04 May 2014

The forgotten surgeon who
masterminded the Kilcoole
gunrunning 100 years ago

Sir Thomas Myles (1857-1937) … forgotten because he joined the army in 1914?

Patrick Comerford

This summer sees the centenary of the Howth and Kilcoole gunrunnings, only days before the outbreak of World War I. The Howth gunrunning continues to be remembered in history, and the key figures involved were members of the Church of Ireland. But why is the Kilcoole gunrunning largely forgotten, and why do we seldom hear about the key figure involved, Sir Thomas Myles (1857-1937)?

The beach at Kilcoole, Co Wicklow … the scene of the Kilcoole gunrunning on 1 August 1914 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Myles was a prominent Irish surgeon and an active member of the Church of Ireland, but his name has been written out of many accounts of those events in 1914.

The Myles family were prominent merchants in Limerick City and the surrounding area since the mid-17th century, and they are remembered to this day in street names such as Myles Street and James Street.

The future Sir Thomas Myles was born in Limerick on 20 April 1857, probably in Catherine Street, and was baptised in Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick, on 27 May. His youngest brother, the Very Revd Edward Albert Myles (1865-1951), was Rector of Tullylish, Co Down, and Dean of Dromore.

Thomas Myles was a promising sportsman from an early age. In 1873, he played in the first rugby match ever played in Limerick. The following year, he was on the winning rowing crew at Castleconnell. Local legend says he was the first to swim Kilkee Bay, Co Clare, giving his name to ‘Myles’ Creek.’

Trinity College Dublin … Sir Thomas Myles graduated in medicine in 1881 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

He entered Trinity College Dublin in 1873 with his brother John Thomas ‘Jack’ Myles (1855-1934). As a medical student, he was a prominent member of the Dublin University Boat Club. His brother Jack was capped for Ireland against England in the first Irish rugby international match in 1875, and played in the first Munster team against Leinster at College Park in 1877.

The Dublin University Boat Club … as a medical student, Thomas Myles was a prominent member (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Home Rule supporter

As a student, Thomas Myles became a supporter of Home Rule, a term coined by the Revd Joseph Allen Galbraith (1818-1890), a Church of Ireland priest and a Senior Fellow and Bursar of TCD. Myles was one of the early members of Protestant Home Rule Party formed by Galbraith in the early 1870s.

After graduating in medicine in 1881, he became the resident surgeon in Dr Steevens’ Hospital. One of his early calls in 1882 was to attend to the victims of the Phoenix Park murders, the new Chief Secretary for Ireland, Lord Frederick Cavendish, and his Under-Secretary, Thomas Henry Burke. He was one of six doctors who performed the post mortems in the present US Ambassador’s Residence.

He became a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (FRCSI) in 1885, and until 1890 he was resident surgeon at Jervis Street Hospital. Meanwhile, he took part in the inaugural meeting of the Dublin branch of the Irish Protestant Home Rule Association in 1886. He continued to be a consistent supporter of Charles Stewart Parnell.

On 21 April 1888, in Saint Peter’s Church, Dublin, he married Frances Elizabeth (Fanny) Ayres, daughter of Canon George Ayres (1813-1881), Vicar of Kilbride, Blessington, and Prebendary of Mulhuddart in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

That same year he was received the degree MD at TCD in 1888, and in 1889 he became the first Professor of Pathology at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. He was still only 32, and was then a surgeon in the Richmond Hospital.

In 1900, he became President of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. With this came the freedom of his native Limerick in 1900 and a knighthood in King Edward VII’s coronation honours list in 1902.

Gunrunning plots

Howth Harbour … the Asgard landed its consignment on Sunday 26 July 1914 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

As Sir Thomas Myles, he remained an active campaigner for Home Rule, but he was not involved in the establishment of the Irish Volunteers in the Rotunda in Dublin on 25 November 1913. However, as an enthusiastic yachtsman and the owner the wall-known Chotah, he soon became intimately involved the political events that were unfolding.

In April 1914, the Ulster Volunteer Force landed 24,000 German rifles and three million rounds of ammunition, mostly at Larne. Myles and his yacht were quickly recruited by James Creed Meredith (1875-1942) to help smuggle German guns for the Irish Volunteers. Within weeks, Erskine Childers landed 900 rifles from the Asgard at Howth, north of Dublin, on 26 July 1914 and Myles landed 600 rifles from the Chotah at Kilcoole, Co Wicklow, a week later, on the night of 1 and 2 August.

The main participants in the gunrunnings to Howth and Kilcoole were active members of the Church of Ireland. The gunrunnings were first plotted by that first met in the London home of the historian Alice Stopford Green (1847-1929), daughter of Archdeacon Edward Adderley Stopford of Meath, Rector of Kells. The other committee members included Sir Roger Casement, Molly Childers, and the first cousins Conor O’Brien and Mary Spring-Rice (1880-1924), grand-daughter of Samuel Butcher, Bishop of Meath.

