Browsing the Dublin Morning Register of 1 August 1828, I came across this item, taken from the Waterford Mirror:
On Tuesday, John Purcell Fitzgerald, of London, Esq, entertained his numerous tenantry of this neighbourhood at dinner, at his ancient castle at the Little Island, in the river Suir, about two miles below Waterford, on the good old English plan, a plan which we would by no means be sorry to see in more general imitation in Ireland. About five hundred sat to table.
Here is Little Island in the Suir estuary below Waterford:
It is now a hotel with activities (shooting, archery, croquet and the unmentionable (which involves mashie-niblicks, joggers and cleeks)).
John Purcell Fitzgerald was born John Purcell, son of a Dublin doctor; he became a Fitzgerald when his already-wealthy wife became even wealthier on inheriting her father’s estates. His main achievement was fathering Edward Fitzgerald, translator of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
Neither of them, though, was half as important as John’s brother Peter, the greatest mail-coach operator in Ireland, hotelier, coachbuilder, promoter of agricultural improvement, lobbyist for Catholic emancipation and against slavery, supporter of innumerable charities and first chairman of the Great Southern and Western Railway. He was one of a generation of supremely capable Irish transport entrepreneurs who managed the transition to steam power on land and water.
This is how the Dublin Weekly Nation of 30 May 1846 announced Purcell’s death:
DEATH OF PETER PURCELL ESQ
We regret to announce the death of this gentleman, which took place at his house, 3, Rutland-square, on Friday morning. He was a man of kind and generous nature; a good landlord, a liberal and considerate employer, and a practical philanthropist. His enterprise did nearly as much as that of Mr Bianconi in supplying facilities of intercourse on a great scale to this country.
He was the greatest coach proprietor, and one of the largest railway shareholders, in Ireland. The Agricultural Society, the Testimonial to Father Mathew, and other national projects in which he was engaged, and the liberal spirit in which he sustained similar movements, are evidences that he had a real and unselfish interest in the prosperity of Ireland.
He was an active member of the Precursor Society till his unhappy quarrel with O’Connell, to which this is not a moment to allude further. In the estimation of his fellow-citizens he occupied a creditable place, and the grief for his death is deep and general.
The Mail of last night, generously oblivious of the political differences between it and Mr Purcell, says:
“As a man of business, whether as a government contractor, or as a proprietor and cultivator of land, he bore the character of a man of energy, enterprise, and honesty; punctual in his engagements — liberal in his expenditure — judicious in his management — a great employer of labour — a charitable benefactor of poverty and distress.
“In the private relations of friendship and family affections, he won all hearts by the homeliness and sincerity of his manner — the unaffected simplicity of his tastes — the hospitality of his table — and the genuine kindliness of his domestic dispositions.
“Strong good sense and natural good humour were his distinguishing qualities in his intercourse with the world. Many a good joke we have run upon him as a public man, in this journal; and we must do him justice to say, they were taken by him, as meant by us, as effusions of a tolerant spirit, which, while it must condemn the exertions of opponent parties, is still willing to soften the acerbities of political strife by as much good humour as can be thrown into the political cauldron.
“We wish we had many such to deal with as Peter Purcell — was.
“We write the word with sorrow. He departed this life — we trust for a better — at an early hour this morning, at his residence in Rutland-square.”
And a few lines from the Dublin Evening Packet and Correspondent of the same day:
From Mr Purcell we differed in political opinion, and we have frequently in this journal felt it our duty to comment with freedom on his public conduct, but we never did, and never could deny that he was a fair, straightforward, honorable, and manly opponent, to whose personal character no exception could be taken, and whose sincerity in whatever views he advocated was unquestionable.
Purcell — who worked for Catholic Emancipation but did not want the Act of Union to be repealed — was, for a few years, active in local politics in Dublin. His quarrel with Daniel O’Connell came when he found that the funds of the Precursor Society were lodged in O’Connell’s own bank account. O’Connell promised Purcell several times that he would put them under the control of the society’s trustees but did not honour his promise. Purcell eventually felt that he had no option but to resign and to make public his reasons for doing so.
There is a memorial to Peter Purcell (by John Hogan) in the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin.
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