Medieval Tomb Slab of Gerald Cruise of Brittas
Marginal inscription reads:

The History of Brittas Estate features the story of not only the personage & family history but also presents the historical background of Ireland from the Norman invasion in the 12th Century through the Cromwellian land grab in the 17th Century right up to current times.

Presented as a synopsis rather than a thorough study we provide where possible links to further reading and hope you enjoy the story. Please feel free to contact us if you have any corrective, additional or wish to request information. A further reading section presents links to relevant historical content.

The Cruise Family at Brittas

Before it became the property of the Bligh family in the 17th century, Brittas and its surrounding lands belonged to an Anglo-Norman dynasty, The Cruises, for over 500 years. The Cruises arrived during the Norman invasion of Ireland in the late 12th century and became quite important in the Nobber area holding large estates in the region for over 700 years. The nearby Cruicetown bearing their name and the Cruise Tomb mounted in a wall near the Church in St John’s Cemetery in Nobber attest to the importance of the Cruise family in the region.

In St John’s Cemetery the effigy of the knight in full armour with his sword by his side on the Cruise tomb is that of Gerald Cruise of Brittas who died in 1619. In the surrounding inscription Gerald claims direct descent from the Norman knight Sir Maurice de Cryus who died in 1216.

In 1640 just before Brittas passed to the Bligh family the Civil Survey records cite the proprietor as ‘Patrick Cruice of Brittas Irish Papist’ and the lands as "bounded on the East with the land of Nobber on the south with the land of Moyneah on the West with ye land of Cruicetown in the Barony of Kells on the North with the land of Altmash in the Barony of Kells”. The presence of a castle is also recorded, perhaps the home of the Anglo-Norman Cruise family. It is possible that the current house was built over an earlier structure.

Evidence of the existence of a castle within Brittas as cited in the Civil Survey is backed by some interesting finds and local knowledge. Rounded stone columns were laid in a symmetric line in a meadow behind the farm yard. A local man (aged 93) recalls this field was referred to as “Castle Meadow".
It was in the corner of this same field leading down to the river Dee that the discovery of the stone columns was made. Not certain, but there is mounting evidence that a castle did indeed exist within Brittas which may have been built by The Cruise.

Who were The Cruise

The Cruises also found as “de Cruis, Cruce, Cruys, and Cruws” in medieval records made their first appearance in Gaelic Ireland in the 12th century at a time when Ireland was made up of several kingdoms, with a High King reigning over all of them.

The Cruises were among the first Norman mercenaries brought and led by the infamous ‘Strongbow’ Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke in 1169 to help the Irish Dermot MacMurrough in retaking his lost Kingdom of Leinster.

After rival Irish clans ousted Dermot MacMurrough in 1167 he went to England to seek military aid from the King of England, Henry II. While the King did not provide direct assistance to Dermot MacMurrough he allowed him to petition the Anglo-Norman lords. Little did Dermot MacMurrough think that he would be remembered by later generations as the “man who invited the English into Ireland”.

Following their participation in the Invasion the first generation of The Cruise family were granted lands in North Dublin at the Dublin/Meath border and in the “Kingdom of Meath” ruled then by the Anglo-Norman Lord Hugh de Lacy.

In North Dublin, The Cruises’ lands included Naul, Grallagh and Hollywood. After the Invasion Dublin was declared crownland by King Henry II making the Cruise royal tenants in Dublin.

The lands owned by The Cruise in Meath were granted to them by Hugh de Lacy who was appointed new Lord of Meath by King Henry II after the Invasion in the late 12th century early 13th century. The Meath lands included, as well as the townland of Brittas, the civil parish of Cruicetown to which the family name was given.

The family also came later into possession of the manor of Merrion in south county Dublin which passed out of the family by marriage in the 1400s.

