public display if there is a charity interested in benefiting from proceeds.
“We would only do this if it was for charity, which is very much in keeping with the spirit of the good work of the Aberdeens,” she said.