14 July 2018

A sixth century Tipperary
monastic site linked
to the Columba legends

Inside the ruins at the monastic site in Kilmore, near Silvermines, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

While I was looking for Kilmore House, a former Comerford family home, between Nenagh and Silvermines, Co Tipperary, yesterday afternoon [13 July 2018], I also visited the nearby ruins of Kilmore Monastery, with its ruined Church of Ireland parish church and its interesting graveyard.

The original monastery at Kilmore is said to have been founded by Saint Odran, who came from a wealthy Midlands family. By tradition, Odran or Oran (Latin Otteranus), sometimes Otteran, was a descendant of Conall Gulbán. For over 40 years, he lived in the area now known as Silvermines, and built a church there in 520.

According to tradition, Odran also served as Abbot of Meath, and founded Lattreagh. When he was an elderly monk around 530 AD, he was one of the 12 monks who accompanied Saint Columba into exile on Iona, off the west coast of Scotland.

Saint Odran died on Iona and is buried there. He was the first Christian to be buried on Iona. His feast day is 27 October.

One legend says Saint Columba saw devils and angels fight over Saint Odran’s soul before it ascended to heaven.

Another legend says Saint Odran consented to being buried alive beneath a chapel that Saint Columba was trying to build at Iona. A voice had told Saint Columba that the walls of the chapel would not stand until a living man was buried below the foundations. Each morning, the builders arrived at the site to find all their work of the previous day undone. So, Saint Odran was consigned to the earth, and the chapel was built above him.

One day, however, the story goes, Odran lifted his head out of the ground and said: ‘There is no Hell as you suppose, nor Heaven that people talk about.’ Alarmed by this, Columba quickly had the body removed and reburied in consecrated ground – or, in other versions of the story, simply called for more earth to cover the body.

In a Hebridean version of this tale, Odran was promised that his soul would be safe in heaven. Some time after the burial, Columba wanted to see Odran once more and opened the pit under the chapel. When Odran saw the world, he tried to climb out of his grave, but Columba had the pit covered with earth quickly to save Odran’s soul from the world and its sin.

The oldest remaining church on Iona is dedicated to Saint Odran. The surrounding cemetery is called Reilig Odhráin in his memory.

These legends are among some of the few examples of foundation sacrifice in these islands, although the story of Saint Odran’s self-sacrifice does not appear in Adomnán’s Life of Columcille. George Henderson says that the legend points to an ancient folk-belief similar to stories found in the Arthurian legends.

Saint Odran was chosen by the Vikings as patron of the city of Waterford in 1096 and later chosen as patron of the diocese.

The ruins of the old parish church on the monastic site in Kilmore, near Silvermines, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Meanwhile, the original monastery at Kilmore, which was a wooden structure, was replaced by a stone building around the year 1000.

In a raid against the Anglo-Normans, Toirdelbach O’Brien burned down the monastery In 1285. The monastery was rebuilt and survived until the Reformation, when it was suppressed.

The church on the monastic site continued to serve as the Church of Ireland parish church until a new church was built at Silvermines (1809-1820). Samuel Lewis notes that the Rectory of Kilmore was held by the Precentor of Killaloe Cathedral, and that the Vicar of Kilmore was the Very Revd Gilbert Holmes (1772-1846), who was also Dean of Ardfert (1802-1842). He lived at Saint David’s, Nenagh, and died at Kilmore on 23 December 1846.

The church ruins and former churchyard have interesting monuments and graves associated with the Prittie, Carrol, Powell and other prominent local families.

The Prittie family vault in the church ruins at Kilmore, near Silvermines, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Inside the ruined church, a plaque marks the vault of the Prittie family of Kilboy House, an influential political family with the title of Baron Dunalley, of Kilboy, Co Tipperary.

The family house was Kilboy House, near Nenagh, which was built in 1771 to the design of the architect William Leeson. It was three storeys over basement, with a five-bay entrance front with a central pediment and four large, engaged Doric columns. The top storey was treated as an attic above the cornice, and there was a five-bay side elevation.

The title of Lord Dunalley was given to Henry Prittie (1743-1801) in 1800. He had been MP in the Irish House of Commons for Banagher (1767-1768), Gowran (1769-1776) and Co Tipperary (1776-1790), and the peerage was a reward for his son’s support for the Act of Union.

His son, Henry Sadleir Prittie (1775-1854), the 2nd Baron Dunalley, was MP for Carlow (1798-1801) in the Irish Commons and for Okehampton (1819-1824) in the British Commons and an Irish Representative Peer in the House of Lords (1828-1854).

Henry O’Callaghan Prittie (1851-1927), the 4th Baron Dunalley, was the last Lord-Lieutenant of Co Tipperary (1905-1922). Kilboy House was burned down by the IRA on 8 August 1922. The house was rebuilt without the top storey, but the house was demolished around 1955, and a single-storey house in the Georgian style was built over the original basement.

The house was bought in the 1980s by Tony Ryan, founder of Ryanair and Guinness Peat Aviation. More recently, the Ryan family was granted permission to build a new Kilboy House.

