10 May 2018

An Armagh hotel
that commemorates
the ‘Volunteer Earl’

The Charlemont Arms Hotel ... three and a half centuries of history in Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During these three days in Armagh, while I am attending the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, I am staying once again at the Charlemont Arms Hotel in English Street, a third-generation, family-run hotel in the centre of this cathedral city.

The motto on the coat-of-arms of the Earls of Charlemont, over the hotel front door, which gives its name to the hotel, proclaims boldly: Deo Duce Ferro Comitante, ‘God is my leader, the sword is my companion.’ The first part of the motto may be appropriate for synod members staying in Armagh – but I have serious problems about the second part.

The hotel, which has thrived throughout the centuries, was originally home to a Dr Atkinson. By the 1760s, it had become a hostelry known as ‘The Caulfeild Arms.’ It was renamed in 1763, when James Caulfeild (1728-1799), fourth Viscount Caulfeild, was given the title Earl of Charlemont.

In 1746, at the age of 18 year, he was sent on a Grand Tour of Europe, accompanied by the Revd Edward Murphy as his tutor. During his Grand Tour, which lasted nine years, he travelled to Holland and Germany, and spent a year in Rome and Naples before travelling on to Greece, where he was totally fascinated by the Parthenon in Athens and made drawings of the building long before it was destroyed by Lord Elgin.

He visited Turkey and Egypt too before returning to Rome in 1750, where he met many famous people, including the architect William Chambers, the sculptors Simon Vierpyl and Joseph Wilton and the artist and decorator Giovanni Battista Cipriani. He spent vast sums of money collecting paintings, sculptures and books and shipping them home.

He returned to Ireland in 1755, and went on to build both the Casino in Marino and Charlemont House in Dublin, now home to the Hugh Lane Gallery of Modern Art.

Although bestowed with titles and honours, he disregarded court favours and formed a political alliance with Henry Flood and Henry Grattan. In 1780, as Lord Charlemont, he became the commander-in-chief of the Irish Volunteers and in 1783 he presided at the Volunteer Convention in Dublin. From then on was known as the Volunteer Earl.

In the heyday of the Volunteers, there was a Charlemont Arms in every Irish town of note. However, this hotel may be the only one to survive – something that makes the current proprietors very proud.

Records show that John Hughes became the proprietor in 1852. He retained ownership until 1892, when a JH Mann was listed as its owner. Two years later, it was known as ‘Mann’s Hotel and Hydropathic Establishment,’ and the facilities on offer included Turkish, plunge and other baths.

The hotel had a number of different proprietors from 1906 to 1933. Then, in 1934, it passed into the ownership of Robert and Elizabeth Forster. Their son, Robin Forster, and his wife Gretta were also at the forefront of the family business for many years and now the third generation is involved in running the hotel.

As owners, the Forster family has made a significant investment in the hotel. It was largely rebuilt in 1976-1979 after bomb damage, and major renovations in May 1999 incorporated two adjacent derelict buildings. These renovations have enhanced the hotel, providing 18 more bedrooms and a larger foyer and reception area.

According to William Makepeace Thackeray, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, is ‘too complete ... not the least venerable. It is as neat and trim as a lady’s drawing-room.’

This hotel is perfectly located between the city’s two cathedrals and close to the beautiful Mall, the theatre, city centre shops, the Armagh Planetarium and Observatory, the Armagh County Museum, the old Armagh Women’s Gaol.

And, of course, it is a short stroll from the synod venue and many synod members are staying here – once again, this may be where a lot of the synod work is going to be done.

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh ... ‘As neat and trim as a lady’s drawing-room’ according to Thackeray (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Three days in Armagh
at the General Synod of
the Church of Ireland

The Ascension depicted in an Oppenheimer mosaic in Saint Mary’s Church, Listowel … the General Synod of the Church of Ireland opens in Armagh this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Today is Ascension Day. After a long day in London yesterday for a meeting of the Trustees of the Anglican mission agency, USPG (United Society, Partners in the Gospel), I am travelling to Armagh this morning [10 May 2018] for the General Synod of the Church of Ireland.

The General Synod begins in Armagh City Hotel this morning and continues until Saturday [12 May 2018]. The preacher at the Synod Service in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral this morning is the Bishop of Clogher, the Right Revd John McDowell, and the Synod’s chaplain is Canon Shane Forster.

In addition to reports from the Standing Committee and the Representative Church Body, the Synod is considering proposed legislation for an order for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer for use on Sundays, for adult safeguarding, and for ecumenical and lay canons in Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork.

Of particular interest in my own diocese and parish are the bills to provide for the future unification of the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe and the Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, and to amend the diocesan representation at General Synod.

In the context of the report of the Standing Committee, a new ‘prayer app’ will be launched today. This is an initiative of the Bishop of Meath and Kildare, Bishop Pat Storey, and has been developed through the Central Communications Board.

A book of reflections by Bishop Michael Burrows of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory, on the subject of the empowerment of women through literacy, is being launched today too. Over seven days last September, Bishop Burrows visited 66 churches and schools giving a short sermon at each venue related to one of the 66 books of the Bible.

The Council for Mission is hosting a Mission Breakfast tomorrow morning [11 May 2018] at which the guest speaker will be the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland.

The Revd John Bell, a member of the Iona Community, Presbyterian minister, broadcaster and hymnwriter, is the speaker at lunchtime event organised tomorrow by Changing Attitude Ireland. He is speaking on ‘God, Delight and Diversity’, and promises to explore problematic approaches to Scripture, the created order as diverse by design, and the need for the laity to have their intelligence, experience and aspirations inform the Church’s deliberations on sexuality.

The Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal is launching a limited edition calendar for 2019 at General Synod to support community initiatives in the developing world throughout next year. The calendar also marks the 150th anniversary of the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, and each month provides a reflection from the 12 bishops on issues or projects that have been supported by Bishops’ Appeal over the years.

Bishop Patrick Rooke of Tuam has said: ‘Throughout those 150 years, this Church has worked to support the disadvantaged in some of the poorest parts of the world. The calendar is both a celebration of that partnership but also a reminder of how life is for so many. Those who purchase a calendar will be supporting this ongoing work as we seek to bring relief to disaster situations as well as supporting health, education and rural development projects.’

Next year, General Synod will take place in the Millennium Forum, Derry, on 16-18 May 2019. General Synod 2020 takes place in Croke Park on 7-9 May 2020.