19 February 2020

Saint Mary’s Askeaton:
priests and people,
a journey through time

Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton … if only these walls could talk? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Askeaton Civic Trust

Askeaton Tourist Office, Askeaton, Co Limerick

7:30 p.m., 19 February 2020


I imagine that as many of us pass by some of the older buildings in Askeaton, we find ourselves saying things like, ‘If only these walls could talk …’

The banks, the old RIC barracks, the library, the schools, many of the houses … and the two churches.

Perhaps you have said that about Saint Mary’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish church beside Colaiste Mhuire. Some of you may have been inside the church, some may have family members who are buried in the churchyard.

The interesting graves and burials in the churchyard include the Famine rector, George Maxwell, and his family; the interesting Sheehy family, with a coroner, bank manager and solicitor, and a flight-lieutenant who was killed in action in World War II; the poet Aubrey de Vere (1814-1902), the Famine Grave, and the graves of interesting families, including the Wybrants, Champagne, Fosberry, Langford, Griffin, Hunt and O’Grady families.

The grave of the poet Aubrey de Vere (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

But how many of you know anything about the priests and parishioners in this church over the centuries?

It is an important part of the town, and their stories are part of the story of continuity in this community.

This evening I want to say something about these priests and people.

These are stories that take us from the tea plantations in Darjeeling to Bloemfontien in South Africa, from the Bahama Islands to Sorrento, to Finland and to Venice, at least twice, to Japan, Pakistan and Australia, to Zambia, Uganda and Lesotho in Africa, to Canada and to many parts of the United States.

These include priests who got in trouble with archbishops who made life difficult for them; and vicars who make life difficult for their parishioners and their neighbours with their own bigotry. There are rectors who stay with their people through the horrors of the Famine and who saw three children die later of diphtheria.

There are priests who are here part-time, who are here for a short time and some who may have been here for far too long time. Before the Reformation, some of the vicars were not even ordained, and one was ordained when he was only 20, after he had received a Papal dispensation – because he was the son of an Augustinian friar.

There was one whose family owned the ruins of Mellifont Abbey, and another who had an indirect link to Catherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII’s six wives, who married one of the richest banking heiresses on these islands and whose son managed to resurrect for himself an old peerage title that everyone thought had died out centuries before, and so got himself a seat in the House of Lords.

From the 17th century, most were educated at Trinity College Dublin, but there is a sprinkling of clergy who were educated at Oxford and Cambridge.

The east end of the mediaeval church, behind the present church and the tower Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Saint Mary’s Church:

But first let me say a little about Saint Mary’s Church itself.

The present church was built in 1827, but beside it stand the ruins of an earlier, mediaeval church, and on the south-east corner of the church is an unusual tower, associated in local legend with the Knights Templar.

The first recorded priest in the parish is Thomas de Cardiff in 1237, which means he was here before the tower and first recorded church on the site were built.

The church and tower are said to have been built in 1291 or 1298, which means they predate both the Desmond Castle, which was built in the 15th century on the site of an earlier ruined castle, and the Franciscan Abbey, which was founded in 1389 or 1420.

But if there was a priest here 60 years before the tower and that first recorded church, we can presume there was an earlier, perhaps even a pre-Norman church on the site. It is a raised site, a mount high above the flood plains of the River Deel, which indicates this may have been an early site of worship.

The church is said to have been built in 1291. In the Papal tax of 1306, the rectory of Ynsjskyfty is valued at 16 marks and the vicarage at 6 marks.

The tower is about six metres high with a base batter, built on a square plan at the base, but halfway up it becomes an octagonal tower, and the tower has a crenellated top. There is a similar ruined tower by the ruins of a former Augustinian Priory in Knocktopher, Co Kilkenny.

The adjoining mediaeval church is in a very ruined state, and only one window remains in the gable end. The church stands at about four metres in height, and is butted up against the present parish church, built in 1827.

The tower is said to have been built by the Knights Templar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

In his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland Samuel Lewis said in 1837 that the Knights Templars originally founded this church in 1298. However, this may not be wholly true, and Lewis mistakenly ascribes many early churches in Ireland to the Knights Templars.

The Knights Templar were one of the orders founded during the Crusades by warrior monks took monastic oaths to protect the Holy Land and pilgrims. Similar orders include the Knights Hospitaller, also known as the Knights of Saint John or the Knights of Rhodes or the Knights of Malta, as well as the Teutonic Order and the Order of Saint Lazarus.

The Knights Templar, or the ‘Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Jesus Christ and the Temple of Solomon,’ were formed in 1118 in Jerusalem. They later adopted the Cistercian rule and formally received Papal recognition from Pope Innocent II in 1130. The Templars spread throughout Christendom, with strongholds and estates in most parts of Europe and the in the Holy Land.

