Lissadell House and Gardens, Sligo, Ireland
Josslyn Gore Booth
1869 - 1944
Josslyn Gore Booth, sixth Baronet of Sligo, created one of the finest horticultural estates in Europe at Lissadell in the first part of the 20th Century.
Born the year after his famous sister, Countess Constance Markievicz and the year before his poet sister Eva, Josslyn outlived both and produced a fine family of eight children with his wife, also his cousin, Mary L'Estrange Malone, whom he married in 1907. Like his sisters Constance and Eva, Josslyn was profoundly influenced by the horrors of famine, which he witnessed at the ages of 10 and 11 in the years 1879, 1880, watching and helping his parents distribute food to the starving in the Riding Arena at Lissadell. When he came into his inheritance in 1900, he immediately arranged the sale of 28,000 thousand acres of his lands to tenants, under the Wyndham Land Act (the final payments were not received until the 1970s); he worked closely with Sir Horace Plunkett in the co-operative movement, founding four co-operatives in Sligo and his aim throughout his working life was to create and maintain employment for local people.
Constance and Josslyn 1890
With the frequent absences on sailing trips of his father Henry, Josslyn took an early interest in the management of the Lissadell Estate, and in innovative agricultural and horticultural practices. He studied forestry in Canada, and created large plantations and nurseries on the estate. He also exported farm vegetables such as potatoes, the mild sea shore climate in Lissadell being particularly suited to early crops. He established commercial gardens to supply tomatoes, strawberries, cut flowers as well as vegetables. His particular passions, however were daffodils and his large, walled Alpine Garden from which he exported seeds to countries as far away as China and Japan. Writing in 1904, he said:
“During the past three or four years we have endeavoured to develop the natural resources of Lissadell for the purpose of giving employment and lending a hand in the revival of agriculture. Departments such as tillage, farming, forestry and sawmills are amongst others being developed, while early potato growing started as an experiment in 1900 under the auspices fo the Department of Agriculture, has been a great success, and an increasing area is every year being taken up by it”.
Jossly established a bulb farm at Lissadell in the early years of the last century, to produce and sell daffodil and narcissus bulbs. Two examples are The Benbulben, a tall white lady (1914 catalogue) and The Brian Boru (1915), but Josslyn’s favourite was a third, The Alannah. He said “among the many narcissi raised, the Alannah was the most beautiful daffodil I ever saw”. Thirty seven of the original 237 Lissadell Daffodils are now back in the ground at Lissadell.
Daffodils at Lissadell today
By 1906 his various enterprises provided employment for over 200 people. The head gardener at Lissadell was Joseph Sangster, the brillilant horticulturalist, who later moved to Sussex in England and joined the renowned Thompson & Morgan seed merchants. Sangster added 4,000 plant names to the 2,000 already offered in the T&M catalogue.
Josslyn was a kindly man, who had been profoundly moved by the plight of local people during the famine years 1879 – 81, when the potato crop failed yet again, and in later years created employment in enterprises such as the Drumcliff Creamery Company, and other creamery co-operatives at Ballinfull, Killasnet and Ballintrillick, based on the co-operative movement begun by Horace Plunkett; and also a clothing business named the Sligo Manufacturing Society, for which he received a loyal address in 1907, which is on display.
Constance Gore Booth (right) and her sister advertising the Drumcliff Creamery Co-op
Josslyn was an indulgent brother, allowing his artistic brother in law, Casimir Dunin Markievicz, to paint images of various members of his household on the pilasters in the Dining Room at Lissadell. Although he disaproved of his sister Constance's militant political actions, he intervened immediately when she was sentenced to death for her part in the 1916 Rising, and lobied the authorities until the commuted the sentence to life imprisonment. He was also unhappy at the prospect of a large political funeral on her death in 1927, but finally agreed to it.
Josslyn outlived his elder sister by 17 years, and survived a kidnap during the War of Independence. His son Hugh, aged 12 at the time, wrote about it later":
“On the day my Father was kidnapped, Brian and I were playing in his study.. the hall door opened, my Father walked in ashen white, rattling the bunch of keys in his pocket, which he always did when he was disturbed or upset. Later we were told that he was working in his office that morning when masked men appeared, asked him to put his hands up, which he did. … [several IRA men travelling from Monaghan to attend a football match had been arrested] My Father said [to them] might he go down to the house to tell his wife. They took him to a cottage on a side road near Grange, there he found Major Eccles, who had been pulled out of his sick bed and taken away. They spent the day there guarded by some men in uniform who were playing about with rifles outside. In the evening word came through that the prisoners had been [released] and my Father was brought home”.
Sir Josslyn died in 1944, within days of receiving the sorrowful news of the death of his son Hugh. He lost two sons in the second World War, Brian and Hugh. His eldest son and heir, Michael, was mentally unstable. Hugh had been groomed to take over the management of his various enterprises at Lissadell on his death, and had studied estate management at Oxford. Realising that Michael would be made a Ward of Court, and the Estate put into Chancery, his last words to his youngest daughter Gabrielle were to urge her to carry on his work at Lissadell: "I know you are very tired, Gabrielle, but you must carry on". She was just 26.
Daffodils at lissadell in 1909