The Tomb in Holy Cross Abbey, County Tipperary

From the Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 45, May 4, 1833


SIR--I have seen in your 42d Number a very interesting paper on the beautiful monument in Holy Cross Abbey, which hitherto has been considered as that of Donald More O'Brien, king of Limerick, but which yon desire to exhibit as that of Eleanor Butler, daughter of James, the second earl of Ormond, and the wife of Gerald, the fourth earl of Desmond.

While highly approving of the preliminary remarks on the requisites and characteristics of a true antiquary, as distinguished from the stupid industry and grubbing propensities of those who are unable to rise above the rubbish which surrounds them, I cannot exactly agree with the writer in his conjecture, and am inclined to believe that he is better versed in antiquarian than in heraldic lore, and therefore has fallen into mistakes out of which I may possibly extricate him. Being somewhat acquainted with heraldry, and having made antiquarian researches a part of my study, I venture to assert that the monument in question is not the tomb of the Countess of Desmond, or any of her family, but that of Elizabeth, the daughter and heiress of Gerald, earl of Kildare, who was the first wife of James, the fourth earl of Ormond. This indeed removes all difficulties; all the escutcheons of arms are in perfect order and position. The royal arms of England show the descent of the Butlers from the Plantagenets; the Butler coat is on the husband's side; the Fitzgeralds on the wife's; the cross on the first escutcheon may be, and possibly was, intended to represent that of St. George.

The lady to whom I assign this monument died about the year 1400. The architecture is of that period; and, as above stated, the heraldry tells the tale exactly. Is any further proof necessary?

I will merely add, in conclusion, that the haughty and powerful earl of Desmond was not likely to acknowledge by his own act the superiority of his wife's family, by placing her arms in the most honorable position, to the degradation of his own; nor was such a practice usual even where the disparity of rank was much greater than between the Desmonds and Ormonds.

Hoping that your useful Journal may be made the vehicle of much future antiquarian information, and wishing success to your exertions, I am, &c.

Stradbrook House.


As the elucidation of truth is at all times our paramount object, we have great pleasure in giving publicity to the above communication from our kind and worthy friend, the Ulster King--the most competent authority on such a question. For his opinion we have the most sincere respect, and are free to acknowledge, that we should not have ventured on the publication of the article commented on, without consulting him, but that he was at the time, and for some weeks previous, out of the country. But though we do not desire to uphold an opinion one moment for the sake of argument, or to maintain a claim to antiquarian infallibility, we must, notwithstanding, confess with every deference, that Sir William has not quite convinced us that we have been in error --and though it is not unlikely that we may be wrong, we are strongly inclined to believe that he is far from being right. We shall endeavour to make this apparent. In the age, which we were the first to assign to this remarkable monument, Sir William concurs; he differs with us only as to the person for whom it was erected, who, he asserts, was not the daughter of James the Second Earl of Ormond and Countess of Desmond, but the daughter and heiress of Gerald, Earl of Kildare, who was the first wife of James, the Fourth Earl of Ormond. To come to this conclusion, it is in the first place, obviously necessary to prove that the arms on the fourth shield, are those of Kildare and not of Desmond. It is on the admission of this premise that all Sir William's conclusions rest. But though he takes this for granted, we do not; as he has advanced no evidence to support this supposition; while on the other hand it is to be observed, that in the engraving of the tomb given in the year 1772, by O'Halloran, the arms are undoubtedly those of Desmond; and that in a recent etching, by Mr. D. Gurney, they appear also to be of that family. Secondly, even though we should concede this point to Sir William, his conclusions are not borne out by facts; for it appears by unquestionable historical evidences--first, that James, the Fourth Earl of Ormond, was not married before the year 1400, the period assigned by Sir William for his wife's death, or even of age in the year 1407, in which year his wardship was granted to Thomas Duke of Lancaster, son of Henry IV. Secondly, though it is true that his first wife was, as Sir William states, the daughter of Gerald, Earl of Kildare, her name was not Elizabeth but Joan; and though this difference of name is of little consequence, it is certain that the Countess can have no claim to the monument in question, as we have evidence that she died in London, in the year 1430, and was buried there in the hospital of St. Thomas D'Acres, to which her husband had been a great benefactor. There was also at a later period, another intermarriage between the noble houses of Ormond and Kildare, when in 1485, Pierce, the Eighth Earl of Ormond married the celebrated Lady Margaret, the daughter of Gerald, the Eighth Earl of Kildare;--but the claim of this lady must, equally with that of her predecessor, be set aside, as it is certain that she was interred with her husband in the cathedral of Kilkenny, as appears from the inscription on their magnificent tomb, still remaining. Are we not justified, therefore, in replying that further proof is necessary before we should be satisfied that we are in error, or that, at least, Sir William himself is nearer the truth?