Thursday, July 22, 2021

Abbé de Firmont


From The Irish Times:

Paris, 1793. King Louis XVI of France did not say a word as the carriage set off towards his place of execution. Nor did the Abbé de Firmont, the Irish padre, who sat opposite him. Instead they sat in “a profound silence” while outside they listened to the growing clamour.

Every street, alleyway and rooftop was crammed with babbling, chanting, hissing soldiers and citizens, many armed with pikes and bayonets, others with lances, scythes and muskets. Added to the racket was the beat of 60 drummers, who marched ahead of the king’s carriage, fulfilling the wishes of the revolutionary government to drown out any voices that might be raised in support of the condemned monarch. The king began to mumble some psalms aloud as the nightmare journey wore on.

At length the carriage reached the Place de Louis XV (today known as the Place de la Concorde), the fabulous public square that the king’s grandfather had commissioned less than four decades earlier. When the crowds parted to reveal a large elevated scaffold surrounded by cannons, the king turned to his clergyman and whispered, “We are arrived, if I mistake not”.

Watching the king untie his neckcloth and advance towards the scaffold, the Abbé de Firmont was understandably overwhelmed with emotion. As well as everything else, he was assuredly wondering if he was likely to be hauled into the guillotine the moment his majesty was no more.

It was all a far cry from the rectory in Co Longford where the Abbé was born in 1745. Christened Henry Essex Edgeworth, he descended from an Englishman who had settled in Ireland during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, ultimately taking ownership of a large chunk of Longford. The family estate was centred around Mostrim where Henry’s inventive cousin Richard Lovell Edgeworth did so much to improve the area that the Town Tenants’ Association insisted the town be renamed Edgeworthstown in his honour in 1935. (Read more.)


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