The Orpen’s of Ardtully:

There are some conflicting theories about the origin of the Orpen family who settled in Cork and Kerry in the mid-17th Century. Did they originate from Somerset and Salisbury or Norfolk in the UK, or were they descendants of Erpin from France? Was their name originally Erpingham, Orpingham or Orpington?

I’m going to skip all that and get straight to the artist Sir William Orpen’s grandfather Sir Richard John Theodore Orpen (1788-1876) of North Great Georges Street, Dublin, and Ardtully, Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry. He married Elizabeth Stack in 1819, they built a 27-room mansion (1847) on the site of an old castle where the rivers Roughty and Obeg meet, a few kilometres from Kenmare, Kerry (in Irish – Ardtuilè means high flood).

Richard and Elizabeth had six sons and five daughters (note the peculiarly Irish tradition of naming children after their uncles and aunts and adding the mother’s maiden name into the mix) – Francis Fitz-Richard, Richard Hugh Millard Stack Orpen, Arthur Herbert Orpen, Charles William de Erpingham Stack Orpen (note the de Erpingham version of the Orpen name), William Newenham Morris, Raymond D’Audemar Stack Orpen, Mary Orpen, Theodora Elizabeth Orpen, Cornelia Susannah Sarah Orpen, Elizabeth Ida Rebecca Orpen, and Emilia Georgina Stack Orpen. More info on them is listed below.

  Sir Richard John Theodore Orpen the Dublin-based solicitor – Orpen & Co. (now Orpen Franks). He devoted much of his spare time tracing the history of the Orpen family.

Ardtully, County Kerry. The house was built in 1845 by Sir Richard Orpen. A print from a Series of Picturesque Views of Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, edited by Reverend Francis Orpen Morris (1810 – 1893), Volume II, William Mackenzie, London, circa 1880. Wood-engraved plates after paintings by Benjamin Fawcett and Alexander Francis Lydon.

Painting of Ardtully Estate by Arthur Herbert Orpen 1849 (William Orpen’s father).

Painting of the bridge pool Ardtully by Arthur Herbert Orpen (1849). The bridge was built by his father Sir Richard John Theodore Orpen. Although Ardtully had an ‘Ice House’, the Orpen family caught so many salmon here that they regularly sent the excess to the market.

By the time Sir Richard died at the age of 87, his estate consisted of about 12,000 acres in Kerry and about 300 in Cork. He was knighted in 1868 for his services to the legal profession.

Regarding his knighthood, an article in the Irish Law Times quotes “On every ground, therefore – his high social and professional standing, his personal character as an educated gentleman, and the general esteem and regard entertained for him by his professional brethren – we consider the honour conferred in the present instance has been most judiciously and deservedly bestowed.”

He was President of The Incorporated Law Society (1860 – 1876).

The Death of Sir Richard John Theodore Orpen:

The funeral of Sir Richard Orpen.

His funeral notice – buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.

The Executors to Sir Richard John Theodore Orpen  – leaving under £14,000 (almost 2 million Euro today).


World War 1 Ardtully Red Cross Fundraiser – Kerry Evening Post. 28 July 1917.



Old Photograph of Ardtully Castle.

After Sir Richard’s death, Ardtully was inherited by one of his sons – Right Rev. Dr. Raymond D’Audemar Stack Orpen, Bishop of Limerick and Ardfert and Aghadoe. He had only just retired when Ardtully was destroyed by the IRA in 1921. It has remained a ruin ever since. Other houses destroyed in Kerry by the IRA included Kilmorna (the owner – Sir Arthur Vickers was brutally murdered) and Ballyheigue Castle (the ruin of which is now on a golf club).

According to The Kerry People newspaper 18th, June 1921 £6000 was awarded for the burning of Ardtully and a month later the same newspaper lists £12,500 awarded to Raymond W Orpen for the burning of Ardtully. This is confusing, to say the least!

Kerry People 18 June 1921.

Kerry People 16 July 1921.


Crest and Arms of Richard John Theodore Orpen, Ardtully, Kerry.


Recent photographs by Priory Studios of Ardtully Castle in ruin:

View from the bridge over the Roughty River.


View from Kenmare Road.


Another view of Ardtully Castle.

View of the interior of Ardtully Castle.


View from the Roughty River at Ardtully.

The bridge pool and the bridge were built by Richard Orpen in 1786. The steps to the river are carved into the limestone.


Death dates of Sir Richard and Elizabeth’s six sons and five daughters:

Arthur Herbert Orpen, a solicitor (married Anne St George Caulfeild), he died in Dublin on 6th Mar 1926.

Francis Fitz-Richard, Richard Orpen, a barrister (unmarried), he died at North Great Georges Street on 25th Jan 1858 at age 30.

Richard Hugh Millard Stack Orpen, a solicitor (married Amy Lotte Nobel Horwood). He lived in Monkstown, Dublin but died at Ardtully on 2 Jan 1907.

Charles William de Erpingham Stack Orpen, District Justice in Jamaica, died (of fever) on 10th Oct 1867 at Montego Bay.

William Newenham Morris Orpen, a solicitor died 26 Nov 1870 in Portsea Island, Hampshire, UK.

Raymond D’Audemar Stack Orpen, a Bishop (married Sarah Lucinda McGillycuddy), he died on 9th Jan 1930 at Rathronan House, Ardagh, Limerick.

Mary Orpen (married George Hall Stack, a barrister), she died in 1880 at Omagh, Tyrone.

Theodora Elizabeth Orpen (married the Rev. James Going), she died at Rosemont, Blackrock in 1880.

Emilia Georgina Stack Orpen (married William Plunket Stack, a Civil Engineer), she died on 25th May 1861 in Bengal, India.

Cornelia Susannah Sarah Orpen lived at 2 Park Villas, Stillorgan, and died at her brother’s residence at The Palace, Henry Street, Limerick.

Elizabeth Ida Rebecca Orpen (married Captain Blacker), she died at 2 Park Villas, (which is on the same street as ‘Oriel’ the home of her brother Arthur Herbert Orpen in Stillorgan).


Note of £6,000 paid in compensation to R.W. Orpen for the destruction by fire of Ardtully by the IRA.

Ardtully Castle was sold in 1967 to a salmon fishing consortium that included the fishing rights.


Irish Times 12 May 1967.



Post by Dominic Lee, Orpen Research Archives. Also see and