The History of the Parr Family

Athboy like most other Irish towns of the 19th century had a rich array of “big houses” lived in by the landed gentry of the time. Names such as Dyas, Martley, Barnwell, Colles, Hopkins and McVeagh were well known all over Ireland but have long since vanished from the local scene. One other name, that of the Parr Family of Ballyboy and Mitchelstown, was a big part of Athboy life for about a hundred years, but alas they too have been consigned to the pages of history.

1859 portrait of Charles Parr by Mrs Archer of Burlington Road, Dublin.
1859 portrait of Charles Parr by Mrs Archer of Burlington Road, Dublin.

Bernard W. Parr was the son of Charles Parr of Parkstown House in Ballivor. Charles Parr originally came from Killinkere parish in Cavan. There are records of the Parr name dating back to at least the early 1700s in Cavan so it seems likely that they came to that area as a result of, or shortly after, the Plantation of Ulster. In Griffith’s Valuation of Ireland in 1850 there is a cluster of Parrs in Cavan, each renting small to medium holdings from the local Landlord, Lord Farnham. Charles Parr married Marianne Wauhope from 27 Nassau Street in Dublin on 17th January 1851 and three years later in 1854 he took up residence in Parkstown House, Ballivor, on a farm of about 350 acres which he rented from Lord Darnley.

Charles and Marianne had one son, Bernard Wauhope, and a number of daughters. When Charles died in 1876 Marianne continued to run the farm at Parkstown with the aid of Bernard’s son Charles William. Marianne died, intestate, in 1911 so her estate, amounting to £2800 was divided among her children. (Marianne did not own Parkstown, she was merely a tenant of Lord Darnley).

Bernard Wauhope Parr

Bernard Wauhope Parr married Alice Catherine Hornby from Creggmore, Kells, on 25th June 1884 and took up residence in Ballyboy, Athboy. Barney Parr, as he was commonly known, prospered in his new home at Ballyboy. In later years he  acquired large parts of Gillstown, Rathmore and Mitchelstown which, when combined with his other holdings, made him probably the biggest farmer in the Athboy area. In 1888 he applied to the newly formed Irish Land Commission to have his rent reviewed and he was successfully granted a reduction in yearly rent being paid to his landlord, Lord Darnley, from £458 12s. 6d. to a new judicial rent of £297 2s. 6d. He was also granted a rent reduction for 369 acres which he held in the townland of Mitchelstown, Athboy from £520 5s. 2d. per annum to £431. 2s. 6d. This latter farm would have been land extending from the top of the Hill of Ward, either side of the small road towards Rathcarne. It would have adjoined the Ballyboy farm, which extended up to the top of the Hill of Ward. The Mitchelstown holding did not include Mitchelstown House and surrounding land which was still occupied by the Hopkins family until the 1920s. In addition, Barney Parr’s mother was granted a judicial rent reduction for her holding in Parkstown from £402 19s. 8d. to £250 0s. 0d. Such rent reductions, along with the Land Acts of the time and agrarian unrest, combined to sound the deathknell for the large Absentee Landlord Estates and opened the doors for the eventual purchase of the land by the occupiers.

Barney Parr was a progressive farmer of his time. In 1889 he took part in trials to make “ensilage” (silage) for the winter feeding of his cattle. Others who took part in the same trials were John Waldron of Ballyfallon, William Hopkins of Mitchelstown, the Rt Hon. Earl Fingall in Dunsany and J.L. Naper in Loughcrew, Oldcastle. Of his work Parr reported:

“Ensilage was made in a round heap in the field, 30 feet across, 6 feet deep and covered with 18 inches of clay….I believe there is more food off two acres of ensilage than three acres of hay, and cattle do better on it except in cold wet weather. Silage is not so good made in dry weather and there is considerably more waste.”

However it was on the horse racing and breeding circuit that Bernard W. Parr became internationally famous. Over the years he built up a string of top quality bloodstock at his Ballyboy Stud. He was a notable personality in Irish and English Turf circles and bred and raced on an extensive scale. Both on the flat and over jumps he won numerous races, both here in Ireland and on the other side of the channel. In 1922, the year of his death, Barney Parr had perhaps his greatest successes when Silver Image and Silver Urn earned distinction in his colours, the former winning the Kempton Jubilee Stakes of £2500 and running second in the Hardwicke Stakes at Ascot and in the Prince of Wales Stakes at Newmarket. Silver Urn did still better and her three wins, including the One Thousand Guineas, were worth over £10,000. She was expected to add another classic, The Oakes, to her laurels but she broke down in the race and never ran again. These and others of his flat racing horses in England were trained by Mr. Atty Persse at Stockbridge while in Ireland Parr’s horses were trained by Mr. R.H. Walker (Reggie Walker) in Rathvale, Athboy.

