From a fantastical beginning amongst the pivotal battle of Saxon and Norman, the line of Jacques le Barbancon has continued to the present day. After several centuries of steady growth in Surrey and Leicestershire, the family fortunes blossomed when Henry VIII dispatched the Machiavellian Sir William Brabazon to Ireland as Vice-Treasurer. He established the family at Kilruddery and his grandson was created 1st Earl of Meath in 1627. Over the next three hundred years, the family consolidated its influence in Wicklow, Ireland and the wider world of the British Empire. A strong sense of philanthropy, evident since the establishment of the Meath Hospital in the 1750s, became the guiding force of the 12th Earl and his Countess during the reigns of Queen Victoria and Edward VII. The father and grandfather of the present Earl were distinguished war heroes and this close knit Wicklow family continues to generate characters of great charm and generosity.
A stained glass window at Kilruddery House depicts William the Conqueror accepting the surrender of the Saxons after his victory at Hastings in 1066. Standing directly behind him to the left is his standard-bearer. Legend holds it that this man was Jacques, a Frankish mercenary leader from the village of Barbancon in the province of Hainault in modern day Belgium. During the first hours of the battle, the Saxons got the edge over the Normans, forcing them to retreat. William’s standard-bearer then either fell or dropped the flag, causing the Normans to panic that their leader was slain. Quick-thinking Jacques swiftly galloped forward, retrieved the standard and hoisted it high in the sky. The Normans roared their approval, about turned and slowly but assuredly conquered the Saxons. In consequence, the forefather of the Brabazon dynasty was showered with land and titles by the grateful monarch. This claim has lately been regarded as the sort of thing that inspired Oscar Wilde to refer to the Peerage as “the best thing in fiction the English have ever done”. Indeed, very few pedigrees can be accurately traced to Norman times. But it makes for a good story - and a very fine stained glass window too.[i]
Whatever the truth, a branch of the Brabazon family were established at Betchworth Castle near Dorking in Surrey by the time Henry I came to the throne. By 1250, they had relocated to Eastwell in Leicestershire. Sir Roger le Brabazon of Eastwell began his career as an official of the Duchy of Lancaster and became Lord Chief Justice of England during the reign of Edward Longshanks. In 1291 he negotiated the settlement with the Scottish nobles that placed John Balliol on the Scottish throne. When he died in 1317, his will bequeathed the manor house and lands of Belsize Park in north London to the monks of Westminster. The Earls of Meath claim descent from Sir Roger’s brother, Matthew le Brabanzon of Mowsley.
During the War of the Roses, the family became closely allied to the Yorkist cause. John Brabazon perished alongside Richard III at the decisive Battle of Bosworth in 1485; his body was taken back the short distance to Eastwell for burial in the family chapel of St Guthlac's.[ii] Some sixty years later, the will of John’s grandson, Sir William Brabazon requested that his heart be removed, placed in a leaden box and taken back across the Irish Sea to St Guthlac's for burial.
In 1533, Henry VIII dispatched William Brabazon of Leicester to Ireland to serve as Vice-Treasurer under Lord Deputy Anthony St. Leger.[iii] As a young man, William had impressed the King with his Arthurian expertise in jousting, most memorably during the historic meeting between Henry and Frances I of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold. William was part of the team selected to implement the new Tudor policies in Ireland. However, no doubt guided by the Machiavellian antics of St. Leger, he quickly mastered the methods by which high office could be made pay. For instance, the three times Lord Justice is said to have pocketed close on a million pounds from the Irish Exchequer, simply by levying taxes on Crown land. He was also one of the principal beneficiaries of the dissolution of the monasteries, renting out the confiscated lands at rates far below market values and leaving thousands of pounds of rent arrears uncollected. Another of his duties was to order the melting down of all church bells for use as ammunition by the Tudor military; the bells were certainly dismantled but the fate of their valuable metal remains a mystery.
In 1539, Sir William secured ownership of the Abbey of St. Thomas, which stood between present day Thomas Street and the River Liffey. Conflicting reports state that Kilruddery was not granted to the Brabazon family until 1618 but it is surely of relevance that the monastic lands of St. Thomas’s included the lands of Kilrotheric (or Kilruddery), being the Little Sugar Loaf, Bray Head and the valley running between them. The valley included a chapel, a burial ground and a large rural retreat built by the monks. The lands had been leased to the Abbey in the 13th century by Nicholas de la Felde and it seems the monks had a grove or woodland close to the present day Kilruddery House. But William chose to keep the family home in Dublin, converting the Abbey into “Thomas Court”. [iv]
Sir William was first and foremost a military man. In 1546, while St. Leger was busy making excuses and number-crunching in London, Sir William commenced the conquest of Gaelic Ireland by launching a ruthless attack on the O’More and O’Conor chieftains, establishing forts at Daingean (Offaly) and Ballyadams (Laois). He died while on campaign against the O’Neills at Carrickfergus in the summer of 1552. His death saved him from the disgrace that befell his name when the rampant corruption of his Treasury was exposed three years later.
Sir William left two young sons, Edward and Anthony. For reasons unknown, their Kent-born mother Elizabeth Clifford decided to remain at Thomas Court with the boys, outliving her husband by 30 years. In fact, she took on three further husbands, the last being Sir Edward Moore, ancestor of the Earls of Drogheda. Her eldest son, Edward, later Baron Brabazon, only 3 years old when Sir William died, was the forefather of the Earls of Meath. The younger son, Anthony Brabazon, Governor of Connaught, married the heiress of Sir Nicholas Malby, making the Brabazons one of the largest land-owning families in Ireland by the early 17th century.[v]
Correspondence from the time suggests that Sir William’s son, Edward, was an intimate friend of Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, Secretary of State under Queen Elizabeth and King James. Edward’s wife, Mary, was a daughter of Thomas Smyth of Mitcham, Surrey, who, as Clerk of the Green Cloth, organized some of Queen Elizabeth phenomenally expensive Royal Tours. Edward was one of Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Councillors in Ireland and was elected MP for Wicklow in 1585. At the time, Wicklow was being surveyed by a royal commission under Sir William Drury but would not be officially distinguished into a county until 1606. In that year, contrary to his wishes, Edward was appointed Sheriff of Staffordshire. The Lord Deputy invested Edward as a Knight on 24th August 1595. Over twenty years later, in the summer of 1616, he was elevated to the Irish peerage by King James as 1st Lord Brabazon, Baron of Ardee, Co. Louth. He seems to have moved to Kilruddery shortly afterwards, building a small castle there in about 1619.
In 1607, John Bramston, a 30-year-old barrister from Essex, approached Edward seeking the hand in marriage of his daughter Elizabeth Brabazon. His request was turned down but over twenty years later – with Elizabeth twice widowed and Bramston five years a widower - the couple renewed their courtship by post and she became his second wife. The romance came as a surprise to Bramston’s son who accompanied him to Ireland for the wedding. “When I saw her I confess I wondered at my father’s love. She was low, fatt, red-faced; her dress too was a hatt and ruff. But my father … told me it was not beautie, but virtue he courted. I believe she had binn handsome in her youth, … and, indeed, proved a good wife and mother-in-law [stepmother] too”. Sir John Bramston went on to serve as Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench during the particularly turbulent seven and a half years that preceded the Civil War. He was impeached in 1640 but managed to live out his retirement in relative peace.
