The medieval castle of Dromana occupied a spectacular site, high above the River Blackwater. From the 13thcentury onwards this was the seat of the FitzGeralds, Lords of the Decies, a junior branch of the Earls of Desmond.
In the 1670s the FitzGerald heiress, Katherine, the ‘Lady of the Decies’, ward to King Charles II, married Col. Villiers, son of Lord Grandison. Their descendants succeeded as Earls Grandison until 1800, when the only child of the 2nd Earl (of the second creation) married Lord Henry Stuart, younger son of Lord Bute. Their son was subsequently created Lord Stuart de Decies, a title that recalled his long family connection with the region.
The castle of Dromana was attacked and damaged in the wars of the 1640s and 50s, though its base can still be identified from the river, and indeed is still inhabited. In about 1700, instead of rebuilding the castle, two new ranges were built at right angles to one another along the courtyard walls. Both were simple gable-ended two storey structures, possibly just intended for occasional occupation, their only decoration being a robust, pedimented block-and-start door case in the manner of James Gibbs.
Work on a larger new house commenced in about 1780, directly in front of the longer 1700s range. The principal façade was of two storey and nine bays, quite plain, with a parapet and a rather curious segmental-headed armorial doorcase. The river façade contained a shallow double-height bow and was actually an extension of the smaller 1700s range. Together these three buildings faithfully followed the line of the original bawn or courtyard.
The interior was elaborately fitted out for Lord Stuart in the 1840s, with a suite of very grand reception rooms and a massive imperial staircase but by the 1960s Dromana had become something of a white elephant. The estate was sold and subdivided, and the house bought by a cousin who demolished the 1780s block and reduced it to more manageable proportions.
Happily, James Villiers-Stuart was able to repurchase the house in the 1980s. His widow Emily still lives there, along with her daughter and family.
The steeply sloping riverbanks are covered with oak woods and the important mid-eighteenth century garden layout, with its follies, the Rock House and the Bastion, is currently being restored. To the north of the estate, on a bridge across the River Finisk, is the renowned Hindu-Gothic lodge, originally erected to welcome the owner and his bride on their return from honeymoon in 1826. They were so taken with this temporary structure in the latest Brighton Pavilion mode, that they had it rebuilt in more durable materials.
The most notable person associated with Dromana was Katherine, Dowager Countess of Desmond. Born a daughter of the house she died there in 1604, supposedly from falling out of a cherry tree at the reputed age of 140, having allegedly worn out three natural sets of teeth.
Another remarkable man was Lord Stuart de Decies himself, a Protestant aristocrat and large landowner with radical views. As a young man he defeated the Waterford establishment in the famous 1826 election to give Daniel O'Connell and the Catholic Emancipation movement their first Member of Parliament.