13 August 2016

Finding a Greek connection in
an old churchyard in Duleek

The Law family grave in the old churchyard beside the Spire Restaurant in Duleek, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

The Spire Restaurant in Duleek, Co Meath, is located in the refurbished former Church of Ireland parish church, Saint Cianan’s Church. Four of us returned there for dinner last night, and it is fast becoming one of our favourites.

Aogán and Karen Dunne re-opened the restaurant three years ago on 14 August 2013 after it had been left in a sad state of neglect for many years.

The Spire is in the grounds of Saint Mary’s Abbey, one of the great Irish monastic foundations, with a story going back to Saint Patrick, and important high crosses and mediaeval monuments.

The ruins of Saint Mary’s Abbey beside the Spire Restaurant in Duleek (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The old graveyard that surrounds the former church is still in use. As I strolled through the former churchyard in the evening lights, I noticed a plot with three graves belonging to members of the Law family: Michael Augustine Fitzgerald Law (1861-1917) and his wife Mary (died 1937), Olive Law and Major Francis Cecil Law (died 1958).

The graves are beside one of the ‘short’ high cross, dating from the ninth century and one of the great high crosses of Duleek. The graves are also a reminder of the story of an Irish banker and army officer who saved the finances of Greece over a century ago and who is buried in Athens.

The Law family was of Scottish descent, and an ancestor, Michael Law, fought with King William at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. One branch of the Law family was a long-established clerical family in the Church of Ireland. Michael Law’s son, the Revd William Samuel Law, who died in 1760, was Rector of Omagh and the first of five or six generations of distinguished clergy: the Revd Robert law (1730-1789), the Revd Francis Law (1768-1807), who married Bellinda Isabella Comerford from Cork; the Revd Patrick Comerford Law (1797-1869); the Revd Francis Law (1800-1877); and the Revd Robert Arbuthnot Law (1842-1889).

Another branch of the family included successful bankers. Robert William Law, a first cousin of the Revd Patrick Comerford Law, was the father of Michael Law (1795-1858), of Castle Fish, Co Kildare. He founded the Law & Finlay Bank, and was also a Director of the Bank of Ireland. He married Sarah-Ann, daughter of Crofton Vandeleur Fitzgerald of Carrigoran, Co Clare, and they had four sons who were successful in their chosen careers.

However, poor health forced Michael Law to close his bank and on doctor’s orders he left Ireland to live on the continent, where he died while his sons were still children or in their teens: Robert Law (1836-1884) later lived in Newpark, Co Kildare; Michael Law (1840-1905) became a judge in British administered Egypt; Sir Edward Fitzgerald Law (1847-1908) became a colourful adventurer who later became effectively the Finance Minister of Greece; and Sir Archibald Fitzgerald Law (1853-1921) was a colonial judge in Malaya.

Sir Edward Fitzgerald Law … received a state funeral in Athens in 1908)

His third son, Edward Fitzgerald Law, was born in 1847 in Rostrevor House, Co Down, and was only a child of 10 when when his father died in 1858. He went on to play a key role in reshaping Greece’s finances over a century ago.

His widowed mother sent Edward to school in Brighton and St Andrew’s. He entered Sandhurst in 1865, and was commissioned in the Royal Artillery in Woolwich in 1868. He spent the next three years in India, but was invalided home in 1872. He then resigned from the army, joined the Wire Transport Co, and went to Russia, where he spent the next 10 years in Moscow. There he became an agent for agricultural machinery, and also contributed to the Daily Telegraph.

In Russia, Edward Law joined Hubbards, an English firm of Russian agents, and he travelled widely. From 1880 to 1881, he was the British Consul in St Petersburg.

Back in England, Law wrote about Russian politics and news in the Fortnightly Review. He had remained a reserve army officer, and he joined officers of the reserve, and he joined Sir Gerald Graham’s Sudan expedition in 1885. He took part in the Battle of Suakin in 1885, and was promoted to the rank of major.

After this brief return to military life, Law went to Manchuria on behalf of the Amur River Navigation Co, and travelled on to San Francisco, Japan and Vladivostok.

Back in London, he became manager of the United Telephone Co. He strongly opposed Gladstone’s Home Rule Bill in 1886. He was back in St Petersburg in 1888 as again as Commercial and Financial Attaché to Russia, also worked in Persia and Turkey.

