HISTORY OF STRAFFAN HOUSE AND THE BARTON FAMILY
Thomas Barton, originally from Buttevant in Co. Cork (known as ‘French Tom’ because he settled in Bordeaux in France) founds the famous wine firm of B & G, also known as Barton and Guestier. He and his wife Margaret Delap of Ballyshannon have one child, William. French Tom’s son, William gets married to Grace Massy and moves to the Grove Estate, Fethard, Tipperary, where together they raise a family of 6 sons and 3 daughters. William’s fourth son, Hugh (born 1766) inherits the wine business from his grandfather, French Tom.
The Reign of Terror in France makes it a very dangerous place to live for the Barton family as tens of thousands of people are executed. Lands and vineyards are seized and Hugh Barton is thrown in prison but his wife Anne Johnston helps him to get out. As he was not a French man he was not entitled to own property in Bordeaux so he arranged with Daniel Guestier to take over and manage the business in France, while Hugh managed the business in Great Britain before eventually moving to Ireland. This arrangement was done without any official act of partnership. Barton placed great trust in Guestier, who could have seized the business as his own. Eventually, when some degree of normality returned, a partnership was drawn up between the two men in 1802. In 1830 both men brought their eldest sons into the partnership, and their descendants still control the firm of Barton and Guestier today. Hugh Barton had a grim sense of humour and was said to carry around the lock and key of the guillotine that was meant to behead him!
Hugh Barton purchases the lands at Straffan House. He also held lands at Cootehall, County Roscommon in 1831, the Château Langoa and a portion of the adjacent property of Leoville, both in the parish of St. Julien Médoc, near Bordeaux.
Work commences on Straffan House
which remains today and forms the East Wing and the most venerable part of the hotel today. Great trouble was taken with the design of the new house and it was based on a magnificent château at Louveciennes to the west of Paris, not far from Versailles. Hugh and his wife Anne (née Johnston, daughter of another great Irish wine family in Bordeaux) threw themselves into the project, revelling in the relative peace and tranquility of the area after the turmoil they had left behind in France. While the house was being built the family stayed at nearby Barberstown Castle. It was finished relatively quickly and, save for one significant addition, was to remain fairly unchanged for the next century or so. This was the construction, by Hugh, of an Italianate campanile or bell tower which is still there today. It adds a welcome touch of verve and flair, giving the whole building a distinctive focal point, especially in its greatly extended early 21st century form.
Hugh Barton becomes High Sheriff of County Kildare.
Hugh Barton dies on the 25th of May, 1854 aged 89 and is interred in the Church of Ireland graveyard in Straffan, where he lies beside his wife, Anne. After his death Straffan House passed down to his son Nathaniel Barton and then to his son Bertram Francis Barton and subsequently on to Bertram Hugh Barton. Bertram Hugh divided his property, leaving the vineyards to his son Ronald and Straffan House to his eldest son Derick. Neither inheritance was quite the windfall that it might have appeared to be, for massive upkeep and investment was required to maintain the properties in a viable condition. Huge political change in Ireland in the 1920s and worldwide economic recession in the 1930s only served to emphasise Straffan’s increasing appearance as a relic from a bygone age. Derick did his best but costs continued to mount without any commensurate increase in income. Thus the heartbreaking decision was taken to demolish a whole wing of the house in the 1930s.
Derick’ son, Anthony (who inherited the Bordeaux vineyards from his childless uncle Ronald) remembers: “Part of the house was demolished by my father. The rubble was used to fill up the vast basement which had been the servant’s quarters but which I am sure was very cold and damp.” The tale of destruction had a happier ending than many, for the demolished section of the house was re-built some 30 years later by the then owners, the Gallagher family.
Derick Barton sells Straffan House to motorcycle manufacturer, John Ellis for the sum of £15,000. Other owners in the interim periods between the Barton family and the current owner include: Car importer Steven O’Flaherty (1960), the film producer responsible for the James Bond film Thunderball, Kevin McClory (1973), Iranian Air Force founder, Nader Jahanbani (1977) who was executed around the time of the downfall of the Shah Reza Pahlavi government. Other owners included Patrick Gallagher (1979), who cut an extravagant dash as a property developer many years before such characters were familiar on the Irish scene and the property magnate Alan Ferguson (1981).
Smurfit Group buys the house and sets to work restoring it.
Opens as Ireland’s first AA five Red star hotel with 36 bedrooms and one Arnold Palmer designed golf course. First European Open held at the resort which continues until 2007.
The Palmer Smurfit Course, designed by Arnold Palmer is created.
A wing was added to double the size of the hotel and a granite porch from Ballynegal Co. Westmeath used to bring the two wings together.
Bought by Dr. Michael Smurfit and Mr. Gerry Gannon.
Stages the Ryder Cup.
Celebrates 20 years since opening and also wins AA Hotel of the Year 2010/2011.