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The Rams of Gorey

By Lester J. Hartrick

The Ram Family is of interest to the County Wexford Palatines, for the same reasons that the Southwell family is of interest to the County Limerick Palatines . These families were the principal landlords to the original Irish Palatines in these counties. Also as Castle Matrix, [the home of the Southwell family], is of major interest to the County Limerick Palatine community, Ramsfort, [the home of the Ram family of Gorey], is of major interest to the County Wexford Palatines. This article outlines the history the Ram family and their home, Ramsfort.

My Visits to Ramsfort in 1966 and again in 1998.

I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Mr. Basil Phelan, the present owner of Ramsfort, in 1996. He is very warm and hospitable host who is justifiably proud of his grand home and its grounds. He has am aura of quiet dignity that makes me think of him as "Sir Basil." He spent several hours with me during which I was able to photograph much of the home and its grounds. With this article in mind, I again interviewed Mr. Phelan at Ramsfort in 1998. He spent the better part of a day with me, talking about the Ram family and their home. It was my extreme good fortune to find that he has is avidly interested in the history of the family and graciously provided me with Xerox copies of portions of the books from his library, dealing with the family's history. I quote liberally below from "The Ram Family", which was compiled by Willet and Francis Robert Ram in 1940 and "Sites and Scenes In Our Fatherland", by Thomas Lacy, written in 1863.

The Ramsfort Mansion.
Ramsfort is described as the magnificent seat of the representatives of the ancient family from which it takes its name. It is located to the north of the town of Gorey, in a beautiful park like setting

The Ramsfort Mansion from an 18th. Century drawing.

which has been reduced to some 20 acres. Ramsfort's original grounds consisted of some 500 acres. The building itself is described as being of the Italian style of architecture, specifically the elaborate Lombardic style. To my untrained eyes it appears to have both Norman and Dutch influences in its character. The architect of the final version of "Ramsfort", was George Semple who was also the designer of the Essex Bridge in Dublin. The surrounding lawns and pleasure gardens, with their four miles of footpaths, are described as rich and spreading, interspersed with find trees of great magnitude. This is even truer today, than when that assessment was written in 1863. And inscription on Ramsfort reads, "This house Ram built for his brothers, so sheep would bear wool, not for themselves, but for others."

Ramsfort Living room, Left Quarter.

Ramsfort Living Room, Right Quarter.

The interior is of the home was described as having furniture and pictures, as well as carvings and tapestry of the most refined taste. The library is described as 100 feet in length and is enriched with splendid oak carvings imported from Amsterdam. The dining room was described as being adorned with paintings by the first masters and of superior excellence. An adjoining room was hung with a tapestry that was purchased prior to 1863 for £1,000.

There was a domestic chapel with an organ and a magnificent altar peace. The whole style of the house and its furnishings are described as being of the purest and choicest Italian. The balustrades of the flight of stairs on the mansion's exterior, immediately in front of the center of the mansion, are of finely veined marble that were from the ornamental portions of the church of St. Stephano, in Venice.

Ramsfort's Grounds.
The upper reaches of the river Bann flow through the Western portion of the grounds with several gentle waterfalls. Pavilions and curved colonnades decorate this park like setting. In the northern port of the grounds is a Swiss style chapel, dedicated to Our Lady of Victories. Mr. Phelan reconstructed the chapel on a somewhat smaller scale than the original, but with a design faithful to that of the original.Some distance
beyond the chapel is a small cottage like building called

A  Pleasant Stop Along a Walkway.

the "Summer Home." I suspect that the male members of the Ram family used this as a

retreat, when there was "war in the cabin" at Ramsfort.
In addition the Ramsfort grounds has a medieval holy well named "Lady Charlotte's Well." This was housed within a stone structure in the late 1700's at the request of Lady Ram. 17 gardeners were employed at Ramsfort to maintain the grounds. The stables held 17 carriage and riding horses. The home itself had the staff of 17 house servants.

