12 October 2020

Two Precentors of Limerick,
two Rectors of Rathkeale,
one bishop and a general

Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick … three Gough brothers were part of the Diocese of Limerick in the 17th century and the Rathkeale family was the ancestral line of Field Marshal Gough (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

After a project looking at my predecessors as Precentors of Limerick was postponed last month due to the pandemic limits on public events, I thought it might still be interesting to look at past precentors in a number of blog postings.

Last week, I recalled some previous precentors who had been accused of ‘dissolute living’ or being a ‘notorious fornicator’ (Awly O Lonysigh), or who were killed in battle (Thomas Purcell). There were those who became bishops or archbishops: Denis O’Dea (Ossory), Richard Purcell (Ferns) and John Long (Armagh).

There was the tragic story too of Robert Grave, who became Bishop of Ferns while remaining Precentor of Limerick, but – only weeks after his consecration – drowned with all his family in Dublin Bay as they made their way by sea to their new home in Wexford (read more HERE).

In the 17th century, two members of the Gough family were also appointed Precentors of Limerick. In all, three brothers in this family were priests in the Church of Ireland and two were priests in the Church of England, and the Rathkeale branch of the family was the ancestral line of one of Ireland’s most famous generals.

The Gough family was descended from John Gough (ca 1525-ca 1562), who lived in Wiltshire in the mid-16th century. His son, the Revd Hugh Gough (ca 1562-1635), was the Rector of All Cannings, near Devizes, Wiltshire, in the Diocese of Salisbury, and was the father of at least seven sons, including five sons who were ordained as Anglican priests.

Two of these sons – the Revd Edward Gough and the Revd John Gough – remained in England and became vicars of parishes in Dorset and Hampshire. But three sons – Robert, Francis and Hugh – moved to Co Limerick, and these brothers helped each other to acquire prominent positions in the diocese.

The eldest of the three Gough brothers to move from Wiltshire to Limerick was the Venerable Robert Gough (1584-1641). He was educated at Baliol College, Oxford (BA 1606), and was ordained deacon in 1608 and priest in 1608. He was appointed Precentor of Limerick in 1614, and was appointed Archdeacon of Ardfert in 1628 by his younger brother, Bishop Francis Gough.

Robert Gough remained Precentor of Limerick and Archdeacon of Ardfert until he died in 1641.

His younger brother, Francis Gough (1594-1634), the fifth son of the Revd Hugh Gough, followed Robert to Limerick in 1618. when Francis was educated at Saint Edmund Hall, Oxford (BA 1615; MA 1618). He was a priest at New College, Oxford, in 1618 when he moved to Ireland at the age of 24 and was appointed Vicar of Rathkeale, Rector of Kilscannel and Chancellor of Limerick (1618-1626). Six years later, he also became Vicar of Ballingarry (1624-1626).

At the age of 31 or 32, Francis Gough was appointed Bishop of Limerick and Ardfert on 18 April 1626, and was consecrated bishop in Cashel on 17 September 1626. He died on 29 August 1634, still Bishop of Limerick, at the age of 39 or 40.

The window in the tower in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale … for most of the 17th century, Rathkeale had only two rectors, both of them members of the Gough family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The third Gough brother to move from Wiltshire to Limerick was Canon Hugh Gough (1599-1682), who was Rector of Rathkeale for 54 years. He seems to have been ordained in 1619, when was barely 20, and priest. At the age of 23 or 24, he became Prebendary of Donaghmore (1623-1626) in Limerick, and when his brother Francis became Bishop of Limerick, he succeeded him as Rector of Rathkeale and Kilscannel, Vicar of Clonelty and Chancellor of Limerick (1626).

Canon Hugh Gough held these church positions for the rest of his life, and also became Rector of Kildimo (1639) and Rector and Vicar of Mahoonagh, south of Rathkeale and Newcastle West. He married Eleanor Bolton, continued to live in Rathkeale, survived the disturbances of the Cromwellian era, and was 82 or 83 when he died in office in 1682.

So, for most of the 17th century, from 1618 to 1683, for 65 years spanning eight decades, the parish of Rathkeale in Co Limerick, had only two rectors, both of them members of the Gough family, Bishop Francis Gough and his brother Canon Hugh Gough.

Canon Hugh Gough was the ancestor of the main branch of the Gough family in Co Limerick. His son, George Gough, who was living in Rathkeale in 1682, married Anne Robert, and was the father of the second Precentor of Limerick from this family, yet another Canon Hugh Gough (ca 1661/1662-1730).

This second Canon Hugh Gough was born in Rathkeale ca 1661/1662, when his grandfather, Canon Hugh Gough, was still Rector of Rathkeale. He was educated at Trinity College Dublin (BA 1684, MA 1688), and was ordained around 1686.

He was the Precentor of Limerick for over 40 years. His church appointments included Vicar of Duagh, between Listowel and Castleisland, Co Kerry, in the Diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe (1686-1703), Vicar of Mungret, Limerick (1687-1730), Precentor of Limerick (1689-1730) and Vicar of Ballingarry and Corcomohide (1692-1730); he was also a Vicar Choral of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (1693).

By the end of the 18th century, the principal Gough family home was at Woodstown, near Annacotty, Co Limerick, when it was the home of the grandson of the second Canon Hugh Gough, Captain George Gough of Woodstown (1722-1783).

His son, Colonel George Gough (1750-1836) of Woodstown, married Letitia Bunbury of Lisnavagh House, Co Carlow, in 1775. He was Deputy Governor of the City of Limerick, and during the 1798 Rising fought with the militia at Edenderry and the Battle of Colooney.

Their six children included the Very Revd Thomas Bunbury Gough (1777-1860), who continued the family’s clerical tradition, becoming Chancellor of Ardfert (1811-1815) and later Dean of Derry (1820-1860).

Saint Brigid’s Church, Stillorgan, and the Gough family tombs seen from the parish centre (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

But their most famous son was Field Marshal Sir Hugh Gough (1779-1869), 1st Viscount Gough, a famous 19th century general who fought in the Peninsular War, the Opium War, various wars in India, and was the commander-in-chief in China and in India.

Lord Gough was born at Woodstown, Co Limerick, and once lived at Saint Helen’s, on the Stillorgan Road, Booterstown – now the Radisson Hotel – which he bought in 1851. When Gough died at Saint Helen’s in 1869, he was buried in Saint Brigid’s Churchyard, Stillorgan.

The graves in the churchyard also include those of his son, George Gough (1815-1895), 2nd Viscount Gough, and Hugh Gough (1849-1919), 3rd Viscount Gough.

Lord Gough’s nephew, George Gough, still owned 2,398 acres in Co Limerick in the 1870s. But by then the house at Woodstown had long been ‘in ruins.’ Another house was later built by the Bannatyne family and was the home of the Goodbody family in the early 20th century. The house is now part of the Saint Vincent’s Centre run by the Sisters of Charity for people with intellectual disabilities.

The Gough family graves in Saint Brigid’s Churchyard, Stillorgan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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