Blog Entry By Pam Stocker - Strokestown Park Volunteer (Originally a presentation she gave at our monthly CPD)
This is the story of two houses at the same time in history, how they approached the famine, the results, and a mystery. Our story starts in Belleek, Co Fermanagh in 1849 when John Caldwell Bloomfield inherited the Castlecaldwell Estate, which encompassed the village of Belleek.
He was very concerned for the welfare of the villagers and tenants of the estate and wished to find a way to help them move forward from the ravages of the famine. So he hired a geologist to survey the estate to see if there was anything within the grounds that might help. What were discovered were the components for making pottery, and with the river Erne flowing nearby, there was a viable power source.
Caldwell and his new business partners were then successful in bringing a rail line to Belleek which was crucial because it brought in coal to heat the kilns.The early output from Belleek was sanitary ware such as toilets, sinks, floor tiles and other domestic items. Early attempts as decorative pieces failed until in 1863 the first product of Parian ware were successfully made and sold. (Parian is a style of porcelain which was designed to imitate marble).The fish above is date stamped from this first period 1863-1891. And is heavier and thicker than porcelain we now associate with Belleek.
However, we have a parallel story from Strokestown Park. Denis Mahon took over the estate in 1845 when it was heavily in debt and consumed by the after effects of the Famine.The census of 1847 found 12,000 people living on the estate, often 30 to an acre with no income, no food, and ill with malnutrition. Denis found it more economically viable to lease boats and send 1,490 of his tenants to Canada. Half of them died on the journey and Denis was blamed for their deaths. Subsequently he was murdered in November 1847.
Grace Catherine Denis Mahon's daughter who was married shortly before her father’s death, was horrified by what had been done to her father and vowed never to live in Strokestown Park again, which she never did.
The mystery lies on where our beautiful fish comes from. It is a first-period example of Belleek Parian ware, is, in fact, a vase; and dates from 1863-1891. This example is quite rare and so it must have had some value and yet he is not listed in the valuations done by Lt Col Nick Pakenham Mahon. Nor was he bought in By Jim Callery during his renovation of the house. So, if Grace Catherine wasn’t in residence during the relevant period and if he’s not listed in either valuation or inventory the mystery remains how he turned up here? Perhaps we will never know!
Discover more about Belleek History here: