The story of the Greville family and the Greville Monument
The Greville Arms Hotel is one of Ireland’s oldest hotels, whose origins date back to about 1750. Since 1859, the hotel has been called the Greville Arms in honour of the Greville family, who became landlords of Mullingar in 1858. The Greville Monument, which is on display in the hotel roof garden, commemorates Captain Ronnie Greville, who died in 1908.
The Greville family and Mullingar
The Grevilles were descended from a 16th century English landowning family in Warwickshire. Sir Fulke Greville (1554-1628) was a courtier in the service of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. He was also a noted playwright.
In 1858, Colonel Fulke Southwell Greville (1821-1883), bought the town of Mullingar for £120,000 from the Earl of Granard. The Granards had been landlords of Mullingar since 1661. Born in Hertford and High Sheriff of Hertfordshire in 1850, Colonel Greville was MP for Longford from 1852 until 1869, when he was created the 1st Baron Greville. He served as Lord Lieutenant of Westmeath from 1871 to 1883 and was a member of the Westmeath Grand Jury.
One of the largest landowners in Westmeath, he owned 10,000 acres in the county in 1876 and also had land in Cavan and 20,000 acres in England, as well as his own railway station at the back of his house near Lough Owel.
A Liberal Party member, he supported the cause of tenant rights and land reform. He was married to Lady Rose Nugent, daughter of the Marquess of Westmeath.
The Grevilles lived at Clonyn Castle in Delvin and Clonhugh House in Portnashangan. He also had a home in London.
After his marriage, Colonel Greville took the name Greville-Nugent. He had five children. His son Reginald was a noted jockey, who rode under the name ‘Mr Nugent’. He was killed in a fall at Sandown racecourse in 1878.
Lord Greville hired the leading Irish architect William Caldbeck to rebuild the Greville Arms Hotel in 1869. He also rebuilt the Market House and helped create the fine Victorian streetscape of Mullingar’s commercial heart. What is now Oliver Plunkett Street was known as Greville Street in his honour from 1858 until 1921.
In 1868 Greville granted a right of way to the War Office for the building of a septic tank beside the Military Barracks on Ashe Road. The lease was for 10 million years – the longest lease in history.
Greville also granted land to Bishop Thomas Nulty for the building of the Loreto Convent School and gave the army land for a rifle range at Curraghmore, as well as a gymnasium and married quarters at the barracks.
He succeeded in getting two extra livestock fairs for the town in 1864. He was willing to pay a third of the cost of getting a piped water and sewerage system for the town in the 1860s, but the opposition of the ratepayers and disputes over the building of the system delayed the project for more than 30 years.
Lord Greville died in 1883 and is buried with his wife in the Nugent family mausoleum in Fore.
He was succeeded as the 2nd Baron Greville by his son Algernon (1841-1909). Algernon served as MP for Westmeath from 1865 to 1874 and was Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister William Gladstone 1872-73 and a minister at the Treasury 1873-74. He also served at the court of Queen Victoria from 1869 to 1872.
Greville was the first chairman of Westmeath County Council in 1899-1900, and he also served on Mullingar Town Council. He was a founding member of Mullingar Golf Club and opened the club’s first course at Newbrook in 1895. He was Master of the Westmeath Hunt for more than a decade.
A Liberal like his father, he was a supporter of Home Rule and of Land reform. His support for Irish self government put him at odds with most of the rest of the Westmeath aristocracy. In 1893 he refused to allow members of the Westmeath Unionist Association to hold a rally on his lands.
He built a number of artisan cottages in Mullingar for working class people and was generally regarded as being a good landlord.
Although a member of the Church of Ireland, he was on friendly terms with Bishop Thomas Nulty and attended the funeral of the Bishop in 1898. He was, however, criticised by Bishop Matthew Gaffney and other local politicians for derogatory remarks he made about Catholic religious practices during a speech in the House of Lords.
Lord Greville married Lady Beatrice Violet Graham (1842-1932), daughter of the Duke of Montrose. She was a noted novelist and playwright and a friend of Oscar Wilde. The marriage was not a success and the couple led largely separate lives. They had four children. The eldest son, Ronnie, was an army officer and MP. He died in 1908.
