Moments in Time – 1870-1970

This exhibition captures ‘moments in time’ from the lives of the last five Marquesses of Ormonde, over a period of one hundred years. The early 20th  century images were taken when the Castle was inhabited sporadically as a family home and the Butlers spent increasingly more time in England. The entire world order changed rapidly in the first half of the twentieth century, the displayed images record Kilkenny Castle and its family as the old order was slowly fading away.

The photographs are an intimate introduction to members of the Butler family and provide glimpses into their social world at a transient time in Irish history. The fortunes of Kilkenny Castle ebbed and flowed during the 20th  century; a state of disrepair, its contents auctioned, it stood empty and abandoned until the building was gifted to the people of Kilkenny. Under the care of the Office of Public Works since 1969, Kilkenny Castle is once again a thriving focal centre for its local community and it attracts visitors from all over the world.

Panel 1: 1850s -1920s

James Edward Butler (1844-1919), 3rd  Marquess of Ormonde, and his wife Lady Elizabeth Harriet Grosvenor (1856-1928), Marchioness of Ormonde.

James was the eldest son of John Butler, 2nd  Marquess of Ormonde and Lady Frances Jane Paget, Marchioness of Ormonde. Educated at Harrow and Cambridge, James Edward was Colonel in the Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles, Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron, Vice Admiral of Leinster, Lord Lieutenant of County Kilkenny, Knight of the Order of the Crown of Prussia, and Knight of the Order of St Patrick.

 Known as “O” due to his early inheritance of the Ormonde and Ossory titles at the age of nine.

In 1876 James Edward married Elizabeth Harriet Grosvenor, the daughter of Hugh Lupus Grosvenor, 1st Duke of Westminster and Lady Constance Gertrude Leveson-Gower. A noted beauty, Elizabeth Harriet was well known for her charitable work and organised many fundraising events at Kilkenny Castle. In 1882, Elizabeth founded the Kilkenny branch of the Society of Prevention for Animal Cruelty and became president of the Kilkenny branch of the British Red Cross Society during WWI.

James Edward and Elizabeth were the last couple to make Kilkenny Castle their family home and hosted numerous prestigious events in Kilkenny including two official Royal visits in 1899 and 1904. They had two daughters, Lady Beatrice, and Lady Constance Butler.

Panel 2: 1920s- 1940s

James Arthur Butler (1849 – 1943), 4th Marquess of Ormonde, and his wife Ellen Stager (1865-1951), Marchioness of Ormonde.

James Arthur, the younger brother of James Edward, 3rd Marquess of Ormonde was known as Lord Arthur for most of his life. Like his brother he was educated at Harrow and Cambridge, he joined the army and became lieutenant in the 1st Life Guards. In 1885, he was appointed State Steward to Henry Herbert, 4th  Earl of Carnarvon while he was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

In 1887, he married Ellen Stager, the youngest daughter of American General Anson Stager, vice-president of Western Union Central Division, and Rebecca Sprague of Chicago. Ellen’s family home was the first mansion build on Millionaire’s Row on Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, now the location of the Cleveland Children’s Museum. Following the death of her father, Ellen inherited a large personal fortune and became a very eligible American heiress. After her marriage to James Arthur, she was styled Lady Arthur Butler.

Although from 1909 James Arthur & Ellen lived at Gennings in Kent, they maintained strong links with Ireland and often visited Kilkenny Castle. Arthur succeeded to the Ormonde titles upon the death of his brother James Edward, 3rd Marquess of Ormonde, in 1919. They had 4 children: Lady Evelyn Frances, James George, 5th Marquess of Ormonde; James Arthur, 6th Marquess; and Lady Eleanor Rachel.

Panel 3: 1940s-1950s

James George (1890-1949), 5th Marquess of Ormonde, and his wife Sybil Inna Fellowes (1888-1948), Marchioness of Ormonde.

James George was the eldest son of James Arthur Butler, 4th Marquess of Ormonde, and his wife Ellen Stager, was known as George. George served during WWI as a captain in the 1st  Life Guards, he was wounded in action and received the French Medal of Honour (Silver). After the war, he served on the Military Pensions Committee interceding on behalf of war veterans. When his father became 4th  Marquess of Ormonde in 1919, George was styled Earl of Ossory.

In 1915, George married Sybil Inna Fellowes. Sybil was the youngest daughter of William Henry Fellowes, 2nd Baron de Ramsey, and Lady Rosamond Spencer-Churchill, a granddaughter of the 7th  Duke of Marlborough and first cousin of Winston Churchill. Known as an excellent horsewoman, she regularly took part in the Kilkenny Hunt. Sybil was well travelled, spending time in France, Algeria, China, Egypt, and the United States. She also visited India in 1911 where she attended the last Imperial Durbar in Delhi which marked the coronation of George V and Mary of Teck as Emperor and Empress of India

George and Sybil made Kilkenny Castle their Irish residence after the death of his uncle, James Arthur, 3rd Marquess of Ormonde. They had two children: James Anthony, Lord Thurles, and Lady Moyra Rosamund Butler.

