Lady Elizabeth Longford

Given as a lecture to the Wellington Congress Trim

25th September 1992

Wellington Photo Coulourised


I am happy to have been asked to write an introduction to this fascinating pamphlet. I only really became aware of Wellington’s strong associations with County Meath during a delightful afternoon expedition from the Gray’s hospitable home at Higginsbrook. We viewed the column and the distant ruins of Dangan Castle where Arthur Wellesley later the great Duke of Wellington may or may not have been born. I regret greatly that I missed the original delivery of the lecture by Lady Elizabeth Longford at the Wellington Congress in Trim in September 1992. It has a great sense of period and forms a delightful fabric woven from gossip, anecdote and history and wonderfully informed by the family connection of the author. It is also marked by considerable wit as in the description of Sir Charles Wetheral who got so enraged by the passage of the Bill enacting Catholic Emancipation that his trousers and waistcoat parted company providing as Lady Longford said the only lucid interval in his entire speech.

Interestingly Lady Longford scotches the notion that it was Wellington who said that the Battle of Waterloo for which he is most famous was won on the playing fields of Eton. Apparently he detested boarding school an emotion I fully understand myself. He was wherever he learnt it a remarkable tactician as displayed particularly at the Battle of Salamanca where he took advantage of a minor French mispositioning. His entry into the army doesn’t seem to have been motivated by any great passion for warfare rather a lack of perceived talent, his mother remarking according to Lady Longford that “he was food for powder and nothing more”.

Lady Longford also is rightly suspicious of the attribution to the Duke of the well-known alleged riposte on being described as Irish “If a man is born in a stable does it make him a horse”. In fact the riposte had come from quite another direction and is generally now understood to have been made by Daniel O’Connell to deny Wellington the honour of being Irish. It has always been a common practice to discredit public figures by misquotation. The attribution of the phrase to Marie Antoinette “Let them eat cake” is completely untrue. It was a libel which had been successfully perpetrated many years previously against the Duchesse De Berri and was resurrected fatally against the unfortunate French Queen.

In addition to all these oddities Wellington himself is a mass of contradictions. Lady Longford accounts how a cousin Richard Crosby made a will and then climbed up a tower apparently with the intention of taking his own life by jumping. He records Arthur Wellesley bursting into tears when he heard that he had been left nothing in the will. There appears to be no suggestion that he was at all distressed by the possible demise of his relative. He was also as noted a ruthless military tactician and in the beginning during the Indian Campaign amassed a considerable fortune so to a certain extent he could be described as a soldier of fortune. He relentlessly pursued the Battle of Seringapatam and after the successful siege hunted down the mercenary “King” Dhoondiah Waugh and with a smaller force succeeded in defeating and killing the King although he magnanimously paid for the future upkeep of Dhoondiah’s orphaned son. Again he sat for the Tory interest in the Dublin parliament and never opened his mouth. He was described by Wolfe Tone as “one of the common prostitutes of the treasury bench”. However he was certainly cultivated as indicated by the fact that he took with him to India among other things the complete works of Jonathan Swift in 49 volumes. He also was certainly responsible for that splendid phrase “publish and be damned”.

He became Chief Secretary of Ireland in 1807 and remained such for two years. The Penal Laws were still technically on the Statute Books but he did everything he could to moderate their influence and Lady Longford records how he refused to permit the indulgence in any vain glorious marching by supporters of the ascendancy, to rub the noses of the populis in the defeat of the Rebellion of 1798. From the Irish point of view perhaps his greatest contribution was to help to force through Catholic Emancipation as Prime Minister in 1829 the year after he achieved that post. He was the first Irish born person to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. However again his contradictory nature is shown up by the fact that he opposed a repeal bill which would have conferred the same advantages on the Jewish community saying “This is a Christian country and a Christian legislature, and the effect of this measure would be to remove that peculiar character, I shall therefore vote against it”.