The story that there was ever a Templar Commandery here in Askeaton was first challenged by TJ Westropp in a paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquities in Ireland. Indeed, another local tradition claims that the church is one of three churches that were built by three sisters. However, the legend does not give the name of any saint or founder who is associated with the parish.

Whoever founded the church or built the tower, for centuries this tower also served as the bell tower of the mediaeval church. The bell-cote still has the bell in its place, and a bell rope still hangs from the bell into the tower.

A new church was built in 1827 and was consecrated on 23 August 1840.

The present Saint Mary’s Church was built in 1827-1840 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Rectors, Vicars and priests in charge:

1237: (Canon) Thomas de Cardiff:

An English canon, he was Vicar of Iniskefty or Askeaton 1237. He was probably the same as Thomas de Kerdif, Prebendary of Saint Munchin’s ca 1230 and Chancellor of Limerick ca 1223-1250.

1396: Richard Burchs:

He was the Vicar of Kilscannel a year or more by 1396 without being ordained priest, and was deposed. He was then Vicar of Iniskefty (Askeaton) for year without being ordained priest and the Calendar of Papal Letters show his appointment as Vicar was decreed void in 1396.

1418: Dermit MacGillapadrug:

He was born ca1399, a clerk or priest of Killaloe, ‘noble in his 20th year,’ when he received a dispensation for ordination, needed because he was the son of priest, an Augustinian friar, and an unmarried woman. He became Rector of Ynys Keptyng (Askeaton) in December 1418.

– 1426: Edmund Micadam:

He was Vicar of Askeaton until 1426, when he resigned.

– 1426: Gillabertus Ykatyl:

He was Vicar of Askeaton a year in 1426 without being ordained priest

1427: James Oleayn:

He too had a dispensation for ordination being ‘illegitimate.’ A priest of Killaloe, he became Vicar of Inyskefyiny (Askeaton) when Edmund Micadam resigned and when Gillabertus Ykatyl’s appointment was annulled. He was presented to the parish by John Kyndton, Rector of Ballingarry.

There is then a gap through the years, including the Tudor Reformation, until the reign of Edward VI, when we find:

1552: Nicholas Brenan:
1552: Peter Downdown:
1552: Moroghe McCredan
1552: Donagh O’Madagan
1552: John O’Madagan

These five clerks or priests, possibly Vicars Choral in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, are noted in Atheskethin (Askeaton) on 11 February 1552, during the reign of Edward VI.

The vicars choral of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, may have served the parish of Askeaton during the Reformation period (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

1586-1615: Maurice ‘Oge’ MacPerson:

He was Vicar of Askeaton from 1586 to 1615, and possibly until ca 1617.

He was an Irish-speaker, and it is said that Sir Francis Berkeley, who was granted Askeaton Castle in 1610 after the Desmond Wars, used to employ Irish-speaking ministers, which is said to have made his tenants, whom he brought to church, very attentive.

1617-ca 1633: (Canon) Edward Holcombe (Halcomb):

Vicar of Askeaton and Lismakeery 1617-ca 1633; pres by Crown to Prebend of Saint Munchin’s 28 July 1618. Possibly the same as Edmund Halcomb, minister of Aste (Askeaton). He was still alive in 1637, when he is named as overseer of the will of John Maunsell. He may have been the father of Canon Edward Holcombe, ordained and appointed Prebendary of Croagh in 1626.

1633: Thomas Burtt (Birt):

He became Vicar of Askeaton and Lismakeery on 7 December 1633.

1640-ca 1663: Richard Jermyn:

He was educated at Oxford, and was ordained deacon (1621) and priest (1622) on Cork. He served in parishes in the dioceses of Cork and Cloyne in Co Cork before he Vicar of Askeaton on 4 March 1640. He may have remained in the parish throughout the Cromwellian wars, and was possibly here until ca 1663.

1663-ca 1668: Richard (Robert) Harlowyn:

He became Rector of Lismacderry (Lismakeery) and Vicar of Askeaton and Dromdelly (Dromdeely) on 12 February 1663. He was possibly here until 1668.

1668-1689: (Canon) Henry Royse:

Prebendary of Ardcanny (Limerick), 1661-1669; Rector of Kilcornan, Kildimo and Ardcanny, Limerick, 1663-1689; Rector of Lismakeery and Askeaton, 1668-1689. Died 1689. He was probably the father of the Revd Henry Royse, Rector of Kilcornan, 1689-1739.

1689-1731: (Canon) Solomon Delane (Delany):

Born in 1653 or 1654, he was Prebendary of Kilpeacon (Limerick), 1687-1692; Prebendary of Ardcanny (Limerick), Rector of Askeaton and Lismaleery and Vicar of Kildimo, 1689-1731; Rector of Tipperary (Cashel) and Prebendary of Lattin (Emly), 1691-1731; Vicar of Dromdeely (Limerick) ca 1693-1714. He died in 1731.

