Wednesday, 18 October 2017

A controversial preacher
who links Ireland with
Lichfield and Tamworth

The Revd Walter Shirley (1726-1786) … Rector of Loughrea, co Galway, and a controversial preacher in the Georgian era (©Trustees of the British Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)

Patrick Comerford

At times, it is curious to find connections between clergy in these dioceses and events and history in Lichfield and Tamworth.

The Revd Walter Shirley (1726-1786), Rector of Loughrea in the Diocese of Clonfert, was a hymn-writer, and a controversial figure in the Methodist movement, supporting his first cousin, the Countess of Huntingdon, and the Calvinists who opposed the brothers John and Charles Wesley in a public rift in 1770.

But his hymns and sermons were strongly Calvinist and his views were stirred intense controversy, and Shirley seems to have spent little time in his parish in Co Galway. He was a regular speaker at revivalist meetings throughout England and Ireland, earning the censure of the Bishop of Clonfert and drawing down the wrath of the Archbishop of Dublin for preaching at an independent chapel opened by the Countess of Huntingdon in 1773 in Plunket Street (now John Dillon Street), off Francis Street, Dublin.

Shirley was married in Saint Mary’s Church in Dublin in 1766 and was buried there in 1786, and he appears to have spent much of his time in Ireland in Dublin rather than in the Diocese of Clonfert.

He was Oxford educated, from a long line of aristocrats, and had religious views that were strongly controversial in Ireland and within the Church of Ireland. So, what brought a man like this to Ireland?

An elaborate Ferrers family monument in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Walter Shirley was born on 28 September 1725 at Staunton Harold, his grandfather’s stately home in rural Leicestershire. He was the grandson of Robert Shirley (1650-1717), 1st Earl Ferrers, who had also inherited a portion of a large Irish estate in Co Monaghan: the Shirley estate at Lough Fea, near Carrickmacross, was once the largest estate in Co Monaghan, totalling 26,386 acres.

Lord Ferrers was suggested as a parliamentary candidate for Lichfield in 1677. But he preferred a seat in the House of Lords instead, and by sleight of hand and an obscure exercise in genealogy the barony of Ferrers of Chartley was called out of abeyance in his favour.

His family tree is complicated, the inheritance of Tamworth Castle from the Ferrers family and the use of the Ferrers name in the titles is obscure, and the inheritance of family estates and titles is difficult to follow at times. The family tree is complicated, compounded by the claim that he was the father of 27 legitimate children and 51 illegitimate children.

Tamworth Castle … passed through a different line of descent from the family titles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Revd Walter Shirley was a first cousin of Robert Shirley (1692-1714), Lord Tamworth, who had inherited Tamworth Castle from his mother in 1697. But with Lord Tamworth’s death, Tamworth Castle and the family titles were separated and were inherited by different lines of decent.

Because of these complications in the family tree, the Revd Walter Shirley was a nephew of both the 2nd Earl Ferrers, who was known briefly as Lord Tamworth, and the insane 3rd Earl Ferrers, and a younger brother of fourth, fifth and sixth earls.

Walter Ferrers was educated at University College, Oxford (BA 1746). In early adult life, he was converted to evangelical principles, perhaps by Henry Venn (1725-1797) of the Clapham Sect. He was ordained deacon by Frederick Cornwallis, Bishop of Lichfield, in 1757, and briefly served as curate of Ashbourne in Derbyshire. His family connection with the Countess of Huntingdon brought him into intimate contact with the revivalist movements of the time. He was friendly with the Wesleys and George Whitefield, and from about 1758 was strongly linked with the Calvinists within Methodism, although he remained an Anglican.

In 1760, the Shirley family was rocked by one of the great society scandals of the day, when his eldest brother, Laurence Shirley (1720-1760), the fourth Earl Ferrers, was hanged at Tyburn for murdering his steward. Ferrers was tried by his peers in Westminster Hall, and despite his plea of insanity he was convicted of murder. He was the last peer of the realm to be hanged as a common criminal. As a concession to his rank, the rope used for his hanging was made of silk. His body was then taken to Surgeon’s Hall for public exhibition and dissection.

Saint Mary’s Church, Dublin, where Walter Shirley was married in 1766 and buried in 1786 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Walter Shirley moved to Ireland as the Rector of Loughrea, Co Galway about this time. The move may have been motivated by ambition, and there may have been a promise of preferment. He married in Saint Mary’s Church, Dublin, on 27 August 1766, Henrietta Maria Phillips, daughter of John Phillips of Dublin, an illegitimate son of the 1st Lord Molesworth. They were the parents of two sons and three daughters.

1, John Shirley, who was born in Loughrea in 1767 and died in Bath in 1773.
2, The Revd Walter Shirley.
3, Frances Anne, who was born in 1770 and married the Revd John Going (1766-1829), of Mealiffe, Co Tipperary.
4, Henrietta Elianor, married the Revd Henry Bunbury of Johnstown, Co Carlow.
5, Ann Augusta, married Gabriel Maturin, grandson of Gabriel Maturin and Jonathan Swift’s successor as Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

Although some of his children were born in Loughrea, Shirley was often absent from his parish in Co Galway, mainly due to his activities as a revivalist preacher, which brought him repeatedly into conflict with his bishop and fellow clergy. He was also serving as a chaplain to his cousin Selina, Countess of Huntingdon.

Shirley played a major role in the Methodist split in 1770, supporting Lady Huntingdon and the Calvinists, including the hymn-writer Augustus Toplady, against John Wesley and the Arminians. Shirley’s influence embittered the dispute.

The Bishop of Clonfert, Walter Cope, censured Shirley in June 1778 and advised him to abandon his Methodism, and some clergy in the Church of Ireland petitioned the Archbishop of Dublin, John Cradock, to reprimand him for preaching in the Bethesda Chapel and the Plunkett Street Chapel in Dublin.

In his later years, Shirley suffered with dropsy, and he died on 7 April 1786 at the age of 59. He was buried in Saint Mary’s Church, Dublin, where he had been married.

His only surviving son, the Revd Walter Shirley (1768-1859), was born in Loughrea, Co Galway, on 11 October 1768, and was educated at Trinity College Dublin (BA).

He lived at Westport, Co Mayo, and in Dublin on 26 July 1796 he married Alicia Newenham, a daughter of Sir Edward Newenham (1734-1814) of Belcamp Hall, MP for Enniscorthy, Co Wexford (1769-1776), and Co Dublin (1776-1797), and a friend of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Her sister Rachel married Canon John Hoare of Drishane (Millstreet), Co Cork, who was one of my predecessors as Rector of Rathkeale (1803-1813). Rachel and John Hoare were the parents of the Very Revd Edward Newenham Hoare (1802-1877), founder of Holy Trinity Church, Limerick (1834), Archdeacon of Ardfert (1836-1839), Dean of Achonry (1839-1850) and Dean of Waterford (1850-1877).

Walter and Alicia Shirley were the parents of one daughter, Henrietta Jane Shirley, and an only son, Walter Augustus Shirley (1797-1847), who was born in Westport, Co Mayo, on 30 May 1797.

Walter felt compelled to flee Ireland during the 1798 Rising, and he and his family had a peripatetic existence until he found a curacy first in Latchingdon, Essex (1808), and then in South Mymms, London (1814). Security came when he re-established a link with his first cousin, Robert Shirley (1756-1824), 7th Earl Ferrers and formerly known as Lord Tamworth. In 1815, he was appointed Rector of Shirley (1815-1827), a Derbyshire parish in the Diocese of Lichfield that was in the gift of the family. Later, Walter was the Rector of Woodford, Northamptonshire, and he succeeded his own son as Rector of Brailsford, Derbyshire (1847-1859).

His experiences in Ireland shaped views that he continued to hold throughout his life, and with the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in England in 1850, he expressed strongly anti-Catholic views.

Alicia Shirley died in Brailsford in December 1855 at the age 81 and Walter Shirley died on 9 April 1859.

Bishop Walter Augustus Shirley was born in Westport, Co Mayo, in 1797

Their only son, Walter Augustus Shirley (1797-1847), was born in Westport, Co Mayo, on 30 May 1797. His father’s cousin, Lord Ferrers, supported this younger Walter going to school in Winchester in 1809. There he won a scholarship to New College Oxford in 1815, and at the same time Lord Ferrers gave his father the living of Shirley in Derbyshire. When he married Maria Waddington in Paris in 1827, his father resigned Shirley so that the younger Walter could become rector of the family parish.

He became a scholar of Winchester College in 1809, and six years later was elected to a scholarship at New College, Oxford (BA 1819, MA 1823). He became a fellow of New College in 1818. He was ordained deacon on 7 August 1820 and took charge of the parish of Woodford, one of the livings held by his father. In 1821, he became curate of Parwich in Derbyshire, and in 1822 he was curate of Atlow.

He acted as Anglican chaplain in Rome in the winter of 1826-1827, and there he got to know the Bunsens and Thomas Erskine, as well as Eastlake and Wilkie.

He was appointed assistant lecturer (curate) at Ashbourne in 1827, and that autumn in Paris he married Maria Waddington, the daughter of William Waddington. His father resigned the living of Shirley in his favour, and he moved there in January 1828.

Shirley was reared in the strictest evangelical tradition, but he alienated some of his friends with his outspoken support for Catholic Emancipation in 1829. In later years, he lost more friends by refusing to support violent measures against the Tractarians.

After nine years, he moved to the parish of Whiston, near Rotherham, but he continued to hold it with Shirley for another two years later, when he was appointed to the incumbency of Brailsford, a parish beside Shirley.