Meredith, who recruited Myles to the plot, later became President of the Supreme Court. A younger brother, the Ven Ralph Creed Meredith (1887-1970), was Archdeacon of Waitotara (1925-1932) in New Zealand, Vicar of Windsor, Berkshire (1940-1958), and a chaplain to both King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II. (In later life, Judge Meredith became a pacifist and a Quaker.)

Robert Erskine Childers (1872-1920), skipper of the Asgard, was a grandson of Canon Charles Childers, a member of well-known English clerical family who intermarried with Barton family of Glendalough House, Co Wicklow. Childers is also remembered because his son, Erskine Childers, became President of Ireland, and the name of the Asgard continued to be used for sail-training vessels.

Edward Conor Marshall O’Brien (1880-1952) from Limerick, skipper of the Kelpie, was a grandson of William Smith O’Brien, leader of the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848. Conor O’Brien was also a nephew of the Very Revd John Gwynn (1827-1917), Dean of Raphoe and Regius Professor of Divinity in Trinity College Dublin, and of the Very Revd Lucius Henry O’Brien (1842-1913), Dean of Limerick; his cousins included the Revd Robert Malcolm Gwynn, closely identified with founding of the Irish Citizens’ Army in 1913, and the late Mercy Simms, wife of the late Archbishop George Simms.

Howth and Kilcoole landings

The gunrunning was masterminded by Erskine Childers, who initially decided to use his 28-ton yacht Asgard, which was laid up in Wales, to smuggle arms and ammunition into Ireland. Childers and Spring-Rice also decided to use O’Brien’s yacht, the Kelpie, and Meredith approached Myles to use the Chotah.

In Hamburg, Childers and Darrell Figgis (1882-1925) bought 1,500 second-hand German rifles and ammunition for £1,500. They were moved to O’Brien’s yacht, the Kelpie, and later transferred off the Welsh coast to the Chotah skippered by Sir Thomas Myles and the Asgard, navigated by Erskine and Molly Childers, and with Mary Spring-Rice on board.

Back in Ireland, there were so many rumours that the authorities were confused. This confusion was compounded by a late change of plans for the Kelpie and the Chotah.

The harbour at Dalkey … the Asgard arrived unnoticed in Howth because the Kelpie was expected in Dalkey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

On Sunday 26 July 1914, the Asgard landed its consignment in Howth, where it was met by a group that included Countess Markievicz, Bulmer Hobson and Darrell Figgis. No soldiers were present, for all eyes were on the Kelpie which was expected to land in Dalkey. Instead, it arrived off Bray Head that morning, but was empty. Two days later, on 28 July 1914, Austria invaded Serbia and World War I began. All available coastguards were withdrawn from Ireland, leaving behind a skeleton force to patrol the coastline.

When the Kelpie arrived off Bray Head that morning, but was empty (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The coast was now clear for Myles and the Chotah, still at anchor off Wales and waiting to sail for Kilcoole. They set sail on Saturday 1 August 1914, as a Volunteer force arrived at the Holy Faith Convent in Kilcoole. As darkness fell, a convoy of vehicles was brought down to the beach from the convent, commanded by Seán Fitzgibbon and Seán T O Ceallaigh, a future President of Ireland.

The former Holy Faith Convent in Kilcoole … a landing party met there under the future President, Seán T O Ceallaigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Chotah came in as near as possible to the beach, small boats went out to meet it, and rifles and ammunition were ferried ashore. These activities at Kilcoole unnoticed mainly because the police were distracted by a fireworks display to the south in Wicklow.

The beach at Kilcoole … the Chotah came in as near as possible to the beach (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

However, Constable Dalton and Constable Webb from Greystones RIC Station were patrolling the railway line between Greystones and Kilcoole. They spotted the Chotah and an exchange of light signals, but when they headed to Kilcoole Railway Station to contact the RIC Station in Greystones, they were surrounded and taken to Kilcoole by a group of armed men.

Constable Dalton and Constable Webb were taken captive at Kilcoole Railway Station (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

By 3 a.m. on Sunday morning, the operation was complete and the Chotah sailed again. The last act of the landing party as they left Kilcoole was to release the two captive constables.

After the landings

Sir Thomas Myles died in the Richmond Hospital, Dublin, where had been a surgeon, on 14 July 1937 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

No action was ever taken against Childers, O’Brien, Myles or anyone else involved in the landings. But what happened to Sir Thomas Myles after Kilcoole?

Like so many other Irish doctors and medical students, he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, becoming a consultant surgeon with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. On 21 November 1914, he was appointed an Honorary Surgeon in Ireland to King George V. He was on duty in Dublin during the Easter Rising in 1916, and attended James O’Brien of the Dublin Metropolitan Police who was shot dead at Dublin Castle on Easter Monday. He was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath on 1 January 1917.

After the war, Sir Thomas adopted the newest practices in surgery, particularly Listerian antiseptic methods. His obituary in The Irish Times noted that he continued to practice professionally until he was in his mid-70s. He died in the Richmond Hospital, Dublin, on 14 July 1937, and is buried in Deansgrange Cemetery, Dublin.

