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The Cuffe Family, Earls of Desart

Ghostly Women and Forgotten Heroes (2002)Lady Kathleen Pilkington


1.The Origins of the Cuffe Family
Somerset Gentry Ireland under Henry VIII The Accession of Queen Elizabeth Captain Cuffe and the first Kilkenny connection

2. Hugh Cuffe of Kilmore: Elizabethan Adventurer
The Desmond Rebellion Land Grants in Cork and Clare Skartye's Castle Dispossession The Move to Clare Sir Charles Coote

3. Henry Cuffe (1563 - 1601): Secretary to the Earl of Essex
A Prominent Kinsman The Earl of Essex Essex in Ireland Coup d'Etat Execution

4. Sir Charles Coote, the 1st and 2nd Baronets
Dorothea Cuffe Common Bonds Early Ambitions Sir Charles Coote, 1st Baronet The Confederate Wars A Bloody Campaign The Defence of Ballyalley Castle Lord President Coote Sir William Petty The Restoration

5. Joseph Cuffe (1621 - 1679): Cromwellian Soldier
A Cavalry Officer The Parish of Castleinch The Comerfords and Cardinal Rinnucini Colonel Agmondesham Muschamp Martha Muschamp Cuffe's Desart and Cuffe's Grove

6. Agmondesham Cuffe, MP (d. 1627) - Williamite Soldier
Marriage to Anne Otway (1679) The Williamite Wars MP for Kilkenny (1695 - 1699) The Flood Petition (1705)

7. John Cuffe, 1st Baron Desart (1683 - 1749)
Trinity College Dublin "A Good Man" A Kilkenny Magistrate Marriage to Margaret Hamilton (1717) Marriage to Dorothea Gorges (1726) Nicola Hamilton: The Black Velvet Widow Lieutenant Colonel Richard Gorges The St. Lawrence Duel and Howth Castle The Rising Sun Birth of Georgian Dublin Edward Lovett Pearce: The Building of Desart Court (1733) Baron Desart of Desart The Callan Estate Death of the 1st Baron Desart The Dowager Lady Desart The Blundens and the Herberts

8. John Cuffe, 2nd Baron Desart (1730 - 1767)
Sean an Chaipin: A Trinity Scholar Marriage to the Kingstons of Cork The 2nd Baron's Daughters An Illegitimate Son Sale of the Callan Estate Death of the 2nd Baron Desart

9. Otway Cuffe, 1st Earl of Desart (1737 - 1804)
An Oxford Student Succeeds his Brother as 3rd Baron Desart Mayor of Kilkenny James Hoban: White House Architect Marriage to Lady Anne Browne (1781) The Earls of Altamont A New Dawn for Republicans The Earldom of Desart The 1798 Rebellion and the 1801 Act of Union Death of the 1st Earl

10. Otway Cuffe, 2nd Earl of Desart (1788 - 1826)
Viscount Castle-Cuffe Lady Elizabeth Wemyss and Lady Dorothea Campbell Peter Browne, 2nd Marquess of Sligo The Raid on Agamemnon's Tomb The Emancipator of Jamaica MP for Bossiney, Lord of the Treasury and Lord Mayor Maurice O'Connor of Gortnamona The Burkes of Marble Hill Ballykeefe Hill

11. Catherine, Countess of Desart (1799 - 1874)
A Young Widow Sir Rose Price of Trengwainton Death of Rose Lambert Price and birth of Maria The Fate of the Price Family Happier Years

12. John O'Connor Cuffe, 3rd Earl of Desart (1818 - 1865)
The Baby Earl Marriage to Lady Elizabeth Campbell (1842) Isabella Byng and the 2nd Marquess of Bath Scandal at Longleat The 3rd Earl of Harewood The 5th Duke of Buccleuch and his Labradors The Thane of Cawdor and the French Invasion The 1st Earl of Cawdor of Stackpole Court Blood Ties, Queen Victoria and the Wedding Cowes and the Royal Circle Life at Desart Death of the 3rd Earl

13. William Cuffe, 4th Earl of Desart (1845 - 1898)
A Victorian Gentleman Famine in Ireland Death of the Earl of Cawdor (1860) Military Service and Baron Henniker Succeeds his Father (1865) Sir Guy Campbell and Little Pam Fitzgerald Maria Preston and Charles Sugden Bischoffsheim & Goldschmidt Mr and Mrs Bish Conquer London A Jewish Countess: Ellen Bischoffsheim Amelia Bishoffsheim and the Knight of Kerry Desart under the 4th Earl Death of a Writer The Jewish Senator

14. Hamilton Cuffe, 5th Earl of Desart (1848 - 1934)
The Brothers Cuffe Early Years From Cowes to the Royal Navy Social High Jinks German Adventures The Courting of Lady Margaret Lascelles Solicitor to the Treasury An Insight into His Character Succeeds his Brother (1898) Wrangling with the Countess Ellen Lady Joan Cuffe and Sir Harry Lloyd-Verney Lady Sybil's Account of Desart The 1903 Land Act An American Husband: William Cutting Lady Sybil Lubbock in Italy.

15. Captain Otway Cuffe and the Gaelic League
The Irish Question Captain Otway Cuffe The Gaelic League in Kilkenny Death of Otway Cuffe

16. Lady Kathleen Pilkington
Lady Kathleen Cuffe Sir Thomas Pilkington The Pilkington Heirs

17. The End of Desart Court
The Irish Troubles The Burning of Desart Court Retreat to Sussex Death of the 5th Earl Richard Orpen's Restoration The End of Desart Court

** Bibliography

The House of Desart 1583 - 1933Up arrow

The story of the Cuffes of Desart Court in the Irish county of Kilkenny is as sprawling an epic as ever there was. Over nine generations, the family were deeply ensconced in the affairs not just of the Irish estate they made their own in the mid-17th century but also of the infinitely greater affairs of state that became the lot of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy in the 300 years leading up to the Great War of 1914 - 1918. (1) Their rise through the ranks of Great Britain's social hierarchy makes for a fascinating mirror of the rise of Britain itself, from uncertain nation state to a brash and broody empire. And perhaps swirling amid the smoke stained walls of Desart Court in the wake of its eventual burning, the spirit of a fallen empire is also to be found. For within two years of the 1922 fire at Desart Court, Britain was ruled by its first Labour Government and Ireland itself had finally come under the governance of a long sought independent administration.

The first Cuffes to live to Ireland were soldiers, born in an age when mastery of the sword and military strategy were amongst the foremost ambitions of male society. It was a mind-set born in the mountains of northern France and developed within the feudal system established by the Normans in the 12th century. At stake was perhaps the most valuable commodity of all - land. During the reign of Henry VIII, a new age in feudal policy emerged enabling the lower ranks and younger sons of the established elite to become substantial landowners in their own right. The dissolution of the monasteries during the mid-16th century paved the way for the redistribution of monastic property to those deemed worthy of such patronage. Under Queen Elizabeth I, officers who fought for the English Crown in Ireland were offered Irish land in payment for their service. It was under these circumstances that Captain John Cuffe left his home in Somerset and crossed the Irish Sea in 1561. Captain Cuffe did not survive to receive proper payment; he died during a skirmish in Wexford in 1564. However, some 20 years later, his nephew, Hugh Cuffe, received land in Counties Cork and Clare in return for his contribution to England's victory over the rebel Earl of Desmond. Hugh's brother Henry Cuffe was executed in 1601 for his support of the Earl of Essex. The Cuffes of Desart Court descend from Hugh and Henry's brother Philip Cuffe.

In 1641, Philip's Ennis-born grandson Joseph Cuffe joined a cavalry regiment raised to defend the interests of the new planters during what would become one of the most brutal wars in Irish history. During Oliver Cromwell's Protectorate, Sir Charles Coote, a kinsman of Joseph, became one of the most powerful men in Ireland. Another close family friend was Sir William Petty, the man entrusted with the redistribution of lands confiscated from Catholic Irish families to English officers. In 1654, Joseph Cuffe was awarded a substantial 5000 acre estate in the barony of Shillelogher, County Kilkenny. In due course his descendents would come to call the estate "Desart". When a serious challenge to the Cromwellian land settlement was initiated by the administration of the Catholic James II, Agmondesham Cuffe, Joseph's son and heir, was amongst the first men to take up his sword for the Dutch Prince William of Orange.

The victory of the Williamite forces over the Irish Catholics was in many ways absolute. It set in motion an age where the new Protestant elite was able to settle down and develop the hitherto unruly island into a proper English colony. Indeed, after the final defeat of James II in 1691, it is perhaps symbolic to note that no Cuffe was obliged to touch his sword until the 1st Earl of Desart galloped south with a Protestant militia to suppress a peasant rebellion in Tipperary exactly one hundred years later. The 18th century was, by and large, a peaceful time in Ireland. The vast Catholic majority was stripped of land, religious belief and the will to resist. Meanwhile, the descendents of the planter families moved swiftly to cement their hold on power.

Perhaps the greatest symbol of the age of the Protestant Ascendancy was the enormous mansions erected by individual landowners across the country. Desart Court was amongst the earliest such constructions. It was built on the Cuffe family estate in Kilkenny in 1733 for John Cuffe, later 1st Lord Desart, eldest son of Agmondesham Cuffe, the Williamite soldier. A graduate of Trinity College Dublin, John Cuffe stood as MP for Thomastown, County Kilkenny, from 1715 to 1727. Desart Court has been described as one of Ireland's most outstanding architectural triumphs. Its original architect is increasingly believed to have been Sir Edward Lovett Pearce, the man who designed Parliament House in Dublin. The construction costs appear to have been partially met through the sale of a large quantity of silver plate seized during a raid on the French fortress of Quebec by the father-in-law of the 1st Lord Desart.

Desart Court stood for nearly two hundred years before an order from the high command of the anti-treaty faction was issued during the Irish Civil War demanding the burning of all houses occupied by Senators of the governing Irish Free State. Ellen, Countess of Desart, had been appointed to the Senate just a few months earlier. Desart Court should never have been burned. The Countess, a patron of the Gaelic League, was the widow of the 4th Earl and did not live in the house. At the time, it was occupied by her brother-in-law, the 5th Earl, a prudent and successful solicitor who was amongst the greatest diplomats working for a solution to the Irish crisis in the lead up to independence. He was a great-great-grandson of the 1st Lord Desart who built Desart Court in 1733. It is rather extraordinary to contemplate that the 1st Lord, born during the reign of Charles II (1661 - 1685), was only four generations distant from the 5th Earl, a man who witnessed the birth of the Irish Free State and died in 1934.

Between the arrival of Philip Cuffe in Ireland in the Elizabethan Age and the death of the last earl of Desart, there were nine generations. This story follows the family on a chronological journey from the wilds of County Cork in the 16th century through to the burning of Desart Court in 1922.

The term "Anglo-Irish" only came into play in the early part of the 20th century. In older historys those who settled in Ireland during Elizabethan and Jacobean times are generally described as "New English", to differentiate them from the Anglo-Norman settlers, or "Old English", who came over in the 12th and 13th centuries.

The Origins of the Cuffe FamilyUp arrow

The family are believed to be of Anglo-Saxon origin as, during the Norman Invasion in 1066, one Cuthwulf of royal lineage served at the battle of Hastings but lost his lands at Rollestone, near Old Sarum, in late 1000’s to Bishop Odo de Burgh, half-brother of William the Conqueror. Not long afterwards, the name Cuffe began to appear in the same area.

The Cuffe family were landowners in the prosperous county of Somerset at least from the time of the War of the Roses. In August 1585, the Lancastrian and Yorkist armies met for the final battle of that war at Bosworth in Leicestershire. Richard III was slain and the wily Welshman, Henry Tudor, ascended the English throne as Henry VII. At about this time, the Cuffe family built a manor house at Rowlands, midway between Taunton and Yeovil. (2) The house still stands today and includes a Great Hall, about 25-foot in height, with mullion windows and plasterwork dating from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. This house was the family seat for the duration of the Tudor period, an age in which England advanced steadily from its hitherto unimportant role as an island on the fringes of Western Europe to become one of the leading maritime powers in Europe. Little is known of the Cuffe family activities during the reign of the first Tudor king, the wily King Henry VII, or his son and successor, King Henry VIII. As Somerset gentry however, they must have inevitably been embroiled in the West Country rebellions that occurred in reaction to the growing centralization of Royal authority in London.

In 1541, the Irish Parliament passed the Act of Kingly Title, and changed the legal status of Ireland, from a Lordship attached to the English crown, to a separate kingdom, vested in the English crown. In constitutional terms the English and Irish kingdoms enjoyed equal status, in practical terms Ireland became a subsidiary kingdom and the first colony. Consequently, the resources of the Irish kingdom enabled the crown government in Ireland, to provide a steady stream of patronage with grants of offices and lands. The dissolution of the monasteries in the late 1530s, for example, allowed the Crown to reward its adherents, whether Englishmen or loyal members of the Irish elite - native Irish and Anglo-Norman alike - with grants of former monastic lands. By the second half of the 16th century, the new land owning situation in the Irish kingdom presented England's minor gentry, and the younger sons of noble and gentry families in both England and Ireland, with fresh opportunities to make or increase their fortunes.


John Cuffe was born in 1495, making him just four years younger than his hunting friend of Henry VIII. In 1542, he acquired Donyatt by grant of Henry VIII, who hunted here with him. The King also gifted him Tintinhull Court, a 13th century parsonage in Somerset.He served as a Protestant agent to Thomas Cromwell during the dissolution of the monasteries, for which he was knighted by Sir Christopher Barker, the Kings’ Herald, during the Visitation of 1544. He owned lands at Torrells and Yerdel. He signed his name in the Book of Dignities at the Coronation of Edward VI on 20 Feb 1546/47. His wife was Elizabeth Pawlshott. Sir John Cuffe died in 1552, having had (at least) four sons and three daughters.[1] His second son Robert Cuffe (1524-1572) was Secretary to the Earl of Essex and father of Hugh Cuffe (the Munster adventurer), Henry Cuffe (also secretary to the Earl of Essex and executed in 1601) and Philip Cuffe, progenitor of the Earls of Desart.

In November 1558, Henry VIII's daughter, the Protestant Princess Elizabeth Tudor, ascended the throne as Queen of England and Ireland. For the next forty years, England was to enjoy a Golden Age in which her sailors discovered unknown lands, and laid the basis for a marine-mercantile nexus, the foundations on which the British Empire later developed, in the 17th Century. Control of the Irish kingdom was pivotal to England's ability to explore the North Atlantic and to begin the settlement of North America, which set the stage for much of the modern history of Europe and America.

i. JOHN CUFFE (THE2 ELDER), b. 1522, Illchester Somerset, England; d. 1557, Cryche St Michael Somerset England. He married JOAN DENNY, daughter of WILLIAM DENNY. Between 1533 - 1559, he was a Clerk of the Peace in Somerset.
ii. ROBERT CUFFE, b. 1524, Illchester Somerset England; d. 1572, Creech St.Michael, Somerset, England. He was Secretary to the Earl of Essex.
iii. CAPTAIN JOHN CUFFE (OF IRELAND), d. 1565, Ireland.
vii. JOHN CUFFE(THE YOUNGER), d. Bolougne France, where he was said to have been Provost.

The earliest reference to the Cuffe family in Ireland is during the Elizabethan age, when Sir John Cuffe's son Captain John Cuffe adventured to Ireland in 1561. He was probably part of the new Elizabethan army dispatched to bring the uncivil Irish populace to heel. (3) In 1564 Captain Cuffe was granted a commission to execute martial law in County Waterford. Little further is known of him other than the fact that he died of wounds received in a skirmish in Wexford later that year. (4) His widow, Catherine Cuffe, sought compensation for his loss and, by 1574, she was in receipt of the tithes due to the Ormonde rectories of Thomastown and Columkill, Taghan Church and the old Augustinian priory of "Enestiocke" (Inistioge) in County Kilkenny. In 1577, the sons of Captain and Catherine Cuffe, James and Edward (sometimes stated as Edmund), were confirmed in these possessions but, for reasons unknown, the properties were seized in 1589 and granted to George Sherlocke. (5) It is certainly worth noting that the family connection to County Kilkenny dates from 1574.

(2) Members of the Cuffe family were almost certainly embroiled in the War of the Roses when Yorkist forces laid siege to Taunton Castle on Palm Sunday (March 29th) 1461. Some 28,000 soldiers died in the ensuing battle. In 1497 Taunton again featured prominently when the renegade pretender Perkin Warbeck was captured there.

(3) There is also an unsupported reference to a Captain Cuffe serving, in 1551, with Sir Ralph Bagenal in a campaign to oust the McDonnells from Rathlin Island off the coast of county Antrim. The English ship was thrown ashore by an unpredictable swell and both Bagenal and Cuffe captured. They were later released in exchange for the release of Sorley Boy MCDonnell, then captive in Dublin Castle.
(4) Fiant Elizabeth, 590, 682.
(5) Fiant Elizabeth 2872, 3066; 5356.Up arrow

Hugh Cuffe of Kilmore - Elizabethan Adventurer

Captain John Cuffe's nephew, Hugh Cuffe, was born circa 1564. Following the attainder of the Earl of Desmond, he was awarded part of the Desmond estate in Munster in the 1580s. A descendent of the Welsh-Norman family of Fitzgerald, the Earl of Desmond, had rebelled against the Dublin administration in 1579, and received some assistance from Philip II of Spain who sent a small armed force. The resources of the Crown forces under the command of Black Tom Butler, Earl of Ormond, overpowered Desmond's army in Munster, and Desmond was forced to go on the run as a defeated traitor. In 1583, the renegade Earl was captured and killed by the O'Moriartys in a forest near Tralee; his severed head was dispatched to London and there left to rot on London Bridge as a warning to would be traitors. "The territory over which he had ruled like a monarch was quickly annexed to the English crown and, three years later, the Munster plantations began. An estimated 300,000 acres of good land was involved". (6)

Among the 34 beneficiaries to be granted the forfeited Desmond estates were Sir Walter Raleigh, the poet Edmund Spenser and a young Somerset gentleman named Hugh Cuffe, the son of Robert Cuff of Donyath. It is not clear just how much land Hugh Cuffe was awarded but his name appears in several Elizabethan fiants relating to County Cork and there are records stating that at least some of his children were born at Ennis, County Clare, in the early 1580s. In a fiant dated 14th November 1587, he was granted the lands of Kilabraher Abbey in Kilmore, County Cork, near Edmund Spenser's 3028-acre estate of Kilcolman Castle, Doneraile. There is evidence of early clashes between the incoming New English and the established Old English (Anglo-Normans), who feared that the newcomers undermined their traditional rights and authority in Ireland. In 1588, Hugh Cuffe co-signed a petition drawn up by Spenser accusing their Irish neighbour, Viscount Roche of Fermoy, of continued allegiance to the "Rebell" cause. Their particular objection was to a proclamation by Roche that "none of his people should have trade or conference with Mr. Spenser", a tactic famously employed against Captain Boycott in the 19th century.

Hugh Cuffe was also granted a castle and certain lands at Kilbolane near the present town of Charleville, County Cork. These lands were formerly held by Thomas MacShane MacMorris (alias Tomas ne Skartye), a kinsman of Edmund Fitzgibbon, the "White Knight". Skartye was attainted for his role in the Desmond Rebellion. The castle was probably in a poor condition, perhaps even ruined. The surrounding countryside cannot have been much better. The Elizabethan army in Munster had conducted a scorched earth campaign, destroying crops in the fields and bringing famine to the region. Over time Hugh Cuffe restocked his land by shipping fresh supplies - livestock, equipment, raw materials and arms - across the Irish Sea, probably via the port at Bristol. Under the terms of his land grant, he was also obliged to sponsor a designated number of English tenants and freeholders who would have lived in more modest houses of wood and stone. Nonetheless, as a new landowner in a conquered land, Hugh Cuffe must have been a man to whom sleep did not come easy.

Hugh Cuffe did not long enjoy his Cork estate for, in about 1590, Skartye's niece, Helen Fitzgibbon successfully appealed her uncle's attainment to the authorities in Dublin Castle and the lands were restored to her by Lord Deputy Fitzwilliam. It may be that Hugh paid the price for poor management of his estates; a Sir Percival Willoughby of Woolaton Hall in Nottinghamshire berated a Mr. Cuffe of County Cork for treating his "tenants" with undue harshness.Nonetheless the Cuffes maintained a link with Cork even after the loss of Kilbolane in 1590. In an 1604 marriage settlement drawn up between Hugh's daughter, Dorothea, and (later Sir) Charles Coote, Hugh Cuffe is described as "of Cuffe's Wood (or Kilmore), County Cork".

No records survive as to the identity of Hugh Cuffe's wife (or wives). His only son appears to have been killed in the 1598 rebellion.

(6) "The Irish Country House: A Social History", Peter Somerville-Large (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1995).

