28 October 2017

Going to World’s End
in search of George
Peabody’s railings

A sunny autumn evening at Worrall’s End or World’s End, on the banks of the River Shannon at Castleconnell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing yesterday of how the English Radical politician John Bright and his friend, the London-born American financier George Peabody regularly stopped in Cruise’s Royal Hotel in Limerick on their way to Castleconnell for their fishing trips.

Both men were enthusiastic about Castleconnell, and Peabody was so enamoured with this place on the banks of the River Shannon that he later paid for the iron railings around the local Roman Catholic parish church.

On the way back to Askeaton from Dublin yesterday afternoon, two of us stopped for a late lunch at the Matt the Thresher in Birdhill, and then decided to look for Castleconnell beloved of Bright and Peabody.

Castleconnell is a scenic village in Co Limerick on the banks of the River Shannon, 11 km outside Limerick city and just a few minutes’ walk from the boundaries where Co Limerick meets Co Clare and Co Tipperary.

The castle that gives takes its name to the town is now ruined and once belonged to the Gunning family. The castle, built on a rocky outcrop overlooking the bend on the River Shannon, was besieged and destroyed by General Ginkel’s army during the Jacobite and Williamite wars at the end of the 17th century.

Nearby, Mountshannon House was a Palladian house that was once the home of John FitzGibbon, 1st Earl of Clare, who in the late 18th century was the Attorney-General for Ireland and later Lord Chancellor of Ireland. FitzGibbon was instrumental in pushing through the Act of Union in 1800. The house was inherited by his descendants but was burnt to the ground by the IRA in the 1920s.

From the 19th century, Castleconnell was known for its fishing. The main catch was salmon and trout and the Shannon Inn became well known for its fishing clientele over the years.

The fortunes of Castleconnell changed considerably in the 1930s when the Shannon Electricity Scheme and the Ardnacrusha dam at Parteen dramatically reduced the flow of water and water levels on the Shannon south of the dam. Castleconnell now gets the first 10 cubic metres per second, Ardnacrusha gets the next 400 and anything left over is sent down the old route. The diversion is done at Parteen Villa Weir, upstream of O’Briensbridge but downstream of Killaloe.

We stopped at Worrall’s End or World’s End, where we found the weir, quay and rowing-club on this stretch of the River Shannon.

Castleconnell boat club, founded in 1983, is located here at the upstream end of Castleconnell. At this point, rowers have a smooth, wide water to continue rowing for 3.2 km as far as O’Brien’s Bridge. Just beyond the bridge, rowers have another 1.5 km before coming to a water flow regulator.

The name of Worrall’s End or World’s End is said to be a corruption of ‘Worrall’s Inn,’ and was already in use 200 years ago in 1817.

The weir was built in the early 1840s and it keeps up the water level in the stretch of river upstream, nowadays as far as Parteen Villa Weir, but formerly as far as Cussaun Lock on the Killaloe Canal. The quay was built at around the same time, using stone removed from a shoal in the river

The weir is at the same level as it was in the 1840s, so the stretch of river upstream from here, through O’Brien’s Bridge, to Parteen Villa has the same minimum depth as it had and should be just as navigable as it was back then.

Famous residents of Castleconnel have included John Bulmer Hobson (1883-1969), a leading member of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Bulmer Hobson was born in Belfast and had a fairly strict Quaker upbringing, going to Friends’ School Lisburn. He was sworn into the IRB in Belfast in 1904 by Denis McCullough. Together they founded the Dungannon Clubs, ostensibly to celebrate the victory of Volunteers of 1782 in restoring the Irish Parliament, but also an open front for the IRB.

Hobson moved to Dublin in 1907, and soon became a close friend of Tom Clarke. Hobson and Constance Markievicz founded Na Fianna Éireann in 1909. He was appointed to the IRB’s Supreme Council in 1911.

