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Crosbie of Abbeydorney (Limerick), Viewmount (Carlow) & Crosbie Park (Wicklow)

In 1785, Richard Crobsie took to the skies of Dublin in a hot air balloon.

The Crosbie family descended from a once powerful Catholic dynasty whose influence waned during the religious troubles of the 17th century. Its best known members include Sir Edward Crosbie, executed for treason after the 1798 Rebellion, and his younger brother, Richard Crosbie, who became a household name across Britain and Ireland after his pioneering journey in a hot air balloon from Ranelagh to Clontarf in the summer of 1785.




My understanding is that the Crobsie family claimed descent from a Norse warrior who had arrived in Normandy with Rollo and lived at a place named Corbic in Picardy. His descendant Sir John de Crosebi, or Crosbj, was then said to have sailed to England with William the Conqueror, who granted him lands at the mouth of the Mersey River near present day Liverpool. [1] Sir John and his wife raised at least four sons. Simon, the eldest, founded the Lanarkshire branch of the family. Robert, the second, was a man of prominence and founded the Cumberland branch. Adam, the third son, founded the Annandale branch. Thomas the youngest founded the Berwickshire branch.

However, it is unclear which of these branches, if any, gave rise to the Crosbies of Co. Kerry and, in due course, Viewmount, County Carlow. As such, I’m inclined to follow the view that they were actually descended from the Mac an Chrosáins, a Gaelic family who served as bards to the Ui Mhórdha (O’More) family of present-day County Laois.


Patrick Crosbie & John Mac an Chrosáin, Bishop of Ardfert & Aghadoe


Queen Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII, from a portrait I saw of her at Hever Castle. The plantation of County Laois began during her reign.

During the Tudor plantations of the Irish Midlands in the 16th century, Patrick Crosbie (née Mac an Chrosáin) was responsible for transplanting some of the Gaelic families from Laois to County Kerry. Patrick was active in the English service from at least 1588 and acquired large land grants in the Queen’s (Laois) and King’s (Offaly) County from the dispossessed O’More family. These lands were later forfeited by his great-nephew Sir John Crosbie and passed to the Coote family.

It is said that Patrick Crosby built a castle at Ballyfin during the Elizabethan period but there is no evidence of this. He did, however, acquire the lordship of the Seignory of Tarbert in north Kerry, which his son Sir Piers was later obliged to sell.

On 15 December 1601, Patrick’s brother Dr John Crosbie, aka Sean Mac an Chrosáin, was appointed the (Anglican) Bishop of Ardfert and Aghadoe. According to the patent of his advancement, Dr Crosbie was ‘of competent private fortune, a graduate of the schools, of English race, and yet skilled in the Irish tongue’. He had previously been Prebendary of Dysart, Co. Limerick.

The Bishop left just two surviving sons – Sir Walter Crosbie, who succeeded to Sir Piers, and Colonel David Crosbie, who became Sir Piers’s enemy and was ancestor to the Crosbies of Kerry.


Sir Piers Crosbie, 1st Bart, & the Confederate Wars


Black Tom, aka Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford by Van Dyck. He was Sir Piers Crosbie’s arch-nemesis, and came off the worst for the conflict.

Patrick’s son Sir Piers Crosbie was a Privy Councillor in Ireland and a Gentleman of the Bedchamber to Charles I. The baronetcy is supposed to have been created by Charles’s father, James I, on 24 April 1630. [2] When Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, arrived in Ireland to take up the office of Viceroy, he and Sir Piers seem to have taken an instant dislike to one another. When Sir Piers voted against one of Strafford’s bills, he was sequestered from the Privy Council (‘till his Majesty’s pleasure should be known‘) and brought before Strafford’s Court of Star Chamber. He was heavily fined to such an extent that he was bankrupted and thrown in Fleet Street Prison.

The Rev. Rowan remarks that a normal man should have been utterly shattered by this situation, but Sir Piers reappeared from the mists one year later to find Archbishop Laud and Strafford in the dock and the King powerless to help them. Now allied with Pym and the Puritans, Sir Piers was a key witness in Strafford’s trial. Strafford tried to have him dismissed on the reasonable grounds that ‘it was probable he might be transported by the desire of private revenge beyond the bounds of truth and public justice’. Sir Piers’s evidence was admitted and Strafford was duly ‘done to death’. Among those representing Sir Piers was Sir John Clotworthy, whose family later intermarried with the Crosbies.

In 1641, Sir Piers was back as a Privy Councillor in Ireland, signing two proclamations condemning the 1641 Rebellion. However, by 1646, he had abandoned his allegiance to Pym and his puritanical friends, and overcame his earlier objections to the Rebellion in order to ally himself with the Irish Catholic Royalists, or Recusants, in the Irish Confederacy. At the time, the Recusants had, ‘by the fortune of war, become rulers for a season’.

His allegiance to the Confederacy placed him in direct conflict with his cousin, Colonel David Crosbie, second son of the Bishop of Ardfert. There was little love lost between the two men. While Sir Piers was struggling against the Star Chamber, the Colonel had purchased his beloved Abbeydorney to help pay his legal fees. However, when Piers sought his abbey back, Colonel Crosbie dug in his heels at Ballingarry on the Shannon and somehow managed to hold his fortress when every other stronghold in Kerry either submitted or was destroyed by the rebels. The Colonel negotiated a useful peace with the rebels but, when he found the terms ignored, he entered into ‘fresh complaints.’

The rebels struck again; the Colonel was captured and imprisoned. At this point, Sir Piers came forward with a petition requesting that his ‘Abbey at Odoreny’ be returned to him, not least because its present owner was a good-for-nothing enemy of Catholicism.

