Lady Fingall

Life
1865-1944 [Countess Fingall; Elizabeth Mary “May” Plunkett, née Burke; fam. “Daisy”], dg. George Burke of Danesfield, Co. Galway, JP; m. Plunkett, Lord Fingall [11th Earl], called ‘the Somnolent Earl’, Catholic branch of the Meath Plunkett family whose property was held by the Protestant branch; resided at Killeen [sic Who’s Who]; acted as chaperone to Catholic young ladies.

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Works
Seventy Years Young
, memoir by Countess Fingall; dictated [ie. ghosted by] to Pamela Hinkson ([London:] Collins 1937); Do., rep. (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1991), foreword ed. Trevor West (TCD Fellow); MS in TCD library shows that there were no ‘spicy bits’ to be excised as it is rumoured that George O’Brien had recommended she do at first publication. The objects of her acknowledgements include R. I. Best, Myles Dillon, Walter Starkie, Dr. George O’Brien, et al.

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Commentary
Patrick J. Duffy, ‘Writing Ireland: Literature and Art in the Representation of Irish Place’, in Brian Graham, ed., In Search of Ireland: A Cultural Geography of Ireland (Routledge 1997): ‘Lady Fingall notes, the Anglo-Irish lived in “a world of their own with Ireland outside the gates’. (Cited in in Peter Somerville Large, The Irish Country House, Sinclair-Stevenson 1995,, p.355; Duffy, op.cit., p.73.)

Elizabeth Grubgeld, Anglo-Irish Autobiography: Class, Gender and the Forms of Narrative (Syracuse UP 2004): ‘In the as-told-to memoir Seventy Years Young (1939), Pamela Hinkson imposes on the recollections of Elizabeth Fingall the motifs of social elegy, although at many points Elizabeth expresses a sense of entrapment within that same socierty and satisfaction with the probability of change.’ (p.xiii.) Note: Grubgeld compares this with the autobiography of Joan de Vere, In Ruin Reconciled: A Memoir of Anglo-Ireland 1913-1959 (1990), in which the title points in one direction while the career as a nurse in Africa points in quite another.

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Quotations
Seventy Years Young, with Pamela Hinkson (1937; 1991), b. Danesfield [25]; writes: ‘My father remembered the people dropping by the roadside on their way to the Big House for help, the coffin ships going from Galway bay. Those emigrants who reached America alive, were to establish a race sworn to implacable hatred of England. He remembered the smell in the air that foretold the blight, and sometimes when he stood looking at the land without seeing it, he would lift his head, sniffing for a warning which he would understand were it to come again. [25] In my childhood the people were terribly poor, and bore their poverty with apparently complete resignation. They were deeply religious, and accepted literally the teaching that this world was only a road to the next. [25] [Danesfield] the front of the house seems to have had a blank look, the windows staring across the country, like blind eyes. It is a look that the widows of Irish country houses often have, as though indeed that was the spirit inside them, the spirit of the colonists and conquerors, looking out across the country they possessed, but never owned. [29] ... before the power of the landlords was broken ... we remained feudal, even when the revolutionary wind had begun to stir elsewhere ... we had an extra hour and a half of that chapter which I saw, and which Parnell was to end for ever. [35] The good landlords and the bad went down together, as was inevitable. They had no grievance. Nine out of ten of them had chosen to live as colonists. Lennox Robinson has said truly of them in his brilliant little life of Bryan Cooper, ‘They were merely a colony, and colonists have no rights, a theory which was to cost England America. Had the Irish planter been of the same religion as the native Irish, Ireland would have won independence before America ... But because of the monstrous iinjustice of the plantation, the two civilisations were to remain separate and antagonistic for nearly three hundred years.’ ... / The Irish landlords continued to be colonists. The very building of their houses, the planting of their trees, the making of the high walss about their estates (raised by incredibly cheap labour of the natives whom their ancestors had tried to exterminate) declared their intention. [37] ... But these had chosen to remain colonists; and colonists have no rights. their children were to pay the price when they discovered themselves to belong to no country, the world their ancestors had built within their walls lying now in ashes. And England abandoned her colony, with her colonists, when it suited her. [38] The day of the landlords is almost over. Evern the greatest recluse among them, locked up within his strong walls or behind his high thick woods, must be aware of the battering on the gates. Parnell may be in Kilmainham, but he will not remain there, and there is the Land League outside. [45] There was a crowd about the gates of the Castle. The Dublin poor always turned out to see any sight that there was. They shivered on the pavement in their thin, rgged clothes, waiting for hours sometimes, so that they might see the ladies in their silks and satins and furs step from their carriages into the warmth and light and gaiety that received them. the poor were incredibly patient. Even then I was dimly aware of that appalling contrast between their lives and ours, and wondered how long they would remain patient. [62] When Winston Churchill addressed a Dublin audience about his experiences in Pretoria, he forgot to mention the Irish regiments. [275] Ireland again. More dreams of Ireland. It seems that, for most of my life, people talked of nothing else. And now one rarely talks of Ireland at all and a long dream seems to be ended in a rather chilly and grey dawn of awakening [149] The end of the Rebellion left the greater part of the country still unstirred; and once again England blundered. Sir John Maxwell had been sent over as Commander-in-Chief - a soldier used to dealing with such situations, according to his ideas, in Egypt and India. The Rebels were tried by court-martial, with scrupulous justice, each case given full trial on its merits, although there was no plea for the prisoner and no doubt ever of the verdict. Then there were the slow executions. So many each morning. Sixteen in all. ... To the Irish people, being told of these executions in barrack yards, it was, as someone wrote, “As though they watched a stream of blood coming from beneath a closed door.”’ [375; note: the author of the phrase is James Stephens, Insurrection.] See also comments on Horace Plunkett, W. B. Yeats, Michael Collins, et al.

Strangers in Ireland: ‘People whose families had lived in the country for 3 to 400 years realised that they were still strangers and that the mystery of it was not to be revealed to them.’ (Quoted in Terence de Vere White, The Anglo-Irish, 1972, p.266.)

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Notes
Mark Bence-Jones, Twilight of the Ascendancy (Constable 1987), employs her autobiography for accounts of life as a debutante; also turns to it for scenes at Mount Stewart and Carton House; out riding with George Wyndam; decorating Killeen, and her experiences during the Easter Rising.

House sale: Oliver James Horace Plunkett, 12th Earl of Fingall [b.1896], Catalogue of the Valuable contents of Killeen Castle, Dunsany: The Property of the Right Hon. The Earl of Fingall ... which will be sold by auction by Town & Country Estates (Ireland), Limited ... on Monday, 20th July, 1953 (1953), 68pp., 12pp. pls. [TCD Library].

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