Friday, 5 July 2019

The poet who invited
Ireland’s best harpists
to play in her home

One of the two 18th century stucco alcoves from Corballis House in the multi-faith room at Terminal 2 in Dublin Airport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The two stucco niches from Corballis House that survive in the multifaith prayer room in Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport are reminders not only of the loss of a once graceful house, but also of a musical and poetic tradition that blossomed in Ireland at turn of the 18th and 19th centuries.

I was writing about the multifaith prayer room this morning [5 July 2019] and the beauty of these surviving stucco niches, without realising the cultural role played by the Wilkinson family of Corballis House in Georgian and Regency Ireland.

Sir Thomas Wilkinson, who was Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1719-1720, is said to have invited the blind harpist Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738) to play at Corballis House. A planxty by O’Carolan, Planxty Wilkinson, is one of the 214 Carolan compositions identified by Donal O’Sullivan, and may have been dedicated this to Sir Thomas Wilkinson.

O’Carolan is said to have given his last public performance at Corballis House. He died on 25 March 1738, and was buried in the MacDermott Roe family crypt in Kilronan, near Ballyfarnon, Co Roscommon. A memorial in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, the gift of Sydney, Lady Morgan, describes him as ‘Carolan, the last of the Irish Bards.’

Sir Thomas Wilkinson was the grandfather of Sir Henry Wilkinson (1749-1831), Recorder of Kilkenny, who continued to live at Corballis House. His daughter, the poet Anna Liddiard (1773-1819), who died 200 years ago, was the most important cultural figure to live at Corballis House.

She was a romantic poet whose work draws on the themes of patriotism, Irish culture and history, landscape, and human relations. Liddiard’s verse is patriotic and romantic, in particular her poem Addressed to Albion and Conrade.

Jane Susannah Anna Wilkinson was born in Co Meath on 29 April 1773. She married the Revd William Liddiard (1773-1841), a vicar’s son from Wiltshire, on 12 February 1798. He was a former army officer hoping to become an Anglican priest and was an aspiring poet and artist.

Anna continued the cultural and musical traditions introduced to Corballis House by hear great-grandfather. The interior decorative plasterwork of Corballis House was commissioned by the Wilkinson family. The musical theme of these decorative plaster niches inside one of the upper-storey bay rooms indicated the room may once have been the venue for fashionable recitals and parties hosted by Anna Liddiard around the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The musicians she invited to play at the house included the Armagh harper Patrick Quin from Portadown, who was also blind. Quin performed in the Rotunda in Dublin in 1809, at a concert in commemoration of Carolan, and probably stayed at Corballis House.

Anna and William were advocates of religious tolerance. She dedicated her book of Poems, published in Dublin in 1809, to her husband.

The couple moved to Bath in 1811, living there for two years. In Bath, she published The Sgelaighe or A tale of old (1811), supposedly drawing on an old Irish manuscript.

She describes her return from Bath to Ireland in Kenilworth and Farley Castle (1813). This book is addressed to the ‘Ladies of Llangollen,’ whom she visited.

A tale in verse, Evening after the battle, was published in 1819 along with her husband’s Mont St Jean both based around the battle of Waterloo. An anonymous work, Mount Leinster (1819), also published that year, blamed the 1798 Rising in Co Wexford on the Penal Laws.

Anna died later that year at Corballis on 30 October 1819.

Her husband, the Revd William Liddiard, was a son of the Revd William Stratton Liddiard of Wiltshire. He matriculated at University College Oxford, but he left in 1794 without receiving a degree to enlist in the army. After reaching the rank of captain, he left the army in 1796 with the intention of seeking ordination.

William was ordained after graduating BA at Trinity College Dublin in 1803. On the recommendation of the Duke of Bedford, he was appointed chaplain to Charles Lennox (1764-1819), 4th Duke of Richmond, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and a cousin of the 1798 leader Lord Edward FitzGerald.