In May 1646, the Council of Confederate Catholics, then in Limerick, duly granted him Sir Piers his abbey back. He was not to enjoy his repossession long for Cromwell’s army soon arrived and put an end to the Confederacy. Colonel Crosbie was rewarded for his loyalty with the post of Governor of Kerry, while Sir Piers forfeited everything he acquired during the Commonwealth. His particular treachery was that he had been ‘protestant in 1640 but since turned papist and had a troope of horse with ye Irish’.

In 1618, Sir Piers married Elizabeth Noel, daughter of Sir Andrew Noel of Brooke, Rutland, and widow of George (Touchet), 1st Earl of Castlehaven. Sir Piers died without issue in 1646, bequeathing his property to Sir Walter Crosbie, eldest grandson of his uncle, the Bishop of Ardfert.

By his will, dated 17 November 1646, Sir Piers directed that he should be ‘buried in the chapel of St Patrick, Dublin, if his heir might conveniently do it; if not, in the Franciscan abbey of Kildare’. The latter request is surely evidence of his continuing adherence to the Roman Catholic faith.

However, in this same will, he left the town and castle of Clouniher to his cousin Richard Crosbie, and £40 a year to his cousin Piers Crosbie, on condition that both men ‘adhere to the Protestant party’. In his will, he also laid claim to all the lands granted to him by the Confederacy, bequeathing them to ‘his cousin, Sir John Crosbie, Baronet’ as ‘rightful heir’.


Sir John Crosbie, 2nd Bart, of Ballyfin


Sir Walter Crosbie of Maryborough, Queen’s County, was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia in 1629, according to Beatson, or 1630, according to Lodge. He married Mabel Browne, daughter of Sir Nicholas Browne of Molahiffe.

Upon Sir Walter’s death in 1638, he was succeeded by his son, Sir John Crosbie, the ‘rightful heir’ to Sir Piers. Sir John lived at Ballyfin, Queen’s County (later home of the Coote family). He married Ellice FitzGerald, daughter of Walter FitzGerald of Walterstown, County Kildare.

Although Sir John obtained probate of the will in 1663 and inherited a vast landed estate from Sir Piers, he was unable to take ownership of it, due to his support of the Royalist cause. ‘Being attained of rebellion at the time it was made in his favour, [he] took no possession under it’, and lost all the great [Crosbie family] estates in the Queen’s County. [3]

His son Maurice Crosbie married Dorothea Annesley but died young. Thus, Sir John was succeeded by his grandson, Sir Warren Crosbie.


Sir Warren Crosbie, 3rd Bart, of Crosbie Park


Sir Warren Crosbie, 3rd Bart, [sometimes referred to as Sir Walter] established the family seat at Crosbie Park, Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow and died in 1759. Crosbie Park was situated on lands acquired from the Saunders family of Newtownsaunders. It is presumed the house, now called Slaney Park, dates to Sir Warren’s period.

Sir Warren was born in Wicklow and, as a Captain in the army, served under the Duke of Marlborough in most of his great battles. He ‘made some efforts to recover the estates, and escape the effects of his grandfather’s and father’s attainder, but without effect’.

On 11 February 1705, he married Dorothy Howard, daughter of Charles Howard of Haverares, Northumberland, and a kinswoman of the art connoisseur Hugh Howard and the Earls of Wicklow. Lady Dorothy drowned in the Slaney on 29 October 1748. Sir Warren died in February 1759. [4]


Sir Paul Crosbie, 4th Bart


Sir Warren was succeeded by his son Sir Paul Crosbie, 4th Bart, the man whose mechanical mind is credited with inspiring his younger son Richard to become Ireland’s first balloonist.

On 21st December 1750, he married Mary Daniel, daughter of Edward Daniell (1687-1746) of Freadsom, Cheshire, and sister of John Daniell, last owner of Daresbury Hall. Mary died in Bath.

Sir Paul died in November 1773, leaving two sons, Sir Edward Crosbie, 5th Bart, and Richard [the balloonist, see below], and three daughters, Mary who married Archibald Douglas of Darnock [a cousin of the Marquess of Queensbury, see below], Dorothea who married M. Bossier and Henrietta who married John Walsh and died, aged 70, on 14 March 1828. [5]


Viewmount lease in the Dublin Evening Post, 9 February 1790


Sir Edward Crosbie, 5th Bart, & the Move to Viewmount


The luckless Sir Edward Crosbie, B.A. Dublin, succeeded his father as 5th Baronet of Crosbie Park in 1773 when he was 18 years old. The young man had been raised at Crosby Park before going on to Trinity College, Dublin, aged 15, as a fellow commoner in 1770. He took his BA in 1774, a year after he succeeded to the baronetcy. On 21 April of that same year, Sir Edward received a pension ‘during the King’s pleasure’ of £150 per annum. His younger brother Richard also received £50. In 1778, Sir Edward was called to the bar.

On 14 December 1790, Sir Edward married Castiliana Westenra. She was the third daughter of Warner Westenra, MP for Maryborough, of Rossmore Park, County Monaghan and a sister of Lord Rossmore. Her mother Lady Hester Lambert was the second daughter of Richard, 4th Earl of Cavan. Castiliana was the widow of Captain Henry Dodd, 14th Dragoons, of Swallowfield, Berkshire. Their daughter Hester Dorothea Crosbie died aged 64 on 23 December 1857.

In Sister Maura Duggan’s thesis on Sir Edward, she notes that, despite ‘the political agitation and general feverishness’ inspired by the French Revolution, Sir Edward ‘seems to have held himself aloof socially and became neither a yeomanry officer nor a magistrate’. She further notes that while he is sometimes said to have been elected a member of Parliament (for Maryborough), this is in fact untrue. On the contrary, he kept very much to himself and lived quietly in a house just outside Carlow town, adjoining Browne’s Hill, by name of Viewmount. The property had been advertised for lease by Robert Browne of Browne’s Hill for at least two years before Sir Edward took it on in 1792.

Viewmount House, Kernanstown, County Carlow, was home to Sir Edward Crosbie, executed in 1798 for his alleged role in the United Irishmen’s Rising.