He was one of the founding organisers of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. He was a primary connection between the Volunteers and the IRB, and in 1913 he swore Patrick Pearse into the IRB.

Hobson was involved in the Howth gunrunning, landing arms from the Asgard at Howth on Sunday, 26 July 1914. Later, on principle, he resigned as a Quaker soon after the 1914 Howth gun-running, as the Quakers are opposed to all forms of violence.

As secretary and a member of the Volunteers provisional council, Hobson was instrumental in allowing the Irish Parliamentary leader John Redmond to gain control of the Volunteers in an effort to avoid a split.

Hobson remained a member of the IRB, but the chief-of-staff of the Volunteers, Eoin MacNeill, he was kept out of the plans for the Easter Rising in 1916. Hobson was kidnapped by the organisers of the rising to stop him from spreading news of MacNeill’s order countermanding the plans, and he was held at gunpoint in Phibsborough until the Rising was well underway.

Hobson took no major role in politics after the Rising, or in the War of Independence. In 1922, he was appointed Chief of the Revenue Commissioners Stamp Department. Many years later, in 1947, he criticised the rising and its leader saying the military council had ‘no plans … which could seriously be called military’ and that the rising consisted of ‘locking a body of men up in two or three buildings to stay there until they were shot or burned out.’

He retired in 1948, and after a heart attack in the 1960s he lived with his daughter and son-in-law, Camilla and John Mitchell, in Castleconnell. He died there on 8 August 1969, aged 86, and was buried at Gurteen Cemetery near Roundstone, Co Galway.

Other residents of Castleconnell have included Marcus Horan, who has played Prop for Munster and Ireland, and Paul Warwick from Australia, who has played at Fly-half, Fullback and Centre for Munster.

Gardenhill House near Castleconnell, Co Limerick … a Comerford family home in the 1940s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

On Friday afternoon, Google Maps seemed frustrate all our efforts to find the Roman Catholic parish church and the rails donated by Peabody. So instead we went looking for Gardenhill House, and once home to some members of the Comerford family.

The house is off the R675, east of Castleconnell, and was originally the home of the Blackall family. The Blackall family were first granted lands in the Barony of Pubblebrien under the Acts of Settlement, including 800 acres in Ballymartin, Killonahan, Drumloghane, Ballyanraghmore and Dooneen. Two Blackall brothers Charles and George, sons of Thomas Blackall of Killard, Co Clare, married two sisters, Elizabeth and Margery Burnell of Ranaghan, Co Clare in 1772 and 1782.

By the early 19th century, the Blackall family had lost most of its landed property due to increasing encumbrances. But Jonas Blackall (1811-1888) of Gardenhill and Limerick City, who entered the legal profession, owned 230 acres in Co Limerick in the 1870s, and Captain NG Blackall held some land at Coolreiry, Castleconnell, in 1906.

However, the original Gardenhill House that was a home of the Blackall family, was in ruins by 1840, and the present house dates from after 1840.

Owen Comerford (1869-1945), who died at Gardenhill House on 15 June 1945, was a member of the Rathdrum branch of the Comerford family from Co Wicklow who lived at Ardavon House, Rathdrum, Co Wicklow, and owned Rathdrum Mills

Owen Comerford was born on 11 December 1869. He was educated, with his brothers Edward Comerford (1864-1942) and James Comerford (1868-1924), at Oscott College, Birmingham (1880-1883). He was a shareholder in Rathdrum Mill.

On 8 February 1898, in Saint Michael’s Church, Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire), Owen Comerford married Kathleen Byrne, daughter of Laurence Byrne of Croney Byrne, Rathdrum. They later lived at ‘Coolas,’ Seafield Road, Clontarf, and he was still living there in 1940. Kathleen died on 17 October 1932.

Owen later went to live with his daughter and son-in-law, at Gardenhill House, Castleconnel. This house is a substantial version of the characteristic three-bay two-storey house. Retaining much of its original form, the façade is enlivened by the timber sliding sash windows, limestone sills and slate roof. The ornate doorway adds artistic interest to the façade. The outbuildings add context to the composition and enhance the overall group setting.