Cigarette card from early 1900s showing jockey H J Ussher on unknown horse in Parr's colours.
Cigarette card from early 1900s showing jockey H J Ussher on unknown horse in Parr’s colours.

On the steeplechase course Parr’s horses were also regular visitors to the winners enclosure. The great accolade for owners and trainers, then as now, was a win in the Aintree Grand National and to this end Barney Parr sent many horses over to Liverpool to contest the greatest steeplechase in the world. Although a win alluded him, he did come close on two occasions when in 1906 his mare, Aunt May, came in in third place and again in 1909 when his horse, Judas, came second. Just two weeks before his death, Barney Parr had his last winner in a steeplechase at Baldoyle when Snipe’s Bridge carried his “sage green, pink sleeves and cap” colours to victory.

On the local scene Barney Parr was a great supporter of the Athboy Races which were held over a course in Balrath, Athboy annually from at least the mid-1880s. This was a big event in the local calendar. There was even a special train from the Broadstone Station in Dublin to Athboy on race day, arriving in Athboy at 11am and departing at 6pm, thus giving racegoers plenty of time to make their way to and from the meeting. In the early years the meeting consisted of just four races but this was increased from 1890 onwards with five and six races on the card. “The Farmers Plate”, “The Stand Plate”, “The Athboy Plate”, “The Balrath Plate” and “The Lune Plate” were some of the races contested. This meeting continued on an annual basis, usually held in mid June, well into the early 1900s.

A very interesting, if somewhat amusing, story about B.W. Parr dates from 1904. The background to the story centres on a dispute between Barney Parr and Harry M. Dyas concerning stud fees and training fees payable by each to the other. Harry Dyas was of course the former owner of Manifesto, a horse which he owned and trained to win the Aintree Grand National in 1898. A dispute had been ongoing between the two men for about two years and both had entered into legally binding arbitration to settle their differences. However the row erupted again in 1904 when both men disagreed as to what had been covered by the arbitration agreement. The case ended up in Trim Courthouse in October 1904. A court correspondent of the day describes the scene:

“A scene unparalleled in the history of The Irish Courts was witnessed at Trim Quarter Sessions on yesterday (Friday) afternoon. After luncheon his Honor Judge Curran took up the hearing of the case in which that well known racing man Mr. Harry M. Dyas sued Mr. B.W. Parr, another turf celebrity, for £39 fees due for the service of defendant’s mares. The case was adjourned from Thursday and the solicitors engaged were Mr. John Clarke for Mr. Dyas and Mr. E.J. Knight for Mr. Parr. To the plaintiff’s claim there was a counter one brought by Mr. Parr for £18 expenses incurred in sending racehorses and attendants from Athboy to English races. After the case had been called, arguments ensued between the solicitors as to whether Mr. Parr’s claim and also a cross set-off brought by Mr. Dyas for £5 were included in a previous settlement arrived at in recent arbitration proceedings in which Mr. Joseph Lowry had acted as umpire. During this time Mr. Parr was sitting beside his solicitor while Mr. Dyas stood a few feet away. His Honor having heard out Mr. Clarke announced that he had been speaking to Mr. Lowry on the matter, and he (His Honor) would suggest that plaintiff and defendant should turn their backs – or in other words to cry quits. Mr. Knight, having consulted with his client, said that he would agree to do so.

His Honor – “Do you agree, Mr. Dyas?”

Mr. Dyas (angrily) – “No, no back to back for me. Not with a man who went there yesterday and swore what he did. By God, I will shoot him first.”

Here Mr. Dyas lost control of himself and repeated the threat to shoot Mr. Parr. Mr. Clarke turned to Mr. Dyas and appealed to him to keep quiet. Everyone in the badly filled courthouse became excited.

His Honor (very sharply to Mr. Dyas) – “What is that you said Sir?”

Mr. Dyas (very excitedly) – “I said that, by God, I would shoot him. A man to go up there and say that I perjured myself. By God, I will shoot him.” (Here Mr. Dyas turned towards Mr. Parr who had remained standing beside Mr. Knight.)

