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DIANA: Irish connections

Updated: Feb 17

Diana in her Barbour

Figure 1: Diana in her trusty Barbour jacket.


Princess Diana died twenty years ago on the 31 August 1997 in a Parisian hospital. Mother, sibling, international icon and much more, she was only thirty-six when her life was tragically cut short. Media coverage over the past few weeks has ensured that her anniversary will not be forgotten and many reports in the written and visual media have broadcast stories about her life and death. However, what has not been widely written about are her Irish connections , her rather roguish great-grandfather and her American relatives. Recently, whilst, perusing the Sunday Independent, I came across an article about her Irish roots and intrigued I decided to investigate, the words following are the result of my research.



Diana’s great-great-grandfather was Edmund Burke Roche, ‘first Baron Fermoy and Lord Lieutenant of the County and City of Cork’. Roche was born in 1815 and was elected M.P. for Cork in 1837, ‘when only just of age’. Of course, much of his success was given to the fact that the ‘young aristocrat of ancient lineage’ was a staunch supporter of Daniel O’Connell, Irish political leader. The fact that he ‘was one of the handsomest men of his time’, certainly contributed to this popularity.[1] The Roches had a presence in Trabolgan, Whitegate from the mid seventeenth century and this was their principal seat.[2] Consequently, as a result of such a huge estate, the family also had a large number of tenants, including the Ballast Board who occupied a lighthouse, Roche's Point. Additionally, Samuel Lewis recorded that they had a winter residence in Rathcormack.[3]

Trabolgan House, East Cork

Figure 2: Trabolgan House, East Cork (now demolished).

Griffith's Valuation - Trabolgan

Figure 3: Griffith's Valuation for the townland of Trabolgan, 1853.

Roche died on 17 September 1874, at his estate in Trabolgan. His death was sudden; following a ‘bath in the sea’, he was seized with a fit and ‘expired in the course of a few hours’.[4] Baron Fermoy was buried in the churchyard at Corkbeg. His remains were enclosed in a suite of coffins, the inner of hardwood, the second of lead and the outer coffin of oak. ‘The lid bore a brass shield, surmounted by a baron’s coronet’ with the following inscription:[5]

First Baron's Funeral

Figure 4: Excerpt of the article in Irish Examiner, 22 September 1874.



The first Baron Fermoy was succeeded by his eldest son and Diana’s great-granduncle, Edward Fitz Edmund. In 1880, approximately half of the Roche estate, 8,178 acres was advertised for sale by the Court of Chancery. The Encumbered Estates Court was established in 1849. In 1852, it was replaced by the Landed Estates Courts, which was itself superseded in 1877 by the Land Judges Court which was part of the Chancery Division of the High Court. Although there were some differences in the powers of these courts, their principal function was to sell off insolvent estates. By the mid nineteenth century, many of the Irish landed estates were in serious financial difficulties. After the Great Famine, many of these estates had lost the ability to generate income due to the death or emigration of their tenants. Furthermore, the value of land plummeted, so to overcome this material issue, the state took ownership of the encumbered estates and then sold them with the added incentive of a parliamentary title.

Figure 5: Details of the Sales Catalogue, Roche estate, 1880.

The second Baron married Cecilia O'Grady and nearly 5,000 acres in Co. Limerick in 1877. The couple can be found on the 1901 census of Ireland living in Rockbarton, Co. Limerick, with their daughter and many servants. His surname is recorded as 'Fermoy'. Coincidentally, similarly to his father, he died in 1920, after a bath.[6]

Rockbarton, Co. Limerick

Figure 6: Rockbarton, Co. Limerick (now demolished).

Edward Fitz Edmund was succeeded by his younger brother, James Boothby Burke Roche, Diana’s great-grandfather. James Roche married Diana’s great-grandmother, Frances Work at Christ Church, New York on 22 September 1880.[7] Frances Work was daughter of Franklin, a wealthy banker, who according to the 1880 New York census, held $100,000 in real estate and $20,000 in personal estate.

1880 New York Census

Figure 7: 1880 New York census showing the Work family.

