The first Irish to set foot in Australia in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were more than likely convicts deported for committing crimes that ranged in seriousness from the petty to the very grave. From the National Archives of Ireland website, we learn that legislation permitting transportation from Ireland was enacted in 1786, and between 1787 and the termination of the system in 1853, Australia received over 160,000 convicts, approximately 26,500 of whom sailed from Ireland. An article in the Leinster Express of November 5th, 1836 provides some insight into of the appalling conditions that convicts, Irish or otherwise, faced in the British penal colony of New South Wales The article, titled ‘HORRORS OF TRANSPORTATION’, informs readers that the information provided comes from a ‘Van Diemen’s land paper’, and suggests that ‘if it be correct, as we suppose it is, death must be a blessing compared to the sufferings of this terrestrial hell’.
The Leinster Express article goes on to describe the penal colony and the conditions endured by convicts: ‘this abode of horrors is a peninsula of several miles arena, the isthmus closed against escape, not only by soldiers, but by the most ferocious dogs, chained at such intervals that that passage between them is impossible’. No matter the background of the convict or the level of crime committed, ‘the miserable wretch’ is given ‘tasks of the severest kind, cutting down logs, rolling them to the water, and frequently through the water. He has no change of habit; therefore, he cannot get rid of wet clothing, but by the absorption of bodily heat’.
If the labour was hard, there was no comfort in the food provided. Convicts were given ‘salted meat, frequently the refuse of the store’. A week’s ration was sufficient only for three days, and since any other food was forbidden ‘on pain of the bloody lash’, beyond those three days, ‘starvation must be endured’. Neither was tobacco allowed to be a source of relief for convicts, since, ‘if a morsel is found upon any one, the lash is the certain consequence’. The significance of this system of limited food accompanied by harsh labour conditions was that convicts became emaciated ‘to a dreadful extent’. For certain gangs of convicts such as sawyers, should they fail to complete their work, flogging, and solitary confinement in a cell, on bread and water, ensued, causing even greater emaciation and putting life in peril.
From the Leinster Express of March 14th, 1840, in an article titled ‘SENTENCES AT MARYBORO ASSIZES’, an insight into the prevalence of the sentence of transportation is provided and the type of crime it was used to punish. At the Maryboro assizes, James Spooner received a sentence of 7 years transportation for the crime of waylaying. Patrick Clear, for the crime of larceny, received a sentence of 7 years transportation. John Cooper, for the crime of sheep-stealing, received a sentence of 10 years transportation. Arthur Taylor, for stealing a coat, received a sentence of 7 years transportation. While Edward Kilduffe, for stealing 11 sacks, (his third offence) received a sentence of 7 years transportation.
From the Leinster Express of July 25th, 1840, again at the Maryboro assizes, readers can see that James Moore, for stealing a heifer, received a sentence of 10 years transportation. Aixie Walsh, for stealing clothes, received seven years transportation. Mary Strong, for stealing clothes, received a sentence of 7 years transportation. Martin Quorish, for malicious assault received a sentence of seven years transportation. While William Rynn, for vagrancy, received 7 years transportation.
For crimes of this kind, men and women were deported to the ‘terrestrial hell’ of New South Wales, and most likely, were never to see their homeland again. Appeals against sentences of transportation were frequently made but were most likely to be unsuccessful.
Lord Walter Fitzgerald, writing in the County Kildare Archaeological Society Journal in 1904, noted that, at the time of the Anglo-Norman Invasion in 1169, the territory of Offaly, belonging to the O’Connors, contained several sub-districts two of which would later become part of the Queen’s County (and now Co. Laois). The two districts he identified were Iregan, belonging to the sept of O’Dunne which corresponds to the Barony of Tinnahinch, and Clanmaliere, belonging to the sept of O’Dempsey. The latter, Fitzgerald noted, lay on both sides of the River Barrow. It included what would become the Barony of Portnahinch in the Queen’s County, the Barony of Philipstown in the King’s County, and a large portion, if not all of the Barony of West Offaly in County Kildare.
Fitzgerald suggested that Clanmaliere was divided into three sub-districts:
Irry, which lay in the western half of the Barony of Portnahinch and was probably co-extensive with, what was in the early twentieth century, the large parish of Coolbanagher.
Lea, which occupied the reminder of the Portnahinch Barony as well as most of the Kildare Barony of West Offaly.
Farren Clandermot, which occupied the barony of Upper Philipstown in the King’s County.
Fitzgerald went on to explain that Clanmalaiere was the ancient tribe-name of the O’Dempsey sept before surnames came to be generally adopted in in the eleventh century. From being the tribe-name, it became the name of their patrimony, and was derived from a remote ancestor of the sept of the name of Maelughra, hence Clan Maliere (Maelughra’s race). In the same way, the surname was taken from a distant hero of the race named Dempsey, hence O’Dempsey (or Ua Diomasaigh), meaning descendants of Dempsey.
The Clann Maelughra, it seems, claimed descent from Rossa Failghe, the eponymous ancestor of the Uí Failge, and were therefore considered to be a branch of that clan, and were consequently subject to the overkings of the Uí Failge, the Uí Conchobair Failge (O’Connor Faley).
Another early twentieth century historian, Thomas Mathews, writing in 1903, noted that Rossa Failghe, was the eldest son of Cathaeir, the king of Leinster, who was slain at the battle of Tailtin circa A.D. 373. Before he fell in battle, we are told in the Books of Leinster and Ballymote that ‘he ordered his son to give legacies to the rest of his sons and the other nobles of Leinster’, and blessing Ross Failghe he said: ‘Noblest shall be thy descendants among the descendants of my children’.