He was appointed Archdeacon of Derby by the Bishop of Lichfield on 21 December 1840 and also became a prebendary of Lichfield Cathedral. He was a Vice-President of the Lichfield Architectural Society, which promotes the insights of the Gothic Revival in church architecture along the lines introduced by AWN Pugin and the Cambridge Camden Society, with close Tractarian affiliations.

In November 1846, he was appointed Bishop of Sodor and Man, an a few weeks later, on 17 December 1846, he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity (DD) from Oxford. However, because of a serious illness he was not consecrated bishop until 10 January 1847.

He had been elected the Bampton Lecturer for that year, but lived only long enough to deliver two of the lectures in Oxford before he died at Bishop’s Court on the Isle of Man on 21 April 1847, just three months after his consecration.

At the time of his death, it was said Shirley had gained the esteem of the clergy and people in his new diocese. However, his letters indicate some strong criticism of the clergy, island ways and Methodism.

Maria (Waddington) Shirley died in 1854 age 55. Their only son, the Revd Professor Walter Waddington Shirley (1828-1866) was Professor of Church History at Oxford and a canon of Christ Church, Oxford.

An Anglican priest like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, he was born at Shirley, Derbyshire, on 24 July 1828, and educated at Rugby School under Thomas Arnold. He played a part in founding Keble College, Oxford, but his career was cut short at the age of 38 when he died on 20 November 1866.

Bantry House, Co Cork, home of Lady Ina Hedges-White, who married Sewallis Edward Shirley (1847-1912), 10th Earl Ferrers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Professor Shirley’s five children included Alice Shirley (1856-1911), who married the Revd William Richardson Linton, who also became Vicar of Shirley, and Walter Shirley (1864-1937), who eventually succeeded as the 11th Earl Ferrers in 1912 on the death of his fourth cousin, Sewallis Edward Shirley (1847-1912), 10th Earl Ferrers.

Donegal House, Lichfield … named after the ancestors of Lady Augusta Chichester, who married Washington Shirley (1822-1859), 9th Earl Ferrers and known in 1830-1842 as Viscount Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The tenth earl, like many of his predecessors, was also known as Viscount Tamworth before inheriting the family titles and estates. His Irish-born wife, the former Lady Ina Hedges-White, was a daughter of the 3rd Earl of Bantry, and his mother, the former Lady Augusta Chichester, was a daughter of the 4th Marquess of Donegall, who had been Dean of Raphoe, Co Donegal. Previous generations of her family had also given their name to Donegal House in Lichfield, and had once inherited Fisherwick Park and Comberford Hall.

Meanwhile, Tamworth Castle had long passed out of the hands of the Ferrers family. Robert Shirley (1692-1714), a grandson of the first earl and a first cousin of the Revd Walter Shirley of Loughrea, was known as Viscount Tamworth for most of his life and inherited Tamworth Castle in 1697. However, he had no sons to succeed him as male heirs to the titles, and while the titles remained in the Ferrers family, Tamworth Castle eventually passed by inheritance and marriage to the Townsend family in 1751, the year Walter Ferrers was ordained by Bishop Cornwallis of Lichfield.

Comberford Hall, once part of the estates of the Chichester family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

A lecture in Dublin marking
the ‘Year of Kazantzakis’

The grave of Nikos Kazantzakis in Crete has a simple epitaph: ‘I hope for nothing, I fear for nothing, I am free’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Greek Ministry of Culture has declared this year [2017] the ‘Year of Kazantzakis.’ Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957), one of the great Greek writers of the 20th century, died 60 years ago on 26 October 1957.

Kazantzakis was nominated on nine occasions for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His books include Zorba the Greek, Christ Recrucified, Captain Michalis (first published as Freedom or Death) and The Last Temptation of Christ.

By one vote, he lost the Nobel Prize for Literature to Albert Camus a few days before he died in 1957. He is buried on the bastion above Iraklion.

The Irish Hellenic Society opens its new season of lectures with an inaugural meeting in University College Dublin this Friday [20 October 2017] with a fresh look at the work of this great figure in modern Greek literature and philosophy.

Niki Stavrou is the publisher of Kazantzakis’s works and the Director of Kazantzakis Publications since May 2014. Her godmother, Eleni Kazantzakis, gave her the name Niki to honour and commemorate her late husband, Nikos Kazantzakis.

Niki spent her childhood listening to stories from the life of Eleni and her Nikos. Eleni read to her and meticulously explained one by one all the books of Nikos Kazantzakis, starting with his children’s books, Alexander the Great and At the Palaces of Knossos, and continuing with his translations of Dante and theatrical plays, enlightening every line with her deep knowledge of her beloved husband.

Even though at the time, Eleni lived in Geneva and the Stavrou family lived in Cyprus, Eleni regularly visited Cyprus and Greece to spend her holidays and work with Patroclos Stavrou.

When Eleni adopted Patroclos Stavrou in 1982, this formalised the already profound family relationship between Eleni Kazantzakis and the Stavrou family. Eleni used to quip that with that once official act of adoption she had acquired a son, a daughter-in-law, a granddaughter as well as a goddaughter. In July 1974, at the time of the Turkish invasion in Cyprus, Eleni Kazantzakis, Mary Stavrou and Niki’s nanny Angela Kapodistrias were together at the apartment Eleni had just bought in Kyrenia, as a gift to Niki.

Patroclos Stavrou was the chief of staff in the Presidential Palace for Archbishop Makarios, at the time of the coup and was arrested by the junta leaders. Meanwhile, from 1967 until 1974, Eleni Kazantzakis was unable to travel to Greece until the fall of the colonels’ junta. Ever since, she spent her summers and holidays with the Stavrou family.

Eleni Kazantzakis died on 18 February 2004 in the Henry Dunant Hospital in Athens, holding the hand of her adopted son, Patroclos Stavrou. I was visiting Athens at the time, and had arranged to meet her, only to find she died on the night I arrived.

Niki Stavrou studied philosophy and political sciences at the University of Indianapolis. She holds a master’s degree in English Literature and taught English and American History, Literature and Poetry before becoming the Director of Kazantzakis Publications.

In her research on the life of Nikos Kazantzakis and the real people behind the characters of Report to Greco, she has identified the first love of Nikos Kazantzakis, Kathleen Forde from Ireland.

Niki Stavrou is still working with a deep sense of commitment and respect for the promotion and dissemination of the work of Nikos Kazantzakis, following in the steps of her godmother, Eleni Kazantzakis, and her father, Patroclos Stavrou.

I have been invited to follow Niki Stavrou with next month’s lecture in this season’s programme of the Irish Hellenic Society. I am speaking on ‘Sir Edward Law (1846-1908): the Irish Philhellene who rescued the Greek economy in the 1890s.’ The lecture takes place on Wednesday 22 November 2017, at 7.30 pm in the United Arts Club, 3 Upper Fitzwilliam Street, Dublin 2.

Sir Edward Law (1846-1908): the subject of my lecture at the Irish Hellenic Society next month.

Singing songs and
celebrating poetry
in a bar in Rethymnon

Celebrating Greek rhymes and songs, poets and poems, in a doorway in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

When I passed this bar in Rethymnon one sunny summer afternoon three months ago [9 July 2017], I was disappointed it was closed.

Συμπληγάδες or ‘The Clashing Rocks’ is a μεζεδοπωλείο or taverna specialising in mezedes, good wine, Greek raki and live Cretan music from Monday to Saturday. It stands on Vernadou, between the corners of Epimenidou and Xanthoudiou streets in the heart of the old city, close to the Neratzes Mosque, Petichaki Square and some of my favourite restaurants and tavernas.

It would be a pity if the notices on the door and the two side windows, in their brash and confident Greek lettering, turned attract tourists away, for this simple Greek shopfront is a celebration of Cretan poetry and song.

The middle panel on the door is a celebration of μαντινάδες, mantinades (singular μαντινάδα, mantinada), a unique poetic form of a narrative or dialogue, sung in the rhythm of accompanying music.

This poetic form is found throughout Greece, but is particularly associated with Crete, where mantinades are sung to the accompaniment of the Cretan lyra and the laouto, a stringed instrument resembling a lute.

The name comes from the Venetian matinada, ‘morning song.’ They typically consist of Cretan rhyming couplets, often improvised during dance music.

The rhymed Cretan poetry of the Renaissance, especially the 10,000-verse epic poem Erotokritos written by Vicenzos Kornaros in 1590, can be compared to this poetic style, and indeed couplets from Erotokritos have since been used as mantinades.

Mantinades have either love or satire as their topics. They are invariably composed in dekapentasyllabos or 15-syllable verse and are often antiphonal rhyming couplets, so that one verse elicits a response, this leads to another response, and so on.

The mantinada can express many emotions, including sorrow, joy, hope, desire, love, anger, revenge, and nostalgia.

Each mantinada is complete in itself despite its short length, like a Limerick. But most of them are not written down, and few of them are ever are published. They are often told and forgotten, or learnt by heart and passed on by word of mouth.

The first sign to the left of the door reads:

Μες του Ρεθύμνου τα στενά
σου λέω μαντινάδες
τρώμε και πίνουμε,
όμορφα μέσα στις,
Συμπληγαδες

Καλό φαϊ πολύ ποτό και
μουσική ζητάμε
γη αυτό οπότε σγαίνουμε
στις συμπηγάδες πάμε

Όταν μεθάω με τσικουδιά
ο ύπνος δε με πιάνει
τον ουρανο νομιζω γη
τη γη πως ειναι τασανη

We are in the middle of Rethymnon
I’m reciting mantindas for you
we eat and drink,
beautifully inside.
The Clashing Rocks.