The 1st Baron Brabazon of Ardee passed away aged 76 on 7th August 1625 and was buried at St. Catherine’s in Dublin. His widow Mary died two weeks later. Their son, Sir William Brabazon, was 45 years old when he succeeded as 2nd Baron.[vi] A letter from the new King Charles, dated 8th February 1626, ordered that the 2nd Baron should be advanced in the Peerage of Ireland as Earl of Carlow. However, for reasons unclear, this was suppressed and, on 16th April 1627, he was created 1st Earl of Meath instead. In 1644 his attempts to consult with King Charles during the Civil War led to his imprisonment by Parliament in the Tower of London. He was exchanged for another prisoner seven months later. The following year, Confederates destroyed his father’s castle at Kilruddery. His wife Jane (née Bingley) also passed away at this time.[vii] Sir William later alleged that he had lost the considerable sum of £40,000 during the Rebellion, principally by raising and arming a force of 1,500 Protestants to serve the Government. He claimed these losses had compelled him to sell the family’s ancestral home at Eastwell. Lord Meath died a week before Christmas 1651 and was succeeded by his son, Edward.
In 1632, Edward Brabazon married Mary Chambre, who came with a huge dowry of £5000 (c. €800,000 in 2005). Her father, Calcott Chambre, came from Oxfordshire to Wicklow sometime before 1611 and made his fortune selling timber for pipe staves and ships. Most of this wood came from the Shillelagh estate, which he purchased from Lord Harrington. By the time of Mary’s marriage, Chambre was firmly ensconced at Carnew Castle with a deer-park “about seven miles in compass, and wherein are both fallow and red deer [in] good store”.[viii] By 1635, however, Calcott was bankrupt and obliged to sell his estate to Lord Deputy Wentworth. Edward served under Lord Ormond against the Catholic rebels in 1643 and subsequently became Captain of a Troop of Horse for the Royalists. At the close of 1644, he was captured and joined his father in prison. He was captured again at the battle of Edgehill and his estates confiscated. These were subsequently restored and during the 1650s he built a new house at Kilruddery to replace one burned six years earlier. An illustration from about 1680 shows a building of five bays facing east. In 1666, the 2nd Earl increased the estate with the addition of “the section of Great Bray between Main Street and the sea and between the river and Main Street”. He also staked his claim to the ruin of Liverpool Castle, formerly headquarters of the powerful Molyneaux dynasty.[ix]
In 1669 he had a major fall out with his former commander, the Duke of Ormond. It would seem the Earl had become a pawn in a power struggle between the Duke and the 2nd Duke of Buckingham. He was removed from the Irish Council by Charles II but reinstated the following year. On 25th March 1675 he and his son William were on passage from Dublin to Holyhead when their ship was caught in a storm off Skerries and wrecked; the 2nd Earl did not survive the disaster.
William Brabazon was forty years old when he clambered from the wreck of the ship and made it to dry land. Only four years earlier he had been the subject of much gossip when arrested for killing a man in a duel. He was pardoned and, shortly afterwards, married Lord Dacre’s daughter, Elizabeth Lennard. Her gambling-addicted brother, the Earl of Sussex, was married to Charles II’s illegitimate daughter Lady Ann FitzRoy (by the Duchess of Cleveland). Arguably the 3rd Earl’s greatest achievement was in 1682 when he lured a French gardener, Monsieur Bonet, supposedly trained at Versailles, from the employ of Sir William Petty to work on the gardens at Kilruddery. These French-Baroque gardens, comprising the Angles (a patte d’oie), the Long Ponds, the Sylvan Theatre, Lime Walks and the Beech Hedge Pond, are the oldest formal gardens in Ireland and are regarded as amongst the most important such historical gardens in Europe. The 3rd Earl died shortly after his mother in 1685, and was succeeded by his brother, Captain Edward Brabazon. His widow, Elizabeth, married secondly the Hon. William Moore. She died on 28th December 1701, a few months before Queen Anne succeeded William III on the British throne.
Edward – or Ned - Brabazon was born in 1638 and succeeded as 4th Earl in 1685, exactly 200 years after his forebear’s death at Bosworth. His wife Cecilia was a daughter of Sir William Brereton, the Parliamentarian General who captured Cheshire during the English Civil War. During the war that ravaged Ireland in the wake of William III’s seizure of the English throne in 1689, the 4th Earl commanded his own Regiment of Foot at the Boyne and the loyalist garrison at Carrickfergus. He was wounded at the siege of Limerick. [x] He later claimed the Glorious Revolution had set him back by £10,000 (more than €1 million in today’s money), obliging him to lease his Kilruddery lands to John Lovett, uncle of Sir Edward Lovett Pearce and father-in-law to Dick Tighe (see Tighe of Rossanagh). In the meantime he took a house at 56 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, where the family lived for much of the latter part of the 18th century. He was also appointed Ranger of the Phoenix Park, a walled Royal Hunting Park for pheasants and wild deer established by the Duke of Ormond in 1671. Ned Brabazon’s second wife, Dorothea, daughter of James Stopford of Tara Hall, Co. Meath, was the “Countess Doll” of Jonathan Swift’s humorous epitaph “Dill and Dickey”; Dickey was General Richard Gorges whom Doll married after the Earls’ death in 1707. (See: The Cuffe Family for more on Gorges). There were no surviving sons, thus the Earldom passed to a third brother, Chambre.
Chambre Brabazon, named for his grandfather Calcott Chambre, married Juliana Chaworth, only daughter and heiress of Patrick, 2nd Viscount Chaworth of Armagh. They had two sons – the 6th and 7th Earls – and four daughters who married into the Hallowes, Tisdall and Ponsonby families. The 5th Earl died in 1715 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Chaworth, who had been married as a boy to one of the Chaworth’s servants. In 1731, Mrs. Delany wrote “we had a wedding lately, Lord Meath, a man of good sense and great fortune, who was married unfortunately when he was a boy to his aunt’s chambermaid. He never lived with her and she died about a month ago. Yesterday he married Miss. [Juliana] Prendergast: he has been in love with her several years; she has little or no fortune and is far from handsome”. Juliana’s father, Sir Thomas Prendergast of Gort, was one of over 40,000 men killed at the battle of Malplaquet in 1709, the bloodiest encounter of the War of the Spanish Succession.
In March 1753 the 6th Earl became patron of the Meath Hospital, founded by four surgeons to care for the sick and poor of “the Liberties”, an area that fell under the Brabazon’s ownership. The Meath moved to Heytesbury St in 1822 and stayed there until the move to Tallaght in 1998.
The 6th Earl died without issue in 1763 at the age of 77 and was succeeded by his septuagenarian brother, Edward. The 7th Earl married Martha, daughter of the Rev. William Collins. She gave her husband two sons, Anthony and William. The 7th Earl followed up on his brother’s hospital patronage by laying the foundation stone for a new general hospital in the Coombe district in 1770. Originally called, "The Meath Hospital and County Dublin Infirmary", it was renamed the Coombe Women’s Hospital in 1993. Over one million babies have been born there.
