St. Brigid’s Church, Talbotstown, has a really beautiful backdrop, with the twin mountains of Keadeen and Carrig dominating the view. The small car park beside the church is one of the best vantage points for admiring those mountains and for seeing Finn McCool and his wife resting in the sunshine. To the left you will see the much smaller Kilranelagh Hill, the site of an old graveyard and the centre of an area with many remains of ancient habitation. But Talbotstown Church itself has its own beauty and its own history.
It is at the edge of the townland of Talbotstown Upper in Kilranelagh civil parish, but it is an out-church or chapel-of-ease of Rathvilly Roman Catholic parish, which straddles the border between Cos. Carlow and Wicklow. Talbotstown is proudly in Wicklow, though all this part of the county was part of Carlow (Catherlogh) before Wicklow was invented in 1606. Until the early years of the twentieth century the word ‘church’ was used only in relation to Church of Ireland places of worship, while those of other denominations were referred to as ‘chapels’.
Writing in the Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society in 1905, Charles Drury stated that after the old chapel of Kilranelagh fell into disuse, Mass was said in a chapel in Englishtown. He quoted one John Magrath as saying that this practice continued for about 150 or 200 years. The tumbled down walls of that chapel are all that may be seen now, to the side of the road between Talbotstown and Killalesh. That chapel is shown on the original Ordnance Survey map c1840, while the site of what is now Talbotstown Church was part of a field next to the then new National School.
Drury stated that:
… now some sixty years ago, service was first held in Talbotstown Chapel. Father Gahan, who was parish priest at the time it was built, assembled his congregation on the site of the proposed new chapel, and ascertained by actual measurement the size necessary. The dimensions of Tinnock Chapel were arrived at in the same way.
The new Talbotstown Church is said to have been built in 1842. A Valuation Office House Book, dated in the mid-1840s, states:
This chapel has been lately built and the interior is in quite an unfinished state the south western [end?] is [?ed] with cut stone in the grecian style and so are the windows on such side, and all appears to be of the best materials
The building features in The Churches of Kildare & Leighlin 2000 A.D., edited by Rev. John McEvoy, now Parish Priest of Rathvilly. It mentions that the bell from the old chapel in Englishtown was installed in it. Talbotstown is described as:
… a substantial structure built of granite, with a front of fine-cut blocks featuring six pillars. Three doorways allow access, two to the nave and the central one to the organ gallery. The porch has rounded stone arches, a feature repeated in the side-windows and the pillar-supported arch over the old altar.
The book notes that it never had stained-glass windows. Regarding the interior, it mentions that ‘the striking features are the high walls of exposed stone which support a beautiful ceiling painted by Grispini, an Italian artist who also worked on Humewood Castle, Kiltegan.’ This painting would have been done a few decades after the erection of the church, as Humewood was built in the 1860s-1870s.
There must have been much rejoicing when John and Martha Stratford’s eighth child arrived in the mid-1730s, about a decade into their marriage. According to Martha’s second cousin, Pole Cosby, that eighth child, Edward, was their first son. It is said that John and Martha had 19 children, with 15 of them surviving childhood. However, there seems not to be any definite record of all the children, or when they were born. So, it can be said that they had at least nine daughters, very likely eleven, and possibly more.
The Stratfords were upwardly mobile members of the Irish gentry in the early eighteenth century. John was the youngest son of Edward Stratford of Belan, Co. Kildare, and ultimately he succeeded to most of his property, including the town of Baltinglass, Co. Wicklow, and much of its environs. Martha was the younger daughter of Archdeacon Benjamin Neale and his wife Hannah Paul. The Archdeacon’s career is a little hazy, but he may have been rector of Baltinglass parish about the time of his daughter’s marriage. The Co. Carlow parishes of Hacketstown and Rathvilly also vaguely featured in his curriculum vitae. In any case, he built a mansion in Rathvilly parish, just south of Baltinglass, which he called Mount Neale [now Mountneill]. After his death much of his property, including Mount Neale, and property from the Paul family passed to the Stratfords.
