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Edgeworthstown, County Longford

Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744–1817) was the father of 22 children. Illustration: Derry Dillon. 

THE KING’S CONFESSOR

 

Perhaps the most remarkable baby born at The Rectory in Edgeworthstown was Henry Essex Edgeworth, later Abbé de Firmont, who served as a priest to the poor of Paris during the 1780s.[1] Following the French Revolution, he gave Louis XVI of France his last rites just before the king was guillotined in 1793. On a trip to St. Petersburg, the Abbé so impressed Tsar Paul that the Russian emperor knelt for a blessing and awarded him a handsome pension. In 1807, he contracted a fatal case of typhus while visiting French prisoners-of-war in present-day Latvia. His epitaph was written by the future King Louis XVIII of France.

 

A KINDLY NEIGHBOUR

 

From 1800 to 1814, Maria Edgeworth (1768–1849) of this town was the most successful living novelist writing in the English language. Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott were huge fans. Her most famous book was ‘Castle Rackrent’, a short and witty satire about four generations of an Anglo-Irish family. Maria was nearly 80 when the Great Hunger struck Edgeworthstown in 1847. That didn’t stop this tiny old lady from going house to house to feed and nurture the starving. Fortunately, she was a healthy woman thanks to brisk early morning walks and what she referred to as her three favourite consultants – ‘Dr Quiet, Dr Diet and Dr Merryman’ [2] Her bronze statue by Mel French stands 300 metres north of this station.

 

A MAN OF MANY TALENTS

 

Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744–1817) was a remarkable man with a passion for science and literature. A wild youth, with a passion for gambling, he was cured of such vices when shown the library at Tullynally Castle, Co. Westmeath, and encouraged to read. He became an accomplished inventor, creating the prototype of the caterpillar track system used by most present-day bulldozers, tanks and tractors. He also established the principles of modern road-making and invented an early form of telegraph, a velocipede cycle, a “perambulator” to measure land, a turnip cutter and a sail-powered carriage. Married four times, he fathered twenty-two children, including the celebrated novelist Maria Edgeworth[3]

 

EDUCATIONAL PIONEER

 

Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.  is the oldest Catholic institution of higher education in the United States. Bernard Maguire (1818–1886), a highly regarded Jesuit orator from Edgeworthstown, served as its president for two non-consecutive terms in the 1850s and 1860s. Bernard was a boy when his family immigrated to the US and settled at Frederick, Maryland. He became a Jesuit in 1837 and began teaching grammar, geometry and French at Georgetown in 1850. Over 100 of his students died during the US Civil War. During his second term as president, he oversaw the establishment of the Georgetown Law Department, now one of the top law schools in the US.[4]

 

GOLDSMITH’S SCHOOL

 

The Goldsmith Inn on Main Street recalls a school run by the kindly Rev. Patrick Hughes where the celebrated writer Oliver Goldsmith (1728–1774) was a happy pupil in 1740. Goldsmith went on from here to Trinity College Dublin but he was no model student. He learned how to drink, dress smart, sing Irish airs, play cards and master the flute, shortly before he was suspended. The man was apparently ‘between 5’4″ and 5’6″ in height, not heavily built but quite muscular and with rather plain features.’ [5]A teacher once described him as ‘impenetrably stupid’ but today he is hailed as one of the most remarkable literary figures of the Georgian age – a master of poetry (‘The Deserted Village’), the novel (‘The Vicar of Wakefield’) and theatre (‘She Stoops to Conquer’).

 

A TRUE LOVE CHARITY

 

An overgrown folly by Moatfarrell, 6km north of this station, recalls Thomas Charleton who fell in love at the age of 75. His family, who had hoped to inherit his wealth, were horrified when his sweetheart, a young local woman, accepted his marriage proposal. Somehow the family halted the wedding – some say his intended bride died, others that she was chased away.[6] Either way, when Charleton died aged 90 in 1792, he left his fortune to found the Charleton Charitable Trust, which provided small grants to thousands of young, newly-married, working-class couples from Longford and Meath. [7]

 

BATMAN

 

George Edward Dobson was one of the leading chiropterologists, or bat experts, of the 19th century.[8] Born in Edgeworthstown in 1848, he initially served as an army surgeon in India. His love of bats began in 1868 when he was posted to the remote Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean to collect bats, shrews and other zoological specimens for the Indian Museum in Kolkata. In 1872 he also made a photographic study of the Andamanese peoples. Lord Mayo, the Irish-born Viceroy of India, had been assassinated on the island earlier that year. Dobson discovered several new species of bat, such as Dobson’s horseshoe bat and Dobson’s epauletted fruit bat, both named in his honour.

