28 August 2021

Charles Graves, Bishop
of Limerick, and his place
in the Celtic Revival

Gearóid Ó Cearúil is the author of a new biography, ‘Charles Graves agus an Athbheochan Cheilteach’

Patrick Comerford

It is always a delight to receive the gift of a new book. And it is always satisfying to find you are referenced in a new book.

Both pleasures were realised last week when the gift of a new book arrived at the Rectory in Askeaton.

Gearóid Ó Cearúil is the author of Charles Graves agus an Athbheochan Cheilteach, a new biography of Bishop Charles Graves, mathematician, academic, expert on Ogham stones, leading figure in the Celtic revival, and a towering figure in the Church of Ireland in the transformation brought about by disestablishment 150 years ago.

Charles Graves (1812-1899) was Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Mathematics at Trinity College Dublin (1843-1862), President of the Royal Irish Academy (1861-1866), Dean of the Chapel Royal, Dublin Castle (1860-1866), Dean of Clonfert (1864-1866) and Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe (1866-1899).

Graves was, as the Victorians would say, well-connected: the Perceval part of his name indicated his close kinship to Spencer Perceval (1762-1812), the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated and whose family was from north Cork.

A useful genealogical chart on p 146 helped me work y way through a fascinating family tree of theologians, academics, clerics, judges, senior civil servants and poets that is a key to working through this book and understanding what made this man, beginning with the Revd James Graves (1710-1784), a former Vicar of Ballingarry and Castlerobert – and, as such, one of my predecessors.

They include William Perceval, Dean of Emly; Professor Robert Perceval; the Revd Charles Perceval, Rector; Professor James Drought, Regius Professor of Divinity in TCD, and his successor and son-in-law Richard Graves, who was also Dean of Ardagh; Canon Richard Hastings Graves of Mitchelstown; Thomas Graves, Dean of Ardfert; Richard Graves McDonnell, Governor of Hong Kong; James King, 5th Earl of Kingston; and the poet Robert Graves.

A larger chart might have included the Revd James William Graves, Vicar of Nantenan; the Revd John Graves, who also served in this group of parishes, and many, many more.

Gearóid Ó Cearúil (Gerald O’Carrroll) from Tralee, studied at UCC, and has taught in Limerick, Zimbabwe and Spain. He has written four books, mainly on Munster history, and this is his first book in Irish.

All academics delight in being cited in other books – in fact, if we admitted, we can be quite smug about – and I found my own citation on p 133.

The book is illustrated with a selection of images and photographs, many by the author, including Parknasilla, the extravagant country home Graves built himself near Kenmare and now a luxury hotel.

It is interesting how the unexpected longevity of a bishop could bring a diocese to the brink of bankruptcy. He lived into his late 80s, and in his biographical note on Graves, Leslie notes: ‘He lived to an age which far exceeded that on which his Commutation Capital had been calculated, so that the General Synod had from its other funds to help the Diocese by a large grant to maintain the Income of the future Bishop.’

● Gearóid Ó Cearúil is the author of Charles Graves agus an Athbheochan Cheilteach (Dublin: Coiscéim, 2021), 185 pp, €10.

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