Lady Desart’s Legacy 2

Lady Desart and Her Legacy – Part 2

Paddy Neary

Three acres were set aside at Talbots Inch in 1903 for experimental cultivation of a tobacco crop, a curing barn was installed and a government inspector appointed to advise on the enterprise. The first crop valued at £1000 was lost due to a fire in the drying sheds but for six seasons a yearly profit of £300 was made out of the tobacco farm. The Kilkenny Moderator in March 1903 carried the news the tobacco growing at Talbots Inch has been or is about to be abandoned. Lady Desart replied to the news later that month, explaining it was never intended as a money making enterprise but as an experiment. She went on to say not a single soul in Kilkenny, from the biggest landowner to the smallest farmer had ever shown the slightest desire to learn what we are doing here and so it seemed a waste of time and trouble to continue with the experiment.
A Public Library committee had tried for years to purchase a site, even with help from the Carnegie trust, sufficient funds were not available for both building and the site. Lady Desart came forward and not only purchased the site but furnished the building completely as well. The official opening took place on the 3rd Nov.1910. In declaring the Library open Lady Desart expressed the hope that it would prove to be an incentive and an inspiration to those it was destined to serve and that it would never come to be looked upon as a pleasant club to lounge in.
Captain Cuffe had suggested building a hospital and following his death in 1912, the Countess proceeded with the project and dedicated it to the memory of her brother in law, the Captain. Aut Even Hospital opened in 1915 equipped with the most up to date operating theatre and X Ray room. A good deal of the furniture was made by the Kilkenny Woodworkers. During World War 1 it was used as a military hospital reverting to civilian use after the War. The hospital was eventually purchased by the St John of God Sisters, who in turn sold it to the Mount Carmel Group.
While the hospital was under construction the Countess had built and opened another building in 1914 this time Desart Hall in New St.
It contained a ballroom with stage, dining room, kitchen and cloakrooms. From the outset it proved to be a great asset for the citizens. This building later became the property of St Kierans College.
The countess presented the newly formed Talbots Inch Handball Club
with a site in 1926.The members by voluntary labour helped in the construction of the court. A generous loan from her Ladyship enabled the club to roof the building, while a simple form of agreement was drawn up between the two parties to cover repayment and was known as the Deed of Good Faith.
By this time the Countess was becoming more and more taken up with the Garden Village and the hospital to which she was a frequent visitor.
Lady Desart had a spacious recreation hall built for the tenants, she also had a private school with an adjoining dental surgery established for children too young to attend school in the City. Wide spread regret was felt in Kilkenny particularly in Talbots Inch at the news of Lady Desarts death on 29th June 1933. Her tenants to whom she had been the kindest of landlords were successful in buying out their cottages.
So we come to the end of the story, a story of two extraordinary people one a member of a titled Irish family the other a member of the Jewish faith, linked by a desire to benefit the community amongst which they lived. In appreciation of her benevolence to Kilkenny and its citizens the freedom of the City was conferred on Lady Desart Nov 3rd 1910. The first Lady to be so honoured by an Irish City. Further recognition of Lady Desarts devotion to Kilkenny came about when she was nominated to the Senate by the Irish Free State in 1922.
Now that we have the pedestrian bridge named in memorial to Lady Desart, could the Borough Council go a step further and high light these same buildings/sites on a heritage trail map naming them as Lady Desarts Legacy to Kilkenny.