Turtle Bunbury delves into the history we know, or think we do, but also takes us into far more than we could expect.
Be sure to also check out the latest addition to Turtle's prolific writings, at Wistorical, his Facebook page, which you can access via this link https://www.facebook.com/Wistorical
Don't plan on leaving quickly, there is so much to read and absorb... including a great article on Tom Steele...
HONEST TOM STEELE (1788-1848) – LANDLORD AND REPEALER
Born: Derrymore, Co Clare, 3 November 1788.
Died: London, 15 June 1848.
Died: London, 15 June 1848.
The annals of Irish history are littered with Protestants of English origin who effectively deserted the flag of their faith and ‘went native’. Few were more unusual than Honest Tom Steele, a graduate of Cambridge, a landed proprietor of Clare, an inventor of diving bells and a veteran of the Spanish Republican army who served as Daniel O'Connell's right-hand man for 24 years .
Tom Steele looked down at the turbulent waters of the Thames flowing beneath him and closed his eyes. His mind was a whirl of images – crumbling castles, bloody battles, beautiful women, broken promises, vast crowds and, omnipresent, his beloved Daniel O’Connell, the Emancipator of Catholics, alongside whom ‘Honest Tom’ had loyally served for 24 years. Tom opened his eyes, inhaled deeply and jumped.
Thomas Steele was an eccentric Protestant gentleman born in 1788 at his family home near Tulla in Co Clare. His forbears had served with distinction in Monmouth's Regiment during the reign of Charles II and received lands in Co. Tipperary by way of payment. In the early 18th century, a branch of the family relocated to East Clare where Tom’s grandfather secured ownership of considerable property. Tom’s father William perished when he was just a baby. The child was then raised by his bachelor uncle and namesake, Thomas Steele, at the sturdy new Georgian mansion of Cullane House outside the village of Quin. Young Tom received his elementary classical training from Rev. Dr. Fitzgerald at Ennis Grammar School. He was subsequently educated at Trinity College Dublin and Magdalene College Cambridge, graduating with an M.A. in 1820. His tutor considered him one of the best Greek scholars of his day.
Anyone at college during those years was inevitably swept up on the tide of romance, ignited by the Napoleonic Wars and given voice in the poetry of Keats and Lord Byron. When Tom’s uncle passed away in 1821, the 33-year-old inherited the substantial Cullane estate. However, rather than move into the barrack-like mansion of Cullane House, Tom set about restoring the ruins of Craggaunowen Castle, an ancient MacNamara tower-house on his land.
It was Tom’s dream that Cragganauowen would be the home where he and Miss Matilda Crowe of nearby Abbeyfield House, Ennis, would live happily ever after. For weeks on end, Tom sat gazing at Miss Crowe’s bedroom window from a large rock in the River Fergus, known today as Steele’s Rock. Tom was sure she would accept his advances. He was, after all, a much sought after young man, wealthy, intelligent, ‘tall with dark hair … and very good-looking’. Alas, Miss Crowe did not share his ‘ardent sentiment of attraction’ and turned him down.
Women should never underestimate what rejection can do to a man. One of Tom’s first moves was to write a bizarre letter to the elderly Pope Pius VII, urging him to convert to Protestantism without delay. More alarmingly, in 1823, he mortgaged the entire Cullane estate for £10,000, sailed for Spain and secured a commission in the ill-fated rebel army of Rafael del Riego. Tom duly served at the battle of Trocedero and the defence of Cadiz. He managed to avoid the death and execution which befell many of his fellow officers, returned to Ireland and wrote a dramatic personal account of the war.