‘On Thursday last, a servant-maid at Merlin Park, the seat of Charles Blake Esq. near this town, in the act of proceeding to deliver a message which she received from Mrs Lawrence, who was then indisposed in the house, ran with so much violence against the bannisters as to cause them to give way, by which she was unfortunately precipitated to the bottom of the stairs, and killed on the spot. Every medical assistance and attention was immediately provided, but to no purpose, as the fall was so great as to have completely broken the skull in many parts.’ (Connaught Journal November 10 1823 ).
The unfortunate woman in question was Mary McManus who was indeed rushing to deliver the message from Mrs Lawrence, but abruptly stopped when she saw on the floor below another maid embracing a male servant. It was an exhausting time for staff at Merlin Park as the incident was in the middle of a three-day and night party for which Charles and Mrs Georgina Blake were justly renowned. The house was full of roisterers.
How the two servants found a moment for a quick amorous cuddle must have been a cause of surprise for Mary, who in order to follow their retreat into the shadow under the stairs, leaned out over the balcony, only to lose her balance and topple over landing with the fatal consequences that we read above under the heading Melancholy Accident.
Of course everyone was shocked to see the unfortunate woman lying dead on the floor. I am sure every assistance was offered, but once the body was removed, and perhaps the true sequence of events were known, some gentlemen present subscribed for a stone slab to be placed on the place where Mary landed, with the inscription: Mary MacManus Virgin.
The Blakes, having acquired the thousand acre estate to the east of the town of Galway, began building Merlin Park House in 1808. It was finished four years later in the impressive Georgian style of the period. On completion the Blakes could hardly wait to throw open its doors to all the local gentry and landed families to attend generous parties and balls where they might admire the classical architecture, the use of the famous Merlin ‘Black Marble’ (quarried locally ), the comfortable furnishings, the tasteful appointments and the spectacular views over Galway Bay.
In fairness these particular Blakes did have worthy altruistic motives as well. A school for 40 Catholic children was built on the estate, and the teacher’s salary was paid for by Georgina. She also became involved with a lying-in hospital for women of low income or of no means, in Dominick Street and later at Mill Street. However, whether it was the enormous cost of the house, its upkeep and the expense of entertaining the great and the good of Galway for 40 years, the house was sold.
It was bought initially by Henry William Hodgson, who soon found that he preferred to look out on the Corrib, rather than Galway Bay, from Currarevagh House, near Oughterard, where he moved permanently. Merlin Park was again for sale, and this time bought by Robert W Waithman the grandfather of Wyndham Waithman of whom this story will be about, hopefully.
Robert Waithman was married twice. His second wife was Arabella Persse, the favourite sister of Lady Gregory of Coole, with whom she is buried in the New Cemetery. Robert’s son, William Sharp Waithman, inherited the Merlin Park estate, and married Lady Leicester Phillipa Stanhope. They had two children Wyndham and Phillipa.
Growing up the children spent a happy childhood running free throughout the expansive parkland amongst the trees, shrubbery and gardens. Wyndham joined the Royal Army Service Corps (1915 - 1919 ) and, as a captain, was a senior recruiting officer in Galway during World War I. On the death of his father he inherited Merlin Park in the 1920s, married Winifred Lindsay, and had a son Standhope, known as Stan.
One of the family
Stan was the catalyst for the captain’s most interesting stage of his life. A young school teacher, 19-years-old Eileen O’Driscoll, came to Merlin Park to give private tuition to the boy. Known as Drico, she was an immediate hit with the Waithman family. She was a tutor and governess to the children of the Meldons who resided at Renmore House. She also taught at a private school where Stan, aged six years, was a pupil.
During holiday time she came to Merlin Park House to continue the tuition and virtually became one of the family, participating in family events. She met Augusta Lady Gregory on several occasions, particularly when the family gathered at the Gregory town house, 47 Dominick Street. Arabella Waithman lived there for a while, and Gregory would sweep into the street in her car for family visits. Drico describes Lady Gregory as very charming, but always in a hurry, and appeared anxious to get back to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, or home to Gort.
Drico was present at Lady Gregory’s 70th birthday which was celebrated with Arabella and the whole Waithman family in Dominick Street. There was no birthday cake; instead, to everyone’s pleasure, a fresh pineapple with 70 lit matches was carried into the room.
In October 1933, one year following the death of Lady Gregory, the captain’s wife Winifred died at the young age of 47 years. Nine years later the captain married Drico, who originally came to the house as a young teacher, and both enjoyed 33 years of extraordinary happiness together, despite the disruption and sadness of losing Merlin Park House.
It is the stuff of a movie.
Next week: How the war against TB changed the lives of the Captain and his young wife.
NOTES: I am leaning on A Georgian Memory - A brief History of Merlin Park House and Estate, by the late Norbert Sheerin, published 2018, on sale at Charlie Byrnes €10.00.