23 September 2019

Rathronan churchyard has
two mausoleums recalling
O’Brien and Massy families

The Smith O’Brien Mausoleum in Rathronan churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I was speaking yesterday [23 September 2019] in Ratronan Church at an afternoon commemoration organised by Saint Kieran’s Heritage Association to remember William Smith O’Brien (1803-1864).

During the commemorations, four wreaths were laid at the door of the Smith O’Brien mausoleum to commemorate William Smith O’Brien (1803-1864), the former MP for Ennis and Limerick and leader of the Young Ireland revolt in 1848.

The Smith O’Brien family mausoleum is an imposing and beautiful structure in this small, peaceful graveyard where there are few headstones.

Before his arrest and deportation, William Smith O’Brien lived nearby at Cahermoyle House. When he died in exile in Bangor in north Wales on 16 June 1864, his body was brought back to Ireland for burial.

His body was brought by ship from Wales to Dublin, arriving at the quayside in the very early hours of the morning. Newspaper reports at the time recorded that when his body arrived on the North Wall on the morning of 23 June, about 2,000 persons lined the quays in Dublin.

His coffin was carried shoulder-high by six men along the banks of the Royal Canal and through the streets of Dublin to be taken by the Great Southern and Western Railway to Limerick railway station, and from there to Cahermoyle.

His funeral took place in Rathronan Church, which was the family’s parish church. The funeral procession was so long that it was said the hearse had reached the church while the end of the procession was still leaving Cahermoyle, 3 km away.

A year later, the Smith O’Brien family of Cahermoyle House commissioned the mausoleum in the Hiberno-Romanesque style erected in Rathronan churchyard in 1865.

The O’Brien coat-of-arms on the Smith O’Brien Mausoleum in Rathronan churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The mausoleum is also the burial place of William Smith O’Brien’s wife, Lucy Caroline (1811-1861), who died three years before him, and their eldest son Edward William O’Brien (1837-1909), who is described in one of the inscriptions as ‘A Just Man, Lover of His People.’

The mausoleum is a fine example of careful design and well executed stonework. The highly ornate façade incorporates a variety of Celtic Revival motifs and inscriptions.

The mausoleum was designed by William Fogerty in the Hiberno-Romanesque style that prefigures that of Cahermoyle House.

On the front, the carved sandstone coat of arms of the O’Brien family of Dromoland Castle is placed in the upper gable of the façade. Below this, a round-headed opening has columns supporting a tooled limestone arch and a cable-edged cut limestone arch over a double-leaf, cast-iron panelled door with an inscribed limestone tympanum overhead. The cut limestone hood-moulding ends in tooled stops on each side, with an arched diamond pattern above the hood-moulding.

The cut-stone walls have alternating limestone and sandstone courses, and a cut limestone plinth course. There are blind arcades on three sides, with carved chevrons on the arches and columns, and inscribed memorials. The oculus opening at the west side has a decorative carved sandstone surround.

The mausoleum has a pitched cut limestone roof with carved limestone Celtic cross finials and ridge tiles.

An inscription in Latin reads: Pro Libertate Patriae (‘For the Freedom of my Country’). At one end there is a signature of William Fogerty, architect, of Limerick and Dublin, and at the other end of James Cavanagh, builder, of Limerick. The cast-iron doors bear the manufacturer’s stamp, ‘Perrott, Cork.’

The architect William Fogerty (1833/1834-1878) was the second son of John Fogerty of Limerick, and a younger brother of the architect Joseph Fogerty. He studied at Queen’s College, Cork, and began practicing as an architect in Limerick with his father in the 1850s.

He moved to Dublin in 1863 or 1864, and he was working there when he designed the O’Brien mausoleum in Rathronan. After a tour of Italy with Thomas Henry Longfield in 1869, he moved to London, where his brother was already practising as an architect.

He later emigrated to New York, but he returned to Ireland in late 1874 or early 1875. He had resumed his practice at 23 Harcourt Street, Dublin, and continued to practise there until he died from smallpox at the age of 44 on 22 May 1878. He was buried in Saint Munchin’s churchyard, Limerick.

The Massy Mausoleum in Rathronan churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Smith O’Brien family mausoleum forms an interesting historical group with the ruined Church of Ireland church and the adjacent Massy Mausoleum, erected in the churchyard around 1860.

The Massy Mausoleum is designed in the Greek classical style with a gable front. It has cut limestone walls on three sides and a rubble stone wall on the fourth side.

This mausoleum is well designed and its features include a tooled limestone altar embedded on the south side with a carved inscription, a carved limestone coat of arms, a square-headed opening with a tooled limestone surround and a cast-iron panelled door with the manufacturer’s inscription.

The plaque reads, ‘Eyre Massy Esq Glenville and Chas Massy Esq Bairnvale Sydney.’ The inscription, quoting Revelation 14: 13, reads,

Blessed are the dead which die in Christ
from henceforth: Yea saith the Spirit,
That they may rest from their labours;
and their works do follow them.

The Massy coat-of-arms on the Massy Mausoleum in Rathronan churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The disused railway station at Ardagh postdates the funeral of William Smith O’Brien. This detached, two-bay, two-storey former railway station with a dormer attic was built ca 1867.

The former station building retains much of its original form and fabric. Its stone construction and gabled form are characteristic features of railway structures of its time in Ireland. It incorporates a number of decorative features, including decorative bargeboards, which contrast and add interest to the rusticated limestone walls.

The disused railway station at Ardagh, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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