Friday, 13 March 2015

Back on the Pugin trail in
the FitzGeralds’ heartland

Pugin Hall in Maynooth, restored in 1992 said to be Pugin’s finest hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Patrick Comerford

It has been a bright, sunny day all day, with warm sunlight streaming into my study all morning. I decided to finish work after an early lunch and to go to Maynooth where I have long wanted to photograph the Pugin Hall since its restoration.

Yes, I was back on the Pugin trail, after a brief rest from my exploration of AWN Pugin’s great legacy of gothic revival architecture. It is a project that has taken me to cathedrals, churches, chapels, convents and private houses throughout Ireland from Wexford and Waterford to Kerry and Limerick, Kildare and Dublin, and to a variety of places in England, including Cambridge, Oxford, London and Birmingham, and throughout Staffordshire.

Walking through the corridors of Saint Patrick’s House, Maynooth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Pugin Hall now serves as the self-service canteen for staff and students of Maynooth University and is located in Saint Patrick’s House on the South Campus. But it was designed by Pugin as the refectory for Maynooth College and was built between 1845 and 1852.

It was restored in 1992 and is often said to be Pugin’s finest hall.

The College Chapel seen from the corridors in Saint Patrick’s House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The Victorian corridors and squares of Maynooth, designed by Pugin and James Joseph McCarthy, equal any quad in Oxford or court in Cambridge.

Sadly, the main college chapel, completed by McCarthy, was locked this afternoon, and Maynooth Castle, once a bastion of the FitzGerald family, and Saint Mary’s Church, where many of the Earls of Kildare and Dukes of Leinster are buried, were both closed.

Carton House … one of the great houses of the FitzGerald family, Dukes of Leinster and Earls of Kildare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

On the eastern edges of Maynooth, we drove into Carton estate to visit Carton House, once the home of the Dukes of Leinster and one of the most elegant stately homes on these islands.

Queen Victoria knew Carton well, Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier spent a holiday there, and Peter Sellers and Marianne Faithfull lived there for years. The 1st Duke of Leinster chose it for his country seat in 1739, and it stayed in the FitzGerald family until the mid-20th century.

Carton House is the finest example in Ireland of a Georgian-created parkland landscape. Now it is luxury hotel standing in a walled estate of 4.5 sq km (1,100 acres), stretching across two counties, Kildare and Meath, with two world-class championship 18-hole golf courses, yet it is only 23 km from Dublin’s city centre and 30 minutes from Dublin Airport.

The lands at Carton were part of the Maynooth estate of the FitzGerald family from 1176. They became Earls of Kildare in 1315 and for almost 800 years were one of the most influential political families in Ireland.

The FitzGerald family were the virtual rulers of Ireland from 1477 until 1513 and the rebellion of “Silken” Thomas, who was executed in 1537 with his five uncles for rebellion.

Carton House was designed by Richard Castles in the 1730s and remodelled by Richard Morrison a century later (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

The first record of a house at Carton was in the 17th century when William Talbot, Recorder of Dublin, leased the lands from the 14th Earl of Kildare and is thought to have built a house. Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, is said to have built Tyrconnell Tower as his mausoleum. Its official name is The Prospect Tower.

After the defeat of the Jacobites at the Battle of the Boyne, the Talbot interests in the Carton estate were forfeited to the crown in 1691 and in 1703 sold to Major-General Richard Ingoldsby, Master General of the Ordnance.

But by the early 18th century the FitzGeralds had won back their lands and titles, and they regained their position at Court in the early 18th century, when Robert FitzGerald, 19th Earl of Kildare, became a noted statesman.

In 1739, the lease was sold back to Robert FitzGerald, 19th Earl of Kildare, who employed Richard Castles (originally Cassels) to build the present Carton House. This was the same year the FitzGerald family bought Frescati House.

At the time, it cost £26,000 to build Carton House. Castles also designed some of the other great Irish houses, including Summerhill House, Co Meath, Westport House, Co Mayo, and Powerscourt House, Co Wicklow, and in 1745 he built Leinster House as the Dublin town house for the FitzGeralds.

In 1747, James FitzGerald, 20th Earl of Kildare (and from 1766 1st Duke of Leinster) married Lady Emily Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Richmond. She was a great-granddaughter of King Charles II and a sister of Lady Louisa Conolly of neighbouring Castletown House, near Celbridge. The story of the life and times of these two sisters has been told by Stella Tillyard in her book and BBC mini-series, The Aristocrats.

Lady Emily played an important role in the development of the house and estate as it is today. She designed the Chinese room, which would later be a bedroom for Queen Victoria, and decorated the Shell Cottage on the estate with a collection of shells from around the world.

Lady Emily was the mother of 23 children, including Lord Edward FitzGerald, one of the leaders of the1798 rebellion.

Carton remained unaltered until 1815, when the 3rd Duke of Leinster decided to sell Leinster House to the Royal Dublin Society and make Carton House his principal residence. Richard Morrison, who was commissioned to enlarge and remodel the house, moved the entrance to the house to the north side and replaced the curved colonnades with straight connecting links to obtain additional rooms, including the dining room.