We should be grateful to Lady Longford for giving us this fascinating portrait of the Iron Duke. There are of course a number of pictorial and statuary representations of the Duke including portraits by Thomas Phillips, Sir Thomas Lawrence and many other English painters. Lawrence gives the impression of an aloof proud and even vain person but we are lucky also that there is in existence a portrait by the great Spanish painter Francisco Goya in which the pose is more measured and the face very clearly Irish. We also curiously have an image that does not depend on the skill of the artist, an early photograph a daguerreotype by Antoine Claudet taken in 1844 showing the Duke as an elderly man. It is fascinating through these various means to have contact with some aspects of the reality of a great Irish man recognised in our capital city by the Wellington testimonial in the Phoenix Park erected by grateful citizens in tribute to his work for Catholic Emancipation.

David Norris February 2012

Wellington and the Irish connection

Lady Elizabeth Longford

It is a strange and amusing fact that some of Wellington’s most famous sayings never in reality passed his lips. The first of these was the notorious remark about his birth: ‘Because a man is born in a stable it does not mean that he is a horse.’ When I first heard this saying attributed to Wellington I did not know enough about him to be in a position to question it. I didn’t at all like the sound of it. There was a rude suggestion that Irishmen were horses – or even donkeys. And an arrogant implication that Wellington bore some sort of supernatural resemblance to that other child who was born in a stable and not a horse. However, I assumed that the Duke was in one of his funny moods when he made the remark, half serious, half mischievous. Then I met my son. Thomas’s friend, Professor George Huxley of Queen’s University, and he convinced me that Wellington had said no such thing. Famous people are often magnets for other people’s wit and become dustbins for all the dubious anecdotes of the period. What is good enough for George Huxley is good enough for me. But I am particularly delighted to be giving this lecture, since it enables me at last to lay some of the chief facts before an Irish audience and to ask you to make up your own minds. After the next forty minutes have passed I hope you will have decided whether Wellington could or could not have been the author of those insulting words.

In the last Census taken during his lifetime -1851 – Wellington recorded his birth in Ireland, he made a point of never discussing exactly where; probably because he did not know for sure and in any case was always more interested in the present than the past. I note that one of the claimants to his birthplace was Trim. Meanwhile I must ask you to take a quick look with me at the Irish ancestors of Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington. Incidentally the family, who came to Ireland from Somerset, began as Wellesley’s, then dropped the middle part of their name and finally changed back from the shorter Wesley to the grander Wellesley.

The Irish historian, William Lynch, tells us that the first Wesley came to Ireland in the 12th century with Henry II as his Standard Bearer. Another arrived in the 13th century ‘on king’s business’, and a third in 1400 with Henry IV by whom he was ‘retained for life.’ This phrase, ‘Retained for life’ in the public service was to become the Wellington’s informal but sincerely held motto. The Wellesley’s were looked on as a typical Norman Irish family of the Pale. Garret Wesley I served on the Grand Jury here in Trim. Garret Wesley II was childless and left his estate and name to his first cousin, Richard Colley of Castle Carbury, a neighbour who had Wesley blood. By the way, there is a suggestion that Garret II wanted to adopt John Wesley, brother of the great Methodist leader Charles. Was this a case of the Irish Wesley’s wishing to have Methodist blood? Fifty years later the Methodist Wesley’s tried to claim Wellington’s blood. But in fact as far as I could discover there was no relationship between the families. One question remains about Wellington’s blood. Was it really altogether Anglo-Irish of the Ascendancy? This is the general view, adopted by almost all Wellington’s English biographers. But this view looks entirely at the Duke’s paternal descent. Here indeed we do find a strikingly homogeneous background: spreading over six centuries: Plunkets, Fitzgeralds, Cusacks, Colleys. But things were rather different on his mother’s side. She was a daughter of Lord Dungannon, born Arthur Hill-Trevor, a brother of Lord Hillsborough. Arthur became a banker and later Viscount Dungannon of the second creation. When studying the pedigree of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, I realised that she possesses what you might call ‘true Irish blood’ going back far beyond the Pale and the Ascendency. This comes about from her descent from Richard Wellesley. Arthur Wellington and Richard Wellesley also goes back, through his mother, into the distant Irish past. Perhaps I may be forgiven for mentioning in this connection that some of the Wellington’s descendants may possibly be even more Irish than he was himself. A few weeks ago I received a letter from an Irish family living in Co. Laois who said that they possessed a strong tradition of being descendants, on the wrong side of the blanket, of the Duke of Wellington. I did not come across any traces of this child during my research, though that does not necessarily mean it did not exist.  There were also various other families who wrote to me at that time, one from the island of Jersey.  But if Wellington had indeed fathered other children besides his two legitimate sons, he was very clever in covering his tracks. His brother Richard was quite another matter. All four of Richard’s acknowledged children were natural ones, though he married their mother later. Besides these young Wellesley’s, Richard had at least two Irish sons named Johnson, whose mother was helped by the young Arthur Wesley.