His Honor (heatedly) – “Police, take him into custody.”

At the word of command Head Constable Downes and a Constable walked round to Mr. Dyas, and the Head Constable, catching Mr Dyas by the arm, led him around and placed him in front outside the dock.

His Honor (addressing Mr. Dyas who was labouring under great excitement) – “I will have you committed.”

Mr. Dyas – “I am sorry Your Honor for what I have said.”

His Honor (heatedly) – “It is a great shame for you coming here, as a grand juror yourself, to express yourself in such a disgraceful manner.”

Mr. Dyas (raising his voice) – “I could not help it. A man who swore what he swore. By God, I will shoot him.”

His Honor – “I will send you to jail for a month.”

Mr. Dyas – “I don’t care, I will go to jail for two months.”

Mr. Dyas continued in the same strain as before and Mr. Clarke, realising that a further appeal was useless, remained silent.

His Honor (sternly) – “I WILL commit you”. (to the Clerk of the Peace) “Make out an order”.

His Honor said that as County Court Judge he was also a Justice of the Peace for the County and acting in that capacity he would order Mr. Dyas to give security in two sureties of £50 to keep the peace towards Mr. Parr, or in default to go to jail for six months.

Mr. Dyas (again loosing control of himself) –“ My Lord, I will go to jail. A man to say that I would tell a lie. By God, I would shoot him, if I was to do ten years. If he wants me, I will meet him in France where the law is not against it, and I will shoot him, by God, at fifty paces”.

His Honor sternly called for order, and having directed the police to keep Mr. Dyas in custody until he gave the required security, announced that the case would be adjourned to next sessions, and adjourned the Court, and so ended a scene that will live long in the memory of all who witnessed it.”

Portrait of the five Parr children dating from circa 1901. Standing left to right is Sidney John, Charles William and Victor Henry. Seated is Bernard Cecil and Alice Gladys.
Portrait of the five Parr children dating from circa 1901. Standing left to right is Sidney John, Charles William and Victor Henry. Seated is Bernard Cecil and Alice Gladys.

Bernard W. and Alice Catherine Parr had five children. Charles William was born in 1885, Bernard Cecil was born in 1886, Victor Henry in 1888, Sidney John in 1889 and Alice Gladys in 1893. Alice Catherine Parr died on 9th September 1921 and Barney Parr remarried on 4th October 1922 to Harriet Janet Booker from Howth, Co. Dublin. He died however just five weeks later on 12th November 1922, aged 67 years. He is buried alongside his first wife, Alice Catherine, in the family plot in St James Church of Ireland Churchyard in Athboy. In his memory a large stained glass window was erected in St. James Church of Ireland in Athboy. The inscription on the base of the window reads:


Major Victor Henry Parr MC, DSO

Victor Henry was the third son of Barney Parr and was born in Ballyboy in 1888. In his youth he played cricket and tennis and at the outbreak of the First World War he joined the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He was posted to the French front and promoted to the rank of Captain. In 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for having “rallied men of different units in a wood, during an enemy counter attack, and, although wounded himself, he led them forward and beat off the attack.”

He was further commended in October 1917 when he was awarded a Distinguished Service Order (DSO)  for his command of an advanced battalion headquarters:

“…On his way there he mopped up three machine guns and took fifty prisoners. On the battalion being forced back, through both its flanks being exposed, he was responsible for its orderly retreat. Practically all the officers were killed, wounded or missing and the casualties at this time were about sixty per cent. He himself was wounded but by his resolute action the advance of the enemy was delayed and the troops in the rear given time to take up covering positions.”

Around this time Victor was promoted to the rank of Major but towards the end of the year he was taken prisoner and spent the rest of the war in a POW camp in Germany. He was repatriated in early 1919.

Officers of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers with Capt. V.H Parr (seated first on left)
Officers of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers with Capt. V.H Parr (seated first on left).

