09 February 2018

‘Feeding anchovy sandwiches to the
monkeys – the general and Parnell’

Inside Saint Mary’s Church, Rathkeale … the reredos and east windows tell the story of the Southwell family and their marriages (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

‘Feeding anchovy sandwiches to the monkeys – the general and Parnell’

The Southwell Family and their connection with the stained-glass windows in Saint Mary’s Church, Rathkeale

Patrick Comerford

Rathkeale and District Historical Society

9 February 2018,

8.30 p.m., Community Arts Centre, Rathkeale, Co Limerick


Since the post-Vatican II reordering of churches, the altar has been moved away from the east end and the apse, into an area that allows the priest presiding at the Eucharist to engage in a liturgical dialogue with the people.

Of course, liturgically, this has helped to develop and shape the liturgy for the past half century, and I am happy, as a priest and liturgist, that similar or parallel liturgical developments took place in all the Anglican churches at the same time.

But the aesthetic consequences include the fact that most of us have had our attention drawn away from the decoration of the east end or apses of church buildings, so that we have lost an understanding of the significance of how they were decorated in the past, no longer notice these decorations, and sometimes have not even noticed how they have been changed, modified or altered.

This evening, I want to draw our attention to the apse at the East End of Saint Mary’s Church in Rathkeale, and to say something about the significance and importance of two sets of decorative art that were part of the original design of the altar area: the stained-glass windows and the reredos.

An estate church:

Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, Rathkeale … designed by JJ McCarthy (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The conversion of the Southwell family to the Roman Catholic Church may have caused a stir here and there at the time, but it was eased socially by a number of strategic marriages in the family over the space of a few short generations.

It is also interesting because it came in stages, with a number of family marriages indicating the Catholic sympathies of the family long before formal conversion. And these family connections, generation after generation, were far more influential than the Oxford Movement and the Tractarians, who had influenced the decisions of many of their social class in this part of Co Limerick.

Their ancestor, Thomas Southwell, was a grandson of Murrough ‘the Burner’ O’Brien, Lord Inchiquin, who had been an ardent Anglican but became a Roman Catholic while he was in exile in Paris with the Caroline court in the 1650s.

That relationship, and that change in Church identity or membership, also show how the Southwells were embedded in society in this part of Ireland. Despite their ancestry in the male line from English minor gentry, they were part and parcel of the nexus of old Irish chiefdom families in this area, through their immediate descent from the O’Briens and their kinship with families such as the McNamaras of Cratloe.

Many of us associate the Southwell family with bringing the Palatines to Rathkeale and this part of west Limerick.

Once they became Roman Catholics, the Southwell family in Rathkeale started to revise and to embellish their entries in Burke’s Peerage and similar genealogical tomes. In a new elitist understanding of lineage and aristocracy, long-tailed Catholic credentials became more important than rustic English roots.

In doing this, the Southwell family sought, in a gauche way, to construct a more ancient lineage that found its origins in rural Nottinghamshire rather than the Essex and East Anglia were the originated. In doing this, they were also trying to claim a kinship with a young Elizabethan Jesuit poet and martyr, Robert Southwell.

Their gradual Catholic conversion and assimilation should not be dismissed as being merely superficial or socially convenient at a time of social change and upheaval in Ireland. Their Catholic identity has been passed on to successive generations, so that to this day male members of the family have been sent to Catholic public schools in England such as Ampleforth.

Nor did these conversions incur any loss of social status for a family like this – indeed, quite the opposite. Over the generations, the Southwell family became embedded in the Irish Catholic aristocracy, through marriage, for example with the Prestons of Gormanston Castle in Co Meath. It was an experience that they shared with many in their social group in Co Limerick society – consider, for example, Edward Wyndham-Quin 3rd Earl of Dunraven, the de Vere family of Curraghchase, and William Monsell, 1st Lord Emly.

Nor did they lose their political standing and credibility. They continued to be appointed to positions with prestige, such Lord Lieutenant of Co Leitrim, to be admitted to ranks of the Knights of Saint Patrick, the equivalent of the Knights of the Garter, and their name was invoked by Cardinal Manning as he lobbied the government in Westminster for more Catholic peers in the House of Lords.

The Southwell memorial in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There were consequences for the Church of Ireland parish, needless to say. There are few Southwell family graves in the churchyard at Holy Trinity Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Rathkeale. There is only one Southwell monument is in the church, and this was moved from the old church to the new church.

