A caring Landlord

Richard Southwell Bourke, the sixth Earl of Mayo, whose home was at Palmerstown, near Naas, was assassinated while as Governor- General of India he was inspecting a panel settlements in the Andaman Islands in 1872.

Bourke, though born in Co. Meath, lived for much of his life with his grand-uncle the Earl of Mayo at Palmerstown, and he was given a captain’s commission in the Kildare Militia.

When he went to Eton his father had advised him “ I do not want you to give up your friends, or to do anything mean; but I did hear that you were intimate with one or two fellows who were not thought of much in the school, and not your own sort. This annoyed me; for I should hate to think any boy of mine was not able to hold his own with his equals. It is bad thing to be always chumming up with one or two chaps, as it leads to jealousy and observation.” Later he studied at Trinity College Dublin.
As the Countess of Mayo was a lady in waiting to Queen Adelaide, the family spent much time in London where Bourke was “ a great deal made of.....a young man with a fine bearing, and one of the best waltzers in town.”

And as was customary, he went on the Grand Tour, including a visit to the Russian Court. Subsequently he published two books: St Peterburg, and Moscow; A visit to the court of the Czar. In Russia he had observed “there was no middle class. In no other country except, perhaps Ireland, is the transition from palace to the cabin more abrupt or the difference between the peer and peasant more wide.”

Or course he hunted, and when Master of the Kildare Foxhounds, he was successful in bringing about an improvement in the units finances. As Marquis of Kildare he entered the House of Commons for the county at the age of 26, and he had also succeeded to the Palmerstown estate.

There he was regarded as a good landlord, and his tenants were contented. During the famine he attended public meetings in the county, and he supported the Dublin Central Relief Committee. Bourke contended that “two and sixpence would keep alive a family of five for a week, by enabling them to buy meal to mix with cabbage and other vegetables,.”

With Lord Cloncurry of Lyons, who was chairman of the Mansion House Committee, he was part of a deputation which Daniel O’Connell had arranged to wait on the Lord Lieutenant to express their views on the Calamitous state of the country. And he was Chairman of the General Central Relief Committee for All Ireland in 1847. While the famine did not much effect of this Country, “where the small tenants strive to make their rent of wheat, except at Kilcock, where having an immense population, nothing can equal the wretchedness of the poor.....and a quarter of the labourers are out of work.”

The Marquis undertook charitable distributions, “hunting out cases of starvation, and buying knitting materials, and setting women to work in their villages; he took their work to England for sale to fashionable London friends. He arranged food supplies for outlying huts, managing the relief lists and, doing what in him lay to calm panic, prevent waste, and to battle with famine. As he liked acting, he arranged concerts and charitable performances in country houses, and a famous concert at Naas, to which half of the county went or subscribed.”

In 1849 when his father succeeded to the earldom, he became Lord Naas, and he was given Palmerstown with 500 acres by his father, who did not like the house. Appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland 1852, at the age of 30, he was known as “the Boy Secretary.”

Fifteen years later when he became the 6th earl Queen Victoria “expressed herself very graciously about the way he had conducted Irish affairs,”while Disraeli commented that “with regard to Ireland, I say that a state of affairs so dangerous was never encountered with more firmness, but at the same time with greater magnanimity; that never were foreign efforts so completely controlled and battled and defeated as were this Fenian conspiracy, by the government of Ireland by the Lord Lieutenant and by Lord Mayo.Upon that nobleman, for his sagacity for his judgement and fine temper and knowledge of men the queen had been pleased to confer the office of Viceroy of India”

By Con Costello
Courtesy of the Leinster Leader
February 2005