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Ffrench of Monivea County Galway
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Ffrench's of Monivea  ~  Monivea
The story of the Ffrenches in Ireland began in the 12th Century, when their ancestor came in the company of the Anglo-Norman nobleman Strongbow.

Strongbow married the daughter of the King of Leinster, and eventually became king himself. He rewarded his loyal men with lands of their own, the Ffrenches settling in County Wicklow.

Monivea House home of the fFrench family
It was not until the 16th Century that the family moved west and bought the lands of the O'Kelly family, building onto the fortifications of the O'Kelly Castle and establishing Monivea House. The village grew out of the dwellings of the estate's farm workers and domestic servants, and of the merchant posts established to serve their needs.

Successive generations of the Ffrenches worked hard to reclaim useful land from an estate which was mainly bogland spreading lime and burying sheep's carcasses to encourage the growth of plants, especially trees, which would dry out and stabilise the soil. Oliver Cromwell came and confiscated their lands, but once he was gone, they bought them back again and continued the reclamation process. They were well-respected folk around the county, enough so for Robert Ffrench to have represented Galway in the United Kingdom parliament between 1768 and 1776. The Ffrench family were on of the fourteen Tribes of Galway.

By the late 19th Century the land was rich and productive, and another Robert Ffrench was employing the trappings of their wealth to extend his family's high social connections, travelling round Europe and coming home with a Russian bride of noble blood. It was also this Robert who built the mausoleum as a lasting legacy of his family's wealth. His tomb is in pride of place in the centre of the chapel, marked with a marble statue of the very highest quality, carved by a leading Italian sculptor of the day, while the stained glass windows were crafted by the same firm as those in Armagh cathedral. There were to be no half-measures.

Robert had only one child, a daughter, Catherine. Catherine was a determined woman who never settled into the Victorian ideal of husband, home and hearth. Instead, she took on the task of restoring her family's Russian lands as her forefathers had restored those in Ireland. For many years she lived in Russia, organising the workers on her land, and gradually the estate returned to profit. But just as she was finishing her task there and beginning to reap the rewards, she almost lost her life in the Russian revolution. The lands were all seized, and in the end she was lucky to escape with her life.

Although so much had been lost, Catherine still had the Irish lands to fall back on. During her years away after her father's death, the estate had been managed by her cousin Rosamund, and with Catherine's return it was hard for Rosamund to revert to playing second fiddle. The two women fell out, so badly that Catherine never settled there, eventually returning overseas and seeing out her days in China. After her death, her body was returned and buried in the crypt underneath the chapel, directly below her father's tomb - but now there was not enough money in the family coffers to embellish it with sculpture, nor anyone to organise such a memorial; for within weeks Rosamund also died. It seeming wrong to bury her alongside the cousin with whom she had so implacably feuded, Rosamund was laid to rest in a plot next to, but outside, the mausoleum's walls.

Neither woman having produced an heir, there was no obvious successor to the Ffrench family estates. What is more, the newly-established independent Irish government had decreed that when a landowner died, 90% of their lands should be given to the local people, to break the old English feudal systems. This meant that the size of the Monivea demesne would be reduced from 10,000 acres to just 1000 - not nearly enough to sustain the baronial lifestyle and castle. So it was that the land was left to the fledgling Irish nation, and the mausoleum in the care of the Catholic Church, as it remains today.

The Ffrenches continued to hold sway in the Big House at Monivea. But the winds of change were coming when the last of the line, Robert Percy Ffrench, took over in 1876. He followed a high-flying career with the British Foreign Service. He married the daughter of a Russian landowner. She was an Orthodox Catholic and of great wealth. He converted to her Faith, bringing the family back to Catholicism. He eventually became a Knight of St John of Jerusalem.

Robert Percy Ffrench died in Naples in 1896. The mausoleum at Monivea was built to receive his remains. This architectural gem is one of the proudest possessions of Monivea. It is a magnificent building, which connects the village to the outside world. A connection which, in the hands of the present inhabitants of the village, is going to be remade and strengthened.


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