Irish Eyes Smiling

March 17, 2009 / Local Interest
denham1While celebrating St. Patrick’s Day give a thought to the many Irish who lived in Italy in past centuries. There were soldiers (Major Myles O’Reilly), saints, (Luke Wadding) and bank teller/English teacher/authors (James Joyce!). A newly discovered connection shows that Irish eyes were once smiling in Northern Lazio too.

Joseph Denham was a penniless soldier from Cork who went to Italy as a shipping agent. A stroke of Irish luck plummeted him to the status of landed gentleman with huge estates on the Lazio and Tuscany border. As payment for a ship destroyed in the papal port of Civitavecchia, Denham and his heirs were granted a enfituesi (perpetual concession) over the towns of Onano, Proceno and the customs house at Centeno, giving him and his male heirs the right to “rule” these towns, collect tolls and customs taxes while encouraging commerce and farming in the area.

denham2The Irish family lived like lords in the majestic Monaldeschi Castle but when all male Denhams had passed away, the lands should have been returned to the Church. Instead, one of the daughters, red haired Carlotta, had the spunk to ask Pope Clement XIV to change the rules. He conceded signing a new contract on August 29, 1773 and the extensive lands remained in the Denham family until the unification of Italy in 1861.

Madama Carlotta improved the roads, set up girls’ schools and a weaving industry. She was much loved by the local people and even today the family castle is still known as Palazzo Madama. A series of frescoes showing the saga of the Denham family have recently been discovered and restored and can be admired in the castle’s main rooms, now the office of Onano’s mayor.

Mary Jane Cryan

by Mary Jane Cryan

Mary Jane is a historian, cruise lecturer, author and publisher of books on Italian history and central Italy has been residing in Italy for half a century.

See her award winning website and weekly blog posts on 50YearsInItaly for more about central Italy and to order books directly from the author.

6 Responses to “Irish Eyes Smiling”

  1. Fascinating story! Thanks for sharing it. I want to know more! How did the shipping agent end up with such a treasure and not the owners of the ship? Did everyone else perish? And Carlotta! Sounds like the making of a really interesting book!

  2. You can read the entire story in Italian and English on my website. It was the results of months of research and will be one of the many interesting stories in my next book (the fourth I’ve written about this relatively unknown area north of Rome ) .

    Your comments and feedback are precious…keep them coming,
    Mary Jane Cryan

  3. Míle buíochas!! Un ottimo nucleo per un’opera di fiction.
    Buon San Patrizio


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