Good drink, too much drink, and
music we call for
This is where we are going,
to the slaves we go.

When I eat with tsikoudia
sleep does not catch me,
the sky I think earth,
the land as it is.


The middle panel on the door begins:

Συμπληγαδες

The Clashing Rocks

Η πρώτη φέρνει δευτερη
κι η δευτερη ζαλάδες
κάτω από τα καθίσματα
κινούνται συμπληγάδες

The first brings the second
and the second jerks
under the seats
moving ‘starters’ (mezzes).


The third panel, to the right of the door, celebrates three great 20th century writers in Crete, Nikos Kazantzakis, Nikos Xylouris and Odysseus Elytis.

The first quotation is a popular citation from Nikos Kazantzakis:

Μια αστραπή η ζωη μας, μα προλαβαίνουμε –
Νίκος Καζαντζάκης

Our life is a flash of lighting, but we are ahead
Nikos Kazantzakis.

Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) is a giant in modern Greek literature and he was nominated nine times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. His books include Zorba the Greek, Christ Recrucified, Captain Michalis (first published as Freedom or Death) and The Last Temptation of Christ. He died 60 years ago this month, on 26 October 1957, and is buried on the bastion above Iraklion.

The second quotation is a Greek rendering by Nikos Xylouris of a well-known American Indian proverb that has given us the term ‘Rainbow Warrior’:

Ο άνθρωπος δεν θέλει πολλά
για να 'ναι ευτυχισμένος.
Φτάνει να 'χει δυο-τρεις φίλους
να τον αγαπούνε πραγματικά
και χρήματα τόσα για να
μπορεί να τους κερνά –
Νίκος Ξυλούρης

When the earth is ravaged and all
the animals are dying,
a new tribe of people shall come unto the earth
from many colours, classes, creeds,
and who by their actions and deeds shall make the earth
green again. They will be known as the warriors of the rainbow

Nikos Xylouris

Nikos Xylouris (1936-1980), nicknamed Psaronikos, was a composer and singer from the village of Anogeia and the older brother of two other celebrated musicians, Antonis Xylouris (Psarantonis) and Yiannis Xylouris (Psaroyiannis). His songs and music captured and described the Greek psyche and demeanour, gaining himself the title ‘The Archangel of Crete’.

He was an eight-year-old boy when Anogeia was razed by the German army in 1944. He acquired his first lyra when he was 12, and at 17 he started performing at the Kastro folk music restaurant in Iraklion.

He made his first recording in 1958, and first performed outside Greece in 1966 when he won first prize at the San Remo folk music festival.

In the early 1970s, his voice becomes identified not only with Cretan music but also with the new kind of artistic popular music that emerged as other Greek composers wrote music for the verses of famous Greek poets, including Yannis Ritsos, Giorgos Seferis and Dionysios Solomos. When Xylouris died in 1980, he was buried in the First Cemetery of Athens.



The final quotation is from the poet Odysseus Elytis:

Εάν αποσυνθέσεις την Ελλάδα,
στο τέλος θα δεις
να σου απομένουν
μια ελιά, ένα αμπέλι κι ένα καράβι.
Που σημαίνει:
με άλλα τόσα την ξαναφτιάχνεις –
Οδυσσέας Ελύτης

If you take Greece apart,
in the end you will see remaining to you
an olive tree, a vineyard and
a ship. Which means: with
just so much you can put her back together.

Odysseus Elytis

Greece has produced two Nobel prize winners for literature – George Seferis in 1967, and Odysseus Elytis in 1979. Odysseus Elytis (1911-1996) was born Odysseus Alepoudelis in Iraklion on 2 November 1911. When he was three, the family moved to Athens.

His famous poems include Worthy it Is, Sun the First, and Orientations. He is one of the poets who revived Greek poetry, and several of his poems have been set to music and his poetry collections were translated in tens of languages.

After World War II, he moved to Paris in 1948 to study philosophy at the Sorbonne, and he worked for the BBC in London in 1950-1951.

In 1964, the composer Mikis Theodorakis started setting his Axion Esti (Worthy it Is) to music. In 1979, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died in Athens on 18 March 1996.

Traditional Greek instruments in a shop in the old town in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Monday, 16 October 2017

Ophelia moves on with little
trace of damage in Askeaton

The River Deel is at a high point in Askeaton, Co Limerick, this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Although Storm Ophelia has swept up the coast of Ireland from Dingle to Donegal, calm appears to have descended on this part of Co Limerick.

Despite reports of damage and destruction have come in the wake of the worst storm to hit Ireland since 1961, Askeaton seems to have escaped the havoc wreaked by the hurricane.

With the high winds that have raged throughout the day, I had remained indoors until the strong winds had abated.

After the worst of the storm had passed, and winds had calmed down, I ventured out with a sense of caution and trepidation this evening for a short walk.

I wanted to check that everything was safe around the Rectory and the Rectory grounds, and to see that all was safe at the church, including the roof, the windows, the bell and the tower.

The River Deel below the bridge and the castle in Askeaton this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Askeaton is eerily calm this evening. There have been no buses between here and Limerick throughout the day, there is little traffic, leaves have piled up on the footpaths, and a few signs have blown down. Most shops, supermarkets and pubs, as well as the schools have remained closed, and only one or two are opening at this late stage.

I could find nowhere to buy The Irish Times or The Guardian, and the cancellation of postal deliveries means The Economist has not arrived yet either.

Two engagements I had in Rathkeale this morning were cancelled yesterday and the school remains closed again tomorrow. Parishioners have been generous and gentle calling to know how I am faring alone.

The River Deel is at a high level this evening, swirling around the castle ruins and reaching a high point along the quays below the bridge.

Two short, and very brief power outages have left me fumbling about trying to reset radios, clocks, the cooker and the printer/photocopier. I have three more meetings in the rectory during the coming week, and I can be thankful that Storm Ophelia has passed, leaving little damage to life in Askeaton.

News reports are concentrating on the three accidental deaths today, the power cuts and the impact of the storm on business and working life. But I am left wondering this evening how homeless people on the streets of our towns and cities have been cared for throughout the day, and how they are going to fare tonight.

Bare trees in the rectory gardens in Askeaton this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Waiting for Ophelia to make
landfall here this morning

‘Ophelia’ by Sir John Everett Millais (Tate Images, http://www.tate-images.com/results.asp?image=N01506&wwwflag=3&imagepos=2, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13455290)

Patrick Comerford

Hurricane Ophelia is about to strike this part of Ireland, making landfall within the next few hours.

Schools and businesses have closed, everyone has been warned not to undertake journeys, and my meetings and visits today were cancelled as soon as the Red Alert was extended to Co Limerick yesterday afternoon.

Met Éireann is warning of winds and gusts from 80 to 130 kph across this part of Ireland today and the weather service issued a red warning for Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Galway, Mayo, Cork, Waterford and Wexford, with an orange wind warning for the rest of Ireland. By late last night, the red warning had been extended to the whole island.

I expect many families in this parish from north Kerry through west Limerick are anxious about what is going to happen when Hurricane Ophelia strikes within the next few hours. The south bank of the Shannon estuary extends along a stretch of over 70 km, from a point north Ferrybridge on the banks of the River Maigue in Co Limerick to a point on the Kerry coast north of Ballybunion.

My images of Ophelia have been shaped over the past half century by William Shakespeare. Fifty years ago, as a schoolboy in Gormanston in 1967, I had started reading Hamlet, in preparation for sitting Honours English the Leaving Certificate in 1969.

But as I tried to sweep up some of the leaves around the Rectory late yesterday before darkness settled – knowing this was a futile exercise that everything was going to be blown about and swept up in the storm today – the enduring image of Ophelia that came to mind among those leaves was Ophelia, the Pre-Raphaelite painting by Sir John Everett Millais (1851-1852), now in the Tate Britain in London.

In his painting, Millais depicts Ophelia singing before she drowns in a river. Today this work is admired for its beauty and for its accurate depiction of a natural landscape.

Millais painted Ophelia in the Surrey countryside, close to the very place where William Holman Hunt painted The Light of the World.

The painting shows Ophelia singing as she floats in a river just before she drowns. Her drowning is not actually an event in the staged play, but is recalled by Queen Gertrude in Act IV, Scene VII.

She describes how Ophelia fell into the river from an overhanging tree while she was gathering flowers. Ophelia lies in the water singing songs, unaware of the danger (‘incapable of her own distress’). Her clothes, trapping air, have allow her to stay afloat briefly:

Her clothes spread wide,
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up
.

But eventually, ‘her garments, heavy with their drink, / Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay’ down ‘to muddy death.’

Gertrude’s description of Ophelia’s death is often seen as one of the most poetically written death scenes in literature.

Millais in his painting presents Ophelia with her arms open and her eyes in an upwards gaze. It is a pose that resembles traditional portrayals of saints and martyrs, but also has erotic undertones.

The painting is known for its depiction of the detailed flora of the river and the riverbank, stressing the patterns of growth and decay in a natural ecosystem. But, while Shakespeare sets Hamlet in Denmark, the Surrey landscape in this painting is quintessentially English.

Ophelia is seen as a woman who has lived a life awaiting happiness, only to find her destiny on the verge of death. The intense colours in the landscape make her pale in comparison.

Ophelia was modelled by the artist and muse Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (1829-1862), who was then a 19-year-old. Millais had Lizzie Siddal lie fully clothed in a full bathtub in his studio at 7 Gower Street, London. As it was winter, he placed oil lamps under the tub to warm the water, but was so intent on his work that he allowed them to go out. As a result, she caught a severe cold.