Henry Cuffe (1563-1601) Private Secretary to the Earl of EssexUp arrow

Henry Cuffe, brother of Hugh and Philip, was born at Hinton St.George near Rowlands in Somerset in 1563. He rose to prominence as private secretary to the ill-fated Earl of Essex. (8)

A graduate of Merton College, Oxford, Henry Cuffe joined the Earl of Essex's inner circle during the early 1590s. Contemporaries described him as an intensely studious and learned young man, not necessarily of a classical Renaissance mould but scathing of the "medieval" mind-sets he perceived to hold power in Elizabethan England. Cuffe would have been aware of the inner thoughts of Essex and his circle. Born in Hereford in 1568, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, was one of the great privateers of the Elizabethan age. He first endeared himself to the English people when, at the age of 29, he commanded a fleet in a raid upon the Spanish port of Cadiz. Henry Cuffe was at his side during the campaign and quite possibly encouraged the young hero's "vaulting ambitions" for political influence in the Royal Court. However, despite her personal fancy for the man, Queen Elizabeth maintained that such a hot-head was not what she required in an age when diplomacy was fast emerging as the ultimate battle skill. The raid on Cadiz in 1596 was nonetheless a remarkable victory and not even Essex's failure to intercept the Spanish treasure fleet off the Azores the following year could undermine his popularity at home.

By 1598 the rebels in Ireland were in the ascendancy, and Elizabeth faced the very real prospect of losing control of her Irish patrimony. It was time to send an army across the Irish Sea and the Earl of Essex was chosen to command the crown's army in Ireland. Essex had the reputation as the greatest military commander in England, but even more significantly, he was the leader of the 'war party' at court. This court faction were determined to complete the war in Ireland quickly, in order to free up the crown's forces to pursue English interests in the Spanish Netherlands. In March 1599, Essex was appointed as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and set off at the head of a colossal army numbering 1300 cavalry, 16,000 foot soldiers and 2000 veterans of the Dutch wars. Once again, Henry Cuffe was at his side. Essex's Irish campaign was one of mixed results. He mopped up rebel fighting in Munster and re-established some control in the province of Leinster. The Queen however criticized the southern campaign as pointless, and ordered him North to battle with Hugh O'Neill, the earl of Tyrone. Despite the magnitude of his force, Essex was unable to secure the line of attack in the North, and in September 1599 at the end of the campaigning season, he met alone with O'Neill to parlay a ceasefire, without the crown's authority. While in Ireland, Essex was constantly looking over his shoulder at events in the English court. He blamed Sir Robert Cecil, leader of the aristocratic faction of moderates, for his loss of favour with the Queen. At length, Essex decided his best course of action would be to visit the Queen personally. On 24th September 1599, he suddenly left his Irish command, without permission, and, accompanied by his private secretary, Henry Cuffe, journeyed to London in a vain attempt to regain the Queen's favour. With the rebellion in Ireland still continuing, this proved a foolhardy decision for it was a treasonable offence for the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to abandon his post without license from the crown. Essex was arrested on arrival in London and placed under house arrest for 18 months.

Henry Cuffe remained in London for the duration of Essex's imprisonment and devoted himself to defending the Earl's actions. Essex, however, had not the patience to await a peaceful outcome. Rumours abounded that Cecil sought his execution. At length, fearing the worst, Essex took his last big gamble and launched a coup d'etat on 8th February 1601, full of hope that the Londoners who had so worshipped him after the siege of Cadiz would now rally to his defence and help oust his enemies from the Queen's council. A popular myth that later grew up around the Essex rebellion is that the day before the coup, Essex's supporters convinced William Shakespeare to stage the debut performance of his controversial new play, Richard II, the story of a monarch who lost his throne because he kept listening to evil advisers. One wonders whether Henry Cuffe was among those who put pressure on the Great Bard to commit this early act of spin doctoring. Alas for Essex, only 300 men rose in his favour and the riot was easily crushed.

"You sought to be Robert the First," shouted Edward Coke at the trial, "but you shall be Robert the Last". The Queen glumly dipped her quill in the inkwell, Essex was shackled and taken to the Tower of London and, on 25th February 1601, an executioner's axe severed his head from his body. He was 34 years old. Interestingly, the Queen insisted the execution be a private affair, the only such execution ever to be conducted within the Tower. She insisted this was because she didn't wish to upset those who still admired the Earl. But one wonders whether the daughter of a beheaded Queen, about to bequeath her kingdom to the son of another beheaded Queen, was simply upset that her government were about to behead one of her former favourites. At any rate, it was also the end of the line for Essex's inner circle and, ten days later, Henry Cuffe was hung at to Tyburn. Many of the Cuffe descendents believe Henry was “stitched up” by the rival Cecil camp at court.

(8) The Dictionary of National Biography states that Henry and Hugh Cuffe were "of the same family although the relationship does not seem to have been definitely settled." DNB Vol. V (Oxford University Press), pp. 272 - 275. They may have both been kinsmen of John Pyke, also of Somerset, born 1572, son of Stephen Pike and his wife Dorothy (nee Cuffe), who emigrated to North America and died in Massachusetts in 1654. However, the lineage of Hugh Cuffe and Henry Cuffe has now been established and they were brothers. There is some speculation as to whether Henry was illegitimate, begat by one of the Nevilles or Pauletts, both of which families were instrumental in supporting Henry throughout his life.

Sir Charles Coote, the 1st and 2nd BaronetsUp arrow

Despite his brother's execution in 1601, Hugh Cuffe's fortunes improved considerably following the 1604 marriage of his daughter Dorothea to Charles Coote. Coote was a young officer who joined the English army in Ireland shortly after Lord Mountjoy replaced the disgraced Earl of Essex in 1600. He was to become one of the most powerful and reviled military leaders in Ireland over the course of the next forty years.

The marriage of Dorothea Cuffe and Sir Charles Coote helped to align these two families in successive generations. Both families were New English settlers, attracted to Ireland by the prospect of gaining estates and high office through service to the crown. The goals of both families must have been much the same, namely to secure their land-holdings, and advance their family's prestige, but they could only succeed by displacing the Old English. In so doing, they alienated the old ruling elite, and this in turn reinforced the shared interests of the New English as a group.

The Cootes were prominent landowners in Norfolk and Suffolk during the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1596, Charles's father, Sir Nicholas Coote, was heavily fined and sentenced to prison in Fleet Street for his support of the rebellious Duke of Norfolk. At the age of 19, Charles sold the family estates in Norfolk to pay his father's debts and, with his brothers, joined Mountjoy's army in Ireland. He was present at the battle of Kinsale in 1601 when the Earl of Tyrone and Lord O'Donnell, assisted by a Spanish expeditionary force, were routed by Mountjoy's forces. Kinsale proved the decisive battle of the Nine Years War; the subsequent reassertion of crown authority in Ireland during the next generation paved the way for the wholesale plantation of the country.

In 1605, King James I appointed Charles Coote as Provost Marshal of the province of Connaught. Coote and his wife Dorothea Cuffe then settled in County Roscommon and built Castle Coote. In 1606 Coote was appointed Sheriff for County Cork. Over the next ten years, Charles and Dorothea had five children - three sons, all of whom were later appointed Colonels, and two daughters. In 1616 Charles Coote was knighted and, in 1621, James I appointed him a Privy Councilor and created him one of the first Baronets of Ireland "in consideration of his good and faithful services in the province of Ulster". Coote founded the towns of Jamestown (1622) and Carrick-on-Shannon (1623) in County Leitrim, as well as Mountrath, County Laoise, in 1628.

By 1640, the increasingly Puritanical Sir Charles possessed a considerable fortune in Ireland, principally in Connaught, and he used some of this to commence the construction of a semi-fortified mansion in the Slieve Bloom Mountains at Ballintaggard, near Clonaslee, County Laoise, which he named Castle Cuffe in tribute to his wife's family. The outbreak of rebellion in Scotland in 1638, spread to Ireland by 1641, and then to England, tipping the United Kingdom into civil war by 1642. The Irish rebels in particular targeted the English planters and the still uncompleted Castle Cuffe was burned to the ground - the mortar that the masons used was so strong that much of the ruin still stands today. For more, see The Siege of Castlecuffe.

Ireland in the mid-17th century was a desperately unhappy land. With religious divisions ever deepening throughout Europe, it was inevitable that a people so predominantly Catholic would be plunged into further conflict. The rebellion of 1641 ignited a ferocious civil war that dragged on for nearly 14 years, pitting a fragile confederation of Irish and Anglo-Norman Catholic against the militant forces of English Protestant Republicanism. Head-quartered in Kilkenny, the Confederates produced many admirable victories but were ultimately unable to sustain the pressure.

Chief amongst those fighting for the Republican cause was Sir Charles Coote and his kinsmen. Castle Cuffe had not been his only loss. The same year, his son and eventual heir, another Charles, was besieged at Castle Coote, while his nephew Maurice Cuffe fought off a rebel force outside his County Clare stronghold, Ballyalley Castle. In 1642, the then 60 year old Sir Charles Coote mounted his steed and set forth at the head of a force of 1500 men, to wipe out rebel activity in the Wicklow Mountains. In his subsequent campaign, he earned a reputation as a fearless, bloody-minded commander. He apparently lusted ‘to hang, to racke, to kill, to burne, to spoil / untill I make this land a barren soile.’

In the spring of 1642 Coote's militia were attacked at Trim by a force of some 3000 rebels; Sir Charles was shot dead while he led a cavalry charge. The ominous epitaph above his tomb in Christ Church Cathedral reads "England's honour, Scotland's wonder, Ireland's terror here lies under". Contemporaries regarded him as "a hot headed and bloody man" (Lord Castlehaven), "very rough and sour in his temper". After his death, his estates were divided amongst his four sons establishing ‘an affinity that stretched through Queen’s County, Roscommon, Galway, Sligo and Leitrim.' Tradition claims it was once possible to walk from one side of Ireland to the other without ever leaving Coote lands.

Sir Charles Coote, 2nd Baronet, proved every bit as brutal as his father. 'Kakou korakos kakon oon', one might say. 'A bad egg from a bad crow.' In 1645, he was made Lord President of Connaught and "disregarding the truce made by order of the King in 1643 he continued to ravage it, like another Attila the Hun, with fire and the sword". During the latter years of the Confederate Wars, he won major victories over rebel forces at Sligo (1646), Coleraine (1649), Carrickfergus (1649), Londonderry (1650), Athlone (1650), Portumna (1650), Ballyshannon (1651), Donegal (1651), Ballymote (1651) and Galway (1652). Thousands of suspected rebels, including children, were massacred under his command. Indeed he callously stated with regard to the slaughter of children that "nits will grow lice". In 1653 he personally orchestrated the shipping of 2000 rebels from Connaught to Jamaica, lately conquered by Cromwell's Admiral Penn. The Cuffe family maintained a connection with Jamaica until the 19th century.

Sir Charles Coote, the younger, continued to prosper during the Cromwellian era. By 1659 he was one of the five Commissioners entrusted with the governance of Ireland. One of his few close friends was Sir William Petty, the man appointed by Cromwell to oversee the redistribution of forfeited Irish lands to loyal English soldiers and the London businessmen who sponsored the conquest. Sir Charles benefited greatly from this friendship, acquiring a substantial estate of 4444 acres in County Clare as well as lands throughout Leinster, Munster and Connaught.

Sir Charles Coote was a prime mover at the convention of 1660 for the Restoration of Charles II, who rewarded him with lands and the title of Earl of Mountrath. He was subsequently confirmed in his role as President of Connaught and appointed Governor of the merchant city of Galway. He also received a grant of Athlone Castle and was awarded an exceptionally generous annual salary. As one of three Irish Justiciars (chief governors) appointed, Coote enjoyed a large degree of independence in the governance of Ireland control over Irish affairs. Coote's luck ran out in December 1661 when he died of the small pox. His widow, Lady Jane, remarried Sir Robert Reading. In compensation for the loss of her husband, she was granted a license to build and maintain lighthouses around the Irish coast and to extract dues from mariners accordingly for 31 years. The ruined lighthouse on the Old Head of Kinsale, County Cork, is the only one still standing.

In 1813, William Wellesley-Pole sold Ballyfin House to Sir Charles Henry Coote, 9th Bart. Raised in Ash Hill, Kilmallock, Co. Limerick, Charles was a ten year old boy when, in 1802, he inherited Ireland’s premier baronetcy and 50,000 acres from his cousin, the 7th and last Earl of Mountrath. Centred on he town of Mountrath in Co. Laois, this vast inheritance was held in trust until he reached his majority in 1813. He may have owned a massive estate, but Sir Charle had no family mansion. As such, the timing of the sale of Ballyfin House was serendipitous. Between 1802 and 1813, his wealth had accumulated to such an extent that, when he came of age, he had ample money to buy Ballyfin, the ‘most elegant seat’ in the region.

Joseph Cuffe of Castleinch (1621 - 1679) - A Cromwellian Soldier
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Sir John Cuffe's son Robert Cuffe was also father of Phillip Cuffe who, at some point, seems to have moved to County Clare. Philip's son Maurice Cuffe was born at Ennis in about 1581 and buried in Ennis Abbey upon his death in 1638. Maurice's sister Elizabeth Cuffe was also born at Ennis in about 1585. (7) In 1621, Maurice's son Joseph Cuffe was born in Ennis. It was this Joseph who would go on to settle at Desart in County Kilkenny and father a dynasty that would continue to exert an influence over Irish affairs right up until Independence in 1921. He was probably a brother of Maurice Cuffe, a merchant of Ennis, who wrote an account of the defence of Ballyalley Castle during its siege in 1641. (9) Joseph Cuffe died at Castleinch, County Kilkenny, on Christmas Day 1679. Thus he would not have been 21 years old when the rebellion first broke out in Ulster in 1641. He subsequently served in a cavalry regiment of the Republican Army during its bloody campaign against the Irish Confederates. He may even have served alongside his baleful kinsman Sir Charles Coote or his equally sinister son. He commanded a troop of horse under Major Warden at the capture of Cork City on 16th October 1649. Joseph Coote took part in the capture of Cork in December 1649. Among the family portraits burned during the 1922 fire at Desart Court was "a curious but by no-means artistic … three-quarter length portrait" depicting Captain Joseph Cuffe in buff jerkin, holding a pistol. In the wake of the Cromwellian Conquest of Ireland, Joseph was rewarded for his efforts with a castle and estate at Castleinch in the barony of Shillelogher, County Kilkenny.

(7) In 1634, Elizabeth Cuffe married Francis Slingsby (b. 1569), sixth son of Sir Francis Slingsby (d. 4 Aug 1600) of Scriven, Knaresborough, West Riding, Yorkshire by his wife Mary Percy (d 1598), daughter of Sir Thomas Percy. Their daughter, Mary Slingsby of Kilmore, married Captain William Dodwell (1604 - 1654), by whom they had at least one son , Henry Dodwell (October 1641 - June 1711) who is noted in The Dictionary of National Biography. Maria Pulleyn, the wife of Guy Fawkes, had a brother Walter Pulleyn who married Margaret Slingsby of Scriven. Mary's cousin, Sir Henry Slingsby, 1st Bart, of Scriven, was executed by Cromwell on 8th June 1658 for supporting the Royalist cause.
(9) Maurice Cuffe's journal was printed by the Camden Society in 1841.

At this point it is worth taking a short look at Castleinch (also known as Inchiholaghan) for that is the name of the parish in which Desart Court was to stand for nearly 300 years. Today it is a fertile landscape, principally given to pasture, but featuring some bogland and a large ancient forest maintained as "Castleinch Forest" under the Millennium Woods Project. Tourism guides refer to "the ruins of a castle and church" in the vicinity. It is often easy to skip over such incidentals as "a ruined castle and church" without pausing to think what these places once meant. However, in terms of the castle and church at Castleinch we are blessed with some information.

In the twelfth century, Earl William Marshal granted the parish of Castleinch to the Anglo-Norman De Valle (or Wall) family. By the 17th century, Shillelogher was one of the wealthiest baronies in the country, held in the patrimony of the Earl of Ormonde. In the 1640s the resident landholder, Gerald Comerford of Castleinch hosted Cardinal Rinnuccini, the Papal Nuncio, before he entered Kilkenny City to meet with the Irish confederates there. In 1650 Kilkenny surrendered to Cromwell's forces, and in 1654 Gerald Comerford was attainted for treason. His castle and lands at Castleinch were forfeited to Joseph Cuffe, Esq.

There is, however, a historical peculiarity here for, also in 1654, Joseph Cuffe married a girl named Martha Muschamp. Parish records state that she was born at Castleinch in 1626. Martha's father, the magnificently named Colonel Agmondesham Muschamp, was born at Castleinch ca.1600. (10) Thus, if we are to follow the male line of the House of Desart then 1654 was the year in which the Cuffe's established a seat at Castleinch. But if we follow instead the female line, then the family's association with Castleinch began at least as early as 1600 when Agmondesham Muschamp was born in the parish.

Joseph and Martha Cuffe's eldest son was also named Agmondesham, in his grandfather's honour and the name was to feature again and again in the Cuffe family pedigrees. Indeed Martha Cuffe must have been a lady of impressive stamina for she provided her husband with 20 children, of which four sons and eight daughters survived to adulthood.

Following the restoration of Charles II, and the death of Sir Charles Coote in 1661, the Comerfords, perhaps encouraged by their friendship with the Duke of Ormonde, successfully appealed the forfeiture of their estates. However, in October 1666, under the Act of Settlement & Explanation, Joseph Cuffe was granted 200 plantation acres including 1200 acres at "Tullaghane, to be called and known for ever by the name of Cuffe's Desart… and Lislonan, to be called and known for ever by the name of Cuffe's Grove." (11) The previous year he had been elected MP for Knocktopher but was unseated on petition. In 1678, Joseph Cuffe was confirmed "in the possession of the castle, manor, lands etc of that estate which was ever afterwards to be called "Castleinch'". He died the following year and was buried in St. David's Church, Inchiholaghan. An elaborate marble tablet was erected to his memory in the north chancel of the church with this inscription:

Sacred to the Pious Memory of Joseph Cuffe, of Castleinch, Esq,
who died on Christmas Morning
Between 9 and 10 o'clock,
in the Year of Our Lord 1679,
and in the 58th year of his age

(10) Joseph and Martha had a daughter, Ann Cuffe, born at Castleinch in 1654. She married Samuel Matthews, grandson of a Welsh soldier. Their grandson Samuel Matthews was Mayor of Kilkenny in 1737 and built Bonnestown Hall during the same period as Desart Court. Anne Matthews (nee Cuffe) died at Bonnestown, Kilkenny, in July 1695.

(11) In total his estate in Kilkenny came to 5425 acres, including 324 acres at Cuffe's Grange and 420 acres in Killaloe. See Ronald P. Larkin, The Road to Knockeenbaun, Kilmanagh. (2002), p. 46.

Agmondesham Cuffe, MP, of Castleinch (d. 1727)
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Colonel Sir John OtwayJoseph Cuffe died on Christmas Day 1679 and was buried at Castleinch, County Kilkenny. Earlier that year his eldest son and heir, Agmondesham Cuffe, married a widow named Anne Warden. (12) Her father, Sir John Otway (1623 - 1693), had fought for the Royalists during the English Civil War and, in 1665, was knighted by Charles II for his efforts. He subsequently served as a member of the Privy Council during the first years of James II's reign (1686 - 1687) and as both Vice Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Chancellor of the County Palatine of Durham. Agmondesham was born in Athlone in about 1658 and entered Trinity College Dublin as a Fellow Commoner on 8th August 1672. Anne Warden's late husband, John Warden, owned a house and lands at Burnchurch, a few miles east of where Desart Court stood. It would seem that Agmondesham and Anne settled at Burnchurch for that is where their son and eventual heir, John Cuffe, later 1st Baron Desart, was born on 14th April 1683.

In the 1680s, Agmondesham Cuffe - as a Kilkenny alderman and member of the New English elite - became increasingly hostile to the policy of James II. James had succeeded his brother Charles II, as king of England, Ireland and Scotland early in 1685. Although initially fearful of alienating English and Irish Protestant opinion, James II came under the influence of the Catholic Earl of Tyrconnell and determined to make the island of Ireland a Catholic stronghold. Tyrconnell also secured the king's agreement to revise the 1662 Act of Settlement, which had confirmed many of the leading Cromwellian planters in their estates. Among those now stripped of their lands by the new legislation was Agmondesham Cuffe. In December 1687 Agmondesham received further bad news when a Royal Charter signed by James II called for his dismissal from Kilkenny Corporation and his removal from the office of Mayor of Kilkenny to which he had been elected the previous June. Stripped of both public office and private lands, it is not improbable that Agmondesham must have started to polish his musket when news arrived that the Dutch Protestant William of Orange had arrived in England to oust King James from the throne. Further warfare followed, but the decisive victory of the Williamite forces at the battle of the Boyne in 1690, and the battle of Aughrim in 1691, brought a new dynasty to the throne, and finally secured New English interests in Ireland. Whether or not Agmondesham Cuffe fought at any of these encounters is unknown but, following the accession of William and Mary to the throne, he was restored to his lands at Castleinch. Indeed, in 1733 when his son and heir John Cuffe was raised to the peerage as Lord Desart, the preamble to the patents specifically referred to the efforts of both Agmondesham Cuffe and his father Joseph, for their efforts to ensure the "Protestant succession". These efforts appear to have been the "safeguarding and forwarding [of] supplies and ammunition [to King William's men] during the Jacobite campaign". (13)

In 1695 Agmondesham Cuffe was returned as Member of Parliament for County Kilkenny. In spite of an electoral inquiry that revealed him to have blatantly and illegally created freeholders to vote for him, he retained the seat until the Parliament was dissolved in June 1699. This was the Parliament that implemented the bulk of the Penal Laws that would go on to keep the Catholic majority subjugated for the next 150 years. Among the acts Agmondesham would have voted on were those forbidding Catholics from sending their children abroad for education, from owning arms or horses valued at more than £5 and from becoming solicitors. During this time his young son Joseph attended Trinity College Dublin. One wonders how often father and son met and walked together upon the muddy streets of the medieval stronghold that would one day become the second city of the British Empire.

