Anthony Trollope in Leitrim

In the 1840s the writer Anthony Trollope was living in Drumsna where he came across the inspiration for his first, and some consider his best novel, The MacDermots of Ballycloran (1847). In his biography I found the following text by him on the house in question.

“I was located at a little town called Drumsna, or rather village, in the county Leitrim, where the postmaster had come to some sorrow about his money; and my friend John Merivale was staying with me for a day or two. As we were taking a walk in that most uninteresting country, we turned up through a deserted gateway, along a weedy, grass-grown avenue, till we came to the modern ruins of a country house. It was one of the most melancholy spots I ever visited. I will not describe it here, because I have done so in the first chapter of my first novel. We wandered about the place, suggesting to each other causes for the misery we saw there, and, while I was still among the ruined walls and decayed beams, I fabricated the plot of The MacDermots of Ballycloran.”

He began the story in 1843 and completed it in 1845, just as the Irish famine was beginning to take hold over the country, but it was not published until it was at its height in 1847. In some respects the story could be seen to parallel today. It chronicles the tragic demise of a landowning family who live in a dilapidated mansion in Co. Leitrim, whose mortgage (enforced by the vulgar builder Joe Flannelly) cannot be kept up. By the stories conclusion the family have had no choice but to abandon the property. When Trollope originally came on the actual house it was relatively modern and was an abandoned mansion. Of course today there are so many similarly desolate and melancholic looking abandoned mansion style houses, which were designed to imitate the imagined past glories of just these landowning classes. Today I was surprised to find the original houses two massive gables still standing and covered in thick stems of ivy. There is still a pile of stone and brick left over from the main body of the building, which was probably very valuable during our more recent building boom. Perhaps in this way the bad luck from this building was transferred to others and maybe this will also be their fate too?

The site is now part of the signposted Anthony Trollope trail which interestingly uses both the name of the original house, Headford (also the townland) and the fictional one. It strikes me that this is also a perfect example of one of the things the Guide is trying to explore. How someone can simply invent a story about a certain location and 150 years later it has become part of an accepted cultural tourist trail. Over time the more poignant and recorded fictional story or retelling of the ‘facts’ winning over the ‘truth’ everytime. (Stephen Rennicks)

Location on map

While I was there to take the photo I spoke with the artist Natalia Beylis for her daily sound diary The Sunken Hum. You can listen to me here.


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