Six years later, Viewmount was the gathering place for the United Irishmen of County Carlow on 24 May 1798, the eve of the Battle of Carlow. I detail the Battle of Carlow in my page on Benjamin Bunbury, the magistrate, who was a direct contemporary of Sir Edward Crosbie. Suffice it to say, the attack on Carlow was an unmitigated disaster for the rebels, leaving hundreds of them dead.

In the aftermath of the massacre, all United Irishmen suspects were rounded up. Amongst these was Sir Edward Crosbie who appears to have been framed by one of the Burtons who held a grudge against him over a duel fought some weeks earlier. Sir Edward was tried before a military court, hanged and beheaded. The illegality of his murder was still a source of heated debate in Westminster thirty years later. Further details of Sir Edward’s demise follow below.


The Burton-Crosbie Duel, 1798


In the spring of 1798, Sir Edward became embroiled in a conflict with the Burton families which led to his infamous duel with ‘Young Burton’, son of William Henry Burton of Burton Hall, MP for Carlow from 1769-1800 and the most influential man in the county. 

Sister Maura Duggan, author of perhaps the most lucid account of Sir Edward’s trial and execution, believes ‘Young Burton’ was William Henry Burton, born 15 November 1767, died unmarried 31 December 1799. LM Cullen states his name as ‘Robert Burton’ but I can find no further reference to Robert. I’d hold with Sister Maura – unless the Rev Douglas’s unlikely report about ‘Young Burton’ committing suicide shortly after learning of Sir Edward’s execution was true and that particular Burton was subsequently written out of the books. [6]

The Burtons were one of Carlow’s famous ‘B families’ and, as one commentator put it, this B had a sting in its tail. This was a time of considerable tension between the various Whig and Tory interests in Leinster at this time. WH Burton had lately defected from the Whigs in Carlow. LM Cullen, who states that Sir Edward Crosbie played a prominent role in the 1797 election, believes ‘the stresses and strains of this appalling contest’ led directly to ‘the political traumatising of the county’ in general and to Sir Edward’s court martial and execution in particular. [7]

According to Sister Maura Duggan, there are at least four different versions of the Burton-Crosbie duel.

Sir Edward’s friend Robert Robinson maintained it was a strictly personal affair:

‘It was entirely unprovoked on the part of Sir Edward; and would by him have been avoided, could it have been done consistently with the character of honour and courage, which every gentleman is anxious to preserve, and which his severest enemies must acknowledge peculiarly belonged to him. It has its origin in the unsuspected insanity of his antagonist [aka ‘Young Burton], which immediately afterwards became too apparent to be doubted and terminated fatally’.

Writing 44 years after the event, Sir Edward’s nephew, the Rev Archibald Douglas gave an account of the duel’s immediate aftermath which Sister Maura holds to be ‘unlikely and, in part, manifestly untrue’. His version read:

After an exchange of shots, Mr Burton came forward and said: ‘Sir Edward, I was in the wrong and ask your pardon’. When Mr Burton [later] heard that Sir Edward had been hung during the night before by Irish Light [?] at Carlow, he said, well you have murdered the best and most honourable man in the county, he became quickly excited and took up a small pistol, went to the back of the house to a small plantation and shot himself. His duel with Sir Edward Crosbie was not political as both were moderate and high [?] of the school of Flood and Grattan’.

Sister Maura gives her support to the version as told by saddler-rebel William Farrell:

‘Amidst all these scenes of horror and confusion, we were all astonished (if anything in such times could astonish us) at hearing of a prisoner that was after coming in. It was no less a personage than Sir Edward Crosbie, a gentleman of rank and fortune, that lived at Viewmount, convenient to the town, and a protestant gentleman besides. Had Sir Edward been one of those fawning sycophants that could stoop to any meanness or any oppression of the poor or any plunder of the public, he would have been quite safe. The name of his religion alone, in case he never went inside a church … would have been a sure protection for him. But he was not one of these. He did not approve of making the poor man and his little offspring wretched … He lived rather a retired life, was kind and affable to those in the middle and humbler ranks of life … He seldom associated with those in power and when he did, he assumed a dignity and consequence suited to his rank. At one public meeting (I forget now for what purpose it was convened), Sir Edward delivered his opinions freely. They happened however, not to be well relished and were warmly opposed and words ran so high between him and Councillor Burton, son to Mr Burton of Burton Hall, that a challenge was the consequence.

They met next day. Sir Edward received his fire but did not return it and the matter was made up, though not entirely to the satisfaction of some persons. Old Mr Burton was the most popular gentleman (and deservedly so) of any in the county Carlow … In short the ‘Truth and Honour’ which was the family motto and the kindness and hospitality of Burton Hall were proverbial, and Sir Edward having a dispute with one of the family, no matter whether right or wrong raised him a host of enemies and though it might not be prudent for them to avow it openly, they could not abide him afterwards and he was no fully in their power’. [8]


The Trial & Execution of Sir Edward Crosbie


The Caledonian Mercury of Monday 11 June 1798 offers its thoughts on Sir Edward’s execution sic days earlier.

Two months later, on 2 June 1798, Sir Edward was charged with:

‘ … traitorous and rebellious conduct in aiding and abetting a most villainous conspiracy for the overthrow of his Majesty’s crown, and the extinction of all loyal subjects. For endeavouring to conceal persons, knowing them to be engaged in the above-mentioned project’.

Sir Edward’s guilt was purely intellectual. He was, as Sister Maura put it, an ‘armchair radical’. He understood what the radicals sought but did not realise that his sympathy could be construed as active support. Sir Richard Musgrave asserted that Sir Edward was a deist. Lecky labelled him a moderate of the Grattan school.

