Napers leave Loughcrew

Story by Tom Kelly

Saturday, 26th April, 2008 9:00am

SOME 355 years connection between Oldcastle and the Naper family draws to a close as Emily and Charles Naper place Loughcrew House and its 200-acre farm on the market. His distant ancestor Colr James Naper took possession of half the barony of Fore in 1653 for £800, or 16/- per acre "for his services to the Crown" and then Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell.

The Plunkett family had formerly owned the land and the grounds host the annual Mass in honour of St Oliver Plunkett every July. The Naper estates would grow to 180,000 acres in north Meath, Westmeath and Cavan, helped by the Colonel`s marriage to the sister of Sir William Petty, a senior Dublin Castle official.

The colonel`s son, James, was appointed High Sheriff of Meath in 1702, a post that several of his descendants would also hold. His son, James Lennon Naper Dutton, took his mother`s maiden name but another son, William, resumed the Naper surname and commissioned the important 1778 map of the district.

James Lennox William Naper (1791-1868) commissioned the building of Loughcrew House in 1823, a year after he was appointed High Sheriff of Meath. A busy landlord and writer, he served as chairman of the Poor Law Guardians during the Famine years and subsidised the emigration of tenants to Canada in the 1830s.

His son, James Lenox Naper, also served as High Sheriff and was a major in the Meath Militia while also enduring the first major fire at Loughcrew House in 1888. His son, William Lenox Naper, was awarded the Military Cross for services in the Royal Horse Guard during World War One but he died without issue and his widow Adela married the colourful adventurer, Rodney Matthews in 1946.

His spending seriously impacted on the estate before he disappeared in his plane in the Irish Sea in 1953. A cousin of William Lenox, Merrick Naper, died in Africa that same year before he could inherit and Merrick`s brother, Nigel, inherited the1,500-acre estate before suffering two major fires in the house in 1959 and 1964.

The Land Commission took 600 acres of the estate in 1967 and it was divided between his three sons on Nigel`s death in 1978. Emily and Charles Naper converted the old conservatory, pavilions, servant quarters and stables into the current living area, school of gilting and studio area.

They have revived the 17th century gardens and launched the Loughcrew Garden Opera, which this year will feature Donizetti`s Don Pasquale on 27-28th June.

The Napers look forward to the new owners continuing both projects.