Friday, January 26, 2018

Into the land of Maria Edgeworth: 'Edgeworthstown', County Longford

Although it has been quite some time since I posted on the pages of this blog, in a break from my history work I recently began to pour over the pages of my copy of the new book Maria Edgeworth's Letters from Ireland. Selected and edited by Valerie Pakenham, and published by The Lilliput Press of Dublin, the letters elicited in me thoughts of my own sojourn into the land of Maria Edgeworth, and the places in which she lived and worked in Ireland, specifically in the town christened for her family name, Edgeworthstown, County Longford.

Edgeworth’s letters, which span a period of sixty years, offer great insight into seminal times in Irish history, including the 1798 Rebellion, the rise of Daniel O’Connell and the fight for Catholic Emancipation, and the Great Famine of 1848-52, as well as earlier periods of widespread food shortages in Ireland that are sometimes forgotten by history.

It rained like mad on the day I made the 110 kilometre (about 70 miles) drive by myself from Ballsbridge, Dublin City to Edgeworthstown, County Longford. At around the 75 kilometre mark I began to wonder if the trip had been a good idea. Nevertheless I plodded on, windscreen wipers at high speed. By the time I arrived in Edgeworthstown, though the rain had abated, parts of the town appeared to be oddly deserted, and for just a moment I felt as though I had travelled back in time.

St. John's Church (COI), Edgeworthstown, County Longford
On 29 August 1935, The Belfast Weekly news printed the following announcement:

"At the request of the local Town Tenants' Association, the name of Edgeworthstown has been changed to Mostrim (in Gaelic, Meathas Truim) by the Longford County Council." 

In fact, this name change of 1935 restored to the town of Mostrim the name by which it was known in 1619, when King James I granted about 600 acres of land near Mostrim to one Francis Edgeworth. Today the town of Mostrim is still widely known as Edgeworthstown, so named for the estate of the Anglo-Irish family of Richard Lovell Edgeworth (1744-1817).

For many people, the name Edgeworthstown immediately evokes that of Richard Lovell Edgeworth's second born child, the writer Maria Edgeworth (1767-1849). Although a prolific writer, Maria is probably best known as the author of Castle Rackrent, a novel thought especially noteworthy because of its realistic depiction of the lives of Irish peasantry. In her day Maria Edgeworth was well respected as a writer. Among the guests welcomed at Edgeworthstown Manor were the Scottish historical novelist Sir Walter Scott and the famed Romantic Period poet William Wordsworth, both of whom greatly admired her writings. Even the acclaimed Jane Austen knew of Edgeworth, and is said to have been inspired by her work.

Maria's father Richard was an interesting character in his own right. He was an educational theorist, writer and inventor. He was married four times — Anna Maria Elers (d. 1773), Honora Sneyd (d. 1779), Elizabeth Sneyd (d. 1798 and Honora’s sister) and Frances Anne Beaufort (d. 1865) — and fathered 22 children, four of whom died in infancy. The eldest child was born in 1764 and the youngest in 1812. Just imagine having a half-sibling who is 48 years your senior.

Edgeworthstown House

The original Edgeworthstown manor house was built in 1725 by Richard Edgeworth, possibly incorporating an earlier house. Between 1770 and 1787, it was enlarged in a sprawling and rather unattractive manner by Richard Lovell Edgeworth, in order to house his ever increasing family. Since 1939 it has served as a nursing home. Sadly, all of the landscaping and green space that once enhanced the manor — as seen in the image below — has long been paved over, giving way to a car park for the nursing home.1
Edgeworthstown House, circa 1894.
One of the additions to the manor house,
noteworthy because it bears the family coat of arms.
Atop the addition, a figure of the Virgin Mary and the Edgeworth Family Coat of Arms.
Close-up view of the Edgeworth Family Coat of Arms.
Their motto 'Constans Contraria Spernit' basically translates to
'The resolute man despises difficulties'.

Just yards from the principal manor house is this pretty little gate lodge, built around 1880
and believed to incorporate another gate lodge that was built circa 1725.


You may also be familiar with Edgeworthstown because of its sad association with the family of Oscar Wilde. On 23 February 1867, Wilde's beloved sister Isola Francesca Emily, then aged just over 10 years, died while staying at Edgeworthstown Rectory, which was then the home of her aunt and uncle, Margaret and the Reverend William Noble. Isola is buried in the cemetery of St. John's Church, the same cemetery in which are interred Maria Edgeworth and some members of her family.

Previous residents of the rectory have an interesting history, one that played out long before members of the Noble family were denizens of the house.

It is said the rectory was originally built as a dower house for Edgeworth widows; however, in 1745 when Henry Essex Edgeworth was born here, it was a rectory and Henry's father Robert (first cousin of Richard Lovell Edgeworth) was the Protestant Rector.

Only four years after the birth of his son Henry, in 1749 Robert Edgeworth, citing a 'crisis of conscience', converted to Roman Catholicism. Given the oppressive nature of penal laws then in force in Ireland, he shortly thereafter moved his family to Toulouse, France.

In 1769, Henry Essex Edgeworth moved to Paris, taking the vows of the priesthood and eventually becoming L'Abbe Edgeworth De Firmont.2 Henry served as vicar-general of the Diocese of Paris at the height of the French Revolution, heard the final confession of King Louis XVI, and attended Louis on the scaffold as the deposed king was executed by guillotine. Rather shocking for a boy born in the sleepy little village of Edgeworthstown.