He was absent from a meeting of the county’s magistrates and gentlemen on 12 May, where they called upon the priests to ask the people to deliver up their arms to the sheriff’s office in Browne Street, Carlow Town, before 21 May. The liberal baronet perhaps signed his death warrant when, a week before the insurrection, he wrote to Edward Eustace, the High Sheriff of Carlow, apologizing that he had not yet registered his weapons in accordance with the Insurrection Act. He said he was happy to pay the penalty for his failure (two months imprisonment or forfeit £10) but then compounded this by saying he disagreed with the Insurrection Act so much that he was unable to attend the Grand Jury at the Spring Assizes.

And while that attendance is optional … I shall continue to absent myself so long as it is on the Statute book. But, as I have never been a party-man and feel myself out of power of malice of any individual, I shall exercise the right of judgement’.

As Sister Maura notes, the ranks had begun to close against Catholic sympathizers in November 1797 with the murder of William Bennet, a gentleman farmer from Ballyknockan near Leighlin Bridge. In the spring of 1798, the Orange Society was established in Carlow to further unify the gentry against the mounting threats to their lives and property. The duel took place during the Spring Assizes, which Crosbie had deliberately failed to attend at a time when his last action had been to antagonise the most influential man in the county. He also failed to appear when the magistrates of the county called for all arms in the county to be handed in.

Professor Cullen notes that Carlow was one of the few places where the United Irishmen lacked upper class leadership.

‘It was in fact the absence of upper-class involvement in Carlow, in contrast to Wicklow, Wexford and Kildare, that accounts in part for the loyalist obsession that Sir Edward Crosbie was both a United Irishman and a military leader of the movement.’  [9]

During the Trial, efforts were made to link Sir Edward to the republican leader, Lord Edward FitzGerald. This obliged him to make the following statement:

I most solemnly declare, in the presence of Almighty God, not, nor ever have been, a member of the United Irishmen, that I knew not their plans, except from the report of the Secret Committee of the House of Commons; never was present at, nor knew of their meetings; knew not their committee-men in this country; before Thursday 24th May 1798, and then only one committee man, Thomas Myler, by his own confession; or any officer or committee man in any other county expert by report, and then only, after they had been committed to prison, Lord Edward FitzGerald has long been known to be a leader; but I never had any communication with him by letter nor ever saw him, except driving through the streets of Dublin in a phaeton or Curricle, nor ever had the least communication with him by letter or otherwise’. Signed, Edward Wm Crosbie.

A footnote appended to this statement in the Accurate and impartial narrative read:

‘We have heard some wild fabricated evidence given at the trial of Sir Edward Crosbie, of Lord Edward FitzGerald having been a day and a night at View-Mount. The minutes do not authorise us to assert, that Lord Edward was ever mentioned; but the solemn declaration confirms us in the opinion that he was. He certainly never was at View-Mount’.

In 1799, a letter claimed Crosbie was alongside Mick Heydon during the march on Carlow. Rumours were soon rife as far as Bath, where the Bunbury family were then living, that Sir Edward was indeed involved. This prompted his friend Counsellor George Powell to write a letter to John Lucas Boissier assuring him that ‘no French uniform, nor any other belonging to any rebellious disaffected society was or could be found in his house’. Nor had any incriminating papers been found. Powell maintained that even though Sir Edward’s servants had been tortured and terrified, they could still add little to the case against Sir Edward. But one of those servants was Henry Rogers and his testimony, based on hearsay, was taken as gospel. A transcript of the examination follows:

HR‘I was told by John Bern, that Myler brought seven or eight pounds to MacDonald [William McDonnell] the brewer for Sir Edward Crosbie, for the use of prisoners in jail, confined for being united Irishmen.

Q: By virtue of your oath, did Myler tell you in confidence that Sir Edward Crosbie was a United Irishman?

HR: He did.

Q: How long since Myler told you?

HR: About a month ago.

Q: Did Myler tell you he brought money from Sir Edward, for the use of the United Irishmen?

HR: He did, walking in Tullow Street and said Sir Edward would be in court himself and would stand by Mr MacNally to support the prisoners at the Bar.

Sir Edward was arguably doomed by the fact that some of the United Irishmen met on his estate at Viewmount the night before their disastrous attack on Carlow Town. Rogers also claimed Sir Edward had been elected a captain of the United Irishmen. Many years later, Rogers revealed to Farrell that he was lying, that Sir Edward knew nothing of the plans and was never in the United Irishmen.

Sir Edward was obliged to conduct his own defence from the second day onwards, as the two attorneys resident in Carlow shied off – one pleading illness, the other disappearing off with his military corps after the first day. He realised his case was fragile and advised his friend Robinson that he would be a victim ‘to the madness of these times’.

He did not help himself by starting his abhorrence of both the Orange and United Irishmen Societies, considering that most of the Carlow gentry were in the Orange Society. He also failed to appease hostility when he explained that he had purchased six guineas of barley to be distributed to the prisoners just as he had seen done for French prisoners in Liverpool in 1778.

However, others came forward to say they had seen Sir Edward addressing the insurgents on the night of 24 May. It transpired this was actually Thomas Myler, who not only had the same build as Crosbie but was also wearing a coat that Sir Edward had given him.

The guilty verdict was reached swiftly and illegally, without a judge advocate (a legal requirement). Several of his ‘judges‘ were said to have been under-age officers, friends of ‘Young Burton’. When Lady Crosbie attempted to reach the court, ‘every effort’ was made to ‘frighten her away’. When she gave evidence, Major Dennis cut her words short and told her that her presence was no longer required. Pat Walshe, one of Sir Edward’s servants, gave a statement that only a few United Irishmen had gathered at Viewmount on the night in question and claimed many more had gathered in the grounds of Sir Charles Burton at Pollerton. Walshe’s statement was suppressed.

