30 November 2019

The Southwell family
and its memorials in
two churches in Rathkeale

Castle Matrix was first built by the FitzGeralds, Earls of Desmond, near Rathkeale, Co Limerick, in the mid-15th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am visiting Castle Matrix and the two parish churches in Rathkeale (Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic and Holy Trinity Church of Ireland) with members of the Southwell family today to see places, memorials and stained-glass windows that commemorate members of the Southwell family.

Castle Matrix, at the end of a long, unsigned pathway close to the banks of the River Deel, can be glimpsed through the trees outside Rathkeale when they are bare in winter.

This was once a welcoming place, offering hospitality, entertainment, banquets and unusual bed and breakfast. But the path leading up the castle is now overgrown, and a padlocked gate bars any entrance to the land immediately in front of the castle.

The name of Castle Matrix may be derived from the Irish Caisleán Bhun Tráisce, although the one sign I could find gives no explanation for the meaning of the Irish name, nor does it indicate that this is the difficult-to-find Castle Matrix.

Castle Matrix was built as a tower house in the 15th century by the FitzGeralds, Earl of Desmond.

James FitzThomas FitzGerald (1459-1487), 8th Earl of Desmond, owned Castle Matrix in 1487. He was unpopular with his servants, so they decided to get rid of their employer by murdering him. He was murdered at Rathkeale on 7 December 1487 at the age of 28, by John Murtagh, one of his servants, at the instigation of his younger brother John.

James was buried at Youghal, Co Cork,and his brother, Maurice FitzThomas FitzGerald, 9th Earl of Desmond, avenged his death by executing every servant the FitzGeralds had in Rathkeale.

The explorer Sir Walter Raleigh (1552/1554-1618) was living at Castle Matrix in 1580, and the visitors to Castle Matrix in the Elizabethan era included his contemporary, the poet Edmund Spenser (1552-1599). When Edmund Spenser met Walter Raleigh here, their meeting inspired the poet to write The Faerie Queen.

In the early 1600s, Castle Matrix was granted to the Southwell family, as ‘resident undertakers.’ The Southwell family converted the castle into their manor house and added a wing in 1610. Walter Raleigh presented some Virginia Tubers to Edmund Southwell, who planted these potatoes in the land around the castle and later distributed them throughout Munster.

During the rebellions and wars of the mid-17th century, Castle Matrix captured by the Irish of Rathkeale in 1641, and fell to Cromwellian forces in 1651, when the tower was damaged by the Roundhead artillery.

But Castle Matrix was soon regained by the Southwell family, and at the Restoration King Charles II gave the title of baronet to Sir Thomas Southwell, who extended his estates in the Rathkeale area.

He died in 1680, and his son Sir Thomas Southwell (1665-1720), the second baronet, was a key figure in bringing the Palatine refugees to live in Ireland at the beginning of the 18th century. He was living in Castle Matrix when he settled 100 families on his estate at Rathkeale in 1709. Shortly before his death, he was given the additional title of Baron Southwell in 1717.

The main tower is four storeys, although there may have been another floor, and the east wall has six floors with small rooms. The looking battlements were added in the 19th century and all the windows were enlarged at this point, making the castle a comfortable house.

The surviving outbuildings at Castle Matrix may include a 200-year-old mill (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Samuel Lewis writes in 1837 that the flour mill at Castle Matrix ‘has been fitted up by the proprietor J Southwell Brown esq in the most complete manner,’ and that the Elizabethan square castle was being repaired.

The Ordnance Survey Field Name Book records Castlematrix as a large two-storey house, with a new castle six storeys high adjoining. John S Brown was Lord Southwell’s tenant in Castle Matrix. In the mid-19th century, the buildings including the flour mills, valued at £90.

When the rental of the castle was being sold in 1853, Castle Matrix was described as having nine bedrooms, ‘besides dressing closets, bathrooms, water closets, a large dining room, drawing room and library with extensive suites of servants’ apartments, and the entire fitted up in elegant and substantial style.’ The sale included a lithograph in which the castle is described as having been repaired and added to ‘regardless of expense.’

Castle Matrix was finally sold by the Southwell family in the early 20th century, and was bought by the Johnson family, who continued to operate the mill and who lived in the castle for some decades.

Castle Matrix glimpsed through the trees, north of Rathkeale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

However, in the 1930s, the roof, doors and windows were removed to reduce taxes, and the castle was abandoned. By the 1960s, the castle had fallen into disrepair when it was bought by Colonel Sean O’Driscoll, an American architect who restored it to its former glory.

In April 1971, to great fanfare and publicity, the castle opened for mediaeval banquets, similar to those in Bunratty Castle, serving meat from Castle Matrix livestock and fresh vegetables and fruit from the castle gardens and orchards, and offering entertainment included an ‘Elizabethan open-air theatre’ and music on piano and harp by candlelight.

For some decades, the 12,000-volume castle library held a collection of original documents relating to the Wild Geese, and the tower led to an old chapel with a bell.

Until 1991, Castle Matrix was open for tours and the headquarters of the International Institute of Military History and of the Heraldry Society of Ireland.

Today, however, the castle looks forlorn once again, in a sad and lonely state, hidden behind a cluster of trees at the end of an unmarked track.

Sir Thomas Southwell (1665-1720), 1st Baron Southwell and the first protector of the Palatines

Sir Thomas Southwell (1665-1720), 1st Baron Southwell, and his family welcomed the Palatine families he welcomed onto his estate, religious refugees who arrived in Ireland in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

One of the failings and shortcomings of popular approaches to genealogy in the past has been a concentration on primogeniture, tracing ancestry back through a direct male line.

When it came to compiling their genealogy for the peerages, the Southwell or Sewell developed a family tree that fits neatly into the genres of the time. Although the origins of the family were as middle-class merchants and political figures in Essex, the family tried to claim its origins could be traced to Southwell, now a cathedral town in Nottinghamshire.

The town is known for its cathedral, as the place where the Bramley apple was first seeded, and as the place where Lord Byron spent his holidays with his mother while he was at Harrow and Cambridge.

It is about 25 km north-east of Nottingham, but there is no more evidence to suggest that this particular Southwell is the ancestral home of this Southwell family than it is the ancestral home of Robin Hood or Maid Marion.

Southwell Minister… the nave (Photograph © David Iliff)

To boost their genealogical claims, the Southwell family also threw in an heroic mediaeval ancestor who owned a castle in Bordeaux, who rescued the king’s cousin, and later genealogists added embellishments that are found in similar family trees in the Tudor era for families that felt a need to enhance their lineage and find antique origins.

There is no verifiable, impartial evidence to connect the family that was spread throughout East Anglia in the reign of Henry VI with the small town in Nottinghamshire, and even when the claims are pushed, there are so many gaps between generations in the peerages of the 18th and 19th centuries, that they are impossible to verify or trust.

The earliest known ancestor of the family may be John South Southwell of Felix Hall, Essex, MP for Lewes in 1450, although even here I am uncertain about the direct line of ancestry and descent.

