04 July 2019

A missing sandwich at
Lough Gur and a glass
of wine in Cambridge

A glass of white wine on a summer afternoon on King’s Parade, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Last week, I spent a little quiet time on King’s Parade in Cambridge, enjoying the summer sunshine, the view of King’s College Chapel, the passing pleasures of families celebrating graduations, and lingering over a welcome glass of white wine.

The wine list at the Cambridge Chop House is quite unique in Cambridge as it focuses on the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. They have visited the region many times and have met most of the wine makers on their list.

But this restaurant had another unique feature: in the men’s rooms downstairs, they were playing soundtracks of Blackadder.

In ‘Ink and Incapability,’ the second episode of the third series (1987), Blackadder and Baldrick are supposed to be rewriting a lost manuscript of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary.

I walked in to hear this exchange:

Blackadder: Now, Baldrick, go to the kitchen and make me something quick and simple to eat, would you? Two slices of bread with something in between.

Baldrick: What, like Gerald, Lord Sandwich had the other day?

Blackadder: Yes, a few rounds of geralds.

Playing recordings of Blackadder on a loop in any restaurant or bar is one way to leave a long queue outside the men’s rooms. But I still had that glass of summer wine on King’s Parade to pay attention to.

Of course, there was no Gerald, Lord Sandwich, and the Cambridge Chop House is not the sort of place to include sandwiches on its menu.

But the sandwich owes its name to John Montagu (1718-1792), 4th Earl of Sandwich, who inherited large estates on the shores of Lough Gur, Co Limerick, including Bourchier’s Castle.

Bourchier’s Castle is a ruined five-storey tower house on the shores of Lough Gur, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

I had spent the previous Saturday afternoon visiting Lough Gur, 10 km south of Limerick. Admittedly, we had brought no sandwiches with us, but Lough Gur has a visitors’ centre, with a car park and picnic area, though no café or restaurant.

Beside the picnic area on the lake shore, Bourchier’s Castle is a ruined five-storey tower house. It was also known as Castle Doon and guarded the northern approach to Knockadoon on Lough Gur.

Bourchier’s Castle was built in the 16th century by Sir George Bourchier (1535-1605), a son of John Bourchier (1499-1561), 2nd Earl of Bath. The family benefitted from royal patronage, and John Bourchier was a cousin of Anne Seymour, Duchess of Somerset and sister-in-law of two queens, Jane Seymour and Catherine Parr.

Sir George Bourchier acquired 18,000 acres in Co Limerick from the estates of the Earls of Desmond by Elizabeth I in 1583. He was MP for King’s County (Offaly) in 1585-1586, and he built his castle at Lough Gur in 1586.

George Bourchier had a large family, including two sons buried in Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. His vast estates in Co Armagh and Co Limerick were inherited eventually by his fifth son, Henry Bourchier (1587-1654).

Henry Bourchier was educated at Trinity College Dublin (BA 1605, MA 1610), and was elected a fellow of the college in 1606. Although a distant heir, he became the 5th Earl of Bath in 1636 at the death of his first cousin once removed, Edward Bourchier (1590-1636), 4th Earl of Bath. During the English Civil War in the 1640s, Henry was a royalist and was jailed for his support for Charles I.

Henry died in 1654, and was buried in Tavistock, Devon. He had no male heirs, and his large estates in Ireland and England passed to his wife, Lady Rachael Fane (1613-1680), a daughter of Francis Fane, 1st Earl of Westmorland. The Co Limerick estate alone, which spilled over into Co Tipperary, covered 12,800 acres (52 sq km) and included the manors of Lough Gur and Glenogra.

As Dowager Countess of Bath, Rachael Fane was a formidable woman. One writer says, ‘She was a great lady and a busybody, and her cloud of kinsfolk held her in fear as their patroness and suzerain ... a masterful woman, she lived feared and respected by her numerous kindred whom she advanced by her interest at court.’

She secured her husband’s Irish estates for her nephew, Sir Henry Fane (1650-1706), as his guardian. His son, Charles Fane (1676-1744), was MP for Killybegs (1715-1719). On the strength of his large estates in Co Limerick and Co Armagh, including Lough Gur, he was given the titles of Viscount Fane and Baron Loughguyre [sic] in 1719.

The estates and titles, including Lough Gur, passed to Charles Fane’s son, Charles Fane (1708-1766), 2nd Viscount Fane, a Whig MP and British ambassador in Florence. But this Charles Fane had no male heirs either, and when he died his Irish estates were divided between two sisters: Mary Fane who married Jerome de Salis (1709-1794), 2nd Count de Salis; and Dorothy Fane who married John Montagu (1718-1792), 4th Earl of Sandwich.

John Montagu was a direct descendant of Sir Sidney Montagu, whose brother James Montagu (1568-1618), was the first Master of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and later Dean of Lichfield and Bishop of Bath and Well.

But John Montagu was known as one of the most corrupt and immoral politicians of his age. It was he – and not Blackadder’s Gerald – who gave his name to the humble sandwich and to the Sandwich Islands. But part of the Blackadder joke is that the word sandwich is not included in Johnson’s Dictionary, which was published in 1755.

There is no public access to Bourchier’s Castle on the shores of Lough Gur, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

At the time of Griffith’s Valuation, the Earl of Sandwich held lands in the parishes of Ballinlough, Glenogra and Tullabracky, Co Limerick. The Limerick estates of the Earl of Sandwich amounted to 3,844 acres in the 1870s, while the Count de Salis owned over 4,000 acres in Co Limerick and 3,663 acres in Co Armagh.