There may have been a Southwell vault, but the church was rebuilt in 1831, and we would probably need to bring in a post-graduate archaeology student to work on the church floor to see how many of the Southwells are buried there.

Holy Trinity Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Rathkeale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Indeed, Holy Trinity Church, the Church of Ireland parish church, looks quite a poor church when you consider that this was once the largest commercial town in West Limerick and when you compare it with other, better-built Church of Ireland parish churches on the estates of landed aristocrats.

Instead, the Southwells put their interests and their capital into helping to pay for Saint Mary’s Church, the new Roman Catholic Church in Rathkeale. This was a time when the de Vere family and the Spring-Rice family brought in JJ McCarthy to build a new Gothic revival church in Foynes, when the family of William Smith O’Brien brought the same architect in to remodel Cahermoyle House, and when the Earls of Dunraven were remodelling the parish churches in Adare.

Had the Southwell family remained Anglicans, they might have rebuilt Holy Trinity Church as a proud Gothic revival church in the 1860s that followed the pattern of other ‘estate churches.’

Yes, the Southwell family did build such an ‘estate church’ – but it is Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, built by JJ McCarthy, the most prestigious architect of the Gothic Revival in the Victorian era, who claimed the mantel AWN Pugin. And they built it proudly, on the hill that makes it the single most noticeable landmark as you arrive into Rathkeale from Limerick.

The Southwell name heads the last of donors found in the porch of Saint Mary’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The decoration and the windows in the apse or east end are nothing less than a retelling of the genealogy of the Southwell in paintings and stained glass, in hagiography and heraldry.

A genealogical tale in stained glass

Thomas Southwell and his descendants (Patrick Comerford)

Let me begin exploring these genealogical decorations with Thomas Anthony Southwell (1777-1860), who became 3rd Viscount Southwell in 1796. He married Jane, daughter of John Berkeley of Spetchley, and they became Roman Catholics.

His sisters also married members of two prominent Catholic families in Co Meath:

Mary married Jenico Preston, 12th Viscount Gormanston;

Paulina married Richard O’Ferrall-Cadel.

Thomas and Jane were joint owners of vast estates in England that totalled almost 3,000 acres, but Lord Southwell only visited his English estates on a few occasions, and then to shoot pheasants. He divided the rest of the time between Ireland, London and the south of France.

They had two sons and three daughters, but neither of their sons survived to succeed to his titles or the estates, which passed to the only son of his younger brother, Colonel Arthur Francis Southwell (1789-1849), who had predeceased him.

In 1834, Arthur Southwell too had married into a prominent Catholic family: his wife Mary Anne Agnes Dillon was a daughter of Thomas Dillon of Mount Dillon, in Paris in 1834.

He died in 1849, before his elder brother. His six children, two sons and four daughters, were later given the style and titles of the children of a peer. They were:

1, Marcella Maria Agnes Southwell (1835-1901), who never married.

2, Thomas Arthur Joseph Southwell (1836-1878), who succeeded his uncle as 4th Viscount Southwell in 1860.

3, Jane Mary Matilda Southwell (1838-1910), who married John David FitzGerald, Attorney-General of Ireland.

4, Charles Francis Xavier Southwell (1839-1875), who never married.

5, Mary Paulina Anne Southwell (1842-1891), who married Field-Marshal Sir Henry Evelyn Wood.

6, Margaret Mary Southwell (1844-1916), who married Charles Standish Barry.

Saints in the reredos in Saint Mary’s Church, Rathkeale (Photographs: Patrick Comerford)

The saints that are painted in the reredos represent the names in this family. Although the Jesuit martyr Robert Southwell would not be canonised until 1970, another Saint Robert was found to take his place, upholding the church in his arms.

But an equally decorative representation of these members of the family is found in the heraldic symbolism in the windows in the apse.

The coat of arms of Thomas Arthur Southwell, as 4th Viscount Southwell, is in the centre of the three-light window above the High Altar in Saint Mary’s Church.

The coat of arms of Thomas Arthur Southwell, 4th Viscount Southwell, in the centre of the three-light window above the High Altar in Saint Mary’s Church, Rathkeale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The elder son: Thomas Arthur Joseph Southwell (1836-1878), 4th Viscount Southwell

Thomas Arthur Joseph Southwell, 4th Viscount Southwell, married Charlotte Mary Barbara Mostyn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The elder son, Thomas Arthur Joseph Southwell (1836-1878), became 4th Viscount Southwell when his uncle, Thomas Southwell, 3rd Viscount Southwell, died in 1860. He was Lord Lieutenant of Co Leitrim in 1872-1878.