Ross Failghe, or ‘Ross of the Rings’, Mathews suggests, gave his name to the territory of Ui Failghe, which at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion comprised about one-third of the present County Offaly, including the baronies of Upper and Lower Philipstown, as well as Geashill, Warrenstown, and Coolestown. About one-fifth of Queen’s County, including the baronies of Portnahinch and Tinnahinch. And more than one-fifth of Kildare, including the baronies of East and West Offaly. Mathews added that the territory of Ui Failghe may even, at one time, have included part of Meath east and west i.e. Meath and Westmeath.
William Butler Yeats called it, ‘that delightful Saint story’. Written by Sarah Atkinson,theRapt Culdee was published in January 1889. Writing to a friend in July of that year, he declared ‘It is very good of you to send the Irish Monthly. I enjoy it always greatly. That article on the ‘Rapt Culdee’ in a recent number was one of the most charming articles I know. Miss Tynan has written a poem on the Culdee and I shall probably do another.’
It was largely due to Yeats’ prompting that Katharine Tynan had composed, The Hiding-away of Blessed Aengus. ‘He lived in your own neighbourhood of Tallaght….A poem upon him is clearly your duty’, Yeats had cajoled her.
The saint whose story so charmed Yeats and others during the Celtic revival of the late-nineteenth century, was that of St Aengus of Clonenagh. He did live for a time at the monastery at Tallaght, and was very influential there, however, his journey began close to the present-day town of Mountrath in Co. Laois. Atkinson describes Aengus as springing from noble, if not regal stock stretching back to the mythical Milesius. She suggests Aengus was born circa 750 AD, and that ‘at an early age he repaired to the monastic schools of Clonenagh’, founded by St. Fintan, applying himself with extraordinary energy to the study of the arts and sciences.
Aengus is believed to be the author of Félire Óengusso, (Martyrology of Óengus), a register of saints and their feast days, the earliest extant vernacular metrical martyrology. He may also be the author of the Martyrology of Tallaght, a prose version of the above. Yet, there is no mention of him in the Irish Annals.
It would appear therefore, that Sarah Atkinson sourced her story, the Rapt Culdee, largely from Acta Sanctorum Hiberniae, written in Leuven in 1645 by Franciscan friar, hagiographer and historian, John Colgan, who may have derived a great part of the story from a contemporary of Aengus, and by coincidence, also named Aengus.
James Carney suggests that apart from what can be gathered from the ‘Feílire’, there is some biographical detail in later prefaces to it. Sometime after Aengus’s death, his grave at Clonenagh was visited by another monk and poet called Aengus, who wrote a short poem (Aibind suide sund amne ‘Delightful to sit here thus’) expressing his devotion to his namesake, and giving a brief account of his life. In this poem, the later Aengus portrays his namesake as a saint for whom, during his life, miracles were wrought. While mentioning a sojourn at Tallaght he emphasises the the earlier Aengus’s connection with Clonenagh: ‘It is in Cluain Eidnech he was reared, in Cluain Eidnech he was buried; in Cluain Eidnech of the many crosses he studied his psalms at first’. Carney goes on to note that a poem in the Book of Leinster mentions twenty-four ‘saints’ who were buried at Clonenagh. Among them is int Óengus eile (‘the other Aengus’), possibly the author of the short poem.
In the Rapt Culdee Atkinson paints a picture of a learned and holy man. A student of the Abbot Malathgenius at Clonenagh, he was ‘well versed in Greek and Latin, a distinguished Gaelic scholar, profoundly learned in the Sacred Scriptures, and a poet thoroughly skilled in the ‘art of the Irish,’ that is to say, in the use, according to the laws of a varied and elaborate versification, of the copious, sonorous, and exquisitely melodious language of the Gael.’ Moreover, ‘he advanced by giant strides in the narrow way of the saint,’ and, noting the sincere depth of his humility and the transcendent character of his devotion, his colleagues bestowed on him the title, Angus Kéle-De, meaning Angus the servant or lover of God.
Atkinson suggests that Aengus’s fame spread quickly. Excelling all others in Ireland, he was venerated, and many came to consult him on many different topics. Due to this unwelcome fame he withdrew from community life, seeking seclusion in the midst of woods on the bank of the River Nore. There, he erected a little wooden oratory and constructed a hut for habitation. Surrounded by forest stretching down to the brink of the Nore, he was able to continue his studies, but more importantly, to pray: ‘three hundred times a day he adored God on his bended knees; and the entire Psalter he sang between one sunrise and another: fifty psalms in the little oratory, fifty in the open air, under a wide spreading tree, and fifty while standing in cold water.’
However, he soon found that due to the number of his admirers and disciples trekking through the forests, and with the river providing a highway for visitors, his refuge remained isolated no longer, and he concluded, ‘that better success might attend an attempt to hide in a crowd.’ He also, at this time, felt the need to forego, at least for an interval, his pursuit of knowledge, and to throw himself into a life of humility, obedience, and manual labour. Hearing of a monastery with a large community situated between the termination spur of a chain of mountains and the eastern seaboard of Leinster, he determined to go there. He would do so without revealing his name, presenting himself before the abbot craving permission to serve in a menial capacity. Thus, he would have ample opportunity to perfect himself in the virtues dear to God. As Atkinson suggests ‘He would mortify his love for the higher studies, hide in ashes the flame of poetic aspiration, and relinquish the exercise of his bardic accomplishments.’