The Stratford family were a quarrelsome and litigious lot. There was always a disagreement going on between some of them. Sir Jonah Barrington, in his colourful and satirical Personal Sketches, commented that they ‘preferred law to all other species of pastime’. John and Martha had a not very harmonious relationship with their eldest son, Edward. Edward in turn was intermittently at loggerheads with his younger brothers, while his sisters appear to have had divided loyalties. According to Barrington, Edward had a dispute with his brothers about the running of the borough of Baltinglass. To remedy the situation he decided to nominate his sister Hannah as the borough’s new returning officer, an extraordinary proposition for the late eighteenth century. It ‘created a great battle’ into which the other sisters evidently waded. Barrington wrote:
The honourable ladies all got into the thick of it : some of them were well trounced – others gave as good as they received : the affair made a great uproar in Dublin, and informations were moved for and granted against some of the ladies.
The order of birth of John and Martha’s eleven, or so, daughters is very unclear. Almost certainly HANNAH was the eldest, though she has been referred to as Edward’s twin. She remained unmarried. If the order in which her sisters wed is any indication of their place in the family, they were born in this order: MARTHA (married 1753 Morley Pendred Saunders), ELIZABETH (m. 1758 Robert Tynte), AMELIA (m. 1760 Richard Wingfield, younger brother of the 2nd Viscount Powerscourt), HARRIOT (m. 1765 Robert Hartpole), GRACE (m. 1778 Rev. Hayes Phipps Queade), ANNE (m. 1778 George Powell) and FRANCES (m. 1781 William Holt). In addition, there was DEBORAH, who did not marry, as well as two others, MARIA and LETITIA, who died sometime before 1789.
Considering that the Stratfords were regarded as wealthy and that they were coming up in the world, the matches made by the daughters were unspectacular. Amelia was the only one who married into the aristocracy and even that was not a major step up the ladder, as her husband’s father had been elevated to the peerage only 17 years before she became the Honourable Mrs. Wingfield.
In 1763 the Stratfords moved up a peg in society, when John Stratford was created Baron of Baltinglass. This made Lord and Lady Baltinglass’s other married daughters the Hon. Mrs. Saunders and the Hon. Mrs. Tynte, while the unmarried girls became the Hon. Hannah, Harriot, Grace, Anne, Frances and Deborah Stratford. If Maria and Letitia were alive at the time they too would have been Honourables! The following year Amelia’s brother-in-law died and her husband became viscount. She was now Lady Powerscourt and once again ahead of her own mother in the pecking order, as viscountess trumps baroness.
In 1776 John Stratford was elevated to the title of Viscount Aldborough, but this did not change the status of his daughters. However, the next year he became Earl of Aldborough and his daughters’ prefix of ‘Honourable’ was replaced by ‘Lady’. This had no bearing on Amelia’s status as she already was the wife of a peer. By then all of the Stratford daughters ranged from young adults to middle-aged women. John Stratford had long been a wealthy landowner with social aspirations. With his newly found position as a peer in the 1760s, and a houseful of daughters, it might have been expected that better matrimonial alliances would have been a priority for him and Martha. For whatever reason, there were no advantageous marriages.
John died less than six months after gaining his earldom. His son Edward became the 2nd earl and he too had aspirations to greater social connections, but his sisters who married in the following four years did nothing to enhance the family’s grandeur. All three married with their mother’s approval, as she was a party to each of their marriage settlements. One married a student and future clergyman, while the other two settled for fairly ordinary gentlemen. Considering that each of them had a dowry of £4,000-£5,000, you might expect them to catch the younger son of a peer at least.
In relation to this generation of the Stratford family, original documentary sources are supplemented by Ethel M. Richardson’s Long Forgotten Days (London, 1928) and Ronald W. Lightbown’s An Architect Earl: Edward Augustus Stratford (Thomastown, 2008), and by an article, ‘Recollections of Visits to Belan House, Co. Kildare, in the Early Victorian Period’, by an anonymous female writer, published in the Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society, Vol. V, No. 5 (1908). Mervyn Archdall’s 1789 revision of John Lodge’s Peerage of Ireland, or a Genealogical History of the Present Nobility of the Kingdom listed nine of the daughters of John and Martha Stratford, including the little known Maria and Letitia, both of whom were stated as deceased by that time. Archdall’s source on these two daughters was ‘Information of the Earl’, their brother. Strangely Archdall omitted Frances and Deborah, both of whom were alive and well at the time. Richardson likewise listed nine daughters, omitting Maria and Deborah.
No one seems to have carried out a full inventory of the Stratford offspring. Over the years, daughters’ names have been thrown about and the total of nine has been quoted, without a careful head count. Assuming that Maria and Letitia actually existed, and there is scant evidence of that, there were at least eleven daughters. Certainly there were six sons. If there were 19 children altogether there are two others unaccounted for, and their gender is unknown.