On his discharge from army duty after the war Victor was allowed to keep his military title and was forever after known around Athboy simply as “The Major”. He returned to his home in Ballyboy and after the death of his father, Bernard W, in 1922, Victor took over the running of the farm and stud at Ballyboy. He married Norah Beatrice Moyna in London in 1928. Norah, a cousin of Vivien Leigh, (Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone With The Wind’) was noted for her beauty and did at one point feature in an advertising campaign for Pond’s Cold Cream. Victor and Norah had just one daughter, Anne Verity, who was born in 1931 but tragically she died in a horse riding accident in 1949, aged just 19 years old. Anne, a very accomplished horse woman, was found unconscious on the road at Rathcarne railway bridge, having been thrown from her horse while out riding. She died the following day. News reports of the time tell the story in detail:

“The sympathy of people from all over Ireland has gone out to Major and Mrs. Victor Parr, Ballyboy, Athboy, who have suffered a poignant bereavement in the tragic death of their only child, Miss Anne Parr, aged nineteen years, following a
riding accident on Tuesday. She was thrown from her horse at Rathcarne on that morning and died at her home shortly afterwards. Her charming manner captivated all who knew her. She had been riding horses almost since the time she could walk and was an accomplished, fearless horsewoman. With her parents she was a member of the Meath Hunt, of which her mother was a former joint master. In recent years Miss Parr was a popular figure at show jumping competitions. Devoid of affectation, she made friends with people in all walks of life and was a general favourite. A particularly strong bond of mutual understanding and comradeship united her father and herself.”

The following was reported of the inquest into Anne’s death:

“Mr. J. J. Lynch, Solicitor, Coroner for Meath, sitting with a jury, held an inquest at Ballyboy on Tuesday evening. The following were sworn in on the jury – Messrs Michael Newman (foreman), John Kerr, Daniel Reilly, John J. Higgins, Merville Coffey, Michael Coffey and Maurice Cregan. Supt. M Smith represented the authorities. Evidence of identification was given by Mr. Sidney J. Parr, Mitchelstown, uncle of the deceased. Coleman McDonagh, Rathcarne, who gave his evidence in Irish, deposed that he was cycling from his home to Athboy at about 11.15 am on that morning when, in the vicinity of Foran’s house, he saw something on the road. He thought that it was a sack. Then he discovered that it was a woman. She was not dead. He lifted her head from the road. James Kenny, who was leading a racehorse belonging to Mr. Walker, came up and said that the girl was Miss Parr. Mr. Costigan brought her in his car to Dr. Lynch in Athboy. Mr. Sean Costigan N.T., Athboy, deposed that he conveyed the deceased to Dr. Lynch’s residence and then to her home. Thomas Griffith, Ballyboy, groom employed by Mr Victor Parr, deposed that the animal ridden by the deceased was fourteen years old, very quiet, and used to being ridden and hunted. He saw Miss Parr leaving the yard at 10.30 am. She appeared to be in her usual health. Witness examined the horse after the accident. The right reins had snapped off right at the bit. From his examination he was of the opinion that the horse stumbled on the road and fell over on its right side, throwing deceased. Garda Patrick Murphy, who had interpreted Coleman McDonagh’s evidence, described the scene of the accident. Dr. Thomas Lynch, Athboy, deposed that when deceased was brought to his residence she was very cold, deeply shocked and unconscious. She was bleeding from her nose and right ear. There was a deep contused wound slightly above the right ankle, with what appeared to be gravel embedded in it. In his opinion she died from fracture of the skull and laceration of the brain. The jury’s verdict was that she died from fracture of the skull and laceration of the brain as a result of a fall from a horse. The foreman of the jury expressed the jury’s sympathy with Major and Mrs. Parr. The Coroner and Dr. Lynch associated themselves with the expression of sympathy.”

Anne Parr was buried in the family plot in St James Church of Ireland Churchyard, Athboy on 20th October 1949.

Anne Verity Parr (1930 – 1949)
Anne Verity Parr (1930 – 1949)

On the thoroughbred breeding scene, Ballyboy Stud was one of the most prominent breeding establishments in Ireland. The most successful stallion to stand at Ballyboy was Achtoi, who after his equally successful racing career made a big impact at the stud. He proved to be one of the best all round sires that stood in Ireland at that time. In the 1920s and 1930s he sired the winners of no less than 336 races over the flat in Ireland and England valued at over £108,000 and 235 steeplechases and hurdles worth over £36,000 as well as numerous winners abroad. One of the best racehorses he sired was Nitsichin, who, as a four years old in 1932, carried 8st 9lbs to an easy victory in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket and had the previous year won the Irish Oaks. Another horse bred at Ballyboy was Rue de la Paix, which won the English Cambridgeshire Handicap in 1941.