The changes in society in Ireland however meant that in the 1930s the Butlers had to review the viability of maintaining their seat at Kilkenny Castle. In 1935 they decided to leave, the contents were sold at auction over 10-days; all that remained in the empty castle was a small part of the family collection of paintings and tapestries. Subsequently in 1994 the Irish State purchased the collection of the family paintings that are on display throughout the Castle today.

Panel 4 : 1950s-1990s

James Arthur Norman Butler (1893-1971), 6th Marquess of Ormonde, and his wife Jessie Carlos Clarke (1896-1969), Marchioness of Ormonde.

James Arthur was the youngest son of James Arthur Butler, 4th Marquess of Ormonde, and his wife Ellen Stager, Marchioness of Ormonde. He served in WWI as lieutenant colonel in the 17th /21st  Lancers and was awarded the Military Cross in 1918. He re-enlisted from 1940 to 1945.

In 1924, he married Jessie Carlos Clarke. Jessie was the daughter of Charles Carlos Clarke and Edith Rosamund Orpen. Her father was a prominent member of the London stock exchange and well-known cricket player for Surrey. Jessie was a great lover of outdoor life and a keen horsewoman. She was often spotted attending the races at Aldershot, Roehampton, Sandown, Cheltenham, and Ascot, near her family home.

 With the sudden death of his nephew, Anthony, Lord Thurles, in 1940, James Arthur became heir to his brother James George, 5th Marquess of Ormonde. James Arthur & and Jessie lived at Gennings in Kent where he served as Lord Lieutenant for the county. Arthur had two daughters Lady Jane and Lady Martha Butler. Although James Arthur never lived in Kilkenny Castle, it was due to his generosity that the Castle and immediate Parkland were presented to a restoration committee in 1967 saying at the ceremony:

The people of Kilkenny as well as myself and my family, feel a great pride in the Castle, and we have not liked to see this deterioration. We determined that it should not be allowed to fall into ruins. There are too many ruins in Ireland.”

Without a male heir, James Arthur was succeeded by his next male kin, James Hubert Charles Butler.

Panel 5: 1950s-1990s

James Hubert Charles Butler (1899-1997), 7th Marquess of Ormonde, was the son of Reverend Lord James Theobald Bagot John Butler and Anabella Brydon Gordon. Reverend Lord James Theobald Bagot John Butler was the youngest brother of James Edward Butler, 3rd Marquess of Ormonde.

James Hubert Charles served with his regiment, the King’s Royal Raffle Corps, during WWI and joined the front in France. At the end of the 1920s, he moved to China and became Inspector-General of Chinese Maritime Customs. He soon emigrated to the U.S.A and married Nan Gilpin, from Riverside, Illinois in 1935. They had two daughters: Lady Anne and Lady Cynthia. Charles was business manager for the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1940s and 1950s. Following Nan’s death in 1973, he married Elizabeth Rarden in 1976.

James Hubert Charles succeeded his cousin James Arthur Norman as the 7th and last Marquess of Ormonde in 1971. He maintained an active role as President of the Butler Society, regularly visiting Kilkenny and was pivotal in the transfer of the parklands in 1970.

Panel 6: New Beginnings

In 1967, Arthur Butler, 6th Marquess of Ormonde, handed the key of Kilkenny Castle to Mr James Gibbons, chairman of the Kilkenny Castle Restoration Committee. This ceremony marked the end of the old way of life and the beginning of a new and sustainable future for Kilkenny Castle.

Under the care of the Office of Public works, Kilkenny Castle was fully restored . A works programme that began in 1969 by consolidating all the roofs, ended in 2000 with the completion of the Parade Tower Wing as purpose-built function and conference area.

The first phase of restoration brought about the opening of the Castle to the public in 1976. This incorporated the east wing that houses the stunning historic Picture Gallery, with its original family collection paintings and tapestries. Phase two saw the sumptuous leisure rooms and interiors of the centre block restored and opened in 1994.

Today Kilkenny Castle Park includes all the walled demesne parkland to the south and the formal terraced garden to the north. The neglected parkland underwent a programme of works too, this began in the 1960s, it included an extensive programme of tree planting; it is estimated that there are over 1,650 trees growing in the parkland today. The walled garden, photographed here in 1934 by Irish Jesuit photographer Father Browne, had become derelict by the late 1940s and was sold for development.




This exhibition would not have been possible without contributions from the following individuals & Organisations:

  • The Ponsonby family
  • David Davison / Davison & Associates
  • John Kirwan
  • Father Browne SJ Collection
  • National Monuments Service
  • Irish Architectural Archive.