The beginning of the year 1914 brought an end to a dynasty which had built and occupied the great Palladian house of Russborough located in the folds of the Wicklow hills just across the county boundary with Kildare.
The Kildare Observer in January 1914 devoted more than a column to the details of the inquest held following the death of Lady Geraldine Evelyn Leeson, Countess of Milltown, and widow of the 6th Earl of Milltown.
She was the last surviving spouse in the direct line of the Milltown/Leeson estate which had given its name to Leeson Street in Dublin.
The inquest took place in Russborough on the evening of the day after her death and while her remains were in repose in her bedroom above the room in the great house where the inquest assembled.
The correspondent painted a word picture of the atmosphere on a leaden January evening: “Twilight was closing in as the hour for the inquest arrived and the scene around the great house of Russborough seemed in keeping with the sombre circumstances of the passing away of the last bearer of the Milltown title … the deceased lady, whose remains lay in a stately bedroom upstairs, being the widow of the sixth and last earl, and dying without issue.”
It is testament to the respect shown by the local press to the coroner’s court that the inquest was reported with its full procedural detail. The office of coroner is one of the oldest offices in the lineage of Ireland’s local government and coroner’s inquests were taken seriously by the local newspaper. The inquest was held under the direction of Dr D.P.McKenna, Coroner for West Wicklow, who swore in a dozen local men as jury.
Mr Lanphier, solicitor from Naas, represented the Leeson estate, and Sergeant O’Hara, Blessington, observed proceedings on behalf of the constabulary.
The first witness was Miss Ellen Ryan, housemaid, who said that on the previous day she had met the housekeeper, Miss Kelly, on the staircase about 7.30am. She accompanied her to the door of the room in which the countess slept. Miss Kelly knocked but there was no reply. They then entered and saw the countess as if in the act of rising from the bed to get out on the floor. Miss Kelly went to her and asked her if she was not well and she, Miss Ryan, asked her would she have a little hot milk or lemon juice and the countess said she would have lemon juice. They placed her on an armchair and Miss Ryan went to light the fire in the bedroom fireplace.
Miss Kelly stayed with the countess and prepared the lemon juice and gave her some of it. The countess did not speak any more and only shook her head. They kept her for a while on the chair and Miss Ryan thought her breathing was short. She remained on the chair for a long time -- perhaps two hours - and then they placed her in the bed.
It was now past 10am and her condition seemed to worsen. They sent for Dr Morrissey but before he came her breathing seemed to get long and she sank as if going to a sleep and died at about 12 noon.
Miss Kelly, housekeeper, in her evidence to the inquest, corroborated the housemaid’s evidence, and in answer to the Coroner, gave some further information about the countess’s state of health. She said that the countess had come back to Russborough in August (1913), and was then fairly well in health.
While in London the countess had seen Sir John Broadbent, medical consultant, but Miss Kelly said she had never seen the countess take any medicinal drugs.
Miss Kelly said that she did not notice the countess to be in failing health until the morning prior to her death and that as recently as Christmas Eve she had come down to the kitchen.
Mr Lanphier, solicitor, Naas, told the inquest that he was legal advisor to the late countess and to the best of his knowledge he last saw her in June 1913.
On that occasion he met her in the library at Russborough and she seemed to be in very fair condition given her age. She was in her seventy-third year having been born in 1841 and she was a widow, her husband - the sixth earl of Milltown, having died in 1890. Mr Lanphier was
emphatic that the countess had no need of drugs or anything of that kind.
He said she was a lady of great intelligence and quite alert. Since their meeting in June, he had received letters from her in her own handwriting on business matters.
Dr Morrissey of Kill told the inquest that he had received a wire (telegram) on the previous day to go to Russborough which he did immediately. He arrived at about 1.15pm and the countess had been dead about an hour. He examined the body and, considering her age, he was convinced that her death was due to natural causes.
The Coroner, Dr Coady, in summing up, said that on reviewing the evidence there was no suspicion of the deceased lady dying from any injury or from the taking of any drugs.
It was clear from the evidence that she died from heart failure which was probably the result of advancing years.
The jury found a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence. And thus, as the January night closed in over the hills of west Wicklow, the death of the last countess to live at Russborough, was marked publicly and procedurally in a prominently reported coroner’s inquest. Series no: 366.