29 September 2018

How a doctor’s daughter
from Charleville became
the ‘Queen of Paraguay’

The Community Centre on Chapel Street in Charleville, Co Cork, was built as the Roman Catholic parish church in 1812 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

The Community Centre on Chapel Street in Charleville, Co Cork, looks for all the world like an old Welsh chapel, with its matching pair of doors that could be separate entrances for men and women, its high, almost austere, Georgian Classical façade, and its decorative bellcote with a decorative urn and obelisks.

You would be right in thinking that this had once been used for worship, for it was built over 200 years ago – not as a Presbyterian meeting house or Methodist chapel, but as a Roman Catholic church in the days before the last of the Penal Laws were finally abolished. For almost a century it served as the parish church of the north Cork town, and it was here almost 200 years ago that Eliza Lynch, the doctor’s daughter who would become ‘Queen of Paraguay,’ was baptised in 1834.

This former church was built in 1812 in the Classical style, and it retains its grand and splendidly composed façade. The fine details include a cut limestone clock face and polychrome glass.

The building is unusual as a Roman Catholic church of this size and style built before Catholic Emancipation. The Georgian Classical style was more popular in building 18th century dissenting chapels, including those for Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists and Baptists.

This is a free-standing gable-fronted multiple-bay two-storey building, with multiple-bay two-storey extensions at the rear corners.

The ground floor has an elliptical-arched entrance opening flanked by round-headed window openings, with cut limestone block-and-start surrounds and timber panelled double-leaf doors. There is a fanlight and a keystone with the date 1812 at the central opening.

The elliptical-arched central opening on the first floor is flanked by segmental-headed openings, with cut limestone block-and-start surrounds, cut limestone sills, and margined timber framed polychrome glass with a double lancet motif in the central window.

The ashlar limestone bellcote at the apex was added in 1829, the year of Catholic Emancipation. It is designed like a triumphal arch, with free-standing columns supporting the lintel over a round-headed arch, and it is surmounted by a carved limestone urn and flanked by obelisks.

Local lore claims the bellcote was the first erected and the bell the first tolled in the immediate aftermath of Catholic Emancipation.

This building continued to serve as the Catholic parish church in Charleville for more than 90 years until Holy Cross Church was built in 1898-1902. It then became a Parochial Hall, and is now Charleville Community Centre.

Eliza Lynch, the ‘Queen of Paraguay’ … photographed in Paris in 1855 when she was about 21

A plaque on the façade of the former church recalls that this was the place where Eliza Lynch, ‘National Heroine of Paraguay’, was baptised on 2 May 1834.

At one time, Eliza Lynch (1833-1886) was the most vilified woman in Latin American history, and was seen as an ambitious courtesan who had seduced the future President of Paraguay, Francisco Solano López, turning him into a bloodthirsty dictator. However, this reputation was created by propaganda during the Paraguayan War. In recent years her reputation has been restored, thanks to the work of two Irish historians, and she is now regarded the ‘National Heroine’ of Paraguay.

Eliza Alice Lynch was born in Charleville on 19 November 1833. Her father was Dr John Lynch, and her mother, Jane Clarke Lloyd, came from a long line of naval officers. She was baptised in the former Catholic Church on Chapel Lane in Charleville on 2 May 1834.

At the age of 10, she emigrated with her family to Paris to escape the Great Famine. When her father returned to Ireland and died in north Cork in 1846, Eliza’s mother took refuge with her brother-in-law, Commander William Boyle Crooke, in Boulogne-sur-Mer, and Eliza remained in France.

In 1850, when she was only 16, Eliza married Xavier Quatrefages, a young French officer who was soon posted to Algeria. She moved with him to North Africa, but deteriorating health caused her to return to Paris at the age of 18 to live with her mother in the Strafford household.

With the right social introductions, Eliza soon found herself in the elite circle surrounding Princess Mathilde Bonaparte and quickly set herself up as a courtesan.

Eliza was described as having a Junoesque figure, golden blonde hair and a provocative smile. In 1854, Eliza met General Francisco Solano López, son of President Carlos Antonio López of Paraguay.

At the time, the young general was training in the Napoleonic army. Eliza returned with him to Paraguay later that year. There she became his partner, and they had six children.

Her marriage to Quatrefages was annulled on the grounds that he had not received permission from his commanding officer to marry and that he and Eliza had no children together. He remarried in 1857, but Eliza and Francisco Solano López never married.

