Tuesday, 31 January 2017

The Rector of Askeaton who worked
tirelessly with the victims of Famine

The mass grave of the victims of the Great Famine in Saint Mary’s Churchyard, Askeaton, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

During the weekend, in my strolls through Askeaton, I dropped in occasionally to the churchyard at Saint Mary’s Church. Many of the graves were once marked, but their inscriptions have faded away. But it seems so appropriate that the grave of one of my predecessors in this parish lies beside the large Famine Grave, where countless victims of the Famine are buried and unnamed.

The Revd George Maxwell (1809-1870), who was the eldest son of Arthur M Maxwell of Brookend, Co Tyrone, was born in Dublin on 27 August 1809. He was educated at Trinity College Dublin (BA, 1830) and he was ordained deacon on 30 November 1832 and priest on 25 March 1834.

His spent his lifetime in ministry in Askeaton, coming here as a curate in 1833, and then becoming Vicar of Askeaton in 1838, when he was only 29. He remained in Askeaton as the Rector until he died in 1870.

While George Maxwell was the Rector of Askeaton, the present parish church was completed, and Saint Mary’s Church was consecrated on 23 August 1840. That year, he also married Margaret Anne Hewson of Ennismore, Listowel, Co Kerry, who was related to the Hewson family who lived at Castle Hewson near Askeaton since the 17th century, and who once owned Rathkeale Abbey.

Four years later, the Church of Ireland schoolhouse nearby at Beigh Cross, Ballysteen, was licensed for public worship in 1844.

While he was the Vicar of Askeaton, George Maxwell came face-to-face with the horrors of the Great Famine. By 1847, he was the secretary of the local Famine Relief Committee, and he worked tirelessly on behalf of the famine victims in the Askeaton area.

That February, he wrote to the government in Dublin with a list of the people who had subscribed to his Relief Fund. But all he had managed to collect was £253.14s.7d, and this was unlikely to go far with more than 7,000 people in the locality seriously threatened by the potato blight.

His task was not made any easier by the fact that the population of Askeaton had almost doubled to 10,000 in the 15 years since he first became curate in this parish.

Most of these newcomers were labourers who were living off potatoes. The workhouse in Rathkeale was already overcrowded by the time George Maxwell wrote his letter to Dublin. Auxiliary workhouses and a fever hospital were rapidly built. But, despite these efforts, several thousand people in and around Askeaton died during the Famine.

George’s father-in-law, John Francis Hewson, also died in 1847.

George and Margaret Anne Maxwell were the parents of two sons, Arthur Maxwell and John Francis Maxwell, and two daughters, Elizabeth Caroline and Margaret Anne.

George Maxwell died in Askeaton on 8 January 1870. He had ministered in Askeaton for a total of 37 years. His widow died on 5 March 1881, and they are buried side-by-side in Saint Mary’s Churchyard, Askeaton, beside the Famine Grave.

The grave of the Revd George Maxwell and his wife Margaret Anne (Hewson) in Saint Mary’s Churchyard, Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Eight months after her father’s death, Elizabeth Caroline Maxwell married her father’s former curate and successor, Canon Edmund Lombard Swan Eves (1840-1930) in August 1870.

Edmund Eves was appointed George Maxwell’s curate in Askeaton when he was ordained deacon in 1864. He was ordained priest in 1865, and when George Maxwell died he became of Vicar of Askeaton (1870-1874).

Eves stayed on in Askeaton for another four years, until he became Rector of Maryborough (now Portlaoise) in 1874. He was also the Church of Ireland Prison Chaplain there. Tragedy struck the Eves family in January 1880, when three of their children – Anne Maxwell, George Maxwell and Catherine Margaret – died of diphtheria; their son Arthur survived, and later moved to India, where he died in Cawnpore. Edmund Eves died on 14 July 1930.

The Revd George Maxwell’s elder son, Arthur Maxwell (1842-1909), later lived at Corduff House, near Lusk, Co Dublin. His elder son, George Maxwell (1874-1937), is reputed to have arrested Countess Markievicz, while his younger son, Arthur Henry Maxwell, married his neighbour Vereana Estelle Beresford Cobbe of Newbridge House, Donabate.

The inscriptions on the Maxwell grace in Saint Mary’s Churchyard, Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

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