When Lady Crosbie’s steward, Deane, sought help from Mr Browne of Browne’s Hill, he returned with no good news. At length, Lady Crosbie appealed to Lord Cornwallis, the Governor of Ireland, who agreed to look at the case in January 1799 but then claimed the Minutes of had been lost. (Sister Maura places the blame on Sir Charles Asgill, who had served under Cornwallis in America). Asgill’s report concluded that Sir Edward had ‘assembled the Rebels on his own lands the night of the attack on Carlow and exhorted them to go in and fight their just cause’.

Sir Edward was hanged in Carlow on 5 June 1798. At about this time, a man called Thomas Ham arrived in the county from Cornwall to manage the brewery at Somerton (which apparently produced 65,000 gallons of whiskey per year.) His daughter Elizabeth was escorted on a sight-seeing trip into Carlow town by the Misses Wallace who previously lived at Somerton. The first sight they saw was apparently Sir Edward’s head over the jail. His body was buried beneath a cross of stones at Viewmount and his severed head was buried in a secret grave in a lead box measuring 14 by 12 inches. Later generations of Browne-Claytons claim to have seen his ghost walking the lands of Viewmount.

As Sister Maura noted, an early indication of official doubt over Crosbie’s guilt was that the pension which the family held (at the pleasure of the Crown) continued to be paid, and he was never publicly attainted. [10]

There can be little doubt that Edward Crosbie was framed.

‘His innocence of any voluntary participation in the cause of the rebels is strongly maintained by his relatives and friends who some years since published a vindication of his conduct throughout those unfortunate times‘. [11]

This defence provided the facts upon which Daniel O’Connell repeatedly raised the issue of Sir Edward’s murder in Westminster during the 1830s. On 5 March 1833, for instance, O’Connell found an excuse to give vent to his outrage to the House of Commons over Crosbie’s court martial and court martials generally. Standing before Lord Lefroy, he reminded his listeners of Sir Edward’s case explaining how ‘that unfortunate gentleman‘ was tried before a court martial at which a major of dragoons, a field officer of rank presided. O’Connell told the House how he had lately received a letter from Sir Edward’s son Edward Crosbie and asked the house permission to read an extract ‘in justice to the writer [ie: the son] and ‘in justice to the memory of his respected father‘.

The letter contained another letter written by Sir Edward’s somewhat unreliable nephew, the Rev. Archibald Douglas, Rector of Kilcullen, on 1 August 1826 from the Glebe House in Kilcullen.

I am but glad to communicate a fact which came to my knowledge but a few days ago, and which gives decided confirmation of the generally received opinion of your lamented father’s innocence; indeed, there can be but one opinion on this murder of your father. Mr Dundas, who lives near me, was in the rebellion of 1798, aide-de-camp to his father, General Dundas, who had the command-in-chief in Ireland. When the report of the court martial was laid before him, he saw at one glance that the conviction of Sir Edward Crosbie was against justice and truth, unsupported by any evidence; he instantly sent off an express to stop proceedings, and even to release my uncle; but the General who commanded at Carlow anticipated the reprieve he knew must come, and had my dear uncle executed at torchlight, about 20 minutes before the Dragoons arrived‘. [12]

However, the following week Mr Stanley stood up in court and announced that he had received word from Edward Crosbie disclaiming all knowledge of this letter to O’Connell. O’Connell swiftly retorted that this letter must have come from a different son, that his had been sent from Liverpool. Meanwhile, General Sharpe took the opportunity to inform the audience that he had been in command of a division of cavalry in Ireland during the period of Sir Edward’s trial and ‘had no doubt that the court martial which tried him had sufficient evidence of his guilt‘. Writing from Derrynane in October 1838, O’Connell still insisted that:

‘Sir Edward Crosbie, a baronet of most ancient and respected family, of unquestionable loyalty, was hanged by the sanguiry caprice of some officers of the Carlow garrison‘. [13]


Richard Crosbie, the Ballonist


Sir Edward’s brother Richard Crosbie, Ireland’s first balloonist and aeronaut, was born at Crosbie Park, Co. Wicklow, in 1755. He was a rather portly man of ‘immense stature being above six feet and three inches high‘. A college friend described him as having ‘a comely looking fat ruddy face’ and remarkably similar to Daniel O’Connell.

He was beyond all comparison the most ingenious mechanic I ever knew. He had a smattering of all sciences and there was scarcely an art or trade of which he had not some practical knowledge … he was very good tempered, exceedingly strong and as brave as a lion – but as dogged as a mule. Nothing could change a resolution of his when once made and nothing could check or resist his perseverance to carry it into execution‘ (The Irish Quarterly Review)

From an early age he was mechanically minded, a trait he inherited from his father, Sir Paul Crosbie. However his father tried to suppress his son’s interest in mechanical experiments lest they interfere with his studies and often destroyed his creations and deprived young Richard of his tools. Unfortunately Sir Paul died in 1773 and did not witness the success of his son’s endeavours. He was also spared from seeing Richard during his thuggish years when he lead the notorious Pinking-dindies on the rampage through the streets of Dublin, trashing Peg Plunket’s brothel for god measure.

Richard was seen as a mechanical genius by his fellow students at Trinity College where his room looked more like an artisan’s workshop than a study. He had a practical knowledge of many trades and sciences and with his inventive genius often considered the practicability of flight and discussed the idea with his friends and colleagues. He had often discussed the notion of flight by the time the Montgolfier brothers invented the hot air balloon in 1783. The French brothers created the first hot air balloon in the summer of 1783, and later that year launched a balloon containing a sheep, a duck and a rooster before a huge crowd, including Louis XVI.

The first human flight took place in November 1783, when Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes flew for a distance of nine kilometres some 100 metres above Paris, in a journey that lasted 25 minutes. The Montgolfier brothers’ father had allowed his sons to opt out of the family business so as to concentrate on their inventions only on the agreement that they would never themselves fly the balloons.

