Saturday, 31 October 2020

Four books in the post
on Wexford families and
the arts in Askeaton

Four books arrived in the post this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

There are many things I miss during this pandemic lockdown: there are missed opportunities for travel to my favourite places, walks on the beach, eating out, time sipping a double espresso in cafés … And I sorely miss opportunities to browse in some of my favourite bookshops.

Over the last few months, I have bought a number of books online. But that is no substitute for losing count of time as I browse the shelves of a good bookshop, serendipitously coming across a book I never knew about but realise I always wanted to read.

Serendipity continued to manifest itself this week when three books arrived in the post unexpectedly, two from my old friend Michael Freeman in Rosslare, Co Wexford, and two from Michele Horrigan of Askeaton Contemporary Arts.

Helen Skrine is the author of The Boxwells of Butlerstown Castle, published recently under the imprint of Butlerstown Castle Press and co-edited with her daughter, Anna Skrine-Brunton.

But the Boxwells are one among the families that for hundreds of years have owned castles in Co Wexford and have influenced social, political, economic and cultural change across the world.

The Bowxwells have lived for centuries at Butlerstown House and Butlerstown Castle, just a mile or two away from two other castles linked with the Boxwell family, Bargy Castle and Lingstown Castle. This is a fascinating memoir of the Boxwell family, which came England in the 1600s and settled in Co Wexford. She tells the story that is sometimes tragic and often-times funny.

She charts the contribution of members of the Boxwell family to government, medicine, sport, community and even rebellion, through war and peace to the present day.

Butlerstown Castle, like Ballybur Castle in Co Kilkenny, had its origins as a tower house, ‘a modest affair aimed not at warmongering or at display of power and wealth, but merely at survival, for defence in a hostile and embittered environment.’

The so-called ‘English’ baronies of Forth and Bargy in Co Wexford became more thickly populated with castles than any other part of Ireland. They included Bargy Castle built by the Rossiters, Lingstown Castle built by the Lamberts, Ballycogley Castle, built by the Waddings, and Butlerstown Castle, near Tomhaggard, built for the Butlers of Mountgarret, and with views north to Forth Mountain, west to the Comeragh Mountains in Co Waterford, and south to the Saltee Islands.

Helen traces the Boxwell family back to John Boxall or Boxwell of New College, Oxford, a favourite of Queen Mary, and John Boxwell (1614-1677) of Wootton Bassett, and a third John Boxwell who moved from Wootton Bassett to Co Wexford in the late 17th century.

For many people in Co Wexford, the Boxwell family is best-known for the close family relationship that links John Boxwell, John’s brother-in-law John Colclough and John’s cousin, Beauchamp Bagenal Harvey, the three key figures in the 1798 Rising in Wexford.

But she also tells the stories of colourful family members, including Susan Boxwell the artist; John Boxwell, Governor of Dhaka, now the capital of Bangladesh; William Boxwell, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland; and Colonel Ambrose Boxwell of the Indian army.

There are honeymoons in Rome and Athens, tennis in Assam, Bengal and Chittagong, hunting with the Killinick Harriers, polo in Malaysia and a connection with Chris de Burgh. There are stories that take the reader to South Africa and Brazil, and of coffee in White’s Hotel, the Opera Festival in Wexford, and starting an arts centre in the Old Town Hall in Cornmarket.

There are intriguing connections with the Elgee family and Oscar Wilde; with Whitley Stokes and William Stokes, pioneers in medicine; with Percy French; and through her mother with the St Leger family of Doneraile. And there is the story a ‘visit’ to Bargy Castle by the IRA during a Christmas party at the height of the Irish Civil War.

In addition, 16 family trees help guide the reader labyrinthine details of the different branches Boxwell family tree, with the many intermarriages within the Boxwell family, the details of kinship with other kindred families, including the Harveys, the MacMurroughs Kavanaghs and the St Legers, and extensions of the family to Abbeyleix, Liverpool and Brazil.

The cover photographs are by Jim Campbell and Ger Lawlor, while many of the photographs inside this generously illustrated book are by Ger Lawlor, Helen’s son-in-law Simon de Courcy Wheeler and Pat O’Connor.

