26 November 2018

Finding the Precentor’s
link with Ballycahane
and the strange story
of the Colleen Bawn

Ballycahane Church, near Croom, Co Limerick, seen from the south-east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Two new canons were installed in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, yesterday [25 November 2018]: Canon Liz Beasley of Adare and Kilmallock becomes the new Chancellor, and Canon Jim Stephens of Tralee is the new Prebendary of Saint Munchin and Tulloh.

The chapter is a united chapter for the three cathedrals in the diocese – Saint Mary’s, Limerick, Saint Flannan’s, Killaloe, Co Clare, and Saint Brendan’s, Clonfert, Co Galway.

I was reminded recently of the legislation introduced in the General Synod by Dean Maurice Sirr of Limerick and Dean Ernon Perdue of Killaloe in 1987 that united the cathedral chapters and that set out the full complement of chapter members:

The Dean of Limerick, who is also Dean of Ardfert and Prebendary of Tomgraney;

The Dean of Killaloe and Clonfert, who is also the Prebendary of Kilpeacon;

The Precentor, who is also the Prebendary of Ballycahane;

The Chancellor;

The Treasurer, who is also the Archdeacon of Ardfert and Prebendary of Killeedy and Prebendary of Dysart;

The Archdeacon of Limerick, who is also the Prebendary of Effin, Croagh, Ardcanny and Clondegad;

The Archdeacon of Killaloe and Clonfert, who is also the Prebendary of Tullybrackey;

The Prebendary of Saint Munchin’s, who is also the Prebendary of Tulloh;

The Prebendary of Inniscattery, who is also the Prebendary of Donaghmore and of Kilconnell;

The Prebendary of Athnett, ‘who shall always be the Bishop for the time being of the united dioceses.’

The seals of the Deans and Chapters of the cathedrals in Limerick and Killaloe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

In the past, the Prebendary of Ballcahane was obliged to preach in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, on the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, and the Precentor on the Feast of Saint Bartholomew, the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle, and the Second Sunday in Lent.

The Prebendaries of Ballycahane in the past have included William Mansell, who held office for 50 years (1754-1804) as well as being Treasurer of Ardfert and corresponded with George Washington, and John Cousins, a former Roman Catholic priest who was educated at Maynooth and who was the Prebendary of Ballycahane in 1816-1833.

Until I was reminded of this legislation in general synod, I had not realised that by virtue of being the Precentor I am also the Prebendary of Ballycahane. So, one afternoon last week, on my way from the school in Rathkeale to Dublin, I went in search of Ballycahane, and the church were the rectors in the past had been my predecessors in this title in the cathedral chapter.

The south side of Ballycahane Church, Co Limerick, built in 1823 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Ballycahane is a parish in the baronies of Small County and Pubblebrien in Co Limerick, about 5 km miles from Croom, off the road between Limerick and Charleville and close to the banks of the River Maigue.

Local historic houses in the area have included Maryville, once the home of the Finch family, Fort Elizabeth, home of the Revd John Croker (1787-1839), Rector of Croom in the early 19th century, and Ballycahane House, home of a Captain Scanlon in the 1830s.

Samuel Lewis mentioned in the 1830s that the Rector of Ballycahane was also the Prebendary of Ballycahane in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick. The office and parish were in the patronage of the Bishop of the Limerick, and the tithes totalled £166.3.0.

The church was a large building, in the early English style, with a tower, built in 1823 by the assistance of a loan from the late Board of First Fruits. Although the glebe was five acres of ‘excellent land,’ there was no glebe house.

The boys’ and girls’ schools in the parish were supported by subscriptions from the rector, curate, and the Finch family of Fort Elizabeth, who domated the land on which the school was built.

Not far from the church are the ruins of the ancient castle of Ballycahane, built by the O’Grady family in 1496, and many ancient silver and copper coins were found nearby. Near Tory Hill are the remains of a church that once belonged to the Knights Templars, and later to the abbey of Nenagh.

Looking out into the churchyard at Ballycahane Church, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The church, now in a ruined state and without a roof, was built in 1823. It has three-bay nave elevations, a three-stage square-plan entrance tower and projecting rooms on the north and south sides of the tower.

One site describes them as a ‘side chapels,’ but undoubtedly they were a vestry and a Sunday school room, similar to the function of rooms like these flanking the tower in Castletown Church, near Pallaskenry, Co Limerick, down to the position of the fireplace in the vestry.

