Ahead of a planned stroll with a group through the leafy roads of the Burnaby Estate in the seaside town of Greystones, I took a little look at the life and times of the man who gave his name to one of the finest residential areas in the country. These late Victorian/early Edwardian villas, originally built as holiday homes for the wealthy, command big prices in today's market. A million euro wont get you much in the Burnaby!
Colonel Frederick, Gustavus Burnaby was born in Bedford, England in 1842 and grew to be a giant of a man by the standards of his time, standing at 6'4", with a chest measurement of 47"! He was exceptionally strong - as a joke two small ponies were put into his rooms by fellow officers - he carried both ponies down the stairs, one under each arm! He was an energetic and talented man, spoke seven languages, was well read, and became an intelligence officer for the British Army. His life story tells of derring-do at the height of the British Empire - "the empire on which the sun never sets". His epic journey to the Khanate of Khiva (now Uzbekistan), made him something of a celebrity, and there is a property still called Khiva within the Burnaby Estate today!
The dashing Colonel was also a big hit with the ladies, and when Elizabeth Hawkins Whiteshed, who was Greystone's version of Athina Onassis, (as an only child she had inherited a large estate from her father), set eyes on the Colonel, the attraction was mutual. Col Burnaby's one and only visit to Ireland, to meet his fiancee's family took place in 1879. At that time the family lived in what is now Greystone's Golf Club and then moved to Killincarrig House, which later became the Woodlands Hotel. The marraige produced one son, Harry, but shortly after his birth, they began to live separate lives.
Early on in the marraige Elizabeth was diagnosed with lung problems and moved to Switzerland to recuperate. This was the beginning of her lifelong love of the mountains and she was to become a celebrated mountaineer at a time when ladies did not climb mountains, and is worthy of a blog of her own! Colonel Burnaby died in Khartoum, Sudan in 1885, when he was speared in the throat during the battle of Abu Klea. Elizabeth married again, this time to John Frederic Main and again, this marraige was short lived, lasting two years with Mr Main dying alone in 1892. Her third, and most successful marraige was to a younger man, Aubrey Le Blonde, and lasted until her death in 1934.
The Burnaby Estate began to be developed from the 1890s, and in 1894 Greystones Golf Club took a lease from the estate and constructed their course. A site was also donated at nominal rent for the Carnegie Library. These houses were large, with staff accommodation, and set on substantial grounds. In recent years these gardens have also sprouted fine new houses as people regard living in this area as very desirable.
The original houses have fantastic detailing - the finest of late Victorian architecture - down to the ornamental ridge tiles, half timbered appearance and wonderful gates. There were also fine bungalows, usually with colonial style verandas - when you look at them you can nearly hear the clinking of gin glasses at sundown!
Roads were named after members of the family, or places significant to them. Somerby Road recalls the birthplace of Colonel Burnaby, Portland Road, after an Uncle, St Vincent's after a battle at Cap St Vincent's fought at by a relation. 120 years later, these roads are lined with mature trees and give a hint of the gracious living to be found in the Burnaby.
After World War II, many British army officers moved to Greystones, and to the Burnaby in particular. This was probably because their military pensions would have gone further in the Free State or Eire, and Greystones would have been seen as a very "Protestant" area - to this day it is the most "Protestant" town in Ireland, according to the Census of 2016.
Not everyone regarded the Burnaby as desirable however. When my father was a young boy, during school holidays he was expected to help with some of the less pleasant farm chores on their upland farm in Wicklow. He was told if he did'nt help snag turnips/pick stones/some other unpleasant chore, the farm would fail, and the family would have no choice but to sell up and "go and live in a bungalow in the Burnaby"!!