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De Burgh of Oldtown, Co. Kildare

Arms of the de Burgh family

With a lineage that reputedly stretches back to Charlemagne, the de Burgh’s role in Irish affairs has made an immense impact on the shape of the island’s past. From the first Norman knights who cantered across the seas in the 12th century to the courtrooms of Georgian Dublin, the de Burghs have been intrinsically involved with some of the most pivotal events in Irish history. The Oldtown branch was established in Kildare over 325 years ago by Thomas Burgh, one of the first great Irish military engineers. His descendants include the Georgian politicians Walter Hussey Burgh and John Foster, General Sir Eric de Burgh, the singer Chris de Burgh and the 2003 Miss World, Rosanna Davison.


A Call to Arms


The de Burghs claim descent from Charlemagne through Jean, Comte de Konign and Baron de Tonsburgh in the late 10th century. Amongst their more prestigious forbears were Baldwin de Burgh, King of Jerusalem (1118-1131) and Ode, Bishop of Bayeux, William the Conqueror’s stepbrother, for whom the Bayeux Tapestry was made. Genealogists differ as to whether the Richard de Burgh from whom William de Burgh and his brother Hubert (see below) descend was Bishop Odo’s younger brother Richard, or the bishops’ first cousin, also Richard de Burgh

Tradition states the de Burgh arms were granted when one of the family killed a leading Saracen while fighting alongside Richard the Lionheart. The crusading monarch is said to have dipped his sword in the dead man’s blood and made the shape of a cross over his fallen shield, saying “these, Knight, be thine arms forever”. As William de Burgh was married to Richard’s daughter Isabel, widow of Prince Llewelyn of Wales, it seems plausible that he was the man to whom the arms were first granted.

The first of the family to settle in Ireland was William de Burgh, a Steward of Henry II, who personally received the submission of the Kings of Connaught and Meath at Athlone in 1172. When Henry’s son Prince John, Lord of Ireland, arrived in Ireland in1185, aged 19, Sir William de Burgo [sic] was among the men in his entourage. In return he was made Governor of Wexford and “Dominus” or Lord of Connaught by Prince John.

Sir William de Burgh

In 1192, William allied with Donal O’Brien, King of Thomond, against the MacCarthys, and received vast fiefs of land. He subsequently married O’Brien’s daughter Anne by whom he had a son, Richard, in 1201. William’s descendants were the de Burghs of Connaught, often shortened to Burgh (apparently because they were at war with France) and later spelled as Bourke (as in the family name of the Earls of Mayo).


Hubert de Burgh (c. 1165-c. 1243), 1st Earl of Kent & Protector of the Realm


When John ascended the English throne in 1199, William’s younger brother Hubert de Burgh was appointed King’s chamberlain. Hubert was to become one of the most influential men in England during the reign of King John. Hubert was greatly enriched by royal favour during the early years of John’s reign, receiving numerous townships and castles throughout England, Wales and northwest France. It is said that when John captured his rebellious nephew Arthur of Brittany in 1202, Hubert was appointed his jailor and ordered to blind the young Prince, a task he refused to perform. He continued to serve John during the French wars, being held prisoner in the great castle of Chinon in the Loire Valley for two years.

Hubert remained loyal to John during the Baron’s War and is listed as one of the twenty-five barons who guaranteed Magna Carta. His successful defence of Dover Castle against a French invasion in 1216 gave him the necessary power to stand as sole Regent of the minor Henry III on the death of John, a position he retained until Henry came of age in 1227. In 1217 he married the King’s widow, Isabella. Five years later, after Isabella’ death, he married Margaret, daughter of King William I of Scotland. [1]



Richard de Burgh, Justiciar of Ireland


William’s premature death in 1204 left his estates with Richard de Burgh, now a four-year-old orphan. It may be presumed that Richard’s wealthy uncle subsequently raised him at one of his many castles in England. Although Hubert had sons of his own, he was an assiduous promoter of his nephew whose conquest of Ulster was launched during Hubert’s regency. By the age of 14, Richard was already one of the principal barons in Ireland. His father had been granted lands in Connaught by O’Brien in 1195 but, despite vigorous campaigning, had been unable to realize it.

Backed by his uncle, then Justiciar of England, Richard launched a prolonged war of conquest on Connaught in 1226. Within a year he had taken control of 25 cantreds in Connaught, the remaining five near Athlone being reserved to Henry III and leased to King Felim O’Connor. On his return to Dublin in 1228, Richard was appointed Justiciar of Ireland, a position he retained until Hubert’s fall from power in 1232.

Richard died campaigning with Henry III in Gascony in 1243.


Clanwilliam Burke


Richard was succeeded as Lord of Connaught by his eldest son Walter, later Earl of Ulster. Walter’s brother William Óg de Burgh, ancestor of the Clanwilliam Burkes, lords of Mayo, was a celebrated warrior in the 13th century, fighting in France, Scotland and the Middle East. However, in 1270, his attempt to secure his fathers’ lands in Connaught resulted in colossal defeat by the King of Connaught at the battle of Athankip. William Óg was captured and executed. Nearly fifty years later his only son William Liath de Burgh avenged his death at Athenry (1316), one of the bloodiest battles in Irish history which effectively ended the power of the O’Connor chieftains.


The Red Earl of Ulster


Elizabeth de Burgh with her husband, Robert the Bruce.

Arguably the most influential member of the de Burgh family in the medieval age was Richard, the “Red Earl” of Ulster, only son of the above-named Walter. An enormously ambitious man, he spent most of his formative years campaigning against both the native Irish septs in Ulster and Connaught and the Geraldines of Desmond and Kildare. In 1302 his daughter Elizabeth married Robert the Bruce, the future king of Scotland.

The Red Earl opposed the invasion of Edward the Bruce in 1315 but his kinship with the Scotsman led the citizens of Dublin to doubt his loyalty and he was imprisoned for several months. In later life he retired to the priory at Athassel, county Tipperary, where he died in June 1326. His grandson, William the “Brown Earl” of Ulster, was assassinated in 1333, leaving a baby daughter, Elizabeth as heiress. She later married Prince Lionel of Clarence, son of Edward III, and through their daughter Philippa the legal ownership of the Earldom of Ulster and lordship of Connaught was transmitted to the Mortimer family and ultimately to the English Crown.


