Grand Designs from a Grand Tour

Bantry House and gardens c. early 20th century

To complement the current exhibition in UCC Library – A Grand Tour, paintings by Geraldine O’Riordan – UCC Library Archives Service has organised a display of photographs of Bantry House, Bantry, Co. Cork. The photographs selected from the Bantry Estate Collection can be seen adjacent to the exhibition of paintings in the Boole Library, UCC until the end of December.

Bantry House and its gardens is a major tourist attraction of West Cork but it hasn’t always looked as magnificent as the present day image we are familiar with.

The first member of the White family of whom there is any record at Bantry was Captain Richard White, who lived on Whiddy Island at the end of the 17th century, later acquiring property in the Bantry area from the Earl of Anglesey. His son, Richard, who was born on Whiddy Island in 1701, at some point in the 1760s bought Blackrock (as Bantry House was then called) from a Samuel Hutchinson. An entry in an account book belonging to White shows the potential he saw in the house and its location;

“…this farm would set for upwards of £56, but I think no lease ought to be made thereof least any of my family should live at Blackrock, in which Case that farm would be a most convenient Domean.” (BL/EP/B/440).

Richard White was to eventually become the largest landowner in the area.

The grandson of this Richard White, also named Richard, helped to establish the family name in the area, when in 1796 he was instrumental in alerting the British Army Headquarters in Cork to the appearance of French ships in Bantry Bay. He gathered intelligence on the enemy, organised local resistance and opened his house, then known as Seafield, to the Army and made it their headquarters. He was rewarded in 1797 by being created Baron Bantry. In 1801 the title was advanced to Viscount and in 1815 Richard White was granted the title Earl of Bantry, his eldest son receiving the title Viscount Berehaven.

Sketch of a garden vase, one half plain for dimension, the other, decorative
Sketch of a garden vase, one half plain for scale, the othe half, decorative.

It was the first Earl’s eldest son, again named Richard, who in the 1830s-1840s while still Viscount Berehaven, laid the plans for the magnificent house and gardens extant today. Prior to and after his marriage he extensively toured the Continent – the Grand Tour – travelling as far as Russia and Poland, making sketches of landscapes, vistas, houses and furnishings which he later used as inspiration in expanding and refurbishing Bantry House. The image of the vase (BL/EP/B/2331) taken from one of the many sketchbooks was possibly used as a model for actual vases now on display in the gardens of Bantry House. The photographs currently on display in UCC Library show how some of his ideas have been realised through the centuries.

The entrance to Bantry House c. early 20th century

The photograph to the right here shows the circular driveway in the front of the house, with a decorative plant bedding and statue (BL/EP/B/3555). It is designed for occupants and visitors to drive in and around, depositing guests at the entrance and exiting again, in a circular motion. You may notice what seems to be two straight whites lines in the image. This isn’t a mistake in digitising, nor could you say it is a ‘flaw’ of the original photograph but rather it is a reflection of a well-loved photograph within the family’s collection.

Western side of Bantry House c. early 20th century

The photograph above is an image of the western side of Bantry House (BL/EP/B/3555) which is seldom seen in views of the house. However, the columns mirror the style and design at the front of the house.

The woman standing by the steps may be Arethusa Leigh-White, wife of Edward Leigh-White. He inherited the estate from his uncle, William 4th Earl of Bantry, who died in 1891 without issue. Edward lived in Bantry House until his death in 1920. The estate passed to his daughter, Clodagh Leigh-White, when she was only 15 years old. In 1926 she married Geoffrey Shelswell, who assumed the additional name White, and the Shelswell-White family and descendants continue to live in Bantry House to this day.

For further information on the Bantry Estate Collection and its contents please visit the Bantry Estate Collection or email Emer Twomey (Archivist) at

See Bantry House and gardens for further information on the house and visiting times.

Special Collections & Archives , UCC.

11am - 4.30pm, Monday to Friday and Until 7.15pm on Wednesdays

Boole Library

UCC Library University College Cork Cork Ireland T12 ND89