Beatrice of Carnew Castle - a Life in Letters, 1888-1964

Read the life story of Beatrice Woodhouse (born Dowse) as told in letters, from 1891, when Beatrice was sent back to Ireland from Canada, to her death in 1964 in Dublin

The letters have been compiled and edited by her grand-niece Alana Stephens and are published on this website is a series of chapters. 

CHAPTER ONE: the Early years at Kilninor Glebe, Co. Wexford

William Robert Dowse and Marion “May” Kilbride, Beatrice’s parents, were married in February, 1886, in Kilpipe Church, Co. Wicklow by Marion’s father, Rev. Henry Neville Kilbride, and emigrated to Canada shortly after where they settled on a farm, “The Maples,” just outside of the city of Winnipeg. On November 30, 1886 they had their first son, Robert Henry Neville Dowse (Neville). Two years later on January 12, Marion Emma Beatrice (Beatrice) was born, followed by another son, Richard “Dick” William Dowse in 1889. In June of 1890 Ethel Maud (always to be known as “Brownie”) arrived, and six years later, Kathleen.

Beatrice at approximately 4 years of age

In December of 1891 little Beatrice Dowse, aged four years old, was wrenched from her home in Canada and sent back to Ireland, accompanied by a neighbour, Mrs. Mary Lewis, who was returning to England to visit family and had agreed to take Beatrice along with her as far as Liverpool. Beatrice’s final destination was Kilninor Glebe in Co. Wexford, where she would live with her grandparents, Rev. Henry Neville and Emma Sarah Kilbride, aunts Violet, Ethel, and Maud Kilbride, and great-aunt Kate Quadling. Beatrice would never again see her mother, or ever again play with her beloved siblings, Neville, Richard and Brownie. Beatrice in her lifetime never met her youngest sister, Kathleen Dowse.

A letter of Emma Sarah Kilbride, Co. Wexford to her daughter, Marion Dowse in Canada, Sept. 14, 1891

 I am glad to see that we may expect to see little Beatrice before very long. You need not send much (sic) clothes with her as we can get what she will require here. Dear child, I hope she will have a pleasant trip across the ocean. Be sure and tell us where she is to be met and the name of the Steamer. Also please tell Mrs. Lewis to let me know when she thinks of returning as I would send some flannel & other little things. I would like a month’s notice as I suppose one won’t return before Spring.

Bacheldre[1]                                                                                          December 4th,1891


Dear Mrs. Dowse,

I am very sorry I have not written before, I intended to write in Montreal but had no time, and had to go on board Cercasian at 8 o’clock. Beatrice was very happy & contented all the time. She enjoyed the ride on the train and the ship. She was seasick two days and was a little troublesome then, but the Stewardess was very kind to us. I had to pay 15 dollars for Beatrice on the boat, the other 5 dollars I changed, and 18 shillings I gave to Mrs. Mullon to take her on. I hope she will reach her home quite safe. She was well when I left her in Liverpool on Monday Nov. 30th. I have a very bad cold and tired after the journey.

            Hoping you are all quite well. Please write soon.

                                                                                Yours Truly, 

M. Lewis[2] 


           Life on the Canadian prairies in the 1880s was harsh and difficult, and many relatives and friends who sailed from Ireland to visit the Dowse family in Canada went home with tales of the struggles that William and May were having. It is perhaps for this reason that the decision was made to send Beatrice back to Ireland, where she would have a much more secure and comfortable life living with her grandparents.

Beatrice later describes her four-year-old perception of her new situation this way. When I first was sent to Ireland I used to think Neville lived in what was really a laneway between 2 very high hedges, and if only I could get up there I would find him & have someone to play with – I was about 4 then!  I was a very lonely child, never saw anyone of my own age & there was a strict rule, “Don’t ask questions.”



The Kilbride family lived in Kilninor Glebe, Co. Wexford, and Rev. Kilbride had to travel a distance of five miles to his place of work – Kilpipe Church in Co. Wicklow, where he was the Rector from 1877 until his retirement in 1911. It was an onerous journey in those days, and particularly so as Rev. Kilbride reached his senior years.



Kilpipe Church


Beatrice soon settled in to her new life at Kilninor, and developed a very close relationship with the members of the family that still remained at Kilninor, particularly with Aunt Maud. Her grandparents welcomed her, and were glad to have Beatrice living with them.

