15 February 2013

CITI lecturer’s research shows Irish roots of new Archbishop of Canterbury

Today’s edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette [15 February 2013] publishes the following half-page news report on page 3:

CITI lecturer’s research shows
Irish roots of new Archbishop of Canterbury

The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Justin Welby, has strong family links to Ireland, with ancestral roots that trace him back to Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the British aristocrat and revolutionary and one of the leaders of the 1798 rebellion against British rule in Ireland, according to recent research by the eminent Church of Ireland Historian, Canon Patrick Comerford, published in the February edition of The Church Review, Dublin and Glendalough’s monthly diocesan magazine.

Canon Comerford lectures on Liturgy and Church History in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and is an Adjunct Visiting Professor at Trinity College Dublin.

Canon Comerford’s investigations revealed the new archbishop’s strong Irish roots through his mother’s descent from a well-known Co. Kildare family whose ancestral home was Celbridge House, now known as Oakley Park and part of a special needs school run by the St John of God order.

“I knew Archbishop Welby and his mother, Jane Gillian Portal, were related to the former Tory politician, R.A.B. Butler,” Canon Comerford told the editor of The Church Review, the Revd Nigel Waugh. “However, when I traced Butler’s ancestors, I was surprised to find that they had no verifiable connections with the Butler families of Ireland.”

Canon Comerford then went in search of Irish ancestors among the Portal family, ancestors of Archbishop Welby’s mother, Lady Williams.

“I found that the archbishop’s maternal grandmother was Rose Leslie Napier,” Canon Comerford explained, “and then I realised that there had to be a strong Irish connection.

“I was familiar with the story of Sir Charles James Napier, an Irish general who was Governor of Kephalonia and who played a role in the Greek War of Independence. He was a first cousin of the 1798 leader Lord Edward FitzGerald and I wondered whether Rose was descended from the same family.”

After Christmas, Canon Comerford visited Celbridge, Co. Kildare, and his subsequent research confirmed, he says, “that Archbishop Welby is a direct descendant of Lady Sarah (Napier) Lennox, a sister of both Lady Emily Lennox, Duchess of Leinster and mother of Lord Edward FitzGerald and Lady Louisa Lennox, wife of Thomas Conolly of Castletown House, Co Kildare.”

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