Inside Ballycahane Church, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The tower has three corner pinnacles, with a fourth missing, and stepped crenellations, with a cut limestone stringcourse beneath. The tower has snecked limestone walls with cut and tooled limestone quoins. There is a plaque above the door with a cut limestone stringcourse on the tower and incised crosses on the gables of the side chapels.

The pointed arch openings on the south nave wall and the east elevation have hood-mouldings with limestone block-and-start surrounds. There are no window openings on the north wall, a common feature in many Church of Ireland parish churches at the time as it protected the buildings and the congregations against the cold blasts of north winds.

The church tower and west end of Ballycahane Church, Co Limerick, built in 1823 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The paired pointed arch openings on the second floor of the tower have cut limestone block-and-start surrounds. The pointed arch door opening on the ground floor of the tower have label moulding and stops.

The surrounding churchyard has gravestones, a rubble limestone wall and a wrought-iron gate flanked by cut limestone piers.

Although this church is now in a state of ruin, it still shows many signs of high-quality craftsmanship. This can be seen in the cut limestone finishes to the door and window surrounds, the finishes to the tower, with its stringcourses and corner pinnacles.

Although the name of the architect is unknown, the shape of the main door and the rooms flanking the tower and other similarities with Castletown Church, indicate this may be the work of James Pain.

The fireplace in the former vestry in Ballycahane Church, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The earliest church in Ballycahane, as well as its lands, became part of the estate and abbey lands of Monasteranenagh Cistercian Abbey in Manister, but no trace of this church remains.

The extensive ruins of Monasteranenagh Abbey include a church, dating from about 1170 to 1220, an early Gothic chapter house and the abbey guesthouse.

The abbey was founded in 1148 by Turlough O’Brien, King of Munster, for Cistercian monks and was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Manister was a daughter house of Mellifont Abbey in C. Louth and Manister had daughter houses in Abbeydorney (1154), Middleton (1180) and Holy Cross (1181).

In 1228, the Irish monks with the help of the O’Briens, the Kings of Thomond, drove out the abbot and the non-Irish monks, who were mainly of Norman descent. They were excommunicated for revolting against their ecclesiastical superiors. Using armed force Hubert de Burgo, Bishop of Limerick, recaptured the abbey, and reinstalled the monks who had been driven out.

Gerald FitzGerald, Earl of Desmond, was visiting the Abbot of Manister in 1307 when he was captured by O’Brien of Thomond. Later the 14th century, Manister is said to have had up to 1,500 monks. In the 15th century, there were three chapels in each arm of the transept.

Although the monastery at Manister was dissolved in 1540, the monks were left in possession of the abbey.

During the Desmond Wars, Spanish and Irish soldiers took shelter in Monasternenagh in 1579, and the abbot helped them in the battle in which they were defeated by Sir William Malby. The Earl of Desmond watched the battle from Tory Hill nearby. After his victory, Malby burned the abbey. However, the monastery was not destroyed until 1585, when it became the property of Sir Henry Wallop, who plundered and robbed it of all its valuables before destroying the monastery.

Looking out the tower door of Ballycahane Church into the churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Ballycahane Castle is the ancestral home of John Scanlan, the murderer of the Colleen Bawn, Ellie Hanley, a beautiful young peasant girl.

Ellie Hanley was from Ballingarry, Co Limerick. Her mother died when she was six, and she was raised by an uncle in Ballycahane. John Scanlan, who was in his 20s, came from a family of high social standing. He had been a lieutenant in the Royal Marines and was known as a playboy.

Ellie was not yet 16 when the two eloped and moved to Glin in West Limerick. Scanlan employed a local woman, Nelly Walsh, as a part-time housekeeper and companion for Ellie, while Stephen Sullivan was his servant and boatman.

Ellie was missing for several weeks, when Nelly approached the Knight of Glin, a local magistrate, in the late autumn of 1819. Ellen had last seen Ellie two months before with Scanlan and Sullivan in a boat leaving from Glin. While Ellen was talking to the Knight of Glin, two policemen arrived and told him a body had been washed ashore across the Shannon at Moneypoint, Co Clare. The body was too badly decomposed to be identified, but the Coroner’s Court recorded a verdict of wilful murder against Scanlan and Sullivan.