Anthony Brabazon succeeded as 8th Earl in 1772.[xi] As MP for Dublin, he was evidently popular with the Dublin elite who voted him the thanks of the City and gave him a gold box containing twenty guineas. In 1758, he married Grace Leigh, daughter of the MP for New Ross, John Leigh of Rosegarland, Co. Wexford. They had two sons – the 9th and 10th Earls - and five daughters.[xii]
In the spring of 1797, Anthony’s son and heir, William, 9th Earl of Meath, became involved in a fatal row with Captain Robert Gore of the Mount Kennedy Corps. It would seem the 28-year-old Earl head-hunted Richard Fox, one of the finest members of Gore’s militia cavalry unit, to serve in his own Bray Yeomanry Corps. Gore wrote the Earl a scathing letter, stating that “no gentleman, however great his influence, could be so INDELICATE as to ask any soldier to desert his colours”. Lord Meath replied in equally haughty tones and accused Gore of being “extremely INDELICATE”. These were harsh words in Georgian times and before long Gore was accusing the Earl of deliberately sabotaging the Mount Kennedy Corps. When Lord Meath demanded an apology, Gore threw down his hat and “betraying a mind bent on mischief” (to quote the prosecution) he brandished his weapon and shouted “Let me have my revenge, I will fire at him!” Such talk propelled the man all the way to Kilruddery at 10 o’clock on the morning of 26th March. He demanded to see Lord Meath who duly appeared. A tenant called Buckley tried to get Gore to calm down but was pushed aside as Gore tore off his hat, coat and waistcoat and demanded satisfaction from the Earl. Colthurst, a local magistrate, ran up to intervene. “Gentlemen, hold the peace!”, he implored from a distance. But Gore turned to the Earl and said: “Now, my lord, let me have my revenge before the magistrate comes up”, fired his pistol, flung it to the ground “with vehemence” and then “sprung to the right” before the Earl could fire back. He then walked up to Colthurst and handed himself in. A witness, Colonel Robert Meade, considered Gore to have played a particularly poor game by springing out of the Earl’s line of fire. Meanwhile the Earl fell back into the arms of his second. Gore was charged with dispatching “a certain pistol of the value of ten shillings then and there charged with gunpowder and one leaden bullet … in and upon [Lord Meath’s] right hip bone … one mortal wound of the depth of six inches and of the breadth of half an inch”. William languished in bed for sixty four days and died at Kilruddery on 29th May.
However, as the court case evolved, counsel for the defence - John Philpott Curran, father of Robert Emmett’s Sarah - managed to prove that the Earl had not only accused Gore of lying (a terrible accusation in the days before Tribunals) but had also declared “I am ready, Sir, here is at you” just before Gore drew his pistol. Justice Kelly advised the jury that the duel was fair enough given the nature of Lord Meath’s accusations.[xiii] The jury reached a verdict of “manslaughter in self-defence” in just 10 minutes. This was subsequently changed to “Not Guilty”.
The slain Earl’s younger brother John Chambre Brabazon now succeeded as 10th Earl. He would hold fort at Kilruddery for more than half a century. On 31st December 1801, the young Earl married Lady Melosina Meade at Clanwilliam House (now part of UCD) on Stephen’s Green. Her father, the 1st Earl of Clanwilliam, was a turf-loving spendthrift and illustrious ravisher of “stable boys and mistresses”; her mother was the glamorous Co. Down heiress Theodosia Magill.
The Brabazons were by now one of the wealthiest families in Ireland but in 1817, the poet and writer Ann Plumptre gave a worrying account of how things stood in the disease-riddled slums of Dublin’s Liberties where the Meaths owned much property. She described these as “now the poorest and worst parts of Dublin where numbers of families are crowded together in one house to such a degree as to render them spectacles of the extremist filth and misery”. While the Liberties may have been left to fend for itself, Lord Meath took no such chances with his Kilruddery tenants and, the following year, he donated the barracks in Bray (hardly used since 1798) to the three parishes of Bray, Old Connaught and Rathmichael. They were to be used as a dispensary and fever hospital to counteract the typhoid and cholera. The project received the financial support of many notables as well as a grant from the Committee for the Suppression of Vice. He was Governor of the Richmond Lunatic Asylum which opened in 1815 to accommodate 200 “lunatics” from the House of Industry.
As a young man, the Earl resided at the family’s townhouse on the north side of St Stephen’s Green. However, since the abolition of the Irish Parliament in 1800, a townhouse in Dublin was considered unnecessary. In 1834, he sold the property – No. 56 - to Mary Aikenhead, founder of the Irish Sisters of Charity, for development into St. Vincent’s Hospital. The Earl also went out of his way to befriend the Catholic community. In 1824, for instance, he and his son attended the funeral of the Rev. Christopher O'Callaghan, the long-serving parish priest of Bray. He also presented a petition from Bray in favour of repealing the Penal Laws. His Liberal colleagues in Parliament were stunned when he refused to instruct his tenants to vote Liberal during elections but the Earl was adamant that voters should have absolute freedom at the ballot box. In 1831, Daniel O’Connell felt “deeply convinced that Lords Meath and Cloncurry have it in their power to put themselves at the head of the popular party in Ireland, and to do more good to the country, and prevent more evil, than any two persons ever had before”.[xiv] Alas, his confidence was never put to the test.
The 10th Earl is supposed to have spent £20,000 (c. €1.75 million in 2005) on the reconstruction of Kilruddery House between 1820 and 1827. Architects Richard and William Vitruvius Morrison were instructed to build a Tudor Revival mansion, incorporating the original low-level 17th century mansion. The new house took on the shape of an irregular quadrangle, enclosing a central courtyard. The interior included elaborate chimney-pieces by Giacinto Micali and Gaspare Gabrielli, crimsons silk damask from Spitafields, stained glass by John Millner, a domed ceiling by Henry Popje and the wonderful drawing room ceiling by Simon Gilligan.[xv] Daniel Robertson was subsequently employed to design the forecourt at the front of the house and to touch up Bonet’s original 17th century Baroque gardens.
While Kilruddery was being rebuilt, Lord Meath was enjoying a busy court life. In February 1821, he was appointed a Knight of the Order of St. Patrick. In July, he was one of six Knights Extraordinary in attendance at the Coronation of George IV. When the new King announced his intention of visiting Kilruddery in the autumn, the Earl had a new roadway built through the Dargle Valley. Alas, as so often the case, the portly monarch took a turn for the worse and skipped out on that part of the journey – although, when he passed through Bray, the Kilruddery tenants lined the roadsides to give him good cheer.
A decade later, another king, the nautical William IV, gave Lord Meath access to the House of Lords when he created him Baron Chaworth of Eaton Hall, Co. Hereford in the Peerage of UK. At the time, Lord Meath had just under 24,000 acres of Co. Wicklow, making him the third largest landowner in the county after Earl Fitzwilliam and the See of Dublin. The estates core were the lands around Kilruddery House but it embraced the rapidly developing resort town of Bray, the high ground skirting the Military Road between Laragh and Drumgoff and the densely wooded Vale of Clara and the banks of the River Avonmore. As well as their property in Dublin’s Liberties, the Brabazons also had a sizeable estate in mid-Wicklow, including Aughrim and the mining parish of Castlemacadam.
In 1827, the Meaths met the writer Sir Walter Scott while staying with friends in Ayrshire. Scott subsequently wrote about “the pleasant Irish family of Meath” in his Journal, stating that “the resemblance between the Earl of Meath and the Duke of Wellington is something remarkably striking - it is not only the profile, but the mode of bearing the person, and the person itself. Lady Theodora, the Earl’s daughter, and a beautiful young lady, told me that in Paris her father was often taken for Lord Wellington”.[xvi] Scott later visited Kilruddery and took in a play in the Sylvan Theatre.
Two years later, Lady Mary Arundell likewise recalled the Meaths, who she had known in Paris, as “very delightful people”. She was particularly taken with their son, “Lord Brabazon, very intelligent and pleasant, has travelled with great profit over part of Egypt, Greece, Syria and Turkey, and the daughter is the handsomest, and, except the Barringtons, the best brought up girl I ever saw, and Lord M. a zealous Catholic advocate and a good Irish politician”.[xvii] The daughter – Theodosia – went on to marry the 3rd Earl of Gosford, the noted bibliophile who built up the wonderful library at Gosford Castle.
