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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler, Recluse of Llangollen

Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler, daughter of the 16th Earl of Ormonde and recluse of Llangollen, dies on June 2, 1829.

Butler is born in Cambrai, France, the youngest daughter of Walter Butler, 16th Earl of Ormonde, of Garryricken, County Tipperary, and his wife, Ellen (née Morres), of Latargh, County Tipperary. Her family are members of the old Catholic gentry, and her father is the sole lineal representative of James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormonde. In 1740 her family returns to the Garryricken estate, where she spends part of her childhood. She is educated by the English Benedictine nuns of the convent of Our Lady of Consolation in Cambrai, where her Jacobite grand-aunt is a pensioner. Reared in the liberal and anti-clerical environment at Cambrai, she is open about her opposition to Irish Catholicism. She is also well read in literature.

By the time Butler returns to Ireland, her brother John has claimed the family titles and is recognised as 17th Earl of Ormonde. Though he never uses the title, his sisters are recognised as the daughters of an earl. As the family is impoverished, and she is not disposed to marriage, a decade is passed in unhappiness. Then in 1768 the thirteen-year-old Sarah Ponsonby arrives in Kilkenny to attend a local school. Following her visit to the Butler home at Kilkenny Castle, and despite the difference in age, the two form an immediate friendship and correspond secretly, having discovered their mutual interest in the arts and Jean-Jacques Rousseau‘s ideal of pastoral retirement.

Ponsonby, on finishing school, is sent to live with relatives at the nearby Woodstock Estate, and there is subject to the uninvited attention of a middle-aged guardian. Butler is discontented with her life and the prospects of her family’s wish to send her back to Cambrai, so the two plan to leave their difficulties behind and settle in England. In their first attempt to flee in March 1778, they leave for Waterford disguised as men and wielding pistols, but their families manage to catch up with them. Butler is then sent to the home of her brother-in-law Thomas ‘Monarch’ Kavanagh of Borris, County Carlow, but makes a second, successful attempt and runs away to find Ponsonby at the Woodstock Estate. Her persistence wins out when both families finally capitulate and accept their plans to live together.

The two set out for Wales in May 1778 and, after an extensive tour of Wales and Shropshire, eventually settle in Llangollen Vale, where they rent a cottage which is renamed Plas Newydd. They are accompanied by Mary Carryl, a former servant of the Woodstock household, who remains in their service until her death in 1809. Having made a deliberate decision to retire from the world, they spend the greater part of their days corresponding with friends, reading, building up a large library and making alterations to Plas Newydd, which takes on a fashionable Gothic look. Their garden, landscaped under their direction, becomes a popular attraction for visitors. Butler meticulously records their daily routine in a series of journals, some of which are now lost.

Their seclusion, eccentricities, semi-masculine dress and short-cropped powdered hair gain them notoriety, and it becomes fashionable to call on them. Their numerous and illustrious visitors include Hester Lynch Piozzi, Charles and Erasmus Darwin, Sir Walter Scott, Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Gloucester and Josiah Wedgwood. In 1792 they entertain Pamela Sims, later that year to become the wife of Lord Edward FitzGerald, and her mother Madame de Genlis. Following the arrest of Edward FitzGerald in 1798, Pamela and her suite flee to London and on May 27 pass through Llangollen, where the events in Dublin are already known. On hearing that Pamela FitzGerald is staying in the local inn, Butler and Ponsonby invite her to call in. However, when Pamela wishes to stay for the day, their apprehension of Jacobinism leads them to persuade her “principally for her own sake and a little for [our] own to proceed as fast and as incognito as possible for London.”

Both Anna Seward and William Wordsworth, who stay at Plas Newydd, write poems celebrating their friendship, and Lord Byron sends them a copy of The corsair. Owing to her support of the Bourbons, Butler is sent the Croix St. Louis, which she wears about her neck. Their celebrity does have its drawbacks: an article in the General Evening Post of July 24, 1790, entitled ‘Extraordinary female affection’, suggests indirectly that their relationship is unnatural. Butler is particularly angered by this publicity and appeals to Edmund Burke for legal advice. Their retirement is also continually dogged by financial difficulties. They live mainly off their respective allowances and Butler’s royal pension, granted through the influence of Lady Frances Douglas, but spend beyond their means and are often in debt. To add to their problems, Butler receives no mention in her father’s will. However, the Gothic eccentricities of their cottage, which they succeed over time in purchasing, and garden attract even the interest of Queen Charlotte.

