THE (MONKEY) PUZZLE OF THE MISSING HOUSE – FOULKSCOURT, JOHNSTOWN, CO. KILKENNY
Mark Bence-Jones, author of A Guide to Irish Country Houses, wrote in 2001:
“Passing through Johnstown on my way to and from Dublin, I always felt that there must have been an important country house in the neighbourhood because of the layout of the village square (Johnstown), with a house set at an angle in each corner… I looked at a large-scale map and found Foulkscourt House on it, so…went to see if the house or any fragment of it was still there, but could see nothing””.
The Parliamentary Gazetteer or Ireland 1844 states “Fowkesecourt Demesne.. belongs to the Hely family, and came into their possession in the time of Sir John Hely, Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, who died in 1701 while holding Spring Assizes at Ennis. The demesne contains extensive ruins of a castle which was the residence of the Purcell family, ancient lords of the manor.”
The Ormonde Papers show that Sir John Hely and his wife Meliora nee Gorges obtained Foulkescourt and 3140 acres by deed dated 1697, and they subsequently built the house shown in this photograph. Hely descendants continued to reside there until the 1930s when it was let to tenants and was accidently burnt down. By the end of the twentieth century all trace of the house had been removed with only the monkey puzzle tree, grown much larger, to define the site.
The excellent archives of Kilkenny College show young Hely boys from Foulkescourt House attending the school:-
1707 James Hely aged 8
1744 William Hely aged 14
1757 George (Gorges) Hely aged 7
Sir John Hely’s wife Meliora Gorges came from Eye Manor in Herefordshire. In 1622 her great grandfather Ferdinando Gorges had obtained a land patent to develop the US state of Maine, but was unable to make a success of this scheme. Meliora’s grandfather, and her father who was also named Ferdinando Gorges, were equally unsuccessful, and in 1677 the latter sold Maine to Massachusetts for £1,250.