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

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. Compiled and edited by her grand-niece Alana Stephens and published on this website in a series of chapters. 

CHAPTER FIVE: A Surprise Visit

William Robert Dowse paid a surprise visit to Beatrice and Edie Dowse after the death of his brother, arriving in February 1924, much to the delight of both Beatrice and Edie. It was the first time Beatrice had seen her father since 1907. William Dowse was a very talkative and sociable man, and his letters reflect that, and are a joy to read. His letter of April 4, 1924 to his wife May written from “The Castle, Carnew, Co. Wicklow” is a reflection of his personality, and gives a little look at life in Ireland in the 1920s.


The Castle 


                                                                                    Co. Wicklow

                                                                                    April 4, 1924

My own darling Wifie,

Your last to hand, and glad to see that you are having a good time going to the theatre and so forth.

I went to see old Bob Taylor (the Auctioneer and I called about 11 of) – Bob at breakfast!! He is as deaf as a post, so you may know there was some shouting. He wants me to go again. Hammond(the Auctioneer) was going to a sale and called for me, and we went I don’t know where, not back till 8 of p.m. and late for dinner, but sober. Sales not up to much, no money and nobody wants land now. Things have gone to Halifax and I think farther. Everybody wants to get out. Beatrice and I went to see Mrs. Higginbottom[1] – drove over in the trap (Cob) and we had a nice time. Old parson Lindsey[2] was there, and I picked some flowers for you – white heather and blue primrose and Forget Me Not. Primroses are coming out well. Weather cold and dry and no growth at all, growth very short in the fields but on tennis grounds is very good, too good. Point-to-Point races are coming off everywhere now, one last in Carlow – I was going, but did not. They want me to one at near Bray next week.

They want to keep me longer than I intended to stay. I have written about my ticket and may stay for next boat from what I said in my last (Doric). I like the boat I came over in, The Cedric, and I think I will wait for it sailing from Queenstown May 4th, and landing at Halifax. The Cedric is a good boat and steady, and I think that will be the boat for me.

Edie wants me to stay all summer, and she wants to know when Dick[3] is coming. I went to bed last night and Beatrice brought me up a glass of lemon (hot) and about two glasses of whiskey in it, so I was under the influence all night. I was hoarse and could not talk, all O.K. today. The parson from Clonegal was over here, and he has a young man (harness maker) that wants to go to Canada. He will send him over to see me. Everybody wants to leave Ireland. You may remember my talking about a harness maker often.  Times not at all settled here.

I was badly fooled on the first. Bea put a nest in the ivy at the front door and put nice moss and all around it, and nice blue eggs into it, and then showed it to me and asked what kind of a bird landed there. I said Hedge Sparrow, and she said April fool. What do you think of that? Fooled.

I was just out on tennis ground and tried my hand with scythe, and the lad said that I had used a scythe before – I should say so. What say you? It is a lovely day and sunny, but a cold wind. The birds are all busy building, crows galore just over the yard, building fast. My magpie had to beat it, had a big fight. I will have a lot to tell you all when we meet. Gooseberries and currants all in pretty good leaf, also Logan’s, apples coming on nicely, wood pigeons at my window cooing in the morning early, building in the tree on the lawn. Taking Edie out for a drive this evening – bought a cob, and goes well. 

Must close now, lunch-time. Edie and Bea send love. Bea will write soon. Day goes very fast, too many meals. 

Love to all and a great big pile for yourself.

Ever your loving old Hubbie,



Another letter written on April 7, 1924


I have been on the fly lately – talk about going fast, it beats all. I was up yesterday through Wicklow, Wexford, Carlow and Kildare counties with my friend the Auctioneer, and last night Bea and I were over to dinner at Godfrey’s and old Charlie Read was there. We are going to Doreshall this week. I think by that time I will have finished my trips. 

I have taken my ticket home by the Megantic, sailing from Queenstown for Montreal on May 3rd. I did intend going by the Cedric, but they changed her route to New York. People here every day, nothing but cars. No car here now. Edie has a horse. We are talking of going down to Courtown this week, but have not decided yet. 

The country is beginning to look nice. I heard the corn crake on Sunday. The swallows have arrived on Sunday too, and every thing is looking spring-like. If all goes well I should be with you by 15th of May, at least I hope so, and glad I will be to get back to the old Maples again. I have seen a good many faces since I left there. They want me to stay longer, but I must get back, I have been a long time away.