He has been described as “a great yachtsman, with several beautiful craft under his command.” His later yachts included a 70-ton ketch, the Sheila, and the Harbinger, said to be the “finest of her class afloat.” For probate purposes, the Sheila was worth more than his home at 32 Leeson Park.

Myles the surgeon is commemorated in his native city by the annual Sir Thomas Myles Lecture at the University of Limerick. However, the Kilcoole gunrunning remains one of the lesser known incidents in modern Irish history. While Erskine Childers, skipper of the Asgard, and Conor O’Brien, skipper of the Kelpie, are still remembered, Sir Thomas Myles is largely forgotten.

A stone marker at Kilcoole is a reminder of the events 100 years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today, a stone marker at the railway lines at Kilcoole beside at the beach is a reminder of those events 100 years ago. Sir Thomas Myles is commemorated in the inscription on this simple monument. But he has been written out of history, perhaps because he found a different way to display his loyalty for his country in 1914-1918.

Sir Thomas Myles is commemorated in the inscription on this simple monument (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay and these photograph were first published in May 2014 in the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory).

The Achill missionary buildings at Mweelin
– history, origins and people

The Revd Canon Edward Nangle (1800-1883) ... a portrait in Saint Thomas’s Church, Dugort (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

1: Introduction

The Great Famine of 1845 to 1849 has left a bitter memory in many parts of Ireland: memories of forced emigration, lost generations, the loss of culture, and the fervour of evangelical missionaries. It is an era that has left us all with a language of myth and prejudice, pejorative words like “souper” and “jumper” that still survive, that are still used, and that still follow families and individuals from one generation to the next.

Although we live in an age that is less prejudiced and more ecumenical, this should not stop us from asking difficult questions. The one place most closely associated with those memories and questions is, perhaps, Achill, and the one person most closely associated with those memories and those questions is, I am sure, Canon Edward Nangle.

In the past, I have looked at Nangle’s background and story, the key movements and ideals that shaped his career, and assessed his impact on life in Achill Island. But our visit to Mweelin this morning offers us an opportunity to look again at Nangle’s legacy, and to ask whether he achieved anything in Achill, to reassess the reasons why some of his projects such as Dugort lasted for some time, and to ask why others such as Mweelin failed after only a short time.

1, From the point of view of those of us who are interested in the history of Achill, this visit offers us an opportunity to:

a, ask whether all how the legends and stories about a college and settlement in Mweelin are true,

b, ask what was the nature and purpose of the mission presence in Mweelin;

c, ask why the mission community in Mweelin failed so soon, while those in Dugort, Inisbiggle and at Achill Sound persisted, to varying degrees, for much longer.

2, For those of us interested in the social history of Achill, we must ask whether the people involved in the mission in Achill were part of:

a, the wider social community associated with Nangle’s mission on the island;

b, part of the wider general network of families on Achill

3, for those of us interested in mission history Mweelin offers the opportunity to ask:

a, what was happening in Mweelin? For example, was it about what might now be called ‘Church Planting’? Was it about meeting the social needs of the people in terms of feeding, medical care, education, agricultural reform? Or was it cheap proselytism, the type that came to be labelled as ‘souperism’ and linked with a particular sectarian type of anti-Catholicism?

b, Why did it fail before the mission projects in Dugort or Inisbiggle failed? And we cannot rush to conclusions about that either. It is often assumed that it failed because local people rejected the mission projects with vigour. But were there other factors, such as internal divisions in the mission, lack of financial support that forced redefining the priorities of the mission, or the success of the project in Mweelin – which I shall explain as a potential factor that needs consideration as we move on.

2, The arrival of Edward Nangle in Achill

Dugort Strand ... Edward Nangle first arrived on foot at Dugort in 1831 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The foundation of the Achill Mission is associated first and foremost with the Revd Canon Edward Nangle (1800-1883), although a second person also needs to be considered this morning as we visit Mweelin: the Revd Canon Alexander Dallas (1791-1869), Secretary of the Society of Irish Church Missions (1843-1864). Those two clerical figures often appear to be larger than life, but while they co-operated at first, we have to ask whether Dallas become Nangle’s nemesis or even his bête noire.

Edward Nangle was probably born on 25 November 1800. Although his family had strong Roman Catholic roots and connections, he was baptised in Saint George’s Church, then a fashionable Church of Ireland parish church in north inner city Dublin, on 14 December 1800.

In the summer of 1824, Nangle was ordained deacon by Thomas O’Beirne, Bishop of Meath, for the parish of Athboy, Co Meath. Soon after, he was ordained priest on O’Beirne’s behalf by George de la Poer Beresford, Bishop of Kilmore. In Arva, Athboy and Killeshandra, Nangle was deeply influenced by the Primitive Methodists, adopting their Arminian theology which was far more liberal than the Calvinist thinking then dominating evangelical thinking. He also became acutely aware of the injustices suffered by the Irish people and became committed to working among the Irish-speaking people.

