Sir Edward Carson was born 9th February 1854. He was the second child in a family of six. His father was Edward Henry Carson who had married Isabella Lambert, the daughter of Peter Fitzwalter Lambert, owner of Castle Ellen, a large estate some three miles from Athenry, County Galway. His father, Edward Henry Carson Snr was an architect by profession. During his career he held the ofﬁce of Vice-President of the Royal Institute of Irish Architects and served as a member of Dublin Corporation sitting as a Liberal Conservative. He had two older brothers, both bachelors, who became Ministers of the Church of Ireland. William, the elder brother, a qualified doctor with a good practice, left medicine to become a minister in a poor parish in Tipperary. He was well known for his kindness in treating the sick, Catholic and Protestant alike. Long lines of horse-drawn carts were often to be seen outside his door waiting to be treated by the ‘good Protestant clergyman’.
His mother Isabella Lambert was a direct descendent of ‘Honest John’ Lambert, one of Cromwell’s Major-Generals. Isabella’s mother was Eleanor Seymour, daughter of Thomas Seymour of Balymore Castle in County Galway. She was the seventh daughter of Peter Lambert and Eleanor Seymour. The other daughters were Jane (Mrs Mulville), Ellen, married William Butler of Bunnahow (their son William Butler was a High Sheriff in I863), Maria (Mrs Macgrath), Charlotte (Mrs Seymour), Eliza (Mrs Dunne) and Matilda who was unmarried. She was also descended from the Butlers of Cregg. Francis Butler of Cregg, J.P. Cos. Galway and Clare, born about l7l6, confonned 29th October 1738, had married Belinda Lambert, daughter of Walter Lambert of Cregclare, County Galway.
When Edward Henry Carson married Isabella Lambert they lived for a short time with his widowed mother before moving to 4Harcourt Street, Mrs Isabella Carson, daughter of Peter Lambert of Castle Ellen and Ellen Lambert eldest daughter of Thomas Seymour of Ballymore Castle Dublin.
The eldest of their six children, William, became a solicitor. Walter, a year younger than Edward, became a medical ofﬁcer in the army. His sister Ellen Seymour married a Captain Thackeray. Isabella married a solicitor, Mr. St George Robinson. As the family increased in numbers the Carsons moved to a larger house at 25 Harcourt Street. Edward attended day school nearby with his two brothers. At the age of 12 he transferred to a public school at Portarlington called Arlington House which he jokingly nicknamed ‘Arlington Gaol’. He was an average student at school but showed a great interest in literary and classical studies, excelling, we are told, as an orator in the school debating society. In 1871 he entered Trinity College having earned a place in classics. He applied himself to his studies, was a prominent member of the College Historical Society and elected its librarian in 1876. He graduated with an ordinary pass degree showing no sign of future brilliance. (Oscar Wilde, a classmate and fellow student of classics who had distinguished himself by winning a scholarship to Oxford, was not to meet Edward Carson again until they confronted each other at the famous trial. Carson, then an eminent barrister defending the Marquis of Queensbury, a brief which at ﬁrst he had been reluctant to accept, succeeded in breaking down Wilde’s evidence by his legal strategy and relentless cross-examination. A rather sad story! They had been friends. As children Wilde had visited Castle Ellen during summer holidays.
Athenry was ‘special’ for Edward Carson. He spent much of his young days and student holidays at Castle Ellen. As a young man he had a great relationship with the local people, would chat and joke easily, took a drink in the pubs, attended the fairs and markets and was generally regarded as a friendly popular person, well liked by everyone. He played hurling with the local Cussaun team, he tried to introduce the game to Trinity without much success it would seem. It was a measure of the friendly familiarity that existed between him and the locals that many of them sought his assistance and inﬂuence in various ways when he was at the centre of power. At all times, it was known, he responded and went out of his way to help – “Ned Carson was a decent chap – a man of the people.”
