The Taaffe Family

Taaffe family crest

(Crest No. 4. Plate 67.)

THIS family is of Norman origin, and came to Ireland with the early invaders in the year 1171. The Taaffes first settled in the present County of Louth, where they became Earls of Carlingford. Some of them afterward were created Barons of Ballymote and Viscounts of Corran, in the County of Sligo.

Sir William Taaffe, of Ballymote, was knighted for his services to the Government at the siege of Kinsale, in 1601, during the O’Neill wars. The following year he commanded a body of Irish in the English service and killed “the Apostolick Vicar, Owen McEgan,” and one hundred and forty of his men. He received from Queen Elizabeth a large share of the confiscated lands of the McCarthys. He died in 1630.

Sir John Taaffe, son of the former, was created Baron of Ballymote and Viscount Taaffe in 1628. His son, Sir Theobald Taaffe, espoused the cause of Charles the First against the Parliamentarians, and aided Ormonde in negotiating with the Irish Confederates for a cessation of hostilities. He subsequently commanded an army of nine thousand Irish in Munster. He was defeated by the Earl of Inchiquin (O’Brien, or Murrough the Burner), at Knockanus, in the County of Cork. In 1649 Lord Taaffe commanded Ormond’s infantry at the battle of Rathmines. In 1651 he was one of the deputies sent to offer the sovereignty of Ireland to the Duke of Lorraine. His estates were confiscated and he was excepted from pardon by Cromwell, but after the Restoration he received grants of land and was created Earl of Carlingford, in the County of Louth. He died in 1677.

His brother, Lucas, was a major-general in the army of the Confederates, and was for a time governor of New Ross. Nicholas Taaffe, eldest son of Theobald and second Earl of Carlingford, was killed at the battle of the Boyne, where he commanded a regiment of infantry in the cause of King James. Francis, brother of Nicholas, succeeded to the title on the death of the latter, and subsequently entered the Austrian service, where he became chamberlain to the Emperor Ferdinand, a marshal of the Empire and councilor of state. He died in 1704. His nephew, Theobald, was the fourth earl, and by his death the title became extinct.

Viscount Nicholas Taaffe, cousin of the above mentioned Sir Theobald Taaffe, was born in Ireland in 1677, and entering the Austrian service he became a field-marshal of the Empire and chamberlain to the Emperor, Charles the Sixth, and his successor. He distinguished himself in the war against the Turks in 1738. He afterward took a prominent part in the agitation for Catholic emancipation, and in 1766 wrote a work on Irish affairs of that period. Wyse, the historian of the Catholic Association, eulogizes “the unchanging attachment to an unfortunate country of the German statesman and general, the Irish sufferer and patriot. . . . His perfect simplicity of purpose, his calm and mild wisdom, his untiring zeal for the depressed caste with which his name and birth, much more than his connections and property had associated him, would add a lustre to any country. No views of leadership mingled with his zeal. His rank in the imperial court gave him access to the first circles in Great Britain. Bred in camps and educated in Germany, he impressed on our senators and courtiers the impolicy and injustice of the Penal Code with the bluntness of a soldier and the honesty of a German. His efforts had no small weight in softening the rigor of persecution. His ardent zeal in the cause of his oppressed countrymen procured him a preponderating influence in the councils of the Catholics; that influence was exerted in the great purposes, during a long life, of promoting union, extinguishing dissension, and rousing to exertion.” He died at his seat of Elishau, Bohemia, in 1769.

Rev. Denis Taaffe, born in Ireland about the middle of the last century, was educated at Prague, Bohemia, and returned to Ireland after being ordained to the priesthood. During the Rebellion of 1798 he headed a body of insurgents, and at Ballyellis, in the County of Wexford, cut to pieces a detachment of the Ancient Britons. He was wounded in another engagement, and managed to elude capture after the suppression of the insurrection. Having been suspended from exercising his priestly functions, he became a Protestant but was soon reconciled to the Catholic Church. He wrote a “History of Ireland” in four volumes, that contains valuable material previously unpublished, and several papers and pamphlets against the Union. His hatred of the British Government remained unabated to the last, and he complained bitterly to a friend who visited him in his illness of having to occupy lodgings from which he could see “that cursed red flag” flying from the Magazine Fort in Phoenix Park, Dublin. He died in 1813.

The descendants of this family are to-day among the most distinguished of the Austrian nobility. The present Count Taaffe, for many years Prime Minister of Austria, and one of the ablest of European statesmen, is the direct descendant of the above mentioned Viscount Nicholas Taaffe.