BY SIOBHÁN CRONIN
THE O’Neill family, owners of Clonakilty’s Fernhill House Hotel and Gardens, have launched an appeal for old photos of the historic house.
The family are celebrating 70 years at the hotel and the anniversary has inspired them to look into the rich history of the mansion house.
‘It’s amazing what you can find,’ said Michael O’Neill Jnr. ‘I found a stunning 1870s picture of Fernhill in the Australian Maritime Museum in Sydney, of all places. It was taken by Edward Hungerford who immigrated to Australia in the 1870s to join the Australian navy. The navy kept his photos in their museum after he died and his aunt lived at Fernhill. It was the only photo of Ireland in his collection, so he must have had happy memories of the house.’
Recently, the family held a special celebratory event to mark their 70 years at the historic house, with a gourmet dinner as part of the Taste of West Cork Festival. The sold-out event featured a menu full of West Cork produce and each dish commemorated a different aspect of Fernhill’s history.
‘We decided to host the event as food has always been so important to us here at Fernhill,’ said Gearóid O’Neill. ‘My great grandfather MJ was a farmer and butcher by trade, and we have tried to carry on his love of West Cork food by providing exceptional meals to our guests. We featured produce from our gardens and meat from MJ’s butchers, which is still run by our cousin Mike in Clonakilty.’
Four generations of the O’Neill family have lived at Fernhill and Michael Jnr gave a brief summary of different elements of Fernhill’s history in between the courses. ‘Fernhill was the most expensive Georgian mansion in Clonakilty, so it has had quite an interesting history as you can imagine. The event was about celebrating the past and food is so important to us, so I thought that it would be a good idea to combine the two. For example, the soup course commemorated the Wright family who lived at Fernhill and ran a soup kitchen during the Famine.’
Michael said he did a lot of research into the house’s history and even found the original advert in The Southern Star about the purchase. It read: ‘Estate Purchased-Fernhill House and Lands, the property of Colonel Wright, adjacent to the town, has been purchased by Messrs. Michael J. O’Neill and Sons. The price was, it is understood, a substantial one.’
Gearóid went on to thank all the hotel’s customers for their fantastic support over the decades. ‘We have lots of plans to improve in the next few years so we are looking forward to the future,’ he added.’ The O’Neills said they would greatly appreciate the West Cork community’s help in finding photos of the house. ‘We would particularly love photos of the four-storey tower that once stood at Fernhill, or when the army were stationed here during WWII,’ added Michael.
The hotel is offeirng a free Sunday lunch voucher to the three best pictures they receive. ‘We would really appreciate anyone’s help or input,’ he said.
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