Inspired by events in France, Richard set out to make his own flying device and carry out some experiments of his own. He wisely chose to use hydrogen rather than hot air to create lift in his balloons. This was a safer option and eliminated the risks involved in constantly stoking a furnace with straw, sheep’s wool or other combustible materials which could cause sparks that would ignite the balloon fabric.

It was in a hydrogen balloon that the French physicist Professor J.A.C. Charles achieved the second manned flight just days after the Montgolfier brothers, confirming the suitability of hydrogen as the balloon stayed aloft for more than 2½ hours and travelled a distance of 27 miles. [14]

Richard’s intention was to cross the Irish Sea and become the first aeronaut to make a sea crossing. This would have been possible with a hydrogen balloon which had greater lifting capacity and was capable of making a much longer flight than a hot air balloon of the same size. Richard also invented what he called an Aeronautic Chariot to carry his equipment, scientific instruments and ballast which he exhibited to the public charging a moderate price in order to raise much needed funds to complete his project.

To raise additional money and to prove the practicability of his voyage he floated a balloon 12 feet in diameter successively for several days at Ranelagh Gardens in Dublin, each day sending up some animal or another, and eventually launched the balloon with a tame cat on board. The balloon travelled north west and was seen passing over the coast of Scotland that same day. The following day, with a change in the wind direction, it was seen descending near the Isle of Man and fortunately for the experiment, a passing ship recovered both balloon and cat.

Richard continued with preparations for his great aerial voyage and according to newspaper reports at the time he had plenty to occupy his mind. With huge crowds expected to witness the historic event, a traffic plan was announced.

In 1785 Ranelagh was little more than a tree nursery on the outskirts of Dublin. Nonetheless, the ladies and gentlemen attending the event were requested to park their carriages in an orderly manner at the rear of Ranelagh House and avoid blocking the drive. Police closed down several roads to cope with the crowd. Carriages were not permitted to stand on the road between Northumberland Street and Cold Blow Lane and their drivers were advised to carry on towards Milltown.

It was also discovered that forged tickets and passes were in circulation. This caused great inconvenience and resulted in genuine tickets being recalled and replaced with new tickets. With all the stress and fatigue of the project, Crosbie suffered a severe bilious complaint and his colleagues who were regulating all matters relating to his aerial excursion prevailed on him to defer his voyage.

Bad weather prevented an attempt on the 4 January and Richard Crosbie eventually succeeded in making his historic flight on 19 January 1785. This was the first successful manned flight in Irish history. He was just 30 years of age at the time and ascended from Ranelagh Gardens in Dublin and landed safely near Clontarf a short time later. It was a remarkable achievement occurring just fourteen months after the Montgolfier flight.

On the morning of the flight he intended to treat his friends to breakfast at Ranelagh House but the owner, Mr. Hollister informed him that it would be utterly impractical because his house had been unoccupied for a long period and that he was not prepared for such entertainment.

Crosbie initially intended to ascend at 10.00 am but for the benefit of students at Trinity College who were sitting exams that morning the time was put back until 11.00 am.

At 2.30 in the afternoon, the flamboyant Richard Crosbie stepped into his Aeronautical Chariot. He was a real showman and was dressed in a long robe of oiled silk, lined with white fur, a waistcoat and breeches of white quilted satin, Morocco boots and a Mantero cap of leopard skin. The balloon now fully inflated and anchored to the ground between two tall poles was beautifully embellished with paintings of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, and Mercury, the messenger of the Gods, carrying the Arms of Ireland.

At seventeen minutes to three he ordered the ropes to be cut and he ascended majestically into the Dublin sky. In subsequent years, his balloon was frequently seen flying over Ireland much to the terror of the supernatural country people. He is honoured by a plaque in Ranelagh Gardens and a statue is scheduled for 2009.

Mr. Crosbie’s experiment yesterday proves his genius as great as his intrepidity; a trial was made in between 8 and 9 o’clock in the morning with filings of iron to fill the balloon, but from its bad quality and consequent slowness of solution, was the cause of considerable delay; from the time Mr. Crosbie ordered to charge with zinc, the process went on with desired success, and about half past two o’clock he took his aerial flight, amidst the concourse of at least 20,000 spectators – idea cannot form anything more aweful and magnificent than his rise; he ascended almost perpendicular and when at a great height seemed stationary, he was but three and a half minutes in view when he was obscured by a cloud. It was agreed upon by his particular friends as the wind was to the SE and being late in the day that when he cleared the city he should descend as soon as possible, accordingly, by means of his valve he let himself down near Clontarf, and fulfilled every engagement and expectation that the public, his friends, and those who have the honour of his acquaintance, always formed of him.
No man ever undertook such a perilous voyage with so much cheerfulness, and we are doubly happy that no accident has happened this enterprising youth, nor can we doubt a moment of his original plan to cross the Channel succeeding and thereby prove to the World that Ireland in scientific knowledge is not inferior to any part of it.

Faulkner’s Dublin Journal, 1785

In 1786 Richard Crosbie also ran another flying experiment in Limerick, where he held public lectures and was chaired through the city for his efforts. Details were covered locally by Limerick’s longest running newspaper, the Limerick Chronicle. 

Richard the balloonist was married in 1780 to Charlotte Armstrong. Their son Edward Crosbie was married on 1 May 1818 to Jane Henry, daughter of James Henry of Co. Kildare, and died on 25 June 1834. Richard and Charlotte’s daughter Mary died unmarried.

See: Bryan MacMahon, ‘Ascend or Die: Richard Crosbie, Pioneer of Balloon Flight‘ (The History Press, 2012).


