From Ireland, England, France, Austria, Greece, Turkey, and Italy to America and the West Indies, overflowing with historic events, from the French Revolution to the Great Irish Famine, Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquess of Sligo, spy, sailor, and jailbird, lived life to the absolute limits.
At 21, Howe Peter Browne inherited five titles in the peerage, an estate in the West of Ireland and valuable plantations in Jamaica. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, his early years conformed to the popular image of a ‘regency buck’ in the notorious circle of the Prince Regent, including the company of such profligates as Thomas de Quincey, Lord Byron, John Cam Hobhouse, and Scrope Davies.
In 1816 he married Catherine de Burgh and settled on his estates in West Ireland. He alleviated the desperate circumstances of his tenants and established a cotton and corduroy factory in Westport. As famine engulfed the west of Ireland in 1831, at his own expense, he imported cargos of grain and potatoes, built a hospital and dispensary to care for the sick, and raised money in London for relief and additional public works.
On his appointment as Governor General of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands in 1834, Sligo took on the brutal system of slavery. His objective to establish “a social system absolved forever from the reproach of Slavery,” set him on a bitter collision course with the local planters. He was the first plantation owner to initiate a wage system for black workers and after emancipation, to divide his lands into numerous farms to lease to the former slaves. The planters commenced a campaign of vilification against him in the Jamaican and British press.
Lord Sligo earned an honored place in the history of Jamaica, where he is acknowledged as ‘Champion of the Slaves’ and where the town of Sligoville, the first free slave village in the world, still bears his name.
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Anne Chambers is author of ten biographies, including the best-selling Grace O’Malley – The Biography of Ireland’s Pirate Queen 1530-1603, a historical novel and a collection of short stories. Her latest biography, The Great Leviathan: The Life of Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquess of Sligo, 1788-1845 was published in 2018. Her books have been translated into many languages and have been the subject of TV and Radio documentaries for Discovery, The Learning Channel, Travel Channel, ABC Australia, BBC, BBC World Service, RTE, and Lyric FM. In 2018 she was awarded the Wild Atlantic Way Words Festival Hall of Fame Award in recognition of her contribution to Ireland’s literary tradition.
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A spy, sailor, jailbird, and Marquess, and champion of #freedom: the historic story of a man who lived life to the absolute limits. We talk with award-winning author Anne Chambers on the first free #slave village in the world | See the Premium Interview https://bit.ly/2e0ir4x
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ANNE writes about the remarkable life of Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquess of Sligo from Westport House, Co Mayo
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The only child and heir of John Denis, 1 st Marquess of Sligo, Westport House estate, Co Mayo and his wife Louisa,daughter and co-heiress of Admiral Richard Howe, British naval hero, victor of the ‘Glorious First of June’ and counsellor to King George III, Howe Peter Browne was reared in a climate of wealth and privilege.
At 21 he inherited five titles in the peerage, a 200,000-acre estate in the West of Ireland and valuable plantations in Jamaica. Educated at Eton and Cambridge, his early years conformed to the popular image of a ‘regency buck’ in the notorious world of the Prince Regent at Holland House, Brighton and Newmarket, the gambling houses, bawd houses and theatres of London, to the fashionable salons of Paris, in the company of such profligates as Thomas de Quincey, Lord Byron, John Cam Hobhouse and Scrope Davies. A patron of pugilists, dancers, courtesans, artists and jockeys, Sligo later became a successful horse breeder and was a founder member and steward of the Irish Turf Club.
In 1810, at the height of the Napoleonic War , joining the radical Lady Hester Stanhope and her lover, Michael (Lavallette) Bruce, in Gibraltar, Sligo set out on the mandatory ‘grand tour’. Chartering a ship in Malta to go ‘treasure-seeking’ in Greece, en route he kidnapped some navy seamen from a British warship. Linking up with Byron the two friends shared many escapades in Greece and journeyed together from Athens to Corinth. Sligo excavated at the Acropolis and at Mycenae where he located the famous columns to the Treasury of Atreus (now on view in the British Museum) before moving on to Turkey.
