31 October 2020

Four books in the post
on Wexford families and
the arts in Askeaton

Four books arrived in the post this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

There are many things I miss during this pandemic lockdown: there are missed opportunities for travel to my favourite places, walks on the beach, eating out, time sipping a double espresso in cafés … And I sorely miss opportunities to browse in some of my favourite bookshops.

Over the last few months, I have bought a number of books online. But that is no substitute for losing count of time as I browse the shelves of a good bookshop, serendipitously coming across a book I never knew about but realise I always wanted to read.

Serendipity continued to manifest itself this week when four books arrived in the post unexpectedly, two from my old friend Michael Freeman in Rosslare, Co Wexford, and two from Michele Horrigan of Askeaton Contemporary Arts.

Helen Skrine is the author of The Boxwells of Butlerstown Castle, published recently under the imprint of Butlerstown Castle Press and co-edited with her daughter, Anna Skrine-Brunton.

But the Boxwells are one among the families that for hundreds of years have owned castles in Co Wexford and have influenced social, political, economic and cultural change across the world.

The Bowxwells have lived for centuries at Butlerstown House and Butlerstown Castle, just a mile or two away from two other castles linked with the Boxwell family, Bargy Castle and Lingstown Castle. This is a fascinating memoir of the Boxwell family, which came England in the 1600s and settled in Co Wexford. She tells the story that is sometimes tragic and often-times funny.

She charts the contribution of members of the Boxwell family to government, medicine, sport, community and even rebellion, through war and peace to the present day.

Butlerstown Castle, like Ballybur Castle in Co Kilkenny, had its origins as a tower house, ‘a modest affair aimed not at warmongering or at display of power and wealth, but merely at survival, for defence in a hostile and embittered environment.’

The so-called ‘English’ baronies of Forth and Bargy in Co Wexford became more thickly populated with castles than any other part of Ireland. They included Bargy Castle built by the Rossiters, Lingstown Castle built by the Lamberts, Ballycogley Castle, built by the Waddings, and Butlerstown Castle, near Tomhaggard, built for the Butlers of Mountgarret, and with views north to Forth Mountain, west to the Comeragh Mountains in Co Waterford, and south to the Saltee Islands.

Helen traces the Boxwell family back to John Boxall or Boxwell of New College, Oxford, a favourite of Queen Mary, and John Boxwell (1614-1677) of Wootton Bassett, and a third John Boxwell who moved from Wootton Bassett to Co Wexford in the late 17th century.

For many people in Co Wexford, the Boxwell family is best-known for the close family relationship that links John Boxwell, John’s brother-in-law John Colclough and John’s cousin, Beauchamp Bagenal Harvey, the three key figures in the 1798 Rising in Wexford.

But she also tells the stories of colourful family members, including Susan Boxwell the artist; John Boxwell, Governor of Dhaka, now the capital of Bangladesh; William Boxwell, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland; and Colonel Ambrose Boxwell of the Indian army.

There are honeymoons in Rome and Athens, tennis in Assam, Bengal and Chittagong, hunting with the Killinick Harriers, polo in Malaysia and a connection with Chris de Burgh. There are stories that take the reader to South Africa and Brazil, and of coffee in White’s Hotel, the Opera Festival in Wexford, and starting an arts centre in the Old Town Hall in Cornmarket.

There are intriguing connections with the Elgee family and Oscar Wilde; with Whitley Stokes and William Stokes, pioneers in medicine; with Percy French; and through her mother with the St Leger family of Doneraile. And there is the story a ‘visit’ to Bargy Castle by the IRA during a Christmas party at the height of the Irish Civil War.

In addition, 16 family trees help guide the reader labyrinthine details of the different branches Boxwell family tree, with the many intermarriages within the Boxwell family, the details of kinship with other kindred families, including the Harveys, the MacMurroughs Kavanaghs and the St Legers, and extensions of the family to Abbeyleix, Liverpool and Brazil.

The cover photographs are by Jim Campbell and Ger Lawlor, while many of the photographs inside this generously illustrated book are by Ger Lawlor, Helen’s son-in-law Simon de Courcy Wheeler and Pat O’Connor.

Helen Skrine is due to feature soon on RTÉ’s programme Nationwide.

Berna Borna, originally from Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, was a teacher at the Muslim National School in Clonskeagh almost 25 years, and was the school principal for the last five of those years. Her novel Shades of Integrity is her debut fiction and is published under Michael Freeman’s imprint of Three Sisters Press in Rosslare.

Her novel about a Muslim family from Egypt living in Dublin is due to be launched early next year. She says, ‘Coming into contact with the Muslim community has been a great privilege and blessing. The experience was enriching beyond the ordinary. The community comprises people from many differing countries and cultures. We have much to learn from each other.’

It is an appropriate corrective to negative images of Muslims and Islam created by this week’s horrific killings in Nice.

The book is prefaced with a quotation from Khalil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.

Michael Freeman is from Glynn, Co Wexford. He lived in Dublin for many years, working as a freelance journalist, a press officer for Macra na Feirme and in PR and publishing. He returned to Wexford with his wife Brigid in 2005 and now lives in Rosslare.

A suggestion by the Wexford historian and author Nicky Furlong led him to set up Three Sisters Press, and the first book he published was volume five of Nicky’s Wexford in the Rare Auld Times. Other books from Three Sisters Press include Sailor, Airman, Spy, Memoir of a Cold War Veteran by Ted Hayes (2018).

Michele Horrigan from Askeaton, Co Limerick, is Director and Curator at Askeaton Contemporary Arts, and a former curator at the Belltable in Limerick.

ACA Public is the publishing initiative of Askeaton Contemporary Arts, and recently published Countercultures, communities, and Indra’s Net by John Hutchinson, beautifully designed by Daly-Lyon.

ACA Publishing has also published Men Who Eat Ringforts by Sinéad Mercier and Michael Holly, and featuring Eddie Lenihan.

Environmentalist Sinéad Mercier explores the legal and moral complexities surrounding the nature of ringforts, while artist Michael Holly’s fieldwork with folklorist Eddie Lenihan reveals and analyses many sites of resonance in Co Clare. In addition, extensive large format aerial imagery and historical maps licensed from Ordnance Survey Ireland detail changes over recent decades to these landscapes.

Men Who Eat Ringforts is printed with fluorescent Pantone inks, substituting the standard cyan, magenta and yellow process colours, resulting in a luminous effect to images throughout.

This new book was co-published in August with Gaining Ground, a public art programme based in Co Clare.

Meanwhile, Askeaton Contemporary Arts are in the post-production stage, getting ready to launch its own YouTube channel. They promise something to watch during lockdown.

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