The Decline of the Big House in Ireland (2001)

Terence Dooley

Built to inspire awe and deference, the country homes of Irish landlords were traditionally referred to as 'big houses'. In post-Famine Ireland, these edifices stood as implacable symbols of the economic and social strength of the landed class who resided in them. Their mystique attracted both curiosity and contempt. However, in less than ten decades, the whole fabric of Irish landed society had been totally transformed by economic, social and political developments, and this seemingly indomitable bastion had begun to crumble.

As the demise of ascendancy life set in, houses and demesnes, once thronging with guests and busy with social events and hunting parties, became ghostly shells on the landscape; many were partially closed off, sold, burned or completely abandoned.

Drawing on big house and landed estate records and personal memoirs, Terence Dooley gives an insight into the lives of members of the privileged landed class, their efforts to retain their status and, ultimately, their inability to survive the socio-political upheaval of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He also investigates how the few survivors hung on in spite of various assaults on their lifestyle - from the Land League to the War of Independence and the foundation of the Irish Free State.

Published by:

Wolfhound Press, Dublin (April 2001)



  • ‘Terence Dooley has produced an excellent study of the decline of the Big House from 1860…. This is an impressive work.’’ [Dermot Bolger in Sunday Tribune].
  • ‘This book reveals an author’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the hundreds of aristocratic families and their houses all over Ireland. The decline of the big house  flows along beautifully bringing together the economic, social and political issues that affected life in these privileged and extraordinary houses. Dooley’s book is a must read.’’ [Peter Pearson in Sunday Business Post].
  • ‘Terence Dooley’s book is a brilliant and penetrating study of the reasons why the Republic of Ireland has so few surviving historic houses and collections.’’ [Desmond FitzGerald, Knight of Glin in Country Life].