He married Anne Baldwin of Dublin in 1691.

1731-1734: Thomas Collis:

He was born at Lisodoge, Co Kerry, and a grandson of Canon Benjamin Cross, Precentor of Cloyne. He was Vicar of Kinnard and Minard, Co Kerry, 1728; Vicar of Askeaton, Lismakeery and Dromdeely, 1731-1734; Vicar of Dingle, 1734-1765; Rector of Ballynacourty and Stradbally, Vicar of Kilflyn and Kilshinane, 1747-1765; Vicar of Dunquin, Dunurlin, Garfinagh, Kilquane and Ventry, 1757.

He married Avis Blennerhassett, and they were the parents of 12 children, many dying in childhood.

1734-1747: (Canon) Henry Collis:

He also born in Co Kerry. He was Vicar of Askeaton and Dromdeely and Rector of Lismakeery (Limerick), 1734-1747; Prebendary of Effin, 1741-1747; Curate, Shanagolden, 1744-ca1757. Precentor of Limerick, 1747-1786. He seems to have died in 1786.

1747-1790: William Sprigg (Sprigge):

He was a son of Canon Nathaniel Sprigge, Rector of Newcastle. He Vicar of Askeaton and Dromdeely (Tomdeely) and Rector of Lismakeery, 1747-1790. He died in October 1790.

The Wybrants and Champagne monument in Saint Mary’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

1790-1824: Gustavus Wybrants:

He was born in 1758 in Dublin, the fifth son of Stephen Wybrants, son of the Revd Peter Wybrants, grandson of Peter Wybrants, Mayor of Dublin 1658. Joseph Peter Wybrants came to Dublin from Antwerp in 1622.

He was Vicar of Askeaton and Rector and Vicar of Lismakeery, 1790-1824. He was also Vicar of Castlelyons, Co Cork (Diocese of Cloyne), where he had a curate, but he lived in Askeaton.

In 1797 he married Mary, widow of the Revd Arthur Champagne, and daughter of the Revd Philip Homan. They were the parents of two sons and five daughters. Their children and grandchildren married into the Middleton, Herbert, Nash, Powell, Fosbery, Hobart and Dawson families.

Gustavus Wybrants died at Milltown House, Co Limerick, on 23 March 1824; Mary Wybrants died 24 January 1845 at the home of her son, the Revd Arthur Champagne Wybrants.

Ballindeel House, Askeaton … designed by James Pain and built as the rectory for Richard Murray (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

1824-1829: (Very Revd Dr) Richard Murray:

He born in Dungannon, Co Tyrone, in 1776/1777, the son of the Revd William Murray, headmaster of Royal School Dungannon. He went to his father’s school and then to TCD (BA, MA, BD, DD).

He was a curate in the Diocese of Armagh for 17 years, from 1802 to 1819. In 1809, the Archbishop of Armagh, William Stuart, refused him the papers known as bene decessit to move to the Diocese of Ardagh. When Murray took the Primate to court, the archbishop claimed Murray had not conformed to canon law in the Church of Ireland, and the King’s Bench ruled it could not compel the archbishop to issue the papers.

Eventually, Murray was Vicar of Askeaton and Rector of Lismakeery (1824-1829).

Ballindeel House, a detached, three-bay, two-storey over basement former glebe house, was built as the Rectory for Murray in 1827. The former rectory was designed by the architect James Pain (1779-1877). The present church seems to have been built at the same time (1827), although it was not consecrated until 23 August 1840.

Murray was the secretary of the West Limerick Bible Society, and while he was in Askeaton he was involved in what became known as the ‘Second Reformation.’ He stirred up considerable religious controversy because of his aggressive attempts to proselytise Roman Catholics and his polemical and his bruising debates, laced with claim and counter-claim, with his Roman Catholic counterpart, Archdeacon Michael Fitzgerald.

However, Murray’s parishioners were not happy with his approach and his attitude, and saw him as a disruptive intruder. Behind the scenes, moves were to find an alternative appointment for Murray. This became a reality in 1829, the year Catholic Emancipation was passed, when the Lord Lieutenant, the Duke of Northumberland, offered him the post of Dean of Ardagh in Co Longford.

Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland parish church in Ardagh, Co Longford, was built as a cathedral in 1810-1812 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Later, in evidence to a Commission of Inquiry in 1837, Murray claimed his converts in Askeaton had numbered between 160 and 170 adults, as well as about 300 young people and children. In his evidence, he also expressed his disappointment with the Protestants in the Askeaton area for their lack of zeal in following his own example in proselytising.

