One of the most romantic and intriguing stories surrounding Woodstock is that of Sarah Ponsonby, a relative of the Fownes Tighes who was staying at Woodstock in the 1770s. Sarah was a great beauty and said to have been receiving unwanted attention from Sir William, whose wife Betty was in ailing health. Sarah felt trapped in an unbearable situation. That was until she met Eleanor Butler, daughter of the Earl of Ormond who lived in Kilkenny Castle. Eleanor was clever and witty and was still unwed at 39. She was said to have been determined to resist any forced marriage or being sent to live in a nunnery.
Sarah and Eleanor became extremely close, and the two eloped, fleeing Ireland. Dressed as men, carrying a pistol, and accompanied by Sarah’s dog, Frisk, they rode for Waterford to catch the ship. Unfortunately the ship did not sail and they were caught. However due to their determination to never be separated, eventually the families relented and they were free to leave. They set up home in Wales, in a five room cottage on a hillside above Llangollen, which they renamed Plas Newydd.
Their home reflected their love for art and history, and the cottage became a wonderland of intricately carved and decorated timbers and furniture, with a well-stocked library and a myriad of antiques. Though the ‘Ladies of Llangollen’ – as they became known – wished for a quiet retirement, they were the source of much intrigue and the fashionable world soon took them into their hearts. Their visitors included the highest ranks of society, with characters like the Duke of Wellington, Prince Paul Esterhazy, the Duke of Gloucester, Wordsworth, Shelley and Lord Byron all calling to pay their respects.
They lived a long and happy life at Llangollen spending more than 50 years together, along with their indefatigable housekeeper Mary Carryll who had accompanied them from Kilkenny. When Mary died, they erected an elaborate stone monument in their gardens, under which they later joined her.