31 August 2020

Cappoquin Rowing Club,
‘the old dark blues’ and
one of Ireland’s oldest

Cappoquin Rowing Club and the clubhouse at the bridge on the River Blackwater (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Since childhood, one of my favourite buildings in Cappoquin has been the Boathouse is part of Cappoquin’s river, sporting and cultural heritage. Although it is closed because of the present Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, I had to walk out to the boathouse when I arrived in Cappoquin during the first phase of this summer’s ‘Road Trip.’

The boathouse has been a centre of rowing in Cappoquin for over a century and a half and has been the venue for countless dances, concerts and shows, with the likes of Bowyer and Woodward bringing opera and Anew McMaster, Micheál Mac Liammóir and Hilton Edwards performing Shakespeare.

The present boathouse below the bridge on the River Blackwater, above the bend on the river, is perhaps the third boathouse on or near this site, but incorporates parts of the previous, modest buildings, including the overhanging wooden balcony.

Cappoquin Rowing Club was founded in 1862 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Cappoquin Rowing Club was founded in 1862, making it one of Ireland’s oldest, but there are records from as early as the 18th century of boat and swimming races on the River Blackwater, and the club is Cappoquin’s oldest sporting and social organisation.

The club was founded by James M Moore and John Stanley, assisted by Sir John Henry Keane of Cappoquin House, who became the first president of the club. His presidency was invested with a significant rowing pedigree as he had captained the Trinity Boat at Cambridge three decades earlier and rowed for Cambridge in 1836 when they defeated Oxford.

In the early years, storage space for the boats was improvised and there was no formal clubhouse. However, in 1875, the first clubhouse was built with the assistance of tradesmen engaged in building the railway line. A later clubhouse built in 1910, was financed substantially by Mrs HC Villiers-Stuart of Dromana House.

In the early years, storage space for the boats was improvised (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Sir John Keane, who rowed for Cambridge in the 1836 boat race and defeated Oxford by four lengths, is the man who started it all. His efforts so prospered that when in 1990 Cappoquin were finalists at Henley regatta, Dan Murray’s exuberance echoed around the headlines with the words ‘Cappoquin, the smallest and best rowing club in the world.’

Sir John Keane was the first President of the Cappoquin Rowing Club. As a student at Trinity College Cambridge in the 1830s, he captained the Trinity Boat. He also rowed at No 6 in the Cambridge ‘cutter’ in the University Boat Race in 1836. The course was from Westminster to Putney and Oxford were favourites. Cambridge led off the start and came away to win by four lengths.

In 1837, John Keane rowed at No 4 for Cambridge in their first ever contest against the Leander Club. Cambridge began as favourites and the course was from Westminster to Putney. Leander led off the start, but Cambridge took the lead at Vauxhall Bridge, were well up by Battersea Bridge, and won comfortably by seven seconds.

Sir John Keane inherited Cappoquin House and the family title in 1855, and in the early 1860s he laid the foundations of the Cappoquin Rowing Club. The first record of a payment by Sir John Keane in relation to the Cappoquin club is in 1876 to James Mosley of Waterford for engraving cups and prizes. In the same year he had the rules of the club revised and printed in book form by Brenan’s of Dungarvan.

John Stanley bought a new four and scull from Salters of Oxford in 1876 and Sir John Keane, John Stanley and James Moore were the pioneers who brought the first sliding seats to Cappoquin.

The bend on the River Blackwater at Cappoquin Rowing Club (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Cappoquin joined other rowing clubs nationwide in the 1880s in establishing the Irish Amateur Rowing Association. This early attempt at forming a national association was provisional, however, and the Irish Amateur Rowing Union was founded in 1899.

Meanwhile, Sir John Keane’s son, Sir Richard Keane, gave a further piece of land to the club in 1889. The lease was signed by him, RJ Collender and R O’Brien and this lease is said to be still in force, with a fixed annual rent of 24 shillings.

Senator Sir John Keane also took a keen interest in the club, taking an active part in role in fundraising and singing at CRC concerts in Cappoquin.

His son, Sir Richard Keane, was the club’s patron, and was responsible for bringing over Hugo Pitman, one of Oxford University’s best known oarsmen and twice captain of an Oxford boat that beat Cambridge, to help coach the successful McGrath eight.

A plaque at the steps above the clubhouse celebrates Charles Orr Stanley, a patron of Cappoquin rowing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

A plaque at the steps above the clubhouse celebrates Charles Orr Stanley (1899-1969), a great patron of Cappoquin rowing and a son of one of the founders of the club.

Stanley was a successful businessman in the mid-20th century. He lived at Cambridge, where he farmed and was a director of the Pye multinational, with factories all over the world.

In the 1960s, Pye also took over Banhams on a site next to Elizabeth Way Bridge on the River Cam in Cambridge. Banhams had been boat builders for over 100 years.

At the time, Cambridge had 28 college clubs and 22 clubs had their boats built by Banhams, who also built the boats for the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. Stanley organised the finances of the Cambridge University Boat Club from a state of disaster to the one of keen health it has enjoyed ever since.

Cappoquin Rowing Club … the ‘Old Dark Blues’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Two books about the club have been published, each recounting its successes and profiling the personalities as well as key rowing and social events down through the decades.

The first book, Memories of one hundred years of rowing by Cappoquin oarsmen: a souvenir in words and pictures of our century (1962) was edited by Tom Tobin and marked the club’s centenary.

The second book, The old dark blue: Cappoquin Rowing Club 1862-2002 (2002), was edited by Brendan Kiely, and added the club’s successes over the following 40 years.

As for the ‘Red Bridge,’ still visible from the clubhouse, this was a half-iron, half-stone structure that opened in 1878 as part of the new Waterford, Dungarvan and Lismore railway line. The metal section was used to complete the job more quickly and leave higher arches for some boat masts to get under.

The line took six years to build and was, at the time, the most expensive railway project in Ireland. The Red Bridge closed when CIÉ shut the line in 1967.