Edmund the Scot & the Path to Dromkeen


The de Burghs of Oldtown descend from Éamon Albanach (Edmund the Scot), son of William Liath de Burgh, the victor of Athenry. This era is a particularly complex one in terms of the growing feud between the Clanwilliam Burkes of Mayo and their cousins, the Clanricarde Burkes of Galway … and anyone else passing through the neighbourhood. I do not intend to go into all this in this essay but if anyone is able to sum it all up for me in a couple of paragraphs, I would gladly insert them here. [2]

Upon his death in 1375, Éamon Albanach was succeeded by his son, Sir Thomas Bourke who married a daughter of the O’Conor Don. In 1420 Sir Thomas’s grandson John de Burgh of Shruel defeated the O’Brien chieftain and acquired by exchange O’Brien’s sister as a wife and a substantial land grant at Dromkeen, near Pallas Green, in County Limerick. Dromkeen remained in the de Burgh family for the next 420 years.


Ulysses Burgh, Bishop of Ardagh


The 3rd Earl of Clonmell

The Reverend Ulysses Burgh was eighth in descent from John de Burgh of Dromkeen. Little is known of the generations between save that Ulysses’ father, Richard, was also in Holy Orders. He also had a sister, Eleanor who married a Thomas Apjohn an officer in the army and a tax commissioner for Co. Limerick. Ulysses became Rector of Grean and Kilteely in 1672, rising to become Dean of Emly in 1685. Prior to the outbreak of the Jacobite War in Ireland in 1689, Ulysses fled to London with his family. He returned to Ireland with his sons Richard, William and Thomas in 1690 and all four men appear to have served in William of Orange’s army at the siege of Limerick. His loyalty led to the burning of Dromkeen by the retreating Catholics. However, after William was proclaimed king, Ulysses was generously compensated for his loss and consecrated Bishop of Ardagh on 11 September 1692. [3]

Bishop Burgh of Ardragh fathered eight sons and three daughters by his wife Mary, daughter of William Kingsmill of Ballibeg, Co. Cork. The eldest son Rickard Burgh succeeded to Dromkeen and also joined the Church. The second son, William, a friend of Jonathan Swift, became Comptroller and Accountant General of the British Army in Ireland, married a daughter of Thomas Parnell and lived at Bert, Co. Kildare; their daughter Elizabeth was mother to John Foster, the great Georgian orator and last Speaker in the Irish House of Commons. It is for Elizabeth that Burgh Quay in Dublin is named.

William Burgh’s great-grandson General Sir Ulysses de Burgh succeeded as 2nd Baron Downes and was a brother-in-law to the ill-fated Nathaniel Sneyd of Chesterfield House, Blackrock, Co. Dublin. In January 1838, General de Burgh’s daughter Anne was married in Kilberry Church, County Laois, to John Scott, the 21-year-old  3rd Earl of Clonmell. The newlyweds were hailed as the handsomest couple present at Queen Victoria’s Coronation in Westminster Abbey that summer. They moved to Kildare following their marriage and Lord Clonmell purchased Bishopscourt from the once powerful Ponsonby family, adding their 1,959 acres to the 25,688 acres he owned in other counties across Ireland. As well as the house and lands, he also became owner of the original kennels of the Bishopscourt Hunt which remain virtually intact to this day. He and Lady Anne had eight children, five of whom survived to adulthood. Lord Clonmell became the seventh master of the Kildare Hunt in 1854,

Bishop Burgh’s youngest daughter Dorothea married the Rev. Thomas SmythBishop of Limerick, and was thus ancestress of the Viscounts Gort. However, it is Bishop Burgh’s third son, Thomas, who most concerns us here for he was the first of the family to settle at Oldtown.


Thomas ‘The Surveyor’ Burgh of Oldtown (1670-1730)


Thomas Burgh is regarded as one of the first great Irish military engineers and rose to become Surveyor General for the country. He was born in 1670 and educated at Delany’s School in Dublin. He entered Trinity College Dublin on 22 November 1685 but probably fled Ireland with his father in the run up to the Williamite wars. On 8 March 1689, a Thomas Bourk [sic] was commissioned as Lieutenant in Lord Lovelace‘s Regiment of Foot, which served with the Duke of Schomberg’s army in Ireland. He may have been appointed to the Irish Engineers as early as February 1691 but, following the Williamite victory, he appears to have joined the Royal Regiment of Foot commanded by the Earl of Orkney and left for the continent.

On 1 August 1692, Thomas received a commission as captain and he subsequently saw action at the battles of Steinkirk (1692) and Landen (1693). At the Siege of Namur in 1695, he was employed as an engineer, probably under the command of the Dutch artillery expert, John Wynant Goor. Two years later, he was ranked as one of the top twenty-five engineers in the British Army and the third most senior in the Irish Establishment. [4]

Dublin Castle

Between 1697 and 1700, Thomas worked under Surveyor-General William Robinson whom he replaced on 10 July 1700, at a salary of £300 per annum, having displaced the second engineer of Ireland, Richard Corneille. On 12 February 1701, he was given charge of overseeing the construction and renovation of all military buildings in Ireland, a commission repeatedly renewed over the next twenty-seven years. During this time, he expanded barracks throughout Ireland, completed the rebuilding of Dublin Castle and constructed numerous fortifications and lighthouses along the Irish coastline. [5]  His proposal to dredge Dublin Harbour and build a fortified basin to hold ships was ultimately rejected but he continued to be a forceful advocate that Ireland’s inland waterways be made navigable.

Perhaps it was in reaction to the destruction of his family home in 1691 that Thomas Burgh became such a vigorous builder. He did not merely restrict himself to military architecture. The City of Dublin made him a Freeman in 1704 in recognition of his ongoing efforts to beautify the rapidly evolving capital. His first known building is the Royal Barracks (now Collins Barracks) on Dublin’s north side.

Among his other civic legacies were the original Custom House on Essex Quay, Dublin Castle, the Trinity College Library (1712-1732), the Linen Hall, the Kilmainham Infirmary (1711), St. Werburgh’s Church (1715), the Royal Barracks and Dr. Steeven’s Hospital (1721-1733).