The Dunalley title is now held by Henry Francis Cornelius Prittie, the 7th Baron Dunalley, who succeeded his father in 1992 and who lives in Oxfordshire.

The grave of the Powell medical family in Kilmore, near Silvermines, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The churchyard also holds graves associated with the Carrol family, who had their home at Tulla House in the 19th century. William Carrol lived there in 1814, Major General Sir William Parker Carrol in 1837, Captain WH Carrol in the 1850s, and the Carroll family was still living there in 1906.

Major General Sir William Parker Carrol, who was born at Tulla House in 1776, fought in many of the military campaigns during the Napoleonic wars.

His son, Captain William Hutchinson Carrol of Tulla House, Nenagh, owned an estate in Kilmore, and bought part of the Lissenhall estate of the Otway family in 1853. In the 1870s, William Hutchinson Carroll owned 1,856 acres in Co Tipperary.

Memorabilia, photographs and other items from this family form part of the Carrol exhibition at Limerick Civic Trust.

The graveyard surrounding the monastic and church ruins in Kilmore, near Silvermines, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In search of a Comerford
family in the area near
Silvermines and Nenagh

Kilmore House in Silvermines, Co Tipperary … a house with links with a branch of the Comerford family I am trying to trace (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

In recent months, I have continued my genealogical search for further details of Comerford families who have lived in Co Limerick and neighbouring area.

I have already noted how the Ennis Chronicle reported from Limerick on Monday 5 October 1795 on the marriage the previous Thursday at Silvermines, Co Tipperary, of William Ferguson, son of John Ferguson, of Limerick, and a Miss Comerford, daughter of Michael Comerford of Silvermines, Co Tipperary.

The Ferguson family were woollen merchants and drapers in Limerick and also lived in Rathkeale, Co Limerick. However, I have had a little more difficulty in tracing the Comerford family of Silvermines, who seem to have lived for some generations at Kilmore House, near Silvermines and Nenagh, Co Tipperary.

So, on my way back from Dublin to Askeaton yesterday, two of us took a diversion near Nenagh, and in the warm summer sunshine went in search of Kilmore House.

Kilmlore House is a detached, three-bay two-storey house, built around 1800, with what may be an earlier lower three-bay, two-storey block to the rear. The form and scale of this house are enhanced by the retention of features such as timber sash windows, the slate roof, and the elaborate doorcase.

There are interesting monolithic limestone piers at the gates at either end of the avenue, and there are interesting large cylindrical piers built into the walls of some of the outbuildings.

The interesting monolithic limestone piers at the gates at either end of the avenue at Kilmore House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

John Comerford, who lived at of Kilmore House in the mid-19th century was the father of both John Comerford, of Kilmore House, Nenagh, Co Tipperary, and an only daughter Mary Comerford (1849-1879).

The elder John Comerford had died by the time his daughter Mary was married in 1870. On 12 October 1870, in the Church of Ireland parish church in Silvermines or Kilmore, she married James McCutcheon (1837-1891), of Castle Street, Nenagh. The officiant was the Revd A Adams and the witnesses were Thomas R Grey and Jane E Grey. Mary died in 1879 and seems to have had no children.

Mary’s brother, John Comerford, gentleman, of Greyfort, Borrisokane, married Elizabeth Alice Grey. The Landed Estates database at NUI Galway shows that the Grey family was living at Greyfort from the mid-19th century, and that Thomas R Grey was living in Greyfort House, with 500 acres, in the 1870s.

John Comerford and his wife Elizabeth Alice (Grey) were the parents of Georgina Frances Beatrice Comerford, who was born on 7 February 1870 at Kilmore, Silvermines, Co Tipperary.

John Comerford died on 19 December 1870 at the age of 26. His will was proved at Limerick on 31 January 1871 by his executors, his father-in-law, Thomas R Grey, of Greyfort, Borrisokane, and his brother-in-law, James McCutcheon, merchant, of Nenagh.

When John Comerford died in 1870, his widow, Elizabeth Alice (Grey), appears to have moved back to Greyfort House.

The road leading to Kilmore House in Silvermines, Co Tipperary … a house with links with a branch of the Comerford family I am trying to trace (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

On 27 November 1900, Georgina Frances Beatrice Comerford, daughter of John Comerford, gentleman, of Greyfort, Borrisokane, and Elizabeth Alice Grey, married Joseph Ernest Hardy in Borrisokane Church of Ireland parish church.

Joseph Ernest Hardy describes himself as a gentleman farmer, of Cranna, Portumna, Co Galway, and the son of Edward Hardy. Later, he reversed the order of his given names, and was known as Ernest Joseph Hardy.

The Hardy family was associated for a number of generations with Dartfield House, Co Galway. The history of this house has been researched in detail by Mark Thomas for the site Abandoned Ireland.