The Hoax


Incidentally, in April 1784, the following letter was circulated, claiming to have been written in Navan on April 18:

Last Thursday the long expected air balloon was liberated in this town, in the presence of the greatest concourse of people ever assembled here, among whom were many of the first fashion. At half after two Mr. Rousseau and a drummer, a boy about ten year old, placed themselves in the gallery, which was composed of ozier , and fixed toa net which covered the balloon, and on cutting the cortd it rose perpendicular, amidst a profound silence, occasioned by the surprize and astonishment at son uncomman a phenomen. After thirty-nine minutes progress it became totally invisible, but we could destinctly hear the drum beat the grenadier’s march for fifteen minutes after. At four o’clock it grounded in a field near the town of Ratoath. Mr. Rosseau and the drummer arrived here at six o’clock that evening perfectly well, except for the drummer, who received a small contusion on his head, through his eagerness in leaping from the gallery. At night a splendid ball was given by the burgesses and freemen of the town, where Mr. Rosseau received the congratulations and compliments of numerous and brilliant company.’

However, balloonist historian Bryan MacMahon was informed of a letter to the Irish Times of 17 April 1984 by Richard Hawkins of the Royal Irish Academy. He stated that this story was a hoax perpetrated by the editor of the Dublin Evening Post, John Magee. Hawkins cited the authority of the British Aeronautical Society. The hoax succeeded too well, so much so that the story of Rosseau’s fictional flight has been repeated many times.

As Bryan says, ‘With the authority of the RIA and the BAS behind this, I am afraid the Navan must yield to Ranelagh! I note that Crosbie is often described as the first Irishman to fly, allowing for the possibility of Rosseau being the first man to fly in Ireland!’



The Douglas Connection


Sir Edward and Richard Crosbie’s sister Mary married Archibald Douglas (born before 1790) of Darnock, a cousin of the 3rd Marquess of Queensbury. Mary Douglas, would be drawn in to the affairs of the Cloncurry family in due course.

Their eldest son was the Rev. Edward Douglas, Rector of Drumgoon, Co. Cavan (died Blackrock, aged 76 in July 1855). Edward married firstly Lady Susan, widow of John Drewe Esq, and before that of John Thorpe Esq, 3rd daughter of John, 4th Earl of Dunmore.

Edward and Susan had a daughter, Augusta, who married the Hon. John Wilson Fitzpatrick, MP for Queen’s County, and had issue. After Susan’s death, Edward married secondly Kitty, only daughter of James Collins of Knaresborough & Foleyfote in Yorkshire, who died on 13 March 1955, the same year as Edward, aged 75. [15]

Mary and Archibald Douglas’s daughter Emily Douglas (1796-1841) married twice – firstly, before 1811, to the Hon. Joseph Leeson. In his ‘Recollections‘, her second husband, Sir Valentine Browne Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry, recalls how he had been passing his time:

‘ … entirely in the ordinary employments of a magistrate and country gentleman, until my quiet was painfully disturbed by occurrences that ended, in the year 1811, in a dissolution of my hasty and imprudent marriage’. ‘Shortly afterwards’, he continues, ‘I formed another, and more fortunate connexion, with Emily Douglas, the widow of the Hon. Joseph Leeson, and mother of Joseph, Earl of Milltown, with whom I lived in uninterrupted happiness and affection for thirty years’.

The marriage took place at Carnallwey, County Kildare on 30 June 1811.

Sir Valentine was the son of Sir Nicholas Lawless, 1st Baron Cloncurry and Margaret Browne. Sir Nicholas was raised to the UK peerage in 1831. Lady Emily died on 15 June 1841 at London Hotel, Albemarle Street, London, England.

Lady Emily and Sir Valentine were the parents of the of Hon. Cecil John Lawless (d. 1853) and Sir Edward Lawless, 3rd Baron Cloncurry (13 Sep 1816 – 4 Apr 1869).  The 3rd Baron married Elizabeth Kirwan, daughter of John Kirwan and Penelope Burke, on 17 September 1839 at Lyons Castle, with whom he had four sons (two of whom died unmarried) and four daughters. He held the office of Sheriff of County Kildare in 1838 and was Sheriff of County Dublin in 1846. [16]



Crosbie Park


In the first decade of the nineteenth century, the Rev. William Grogan came to Baltinglass as Rector. He married a Saunders daughter and, with her, secured Crosbie Park, renamed Slaney Park. It has remained with the Grogans ever since.


Sir William Crosbie, 6th Bart


Following his execution in 1798, Sir Edward was succeeded as 6th Bart by his only son, four-year-old William, who was born on 18 May 1794.

On 3 March 1830, William married his first cousin Dorothea Alicia Walsh, daughter of John Walsh of Dublin and his aunt, Henrietta (née Crosbie.)

Sir William, an officer in the Army, severely wounded at the taking of Bergen-op-Zoom. He died aged 66 and without issue in Bray on 3 Oct 1861; his widow passed away at Bray Cottage aged 86 on 11 Feb 1880. He was succeeded by his cousin, Sir William Richard Crosbie, 7th Bart.

Sir William’s sister Hester Dorothea Crosbie died unmarried.


Sir William Edward Crosbie, 8th Bart


Sir William R Crosbie died in 1877 and was succeeded as 8th Bart by his son, Sir William Edward Douglas. On 24 March 1881, The Times noted Sir William Crosbie’s appointment as Director of the Pluto Gold Mining Company.

On 9 June he was made a Director of the Keystone Gold Mining Company (Limited), headquartered ‘in heavy timber country‘ at Sylvanite, now a wilderness ghost mine near Kalispell in the extreme northwest corner of Montana. In 1897-1898, the population at Sylvanite peaked at 1,000, with three hotels, two restaurants, six saloons (with dance halls and girls), a post office, three general stores, one meat market, one brewery, one drugstore, and a sawmill. Sylvanite was noted to be very orderly. In other words, only 4 men died in a brawl. By 1899 the easy-to-work ore was all mined out. In 1907 Sylvanite became a hideout for two train robbers, who used one of the tunnels in a mine to store their stash. In late August 1910, a forest fire swept down and destroyed everything in Sylvanite except a structure containing whisky, which the miners managed to save. Pictures of Sylvanite before the fire show that it looked like a park, set in a white pine forest.