Steering a course in a north-easterly direction, he proceeded as though a pilgrim, receiving food and shelter where he could. Turning off the road he entered a church at Coolbanagher for prayer. When he had finished his devotions he noticed in the cemetery a newly-made grave, and ’beheld a wondrous vision, legions of bright spirits, angels of heaven, descending and ascending and hovering over the spot, while their heavenly songs filled the air with an ecstasy of joy.’ Filled with wonder, Aengus enquired of the priest of the church, who was buried in that grave. The priest answered that it was a poor old man who formerly lived in the neighbourhood. ‘What good did he do?’ enquired Aengus. ‘I saw no particular good by him,’ said the priest, ‘but that his practice was to recount and invoke the saints of the world, as far as he could remember them, at his going to bed and getting up, in accordance with the custom of the old devotees.’ Suddenly, Aengus determined that he should make a poetical composition in praise of the saints as a work pleasing to God. He would compose a biography of the saints in verse which could be committed to memory. Such a metrical hymn should be recited every day as long as he lived. But how it was to be done, or when, he did not know yet, for he did not wish to turn away from his intended path.
Eventually he reached his destination – the monastery at Tallaght, the origin of which, Atkinson suggests, dated only to a few years previously, when, in 769, St. Maelruan founded a church on a site granted by the king of Leinster. Already, the monastery enjoyed a reputation for piety and scholarship, with the abbot, Maelruan, ranking among the most learned of the day. Aengus presented himself to Maelruan as a poor humble stranger, imploring him to take him into his service as a menial. Unaware of his true identity, the abbot granted him his wish and sent him to take charge of the mill and the kiln, and to turn his hand to any kind of labour that might be required in the fields.
A text described by John Hennig as ‘the earliest, most original and most beautiful attempt ever made to raise the Christian calendar to the rank of real literature’, inspired by the vision at the graveside in Coolbanagher, it was during his servitude at Tallaght, that the saint eventually began to compose his famous Félire.
Years passed with Aengus toiling in the mill and fields anonymously, until at last his identity was discovered. One day, as Aengus worked in the barn, one of the children of the school rushed in and hid in a dark corner. Aengus asked what was the cause of his trouble. The boy answered that having failed to learn his lessons, he was afraid to appear before his teacher, who would be certain to punish him severely. Coaxed from his hiding place, the boy crept forward and laid his head against the saint’s breast and fell asleep. After some time, he awoke, and was then told to repeat his lesson. Immediately, without hesitation, he did so; and having been ordered to say nothing of what had just occurred, was directed to present himself before his master. The teacher could not understand how such a remarkable change had come about, and mentioned the matter to the abbot. St. Maelruan sent for the boy, and advised that he explain this sudden transformation. On hearing the boy’s story, it suddenly dawned on Maelruan that the anonymous teacher in the barn must be none other than the missing Aengus of Clonenagh. Hastening to the barn he embraced Aengus, reproached him for having deceived him so long, and bid him to join the religious community. Aengus threw himself at the abbot’s feet and implored forgiveness for whatever cause of complaint he might have given.
Thereafter, Maelruan and Aengus became fellow-labourers and bosom friends. Aengus was appointed to lecture on the higher sciences, and to teach theology to the young religious, and was obliged to receive priestly ordination. For some time Maelruan had been engaged in compiling a prose martyrology, and he now secured the co-operation of Aengus in that task. The result of their joint labour is generally known as the Martyrology of Tallaght.
After some years, Maelruan died. Choosing to return to Clonenagh, Aengus would rule there for many years as abbot, while also exercising episcopal duties. The Feílire, begun at Tallaght, was finished at his own monastery.
Atkinson writes that many other works of great value, in prose and meter, are included in the list of Angus’s writings. Among these are a collection of pedigrees of the Irish saints; the Saltair-na-Raun, or Psalter of Verses, consisting of 150 poems on the history of the Old Testament, written in Old-Irish; and a variety of Litanies in which, among a vast number of saints invoked, are several Italian, Gallic, British, and African saints who lived and died in Ireland.
Atkinson concludes by suggesting that Clonenagh was the place of decease for the saintly Culdee, and, although his year of death is unknown, his feast day is the 11th of March.
The Rapt Culdee, Sarah Atkinson: The Irish Monthly, Vol. 17, No. 187 (Jan., 1889), pp. 21-35 Published by: Irish Jesuit Province.
W.B. Yeats: Letters to Rev. Matthew Russell, S.J. Author(s): Roger McHugh and W. B. Yeats Source: The Irish Monthly, Vol. 81, No. 955 (Mar., 1953), pp. 111-115 Published by: Irish Jesuit Province.
Culdees: Rev. William Reeves, D.D. In Proceedings Royal Irish Academy, 1873.
On the Céli-dé, Commonly Called Culdees Author(s): William Reeves Source: The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 24, Antiquities (1873), pp. 119- 263.
New History of Ireland, A: Volume I, Prehistoric and Early Ireland, Published By Oxford University Press in 2005 Edited by Daíbhí Ó Cróinín 2008.
Óengus of Tallaght, bishop and writer, Pádraig Ó Riain, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
J. Hennig, ‘The Feast of the Blessed Virgin in the Ancient Irish Church’, The Irish Ecclesiastical Record 81 (1954) 161-71; p. 162.