The 10th Earl died in 1851 aged 78 and was succeeded by his son, William Brabazon. The 11th Earl was married in 1837 to Harriot Brooke, daughter of Sir Richard Brooke of Norton Priory in Cheshire. They had two children – Reginald, who succeeded as 12th Earl, and Kathleen, who died in 1930. One of his first acts as Earl was to commission the Orangery at Kilruddery by William Burn, inspired by the Crystal Palace in London. Originally intended for oranges, the new conservatory – or Orangery - was swiftly populated with marble statues gathered by the Earl during various trips around Italy in the 1830s and 1840s.[xviii] Contemporaneous to the Orangery was an ornamental dairy, designed by Lord Meath’s neighbour, Sir George Hodson, Chairman of the Royal Horticultural Society, who lived at nearby Hollybrooke House.
From 1837 until 1841, the 11th Earl (or Lord Ardee as he was then) was Liberal MP for Dublin. He also served as ADC to the Queen and HM’s Lieutenant for Co. Wicklow. He was elected first Chairman of the Bray Township Commissioners in 1852, a post he held until 1875. As such, one of his principal tasks was to cater to Bray’s rapidly growing population, particularly after the arrival of the railway in 1854. The newcomers were soon to be blessed with a new Protestant church – Christ Church, designed by William Slater and consecrated on 25th July 1863 (St James' Day) by the Bishop of Killaloe. In 1869, the Earl lent his support to a public water scheme in Bray. In 1886, he donated land for the building of the sea-wall and promenade in the same town; the Esplanade had seriously flooded five times in the previous 25 years. In 1873, he paid for the dismantling of mud clay cabins and the building of a new row of terraced cottages in Aughrim, a fine example of local stone-cutters craftsmanship. Following his death, The Times declared his chief concern to have been “the moral and physical improvement of the labouring classes … he took pleasure in giving his cooperation and patronage to educational and philanthropic writers”.
However, as the century wore on, the Brabazons inevitably became embroiled in the growing extremism of Irish politics, particularly in the build up to the Fenian Risings of 1867. In his diary, Lord Ardee (later the 12th Earl) recalled “a thousand Fenians” marching on Bray “where they expected to be joined by about an equal number of local sympathizers”. The 11th Earl was Lord Lieutenant and Custos Rotulorum of Wicklow at the time and thus entrusted with the task of policing such volatile gatherings. Lady Harriot was in the garden at Kilruddery “directing the laying of some new flowerbeds” when Viscount Powerscourt appeared and told her of the rising. “Thank God”, she replied, “is that all?!” Her son explained that “the Rising” had been expected for so long that “she, like everyone else, had become tired of the subject and lost interest”. As it happened the rally passed without major incident and the conduct of the mob was never more violent than “gestures of contempt”. Lord Ardee goes on to note “the Roman Catholic labourers at Kilruddery had met and passed a resolution that they would offer their services to my father to defend the house”.
In 1868, Lord Meath voted against the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. Later that year, he and Lady Meath entertained the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). It was one of many high profile visits to Kilruddery. The Lord Mayors of London and York stayed in 1875 and, in November 1877, the Meaths stunned many of their fellow peers when they played host to Gladstone on his one and only visit to Ireland. The “Grand Old Man” donated £50 towards some new church bells for Christ Church in Bray. However the Earl’s admiration for the Liberal Prime Minister turned to disgust as Gladstone veered increasingly towards Home Rule. Lord Meath became a vehement Unionist and dedicated the remainder of his life to Home Rule’s defeat. (See photo, p.207).
In 1882, the Brabazons again became embroiled in unhappy controversy. A countrywide campaign of agrarian protest against unfair evictions and excessive rents had been underway since 1879. With Parnell at the helm, the revolutionary cocktail of marching bands, mass rallies and rowdy rhetorical speeches caught the people’s imagination. The Earl tactfully began to reduce rents by as much as 50 per cent, a gesture that did not go unnoticed by the Wicklow Newsletter but nonetheless, a branch of the Land League was established in Bray in October 1881. Perhaps hoping to stem the flow, the Earl then commissioned the architects Thomas Newenham Deane & Son to build the new red-bricked mock-Tudor Town Hall and Market House in Bray. He paid for the construction - £6000, or over €500,000 in 2005 - and presented it to the town in 1882. However, when the Bray commissioners proposed using the Town Hall for “religious, political and charitable purposes”, the Earl turned the application down. The commissioners persisted but the Earl, convinced the commissioners were acting on behalf of the Land League, threatened to “do no more” for the town unless they backed down. By now the social ostracism of Captain Boycott had given the English language a new word and so Nationalist MPs called for a boycott on the Town Hall. Bray’s parish priest went so far as to declare the Earl’s heart to be “as Orange as Lord Rossmore”; a reference to the hot-headed Grand Master of the Orange Order in Monaghan. But at a calmer level, a loyalist minority met in the International Hotel and offered their sympathies to the Earl during such trying times. Lord Meath eventually conceded defeat but, as it happened, the Town Hall was used for nothing more serious than dances and ceilis until the Irish Citizen Army began meeting there in the next century.
The 11th Earl was sometime ADC to Queen Victoria and an honorary colonel of the 5th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. He was in delicate health for his latter years, and died at Kilruddery on 26 May 1887 at the age of 84. His widow, Harriot, the Dowager Countess Of Meath survived him until a very advanced age and died at Kilruddery in the summer of 1898.
As Victorians go, the 12th Earl and his Countess were a cut above. They belonged to an exclusive group of intellectual aristocrats known as “The Souls”. Presided over by Lord Curzon, the Souls were formed as a sort of cerebral foil to the pleasure-hungry “Marlborough House Set” headed up by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII).[xix]
The 12th Earl was born Reginald Brabazon on 31st July 1841. One of his earliest memories was the sight, when he was 11 years old, of the Duke of Wellington’s funeral in 1852; the empty saddle and boots on the back of the famous charger, Copenhagen. His elder brother died in childhood and it was as “Lord Brabazon” that he went to Eton where he was in Birch’s House (known as “The House of Lords” from the many titled boys in it). He was one of the party who drew the Princess Royal and her husband, the future Kaiser Frederick III, from Windsor Station to the Castle for their honeymoon. When the Princess became German Empress many years later, Lord Meath told her that he had shed blood for her on the occasion – and so he had for an unspecified misdemeanour on the day in question had led to his bottom being whacked accordingly.
During the 1860s, Reginald went to the Buckeburg, capital of the small independent Principality of Schaumburg-Lippe, to learn German. Buckeberg’s authorities seem to have been unduly stiff in terms of etiquette and convention. On one occasion, the young Irishman and his cronies were summoned to the Palace to explain their “impropriety and lunacy” when they dared hold a paper chase in their shirtsleeves. He also nearly created an international incident when he put his feet on a sofa in an inn that belonged to a German aristocrat.
In 1863, he went to the Foreign Office as a Resident Clerk under Robert Henry Meade. He recalled attending a ball thrown by Lord Palmertson at which his 79-year-old host had sprung forward “in a room full of young men, to catch in his arms a dancing couple who were on the eve of falling”. In 1866, during a posting to Frankfurt, he witnessed the defeated white-coats of the Austrian army in flight from the Prussians. It was, he wrote, “the last time this famous uniform, so splendid in peace, so ghastly when stained with the mud and blood of war, was ever worn on active service”.