Her only uncle, Edward Waring Kilbride, resided in London, and regrettably he died in 1895 at a young age. Letters reveal that he collapsed and died in his hotel one day after arriving in Egypt, where he had gone for health reasons. It is likely he died from tuberculosis. Another aunt, Henrietta “Etta” Kilbride, had married in 1889 and emigrated to Canada to live near her sister, May Dowse. Aunt Ethel Kilbride married Rev. John Curtis Steele in 1900 and they subsequently moved to Co. Donegal to live, and therefore Beatrice saw less of Aunt Ethel than of her aunts Violet and Maude.

Emma Sarah Kilbride, July 16, 1892

Beatrice is growing fast and improving in every way. Mrs. Allen said she was growing handsome, and when she is dressed she looks quite pretty, as a bonnet becomes her very well.

Beatrice is full of fun & she and Violet have high jinks. She is a regular magpie for hiding articles. A brooch of mine disappeared and I had given up all idea of finding it but yesterday Kate[3] gave her a little handbag that she had some time ago and lo the brooch was in it. She seems in her glory when she can get at a box to rummage. She is now drawing her little cart outside the door and the horse gets a thrashing at times


Aunt Kate did whatever she could to help out her niece by buying clothes for Beatrice, as well as for May’s other children in Canada.


Kate Quadling, Dec. 12, 1893

Do not send any boots to Beatrice, as she has two new pairs & a new pair of shoes. Just think how dear they are with you, & then the postage from England!! You have enough to do to find footwear for the others – a little book is quite enough. Beatrice has all she wants & is looking forward to Santa Claus. I got a winter dress for her in October by post, but I said for a child of five years and it was much too small.


Aunt Kate instilled in Beatrice a love for gardening at a very young age, and it was to become a life-long interest for Bea.


Kate Quadling to her niece, Marion  “May” Dowse in Canada, Nov. 13, 1896

I was not at all well in September & part of October, then thank God I got wonderfully well & brisk. Got the flowers settled for winter, tulips & hyacinth down & sweet pea too I put down for the spring, it transplants so well. You should sow it in a box in March or April & it would be ready to put out when the ground could be dry. A great many of the old gooseberry trees have died & I have planted rooted slips but it will be some time before they bear. I planted strawberry runners for Beatrice in the summer, a row for her “ownself,” “hobles” & a gooseberry tree. She was at Umrigar for two months & at Craan last Sunday.


In addition to her loving grandparents and aunts at Kilninor, Beatrice was fortunate to have many other relatives living close by who played an integral part in her life. Her uncle, Richard “Dick” Morton Dowse, and his wife Edie lived in Umrigar House in Carnew, Co. Wicklow, and as they were childless they often had Beatrice to stay with them for weeks at a time. Uncle Dick and Aunt Edie were to play a huge role in Beatrice’s life in the future, and turned her fortunes around at a critical time in her life.

 At Craan farm, which had been in the Dowse family since the 1600s, lived several of Beatrice’s relatives, a collection of spinsters and widows, (Dowses and Goodissons) who all lived together. It included William Dowse’s aunts Martha, Hester Jane, and Catherine “Kitty” Goodisson, and his twin sisters, Elizabeth “Ibbles” and Mary Dowse.[4] Beatrice often went to Craan to visit her various aunts.


On April 18, 1898, at 10 years of age, Beatrice writes to her brother Neville,

My dear Neville,

I don’t think I wrote to you and it is quite time I did.

I hope your head is well again & Dick’s too. What terrible snow you have had, what water there must be round you when it melted.

            Poor Muddie must have had head aches when you were all together all day but perhaps you helped to keep the others quiet. I always drive the pony when Grammaor Violet go out. I wish we had some of your hay for her and the cows. (While I was waiting for the ink to dry on the other side I did a long division sum). I practise the piano for half an hour before breakfast every morning and have been cleaning the strawberry and flower beds with Aunt Kate.

            I saw Aunt Ible on Good Friday she was very well. I hope you ate your Easter eggs. I got four, and a very nise (sic) pair of boots and nose (sic) from Aunt Kate, and 1/- from Gramma & Grandpa. I am collecting pictures for Baby[5] as she is so fond of them. 

            Maude has sixteen nice little goslings. Last year she had three only. This is a day of heavy rain it has made a pond on the drive.

            I am glad Papa is well.