“I do not know how long Caroline may keep the name of Dawson, as she has had a very agreeable proposal which she is inclined to accept”. It was in this manner that an excited Lady Portarlington broke the news to her sister Louisa Stuart, of the impending engagement of her daughter to Henry Brooke Parnell. ‘He is remarkably handsome, very sensible and well informed, and of a very active mind’. Widowed for almost two years, the would-be mother-in-law could barely restrain her eagerness for the union between two of the great landed families of the Queen’s County. Writing on the 28th of November, 1800, the relieved mother of nine declared ‘it is the match of all others I would have wished, as I have known him from a child, have a great regard for all his family and connections and their house just half way between us and Lord De Vesci’, and adds, ‘I Think I shall be very vain of my son-in-law’. Perhaps she would not have been so keen, had she been aware that Henry Parnell would be prone to suffer from melancholia.
Lady Portarlington had her eye on young Parnell as a suitable suitor for her daughter for some time. However, concerned for Caroline’s shyness and timidity, she feared that he would be distracted by the ‘town misses’ of Dublin society. As often is the case, the greater part of the enthusiasm for the match appears to have been with the mother. Young Caroline was more restrained; ‘Car has no objection to make but the very natural one of feeling not sufficiently acquainted with him’. Nonetheless, Lady Portarlington, having so little to offer as dowry, in spite of the fact that Parnell, ‘has but a very small income’, was eager to ‘dispose’ of Caroline. Suggesting she may be the least good looking of her daughters, she concluded; ‘it is mere luck, not beauty that attracts husbands’.
Sir Henry Parnell, born on the 3rd of July 1776 at Rathleague, was to have an interesting and varied career in politics, while as a writer, he was the author of several volumes and pamphlets on financial and penal matters. His life however, would end tragically.
The Parnells were a Protestant land-owning family originating from Congleton, in Cheshire, England. Following the Stuart Restoration, Thomas Parnell, Henry’s great-grandfather, like many Cromwell supporters, migrated to Ireland and purchased an estate in Queens County, and settled there.
Despite Henry’s protestations regarding his small income, Lady Portarlington would have been aware that the Parnells were comfortably off. Henry’s father, Sir John Parnell, 2nd baronet of Rathleague, Irish MP and chancellor of the exchequer, had a Dublin residence in Dawson St. and a large estate at Rathleague comprising 3,683 acres. He also owned several houses in Maryborough, and leased lands in Co. Armagh. In 1795 he inherited a life interest in Avondale, Co. Wicklow, which passed after his death, to his third son, William Parnell, grandfather of Charles Stewart Parnell.
Educated at Eton and Winchester, Henry Parnell entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1794, but left without taking a degree. Deciding to join his father in the house of commons, Parnell, represented Maryborough from 1798 until the Act of Union in 1801, which he had opposed in Parliament.
Caroline and Henry were married on the 17th of February 1801. With the death of his father in December of that year, he inherited the family estates in Queen’s County. Lady Portarlington claimed in her letter to her sister that Henry Parnell was the eldest son of Sir John Parnell. She was wrong. The eldest son, Sir John Augustus, was physically and mentally disabled from birth, and was, it is suggested, hidden from view behind great garden walls at Rathleague. Two private member’s bills were passed to entail the estate on Henry and his brothers, bypassing the disabled elder brother. With the death in 1812 of John Augustus, Henry would succeed to the Baronetcy of Rathleague.
In April of 1802, Henry was elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom for Queen’s County, but relinquished his seat in July of the same year, when he was returned for Portarlington. However, he resigned that seat in December 1802. In 1806 he was once again elected for Queen’s County, and represented the constituency until 1832, after which he took a seat for Dundee (1833–41).
During the 1820s, speaking in favour of the measure in parliament, he supported Daniel O’Connell in the campaign for Catholic emancipation. With the formation of Lord Grey’s Whig ministry in 1830 he was appointed secretary at war and became a privy counsellor in April of 1831. Parnell was appointed treasurer of the navy in April 1835, and paymaster general of the forces the following month. In December 1836 these positions were united, with increased powers, and he became the first holder of the new office of paymaster general.
On the 18th of August 1841, he was created Baron Congleton of Congleton, Cheshire. However, his health soon deteriorated. Having ‘for two months been in a low, desponding state of mind’ and ‘under medical treatment’, he committed suicide by hanging on the 8th of June 1842 at his home in London. Caroline lived for another nineteen years, dying in February 1861 in Paris.
Dictionary of Irish Biography – Sir John Parnell by E. M. Johnston-Liik.
Dictionary of Irish Biography – Sir Henry Brooke Parnell by by Patrick M. Geoghegan.
Stuart, Louisa, Caroline (Stuart) Dawson Countess of d. 1813 Portarlington, and Alice Georgina Caroline Clark. Gleanings From an Old Portfolio: Containing Some Correspondence between Lady Louisa Stuart and Her Sister Caroline, Countess of Portarlington, and Other Friends and Relations.
As John Dawson, the first Earl of Portarlington, faced into 1798 he had much to be anxious about. With rebellion a very real prospect, he was concerned for the security of both Ireland and his estate at Emo Park. On a personal level, he was anxious for his wife and children, the eldest of whom, John Dawson junior, was rather indolent in character. While, as the year wore on he had reason to be concerned for his declining health.
He would have been cheered by a letter published in The Freemans Journal in January from the grateful inhabitants of Omagh in praise of him and his regiment’s conduct while stationed in that town. His joy, however, was clearly short-lived, “The Queen’s County”, he wrote in February, “has been for some time past disturbed by banditti going about the country to rob houses of arms, and it is now proclaimed by Government in a state of disturbance”. As rebellion broke out some weeks later, conditions were so serious that it was deemed necessary for Lady Portarlington, to accept her sister’s invitation to move to London. Writing from Strabane, towards the end of June, the earl wrote; “It is a great comfort to know that you are happy among your friends in London, instead of being exposed to alarms at home.” Clearly concerned for the security of Emo Park, he noted. “the rebels made an attempt to get into the Queen’s County lately, but were completely repulsed by Sir Charles Asgill, but not before they had burnt Lady Ormonde’s town house at Castlecomer, which was very well furnished, had a good library, some good pictures, and her service of plate.”
