Ardgillan’s Ghost, the White Lady

Ardgillan Castle has had its share of remarkable events  However, the incident which took place on November 3rd 1853 has all the hall marks of a devastating  tragedy  – a young heroine, a  turbulent sea and a subsequently orphaned family.   On that fateful day, Louisa Augusta Conolly, Baroness of Langford, lost her life in a horrible drowning accident.

The story goes that Louisa was a house-guest in Ardgillan, whilst her husband Clotworthy Wellington Robert  Rowley was away grouse shooting in Scotland.  Clotworthy was a nephew of the Rev. Edward Taylor.  As many of the household were, Louisa was an enthusiastic swimmer, whatever the season.  And so, on a grey  November morning she decided to go for a swim.  Those of us who know the local  area can picture the scene –  blustery gusts of wind, grey waves, not exactly enticing.  We are told her trusted servant Charlotte Bates tried in vain to dissuade Louisa from the undertaking, but the lady was not for turning !   And so it was, that Louisa met her watery end.  Despite the best efforts of Charlotte, a local workman and a boat launched from Balbriggan,  Louisa’s body was taken from the water and hastily brought up to Ardgillan  Castle, where she died.  On his return from the grouse shoot, Clothworthy was greeted with the tragic news of his young wife’s death- she was just 34 years of age, mother of four young children.

But what do we know of Louisa  ?

Louisa Augusta was born on 12th June, 1822.  She was the eldest daughter of the ten children of Edward Michael Packenham.  However, in order to fulfil the terms of his great-aunt’s ( the famous Louisa Conolly)  will and to inherit Castletown House, Edward Michael changed his name by Royal Licence to Conolly.  Thus, his children were called by this family name.  He also inherited a property, Cliff, outside Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal. From 1821 onwards he was MP for Co. Donegal.   Louisa’s mother was Jane Ponsonby Barker.

Louisa married Clotworthy Wellington Robert Rowley , Lord Langford, in Celbridge on 28 July 1824.  They lived at Summerhill, Co. Westmeath. Summerhill was a wonderful 100 roomed house, designed by Cassels, which was unfortunately destroyed by fire in the 1920’s during the War of Independence.  Louisa and Clotworthy had four little children at the time of her death:  Catherine Frances (1847); Hercules Edward ( 1848); William Chambré (1849) and Randolfe Thomas (1852).

Her tragic death is recorded in The Gentleman’s Magazine, (Jan. 1854, page 104). “Nov.5. Drowned when bathing in the sea on a visit to Ardgillan Castle near Balbriggan, the residence of Colonel Taylor, aged 32, the Rt. Hon. Louisa Augusta, Lady Langford.  She was the eldest daughter of the late Edward Michael Connolly, esq., MP for Co. Donegal……. Married to Lord Langford, she left issue”.

Even more poignant is the fact that one year later Clotworthy died, so the four children were orphaned.  Clotworthy’s death is recorded in The Gentleman’s Magazine,  “July 19th, at Castletown, the seat of his brother-in-law Colonel Conolly, the Rt. Hon. Clotworthy Wellington William Robert Rowley, 3rd Baron Langford of Summerhill, Co. Meath…………..He married Louisa Augusta, eldest daughter of Michael Edward Conolly…… this lady was unfortunately drowned on November 5th last, while bathing on the coast near Balbriggan.  After this sad occurrence, his Lordship had never entirely recovered his spirits, but he was only a few day’s ill.”  (The Gentleman’s Magazine, July 1854, page 297).

Geraldine McQuillan

March 2016

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