Saint Robert Southwell … Jesuit poet and Elizabethan martyr

The family profited considerably from the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII, buying large estates and becoming minor gentry. Yet one of the better-known members of this family is Saint Robert Southwell (1561-1595), the poet and Jesuit martyr who was hung, drawn and quartered on Tyburn Hill at the age of 33.

But even here, the peerages are confused. The Southwells of Rathkeale claimed that this Robert Southwell was a brother of Edmund Southwell who first came to live at Castle Mattress in the early 17th century. But there are conflicting genealogies, and they distract us from the how rooted Thomas Southwell was in this area and in this region.

In the early 1600s, Castle Matrix was granted to the Southwell family who converted it to a manor house.

Thomas Southwell was deeply rooted in this part of Ireland. His father, Richard Southwell, MP for Askeaton (1661-1666), died in 1680 during the lifetime of his own father and while Thomas was in his teens; and his grandfather, Sir Thomas Southwell, a former Cromwellian who became a baronet after the restoration, died a year later in 1681.

Murrough ‘the Burner’ O’Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin and grandfather of Thomas Southwell

Young Thomas was still in his teens when he inherited his grandfather’s title of baronet and became Sir Thomas Southwell. He was made a ward of his cousin, Sir Robert Southwell, and was sent to Christ Church Oxford at the end of that year.

But the key family member and single most influential figure in in his life may have been his mother, Lady Elizabeth O’Brien, a daughter of Murrough O’Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin, one of the enigmatic figures in 17th century Irish history.

Thomas Southwell’s maternal grandfather, Murrough MacDermod O’Brien (1614-1674), 6th Baron Inchiquin and 1st Earl of Inchiquin, is known as Murchadh na dTóiteán, or ‘Murrough the Burner’, after his troops burned the cathedral on the Rock of Cashel. His family owned vast estates throughout Co Limerick and Co Clare.

During the Irish Civil Wars in the 1640s, he was loyal to Charles I and fought against the Irish Confederates. He became President of Munster, and gradually became the political and military master of the south of Ireland, and declared for Charles I in 1648.

Following the execution of Charles I in 1649 and Cromwell’s subsequent arrival in Ireland, Murrough retreated to the west of the Shannon and then left Ireland for France in 1650, where he became one of close advisers of the exiled and future Charles II, who in 1654 made him Earl of Inchiquin. In 1656, he became a Roman Catholic. His sudden conversion caused an irreconcilable split with his devoutly Protestant wife, Elizabeth St Leger, and alienated him from the Duke of Ormond and his friends at court.

He was taken prisoner by North African pirates in 1660, but he was ransomed, and returned to this part of Ireland, where his estates totalled 60,000 acres (240 sq km), including 39,961 acres in Clare, 1,138 in Limerick, 312 in Tipperary, and 15,565 in Cork. He lived quietly after 1663 and when he died on 9 September 1674 he was buried in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick. His grandson Thomas Southwell was then a nine-year-old.

As a young woman in the exiled Caroline court in Paris, Lady Elizabeth O’Brien seems to have witnessed the persecution of Huguenots. Although her father had become a Roman Catholic, her mother remained an Anglican, and the future Lady Elizabeth Southwell could not have been but sensitive religious divisions, diversity and persecution.

When she was widowed, Lady Elizabeth married John McNamara, and lived at Cratloe, Co Clare. She died in September 1688.

This is social diversity and domestic ecumenism on a scale that shaped the young Thomas Southwell, grandson of ‘Murrough the Burner’ and stepson of John McNamara of Cratloe, near Limerick.

Sir Thomas Southwell had succeeded his paternal grandfather as Sir Thomas Southwell, 2nd Baronet, in 1681, at the age of 16. He was made a ward of his cousin, Sir Robert Southwell, and was sent to Christ Church Oxford at the end of 1681.

Buy there is no evidence that he ever graduated or took a degree, and he probably returned to Ireland shortly after. He was 23 when his mother died in 1688. Following the Williamite revolution that year, he raised 100 horse in support of William III, William of Orange.

During the war in Ireland between the rival supporters of James II and William III, Thomas fought on the side of William, but he was forced to surrender to a Jacobite force at Loughrea, Co Galway, in March 1689.

He was sentenced to death for high treason, imprisoned in Galway, and attainted by the Jacobite Parliament. However, he was pardoned by James II in April 1690, and was allowed to sail for Scotland. Remember that this was still before the Battle of the Boyne, and Thomas was only 24 or 25.

As a political prisoner, he seems to have provided financial support for his fellow prisoners. After the wars were over, he was awarded £500 in compensation. Three years later, he was appointed to a commission inspecting crown lands in April 1663, and his political career began in earnest when he was elected MP for Co Limerick in 1695.

But, despite this run of events, Thomas was no Whig at this stage in his political carfeer, contrary to what may have been the expectations of many. As an MP, he was identified with the Tory interest, and was a key figure in defeating the attempted impeachment of the Tory Lord Chancellor, Sir Charles Porter.

Thomas Coningsby, 1st Earl Coningsby and Vice-Treasurer of Ireland, and father-in-law of Thomas Southwell

In April 1696, he married Lady Meliora Coningsby (1675-1735), eldest daughter of Thomas Coningsby, 1st Earl Coningsby and Vice-Treasurer of Ireland. But, while he tried to gain public office by using his family connections through his father-in-law, and through his cousin, Robert Southwell, who was Secretary of State for Ireland, Thomas found his Tory sympathies made him suspect and worked against him.

Eventually, when he was appointed, Thomas was an active and conscientious revenue commissioner, challenging corruption and idleness among politicians of the day.

He was re-elected an MP for Limerick in 1703, and actively resisted efforts by more powerful politicians to extend Whig interests in Co Limerick. But in 1707, he deserted the interests of the former Tory Lord Chancellor of Ireland, Sir Richard Cox, and switched his allegiance to the Whigs.

But his greatest achievement and contribution to political, social and economic life was his instrumental role in bringing French-speaking and German-speaking Protestant refugees, Huguenots and Palatines, to settle in Ireland.

This role is linked to his part in promoting the linen industry in Ireland. The Irish Parliament appointed him a trustee for the linen industry, and he assisted the French Huguenot Louis Crommelin, to establish the linen industry in Lisburn, Co Antrim.

Southwell championed the Palatines, secured government support for the settlement venture and took care of many of their initial needs at considerable personal expense, being reimbursed only just before his death.

In 1711, only 10 of the original Palatine families who had arrived in 1709 remained on his estate. But by 1714 he had settled about 130 new families on his lands, and to this day the neighbourhood around his demesne in the Rathkeale are has the largest concentration of the descendants of Palatines who moved to Ireland.

Southwell remained a Whig after the Hanoverian succession in 1714, and was re-elected an MP for Co Limerick in 1715.