 

THE FIELD MARSHAL

 

Sir Henry Hughes Wilson, who was raised on the Currygrane estate outside Edgeworthstown, was one of the most senior figures in the British army during the First World War Born in 1864, he served in Burma and the Boer War (1899-1901) and then served as commander of the British Staff College. In 1910 he was appointed director of military operations at the War Ministry. In this position he worked closely with Ferdinand Foch to ensure Anglo-French cooperation in the event of war with Germany. In 1918 he was appointed chief of the Imperial General Staff. A staunch Unionist and a close friend of Winston Churchill, he established the Cairo Gang, a deep-cover British Intelligence agency tasked with eliminating Michael Collins’s Republican organisation in Dublin. Twelve members of the Cairo Gang were killed on Bloody Sunday 1920 while Wilson was shot dead by the IRA in London in June 1922. After his killing assassination, Collins came under so much pressure from the British that he ultimately buckled and gave the order to shell the Four Courts on 28th June 1922. Wilson’s assassination was thus one of the triggers of the Irish Civil War.

 

IRELAND’S OLDEST POST OFFICE

 

Edgeworthstown is reputedly home to Ireland’s longest serving Post Office. While most sub offices in the county date to the 1860s, records from the General Post Office in Dublin show that business commenced at Edgeworthstown in 1786. By 1908 there were two permanent Sorting and Telegraph clerks in the office, transmitting telegrams around Longford by a telegraph morse code circuit. See here.

 

THE PIONEER

 

Paddy Farrell of Edgeworthstown was the oldest pioneer hotel keeper and horseman in West Ontario when he died aged 86 in 1923. Renowned for his ‘merry laughter and bright jests’, he was born on St Patrick’s Day 1836, adding a further level of importance to celebrations of that day in Woodstock, his adopted home. He and his brother John arrived in Indiana in 1857 where they initially excelled as baseball players. John Farrell was the amateur handball champion of Canada.

 

THE BOND CONNECTION

 

The Bonds arrived in Longford/Westmeath about 1720 when the Reverend James Bond arrived from Northern Ireland and founded the Presbyterian Church in Corboy, where he ministered until his death in 1762. Louis Geoffroy was a French Huguenot living in England where he was recruited by one of the Bond family in the late 18th century to be a land steward on one of their estates. Louis’s daughter, Jane Sarah, was Thomas Bond’s housekeeper until 1834 when the master wed the servant.

 

ISOLA WILDE (1857–1867)

 

Oscar Wilde’s youngest sister is buried in Edgeworthstown. Isola Francesca Emily Wilde was named in tribute to Iseult of Ireland, a heroine in Irish legends, who became the wife of Mark of Cornwall and the lover of the Cornish knight, Sir Tristan. (She shared the name Francesca with her mother, and Emily with a maternal aunt.) According to Oscar, she lit up their lives like “a golden ray of sunshine dancing about our home.” Isola was 9 years old when she  came to visit relatives in Edgeworthstown and was fatally stricken with meningitis in 1867. She was buried just inside the gate of in the nearby cemetery of St John’s. The headstone mysteriously vanished but the people of the town commissioned a replacement in 2013. (See here) Oscar seemingly carried a lock of her hair within a decorated envelope until the end of his life. He also wrote a beautiful “Requiescat” in her memory.

 

Tread lightly, she is near
Under the snow,
Speak gently, she can hear
The daisies grow.

.

All her bright golden hair
Tarnished with rust,
She that was young and fair
Fallen to dust.

.

Lily-like, white as snow,
She hardly knew
She was a woman, so
Sweetly she grew.

.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,
Lie on her breast,
I vex my heart alone,
She is at rest.

.

Peace, Peace, she cannot hear
Lyre or sonnet,
All my life’s buried here,
Heap earth upon it.

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

 

With thanks to Hogan Magee, David Leahy and Matt Farrell, abd be sure to visit the Maria Edgeworth Centre in Edgeworthstown.

