Sunday, 30 December 2012

Looking for the children of the Lennox sisters in Celbridge

Castletown House ... built by Sir Edward Lovett Pearce for Speaker William Conolly (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

The rain came down heavily this afternoon. It was too blustery and it was too wet for a walk on a beach, and as the rain got heavier we agreed it was too wet for Plan B, a walk by the boathouses and the banks of the River Liffey at the Memorial Park in Islandbridge.

Plan C kicked into place. Following lunch in Beirut Express after the Choral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, we decided to go on an historical treasure hunt in Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Over the last few days I have been researching the story of the descendants of one of the Lennox sisters who feature in Stella Tillyard’s book Aristocrats (1995). So we headed west to visit Celbridge House and Castletown House before darkness closed in on the day.

The Lennox sisters were the daughters of Charles Lennox (1701-1750), 2nd Duke of Richmond, a grandson of King Charles II. The eldest of the Lennox sisters, Lady Caroline, married one of the most prominent English politicians of the mid-18th century Henry Fox (1705-1774), 1st Lord Holland. But the three other surviving daughters married three prominent Irish men of the day:

● Lady Emily Lennox (1731-1814) married James FitzGerald (1722-1773), 20th Earl of Kildare, later 1st Duke of Leinster, and the builder of Leinster House on Kildare Street, Dublin;

● Lady Louisa Lennox (1743-1803) married Thomas Conolly (1738-1803), who inherited Castletown House, Co Kildare, from his great-uncle, William Conolly (1662-1729), Speaker of the Irish House of Commons;

● Lady Sarah Lennox (1745-1826) married Colonel George Napier (1753-1804), who lived at Celbridge House, Co Kildare, from 1785.

In this way, the children of ‘Donnie’ and Sarah Napier were first cousins of Lord Edward FitzGerald, one of the most colourful leaders of the United Irishmen in the revolution of 1798.

Celbridge House ... once the home of the Napier family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

In the past, I have written and lectured on the role of members of the Church of Ireland in the events of 1798. Since then, I have researched and lectured on the interesting life of one of Sarah Lennox’s most colourful sons, Sir Charles James Napier (1782-1853), who played an interesting role in the Greek War of Independence when he was Governor of Kephalonia.

Now I am researching an interesting story about one of the descendants of Charles Napier’s younger brother, Sir William Francis Patrick Napier (1785-1860), who was born in Celbridge shortly after his parents moved there.

We stopped first Celbridge House to photograph the former home of the Napier family and Sir William’s birthplace and now known as Oakley Park.

Celbridge House was built in 1724 by the Revd Dr Arthur Price (1678-1752) when he was the Vicar of Celbridge and the Dean of Ferns. Price came to Celbridge through the friendship between his father, Samuel Price, and Speaker William Conolly. In the same year as he built Celbridge House, Dr Price became Bishop of Clonfert, and later went on to be Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin, Bishop of Meath and finally Archbishop of Cashel.

The house was probably designed by the architect Thomas Burgh. Dr Price’s steward in Celbridge was Richard Guinness, father of the Dublin brewer Arthur Guinness.

In 1785, the house became home to the Napier family. In 1840, Oakley Park was sold to the Maunsell family, and as the house changed ownership many times it fell into disrepair. In 1935, Oakley Park was bought by the Guiney family, who sold it to the Christian Brothers. Their plan for a school in the house never matured; in the 1950s, the house was bought by the Saint John of God Brothers, and it is now part of the Saint Raphael training centre for children and young adults.

The East Wing of Castletown House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

By the time we had photographed the Napier home, dusk was falling, and we wondered whether we had time to photograph Castletown House on the other side of Celbridge.

We made it just in time. But darkness was closing in and the house was closing to the public at 5 p.m. We agreed we must return another day.

As we left and made our way back onto the motorway, we remarked on how the local railway station is known as Leixlip Louisa Bridge.

The memory of the Lennox sisters lives on.

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