Ellen Cuffe, Countess of Desart

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Ellen Cuffe
lady desart
Born Ellen Odette Bischoffsheim
1 September 1857
Died 29 June 1933
Resting place
Falmouth, Cornwall
Residence Aut Even, Kilkenny
Ethnicity Jewish
Occupation Irish politician, company director and philanthropist
Notable work Kilkenny Library, Aut Even Hospital, the Woollen Mills, Kilkenny Woodworkers, Kilkenny Theatre, the Tobacco Growers Association, Desart Hall, Talbot's Inch Village Talbots Inch indoor handball alley, Talbots Inch tennis court, Talbots Inch Suspension Bridge and Talbots Inch cricket green.
Title Countess of Desart
Movement Gaelic League
Religion Judaism
Spouse(s) William Cuffe (1845–1898)

Ellen Odette Cuffe, Countess of Desart, née Bischoffsheim (1 September 1857 – 29 June 1933) was an Irish politician, company director and philanthropist[1] who has been called '"the most important Jewish woman in Irish history".[1] She married William Cuffe (1845–1898), the 4th Earl of Desart in 1881.[2] She was the daughter of Henri Louis Bischoffsheim, a wealthy Jewish banker of German origin. He was responsible for founding three of the largest banks in the world; The Deutsche Bank, Paribas Bank, and Societe Generale.[3]

After the death of her husband Lady Desart left the house in Cuffesgrange and moved to her home in Aut Even (a transcription of Áit Aoibhinn, the Irish for Beautiful Place) on the outskirts of Kilkenny city. She was interested in the Gaelic revival of the time and became a member of the Gaelic League and was elected its president, succeeding her brother-in-law, Capt. Otway Cuffe, who was mayor of Kilkenny.

She commissioned the village of Talbot's Inch to be built by the architect William Alphonsus Scott.[4] along with several other projects she and Capt. Cuffe developed together. These included; Kilkenny Library, Aut Even Hospital, the Woollen Mills, Kilkenny Woodworkers, Kilkenny Theatre, the Tobacco Growers Association, Desart Hall and Talbots Inch Suspension Bridge.

In relation to her support of the Irish language, Lady Desart reminded the people that her own people, the Jews, had in their new Palestine colony revived a forgotten language and used it to re-unite the scattered remnants of their nation.[5]

She was appointed to the Irish Free State Seanad Éireann as an independent member in December 1922 by the President of the Executive Council.[6] She was one of four women elected or appointed to the first Seanad in 1922.[7] She was the first Jew to serve as a Senator in Ireland.[3] She was appointed for 12 years in 1922 and served until her death in 1933.

Lady Desart as president of the Women's Committee 1908–1933, was directly involved in the rescue of approx. 300,000 women and children. She is buried along with her Anglo-Irish husband William Cuffe (from Desart Cuffsgrange, Co Kilkenny) in Falmouth, Cornwall. On her death her probate recorded a will of £1,500,000. All of this money was donated to the various charities that she was associated with.

She is commemorated in the city of Kilkenny's Lady Desart pedestrian bridge, which was unveiled by Kilkenny City Borough Council in 2014.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Doherty, Rosa (30 January 2014). "Council tribute to aristocrat who was Ireland’s first lady of giving". The Jewish Chronicle (London). Retrieved 1 February 2014. 
  2. ^ "Ellen Odette Bischoffsheim". thePeerage.com. Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  3. ^ a b "The Cuffe Family, Earls of Desart 1583 – 1933". Turtle Bunbury. Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  4. ^ Kilkenny City & Environs – Talbotsinch
  5. ^ Century of Endeavour – Hubert Butler on Standish O'Grady Dr Roy Johnston 1999
  6. ^ "Countess of Desart". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 20 April 2009. 
  7. ^ The other women were Alice Stopford Green, Eileen Costello and Jennie Wyse Power