01 August 2017

A hidden window that links
Saint Mary’s Cathedral with
Gormanston and Rathkeale

The Preston window in the former baptistry in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick … a link with both Gormanston and Rathkeale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

The former baptistry in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, at the north-west corner, like many of the late mediaeval side chapels, is a quiet corner with interesting monuments and windows.

Today, this quiet corner of the cathedral is used for storing furniture and other material and is screened from the public by a number of exhibition boards. This also makes it difficult to appreciate two windows commemorating former Deans, Anthony La Touche Kirwan who was Dean of Kilmacduagh (1839-1849) and then Dean of Limerick (1839-1868), and Arthur John Preston, who was Dean of Limerick (1809-1844) for much of the first half of the 19th century.

Dean Kirwan was involved in the inquiry into the Bluecoat School in Limerick in 1858, which I was writing about earlier today. But I was particularly interested in the window commemorating Dean Preston, because he provides a link with Gormanston, Co Meath, where I was at school, and with Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, which is in my group of parishes.

The Preston window in the Baptistry shows the fox of Gormanston. Dean Preston was descended from a junior branch of the Prestons of Gormanston Castle. They can be traced back to Martin Preston, a younger brother of Thomas Preston, 1st Viscount Tara, second son of Christopher Preston, 4th Viscount Gormanston.

Thomas Preston (1585-1655), Viscount Tara, was the son of Lord Gormanston, and was defeated in battle by Oliver Cromwell’s son-in-law, Henry Ireton, at the battle of Waterford in 1650. John Preston, who was Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1653, died and his descendant continued to live in Co Meath, where their estates included Bellinter House, recently converted from a convent to a boutique hotel.

From 1713 until 1801, at least one member of this Preston family was always one of the two MPs for Navan, Co Meath, and sometimes two members of the family held both seats, so that Navan must have appeared to be an hereditary borough for the Prestons.

John Preston (1764-1821) of Bellinter House was only 18 when he was elected to the Irish House of Commons in 1783 as one of the two MPs for Navan, Co Meath. When the constituency was abolished, he was given the title of Baron Tara, of Bellinter, Co Meath, in return for his support for the Act of Union.

Lord Tara had no children and his title became extinct when he died in July 1821, aged 56. His father, also John Preston, was a second cousin of the Very Revd Arthur John Preston, Dean of Limerick, whose grandfather, Nathaniel Preston, was also a long-sitting MP for Navan, from 1713 to 1760.

The Preston coat-of-arms in the Preston window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Dean Preston’s father, the Revd Nathaniel Preston (1724-1796), was one of a number of clerical members of this branch of the family. Arthur John Preston was a canon of Kildare Cathedral when he was appointed Dean of Limerick, and was installed in Saint Mary’s Cathedral on 17 August 1809.

He was the Dean of Limerick for 35 years, living in the Deanery in Limerick. In 1830, he took legal action against the Vicars Choral of Saint Mary’s Cathedral in an effort to recover alienated church lands.

Dean Preston was twice married. In 1794, he married the Hon Araminta Anne Beresford, daughter of Archbishop William Beresford of Tuam, who also held the title of Baron Decies, and a niece of John FitzGibbon (1748-1802), 1st Earl of Clare. His second wife Isabella, was also from a clerical family, and was the daughter of the Revd John Shepherd.

At an advanced age, Dean Preston went to live in Rathangan, Co Kildare, and he died 3 November 1845. He was buried in the family vault at Kilmessan Church, near the Hill of Tara. His widow Isabella died in Rathangan in December 1859.

His eldest son, Canon Arthur John Preston, was Prebendary of Tullamore in Kildare Cathedral and Rector at Kilmeague, Co Kildare. He married Harriet Hickman Massy, daughter of James FitzGerald Massy of Stoneville, near Rathkeale, Co Limerick, and died in 1875.

Dean Prestons’s daughter, Elizabeth Preston, who married her sister-in-law’s brother, James Fitzgerald Massy, in 1844. They were the parents of nine children, and they are commemorated in the large East Window in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, which also named Elizabeth’s father, Dean Preston.

This window by Catherine O’Brien is made up of three lancet windows, measuring 2900 mm x 510 mm and with ten tracery lights. They date from 1925, and were erected under the patronage of the Fitzgerald Massy family of Stoneville.

The windows on the left and right are ornamental, while the window in the centre depicts the Parable of the Sower in the centre. Above the Sower, the words in a scroll proclaim: ‘The Seed is the Word of God.’

The inscription at the bottom of the window reads: ‘To the glory of God, in memory of Elizabeth, wife of James FitzGerald Massy Esq, of Stoneville, Daughter of Arthur John Preston, Dean of Limerick. Died April 5 1895.’

Their eldest son, Major Hugh Ingoldsby Massy (1853-1901) also lived at Stoneville, Rathkeale. He was a major in the Essex Regiment, fought in the Boer War, and he died from enteric fever in Khartoum in Sudan in 1901. His descendants continue to live at Stoneville, on the road from Rathkeale to Askeaton, which was originally built as a hunting lodge on the Southwell estate.

The three lancet windows by Catherine O’Brien in the chancel of Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, recall the Massy and Preston families (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

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