The Hussey Family

Hussey family crest

(Crest No. 9. Plate 67.)

THE Hussey family is of Norman origin, and came to Ireland in the year 1172. The De Hoseys, or Husseys, settled in the present Counties of Dublin and Meath, then held by Hugh De Lacy. They were made Barons of Galtrim, in the latter county. They also held possessions in Ely O’Carroll and the country about Birr, in the present Kings County, and in ancient Thomond, embracing the present Counties of Limerick and Clare.

Many of the O’Husseys were distinguished as poets, notably O’Hussey, the last hereditary bard of the Maguires of Fermanagh, who lived in the early part of the seventeenth century. His noble ode addressed to Hugh Maguire on the occasion of a dangerous expedition undertaken by that chief, and which has been so forcibly rendered into English by Mangan, stamps him as a poet of superior merit. “There is,” says Sir Samuel Ferguson, “a vivid vigor in these descriptions, and a savage power which claim a character almost approaching to sublimity.” In his early youth O’Hussey celebrated in verse the escape of Hugh Roe O’Donnell from Dublin Castle.

The most noted member of this family in recent times was the Most Rev. Thomas Hussey, Bishop of Waterford, 1797-1803. He was born about the middle of the last century, and was educated at Salamanca, Spain. He became a member of the Trappist order, but owing to his abilities he was ordered by the Pope to lay aside the cowl and to enter the priesthood. He was appointed chaplain to the Spanish Embassy in London, where he remained many years. He is described by his contemporaries as a powerful preacher, a man of great genius, of enlightened piety, with manners at once imposing and elegant, and of enchanting conversation. “He did not come in contact,” says a writer of the time, “with many whom he did not subdue; the highest rank often sunk before him.” He was held in high esteem by the king and his ministers, and enjoyed the friendship of Burke, Johnson, and other leading minds of the time. He was admitted a member of the Royal Society, and during the American war for independence he was sent on a mission to Madrid for the British king.

Bishop Hussey was appointed the first president of Maynooth College, and was mainly instrumental in founding that celebrated institution in 1795, where Catholic young men could for the first time in centuries be educated in their own land without incurring the penalty of death or transportation. In 1802 he assisted in drawing up the Concordat between Napoleon and the Pope. He was Bishop of Waterford and Lismore from 1797 until his death in 1803.

A distinguished member of this family was the Irish statesman and orator, Walter Hussey Burgh. His father’s name was Ignatius Hussey, and he assumed the name of Burgh in order to comply with the conditions of a will made by his uncle, Rev. Ricard Burgh, who left him his estates. In 1768 he entered the Irish House of Commons, where by his eloquence and patriotism he at once took a conspicuous place. He was raised to the office of prime sergeant—“an office,” writes John Mitchel, “the spirit of which would render patriotism impossible—yet he rose above the spirit of his office and acted in concert with Grattan in opposing every measure devised against the interests of Ireland, and advocating every measure calculated to advance his country’s interests.”

In the debates on England’s policy of the suppression of Irish commerce he took an especially prominent part against the Government. James Anthony Froude writes: “It was in these debates that Hussey Burgh made his reputation as an orator, by the famous sentence so often quoted. Some one had said Ireland was at peace. ‘Talk not to me of peace,’ said Hussey Burgh, ‘Ireland is not at peace, it is smothered war. England has sown her laws as dragons’ teeth, and they have sprung up as armed men.’ Never yet had Grattan so moved the Irish House of Commons as it was moved at these words. From the floor the applause rose to the gallery; from the gallery it was thundered to the crowd at the door; from the door it rang through the city. As the tumult calmed down Hussey Burgh rose again, and, amid a renewed burst of cheers, declared that he resigned the office that he held under the Crown. ‘The gates of promotion are shut,’ exclaimed Grattan, ‘and the gates of glory are opened!’”

Hussey Burgh died in 1783 at the early age of forty-one years. “Had he wished,” as Flood said of him, “he could have been ennobled by patent, but he did not need it, as he was ennobled by nature.” His grandson was high sheriff of Kildare in 1840, and his descendants still hold the family estates in that county.