History / History of the House / 1901 to 1922 - John Pentland Mahaffy

Previous / Next: 1896 to 1901 - John Randal Plunkett / 1922 to 1930 - CT Ovenden to Dr Webb

See also: Timeline of events relating to the Mahaffy years

Earlscliffe Residents 1901 to 1922

Professor John Pentland Mahaffy

Professor John Mahaffy,  Provost of Trinity College Dublin
Professor John Pentland Mahaffy, Provost of Trinity College Dublin. Image: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Earlscliffe house was purchased by Professor John Pentland Mahaffy in 1901. [1]

Back in 1865 Mahaffy married Frances Letitia, daughter of William MacDougall who lived in Drumleck House in Howth. Once married they moved to Dublin city. Mahaffy studied the meteorological records of the time and concluded that Howth had the highest average hours of sunshine of any point in Ireland, and very soon rented a summer residence called Sealawn on the Sutton side of the Howth Peninsula.[2] 

Mahaffy was tutor to Oscar Wilde, who described Mahaffy as his "first and greatest teacher".  Oscar used to visit Mahaffy when he lived in Sealawn in Sutton. In 1876 Wilde wrote to William Ward "I am with that dear old Mahaffy every day. He has a charming house by the sea here, on a place called the Hill of Howth, one of the crescent horns that shuts in the Bay of Dublin, the only place near town with fields of yellow gorse and stretches of wild myrtle, red heather and ferns...[3]

According to the book on Mahaffy by Stanford and McDowell, the story at the time was that his wife, Frances, bought Earlscliffe for Mahaffy from spare cash saved from her housekeeping money![4] How true this is, nobody knows, but certainly Mahaffy would have been well paid at Trinity and would have earned royalties in Britain and America from the many books he had published.

It has also been said that Mahaffy had a reputation as 'an out-and-out snob'. For instance it was noted that Mahaffy loved the nobility and would prefer the company of dukes and kings. When he moved into Earlscliffe as his second major residence, a wag at the time suggested that maybe it had better be renamed Dukescliffe! [4]

Mahaffy only used Earlscliffe as a summer residence, spending the rest of the year at his property at 38 North Great George's Street in the centre of Dublin. The 1911 Census of Ireland was taken in April that year and does not mention Mahaffy living in any property in Howth. However, we believe that the house named as "house number 1 in Censure (Howth, Dublin)" refers to Earlscliffe as Mahaffy is named as the landlord. The only occupants listed in the census were Thomas Meharry (the gardener) and his family. [5]

Mahaffy loved his life in Ireland and always wanted to be provost of Trinity College Dublin, but had to wait until 1914 when he was seventy-five to gain the title. A few years later in 1918 he received the Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, which was thought to be unusual as tradition was that a man in holy orders (he had been ordained as a clergyman) could not become a knight. However, he wasn't Sir John for long as he died on the 17th April 1919. [4]

Mahaffy's children

Mahaffy had two daughters, Rachel Mary and Elsie, and two sons, Arthur William and Robert Pentland.

Rachel, the youngest daughter, was born around 1874. She loved botany and had a great knowledge of plants. [8] She contributed to the "Irish Naturalist" with sightings of rare plants spotted in and around the Earlscliffe estate. [9] She was also a good friend of the dramatist, George Bernard Shaw, who wrote to her and her father during the time they lived at Earlscliffe and North Great George's Street [10] , and afterwards when she lived in Sandymount in Dublin. [11] Rachel, who never married, was also a great supporter of her father, especially after her mother (Frances) died in 1908. [4] Rachel died on the 18 Jan 1944. [8]

In contrast to Rachel, Mahaffy apparently found his eldest daughter Elsie to be rather difficult. [4] She did, however, write a good account of the events in Trinity College during the rising of 1916. Her diary on this can still be found in Trinity College archives. [13] She, too, never married and died in November 1926. [21]

John Pentland Mahaffy was a well travelled man, spending long periods in Greece, Africa and a number of trips to America. On his trips to Greece Mahaffy discovered two snowdrop species and named them after his daughters. The first found on Mount Hymettus he named Galanthus Rachelae and the second found on Mount Athos he named Galanthus Elwesii. [12]

The eldest Mahaffy son was Arthur William who was born in Howth on 22 Oct 1869. He was educated at Trinity College Dublin and at Oxford where he was a distinguished oarsman and went into the army. [14] In 1910 he was assistant to the high commissioner for the Western Pacific Islands [15] and rose to being the administrator of Dominica. [4] [16] He died in October 1919 [22]

The youngest Mahaffy son was Robert Pentland. He was born in 1871 [20] and graduated at Cambridge in 1893. He was called to the Bar in 1901 and was a barrister in London for some time. [6] In 1902 it was reported in the New York Times that he was engaged to Miss Beatrix Jones from the US. [17] However, we know that Robert never married Miss Jones as in 1904 he sailed from Liverpool to Ellis Island, New York with his father and it was recorded on the ships manifest that he was single. [18] He eventually married Hon. Evelina Victoria Dillon, daughter of Hon. Conrad Adderly Dillon and Ellen Lousia Dashwood, on 6 May 1919. [19]

In the first world war Robert Mahaffy served with The Devonshire Regiment and in the Egyptian Army and in 1920 was promoted major of The Royal Fusiliers (T.A.).  He died on the 8th May 1943. [20]

Earlscliffe after John Pentland Mahaffy's death

After Mahaffy died on the 4th June 1919 [23], the house remained with the Mahaffy family for a few years more. The lease of Earlscliffe was renewed in 1922 with Howth Castle Estates for a period of 250 years by his daughter Rachel Mahaffy. [7]

Rachel Mahaffy finally sold the house in 1922 to the Very Rev. Charles Thomas Ovenden, the Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. [7]

1911 Census

As Earlscliffe was primarily used as a summer residence, at the time of the 1911 census (2nd April 1911), the only residents at Earlscliffe were the Meharry family, consisting of:

  • Thomas Meharry (Husband), 33 years old, Gardener (Domestic), from Co. Cavan
  • Margaret Meharry (Wife), 29 years old from Co. Meath
  • Martha Jane Meharry (daughter), 3 years old, born in Dublin
  • David T Meharry (son), 1 years old, born in Dublin
  • Thomas Meharry (son), 8 months, born in Dublin

In the 1911 census, Earlscliffe was the first house listed on the form for Censure and was occupied by the Meharry family, with the Gardener's cottage being listed as unoccupied.  [24]

Scrollable timeline covering related events

The following link displays a scrollable timeline related to John Randal Plunkett, showing births, marriages, deaths and major events in their lives and in their home and working environments.

• Timeline of events relating to the Mahaffy years • 

Back to top

List of Earlscliffe Residents

1844 to 1896 - Bunbury McClintock et al
1896 to 1901 - John Randal Plunkett
1901 to 1922 - John Pentland Mahaffy
1922 to 1930 - CT Ovenden to Dr Webb
1930 to 1945 - Sir John Lumsden
1945 to 1949 - William Martin Murphy
1949 to 1950 - Lily Margaret Graham Gough
1950 to 1969 - Stanley-Clarke to Knowles
1969 to today - David & Muriel Robinson & Foley family
Timeline of Residents in History 

Disclaimer. Parts of the data found in these history pages has been derived from sources currently available on the internet. In researching the previous owners of Earlscliffe, certain assumptions have been made as to the validity of this internet data. If you believe that some of this data is inaccurate, please contact  .


This page was last updated on 20-Dec-2020 .