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.

With the Saints through Christmas (5): 30 December, Josephine Butler

Josephine Butler … ‘God and one woman make a majority’

Patrick Comerford

Josephine Butler (1828-1906) was active campaigner against the way Victorian society and legislation treated prostitutes, most of whom were forced into their lifestyle activity through desperate poverty.

Josephine Butler was born on 13 April 1828 at Milfield House, Milfield, Northumberland, and was baptised on 30 May in Northumberland. She was the seventh child of John Grey (1785–1868) and Hannah Eliza Annett 1792-1860). Her father, John Grey, was an eminent agricultural expert, and the cousin of the reformist Prime Minister, Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. John Grey was campaigned for the abolition of slavery and played a significant role in Catholic emancipation. He lost most of his savings in 1857 with the failure of the Newcastle Bank.

In 1852, Josephine married the Revd George Butler (1819-1890), who encouraged her in her public work. From her 20s on, Josephine was active in feminist movements, and the Butlers had strong radical sympathies, including support for the Union in the American Civil War.

Josephine and George Butler had four children. In 1863, while they were living in Cheltenham, where George was the vice-principal of Cheltenham College, their only daughter, Evangeline, died at the age of six.

In 1866, the family moved to Liverpool when George was appointed headmaster of Liverpool College. There Josephine decided to seek solace by ministering to people with greater pain than her own. She became involved in the campaign for higher education for women, and with Anne Jemima Clough, later principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, she helped to establish the North of England Council for Promoting the Higher Education of Women.

Against the advice of her friends and family, she began visiting Brownlow Hill workhouse in Liverpool, which led to her first involvement with prostitutes. She saw the women as being exploited victims of male oppression, and attacked the double standard of sexual morality.

Her campaign took on an international dimension when she travelled through Europe in 1874-1875 addressing meetings. Her campaign succeeded with the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act in 1883. In 1885, she became involved in a successful campaign against child prostitution.

She was a devout Anglican and a woman of prayer, and once said: “God and one woman make a majority.” She modelled her spirituality on that of Saint Catherine of Siena, and wrote a biography of the Dominican saint.

When George Butler retired from Liverpool College, he became a Canon of Winchester Cathedral. He died on 14 March 1890. Josephine continued her campaigns until the early 1900s. She died on 30 December 1906.

Josephine Butler is celebrated in the Calendar of Common Worship in the Church of England on 30 May, the anniversary of her baptism, and on 30 December, the anniversary of her death.

She is depicted in windows in the Anglican Cathedral, Liverpool, and Saint Olave’s Church, London.

Many of her papers are in the Women’s Library in London Metropolitan University and in the Josephine Butler Museum, Southend-On-Sea. Durham University honoured her in 2005 by giving her name Josephine Butler College. A building in the Faculty of Business and Law in Liverpool John Moores University is named Josephine Butler House. Her former home in Cheltenham was demolished in the 1970s.


God of compassion and love,
by whose grace your servant Josephine Butler
followed in the way of your Son
in caring for those in need:
help us like her to work with strength
for the restoration of all
to the dignity and freedom of those created in your image;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.


Isaiah 58: 6-11; Psalm 12; I John 3: 18-23; Matthew 9: 10-13.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our Redeemer,
who inspired your servant Josephine Butler
to witness to your love
and to work for the coming of your kingdom:
may we, who in this sacrament share the bread of heaven,
be fired by your Spirit to proclaim the gospel in our daily living
and never to rest content until your kingdom come,
on earth as it is in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tomorrow (31 December): John Wycliffe.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.