The 14th and 15th earls of Huntingdon of Sharavogue, Shinrone and the Birr barracks scandal. By Stephen Callaghan

Warner Francis John Plantagenet Hastings was born on 8 July 1868 at 54, St Stephen’s Green Place, Dublin. He was the son of Francis Power Plantagent Hastings, 14th Earl of Huntingdon, and Mary Anne Wilmot Westenra. The title of Earl of Huntingdon was an English peerage title originally created in 1065, the current title is its seventh incarnation which was created in 1529.

The 14th Earl married Mary Anne Wilmot Westenra 15 August 1867, who was the only daughter of Colonel Honourable John Craven Westenra, of Sharavogue, King’s County – a member of the Irish Whig party.

The family acquired lands in Waterford and King’s County. In the latter they lived in Sharavogue House. The house was originally built in the 1820s and was described as containing drawing and dining rooms of the finest proportion, a library, seven bedrooms, servant apartments, stables, coach houses and offices. A walled garden and 100 acres of land. Later additions to the house were made by notable Irish architect Sir Thomas Deane.

Between the years of 1880-1881 Warner was a Page of Honour to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. He succeeded his father as the 15th Earl of Huntingdon upon his father’s death on 12 May 1885, at the age of 16. The 14th Earl was interred during a large funeral in a vault in the graveyard at Ettagh. As the 15th Earl he also became a Deputy Lieutenant for King’s County.

On 3 October 1885, the Earl was commissioned in the 4th (Militia) Battalion, Leinster Regiment as a Lieutenant. He resigned this commission on 17 June 1889. He was subsequently commissioned into the 3rd (Militia) Battalion, Leinster Regiment, the old King’s County Militia whose depot was based in Birr Barracks. Further promotions included being commissioned to Major from Captain on 9 December 1893.

The Earl married Maud Margaret Wilson on 11 June 1892 at St George Church, Hanover Square, London. Their children were Maud Kathleen Cairnes Plantagenet Hastings (born 28 March 1893), Norah Frances Hastings (born 12 September 1894), Marian Ileene Mabel Hastings  (born 15 September 1895) and Francis Francis John Clarence Westenra Plantagenet Hastings (30 January 1901).

The fifteenth earl of Huntingdon. He succeeded to the title and estates in 1885.

In 1894, the Earl was implicated in the Birr Barracks Affair, which was a major scandal at the time, and was even mentioned in the House of Commons. A group of masked militia officers had broken into the quarters of Surgeon Major Fox and assaulted his two live in servants. The servants initially identified The Earl as one of the party, but he was later found to have a solid alibi and was acquitted.

With the outbreak of the Second Anglo Boer War in October 1899, the 3rd Leinsters were asked would they volunteer to serve in the conflict, as at the time militia unit could not be ordered on active service but rather had to volunteer. The militia went from Birr to Shrapnel Barracks, Woolwich. Here a special colour party was organised to bring the colours back to Birr for safe keeping. 

On 22 February 1900 the colours arrived on a train from Dublin with an escort. The colours were brought the hour march to Sharavogue House to be held for safe keeping. Not everyone was happy about this choice of location, one soldier of the 3rd Leinsters wrote a letter to the editor of the Midland Tribune asking why were the colours treated with such disrespect, making comparison to how the colours of English regiments were given to the mayor of towns or places of worship, while the colours of the 3rd Leinster’s ended up with a ‘feather-bed’. The letter finished up the writer saying he was insulted that the colours ended up in the hands of a ‘whipper-in’, who declined to go to the front.

The Earl had volunteered for service in South Africa but was found ‘unit for service’, likely due to an accidental injury he sustained several weeks previously while out hunting. On 28 February, he resigned his commission as the second in command of the 3rd Leinsters. Despite not going to fight in South Africa, the Earl and Countess of Huntingdon did much to collect gifts and comforts for the men of the battalion in fighting in South Africa.

The earl’s helmet sold at auction recently

The 1901 census records the Earl living in Sharavogue house with 12 servants! The house at this time was recorded as having 20 windows on the front and as having 20 rooms with 55 outbuildings and office!

The Earl was reappointed as Major on 4 June 1901, and then finally resigned as a Lieutenant Colonel on 18 March 1905, but was allowed to retain his rank and permission to wear his uniform. In recognition of his service to the battalion, the officers of the battalion presented him with a silver salver.

Other interests of the Earl included shooting, motoring and fox hunting, he set up the Huntingdon Harriers in 1892 and later became the master of the Ormond and East Galway foxhounds.

The Earl settled in England in 1925, where he lived at Burton Hall, Leicestershire. Sharavogue house had survived the War of Independence and Civil War, but was demolished by the Land Commission when the estate was being divided up, some of the outbuildings still survive.

The Earl died at his home in Burton Hall on 9 April 1939 aged 71 years. He was buried in St Helen’s Churchyard, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, where members of the Hastings family have been buried for generations.

Sharavogue House in the late 1870s. The 14th earl is driving and the young Lord Hastings and his sister are passengers The picture is from the new Offaly History publication on Rathrobin and the two Irelands: the photographs of Middleton Biddulph, 1900-1920. Available to order online from http://www.offalyhistory.com