Lizzie Siddal married Dante Gebriel Rossetti in Hastings in 1860. She was his model for his paintings of Beata Beatrix and other works, and she was a model for other Pre-Raphaelite artists, including Holman Hunt.

After her tragic death, Rossetti wrote of her:

What of the heart without her? Nay, poor heart,
Of thee what word remains ere speech be still?
A wayfarer by barren ways and chill,
Steep ways and weary, without her thou art,
Where the long cloud, the long wood’s counterpart,
Sheds doubled up darkness up the labouring hill.


Lizzie Siddal’s brother-in-law, William Michael Rossetti, her brother-in-law, described her as ‘a most beautiful creature with an air between dignity and sweetness with something that exceeded modest self-respect and partook of disdainful reserve; tall, finely-formed with a lofty neck and regular yet somewhat uncommon features, greenish-blue unsparkling eyes, large perfect eyelids, brilliant complexion and a lavish heavy wealth of coppery golden hair.’

As schoolboys reading Hamlet, we imagined Ophelia as a turbulent, disturbed and over-active woman, which may also have been a description of Lizzie Sidall. Perhaps this is why Hurricane Ophelia has been so named.

Leaves before the storm … waiting for Ophelia in the Rectory garden in Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Sunday, 15 October 2017

When the ‘corner boys’
are invited by the king
to the sacred banquet

Peter Brueghel the Younger, ‘A Peasant Wedding’ (1620), in the National Gallery of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

15 October 2017

The 18th Sunday after Trinity.


11.30 a.m.: The Eucharist, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert, Co Kerry.

Readings: Exodus 32: 1-14; Psalm 106: 1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4: 1-9; Matthew 22: 1-14.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

When we come to reading the parables in the Gospels, it is often difficult to read them with a new pair of spectacles, with a fresh approach. We already know the ending.

We all know whose prayer is most sincere, the Pharisee or the Publican. We all know the Good Samaritan is the good neighbour. We all know what happens to the Prodigal Son, but also his waiting father and his begrudging brother.

The problem is that are we so familiar with the parables that we know the ending, and we know the lessons to draw from them.

I had a cousin by marriage who in the early 1970s created sad fun for himself by walking down a cinema queue in Oxford, telling couples, pair-by-pair, as they waited for Love Story: ‘She dies in the end.’

But the real ending in the film comes after Jenny (Ali McGraw) dies and a grief-stricken Oliver (Ryan O’Neill) leaves the hospital to find his estranged father (Ray Milland) who has come back to apologise for how badly he treated the young couple.

Jenny has died; is he too late? No. Oliver replies with the words Jenny used so often: ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry.’

In some ways, Love Story is a clever retelling by Erich Segal of the story of the Prodigal Son. And the point of parables such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son is the vast immeasurable love of God as a loving father and the risks Christ takes for us individually and collectively.

This morning’s parable is also familiar. But it is more difficult, more challenging to read than the parables about the love of God and the love of neighbour.

Toasting the bride and groom at a family wedding … did you ever attend a wedding, without joining in the party? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The traditional reading of this parable makes God less like the patient father of the Prodigal Son, and more like Ray Milland’s petulant father who, instead of offering unconditional love, withdraws his love when his children do not do as he bids.

This parable tells of a king hosting a wedding banquet for his son. He invites a long list of guests, who learn to their cost that to refuse a king’s command is treasonous, to mistreat and kill his slaves is open rebellion. The king is outraged and sends his troops to put down the rebellion and to slaughter the unwilling guests – slaughtered like the oxen and calves for the banquet.

Do you see God as a capricious and demanding tyrant – waiting for you to make the religious equivalent of the social faux pas? – watching and waiting to judge your every little move? – keeping a score sheet that drives him to capricious vindictiveness? Does a loving father behave like that?

The Bible tells us constantly that God is slow to anger and rich in mercy (e.g., see Exodus 34: 6; Numbers 14: 18; II Chronicles 30: 9; Nehemiah 9: 17; Psalm 57: 10; Psalm 86: 5, 15; Psalm 103: 8; Psalm 145: 8; Joel 2: 13; Jonah 4: 2; Micah 7: 18; Romans 2: 8).

His abundant love and compassion is often a stark contrast with the experience of the oppressed people of violent kings and rulers in the past (see II Chronicles 30: 9; Nehemiah 9: 17).

On the other hand, how often have I behaved like many of the people invited to the wedding?

I few weeks ago, I referred to how often have I been invited to a book launch, a reception, or even a wedding, and ignored the RSVP request, how often I have ignored it yet turned up at the event.

And there have even been occasions when, rather than offend, I have accepted an invitation, and then not turned up at all. Thankfully no king has sent out his crack paratroopers to seek me out, burn down my city and slay me.

They say in some business circles, ‘There is no such thing as a free lunch.’ And to accept an invitation to a wedding comes at a cost.

You have to buy a present, a new outfit, take a day or days off work, with a loss of earnings or holiday time – and that’s before you pay for a baby sitter and hotel room for the night. And if the couple decide to get married in Lanzarote, or in Venice … could I afford the trip even if I wanted to go?

A few Sundays ago [24 September 2017], we heard the parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Matthew 20: 1-16). A day’s wage came after a long day’s toil and sweat for most workers … it still does today, and certainly did in Jesus’ day.

So, for the poor on the streets, in the alleyways, on the highways and the byways (verse 10), going to a lavish party thrown by an exceptionally rich man may not be so much a treat as a burden, with many costs and the loss of earnings.

It would be wrong to take such a refusal as a snub. And if you did turn up, at some personal cost, would you like someone there to be singled out in a way that highlights her low social status, his low-pay job, or their poor dress sense?

Certainly to go to a party under compulsion makes it no party at all.

So often, we read this parable as being a story about God and those who do not heed his call. But I have difficulties with the traditional, exclusive claims made in many interpretations of this parable, the standard storytelling of this parable. Is Christ proclaiming that God will retaliate violently when God’s messengers are attacked?

If you were to imagine yourself as one of the characters in this parable, who would you be? And would you behave that way?

Are you the king, throwing a lavish wedding banquet?

Are you an invited guest who must refuse the invitation?

Are you a potential guest who resents the compulsion or the cost?

Are you brought in from the street corners, but not prepared?

Christ’s audience would naturally associate a festive meal with the celebration of God’s people at the end of time. The wedding feast is a recurring image in the Bible of the heavenly banquet and the coming kingdom.

But they would also remember past and present kings – from the Pharaohs of Egypt, to despotic kings of Israel and Judah, to the violent Herods and the oppressive Caesars – whose reigns were anything but benign. Instead, their rule was marked by violence, mass murders, unnecessary wars and military alliances that resulted in the suffering of ordinary people, in the highways and byways.

The words translated in verse 9 as ‘the main streets’ are ‘the crossings of the streets’ (τὰς διεξόδους τῶν ὁδῶν) in the original Greek – in Dublin, Limerick and other cities today, we might say the king is reduced to inviting even the corner boys in from the inner city.

Perhaps the many common people listening to Christ that day know they too are branded as corner boys by the ruling class. They would have feared that they too, on such an occasion, would face berating, social isolation and being thrown out.

It is just a few days before Christ himself is going to be called before the kings and rulers of the day, to be mocked and jeered, to be stripped naked, to be bound hand and foot, to be crucified outside the walls of the city, and to be cast into outer darkness, to be buried and to descend to the dead.

So, in an alternative way of looking at this parable, Christ is alone when he speaks out and protests against the king’s tyranny, the tyranny of the kingdoms of this world, by refusing to wear the robe. And he ends up being rejected, being ejected, and being crucified on behalf of all who are marginalised, thrown out, expelled.

Is Christ not calling us this morning to identify with the marginalised, the oppressed, those dealt with violently, those treated harshly and cast out into the darkness because society thinks we would be better rid of them?

Who falls into that category in our society today? The homeless … the foreigners in direct provision … the unemployed or low paid … the emigrant … their children …?

Who falls into that category in the Church today? Those we pass moral judgment on because of their relationships or sexuality … the survivors of abuse … the foreigners in direct provision … the homeless … their children …?

Who falls into that category in the world today? The Kurds … the Palestinians … the residents of Gaza … the victims on all sides in Syria, Iraq, on the borders of Turkey … the refugees on the streets in Athens … the Muslim refugees fleeing from Myanmar and crossing the border into Bangaldesh … those demanding human rights …?

A grave in Kerameikós, Athens, where Pericles delivered his funeral oration (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Let me put the Greek use of ‘few’ and ‘many’ by Christ in this parable in its cultural context. Pericles, in his ‘Funeral Oration’ in Athens, according to Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War, uses ‘the many,’ οἱ πολλοί (hoi polloi), in a positive way when praising the Athenian democracy. He contrasts them with ‘the few’ (οἱ ὀλίγοι, hoi oligoi), who abuse power and create an oligarchy, rule by the few. He advocates equal justice for ‘the many’, ‘the all’, before the law, against the selfish interests of the few.

When we celebrate the Eucharist – the sacred banquet as it is described in this morning’s Post-Communion Prayer – we remember that Christ is the victim, and that he said his blood is shed ‘for you and for many’ … you being the Church, the few in this parable; but the many, οἱ πολλοί (hoi polloi), the masses, the multitude, the great unwashed, are called too.