Capt Victor Henry Parr (circa 1914)
Capt Victor Henry Parr (circa 1914)

Following the death of Victor in 1968 his widow, Norah, continued to run the stud at Ballyboy. Her greatest success was a horse called Royal Vulcan. Bred by herself and unsold as a yearling because he was unwell Norah persuaded her nephew, Harry Beeby (Chairman of Doncaster Bloodstock Sales Company), and her accountant Sean Muldoon from Kells, to take a share and the horse went into training with Neville Callaghan in Newmarket. He ran a couple of times showing promise as a two year old and won first time out as a three year old at Nottingham, ridden by Pat Eddery. He was placed several times on good tracks like Newbury, Ayr and the Epsom Derby meeting but really came into his own as a four year old hurdler. He won about 13 races in all and was favourite for the Triumph Hurdle but finished 4th. He was subsequently 2nd or 3rd favourite for the following years Champion Hurdle but damaged his back at the 3rd hurdle. He did however win the Welsh, Scottish and Irish Champion Hurdles in that year 1983. There is no doubt that this latter win at Leopardstown would have given Norah the greatest pleasure.

A fearless horsewoman in her younger days and a past joint master of the Meath Hounds, Norah was much loved and respected in the Athboy area. She was always easily distinguishable by her green Morris Traveller and ever present dogs. She died in 1987 and is buried along with Victor and Anne in the Parr family plot in St. James Church of Ireland Churchyard in Athboy.

Norah Parr riding her favorite horse "One Eye".
Norah Parr riding her favorite horse “One Eye”.

Also worth recording at this point is another grave in the same churchyard, that of E.P.G Moyna DFC, a brother of Norah Parr. Edward Patrick Gordon Moyna was born in 1914 and was a photographer. He served in the RAFFU (Royal Airforce Film Unit) during the Second World War. Although initially he worked on producing training and propaganda films he was later attached to the famous 617 Squadron. This squadron, it may be remembered, was formed specially to develop and perfect the “bouncing bomb” which was used against German dams in the Rhur Valley to great effect. Their exploits were years later immortalised in the film “The Dam Busters”.

Because of the secrecy surrounding the formation and training of this squadron it is not clear if Patrick Moyna was involved in the training before these raids. However it is clear that he flew on many missions after this and indeed there are many images recorded by him available on the internet to this day. He was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader and for his services during the Second World War he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).  After the war he worked in the British film industry and produced several Cinemagazine films for Verity Films Ltd. He was also Production Manager on a couple of big screen feature films of the time, The Girl In The Picture (1957) and Farewell Performance (1963). Patrick Moyna lived out the last days of his life with Victor and Norah Parr in Ballyboy where he died in 1970. He is buried in St. James Church of Ireland Churchyard in Athboy where a simple headstone with the words “EPG Moyna DFC” marks his grave.

Sidney John Parr M.C.

Born in 1889 at Ballyboy, Sidney John, best known as Jack, was the fourth son of Bernard W. Parr. From an early age he was an all round sportsman, playing tennis and cricket, but it was in the game of rugby that he excelled. Jack played his club rugby for Wanderers in Dublin for several years and in 1914 was called to play for the Irish team in the Five Nations Championship. He received his first cap on 1st January 1914 when he lined out against France in Parc de Prances in Paris. Jack played in all the Irish International games that year. Incidentally, the game against Wales (which Wales won 11-3) was played in Belfast, and was widely regarded as one of the roughest games of rugby ever played. In his book The Men In Green Sean Diffley records:

“…bouts of fisticuffs broke out all over the place, late tackles were the norm and grim attention to players yards from the ball was accepted as part of the laws of the day. It must have been an amazing sight, with the rain pouring down, a half gale whipping along the pitch the players engaging in their little affairs of honour and the Scottish referee allowing them to get on with it. It is said that the players in friendly fashion discussed the progress of the battle at half time. Strangely, nobody was really hurt, nobody complained and after the match the teams dined together in complete harmony. The leader of the Welsh pack was The Reverend Alban Davies of Swansea and it is Belfast rugby folklore that a bemused spectator, leaving the ground was heard to remark; “If yon Davies is a clergyman, his congregation must have a fair sore time of it”.

Jack Parr’s rugby career effectively ended when matches were suspended for the duration of the First World War. Jack joined the Royal Dragoons and was posted to the French front. On 3rd June 1916 Lieutenant S.J. Parr was awarded The Military Cross for “conspicuous bravery in the fighting at Loos”. This was indeed a great honour as this was the second time that a member of the Parr family had received an MC.