It is said that Eliza was the reason Lopez was so ambitious, although she later claimed she had no knowledge of politics and did not meddle in political affairs. She was detested by the elite but adored by the common people. By 1860 she had become famous as hostess to Latin America’s leading statesmen and diplomats.

After President Carlos Antonio López died in 1862, his son, Francisco Solano López succeeded him as president. Eliza became the de facto first lady, and she spent the next 15 years as the most powerful woman in Paraguay and the unofficial ‘Queen of Paraguay’ for two ecstatic years.

Eliza became a national heroine in her adopted country and fought alongside López during the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870) in which Paraguay was at war with Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

Throughout the war, Eliza led a group of women, Las Residentas, including soldiers’ wives, daughters, lovers and sisters, who supported the soldiers.

Eliza was at the Battle of Cerro Corá on 1 March 1870 when López was killed by the Brazilian forces. The Brazilians then headed towards the civilians in order to capture them. The eldest son of López and Lynch, Juan Francisco, who had been promoted to colonel and was 15, was with her. The Brazilians told him to surrender, but he replied Un coronel paraguayo nunca se rinde (‘A Paraguayan colonel never surrenders’).

When he was shot dead by the allied soldiers, Eliza jumped to cover her son’s body, and called out, ¿Ésta es la civilización que han prometido? (‘Is this the civilisation you have promised?’).

Eliza then buried both López and her son with her bare hands in the jungle before she was taken prisoner.

She was taken on the Princesa to Asuncion, where she was banished from Paraguay by the new government. She returned to Europe with her remaining children, but five years later she returned to Paraguay to claim her former property. On arriving, however, she was tried and banished from the country permanently by President Gill.

Eliza Lynch died in obscurity in Paris on 25 July 1886. In 1961, she was proclaimed a ‘National Heroine.’ Later, her body was exhumed and brought back to Paraguay on the orders of the dictator, General Alfredo Stroessner. She is now buried in the national cemetery, Cementerio de la Recoleta.

In their book Eliza Lynch – Queen of Paraguay, the Irish historians Michael Lillis and Ronan Fanning discuss Eliza’s Irish origins and life story, and restore her reputation, rescuing her from the legacy of the propaganda of her 19th century detractors.

Eliza Lynch, the ‘Queen of Paraguay,’ is honoured each year in her native Charleville. In 2014, her great-grandson, Miguel Angel Solano Lopez, the ambassador of Paraguay to Ireland, visited Charleville and unveiled a plaque at the former church recalling her baptism there in 180 years earlier.

The plaque on the former parish church commemorates the baptism of Eliza Lynch in 1834 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Thinking of blackberries
and poems on the feast of
Saint Michael and All Angels

Saint Michael (centre) with Saint Gabriel (right) and Saint Raphael (left) in stained-glass windows in Saint Ailbe’s Church, Emly, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels [29 September]. The Readings in the Revised Common Lectionary as adapted in the Church of Ireland are: Genesis 28: 10-17; Psalm 103: 19-22; Revelation 12: 7-12; John 1: 47-51.

Some parishes have transferred the commemoration of Saint Michael and All Angels to tomorrow (30 September 2018).

Churches dedicated to Saint Michael in the Dioceses of Limerick, Killaloe and Clonfert include Saint Michael’s, Pery Square, Limerick, Saint Michael’s Church, Killorglin, and Saint Michael and All Angels, Waterville, and the monastic settlement on the Skelligs Rocks was dedicated to Saint Michael. In the Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, Saint Michael’s Church, Miloremoy, is in Ballina, Co Mayo.

There are few references to Saint Michael in the Bible (Daniel 10: 13, 21, 12: 1; Jude 9; Revelation 12: 7-9; see also Revelation 20: 1-3). Yet Saint Michael has inspired great works in our culture, from John Milton’s Paradise Lost to Jacob Epstein’s powerful sculpture at Coventry Cathedral and poems by Philip Larkin and John Betjeman.

In all our imagery, in all our poetry, in stained glass windows throughout these islands, Saint Michael is depicted and seen as crushing or slaying Satan, often Satan as a dragon.

Culturally, today’s feast day of Saint Michael and All Angels has been an important day for the Church: the beginning of terms, the end of the harvest season, the settling of accounts.

