The Cliffe Family

Bellevue was purchased about 1825 by Anthony Cliffe, whose family seat was at Abbeybraney, near Gusserane. The Cliffes had come to Ireland with Cromwell's army in 1649 and had been given grants of land in counties Meath and Wexford. By 1822, they had added substantially to their holdings with properties in counties Cork and Kilkenny. By the time Cliffe purchased Bellevue it had largely unoccupied for more than a decade. He seems to have set about the task of renovating and modernising the mansion almost immediately, possibly to facilitate the accommodation needs of his growing family. There is some suggestion that Cliffe employed architect Daniel Robertson to carry out this work, but this has yet to be confirmed.

By 1863, the new Bellevue was being described in admiring terms by Wexford's Borough Treasurer, Thomas Lacy in Sights and scenes in our fatherland:

"Bellevue, the delightful residenceof Anthony Cliffe Esq., is admirably situated on a gentle elevation above the river, from which it is divided by the rich and extensive sloping lawn. The mansion is a splendid house of modern construction, which displays its front to the Slaney, and presents a peculiarly elegant appearance.

The entrance is beneath a magnificent portico formed by eight light and handsome columns of the Ionic order, and which is approached by a capacious flight of steps, which extends the entire length of the grand centre. A fine boldly projecting wing extends on each extremity of the portico, and gives a finish and an air of grandeur to the rich façade.

The building is of quadrangular form, and affords ample accommodation to the large establishment which is maintained by its munificent proprietor

Lacy also enthused about the demesne itself , its approaches and gardens. He also noted the Cliffes' commitment to agricultural improvement . The Cliffes proved to be benign and popular landlords, in contrast with the previous owner, George Ogle, who was generally hated and feared by the tenantry. According to local historian, Peter Doyle, the Cliffes 'built about twenty-five houses in different places on the estate for the workers and their families. These included a cluster of houses that were to make up a new village at the crossroads [at the entrance to the estate], together with a gatelodge, a shop, a forge and Ballyhogue's first school-house.

A draw-well sunk nearby provided a constant supply of cool, clean water. These brick slate-roofed houses were mostly of the two-up-two-down style and replaced most of the old mud-walled thatch-roofed cabins where families had lived for many generations.' Throughout the famine, the Cliffe family provided work for locals and also supplied beef and Indian meal, together with game birds and rabbits, for a soup kitchen that had been set up in one of the houses at Ballyhogue crossroads.

In 1856, the Cliffe family took a decision that must have sent shockwaves through the establishment of the time: nine members of the family converted to Roman Catholicism. Consequently, a private chapel to the design of Augustus Welby Pugin, was built adjacent to the mansion in 1859 by J.J. McCarthy.

Writing in 1863, Thomas Lacy described it as: "in the Decorated is constructed of hammered limestone, the deep blue colour of which contrasts favourably with the pure white granite of which the door-jambs and window-edgings are composed. It is entered in the south an ornamental porch....This entrance will afford admission to the tenants and neighbours of the amiable and charitable proprietor; while a corridor which connects it with the mansion will be available for the principal members of the family".

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