The ‘Red Bridge’ spanning the River Blackwater dates from the 1870s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

September 2020 in the Rathkeale and
Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes

‘Go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone’ (Matthew 18: 15; see Sunday 6 September) … the sculpture ‘Reconciliation’ by Josephina da Vasconcellos was given to Coventry Cathedral by Richard Branson in 1995, 50 years after the end of World War II, as a token of reconciliation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sunday 6 September 2020 (Trinity XIII), Green:

9.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton

11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer (Morning Prayer 2), Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert)

Readings: Exodus 12: 1-14; Psalm 149; Matthew 18: 15-20


525, Let there be love shared among us (CD 30)
517, Brother, sister, let me serve you (CD 30)

Sunday 13 September 2020 (Trinity XIV), Green:

9.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Castletown Church, Kilcornan

11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer (Morning Prayer 2), Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale

Readings: Exodus 14: 19-31; Psalm 114; Matthew 18: 21-35


421, I come with joy, a child of God (CD 25)
503, Make me a channel of your peace (CD 29)

Sunday 20 September 2020 (Trinity XV), Green:

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer (Morning Prayer 2), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert)

Readings: Exodus 16: 2-15; Psalm 105: 1-6, 37-45; Matthew 20: 1-16


597, Take my life, and let it be (CD 34)
492, Ye servants of God, your master proclaim (CD28)

Sunday 27 September 2020 (Trinity XVI), Green

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer (Morning Prayer 2), Castletown Church, Kilcornan

11.30 a.m.: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale

Readings: Exodus 17: 1-17; Psalm 78: 1-4, 12-16; Matthew 21: 23-32


630, Blessed are the pure in heart (CD 36)
593, O Jesus, I have promised (CD 34)

Feast Days in September:

8 September 2020: The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Patronal Eucharist, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, 11 a.m.

Readings: Isaiah 61: 10-11; Psalm 45: 10-17; Luke 1: 46-55.

21 September 2020: Saint Matthew

29 September 2020: Saint Michael and All Angels, the Eucharist, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, 11 a.m.

Readings: Genesis 28: 10-17; Psalm 103: 19-22; John 1: 47-51.

Dean Paul Bogle (right) with Archbishop Richard Clarke and Canon Patrick Comerford in Kildare Cathedral

Harvest Thanksgiving: Advance Notice

Friday 2 October 2020: 8 p.m., Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale (subject to Covid-19 restrictions).

Visiting Preacher: The Very Revd Paul Bogle, BTh, MA, Dean of Clonmacnoise, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Trim, Co Meath, and Precentor of Kildare.

Please Note:

Facemasks or coverings must be worn in church, and the 2 metres social distancing rule must be respected.

If you feel vulnerable, or you are in the ‘at risk’ category, or you have recently been in contact with someone who has had Covid-19 symptoms, you may find comfort instead in reading the Sunday sermons and intercessions on-line.

Some pews have been roped off or marked off in each church to help us maintain social distancing. The names and contact details of people attending will be kept for 14 days, only for the purposes of contacting and tracing.

To reduce the amount of time we stay indoors, there are only two readings and two hymns each Sunday at the present.

No prayer books or hymnals are available, there is no exchange of peace, to reduce contact risks, and for these weeks there is no hymn-singing. But laminated service sheets are available in each church, and we can sit and thoughtfully listen to the two recorded hymns.

The Holy Communion is being administered only in one kind, and there is no shared common cup, for health reasons. We may find that the administration of Communion is awkward or difficult. But be assured we are all in Communion with God and with one another.

Hand sanitising facilities are available at each church. Please do not bring your own prayer book or hymnal, and please remember to take home everything, including your tissues.

‘And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt’ (Matthew 18: 27; see Sunday 13 September 2020) … a stained-glass window in Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

30 August 2020

The religious history
of Cappoquin shows
a colourful diversity

Saint Anne’s Church and Saint Mary’s Church were built side-by-side on a shared site in Cappoquin in the 1820s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Although Mount Melleray Abbey is the best known church building in Cappoquin, the town has two parish churches – Saint Anne’s (Church of Ireland) and Saint Mary’s (Roman Catholic) – that share a prominent anchor site at the corner of Main Street and Church Street.

The religious history of Cappoquin is a story that includes not only this ecumenical campus, but also a rector who was the father of a famous poet, a Coptic Orthodox monastery, an industrial school run by Sisters of Mercy that has become part of the shocking story of abuse in Ireland, and an eccentric ‘White Quaker.’

As a child I was fascinated that these two churches, side by side, were named after mother and daughter, with Saint Anne’s on the highest point of the shared, triangular site, and Saint Mary’s on the lower part of the site.

Both churches were built in the 1820s on a shared site in the centre of Cappoquin that was donated by Sir John Keane of Cappoquin House.

Saint Anne’s Church was built in the 1820s on a site donated by Sir John Keane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Saint Anne’s, the Church of Ireland parish church, was built in the 1820s and has undergone a number of structural changes since then, including the removal of its spire in the late 19th century and changing the clock face from square to round in the 20th century.

The church was first proposed by Bishop Joseph Stock. While Stock was Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, the Dean and Chapter of Saint Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore, agreed in 1814 to a separate area served by a perpetual curate or vicar, and the Revd George Tierney Roche was appointed in 1819.

Saint Anne’s Church was built on the same triangle of land as Saint Mary’s Church in the centre of Cappoquin and was consecrated 200 years ago in October 1820.

Sir John Keane (1757-1829) of Cappoquin House subscribed £50 for a steeple and belfry; a Mr Chearnley give 20 guineas, and Bishop Stock gave the same.

This is a well-proportioned church of modest scale and appearance, built to a design similar to other churches built under the patronage of the Board of First Fruits. It is a three-bay double-height church, with a single-bay, double-height lower chancel, single-bay, single-storey vestry, and a single-bay, three-stage entrance tower with a square plan.

The church is well maintained, and retains its original character and fabric, both outside and inside. The interior features of artistic merit include the decorative tiling, carved timber pews, a Gothic-style pulpit, a pointed-arch chancel arch, a decorative Gothic-style timber reredos, the open timber roof on cut-stone corbels, and a monument to Senator Sir John Keane, who died in 1956. The churchyard is being developed by the parish as a community garden.

The Revd John Frederick MacNeice (1866-1942), who was ordained in 1895, began his life in ministry as the curate in Cappoquin in 1895-1899. Later he was Bishop of Cashel, Emly, Waterford and Lismore (1931-1934) and he died in office as Bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore (1934-1942). But, perhaps, he is best known as the father of the poet Louis MacNeice (1907-1963).

In my childhood and teens, Cappoquin had three distinguished rectors: Canon Joseph Smith O’Loughlin, Dean Charles Stanley and Dean Gilbert Mayes.

Canon Joseph O’Loughlin came to Cappoquin as the ‘Perpetual Curate’ in 1940, and he was appointed Chancellor in the chapter of Saint Carthage’s Cathedral, Lismore, and Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford, in 1947. After he retired in 1956, Cappoquin was united with Lismore in 1958.

Dean Charles Stanley (1884-1977) was the Dean of Lismore when Lismore and Cappoquin were united as one parish following the retirement of Canon O’Loughlin.

