24 January 2010

An active life and zealous energy

The afternoon sun cast a shimmering golden light across the beach and the sea in Skerries today, with the spire and tower at Holmpatrick jutting above the skyline (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Walking along the beach in Skerries this afternoon, and strolling on up around Red Island, the sun was casting a golden, shimmering light on the calm sea and the beach.

Looking back across the town from the beach and from Red Island, I noticed how the spire of Holmpatrick Church and the tower behind it are almost an ever-present, graceful feature in the distance. The 19th-century spire is off-centre, breaking the potential austerity of this gothic revival, pre-disestablishment church; the ruined early-18th century tower is a reminder of a more ancient past and the Celtic and mediaeval monastic sites associated with this area.

Holmpatrick Church, the Church of Ireland parish church for Skerries, was built in 1867, replacing an older parish church, built in 1722. The new church in Holmpatrick was consecrated on 2 September 1868 by Archbishop Richard Chenevix Trench of Dublin. The church – commissioned by Lord Holmpatrick and designed by J.E. Rogers – was built of limestone quarried nearby at Milverton.

The potentially austere exterior of Holmpatrick Church is more than compensated for by the ornate interior, with its neo-mediaeval decoration, and some interesting stained glass windows, especially those on the balcony.

Zealous energy

Some of the memorial tablets in the older church that once stood on the mound behind were moved to the new church when it was being built in the 1860s. The most interesting of these is one to the memory of Lord Holmpatrick’s ancestor, James Hamilton of Sheepshill and Holmpatrick.

This monument was drawn to my attention when I was preaching here a few years ago. Part of the inscription reads: “A gentleman who during a long and most active life displayed that zealous energy and ingenious integrity that forms a useful and virtuous man … He died the 20th of October 1800, in the 73rd year of his age … Of the uncommonly numerous offspring of thirty six children he was survived by eight sons and eight daughters.”

I believe James Hamilton’s descendants include Richard Branson. However, with 36 children born over 200 years ago, Hamilton must be the ancestor of thousands upon thousands of people today. But … 36 children? A most active life that displayed zealous energy indeed! Useful and virtuous? What about his poor wife or wives?

The last priors of Holmpatrick

The tower of the 1722 church in Holmpatrick was left standing after the church was demolished and a new parish church was built in the 1860s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford (2010)

There are more interesting and curious memorials in the graveyards behind the church, where the square tower of the older 1722 parish church still stands on top of a raised mound.

The early 18th-century church was built by the Hamilton family two years after they acquired the Holmpatrick estate from the Earls of Thomond in 1720. When the Hamilton church was demolished in the 1860s, the tower was left standing – supposedly as a landmark for ships to steer by.

The Delahide Stone (left) and the Abbot’s Headstone (right) ... all that remains of the mediaeval Priory of Holmpatrick today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Two old gravestones cemented into the south side of the tower are known locally as the Abbot’s Headstone and the Delahide Stone.

The Abbot’s Headstone commemorates Peter Manne, one of the last Augustinian Priors of Holmpatrick. Local people claim this may be one of the earliest stones with an inscription in Ireland. Although difficult to read today, the Latin inscription has been translated: “Here lies Peter Manne formerly Prior of this House on whose soul God have mercy. He died in the year of Christ 1520.”

Peter Manne was succeeded as Prior of Holmpatrick by John Cantwell and then by Peter Manne, who was the last elected Prior of Holmpatrick. The Priory of Holmpatrick was dissolved on 8 May 1537. At the dissolution of the monasteries, the priory’s possessions included about 1,000 acres in the surrounding area.

Beside the Abbot’s Headstone is the taller Delahide Stone, which is dated 1578 and which displays two coats of arms. The Delahides were the landlords of nearby Loughshinny until the Cromwellian era.

Other stones in the graveyard recall people who died in local shipwrecks. They include William Murehead, commander, and Thomas McClerey, a 16-year-old cabin boy, from the brig Savage of Portaferry, which was wrecked in Skerries harbour with the loss of most of the crew.

An interesting tombstone belongs to Richard Toole, a local blacksmith who died in 1719. Its remarkable carvings include the tools of his trade, a claw hammer, a tongs and anvil.