Owen Comerford died at Gardenhill House, Castleconnell, on 15 June 1945.

Owen and Kathleen Comerford were the parents of an only daughter Nora Kathleen (‘Norrie’). In 1940, she married James Henry Montgomery, civic guard, of Chapelizod Garda Barracks, Co Dublin. They later lived at Gardenhill House, Castleconnell. They had no children, and Norrie Montgomery died in 1972.

We returned to Castleconnell, but still failed to find the church and Peabody’s rails before we headed back to Askeaton.

A sunny autumn evening at Worrall’s End or World’s End at Castleconnell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017; click on image for full-screen view)

When Greece said ‘No’
and played its part
in saving democracy

The Greek flag flies beside the European flag and the flag of the Ecumenical Patriarchate at Arkadi Monastery in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Ohi Day or Oxi Day (Επέτειος του «'Οχι»), and it is celebrated throughout Greece and Cyprus and by Greek communities around the world on 28 October each year.

Ohi Day commemorates the day the Greek Prime minister Ioannis Metaxas rejected the ultimatum from the Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini on 28 October 1940. This day also recalls the Greek counter-attack against invading Italian forces in the mountains of Pindus during World War II, and he Greek Resistance during the occupying Italians and Germans.

Mussolini’s ultimatum was presented to Metaxas by the Italian ambassador to Greece, Emanuele Grazzi, around 3 a.m. on the morning of 28 October 1940.

Mussolini demanded Greece would allow Axis forces to enter Greek territory and occupy certain unnamed strategic locations – or face war. It is said Metaxas replied with a one-word laconic response: Όχι (No!).

Despite popular aside, the actual reply was in French: ‘Alors, c’est la guerre!’ (‘Then it is war!’)

In an immediate response to Metaxas’s ‘No’, Italian troops based in Albania attacked the Greek border two hours later at 5.30 a.m. That ‘No!’ brought Greece into World War II on the side of the Allies. Indeed, for a period, Greece was Britain’s only ally against Hitler.

Without that ‘No,’ some historians argue, World War II could have lasted much longer. One theory is that had Greece surrendered without any resistance, Hitler could have invaded Russia in the spring, rather than his disastrous attempt to capture it during winter.

On this morning 77 years ago, 28 October 1940, Greek people of all political persuasions took to the streets in masses, shouting «'Οχι», ‘No!’ From 1942, this day was celebrated as Ohi Day, first within the resistance and then after the war by all the Greeks.

The Battle of Crete and the extra resources required to subdue Greece drained and distracted Nazi Germany from its efforts on other war fronts.

Today, Ohi Day is a public holiday in Greece and Cyprus. The events of 1940 are commemorated with military and student parades, public buildings are decorated with Greek flags, there folk dances, and Greek Orthodox churches hold special services. Coastal towns may have naval parades or other celebrations on the seafront. In Thessaloniki, reverence is also paid to the city’s patron, Saint Dimitrios, and the city celebrates its freedom from Turkey.

There are traffic delays, especially near parade routes, some streets are blocked off, and most archaeological sites are closed for the day, along with most businesses and services.

In Dublin, Ochi Day and the fallen will be marked at 11 a.m. tomorrow morning [Sunday 29 October 2017], during the Divine Liturgy in the Greek Orthodox Church, with the Greek Diplomatic Corps in attendance. This will be followed by a holiday banquet at the Mykonos Restaurant with Irish and Greek music.

In the West, politicians are always happy to credit ancient Greece with the development of democracy. But in the present crises in Europe, when Greece is often seen as a burden rather than a partner, it may be worth remembering that Europe owes modern Greece an unacknowledged debt for helping to preserve democracy against the Nazis and Fascists during World War II.

The Greek flag at the church in Tsesmes, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)