In 1716, Southwell presented a petition to the Lord Lieutenant requesting the reimbursement of what it cost him to start the colony:

The Humble Petition of Sir Thomas Southwell humbly showeth:

That the said Sir Thomas Southwell, having set down 130 German Protestant families on his estate in County Limerick in or about Michaelmas 1712, and for their encouragement to settle and be a security to the Protestant interest in the country, he (the said Sir Thomas Southwell) set them his lands at almost one half of what it was worth, and gave them timber also to build their houses to a very great value; and for their further encouragement did from time to time supply them with cash and other necessities.

That all these families are since well settled and follow the raising of Hemp and Flax and have a good stock which the said Sir Thomas Southwell (though very unwillingly) must seize upon to reimburse him for his great expense, unless His Majesty will be graciously please to repay Sir Thomas.

On 4 September 1717, 300 years ago, he was made an Irish peer with the title as Baron Southwell, of Castle Mattress, in the County of Limerick.

Southwell died at Dublin on 4 August 1720 and was buried here in Rathkeale, probably in a crypt under the present church.

Thomas Southwell and his descendants, Part 1 (Patrick Comerford)

Thomas Southwell and his wife Lady Meliora Coningsby had six sons and five daughters, of whom five sons and two daughters survived. His six sons were:

1, Thomas Southwell (1698-1766), his eldest surviving son, succeeded to his titles and estate.

2, Henry Southwell (died 1758), his second surviving son, lived at Stoneville, near Rathkeale. He too was an MP (1729-1758), and his wife Dulcinea Royse was the daughter of the Revd Henry Royse of Nantenan.

3, Robert Southwell, his third surviving son, was killed in a duel on 30 May 1724.

4, Edmund Southwell, his fourth surviving son, married Agnes Anne Studdert, daughter of the Revd George Studdert.

5, The Revd Richard Southwell, the fifth surviving son, was the Rector of Dungourney, Co Cork.

6, William Southwell.

The eldest son, Thomas Southwell (1698-1766), 2nd Baron Southwell of Castle Mattress, was MP for Leitrim (1717-1720) until he succeeded his father as the 2nd Lord Southwell of in 1720. He was Governor of Limerick around 1762.

This Thomas Southwell married Mary Coke, and their children included:

1, Meloria Southwell.

2, Thomas George Southwell (1721-1780), 1st Viscount Southwell of Castle Mattress.

He died in London, and he was succeeded in his titles and estates by his only surviving son.

Thomas Southwell and his descendants, Part 2 (Patrick Comerford)

Thomas George Southwell (1721-1780), 1st Viscount Southwell of Castle Mattress, 3rd Baron Southwell, and 4th baronet, was born on 4 May 1721 and was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, and Lincoln’s Inn, London. He was MP for Enniscorthy, Co Wexford (1747-1761), MP for Co Limerick (1761-1766), High Sheriff of Limerick (1759), Constable of Limerick Castle (1750-1780) and Governor of Co Limerick (1762-1780). He succeeded as the 3rd Baron Southwell in 1766, and was given the additional title of Viscount Southwell of Castle Mattress, Co Limerick.

It may have been to mark this occasion that he presented a pair of Communion vessels, a silver chalice and paten, to Holy Trinity Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Rathkeale in 1769. He died on 29 August 1780 at age of 59.

The Southwell paten and chalice in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This Thomas George Southwell married Margaret Hamilton of Castle Hamilton, near Killeshandra, Co Cavan, on 18 June 1741. Their children included two sons and a daughter:

1, Thomas Arthur Southwell (1742-1796), 2nd Viscount Southwell.

2, Lieut-Col Robert Henry Southwell (1745-1817).

3, Meliora Southwell, who married John Brown, of Danesfort and Mount Brown, Rathkeale, a son of the Ven John Brown, Archdeacon and Chancellor of Limerick. Their second son, John Brown, was ancestor of the Southwell Brown family, who effectively took over the administration of the Southwell family estates and interests in the Rathkeale area.

The eldest son, Thomas Arthur Southwell (1742-1796), 2nd Viscount Southwell, was MP for Co Limerick (1767-1768). In 1774, he married Sophia Maria Josepha Walsh (1757-1796), third daughter of François-Jacques Walsh (1704-1782), Comte de Serrant, one of the Irish ‘Wild Geese’ in France, descended from an old Catholic family of Jacobite exiles, originally from Co Kilkenny, who had fled Ireland after the Siege of Limerick in 1690.

Gormanston Castle, Co Meath … the Hon Mary Southwell married Jenico Preston, 12th Viscount Gormanston (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Thomas and Sophia were the parents of four sons and four daughters. The family title and estates passed to their eldest son, 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 if two prominent Catholic families in Co Meath: Mary married Jenico Preston, 12th Viscount Gormanston, and Paulina married Richard O’Ferrall-Cadel.

They were joint owners of vast estates in England that came to almost 3,000 acres, but Lord Southwell only visited his English estates on a few occasions, and then to shoot pheasants. He spent the rest of the time in 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.

And so, to continue the family line of succession, we turn to his younger brother, Colonel Arthur Francis Southwell (1789-1849). He too married into a prominent Catholic family when he married Mary Anne Agnes Dillon, daughter of Thomas Dillon of Mount Dillon, in Paris in 1834.

He died in 1849, before his elder brother. His children, who were later given the style and titles of a peer’s children, 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.

3, Jane Mary Matilda Southwell (1838-1910), 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), married Field-Marshal Sir Henry Evelyn Wood.

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

By the early 1800s, Castle Matrix, the home of Sir Thomas Southwell, was being used to manufacture linen and a flour mill was added.

Samuel Lewis notes in 1837 that that the flour mill at Castle Matrix ‘has been fitted up by the proprietor J. Southwell Brown esq in the most complete manner’ and that the Elizabethan square castle was being repaired. John Southwell Brown held Castle Matrix from Lord Southwell. In the mid-19th century, the buildings including the flour mills were valued at £90.

Thomas Arthur Joseph Southwell (1836-1878) became 4th Viscount Southwell in 1860 on the death of his uncle Thomas Southwell, 3rd Viscount Southwell. He was Lord Lieutenant of Co Leitrim in 1872-1878.

This Lord Southwell married Charlotte Mary Barbara Mostyn, daughter of Sir Pyers Mostyn, a member of a leading Roman Catholic family in North Wales. In the 1870s, Lord Southwell was the owner of 4,032 acres in Co Limerick, 2,252 acres in Co Cork, 329 acres in Co Kerry, 1,147 acres in Co Donegal and 4,017 acres in Co Leitrim in the 1870s.

By the 1930s, the castle was abandoned and became a ruin, with wild plants and trees growing within the old stone walls.

Today, the castle and lands in Rathkeale have long passed from the family, but the titles are held by Richard Andrew Pyers Southwell, 8th Viscount Southwell, who succeeded his father, Pyers Anthony Joseph Southwell, 7th Viscount Southwell (1930-2019), earlier this year.

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

The conversion of the Southwell family to the Roman Catholic Church may have caused a stir 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 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.

This shift in Church identity may help to explain why earlier I wanted to emphasise the direct link with and possible lasting influence of Thomas Southwell’s grandfather, 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.

