In the 1840s, Captain Bunbury was given money to build a new house which result in Lisnavagh, a sprawling mansion by the architect Daniel Robertson near Rathvilly in County Carlow in his favourite Tudor-Revival style. A hundred years later times were bleak in Ireland after World War II so his descendant Lord Rathdonnell decided to reduce the house in size. This was swiftly accomplished and, by 1952, the family was living in the former servants quarters and children’s wing. Pamela Rathdonnell masterminded the reconstruction in person, re-using a number items from the demolished section.
The result was extraordinarily successful. She effectively disguised the point where the building had been truncated by skilfully re-erecting a gable and an oriel window so that the house, with facades and details of crisply cut granite, looks both elegant and remarkably complete, while the charming porte-cochère is now positioned nearer to the centre of the entrance front. The finest room is the library, with elaborate oak shelves by Strahan of Dublin, books, family portraits and panels of Cordova leather and the staircase, which rises from the ante-hall in 22 cut-granite steps, gives access to the bedroom floor above.
The Bunbury family has lived at Lisnavagh for over 300 years, or eleven generations. They descend from a Norman baron granted land in the borough of St Boniface, in Cheshire. Reputedly he became Lord of Boniface’s Borough, which became shortened to ‘Boni’s Borough’ and thence to ‘Bun Bury’. The first Bunbury in Ireland, where his descendants flourished, was Benjamin, a Royalist on the run from Cromwellian England. Oscar Wilde became fascinated by the name and used it for the name of Algernon’s fictional friend in ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’.
Lisnavagh is surrounded by sweeping tree-lined parkland, with views of Mount Leinster in the distance. Today, William Bunbury, eldest son of the 5th Lord Rathdonnell, lives here with his wife Emily and their family.