            With kisses to Muddie & love to all,

                                    I am your loving sister B. Dowse



In 1898 the Dowse family were contemplating a return to Ireland, as William’s aunt, Catherine “Kitty” Goodisson of Craan wanted William to come back and take over the management of the farm. The Dowse family had begun packing their belongings and had made arrangements to leave The Maples, when they received an urgent cable from May’s sister, Ethel Kilbride, advising them not to give up everything in Canada just yet, as Aunt Kitty was refusing to sign over the farm to William, and Ethel felt it was too great a risk for them to take. Ethel later writes to William,


As all our hopes and plans about Craan are I suppose done with and put out of mind you will most likely settle down again where you are and try and make up for all the upset & loss by working as hard as ever. I heard from Papaa short time ago and he said Kitty would not make over the place to you by deed so it would be madness on your part to think of going to a place whose possession you had no guarantee. I am not sure whether I wrote since I had yours & May’s letters written to Craan but which fortunately you did not post at once. I cried over May’s to think what an awfully narrow escape you had of being without a home, as in her first she spoke so confidently of coming & selling the place & everything.


It was a fatal decision, as the family was therefore never reunited with Beatrice, and it was a decision that affected Beatrice profoundly throughout her life, giving her a sense of abandonment. In an undated letter to her Mother Beatrice writes,


My darling Mother,

            I was very glad to get a letter from you & thank you very much for the very pretty shoes they looked so narrow that I thought they would not fit me but they did nicely and I were (sic) them every evening. Santa Claws (sic) brought me a pretty doll & a lot of sweets & a net stocking full of little things in it. My presents were two doll’s box of crackers books writing case & two very pretty prettily worked innishal’s (sic) & handkerchiefs from Aunt Kate & paintbox from Aunt Maude & pinafore from Aunt Ethel& Grandpapagave me a shilling & so did Aunt Violet.

            I was at Inch for a fortnight. Mr. Kingsley was very ill since I saw him yesterday sitting by the fire in his bedroom & Mrs. Kingsley was in bed with a very bad cold & sore throat. I am very glad that the children had a Xmas tree and liked the things that I sent them & that they were not burn’t altogether. I got my prize on Sunday the Swiss Family Robinson I like it very much. I have read it all it is a very large one it was larger than all the rest for Granmmama (sic) gave more for it. I like that Aunt EthelandAunt Maudewill soon come home.[6] I hear a great deal of Craan & I hope that you will come home. I wonder if you would know me. I would only know the children from the photograph, I would not know Fatheror you. I think that I must stop & write a little to Ethel & Dick. With love to all & thank’s (sic) to father for the shoes.

            I am your affectionate daughter

            Emma Marion Beatrice Dowse


And in November, 1899 a letter to her sister Ethel “Brownie” Dowse,

 My dear sister Ethel,

I am just writing a note to you for it is a long time since I did. I hope Baby is quite well now. This is an horrid day. Aunt Maude & Aunt Violet are going to Gorey[7] now and I do not think that they will have a very pleasant day sometimes it is raining & other times it is blowing and sun shining. I would not like to go. Tell Neville I hope to write to him soon, but I have not time now. I saw Elma Kingsley a few day’s (sic) ago and had a ride on her bicycle & I liked it very much. I suppose you never were on one it is lovely when you know how to balance yourself but it is very hard to learn you must stay at it for a long time now I must end. I am your loving sister

B. Dowse


Elma Kingsley became a close friend, and kept close ties with Beatrice even after she had married and moved to England with her husband, Mr. A. J. Penn. In later years Beatrice recalls this incident regarding Elma.

 When my dear friend Elma & I were kids we used to have tea parties too, when I stayed with her after Xmas. She got presents of gorgeous boxes of biscuits, sweets, chocs, etc. etc. & of course I never saw such things elsewhere, much less get them to eat, so it was all the more wonderful to me.


Other than the company of her friend Elma however Beatrice continued to spend most of her time in the company of adults. It is through the letters of the adults in her life – her grandparents, aunts, siblings, mother and father, that Beatrice’s life emerges.

 Beatrice’s grandfather, Rev. Kilbride, describes his granddaughter,

She always sits beside me at table and whenever she wants anything she just touches my elbow then everything goes on like clockwork!

            She is really getting quite smart at that piano – can play several nice pieces.

Rev. Kilbride


This comment gives weight to Beatrice’s description of her early childhood that children were to be seen and not heard.