We come now to Garret Wesley III, an infant musical prodigy and the future Lord Mornington of Dangan, County Meath, Arthur and Richard Wellesley’s father. Lord Mornington’s father, Richard Colley, was also said to play the violin very well – ‘very well, for a gentleman.’ Both Wellington’s father and eccentric grandfather were interested in amateur siege warfare, the lake at Dangan being defended by a fort with 48 cannon and harbouring a 20-ton man-o’-war, a yacht and a packet-boat. If Wellington had turned out to be an Admiral of the Nelson calibre instead of a general, we should have known that his gifts came from the naval past at Dangan.

Even if Wellington was not born at Trim he spent some of his happiest childhood years here. He was born probably on 1 May and certainly in 1769, the same year as Napoleon; he was sent to the Diocesan School, Trim, in Talbot’s Castle. Arthur was very quick at mental arithmetic but his feelings were not always under control. One day his young cousin, Richard Crosbie, made his will and then climbed to the top of the Yellow Steeple, Trim’s St. Mary’s Abbey. Arthur burst into tears when he heard that Crosbie had left him nothing in his will. In any case, Crosbie did not fall off the top but returned safely. Arthur was again unhappy when he was taken away from Trim school and sent to a prep school in Chelsea, London, which he disliked. Equally unacceptable to him was Eton College where he went in due course. It has been stated over and over again that Wellington said the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton. I am quite sure he never said it. If anything, he would have been more likely to attribute the Peninsula victories and Waterloo the fields of Ireland and one of the famous Irish regiments such as the Enniskillens or Connaught Rangers. Eton had no organized games in his day, and he hardly ever returned there when he was famous; nor did he contribute to its new buildings.

Meanwhile Arthur had lost his musical father when he was only just 12, and he tended to be rather lost and aloof in a large, brilliant family. From his father he had inherited at least one great gift, remarkable talent in playing the fiddle. His widowed mother could think of no future for him except in the regular army. ‘I vow to God’, she wrote, ‘I don’t know what I shall so with my awkward son Arthur…food for powder and nothing more.’ But when Arthur returned to Ireland from a French School of Equitation he had lost his awkwardness and grown handsome. The school was run by a certain Marcel de Pignerol for the younger sons of the nobility, among whom were several Irish. (By the way, you may remember that the villa where the Duchess of York and John Bryan stayed in St. Tropez belonged to a M. De Pignerol. Wellington’s instructor, however, was chopped in the French Revolution.)

Young Arthur’s next move was to become an ADC to the Viceroy in Dublin Castle. It was a gay, frivolous life, and all its young officers were in danger of becoming ne’er-do-wells. The Napiers of Celbridge wrote Arthur off as ‘a shallow saucy stripling’ but he was warmly welcomed by the ladies. The notorious Judge, Sir Jonah Barrington, has left a striking assessment of Arthur. Barrington was sacked for peculation in 1830, but he had been a friend of Arthur’s since 1788. Brandy had been Jonah’s undoing; he kept a special inkpot on his desk containing brandy instead of ink, which he sucked through a quill pen during tedious sessions. ‘I knew His Grace, the Duke’ he wrote, ‘when he was Captain Wesley, Sir Arthur Wellesley, Chief Secretary Wellesley (of Ireland)… and Duke of Wellington. In the first stage of his career I was his equal, in the last, nobody is.’