In 1705, Agmondesham addressed "the Knights, Citizens and Burgesses in [Queen Anne's Irish] Parliament on behalf of himself, his tenants and others in the county of Kilkenny against the conduct of Major Francis Flood". He unsuccessfully contested the Borough of St. Canice (Kilkenny) in 1707 and also lost in an election bid for the Kilkenny county seat in 1715. In his latter years he married secondly, Anne, widow of an Ulster planter named John Dawson and ancestor of the Earl of Dartrey. (14) He died in December 1727, leaving four sons and a daughter. He was succeeded by his 44-year-old son, John Cuffe, later Lord Desart, who married Dorothea Gorges earlier that same year.

Among the family portraits that perished during the burning of Desart Court in 1922 was an oil in good condition, of a man believed to have been Agmondesham Cuffe. The artist was reputed to have been the Dutch artist, Sir Godfrey Kneller.

(12) She may have been related to the Major Warden with whom Agmondesham's father, Joseph Cuffe, served during the Cromwellian Wars.
(13) Playfair's British Family Antiquity, Vol. IV, app., p. 114.
(14) Anne's father was Henry Richardson of Poplar Vale, County Monaghan. Air Marshal Sir Victor Richardson who died in 1960 was a direct descendent.

John Cuffe, 1st Baron Desart (1683 - 1749)Up arrow

John Cuffe was born at Burnchurch, County Kilkenny, on 14th April 1683, the "eldest son" of Agmondesham Cuffe by his first wife Anne, daughter of Sir John Otway. However, there appears to be some dispute as to whether John was actually the firstborn son. The Register of Trinity College Dublin states that his brother Maurice was born in 1681 which would, of course, make Maurice the older son. Maurice was called to the Irish Bar in 1712, became a King's Counselor for four years and represented the City of Kilkenny in King George I's Irish Parliament from 1715 to 1726. In 1732 he built a house at Killaghy (or St. Alban's) near the Ballyspellin Spa in County Kilkenny. He married Martha Fitzgerald, daughter of John Fitzgerald of Ballymaloe, Co. Cork. (15) A third brother was Denny Cuffe, MP, who married Grace Wright of Dublin and was ancestor of the Wheeler-Cuffe family. There was also a daughter, Martha, who married John Blunden, MP, father of Sir John Blunden, 1st Bart.

John was educated at Kilkenny College where Jonathan Swift had studied a decade earlier. Like Swift and his father before him, John Cuffe went on to study at Trinity College Dublin, founded just over a century earlier by Queen Elizabeth. He entered Trinity aged 14 on 7th August 1697, became a Fellow Commoner and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1701. It was during this period that the Rubrics, the oldest surviving building in the college today, was built.

As John Cuffe was the first of the family to acquire the name of Desart, it may be worth a quick recap of the family fortunes to date. His great grandfather had fought in Ireland even before Trinity was founded. His great grand uncle appears to have been the man executed for his support of the Earl of Essex in 1601. His paternal grandfather had fought in the Cromwellian wars, perhaps alongside the infamous Sir Charles Coote, and died four years before John's birth. His maternal grandfather, Sir John Otway, had fought in the English Civil War and risen to prominence in the administration of King Charles II. As a young boy, John Cuffe would surely have been aware of the extraordinary political developments then in operation across the British Isles. Did he start life in the damp old tower house built by the Comerfords in the 16th century and granted to his grandfather in the wake of the Cromwellian wars? His father was attainted by King James's Parliament and evicted from Castleinch when John was six years old. Did he then perhaps go and stay with the elderly Sir John Otway, his only living grandfather, then lording it up at his country manor, Beckside Hall, on the banks of Lake Windermere? By the time of Sir John's death on 17th October 1693, John Cuffe was 10 years old. King William's victory over the Jacobites in 1691 ensured his fathers' restoration to the lands in Kilkenny and it was perhaps now, with the Protestants finally in complete control of Irish affairs, that John returned to the county that was to become his home in later years. As to his character, we have a description by his granddaughter Dorothea Herbert who recalled him as "a remarkably handsome and good man".

John Cuffe's political career commenced in 1708, when, at the age of 25, he was appointed Sheriff of Kilkenny. Seven years later he began to make his mark in the Irish House of Commons when he became MP for Thomastown, a position he retained for 12 years from the accession of King George I in 1715 to the accession of King George II in 1727. (16)

On September 2nd 1717, the 36-year-old MP attended the Protestant church in Comber, County Down and there wed a young lady named Margaret Hamilton. Her father, James Hamilton, lived at nearby Carnesure while her maternal grandfather, also James Hamilton, lived at what is now Tollymore Forest Park in the mountains of Mourne. No children were born of this marriage and it may be presumed that young Mrs. Cuffe was carried away before her time.

In 1718, his qualifications were further enhanced when, in 1718, the University of Dublin conferred upon him the honorary degree off LLD for services rendered in Parliament. From 1721 - 1722 he was, like his father before him, Mayor of the City of Kilkenny. On 12th February 1726, John Cuffe married again. His second wife - the future 1st Lady Desart - was Dorothea Gorges and her own family story is worthy of record if only because it brings John Cuffe into close proximity to one of the great Irish ghost stories, namely that of the Black Velvet Ribbon Window.

Dorothea's mother was born Nicola Sophia Hamilton, second daughter of Hugh, Baron Hamilton of Glenawley. Hugh Hamilton's father, Malcolm Hamilton, had been Archbishop of Cashel under King James I. Like Sir John Otway, Hugh fought for the Royalist cause during the English Civil War, after which he fled to Sweden for the duration of Cromwell's Republic. Nicola was born on 23rd February 1666, six years after her father's elevation to the peerage as Baron Hamilton of Glenawley. Her mother died soon after her birth. The family settled in County Down. Upon the 1st Baron's death in April 1678, Nicola's only brother William succeeded to the title but he was killed in a horse-fall less than three years later and the baronetcy became extinct.

In 1681, the 15-year-old orphan was dispatched to live with her 16-year-old cousin, John de la Poer, Viscount Decies, in Dublin. Earlier that same year, the Viscount's father, Richard, 1st Earl of Tyrone, had been arrested and imprisoned in London for his alleged involvement in the Popish Plot of 1679. Thus, parentless and alone, the young Viscount and Nicola became close friends. They particularly enjoyed a mutual passion for religious mysticism and wondered often at the possibilities of an afterlife. The two teenagers made a solemn pact that whichever of them died first should appear to the survivor and declare the truth. Nicola Hamilton was then married off to a landowner from Derry, Sir Tristam Beresford. On 14th October 1690, the Earl of Tyrone died in the Tower of London and Viscount Decies succeeded as the 2nd Earl. Three years to the day later, the 2nd Earl died at Curraghmore, County Waterford, thus being the first between himself and Nicola to avail of the opportunity of knowing the truth. At the time of his death, Nicola, Lady Beresford, was staying with her elder sister, Arabella MacGill, at Gill Hall in County Down. She appeared for breakfast, pale and wan. Later that morning, a letter arrived for her, informing of her childhood sweetheart's death three days earlier. She disclosed that during the night she had been startled by an apparition of the Earl. The ghost had predicted her future, warning of a second, unhappy marriage, stating that her son would ultimately succeed as Earl of Tyrone and that she herself would die on her 47th birthday. She, being incredulous of the reality of the vision, invited him to touch her wrist though warned that she would be scarred for life. The apparition did so and "forever more that lady wore a band on her wrist".

One by one the 2nd Earl's prophecies came true. Sir Tristam Beresford died unexpectedly on a winter's day in 1701. Three years later, his widow entered into an unhappy second marriage with a young officer from County Meath named Richard Gorges; eventually his "abandoned and dissolute conduct forced her to seek and to obtain a separation". Dorothea Gorges, the future Lady Desart, was the first of their children. Upon the death of the 3rd Earl of Tyrone (younger brother of the 2nd Earl) in August 1704, the Earldom of Tyrone became extinct. However, Nicola's eldest son by her first marriage, Sir Marcus Beresford, married the 3rd Earl's heiress, Catherine Power and so came into possession of the de la Poer's lands at Curraghmore. In 1746, Sir Marcus Beresford was created Earl of Tyrone. His mother, Lady Nicola Gorges (nee Hamilton) died on 23rd February 1713 on her 47th birthday which, from a mistake about the year of her birth, she thought she had passed.

Such then was the extraordinary life and death of the mother of the 1st Lady Desart. Her father also merits a mention. Shortly after his marriage to Lady Nicola Beresford, Lieutenant Richard Gorges had crossed into Europe with Arthur Chichester, Earl of Donegal, and the 35th Foot, a regiment chiefly composed of Ulster Protestants. The War of the Spanish Succession had begun and Gorges task was to oust the French puppet king, Philip V, from the Spanish throne. In April 1706, Chichester was killed in action near Barcelona and the regiment came under the control of the newly appointed Lieutenant Colonel Richard Gorges. If he was subsequently guilty of "abandoned and dissolute conduct", this may have been on account of his misfortune at the battle of Almansa in April 1707 during which he lost three quarters of his men together with the regimental colours. Moral may have revived when the 35th Foot won the colours back in 1710 but the British forces nonetheless failed to oust Philip from the throne before peace returned to Europe with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Gorges continued to command the regiment until his retirement in July 1717 when he took a seat in the House of Parliament as MP for Ratoath. He died shortly after his eldest daughter's marriage to John Cuffe on 12th April 1728. (17)

Dorothea Gorges was an interesting catch for John Cuffe but one wonders did she not also bring into his life a large element of trouble for her family was clearly one of much peculiarity. The strange circumstances surrounding her parents estrangement and her mothers death when she was a young girl must have weighed heavily upon her. Worse was yet to come. The summer after her marriage she and John attended the wedding of her pretty younger sister Lucy to William St. Lawrence, Lord Howth. The St. Lawrence family were - and still are - headquartered in Howth Castle but also had lands at Kilfane in County Kilkenny. Lord Howth had shared the representation of Ratoath with General Gorges in the Irish Parliament. He was a close friend of Jonathan Swift who once described Lady Howth as his "blue-eyed nymph". Relationships between the families of Gorges and St. Lawrence must have come asunder in 1736 when Hamilton Gorges, brother to both Lady Desart and Lady Howth, killed Lord Howth's brother, William St. Lawrence in a duel.

Within a year of John and Dorothea Cuffe's marriage both their fathers and King George I were dead. So too was John's sister, Martha Blunden. As heir to Agmondesham Cuffe, John and his wife then moved to the family estate at Castleinch in County Kilkenny. Over the next twelve years, Dorothea bore her husband nine children, of whom seven survived childhood. In between all this, she spent her time weaving a tapestry representing the Rising Sun which her granddaughter, Dorothea Herbert, recalled seeing on a visit to Desart in 1773.

Perhaps it was the noise of so many children in his home or more likely it was the growing pretensions of the landed gentry that, in 1733, inspired John Cuffe to abandon the old tower house of Castleinch and commission the construction of a new country manor which he would call Desart Court. This era of John Cuffe's life had coincided with the start of the great Georgian Age in Ireland, an age in which Dublin would be transformed from a grimy, war-weary shanty town into one of the most glittering cities in Western Europe. In 1720, the banker Luke Gardiner began developing the area between Henrietta Street and Gardiner Street as the first truly fashionable area for the new ruling elite - the so-called Ascendancy. Two years after John Cuffe stood down as MP, a stunning new Parliament House was commissioned; the contract went to Sir Edward Lovett Pearce (1699 - 1733).

The name Pearce is important to the Cuffe story for, with the true identity of the architect unknown, he is the man most often credited with the design of Desart Court. The house certainly looked remarkably similar to Pearce's design of the Bishop's Palace in Cashel. Both were inspired by Inigo Jones's design of the Queen's House in Greenwich. It is also surely of relevance to note that, following General Gorges death, the vacated parliamentary seat of Ratoath, County Meath, was filled by no less a man than Edward Lovett Pearce. It is tempting to think that John Cuffe met the young architect during his time in Dublin and was so much impressed by his work on the new Parliament that he invited him to Kilkenny and offered him some of the silver plate gifted by his late father-in-law. Perhaps they merely toyed with the idea while walking around the new parklands of St. Stephen's Green. However, even if Pearse did commence the design, he cannot have been there to see its completion because on 7th December 1733 he died.

At any rate, Desart Court was built, a stunning early Georgian masterpiece of blue limestone, a central block with pavilions projecting on either side. Over the ensuing decades, the interior was fitted with sumptuous tapestries, oil paintings by Italian Masters, Chippendale chairs, dado wood paneling, rococo ceilings, Dutch walnut cabinets, bookcases "enriched with fluted pilasters", beautifully carved oakwood balustrades, mantelpieces from Sienna … the Cuffe family fortunes were substantially reduced in the process.

Dorothea Herbert who visited the house nearly forty years later offers us this description.

"Sometime after … we went to Desart, Lord Desart's fine old family Seat in the County Kilkenny remarkable for its fine Woods and large Oaks - The House is a very Grand one much like Bessborough but its chief Beauty is its two Superb Staircases and Noble Gallery - It is altogether a very grand and venerable place and I felt a pleasure in hearing my mother [Martha Cuffe, daughter of John, 1st Lord Desart] recount the Many Happy Hours she spent in the large Hall where in my Grandfathers time the family met and dined round a blazing Wood fire after the Manner of Old Times".

John Cuffe may have been fretting about the unpaid bills involved in the construction of his new stately home but he must also have derived considerable pleasure when, on 10th November 1733, he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Desart of Desart in the Irish Peerage. The preamble to the patent applauded his father and grandfather; particularly the latter's efforts to ensure the "Protestant succession". He took his seat in the Irish House of Lords two days later, no doubt casting a nod at his brother-in-law, Lord Howth, seated opposite.

Lord Desart further indebted himself in 1735 with the purchase of the Ormond Estate at Callan from Charles Butler, Earl of Arran, for £11,120. Thirty years later his son was compelled to sell some 2000 acres of the Callan lands to pay off the family debts.

John Cuffe, 1st Lord Desart, died on 26th June 1749 and was buried alongside his father and grandfather at the Church of Inchiholaghan in Castleinch. He was succeeded by his eldest son, 19 year old John Cuffe, 2nd Baron Desart, then a student at Trinity College, Dublin.

His wife, the Dowager Lady Dorothea Desart, survived him for nearly 18 years, finally succumbing "at her house in Henry Street" in 1777, shortly after the American colonies declaration of independence. Her daughter Martha Herbert was at her side when she died. If the early years of her life were devoted to the raising of seven children, then her latter years were spent in securing good spouses for them all. In 18th century Ireland, the ownership of a title considerably enhanced one's chances in this regard and for the widowed Lady Desart it can only have been of benefit that her half-brother, Sir Marcus Beresford, the beloved son of the ghostly Nicola Hamilton, was elevated to the Earldom of Tyrone in 1746. At any rate, her late husbands' expenditure on the new house of Desart Court was such that her descendents would have to wait another generation before they would find themselves on the list of truly desirable marriage partners.

Her daughter Susanna was married off to her first cousin, Sir John Blunden, son of the 1st Lord Desart's sister Martha. It was Sir John who built the original house at Castleblunden, perhaps seeking to emulate his father-in-law's creation at Desart Court. Sir John seems to have been a difficult man. His niece, Dorothea Herbert, recalled how he let none of his sons go to a public school and "kept his beautiful daughters shut up in a nursery making lace under an old Governess and their Mammy nurse until they were 15 or 16". When he died in January 1783, Sir John's will expressed the memorable wish "that he may not be buried till his head begins to be putrefied or his head severed from his body, and laid without ceremony in the round part of the wood where the laurel is planted and the ditch of water surrounds it".

Lady Desart's second daughter Sophia, mother of Dorothea, was given to a Killarney-born lawyer named John Herbert and the third, Martha, to his brother, the Reverend Nicholas Herbert.

With regard to Lady Dorothea Desart's sons, the eldest, John, 2nd Lord Desart, went to Trinity College Dublin and married a Cork heiress but predeceased her by 10 years. The second son Otway, 3rd Lord Desart, later 1st Earl of Desart, was dispatched across the sea to Christ Church College, Oxford, and became a lawyer. As befitting the age, the third son, Hamilton, joined the church whilst the fourth, William, secured a commission in the army with the 17th Dragoons and became a Major in the British Army but died of a fever while serving with the garrison at Athlone in 1790. Dorothea Herbert recalled him as a "headstrong and hot" man who caused much trouble in his youth with his argumentative nature. A portrait of him by Johan Zoffany was among those destroyed in the 1922 fire at Desart Court.

They seem to have been an amiable family although Dorothea Herbert, daughter of the Reverend Nicholas and Martha Herbert, was later wont to remonstrate after a visit to Desart that her Aunt Sophia Herbert and Uncle Hamilton Cuffe were "neither very Economical, their Extravagance greatly injured their families while [the 2nd] Lord Desart and the Other Branches lectured them in vain".

(15) Maurice and Martha's daughter Anne (Nancy) Cuffe was, for a short time, the wife of Edmond Fitzgerald, 20th Knight of Glin, (1705 - 1773), a member of the notorious Hell Fire Club. Born in February 1721, she was the second of seven daughters. A contemporary described her as 'a popular Protestant beauty from Kilkenny'. It is thus a surprise that her husband, whom she married in March 1740, was the still Catholic Knight of Glin. For reasons unknown, perhaps the Knights' mounting gambling debts, the marriage was a failure. She subsequently married her second cousin, as his second wife, Denny Baker Cuffe of Cuffesborough, Kings' County (modern Offaly) but died soon after on 24th October 1776.
(16) One of his contemporaries at Kilkenny College and sometime neighbours was the philosopher, Bishop George Berkeley, who was born at Dysart (not to be confused with Desart) Castle outside Thomastown in 1685. Berkeley achieved much fame when he visited the American colonies with the novel idea of establishing schools for "the instruction of the youth of America". His memory is enshrined in the name of Berkeley College, California.
(17) In her recollections, Dorothea Herbert, grand-daughter of John Cuffe, wrote that the marriage settlement between her grandparents had included "ten thousand pounds worth of plate, taken by her father [ie: General Gorges] at the Siege of Quebec". However, as the Siege did not take place until 1759, this may be a mistake. Perhaps Gorges acquired the fortune during the English raids on the French fortress of Quebec in the 1690s.

John Cuffe, 2nd Baron Desart (1730 - 1767)Up arrow

Known to his Irish contemporaries as "Sean an Chaipín", John Cuffe was born on 16th November 1730, the eldest surviving son of John and Dorothea Cuffe. Although he left no legitimate male heirs, his life is of some interest and his death even more so. Six days after his third birthday, his father was elevated to the peerage as the 1st Lord Desart. Like his father, John was educated at Trinity College Dublin although, unlike his father, he would have been accorded all the privileges due to the son of a peer. He had not long entered the college when his father died on 26th June 1749. Thus, at the age of 19, John succeeded as 2nd Lord Desart, an inheritance that brought with it one of the grandest country houses in Ireland. Showing every bit as much political pluck as his forbears, the 2nd Baron took his seat in the House of Lords on 25th November 1751, 9 days after his 21st birthday.

On September 2nd 1752 this most eligible of bachelors took as his bride a young widow from County Cork, Sophia Thornhill. (18) Her father was a wealthy landowner named Bettridge Badham of Rockfield, County Cork. Her mother was Sophia King, daughter of John King, 3rd Baron Kingston (1664 - 1728) and his wife "a pretty and persistent Irish scullery maid". (19) John King was the younger son of Sir John King, a distinguished Cromwellian officer, and Catherine Fenton, sole heiress of the substantial Fitzgibbon family estates at Mitchelstown, County Cork. It was while living at the King family's new house of Rockingham near Boyle in County Roscommon that the future 3rd Baron Kingston first developed "a more than ordinary and suspicious familiarity" with Margaret (Peggy) O'Cahan. By the time his elder brother, Robert, 2nd Baron Kingston, heard of the romance the "amour was well advanced" and the couple had married. The 3rd Baron's uncle captured the essence of the King family reaction to the marriage in this eloquent statement:

"Few of the nobility of English extraction have ever contracted marriages with Irish papists but none (up to this case) have married one who was at once an ordinary Servant Maid and an Irish Papist Bitch who had neither Charms of Beauty nor genteel behaviour nor agreeableness of conversation".

