26 April 2011

A fresh taste for the coming summer

Silver sunshine on the waters of Skerries Harbour this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

I have missed my regular beach walks over the past week. But I managed to get to Portrane and Skerries this afternoon.

After visiting Portrane, two of us drove further north to Skerries and parked at the Sailing Club on Harbour Road.

Although the warm sunshine of the past week has faded a little, the sun was still casting a silvery shine on the harbour waters, as we walked along Harbour Pier and then out on the pier.

At the lifeboat station, which dates back to 1854, a notice extends the sympathies of the RNLI Volunteer Lifeboat Crew at Skerries to the families of Ronan Browne and David Gilsenan, who drowned tragically a few weeks ago.

The small sandy spot below the lifeboat station had a golden hue in this evening’s sunlight. A few children played in and out of the rocks, while two others wrote their names on the sand.

The bars and restaurants of Harbour Road reflected in the waters of Skerries Harbour this afternoon Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

In this peaceful tranquillity it was difficult to think back to the tragedy that had hit everyone in this community only a few weeks ago. But I also recalled the story of young Thomas Butler (1596-1619), Viscount Thurles, who was accidentally drowned off the Skerries on 19 December 1619. Although some historians identify these Skerries as a cluster of rocks off the Isle of Anglesey in north Wales, others say they were the rocks off Skerries on the north Dublin coast.

Thomas Butler was a first cousin of Grany Kavanagh who married John Comerford of Ballybur, Co Kilkenny. At a very young age – and against the wishes of his father, Walter Butler (1569-1633), the 11th Earl of Ormond – Thomas had married Elizabeth Poyntz, the daughter of Sir John Poyntz of Gloucestershire. In 1619, as his father was serving a long, eight-year stretch of imprisonment in the notorious Fleet Prison in London, Thomas Butler was summoned to England to answer charges of treason. However, his ship was wrecked off the coast of The Skerries, and Thomas was drowned on 19 December 1619.

With the drowning of Thomas Butler, and Walter Butler still in jail, nine-year-old James Butler became the heir to his drowned father drowned and his captive grandfather. But the Ormond estates and privileges had been forfeited in favour of the crown, and James was made a royal ward and was brought up an Anglican in the courts of James I and Charles I.

But six years after Thomas Butler was drowned off The Skerries, his father, known as Walter “of the Beads,” was freed from the Fleet in 1625 and returned home in triumph to Kilkenny to reclaim his estates and titles. When he died in Carrick-on-Suir in 1633, Walter was buried in Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny. His grandson, James Butler, son of Thomas Butler who was drowned off The Skerries, inherited all the Ormond titles, estates and power, and later became James Butler (1610-1688), 1st Duke of Ormond.

The Lordship of Rush in north Co Dublin had been granted to his ancestor, Sir Theobald Fitzwalter Le Butler, in the 13th century, and the Butlers had continued to increase their land holdings over the centuries that followed. As a reward for his prominent role in leading Irish royalists against the Cromwellians in the turbulence of the 1640s and 1650s, Ormond was made a duke and was granted extensive new estates, including the manor of Kenure in Rush in 1666 and Lusk in 1667. The first pier in Rush was built by the Duke of Ormond in the reign of James II.

To the north of Rush, the manor and lands of Holmpatrick in Skerries has been granted in 1605 to Donogh O’Brien, the 4th Earl of Thomond, but the harbour was described as being in a ruined state. The harbour remained the property of the Earls of Thomond until 1721. Perhaps, had they taken more care of the harbour and pier at Skerries, Thomas Butler would have had a safe passage out of Skerries in 1619 – if this, indeed, is where he met his fatal end.

We can be very thankful for the volunteers at Skerries Lifeboats who look after the lives and safety of all who enjoy the waters of Skerries today.

‘Storm in a Teacup’ ... an indulgent taste of the promise of summer (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Before leaving the harbour we stopped into ‘Storm in a Teacup’ for ice creams drenched in espresso and smothered with cinnamon and chocolate flake. It has given us a fresh and indulgent taste for the coming summer.

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