At the top end of Carysfort Avenue stands one of the most magnificent obelisks in Ireland, built by the landowner, Joshua, second Viscount Allen in or about the year 1727. Viscount Allen carried out a number of improvements on his extensive estate at Stillorgan and employed as his architect Edward Lovett Pearce, who was to go on to design the Irish houses of parliament in College Green before his premature death in 1733 at the age of thirty-three.
The obelisk was to be a mausoleum for Viscountess Allen but also seems to have been a famine relief work. There were very poor harvests between 1726 and 1728 leading to food shortages and famine. However, there would have been a substantial amount of skilled work involved in the building of this obelisk and so the numbers of unskilled workers who could be taken on would have been small after the initial construction of the base. In the end, the Viscountess managed to outlive her husband and following his death she moved to England where she eventually died and was buried. There is also a tradition that Viscount Allen's horse was buried beneath the obelisk instead of his wife.
At the time of its construction the obelisk stood within an extensive deer park on Viscount Allen's demesne. This can be seen in John Rocque's map of county Dublin which dates from 1760 and which shows an almost hexagonal enclosure stretching from Newtown Park Avenue (seen at the bottom) to the beginnings of Grove Avenue at the top end. At the Stillorgan Park/Grove Avenue end the map shows the house and formally landscaped grounds of Viscount Allen's house, while the obelisk itself can be seen towards the bottom left, close to where Carysfort Avenue would later be laid out.
After the death of the third Viscount Allen in 1745 the property at Stillorgan passed to the Proby family who lived on their estate at Carysfort in Wicklow from which they got the title Baron Carysfort. The Probys began to sell sites for the building of large houses on their Stillorgan lands and the result was such houses as Linden, Oakley Park and Fairy Hill. It was in the time of the second Baron Carysfort, who was created Earl of Carysfort, that many of these sales took place.
One of those who took land at this time was Richard Sinclair, a gentleman from Dublin, who acquired a plot extending to 8 acres and 36 perches from the Earl of Carysfort in about 1789. The plot lay alongside the new road which became known as Carysfort Avenue and lay just downhill from the obelisk. By 1790 Richard Sinclair had built a house and other improvements such as stables and out-houses, but he ran into financial difficulties and whether for this reason or because it was a speculative venture, he sold the new house in September 1790.
The new purchaser was John Moore, who was the Deputy Registrar of Deeds. Sadly, he did not live long to enjoy the house and it then passed into the possession of a Dublin merchant named George Fox. By 1799 a third occupier was in the house, namely Joshua Dixon, another Dublin merchant, but after less than a year he disposed of his interest in the house to James Davis, an attorney from Dublin.
James Davis may have carried out some improvements to the house. He certainly enlarged the grounds, as he bought about 10 acres of adjoining land in 1801 following a court judgement for debt against its previous owner. This new tract of land included the Stillorgan obelisk and increased the total property to about 18 Irish acres, equivalent to approximately twelve hectares. In July 1808 James Davis transferred the property to a member of his family who sold it on a few days later.
After its first eighteen years in which the house had six owners some stability was now reached as the new occupiers remained there for more than twenty years. The purchaser was Graves Chamney Swan, a Dublin gentleman, who paid some £2,000 for the property. Swan and his wife Mary produced ten children, most of which were probably born while they owned the house which they named Swan Hill and which is marked as such on John Taylor's map which was published in 1816.
Mary Swan died about ten years after they had purchased the house, and her husband married again a couple of years later. The second wife was Martha Atkins and she and her husband had three children. The couple lived at Swan Hill until G. C. Swan’s death in 1829, following which the house was sold by his executors. The purchasers were two brothers, James and Henry Perry.
The Perry brothers were Quakers who had come to Dublin some years previously from their native Queen’s County (Laois). In 1817 they had taken a lease on premises in Pill Lane, on a site that was later to be occupied by River House, the Motor Tax Office. From there they ran a business as ironmongers, expanding and diversifying their interests in a very short time. By 1820 the business achieved a turnover of £15,000, equivalent to nearly £1 million in today’s money, though the brothers were still in their early twenties. They continued to expand their interests, acquiring the Ringsend Iron Works and being among the original investors in the Mining Company of Ireland, established in 1824.