Though it is claimed that neither woman spent a night away from Plas Newydd, in January 1786 they stay with their friends the Barretts of Oswestry, and that September they visit Sir Henry Bridgeman of Weston Park, near Staffordshire. In June 1797 they take their only holiday, at the coastal resort of Barmouth. Despite their isolation they are well informed about international events and society gossip. The Irish serjeant-at-law Charles Kendal Bushe recalls how they gave him all the news of Dublin, London, Cheltenham, and Paris. In later years Butler’s eyesight deteriorates, preventing her from keeping her journal. She is secretly painted as an old woman with Ponsonby by Lady Mary Leighton and sketched by Lady Henrietta Delamere. A distinctive, anonymous silhouette shows the two generously proportioned women in traditional riding habits (National Portrait Gallery, London).

Butler dies on June 2, 1829, and is buried alongside Mary Carryl at St. Collen’s Church in Llangollen. Sarah Ponsonby is subsequently buried with them.

(From: “Butler, Lady (Charlotte) Eleanor” by Frances Clarke, Dictionary of Irish Biography, http://www.dib.ie)


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Death of Thomas Butler, 6th Earl of Ossory

Vice Admiral Thomas Butler, 6th Earl of Ossory, KG, PC, PC (Ire), Irish soldier and politician, dies in London on July 30, 1680.

Thomas is born on July 8, 1634 at Kilkenny Castle, the eldest son and one of ten siblings of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond and his wife Elizabeth Preston. His father is then the 12th Earl of Ormond but would be raised to marquess and duke. His family, the Butler dynasty, is Old English and descends from Theobald Walter, who had been appointed Chief Butler of Ireland by Henry II of England in 1177. His mother is a second cousin once removed of his father as she is a granddaughter of Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormond. Her father, however, is Scottish, Richard Preston, 1st Earl of Desmond, a favourite of James I. Both parents are Protestants.

As the eldest living son, he is the heir apparent and is styled with the corresponding courtesy title, which at first is Viscount Thurles but changed to Earl of Ossory when his father becomes marquess in 1642. His early years are spent in Ireland until 1647 when he accompanies his father to England. In 1648 his father renews his support for the royalist cause and he and his son have to flee to France, arriving in Caen in February 1648. Lady Ormond also moves to Caen, where she arrives on June 23, 1648 with his siblings.

Butler is an accomplished athlete and a good scholar. Having come to London in 1652 he is rightly suspected of sympathising with the exiled royalists, and in 1655 is jailed by Oliver Cromwell. After his release about a year later he goes into exile to the Netherlands where Charles II has his exile court at the time.

On November 17, 1659, while in exile, Butler marries Emilia van Nassau, the second daughter of Louis of Nassau, Lord of De Lek and Beverweerd. They have eleven children.

Butler accompanies Charles II back to England in 1660. In 1661 he becomes a member of both the English and the Irish houses of commons, representing in the former Bristol and Dublin University in the latter.

In 1662 Butler is called to the Irish House of Lords under a writ of acceleration as the Earl of Ossory. His father holds the title “5th Earl of Ossory” as one of his subsidiary titles. The acceleration makes Thomas Butler the 6th Earl of Ossory. This is the only substantive title he ever holds, as he predeceases his father and therefore never succeeds to his father’s titles.

Butler holds several military appointments including lieutenant-general of the army in Ireland, created an English peer as Lord Butler in 1666, and Lord of the Bedchamber to Charles II (appointed in 1660 and held until his death).

In 1665 a fortunate accident allows Butler to take part in the Battle of Lowestoft against the Dutch, and in May 1672, being now in command of a ship, he fights against the same enemies in the Battle of Solebay, serving with great distinction on both occasions. While visiting France in 1672 he rejects the liberal offers made by Louis XIV to induce him to enter the service of France, and returning to England he adds to his high reputation by his conduct during the Battle of Texel in August 1673. From 1677 until 1679, he serves alongside his father as a Lord of the Admiralty.

Butler is intimate with William II, Prince of Orange, and in 1677 he joins the allied army in the Netherlands, commanding the British contingent and winning great fame at the siege of Mons in 1678. He acts as deputy for his father, who is Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1680 he is appointed governor of English Tangier, but his death prevents him from taking up his new duties.

Butler dies on July 30, 1680 at Arlington House in London. He is buried provisionally in Westminster Abbey on July 31, 1680. The ceremony of burial is performed belatedly on November 13, 1680. Some say his body is later taken to Ireland and reburied in the family vault in St. Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. James, his eldest son, succeeds him as the 7th Earl of Ossory and becomes the 2nd Duke of Ormond in 1688.