This Lord Southwell married Charlotte Mary Barbara Mostyn, daughter of Sir Pyers Mostyn (1811–1882), a member of a leading Roman Catholic family in North Wales.

The Mostyn family were leading Roman Catholics with large estates across North Wales and elsewhere, including commercial, residential and agricultural holdings in Llandudno. Long after these windows were completed, Charlotte’s younger brother, Francis Edward Joseph Mostyn (1860-1939), became the Roman Catholic Bishop of Menevia (1898-1921) in Wales and Archbishop of Cardiff (1921-1939).

The ‘Mostyn Christ,’ dating from 1450, is one of the principal treasures in Bangor Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

One of the major pieces of work in Saint Deiniol’s Cathedral, Bangor, is the ‘Mostyn Christ,’ a figure of the Pensive Christ carved in oak and thought to date from ca 1450. It depicts Christ before the Crucifixion, chained and seated on a rock, wearing the crown of thorns. The Mostyn Christ reflects the meaning of the Passion through the intense depiction of human suffering and the symbolic inclusion of a skull at the feet of Christ.

The ‘Mostyn Christ’ is on loan to Bangor Cathedral from the Mostyn Estates. The Mostyn Estates is a private limited company that manages the interests of the Mostyn family across North Wales and elsewhere, including commercial, residential and agricultural holdings in Llandudno and agricultural estates in Rhewl and Tremostyn, Flintshire.

This wooden carving is one of the most iconic religious representations surviving from 15th century Wales. Its story is shrouded in mystery and its origins have been subject to intense debate. It is possible that it was rescued by the Mostyn family sometime during the Reformation. By the early 19th century, it was owned by the Mostyn family who lived Gloddaith Hall, where the early chapel was decorated throughout with Catholic iconography. The branch of the Mostyn family that lived at Talacre and Basingwerk was renowned for its allegiance to the ‘Old Faith’.

I am interested in another family connection here: this Sir Pyers Mostyn was a grandson of another Sir Pyers Mostyn (1749-1823) and his wife, Barbara Slaughter (1757-1841), who, through her mother, Barbara Giffard, was a direct descendant of the Comberford family of Comberford Hall, between Lichfield and Tamworth in Staffordshire.

This means the descendants of this Lord Southwell are also descended from the Comberford family. But this is a digression, and instead of taking us off the track this evening, I plan to blog about this connection tomorrow morning.

The second son: Charles Francis Xavier Southwell (1839-1875)

The second son and fourth child was Charles Francis Xavier Southwell (1839-1875), who never married.

The eldest daughter: Marcella Maria Agnes Southwell (1835-1901)

Marcella Maria Agnes Southwell was not married (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The eldest daughter in the family, Marcella Maria Agnes Southwell (1835-1901), was born in Paris while her parents were living there. Her individual coat-of-arms is shown in a diamond shape to indicate she never married. This diamond is then placed within a ‘ghost shield’ to lend artistic balance to the composition.

The second daughter: Jane Mary Matilda Southwell (1838-1910)

Jane Mary Matilda married John David FitzGerald, MP for Ennis and Attorney General of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The second daughter in the family, Jane Mary Matilda Southwell (1838-1910), married John David FitzGerald, Attorney-General of Ireland. The FitzGerald arms are on the viewer’s left, and in heraldic terms are impaling the Southwell arms, to the viewer’s right (but the heraldic left).

John David FitzGerald (1818-1889), Baron FitzGerald, was MP for Ennis, Co Clare (1852-1860), Solicitor General, Attorney General of Ireland and a law lord. Jane Mary Matilda Southwell was his second wife. He was the presiding judge at the trial in Dublin in 1880-1881 of Charles Stewart Parnell and 21 other prominent members of the Land League.

Their son, Major Arthur Southwell FitzGerald (1861-1922) of Monkstown, Co Dublin, was the father of Maurice FitzGerald (1904-1991), whose daughter, Eithne (FitzGerald) Rudd, is the mother of the present British Home Secretary, Amber Rudd.