The Cruise family quickly established themselves in Ireland and as tenants-in chiefs and royal tenants the family were Barons in Ireland by the early 1200s. They occupied prominent positions in central government and in the military. Hugh de Crus was Sergeant of County Dublin from 1275 to 1284 and Nicholas de Crus was described as ‘Chief Sergeant of the King in 1320.

Land records show that up to 1641 The Cruise estates in Dublin and Meath were never broken up between branches of the family but were kept instead as a unit and passed by primogeniture from father to the firstborn son, except on one occasion. In 1359 upon the death of John Cruise of Naul the only heir was a his daughter – Margaret Cruise. She married her cousin Simon de Cruise to ensure the survival of the Cruise family name.

The Legacy of The Cruise in County Meath

Once The Cruise had taken up residence in Cruicetown and the surrounding area the new Norman landowners had to quickly construct motte-and-bailey castles to defend themselves against the Irish they had conquered. The motte was surmounted by a wooden tower or ’bretèche’ to provide cover to the Norman defenders. It is believed that the name Brittas probably derives from the old French word ‘bretesche/ bretèche’ a term used at that time to denote the wooden towers built by the Normans atop their motte-and-bailey castles. Notable Mottes of Nobber and Cruicetown border the Brittas Estate.

They also built a church at the same period. There is still today archaeological evidence in Cruicetown of a motte-and-bailey as well as the ruins of the church that has been dated to the late 12th or early 13th century.

Cruicetown Church functioned as the parish church of The Cruises and their tenants until the Protestant Reformation by King Henry VIII in the 1530’s. Like other baronial families in Ireland that could trace their origins back to the Anglo-Norman invasion The Cruise family continued in the Catholic faith even after the Reformation.

The Cruise and the Irish Rebellion of 1641

As many other Anglo-Norman dynasties of their time they had come to embrace the native Irish culture and traditions, living and governing themselves according to the manners, fashion and language of the native Irish and so it said "becoming more Irish than the Irish themselves”. This naturally led The Cruises to side with the native Irish Chieftains during the Irish rebellion of 1641. Finding themselves on the loosing side however they had to forfeit their lands in North Dublin, Cruicetown and the Brittas lands passed to the Merchant Adventurer John Bligh. Nevertheless during The Restoration in 1686 The Cruise received a re-grant of Cruicetown. The descendants would remain in possession of Cruicetown until its sale in 1789. While Brittas would remain the property of the Bligh for the next 300 years.

The following generations of The Cruise Family

By the 1700s the family’s status and land base were much reduced. In 1766 the marriage of Bridget Russell and Andrew Cruise would however reinvigorate the family fortune.

This new family branch would become known as the Russel-Cruise. In 1826 Patrick Russell Cruise with his wife Teresa Johnson emigrated to the United States. Their youngest known child, Mary Paulina Russell Cruise born in New Jersey in 1832, would marry Dillon Henry Mapother in 1858. They had several children together. After the death of Dillon Henry Mapother, Mary Paulina Mapother married Thomas O’Mara and the couple had one known son, Thomas O’Mara in 1876. On the death of Thomas Senior his son took the name of his mother and his half-brothers “Cruise Mapother” becoming Thomas Cruise Mapother I.

Hollywood actor Thomas Cruise Mapother IV, known as Tom Cruise, is the fourth member of the family to carry the name and is therefore related to The Cruise family of Brittas.

Links to further reading on The Cruise Family

The Bligh Family at Brittas

Bligh Coat of Arms

The Irish rebellion of October 1641 would change the old social order in Ireland forever. Gaelic and Old English landowners, who had held their lands for centuries, now saw their possessions confiscated overnight after the victory of Oliver Cromwell over the opposing forces of the Catholic Confederation and Royalists loyal to King Charles I.

As a way of raising funds to pay for the British Army needed to defeat the rebellion the English Government passed the “Adventurers’ Act”. An Act designed to allow members of the public to invest an amount of money towards the war and in return the investors would be repaid by receiving Irish land confiscated from the rebels.

