Lawless, Valentine Browne (DNB00)
LAWLESS, VALENTINE BROWNE, Lord Cloncurry (1773–1853), only surviving son of Nicholas, first lord Cloncurry, and Margaret, only child and heiress of Valentine Browne of Mount Browne, co. Limerick, a wealthy Roman catholic brewer of Dublin, was born in Merrion Square, Dublin, on 19 Aug. 1773. He was educated successively at a boarding-school at Portarlington in Queen's County, where he contracted a scrofulous complaint which left a permanent mark upon his face; at Prospect School, in the neighbourhood of Maretimo, his father's residence, where he remained for two years; and at the King's school at Chester, where he resided in the family of William Cleaver [q.v.], bishop of St. Asaph, afterwords master of Brasenose College, Oxford. He subsequently entered Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated B.A. in 1792. The two following years were spent on the continent, chiefly in Switzerland. Returning to Ireland in 1795, at the moment of Lord Fitzwilliam's recall, he threw himself with enthusiasm into Irish politics, and in the summer of that year was sworn a united Irishman, just at the time when the society was being reconstructed on a new basis with distinctly republican aims, though, according to his own account (Personal Recollections, p. 33), the oath he took was the original one, unaccompanied by any obligation to secrecy. At the same time he became an officer in the yeomanry, a body commanded almost entirely by what was called the independent interest, and an active promoter of a voluntary police organisation known as the Rathdown Association. Being destined for the bar, he in 1795 entered the Middle Temple, and during the next two years spent a considerable part of his time in London. On one occasion, probably in the spiing of 1797, he happened to dine in company with Pitt, and from him first learned the intention of government in regard to a union between the two countries. Acting on this information he immediately wrote and published his 'Thoughts on the Projected Union between Great Britain and Ireland,' Dublin, 1797, the first of a long succession of pamphlets on the subject. He was also a regular contributor to the 'Press' newspaper, at that time the accredited organ of Irish independence; and on the dissolution of parliament in 1797 he wrote the addresses of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and Mr. Henry of Strafian, who declined to offer themselves as candidates for the representation of Kildare. He took a prominent part in fronting the Kildare petition, and in July 1797 presided at the aggregate meeting held in the Royal Exchange to protest against the union. In October he attended for the first and only time a meeting of the executive directory of the United Irish Society. It is difficult altogether to credit his own statement that it was without his wish, and even knowledge, that he was elected a member of the directory. Of this fact government soon became cognisant, and a friendly warning having reached his father. Lawless was obliged to return to his studies at the Middle Temple. On 7 Nov. 1797 Pelham wrote to the home office: 'Mr. Lawless, Lord Cloncurry's eldest son, is going to England this night charged with an answer to a message lately received from France' (FitzPatrick, Secret Service, p. 3.)). It is doubtful whether there was any truth in the latter part of this statement, but it is certain that until the time of his arrest Lawless was under strict government surveillance. His conduct in London, the society he kept, his acquaintance with Arthur O'Connor and O'Coigly, and the fact that he furnished funds for the defence of the latter, increased suspicion, and on 31 May 1798 he was arrested at his lodgings, 31 St. Albans Street, Pall Mall, on a charge of suspicion of high treason (Castlereagh Correspondence, i. 216). His detention on this occasion lasted about six weeks, during which time he was more than once examined before the privy council. He was discharged on bail (ib. i. 254), and being forbidden by his father to return to Ireland, he spent the summer in making a tour through England on horseback. At Scarborough he made the acquaintance of Mary, daughter of Phineas Ryal, esq., of Clonmel, whom he received his father's consent to marry on condition that he was first called to the bar.