On the accession of James II, John King converted to Catholicism. William III's subsequent victory and the rise of the Protestant Ascendancy affected John King's circumstances, not least when he succeeded his brother as 3rd Baron Kingston in 1693. For the next fifteen years, his right to the title and estate was subject to a bitter legal dispute with other family members but, in 1708, he finally won outright ownership of both the Mitchelstown and Boyle estates on the promise that he would conform to Protestantism and raise his children in the Protestant faith. One assumes that Peggy O'Cahan, the wife of the 3rd Baron Kingston, and mother of Lady Sophia Desart, was thus something of an enigma amongst the fledgling Anglo-Irish Ascendancy.

Despite their early exposure to Catholicism, the children of John King and Peggy (nee O'Cahan) do not appear to have been much influenced by that religion. James King, 4th Baron Kingston, quickly abandoned the Catholic faith on succeeding to the lands and estates in 1728. He was appointed Grand Master of the Freemasons of England the following year and founded the first Irish lodge of the Freemasons at Mitchelstown in February 1731.

The 2nd Lord Desart and his wife, Lady Sophia, had three daughters. Sophia married Richard Cooke in June 1772; Catharine married Sir Charles Burton, 2nd Bart, of Pollacton, County Carlow, in August 1778 and Lucy married William Weldon in May 1792. These were first cousins of Dorothea Herbert and she has left us with this insight into the lives of the three sisters: "Mrs. Cooke was as good a Creature as possible but had a couple of Mischief making Servants who constantly tattled and put her out of Temper. She was a fine figure of a woman, large and handsome, though not so beautiful as her sister, Lady Burton, whom she greatly resembled. These two and Mrs. Weldon were co-heiresses to the late Lord Desart's alienable property."

In addition to these three girls, the 2nd Lord Desart recognised an illegitimate son, Joseph Cuffe. The identity of his mother is unknown but Dorothea Herbert again jumps to the rescue in giving us an idea of his character. "Those three [ie: Lord Desart's daughters] had a Natural Brother, Mr. Joe Cuffe, he lived mostly at Desart but getting sickly they prevail'd on my Mother to bring him here [to the Herbert's home at Knockgraffon, County Tipperary]. He was a mighty good Creature and much pleased with his new abode. I was then a very young child but a great pet of his and as he had a great taste for Music, drawings and the Belles Lettres, he strove to engraft a like taste on my Young Mind - he lent me all his books, gave me some chosen volumes and began to teach me to draw, but falling into a deep decay he left this and died soon after to the great grief of all the family who respected and loved him as much as if he had been Legitimated into it".

The 2nd Lord Desart was not a particularly wealthy man. His father had spent a considerable portion of the family fortunes on the construction of Desart and the purchase of the Callan estates from the Earl of Arran. In 1765 the financially embarrassed peer sold 2108 acres of the Callan estate, including the town, to James Agar, sometime MP of Kilkenny. As such, Agar gained command of most of the lands in the Callan borough, as well as a substantial interest in the Corporation. This greatly irked his neighbour, the great orator Henry Flood of Farmley by Burnchurch, who assaulted Agar on a Dublin street. The duelling pistols were called for. At their first meeting in June 1765 in Holyhead (as they had to leave the jurisdiction of Ireland), Agar was slightly wounded. Aggressive by nature, Agar persisted in harassing Flood for the next four years and they met again on 25 August 1769 near the Dunmore Caves north of Kilkenny City. ‘Fire, you scoundrel,’ shouted Agar, after his shot missed. Flood’s ball penetrated his left breast and Agar died a few minutes later. Flood was found guilty of manslaughter but in his own defence, and set free. Agar's son, George, became MP for Callan in 1777 and was created Baron Callan in 1790.

John Cuffe, 2nd Lord Desart died at Desart at the relatively young age of 37 on 25th November 1767, sixteen years to the day after he first took his seat in the House of Lords. The circumstances of his death were nearly as peculiar as those of his ghostly grandmother, Nicola Gorges (nee Hamilton). He "died of a violent Fever caught by sitting for his Picture, and what is more remarkable two Dogs and a Horse that were drawn in the Picture caught the Disorder - the Dogs died - the Horse was never any good after and the painter lost his sight - supposed from some poisonous paint - Lord Desart's funeral Procession occupied the space of three miles". He was subsequently waked in the Irish way, as he had requested, with a lament created by two women from the Grange Cuffe area named Mrs. Shearman and Mrs. Carroll.

His widow, Sophia, 2nd Lady Desart, died 9 months later on 2nd August 1768 at Merrion Street in Dublin. In the event that he had no legitimate male issue, his younger brother, 30-year-old Otway Cuffe, later 1st Earl of Desart, succeeded as 3rd Lord Desart.

(18) Her husband was Richard Thornhill of St. Stephen's Green. Dublin.
(19) Her uncle was thus James King, 4th Baron Kingston (1693 - 1761), a man perhaps best known for founding Kingston College in Mitchelstown as a refuge for elderly people of the Protestant faith who had fallen on hard times. In 1751 he married, Isabella, widow of the distinguished naval officer, Sir Chaloner Ogle, Admiral of the Fleet in 1749.

Otway Cuffe, 1st Earl of Desart (1737 - 1804)Up arrow

Otway Cuffe was the second surviving son of John and Dorothea Cuffe. He was born on 25th November 1737, ten years after the marriage of his parents and three years after his father's elevation to the peerage as the 1st Lord Desart. His father died when he was 12 years old and his older brother John duly succeeded as the 2nd Lord. On 11th July 1752, seven weeks before his brother's marriage to the widow Sophia Thornhill, the 15-year-old Otway Cuffe crossed the seas to study at Christ Church College, Oxford. He was the first of his family to have studied at that University since Henry Cuffe, the Elizabethan gentleman executed with the Earl of Essex 150 years earlier. Over the next 150 years, Christ Church was to be the destination for a number of his sons, grandsons and great-grandsons.

On 31st January 1756, shortly after he left Oxford, Otway Cuffe was admitted to the Inner Temple where he embarked on a legal career. Despite this, it seems as though Otway had plans for a military career. It is stated in the "Harcourt Papers" that he had applied for promotion to the army but the Lord Lieutenant, "though anxious to assist", was unable to procure the appointment. However, in November 1767 the death of his brother without legitimate male issue, ensured that Otway Cuffe's entire circumstances were altered on his 30th birthday, as he became 3rd Lord Desart and inherited the family estate at Desart Court. Four weeks after his brothers' demise, he took his seat in the Irish House of Lords.

By the mid 18th Century the city of Dublin had already experienced phenomenal change and growth. In the late 1740s the banker Luke Gardiner - the future Lord Mountjoy - had made fashionable that part of the town situated to the north side of the river Liffey, in particular Sackville Street (now O'Connell Street), and Mountjoy Square. The world's first purpose-built maternity hospital, the Rotunda, which had been built on the proceeds of several charity masquerades and the premiere of Handel's Messiah in 1741, stood at the northerly end of Sackville Street. A large cobble stone square was built in Trinity College Dublin, surrounded by new buildings for the dons and students to live and study in. As citizens and visitors flooded in to admire the Duke of Leinster's new house, Leinster House, they must also have cast their eyes at the stonemasons hard at work developing what we now know as Merrion Square. In the countryside too, Otway Cufffe's contemporaries were building grand stately homes and designing estate villages wherein their employees could live and work. (20) The Age of the Ascendancy was in full swing as the Anglo-Irish Protestant community in Ireland began to assert their own unique identity, a race apart from their kinsmen across the Irish Sea in England, English in manner yet Irish in style.

Otway Cuffe's niece, Dorothea Herbert, later claimed that, although "a good man", Lord Desart had "lived forty years a Bachelor and let the place [ie: Desart Court] go to wreck whilst he mostly resided in England". This comes as a surprise for Otway appears to have been an enlightened individual who did much to enhance the state of County Kilkenny during his time at Desart. In this regard he must have been much aided by a new high road, commenced in 1750, which linked Kilkenny and Callan. "This formed the principal entrance into the city of Kilkenny from the numerous mansions of the Anglo-Irish families in the south and southwestern parts of the county. The road led directly from Tipperary to Inchiholaghan. The 3rd Lord Desart stood as Mayor of Kilkenny from 1771 to 1772 and again from 1779 and 1780. During this time he introduced street-lighting and "scavenging" (ie: rubbish collecting) programmes to the city and, in 1773, oversaw the restructuring of the Linen Market there. His interest in horse racing was such that, in 1767, he was appointed Steward of the Kilkenny Races.

But these were troubled times too for, in 1776, the American colonies issued their Declaration of Independence and a long war with the British Redcoats ensued, which ultimately led to the birth of the United States of America. At this point, it is worth taking a detour across the Atlantic Ocean to North America. Among the new arrivals in the continent after independence was an ambitious young Kilkenny man, James Hoban, later architect of the White House. Hoban had been born in 1762, in one of the tenant cottages at Desart, and educated in the estate school established by the 2nd Lord Desart. Showing much prowess at drawing, young Hoban then moved from Kilkenny to school in Dublin where he was awarded the prestigious Duke of Leinster's medal by the Dublin Society. He is thought to have studied under the Cork-born architect Thomas Ivory, master of architectural drawing in the Dublin Society schools from 1759 until his death in 1786. Ivory is sometimes credited with having designed the South Wing of Westport House (which includes a beautiful ceiling) in 1778. for the 3rd Lady Desart's father, leading this author to previously speculate that Hoban also worked on Westport House. However, Eddie McParland, Professor at Trinity College, has discredited Ivory as the architect and believes the South Wing was designed by William Leeson whom he also credited with laying out the main streets of the town, rather than James Wyatt.

Hoban arrived in Philadelphia in 1784 and began looking for contracts almost immediately. In April 1787 he moved to the rapidly developing city of Charleston where he befriended Major Pierce Butler, an influential South Carolina plantation owner whose family owned a large estate at Ballintemple in County Carlow. Hoban is reputed to have designed many of Charleston's most celebrated architectural treasures, including its splendid Palladian Court House. In May 1791 President George Washington visited Charleston and dined with Pierce Butler. The purpose of his visit appears to have been to examine Charleston's buildings in search of inspiration for the new President's House. It has been suggested that Butler then introduced Washington to Hoban. Certainly in August 1792 Hoban was awarded the contract and so designed and built the White House. The building was in fact badly damaged by the British during the War of 1812 after which Hoban was again contracted to oversee its restoration and extension. At this time the building was recovered with white stucco to disguise the burn marks, hence the present name. Hoban completed the portico of the White House shortly before his death in 1830.

One cannot help but wondering whether Otway Cuffe was aware of James Hoban's stellar career in America, or indeed how far the Cuffe family can be said to have contributed to Hoban's career, through the early development of a school on the Desart estate.

On 6th January 1781, Otway Cuffe was "advanced to the dignity" of Viscount Desart, probably in recognition of his political influence as patron of half the borough of Kilkenny. Four years later, he married 30-year-old Lady Anne Browne. Lady Anne was a wealthy lady 25 years his junior. The Brownes, Earls of Altamont, descended from the great Pirate Queen, Grace O'Malley. (21) Lady Anne Browne's parents were, Peter Brown, 2nd Earl of Altamont, who in 1752 married Elizabeth Kelly, heiress to one of the largest Jamaican sugar plantations.

In 1785 the marriage of Otway Cuffe to Lady Anne Browne must have brought a considerable fortune to the House of Desart. It also afforded them an intimate association with one of the great families in Ireland. Anne's brother, John Browne, 3rd Earl of Altamont, succeeded to the title on the death of their father in 1780. Only 24 years old at the time, he was already regarded as one of the wealthiest men in the land. One of his fathers' last acts before his death had been to employ the architect Thomas Ivory to substantially enlarge the original Westport House (1776 - 1778). It is possible that James Hoban, the architect of the White House, may have also served as Ivory's apprentice at this time. In 1781, the 3rd Earl continued the family trend by commissioning James Wyatt to design a town around the Atlantic port in order to encourage the development of the local linen industry. Work on this attractive Octagon shaped estate town must have been in progress when Otway arrived to marry the Earl's sister in the summer of 1785. Two years later, in May 1787, the Earl of Altamont married Louisa Howe, youngest daughter of the celebrated Admiral Howe, later created 1st Earl of Howe, following his famous victory over the French fleet on 1 June 1794.

On 20th February 1788 Lady Desart bore her elderly husband a son and heir - Otway Cuffe, later 2nd Earl of Desart. Lady Desart also produced two daughters - Lady Dorothea and Lady Elizabeth.

In the 18th Century the rise of the Protestant Ascendancy, and the growth of landlord's economic and political power, inevitably affected relations between landlords and tenants. Many tenants responded aggressively to specific issues including the enclosure of common land and payment of tithes on crops, and by the second half of the 18th Century agrarian violence had become a feature of life in the Irish countryside. By 1761 a movement known as the Whiteboys (they wore white shirts over their everyday clothes), began to mobilise by night in counties Tipperary and Kilkenny. Their incoherent and disorganised methods of protest included the hocking of animals, destroying fences erected around the large estates, and intimidation of the despised tithe collectors. Although in succeeding decades, several Acts were passed through Parliament to control such outrages, there was a fresh outbreak or violence in 1791. Viscount Desart appears also to have been affected by this crisis, as in that year he and his cousin George Beresford, Marquess of Waterford, mustered a force of Protestant militia and spent several months stamping out this form of protest in the area.

On 4th December 1793 Otway Cuffe was elevated in the Irish Peerage as Earl of Desart. In addition he was made Viscount Castle-cuffe, a junior title subsequently borne by his first-born son and heir. (22) Otway Cuffe took his seat as Earl of Desart in the Irish House of Lords the following January.

It is probable that at this time the business of both the Irish and the English parliaments was much taken up with discussion of the revolution in France. One imagines that the Members of both parliaments discussed and argued over the warnings issued by such eminent speakers as Edmund Burke in the English House of Commons. Europe was in turmoil and it was inevitable that Ireland would soon be drawn into the conflict. The revolutionary aims of liberty, fraternity and equality for all mankind must have been enticing to Irish ears. In October 1791, the United Irishmen was formed between certain Protestants (both Church of Ireland and Presbyterian) and Catholics, eager to bring an end to the Ascendancy's monopoly on Irelands' economic and political affairs. The eventual revolt of the United Irishmen - better known as the 1798 Rebellion - was ultimately a disaster and a tragedy. The lines of communication between like-minded people were too fragile for any precise long-term strategy to develop. The French fleet arrived several months too late. The British Redcoats (numbering several thousand Irishmen in their ranks) managed to douse the rebellion but only after a bitter and indiscriminate campaign of repression that left more than 30,000 people dead, most of them civilians: loyalist, rebel, catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist, all suffered. Roy Foster described the Rebellion as "probably the most concentrated episode of violence in Irish history". Fortunately, Desart Court survived the rebellion intact. However, the 1st Earl's brother-in-law, Peter Browne, Earl of Altamont, became intricately involved when a French army of 1000 men under General Humbert arrived at Killala Bay in August 1798 and proceeded to make Westport House their head-quarters. The French army was defeated five weeks later at Ballinamuck, County Longford, in what would prove to be the last major act of the rebellion. (23)

The 1798 Rebellion aroused much fear in the hearts of the Ascendancy. It also encouraged the British Parliament in London to view Ireland less as a self-sufficient province and more as a potential base from which Napoleon Bonaparte could launch an attack on England's western flank. In 1800 the Irish Parliament voted itself out of existence and ceased to exist, an event formalised by the 1801 Act of Union. Ireland's five million strong population now found themselves in a situation where all major decisions on Irish affairs were henceforth to be concluded at Westminster, a situation that remained until independence was granted to the Irish Free State in 1921. There had initially been strong opposition to the Act from the Anglo-Irish elite but many found themselves re-evaluating their position when London offered substantial "compensation" to those of a wavering disposition. Among such beneficiaries was the 1st Earl of Desart's brother-in-law, the Earl of Altamont, who was created Marquis of Sligo on 29th December 1800. It was he who introduced the linen industry to Westport.

Discontent amongst the aristocracy was further quelled by the reassurance that their order - the peerage - would continue to exert an influence in London through the 28 "Representative Peers of Ireland" in the British House of Lords, of whom the 1st Earl of Desart was one. The 3rd, 4th and 5th Earls would also subsequently hold this honour. The 3rd Earl of Desart was possibly the first of his family to spend long periods of time in London, in order to occupy his seat in the House of Lords, and participate in the festivities of the Season. Most "Backwoods Peers'' hired apartments or purchased houses for such periods, although when the 67-year-old 1st Earl died on 9th August 1804, his death took place at his house in Kildare Street, Dublin. He was succeeded by his 16-year-old son, Otway, Viscount Castle-cuffe, then a school boy at Eton.

The 1st Earl's wife, Anne, Countess of Desart, survived her husband by 10 years, before she succumbed to a "nervous fever" on 15th August 1814.

(20) Among these was Castleblunden, "a highly romantic mid 18th century house with water on both sides of it so that it seems to float", built just outside Kilkenny City by Otway's cousin and brother-in-law, Sir John Blunden. (Bence-Jones, 1988, p. 63).
(21) John Browne, 1st Earl of Altamont, also commissioned the eminent German architect Richard Cassells (or Castle) to build a new house for his family at Westport on Clew Bay.
(22) "Castle-cuffe" is presumably a nod to Sir Charles Coote's ruin of the same name in the Slieve Bloom mountains.
(23) The Year of Liberty, The Great Irish Rebellion of 1798, Thomas Pakenham, 1969, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

Otway Cuffe, 2nd Earl of Desart (1788 - 1826)Up arrow

Otway Cuffe, 2nd Earl of Desart, had a short but eventful life. He was born in Dublin on 20th February 1788, the only son and heir of the then Lord and Lady Desart. When he was five years old, his father was created Earl of Desart (1793) and Viscount Castle-Cuffe, the junior title of which was borne by the young Otway. He was educated at Eton from 1800 to 1804 whereupon, on the death of his father on 9th August 1804, he succeeded to Desart and the Earldom. Like his father before him, he studied at Christ Church, Oxford, matriculating on 29th April 1805. Another man who matriculated from Oxford that year became his good friend: (Sir) Robert Peel, a former Harrovian who would later become Prime Minister of Great Britain.

The 2nd Earl had two sisters - Elizabeth and Dorothea. The first married Henry Wemyss of Danesfort, County Kilkenny, and had a son, Otway Wemyss, who served with the Buffs (The Royal East Kent Regiment). Her great-nephew, Hamilton Cuffe, 5th Earl of Desart, recalled her as "a sort of cross between a housekeeper and a Grand Duchess [who] might have come straight out of the pictures in a Dickens's book. She wore a stupendous white cap, had a very handsome, rather Roman profile, and carried a large bunch of keys hung on one side from her belt, with a large reticule on the other side. Also she had generally in her hands a basket of eggs, or a jug of milk or cream". He described the second sister, his great-aunt Lady Dorothea, as "a very different type … rather like an eagle, and very formidable and determined". Her husband, Major General Sir James Campbell, KCB, had served in the Peninsular War under the Duke of Wellington, and later as Governor of Ceylon. Their marriage was an unhappy affair, made considerably worse when - in the face of a Chancery court order awarding custody of their four pretty daughters to their father Sir James - Lady Dorothea fled to France and kept the unfortunate girls there for the next 15 years. The sudden death of her favourite daughter inspired Lady Dorothea to abruptly declare herself a heretic and "from that time she refused to enter a church or to have any dealings with any clergyman of whatever denomination". In later life, she was given refuge by her nephew, the 3rd Earl of Desart, at his home in London and it was there that the young Hamilton Cuffe (5th Earl) recalled her berating him for his decadent "habits and manner of life". Her surviving daughters lived a life of hermetic isolation, unloved and alone, until Ham Cuffe's wife insisted on paying them regular visits. It turned out to be a prudent move for when the last of Lady Dorothea's daughters died, the Cuffe's received a considerable sum in her will, "a good instance", observed Ham, "of the value of politeness".

At this point, it may be of advantage to look at the 2nd Earl of Desart's first cousin, Peter Browne, 2nd Marquess of Sligo, if only for some light relief. Peter Browne was a man just 12 weeks Otway's junior and would go on to become one of the most enigmatic cads of the early 19th century. He was born on 18th May 1788, eldest son of the then Earl of Altamont and his wife, Louisa Howe. He was educated at Eton. His close acquaintences included Lord Byron (whom he befriended at Cambridge), Thomas De Quincy (author of "Confessions of an Opium Eater") and Robert Peel. In June 1809, his father, the Marquess of Sligo, passed away in Lisbon leaving him with one of the greatest fortunes in Ireland. Two weeks after his fathers' funeral, the new Marquesses's stallion, Waxy, won the English Derby against all odds. This early success is attributed to the Marquess's lifelong passion for gambling. His success was such that he is estimated to have won the considerable sum of £22,000 in stakes alone. In 1812, for instance, he won a wager of 1000 guineas by driving his coach from London to Holyhead in just 35 hours; the whips used to encourage his horses along the 270 mile trek still hang at Westport House.

