23 September 2019

Rathronan churchyard has
two mausoleums recalling
O’Brien and Massy families

The Smith O’Brien Mausoleum in Rathronan churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I was speaking yesterday [23 September 2019] in Ratronan Church at an afternoon commemoration organised by Saint Kieran’s Heritage Association to remember William Smith O’Brien (1803-1864).

During the commemorations, four wreaths were laid at the door of the Smith O’Brien mausoleum to commemorate William Smith O’Brien (1803-1864), the former MP for Ennis and Limerick and leader of the Young Ireland revolt in 1848.

The Smith O’Brien family mausoleum is an imposing and beautiful structure in this small, peaceful graveyard where there are few headstones.

Before his arrest and deportation, William Smith O’Brien lived nearby at Cahermoyle House. When he died in exile in Bangor in north Wales on 16 June 1864, his body was brought back to Ireland for burial.

His body was brought by ship from Wales to Dublin, arriving at the quayside in the very early hours of the morning. Newspaper reports at the time recorded that when his body arrived on the North Wall on the morning of 23 June, about 2,000 persons lined the quays in Dublin.

His coffin was carried shoulder-high by six men along the banks of the Royal Canal and through the streets of Dublin to be taken by the Great Southern and Western Railway to Limerick railway station, and from there to Cahermoyle.

His funeral took place in Rathronan Church, which was the family’s parish church. The funeral procession was so long that it was said the hearse had reached the church while the end of the procession was still leaving Cahermoyle, 3 km away.

A year later, the Smith O’Brien family of Cahermoyle House commissioned the mausoleum in the Hiberno-Romanesque style erected in Rathronan churchyard in 1865.

The O’Brien coat-of-arms on the Smith O’Brien Mausoleum in Rathronan churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The mausoleum is also the burial place of William Smith O’Brien’s wife, Lucy Caroline (1811-1861), who died three years before him, and their eldest son Edward William O’Brien (1837-1909), who is described in one of the inscriptions as ‘A Just Man, Lover of His People.’

The mausoleum is a fine example of careful design and well executed stonework. The highly ornate façade incorporates a variety of Celtic Revival motifs and inscriptions.

The mausoleum was designed by William Fogerty in the Hiberno-Romanesque style that prefigures that of Cahermoyle House.

On the front, the carved sandstone coat of arms of the O’Brien family of Dromoland Castle is placed in the upper gable of the façade. Below this, a round-headed opening has columns supporting a tooled limestone arch and a cable-edged cut limestone arch over a double-leaf, cast-iron panelled door with an inscribed limestone tympanum overhead. The cut limestone hood-moulding ends in tooled stops on each side, with an arched diamond pattern above the hood-moulding.

The cut-stone walls have alternating limestone and sandstone courses, and a cut limestone plinth course. There are blind arcades on three sides, with carved chevrons on the arches and columns, and inscribed memorials. The oculus opening at the west side has a decorative carved sandstone surround.

The mausoleum has a pitched cut limestone roof with carved limestone Celtic cross finials and ridge tiles.

An inscription in Latin reads: Pro Libertate Patriae (‘For the Freedom of my Country’). At one end there is a signature of William Fogerty, architect, of Limerick and Dublin, and at the other end of James Cavanagh, builder, of Limerick. The cast-iron doors bear the manufacturer’s stamp, ‘Perrott, Cork.’

The architect William Fogerty (1833/1834-1878) was the second son of John Fogerty of Limerick, and a younger brother of the architect Joseph Fogerty. He studied at Queen’s College, Cork, and began practicing as an architect in Limerick with his father in the 1850s.

He moved to Dublin in 1863 or 1864, and he was working there when he designed the O’Brien mausoleum in Rathronan. After a tour of Italy with Thomas Henry Longfield in 1869, he moved to London, where his brother was already practising as an architect.

He later emigrated to New York, but he returned to Ireland in late 1874 or early 1875. He had resumed his practice at 23 Harcourt Street, Dublin, and continued to practise there until he died from smallpox at the age of 44 on 22 May 1878. He was buried in Saint Munchin’s churchyard, Limerick.

The Massy Mausoleum in Rathronan churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Smith O’Brien family mausoleum forms an interesting historical group with the ruined Church of Ireland church and the adjacent Massy Mausoleum, erected in the churchyard around 1860.

The Massy Mausoleum is designed in the Greek classical style with a gable front. It has cut limestone walls on three sides and a rubble stone wall on the fourth side.

This mausoleum is well designed and its features include a tooled limestone altar embedded on the south side with a carved inscription, a carved limestone coat of arms, a square-headed opening with a tooled limestone surround and a cast-iron panelled door with the manufacturer’s inscription.

The plaque reads, ‘Eyre Massy Esq Glenville and Chas Massy Esq Bairnvale Sydney.’ The inscription, quoting Revelation 14: 13, reads,

Blessed are the dead which die in Christ
from henceforth: Yea saith the Spirit,
That they may rest from their labours;
and their works do follow them.

The Massy coat-of-arms on the Massy Mausoleum in Rathronan churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The disused railway station at Ardagh postdates the funeral of William Smith O’Brien. This detached, two-bay, two-storey former railway station with a dormer attic was built ca 1867.

The former station building retains much of its original form and fabric. Its stone construction and gabled form are characteristic features of railway structures of its time in Ireland. It incorporates a number of decorative features, including decorative bargeboards, which contrast and add interest to the rusticated limestone walls.