Lawless returned to London in December. On 14 April 1799 he was again arrested on suspicion of treasonable practices, and on 8 May was committed to the Tower. It is difficult to determine how far he was really guilty of the offences with which he was charged. According to his own account (Personal Recollections, p. 78) he had since his first arrest taken no part in politics, but at the same time it is clear (Castlereagh Correspondence, ii. 361) that government had good grounds for believing him to be an active agent in the United Irish conspiracy, though from want of direct evidence as to his complicity it was deemed unadvisable to run the risk of a trial by excepting him by name from the Bill of Indemnity (ib. i. 254–60). During his imprisonment in the Tower he was subjected to many needless indignities, and his confinement certainly embittered, if it did not actually shorten, the lives of his father, who died on 28 Aug. 1799, his grandfather, and the lady to whom he was engaged to be married. Many efforts were made to obtain his release, but without success, and his father, fearing lest the consequences of his prosecution might extend to a confiscation of his property, altered his will and left away from him a sum of between 60,000l. and 70,000l. He was released on the expiration of the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act in March 1801, but passed the remainder of the year in England in order to recruit his health. He returned to Ireland on 31 Jan. 1802, the day of Lord Clare's funeral, and having spent several months in putting his estate in order, he proceeded in the autumn to the continent in company with his sisters Charlotte and Valentina.
At Nice he made the acquaintance of Elizabeth Georgiana, youngest daughter of Major-general Morgan, whom he married at Rome on 16 April 1803. At Rome, where he resided for more than two years in the Palazzo Acciaioli, close to the Quirinal, he went much into society, and occupied himself in forming a collection of antiquities, the more valuable part of which was unfortunately lost in transportation in Killiney Bay. He left Rome in the summer of 1805, and, proceeding through Austria and Germany, returned to Ireland at the close of the year, to find that during his absence his house at Lyons, co. Kildare, had been maliciously ransacked by one of his tenants, who was also a magistrate, during the disturbances that attended the suppression of Emmet's rebellion, and that some family plate and papers, including letters from Richard Kirwan [q. v.] the geologist, had been removed or destroyed. During the rest of his life Lord Cloncurry resided almost constantly either at Lyons or Maretimo. In February 1807 he was divorced by act of parliament from his wife, owing to her misconduct with Sir John Piers, from whom he recovered 20,000l. damages. For several years subsequently Cloncurry took no active part in politics, but devoted himself to the duties of his position as a magistrate and landed proprietor. In the former capacity he inaugurated the system of petty sessions, which was afterwards extended by parliament with good effect throughout the kingdom, though another project of his for causing all agreements between landlord and tenant to be made at these weekly meetings was not, unfortunately, carried out. As a landlord he took an active part in 1814 in founding the ‘County Kildare Farming Society,’ for the promotion of a better system of agriculture. He strongly urged the utility of reclaiming bogs and waste lands, was a director of the Grand Canal between Dublin and Ballinasloe, a friend of Robert Owen and Father Mathew, and projector of half a dozen abortive schemes, such as a ship canal between Dublin and Galway, and the establishment of a transatlantic packet station at Galway. He was a warm advocate of the catholic claims, but he was convinced of the futility of agitating the question in the imperial parliament; and regarding catholic emancipation as a party measure and repeal as a national concern, he in 1824 urged O'Connell, in a celebrated letter to the Catholic Association, to make the repeal of the union the main plank in his programme.