In March 1816, Lord Sligo married Lady Hester de Burgh, eldest daughter of the Earl of Clanricarde. A son George was born in 1820, and the Prince Regent (later King George IV) stood as godfather. The following year the Marquess paid a visit to Lord Byron in Greece. Here the Marquess encountered the Oracle at Delphi, an occasion that impressed him so much he renamed the great valley near Killary fjord in County Mayo in its honour. It was also during this trip that he came into serious disgrace. One afternoon, he visited the Temple of Atreus at Mycenae wherein, if local lore is to be believed, lies the great Tomb of Agamemnon. The Marquess looked left and looked right and then, as was the current fashion, decided that the columns that led into the Temple would go rather splendidly as the new entrance to Westport House. He duly bribed a passing British merchant ship to bring them back to Mayo. Fashionable as it was in aristocratic circles, pilfering ancient Greek temples was nonetheless illegal. His widowed mother, the fiery daughter of Admiral Howe, did her best for him but the Judge, Sir William Scott, could see no way out and so the 2nd Marquess of Sligo was sent to Newgate Prison. He was released three months later to attend the wedding of his mother to no less a man than Judge William Scott. As for the columns, they seem to have been rather forgotten in the commotion, gathering dust in the basement of Westport House until shortly before the Great War when the 6th Marquess spotted them and decided to hand them over to the British Museum. He sagely had some reproductions made before hand and these may now be seen on the South Wing of Westport House.

In 1833, the British Parliament abolished slavery. The following year, the Marquess of Sligo was dispatched to serve as Governor of Jamaica. The Browne family had acquired two sugar plantations on the West Indian island following the marriage of the 2nd Marquess's grandfather to the heiress Elizabeth Kelly. The Marquess's controversial brief was to bring an end to slavery in the colony, a process he began by liberating all the slaves on his own estates. Although he met with much resistance from his fellow landowners, he pressed on with much vigour and by the time he had finished his tenure as governor two years later, the Jamaican people had bestowed upon him the title, "The Emancipator of Slavery". He returned to Westport, job done, with a healthy appetite for spicy food and an appreciation of Caribbean music. He died on 26th January 1845 and was succeeded by his son, George.

Thus the life and times of Peter Browne, 2nd Marquess of Sligo. Such a man must have been a formidable and perhaps rather overwhelming first cousin. But with no brothers to fall back upon, it is possible that Otway Cuffe, the 2nd Earl of Desart, held the Marquess in high esteem. Either way, he took a more sedate approach to life. Unlike his father, the 2nd Earl was not one of the Representative Peers sent to represent Ireland in Westminster. However, this did not preclude him from politics and, from 1808 to 1817, he stood as Tory MP for Bossiney in Cornwall, once the seat of Sir Francis Drake, and apparently the place in which King Arthur's Hall of Chivalry supposedly lay. In 1809, while the Marquess was proudly patting Waxy on the back, the 2nd Earl accepted a post as Lord of the Treasury under Lord Portland's Tory government, which he retained until 1810. During that year he also stood as Mayor of Kilkenny, a city on the rise following its Georgian re-construction, which included the Club House Hotel built three years earlier.

GortnamonaOn 7th October 1817 the 2nd Earl of Desart married 18-year-old Catherine O'Connor. She was perhaps a curious choice for the Earl of Desart for she hailed from one of the most ancient Celtic bloodlines in Ireland. In time this would ferment itself in the mind of her youngest grandson, Otway Cuffe, one of the leading proponents of the Gaelic Revival in Ireland. Born shortly after the conclusion of the 1798 Rebellion, Catherine was the eldest daughter and co-heiress of Maurice and Maria Nugent O'Connor of Gortnamona (or Mount Pleasant) in the "King's County" (ie: County Offaly). Her great-grandfather, Maurice O'Connor, "heir to the principality of Ofelia", had been amongst the first of the Irish Catholics to conform to Protestantism in the wake of Cromwell's invasion and, after he had earned himself a fortune at the bar in England, married a daughter of the Earl of Fingall. Her father had been a prominent advocate of Roman Catholic Emancipation and on a lesser level was a celebrated breeder of red setters, establishing a kennel at Gortnamona in 1779; the setters from this kennel were considered amongst the highest quality gun-dogs in the British Isles. However, the 2nd Earl cannot have had much time to discuss the hazards of emancipation or indeed of shooting dogs for within a year of his marriage to Catherine, his new father-in-law lay dead. Unusually, Gortnamona then devolved upon Maurice Nugent O'Connor's youngest daughter, Elizabeth, who married the Reverend Benjamin Morris. Their son, William O'Connor Morris (1824 - 1904) was one of the great Judges of the Irish Supreme Court in Queen Victoria's reign. Alas, like Desart Court, the house was fated to be burned down by the IRA in 1922.

The red setter bloodline was later transferred to the La Touche family of Harristown, Co. Kildare, after the marriage to one of the O'Connor daughters. It stayed at Harristown until the 1860s when sold at auction to Sir Arthur Chichester of Devonshire. The Cuffes were linked to dog breeding on several other occasions. The 3rd Earl of Desart's kinsman, the Duke of Buccleuch, pioneered the importation of Labradors in the 1830s. Lady Kathleen Pilkington, only daughter of the 4th Earl of Desart, is likewise credited with the boom in French bulldogs across London during the reign of Edward VII.

Catherine's mother was Maria Burke, the eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Burke of Marble Hill, County Galway. (24) Sir Thomas must have been a man of much ambition for Maria was one of four daughters that married into the upper realms of the British aristocracy. In 1799, Maria's sister Elizabeth married John de Burgh, Earl of Clanricarde (1744 - 1808). Their daughter Hester would go on to marry the enigmatic Marquess of Sligo while a great-granddaughter, Margaret, would take up residence at Desart Court as the Countess of Desart. In April 1806, Maria's youngest sister, Anne, married Sir Henry Tichborne (1779 - 1845), a direct descendent of the man who first proclaimed the accession of James I on the death of Queen Elizabeth. The third sister married Percy Clinton Smythe, 6th Viscount Strangford and 1st Baron Penshurst (1780 - 1855). These then were the aunts and uncles of Catherine, Countess of Desart. The influence they may have had over her is unknown but it is surely relevant, for instance, that her "Uncle Percy" taught George IV how to sail and that, in 1852, his son, the 7th Viscount Strangford, a member of Benjamin Disraeli's "Young England" group, fought the last duel in England against Colonel Frederick Romilly.

The marriage of Otway Cuffe, 2nd Lord Desart, and Catherine O'Connor, was celebrated with the plantation of a substantial oakwood on Ballykeefe Hill for the recreational use of the Desarts, their family and friends. The wood still stands today, offering unimpeded views across the gorgeous countryside of South Kilkenny to the purple slopes of Slievenamon. Over a hundred years later, the 2nd Earl's great-granddaughter, Lady Sybil Lubbock, recalled these "magnificent views … over great stretches of the countryside, striped with silver streams and shadowed with woodland, enclosed on each horizon by low ranges of blue mountains; finest of all from the crest of the hill from whence it was said one could see seven counties". In 1905 one of these oaks, with a 19 foot girth, was stated to be the finest of its kind in Ireland.

In the autumn of 1818, Catherine bore a son and heir, John Otway O'Connor Cuffe, Viscount Castle-cuffe, delivered at Desart. Happiness should have followed but, alas, on 23rd November 1820 the 2nd Earl died at Desart. He was 33 years old. Had he lived on, he would almost certainly have become a well known figure in Parliament. Aside from his intimate friendship with Peel, he was also a close colleague of Spencer Perceval, the British Prime Minister. Perceval was assassinated in 1812 by John Bellingham, a failed businessman from Liverpool who blamed the Tory politician for his financial difficulties. (25)

(24) Among the family portraits destroyed in the 1922 burning of Desart Court were oil paintings of the 2nd Earl of Desart and his wife by the Irish portrait artist Thomas Clement Thompson, and of both Maurice and Maria Nugent O'Connor. Thompson's two pictures were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1819.
(25) A portrait of Spencer Perceval painted from a mask taken after his death was amongst those destroyed in the 1922 fire at Desart Court. It was painted by G.F. Joseph, ARA, and presented to the 2nd Earl in 1813.


Catherine, Countess of Desart (1799 - 1874)Up arrow

The fate of the House of Desart now rested with the 2nd Earl's widow, Catherine, Countess of Desart, and it is to her that we now turn. The death of the 2nd Earl of Desart in November 1820 left her a widow at the age of 21, with one small son and a substantial estate. With neither father nor brother to rely upon, she may have sought counsel from her three well-married aunts but, in the end, she was inclined to find a new husband.

The man she settled on was a Cornish gentleman two years her junior - Rose Lambert Price. His father, Sir Rose Price, was knighted by George IV (then Prince Regent) in May 1815; his mother, Elizabeth, was a daughter of Charles Lambert of Beau Parc, County Meath. A man of evangelical bent - he co-founded the London Society for Promoting Christianity Among the Jews - Sir Rose Price was the man responsible for the celebrated walled garden of Trengwainton, near Penzance. The garden derives its fame from its unique sloping beds, built to the supposed dimensions of Noah's Ark. Sir Rose, like the Marquess of Sligo, possessed large plantations in Jamaica, inherited from an ancestor who in 1655 sailed to the island with Admiral Penn. Given this connection, perhaps it was the charismatic Marquess who introduced the widowed Countess to her future husband.

On 26th January 1826 Catherine, 2nd Countess of Desart, and Rose Lambert Price were married. Although technically still a Countess after her marriage, George IV reputedly refused to recognize her as anything other than "Mrs. Price". A daughter, Maria, was born soon afterwards but once again Catherine's luck ran cold again when her new husband unaccountably died at the age of 26, less than two years after their marriage. A tablet to his memory was erected by his widow in the Price family church of Madron in Cornwall.

It is not known whether the Countess continued to frequent the company of her second husband's family. Her grandson, the 5th Earl, recalled staying with the Prices in Jamaica in 1862 while serving as a midshipman with the Royal Navy. That the Prices were still in Jamaica in the 1860s is a surprise in itself. Sir Rose Price, the Countess's father-in-law, had been one of those planters who "fought tooth and nail" against the abolition of slavery. Slavery, Sir Rose argued, "was God's will for black men" and besides, "they were treated kindly by their white owners". However, Sir Rose was an absentee landlord and thus perhaps unaware of the reputed cruelty of his attorney in Jamaica, John Blair. The Emancipation Act became law in 1833 and, with the backing of the Marquess of Sligo, took effect in Jamaica from 1st August 1834. It marked the end of the plantation system. Planters could not afford wages and without payment the former slaves would not carry on working in the sugar fields and boiling houses.

On 29th September 1834, Sir Rose Price died and was succeeded by his second son, Sir Charles Dutton Price, who had journeyed from England four years earlier, and had not been heard of since that time. Sir Charles Dutton Price eventually returned to Cornwall and died there in 1872. Another son, John Price, served as Inspector General of the Penal Establishments in Australia, but in March 1857 was beaten to death by a gang of convicts outside Melbourne.

Catherine, Countess of Desart, lived on at Desart Court for nearly 50 years after the death of her second husband. After the double tragedy of her early life, her situation improved considerably. When she was 42 years old, she attended an event that was to be the highlight of the summer calendar for the entirety of Victorian society, the wedding of her only son, the 3rd Earl of Desart, to Lady Elizabeth Campbell. The following year her daughter Maria Price married John la Touche, a scion of the great Huguenot banking family. They settled at the La Touche mansion of Harristown, County Kildare, where he was Master of Foxhounds.

In time, John La Touche would convert to the Baptist faith, a conversion that had tragic consequences. Maria was something of an intellect and at one stage co-founded a society called The Aeltherme to promote intellectual ideas; it died quickly "of ridicule". However, in the course of her ambitions, she became acquainted with the artist John Ruskin who fell tragicallyin love with her younger daughter, Rose, named for her short-lived grandfather, Rose Price. John La Touche refused to grant his daughter's hand-in-marriage to a non-believer like Ruskin. Foiled in romance, Rose subsequently died of nervous anorexia in 1875 at the age of 26.

The Dowager Countess of Desart died at 122 Pembroke Road, Dublin, on 13th February 1874, aged 75.

John Otway O'Connor Cuffe, 3rd Earl of Desart (1818 - 1865)Up arrow

John Otway O'Connor Cuffe was born on 17th October 1818. As a young infant, he was styled Viscount Castle-Cuffe, until his father's death on 23rd November 1820, at which time he succeeded to Desart Court and the Earldom at the age of two years.

When he was six years old, his mother, Catherine, Countess Dowager of Desart, then aged 25, married again to Rose Lambert Price, son and heir of Sir Rose Price the Jamaican plantation owner. On 16th January 1826 Rose Price his mother's second husband died, when young John Cuffe was still only 8 years old. In 1830 John followed in his father's footsteps and went to Eton where he stayed until 1834. (26) He would thus have been far away from Kilkenny when "distressing riots" broke out over the payment of tithes in the early 1830s. Like his father and grandfather before him, John Cuffe then studied literature and the classics at Christ Church College, Oxford, matriculating three days after his 18th birthday on 20th October 1836. His second son, Agmondesham, 5th Earl of Desart, later recalled him reading Latin "as though he were reading an English novel" and writing many "rather graceful verses" of poetry. He appears to have made a journey to Egypt i 1841 or early 1842, returning in time for his wedding.

2nd Marquess of BathThe 3rd Earl of Desart married Lady Elizabeth Campbell, third daughter of the Earl of Cawdor and granddaughter of the 2nd Marquess of Bath. She was, by all accounts, a lady of exceptional beauty. On one occasion when Napoleon III met her at Beaudesert Castle in Warwick, a fellow guest asked the Frenchman how he liked the house. "J'aime beaucoup Beaudesert, mais", turning to Lady Desart, "encore plus la belle Desart". Once again, it may help to focus on lineage if we are to try and ascertain the mindset of the 3rd Earl of Desart and his wife. As her mother was also called Elizabeth, I shall hereafter refer to her as Elizabeth Desart, although her full title was Lady Elizabeth, Countess of Desart.

Elizabeth Desart was born in June 1822 and can thus only have had the dimmest memories of her "plump, homely, jovial" grandmother, Isabella, Marchioness of Bath who died on 1st May 1830 aged 57. However, it may be assumed that the influence of the Marchioness ran deep within all her offspring for where her husband was awkward and diffident with youth, she appears to have been a much warmer soul. One of her most avid passions was for the works of William Cobbett, a distinctly Radical MP who promoted self-sufficiency. Isabella Byng was the daughter of the 4th Viscount Torrington and his wife, Lady Lucy Boyle, a daughter of the 5th Earl of Cork and Orrery. Her father, a grandson of the Admiral Byng who in 1715 defeated the Jacobites, had bankrupted himself with his lavish lifestyle and subsequently fled to Brussels where Isabella was born in 1773. In 1788, Isablla's sister Georgiana married the Duke of Bedford, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1806 to 1807; their children rose to the highest echelons of political and military hierarchy including the future Prime Minister, Lord John Russell.

Harriet, Marchioness of BathIn 1794, Isabella Byng married Thomas Thynne, Viscount Weymouth. Her husband became 2nd Marquess of Bath on the death of his father, the 1st Marquess, in 1796. This latter character was one of the great womanisers, gamblers and rogues of the 18th century. A contemporary commented that he could "not be a good kind of man" since he was never seen in the company of women; "the gaming tables and the drinking of strong beer, claret, burgundy and port in the company of his fellow men being all that he appeared to enjoy". A statesman of limited success, he is perhaps best known for recruiting Capability Brown to landscape his estate at Longleat.

In his younger years, the 2nd Marquess devoted his life to Longleat which, unusually for a private estate, had opened to the public in the 1820s. Scandal has never been far from the doors of Longleat and in 1820 it arose again when the Marquesses's son and heir, Viscount Weymouth, lost his heart "to the artful charms of a country girl, then hurled [his] fortune to the wind in hasty flight". The girl with whom he eloped to Paris was Harriet Robbins, the beautiful raven-haired daughter of the local toll-keeper. The furious Marquess sought to have his errant heir disinherited, going so far as to offer his son money to relinquish his inheritance, an offer Weymouth rejected. Two of the Viscount's brothers, Charles and Edward, fared little better in their fathers' eyes due to their extravagant lifestyles and mounting debts; at one point the Marquess was compelled to write a letter to The Times disclaiming all responsibility for their behaviour. Shortly before her death in 1830, the Marchioness urged her husband to "talk to our children of your interests, of your affairs, and try to get reacquainted … be their friend as well as their respected father". Whether the Marquess acceded to this gentle request is unknown. As it happened, the 41-year-old Viscount died without a male heir in 1837. His father, the 2nd Marquess, died five weeks later. And so the inheritance passed to Henry Thynne, a captain in the Royal Navy, who also died soon afterwards.

Isabella provided her husband, the 2nd Marquess, with seven sons and four daughters. The eldest was Lady Elizabeth Thynne who married the Earl of Cawdor, and it was their daughter Lady Elizabeth Campbell who later married the 3rd Earl of Desart.

Louisa, Countess of HarewoodElizabeth Desart's aunts fared somewhat better in the matrimonial stakes, than her uncles. Lady Louisa Thynne married Henry Lascelles, 3rd Earl of Harewood. A keen huntsman and veteran of Waterloo, he succeeded to the Earldom and the Harewood estates near Leeds in 1841 a year before the Desart wedding. The inheritance included Harewood, an impressive mansion, designed between 1759 and 1771 by the collaborative efforts of the Scottish architect Robert Adams and Thomas Carr of York. Thomas Chippendale had been commissioned to furnish the premises. The 3rd Earl of Harewood was an energetic man and devoted much of his married life to the expansion of the house, aided by the architect Sir Charles Barry who co-designed the new Houses of Parliament at Westminster. As with the 3rd Earl of Desart, the 3rd Earl of Harewood was to die as a result of a hunting accident. And so, remarkably, was his son and heir, Henry, 4th Earl of Harewood, Elizabeth Desart's first cousin. (27)

In August 1829, another of Elizabeth Desart's aunts, Lady Charlotte Thynne, became the Duchess of Buccleuch. The marriage was commemorated with the reel, The Duchess of Buccleuch's Welcome to Scotland, written by Neil Gow Junior. Her husband, the 5th Duke of Buccleuch (and 7th Duke of Queensbury) had succeeded to the Dukedom in 1819 following the death of his father, a friend of Sir Walter Scott, from consumption in Lisbon. His grandfather, the 3rd Duke, a student of Adam Smith, had been one of the most influential figures in 18th century Scotland. (28) As a youth, the 5th Duke was part of a select company of gentlemen invited to dinner by George IV. On one occasion the King slapped him across the shoulder and roared "Come, Buccleuch, you are the youngest man in the company, and must make yourself useful". Perhaps the Duke preferred the company of his dogs, particularly his labradors, which breed he first imported into England from Canada in the 1830s. Even so, he could not escape the attentions of his monarchs and, in 1842, the year of the Desart wedding, the Buccleuchs received a spontaneous visit from Queen Victoria when her palace at Holyrood was quarantined on account of a scarlet fever epidemic.

Cawdor CastleElizabeth Desart's father was John Campbell, 1st Earl of Cawdor. His father, also John, had succeeded as Thane of Cawdor in 1777. The title came with a substantial estate centred upon Cawdor Castle in Nairn, the moody setting for King Duncan's murder in Shakespeare's Macbeth. An intimate friend of Edmund Burke and the Duke of Portland, Campbell's political dexterity ensured that he was noticed by the government of his day and in 1796, he was created Baron Cawdor of Castlemartin. He became something of a household name the following year when he captured a force of some 1200 French soldiers who tried to invade England via Fishguard, a port not far from his Welsh residence, Stackpole Court. He was married on 28th July 1789, exactly two weeks after the French mob stormed the Bastille. His bride Isabella - Elizabeth Desart's grandmother - was a daughter of the 5th Earl of Carlisle. (29) Her brother George (later 6th Earl of Carlisle) wed a daughter of the Duke of Devonshire; a sister married the future Duke of Rutland.

Upon the death of the 1st Baron Cawdor at Bath in June 1821, his eldest son John Campbell succeeded to his title and estates. Born in London in 1790, Elizabeth Desart's father left Oxford in 1812 to enter the political arena as Whig MP for Carmarthern. Four years later, in September 1816, he married Lady Elizabeth Thynne, the above-mentioned eldest daughter of the 2nd Marquess of Bath. A son, John Frederick Campbell was born the following June. In time, two further sons and three daughters were born. One sister, Lady Emily, was married in March 1842 to Octavius Duncombe, a grandson of the Earl of Galloway who would win much applause for his efforts in the Crimean War a decade later. Another sister Lady Maria became the wife of the Earl of Ellesmere, heir to the great Bridgewater art collection and the estates of his great-uncle, the canal-building Duke of Bridgewater. 3rd Earl of Ellesemere

Lady Elizabeth Campbell, later Countess of Desart, was the second daughter. She and her siblings grew up at the family's lakeside mansion, Stackpole Court on the south coast of Pembrokeshire. They must also have spent considerable time at their father's Scottish estate in Cawdor itself. In 1827 George IV visited Stackpole and, soon after, the 2nd Baron Cawdor was elevated in the peerage as 1st Earl of Cawdor. His eldest son was simultaneously created Viscount Emlyn. Royal patronage continued after the death of King George; the Earl of Cawdor was Bearer of the Queen's Ivory Rod at the Coronation of King William IV and Queen Adelaide in September 1831.