The Ram Chapel.

Lady Charlotte's Well.

The Ram Family's Beginnings and Lineage.

The Ram family has been traced back to Roger and Robert De Ram in 1135. These men were the founders of the ancient English Ram family. There are sketchy family records in existence from that time until 1599, when Dr. Thomas Ram D. D., was made the Lord Bishop of Ferns. Dr. Ram was the descendant of this old English family. He was born at Windsor and spent his youth there. He was made chaplain to Robert Devereux. The descendants of Robert Devereux were said to be informants to Dublin Castle during the "Rising" of 1798.

The First Ramsfort.

Dr. Ram built the first Ramsfort in the year 1630. It was located in the middle of the town of Gorey. The Ram family coat of arms was carved onto this mansion and had the following inscription.

"Let all thy thoughts, thy words, thy deeds, be such onto thy brother

As thou would this should be and let them be none other."

However, this location proved to be too "town like" for the family and they deserted it and it came to "baser" uses. Dr. Ram also built the Episcopal palace and the Prelates residence at Gorey In 1630. Construction of the second Ramsfort on the site of the present day mansion was begun shortly thereafter.

The 1885 edition of "Wexford County Guide and Directory" has the following history of the town of Gorey. "The history of Gorey is very much bound up with that of the Ram family. Thomas Ram was Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin in 1612 and was buried in a chapel on his own estate at Gorey.

He obtained a charter for Gorey under the name of Newborough. Provision was made in this for parliamentary representation and for a corporation, composed of a sovereign, burgesses, and free commons. A second charter was granted by James II, but never went into effect. The inhabitants did not take kindly to the name chosen for the town by Bishop Ram and his descendants evidently did not try to popularize it. In 1641 the Parliamentarians burned the palace that he had built. During the rebellion of 1798, Ramsfort and Clonatin residences of the Rams were destroyed. It is supposed that St. Edan had a cell near the latter place and that Clonatin was originally called Clauin-Edan. At the time of the Union, Gorey was disenfranchised, the then Stephen Ram receiving £15,000 as a solatium.

The Ramsfort Grand Staircase.

There is a good a water supply and first-rate sewage system [in the town of Gorey], provided by the liberality of Mr. Stephen

Ram, D.L., during the day is of his proprietorship and for which he has held in kindly remembrance by the people."

Ramsfort and the "Risings."

In 1641, Able Ram, the son of Dr. Thomas Ram, was living in the new Ramsfort. In that year there was in the Irish rebellion and Ramsfort came under siege by Eneas Kavanagh. The Ram Family was driven from their home in a "most tyrannous and barbarous manner", and the Ramsfort library was burned. Enas Kavanagh lived at Ramsfort until the coming of the Lord General Cromwell. Being Protestant, the Ram Family had the their lands restored to them under Cromwell, after his victory at Drogheda in 1649. On the 13th of November 1684, the Duke of Ormond, who was the Lord Lieutenant, knighted Able Ram, who was then the Lord Mayor of Dublin.
In the early months of 1689, there was a considerable exodus of Protestants from Ireland. The books of Alderman Able Ram were taken and all of his money and goods were confiscated. His two old aunts were in danger of starving because their money had been sized. Able Ram fled from Dublin and was "attained".

With the exception of the 8 year Kavanagh hiatus mentioned above, the tenure of the Ram family at

Ramsfort, was to last for over 220 years.

Ramsfort From the Pleasure Gardens.

The Ram family was granted their coat of arms and Crest in 1683.

The Ram Family Accommodates the Palatines at Old Ross.

The most propitious event for the Old Ross Palatines, was the 1709 selection of the 7 families that were to live on the properties of Ram estate. At that time a total of 43 landlords agreed to accept 538 German families. Sir Thomas Southwell of Castle Matrix accepted 10 families and Able Ram of Ramsfort accepted 7 families. Many of these landlords accepted even larger numbers of families, with one landlord accepting as many as 56.

