The Countess of Desart: Ellen Odette Bischoffsheim

        May 2014    
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The memorial catalogue on lady Desarts Life is published by Dunemer Press. To order a copy go to Contact page; e mail All proceeds will go to charity associated with Lady Desart


The Countess of Desart

Ellen Odette Bischoffsheim

by Gabriel Murray

She Came to Save Two Nations

On Thu 30th Jan 2014 , Kilkenny City Borough Council opened the new pedestrian bridge in honour of an extradonary woman – The Countess of Desart. Built with the sum of E600,000. Local historian Gabriel Murray, a member of Kilkenny Archeological Society, has spent twenty years researching her life. This week he publishes a memorial catalogue on her life. The book will be published 2015.

The Countess of Desart
Portrait National Gallery London

The Countess of Desart,Odette Bishoffsheim (1857-1933), was the most important Jewish woman in Irish history. She was a member of the Senate from 1922-1933. Her philanthropy involved in the spend of over 15 million euro, in the funding of Auteven Hospital, Kilkenny Library, Desart Hall, Kilkenny Theatre, Kilkenny Wollen Mills, Talbots Inch workers housing. In her time living at Talbot inch, her cheque book was always open. She funded all the medical bills and higher education of her workers.

Her maternal grandfather Lazar Biedermann, was a Slovakian Jew; court jeweller to the Emperor of Austria. Her father, Henry Bischoffsheim along with his brother Louis, funded the building of the Swedish, French, Australian, and American railway systems. They also built the Orient Express from Paris to Istanbul.

Her father founded three of the largest banks in the world. The Deutsche Bank, Paribas Bank, and Societe Generale. Local historian Mr Murray, has been in contact with all these banks, informing them of this connection. Paribas Ireland are interested in his research. Also Paribas Paris, which houses the Bischoffsheim archives. Leicester University and the Jewish Museum London have a wealth of material of her Jewish charities.

Mr Murrays research has uncovered her involvement of the Poor Jewish Temporary Shelter in London, along with her father, her uncle Baron De Hirsch and Leopold Rothschild. The shelter was founded by Hermann Landaue and Otto Schiff, her are remembered with great fondness by the Jewish community, in London. Between them, they funded the rescue of thousands of Jews from the Russian Pale from 1881-1914 and later during the war years from Germany and Poland 1938-45. (They rescued aprox 1.3 million Jewish people.

Her uncle Baron De Hirsch founded the Jewish Colonization Association to re-locate over a million Russian, Latvian and Lithuanian Jews to lands in Canada, America and Argentina. He donated over $1.2 billion dollars, for this re-location.

Lady Desart as president of the Women's Committee 1908-1933, was directly involved in the rescue of aprox 300,000 of women and children. She is buried along with her Anglo-Irish husband William Cuffe (from Desart Cuffsgrange Co Kilkenny) in Falmouth, Cornwall. On her death her probate recorded a will of £1,500,000. All of this money was donated to the various charities that she was associated with.

The Borough council should be congratulated in making a wise decision in naming the bridge after this extraordinary woman. Lady Desart herself funded the building of a bridge for the Greenvale Woolen Mills workers in 1912. This bridge was destroyed in the 1947 flood. So her memory and another bridge associated with her good name, once again graces the waters of the river Nore.

The new Lady Desart Bridge.

Greenvale Bridge built by Lady Desart ,circa 1908.
It was destroyed in great flood of 1947.

Among the notable persons that Lady Desart rescued was Daniel Days Lewis' maternal great grandparents, (Lativan and Polish Jews); Sir Michael Elias Balcon (1896 – 1977) and grandmother Laura Greenberg; c.1863–1934);


from the May 2014 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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