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


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Birth of Lady Louisa Conolly

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)


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Birth of James FitzGerald, 1st Duke of Leinster

Lieutenant-General James FitzGerald, 1st Duke of Leinster, PC (Ire), Irish nobleman, soldier and politician, is born on May 29, 1722. He is styled Lord Offaly until 1744 and known as The Earl of Kildare between 1744 and 1761 and as The Marquess of Kildare between 1761 and 1766.

FitzGerald is the son of Robert FitzGerald, 19th Earl of Kildare, and Lady Mary, daughter of William O’Brien, 3rd Earl of Inchiquin.

FitzGerald is a member of the Irish House of Commons for Athy from 1741 before succeeding his father as 20th Earl of Kildare in 1744. He is sworn of the Privy Council of Ireland in 1746 and in 1747, on the occasion of his marriage, he is created Viscount Leinster, of Taplow in the County of Buckingham, in the Peerage of Great Britain, and takes his seat in the British House of Lords that same year. From 1749 to 1755 he is one of the leaders of the Popular Party in Ireland, and serves as the country’s Master-General of the Ordnance between 1758 and 1766, becoming Colonel of the Royal Irish Artillery in 1760. He is promoted to Major-General in 1761 and to Lieutenant-General in 1770.

In 1761 FitzGerald is created Earl of Offaly and Marquess of Kildare in the Peerage of Ireland and in 1766 he is further honoured when he is made Duke of Leinster, becoming by this time the Premier Duke, Marquess and Earl in the Peerage of Ireland.

FitzGerald marries the 15-year-old Lady Emily Lennox, daughter of Charles Lennox, 2nd Duke of Richmond and one of the famous Lennox sisters, in London on February 7, 1747. She descends from King Charles II and is therefore a distant fifth cousin of King George III (both of them are descended from King James VI and I). The couple has nineteen children.

FitzGerald dies at the age of 51 at Leinster House, Dublin, on November 19, 1773, and is buried in the city’s Christ Church Cathedral. He is succeeded by his second (but eldest surviving) son, William, Marquess of Kildare. The Duchess of Leinster causes a minor sensation by marrying her lover William Ogilvie in 1774, but continues to be known as The Dowager Duchess of Leinster. She has a further three children by him. She dies in London at the age of 82 in March 1814.

In 1999, Irish Screen, BBC America and WGBH produce Aristocrats, a six-part limited television series based on the lives of Emily Lennox and her sisters. FitzGerald is portrayed by Ben Daniels.

(Pictured: James FitzGerald, 1st Duke of Leinster, by Joshua Reynolds, 1753)