The two men went into hiding, but Scanlan was captured and tried in March 1820. The trial was a sensation. Scanlan was defended by Daniel O’Connell, one of the leading barristers of the day, but was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

Scanlan was being taken by carriage to Gallows Green on the Clare side of the river on 16 March 1820 when the horses stopped, refusing to continue. Finally, Scanlan was made to walk to his place of execution, where he was hanged before he had time for an appeal.

Sullivan was arrested later and confessed that he had taken Ellie in his boat onto the Shannon from Glin and murdered her on 14 July at the behest of Scanlan, who had plied him with liquor in the town to nerve his arm. Sullivan was hanged too.

The Colleen Bawn, Ellie Hanley, is buried in Burrane cemetery, near Kilrush, Co Clare. John Scanlan from Ballycahane Castle is buried in Crecora Cemetery.

The Prebendary of Ballycahane at the Precentor’s Stall in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A return visit to Westminster
Cathedral after 40 years

Westminster Cathedral … designed the architect John Francis Bentley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Before I left London for Lichfield after a two-day residential meeting of USPG trustees, I stopped for a while on Thursday afternoon to visit Westminster Cathedral, the largest Roman Catholic church in England and Wales.

I had been in Westminster Cathedral once 40 years ago in 1978 for a conference in the crypt organised by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, and since then had often passed by but had not been inside as a visitor.

Westminster Cathedral is officially the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. John Betjeman once called it ‘a masterpiece in striped brick and stone in an intricate pattern of bonding, the domes being all-brick in order to prove that the good craftsman has no need of steel or concrete.’ HS Goodhart-Rendel, author of English Architecture since the Regency, has described the cathedral as ‘a work of extraordinary beauty and grandeur.’

The site was originally Tothill Fields, a marsh area reclaimed by the Benedictine monks of Westminster Abbey. The Abbot of Westminster held a weekly market and annual fairs here from the late 13th century.

After the Reformation, the land was used in turn as a maze, a pleasure garden, a ring for bull-baiting and a burial site after the Great Plague in 1665. In the 17th century, part of the land was sold by Westminster Abbey to build Tothill Fields prison, which was replaced by an enlarged prison complex in 1834.

The first large sum of money raised for building a new cathedral was raised in memory of Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman (1802-1865), the first Archbishop of Westminster (1850-1865). The site was bought by Wiseman’s successor, Cardinal Henry Manning (1808-1892), in 1884.

After two false starts in 1867, under the architect Henry Clutton, and in 1892 with the architect Baron von Herstel, building started in 1895 under Manning’s successor, the third Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Herbert Vaughan (1832-1903), with John Francis Bentley (1839-1902) as the architect.

Bentley’s design was inspired by the great Byzantine-influenced cathedrals, including Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Bentley was born in Doncaster on 30 January 1839. A master of the neo-Gothic and Byzantine Revival styles, his great opportunity came when he was commissioned to design Westminster Cathedral in 1894.

After deciding on a Byzantine Revival design, he travelled to Italy to study some of the great early Byzantine-influenced cathedrals, including Saint Mark’s Basilica, Venice. Because of illness and an outbreak of cholera in Istanbul, he was unable to complete his tour with a study of the Hagia Sofia. He ended his tour in Venice and returned to London to begin work on Westminster Cathedral.

When Bentley died on 2 March 1902, he was buried in the cemetery behind Saint Mary Magdalen’s Church, Mortlake. Nearby are buried Henry Clutton, the architect to whom he had been articled in 1857-1860, and who had made the first designs for a new cathedral for Cardinal Manning.

The foundation stone was laid in 1895, and the Cathedral was dedicated to the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Latin dedication above the portal arch reads: Domine Jesus Rex et Redemptor per Sanguinem tuum salva nos, ‘Lord Jesus, King and Redeemer, heal us through your blood.’

The fabric of the building was completed eight years later. The cathedral opened in 1903, a year after Bentley’s death, and one of the first public services there was the funeral of Cardinal Vaughan, who died on 19 June 1903.

Inside Westminster Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

For reasons of economy, the decoration of the interior had hardly been started and still much remained to be completed. Under canon law at the time, no church could be consecrated unless free it was from debt and its fabric had been completed. The cathedral was consecrated on 28 June 1910, although the interior was never finished.

