The Sinking of the R.M.S. Leinster

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Thomas Esmonde

ESMONDE, Thomas Lewis/Louis

Thomas Lewis/Louis Esmonde was born in December 1864 into a Catholic Anglo-Norman family that had been in County Wexford since the thirteenth century. His uncle succeeded to the title of Baronet Esmonde of Ballynastragh in 1868 and was also Deputy Lieutenant and M.P. for Wexford. Thomas’s father, also Thomas, had a successful army career, being awarded the Victoria Cross in 1855 for acts of bravery at the Battle of Sebastopol in the Crimea. On his return to Ireland Major Esmonde was appointed Assistant Inspector General of Constabulary at the age of twenty eight, and in the same year, 1859, he married Matilda O’Kelly, daughter of Peter de Penthony O’Kelly of Barrettstown, Co Kildare.

There were five children of the marriage, Thomas L being the only male. The family lived at Diswellstown, Castleknock, just outside Dublin and Thomas Senior’s career continued to climb. He resigned from his Constabulary position in 1867 due to ill-health, but continued in the army to become Lieutenant General. He died in Bruges, Belgium in 1872, apparently as a result of a hunting accident, at the age of forty-three, leaving his widow with five young children, the youngest only five. When his Will was probated Matilda’s address was given as Barrettstown so the young Esmonde family may have lived with the O’Kellys for some time.

In the 1901 census Matilda was living in Castlemacadam in County Wicklow with Thomas L and her two unmarried daughters, Matilda and Georgina. Thomas’s occupation was given as ‘Land Commissioner Civil Service’. At some stage within the following decade Thomas took the family to County Wexford where he became a farmer at Ballycourcey House, Enniscorthy. He was deeply involved in the local community, becoming Chairman of the County Wexford Agricultural Committee and President of the County Wexford Farmers’ Union. In September 1913 he married Mary Alice Philomena Mansfield of Morristown Lattin in County Kildare. There were no children.

Thomas Esmonde was travelling on business to London on 10 October 1918 on RMS Leinster when the ship was attacked. He did not survive the sinking but his body was recovered and was identified by the wife of his cousin, Lady Alice Esmonde. The funeral went from University Church, St Stephen’s Green to Glasnevin cemetery where he was buried. Sir Horace Plunkett of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society spoke of the great work Thomas Esmonde had done for his country and paid tribute to his personal qualities. 


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