05 June 2020

The exotic canon and count
in Georgian Limerick who
lived a bacchanalian life

Bourchier’s Castle on the shores of Lough Gur, once at the heart of the Co Limerick estate of the Fane and de Salis families (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing last night about Sir James Fitzgerald of Lichfield and his family who lived at Castle Ishen in Co Cork and laid bizarre but unchallenged claims to a title that had been created originally 200 years earlier for another Fitzgerald family that lived at Springfield Castle in Co Limerick.

Their claims were accepted throughout the late Georgian and Victorian eras – who would challenge the claims of a family that included one of Nelson’s admirals, two cathedral deans, a number of peers, and one of the largest titled landowners in Co Cork.

Titles both fanciful and romantic are found among the clergy too. At one time, for example there were not one but two priests in the Diocese of Limerick and Ardfert who claimed the title of ‘The O’Hanlon’ or head of the O’Hanlon Clan, although, as far as I can see, they were not related to each other apart from having the same family name.

But despite all the peers, baronets, knights and family chiefs among the priests and bishops in these dioceses, none had honorifics that sound quite as exotic as those of Canon Henry Jerome de Salis – and none, probably, should have faced the safe scrutiny as he deserved when it comes to Christian beliefs and dogma.

Henry Jerome de Salis (1740-1810) was the second of four sons of Jerome (Hieronimus) de Salis, 2nd Count de Salis-Soglio. His mother, the Hon Mary Fane, was the eldest daughter of Charles Fane (1676-1744), MP for Killybegs (1715-1719) and later 1st Viscount Fane and Baron Loughguyre (sic).

The Loughguyre name in the titles held by Henry’s grandfather refer to Lough Gur in Co Limerick, where the Fane family had inherited part of a large estate, shared with the Montagu family, Earls of Sandwich – as in Lord Sandwich who invented an early English example of ‘fast food.’

Henry’s father, Jérôme de Salis, 2nd Count de Salis-Soglio (1709-1794), sometime British Resident (ambassador) in the Grisons, was also known as Hieronimus, Gerolamo, Geronimo, Harry or Jerome. The Emperor Francis I gave his father, Peter de Salis, and all his descendants were given the title of Count in the Habsburg or Holy Roman Empire by the Emperor Francis I in 1748.

Henry Jerome de Salis was born at Hanover Square in London on 20 August 1740. With two of his brothers, Charles and Peter, he went to Eton, and from there he went on to Queen’s College Oxford (BA 1761, MA 1765, BD and DD, 1777).

Henry de Salis, count and canon, was ordained deacon and priest within five days in Saint Munchin’s Church, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Through his Fane family connections in Ireland, Henry moved to Limerick, and he was ordained deacon in Saint Munchin’s Church, Limerick, on 1 November 1763 and priest five days later on 6 November by James Leslie, Bishop of Limerick. He was still only 23, but immediately his uncle Lord Fane secured his appointment as Prebendary of Kilpeacon and Vicar of Fedamore and Crecoragh in the Diocese of Limerick in 1763, and he was appointed Vicar-General of Diocese of Ardfert in 1766.

He was a young count and canon, and retained these positions until 1774, and he also became a chaplain to King George III.

But these were probably sinecures that enhanced his income, and he probably spent very little time in his parishes in this diocese. In a letter to his father in Harley Street, from Oxford on 24 September 1771 he describes ‘Lord le Despencer’s Festival at West Wycombe’ in bacchanalian terms: ‘… a newly erected Temple of Bacchus was opened in the true antique Taste.’

We went on to say, ‘The Statue of the God was crowned, and was invoked in Verse by the High Priest Montfancon and other Books of antiquities were consulted for proper Ornaments, with which Mr Dance the Painter decorated the Bacchanalians. Our Pan and Silenus were inimitable …’

He recalled that 3,000 or 4,000 people were present, and that ‘it really was a fête worthy of Versailles.’ It was probably also a fête that today would have been deemed incompatible with holding his positions in the Church of Ireland.

But de Salis continued to hold his church positions in this this diocese until 1774, when he became Rector of Saint Antholin, Watling Street, a Wren church in the City of London that was eventually demolished in 1874.

His parents appointed him gamekeeper of their manor of Dally, otherwise Dawley, near Hayes, Middlesex, in 1775. His kinsman, the fifth Earl of Chesterfield, also made him Vicar of Wing in Buckinghamshire in 1777.

Shortly after his appointment to Saint Antholin, he was married there on 17 November 1775. The Limerick and Ardfert clerical succession lists do not name his wife, but she was Julia Henrietta (Harriet) Blosset, the daughter of a Huguenot merchant in Dublin. Their only child, a daughter Henrietta, died at the age of five.

De Salis was a Justice of the Peace for Buckinghamshire, and had many secular interests. His private collection once included William Hogarth’s The Beggar’s Opera, later in the Tate Gallery.

But in his later years he seems to have been a genuinely religious man and was a subscriber to both the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge (SPCK) and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), now the Anglican mission agency USPG. He continued to hold his parishes in London and Buckinghamshire until he died on 2 May 1810.

Later in the 19th century, the Co Limerick estates of the Count de Salis still extended to over 4,000 acres in Co Limerick, with a further and 3,663 acres in Co Armagh.

The shores of Lough Gur, Co Limerick … the lake gave its name to one of the Fane family titles (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019; click on image for full-screen view)

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