09 December-Ladies of Llangollen

Eleanor Butler of Kilkenny Castle, Kilkenny City Ireland and Sarah Ponsonby of Woodstock House, Kilkenny became known as the Ladies of Llangollen. Together they eloped from Kilkenny in April 1778. They set up home together in Llangollen, Denbighshire in North Wales. The Ladies of Llangollen lived there for the remainder of their lives.

Eleanor Butler was born at Kilkenny Castle, the seat of the Earls of Ormonde, on May 11th 1739. By the age of 39 she had not married so the family tried to get her to become a nun. Sarah Ponsonby, who was born on December 9th 1755, was living just over 20km south of Kilkenny City at Woodstock House near the Village of Inistioge. Sarah had been orphaned as a child and her middle aged guardian, Sir William Fownes wished to marry her.

The two ladies had met and become friends in 1768.They decided to elope to Wales to escape their situations. Their first attempt failed when their families caught up with them in Waterford and forced them to return to Kilkenny. However, within a short space of time the two ladies eloped again and this time their families did not attempt to make them return. They spent some time touring Wales in search of a suitable place to set up home. They were given a small allowance by their families and eventually in 1780 they settled at Plas Newydd near the town of Llangollen.

The Ladies of Llangollen lived in seclusion at first but soon their lifestyle attracted attention. They were visited by people such as William Wordsworth, Percy Shelly and the Duke of Wellington. They were granted a pension by the King George III. It is reported that they slept together and referred to each other as ‘My Better Half’. All their letters were jointly signed and their books and glassware carried both sets of initials. They lived in Llangollen for over 50 years.

Eleanor Butler died aged 90 in the year 1829. Sarah Ponsonby died two years later at the age of 77 in the year 1831 On This Day.

Plas Newydd, Llangollen, Wales (LOC) by The Library of Congress on 1890-01-01 00:00:00


08 December-White House Architect James Hoban

James Hoban, Architect of the White House, was born in Kilkenny, Ireland. The White House has been the official home of the President of the United States for more than 200 years. It is located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

James Hoban was born in Kilkenny 1758. He grew up on an estate of the Earl of Desart in Cuffesgrange near Callan, County Kilkenny. Until his early 20’s he worked on the estate as a wheelwright and carpenter. From there he moved to Dublin to study at the Dublin Society’s Drawing School on Lower Grafton Street where he excelled at his studies. Having completed his studies in 1779 he worked on various building projects in Dublin including Dublin City Hall. He is credited with the building of Belcamp House in Dublin. The building has been described as a mini Whitehouse complete with ‘oval office’. Belcamp House later became Belcamp College which closed in 2004.

By the year 1785, Hoban having emigrated to the United States, had established himself as an architect in Philadelphia. He later moved to Charleston South Carolina where he designed both private and public buildings. The courthouse in Charleston which he remodelled form the old colonial state house is still in use today.

James Hoban won a competition to design the residence of the President of the United States now called the White House. He oversaw its construction from 1793 to 1800. The White House is modelled on Leinster House in Dublin, a fact acknowledged by President John F Kennedy in his speech to the Oireachtas in 1963. During the war of 1812 the building was attacked and burned by the British who had invaded from their base on Ireland Island in the Caribbean. Hoban supervised the restoration work which was completed in 1817.

As well as the White House, James Hoban designed several other buildings in Washington DC. These include the Grand Hotel and the State and War Offices. He was also a superintendent in charge of the building of the Capital. He lived with his wife Susannah in Washington DC where he became an influential member of the community.

James Hoban from Kilkenny Ireland, the architect who built the White House, died at his home in Washington DC in the year 1831 On This Day.

The White House Southside by Glyn Lowe Photoworks. on 2012-07-26 11:24:14

27 December-Darwin

Charles Darwin was an English born naturalist and geologist. He is best known for developing the theory of evolution. His book, ‘On the Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection’ was published in 1859 following a five year voyage around the world. The voyage, which began in December 1831, was an expedition to survey and chart the coastline of South America and other areas of the world.

Charles Robert Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England on February 12th 1809. He was educated at Anglican Shrewsbury School. At the age of sixteen in 1825 Darwin entered the University of Edinburgh to study medicine. Two years later he transferred to Christ’s College Cambridge where he studied natural history. He was awarded a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 1831.