In their entries in Burke’s Peerage and similar genealogical tomes, they were now seeking to construct, in a very awkward and ham-fisted way, not just a more ancient lineage that found its origins in rural Nottinghamshire rather than Essex and East Anglia, but also trying to recover a kinship with the young Elizabethan Jesuit poet and martyr Robert Southwell.

Long-tailed Catholic credentials had become more important than rustic English roots in a new elitist understanding of lineage and aristocracy.

Nor can these Catholic conversions 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 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. The family was 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 as 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 this parish, needless to say. There are few Southwell family graves in Rathkeale parish. 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 a post-graduate archaeology student to work on the church floor to see how many of the Southwells are buried there.

The 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 a new Roman Catholic Church in Rathkeale. This was a time when the de Vere and 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.’

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

Yes, they 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 mantle of AWN Pugin. And they built it proudly, on the hill that makes it the single most noticeable landmark as one arrives 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.

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

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

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)

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

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, her 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).

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

Marcella Mary Agnes Southwell 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.

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

John David Fitzgerald (1818-1889), Baron Fitzgerald, was MP for Ennis (1852-1860), Solicitor General, Attorney General for 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.

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

Field Marshal Sir Henry Evelyn Wood (1838-1919) 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 in the chancel of Saint Mary’s Church, alongside the other Southwell sisters, with Mary Paulina and her other sisters.

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

Margaret married Charles Standish Barry, a wealthy Co Cork landowner, whose uncle, Garrett Standish Barry, was the first Catholic to be elected a Member of the Parliament after the 1829 Emancipation Act.

Instead of the Church of Ireland parish church in Rathkeale being supported by a rich local landlord living in a castle, Holy Trinity Church was mainly paid for and supported by the descendants of the original Palatines brought to live here by the Southwell, the ordinary parishioners who continue to give their support and to give life to the church, to the school and to this parish

These notes were prepared for a visit to Rathkeale by members of the Southwell family on 30 November 2019.

The unmarked drive leading to Castle Matrix (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sculpture by Lough Owel
recalls the legend of
the Children of Lir

‘The Children of Lir’ (1993) Linda Brunker on the shores of Lough Owel, near Mullingar, Co Westmeath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

On the way back from Sligo early last week, I stopped to see a number of lakeside and riverside sculptures that tell stories from Irish legends and history, including ‘The Gaelic Chieftain’ by Maurice Harron, near Boyle, Co Roscommon, and Will Fogarty’s sculpture of Saint Eidin in the Linear Park by the banks of the River Shannon in Carrick-on-Shannon.

Linda Brunker’s bronze sculpture, ‘The Children of Lir,’ overlooks Lough Owel, outside Mullingar, Co Westmeath. It was commissioned by Westmeath County Council in 1993.

Linda Brunker, who now lives in Toulouse in France, was born in Dublin in 1966, and studied at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin (1983-1988), where she received a Diploma in Sculpture (1987) and her degree in fine art (1988).

She has received many public commissions through Ireland and in Brussels, London and the US, and her work is in private collections in Ireland, Europe, Japan and the US.

Her public works include the ‘Pact Woodland Sculpture Project’ (2006) in Tymon Park, Dublin; ‘Voyager’ (2004) at Laytown Strand, commissioned by Meath County Council; ‘The Healing Tree’ (2002), Virginia, Co Cavan; ‘The Wishing Hand’ (2001), Department of Education, Marlborough Square, Dublin; and ‘The Children of Lir’ overlooking Lough Owel.

Her work has been recognised with numerous awards and presentation pieces.

She lived at Laguna Beach, California, and Melrose, West Hollywood, before moving to Toulouse some years ago.

Linda Brunker’s ‘The Children of Lir’ (1993) on the shores of Lough Owel, Co Westmeath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Lough Owel and Lough Derravaragh in Co Westmeath are associated with the myth of the Children of Lir. In Irish storytelling, it is classed one of the ‘The Three Sorrows of Storytelling’ – the other two being ‘The Exile of the Children of Uisneach’ and ‘The Faith of the Children of Tuireann.’

Lir was a chieftain of the Tuatha de Danann tribe. On the death of Daghda, their king, a convention of chiefs elected his son, Bodhbh Dearg (Bov the Red), to succeed him. This decision offended Lir who felt he had a greater claim to the kingship.

Shortly after, Lir’s wife died and in a gesture of friendship, Bodhbh Dearg, who had three beautiful foster-daughters, offered Lir the choice of his daughters as wife. Lir chose Aobh, the eldest who gave birth to four beautiful children: Fionnuala, Aodh, Fiachra, and Conn. Tragedy struck when Aobh died. Lir was heartbroken and he too would have died but for the great love he had for his children.

After a time Bodhbh Dearg offered Lir Aoife, the sister of Aobh, as his wife, and Lir and Aoife were married.

Lir’s four children were famous for their beauty and were beloved by all the Tuatha De Danann. At the beginning, Aoife looked after the children with a mother’s love but evil touched her heart and she became insanely jealous of Lir’s love for his children.

One morning, when Lir was away hunting, Aoife took the children out in her chariot to visit their grandfather Bodhbh Dearg. She stopped at Lough Derravaragh and led the children to the water to bathe. As soon as they were on the lake, she struck them with a magic wand and changed them into four beautiful swans, decreeing that they should spend 300 years on Lough Derravaragh, 300 years on the Sea of Moyle or the North Channel, and 300 years on the Bay of Erris, Co Mayo.

Aoife left them their speech and gave them the power of singing in a way surpassing all earthly music. Legend has it that for this crime Bodhbh Dearg punished Aoife by transforming her into an air demon.

Throughout their 300 years on Lough Derravaragh, great crowds frequently camped on the shore to listen to the singing of the swans. Later, on the Sea of Moyle, and finally, on the Bay of Erris, the four swan-children went through great sufferings.

During their final days on the Bay of Erris, they learnt of Saint Patrick, who had come to Ireland to spread the Christian faith. As Saint Caemhoch, one of Saint Patrick’s disciples prayed with them, their feathers fell away and they were restored to their human form. They were now three old feeble men and an old woman. Saint Caemhoch baptised them before they died. They were buried together in the one grave as they wished.

Sunset seen from the shores of Lough Owel, near Mullingar, Co Westmeath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

29 November 2019

Dear Dr Laura … ‘healthy
antidote to Scriptural
literalism of any sort’

Dr Laura Schlessinger … selective quotation from Leviticus

Patrick Comerford

There have been some very public debates within the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland about the dismissal of an organist, the election of a new bishop, and the treatment of a ruling elder who married his partner of many years.

The arguments are not just about sexuality, and not even about the authority of Scripture, but about the authority of one, specific interpretation or reading of Scripture.

As I was looking back on my Facebook memories the other day, I came across a posting that reminded me of the ludicrous degrees to which we can stretch or narrow our understandings of what Scripture says and how our responses are based not on what Scripture says but on how we choose to interpret and contextualise Scripture.