The boat house and lake at Carton were designed for Queen Victoria’s second visit (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Queen Victoria stayed twice at Carton, and the lake was created especially for her before her second visit. The Boat House on the banks of the Rye River by the bridge on the drive up to Carton House, is said to have been built for her second visit. The FitzGeralds were told that Queen Victoria had a dream that she was rowing on the lake at Carton House. But Carton had no lake, and so the lake, the boathouse and a special boat were commissioned for her visit.

Carton remained in the FitzGerald family until the early 1920s when the future 7th Duke of Leinster sold his lifetime interest in the possible reversionary rights to a moneylender, Sir Harry Mallaby-Deeley to pay off gambling debts of £67,500.

At the time, Lord Edward FitzGerald was third in line to the family titles and did not expect to succeed. However, one brother had died in World War I, another died of a brain tumour, and when Edward succeeded in 1922, Carton was lost by the FitzGeralds.

In 1936, the Duke of Leinster testified at a bankruptcy hearing that he had travelled to the US in 1928 to find an heiress to marry. On his trip, he “entertained lavishly on borrowed money in efforts to find an American wife who would pay off his debts.” Although wo heiresses appeared to be interested, each woman turned down the opportunity to become the Duchess of Leinster.

Looking out onto the parkland at Carton House from the courtyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Unable to repay his debts, the duke spent the final years of his life living in a small bedsit in Pimlico. He died by suicide in 1976 by taking an overdose of pentobarbital.

Gerald FitzGerald (1914-2004) was the only child of the7th Duke of Leinster and his first wife, May Juanita Etheridge, a chorus girl. His parents separated in 1922 and were divorced eight years later, the future duke spent most of his childhood with his great-aunt, Lady Adelaide FitzGerald, in Johnstown Castle, Co Wexford, before being sent to Eton.

He was a major in the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards during World War II, and was wounded during the Normandy landings. After the war, he tried to farm the family estate at Kilkea Castle, Co Kildare, but in the early 1960s he moved to Oxfordshire and worked in the aviation industry.

When his father died, he was prevented momentarily from using his title when a California artist, Leonard FitzGerald, claimed to be the son of his father’s elder brother, Lord Desmond FitzGerald, who died in 1916. Again, in 1999, he failed to prevent a half-brother being recognised by both Debrett’s Peerage and Burke’s Peerage. Adrian FitzGerald was the illegitimate son of the 7th Duke.

Today, the FitzGerald family titles are held by Maurice FitzGerald, a landscape artist who was born in 1948 and succeeded as 9th Duke of Leinster in 2004.

Meanwhile, Ronald Nall-Cain, 2nd Baron Brocket, who lived at Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire, bought Carton House in 1949. In 1977 his son, David Nall-Cain, who had moved to the Isle of Man, sold Carton House to the Mallaghan family.

The Irish government turned down opportunities to buy Carton House in the 1980s and again in the 1990s, and in 2000 Carton was redeveloped as a golf resort and hotel.

Carton House has many links with the IRFU and the Irish rugby teams, and many soccer teams have trained there, including , AC Milan, Birmingham City, Chelsea, FC Barcelona, Internazionale, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Newcastle United, Real Madrid, Shamrock Rovers, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Brazil’s national team.

A fairy sculpture in a tree in the grounds of Carton House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2015)

Précis of the February Lecture –The Comerfords

In Comberford – but had I found the family’s origins?

The following news report by Séamus Moriarty is published on page 2 of the March 2015 edition (Vol 10, No 3) of Ireland’s Genealogical Gazette, the monthly newsletter of the Genealogical Society of Ireland:

Précis of the February Lecture –The Comerfords

Former journalist with The People newspaper, Wexford and the Foreign Desk at the Irish Times, but currently a lecturer at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, [Canon Patrick Comerford] spoke at our open meeting held on Tuesday 10th February.

The title of his talk was ‘The Comerfords in Ireland: Disentangling Myths and Legends to Find True Origins’. It was an excellent lecture and for those not fortunate enough to be present there is a transcript of this talk on Google by keying in Patrick Comerford and the lecture title.

From his experiences separating myth from reality in the Comerford family history he makes a chastening comment which genealogists would be well advised to remember: ‘There is a good rule for historians: seek primary sources. And it is a good rule for genealogists to seek to trace your family tree for yourself. Do not accept as fact anything you have been told without seeking to test and verify it’.

He arrived at this conclusion when seeking to test a history of the Comerfords published privately in 1902 by his great grandfather which had claimed a link with the town of Comberford, near Lichfield in Staffordshire. This theory had no basis in evidence and another suggestion that that they were of Norman origin, arriving in England with William the Conqueror in 1066 and to Ireland in 1189 was equally fanciful. These he considered romantic legends embellished over the centuries with no supporting evidence.

Fanciful genealogies were common among the old English in the south-east.