Christ dies for the many, the lumpen masses, all people, and not just for the few, the oligarchs. The many are invited to this banquet this morning. And who are we to behave like a tyrannical despot and exclude them? For if we exclude them, we are in danger of excluding Christ himself.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God:
Increase in us your gift of faith
that, forsaking what lies behind,
we may run the way of your commandments
and win the crown of everlasting joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-Communion Prayer:

All praise and thanks, O Christ,
for this sacred banquet,
in which by faith we receive you,
the memory of your passion is renewed,
our lives are filled with grace,
and a pledge of future glory given,
to feast at that table where you reign
with all your saints for ever.

Matthew 22: 1-14:

1 Καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς πάλιν εἶπεν ἐν παραβολαῖς αὐτοῖς λέγων, 2 Ὡμοιώθηἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν ἀνθρώπῳ βασιλεῖ, ὅστις ἐποίησεν γάμους τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ. 3 καὶ ἀπέστειλεν τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ καλέσαι τοὺς κεκλημένους εἰς τοὺς γάμους, καὶ οὐκ ἤθελον ἐλθεῖν. 4 πάλιν ἀπέστειλεν ἄλλους δούλους λέγων, Εἴπατε τοῖς κεκλημένοις, Ἰδοὺ τὸ ἄριστόν μου ἡτοίμακα, οἱ ταῦροί μου καὶ τὰσιτιστὰ τεθυμένα, καὶ πάντα ἕτοιμα: δεῦτε εἰς τοὺς γάμους. 5 οἱ δὲ ἀμελήσαντες ἀπῆλθον, ὃς μὲν εἰς τὸν ἴδιον ἀγρόν, ὃς δὲ ἐπὶ τὴν ἐμπορίαν αὐτοῦ: 6 οἱ δὲ λοιποὶ κρατήσαντες τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ ὕβρισαν καὶ ἀπέκτειναν. 7 ὁ δὲ βασιλεὺς ὠργίσθη, καὶ πέμψας τὰ στρατεύματα αὐτοῦ ἀπώλεσεν τοὺς φονεῖς ἐκείνους καὶ τὴν πόλιν αὐτῶν ἐνέπρησεν. 8 τότε λέγει τοῖς δούλοις αὐτοῦ, Ὁ μὲν γάμος ἕτοιμός ἐστιν, οἱ δὲ κεκλημένοι οὐκ ἦσαν ἄξιοι: 9 πορεύεσθε οὖν ἐπὶ τὰς διεξόδους τῶν ὁδῶν, καὶ ὅσους ἐὰν εὕρητε καλέσατε εἰς τοὺς γάμους. 10 καὶ ἐξελθόντες οἱ δοῦλοι ἐκεῖνοι εἰς τὰς ὁδοὺς συνήγαγον πάντας οὓς εὗρον, πονηρούς τε καὶ ἀγαθούς: καὶ ἐπλήσθη ὁ γάμος ἀνακειμένων.

11 εἰσελθὼν δὲ ὁ βασιλεὺς θεάσασθαι τοὺς ἀνακειμένους εἶδεν ἐκεῖ ἄνθρωπον οὐκ ἐνδεδυμένον ἔνδυμα γάμου: 12 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Ἑταῖρε, πῶς εἰσῆλθες ὧδε μὴ ἔχων ἔνδυμα γάμου; ὁ δὲ ἐφιμώθη. 13 τότε ὁ βασιλεὺς εἶπεν τοῖς διακόνοις, Δήσαντες αὐτοῦ πόδας καὶ χεῖρας ἐκβάλετε αὐτὸν εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον: ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων. 14 πολλοὶ γάρ εἰσιν κλητοὶ ὀλίγοι δὲ ἐκλεκτοί.

Translation (NRSV):

1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless.13 Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.’

Who are the many who are called?
Who are the few who are chosen?

Toasting the bride and groom at a family wedding … did you ever attend a wedding, without joining in the party? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

15 October 2017

The 18th Sunday after Trinity.


9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

Readings: Exodus 32: 1-14; Psalm 106: 1-6, 19-23; Philippians 4: 1-9; Matthew 22: 1-14.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

When we come to reading the parables in the Gospels, it is often difficult to read them with a new pair of spectacles, with a fresh approach. We already know the ending.

We all know whose prayer is most sincere, the Pharisee or the Publican. We all know the Good Samaritan is the good neighbour. We all know what happens to the Prodigal Son, but also his waiting father and his begrudging brother.

The problem is that are we so familiar with the parables that we know the ending, and we know the lessons to draw from them.

I had a cousin by marriage who in the early 1970s created sad fun for himself by walking down a cinema queue in Oxford, telling couples, pair-by-pair, as they waited for Love Story: ‘She dies in the end.’

But the real ending in the film comes after Jenny (Ali McGraw) dies and a grief-stricken Oliver (Ryan O’Neill) leaves the hospital to find his estranged father (Ray Milland) who has come back to apologise for how badly he treated the young couple.

Jenny has died; is he too late? No. Oliver replies with the words Jenny used so often: ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry.’

In some ways, Love Story is a clever retelling by Erich Segal of the story of the Prodigal Son. And the point of parables such as the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son is the vast immeasurable love of God as a loving father and the risks Christ takes for us individually and collectively.

This morning’s parable is also familiar. But it is more difficult, more challenging to read than the parables about the love of God and the love of neighbour.

Peter Brueghel the Younger, ‘A Peasant Wedding’ (1620), in the National Gallery of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The traditional reading of this parable makes God less like the patient father of the Prodigal Son, and more like Ray Milland’s petulant father who, instead of offering unconditional love, withdraws his love when his children do not do as he bids.

This parable tells of a king hosting a wedding banquet for his son. He invites a long list of guests, who learn to their cost that to refuse a king’s command is treasonous, to mistreat and kill his slaves is open rebellion. The king is outraged and sends his troops to put down the rebellion and to slaughter the unwilling guests – slaughtered like the oxen and calves for the banquet.

Do you see God as a capricious and demanding tyrant – waiting for you to make the religious equivalent of the social faux pas? – watching and waiting to judge your every little move? – keeping a score sheet that drives him to capricious vindictiveness? Does a loving father behave like that?

The Bible tells us constantly that God is slow to anger and rich in mercy (e.g., see Exodus 34: 6; Numbers 14: 18; II Chronicles 30: 9; Nehemiah 9: 17; Psalm 57: 10; Psalm 86: 5, 15; Psalm 103: 8; Psalm 145: 8; Joel 2: 13; Jonah 4: 2; Micah 7: 18; Romans 2: 8).

His abundant love and compassion is often a stark contrast with the experience of the oppressed people of violent kings and rulers in the past (see II Chronicles 30: 9; Nehemiah 9: 17).

On the other hand, how often have I behaved like many of the people invited to the wedding?

I few weeks ago, I referred to how often have I been invited to a book launch, a reception, or even a wedding, and ignored the RSVP request, how often I have ignored it yet turned up at the event.

And there have even been occasions when, rather than offend, I have accepted an invitation, and then not turned up at all. Thankfully no king has sent out his crack paratroopers to seek me out, burn down my city and slay me.

They say in some business circles, ‘There is no such thing as a free lunch.’ And to accept an invitation to a wedding comes at a cost.

You have to buy a present, a new outfit, take a day or days off work, with a loss of earnings or holiday time – and that’s before you pay for a baby sitter and hotel room for the night. And if the couple decide to get married in Lanzarote, or in Venice … could I afford the trip even if I wanted to go?

A few Sundays ago [24 September 2017], we heard the parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Matthew 20: 1-16). A day’s wage came after a long day’s toil and sweat for most workers … it still does today, and certainly did in Jesus’ day.

So, for the poor on the streets, in the alleyways, on the highways and the byways (verse 10), going to a lavish party thrown by an exceptionally rich man may not be so much a treat as a burden, with many costs and the loss of earnings.

It would be wrong to take such a refusal as a snub. And if you did turn up, at some personal cost, would you like someone there to be singled out in a way that highlights her low social status, his low-pay job, or their poor dress sense?

Certainly to go to a party under compulsion makes it no party at all.

So often, we read this parable as being a story about God and those who do not heed his call. But I have difficulties with the traditional, exclusive claims made in many interpretations of this parable, the standard storytelling of this parable. Is Christ proclaiming that God will retaliate violently when God’s messengers are attacked?

If you were to imagine yourself as one of the characters in this parable, who would you be? And would you behave that way?

Are you the king, throwing a lavish wedding banquet?

Are you an invited guest who must refuse the invitation?

Are you a potential guest who resents the compulsion or the cost?

Are you brought in from the street corners, but not prepared?

Christ’s audience would naturally associate a festive meal with the celebration of God’s people at the end of time. The wedding feast is a recurring image in the Bible of the heavenly banquet and the coming kingdom.

But they would also remember past and present kings – from the Pharaohs of Egypt, to despotic kings of Israel and Judah, to the violent Herods and the oppressive Caesars – whose reigns were anything but benign. Instead, their rule was marked by violence, mass murders, unnecessary wars and military alliances that resulted in the suffering of ordinary people, in the highways and byways.

The words translated in verse 9 as ‘the main streets’ are ‘the crossings of the streets’ (τὰς διεξόδους τῶν ὁδῶν) in the original Greek – in Dublin, Limerick and other cities today, we might say the king is reduced to inviting even the corner boys in from the inner city.

Perhaps the many common people listening to Christ that day know they too are branded as corner boys by the ruling class. They would have feared that they too, on such an occasion, would face berating, social isolation and being thrown out.

It is just a few days before Christ himself is going to be called before the kings and rulers of the day, to be mocked and jeered, to be stripped naked, to be bound hand and foot, to be crucified outside the walls of the city, and to be cast into outer darkness, to be buried and to descend to the dead.