I was going to rephrase this posting, and rewrite it as an open letter to some of the people involved in this debate. But instead, I have decided it is worth repeating the original posting in full:

Dr Laura Schlessinger is an American talk show host and author who converted to Judaism some years ago. On her radio show, the Dr Laura Program, she said some years ago that as an observant Orthodox Jew she considers homosexuality an abomination according to Leviticus 18: 22, and that it cannot be condoned under any circumstance. She has since turned away from Orthodox Judaism.

She has been embroiled in controversies over comments that were interpreted as racist and about allegations about pornography, and has been accused of hypocritical judgmentalism given her own past lifestyle, including at least one long-term affair with a married man she later married. She is neither a medical doctor nor accredited in a discipline traditionally associated with expertise in moral, societal, or spiritual matters, such as pastoral theology, psychology or sociology.

The following response, laced with irony, sarcasm and humour, is an open letter to Dr Laura that was posted in many variations on the Internet:

Dear Dr Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18: 22 clearly states it to be an abomination ... End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.

1, Leviticus 25: 44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighbouring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21: 7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of Menstrual uncleanliness – Leviticus 15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord – Leviticus 1: 9. The problem is my neighbours. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35: 2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination, Leviticus 11: 10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

7. Leviticus 21: 20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20? Or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19: 27. How should they die?

9, I know from Leviticus 11: 6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19: 19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Leviticus 24: 10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Leviticus 20: 14).

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I’m confident you can help.

Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan,


(It would be a damn shame if we couldn’t own a Canadian)

There are numerous versions of this letter, including ones that ascribe it to a US resident known only as ‘Jim,’ to ‘J Kent Ashcroft,’ ‘K James Atkinson,’ ‘Carole M. Cusack, Lecturer, School of Studies in Religion, University of Sydney,’ ‘Steve Turner,’ and to ‘James M. Kauffman, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Special Education, University of Virginia.’

The Jesuit commentator, James Martin, says this letter has been widely circulated on the web since it first appeared in 2000. He says that, despite difficulties in ascertaining its origin,‘ it is a healthy antidote to Scriptural literalism of any sort.’

Lady Margaret Beaufort,
a patron of colleges and theology
and one-time resident of Woking

A portrait of Lady Margaret Beaufort from the Master’s Lodge in Saint John’s College, Cambridge

Patrick Comerford

I spent two working days in Woking this week, taking part in the annual residential meeting of the the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). Despite my plans, I never managed to get to see the ruins of Woking Palace, the residence of many royal favourites until it fell into ruins in the mid-17th century. But perhaps its most interesting resident, and the one with any theological interest, was Lady Margaret Beaufort who acquired it with the third of her four husbands, Sir Henry Stafford, by royal grant in 1466.

Lady Margaret Beaufort (1441/1443-1509) was the mother of Henry VII and grandmother of Henry VIII. Although she was never a queen or a princess, the historical novelist Philippa Gregory has labelled her the ‘Red Queen.’ She rose to prominence through astute marriages and careful manoeuvring through courts and politics during the War of the Roses, and could be described as the matriarch of the House of Tudor.

But she also founded many educational and religious institutions. She established the Lady Margaret’s Professorship of Divinity at the University of Cambridge in 1502. That year, she also endowed a lectureship in divinity at the University of Oxford, first held by John Roper. It became the Lady Margaret Professorship of Divinity, held with a canonship at Christ Church, Oxford.

She was also responsible for establishing two Cambridge colleges. In 1505 she refounded and enlarged God’s House as Christ’s College, Cambridge, with a royal charter from the king, and has been honoured ever since as the Foundress of the College. Saint John’s College, Cambridge, was founded by her estate in 1511, either at her direct behest or at the suggestion of her chaplain, John Fisher. Land that she owned around Great Bradley in Suffolk was bequeathed to Saint John’s.

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, the first Oxford college to admit women, was founded in 1878 and is named after her. There is a statue of her in the college chapel.

The Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology (MBIT) in Cambridge is a Roman Catholic offering transformative experiences for its students. It is based at Lady Margaret Beaufort Convent, Grange Road, Cambridge. Its primary mission is to educate and theologically empower women in the Church. It also provides a space for theological reflection and spiritual formation. It is a member of the Cambridge Theological Federation (CTF).

She founded a school in Wimborne that later to became Queen Elizabeth’s School, Wimborne Minster. Margaret Beaufort Middle School in Riseley, Bedfordshire, near her birthplace, is also named after her.

Lady Margaret Beaufort’s coat of arms on the gatehouse at Christ’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Lady Margaret was born at Bletsoe Castle, Bedfordshire, on 31 May in either 1441 or 1443. She was the daughter and sole heiress of John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset (1404-1444), a legitimised grandson of John of Gaunt – 1st Duke of Lancaster and third surviving son of King Edward III – and his mistress Katherine Swynford.

Margaret was married four times. She was first married to John de la Pole in 1444, when she was perhaps a year old but certainly no more than three. But she never recognised this marriage, it was dissolved and King Henry VI granted her wardship to his own half-brothers, Jasper and Edmund Tudor. In her will 1472, she refers to Edmund Tudor as her first husband. Under canon law, Margaret was not bound by the marriage contract as she was entered into the marriage before reaching the age of 12.

Even before the annulment of her first marriage, Henry VI chose Margaret as a bride for his half-brother, Edmund Tudor. Edmund was the eldest son Owen Tudor and the king’s mother, Catherine of Valois.

Margaret was 12 when she married the 24-year-old Edmund Tudor on 1 November 1455. The Wars of the Roses had just broken out and Edmund, a Lancastrian, was taken prisoner by Yorkist forces within a year. He died of the plague in captivity at Carmarthen on 3 November 1456, leaving a 13-year-old widow who was seven months pregnant with their child.

Margaret was taken into the care of her brother-in-law, Jasper Tudor, at Pembroke Castle, and there she gave birth on 28 January 1457 to her only child, Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII. The birth was particularly difficult, because of her age and her size, and she never gave birth to another child.

From the age of two, Henry lived with his father’s family in Wales, and from 14 he lived in exile in France.

On 3 January 1458, still a teenager, the widowed Margaret married her third husband, Sir Henry Stafford (1425-1471), son of Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham. They were second cousins, and they moved into Woking Palace which she restored.

Stafford died in 1471 of wounds at the Battle of Barnet, fighting for the Yorkists. At 28, Margaret was a widow once again.

The gatehouse at Saint John’s College is similar in many ways to its counterpart at Christ’s College (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Her fourth marriage was with Thomas Stanley, the Lord High Constable and King of Mann in 1472. At first, this was a marriage of convenience, and Margaret may have never seen herself as a member of the Stanley family. But this marriage allowed her to return to the court of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, and she was chosen by Queen Elizabeth as the godmother to one of her daughters.

With Edward IV’s death and the seizure of the throne by Richard III, Margaret was soon back at court, working with the new queen, Anne Neville. But Richard III then stripped her of all her titles and estates, stopping short of a full attainder by transferring her property to her husband.

