By Myles Stoney
The daughter of Hugh de Lacy married Sir Gilbert de Nugent. Hugh de Lacy & Sir Gilbert de Nugent were actually related. Hugh de Lacy put Gilbert de Nugent into Westmeath and granted him the lands of Westmeath, North Meath and part of Cavan. In those days it was hard to know where the boundaries actually were. Sir Gilbert de Nugent went to Delvin where he built his first castle which is still standing. This was the first Nugent stronghold. Subsequently they built another bigger castle close by. They continued to be the owners of Westmeath and a lot more land around from that date onwards without a break. They had the title Baron Delvin and Earl of Delvin. There is still an Earl of Delvin and NorthWest Meath who has not lived in Ireland for over 100 years. They live in Devonshire in England and are still the head of the Nugent family.
Twelve generations after de Lacy & de Nugent – coming into the end of the 15th century – the 12th Baron Delvin built the castle at Ross. This was the most northern part of any Norman influence in this part of the world. Beyond that the O’Rourkes & O’Reillys were still strong and as you got further north the O’Donnells and O’Neills – who were particularly strong – so that the Nomans never really touched Northern Ireland at all – until they became integrated.
One of the most important properties that the Nugents owned was the Abbey at Fore. The Abbey is very much a part of Nugent history because each generation was involved in it. Many Bishops of Meath and Abbots of Fore were Nugents. During the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, again because of Norman trouble, this time proved to be a very unpleasant for the Nugents. The then Baron of Delvin had to depose his own brother, who was Bishop William Nugent of Fore Abbey. Those were his orders – he had to do it, whether he liked it or not.
The Bishop took all his belongings and went to live with his cousin at Farrenconnell. He brought with him the original crozier that was used in Fore Abbey. It remained at Farrenconnell till recent times and is now in the National Museum in Dublin. It is a very interesting relic made of bronze. The head is all that is left – the staff does not exist. The crozier is so used that the bronze crest is worn away on the top where the Bishops thumbs were on it. The crest was beautifully crafted. There were designs of ram’s heads and tiny little horns on the ram’s head. It was used in the old days in Farrenconnell as a holy relic and used also to get the truth out of people. It seemed to be far better than swearing on the Bible.
In 1621, Lord Delvin was created Baron of Westmeath. The oldest title is Earl of Delvin and the new one Earl of Westmeath. There is a third title which goes with the family – Baroney of Fore. The Nugents of Farrenconnell were a collateral branch of the main branch Nugents. The Nugents did not do themselves any good by fighting on the wrong side when Cromwell was in Ireland. So they lost some of their land.
The Nugents are very proud of the fact that the only man to defeat Cromwell in pitched battle was Myles O’Reilly in 1649. He defended the Bridge of Finea for a day and finally died after the battle had raged for a whole day. He was slain by a Scotsman who came fresh to the fray. The story goes – that the Scotsman wielded his sword and Myles caught it in his teeth and hit the Scotsman with his axe. The two fell down together. That’s one story – the one I like to believe. I am proud of the story because Myles O’Reilly had a son and heir called John O’Reilly, who had a daughter called Catherine O’Reilly. Catherine married Oliver Nugent of Bobsgrove at Farrenconnell. That makes Myles the Slasher, my sixth great grandfather.
In 17th century at the time of the Battle of the Boyne, again the Nugents got it very wrong. One of the contemporary accounts says in fact that the Nugent men from Westmeath had turned the tide of battle in favour of King James and they thought they had won and that the day was over. But actually the Orange men rallied and James’s side sat back as they did not think they were going to be countered attacked, so they lost the battle. At that stage the Nugents had consolidated a lot of their property in Westmeath – right into Cavan. They owned a lot of land on the other side of Lough Sheelin, all Mullahoran and down into Kilcogy and Ballymachugh. Because of the battle of the Boyne they had some land taken back off them. That’s the way things went in those days.