Despite his grandfather’s status as a national maritime hero, on his return to London, Sligo was indicted by the British Admiralty. In a ‘celebrity’ trial in December 1812 at the Old Bailey, he was found guilty of “unlawfully receiving on board his ship at Malta…seamen in the King’s service,” fined and imprisoned for four months in Newgate prison. On his release, in true Gilbert and Sullivan mode, he found that his trial judge had, as Byron recorded, “passed sentence of matrimony” on his mother, the widowed Marchioness of Sligo. Following a tour of the German states and to the battlefield at Leipzig, scene of one of the greatest slaughters of the Napoleonic Wars, Sligo journeyed to the island of Elba. There, courtesy of Fanny Dillon, whose family originated from County Mayo and who was married to Henri-Gatien Bertrand, Napoleon’s loyal marshal and confidante, he was accorded a private audience with the former emperor. His letters home from Italy “giving a long account of Napoleon” were intercepted by the British authorities, however, and never reached their destination.
‘Out of every corner of the woods and glens they came creeping forth upon their hands for their legs could not bear them, they looked like anatomies of death, they spoke like ghosts, crying out of their grave…’
So the English poet Edmund Spenser described the province of Munster in 1583. While the dreadful spectacle of famine and decay may have appalled his eyes, Spenser, together with friends such as Walter Raleigh, had actively participated in and benefited from Munster’s ruin, as the English Crown wrested the province from the grip of its once powerful overlord – Gearoid (Gerald) Fitzgerald, 14th Earl of Desmond.
By 1579 the writing was on the wall for Desmond. Rooted in the feudal tradition of a bygone era, from which he derived his status and wealth, the world outside his Munster domain had moved on. Queen Elizabeth I viewed him as a threat to her power in Ireland, his intrigues with Spain a threat to England’s security and the vast acres under his control in Ireland as a potential goldmine. After years of prevarication in 1579 Elizabeth finally let loose the dogs of war. Desmond was proclaimed a traitor, a price on his head and his lands and castles up for grabs.
For three years a savage military campaign was waged against him by Elizabeth’s military generals, aided by her cousin the Earl of Ormond, Desmond’s bitter rival for power in Ireland. Abandoned by his Spanish allies, ill from dropsy and dysentery, too weak to even mount his horse, Desmond was hunted like a wild animal across the despoiled acres of his vast lordship. Despite his overwhelming liabilities, however, he had one remaining asset - his countess, Eleanor.
Educated, intelligent, courageous and able, daughter of Edmund Butler, Baron of Dunboyne, from Kiltinan Castle, county Tipperary, Eleanor’s destiny was as a wife, mother and chatelaine. But instead her marriage in 1565 to the Earl of Desmond, hurled her into a maelstrom of a bitter family feud, international political intrigue, a religious war, the enforced rebellion of her husband and finally social and political melt-down and ostracism.
With amazing skill, courage and diplomacy, Eleanor at first tried to mediate with Elizabeth and her administrators. Her letters are pragmatic, astute and knowledgeable, as she tried to keep at bay avaricious officials in the Queen’s pay in Ireland, predatory military generals, as well as power-hungry rivals from within her husband’s own family – all of whom hoped to profit from his downfall. Enduring imprisonment in Dublin Castle and in the Tower of London, exile in the slums of Southwark, her only son held hostage in the Tower of London, her mission, to save the House of Desmond, her husband, her children and herself from annihilation, became her obsession.
And when her efforts as a mediator between her husband and Queen Elizabeth were overtaken by international events, she endured three horrific years on the run with Gearoid across the wastelands of his Munster lordship. Enduring a knife-edge existence in desolate hastily-erected shelters in forests and mountains desperately she tried to keep her husband alive until either the vacillating English Queen called off her war dogs or help came from her husband’s fickle Spanish allies.
When her husband was finally run to ground and ignobly beheaded in a lonely cave near Tralee in the winter of 1583, his head pickled in a wine cask, sent to London to end up on a spike at the entrance to the Tower of London, Eleanor set out to salvage what she could from the ruins of his estates for their children. Deserted as the wife of a ‘traitor’ by family and friends, a political and social outcast, pocketing her pride, forced to beg her bread with her five young daughters on the streets of Dublin, pawning everything she possessed, she took her case to the heart of the Machiavellian Tudor Court in London, experiencing humiliation, isolation and imprisonment in the process.
