The origins of Hunter’s Hotel, Newrath Bridge, date back to circa 1650. Built on land held by Sir Abraham Yarner, of Clonmannon Estate, and situated by the banks of the Vartry River, on the then main Dublin-Wexford road, it was originally a forge and evolved into what became known as the Newry Bridge Inn. It served as a Post-House, where travellers rested and changed horses. The oldest part of the building is where the present-day kitchen is located, including the original stable yard. Mr.Daty Rose was the proprietor from around the mid 1700’s. His son William succeeded him. In 1790, the proprietor was one P.Cole, who held the lease for a short period. In the early 1800’s, it became known as the Newrath Bridge Hotel, and sometimes as Nolan’s Hotel, when the lease was purchased by William Nolan, who had two sons, James and Richard. This lease ended when Mr.Nolan was drowned in the nearby Vartry River while watering horses one evening.The Hunter Dynasty begins with this chapter.
John Hunter was a butler for Charles Tottenham, Ballycurry Estate. His wife, Catherine, was the housekeeper. In 1825, they obtained the lease on the Hotel, stable yard and seven acres of garden, from Henry Tighe, the landlord. John and Catherine excelled in their management, and the status was further elevated with the citation in Hall’s Ireland, 1841, which reads. “We strongly recommend Mr.Hunter’s Inn at Newrath Bridge which is according to our experience, the most comfortable in the county”.
John and Catherine had four children, Robert, William (died in infancy) George and Elizabeth (died in infancy).
In 1858, when the lease became available on the Wooden Bridge Hotel, Avoca, John Hunter obtained it. Until his death in 1869, he ran the sister hotels with the help of his family. Catherine died in 1861, and with John’s demise, Robert took over the Newrath Bridge and George became proprietor of the Wooden Bridge.George and his wife, Elizabeth, had six children. It was their daughter Sarah (Sally) who succeeded her father. She married Dr. Jack Allen. They had three children, one of whom, Nora, married Jack Kent, brother of Louise and Mary, Wicklow town. Another of whom, Joe, born 1875, trained Ambush 2nd at the Curragh, the winner of the Grand National at Aintree in 1900, which was owned by the Prince of Wales who later became Edward Vll. The Hunter connection with the Wooden Bridge Hotel lasted sixty years, until Sally surrendered the lease and emigrated to Canada with her family.Robert married Elizabeth Marshall, who came from Blackrock. They had twelve children. Robert b.1871, Francis b.1872, Elizabeth, b.1873, Richard b. 1874, Sarah b. 1875, Anne b. 1876, George b. 1877 (died in infancy) Tom b. 1878, George b.1879, Charles Parnell b.1881, John Vance b.1884 (died in infancy), Kate b.1886 (died in infancy).
Before the erection of the Crofton School in Nuns Cross in 1881, there were other privately funded schools in the vicinity, which taught reading, writing, and arithmetic. One of the nearest to the Hunter children would have been in Clonmannon, funded by Dr.Henry Pomeroy Truell. (1836-1902).
On reaching his maturity, the eldest Hunter child, Robert, left home and worked in Pimm’s, Dublin. Richard, the second eldest son, who was epileptic, tragically drowned when he fell from his boat while duck shooting. Tom and George wanted a bit of action, so together they joined the South African Infantry, and spend their time fighting in the 2nd Boer War. Elizabeth (Babs) lived at home all her life, while Anne died young. Fanny married Tom Gelletlie.
Robert senior died in 1888. Elizabeth was now the Proprietor. Her youngest surviving child, Charles Parnell, was so named in honour of the friendship that Robert Hunter had with Charles Stuart Parnell, a frequent visitor to Hunter’s, and who became godfather to the infant. There was always a chair reserved for C.S.Parnell, in the drawing room where he came frequently to play poker. On Elizabeth’s death in 1901, Charlie and his sister Sarah became joint proprietors. Sarah maintained her managerial role throughout, while Charlie enjoyed the country pursuits of shooting and fishing. In 1937, on his death, Sarah became sole proprietor.Tom and George, who had remained close to each other, were still with their Battalions when World War 1 broke out. Tom was posted to Egypt, while George was sent to France. In December 1915, George came home for Christmas. When his 3rd letter to Tom finally reached him, this letter, dated the end of June 1916, and which was written on parchment with indelible ink, was full of news about the trip home, and the ‘excitement’ of the trenches. On 16th July, 1916, while going over the Somme, George was killed. His name is inscribed on the memorial at Thiepval, France. Tom survived the war. He returned home to his wife, Margaret (nee Fisher), whom he had met while she worked at the Hotel. They went to live in Dublin, and had eight children.Aunt Sarah, as she was known by her family and friends, is recalled as a person with a sense of humour, direct, and not at all a sentimentalist, although a generous benefactor. On finishing school, she left home for a few years to work in Leechman’s shop, on Grafton Street. Afterwards, she returned to spend the remainder of her life at the hotel. She witnessed the rapid changes in transportation from the horse and coach to steam car, to combustion engine. From the stagecoach days to the first motorcars, Hunter’s Hotel was a popular meeting place. Sarah became a driver herself. She would often drive directly to Grafton Street to visit her friends, the Barnardo’s, who were furriers. She would park outside the shop door, and the porter would bring her car around the back. Once, her nephew, Cecil Gelletlie, was a passenger when she drove to Wicklow town. Recently, the Council had placed a STOP sign at the junction with the N11 at Rathnew village. When Sarah drove straight through without stopping, Cecil gently asked her if she was aware that a STOP sign had been erected. “Oh, yes, she replied, I know about it, but that’s only for the people who don’t know the road, I know the road very well”!!Thomas Gelletlie was a Scotsman who migrated to Castlepollard, Co.Westmeath, in c.1820. He worked as a farm steward there at Kinturk. Nearby, was Packenham Hall, on the neighbouring estate where he met and subsequently married the steward’s daughter, Jane Nicol. The couple moved to Woodstock, the Tighe estate in Inistioge, Co.Kilkenny, where Tom was the farm steward. They had four children, Thomas, Adam (died in infancy) Jane, and James. In 1837, Thomas died and was buried at Inistioge. Jane remarried, to a Mr. John Ruxton, a watchmaker from Mullingar. It was he who instructed his stepson, Tom, in watch making. Through the Tighe connection with Rossanagh, the young watchmaker came to Wicklow town to begin work in the shop owned by Robert Barton, Watchmaker and Jeweller, which had been established in 1818 in Wickow Town. Robert had a niece, Francinia Dorcas Tuke, who, unusually for a female, became apprenticed to him. Although she was seven years his elder, romance blossomed with Tom Gelletlie, and they married in 1860. They had one child, Thomas James. Their happiness was short-lived, for Francinia’s husband died a young man in 186?