In January 1868, he married 21 year old Lady Mary Jane Maitland. She was the only surviving child of Admiral Thomas Maitland, 11th Earl of Lauderdale, a sailor of the old school whom Reginald greatly admired.[xx] Reginald soon transferred to the British Embassy in Berlin where they bore witness to the Franco-Prussian War. The German capital was soon awash with French prisoners. Reginald admired their pluck, particularly when, despite spiritual and physical exhaustion, they feigned to be “as gay as larks, chaffing the stolid, solid crowd of Prussian civilians who lined the streets, kissing their hands to the girls, and generally ragging the multitude upon whose faces there was not even the ghost of a smile!” He regarded it as a spirit worthy of respect. [xxi]
He was subsequently transferred to Paris in 1871, arriving to find the city ruins still smoking after the riots of the Commune and the cavalry bivouacked in the Champs Elysées. He retired from the Diplomatic Service in 1873 and settled at Sunbury-on-Thames. At this stage, a good deal of Reginald’s social life involved hunting. Indeed, the Kilruddery Hunt was regarded as one of the finest in Ireland during the Victorian Age. Difficult as it is to imagine in modern times, the Kilruddery pack roamed freely after fox and stag over pasture and bog in a wide circle from Bray Common to Dalkey encompassing Kiltiernan, Carrickmines, Shankhill, Glenageary and Monkstown. At meets end, the players regrouped at Kilruddery for a feast of food and drink. The Kilruddery estate consisted of over 14,000 acres with 36 acres in Co. Dublin and a further 695 at Eaton Court in Herefordshire.
However, in late 1873, the Ardees turned their attention “to the consideration of social problems and the relief of human suffering”. The following year, they formed the Hospital Saturday Fund Committee for the working class, a movement quickly replicated in Dublin. In 1877, Lady Ardee joined the Rector of Bray, the hymn-writer Fanny Alexander and others to found the Girls Friendly Society in Ireland. The GFS was aimed at supporting country girls who came to work in the city and teaching the necessary skills for them to gain employment. The death of her father, Lord Lauderdale, in 1878 undoubtedly increased the money she now had at her disposal.
In 1879, Reginald became the first Chairman of the Young Men’s Friendly Society founded at Lambeth Palace.[xxii] The following year, he founded the Metropolitan Public Gardens Society in 1882 of which he remained chairman until his death 47 years later. As a London County Council Alderman and Chairman of the Parks Committee, he was a staunch advocate of providing gardens for adults and playgrounds for children as well as being one of the earliest campaigners for London's Green Belt.[xxiii] He was a passionate advocate that open space was the only way to keep a city from rotting. Lady Ardee was equally vocal in her championing of social welfare and open spaces on the grimy streets of Dublin, particularly in regard to Ireland’s many workhouse girls.[xxiv]
In 1884, Lady Ardee established the Ministering Children’s League in England. The League’s principal aim was "to promote kindness, unselfishness, and the habit of usefulness amongst children, and to create in their minds an earnest desire to help the needy and suffering; to give them some definite work to do for others, that this desire may be brought to good effect". The Meaths provided 12 acres opposite their estate in Surrey and two holiday homes - one for girls and one for boys – for the express purpose of looking after young children recovering from illness. Six years later, she established the League in Victoria, Australia, again providing the necessary money to build a get-away cottage for the recovering youngsters. The League today claims a worldwide membership of some thirty-five thousand.
Lady Ardee – or the Countess of Meath as she was after 1887 - also established the Lord Roberts Brush Workshops in Scotland for disabled ex-Servicemen from the Boer War, which was later absorbed into SSAFA.[xxv] Her work took her further a-field to Egypt where, in 1900, she established a handicraft cottage industry for blind children at Alexandria, and to Morocco where she was active in relieving “the sufferings of prisoners”. In December 1889 she visited the Perkins Institute for the Blind in Boston and there chanced to meet, amongst others, Helen Keller. The famous deaf and blind American activist, then just 9-years-old, wrote afterwards to her mother: “My Dear Mother:--Your little daughter is very happy to write to you this beautiful morning. Yesterday the Countess of Meath came again to see me. She gave me a beautiful bunch of violets. Her little girls are named Violet and May. The Earl said he should be delighted to visit Tuscumbia the next time he comes to America. Lady Meath said she would like to see your flowers, and hear the mocking-birds sing. When I visit England they want me to come to see them, and stay a few weeks. They will take me to see the Queen”.
Indeed, the Meaths were an exceptionally well-travelled couple – Australia, South Africa, Burma, Morocco and India being high on their agenda. Often their hosts made return visits. In 1890, for instance, the skies over Kilruddery erupted with fireworks to greet the philanthropically-minded Queen Elizabeth of Romania. In 1897 the Duke and Duchess of York came to visit while several Irish Viceroys and Sir Robert Baden Powell also stayed.
On 20th August 1887, four months after his fathers’ death, the 12th Earl was sworn onto the Queen’s Privy Council. In this position he established himself as a strong advocate for State-aided education. Like Baden-Powell, he was deeply concerned that Britain’s children were becoming unfit in both body and mind. Lord Meath’s solution to obesity, sloth and other such ills was a daily burst of compulsory physical exercise for all children. In 1890 his Physical Education Bill was presented to Parliament. Although the Bill did not succeed, the Inspectors of Schools brought in compulsory P.E. regardless, just not on a daily basis. For his sins, Lord Meath is occasionally cited as “The Father” of modern Physical Education. In 1891 the Earl and Lord Charles Beresford were elected Honorary Members of the Much Wenlock Olympian Society which ultimately inspired the re-launch of the Olympic Games.
In 1901 the Meaths hosted the Philanthropic Reform Association at which the two main issues discussed were the Day Industrial School’s Bill (for the education of destitute child criminals) and the establishment of a special home for epileptics in Ireland.[xxvi] The latter was particularly welcome in an age where many regarded epilepsy as the work of the devil.
Amongst Lord Meath’s favourite anecdotes was that of “a London tradesman of small size who was rash enough to hope that he could better his social position by buying an estate in Ireland”. On hearing that the new landlord was due to arrive on a certain train, a crowd of his tenants gathered at the station to meet him, forming two lines through which he might walk. “In due time, the little tradesman arrived and found himself walking down this lengthy avenue of tenants. There was a dead silence as he passed between the lines until a voice was heard saying, “Bedad! This fellow will be as hard to shoot as a jacksnipe!” Not that the Meaths were able to side-step the growing radicalism of Ireland politics. In 1894, for instance, a number of Kilruddery farm labourers went on strike for better pay. The strike was broken and Lord Meath refused to reinstate the men until they had issued apologies.
With his flowing white beard and austere manner, Lord Meath was part of what Lady Randolph Churchill called “the Movement”, an ultra English, ultra Empire elite who felt that punctuality, good manners and intelligent conversation counted more than beauty. His name was to be found on just about every board going – the Church Army, the Boy Scouts (of which he was Chief Commissioner in Ireland), the Girl Guides, the British Girl’s Patriotic League and the Lad’s Drill Association, which he founded. One wonders how his other organization - 'The Duty and Discipline Movement” – would fare today. It had a thriving membership of 4,200 members in 1917 but its twin objectives of (a) combating softness, slackness, indifference and indiscipline and (b) giving reasonable support to all legitimate authority, would be a little hard for the 21st century to stomach.
His disciplinarian air undoubtedly gave him a touch of the forbidding Victorian but by all accounts the Earl had a terrific sense of humour and “an unquenchable enthusiasm” for improving the world. He was not interested in class differences but believed in the community - which, in his mind, meant the Empire at large. Arguably his greatest achievement was getting Queen Victoria’s birthday – 25th May - recognized as Empire Day. One day he read in a newspaper of a small ceremony in Ontario, Canada, where the red, white and blue of the Union Jack was hoisted and children sang the National Anthem. In 1893, after several years of arguing and ridicule, he persuaded the Government to allow the British flag to be flown over Westminster. His imagination pricked, Lord Meath then wrote to the Prime Ministers and Governors of the British Empire proposing that a specific day “be set apart for recalling the great history of our country and also of our Empire and our duty to uphold the ideas for which it stood”. He declared that “jingoism, truculence to foreign countries and vain airs of superiority” had no place in his programme but that he was simply concerned with fostering a higher standard of private and public conduct. The watchwords of the Empire Movement were "Responsibility, Sympathy, Duty and Self-Sacrifice". The Empire Movement became increasingly necessary following the debacle of the Boer War which greatly tarnished Britain’s imperial reputation. Empire Day was inaugurated on May 24th 1905 and gradually became a major event across an Empire that covered approximately 12 million square miles (or 21 per cent) of the Earth’s surface. In 1966, “Empire Day” became “Commonwealth Day”, and the date was moved from May 24th to the second Saturday in June to coincide with the official birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. The day is still widely celebrated across Commonwealth countries, a formidable legacy from the Earl of Meath.
