Working for the Wynnes

by Anne Banks

The Wynnes were one of the big landlords in Sligo for several hundred years.  They owned Hazelwood House and a few more houses in the Calry area. They had a large estate called Hazelwood Demesne. They were also very good at farming and ran a large farm on the estate. The Wynne estate on Hazelwood Demesne had a large workforce, mainly men, who worked on the farm as labourers but also women who worked in the big house as maids and servants.

The Wynnes built houses for the staff working on the estate and I grew up in other of these labourers’ cottages like my father before me.  They were called the Goldwrappers as every door had a brass knocker.  A whole row of them were built on the upper road in Calry on either side of the gatehouse at the top of Shaw’s Avenue.

My grandfather, Patrick Banks, was born in 1831 and he moved to Calry after he got married in 1875 to Anne Wynne (no relation of the estate owners) so he was the first of the Banks family to work for the Wynnes.  I’m guessing that he would have started working on the estate before he got married so that he would have saved a bit of money and gotten himself a house in the Goldwrappers. The Wynnes were excellent farmers and they grew whatever they needed on the farm and supported themselves with livestock.  They had cattle, sheep and goats, and several horses which were used for drawing carriages and for hunting.

Patrick’s house was the last of the Goldwrappers on the left side at the top of the hill almost opposite the wicket gate leading into Ballyglass House. As a farm labourer, he would have done all the usual jobs that farmers have to do like – plant crops, save the hay, dig potatoes, milk the cows and look after the horses. As he got older, he took a job as a gardener and he kept the gardens around Hazelwood House looking well. I know for a fact that he passed on his love of gardening to his son, John.

JohnBanksMy father, John Banks, was born in 1884 and married Mary Ellen Dolan from near Dromahair. He was the only boy and he had five sisters. By the time he was 17 he was already working on the Wynne estate because the 1901 Census shows his age and occupation as General Labourer. His sister, Ellie, aged 19 at the time was also working for the Wynnes as a dressmaker. By this time my grandfather, Patrick, was quite an elderly man so he had taken up a job as a gardener. The 1901 census return for the Banks household shows Patrick’s occupation as Gardener, Domestic Servant.

I remember my father telling me that his first job on the Wynne farm was picking potatoes at the age of 17 years.  A neighbor of ours, Willie Shaw, also worked on the estate. My father was very fond of horses, cattle and goats.  He loved animals and was very good with them. I have an old painting of my father saving hay on the Wynne estate. The painting shows him on top of a cart stacked high with hay as they were gathering the hay off the meadow fields and taking it back to the hay loft for storage.

My father used to get up very early every day to go to work. He would be up by 6am and at work by 7am.  He cycled to work down Shaw’s Avenue and then down Hazelwood Avenue. He used to make his own soda bread in a pot oven which hung over an open fire in the kitchen. Then he would bring two slices of bread and a bottle of milk with him to work, and that was his lunch every day.

My aunt Ellie, who worked on the estate as a seamstress, used to make the riding britches for the Wynne family as they were fond of riding horses and hunting. I suppose she would also have made dresses for the ladies, and would have done general repairs on items of clothing. Ellie also made confirmation frocks for the L’Estrange family. The girls made their confirmation in Calry Church on The Mall.

After the Wynnes died out, my father worked for Major Perceval who took over Hazelwood house and estate. One of the Percevel’s married a Wynne daughter.  My father’s job was to look after the horses. Working on a farm all his life meant that he knew a lot about animals, plants and trees. Opposite our house was Ballyglass Wood and it was full of wild garlic.  By the way, if cows ate the wild garlic (and they loved it!), you would hardly be able to drink the milk later as it had a strong taste of garlic.

Anyway, my father used to go into the wood and collect the wild garlic.  Then he would bring it home, chop it into small pieces and boil the chopped up garlic in milk and then drink it.  That was the cure for a cold or a bad chest. Old people back then knew a lot about herbal medicine.

When my father left Hazelwood he was given nice presents by the Wynnes because they were really fond of him. The Wynnes were good people and were very, very good to their laboring men.

God rest them all.

Footnote:  Extract from Wynnes of Hazelwood (Sligo County Library)

Owen Wynne VI (1843 – 1910), the last of his family in the direct male line at Hazelwood, succeeded his father in 1865.  As an extensive landowner, owning 13,000 acres in Sligo, one-sixth of which were demesne lands, he was both a Magistrate and Deputy-Lieutenant of the County and High Sheriff in 1875. He was also a Director of the Sligo Leitrim Northern Countries Railway and was partly responsible for having one of its first locomotives named ‘Hazelwood’.

Owen was succeeded by his eldest daughter, Muriel Caroline Wynne, who had married Philip Dudley Perceval of Templehouse in 1892 and died in June 1932, was the last Wynne of Hazelwood. Evelyn Mary, a younger sister, married Henry L’Estrange of Kevinsfort House and died October 1952. Her demise ended the direct association of the Wynne family with Sligo after a span of two and a half centuries.