Call for recognition for Sligo’s ‘other countess’ Lola Montez

King’s mistress celebrated internationally but unknown in Ireland

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News Reporter

Call for recognition for Sligo’s ‘other countess’ Lola Montez

Brothers Kevin and Fergal Quinn outside their Lola Montez nightclub in Sligo town.

Entrepreneur brothers, Fergal and Kevin Quinn, are on a mission to raise the profile of Lola Montez, a native of Sligo who was famous throughout the world in the mid-19th century.

Described as the “Madonna” of the Victorian age and credited with inventing the cult of celebrity, Lola Montez was a controversial liberal reformer, countess, dancer and courtesan who brought down a king and caused riots in Munich.

A feminist before her time, she has been the subject of numerous films, books and plays, and her memory is still celebrated as far away as Australia and San Francisco – where the house she lived in during the Gold Rush has been preserved as a Californian historical landmark – but there is little recognition for her in her home county and country.

The Quinn brothers own a number of businesses in Sligo including pubs, restaurants, package company— and a nightclub called Lola Montez. They are calling for people who might have Lola Montez memorabilia to get in touch with them with the view of creating a feature around the Sligo native who was the talk of the courts of Europe in the 1840s.

Born Eliza Gilbert in Grange, Co Sligo, on February 17, 1821, she was raised in India by Hindu women after her mother left and her father died when she was two.  She became a femme fatale who danced for the Tsar of Russia, had affairs with the composer Franz Liszt and author Alexandre Dumas and caused the abdication of a King, before becoming an entertainer in the gold fields of California and Australia.

“For a girl born in Grange, Co. Sligo, her story, which is infamous around the world, is one that deserves to be told and celebrated in her home county. Our long-term goal would be a permanent tourism feature that recounts her extraordinary story,” Fergal Quinn said.  Fergal and his brother Kevin Quinn, from Sligo who run a number of businesses, including pubs, a restaurant, party package company Henandstagsligo.ie and a nightclub – called Lola Montez. 

“In the West of Ireland, we need to make the most of what we have. That obviously includes our beautiful scenery along the Wild Atlantic Way, and the considerable achievements and legacy of people like Countess Markievicz and W.B. Yeats, but it also includes marking the significance of this remarkable historical figure,” said Fergal.

A fiercely independent woman, Lola Montez defied standards, conventional morals and the restrictions 19th century society placed on women to lead a full and fascinating life across three continents.

In the process she wrote books and delivered lectures and was made the Countess of Landsfeld by King Ludwig I of Bavaria. She was also the first woman in the world to be photographed with a cigarette and inspired the phrase ‘whatever Lola wants, Lola gets’.

King Ludwig was so enamoured of his mistress that he allowed her to exercise considerable political influence in Bavaria. However, her behaviour and campaigns for liberal reforms divided the kingdom and led to him being forced to abdicate.

Lola fled, first to the US, then Australia – where she entertained gold rush miners and horsewhipped a newspaper editor for an unfavourable review – then back to the US.

Montez has a road named after her in Rome; a mountain, a number of roads and two lakes named after her in the United States and even a dam in South Africa bears her name and her exploits are still celebrated in Australia to this day. 

Kevin Quinn says the brothers themselves didn’t know a lot about who Lola was until they stumbled across her name when trying to decide on a new name when they were re-branding their nightclub in early 2016.

“Only then, did we dig further into who she was and what she stood for and we couldn’t believe she was from Sligo. Despite a seemingly slightly shady and chequered  side to her persona, what we loved was her fiercely independent nature and the wild and exciting life story she had. We felt that her brand personality was something that may appeal to our target market,” says Kevin.

Local historical expert on Lola Montez, Jeremy Bird, has lent his support to the campaign to recognise the woman who, he says, was “ahead of her time”. He says: “Although famous across the world, we have hardly heard of her in her home county of Sligo until the recent opening of Lola’s nightclub. Why? Because historically she was seen as purely a courtesan. However, Lola was much more than this. She was a ferociously independent, politically astute woman who brought her influence to institute liberal reforms in Bavaria. The cost of Lola’s wilfulness and fierce independence was vitriolic coverage in the press and slanderous comments.  

“Lola’s rejection of the Victorian model of women was an affront to the societal norms of the  19th century world. In today’s modern world, Lola’s actions would probably be passed off as risqué behaviour and no more. However, in the moral world of the Victorian 19thcentury, she was seen as an outrageous independent woman not conforming to societies norms, and with dubious morals.

“Whilst our society has undergone profound changes in recent times - we were the first European country to introduce same-sex marriage by popular vote –  it still seems that Lola still lies out there as ‘too hot to handle’ and has not been embraced by her own Irish heritage. She was an extraordinary woman who lived an extraordinary life. Her iconoclastic lifestyle should be acknowledged and celebrated in her home county of Sligo.” 

Fergal Quinn added: “We’ve been struck by the fact that the vast majority of people who visit Sligo, even those who go to the Lola Montez nightclub, have no idea who she was or of her connection to Sligo, yet she was arguably the best-known woman in Europe in the mid-19th century

“We want to see appropriate recognition for one of Sligo’s most famous daughters. We’re issuing a call for memorabilia in the hope that we might be able to tell the Lola Montez story here in Sligo where it began.”

To get in touch about your Lola memorabilia, contact Fergal@lolamontez.ie