27 May 2019

The former episcopal
Palace in Tuam was once
at the heart of church life

The former Palace of the Archbishops and Bishops of Tuam stands prominently in Bishop Street, Tuam, Co Galway (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I was in Tuam, Co Galway, for a funeral late yesterday evening [26 May 2019]. Two of us parked in the grounds of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption, and we had a few hours to explore the town with its square and Town Hall, the two cathedrals, some of the early church sites.

The former Palace of the Archbishops and Bishops of Tuam stands prominently in Bishop Street, facing the Cathedral of the Assumption. The Palace is now linked to the large Supervalu supermarket block to the west. But it was at the centre of Church of Ireland life in Connacht for more than two centuries while it was the official residence from 1723 until 1950 of the Church of Ireland Archbishops of Tuam, and later the Bishops of Tuam.

The Palace is a detached seven-bay, three-storey over basement Georgian palace, with a three-bay entrance breakfront. It was built by Archbishop Edward Synge (1716-1741) and remodelled in 1823 by Archbishop Power Le Poer Trench.

Although this is a Georgian house, its plain upright exterior suggests a link almost as close to the tower houses of earlier centuries as to the Palladian mansions that soon followed, such as the former Bishop’s Palaces on Church Street and Henry Street in Limerick.

Yet, the Palace in Tuam is a very handsome and substantial building, and was once the largest mansion in Tuam – larger even than the ruined castle of the mediaeval High Kings of Ireland.

The house is essentially from the first half of the 18th century but it was remodelled and given its present doorway in the first decades of the 19th century. Its large scale and formal design, with good limestone detailing, is typical of important religious residences.

The Palace was built by Edward Synge (1659-1741), who was Chancellor of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin (1705-1714), and Bishop of Raphoe (1714-1716), before becoming Archbishop of Tuam (1716-1741).

Synge was born on 6 April 1659 at Inishannon, Co Cork, the second son of Edward Synge, Bishop of Limerick (1660-1663) and Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross (1663-1678), and a nephew of George Synge (1594-1653), Bishop of Cloyne. He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, and Trinity College, Dublin.

Synge argued for religious toleration and believed Roman Catholics and Dissenters should not be prosecuted. A renowned preacher, many of his works were published. The Synge family was a dynasty of prominent church and literary figures that included the archbishop’s sons, Edward Synge (1691-1762), Bishop of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh (1730-1732), Bishop of Cloyne (1732-1734), Bishop of Ferns and Leighlin (1734-1740) and Bishop of Elphin (1740-1762), and Nicholas Synge, Bishop of Killaloe and Kilfenora (1752-1771), as well as the playwright John Millington Synge (1871-1909).

Archbishop Synge died in office on 23 July 1741, aged 82. His palace in Tuam was remodelled in 1823 by Power Le Poer Trench (1770-1839), who was Bishop of Waterford and Lismore (1802-1810) and then Bishop of Elphin (1810-1819) before becoming Archbishop of Tuam (1819-1839).

Trench was the second son of William Trench, 1st Earl of Clancarty, and a younger brother of Richard Trench, 2nd Earl of Clancarty. He was born in Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street), Dublin, on 10 June 1770, was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Dublin, and was ordained deacon in 1791 and priest in 1792.

After ordination, he continued as the agent on his father’s vast estates centres on Ballinasloe, Co Galway. During the 1798 Rising, he was a captain in the yeomanry raised by his father to fight against the General Humbert’s invading French army.

Trench actively promoted a vigorous evangelical movement in Connacht known as the ‘Second Reformation.’ From 1818 until he died, Trench was president of the Irish Society. He strongly opposed the mixed system of national education and was one of the founders of the Church Education Society.

The carved limestone doorcase of the former Palace in Tuam has a correctly detailed Ionic order with fluted pilasters (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

The Palace is said to have been built on the site of the castle fosse, and the castle ruins were quarried exhaustively for building material – a common practice in Georgian times.

