Sunday, 11 April 2010

A celebration that marks the end of an era

The setting sun, glimpsed through the aged trees in the grounds of Saint Catherine’s Park, Leixlip (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

The past week saw the passing of an era. The B.Th. students had their last lectures in Trinity College Dublin and in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and for both the Revd Dr Billy Marshall and the Revd Dr Wilfrid Harrington delivered their last lectures at the institute.

The B.Th. students still have exams to sit later this month, and an end-of-year Eucharist is being planned for Ascension Day … so the course has not yet come to an end.

Emma Clayton and Paul Arbuthnot sign the marriage register in the Chapel of Trinity College Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

But there was a very appropriate end to the teaching year on Saturday when the third year students turned up as a group on Saturday for the wedding of Emma Clayton and third year student Paul Arbuthnot in the Chapel of Trinity College Dublin.

Paul is a former sacristan and has been both a Lay Vicar in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, and a cantor in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, so he has made a very valuable and much appreciated contribution to the choral and musical life of the chapel. Within the next few weeks he is to be ordained deacon in Christ Church Cathedral and to begin working as a curate in Saint Paul’s Parish, Glenageary.

Lights in the Chapel of Trinity College Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The wedding was conducted by the Revd Darren McCallig, the Church of Ireland chaplain in Trinity College Dublin. Apart from Paul’s and Emma’s families and friends, those present included Canon Cecil Mills of Killiney, where Paul had a student placement, the Revd Garry Dowd, Paul’s new rector in Glenageary, and the former principal of the Church of Ireland Theological College, the Revd Canon Dr Adrian Empey.

The grounds of TCD were in some disarray as marquees were being erected for the Trinity Ball. But the sunshine was so strong, so beautiful and so welcome I don’t think anyone was disturbed as we stood on the steps of the Dining Hall for a group photograph.

Reception in Leixlip

The entrance to the Liffey Valley House Hotel, where we received a warm welcome on Saturday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Later we headed out to Leixlip in Co Kildare for the reception in the Liffey Valley House Hotel. This is a charming, boutique hotel on a hill above the banks of the River Liffey, and the house was once known as Saint Catherine’s Park.

It was a beautiful, warm sunny day, and the temperature reached 20 at one stage. There were pleasant walks in the grounds and through the former walled gardens and the old. As we sat to dinner the sun was setting in the west over Leixlip, casting an orange glow through trees, some of which must have been centuries old.

As I headed home at 11 last night, they were still dancing and partying in the hotel, which was once known as Saint Catherine’s Park. I wonder how many of the ordinands realised how historically appropriate this was a location for the wedding of a future priest.

A pre-Reformation Priory

The Liffey Valley House Hotel, formerly Saint Catherine's Park, stands on the site of the mediaeval Saint Catherine’s Priory (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Saint Catherine’s Park takes its name from a Priory of Canons of the Order of Saint Victor, which was established on these lands shortly after the Anglo-Norman invasion. The original priory house was built on each side of a small stream, which descends into the River Liffey.

The Priors included William of Kill, John Warisius, and Richard Shirman, and the chief benefactors of the priory included Wirris de Peche, Lord of Lucan, and Sir Adam de Hereford, Lord of Leixlip, each of whom left an endowment to maintain six chaplains to pray in the priory for the members of their families.

The Priory fell into such poverty early in the 14th century that Richard Turnour, who was Prior in 1323, and the canons obtained a royal license to assign the priory and all its possessions to the Abbey of Saint Thomas in Dublin.

After the dissolution of the monastic houses, the priory house and lands were leased in 1541 to Thomas Allen, Chamberlain of the Exchequer, who was also granted the neighbouring monastery of Saint Wolstan’s. When Allen’s lease ran out in 1561, the priory house and lands were leased to George Staynings, and eventually it passed to Sir Nicholas White, Master of the Rolls, who was granted “the Cell of Saint Catherine’s,” along with the Manor of Leixlip.

Saint Catherine’s Priory became his principal residence. But in he fell out of favour and in 1589 he was sent to London, where he was detained first at Charing Cross and then placed under house arrest in the house of the Dean of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, before being imprisoned in Marshalsea, and then in the Tower. Eventually, he was allowed to return to Ireland and he died in February 1593.

His son Andrew White and Andrew’s son, Sir Nicholas White, lived at Leixlip Castle, and during the Cromwellian era Saint Catherine’s was leased by Sir Robert Knight. In 1655, the White family sold Saint Catherine’s to Alderman Ridgely Hatfield, who was mayor of Dublin the following year.

After the Restoration, Saint Catherine’s was sold in 1664 by Hatfield to Sir John Perceval. It then passed to Sir William Davys, who was Attorney-General and Chief Justice of the Regalities of Tipperary Recorder of Dublin, Prime Serjeant, and Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in Ireland. He was a son-in-law of Archbishop Boyle of Armagh, and later, when he was widowed married a daughter of the Earl of Kildare.

When Davys bought Saint Catherine’s in 1666 the buildings had fallen in disrepair, and he rebuilt the house. For generations, the house continued in the hands of the Davys family, who received the titles of Baron and Viscount Mountcashel. When the family died out, Saint Catherine’s passed to Sir Samuel Cooke, who was twice Lord Mayor of Dublin and a son-in-law of Dean John Trench.

Saint Catherine’s Park, which was rebuilt in 1765, was later lived in by Sir Richard Wolseley of Mount Wolseley, MP for Co Carlow, who died there in 1781. By 1795, the house had been bought by Robert Butler, third Earl of Lanesborough, who built considerable additions to the house and modernised the older parts of Saint Catherine’s. It then passed to David La Touche of the Huguenot banking family, who was related by marriage to Lord Lanesborough.

About that time, the house was burned to the ground and a new house – also called Saint Catherine’s Park – was built around 1798 to a design of Francis Johnston. It was lived in by a succession of generals in the 19th century, and is now Liffey Valley House Hotel.

The monks, generals and sons-in-laws of deans and archbishops have left us with a very fine house in a peaceful location, and its use as an hotel today continues a tradition of hospitality and maintains an interesting legacy.

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