Aunt Kate’s letter of January 1899,

26th After four months of rains and gales it is pleasant and enables Beatrice to run about with her skipping rope.

27th This is a fine calm day. Owing to holidays & being away Beatrice has not been able to see her Aunt Betty[8] for some time. Next Sunday I hope she will be able to go to Craan. The Kingsleys are very fond of her. She is good-natured & helpful but very sensitive to anything like a snub.

 As Beatrice matured she gained confidence and poise, showing the beginnings of her very independent nature.

In 1901 Rev. Kilbride remarks to William,

I don’t think you would know Beatrice now at all. She has got so big – taller than myself! & takes a bigger boot than Violet!!

Beatrice’s letters from the period of 1900-1950 have been lost, with the exception of a few, but it is possible to get a good look at Beatrice’s life during this period from the letters of her family. In 1951 Beatrice began to correspond regularly with her sisters Brownie and Kathleen, and these letters have survived.

 Emma Sarah Kilbride, 1904, to Kathleen Dowse, Beatrice’s sister,

 Are you fond of music? I hope you will play as well as Beatrice some day. She can play in church and at Concerts, never nervous. She is looking very well, got a new muff and stole (white) and other things. Indeed she is always wanting something, as she goes about a good deal. Saw a good many nice things at the sale yesterday but did not buy much. You would want lots of money to buy nice things and very few have over much.

 Another letter from Emma Sarah Kilbride to Kathleen is undated, but is likely December 1906,


My darling Kathleen,

Just a line to wish you a very happy Xmas & New Year. Wish I were near enough to see you all. We expect you to come with your dear Motherwhen she does.[9] I am glad she is not on the sea as the weather has been very stormy and she would be alarmed.  Spring would be a much better time to come as Winter is dreary. I sent your letter to Bee who has been at Carnew[10] the last 3 weeks but is coming to see Maud who is here for a few days. We have three cats and a kitten. Your Aunt Violetis busy getting up a Musical Entertainment for the Tuesday before Xmas. I don’t know who will help. Mr. Brownewho taught Bee her music has been very ill a long time – no one thought he would recover. I will send an Almanac in a paper in a few days. My hands are so cold I can scarcely hold a pen. Your Aunt Kateis very well and able to get out, drove to Gorey lately to a sale but did not buy much. I sent a box of articles to it and bought some children’s frocks forAunt Ethel’s children[11]

            With much love to you and wishing every blessing,

            Your loving Gran


In February of 1907 Beatrice’s father, William Dowse, made a trip back to Ireland, staying at the home of his elder brother, Richard “Dick” Morton Dowse and his wife Edie at Umrigar House, Carnew, Co. Wicklow. William writes to his wife May, telling her of the good times he is having with Beatrice,

 Beatrice and I rode down to Kilninor on our wheels[12] last Friday and rode back on Saturday. Maude was going away and we couldn’t get a horse so we took the wheels and I thought I wouldn’t be able to move the next day, but I was all right. We rode home here from Kilninor leaving there at 4:30, arrived here in 1½ hours – roads very muddy indeed, not bad for an old man. 

Beatrice and Dick would have me dance a waltz in the kitchen the night before we went and Bea turned on ankle, which made her stiff. We had a big time at the Glebe, Bea and Maude and myself jumping about in the drawing room and Violet playing. It reminded me of old times a little bit, but I wanted one little thing and that thing was you darling. After the jumping we had something to eat and they went to bed, and we repaired to the Study, and I guess you know what went on there, we talked and talked and I went to bed at 3 of!!

I think Edie would like to have Beatrice here all the time. She is going to stay at the Kingsley’s when I leave, will take up French and German. The Glebe will be lonely for them all, Maude gone away now. I was trying to persuade your Father to resign and give up work – awful drive and the roads are bad as ever and the hills are no better.

I am going to the fair of Tinahely this week and to Arklow too I think. Four ducks just in talking horses, hunt here tomorrow and shooting I suppose.


The Irish International Exhibition took place in Dublin in 1907 and Beatrice was fortunate enough to attend, sending postcards of the Exhibition to her family in Canada.


1907 The Water Chute International Exhibition



This is the chute we all were on last Wednesday & had a glorious time. I am staying at Bray with Elma.[13] We are here again till 10:30!!