He now acknowledges his own health concerns; “Since I have been here I have suffered much from my asthma. I waked about four in the morning with an oppression of my breast and a violent wheesing, which continues while I lie in bed, and makes me cough all the time. I fear I am breaking up. Get advice from some good physician, and send me his full directions what to do.” In July, he wrote from Omagh; “My difficulty of breathing in bed lasted but a few days, and was occasioned, perhaps, by the closeness of the weather. I shall observe your directions, but wish in earnest you would get advice from a physician what I am to do to prevent it increasing.”
By August 22nd, French forces, under General Jean Humbert, had landed at Killala Bay and soon afterwards defeated the British forces at Castlebar. However, failing to gain sufficient local support, Humbert surrendered on September 8th. Nonetheless, local rebels continued to fight on, and on September 23rd, British forces engaged a combined force of Irish rebels and a small number of French troops at at Killala.
Lord Portarlington described his involvement in the battle to his wife, and outlined the conditions of encampment which contributed to his deteriorating health; “General Trench having ordered me to meet him on a day and hour specified, before Ballina, where he expected resistance from the rebels, I left Sligo with a column, consisting of my own regiment and two field-pieces, one troop of the 24th Dragoons, and four Yeomanry corps. The first evening, as I was riding with a troop of horse at some distance before the Infantry, our advanced guard gave the alarm, and we found the rebels advancing on us at a very short distance. I left the horse to skirmish, and rode back to join my men, which having done, and advanced, the rebels retreated soon, and we encamped for the night on the first advantageous ground. I say encamped, but we had no tents, and lay under the stone walls and ditches. The next morning, six miles from Ballina, the rebels appeared again in considerable force under two French officers, when I again formed my line and advanced to meet them. But the French officers, probably not liking to meet the regularity and spirit of our attack with their dastardly band of rebels, and afraid of being surrounded from the movements of my cavalry and the rapid march of my light company under Captain Warburton on my left flank, gave way, and we could only overtake and kill between two and three hundred of their rear. We lay all night on the field of battle under incessant rain, and next morning reached Ballina, which I found evacuated. I here met General Trench, also coming into the town, and he ordered me to proceed at the head of his column to Killala, to which place the rebels had returned. As we approached the town they fired on us, and sent word they were determined to defend it, on which the General ordered my regiment to storm it on one side, while the Kerry regiment did the same on the other. The rebels made no effectual resistance, and we easily got possession of the town, but under such circumstances as would have shocked you to see, and it was difficult to prevent the soldiers from putting everyone to death, the innocent as well as the guilty. […] We returned after the affair to Ballina, where I received orders the next day to proceed to this town, which was reported to be in the hands of the rebels. I, however, found it evacuated, and have not been disturbed by them since my arrival. I hope a few days more will settle this country, when I have orders to proceed to Enniskillen, and from thence to Cavan, to Belturbet, where I suppose we shall be left to rest ourselves after our fatigues. The regiment has to a man acted with the most perfect bravery and zeal for the King’s service, and it has been a high gratification to me to have had such men to lead. Indeed, the yeomanry of my little brigade behaved the same, and the activity and the attention shown to my orders by the gentlemen commanding those corps made my command very pleasant.”
He refers again to his health; “Notwithstanding the fatigue and wet, I am perfectly well, with exception of my asthma, which oppresses me every morning when I get up. I have taken a box of the pills prescribed by your doctor, but with no sensible effect.”
Evidently, his personal finances are a constant worry. This is clear as he writes to Lady Portarlington, from Ballyshannon on October 6th; “In regard to your coming over this autumn, I should think, if you can contrive to spend the winter in England without much expense, it will be best for you to remain there, as I shall be obliged to stay mostly with my regiment, for we shall be subject to frequent alarms of invasion, and there are gangs of banditti in the County of Wicklow who make inroads towards our county. If you adopt that plan, the house in Kildare St. should be given up, but write to me fully your determination immediately; perhaps, if there is no immediate danger apprehended here about Christmas, I might be able to go once to you for a few weeks. I think the boys will be best fixed at Enniskillen School. It is unlucky that you insisted on bringing them up from Emo. It will be expensive and inconvenient sending them over now. If you do not come, perhaps you might fix them at some little cheap school at London, or Bath, if you go there, till you come over yourself. If you should decide for remaining in England, it will be time enough next spring to send over the stoves for the hall. If you get them new, I think those with vases look best. I have just now received your letter of the 28th Sept. As you find it too expensive educating the girls in London, perhaps, notwithstanding what I have said in the former part of this letter respecting the times, you had better come over. With the great force now in Ireland, the country must be quiet, to which our naval victory in the Mediterranean will contribute.“
From Donegal on October 20th, he notes that “The French fleet has been defeated off this coast before they could land any troops. Three of their frigates which escaped lay for thirty-six hours in this bay repairing their damages. Probably they have also been since taken. As all alarm is over for the present. I expect a change of quarters in a few days, as this is not a place to refit in, which we much want. I have escaped colds very well, but as my asthmatic complaint has increased considerably, I have tried your doctor’s prescription, but without any effect. I am now going to try G____d’s vegetable balsam, but I am afraid there is no effectual cure for an asthma except eating well, so if you can find a cheap French cook such as we had formerly, bring him over in your suite. I have not yet been able to go to Castle Archdall (residence of his sister), tho’ six weeks moving about it. I expect to get there soon for a few days, and shall look at Enniskillen School.”
