Strokestown Park House & Famine Museum
Strokestown Park House & Famine Museum information
Lonely Planet review
At the end of Strokestown's main avenue, triple Gothic arches lead to Strokestown Park House.
The original 12,000-hectare estate was granted by King Charles II to Nicholas Mahon for his support in the English Civil War. Nicholas' grandson Thomas commissioned Richard Cassels to build him a Palladian mansion in the early 18th century. Over the centuries, the estate decreased in size along with the family's fortunes. When it was eventually sold in 1979, it had been whittled down to 120 hectares. The estate was bought as a complete lot, so virtually all of its remaining contents are intact.
Admission to the house is by a 45-minute guided tour , taking in a galleried kitchen with original ovens dating from 1740, a schoolroom with an exercise book of neatly written dictation dating from 1934 (and, according to her red pen, deemed disgraceful by the governess) and a toy room complete with 19th-century toys and fun-house mirrors.
The walled garden contains the longest herbaceous border in Ireland and Britain, which blooms in a rainbow of colours in summer. There is also a folly, a lily pond and Ireland's oldest glass greenhouse, dating from 1780.
In direct and deliberate contrast to the splendour of the house and its grounds is the harrowing Strokestown Famine Museum , comprising ten galleries which shed light on the devastating 1840s potato blight. There's a huge amount of information with long panels of text and newer computer consoles where you can delve further into the history. You'll emerge with an unblinking insight into the starvation of the poor, and the ignorance, callousness and cruelty of those who were in a position to help.
Strokestown landlord Major Denis Mahon ruthlessly evicted starving peasants who couldn't pay their rent, chartering boats to transport them away from Ireland. Around half of these 1000 emigrants died on the overcrowded 'coffin ships', a further 200 died while in quarantine in Quebec (the cheapest route). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mahon was assassinated by three of his tenants in 1847, two of whom were publicly hung in Roscommon.
The museum also focuses attention on present-day famine around the world. There is a cafe serving hot and cold snacks.