Dean Gilbert Mayes (1915-2005) succeeded Dean Stanley in Lismore and Cappoquin in 1961. A distinguished liturgist, he was a founder member of the Liturgical Advisory Committee in 1962, was its secretary from 1975 to 1989, and edited the Alternative Prayer Book of the Church of Ireland, published in 1984 and still known affectionately as ‘the Blue Book.’ Dean Mayes retired in 1984, and died in 2005 at the age of 90.

Cappoquin also had a Church of Ireland school on the banks of the Glenshelane River from 1832. The building remained in operation as a school until the mid-20th century.

Saint Mary’s Church was built beside Saint Anne’s Church in 1822 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church was built over a number of years, and was completed in 1822. The church replaced an earlier church that had stood at Salterbridge from the 1700s. The church bell was installed in 1902.

A plaque on the wall near the grotto commemorates the poet and Gaelic scholar Pádraig Denn. The small graveyard beside the church was the only Catholic cemetery within the parish until Saint Declan’s Cemetery opened in Drumroe in the early 20th century. Tradition says that this is the birthplace of Saint Declan, patron saint of the Decies.

Inside Saint Mary’s Church, Cappoquin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The Parochial House is at the top of Mass Lane, overlooking the River Blackwater and the boat house of Cappoquin Rowing Club. The architect of this Swiss-chalet style house was Andrew O’Riordan of Lismore.

The house was built as at a cost of £900 in 1896 for Canon Spratt, a nephew of an earlier Father Spratt, the parish priest who brought the Mercy Order to Cappoquin in 1850.

The Parochial House at the top of Mass Lane, Cappoquin, was designed by Andrew O’Riordan of Lismore (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

After half a century in the town centre, the Sisters Mercy nuns built a new convent on land donated by the Keane family of Cappoquin House.

The convent was built in 1902-1903, and became synonymous with religious and educational life in Cappoquin for a full century, until it closed when the order left the town.

The Mercy order ran Saint Anne’s secondary school until it closed in 2003. Originally a girls’ school, it became co-educational after the introduction of free education in 1967. Famous alumni include the poet and novelist Thomas McCarthy and the world champion athlete John Treacy from Villierstown.

In recent years, the convent and school buildings were transformed into the Saint Athanasius Monastery of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

The former Convent of Mercy, now the Saint Athanasius Monastery of the Coptic Orthodox Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The Sisters of Mercy also rain Saint Michael’s, one of 26 industrial schools they ran in Ireland. It opened in 1877, and at its height there were nearly 100 children at Saint Michael’s. It became a group home in 1974 and was finally closed in 1999.

As children, we never knew about life at Saint Michael’s. But I was shocked when this was exposed in the media in recent years, including the abuse carried out by nuns and staff members. These stories recalled by Paddy Doyle in his autobiographical The God Squad (1988). It is a story so shocking that I felt it was inappropriate to refer to it in my recent posting on the literary legacy of Cappoquin.

The school was redeveloped as the Riverview Guesthouse in 2002.

The Christian Brothers first came to Cappoquin with the arrival of the Mulcahy brothers, John and James Mulcahy, in 1813. They were colleagues of Edmund Ignatius Rice, and came to Cappoquin from the Christian Brothers School in Dungarvan to open a free school near Cappoquin.

John Mulcahy ran the school for over 30 years, mainly under the auspices of the bishop, until his death. In 1832, following the Stanley Education Act, this school became Cappoquin’s first National School. It closed in 1847.

No story of religious life in Cappoquin would be complete without referring to Robert Cook (1646-1726), who gives his name to Cook Street, running south from Castle Street and the Square.

He was one of Cappoquin’s more eccentric former inhabitants, and may have been from Wexford originally. He insisted on wearing only white linen clothing. More curiously still, Cook also insisted on keeping a herd of only white cattle, although he was a vegan himself. Cook wrote some philosophical tracts.

Some local stories say Cook was a Quaker community, and that there was a Quaker meeting house on Mill Street in the 18th century. Although there was a Quaker family named Cooke in Cappoquin at the turn of the 17th and 18th century, including Samuel Cooke (1666-1704), Robert Cook self-identified as a Protestant and described his philosophy as Pythagorean.

Cook Street is said to take its name from Robert Cook (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Mount Melleray and
the return of Cistercian
monasticism to Ireland

Mount Melleray Abbey … founded in 1833, 6 km outside Cappoquin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

During the closing days of the first stage of this year’s summer ‘Road Trip,’ I stayed near Mount Melleray. Throughout my childhood years, I was very familiar with Mount Melleray, which was the neighbouring farm to my grandmother’s farm at Moonwee.

As children, we regularly traipsed through the fields at Moonwee, across brooks and stiles, to the farm and monastery in Melleray, feeling free to explore the abbey churches, buildings and farmyard, and to silently listen to the monks singing the daily offices.

I had only been back to Mount Melleray a few times since childhood, and 20 years ago I decided against the idea of a pre-ordination retreat there in 2000. So, it was good to return to Melleray at the end of last week and to reconnect with a spiritual tradition and monastic buildings I had once been familiar with over half a century ago.

Inside the monastic church at Mount Melleray Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Mount Melleray Abbey is a community of Cistercian or Trappist monks on the slopes of the Knockmealdown Mountains, about 6 km north of Cappoquin, Co Waterford. It was founded in 1833 on land donated by the Keane family of Cappoquin House at a nominal rent.

The abbey has been celebrated in Seán Ó Ríordáin’s poem ‘Cnoc Mellerí’ in Eireaball Spideoige (1952). James Joyce mentions Mount Melleray in ‘The Dead,’ the final short story in Dubliners (1914), in which the monks of Mount Melleray are noted for their exceptional hospitality and piety.

The Cistercian order was founded as branch of the Benedictines by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux in the 12th century, and the Trappists date from the mid-17th century. After the French Revolution and the suppression of monastic houses in France, some dispossessed Trappist monks arrived in England in 1794 and established a community in Lulworth, Dorset.

The symbol of the abbot’s crozier in the choir stalls Mount Melleray Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Following the restoration of the Bourbons, these monks returned to France in 1817 to re-establish the ancient Melleray Abbey in Brittany. During the July Revolution of 1830, the monks were forced to flee France once again and were sent by Dom Antoine, Abbot of Melleray, to found an abbey in Ireland.

The monastery was founded on 30 May 1832 at Scrahan, Cappoquin, by a group of Irish and English monks from Melleray, and who had come to Ireland under the leadership of Father Vincent de Paul Ryan.

After many efforts to locate his community, he accepted an offer from Sir Richard Keane of Cappoquin to rent 500 acres of mountain land, and this later increased to 700 acres.