In this so-called ‘first stage’ Arthur’s only serious interests seemed to be the violin and gambling. He beat up a Frenchman in a Dublin bawdy house, his first victory over France. At 21 he stood as Tory MP for Trim, the family seat, Arthur’s elder brother William, the former MP for Trim, having left Trim for London, to join Richard. Arthur seems to have won the election by leading the Trim Tories against the Irish hero, Grattan, and preventing Grattan from receiving the Freedom of Trim.  ‘What were Grattan’s claims?’ jeered young Wesley.  Merely that he was ‘respectable?’ ‘Why then,’ quipped Wesley, ‘on that basis every single man in Trim would get the Freedom.’  Arthur and his young Tory friends sat for two years in the Dublin Parliament and never spoke once. Wolfe Tone, that great United Irishman, labelled them ‘the common prostitutes of the Treasury bench’, because they sold their reactionary votes to the Government instead of supporting Catholic Emancipation as the United Irishmen wished. (Ironically, it was one of these very ‘prostitutes’ who was eventually to bring that boon to Ireland.) By 1791 the Wellesley connection with Ireland seemed to be coming to an end. Richard sold Mornington House in Dublin and Arthur was deeply in debt. But there was one bright spot. Or was there? He was courting Kitty Pakenham, one of the Castle’s toasts and the lively pretty sister of Lord Longford. Her family home was in Rutland  Square, very convenient for Arthur now that Mornington House was sold, while the Longford country seat, Pakenham Hall in neighbouring West Meath, was equally convenient, since Richard was not bothering to keep up Dangan.

The year 1793 was to be a crucial turning-point for Arthur. He proposed to Kitty and was turned down by her brother, Tom Longford, – not surprisingly considering his wretched prospects. The French Revolutionary war of that date was matched by a personal revolution in Arthur’s own life. Rejected by Kitty, he abandoned cards and burnt his fiddle. He had decided at last to be a serious soldier. In June 1794 he left Cork for Ostend, to fight the French in the Low Counties, but still fate was against him. The expedition he joined turned out to be in the incompetent hands of the ‘noble Duke of York’, who ‘marched his men to the top of the hill and marched them down again.’ But at least Arthur learnt, as he said, ‘what not to do-and that is always something.’ He was back in the Castle again in March 1795, more frustrated than ever. Then at last in June 1796 the tide turned for good, and Arthur set sail for India as Colonel of the 33rd Foot. The clearing up at Trim was left to Arthur’s agent, whom Arthur requested to send on to India as many as possible of his finest linen shirts. On leaving Ireland, Arthur had written Kitty a significant letter promising to marry her when he returned home – if she and her brother Tom should ever change their minds. He was not home again until 1805. Meanwhile he had missed the ’98 Rebellion and became a great commander in his own right. But he had not forgotten Ireland. For one thing, among the heavy boxes of books he took with him to India were the complete works of Jonathan Swift in forty-nine volumes.

Back in England, he visited the notorious courtesan, Harriette Wilson, whose scurrilous memoirs he was to greet in twenty years time with the celebrated challenge, ‘Publish and be damned!’ But he was not to be left in dalliance with Harriette for long. Olivia Sparrow, a close friend of Kitty Pakenham and a great busybody, informed Arthur that Kitty still loved him and had waited for him. Kitty herself was loving but dubious. ‘I am very much changed’, she wrote to Olivia, realising unhappily that she had lost her youthful prettiness, probably owing to a broken love affair with one of Arthur’s future generals, Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, second son of the Earl of Enniskillen. Did Olivia break up the Cole affair? If so she was playing with fire.

Arthur obediently proposed to Kitty without having set eyes on her again since 1793, and they were married in the Longford drawing-room in the parish of St. George’s Dublin, on 10th April 1806. As Arthur caught sight of his pale bride he whispered to his brother, the Rev. Gerald Wellesley, who was to marry them, ‘She has grown ugly, by Jove!’ Surely the coolest welcome ever given to married bliss. The marriage was not the total failure that might have been expected, particularly when Kitty was able to help Wellington with his wayward nephews and nieces, none of whom lived in Ireland.

