Irish tobacco; William Smith O’Brien’s secret family

Published in Issue 4 (July-August 2013), Letters, Letters, Volume 21

Sir,—Tadhg Moloney’s letter on tobacco-growing in Ireland (HI 21.3, May/June 2013) reminds me that, somewhere in my possession, I have a plain white ‘twenties’ box on which is printed in green ‘Cashel cigarettes’. In my youth I located this in a loft beside the avenue leading up to Cashel’s then deanery, once the palace of the archbishops and now the delightful hotel. One of my good friends was the then dean’s son and so I spent much time exploring the place with him, my own home being only some five kilometres away. The loft concerned was very long, and draped over the beams were the remains of tobacco leaves. These, my mother told me at the time, were grown by Dr Jackson’s predecessor, Dean Joseph Talbot, who from 1924 to 1945 harvested a substantial crop for each of the years of his office. Owing, no doubt, to our weather, this he dried under cover and, giving some employment, processed and packaged. I believe he sold this product to a few local customers in aid of church funds! Little did he or they know of the significant inherent health dangers.

Apropos William S. O’Brien and author Richard Davis’ article ‘Seduced by sociability, cards and port wine’, I am surprised that he seems unaware of my discovery of the patriot’s secret family (The Other Clare, Vol. 20 (1996), pp 55–6). Mary Ann Wilton bore, in 1830, a son William by him. The boy was baptised in fashionable St Margaret’s, Westminster, London, on 6 January 1832. The child’s sister, Mary Wilton O’Brien, born 1831, was baptised at the same ceremony. Note that Wilton, her mother’s family name, was given as her Christian name. The birth certificate records Mary Ann Wilton as their mother and William Smith O’Brien as their father. Nine months later, the latter married Lucy Caroline Gabbett. On St Patrick’s Day, 1857, his daughter Mary Wilton O’Brien married Eugene Edouard Marc Bourgain, clerk of the French government, in London. However, the certificate of marriage states that William Smith O’Brien was deceased; he was, of course, to live a further seven years. Sadly, shortly after I visited their descendant, Madame Bourgain, then aged 95, in France, this last bearer of the significant family name passed to her reward. She had been unaware, in spite of her ornaments and furniture indicating her Irish background, of her famous patriot forebear. Present-day William Smith O’Brien descendants are, it seems, unaware of the relationship.—Yours etc.,

DR HUGH WEIR

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