Plunkett, Elizabeth Mary Margaret (‘Daisy’) (née Burke) (1862–1944), countess of Fingall , socialite and cooperationist, was born at Danesfield, near Moycullen, Co. Galway, eldest among three daughters and one son of George Burke, farmer and magistrate; her two youngest siblings died of diphtheria when she was 9. Throughout life she retained the childhood pet name ‘Daisy’. Educated for seven years in convent schools in France and England (1875–82), after returning home she was presented at Dublin Castle to the viceroy, Lord Spencer (qv) (December 1882). A great success during her first season, after a whirlwind courtship, at age 21 she married (15 May 1883) Arthur James Francis Plunkett (1859–1929), recently succeeded (1881) as 11th earl of Fingall, the premier catholic peer in Ireland, despite misgivings in both families owing to her youth, inchoate social skills, and modest financial assets. Resident in the Fingall's ancestral seat of Killeen castle, near Dunshaughlin, Co. Meath, the couple had two sons and two daughters. Notwithstanding his service as state steward to the lord lieutenant (1882–5), Lord Fingall loathed society, his twin passions being horses and hunting; his sobriquet ‘the somnolent earl’ owed to his penchant for dozing off after dinner. He served with the Imperial Yeomanry in South Africa (1900–01), was master of the horse to Lord Lieutenant Dudley (qv) (1905), and was on the recruiting staff during the first world war (1915–18). In contrast, Daisy Fingall thrived on society and travel; graced with wit and charm, she was vivacious and gregarious, with a quick, if not deep, intelligence. Frequenting both the Dublin and London seasons, taking regular European holidays, she moved amid a vast circle that included many of the leading social, political, and cultural figures of the age. While not a strong rider, she revelled in both the social aspects of hunting and the sheer thrill of the chase, besides being appreciative that the tight-fitting hunting habit showed off her fashionable, reputedly seventeen-inch waist to perfection. Finding a sympathetic companion in her husband's cousin and friend Horace Plunkett (qv), she developed with him an intimate and enduring relationship, playing hostess in his residence at Dunsany castle, neighbouring Killeen, and from 1906 at Kilteragh, the house that he built in Foxrock, Dublin, which she helped to furnish. Though Plunkett was in love with her, and remained a bachelor for her sake, according to his biographer, Trevor West, the relationship was unconsummated, owing to Plunkett's scruples; Daisy's memoirs hint at several sexual liaisons with other men within her social set. From the mid 1890s she energetically supported Plunkett's agrarian cooperative movement, travelling throughout Ireland, usually in his company, on organising activities; Plunkett called her the ‘honey pot’, her function to attract ‘bees’ (contributors and activists) to the movement. She persuaded Lord Fingall to attempt several of Plunkett's agricultural experiments at Killeen: thus, they kept goats, cultivated corn and tobacco, and converted a paddock to a cider-apple orchard (the product to be labelled ‘Bottle of the Boyne’); none of the experiments succeeded. She was among the founders in 1910 of the United Irishwomen, an organisation linked to Plunkett's Irish Agricultural Organisations Society, aimed at enrolling women in the grand scheme of building a rural civilisation, and assuring that the cooperative movement attend to the interests of farming women and domestic life. Typical of the organisation's early aristocratic leadership, for nearly three decades she served as president of the body and of its successor, the Irish Countrywomen's Association (ICA) (1913–42). Believing that the ‘dullness’ of rural life contributed to emigration, she took a particular interest in promoting social activities, including dancing, choral societies, and sport. Though she invariably arrived late to meetings, and rarely offered opinions, the length of her tenure provided stability and continuity through such testing periods as 1916–23, and the transition in 1935 from the initial organisation to the ICA.
Daisy's politics followed those of Plunkett, evolving from constructive unionism, through dominion federalism, to support for the fledgling Irish Free State, which, unlike many aristocrats, she and her husband chose not to flee. Within her circle she expressed opposition to coercive policies and denounced atrocities by crown troops. Her description in the early 1900s as ‘the Sinn Féin countess’ was a misnomer; apart from the affinity of the cooperative movement to Sinn Féin's programme of economic self-help, she had no connection to the younger organisation. Politics notwithstanding, she admired handsome, strong-minded statesmen of every persuasion: Charles Stewart Parnell (qv), Michael Collins (qv), the chief secretaries Gerald Balfour (qv) and George Wyndham (qv), all of whom she met, and the latter two knew well. After Lord Fingall's death (1929) she moved to a flat in Mespil Rd, Dublin. Her autobiography, Seventy years young (1937), dictated to Pamela Hinkson (qv), evokes the glittering orbit of the leisured, landed ascendancy: the Castle season, with its round of levees, drawing rooms, balls, and banquets; the debutantes anxiously awaiting the arrival of invitations delivered door to door by mounted orderlies; winter days spent hunting across the fields of Meath, the evenings of dining and dancing in chandeliered halls. There are vivid vignettes of luminaries of her acquaintance: Hugh Lane (qv) supervising the redecoration of Killeen; Daisy and Wyndham galloping on horseback through a deserted Phoenix Park early on a June morning after a ball in the chief secretary's lodge. There is Horace Plunkett, totally absorbed in his cause, absolutely indifferent to artistic or natural beauty; when Daisy, ecstatic over a glorious sunrise in the Swiss Alps, exclaims ‘Oh, look!’, Horace scans the mountainside: ‘Yes, I wonder that we never thought of goats for the congested districts.’ And in the margins of the narrative lurks the dark Ireland of the impoverished rural and urban classes, and the simmering political unrest, which explodes centre stage at Easter 1916 and dominates the closing chapters. After a warning note is delivered to Killeen from a neighbouring landowner whose house is being torched by republicans during the civil war, the book concludes with Daisy huddled before a fire in the study, fur coat draped round her shoulders and jewel case on her knee, surrounded by the family valuables as Fingall dozes by her side, awaiting the arrival of raiders who never appear.
Lady Fingall died in Dublin on 28 October 1944, and was buried in the grounds of Killeen. Her eldest son, Oliver James Horace Plunkett (1896–1984), 12th earl of Fingall , educated in England at Downside and Sandhurst, served with the 17th Lancers in the first world war, in which he was wounded, and with the 21st Lancers in the second world war. An accomplished horseman, he won the 1930 National Hunt Steeplechase on Sir Lindsay. Conspicuous on the track for his spectacles, he was said to be ‘blind as a bat and brave as a lion’. He owned successful racehorses, including Roddy Owen, winner of the 1959 Cheltenham Gold Cup. After selling Killeen (1951), he resided successively at Corballis and The Commons, both in Dunsany, Co. Meath. Twice married, he died childless, and was thus the last of the Fingall line.