Kilkenny's prominent families The Tighe family of Inistioge

Pat Nolan

Reporter:

Pat Nolan

When I was a youngster in Saint John’s De Le Salle the wonderful teacher, Brother Macarious (universally and affectionately know as Brother Mac) advised that if in an exam you could not recall where an industry was based, always write down Cork as most things were made there! If in similar difficult with the Tighe Family of Woodstock, Inistiogue he might have suggested to chance the name, William - as no less than SEVEN of that significant family have been given that first name over the generations.

 

 

Following their arrival from Lincolnshire in the turbulent 1640’s, the family originally settled in County Wicklow. The first of the many William’s proved adept at both farming and especially business affairs. He won the contract to supply Oliver Cromwell’s armies in England with corn and food stuffs. The proceeds of that contract enabled him in time to acquire upward of 2,500 acres of prime land in Carlow.

 

His grandson Richard - of high intelligence but low statue - despite his unflattering nickname ‘Little Dick Tighe’ also was most successfully. He was appointed to the Irish Privy Council of George 1st – and in the process acquired the title of “Right Honourable” His London house was close to that of Dean Swift with which he seems to have had a somewhat difficult relationship (to put it mildly!) Swift in a letter to Stella wrote of his Tighe neighbours “she is the most provoking devil that was ever born and he, a hot whiffing puppy ever apt to resent!” Do the words pot, kettle and black spring to mind!

 

 

What ever Swift may have thought of him there seems little doubt that he was politically astute and successful. During the turbulent years surrounding the assent of Hanoverian, George the first to the throne of England, Little Dick was called to aid the work of the town clerk of Kilkenny, one Robert Hackett. There was quite a degree of difficulty which boiled over onto the floor of the Kilkenny Corporation. The row was to result in an Act of Parliament in 1717 entitled “An act for the better regulating of the Corporation of the City of Kilkenny. Richard Tighe for his assistance to them in regularising things received the Freedom of the City. This was presented in the form of a beautiful gold ‘Freedom Box’ which survives and which has been described as the finest of such in existence. The awarding of the Freedom of their City in this gold box format continued for upwards for 200 years before being replaced by the more usual illuminated address format.

 

 

The Woodstock Estate was originally acquired by the Fownes family from the strangely named Hollow Blade Sword Company and at the time extended to 6,717 acres. Woodstock House designed and built under the supervision of Francis Bindon was completed in 1745. The enhancing wings were added by the 5th William Fownes who lived from 1766-1816. A daughter of his, Sarah Fownes, despite initially having a very poor impression of William Tighe was later won over by his success at Eton and Cambridge. They married in 1765. She brought to the marriage a dowry of some £4,500.

William Tighe managed Woodstock for the Fownes family in addition to his own extensive estates in Wicklow and elsewhere. On the death of her father, without surviving male issue, William Tighe acquired Woodstock and so the Tighe connection with Woodstock and Inistiogue was formed. It was to survive until this century.

 

 

In each generation, almost without exception the Tighe family men folk contributed substantially to the public weal. None more so then the William Tighe who lived from 1766 to 1816. There was a widely held view at the time, both in England and Ireland that the practices of agriculture in Ireland were up to half a century behind those of the England of the day. There is an adage ‘What is to be fixed must first be measured’ and accordingly the Royal Dublin Society invited individual members of theirs in each of the 32 counties of Ireland to undertake a statistical survey of agricultural and other matter in their county. William Tighe took up the challenge and ever after was universally known as ‘Statistical Tighe’

 

 

The survey was a mammoth undertaking and in truth far from all counties complied one at all and many took several years. The first and the best was produce by William Tighe. His document, which runs to two volumes, is entitled ‘Statistical Observations Relative to the County of Kilkenny made in the year 1801’. Incredibly this mammoth undertaking was published just one year later in 1802. In 644 pages it provides details of the geographical state and circumstances of the county, dealing with things as varied as the climate, soil, surface, minerals and water before concentrating on agriculture. Detailed essays in it provided figures and data on the mode of cultivation, the extent and variety of grains grown, the use of ox (instead of horses) and the nature and use of all implements of husbandry. It goes on to deal with markets and the use of green food in winter. There is a very extensive section on pasture, the nature of it, the breeds of animals and, significantly, how far each are already improved and how far they are capable of future improvement. Dairy products, modes of hay making, the prices of hides, tallow, wool and quality foals are all recorded

 

 

He turns his attention to farms, their size, farm houses and out offices and touches on the thorny subject of who is responsible for repairing them, be it the landlord or tenant. The ever contentious nature of the security of tender on offer to tenants is not neglected either. He deals with the general size of fields and enclosures, even the nature of fences and the modes of hedgerows not overlooking the methods of keeping hedges. Fertilisers and the mode of draining are also included in a very comprehensive and detailed analysis.

