It would seem that Mary Hickson, Kerry’s intrepid historian (d. 1899), admired an outstanding Kerry woman of a previous century, the philanthropist Lady Denny . Hickson transcribed Lord Shelburne’s memories of his aunt, Lady Denny, for the Kerry Evening Post . These first appeared in the early pages of Shelburne’s autobiography, and they make clear his admiration for her.
Arabella FitzMaurice was the granddaughter of Sir William Petty, whose daughter Anne married Thomas FitzMaurice in 1692. Arabella was married young to Arthur Denny, described by the Earl of Shelburne as “a very good sort of man”. Arthur was the heir to the Denny estate around Tralee. Arabella was now Lady Denny.
Arthur’s brother Thomas made life difficult for Arabella. According to Shelburne, Thomas was “a coward and savage and a fool”, who set out to make Arabella’s life unhappy. Already she had given signs of her vocation as a philanthropist by founding a small apothecary for the benefit of the poor. How Thomas provoked her is not made clear, but she hid the laudanum on a high shelf so that she could overcome the temptation to use it on herself. As her nerves began to fail, in order to confront her brother-in-law’s brutality she learned to fire a pistol. Then her husband died suddenly and Thomas succeeded to the Denny estate. But Arabella was now free, so she moved permanently to Dublin where in the 1760s she founded the Magdalen institution for girls.
The Limerick Chronicle, of Saturday, 31 March, 1792, reported the following: “Thursday evening a hearse, drawn by six horses, which contained the corpse of the truly pious and benevolent Lady Arabella Denny who died last week in Dublin, passed through this city, in order to her being interred in the family vault at Tralee in the county of Kerry.”
Image of Lady Arabella Denny courtesy of the Representative Church Library.