 

  • Some lovely old pics of the town can be found here.
  • James Bronteer O’Brien, the Chartist leader, reformer and journalist, was educated by the Edgeworths at their experimental school. See here.
  • The Lynn family, jockeys – Micky and John

 

 

End-Notes

 

[1] The Rectory in Edgeworthstown was built in 1732, possibly as a dower house for the Edgeworth family. It looks like this.

[2] The phrase ‘Dr Quiet, Dr Diet and Dr Merryman’ is mentioned in ‘Maria Edgeworth’s Letters From Ireland,’ selected & edited By Valerie Pakenham for the Lilliput Press, 2018, ‘thanks to a regimen of brisk early morning walks and reliance on her three favourite doctors, Dr Quiet, Dr Diet and Dr Merryman.’ The phrase is often attributed to Dean Swift. On further research, I see an 1872 book of anecdotes here that states :
‘The old quaint saying, so often used, that the best physicians are Dr Quiet, Dr Diet, and
Dr Merryman, is translated from the following abstract of the ” Schola Salernitana :” —
” Si tibi deficiant medici, medici tibi fiant, Haec tria — mens hilaris, requies, moderata diaeta.” i.e. ‘If you have medical advice, doctors [consultants] will be the same three – cheerful mind, rest, moderate diet’

[3] My thanks to David Leahy, who was born in Edgeworthstown, in Our Lady’s Manor (the former Edgeworth house), which was then a Nursing home for children at the time. David believes it is now run as a nursing home for the elderly by John Noel McGivney (the son of David’s godmother, Jennie McGivney), and his wife Sarah Ann.

David also sent ‘interesting and very informative record’ from the Census Search Forms of County Longford which mentions the Edgeworths from the 1831 Census and one of their servants, p. 804 and 805:

[4] The birthplace of the Rev Bernard A. Maguire, SJ (1818-1886) is given as (Frederick,) Maryland in the 1850 US Census and in a couple of US newspaper accounts of his death but the 1870 and 1880 US census and other newspapers state he was born in (Edgeworthstown, County Longford,) Ireland. There are pictures of Bernard Maguire here and here.

After graduating from St. John’s Literary Institute in Frederick, he enrolled in Georgetown College, where he entered the Society of Jesus in 1837. The college had been opened in 1792 under John Carroll, an Irish-American Jesuit, and had a strong Irish affiliation. Ordained in 1850, Fr Maguire taught grammar, geometry and French at Georgetown before embarking on his first term as president from 1853-1858, during which he initiated a program of construction and renovation. In 1859 he relocated to Washington where he became pastor of St Aloysius Church for a time and as we know he officiated at the Dedication and Blessing of the Church on Sunday 18th October 1859.  Over the next four years, many of his former students at Georgetown died during the Civil War. He went on to serve a second term as president of Georgia University from 1866-1870, at the end of which he oversaw the establishment of its Law Department.  In 1870, he returned to St. Aloysius’ Church in Washington for a stint before relocating to take charge of the missions heading out from Boston. In later life, he achieved much renown in the American church as a preacher of mission sermons. He died at St. Joseph’s Church in Willing’s Alley, Philadelphia on April 26, 1886, and was interred in the Georgetown College burying ground.

[5] See Foley’s sculptural interpretation of Goldsmith outside the entrance to Trinity College Dublin, here.

[6] Moatfarrell & Currygrane lie within neighbouring Clonbroney Parish. Local lore has it that Charleton’s family chopped off the poor man’s cock with a knife to prevent his marriage to the local lady. That was a little too shocking to add to the panel! Images of the actual marriage certs at https://www.nationalarchives.ie/article/february-document-month/

[7] David Leahy has a figure of 1,356 couples (2,712 individuals) applying in the period 1836 – 1862 relating to marriages which took place in County Longford in the period 1790 – 1862. This figure is from the original records in the National Archives of Ireland. There were also applications from County Meath, but I am not sure of the numbers for that County. There could have been more applications prior to 1836 and I am aware of applications being recorded in the local papers in the late nineteenth century. As far as I am aware, the Charleton Charitable Trust could still be operational.

[8] More details of George Edward Dobson (1848–1895), zoologist, photographer and army surgeon and bat expert, as per https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Edward_Dobson