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Sudden death of Lord Ashbourne

Unionist peer was architect of land reform in Ireland

Published: 22 May 1913

Lord Ashbourne has died suddenly in London. The 76-year-old – whose name is most famously associated with land reform in Ireland – was taking a walk with his wife at midday in Hyde Park in London when he collapsed. He was taken to St. George’s Hospital where he died this afternoon. 

Famous for his ‘sledgehammer style of delivery’ as an orator in political debate, Lord Ashbourne was a member of the Conservative Party and a devoted unionist. 

His political career is best-remembered for his role in underpinning the passage of the Purchase of Land (Ireland) Act, 1885 through the houses of parliament in London.

Lord Ashbourne - Land Act

A Robert Welch photograph of the Irish rural landscape at the turn of the 20th century. The Land Act of 1885, drafted by Lord Ashbourne, began the process of turning Irish tenant farmers into landowners (National Library of Ireland).

This act created a fund which provided long-term loans to tenant farmers seeking to buy their farms from landlords. It set down the basis for all future land purchase legislation for Ireland and was drafted primarily by Lord Ashbourne. 

Ashbourne was born at Merrion Square in Dublin, became a Gold Medal-winning student at Trinity College and then emerged as one of the leading lawyers in Ireland, before he embarked on his political career. For most of his working life, he lived at 12 Merrion Square with his wife Frances, with whom he had four sons and four daughters. 

Lord Ashbourne’s heir, his eldest son William, was received into the Catholic Church while studying law at Oxford University. He had become interested in the Irish language while at Trinity College and is now president of the Gaelic League in London. He is a familiar figure in London, where he wears a distinctive kilt and cloak, pinned at the shoulder with a large brooch. A fluent Irish speaker, William contributes regularly to the annual of the Gaelic League in London.


Century Ireland

The Century Ireland project is an online historical newspaper that tells the story of the events of Irish life a century ago.