From the Musée Condé, Chantilly, this 1760 watercolour by Louis Carrogis, called Carmontelle, depicting Lady Lismore, previously known as Mrs Cornelius O’Callaghan of Shanbally Castle in the County of Tipperary, and her slave, Aza.
The wonderful Landed Estates Database tells us that Cornelius was a lawyer rewarded with a baronetcy at some point in the mid-18th century, and that his wife was known as Marie Jolley before her marriage. This leads me to suspect that she may have been French because, although there is a very famous Joly family in Dublin, its founder hadn’t arrived in Ireland yet at that point.
I was intrigued by the portrait since (apart from the occasional advertisement for runaways) there are so few records of any 18th black slaves in Ireland. Though quite a lot of Irish characters of that era, like the otherwise very sympathetic Bishop Berkeley, owned slaves in other countries and, in the previous century, some Irish were even owned as slaves themselves (Cromwell, of course!)
Of course maybe Aza never left Paris for Ireland (sure what would a chic Frenchwoman like Lady Lismore be doing with a place like Fethard in any case?) She looks happy in the portrait, and Lady Lismore is looking at her kindly, but Lady Lismore would have been the person who commissioned and paid for the portrait, and it’s human nature to delude yourself into believing you’ve fooled others into being happy, even when you haven’t. Of course, life in the 18th century was pretty tough, even if you weren’t a slave you might be glad of fine red silk clothes, good food, a room with a bed and a fire and a reasonably tolerable person to work for. So one never knows.
Very few black people in Ireland generally, before the 20th century, apart from the occasional theatrical performer or two. But there is an account of ‘a great host‘ of Moors being captured by Vikings and brought to Dublin in 862. I wonder where they ended up and whether they left any descendants? Check out this VERY interesting true story about a Yorkshireman’s discovery that he was descended from an African slave here…