The Irish Rugby team which faced Scotland in 1914. Jack Parr, back row fourth from the left
The Irish Rugby team which faced Scotland in 1914. Jack Parr, back row fourth from the left.

During the war Jack Parr spent a protracted period in hospital suffering from medical problems which were caused by being “on active service for one and a half years; 6 months in France without leave” but returned to active duty in the 5th Reserve Cavalry Regiment. At the end of the war he was discharged from military duty on 12th Mar 1919.

Jack Parr married Doris Isabella Vaughan Stephenson in Belfast at the end of 1920. Doris was the sister of George and Harry Stephenson, both of whom played on the Irish International rugby team during the 1920s. George Stephenson was in fact capped 42 times, a record which he held until 1957. He was also the leading point scorer at 89 points until 1952. His 14 tries remained an Irish record until 1991.

Dora Stephenson
Doris Isabella Vaughan Stephenson

Jack and Doris bought Mitchelstown House and farm in late 1924 and this, when combined with other Mitchelstown lands which he inherited from his father, amounted to about 450 acres, and became known as Mitchelstown Stud.

From the outset Jack Parr set about building up his Mitchelstown Stud with top quality brood mares and stallions. In the early 30s Tolgus, a six times winner on the track, started his stud career at Mitchelstown but was later moved to Newmarket in England. Other top quality sires who stood at Mitchelstown were Link Boy, Magic Red and Anwar.

Many winners were bred at Mitchelstown Stud over the years and best known of these would have been Artic Wind which won the Irish 2000 Guineas in 1954, Saravan which was second in the English 2000 Guineas and the brilliantly fast Red Anita and Red Peak. While he sold most of his yearlings at sales in Doncaster, Newmarket and Ballsbridge in Dublin, Jack Parr always kept a few of his home bred stock in training here in Ireland. Just a year before his death his filly, Lillet, was beaten in a photo finish in the Irish 1000 Guineas at the Curragh. Many horses bred at Mitchelstown Stud won races abroad and notable among these was Burma Road, by Link Boy out of Saucy Silver which won the American Grand National at Belmont, New York in 1944.

But perhaps Jack Parr’s most significant achievement in bloodstock breeding is his link to one of the most famous horses to ever run in these islands. Red Rum was probably the best Aintree Grand National winner ever and to date the only horse to have won the race three times, having won the race in 1973, 1974 and 1977 and coming second in the intervening years 1975 and 1976. His dam, Mared, by Magic Red out of Quinta, was bred by Jack Parr at Mitchelstown Stud. Unfortunately Jack did not live to see the fruits of his own work.

Another hugely successful runner from Mitchelstown Stud was Pampalina (1964) , bred by Doris after the death of Jack Parr. Pampalina was by Bairam, a Mitchelstown sire, out of Padus, a Mitchelstown mare. Pampalina won the Irish Oakes in 1967 for her then owner Hans Paul, and she went on in turn to become the dam of Pampapaul which won the Irish 2000 Guineas in 1977.

Sidney John Parr (1889 - 1960)
Sidney John Parr (1889 – 1960)

It is also little known that Jack Parr had political ambitions. In 1937 he was nominated by The Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association to run for a seat in The Seanad Eireann Elections being held that year. Unfortunately he was not successful, and there ended his political career.

Jack Parr died suddenly on 29th February 1960 at Mitchelstown House. He was buried in St. James Church of Ireland Churchyard in Athboy.

Jack and Doris had no children. Soon after his death Doris sold part of the lands at Mitchelstown. She kept on the running of the stud for another four years but in 1964 she decided to sell the entire farm, so the lands and house at Mitchelstown was put up for auction. It consisted of 355 acres of land, Mitchelstown House and stud farm and it was bought for £72,000 by Mr. Ben Dunne, the late chairman of Dunnes Stores. Doris retired to live at Swords, Co. Dublin where she died in 1967. She is also buried in Athboy.

It may be of interest to note that Doris Parr’s mother is also buried in St James Church of Ireland Churchyard in Athboy. A headstone with the inscription “Gertie E Stephenson, 12th August 1944, wife of The Rev G.A. Stephenson LLB” marks her grave. The Reverend died many years previously in Belfast so presumably Gertie spent the end of her life with Doris in Mitchelstown House.