Writing two days later, his health, and the education of two of his sons are his main concerns; “As you will probably settle at Bath, I think it best for you to put the boys to some cheap school there for the time you stay. I wish I could go over to you for a short time, and I should be glad of an opportunity to consult about my health […]. I am on the wing again in consequence of information that the French have landed troops again at Killala. I am directed to take possession of this important post, to break down the bridge and defend it, if the enemy should point this way. I am not quite sure if the French are landed; however, I must wait here the event. These continual alarms, which I am afraid will last all winter, make me think you should remain in England, for I may not have it in my power to be with you at home.”
In a postscript he adds; “If you can fix the boys in any school for the time you stay, it would answer best, unless I can get over to you, in which case I would bring them back. […] I Had the pleasure of hearing this day from Mrs. Moore that the boys are safely arrived. I have written to her to send them down immediately to Enniskillen, and shall settle them there myself. My regiment was brought here on account of the French ships seen in Killala Bay, and I was directed to take the command here, and to defend this post, a very important one, in case the French advanced from Sligo. But the ships have gone off, and all apprehension of their being able to land on this coast is over, at least for the present. My winter quarters are fixed for Aughnacloy, near Dungannon, and I expect to get a route for it every day. I shall pass through Enniskillen, and shall have an opportunity of seeing the boys, and passing, I hope, a few days at Castle Archdall.”
From Aughnacloy in Tyrone, on November 13th he writes; “My regiment arrived in these quarters some days ago, and I yesterday, having stayed behind to put the boys at school, and to see my sister. I left the boys in very good spirits, and likely, I think, to be well taken care of in every particular. The state of this country having prevented Dr. Burrowes from establishing his school, he has at present but two boys besides ours, a son of Dr. Little’s and a son of Mr. Beresford’s, who was brought from Eton to be placed there. Mrs. Archdall will be so good as to take them at Christmas. You do not tell me what you have done about Henry. […] I expect to spend a week at home the beginning of next month, when I shall settle at the bankers to continue your credit. I do not agree with you that a good dinner can hurt me, but I must relinquish suppers. I am busy at present in conveying the French prisoners across towards Newry for embarkation.”
In the final letter to his wife before his death, on November 26th he writes; “My love in consequence of a cold, I have had most violent attack of my lungs, which was in a dangerous situation for six days past, but I had last night a favourable change, which gives me great hopes of getting thro’ it. I am under the care of a good physician here Doctor Mangaus. Remain quiet till I can let you know that I can join you in Dublin. Your Portarlington.”
He adds “The attack is a nervous nature, not consumptive.”
The neglected chill developed into inflammation, and before she had realised how ill her husband was he had passed away. The news was received by the family at Came in Dorsetshire, where Lady Portarlington and her daughters were staying with Mr. and Mrs. Lionel Damer.
The following letter from the Lieutenant of the regiment of the Queen’s County Yeomanry, Richard Dowdell, written on the 9th December to the new Earl of Portarlington, demonstrates the esteem in which the deceased Earl was held; “My Lord Portarlington, I take the liberty to say that I sympathise most sincerely at the very great loss you have sustained, one of the best of men, whom the country adored. I have lost my best friend. The Infantry yeoman have unanimously elected your Lordship their first Captain, and the Horse also have in like manner. I have the honor to be, your Lordship’s most obedient servant.”
On the 11th of December, Lady Portarlington wrote to her sister; “…..in my unhappy circumstances there is no remedy but time and patience, and the more quiet I am suffered to be the sooner I shall regain that composure which is necessary to enable me to exert myself for the advantage of my children. From Mr. and Mrs. Damer I experience the kindness of the nearest relations. Nothing can be more attentive than they are to give me every ease and comfort, therefore I shall hope soon to hear you are easy about me, and I think I am much better since I have seen him. […] I have been able to apply myself to the best of all friends in adversity religion. I read a great deal, and I have a thorough trust in God that He will protect the widow and the fatherless. I submit myself to His decree, and I already feel the advantage of a firm faith and trust in His divine goodness.”
In 1799, Caroline Dawson, Lady Portarlington and her family returned to Ireland, and lived at Emo Park, in the new house which had been built by the late Earl, about half a mile from the old Dawson Court.
Gleanings From an Old Portfolio: Containing Some Correspondence between Lady Louisa Stuart and Her Sister Caroline, Countess of Portarlington, and Other Friends and Relations.
On the 27th of January, 1798, The Freemans Journal published a letter from the grateful Magistrates and Inhabitants of Omagh in praise of the Queen’s County Regiment of Militia, under the command of Lord Portarlington;
“To the Right Hon. the EARL of PORTARLINGTON, Colonel Commanding the Royal Queen’s County Regiment of Militia, quartered at Omagh.
We, the Magistrates and Inhabitants, residing in and near the Town of Omagh, conceive ourselves called on to pay our tribute of Praise to the Exertions and spirited Conduct of the Officers and Privates of the Queen’s County Regiment, now quartered at Omagh; for nine Months past, we have witnessed their Exertion, and felt their Protection; a protection not sullied by any act of Cruelty, but marked by Moderation and Humanity.