The disused railway station at Ardagh, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Comberford Processional
Cross finds new home in
the Spital Chapel, Tamworth

The Comberford Processional Cross is now in the Spital Chapel of Saint James, Tamworth (Photograph copyright: Susan Biggs)

Patrick Comerford

I was glad to hear during my visit to Lichfield last week that the processional cross from Church of Saint Mary and Saint George in Comberford is safe and has been moved to a neighbouring church.

The last service was held in the church in Comberford six years ago on 13 October 2013 before the church doors were closed for the final time. The church was built over 100 years ago on land donated by the Paget family to the Lichfield Diocesan Trust to build a mission church.

The closure came only months after the residents of Wigginton Parish, including the villagers in Comberford, had raised £6,000 to repair the roof of the church.

A sad report in the Tamworth Herald in 2017 talked about the local residents being distressed at the state of the church in Comberford three or four years after its closure.

In a report headed ‘Tamworth family furious after they claim diocese left church ‘gutted’,’ Jordan Coussins reported how a heartbroken family spoke of their disgust after the church in Comberford was gutted of its artefacts by the local diocese.

Descendants of the Paget family, who own the land on which Saint Mary’s and Saint George’s Church stands, say the ‘Church of England has taken contents not belonging to them,’ according to the report.

The church, which stands on Manor Lane, has been at the heart of a legal battle of ownership since it was closed and the Paget family claims that the diocese tried to sell the church.

Charles Hodgetts, a direct descendent of Francis Paget, a former owner of the church site, vowed to continue the fight for justice. ‘It’s tragic,’ he told the Tamworth Herald. ‘It’s complete vandalism what they have done to it. They have just ripped out items that were gifted by the Paget family.

‘These things should never have been taken from here – the church has been left like a building site. There is loose wiring everywhere. They have reduced a once beautiful church into nothing. ‘It should never have come to this. I’m so disappointed with the state it has been left in.’

The church was originally donated to a Lichfield Diocesan Trust for the people of Comberford by the Paget family who lived at Elford Hall. The first stone was laid in 1914 and the building was completed in 1915.

Joanne Cliffe, who is an active member of the Friends of Comberford Church, told the Tamworth Herald: ‘What we want to do is, first and foremost, get the building reinstated as it was when the church closed. And the now owners have agreed for the building to be for the community. The aim is to hold some events for the community as a whole, not just the people of Comberford.’

The church is of architectural interest as one of the churches designed by Andrew Capper. A well-known Gothic revival architect, he worked closely with George Edmund Street. His other churches in the Diocese of Lichfield included Saint Leonard’s Church, Dunston, South Staffordshire; Saint Cuthbert’s, Donington, a Grade II Listed Building; and, I think, Saint Mary’s, Dunstall. His work alone makes the church in Comberford of interest to architectural and heritage groups.

At the time, a spokesman for the Diocese of Lichfield told the Tamworth Herald: ‘Following the church’s closure in 2013 it was agreed to give the building to the family who originally donated the land on which it stands. Under due legal process, after permission was granted by the Chancellor of the Diocese, the fixtures of the building were removed and given to other local churches.’

Last week, the Tamworth and District Civic Society reported that the processional cross from Comberford Church has been relocated to the chancel of the 13th century Spital Chapel of Saint James, in Wigginton Road, Tamworth.

‘Many people would rather that Comberford Church was still in use and actively supported by the residents of Comberford. But, in the absence of that, at least the cross has a good home and is still within the ecclesiastical parish of Wigginton,’ the society said.

The south door of the 13th century Spital Chapel of Saint James on Wigginton Road, Tamworth (Photographs copyright: Susan Biggs)

The Spital Chapel was open to the public on Sunday afternoon [22 September 2019] as part of the programme for National Heritage Open Day in Tamworth.

The Spital Chapel was originally built in 1274 by Sir Philip de Marmion, who owned Tamworth Castle. There are records of a chantry or hospital founded by Sir Philip Marmion between 1266 and 1275. It is known as Spital Chapel because it is said to have served as a hospital at the time of the Black Death in 1349.

The Spital Chapel’s west wall was restored in 1914 by Alfred Sadler, a local businessman and former Mayor of Tamworth, as a memorial to his wife Emily. The south door was originally the main entrance of the Spital Chapel, but nowadays access is through the north door.

Spital Chapel is now hidden behind housing in the fork of land between Wigginton and Ashby Roads. It is sign-posted from Wigginton Road, just past the Spital Tennis and Bowling Club.

The chapel can seat about 50 people, services are held regularly, and there is an active Friends of Spital support group.

The Tamworth and District Civic Society also brought ‘King Charles I’ back to Tamworth yesterday afternoon [22 September 2019] as it continued its celebrations of the 400th Anniversary of the three-day visit of King James I and the future King Charles I to Tamworth in August 1619.

During that visit, King James I stayed at Tamworth Castle while Prince Charles was the guest of the Comberford family at the Moat House on Lichfield Street.

The visit was commemorated at the Moat House last month [August 2019], and Tamworth and District Civic Society brought ‘King Charles’ to the Town Hall in Market Street yesterday afternoon as the Mayor and civic society volunteers opened the 1701 civic treasure-house to the public, with the civic silver and regalia on display in the Mayor's Parlour.

During the afternoon, the unique double-helix staircase in the tower of Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth, was open to the public for the third and last time this year. The top of the tower offers breath-taking views of Tamworth, while the climb down offers an opportunity to visit the belfry of 10 bells and to try bell-ringing in the ringing chamber.

Guided tours were available inside Saint Editha’s Church, which includes the Comberford Chapel and monuments to the Comberford and Comerford families.

The Spital Chapel was restored in 1916 (Photograph copyright: Susan Biggs)