London, June 9: Lissadell House was the childhood home of a woman who became a powerful symbol of the 1916 Easter Rising and the inspiration for one of W B Yeats’ most famous poems.
But heritage groups are now fighting to save the limestone Georgian mansion on the shores of Sligo Bay, north-west Ireland.
They fear the property, which is for sale for £2.1 million, could fall into the hands of developers wanting to convert it into a hotel.
The house, built in 1830 for the Anglo-Irish Gore-Booth family and set in 400 acres, has a special place in Irish history.
Constance Gore-Booth, who later as Countess Markievicz played an active, armed role in the Easter rebellion, grew up there with her sister, Eva, a poet and staunch supporter of the Suffragette movement.
They were a formidable pair: While her sister was fighting for women’s rights, the countess was the first woman to be elected to Westminster for Sinn Fein, although she refused to take her seat.
Yeats, a frequent visitor to Lissadell, was so captivated by its “great windows open to the south” and by the beautiful “girls in silk kimonos” who lived there that he was moved to immortalise it in verse.
But Sir Josslyn Gore-Booth, its current owner, says he can no longer afford to maintain the house and hopes the Irish government will step in to buy it.
The proposed sale has angered heritage groups and historians who believe Lissadell, which still contains most of the original furniture and paintings, is one of the most significant houses in Ireland.
“A vital and poignant part of Irish heritage is at stake, which uniquely reflects our literary, artistic, architectural, social and political history,” said Roy Foster, Carroll Professor of Irish history at Oxford.
“The associations of Yeats and the vivid and extraordinary history of the most famous Gore-Booths supply reason enough to save the house as part of Irish cultural heritage.”
Its importance lies essentially with the life of Countess Markievicz, who renounced her aristocratic ancestry to help the poor and fight for independence.
A dedicated nationalist, she fought alongside Irish rebels during the 1916 rising in Dublin and the British sentenced her to death for treason.
This was commuted to life imprisonment because she was a woman.
She was released a year later during the general amnesty, remained a fervent republican, joining the Sinn Fein boycott of Westminster during the 1918 general election.
In 1923, two years after the partition of Ireland, she was elected to the Dail, but died five years later in a paupers’ ward of a Dublin hospital.
Desmond FitzGerald, Knight of Glin, president of the Irish Georgian Society, called on the Irish government to buy the house.
“It should be retained for the people. It gives an extraordinary insight into the two sisters and contains many of the artefacts bought for the house in 1830. To lose it would be a great loss for the country and its people.”
Sir Josslyn said: “I have been happy to pay the running costs on the estate out of income, and to invest substantial capital in the restoration. But I have concluded that to do the job properly it will require much greater resources than I can justify."
A government spokesperson said: “Inspectors have visited Lissadell and are looking at the possibility of buying it but no decision has been made.”