An outbreak of famine and cholera swept the west coast of Ireland, particularly Mayo and Sligo, in 1831. Edward and Elizabeth Nangle travelled from Dublin to Westport on the steamer Nottingham with a cargo of Indian meal and to report on conditions along the Mayo coast. At Westport, he was prompted by the Rector of Newport, the Revd William Baker Stoney (whose family continued to live in Rosturk Castle until recently), to visit Achill. He stayed overnight at Achill Sound before crossing on foot when the tide was out, and then on horseback to Bullsmouth, Dugort and Keel.

Moved by the temporal and spiritual destitution of the people, Nangle returned to Newport to report to Stoney and the foundations were laid for the Achill Mission. Sir Richard O’Donel of Newport House provided land at Dugort on a long lease and at a nominal rent, and Nangle sought support for his mission plans from an old school-friend Robert Daly, then Rector of Powerscourt. The first committee included Daly, later Bishop of Cashel, Joseph Henderson Stringer, later Bishop of Meath, and the Revd Caesar Otway, and also had the support of Archbishop Power Le Poer Trench of Tuam.

The beach at Dugort ... Edward Nangle and his family settled at Dugort in July 1834 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The first land was bought for the mission in 1833, and after a brief stay in Ballina, the Nangle family settled in Dugort on 30 July 1834. They were soon joined by Nangle’s assistant, the Revd Joseph Duncan, two Scripture readers named Joyce and Gardiner, Alexander Lendrum, his wife and six children, and Dr Neason Adams and his family. The school at Slievemore opened two days before Christmas 1834 with 43 children attending on the first day. By the following Sunday, there were schools in Dugort, Slievemore, Cashel and Keel, catering for 410 children. With a gift from friends in London and York, a printing press was established a year later in December 1835.

By 1836, the mission was working at Dooega, on Achillbeg, in Ballycroy, and on Clare Island. In 1837, the island of Innisbiggle was rented from O’Donel; that year also saw the first edition of the Achill Missionary Herald and Western Witness. An orphanage was established in 1838, and in the summer of that year, Archbishop Trench visited the island for the first time.

By now, the conflict between Roman Catholic clergy and people on the one hand and Nangle and the mission staff on the other was marked by violence. A schoolmaster and Scripture reader were violently beaten on Clare Island, and were forced to seek refuge on the lighthouse before they could escape on a coastguard vessel. Francis Reynolds, a coastguard officer who was denounced by name at Mass on several successive Sundays, died after he was hit on the head in a house in Keel; John and Bridget Lavelle were cleared of his murder at a trial in Castlebar in Spring 1839, and as a direct consequence of these and other violent incidents, the courthouse was built at Achill Sound in 1839.

John O’Shea, Anne Falvey, John Percival and Mealla Ni Ghiobuin have detailed the work of Nangle and the Mission during the Great Famine. By Spring 1847, Nangle and the colony were employing 2,192 labourers and feeding 600 children a day.

The Nangle family, like many rectory families during the famine, suffered their own measure of trauma and tragedy: of the eight children born to Edward and Elizabeth Nangle between 1835 and 1847, five died in infancy, and Elizabeth Nangle, whose mental health had been deteriorating rapidly, died in 1850.

Elizabeth Nangle’s Monument in Saint Thomas’s Church, Dugort (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Meanwhile, the foundation stone of Saint Thomas’s Church, Dugort was laid by the Bishop of Tuam, Lord Plunket, when he visited Achill Island on 20 September 1849. In April 1851, the mission purchased the lands it had leased from the O’Donel estate.

3, Nangle after Achill

Edward Nangle became Rector of Skreen when he left Achill in 1852 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Surprisingly, although Nangle had settled on Achill in 1834, he only served the parish officially as rector and vicar for less than two years. In 1850, he was appointed Rector and Vicar of Achill, and was made a canon of Tuam. But Nangle found it easier to work as a missionary than administering a large parish. In 1852, he resigned, left Achill after 18 years working on the island, and moved to Co Sligo, where he became Rector of Skreen in the Diocese of Killala.

He continued to keep an interest in Achill, returning for three months each year. But his relationship with the mission committee and the mission trustees became increasingly fraught and acrimonious. His staying power in Skreen, nevertheless, was greater than any he had exhibited in his other parochial appointments, he remained in Skreen for 21 years until he retired at the venerable age of 74.

In September 1873, Nangle resigned both as Rector of Skreen and as a trustee of the Achill mission. In 1879, he returned to return to live in Achill briefly, but he then moved to Dublin in 1881 and died on Sunday 9 September 1883, at the age of 84. By then he was a lonely man, almost forgotten by many of his colleagues, and with only his second wife, Sarah, by his side.

4, The mission settlement in Mweelin

The cliffs on the Achill coast near Mweelin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

One of the lesser known projects for Nangle and the Achill Mission was the settlement here in Mweelin. Mweelin is east of Dooega along the Minaun Mountain and about seven miles from the colony in Dugort. Today, people here say that we are looking at the ruins of a “university”, a college, a church and some of the houses of people who came to Mweelin as part of the Achill Mission.