Law first went to Greece in 1892, and at a party in the German Embassy in Athens he met Catherine Hatsopoulos, the only daughter of Nicholas Hatsopoulos of Athens and the descendant of an old Byzantine family. They were married on 18 October 1893, and settled in Athens.

Law became involved in Greek banking and finances, and as a British resident in Athens he seemed an obvious choice for nomination as the British commissioner on the International Financial Committee in Athens in 1897, and he became the British minister resident in Athens (1898-1900).

Law devised an ingenious system of consolidating revenues, which rendered the international commission acceptable and useful to Greece. He effectively abolished Greece’s public debt, turned around its public finances and saved its economy. Effectively he was the Greek finance minister and he became a popular figure throughout Greece.

While he was in this role, Law was knighted in May 1898 (KCMG), but he declined the Grand Cross of the Greek Order of the Saviour and other decorations. At the close of 1898, he also went to Constantinople to represent British, Belgian, and Dutch bondholders on the council of the Ottoman debt.

After Law left Greece, he became the Financial Member of the Council of the Governor-General of India, in effect India’s Finance Minister (1900-1904). He received an additional knighthood in 1906 (KCSI). He is also said to have invented a flying machine.

He retired in 1905, but remained a Director of the Ionian Bank in Greece. He died of a heart attack at the Hotel Bellevue, in Avenue l’Opera in Paris on 2 November 1908, his 61st birthday. At his own request, he was brought back to be buried in Athens. He was given a Greek state funeral on 21 November 1908 with full military and state honours.

A street in Athens is named in his honour: Edward Law Street is off Stadiou Street (Οδός Σταδíου), the major street linking the Omonoia Square and Syntagma Square. There are tablets to his memory in Saint Paul’s Anglican Church, Athens, and in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

The ‘short’ High Cross in the grounds Saint Mary’s Abbey beside the Law family graves in Duleek (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Edward Law’s eldest brothers, Robert and Michael had already died. Robert Law (1836-1884) of Newpark, Co Kildare, was the father of Michael Augustine Fitzgerald Law (1861-1917), of Bearmond, Drogheda, who is buried in the old churchyard in Duleek with other members of the family, including his wife Mary and their son, Major Francis Cecil Law, who died in 1958.

In researching the stories of the Irish Philhellenes who contributed to the liberation of Greece in the 19th century, I might have passed by Edward Law’s contribution to making Greece an independent, modern state, except I came across his name by accident on two, successive occasions: researching the biographical details of his father’s cousin, the Revd Patrick Comerford Law (1797-1869), and reading a description of a visit to Athens by his cousin, Archbishop John Fitzgerald Gregg.

When Archbishop Gregg visited Athens in 1951, the Mayor of Athens was told of the archbishop’s kinship with Law. He invited Gregg to return to Athens as the guest of the municipality and to see the street named after him. But Gregg noted regretfully that this was “an offer which I fear I cannot hope to take advantage of.”

The Spire Restaurant in Duleek, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Remembering old houses on the banks of
the Dodder and some ‘Irish Times’ journalists

The Dodder Linear Park and the former grounds of Cherryfield House, once the home of ‘Pussy’ O’Mahony of ‘The Irish Times’ and his family(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016; click on photograph for full-screen resolution)

Patrick Comerford

Earlier this week, on a damp and misty August morning, I walked some of the way into work along the banks of the River Dodder, from the weir at Firhouse through the Dodder Linear Park and the former grounds of Cherryfield House, to a point just past the junction of Firhouse Road and Knocklyon Road, by the travellers’ site at Cherryfield.

At a point on the river where Kilvare stands on the opposite bank, I came back up onto the main road just beyond the red-brick house once known as Saint Brendan’s and recently renamed Carrigburn, the former home of the actor and RTE radio personality, Ronnie Walsh, and close to the site of a house once known as Cherryfield.

Here at the bend on the river, the Dodder flows into a large pool famous for fishing called Pussy’s Leap, once a popular spot in the 1940s and the 1950s for fishing and swimming in the river.

Two more points along this stretch of the river that were once popular with swimmers were known in the 1940s and 1950s as Joe Alley’s Hole, close to Firhouse Bridge, and the Crusher, at Old Bawn. Closer to Pussy’s Leap, the Poet’s Pool took its name from former home of poet Austin Clarke at Templeogue Bridge.

The house that takes its name from Pussy’s Leap has been vacant for a few years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Pussy’s Leap was at a point where the River Dodder flows at the back of Old Bridge Road. The pool was well known for trout fishing and was popular with swimmers. But in the 1980s a large part of the pool was washed away in Hurricane Charlie.