The mediaeval Augustinian Priory of Holmpatrick stood on the mound in the graveyard behind the present parish church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

But this old graveyard is also of historical interest as the site of the old monastic church that was part of the Priory of Holmpatrick. There is no surviving structural evidence for the priory, but the latest historical and archaeological opinion is that the site of the priory was within the upper tier of the present cemetery, where the ruined tower now stands. Christine Baker came to this conclusion following her examination of the mediaeval tiles discovered in the graveyard, and which she described in the Journal of the Royal Society of the Antiquaries of Ireland (vol 13, 2002, pp 143-147).

Murder in Loughshinny

The Revd Anthony Tanner, who was the Vicar of Holmpatrick at the time the Hamiltons built the new parish church in 1722, probably baptised the prolific James Hamilton. But Tanner came to a sorry end when he was brutally murdered nearby in Loughshinny on 7 May 1741.

Tanner was Vicar of both Holmpatrick and Balscadden, and it is said he owned most of the land around Loughshinny at the beginning of the 18th century. He married Alice Cannon from the nearby townland of Popeshall in November 1740.

Six months later, on 3 May 1741, after dining with his friend, Sir Robert Echlin of Kenure House, Tanner was returning home to his house in Lougshinny and was crossing a stile when he was attacked. The vicar’s younger brother, William Tanner, was accused of employing a poor fisherman, James Cappogue, to carry out the murder. William hoped that after his brother’s death he would inherit the lands at Loughshinny. But he did not know that Anthony’s newly-wed wife, Alice, was already four months pregnant – their daughter, Margaret, was born in October 1741.

William Tanner and James Cappogue were put on trial after the murder and convicted. Cappogue was sentenced to be hanged drawn and quartered, and was executed in Saint Stephen’s Green, Dublin, on 4 November 1741, just weeks after baby Margaret was born.

However, William Tanner managed to draw out the proceedings. He went to court no less than 10 times until eventually he was discharged and released.

Margaret Tanner later inherited her father’s lands in Loughshinny. She married John Dempsey, a local lawyer. The Dempsey family were proprietors of Loughshinny in 1762, at the time the local copper mines were developed. They were also involved in the early attempts to build a pier at Loughshinny.

For many years, a large stone house stood at the entrance to the farmyard where Tanner was murdered. However, this house was demolished in the early 1940s to make way for the present-day farmhouse, although many earlier outbuildings, including the remains of an old pigeon-house, still stand.

The farmyard is private property and entry is prohibited, but the murder of Anthony Tanner is still remembered in Loughshinny and is one of the featured points on the local millennium historical walk.

Tanner was only 49 when he was murdered. Unlike his neighbour and patron, James Hamilton, Tanner did not have “a long and most active life” that allowed him to display “that zealous energy and ingenious integrity that forms a useful and virtuous man.” Had he lived, would he too have had an “uncommonly numerous offspring” – and how many more children would have survived him?

Living with sarcoidosis

A few days ago, the weekend was promising to be a little demanding. I visited my GP at the beginning of the weekend for my regular, monthly B12 injection and for another prescription for the inhaler that eases some of my symptoms of sarcoidosis. By Saturday, I was feeling a bit run down because of those symptoms, and found myself falling asleep in front of the Leinster-London Irish match on the television.

But while I have sarcoidosis, I am determined that sarcoidosis will not have me. And so it was spiritually uplifting to celebrate the early Eucharist in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, at 9 a.m. this morning, and to celebrate and preach at the Solemn Sung Eucharist at 11 a.m.

The walk on the beach in Skerries and lunch in The Olive helped to lift my spirits even further. And I suppose I also I discovered new meaning for the terms “active life” and “zealous energy” in Skerries this afternoon.


1 comment:

Brendan Grimes said...

I enjoyed reading your article on Skerries. As a resident I appreciate everything you say. I think the graveslab to Richard Toole might have been appropriated for him; I doubt if he was a blacksmith. I think the symbols on it represent the crucifixion not the tools of the blacksmith's trade. You say the tower dates to 1722. If you can give me the source for this I would be most grateful. In my ignorance I jumped to the conclusion that it was built in the early 18th century.