Not everyone was convinced by Lord Meath’s philanthropy; Cardinal Moran, the Carlow-born Archbishop of Sydney, regarded Empire Day as “a childish matter” and its founder as “an absentee Irish landlord who makes up in Imperial loyalty for lack of Irish patriotism”. Eyebrows were no doubt also raised when the Earl spoke of the superiority of the white race, of God’s intention that “the best shall rule”, and of the importance of accepting the responsibility of demonstrating noblesse oblige towards the “coloured races of the Empire”. Such people, he said, were being educated by their rulers and, “as they become educated and worthy of government, we [shall] give them that government, and only that government they are fit for”. [xxvii]
From 1902 to 1905, the 12th Earl was Chancellor of the Royal University of Ireland (precursor of the National University). In 1905, he was invested into the Most Illustrious Order of St. Patrick. Two years later, the Order’s insignia – the Irish Crown Jewels - were stolen from Dublin Castle shortly before a visit by Edward VII. Their whereabouts remain a mystery. Like his father, he was an honorary Colonel of the 5th Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. He also served as a Lieutenant for both the County and City of Dublin and a JP for Co. Wicklow.
In later life, the Earl became much involved with the Boy Scouts. During his visit to Ireland in July 1911, the young Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) planted a tree in the pleasure ground at Kilruddery and inspected a guard of honour provided by the First Bray Troop of Boy Scouts. Lord Meath knew that war with Germany was inevitable; when that day finally came, he was amongst the most vocal campaigners in support of joining up.[xxviii] His youngest son would be among the hundreds of thousands of British soldiers killed on the Western Front.
After the death of Lady Meath at Kilruddery in November 1918, the Earl settled down at Kilruddery and wrote several books on social subjects and two volumes of reminiscences, “Memories of the 19th Century” and “Memories of the 20th Century”. He became a Knight of the Order of Bath in 1920 and of the Royal Victorian Order in 1923. The Irish Privy Council elected him a Senator of Southern Ireland. He remained active until his death on 11 October 1929 at the residence of his sister, Lady Kathleen Brabazon, on Eaton Square. He was 88 years old. A few months earlier, Sir William Orpen had painted his portrait. He was buried in Delgany, his coffin passing a line of scouts, headed up by the representatives of Baden-Powell and the Duke of Connaught. The Times described him as “a pioneer in many directions, an exceptional man whose energy, foresight and patriotism were remarkable … he loved his country and devoted his whole life to its service. He gloried in the fact that our people had gone out to found great Dominions across the seas. The British Empire, he held, was the greatest federation for good, a unity to be loved, cherished and strengthened in the interests of the peace of the whole world”. In 1932, a new stained glass window was installed to his memory in the North Transept of St Paul’s Cathedral, appropriately unveiled on Empire Day by the Duke of Connaught. Two years later, the Duke unveiled a second memorial to the founder of Empire Day at the Lancaster Gate in Hyde Park.[xxix]
The 13th Earl was succeeded by his son, Reginald Le Norman Brabazon. Reginald was born in November 1869 and educated at Wellington and Sandhurst. At the age of 19 he and his brother successfully invented a “Pendulum Water Clock”, a highly original piece requiring minimum attention and yet keeping an extremely accurate time. The following year, he was commissioned in the Grenadier Guards. He won both the Queens and Kings medals during the Boer War. In 1908, he married Lady Aileen Wyndham-Quin, younger daughter of the 4th Earl of Dunraven and a friend of the future Queen Mary.
In February 1912, Reginald (or Lord Ardee, as he was then) was made CO of the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards. On the outbreak of war, he transferred to the 1st Irish Guards. 115 officers and 2235 other ranks of the Micks were killed during the Great War including a number of Reginald’s friends such as Lord Desmond FitzGerald, the Earl of Rosse (wounded but died subsequentl of his wounds), Stafford King-Harman, Captain Eric Gough and Lord John Hamilton.
Following the death of their commander, Lt Col HG Morris at Mons, Lord Ardee was given temporary command of the regiment. However, he was himself badly wounded, during the Retirement, at Ypres on 7th November 1914, before he had time to prove himself. He was awarded the CB in 1915. As soon as he was fit, he found work at the Munitions Inventions Department of the War Office. From August 1917 to January 1918 he was Lieutenant Colonel of the Irish Guards and Regimental District.
On 17th June 1915, Reginald’s youngest brother, Captain Ernest Brabazon, DSO, was killed. A Staff-Captain with the Coldstreams, Ernest was inspecting a machine-gun position when a German shell fell on top of the dug-out. “He was buried at Cambrin next morning at nine o’clock, while the Battalion was repairing the damage done to the blown-in trenches and the French were fighting again in the south”.[xxx]
In February 1918, Reginald made a remarkable return to the Front as GOC of the newly formed 4th Guards Brigade. He was gassed during the German Spring offensive of March 1918 and evacuated. His final appointment was as Commander of the Etaples Administrative Area (June 1918 – July 1919). He retired from the army on 26th November 1919 and was awarded the CBE. After the war, he took up his family’s high sense of public duty. In 1923, he was elected a member of the Irish Lights Commission, taking a very active interest in the technical side of the lighthouse service. He adored sailing and had a comprehensive knowledge of the navigational aids that led to his appointment in 1926, as trustee to the Irish Sailors and Soldiers Land Trust. At Kilruddery, his principal hobbies were his garden and his clocks. He almost single-handedly created the rock garden at Kilruddery from a great bluff of rock. He died on 10th March 1949; Countess Aileen survived him by thirteen years and died at Kilruddery in February 1962.
The 13th Earl was the eldest of four brothers and two sisters. His next brother, Captain Arthur Lauderdale le Normand Brabazon, served with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, never married and died in 1933. The third brother, Lt. Col. Claude Maitland Patrick Brabazon, DSO, OBE, was educated at Cambridge and served with the Irish Guards in both the Boer War and Great War. He later joined the RAF.[xxxi] The youngest brother, Captain Ernest Brabazon, DSO, was killed in action in 1915 having married (1912) Dorothy, youngest daughter of Colonel Horace Ricardo, CVO, of Bramley Park in Surrey.[xxxii]
The 13th Earl’s eldest sister Lady Mary married the parachuting enthusiast, Lt Col Harold Sherwin Holt, CBE, of Sandleford Priory, Berks. She died at their home in London in 1957 at the age of 79. [xxxiii] The younger sister Lady Violet married the 4th Earl of Verulam in 1909. Lord Verulam also held the extremely rare privilege of holding distinct titles in the Scottish and Irish peerages as Baron Forrester of Costorphine and Baron Dunboyne respectively. He was a fanatical electrical engineer from an early age and, taking a fancy to life as a mechanic, he founded the useful - and lucrative – company of Enfield Cables Ltd. Lady Violet devoted her married life to reorganizing the library and cataloguing all books and paintings at the Verulam’s ancestral mansion at Gorehambury near St Albans, Hertfordshire. Her death in 1936 from blood poisoning at the age of 49 was a great blow to the family. More hardship was to follow in World War Two when the Verulams two younger sons, Bruce and Brian Grimstone, lost their lives while serving as pilots in the RAF.[xxxiv] . Lord Verulam died as a result of a car accident near Newmarket in November 1949. Showing classic symptoms of Brabazonian charity, Lord Verulam’s son and heir would be widely hailed for his efforts to mitigate the devastating effects of unemployment in South Wales during the 1950s. This was an issue that his grandfather, the 12th Earl of Meath, had also been concerned with.
