Burning the Big House
The Story of the Irish Country House in a Time of War and Revolution
Imprint: Yale University Press
During the Irish Revolution nearly three hundred country houses were burned to the ground. These “Big Houses” were powerful symbols of conquest, plantation, and colonial oppression, and were caught up in the struggle for independence and the conflict between the aristocracy and those demanding access to more land. Stripped of their most important artifacts, most of the houses were never rebuilt and ruins such as Summerhill stood like ghostly figures for generations to come.
Terence Dooley offers a unique perspective on the Irish Revolution, exploring the struggles over land, the impact of the Great War, and why the country mansions of the landed class became such a symbolic target for republicans throughout the period. Dooley details the shockingly sudden acts of occupation and destruction—including soldiers using a Rembrandt as a dart board—and evokes the exhilaration felt by the revolutionaries at seizing these grand houses and visibly overturning the established order.
“In Terence Dooley’s fascinating and troubling new study, a more nuanced picture emerges. Professor Dooley’s pioneering work with Maynooth’s Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses has left him better placed than most to describe these campaigns of intimidation, and he does this with style, giving us what must surely be the definitive account of the burnings…Elegantly and persuasively, he dismantles the myths surrounding the burning of the Big House.”—Adrian Tinniswood, The Daily Telegraph
“An impeccably researched and thoughtfully argued gallop through “the tumultous history” of Irish country houses from 1914-23, when a fifth of them were burnt to the ground. However, it is also the story of the fall of the ascendancy, the Irish landed classes.”—Gareth Russell, The Times
“Exaggeration, half-truths and self-serving narratives are unpicked in Terence Dooley’s new book with clarity, nuance and wisdom…Dooley’s scrupulous scholarship, his deep knowledge of rural Ireland…and empathy across the confessional divide makes him the perfect chronicler of this often painful subject, where all is not quite as it seems.”—William Laffan, The Times
“In this important reassessment, drawing on contemporary accounts, earlier regional studies and a wealth of recently released archive material, Dooley argues for a much closer look at the social and economic history of the previous 70 years.”—Maev Kennedy, Art Newspaper
“Professor Dooley's pioneering work with Maynooth's Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses has left him better placed than most to describe these campaigns of intimidation, and he does this with style, giving us what must surely be the definitive account of the burnings…Elegantly and persuasively, he dismantles the myths surrounding the burning of the Big House.”—Adrian Tinniswood, Irish Independent
“This book is one of the most substantial contributions to the historiography of modern Ireland to have been written in recent decades, with its originality lying particularly in the way it angles the history of the period to the experiences of the landed elite without constituting merely a history of that elite.”—Philip Bull, author of Monksgrange: Portrait of an Irish House and Family, 1769-1969
“In all the fraught history of the Irish country house there is no more dramatic episode than that covered by this book. Professor Dooley is the ideal person to reveal a compelling if catastrophic story that, to date, has not received the scholarly attention it deserves.”—Clive Aslet, author of The Story of the Country House
“A magnificent intervention into a contested and complex historical field. Building on decades of painstaking research, using insider sources and new approaches, Burning the Big House offers new understandings of issues around the political, economic and cultural challenges faced by Ireland’s Big Houses and their owners during the revolutionary period.”—Annie Tindley, author of Lord Dufferin, Ireland and the British Empire
“This fascinating study presents the Big House burnings of 1920-23 as the final in a chain of economic and political catastrophes which all but eradicated the Anglo-Irish aristocracy. Dooley's masterfully chosen examples illustrate the variety and complexity of reasons for destruction.”—Eunan O’Halpin, co-author of The Dead of the Irish Revolution