John Vernon (head of the family from 1729-55)
Unfortunately we have absolutely no photographs of any of the Vernon family.
There seems to have been confusion, and possibly conflict, over who owned the lands at Clontarf in the early 1700s. Reverend Edward Vernon was named as being the owner of Clontarf in a lease of 1709 while Mary was named in another of 1710. Then there were a number of leases in 1729 which named Mary Vernon and John Vernon ‘of Clontarf’ (son of the Reverend), before finally from 1730 all the leases came from John.
However John’s ownership was to be fiercely contested by none other than Dublin Corporation. In 1731 he gave a vigorous speech setting out his claims and opposing those of the Corporation, who instated that the land had passed to them in law because they were not occupied by the head of a family. The Corporation tried to assert its right of ownership by what is known as “riding the franchises” through them. This meant the Lord Mayor and guild leaders riding their horses around the land to show how far the city’s jurisdiction stretched. They would have done this every three years around the borders of the city, including the coast. The Corporation’s claim also included rights to what were referred to as “the islands”, that is Clontarf Island, formed by the piling up of sand, which has now disappeared due to the reclamation of land.
Sir Michael Creagh, Lord Mayor during James II’s reign, was the first to ride franchises through Vernon’s land, to Raheny
Mill, ‘when not a Protestant durst say his soul was his own’. Vernon declared ’as this is the day of your sallying forth upon that Occasion, and being the first time of your attempting to ride those your pretended franchises, since my being seized and possessed of this Manor of Clontarf, ... I oppose your Entrance on my said Manor ...’. John was successful against the
Corporation, and so continued the Vernon occupation of Clontarf Castle. He was made High Sheriff of Dublin in 1736, so he was well-respected generally.
In a lease of 1748 from John Vernon to John Marsden, merchant, it specifically says that anyone ‘concerned in the Oysterbed on the strand, in contest with the City of Dublin’ would not be allowed to dwell, lodge or reside on the land. This was evidently still a sore subject, as it was only 17 years since Vernon’s rights to the seafront had been resolved, and he evidently didn’t want anyone to jeopardise his peaceful co-existence with the Council, who were still his very close neighbours.
In 1718, the Lord Mayor had been leasing out the Oyster Beds to men outside of Vernon’s remit. There are trunks of trees parallel to the shore, still visible off the coast at Clontarf at very low tides: they may reflect Vernon’s attempts to keep his hands on all of his lands. Rocque’s map of 1760 shows very clearly the ‘bounds of the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor’s‘ lands as coming right across the bay and along the road by the seafront from (now) Watermill Road back to Ballybough Bridge, including a tiny bit of land to the east of Watermill Road (with a house marked on it).
A 1748 lease granted to John Marsden a ‘house and gardens at the Sheds which was leased for 99 years at a yearly rent of £17 ‘lawful money of Great Britain’. If the rent wasn’t paid, Vernon was specifically allowed to repossess the land, and Marsden could be required to stand up before the ‘Courts Leet and Courts Baron that shall be held in and for manor of Clontarf’. These
were manorial courts (so Vernon would probably have been judge) that could settle disputes about ownership of land or straying of beasts. The lessee should not allow any salt house or works to be erected. He was to spend £200 in the first two years on building, or pay an extra 10s with rent. Marsden appears quite regularly in deeds from here on, as a witness, so he may have had some legal training as well as being a merchant.
James Barlow leased 36 acres of land at Sybil Hill for 999 years from Vernon in 1732, and Joseph Fade leased Furry Park also for 999 years. Leases for such a long period were unusual and John’s successors tended to lease land for shorter periods of 150 years and 99 years. Some leases give interesting details, as with one from Vernon to Samuel Price, of 1731, which was specifically for ‘the lives of HRH Prince William of Cumberland, George Vernon [Vernon’s heir], Samuel Price, John Thompson and the life of the longest Liver of them or for 61 years’. This was because freehold, which in England meant an estate in fee, in Ireland meant land held by lease for life/lives (i.e. of an uncertain duration). On the death of the tenant for lives, intestate, his estate descended to his heirs, as long as they were mentioned in the lease originally, hence the tenant’s sons and daughters were often mentioned in the lease.
John Vernon had to mortgage the Castle and 145 acres of land around Clontarf in 1728, during the 1730s and 1740s. But this was done quite a lot around this time, with aristocrats owing a lot of money to their tailors, mantua-makers and carriage-builders, not to mention the other wealthy people of their own class, through debts run up while playing cards and unwisely
One series of deeds shows the complexity of the money and property business. There was a tripartite deed of 28 November 1730, in which Richard Warburton, Joseph Fade and Vernon agreed that the Castle and other named lands and buildings should be handed over to Fade, who was a banker who lived in Furry Park. Judgment was obtained for Fade and against Vernon in the Court of Common Pleas in Michaelmas Term 1735 for the sum of £978.16.8, presumably because Vernon had failed to pay Fade back a loan of £400 from the previous year.
On 1 June 1742 a deed was signed between Fade, Vernon and Elizabeth Archer, whereby the £300 remaining due to Fade was paid by Archer, who was granted possession of the Castle and other lands subject to ‘the power and equity of redemption remaining in the said John Vernon’. In other words, if he found the money, he could pay her and she had agreed she would move out. However, by July 1745 he had found someone else to pay her, as Robert Parkinson and Benjamin Chapman, a rich man who owned Killua Castle, Co. Westmeath, paid her £300. She then handed over Clontarf Castle to them.
Parkinson and Chapman also took a lease of land known as ’two-thirds of Hollybrook’ on the same day in 1745. This land had been ’previously granted to John Ball’ for £500 and now changed hands, once they had paid £500 to Mr Ball. This was the basis on which he handed over all of the land around the Castle and Hollybrook, with the ever-present proviso that when
he repaid the money, he would get it back. This evidently happened, as they had nothing more to do with Clontarf. Vernon used two solicitors, James Saunders and William McCausland in the 1740s and 1750s.
In 1746 John Vernon leased fishing rights to Mr Hamilton along the shore, but he didn’t give him rights to the oyster beds. The land included in this (to the north and east of the strand) covered about a rood of land, but it also covered the sandy area stretching right from Hollybrook to the Nanniken river, which before the building of the Bull Wall and the development of Bull Island covered quite a large area.
Despite his debts, it is clear that Vernon remained at the centre of Dublin’s social life. The Dublin Society (now the RDS) was set up in 1731 with the aim of improving Ireland's economic condition by promoting the development of agriculture, arts, science and industry. Captain John Vernon became a members in the year of its foundation. The composer George Frederick Handel stayed at Clontarf Castle with the Vernons when he was in Dublin, in 1741 and 1742. It was during Handel’s time in Dublin that he wrote, among other things, the Messiah.