The Suirdale "Viscountcy"


There is another case of an earldom in which the heir is known by an apparently non-existent title which I would not place in the same category, because of the very distinct element of doubt in the matter.  This is the Irish Earldom of Donoughmore.  Lord Donoughmore is also Viscount and Baron Donoughmore in the peerage of Ireland, and Viscount Hutchison in the peerage of the United Kingdom.  But for more than a century the heir to the titles has been known as Viscount Suirdale.  The justification for this has for long been in dispute.  According to Mr. George Edward Cokayne, the eminent genealogist, one-time Clarenceux King of Arms, it originated in the mistaken belief that the first Viscountcy was "Donoughmore, of Suirdale" instead of "Donoughmore, of Knocklofty".


To form any judgment it is desirable to consider the history of the titles.  The Barony of Donoughmore, of Knocklofty, Co. Tipperary, was conferred in 1783 on Christiana, wife of the Right Hon. John Hely Hutchinson, an eminent Irish lawyer and statesman.  She was succeeded by her son Richard, who was advanced to the Viscountcy of Donoughmore, of Knocklofty, in 1797, and to the Earldom of Donoughmore, of Knocklofty, in 1800.  Twenty-one years later Lord Donoughmore, who had a distinguished record in public life, and had for long sat in the House of Lords as an Irish representative peer, was awarded a United Kingdom peerage as Viscount Hutchinson, of Knocklofty.  This Lord Donoughmore seems to have been a confirmed bachelor;  he was forty-one when he received his first Viscountcy, forty-four when he got his Earldom, and sixty-four when awarded his United Kingdom Viscountcy.  But all were created with special remainder to the male descendants of his mother.


He was succeeded by his brother John, a distinguished soldier who had followed Sir Ralph Abercromby in the command of the army in Egypt, and who had himself been raised to the Peerage as Baron Hutchinson, of Alexandria and Knocklofty.  John also died unmarried, when his own barony became extinct and those which he had inherited passed to his nephew, another John, whose eldest son, Richard John, was at once styled Viscount Suirdale.


In that very authoritative compilation The Complete Peerage, there is a sub-note regarding the Donoughmore viscountcy of 1797, initialed "G.E.C." (Mr. Cockayne) and "V.G." (the Hon. Vicary Gibbs), which reads:


It is generally said that this creation was Viscount Suirdale or Donoughmore of Suirdale, but such is not the case;  though it has the support of the Dictionary of National Biography in one of its least satisfactory articles.  In all three creations (1783, 1797 and 1800) the title is "Donoughmore of Knocklofty", and the Viscountcy of Hutchinson [U.K.], conferred in 1821, is also "of Knocklofty".  The courtesy title used by the heir-apparent has generally been (wrongly?) "Suirdale" but should apparently be "Hutchinson" or "Knocklofty".


In a further note referring to the fact that Richard John was styled Viscount Suirdale after his father's succession to the family honours the eminent editors of The Complete Peerage comment somewhat testily:


It is difficult to account for this designation;  no such title appears to have been conferred on his ancestors.  The word is derived from the River Suir (pronounced Shure) which runs through the Donoughmore estates.


So much for such authorities as there are available for reference.  I asked the late Lord Donoughmore whether he could cast any light on the point, and his reply has interesting implications.  He wrote:


Your letter asks me to solve rather a puzzle, which has not been made easy by the fact that I have not got any of my Patents creating the titles.  Whether these were lost in Ireland in the "bad  times" or whether, like so many other important documents, they were lost when the Four Courts were burned - [Lord Donoughmore is referring here to the burning of the Courts of Justice in Dublin, in the rebellion of 1916] - I don't know.  I do not remember actually ever having seen the documents or reading them, and my only evidence therefore rests on what I know has happened.


On the one hand I know that certain erudite people say that the viscountcy of Suirdale was never created;  others say that it was created in1800, and though I have no direct evidence it looks to me as though this was true, my reason for saying so being based on a copy I have of an old Family Tree.


Lord Donoughmore then recites the history of the titles much as I have set it out above, and referring to the succession of John, the third Earl, adds:


His eldest son (my grandfather) Richard John was certainly called Viscount Suirdale - and this habit has been followed by the subsequent Lords Donoughmore.


To sum the matter up, therefore, I feel that it is possible that a viscountcy was created in 1800, and I cannot believe that my great-grandfather when he became Earl of Donoughmore chose a wrong name for the style of his eldest son.  I know that the facts on which this argument is founded are not drawn from Letters Patent, but they are sufficient to satisfy me that I am not wrong in calling my eldest son Viscount Suirdale.


Clearly what Lord Donoughmore said is not evidence - in the legal sense;  he had no proof.  But equally the comments of Mr. Cockayne and Mr. Gibbs are based on a negative - that same absence of proof.  It seems to me eminently a case in which one has to consider the probabilities.


Confirmed bachelor though he was, Richard Hely Hutchinson was clearly concerned for the succession of his honours, else why was he so careful to secure the same remainder to them as to his mother's barony - i.e. to her heirs male?  The question of a courtesy style for the heir would not arise until he secured his earldom, and as both the barony and the viscountcy were of Donoughmore, there would be no courtesy style available if, as was natural, he wished to retain Donoughmore as the name for his earldom.  Since he obviously was so concerned to secure the succession it is difficult to believe that this point could have been overlooked.  Nor is it easy to believe that it was met by the subsequent grant of the Viscountcy of Hutchinson, for that came no less than twenty-one years later, and was evidently a reward, in the shape of a seat by right in the House of Lords instead of as an Irish representative peer, for his long record of public service.


I find the suggestion of doubt about whether the 1797 viscountcy was Suirdale or Donoughmore of Suirdale rather thin.  If it had been of Suirdale, Richard would have been known as Viscount Suirdale from 1797 until he got his earldom in 1800, and there is not a vestige of evidence for that.  As G.E.C. and V.G. both point out, "in all three creations the title is 'Donoughmore of Knocklofty' ", and in devising a new viscountcy to accompany the new earldom Suirdale would, in the circumstances, seem to be a natural choice as an alternative to just Knocklofty, which, it will be noted, has also been adopted as the territorial basis for the first Earl's brother's own Barony of Hutchinson.


Thus, in considering the probabilities, I suggest that the balance leans towards Lord Donoughmore's contention.  Of course, the point is, in a way, of academic interest only, for the usage of more than a century without challenge from the only source entitled to challenge, the Crown, is unlikely to be upset now.