On Easter Sunday we had hindquarter of lamb, and it was lamb in the old style, and not forgetting the mint sauce. Edie sold two lambs before Easter 3 pounds apiece. I weighed one and it went 80 lbs. live weight, about 20 more for next fair here.

Bea and self were busy on Easter Saturday decorating the church. Mrs.Godferry (sic)[4]andMrs. Readcame also, and we made our old church look very nice – ivy moss and flowers, primroses and other things. Connie and I took the lectern and made the old eagle look fine.

Connie G. is just gone to Belfast with bunch of dogs. She wants me to find a place for some out home, sold 380 pounds worth last year, and 90 pounds so far this year. S[illegible] are all the rage here and cairns, the latter a nice little dog. Connie is mad on dogs. She may come for a trip to Canada and the Cap. (Godferry) a very nice fellow, and they have a nice place – dined there last night. Going to Doreshall end of week for dinner. Easter Monday the finest weather in 30 years they say. Went to the Point-to-Point races (Coollattin) – turned out a bad day. If the boys[5] could only see the fences, and how horses jump, they would be surprised. End of the season now, all shut down.

 Bea and I are going now to see Sandham Symes, and have a talk. I have not more time now for visits. I will soon be on the Atlantic again. Will be in Dublin one day, and go to Queenstown on Friday May 2 and walk on board Megantic Saturday morning, and head the old tub for Montreal and on to the Maples, and take you in my arms and give you a big hug & a kiss. Edie sends her love and says she is greatly annoyed at my going away, but I can’t stay away any longer, there will be lots to do. 

Goodbye my little one, hoping to see you soon,

            Ever your loving Hubbie

            W. R. Dowse


A letter from William to his daughter “Brownie” in Canada is dated April 29, 1924


The Castle


Co. Wicklow


My dearest Brownie,

Well I have just come in from carving your Mother’s name on a big beech tree in the lawn, and the place about the tree covered with blue bells. We took some snaps yesterday. This is my last day here, Dublin tomorrow and Queenstown[6]on Friday and Saturday, May 3 sail for Montreal, S.S. Megantic. I hope to see you all about May 14th. I have been going about quite a bit and caught cold of course. They go at a great pace here on the fly, people here all the time, which cuts up the day. I think I am spoiled for work when I go home. The garden looks very nice now, plenty of cabbage fit to cut, tired of rhubarb. Had new potatoes in Dublin week. We all went up by car and the tank leaked all the gas and it was spelling rain so you may guess our plight, but got there and home same day. Beatrice has just brought a spray of Lily of the Valley and two goosebines in to me – will send one in this. I don’t know that this will go before I will, but I will chance it.

Weather very wet for the last few days, country looking well, trees coming into leaf. Tennis [grounds] got mown twice. We are going to Dalkey tomorrow and Bea will see me off.

You won’t know me when you se me, clean shaven I may say. The girls got at me yesterday again and clipped me short. So you have clipped your locks too.

 Lambs here are big fellows like sheep now. I can see the cows grazing from here down in the bog. The hills across the valley look very green.

Bea is busy all the time. You should see her smoke to beat the band, would like to come back with me I think, will come some day she says. Edie wants Dick[7] to come over badly. It would do him a lot of good and he would have lots of going about with my friend Hammond the Auctioneer. The hills would trouble him for some time, but he would get over that. I often think of you all and what you are doing.

 Lots of talking of going from here, everything is high in price here and not high in quality, not the same as long ago, everything gone to Halifax. Now I hope to be with you soon and see you all hale and hearty and the rest you know. 

Love from all here and heaps to you all there.

Ever your loving Dad


William and May Dowse were both in favour of their son Richard “Dick” Dowse moving to Ireland to take over the management of the Castle, and in May’s letter of Dec. 31, 1924 to Kathleen she points out the advantages of the proposal.


Aunt Edie hopes he is going over to take up the Castle management, as she wants a Dick Dowse to succeed her! also he can get a nice girl whose property joins the Castle lands and is large, and a fine house and grounds too! so he has the choice of an easy life ahead of him for the taking. If he only had gone over with Dad he would know the difference of a nice mild climate (always green), nice friends, and his sister to go about with and teach him the ropes, instead of looking for more land and more work. 