The high altar and the sanctuary in the monastic church in Mount Melleray (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

On the feast of Saint Bernard 1833, the foundation stone of the new monastery was blessed by William Abraham, Bishop of Waterford and Lismore. It was named Mount Melleray in memory of the motherhouse. The monastery became an abbey in 1835, and Father Vincent, who was unanimously elected abbot. He received his abbatial blessing from Bishop Abraham, the first abbatial blessing in Ireland since the Reformation.

A small group of monks was sent from Mount Melleray to England in 1835 to found Mount Saint Bernard Abbey, near Coalville, Leicestershire. Abbot Vincent vigorously undertook the work of completing the abbey, but died on 9 December 1845.

His successor, Dom Joseph Ryan, resigned after two years, and Dom Bruno Fitzpatrick became abbot in September 1848. Dom Bruno consolidated the initial work and the abbey and also devoted his energy to missionary work. During its earlier years, the monastery was directly subject to the bishop of the diocese, but in1848 it came under the jurisdiction of the general chapter.

The seminary at Mount Melleray began as a small school formed by Abbot Vincent in 1843, and was developed by Abbot Bruno and his successors.

When the Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle visited Dromana House near Cappoquin in 1849, he also visited Mount Melleray and described the abbey in some detail, noting particularly the huge vats of ‘stir-about’ or porridge the monks prepared for the large number of Famine victims.

Abbot Bruno died in 1893, and was succeeded by Dom Carthage Delaney, who was blessed in 1894 and presided over Mount Melleray for 13 years. His successor, Dom Marius O’Phelan, was solemnly blessed by Bishop Sheahan of Waterford in 1908.

Dom Marius is credited with resuming the building programme at Mount Melleray in 1925. He bought the great cut limestone blocks from Mitchelstown Castle, 42 km west, after it was burnt by anti-treaty republicans on 12 August 1922. The owners of Mitchelstown Castle dismantled the ruins in 1925 and the stones were transported by steam lorry in two consignments a day over a five-year period.

The foundation stone laid by Cardinal McRory in Mount Melleray Abbey in 1933 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Dom Marius died as the abbey was being laid out, and his successor, Dom Celsus O’Connell, continued the monumental task. The monks ended up with far more stones than they needed and these were eventually stacked in fields around the monastery.

In March 1932, the community of English Cistercian nuns of Stapehill, England, moved to Saint Mary’s Convent, Lismore, which was bought and prepared for them by the monks of Mount Melleray.

The monastery celebrated its centenary in August 1933. Cardinal John McRory, Archbishop of Armagh, laid the foundation stone of a new abbey church on 17 April 1933, just 12 days after Dom Celsus was elected the seventh abbot and a few months before the abbey celebrated its centenary.

The public church and the monastic church are the main elements of the church building project undertaken by Dom Celsus, and building work began in January 1935.

The words of the canticle Magnificat carved on the wooden screen at the west end of the monastic church in Mount Melleray Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The monastic church, where monks of Mount Melleray celebrate the Divine Office every day, was completed and solemnly blessed on 26 November 1940. Later, a high altar and some 20 lesser altars – all in marble and the gifts of benefactors – were installed, and a magnificent stained-glass window was erected behind the high altar.

President Séan T O’Kelly paid a state visit to Mount Melleray in June 1946. However, it was not until the 120th Anniversary of Mount Melleray that the abbey church was solemnly consecrated by Bishop Coholan of Waterford on 20 August 1952. During the consecration festival from 20 to 29 August 1952, over 100,000 people visited Mount Melleray, including President Séan T O’Kelly.

The Abbey Church is in Gothic style and cruciform in plan. Although extended, it follows mainly the lines of the original chapel built by the first community.

In the Cistercian tradition, a massive crucifix was suspended over the nave and contained relics of Saint Bernard and many Irish saints. However, this was removed during the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms.

The east window in the monastic church in Mount Melleray Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The east window is the work of the Harry Clarke studio. The central panel represents Christ the King crowning the Virgin Mary at the Assumption. Each evening at the Office of Compline, the lights of the Church are extinguished and, according to Cistercian tradition, the figure of the Virgin Mary is illuminated for the singing of the Salve Regina.

To the right of the central panel are Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Carthage of Lismore; to the far right are Saint Robert, one of the three founders of the Cistercian Order, and Saint Patrick of Ireland.

To the left of the central panel are Saint Brigid of Kildare and Saint Columba; to the far left are Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Doctor of the Church and the founder of the Cistercians, and Saint Malachy of Armagh, who invited Saint Bernard to send Cistercian monks to Ireland, leading to the foundation of Mellifont Abbey in 1142.

At the west end of the church, the words of the canticle Magnificat are carved in large letters on a wooden screen.

Inside the public church in Mount Melleray Abbey, facing the east end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The public church was consecrated at the same time as the monastic church, with Dom Benignus Hickey, Abbot of New Mellifont, consecrating the High Altar.

The public church was dedicated to the Assumption and Saint Philomena, and was once the National Shrine of Saint Philomena. Her statue was removed when her name was removed from the Roman Calendar.

The interior of the public church has five bays consisting of aisles on either side and double lancets above. The sanctuary is decorated in mosaic, both in the nave and the aisles. The walls surrounding the side aisles are decorated with angels.

The walls of the sanctuary have the instruments of the Passion in quatrefoils on the lateral walls, the east wall has images of the Sacred Heart on the north side and Saint Joseph on the south side, each with a monogram in the quatrefoil beneath.

Inside the public church in Mount Melleray Abbey facing the west end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The east window of the public church is in two levels, above. In the central panel is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary with angels. Below, from left to right, are Saint Brigid, Saint Malachy of Armagh, who introduced the Cistercians to Ireland, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, founder of the Cistercians, and Saint Patrick.

The seven main panels of this window were originally in the east window of the old Monastic Church.

Many of the stained-glass windows in the side aisles are also the work of Harry Clarke or the Harry Clarke Studios in Dublin.

Saint Peter and Saint Paul in a two-light lancet window by the Harry Clarke Studio in the public church in Mount Melleray Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The Abbot of Mount Melleray, Dom Eamon Fitzgerald, was chosen as the first Irish Abbot General of the Cistercian Order in 2008. Dom Richard Purcell was inaugurated as the new abbot of Mount Mellary in 2017. He was previously Abbot of Mount Saint Joseph Abbey, Roscrea, and had already received the abbatial blessing in 2009.

In the past, Mount Melleray was involved in founding New Melleray Abbey, near Dubuque, Iowa, Mount Saint Joseph Abbey, Roscrea, Co Tipperary, and the Southern Star Abbey in New Zealand.

Today, about six or eight men live in the community at Mount Mellary. Two died within the past two years, and one is living as a hermit near Saint Mary’s Abbey of Cistercian nuns in Glencairn, near Lismore, where he celebrates Mass once a week for the sisters.

