Knox family history returns to Ranfurly

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Dungannon will travel back in time to welcome the return of Helene von Dobeneck, a German employee of the Knox family in 1832.

‘From Paris to Perry Street’ is a new production devised by Stephanie Lavery and Aidan Fee and will be performed in the Square Box, Ranfurly House, on Friday, May 17 at 7.30pm.

Chair of Dungannon History Forum, Aidan explained: “In the early summer of 1832 the townspeople of Dungannon witnessed the arrival of the Knox family to their Irish ‘seat’ at Northland House. The impressive building that was Northland House has long since gone but some remnants and relics of ‘auld dacency’ remain.

“On Ranfurly Road the gate lodge with its fine classical columns and the well-proportioned entrance proclaim that the disappeared building was once the property of an important and wealthy family.

“Granted, the Knox family in 1832 were notorious as ‘absentee landlords’ who lived very comfortably on the Continent, paying the occasional visit to Tyrone to oversee the management of their vast estate and to afford the natives an opportunity to catch a glimpse of ‘the quality’.

One of the Knox party in that year was a newcomer to both Dungannon and to the high-life of the Knoxes and their friends and relations. The newcomer was a twenty-something German lady, Helene von Dobeneck, who had been employed by Colonel James Knox MP and his wife Louisa to act as governess to their only child, Emily. The arrangement had been made in Paris where the German baroness had encountered the Irish nobles: truly a multinational agreement.

“We know a lot about Helene and her stay at Northland House in that summer of 1832 through the long series of letters which she wrote home to her father in Ansbach, Bavaria. In her letters she describes a world of privilege and power contrasted with the poverty of the ordinary people who live in mud cabins or roadside hovels. She is an accomplished musician who is horrified by the tasteless performances of her hosts and their guests at lavish balls held in Northland House and at

Tynan Abbey, home of the Stronges, cousins of the Knoxes and also absentee landlords.

“Unspoken in the letters is any mention of Helene’s troubled private life which caused her to leave her beloved Bavaria. She is determined that her letters will be published, however, even if her position as a woman, and as a foreigner, means that she is at a disadvantage when reporting on subjects such as politics or land management. She is driven by her Romantic views and she makes no apologies for holding strong opinions on the people and places she encounters.”

The show promises to introduce a unique and hitherto unheard voice into the story of Dungannon’s past. Not to be missed.

For more information call Hill of The O’Neill & Ranfurly House on 028 8772 8600.