Valentine Lawless, 2nd Baron Cloncurry
Lawless was born in Merrion Square in Dublin. His father, originally a Catholic, emigrated to France where he purchased an estate at Rouen. Later, he returned home, and converted to the Church of Ireland. A wool merchant and banker, he was created a baronet in 1776 and elevated to the peerage as Baron Cloncurry in 1789.
Mystery surrounds Lawless's involvement in the 1798 Rebellion and 1803 rebellions designed to establish an independent republic in Ireland. He has been cited as chief organiser of the United Irish Movement in London, but downplayed this aspect of his life in his later writings when the democracy movement had long been suppressed. He is believed to have joined the United Irishmen in 1793, shortly before his father Nicholas Lawless, a wool-merchant turned banker who converted from Catholicism to the Church of Ireland and became the first Lord Cloncurry, took charge of Lyons House. Valentine was imprisoned in June 1798 on suspicion of treason in London, released, re-arrested and held in the Tower of London until March 1801. Lawless’s agent Thomas Braughall was also arrested and he was asked to subscribe to the defence of James O'Coigly, a United Irish leader hanged in London in 1798.
Paris and Rome
On his release he went to Paris and then Rome. He was there during Robert Emmet's rebellion and is believed by Emmet’s biographer Ruan O’Donnell to have been a member of the new Republican Government in waiting. He used his time to purchase works of art being sold off by Italian nobles under pressure from Napoleon's oppressive taxation, and sent four shiploads to Ireland for the refurbishment of Lyons House. They included a statue of Venus excavated at Ostia and three pillars from the palace of Nero originally looted from Egypt, but other artefacts were lost when the third shipment sank off Wicklow Head.
He returned in 1804 to oversee Richard Morrison's £200,000 refurbishment of Lyons House (equivalent to €15.25m today) and the reorganisation of his extensive estates. In 1807 Valentine Lawless brought an infamous action for criminal conversation against Sir John Bennett Piers, 6th Baronet, whose misdemeanours with Lady Georgiana Cloncurry had been witnessed by the painter Gabrielli while he was at work.
More conservative in his later politics, Lawless supported Catholic Emancipation but did not support Daniel O'Connell in his campaign for Repeal. After 1828 he became a member of the private cabinet of Henry Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey and kept horses ready at Lyons for impromptu meetings when Anglesey was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1828 to 1829 (when he was popular), and from 1830 to1834 (when he was less popular). Dublin Castle remained suspicious, however. In 1829 Daniel O’Connell stated that the Lord Lieutenant had been recalled to London 'because he visited Lord Cloncurry.' Lawless was granted a British peerage in September 1831 a few days after the coronation of William IV.
His memoir, published in 1849, claimed: "The independence of Ireland is sure to come at last - as sure as that the Roman Empire fell in pieces, or the North American provinces are now free states. When misfortune shall overtake England, or the lot common to empires as to individuals, can she lay the flattering unction to her soul that she has acted with probity towards Ireland?"
- W J Fitzpatrick: Life, Times and Contemporaries of Lord Cloncurry (1855). (Online version available)
- Valentine Lawless, Personal recollections of the life and times, with extracts from the correspondence of Valentine Lord Cloncurry, Dublin: J. McGlashan; London: W.S. Orr, 1849. (Online version available)
- Lyons House: A Guide (2001).
- Annals of Ardclough by Eoghan Corry and Jim Tancred (2004).