24 October 2020

When the Precentors of Limerick
looked after their own kith and kin

The carved wyvern biting his tail under the seat in the precentor’s stall in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

After a project looking at my predecessors as Precentors of Limerick was postponed last month due to the pandemic limits on public events, I thought it might still be interesting to look at past precentors in a number of blog postings.

In recent postings, I recalled some previous precentors who had been accused of ‘dissolute living’ or being a ‘notorious fornicator’ (Awly O Lonysigh), or who were killed in battle (Thomas Purcell). There were those who became bishops or archbishops: Denis O’Dea (Ossory), Richard Purcell (Ferns) and John Long (Armagh).

There was the tragic story too of Robert Grave, who became Bishop of Ferns while remaining Precentor of Limerick, but – only weeks after his consecration – drowned with all his family in Dublin Bay as they made their way by sea to their new home in Wexford (read more HERE).

In the 17th century, two members of the Gough family were also appointed Precentors of Limerick. In all, three brothers in this family were priests in the Church of Ireland and two were priests in the Church of England, and the Rathkeale branch of the family was the ancestral line of one of Ireland’s most famous generals (read more HERE).

In the mid to late 18th century, two members of the Maunsell family were Precentors of Limerick: Richard Maunsell (1745-1747) and William Thomas Maunsell (1786-1781).

Canon Richard Maunsell (1713-1791), who was the Precentor of Limerick in 1745-1747, was born in Cork, educated at Trinity College Dublin (BA 1735; MA 1738), and was ordained deacon in 1738 and priest in 1740. Almost immediately he found a senior position in the Diocese of Limerick when he was appointed Prebendary and Vicar of Killeedy in 1741.

It was probably no mere coincidence that his father-in-law, William Burscough, was then the Bishop of Limerick (1725-1755). Burscough had come to Ireland in 1712 as chaplain to the Lord Lieutenant, Lord Carteret – a sure stepping-stone in those days to becoming a bishop in the Church of Ireland. But Burscough was a scholar too: he was Fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, in 1699-1719, he delivered the Boyle Lecture in 1723, and helped to found the Incorporated Society in 1733.

Burscough was Bishop of Limerick for 30 years, but when he died in 1755, he was buried in New Ross, Co Wexford.

Meanwhile, Richard Maunsell had been appointed Precentor of Limerick in 1745. But he remained Precentor for only two years, and in 1747, while his father-in-law was still Bishop of Limerick, he became Chancellor of Limerick and Rector of Rathkeale and Kilscannell. So, he was also one of my predecessors in this group of parishes, and he remained here for almost half a century, until he died in 1791.

While Maunsell was in Rathkeale, he added to his clerical income by becoming Rector and Vicar of Kilcornan in 1782. This too is now a parish within the Rathkeale group of parishes, and his appointment to Kilcornan may have come about because his only daughter Elizabeth had married the local landlord, John Thomas Waller of Kilcornan, in 1782. He died in 1791.

Canon William Thomas Maunsell (1729-1818), who was the Precentor of Limerick and Rector and Vicar of Loughill in 1786-1791, was born in Limerick and was educated at TCD (BA 1751; LLB 1774). He came to the Diocese of Limerick as a Vicar Choral of Limerick Cathedral and Prebendary of Donaghmore.

After his time as Precentor of Limerick, this Canon Maunsell became Chancellor of Limerick and Rector of Rathkeale and Kilscannell (1791-1803). At the same time as he was Precentor and then Chancellor of Limerick (1786-1803), he held a number of church appointments, including Precentor of Kildare (1766-1818), Archdeacon of Kildare (1772-1818).

He was a son-in-law of William Twigge, Archdeacon of Limerick, and his son, William Wray Maunsell (1782-1860), was Vicar of Saint Michael’s, Limerick, and Archdeacon of Limerick for almost half a century (1814-1860).

Archdeacon Maunsell was a son-in-law of another Bishop of Limerick, Charles Mongan-Warburton (1754-1826), who was bisop in 1806-1820; his son, Canon Robert Augustus Maunsell (1825-1878), became chaplain at the British Embassy in Paris.

Indeed, over time, no less than 21 members of the Maunsell family are counted among the clergy of the Diocese of Limerick.

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