Disney and Bowen, two iconic names in entertainment circles; staying in St Ann’s Hill Hydro on the night of the 1901 census was Rev Brabazon Disney and his wife Sarah Disney, nee Cole-Bowen.
Needless to say my eye was caught by Disney, not exactly your average surname in the Blarney surrounds and it has rather celebrity connotations so I investigated further. What a touch of glamour it turned out to be on both sides of the marriage as Sarah Disney, nee Cole-Bowen was the grand-aunt of the famous novelist Elizabeth Bowen who recounted life in the Big House at Bowen’s Court in the early twentieth century.
Brabazon Thomas Disney, born November 1831 in Slane, was loosely related to the more famous branch of the Disney family, who had emigrated to America in 1834.
The first Disney in Ireland was Hughes d’Isigny, a French soldier from Calvados who settled in England in 1066. At the time of the Restoration, a branch of the Disney family from Norton Disney in Lincolnshire had established itself in Ireland. There were three branches of the family, one mainly settled in Louth, one in Westmeath and one in Kilkenny which is where the great-grandfather of Walt Disney came from.
A privately history of the family, Hugh Disney’s “Disneys of Stabannon” has a very racy description of Brabzon:
“He was the fourth consecutive generation to be named Brabazon. His uncle was Brabazon, Dean of Armagh, his grandfather was Brabazon, Rector of Slane and his great grandfather Brabazon, Professor of Trinity College – all of them clergymen. Educated at St Columba’s College at Stackallan only four miles from Slane, before entering Trinity College as a pensioner, aged 18 on 1 July 1850.
After three years at Trinity he walked out and an indulgent father bought him a commission in the 67th Regiment of Foot which ended within a year as a result of a romantic episode with a senior officer’s wife. He then returned to Trinity where he graduated BA within a year and became curate at the parish church of Farahy [Cloyne in Kildorrey] Co Cork on 30 May 1858. Within 7 months of his arrival he had wooed the eldest daughter of the big house and on 8 January 1859 married 20 year old Sarah Cole Bowen. [She was the eldest of Henry Cole Bowen of Bowen’s Court, co Cork. Sarah was thus a sister of Robert Bowen of Bowens Court and great-aunt of the celebrated author Elizabeth Bowen who writes about them in her works.]
BTD then moved back home to Slane to be curate to his father for 5 years. His next move in 1865 was his appointment as Rector of Farahy across the fields from Bowen’s Court (Sarah’s childhood home). After 6 years they moved closer to Cork when BTD became Rector of Monkstown. In 1877 he was next sent to Abbeyliex as a mere curate (possibly as a result of an amorous indiscretion) and had to wait 4 years before he was made up to rector in 1880. Like his uncle Brabazon he was made chaplain to the Lord Lieutenant. BTD and Sarah spent over 20 years as Rector of Abbeyleix before he retired in 1898. At the time of the 1901 census, Thomas Brabazon Disney and his wife were listed at St. Anne’s Hill Hydro in Kilnamucky, Blarney, Co. Cork. He died the following year on 2 November 1902 aged 71 at Claycastle, Youghal, Co Cork and in accordance with his wishes was buried at Abbeyleix. Mary survived until Nov 1918. Both are buried in the Church of Ireland graveyard in Abbeyleix. (With thanks to Richard Reid).”
Sarah, nee Cole Bowen, was born near Mallow in 1839, eldest offspring of Henry Cole Bowen of Bowenscourt. Constructed in the early 1770’s for the Bowen family who owned the house until it was sold by the author Elizabeth Bowen in 1959. Bowen wrote a history of the house, entitled Bowen’s Court, in 1942 and it is featured in her 1929 novel The Last September.
The life Sarah and her grand-niece Elizabeth experienced in Bownescourt was full of afternoon tea parties, horse riding and dances. And life in the Hydro would have been quite similar, Sarah and her husband Brabazon were well looked after during their stay in the Hydro, life was the same as if they were visiting one of their many friend’s Big Houses, very like Downton Abbey.
Brabazon and Sarah had no children and after her husband’s death she moved in with her sister in Monkstown; when Sarah died in 1918, she was living in Ethelville on the Western Road in Cork, she was buried alongside her husband in Abbeylix. Her will leaves everything to Henry Charles Cole Bowen, her nephew, who was the father of Elizabeth Bowen, the famous writer (born 1899 and died 1973).
For anyone who is interested in the history of Walt Disney’s family there is an excellent and meticulously researched article by a local history association in Carlow.
A local businessman bought Bownescourt from Elizabeth Bowen at auction, sold off most of the mature woodlands for timber, and then demolished the house in 1960. Only a gateway remains. And there is a really interesting article here about what remains of the magnificent Bowenscourt.
St Ann’s Hydro was also shut up about the same time.