Beatrice’s grandmother (Emma Sarah Kilbride) Dec. 7, 1907 to Brownie,


We will have a dreary Xmas as Maud won’t be here and cannot say Bee will either, as her Aunt Edie wants her to stay there for some time. I am glad she is there as it is so very dull here and she misses Elma from whom she often hears. The Kingsleys have a new house at Humbledon some miles from London. We have not seen much of her this year as she has gone about a good deal, was in Dublin three times and saw a good deal of the Exhibition.


With Aunt Maud employed as a hospital nurse in England, and Aunt Ethel married, the tenants at Kilninor had been reduced to five – Beatrice, her grandparents, great-aunt Kate Quadling and Aunt Violet. Violet was often busy helping Rev. Kilbride with church-related events such as picnics, musical presentations and other social events and therefore Beatrice was left to her own devices for much of the time.


A letter to Neville Dowse (no year) from his grandmother Emma Sarah Kilbride,


My dear Neville,

            I wish you a happy Xmas and New Year. By the same post as this I am sending you a magazine, which I hope you will like. I have not time to look over it as I am busy.  Beatrice bought it yesterday when in Gorey with a paper for Dick. She & your Aunt Kate are gone to Hollyfort[14]as they thought it would be fine but it is raining again. Never stops lately. I do not know whether she will write to you for Xmas as she is very busy preparing for her Y diploma, has made a lot of pin cushions. Please tell Kathleen I have my eye on a doll which is for sale and if no one else snaps it up will buy it for her. I wish you could all be at it. [illegible] Palmer will have a magic lantern so I hope the day will be fine. There is to be a sale in Gorey next week and all will go if fine.

Beatrice is very tall now and is always busy. She does all my shopping in Gorey as your Aunt Violet has frequently a lot to do & the days are so short and it is dark soon after 4 of. We have two dogs and two cats, one a great pet of mine. Your Grand Papa and I play chess every evening for three hours and if I sat up he would play (I tell him) till morning. I hope I will see you all some day.

Your affectionate Gran


 Dec. 6, no year, to Kathleen

 My dearest Kathleen,

I wish you a very happy Xmas and hope you will have a pleasant time skating.  You will be glad to hear I have some nice frocks for you, which by hook or by crook must go out next Spring as they would just do you for the Summer. I wish we were near enough to meet on Xmas day when we would have grand games.

I hope you are learning music. Beatriceplays very well, is still getting lessons and practises 2 hours every day so she will be a very good musician. She went to Arklow on her bike yesterday as we wanted some small articles. The roads were very bad and she did not get in till near 7 of, but it was moonlight and I went to meet her.

            With much love

Your fond Gran


The Dowse Family: back row, left to right – Richard, Ethel ” Brownie,” and Neville; front row- May, Kathleen and William


On Feb. 17, 1910 aunt Edie Dowse, Umrigar House, Carnew, sponsored Beatrice into The Girl’s Friendly Society for Ireland,


The Girls Friendly Society Membership Card for Beatrice Dowse (front)

The Girls Friendly Society Membership card for Beatrice Dowse (back)

In February 1910 Beatrice was 23 years old.




[1] Near the border of England and Wales

[2] Mary Lewis, a friend and neighbour of the Dowse family in Manitoba, Canada

[3]  Kate Quadling, Emma Sarah Kilbride’s unmarried sister, who resided with the Kilbrides at Kilninor

[4] Both Martha and Hester Jane Goodisson died in 1892 at Craan, and another aunt, Ellen Dowse (nee Goodisson), wife of William Henry Dowse, had died previously at Craan in 1889, and an Elizabeth Goodisson died there in 1886.

[5]  Beatrice’s youngest sister,(and my grandmother) Kathleen Dowse

[6] Ethel Kilbride had been living on Inishmore, Aran Islands, as housekeeper to her uncle Rev. William Kilbride until his death in 1898. Maude was working as a nurse

[7] A nearby town

[8] Elizabeth Dowse, who resided at Craan, also known as “Ibbles”

[9] Only William Dowse went back to Ireland in 1907, but possibly May’s mother was expecting more of the family to be accompanying him

[10] With her Uncle Richard Morton Dowse and Aunt Edie

[11] Kathleen’s aunt, Ethel Steele (born Kilbride)

[12] William is referring to bikes – later in the letter he mentions Charlesworth’s bike.

[13] Beatrice’s friend, Elma Kingsley

[14] Near the town of Gorey.


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