Ellen Odette Biscoffsheim

The Countess of Desart, 1857-1933

In 1881, Ellen Odette, eldest daughter of Henry Bischoffsheim, a London banker, married William Ulick O’Connor, the fourth Earl of Desart (d.1898), with a seat in Kilkenny. Many years afterwards in a letter to the editor of the Jewish Guardian of 12th September 1930, she wrote emphatically resenting ‘the unwarrantable assumption in your issue of 5th September that I have ‘deserted the faith’ of my fathers. Will you please contradict that unfounded statement in your next issue? I am, as I have been all my life, a staunch and practicing Jewess, far too proud of my faith and race not to feel extremely indignant at the slur you have tried to cast on me.’ The Countess divided her public work between the Jewish and general communities. In England, returning to her country seat at Ascot, Berkshire after the death of her husband, she devoted much of her time to social and charitable work in the London Jewish community. Among the people of Kilkenny, where in 1912 she took up residence again at Aut Even, Talbot’s Inch, she was spoken of with reverent admiration as the ‘Jewish Lady’. When in 1910 the freedom of the city of Kilkenny was conferred to her, she claimed to be the only woman in Ireland this honoured and the only Jewess in the world – till then – to be made an honorary citizen. For her services to the cultural and economic welfare of Ireland, she was on the nomination of President Cosgrave, made a Senator of the Irish Free State in December 1922. When she died in 1933 she was buried beside her husband in Falmouth cemetery, Cornwall, but the funeral service was, at her request conducted to Jewish rites.

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