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Heads of the family

OWEN WYNNE VI (1843 – 1910)

Owen Wynne VI was born in 1843 and was twenty-two when he inherited the family estate. He reactivated the family military tradition and as a young man served as a lieutenant in the 61st Foot Regiment and was High Sheriff of County Sligo in 1875 and of County Leitrim in 1881. He was also a founding director of the Sligo Leitrim and Northern Counties Railway. At the age of 27 he married Stella Fanny, the younger daughter of Sir Robert Gore-Broth of Lissadell, the fourth baronet. They had four children, all daughters – Muriel, the eldest, followed by Evelyn, Madeline and Dorothy.

It may seem obvious to us now with the gift of hindsight, but to those living at the start of the 1800s, there was little indication that the power of the Protestant Lords of Ireland would be radically altered in favour of the majority Catholic Nationalist population by the end of that century. Under Owen VI the Hazelwood estate would witness remarkable changes, the culmination of continuous gradual reforms. The second half of the 19th century saw the development of what is recognisably “Modern Ireland”. In the face of falling prices and crop failures, Michael Davitt founded the Land League which organised mass meetings of tenants throughout Ireland. On 22 August 1880 such a meeting was held at Manorhamilton at which 7,000 people and six bands were present. The Land League was followed by the National League, after the former had been outlawed. The National League in 1886 set in motion the Plan of Campaign which in Co. Leitrim was first put into action in December 1886 on Owen Wynne's estate, for the agent, George Hewson, refused a proposed reduction of 25%. It has been suggested that "The decision of the League to choose the Wynne estate for the Plan may have been influenced by the fact that the landlord was not considered harsh in his dealing with tenants and, therefore, the achievement of a favourable settlement within a short time was a real possibility..." Starting in the late 1880s, Owen Wynne sold his estates, other than the Hazelwood demesne, to the Land Commission for the price of £79,000. This represents about four million pounds at the present day.

On Sunday, the 27th February 1887, tragedy struck the Wynnes as Stella, Owen’s wife, suffered a serious carriage accident which caused her death. She was a very generous woman and was involved in many charities, was devoted to the poor, and her funeral attracted all creeds and classes, landowners and tenants, Catholic and Protestant bishops and prominent nationalists and unionists. Her funeral was described by the eminent Sligo historian Archdeacon O’Rorke as “unparalleled in the county of Sligo for numbers and the feelings that swayed them.”

According to many, Owen never recovered from the death of his wife. However, Hazelwood continued to thrive under him. In the latter part of the nineteenth century O’Rorke described the uniqueness of Hazelwood saying that “though the residence may not be equal in massiveness to some more modern mansions, it is still a very stately and graceful structure. It is built of cut and polished limestone, in the Italian style, with a bold four-storey front facade, and two lateral curving wings … a secondary front, rising from a fine terrace, looks to the south and the area, running form the terrace to the lake, is divided between an open lawn and shady groves, in which are provided charming retreats for saunterers, including a cane house, a rock house, a shell house, and a curious chair of state constructed of whale bone.” By the early 1900’s, Hazelwood demesne consisted of 900 acres of arable land, of which 80 were under tillage, 130 in meadow, and the balance of 690 acres under grazing. A further 600 acres were under forestry. A hundred head of cattle were bred annually. There were twenty to twenty-five dairy cows and seventy to eighty ewes. There was stabling for thirty horses. £1,500 was expended annually on labour and the workmen were comfortably housed.

Hazelwood was also the venue for many sporting events. Yacht racing on Lough Gill took place throughout the 19th century and from 1880 to 1942 race meetings were held on the race-course on the Hazelwood demesne. A polo club was founded in 1878, matches being played at Hazelwood. According to the Sligo Champion, a game at Hazelwood was an event to be watched by the entire town. The national success of the Sligo polo team was renowned and Sligo polo ponies were much in demand that many were exported to England and America. Shooting parties were also regularly organised at Hazelwood.

Owen Wynne VI died on 21st November 1910 aged 67. One cannot escape the feeling that he was a saddened man. His wife had been tragically killed twenty-three years earlier. The great estates of 15,000 acres in Leitrim and 14,000 acres in Sligo had for the most part been sold. Since he had no male heir, with his death the line of the Wynnes of Hazelwood came to an end. The house and remaining estate were sold by the last Wynne descendant to own it in 1937.

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