The pool has since rebuilt itself and now consists of a series of smaller pools that are still used at times by anglers and are known for holding trout. The house above that took its name from Pussy’s Leap has a ‘sale agreed’ sign outside but has been vacant for a long time.

Cherryfield House… once the home of Pussy O’Mahony (Photograph: Patrick Healy Collection, South Dublin County Council)

I sometimes wonder whether Pussy’s Leap took its name from ‘Pussy’ O’Mahony, who lived nearby in Cherryfield House, which was demolished in recent decades.

Pussy O’Mahony (1900-1948) was a colourful character in The Irish Times and in Dublin life for much of the 20th century. He was the General Manager of The Irish Times, a friend and drinking companion of Myles na gCopaleen (Brian O’Nolan, aka Flann O’Brien) and part of the literary and intellectual circles in Dublin life throughout the 1930s and 1940s.

Gerard John Cullen Tynan O’Mahony was born in Dublin on 1 January 1900, into a member of a family that was prominent in Irish literature and journalism. His father John O’Mahony, was a Cork-born barrister; his mother, Nora Tynan O’Mahony from Clondalkin, was a well-known writer and former women’s editor of the Freeman’s Journal. His aunt, Katherine Tynan Hinkson (1861-1931), who wrote under the name Katharine Tynan, was a poet and writer who is best known for her poem ‘All in the April evening.’ She was a close friend of WB Yeats, and it is said Yeats once proposed to her when he was a young man.

Pussy O’Mahony had two younger brothers: John Michael Finbar (‘Barry’) O’Mahony and Daniel (‘Donal’) J Patrick O’Mahony.

Because of one of his middle names, he was known to his family as ‘Cullie.’ But he was given the nickname ‘Pussy’ by his friends and contemporaries because of the bow ties he wore, said to be similar to a certain drawing of a kitten of the period.

O’Mahony was educated at Saint Mary’s College, Rathmines, the Catholic University School, Dublin, Claude Fulcher’s Military Academy and Trinity College Dublin.

During World War I, he was commissioned in 1918 as a second lieutenant in the Royal Irish Regiment from the OTC at Trinity College Dublin and he was posted to Egypt and Palestine.

After World War I, Pussy O’Mahony worked with the Ministry of Labour. He joined the Royal Irish Constabulary on 20 January 1921 and remained in the Auxiliary Division until March 1922. Then, through the British Colonial Office, he enlisted in the British gendarmerie in Palestine.

In Palestine, he was responsible with Major James Munro MC for drawing up defence plans for newly-built Jewish colonies in Galilee and Phoenicia, and for building a road across the Judean Hills, linking Samaria and Jaffa.

When he returned to London from the Middle East in 1925, he joined the commercial staff of the Daily News and later worked with the advertising and news departments of the Daily Express. In 1928, he moved back to Dublin and to The Irish Times, where he became the Arts Editor. Later he worked in the editorial, advertising, circulation and commercial departments.

In 1940, he became Assistant Manager, and when John O’Dockery died he was appointed Manager in 1942.

At some stage, he lost a leg, and for the rest of his life he used a wooden leg. In his history of The Irish Times, Hugh Oram recalls the story of O’Mahony going to a fancy dress party dressed as a toffee apple.

Pussy O’Mahony and Austin Clarke in ‘Dublin Culture’ by Alan Reeve, published in ‘The Irish Times’ in 1940

Both Pussy O’Mahony and his neighbour the poet Austin Clarke, who lived a little further east on the banks of the Dodder by Templeogue Bridge, were among the writers and journalists to feature in a well-known drawing, ‘Dublin Culture,’ by Alan Reeve, that was published in The Irish Times in 1940.

The cartoon shows the editor RM ‘Bertie’ Smyllie in the centre of a gathering in the back room of the Palace Bar in Fleet Street, where Smyllie liked to hold court. He is surrounded by some of the leading writers, painters, poets and critics of the day.

Back row, from left-hand corner: John P Colbert (with pipe), George Burrows, Francis McManus, Maurice Walsh, Patrick Kavanagh (standing), Brian O’Nolan (Myles na Gopaleen), Liam Redmond, Donagh McDonagh, John Chichester (standing).

Sseated right-hand corner: Austin Clarke, Padraic Fallon, FR Higgins.

Standing at left with camera: Alec Newman.

Seated at the table below Newman and camera: Ewart Milne, Lynn Doyle, Leslie Yodaiken, Roibeard O Faireachain, MJ McManus (in hat).