Murray remained a member of the militant Protestant Association and was the author of several books, including tracts attacking the Roman Catholic Church such as Outlines of the history of the Catholic Church in Ireland (1840) Ireland and Her Church (1845).

He was Dean and Rector of Ardagh (1829-1854) and Vicar-General of Ardagh. However, the post of Dean of Ardagh was largely nominal after 1839, when the dioceses of Kilmore and Ardagh were united.

Murray married Mary Miller of Moneymore, Co Derry, in 1813. He died in Exmouth, Devon, on 26 July 1854, aged 77.

Sir William Taylor Money died of cholera in Venice in 1834 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

1830-ca 1833: James Drummond Money:

Murray’s more amendable successor as Vicar of Askeaton was the Revd James Drummond Money, who was vicar in 1830-1833.

Money was born in Bombay on 26 April 1805, a son of Sir William Taylor Money (1769-1834), MP (1816-1826), and a director of the East India Company, who died of cholera in Venice in 1834.

Money was presented as Vicar of Askeaton by Sir Matthew Blakiston (1783-1862).

Money married twice, and both wives have interesting stories. In 1832, he married Charlotte, daughter of Canon Gerard Thomas Noel (1782-1851), Vicar of Romsey Abbey, Hampshire, an evangelical hymnwriter. Her mother, Charlotte Sophia, was a daughter of Sir Lucius O’Brien. They had nine children, and she died in 1848.

By then, they had returned to England, and he was later Vicar of Sternfield in the Diocese of St Edmundsbury.

Money’s second wife Clara Maria Money-Coutts, originally Clara Maria Burdett, was a daughter of the banker Sir Francis Burdett (1770-1844) and a sister of the Victorian philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts, who eventually inherited the Coutts banking fortune.

Francis Money-Coutts … a poet and writer, who inherited an obscure title and a banking fortune

James and Clara were the parents of Francis Burdett Thomas Nevill Money-Coutts (1852-1923). He was educated at Eton and Cambridge, became both a barrister and solicitor, but spent most of his life as a poet and writer.

In 1913, by a genealogical sleight of hand, he became the 5th Baron Latymer through his mother’s family, when the title was called out of abeyance, although everyone thought the title had died out 336 year earlier at the death in 1577 of John Nevill, stepson of Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII. Now the son of a Vicar of Askeaton had a seat in the House of Lords.

The gate lodge at Townley Hall, Drogheda … the family home of the Townley Balfour family (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

1833-1837: Willoughby William Townley Balfour:

Willoughby Townley Balfour was born in 1801 at Townley Hall, Drogheda, the second son of Blayney Townley Balfour, of Townley Hall, MP for Belturbet, and Lady Frances Cole, daughter of the Earl of Enniskillen. The ruins of Mellifont Abbey had been owned by this family for generations.

He was Vicar of Askeaton (1833-1837), and later became Rector of Aston Flamville cum Burbage in Leicestershire (1837-1878).

Why did someone like this move from Askeaton to a rural parish in England, and remain there for half a century? The patron of the living was the Earl de Grey and the Countess de Grey was his aunt, formerly Lady Henrietta Cole, a sister of his mother. Lord de Grey was also Lord Lieutenant of Ireland 1841-1844.

Willoughby Balfour died on 29 June 1888, Fairy Hill, Rostrevor, Co Down.

Sorrento … Willoughby Townley Balfour’s nephew, Bishop Francis Richard Townley Balfour, was born here in 1846 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

His brother, Blayney Townley Balfour, was Governor of the Bahama Islands, and retired to Sorrento.

His nephew, Bishop Francis Richard Townley Balfour (1846-1924), was born in Sorrento on 21 June 1846. Like his uncle Willoughby, he went to Harrow, where his contemporaries included a future Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Thomas Davidson (1848-1903), a future secretary of the Anglican mission agency, the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG, now USPG), Bishop Henry Hutchinson Montgomery (1847-1932) from Co Donegal, the slum priest Father Robert Dolling (1851-1902) from Co Down, and a much younger Bishop Charles Gore (1853-1932), whose parents were from Ireland.

Francis Balfour went on to Trinity College Cambridge, and trained for ordination at Cuddesdon College, Oxford. He moved to Southern Africa as a missionary with the Anglican mission agency SPG (now USPG) in 1875. When ill-health forced him to return home in 1900-1901, he acted as an honorary curate in All Saints’ Parish in Raheny, Dublin.

When Balfour returned to South Africa, he became the Archdeacon of Bloemfontein (1901-1906) and then Archdeacon of Basutoland (1908-1922). When he was consecrated in Cape Town as an Assistant Bishop for the Diocese of Bloemfontein in 1911, he was effectively the first Anglican Bishop of Lesotho.

He was proud of his Irish identity and heritage, and there is a wonderful photograph of him from 1914 in a mitre and cope decorated in shamrocks and ‘Celtic’ designs.