The Lamb of God in a Harry Clarke window in the public church in Mount Melleray Abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

29 August 2020

A morning with the literary
legacy and in the gardens
of Cappoquin House

The west end of Cappoquin House and the courtyard … the house was reoriented in the 1920s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

The first part of this year’s late summer ‘Road Trip,’ which is an emotional compensation for not being in Greece these two weeks, ended up in Cappoquin, which – in my emotions and my imagination – is my childhood home, with many happy memories of what seem to be endless times on my grandmother’s farm.

Little seems to have changed in the streets or façades of Cappoquin, apart from some shops and pubs closing or changing their names. At the east end of the Main Street, facing the former Walsh’s Hotel and the Co-op, the discreet gates of Cappoquin House give no hint of what lies beyond.

The streets and houses of Cappoquin spread out below the winding drive leading up to Cappoquin House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The drive winds through charming parkland that could lead anywhere. But this is the entrance into another world, with stories of the Irish Civil War, of explorers in Ceylon and generals in Afghanistan, of writers and war-time journalists who helped Tito’s partisans, innovative farmers, bankers and Home Rule campaigners. There are links with Rasputin’s killer, with the Wedgwood pottery and with the theories of evolution developed by Erasmus Darwin and his grandson Charles Darwin.

Today, Cappoquin House is the home of Sir Charles Keane and his wife Corinne.

This is an 18th century, classical-style Georgian house that has been the home of the Keane family since 1735.

Sir Charles showed brought me around Cappoquin House, and explained how it stands on the site of an Elizabethan house built by Sir Christopher Hatton. This in turn stood on the site of an earlier, mediaeval castle owned by the FitzGerald family, who lost it during the Desmond rebellions. The memory of that castle remains in the name of Castle Street in Cappoquin.

What lies behind the gates leading into Cappoquin House? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Cappoquin stands at a point on the River Blackwater has been romantically described as the ‘Rhine of Ireland.’ It has run from east Kerry through north Cork to west Waterford, and at Cappoquin it makes its sharp turn south towards its estuary at Youghal.

Captain Hugh Croker held the castle on the site in 1641 on behalf of the Earl of Cork, and successfully resisted an attack by the Confederate Catholics under General Purcell in 1643. However, it surrendered to Lord Castlehaven in 1645, and it was captured by Cromwell in 1649. Nothing remains of the castle, apart from one wall with a narrow doorway leading to a garden when it was surveyed in 1918.

The Keane family is descended from the O’Cahan clan of Ulster, who were feudal tenants of the O’Neills. Most of their lands were forfeited in the first Plantation of Ulster in 1610.

In a Senate debate, Sir John Keane reminded one senator of his Irish identity, asking, ‘Does he realise that in my blood there is a record of knowledge of confiscation and oppression just as great as any member of this House? My ancestors were driven out of the O Cathain country by the British in the Elizabethan days.’

At the end of the 17th century, George O’Cahan changed his name to Keane, conformed to the Church of Ireland and became a lawyer. When he retired, he leased Cappoquin, under three 999-year leases, with extensive farm and mountain land. In effect, he had bought a large part of the estate of the Earl of Cork, who owned Lismore Castle.

The south front and garden terrace of Cappoquin House … the house was rebuilt by Richard Orpen in the 1920s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Cappoquin House was built in 1779 by Sir John Keane (1757-1829). The house is attributed to the notable Waterford architect John Roberts (1712-1796), who also designed the two cathedrals in Waterford.

Cappoquin House, which was also known as Belmont, is a detached, seven-bay two-storey over basement house, surrounded by notable formal gardens and landscaped grounds that are open to the public.

The details of Cappoquin House that are typical of houses designed by Roberts include the deliberate alignment maximising the scenic vistas overlooking rolling grounds and the River Blackwater; the compact rectilinear plan form centred on a classically-detailed breakfront; the silver-grey limestone with good quality workmanship; the diminishing in scale of the windows on each floor, giving a graduated visual impression; and the urn-topped balustraded roofline.

The north front and courtyard of Cappoquin House … became the front of the house when it was rebuilt in the 1920s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The house was destroyed by fire on 19 February 1923 during the Irish Civil War. But Cappoquin House was rebuilt by Sir John Keane, one of the first Senators in the Irish Free State, in 1923-1930.

The Dublin architect Richard Francis Caulfield Orpen (1863-1938) rebuilt Cappoquin House. He replaced the original slated roof with a flat roof replaced, moved the main entrance door to the courtyard and used salvaged chimneypieces, including a chimneypiece reclaimed from 52 Saint Stephen’s Green in Dublin.

The decorative plasterwork was produced by G Jackson and Sons of London. The outbuildings and the walled garden enhance the group of buildings and the setting of the estate.

The lantern above the staircase well in Cappoquin House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The first baronet, Sir John Keane (1757-1829) had been MP for Bangor (1791-1797) and Youghal, Co Cork (1797-1800) in the Irish House of Commons before the Act of Union. He was given the title of baronet in 1801, and was MP for Youghal, Co Cork (1801-1806, 1808-1818).

The second baronet, Lieut-Col Sir Richard Keane (1780-1855), was educated at Rathmines and Trinity College Cambridge. In 1831, he gave the Cistercian monks 500 acres of mountain land for a nominal rent, leading to the foundation of Mount Melleray Abbey. He was Whig MP for Co Waterford (1832-1835).

The third baronet, Sir John Henry Keane (1816-1881), was educated at Rugby and Trinity College Cambridge. As a student at Trinity College Cambridge in the 1830s, he captained the Trinity Boat, and he also rowed at No 6 in the Cambridge ‘cutter’ in the University Boat Race of 1836. Oxford were favourites, but Cambridge led off the start and came away to win by four lengths.

In 1837, John Henry rowed at No 4 for Cambridge in their first ever contest against the Leander Club. The course was Westminster to Putney, Cambridge took the lead at Vauxhall Bridge, were well up by Battersea Bridge, and won comfortably by seven seconds.

He first displayed his literary talent with An Address to the Young Men of Ireland, published in London in 1835 when he was only 19. Many of his themes were later popularised by the Young Ireland movement, and he made a powerful appeal on behalf of the Irish language, which he calls the language of poetry, love and piety.

In 1836, he published Ladye Alice The Flower of Ossorye, a collection of poems inspired by Irish legends and the history and tales of the O Cahan family. He left Cambridge in 1841 with a law degree. He succeeded to the family title in 1855 and in the early 1860s laid the foundations of the Cappoquin Rowing Club. He was the High Sheriff of Co Waterford in 1856 and the first President of the Cappoquin Rowing Club.

The fourth baronet, Sir Richard Francis Keane (1845-1892), a civil engineer, was also the High Sheriff of Co Waterford in 1881, and was known for his conciliatory attitude to the Land League.