Helen Skrine is due to feature soon on RTÉ’s programme Nationwide.

Berna Borna, originally from Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, was a teacher at the Muslim National School in Clonskeagh almost 25 years, and was the school principal for the last five of those years. Her novel Shades of Integrity is her debut fiction and is published under Michael Freeman’s imprint of Three Sisters Press in Rosslare.

Her novel about a Muslim family from Egypt living in Dublin is due to be launched early next year. She says, ‘Coming into contact with the Muslim community has been a great privilege and blessing. The experience was enriching beyond the ordinary. The community comprises people from many differing countries and cultures. We have much to learn from each other.’

It is an appropriate corrective to negative images of Muslims and Islam created by this week’s horrific killings in Nice.

The book is prefaced with a quotation from Khalil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.


Michael Freeman is from Glynn, Co Wexford. He lived in Dublin for many years, working as a freelance journalist, a press officer for Macra na Feirme and in PR and publishing. He returned to Wexford with his wife Brigid in 2005 and now lives in Rosslare.

A suggestion by the Wexford historian and author Nicky Furlong led him to set up Three Sisters Press, and the first book he published was volume five of Nicky’s Wexford in the Rare Auld Times. Other books from Three Sisters Press include Sailor, Airman, Spy, Memoir of a Cold War Veteran by Ted Hayes (2018).
http://www.patrickcomerford.com/2018/11/sailor-airman-spy-memoir-of-cold-war.html
Michele Horrigan from Askeaton, Co Limerick, is Director and Curator at Askeaton Contemporary Arts, and a former curator at the Belltable in Limerick.

ACA Public is the publishing initiative of Askeaton Contemporary Arts, and recently published Countercultures, communities, and Indra’s Net by John Hutchinson, beautifully designed by Daly-Lyon.

ACA Publishing has also published Men Who Eat Ringforts by Sinéad Mercier and Michael Holly, and featuring Eddie Lenihan.

Environmentalist Sinéad Mercier explores the legal and moral complexities surrounding the nature of ringforts, while artist Michael Holly’s fieldwork with folklorist Eddie Lenihan reveals and analyses many sites of resonance in Co Clare. In addition, extensive large format aerial imagery and historical maps licensed from Ordnance Survey Ireland detail changes over recent decades to these landscapes.

Men Who Eat Ringforts is printed with fluorescent Pantone inks, substituting the standard cyan, magenta and yellow process colours, resulting in a luminous effect to images throughout.

This new book was co-published in August with Gaining Ground, a public art programme based in Co Clare.

Meanwhile, Askeaton Contemporary Arts are in the post-production stage, getting ready to launch its own YouTube channel. They promise something to watch during lockdown.

Genealogical trails and tales in
November’s ‘Church Review’

Patrick Comerford

My monthly column in the Church Review in November 2020 takes a light-hearted look at some genealogical quirks and fantasies.

The Church Review, edited by the Revd Nigel Waugh, Rector of Delgany, Co Wicklow, is the diocesan magazine in Dublin and Glendalough.

In a two-page feature in the November edition, I tell the story of finding two books in an Irish bar in Crete that brought me on a genealogical trail from Comberford in Staffordshire to Saint John’s College in Cambridge.

There are stories too of two rival claimants to the invented title of ‘The O’Hanlon’ or chief of the O’Hanlon Clan – both contemporaries and priests in the Church of Ireland diocese of Limerick and Killaloe, and of Lady FitzGerald of Lichfield, who stood apart from the poor Irish immigrant parishioners in Lichfield. However, her husband’s claim to a title was based on a tissue of genealogical fantasies and lies that link back to Springfield Castle in west Limerick.

But more about these genealogical tales and trails tomorrow afternoon (HERE).

Canon Charles Bunworth,
Rector of Buttevant, harpist
and patron of Irish harpists

A plaque in Buttevant, Co Cork, commemorates Canon Charles Bunworth and the Bunworth Harp (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Going back over my recent ‘road trip’ photographs from Buttevant, Co Cork, I came across the former home and a memorial to Canon Charles Bunworth (1704-1772), a Rector of Buttevant who was celebrated for his skill as a harper, his knowledge of Irish music, and his patronage of harpers.