However things did not run smoothly for all of the Palatine families. Many complained of and harsh and unfair treatment by their landlords. By the following year, only 188 of the original 538 families remained on their landlord's estates. All 56 of the families assigned to the afore mentioned, landlord, left during the first year. However, all of the families assigned to the Southwell and Ram families remained on their farms. In 1716, Abel Ram was nominated as a Palatine Commissioner.

"A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland", mentions that the Old Ross property consists of 1792 acres, chiefly under tillage, of which part is occupied by a colony introduced here from Germany by the late Mrs. Ram.
It would appear that this sociological experiment of Mrs. Ram's was similar to her growing a pot of African violets. Being landlords to the Old Ross Palatines appears to have been a rather minor part of the Ram family's responsibilities.

It was the fair and almost benevolent treatment of the tenants of the Ram and

The Ramsfort Mansion in 1996.

Southwell estate's, as well as the favorable

rents charged ,that contributed to this stability and the prosperity of their Palatines tenants. I quote, in part, from an 18th. century letter:London 29th. May, 1793.

Dear Uncle,

It is with unfeingn'd pleasure I learn that your health is again re-established and that Mr. Ram your Landlord proves to be a man of discernment, humanity and justice and well deserving of that consequence and influence that his rank and fortune give him in the Community. Happy, very happy would it be for the whole human race if all men of independence and influence were to set such worthy examples of equity and justice to the other order of the people for we are much apter to copy from our superiors than from any other rank in life - but I have been insensibly led into too moralizing a strain and must cut it short,by congratulating you on your having now accomplished a substantial security and independence for yourself during the remainder of your journey thro' this giddy uncertain life and a very handsome prospect and introduction for your children, which I hope you will see them manage and improve, in a manner that will do credit to themselves and make you happy.

Dear Uncle, Your affectionate h'ble Serv't,

Robert Morris.

It in 1817 the Ram family had a report and inventory prepared on the Old Ross portion of the estate. This has given us detailed insight into the daily lives and the makeup of the Palatines farms. The original of this report is on file at the National Library in Dublin.

Thanks to the kindness of Mr. King Milne, of Ballymorgan, Ferns, I was provided with a copy of the following letter:

Mr. Elmes

I received your letter of the 6th inst. yesterday evening. I am really sorry for your present situation by the unkindness of your relation. It would be to no purpose for you to come to Clonatin, it would avail you nothing. I am determined about the tenant, (If we can agree); you cannot get the late Nick Whitney's farm.

Yet I remain With well wishes

Andrew Ram

Clonatin 12th. October, 1792
These ancient documents give us a brief glimpse of the day-to-day relationship between the Ram family and their tenants. It also shows that the Ram properties were rigidly controlled and that the mundane tenant-landlord business was conducted from Clonatin, as opposed to           
the Ramsfort mansion. The Ram Seal

Almost continuously from the late 1600s through the 1700s, members of the Ram family were members of the Irish Parliament, for the borough of Gorey. The fortunes of the Ram family began to turn with the "Rising" of 1798. Ramsfort was totally destroyed when bombarded from Gorey. Some out buildings survived and were later used as a Franciscan Monastery.

Like the legendary Phoenix, the present day Ramsfort rose from it's own ashes and was rebuilt following the "Rising" of 1798.

The Ram Family's Religion.

Then in 1855, Arthur Archibald Ram, to use an Irish expression, "Turned Papish and the family hasn't had a day's luck since." Fifteen years later, Arthur Ram was forced to sell Ramsfort.

Each year Mr. Phelan sends out personalized Christmas cards. Each of these contain pictures of Ramsfort's past with a little story of historic significance. I have paraphrase one of these below.