So, in an alternative way of looking at this parable, Christ is alone when he speaks out and protests against the king’s tyranny, the tyranny of the kingdoms of this world, by refusing to wear the robe. And he ends up being rejected, being ejected, and being crucified on behalf of all who are marginalised, thrown out, expelled.

Is Christ not calling us this morning to identify with the marginalised, the oppressed, those dealt with violently, those treated harshly and cast out into the darkness because society thinks we would be better rid of them?

Who falls into that category in our society today? The homeless … the foreigners in direct provision … the unemployed or low paid … the emigrant … their children …?

Who falls into that category in the Church today? Those we pass moral judgment on because of their relationships or sexuality … the survivors of abuse … the foreigners in direct provision … the homeless … their children …?

Who falls into that category in the world today? The Kurds … the Palestinians … the residents of Gaza … the victims on all sides in Syria, Iraq, on the borders of Turkey … the refugees on the streets in Athens … the Muslim refugees fleeing from Myanmar and crossing the border into Bangaldesh … those demanding human rights …?

A grave in Kerameikós, Athens, where Pericles delivered his funeral oration (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Let me put the Greek use of ‘few’ and ‘many’ by Christ in this parable in its cultural context. Pericles, in his ‘Funeral Oration’ in Athens, according to Thucydides in his History of the Peloponnesian War, uses ‘the many,’ οἱ πολλοί (hoi polloi), in a positive way when praising the Athenian democracy. He contrasts them with ‘the few’ (οἱ ὀλίγοι, hoi oligoi), who abuse power and create an oligarchy, rule by the few. He advocates equal justice for ‘the many’, ‘the all’, before the law, against the selfish interests of the few.

When we celebrate the Eucharist, we remember that Christ is the victim, and that he said his blood is shed ‘for you and for many’ … you being the Church, the few in this parable; but the many, οἱ πολλοί (hoi polloi), the masses, the multitude, the great unwashed, are called too.

Christ dies for the many, the lumpen masses, all people, and not just for the few, the oligarchs. The many are invited to this banquet this morning. And who are we to behave like a tyrannical despot and exclude them? For if we exclude them, we are in danger of excluding Christ himself.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God:
Increase in us your gift of faith
that, forsaking what lies behind,
we may run the way of your commandments
and win the crown of everlasting joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Matthew 22: 1-14:

1 Καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς πάλιν εἶπεν ἐν παραβολαῖς αὐτοῖς λέγων, 2 Ὡμοιώθηἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν ἀνθρώπῳ βασιλεῖ, ὅστις ἐποίησεν γάμους τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ. 3 καὶ ἀπέστειλεν τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ καλέσαι τοὺς κεκλημένους εἰς τοὺς γάμους, καὶ οὐκ ἤθελον ἐλθεῖν. 4 πάλιν ἀπέστειλεν ἄλλους δούλους λέγων, Εἴπατε τοῖς κεκλημένοις, Ἰδοὺ τὸ ἄριστόν μου ἡτοίμακα, οἱ ταῦροί μου καὶ τὰσιτιστὰ τεθυμένα, καὶ πάντα ἕτοιμα: δεῦτε εἰς τοὺς γάμους. 5 οἱ δὲ ἀμελήσαντες ἀπῆλθον, ὃς μὲν εἰς τὸν ἴδιον ἀγρόν, ὃς δὲ ἐπὶ τὴν ἐμπορίαν αὐτοῦ: 6 οἱ δὲ λοιποὶ κρατήσαντες τοὺς δούλους αὐτοῦ ὕβρισαν καὶ ἀπέκτειναν. 7 ὁ δὲ βασιλεὺς ὠργίσθη, καὶ πέμψας τὰ στρατεύματα αὐτοῦ ἀπώλεσεν τοὺς φονεῖς ἐκείνους καὶ τὴν πόλιν αὐτῶν ἐνέπρησεν. 8 τότε λέγει τοῖς δούλοις αὐτοῦ, Ὁ μὲν γάμος ἕτοιμός ἐστιν, οἱ δὲ κεκλημένοι οὐκ ἦσαν ἄξιοι: 9 πορεύεσθε οὖν ἐπὶ τὰς διεξόδους τῶν ὁδῶν, καὶ ὅσους ἐὰν εὕρητε καλέσατε εἰς τοὺς γάμους. 10 καὶ ἐξελθόντες οἱ δοῦλοι ἐκεῖνοι εἰς τὰς ὁδοὺς συνήγαγον πάντας οὓς εὗρον, πονηρούς τε καὶ ἀγαθούς: καὶ ἐπλήσθη ὁ γάμος ἀνακειμένων.

11 εἰσελθὼν δὲ ὁ βασιλεὺς θεάσασθαι τοὺς ἀνακειμένους εἶδεν ἐκεῖ ἄνθρωπον οὐκ ἐνδεδυμένον ἔνδυμα γάμου: 12 καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ, Ἑταῖρε, πῶς εἰσῆλθες ὧδε μὴ ἔχων ἔνδυμα γάμου; ὁ δὲ ἐφιμώθη. 13 τότε ὁ βασιλεὺς εἶπεν τοῖς διακόνοις, Δήσαντες αὐτοῦ πόδας καὶ χεῖρας ἐκβάλετε αὐτὸν εἰς τὸ σκότος τὸ ἐξώτερον: ἐκεῖ ἔσται ὁ κλαυθμὸς καὶ ὁ βρυγμὸς τῶν ὀδόντων. 14 πολλοὶ γάρ εἰσιν κλητοὶ ὀλίγοι δὲ ἐκλεκτοί.

Translation (NRSV):

1 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless.13 Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.’

Saturday, 14 October 2017

The Revd Sir William Augustus
Wolseley (1865-1950), an
exceptional curate in
Kilnaughtin and Aughavallin

The Rectory, Tarbert … was this the home of the Revd William Augustus Wolseley while he was the curate in Kilnaughtin parish? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Tarbert Historical and Heritage Society,

7.30 p.m., 14 October 2017,

The Bridewell, Tarbert, Co Kerry

Introduction and context


I am sure I am like many of my colleagues who come to a new parish and wonder who our predecessors are. Since early this year [20 January 2017], I have been the priest-in-charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes, and soon after was made Canon Precentor of the three cathedrals in these dioceses.

In some ways I feel blessed that I know or have known so many of my predecessors. But, because of the amalgamation of parishes over the years, and the closure of many churches in North Kerry and West Limerick, I am never going to truly find out who all my predecessors were.

I imagine many of them prayerful and faithful priests and men of prayer. But some of them were mere careerists and pluralists, some were mad or bad … or both. It is interesting to learn about my predecessors in these parishes, and one of the most eccentric of them was a former curate in Kilnaughtin and Glin, the Revd Sir William Augustus Wolseley (1865-1950).

The Wolseley Arms … near the former seat of the Wolseley family near Rugeley, Staffordshire (Photograph: fatbadgers)

My delight at finding him here over a century ago is partly due to a long-term interest in the history of the Wolseley family. Wolseley is in mid-Staffordshire, between Stafford and Rugeley, north of Lichfield. The coats-of-arms of the Comberford and Wolseley families are inverted reflections of each other, and the families were related by marriage in the 16th century.

Wolseley and Comberford are about 20 miles apart, and one of my earliest contracts as a freelance journalist was to interview Sir Charles Wolseley of Wolseley for the Lichfield Mercury and the Rugeley Mercury in the early 1970s.

We have been in touch again in recent years, and then during a family wedding at the end of last year, I spent a weekend at Mount Wolseley, the ancestral home of Sir William and some other intriguing and eccentric Wolseley baronets.

Mount Wolseley House near Tullow, Co Carlow … home to generations of the Wolseley family and sold in 1925 for £4,500 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I think this evening you are going to enjoy some of my stories of these eccentric Wolseleys, including Sir William’s immediate predecessor, Sir Dick Wolseley (1872-1933), the tenth baronet, who was his first cousin once removed and who worked as an elevator operator or ‘lift boy,’ and Sir William’s immediate successor, Sir Garnet Wolseley (1915-1991), the twelfth baronet, who was his second cousin once removed and who was a cobbler, born into poverty on Merseyside.

The Wolseley family in Ireland

Wolseley Family Tree (Table I, Patrick Comerford)

The first of the Wolseley family to come to Ireland was William Wolseley from Wolseley in mid-Staffordshire. He fought alongside King William III at the Battle of the Boyne.

William Wolseley died unmarried. His nephew Captain Richard Wolseley (died 1724), was a younger son in the Wolseley family, and bought the 2,500-acre estate of Mount Arran from Charles Butler, Earl of Arran, renaming it Mount Wolseley, which is on the outskirts of Tullow, Co Carlow. He was the father of both Sir William Wolseley, who inherited as the fifth Baronet of Wolseley, Staffordshire, and his younger brother, Sir Richard Wolseley, MP for Carlow (1696-1769), inherited Mount Wolseley and became an Irish baronet.

So, Sir Richard Woleyey was the ancestor of the Revd Sir William Wolseley of Tarbert. The Irish baronets were heirs to the English family title, while the present English line, represented by Sir Charles Wolseley (born 1944), the 11th baronet, is descended from the irish branch of the family, and the Irish branch of the family is in the line of succession to the English title.

The family tree is often very difficult to trace, names are often inherited making it difficult to tell cousins apart, and the Irish title regularly passes to distant cousins time and again, complicating the line of succession.

Frederick York Wolseley … gave the Wolseley name to one of Britain’s most famous car marques

Probably the most famous of all the Wolseley family members was Frederick York Wolseley, who in 1895 started producing one of Britain’s most famous car marques – the Wolseley. The name dominated the British motor industry for eight decades until 1975, when the last car with the Wolseley name was produced.

