Dromantine House is now a retreat and conference centre and belongs to the SMA
The history of Dromantine estate dates back to the middle ages. The ancient Irish clan of Magennis dominated most of South County Down from the 14th - 17th century and owned vast tracts of land in that area, including what is now Dromantine Estate. Following the political upheavals of the early 17th c. one of the Magennis clansmen, Murtagh, became the owner of an estate of 4200 acres within the precinct of Clanagan
Magennis Coat of arms
In 1741 the Manor of Clanagan passed from Magennis ownership to that of a Scottish Family called Innes. In 1806 Arthur Innes built the original part of the existing house in Neo-classical style. When he died in 1820 he left a magnificent house within a beautifully landscaped demesne complete with a newly formed lake. His grandson, Arthur Charles Innes, became the owner of the property and in the 1860s extended the original house (now called Dromantine House) making it even more stately and imposing. In the early 20th c. the fortunes of the Innes family waned and they decided to dispose of Dromantine. In 1922 it was bought by Samuel McKeever
Innes Coat of Arms on Stained-Glass at Dromantine
At the same time the Society of African Missions (SMA) which was based in Cork was looking for a suitable property in which to prepare their students for missionary work in Africa. Under the guidance of Fr. Maurice Slattery the SMA bought Dromantine House and the 320 acre estate in 1926. It was their seminary until 1972 and during these years about 600 young men were ordained priests and went from Dromantine as missionaries to Africa.
1611 Arthur Magennis receives Dromantine in ‘re-grant’.
1737 Dromantine put up for sale.
1741 John Innes of Scotland buys Dromantine.
1808 Building of the present house.
1810 Construction of the lake.
1859 Extensive construction work on House.
1865 Work on House completed.
1922 Dromantine House bought by Samuel McKeever.
McKeever Coat of arms
1926 The Society of African missions buys Dromantine.
1927 First eleven of 587 priests ordained.
1931 St Patrick’s Wing built.
1935 St Brendan’s Wing built.
1936 Work begins on Chapel.
1959 St Colman’s and Assembly Hall opened.
1974 Dromantine closes as a Seminary.
1975 Dromantine opens as a Retreat Centre.
1998 Major renovation work begins.
2001 Renovation work completed.
Innes Crest and Motto on a Fireplace at Dromantine
The Millennium Stained-Glass Window by Ann Smyth is shown on:
The Millennium Stained-Glass Window at Dromantine
The details in the smaller shields are either religious or heraldic or local. The second row shows the McKeever arms, a thistle and the Magennis arms. The background in the Magennis arms is red as opposed to the green above.
The third row shows the SMA motif along with a chalice and a cross.
The vine leaves represent the local Clarke family who moved to Bordeaux.
The Irish presence in the area is well documented, not least by Renagh Holohan in her book The Irish Chateaux: In Search of the Descendants of the Wild Geese. The Irish have been an influence in Bordeaux since defeat at the Boyne and Limerick drove the Irish Jacobites abroad. Their names live on in streets and chateaux, even when the latter have changed ownership.
The name Clarke is still attached to an 18th-century chateau bought and restored by Baron Edmond de Rothschild. Chateau Clarke was founded by an ancestor of Patrick Clarke de Dromantin, a resident of Bordeaux, who, since his retirement from the aeronautical industry, has been researching and writing the history of the Clarke family in France and their place in the wider historical context of the Irish in Europe.
His house in a quiet residential area of Bordeaux is filled with ancestral portraits, genealogical charts and photographs of the present generation of Clarkes. "I am a Jacobite," Patrick told me. "The Dromantin is from Dromantine, near Newry." The name was familiar to me as the former headquarters of the Society of African Missions. Patrick had visited it as part of his research for Les OiesSauvages: Mémoiresdu'unefamilleirlandaiseréfugiéeen France (1691-1914) and Les réfugiésjacobitesdans la France du XVIIIe siècle (both published by Bordeaux University Press). Patrick, who subtitled his second book L'exode de touteune noblesse pour cause de religion, found it a delicious irony that Dromantine had ended up in the possession of the Society of African Missions, whose founder was, of course, a Frenchman.
The first Clarkes to arrive in France were three sons of James Clarke and Anne O'Sheill sent by their parents to live with their maternal uncle, Luc O'Sheill, a gun merchant who had settled in Nantes. Thoby (aged 21) stayed in Nantes; James (aged 14) went to Martinique. The youngest, 12-year-old John - Patrick's direct ancestor - went to Bordeaux. His son, Tobie Clarke, bought a wine estate in Listrac in the Medoc in 1771, but died the same year. Jean's grandson, Luc Tobie Clarke, a Bordeaux magistrate, built a house on the estate in 1810 and called it Chateau Clarke. The wine retains the name, although the estate was sold and Luc Tobie's house was demolished in 1955.
"De Dromantin" was added to the family name by Patrick's grandfather - "for reasons of vanity," Patrick says. "It sounds more noble." As to the origins of the name Clarke and its connection to Dromantine, Patrick's correspondence with archivists in Dublin and Belfast turned up a will, dated May 13th, 1672, of Thomas Clarke of Drementian (sic) in which he bequeaths to his wife the townlands named as Lisadeane and Dromhirre in Co Armagh, and a third of his land in Drementian. In later documents it is spelled Dromantine.
Thomas was the father of James Clarke, who became a freeman of the city of Dublin and a municipal councillor under James II. It seems James Clarke also lost everything after the Battle of the Boyne. The letter presented to the French authorities in Bordeaux, requesting French nationality for Jean (John) Clarke as "refugiéen France à cause de la Religion", says his father was a cavalry captain who, having been imprisoned, and having lost all his property and good standing, died of grief - "et samèreaussi." I thought it a sad little footnote. A line from a poem drifted into my head - "you feathered with the wild geese our
despair. . ." but I couldn't remember the rest of the poem or who wrote it. I think it was about Patrick Sarsfield. Maybe some reader will recognise it. James Clarke's sons prospered in France. Patrick, his great, great, great grandson is proud of him.