Reconstruction of Oldtown as designed by Thomas Burgh, drawn by the late Jeremy Williams.


Oldtown & Private Commissions


In 1696 Thomas Burgh acquired a property outside Naas called Oldtown. The site lay near a holy well where St Patrick reputedly baptised Oillill and Illann, the sons of King Dunlang of Leinster. In 1709, he designed and oversaw the construction of a new house at Oldtown, one of Ireland’s first Palladian winged houses.

Like Russborough, it was meant to have two classical wings linked to a larger central block but the central block was never built, only the two wings, one of which was the stables. The two-storey central block was adorned with pairs of Ionic pilasters, rising to just beneath the windows of the first floor. The wings were likewise adorned with Ionic pilasters, all of which carried substantial entablatures. Thomas’s construction was to remain the pride of his descendants – although a dubious  Victorian wing running back at right angles was added – until the centre block was destroyed by fire in the 1950s and the family moved into one of the wings.

By 1721, Thomas Burgh was a very wealthy man. From 1706 to 1714 he had held the office of Lieutenant of the Ordnance of Ireland which, together with the Surveyor-Generalship, made him far the most influential officer in the Irish Ordnance. In 1713 he was elected Tory MP for Naas, which seat he held until his death in 1730. He became a governor of the Royal Hospital of Kilmainham in 1707 and, from 1717, a trustee of Dr Steeven’s Hospital. Aside from the wealth he had accumulated from his many and ongoing engineering commissions, he and his partner Richard Stewart were operating a very lucrative colliery at Ballycastle, Co. Antrim, which brought him in £2000 in 1721 alone. The duo received £8,000 in total from the Irish parliament for operating their colliery at Ballycastle.

Thomas was also benefiting from the growing affluence and pretensions of his fellow squires. As early as 1702, he was advising the Quartermaster-General Richard Gorges on how to build garden walls at Kilbrew, Co. Meath, close to present-day Tayto Park. That same year he was recruited as a consultant in the building of Archbishop King‘s Dublin residence; he helped design Marsh’s Library seven years later. The O’Brien family called on him for the construction of the original Dromoland Castle at Newmarket-on-Fergus in Co. Clare. He may also have had a hand in the 1724 design of Oakly Park outside Celbridge for Arthur Price, later Bishop of Meath and Archbishop of Cashel. [6]

On 10 July 1700, Thomas married Mary Smyth, second daughter of the Rev. William Smyth, Bishop of Raphoe, Kilmore and Ardagh. Her mother Mary was a daughter of Sir John Povey, Chief Justice of Ireland in the reign of Charles II. By her he had five sons and four daughters. The family lived between the country estate at Oldtown and their Dublin townhouse at 37 Dawson Street (now rebuilt). Thomas died at Oldtown on 18 December 1730 at the age of sixty. Burgh was evidently an affable employer. For much of his working career, he employed the same team of smiths, joiners, bricklayers, plasterers, painters, carpenters, slaters and glaziers.


Thomas Burgh, MP for Naas


Colonel Thomas Burgh was succeeded by his 23-year-old son Thomas II, MP for Naas from 1731 until his death in 1759. He was educated at Dr Sheridan’s in Dublin and Trinity College Dublin, advancing to the Middle Temple in 1728. His first wife, an English heiress, Margaret Sprigg of Clonvoe, left him a daughter Alice who married into the Fox family. In June 1752 he married secondly Catherine, daughter of the politician, Sir Richard Wolseley of Mount Wolseley, Co. Carlow.


Walter Hussey Burgh, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer


Walter Hussey De Burgh

Thomas’s sister Elizabeth married Ignatius Hussey of Donore, Co. Kildare, and was mother of the Right Hon. Walter Hussey Burgh, one of the most eloquent and charismatic lawyers in Ireland during the late 18th century. In June 1783 he was appointed to the lucrative judicial position of Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, one of the Four Courts in Dublin. However, less than six months later, the 40-year-old contracted an illness while inspecting a gaol in Armagh and died. When not in Dublin for the Parliament he lived at Dromkeen, County Limerick.

Walter was probably buried at St Peter’s Church, North Circular Rd, Dublin. A public funeral was accorded to him, and his remains were followed to the grave by the members of the Legislature and the authorities and students of the University”. Another upcoming barrister and Burgh kinsman John Foster, Baron Oriel, immediately succeeded him at the Exchequer.


Thomas Burgh, MP for Harristown & Athy


Thomas and Margaret Burgh had two sons, Thomas III and Richard, and two daughters, Mary and Catherine. Born on 23 January 1754, Thomas was only five years old when his father died, and he succeeded to Oldtown. After graduating from Trinity College Dublin, he was called to the Irish Bar in 1779. As part of the Duke of Leinster‘s party, the soft-spoken Kildare man was elected MP for Harristown and Athy in the Irish House of Commons. A close ally of his cousin John Foster, Thomas increased the family wealth by becoming one of the chief undertakers of the Grand Canal.

In the summer of 1784 he married Florinda Gardiner, a granddaughter of Luke Gardiner, the property tycoon who developed what became central Dublin in the 1740s and 1750s. Her sister was married to Lord Clancarty and her brother Luke Gardiner had been elected MP for Co. Dublin the previous year. It was in that capacity that Luke introduced the first Catholic Relief Acts of 1778 and 1782, partially dismantling the penal laws. Luke was created Viscount Mountjoy in 1795. In June 1798 he was killed by rebel pikemen while trying to negotiate a surrender at New Ross.


Thomas & Florinda de Burgh’s Children


Thomas III and Florinda had eight sons of whom two drowned and a third was killed in action while serving with the Royal Navy. The third son Walter Burgh was Vicar of Naas and married Elizabeth Langrishe. The seventh son John was a major with the 93rd Highlanders and married Emma Hunt. The youngest, William, Rector of Ardboe, Co. Tyrone, and St. John’s of Sandymount, Dublin, fathered an impressive eighteen children of whom Maurice was Archdeacon of Kildare and Hubert took Holy Orders and lived in the Vatican.