The third daughter: Mary Paulina Anne Southwell (1842-1891), who married Field-Marshal Sir Henry Evelyn Wood

Mary Paulina Anne Southwell married Sir Evelyn Wood (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The third daughter and fifth child was Mary Paulina Anne Southwell (1842-1891). The figure of Saint Paula above her coat-arms indicates she was known in the family as Paula; he was known in his family as Evelyn. She married Field-Marshal Sir Henry Evelyn Wood, and their coat of arms in the window includes his field marshal’s baton which is an additional honour on his heraldic representation.

They are such an interesting couple, I am going to return to them in a few moments, with stories about anchovy sandwiches and monkeys, and stories about Kitty O’Shea and Charles Stewart Parnell.

The fourth daughter: Margaret Mary Southwell (1844-1916), who married Charles Standish Barry

Margaret Mary married Charles Standish Barry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The fourth daughter and sixth child in the family, Margaret Mary Southwell (1844-1916), married Charles Standish Barry, a wealthy Co Cork landowner, whose uncle, Garrett Standish Barry, was the first Catholic to be elected a Member of Parliament after the 1829 Emancipation Act.

Anchovy sandwiches, monkeys and Parnell

I promised a few moments ago to return to Field Marshal Sir Henry Evelyn Wood (1838-1919), who married Mary Paulina Anne Southwell, known in the family as Paula.

Sir Evelyn Wood was a distinguished army figure, and a recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC). The Southwell family opposed this marriage in 1867 when Wood refused to leave the Church of England and become a Roman Catholic. There may have been further family embarrassment later, for Wood’s sister Katherine is better known as Kitty O’Shea, the lover of Charles Stewart Parnell.

Nevertheless, his coat-of-arms are up there in the chancel of Saint Mary’s Church, alongside the other Southwell sisters, with Mary Paulina and her other sisters.

Wood was born at Cressing near Braintree, Essex, on 9 February 1838. He was the fifth and youngest son of the Revd Sir John Page Wood (1796-1866), a baronet and an Anglican priest; his mother, Lady Wood, was born Emma Caroline Mitchell.

His paternal grandfather was Sir Matthew Wood, and his uncles included the Lord Chancellor, William Wood, 1st Baron Hatherley. His maternal grandfather, Sampson Mitchell, was an admiral in the Portuguese navy, and his maternal uncles included a British admiral, and a Surveyor-General of Cape Colony.

Wood was educated at Marlborough Grammar School (1847-1849) and Marlborough College (1849-1852), but he ran away from school after an unjust beating.

After an early career in the Royal Navy, Wood joined the British army in 1855. He fought in several major conflicts and wars, including the Indian Mutiny where, as a lieutenant, he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour in the face of the enemy, for rescuing a local merchant from a band of robbers who had taken their captive into the jungle with the intention of hanging him.

Wood was a commander in several other conflicts, including the Third Anglo-Ashanti War, the Anglo-Zulu War, the First Boer War and the Mahdist War in Egypt and Sudan. His role in Egypt led to his appointment as Sirdar where he reorganised the Egyptian Army. He returned to Britain to become General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Aldershot Command from 1889, Quartermaster-General to the Forces from 1893 and Adjutant General from 1897. His last appointment was as commander of the 2nd Army Corps, later renamed Southern Command, from 1901 to 1904.

Wood’s mother was left short of money after 1866 when her husband died. She was then 66. But despite her age, she went on to write 14 novels.

Wood’s sister, Anna Caroline Steele (1841-1920), married Colonel Charles Steel (sic) in 1858, but left him on their wedding night – apparently still a virgin – when she realised he expected to have sex with her. Wood was sued for assault after striking Colonel Steele in one of his many attempts to ‘reclaim’ his wife.

Like her mother, she became a writer too, and her first novel, Gardenhurst (1867), which follows the trials of a large upper middle-class family, was dedicated to her sister Katie, better known as Kitty O’Shea. Anna followed this novel with half-a-dozen more, including Lesbia: A Study in One Volume (1896), and her translation of Victor Hugo’s L’Homme qui Rit as By Order of the King (1870). One of her novels featured a henpecked VC, a character probably based on her brother. Anna Steele was very close to her brother and it is said she helped to write his speeches.

During the Indian Mutiny, another sister, Maria Chambers, conveyed her children to safety through mutineer-controlled country carrying a phial of poison for each child.

In 1867, Wood married the Hon Mary Paulina Anne Southwell, a sister of Thomas Southwell, 4th Viscount Southwell, a friend from his days in India. But Lord Southwell opposed Paula’s marriage because the Southwells were Roman Catholics and Wood, although not a man of particularly strong religious views, refused to leave the Church of England in which his father had been a priest.