This is how the Brittas demesne, among others, passed from the hands of The Cruise family to the hands of The Bligh family and would stay in their possession for the next 333 years until finally ending in 1990 with the death of Gwendolyn Bligh.

This branch of The Bligh family is indeed related to the infamous Admiral William Bligh portrayed in the movie “Mutiny on the Bounty”.

JOHN BLIGH (1616 – 1666)

The first Bligh to have been in possession of the Brittas Estate was John Bligh. He would be the one to lay the foundation stone to what would become a wealthy and powerful dynasty in Ireland and particularly in Meath.

Bligh Family Tree

John Bligh was a citizen of London and a member of the Worshipful Company of Salters one of the Livery Companies of the City of London. He arrived in Ireland as an agent to the Adventurers in the wake of Oliver Cromwell's conquest of Ireland but later became himself an Adventurer and invested £600.00 towards the war and got granted in return lands confiscated from the rebels.

John received, among other, the property of Rathmore in 1657 formerly held by the Plunkett family for generations and the Brittas Estate formerly possessed by The Cruises. At that stage John had amassed a huge estate of property becoming the biggest landowner in Meath c. 25,000 acres, not a bad return for £600.00.

John selected residency at the Rathmore property which would later become the seat of the main branch of the family.

John died in November 1666 and is buried in Rathmore. He was succeeded by his only son Thomas Bligh.

John Bligh Governmental Appointments

Thomas Bligh (1652 – 1710)

Thomas Bligh, the only son of John Bligh, married Elizabeth Napier of Loughcrew and they had 4 sons and six daughters. The eldest son, John, was created Earl of Darnley in 1725 and his second son was General Thomas Bligh whose story is outlined below.

Like his father, Thomas took residence in Rathmore and worked further on the family holdings. By letters patent of King William and Queen Mary in 1694 he had the family main estates around Rathmore united into the Manor of Athboy which would become the seat of the main branch of the family. Thomas also pursued a successful career in politics: He was elected to the Irish House of Commons as Member of Parliament for Athboy from 1692 to 1693, then for County Meath from 1695 to 1699 and from 1703 to 1710. Around November 1706 he was appointed to the Privy Council of Ireland.

It seems that neither Thomas nor his father resided in Brittas and were content to rent the estate. In fact it appears that Thomas even tried to sell Brittas but his attempt was unsuccessful. In a letter to his brother-in-law dated 1688 Thomas mentioned his attempt to sell Brittas to a Dutch man named Fleming: “but he would not buy it”. In another letter dated 1691 Thomas wrote: "I hope all my estate will be tenanted except Brittas, which pray endeavour to get some for.”

Thomas Bligh died in 1710 leaving the Manor of Athboy (i.e. Rathmore) to his eldest son, John Bligh who would be in charge of advancing the fortune of the family. Brittas Estate went to his second son Thomas Bligh, known better as Lieutenant General Thomas Bligh.

Lieutenant General Thomas Bligh (1695 – 1775)

The first Bligh to reside on The Estate.
Although the Estate had been in the possession of the Bligh family for two generations at this stage, General Thomas Bligh was the first Bligh that can be confirmed to have lived in Brittas. The history of Brittas and its landscape is inextricably linked to the figure of Lieutenant General Thomas Bligh notably with the mausoleum built and lime tree formation planted as a commemoration of his military victory in Cherbourg. The General developed a genuine attachment to the estate and decided to extend the existing structures.

Lieutenant General Thomas Bligh

Lieutenant General Bligh was born in Rathmore. He studied in Trinity College in 1709 and pursued a military career thereafter. Like his father and grandfather he was elected MP for Athboy (1715) and would hold this seat for 60 years until his death.