The following is a very brief summary in relation to each of the eleven daughters of whom there is record:
Hannah: Apparently she was the eldest, named after her maternal grandmother, Hannah Paul (Mrs. Neale). However, Lightbown refers to her as Edward’s twin, and Edward was preceded by seven girls. Certainly Hannah was the eldest surviving unmarried daughter, as she was referred to as Miss Stratford before she became Lady Hannah, evidently at about the age of fifty. By all accounts she was a formidable woman. Apparently her opinion held sway with her parents. According to Barrington’s lively account of the dispute over the borough of Baltinglass, she was an ally of her brother Edward, the 2nd Earl. Hannah died unmarried in 1801 at 8 Great Denmark Street, the Dublin residence her brother the earl had used before building Aldborough House. At that time she was possibly in her mid-seventies.
Maria: According to Archdall’s revision of Lodge’s Peerage of Ireland, Maria was deceased by 1789. The only other evidence of her existence is the ‘Portrait of Lady Maria Stratford, daughter of 1st Earl of Aldborough’ which was sold at auction in 2019 as part of the contents of Fortgranite, the residence of the Dennis family, descendants of the Stratfords. Despite her want of biography, Maria’s picture fetched £18,000, three times the guide price. The portrait was attributed to James Latham, an Irish artist who died in 1747. If it was by Latham, Maria must have been one of the older daughters.
Letitia: Archdall also mentioned Letitia as deceased by 1789. The only other reference found to her was Richardson’s ‘to complete the long list, at the very end, came the little Lady Letitia, who appears to have died early unmarried’. Her position ‘at the very end’ may have come from Richardson’s imagination rather than real evidence.
Martha: The first of the children of John and Martha to marry. Her husband was Morley Pendred Saunders of Saunders Grove, just north of Baltinglass. The ceremony was celebrated at St. Anne’s in Dublin on 20 February 1753 by George Stone, Archbishop of Armagh. That little social coup may have come about by ecclesiastical connections through the Neale family. Stone started his rapid rise through the ranks in 1733, when he became Dean of Ferns. In the same year Martha’s grandfather, Benjamin Neale died in office as Chancellor of Ferns. Martha was still alive in 1800, when she was bequeathed a legacy by her brother Edward. Her many descendants included the Tyntes of Tynte Park and the Dennises of Fortgranite, both in West Wicklow, as well as the Saunders family. The 2019 sale of Fortgranite brought an end to her progeny’s association with the Baltinglass area.
Elizabeth: In 1758 she married Robert Tynte of Old Bawn, Co. Dublin, and Dunlavin, Co. Wicklow. He died in June 1760 near Bristol, on his way to Bath ‘for the recovery of his health, which was much impaired’. Their only child was born posthumously. This was the future Sir James Stratford Tynte, who was created a baronet in 1778, while still a minor. He married his first cousin Hannah Saunders, Lady Martha’s daughter. Lady Elizabeth remained a widow for the rest of her life. According to Lightbown, she died in 1816. The Tyntes of Tynte Park were her descendants.
Amelia: She married Hon. Richard Wingfield in St. Anne’s parish, Dublin, on 25 September 1760. Four years later she became Lady Powerscourt. Her husband died in 1788, but she was still alive in 1807, when she testified in a Chancery case concerning the will of her brother Edward. According to Richardson, she died in 1830, by which time she would have been in her late eighties at least. Among her living descendants are Sarah Ferguson and her daughters the Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie of York.
Harriot: She also married in St. Anne’s parish, suggesting that the Stratfords’ town house was in that area of Dublin at the time. The wedding took place on 30 May 1765 and her husband was Robert Hartpole of Shrule in Queen’s Co. [now Co. Laois], then a grand house in decline. Richardson mentions an account of ‘when she, suffering the agonies of smallpox, gave birth to a dying baby boy’. According to Lightbown, Harriot died in 1775 (in which case she was never ‘Lady Harriot’). Her only surviving son, George, was the subject of one of Barrington’s Personal Sketches, in which the Stratfords were lampooned. He died in 1795, bringing an end to the Hartpole line that had been associated with Shrule for generations. Hannah’s daughter Martha married Charles Bowen and her daughter Maria married John Lecky. The historian William Edward Hartpole Lecky (1838-1903) was one of her descendants.
