It is 444 years to the day since the birth of Richard Boyle, the First and ‘Great’ Earl of Cork, a British entrepreneur and politician who made his name and his fortune in the British colony of Ireland. He had many children, several of whom became famous. He was also a diary writer, and left behind an extensive archive of papers, now held by the National Library of Ireland.
Boyle was born on 13 October 1566 in Canterbury, and studied at Cambridge and the Middle Temple. While still in his young 20s, he decided to seek his fortune in Ireland. There he obtained a legal, and financially lucrative, appointment; and, in 1595, he married Joan Apsley, from a wealthy Limerick family, though she died during childbirth a few years later. Having accrued land and wealth, he lost it during the Munster rebellion in 1598.
Boyle was oliged to return to London, where, after a while, he was imprisoned on charges of embezzlement concerning his past activities in Ireland. He was acquitted, and then returned to Ireland on being appointed by Queen Elizabeth I as clerk of the council of Munster.
In 1602, he bought Sir Walter Raleigh’s large holdings in Cork, Waterford and Tipperary (including Lismore Castle), and then set about improving the lands and businesses, creating trade and founding towns. He also married again, to Catherine Fenton, who bore him many children, including Robert Boyle, today called the father of modern chemistry, and Roger Boyle, a soldier and dramatist, who also kept a diary - see Height and raptures.
In 1620, Richard Boyle was created Earl of Cork, and in 1629, he was appointed one of the lord justices of Ireland. Two years later he became lord high treasurer. But then, in 1933, began a long conflict with Thomas Wentworth, the new lord deputy of Ireland, which led to a decline in Boyle’s privileges and in his income. Boyle patiently opposed Wentworth and his harsh rule, and later testified against him when brought to trial by Parliament.
Boyle died in 1643, having been chased off his lands during the Irish Rebellion of 1641. His sons, however, recovered the family estates after the suppression of the rebellion. Further biographical information is available at Wikipedia, of course, The Peerage, and Graham Boyle’s family history website.
The National Library of Ireland holds a large Boyle family archive, called the Lismore Castle Papers - its catalogue runs to nearly 900 pages! Included are the diaries, letters and other papers of Richard Boyle. Many of these were first transcribed by Alexander Balloch Grosart, a Scottish clergyman and literary editor, over a century ago, and printed in 10 volumes for private circulation in the 1880s. They were titled The Lismore Papers, viz Autobiographical, Notes, Remembrances and Diaries of Sir Richard Boyle, First and ‘Great’ Earl of Cork.
All of the Grosart volumes are freely available at Internet Archive. Here is a sample of Boyle’s diary from early on in the first volume
1 March 1612
‘I agreed with mason John Hamon to fynish my outward gate of my house in yoghall & the chymney in my perler there; the stones being all hewed and made fytt before by my Irish mason; for which I paid him [. . .]’
3 March 1612
‘Captn Robert Tynt was married in my studdy in yoghall by my cozen Richard Boyle dean of Waterforde to my Kinswoman Mrs Elizabeth Boyle als. Seckerston widdow; and I gaue her unto him in marriadge, and I beseech god to bless them wth good agreement and many vertuous children.’
10 March 1612
‘I rodd to the assizes at waterforde.’
16 March 1612
‘The assizes began at yoghall.’
25 March 1612
‘I am to receave of Katulen ffitz gerrald of my tyeth money in Kerry [. . .] she hath not paid me.’
29 March 1612
‘I had a mortgage from Edward Walches great orchard over against my garden, and paid him other [. . .] for the release of his Interest in that garden, and in the North Abbey of yoghall; whereof I was in possession, at the perfecting his said assurance to me.’
A longer, and more accessible, entry from Boyle’s diary is available on the Library Ireland website in an article on Lismore Castle taken from the Dublin Penny Journal in 1833. This entry is dated just two months before Boyle’s death.
10 July 1643
‘This day the rebel Lieutenant, General Purcell, commanding again in chief, in revenge of his former defeat received at Cappoquin, reinforced his army to 7,000 foot, and 900 horse, with three pieces of ordnance, and drew again near to Cappoquin, and there continued four days, wasting and spoiling the country round about, but attempted nothing of any consequence. And when the 22d at night, that the Lord Viscount Muskrie came to the Irish army with some addition of new forces, they removed from Cappoquin in the night before my castle of Lismore, and on Saturday morning the 23d July, 1643, they began their battery from the church to the east of Lismore-house, and made a breach into my own house, which Captain Broadripp and my warders, being about 150, repaired stronger with earth than it was before, and shot there till the Thursday the 27th, and never durst attempt to enter the breach, my ordnance and musket shot from my castle did so apply them. Then they removed their battery to the south-west of my castle, and continued beating against my orchard wall, but never adventured into my orchard, my shot from my turrets did so continually beat and clear the curteyn of the wall. The 28th of July God sent my two sons, Dungarvan and Broghill, to land at Youghal, out of England, and the 29th they rode to the Lord of Inchiquins, who with the army were drawn to Tallagh, and staid there in expectation of Colonel Peyn, with his regiment from Tymolay, who failed to join, but Inchiquin, Dungarvan and Broghill, and Sir John Powlett, the Saturday in the evening (upon some other directions brought over by Dungarvan from his Majesty,) he made a treaty that evening with Muskrie and others, and the Saturday the 30th, they agreed upon a cessation for six days. Monday night, when they could not enter my house, they removed their siege and withdrew the ordnance and army - two or three barrels of powder - two or three pieces of ordnance of twenty-three pounds, and killed but one of my side, God be praised.’