(Pictured: “Thomas Butler, Earl of Ossory,” painting by Peter Lely, circa 1678, Source: National Portrait Gallery)


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The Siege of Kilkenny Ends

map-of-kilkennyThe Siege of Kilkenny ends on March 28, 1650 with the city and residents surrendering to Oliver Cromwell.

The Siege of Kilkenny takes place in what historian Patrick Little considers to be the most controversial period of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. The English ParliamentariansNew Model Army, commanded by Oliver Cromwell, takes the city of Kilkenny from the Irish Confederates but suffers more losses than they had in the Siege of Drogheda in September 1649.

After taking Cashel and setting his headquarters there, Cromwell marches to Kilkenny to issue a summons of surrender to the Irish Confederates holding the town. The envoy he sends there is captured and kept as a hostage. Upon this happening, Cromwell, absent siege weapons, has to return to Cashel to acquire them after being met with hostility. Cromwell is relying on an officer by the name of Tickle to betray the townspeople and relay the locations of the wall’s weakest points. Tickle’s treachery is uncovered by James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormond and owner of Kilkenny Castle. Bulter intercepts the letters sent between Cromwell and Tickle which lead to Tickle’s execution.

Butler, learning of Cromwell’s intent, establishes 700 men and 100 horsemen to repel the puritan army. Facing this formidable force Cromwell decides to retreat to Cashel. In the space of time it takes Cromwell to acquire siege weapons and return to Kilkenny, a plague has struck. The plague is believed to have originated in Galway on a Spanish ship. Lord Castlehaven appoints James Walsh as Governor of the Castle and Sir Walter Butler as Governor of Kilkenny. In addition to this he provides 1,200 men to the Kilkenny cause. By the time Cromwell returns, the plague has decimated Kilkenny city. About 300 out of the original Garrison of 1,200 men remain to watch their posts.

On March 22, Cromwell arrives and stands a mile before Kilkenny with his men. Guns are set up on the adjacent hill and from the Black quarry, Cromwell issues a summons of surrender to Butler, Walsh and the Aldermen of Kilkenny. While the letters are traded back and fort, Cromwell sends a detachment to take Irishtown and they are defeated. A refusal letter is issued to Cromwell shortly thereafter. The artillery battery located on the adjacent hill begins to pound the south wall. A breach is made around noon and Cromwell gives orders to assault using the recently destroyed entry point, but after two attempts his men disobey as they have suffered heavy losses in the last battle. Soon after, Cromwell receives invitation from the mayor and townsmen of Irishtown asking him to stay in the town and in return he will allow his troops safe entry. Instead of replying, Cromwell sends a detachment of men led by Colonel Ewer to capture Irishtown, which is guarded by the townsmen. The townsmen flee their posts at the first sight of Colonel Ewer and his men. This results in the capturing of St. Canice’s Cathedral and parts of Irishtown. The Governor of Irishtown, Sir James Butler, surrenders not long after admitting that there is nothing he can do.

On March 27, the troops continue to attack Kilkenny to no success other than managing to breach the walls of the Franciscan abbey, causing more people to desert their posts. Governor Walsh arrives on horseback to drive Cromwell’s men from the wall. At the same time, small groups of Cromwell’s men attempt to cross St. Johns bridge to set fire to the front gates but they are killed by the garrison guards. It is at this point when reinforcements of 1,500 men from Henry Ireton arrive. Finally, Walsh calls for surrender under orders from Lord Castlehaven that were given previously. The orders are not to allow the townspeople to be exposed and massacred.

On March 28, 1650 the town of Kilkenny is handed over to Cromwell. The garrison and its leaders are marched out into the town where they are complimented by Cromwell for the gallantry in battle. Cromwell also admits that if it was not for the townspeople’s treachery, he would have passed Kilkenny and left it alone.


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Birth of James Butler, 2nd Earl of Ormond

james-butler-2nd-earl-of-ormondJames Butler, 2nd Earl of Ormond, a noble in the Peerage of Ireland, is born in Kilkenny CastleKilkenny on October 4, 1331. He is Lord Justice of Ireland in 1359, 1364, and 1376, and a dominant political leader in Ireland in the 1360s and 1370s. He is usually called The Noble Earl, being a great-grandson, through his mother, of King Edward I of England.