The cathedral has a floor area of about 5,017 square metres, with a campanile, and a spacious and uninterrupted nave, 18 metres wide and 70 metres long from the narthex to the sanctuary steps, covered with domical vaulting.

In planning the nave, a system of supports was adopted with huge, yet narrow, buttresses projected at intervals, and stiffened by transverse walls, arcading and vaulting. The main piers and transverse arches that support the domes divide the nave into three bays, each about 395 square metres. The domes rest on the arches at a height of 27 metres above the floor, and the total internal height is 34 metres.

The sanctuary is Byzantine in style. The extensions that open out on all sides make the corona of the dome seem independent of support.

The east end of the cathedral suggests the Romanesque and Lombardic styles of Northern Italy. The crypt is inspired by the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, Milan.

In the Byzantine tradition, the interior was designed with a view to the application of marble and mosaic.

Marble columns, with Byzantine-style capitals, support the galleries and other parts of the cathedral. Some of the marble for the columns was quarried in Greece.

The central feature in Westminster Cathedral is the baldacchino over the High Altar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The central feature is the baldacchino over the high altar. This is one of the largest structures of its kind, the total width being 9.5 metres, and the height 11.5 metres. The upper part of white marble is richly inlaid with coloured marbles, lapis lazuli, pearl and gold. Eight columns of yellow marble, from Verona, support the baldacchino, and white and pink marble columns from Norway, support the organ galleries.

Behind the baldacchino, the crypt emerges above the floor of the sanctuary. Cardinal Wiseman and Cardinal Manning are buried under the High Altar, and the relics of Saint Edmund of Canterbury are held nearby.

When Bentley died, there were no completed mosaics in the cathedral and he left few sketches or designs for his intended mosaics. Instead, the subject and styles of the mosaics were influenced by donors and designers.

The mosaics installed in 1912-1916 were mostly the work of members of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Those in the Lady Chapel were installed by Gertrude Martin, who had worked with George Bridge, in 1912-1913.

The chapel of Saint Thomas of Canterbury, entered from the north transept, is a chantry for Cardinal Vaughan.

The chapel of the Blessed Sacrament is on the north side of the sanctuary, and the Lady Chapel on the south side

In the Blessed Sacrament chapel, a small baldacchino is suspended over the altar from the vault, and the chapel is enclosed with bronze grilles and gates. In the Lady Chapel the walls are clad in marble and the altar reredos has a mosaic of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child.

The conches of the chapel contain mosaics of the Old Testament prophets Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

The chapel of Saint Gregory and Saint Augustine was the first to have its decoration completed (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The chapel of Saint Gregory and Saint Augustine was the first to have its decoration completed.

The Archangel Raphael and the Archangel Michael with the holy souls (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Chapel of the Holy Souls has a more subdued, almost funereal style of decoration.

Above the Altar, a mosaic depicts the Archangel Raphael escorting the holy souls through the cleansing flames and the Archangel Michael escorting them out and up to Paradise. Below, Christ displays his wounds, a reference to the Cathedral’s dedication to the Precious Blood of Christ. There are other references in this chapel to the first performance of The Dream of Gerontius, Cardinal Newman’s poem to a setting by Edward Elgar, in 1903.

The scene from the Book of Daniel on the west wall of the Chapel of the Holy Souls (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

On the facing, west wall in this chapel, the mosaic depicts Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being cast into the Burning Furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar, as told in the Book of Daniel, but protected by the Son of Man.

The mosaics in the chapel of Saint Andrew also belong to work of the Arts and Craft Movement.

The mosaics in the Lady Chapel of Christ as the Tree of Life, with the Virgin Mary in London and Saint Peter at Westminster Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Mosaics were placed in the Lady Chapel in 1930-1935 in the alcoves above the confessionals, in the crypt dedicated to Saint Peter as well as on the sanctuary arch.

No new mosaics were installed until 1950 when one depicting Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, later replaced by a bronze, was placed in the south transept and another in memory of members of the Royal Army Medical Corps who died in World War II in the Chapel of Saint George and the English Martyrs in 1952.

The Blessed Sacrament Chapel was decorated in 1960-1962 in a traditional, early Christian style, with the mosaics being predominantly pale pink in order to afford a sense of light and space. The designer, Boris Anrep, known in Ireland for his decorations of the Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, chose Eucharistic themes, including the Sacrifice of Abel, the Hospitality of Abraham, the Gathering of Manna in the Wilderness, the Feeding of the Multitude and the Wedding at Cana.