It is the beginning of autumn, and as children in West Waterford we were told that Michaelmas Day is the last day for picking blackberries. As I grew up, I realised that this is a superstition shared across the islands, from Achill to Lichfield, from Wexford to Essex and Cambridge.

In his poem ‘Trebetherick,’ the late John Betjeman seems to link ripening blackberries and the closing in of the autumn days with old age and the approach of death:

Thick with sloe and blackberry, uneven in the light,
Lonely round the hedge, the heavy meadow was remote,
The oldest part of Cornwall was the wood as black as night,
And the pheasant and the rabbit lay torn open at the throat

Betjeman had spent much of his childhood there, and he died in Trebetherick on 19 May 1984, at the age of 77. But the former poet laureate had a more benign view of blackberries on a visit to the Isle of Man, when he described ‘wandering down your late-September lanes when dew-hung cobwebs glisten in the gorse and blackberries shine, waiting to be picked.’

In his poem ‘At the chiming of light upon sleep,’ first drafted on this day 72 years ago [29 September 1946], the poet Philip Larkin links Michaelmas and a lost paradise with chances and opportunities he failed to take in his youth.

A beehive hut at Saint Michael’s Well in Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry, associated with monastic settlement on the Skellig Rocks (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

This is a day to allow the mind to wander back to childhood memories, and a time for contemplation and unstructured prayers, giving thanks for the beauty of creation. September is the beginning of the Church Year in the Orthodox tradition, so this too is a day to think about and to give thanks for beginnings and ends, for starting and ending, for openings and closings, for memories and even for forgetfulness.

When I worked as Foreign Desk Editor of The Irish Times, Michael Jansen was a good friend and close colleague. We shared many of her hopes and fears, values and visions while she worked in Israel and the West Bank. Later, when she moved to Cyprus and shortly before my ordination, she invited me to spend Orthodox Easter in her village on the outskirts of Nicosia.

Friends and readers alike were surprised to find Michael is a woman. Most of us presume Michael is a man’s name. Yet the name Michael (Hebrew: מִיכָאֵל‎, Mîkhā'ēl; Greek: Μιχαήλ, Mikhaíl; Arabic: ميخائيل‎, Mikhā'īl) is not gender specific. The Talmudic tradition says Michael means ‘who is like El (God)?’ It is a popular mistake to translate the name as ‘One who is like God.’ It is, however, meant as a question: ‘Who is like the Lord God?’

The name was said to have been the war-cry of the angels in the battle fought in heaven against Satan and his followers. With a name like that, is it any wonder that my friend Michael lived up to her father’s expectations, taking a strong stand against the twin evils of oppressive violence and political corruption.

Saint Michael depicted in a stained-glass window in Saint Michael’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Killorglin, Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Archangel Michael is one of the principal angels in the Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions. In John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, Michael commands the army of angels loyal to God against the rebel forces of Satan. One of the best-known sculptures by Sir Jacob Epstein is Saint Michael’s Victory over the Devil at Coventry Cathedral.

Yet Michael is mentioned by name in the Bible only in the Book of Daniel, the Epistle of Jude and in the Book of Revelation.

After a period of fasting by Daniel, Michael appears as ‘one of the chief princes’ (Daniel 10: 13). Michael contends for Israel and is the ‘great prince, the protector of your (Daniel’s) people’ (Daniel 10: 21, 12: 1).

In the Epistle of Jude (verse 9), Michael contends with the Devil over the body of Moses, a story also found in the Midrash. In the Book of Revelation (Revelation 12: 7-12), we read of the war that ‘broke out in heaven’ between Michael and his angels and the dragon.

The later Christian traditions about Michael draw on Midrashic traditions and accounts in the Hebrew Apocrypha, especially the Book of Enoch, where he is the ‘viceroy of heaven,’ ‘the prince of Israel,’ and the angel of forbearance and mercy, who teaches clemency and justice, who presides over human virtue.

Rabbinic lore and the Midrash made Michael the special patron of Adam, the rescuer of Abraham, Lot and Jacob, the teacher of Moses, and the advocate of Israel; Michael tried to prevent Israel from being led into captivity, to save the Temple from destruction, and to protect Esther.

In the early Church, Michael was associated with the care of the sick, an angelic healer and heavenly physician associated with medicinal springs, streams and rivers. The Orthodox Church gave him the title Archistrategos or ‘Supreme Commander of the Heavenly Hosts.’ Saint Basil the Great and other Greek fathers placed Michael over all the angels and so called him ‘archangel.’