Butler is the son of James Butler, 1st Earl of Ormond and Lady Eleanor de Bohun. He is given in ward on September 1, 1344 to Maurice FitzGerald, 1st Earl of Desmond for the fine of 2306 marks and afterward to John Darcy, 1st Baron Darcy de Knayth.

On May 15, 1346, Butler marries Elizabeth Darcy, daughter of Sir John Darcy and Joan de Burgh. They have five children: James Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormond (1362-1405), Thomas Butler (1359-1396), Justice of Cork, Eleanor Butler (1350-1392), Joan Butler (1360-1393), and Ralph Butler (1356-1367).

In 1362, Butler slays six hundred of Art Óg Mac Murchadha Caomhánach‘s followers at Tiscoffin in what is now County Kilkenny. On April 22, 1364, he is appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland to Lionel of Antwerp, 1st Duke of Clarence. Clarence, from his first arrival in Ireland, places great trust in him, and for a few years it seems that as Deputy he is almost all-powerful.

In the 1360s Butler clashes with Maurice FitzGerald, 4th Earl of Kildare. In 1364 the Irish House of Commons sends a delegation to England, headed by Kildare, to complain of misgovernment, and to ask for the removal of “corrupt” officials, some of whom have links to Butler. A number of these officials are removed, but Butler’s position is not seriously threatened.

Butler is Lord Justice by July 24, 1376, with a salary of £500 per year, in which office he is continued by King Richard II of England. On April 2, 1372, he is made constable of Dublin Castle, with the fee of £18 5s per year. He is summoned to the Parliaments held by Richard II.

James Butler dies October 18, 1382 at Knocktopher Castle in Kilkenny, Leinster, near which he had founded a priory for Carmelite friars in 1356. He is buried in St. Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny.


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Birth of Mary McAleese, 8th President of Ireland

Mary Patricia McAleese, Irish Independent politician who serves as the 8th President of Ireland from November 1997 to November 2011, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on June 27, 1951. She is the second female president and is first elected in 1997 succeeding Mary Robinson, making McAleese the world’s first woman to succeed another as president. She is re-elected unopposed for a second term in office in 2004 and is the first President of Ireland to have come from either Northern Ireland or Ulster.

Born Mary Patricia Leneghan, McAleese is the eldest of nine children in a Roman Catholic family. Her family is forced to leave the area by loyalists when The Troubles break out. Educated at St. Dominic’s High School, she also spends some time when younger with the Poor Clares, Queen’s University Belfast, from which she graduates in 1973, and Trinity College, Dublin. She is called to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 1974, and remains a member of the Bar Council of Ireland. She opposes abortion and divorce.

In 1975, McAleese is appointed Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College, Dublin and in 1987, she returns to her Alma Mater, Queen’s, to become Director of the Institute of Professional Legal Studies. In 1994, she becomes the first female Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University. She works as a barrister and also works as a journalist with RTÉ.

McAleese uses her time in office to address issues concerning justice, social equality, social inclusion, anti-sectarianism and reconciliation. She describes the theme of her Presidency as “Building Bridges.” This bridge-building materialises in her attempts to reach out to the unionist community in Northern Ireland. These steps include celebrating The Twelfth at Áras an Uachtaráin and she even incurs criticism from some of the Irish Catholic hierarchy by taking communion in a Church of Ireland cathedral in Dublin. Despite being a practising Roman Catholic, she holds liberal views regarding homosexuality and women priests. She is a member of the Council of Women World Leaders and is ranked the 64th most powerful woman in the world by Forbes. In spite of some minor controversies, McAleese remains popular and her Presidency is regarded as successful.

McAleese receives awards and honorary doctorates throughout her career. On May 3, 2007, she is awarded The American Ireland Fund Humanitarian Award. On October 31, 2007, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Otago, New Zealand. On May 19, 2009, she becomes the third living person to be awarded the freedom of Kilkenny, succeeding Brian Cody and Séamus Pattison. The ceremony, at which she is presented with two hurleys, takes place at Kilkenny Castle. On May 24, 2009, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of law from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. On May 22, 2010, she is awarded an honorary doctorate of law from Fordham University, in the Bronx, New York City, where she delivers the commencement speech to the class of 2010. On November 8, she is awarded an honorary doctorate at University of Massachusetts Lowell in Lowell, Massachusetts.

On June 8, 2013, a ceremony is held to rename a bridge on the M1 motorway near Drogheda as the Mary McAleese Boyne Valley Bridge to honour McAleese’s contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process.