Anthony “Tony” Wyndham Brabazon, the 14th Earl, was born on November 3rd 1910, the only son of the then Lord Ardee and Lady Aileen Wyndham-Quin. He had two sisters – Lady Maureen and Lady Meriel. The eldest sister, Lady Maureen was married in 1950 (as his 2nd wife) to Lawrence Methuen-Campbell, youngest son of Field Marshall 3rd Baron Methuen. Lawrence died in 1970 and Maureen in April 1980 aged 71. Their daughter Caroline is married to Charles Lloyd Fox and the couple run the Fox family’s acclaimed Regency gardens at Glendurgan, Falmouth, Cornwall. They have three daughters – Meriel, Stella and Rosella. The 14th Earl’s younger sister, Lady Meriel Howarth, was President of Westmoreland branch of the British Red Cross from 1952. She married Major Ernest Howarth (d. 1967) of Whittington Hall, a stately home on the banks of the bank of the River Lune some two miles to the west of the Lancastrian village of Kirkby Lonsdale. They later lived at Congham Hall, King’s Lynn, Norfolk. She died in March 2002, leaving an estate valued at over £700,000, and was interred in Whittington Church.[xxxv]
Tony Meath was educated at Eton and Sandhurst, from which he was commissioned in the Grenadier Guards in 1930. He went with the regiment to Egypt and was stationed in Cairo in 1931-32. He returned in time for his coming of age at which fireworks lit the sky over Kilruddery, the bells of Christ Church in Bray rang loudly and enormous bonfires were lit on Bray Head and the Little Sugar Loaf. Tenants and estate staff were entertained to dinner in a marquee on the lawn and the local St. Kevin’s Pipers joined with the Garda Siochana band to provide music. His parents gave him a two-seater motorcar, a signet ring and a dressing case while the household and employees presented him with a wristwatch. In 1936 he went to India as ADC to the Governor of Bengal, Lord Brabourne. He was promoted captain in 1938 and served overseas for most of the war. In 1940, Tony Meath married Elizabeth “Betty” Bowlby at the Royal Military Chapel in Wellington Barracks. They had two sons and two daughters. Promoted Major in 1941, he was wounded in Italy in 1943. He retired from the army in 1946 and settled with his wife and young family at Templecarrig in Greystones. He moved to Kilruddery after he succeeded his father as 14th Earl in 1949.
During those rare occasions when he was not chairing a committee meeting or attending a debate, the 14th Earl was often to be found tending to the garden at Kilruddery. Following an outbreak of dry-rot in the early 1950s, he collaborated with the architect Claude Phillimore to dismantle and reconstruct a large part of the 19th century house. The end result was a house about a third smaller but infinitely more manageable and better suited to modern living. The entrance hall, great hall and dining room had vanished but some of the Morrison interior survived, particularly the Regency drawing room. Kilruddery was the victim of an arson attack in 1993, which partially destroyed the Chippendale bookcases in the library. Lord Meath died at the age of 88 in December 1998. The last weeks of his life were marred by the accidental death of his grandson, Geoffrey Brabazon, a tree surgeon.
Elizabeth, Countess of Meath survived her husband by a decade, passing on 26 January 2009 in her 96th year. Her father, Captain Geoffrey Bowlby, was killed in action at Ypres on 13th May 1915. Captain Bowlby hailed from a strong military family; his grandfather was at Waterloo. Educated at Eton and Sandhurst, he excelled at polo, was promoted Captain at the early age of 24 and, in 1908, he became ADC to the Commander in Chief in Ireland. In 1911 he married the Hon. Lettice, fourth daughter of Viscount Valencia, and they had two children. He went to France at the start of the Great War and distinguished himself with his courage and leadership. He was in command of 'A' Company for the 'Blues' when killed leading a successful counter attack up a hill and across open country to recover some trenches lost earlier in the day. His widow Lettice was greatly involved in the war effort, becoming Commandant of the Auxiliary Hospital and was twice mentioned in despatches. She was subsequently Lady in Waiting to the Duchess of York, and continued to attend her as Woman of the Bedchamber when she became Queen, and later Queen Mother. She was made CVO in 1937 and died at a remarkable age in 1988.
The present and 15th Earl of Meath was christened John Anthony Brabazon but is known as Jack. He was born in 1941. His titles include those of Lord Brabazon, Baron Ardee, and Baron Chaworth of Eaton Hall, Co Hereford. He was educated at Harrow, during which time he was a Page of Honour to the Queen (1956 – 58). He served with the Grenadier Guards from 1959 to 1962. On 11th May 1973, he married Xenia Goudime, daughter of Mr. P. Goudime, of Windlesham Park, Surrey. Before his succession in 1998, Jack and his family lived at Ballinacor, a handsome Georgian retreat in the midst of the Wicklow Mountains. The O’Byrne tribe occupied the mountainous terrain around Ballinacor for many centuries until the capture and execution of Feagh MacHugh O’Byrne in 1597. The lands were subsequently granted to the Rawdon family who, in 1805, sold Ballinacor and several other townlands to the lawyer, Thomas Kemmis of Shaen.[xxxvi] The present Earl acquired the Ballinacor estate from the Kemmis family in 1986. In 2001, the Meaths returned to Kilruddery and Ballinacor was purchased by the present owners, Sir Robert and Lady Goff.
The present Earl has a son, Anthony, the present Lord Ardee (b. 1977) and two daughters, Corinna (b. 1974) and the actress Serena Brabazon (b. 1979). On 16th July 2004, Anthony, Lord Ardee, married Fionnuala M. Aston at St Mary's Church, Carrigaholt, Co. Clare. They have one daughter, Nuala, born in 2006.
The 15th Earls' brother, the Hon. David Brabazon, was born in 1948 and married Gaye Whitworth, daughter of Cmdr. Jock Whitworth, D.S.C., R.N. Their eldest son Geoffrey was an enormously likeable and promising young man whose life was sadly ended by an accident in 1998. David and Gaye also had two daughters, Celia and Dilly. David also has a daughter, Chloe by the late Lisa Fortune. The eldest daughter Celia is married to David Drane and has two children William and Katie.
In March 1968, the present Earl 's elder sister, Lady Romayne, married a Grenadier Guardsman, Captain Neil Pike, son of Lt. Col. Godfrey Eben Pike, D.S.O., M.B.E., also of the Grenadiers. They originally lived at Kidborough House, Danehill, Sussex, but have since settled in Aughrim. They have a son, Harry (b. 1974) and daughter Tamsin (b. 1972) who is married to the actor, Justin Salinger.
The Earl's younger sister, Lady Lavinia, is married to the artist John Jobson, son of Robert Ralph Baron Jobson, of Newcastle, Co. Kildare. They have a son, James (b. 1977), and three daughters, Rebecca (b.1971), Naomi (b. 1973) and Sukie (b. 1976).
[i] Jacques is mentioned in the Battle Abbey Roll, a fact often used to support the legend. Unfortunately the extant Roll is of no historical value, having been compiled many centuries after the Conquest by authors eager to boost their finances by attributing noble ancestry to their patrons. At a family reunion in 2003, historian Michael Brabazon provided an interesting thesis on the credibility of Jacques, concluding that his name may have been among those on one of the lost Battle Rolls that actually recorded the Normans who fought at Hastings. By a curious coincidence, one of the families evacuated to Kilruddery during World War Two was that of de Ligne, Barons de Barbancon. This family claimed descent from Isaac le Barbanzon who was born in 1075 and, family lore has it, was a son of the aforesaid Jacques.