Of the Stephenson brothers who played international rugby, George became a Doctor and Consultant Psychiatrist and Harry was a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Navy. He was badly burned during the Second World War when trying to save a young sailor from a fire aboard ship. A third brother, Tom Stephenson, the youngest of the Stephenson family, was highly decorated for his wartime services. He was in The Royal Corps of Signals and was at Arnham during Operation Market Garden. For his action at Arnham Lieutenant-Colonel Stephenson was awarded an OBE. He was later awarded an Olav Medal for his work in Norway where, as Officer Commanding the Divisional Signals, he was responsible for all military communications in Norway and for the radio link to the UK. He later served in India and retired in 1959 to live in Vancouver, Canada.

Bernard Cecil Parr

Born in 1886 and the oldest of the three Parr brothers, Bernard Cecil is one of whom little is known today. He married Ruby Howitt Winstanley in Dublin in 1906 and their first son was born the following year and named Bernard Cecil, the same name as his father. Their second son was born in 1912 and named Thomas H.W. Parr. At the time of the birth of their second child BC and Ruby Parr were living in the townland of Haggard near Carbury, Co. Kildare.

It is unknown if BC Parr had any involvement in the military in the First World War. There seems to be no surviving records detailing any possible military career. There is just one mention in the racing papers of the day of a horse called “Parkstown” which was owned by “Capt B.C. Parr”.

On 22nd September 1922 B.C. and wife Ruby sailed from Southampton to Buenos Aires in Argentina. This trip may have been just a holiday or it seems more likely that it was a fact finding trip with a view to future emigration! They were travelling without their 2 children. Of note here however is that his father, Bernard W. Parr, died in Ballyboy just a few weeks later.

Following the death of his father, B.C. purchased Clifton Lodge house and farm in 1924. He never really settled into his new home however and, perhaps inspired by his earlier trip to Argentina, decided in 1929 to move with his family to Buenos Aires. In February 1929 a clearance auction was held at Clifton by Joseph Lowry and Sons, Auctioneers from Kells “on the instructions of B.C. Parr who is going abroad.” On 30th March 1929 Bernard Cecil, his wife Ruby and two sons Bernard Cecil Jnr. and Thomas H.W., sailed from Liverpool, bound for Buenos Aires. He gave his occupation as “cattleman”, reflecting no doubt what he hoped would be his future life in the rich and fertile plains of the Argentine Pampas.

It is interesting to note at this point that from 1924 to 1929 the three Parr brothers owned a huge stretch of land in Athboy. Victor owned Ballyboy along with a large part of Gillstown, Rathmore and The Hill of Ward. Jack owned Mitchelstown and Bernard Cecil owned Clifton. These three farms bordered each other and amounted perhaps in total to close on 2000 acres.

Not much is known about the life of the Parr family in Argentina. In December 1932 Bernard Cecil Jnr. married Sidney Bell, daughter of Theodore Bell MD from Warrenpoint, Co Down. That wedding took place in Buenos Aires. At that time the Parr family address was “Granja Elena (Elena Farm), Cowland, Provincia de Buenos Aires”.

There is no record of when B.C Snr. returned to Ireland. He did however die in Belfast on 8th August 1945.

Charles William Parr

Charles William was the oldest of the children of Bernard Wauchope Parr and was born in Parkstown, Ballivor in 1885. When his grandfather, Charles Snr. died in 1876 the farm at Parkstown was run by his grandmother Marianne. In her later years, Charles William, or Charlie as he was best known aided her in running the farm.

After Marianne’s death in 1911 he went on to study medicine having passed his entrance exam to Trinity College, Dublin, Medical Faculty in April 1914. He qualified as a Doctor and married Gladys McGee from Athy in 1920. Shortly after his marriage he spent some time in Canada and around 1928 he moved to China where he worked in Yensing University (now Peking) for a number of years. In 1933 he moved to New Zealand where he settled in Auckland.

Charlie Parr's home at Glencarrig, Delgany, Co Wicklow. (circa 1925)
Charlie Parr’s home at Glencarrig, Delgany, Co Wicklow. (circa 1925)

Charlie and Gladys had two sons. Charles Eric Parr became an obstetrician and gynaecologist and lived and worked all his life in Auckland. Patrick William Dennis Parr was an army and then a school Chaplin before becoming an Archdeacon in Auckland. Patrick Parr’s son, David Parr, is currently a teacher in King’s College in Auckland. Charlie Parr was a noted horticulturist, landscaper and gardening expert. In his youth he maintained a large glasshouse attached to Parkstown House. There are records of him winning many prizes in flower shows and agricultural shows around the Meath area. After his marriage he lived in Glencarrig, Delgany, Co Wicklow which also included a large glasshouse! In China and Auckland Charlie maintained his interest in horticulture and was a prominent member of many horticultural societies.