The front entrance is approached by a limestone bridge across a basement area that is wide and deep enough to allow the basement rooms to be well lit. The basement area is protected by iron railings with classical piers that have urns and simple spiked railings in between.

The carved limestone doorcase has a correctly detailed Ionic order with fluted pilasters on high bases supporting a detailed entablature and open-bed pediment with the Trench coat-of-arms in the tympanum. The double-leaf timber door has raised and fielded panels.

The original, square-headed, six-over-six pane timber sliding windows have tooled limestone sills. There are roughcast rendered walls with a cut limestone band between the ground and first floors, and moulded limestone coping between the ground floor and the basement.

The rear elevation mirrors the front but without an entrance doorway. There are car parks to the front, rear and east side of building. It has a hipped slate roof with an eaves course and cast-iron rainwater goods.

The rapid development of architectural styles in the 18th century explains why s early as 1787 the architect and geographer, the Revd Daniel Beaufort (1739-1821) of Collon, Co Louth, described the Palace as ‘old-fashioned and ill-contrived.’

But half a century later, and more than a decade after the Palace was remodelled by Archbishop Trench, Samuel Lewis described the Palace as ‘large and handsomely built, though not possessing much architectural embellishment.’

However, it seems Lewis did not see that interiors of the Palace, dating from 1823, including the magnificent stucco ceilings.

The Palace was the official residence of the Archbishop of Tuam, whose diocese was then the largest in Ireland. It was also his administrative centre for rents, tithes and a consistorial court that adjudicated on wills, marriages, deeds and other matters handled by church courts.

This was the manor house at the centre of a large church demesne that included most of the town of Tuam and its surrounding districts. The demesne, first laid out by Archbishop Edward Synge, was once enclosed by elegant high walls and included gardens, stables and farmyard buildings.

The Palace grounds on the north-east side of the palace were laid out in a style associated in England with Capability Brown, with parklands, trees and walks. In 1844, the park was said to ‘add considerably to the appearance of the town.’

But five years earlier, on the death of Archbishop Le Poer Trench in 1839, the Ecclesiastical Province of Tuam lost its metropolitan status and became the united Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry within the Province of Armagh.

By the time of the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869, many of the civil and legal functions of the Church had been transferred to the state.

The Palace was sold by the Church in 1950, and in 1951 the palace demesne was acquired by Galway County Council and broken up. Only the Palace, the quadrangular stables and the Palace grounds are recognisable survivals.

The Palace is clearly visible from the drive in front of the Cathedral of the Assumption, but the vista is marred by the supermarket car park between the two, and at ground level each side of the palace is often hidden behind stacked racks of supermarket trolleys.

The Trench coat-of-arms in the tympanum above the doorcase of the former Palace in Tuam (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A ruined castle near Thurles
and a cathedral monument
are reminders of a lost family

A memorial to one of the many pretenders to the Mathew and Landaff titles in Llandaff Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In recent days, I have been writing about tangled family trees and difficult marriages that led to questions about the inheritance of titles and estates in the Townshend family and the Leeson family.

In the Townshend family, scandals and a bigamous marriage threatened the succession to both the title of Marquess Townshend and the ownership of Tamworth Castle. In the Leeson family, a tangled family tree led to the loss of Russborough House in Co Wicklow and the disappearance of the title of Earl of Milltown.

Similar stories are told about the Mathew family of Thomastown, Co Tipperary, and the claims to the title of Earl Landaff.

The Mathew family claimed descent from a branch of the Matthew family of Radyr in Glamorgan, in south Wales. There are three 15th and 16th century Mathew family effigies in Llandaff Cathedral.

Inside Llandaff Cathedral in south Wales (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

George Mathew sold his estate at Radyr in the mid-17th and moved to Co Tipperary. He became the owner of Thomastown Castle, near Thurles, when he married Elizabeth Poyntz (1587-1673), Lady Thurles, widow of Thomas Butler, Viscount Thurles.

