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A bust of famous Irish Novelist, Molly Keane (born Mary Nesta Skrine, at Ryston Cottage, Newbridge in 1904), will be unveiled at

Ryston Sports and Social Club,

on Friday 17 July 2009 

at 8 p.m.

All are welcome.

Ryston Sports & Social Club celebrates its 60th Anniversary and as well as the launch of their new website,  there will be an exhibition of old photographs.


Molly who wrote her earlier works under the pseudonym M. J. Farrell is probably most famously remembered for her book 'Good Behaviour' which was shorlisted for the Booker Prize in 1981

For many years Molly Keane's birthplace was shrouded in mystery - according to different sources she is born in Counties Kildare, Waterford or Wexford; the two most popular entries being Ballyrankin, Co. Kildare (actually Wexford) and Connellmore, Co. Kildare. County Genealogist, Karel Kiely traced her birth to Ryston Cottage in Newbridge and published her findings in the Irish Family History Journal. We reproduce that article here to commemorate Molly Keane's 'Kildare' origins.

Searching for the birthplace of Molly Keane
Karel Kiely:
Genealogist, Kildare Library and Arts Service

2004 was the centenary of the birth of the writer Molly Keane, author of many well known works including Good Behaviour, which dealt with the theme of the “Big House” in the early twentieth century.  She was the daughter of Walter Skrine and Agnes Higginson. Her mother was also a writer who wrote under the pen name of Moira O’Neill, publishing such works as Songs of the Glens of Antrim and An Easter Vacation.

To commemorate Molly Keane’s life and work several busts of her were commissioned, one of which was to be sited in the county of her birth, Kildare.  Most sources, including Polly Devlin’s “Writing Lives” (1988), state that Molly Keane was born in Ballyrankin, Co. Kildare.  However, there is no such townland in Co. Kildare. A search of the Townland Index of Ireland revealed that there is a Ballyrankin in Co. Wexford. So was she born in Wexford or Kildare? And if she was born in Kildare, where exactly was she born?

A general web search revealed the following information: in the 1901 Census of Alberta, Canada, Walter C. Skrine aged 41 years, his wife Agnes aged 36 years and their daughter Mary E.B. Skrine, aged nine months, were recorded.   The Alberta Family Histories Society has put the births, deaths and marriages of many Calgary newspapers online and it was here that I located a notice of a daughter born to the wife of Walter Skrine, Pakisko on 6th June 1900.   Further information was found on Walter Skrine at Pakisko or Pekisko, Alberta.  He went to north west Canada in 1883, ranching at Pekisko in the Alberta foothills and was a famous figure in Calgary ranching history.  He returned to Ireland and married Nesta Higginson in 1895.  They returned to ranch at Pekisko.

A search was carried out in the General Register Office, Lombard St., Dublin for their marriage. It states that Walter Skrine married Agnes Shakespeare Higginson on 5th June, 1895.  He was the son of Henry Duncan Skrine and she was the daughter of Charles Higginson. Both gave their residence at the time of the marriage as Rockport, Cushendun, Co. Antrim. A further search was carried out for the birth record of a daughter of this couple in 1904 and the birth record of their daughter, Mary Nesta Skrine was found on 20th July, 1904. She went on to publish under two names M.J. Farrell (a pseudonym) and later as Molly Keane. The place of birth was given as Ryston, Newbridge. The father, Walter Claremont Skrine, gave his address as Kilnamoragh, Clane.  The birth notices in the Kildare Observer newspaper also record the birth of a daughter to Walter Clarmonte Skrine and his wife in July 1904 at Ryston Lodge, Newbridge.   

Why were Walter and Agnes Skrine in Newbridge, Co. Kildare at the time of the birth of their daughter? Why did Walter give his place of residence as Kilnamoragh, Clane? Kilnamoragh is in the civil parish of Donadea and was part of the lands owned by the Aylmer family. It is about eleven miles from Newbridge.  

A search of the Co. Kildare genealogical database for any records relating to the Skrine, Higginson or Aylmer families revealed that a James Macaulay Higginson and his wife Olivia Nicola had three children baptized in Co. Kildare: James Macauley Higginson was baptized in Clane Church of Ireland parish on 01.04.1860; Montagu Edward Higginson  in Straffan Church of Ireland parish on 27.04.1866; and Archibald Bertram Higginson  in Clane Church of Ireland on 25.06.1872.  The marriages of two of the daughters of Sir James and Olivia were located in Morristown Biller Church of Ireland parish.   Frances Anne married in 1893  and Olivia Charlotte in 1894 .  Both gave their address as Great Connell at the time of their marriages. Therefore the maternal family of Molly Keane, the Higginsons, had connections with both Clane and Newbridge, Co. Kildare. 

