Ringmahon House, has being part of the landscape of the Mahon area, for almost two hundred years. From its elevated site, it overlooks the local community and when built stood proudly over Lough Mahon and the River Lee.
This “Big House” has the unique distinction of being home to two of Ireland’s most prominent business families, the Murphy’s and the Dunne’s.
“The family of Murphy, brewers, distillers, merchants, inventors, Parliamentarians, authors and so much more was the most remarkable Cork ever produced” according to historian Richard Henchion. It is difficult to disagree, indeed one could add their connections extended to the legal and Catholic Church establishments as well….the Murphy’s were Cork’s ultimate “Merchant Prince” family, and were Unionist, in sentiment and outlook.
The Murphy’s of Murphy’s Brewery fame lived in Ringmahon House, for four generations from about the 1820s until 1948, on the death of James Murphy IV.
James Murphy (1769-1855) obtained a 21 year lease on Ringmahon Castle and 20 acres from Wm Crawford, the brewer of Beamish and Crawford in 1820. The House was subsequently constructed slightly to the north of the Ringmahon Castle, which remained, within the walled house enclosure (see link).
Different branches of the Murphys founded the famous Midleton Distillery which was opened in 1825, and the company, was then called James Murphy & Co a few years later, while Murphys Brewery near Leitrim Street, was established in 1856.
James Murphy was succeeded in 1855, as the owner of Ringmahon House and estate, by his son, James Murphy II, (1797-1875). Probably the most important business decision of his career, was the merging of the family company, with other Cork distillers such as Hewitt, Waters and Murray Daly & Co. in 1867, to form Cork Distillers Co. Ltd.
When he died in 1875, he was waked in Ringmahon House and his funeral took place from there. The extent of the pomp and ceremony of the funeral procession has rarely been seen in the city. Among those present for the carriage procession from the house was Archbishop Croke of Cashel (who later gave his name to Croke Park).
James Murphy III, succeeded, his father in 1875, and was the owner of Ringmahon House from 1875, until 1901. James married his first cousin, Emily, and had three sons and a daughter. There were 24 rooms in the house, along with six staff by the turn of the 20th century.
The present Orchard estate was the walled garden for the house. The out buildings lay to the west of the house and there may originally have been an entrance from this work area to where Dunlocha is today. A road/pathway connected the entrance hallway at the north of the house to the present day Castle Avenue/Lane. The pathway also facilitated access to Mahon from Castle Road until the late 1990s, however when the Gate Lodge estate was constructed, the old access was closed permanently.
James Murphy IV, succeeded, his father in 1901, and he was the last Murphy owner of Ringmahon House, until his death in 1948. He had married Kate Cronin (1878-1905) and then following her death, he later married Mabel Murphy (1881-1957) who was the daughter of Nicholas Murphy of Carrigmore, a cousin.
The 1911 census records James Murphy (38) and Mabel (29) his wife, and Dorothy (6 year old daughter from marriage to Kate), Julia Harrington (24), a parlour maid, Nora Barry (35), Flora Deurwaarder (26),a governess from Jamaica and Kate Mahon (70) a general domestic. It was stated that the house had 30 rooms.
Among the visitors, was Muriel Murphy from the Carrigmore branch of the family as she visited her older sister Mabel in Ringmahon House. Muriel later married Terence MacSwiney in 1917 in spite of the opposition of the Murphy family.
Historian Richard Henchion, claims that Muriel’s future sister-in-law Mary MacSwiney occupied Riverside on nearby Castle Road in 1914, the year Cumann Na mBan was founded. So is it wishful thinking to wonder if perhaps Muriel and Mabel Murphy, may have strolled down the old path from the Big House to the Castle Road past Mary’s nearby house during her visits? Could the Murphy and MacSwiney paths have crossed at this time?
Muriel and Terence MacSwineys daughter, Máire MacSwiney (Brugha) subsequently paid visits to her Aunt Mabel at Ringmahon House in the 1930s.
In her 2005 book History’s Daughter, Máire describes the scene of the fading days of the Murphy dynasty in the house……
“During my first years in Cork, Aunt Mabel, my mother’s older sister, used to invite me regularly to lunch at her beautiful residence, Ringmahon , which was south of Cork City, overlooking the Lee. She would send for me in her chauffeur-driven, driven by White (In those days people in service were always known by their surnames.) I would sit in the back of the car like royalty, feeling very conspicuous. Aunt Mabel was married to her second cousin, James Murphy who belonged to the Murphy brewery branch of the family, our branch was the Cork Distillery. My aunt and I would lunch in her huge dining room at a large mahogany table, all alone. Portraits of the Murphy ancestors surrounded us.”
After lunch, Mabel and Máire would walk around the beautiful gardens. Incidentally Máire refers to Mabel being a very competent amateur photographer having a dark room to develop her own film. Does Mabel’s work still exist?
The most recent private owners of Ringmahon House, were the Dunne family. Ben Dunne Senior had moved to Cork to work at Roches Stores. He opened a shop on Patricks Street in 1944. Later he opened the first supermarket and created one of Ireland’s largest retail brands, with over one hundred stores, in Ireland (six alone in the city of Cork).
Two of Ben’s children, Margaret Heffernan and Frank Dunne, who currently own Dunnes Stores have stated that they have “very fond memories of growing up in Ringmahon House”. In 2005, they agreed to fund the restoration of their former home. Today the complex contains housing units for the elderly while the house is now the location of the Mahon Youthreach group.www.facebook.com/youthreachmahon/
Ringmahon House was purchased under a Compulsory Purchase Order (C.P.O) from Ben Dunne by Cork Corporation and it served as the offices for Mahon Development for a number of years from the late 70s. It was vacated in the late 1980s, by the Corporation Project Team.
The House was then used as the premises for Gaelscoil Mhachan from 1986 until 2001 and hundreds of local children were educated in the building. Today, Ringmahon House serves as the location for Mahon Youthreach , which has operated in the building since 2008.