From spring 1807 to spring 1809 begins the period of Arthur’s closest connection with Ireland – that is, until the end of the Napoleonic wars. In this period of two years Sir Arthur Wellesley was Irish Chief Secretary, though even now his civilian duties were twice interrupted by war: once in Denmark, once in Spain. Arthur took on the Chief Secretary as MP for Tralee, but found this too expensive – £5000 to buy the seat for a full parliament. So his brother, Henry, got him Newport instead, at only £800 for 1 ½ years. One must note how much families helped each other. So it is not surprising that another Henry, the Rev. Henry Pakenham, Arthur’s brother-in-law, was to beg Arthur to give him a leg-up in Ireland. ‘One word from you, Arthur,’ he wrote, ‘and I could be a bishop…’ The answer came short and sharp: ‘Not one word, Henry. Not one word.’

As Chief Secretary, Arthur and his family stayed entirely at the official Lodge in Phoenix Park. Why no country visits to Dangan, the family home? Because it was no longer the family home. It had been sold in 1803 to Roger O’Connor, a United Irishman and brother of Arthur O’Connor, Napoleon’s honorary general. Officially, Roger was farming Dangan; but most people believed he was only interested in the mansion – as HQ for Napoleon. On the other hand, a third brother, Robert O’Connor, was said to be preparing for Napoleon a cage in Cork. 

Meanwhile Arthur’s work as Chef Secretary was less than adventurous: simply to keep up the Tory vote in the 1807 election by judicious distribution of government patronage. One Tory candidate beat his Whig opponent by killing him in a duel – ‘reckoned fair in Ireland’, wrote Arthur, though the Government had to pop in a different Tory. A Tory in Clare asked Arthur to dismiss the Whig sheriff, his opponent. ‘Sorry, only for gross misconduct’, replied Arthur. Just being a Whig was not quite enough disgrace. After the government victory Arthur had to deal with cases of corrupt practice and solicitations. For instance Lady Elizabeth Pakenham, Kitty’s maiden aunt, requested him to find a job for a friend. ‘Sorry’, said Arthur, ‘Why not try Lord Longford?’ ‘No good’, Aunt Elizabeth lamented; ‘Longford only gets patronage for his own family.’ Of course all Arthur’s own family were also after him for patronage – Richard, William and sister, Anne. ‘In Ireland in my day’, wrote Wellington in after years, ‘Almost every man of mark in the state had his price.’ Wellington seems to have accepted this as the only way to preserve the British monarchy in Ireland.

At the same time Arthur aimed to administer the Anti-Catholic laws with ‘mildness and good temper.’ He forbade any marches to celebrate the victory over the 1798 rebels, (unlike those who allow Orange marches today), and he refused to give government offices to fanatical Protestants. The last letter he wrote from Dublin to the government in Westminster was an eloquent plea to start draining the ‘Bogs & Morasses of Ireland.’ Wellington was never to set foot in Ireland again, though, as we shall see, he would have dearly liked to do so.

We must now embark on our magic carpet – hand-woven of course in Ireland – and fly through the decades, from 1809 to 1829, when Napoleon was dead and Wellington was ‘the conqueror of the conqueror of the world.’ He was also Prime Minister of Britain and up against an Ireland made ungovernable by the redoubtable Daniel O’Connoll. The cry was now for Catholic Emancipation: the relief of Catholics from the laws that forbade them to sit in Parliament. The law no longer forbade Catholics to vote. Nor were they forbidden to vote for Catholics. But this privilege was an empty one. For the elected candidate, if he was a Catholic, was not allowed to sit at Westminster. And so Daniel O’Connor used the famous by-election in County Clare of summer 1828 to expose the absurdity and injustice of the anti-Catholic laws. On nomination day, 30th June, the great Dan himself came forward to oppose Wellington’s and Peel’s candidate, one Vesey Fitzgerald, a popular pro-Catholic Tory and thought to be unbeatable. May I here interpolate two personal memories?