All these grand names, lofty titles and Royal encounters might seem like a colossal exercise in name-dropping but that is precisely the point. In marrying Lady Elizabeth Campbell, the Earl of Desart brought his family into close contact with the leading Society figures during a time when Great Britain was establishing itself as the most powerful empire on the planet. His wife was closely related - if not by blood, then by marriage - to the Dukes of Abercorn, Bedford, Bridgewater, Buccleuch, Devonshire and Rutland, the Marquess of Bath, the Earls of Cawdor, Carlisle, Ellesmere, Galloway and Harewood, and the Viscounts Torrington and Weymouth. For his part, the Earl of Desart could muster as kinsmen the Marquesses of Sligo and Waterford, the Earls Howe and Clanricarde, and Viscount Strangford.

St. George's Church, Hanover SquareAnd indeed one imagines that most of the above - or perhaps even all, Queen Victoria included - were in attendance on that fine summer's day of 28th June 1842 for the wedding of 20-year-old Lady Elizabeth Campbell and John Otway O'Connor Cuffe, 3rd Earl of Desart, at St. George's Church in Hanover Square. (30) Benjamin Disraeli later declared the couple to be "the two most beautiful people I ever saw". The wedding was one of the highlights of the social calendar that year for it was, in fact, a double wedding. On the same day Elizabeth's brother, Viscount Emlyn, a childhood sweetheart of the Queen, married Sarah Cavendish, the pretty daughter of General Compton-Cavendish. Sarah had been Maid of Honour to the Queen since her accession in 1837 and Her Majesty was evidently a bit put out to lose such a trusted confidante. Viscount Melbourne tried to put her at ease. On 15th May 1842, five weeks before the wedding, he wrote to the Queen: "Your Majesty having generally chosen handsome and attractive girls for the Maids of Honour, which is very right, must expect to lose them in this way. Lord Melbourne is very glad of the marriage. Lord Emlyn always seemed to him a very pleasing young man and well calculated to make a woman happy". Lord Emlyn, later 2nd Earl of Cawdor, was Private Secretary to the Lord Privy Seal from 1841 - 1842. Sarah (nee Cavendish), Lady Cawdor, died at Stackpole Court in1881 aged 67. The Cavendish connection, through Sarah's siblings, further expanded the Desart's aristocratic circle; the Earls of Beauchamp, Burlington, Clare and Durham now featured amongst their kith and kin.

If the 3rd Earl had any ambitions for Desart Court, he may have been inclined to put them on hold while he and his wife enjoyed the privileges of life amongst the inner circle of the Royal Court, a society far removed from the squalor and murkiness of London, so brilliantly depicted by Charles Dickens in this period. (31) In the meantime his mother, the Dowager Countess of Desart, held the Kilkenny fort. (32)

The 3rd Earl had a taste of politics in the first months after his wedding when he stood as Conservative MP for Ipswich. From 1846 he was content to sit as a Representative Peer of Ireland in the House of Lords, a position he held until his death in 1865. Also in 1846, he sided with his father-in-law, the Earl of Cawdor, in opposing the repeal of the Corn Laws. Between February and December 1852 he served as Under-Secretary for the Colonies in Lord Derby's weak and short-lived cabinet, with Disraeli occupying the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The young couple also enjoyed the Queen's patronage. In 1845, his young wife was invited to be a Lady of the Bedchamber to Victoria, a position she retained until 1864. The 3rd Earl must have been delighted with the appointment for it gave him an excuse to join his wife when she was in attendance upon Her Majesty at the Royal retreat of Osborne House in the Isle of Wight. A keen yachtsman, the 3rd Earl spent much time at Cowes where he and his young sons sailed and boated with the Royal family.

During the 1850s, the 3rd Earl began to pay close heed to the goings on at Desart, and it is there, in Kilkenny that his four children had their most powerful childhood memories. A daughter, Alice, was born in 1844. A son and heir, William Ulick O'Connor Cuffe, was born at Grosvenor Crescent on 10th July 1845. A "spare heir", Hamilton Cuffe, followed on 30th August 1848 and a "spare spare", Otway Cuffe, concluded the batch in 1853. The second son, Hamilton, recalled his childhood at Desart as "a permanent delight". He has recorded how: "The shrubberies and woods and park, the animals wild and domesticated, seemed to provide every pleasure that human nature could require. The centre of interest in the county of Kilkenny was fox-hunting. Old and young alike viewed it as of far greater importance than government, politics, or - I might even say - religion; and we children began our hunting career in perambulators, and continued on donkeys until we were promoted to the happiness of ponies. Horses and dogs, including the puppies we walked for the Kilkenny Hunt, became our bosom friends. When my father had a shooting party, it was considered a tremendous privilege for us to be allowed to fire off the gentlemens' guns when they came home". The 3rd Earl himself would regularly tour the estate on horseback, seeking ways to improve the lot of his tenants and was thus "beloved and respected by all classes in Ireland and by his tenants, with whom he always had the best relations".

The 3rd Earl's passion for sport was ultimately the cause of his demise. In 1864 he damaged his spine in a yachting accident in Greece. The following spring he fell from a horse and was paralyzed from the neck down. He did not survive the accident, and passed away on 1st April 1865. His 20-year-old son, William Cuffe, succeeded as 4th Earl.

The widowed Elizabeth, Countess of Desart, continued to live at Desart. She survived her husband by 33 years until her death at Bournemouth on 28th April 1898 at the age of 78.

(26) Among his classmates at Eton was the future Crimean war soldier Colonel Lord Henry Percy (1817-1877) who won a VC at Inkerman in 1854.
(27) In 1845, Henry Thynne Lascelles, 4th Earl of Harewood (1824 - 1892) further cemented the Desart's family network when he married their cousin Elizabeth de Burgh, eldest daughter of the 1st Marquess of Clanricarde.
(28) The Duke of Buccleuch was a direct descendent of Charles II's illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth. Coincidentally, the 4th Duke also lived at Bute House in London, which he presumably inherited from his forbear, John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, sometime Prime Minister of Great Britain. He was succeeded by Lewis Hughes, MP, afterwards Lord Dinorben, during whose occupancy part of the building burned down in 1835. In 1872, Bute House was acquired by Henri Louis Bischoffsheim (1828 - 1908). The 5th Duke died at Bowhill near Selkirk on 16th April 1884 aged 77. His Duchess survived him until 28th March 1895. Their eldest son and heir, the 6th Duke, married a daughter of the Duke of Abercorn.
(29) Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle, served as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland during the era of Grattan's Parliament (1780 - 1782) and later had the misfortune to stand as guardian to the young Lord Byron who ridiculed him in the satire, English Bards & Scotch Reviewers (1809). His wife Lady Margaret Leverson-Gower was a daughter of the 1st Marquess of Stafford and granddaughter of the celebrated English canal-builder, the 1st Duke of Bridgewater.
(30) The venue for the wedding must have had an added significance in the year 1842 for it coincided with the centenary of Handel's Messiah. St. George's was built between 1721 and 1724 to the designs of John James, one of Sir Christopher Wrean's apprentices. In his latter years, Handel worshipped here with increasing determination. His association with the church is now commemorated in the annual Handel Festival. The Earl of Desart's wedding was conducted by the Reverend Robert Hodgson, M.A, the elderly Rector of St. George's.
(31) In 1848 the 3rd Earl commissioned Henry Richard Graves (1818-1882) to paint his portrait. Alas, this was yet another of the family portraits destroyed in the 1922 fire.
(32) In Lewis's Topographical Survey of 1837, he claimed that the parish of Castleinch (or Inchiholaghan) in the barony of Shillelogher had 472 inhabitants. Lewis described Desart as "a large and elegant building of hewn stone in a demesne of more than 400 plantation acres, which contain some remarkably fine oak timber"" By the time of the 1851 Census the population had dwindled to 114.

William Ulick O'Connor Cuffe (1845 - 1898) - 4th Earl of DesartUp arrow

William "Willie" Ulick O'Connor Cuffe lived for 53 years and was 4th Earl of Desart for 33 of them. In public life, he appears to have been much given to the leisurely pursuits of yachting and hunting so popular with the upper class in the late Victorian age, complimented by a penchant for writing mystery thrillers. His private life was a more complex affair, involving two very different marriages - the first to a great-granddaughter of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the second to the Jewish heiress, Ellen Bischoffsheim.

William was born at Grosvenor Crescent in London on 10th July 1845, the eldest of the 3rd Earl of Desart's three sons. His mother, Lady Elizabeth Desart, daughter of the Earl of Cawdor, became a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Victoria that same year. In 1846, his father took his seat as a Representative Peer of Ireland, in the House of Lords. The young Cuffes spent their childhood growing up between the hunting season at Desart Court, the grand houses of England, the paddle-steamers and yachts of Cowes and the well-to-do environs of Victorian London.

The year of Willie's birth coincided with the first year of the potato blight in Ireland, an event that heralded the worst famine to hit Western Europe for several centuries. To this day, we do not have precise figures, simply because the scale of the Famine was so enormous that the government could not cope with keeping accurate records of the number of deaths by hunger and malnutrition, or the numbers of emigrants from Ireland. The best estimates appear to be approximately one million deaths between ca. 1845-51, and another one million emigrants during this same time. One of the more uplifting examples set by the landed gentry during the Famine was by the 3rd Earl's half-sister, Maria, and her husband, John La Touche. They culled their herd of deer at Harristown and fed the venison to their tenants.

When he was nine years old, Willia's father, the 3rd Earl of Desart, took a post in Lord Derby's short-lived Conservative cabinet as Under-Secretary for the Colonies.

As British bosoms heaved to Tennyson's ode to the Light Brigade in 1857, Willie advanced to Eton College, where he shared a class with the young Marquess of Lansdowne and the future jurist, (Sir) Frederick Pollock. From 1856 to 1862 he also served as Page of Honour to the Queen. His maternal grandfather, the Earl of Cawdor, died at Stackpole Court on 7th November 1860 when he was "seventy all but a day". In his diary, dated 10th November 1860, Henry Greville described Cawdor as "one of the most amiable and unselfish men that ever existed". The vast Campbell estates and the Earldom of Cawdor now fell to William's uncle, Viscount Emlyn. The inheritance was one of the greatest in Britain at this time, consisting of more than 100,000 acres in Scotland and Wales. (33) A contemporary recalled the 2nd Earl of Cawdor as "a tall and spare and fine featured man … he used an ear trumpet and a snuff box. He came to the Castle every autumn, and when in residence brought his guests to church regularly, also a train of servants, mostly from Wales. The maids seemed to be in a sort of uniform, with a small poke bonnet as head dress. It was their custom to leave after the sermon so as to get his lordships luncheon ready. One Sunday an elderly stranger came to the pulpit, and he read the Scriptures with a running exposition. That was not unusual custom, but on this occasion the commentary was so ample and extended that the maids mistook it for the sermon and filed out when the lesson had finished. There were envious eyes that followed them". (34)

Lord HennikerIn 1862 Willie joined the Grenadier Guards. Tensions between the Federal States of America and Great Britain had been escalating for several years. The Grenadiers were duly dispatched, along with the Scots Fusiliers, to shore up British defenses in Canada. While in Canada, Willie and three companions, Lt.Col. Earl, Capt. Peel and Capt. Stephenson (Scots Fusiliers), joined the U.S. Army of the Potomac under the command of General Meade. They arrived by train at Bealton, Virginia, on November 15, 1863 and were met by Lt. Col. Theodore Lyman with a 10 man escort and four led horses. They then rode the eight miles back to General Meade’s Headquarters. A colleague of mine called Tom Baugher found a letter written by Lt. Col. Lyman - General Meade’s good friend and Aide de Camp - describing the arrival of these British Officers in some detail. Tom says Willie and his three comrades actually did some campaigning with General Meade. The dress sword Willie Cuffe carried with him that day survives.

Willie's younger brother and eventual heir Ham Cuffe also headed across the Atlantic at this time, as a Midshipman on board the wooden frigate, Orlando. The Grenadiers remained in Canada after the outbreak of the American Civil War later that year, although just how long William remained is unknown.

Willie returned home to attend the wedding on 14th January 1864 of his elder sister, Lady Alice Cuffe, to a 22-year-old Cambridge graduate, John Major Henniker-Major (1842 - 1902), who succeeded as 5th Baron Henniker on the death of his father in 1874. Henniker was Lord-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria from 1877 to 1880 and again from 1885 to 1893. In 1895 he was appointed Governor of the Isle of Man, an office he retained until his death in 1902, an unfortunate period in Manx history that coincided with the Snaefell Mine disaster and the collapse of Dumbell's Bank. A contemporary, Samuel Norris, described him as "an affable, tottering old gentleman with no political opinions and no understanding of political economy."

In the early spring of 1865, Captain William Cuffe was summoned back to London to attend upon his dying father. The time the Desarts spent in Ireland was largely given over to the pleasures of hunting and shooting. British officers stationed in Kilkenny were always welcome at Desart Court, especially if they brought their own horses. However, the 3rd Earl was out with the Kilkenny Hounds when he took a serious fall, compounding a spinal injury he had earlier sustained while yachting in Greece. The Countess rushed him back to the doctors in London but a fatal paralysis had already set in and, on 1st April, the 46-year-old died at his residence on Eaton Square. Less than a year later, the 3rd Ear's mother-in-law, Lady Elizabeth Cawdor, died in nearby Park Lane.

His eldest son, William, Viscount Castle-Cuffe, succeeded as 4th Earl of Desart. His mother quickly stepped down from her position as Lady of the Bedchamber to concentrate on her family. William's brother, Hamilton, was 16 years old; the younger brother, Otway, was just 12. On 6th March 1867, the eve of the ill-fated Fenian Rebellion in Ireland, the 4th Earl took his seat as a Representative Peer of Ireland at Westminster.

The 4th Earl's first marriage of 1871 was an unhappy affair. His bride, Maria Emma Preston, was of a flighty disposition. Her grandmother was "Little Pam", daughter of Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the Irish revolutionary killed in the early days of the 1798 struggle, and the beautiful Pamela Fitzgerald, reputed daughter of the egalitarian Duke of Orleans. Her grandfather, Major General Sir Guy Campbell (1786 - 1849) was one of the great heroes of Waterloo and later commanded the 3rd West India Regiment. A contemporary recalled the courtship of Sir Guy and Little Pam thus: "Sir Guy, when a young officer, was at a fête where Pamela's daughter was present. A young man, one of the guests, called out to the band to play "Croppies Lie Down". Campbell conceiving the request to be intended as an insult to Miss Fitzgerald, demanded an immediate apology from the young man. I remember, so far, the story, but whether an apology was made or a duel ensued I cannot recollect, but I often heard that Miss Fitzgerald was so pleased with the action of the young officer that she said if ever she got married it would be to the gentleman who championed her on that occasion".

Sir Guy and "Little Pam" had several daughters of whom the youngest, Georgiana, married Thomas Henry Preston, JP, DL, of Moreby Hall on the banks of the River Ouse in Yorkshire. The Preston family had made their money as merchants in Leeds during the 17th and 18th centuries. By the 1820s they owned a substantial estate at Stillingfleet in Yorkshire and it was here, on 1st June 1871, that the 4th Earl married Thomas and Georgiana Preston's eldest daughter, Maria. The following year, Maria gave birth to the 4th Earl's only child, a daughter, Lady Kathleen Mary Alexina Cuffe. The marriage came asunder in the early months of 1878 when the young Countess of Desart was revealed to have indulged in an affair with the Shakespearean stage actor, Charles Sugden. Born circa 1851, Sugden first became a sensation when he performed as Bernardo in "Hamlet" (London Adelphi, June 1868). Later roles included Touchstone to Lily Langtry's Rosalind in "As You Like It" (St. James's Theatre, Feb - April 1890) and Cardinal Mazarin in "The Man in the Iron Mask" (London Adelphi, March - May 1899). The Desarts were divorced in May 1878, and Maria married her lover at the British Embassy in Paris the following 26th December. That same year, Prime Minister Disraeli appointed the 4th Earl's brother, Hamilton Cuffe, Assistant Solicitor to the Treasury. Sugden was perhaps an awkward man for, on 1st May 1891, his wife, the former Countess of Desart, was obliged to obtain a decree nisi against him. (35)

Clarissa Bischoffsheim, by Millais, 1873.Although the 4th Earl's second marriage to Ellen Bischoffsheim produced no children, the marriage was an infinitely more satisfactory affair, bringing the House of Desart into intimate contact with one of the richest families in Europe. The Bischoffsheim family originally hailed from the Rhineland where they had prospered greatly amid the German industrial revolution of the early 19th century. In 1827 Jonathan-Raphael Bischoffsheim married Henriete Goldschmidt and co-founded the bank of Bischoffsheim & Goldschmidt. Prudent marriages with the Marquis de Sade and the Viscomte de Noailles, as well as with other Jewish families like d'Erlanger and Hirsch, further enhanced the family fortunes. When Ellen's father, Henri Louis "Bisch" Bischoffsheim (1828 - 1908), took over the family bank in the late 1860s, he was reputed to be one of the wealthiest men in Germany. In 1856 he married Clarissa Biedermann, a famous Austrian beauty whose father, J. Biedermann, had been court jeweler to the Hapsburgs in Vienna. Ellen and her sister Amelia were born shortly afterwards.

Captain Ronald Campbell, killed in action, 1879.Bismarck's victory over the French in 1870 enabled Bischoffsheim to relocate to Paris where he further consolidated his wealth, sponsoring various commercial enterprises in what became known as the "Scramble for Africa". Among the casualties in the colonization of Africa was 30-year-old Captain Ronald Campbell, second son of the 2nd Earl of Cawdor and 1st cousin of the 4th Earl of Desart. He was killed in action at Hlobane in the Zulu campaign while serving as a Staff Officer to Sir Evelyn Wood in the Zulu campaign.

The head office of Bischoffsheim & Goldschmidt was subsequently relocated to Throgmorton Street in London, a city rapidly becoming the financial capital of the world. The firm was later satirized in The Way We Live Now (1875) under the name, "Todd, Broghert & Goldsheimer".In 1872, he purchased Bute House on South Audley Street, formerly home to the 4th Earl of Desart's great-uncle, the Duke of Buccleuch. In 1876 the Bischoffsheims supervised the installation by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo of his "Allegory of Venus and Tito" on the ceiling of their drawing room at Bute House. Described as "a Versailles in miniature", this exquisite Venetian work was sold to the National Gallery of London in 1970. Upon his death in 1908, Bute House passed to his younger daughter, Amelia, Lady Fitzgerald, who sold it to the Egyptian government in 1927. It has been the official seat of the Egyptian Embassy ever since.

Bischoffsheim was by no means alone in purchasing property within the heart of what had hitherto been the exclusive enclave of the British aristocracy. Indeed by 1875 London had become home to all the greatest financial dynasties in the world - Hirsch, d'Erlanger, Rothschild, Lazard, Seligman, Speyer and Stern. In 1872, for instance, Chesterfield House, next door to Bute House, was purhcased by the brewer Michael Bass, later 1st Baron Burton, marking another symbol of the old guard being ousted by a new merchant elite. Lord Burton's daughter, Nellie (later Baroness Burton) was a close friend of Lady Kathleen Pilkington. Together they started the boom in French bulldogs which overtook London in the early years of the 20th century. In 1894 Nellie married a wealthy Scotsman James Baillie.

These new financiers came for profit and stayed for prestige. Over the next three decades, Bischoffsheim's fortunes continued to grow; the establishment of a new Stock Exchange in London in 1885, backed by firm adherence to the gold standard, helped enormously. He went on to purchase The Severals in Newmarket (next to Louis Rothschild's Palace House) and Warren House, the 90-room mansion at Stanmore, Harrow, built by British Museum architect Sir Robert Smirke. (36) Between his racing parties at The Severals, the weekenders at Warren and his dinner parties at Bute House, "Bish" became " the epitome of a city magnate absorbed into the political establishment". Despite his Jewish background, he "nevertheless became something of a star in London Society a favourite at the Court of the Prince of Wales and an indispensable fixture in the Season". At the time of his daughters' marriage to the 4th Earl of Desart, he was said to give the best dinner parties in London; his wife, "Mrs. Bish", together with Mrs. Oppenheim, held absolute influence over feminine fashion in the city. He was even accepted as a member of the Carlton Club, hitherto the exclusive preserve of the landowning classes. By the time of his death in 1908, "Bish" was one of the wealthiest men in Europe. He was buried beneath a large classical monument in the Jewish Cemetery at Hoop Lane in North London. Part of his vast inheritance was left for the establishment of a hospital and an ambulance service. One of his protégés was King Edward VII's principal financial advisor, (Sir) Edward Cassel, the Cologne-born banker and benefactor who rose to become probably the most powerful financier in Europe by the time of his death. His granddaughter, Edwina Ashley, married Lord Louis Mountbatten. (37)

At any rate, "Bish" attained a position in which he was able to marry both his daughters into the British aristocracy. Of course, it might be argued that the Anglo-Irish aristocracy were of a lesser social significance than those on "the mainland" but nonetheless Mr. and Mrs. Bischoffsheim must have derived some pleasure from the fact that, by the close of 1882, their two daughters had wed the Earl of Desart and the Knight of Kerry respectively. The first of these weddings took place at Christ Church on Down Street, Mayfair, on Wednesday, 27th April 1881, when the 24 year old Ellen Bischoffsheim married William Cuffe, the 36 year old Earl of Desart. It was hailed as the wedding of the Season. Rumours abounded that the Jewish bride brought a dowry of £150,000 with her, a similar sum being due on the death of her father. When the Earl and his new wife arrived at Kilkenny railway station two days later, huge crowds gathered to greet them. The road from Kilkenny to Desart was festooned with evergreens and multi-coloured banners and the village of Cuffes Grange was decorated in splendid fashion to celebrate the occasion. It was "a proud day" for the new couple. Before the year was out, the 4th Earl was appointed Master of the Kilkenny Foxhounds.