James and Frances returned to England, where their four children were born, three surviving to adulthood. Unfortunately the marriage was not to last. In December 1886, James sent his wife and daughter, Cynthia, to New York to request money from her father, whilst he and his twin boys, Edmund and Francis, remained in England. Two months later, James and his twins arrived in New York, and met with his wife and her father in his New York mansion, and again Frank Work refused to provide his son-in-law with money. James left the twins and returned to England. In 1891 Frances Work Roche divorced James on the grounds of desertion.[8]

James Boothby, Frances Work, Maurice and his twin, Francis.

Figure 8: (From left) James Boothby Burke Roche, Frances Work, Francis and Maurice (Lord Fermoy) Roche.

James Boothby Burke Roche was elected to Westminster in 1896 as a candidate for Kerry East, even though he was divorced. When the divorce was highlighted during his election campaign, James declared he had not been served with divorce proceedings. Soon after his election, he commenced an action in the High Court against the editor and publishers of Burke’s Peerage to restrain them from publishing the statement that he was divorced from his wife. Burke’s Peerage gave an undertaking not to publish the statement.[9] James can be found on the 1911 English census living in London aged fifty-eight. Also noted is that he was born in Twyford Abbey.

1911 Census of England

Figure 9: James Boothby Roche in 1911 English census.

After the death of his older brother, Edward, the second baron of Fermoy in 1920, James succeeded and became the third baron. However, his new title was short-lived, as two months after his brother’s death, James died at Artillery Mansions, Westminster.[10]

Death notice of James Boothby

Figure 10: James Boothby Roche death notice.



James Boothby was succeeded by the eldest of his twin boys, Maurice. Maurice, apparently one minute older than his brother Francis, was born in England in 1885. Following his immigration to the United States in 1887, he and his twin brother became United States citizens in 1906. Maurice's succession to his father’s title left him in a quandary. His American grandfather, Frank Work’ had bequeathed £600,000 each to him and his brother, subject to the condition that they became American citizens, kept a permanent legal residence in the United States and never visited England.[11] The twins refused to accept the terms of the will, and instead received £543,000 each by voluntary family agreement. In 1921, Maurice announced that he would accept the title of Lord Fermoy.[12]

1920 Census of United States

Figure 11: Excerpt showing Roche family, New York in 1920 United States Census.

In September 1931, Maurice Burke married his 'Scottish Bride' Ruth Gill at St. Devenick's, Aberdeenshire. Maurice's bestman was his twin brother Francis. The bride wore ivory satin with a beautiful old lace shawl which was worn as a veil, her bouquet was a sheaf of lilies.[13] The fourth baron and his wife had four children, three surviving to adulthood.

Fourth Baron with his bride Ruth Gill.

Figure 12: Diana's grandparents, Edmund Maurice Burke Roche and Ruth Gill on their wedding day.



The fourth baron's eldest child The Honourable Frances Ruth Burke Roche, married Edward John Spencer, Viscount Althorp at Westminster Abbey on 1 June 1954. Frances born in 1936 was just eighteen when she wed

Edward, he being twelve years her senior.

Viscount Althorp and Frances Roche wedding

Figure 13: (From left) Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, Frances Burke with her father, Maurice, just married Frances and Edward Spencer.

'The bride, a fair-haired, blue-eyed picture of a slender English girlhood, wore a white faille dress' and her mother's diamond tiara. Also in attendance at the 'wedding of the year' was Queen Elizabeth.[14] John and Frances Spencer had five children, four who survived to adulthood. Fourth born was Diana. Lady Diana Spencer married Charles, Prince of Wales on 29 July 1981. Like her parents, Diana was twelve years younger than Charles. Her son Prince William, in a recent BBC documentary described her as a ray of light in a very grey world, and that very simply sums up what she meant to very many people.

Figure 14: Edward and Frances Spencer with Diana on her christening day.


[1] Freeman’s Journal, 18 September 1874.

[2] Irish Examiner, 18 September 1874.

[4] Samuel Lewis, A topographical dictionary of Ireland, Vol. 2, London, 1837.

[5] Irish Examiner, 22 September 1874.

[6] Freeman’s Journal, 2 September 1920.

[7] The Times (London), 27 March 1896.

[8] Sunday Independent, 27 August 2017.

[9] Kerry Sentinel, 30 January 1897.

[10] Freeman’s Journal, 1 November, 1920.

[11] Irish Independent, 3 November 1920.

[12] The Liberator (Kerry), 10 October 1921.

[13] Irish Independent, 18 September 1931.

[14] Cork Examiner, 2 June 1954.


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