About half-way between Banbridge and Gilford, near the village of Lawrencetown, is "Rosehall" a house of great antiquity. Connected with this house in the latter years of the eighteenth century were two Monroes (the old name of the house being Rosehall or Monroe's Hall) named Dolly and Henry. The futures of the two were very contrasting though neither had that success in life for which nature seemed to have endowed them.
The Monroe family claims descent from Occam, Prince of Fermanagh, who dwelt by Lough Foyle and took his surname from the River Roe. Donald Monroe, his son, brought his clan to Scotland to fight for King Malcolm in AD 1045. He was rewarded with a grant of lands around Cromarty Firth and there the family home, Foulis Castle (said to be named after Lough Foyle), still stands.
The Monroes re-entered the Ulster scene in 1641 when Major-General Robert Monroe brought an army of Scots to help protect his fellow countrymen in Ulster during the great rising of that year. With him came his younger brother Daniel, who was later rewarded for his services with a grant of lands in Lower Iveagh.
Daniel had two sons called Henry and Hector and on his death his estate was divided between them. Henry received the lands in Tullylish and built Roes Hall on these lands whilst Hector built Roes Vale on that part of the estate which lies close to Magheralin.
The brothers were then caught up in the turbulent events of the Williamite wars and Henry became one of the leaders in the besieged city of Londonderry. He is mentioned frequently in the accounts of the siege and was one of the pall-bearers at the funeral of Governor Henry Baker. When peace was restored Henry returned to Tullylish and for almost one hundred years the Monroes led the quiet life of minor country gentry. Then in the final third of the eighteenth century the name Monroe again came to be much spoken of in Ireland.
Henry's great grand-daughter Dorothea (or Dolly as she was better known) was a young girl of surpassing beauty and sweet-ness of temperament. She was born and brought up in Tullylish at Roes Hall. Her aunt Frances, a sister of her father, had married Lord Loftus, an aristocrat with lands in Fermanagh, who lived mainly in Rathfarnham Castle, close to Dublin. Frances, Lady Loftus, was an intensely socially ambitious woman who took an active part in the social life of aristocratic Dublin. Her husband appears to have been a rather weak character, dominated by his wife.
Lady Loftus was much taken by Dolly's beauty and brought her to live with them at Rathfarnham Castle. As the events which were to follow took place in that period so well described in the novels of Jane Austen and as their development so closely resembled the plot of one of these novels it may be fair to suppose that part of the reason for the transfer of Dolly from Tullylish to Dublin was the hope of finding a match for her that would advance the fortunes of both the Monroe and Loftus families.
When Dolly was introduced to Dublin society the effect was electrifying.
The Dublin social set was always looking for any novelty and the news of Dolly's beauty spread rapidly. Every man wanted to meet her and soon she was the toast of every dining club in the city. It was not only the young men who were enamoured with her for the aged provost of Trinity College, Mr Francis Andrews, was also entranced. Indeed he spoke of her beauty in his dying hour and his will included the following clause - "I intreat Miss Dolly Monroe to accept my coloured prints - a fitter ornament for her dressing room than my library -- as a mark of my greatest respect for her many amiable qualities".
Many painters wanted to try and catch her beauty on canvas and she was painted several times by Angelica Kauffman, the leading Irish portrait painter of the time. A portrait by Kauffman can still be seen in the National Portrait Gallery in Dublin.
Naturally many young men were keen to be in her company and among the suitors was Henry Grattan, of Grattan's Parliament fame and the leading parliamentarian in Ireland. A more humble admirer socially was Oliver Goldsmith, the famous poet and author. In his poem "The Haunch of Venison" he wrote:
"Of the neck and the breast I had still to dispose
T'was a neck and a breast that would rival Monroe's".
At the time when Dolly went to live with her aunt and uncle at Rathfarnham, the government of Ireland was largely in the hands of a group called the "Undertakers''. These were a group who had undertaken to get the King's business carried through the Irish Parliament. Originally they had been the creatures of the London administration but they had become increasingly independent and now wanted all Irish affairs to be under the direction of the Irish parliament.
The King's ministers in London (Lord North and Lord Bute) wanted to crush the power of the undertakers and so they sent Lord Townshend, a friend of theirs, as the new Viceroy. His task was to win over the "patriot peers" to his side. When he arrived be began to look for those on whom he could work. His attention centred on Lord Loftus. He visited Rathfarnham and met the beautiful and delightful eighteen year old Dolly. Lord Townshend, a widower, appeared to be very much taken by the young girl. Very soon his coach, with its six running footmen, was visiting Rathfarnham three times a week.
Lady Loftus was delighted. It appeared that her hopes were about to be realized. All Dolly's other suitors and admirers were ruthlessly dismissed by her aunt. One of these, Sir Hercules Langrish, wrote a satire called "Baratariana", a parody of Don Quixote. It told of Sancho Panza being made governor of an island west of England. Three of his courtiers were Count and Countess Lofthouse and Donna Dorothea Monroso. The story told how the countess was planning to marry off Dorothea, who is described as follows:
"Lovely Dorothea, her stature was majestic, but her air and demeanour was nature itself. The peculiar splendour of her carriage was softened and subdued by the most affable condescension, and as sensibility gave a lustre to her eye so discretion gave a security to her heart, and indeed while her charms inspired universal rapture the authority of her innocence regulated and restrained it. The softest roses that ever youth and modesty poured out on beauty glowed on the lip of Dorothea. Her cheeks were the bloom of Hebe, and the purity of Diana was in her breast.