On 4th October 1882, Ellen's sister Amelia married another Anglo-Irish noble, Sir Maurice Fitzgerald (1844 - 1916), the 20th Knight of Kerry. His father, Sir Peter Fitzgerald (1808 - 1880), the 19th Knight, had been closely involved with the banking house of La Touche and had served as Vice-Treasurer of Ireland in the last ministry of Sir Robert Peel. The 19th Knight spent most of his life looking after his 5000-acre estate on the island of Valentia, just off the coast of Kerry. He was also greatly involved in the establishment of the Trans-Atlantic cable, which ran from Valentia to Newfoundland. Sir Maurice was ADC to Sir Archibald Alison during the Ashante War and served as Equerry to Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught (for whom Otway Cuffe would be ADC) at the time of his marriage. Both Otway and Sir Maurice later served as Captains with the Rifle Brigade.The Duke of Connaught stood as godfather to Maurice and Amelia's son and heir, (Sir) Arthur Brinsley Fitzgerald, later the 22nd Knight of Kerry, ADC to Field Marshall Viscount Gort in World War II.

In 1908, following the death of her father, Amelia, Lady Fitzgerald commissioned W.H. Romaine-Walker to substantially extend the Knight's English home, Buckland House, in Berkshire, resulting in what has been described as "a formidable symbol of nouveau riche classical aggrandizement".

It is not clear how much time the 4th Earl and the Countess Ellen spent at Desart. Like his father, the 4th Earl was a man who preferred the country pursuits of shooting and fox-hunting, or indeed, of yachting, to the more mundane business of running an Irish country estate. Indeed Ellen described her husband as "a reckless horseman". At this time, the Desart family estates consisted of approximately 8000 acres in Kilkenny and just under 1000 acres in Tipperary, which yielded £8,932 in 1883. Despite this, the 4th Earl played an active part in introducing the first show of the Royal Agricultural Society to Kilkenny in 1884, and was Master of the Kilkenny Foxhounds from 1882 to 1884. However, shortly after his second marriage the outbreak of the Irish Land Wars once again raised the spectre of politically motivated agrarian violence, and the 4th Earl felt compelled to close up Desart in the winter of 1884 when the family relocated to England for the next 14 years. Another casualty was the 4th Earl's cousin, the Marquess of Waterford, who awoke at Curraghmore one morning to find his hounds had been poisoned; the house was closed down and the Marquess moved to England. When in 1889 the Earl's aunt, Maria La Touche, returned to her childhood home she wrote "all the familiar walks were obliterated, the stones of the terraces and balustrades were lifted out of place by seedling trees … there was something very sad about it from the human side. But yet I never saw the place look so beautiful or so stately and sad".

3rd Earl of Cawdor1898 was a year that brought much mourning to the House of Desart. The first death was that of the 2nd Earl of Cawdor in March 1898. (38) Four weeks later, his sister, Elizabeth, Dowager Countess of Desart - Napoleon III's "la belle Desert" - passed away in her 76th year at Bournemouth. She was buried at Hampton-on-Thames. On 15th September 1898, less than six months after the death of his mother, the 4th Earl died at the relatively young age of 53-years, after a short illness, on board his yacht off Falmouth. The life of the 4th Earl may have been relatively short but his impact on the family was certainly useful, not least with his acquisition of part of the Bischoffsheim fortunes.

William Ulick O'Connor Cuffe was also a literary man and wrote some fifteen novels during his life. Beginning in 1869 with "Only a Woman's Love", his most successful works were the mystery thrillers Herne Lodge (1888) and The Little Chatelaine (1889), while his novel Beyond These Voices (1870) was a sweeping saga of seduction and revenge set against the background of the Fenian Rising. Other titles included Children of Nature: A Story of Modern London (1878), The Honourable Ella (1879) and Lord and Lady Piccadilly (1887).

His widow, Ellen, Countess of Desart, retired to live with her family at Ascot in Berkshir. Following the death of her brother-in-law, Captain Otway Cuffe, in 1911, she returned to live at Aut Even, near Talbot's Inch, in Kilkenny, where she continued the Captain's good works in the community. She also built Desert Hall, Lower New Street, which was later a dance hall. She went on to become the first woman Senator in the first Senate of the Irish Free State, and was the first Jewish woman accorded such honours anywhere in the world. She died on Thursday 29th June 1933 at the age of 75 and was laid to rest by the side of her husband in Falmouth.

(33) GEC, The Complete Peerage, Vol III (1913), pp. 122 - 124.
(34) Cawdor 1864 - 1872: Reminiscent. Printed for Private Perusal, by W.R.Walker & Co., Elgin. 1933.
(35) A Charles Sugden was living in Bradford in the 1890s and he may be something to Edward Buttenshaw Sugden, 1st Baron St Leonards. At any rate, Sugden died on the 3rd August 1921.
(36) Warren House is now the Islamic centre for north London's Khoja Shia Muslim community.
(37) For a colourful account of this new age, see The Rise of the Nouveau Riche, J. Morduant Crook, John Murray (1999).
(38) His heir, Frederick Campbell, 3rd Earl of Cawdor, 1847 - 1911, rose to prominence in the last years of the century as President of the Royal Agricultural Society and was ADC to Queen Victoria and Kings Edward VII and George V.

image title

Hamilton Cuffe, 5th Earl of Desart
(courtesy of Harry McDowell).

Hamilton John Agmondesham Cuffe (1848 - 1934) - 5th Earl of DesartUp arrow

The life of "Ham" Cuffe, 5th Earl of Desart, is succinctly explained in his autobiographical contribution to his daughter's memoirs, A Page from the Past, published by Jonathan Cape in 1940. His granddaughter Iris Origo also provides a charming account of her relationship with him in her own memoirs, Images and Shadows, published by John Murray in 1970. As such, Ham Cuffe is the Earl of whom we know most about. In attempting to reconstruct his life and times, it may be that we can find something of the lifestyle likely to have been enjoyed by his elder brother, William, the 4th Earl. However, it should also be born in mind that the brothers Cuffe - the three sons of the 3rd Earl of Desart - were somewhat different in outlook. Where the eldest son, William, enjoyed the leisurely life of a country squire from his youth until his death, Ham Cuffe had a more sober career as one of the leading solicitors in Edwardian England while the youngest brother, Otway Cuffe, was of a decidedly more Celtic temperament and dedicated much of his life to the promotion of the ideals of W. B. Yeats and others, as envisioned by the Gaelic League.

Hamilton Cuffe was born at Richmond in Surrey on 30th August 1848, a year which saw the outbreak of violent revolution across Europe as the lower classes sought to have their voices heard in the economic and political arenas. By the time of Ham's death in 1934, the once indomitable Russian Empire had been vanquished and destroyed, only for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to rise in its place. The fall of the German Empire, followed by the collapse of the Weimar Republic, had similarly led the people of Germany to elect Adolf Hitler as their leader. His granddaughter Iris Origo was likewise trying to compete against the backdrop of Benito Mussolini's Fascist Italy.

Ham recalled his childhood as a state of "permanent delight". His parents intimate connections with the landed aristocracy of Britain and Ireland meant endless visits to country houses and baronial mansions, yachting weekends and cricket matches, theatres and balls. At Cowes, he splashed about on paddle-steamers with the Queen's children, Princess Helena (later Princess Christian of Denmark), Princess Alice (Grand Duchess of Hesse), Princess Louise (Duchess of Argyll) and Prince Arthur (Duke of Connaught). Here too he met the children of Sir Charles Grey and fell in love with Sybil Grey who later married the Duke of St. Alban's but died young. Ham would go on to name his second daughter, Sybil, in her memory.

A series of private tutors and private schools provided him with a solid education at an early age and, in 1860, his parents sent him to Burney's in Gosport, a Dickensian cramming school for young boys seeking a career in the Royal Navy. On Christmas Eve 1861, a week after the death of Prince Albert, he set sail from Plymouth on board a leaky wooden frigate, the Orlando, for Halifax, Nova Scotia, where - like his elder brother, Willie, then serving with the Grenadier Guards, he was to help protect British interests in America amid escalating conflict between the Federal States of North America and the Confederacy of the South. He was 14 years old at the time. His account of the Orlando's subsequent adventures in Halifax, Bermuda, Jamaica, Panama, Mexico and Cuba tell of a hardy life, reefing topsails, emptying excess water, cleaning pipes, drinking beer and falling for miscellaneous "beatific (female) spirits". He quit the Navy on the Orlando's return to England in April 1863 and, after further education in a rectory - generally termed a crammer - adjoining the property of his "uncle" Octavius Duncombe, in Cambridgeshire, he went to Radley.

Following the death of his father in April 1865, Ham went to a small private school at Colchester where he befriended Lord Donoughmore, Alfred Charteris and Richard Grosvenor. It was a time of much merry-making, shooting, dancing, riding velocipedes and falling in love. That October he matriculated from Trinity College Cambridge where his pastimes came to include tennis and racing, no doubt enjoying the rapidly evolving social scene around the Prince of Wales' visits to Newmarket. His mother aided his introduction to Society by leaving cards with all her friends and relations who were, as Ham observed, "like the sands of the sea in number". As a young, eligible bachelor, he was thus invited to every ball and dinner party in the city, a time in which he didn't have to worry about anything except making sure he had a clean suit and enough coins to take a cab home if it was pouring rain.

His early life coincided with a period in which the country houses of the British Isles were in all their glory and, as a well-connected young man, he enjoyed every privilege his birthright entitled him to. Shooting weekends with the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir, visits to Paris with Randolph Churchill, dancing to quadrilles and polkas with the Bristols at Ickworth, smoking fat cigars and strolling the sumptuous gardens of Chatsworth with the Devonshires, flirtatious water-parties and archery contests at Longleat. During this period he also found time to spend between five and six weeks a year with his mother and elder brother at Desart, again a jovial period given to hunting alongside moustachioed British officers and plump clergymen, singing boisterous folk songs and bear-fighting with his friends, following - as he himself put it - Thomas Moore's wise counsel that "the best of all ways to lengthen our days is to steal a few hours from the night, my boys!" He recalled Ireland in the 1860s as a "very carefree society" in which nobody cared whether one arrived at a garden party "in a donkey-cart or a carriage-and-four". However, following the ill-fated marriage of his brother, the 4th Earl, to Maria Preston in 1871, he does not seem to have visited his childhood home again until he came in to the property in 1898.

The 4th Earl of Harewood

The 4th Earl of Harewood


As a young man Ham Cuffe originally intended to develop a career in the diplomatic service, and it was to that end that he spent the summer of 1869 in Hanover with his friend, Dickie Grosvenor, brushing up on his German, attending operas and theatres, eating cold sausages, drinking beer, courting Frauleins and, once again, singing songs in country inns until the wee hours of the morning. Within a year of his departure, the German Empire had launched a successful and bloody military campaign against the French that would ultimately pave the way for the Great War of 1914 - 1918. However, Ham had by then decided diplomacy was not for him and had embarked on a career as a barrister in London.

Both his daughter, Lady Sybil Lubbock, and granddaughter, Iris Origo, have written in depth of Ham Cuffe's sweet and ultimately triumphant courtship of his "pretty, bright-cheeked" cousin, Lady Margaret Lascelles, second daughter of the Earl of Harewood. Her childhood had been considerably more reserved than his. The death of her mother, Lady Elizabeth de Burgh, when she was young had led to her father's second marriage to a rather formidable Yorkshire lady named Diana Smith. Harewood was incapable of talking to his children - be they the four sons and two daughters of his first marriage or the three sons and two daughters of his second. Diana, Lady Harewood was not much better, employing "a cold and impregnable manner, to mask, probably enough, her lack of experience and self-confidence".

HarewoodIn January 1870, Ham attended a tenant's ball at Harewood and his roving eye lit upon Margaret, clad in white muslin and red ribbons, a quiet, thoughtful, shy young girl of 17. As a cousin - their grandmothers' were sisters - he availed of the opportunity to repeatedly visit Harewood over the ensuing months and there began to further develop his love as he bore witness to Margaret's adoptive role as "surrogate mother" to the younger Lascelles children while Lady Harewood busied herself hunting. Margaret's sister, Constance, knew full well of his intentions but by 1872 she had escaped the confines of Harewood and married Beilby Lawley, later 3rd Lord Wenlock. There followed a gallant courtship, fireside conversations, chess games, love-letters concealed amid collections of Byrons' poetry and close dances at May Balls. However, Lady Harewood got wind of the romance and called a halt, arguing that Ham Cuffe, a mere second son, was not a suitable marriage partner. Spurned by his true love's wicked step-mother, Ham rode his anger across the pampas of the Argentine and turned his mind to his legal career in London. Meanwhile, Margaret remained a virtual prisoner at Harewood until, following a high fever brought on by a skating accident, her delirious repetition of Ham's name propelled a visiting aunt to intervene. The year was 1876 and Ham Cuffe's social status was rapidly improving as, following the demise of his elder brother's marriage without male heir, his chances of securing the Earldom of Desart began to look more real. Eventually the Harewoods relented and consented to the marriage, which took place at the end of July 1876 at St. Margaret's, Westminster.

A daughter, (Lady) Joan, was born at Pelham Crescent in London in November 1877; a second daughter, (Lady), Sybil followed in October 1879. Ill-health precluded Margaret Cuffe from having any further children and so Ham Cuffe would be the 5th and last Earl. By this time Ham had been appointed, at Disraeli's behest, to the post of Assistant Solicitor to the Treasury. The position offered Ham a steady income and he moved with his family to a quiet, airy house at the corner of Hyde Park on Rutland Gardens, where they remained until 1898. The Cuffe daughters enjoyed a happy childhood although Ham was increasingly preoccupied with his work, combating the growing Fenian troubles, working closely with the Foreign office and the War Office, scrutinising company accounts and seeking holes in the alibis of murder suspects. Jack the Ripper was at large and Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle was writing of Sherlock Holmes. He was acquainted with all the great lawyers of the day, such as Edward Carson and Marshall Hall, and following his promotion to the post of Director of Public Prosecutions in 1894, he became much involved in such cases as the Jameson Raid, the trial of Oscar Wilde and the Dogger Bank Affair.

Lady Sybil Lubbock paints a picture of her father as a kind and amusing man, stoic in presence, silent of religion, old-fashioned in essence yet broad in outlook, a Unionist and a Free Trader, noble in intent and saddened in defeat. He certainly had a remarkable ability to bridge generation gaps as evidenced by his latter-day communications with his granddaughter, Iris Origo. "Old and young", he wrote to her, "should try to realize the standpoint of each other, and it is the impatience of the young and the intolerance and want of sympathy of the old that produce much unnecessary unhappiness in family life". On another occasion he wrote, "I believe that love in marriage is better than anything in life. Ambition and success are not in the running with it. My real life has always been my home - wife, children, grandchildren".

On 15th September 1898, Ham Cuffe received word that his elder brother, the 4th Earl of Desart, had died upon his yacht off Falmouth. His mother, the Countess of Desart, had died six months earlier at a time when Ham himself was so ill that he could not attend her funeral. The Treasury insisted that the fact that he was now an Irish peer did not interfere with his post as DPP for Irish peers were not automatically given a seat in the House of Lords. On the 21st May that same year, Ham had been made a KCB.

The months immediately following the death of the 4th Earl involved a legal dispute with Ellen, the newly widowed Countess of Desart, who initially sought to remain at Desart and run her late husband's estate herself. Ham Cuffe, now 5th Earl of Desart, was equally insistent on returning to his childhood home. In the end Ellen vacated the premises and went to live with her family in Berkshire. Ham Cuffe, his wife and youngest daughter returned to Desart in August 1899.

Ham's eldest daughter, Lady Joan, was married in the last summer of the century to Sir Harry Lloyd-Verney, a descendent of the 1st Earl of Verney who died in 1791. (39) The couple settled at The Clochfaen, Llanidloes in North Wales and, from 1907 to 1910, Sir Harry was Gentleman Usher and Deputy Master of the Household to Edward VII. He was subsequently Groom-in-Waiting to Edward's son and heir, George V (1911 - 1931) and Extra Groom-in-Waiting (1931 - 1936). He was thus awkwardly placed in the Year of the Three Kings (1936) when he retained the post of Extra Groom through Edward VIII to George VI. From 1919 to 1935 he was Private Secretary to Queen Mary, during which time his wife Lady Joan was Extra Woman of the Bedchamber. From 1932 to 1936 Sir Harry served as Treasurer to George V. His medal collection is impressive - MVO (4th cl.) 1909, CVO 1917, KCVO 1927, Order of the Crown of Prussia (2nd cl.), Legion of Honour and GCVO 1936. (40) He died on 28th February 1950 and Lady Joan followed him a year and a day later. Their eldest son Major General Gerald Lloyd-Verney commanded the 2nd Battalion of the Irish Guards in Italy during the Second World War, for which he was awarded the DSO.

Meanwhile, the 5th Earl of Desart was involved in a major renovation of his family home in County Kilkenny. Lady Sybil Lubbock's account of the family's initial home-coming in 1899 is worth retelling. "The first sight of Desart was entirely pleasing. Its admirable Italianate façade of Kilkenny marble, a fine dark limestone, looked both elegant and stately, and showed no sign of disrepair. Old Mary Welsh at the gate had been vociferous in her welcome, and a smiling group of estate servants were assembled on the steps of the front door to greet us. In a rich confusion of handshakes and blessings we passed into the hall that was stuccoed and wainscoted in the 18th century fashion. Here too there was no disorder; the family portraits hung on the grained panelling, the furniture was more or less in place, the bird patterned chintzes of the drawing room beyond were clean and only agreeably faded; the dust of the books in the library was concealed by the wire doors of the presses. With these rooms at least the Irish housemaid in charge had dealt with some success. But upstairs!" The chaos of the upper storey at Desart was nothing to the chaos of the estate itself. For the next two decades Ham Cuffe, his wife and their employees were almost perpetually restoring and renovating both house and land, clearing woods and garden borders, fixing new windows, re-hinging gates, attending to dry rot and cracked walls.

Perhaps things became somewhat more manageable when, in accordance with the 1903 Land Act, the 5th Earl sold the bulk of his estate off to his former tenants, retaining just the immediate demesne for himself and his family circle. Nonetheless, his daughter, Lady Sybil, maintained that Ham Cuffe's time at Desart was probably the happiest period of his life and more than compensated for the stresses he had undergone during his time with the Treasury and Department of Public Prosecutions. He adored his new role as country squire, strutting the fields and woods with loyal Spaniel to heel.

It was a world Sybil couldn't help comparing to that of The Irish RM - a time of croquet, tennis, picnics and hunting where the Kilkenny people gathered themselves into "a cheerful little company … farmers on their home-bred hunters, boys on foot or on a donkey's back, a few gentlefolk, a priest or two … with all that friendly gaiety, could there really be ill-feeling between the races or the classes represented there". Her daughter, Iris Origo, recalled the "green sleeping parklands, deep woods, peaches on a sunlit wall, laughter and freedom … enough to fill a lifetime … a world of blue distances and infinite leisure and ease, flavoured with the scent of sweet peas and the crisp clear taste of red currants, in which the doors were always open to children, dogs and neighbours, and I would jog on my pony with my grandfather from cottage to farm, or down the green rides in the beech woods, where one might see, in the early morning, a vixen and her cubs slinking away through the tall grass".

Lady Sybil LubbockIn 1901, Ham's younger daughter Lady Sybil Cuffe, married a charismatic young American, William Cutting. Cutting had studied at Harvard with George Santayana and at the time of his marriage, was secretary to the American Ambassador, Joseph Choate. The marriage took place at the All Saints Church in Ennismore Gardens. Their daughter, Iris, was born in the small village of Birdlip in the Cotswolds on August 15th 1902, where her father was recovering from the first in a series of haemorrhages brought on by the tuberculosis that would eventually carry him off.

William Cutting's illness led the family to move to the Ojai Valley in California before they eventually settled in Italy. He died on the banks of the Nile in March 1910 with Sybil and 8-year-old Iris in tow. After his death, his father founded the Cutting Historical Scholarship at Harvard to his memory. William Cutting was evidently a man of considerable vision. In his will, he requested that his daughter be raised in France, Italy or, at all events, "somewhere where she does not belong". He was anxious that Iris be raised in a cosmopolitan world, far from the narrow-minded patriotic of Pax Britannica. At the close of 1910, Lady Sybil took Iris with her to Florence where they settled at the Villa Medici, one of the great centres of the Italian renaissance, a palatial dwelling built by Micheozzo for Cosimo de Medici, the founding father of the most celebrated family in Florentine history.