Thomas Monck Mason & the Paget Connection


One of Thomas and Florinda’s daughters, Dorothea Burgh, married Captain Thomas Monck Mason, Royal Navy. He was a son of Henry Monck Mason, lieutenant-colonel of the Engineers, by his second wife, Jane Mosse (daughter of Bartholomew Mosse, founder of the Rotunda hospital).

Thomas’s early years were at a French speaking school; he may have had Huguenot blood. Thomas had a reputation within the family as a ‘foolhardy’ young man, heading to sea aged 12 and, by his own words, spent his naval years indulging in the many vices prevalent in the Royal Navy at that time. Shortly before his marriage to Dorothea Burgh, his life was turned around and he was from then on ‘led by divine grace’.

Alas, Dorothea died in 1820 shortly after the birth of Frances Florinda. Some two or three years later, Thomas married Mary Grey (daughter of the Commissioner of Portsmouth dockyard Sir George Grey, and niece of the future prime minister, Charles Grey). Mary’s mother (Lady Grey, née Whitbread) was much involved with the Evangelical movement at that time, so this fitted with Thomas’ new found discipline.

Thomas Monck Mason died in 1838 and was buried in Powerscourt. His daughter Florinda Frances Mason married Captain Catesby Paget (1809-1878), son of Hon Berkeley Paget and first cousin of Captain Charles Paget of HMS Samarang.


The Rev. Thomas Burgh, Dean of Cloyne


John Hely Hutchinson

Thomas and Florinda’s eldest son, the Rev. Thomas Burgh was for many years Dean of Cloyne. On 4 May 1811 he married Lady Anna Hely-Hutchinson, daughter of Francis Hely-Hutchinson and sister of the 3rd Earl of Donoughmore (see “Woulfe of Forenaghts“). Like the Gardiners, the Hely-Hutchinsons made a name for themselves in the late 18th century by their sympathy for the Catholic cause and support of Free Trade.

In his History of the Kildare Hunt (p. 232), Lord Mayo tells a story about how Dean de Burgh of Old Town would never allow a tree to be felled in his demesne. When his son Thomas succeeded him he ‘very properly began to thin out the plantations’. However, while in Naas one day Thomas was ‘pestered for money by an old wrecker clad in an old scarlet hunting coat, well known as old Joe. After repeated importunities all up the long street, he was at last told to go to a warm climate. “Ah!” said old Joe,”if I go there, Master Tom, I’ll be shure to see the ould Dane, and I’ll tell him ye’re cutting down all the timber.”

The Dean and Mrs de Burgh had nine sons and three daughters of whom Francis was a lieutenant colonel with the Dublin City Artillery, Henry married  Elizabeth Hendrick of Kerdiffstown House, Florinda married Thomas Tristam, Chancellor of the Diocese of London and Charlotte married Colonel James Tighe of Rossanagh. The Rev. Burgh succeeded to Oldtown in 1832. He died on 4 September 1845; Lady Anna passed away on 27 December 1857.


Return of the ‘De’, 1848


The Rev. and Lady Anna Burgh’s eldest son was another Thomas. On 6th March 1848 Dublin Castle presented this Thomas with a patent by which his heirs and descendants were granted the right “to resume their ancient name of de Burgh“.

Thomas de Burgh lived at Oldtown and married Jane, daughter of a Major Campbell-Graham, 1st Royal Scots, of Scarva House, Clones, Co. Monaghan. Three sons, Thomas (TJ), Ulick and Hugo, and a daughter followed.


TJ de Burgh (1851-1931) & Emily de Robeck


The eldest son Thomas John de Burgh was born on 1 November 1851. In 1876, the 27-year-old, known as ‘T.J.’, was told he only had six months to live. With that in mind, he got married the following April and lived for the next fifty five years, serving against the Zulus in 1879, in the Egyptian campaign, in the Boer War and the Great War.

The 4th Baron de Robeck, TJ de Burgh’s father-in-law, attired for a day out with the Kildare Hunt, of which he was an energetic master.

On 23 April 1878, he married Emily Anne de Robeck, eldest daughter of the 4th Baron de Robeck and reckoned to be the prettiest girl in Kildare. Her father, the 4th Baron, and her brother, the 5th Baron, both served as Master of the Kildare Hunt. Emily was not an easy catch. According to her granddaughter Lydia de Burgh, she continually turned down T.J.’s proposals until, utterly exasperated, he swore to her that he would ride to his death and galloped off in a fury. The Kildare Hunt were then treated to the sight of Emily galloping after him, calling “Tommy, Tommy, don’t do it! I WILL marry you”.

TJ and Emily had five sons, Hubert, (Sir) Eric, Maurice, Charles and Tom, and three daughters, Helen, Zoe and Una. As Charles’s daughter Lydia recounted:

‘The de Burghs and de Robecks lived about four miles apart, either side of Naas, and there were enough of our mother’s generation to field a very dangerous mixed hockey team.   They rode and they played a lot of tennis.  When Oldtown was let for the hunting season, as happened quite often, the children were packed off to Brussels or Dresden and so became fluent in French and German. They had a wonderfully happy childhood.’

TJ served as a lieutenant in the 57th (Middlesex) Regiment (aka the “Die-Hards”), taking part in the 1879 campaign against the Zulus. A fellow officer of the 57th, Lord Gifford, VC, was personally responsible for the capture of Ceshwayo, the Zulu king. He was sometime Deputy Lieutenant, Justice of the Peace and High Sheriff (1884) for County Kildare.Lydia also related a story about the de Burgh’s in action at the battle of Tel el Kebir in Egypt in 1882. During a great cavalry charge at enemy lines, T.J.’s younger brother Ulick, a Captain in the 3rd Dragoon Guards, was apparently astonished to see the bold TJ gallop ahead of him on his – Ulick’s – favourite hunter from the Kildares. Up until that point, Ulick had assumed his hunter was safely grazing in the meadows of Oldtown.

Mounted officer in the Boer War.

