Ashbourne was a fervent Irish cultural revivalist, a prominent member of the Gaelic League, whose cultural and religious views had caused him to be largely disinherited by his father. Ashbourne’s death prompted messages of condolences for his French wife from the likes of Douglas Hyde and Eamon de Valera as well as an eulogy in the Catholic Herald, which told its readers that Ashbourne “always wore the kilted Irish dress and was a picturesque figure. His green kilt, green stockings and belt with massive silver buckle always created unusual interest. Before the last war Lord Ashbourne created a mild sensation by appearing in the House of Lords in kilts and speaking in Gaelic”. He had last visited Ireland in July 1939, when he could barely walk and was in Compiègne when the Germans marched in in June 1940. In spite of his age, he was briefly interned in December 1940, before he was released on the intervention of his wife, Marianne de Monbrison (like Lord Ashbourne, a convert from Protestantism), who also got released “a young Irish nun”, called Soeur Cécile, who was subsequently to look after Lord Ashbourne on his death bed.
According to his widow, Marianne (who Violet Gibson distrusted and described as a “mischief maker”), Lord Ashbourne spent the last months of his life “more and more withdrawn in his room, surrounded by objects which had come from Ireland or which recalled it to him and leaving his room for walks. He had in his room his Celtic cross, the flag of the Red Hand of Ulster, an address from members of the hockey (hurling?) club of Kilkeel, a Breton statue of the Virgin, swans in Beleek, landscapes of Killarney, Connemara, Lough Neagh; Irish plaids on his bed and portraits connected with his ideals, among them those of O’Connell, Lamennais, A. Comte, l’Abbé Grégoire, and a library of the French Revolution on which he had done much work in his youth….An Irish rosary never left his bed and was often in his hands up to the very last days when he was no longer able to hold it.”
Upon his death in January 1942, Lord Ashbourne was “clad in his kilt, the Sinn Féin ring on the collar of his shirt, his dear Irish beads entwined in his joined hands….On the coffin was the flag of the Red Hand at his feet the Celtic Cross and many inhabitants of Compiègne who loved and admired him came to pray for him.” Lord Ashbourne was buried in the hamlet of Chevincourt, 15 kilometres north of Compiègne. The large Celtic cross over Lord Ashbourne’s grave still stands there today, but his residence at rue Dormeliers was torn down to make way for apartments and a medical centre sometime after the war, leaving only part of the original gardens.
Select BibliographyNational Archives of Ireland, Department of Foreign Affairs files, Paris Legation, 1940-1945
Catholic Herald, Jan. 30, 1942
The Woman Who Shot Mussolini (2010)
Frances Stonor Saunders