The memorial to Field Marshal Viscount Wolseley in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

His brother, Field Marshal Viscount Wolseley, was one of Britain’s most important military leaders. He was born in Goldenbridge, near Inchicore, Dublin, and in retirement lived in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham. He is commemorated in a very decorative monument in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

William Augustus Wolseley’s career

Dean Robert Beatty’s grave in the former Saint Paul’s churchyard in Glin, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

The Revd William Augustus Wolseley was the curate in Kilnaughtin with Aughavallin for almost two decades, from 1888 until he moved to Australia in 1906. While Wolseley was the curate here, Dean Robert Beatty (1833-1921) was the Rector of Kilnaughtin (1878-1921), and from 1891 appears to have lived in Glin.

Dean Beatty was related to Admiral Beatty of World War I fame. He was the Rector of Kilnaughtin with Aughavallin from 1878 and Kilfergus (Glin) was joined to his parish in 1891. A senior priest in the diocese, Beatty was successively Canon Treasurer (1903-1905), Canon Chancellor (1905-1911) and Dean of Ardfert (1911-1917). He lived at Carnaville, Glin, with his sisters Rebecca and Louisa, and never married. When he died on 7 February 1921 at the age of 88, he was buried in the churchyard at Saint Paul’s Church, Glin, where his headstone says he was ’40 years Rector of Kilnaughtin Parish.’

So, we know a lot about Dean Beatty. But neither the standard reference books nor the popular accounts of the unusual circumstances of William Wolseley’s life give much attention to the almost two decades he spent in these Church of Ireland parishes in Tarbert and Ballylongford.

William was born on 19 April 1865, the only son of Charles Wolseley (1809-1889) and a grandson of the Revd William Wolseley, Rector of Dunaghy (1831-1846), Co Antrim, in the Diocese of Connor. He was descended through an obscure branch of the family from the first baronet, Sir Richard Wolseley, and Charles Wolseley could never have expected that his only son was going to become the heir to this family title.

This was a strongly clerical branch of the Wolseley family, and the young William had two uncles who were priests, including the Ven Cadwallader Wolseley, who was Archdeacon of Glendalough, a canon of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, and Rector of Saint Andrew’s, Dublin.

So the young William was probably thinking of ordination from an early age, without any thoughts of a title or celebrity.

Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, where William Wolseley was curate for 18 years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

William Augustus Wolseley was educated in Rathmines at a then-famous school school run by the Revd Dr Charles William Benson and at Trinity College Dublin, where he graduated BA in 1887. He was awarded the Wall Biblical Scholarship in 1888, and earned a first class Theological Exhibition in 1889 that entitled him to the Divinity Testimonium, then the basic qualification from TCD for ordination in the Church of Ireland.

Within a year, he was ordained deacon in 1888 by the Archbishop of Dublin, Lord Plunket, on behalf of the Bishop of Limerick, and he was appointed curate of the parish of Kilnaughtin with Aughavallin in the Diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe. In 1889, he was ordained priest by Charles Graves, the Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe.

William Wolseley remained a curate in this parish for 18 years until 1906. During his time in this parish, he supplemented his income as a tutor to the Hewetson family, and his name appears only once in the parish baptismal records in Kilnaughtin.

He may have spent most of his time in Hewetson family household. But what brought Wolseley to this part of Ireland and to this diocese?

He was a second cousin of the Ven William Hulbert Wolseley (1821-1899), then Vicar of Kilrush, Co Clare (1862-1899) and Archdeacon of Kilfenora (1885-1899), and also, briefly, one of my predecessors in so far as he too was the Precentor of Killaloe (1857-1859).

But this connection was too remote to explain how William Wolseley came to this parish: at the time, Kilrush was less accessible from Tarbert than it is today, and the Dioceses of Limerick and Ardfert were not united with the Diocese of Killaloe until 1976, almost a century later.

William Wolseley remained a curate in this parish for 18 years before moving to West Australia in 1906. In Australia, Wolseley was the Rector of Ravensthorpe, West Australia (1906-1910), and then worked in Denmark, West Australia (1910-1920). He returned to England in 1920 to work in parishes in the Diocese of Durham and the Diocese of Newcastle. He was the Senior Curate of Christ Church, Felling (1921-1923), and Curate of Saint James, Burnopfield (1923-1927).

So, he had been ordained for almost 40 years and was in his early 60s when he was still working as a curate in a small rural parish in the north of England. Not where an aspiring priest might have expected to be at that stage in his life, considering he came from a titled family with many senior clerics among his close relatives and a senior, distinguished general who was his second cousin.

What did he do for the next five years, between 1927 and 1932? I am not sure what he was doing, but during that time he had the bishop’s permission to officiate in the Diocese of Durham.

He was the Vicar of Alnham in rural Northumberland from 1932. That year, at the age of 67, he married Sarah Helen Grummitt, daughter of William Cotton Grummitt of Grantham, Lincolnshire, on 16 June 1932. A year later, in 1933, he inherited the Wolseley title in the most unexpected way from his very distant cousin.

The story is told in the parish of Alnham that the news came one day by post so that nobody but the Wolseleys knew about it. That morning, the butcher from Rothbury arrived in the village in his van and knocked on the vicarage door, calling: ‘Butcher Mrs Wolseley.’ There was no reply, so he tried again: ‘Butcher Mrs Wolseley.’ This time the response was: ‘Lady Wolseley if you please.’

Australian newspapers that reported his inheritance described him as ‘a rather eccentric clergyman, notorious wherever he went for the prodigious rate at which he preached.’ I am not sure yet whether this means that he preached too quickly, far too often, or that he preached for far too long … I still hoping to find out in the parish records.

The 11th baronet retired from parish ministry in 1942. He was then in his late 70s, and he died at the age of 84 on 19 February 1950. He had no children and the title passed to yet another distant cousin, a cobbler living in a four-room flat in Bromborough, Cheshire.

Inheriting the title

The Wolseley Family Tree (Table II, Patrick Comerford, 2017)

William Augustus Wolseley has direct connections with two extraordinary people as the immediate successor and the immediate predecessor, successively, of the ‘elevator baronet’ and the ‘cobbler baronet,’ all three inheriting a family title through a bewildering set of circumstances in an entangled family tree.

When Sir John Richard Wolseley (1834-1874), 6th Baronet, died aged 40, he was succeeded in the title by his brother Sir Clement James Wolseley (1837-1889), probably the last of the family to live at Mount Wolseley. The estate was sold for £4,500 in 1925 by Sir John’s daughters to the Patrician Brothers, who were founded in Tullow in 1808 by Bishop Daniel Delaney.

Meanwhile, the title of baronet in the Irish branch of the Wolseley family began to pass out in an ever-widening circle of distant cousins, and even the printed and online versions of the family tree are confusing and show many inconsistencies.

The eighth baronet, the Very Revd Dr Sir John Wolseley (1803-1890), was the Dean of Kildare (1859-1890) when he inherited the title on 16 October 1889. He only held the title for three months, and died on 26 January 1890. In all, seven successive holders of the title have died without immediate, direct heirs.

Sir Dick Wolseley, the ‘elevator baronet’ (Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49746281)
The tenth baronet, Sir Reginald Beatty Wolseley (1872-1933), known as Dick Wolseley, was the son of a Dublin doctor, Dr Cadwalader Brooke Wolseley (1845-1884). He was born in Dunfanaghy, Co Donegal, and was probably less aware of the Wolseley title than the fact that he was a cousin of Admiral Beatty.

He inherited the family title when his cousin died in 1923, but he never used this title. Instead, he sought anonymity in self-imposed exile, working as an ‘elevator boy’ at the Black Hawk Bank Buildings in Waterloo, Iowa, for 18 years and living as plain Dick Wolseley.

That is, until his secret came out in May 1930. His mother’s dying wish was to visit her son who had become Sir Reginald Wolseley. She persuaded him to return to England. A day after her arrival in Iowa, Dick married his mother’s nurse, Marian Elizabeth Baker, a woman who was 18 years his junior. The day after their marriage, Marian returned to England on the understanding that he would follow her.

But the new Lady Wolseley realised that Dick, or Sir Reginald, was too set in his ways and that he was unwilling to move. He claimed he had taken the title and married her out of gratitude for the way she had cared for his mother. ‘I took the title for my wife,’ he said, ‘on marrying her out of gratitude for what she did for my mother. The title will be of advantage to her in English society. A lady is a lady over there.’

Dick obtained a divorce from Marian on the grounds that she had ‘harassed him’ with telegrams trying to persuade him to return to England. However, she was not going to give way too easily. She returned to Iowa and in January 1932, she persuaded him to move, their divorce was annulled and Sir Reginald and Lady Wolseley moved to England.

Dick, Sir Reginald, died 18 months later near Ilfracombe in Devon on 10 July 1933. Only a few villagers attended his funeral in Berry Harbour; 12 farmers carried his coffin, and his wife was dressed entirely in white. Lady Wolseley, who became a Justice of the Peace, died on 20 June 1934. Meanwhile the title passed to yet another distant cousin, the Revd Sir William Augustus Wolseley (1865-1950), who had succeeded as 11th baronet.

The Wolseley Family Tree (Table III, Patrick Comerford, 2017)

When the former curate of Kilnaughtin died in 1950, it was not clear who was going to inherit the title.

When he inherited the title, Sir Garnet Wolseley was then earning £5.10s a week as a shoe-maker and he rode on a bicycle to work in a backstreet shop each day when he became the 12th baronet.