Other branches of the Bourchier family lived nearby at Kilcullane, Baggotstown and Maidenhall, Co Limerick. James David Bourchier (1850-1920) from Baggotstown, Co Limerick, was a journalist and political activist. He was active in the cause of Bulgarian independence and the unification of Crete with the modern Greek state. He has given his name to a street and a metro station in Sofia, and to other landmarks throughout Bulgaria.

The Sandwich Islands have since been renamed Hawaii, but the humble sandwich remains. Even if it’s not on the menu at the Cambridge Chop House, I must take a sandwich with me to Lough Gur on another week, and spend more time exploring the archaeological sites around the lake and close to Bourchier’s Castle.

A summer afternoon on the shores of Lough Gur, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019; click on image for full-screen view)

The ruins of a country
house left to decay near
Lough Gur in Co Limerick

The ruins of The Grange … left to decay since the early 1940s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

On my way to Lough Gur in east Co Limerick recently, I passed in imposing ruins of The Grange, once an elegant country house in Co Limerick with interesting associations with the O’Grady, Croker and Dyer families.

The Grange, which has been in ruins for three-quarters of a century or more, was built sometime between the 1780s and the 1810s on the site of an earlier house.

It was described in 1786 as ‘the beautiful and well-improved seat of Standish O’Grady.’ But the present house, now in ruins, may be a later building.

Local lore says that the member of the O’Grady family who built this once-elegant house had inherited his fortune from an uncle, Nicholas Grady, a barrister who became a successful gambler in Paris but who ended his life with a razor.

It was the home of Standish Grady or O’Grady in 1814 and Henry O’Grady in 1837 and at the time of Griffith’s Valuation.

The Grady or O’Grady family continued to live at The Grange until 1861, when the estate was inherited by the Croker family in 1861. Edward Croker was the son of the Revd Robert Croker of the Ballynagarde family and his wife, Margaret O’Grady of The Grange.

Ballinagarde was built in 1774 by the Croker family, originally from Devon. The best-known story about the family concerns Old John Croker. As he lay dying, he refused to believe his son, the Revd Robert Croker, who told him he was going to a better place.

‘There’s a land that is fairer and better than this you’ll regard,’ Robert told his dying father.

Old Croker surveyed his fine demesne, replied to his son ‘I doubt it,’ and promptly died. To this day, Ballinagarde is known locally as ‘I Doubt It Hall.’ The house was also the ancestral home of the notorious Richard ‘Boss’ Croker of Tammany Hall in New York.

The Revd Robert Croker and his wife Margaret O’Grady were the parents of Edward Croker, who inherited the estate at The Grange, Co Limerick, following the death of his uncle, Thomas O’Grady, in 1861. The estate included 2,121 acres in the 1870s, and the great house, The Grange, became known locally as ‘Crokers.’

The Grange was the seat of Captain Edward Croker in 1894, who was a magistrate (JP) for Co Limerick and a deputy lieutenant for the county. But Croker was also described as ‘a worthless spendthrift who brought up an arrogant race of blockheads of both sexes.’ He bankrupted his estate, and when he died unmarried in 1896 the house and the estate were inherited by his sisters, Helen who was widowed and Caroline who was single.

Helen Maria Croker married Sir Swinnerton Halliday Dyer (1833-1882), who had fought in the Crimean War, in 1858. Caroline Croker continued to live at The Grange, and the 1911 Census shows she was single, 72, and living at The Grange. The staff at the house included two domestic servants, a cook, a housemaid, a laundress, a kitchen maid, and a coachman.

Lady Dyer died in 1915, and her sister Caroline Croker died in 1926, when the furniture of the house was catalogued for sale. The house remained vacant in the decades after the Croker sisters died, and the estate was acquired by the Land Commission, which divided the lands among tenants and local small farmers.

The house may have remained in good repair for a while, but it was soon dismantled. The fireplaces, interior doors, painted or stuccoed ceilings and anything else of value was removed, and the roof was stripped, and the house was left to fall into ruin in the 1940s.

The house, now a ruin, was built as a six-bay, three-storey country house, with a breakfront to the front or south elevation, a rendered eaves course and chimney-stacks.

Despite its ruinous state, The Grange remains a prominent feature on the Co Limerick landscape, and retains much evidence of its originally grand and imposing form as well as notable classical elements, such as the window surrounds and the quoins. The intact breakfront adds to the imposing façade and enhances the vertical emphasis of tall façade.

The remains of outbuildings are evidence of the former status of the house. The surviving remains of the walled garden include rubble stone walls and a cast-iron gate.

There are cut stone sweep walls at the entrance with square-profile carved limestone piers that have barrel caps and cast-iron gates and railings. The entrance piers and gates are well-crafted and they add artistic and architectural interest to site from the roadside.

Meanwhile, Lady Dyer’s grandson, Sir John Swinnterton Dyer (1891-1917), who inherited the Dyer family title, had become a captain in the Scots Guards in World War I, was decorated with a Military Cross, and was killed in action in 1917.

One of the most distinguished members of the Dyer family in recent decades has been a distant nephew of Helen Croker, Sir (Henry) Peter Francis Swinnerton Dyer (1927-2018), a Cambridge mathematician who specialised in number theory.

He was best known for his part in the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture relating algebraic properties of elliptic curves to special values of L-functions, which was developed in the 1960s.

He was Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge (1971-1988), a Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge, Master of St Catharine’s College (1973-1983) and vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge (1979-1981).

The gates that once led into the driveway and up to The Grange (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)