In the Middle Ages, Michael became the patron saint of warriors, and later became the patron saint of police officers, soldiers, paratroopers, mariners, paramedics, grocers, the Ukraine, the German people, of many cities, including Brussels, Coventry and Kiev, and, of course, of Marks and Spencer.

There are legends associating Michael with Castel di S. Angelo in Rome, Mont-Saint-Michel in France and mountain chapels all over Germany, and with Skellig Michael off the Kerry coast, which is a World Heritage Site. Saint Michael was also popular in the early Irish monastic tradition.

More practically, Michaelmas Day became one of the regular ‘quarter days’ in England and in Ireland. It was one of the days set aside for settling rents and accounts. Traditionally, in England and Ireland, university terms and court terms began on Michaelmas.

In the modern world, where angels and archangels are often the stuff of fantasy, science fiction and new-age babble, it is worth reminding ourselves about some Biblical and traditional values associated with Saint Michael and the Angels. Angels are nothing more than – but nothing less than – the messengers of God, the bringers of good news.

Saint Michael in a window in Saint Cronan’s Roman Catholic parish church in Roscrea, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Saint Michael’s virtues – standing up for God’s people and their rights, taking a clear stand against manifest evil, firmly opposing oppressive violence and political corruption, while always valuing forbearance and mercy, clemency and justice – are virtues we should always keep before us in our ministry and mission.

There is no special preface in the Book of Common Prayer for Michaelmas because in the Preface to the Eucharist, we already declare: ‘And so with all your people, with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we proclaim your great and glorious name, for ever praising you and saying ...’

We should always be prepared, like Saint Michael and the angels to ask and to answer to the question: ‘Who is like the Lord God?’

The ruins of Ballinskelligs Priory, Co Kerry, founded by the monks from Skellig Michael (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

John 1: 47-51

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ 48 Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’ Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49 Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ 50 Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51 And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’

The Church of Saint Michael and All Angels in Waterville, Co Kerry, reopened on Trinity Sunday, 27 May 2018, with an ecumenical service (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Liturgical Resources:

Liturgical colour: White


Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Woe is me, for I am lost;
I am a person of unclean lips.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Your guilt is taken away,
And your sin is forgiven.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Saint Michael depicted in a stained glass window in Holy Cross Church, Charleville, Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Collect:

Everlasting God,
you have ordained and constituted the ministries
of angels and mortals in a wonderful order:
Grant that as your holy angels always serve you in heaven,
so, at your command,
they may help and defend us on earth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Hear again the song of angels:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace. (Luke 2: 14)

Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord of heaven,
in this Eucharist you have brought us near
to an innumerable company of angels
and to the spirits of the saints made perfect.
As in this food of our earthly pilgrimage
we have shared their fellowship,
so may we come to share their joy in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


The God of all creation
guard you by his angels,
and grant you the citizenship of heaven:

The beach at Saint Finian’s Bay, near Ballinskelligs, Co Kerry, with Skellig Michael in the distance (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Suggested Hymns:

The hymns suggested for today in Sing to the Word (2000), edited by Bishop Edward Darling, include:

Genesis 28: 10-17:

561, Beneath the cross of Jesus
562, Blessèd assurance, Jesus is mine
330, God is here, As we his people
331, God reveals his presence
67, God, who made the earth and heaven
656, Nearer, my God, to thee

Psalm 103: 19-22:

682, All created things, bless the Lord
250, All hail the power of Jesus’ name
453, Come to us, creative Spirit
465, Hark, hark, my soul! angelic songs are swelling
321, Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty
708, O praise ye the Lord! Praise him in the height
366, Praise, my soul, the King of heaven
709, Praise the Lord! You heavens, adore him
376, Ye holy angels bright

Revelation 12: 7-12:

269, Hark ten thousand voices sounding
487, Soldiers of Christ, arise
112, There is a Redeemer
492, Ye servants of God, your master proclaim

John 1: 47-51:

460, For all your saints in glory, for all your saints at rest (verses 1, 2n, 3)
97, Jesus shall reign where’er the sun

Other hymns that are also suitable include:

346, Angel voices ever singing
316, Bright the vision that delighted
332, Come, let us join our cheerful songs
696, God, we praise you! God, we bless you!
476, Ye watchers and ye holy ones

Legends associate Saint Michael with Castel di S. Angelo in Rome (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