Desmond Townshend (b. 1934)
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Desmond Townshend (b. 1934)


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Track 1: Desmond Townshend’s grandfather, Charles Loftus Townshend, carried on the family land agency business in Dublin with his brother. Charles Townshend’s immediate family lived at the Castle in Castletownshend, Co. Cork for a time, and at Lansdowne Road in Dublin. Desmond recalls that his father, Edward Townshend, remembered George Bernard Shaw who once worked as a clerk in the land agency in Molesworth Street. He explains that his father and his uncle Freddie farmed together in Southern Rhodesia until the family returned to Ireland in 1938 due to his mother’s ill-health when Desmond was a young boy. Edward planned to start farming in Ireland but, living temporarily in Castlecomer, initially helped his father-in-law, Richard Prior-Wandesforde, to put in a grass-drying plant on his farm in Castlecomer. On the outbreak of WWII in 1939, he joined the Royal Air Force. The family moved to England shortly after, living in rented lodgings and following him from base to base for the duration of the war. Desmond recalls his father’s brothers, namely Richie, Maurice, Freddie, Walter and Hugo. Richie joined the Royal Navy from school as a Dartmouth cadet before the Great War and served through it, and also in WWII, rising to the rank of Commander. Maurice also served in WWI, having trained as an army cadet, and was commissioned in early 1918. He then saw service in the Indian Army before a period farming in Rhodesia, returning to Ireland in 1940. The youngest brother, Hugo, who worked in the British Museum in London, is also mentioned. Track 2: Desmond’s mother’s family, the Prior-Wandesfordes from Kirklington, Yorkshire and Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny, are discussed, and he recalls his own and his mother Doreen’s memories of Castlecomer. His grandfather, Richard Henry Prior-Wandesforde, volunteered for duty in WWI, along with many of his staff, workers and his horses, and was invalided out before the very end of the war. His two sons also served in the army. The elder son, Christopher, served in the Yorkshire Regiment, was gassed in the trenches at the age of 20. He died while rescuing his men and is buried in France. His brother, Fred, was decorated for his involvement in action and survived. Desmond describes the circumstances of Christopher’s death. He then explains the effect of the period of WWII on his own early life, when he and his mother had no fixed abode. He discusses his father’s short involvement on the Prior-Wandesford farm where his grandfather was attempting to improve the quality of cattlefeed by drying grass, using coal from their own mine and converting the dried grass into a high protein animal feed. The land around Castlecomer and its suitability for farming is considered, as also is the colliery there. Track 3: Desmond describes Christopher Prior-Wandesforde’s carefully preserved letters from the Front, which he describes as very descriptive and which are currently being prepared for publication. His maternal grandfather, Richard, also wrote home but he was not in the front line and seemed more concerned with happenings and instructions for the estate at home. Desmond discusses the Prior-Wandesforde estate in Yorkshire, which one of his uncles inherited, and he explains that his parents met through a shared interest in hunting. A photograph showing his Townshend uncles and his German grandmother, Beatrice Von Bunsen, is examined. His father, Edward, was the fourth of six sons, and Desmond explains that though Edward seems to have had a happy childhood in Ireland, he rarely re-visited Castletownshend in adulthood. The circumstances leading up to the shooting of Admiral Boyle Townshend by the IRA in 1936 are considered, as is the effect of this tragedy on the family. Desmond is emphatic that there was no local animosity towards the Townshends. The Dublin land agency business is further discussed. The Townshend involvement with the Royal Dublin Society, particularly during the period of the move from Kildare Street to Ballsbridge, is discussed, and Desmond talks about his great-grandfather Charles Uniacke Townshend’s portrait, painted by William Orpen, which hangs in the RDS Council chamber in Ballsbridge. Track 4: Desmond is proud of his family history, though he does not consider that it had any great influence on his own career. He explains that he studied engineering in England and went on to found and develop a successful farm machinery manufacturing company in Ireland after a period working on farms in England. After the war, his parents bought a farm just outside Carlow town. He considers that his father’s experiences in the war did affect him, as did the physical effects of malaria contracted during his years in Rhodesia. He describes his grandfather as an imposing figure who was extremely innovative and ahead of his time in many ways, and dedicated to the development of his Castlecomer estate and the colliery. Track 5: Some photographs of the Prior-Wandesforde family are examined and discussed, and Desmond also speaks about his living Prior-Wandesforde relatives. He is very interested in the Discovery Park in Castlecomer and in the restoration of many of the old buildings in what was the original farm and coachyard, and also the restoration of the demesne and lakes for use by the public. The Park has also kept a record of the family and the industrial heritage of the area. In conclusion, he recalls Castlecomer House, since sadly destroyed by fire and demolished, and his memories of the place.

Additional information


Disk, MP3

Audio series:

The Irish Country House and the Great War


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

10.70 MB, 11.50 MB, 14.85 MB, 13.46 MB

Number of files:


Product ID:



The Townshend and Prior-Wandesforde families in time of war

Recorded by:

Maurice O'Keeffe – Irish Life and Lore