Edgeworthstown Rectory: built circa 1730: birthplace of Henry Essex Edgeworth, 1745;
Home of Reverend William Noble and his wife Margaret in the mid-19th century.
Their niece, Oscar Wilde's sister, Isola Francesca Wilde died here 23 February, 1867.
The rectory from an eastern perspective. The single story addition dates to 1830.
To this day, the house is still occupied.
A closer view of St. John's Church and the churchyard,
burial ground for some Edgeworth family members and for Isola Francesca Wilde.
The gates of the churchyard are kept locked, and unfortunately on the day of my visit,
the caretaker was not to be found at home.
On the way out of Edgeworthstown, I stopped at the train station, built in 1855.
Just over the stone wall from the train station is this lovely fellow, who obliged me by standing still for a photograph.


1. The image of Edgeworthstown house is from The Life and Letters of Maria Edgeworth, Volume 2. It is in the public domain, and there is no known copyright.

2. 'De Firmont' means 'of Firmont': Henry was accorded this addition to his title as a nod to his ancestral estate at Firmount — also known as Fairymount — County Roscommon. Fairymount is approximately 46 kilometres southwest of Edgeworthstown, County Longford.

3. Henry Essex Edgeworth's original account of the execution of Louis XVI, which is written in French, is held by the British Museum, London, England.

References for further reading:

Butler, Harold Edgeworth and Harriet Jessie Butler. The Black Book of Edgeworthstown, and other Edgeworth Memoirs, 1587-1817, London: Faber & Gwyer, 1927. Print.
Lawless, Emily. Maria Edgeworth, New York & London: The Macmillan Company, 1905. Print.
Pakenham, Valerie, editor. Maria Edgeworth's Letters from Ireland, Dublin: The Lilliput Press, Ltd., 2018. Print.


  1. Funny I have heard of Mostrim but not Edgeworthtown. To me that show just how vain the guy was to change it's name like that

    1. Hello Bill, thanks very much for your comments. To add fuel to the fire: the Edgeworth family first appeared in Ireland around the year 1585, coming from a market town named Edgeworth in Middlesex, England.

      As with most towns and villages, from feudal times, the Lord of the Manor had naming rights over what he had been given. If the town name was not taken from the natural world — as is the case your ‘Oxfordshire’ — then it was usually tagged after he who owned all, or named for the family that first settled it.


  2. Jennifer, thank you for sharing the images and the stories of Edgeworthstown. We studied Castle Rackrent at school, but I didn’t remember the Irish connection until seeing your post. I find the King Louis connection interesting, and the death of Isola Wilde reminds me of the poem Oscar wrote for her. Catherine.

    Tread lightly, she is near
    Under the snow
    Speak gently, she can hear
    The daisies grow….

    1. Catherine, thanks very much for your comments. You’ve hit a soft spot with me, as Wilde’s deeply moving ‘Requiescat’ is one of my favourite poems, so I hope you don't mind me adding the entire poem here. Although, I did not get to photograph it this time around, the first stanza which you’ve mentioned is on the grave marker the people of Edgeworthstown erected in Isola’s memory.


      Tread lightly, she is near
      Under the snow
      Speak gently, she can hear
      The daisies grow.

      All her bright golden hair
      Tarnished with rust
      She that was young and fair
      Fallen to dust.

      Lily-like, white as snow
      She hardly knew
      She was a woman, so
      Sweetly she grew.

      Coffin-board, heavy stone,
      Lie on her breast
      I vex my heart alone
      She is at rest.

      Peace, peace, she cannot hear
      Lyre or sonnet
      All my life’s buried here
      Heap earth upon it.

    2. It is a beautiful poem. I was wondering did you go to Edgeworthstown because you’re related to the Edgeworth family or the Wilde’s? Catherine.

    3. Catherine, thanks for your question. We are not connected with either family, although a connection with Oscar Wilde would send me over the moon, since I have long been a fan of his work. When I was a young child, I received a copy of his short story 'The Selfish Giant’, and since then have been hooked. Like you, at school we also studied Castle Rackrent, and because of Edgeworthstown's connection to Maria Edgeworth, and to Oscar Wilde, it is one of those places I always wanted to visit.


  3. Jenn, what a beautiful poem, and a sad end to Wilde’s sister. The pictures look Jane Austen-esque, if I can invent a word. The rectory reminds me a bit of Barton cottage in Sense and Sensibility. I prefer the name Edgeworthstown to Mostrim. You’ll scold me saying it, but I admire you driving all that way on the wrong side of the road. :)

    1. Charlotte, thanks very much for your comments. I'm with you and Catherine as far as the poem goes. Invent away! I’m a fan of Austen too and can see the similarity between the rectory and the cottage in the film to which you make reference. Austen and Edgeworth lived and wrote in the same time period. The two knew of each other’s work, and it is said that while Jane very much admired Maria’s work, the sentiment was not returned. As for driving in Ireland: I would never scold you, but only say it’s not the ‘wrong side’, it’s the ‘left-hand side’ and I've never found it to be much different from driving in Canada on the ‘right-hand side’. :-)


  4. I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    Thank you, Chris

    Intriguing as always...

    1. Chris, Thanks very much! As always, much appreciated.



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