It is, therefore, at this moment, incumbent on us to rescue your Regiment in particular, and the Army in general, as far as our experience reaches, from any misrepresentation that may be made of their Conduct, in the North of this Kingdom, by any Person or Persons whatever. We now feel tranquillity restored to our Neighbourhood, and industry has retained its influence. To the Military we are principally indebted for that blessing they have, as far as fallen within our knowledge, executed those Orders which necessity dictated, with firmness, tempered with Justice, and humanity.”
It would be interesting to determine what possible misrepresentations were being made regarding the conduct of the Queen’s County Regiment of militia in the ‘North of this Kingdom’. Dr Patrick Geoghegan suggests that between 1797 and 1798, the British government were determined, in an effort to quell rebellion, to strike terror into the hearts of the Irish people. There were ‘incredibly repressive’ acts committed across the countryside, including whippings, and acts of torture such as ‘pitchcapping’ – whereby hot pitch or tar was poured into a conical paper “cap”, which was then forced onto the bound suspected rebel’s head, allowed to cool, and rapidly removed, taking with it a portion of the skin.
With family correspondence and newspaper articles providing an insight into that time, in the wake of revolutionary France’s war with Great Britain, it is clear that tension and disorder were mounting across Ireland. The Dawsons of Emo Park, would not come through the final tumultuous decade of the eighteenth century unscathed. In the short term, John Dawson (the 1st Earl of Portarlington), despite engaging the services of the renowned architect John Gandon, was inconvenienced by having to delay his ambitious plans to erect a new abode at Emo Park (which, unfortunately, he would never get to see in its completed state). Belonging to the Protestant Ascendancy, and determined to maintain the status quo, he was to play a leading role in the preparation and command of the Queen’s County Regiment of Militia, up to the rebellion of 1798.
With the regular army dispatched elsewhere, Ivan F. Nelson notes that by July 1793, government in Ireland sought to re-establish a militia, both to cope with internal security and to defend Ireland against the threat of a French invasion. Passed by the House of Lords on 26th March 1793, the Militia Bill made it possible for Catholics to be recruited for the first time into the militia. However, it was a force in which only the propertied elite could serve as officers. Furthermore, for this part-time force, the men were to be chosen by lot (or ballot) from the tenantry of the landlords. The Act created a regiment of militia for each county or county borough, with each county governor having to appoint deputy governors to conduct the ballot by which soldiers were to be recruited. The deputy governors were required to have a property qualification, as were the officers of the regiments who were appointed by the lieutenant-colonel commandant. Although militiamen were supposed to be raised by the ballot, if there were sufficient volunteers, it was possible to avoid that ballot, which was evidently the case in the Queens County, where there was a surplus of volunteers. However, elsewhere, with those eligible for the ballot feeling that they might be forcefully enlisted, militia riots became commonplace.
Referring to the militia riots in Ireland, in correspondence with her sister – Lady Portarlington, on the 10th July 1793, Lady Louisa Stuart commented, “I see in the newspapers that your (Irish) Parliament is taking some vigorous steps to quiet disorders, and Lord Portarlington’s name is among the speakers. I hope in God it will, and better than your fears suggest.” Later on the 29th of July, Lady Louisa wrote again to her sister; “My Dearest Caroline, it seems long since I have either writ to you or heard from you, and I own I am very anxious to do the latter, from the frightful accounts the newspapers give us this last week of riots and outrages in different parts of Ireland about Cork and Limerick especially, where it used to be reckoned quiet not very long ago. I am glad, however, of the vigorous proceedings in Parliament, in which Lord Portarlington seems to have so great a share, and of the soldiers having behaved well wherever they were opposed to the rioters. I hope in God all will still end well, as the French are beaten everywhere, for I look on them as the root of the evil.”
The Times of Saturday, Jul 27th, 1793, noted that in the Irish House of Lords, Lord Portarlington, justifying the war with the French on the grounds that it was necessary for ‘the safety of our Constitution – the preservation of our religion’, rejected objections to the Militia Act on grounds that it was more burdensome on Ireland than on England due to Ireland’s smaller population. In Dawson’s view, no comparison existed between the two – on several counts; the law was not equally respected in England and in Ireland; the people were not equally industrious in England and in Ireland. Unlike England, the unrest and tumult in Ireland necessitated the introduction of the militia. Moreover, the violence attributed to the introduction of the militia had other causes; ‘the objections to the militia had been the pretended cause of disturbance: the faction (the United Irishmen) who mediate the subversion of all order in the state, made use of that to deceive and mislead the lower orders of the people, but it was not the motive of insurrection.’
Lord Portarlington was anxious to ensure that the Queen’s County militia was well prepared. The Freemans Journal of November 7th, 1793, reports that “the Queen’s county militia, from the indefatigable exertions of the Colonel, Lord Portarlington, have made the most rapid improvement in their exercise: ’tis thought by competent judges, that this battalion will in three weeks be fit for any kind of service. They are all volunteers, not a man was balloted, for.”
The following month, a report in the same newspaper, suggests that the Queen’s County militia, ready to embark on their mission, was no eighteenth-century pre-cursor to Dad’s Army; in appearance at least, it was quite an impressive force:
“The first division of the Queen’s county militia, commanded by the Right Hon. Earl of Portarlington set out this day (December 16th) on their march to Monaghan, where they will be quartered this winter.
From an idea formerly annexed to militia, we were left to expect no more than a body of irregular half-appointed, undisciplined rabble, whose appearance rather created laughter than respect, and who promise to be a nuisance and not a protection to the country, but whatever might have been the nature of these troops, and however their aspect the prejudice at once vanished on the appearance of this regiment, which is by no means inferior to that of any veteran regulars which I ever met with, in point of personal, consequence and acquired uniformity. The grenadier company is a body of well-sized, well-moulded young fellows, minutely equipped and accounted, of a bold and martial appearance.