I remember visiting O’Connell’s house of Derrynane with four of my children in about 1949. Two of his elderly kinswomen were permitted to live in the historic house provided they showed round any and every tourist who rang the front door bell. They were just beginning to drink tea as we arrived, their fourth attempt. I felt the heartless Brits were getting their revenge on dauntless Dan’s descendents. Secondly I can never forget that the Duke of Wellington and Sir Robert Peel were the heroes of Catholic Emancipation and that Frank Longford is related to both of them: Peel being his great-grandfather and Wellington his great-great-uncle by marriage.

Back to dauntless Dan. How did he work it? By orderly processions to the polls and priests in pulpits to urge on voters. Bands, wreaths, banners. On 5th July O’Connoll was carried shoulder high to the Courthouse of Ennis and declared the winner by 2,057 votes to 982. Wellington wrote to his platonic girl-friend, Mrs. Harriet Arbuthnot, ‘This state of things cannot be allowed to continue … Something must be done.’ It is amusing to think that when Wellington used those last four words the result was Catholic Emancipation, but when King Edward VIII used them over a century later the sequence was Abdication. They are Dangerous words!

In the next eight months Wellington showed himself a consummate politician. First he had to persuade Peel that it was not dishonourable to change his mind as he himself had done, from anti-to pro-Catholic over Emancipation. Then he had tremendous trouble with the King, George IV, who cried and sobbed, made promises and broke them, and tried, in vain fortunately, to form a new ‘Protestant Government’ when, as Harriet Arbuthnot said, ‘he has no more conscience than the chair he sits on.’ The fanatics among Wellington’s Protestant supporters and friends were almost as bad. His brother-in-law, Lord Longford, joined with others to form Anti-Catholic Clubs and to report on the suspicious doings of local Catholics in Ireland. In Limerick, for instance, there were very sinister midnight clubs, whose worst sign was that ‘there was no drinking.’ And Wellington’s Lord Chancellor, Lord Eldon, prophesied that if a Roman Catholic ever sat in Parliament ‘the sun of Britain would set.’ So when Catholic Emancipation became law in 1829 and was followed by an exceptionally wet autumn, the British farmers nodded their heads gloomily, muttering, ‘yes, our sun has set.’

By March 1829 Wellington had forced the King to give his consent to the Bill in writing. Excitement at Westminster was volcanic. Peel made a brilliant speech to which a pro-protestant fanatic, Sir Charles Wetherell, replied in such a frenzy of passion that he unconsciously unbuttoned his braces and waistcoat while speaking, so that his waistcoat rode up and his breeches fell down, the only lucid interval in the whole of his speech being between those two garments. Five days later Wellington rose in the House of Lords and for three days continued to answer his critics. Accused of every iniquity from deception to betrayal, he was finally subjected to a vicious personal press attack by Lord Winchilsea, calling him a secret papist. The Duke challenged Winchilsea to a duel, they met at 8 a.m. on 21st March in Battersea Fields, London, both fired wide, and after Winchilsea apologized for his letter, the Duke felt that he had successfully vindicated this view that politicians must sometimes change their minds, for the sake of the public good.

On 2nd April he introduced the 2nd Reading of the Bill with the best speech of his life. His diehard opponents were arguing that O’Connell’s Catholic Association ought to be put down by force. ‘But my Lords,’ he replied, …’I must say this, that if I could avoid, by any sacrifice whatever, even one month of civil war in the country to which I was attached (meaning Ireland), I would sacrifice my life in order to do it.’

Instead of being called on to give his life, the Duke won the debate by a majority of 105 votes – 105 for Ireland in the House of Lords. Very different, alas, from the result 64 years on, when Wellington was no longer Prime Minister, or indeed alive, and the House of Lords threw out Gladstone’s Second Home Rule Bill.

Great was the euphoria in Ireland when the Royal Assent was given – very, very reluctantly – to the Catholic Relief Bill on 13th April 1829. The Wellington obelisk in Phoenix Park was embellished by public subscription, one of the subscribers being – wait for it – Daniel O’Connell M.P. Wellington’s own euphoria was no less remarkable. He heard that his brother, Richard, was still negotiating the sale of the last remnants of the family estates. Might not Wellington himself buy back the land and become again, most effectively – what he had been born, an Irishman? We know that he got in touch with Richard’s agent. Though nothing came of it, the patriotic thought was there.