Dartfield belonged to the Wall family in the 1640s, and later passed to the Blake family of Ardfry. Joseph Henry Blake (1765-1803) was made Baron Wallscourt in 1800 for supporting the Act of Union. That year, he sold Dartfield to Robert Blake, a lawyer, of 4 Temple Street, Dublin. Robert Blake married Elizabeth Aylmer of Seneschalstown, Co Kildare, and they were the parents of at least one son and two daughters: Henry Blake; Elizabeth who became a Loreto nun at the convent in Rathfarnham and died in 1861; and Maria Louisa.

As a child, Henry Blake (1793-1851) inherited the fortune of his uncle, James Deane Aylmer of Seneschalstown. He studied law at Trinity College Dublin and Lincoln’s Inn, London, and was called to the bar in Dublin in 1816. By 1824 he was living at 8 Temple Street, Dublin and at Seafield, Oranmore, Co Galway.

In 1827, he built a new house at Dartfield, and it soon became a meeting place for the local hunt, the Galway Blazers. He hired the landscape designer James Frazer (1793-1863) as his head gardener, and another well-known garden designer, Alexander McLeish, head gardener at Terenure Park, Co Dublin, advised on the planting of the demesne.

Henry Blake was a JP and a Whig and publicly supported Daniel O'Connell. In 1839, he was one of a group of Co Galway landowners who called on the government to retain the Corn Laws.

Henry died aged 61 in 1851. He made his widowed sister, Maria Louisa Blake, the administrator of his estate. Her husband, James Henry Blake QC (1801-1841), died in London in 1841, leaving a daughter Emilia Julia Aylmer Blake.

After a number of conflicts with her tenants, Maria Blake and her daughter Emilia spent quite a lot of time abroad, particularly in Brighton and France. By 1869, Joseph Hardy was living at Dartfield, and by 1873 this was an estate of 1,304 acres.

Hardy was the owner of a small mill in 1837, and moved into grazing in 1846. By 1880, he was grazing some 6,000 acres for five landlords including Lord Dunsandle and Lord Clonbrock. This figure seems have include 800 acres around Dartfield.

Meanwhile, Mary Louisa Blake died in Chelsea on 17 October 1876. Her daughter, Emilia Aylmer-Blake was an accomplished poet and writer. On 3 July 1877, in Kensington Parish Church, she married the actor and playwright William Gowing as his second wife, and Gowing assumed the name Aylmer. Emilia had previously been engaged to the Count de Charette de Bois Foucauld, a landowner from Brittany.

Emilia was uncomfortable in Co Galway society, as the diary of Lady Gregory shows. Her interest in Dartfield lay mainly in seeing that it functioned peacefully and that the rents were paid.

Joseph Hardy was a Justice of the Peace, a member of the Church of Ireland synod and a Ballinasloe Union guardian. But he seems to have had limited tact and empathy and called in the police in a number of disputes with his tenants in the 1870s and 1880s. He died at Dartfield aged 71 on 30 January 1891. By then, his estate had been reduced to 1,800 acres.

The Hardy family continued to live at Dartfield, and eventually acquired the estate and Ernest Joseph Hardy, one of Joseph Hardy’s sons, seems to have been in charge. But by 1900, Ernest Hardy had moved to Cranna at Portumna, Co Glaway, at the time of his marriage that year to Georgina Comerford, only daughter of John Comerford of Kilmore, Nenagh, Co Tipperary.

The 1901 census shows that his brother James North Hardy (49) was living at Dartfield by then with his wife, Mary (40) and their children.

Ernest Hardy died on 28 May 1918 aged 55, with his wife, Georgina Beatrice Hardy, present at his death. Georgina Frances Beatrice (Comerford) Hardy lived on for almost and another half century, and died on 8 June 1957, aged 85, at Cranna, 5 Maryville Terrace, Leslie Avenue, Dalkey.

They are both buried in the Church of Ireland churchyard in Portumna, Co Galway. Their gravestone reads:

Erected by his wife
in most loving memory of
Ernest Joseph Hardy
who entered into rest at
on the 28th May 1918
‘Thou with Christ and Christ with me
thus united still are we’
Also his wife Georgina Beatrice
Died 8th June 1957

Ernest Joseph Hardy’s brother, James North Hardy, died aged 70 in late 1921, leaving his son, Cecil Aylmer Hardy, in charge of Dartfield. Cecil continued to farm at Dartfield until 1946, when he went to live in Glenageary, Co Dublin. He visited Co Galway occasionally, and on 7 April 1951 he was found dead in his car outside the entrance gates of Dartfield.

The estate was inherited by his daughters, Pamela Potterton, who married Hubert Potterton in 1952, and Alison Hardy. The Dartfield estate was sold in portions in the 1950s and the 1960s, and by 1966 Dartfield was standing empty.

Pamela Potterton died in March 1967; she was only 42. Dartfield was sold in 1984, and the house continued to slide into further decay. In 1993, it was bought by Willie Leahy, Master of the Galway Blazers.

Dartfield in Co Galway … a house with links with a branch of the Comerford family I am trying to trace (Photograph: Abandoned Ireland)