Taken from the publication ‘Kilanerin’, published c.1987
No history of the Kilanerin area would be complete without reference to the Esmonde Family of Ballynastragh which over the centuries has played such a major part in the religious, social and political life of the community. The family is of Anglo-Norman origin and came to Wexford, towards the end of the 13th Century. We note that among the early Esmondes, Henry was Seneschal of Wexford in 1294, John was Bishop of Ferns in 1349 and in 1397 David was Governor of Wexford Castle. The Esmonde family came to the Kilanerin area around the sixteen-twenties; we note that Sir Laurence Esmonde was created a peer in 1622 as Lord Esmonde, Baron of Lymbrick and was granted an estate in the area. From that time on, the family played significant roles in local and national politics.
The Esmondes were staunch Catholics and benefactors of the Churches in Kilanerin and Gorey; in both of these churches the family has retained pew up to this day.
One of the best remembered heads of the family in more recent times was Sir Thomas Esmonde who was the first Chairman of the Wexford County Council and who represented North Wexford in the House of Commons from 1900 until 1918. His son Sir Osmonde Grattan Esmonde succeeded by his cousin not only in the title but also in Dail Eireann, Sir John Lymbrick Esmonde S.C. Sir John was T.D. (Fine Gael) for Wexford for two terms: 1937-194 and from 1948-1951. He was succeeded by his brother Anthony in Dail Eireann. Sir Anthony, who before he entered politics was a medical doctor, possessed a formidable political brain. He was Chairman of the committee of Agriculture in the Council of Europe and a Member of the Consultative Assembly of the same institution. He was also a member of the Irish National Health Council and for many years a firm advocate of Ireland’s entry into the EEC. Sir Anthony, who was the 15 th Baronet and a Knight of Malta retire from public life in 1973. He was succeeded by his son John Grattan Esmonde B.L., who was T.D. for Wexford from 1973-1977, when he became a judge of the Circuit Court. Sir John succeeded to the title on the death of his father in 1981.
The family still remain in possession of their ancestral seat at Ballynastragh House. The old house was, however, burned in the ‘troubles’ . A contemporary account relates this incident as follows:
“On the night of the 9 th of March 1923, an armed group approached the house in the darkness. It was undefended as they knew and they were well informed. In a matter of minutes it was ablaze from end to end. Barely time was given to Col. Esmonde to remove the chalice which had survived from Penal days. The records of Grattan’s Parliament, the Master Roles of the Irish Volunteers 1782 and many other valuable historical records perished in the flames. The House was a vast historical museum and the destruction of documents was second only to that which occurred in the Four Courts in 1922. For alleged patriotic reasons the records of Ireland were blown sky high. On a neighbouring hill the next day, Col. Esmonde picked up a charred piece of paper with the words “The End” on it.”
The House was rebuilt, though, on a smaller scale and is still the home of the Esmonde family.