Mervue House was formerly the seat of the Joyce family in Galway. The Joyces were descended from one of the old tribal families of Galway. They built their home at Mervue sometime between 1790 and 1820. It was called Merview, which was meant to represent ‘sea view’ of ‘glorious view’. The area had formerly been part of the estates of the Erasmus Smith Schools. Another major property owned by the Joyce family was, of course, Gleninagh, which now houses Galwegian’s Rugby Club.
The Joyce family of Mervue House were successful wine merchants during the eighteenth century, carrying out extensive trade with Spain and Portugal. They were among the top business people of eighteenth century Galway.
In 1761, Pierce Joyce, a Galway merchant married into the Kelly family of Rockstown Castle, County Limerick. His son, Walter, followed him into the family business, but only for a short time. Walter appears to have inherited the original Mervue property from his uncle, Dr Matthew Joyce, who died in 1800.
Walter Joyce left the merchant life behind in 1803 to commence business as a banker. In 1806, he married for the second time. His second wife was the daughter of John Appleyard, a Galway corn merchant, and his banking partner.
During the economic boom of the early nineteenth century, caused by the Napoleonic Wars, the Joyce family prospered. They owned lands in Annaghdown, Claregalway, Dunkellin and Lackagh. They also had land in Longford and Mayo.
By the time of his retirement in 1824, Walter had acquired a considerable fortune. It is estimated that by the 1870s the family owned 3,742 acres in County Galway along with considerable property in the city.
Mervue House eventually passed on to Pierce Joyce. As a young man, Pierce joined the British military and became a colonel. He fought in the desert campaigns during World War I, led by his friend and colleague, the famous Colonel T.E. Lawrence, also known as Lawrence of Arabia.
By the 1950s, Colonel Joyce had decided to sell Mervue House and its estate. Galway Corporation was interested, as they had their sights set on constructing a new housing estate for the growing population of the town. As can be seen from the following report, they were also interested in converting Mervue House into a library.
‘The possibility of establishing Galway’s proposed new central library in the residence of Colonel P. Joyce, Mervue Estate, was mentioned by Mr. C. I. O’Flynn, County Manager, at Saturday’s meeting of the County Libraries Committee. Mr O’Flynn said that negotiations were proceeding for the purchase of the estate and residence by the corporation, who proposed building 300 houses and eventually 500 houses on the estate. It might be possible, continued Mr O’Flynn, to take over the residence and establish the central library there with the present library premises to be used as a branch library.
Mr J.A. O’Connell raised the matter by saying that he was not satisfied with the whole library system in the county and did not think that the county council appreciated the functions of a library system…was twofold, recreational and educational. There was not anything like sufficient emphasis being laid on the educational side and not enough being done to promote that aspect of the system. Galway was the headquarters of the system in the county and it had a lending library, nothing else. It should have a reference library and a reading room. Mr O’Connell advocated a review of the whole existing scheme… There should be facilities for night study in any library system and he was sure there must be a room in Galway suitable for that purpose, which could be rented by the library. Later on it might be possible to expand the branch libraries to include reference libraries and reading rooms.
‘Specialised library: Mr J.J. Cunningham said the county council might be more agreeable to do more of the things envisaged by Mr O’Connell than imagined. Mr O’Connell said his idea was to include a specialised library in the system, where a subscriber could come in and refer to many books on the one particular subject, not just one book. Mr McCarty said he agreed with Mr O’Connell that a University City like Galway should have a reference library. He would suggest that the reference library should be established in Mervue instead of the central library and he hoped the whole project would eventually become an accomplished fact.’
Galway Corporation purchased the land at Mervue in 1953 and, a year later, they accepted a tender for the erection of 253 houses and 12 shopping units. A total of 11 tenders were submitted, but the contract was awarded to the Brennan Brothers of Naas, County Kildare.
Mr C. I. O’Flynn, the county manager, reported that the first stage would be built over a three-year period and would mean an increase of one farthing on the rates. There were a number of concerns amongst some members on Galway Corporation, who did not agree with the increase in the rates on existing householders.
Councillor Maggie Anne Ashe was adamant that they should build houses that would ‘pay for themselves’. Alderman Joseph Owens stated that many people were concerned that the business area of Galway would become derelict, with 300 families eventually moving out to Mervue.
Mayor Peter Greene stated that they should have thought of all this before making the decision.
Finally, T O’Connor proposed acceptance of the tender and Fintan Coogan (Senior) seconded the motion, thus Mervue Housing Estate was going ahead. By 1955, the first houses became available and thus the first families began to set up homes.
However, the idea of a library was short-lived and Mervue House was then bought and restored by Mr Kerry O’Sullivan. It was renamed Tara Hall and Royal Tara China Limited was established there. At the time, it was the only Irish manufacturer of Fine Bone China Giftware and Tableware.
The internal structure of the house was gutted by fire in March 1957, but it was quickly rebuilt. The company was taken over in 1977 by a group of Irish businessmen and today it is still completely Irish owned and managed.
Royal Tara China has a thriving export market, shipping to 15 countries worldwide. Demand for the product grew to such an extent in the United States that it became necessary to establish an extensive distribution network throughout America.
Fine bone china is a member of the porcelain family and, according to tradition, Marco Polo first introduced it into western culture. Several attempts were made during the Yuan Dynasty (1279 – 1368) to copy the china, but it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that the present formula was developed in Britain. Since that period, Irish men and women have contributed greatly to the art of porcelain making. This tradition is perpetuated at Tara Hall, where every item is handmade by the skilled crafts-people, using the original methods.
Today, the grounds of Tara Hall are also famous for its display of Christmas Lights, which began in 1992. It attracts people from all over the county and the money collected from the display is donated directly to local charities.
Unfortunately, in 2003, Royal Tara announced that business would cease in Galway. Its closure with the loss of over 80 jobs came as a total shock to the workers and community. Some of the staff had worked in the ‘China Factory’, as it was known locally, for many years and had given years of loyal service. Among the reasons given by the companies Board of Directors was the aftermath of the Foot and Mouth crisis, the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Iraq War. Nevertheless, business is still carried on there today.
Dedication: This article is dedicated to the memory of a wonderful woman, Teresa Grealish, who passed away recently.