It was a marriage that brought George Mathew into a powerful and influential family circle, and he was the stepfather of James Butler (1610-1688), 1st Duke of Ormond.

George Mathew died in 1638, but the Mathew family maintained close connections with the Ormond Butlers in the generations that followed. In 1666, George Mathew was granted a large estate in Co Tipperary, including part of Thomastown. The original Thomastown Castle was a two-storey house of pink brick built in the 1670s by George Mathew with early 18th additions.

Thomastown Castle was the birthplace and early home of Father Mathew, the ‘Apostle of Temperance,’ and his father was a cousin of Thomas Mathew and worked for him as his agent.

Thomas Mathew of Annefield succeeded to the Mathew estates of Thomastown and Thurles in 1760. Wilson described Thomastown Castle in 1786 as ‘an ancient but handsome edifice.’ Thomas was succeeded by his son Francis Mathew in 1777 who was given the title of Earl Landaff in 1797.

Francis Mathew (1738-1806), 1st Earl Landaff, had been MP for Tipperary in the Irish House of Commons in 1768-1783, and was High Sheriff of Tipperary. He was made a member of the Irish House of Lords in 1783 with the title of Baron Landaff, of Thomastown, in Co Tipperary. In 1793, he received the higher title of Viscount Landaff, and in 1797 he was made Earl Landaff.

The Earls Landaff used the invented courtesy title Viscount Mathew for the heir apparent. Despite their territorial designations, the misspelling of Llandaff as Landaff, and the fact that the titles were in the Irish Peerage, the titles all referred to the place in Glamorgan now spelt Llandaff. After the Act of Union, Lord Landaff was elected as one of the 28 Irish peers to the British House of Lords.

This Lord Landaff was married three times. On 6 September 1764, he married Elisha Smyth (1743-1781) in Bellinter, Co Meath. She was a sister of Sir Skeffington Smyth of Tinney Park, Co Wicklow. They had four children, three sons and two daughters: Francis James Mathew, later 2nd Earl of Landaff; General Montague Mathew (1773-1819); the Hon George Toby Skeffington Mathew (died 1832); and Lady Elizabeth Mathew (died 1842).

In 1784, he married his second wife, Lady Catherine Skeffington (1752-1796), a daughter of Clotworthy Skeffington, 1st Earl of Massereene. They had no children, and in 1799 he married his third wife, a woman named Coghlan from Ardo, Co Waterford.

When he died in 1806, he was succeeded in his titles by his eldest son from his first marriage, Francis James Mathew (1768-1833), 2nd Earl Landaff, who had been known by the courtesy title of Viscount Mathew. He was MP for Tipperary in the Irish House of Commons (1790-1792), Callan (1796) and again for Tipperary (1796-1801). As Earl Landaff, he also took his father’s place as an Irish representative peer in the House of Lords.

He opposed the Act of Union, supported Catholic Emancipation, and was seen as ‘a personal enemy of George IV’ when he gave evidence in favour of Queen Charlotte regarding her conduct at the Court of Naples during her famous trial.

Thomastown Castle was enlarged in the early 19th century, and transformed into a Gothic castle, designed by Richard Morrison for Francis James Mathew, the 2nd Earl Landaff.

Lord Landaff married Gertrude Cecilia La Touche, a daughter of John La Touche, of Harristown, Co Kildare. They had no children, and he died in Dublin on 12 March 1833, aged 65.

Thomastown Castle was enlarged in the early 19th century, and transformed into a Gothic castle by Richard Morrison for Francis James Mathew, the 2nd Earl Landaff

Lord Landaff’s next brother, Lieut-Gen Montague James Mathew (1773-1819), had died 14 years earlier, on 19 March 1819, and so the family titles became extinct. General Mathew was MP for for Ballynakill in the Irish Parliament until 1800, and MP for Co Tipperary in Westminster in 1806-1819. He was a Whig and a supporter of Catholic Emancipation.