[ii] A History of the County of Leicestershire: Volume 5: Gartree Hundred, J.M. Lee, R.A. McKinley (1964).
[iii] There may have been an earlier association with Ireland than Sir William. A record from 1362 refers to a “John Brabesoun” in Ardee in 1362. There was a John Brabazon of Eastwell at this time. The coincidence is made the more curious by the fact the Brabazon family titles include that of Lord Ardee.
[iv] The Abbey of St. Thomas the Martyr was originally founded by Henry II as a display of his remorse for his part in the murder of St. Thomas a Beckett. During an excavation of the Abbey in 1892, Sir Edward Brabazon’s stone Coat-of-Arms were found; they now hang in the entrance hall at Kilruddery.
[v] Anthony was ancestor of the Brabazons of Ballinasloe Castle and Brabazon Park, Co. Mayo, a line which died out in 1840. The Four Masters took a dim view of his governorship: 'Neither the sanctuary of the saint, neither the wood nor the forest valley, the town nor the lawn, was a shelter from this captain and his people, till the whole territory was destroyed by him.'
[vi] William’s brother, Wallop Brabazon, married a daughter of Richard Blunt. Another brother was Sir Anthony Brabazon of Tallaghtstown, Co. Louth, whose son married Lady Rose Lambert, 3rd daughter of the Earl of Cavan. Sir Anthony’s son, Captain James Brabazon was killed in 1676; his descendents lived at Rath House in Louth while another branch migrated to Australia.
[vii] Jane’s father, Sir John Bingley, Remembrancer of the Exchequer, was tried before the Star Chamber during the reign of King James for mass extortion; he was working in cahoots with Catherine, Lady Suffolk, who was herself in the employ of the King of Spain.
[viii] Wicklow – History & Society, p. 268. Geography Publications.
[ix] The Norman stronghold was sited on modern day Derby Square but demolished in the 18th century.
[x] Colonel The Earl of Meath's Regiment of Foot (1689-1692) is regarded as a progenitor of the Royal Irish Regiment.
[xi] Anthony’s brother William ultimately succeeded to his great-grandmother's Stopford estate at Tara House.
[xii]One of these daughters was Lady Arabella Brabazon whose daughter, Arabella Scott, married Hussey Crespigny, 2nd Baron Vivian. His father Sir Richard Hussey Vivian was famous for leading the last cavalry charge at Waterloo, which finally broke the back of Napoleon's army.
[xiii] Among the twelve jurors at Gore’s trial were Morley Saunders and William Hore Hume (qqv).
[xiv] Daniel O'Connell, Esq., to T. O'Mara, Esq. 22nd January 1831. Quoted in Cloncurry Recollections.
[xv] The present Countess discovered Gilligan’s involvement in 1968 when, while painting the ceiling, she found his name and a date (24th April 1824 ) inscribed on top of a cornice.
[xvi] The Journal of Sir Walter Scott, from the original manuscript at Abbotsford. Published by Burt Franklin, New York, 1890. Reprinted: 1970.
[xvii] Memoir and Letters of Lady Mary Arundell, with Photographic Illustrations By the Very Rev. Joseph Hirst, Leicester Ratcliffe College, Leicester 1894 .
[xviii] Richard Turner, the designer of the curvilinear glass-houses at the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin and Kew Gardens in London, created the glass dome. The building was lately restored with help from Bord Fáilte and the European Regional Development Fund and is accessible to visitors through the house. On display are classical figures such as the unfortunate Cyparissus and his dying stag and rascally Cupid playing with Pysche and Venus.
[xix] Other well-known Souls included Sir John Lavery, George Bernard Shaw, Edward Haldane, George Moore, Clare Sheridan and George Wyndham – “the most elegant man in England” – whose sweeping reforms in 1903 totally changed the nature of land ownership in Ireland.
[xx] Lord Lauderdale (1803-1878) was Principal Naval ADC to Queen Victoria and Knight of King Charles III of Spain. His wife Amelia was a daughter of William Young of Rio de Janeiro.
[xxi] Lord Meath, Memories of the 19th Century, Murray (1923).
[xxii] It later became the Church of England’s Men’s Society.
[xxiii] Brabazon Street in Poplar and Meath Gardens at Bethnal Green survive as memorials to his name.
[xxiv] The Brabazon Employment Scheme for old people and the Dublin Artisans Dwelling Company in Temple Bar were also initiatives of the Countess.
[xxv] The Soldiers', Sailors', Airmen and Families Association.
[xxvi] The Countess of Meath is also credited with founding The Meath Residential Home and Day Centre for epileptics at Westbrook in Godalming, Surrey. It was officially opened by the Duchess of Albany, daughter of Queen Victoria, on 4th August, 1892.
[xxvii] “School Reading texts: The School papers and the Moulding of Young Minds”, Kelvin Edwards. Melbourne Education Post-Graduate Research, Vol. 5, No. 1 (August 2004).
[xxviii] John Redmond's Last Years, Stephen Gwynn (2004).
[xxix] The memorial, by Hermon Cawthra, is surmounted by the seated figure of a boy beholding the symbols of Empire with the Earl’s head sculpted on the plinth.
[xxx] The Irish Guards in the Great War, Volume I - The First Battalion (1923), Edited and Compiled from Their Diaries and Papers by Rudyard Kipling.
[xxxi] Lt. Col. CMP Brabazon married his cousin Kathleen Maitland and had two daughters - Elizabeth (m. Lt Col. Evered Poole of Beckley, Sussex) and Felicity (m. Gilbert Hodson of Coolfadda House, Bandon, co. Cork). He died in 1959 aged 85.
[xxxii] Colonel Ricardo commanded the 13th Earl’s regiment, the Grenadier Guards, during the Boer War. His daughter Amy lost her husband, Leslie d'Henin Hamilton, in October 1914. Another daughter, Winifred, married Sir Charles Corkran who commanded the prestigious London District of the Household Division from 1928 – 1932.
[xxxiii] Colonel Holt (1862- 1932) was the only son of Joseph and Matilda Holt of Farnborough Grange. Sandleford House in Newbury is now St Gabriel's School for Girls. The Holts' son, Adrian John Reginald Holt, was born at Kilruddery in 1907. In 2010, his daughter Piffa Schroder told me that a mulberry tree was planted at Kilruddery in honour of his birth "which is still (just about!) standing".
[xxxiv] There is a memorial to the Grimstone boys in Christ Church, Bray.
[xxxv] Major Ernest and Lady Meriel Howarth had four daughters – Sarah (who married (1) Robert Smeddle, father of William and Vanessa, and (2) Alastair Ritchie); Jane (who married Michael Oram and has a daughter Francesca; Meriel (who married Patrick White and has three sons, Sebastian, Jocelyn and Dominic, and a daughter Marina); and Penelope (who married Timothy Carew and has a son, Frederick).
[xxxvi] Thomas Kemmis’s son William built the present house on Cawrawn Hill in 1805, close to a popular medicinal spring by name of Drumkitt. The property passed down to Colonel William Kemmis, sometime Professor of Artillery at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. On his death in 1900, Colonel Kemmis was succeeded in 1900 by his Canadian-born son, Major William Henry Olphert Kemmis, J.P. (1901) and High Sheriff (1904) for Co. Wicklow. One of the most obscure children of these parts was Count Lavall Nugent who was born at Ballinacor in 1777 and went on to become Field Marshal of the Austrian Army. He fought at the Battle of Solferino in 1859 at the age of eighty-two years.
With thanks to Lord and Lady Meath, David Brabazon, Antony Ardee, Matthew Fowler, Piffa Schroder, Shauna Flynn and others.