Saturday, 13 August 2016

Finding a Greek connection in
an old churchyard in Duleek

The Law family grave in the old churchyard beside the Spire Restaurant in Duleek, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

The Spire Restaurant in Duleek, Co Meath, is located in the refurbished former Church of Ireland parish church, Saint Cianan’s Church. Four of us returned there for dinner last night, and it is fast becoming one of our favourites.

Aogán and Karen Dunne re-opened the restaurant three years ago on 14 August 2013 after it had been left in a sad state of neglect for many years.

The Spire is in the grounds of Saint Mary’s Abbey, one of the great Irish monastic foundations, with a story going back to Saint Patrick, and important high crosses and mediaeval monuments.

The ruins of Saint Mary’s Abbey beside the Spire Restaurant in Duleek (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The old graveyard that surrounds the former church is still in use. As I strolled through the former churchyard in the evening lights, I noticed a plot with three graves belonging to members of the Law family: Michael Augustine Fitzgerald Law (1861-1917) and his wife Mary (died 1937), Olive Law and Major Francis Cecil Law (died 1958).

The graves are beside one of the ‘short’ high cross, dating from the ninth century and one of the great high crosses of Duleek. The graves are also a reminder of the story of an Irish banker and army officer who saved the finances of Greece over a century ago and who is buried in Athens.

The Law family was of Scottish descent, and an ancestor, Michael Law, fought with King William at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. One branch of the Law family was a long-established clerical family in the Church of Ireland. Michael Law’s son, the Revd William Samuel Law, who died in 1760, was Rector of Omagh and the first of five or six generations of distinguished clergy: the Revd Robert law (1730-1789), the Revd Francis Law (1768-1807), who married Bellinda Isabella Comerford from Cork; the Revd Patrick Comerford Law (1797-1869); the Revd Francis Law (1800-1877); and the Revd Robert Arbuthnot Law (1842-1889).

Another branch of the family included successful bankers. Robert William Law, a first cousin of the Revd Patrick Comerford Law, was the father of Michael Law (1795-1858), of Castle Fish, Co Kildare. He founded the Law & Finlay Bank, and was also a Director of the Bank of Ireland. He married Sarah-Ann, daughter of Crofton Vandeleur Fitzgerald of Carrigoran, Co Clare, and they had four sons who were successful in their chosen careers.

However, poor health forced Michael Law to close his bank and on doctor’s orders he left Ireland to live on the continent, where he died while his sons were still children or in their teens: Robert Law (1836-1884) later lived in Newpark, Co Kildare; Michael Law (1840-1905) became a judge in British administered Egypt; Sir Edward Fitzgerald Law (1847-1908) became a colourful adventurer who later became effectively the Finance Minister of Greece; and Sir Archibald Fitzgerald Law (1853-1921) was a colonial judge in Malaya.

Sir Edward Fitzgerald Law … received a state funeral in Athens in 1908)

His third son, Edward Fitzgerald Law, was born in 1847 in Rostrevor House, Co Down, and was only a child of 10 when when his father died in 1858. He went on to play a key role in reshaping Greece’s finances over a century ago.

His widowed mother sent Edward to school in Brighton and St Andrew’s. He entered Sandhurst in 1865, and was commissioned in the Royal Artillery in Woolwich in 1868. He spent the next three years in India, but was invalided home in 1872. He then resigned from the army, joined the Wire Transport Co, and went to Russia, where he spent the next 10 years in Moscow. There he became an agent for agricultural machinery, and also contributed to the Daily Telegraph.

In Russia, Edward Law joined Hubbards, an English firm of Russian agents, and he travelled widely. From 1880 to 1881, he was the British Consul in St Petersburg.

Back in England, Law wrote about Russian politics and news in the Fortnightly Review. He had remained a reserve army officer, and he joined officers of the reserve, and he joined Sir Gerald Graham’s Sudan expedition in 1885. He took part in the Battle of Suakin in 1885, and was promoted to the rank of major.

After this brief return to military life, Law went to Manchuria on behalf of the Amur River Navigation Co, and travelled on to San Francisco, Japan and Vladivostok.

Back in London, he became manager of the United Telephone Co. He strongly opposed Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill in 1886. He was back in St Petersburg in 1888 as again as Commercial and Financial Attaché to Russia, also worked in Persia and Turkey.

Law first went to Greece in 1892, and at a party in the German Embassy in Athens he met Catherine Hatsopoulos, the only daughter of Nicholas Hatsopoulos of Athens and the descendant of an old Byzantine family. They were married on 18 October 1893, and settled in Athens.

Law became involved in Greek banking and finances, and as a British resident in Athens he seemed an obvious choice for nomination as the British commissioner on the International Financial Committee in Athens in 1897, and he became the British minister resident in Athens (1898-1900).

Law devised an ingenious system of consolidating revenues, which rendered the international commission acceptable and useful to Greece. He effectively abolished Greece’s public debt, turned around its public finances and saved its economy. Effectively he was the Greek finance minister and he became a popular figure throughout Greece.

While he was in this role, Law was knighted in May 1898 (KCMG), but he declined the Grand Cross of the Greek Order of the Saviour and other decorations. At the close of 1898, he also went to Constantinople to represent British, Belgian, and Dutch bondholders on the council of the Ottoman debt.

After Law left Greece, he became the Financial Member of the Council of the Governor-General of India, in effect India’s Finance Minister (1900-1904). He received an additional knighthood in 1906 (KCSI). He is also said to have invented a flying machine.

He retired in 1905, but remained a Director of the Ionian Bank in Greece. He died of a heart attack at the Hotel Bellevue, in Avenue l’Opera in Paris on 2 November 1908, his 61st birthday. At his own request, he was brought back to be buried in Athens. He was given a Greek state funeral on 21 November 1908 with full military and state honours.

A street in Athens is named in his honour: Edward Law Street is off Stadiou Street (Οδός Σταδíου), the major street linking the Omonoia Square and Syntagma Square. There are tablets to his memory in Saint Paul’s Anglican Church, Athens, and in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

The ‘short’ High Cross in the grounds Saint Mary’s Abbey beside the Law family graves in Duleek (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Edward Law’s eldest brothers, Robert and Michael had already died. Robert Law (1836-1884) of Newpark, Co Kildare, was the father of Michael Augustine Fitzgerald Law (1861-1917), of Bearmond, Drogheda, who is buried in the old churchyard in Duleek with other members of the family, including his wife Mary and their son, Major Francis Cecil Law, who died in 1958.

In researching the stories of the Irish Philhellenes who contributed to the liberation of Greece in the 19th century, I might have passed by Edward Law’s contribution to making Greece an independent, modern state, except I came across his name by accident on two, successive occasions: researching the biographical details of his father’s cousin, the Revd Patrick Comerford Law (1797-1869), and reading a description of a visit to Athens by his cousin, Archbishop John Fitzgerald Gregg.

When Archbishop Gregg visited Athens in 1951, the Mayor of Athens was told of the archbishop’s kinship with Law. He invited Gregg to return to Athens as the guest of the municipality and to see the street named after him. But Gregg noted regretfully that this was “an offer which I fear I cannot hope to take advantage of.”

The Spire Restaurant in Duleek, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

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