Tales of a family: The Dunravens of Adare in focus

Geraldine Wyndham-Quin talks of the links between generations of lords and the world

Maria Flannery


Maria Flannery

Lady Geraldine: spoke at a Limerick Historical Society lecture to a packed room of local history fans, below, Kilgobbin House

Lady Geraldine: spoke at a Limerick Historical Society lecture to a packed room of local history fans, below, Kilgobbin House

FROM the precious rolling fields of South Wales to the tranquil woods and streams of Colorado — Adare’s Lords of Dunraven have enjoyed a rich and colourful past.

And local history fans were given a rare chance last week to hear some family folklore straight from the source, when Lady Geraldine Wyndham-Quin, wife of the late Earl of Dunraven, presented a Limerick Historical Society lecture about her life and that of her family.

Lord Thady Wyndham-Quin, the seventh in the line of Dunravens, passed away in 2011 — marking the end of the title, as the couple had a daughter, Ana.

“I was never a nurse, and I am Irish,” said Lady Geraldine opened, addressing her two most common questions.

“I was a childminder, and I was looking after four children. There was a party and I was asked to look after Lord Dunraven, and that’s how we met.”

But let’s rewind. The Earl of Dunraven and Mount-Earl was a title created in 1822 for Valentine Quin, who had already been dubbed a Baron of Adare.

And why Dunraven? Valentine’s son, Windham, was married to a woman called Caroline Wyndham from a place called Dunraven, in the south of Wales.

Caroline was the heiress of Dunraven Castle — the title was named in her honour and her husband Windham, who became the second earl after his father’s death, also took on his wife’s maiden name, becoming Windham Wyndham-Quin.

The first lord lived in Kilgobbin House outside Adare, but after Caroline’s inheritance of 20,000 acres of land in Wales, under which was found ‘black diamonds’ — coal — the second generation of the family became quite rich.

“The coal industry is what built Adare Manor,” explained Lady Geraldine at the lecture in Mary Immaculate College.

“The 2nd Lord Dunraven and Caroline came to live here in 1812, and the first thing that Caroline, the new Lady Dunraven, did was repair the Augustinian Abbey in Adare, which her father-in-law subsequently gave to the Church of Ireland community, with whom it still rests today.

“Caroline started a school in Adare, in 1814, and the patronage of that little school has come all the way down through seven Lords of Dunraven. When my Lord Dunraven died, I was asked to become patron of the school (St Nicholas’ Church of Ireland school). I thought that would be a huge honour – and as it happens, I’m a Catholic,” she laughed.

Caroline also helped local people during the Famine.

The 3rd Lord Dunraven, Edwin, was somewhat of an archaeologist.

“He was the first man in Ireland to go offshore and catalogue the islands off Ireland, including the Skellig islands, of which he made notes and drawings. He wrote two books. And there is a cross on Skellig Michael which is known as the Dunraven cross. So that relates us to the Jedi!” quipped Lady Geraldine.

The 4th Earl of Dunraven, Windham, was “an interesting character,” said the current lady. His father, the 3rd, had converted to Catholicism, and “tried very hard to make his son become a Catholic” as well.

“There’s a lot of sadness in letters between the two of them, saying ‘don’t try and separate me from my mother’,” said Lady Geraldine, who has given lots of significant historical documents relating to the family history to local museums, such as Adare Heritage Centre and the new museum in Adare Courthouse, and UL Library, for people to view.

After being sent to Rome by his father, who hoped that the Catholicism of the place would rub off on him, the 4th lord “upped sticks and left the country”.

In his youth, he dabbled in journalism, reporting on wars around Europe and witnessing the signature of significant treaties.

But he fell in love with exploring America, after visiting first with his Scottish wife, Florence Kerr.

And so, Lord Dunraven became somewhat of a Colorado huntsman, mixing with cowboys in the Old West. Bill Cody, famously known as Buffalo Bill, was his guide of America for the next ten years. The Adare man ended up buying 6,000 acres of land in Estes Park, Colorado, after hearing about the nature ‘paradise’ while in Denver. Today, there are even several Dunraven Streets in the state of Colorado.

The 4th earl had three daughters, one of whom married the 27th Knight of Glin. But because he had no sons, the title went sideways to his cousin, also named Windham, who became the 5th in 1926.

This lord married Mayo Lady Eva Bourke, whose father was one of the last Viceroys of India, and who was a cousin of Constance Markievicz. One of his lasting legacies has been the Limerick Show, of which he was a founding member.

“Their son, my father-in-law (Richard), started a coach during the last war time, when there was no petrol in Ireland, or very little petrol,” said Lady Geraldine.

“The Shamrock Coach went from Rathkeale to Limerick, with four horses and two coachmen, and about 20 people on the back. It cost two-and-six to get to Limerick, and made stops in Adare, Red House Hill and Patrickswell to change horses,” she said.

The 6th lord had a first marriage which ended in divorce, when his wife Helen Lindsay Swire became “mentally unwell”. Then he married the lady who would become 7th Lord Dunraven’s mother, Nancy. “My mother-in-law was an American citizen from Charlotte in North Carolina.”

“My husband and I moved into a flat in Adare Manor in 1969,”  she remembered, of herself and her husband Thady, the 7th Lord Dunraven.

“We did lots of things in the house. There was a lot of RTE, and there were a lot of films, things that people didn’t really know about because we worked slightly under the wire. There were a lot of government dinners, and we had the Lord Mayor of London,” she said.

The family moved back to Kilgobbin House, where it all began with the 1st Lord Dunraven. The 7th lord, who contracted polio as a teen, was a disability activist and chairperson of the Irish Wheelchair Association for decades.

“It’s quite interesting that the first Lord of Dunraven lived in Kilgobbin, and all the other Lords of Dunraven have returned to live there,” said Lady Geraldine.