Tintern during the Colcloughs

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The Colclough family took possession of Tintern Abbey in 1562 after the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII in 1536. Tintern was third richest Cistercian monastery and Henrys men removed Lead, Copper and Oak timbers form the roof leaving only a ruin which was used as a graveyard by locals for nearly 20 years. Sir Anthony Colclough’s claim to Tintern was recognised by England’s most famous Queen, Elizabeth I in 1569 and she made him a knight in 1584. The Colclough family, who lived there for the next 400 years, modified the Abbey into a castle as part of the defence against the Spanish armada in 1588. The Abbey with commanding views of the Saltees islands and the Irish Sea, guards the west of the Peninsula, while Duncannon Fort built in 1587, bristling with cannons, guards the East and the entrance of Waterford Haven. The family built many structures down through the years including bridges, a linen mill, a flour mill, battlement walls and the Georgian Walled Garden. “Yellow Bellies” a favourite nickname for Wexfordians was given to them (by their own account) by Queen Elizabeth when with yellow silk scarfs round their bodies, they won a hurling match against a Cornish team in her presence organised by the Colclough’s. During its eventful history the Abbey/castle was besieged and captured by Confederate Forces during the English Civil war in 1642 but was retaken by Cromwellian forces in 1649.

In 1765 Sir Vesey Colclough married Catherine Grogan of Johnstown Castle. They had 3 children, Caesar, John and Vesey Jnr, who died young. The marriage failed and Lady Catherine Colclough left Tintern to live in Wexford town with her two surviving sons. Sir Vesey lived an improvident life and left the Tintern estate heavily mortgaged upon his death in 1794.

As his eldest son, Caesar Colclough, inherited the estate, after his father’s death and this heralded another fascinating period in the history of Tintern Abbey and the period in which the was built. Like his forbearer Marshall, Caesar was a very intriguing character, first studying in Trinity College in Dublin, then travelling to London and from there on to Paris in 1792 as a journalist to report on the French Revolution.

In Paris Caesar became an associate of the famous author, political activist and revolutionary Thomas Paine. Paine famously wrote “The Rights of Man”, in part a defence of the French Revolution against its critics, and was one of the founding fathers of the United States. Influenced by this association, Caesar voiced support for the revolution and attended the trial of King Louis XVI.

In a letter to John he writes in January 1793, “Before this letter is ten miles, Louis the unfortunate will be no more. I attended his process for 11 hours yesterday, and he was condemned to death in the space of 24 hours by a majority of (I counted) 32. Adieu, the King is going”. Caesar was imprisoned in 1793 for 9 months on the outbreak of hostilities between France and England, he wrote that ‘once was very near being included in one of the death lists of the Reign of Terror’ but escaped to Switzerland disguised as a woman. Ingeniously Caesar used the oxalic acid extracted from rhubarb to erase the details on a passport and replaced them with those of a woman thus aiding his escape. At this point he travelled around Germany visiting Ulm, Frankfurt, and Dresden before returning to France in 1802, during the treaty of Amines, only to be re-arrested on the sudden recommencement of war in May 1803. He remained confined in the French town of Vans in the Ardeche region until Napoleon’s downfall, conducting experiments on the spa water of St Laurent and being admitted to the Academy of Nimes. This period of confinement proved serendipitous resulting in Caesar returning to Ireland as an accomplished scientist and very skilful in all things mechanical including metalwork and woodturning. Renowned barrister, Peter Burrows, described Caesar Colclough in September 1814; “He is, I believe to a most uncommon degree, cultivated in mechanics, chemistry, botany and mineralogy, indeed in all physical and practical sciences. I really believe if necessary, he could earn a competent livelihood by manual labour at thirty different trades. He suggests solid improvements to every artist or mechanic he meets.”