JANE AUSTEN'S NIECES IN DONEGAL
Although the English novelist Jane Austen never married, scholars debate about a man called Tom Lefroy and that perhaps he had a relationship with Jane. Whether they did or not, and given she said to one her nieces, Fanny “"Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without affection” so perhaps she didn’t love him enough to take the plunge. I mention it however because Tom Lefroy was an Irishman so had they married, she may have gone before her three nieces who lived in Ireland. Was that a convoluted link to the crux of this article and Jane’s connection to Donegal, Ireland? Perhaps.
At any rate, after Jane’s father died in 1805 the family encountered financial insecurity and had no permanent residence until her brother Edward let them live in his cottage in Chawton, East Hampshire, England. It is here Jane wrote, or at least completed, all six of her novels.
Edward Austen Knight, who added the last name Knight to his name in 1812 so that he could legally inherit from his father's weathy childless cousins who had adopted him in 1783 at the age of 16, was the brother of Jane Austen and father of Cassandra, Louisa and Marianne.
The first of Jane’s nieces, and the youngest daughter of Edward Knight, to move to Ireland was Cassandra (Cass) who was named after her maternal grandmother. She married the landlord George Hill, formally Lord George Hill, on the 2st of October 1834, and they lived in Gortlee House, Letterkenny, where Cassandra gave birth to four children: Norah in 1835, Arthur in 1837, Augustus in 1839 and her last child, Cassandra in 1842. She died of puerperal fever just three days after giving birth to Cassandra.
Cassandra Hill (Lady George Hill) is buried in the Church of Ireland, Conwal Parish, graveyard in Letterkenny. To find her grave simply go in the main gate to the church and graveyard and to the left of the church you will see a grave with railing around it at the front of that section of the graveyard and that is Cassandra’s grave (and later her husband’s too).
Following her death, two of her brothers, George and Charles, and her older sister Lousia (Lou) visited their brother-in-law in Donegal and after her brothers returned home, Louisa remained to care for her late sister’s young children.
After five years Louisa married her brother in law, George Hill, on the 11th of May 1847. In 1949 Louisa gave birth at the age of 44 to her only child, George. Louisa, George and their blended family lived near the village of Ramelton, in’Ballyare House. George Hill would die in Ballyare House in 1879.
In her later years, a third sister, Marianne (May), came to live in Donegal with her sister Louisa. The Donegal air was obviously good for her as she lived into her 95th year.
Marianne and Louisa are buried side by side in a graveyard on a hill just about one mile from from Ballyare House. The graveyard is called Tully Graveyard and sits at the end of a long road from Ballyare (Ballyarr). There is no church beside it, just the two graveyards. If you visit it to see their graves, go into the old graveyard (there is a new one opened just before it). Once inside the old gate walk a few steps up a slight incline and look half way down the graveyard to your right. There you will see two stone crosses beside an old stone wall which mark their graves.
Louisa’s gravestone reads:
“In loving memory of Louisa wife of Lord George August ....... Hill of Ballyare and Gweedore who died 29th July 1889 in her 85th year”
And Marianne’s reads:
“ In loving memory of Marianne Knight third daughter of the late Edward Knight Esq of Godmersham Park, Kent who died in her 95th year at Ballyare House Dec 4th 1896”
George Hill, husband of the two sisters Cassandra and Louisa is buried beside his first wife, Cassandra, in Letterkenny.
And there my blog post would have ended but for the fact that I came across a woman called Karen Ievers who had an amazing Jane Austen related find on ebay and it is that amazing find that allows me to have the photographs of the Austen nieces (and their family members) used here. You can read about Karen's amazing find HERE.
Some of Karen's amazing finds:
3/29/2021 11:34:37 pm
Thanks for this blog post. I'd like to clear up a few your misconceptions about Edward Austen Knight. He was adopted by the his father's childless wealthy cousins at age 16 in 1783. His father, George Austen, was still alive.and didn't die until 1804. He took the last name of Knight in 1812.after both of his adoptive parents had died.
4/1/2021 11:11:22 pm
Myself and my brother in law maintain the old graveyard in Tully, we cleaned up the grave and put them and stones on it to keep it tidy. I had gotten a local lad to make a plaque for the grave but there was a spelling mistake on it. The owner of The Donegal Tribune made a big play about the plaque in his newspaper and on local radio demanding that it be removed. I wrote a letter to the newspaper stating what had happened but he refused to publish it. I removed the plaque and the council were supposed to put one up in it's place but it never happened nor will it. The distance between Ballyare House and the graveyard is about one mile and certainly not not over 3 miles.
10/13/2021 10:47:12 am
I would like to commend you on your efforts to maintain local history of international importance. Without which many of our connections would be lost to the brambles and weeds. As someone who has perused Council and government records for many years and gravestones and plaques spelling mistakes are commonplace in such records as I found in my own searches of census, births and deaths and other records. Let us not forget many of our Irish and British citizens were illiterate and it seems some council /official staff too. Again thank you.
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