In his old age, Anrep also acted as adviser and principal sketch artist for the mosaics in the chapel of Saint Paul (1964-1965). These mosaics depict events in the life of Saint Paul.

It was not until the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1982 that the next mosaic was installed, above the north-west entrance. This mosaic is an inscription in Latin: Porta sis ostium pacificum par eum qui se ostium appellavit, Jesus Christum, ‘May this door be the gate of peace through him who called himself the gate, Jesus Christ.’

Saint Patrick’s Chapel in Westminster Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The mosaic of Saint Patrick, holding a shamrock and a pastoral staff and trampling on a snake, was installed at the entrance to Saint Patrick’s Chapel in 1999.

The mosaic of the Holy Family by Christopher Hobbs in the Chapel of Saint Joseph (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A mosaic of Saint Alban, strongly influenced by the style of early Byzantine iconography, was installed by Christopher Hobbs in 2001. Hobbs was then commissioned for further mosaics: the Chapel of Saint Joseph with mosaics of the Holy Family (2003) and men working on Westminster Cathedral (2006). Hobbs also decorated the Chapel of Saint Thomas Becket with the saint standing in front of the old Canterbury Cathedral and the murder of Saint Thomas.

The Stations of the Cross and the carving of the Crucifixion in the Chapel of Saint George and the English Martyrs are by the sculptor Eric Gill, and are among the finest examples of his work.

Eric Gill’s Crucifixion above the Altar in the Chapel of Saint George and the English Martyrs is his last work (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Eric Gill’s Crucifixion above the Altar in the Chapel of Saint George and the English Martyrs is the last work by the great English sculptor, who died in 1940. It shows Christ not as a victim but gloriously triumphant over death. On the left stands Saint Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, and on the right Saint John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, both executed on the orders of King Henry VIII in 1535.

John Betjeman called Westminster Cathedral ‘a masterpiece in striped brick and stone in an intricate pattern of bond’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Outside, the white stone bands in the red brickwork are striking in appearance. The bricks were hand-moulded by Thomas Lawrence Brickworks in Bracknell.

The tympanum of the portal shows in a Byzantine-style mosaic Christ as the enthroned Pantocrator (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The deeply recessed arch over the main, central entrance, is flanked by tribunes and stairway turrets. The tympanum of the portal shows in a Byzantine-style mosaic (from left to right), Saint Peter kneeling with the Keys of Heaven, the Virgin Mary, Christ as the enthroned Pantocrator, Saint Joseph holding a lily, and King Edward the Confessor kneeling in royal regalia. Christ blesses the world with his right hand, and in his left hand holds the Book of Life, with the Latin inscription: Ego sum ostium per me si quis introierit salvabitur, ‘I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved’ (John 10: 9).

Westminster Cathedral has a distinguished choral tradition. It has its origin in the shared vision of Cardinal Vaughan, the cathedral’s founder, and Sir Richard Runciman Terry, its first Master of Music. The choir has commissioned many works from distinguished composers, including Benjamin Britten and Ralph Vaughan Williams.

The Grand Organ, with four manuals and 81 stops, was built by Henry Willis III (1922-1932). One of Louis Vierne’s best-known organ pieces, Carillon de Westminster, the final movement from Suite no 3 (op 54) of Pièces de Fantaisie, was composed for this organ and dedicated to the builder. The apse organ of 15 stops was built in 1910 by Lewis & Co.

The first performance in London of The Dream of Gerontius, a poem by Cardinal John Henry Newman set to music by Edward Elgar, took place in the cathedral in 1903. John Tavener’s The Beautiful Names, a setting of the 99 names of Allah in the Qur’an, had its première in the cathedral in 2007.

The font in the Baptistry was designed and donated by John Francis Bentley (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

During her Silver Jubilee, Queen Elizabeth II visited the cathedral in 1977. She again visited the cathedral again in 1995 when she attended Choral Vespers. Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in the cathedral in 1982, and Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass there in 2010.

The Feast of the Dedication of the cathedral is celebrated on 1 July, which from 1849 until 1969 was the feast of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Inside the Chapel of the Holy Souls in Westminster Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)