The Coe connection, and the Swans of Durrow and Ballyragget

Durrow’s Swan Road, long a favored walking, jogging and running route for locals, may take on a new importance with the discovery that the Ballyragget Swans, celebrated recently on their discovery as ancestors of Lord Coe, were originally from the Laois town.

Durrow’s Swan Road, long a favored walking, jogging and running route for locals, may take on a new importance with the discovery that the Ballyragget Swans, celebrated recently on their discovery as ancestors of Lord Coe, were originally from the Laois town.

Lord Coe’s great-grandfather Edwin Swan was in turn the grandson of William Swan of Capponellan, who died in the late 1850s. Members of the Swan family lived on at Capponellan until the early 1900s.

That William Swan was the grandson of another William Swan, who was an assistant to Dublin Town Major Joseph Sirr, the man who arrested the patriots Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Thomas Russell and Robert Emmet.

In fact, William Swan was himself injured during the Fitzgerald arrest, suffering ‘a wound in the hand and different wounds in the body; one of them under the ribs was deep and dangerous and bled copiously,’ according to contemporary accounts. But Swan recovered and went on to serve another twenty years as the city’s top law enforcer.

John Wright Swan served as dispensary doctor in Durrow from 1835, marrying Diana Phillips of Milford in 1840 and moving to Ballyragget in 1843. His more famous son, the pioneering orthopaedic surgeon Robert Lafayette Swan, was born in the same year in the Laois village, which was then still in Co Kilkenny (the county border was moved in 1846).

Dr John Swan served Ballyragget for 30 years, becoming the father of the Coe ancestor who settled in England and eventually produced the direct connection with the chairman of the London Olympics.

Another branch of the Swan family lived at Allworth, Abbeyleix, from where a daughter of the house, Sybil Jane, married Sir Thomas Smartt, a doctor and native of Trim, Co Meath, who became physician to the South African industrialist Cecil Rhodes and eventually served as Minister for Public Works, acting Prime Minister of the Cape Colony and Minister for Agriculture in the early South African administrations of Jan Smuts.