12 April 2021

How a 300-year-old hedge school
in Clarina has been transformed

The Hedge School Cottage near Clarina, Co Limerick, dates from 1750 and was donated by the Potter family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

The Hedge School Cottage and Sailor’s Haggard are twinned visitor attractions in Newtown, near Clarina, Co Limerick, that tell the stories of ordinary fisherfolk and schoolchildren and the stories of country life in a bygone age.

The cottage was rebuilt in 2018 by volunteers from the local community without any grants. The house was originally built about 1750 and became a hedge school in the early 1800s. Records from 1826 tell of one schoolmaster, a Mr O’Shea, who had 45 pupils.

It was donated to the community by the Limerick historian, Dr Matthew Potter, curator of the Limerick Museum, and his brother Michael in memory of their uncle Michael Potter, and to commemorate their father John Potter and his brother Joseph.

Restoring the former hedge school was an immense undertaking for the Newtown Cottage Association. About 20 local volunteers worked tirelessly over two years to turn a tumbledown, overgrown house into the beating heart of the local area. All the work was done on a voluntary basis, with 90-year-old Peter Byrnes as the ‘clerk of works.’

Many of the men who worked on it were retired, and no money was spent on materials. Trees were cut out, the remaining walls were taken down and new footings were put in place. The house was rebuilt stone-by-stone before being thatched with reeds from the river.

The hedge school cottage was officially opened on Sunday 2 September 2018, and in a short space of time it became a hub for meetings and social gatherings and an attraction for visitors.

Outside, there is a boatshed with a boat built by Peter Byrnes, a dancing square, seating. Children from the nearby Ballybrown National School buried a time capsule in the garden, not to be opened until 2 September 2068.

The Sailor’s Haggard was a gift from Peter and Nancy Byrnes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The story began in 2015 with the Sailor’s Haggard, a triangle of land across the road from the cottage that was a gift from Peter and Nancy Byrnes. He was the last of eight generations of Shannon fishermen, and their livelihood came to an end when EU regulations put an end to all fishing in the lower Shannon.

The site was transformed into a memorial to past generations of fishermen who worked the tidal waters of the Shannon river, and the symbols of their work remain in the Sailor’s Haggard, opened on 27 September 2015.

Buoyed by the success of this project, the Newtown Cottage Association moved on to an even bigger project across the road at the former hedge school.

Michael McNamara and Ted O’Leary are the curators of the two-roomed, white-washed cottage. It has an old-style country kitchen, while the second room houses a collection of artefacts reflecting life and work in the area. For older visitors, in particular, the cottage, with its open fire and bastible oven, is very evocative.

The cottage has become a hub for meetings and social gatherings and an attraction for visitors. These include singers Louise Morrissey and Mary Byrnes, active retired groups, school groups and residents from a nearby nursing home.

Like other museums and public buildings, the Hedge School Cottage is closed to visitors at present because of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. But the Sailor’s Haggard is an open area and is a pleasant place to stop and enjoy the spring sunshine.

The Hedge School Cottage became a hub for meetings and social gatherings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
55, the Comberford Chapel, Tamworth

The Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, Tamworth … the burial place of generations of the Comberford family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This week, I am offering photographs of churches with close associations with my family and ancestors. My photographs this morning (12 April 2021) are from the Comberford Chapel in the Collegiate Church of Saint Editha, Tamworth.

For many generations, my family continued to regard Comberford as our ancestral home, despite some of the complicated details in our family tree. My great-grandfather, James Comerford (1817-1902), had a very interesting visit to Comberford and Tamworth at the end of the 19th or in the early 20th century. His visits included Comberford Hall, the Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church and the Moat House in Tamworth.

The side chapels in Saint Editha’s Church include Saint George’s Chapel, the Lady Chapel and the Comberford Chapel. The Comberford Chapel in the former north transept was built by the Comberford family of Comberford Hall, north of Tamworth and east of Tamworth.

The monuments in the Comberford Chapel include the fragment of a 15th century effigy of a member of the Comberford family in the regalia of a knight, and a wall tablet with a Latin inscription erected in 1725 by members of the Comerford family in Ireland to members of Comberford family of Staffordshire.

A four-light window in the Comberford Chapel depicts Christ the Teacher and commemorates the Revd Francis Blick, Vicar of Tamworth (1796-1842).

The Comberford family also had family chapels in Comberford Hall and in the Moat House, the family townhouse on Lichfield Street, Tamworth.

‘Christ the Teacher’ … a stained glass window in the Comberford Chapel in Saint Editha’s Church, commemorates the Revd Francis Blick, Vicar of Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John 3: 1-8 (NRSVA):

1 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 3 Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ 4 Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ 5 Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’

The Comberford effigy in the Comberford chapel in Tamworth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (12 April 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for all those in university that through their studies they may grow in wisdom, and knowledge to better themselves and others.

The monument erected in the Comberford Chapel in 1725 by the Comerford family of Ireland

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Saint Editha’s Collegiate Church Tamworth … one of the largest and oldest parish churches in the English Midlands (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org