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In 1789, George Evans Bruce, a Limerick banker, bought the estate at Hermitage and built an imposing mansion there. We are told he made his fortune gambling in the casinos of Paris and London and he spared no expense on his house. It was in a spectacular location with views over the Falls of Doonass and the house itself had a grand five-bay front with a pediment supported by large Corinthian pilasters framing the central bay. But Bruce soon became a social outcast, and he sold Hermitage to the Massy family in the early 19th century.
The Massy family were of Cromwellian origin, their ancestors coming over to Ireland with Cromwell’s army in 1649. After the Cromwellian conquest, they were granted extensive lands in County Limerick and over the years expanded their landholdings in the county.
The third Baron Massy purchased Hermitage in 1807 and moved the family seat to this magnificent mansion on the banks of the River Shannon. It was here that the 6th Baron, John Thomas William Massy, hosted extravagant parties for the gentry during the summer, making good use of his salmon fishing rights on this stretch of the river.
He died in 1915 with his estate in debt and the entire contents of Hermitage were put up for auction. The house was left empty and uninhabited and in June 1921, it was burnt to the ground, a casualty of the Irish War of Independence.
There is an old stone stile with a grand archway on the river walk in Castleconnell. Lord Massy’s Stile, as it became known, leads into the estate that once housed the large mansion.
The family vault is in the churchyard of All Saints Church, Stradbally and the church itself houses memorial plaques to a number of the family members.