Kilkenny to this day is the heartland of the Comerford name, among them is the Kilkenny hurler Martin Comerford. He notes that early sources in Co Kilkenny refer to a Quemerford name, only becoming Comerford in the 15th century. He has identified Quemerford in Wiltshire as most likely for the origins of the Comerfords and notes that it may not be coincidental that the name died out in England at the same time as it was first recorded in Kilkenny in the 15th century.

Initially involved as managers and administrators for the Butlers the family prospered and branches were to be found from Galway to Cork, as well as Dublin. An important element in their success could well be that they managed to straddle the religious divide with representatives in the Catholic and Protestant camps.

The talk was followed by a question and answers session and among the audience was former government minister Martin Mansergh, whose own family have Comerford connections. Séamus Moriarty, FGSI

Through Lent with Vaughan Williams
(24): ‘Fantasia on Greensleeves’

‘My Lady Greensleeves’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1863), oil on canvas, 33.02 x 27.31 cm, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Patrick Comerford

For my reflections and devotions each day during Lent this year, I am reflecting on and invite you to listen to a piece of music or a hymn set to a tune by the great English composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).

This morning [13 March 2015], I encourage you to join me in listening to his ‘Fantasia on Greensleeves.’

The ‘Fantasia on Greensleeves’ first appeared in Vaughan Williams’s opera Sir John in Love, in which he used both the familiar ‘Greensleeves’ folk tune and another folk song from his collection, ‘Lovely Joan.’ When he arranged the ‘Fantasia on Greensleeves’ for this opera, Vaughan Williams brought the two songs together.

The word fantasy or fantasia is sometimes used in music to describe a work that does not follow any set form or pattern. It is also used for compositions that are based on another musical work, like the ‘Fantasia on Greensleeves.’

According to one source, Vaughan Williams composed a ‘Fantasia on Greensleeves’ based on the ‘Greensleeves’ melody, in 1934. However, according to others, the 1934 ‘Fantasia’ is actually an arrangement made by Ralph Greaves from Vaughan Williams’s 1928 opera Sir John in Love. They point out that the fantasia also incorporates a folk song called ‘Lovely Joan’ in the middle section. There are also several other, later arrangements by various writers, but no version by Vaughan Williams himself.



This is England’s classic folk song of all time. It dates to the mid or late 1500s, and folklore says it was written by Henry VIII for his future queen Anne Boleyn. The story says Anne Boleyn rejected his attempts to seduce her and this rejection may be referred to in the song when the writer’s love “cast me off discourteously.”

However, the piece is based on an Italian style of composition that did not reach England until after the death of Henry VIII, making it more likely to be Elizabethan in origin.

The earliest known source of the tune ‘Greensleeves’ is in the Library of Trinity College Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The earliest known source of the tune is in the Library of Trinity College Dublin (Ms. D. I. 21, ca 1580), where it is known as William Ballet’s lute book. There the tune is given in the melodic minor scale.

A broadside ballad with this name was registered at the London Stationer’s Company in September 1580 by Richard Jones, as ‘A Newe Northen Dittye of ye Ladye Greene Sleves.’

Six more ballads followed in less than a year, one on the same day, 3 September 1580 (‘Ye Ladie Greene Sleeves answere to Donkyn hir frende’ by Edward White), then on 15 and 18 September (by Henry Carr and again by Edward White), 14 December (Richard Jones again), 13 February 1581 (Wiliam Elderton), and August 1581 (White’s third contribution, ‘Greene Sleeves is worne awaie, Yellow Sleeves Comme to decaie, Blacke Sleeves I holde in despite, But White Sleeves is my delighte’).

It then appears in the surviving A Handful of Pleasant Delights (1584) as ‘A New Courtly Sonnet of the Lady Green Sleeves. To the new tune of Green Sleeves.’

The tune is found in several late 16th century and early 17th century sources, such as Ballet’s MS Lute Book and Het Luitboek van Thysius, as well as various manuscripts preserved in the Seeley Historical Library at the University of Cambridge.

In Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, written around 1602, the character Mistress Ford refers twice without any explanation to the tune of ‘Greensleeves.’ Falstaff later exclaims:

Let the sky rain potatoes! Let it thunder to the tune of ‘Greensleeves’!
These allusions indicate that the song was already well known at that time.


One possible interpretation of the lyrics is that Lady Green Sleeves was a promiscuous young woman and perhaps a prostitute. At the time, the word “green” had sexual connotations, most notably in the phrase “a green gown,” a reference to the way that grass stains might be seen on a woman’s dress if she had engaged in sexual intercourse on the grass.

An alternative explanation is that Lady Green Sleeves was, through her costume, incorrectly assumed to be sexually promiscuous. Her “discourteous” rejection of the singer’s advances supports the contention that she is not.

In Nevill Coghill’s translation of The Canterbury Tales, he explains that in Chaucer’s times green “was the colour of lightness in love. This is echoed in ‘Greensleeves is my delight’ and elsewhere.”

From as early as 1686, Christmas and New Year texts were associated with the tune. By the 19th century, almost every printed collection of Christmas carols included some version of words and music together, most of them ending with the refrain “On Christmas Day in the morning.”

One of the most popular of these carols is ‘What Child Is This?’, written in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix.

Tomorrow:Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis