The Viscount Gormanston is a title in the Peerage of Ireland which is held by the head of the Preston family. This title was created in 1478. The title-holder is the senior Viscount of Ireland besides being the bearer of the oldest vicomital title in either Britain or Ireland.
The crest of the Viscount Gormanston is rather unusual. It has a fox on it. In heraldry nomenclature, the crest is described as:
“On a chapeau, gules, turned up, ermin, a fox pasant, proper”
When the Foxes come to Gormanston Castle
This fox on the crest is said to be connected to a paranormal phenomena unique to the Prestons of Gormanston. It is said that whenever a Lord Gormanston was about to breath his last, foxes in large numbers would gather at Gormanston Castle. Since foxes, by nature, are solitary creatures, for them to get together in any number at all is considered very unusual.
There are two possible origins for this extraordinary occurrence. One version claimed that it happened during a fox-hunt. A vixen with its nursing pups was cornered by the hounds. The incumbent Lord Gormanston took pity on the poor animals and called off the hunt without harming them in any way. Then when he died, the foxes were said to have kept vigil around the castle in remembrance of his good deed.
Another version claimed that it also happened during a fox-hunt but ended in a different way. Apparently the incumbent Lady Gormanston hated hunting. During the hunt, she found a vixen. Then she hid it somewhere out of harm’s way until the hunt was over. After that she released the vixen into safety. It was said that when she died, the foxes came to mourn her passing.
This strange behavior of the foxes of Gormanston had been observed a number of times. In the winter of 1860, when the 12th Viscount Gormanston was waiting out the last minutes of his life, Lord Fingall was told by a villager,
“My Lord, you will not find today, all the foxes have gone to Gormanston to see the old lord die.”
In 1876, when the succeeding Viscount Gormanston passed away, it was said that a number of foxes had followed the cortège carrying his body to the churchyard. They were said to have kept pace across the fields in a line parallel to the human mourners.
Another incident of this strange occurrence was related by Fr. John Ramsey, the grandson of the 14th Viscount Gormanston. He said that in 1927, before his grandfather was buried, the foxes had surrounded the chapel where the body was lying. Colonel Richard Preston DSO, the Lord Gormanston’s brother, tried to chase them away but they would not go away until the sun came up.
There was a similar incident reported by a distinguished Irish lady who was living near Gormanston. One morning in June 1940, a villager came to her parents’ house and said,
“Something has happened to Lord Gormanston, the foxes were barking all night long.”
Not long afterwards, they received news that the 16th Viscount Gormanston had fallen in the line of duty in France.
There were records in the Preston family logs which told of the same paranormal phenomena. These records dated back to the 17th century. They stated that as the 12th Viscount Gormanston lay dying, foxes gathered around the castle for several days. They were sighted sitting beneath the Viscount’s bedroom window, barking and howling the whole night long. Even after his death, the foxes were still lingering around the residence. Only after the funeral did they go back to wherever they had come from.
Witnesses had noticed some other peculiarities about this gathering of the foxes of Gormanston. One was that the foxes did not molest any poultry. During the gathering, the foxes were seen walking through scores of farmyard fowl apparently oblivious to the presence of what was, in normal circumstances, their dinner fare. Another peculiarity was that the guard dogs of the castle did not harm the foxes either.
On October 28, 1907, the 14th Viscount Gormanston, Jenico William Joseph, passed away. The New Ireland Review contained many interesting items about this event in its April 1908 issue.
Some of the unusual happenings were related by Lady Gormanston. She said that for a few days before the Viscount died, the foxes had been seen coming to the castle. The Viscount’s valet, who was sleeping in his room, heard what he thought was a dog barking. He opened the window and saw, instead of a dog, a fox sitting beneath the window and barking. She said that on the day that Edward, the 13th Viscount Gormanston, died, the foxes had also gathered at the castle. Actually, Edward had seemed better that day but the foxes apparently knew better. They came and sat under the window barking. That night, Edward passed away.
Lucretia P. Farrell, the daughter of the 13th Viscount, reported some similar incidents. She said that on the day before her grandfather died, the foxes had come in pairs from all around. They came to sit under his bedroom window. Then they started howling and barking all night. They were chased away but they kept coming back. In 1876, when her father died, she had nursed him until the end. Just before he died, she fell ill. Her family told her that the foxes had come as usual although not in such great numbers as before.
Anthony Delahan, a coachman, had his own account of the strange behavior of the foxes. On October 26, which was a Monday, at about 8 pm, he said he saw two foxes in the chapel ground. There were five or six more in front of the castle. He also noticed several foxes in the cloisters. The foxes in the cloisters were moving around in a circle, crying all the time. He watched their strange behavior until about 11 pm when he went to bed. He told Patrick White, a steward, about the foxes and White also saw the foxes.
On Wednesday, October 30, 1907, at about 10 pm, Richard Preston went to the chapel at Gormanston Castle to keep vigil by the remains of his late father. At about 3 am he heard a small noise outside the chapel. He opened a side door to see who or what was moving about at that hour.
According to him, there was a full-grown fox sitting on the gravel path hardly four feet from where he stood. Then he noticed that there was another fox in the shadow, sitting close up against the wall of the chapel. He could hear several more foxes moving about quietly within a few yards. He thought he could make out some of their shapes in the dark. The two foxes that he could see clearly did not move away when he opened the door. Only when he stepped out of the chapel and walked toward them, did they move off quietly into the shadow.
The current Lord Gormanston is Jenico Nicholas Dudley Preston, the 17th Viscount Gormanston. His son and heir apparent, Hon. Jenico Francis Tara Preston, may be able to tell, when the time comes, if the foxes of Gormanston are still keeping up with their centuries-old tradition.