One of the fascinating events in Jane Austen’s life is her flirtation with Tom Lefroy. All we know about it are the mentions Jane made in a few of her letters to her sister, and a reported statement by Tom Lefroy when he was an old man that to know Jane was to love her and that he had loved her—but it was a boy’s love… a statement from which it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions.
The interlude was, however, the inspiration of the film “Becoming Jane,” and this has made Tom Lefroy’s name familiar to a generation of Jane Austen lovers who would otherwise never have heard of him.
He did become a distinguished person in his own day, but only in Ireland, and only through his merits: first as a lawyer, then as a judge, and finally as Lord Chief Justice of Ireland.
In about 1810 he acquired the estate of Carrigglas in County Longford from its bankrupt owners. They had intended to build a great house and had employed Gandon to build the impressive stable yards and the Dublin Gate. But money ran out before the house was built and by the time Tom Acquired it there were only a few rambling buildings on the demense. In 1837 Tom decided that he would do what the previous owners had failed to do. He would pull down the rambling old house and would replace it by a noble structure in the latest style.
It took three years to build, and the property was surrounded by a stone wall, which stretched for a couple miles. The novelist Maria Edgeworth visited the estate and commented on the wall in a letter.
The property stayed in the Lefroy family until 2005.
My own family moved about a mile down the road from Carrigglas Manor in 2002. At that time, the house was not open to visitors, but once a year they opened the garden. I think there was a fee to see the gardens, which is one reason why we never went. In 2005, however, the cost of keeping up the estate was too much, and the property was sold. It was the time of the housing boom in Ireland, where property values doubled, and masses of new houses were built—more houses, in fact, than there were households in Ireland! The new owners, a development company, started building luxury townhomes within the estate.
And then, of course, the bubble burst. The project went bankrupt and building was stopped and the estate kept falling into disrepair. Several months ago there was an announcement of someone willing to buy the place, but no details have emerged.
And why am I telling you all of this? Well, our family has outgrown the house we bought eleven years ago, and we are moving in a month. Suddenly I felt the urge to document the exterior of the property I have been driving past nearly every day for over a decade. The wall that Edgeworth commented on is still there, although it’s in a bad state:
You can see the unfinished townhouses just inside the wall:
Here is the old gate house (with the modern construction-that-was-halted just inside).
Here is a field across the road from the estate which I’m sure belongs to it as well. You can just see part of the walled round garden in the middle of it, which stands empty. Was it the orchard, I wonder? It’s not a great picture, but on such a narrow road with a lot of fast traffic, it was the only shot I could get.
I always think that Jane would have admired this tree, near the round garden:
And since I can’t get inside the estate wall to show you the house and grounds, here is a video someone else took of the house in its current state. It makes me sad.