The Snowhill War Heroine

Snowhill, Co Kilkenny is now little more than a place-name on the river, but it once graced a fine Georgian mansion with an extensive farm and demesne and boat house on the river. I previously wrote about the house, which prompted a memory in an older neighbour of mine, Mrs Bridget Power. Bridget recalled as a girl wandering up through the estate to visit her grandfather who ran the mill at Rathpatrick. Passing the house an older lady in a wide brimmed hat used to welcome them as they passed and offered refreshment.
That lady was most probably Violet O’Neill Power, then owner of the Snowhill estate, the last of the family to own the property. Violets upbringing had been far from traditional it seems and from an early age she showed a strong will and a self determined streak.
Violet in her FANY uniform

In 1907 she was one of the first volunteers to join the FANY; First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. This unit was formed by Captain Edward Baker as a consequence of the miseries he had witnessed in the Boer War. The unit was trained to operate in war fronts as aid and assistance to wounded troops, but as it was staffed by women it was roundly criticised and at times lampooned, given the times and norms associated with them.

Following the outbreak of WWI Violet was in the first unit to be dispatched to the front, arriving at Lamarack hospital in Calais, France on the 27th October 1914. The training of the unit included nursing, first aid and motor mechanics. Their work included tending wounded soldiers and civilians, transport from the front line to hospital, and transport to convalescence homes. The motor mechanics was obvious, keeping ambulances in working order and on the road.
Violet is standing, third from left via

When they weren’t providing vital services to wounded and injured, they helped boost moral. Violet was one of a performing stage troop called “the Fantasticks”.

On the 23rd August 1918 she received her first commendation for services rendered the Croix de Guerre with silver star. This was followed by the Order de Leopold II, one of only two to be received by the unit.  What makes Violets awards all the more significant, is that she was a volunteer, received no pay, and in fact fund raised to maintain the operation and she supplied at least one vehicle to her unit.
After the war the FANY unit continued to operate on the front, repatriating refugees, providing transport, continuing with nursing and first aid duties as required and assisting the work of the Imperial War Graves Commission. The unit was stood down in 1920.
At this stage it would appear that Violet had returned to Ireland to nurse her ailing mother, Margurite. Her father, Joseph Edward, had predeceased his wife in 1897. She inherited the house thereafter, buying out her half brothers share. And there she tried to get back to normality, or whatever that could be following the war. It would appear that like many other landowners she struggled in the new Ireland, her war record and landed background possibly not helping.
Snowhill House

When Bridget would have met her in the 1930s she was in her fifties and trying to maintain an ailing enterprise. Bridget recalled her once bringing her inside the house to view a wasps nest.  Perhaps an indication of the decline in the house. She married a horse breeder from Tipperary in 1945 dividing her time between her home and her husbands. She finally sold Snowhill, perhaps when it was already too late, in 1954. The new owners had it demolished in 1955.

Violet died on March 27th 1965, childless but having seen more of life than most. Its fitting as we commemorate those who went to war in WWI that she is remembered as much as anyone else
I’m indebted to James Doherty for assistance with this piece.  Much of the details were accessed from: McDermott Alice. ‘…Defy(ing) the Tyranny of Precedent’ The life of Violet O’Neill Power, Twice Decorated Irish Great War Nurse.
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Snowhill House and Quay

Snowhill was, until recently, a mystery to me.  As a child I assumed it had to do with snowdrops, the late winter/early spring blooms that lift your spirits and reassure you that warmer, longer days are on the way.  Later I was told it’s origins related to an old mansion which was sited there, but infuriatingly no more.  It came as a lovely surprise one day to be in the Waterford County Museum an find the photo below.  Its an old scene of Cheekpoint and it has Snowhill in the distance and the mysterious house.  I was so intrigued by it, I bought a copy and it still hangs from our living room wall.

Recently however I came across some more information that helps me understand it a little more.  Snowhill is on the most south eastern tip of Co Kilkenny, and the townland is known as Drumdowney.  You will often see Drumdowney mentioned on maps and charts and particularly Drumdowney point or as we also call it “the point of the wood” where the Barrow Bridge connects Wexford to Kilkenny

But the Snowhill placename originates from a Cromwellian family, the first of which was a man called John Snow who was described as a “master tentmaker to the army in Ireland”.  I can only speculate that he received the land as a gift, similar to the Bolton’s of Faithlegg, for his part in the Puritan invasion. 

Apparently Snowhill House was built by a descendant, most probably Sydenham Snow who married a Mary Bonham in March of 1764 and they moved into their new home in 1765.  It was described as a “massive Georgian block, 5 bay front, doorway with a very large fanlight.  Impressive hall with columns, splendid oval stone staircase with balustrade of brass uprights”  It was also described thus; “…demesne of 100 acres with a 6ft. wall all round.  A deerpark of 30 acres with a wall of 8ft high”

spectacular front of the house

The last of the Snow family was Elizabeth and she married a merchant by the name of Patrick Lattin1792 but financial problems followed.  It was sold to help pay of the debts in 1808.

A good sense of perspective on the House

In 1808 it was purchased by the Power family who would later have first cousins on the opposite banks in Faithlegg & Cheekpoint.  The purchaser was one Nicholas Power and in much the same way that I think Faithlegg House was bought as a wedding present for Nicholas Mahon Power it would appear his cousin Nicholas purchased Snowhill for his son David and his Cork born wife, Elizabeth Nash.  The Powers retained the house until 1953 but under a new name – Power Hall.  Alas underinvestment had significantly undermined the structure and the house was pulled down in 1955.

Nowadays only the demesne walls and outhouses remain.  And despite the fact that Faithlegg House seems to have been a grander house, it had nothing like the connection with the River Suir.  Snowhill had a very fine quay – L shaped with a find breakwater of poles to the eastern side.  This was a deepwater quay and although the ebb tide meant the dock dried out was still a very safe haven.

Entrance arch to Snowhill Quay
Snowhill Quay and dock, Glazing wood in distance

Snowhill quay still has hints of its once significance and to walk up from the quay towards the house highlights how beautiful it must once have been.  An old boat house remains, roof gone and doors no more, but only begging to be refurbished.  The grand old trees, many fine and rare specimens of oaks and limes still adorn fragments of the old demesne. 

Old Boat house

Now a working farm, it appears to me like some once grand sailing boat now reduced to a sailing hulk, moored away on a redundant quayside.

All of the specifics about the house and history is information supplied from Jim Walsh’s account of Snowhill House and Estate in “Sliabh Rua, A History of its People and Places” p429

Julian Walton mentions another family in connection with Snowhill in his recent book – On this day Vol I pp154-55 which will require further study.

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