Nathaniel Clements, 2nd Earl of Leitrim 1768-1854
Nathaniel Clements inherited the title and the Lough Rynn estate in 1804. Nathaniel divided his time between Dublin, London and his main residence at Killadoon, County Kildare. He maintained a close interest in Lough Rynn's affairs but only visited there occasionally and rarely for a long period. He did spend more time there once his son Robert took over the management of the estate. One of his more protracted visits was to lend his support to his son when Robert was seeking election to Parliament.
2nd Earl of Leitrim and his wife Mary, Countess of Leitrim
Both portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence
Nathaniel had an active political and social life and was prominent in both capitals. He was also well connected: he went to school with the Duke of Wellington who remained a regular visitor to his home and he was a close associate with the Prince of Wales for a time.
Devoted family man
By all accounts he was a family man and had a wide circle of friends. When in London, his London home at 40 Portman Square - and later 37 Upper Grosvenor Street - was the base for many soirées and parties. His wife Mary, Countess of Leitrim, was a noted beauty of the time. The couple had eight children and all wrote regular, almost daily letters to each other when they were apart. These letters express the close, affectionate relationship
Mary had with her husband, and the children - especially the girls - had with their father. The girls refer to their father rather unrespectfully as `dear Squeddles'. The tone of the letters is unusual for the time, very informal and conversational and full of anecdotes of their daily lives. The Countess' letters to her husband bring him up-to-date on all the children's activities and especially their minor illnesses and ailments and they all express her wish for his speedy return. The Earl in turn made it clear that he was grateful for `the uniform affectionate attachment which my wife has ever shown to me and by which she has rendered me the happiest of men.'
The family travelled frequently, sometimes to relatives and sometimes abroad. The Earl was keen to provide his family with a well-rounded education. One of the children, Caroline kept a journal of the family's six-month stay in Paris in 1815-'16. It is full of accounts of family visits to the Louvre, shops, parties and other excursions. In this case, Robert and Sydney, the two elder sons and later owners of Lough Rynn, were left behind at boarding school in England.
Active parliamentarian and radical
As a politician, the 2nd Earl was an active parliamentarian and liberal activist. He was Deputy Vice Treasurer and Teller of the Irish Exchequer and Member of Parliament for Leitrim from 1797-1804. On inheriting the earldom, he took his seat in the House of Lords. Nathaniel was a passionate politician, but had little time for the internal politicking in Parliament. He was vocal in his disapproval of the offices and jobs conferred on politicians for which they gained income, but did minimal work. To demonstrate his disapproval, he resigned the post of Searcher, Packer and Gauger when it devolved to him from his brother. He was favoured by the Prince of Wales - at least up until 1809. Apparently the Prince felt snubbed when the Earl failed to attend the Lord Lieutenant's levee that year and thereafter withdrew his support.
In Parliament, the Earl sat with the Whigs who were the most disposed to land reforms and tenants' rights. But even among his Liberal colleagues, Nathaniel held some of the most radical views, many of which were distinctly ahead of his time. He opposed the Act of Union in 1801 - despite pressure from his father and the offer of a peerage from the Government - and urged land and tenant reforms beyond those proposed by his party. He set himself apart from his peers by considering himself Irish, and implored his heirs to do the same. In 1821 he wrote:
I hope that (my heir) will ever consider himself an Irishman and that he will not adopt the very contemptible modern fashion of looking down upon his country. . . . He should recollect that he never can be of consequence or even respectable in England unless he is respectable in Ireland.
(Should he get elected to Parliament) he will connect himself with men of strict constitutional principles of like, enlightened and disinterested views but above all with men that are friends of Ireland. (2nd Earl's underlining.)
In his Will, the Earl left all his books relating to Irish history and Irish affairs as an heirloom to the title. He believed it to be `both his interest and his duty to have at least his country residence in Ireland, to visit his estates as often as he conveniently can to attend to the wants and interests of his tenantry and to cultivate their attachment and good opinion.' He was in favour of education and sponsored eight schools for children on the estate: he donated the sites for the schoolhouses and gave each an annual donation of £10. In turn, his tenants back at Lough Rynn saw him as a man of honour and integrity, whose word was as good as his deed.
In the early 1820s, Ireland suffered greatly from famine and the Earl's income from his estates diminished rapidly. He felt forced to take his family abroad, this time for economic rather than educational reasons and was gravely concerned about the effect the famine would have generally. He expressed his heartbreak at the reports he was getting of the terrible hardship and was `very anxious' to contribute to the General Fund. His offer seems slightly disingenuous when he describes his own circumstances as `poor and impoverished [though] not quite in a starving condition'. However, we can assume the offer was sincere given other evidence and his expressed belief that it was `certainly the duty of everyone as far as their means will enable them to endeavour to relieve their fellow creatures in a time of such general distress.' Following his liberal tendencies, he placed blame for much of the distress on the Government, but saw some benefit in the amount of money being raised in England for the relief effort: he hoped it would make the Irish think more kindly of the English and be more accepting of their rule.
After the great Famine of the mid-1840s the 2nd Earl maintained his liberal views - even when faced with rising levels of political crime and agitation on his own estates. A paper written in 1851 records his view that that year's wave of agrarian outrage was due to neglect and bad laws and he berates those in authority for allowing the people's misery to become so extreme that they were reduced to desperation and lawlessness.
Why does such a state of things exist? Such things do not exist when the people are prosperous and contented. . . Midnight outrages of the kind in question always originate in the misery of the people. When heavy burdens are laid upon them; when social tyranny oppresses them; when hunger stares them in the face or tugs at their hearts - then they become desperate. And when their social superiors neglect and the law ignores a people, is it a matter of wonder that they become desperate? . . The extreme of misery . . . renders (some) recklessly active. . . . In Leitrim it has produced this.
Leitrim is a proverbially miserable and neglected county. The land is neglected; the people are permitted to grow and wither and rot - a field of breathing weeds; those to whom providence, or law, has given the property of the county seem to have no sense of responsibility.
People cannot be expected to cultivate a good behaviour when they are baptised in wretchedness. They ought certainly to obey the law: but they will ask `what has the law done for us?' and that no man can answer. Let them have the means of life - let them get out of pig-stys and rags - let them have food fit for human beings - give them encouragement to toil - bestow hope upon them (a thing they know nothing of) and we will answer for the good conduct of the Leitrim people.
Let it be borne in mind, as an axiom in Social Economy, that social outrages are committed only by a miserable people; and that a miserable people are made by neglect and bad laws.
The 2nd Earl, for all his liberal views and donations, did little of a practical nature to improve the land at Rynn and alleviate the lot of the tenants there. It was left to Robert Bermingham Clements, the 2nd Earl's heir, to be the first resident at Lough Rynn and to bring the estate into the 19th century.