The Big Houses

Kells - The Big Houses
Headfort House

Completed between 1769 and 1771and built for for the Earl of Bective, Thomas Taylour, Headfort House was designed by the renowned Irish architect, George Semple, and constructed from Ardbraccan limestone. It was designed in a severe unadorned neoclassical style with an impressive scale and position. The interior contains a magnificent suite of six state rooms designed by the influential Scottish architect Robert Adam. Headfort is the only intact Adam interior in Ireland.


Recent and ongoing renovation funded by the World Monument Fund and the Headfort Trust ensures that this will be preserved for future generations. Much of the original furniture, which was also designed by Adam to complement his lofty interiors, is still in place. Some items were recently bought by the state, with a view to their being displayed in the house eventually. These items, including pier glasses and tables, are undergoing restoration in Kilkenny Castle, as part of an ongoing exhibition of Irish Furniture. The school uses the main house and one of the wings and, to this day, is still surrounded by spacious grounds. Sadly the furnishings from the magnificent Chinese Drawing
Room have long since gone.


The estate formerly stretched from Kells to Virginia. The land found its way into the Headfort family as a result of the Down Survey, being granted to Thomas Taylour, first Earl of Bective, as a result of his helping Sir William Petty in that.

Rockfield House

Rockfield was built in the second half of the 1700s and was the home of the Rothwell family. It had nine windows across the front and four deep. It has three storeys but the ground floor was treated as the basement so the dining room and sitting rooms were on the first floor. The interior was improved in the early 1800s with a library with Ionic columns and a curving staircase with ironwork balustrade behind a screen of columns. The house is very similar to Williamstown and may have been planned by the same architect.


The present house dates from the 19th century.

Williamstown House

National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH)


This was originally the home of the Cuffe family. Set on 280 acres, it was built at the end of the 18th century to Palladian design. The house was modified in the early 19th century and is an impressive three-story house, later owned and altered by the Garnett family, who left towards the end of the 1900s. It was occupied for a while by the Dyas family; who willed it to a Miss McCormack who died in the 1970s. Since then the house has been empty and is slowly decaying into a ruin.

Bloomsbury House (formerly Mount Tisdall)

The Tisdall family first settled in Castleblayney in Co. Monaghan from either Scotland or England in the 1620’s. Some forty years later, in March 1668, Michael Tisdall leased the Manor of Martry in Co. Meath from Nicholas Darcy. The Darcys had been dispossessed of their lands following the 1641 rebellion, but had been partially restored to them in 1666.

The manor comprised 120 houses, a pigeon house, two windmills, and 1,900 acres of land in pasture, meadow, woodland, heath and moor spread over 9 townlands. In 1672 Michael bought the Manor. His residence was on the bank of the Blackwater river. The townland was called Jakestowne in the Civil Survey of 1654-1656 and was later called Bloomsbury, but he renamed it Mount Tisdall . Michael died in 1681 aged 44 years.

His 13-year-old son, William, inherited the estate, administered for him until his coming of age by his uncle, James Tisdall. In 1691 William married Frances Fitzgerald, sister of the 19th Earl of Kildare. Their eldest son, Michael, came of age in 1714. The previous year he became M.P for Ardee, replacing his retiring uncle, James, who had first been elected in 1695. In 1719 Michael married Catherine Palmer, whose father, William, was M.P. for Kildare in 1695 and for Castlebar in 1723.

Michael and Catherine’s son, Charles, was born in October 1719 and later their daughter, Catherine. Michael died in 1726 when he was aged 33 and his son Charles was just 7 years old. In the period 1726 to Charles’ coming of age in 1740, the estate was managed by his father’s executors, Charles Hamilton of Dunboyne and William Waller of Allenstown, and by his uncle the Reverend George Tisdall. His mother subsequently married the Reverend Doctor Edward Hudson and she and her daughter, Catherine, were provided for under the terms of Michael’s will, receiving £70 and £60 per annum respectively. Charles also paid Dr Hudson £40 per year “for lodging and dyeting my sister.”

Charles attended Trinity College , Dublin and graduated in 1738 with a B.A. degree. In 1740 he assumed control of the estate.