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2004-10-05 Kevinsfort estate dairy gave Sligo its first ever ice-cream

If you were to look in a local phone-book, the names Gethins, Hudson and Gilmore (all surnames which turn up in the deeds for Kevinsfort House) would appear several times, but I challenge you to find even one Dodwell.

 

Yet, at one time in Sligo, the Dodwells were a hugely important Sligo family - the surname can be traced back to Armada times. The family came from the Oxford area, probably sent to protect Ireland from a possible Spanish invasion, and more than probably lured by a tempting land-offer.

 

In 1636, William Dodwell became High Sheriff of Sligo, while another Dodwell family member had extensive property near Riverstown. In 1782, George Dodwell became Sligo's High Sheriff. By now, this affluent Sligo family had accumulated significant wealth as horse-breeders, and more than likely supplied horses for the Napoleonic wars at the turn of the 19th century. Because of this, George Dodwell was in a strong position to construct his dream-home in 1820 on a 580-acre estate just outside Sligo at Kevin's Park, now Kevinsfort. The origin of the name "Kevinsfort"("Kevin's Park") is still shrouded in mystery - suggested answers on a postcard please.

 

Fifty species of trees, many exotic, were planted on the Kevinsfort Estate in the 1800s. The limestone house is in Palladian style, and boasts impressive inner and outer halls, six bedrooms and three reception rooms. The bathrooms were first supplied with hand-pumped water, until the 1860s when the new town supply was used. The estate also had coach houses and farmhouses, stables for the racehorses, as well as stables to house polo ponies, used for the frequent lawn polo matches on such local estates as Wynne's Hazelwood House.

 

In the late 19th and early 20th century, the house changed hands several times. At one time, another prominent Sligo family - the L'Estranges - rented Kevinsfort House. In the early 1900s, Kevinsfort was bought by Christopher Jocelyn Bentley, who despite being a rather successful owner and trainer of horses (he trained "Ballinode" - the 1925 winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup), was also a bit of a party-animal, and anything but frugal, and so in 1929 Kevinsfort was once again repossessed.

 

The lands were let, the Bentleys emigrated, and the house sat empty. In 1936, the house and some of it's vast estate was purchased by Mr P.P.Condon - ex-manager of Achonry Creamery (now NCF) and proprietor of several electricity generating plants in South Sligo. When the ESB came to Connaught, Mr Condon sold these valuable plants, and was thus in a healthy position to inject life back into Kevinsfort.

 

Dairy farming became a huge part of the Kevinsfort Estate, and this, coupled with Mr Condon's previous experience in the creamery world meant that before long Kevinsfort Dairy had become a thriving little enterprise. A milk surplus during the summer months led to the setting up of a sideline in ice-cream making - a novelty in the 1930s. Butter came from Achonry, chocolate from Cadburys, and milk / cream from Kevinsfort, and soon Kevinsfort choc-ices, lollies and ice-blocks were being delivered throughout the north-west (the Gaiety Picture-house was a regular customer) and even as far away as Limerick. Ice- cream making was handicapped slightly during the war years due to sugar-rationing, and stories are still told of locals arriving at the dairy with their sugar rations in order to order ice-cream.

 

The dairy's machinery was advanced for it's time. Deliveries were made by pony and trap, and later the drivers delivered by means of battery vans. Up to 24 staff (some seasonal) worked at Kevinsfort Dairy. Some worked 7 days a week, 365 days a year, clocking on at 7am and off at 4pm. Eileen Keaveney, a friend of my sister's family, worked at the dairy for 9 years from the early 1960s. Eileen, who knew many of the 60 Fresian cows by name, spent her time filling the ice-cream boxes, washing bottles and machinery, and described the working environment at Kevinsfort as `a happy one'. With a naughty smile Eileen claimed that `many a thing started and finished at Kevinsfort. She refused to elaborate.

 

During the summer months (June - August), John Condon organises tours of Kevinsfort House (Group tours by appointment). For enquiries, call 071  9162787.