Grace: In 1778, the year after the death of her earl father, Grace married Hayes Phipps Queade. The ceremony also took place in St. Anne’s parish, on 1 September. As Grace’s mother was born no later than about 1708, Grace must have been in her early twenties at least by the time of the marriage. Her husband was a scholarship student at Trinity College, Dublin, aged about twenty-one, and the son of a clergyman. He graduated the following year and was ordained in 1780. Apparently his first appointment was not until 1799, when he became curate at St. Anne’s. Considering his youth and lack of prospects at the time of the marriage, it is not surprising that Grace’s marriage settlement stipulated (with Queade’s consent) that none of what she brought to the union would be ‘at the disposal or subject to the Controul of her said then intended Husband’. Grace died in or before 1803, when her will was proved. In 1805 Queade married his second wife, Narcissa McNemara.
Anne: James Shiel, an ally of the 2nd Earl, in a letter of January 1778, quoted by Richardson, observed:
Lady Ann sings to admiration the song in ‘The Beggar’s Opera,’ ‘I’m like a ship in the ocean lost.’
At the end of that year Anne married George Powell, apparently a distant cousin who attached himself to the Stratford family and later became agent to Anne’s brother Edward. Anne was still alive in 1798 but must have died soon afterwards. Her earl brother died on the second day of the nineteenth century, 2 January 1801, and eleven months later his widow, Anne Elizabeth, married George Powell. That union lasted only a few months before Anne Elizabeth also died.
Frances: She was the last of the sisters to take a husband. She married William Holt of Dublin on 26 April 1781 in St. Anne’s parish, with her brother-in-law, Rev. Hayes Phipps Queade as celebrant. She had two children, Edward Stratford Holt and Hannah O’Neale Holt, both mentioned in her will. In the late spring of 1792 it was known in the family that Frances was dying. On 30 April Lady Aldborough and Lady Hannah went to visit at her home in Crumlin, Co. Dublin. According to the 2nd Earl’s diary, quoted by Richardson, they brought home ‘her only child’ to stay with them in Dublin ‘as her poor Mother is not like to live’. A few days later ‘little Miss Holt’ was brought back to visit Frances. On 15 May Lord Aldborough wrote ‘Lost my poor sister Holt’. Three days later he entered:
Went to Crumlin, to do the last sad office to my departed sister in attending her remains to St. John’s. After the burial service was performed, had the coffin replaced in hearse, and Conveyed to Family Vault in Baltinglass, and grave intended for her in St John’s closed. Spent the rest of the day at home.
The ‘Family Vault’ was not a vault as such, and should not be confused with the much later Stratford Tomb that is to be seen now in Baltinglass Abbey.
Deborah: Debby, as she appears to have been called, remained unmarried. She was little mentioned until her later years. After the death of Edward, the 2nd Earl, in 1801, the next brother, John, became the 3rd Earl of Aldborough. At some stage John and his wife decided to lead separate lives. He remained at Belan House, to which he succeeded along with the title. After his wife’s departure his sister Debby lived at Belan with him, leading a quiet life. The anonymous ‘Recollections of Visits to Belan House’ paints a picture of Lady Deborah’s management of the household:
She was a notable housekeeper, always carrying a large bunch of keys, and keeping her store-room filled with all sorts of good things ; she distilled herbs, roses, and lavender ; she doctored the tenants, or thought she did so, for though they accepted her medicaments, they threw them all out, doctor’s stuff, as they called them, not being to their taste. At Christmas time she laid in great stores of raisins and currants, and, with the help of a boy named Hagarty, stoned all the raisins and prepared the Christmas fare herself. This same Hagarty must have had a bad time ; she watched him closely when stoning the raisins, and, if caught putting one into his mouth, boxed his ears so soundly that he tumbled off the high stool on which he was perched.
Eventually the earl’s daughter, Lady Emily, came to live at Belan, and Lady Debby departed. The anonymous writer added:
In a short time she retired from the scene , and lived a very retired life in Dublin in a large house, I rather think in Leeson Street. Her fine jewellery and a considerable sum of money which she took with her from Belan she carefully kept sewed up in her mattress.
There may be portraits of various of the Stratford sisters in existence. Apart from that of Maria, the only other encountered on this journey of discovery was one of Elizabeth with her young son James Tynte, reproduced in Lightbown’s book.
I'm a genealogist by profession, with credentials from AGI. I also dabble in local history and the history of Irish golfers, and I'm always writing something!