He was also a keen amateur photographer and lugged around a large camera and glass plate negatives wherever he went. A large collection of his photographs have survived to this day, including many from pre-revolutionary China, along with many Chinese artefacts which he collected along the way. These photos are currently being preserved and digitised by his grandson David.

Alice Gladys Parr

Born in 1893, Alice Gladys was the youngest child and only daughter of Bernard W. and Catherine Parr. As a child she was cared for by her Governess, Ruby Howitt Winstanley, who went on to marry Bernard Cecil Parr in 1906.

Alice Gladys married William Alexander Clarke in 1922. William, a native of Downpatrick, was a member of the firm of C.A. McCaw and Co. Stockbrokers, of 14 Westmoreland Street in Dublin which he joined in 1911. He had previously been attached to the Northern Bank. Clarke was treasurer of the Irish Rugby Football Union for many years from 1916 onwards and was President in 1931-1932. He played for Wanderers for several seasons and was a past president of the club. He was also a Director of the Baldoyle Racecourse Co., Ltd and President of Grange Golf Club for 10 years.

Alice Gladys Parr and William Alexander Clarke in 1944.
Alice Gladys Parr and William Alexander Clarke in 1944.

Alice and William had just one daughter, Joyce. On 16th January 1945 Joyce married Denis Synge Stephens at a ceremony held in the drawing room of the family home at Cremorne, Terenure Road, Dublin. The reason for this arrangement was that Joyce’s father, William, was very seriously ill at home and he died just 6 weeks after the wedding. Tragically for Joyce, her mother, Alice Gladys, had died just 4 weeks earlier. It took a lot of courage to go through with the wedding under such very difficult circumstances.

Alice and William are buried in Whitechurch Cemetery in Dublin. Joyce Stephens’ youngest son, The Honourable Mr Justice Ben Stephens, is currently (2016) a member of the Northern Ireland judiciary.


As stated at the outset of this article, the Parrs of Athboy have long faded into the pages of local history. The family members of local interest, Bernard Wauchop, The Major and Jack were highly respected by everyone locally. They were honest, hard working and very loyal to their Church of Ireland faith. They were great employers in the area and indeed a job in Parrs was, in many cases, a job for life. Theirs was a time so different from today and probably the hayday of the landed gentry. It was the upstairs/downstairs life with which we have grown familiar from modern TV programmes. A family saying is remembered by some Parr descendants: “Owe money to nobody except the butcher!” They were good people and fondly remembered by many to this day.

5 Replies to “The History of the Parr Family”

  1. I grew up across the road from Ballyboy house. On my fifth birthday I was walking to Athboy to do the shopping for my mother. Nora Parr came along in her green Morris minor and gave me a lift. I told her it was my birthday and she bought me sweets. She gave me a lift home and made it her business to coming to my mother and tell her That on the way into town I had said to her: “how is the auld major? My mother says he’s getting very shuck.” She thought that this was hilarious. She thought that this was hilarious. Some years later my mother told me that when Nora heard that she was pregnant she asked her to call her Ann in memory of her daughter and that is how I got my name. In memory of her daughter and that is how I got my name. When I was born she arranged to have Ann’s cot brought down to our house and that is the cot that I was raised in. Brought down to our house and that is the cot that I was raised in. It was a large blue cot with panels on all four sides with nursery rhyme characters. When Nora became ill my mother nursed her to the end.
    Her death was the end of an era Colm the big house was no more. Her death was the end of an era, the big house was no more.


  2. Nice to read about my distant cousin Doris Isabel Vaughan PARR, nee STEPHENSON. I’ve added your story to my family history database. Thank you

    D. M. P. Cameron.


    1. Thank you Don. I think you and I have a shared acquaintance – Sandra Phillips in Vancouver!!
      Bernard Walsh


      1. Nice to read about my distant cousin Doris Isabel Vaughan PARR, nee STEPHENSON. I’ve added your story to my family history database. Thank you

        D. M. P. Cameron.

        Hello Bernard, I may have been in contact with Sandra through Brian Collett’s website on the Collett families of England & Norway etc. Doris’ antecedents were a branch of one of the Collett families. Kind regards, Don Cameron.


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