Monday, 23 January 2017
An early start on a misty Sunday
morning in Castletown Church
I presided at the Eucharist and preached yesterday morning [22 January 2017] in Castletown Church, near Pallaskenry, Co Limerick. This was my first service as the new Priest-in-Charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes following the Service of Welcome and Introduction in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, on Friday evening [20 January 2017].
It was an early start to the week on an icy and misty Sunday morning. We almost got lost on the way to Castletown, and found ourselves on narrow, rutted, water-filed and iced-over bohereens. Eventually, thanks to a man with a dog and a gun, we got to Castletown Church, and just on time.
Castletown Church is one of the many churches designed in Ireland by the architect James Pain (1779-1877). The church was commissioned by the Board of First Fruits, which gave grants and loans for building churches and glebe houses and offered financial aid to needy clergy.
The work of the Board of First Fruits led to a period of intensive church building in the Church of Ireland in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Between 1779 and 1829, the Board of First Fruits built, rebuilt or enlarged 697 churches and 829 glebe houses. Among these are Castletown Church.
However, the most significant benefactor towards building Castletown Church was John Waller (1763-1836), the owner of Castetown Manor and estate in this part of Co Limerick.
John Waller was the son of John T Waller and Elizabeth Maunsell, and he later became an MP for Limerick. He married Isabella Oliver of Castle Oliver and was a captain in the Kerry Cavalry, one of regiments raised during the era of Grattan’s Parliament.
Waller was an MP for Co Limerick from in the Irish House of Commons from 1790, and was MP for Kilmallock when he voted against the Act of Union. After the Union, he was elected MP for Co Limerick in 1801, but he had not taken his seat at Westminster by 25 March 1801 there is no evidence of parliamentary activity, and he stood down in 1802.
He was one of Napoleon’s détenus at Verdun and in 1805 he declined an unexpected offer of liberation instigated by his former fellow scholar, Arthur O’Connor, informing Napoleon that although private and family considerations made him extremely anxious to return to Ireland, he would rather die a prisoner than owe his liberty to a man who had proved himself a traitor to his King and an enemy to his country.
When he died on 14 November 1836, John Waller was buried in the Waller Vault in Castletown cemetery, and was succeeded by his brother, Bolton Waller.
Castletown Church, which was built for the Parish of Kilcornan, cost a total of £1,500. Of this, £700, together with the site, was an outright gift from John Waller. Moreover, Waller undertook to pay off the balance of £800, which had been obtained as a loan from the Board of First Fruits.
James Pain (1779-1877), the architect of Castletown Church, was a son of James Pain, a surveyor and builder. He was born in Isleworth, Middlesex, in 1779, and he and his younger brother, George Pain (1792-1838), were apprenticed to John Nash (1752-1835), the architect responsible for much of the layout of Regency London under the patronage of the Prince Regent.
The Pain brothers came to Ireland in 1811 to supervise building Lough Cultra Castle in Gort, Co Limerick, which John Nash had designed for Charles Vereker. Both brothers settled in Ireland and they built up a considerable practice. James Pain settled in Limerick, while George lived in Cork.
The buildings they designed or worked on include Dromoland Castle, Co Clare; Saint Columba’s Church, Drumcliffe, Ennis, Co Clare; Saint Mary’s Church, Shandon, Cork; Saint Patrick’s Church, Cork; Holy Trinity Church, Cork; Blackrock Castle, Cork; Baal’s Bridge, Thomond Bridge, and Athlunkard Bridge, all in Co Limerick; Limerick Gaol and part of Adare Manor, where he was replaced as architect by AWN Pugin.
In 1824, James Pain was appointed architect for the Board of First Fruits in Munster. He designed and built a great number of the Church of Ireland churches and glebe houses in Co Limerick, including the Glebe House in Askeaton, which stands beside the Rectory where I am now living.
Castletown Church was built in 1831. It has a three-bay, gable-fronted nave, with a square-profile three-stage tower to the south elevation, with square-profile, multiple-gabled, single-storey vestries to east and west elevations of the tower.
There is a pitched slate roof, with cast-iron rainwater goods, cut limestone eaves course and limestone copings to the gables.
There are pitched slate roofs to the porches, with cut limestone eaves courses and copings and finials to the gables.
There is a terracotta chimneypot to the west-facing gable of the west porch. There are cut limestone eaves course and crenellations to the top of tower, and the square-profile cut limestone finials have pointed caps.
The walls are of random coursed rubble limestone with cut limestone quoins. There is a cut limestone plinth course to the south elevation of the tower and the side porches. There is a square-headed plaque recess to the south elevation of the tower, with cut limestone surround.
The pointed arch openings to the north, east and west elevations of the nave have cut tooled limestone surrounds, sill and hood-moulding, with a timber-traceried window. The pointed arch openings to the south elevation of the porches have cut and tooled limestone surrounds and sills, cut limestone hood moulding and timber sliding sash windows.
The pointed arch opening to second stage of the tower on the south elevation has a cut tooled limestone surround, sill, hood moulding and timber-framed window.
There are paired lancet openings to each elevation of third stage of tower, with cut tooled limestone surrounds, sills, cut limestone hood-moulding and timber louvered vents. There are four-centred arch openings to south elevation of tower and east and west elevations of east and west porches, with tooled cut limestone surrounds and double-leaf timber battened doors, with cut limestone hood-moulding to those to the east and west porches and cut limestone label moulding to the south elevation of tower. The entrances have limestone steps.
This church displays a high level of architectural design and detailing, most notably in its imposing square-profile crenellated tower and flanking porches. Its cut limestone finials, crenellations and eaves courses, as well as the hood-mouldings to the doors and window openings, add an element of contrast to the rubble stone walls, while the variety of timber tracery to the windows add artistic interest.
The setting of Castletown Church within a graveyard adds context to the site, and the church makes a notable addition to the surrounding landscape.
The former Glebe House in Castletown, which was the traditional residence of the Rectors of Kilcornan, was built in 1810. However, there is no information about the architect of the building. This was the second Glebe House on that site, replacing a house that was burned down in 1735, when the Revd Roger Throp was the rector.
Throp blamed Colonel John Waller for the fire and for shooting dead his ‘valuable’ saddle horse, describing Waller as his ‘bitter and vindictive enemy.’ Throp died a year after the fire in 1736. Later, Dean Jonathan Swift lampooned Waller in a well-known balled, ‘The Legion Club’, including the lines:
See the scowling visage drop,
just as when he murdered Throp.
Captain John Waller, a son of the man lampooned by Dean Swift, gave the site and paid for building Castletown Church, which was designed by James Pain and completed in 1831.
Originally, 60 acres of land were attached to the glebe house. In 1850, Griffith’s Valuation lists only 57 acres, and this was gradually reduced over the years. The Church of Ireland sold the glebe house some years ago and it is now in private ownership.
Meanwhile, James Pain lived on in Limerick to the great age of 98. Although he continued in practice, he appears to have received very few substantial commissions after the early 1840s. His last large commission appears to have been the addition of a west wing and other alterations to Knoppogue Castle, Co Clare, begun in 1856, while he continued as architect to the Board of Superintendence of Co Limerick Gaol until 1863.
Pain died on 13 December 1877, at the age of 97, and was buried in the Vereker family vault in the churchyard of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, on 17 December 1877.
The Revd Thomas John Waller of Castletown and Rector of Kilcornan still owned 6,636 acres in Co Limerick in the 1870s. His grandson, John Thomas Waller, sold the Waller family’s Castletown estate in 1936.