Edward Hudson, the State Dentist and a Doctor of Physic, signed a lease on the lands known as the ‘Fields of Odin’ in Rathfarnham which were owned by Thomas Connolly of Castletown House in Co. Kildare on 2 April, 1786. He had a home and business premises on St. Stephen’s Green but he also built the house which now houses the Pearse Museum as a country retreat and appropriately named it ‘The Hermitage’.
Accross the road was The Priory, the home of the famous lawyer John Philpot Curran. His daughter, Sarah, was the sweetheart of the rebel Robert Emmet. Legend has it that Hudson allowed the two young lovers to meet in the grounds of the Hermitage away from the disapproving stares of her father. It was this story which first drew Pearse to this area of Rathfarnham in the summer of 1910.
Edward Hudson was a very learned man with a passionate interest in science and the ancient past. This interest is reflected in the garden monuments and follies which are dotted around the park, many of which were built in imitation of ancient Irish field monuments, including the ogham stone which bears his name. His son William Elliot shared his father’s fascination with Irish history, and in particular the Irish language. He was a founder of the Celtic Society and was a friend of Thomas Davis. He was a lawyer and was involved in the defence of the Young Irelanders, Thomas Francis Meagher and William Smith O’Brien, following their rebellion in 1848. He sold The Hermitage to a legal colleague, Justice Richard Moore, in 1847. Ironically it was Moore who eventually passed sentence on Meagher and Smith O’Brien.
From Justice Moore the property came into the ownership of Major Richard Doyne, a veteran of the Crimean War, who purchased it in 1859. It was then inherited by his son, Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Kavanagh Doyne, who spent much of his life serving with the British Army in India. In 1898, two years before his death, he sold The Hermitage to William Woodbyrne who had made his fortune in the diamond mines of South Africa. Woodbyrne made many improvements to the grounds, including the creation of the ornamental lake. He never lived in the house as his wife contracted tuberculosis and they had to move to a warmer climate. Instead he rented the house to a series of tenants, including Pearse.
One other tenant of particular note was Sir Neville Chamberlain, a former officer in the British army in India and the person credited with the invention of the game of snooker. He moved into The Hermitage in 1900 when he was appointed Chief Inspector of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the police force of Ireland at the time. In an amazing historic coincidence, Sir Neville was head of the RIC in 1916 when Pearse led the Rising against British rule in Ireland!