When Bishop Balfour retired in 1923, he returned to Ireland, but died shortly afterwards in Shankill, Co Dublin, on 3 February 1924. He is buried in the grounds of Mellifont Abbey, Co Louth.

Mellifont Abbey … burial place of the Balfour family of Towenley Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

1838-1870: George Maxwell:

George Maxwell (1809-1870) is a real hero among the Vicars and Rectors of Askeaton. He spent all his ministry in this parish, first as curate to Balfour from 1832 or 1833, and then as Vicar Askeaton (1838-1870). While he was here he was also curate of Dromdeely (1862-1869).

He married Margaret Anne Hewson of Ennismore, Listowel, Co Kerry, who had deep family roots in this parish. These links continued when his son, John Francis Maxwell, married Laura, daughter of Edward Hewson of Askeaton.

The new church built in 1827 was consecrated on 23 August 1840.

During the Great Famine, George Maxwell worked tirelessly and ceaselessly in the parish.

He died 8 January 1870.

The grave of the Maxwell family in Saint Mary’s Churchyard, Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

1871-1874: (Canon) Edmund Lombard Swan Eves:

Maxwell’s successor was his son-in-law and former curate, Edumnd Eve (1840-1930), who was born in Carlow 1840.

He was ordained to be curate in Askeaton (1864-1865), and then worked as a curate and then rector in parishes in the Dioceses of Leighlin and Rochester, before returning to Askeaton as Rector (1871-1874).

Later he was the Rector of Maryborough (Portaoise), 1874-1916, and Prebendary of Tecolme.

He married Caroline Maxwell, daughter of the Revd George Maxwell. Three of their children, Anne, George and Catherine, died of diphtheria in 1880. Canon Eves died on 14 July 1930, aged 90. A surviving son, the Revd Herbert Lombard Eves (1881-1953) was a priest in parishes in Ireland and England.

1875-1884: James Ashe Sullivan:

He was a grandson of Canon William Ashe, Prebendary of Croagh. He was educated at TCD, but trained for ordination at Wells Theological College.

He was ordained in Armagh, but spent many years as an SPG missionary in Melbourne, Australia (1850-1854 and 1857-1862), and worked in parishes throughout Ireland and England before coming to Askeaton at the age of 60 in 1875.

He retired in 1884, and died in St Albans, Hertfordshire, on 22 July 1888.

1885-1896: (Canon, later Archdeacon) William Malcolm Foley:

William Foley (1854-1944), was a son of the Revd Peter Foley.

He was deputy secretary of the Irish Society 1883-1885, before becoming Rector of Askeaton (1885-1896). He later returned to this area as Rector of Tralee (1907-1922), when he was a canon in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, and Archdeacon of Ardfert. He later moved to parishes in Co Louth.

Two of his sons were ordained, while another son, Lieutenant Thomas Foley, was killed at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.

Archdeacon Foley died on 19 October 1944.

1896-1915: (Canon) Samuel John Hackett:

Canon Samuel Hackett worked in the dioceses of Down, Connor and Dromore before becoming Rector of Askeaton (1896-1915) and Prebendary of Dysart (1911-1915).

He died unmarried at the Rectory in Askeaton on 10 October 1915. The Irish Ecclesiastical Gazette, later the Church of Ireland Gazette, described him as ‘a scholar, a gentleman, and an ideal clergyman.’

1915-1929: (Canon) Thomas Francis (Frank) Abbott:

Canon Abbott was a Vicar-Choral and Succentor of Limerick Cathedral, and a cathedral curate, before becoming Rector of Askeaton (1915-1929. He was also Prebendary of Ardcanny (1913-1919) and Treasurer of Limerick (1919-1940). He returned from Askeaton to Limerick as Rector of Saint Michael’s (1929-1940). He retired in 1940 and died on 8 May 1946.

1929-1963: (Canon) Frederick Alexander Howard White:

At an early stage, White was a curate in Rathkeale (1919-1924). He was Rector of Askeaton, Shanagolden and Loughill (1929-1963), Rural Dean of Askeaton (1940-1963) and Precentor of Limerick (1951-1963).

He retired in 1963 and died on 29 September 1965.

1964-1966: (Canon) Christopher Bruce Warren:

Dublin-born Christopher Warren trained as a teacher and was a curate in Waterford Cathedral (1962-1964) before becoming Rector of Askeaton and Foynes (1964-1966).

He married Karuna from Finland in 1973, and they later moved to Finland, where he was chaplain of the Anglican Church in Helsinki (1988-1994). He returned briefly to Co Galway, but retired to Finland in 1996, and died in 2002.