He married Adelaide Vance, whose family home on Rutland Square, Dublin, is now the Irish Writers’ Museum on Parnell Square.

In the Library in Cappoquin House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Before the formation of the Irish Free State, the fifth baronet, Sir John Keane (1873-1956), worked with Sir Horace Plunkett to organise the Irish Co-operative Movement, served on Waterford County Council, and was a member of the All-for-Ireland League that supported Home Rule.

To provide employment in Cappoquin, he set up a foundry and his younger brother Henry Keane of Tivoli House set up the Cappoquin bacon industry in 1907.

He was a Senator (1922-1934, 1938-1948), a Governor of the Bank of Ireland, a member of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, a member of the Representative Church Body, and a weekly columnist for The Times.

He was regarded as a benevolent landlord, which may explain why Cappoquin House survived the initial IRA campaign of ‘big house’ burnings in 1921 only to be burned during the Civil War by anti-treaty republicans. In the intervening time, he used the opportunity to save many of the family’s collections in the house, moving much of it to Bristol.

As a senator he was outspoken in his condemnation of Irish censorship laws, and his speeches in the Senate became the victims of censorship themselves.

He married Lady Eleanor Lucy Hicks-Beach, in Saint Margaret’s Church, Westminster, in 1907 – the wedding was postponed for two days because of the sudden death of the groom’s mother, Adelaide. Lady Eleanor (‘Nellie’) was a daughter of Michael Hicks-Beach (1837-1916), 1st Earl St Aldwyn, twice Chief Secretary for Ireland (1874-1878, 1886-1887), twice Chancellor of the Exchequer (1885-1886, 1895-1902) and President of the Board of Trade (1888-1892). Portraits of the newly-married couple hang above their stairwell in the house.

His epitaph in Saint Anne’s Church in Cappoquin proclaims, ‘With no thought for himself, he served his country through war and peace.’

A tapestry bought from Prince Yusupov links Cappoquin with the assassination of Rasputin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The sixth baronet, Sir Richard Michael Keane (1909-2010), was educated at Sherborne and Christ Church Oxford, and joined the Times in London as a journalist. He was diplomatic correspondent with Reuters and with the Sunday Times, fought at El Alamein, captured one of Rommel’s senior generals in north Africa, and organised allied assistance to the partisans in Yugoslavia during World War II.

Sir Richard Keane returned to Cappoquin after the war in 1946, and he and his wife Olivia (Hawkshaw) opened Cappoquin House to the public.

Among the items he collected for Cappoquin House was a tapestry he bought from Prince Felix Felixovich Yusupov (1887-1967), the Russian aristocrat who took part in the assassination of Rasputin and who married a niece of Tsar Nicholas II.

His father-in-law, Colonel Oliver Hawkshaw, was a grandson of Francis Wedgwood (1800-1888), a grandson of the first Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795), of the Wedgwood pottery and friend of Erasmus Darwin. Francis Wedgwood’s sister Emma Wedgwood (1808-1896) married her cousin Charles Darwin (1809-1882).

As we exchanged stories in the library about Erasmus Darwin and Erasmus Darwin’s house in Lichfield, Sir Charles showed me a book on Linnaeus and botany by Thomas Martyn once owned by Erasmus Darwin and with his signature and a piece of Wedgwood pottery turned by his mother.

Erasmus Darwin’s signature on a book in the library (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The present baronet, Sir (John) Charles Keane, who showed me around Cappoquin House, was educated at Eton and Oxford, and succeeded his father as the seventh baronet in 2010.

Sir Charles showed me a portrait and many of mementoes of General John Keane, who eventually become Baron Keane of Ghuznee and Cappoquin because of his role in the capture of Ghuznee during the First Anglo-Afghan War in 1839.

General Keane fought in the Peninsular War and later commanded an expeditionary force that entered Afghanistan from India to forestall an expected, imminent Russian invasion. The surprise capture of the Ghuznee Fort to the east of the Bolan Pass in a daring night attack resulted in the loss of only 17 British lives and led to the surrender of the Afghan army.

Kabul was occupied without further fighting and Keane retired as Lord Keane of Ghuznee and Cappoquin with a pension of £2,000 a year for his and two successive lives.

The writer Molly Keane married into this family. She was born Mary Nesta Skrine, and married Robert Lumley Keane (1910-1946), son of Colonel Richard Henry Keane (1881-1925), a younger son of the fourth baronet.

Mementoes of Lord Keane and his exploits in Afghanistan (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The landscaped gardens at Cappoquin House were the vision of Lady Olivia Keane, who designed the grounds after years of neglect that followed World War I. The fine trees include Japanese cedars, maples and a southern beech, and a venerable oak. Higher on the slopes are terraces with rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and magnolias.

Everywhere, there are fine views across the surrounding countryside. From the lawns, the town of Cappoquin spread below us. the distant gable of Dromana House can be seen on a crag above the river. To the right is a tower at Lismore Castle. A little to the left, the trees obscure the roofs of Tourin.

Cappoquin House is open from 15 August to 30 September from 9 am to 1 pm.

Sir Charles Keane tells the stories of Cappoquin House in the courtyard

Cappoquin was at
the heart of the literary
world for me as a child

The statue commemorating Michael Cavanagh (1822-1900) in the Square in Cappoquin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

This week’s part of the summer ‘Road Trip’ took two of us from Valentia Island through Cahersiveen, Glenbeagh and Killorglin on the northern loop of the Ring of Kerry, around Killarney, and on through Mallow and Fermoy, ending up in Lismore and Cappoquin on the banks of the River Blackwater in West Waterford.

The emotional part of the ‘Road Trip’ came when I visited my grandparents’ former home and farm near Mount Mellary, outside Cappoquin, where I spent some of the happiest days in my childhood.

I grew up thinking of Cappoquin as a town of writers, poets and journalists, and believing it was the literary centre of West Waterford, if not of the Province of Munster. This was the home of Molly Keane, the poet Michael Cavanagh, and the birthplace of the travel writer Dervla Murphy, and the Victorian clergy in the parish included the father of the poet Louis MacNeice.

We grew up hearing about the exploits of Sir Richard Keane (1909-2010), the Diplomatic Correspondent of The Irish Times, who also fought at El Alamein, captured one of Rommel’s senior generals, and helped organise allied support for the resistance and partisans in war-time Yugoslavia.

Sir John Keane challenged Irish censorship laws in the Senate … a portrait in Cappoquin House (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

His father, Sir John Keane (1873-1956), defended literary freedom and opposed censorship during his lengthy time as a member of the Senate, and was at the heart of the debate that created the first occasion on which the Senate censored itself.

