The Cole Memorial Column, a prominent feature of Enniskillen’s skyline, was erected between 1845 and 1857 to commemorate General Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole, who as commander of the 4th Division was one of Wellington’s main subordinates during the Peninsular War.
During the wars with France in the late 18th century, Cole also served in the French West Indies, Martinique, and Guadeloupe; the names of these and other battles in which he was involved are engraved on the base of the monument.
Generally known as Lowry rather than Galbraith, Cole was a descendant of Captain William Cole, the “undertaker” who founded Enniskillen in the early 17th century. In 1760 one of his descendants, John Cole, became Baron Mount Florence and in 1789 his son, William Willoughby Cole, became 1st Earl of Enniskillen.
Lowry Cole, born 1 May 1772 in Dublin, was the second son of the 1st Earl and Anne Lowry-Corry, daughter of Galbraith Lowry-Corry of Tyrone and sister of Armar Lowry-Corry, who became 1st Earl of Belmore. It was the 1st Earl of Belmore who, between 1790 and 1796, built Castle Coole, the classic mansion just southeast of Enniskillen, to bolster his ambitious social and political pretensions. The latter came to nothing largely because of the Act of Union.
Lowry Cole enjoyed political and military careers and refused to maximize the opportunities offered by a third party, that of a colonial administrator. Cole’s impressive military career grew alongside his much smaller political career, which would not be possible today.
Lowry Cole was briefly Member of Parliament for Enniskillen in the Irish Parliament between 1797 and 1800. Like many aristocratic and noble families in Ulster, the Coles were hostile to the Union and so he voted against the proposed measure.
Since serving officers had to vote with the administration, Cole was sent overseas with his regiment. To prevent a by-election and the election of an anti-unionist candidate, the administration denied him the escheatorship of Munster, a ‘fictitious office of profit under the crown’, the appointment of which allowed members of the Irish Parliament to resign after the Place Act of 1793.
Between 1803 and 1823, Cole was one of two MPs for Co Fermanagh in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. He succeeded his brother unopposed in 1803. His maiden speech on 11 August 1803 criticized the government’s handling of Robert Emmet’s abortive uprising. In 1804 he was counted ‘against’ the government but ‘linked’ to Lord Enniskillen who was eager to become a representative peer.
Cole’s military career began when he was commissioned as a cornet in the 12th Dragoons in March 1787. He first saw active service in Martinique where he was aide-de-camp to Sir Charles Grey. Between 1797 and 1800 he was Deputy Adjutant General and ADC to Lord Carhampton, the Commander-in-Chief of Ireland.
On January 1, 1801, the day the Anglo-Irish Act of Union came into force, he was appointed colonel of the 27th Inniskillings, the regiment with which his family was most closely associated. He was later appointed military secretary to Lord Hutchinson in Egypt. He served as a brigadier general in Sicily and commanded the 1st Brigade at the Battle of Maida, Calabria, southern Italy, July 4, 1806.
In 1808, he was promoted to major-general. However, following friction with Sir John Stuart, the Commander-in-Chief, in the summer of 1809 Cole left Sicily and asked to be transferred to the peninsula where he was given command of the famous 4th Division, which together with the The 3rd and Light Divisions constituted the cream of Wellington’s army.
Cole served with great distinction in Albuhera (where he played a decisive role and was injured), Salamanca, Vittoria (where he was mentioned in dispatches), Pyrenees, Nivelle, Orthes and Toulouse.
He twice received thanks from the House of Commons for his services.
In 1813, he was promoted to Lieutenant-General and made a Knight Grand Cross of Bath. In 1814, he was admitted to the Order of the Tower and the Sword of Portugal.
He missed the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815, much to Wellington’s chagrin, as he was on honeymoon, having married three days earlier Lady Frances Harris, second daughter of the 1st Earl of Malmesbury, diplomat and foreign policy scholar who was to advise both George Canning and Lord Palmerston, two of the great foreign ministers of the 19th century.
Between 1814 and 1816, Cole declined a number of attractive offers as colonial administrator, including governorship of Gibraltar, lieutenant governorship of Corfu, and governorship of Ceylon. In 1823, he accepted the ostensibly less attractive governorship of Mauritius and “solidly handled” the challenges of the former French colony.
Between 1828 and 1833 Cole proved to be one of the outstanding governors of the Cape of Good Hope, ably supported by Lady Cole who played a leading role in the colony’s social philanthropy. Colesberg, a town in Cape Town, bears his name, as does Sir Lowry’s Pass near Cape Town.
On his return from South Africa, Cole settled in England and it was in Highfield Park, his home in Hampshire, that he died suddenly, at the age of 70, in October 1842.
As well as the column on the Forthill, the life of General Sir Galbraith Lowry Cole is also commemorated by a statue on the north side of the choir in the Cathedral Church of St Macartin, Enniskillen. This is very appropriate as his family was intimately involved in the history of the church and the city.
The present church, essentially 19th century, stands on the site of the church built (in planter gothic style) by William Cole in the early 17th century. The crypt contains the remains of several of his ancestors. On the south side of the chancel there is a statue of Lowry Cole’s brother, the 2nd Earl of Enniskillen, dressed in the robe of a Knight of St Patrick.