The Le Fanu family tree is amongst the oldest complete Huguenot lineages stretching back uninterruptedly to the birth of Protestantism in Europe. During those five hundred years, the lives of successive generations have been touched, either directly or tangentially, by the religious and political conflicts that have shaped the modern world – between Protestant and Catholic, France and Britain, the Independence struggles in Ireland and India and two World Wars. Along the way each generation has enhanced in diverse ways the societies to which they belonged – as historians and antiquarians; lawyers and churchmen; engineers and doctors; civil servants and colonial administrators; poets, writers and composers.
Five centuries on, the Le Fanus are by now a very extended family scattered across three continents, though more closely related than might be expected – on two counts. They all share not one, but two, common ancestors: Guillaume Le Fanu, Dublin merchant and banker, three of whose sons – Joseph, Henry and Peter – married the three granddaughters of the Anglican divine and poet Dr Thomas Sheridan – Elizabeth, Alicia and Frances. The legacy of this triple-forged alliance by marriage of the Huguenot émigré Le Fanus and one of Ireland’s oldest, erstwhile Catholic, families would be a major factor in their subsequent prominent role in Irish public life. Next, all living Le Fanus are descended from the offspring of just two antecedents: William Richard, Commissioner of Public Works in Ireland (and author of ‘Seventy Years of Irish Life’) or William Joseph Henry, Indian Civil Servant in the Madras Presidency.
The main interest of a family tree will always be the lives and characters of those that have gone before. But it also transcends those individual lives to become, in its way, a historical saga linking the past and present, illuminating through personal experience the events and times in which they lived. We would, to our considerable loss, have been only dimly aware of the particularities of the Le Fanu saga had it not been for the immense endeavours of the four people to whom this website is dedicated: the authors of the Memoir, Thomas Philip and William Joseph Henry and, subsequently, William and Richard Le Fanu.