The notion of a university at Mweelin makes this site particularly romantic in Achill imaginations. But what are we looking at here?

Mweelin came into the hands of the Achill Mission in the 1840s, and the mission project here began as a second colony about 1845. The settlement in Mweelin began with building a school. A house was built for a teacher and his family, and other buildings included a small church, training facilities and cottages. There was a Church of Ireland graveyard too, but there are no transcripts and we have no idea of how many people were buried here. The other graveyards at the time were in Dugort, Dugort East and Pollranny.

By 1849, there were Sunday services in Mweelin, and by September 1851, the Achill Missionary Herald reports Mweelin has: “A rectory, a handsome church, steward’s house, a long row of cottages, in all 18 families, a school having 40 scholars,” and “Trinity College,” itself having 60 boys selected from 30 schools.

Neither the Achill Missionary Herald nor PJ Joyce’s later book, A Forgotten Part of Ireland (Tuam, 1910) gives an unbiased, accurate account of the mission, and we need to be cautious about what either says about Mweelin. The Herald was anxious to provide a brave face to English readers in order to raise funds, and so many of its reports are highly exaggerated, and descend into polemic and hyperbole.

On the other hand, Joyce writes a full two generations after the founding of the mission, and is a Roman Catholic. However, he displays immense sympathy and understanding, and he provides an interesting, if not wholly impartial account of what happened in Mweelin.

In his account, Joyce says that when Nangle was well established in Dugort, he decided to build a hospital, a college and a large and impressive house for a minister in Mweelin.

Griffith’s Valuation from about this time shows that Mweelin had both a schoolhouse and a training school run by the Irish Church Mission Society.

The church can no longer be seen today because a house was built on the site where it once stood. When the majority of Protestant families living in this area moved, the church – which had never been consecrated formally as a parish church – was closed and the surrounding land was sold. The hospital was closed too, but the roofless ruins can still be seen.

The college, which is often named “Trinity College,” stood close to the clergy house. Later Mweelin was spoken of as a “College Town” and college ruins can be seen too, but this was never a university and Mweelin was never either a town or a parish.

The name Trinity may be confusing, and may create images of aspiring to something akin to Trinity College Dublin. However, it is more likely to be connected with a similar decision to give the name Holy Trinity to the church at Achill Sound.

Each of these 12 cottages was allocated a small plot of land was striped out of the bog and mountain. The cottages housed families but also provided boarding for the children. Joyce, who claims to have known former students at Mweelin, says an “appetite for learning does not appear to have been” a “distinguishing feature” for the children. But they received shelter, turnips and what he described with irony or sarcasm as “other delicacies, at the expense of the mission.

One student who was a source for Joyce spent 18 months in the college. We can see that this was not even a secondary school, let alone an aspiring university college when we read that his course of studies included Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Geometry. The reading book was a Bible, and students were obliged to commit to memory Biblical passages that they were taught condemned Roman Catholic teaching.

Of course, the students were also expected to go to church on Sundays.

Did this student agree with what he was taught? Joyce says he smiled “at my innocence,” and excused himself, answering: “We were hungry.”

Joyce admits Nangle saved the lives of many children and many families in 1845-1847, and gives him credit for this.

But, as times improved, and as the teachers in Mweelin began to describe the Pope as the Antichrist, “we could stand it no longer, so we left.”

5, Mweelin changes hands

The Revd Alexander Dallas ... had a very different attitude to the mission than that of Edward Nangle

When Nangle left Achill for Skreen in 1852, Alexander Dallas, the founder of the Irish Church Missions to Roman Catholics, took over the management of the Achill Mission. Later, people in Mweelin who refused to go to church were threatened with eviction by Dallas and his supporters.

Although Nangle continued to take an interest in the mission and returned to Achill for three months each year, Joyce notes a major, open dispute developed between Nangle and Dallas. Dallas withdrew the students and the school was closed. Later, the cottagers left, too, and some of them returned to the Roman Catholic Church. The church closed, the clergy house was abandoned, and the colony, college, clergy house, and many of the cottages fell into ruin.

We must bear in mind, however, the personality of the Revd Canon Alexander Robert Charles Dallas (1791-1869) and the fact that he was never an incumbent in the Church of Ireland, that he was never a rector or curate on Achill Island.

Dallas was born in Colchester, to a family that had made its fortune through large tracts of property in Jamaica. He was the nephew of the US Treasury Secretary, Alexander J. Dallas, and a first cousin of Vice-President George M. Dallas. His father was related by marriage to the poet Lord Byron.

He was still in his late teens when he went to Spain during the Peninsular War, becoming Deputy Assistant Commissary of Cadiz (1810-1812). He fought under Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and on returning to England decided to prepare for a career at the Bar, before changing his mind and studying for ordination in the Church of England.