Meanwhile, Margaret was secretly plotting with the dowager queen, Elizabeth Woodville, and was probably involved in Buckingham’s rebellion. It was presumed that Queen Elizabeth’s sons, the Princes in the Tower, had been murdered, it was agreed that Margaret’s son, Henry, would be betrothed to Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of Elizabeth and Edward IV. This created a marriage alliance with potential to attract support from both Yorkists and Lancastrians.

Margaret’s husband Thomas Stanley had fought for Richard III in the Buckingham rebellion. But he did not respond to the call to fight at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485 and remained aloof from the battle, even though his eldest son, George Stanley, was held hostage by Richard III.

After Bosworth, Stanley placed the crown on the head of his stepson, Henry VII, who later made him Earl of Derby. Margaret was then styled Countess of Richmond and Derby and assumed the title of the King’s Mother.

Lady Margaret Beaufort’s statue on the gatehouse at Christ’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Later in her marriage, Margaret preferred living alone, and she took a vow of chastity in 1499 in the presence of Richard FitzJames, Bishop of London. She moved away from her husband and lived alone at Collyweston, Northamptonshire, near Stamford. She renewed those vows in 1504.

Margaret translated and published one of the most widely read devotional texts of all time, the Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. She was a sponsor of the printer Caxton and was, therefore, a major supporter of the new media of her day.

She died in the Deanery at Westminster Abbey on 29 June 1509. This was the day after her grandson’s 18th birthday, and just over two months after the death of her son. John Fisher preached the sermon at her funeral. She is buried in the Henry VII Chapel in Westminster Abbey. Her tomb is now located between the later graves of William III and Mary II and the tomb of Mary Queen of Scots.

Erasmus wrote the Latin inscription on her tomb: ‘Margaret, Countess of Richmond, mother of Henry VII, grandmother of Henry VIII, who donated funds for three monks of this abbey, a grammar school in Wimborne, a preacher in the whole of England, two lecturers in Scripture, one at Oxford, the other at Cambridge, where she also founded two colleges, one dedicated to Christ, and the other to St John, the Evangelist.’

Lady Margaret Beuafort’s coat of arms at the gatehouse at Saint John’s College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Chapel of Christ’s College was consecrated on or around 1 June 1510 by the then Bishop of Ely, James Stanley, a stepson of Lady Margaret Beaufort. A pious woman, it is said that even before the chapel was consecrated she heard Mass from a gallery now represented by a window in the south wall of the chapel, although the chapel was not formally consecrated until a year after her death.

Her portraits hang in the Great Halls and other college rooms at both Christ’s College and Saint John’s College, Cambridge. Both colleges use her heraldic arms and motto as their own. The Lady Margaret Society and the Beaufort Club at Christ’s, and the Lady Margaret Boat Club at Saint John’s are named after her.

According to Cambridge myth, the name Lady Margaret was adopted after the Saint John’s Boat Club was banned from using that name. However, the club was probably named after its boat, as was custom in the formative years of college rowing. The alumni race as Lady Somerset Boat Club.

Her son was Henry VII of England. His first parliament recognised her right to hold property independently from her husband, as if she were unmarried. Henry VIII often visited Woking Palace and throughout his reign it underwent regular maintenance as well as some alterations. But i never got to see its ruins this week.

Lady Margaret Boat Club in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

28 November 2019

Woking Mosque and
the Irish peer who almost
became King of Albania

The Shah Jahan Mosque on Oriental Road, Woking … built in 1889, it is the first purpose-built mosque on these islands (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Back in the 1980s, there was an old joke among journalists that it was sure sign of folly to be the pretender to the throne of Albania; it was an even greater folly to go to Albania to claim that throne.

But did you ever hear of the Irish peer and engineer who lived in Woking, who went bankrupt almost a century ago and who was offered the throne of Albania, possibly on three occasions, in the 1920s?

Lord Headley was one of the most prominent early converts to Islam in England, generations before Muslims arrived in significant numbers from India and Pakistan, and was a leading member of the mosque in Woking.

The Shah Jahan Mosque on Oriental Road is a 10 or 15 minute walk from Saint Columba’s House, where I have been staying in Woking this week. It was built in 1889, and is now one of Woking’s great architectural treasures. But it is also known as Britain’s first purpose-built mosque.

The mosque was the inspiration of the orientalist Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner (1840-1899). Leitner, who was born into a Jewish family in Budapest and died in Bonn, was a keen linguist and said to be fluent in 40 or 50 languages. At one time, he was prodigious interpreter for the British army during the Crimean War, reaching the rank of colonel at the age of 15.

He moved from Constantinople to London, and in the hope of becoming an Anglican priest and studied theology at King’s College, London. But he then then converted to Islam, and was instrumental in founding the University of Lahore and the Oriental College in Woking.

The mosque in Woking was built in the grounds of Leitner’s Oriental College, which gave its name to Oriental Road. It was funded mainly by Shahjehan, Begum of Bhopal (1868-1901), one of the four women to become the Muslim royal ruler of Bhopal between 1819 and 1926.

The mosque was designed by the architect William Isaac Chambers (1847-1924) in what was has been described as a ‘Persian-Saracenic Revival’ style and is built in Bath and Bargate stone. It has a dome, minarets, and a courtyard, and was described by the Pevsner Architectural Guides as ‘extraordinarily dignified.’

A prominent early members of the mosque in Woking was the Irish peer Rowland George Allanson Allanson-Winn (1855-1935), 5th Baron Headley, who was an early convert to Islam.

The title of Lord Headley, Baron Allanson and Winn, of Aghadoe in Co Kerry, dates back to 1797, when it was given to Sir George Allanson-Winn, a former Baron of the Court of the Exchequer and MP for Ripon, who married into the Blennerhassett family in Co Kerry. The third Lord Headley sat in the House of Lords as an Irish Representative Peer in 1868-1877, as did his son, the fourth Lord Headley (1883-1913). He was succeeded by his cousin, Rowland Allanson-Winn, as 5th Baron Headley.

Lord Headley was an Irish peer, took his title from Aghadoe, near Killarney, Co Kerry, and was once a Justice of the Peace for Co Kerry. He was born in London, and was educated at Westminster School and Trinity College Cambridge. He studied for the Bar at the Middle Temple, them switched to engineering and became a civil engineer.

For many years after qualifying as an engineer, he was engaged in foreshore protection work in Ireland and used the low groyne system and extending these groynes into deep water by means of chains, cables and concrete blocks. He superintended coastal defence works at Youghal, Co Cork, and Glenbeigh, Co Kerry, and carried out similar work on the coast to the north of Bray Harbour, Co Wicklow. He stood as the Conservative and Unionist candidate in South Kerry in 1892, but received only 86 votes. Later, from 1896, he worked on building roads in India, and in 1902 and 1903 he won the Silver Medals of the Institute of Civil Engineers of Ireland.

In 1906, the Arklow Harbour Commissioners appointed him the chief engineer for extending the south breakwater of the harbour, but his plans were abandoned the following year in favour of a different scheme proposed by John Purser Griffith.

