by Seán Barrett, BA History Student
This scrapbook belonged to the Countess of Limerick, May Imelda Josephine Pery, née Irwin, the wife of William Pery, the 4th Earl of Limerick. The design of the scrapbook demonstrates the Countess’ priority in retaining mementoes of her social life; the book is of visibly sturdy construction, and bound in quality red leather, with Dromore Castle prominently imprinted on its inside cover, as if a title of a great novel. Along the bottom of the interior cover, gilded writing reveals that the piece was sold by A. Webster Compy. 60 Piccadilly. Their premises are situated in London’s West End, an area noted for its high-end merchants, indicating that the book was acquired and delivered from London, specifically for use as the scrapbook for recording the social visits and guests that Dromore Castle received.
The book measures 28 cm long by 38 cm wide and consists of 42 pages of various photographs, signatures and mementoes from other affluent members of society in this period. May Pery began the scrapbook in 1900 at the age of 32 to assist in recording and detailing the guests to her family’s home, Dromore castle. The scrapbook is an interesting and engrossing piece of material culture that provides valuable insight into the social circles of Ireland’s country houses at the turn of the century, before their gradual decline.
The keeping of high-end scrapbooks was a popular pastime for many affluent ladies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Often packed with keepsake items such as cards, drawings, newspaper cuttings, and pictures that were cut out and arranged into a book that served as a record of the creator’s activities and recollections. Many fascinating blogs outlining the numerous scrapbooks preserved by various affluent families in Ireland can be found on this website. From a basic inspection of this scrapbook, the countess of Limerick encouraged visiting family and friends to contribute to it by providing photographs and souvenirs from their estates, and at the very least their signature.
Dromore Castle and the Pery Family
Although the Pery’s own country house was a distinctive building built with permanence in mind, this book becomes an incredibly relevant piece for Dromore Castle as it represents the final years before the end of the castle’s tenure as the Manor House and principal residence for the Pery family. It fell into disuse a decade later during the First World War, soon before the Countess’ only son and heir to Dromore Castle was killed in the closing months of the War at the age of 23.
1. In a way, this scrapbook becomes a chronicle of the final good years for Dromore Castle and the Countess’ family.
However, Dromore Castle was still in good condition and considered a relatively new structure in 1900, having been completed only 30 years before by May Pery’s father-in-law, the 3rd Earl of Limerick, in an Irish Gothic Revival style by E.W. Godwin. Dromore Castle’s Gothic architecture is unique in that it not only draws on Irish gothic structures, but after completion, the turrets, chimneys, and pointed turrets gave it the look of castles in Bavaria and the Rhine-Land. The unique and striking look of the house must have made the Countess of Limerick proud as it was a prominent backdrop for her family’s upbringing and position within society, possibly explaining why the scrapbook was kept in the first place, keeping track of all the guests she had at her impressive home.
The frequent visits of the Dunravens of Adare and the Family of the 27th Knight Glin are revealed by their constant recurrence within the pages of the scrapbook. The proximity of both families to Dromore Castle may explain their repeated visits, as they both lived no more than 20 kilometres from the estate. Nonetheless, it illustrates the intertwined relationships of Limerick’s multiple aristocratic families, with the three families mingling together, often filling many of the scrapbook’s pages with autographs and drawings from their respective homes. These trips by the 4th Lord of Dunraven can also be interpreted as a special social reprieve, as he presided over the arduous position of negotiating conciliatory reform for the 1902 land conference.
Visitors to Dromore Castle included not just fellow landed families, but also visitors from far distant lands and from varying different walks of life. A page contained within the album, for example, has signatures of Sheelagh Cornwallis-West a British socialite and the Aunt of Winston Churchill showcasing souvenirs from her visit to her sister Daisy, The Princess of Pless’s new home at Fürstenstein castle in the Prussian region of Silesia. Beautiful watercolour sketches of Fürstenstein castle may be seen, displaying not only the magnificence of the castle, which was built in a similar Bavarian style to Dromore Castle but also the abilities of the Pery’s honoured guests, and the various hobbies the prosperous members of society had time to hone.
Two other notable guests whose signatures appear within the scrapbook are Alexander Yorke, who was once the groom-in-waiting for Queen Victoria and Bertrand Russel a famous British intellectual and Nobel prize recipient. Although these mementoes and autographs were gathered to commemorate Dromore Castle’s prosperity and opulence, as well as the elite guests Lady May, Countess of Limerick, would have received, the country house itself would fall into ruin less than a century later. Even the significant history contained inside this book was only recovered in a second-hand shop years after the home was abandoned, almost lost to time like the house itself.
- Mortimer, Gavin, The first eagles: The Fearless American Aces who flew with the RAF in World War I (Minneapolis, MN, 2014), p. 127