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'And pray give of your bounty to both city and county'

The La Touche Family in Ireland Michael McGinley La Touche Legacy Committee, ?35 THE following little ditty, handed down in our family for generations (being recited derisively on occasion by my mother), somehow escaped the notice of Michael McGinley, comprehensive though his study of the La Touche family is.

'Oh Mr La Touche

Pray open your pouch,

And give of your bounty

to city and county."

Though hardly Shakespeare, it does encapsulate the public image in the 18th century, not only of my direct ancestor David La Touche III, but also of his brother Peter, of Bellevue (also enormously rich and noted for his charitable concerns), and their immediate descendants.

The La Touches were a remarkable dynasty. The founder of the family in Ireland, David La Touche the First, was a French Huguenot who fled to Holland in the wake of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, joined the army of William of Orange, and fought at the Battle of the Boyne.

After the triumph of the cause, he was demobilised and he settled in Dublin, where he first became involved in the linen business. He soon became known as a reliable man with whom to deposit money, and by 1712 he had set up formally as a bank, along with a partner, Nicholas Kane, later (in 1734) Lord Mayor of Dublin.

By 1758, however, the Kanes were out, and the bank became D La Touche & Son (David's son David II having joined the firm), and finally, in 1787, D La Touche & Co - when various other offspring were in turn added, such as David III, Peter I of Bellevue and William George, son of David II's younger brother, James Digges La Touche.

The dynasty split early into two branches, the senior of which had in turn three branches, and the junior two, but all of whom attained considerable wealth. Of the senior branch, all three acquired large country estates, as well as town houses.

David III (1729-1817) established himself in Rathfarnham, at Marlay (called after his wife, Elizabeth Marlay, and now owned by the State); John at Harristown, Co Kildare (still extant, and in private hands); and Peter in Delgany, at Bellevue (demolished in the Fifties, now occupied by the Delgany Golf Club).

As well as these magnificent estates, David and Peter had town houses on St Stephen's Green, and all three acquired much further acreage around the country - not least in Leitrim!

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When the project to establish a national bank, the Bank of Ireland, finally came to fruition in 1783, David III, who had been active in promoting it, became its first governor and his two brothers were on the board of directors.

Sadly, though, in the new century things began to fall apart. The next generation of La Touches grew extravagant with money, developed unfortunate religious enthusiasms (John David became a Methodist; his younger son, Charles John, my immediate ancestor, after a period in a lunatic asylum near Bristol, became a Roman Catholic!), and generally neglected the business. In particular, they failed to develop the bank from a family concern into a joint-stock bank, such as were emerging in the 1820s, and this proved their undoing.

La Touche's, from its base in Castle Street, could not compete with the "modern" banks which were springing up, with branches all round the country and offering a wider range of services. It was finally bought up in 1870, in a state of virtual bankruptcy, by the Munster Bank, and the Marlay La Touches were finished as an economic force.

Harristown and Bellevue continued a while longer, living on their rents, but faded out in the early 20th century for want of heirs. An interesting inhabitant of Harristown in the 1860s and 1870s was Rose La Touche, daughter of John II, with whom John Ruskin became infatuated when she was a young girl of 10.She died in 1875, still only27, and Ruskin went madshortly afterwards.

Michael McGinley tells this whole remarkable story very well indeed. He has had to master both the broad sweep of public history over more than two centuries, and the obscure details of family history, hidden away in various archives and records, and he brings them together most illuminatingly. He has been helped, for the 19th century, by a remarkable collection of family letters, assembled and edited by my cousin Yves David La Touche, but he has made very good use of them. It must be said, though, that the whole could have done with one more good proof-reading before being launched upon the public.

That said, McGinley has performed a great service in rescuing an important strand of Irish history from virtual oblivion, and bringing it to life most attractively.

John Dillon is Regius Professor of Greek at Trinity College, Dublin

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