The grave of Canon George McCann in Castletown churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

1966-1973: (Canon) George McCann:

A noted Irish-language scholar, he was born Lurgan, Co Armagh. He was Rector of Dingle and Ventry (1944-1954) and Rector of Kilcornan and Ardcanny (1954-1973). When Askeaton parish became vacant in 1966, Canon McCann was appointed priest-in-charge of Askeaton (1966-1973). He was also Prebendary of Donoughmore (1961-1973). He retired in 1973, and died in February 1974 at the Rectory in Kilcornan. He is buried in Kilcornan.

The grave of Canon Daniel Hevenor in Castletown churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

1974-1977: (Canon) Daniel Miner Stearns Hevenor:

His grandparents were born in Kilcornan Parish and emigrated to the US during the Great Famine.

He was a priest in Olympia, Washington, and an honorary canon of Olympia. He was then curate-in-charge of Askeaton, Foynes and Kilcornan (1974-1977). He returned to the US in 1977 and died there.

1978-1980: John Luttrell Haworth:

He was business in Cork before he was ordained in 1967 at the age of 39. He held a number of positions, including Team Vicar of Tralee (1971-1972), before becoming Bishop’s Curate of Askeaton, Foynes and Kilcornan (1978-1980). He was Rector of Fermoy when he retired in 1996. He died in 2004.

John McKay was later the Anglican chaplain in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

1982-1985: John Andrew McKay:

He worked in parishes in London and Southwark before returning to Ireland as Rector of Rathkeale, Askeaton, Foynes and Kilcornan (1982-1985). He was the Vicar of Saint Bartholomew’s, Dublin (1985-2000), Chaplain of Venice and Trieste (2000-2003), and chaplain, Saint John, Sandymount (2005-2006). He died on 29 July 2010.

1986-1989: (Canon) Patrick Leo Towers:

He was ordained in Japan in the 1970s while he was working there as a teacher. He moved to England in 1981, where he was a school chaplain. He was Rector of Rathkeale with Askeaton and Kilcornan (1986-1989). Later, he worked in Nenagh and Galway. He was Prebendary of Saint Munchin’s and Tulloh (1997-2000) and Provost of Tuam (2000-2008). He is now retired.

1990-1992: Kevin Samuel Dunn:

He studied theology in Canada and was ordained in the US. He was a priest in the Episcopal Church until 1990, before coming to Ireland as Rector of Rathkeale, Askeaton and Kilcornan in 1990. He moved to California in 1992.

1992-1996: Ronald Gaven Graham:

He moved from England to Ireland, and was ordained while he was working in Shannon and Limerick. He was NSM curate in Adare and Diocesan Information Officer before becoming Curate-in-Charge, Rathkeale, Askeaton and Kilcornan (1992-1996). He later moved to Wexford.

1996-2000: Sidney Eric Mourant:

He was born in Darjeeling in India in 1939, and studied theology in England. He was a CMS mission partner and lectured at theological colleges in Uganda (1975-1977) and Pakistan (1978-1981) and then at the Church Army College in London (1981-1988).

He was ordained in 1989, and was a curate in Cheshire and a Vicar in Douglas in the Isle of Man before being appointed Rector of Rathkeale, Askeaton and Kilcornan (1996-2000). He then moved to Nenagh, Co Tipperary. He retired in 2004, and lives in Co Armagh.

2001-2003: Iain John Edward Knox:

He worked in Northern parishes before moving to Clonmel in 1980-1996. He was priest-in-charge, Rathkeale, Askeaton and Kilcornan (2001-2003). He retired in 2003, and died in Cashel in 2012, where he is buried.

2003-2008: William Miller Romer:

Bill Romer was a school chaplain, teacher and assistant headmaster, and a priest in parishes throughout the US from 1960 to 2003, before moving to Ireland as the NSM priest-in-charge of Rathkeale, Askeaton and Kilcornan (2003-2008). Bill and Molly returned to the Diocese of New Hampshire in 2008 and retired in 2010.

2009-2016: (Revd Dr) Keith Brouneton de Salve Scott:

He was the Rector of Ardclinis, Tickmacrevan, Layde and Cushendun for about 14 years before going to Zambia for the first time as a CMS mission partner. He was the curate-in-charge, Rathkeale, Askeaton and Kilcornan from 2009 and returned to Zambia as a CMS mission partner in 2016.

2017-2022: (Canon) Patrick Comerford:

Retired 31 March 2022.