He later secured a commission in the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, under Lord Baden Powell, attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. During the Boer War, he was second-in-command (under Dick Moore) of the 17th Battalion of Lord Longford’s ill-fated Imperial Yeomanry, otherwise known as the Dublin Hunt Squadron. On 6 April 1900 he left Southampton on the Galeka, along with 62 other officers, 1,019 men and 53 horses. They landed at Beira in Portuguese East Africa on 11 May and then joined the Rhodesian Field Force, gathering over 2,000 horses, which were kept in paddocks, including  700 Hungarian cobs. A few weeks later, a breakdown in communications resulted in disaster for the Yeomanry who were already in South Africa. The Boers surrounded them outside the town of Lindley. Twenty-one men were killed, 60 wounded and over 400 captured, including Lords Longford, Ennismore, Donoughmore, Leitrim and the future Lord Craigavon. The whiskey baronet Sir John Power was among the fatalities.[7]

When Dick Moore was wounded, Major de Burgh succeeded him in command. On 21 December 1900, the 17th Battalion joined in the hunt for the elusive Boer generals Hertzog and Brand. However, the following day, their first experience of battle ended poorly when 44 men were taken prisoner and seven wounded, including Major de Burgh.

In April 1901, TJ returned to Africa in command of the 17th Imperial Yeomanry and 5th Dragoons. Over the next six weeks he brought the battalion – which numbered anything from 190 to 800 mounted men – south from Mozambique (then Portuguese) through Rhodesia and Cape Colony into the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal. He described it as “very hard and trying work … [we have] had a fair deal of fighting, trekked thousands of miles and [by May 1901] are now on our way home”. What of his subsequent campaigns against the Boers? And where was he when his younger brother Hugh was killed?

TJ was unable to hunt on account of an injury but was nonetheless of a highly energetic mindset. In 1910, unable to bear the thought of another Christmas at home, he embarked on a bicycle trip across France and Italy to Malta where his son Captain Charles de Burgh was living with his new wife, Isabel.

At the end of July 1914, Colonel TJ de Burgh hosted the County Kildare Hunt’s 26th annual Horse Show in the park in Oldtown. Sheltered from the heavy rains, officers of the Royal Horse Artillery were ‘lavishly entertained’ to luncheon and tea in two spacious marquees. However, the event was rather overshadowed by the news that Peirce Gun O’Mahony, a nephew of David Mahony, the former Hunt Secretary, had been found dead in Grange Con Lake. The young man, who was implicated in the theft of the Irish crown jewels seven years earlier, had apparently killed himself in a shooting accident.

There was little time to reflect upon his death because that same day Erskine Childers sailed his yacht into Howth with a cargo of 900 Mauser rifles and 20,000 rounds of ammunition, all destined for the Irish Volunteers who had pledged to defend Home Rule for Ireland.

The 65 year old returned to the battlefield in World War One serving with a St. John’s Ambulance Unit. Lydia de Burgh recalls hearing from Brian Bellew of Barmeath that he had been found bleeding to death unattended in a Field dressing station when TJ came in, recognised him and so saved his life.

Emily made a rose garden outside his study – “a pattern of flower beds bordered with trimmed box” and TJ kept this up after her death from cancer before 1923. He passed away in 1931.


Ulick de Burgh


When Thomas de Burgh went to war in South Africa, he was joined by his younger brothers Ulick and Hugo. Ulick de Burgh had previously served in the Egyptian campaign of 1892 and later as Inspector General of Remounts at British Army headquarters. In January 1916 he offered for sale Scarva House, his mother’s family home near Clones, with 94 acres. By his wife Anna Paget he had a son Desmond de Burgh who served with the RAF in both World Wars but was killed on active service in January 1943.

It seems that Thomas and Ulick subsequently spent some time in California.


Hugo de Burgh & his son Ulric de Burgh


T.J.’s brother Hugo de Burgh lived at of Ballinapierce, County Wexford, and married Mabel Beaumont of Tarnely Lodge in St. Alban’s. He was killed near Jammersburgh Drift during the siege of Wepener in the Orange Free State in April 1900. Hugo was survived by two sons – Lieutenant Colonel Hugh de Burgh, OBE, MC and Ulric de Burgh, an officer in the Royal Navy – and a daughter Madge Anstruther.

Hugo’s younger son Ulric served with the Royal Navy during the Great War, primarily in the North Atlantic, but left voluntarily in 1922. He immediately joined the RAF as a Flight Lieutenant. He stayed with the RAF for 16 years, during which time he was married for the first time. He was recalled to the RN to help set up the Fleet Air Arm and spent most of the Second World War setting up Naval Air stations in New Zealand, India and Ceylon – where he met and married his second wife, mother of Campbell de Burgh. Ulric left the Royal Navy in 1947, joined the merchant marine and retired in 1966. He died in 1977.


Commander Dashwood Tandy (1841-1883)


Thomas de Burgh’s only sister Anna (Louisa Margaret) was born on 29 November 1850. On 22 October 1874, she married Commodore Dashwood Goldie Tandy, RN. The service took place at St. Donlough’s Church and was conducted by the Rev. Charles Edward Tisdall, D.D., incumbent of the Parish, assisted by the Rev. William Machonchy, Rector of Coolock.

Born in 1841, Dashwood had made a name for himself when he captured several slave-carrying dhows on the east coast of Africa during the 1860s. The Commander was only 42 years old when he died suddenly at Oldtown in October 1883. His obituary was published in The Kildare Observer:


On Wednesday afternoon, Dr. R. S. Hayes, J.P., district coroner, held an inquest at Naas, on the body of Commander Tandy, Royal Navy, who died suddenly. The deceased gentleman was on a visit to his brother-in-law, Burgh, Esq., High Sheriff of the County, and was driving in company with Mrs. de Burgh and Captain Slaney to Baron de Robeck’s residence at Gowran Grange, when he suddenly took ill on the way and expired in the course of a few minutes. The principal evidence taken at the inquest was that of Captain Slaney, who deposed – ‘I was in company with the deceased this day (Wednesday) driving from Oldtown to Gowran Grange. When we started the deceased was in perfect health as far as I could see. On the way we got out of the trap to walk up the hill. On the top of the hill we again got into the trap, and after we had gone a short distance I noticed deceased’s head fall down on his chest, as I thought in a fainting fit. I took him into my arms, and, with the assistance of a man, carried him into a neighbouring house. He never spoke. I believe he died in my arms before I took him out the trap’. Just before he got ill he complained of being unwell, and said that since he was in the East Indies the exertion of walking up a hill always told upon him. Dr. Joseph Alfred Gormly, in medical charge of the troops at Naas, said he made a post-mortem examination on the body of the deceased, and that his opinion death resulted from heart disease. The jury returned a verdict accordingly.