A detailed study of the family tree of the Aylmer family in Burke’s Peerage & Baronetage shows that in 1853 Sir Gerald George Aylmer, 9th Bt., of Donadea Castle married Alicia Hester Caroline Dobbs, the daughter of Conway R. Dobbs, of Castle Dobbs, Co. Antrim.  This Dobbs connection leads us back to Co. Antrim, home county of Agnes Shakespeare Higginson.  The Dobbs family tree shows that Alicia’s older sister, Olivia Nichola Dobbs, married Sir James Macaulay Higginson in 1854.  Sir James Macauley Higginson, K.C.B., Governor of Mauritius, was a son of Major James Higginson.  Sir James and Olivia Macauley Higginson had a family connection with Clane because her sister Alicia was married to Sir Gerald Aylmer.

A search of the genealogical database also located the death of Sir James Higginson on 2nd July, 1885 at Tulfarris, Great Connell, Newbridge.  An obituary in the Kildare Observer on 11th July 1885 states that Sir James “was one of the oldest sportsmen in Ireland, and one of the straightest riders to hounds in that hard-riding (and, according to some, hard-ridden country)”.  It also gave the important information that Sir James had been married twice, firstly to a Miss Shakespeare and secondly to a Miss Dobbs.   As we know, Molly mother’s name was recorded as Agnes Shakespeare Higginson on her birth certificate.

The Higginson papers in the Public Record of Northern Ireland include wills, leases, deeds and correspondence from 1737-1964, and relate to the Higginson family of Nappan, Springmount and Rockport, Co. Antrim, as well as Connelmore, Co. Kildare and the Skrine family of Ballyrankin, Co. Wexford.  Included in the correspondence are letters from or relating to Sir James Macaulay Higginson and Charles Henry Higginson of Springmount, later Rockport, Cushenden, Co. Antrim.   Charles Henry, born in 1824, married his cousin Mary, elder daughter of Sir James Macauley Higginson and his first wife Louisa Mary Ann Shakespeare, in 1861.    One of their children was Agnes Shakespeare. According to the Higginson family tree, Agnes Shakespeare Higginson, mother of Molly Keane, married Walter Clarmont Skrine on 5th June, 1895.  He was the youngest son of Henry Duncan Skrine, MA, DL, JP, of Warleigh Manor, and Claverton Manor, Somerset, and of Stubbings, Berkshire.

We know that the Higginsons were residing in Co. Kildare in 1885 when Sir James died and were still in residence at the time of the marriages of Frances and Olivia in 1893 and 1894. A search of the computerized database of the 1901 Census of Co. Kildare revealed a possible residence where Mary Nesta Skrine was born in 1904. In the District Electoral Division of Newbridge Rural, in the townland of Great Connell I located the household of Olivia Higginson , a farmer, aged 73 years, her daughter Millicent and sons Metcalfe and Henry.  She gave her place of birth as Switzerland, and Millicent , aged 39 years, was born in Co. Antrim.  Metcalfe, born in Jamaica, and Henry in King’s Co., were obviously the sons of Sir James and the step-sons of Olivia as they were 60 and 58 respectively, and both retired army officers. There were seven servants attached to the household.   In the same house in 1911 the occupier is Conway Higginson, a retired army officer, and his daughter, Hylda, aged 17 years.  However, Great Connell or Connellmore is on the opposite side of the river and quite distant from the location known as Ryston.  It seems certain that Walter and Agnes did not stay with the Higginsons during their time in Newbridge but in a separate residence at Ryston.

Ryston, which is a local name but not a townland, is now home to the Irish Ropes Social Club which occupies a large site with a pitch and putt grounds and clubhouse.  There are also two small housing estates at the back of the site, called Ryston Avenue and Ryston Close.   Local information is that the house that once stood here was demolished sometime in the 1970s.  It had been occupied throughout the 1920, 1930s & 1940s by a Church of Ireland clergyman, Rev. D.H. O’ Connor, and subsequently by his two spinster daughters.  Rev. O’Connor, Rector of Newbridge, performed the marriages of both the Higginson girls at Great Connell church.

It is possible that the house which once stood on the site, which was called Ryston Lodge, was associated with the military barracks which began to be constructed in Newbridge from 1816 onwards.  The Ordnance Survey maps show a large house with gardens on a substantial site adjacent to the River Liffey.  The entrance to the house is directly opposite the entrance to the military barracks.  The walls that surrounded the barracks are constructed from the same stone as the lower wall around the present grounds of Ryston.  The house at Ryston is not on the Alexander Taylor map of 1783. It appears for the first time on the 1837 OS map.

Sometime around 1912 the Skrine family purchased Ballyrankin House, Ferns, Co. Wexford.  Walter Skrine died in 1930 and his wife Agnes on in 1955.  Their daughter Molly Keane died in 1996.


Bringing Molly Home - Invitation to all to unveiling of bust of Molly Keane at Ryston Sports and Social Club, Newbridge, Friday 17 July, 2009, at 8 p.m.

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