Appearing forgotten and neglected in a corner of a walled garden, the old shed is a fitting metaphor for the latter years of Strokestown House Demesne in County Roscommon.
The estate, owned by the Pakenham-Mahon family for over 300 years, has a long history that began after one Captain Nicholas Mc Mahon was given lands by Cromwell in the 1660s as reward for services in the Cromwellian army taking part in conquering Ireland. Later, his great-grandson, Maurice Mahon, purchased several additional lands, following elevation to the Peerage of Ireland as the first Baron Hartland in 1800.
During the Great Famine the Mahon family evicted 3,000 people in 1847, which resulted in the killing of Major Denis Mahon in November 1847, a direct reaction to the large scale deaths of those sent on famine ships to Canada by the Strokestown estate. His only daughter, Grace Catherine was on honeymoon at the time, after marrying Henry Sandford Pakenham, heir to the vast Pakenham and Sandford estates in counties Longford, Westmeath and Roscommon. Grace never returned to Strokestown, but her marriage undoubtedly saved the estate from bankruptcy.
The last owner and resident was Olive Pakenham-Mahon who lived lived mostly in the drawing room of the house, then in a bad state of disrepair with water running down the walls. One day in 1979, a neighbour, Jim Callelly inquired about acquiring a few acres of land, as his business was running out of space. Olive told him she would sell the house and entire estate if she and her husband, then in their 80s, could spend their last few years at Strokestown.
Jim’s intention was to keep the land, and to sell the house, but when he came upon family papers dating back to the time of the Irish famine, he realised the house was steeped in Irish history and too important to just be sold on privately. What followed was a costly and painstaking, privately funded reconstruction project, now ran by the Irish Heritage Trust, an independent charity.