On 18 November 1942, Sir John moved: ‘That, in the opinion of Seanad Éireann, the Censorship of Publications Board appointed by the Minister for Justice under the Censorship of Publications Act, 1929, has ceased to retain public confidence, and that steps should be taken by the Minister to reconstitute the board.’

His motion sparked four days of fierce debate in December 1942. During the debate, he quoted extensively from The Tailor and Ansty by Eric Cross, banned in Ireland soon after its publication earlier that year.

The Editor of Debates prudishly excluded the quotation from the Official Report. The entry states only: ‘The Senator quoted from the book.’ During the debate, Keane also taunted William Magennis for thinking that two men embracing in another book amounted to sodomy. At the end of the debate, Sir John’s motion was defeated 34-2 in the Senate.

The marker on Main Street celebrating the work of Padraig Denn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

One of the early writers associated with Cappoquin was the Irish scholar and poet Padraig Denn (1756-1828), who is commemorated in a plaque near the Toby Jug on the Main Street as a ‘schoolmaster, Gaelic scholar, church clerk, religious writer.’

Almost all of his published works were religious in theme, including Eachtra an Bháis and his edition of Pious Miscellany. His writings continue to shed light on the Déise Irish dialect of the 18th and 19th centuries.

The writer Michael Cavanagh (1822-1900), whose statue stands in the Square opposite the Market House, was born in a nearby house in Cooke Street. He went to America after the failed rebellion of 1849 and became, among other things, the official biographer of Thomas Francis Meagher, the Young Ireland leader and Civil War hero. Cavanagh is said to be the first writer to publish the story of the ‘Cappoquin Cornerstone’ in 1864.

In lines penned about his native Cappoquin, Cavanagh wrote:

While the limped flood to the south is sweeping,
For a backward glance at loved Knockmealdown,
Lies, crowned with oak-wreaths, like wood nymph sleeping,
In mirrored beauty – my native town;

God guard the hearts that those grey roofs cover,
Whose fervent pulses respond to mine,
When in raptured visions I fondly hover
Leath Sli idir Eochaill is Ceapach Choinn.

No 6 Mill Street, Cappoquin … ancestral home of the Browne family of poets, writers and clerics (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

In the 19th century, the Rectory in Cappoquin was the home in 1895-1899 of the future bishop John Frederick MacNeice (1866-1942), father of poet Louis MacNeice (1907-1963).

But there were other clerical literary connections with Cappoquin too. No 6 Mill Street is the ancestral home of the Browne family, who included the brothers Cardinal Michael Browne (1887-1971); Monsignor Pádraig de Brún (1899-1960), a poet classical scholar and president of University College Galway; and Monsignor Maurice Browne (1892-1979), for whom the family story provided the basis of The Big Sycamore, a novel published in 1958 under the pen name Joseph Brady and depicting life in 19th century Cappoquin.

The Browne brothers were uncles of the poet Máire Mac an tSaoi, who married Conor Cruise O’Brien.

Dr William White was Cappoquin’s Medical Officer in 1914-1953, and he shared his humanitarian legacy with his daughter, Dr Winnie White. The family lived for a long time at Derriheen House, which served as the local maternity hospital, and the travel writer Dervla Murphy was born there in 1931.

Belleville House was the early home of poet John Walsh, whose father was a steward here, and the early childhood home of the director from the era of silent movies, William Desmond Taylor, who was murdered in Hollywood in 1922.

Belleville Park was the home in the 20th century Molly Keane (1904-1996), author of Good Behaviour. She was married to Bobby Keane from Cappoquin House, and it is said she took her pseudonym, MJ Farrell, from the name above a shop near the Square in Cappoquin. She was the great chronicler of Anglo-Irish life and in her later years she lived in Ardmore, Co Waterford.

Annraoi Ó Liatlháin (1917-1981), a novelist in the Irish language, grew up and went to school in Glendine, and his father worked on the Holroyd-Smyth estate at Ballynatray. In the 1960s, he walked the length of the River Blackwater from its source in East Kerry to the sea at Youghal, and wrote about his experiences in his book Cois Móire (1964).

The poet Thomas McCarthy was born in Cappoquin in 1954. The Cappoquin he recalls in his poetry is the small town I remember from the 1950s and 1960s: the Glenshelane woodland walk; the boathouse – used for dances and plays as well as rowing; summer cricket; the railway station that closed in 1967; and the Desmond Cinema, which closed in 2005.

His novel Asya and Christine (Dublin, 1992), set in the Cappoquin of 1943, includes an account of a boat race on a bracing March day, involving the local rowing club and Irish Army officers who were stationed in the town.

Dennis O’Driscoll regards Thomas McCarthy and Paul Muldoon as the most important Irish poets of this generation. Eavan Boland says he is the first poet born in the Republic of Ireland to write about it critically. Politics, family, love, history and memory are the main themes of his poetry.

The Cappoquin Thomas McCarthy recalls in his poetry is the town I remember from the 1950s and 1960s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

28 August 2020

Maude Delap, Valentia’s
home-grown, self-taught
marine biologist

A plaque in Knightstown recalls Maude Delap, Valentia’s self-taught marine biologist (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

It is difficult on Valentia Island to escape the sense of local pride in the work and legacy of Maude Jane Delap (1866-1953) was a self-taught marine biologist who was the daughter of a local rector.

Maude Delap was the first person to breed jellyfish in captivity and to observe their full life cycle. She was also involved in extensive study of plankton from the coasts of Valentia Island.

Maude Delap was born in Templecrone Rectory, Co Donegal, on 7 December 1866, the seventh of ten children of the Revd Alexander Delap and Anna Jane (née Goslett). In 1874, when Maude was 8, the family moved to Valentia Island when her father became the Rector of the island and of Cahirciveen.

The family home was at Reenellen House in Knightstown, overlooking the coast and half-way between the harbour and the Church of Saint John the Evangelist.

Reenellen House in Knightstown was the Delap family home (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Maude and her sisters received very little formal education in contrast to their brothers, although they benefited from some progressive primary school teaching. Maude and her sister Constance were encouraged in their interest in zoology and biology by their father, who published papers in the Irish Naturalist and other journals.

Maude and Constance were prolific collectors of marine specimens many of which are now housed within the collections of the Natural History Museum, Dublin. A survey based on their work was undertaken by the Royal Irish Academy, headed by Edward T Browne of University College London in 1895 and 1896. This was a precursor to the Clare Island Survey.

After this collaboration, Maude and Constance Delap continued to collect specimens through dredging and tow-netting as well as recording sea temperature and changes in marine life. Maude kept in correspondence with Browne, sending specimens and drawings, until his death in 1937.