With a long standing service in the army he took part in a number of wars in Europe. Notably the War of the Austrian Succession however he is best known for his service during the Seven Years' War (1754 – 1763). In 1758, at the age of 63, he led a series of amphibious raids known as "descents" on the French coastline. The initial raid on Cherbourg was a total success with the capture and destruction of the port of Cherbourg, destroying there also considerable war material and goods. The following operation along the coast of St. Malo however would not be as favourable to the General and his men. Adverse weather combined with a better defence from the French troops concluded the battle of St. Cast in disaster for his side with a loss of an estimated 1,000 men in the battle.

Upon his return to Britain, Bligh would be blamed for the defeat by politicians with King George II even ignoring him at court. This led to the end of his military career. Forced to retire Bligh found refuge at his beloved estate in Brittas.

The General contributed significantly to the Estate’s landscape and scenery. To further commemorate his most famous battle at Cherbourg he had a number of lime trees planted to resemble the formation of his troops before the battle. He demanded that upon his death his body was to be placed in an upright position in a tall narrow mausoleum on a hill at the head of his lime trees looking down at his beloved Brittas House. It is also believed that his horse who died shortly before him is buried underneath the Mausoleum. It is estimated that the lime trees were planted by the end of the Seven-Year War in 1763, the lime tree can live anywhere between 300 to 700 years.

Lime Tree Map
With the formation of lime trees highlighted.
Note: "Cherburg Wood" with Brittas House, The Mausoleum, Nobber & Motte highlighted.

There is also a tomb in Rathmore for the General. It is believed that he is actually buried there with the mausoleum in Brittas serving only as a commemorative symbol to honour his wishes.

It is also said that one Father McDermott, a catholic priest, saved the General’s life at the Battle of Fontenoy (War of the Austrian Succession, 1740 - 1748). Father McDermott later became a priest of Nobber and called at Brittas for a donation for a new church. Bligh was having a dinner party that night when a servant told the General that a priest was looking for a donation...
“Tell the black-coated rascal to go to the devil or I will set my dogs on him” , , replied the General to the servant.
“This is a poor return for saving a man’s life”, said McDermott.

Bligh heard him and called him back. Upon recognising him he apologised and gave him a donation persuading his guests to do the same.

The General died in 1775 without a direct heir and left Brittas to his youngest brother, Robert Bligh, the Dean of Elphin with provision that upon Robert’s death the estate would go to Robert’s eldest son, Thomas Cherburgh Bligh.

The West Wing Wall Inscription

An inscribed stone was found behind overgrown ivy on the west wing wall of the main house in 2020. Dating from 1732 it marks the then Colonel's building of "Houses and Temples" echoing the words on the later mausoleum inscription.
The inscription reads:
"BY Ye Hon.ble Coll. Bligh, An 1732" which is presumed to mean "Built by the Honourable Colonel Bligh in the year 1732". An interpretation of the inscribed "An" could be "Anno", in turn a shortened version of "Anno Domini", meaning "The year of the Lord", used widely since AD 800 and surviving into the now widely used Gregorian calendar introduced in 1582.
A further interpretation could be the Olde English version of "An" meaning "one and all" and reference all the buildings on the estate.

The Mausoleum Inscription

Inscribed on the weathered stone reads
"Thomas Bligh, Lieutenant - General of his Majesty’s Forces, and General of Horse, who France’s Arms withstood at Dettingen, at Valve, at Melle, at Fontenoy and Cherbourge. Not For his own but for his country’s good he made this improvement, built all these Houses and Temples since the year 1732. Born A.D. 1695. Died Aug. the 17th 1775 aged 80 years."

Thomas Cherburgh Bligh (1761 - c1830)

Thomas Cherburgh, nephew to the Lieutenant General, married the daughter of his first cousin, John Bligh, 3rd Earl of Darnley. Thomas Cherburgh was also MP for Athboy between 1783 and 1800 and later MP for Meath between 1802 and 1812.

During his time at Brittas he carried out further improvements to the house. In the 1820’s, he hired the renowned Irish architect, Francis Johnston. Johnston is best known for building the General Post Office (GPO) on O’Connell Street, Dublin. Johnston mentioned in a letter dated 1820 his work at Brittas: “...I planned and directed additions to the villa of Thomas Bligh Esq. at Brittas, near Nobber, the birth place of Carolin, the famous Irish bard.”