William Liddiard was the vicar of Culmullen, Co Meath (1807-1810), and then of the united parish of Knockmark (1810-1831). After resigning the living to his son, Liddiard spent his later years in Bath, and died at Clifton, near Bristol, on 11 October 1841.

Anna and William Liddiard had one son, the Revd Henry Liddiard, born in 1800. He succeeded his father as the Rector of Knockmark and also inherited Corballis House.

The second of two 18th century stucco alcoves from Corballis House in the multi-faith room at Terminal 2 in Dublin Airport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A journey begins on
‘a wing and a prayer’
in Dublin Airport

Prayer mats on a shelf in the multi-faith room at Terminal 2 in Dublin Airport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The old phrase ‘on a wing and prayer’ sometimes comes to mind when I begin a journey.

The phrase seems to date from World War II and the 1942 film The Flying Tigers (1942). The screenplay was written by Kenneth Gamet and Barry Trivers, and John Wayne stars as Captain Jim Gordon, and co-stars John Carrol land Anna Lee.

Captain Gordon refers to the flight of replacement pilots, and asks: ‘Any word on that flight yet?’

The Rangoon hotel clerk replies: ‘Yes sir, it was attacked and fired on by Japanese aircraft. She’s coming in on one wing and a prayer.’

The phrase was repeated by the songwriters Harold Adamson and Jimmie McHugh in their war-time song Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer (1943).

The phrase and the song inspired the title of a second war-time movie, Wing and a Prayer (1944), starring Don Ameche and Dana Andrews, and based on the story of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

These allusions to stricken aircraft limping home may have been inspired by an earlier theatrical phrase, ‘winging it,’ that refers to actors struggling through lines they have recently learned on the wings of the stage.

Prayer books, pamphlets and tracts on a shelf in the multi-faith room at Terminal 2 in Dublin Airport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Although I am in and out of Dublin Airport regularly each month, I generally fly with Ryanair, which means I usually use Terminal 1. Even on one recent Aer Lingus flight I was redirected to Terminal 1.

However, I recently passed through Terminal 2, and before boarding my flight decided to look at the Prayer Room before passing through the passport and security checking areas.

This is a simple room, with very few markings and emblems, apart from an ambo or lectern and a qibla on the floor pointing the direction for Muslims to pray facing Mecca.

The qibla in the multi-faith room at Terminal 2 in Dublin Airport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

A few shelves hold prayer mats in colourful array, while a facing set of shelves hold an array of religious books, texts and tracts, mainly copies of the Quran, but also a small number of Bibles, many evangelical pamphlets, some Bibles, and a few copies of the Book of Mormon.

It seems Christian fundamentalists, both evangelical and Catholic, are more proactive than mainstream religious groups in placing their publications in the room.

Two stucco alcoves are the only decoration on the walls. These were once part of Corballis House, which stood on the site of Terminal 2.

Corballis House was a protected structure dating from the late 18th or early 19th century. It stood on the site of an earlier house dating from 1641 or 1642, and this in turn may have been built on the site of an earlier mediaeval castle or tower house levelled by Lord Ormond in a battle around 1641.

Corballis House was a listed protected structure, but despite its ‘protected’ status, Fingal County Council agreed to its demolition after proper archaeological and historical recording.

The interior decorative plasterwork of Corballis House dated from the late 18th century, when the house was owned by the Wilkinson family. The musical theme of these decorative plaster niches inside one of the upper-storey bay rooms indicated the room may once have been the venue for fashionable recitals and parties hosted by Sir Henry Wilkinson’s daughter, the poet Anna Liddiard (1773-1819) around the turn of the 19th century.

The design team for Terminal 2 considered incorporating Corballis House into the project and also looked at the feasability of relocating the house.

The two stucco alcoves in the prayer room are a tiny remnant of this graceful old house.

A sign tells visitors ‘They stand here in this multi-faith room in memory of the house and its people and to also remind us that only faith, hope and love are immortal.’

One of the two 18th century stucco alcoves from Corballis House in the multi-faith room at Terminal 2 in Dublin Airport (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)