Darwin’s botany professor at Cambridge recommended him for the position of naturalist on board HMS Beagle. The voyage gave Darwin the opportunity to carry out observations and to collect a variety of natural specimens. He was particularly fascinated by what he found on the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean. On return to England he began to write up his findings which eventually led him to publish ‘On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection’.

Samuel Haughton, the Carlow born professor at Trinity College Dublin, was the first person to comment on Darwin’s theories. At a meeting of the Geological Society of Dublin on February 9th 1859 he made a brief attack on the theories. Darwin later referred to Haughton’s observations in his autobiography saying ‘all that was new in them was false, and what was true was old’. Darwin’s book sold out rapidly but it took a long time before his theories became generally accepted. Darwin continued his research until his death, at the age of 73, on April 19th 1882. His theories cause controversy to this day.

Charles Darwin departed from Southampton aboard HMS Beagle in the year 1831 On This Day.



01 September-Dublin Zoo

Dublin Zoo is one of the oldest in the world. It is located on a 28 hectare site in the Phoenix Park a short distance from Dublin City centre. The zoo has as its mission ‘to work in partnership with zoos worldwide to make a significant contribution to the conservation of the endangered species on Earth’. The zoo attracts over one million visitors each year.

Dublin Zoo is divided into several areas. It also has houses for various species such as reptiles and birds. Haughton House in Dublin Zoo was built in 1898 in memory of Carlow native Samuel Haughton. Haughton, who was a mathematician, geologist and physiologist served as president of the Royal Zoological Society. The first MGM lion was born at Dublin Zoo.

Dublin Zoo was officially opened in the year 1831 On This Day.

Dublin Zoo by Sean MacEntee on 2012-04-01 12:50:54

Dublin Zoo by Sean MacEntee on 2012-04-01 12:07:10

25 March-Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh

Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh was a 19th century politician and landlord from Borris Co Carlow Ireland. He was descended from the Kings of Leinster and lived at Borris House. Kavanagh was born with just the rudiments of arms and legs. However he overcame his difficulties and lived life to the full, managing the family estates and becoming a successful politician. He learnt to ride horses, eventually becoming an expert horseman. He also became a first class shot and a noted yachtsman.

Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh was born at Borris House, Co Carlow in 1831. The youngest of four children he was educated at home and later received tuition at Celbridge, Co Kildare. At the age of three he began riding a small pony strapped into a specially designed built up saddle. He learnt to hold the reins with his rudimentary arms. (One of the saddles can still be seen in Borris House today). As he grew up he learned to fish from horseback and also learned how to use a gun. Though he always had the assistance of a servant he succeeded in living a largely independent life.

Kavanagh was sent abroad by his mother in 1849 when she discovered he was having an affair with a local girl. He travelled with his brother to Uppsala in Sweden and from there to Moscow. He later travelled though Egypt, Iraq and Iran. He arrived in Bombay (Mumbai), India on January 5th 1851. Kavanagh’s brother decided to travel on to Australia but he died of consumption on the way. Arthur stayed in India, but was running out of money. He secured a job as a despatch rider for the east India Company in Aurungabad about 300km to the east of Mumbai.

Kavanagh returned to Ireland in 1853 and succeeded to the family estates. He married Mary Frances Forde-Leathley in 1855 and they had seven children. He was a most philanthropic landlord who promoted the well-being of his tenants and largely rebuilt the towns of Borris and Ballyragget. His mother had introduced floriculture and lacemaking to the Borris and the tradition was continued by Kavanagh’s wife. Kavanagh helped to fund, and provide land for the Bagenalstown to Wexford railway line which passed through Borris.

Elected the British House of Commons, Kavanagh served a MP for County Carlow from 1866 to 1880. He overcame the difficulties of travelling from Borris to London by sailing down the Barrow and then sailing his yacht to London. He would moor the yacht near the Houses of Parliament and was then carried to the chamber by his servant. He later served on the Bessbourough Commission and was appointed a member of the Privy Council of Ireland. Kavanagh died of pneumonia in London at the age of 58 on December 25th 1889. He is buried in Ballicopigan cemetery in the demesne of Borris.

Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh, the politician and landlord who had just rudimentary arms and legs was born in Borris House, Co Carlow in the year 1831 On This Day.

Arthur McMurrough Kavanagh






Arthur MacMorrough Kavanagh

Image taken from page 103 of ‘The Cruise of the R.Y.S. Eva. … With frontispiece and sixteen tinted illustrations’ by The British Library on 2013-11-26 16:41:06