We seldom see an altogether unexceptionable battalion, where the flank companies are well chosen; but in this regiment there is a happy exception, (probably from having an overplus of recruits, which enabled them to make a large choice of men fit only for their purpose), for I at this moment do not remember to have seen a battalion superior to that of the Queen’s County Royal Militia; juvenile, active, soldiery, which we would expect equal to a weight of real service.
Previous to their marching they received a guinea a man which was the only bounty given by the regiment, and yet they discharged a number of men last week that exceeded their complement much against their inclination.
If we consider the lateness of the season when the corps was embodied, it is astonishing what a uniform and military appearance they have already acquired; but his lordship was indefatigable from the first hour of their having been raised, and never omitted attending all drills and parades under every disadvantage of weather. He has been extremely happy in his assemblage of officers, many of whom have seen a great deal of active duty: Col. Warburton, Capt. Kavanagh, and that universally useful soldier, Capt. Robert Carey, who now acts as Adjutant to the regiment.
His Lordship headed this detachment, and I am happy, to say that for these twenty years, he has not been known to possess more health and spirits. The second division marches tomorrow, under the command of that patriotic veteran Col. John Warburton.
From the excellence of their behaviour, collectively and individually, the inhabitants of Monaghan may provide themselves much pleasure from their residence among them; our regret was universal at their departure.”
Clearly, Lord Portarlington, in an effort to quell insurgency, as early as 1793, was devoting a lot of time and energy to the militia of Queen’s County, and evidently, in that respect he had done a good job. Alas, for him and his family, this time and energy would take its toll on his health, and before the decade was out, he would be dead.
‘The First Chapter of 1798’? Restoring a Military Perspective to the Irish Militia Riots of 1793 Author(s): Ivan F. Nelson Source: Irish Historical Studies, Vol. 33, No. 132 (Nov., 2003), pp. 369-386 Published by: Cambridge University Press p. 372.
Reference: Stuart, Louisa, Caroline (Stuart) Dawson Countess of d. 1813 Portarlington, and Alice Georgina Caroline Clark. Gleanings from an Old Portfolio: Containing Some Correspondence between Lady Louisa Stuart and Her Sister Caroline, Countess of Portarlington, and Other Friends and Relations.
In the wake of unprecedented upheaval in France, and with revolutionary fervour spilling onto these shores, tensions during the final decade of the eighteenth century run high. In Portarlington, with its history of Protestant settlement, both English and French, crimes perpetrated against those loyal to the crown, are attributed to Jacobins and Republicans.
The Freemans Journal of Thursday, November 7th, 1793 reports;
“On Monday morning last, the house of the Rev. John Vignoles, of Portarlington, was broke into by persons unknown, and robbed of cash, and notes to the amount of between two and three hundred pounds; and tho’ the most vigilant search and investigation have been made, the villains are not yet discovered.
The firm and vigorous steps taken by Government in prosecuting the seditious, will, it is hoped, be a useful lesson to a few Jacobins and Republicans of Portarlington, who now are become really odious to their most intimate friends.
Ingratitude is the worst of crimes, as they are protected by a code of laws the best on earth; yet these black-Hearted miscreants hold meetings, and celebrate the visionary successes of those bloodhounds, the French.
They and the Trio Sisters, who were bold enough to hiss the Royal anthem some time ago, and at the drums, and card parties, openly to declare their wish that the Duke of York and his army may be beaten, are cautioned not to strive to aspire to exaltation by such unwarrantable, seditious expressions.”
In a letter written by Robert Buckley, the land steward at Dawson Court, Emo Park, on the 20th of November 1787, attempts to explain to his masters, the Portarlingtons, who have been absent in England for several months, why the turf has not been gotten home from the bog:
MY LADY, I received your letter concerning matters in Dawson Court, which I hope are carried on in such a manner as to answer your expectations. Your Ladyship and Lord Portarlington say I have neglected the turf, but be assured I did not. The weather was so severe this autumn that no person has got turf off the bog but those who cut in March and April, and you know my orders were not given before the 2ist of May. Nevertheless, I hope to get home sufficient for the winter firing now, as the weather is taking up and the ground drying very fast, which is much wanted in this part of Ireland, as I understand in the memory of man there has not been more damage done by rain and flood etc. etc. I thank God we escaped all the whole hurricane, though the water rose three feet in the cellar where the beer stands. I very fortunately had the wheat sowed and most of it over ground before the heavy rain fell; or I could not have sowed it this season. I have engaged wheat at £1:2:9 per barrel, to be all good and sound. to be all good and sound. The rooms are all well aired. The horses have been in this month, as the weather was so severe they could not be kept out.
Lady Harriet is a darling fine child, and Lord Carlow is well, and growing very tall. I have thrashed two steeps of barley, and shall begin to malt immediately. The hops turned out very indifferent this season, but what they have produced is very safe and good. Jenny, I hope, will make a good return of the dairy.
I am, according to Lord Portarlington’s orders, pruning the old trees in the garden, planting, etc., etc., as opportunity offers. Your Ladyship’s most humble, obedient servant, ROBERT BUCKLEY.
Reference: Stuart, Louisa, Caroline (Stuart) Dawson Countess of d. 1813 Portarlington, and Alice Georgina Caroline Clark. Gleanings From an Old Portfolio: Containing Some Correspondence between Lady Louisa Stuart and Her Sister Caroline, Countess of Portarlington, and Other Friends and Relations.