I had thought of ending my lecture on this cheerful note, but I have decided on an equally interesting and little known postscript

In February of the year 1821, Wellington was invited to join the Orange Order, of course in the highest possible capacity. The Duke refused, and explained in the following year to Lord Clancarty why he had refused. ‘I confess,’ he wrote, ‘that I do object to belong to a Society from which …. a large proportion of His Majesty’s subjects must be excluded, many of them, as loyal men as exist….’ This objection is natural, he went on, ‘from one who was born in the country in which a large proportion of the people are Roman Catholics, and who has never found that, abstracted from other circumstances, the religious persuasion of individuals affected their feeling of loyalty.’

So perhaps Wellington was a horse, an Irish racehorse winner, after all! 

Wellington Column

Taken from Wellington – his Irish connections

A Corinthian column, 75 feet high, was erected in honour of the Duke of Wellington at the corner of the Fair Green in Trim. The inscription reads “This column was erected in the year 1817 in honour of the illustrious Duke of Wellington by the grateful contributions of the people of Meath.” The monument was erected on this site because Wellington resided nearby while M.P. for Trim.

For close to two centuries now the Duke has been observing the cycle of life and death from his vantage point, high above the town. The fairs, the festivals, the days of hunger and famine and the days of plenty, the hero of Waterloo has seen it all.

The column was designed by a local architect, James Bell of Navangate, and the statue of the Duke is by Thomas Kirk. Thomas Kirk, born in Cork in 1777 was trained as a sculptor in Dublin and was an original member of the Royal Hibernian Academy. He executed a statue of Nelson for Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin and a number of other notables in Limerick and Greenwich.

Obelisk at Dangan under Repair
At the top of the obelisk

Elizabeth, Countess of Longford, an appreciation

Elizabeth Longford died on 24th October 2002, aged 96. By the time of this lecture in Trim in 1992, she was already 86, but gave a fresh and girlish performance, which can clearly be seen by this printed record.

Famously, she was the wife of Frank Longford, the reformer and writer, and she was mother of four sons and four daughters. Frank Pakenham of Tullynally, historian and tree expert, is the eldest son, her eldest daughter, the well known writer, Antonia Pinter.

Elizabeth Longford was a prolific, major writer. She managed to fit that between political life (she stood several times as a candidate for the Labour Party) and wife and mother. Her outstanding works are perhaps a Life of Queen Victoria (1964), and the biography of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, in two volumes (1969 and 1972) and her own autobiography – The Pebbled Shore (1986). The Times described the Wellington biography as one of the finest historical biographies in the English Language. Her obituarist in The Independent newspaper could suggest only one criticism of her as a biographer; namely the outstanding feature of her character, her goodness and generosity of spirit. (This looks suspiciously like a virtue!)

I only met her once, which was at The Wellington congress in Trim, but was utterly charmed by her. When I asked her after the lecture if she had a copy of it I could have, she immediately handed over her notes, as a gift.

When my father sat next to her at a dinner, he too was bowled over by her. They talked over her life of Queen Victoria. The next week she sent him an extract of the book dealing with Victoria’s doctors, with a charming letter.

The obituarist of The Guardian newspaper quoted her husband: “I think it would be very difficult to become bored with Elizabeth. No one else has been”.


I am very grateful that the Pakenham family have allowed this lecture to be printed here, which allows her personality to live again. When trying to show how important Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, was to Ireland and the civilised world and to his love for and admiration for the land which gave him birth, I felt that Elizabeth Longford’s speech could not be bettered.

I am grateful to Noel French of Meath Heritage Centre for creating the Wellington Congress in the first place and enabling this booklet to be published. The cover photographs are by Joseph Carr of Tara. The image of the Duke has not been seen since the column was erected in 1817.

                                                                                                Christopher Gray