In the summer months, after a long day in court, Carson would often go boating with his good friend James Shannon. They would hire a boat at Kingstown (Dun Laoighaire) or Sandycove and go sailing. One evening his attention focused on a young fair-haired girl watching the boats returning to shore. He asked Shannon if he knew who she was which apparently he did. He told him she was a Miss Annette Kirwan who lived locally with her father, a retired Inspector in the Royal Irish Constabulary. Sarah Annette Foster Kirwan, was the daughter of Henry Persse Kirwan and his wife Ann (Foster) Kirwan both natives of County Galway where they had formerly lived at Tristan Lodge near Ballinasloe.
Henry Persse Kirwan was born in l8l8 and at the start of his career was attached to the Galway Militia. An officer in the Royal Irish Constabulary he served in various parts of the country. He was appointed sub-Inspector in 1840 and Inspector First Class in June 1856. He served in Antrim, Longford, Donegal, Monaghan, Cork, Tipperary and Meath. He was appointed County Inspector in June 1869 and retired from the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1875. His wife had passed away when Annette was quite young and she was ‘adopted’ and reared by his cousin John Joseph Andrew Kirwan of ‘Castlecomer, County Kilkenny, and Stowe Lodge, County Galway. A barrister-at-law and a resident magistrate,County Kilkenny, he was born in l8ll and married in 1832 Mary Isabella only daughter of Major William Burke and Lady Matilda his wife, daughter ofWilliam, 2nd Earl of Howth and co-heiress of her mother Lady Elizabeth Bermingham, daughter and co-heiress of Thomas, Earl of Louth andBaron Athenry.
When he announced plans to many Annette his father was far from pleased. Edward was only one year into law practice, his earnings were still quite minimal and he continued to live at home with his parents. His father tried to prevent the marriage to no avail. After a short courtship Annette Kirwan and Edward Carson were married at Monkstown Parish Church on the l9th December I879, six months after they had been formally introduced by James Shannon. They were married by his old Headmaster the Rev. Frank Wall, with just a few friends present including his younger sister Bella and James Shannon acting as his best man. After an early morning ceremony they caught the mail boat to Holyhead. The honeymoon including the Christmas holidays was spent in London. They returned to Dublin for the start of the Law Term in January having had a wonderful time with the ﬁfty pounds Edward had saved.
They moved into a house in Herbert Place belonging to Annette‘s ‘uncle’ John Joseph Kirwan until they could afford a place of their own. Briefs were slow coming in and money was scarce. Annette was a good house keeper, keeping ﬁnancial worries from her husband, constantly encouraging him as he worked long hard hours preparing his cases. His parents became reconciled to the marriage when their first child was born on 2nd October 1880, a son, William Henry Lambert. Sadly, in early 1881 his father suddenly took ill and died. Edward Carson now had the added responsibility of his widowed mother, left not too well off and Annette was expecting their second child born 13th November 1881, a girl, Aileen Seymour. By then they had found a small house to let at 9 Herbert Place. They were a very happy couple, very much in love. Edward was a generous man, never obsessed with money, often taking Annette on trips to the country or the theatre to celebrate the winning of a case. When his best friend James Shannon contracted typhoid fever and died, followed in a few days by the death of young Mrs. Shannon, Carson was devastated. Against all advice, he had insisted on visiting James, on his deathbed, at great risk to his own health. He did become ill and it was feared he might have contracted the illness. Annette never left his side and nursed him back to health. He mourned deeply the loss of his friend.
By 1885 Carson was establishing himself as a successful junior barrister; they had moved to a larger house at 80 Merrion Square and their third child, a daughter, Gladys Isabel, was born on the 20th October that year. His reputation as a powerful advocate and relentless cross-examiner was well established. He was in no sense a public ﬁgure. His competence however had not escaped the notice of the leaders of the Bar. In1886 the recently appointed Attorney General of the Conservative Administration nominated him to be his Crown Council, a great honour and responsibility for a young man of 32. It was about this time they met the Londonderrys. Lady Londonderry, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, entertained lavishly. The Carsons were amongst those to whom invitations went out. It was the start of a friendship which was to last throughout his life.