Standing centre left: barman Tom.

Centre table from left: RC Ferguson, Esmonde Little, Bertie Smyllie, Brinsley MacNamara, William Conor.

Looking at book: Seumas O’Sullivan.

Right-hand table far side: Cathal O’Shannon, Jerome Connor, David Sears.

Near side: George Leitch, Desmond Rushton.

Bottom left corner: Alan Reeve (bearded), ‘Pussy’ Tynan O'Mahony, AJ Leventhal, Edward Sheehy.

Front centre table: Patrick O’Connor, Harry Kernoff, Sean O’Sullivan.

Bottom right corner: three barmen Jack, Sean and Mick.

A copy of the cartoon still hangs in the back room of the Palace Bar in Fleet Street, where it was pointed out to me with pride soon after I joined the staff of The Irish Times about 35 years later.

In 1942, Pussy O’Mahony bought Cherryfield House, which stood on the site of an older house, ‘Cherrytree,’ where the ‘Templeogue Ballad’ was printed in 1730. The Fowler family extended the house and reclaimed part of the river bank.

In 1888-1889, the Sunday Literary Society met in Cherryfield, and those who took part included the poet Katherine Tynan, Maud Gonne and the future President of Ireland, Douglas Hyde. In 1897, the architect James Franklin Fuller (1835-1924) designed a gate lodge and greenhouse at the house for James Talbot Power (1851-1916), a surgeon major in the army. He was a younger son of Sir James Power (1800-1877) of Edermine House, Co Wexford, owner of the Power Disillery, while his mother Jane was a daughter of Pugin’s Irish patron, John Hyacinth Talbot. At the time, Cherryfield House stood in grounds extending to 174 acres, which were used as a stud farm. Power later moved to Leopardstown Park, where he died in 1916.

Cherryfield was inherited by John’s brother, Sir Thomas Talbot Power (1863–1930), and from 1909 until 1940, the Harrington family leased Cherryfield from the Power family. John ‘Borneo’ Harrington, who married Mary Seymour, owned the Tynt Arms in Dunlavin, Co Wicklow. He bought land in Dunlavin and Dublin, built a church in Grangecon, Co Kildare, and died at 5 Idrone Terrace, Blackrock, Co Dublin. Before buying Cherryfield he is said to have lived near Esher and to have owned a shipping company, Hope and Harrington. He is said to have brought the first shipload of cattle to Paris after the siege of 1870, and a large picture of a highland bull on the landing at Cherryfield House was supposedly a gift to him from Queen Victoria.

In 1940, the Dock Milling Company bought the house, and in 1942 it was sold to Pussy O’Mahony. He remained the general manager of The Irish Times until he resigned in 1948 because of a prolonged ill-health. He died a few months later.

His funeral in the Church of the Annunciation, Rathfarnham, was attended by the Taoiseach, John A Costello, and he was buried in Saint Maelruain’s churchyard in Tallaght. The O’Mahony family continued to live at Cherryfield House until 1950.

Pussy O’Mahony married Jean Ballantyne Archer in Spanish Place, London, and they had three sons: Peter Cullen Tynan O’Mahony (1930-2000), John Robert O’Mahony (born 1933) and David Edward Tynan O’Mahony (1936-2005).

The youngest son, David Edward Tynan O’Mahony, was later known as the comedian Dave Allen. Another son, Peter Cullen Tynan O’Mahony (1930-1970), was Deputy Chief Sub-Editor and later Design Editor of The Irish Times and editor of The O’Mahony Journal. Peter and the late Ken Grey interviewed me in the mid 1970s for my first position in The Irish Times. He also edited the first book I ever contributed to: Eamon de Valera, ed. PT O’Mahony (Dublin: Irish Times Books 1976).

The Delaney family later lived at Cherryfield, and the house used to house a number of enterprise projects during the 1970s. The house was demolished in 1986 as the gardens, lawns and grounds made way for the Dodder Linear Park that I had walked along on Wednesday morning on my way to work.

In his last Christmas message, Peter described the ruined state of the 200-year-old farmhouse where his father and his family had lived. He described it as the genius loci of the Irish literary revival, and said it ‘stands in a ruinous state, neglected and vandalised, a sad and damning testament to the indifference of modern society to our cultural heritage.’

The name of Cherryfield survives in the traveller site beside Carrigburn.

The River Dodder close to the former site of Pussy’s Leap (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)