Arabella Denny

Lady Arabella Fitzmaurice Denny (1707–1792) was an Irish philanthropist, and founder of the Magdalen Asylum for Protestant Girls in Leeson Street, Dublin in 1765.[1]

Early life and family

Arabella Fitzmaurice was born in County Kerry, the second daughter of Thomas FitzMaurice, 1st Earl of Kerry, and Anne Petty (daughter of Sir William Petty). As a teenager she ran a basic medical dispensary for the tenants on her father's estate.[2] She married Colonel Arthur Denny, M.P. for Kerry, on 26 August 1727. Lady Arabella was widowed at the age of thirty-five. A nephew of Arabella Denny was William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, who became Prime Minister of Great Britain.[3]

Lady Arabella lived at Peafield Cliff House (now Lios an Uisce/Lisnaskea House), in Blackrock, County Dublin where John Wesley, who founded and led the Methodist Church, visited her in 1783.[4]


Lady Arabella Denny was a supporter of the Dublin Foundling Hospital, which had been established to care for children abandoned due to poverty and/or illegitimacy.[2] In 1760 she presented a clock to the Dublin Workhouse; it was put up in the nursery for foundling children and used to regulate the feeding of infants.[5]

She was instrumental in the reforming of the Foundling Hospital and in 1764 was thanked by the Irish House of Commons for her "extraordinary bounty and charity". She worked with the Dublin Society, helping to introduce lace-making into workhouses, especially among the children there.[6] In recognition of her work with the poor she was conferred with the Freedom of the City of Dublin in 1765. She was elected honorary member of the Dublin Society in 1766.[7]

Her work with the Foundling Hospital brought her in contact with despairing young women forced to give up their children, homes, and families. In June 1767 she founded Magdalen Asylum for Protestant Girls in Leeson Street, which was a home for fallen women or penitent prostitutes, who were provided with accommodation, clothing, food and religious instruction. It was the first charitable institution of its kind in Ireland, and became a model for institutions throughout the country.[2]

In 1773, she founded the Magdalene Chapel frequented by many of high society in Dublin. The Governance of the Magadalene Asylum, became the Leeson Street Trust, which was named in her honour the Lady Arabella Denny Trust, or Denny House, which is still a registered charity today. The Protestant Adoption Society which became PACT named its office Arabella House in her honour.

Lady Denny also established an almshouse in Tralee.[8]

Retirement and death

Arabella Denny retired in 1790 and died in Dublin on 18 March 1792. She had a fear of being buried alive and left instructions that she should not be removed from her deathbed for at least seventy-two hours.[9]


  1. McCarthy, Rebecca Lea (2010). Origins of the Magdalene laundries: an analytical history. McFarland. p. 238. ISBN 978-0-7864-4446-5. Retrieved 2011-09-25.
  2. 1 2 3 Broderick, Marian. "Lady Arabella Denny", Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives from History, University of Wisconsin Press, 2002 ISBN 9780299195847
  3. Butler, Beatrice Bayley. Lady Arabella Denny, Dublin Historical Record, December 1946 - February 1947 Vol IX, No. 1
  4. Dudley Levistone-Cooney, The Methodists in Ireland, a short history. Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Columba Press, 2001
  5. Wickes, Ian G. "A History of Infant Feeding", Archives of Disease in Childhood, p. 495
  6. "History of Irish Lace", Irish Lace
  7. Lady Arabella Denny
  8. "Miscellanea Genealogica Et Heraldica and the British Archivist", Volume 3, p.198, 1880
  9. Hopkins, Frank (2010-01-14). "Soul Provider For The Damsels In Distress". Retrieved 17 December 2011.
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