Robert Barnewall, 12th Baron Trimleston

Trimblestown Graveyard – the burial place of Robert Barnewall

He kept and eagle chained to his front door and offered free medical advice to the local residents.

Robert Barnewall was born about 1704, the eldest son of John Barnewall who held the title of 11th Baron Trimleston. The title was not officially recognised as the Barnewalls were Catholics and so were outside the Protestant establishment.

Robert was educated in Paris studying subjects such as botany and medicine.

Inheriting the title in 1746 on the death of his father Robert returned to Trimlestown and Ireland.

Barnewall attached a new three-storey house with a fine bow projection in the east wall at the north of the tower-house. The long straight avenue to Trim was laid out at this time and was described as being a ‘dark avenue’, ‘near an English mile long.’ Visitors to Trimblestown Castle, including Bishop Richard Pococke and Mrs Edgeworth, recorded his hospitality and generosity. A magnificent coach had been presented to Barnewall by Marshal Saxe.

Having a skill in medicine, Barnewall treated the ailments of all the local poor without charge and set aside Friday to see patients. His fame as a medical practitioner spread far and wide. A fashionable lady came to Trimblestown to be treated for ‘ennui’, possibly depression, by having her sit on a swing in a darkened room and having four assistants to threaten her with rods. She recovered perfect health and maintained that good health until her death. 

Barnewall created an aviary of rare birds on the estate keeping an eagle chained to his front door.  His greenhouse contained many rare plants including a cinnamon tree and a hermaphrodite with leaves of orange, lemon, citron and cedar which produced fruits of all four kinds.

As major landowner and a member of the gentry Barnewall sought to seek relief for Roman Catholics from the Penal laws, ignoring the efforts of the rising mercantile and professional classes. The first body established to give formal representation to Catholic interests was the Catholic Association founded in 1756 and composed of Dublin business interests and mainly concerned with commercial privileges. In 1760 a more broadly based Catholic Committee was formed. Barnewall negotiated with the ascendancy to secure support for the entry of Catholics to the armed forces. This offer was rebuffed in 1762. In the same year Robert’s son, Thomas, conformed to the established Protestant religion. As the Protestant member of the family he then had the right to ownership of the family’s lands. A second son, Mathias, also became a member of the Protestant church.

After his political failure in the early 1760s Barnewall re-entered politics in 1775, this time with the support of the mercantile and professional classes. The Catholic Committee also allowed him to speak on their behalf. The Catholic community sought to create an oath of allegiance which would then allow them access to official positions.

With the British government involved in the war against the American rebels Barnewall revived his offer of Catholics serving in the army. Catholics were rebuffed again as the Protestant establishment reacted against concessions granted to Catholics in Quebec, Canada.

One of his last political acts was to be the top signatory to a Catholic address of loyalty to the new Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1777. Suffering from deteriorating health Barnewall died in Dublin in 1779 and was buried at Trimblestown.

Barnewall married three times, firstly to Margaret Rochfort, secondly to Elizabeth Colt and thirdly to Anne Hervey, his last two wives were English. His widow, Anne, petitioned King George III in 1800 as she was in misery and about to fall into ‘the most deplorable want’. Thomas, as son of a previous wife and his father’s heir, had conformed to the Protestant religion and so had only allowed his father a life interest in the property. He had then contested the will and secured the property for himself and dispossessed the widow. Thomas succeeded in getting the title of baron recognised but he died in 1796 to be succeeded by his first cousin.