From the files of the DIB…Comic-strip adventurer

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2007), News, Volume 15


FITZPATRICK, Sir Bernard Edward Barnaby (1848–1937), second Baron Castletown, landlord, soldier, sportsman and adventurer, was born on 29 July 1848 in London, only son and eldest of six children of John Wilson Fitzpatrick, first Baron Castletown, soldier and landlord, of Abbeyleix, Queen’s County (Laois), and Augusta Fitzpatrick (née Douglas) of Coote Hill, Co. Armagh. He spent his early years at the family seat of Granston Manor, Abbeyleix, before going to Eton (1861), where Arthur Balfour was among his friends. Entering Brasenose College, Oxford (1868), he studied law and modern history, and was an enthusiastic contributor to several violent town-and-gown confrontations, gaining an enduring reputation for being good with his fists. He also had some notable eccentricities: he kept a 14ft tame python in his rooms until one afternoon it almost strangled his chambermaid, who was saved only by his early return. He graduated with second-class honours before undertaking a tour of the Continent, learning German during an extended stay in Dresden, having earlier been taught French by his mother.
In 1870 he served as an ambulance worker for the Red Cross Society in the Franco-German war, attending wounded soldiers and working in a typhus hospital. He strongly disapproved of the Paris Commune, referring to its supporters as ‘rats’, and was almost shot by a woman when he tried to prevent her and her family from occupying a large Parisian mansion. Returning to London (1871), he was commissioned as a junior subaltern in the 1st Life Guards, and embarked on a passionate, if episodic, love affair with the army. On marrying Ursula Clare Emily St Leger (d. 1927), only child of the fourth Viscount Doneraile, in 1874, he resigned his commission, but later served with the 4th Battalion, Leinster Regiment, as lieutenant-colonel and honorary colonel. In the victorious Egyptian campaign (1881–2) he was decorated for his heroism, before suffering severe sunstroke chasing Arabs up the pyramids. In the first Boer War he served as assistant adjutant-general to General (later Earl) Roberts and was again decorated for valour. He regretted being too old to fight in the First World War, but was a vigorous army recruiting agent in Ireland.
He was made high sheriff of Queen’s County in 1876, and was also a DL and JP in the county. He generally had a good relationship with his tenantry, whose behaviour constantly amused him, and in 1880 he was easily elected Unionist MP for Portarlington. Despite a long-standing reputation as a good landlord, threats from land leaguers in Queen’s County forced him to take an armed guard for several months. He attributed his safety, however, to the fact that he was known as a deadly shot who would shoot first and apologise later. In 1883 he succeeded to his father’s seat in the House of Lords, where he was generally politically moderate. He made an advanced nationalist speech in 1896 after a royal commission reported that Ireland was being overtaxed by £3 million a year, but this was exceptional. He favoured giving Ireland control of local affairs and was a member of the Irish Reform Association founded by Lord Dunraven in 1906.
While serving as chancellor of the Royal University of Ireland (1906–8), he helped to formulate the scheme that led to the establishment of the National University of Ireland. He worked with Horace Plunkett in his various enterprises, supported the 1903 Wyndham land act, and in 1906 published a pamphlet, A plea for tillage on co-operative lines, which proposed migration from congested districts to the richer farming areas and the promotion of tillage based on the old clan system. A friend of Douglas Hyde, he gave financial assistance to the Gaelic League and formed the short-lived Celtic Association to foster Celtic culture. Conversant with Irish, he learned the language on holidays in Connemara, having fallen in love with a local girl.
A keen hunter, he was introduced to shooting at an early age and displayed a natural aptitude with the rifle, despite a mishap when he shot one of his father’s servants. As a teenager he was the whip to a pack of otter hounds, spent many hours hawking and fishing, and kept his own harriers. He hunted with his own pack of fox-hunters, the Queen’s County, and others throughout Ireland. His passion for travel and talent for shooting combined in a series of comic-strip adventures that saw him traverse the globe in search of big game, described in his memoir, Ego (1923), an almost parodic account of the privileged lifestyle of the era. He shot reindeer in Lapland, bull elk in Norway and bears in the Rocky Mountains. He also travelled through Africa, Russia, Asia Minor, Constantinople and Persia, where he stayed with the shah, who allowed him to hunt on his lands. These travels were described in Here and there about the world (1932). He died on 29 May 1937 at Granston Manor and was interred in Killermogh cemetery.

Paul Rouse is a former editorial assistant with the Royal Irish Academy’s Dictionary of Irish Biography.

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