Virtues of a wicked earl
The life and legend of William Sydney Clements, 3rd earl of Leitrim, 1806–78
On 2 April 1878, the 3rd earl of Leitrim was brutally murdered on a public road on the edge of his estate in Co. Donegal. The identity of the killers and their accomplices was soon known (although the evidence necessary to bring them to trial and conviction was never forthcoming). Lord Leitrim’s murder, though the most dramatic event in a turbulent life, is not therefore one of the unsolved mysteries in which that life is enshrouded. The central mystery is how a gregarious, fun-loving younger son (which Lord Leitrim was until his elder brother died in 1839) turned into the austere, spartan and driven man who devoted the rest of his life to dragging the huge family estates into order.
Other related mysteries include: why did he never marry; why did he disinherit his nephew and heir presumptive; was he ‘in his right senses always’; did he really exercise the droit de seigneur over his tenants’ womenfolk; and how did he come to be the best-hated landlord in Ireland? Dr Malcomson draws on hitherto unconsulted family archives to achieve a likeness which is often not flattering, but which is factually based and believable.
Anthony Malcomson was director of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland from 1988 until 1998. His many publications include Archbishop Charles Agar, 1760–1810 (2002).