Monivea's Gothic Revival Mausoleum sits in a clearing deep in Monivea Woods, its secluded position adding to the beauty and magnificence of the legacy of the proud Ffrench family.
The Mausoleum was comissioned in 1896 by Kathleen Ffrench after the death of her father, Robert Percy Ffrench. Above the entrance door is an intricately carved coat of arms of the family and their motto, "Malo Mori Quam Foedare" - "Death before Dishonour". It is the final resting place of the last of the Ffrench family line, though they continue to be remembered as one of the most distinguished of the 14 Tribes of Galway.
The first arrival of the Ffrench family to Ireland came with Anglo-Norman invader, Strongbow, in the 12th century. The family moved West and bought Monivea castle and its adjacent lands from the O'Kelly Clan. For generations they worked with hired villagers to reclaim land from the bogs, and to develop the local industry. Because of their hard work in improving the area, the family were well-respected and admired around the county and the castle remained inhabited until mid 20th century.
In 1744, Robert Ffrench inherited the estate and made vast improvements to its lands and nurtured its beech plantations. Between the years 1768 and 1776 he represented Galway in the English Parliament. The Ffrench estate's prime came in 1876, when it covered more than 10,000 acres of land. In the late 19th century the last generation of the Ffrench family took over their reign in Monivea Castle.
Robert Ffrench served as Secretary to the British Embassy in St. Petersburg and Vienna. His work caused him to travel widely and he met, fell in love and married Sophia, the only child of Alexander de Kindiakoff, a Russian noble of great wealth with seven estates on the Volga River. They had one child, Kathleen Ffrench. Robert Ffrench died in Italy 1896 and his body was embalmed in Milan until the completion of the mausoleum in 1900 at the cost of £10,000.
The small castle-like mausoleum is built from Wicklow granite. The doors open into a marble chapel, lit by beautiful stained glass windows. Lying in the centre of the chapel is the life sized sculpture of Robert Ffrench lying in state in his robes of the Order of Malta, carved by the renowned Italian sculptor Franceso Jarace. Engraved into the side of the pure white Carrara marble sculpture, it reads "Il lui sera beaucoup pardonné car il a beaucoup aimé"- "He will be forgiven much because he has loved much". The two lead coffins rest in the crypt of the mausoleum, reached by the winding stone staircase to the left of the altar. The small grave which lies next to the mausoleum, is that of Rosamund Ffrench, cousin to Kathleen. Marked with a Celtic cross with ornate interlace ornament.
While Kathleen spent much of her life travelling, her cousin Rosamund stayed in Monivea Castle where she lived until her death in 1938. In later years a rift developed between to two women, as Rosamund believed that Kathleen had abandoned Monivea for her vast estates in Russia. After the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, all Kathleen's lands were confiscated and she was imprisoned until 1919 when she fled Russia via Finland. She was the first non-Russian European woman to reach the new Republic of Tannu Tuva and on to Peking, completing a round trip of over five thousand miles. She died on the 1st of January 1938 and her body was brought back to Monivea, a distance of 4,000 miles, and laid to rest in the Mausoleum next her father.
In her Will, Kathleen had left the castle to be used as a home for impoverished artists. Her wishes were never honoured and the house was knocked. All that remains of this proud family and their legacy lies in a quiet chapel hidden by Monivea's lush woodland.
Photographs courtesy of the generous font of information, Emma LaffeyPublished on Updated on