Maude Delap became increasingly interested in the life cycle of various species of jellyfish. She was the first person to successfully breed them in captivity in her home laboratory using home-made aquariums. She bred Chrysaora isosceles and Cyanea lamarckii in bell jars and published the results, observing their breeding and feeding habits.

It was because of her pioneering work that the various life cycle stages of different species of jellyfish was first identified.

Her laboratory was referred to as the department which her nephew, Peter Delap, described as an ‘heroic jumble of books, specimens, aquaria, with its pervasive low-tide smell.’

Due to her contributions to marine biology she was offered a position in 1906 in the Plymouth Marine Biological Station, she declined. Her father is said to have reacted by declaring, ‘No daughter of mine will leave home, except as a married woman.’

The Delap family grave in the churchyard at Saint John’s, Kilmore, outside Knightstown (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Her interest continued in many forms of flora and fauna, and she identified a True’s beaked whale that was washed up on the island. This whale species was previously only known from an incomplete specimen found in the US.

Maude Delap had a sea anemone named in her honour, Edwardsia delapiae, which she first recorded in eelgrass on the shores of Valentia Island. This anemone is found in shallow sea water and it is unknown outside Valentia Island. The naming had been suggested by Thomas Alan Stephenson in his book British sea anemones. Stephenson notes in his book that ‘Miss Delap's skill and persistence in collecting rare species are indefatigable.’

Delap was made an associate of the Linnean Society of London in 1936.

Maude Delap died on 23 July 1953. All her siblings had died before her, and she was buried alongside her parents and sisters in the churchyard at Saint John’s Church, Kilmore, the earlier Church of Ireland parish church outside Knightstown.

The family home at Reenellen House in Knightstown is now in ruins, behind protective fencing. But a plaque was erected to her nearby by the Irish National Committee for Commemorative Plaques in Science and Technology in 1998. She was also the subject of an art work by Dorothy Cross, exploring her life and work with scientists and artists of her day.

A plaque in the old churchyard at Kilmore commemorates Maude Delap (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Is Saint John’s Church on
Valentia the ‘most westerly
Protestant church in Europe’?

The Church of Saint John the Baptist, Knightstown … built in 1860 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Valentia Island and its neighbouring islets are scattered with ancient cairns, dolmens, wedge tombs, standing stones, Ogham stones, a promontory fort, and the remains of churches and numerous beehive huts.

Mug Ruith, or Mogh Roith, ‘slave of the wheel,’ a mythological, powerful, blind druid of Munster, is said to have lived on Valentia Island. Legend says he could grow to an enormous size, and that his breath caused storms and turned men to stone.

But the first historical, recorded evidence of people living on the island is found in 1291, in the Papal taxations of Pope Nicholas IV, when a church on the island is valued at 13s 4d.

In church records, the parish was also known as Kilmore, but the list of vicars or rectors of Valentia only begins in 1627, when the Revd Donogh O’Giltenan was presented to the parish.

Canon John Warburton, who was Rector of Valentia in 1812-1830, was a younger son of Charles Morgan Warburton (1754-1826), Bishop of Limerick (1806-1820) and Bishop of Cloyne (1820-1826).

While Warburton was Rector of Valentia, he was the very model of a pluralist, absentee rector, and he was, at various time, also Vicar of Kill and Lyons in the Diocese of Kildare, Vicar of Loughill, Limerick, Rector of Drumcliffe or Ennis in Co Clare, and a minor canon or vicar choral of Cork and Cloyne cathedrals, Precentor of Ardfert (1811-1814).

He was also one of my predecessors as Precentor of Limerick (1818-1878), while his elder brother, Canon Charles Warburton, was one of my predecessors as Rector of Rathkeale in 1813-1855.

The Church of Saint John the Baptist, built at Kilmore in 1815, was designed by James Pain (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Despite John Warburton’s lengthy absences from Valentia during his time as rector, a new Church of Saint John the Baptist was built at Kilmore in 1815, almost a generation before Knightstown was laid out and developed by Alexander Nimmo on behalf of the Knights of Kerry.

This was a Georgian hall and tower church, designed by the Limerick-based architect James Pain, a pupil of the renowned London architect John Nash. The Pain brothers were involved in designing many of the churches in the Diocese of Limerick including, it is said, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, and Castletown Church.

The church could seat a congregation of about 60 people. However, as the Church of Ireland population of Valentia grew with the growth of Knightstown, the expansion of the slate quarry and the arrival of the transatlantic cable, the church became too small for the needs of a growing parish.

Successive generations of the Knights of Kerry are buried in the former chancel of Saint John’s Church in Kilmore (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

A new church, also dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, was built in Knightstown in 1860, when the Revd Edward Lee Sandiford was Rector of Valentia (1848-1869). This is one of the last churches designed by Joseph Welland (1798-1860).

The stained-glass windows are memorials to the Knights of Kerry. The oak panelling and the mosaics in the chancel date from 1925.

The other rectors of Valentia include John Godfrey Day (1830-1847), later Dean of Ardfert (1861-1879), father of Bishop Maurice Day of Clogher and grandfather of Godfrey Day, Bishop of Armagh and Archbishop of Armagh; Abraham Isaac, later Dean of Ardfert (1894-1905); the Revd Alexander Delap, father of the marine biologist, Maude Delap (1866-1953); and George Lill Swain, later Dean of Limerick (1929-1954).

Other clergy on the island also served in developing scientific roles. For example, the Revd Thomas Kerr, who is buried in Saint John’s Churchyard in Kilmore, was also Director of the Meteorological Observatory on Valentia.

The sensory garden at Saint John’s Church in Knightstown was designed by Arthur Shackleton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The Church of Ireland population on Valentia began to fall in numbers with the loss of British officials in the early 20th century, moving the headquarters of the cable stations to London, and the eventual departure of the Knights of Kerry from Valentia.

Today, a sign claims the church in Knightstown is the ‘most westerly Protestant church in Europe.’ Although the church is closed this summer due to restoration and renovation works, it is normally open in summer from May to September, and the church is also the venue for an ecumenical Christmas service and regular musical recitals and lectures.

The Sensory Garden was designed by Arthur Shackleton to cater for people with disabilities and was opened by Bishop Michael Mayes in 2005.

Saint John’s Church is lovingly cared for by the churchwarden, Richard Williams, who also welcomed us to the former church at Kilmore and its churchyard and pointed us to the graves of the Knights of Kerry, the Delap family, and the marine biologist Maude Delap.

The Revd Michael Cavanagh has been the priest-in-charge of Kenmare, Kilcrohane, Dromod and Valentia since 2010.

The Church of Saint John the Baptist in Knightstown is closed this summer for renovation and restoration works (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)