by jdurney on November 27, 2013

The Bartons of Straffan and the K Club

Eoghan Corry

This week the K Club will become our county’s icon once more, when images of the famous Liffeyside golf venue are broadcast all over the sports broadcasting world.
Someone who tuned in by accident and saw the peculiar elevated French roof on Straffan house might think they were watching footage from somewhere around Bordeaux. And they would be half right.
The distinctive mansard roof of Straffan House and its mirror image extension built by Michael Straffan have the Gironde written on every tile.
It is deliberate. Twenty years after the house was built by the Barton family in 1831 the stacks were raised and embellished in a French style based on chateau at Louveciennes.

Unlike most of their aristocratic neighbours, it was to France rather than England that the face and the fortunes of the Bartons turned, the family most associated with Straffan for a short period by Irish big house standards (1813-1949) but a significant one to the extent that, long after they have left the area, a new housing estate has been named for them in the village.
The man who first purchased the burned out shell of Straffan house from the Henry family, Hugh Barton (1766-1854) was in turn succeeded by Nathaniel Barton (1799-1867), Hugh Lyndoch Barton (1824-1899), Bertram Francis Barton (1830-1904), Bertram Hugh Barton (1858-1927) and Capt Frederick (Derick) Barton (1900-1993).
The first five generations of Straffan Bartons jointly owned both the estate at Straffan and the family’s 37-hectacre vineyard in St Julien near the Gironde north of Bordeaux, where the highly reputed Chateau Leoville-Barton is still produced (check out the 2002 vintage).
This Hiberno-French dynasty had its contradictions. They belonged to the established Church of Ireland, erecting the village church in 1833 as a family church filled with family monuments.
True, the later Bartons were educated in Eton. Christopher even won an Olympic silver medal rowing with an all-Cambridge crew for Britain at the 1948 Olympics. His father Derick competed for the British modern pentathlon team  in 1924, after independent Ireland had a team of its own.
But it was from France that the Barton family came, a century after their departure to Bordeaux from Fermanagh, famously protecting their investment through the revolution with an alliance with the Guestier family (hence B&G distributors). And it was to France that the family would eventually return.

Until the 1920s the Bartons lived most of their year in Straffan and embarked, en famille, to Bordeaux for the grape harvest each year.
Derrick Barton the last if the Straffan leg of the family who died in 1993, has left us a description of this pilgrimage.
The family would travel by pony and trap to the now demolished Straffan station house in Clownings, take the train to Kingsbridge and thence to Kingstown, the boat and train to London, overnight in London, take the steam packet to Dover, overnight in Paris, and arrive in St Julien two days later. He was in his mid eighties when he wrote his privately published memoir, but he could still convey the excitement he felt as a small child.
Barton expressed bewilderment at the manner in which the villagers came out to celebrate his wedding in 1927 with bonfires and a cavalcade,
The villagers barely knew him, had never heard of his wife Joan Lecky from Ballymakealy, and yet the demesne wall was lined by bonfires, greeted by band led by estate carpenter
“Better loved you cannot be” was put on a banner over church gate
“We were the last inheritors of a feudal system that (sadly)) was about to pass away,” he remembered.

All changed with the death of Bertram Barton in a hunting accident in Co Meath in 1927. There was a massive feudal funeral, the body lay in state “like Royalty” in Straffan house, the funeral possession passed down the avenue with elders of RDS including William Wyley flanking the coffin.
Bertram left the Straffan property to Derrick and the French property to his younger brother Ronald. When the books were opened the scale of the losses on the Straffan estate became apparent.
The venture was bankrupt. Losses amounted £4,000 per year, about Eu300,000 today. The staff of 50 outdoor and 16 indoor employees was unsustainable.
Big house living had also changed. “When we came to settle in we found the whole realm of domestic service had suffered a revolution. The domestic servant had become a very scarce individual,” Derrick mourned
Derrick Barton struggled on for 22 years, laying off most of the staff and demolished part of the house before selling the house and estate for £15,000 to motorcycle manufacturer John Ellis. Even allowing for inflation it was a giveaway – the equivalent of about €525,000 today.
“There was never more than one serious contendor and we had to settle for a complete give-away price and settle for what we could,” he complained.
The French estate carried on. Anthony moved from Straffan to Bordeaux in 1951 and took over the estate on the death of Ronald in 1986. After the tragic death of his son in a car accident, Anthony’s daughter Lilian is set to take over the business.
The Barton dynasty is believed to hold the record for the longest period of single family ownership of any vineyard in Bordeaux.
The Straffan connection has faded. But no doubt the TV pictures being beamed all over the world of the European Open will bring back memories to that most European of Kildare big house families.

 Kildare Voice July 7 2007


Eoghan Corry recounts the history of the Barton family who built Straffan House in 1831. Our thanks to Eoghan 

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