Never did beauty appear so amiable nor virtue so adorned as in this incomparable virgin. But let us not be supposed to glance a thought against your purity, lovely Dorothea! Whatever be your fortune or wherever you go, you will retain yourself. If in public splendour and exalted station you will carry with you humility and modesty. If inauspicious destiny sink you to the rank of humble condition your beauties will adorn and your virtues dignify your retreat".
Townshend continued his blandishments and Lord Loftus crossed the floor. As a reward he was made Marquis of Ely. The policy, however, did not succeed. The Viceroy became more and more unpopular and eventually he was recalled to England. He was almost mobbed by a hostile crowd when embarking from Dalkey and his effigy was burnt as he set sail. He did not bring Dolly with him nor did he come back to see her. It would appear that she had been a pawn in a game of high politics and ambition played between Townshend and her aunt. She returned to Roes Hall and eventually married Mr William Richardson of Richhill. She died at the young age of 39 in 1793. One hopes that her domestic life in Richhill was happy, after the hubbub of the time with her vice-regal lover when it appeared for a time that she would be the wife of the King's representative in Ireland and so the highest in the land.
At the time of Dolly's death her cousin Henry Monroe was living in Lisburn. His father was the younger son of Hector Monroe of Roes Hall. Henry had all the masculine virtues to match those feminine ones of Dolly. He was handsome and a man of taste. His long hair was tied with a black ribbon. He was a well known sports-man on the hunting field and he was a brilliant athlete. Various stories are told about his prowess, one being that he jumped across the new lock of the Lagan canal. He is also said to have run down the steps of his house and jumped across the backs of four horses which were waiting for their riders. Lurgan residents are familiar with the story of how he saved Shankill Parish Church when the roof caught fire by climbing a ladder and extinguishing the flame.
He was a strong admirer of Henry Grattan and an enthusiastic member of the Lisburn Volunteers. At this time Freemasonry was growing rapidly in Ireland and Henry became a keen Mason. He also joined the United Irishmen and because of his qualities rose rapidly in the movement. With a rising imminent the appointed leader of the society lost his nerve and stood down. In this crisis Henry was appointed leader in his absence. The fact that he accepted this position with all its dangers may have been due in part to his having seen, some days earlier, a member of his Masonic lodge being scourged by the military to make him confess political crimes. According to his family he had been brooding on this when news of his appointment arrived.Be that as it may, Henry took command of the rebel force and on the evening of June 13th, 1798 found himself on the outskirts of Ballynahinch.
The defending troops had been drinking heavily and intelligence reports said that they were lying helplessly drunk in the streets. It seemed that an immediate attack in the dark would certainly succeed. With that reckless love of honour which was his outstanding characteristic Monroe refused to move saying: "We scorn to avail our-selves of the ungenerous advantage which night affords - let us take the field like men and do battle with all our might, but a national cause must not be stained by the cowardice of midnight assassins". Not all his fellow commanders took this high-minded view and in consequence a group of seven hundred of his best men were marched off the field by their commander.
Despite this, victory was almost his the next day when he did attack Ballynahinch. The garrison was about to abandon the town and the order to sound the retreat was given. The inexperience of the attackers, however, resulted in some thinking that this signal meant a charge by fresh troops and they began to flee in panic. The experienced regulars seized their opportunity and soon a rout followed.
Henry wandered in the neighbourhood of Dromara for two days and eventually appealed to a farmer called William Holmes for sanctuary. Holmes hid him under straw but almost immediately his wife set out for Hillsborough to inform on him and arrange his capture. On the way she met the Waringstown Yeomanry who had arrived in the area too late to take part in the battle. They went to the farm, captured Henry, and brought him in ropes first to Dromore and then to Lisburn.
On the night of June 16th he was confined in Castle Street. The next morning he was led to Market Street where a gallows had been erected in front of his own house. The fact that he had retained his legendary courage was shown by his coolness there. On arriving at the gallows he recognized a friend standing in the crowd and insisted on paying him an outstanding debt. He then leapt on to the ladder of the scaffold. A rung broke but he refused help and climbed up again. The executioner was inexperienced and bungled the act of putting the rope around his neck. Henry kept his courage and without waiting to be turned off the ladder he jumped off it. His head was then severed from his body and placed on a spike for display in Lisburn.
In Lecky's History of Ireland the following tribute is paid to him: "Monroe died like a true Christian and a brave man and impressed all who witnessed his end with his courage and manifest sincerity".
Another contemporary remarked that he had: "A romantic love of adventure and a mistaken idea of honour".
Such is the story of two contemporaneous Monroes of Roes Hall, Tullylish, Lower Iveagh, County Down. Neither achieved the fortunate position which had at one time appeared to be within their grasp. Both by their demeanour, however, added lustre to the name of a famous family, the Scottish branch of which was one of the great families of Scottish History. The American branch of the Monroes provided the United States with its President in 1816. He was the author of the famous Monroe Doctrine which has been a central plank of American foreign policy ever since.
The Monroes have now left Roes Hall and with the passage of years the name has come to be written Rose Hall. The name of the family, however has not been forgotten and in the area the memory of both Dolly and Henry is still fresh.
Lines in Praise of the Beauty of Dolly Monroe
From an Epistle to George Howard, Esq., by George Faulkner.
Fond swain, I hear your wish is such
Some painter should on canvas touch
The beauties of Monroe;
But where's the adventurer will dare
The happy mixture to prepare
Her peerless charms to shew?
First let the cheek with blushes glow
Just as when damask roses blow,
Glistening with morning dew,
Contrasted with the virgin white
With which the lily glads the sight
Blend them in lovely hue.
And truly then that cheek to grace,
Upon her flowing tresses place
The chestnut's auburn down.
Her lips you may in sort depaint
By cherries ripe, yet ah! 'twere faint
Should them with hers be shewn.