He inherited his Irish peerage when his cousin Charles died in 1913, and with the title inherited the family estates in Co Kerry. His homes in Ireland were at Inseidin, Coliemore Road, Dalkey, and Glenbeigh, Killarney. In the year he inherited his family titles and estates in Ireland, he also converted to Islam on 16 November 1913, and adopted the Muslim name Shaikh Rahmatullah al-Farooq. He set up the British Muslim Society in 1914, was the author of several books on Islam, and twice made the Hajj to Mecca.

Headley was declared bankrupt in 1922. A year later, he was offered the throne of Albania in 1923, along with $500,000 and $50,000 a year, but turned down the offer. He claimed to have been offered the throne of Albania on three occasions, but turned down each invitation, saying ‘the only thing that goes with it is trouble and the almost certainty of assassination.’

Albania became, at least nominally, a parliamentary democracy in 1924. But President Ahmed Bey Zogu proclaimed himself King of the Albanians as Zog I in 1928, and tried to establish a constitutional monarchy.

When Fascist Italy invaded Albania in 1939, Zog fled the country, and King Vittorio Emanuele of Italy was proclaimed the new King. After the collapse of Ever Hoxha’s regime, Zog’s son, Crown Prince Leka (1939-2011), was the pretender to the Albanian throne until he died in 2011.

Meanwhile, Lord Headley died on 22 June 1935, and was buried in Brookwood Cemetery, near Woking. The reportof his funeral in The Times noted that his cousin, the Revd WN Manning, ‘was unavoidably prevented from being present.’ The Headley title became extinct when his younger son, Charles Allanson-Winn (1902-1994), died in 1994.

Inside the Shah Jahan Mosque on Oriental Road, Woking (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The call of Saint Andrew and
the mission of the Church

Saint Andrew the First-Called … an icon in the chapel in Saint Columba’s House, Woking (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

28 November 2019,

7.45 a.m.
, USPG Trustees residential meeting,

Saint Columba’s House, Maybury Hill, Woking, Surrey

Readings: Isaiah 52: 7-10; Psalm 19: 1-6; Romans 10: 12-18; Matthew 4: 18-22.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

I love the football transfer window: waiting to see who is going to move where. As an Aston Villa fan, I can always live in hope.

Today, we have transferred Saint Andrew the Apostle. We ought to be celebrating him on Saturday [30 November 2019], but we have transferred him to today.

Appropriate he should get that call, for Saint Andrew is known as the first-called of the disciples.

Before he was called, Saint Andrew was a fisherman, an every-day ordinary-day commercial occupation, working on the Lake of Galilee in partnership with his brother Simon Peter. It is said that when Saint John the Baptist began to preach, Saint Andrew became one of his closest disciples.

When he heard Christ’s call by the sea to follow him, Saint Andrew hesitated for a moment, not because he had any doubts about that call, but because he wanted to bring his brother with him. He left his nets behind and went to Peter and, as Saint John’s Gospel recalls, he told him: ‘We have found the Messiah … [and] he brought Simon to Jesus’ (John 1: 41, 42).

1, My first point: The call in today’s Gospel reading – to Peter and Andrew, to James and John, the sons of Zebedee – comes to us as individuals and in groups. It is not a story of an either/or choice between proclaiming the Gospel to individuals or groups, but a both/and choice.

And this is a two-way call, as Saint Paul reminds us in the Epistle reading: God calls us, and we call to God.

2, My second point: Saint Paul’s inclusive language – ‘Lord of all’ … ‘generous to all’ … ‘Everyone who calls’ … ‘all the earth’ – is unambiguous in ruling out all discrimination: ‘For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek.’

But that particular form of discrimination is already, inherently rejected in the Gospel reading. There are two brothers, one with a very Jewish name, Simon from the Hebrew שִׁמְעוֹן, meaning ‘listen’ and ‘best’; and one with a very Greek name, Andrew, Ἀνδρέας, meaning ‘manly,’ even ‘brave’ … ‘strong’ … ‘courageous.’

From the very beginning, the call of Christ rejects the most obvious discrimination between Jew and Greek. Standing against discrimination is inherently built into the mission of the Church.

3, My third point: On my way to and from trustee meetings, I try to visit one or two London churches, particularly one of the surviving Christopher Wren churches. One of these churches, Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe on Queen Victoria Street. It is two blocks south of Saint Paul’s Cathedral and close to Blackfriars station, and is the last of Wren’s city churches.

The church was destroyed by German bombs during the Blitz in World War II, but was rebuilt and rededicated in 1961.

As the bitter weather of winter takes hold, I am reminded of this prayer, appropriate for Advent and this winter weather, I found at Saint Andrew’s and which the church offers for people who have no shelter on the streets:

God of compassion,
your love for humanity was revealed in Jesus,
whose earthly life began in the poverty of a stable
and ended in the pain and isolation of the cross:
we hold before you those who are homeless and cold
especially in this bitter weather.
Draw near and comfort them in spirit
and bless those who work to provide them
with shelter, food and friendship.
We ask this in Jesus’ name.

Saint Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe is the last of Christopher Wren’s city churches (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


Almighty God,
who gave such grace to your apostle Saint Andrew
that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ
and brought his brother with him:
call us by your holy Word
and give us grace to follow without delay
and to tell the good news of your kingdom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

may the gifts we have received at your table
keep us alert for your call
that we may always be ready to answer,
and, following the example of Saint Andrew,
always be ready to bear our witness
to our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The cloister-like colonnade on the north side of the former Saint Andrew’s Church in Suffolk Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 4: 18-22 (NRSVA)

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake – for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.’ 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

There are no princesses at
Woking Palace today, and
no princes at Pizza Express

Pizza Express has become the most photographed premises in Woking (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Apart from having the most famous – or infamous – Pizza Express in England, Woking can boast it has the church with one of the oldest doors in England, along with the oldest purpose-built mosque in the country, and England’s first working crematorium.

This is a large town in north-west Surrey, on the south-west fringes of Greater London, about 24 minutes from Waterloo station. Woking town itself has a population of 62,796, but the total population is more than 105,000 in 2011.

Working claims to date back to the eighth century, when there was a monastery at a site known as Wochingas. It appears as Wochinges in the Domesday Book in 1086, when it was associated with Osbern FitzOsbern, Bishop of Exeter.

Woking has many churches, including Saint Mary’s Church in Horsell and Saint Peter’s Church in Old Woking. Saint Peter’s has the oldest door in Surrey, said to be the third oldest door in Britain.

Woking Palace is a former manor house of the Royal Manor of Woking near Old Woking and dates back to 1272. The manor was acquired by royal grant in 1466 by Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII, and her third of four husbands, Sir Henry Stafford.

Woking Manor House was converted into a palace by Henry VII in 1503 and was later remodelled by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.

James I granted the estate to Sir Edward Zouch in 1620 who may well have allowed its remains to be plundered to build Hoe Bridge Place, his new mansion about a mile away. Zouch was one of the proprietors of the Plymouth Colony in America and the North Virginia Company.

