Documentary on One

The Ffrench Connection

A radio documentary that tells the story of two great estates, one in Monivea, County Galway and the other in Simbirsk, a town 893 kms east of Moscow.

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4.4/5 (8 ratings)

Documentary maker: Mary Russell

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Documentary maker: Liam O'Brien

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The Ffrench Connection

Sunday 4th May 2009, 7pm


Robert Percy Ffrench, who was born in 1832, the elder son of Robert ffrench, was educated at Rugby College and went into the British Diplomatic Service, leaving Monivea to be looked after by his younger brother Acheson.

In 1863, Robert married Sophia Kindiakoff a Russian heiress whose family owned seven large estates in the region of Simbirsk (now Ulyanovsk) through which the great Volga River flows. The following year, they had a daughter, Kathleen and round about the same time, back in Monivea, Acheson also had a daughter - Rosemont, also known as Roz.

Kathleen visited Monivea a few times but her heart was in Russia. Roz, on the other hand, rarely left Monivea even when it was, literally, tumbling down around her ears. When the Russian Revolution took place. Kathleen lost a lot of her wealth though she had taken the precaution of investing wisely and was able to live a life of comparative luxury in Manchuria where many white Russians had settled.

Mary Russell traveled to Ulyanovsk to see what was left of Kathleen's seven great estates and to meet some of the people there who talk of the dreadful days of serfdom when workers were chained to cellar floors if they failed to work hard enough. Kathleen, however, was regarded as a good and generous landowner.

Back in Monivea there are many people, former estate workers, who have differing views on the ffrench family. " There's no such thing as a good landlord," says Seamus Murphy who worked for Roz as a boy. Others, like Paddy Moyles, whose grandfather was gate keeper to the family remembers the kindness of the family. " We would be taken up to the big house for special children's parties," he tells the programme. Yet others like Ellie Agnew whose father managed the estate, recalls the glory days of the big house when there were balls and picnics on the lawn and the young tweenie maids had the task of carrying hot water up to the top of the house to fill the tin baths after the men had returned from a day's hunting.

This documentary not only takes us to Russia and back but it gave us the chance to talk to people closely connected to the Ffrench family. People like Christina ffrench who now lives in County Clare. Her father, a debonair charmer thought to be the inspiration for James Bond, was a spy who traveled to Manchuria to check out the political situation there, using his visit to his cousin Kathleen, as a cover for his spying activities.

Roz and Kathleen never got on well perhaps because while Kathleen had a legal right to the big house Roz had a moral right to it. When Kathleen died, she left nothing in her will to Roz. That's not the end of this intriguing story.......

This documentary was funded through the BCI Sound and Vision funding scheme.

Presented and compiled by Mary Russell

Producer: Liam O'Brien.

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries

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