He entered Worcester College, Oxford, in 1820, but he never completed a degree before he was ordained deacon priest in quick succession in a matter of weeks in 1821. The only degree he ever had was an honorary MA awarded by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

He was a curate in Radley, Berkshire (1821-1824), then Curate in Wooburn, Buckinghamshire (1827-1828) and Vicar of Yardley, Hertfordshire (1827-1828). On 1827, Bishop Charles Sumner appointed him a canon of Llandaff Cathedral, and when Sumner moved to Winchester the following year he appointed Dallas Rector of Wonston in Hampshire, about 10 miles north of Winchester, in 1828, and his chaplain. Later, Sumner’s brother, Archbishop John Sumner of Canterbury, gave him an honorary Lambeth MA degree.

Dallas visited Ireland for the first time in 1839-1840, on behalf of an evangelical mission agency, the Jews’ Society. In 1843 he founded the Society for Irish Church Missions. He remained its secretary for 21 years until 1864. Although ICM had offices in Dublin and worked extensively in Connemara, Achill, and elsewhere, the society remained an English-based organisation, and Dallas remained a parish rector in the Church of England until his death on 12 December 1869 at Wonston, where he was buried.

Inscriptions to his memory were placed in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, in the ICM mission church in Townsend Street, Dublin, and in the parish church in Clifden, Co Galway. His monuments claim he was instrumental in erecting 21 churches, 49 schoolhouses, 12 parsonages, and four orphanages in Ireland.

In the London Standardon 9 January 1847, Dallas appealed for £20,000 to support his missionary work among the Irish people. His society was not part of the Church of Ireland and many in the Church advised Dallas that “open aggression” would accomplish nothing. However, he chose to ignore this advice.

The ethos of the ICM was in sharp contrast to the mission work of the Irish Society, which was part of the Church of Ireland. The Irish Society sought to bring the Bible in Irish to the people in the hope that with its help they would find their own way in the Christian faith. They were sure that once people could read the Bible in Irish it would “steadfastly root out prejudice, bigotry, and intolerance, substituting truth, love, mercy, tenderness, forbearance and long suffering.”

However, Dallas’s Irish Mission showed little enthusiasm for the gentle work of the Irish Society. Dallas felt that it was his duty to bring his Evangelical version of Christianity to a “rude uncivilised race, totally uneducated and without the means of acquiring instruction.”

Dallas never learned to speak Irish, he employed scripture readers fluent in the Irish language, and used them to translate his own sermons. He was a millenarian who saw the famine as a sign that “the end was nigh,” and who was convinced that God had sent the potato blight to punish Irish Roman Catholics for clinging stubbornly to their religion, seeing this as an opportunity to evangelise the impoverished Irish.

Dallas denied ‘souperism’, as he never distributed food in famine-stricken areas. He claimed he wished only to save souls through evangelism, offering the ‘bread of life’ to the starving. However Miriam Moffitt in her study of the Irish Church Missions, finds plenty of evidence of ‘souperism’. The ICM schools were fervently anti-Catholic, teaching for example, ‘24 Reasons for leaving the Church of Rome’ as well as loyalty to the British Empire.

Another contributing factor to the decline of the settlement in Mweelin is the major disagreement between Dallas on the one hand, and Edward Nangle, Joseph Barker, the Achill Mission and the resident clergy on the other hand.

In his study of the charges of souperism, Desmond Bowen found that most local Church of Ireland clergy disagreed with the approach pioneered by Dallas. Many of the local clergy had a broader outlook in religion and theology, and were more tolerant of other views. The aggressive approach that marked out the work of Dallas caused 10 years of bitter religious warfare throughout Connaught, leaving many clergy to face unfair charges with souperism after the famine.

Moffitt notes that the ICM work with destitute children saved the lives of “hundreds, possibly thousands” of children. But this did nothing to suspend Catholic resentment, and an effigy of ‘Dallas the Devil’ was burned on a public bonfire in Clifden in 1850.

The Irish Society shared the Achill Mission’s financial woes. The Society’s fundraising material is ebullient in tone, with glowing reports. Yet Society minutes in the late 19th century show mounting debts, in-fighting, and a system that was breaking down due to a lack of funding.

Periodical inspections were not carried out for many reasons, including a fear, however misplaced, or attacks, the ageing profile of inspectors, the loss of rental income and a failure in fundraising efforts. With a fall-off in financial and numerical support, the society sold school buildings and property in Dublin.

The union of the Irish Society with Dallas’s Irish Church Missions was not a happy one. Dallas’s anti-Catholic tirades alarmed Irish Society supporters who feared he would embitter the relations between the two communities. The Dublin University branch of the Irish Society, which unsuccessfully opposed the merger, compared Dallas’s English agents unfavourably with those of the Irish Society, who were “Irishmen all,” well acquainted with “the habits, the prejudices, and the good qualities too, of their fellow-countrymen.”

After Nangle left the island in 1852, Dallas took over the management and running of the mission, including the clergy, the Scripture readers and school teachers, and the entire support of the Mweelin Training School, while another committee, the Temporal Relief Committee, took charge of the feeding programmes.

