06 July 2020

I don’t know if I have
told you, but Luther was
one of my predecessors

Ballycahane Church, near Croom, Co Limerick … Canon George Minchin Luther was once Prebendary of Ballycahane, a stall now held by the Precentor of Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I can say truly – although, perhaps, with tongue in cheek – that Luther was once one of my predecessors. Not Martin Luther, I hasten to add, but Canon George Minchin Luther, who was once Prebendary of Ballycahane in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and who was one of three members of the Luther family who served as priests in the Diocese of Limerick in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.

A Luther family has been living in Ireland for almost 400 years. They originated in Essex, but claim kinship with Martin Luther and that they moved to England during the reign of Henry VIII. It seems more likely, however, that their surname was a toponymic, derived from a house with ‘lutherns’ or dormer windows.

Their main house in Essex was Great Myles, which was demolished in the early 19th century. However, a house named Luthers, is still standing near Waltham Abbey, and its residents included Sir Roger Casement, who was a tenant there from 1912 until his execution in 1916.

The Luther family spread from Essex to Somerset, and the first Luther to arrive in Ireland was John Luther, born in Somerset in 1623. He moved to Ireland ca 1650, and settled in Youghal, Co Cork. He was the Bailiff of Youghal in 1659.

A vault recently discovered in Saint Mary’s Collegiate Church, Youghal, is dated February 1661, and contains the remains of John Luther, an alderman of the town and his wife, Elizabeth.

Another John Luther was Mayor of Youghal in 1666 and 1681. He built a large house at Windmill Lane, Youghal, with an impressive oak staircase, but was demolished in the 1980s. He died in 1697 and was the father of Henry Luther, MP for Youghal (1703-1713), who married into the Moore family from Clonmel, Co Tipperary.

Another member of the family, Thomas Luther, moved to Clonmel about 1726 and became a freeman of the borough. His son, Thomas Luther, was Mayor of Clonmel in 1756-1759, and a successful merchant. When Thomas Luther died in Clonmel, his son Samuel Luther inherited an estate worth £1,000 a year.

Thomas Luther appears to have been the father of the Revd Guy Luther (1737-1799), who was the Rector of Derrygalvin in Co Limerick (1773-1792) and the Vicar of Bruff and Kilbreedy Minor in Limerick (1792-1799) until he died in 1799.

Anthony Guy Luther of Anne Street, Clonmel, married Catherine Minchin Crofton, (1769-1851). She was widowed and living at Altavilla, the Crofton family home in Co Laois, when she died in 1851.

Guy Luther, who was living at Altavilla at the time of Griffith’s Valuation, was the father of another Guy Luther, who married Alicia Maria Fitzmaurice (1810-1886) in Carlow in 1832. This Guy Luther died in 1891, and is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.

Guy and Alice Luther were the parents of two Church of Ireland priests, Canon John Fitzmaurice Luther (1835-1907) and Canon George Minchin Luther (1846-1911), who were born in Dublin, and who both served in the Diocese of Limerick in the end late 19th and early 20th century.

Canon John Fitzmaurice Luther was educated at TCD and was ordained deacon (1858) and priest (1859) for the Diocese of Killaloe. His was the curate in Kilrush, Co Clare, in 1861 when he married Jane Mary Litton, daughter of Daniel Litton of 9 Waterloo Road, Dublin, on 2 March 1861 in Saint Peter’s Church, Dublin. He was later a curate in Cahirciveen, Co Kerry, and for over 30 years, until he died in 1907, he was the Rector of Kilflynn in the Diocese of Limerick and the Prebendary of Dysart in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick.

His son, Dr John Fitzmaurice Guy Luther (1870-1915), was born in Donnybrook, and was a captain in the Australian army when he was killed in action at Gallipoli during the Anzac landings on 25 August 1915 by a single sniper shot to the head.

Canon George Minchin Luther was born in 1846 at Upper Leeson Street, Dublin, and was baptised in Saint Mary’s Church, Crumlin. He married Emma Fitzmaurice Dixon, daughter of Samuel Dixon and Emma Frances Fitzmaurice. For 38 years (1873-1911) he was the Rector of Cahernarry in Co Limerick, and he was the Prebendary of Ballycahane in Saint Mary's Cathedral, Limerick, from 1899 until he died in 1911.

The position of Prebendary of Ballycahane is now nominally held by the Precentor of Limerick – so, I could ask, in a jocular sort: did you know Luther was one of my predecessors?

It must be difficult for ordinary people who carry the names of great figures from the past. There must be plenty of O’Connell couples who named their son Daniel, or Fitzgeralds who named their son Edward.

I found out some years ago that one member of the Luther family in Clonmel in the 19th century actually named his son Martin. It must be difficult having the same name as prominent figure in history – and it must have been even more difficult for this young Martin Luther, you was brought up a Roman Catholic and already had a famous uncle: he was a nephew of Charles Bianconi (1786-1875), the Italian-born founder of public transport in Ireland who was four times Mayor of Clonmel.

But then, perhaps, young Martin Luther from Clonmel was not embarrassed in any way, for was one the Irishmen who fought on the Pope’s side during the Italian War of Unification. Martin Luther fought at Spoleto as a captain in the Battalion of Saint Patrick before being ordered to Perugia, where he ‘won the universal admiration of his men by his coolness under fire.’

Luther later went to North America, and was a captain during the American Civil War … although I have yet to find out on which side.

Stalin may have wondered how many battalions the Pope had. I imagine he never thought that Martin Luther was among them.

Saint Senan’s Church, Kilrush, Co Clare … Canon John Fitzmaurice Luther was curate in 1858-1861 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


E Luther said...

The person you mentioned as "young Martin Luther" was Michael Louis Luther, son of John Luther and Henrietta Hayes. He was the nephew of Charles Bianconi. He was my great uncle.

Michael Louis Luther was born in Clonmel in 1842, the 4th child of John Luther and Henrietta Hayes. He was in the Waterford artillery and then fought in the Papal war. He then was asked to go to the United States and fight in the Civil War. He fought on the Union side. When he was discharged, he settled in New Orleans, Louisiana. His older brother, John Thomas Luther was the Town Clerk for Clonmel for 37 years. His younger brother, Charles Edward Luther, was assistant Town Clerk in Clonmel. Charles moved to New Orleans as well. Another older brother was Dr. Francis Michael Luther.

Ours is the Catholic line of the family. We all live in the United States.

James Luther said...

Thanks for the article, I read with interest when I first started researching my family. I descend from Edward Litton Luther, the second son of Canon John FitzMaurice Luther.

Work I've done is here: