Dolly Monroe

Vol. 2 No. 2 - 1973

Dolly Monroe: the beauty of the Bann from Laurencetown

a 17th and 18th century family chronicle continued

by J.C. Crozier

The banks of the Bann have long been associated with the linen industry, and it is widely acknowledged that the finest quality of linen has been produced in this delightful area of winding river, rolling hills, fertile valleys and shady groves.

Love here also vies with linen in making the Bann famous throughout the English-speaking world, for, in romantic song, is there anything better known and more heart- stirring than "The Star of the County Down"? It was in these pleasant surroundings, in a house named Monroe Hall (better known as Roe's Hall), Laurencetown, that a daughter was born around the 1750's to Henry Monroe, Esq., and his wife.

The child was christened Dorothea, familiarly known to her family and friends as Dolly. Her aunt, Frances Monroe, had married the Earl of Loftus, but they were childless, while her brother Henry had his full complement at Roe's Hall. So Lady Loftus was readily given her choice of nieces - five of them - and she selected the beautiful Dolly.

Ireland's most famous beauty

Transported to Dublin by Lady Loftus, Dolly moved in the most influential social and political circles, where soon she was to be written about, feted and flattered as Ireland's most famous beauty, and where she attracted the attentions - some welcome, others unwelcome of numerous admirers. From the records it would seem that Dolly had that rare kind of beauty which artists love to paint, statuaries to copy, and susceptible, young romantics adore. Had she lived in the days of ancient Greece, it might well have been said of Dolly as it was of Helen of Troy:

"Was this the face that launched a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?"

Lady Loftus dominated the social scene in Dublin, with the Viceroy, the Marquis of Townsend, as a frequent visitor to the Loftus mansion in Hume Street or Rathfarnham Castle. In his impressive State coach, with its six richly caparisoned horses and six running footmen, he wheeled almost daily - say the into Hume Street or raised clouds of dust along the rough roads to Rathfarnham to sit at the feet of the fair Dolly; he, a widower of forty-five; she, a simple maiden in her 'teens, wholly unversed in the ways of the world. Such were the manners of the period and the behaviour of the populace that Dolly was so watched and surrounded that she couldn't walk in the Mall for the number of inquisitive gazers, but had to rise at 6 o'clock in the morning to take her exercise in order to enjoy any degree of privacy.

Even the newspapers and periodicals vied with one another in noting Dolly's every movement, eulogising her beauty and praising or lampooning her admirers; the following are examples:

"Fond swain, I hear your wish is such
Some painter should on canvas touch
The beauties of Monroe.
But where's the adventurer will dare
The happy mixture to prepare
Her peerless charms to show?
Her lips you may, in sort, depaint
By cherries ripe: Yet ah! 'twere faint
Should they with her be shown".

"Her stature was majestic; her air and demeanour nature itself ; the splendour of her carriage was softened and subdued by the most affable condescension, the softest roses that ever youth and modesty poured out on beauty glowed on the lips of Dorothea; her cheeks wore the bloom of Bebe and the purity of Diana was in her heart".

Such were a few of the encomiums laid at the shrine of this young County Down girl whose youth had been nurtured by the banks of the Bann and where she had breathed in heath-laden breezes from the mountains of Mourne.

Dandies, like Henry Grattan, unconscious of future political eminence, hopefully cast their blandishments, while Francis Andrews, Provost of Trinity College, was a persistent aspirant for Dolly's hand. Andrews, a noted womaniser, had held Peg Woffington in his arms, and it was hinted by the gossips of the time that £5,000 to Peg had helped to secure him his high office. So well, indeed, might the walls of the Provost's House hang with every portrait of that indomitable, theatrical dame.

But Dolly's portrait wasn't to hang there, nor was she to grace his table as hostess and wife. Tactfully, but firmly, she discouraged his advances, although the Press had announced that "The Right Honourable Francis Andrews, Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, is about to lead to the Hymeneal altar the beautiful Miss Monroe".

A devoted admirer

Dolly had one really devoted admirer, Sir Hercules Langrishe, of a well-known Kilkenny family. A gentleman of impeccable principle, he was much respected by everyone and would have made her a splendid husband, but Dolly jilted him. Later, she was to know the same disappointment herself. The humour of Sir Hercules is instanced when, during a debate in the House, the Viceroy Townsend was accused of not draining the marshes in Phoenix Park and Langrishe interjected that he was too busy draining the rest of the country.

With such courtiers and danglers about her, poor Dolly must often have sighed for the leafy lanes by the Bann, and her old friends at Gilford, Tandragee, Waringstown, Banbridge and Ballievy. Amid the feverish gaiety of Dublin life, how she must often have thought of his sisters - Frances, Mary, Ann, Isabella and Louise - and how, as children, they would linger and wait by the old church at Seapatrick - the Parish Church in Banbridge wasn't built until many years later - while their nurse made a run into Banbridge on some household commission or paid one of her friends a hasty visit.

From these peaceful, halcyon scenes of early girlhood Dolly had parted, to be dragged into the vice-regal vortex of social life in Dublin and pawned in the game of politics. Lady Loftus, her aunt, was a close-shaver in the political game as well as being an ambitious woman.

Matrimonial intentions?

It would appear that Lord Loftus was, at one stage, in opposition to the Government and that he had considerable influence with a certain faction which the Viceroy was anxious to win over to his side. By Townsend's constant attentions to Dolly, and vowing full matrimonial intentions, Lord Loftus was induced into crossing the Floor of the House to join forces with the Government. Townsend at once shied off the matrimonial portion of the bargain, much to Lady Loftus's dismay. The kite-flying notice in the Press about the marriage with Provost Andrews, only amused the Viceroy and prompted him to reply:

"Blush not, dear Andrews, nor disclaim
A passion for that matchless dame,
Who kindles in all hearts a flame
By beauty's magic force.
Nor think, my friend, because I prize
Her auburn hair and radiant eyes,
I envy your espousal".

From every point of view, it was just as well that Dolly didn't marry Townsend. Her miss was really her mercy, for so objectionable had his exploits and conduct become that certain influential people petitioned for his removal from office, while the populace hooted and stormed with jubilation at his departure.

The social and political intrigues, inseparable from high life in a capital city, had taught Dolly much. She had touched life at many points, and it must have been with no small degree of relief and satisfaction that she left Dublin to return once more to the familiar scenes of her childhood.

Happiness at last

Real happiness at last awaited her, for she was shortly to marry in 1775 William Richardson of Richhill Castle, the worthy scion of a worthy race, who combined in his character the finest qualities of two planters of the early 17th century - Francis Sacheverell and Edward Richardson - from whom he was descended.