Dallas was unable to hold out for a longer period than two years, and abandoned Achill around 1854.

The disappearance of the famine and the consequent falling off of charities, as well as the need for them, brought the Catholic and Protestant combatants to more equal terms; and the advent of a young priest to the parish, Father James Henry, hastened the end.

6, Who lived in Mweelin?

The bell at Saint Thomas’s Church, Dugort (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Griffith’s Valuation is not a census, but it gives us an indication of the number of landholders in Mweelin in the mid-19th century. It lists 24 landholders in all, and, as you would expect, many of the family names are shared and are found throughout Achill at time:

Baines (1), Barker (1), Brown (1), Cafferkey (1), Carr (1), Curnairney (1), Fitzgerald (1), Gallagher (9), McCormack (1), McDermott (1), McGinty (1), McNulty (2), Patten (1), Scuffle (1), and Ward (1).

However, we need to read these statistics with a number of precautions:

1, We cannot presume that the number of landholders is the same as the number of householders. Some people held land as tenants in more than one townland, and so we do not know how many of these named landholders actually lived in Mweelin.

2, Even if they are resident in Mweelin, Griffith does not provide us with the names of family members and the number of each people in each house.

3, Nor does Griffith provide us with clues about the religious affiliation of these individuals. As I explained in Inisbiggle last year, the family names of members of the Church of Ireland in Achill are often in distinguishable from the family names of their neighbours. Evidence from the 1901and 1911 census allows us to presume John Carr and, perhaps, Anthony Cafferky, were members of the Church of Ireland, as well as some members of the Gallagher families. In addition, there is evidence to identify other members of the Church of Ireland, such as Matthias (sometimes Matthew) Baines, the schoolteacher who is named in Parliament after he was assaulted by opponents of the mission – he married Jane McDowell, and later moved to Clifden; the Revd Joseph Barker, who succeeded Nangle as Rector of Achill, Elizabeth Brown and perhaps William Scuffle and George Ward.

But the lack of a burial register for the Church of Ireland graveyard in Mweelin and the gap between Griffith’s Valuation and the 1901 and 1911 census, means this is only speculation, and needs further research to make any claims with certainty.

So, perhaps, up to 50 per cent of the residents of Mweelin at the time of the Griffith’s Valuation were members of the Church of Ireland. But I say perhaps. It is speculation without other supporting evidence.

The transcripts present a number of additional problems. For example, Revd John “Curnairney” is a misspelling for the Revd John Conerney, an Irish-speaking former Roman Catholic who was not living in Mweelin. He was working mainly in Connemara, and is probably listed as a landholder on behalf of Dallas and the Irish Church Mission.

The two landholders in Mweelin we know to have played an important part in the life of the Mission are the Revd Joseph Barker and Matthias Baines.

The Revd Joseph Barker came to Achill as a curate in 1852, and immediately succeeded the Revd Edward Nangle as Rector and Vicar of Achill (1852-1872) when Nangle moved to Skreen. If Dallas is remembered for his sectarian approach that contributed to the failure of the mission after he took Nangle’s work, Nangle’s successor Joseph Barker earned a reputation for feeding all who came to his door.

There are two entries in Griffith’s Valuation for the Revd Joseph Barker in Co Mayo, one at Mweelin and the other at Pollranny. However, we can presume that he lived at neither place, but lived instead at the Rectory at the colony in Slievemore (Dugort).

Joseph Barker married Emma Fetherstonhaugh and they had six children: Charles Joseph (born in Dublin, 21 March 1844), Lindsay Bucknill, Emma, Cuthbert, Alexander and Marcia Caroline.

Barker left Achill in 1872, when he was appointed Prebendary and Vicar of Ballysadare. In the decade or two that followed, the mission work in Mweelin continued in its spiral of decline. But this was part of the general experience of the mission throughout Achill.

The principal factor in this decline in 1880s was emigration – during two months in 1883 alone, 42 members of the Mission left for Canada, America and Australia. Another blow to the mission came that year, when the Land Commission reduced the rents, and the estate’s income fell from £1400 to £900. An appeal in England and Ireland only raised £300, which could only keep it going for six months, and the Irish Society stepped in to pay the teachers.

The 1901 census shows a total population of 15 in Mweelin, six of whom were members of the Church of Ireland and nine were Roman Catholics. They lived in two Church of Ireland households and three Roman Catholic households. The six members of the Church of Ireland living in Mweelin were:

1, Joseph Carr (56) and his wife Frances (25), both members of the Church of Ireland;

2, Catherine Cafferkey (60), and her three daughters, Margaret (27), Emily (25) and Helen (24), all describing themselves as members of the ‘Irish Church’ – a common name in the census returns for the Church of Ireland, and reflected earlier in the choice of name for the Irish Church Missions.

The only other family name in Mweelin in 1901 is English, with nine members of the family living in three family units, and all Roman Catholics.

