“If you want to fall head over years in love with Ireland at the very first sight of her charms… float down the vale of the Blackwater…”
– Kate Douglas Wiggin
in Penelope’s Irish Experiences,1901.
Camphire house and farm are situated at the confluence of the Blackwater and Bride Rivers, in the west of County Waterford.
Susan Dobbs founded the Camphire Horse Trials in 2000 with the help and inspiration of Van der Vater, who is still Hon President of the Trials. They have been managed and developed by Paul and Allen Brady, and the Event has extended onto the neighbouring farm owned by James Browne, whose family also are closely involved.
One of Susan Dobbs’s prime objectives was to provide a venue where young riders and horses could gain experience and qualifications.
History of Camphire
The name Camphire is derived from the old Gaelic word “Caimthir” which means “the land on a bend”. Some archaeologists believe that the first human settlements in Ireland were along the banks of the Blackwater river. The remains of very early settlements have been found just north of Camphire.
It is believed that a fortification of some form stood at Camphire from the earliest times. It protected Celtic monastic settlements in the area against Viking raids in the 8th Century. Eventually the Vikings traded and intermarried with the Irish and a co-existence developed between the two groups.
Next to arrive were the Normans from Britain in the late 12th century. In 1173 a fierce battle took place down river near Youghal when a fleet of Irish and Vikings attacked Normans fleeing to Waterford with treasure they looted from the monastery at Lismore. The Normans destroyed all fortifications between Lismore and Youghal including that at Camphire and divided up the lands they had captured in the name of the English king Henry II. The area around Camphire was given to Robert Fitzstephen in 1177, who in 1215 passed it on to his half brother Maurice Fitzgerald, ancestor of the Earls of Desmond. The Fitzgeralds ruled the area for several generations and rebuilt the tower at Camphire.
In 1622 Garett Fitzjohn Fitzgerald sold Camphire Castle and the lands to Richard Boyle, the first Earl of Cork. Boyle had paid Garret £900 for Camphire and then added a fair gelding called Black Wright but Garret returned the animal being satisfied with the money he had obtained.
Twenty years later the inhabitants of Camphire suffered considerably in the Civil War that had reached the south in February 1642. The castle was destroyed that same year by the forces of the Confederate Army under General Purcell. It was not rebuilt.
In 1667 Beverly Ussher was granted the lands at Camphire and his descendants built up an estate of 8,000 acres in West Waterford over the next two hundred years. A manor house was built at the end of the 17th century near the ruins of the old castle and this was replaced by the present Camphire House in 1843. The house was designed by the Belfast architect Sir Charles Lanyion who had recently completed The Palm House for the Botanic Gardens in Belfast.
Camphire Quay was also developed at this time to facilitate the many merchant boats offloading and collecting goods. It had one of the few ferries on the Blackwater and was used extensively in the 19th century by travellers going backwards and forwards to Villierstown and Dungarvan.
The Camphire Estate was purchased by the Dobbs family in 1902. Sir Henry Dobbs spent his career in India and became High Commissioner to the Kingdom of Iraq in 1923, a post he held for six years. After his death in 1934 his widow Esme and her younger daughter Susan lived at Camphire. When they went to stay at their summer house in Ardmore they used to bring their pet cow with them thus ensuring a fresh supply of milk each morning.
Susan Dobbs hunted all her life, and with the help of Van der Vater founded the Camphire Horse Trials in 2000. She died in February 2009, leaving the estate to her great-nephew Henry Wilks. He has agreed to the Trials being maintained and developed, and in the last four years they have achieved International FEI Status. The CIC 3-star course was designed by Mike Etherington-Smith, who has designed Olympic and World Championship courses around the world.
(Note: A special thank you to renowned local historian Kieran Hefferenan for the historical information provided above).