Her persistence and courage finally paid dividends, however, when she won both the respect and assistance of Queen Elizabeth 1 and the love and protection of a new husband, Donagh O’Connor Sligo.
Fighting her cause to the very end of her long and remarkable life until well into her nineties, Eleanor rebutted the many spurious claims made in the Courts of Chancery, in both Dublin and London, to her second husband’s property by the new wave of English carpetbaggers who descended on Sligo after the fall of Gaelic Ireland in the years following the Battle of Kinsale and the Flight of the Earls.
Eleanor, Countess of Desmond died in 1638 and is buried in Sligo Abbey where her tomb can be seen today.
Eleanor’s third daughter, Lady Katherine FitzGerald married her first cousin Maurice Roche, Viscount Fermoy. Through the Viscount Fermoy line Eleanor’s descendants include the late Princess Diana and her sons Princes William and Harry.
Eleanor’s childhood home, Kiltinan Castle, Fethard, County Tipperary, is now owned by the composer, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber
© Anne Chambers 2020
Eleanor, Countess of Desmond, 1545-1638 by Anne Chambers (Gill Books)
One of T.K. Whitakers life-long motivations in public office was to establish a positive relationship in Ireland between North and South which over more recent times has become threatened by economic issues such as Brexit and the Backstop.
As early as the 1950s Whitaker initiated cross-border relationships with his civil service counterparts in Northern Ireland on issues of mutual benefit such as electricity supply, transport and the Erne waterway. On 14 January 1965 he arranged the historic meeting between Sean Lemass and Terence O’Neill which broke the forty-three year long wall of silence that up to that time had existed between the leaders of both parts of Ireland.
In 1969, amidst the carnage, rioting and teargas he wrote Jack Lynch’s ‘Tralee Speech’ which for the first time committed the Irish Government to a policy of reunification by the principle of consent. In 1970 he embarked on a behind-the-scenes dialogue with his opposite numbers in the public service and banking sectors in Northern Ireland and in the UK from which, over the following two decades, emanated many policy documents which, in turn, informed the Irish and UK Governments’ policy on Northern Ireland.
During the 1960s in his role as the pioneering architect of the Republic’s economic development Whitaker spearheaded the country’s convoluted path towards membership of what was then the European Economic Market. As secretary of the Department of Finance he led delegations to European capitals seeking support for Ireland’s admittance to the then exclusive club of six nations. In January 1962 he attended an EEC Council meeting in Brussels where Ireland’s case was coolly received.
This rebuff to Ireland’s initial attempt to join the European Economic Community (now the European Union) and its implications for the Irish economy was offset in 1965 by a bilateral trade agreement with the United Kingdom. Negotiated and managed by Ken Whitaker and his team of civil servants, over a six-month period of hard-bargaining, the first Anglo-Irish Free Trade Agreement became the lifeline for Irish exports, particularly agricultural exports, during the uncertain years prior to membership of the EEC in 1973.
While the economic scenario vis-à-vis Ireland and the UK may have altered in the intervening years, both countries share more than what may divide us; a close interdependence in the areas of trade and travel and as guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement. Perhaps as in 1965 Ireland should again investigate some form of a bilateral Anglo Irish arrangement in the area of trade. While this time such a venture would, of necessity, need EU support, however, as it might also serve to ease, even eliminate, the conundrum, for Europe as much as for Britain, posed by the Backstop, as well as protect what has been achieved under the Good Friday Agreement, given Ireland’s unique position in relation to Brexit it might also find support among our European partners.
And as to relations between both parts of this island, perhaps TK Whitaker’s proposal made in 1997, as part of the evolving relationship between North and South, to establish a ‘Council of Ireland’ where issues of common interest affecting both sides of the Border, for example Brexit, could be discussed by politicians from both North and South. The fact that such a proposal originated in the 1920s, has never been tried and therefore never incurred any criticism, in theory at least means, as Whitaker noted, ‘that its potentiality is still green’.