Thomas Pakenham (b. 1933)
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Thomas Pakenham (b. 1933)


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Track 1: Thomas Pakenham explains the reasons why he views artistocratic titles as anachronistic. His grandfather, Thomas Pakenham, 5th Earl of Longford, was a professional soldier and an officer of the Life Guards. When the government called for volunteers for the Boer War, Longford formed his own company, the Irish Hunt Company, which consisting mainly of hunting men, and Thomas discusses their action in South Africa. His grandfather was wounded and invalided home in 1900 but he returned to action later. Thomas recalls his grandfather’s love of horses and fox hunting. In 1915, while a retired Colonel of the Life Guards, he joined up as a volunteer, becoming a brigadier with one of the Midland Mounted Brigades. Thomas explains that his grandfather had to leave his horse behind in Egypt, which was a source of sadness to him. He led his brigade into action at Gallipoli against the Turks and the circumstances of his death are described. Thomas’s father Frank, being the second son, had to make his own way in life, and Thomas explains the events which occurred when his uncle Edward inherited. His grandmother was Mary Child-Villiers, daughter of the Earl of Jersey, from Osterley. The Child-Villiers family was very wealthy but, under the custom of primogeniture, she was not an heiress. Thomas explains that she had six children, but life was difficult for her as a widow following her husband’s death during WWI. He remembers his father Frank and remembers what Frank thought about his life as a child. The existence of letters from his grandfather and his medals, which are in the family, is discussed, and Thomas explains that he greatly values family records and books and he talks about his conservation work with An Taisce. He says that his father had no aesthetic sense for physical objects, unlike his mother, Elizabeth née Harman. She was descended from an English manufacturing family; the politician Joseph Chamberlain was her maternal great-uncle and Thomas explains her links to the Chamberlain family. He talks about his father’s position with regard to his Irishness and his close links with De Valera for a time. The brief period which his father spent in Ireland when researching his books, is discussed, and Thomas recalls his father’s political life and attitudes. The two members of the family who were regarded as Sinn Féiners are mentioned, and Thomas recounts an anecdote relating to his uncle Edward. Track 2: Thomas talks about his ancestor, Sir Edward Pakenham, who was commander-in-chief of the expedition to America in the war of 1812-15, and was killed at New Orleans. During WWII, Thomas’s father Frank joined up as 2nd Lieutenant in the Oxford and Bucks Light Regiment but he suffered a breakdown and was invalided out. He then became an assistant to Sir William Beveridge, and helped lay the foundations for the post-war welfare state. He continued as a member of the Home Guard, and the incident in which he was accidentally shot by one of his own men is described. Thomas recalls his childhood in Oxfordshire, when his mother stood for Parliament (she failed to be elected) and his parents became Catholics. Track 3: The life of the Pakenham family, circulating between Westmeath, London and Oxfordshire is discussed and the employees who looked after the estate are described. Thomas talks about his uncle Edward’s involvement with the Gate Theatre and his general disinterest in rural life. In the 19th century, the agricultural estates consisted of over 20,000 acres, including bog, consisting of property at Longford, Killucan in East Westmeath, and Castlepollard. The Pakenham estate also included a half-share in Dún Laoghaire, which accounted for most of their income. Thomas explains the effects of the Land Acts on landlords’ income and a general comparison with their English counterparts at the time is made, and he recalls the incident when the Irregulars broke into the house. As he points out, it is difficult to generalise, as each family operated differently. Track 4: Thomas always had a sense of being Irish by origin, although he was born and spent his early childhood in England. He first came to Ireland when he was 12 and he describes the visit and another he made with his sister. His time at Belvedere College in Dublin is recalled, when he was a lodger with the McDonnell family of Rathgar and the comparison with this and his later school at Ampleforth is considered. He began his career as a writer and he took over Tullynally in 1961, and he describes the reasons why he has a foothold in London to this day. His belief in the unfairness of primogeniture and his legacy to the future is considered, and he explains that one of his sons and one of his daughters are involved with running parts of the estate today.

Additional information



Audio series:

The Irish Country House and the Great War


128 kbps

Download time limit:

48 hours

File size(s):

8.63 MB, 11.68 MB, 10.21 MB, 6.05 MB, 14.59 MB, 14.88 MB

Number of files:


Product ID:



The Pakenham family of Westmeath, London and Oxfordshire

Recorded by:

Maurice O'Keeffe – Irish Life and Lore