By then, the Wolseley lineage had become so distant and dispersed that Debrett’s Peerage began an international search for an heir to the title. It seemed at the time that the heir would be a very distant cousin and two Americans vied for the title: Noel Wolseley, of Manchester, New Hampshire, and Charles William Wolseley, of Brooklyn, New York. The search seemed to be reaching a conclusion when a widow living in Wallasey, near Liverpool, Mrs Mary Alexandra Wolseley (née Read), claimed the title on behalf of her son, Garnet Wolseley, a 35-year-old shoemaker.

It was soon discovered that Mary’s late husband was descended from a line in the family that many had thought had died out in the 19th century. Experts from Debrett’s examined the competing claims. The American contenders were ruled out, and the quiet, pipe-smoking bachelor cobbler became the 12th baronet of Mount Wolseley, Co Carlow.

The new Sir Garnet’s wife, Lillian Mary Ellison, had been a telephone operator in Liverpool, and they lived ordinary working-class lives in post-war England until a genealogical quirk transformed them into international curiosities as Sir Garnet and Lady Wolseley.

Lilian and Garnet had been married on 12 August 1950 in Wallasey Town Hall in Cheshire. They had known each other for 12 years, since they worked together in a grocery shop in Wallasey. Now a genealogical quirk of fate transformed them into international curiosities as Sir Garnet and Lady Wolseley. A quiet, pipe-smoking cobbler had suddenly become the 12th baronet of Mount Wolseley, Co Carlow, but this new-found accidental status brought no wealth, property or privilege. Overwhelmed by the media attention, they emigrated in June 1951 to Canada, where Lady Wolseley’s uncle, Andrew Ellison, lived in Brantford.

‘In Canada, I hope to live the life of a lady,’ she said. But they soon found there are few class distinctions in Canada and they became merely objects of curiosity. They moved from one address to another, and Sir Garnet, who liked to be known as George, worked as a press operator at Cockshutt Farm Equipment and later as a gardener at the city parks department, until he retired in 1979. Lady Wolseley worked for a while at Bell Telephone and at a sweet shop.

Sir Garnet died in Canada on 3 October 1991. Lady Wolseley died at Brantford General Hospital at the age of 94.

Since Sir Garnet’s death, the title has not passed officially to a 13th baronet. The presumed baronet, Sir James Douglas Wolseley from Texas, has not been able to prove his claims to the title successfully, his name is not on the Official Roll of Baronets, and so the baronetcy has been considered dormant since 1991.

Robbing the Crown Jewels

The inscription on the vestry doors in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge ... erected in memory of Athelstane Wolseley, a former churchwarden and parish treasurer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

For some time in Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Ballsbridge, I have noticed a wooden piece above the door into the sacristy, with a simple but fading carved inscription that reads: ‘A.G. Wolseley (1858-1933) In Christ.’ Above is a colourful image of the Visit of the Magi.

I wondered who he was and found myself on a trail the led through Edwardian scandals, the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels, a brutal murder during the Irish War of Independence and blackmail in this family of eccentric baronets.

Athelstane George Wolseley was born in Dublin in 1858, the son of Richard J Wolseley, an engineer, and his wife, Elizabeth Anne (née Hughes). He was a clerk in the Irish Law Commission and for many years he shared household arrangements with Sir Arthur Edward Vicars, Ulster King-at-Arms, who was at the centre of a scandal following the theft of the Irish ‘crown jewels’ from Dublin Castle in 1907.

Wolseley was at the centre of one of the early controversies involving Saint Bartholomew’s Church. In 1890, he presented a brass sanctuary cross to the church in memory of his mother, Elizabeth (née Hughes), who died on 13 May 1887. The Select Vestry agreed to the cross being placed behind the altar. Acting on behalf of the Protestant Defence Association, Colonel Fox Grant complained to the Diocesan Court in 1892. The controversy spilled over into the pages of the Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette (now the Church of Ireland Gazette), the Church Times, The Irish Times, the Daily Express and other daily newspapers.

Grant eventually took his case to the Court of the General Synod, which upheld his appeal in 1894, and the cross was moved to another position, but the controversy continued.

Sir Arthur Vicars ... sacked after the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels from Dublin Castle

Wolseley and Sir Arthur Vicars had lived together for some in the 1890s as guests of Canon Richard Travers Smith in Saint Bartholomew’s Vicarage on Clyde Road, and in 1897 Wolseley was the People’s Churchwarden of Saint Bartholomew’s. By the 1901 census, when Wolseley was 42, the Census shows he and Vicars were living at 80 Wellington Road.

Vicars was one of Ireland’s distinguished experts on heraldry and genealogy. He had a distinguished career until 1907 and the theft of the Irish Crown Jewels. As Registrar of the Order of Saint Patrick, Vicars had custody of the insignia of the order, also known as the crown jewels. They were found to be missing on 6 July 1907, four days before a visit to Dublin by King Edward VII.

A Viceregal Commission was set up in January 1908 to investigate the theft of the crown jewels. Vicars and his barrister Tim Healy, later Governor General of the Irish Free State, refused to attend the commission’s hearings. The commission’s findings were published on 25 January 1908, and Vicars was dismissed as Ulster King of Arms five days later.

The theft of the regalia also drew attention to the living arrangements of Wolseley and Vicars. The Earl of Aberdeen, who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the last person to wear the regalia, was shocked when he read a secret police report alleging ‘scandalous conduct’ by the Ulster King of Arms.
Vicars was defended by his half-brother, Pierce Charles de Lacy O’Mahony, of Grangecon, Co Wicklow, relying on evidence given by Athelstane Wolseley, then the principal clerk in the Land Commission and a churchwarden of Saint Bartholomew’s.

Canon Richard Travers Smith (1831-1906) ... Vicar of of Saint Bartholomew’s (1871-1905)

Under questioning, Wolseley told O’Mahony: ‘I cannot conceive anyone bringing such an accusation against your brother ... except for the purpose of blackmailing or from some malignant motive ... I know what a high opinion [Canon Travers Smith] had of your brother.’

Some years ago, in a letter to The Irish Times in 2000, Gregory Allen compared ‘the hounding of Vicars with the treatment of Roger Casement in 1916.’ George Bernard Shaw recalled in 1927: ‘You could go nowhere in London at the time without hearing this scandal whispered.’

Vicars left Dublin and moved to Kilmorna, south of Tarbert and between Listowel, Co Kerry, and Athea. He married Gertrude Wright in Ballymore, Co Wicklow, on 4 July 1917. He continued to protest his innocence in the ‘Crown Jewels’ theft until his death, even including bitter references to the affair in his will.

When his house was ransacked in 1920, the raiders may have thought he had secreted away the Crown Jewels. His house was burned down in the night and he was shot dead before his wife on 14 April 1921. A week later, he was buried in Leckhampton, Gloucestershire. His widow never returned to live in Ireland.

In 1927, the recovery of the regalia, the Grand Master’s jewelled badge and star were offered in return for the payment of a ransom by President WT Cosgrave, but they have never been seen in public since then, and their whereabouts remain a mystery.

The Wolseley family grave in Mount Jerome, Harold’s Cross (Photograph: Yvonne Russell/Ireland Genealogy Projects Archives)

For his part, Athelstane Wolseley continued to live in Ballsbridge, and in 1908 and again in 1919, he was the Vicar’s Churchwarden of Saint Bartholomew’s, and People’s Churchwarden in 1914. He lived alone at 48 Wellington Road (1911, 1913). In 1928, as the Parish Treasurer of Saint Bartholomew’s, he organised a fund the defray the costs incurred by the Vicar, the Revd Walter Cadden Simpson, who had been strictly admonished by the Ecclesiastical Courts for infringing the canons of the Church of Ireland. Simpson had to pay the costs, which came to more than £500, but Wolseley’s fundraising, including £125 brought in through an appeal in the Church Times, met the costs within a year.

When Wolseley died some years later on 8 October 1933, he was buried with his parents Richard and Lizzie Wolseley and his elder brother William in Mount Jerome Cemetery in Harold’s Cross, Dublin. The new vestry doors in Saint Bartholomew’s erected in his memory in 1934 were designed by the architect and town planner Manning Robertson. Above the doors, the mosaic of the Epiphany is the work of Kate O’Brien and is a memorial to Canon Walter Simpson (1872-1958), former Vicar of Saint Bartholomew’s (1918-1951).

Vicars, with his genealogical expertise, ought to have known which branch of the Wolseley family his one-time companion was descended from, and that he was eventually in line to succeed to the family title, given the many Wolseley title holders who were dying without heirs. If he did know this, it is curious then that this line of descent never appeared at the time in either Debrett’s Peerage or Burke’s Peerage.

Even the printed and online versions of the family tree are confusing and show many inconsistencies. However, my own recent research confirms Athelstane Wolseley’s line of descent within the Wolseley family.

It is curious to note that had Athelstane Wolseley ever married and had children, the family title would have passed instead to his descendants instead of the former Merseyside cobbler, Sir Garnet Wolseley.

As for Mount Wolseley near Tullow, Co Carlow, when Sir John Richard Wolseley (1834-1874), 6th Baronet, died aged 40, he was succeeded in the title by his brother Sir Clement James Wolseley (1837-1889), probably the last of the family to live at Mount Wolseley. The estate was sold for £4,500 in 1925 by Sir John’s daughters to the Patrician Brothers. They ran it as a school, and today it is a popular golf resort and wedding venue and hotel.

Mount Wolseley House near Tullow, Co Carlow … sold in 1925 for £4,500 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This paper was prepared for the Tarbert Historical and Heritage Society on 14 October 2017.