In 1917 Sybil married secondly Geoffrey Scott (1884-1929), a much neglected figure whose work and life deserve more attention. A friend of the American art historians Bernard and Mary Berenson, Edith Wharton, John Maynard Keynes and Vita Sackville-West, he was the product of the best educational system England had to offer. An architect, esthetician (his most famous book is probably The Architecture of Humanism), poet and the first editor of the Boswell papers, he moved with ease in scholarly, aristocratic and plutocratic circles in London, Florence and New York. The Portrait of Zelide, a short biography written in the manner of Lytton Strachey, was hailed as one of the most compelling biographies of the 20th Century and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In spite of his many gifts and accomplishments, he never found his place in the post-World War I world until a few months before his death. His tragic life is the subject of a recent biography, The Life of Geoffrey Scott: The Brilliant Young Man Forever, published by The Edward Mellen Press.

After his death in 1959, Berenson bequeathed both Villa I Tatti and his immense collection of books, photographs and arts to Harvard, from which he had graduated in 1887. It remains with the Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies to this day. At the time of his marriage to Sybil, Scott was a young architect and writer, working as secretary to the Berensons at his Villa I Tatti in Florence. Iris recalled him as a rather ugly, scruffy man with bewildered eyes behind horn spectacles but "he could be the most perceptive of friends, the most brilliant of talkers and his disarming helplessness must, I think, have made more women fall in love with him than his brilliance". The writer Compton McKenzie, the architect Cecil Pinsent and Edward VII's former mistress Alice Keppel featured in their social circle.

Sybil's marriage to Geoffrey Scott did not last, and the couple divorced soon after. She remained in Italy, and married thirdly, an old friend Percy Lubbock. Shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, the couple relocated to a hotel in Vevey, Switzerland and lived amongst the Swiss whom Iris rather bitterly described as "the scavengers of War, more belligerent than any combatant". Sybil was plagued by ill-health, and gradually lost the will to eat. She died on 26th December 1942. Iris Origo, whose US passport enabled her to visit Switzerland shortly before her mothers' death, was informed by a note smuggled across the Alps by a partisan on New Year's Day 1943. It read simply: "La nostra amata Contessa e spirata il 26 dicembre, senza soffrie".

(39) Sir Harry's great-grandfather, Sir Harry Calvert was created a baronet for his services with the 14th Foot (Buckingham Regiment) in the Napoleonic Wars. His grandfather, Sir Harry Calvert Verney, 2nd Bart, MP, succeeded to the Verney estates on the death of a cousin in 1827 and married Eliza, daughter of Admiral Sir George Hope, KCB, Commander-in-Chief of the British Baltic Fleet during the Napoleonic Wars. Their son George married Harriet Hinde, a daughter of General Hinde who distinguished himself in suppressing the Indian Mutiny of 1857, and these were Sir Harry's parents. On 24th June 1858, his grandfather, Sir Harry Calvert Verney married secondly Frances Nightingale, elder sister of Florence Nightingale.
(40) MVO
: Member of the Royal Victorian Order. CVO: Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. KCVO: Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. GCVO: Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order.

The Honourable Otway CuffeUp arrow

In the meantime, the Irish situation had steadily worsened after the first decade of the 20th Century. The ill-feeling that Lady Sybil had questioned was as real as the stories of The Irish RM were fictitious. In 1909 her father left his post at the Department of Public Prosecutions and accepted, by way of a thank you, an elevation to the English peerage as Baron Desart of Desart. Taking his seat in the House of Lords, he now added his voice of concern to the Irish Question. The Irish people were becoming increasingly vocal in their call for Home Rule, a policy that he, a committed Unionist, strongly opposed. No doubt he had occasion to deliver sharp words to his younger brother, Captain Otway Cuffe, who was enthusiastic in the promotion of the newly formed Gaelic League in Kilkenny. For their part, the people of Kilkenny evidently shared Otway's enthusiasm for, in 1912, the Captain was elected Mayor of Kilkenny.

One of the most charismatic persons mentioned in Lady Sybil Lubbock's autobiography was her youngest uncle, "Uncle Dot", aka the Honourable Otway Cuffe, who from 1898 until his death in 1912 was next-in-line to the Desart inheritance. His "cheerful and enthusiastic presence" first impressed Sybil, when he moved in to her parents home in Rutland Gardens in about 1880. He was, ever after, a regular visitor. Sybil and Joan would marvel as he relayed tales from his quixotic adventures in North America and the Mediterranean, watching him build "a pyramid of wine glasses while [talking] of metempsychosis and Indian philosophy until, when he reached nirvana, he began daintily to destroy the structure and we breathed again". He perhaps inherited his passion for the Gaelic world from his grandmother, Catherine Cuffe, a daughter of the ancient Irish House of O'Connor. Ellen, Countess of Desart, described him as "a boy among amongst boys, the Benjamin of his mother … full of sociability and fond of companionship".

In 1898, following the succession of his brother as 4th Earl, and the realization that as his brother and sister-in-law were without a male heir, he was now next-in-line to the Earldom, Otway Cuffe moved, with his wife, Elizabeth St. Aubyn, to Sheestown House on the Bennetsbridge road just outside Kilkenny. Otway's subsequent efforts to enhance the local community in Kilkenny took its toll on his health. On 27th October 1902 the Empire Theatre on Patrick Street opened its doors, financed by the Countess of Desart, with the Captain as President of the Kilkenny Drama Club. [The theatre would later become a rather rundown cinema]. The mustachioed Captain Cuffe himself would perform on occasion, as with HP Grattan's romantic drama, The Whiteboys, in November 1903. Captain Cuffe joined the Gaelic League shortly after his arrival and, with support of the Countess and Standish O'Grady, was elected its President in 1904, a position he retained until his death in 1912 when the bespectacled Countess took up the gauntlet. Shortly after his election as Mayor of Kilkenny in 1907, he staged another Grattan play, The Fairy Circle, whose subject matter was the 1798 Rebellion.

Otway's GraveFrom his arrival in Kilkenny Captain Otway Cuffe devoted himself to the revival of traditional crafts, and he established workshops for wood-carvers and book-binders. He was sincere in his attempts to learn the Irish language and took to wearing what he - and he alone - believed to be the national dress of Ireland; "wide soft hat, soft collar, full-skirted coat of darkest blue, breeches and stockings and low shoes". As Sybil noted "perhaps they were puzzled by him, perhaps they even laughed at him, but they certainly did like the Captain". His passionate desire was to enlighten the local people to their Gaelic heritage.

Lady Margaret, an honest Christian soul, likewise enjoyed the magical realism of Yeats, Synge, AE and Lady Gregory. She was thus supportive of her brother-in-law's antics, which her husband, the 5th Earl, regarded with "a faintly amused irritation". There were however differences between Lady Margaret and Dot. "They need poetry, poetry and music", implored Otway as they drove through an impoverished village one day. "Perhaps", conceded his sister-in-law, "but what they seem to me to need most are buttons and teeth".

Otway's election as Mayor of Kilkenny in 1907, and again in 1908, was a personal triumph - the position had never before been held by a loyalist. However, in early 1911 he became seriously ill and, on doctors' orders, he moved to the milder climates of Southern Europe. He took a notion to go on to Australia but caught pneumonia en route and was taken ashore at Freemantle where he died on 2nd January 1912. He was buried there. The Kilkenny Moderator felt compelled to "refrain from employing stereotyped forms of mere newspaper expressions of regret for in this instance they would sound cold, however seriously uttered, and inadequate to convey any true idea of the mingled feelings of pain and grief that stirred the hearts of all in this district to whom the lamentable tidings has come". Ellen, Countess of Desart, then took over as President of the Gaelic League.

Lady Kathleen Pilkington (1872 - 1938)Up arrow

Lady Kathleen PilkingtonAnother "life-giving visitor" to Desart was Lady Kathleen Cuffe, only daughter of the 4th Earl of Desart by his first, unhappy marriage to Maria Preston. Sybil recalled "her mass of dark waving hair, her gray eyes, her bright complexion, her quick movements and merry voice … a being so gay and lovely in those early days as to shine upon my childish eyes with a magical radiance". Lady Kathleen proved to hold an impish influence over her young cousins, Joan and Sybil. The latter's' nurse commented that "Lady Kathleen would drive a body crazy but there's no doubt she has a way with her". Perhaps this statement was made in reaction to an occasion when Ham Cuffe returned home to find his daughters, Lady Kathleen and the aforesaid nurse dressed as Arabs and having a tea party underneath the nursery table. Sybil writes fondly of those early days when Lady Kathleen's hair "still came tumbling over her shoulders and she romped with us - tobogganing down our steep London stairs, racing on our riding school ponies over the Downs, helping us to climb trees which we were then too frightened to climb down - leading us, as nanny complained, into all sorts of mischief." Her father does not seem to have been inclined to intervene. "He had a very tender feeling for his motherless niece who perhaps had rather a lonely time at home; and he knew that the mischief she led us into would do us no harm".

On 23rd July 1895, Lady Kathleen Cuffe, only child of the 4th Earl of Desart, married Sir Thomas Pilkington, 12th Bart, 1857 - 1944. The Pilkington family appears as early as 1212 when a Sir Alexander Pilkington is listed as one of the 17 "trusty knights" appointed commissioners for the Great Inquest of King John. When not falling to their death from oak trees or running into fatal arrow shots, the Pilkington heirs spent the Middle Ages advancing their ownership of land and their standing in local politics. Their battle tally is remarkable. Sir Roger de Pilkington joined Edward I on his campaigns in Gascony and in 1314 was present at Bannockburn. A hundred years later, his great grandson Sir John de Pilkington fought at Agincourt (1415). Sir Thomas Pilkington fought at the battle of Bosworth in 1489 when Richard III was slain. On 28th June 1635, the new King Charles created Arthur Pilkington a Baronet of Nova Scotia.

Sir Thomas Pilkington was born on 9th December 1857, the eldest child of Sir Lionel and his wife, Isabella, only child and heiress of the Rev. Charles Kinleside, Rector of Polling, Sussex. He obtained an MA from Christchurch College, Oxford, and subsequently served in the Transvaal in 1881 and at Tel-el-Kebir in 1882. Appointed a Major of the King's Royal Rifle Corps in 1898, he stood as Lieutenant Colonel of the 6th Battalion of the KRRC from 1903 to 1908 and commanded the 14th Battalion of the KRRC from 1914 to 1916. From 1917 to 1919 he was engaged in "special service" in France.

Before her marriage, Lady Kathleen Cuffe was considered "one of the gayest and loveliest girls of the London Season". She gave Sir Thomas two sons and two daughters. On the death of Sir Thomas on 17th February 1944, the Pilkington title and estates passed to their eldest son, Sir Arthur Pilkington, 13th Bart. Born on 17th April 1898 and educated at Eton and Sandhurst, Arthur served as a Major with the 16th / 5th Lancers in the Great War, for which he received the MC (1918), and again in the Second World War (despatches). On 10th November 1931 he married Elizabeth Mary, eldest daughter of Major John Fenwick Harrison, DL, JP, of King's Walden, Bury, Hitchin. They were divorced in 1950, shortly before Sir Arthur's death on 24th July 1952. Sir Arthur and Lady Elizabeth had one son, the present Sir Thomas Pilkington, and three daughters - Mrs. Sonia Rogers (born 29th August 1937), Carole Mary (born 29th January 1942) and Moira Elizabeth (born 25th July 1943).

Lady Kathleen Pilkington, a Dame of Grace of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, died on 5th October 1938.

The End of Desart CourtUp arrow

On Easter Monday 1916, Ham Cuffe, the 5th Earl, was playing a round of golf on the Kilkenny links with Bishop Bernard (later Archbishop of Dublin) when news arrived of a bloody rebellion underway in Dublin. The British authorities subsequently mishandled the suppression of the coup. The summary trial and execution of the rebel leaders aroused the wrath of a people now determined to regain control of their own political and economic future. As a veteran of the London circuit, Ham Cuffe's experience of political affairs brought him to the forefront of Irish Unionism and he was among those scheduled to sit in the Senate of Southern Ireland at the close of the Great War. Home Rule for the 26 counties had passed all three stages in the House of Commons, and was on the Statute Book prior to the outbreak of war in 1914. Its implementation was delayed for the duration of the conflict, but it was due to be enacted on the cessation of hostilities in the Great War. However, the outbreak of war in Ireland itself between Irish Republicans and the British forces in 1919 meant such a Senate was no longer viable. Lord Middleton later commented that "if Desart's colleagues were still alive they would bear testimony to the extent to which his single-mindedness and freedom from pique or prejudice contributed to the attempt". Ham was despondent about the public reaction to the crisis. "The complete apathy in England adds to one's despair. Football, cricket in Australia and things of that kind fill the bill for the mass of our reading public, and Ireland and Germany are only headlines to them. A half educated population in its results is worse than an ignorant one". In 1921 the treaty between Britain and Ireland led to the establishment of the Irish Free State, which gave Ireland the right to govern itself as a Dominion within the British Empire. Within a few months, Ireland again erupted in conflict, this time a bitter civil war between the Provisional Government of the Irish Free State and those who felt that the Anglo-Irish Treaty fell far short of Republican ambitions.

On the night of February 1922, the 5th Earl of Desart was in London when a small group of Republicans walked up the avenue to Desart Court armed with fire-torches. Why it was felt necessary to destroy the building is unclear. The Desarts had not done anything obvious to bring it upon them. The 5th Earl had been amongst the earliest Irish landlords to agree to the sale of his estate in the wake of the 1903 Land Act. A lady called Mollie Ackroyd, whose grandfather was gardener at Desart Court recalled the era as one in which "all the workers on the estate received a Christmas hamper, the children each had an orange in their stockings, a Christmas dinner for staff and their families, they seated at a huge wooden table in the hall. In the summer vast tea was held for the estate workers and their families, a fete affair with stalls and games in the grounds."

Lady Sybil Lubbock maintained the burning was "for no personal ill-will towards [the Desarts] but in reprisal for some measure of severity on behalf of the new government". That same night, the Ponsonby's house at Bessborough was also burned. However, there does seem to have been an element of malicious intent in the burning for, when a truck escaped from Desart carrying various pieces of furniture and art, it was apprehended at Athy and its contents destroyed. One can only guess at the treasures lost - the furniture, the portraits, the diaries, letters and correspondence. Ham Cuffe was distraught at the news; that so few of his tenants had lifted a finger to stop the destruction hurt him deeply. Ten years later, he wrote to his granddaughter, Iris Origo: "I can't bear to think of Desart - it is sadness itself. All gone, all scattered - and we were so happy there". He never again returned to Ireland

After the burning of Desart, Ham Cuffe and his wife moved to a small house at Hawkhurst in Sussex where, Sybil recalls, the passing of time began to take its toll on her father's health. "The Irish disaster, the failure of Versailles to make a real and deeply founded peace, the prevalence of political violence and political despotism had saddened and disappointed him". In September 1927 his wife, Lady Margaret, succumbed to a heart seizure and was laid to rest in the churchyard of Kirdford. Ham Cuffe lived for seven more years, buoyed by letters from his granddaughter, Iris Origo, and the company of his grandson, Desmond Verney. In 1933 Iris's son Gianni died unexpectedly, an event that brought her and her grandfather closer still. Shortly before his death, he visited Iris at her Italian home of La Foce and gave her the gold Victorian locket he'd given Margaret in his courtship 60 years earlier, engraved with the word "Mizpah" (God Watch Between Us Two). He also wrote her a rather touching verse:

In my old age on you I lean,
As in my youth I turned to her.
Here or elsewhere in world unseen.
In some shape may both loves endure.

The night he died in 1934, he talked of his going on a voyage to an unknown land and so, to quote Sybil, "his dream-vessel carried him to port". He was buried alongside his wife at Kirkwood.

Following the burning of Desart, Ham Cuffe, 5th Earl of Desart, handed the estate over to his niece, Lady Kathleen Pilkington, reasoning that he had neither the money nor the inclination to rebuild the house. Under the Free State Government's compensation scheme, she duly restored the property, aided by the architect Richard Orpen and the building company, McLaughlin & Harvey (formed 1853). The house was reopened in 1926, but the 5th Earl declined an invitation to visit. However, during the 1930s, a rise in anti-English sentiment compelled Lady Kathleen to abandon the family home once again. A local named Mick Nugent recalled the "sad day when Lady Kathleen called to the house for the last time [and] made a present to my [son] Garrett and he gave her a present of a dozen ash walking sticks. She said to him "I will remember Ballykeefe Wood for ever" - it was her last time to see it".

Desart Court appeared for sale in The Kilkenny People in 1934. (41) During the Second World War, or The Emergency, as it was officially known in Ireland, Irish army troops were billeted there. A demolition sale was held in 1943, and in 1957, Desart Court was razed to the ground, its cellars filled in and the site grassed over. "The destruction of this house was one of Ireland's greatest architectural losses". (42) Today one might not know that one of the grandest houses stood upon this quiet meadow beneath Ballykeefe Hill but the present owner of the land, James Kelly, says that on certain days, when the weather has long been dry, the ghostly outline of the house emerges from the grass.

(41) The Kilkenny People: A Review of the Century, October 1992, p.61.
(42) Vanishing Country Houses of Ireland, The Knight of Glin, David J. Griffin and Nicholas Robinson, published by the Irish Architectural Archives and the Irish Georgian Society, 1988, p. 91

Special thanks to Mrs. Sonia Rogers, John Rogers, Jeff Cuff, Denis Bergin, Muriel Barry, Anne Chambers, Fiona Fitzsimon, John Kirwan, Jim McDonald, Gilbert Watson, John Paul Bradford and the Cuffe Research Centre (email: jeff.cuff@btinternet.com) for their patient observations on matters titular, historical and grammatical.



Printed Primary Sources

Alumni Dublinenses, Burtchell & Sadlier, Royal Irish Academy (2001 reprint)
A Page from the Past, Earl of Desart and Lady Sybil Lubbock (Jonathan Cape, 1940)
Fiants Elizabeth
Journal of the Irish House of Commons, Vol II.
Land Owners in Ireland (Genealogical Publishing Co., 1876).
Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of Wales (1833)
Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837)
Reminiscences of Sir Charles Cameron, CB (Hodges & Figgis, 1913)
Retrospection's of Dorothea Herbert 1770 - 1806 (Town House, Dublin, 1988).
The Spenser Letters, PRO SP 63/147/16
Tighe's Statistical Survey of County Kilkenny
War in Val d'Orcia: An Italian War Diary 1943-1944, Iris Origo (Allison & Busby, 1999).

Secondary Sources

A Guide to Irish Country Houses, Mark Bence Jones (Constable, 1988).
Ballyfin, The Restoration of an Irish House and Demesne, Kevin Mulligan and James Fennell (Churchill Press, 2011).
British Sources for Irish History 1485 - 1641
, Brian Donovan & David Edwards (Irish Manuscript Commission, Dublin 1997).
Callan Tenant Protection Society Periodical.
Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press).
Ellen, Countess of Desart, and Captain The Hon. Otway Cuffe, JL McAdams, Kilkenny Archaeological Society, 1958).
Governors of the Isle of Man since 1765, JD Winterbottom (Douglas, 1999).
James Hoban Society: Open Session, Denis Bergin (April 2003)
The Complete Peerage, GEC, Sutton Publishing (1998)
"Kilbraher Abbey & Cemetery", Father Pat Linehan, Ballyhoura Development (2000)
Ladies-in-Waiting from the Tudors to the Present Day, Anne Somerset (1984).
Lady Desart, Emily Delahunty (Private Manuscript).
600 Years of Theatre in Kilkenny, 1366 - 1966, Peter Farrelly, PV Publications, Kilkenny.
The Book of Dreams & Ghosts
, Andrew Lang, 1897.
The Irish Country House: A Social History, Peter Somerville-Large (Stevenson, 1995).
The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland, JP Prendergast (Constable & Robinson, 1996).
The Kilkenny Gentry, Art Kavanagh
(Irish Family Names, 2004).
The Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction,
John Sutherland (Longman, 1988).
The Rise of the Nouveau Riche, J. Morduant Crook (John Murray, 1999).
The Road to Knockeenbaun, Ronald P. Larkin (Kilmanagh, 2002).
"The wild heath has broken out again in the heather field": Philanthropic endeavour and Arts and Crafts achievement in early 20th century Kilkenny', Nicola Gordon-Bowe, Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies, Journal of the Irish Georgian Society, Volume II, 1999.
The Year of Liberty: The Irish Rebellion of 1798
, Thomas Pakenham (Prentice Hall, 1969).
Vanishing Country Houses of Ireland, The Knight of Glin, David J Griffin & Nicholas K Robinson (Irish Architectural Archive & Irish Georgian Society, 1988).
White Knights, Dark Earls: The Rise and Fall of an Anglo-Irish Dynasty, Bill Power (Collins Press, 2001).

See also an upcoming history of McLaughlin & Harvey by Gilbert Watson (2010).

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