Lady Louisa Conolly, an English-born Irish noblewoman, is born on December 5, 1743, perhaps at Goodwood House in Westhampnett, Chichester, West Sussex, England. She is the third of the famous Lennox sisters and is notable among them for leading a wholly uncontroversial life filled with good works.
Born Lady Louisa Augusta Lennox, she and her sisters are portrayed in Stella Tillyard‘s book Aristocrats: Caroline, Emily, Louisa, and Sarah Lennox and in the BBC television series based on it. The Lennox sisters are the daughters of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond, and Lady Sarah Cadogan. The 2nd Duke’s father, Charles Lennox, 1st Duke of Richmond, is an illegitimate son of King Charles II of England.
Conolly is still a child when her parents die within a year of each other in 1750 and 1751. After this, she is brought up by her much older sister Emily FitzGerald, Duchess of Leinster, in Kildare. In 1758, at age 15, she marries Thomas Conolly (1738–1803), grand-nephew of William Conolly, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons. Her husband, a wealthy landowner and keen horseman, is also a successful politician who is elected to Parliament as early as 1759. The couple lives in the Palladian mansion Castletown House in County Kildare, the decoration of which she directs throughout the 1760s and 1770s. The Conolly summer residence, Cliff House, on the banks of the River Erne between Belleek, County Fermanagh, and Ballyshannon, County Donegal, is demolished as part of the Erne Hydroelectric scheme, which constructs the Cliff and Cathaleen’s Fall hydroelectric power stations. Cliff hydroelectric power station is constructed on the site of Cliff House and is commissioned in 1950.
The Conollys, themselves unhappily childless, at that point take up the welfare of young children from disadvantaged backgrounds as a lifelong project, contributing both money and effort towards initiatives which enable foundlings and vagabonds to acquire productive skills and support themselves. They develop one of the first Industrial Schools where boys learn trades, and she takes active personal interest in mentoring the students. In middle age, she also virtually adopts her niece Emily Napier (1783–1863), the daughter of her sister Lady Sarah Lennox. Emily, who spends long months with her aunt in Kildare, marries Sir Henry Bunbury, 7th Baronet, and moves to Suffolk, although she remains close to her aunt until her death.
Thomas Conolly dies on April 27, 1803. Upon his death, a major part of his estates, which includes Wentworth Castle, passes to a distant relative, Frederick Vernon. Conolly receives the Castletown House and estate, as also certain liquid investments and valuable urban properties, which enable her to live in comfort and continue her activities until her own death on August 6, 1821, of an abscess on her hip. She wills these substantial properties to a great-nephew, Edward Michael Pakenham, grandson of Thomas’ sister Harriet, later the MP for Donegal.
In 1999, a 6-part miniseries called Aristocrats, based on the lives of Conolly and her sisters, airs in the UK.
(Pictured: “Lady Louisa Conolly” by George Romney, 1776)