16 October 2020

‘She told me of the last Jew here,
one that closed a chapter …’

Walter Byokowski, one of the few remaining survivors of Auschwitz, died in Cork earlier this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

News media in Cork, including local newspapers and radio stations, yesterday reported the death of Walter Byokowski, one of the few remaining survivors of Auschwitz.

Walter Byokowski, known locally as Wally, lived near Drimoleague in west Cork for almost 40 years. He died last Sunday [11 October 2020] at the age of 98.

Wally, who was married to a Cork-born woman Kathleen, died at the Mercy Hospital, and is being buried in a private ceremony because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Walter Byokowski was originally from eastern Poland. He spent many years in Auschwitz, where he was known as prisoner 708. Over 1.1 million people died at Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp, between 1940 and 1945, before it was liberated by Russian troops. Trains brought people who included Jewish, Polish, Roma and Sinti people, Soviet prisoners of war and Jehovah’s Witnesses to the camp to be killed.

Walter Byokowski rarely spoke about his experiences in Auschwitz. He and Kathleen met in London, where he worked as an accountant for many years, and they have lived in west Cork since 1981.

Neighbours and friends described him as ‘a gifted man when it came to stone work and timber work,’ ‘a great cook’ and ‘a great photographer.’ They said he was a private person who liked gardening.

Tributes to the Polish-born man have been pouring in, including many from people who did not know him but who were moved by his story.

‘I didn’t know you, but you survived Auschwitz and for that you are my hero. Rest in peace – you have earned your rest,’ one message says.

‘You survived a hell called Auschwitz, I visited the place and it was hell. You surely are a hero, I salute you Walter,’ reads another.

‘RIP Walter. You endured more in one lifetime than any other man should have in two.’

As I think about this week’s news of the death in Cork of one of the last survivors of Auschwitz, my thoughts and reflections for Friday evening return to Jewtown, the collection of poems by Simon Lewis published in 2016, and which I came across during my visits earlier this year to Jewish community and historical sites in Cork.

Death Notice by Simon Lewis:

She walks her dog in Shalom Park
once the radio announces the deaths,

passes by former neighbours’ homes
now rented out to strangers

from the Baltic states, the same
as in her mother’s time.

She saw me looking at a sign
and asked me where I was from

and relieved to hear my accent,
she told me of the last Jew here,

one that closed a chapter in this street,
just a death notice on the radio.

Shalom Park in Cork … once at the heart of the area known as ‘Jewtown’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The church in Croom
is on a mediaeval site
with the graves of poets

The Church of Ireland parish church in Croom, Co Limerick, stands on the site of an earlier mediaeval church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Two of us were visiting Croom in east Limerick earlier this week, enjoying the colourful streets and shopfronts, strolling along the banks of the River Maigue, wondering at the ruins of Croom Castle, and visiting the two parish churches: Saint Mary’s Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland parish church, which stand across the street from each another above the west bank of the river and below the walls of the castle.

The Church of Ireland parish church stands beside Croom House and is on the site of an early mediaeval church, although nothing remains of the older, original church.

The list of priests who have been rectors and vicars of Croom dates back to the early 14th century, when John de Shortmad is referred to as ‘late Vicar of Cromou.’ His successor was known simply as Sir Simon, while in 1376 John Route was referred to as the ‘Parson of Cromit.’

The poet Daibhi O Bruadair, who was living at Springfield Castle In the late 17th century, praised the quality of the beer produced by the Rector of Croom, Canon John Lillys. The Parish of Croom was united with the neighbouring parish of Adare in 1687, when Canon Edward Ingram succeeded Lillys as Rector and Vicar of Croom and Vicar of Adare.

His successor, Canon Stackpole Pery, was the father of both Edmund Sexton Pery, Viscount Pery, and William Cecil Pery, Bishop of Limerick and ancestor of the Earls of Limerick.

The church in Croom was probably built in the 1780s, repaired in the 1830s and extended by James Edward Rogers in 1868 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

For over a century, the Croker family of Croom Castle provided the rectors and vicars in the parishes of Adare and Croom from the mid-18th until the second half of the 19th century: the Revd Richard Croker (1756-1823) was Rector and Vicar of Croom and Adare (1784-1823), the Revd Edward Croker (1787-1863) was Vicar of Croom (1823-1863) and Vicar of Adare (1824-1828), and the Revd Thomas Croker (1800-1872) was Vicar of Adare (1828-1872).

Thomas Bunbury (1829-1907), who was Rector of Croom in 1863-1872, later became Dean of Limerick (1872-1899) and then Bishop of Limerick (1899-1907).