In her later years, Anne Tandy lived at St. Anne’s in Naas. She passed away at Oldtown on 25 April 1912. Her eldest son, Hugo Shapland Dashwood Tandy, was born on 11 April 1876 but died young on 28 September 1880. Their younger son, Reginald (Reggie) Dashwood Tandy was born on 23 May 1883 and went on to become High Sheriff of Co. Meath (1912), Magistrate for Co. Meath, Lieutenant of the Lancashire Fusiliers and a Major in the Denbighshire Hussars Yeomanry. On 9 May 1906, Reggie married Valerie (Olivia) Wellesley, only daughter of Arthur George Henry Wellesley and Sarah Humprey.  [8] He was granted his late mothers’ estate on 30 May 1912.


Death in the Great War


The Great War of 1914-1918 brought tragedy to innumerable households throughout Ireland. In the autumn of 1914, the dreaded letter arrived in the post at Oldtown informing TJ and Emily of the death in France of their youngest son Tom de Burgh, a lieutenant with the 31st Lancers. Prior to his death Tom is mentioned in despatches for distinguished conduct under enemy fire.

Three of Tom’s elder brothers received the DSO. [9]  The eldest, Captain Hubert de Burgh, was awarded both the DSO and Legion of Honour in 1917 for his services in the Royal Navy. On 28 November 1917 he married Mary Buchan, daughter of John Adye Buchan of Whitehall, Kingsbridge in South Devon. They had a son John and two daughters Deirdre and Rosaleen.


General Sir Eric de Burgh – Old Friend


Thomas and Emily’s second son General Sir Eric de Burgh, KCB, OBE, was born at Oldtown in 1881. Nearly a century later, his grandson Chris de Burgh penned a ballad to his memory called “Old Friend“. Eric served in the Boer War as a teenager, but was too young to be accepted into the Yeomanry. He initially settled down to working at Oldtown and farming. He joined the Indian Army in 1904, and was transferred to Hodson’s Horse, a  famous Indian cavalry regiment. He won a DSO in 1916 and rose steadily through the ranks to become General of the British Army in India in 1939. In October 1923 he married Mary Fanshawe, only daughter of General Sir Edward Fanshawe, KCB, of Rathmore, Naas, County Kildare. She died in the summer of 1934, leaving two small daughters, Maeve and Rosemary.

General de Burgh retired from the army in 1941 and lived for a while at Ard Cairn outside Naas. In 1960 he purchased the rundown Bargy Castle in Wexford his daughter Maeve and her husband Charles Davison. The general also lived there until his death in 1973.


Turtle and Rosanna Davison (de Burgh) during filming of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’


Chris de Burgh & Rosanna Davison


Chris de Burgh’s album, The Road to Freedom

In April 1946, the General’s eldest daughter Maeve married Colonel Charles Davison, MBE. Colonel Davison was born in the Channel Islands and raised on his family’s ranch at Estancia in Argentina. On the outbreak of World War Two, he volunteered for the Special Operations Executive, a newly formed unit specialising in covert operations and sabotage. As a member of SOE, he twice parachuted behind Japanese lines in Burma, where he spent some years organising Burmese guerrillas in operations against the Japanese occupation army. After the war, he and his wife returned to Argentina where their two sons Richard and Chris were born. The family returned to Ireland in 1960 and the young Davison boys went to live with their grandfather, General de Burgh, at Bargy.

After the General’s death, the Davisons renovated Bargy and ran it as a hotel; young Chris soon found himself entertaining guests with his guitar. While his brother Richard became a lawyer, Chris adopted his mothers’ maiden name and began releasing singles, commencing with the excellent “Spanish Train” in 1975. Known to the world as Chris de Burgh, he has now sold more than 40 million albums and performed at over 2,500 concerts worldwide. His anthemic “High on Emotion” was No. 1 in 10 European countries. His signature song, “Lady in Red“, reached No. 1 in 25 countries and sold eight million copies around the world. “Lady in Red” is also acknowledged as one of the Top 20 most played songs in America.

In December 2003 his 19-year-old daughter Rosanna Davison was crowned Miss World in Sanya, China, becoming the first Irish woman to scoop the beauty pageant.


Captain Charles de Burgh (1886-1973) & Lydia de Burgh


Mrs Guinness painted by Lydia de Burgh

Thomas and Emily’s fourth son Captain Charles de Burgh, DSO, was born in 1886. As a fourth son, Charles had little income. In 1907, he became one of the first 200 officers to volunteer for the submarine service when he joined the Mobilization Department of the Admiralty under his first cousin Admiral de Robeck. Life as a “pioneer submariner” was potentially very hazardous and he received an extra 5 shillings a week danger money. His first boat was A5, the fifth submarine to join the Navy and, excepting a  short stint on a cruiser in 1914, he served throughout the Great War in submarines. He won a DSO in 1917. According to his obituary in the Leinster Leader of 17 February 1973, he was:

‘…one of the pioneers of the British submarine service. He joined the British Navy in 1902. Six years later he was among the first 200 officers selected to launch the new submarine service. Later he commanded one of the early K-class submarines and was survivor of the “K-class battle” in the North Sea when four of the tiny submarines were rammed by battleships. His vessel was almost cut in half during the battle but he managed to reach port. During the Great War, he had a submarine command and in 1917 was awarded the D.S.O. He also served in the last war.’

After the war he moved onto the “big ships” in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. He was commander of Valiant and Queen Elizabeth and then HMS Cyclops (1926-27), HMS Vulcan and the 6th Submarine Flotilla (1928-29).

In 1910, Charles married Isabel Campbell at Killman, Co. Tyrone, where Isabel’s father, the Rev Edward Fitzharding Campbell, was Rector. Isabel’s mother Lydia Morris was the youngest daughter of a lawyer from Lurgan and a Northern Irish girl who had been orphaned during the great cholera epidemic of 1830.  Isabel had five brothers, including Lieutenant Commander Colin Campbell who died tragically with his wife and baby daughter when the Germans torpedoed the mailboat, the RMS Leinster, in the Irish channel on 10 October 1918.