Johnston made significant improvements. The works are also mentioned in a guidebook dated 1826, where the author states: “At Brittas, near Nobber, is the handsome villa of Thomas Bligh Esq. Recently enlarged, and much improved, after the designs of Francis Johnston".

Thomas Cherburgh was imprisoned for non payment of debts arising from his spend on Brittas and died in prison in 1830. The Brittas lands passed to his second son, Edward, who in turn passed them to his eldest son Frederick Cherburgh.

Frederick Arthur Bligh (1861 - 1915)

Brittas in the 20th Century

Frederick Arthur (1861 – 1915), the only son of Frederick Cherbourgh Bligh inherited the Brittas estate on his father death in 1901.

Frederick Arthur Bligh was educated in England at Cheltenham College in Gloucestershire from 1875 to 1879 subsequently joining the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich where he was appointed Lieutenant in the Royal Horse Artillery and later promoted Captain. He served in the Chestnut Troop the senior battery of the Regiment named after the colour of their horses at Waterloo. He retired in 1895 after 12 years of service.

Post retirement he lived in St. Moritz, Switzerland returning to Ireland for only a few weeks each year in Spring. It is believed that his Swiss residence may have been triggered for health reasons as it is presumed he had tuberculosis. While living in Switzerland he developed a true passion for photography.

St. Moritz was home to "The Cresta Run" a track for the winter sport "Skeleton" where a person lies face down and head first rides downhill at high speed a small sled (bobsled). Frederick took the opportunity to practice his passion and immortalised these moments taking many pictures of men and women racing down the icy trail. It must be noted that these pictures show absolutely no blurring and considering the speed of the subject involved this demonstrates a very high degree of technical ability on the part of the Captain.

Frederick Arthur’s success in photography continued with prints being sold for substantial amounts and proceeds going to the St. Moritz Benevolent Fund. Frederick also wrote illustrated articles for the magazine “Country Life” among others and won various photographic competitions being rewarded with medals from the Photographic Society of Ireland, “Amateur Photographer” magazine and the Ulster Dog, Poultry, Pigeon and Cage-Bird association.

In Ireland, he became a Justice of the Peace and High Sheriff of Co. Meath. When in Brittas he would pursue his passion for photography setting up a dark room in the house.

In 1898 he married Mary Wentworth Forbes, daughter of Lt. General George Wentworth Forbes of Rochester Kent. They had a single child their daughter Gwendolen Mary who was born in 1905.

At the outbreak of World War I Frederick Arthur was forced to re-join the army. Appointed Major, he took on the training of an artillery battery that would form part of the Ulster division. In October 1915 shortly before leaving for the Front in France Frederick Arthur fell ill and died of appendicitis.

In 1928 at the age of 23 Gwendolen inherited The Brittas Estate upon the death of her mother.

Gwendolen riding at Brittas with "Tatters" the dog.

In 1933 aged 28 she married Brigadier Crocker Edmund Barrington. Her husband, Barrington, had a long military career serving both in The Great War and World War II. He died tragically in 1944 while on active service in Burma from friendly fire. Gwendolen was widowed at the age of 39 and they had no children together. She was for many decades quite a renowned dog breeder especially well known throughout the world for her Brittas German Shepherds. Gwendolen travelled extensively with passport stamps for many destinations including Southern Rhodesia however she never remarried.

Gwendolen died childless in July 1990 at the age of 85. She is buried in St Columba’s graveyard in Kells. As there was no direct heirs the estate passed to Croker Barrington’s relative, who would sell the estate a few years later. The estate changed hands a number of times before the present owners purchase in 2001.

So ended the direct line of descent from John Bligh, the Adventurer who came to Ireland with Oliver Cromwell in the mid 17th century.