William Gibson – Lord Ashbourne

Lord Ashbourne

William Gibson was born in 1868, the eldest son of first Baron Ashbourne. The first Lord Ashbourne was one of the leading lawyers in Ireland before he embarked on his political career. Most famously associated with land reform in Ireland, in particular the 1885  Ashbourne Land Act, which created a fund providing long-term loans to tenant farmers seeking to buy their farms from landlords, he served as Lord Chancellor for twenty years. On his appointment as Lord Chancellor Gibson was raised to the peerage as Lord Ashbourne of Ashbourne, Co. Meath.

The first Lord Ashbourne was a member of the Conservative Party and a devoted Unionist. When he died he left the bulk of his fortune to his second son, Edward Gibson, leaving William only a small bequest. William was a fervent Irish cultural revivalist, a prominent member of the Gaelic League, whose cultural and religious views caused him to be disinherited by his father.

William was received into the Catholic Church while studying law at Oxford University. He had become interested in the Irish language while at Trinity College and became president of the Gaelic League in London. He was a familiar figure in London, where he wore a distinctive kilt and cloak, pinned at the shoulder with a large brooch. He insisted in speaking Irish, even in the House of Lords, and rather than speak English to those who did not speak Irish, he would converse in French.

In July 1914 Lord Ashbourne reviewed and addressed the Volunteers of Meath, Louth and Monaghan at Castlebellingham, Co. Louth. In 1915 Lord Ashbourne presented a cup which became known as the Ashbourne Cup for an intervarsity camogie competition. This competition celebrated its one hundred year anniversary in 2015.  The second Lord Ashbourne was one of the organisers of the Howth gun running and subscribed part of the funds necessary to purchase the arms and ammunition.

William Gibson, aka Liam Mac Giolla Bhride, died in 1942 in Paris. Ashbourne’s death prompted messages of condolences to his French wife from the likes of Douglas Hyde and Éamon de Valera. He had last visited Ireland in July 1939, when he could barely walk and was in Compiègne when the Germans arrived in June 1940. In spite of his age, as a British citizen, he was briefly interned in December 1940, before he was released on the intervention of his wife. Lord Ashbourne was buried in the hamlet of Chevincourt, north of Compiègne.