Charles and Isabel waited fourteen years before their first child Lydia was born in 1923. Another girl, Coralie, followed in 1924. Charles took his family with him everywhere, driving them and the luggage about in his “battered Armstrong Siddeley” which went on board with him. In 1928 the de Burghs settled at the four storied Sheksburn House, Ballycastle, Co. Antrim. The seaside town was well know for its annual tennis tournament even then. Captain Charles retired from the Navy in 1953 and the family returned to Ireland. They settled in the former agents’ house at Seaforde, near Downpatrick, County Down, where he died in 1973, aged 87, just a week after his brother, General Eric de Burgh.

Lydia and Coralie stayed at the London home of Pierce Synott’s father David while studying art and music after the war. Lydia, the elder daughter, became well known for her royal portraits. As a young WRNS of 18, she was one of the few Irish people to have worked on the Enigma codes at Bletchly during World War Two. She broke down during this experience, was invalidated out and was, she said, never very strong ever after. She was the only resident Irish artist to have had personal sittings from Queen Elizabeth II for two portraits in 1955 and 1959.  She also painted the late Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester in 1954 and the late Princess Mary, sister of George VI.  A terrific source of gossip for subsequent generations, Lydia wrote two books, ‘Lydia’s Story’ (out of print) and ‘Another Way of Life.’ On my last correspondence with Lydia, she told me she was going to be 82 in July and was “crocked with arthritis pain but otherwise v. well”.  She passed away in December 2007. (See Lydia’s book. p. 62.)

Lydia’s sister Lady Coralie de Burgh Kinahan (1924-2015) was also an artist. Born in England but brought up in Scotland and Ireland, she was married in 1950 to Sir Robert Kinahan of Templepatrick, Lord Mayor of Belfast from 1959-1961. She exhibited at the with the Royal Academy, the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, the RSA, RUA and her work forms part of collections in the Ulster Museum, the Imperial Museum and the Ulster Defence Regiment. Coralie also wrote a manuscript about her de Burgh ancestors. Her eldest daughter married Sir Paul Neave, whose mother, Richenda, was a daughter of Sir RJ Paul of Ballyglan, Co. Waterford.


 Zoe & Tom Maxwell


TJ and Emily’s second daughter Zoe de Burgh married Thomas Kennedy Maxwell. Shortly before the wedding, the elderly TJ took the prospective groom on a walk through Oldtown’s beech woods in the middle of the night. As Lydia recalled: “Off they went, Grandfather behaving as if it was broad daylight, Tom struggling behind bumping into trees and stumbling into ditches”. Tom was a Captain in the Navy and lived at Doward Cottage, Whitchurch in Hertfordshire. His son David Maxwell, stepfather to Nick and Ed Coveney, was formerly married to Georgiana, Baroness de Ros, the 27th holder of that title.


Major John de Burgh (1921-2010)


Pet Peke Crisis of 1956. With thanks to Robert Hall.

Hubert and Joan de Burgh’s only son, Major John de Burgh, was born on 17 February 1921 and educated at Stowe. He served with the 16th/5th Lancers in World War Two, was mentioned in dispatches, won an MC in North Africa in 1943 and retired with the rank of Major in 1950. He narrowly avoided death during the Second World War when he was knocked out by one of Rommel’s Panzer tanks during the Battle of Bou Arada, south of Tunis, in 1943. When he came to, he was surrounded by Germans but he managed to give them the slip and, though desperately wounded, handed in a report on the battle that would later earn him a Military Cross. He later fought in the battle of Monte Cassino.

An excellent rider, he rode twelve winners in Europe before he was demobilised in 1947 and then competed successfully in Britain under National Hunt rules. He subsequently returned to Ireland and restored the de Burgh family estate at Oldtown, converting it into a successful stud farm, probably best known for Fair Salinia, a double Oaks winner, as well as a Group One winner in 1964 and a record price for a yearling which sold for one million pounds at the Newmarket sales in 1984. Regularly to be seen stewarding at National Hunt meetings throughout Ireland, he was elected to the Turf Club in 1961 and also served on the Irish Racing board for 15 years.[10]

As the late Lydia de Burgh put it: “Oldtown was accidentally burnt in the 1950s, the classical house was destroyed and the Victorian kitchen wing needless to say survived. My cousin John [de Burgh] pulled this down, restored the wing, which had been the stables as the new house and turned the whole place into a highly successful stud farm”.

On 29 September 1952 he married Clare Shennan, daughter of Major Kenneth and Lilah Shennan of Shipton Oliffe in Gloucestershire. Lilah’s brother Major Bowes Daly, MC, was sometime ADC to the Viceroy of India and Master of the Galway Blazers. Together John and Clare established Oldtown as one of Ireland’s foremost studs. This produced a Group One winner in 1964, a double Oaks winner (Fair Salinia) in 1978 and, in 1984, achieved a record price for a yearling at the Newmarket sales.

In April 1960 Sir George Brooke and Baron de Robeck welcomed President de Valera to Punchestown. It was the veteran statesman’s first visit to the racecourse since 1906. At the wheel of a Land Rover, Major de Burgh then took the President on a guided drive around Punchestown’s hills and dales. It was evidently a successful outing because Sir George and Lady Brooke greeted Mr. de Valera at Punchestown again in 1963.

On Major de Burgh’s 33rd birthday, his wife presented him with a son, Hubert. A daughter Caroline arrived the following year and a son, William, three years later. In 1999 Major John de Burgh put Oldtown demesne on the market. He died aged 89 on 4 December 2010 while Clare passed on 4 November 2016, aged 86. They now lie together at St David’s Church, Naas.

Their eldest son Hubie de Burgh was bloodstock manager for Shadwell Stud, Newmarket, and of the bloodstock interests for Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Crown Prince of Dubai, at Derrinstown Stud. He now owns Huma Park Stud near Maynooth, runs a bloodstock agency, De Burgh Equine Ltd and lives in a beautiful classical house he built near Grangecon. His brother William de Burgh runs a successful business in California and his sister Caroline is married and lives in Wales.