Zouch was the keeper of Woking Park when he acquired Woking Palace in 1620 from a cash-strapped crown for an annual rent of £100 and the duty of serving the first dish to the king at a feast on Saint James’s Day. By the reign of Charles II (1660-1685), the palace appears to have been abandoned and virtually ruined.

Modern Woking grow up in the area to the south of the Basingstoke Canal when it opened in 1794, and it expanded rapidly after the railway lines from London to the south coast and the south-west reached here in 1838. As the town grew and expanded, Woking Crematorium at St John’s was established in 1878 and became Britain’s first crematorium. It was first tested on 17 March 1879, when the body of a horse was cremated.

Britain’s first purpose-built mosque, the Shah Jahan Mosque on Oriental Road, was built in 1889. It was commissioned by Shahjehan, Begum of Bhopal (1868-1901), one of the four female Muslim rulers of Bhopal between 1819 and 1926.

It has been described by the Pevsner Architectural Guides as ‘extraordinarily dignified.’ But perhaps I should say a little more in a posting later today about this mosque and the Irish peer who became one of its most famous members, and a little more about Lady Margaret Beaufort tomorrow.

Woking has elected Conservative MPs since the constituency was formed in 1950, and Jonathan Lord, who has been the MP since 2010, is standing for the Tories in Woking once again in next month’s general election.

Today there are no princes in Woking, Woking Palace lays in ruins, there is no sign at Pizza Express declaring ‘by appoint to HRH …’, and in this Tory heartland of Surrey I could see no signs that Britain is the middle of a deeply divisive election campaign.

There are no commemorative plaques outside Pizza Express on Goldsworth Road in Woking (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

27 November 2019

Staying in a retreat house
with links with a martyr
and nun from Limerick

Saint Columba’s House on Maybury Hill in Woking, where I am staying this week

Patrick Comerford

I am staying at Saint Columba’s House on Maybury Hill in Woking, taking part in this week’s residential meeting of the Trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

Saint Columba’s House is a beautifully refurbished Christian retreat and conference centre a mile from the centre of Woking and just 30 minutes by train from the heart London. It offers facilities for church group meetings, combining a quiet atmosphere and Christian hospitality with facilities for meetings and accommodation.

There are 10 meeting rooms, 26 en-suite bedrooms, two worship spaces. The chapel and oratory are places of Christian worship and rooms are let on the understanding that the Christian ethos of the house is respected. People from any Christian tradition are encouraged to worship in any of the spaces.

Saint Columba’s House is part of the registered charity, Saint Peter’s Home and Sisterhood, and maintains its original Anglican foundation.

The Sisterhood of St Peter was founded as a new Anglican religious community on 25 June 1861 through the active support of Benjamin Lancaster, a London businessman. Susan Oldfield was appointed the first Reverend Mother for the Sisterhood, and the community became actively engaged in health and care provision.

At first, the community was based in Brompton Square in London. The sisters moved to Kilburn in North London a few years later in 1869. Saint Peter’s Home, Woking, was built in 1883. It became the Mother house of the Community during World War II when the Kilburn Convent was destroyed by bombing.

Over the decades the Woking complex had a convent, a hospital, a home for the elderly, a guest house, a home for adults with learning difficulties and a retreat house. At its height there were a number of additional houses around the country and a new community was established as a mission order in Seoul in Korea in 1925 by an Irish-born nun who spent much of her childhood in Limerick.

Mother Mary Clare (1883-1950) was born Clare Emma Whtity at her mother’s family home in Fenloe, near Newmarket-on-Fergus, Co Clare, on 30 May 1883, during one of the many family holidays in the Hickman family home. Her father, Dr Richard Whitty (1844-1897), a medical doctor and a land agent, was born in Rathvilly, Co Carlow, into a prominent Church of Ireland clerical family.

Her maternal grandmother was a daughter of Bishop Edward Stopford of Meath. Through her mother, she was a second cousin of Catherine Amelia O’Brien or Kitty O’Brien (1881-1963), the stained glass artist of An Túr Gloine studios; the Irish nationalist and historian Alice Stopford-Green (1847-1929); and the controversial Irish Anglican priest and hymnwriter, Stopford Brooke (1832-1916), who translated Still the Night, a version of Silent Night that has lost popularity.

Clare Emma Whitty spent much of her childhood at No 11 The Crescent, Limerick, on the corner of Barrington Street and almost opposite the Jesuit church. Later, received training in art in Paris, where she became fluent in French, and then worked as a church worker at Saint Alban’s in Birmingham, whose vicar, the Revd Alfred (Cecil) Cooper, later became the fourth Bishop of Korea..

She joined the Anglican Community of Saint Peter, then based in Kilburn, in 1912 and took her vows as a sister in 1915, taking the name Mary Clare. Before the outbreak of World War I, the Revd Mark Trollope (1862-1930), who had been vicar of Saint Augustine’s in Kilburn, became the third Anglican Bishop of Korea. He asked Sister Mary Clare to help set up a society of Korean sisters in Seoul. But World War I disrupted those plans; she eventually reached Korea in 1923, and began Korean language studies.

With the help of Bishop Trollope, she founded the Society of the Holy Cross in Seoul in 1925 and was appointed novice mistress. She was back in England for a time in 1928-1929, when she lived at the mother house of the Community of Saint Peter in Kilburn. She then returned to Seoul to take up her role as the first Mother Superior of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. During World War II, Mother Mary Clare was repatriated to England in 1941.

She left England in 1946, and returned through Kure in Japan to Korea, arriving back in January 1947. On the ship’s passenger list, she described herself as a teacher.

On the outbreak of the Korean War, she turned down an offer from the British embassy to evacuate from Seoul, deciding to stay with her congregation. When the North Korean army besieged Seoul in June 1950, she took refuge with other foreign civilians in the British Embassy. But they were interned by the North Korean forces as they consolidated their occupation of the Korean capital.

On the retreat of the North Korean forces from Seoul following the success of the United Nations forces landing at Inchon, Mother Mary Clare and other foreign civilian prisoners, among them many Christian missionaries, were moved forcibly to the northern part of North Korea.

The last part of their ‘Death March,’ began on 30 October and involved a forced march of over 100 miles in early winter with little food or warm clothing. Mother Mary Clare died on 6 November 1950 near Chunggangjinon. She was buried in a shallow grave near the Chosin Reservoir in the north-west part of North Korea by five French-speaking Roman Catholic sisters. They used an improvised bier to bring her to the top of a neighbouring hill, close to the camp, where they dug her grave.

Ten months after the end of the Korean War, the Church Times published a short obituary notice in April 1954 that described her as a ‘devoted and courageous English Sister.’

Today the Community of the Holy Cross in Seoul continues to thrive as an independent order with close links to the Sisterhood of Saint Peter.

But the numbers of Sisters in England had dwindled by the late 1980s. The old convent was sold, and a new modern nursing home and convent building was opened in 1988. Sadly, in 2002 it too had to close.

Inside one of the chapels at Saint Columba’s House in Woking