Oliver Nugent of Bobsgrove and Catherine O’Reilly produce Robert Nugent, who was born in 1703. It was Robert Nugent who planted all the trees at Farrenconnell and laid out the whole place and he built the bog road where you cross out to Tonagh. He landscaped the whole property. That is why he called it “Bobsgrove” after Robert Nugent who did the planting and all the old trees date from the middle of the 18th century. That was the common thing in those days to call your property after yourself or your wife, or a mixture of the two. After another couple of generations we get to Christopher Nugent. Around the beginning of the 18th century and he fought in the Battle of Waterloo. Christopher had a number of sons but only one, his youngest son, Mervyn St. George, who was a general in the British army produced a son. According to Christopher’s will the property had to go to someone that had a son. Mervyn St. George, who was my great grandfather, did have several sons. But my grandfather was the only one to survive. He was Oliver Nugent, Alison Hirschberg’s father. He was the most famous of all the Nugents.
In his young days he distinguished himself in India. He received the DOS and fought in lots of battles out in India – about 1870 – 1880. He got married to my grandmother in 1898 and his son was born in 1899, when Oliver had just gone out to fight in the Boer War in South Africa. In the battle of Talana Hill, which was the first battle of the Boer War he was very badly wounded and taken prisoner by the Boers. He wrote a fantastic account of the battle that makes fascinating reading. It is written in exactly the same style of English that Winston Churchill wrote. If you read Nugent’s account of the battle of Talana Hill and you read Churchhill’s London to Ladysmith, Churchhill’s account of the Boer War and being taken prisoner, you would think you were reading the same author. The reason for this is that they both had the same English teacher at school.
He must have been a very good English teacher because they both write very good English. His recovery took a long time. He was given some easy jobs after the Boer War like ADC to the Governor in Pheonix Park until he was fully recovered. Then he did another stint in India. About 1909, when he was a full colonel he decided he had had enough warfare so he retired. His one great love was Farrenconnell and his one ambition was to find out if he could live there. So he retired and started to enjoy his retirement. He made many improvements to Farrenconnell including buildings, layout, drainage and fencing. He was something of an engineer as well as being a solider. In 1914 the First World War started. Oliver Nugent was on the reserve list and volunteered to go back into the army. He was promoted to General and given the command of the Ulster division. There was two Irish divisions in the First World War. One was the Ulster division and the other the Irish division. It was the 36th Ulster division that my grand father was given. He was of course an Ulsterman. He was a very experienced solider at this stage in his life. He was in charge of the Ulster for the whole of the war and fought both battles of the Somme. He saw his division almost completed wiped out. Oliver was continually in conflict with his superior commander General Haig because he could see no sense just wiping out a whole division for some sort of political point. He was never very popular with the powers to be because he was never afraid to say what he thought. He got rows of medals for doing a very good job of work. It never really satisfied him because he felt that the best job of work that he could do was to try to make sure causalities were slightly less than people expected them to be. It cannot have been a very pleasant time. His favourite medal was presented to him by the Pope. He came by that because he was a very ecumenical man. His division comprised about half Catholic and half Protestant. When he took over the division (I still have his “address”, his formal speech to the division) he said that there was to be no sectarianism, they were for Ulster and the division and there was to be no discord. He then heard that one of the Belfast Protestants in his division had desecrated chapels in Northern France. When he heard this he was livid. He blew a fuse. He had a very short temper at the best of times. The men were court martialed and he condemned then to be shot. They were actually reprieved. But there was never anything of that type in any division again. It was very much talked about in Northern France and the Pope got to hear about it and sent him that medal.
He was the most famous of the Nugents – he is still remembered by some – he died in 1926. I never knew him. He died four years before I was born. He was a very special person not only to his family but also to the people around this area. He was very much loved and used as an arbitrator. His opinion was sought on many things. He died at aged 65 from pneumonia. He had three children. His son St. George died four years after his father. He died from TB, leaving my mother Theffania Nugent and Alison Nugent – Mrs Hirschberg, my aunt.