Another son Walter Seymour was born in 1890, Harry his eldest boy and the girls, Aileen and Gladys, were growing up. He was well established in his profession and growing quite prosperous. As well as the house in Merrion Square they had a small house by the sea at Dalkey where Annette and the children spent the summer holiday months and he would join them there at week-ends. Trinity College, a two-seat constituency returning two MPs to the Westminster Parliament, was selecting a new candidate. One of the two sitting MPs was about to accept a judicial appointment creating a vacancy. Edward Carson agreed to let his name go forward as a Liberal Unionist, encouraged in this decision by a letter he had received from the Chief Secretary of the Irish Office, Arthur James Balfour. In the summer of 1892 the long expected General Election took place in July. New legal appointments in Ireland saw Carson chosen for the high office of Solicitor General for Ireland. The poll at Trinity saw him elected to the British Parliament as the first Liberal returned by Dublin University. He remarked to a friend, ‘I’ll stay in Parliament for 2-3 years then go to the bench at the Four Courts and lead a quiet life’.
Shortly into the New Year of l893 Edward Carson had taken a decision to leave Dublin to take up practice at the English Bar. Annette and the children stayed behind in Merrion Square. She would join him later when he had found a place to live in London. When the family ﬁnally left Dublin for London they moved to a ﬂat in Cromwell Road and soon after to a ﬁne house in Rutland Gate. He also bought a large Victorian House by the sea in the village of Rottingdean near the Sussex Downs.
Annette missed Dublin, she had a lot of time on her hands. Harry now 18 showed little indication of following in his father’s footsteps and left for South Africa to try his hand at farming, his father having purchased a farm for him in Southern Rhodesia. When the South African War started in 1899 he enlisted in Rhodes famous cavalry and later joined the 1st Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment serving throughout the campaign. The other children were away at school and her husband’s time was fully occupied with law and politics. They travelled when time allowed sometimes spending Christmas in Monte Carlo. The strain of parliamentary life and the heavy work load of the courts began to tell on Carson. His doctor recommended regular visits to a spa. Homburg, with its saline and chalabeate springs, attracted many English visitors. He found the company so congenial there his visits became an annual event. He and Annette had a pleasant voyage to Madeira in l909 where they stayed over the Christmas holidays visiting Lisbon and Cherbourg on the return home.
In 1910 Annette’s health was beginning to fail; Harry had returned from South Africa with his wife, whom’ he had married there, but was finding it difficult to settle. Walter had joined the navy, Aideen had married, and Annette, her health having improved somewhat, accompanied Carson on a trip to Belfast in September. It was to be her only trip there. By the following March her health had deteriorated once again, requiring the care of two nurses in their home at Rottingdean. Christmas saw her gradually failing and growing weaker. She died on 6th April l9l3.They had been married for 34 years. Edward Carson was heartbroken. He had loved Annette very deeply.
A few weeks after Annette passed away he visited Ulster for the opening of a drill hall. In an emotional voice he said, ‘I am glad to be here tonight. Heaven knows my one affection left me is my love of Ireland.’ ‘Remember’, he told his audience, ‘you have no quarrel with individuals. We welcome, aye, and we love, every individual Irishman, even though opposed to us. Our quarrel is with the Government…”
Edward Carson married Ruby Frewen on 17th September l9l4. He was 65 years of age, she was barely 30. His son Ned, by his second marriage, was born on 17th February 1920. Carson died on 22nd October 1935. Aileen and Walter his two surviving children from his ﬁrst marriage were at his bedside together with Lady Carson and his l5 year old son Ned.
Written by Theresa Evers
Published here 08 Feb 2021 and originally published 1999
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