Waterstown House, Glasson, Co. Westmeath
– by Donal O’Brien, author of The Houses and Landed Families of Westmeath
In its heyday the house and demesne were amongst the most splendid in county Westmeath. To-day only the façade remains of the garden front, mostly intact and containing a splendid Palladian doorway. A stable block is situated a short distance from the house. The remains of the walled garden also survive and is accessed by a handsome gateway in the shape of triumphal arch built of brick. A rustic grotto which was used as a tea house and a stone erected to commemorate the “The Big Wind” of 1839 when much of the fine timber on the estate was destroyed stands on a hill nearby. A dovecote or pigeon-house stands south-west of the house: it is a curious looking building, a square block surmounted by an octagonal spire topped with a weathervane and was probably designed by Richard Castle at the same time he designed the house.
The house was built c.1746 for Gustavus Handcock , MP and Recorder of Athlone and his wife, the heiress Elizabeth Temple of Mount Temple. The estate had originally belonged to the Dillons and was the site of one of their numerous castles. The original castle was said to have been built by Sir John Dillon at the end of the fifteenth century. Following the Cromwellian confiscations of the 1640’s, the lands were granted to William Handcock, who was also granted the Manor of Twyord. Waterstown was inherited by one of his younger sons, Rev. Stephen Handcock, Dean of Kilmacduagh. Stephen’s son, Gustavus, born in 1693, married Elizabeth Temple, daughter of Rev. Robert Temple of Ballyloughloe (Mount Temple).
The house was a large rectangular three storey block with a hipped-roof and a solid parapet and crowned with two massive chimney-stacks, it was built of Brick and faced with cut-limestone. The house was seven-bays wide (entrance front and garden front) and three bays on the side elevations and built over a groined brick basement. The windows on the ground floor of the garden front were rusticated.
Gustavus Handcock died in 1751 and was buried in the family vault in St. Mary’s church , Athlone where a handsome monument commemorates his memory (the architect of Waterstown Richard Castle also died in 1751 whilst working at Carton House and was buried in the Protestant church in Maynooth). Gustavus was succeeded by his only son, Robert Handcock, who married in 1751 , Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Vesey, 1st Baron Knapton, of Abbeyleix, Queen’s County and sister of Thomas Vesey, 1st Viscount De Vesci. Robert died in 1758 and was succeeded by his son Gustavus Robert, who on claiming the estate and in accordance with the will of his great grandfather, Robert Temple, assumed the name of Temple after Handcock. Gustavus Robert married Mary, daughter of John Moore of Drumbanagher, county Armagh, he died in 1792 and was buried in the family vault in St. Mary’s. Gustavus Robert and Mary’s eldest son, Robert Handcock Temple, DL, born in 1777 succeeded to the estate, He married in 1801, Louisa, daughter of William Tighe of South Hill House, Delvin. They had an only child, a daughter, Isabella Helena who inherited the Waterstown Estate and married in 1824 General Lord Harris of Seringapatam and they had two sons and a daughter.
The family name changed again, this time to Temple Harris. Elizabeth Helena died in 1861 and was succeeded by her eldest son, Reginald Robert , he died in 1900 and was succeeded by his nephew Arthur Reginald Harris Temple, born in 1874, he married in 1898, Clare, daughter of Alan Cameron, late Assistant Inspector General of the Royal Irish Constabulary. They were destined to be the last of the family to live at Waterstown House. In 1923 following the War of Independence and Civil War after the demesne was sold to the Irish Land Commission who divided the land between local farmer’s. The house stood empty until c.1928 when the fitting’s were sold and the house became a noble ruin.
Waterstown features in Eyre Crowe’s novel “To-day in Ireland” written in 1825 when it was thinly disguised as Rathfinnan, situated on Lough Ree not far from Athlone. Crowe describes it thus: “It was a solid square being of dark granite, richly ornamented, of almost perpendicular roof, and chimneys of enormous size. It exactly resembled one of the extreme wings or pavilions of The Tuiliries , the height of the roof and chimneys not perhaps so exaggerated “.