Burning the Big House The Story of the Irish Country House in a Time of War and Revolution Terence Dooley

Publication date:
08 Mar 2022
Yale University Press
368 pages: 235 x 156mm
63 b-w illus.
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The gripping story of the tumultuous destruction of the Irish country house, spanning the revolutionary years of 1912 to 1923

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 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.

Terence Dooley is professor of history at Maynooth University and Director at the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates. He is the author of numerous books including The Decline of the Big House in Ireland.

“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