The St Leger Family
The St Leger family’s connection to Doneraile began in the 1630s when William St Leger occupied Doneraile Castle, which once stood close to the site of the present-day Doneraile Court.
The first Viscount Doneraile was Arthur St Leger, believed to be the force behind the design and building of Doneraile Court, and father of Elizabeth St Leger Aldworth. His son, the 2nd Viscount Doneraile, also named Arthur, is notable for a very short-lived second marriage that took place under dubious circumstances – his wife left him after only a month and he claimed he had been too drunk to be sure that the marriage had taken place!
When the 4th Viscount died without any children in 1767, and the property passed to his nephew, St Leger Aldworth. In order to inherit, Aldworth had to take the surname St Leger, becoming known as St Leger St Leger. The title Viscount Doneraile was created again in 1785, so St Leger St Leger is known as the 1st Viscount, 2nd creation, and also took the title Baron Doneraile.
In 1874, Ursula Clara Emily St Leger, daughter of the 4th Viscount 2nd creation, became Lady Castletown on her marriage to the larger-than-life Baron Castletown. Under their ownership, Doneraile Estate experimented with marketed gardening, and the house was extended to include a dining wing and a conservatory, neither of which survive.
The 7th Viscount, 2nd creation, passed away in 1956, survived by his wife Mary, Lady Doneraile. It was this Lady Doneraile who oversaw the sale of the property to the Land Commission, beginning the process of preserving Doneraile Estate for the nation.
The Lady Freemason
Daughter of the first Viscount Doneraile, Elizabeth St Leger (later Elizabeth Aldworth) is the first woman admitted to the Freemasons – and a cautionary tale about the dangers of too much reading!
To hear her remarkable story, join one of our guided tours.
If your journey through Cork takes you to Cork city, pay a visit to St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, where a memorial plaque to Elizabeth Aldworth was erected by the Freemasons of Cork.
One of the most iconic works of literature in the English language, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, was written while Spenser lived in Kilcoman, and the “gentle Mulla” river he refers to in the poem runs through Doneraile Estate, in its modern guise as the river Awbeg. Elizabeth Bowen, one of the foremost novelists of the twentieth century, lived close to neighbouring Kildorrery in the now-demolished Bowen’s Court. Canon Sheehan, a priest and popular novelist, lived and wrote in Doneraile for much of his life.
This rich literary heritage extended to popular verse in 1812 with Patrick O’Kelly’s self-funded publication of The Litany for Doneraile, in which the poet piles curses on the town because of a lost watch. Fortunately, then then-Lady Doneraile replaced it for him, prompting a retraction in the form of Blessings on Doneraile, which wishes far nicer things on this beautiful Georgian town!
To celebrate Doneraile’s literary heritage, we have a range of talks, lectures and poetry events planned for our cultural programme in 2019 – details coming soon!