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

Christmas with Vaughan Williams (5):
‘Hodie’, 6, Narration

The Slaughter of the Innocents by Domenico Ghirlandaio … the fresco is part of a series of panels in the Cappella Tornabuoni in the Church of Santa Maria Novella, dating from 1486-1490

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Feast Day of the Holy Innocents [28 December 2015]. During this Christmas season, I am inviting you to join me each morning in a series of Christmas meditations as I listen to the Christmas cantata Hodie (‘This Day’) by the great English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), drawing on English Christmas poetry from diverse sources, including poems by John Milton, Thomas Hardy and George Herbert that reflect a variety of Christmas experiences, and the narration of the Nativity story in the Gospels.

Hodie, with its blend of mysticism, heavenly glory and human hope, was composed by Vaughan Williams in 1953-1954 and is his last major choral-orchestral composition.

This morning I invite you to join me in listening to the sixth movement of Hodie.

6, Narration

The sixth movement of Hodie is a narration adapted by Vaughan Williams from Luke 2: 8-17 and the Book of Common Prayer, and introduces the shepherds.

Once again, the tenor sings the words of the angel; the chorus, introduced by the soprano, sings the words of the heavenly host. The men of the chorus sing the part of the shepherds:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field,
keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of
the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round
about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto

“Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,
which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in
the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this
shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in
swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the
heavenly host praising God, and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will
toward men. We praise thee, we bless thee, we worship thee, we
glorify thee, we give thee thanks for thy great glory, O Lord
God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty.”

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another,

“Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which
is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the
babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made
known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were
told them by the shepherds.

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.