Our friendly and excellent guides are available as Step On Guides for any visiting tour or coach operators who may like a unique, entertaining and educational tour of Irish History and the events of Easter Week 1916.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Irish Statesmen Abroad - The Series

The 1916 Easter Rising generated a generation of Irish leaders and statesmen but as a small island we have punched well above our weight providing statesmen for nations across the world. This series published everyday over the next two weeks looks at their stories.

Episode One - Great Britain

Two Irish born men have served as Prime Minister of Great Britain since the role was created in 1721. At the time when they were in office their title included Ireland.


Born William Fitzmaurice in the Fingal area of North County Dublin, on the death of his maternal uncle Sir William Petty, the family inherited the title of The Earl of Shelbourne and later William took the Petty family surname replacing Fitzmaurice. He spent many of his early years living near Ardfert in County Kerry. He joined the army and served with distinction in Germany during the Seven Years War. When his military career ended he assumed the family’s seat in the House of Commons for the constituency of Chipping Wycombe. Following the death of his father he entered the House of Lords.

In Westminster although seen as a shrewd politician with lofty ambitions, he found himself on the opposition benches and at the time advocated the controversial policies religious tolerance and free trade. He led the opposite for over a decade and was an outspoken opponent of the war with the future United States of America.

In March 1782, Shelbourne was appointed Home Secretary in the administration of Prime Minister Charles Watson Wentworth, The 2nd Marques of Rockingham but following the sudden death in July of the same year, he was appointed as a Prime Minister. During his tenure in the office he secured peace with the U.S., France and Spain. As part of the peace agreement with the U.S., the Treaty of Paris was rejected by Parliament and in April 1783, he resigned from office.

Shelbourne married twice, first in 1765 to Lady Sophia Carteret who died in 1771 and then to Lady Louisa Fitzpatrick in 1779. He was created a marquis in 1784, assuming the title of 1st Marquis of Lansdowne. He died in 1805 and was succeeded by his son John, 2nd Marquis of Lansdowne. The Dublin Four roads of Shelbourne Road and the adjacent Lansdowne Road home of the Aviva Stadium are named as the first Irish born Prime Minister of Great Britain.

Arthur Wellesley was born at 24 Merrion Square part of the Merrion Hotel today and opposite Government Buildings. The second tallest obelisk in the world after the Washington Memorial in DC located in Dublin’s Phoenix Park commemorates his death after a stellar military and political career better known as the Duke of Wellington.

Wellesley was born on May 1st 1769. After a schooling that included a stint at Eton for three years from 1781, Wellesley returned to Dublin having joined the army in 1787 working as an aide de camp in Dublin Castle. He was a socialite and lost a lot of money gambling. In 1790 he was elected  as an MP to the Irish House of Commons for Trim in County Meath close to the family home of Dangan Castle.

His contributions in Parliament were few and far between, making him the perfect candidate for today’s Dail Eireann. In 1796 just before revolution engulfed Ireland, Wellesley departed to fight in India. Throughout his military career he fought in over sixty battles across various continents. In 1806 after returning from India he was elected to Westminster as MP for Rye. In 1807 he was back in Ireland having been appointed Chief Secretary, the British political leader in Ireland under the Viceroy of the day the Duke of Richmond and he also had married Catherine Pakenham with whom he had two sons but the marriage regarded as loveless and the couple spent most of the lives living separately. 

His global fame would arrive in 1815 when he led the British army to success over Emperor Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Wellesley commanded a multi national force as they took on Napoleon who had regained power after escaping from Elba. The British/Dutch/Belgian/Germany/Prussian force numbered 110,000, 26,000 of whom were British, one third of them were Irish born soldiers. The cost in lives on both sides was sixty five thousand dead.

A year later the newest pedestrian bridge over the River Liffey was named the Wellington Bridge in his honour, the once tolled bridge it is now colloquilly known as the Halfpenny Bridge. And of course the wellington boot which were specially made for him was named after him now a stable part of the fashion of rural Ireland, the ‘wellie’.

He first assumed the mantle of Prime Minister as a member of the Tory Party from January 22nd 1828 to November 16th 1830.   He oversaw the introduction of Catholic Emancipation in Ireland dismantling the hated Penal Laws. His second tenure began on November 14th 1834 only holding office on a temporary basis as a replacement for Robert Peel for a month. He also served as Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary, Minister for War and Leader of the House of Lords.
He died on September 14th 1852 and given a state funeral in London.
acres of land. 

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