 The local Rector became involved in the scheme as well, as a letter from J. Campbell Lindsay, The Rectory, Carnew, Co. Wicklow, July 15, 1924 to William Dowse reveals:

 This is strictly confidential. I see that Mrs. Dowse is anxious to be succeeded by a Dowse.  It will be well worth his while if your boy accepts her invitation to come over. This letter is from myself but I am certain I interpret her feelings rightly.

Beatrice is quite well. Mrs. Dowse is active in the garden. Your visit, I am sure, was most helpful.

Despite the encouragement of his family, both in Ireland and in Canada, Richard Dowse did not take up his aunt Edie’s offer, and remained on the farm in Canada. He continued to have health problems, which plagued him for the rest of his life. In addition to this he also felt he was ill-prepared to take on the challenge of managing the Castle. His decision had a profound effect on Beatrice’s later life, and on his own life as well.

Beatrice and Edie Dowse continued to live together at the Castle and were kept very busy, with Beatrice taking only the occasional holiday to visit her friend Elma (Kingsley) Penn in England. May’s letter of Aug. 3, 1926 to Kathleen mentions Bea’s doings,

Beatrice, Aunt Vi and Maud were in Wales first, then in London with Mrs. Penn, so will have had great times.

This must have been a welcome reprieve for Maud, as after Richard Morton’s death she had returned to Dublin to once again nurse the dreadful Miss Busteed. In a sad little note of 8/7/1925 to her niece Kathleen, Maud apologizes for having faded out of her life, but explains that she presently is kept so busy trying to cater to Miss Busteed’s every whim that she barely has time for more than a quick cup of tea,

I have hardly time to breathe, not to mention writing. I got this little gift ready for your birthday but never could get it done up. Only a cousin of Miss Busteed’s comes in sometimes & gives me a moment’s breathing space, I’d be dead! & now I send it with love, & hope it will arrive safely. I hear of you from your Mother, have not been able to write to her for a long time.

May’s other sister in Ireland, Ethel Steele, wrote to May giving, “a very melancholy account of Miss Busteed and her crankiness, and how Aunt Maude has worn herself out for very little satisfaction.

Beatrice’s letters to her mother from the Castle have unfortunately been lost, but a picture of her life emerges from her mother’s letters to Beatrice’s sisters (Brownie and Kathleen), in which she repeats some of Beatrice’s news.

May Dowse letter of Feb. 18, 1927, a letter to her daughters Kathleen and Brownie. Brownie was visiting Kathleen at her house in Winnipeg at the time.

 I had a long letter from Beatrice, which I shall send in on Monday. She is writing to you Brownie when the dance Edie was to give on the 16th to the Parish young people, was over. The Servant’s Hall holds 65 comfortably, but Edie had 115 on her list, so Bea hoped some would not come! Some of the Town girls were to help decorate, and they were to provide sandwiches (Aunt Edie I mean) – ham and beef, fruitcakes etc. etc.   Jessie Smith and her husband Captain Bannerman were going there for a few days visit, he had one month’s leave and Bea was going to learn some of the new dances – as you will see. They expect to go to India next year.

 May Dowse Feb. 26, 1927 to Kathleen and Brownie

There is a “Mab’s Fashions” for you from Beatrice. I’ll send it on, as you and Kathleen might like the style, and get some pretty Spring goods to make one. That neck ornament Bea sent you is something very new, made of wax (not sealing wax) and very fashionable and difficult to make. Aunt Vi told me she had not seen any yet (Bea spent a week there).

May Dowse April 4, 1927 to Kathleen

I have written to Bea for Easter. She seems always busy – not our kind of busy, but so many call there and come for lunch or afternoon tea. Then they give small dinners and cards afterwards (all entailing thought) and Bea makes the cakes I think. Then Aunt Ethel[8] goes for a drive every day somewhere – Meets every week, and so on. Bea said they took refreshments (cake and wine), which makes their car very popular!


[1] I believe it is spelled Higginbotham, and that she was a member of the Manifold family, and therefore a cousin

[2] Rev. Canon J. Campbell Lindsay. Connie Godfrey is mentioned in the following letter

[3] William’s son, Richard “Dick” Dowse. Edie was hoping that Dick would come and take over the management of Carnew Castle

[4] Connie Godfrey – spelled here “Godferry”

[5] William and May’s sons – Neville and Dick Dowse

[6] Cobh, Co. Cork.

[7] Referring to William and May’s son, Dick Dowse

[8] May’s sister, Ethel Steele, was visiting Beatrice at the Castle

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