Monday, January 11, 2010

Big House grandees, gentlemen adventurers and a pickpocket

I don't think I've ever met - or even heard of - a Barnewall. But there are 9 of them in the DIB, and following a bit of investigation, I've established, unsurprisingly, that they're all related. (Since the DIB only includes people felt to be significant, generations are skipped and genealogical dots not always connected - fair enough.) Different branches were endowed with a viscountship, barony and baronetcy (apparently, the baronetcy is still in existence). They were mostly called Patrick, Christopher and Nicholas, which also complicates identification. I found an Australian-based Patrick Barnewell on Facebook, but once you've seen his photo you'll understand why I decided not to check his bona fides. They're said to be Norman - Barneville, Berneville, Berneval and Barneval seem to be variants. They were once really big wheels, owned a lot of land in Meath, held major positions, were involved in big wars, prominent in parliament, and so on. And now they're gone: I checked the Irish phone book, and there are no Barnewalls listed today (suppose they could be ex-directory, but ...). There' s also a Harry Barniville in the DIB, a distinguished surgeon who became a senator in modern Ireland, and presumably distantly related to the others. I mentioned previously the issue of those who stayed and those who left after independence: for whatever reason - and it appears some of their lines died out - the Barnewalls moved on.

Maybe I'm unfair. Another "Big House" grandee who took off for Britain at independence had every reason to do so. Sir Charles Barrington is principally celebrated for having codified rugby in Ireland while a student at Trinity College Dublin. He lived a life not untypical of his class in late 19th and early 20th century Ireland - dabbled in local politics, provided administrative service - justice of the peace, high sheriff and so on - patronized the hospital founded by his grandfather, led the freemasons, and the like. In 1921, his daughter Winefred was shot dead by the IRA: she was travelling with the intended victim, a Black and Tans major named Henry Biggs; he survived the attack. The Barringtons had also been in Ireland a long time. The first baronet, Joseph, was born in Limerick in 1764. After the death of Winefred, Charles left for England and did not return. Even as he departed, he offered his home to the new Irish state as a residence for the governor-general: the generous offer was declined on cost grounds, and the house eventually became the site of a Benedictine community, Glenstal Abbey. The New York Times report of Winefred's death - is a compendium of the appalling bloodshed that took place at the time, just one killing among many. But it's still very poignant, a story of a family lost to us.

Alongside the sad stories today are plenty of remarkable characters. Richard Barrett was a campaigning journalist who managed to alienate pretty well everyone: the nationalist paper he edited, The Pilot was dubbed "a torpid viper which only awoke to inflict a wound". The author of that slur - a fellow-nationalist - was later denounced by him to the British authorities against whom Barrett had campaigned. We had John Asgill, the "eccentric writer" a few days ago. Today we have Jacky Barrett, the "eccentric scholar". A fellow of Trinity College Dublin and distinguished Hebrew scholar, it was said that he was so unworldly that he could not identify a sheep. Filthy and cheap, he had managed to save £80,000 - a colossal sum - by the time of his death in 1821. He left the money to "the hungry" and "the naked".

Then there was Charles Barrington - the epitome of the old-style gentleman adventurer. He was the first recorded climber to reach the summit of the Eiger in the Swiss Alps, in 1858 (pictured - it's been hard to find portraits today). He decided to do it as a lark, and took the route that the local experts expressly advised against. He was nearly caught in an avalanche on the way down, and went straight home to Ireland since he had run out of money. Later he trained the winning horse in the first Irish Grand National. Quite a man.

George Barrington - at last, a picture, albeit a bad one - was a celebrated 18th century pickpocket. He apparently started to provided funds for his otherwise impoverished travelling theatre company. He was finally caught stealing from the pictured Russian Count Orlov, but managed to talk his way out of a prosecution. When finally jailed for his crimes, he managed to obtain a pardon by attempting suicide and winning the sympathy of a "distinguished" visitor. He ended up, like so many, in New South Wales, where he obtained another partner by informing on his fellow prisoners and got a job as superintendant of convicts. (Interesting how many DIB subjects ended up in Australia on one or other side of the locked door - Barrington was unusual in finding himself on both sides.) He was ultimately declared insane.

We previously encountered Jonah Barrington in his comments on the bizarre Beauchamp Bagenal. He's famous for his Historic Memoirs of Ireland, but infamous for nearly everything else. As a judge - a political appointee with little obvious aptitude for the job - he misappropriated court fees. He pawned the family silver, the persuaded the pawnbroker to bring it over for a dinner party, got him drunk and absconded with it. He fled his creditors but was allowed, through his political connections, to keep his paid judgeship in Ireland. Eventually, in his 70s, he was removed from the bench by parliamentary action, apparently the only judge to have been so dismissed.

One more 18th century politician: Isaac Barré (worth including for the portrait alone), a huguenot who went into politics after a distinguished military career. It was an amazing era for Irish political oratory: Edmund Burke and Richard Brinsley Sheridan were so effective that at times they actually changed the minds of parliamentarians over major issues. Barré wasn't in their league but he was good enough to impress Hazlitt and Jeremy Bentham.


  1. Hi Bill,

    Not sure if you are still editing/following this blog which I have just found - a few years on. For what it is worth, my father Sir Reginald Barnewall (turning 90 this year) is the 13th Baronet of Crickstown.

    Oliver Cromwell et al did a pretty good job of hunting the Barnewall family down and exterminating them, but not quite good enough! Some went to America, some went to Australia, some stayed.

    PJ (Joe) Barnewall, Australia

  2. The Hon Raymond Barnewall, 21st Baron Trimlestown, lives in Surrey, although he was born, raised and remains Irish.

    Happy to help your research if you are struggling in regards to the Barnewalls. Hopefully we have mode some small contribution to the different lands we have all enjoyed.

  3. Joe I was just wondering do you know the history of trimbleston castle as I live a half mile from it and I'm very interested in its history .i would really love to know why the barnwalls abandoned the castle in the early 19th century if you could shed any light on it I'd be grateful a lot of the old people in the area are gone now and so are there stories .ps I do a bit of metel detecting around the castle but know luck yet , anyway thanks Tommy