Guarding the Rehins Obelisk

County View

John Healy

It is to the credit of Islandeady Community Council that an iconic local landmark is to be repaired and protected from the ravages of time and nature. The 80 foot high, ornate Cenotaph in the grounds of Rehins House is currently under repair by the community council and is being restored to its former structural stability.
It is not the first time that the obelisk, a loving tribute from a grieving husband to his young wife, has been the subject of remedial repair. Back in 1932, the then owner of Rehins, Dodwell Browne, was compelled to engage the services of Will Larkins, reputedly the leading steeplejack of his time, to carry out essential repairs to the Cenotaph. In a mirror situation to that which has threatened the structure in recent months, some ash seedlings had become embedded in the masonry and, as the saplings took root and grew, they began to dislodge the stones which form the obelisk. The steeplejacks erected scaffolding and replaced the urn and globe on top of the monument using steel cables. The work was completed in a few days.
The monument itself is truly a work of great dedication and deep poignancy. After the death of his first wife and his daughter, the original Dodwell Browne married Maria O’Donel, the daughter of Sir Neal O’Donel of Newport House. However, after a few years, Maria became ill and was taken for medical treatment to Dublin, where she died. Her husband had the Cenotaph erected in her memory.
A fine, imposing structure, topped with an ornamental globe carved from local limestone, the cenotaph’s polished slab carries an inscription in Irish as well as English -- “This Cenotaph was built in memory of Maria O’Donel- Browne, second daughter of Sir Neal O’Donel.”
Higher up on the obelisk is a slab bearing the night profile of a beautiful woman with the epitaph ‘Maria O’Donel-Browne’, and on the other side the inscription ‘To Gaiety and Innocence’.
Incidentally, this was the same Maria O’Donel-Browne who, following the rout of the British from Castlebar in 1798, wrote a note to General Humbert requesting protection as, she said, several of the aristocratic ladies of the locality felt under threat.
The gallant Humbert replied, in his somewhat faltering English, that he was ‘fully sensible of Mrs Browne’s very polite and proper conduct, and takes the opportunity of telling her so, and assuring her of his protection’.
“He hopes Mrs Browne will be able to succeed in tranquilising the minds of the other ladies and also” - here showing a more practical turn of mind - “that she will also be so good as to have his horse taken care of.”
Although he was probably unaware of the fact, Humbert’s concern for his horse would have struck a familiar chord with the Brownes, given the local folklore relating to their acquisition of the Rehins Estate in the first place. The Brownes had come to Rehins and taken over the estate, which consisted of over 1000 acres, at the time of the Cromwellian Plantation. It is said that Cromwell had given the property to one of his soldiers who, putting little value on the gift, offered it to anyone who would give him a horse. A fellow soldier named Browne gave him his white horse, and thus did the Browne dynasty become owners of Rehins.
The Brownes turned the estate into a beautiful parkland, with winding avenues and charming woodland groves as far as the eye could see. The estate is now open to the public, under the care of Coillte, and is well worth a visit.