Inside the ruins of the east end of the earlier church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)


1714: (Canon) Simon Warner

1785: Alexander Hunter, died in Limerick, 1793

1795: Joseph Jones, later Vicar Choral, Limerick (1799), Vicar of Crecoragh (1803-1843), Rector of Brosna (1805-1843), died 1843

ca 1828: John C Miller

1833: George Maxwell, later Rector of Askeaton

1834: Nicholas Wilkinson

1836-1837: (Archdeacon) Edward Henry Brien (1812-1891), later Precentor of Waterford (1854) and Archdeacon of Emly (1858-1879)

1838: Nicholas Columbine Martin (1812-1888), died in Saint Clement’s Parsonage, Selkirk, Manitoba, Canada

1842: Frederick James Clark

1852-1854: Andrew Peard Nash (1825-1872)

– 1858: Bennet Dugdale Hastings McAdam

1860: J Watson

1860-1864: Richard Edward Fletcher (1836-1900)

1864-1866: Edmond Lombard Swan Eves, later Rector of Askeaton (1871-1874)

1866-1867: John Ormsby Stenson (1810-1870), the father of the Revd John William Stenson, SPG missionary in Southern Africa, including Bloemfontein and Kimberley; SPG Deputy Secretary, 1888-1890 and 1902-1905.

1867-1883: William Henry Darell Lodge (1841-1883), died while he was curate of Askeaton

1919-1921: (Canon) John Robert Campion (1893-1951), Curate of Shanagolden and Limerick, 1919-1921. His son, Revd Brian Hadden Campion, emigrated to Canada and is the father of Canon Peter Campion, chaplain of the King’s Hospital, Dublin, and Precentor of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

In the 20th century, Askeaton has been united with Shanagolden and Loughgill, 1920-1961; Rathronan 1953; Kilcornan 1966; Rathkeale 1982; and Foynes.

Appendix 1: List of Rectors, Vicars and Priests in Charge, Askeaton:

1237: (Canon) Thomas de Cardiff

1396: Richard Burchs

1418: Dermit MacGillapadrug

– 1426: Edmund Micadam

– 1426: Gillabertus Ykatyl

1427: James Oleayn

1552: Nicholas Brenan; Peter Downdown; Moroghe McCredan; Donagh O’Madagan; John O’Madagan

1586-1617: Maurice ‘Oge’ MacPerson

1617-ca 1633: (Canon) Edward Holcombe (Halcomb)

1633: Thomas Burtt (Birt)

1640-ca 1663: Richard Jermyn

1663-ca 1668: Richard (Robert) Harlowyn

1668-1689: (Canon) Henry Royse

1689-1731: (Canon) Solomon Delane (Delany)

1731-1734: Thomas Collis

1734-1747: (Canon) Henry Collis

1747-1790: William Sprigg (Sprigge)

1790-1824: Gustavus Wybrants

1824-1829: (Very Revd Dr) Richard Murray

1830-1833: James Drummond Money

1833-1837: Willoughby William Townley Balfour

1838-1870: George Maxwell:

1871-1874: (Canon) Edmund Lombard Swan Eves

1875-1884: James Ashe Sullivan

1885-1896: (Canon, later Archdeacon) William Malcolm Foley

1896-1915: (Canon) Samuel John Hackett

1915-1929: (Canon) Thomas Francis (Frank) Abbott

1929-1963: (Canon) Frederick Alexander Howard White

1964-1966: (Canon) Christopher Bruce Warren

1966-1973: (Canon) George McCann

1974-1977: (Canon) Daniel Miner Stearns Hevenor

1978-1980: John Luttrell Haworth

1982-1985: John Andrew McKay

1986-1989: (Canon) Patrick Leo Towers:

1990-1992: Kevin Samuel Dunn

1992-1996: Ronald Gaven Graham

1996-2000: Sidney Eric Mourant

2001-2003: Iain John Edward Knox

2003-2008: William Miller Romer

2009-2016: Keith Brouneton de Salve Scott

2017- : (Canon) Patrick Comerford


1714: (Canon) Simon Warner
1785: Alexander Hunter
1795: Joseph Jones
ca 1828: John C Miller
1833: George Maxwell, later Rector of Askeaton
1834: Nicholas Wilkinson
1836-1837: (Archdeacon) Edward Henry Brien
1838: Nicholas Columbine Martin
1842: Frederick James Clark
1852-1854: Andrew Peard Nash (1825-1872)
– 1858: Bennet Dugdale Hastings McAdam
1860: J. Watson
1860-1864: Richard Edward Fletcher (1836-1900)
1864-1866: Edmond Lombard Swan Eves, later Rector of Askeaton (1871-1874)
1866-1867: John Omsby Stenson.
1867-1883: William Henry Darell Lodge (1841-1883)
1919-1921: (Canon) John Robert Campion (1893-1951)

The Famine Grave in Saint Mary’s churchyard, Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Updated: 9 March 2023

How the doors closed at
Whitechapel Foundry
after almost 450 years

Whitechapel Bell Foundry … established in 1570, closed in 2017 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

I was blogging last night about how Whitechapel Gallery is one of the places I regret not visiting during a walk-around in the East End of London. One of the buildings I could not visit was the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, which was the oldest manufacturing company in Britain until it closed in 2017.