The present church was probably built ca 1780 with a grant from the Board of First Fruits, and in the 1830s the Ecclesiastical Commissioners granted £151 for the repair of the church. Samuel Lewis wrote in 1837 wrote that ‘The church stands on the western bank of the river Maigue, and is a small neat edifice, in the early English style of architecture, with a square tower: it appears to have been erected on the site of a larger building.’

The church has a three-bay nave, slightly recessed single-bay chancel added in 1868 by the Gothic Revival church architect James Edward Rogers (1838-1896), single-bay vestry at the north-east and a three-stage square-plan tower at the west end, with crenelations.

Many details of this church are of artistic merit, including carved stone details such as the label mouldings, copings and limestone door surrounds.

The nave has pointed arch windows with Y-traceried stained-glass windows, the chancel has a pointed arch window with a Y-traceried stained-glass window, and the vestry has a pointed arch window with limestone surrounds. However, I was unable to gain access this week to see these stained-glass windows dating from 1913-1914 and by Ethel Rhind of An Túr Gloine.

The tower has a timber battened door on the south side with a pointed arch, chamfered limestone surround and carved hood-moulding and door. At the second stage, the tower has blind quatrefoil motifs with limestone surrounds, and at the third stage has timber louvered vents.

The tower has quatrefoil motifs, louvered vents and crenelations (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The architect James Edward Rogers, who added the chancel and vestry, was born in Dublin in 1838, went to school at Guildford Grammar School, and matriculated at Trinity College Dublin in 1855. He then became a pupil of Benjamin Woodward while Woodward was working on the Oxford Museum.

Rogers became a companion of William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who were decorating Woodward’s debating hall at the Oxford Union with scenes from Arthurian legends, and they went ‘hunting in the parish churches on Sunday evenings to find a Guinevere.’

When Woodward was dying from tuberculosis and spending the winter of 1859-1860 in Madeira, Rogers visited him in Algiers or the South of France. JP Mahaffy later described Rogers as ‘Woodward’s favourite pupil.’

Woodward died in May 1861, and Rogers graduated BA from Trinity the following winter. Rogers soon set up his own practice, working from his father’s address at 20 Upper Mount Street, but later worked from 205 Great Brunswick Street and at 179 Great Brunswick Street, working closely with William Stirling and James Franklin Fuller.

Most of his work was with the Church of Ireland, and he was architect to the Diocese of Meath until disestablishment in 1869.

Other works by Rogers include a window for Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford (1864); the Carmichael School of Medicine in North Brunswick Street, Dublin (1864); Saint Mary’s Church, Howth (1864-1866); Saint Patrick’s Church, Monaghan (1865); Saint Paul’s Church, Kilfergus (Glin), Co Limerick (1865-1870); Kenure Church and Rectory, Rush, Co Dublin (1866-1867); Holmpatrick Church, Skerries, Co Dublin (1868); the Caledonian Insurance offices at 31 Dame Street, Dublin (1868-1870), which shows strong influences of John Ruskin; and Saint Bartholomew’s Vicarage, Ballsbridge (1872-1873). He also enlarged Saint John’s Church, Listowel, Co Kerry.

Rogers was a Fellow of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (1864), a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects (1874), proposed by James Franklin Fuller, James Joseph McCarthy and Thomas Newenham Deane, and an Associate of the Royal Hibernian Academy (1871).

Rogers moved to London in 1876, resigned from practising as an architect in England, but continued to exhibit his paintings at the Royal Hibernian Academy. He illustrated the Revd Sabine Baring-Gould’s Troubadour-Land: A Ramble in Provence and Languedoc (1891). He died in London in 1896.

The Maigue poet Sean O Tuama is buried in Croom churchyard (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The churchyard in Croom has ornate gravestones and vaults, including those of the Croker and Dickson families of Croom Castle, and the Lyons family of Croom House. But the most visited grave is that of the Maigue poet, Sean O Tuama.

Croom was united with Bruff in 1922, with Kilpeacon in 1952, and with Adare in 1958, and the Adare Union was united with Kilmallock when Archdeacon Brian Snow retired in 1995.

The last rector to live in the old rectory in Croom, Canon Frederick Knowles (1907-1980), was Rector of Croom in 1937-1952. His son, the Very Revd Philip Knowles, was Dean of Cashel.

Today, Croom is one of the four churches in the Adare Group, which includes Adare (Saint Nicholas), Croom, Kilmallock (Saint Peter and Saint Paul) and Kilpeacon (Saint Beacon, Crecora). The rector is Canon Elizabeth (Liz) Beasley.

The parish church in Croom is one of four in the Adare group of parishes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)