The 1911 census returns for Mweelin show five family units living in four houses: 12 members of the Church of Ireland and 19 Roman Catholics. The three Church of Ireland families are:

1, Joseph Carr (64), farmer, and his wife Frances (36) and their two daughters: Blanche Henrietta Wingfield (9) and Mabel Violet Taylour (4), all members of the Church of Ireland. They also had a Roman Catholic servant living in their house, Bridget McHugh (21).

2, Patrick Cafferkey (52), farmer, his wife Fanny (41), and their two children, a son John (12) and a daughter Florence (10). All are described as members of the ‘Irish Church.’

3, The widowed Catherine Cafferkey (78), and her three single daughters: Margaret (46), Emily (42), and Helen (38).

4 and 5, Two families named English, who are Roman Catholics, living in two houses: Michael and Bridget English and their seven children; and John and Bridget English and seven of their family members, including children, grandchildren and a daughter-in-law.

These figures are problematic. No-one has aged by a precisely ten years in that time, or else no-one can do simple addition. So what can we deduce from these figures?

1, The ratio of members of the Church of Ireland to Roman Catholics in 1901 (6:9), and in 1911 (12: 19) does not vary.

2, The family names are constant, and there are no new arrivals or noticeable departures, for we can presume Patrick Cafferkey is related to Catherine Cafferkey’s family.

3, The Carr and Cafferkey families have remained since they were recorded in Griffith’s Valuation, but the majority of Church of Ireland families have moved or emigrated in the intervening years – but then so too have the majority of Roman Catholic families.

7, Some closing remarks:

Saint Thomas’s Church, Dugort (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

The disagreement between Nangle and Dallas led to the immediate decline in the mission in Achill. But this may merely have hastened what was inevitable in the long term. The decline in evangelism in the Church of Ireland began in the 1870s with disestablishment, compounded by the loss of support of the aristocracy and the emigration of leading evangelicals.

The Church of Ireland people in Mweelin, like the Church of Ireland people in Dugort, and other parts of Achill, were inter-related ... but perhaps to no greater degree than they were inter-related with the other families on these islands.

The family names of the Church of Ireland families in Mweelin indicate that most of them were from very similar backgrounds to their Catholic neighbours.

There was probably a high degree of intermarriage between members of the Church of Ireland and Catholic families, despite official opposition to intermarriage which intensified after the Ne Temere decree was promulgated in 1908.

The higher educational standards among Church of Ireland islanders, no matter how marginal, made it more possible for them to find employment off the island, and so education, ironically, contributed not to improved fortunes for the members of the Church of Ireland, but to their eventual numerical decline.

The figures for the Church of Ireland population in Mweelin, as in Inisbiggle for example, were always low, and so never offered the hope of a sustainable parish in this part of Achill.

The decline in numbers in the Church of Ireland population began in the 1880s, as the Rector of Achill, the Revd Michael Fitzgerald noted in 1883 when he wrote:

During the months of April and May 1883, and within the last ten days, I have lost by the rapid tide of free emigration to Canada, the United States of America, and Australia, forty-two members of my flock, thirty-six of whom belong to Achill Sound, and six to the island of Inishbiggle.

The story of the Church of Ireland and Nangle’s mission in Mweelin and throughout Achill is not the story of a minority that has slowly faded away, but is a story that can be claimed by everyone who loves this island, for it is part of what made Achill and its people what and who they are today.


Desmond Bowen, Souperism: Myth or Reality? A Study in Souperism (Cork: Mercier Press, 1970).
Desmond Bowen, The Protestant Crusade in Ireland, 1800-70 (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1978).
Niall R Branach, ‘Edward Nangle and the Achill Island Mission.’ History Ireland, Vol 8, No 3, Autumn 2000, pp 35-38.
David Fitzpatrick, ’Solitary and Wild’: Frederick MacNeice and the Salvation of Ireland (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 2012).
Raymond Gillespie and Gerard Moran, (eds) A Various Country: Essays in Mayo History 1500-1900 (Westport: Foilseachain Naisiunta, 1987).
Richard Griffith, Griffith’s Valuation, 1847-1864 (2003 OMS Services Ltd, Eneclann LTD and the National Library of Ireland).
PJ Joyce, A Forgotten Part of Ireland (Tuam 1910).
Theresa McDonald, Achill Island: 5000 BC to 1900 AD, Archaeology, History, Folklore (Dooagh, 1997).
Miriam Moffitt, (2008) Soupers and Jumpers: The Protestant Missions in Connemara 1848-1937 (Dublin: Nonsuch Publishing, 2008).
Mealla C Ní Ghiobúin, Dugort, Achill Island, 1831-1861: A Study of the Rise and Fall of a Missionary Community (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2001).
Henry Seddall, Edward Nangle: The Apostle of Achill (Dublin, 1884).

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College, Dublin. This lecture in Mweelin on 4 May 2014 was part of the programme for the 11th annual Heinrich Böll Memorial Weekend on Achill Island