In a Word: Lansdowne


A friend will not, on principle, ever refer to the Aviva stadium in Dublin as other than Lansdowne Road. An avid (sorry) Ireland rugby fan and nationalist, he might well review the situation were someone to tell him that the Lansdowne name he cherishes was originally attributed to those who came from the English village of Lansdowne in Somerset.

I do not intend telling my friend this as, through experience, I have learned that generally it is better to let sleeping myths lie.

The stadium and that part of Dublin is named after William Petty-Fitzmaurice, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, also 2nd Earl of Shelburne, who in 1737 was born in Dublin. He was first son of John Fitzmaurice, a son of the 1st Earl of Kerry who was in turn a descendant of King Edward I. The Petty name came from William’s grandmother. He spent his childhood on the family’s estates in Kerry. The consequence was inevitable. According to himself, when he entered Oxford in 1755 he had “both everything to learn and everything to unlearn”.

It is still not an unusual experience following any spell in Kerry. After university he joined the British army and was soon a colonel. In 1760 he was appointed aide-de-camp to the new king, George III, the very same king about whom that film The Madness of King George was made.

In 1760 William became an MP both in Britain and Ireland, representing Kerry in the House of Commons on Dublin’s College Green. On the death of his father in 1761, he inherited various titles including that of 2nd Earl of Shelburne and moved to the House of Lords.

He served in various governments during the 1760s, latterly under Prime Minister William Pitt. In 1782, he agreed to serve in a new government under Lord Rockingham as prime minister, on condition that King George agreed to recognize the United States. Lord Rockingham died suddenly and William became prime minister. He appointed 23-year-old William Pitt (the Younger) as chancellor of the exchequer.

In 1783 his government was brought down. Its major achievement was bringing an end to the American War of Independence. When Pitt the Younger became prime minister in 1785 he created the title Marquess of Lansdowne for William who had retired from public life. He died in 1805.

Aviva, on the other hand, is a girl’s name and comes from a Hebrew word meaning “springtime”. It was also the name of the first month in the Jewish calendar, corresponding to March and April.