Following  the conversion to Roman Catholicism, the Ram family regularly attended the service at the parish church. They were half concealed in their large square curtained pew, which adjoined the communion table. They entertained the great desire to have the evening service in their own house at Ramsfort. The courtyard in the center of Ramsfort was roofed over making a lofty, though narrow Chapel. The owner, who had a good opportunity for exercising his artistic taste, designed the settings and decorations. He had furniture and pictures enough in the house without making any additional purchases. Some oak stalls of the 12th century, which had been bought by him at the sales of a Mr. Pugin's effects after his death, were fixed at the sides. At the end wall was hung the well-known picture by Spanielletto, representing the Nativity, the group of figures included the Holy mother; the Angels and the Shepherds, was an immense size and reached up to the roof. On the sidewalls were Gobelin tapestries of the four evangelists and over the entrance door was a fine specimen of Della Robbia ware, representing our Blessed Lady adoring her child. The communion table, which was never used for that purpose, was covered within embroidered silk hangings, according to the proper color for the day. Spaces were reserved for an organ and carved oak reading desk. Mr. Ram was the organist and the entire household were the singers.

From Riches to Ruin.

So lavish was the lifestyle of the Ram family in the latter days, that when Ramsfort was sold in 1870, there was not enough money from the proceeds to satisfy the family's outstanding debts. During the period of ownership of Arthur Archibald Ram, the last of the Ram family to occupy Ramsfort, free admission to all was given to all parts of the demesne.

It is interesting to note that Archibald Ram married Blanche Tottenham. It was a Charles Tottenham who was a warden of St. Mary's Church (COI), at Old Ross, County Wexford. He was also the Sovereign of the town of New Ross. It was he who gave refuge to the 0ld Ross Palatines in several of his newly constructed homes there, during the "Rising" of 1798.

Generally speaking, during time of the ram family at Ramsfort, there were two professions opened to the male members of the upper class. They had a choice of either the joining the military, or becoming a theologian. Many of the Ram family men chose a career in the Navy. In the 1805, Lieutenant William Alexander Ram of the Royal Navy was killed in-service on H. M. S. Victory. He was the son of Colonel Ram M.P., for County Wexford Ireland.

The latter owners of Ramsfort were:

In 1870, the estate was purchased by, Mr. William Kirk, a Belfast linen merchant.

In 1890, the estate was purchased by Mr. Neville of the U.S.A

In 1895, Sir George Errington, High Sheriff of Longford, Tipperary, and Wexford Counties purchased the estate.

On March 20th, 1920, Ramsfort was left to Lady Errington, Sir George's wife.

In 1935, the property was left to a nephew, More O'Farrall.

In 1936, the property sold for £4250 to the Irish land commission.

In 1936, the estates lands were sold off in 40-acre parcels.  As were the original 500 acres of              the Ramsfort grounds. 

In 1936, the estate was purchased by a group promoting the Irish language

In 1951, the County Wexford Vocational Education Committee purchased the Property.

In 1983 the present owner, Mr. Basil Phelan, purchased the estate.

Ramsfort's Ghost.

Like to all good and proper Irish castles and estate homes, Ramsfort has it's own ghost. Colonel Ram of the 1760's haunts the grounds. He has been seen marching soldiers up and down the parade grounds at Gorey. This, before the advent of electric lighting! In 1988 the sound of revelry was distinctly heard at Ramsfort.

Conclusion.

Ramsfort must surely have been the site of the very pinnacle of County Wexford society. This was especially true during the time that Sir George Errington and later to Lady Errington. There were a 122 to 140 invitees to the island Hunt Ball at Ramsfort in the 1920's.

Here ends the story of the Ram family of Ramsfort, Gorey, County Wexford. To my knowledge, there are no descendants of this venerable old English family still in Ireland. Yet the effects of this family's honesty, integrity and sense of fair play live on today. Were at not for these, the descendants of the original Palatines of Old Ross might not have been economically and educationally capable of going on to become the successful people that the family history has shown them to be. County Wexford and the whole world is just a bit better because of the Rams of Gorey.

Photographs by the Author.

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Last Modified January21, 2001.