The 2nd Baron Greville died in December 1909. He was succeeded by his younger son Charles, who became the 3rd Lord Greville. Charles Fulke Greville (1871-1952) was a soldier. He served as ADC to the Viceroy of Ireland 1893 to 1895 and to the Governor of Bombay 1900-1904, and was Military Secretary to the Governor-General of Australia in 1904-1908.
He fought in the Matabele War in Zimbabwe in 1896-97 and served in World War I with the famous Scottish regiment known as the Lovat Scouts. From 1919 to 1943, he was chairman of the Board of St George’s Hospital in London, one of Europe’s biggest hospitals.
Greville married Irish-American widow Olive Grace Kerr in 1909. She was a niece of the first Roman Catholic mayor of New York, William Russell Grace. The wedding in London was attended by Winston Churchill and by Prince Alexander of Teck, a cousin of King Edward VII, who later took the title Earl of Athlone.
Lady Greville had two sons by her first marriage. Her younger son, Hamilton Kerr (1903-1974), became a journalist and was an MP from 1931 to 1945 and 1950 to 1966. He helped to found the Hamilton Kerr Art Institute at Cambridge University.
In the years leading up to World War I, Lord Greville sold much of his estate lands around Mullingar to his tenants under the terms of the 1903 and 1909 land acts. In 1922 he sold his rights to the tolls from the fairs and markets held in the town to the Mullingar Town Commission. He left Mullingar in the late 1920s and moved to England. His eldest son Ronald became the 4th Baron Greville in 1952 but had no connections with Mullingar. When he died in 1987, the title became extinct.
The Greville Monument is a drinking fountain which was gifted to the people of Mullingar by the 2nd Lord Greville in 1909 in memory of his son Ronnie.
Ronald Fulke Greville was born in 1864. He attended Sandhurst Military Academy and was an army officer from 1885 until his election as an MP for Bradford East in 1896. He served as High Sheriff of Westmeath in 1899.
During his time in office, he was involved in an interesting political clash with his father. Lord Greville was the first chairman of Westmeath County Council. The newly elected councillors decided to fly the green flag of Ireland over the Mullingar courthouse, where the council was meeting.
Lord Greville was a Liberal and a supporter of Home Rule. Ronnie was a Conservative and a Unionist. He refused permission to raise the flag and ordered the police to take it down when the councillors managed to fly it from the courthouse chimney. Lord Greville supported the decision to fly the flag. Ronnie’s order led to fighting between the police and the councillors. Lord Greville’s hat was smashed by a truncheon after a police constable mistook him for a notorious local character known as ‘Bags’ McCormack.
Ronnie was a close friend of the then Prince of Wales, who became King Edward VII in 1901. He and Edward shared a passion for horse racing.
In 1891 Ronnie married Margaret Anderson, the daughter of a wealthy Scottish brewer and MP, William McEwan. Margaret would become one of the leading society hostesses and socialites of early 20th century London.
She threw lavish parties at the Greville home in London, which were attended by British and foreign royalty and politicians such as Winston Churchill.
In 1907 Margaret’s father brought her a country house called Polesden Lacey in Surrey, now a National Trust property. ‘Mrs Ronnie’, as she was known to her friends, entertained members of the Royal family, politicians and others at Polesden Lacey. The future King George VI and his wife Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons spent their honeymoon there in 1923 and their daughters, Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret often played there as children.
When Margaret died in 1942, she left her vast jewellery collection to the then Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother). The collection of diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires include tiaras, necklaces, earrings and brooches. Known as the Greville jewels, they have been worn by four generations of royal women, including the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Camilla and Princess Catherine.
Ronnie Greville died from cancer in April 1908, aged just 43.
The Greville Monument drinking fountain was made in 1909 in his memory. The half column on the fountain symbolised a life cut short. The fountain stood in Dominick Square amidst the bustle of the weekly livestock market until the late 1920s.
After the departure of the Grevilles from Mullingar, the monument came to be seen as a symbol of landlordism and colonial rule and was removed by the county council. For many years it lay in a council yard before being installed in the roof garden area of the Greville Arms Hotel.
The coat of arms of the Greville Nugent family is on the Market House and on the Greville Arms Hotel, a reminder, along with the fountain and the hotel name, of the family who owned the town for more than 70 years and contributed much to its built heritage.