Their youngest brother, the Hon George Toby Skeffington Mathew, also died in 1832. So, when the second earl died, the family titles became extinct, and the estates passed to his sister, Lady Elizabeth Mathew. The Ordnance Survey Name Books record Lady Elizabeth Mathew owned townlands in the parish of Kilfeacle, barony of Clanwilliam, in 1840.

When she died in 1842, she left the family estates and fortune to a cousin, the Vicomte de Chabot, the son of her mother’s sister Elizabeth Smyth. Viscount Chabot was living at Thomastown Castle in the mid-19th century. Later it was owned by the Daly family, but from the mid-1870s it began to decay from the mid-1870s. William Daly was living there in 1906.

As Thomastown Castle crumbled and decayed, a number of pretenders came forward, claiming they were the rightful holders of the title Earl Landaff and heirs to the castle. The most outrageous of these pretenders was Arnold Harris Mathew (1852-1919), self-styled de jure 4th Earl Landaff, also self-styled Count Povoleri di Vicenza.

Mathew was also the founder and first bishop of the self-styled Old Roman Catholic Western Orthodox Church in Great Britain, an Old Catholic Church. His episcopal consecration was declared null and void by the Union of Utrecht’s International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference. In addition, he was excommunicated by Pope Pius X for illicitly consecrating two priests as bishops which led a London jury to find that ‘the words were true in substance and in fact’ that he was a ‘pseudo-bishop.’

He claimed his father, Major Arnold Henry Ochterlony Mathew, who died in 1894, was the third Earl Landaff, and the son of Major Arnold Nesbit Mathew, of the Indian Army. According to these claims, this Major Arnold Mathew was, in turn, the eldest son of the 1st Earl Landaff, born in Paris five months after his parents married.

This claim was later shown to be based on invented and fictitious information. Arnold Nesbit Mathew originally used the name Matthews, as did his son. He was, in fact, the son of William Richard Matthews and his wife Anne, of Down Ampney in Gloucestershire. Incidentally, Down Ampney was also the home village of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958(, who composed the tune ‘Down Ampney’ for the hymn ‘Come down, O love divine’

Arnold Harris Mathew put forward his claim to the Garter Principal King of Arms for the title of 4th Earl Landaff of Thomastown, Co Tipperary, in 1890, and placed his creative pedigree on the official record at the College of Arms.

John H Matthews, Cardiff archivist, said in 1898 that the number of claimants to the dormant or extinct earldom was ‘legion.’ In his opinion, Arnold Henry Mathew’s pedigree was ‘too extra-ordinary to commend itself to an impartial mind.’

Nevertheless, Arnold Henry Mathew presented his petition to the House of Lords in 1899, claiming a right to vote with the Irish peers for representative peers in the House of Lords. In his petition, he did not repeat other exuberant claims, including one that his grandmother was Eliza Francesca Povoleri, was an Italian countess and the daughter of a Papal marchese.

His petition was read and referred to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Halsbury, who reported in 1902 that Mathew’s claim ‘is of such a nature that it ought to be referred to the Committee for Privileges; read, and ordered to lie on the Table.’

Mark Bence Jones in a feature in Country Life says Archbishop Mathew also bought the ruins of Thomastown Castle and 20 acres surrounding it to save it from destruction.

Mathew’s aristocratic pretensions, like his life as a ‘wandering bishop,’ were fantasies that continue to resurface in the claims of fantasists and pretenders in many walks of life.

When he died on 19 December 1919, the claims to the Mathew title did not come to an end.

As recently as 1987, a mural memorial was erected in Llandaff Cathedral, claiming it was: ‘In memory of Thomas James Mathew son and heir of Francis James Mathew second Earl of Landaff born in London 1798 died in Cape Town 1862.’ The memorial includes a full display of the coat of arms of the Mathew family of Co Tipperary as Earls Landaff, and the misspelling of Llandaff as Landaff.

Thomastown Castle remains in ruins outside Thurles, Co Tipperary