Charles Bunworth was born in 1704 in Freemount, Newmarket, Co Cork, the second son of Colonel Richard Bunworth of Newmarket and his wife Elizabeth (Philpot). His elder brother, Canon Peter Bunworth, also became a priest in the Diocese of Cloyne and was Prebendary of Lackeen.

Charles Bunworth was educated by a family tutor and at Trinity College Dublin (BA 1727, MA 1730), and was ordained deacon (1730) and priest (1731) by the Bishop of Cloyne.

He was appointed Rector of Knocktemple (1729-1740) and Prebendary of Cooline (1736-1740), and then became Rector of Buttevant (1740-1772), and Vicar of Bregoge (1740-1772), Tullylease (1748-1772), and Kilbrin (1764-1772), all in north Cork.

Throughout these years, Bunworth lived in the Coach House in Buttevant and was respected for his learning and loved for his kindness. He was described in his family as ‘a man of unaffected piety, and of sound learning, pure of heart and benevolent of nature.’

After a time at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, Bunworth developed a passion for the harp and Irish music. He was noted as an accomplished harpist, but most of all as a great patron of harpers and poets.

A patron of poets and bards, Charles Bunworth was chosen five times as president of the assembly of bards, held every three years at Bruree, Co Limerick from 1730 to 1750.

He was a skilled musician, and was known for his hospitality and entertainment of poor, travelling harpers. They, in turn, sang his praises and wrote songs about the charms of his daughters, Elizabeth and Mary.

He also provided instruction and financial aid to John Philpot Curran and Barry Yelverton (Lord Avonmore) before they entered TCD and went on to become prominent lawyers.

Charles Bunworth married Elizabeth Delacourt on 6 January 1743. They were the parents of two daughters: Mary; and Elizabeth (1746-1816), who married Croker Dillon in 1764.

The story of Bunworth’s death is almost as legendary as his collection of harps, and worthy of retelling on Hallowe’en. When he lay dying, a servant reported to the family that he heard the wailing of a banshee. He described how the woman had wailed and moaned and clapped her hands in despair, repeating Bunworth’s name. Local people said this meant that death was near.

Bunworth’s family dismissed the talk as mere superstition as his health appeared to be improving. However, without warning, his condition declined and on the night before his death events took a further turn.

Bunworth had been moved downstairs to sleep. Moaning and clapping was heard outside his room. When family members went out to investigate, it was found that a rose bush close to the window had been partially dislodged. Those who remained inside the house once again heard the sound of moaning and clapping.

As the night wore on, Bunworth’s condition worsened. By the time dawn broke he had died. It was 14 September 1772. He was buried in Saint John’s churchyard, Buttevant.

The story of the banshee was told by his great-grandson, the Cork writer and antiquarian, Thomas Crofton Croker (1798-1854), in Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland (1825).

When he died, Bunworth owned no less than 15 harps, bequeathed to him by grateful harpists. These harps were left in the loft of his granary, but were later burned as firewood by a careless servant. However, his favourite harp, now known as the Bunworth Harp, has survived.

The Bunworth Harp was made by the harp maker John Kelly in 1734. The sides and soundboard were carved from a single block of willow and incised with scrolling foliage and flowers, with black, red, and white painted decorations. It bears the inscription: ‘made by John Kelly for the Reverend Charles Bunworth, Ball-Daniel 1734.’

It is a large high-headed harp with carved, incised, and painted decoration, which has a one-piece soundbox, a narrow brass strip along the centre of the box with perforated string holes, 36 strings, and 36 pins.

This harp was inherited by his descendant, Thomas Crofton Croker, and was sold in London in 1854 after his death. It is now part of the Leslie Linsey Mason collection at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

In recent years, Bunworth and his work were commemorated when the local community in Buttevant organised a festival of music and art to commemorate the music and art of the area.

A local craftsman, Mick Culloty, was commissioned in 1995 to design and make a harp to commemorate Bunworth. It was unveiled by the Right Revd Roy Warke, Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross.

Charles Bunworth’s former home in Buttevant, Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)