 

 

Apart from farming he goes on to include a section on “General Subjects.” These include the population, the number and size of villages and towns, food, clothing and fuel of the ”lower ranks.” The prices of labour - wages and provisions - are detailed. He writes

 

 

“The labouring poor do not drink spirits, except that is at fairs, patrons, wakes, christenings and especially funerals. Of all meetings wakes and funerals are the most liable to drunkenness and promote unnecessary idleness more than any other. As soon as a body is supposed to be dead the neighbours assemble to wake it and the widow and family are obliged to supply them with entertainment. The feasting continues until the funeral begins and one person from each family at least in the village must attend it. The body is often carried many miles to which every place the family formally resided and is there buried. It may [even] be supposed that from the eagerness for the wake and the funeral the unfortunate body is stretched if not buried before it is quite dead!”

 

 

He draws attention to the number of unlicensed shebeen houses remarking that about 25 years ago there was up to 28 shebeen houses in Inistioge alone, none of which paid a license fee. However he does note with some satisfaction that things have improved as by the year 1800 there was just 5 house - all of whom pay spirit licenses.

 

 

There are 7 detailed appendices attached to the report; no less then 6 relate to various aspects of the proposed canal structure. Many are thinly veiled ‘case making’ for a canal to be completed from Inistioge to Kilkenny via Thomastown and Bennettsbridge. Sadly none of these developments, hot topics of the day, however desirable ever came to pass.

 

 

It shouldn’t be felt that it was only the men folk of the Tighe family that made their mark. Two ladies stand out among a range of attractive and forceful women “who married in to this family”. Perhaps the most notable was Mary, the daughter of the Reverent William Blanchford a learned and wealthy clergy man who was associated with St. Patricks Library in Dublin. Mary received an excellent classic education and was well read in both European and English literature, in addition to being an amateur painter of note. From the age of 16 Mary had many proposals of marriage but was determined to “play the field” until she was 18. One of the many who sought her hand was William ‘Statistical Tighe’ but it was his younger and more dashing brother Henry who finally won her hand. They were married in 1783.

 

 

His life as a Barrister brought them to London where Mary’s charm and beauty soon made her a significant literary personality with an entry to fashionably societies. She wrote a novel which was well received depicting societies wits and beauties. However her stern mother-in-law stoutly disapproved and indeed burnt a copy of the book on Mary’s return to Ireland. As was the custom among fashionable ladies she was painted by a leading artist of the day, George Romley. He too became an admirer of hers. There is a tradition that when the portrait was completed her husband refused to pay for it on the somewhat slender grounds that he had not been suitable consulted in advance but perhaps more because of Romley’s too obvious attentions as an admirer of his wife.

 

 

After the Tighes returned to Ireland their marriage does not seem to have been a happy one. Mary found her consolation in writing. Her most significant writing was the poem ‘Psyche’ published privately in 1795 and again in 1805. When it was yet again published in 1811 after her death it enjoyed a wide and well regarded success. Mary herself sadly died at only 37 years old in 1810. All too late her husband Henry appreciated her fine attributes and commissioned John Flaxman the leading sculpturer of the day to commemorate her in finest marble. His statue, a miniature copy of which is on display in Rothe House, was clearly too precious to leave in the open air of Inistioge cemetery so a fine Mausoleum was constructed to house it.

 

 

Another significant member of the family was the redoubtable Lady Lousisa, more formally Lady Lousisa Madelina Lennox, the daughter of Charles the 4th Duke of Richmond and Lennox. She married William Fredrick Tighe. To her must go the major credit for the wonderful Woodstock gardens we know today. She charged her husband, and in time her sons and grandsons, many of whom were serving officers in the far flung British Navy to collect trees and shrubs where ever they made landfall. Their diligence in carrying out her instructions formed the basis of the wide and varied range of trees to be enjoyed today in Woodstock.

 

 

She was in a house with the Duke of Wellington to whom she was related and who was it is believed her god-father and recalled as a very young child being sent to bed during a dance at the time of the Battle of Waterloo. But the allure of the music and the dancing of dashing officers and their ladies in their crinoline dresses down stairs was too much for the child. She crept out and peeped into the hall through the banisters. Although only 3 or 4 the colourful scene made an indelible imprint on her young memory. As a very old lady, she lived to be over 90, she meet a young girl at a party near Kilkenny. Upon being informed that the small girl was just 3, almost 4, she recounted the incident that happened to her at that age to the eager young child. That child was the redoubtable Daisy Phelan (MMP to her many admirers) who in turn told me that story a number of years ago.

 

 

In those two lives we can stretch back to the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 which is a remarkable tribute to the longevity of Kilkenny women and a fitting tribute to the contribution of the Tighe’s of Woodstock.