Authors: Benedict Kiely
And tomorrow we may set out from Granard nor make any stop until we get to Omagh or Claramore or Ultima Thule.
Some years ago when I was making a journey to the handsome town of Tyrrellspass I was set to thinking on the landed gentleman who locked up his wife for years and years because she would not sell her jewels (to which he had no legal right) and give him the proceeds.
You’ll find the reflection of that overly possessive husband in Maria Edgeworth’s novel
when the impoverished Sir Kit Rackrent marries in London a rich Jewish heiress and brings her back with him to Ireland hoping to benefit by her wealth. When she refuses to be
used in such a scurvy fashion, he locks her up and keeps her locked up until he himself meets an untimely end in a duel, and the lady is happily released.
Maria Edgeworth herself thought that her readers, some of them, might not credit the story so she told in a footnote the true story on which it was based, the story of what she called the ‘conjugal imprisonment’ of Lady Cathcart. During her imprisonment her husband was visited quite regularly by the local gentry, and Maria wrote that it was his custom at dinner to send his compliments to his wife, telling her that the company had the honour to drink her health, and asking her if there was anything at table she would like to eat. Her answer always was: ‘Lady Cathcart’s compliments, and she has every thing she wants.’
Her diamonds she had successfully hidden from her husband but there was neither servant nor friend to whom she could entrust them. She had noticed from her window a beggarwoman who came to the house and one day she called to her, threw her the parcel of diamonds and gave her the name of the person to whom she should deliver them. Years later, when Lady Cathcart was freed and her husband dead, she received her jewels safely. Miss Edgeworth was much impressed by that instance of the honesty of the Irish poor and, indeed, she had good reason to be.
Twenty years the poor lady was locked up and it was said that on the day of her liberation she had scarcely the clothes to cover her. She wore a red wig, looked scared and stupefied and said that she scarcely knew one person from another.
That story came back into my mind when, years ago, on the journey to Tyrrellspass I read an historical and archaeological appreciation of the place by Dr Peter Harbison, prepared specially for that visit – not specially for me, but for a party led by Eamonn Ceannt, then General Director of Bórd Fáilte.
Dr Harbison had been writing about Jane, Countess of Belvedere, to whose credit must be laid the original planning and architectural achievement of Tyrrellspass. And he mentioned also that an earlier Countess of the same name had been locked up for twenty years because of the jealousy of her husband.
Howandever: Tyrrellspass, which already had the bones and many of the habiliments of beauty, had, at the time of that journey, been selected by Bórd Fáilte for special attention during an Architectural Heritage Year: to restore ancient buildings and monuments, brighten the face of the place, remove the blemishes left there by what we laughingly call modern living. The work was splendidly done and we come now to a vision of a place that I first dreamed of in the late 1920s when I read about Tyrrell of Tyrrellspass and debated history with Paddy McCillion in my Aunt Kate’s great farmhouse at Claramore by Drumquin in West Tyrone …
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First published in 1996 by
The Lilliput Press
62–63 Sitric Road,
Dublin 7, Ireland
This digital edition published 2012 by
The Lilliput Press
Copyright © Benedict Kiely, 2012
ISBN print paperback 978 09 466 40782
ISBN eBook 978 18 435 13599
A CIP record for this title is available from The British Library.
The Lilliput Press receives financial assistance from An Chomhairle Ealaion / The Arts Council of Ireland