The foundry was known to generations of clergy because it made church bells and their fittings and accessories, as well as single tolling bells, carillon bells and handbells. Even if we did not have Whitechapel bells in our churches, we knew of the foundry because of advertising in church directories, books and magazines.

The foundry in Whitechapel was also the place where the Liberty Bell, a symbol of American independence, was made, and for re-casting Big Ben in the north clock tower or Elizabeth Tower at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

The Master Founders or bell makers of Aldgate and Whitechapel can be traced back to 1420. The three bells manufacturer’s mark can be seen on the bells and the three bells sign hung over the door of the Whitechapel site.

The Whitechapel Bell Foundry company dates from 1570. The last premises at 32-34 Whitechapel Road, backing on to Plumbers Row, dates from 1670 and was formerly a coaching inn, ‘The Artichoke,’ damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

The Artichoke closed in 1738 and the Whitechapel Bell Foundry moved into the premises the following year. The foundry remained at the site until May 2017. It was one of only two bell foundries left in the UK and had been in continuous production for almost 450 years.

In 1752, the foundry, then known as Lester and Pack, cast the Liberty Bell, was commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of William Penn’s Charter of Privileges in 1701, Pennsylvania’s original constitution.

As a result of damage sustained during its stormy passage across the Atlantic, the bell cracked when it was first rung, and after repeated repairs cracked again in 1846 when rung to mark George Washington’s birthday.

Big Ben, the largest bell ever cast at the foundry, was cast in 1858 and rung for the first time on 31 May 1859. Big Ben also cracked because too heavy a hammer was initially used. The crack and the subsequent retuning give Big Ben its present distinctive tone. The final bill for Big Ben was £572.

Whitechapel supplied bells to several cathedrals, including Canterbury, Guildford, Lincoln, Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, Liverpool and the bells of Westminster Abbey.

Churches with bells from Whitechapel include ones as near as Saint Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside and the Church of Ireland parish church in Skibereen, Co Cork, and as far as the Armenian Church in Chennai, India, as well as church throughout England, Ireland, the US and Australia.

The Hughes family bought the foundry in 1904, and continued to own it until its recent closure.

During World War II, the foundry was used as a munitions production line. After the war, the foundry was busy replacing bells lost or damaged by fire during the Blitz in London.

The business adapted throughout the centuries and in modern times, producing handbells and doorbells, and responded to a surge in orders for table bells, following the popularity of the ITV period drama series Downton Abbey.

After the 9/11 attacks in the US in 2001, the company made the Bell of Hope as a gift from the people of London to the city of New York. It is rung at 08:46 on the anniversary each year, marking the time the first plane hit the first of the Twin Towers. It was first placed in Trinity Church, Manhattan, and now hangs in Saint Paul’s Chapel.

The last bell was cast at the foundry on 22 March 2017, and was given to the Museum of London along with historical artefacts from the premises. The foundry closed on 12 June 2017, after almost 450 years of bell-making and 250 years at its Whitechapel site. The final bell cast was given to the Museum of London, along with artefacts used in the manufacturing process, when the building was sold.

The manufacturing patents for the Whitechapel bells were sold to Whites of Appleton, Oxfordshire, who had with a business relationship with the foundry for 197 years. Whites also bought the pattern equipment and a new tuning machine.

Whitechapel tower bells will be cast by Westley Group Ltd. Whitechapel musical handbells and the supplies of supporting music and accessories will be available from Bells of Whitechapel Ltd, along with the entire range of Whitechapel presentation bells, door bells, bracket bells and ships bells. The bell foundry archives have been deposited with the London Metropolitan Archives.

The Whitechapel premises are a Grade II* listed building. In March 2017, a consortium of heritage groups, including Save Britain’s Heritage, The East End Preservation Society, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the Ancient Monuments Society and the Royal Academy of Arts attempted to have the foundry premises listed as a Grade 1 listed building as an asset of community value.

The foundry was sold to a US investor, Raycliff, who announced plans to convert the foundry building into 108-room hotel, with a workshop, public café and artist space. A small working foundry would exist on the site, and a manufacturing firm agreed to make hand bells there.

However, members of the art world have spoken out against the plans. Campaigners, including the Victoria and Albert director Dr Tristram Hunt and Sir Antony Gormley, have backed a bid to return it to a fully working foundry. The United Kingdom Historic Building Preservation Trust which wants to buy back the buildings and maintain them as a working foundry.

Dr Hunt said the foundry needed to be kept ‘to enrich the cultural presence and attract national, regional and international interest.’ The art historian Dan Cruickshank called it ‘a landmark’ that deserves ‘the highest level of protection.’

Members of the art world have spoken out against plans to convert the foundry into a boutique hotel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)