T.J.Gelletlie became apprenticed to his mother, Francinia. In due course, he took over the business from her. The shop was located on the Main Street in the town, where they also sold jewellery, gramophones and records and repaired pocket watches. Another part of the trade was to call out to repair or rewind tower clocks, and grandfather clocks.
He married Fanny Hunter in 1896. They lived over the shop in Wicklow, and had three children, Frances, Cecil and Lily. Frances married Peter Spears, Commander, Royal Navy, from N.I., and they went to live in Rostrevor. Lily died of T.B. at the age of 37. Cecil, born in 1899, played hockey with Wicklow as a youth. He attended Wesley College, and afterwards obtained a degree in Civil Engineering from the Royal College of Science (now Government Buildings on Merrion Street). He subsequently also qualified as an Optician.
Cecil returned to Wicklow to assist in the family business, and soon afterwards, went to Kilkenny to learn about watch making. He established an Optical service in the shop. His pursuits were fishing and rough shooting, and whenever he could he went with his Uncle Charlie for a day’s shooting in Clonmannon or the Wexford Slobs. The Vartry was well stocked in those days with salmon and trout, and Cecil would be often found on the riverbank.
A young woman from Cootehill, Co.Cavan, came to Wicklow in 1939. Tom and Rose Murtagh had three children, Maureen, Patrick, and Susan. Maureen joined a hotel near her home, to which her family had a connection. Her desire was to go to Switzerland to an hotel college. However, her parents vetoed that plan with the outbreak of the 2nd World War, in 1939. Instead, Maureen came to Kilmacurra House Hotel, which was leased then by a German national, Charles Budina. When he had to return to Germany with his family, it was managed by his accountant. Maureen then joined Hunter’s Hotel as a receptionist, in 1940.
Although she did not know it at the time, her arrival heralded what was to be her life-long connection to Hunter’s Hotel. The hotel had been electrified in 1937 and by 1940, there were sixteen bedrooms. Maureen liked her employer, Sarah Hunter, a busy woman who devoted any spare time she had to the Victorian garden, for which Hunter’s became renowned. It was a tradition for day-trippers out of Dublin who, having visited Mount Usher gardens, would arrive for afternoon tea, which was served in the garden with scones, strawberry jam and cream. Often, Sarah would give a conducted tour of the gardens. Along with the cows, which gave milk and cream, the hotel kept pigs, chickens, ducks, and hens in deep litter. There were two gardeners, one of whom was Tom Quinn (formerly from the Devil’s Glen), married to Kate Noctor. She and her sister Masie worked there for many years. Anne Winders worked in the kitchen and Anne Doyle was the cook. Mick Kane, Nuns Cross, was another gardener, and Julia Lawless, Ballinahinch, and May Healy, Coolawinna, worked indoors. Paddy Healy, May’s brother, was head gardener for many years before his death. The farm grew potatoes, peas, beans and fruit. Jerry Douglas, who lived nearby, advised on the purchase of the cows and pigs, while neighbour John Tyner ploughed the fields for the crops. During the Second World War there was rationing of petrol, tea and sugar.
In 1944, Cecil and Maureen were married. For a while they lived in Delgany, and later went to live over the shop in Wicklow, where they raised five children, Joan, Helen, Ruth, Richard and Tom. Maureen helped in the shop during the weekdays, and by the early sixties, when her younger children didn’t require as much attention, she began to spend much more time at Hunter’s, as Aunt Sarah’s health declined.
Suddenly, and unexpectedly in 1964, Cecil died. Maureen then had the task of running the hotel and the shop, and when Aunt Sarah became invalided, she cared for her until her death aged 91, in 1966. Maureen managed the hotel in latter years and remained at the helm up until her death, aged 91, in 2010. Her sons Richard & Tom own and run the hotel today, continuing a stewardship that has lasted for nearly 200 years.
Abridged from “Ashford – A Journey Through Time” by Sheila Clarke. Martello Press. 2003