Edmond Henry Pery was born in the Pery home on Henry Street on 8 January 1758. He would later also be known as the 1st Earl of Limerick, Viscount Limerick, Baron Glentworth of Mallow and Baron Foxford of Stackpole Court.
He was the son of William Cecil Pery and Jane Walcott. His father was both the Protestant Bishop of Limerick and the 1st Baron Glentworth. Edmond Henry was the nephew and male heir of Edmond Sexton Pery, as Edmond Sexton only had two daughters.
Edmond Henry also inherited the fortune of Sir Henry (Harry) Hartstonge, the husband of his aunt Lucy Pery. On the 1 December 1782 Edmond Henry wrote to his uncle Edmond Sexton asking ‘… if it meets with your approbation, it will be of the utmost importance to me if you would write a few lines to Sir Harry expressive of your consent, and if you would also remind him of a promise he made to you of settling his fortune in case I married Miss Ormsby.’
The following year he married Alicia Mary Ormsby, the only daughter and heiress of Henry Ormsby of Clohan, Mayo and sole heiress of Sir Henry Hartstonge after whom both Hartstonge Street and Sir Harry’s Mall were named. Together Pery and Ormsby had eight children, including Theodosia who married Thomas Spring Rice, Lord Monteagle of Brandon, who is immortalised in the People’s Park.
Prior to his marriage Edmond Henry studied in Trinity College, Dublin for a period before embarking on a tour of the Europe. While in France, he was introduced to the Court of Louis XVI and became a favourite of that ill-fated household.
Only three years after his marriage he was elected to the Irish Parliament as the Member of Parliament for Limerick in 1786 and held the seat until 1794, when he inherited his father’s barony and took his seat in the Irish House of Lords.
He became a career politician, holding offices such as Keeper of the Signet and Privy Seal of Ireland, Clerk of the Crown and Hanaper of Ireland. Following the Act of Union 1800, he became a representative peer, sitting in the British House of Lords for 43 years.
Pery was a vocal Unionist throughout his tenure in government. He was extremely anti-Catholic and denounced the ‘active machinations of the Popish priesthood’. Although he retired from actively participating in politics during the last ten years of his life, his belief in the Union was so strong that he would still attend the House of Lords to give his vote in person ‘against every piece of Irish policy that savoured of O’Conellism’ (The followers of Daniel O’Connell).
Daniel O’Connell campaigned for the rights of Irish Catholics, for this he was known as the Liberator or the Emancipator. O’Connell would hold enormous rallies throughout the country where thousands of people would attend to hear him speak. Daniel O’Connell only outlived the Earl by three years.
On Saturday, 7 December 1844, following a protracted illness, the news broke of the death of the Earl at his home in South Hill Park, Berkshire. He was 87 years old. In the days following his death, his body was laid out at his home in a room carpeted with black cloth. His coffin was draped in black velvet.
On the following Tuesday morning his remains began their long journey back to Limerick. Also returning to Limerick on the same day were the remains of his father William Cecil Pery and his wife Alicia Mary (Lady Mary) which were carried directly to the family vault in St Mary’s Cathedral on their arrival on Saturday evening. The noted architect James Pain prepared the vault for the occasion.
Limerick in 1844 was living at the height of the famine. The rights of Catholics were at the fore in local politics. Unsurprisingly, the return of the Earl who opposed Catholic emancipation was not met with the solemn decorum expected at a funeral.
As the remains of William Cecil Pery and Lady Mary made their way to St Mary’s Cathedral through Clare Street, they were mistaken for the remains of the Earl. Both hearses were drawn by four black horses and as they passed a gathering crowd began ‘hooting and groaning’ and continued to do so as they followed the hearses to the Cathedral. Following a memorial service, both coffins were then laid in the family vault by torchlight.
Meanwhile, the remains of the Earl passed unhindered in a hearse drawn by six black horses to the Pery home in Henry Street. Here they lay in state the following day. The back dining room had been prepared in a similar fashion to South Hill Park. The funeral was arranged for Monday morning.
All sections of society arrived at the house on Henry Street to pay their last respects to the Earl. None were turned away by the party of police stationed outside. Reports from the Limerick Chronicle state ‘the very mixed assemblage showed but little decorum or respect for the mansion or its late noble proprietor… to them rather a scene of indecent merriment, than of solemn contemplation’.
On the morning of the funeral, Henry Street was thronged with carriages with the occupants all wearing mourning attire of scarfs, gloves and hatbands. As the same time another group had gathered outside the house, not to pay their respects but to make their feelings about the Earl known. As the coffin was placed in the hearse, this crowd began whistling and jeering.
They began to attack some of the procession, attempting to tear the mourning scarfs from them.
The funeral procession travelled with great difficulty through the main streets of the city on the way to St Mary’s Cathedral.
All the while, the crowd – increasing in size – bellowed their disapproval, repeatedly shouting ‘don’t you know he was an enemy to O’Connell, and an absentee’.
As the cortège reached New Bridge (where Mathew Bridge stands today), the mob grew violent. The mourners were pelted with apples and potatoes from the Potato Market. The carriages were daubed with dirt and turf and cold water was thrown onto the road to prevent the carriages going further. A number of the mourners were injured from flying missiles. The windows of some of the carriages were broken and a number of the mourners – including Thomas Spring Rice – took refuge in a nearby public house. The Limerick Reporter stated that he was concealed under a bed. This was a report that Lord Rice vehemently denied, stating that he was in a room with twenty other individuals.
An immediate call was made to the military for assistance and within thirty minutes three companies of the 30th Regiment and two troops of the 4th Dragoon Guards were on the scene. With this, the crowd dissipated from outside the cathedral. A few had entered the cathedral, some of whom were smoking and one who placed an old hat on the head of the statue of Bishop Jebb.
Eventually, the coffin was brought into the cathedral, where the memorial service took place and then the Earl was finally laid to rest in the Pery family vault.
This was not the end of the public condemnation of the Earl as the next day the following poem was pasted throughout the city:
Here lies the body of Lord Saxon Pery,
Who went in a voyage in old Charon’s wherry;
But the weight of his sins sent the boat to the bottom,
They went dragging with Hell hooks and Belzebub got him.
Despite this, the Earl left the city the sum of £500 in his will for local charities. This included £100 to the County Infirmary (Regional Hospital), £100 to Barrington’s Hospital, £100 to the Fever Hospital (St John’s Hospital), £50 to the Protestant Orphan Society, £50 Sisters of Mercy, £50 to the Convalescent Dispensary and £50 to the Presentation Schools.