Grandfather’s gateposts saved from Rockingham open doors to art

Artist Sean Rafferty has made an installation from the gateposts in Lough Key Forest Park

Artist Sean Rafferty with an installion he created from stones saved by his grandfather and other local people from Rockingham House in Boyle. Photograph: Brian Farrell

Artist Sean Rafferty with an installion he created from stones saved by his grandfather and other local people from Rockingham House in Boyle. Photograph: Brian Farrell

Thu, Jul 31, 2014, 01:00

When Rockingham House was destroyed by fire in 1957, Pat Flanagan briefly dreamed about buying it from the Stafford-King-Harman family. T

he Co Roscommon estate owners had employed four generations of his family.

The Land Commission eventually took it over and, to Flanagan’s horror, the Big House was demolished in 1971. However, he and other locals did manage to salvage a small part of it: the ornate stones used in the pillars which fronted the John Nash designed mansion.

His grandson, Australia-based artist Sean Rafferty, has returned them to the centre of the former estate, which is now the Lough Key Forest Park, a hub for cruise boats and day trippers.

Rafferty (34) who grew up listening to Flanagan’s stories about herding cattle on horseback on the vast estate, has recycled the stones for a novel artwork.

“I think he would be pleased,” said Rafferty. “He would like the idea of even a small part of the house surviving”.

He has arranged the stones in formation to reflect what he regards as three key historic sites in the park – Trinity island, Church island and Kilbryan church – all of them significant locations long before the Stafford-King-Harmans were heard of in the area.

Local writer John McGahern frequently referred to Rockingham in his work, recalling the regular pheasant shoots hosted for local and visiting gentry.

“With a retinue of servants, farmhands, stable lads, gardeners and gamekeepers, the estate was a closed world within a world,” he wrote.

Rafferty knows that not everyone was as sorry as his grandfather to see the end of the Big House. “I know what it represented for some people in terms of the landed gentry and English occupation of Ireland, but I think granddad felt the need to salvage fragments of his past.”

Flanagan, who died in 2011 at 96, frequently told his family about the night in September 1957 when he was cycling into Rockingham through the Ardcarne gatehouse and saw smoke in the distance. When he reached the blazing mansion, furniture and paintings were already piled on the lawn as staff and neighbours scurried in and out, saving as much as possible.

The landlord Sir Cecil Stafford-King-Harman was in England at the Doncaster Races at the time and was, as Flanagan recalled, “terrible annoyed” on his return.

A concrete viewing tower, called The Moylurg Tower, was built on the site of the house in 1973.

Linda Shevlin, curator at Roscommon Arts Centre, said Rafferty’s work was enjoyed by those soaking the sun in the forest park this week. “Almost as soon as Sean was finished, kids were leaning their bikes against the stones and sitting on them, eating ice cream,” she said.