Sitting in my office surrounded by history articles, journals and books, I find myself wondering what it must be like to be the subject of research, to have my life trawled through like a work of fiction. The Taylor family that built and inhabited Ardgillan for over two hundred years have become my current subject of choice. Their lives are now so embedded in my mind that I feel like I know them as family and friends. Their names are all familiar and their stories are etched onto my brain. I suppose that is what working in a job like this does. In order to carry out my role it is essential to immerse myself in the history of the site and the family.
Ardgillan is a building much like many other stately homes or ‘Big Houses’ as they are so often referred to. The story is one that we are all familiar with, a wealthy family, generally of English decent setting up home in a large house on a large estate in Ireland. It is a period in history that is dotted with fracture and rebellion. The Taylors were originally from Sussex and first came to Ireland when Thomas Taylor (1631-1687) worked on the Down Survey of Ireland as the 2nd in command to Sir William Petty. This survey, more commonly known as the Cromwellian Plantation, has had a lasting legacy on Ireland and is a time that has shaped the landscape of Ireland and has had a significant impact on the Irish psyche. This era is one that is intrinsic to the history of the Taylor family and Ireland.
The Taylors epitomise what it is to be wealthy in the Victorian era, they socialise with the elite of the day. We have records of them dining with the Cobbs of Newbridge House, the Talbots of Malahide Castle and of their attendance at balls in Dublin Castle. This Victorian life of grandeur and extravagance is in stark contrast to how the Taylors left Ardgillan. Their wealth diminished, the family had to sell the contents of their house to fund their lifestyle.
These families offer a window on the world. They communicate a time of stateliness and opulence, living in a house and renaming it a castle denotes the feelings of the day. The legacy of the Taylors shines through for visitors to the house as they engage with their story as they move through the space they once called their home.
Big houses are a conduit for storytelling. Their facade and structure hark to a time long past but the inside of the building tells a story of life that is as vibrant as ever.
Here at Ardgillan Castle we strive to bring the story of the castle and the family to life. We aim to make their heritage everlasting by ensuring their house is maintained for future generations. A place like this holds many memories both good and bad and deserves to be shared. Through this blog we will be sharing the story of the house, the people and the artefacts that make the tour come to life. A house like this has many secrets and we will aim to shed some light on the many mysteries it holds.
Danielle Wilson Higgins
Culture & Heritage Officer