Of the two brothers, James Perry seems to have been the more dynamic businessman and his ventures expanded enormously. The world’s first railways had opened in England and had close links with Quaker businessmen. When Ireland began its railway age in the early 1830s with the Dublin and Kingstown Railway, three of the nine directors were Quakers, as was the company secretary. James Perry was one of those directors and he went on to become involved with the Dublin and Drogheda Railway, the Great Southern and Western, the Midland Great Western and the Waterford and Limerick Railway. He also acquired extensive property around Athenry and was one of the financiers of a coal mining business in the Ruhr valley, which was run by an Irish engineer, William T. Mulvany.
It was this prosperity that enabled James and Henry Perry to expend £3,100 in the purchase of Swan Hill in 1829. At that time both brothers were married, James and his wife Hannah having three children, while Henry and Susanna Perry had one. They renamed the house Obelisk Park and the two brothers lived there for the rest of their lives.
It is not entirely clear how the two brothers and their families occupied Obelisk Park. In later years the house had two staircases and lent itself to being occupied by two families, each with a fair degree of independence. It seems likely that this arrangement existed in the time of James and Henry Perry.
In 1845 the potato blight arrived in Ireland, causing food shortages, and in the autumn of 1846 the total destruction of the potato crop precipitated the great famine. Henry Perry was one of four Dublin Quakers who could see the extent of the impending crisis and who wrote to all Quakers in Ireland to call a meeting to consider the matter. The outcome was the establishment of the Central Relief Committee of the Society of Friends which co-ordinated the Quaker famine relief efforts and the twenty-one members of this committee included both Perry brothers, with James as one of the treasurers.
The Central Relief Committee delegated a great deal of work to subcommittees and Henry Perry was involved with the establishment of a soup kitchen in Dublin’s Charles Street, just across the road from their business in Pill Lane; he also worked on a clothing committee collecting donations of clothing and forwarding them to relief workers all over Ireland. James Perry was on the subcommittee that decided how the Quaker efforts could best be directed and he also travelled around the country on behalf of the central committee. His first visit was to counties Galway and Mayo to assess the extent of the famine and to decide where and how relief should be distributed and the reports which he sent back were harrowing. After the end of the famine James Perry was one of the editors of the final report of the Central Relief Committee in which the work carried out was documented and assessed.
The extremely hard work carried out by famine relief workers together with their close contact with famine victims all too often led to health breakdowns or the contracting of famine fevers. Henry Perry died in 1846 or 1847 aged only fifty-one. There is no surviving record of the cause of his death and it is difficult not to conclude that he succumbed to one of the famine diseases or that he suffered a health breakdown through over-work.
Following Henry Perry’s death his widow moved from Obelisk Park with her children, eventually moving to a house named Deans Grange House. James Perry and his family continued to live at Obelisk Park. His wife Hannah had died in 1844 and he remarried in 1850, his second wife, Isabella Pim, being from a Mountmellick Quaker family. By this time James Perry’s first child, Henry, had died and he had two daughters, Elizabeth and Hannah, and a son William who had been born in Obelisk Park in 1832. Hannah had married Marcus Goodbody in 1848, while Elizabeth and William still lived with their father.
When James Perry died, at the age of sixty, he left behind him a major family problem. At the time of his death he was a wealthy man, leaving effects worth £60,000, equivalent to well over £3 million at today’s values , though this figure would not have included the value of his Prussian mining interests, nor the property which he may have handed on prior to his death.
William J. Perry seems to have formed a liaison with Eliza Pim, daughter of the late James Pim, the former secretary of the Dublin and Kingstown Railway. For some reason, presumably related to a business quarrel with Eliza’s father, James Perry disapproved of the relationship. He had made a will in which he left the bulk of his assets to William, being his only surviving son. In January 1858, however, he added a codicil to the will in which he significantly reduced his son’s inheritance, leaving him the interests in his property in county Galway and even that would only come to him if he did not marry Eliza Pim. Matters did not improve, and the following June James Perry added another codicil leaving shares in the railway to William, but only so long as he did not marry Eliza Pim.