Appendix: The Death Of Arthur Wolfe, 1803


Portrait of Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Arthur Wolfe (later Viscount Kilwarden) by Hugh Douglas Hamilton (c1739-1808)

This is an extract from the private diary of Charlotte de Burgh, daughter of Thomas Burgh of Bert, Ireland, who was MP for Lanesborough in 1727. Thomas married Anne, daughter of Dive Downs, Bishop of Cork and Ross and of Catherine Fitzgerald (sister of the 19th Earl of Kildare). It appears to have annotations added, probably by Arthur Wolfe Chomley’s daughter Mary Elizabeth Maud Chomley.

‘Arthur Wolfe, Lord Kilwarden (brother of Philpot Wolfe, who married Mary Burgh of Dromkeen) was Chief Justice of Ireland and raised to the Peerage in 1798, was murdered while on his way to the Castle of Dublin, for the purpose of assisting in Council 23 July 1803, during the riot initiated by Emmet. His Lordship, falling into the hands of a body of insurgents, was barbarously assassinated, along with his nephew and companion, the Rev. W Wolfe.

Mr Wolfe was a first cousin of the Rev Charles Wolfe, the poet who wrote the famous “Burial of Sir John Moore” and kinsman of General Wolfe who led the English troops in the storming of the Heights of Abraham, Quebec in 1759.

Note: extracted from “An Incorruptible Irishman” by Somerville and Ross p 161.

“Lord Hardwicke was then the Lord Lieutenant no news of the projected outbreak seems to have reached him, as there was to be a dinner party at the Castle that night and Charles and Nancy (Charles Kendal Bushe, afterwards Chief Justice of Ireland) were among the guests. They arrived in good time and, having made their bow and courtesy to their Excellencies, seated in State on a dais at the end of the room, they had then, like good guests, proceeded to do their share in mitigating the slow movements of the usual mauvais quart d’heure . But the quarter of an hour extended and still diner waited. It was whispered among the company that some distinguished guests who were expected had not arrived.

Charles had been in the Courts all day; he was in full swing of work now and tonight he was tired. Nancy has said that she could see that fatigue was silencing his usual flows of agreeable talk and she says she felt indignant that the incivility of unpunctual guests should be visited on him. She was talking to a sympathising young officer of the garrison who declared that he was “as hungry as a hunter”. “begad if ‘twas for Princes we were waiting” he said, “one might say they hadn’t that form of politeness they’re credited with”. As he spoke the great doors at the further end of the room burst open, and a girl wearing a white satin gown that was stained from breast to hem with blood, flung the footmen aside and rushed up the long room, the horrified guests retreating right and left before her.  She threw herself on her knees at the foot of the dais, crying out wildly for help, for justice, shrieking that her father had been murdered and that it was his life blood with which she was covered, She was the daughter of Arthur Wolfe, Lord Kilwarden, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, a man held in high honour by the Viceroy, who had wished to make him Lord Chancellor, one of the most humane of Judges in an age when justice was wont to ignore humanity. He was on his way to the Castle, with his daughter and a nephew in the coach with him, when Emmet’s ruffians, by this time completely out of control, disregarding their leader’s commands and entreaties, dragged the old Judge out of the coach, and for sheer lust of killing, set upon him and his nephew with pikes. One of the men, less brutal than his fellows said to the girl “run away with you miss, and God save you.”

The soldiers from the Castle were sent running to the rescue, found the young man dead, and a bystander, a gentleman who had drawn his sword and attempted defence – dead also, and the old Judge “frightfully mangled but still breathing”. The old man lived for half an hour, almost his last words were: “Let no man suffer for my death but on a fair trial and by the laws of the country.”




With thanks to Hubie de Burgh, William de Burgh, the late Lydia de Burgh, John de Robeck, Gwyneth Brindley, Campbell de Burgh, Michael J Hewett, Colm Smyth, Gwyneth Brindley, Edmond O’Dea, Nickie Johnson, David Winpenny, Ralph Buerk, Matthew Forde, Nick Coveney, Ursula Ormond, Paul Simon, Jo Minns, Vicki Pattinson, David & Dian Hope, Michael Brennan, Sean Slowey, Vicki Pattinson, Peter Chomley, Hugo de Burgh and George Bates (Illinois).




[1] Michael Weiss, “The Castellan: The Early Career of Hubert de Burgh“, Viator, vol. 5 (1974).

[2] In the meantime, have a read of ‘William Fitz-Adelm de Burgh & The Bourkes of Clanwilliam’ by James Grene Barry, J.P. (originally published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland in 1889.) Another option is ‘The New History of Ireland, V9, Maps, Genealogies, Lists‘, edited by Moody, Martin & Byrne (Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1984) in which Table 39 gives lineage chart for the Lower Mac William: Burkes of Mayo, descendants of Edmund Albanach.

[3] Burke’s Irish Family Records, 1976, page 338.

[4] For much of this I am indebted to Rolf Loeber’s invaluable “A Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Ireland 1600 – 1720” (John Murray, 1981).

[5] An English act of 1699 fixed the Irish peacetime military establishment at 12,000 men, as compared to 7000 in England. In practice a section of this army was always deployed outside the kingdom but Ireland was now a major base for Britain’s strategic reserves and consequently bore a considerable share of the overall cost of imperial defence.

[6] While Vicar of Celbridge, Price proposed to Swift’s “Vanessa”. In the late 18th century, Oakly Park was the home of Lady Sarah Napier, one of the famous Lennox sisters. Her sisters Lady Louisa Conolly and the Duchess of Leinster resided at nearby Castletown and Carton respectively.

[7] Pakenham, Thomas, The Boer War (Abacus edition, London, 2004), p. 436.

[8] Arthur was the eldest son of Col. William Henry Charles Wellesley, son of the Rev. the Hon. Gerald Valerian Wellesley D.D., Chaplain to the Queen and Prebendary of Durham, brother of Arthur, 1st Duke of Wellington, and fourth son of Garnet 1st Earl of Mornington. Anyone with further information on the Tandy family is advised to contact David & Diana Hope (

[9] 8,981 DSOs were awarded during the First World War. Each award was announced in the London Gazette together with its accompanying citation.

[10] The Daily Telegraph, 27 Dec 2010.