Wood had barely seen Paula for four years, but he proposed to her by letter in 1867 on the understanding that she would never ‘by a word or even by a look’ try to prevent him from volunteering for war service. His marriage hurt his career, as neither Lord Wolseley nor the Duke of Cambridge, two of the key generals of the day, was impressed by his home life.

In November 1888, the Duke of Cambridge, who was Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, opposed Wood’s appointment as General Officer Commanding of Aldershot Command, one of the most important posts in the army at home, as the Woods were ‘a very rough couple.’

Despite refusing to join his wife’s church, Wood had a generous ecumenical spirit. With the help of some high-ranking Roman Catholic friends, he agreed on an ecumenical service for Irish regiments which was acceptable to soldiers, officers and chaplains.

Evelyn and Paula were the parents of three sons and three daughters. She died on 11 May 1891 while Wood was commanding at Aldershot. After her death, Wood was deeply touched to receive 46 letters of condolence from NCOs and private soldiers who had served under him.

Wood hunted, on average, 46 days out of his 60 days leave each year, almost up until his death. He was often injured, and on one occasion while he fell on the crown of his head so badly that he did severe damage to his neck. During the Second Boer War he was injured in the chest when he fell against a crucifix, worn under his shirt, that had belonged to his late wife.

After the First Boer War, Wood had to appeal to his Aunt Ben for cash, The Wood family was financially dependent on this wealthy, eccentric spinster Aunt Ben. She gave each sibling £5,000, but Evelyn received nothing since he had married a Roman Catholic. Later, she paid him an allowance for a time. His brother-in-law, Lord Southwell, later paid him enough of a salary to keep horses, grooms, hounds and servants. This was supposedly for supervising his estates in Co Limerick, but it is not clear that he ever devoted much time to this task.

Wood and his siblings, Charles and Anna, demanded equal shares of their Aunt Ben’s inheritance. But in March 1888 she made a new will, leaving everything (£150,000 plus lands, equivalent to over £15 million at 2016 prices) in a trust for the sole benefit of her favourite niece, Wood’s sister Katherine, better known as Kitty O’Shea.

The other siblings tried to have Aunt Ben declared insane. But their petition was dismissed after she was examined by an eminent physician, Sir Andrew Clark.

When Aunt Ben died in May 1889, the siblings alleged undue influence by Kitty O’Shea. Her husband was Captain William O’Shea (1840-1905) of the 18th Hussars, who was MP for Clare (1880-1885) and for Galway City (1886).

Now, you may remember how I mentioned that Paula’s sister Jane was married to Judge John FitzGerald, who as the presiding judge at the trial in Dublin in 1880-1881 of Charles Stewart Parnell and 21 other prominent members of the Land League. Wood’s sister Kitty O’Shea had separated from William O’Shea in 1875 and she had been the lover of Charles Stewart Parnell since 1880.

Captain O’Shea also contested Aunt Ben’s will, claiming it contravened his marriage contract. At the same time, he also sued for divorce. The scandal that followed destroyed his career and scuppered the prospects at the time of Irish Home Rule.

It is unclear whether the Wood siblings had encouraged O’Shea in his divorce to blacken Kitty’s name. It has been suggested that another sister, Anna Steele, was herself a former lover of William O’Shea.

Eventually, when the will was overturned, Anna Steele used her share to live as a recluse, keeping a pet monkey to which she fed anchovy sandwiches. Sir Evelyn probably received about £20,000 in the eventual settlement, the equivalent of about £2 million in 2016 prices.

Wood died of heart failure in 1919. His sister Anna, who never returned to her husband, died the following year (1920). Wood’s will was valued for probate at £11,196 4s 10d – about £500,000 in today’s money. He was buried with full military honours in the Military Cemetery at Aldershot in Hampshire. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the National Army Museum in Chelsea. There is a pub on Widford Road in Chelmsford known as the ‘Sir Evelyn Wood.’

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is priest-in-charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes and Canon Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick. He is a former Adjunct Assistant Professor at Trinity College Dublin, and has lectured on Church History in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. He worked as a journalist for over 30 years and is a former Foreign Desk Editor of The Irish Times. He has studied at TCD, Maynooth and in Cambridge and has contributed to many books and journals.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think this Bishop Mostyn was the same prelate who was involved with the Caldey conversions about which I’ve read in Peter Anson’s works.