Eminent historian of Irish ascendancy ascendancy dies at 79

Historians in the News

LIKE SIR Walter Elliott in Jane Austen’s Persuasion , many of the owners of country houses in Ireland have “found consolation and an interest that never fails” in reading the history of their family in Burke’s Irish Family Records.

Mark Bence-Jones, the genealogical researcher who has died at the age of 79, was the most eminent historian of the social mores of the Irish ascendancy in its decline over the last 100 years.

His most important and popular book is The Guide to Irish Country Houses , first published in 1978, in which he recorded more than 2,000 of the “big” houses, though alas many of these have been demolished.

The book, which ran to six editions, shows his encyclopaedic knowledge of Irish social history and architectural information, and is illustrated with many photographs of the houses in their heyday. The entries are larded with anecdotes, making it a readable and fascinating gazetteer.

Bence-Jones was born in London where his father, the descendant of an old Co Cork family who won a Military Cross in the first World War, was working. On marriage to Bence-Jones’s mother, who was partly French and had been brought up in Egypt, he converted to Roman Catholicism. When he retired to Ireland, he made a chapel in his house by knocking down the walls of three servant’s bedrooms and installing stained-glass windows by Patrick Pollen and Stanley Tomlin, while the altar was carved by Séamus Murphy....
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