Sir William’s only sister daughter, Ada Catherine Crosbie, was married on 31 October 1899 to Cecil Augustus Seymour Browne (b. 1864), third son of Hon. Major George Augustus Browne and grandson of James Caulfield, 2nd Baron Kilmaine, MP for Carlow (1790-1794) and owner of Gaulston Park in County Westmeath. Cecil was a descendent of the Brownes of The Neale in Co. Mayo. Ada died in 1958, leaving one son Claude Lancelot Seymour, born 25 February 1891.[17]

Dame Georgina Mary Crosbie, the 8th Bart’s wife, died at Earl’s Court, SW London, on 24 March 1931. Four days later, The Times revealed that she had ‘left unsettled estate of the gross value of £3, 344, with net personalty £3,196’.

Sir William and Dame Georgina’s daughter Marjorie Kathleen Crosbie was married on 13 December 1920 to Godfrey Sutcliffe Marsh, India Civil Service, eldest son of William Sutcliffe Marsh. They had issue and, in 1959, had an address at 37 Scarsdale Villa, W8.

The Crosbie baronetcy became extinct on 29 December 1936.






With thanks to Mick Purcell, the P.P.P., Ivor Bowe, Paul Gorry, Tom King, Michael Brennan, JJ Woods, Sister Maura Duggan, Susie Warren, Robert Browne-Clayton, Bryan McMahon and the Irish Ballooning Association Limited.





[1] Information from “Edgar’s History of Dumfries” written in 1746, Edited and published by R.C. Reid in 1915 -350 copies printed by J. Maxwell & Sons, Dumfries. Scot H2 11. Crosbie’s mentioned pps. 61, 64, Genealogy Note 62a p. 167-168, Crosbie Genealogy Appendix D

[2] According to Gentleman’s Magazine, 1833, ‘no enrolment of the patent has been discovered‘. In a Privy Seal of 1832, Piers is distinctly described as a Baronet.

[3] The Sequel of the History of Sir Piers Crosbie, the Rev. Arthur B. Rowan, DD, MRIA, The Gentleman’s Magazine & Historical Review, July 1854.

[4] Sir Warren Crosbie’s will dated 3 Jun 1757, proved in Prerogative Court Ireland, 21 Feb 1759.

[5] Henrietta  Walsh left a son, Henry Walsh, who died aged 60 on 27 September 1847.

[6] 1798 in County Carlow: the Case of Sir Edward Crosbie, Sr Maura Duggan (Carlow Past & Present, 1990). See also ‘An Accurate and impartial narrative of the apprehension, trial & execution on the 5th of June, 1798, of Sir Edward William Crosbie, Bart’ (published in 1802, reprinted by William Porter, Dublin). There is a biography of Sir Edward in ‘The Carlovian’ (1963) by Victor Hadden.

[7]The stresses and strains of this appalling contest in which Sir Edward Crosbie had played so prominent a part were reflected in the events a year later (which included a duel with young Robert Burton at the time of the spring assizes), and which were a prelude to his becoming on slight evidence, after the rebellion had broken out, the victim of his political enemies. His court martial and execution were a measure of the political traumatising of the county in a sequence of electoral and law and order issues‘. (LM Cullen, ‘Politics & Rebellion: Wicklow in the 1790s’, Wicklow History & Society, Hannigan & Nolan, p. 433).

[8] Voice of Rebellion: Carlow 1798: The Autobiography of William Farrell (Irish American Book Company, 1999)

[9] LM Cullen, ‘Politics & Rebellion: Wicklow in the 1790s’, Wicklow History & Society, Hannigan & Nolan, p.435.

[10] Carlow History and Society, “Irish County History and Society Series” (edited by Dr Thomas McGrath), specifically ‘Chapter 19: United Irishmen, Orangemen And The 1798 Rebellion In County Carlow; By Maura Duggan, Dominican Sister And Former Principal, St. Catherine’s College, Blackrock, Co. Dublin.’

[11] Letters regarding Crosbie Family, The Gentleman’s Magazine, January 1833, p. 208.

[12] Quoted in The Times, Wednesday, Mar 06, 1833; pg. 1; Issue 15105; col D.

[13] The Times, Monday, Oct 15, 1838; pg. 2; Issue 16860; col E.

[14] Rice, Eoghan (2006-12-17), ‘First Irishman to take to the skies to be honoured‘. Retrieved on 2007-04-09. Irish Ballooning Association Limited. See also: J. C. Kelly-Rogers, ‘Aviation in Ireland – 1784 to 1922′, Éire-Ireland, 6, 2 (Summer 1971), pp.3-17.

[15] The Gentleman’s Magazine, July 1855.

[16] He succeeded to the title of 3rd Baronet Lawless, of Abington, co. Limerick [I., 1776]; 3rd Baron Cloncurry, of Cloncurry, co. Kildare [I., 1789] and 2nd Baron Cloncurry, of Cloncurry, co. Kildare [U.K., 1831] on 28 October 1853. He died at Lyons on 4 April 1869 at age 52 by throwing himself out of a window. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Sir Valentine Lawless, 4th Baron Cloncurry, who was born on 2 November 1840. He was educated at Eton College and graduated from Balliol College, Oxford University in 1861 with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.).On 23 January 1883, the 4th Baron married Hon. Laura Sophia Priscilla Winn, daughter of Rowland Winn, 1st Baron Saint Oswald of Nostell and Harriet Maria Amelia Dumaresq, at Nostell, Yorkshire, England. He died on 12 February 1928 at age 87 at Lyons Castle, County Kildare, Ireland and was succeeded as 5th Baronet by his octogenarian bachelor brother, Sir Frederick Lawless (20 April 1847 – 18 July 1929), sometime Governor of the National Gallery of Ireland, who died at Maretimo in Blackrock in 1929.

[17] Burke’s Peerage, 1959, p. 2852.