Monday, 28 December 2015

Crossing a bridge that recalls stories
of bigamy, kidnap, slavery and murder

Crossing Annesley Bridge yesterday brought back memories of old stories of abduction, bigamy and murder (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

On my way back from the Bull Wall and Dollymount after a stroll along the North Wall and Dollymount Strand yesterday, I was reminded of an old story as I crossed Annesley Bridge over the River Tolka just sout-west of Fairview Park in Dublin.

The East Wall Road, North Strand Road and Poplar Row meet at the west end of the bridge, with Annesley Bridge Road at the east end, making it an important junction in the north inner city.

The bridge was first built in 1797, when it was named after the Hon Richard Annesley. The name was retained when Annesley Bridge was rebuilt in 1926.

Richard Annesley (1745-1824) was a Commissioner of Irish Excise (1786-1795), Irish Customs (1802-1806) and director of the Royal Canal Company, making him an important figure in the commercial and civic life of Dublin at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries.

He was an MP in the Irish House of Commons until the Act of Union, for Coleraine (1776-1783), the constituency of Saint Canice or Irishtown in Kilkenny (1783-1790), Newtownards (1790-1798), Fore (1798), Blessington (1798-1800), Clogher (1800), and finally for Midleton (1800-1801). The loss of his Irish constituency had little effect on his political career, for when his childless elder brother died in 1802, Richard Annesley succeeded him as 2nd Earl Annesley and 3rd Viscount Glerawly.

But Richard Annesley’s success was in was a sharp contrast to the life of his contemporary and namesake, his second cousin Richard Annesley, 6th Earl of Anglesey (1693-1761).

Crossing Annesley Bridge on Sunday afternoon jolted my memory. I was brought back to my most recent visit to Bunclody, Co Wexford, and recalled the story of Richard’s dissolute life that I may have first heard in my childhood, and that I first told in a feature on the River Slaney in The Irish Times over 35 years ago [27 July 1980].

This second Richard Annesley was known as Lord Altham from 1727 to 1737, and was Governor of Wexford. But he is remembered for a famous story of child abduction, kidnapping and conspiracy that surrounded the doubts about his claims to the title of Lord Altham, and the questions about legitimacy of his marriages.

It is a story of attempted murder, the suspicious killing of a supposed poacher, multiple and bigamous marriages, a penniless heir who ended up as an urchin on the streets of Dublin, a punch-up at the Curragh racecourse, and the kidnap of a former schoolboy in Bunclody whose whirlwind life ended up in almost every court in both Ireland and England.

The story of the abducted heir and his later escape from slavery in the North Americans colonies to the West Indies inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped.

Late at night, I found myself re-reading the court cases, trial transcripts and contemporary reports from the 18th century. It is a tale far more gripping than the classic novel it inspired, and I resolved to write about it in greater detail in my column in the Church Review and the Diocesan Magazine early in the New Year.

Richard Annesley (1745-1824) gave his name to a bridge … but his cousin Richard Annesley (1690-1761) was involved in some of the greatest scandals of the 18th century

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