During the first viceroyalty of Henry William Paget, marquis of Anglesey [q. v.], in 1828, Cloncurry grew intimate with the government of Dublin Castle. He knew, notwithstanding the inauspicious commencement of his government, that Lord Anglesey's intentions were favourable to Ireland, and unwilling to hamper his administration during his second viceroyalty (1830-4), he declined to join O'Connell in his repeal campaign. His attitude exposed him to the misconstruction of his friends and the bitter reproaches of O'Connell. 'The three years,' he wrote (Personal Recollections, p. 416), 'that followed Lord Anglesey's return to Ireland, though full of excitement and action, was to me the most unhappy I had passed since my release from the Tower.' Nevertheless he took an active part in the anti-tithe agitation, and having been created an English peer and an Irish privy councillor in September 1831, he spoke for the first time in the House of Lords on 7 Dec. on that subject. In 1836 a temporary reconciliation was effected between him and O'Connell, but in 1840 a further estrangement took place owing to an attack made by O'Connell on Cloncurry's nephew, Lord Dunsany, a noted Orangeman. After the death of his second wife in 1841 Cloncurry ceased gradually to take any active interest in politics. The two following years he passed on the continent, but in 1843 he exerted his influence as a privy councillor to avert what he afterwards described as 'a projected massacre' by the government of Lord de Grey on the occasion of O'Connell's intended repeal demonstration at Clontarf. At the first appearance of the great famine in 1846 he urged upon government the necessity of taking extraordinary preventive measures, but finding his advice rejected he indignantly declined to attend any further meetings of the council. Nevertheless, as a member of the famine committee and a trustee of the ' Central Relief Committee,' he spared neither time nor money in endeavouring to relieve the general distress. He disapproved of the Young Ireland movement, believing that it would only retard the repeal of the union, but he testified his personal sympathy with John Mitchel, the editor of the 'United Irishman.' by subscribing 100l. for the support of his wife. In 1849 he published his 'Personal Reminiscences,' which, according to Mr. Fitzpatrick (Secret Service, p. 39), was revised and prepared for publication 'by a practised writer connected with the tory press of Dublin, who believed that Cloncurry had been wrongly judged in 1798.' This circumstance will probably account for the slight inaccuracies as to facts and dates which occur in it. In Ireland the work was well received, but in England it was severely criticised, especially by J. W. Croker in the 'Quarterly Review' (lxxxvi. 126). The publication of Lord Anglesey's correspondence gave that nobleman much offence, and there were others who considered themselves to have been aggrieved. The book is on the whole well and forcibly written, though the interest flags towards the end; but a careful perusal of it goes to confirm Mr. Fitzpatrick's statement that it was not written by Cloncurry himself. In 1851 Cloncurry showed signs of failing health, but he lived to see the great Irish Industrial Exhibition of 1853. On 24 Oct. he caught a cold, on Friday 28th he died, and on 1 Nov. his remains were removed from Maretimo to the family vault at Lyons. Despite his faults of judgment and a somewhat morbid craving for popularity, Cloncurry was a sincere patriot. His house at Lyons was noted for its hospitality; he was a generous landlord, a lover of the fine arts, and wherever he recognised talent in his countrymen he did his best to cultivate and reward it. He was, to quote O'Connell, 'the poor man's justice of the peace, the friend of reform, in private society — in the bosom of his family — the model of virtue, in public life worthy of the admiration and affection of the people.' By his first wife Cloncurry had a son, Valentine Anne (his godmother was Anne, duchess of Cumberland), who was born in 1805, and died unmarried in 1825; and a daughter, Mary Margaret, married, first, in 1820, to John Michael Henry, baron de Robeck, from whom she was divorced, and secondly, in 1828, to Lord Sussex Lennox. Cloncurry married secondly, in 1811, Emily, third daughter of Archibald Douglas, esq., of Dornock (cousin to Charles, third duke of Queensberry), relict of the Hon. Joseph Leeson, and mother of the fourth Earl of Milltown. By her, who died 15 June 1841, he had Edward, third baron Cloncurry, born 13 Sept. 1816, who married Elizabeth, only daughter of John Kirwan, esq., of Castlehacket, co. Galway; Cecil-John, M.P., born 1 Aug. 1820, who caught a cold at his father's funeral, and died 5 Nov. 1853; and Valentina Maria, who died young.
[Burke's Peerage; Cloncurry's Personal Recollections; W. J. Fitzpatrick's Life, Times, and Contemporaries of Lord Cloncurry; Corresp. of Daniel O'Connell, ed. W. J. Fitzpatrick; W.J. Fitzpatrick's Secret Service under Pitt; Lord Castlereagh's Corresp.]