James Perry died in July 1858 without revoking his will, and in the following April William Perry married Eliza Pim. His father’s property thus passed to his sister Hannah’s family. William challenged the provisions of his father’s will and the outcome was that Hannah and Marcus Goodbody agreed to a settlement of about £18,000 so that Obelisk Park now came into the possession of the Goodbody family. William went into business with one of his cousins as proprietors of the Greenmount Brewery in Harold’s Cross, and he and Eliza moved into Ardlui on Newtown Park Avenue, close to Obelisk Park.
Once the matter of William Perry’s inheritance had been sorted out Hannah Goodbody and her family were able to take possession of Obelisk Park. Hannah’s husband, Marcus Goodbody, was from Mountmellick originally and his family had moved to Clara in Offaly when he was in his teens. His father was the proprietor of the mills in that town and over time the father and his five sons turned Clara into a significant industrial town. Marcus established a flour mill in Clara along with two of his brothers under the name of M, J and L Goodbody.
Marcus Goodbody was in his mid-thirties when the great famine struck and he became a corresponding member of the Quaker Central Relief Committee to assist in the famine relief efforts. Corresponding members were the eyes and ears of the committee which, because of its frequent meetings, could only include Dublin-based Quakers in its membership. The lack of a country-wide perspective was addressed through a formalised system of corresponding members who kept the committee informed on the situation around the country. Marcus Goodbody travelled in Galway, Mayo, Sligo and Donegal in the winter of 1846-1847 with a group of Quakers who were assessing the extent of the famine and the making contacts who could assist in distributing relief supplies. In the later stages of the famine he became a director of a model farm established by the Society of Friends to help in the provision of agricultural instruction.
The Society of Friends in Ireland is and was a close-knit community and there can have been any number of ways in which Marcus Goodbody could have met Hannah Perry. It seems likely that James Perry’s membership of the Central Relief Committee and Marcus’s position as a corresponding member led Marcus to stay at Obelisk Park while in Dublin on committee business, thus bringing him in close contact with the Perrys. However they met, Marcus Goodbody and Hannah Perry married in December 1848 when he was thirty-eight and she was nineteen. For the first twenty years or so of their marriage they lived at Clara and it was there that most of their thirteen children were born.
In the early 1870s, Marcus and Hannah Goodbody carried out a massive enlargement and reconstruction of the Obelisk Park. The architect for this work was Thomas Drew, a young and gifted architect who would later be knighted for his contribution to the profession. The work was carried out by the building firm of J & W Beckett at a cost of £3,560 and gave Obelisk Park the appearance it has today, complete with the ostentatious porch displaying Marcus’s monogram.
During Marcus and Hannah’s occupation of the house Hannah’s unmarried sister, Elizabeth, also lived there. There is evidence that Elizabeth Perry had a degree of independence within the house, in the same way as her parents shared the house with her uncle Henry’s family.
Marcus Goodbody died in 1885, while Hannah survived until 1913. Some of their offspring remained in the house until 1923 when it was sold by their daughter, Henrietta. The careers of that generation were varied, with some of them working various family businesses such as the flour mills and the jute factory in Clara and a tobacco business in Tullamore and Dublin. The eldest son, Robert, established a stockbroking firm with his cousin Jonathan and the name has carried on to the present in Goodbody Stockbrokers. Robert moved to the United States where his firm of Goodbody, Glynn and Dow is now represented by Goodbody & Co., while one of his partners gave his name to the Dow Jones index. Another son, Manliffe, became a tennis champion and also played soccer for Ireland.
When the family decided to sell Obelisk Park their next-door neighbours, the Hospitaller Order of St. John of God, expressed an interest. Henrietta Goodbody was happy with this proposal and the property was sold to St. John of God’s for £4,500.
The Brothers of St. John of God were not unanimous in the decision to buy Obelisk Park. Those in favour wanted to open “a retreat for elderly and retired gentlemen” but after a time it became clear that those who voted against the proposition were right, as the home was never a great success. Instead, following the suggestion of Dr. Byrne, the archbishop of Dublin, St. Augustine’s Colony was opened at Obelisk Park in 1931, with the aim of providing facilities for boys with a mental disability.
St. Augustine’s continues its work today, but in specially built premises within part of the former grounds of Obelisk Park. The house itself has been converted to apartments with new houses built in the grounds. A significant amount of the beautiful gardens of Obelisk Park have been retained and the obelisk itself survives, as graceful as ever, behind a railing.